Feb 25 - Doubt


February 25, 2018

Mark 9:14-29



February 25th, 2018

Mark 9:14-29


It was Palm Sunday, but because of a sore throat, 5 year old Johnny and his mom stayed home while dad and his two older siblings went to church.  When they returned from church, they were carrying branches of pussy willows.  Johnny asked dad what they were for.  His father told him, “People held them over Jesus’ head as he walked by.”  Johnny was upset.  “You’ve got to be kidding. The one Sunday I don’t go and Jesus shows up.


Maybe some of you feel that way.  Jesus hasn’t “shown up” for you and as a result you may be experiencing some doubt.  Doubt is what today’s message is about.


Be merciful to those who doubt.                   Jude 22



Maybe you remember the story about what happened after Jesus came down from the mountain where the so-called transfiguration took place.  Peter, James and John had gone with him and witnessed the appearance of Moses and Elijah with Jesus. 


When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them.  As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.  “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.

 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech.  Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground.  He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid.  I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”             Mark 9:14-18


The teachers of the Law were the very same people as the scribes of the Pharisees.  They may have been arguing with the disciples of Jesus about the proper method of exorcism, or possibly pointing out that they cannot be following the right Rabbi, if they were powerless in this situation. 


Also, we might ask ourselves, if demon possession is only something that happened back then, not today?  Or perhaps, why is this particular demon rendering the boy unable to speak and producing fits that look very similar to grand mal seizures?


“You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long do I have to stay with you?  How long do I have to put up with you?  Bring the boy to me.  So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion.  He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.  Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”  “From childhood,” he answered.  “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him.  But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”  “If you can? said Jesus. Everything is possible for one who believes.”  Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!      Mark 9:19-24


You can almost hear Jesus sigh.  Oh boy.  They got it wrong ... again.  But the part that I want you to catch is the father and the interchange between him and Jesus, particularly Jesus’ response the man’s request:  “If you can do anything, please help.” 


Jesus points out to the man that all things are possible for the one who believes. 


Jesus is not saying, that absolute certainty is the secret to receiving something, anything, from God, much like the “name it, claim it” movement does. 


Jesus is simply saying, “If you believe that I can do this, then I can actually get something accomplished here.”  The man needs to believe in Jesus’ ability, not have faith in just anything - the universe, karma, or whatever else.


And what I want you to catch in particular, is how the father responds to Jesus:  “I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief.”  So really, what the father was saying is that, while he in fact believes that Jesus can do something for his son, he still had remnants of doubt


When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”  The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.”  But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.  After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”  He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”[1]

                                                          Mark 9:25-29


This account raises a number of questions, particularly because we know that the disciples had previously successfully exorcised demons (Mark 6:7,13).[2]   


What is so different about this particular demon, that prayer and possibly fasting is necessary when exorcising him? 


And if prayer and possibly fasting is needed, why did Jesus do neither and was still successful?  Could that be saying something about his identity?


But let me get back to the father’s statement, “I DO believe.  Help me to overcome my unbelief.”  While he had faith in Jesus, he still had remnants of doubt.


So I want you to rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10.


If 1 is completely uncertainty, and 10 is complete certainty, where would you put yourself on the scale when it comes to

  • God’s existence

  • The applicability of the Bible (to your life)

  • The truth of Christianity (the identity of Jesus)


I would think that the father in our story, being a normal Jew during the first century, would have had little doubt about God’s existence and the applicability of their Bible, the Law of Moses and the OT prophetic and poetic writings that were considered authoritative at his time. 


Where there were likely lingering doubts were about the person, the identity, of Jesus, and therefore about what Jesus would be able to do.  Maybe he was somewhere in the middle between complete certainty and complete uncertainty when it came to Jesus.   


So, just in your minds right now, try to figure out where about on that sliding scale you are with regard to these three items. 


Now, if you listen to some people, you would think that they are completely certain about EVERYTHING. 

  • They are completely certain that they are always right. 

  • They are completely certain that those who disagree with them, are wrong. 

  • They are completely certain that their perception of reality is objective. 

  • They are completely certain that their political view is the only correct one.

  • They are completely certain that their interpretation of what’s in the Bible is the only possible one. 

  • They are completely certain that when they voice their convictions and beliefs, they are speaking the very words of God.    


They have the appearance as if they never question themselves, never question their convictions, never question their motivation, never question their objectivity, and never question their beliefs. 


I always think that it has to be a terrible burden to bear to always have to be right about everything. 


But there are Christians who would say, that, if you’re not completely, 100%, certain about God and the Bible and Jesus, there is something terrible wrong with you as a Christian. 


They would say of themselves that they have absolutely no doubts about what they perceive the Bible to proclaim. 


At first glance, absolute certainty would be great.  We would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God exists, that there is, in fact, a spiritual being who created the universe - even though we cannot detect him with our physical senses. 


We would know that the Bible is God’s message to humanity and totally applicable in everything it says, even though, at times, we may struggle with knowing exactly what it IS saying – possibly because there are a number of different interpretations of a passage, or simply because it’s hard to understand.


We would know that Jesus is in fact God’s son who entered history 2,000 years ago and was crucified as the atoning sacrifice for our sins - that his death overcame the gulf that exists between us and God. 


Those who say, that absolute certainty is required of Christians, often link it to a prohibition – the prohibition to question anything that, according to them, Christians are to believe.    


Maybe deep down there is the fear, that to admit to any uncertainty is to invite the ruin of their belief system, therefore, they can’t really allow themselves or others to question anything about what they believe.   


Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not against certainty.  Certainty is a wonderful thing - unless you’re wrong, of course. 


I mean, you would think someone who is willing to blow themselves and other innocent bystanders up in the name of God must be absolutely certain that what they’re doing is

1. what God would want them to do and

2. that by doing this it will propel them immediately into paradise. 


Of course, those who teach that nonsense most ardently to others, themselves never seem to strap on a bomb and packets of shrapnel.  Mmmm.  I wonder why? 


Look at these pictures and answer me this question.  Do you think that these individuals are convinced of the truth of their faith, the applicability of their scriptures, and the rightness of their cause? 


Wouldn’t the world be a much better place if they actually possessed the wherewithal to question their prophet, their Holy book, their tradition, or their religious teachers and leaders?  Wouldn’t the world be a much better place if they were allowed a modem of doubt? 


The reason why so many radical Muslims are against secular education is because it may put into question the doctrines of radical Islam.  In fact, the name of the Muslim terror group in Nigeria is “Boko haram”.  In the Hausa language it literally means, “fake (i.e., western or non-Muslim) education is sin”.[3] 


A tremendous amount of evil has been committed by those who seemed to be absolutely certain about the legitimacy of their cause.  This can be seen in the political realm.


Mao, Stalin, Lenin, Engels and Marx, Pol Pot, Ho Chi Minh, Kim Il-sung - left extremists;

Hitler & Mussolini, a skinhead who killed a police officer - right extremists;


Those who are completely convinced of the rightness of their cause, end up being willing to commit the most horrible things in order to further or implement their ideology.  [By the way, we sometimes forget, that over the last 100 years many, many more people were killed by professing atheists than by religious people.] 



When it comes to Christianity, the same was true at one time ... in the middle ages in particular.  Those who were seen to somehow think or believe different from the official line, were called heretics and subsequently tortured and/or killed. 


Whether it was the slaughter of the Huguenots in France (1572), the killing of Anabaptists in Austria, the elimination of the Hussites in Bohemia and the Czech Republic during the counter-reformation (1545 - end of 30 year war),[4]  or the burning and drowning of so-called “heretics”, this murderous rampage was ordered by those who saw themselves as protectors of the only true faith.


Around the same time, there were numerous armed conflicts between Catholicism and Protestantism, based as it was on the absolute conviction that denominational dogma was infallible.


The eighty years’ war in the Netherlands (1568 - 1648).

The French wars of religion (1562-1598)

The thirty years’ war (1618 - 1648), [almost 100 years after the beginning of the counter-reformation] resulting in the death of about 1/3 of the population of central Europe.  All of this in complete contradiction to the teaching of Jesus.


But things have changed, haven’t they?  We are no longer living at a time when certainty is the norm.  We are  living in an era, where Christians tend to waffle more than ever in their convictions. 


Most Christians today face doubts about the truth of their faith.  What has changed?


For one, more and more Christians have grown up outside of Christian homes.  I, for one, grew up in an atheistic home. So we may be confronted with a lot more skepticism about Christianity in our homes than past generations.


For another, back in the middle ages, most people had no personal access to the Bible.  For one, books were relatively rare and extremely expensive.  For another most people were illiterate.  Christians couldn’t check out for themselves whatever they were told … they had no way of verifying anything that they were being taught … so they simply relied on what they were told. 


Today, Bibles are readily accessible.  And when Christians read the Bible they may find some of it hard to understand.  Some passages may appear to be rather odd or harsh, given Jesus’ teaching about the nature and will of God.  Or the Bible may not seem to apply to everyday life.    


Thirdly, in our day and age, there is a tremendous amount of opposition to Christianity, something that simply wasn’t the case previously.  There are many people in our secular society who are really no longer open to considering the validity of any religion.  


They reject the idea of God and chose atheism, not because the reasons to do so are compelling or earth shattering, but by default, without really giving it much thought. 


It is also highly likely that Christians today are confronted in high school or university with the claim that religious beliefs are wrong because they clash with science. 


They may be told that religious beliefs cannot be confirmed by the scientific method, and therefore are nothing more than wishful thinking. 


It’s kind of odd that Bill Nye, the science guy, should be the one who saves the world[5].  Probably not Kevin,[6] definitely not Jesus, but Bill.


Bill Nye speaks out against what he sees as the conflict between faith and science.[7] 


Bill Nye advises, that when religious beliefs are put into question by science, they should be jettisoned.  Personally, I don’t believe that one has to choose between God and science.  To my mind, that is a false alternative.  Truth is truth.


Another outspoken critic of Christianity in his day, Voltaire (1694 - 1778), noted something along the lines of ....


Voltaire likely meant that it is absurd to take some belief at face value without questioning it at all, because you have no way of knowing whether or not what you believe is actually true. 


But his and Bill Nye’s criticisms are actually fairly mild compared to the so-called “new atheists”, who argue that religion is downright evil and destructive, based on their presupposed premise that miracles cannot happen.[8] 


By the way, new atheists really don’t give much scientific evidence for the non-existence of God other than the process of evolution (based on natural selection), the existence of evil or suffering, and the need for a cause or source of God, none of which are terribly convincing. 


With regard to suffering, Bertrand Russell once said that no one can sit at the bedside of a dying child and believe in God.  He was wrong.  I’ve been there.  Maybe so have you.


Another reason why Christians may be doubtful about the truth of their beliefs is because there is so much misinformation out there. 


Have you read “The DaVinci Code”?  Or “The Pagan Christ”?  One is pure fiction, the other a completely misinterpretation of the roots of Christianity. 


These books, and many more like them, are so full of inaccuracies and outright untruths it’s shocking.  And yet, Christians read them without actually taking the time to research whether or not what they are reading is historically correct.


I’m not going to go into details about all the reasons why I believe in the truth of Christianity – why I believe it to be both reasonable and believable. 


I won’t look at “spontaneous remission,” the need for an “ultimate cause,” the anthropic principle found in our universe, the mathematical improbability of spontaneous formation of life from nucleotides and amino acids, the complexity of nature, the fulfilment of prophecy, the willingness of the disciples to die for proclaiming Jesus as the risen Messiah, the positive life-transformation in the lives of many Christians, and on and on.  I’ve done all of that in the past.


What I do want to acknowledge today is that many Christians have doubt, to one degree or another for some of the reasons I’ve mentioned – or maybe for another reason.  It is why I like a verse in Jude.


Be merciful to those who doubt.                   Jude 22


Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, because they will be shown mercy” (Matt 5:7).


We should be merciful toward those who doubt.  And if we doubt, we should be merciful toward ourselves!

I think it’s OK to wrestle with our beliefs from time to time, which is different from cynicism, which simply rejects anything that cannot be proven conclusively


By now you should realize that I do NOT think that faith has to be completely blind, that in order to be a Christian one has to believe in something without ANY evidence at all. 


There is a big difference between irrational and rational faith.  I do not think that Christians have to abandon logic or science or knowledge in order to believe in what they do, or that the Christian faith has to be based only on wishful thinking.


On the other hand, I realize that logic and science and knowledge can take us only so far when it comes to matters of faith. 


Without abandoning reason, the best we can do, or any person who believes in God, is a decision based on what the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard called a leap of faith.


By this he didn’t mean that we need to choose to believe in something for no good reason, ignoring evidence, and embracing fantasy.  Kierkegaard was speaking about making an informed leap of faith.  Nevertheless, it will still be a leap of faith because it means to commit to what we believe in spite of our fears and doubts, and without a 100% guarantee that we are right.


I like the picture of a trapeze artist who has to let go and fly through the air without necessarily seeing the person who catches them on the other side. 


So what happens when I die?  When I let go of the high-bar on earth.  Will God really be there to catch me on the other side?


The one thing that does set Christianity apart from cult-like religions, is that having doubts is OK.  In a cult-like religion there is no room for doubt.  There is no room for dissent.  There is no room for questions.  All there is, is unquestioning subservience and obedience to the specific dogma set out by the cultic organization or the cultic leader. 


So to those of you who are having doubts, I would say, don’t panic.  It’s OK.  Everyone has doubts from time to time.  Some doubt can be good because it can motivate us to study and learn and it can get rid of false beliefs. 


Doubts can make us more patient and understanding of other doubters.  It can remind us of just how much truth matters.  It can make us humble. 


Whatever the case, one of the questions we should ask ourselves is, “Why am I having doubts?”, and “Where do those doubts come from?”  Or perhaps the question we need to ask ourselves is, “Why has faith in God seem to have lost its appeal?  Why doesn’t it seem so real anymore?


A lot of people who end up walking away from God do so for personal, not rational, reasons.  It isn’t so much doubt, as it is lifestyle. 


For example, most humans like the idea of autonomy and self-determination.  It includes the idea that our personal choices are no one’s business but our own.  Another idea is that we will make it on our own steam and be the masters of our own destiny. 


A third aspect of autonomy is that we don’t like accountability, one of the reasons why some teenagers rebel against their parents, why young adults by and large don’t stay with their parents but strike out on their own, why there can be conflict between couples when it comes to control, and why people are loathed to join anything anymore.


I tend to think, that true autonomy really is an illusion.  Any psychologist or sociologist can confirm that we make a lot of choices based on irrational impulses, unconscious desires and connections, habits, paths of least resistance, peer and social pressures and the prevailing cultural winds


Nevertheless, for some people the idea of autonomy and a lack of accountability have become the biggest barrier to belief in God.  Some people truly resent God telling them how to live their lives. So autonomy from God may seem like a really good idea when one does not want to feel guilty about one’s lifestyle choices. 


If God in fact exists and he is moral, then we really are accountable to him.  By rejecting God’s existence, there is no need to acknowledge mistakes and sins and errors.  There is no fear of being held accountable for betrayal, greed, cowardice, compromise, untruthfulness, or anything else for that matter.  We can stop feeling guilty.


However, to resist accountability to God, in essence is to resist a relationship with God


And, true freedom from guilt really only comes when we confess and try to turn from our wrongdoing because that opens the door to forgiveness and healing and wholeness and eternal life. 


I want to close by reminding us of the passage I read at the beginning of this message – Jesus’ encounter with the father of the demon-possessed son.  “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!


Perhaps that needs to be your prayer today.





One day, maybe tomorrow, maybe next year, maybe fifty years from now, you will let go of the trapeze called life.  You will take your last breath, your hands will go slack, and life will fall away. 


The real question is what happens then.  Will there be someone to catch you as you enter eternity, or will you simply stop to exist and the universe will neither know nor care? 


Can you commit yourself to God, even if I don’t have absolute certainty?


[1] Some MSS: “by prayer and fasting.”

[2] In Mark 6:7, Jesus sends out the 12, giving them authority over evil spirits (cf. Matt 10:1; Luke 9:1 - both add that Jesus gives the 12 authority to also heal every disease and sickness).  In Mark 6:13 we are told they in fact cast out many demons and healed the sick after anointing them with oil (cf. Luke 9:6; Matt does not record what happened). In Matt 10:8, the commission is expanded to include the cleansing of lepers and raising people from the dead. 

In Luke 10:9, Jesus sends out the 72 and tells them to heal the sick.  In 10:17, they come back rejoicing because even the demons submitted to them in Jesus’ name.

[3] The word for education, “ilmi”, is implied.  Former colonial education was called “ilmin boko” = fake education. 

[4] The counter-reformation reduced Lutheranism in Poland, France, Italy, Ireland, Austria and southern Germany, Bohemia, Belgium, Croatia and Slovania.

[5] Bill Nye saves the word, TV show on Netflix.  First episode April 21st, 2017.

[6] Kevin probably saves the world - sitcom with Jason Ritter.  First episode dated October 3rd, 2017. 

[7] Nye, who considers himself an agnostic, comments that considering the actual age of the universe and the reality of evolution, young-earth creationism in particular is obviously wrong.

[8] Christopher Hitches, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett.

Feb 18 - Extending Grace To Myself And Others

Extending Grace To Myself And Others - Family Matters Part 6

February 18, 2018

Luke 5:27-32



Family Matters – Part 6

February 18th, 2018

Luke 5:27-32


If you were here three weeks ago, you might remember that I spoke about the way that negative messages about ourselves, whether coming from parents, family members, friends, coaches, teachers, supervisors or ourselves, can and will cause great damage to our self-esteem.


One of the ways damaged self-esteem, a damaged self-image, manifests itself, is through being proud or arrogant. 


Pride is the need to think of oneself as better than others.  Sometimes it is accompanied by a need to show them how much better, smarter, savvy, wittier, stronger, faster, more powerful we are than they. 


Life becomes a competition and we are bound and determined to be on the winning end, whether it’s in a race or an argument, regardless of the potential cost of doing so. 


At other times, pride is married to the need to control others, to have them do what we want them to because we know what’s best for them, what’s right, what should be done.  Everything will be just fine if others recognized that fact.  Or maybe we’re just bossy


When our pride is injured it will keep us from being kind and gracious, as we react to what we perceive to be a threat to our either overinflated or underinflated sense of self-worth.


Luke records multiple times when the Pharisees criticized Jesus because he spent time with what they considered to be “sinners,” including entering their homes and eating with them.  One such time is found in Luke 5.


27 After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth.  "Follow me," Jesus said to him, 28 and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.  29 Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them.       Luke 5:27-29


If you’ve read through the gospels, you will be acquainted with the reaction of the Pharisees and scribes.


 30 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law (scribes) who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and 'sinners'?"  31 Jesus answered them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."                                                              Luke 5:30-32


We find the same complaint twice more in the gospel of Luke, once in chapter 15 (vv.1-2), which actually ends with Jesus telling the parable of the prodigal son, and again in chapter 19 (vv.5-7) in the story of the chief tax collector, Zacchaeus.


Now, by and large, the Pharisees were not bad people.  They were really intent on obeying God’s will as revealed in the Law of Moses.  In order to make sure that they would do so, they ended up discussion the implications of the Mosaic Law when it came to every conceivable life situation. 


In Jesus’ day, literally hundreds of years of debate had taken place and a large body of Pharisaic teaching had been recorded and accepted as authoritative and binding, even when it contradicted the Law of Moses. 


In some ways, the Pharisaic body of literature at the time of Jesus was similar to what would become Islamic Sharia law.  Sharia law came about because the application of the Koran was debated over 1,000 years, those debates included different schools of thought, and the result was many applications for day-to-day life.  However, Sharia Law, is a lot more stringent than the Rabbinic teaching.


One of the greatest problems that Jesus had with the Pharisees was their insistence that they knew best how to discern God’s will and so had the right to tell others in every detail how they should live their lives.  Jesus pointed out in no uncertain terms that sometimes their application of the Mosaic Law was simply wrong. 


For example, they set aside the responsibility of looking after aging parents by donating money to the temple (Mark 7:9-13).[1]  Or they taught that it is wrong if someone does something good, saves a life, or physically heals someone on the Sabbath day (Mark 3:1-6),[2] even though they fed their animals and pulled then out of a ditch on a Sabbath and didn’t consider it work. 


And when Jesus challenged their interpretations, they responded by making plans to have Jesus killed (Mark 3:6).  How dare he oppose them in public debate!  How dare he question their applications!  After all, they knew best because they were so pious.  Let’s get rid of this nuisance!


In the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, Jesus points out that the Pharisees were self-righteous and treated others, who they considered to be less pious, with contempt (Luke 18:9).[3]


Because of their contempt for non-Jewish people and Jews who were so-called “sinners,” worst of whom were the tax-collectors, the Pharisees felt that if someone spend time with those kind of people it would cause spiritual defiled or contaminated


Even though the Law of Moses does not comment on Jews having to segregate themselves from so-called “sinners” (or Gentiles), Pharisees nevertheless did just that and taught that any Jew who is at all concerned with following God’s will should follow their example.[4]



So Pharisees refused to enter the homes of or eat with Gentiles and tax-collectors, nor would they invite them into their homes.  They wouldn’t even eat or drink in the homes of regular Jews, whom they referred to contemptuously as “the people of the land,” (am ha aretz) because those people may have prepared the food in some way that does not follow the Rabbinic traditions. 


Jesus was most upset with the Pharisees because they burdened the average Jewish people with huge lists of requirements, all the time looking down their noses at them because they weren’t as fastidious as themselves.


Pharisees were proud of their zeal for God, and they had forgotten that in God’s eyes they were no better than others. 


Jesus told them that they were blind guides who strain out a tiny insect but then swallow a camel instead (Matt 23:24). He told them that they are actually hindering the average Jew from entering the Kingdom of God (implied Luke 11:52).[5]  Jesus called them hypocrites (Matt 23) and blind guides (Matt 23:24).  He called them white-washed tombs (Matt 23:27), and even the sons of hell (Matthew 23:15).


Jesus and the Pharisees were different in their approach. 


And tax-collectors and sinners and“the people of the land” responded to Jesus because he spent time with them and he made it clear to them that God is just as much (if not more) interested in them, than in the self-righteous Pharisees or priests.  He made them realize that they are not disqualified from God’s love, as the Pharisees said they were. 


Jesus extended grace toward them- and so they were open to hearing a message of hope and forgiveness and reform.  Jesus spent time with those who recognized that they were far from perfect and who could, with God’s forgiveness and strength, work on bettering themselves.   


Extending grace = 1.focusing on the good and the potential for good within others, not their short-comings and mistakes


Accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.                                     Romans 15:7


That means we don’t simply write off people, think they are useless or bad.  Jesus warns us that the way that we judge others, and I think he meant in our hearts, so we too will be judged by God (Matt 7:1-2).[6]  We show little grace toward others, God will show little grace to us when it comes to the judgment.[7]


When it comes to the conflict that we experience in our homes and families, it may be good to work on accepting others and focusing on their good qualities, rather than their bad ones.


There will be some friction in every home.  No two human beings ever lived under the same roof without clashing, getting hurt, or being mad at each other from time to time.  If there is never any open conflict, it likely means that one person is totally submissive but inside seething with resentment, or that two people have mastered the art of extending grace to the other.


However, while some friction is inevitable, there are situations that will simply make it so painful that it is destructive. 


One of these situations is the attempt to remake the other person, to change them. I’m not saying that encouraging another person to better themselves is inherently bad in and of itself.  However, when we want the other person to be fundamentally different than they are, they and us are in for a world of pain.


Attempting to change another person is usually not only futile, it can actually be destructive if we keep nagging about one or the other character trait that we don’t like. 


Everything often starts off so perfectly and with so much happiness and hope and anticipation.  We promise to love, cherish and honour our spouse for the rest of our lives.


But then reality sets in.  He’s a slob and doesn’t pick up after himself.  She wears socks in bed.  He doesn’t replace the toilet paper roll.  She insists on squeezing the toothpaste tube from the center. He doesn’t communicate enough.  She’s too talkative. He likes health food, she doesn’t.  Or he likes junk food and she doesn’t.


1001 annoyances can lead to constant bickering and complaining, all of which is pointless when the other person doesn’t want to change. 


You never do this, you never do that, you always do this, you always do that.  Do me a favour, don’t tell someone they always or never do something.  It just isn’t true and it labels another person unfairly - and it is severely annoying - just saying. 


Of course we can speak about our differences or hurts from time to time, but to harangue another person, just keep harping about someone’s faults over and over and over again, constantly criticizing and complaining, only attacks the other person’s self-worth, in fact, it has the potential of destroying another person’s self-image and irreparably damaging the relationship. 


Someone might actually use anger or argument or criticism or complaining intentionally as a way of destroying another person, often with the intent to make themselves feel better or with the intent of controlling the other person into doing what they want them to do.


The reality is that constant complaint simply is a very negative and counterproductive way into forcing another person to reinvent themselves.  The actual result is resentment and hurt. 


Of course that doesn’t mean that we have to put up with everything, that we can’t set boundaries, that we simply take abuse, ... in fact, if someone is highly toxic and hurtful and abusive, it’s probably best to get out of their way, even stay out of their way, rather than to just sit there and take it. 


Some people simply take advantage when others are gracious.  They see the other person as weak and vulnerable.  God forbid that any Christian sees another person’s patience and forgiveness as permission to abuse them.


On the other hand, when we extend grace, we do so knowing that everyone, and I mean everyone, has some quirks, faults, annoying habits and poor ways of dealing with stuff from time to time.  Yes, some people struggle more than others, but everyone still struggles, including you and I.  None of us are perfect. 


If we take a good look inside of ourselves, our character and behaviour, we will find enough shortcomings to keep us busy for the rest of our lives, if that’s what we want to do.  So, as Jesus said, it would be more productive to work on our own big issues, the log in our own eye, instead of trying to fix another persons’ small issues (picking at the splinter in another person’s eye - Matt 7:3-5)).  


Another way that we don’t extend grace is when we simply won’t forgive when another person hurt us. 


Inevitably other people will irritate us, disappoint us, offend us, hurt us.  When we accumulate enough of those wounds, refusing to let go, we end up being cynical, angry, resentful and bitter. 


What did Paul mean when he said that we shouldn’t let the sun go down on our anger (Eph 4:26)?  Isn’t it choosing to let go of the hurt we’ve received by forgiving those who have hurt us before the day ends


If we are quick to find fault, always looking for petty faults and slights, we’re creating a huge gulf between us and the other person.  If we do this with our spouse, we are no longer loving, cherishing or honouring them


  • If we keep rehearsing negatives thoughts about others, it will make us miserable. 

  • If we are full of resentment, fear, suspicion and anger, it will kill our joy and happiness and sense of well-being.

  • If we dwell on the faults and shortcomings of others or the way they have offended or slighted us, if we constantly criticize and belittle, especially in front of others - we’re causing untold harm to the relationship.

  • If we are so resentful, bitter and hostile toward others that we shut them out, stop talking to them, no longer spend time with them, no longer communicate, we are also in the process of destroying a relationship.


If, on the other hand, we accept the other person, work on our own failings, be quick to forgive, control our sharp tongues, become kind and courteous, think about them positively, and speak about their good traits in front of others, then we will find that we not only get along better with that person, but with everyone else in our lives as well.  When we extend grace toward others, it makes us into better people


In a marriage, a sense of oneness comes from trusting the other person, from liking them and appreciating them.  In that kind of relationship, two people can communicate more freely and with kindness.  In that kind of relationship, two people can focus on a common purpose and plan. 


A rather simplistic statement is that a couple that prays together stays together.  Well, I think that can be true if a couple says grace together and are thankful not only for the food on the table, but also for all the blessings they have, for a roof over their heads, their family, and especially for each other. 


Extending grace = 2. modeling the character of God, who extends forgiveness, patience and kindness toward people


Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Ephesians 4:32


Why?  Because God has extended grace, forgiveness and patience toward us. 


Extending grace = 3. treating others with kindness and respect


However you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and Prophets.               Matthew 7:12


The Pharisees did not treat the tax collectors or the people of the land with any kind of respect or kindness. 

Their attitude was by and large exactly in contrast to Jesus’ words, that God’s people are to treat others the same way they would want others to treat them. 


By the way, in order to treat others as we would want to be treated, we need empathy, so the ability to feel for another person, to put oneself into the shoes of the other person, as we would hope that others would feel for us, would at least attempt to put themselves into our shoes. 


A crass example of a lack of empathy is found in suicide bombers or mass murderers, like the man who, in Parkland, Florida, killed 17 people in a high school there, including 14 students between the age of 14 and 18,[8] a teacher,[9] a football coach,[10] and the athletic director.[11]


Empathy extends to thinking about others and speaking about them behind their backs in the same kind, compassionate, courteous, and respectful way we would hope that others think about us and speak about us behind our backs.    


The Bible speaks literally hundreds of times both in the OT and NT about the law of reciprocity.  It is the Law of the harvest – sow wheat, reap wheat; sow barley – reap barley.  The apostle Paul speaks of this law in the choices we make, “don’t be deceived,” he writes, “you WILL reap what you sow” (Gal 6:7). 


On the one hand we can sow to evil, to an unwillingness to be gracious or forgiving, to harshness and ugliness and hate.  And that is what we will reap.


The expression in Hosea 8:7, that those who sow to the wind reap the whirlwind makes exactly that point.


  • Jesus said, those who use the sword, die by the sword. 

  • He said that those who won’t forgive, won’t be forgiven. 

  • The Psalmist says that those who dig a pit, will themselves fall into one (Ps 7:15). 

  • We read in Job that those who plow evil reap it (Job 4:8). 

  • Proverbs tells us that the one who sows wickedness will reap trouble (Prov 22:8). 

  • Paul says, that a person who does evil, will reap within themselves the penalty of their error (Rom 1:27).


In other words, whenever we do something wrong, whenever we speak harshly, whenever we judge unkindly, whenever we think poorly, whenever we fan the feelings of hate, whether we are aware of it or not, we reap in our conscience, in our mind, in our heart, in our lives, the negative consequences of these things.  They will make us pessimistic, negative, mean, and unhappy.


But of course the opposite is true as well. 


Hosea tells God’s people that when people sow righteousness, that is, right and good behaviour, then they will reap unfailing love (hesed).[12]


  • James tells us that the person who sows peace will reap a harvest of righteousness (Jam 3:18).  

  • Paul tells us that those who persist in doing good will harvest peace (cf. Rom 2:10). 


In other words, whenever we do, think, speak, what is positive, and good, kind, gracious, loving ... we reap the reward of it in our hearts, our conscience, our minds, our lives.  It will make us better people, happy, content, thankful and positive.


Don’t’ deceive yourself.  You reap what you sow.


Extending grace = 4. allowing God’s grace and love to heal me so I can conquer my own shortcomings


Tax-collectors by and large did not extend a lot of grace to themselves, because they did not extend a lot of grace toward others, and weren’t shown any grace as a result. 

Tax-collectors were despised by their fellow Jews because they not only collected the Roman tax (collaborators of the enemy and therefore traitors of their own people), but they also over-charged the tax so they could get rich on the backs of their fellow Jews. 


Subsequently, the Pharisees taught that the tax-collectors were equally hated and rejected by God, without a chance of redemption.  And the tax-collectors likely agreed with the Pharisees, which is why they did not think highly of themselves.  


And then Jesus begins to call Levi the tax-collector to become one of his closest companion and student. When in Jericho, he calls up to one of the chief tax-collectors by the name of Zacchaeus that he had to stay at Zacchaeus’ house.  But this time, it wasn’t just the Pharisees who thought that this was wrong.


All the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a 'sinner.'"  But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount."  Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."                               Luke 19:7-10 (NIV)


While “all the people” grumbled that Jesus had entered the home of a tax-collector, Jesus’ gracious presence allowed Zacchaeus to take away all the loathing and condemnation and rejection that he lived with on a daily basis, and completely reform his life.  Jesus comment that Zacchaeus is a child of Abraham is about as close to saying that Zacchaeus is accepted and loved by God. 


That is the power of grace appropriated and then extended, not just to others, but to ourselves. 


I think that a few years ago now I mentioned the Hoyts during a sermon.  Dick the father[13] and his disabled son Rick[14] competed in over 1,000 races between 1977 and 2016, including 257 triathlons, 72 marathons, and 97 half-marathons.  Dick would pull his son behind him in a dinghy during the swimming portion of a triathlon, he would bicycle with his son either in a contraption over the front wheel or, as his son got older, pulling him behind his bike in a special wheelchair; during the running portions he would push his son in a wheelchair. 


So a father, for the love of his son, did what some would consider impossible.  A son, born with cerebral palsy and other severe handicaps, who was written off by doctors as in a hopeless vegetative state as an infant, and as clearly unable to learn and communicate by educators, because of the love of his parents, did the impossible continuously, including graduating from high school and university and holding down a career, even though he is unable to walk or speak. 


I don’t care what kind of short-comings you or others may think you have - your heavenly father loves you so much that you can overcome whatever you think is holding you back. 


That’s not to say that when debilitating depression or illness hits that we shouldn’t seek out medical help.  Rick Hoyt needed tons of medical help.  But it means that you and I should stop beating ourselves up and instead see ourselves through the eyes of God's love and grace. 


What needs to change in the way I think in order for me










Are you extending forgiveness and grace to others?

Are you extending forgiveness and grace to yourself?


[1] And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honour your father and mother, and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’  But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God), then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother.  Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

[2] Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there.  Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”  Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.  He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

[3] To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: ...

[4] In the Mishnah, anything associated with a Gentile was considered to defile or make unclean.  Therefore, if a Gentile entered the home of a Jew, the whole home would be considered unclean.  The same was true of the taxcollector (Toh. 7:6).  While the Mishnah does not refer to sinners, it often does to “the people of the land” (Am-ha’aretz).  When one of these common Jews entered a home, then “only” groceries, liquids and all pottery not covered by a lid become unclean (Toh. 7.5).  

[5] Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.

[6] Matt 7:2 - With the judgment you pronounce (on others), you will be judged (by God), and with the measure you use (to measure others), it will be measured to you (by God).

[7] See the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matt 18:21-35

[8] Alyssa Alhadeff, Martin Anuiano, Nicholas Dworet, Jaime Guttenberg, Luke Hoyer, Cara Laughran, Gina Montalto, Joaquin Oliver, Alaina Petty, Meadow Pollack, Helena Ramsay, Alex Schachter, Carmen Schentrup, Peter Wang,

[9] Scott Beigel

[10] Aaron Feis

[11] Chris Hixon

[12] Hosea may be saying that the person who does what is right and good receives God’s unfailing love.

[13] Born 1940, currently 78 years old

[14] Born 1962, currently 56 years old

The Power Of My Words

The Power Of My Words - Family Matters Part 3

January 28, 2018



Family Matters - Part 3

January 28th, 2018


None of us aspires to be discouraged, depressed, angry, anxious, or worried.  And yet, it is common enough to experience those emotions.  But when people have to walk on eggshells around us because we feel like that on an ongoing basis, or when our speech is characterized by negativity, sarcasm, insults, outbursts of anger, and the like, we may begin to wonder what’s wrong with us.




Possibly, we may feel that we are preprogrammed to feel bad about ourselves, about life, about others.  We may feel preprogrammed to be critical or judgmental - first of all, when it comes to how we think about ourselves ...and secondly, as a consequence, when it comes to how I treat and how I speak with others?


The authors of the Bible, including those who wrote Proverbs, knew that how we think determines to a significant degree, who we are and how we experience life.


As a man thinks within himself, so he is.

                                                          Proverbs 23:7


In biblical days, the seat or center of thought was believed to be the heart.  So the heart was understood to determine to a significant degree who we are and how we experience life. 


Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. [some translations: for from it springs up life]                                                                          Proverbs 4:23


Since the seat or center of thoughts was considered to be the heart, this verse from Proverbs 4 could just as well have said, “above all else, guard your minds, for it is the wellspring of life.”  for from it springs up life.


Above all else - that is how important this is, because, to to a large degree, how we think about the circumstances of our lives determines how we experience life.  Either as something good ... a wellspring ... life itself, or something bad ... a bad-spring ... a well of death.


What we think, our thoughts, should be protected in some way, shape or form.  When I was a child, it was my parent’s job to protect my mind, but as an adult, that’s up to me. 


However, protecting our minds or thoughts is not in reference to shutting down logic or reason.  It really speaks about protecting our thinking from false, destructive, discouraging, and damaging messages.


If we protect our hearts or minds in this way, then the result should be both better physical and emotional health ... life.


A heart at peace gives life to the body ....

                                                          Proverbs 14:30


A happy heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.                          Proverbs 17:22


A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit.                                    Proverbs 15:13


All the days of the oppressed are wretched, but the happy heart has a continual feast.          Proverbs 15:15


The first two of these verses speak about the physical benefits of having a cheerful, happy, joyous, joy-filled, positive heart, that is, when a person thinks cheerfully, happy and positive thoughts then it brings life and healing. 


Life itself is just so much better when someone has a happy heart, happy thoughts.


I don’t know about you, but I would rather have a heart that is happy, joyous, joy-filled and at peace than a heart that is broken, crushed or oppressed. 


The condition of our heart, depends in part of what happens to us.  There is heartache and heartbreak ... and most of us will experience this in our lives.  But the condition of our heart will also be determined by how we think about life, how we view ourselves, what we think of others and how we process what happens to us.   


Whether we realize it or not, most of us were raise with a host of negative messages that have imbedded themselves into our minds.  Those messages may have come originally from our parents or grandparents, our siblings, or other family members.  They may have come or been reinforced by our peers, fellow students, co-workers, supervisors, religious leaders, teachers, coaches, spouses, and most often by ourselves.  The negative messages may have sounded something like this:


  • You’re weak, incompetent, clumsy, useless;
  • You’re too old, too young;
  • You’ll never amount to anything;
  • You’re just a boy; or ... you’re just a girl;
  • You’re a loser, a failure, a disappointment;
  • You’re no good, bad, evil;
  • You’re ugly, fat;
  • Nobody loves you, cares for you, likes you;
  • You’re stupid, dumb, not smart enough,
  • You’re not fast enough, not strong enough;
  • You can’t change, you’re stuck, you’ll never get better, you’re hopeless. 


Such negative messages about oneself are reinforced by discouraging messages that point out that things are hopelessness and will never change for the better: 


  • It’s no use, life will always be hard;

  • If anything, things are going to get worse;

  • You’ll always be disappointed;

  • You can’t win;

  • You don’t have a chance;

  • You might as well give up;

  • There are no happy endings;

  • Love is for the birds;

  • People are awful;

  • Nobody cares;

  • You can’t trust anyone;

  • It’s never what you know but always who you know. 


    This reminds me of the wife of Job:  Just get on with it already - curse God and die! (Job 2:9).[1] 


    There are a number of reasons why people tell negative or discouraging messages:


  1. One reason why someone puts another person down or tries to discourage them is to spare them the pain of disappointment.  Be as pessimistic as I am, lower your expectations, and then you won’t be as hurt as I was.

  2. Sometimes a put-down is meant to motivate another person to do better.  The fact that negativity is really a demotivates in most instances is forgotten.

  3. Another reason for negative and discouraging messages is to hit back when a person is hurt or feels rejected or attacked.  When we are hurt, we all have a tendency to become hurtful, to strike out, in order to hurt the other person’s feelings.

  4. Sometimes people tell us negative messages in order to make themselves feel better about themselves.  If they can make us feel small, in their eyes, but particularly in our own eyes, it allows them feel superior

  5. Another common reason to send negative messages is to gain control.  It is meant to destroy someone’s self-worth in order to manipulate them into doing what a person desires. 


Obviously, when a child hears negative messages repeated, then he or she will end up owning them. 


By the way, I did a bit of research on the prevalence of violent crimes against children in Canada.  Obviously the stats don’t show the whole picture because they do not cover unreported violent crimes against children.[2]  2015 stats Canada figures notes that about 8% of children and youth report sexual abuse, that boys are more likely than girls to be victims of violence, that male victims are abused sexually by non-relatives, that aboriginal people have higher rates of abuse, that reported family violence is highest in the territories (Nunavut being the worse), followed by Saskatchewan and Manitoba (PEI the lowest, then Ontario)


When children are victimized physically, it severely damages a child’s self-esteem, self-talk, and self-image. But words in and of themselves can also be highly damaging.


Whether we liked them or not, as young children, destructive and hateful verbal and non-verbal messages impressed themselves indelibly into our minds.  We believed them because we lacked the ability to question them or to reject them. 


With age we should gain the ability to choose to challenge these negative messages, but we often we don’t. 

  • At times that is because we aren’t even aware that we have them. 

  • At other times it is because we’re reinforce these negative messages by parroting them back to ourselves. 


But I guess one of the worst side effects is that we sometimes use the very words that hurt us, and turn them on our own children or grandchildren or spouses.


We need to become aware of the negative messages and suggestions that come from others and from ourselves so that we are no longer at the mercy of these comments for one, and stop from repeating them on the other.


If we listen to the negative tapes that fill our minds, we will lack the confidence to change.  They can and will sabotage our ability to relate properly to others. 


Why?  Because healthy self-esteem and damaged self-esteem manifest themselves in various ways:



Healthy self-esteem

Damaged self-esteem


Proud, arrogant, boastful, need to impress others, self-righteous

Self-accepting, I like myself

Self-loathing, self-hate

Thick skinned

Easily offended & upset

Encouraging towards others, building them up

Putting others down

Altruistic, caring

Self-centred, uncaring

Easy going



Need to control others

Able to admit mistakes and shortcomings, and to apologize

Always have to be right, it’s always the other person’s fault


This list is by no means inclusive - they are just a few of the things I came up with - but you can tell that if someone’s self-esteem is damaged, whether they are aware of it or not, it can make them negative, selfish, angry, hurtful and easily offended individuals - which in turn has all kinds of negative ramification when it comes to how they relate to others.


If we are to love others as ourselves, as Jesus tells us, – we will have a hard time doing so if we loathe ourselves. 


On the other hand, if my thinking about myself is right - if my self-esteem is not damaged or has become healthy through a process of challenging negative messages and reinforcing good ones, a host of good things can happen.   I will have a cheerful heart, a positive disposition - and all the benefits that go with it.


So while our background may seem to preprogram me into all kinds of negative roles and actions, the truth is, that I don’t need to allow the past to have that kind of power. 




Religion can play a negative or positive part in a person’s ability to overcome the negative messages that they had been told and are now re-telling themselves. 


For some, what they hear at church or the temple or the synagogue simply reinforces their self-loathing.  It discourages them, depresses them, makes them fearful or anxious, increases their guilt, and keeps them stuck in a rut.  


One of the things that annoyed Jesus about the religious leaders of his day is that they were using the Law of Moses as a means of labelling others as worthless and as unloved by God.


Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You give a tenth of mint, dill and cumin to God, but you ignore the things that are so much more important (to God): being upright, merciful and trustworthy. ... You strain out a tiny insect and swallow a whole camel.        

Matthew 23:23a


The Pharisees said, “How can your leader eat with tax collectors and sinners?” ...  Jesus said, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’ (= Hos 6:6).                                             Matthew 9:11-13a


For Jesus, God’s mercy simply cries out for human mercy. The parable of the forgiven debt (the unmerciful servant) is all about this principle (Matt 18:21-35). A person receives God’s mercy but is harsh and hard against other humans and so God’s mercy will be withdrawn from him as well.[3]


So on the one hand, religious faith can actually turn people even more negative - it can feed their negativity. 


However, for others, what they hear in church is extremely freeing and brings with it the ability to see themselves in a new light. 


There is the very real potential that an accurate understanding of God’s love will help our minds to readjust, to refocus, to change perspective, to think positively, to become happier and better people. 


This week I read this little quip:  Self-esteem is little more than a psychological term for recognizing God’s love for us.[4]  The point wasn’t that by recognizing God’s love for us immediately means that we view ourselves in a completely different light.  The point was that a believer has to work at incorporating that realization of being God’s beloved child into their mind and hearts.


God’s love needs to be appropriated not just once, but on an ongoing basis, if our thinking is to change, our view of ourselves is going to change, because the reality is that all of us are prone to fall back into old channels of thinking.  We need to develop new habits of how we think about ourselves. 


God’s desires for us to live fulfilled and yes, joy-filled, lives.  This is possible for those who truly grasp and appropriate God’s love for them.  But like I said, to get there usually takes time and effort.  And part of that effort is being connected to God through speaking with him, through prayer. 


Let’s say you’re dealing with anger issues, often rooted in what happened to us or what was said to us in the past.   Think about what Paul tells the Christians in Ephesus.


Get rid of all bitterness, vengeance (or: rage), anger, violent words and actions, slander, and every form of hateful attitude.                                Ephesians 4:31


That’s a tough one because, like I said, our human reaction to someone who has hurt us IS to hate them, wish them ill, hurt them back ... whether it’s striking out verbally, or gossiping about them behind their back, or putting something mean on Facebook, or treating them as if they didn’t exist. 


And it’s hard not to react in this way because almost always we will feel 100% justified in resenting a person or getting back at them.  

What do you think a repeated prayer to God like this one could potentially do for the times we are really angry with someone else?


- Thank you heavenly Father that you are changing me.  Show me why I am an angry person, heal me from that which makes me angry, so I can be a joyful, happy and cheerful individual.  Thank you!


But there is another part to our anger, and that can be described as bitterness, being resentful, holding on to grudges ... you get the idea. 


Someone hurts our feelings, was mean to us, was abusive ... and we end up hating that person, and there is this resentfulness that just bubbles to the surface every time we think about him or her.  They still have the power over us after all these years to make us feel crumby and upset.


It’s hard to realize that bitterness and resentment is like drinking poison, expecting the other person to die, or like holding on tightly to glowing coal in order to throw it at someone else, but the only person getting burned is you


Jesus taught on forgiveness.  The apostle Paul wrote about forgiveness.  For example


If you forgive others when they hurt you, so will your Father in heaven forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others for their offenses then neither will your Father forgive you.                                              Matthew 6:14-16


Forgive each other just as God in Christ also forgave you.

                                                          Ephesians 4:32


When we have been forgiven, it is possible, if not easy, to extend forgiveness, even to those who have deeply wounded us and so be freed from the misery of resentment.


When Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) was released from 27 years in prison (1990) he made a conscious decision to leave all the hatred, resentment and bitterness behind.  He said that if he hadn’t done so, he would still be in a self-made prison.  He emerged, not bent on vengeance but healing.[5]


And yes, I know that some people are narcissists who lack empathy, others are psychopaths without remorse, others again are predators without mercy.


And they neither desire nor deserve our mercy.  However, these kind of individuals we will need to leave to the justice of God ... but we have to still move on with our lives.  We have to leave them behind.  We have to leave the bitterness and hate behind.  And the only way to let go is to forgive, even if it is simply for our own sake. 


Consider this prayer:


Lord, you know how deeply I was hurt by this person.  You know how every time I think of him/her I still get upset.  Thank you that you can help me to forgive, to want to forgive, and to let go of all that resentment and hurt.  Thank you for giving me a new peace about the past.


I know that just saying one prayer won’t fix things for us.  I think these kind of prayers have to be part of our devotional life because they are ongoing reminder about wanting to let go of the stuff that makes us miserable, is what we need. 


The same is true, if we have a hard time forgiving ourselves for something that we’ve done in the past.  Maybe we injured someone seriously while driving drunk.  Or we had an abortion.  Or maybe we mistreated someone or have taken advantage of someone.  Or maybe it’s just hundreds of times when we compromised our conscience. 


We are told in 1 John that if we seek God’s forgiveness he will give it to us.


If we confess our sins, He will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness because He is faithful and just.                                                 1 John 1:9


That is incredibly freeing.  I don’t have to go through life guilt-ridden, feeling lousy about my mistakes.  If I truly appropriate this into my thinking, then I will be able to forgive myself and move on in life.


And, by the way, that does not mean, that I should feel good about the evil I’ve done or that I now have a license to do whatever crummy thing I want.


But nevertheless, we need to receive forgiveness from God and then forgive ourselves.  So that I won’t be defined by my past mistakes, but that I can be guided by them to do better.  Here’s another example of a prayer:


SLIDE 15 - I know that I have messed up and I still feel terrible about this, but I thank you God that, when I ask you to forgive me, you do exactly that and you wash all the filth and dirt of the past from my heart and soul.  Thank you that you are freeing me to become a better person than I was. 


What if we feel bad about ourselves?  I was repeatedly told as a child that I’m incapable and inept.  The result was that I had no self-assurance whatsoever.  It was as if my brain was programmed to accept and regurgitate that message.  I simply didn’t believe in myself and my abilities at all. 


One verse that I hung on to are Paul’s words to the believers in Corinth:


The Lord said to me, “... my power is made perfect in weakness.”  ... Therefore, when I am weak, then I am strong.                                2 Corinthians 12:10


In other words, when I feel at my weakest, most incapable, most vulnerable, I can tell myself that this is the time when God can and will carry me.  His strength will be sufficient, even when I feel insufficient. 


- Heavenly Father, thank you that I am as adequate and capable as anyone else; that I no longer have to accept the messages that I am somehow lacking.  Thank you for giving me strength to succeed when I feel insufficient.   (tearing “I can’t” to “I can”)


I read this week that self-esteem is made up of feeling capable, but also of feeling loved.  But at times, the message I might have running in my head is that I am not loved ... maybe not even worthy of being loved. 


I know individuals who were constantly told that they were worthless and that no one would ever love them.  Years of hearing that message ended up in the person having a nervous breakdown and being left a shadow of their former self. 


Faith can counteract such negative messages if is able to challenge them on the basis of God’s love.  This love is expressed by the Psalmist:


O God, how precious your thoughts of me are.  How vast is the sum of them.  If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.  When I awake, I am still with you.                                                               Psalm 139:17-18


Jesus also affirmed our great worth to God - God knows the number of hair on our respective heads (Matt 10:30; Luke 12:7).  


Similarly, Paul prays that the believers at Ephesus would have their eyes opened to the vastness of God’s love for them, a love so vast that they cannot even begin to understand (Ephesus 3:18-19).[6]


That should be our prayer for each other, that our eyes would but glimpse the vastness of God’s love for us ... because if we do, and if we are able to hang on to it, then it will mean immense positive change for us.


- Thank you God that I am of great worth to you.  You are interested in me and you love me more than I will ever be able to grasp.  Thank you that nothing in this world will stop you from loving and caring for me.  I will no longer think of myself as worthless or unloved because I know I am a person of worth, loved by you.


And so it goes with the other negative thoughts and negative messages that I send to myself.  They can cause me to be anxious, they can cause me to be

in despair, they can result in addictive behaviour in order to attempt to kill the pain, the voices, ...


These are all areas where I can either listen to the defeating messages in my head or to affirm my faith, the love of God, in prayer ... allowing this to change me in positive ways.




The answer is “yes”, of course I can. However, that may not be the way that we are wired.  We may be people who send out negative and discouraging messages to others for the very same reasons that others did to us. 


And as such, we can be guilty of creating a lot of emotional pain, as we are the source or the reinforcement of the hurtful messages that they have already received or are a sending themselves. 


In other words, I can do a heap of damage when my words are spoken without any thought to their consequences.  And truth be told, because we often are a bundle of insecurities, anxiety, accumulated hurts, ourselves ... sometimes with scabs covering our wounds, but sometimes having open wounds, hurting and raw, that we just make things worse for others.   


Over time, couples often accumulate hundreds and hundreds of perceived and real slights, until their relationship is so hurtful, that they split up ... it’s the proverbial death by 1,000 cuts,[7] only that these cuts are emotional rather than physical. 


As James writes,


The tongue is a fire, a world of injustice among the body parts.  She can corrupt a whole person and set on fire the whole course of life, and itself be set on fire by hell.

                                                                   James 3:6


So for us not to use our words in a destructive manner, some healing will first need to take place within ourselves. 


But what is true of negative words, is just as true of positive ones.  The power of words of support, encouragement, praise, appreciation ... simply cannot be overestimated.  The authors of Proverbs knew the incredible power in positive words:


A kind word encourages (the downcast).                                                                                    Proverbs 12:25


How good is a timely word!                 Proverbs 15:23


A cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones.              Proverbs 15:30[8]


We possess great powers simply through the use of our speech - we have the ability to build up or to tear down, to encourage or to discourage, to help others be freed of negative thoughts or to be enslaved to them.


And so we are encouraged in the Bible to encourage and to build others up.  


Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.   1 Thessalonians 5:11


But encourage one another daily, .... Hebrews 3:13


Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another ....                                                               Hebrews 10:25


This encouragement is something that is to be the norm for believers.  It is to be practiced daily. 


The apostle Paul also writes to the Christians in Ephesus about how they should speak to each other:


Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.                                                    Ephesians 4:29


While these verses were penned to individuals in a church, the need to encourage, to build up, is vitally important within a family situation as well - because often it is there that our hidden insecurities and damaged self-images manifest themselves in the most negative ways.  In other words, our family sees our worst side even if those at the church don’t. 


Encouragement is to the heart what breath is to the lungs, what food is for the stomach, what clothes are for the body.  Let us be the reason why someone smiles today



Some of the most important things we can say:


Of course you can.  You’re a great person.  I’m blessed you’re my kid.  You are smart.  You are creative.  It’s OK.  You’re OK.  I love you.  I’m proud of you.


That doesn’t mean that we cannot voice an opinion or correct our children when they are doing something that is wrong.  But it really depends on how we do it.


  • Am I speaking the truth IN LOVE? 

  • Do I hear (listen to) how I speak? 

  • Have I decided that I will NOT destroy someone’s self-worth or self-confidence? 

  • Have I decided that I will NOT be instrumental in programming someone we love for failure. 

  • Have I decided to be a person who will say something uplifting, encouraging, helpful daily and on a consistent basis?  Especially to those who are part of my family!





Where are you at when it comes to your faith in God?  Have you ever considered what it means if he really did exist?  And really did love you? 


If you meet Jesus, he will change the way you see your self – as God’s beloved child, worth as much as anyone else, of great, great value.  You will learn to accept and like and forgive yourself.


If you meet Jesus, he will make it possible for you to become a better person.


If you meet Jesus, he will make you into a person of encouragement, a person that finds a kind and encouraging word for others.  A word that will lift them up and will not tear them down.



[1] Job 2:9-10 - Then his wife said to him, "Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die!"  But he said to her, "You sound like one of the foolish women when they speak. Should we only accept good from God and not accept adversity?"

[2] One government report (2010) listed 212 reported cases of sexual abuse out of 100,000.  Sexual abuse 212 per 100,000, Saskatchewan has the highest provincial rate of family violence against children and youth, less happens in large cities, girls are more at risk than boys, and most offenders are male family members.   A 2017 statscan report using.

[3] Matt 18:34-35 - In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.  This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from you heart.

[4] Alan Nelson, The Power of a New Attitude (Baker, 2001), p.109.

[5] It took him a while to get there.  I think he confessed to acts of violence in court.  While in prison he likely sanctioned the Church Street bombings in 1983 that killed 19 (the actual number of people killed in 1980’s bombings by the ANC were likely in the hundreds and hundreds and the injured in the thousands - alone the landmines set by the ANC resulted in 125 deaths).  He refused a presidential pardon in 1985 because he would not renounce violence.  After his rise to prominence he also kept close ties with the likes of Castro, Gaddafi, Arafat, Sani Abacha, and Suharto.  

[6] Ephesians 3:17-19 - And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

[7] A form of torture and capital punishment practised in mid- and late-Imperial China (as well as Vietnam) from the tenth century until its abolition in 1905.  A knife is used to remove portions of the body over an extended period of time, eventually resulting in death.

[8] Proverbs 16:24 - Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.


Jan 21 - Does Money Make My World Go Round?

Does Money Make My World Go Round? -  Family Matters Part 2

January 21, 2018



Family Matters - Part 2

January 21st, 2018



If we are single, then how we handle our finances is very important ... making sure we are living within our means, making sure that we can afford to pay the rent, study, save toward retirement, and so on.


But it is also important if we are married.  Money, along with sex, how to parent children, division of chores in the home, and the in-laws (extended family), are the most common and often the most destructive areas of conflict in a home.


So really all of us need to resolve how we will deal with our finances in a positive way - and, if we have children, hopefully pass on to them some good values in this regard 



The Bible has a lot to say about finances.  There are two opposite extremes when it comes to interpreting what the Bible says - one of which was more common in the Middle Ages, one of which is very common today.


On the one side, there is the idea that Christians by their very calling have to be poor.  And there are a number of verses that are quoted by those who believe in a poverty gospel.




No one of you can be my disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.                                Luke 14:33


Sell your possessions and give the income to the poor.  Make yourselves wallets which do not tear and an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys.  For where your treasure is there will your heart be also.                              Luke 12:33-34


What is often not considered is that in both cases Jesus, as an itinerant preacher and teacher, was speaking about the actual cost of becoming one of his immediate disciples - those who wanted to follow him literally had to leave everything behind ... homes, family, occupation ... in order for them to be able to physically follow him. 


At one time Jesus told a rich young man to give away his wealth to the poor prior to following him, which the man refused to do.  This caused Jesus to comment that it is very difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.  It is easier for a camel to make it through the eye of a needle.


Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God.  It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. ... All things are possible with God. Mark 10:24-25,27


Because of passages like these, and Jesus’ teaching about the dangers of greed, some individuals from early on in church history, practiced a form of Christian asceticism.  For example, we can read of both female and male Christians who became hermits in the deserts of Egypt (3rd century).


As centuries passed, some Christians became convinced that voluntary poverty was a special virtue.  The renunciation of worldly possessions, also known as a vow of poverty, became more common.  Poverty as an ideal was embraced by the religious orders and led to the monastic movement (along with the vows of obedience and chastity).  


The Benedict vow of “conversion of behaviour” included voluntarily forgoing private ownership.  Dominicans and Franciscans (12th century) professed poverty as one of the guiding principles of their lives. 


As a result, the cell’s of monks and nuns can be extremely Spartan, consisting of little more than a bed, chair and table - although sometimes there is also a praying nook or a sink.


The whole Amish lifestyle is predicated on the belief that God (Jesus) demands a simple way of life from his people.  The goal is to get rid of the often constant preoccupation with having, purchasing, and owning more.


But even irreligious people may end up trying to simplify their lives.  They may end up living in trailers, huts or mini-homes not out of necessity, but out of choices.  They get rid of almost everything that could be superfluous, being content with the mere necessities of life. 



A Spartan way of life has become synonymous with a simple lifestyle.  Why?  Because in the ancient city state of Sparta, life was purposefully made hard.


Infants that were considered weak were exposed and left to die.  All Spartan boys were taken from their homes at age 7 and raised in the military in an extremely tough and demanding way.  There were absolutely no luxuries.  The boys and then men endured a rigorous amount of training, they had to march barefoot summer and winter, and were hardly given any food because they were expected to steal to survive - and not get caught. 


As they got older, the training became so intense that it was said that, for Spartan men, going into battle was actually considered a respite from training.  All of this ended up making them into one of the most effective armies ever.[1]  So a Spartan way of life was really tough and devoid of any luxury of any kind.  ]


But despite Jesus’ words, I don’t think that Jesus was promoting a lifestyle of poverty for everyone.  After he began his public ministry Jesus lived frugally and likely did not own a home,[2] he was supported financially by some people with deep pockets.  That was the only way that he and his disciples could in fact travel around, not have to work a steady job, have enough to survive on, AND still give to charity and pay the Roman tax. 


Nor does the Bible teach a gospel of poverty. It does not speak of wealth as morally wrong and poverty as morally right.  The rich aren’t necessarily evil and the poor good (although the parable of Lazarus and the rich man could be understood to be pointing in that direction).[3]


Money is simply a neutral medium of exchange.  In God’s eyes, there is ultimately no difference between someone who is rich and someone who is poor, because all human beings are his creation, and what actually matters to God is where their heart is at.  Do they love money? 



The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.  Some, who long after it have wandered away from the faith ...

                                                          1 Timothy 6:10


Has money become their god? 


The answer is “no,” it does not.  The only benefit of poverty is that it may remove pride, or unconcern for others.  However, some poor people are greedy and hard-hearted while others are content and generous. It really depends on the individual’s heart.


The apostle Paul, mostly dirt-poor during his ministry, never-the-less warned the Colossians against a self-made religion that treats the body harshly but does little to restrain worldly desires (Col 23:23).


Money or wealth are not problems in and of themselves, but they can become a problem if they become the focal point of our lives, if they take the place of God, if we serve them instead of God - as Jesus put it. 


In one of his parables, Jesus said that those who are deceived by wealth will become unproductive for God (Matthew 13:22).


Seed is sown among the thorns ....

The worry of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word and it becomes unfruitful.

Matthew 13:22


The deceitfulness of riches or wealth is the lie that we will be happy and fulfilled only if we are rich or wealthy.  The truth is that if we are miserable now, we will be miserable even when we have more.  The reality is that while wealth may make life easier and more pleasurable, it also can add a lot of stress - because we have to maintain and protect our assets. 


The deceitfulness of wealth also traps us in a constant effort to get more, no matter how high our income or assets, because we never consider ourselves wealthy. 


Someone described it like this: “Money is like Athlete's foot, the more you scratch it the more it itches ....”


So is there such a thing as a poverty gospel.  However, what about a prosperity gospel?




There seem to be a lot of promises, particularly in the OT, that indicate that God would prosper individuals and their offspring who are particularly pious.


… You still the hunger of those you cherish; their sons have plenty, and they store up wealth for their children.                                                            Psalm 17:14


Blessed are all who revere the LORD (YHWH), who live according to his will. You will enjoy the rewards of your work, blessings and prosperity will be yours.                                                                                   Psalm 128:1-2  


Praise the LORD (YHWH). Blessed is the man who reveres the LORD (YHWH), who finds great delight in obeying his commands.  His children will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed.  Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteousness endures forever.                                    Psalm 112:1-3


Compare: Proverbs 10:22; 12:21; 13:21; 15:6; 21:21


Also known as “prosperity theology” or the “Word-faith movement,” this teaching has been made famous by a number of TV evangelist and preachers in the US, but has been picked up around the world and is particularly popular in Africa and Asia.  



Its basic idea behind the prosperity gospel is that it is God’s will that all Christians experience earthly prosperity.  God will bless all believers with good health and plenty of money to spend on themselves, ... if only they have faith.


THE sign that a person has faith is when someone “sows” a financial gift, so called “seed money”, usually to the organization or the ministry headed by the prosperity preacher.  They have to sow in order to reap a financial return. 


The reverse is therefore true as well.  If a believer is experiencing sickness or financial problems it is due to a lack of faith on that person’s part. 


Does the Bible teach a prosperity gospel?  The answer is, “no, it doesn’t.”   While the Bible does teach that there is a general connection between faithfulness and prosperity - it makes clear that this connection is not guaranteed! 


What we read in the Psalms and Proverbs are principles or general statements, these are not guarantees that things will always turn out that way or promises that God will bless a generous person with lots of money. 


It is totally inappropriate for someone to presume that God is obligated to give us material wealth. 


God does not promise us a life free of troubles, financial or otherwise. Quite to the contrary, Jesus warns, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33a).


In fact, the writer of Psalm 73 complains about the fact that, despite his faithfulness, he is experiencing troubles, while the wicked seem to be bedded on roses.


I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.  They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong.  They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills.  ...  This is what the wicked are like-- always carefree, they increase in wealth.  Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.  All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning.                                        Psalm 73:3-14


We find the same complaint in both the prophets and in wisdom literature.


Why have the wicked prospered?  Why are all those who are treacherous at ease?                       Jeremiah 12:1


There is a righteous man who dies young and a wicked man who lives long despite his wickedness.

                                                          Ecclesiastes 7:15


Sometimes I hear someone praying for healing based on the fact that a person is a “kings’ kid”.  Again, the belief is that God, the eternal Father and ruler over the universe only wants good things to happen to his children.  The reality is that the prosperity gospel is wrong and highly damaging.


So how should Christians treat the whole issue of money, income and wealth?


Some Christians think that Jesus’ teaching about not worrying about the future, not worrying about having the necessities of life, not worrying about having clothes and food (cf. Matt 6:25-34) indicates that they don’t have to think about the future,[4]


Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you.  Don’t be anxious about tomorrow.  Tomorrow will take care of itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.             Matthew 6:33-34


They think that God is obligated to look after them, regardless of whether or not they work, make an income, or are able to pay the bills. 


Hey God, I’ve dedicated you my whole life, I spend all my time in prayer, and I did what you said, I simply didn’t worry, didn’t give any thought as to the future.  Now I’m in trouble, and you need to bail me out. 


I doubt very much that this is what Jesus had in mind ... Jesus is not speaking about stopping work, being irresponsible, or not making plans for the future.   


So let me just reiterate: 

1. There’s nothing wrong with making money or being rich - the problem is with having money and not being generous with it. 


Almost the last words that Paul writes in his letter to Timothy are words to wealthy Christians:


Teach those who are rich not to be conceited, not to trust their wealth, which is unreliable (or: uncertain), but to trust God, who richly gives us everything for us to enjoy.   Tell them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous, willing to share with others.  Thus they will store up a treasure for themselves, a firm foundation for the future, in order to take hold of that which truly is life.

                                                          1 Timothy 6:17-19  


What “truly is life” is pointing, not at an enjoyable life on earth, but eternal life. 


In the book of James, the author chastises the rich because they were doing the exact opposition.  Instead of being generous, they increased their wealth by oppressing and taking advantage of the day laborers who were working for them. He goes on ...


You lived in luxury and indulged every pleasure.  You have fattened yourself for the day of slaughter.  You have ignored and “murdered” good people who could not stand up against you.                      James 5:5-6


2.  There’s nothing wrong with being wise when it comes to money and what happens in the future.  It may be disastrous to ignore the advice of your financial advisor.


Our government overspends each and every year, and the national and provincial debts are constantly climbing.  National debt is at $ 650 billion, and to that about 60 million is added every day.  BC is running a $ 67 billion deficit


At this rate, it’s anyone’s guess when the government will expect its citizens to provide for their own retirement.  It just means that Canadians will have to be even more astute when it comes to their retirement.


There is this strange prayer recorded in Proverbs 30:


Give me neither poverty nor riches.  Provide for my necessities, so that I will not, being full, deny you and say, “Who is the LORD (YHWH)?”  Or that I will not, being in need, steal and so profane the name of my God.                                                            Proverbs 30:8-9


The writer is asking God on the one hand not to make him so poor that he ends up lacking the necessities of life. But, on the other hand, he also asks God not to make him so rich that he ends up denying God. 


What this prayer reflects is a desire to have enough without becoming totally self-absorbed and self-reliant, and lacking the motivation or desire to live for and serve God. When that point is reached is probably different for every person.


We live in a society where wealth and prosperity and possessions are considered to be the highest good because they are believed to guarantee happiness and contentment and meaning. 


I know that to be false, simply because I had some very rich individuals in my own family and their wealth neither made them content nor happy, and it didn’t provide them with any kind of purpose in life other than making more money. 


As Christians, regardless of how much we have or don’t have, there has to be a certain detachment and contentment when it comes to money?  


What I mean is that our children and grandchildren should realize through our examples that there are a lot more important things that just money.  That God and family and kindness are much higher values.


So here are some suggestions:


The nation of Israel was reminded that the very ability to work and make money is a gift from God. 


But remember the LORD (lit. YHWH) your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth, ...                                                                       Deuteronomy 8:18


The implication of this verse is that God is the ultimate owner of everything that we have and own.


Whether you eat or drink or do anything else, do all for the glory of God.                          1 Corinthians 10:31


This desire to bring glory to God with all of my life and the choices I make, includes the way I deal with my finances.


The author of the book of Hebrews, much like Jesus, makes it clear that when it comes to personal finances, being at ease has to do with trust in God. 


Keep your heart free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God himself has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you”.           

                                                          Hebrews 13:5[5]


Paul calls the ability to be OK with the way things are a “secret” that he had learned, probably over time.


I have learned to be content regardless of circumstance, how to get along with little or much, ... I have learned the secret (of contentment) when full and when hungry, having an abundance or not enough.    Philippians 4:12


Do you realize that when someone is content, then they’re happy?  I mean, we try to find happiness on the basis of what we can afford to experience or purchase, or on the basis of how others treat us, or on the basis of a host of other things that we think we can control.  But the reality is, that true happiness is found in being content. 


As already mentioned, that does not mean that I don’t do anything to better my situation when I can.  It’s not just sitting back and hoping for God to intervene and drop money into our lap. 


Then Jesus said to them, “Watch out!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”                 Luke 12:15


There is a lot in the Bible about greed or the love of money.  Ron Blue, who has written extensively about financial management defines greed as “just a little bit more.[6]

The writer of Ecclesiastes echoes that definition.  There’s just something insatiable about greed.  Whatever a greedy person has, it’s simply never enough.


The one who loves money will never be satisfied with what he has.  The one who loves wealth will never be satisfied with his income.                   Ecclesiastes 5:10


When money is seen to represent prestige, status, security, power, success, and influence, then the love of money is inevitable. 


People who are not enslaved to or in love with money are not obsessed with getting more.  I’m not sure who the fabled Jones’ are or how they got to represent a standard of achievement, but people who are content aren’t pressured to keep up with them.

All our stuff is just temporary.  I heard about a man who decided to take it all with him. He made his wife swear at his bedside that she would put all the money he owed in the coffin with him when he died.  So, at his funeral, she dutifully wrote a check for all the money in the bank and put it in the casket with him.  But she said to herself that if he didn’t cash it within a month, then it was worthless wherever he was, and the money is hers!


Just as we have brought nothing into this world, so we won’t be able to take anything out of it either.

                                                          1 Timothy 6:7


When our lives are over, the game pieces we thought were of such great importance are put away, and the lid is closed.


The late Peter Marshall wrote a prayer that would be good for us to pray with regularity:


Forbid it, Lord, that our roots become too firmly attached to this earth, that we should fall in love with things. Help us to understand that the pilgrimage of this life is but an introduction, a preface, a training school for what is to come. Then shall we see all of life in its true perspective. Then shall we not fall in love with things of time, but come to love the things that endure. Then shall we be saved from the tyranny of possessions which we have no leisure to enjoy, of property whose care becomes a burden. Give us, we pray, the courage to simplify our lives. Amen.                                           Peter Marshall


When we selfishly cling to or desire more money and material goods simply for their own sake, then we are in bondage - unable to love our neighbour - holding on tightly for ourselves things that we could easily share with the needy.[7] 


A pastor was aware that one of his parishioners, a bank director, had never donated to the church so he dropped in on him one day.

“George, I’m sure that you make a decent wage as a bank director, but you’ve never given a penny to the church.  Aren’t you interested in helping the many programs we support?”

“Pastor,” the bank director replied, “Do you know that my mother is extremely ill, with very expensive medical bills?”

“Um, no George, I was not aware of that.”

“And Pastor, did you know that my brother is blind and unemployed?”

“Did you know that my sister’s husband died, leaving her broke with 4 kids?”

“Sorry to hear that, George, I … I … I had no idea.”

So,” said the bank director, “if I don’t give any money to them, why would I give any to the church?


With regard to the collection for the impoverished Christians in Jerusalem, Paul writes this to the believers in Corinth:


Let everyone contribute just as they determined in their hearts, not grudgingly or because they’re being pressured, because God loves a cheerful giver.  God is able to pour out (his) full grace on you, so that you have everything you need and are still be able to do an abundance of good.                2 Corinthians 9:7-8


I know a few people who likely give more to charity than they should - and you may be in that position.  However, most of us likely could be a bit more generous if we were able to spend less on stuff we don’t need. 


Maybe being generous is simply the difference between filling our travel mug at home instead of getting it at Starbucks.  $ 5 - 5 times a week, 52 weeks out of the year, makes $ 1,300 a year. 


Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”                                                                              Mark 8:34


Many of us, especially those of us who grew up post-depression and post-war, have never known what it means to live frugally.  We have never had to deny ourselves much of anything.  We simply have no concept of what that means. 


Someone once said, “Money talks  - and mine always says good-bye.

We have to learn to act our wage - and teach our children the same.


This is probably one of the reasons why Canadians are so indebted.  We no longer save money until we can buy something.  We buy whatever we want to immediately because we can put it on credit - and we reap the worries that come with a 21% interest rate.


Consider the following scenarios:

Ellen is 30 years old and has a $3,500 balance on her credit card at 18% interest. She no longer uses the card and makes the minimum payment each month. How old will she be when she has her credit card paid off? The answer is 70 years old.

Susan and Tom need a new washing machine, so they go to Home Depot and purchase one for $ 300 on their Home Depot credit card, don’t use it again and make the minimum payment each month. By the time the washing machine is paid off, they ended up paying $ 1,200 dollars instead of $ 300!


The borrower becomes the slave of the lender.

                                                          Proverbs 22:7


Some of us need plastic surgery - that means cutting up our credit cards so we don’t overspend anymore.


Some of us need to make a budget.  A budget is simply a spending plan, where we tell our money where to go instead of wondering where it went.  The reason we avoid budgeting is because we want to spend impulsively, and a budget requires that we sort out the difference between needs and wants. 


I don’t believe that Christians have to live absolutely Spartan lives, but I do think that we have to learn to practice the virtue of greater self-denial.  It may mean a simpler life-style or delayed purchases. 


But it will also help us to have a proper attitude toward possessions - and it will help us to teach our children about these virtues as well.


What do you think is the greatest treasure you could possibly possess?  Is it financial abundance?  Is it peace of mind?  Is it happiness?  Is it another person to love?  Is it eternal life?





Can you answer this question based on the 7 points I covered?


How do I hit the right balance (overview)


  1. Do I recognize the ultimate source of my income?
  2. Do I seek to honour God in all I do?
  3. Am I learning to be content in all circumstances?

4.  Do I resist all forms of greed?

5.  Do I remember that life is uncertain?

6.  Am I generous with what I have?

7.  Have I learned to say “no” to myself?


[1] The fact that men generally married at 30, eventually meant that the birthrate was so low that the number of men dropped significantly over the centuries, weakening the army to a point that it became vulnerable.

[2] The Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20)

[3] See also James 2:6-7 - the rich oppress, drag into court, and blaspheme the name of Jesus.

[4] Particular Matt 6:34 - Do not be anxious about tomorrow for tomorrow will take care of itself.  Every day has enough trouble of its own.

[5] The quote is likely in reference to Deut 31:6,8

[6] Some of the books include, The Debt Squeeze (newly released Taming the Money Monster), Money Matters for Parents and Their Kids, Raising Money-Smart Kids, A Woman’s Guide to Financial Peace of Mind, Sneakers from Heaven, Storm Shelter.

[7] According to Gallop, Canada moved from second most charitable country (2013) to 7h most charitable country (2017).  Most charitable: Myanmar, US, Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka.  Least charitable countries included Croatia, China, Palestine, Yemen, Armenia, Greece, Serbia, Morocco, Lithuania, etc.  https://www.cafonline.org/docs/default-source/about-us-publications/cafworldgivingindex2017_2167a_web_210917.pdf?sfvrsn=ed1dac40_10

Jan 14 - When People Walk Away From God

When People Walk Away From God - Family Matters Part 1

January 14, 2018



Family Matters - Part 1

January 14th, 2018


One of the most painful experiences for Christians is to have loved ones walk away from God and reject Him.  And growing up in the church and in a Christian home is no guarantee that they won’t.  It is a common enough experience, that I felt it would be worthwhile to take a look at the reasons why these things happen and how we should react to them.


1. Religion or church seems boring and/or irrelevant


Individuals who have grown up in a Christian home or who have had some church background drift away from God, from their faith, at times simply because they found church boring or the sermons irrelevant. 


It’s like an Atari VCS.  It may have had some use a while ago, but in today’s world it’s just not exciting or relevant anymore. 


Some people think that church should be more like a party, and less like a lecture at a university. 



I like southern gospel, and have been watching some church services from the southern US online.  They are rocking.  And many of the songs and messages are focused on the good things that can happen when people come to Jesus. 


One of my favourite hymns that we used to sing many years ago is “Victory in Jesus[1].  And many of the sermons and songs in the southern gospel tradition are very much like it.  They are uplifting and encouraging. 


But as I was watching and listening, I realized that the people who were singing these songs and dancing to them and shouting out “Amen” to the preacher’s quips, ... these Christians are faced with the same difficulties and problems that other Christians are - their lives are not necessarily easier when it comes to getting up and going to work on Monday morning. 


I guess what I’m trying to say, that while it IS exhilarating and fun to be on the mountain top, the reality is that you can’t live there. 


Those who are constantly seeking the next spiritual high just don’t seem to get that.  And those who are leaving church because it isn’t always the most exciting, fun place to be, don’t get it either.


On the other hand, as believers we can also choose to dwell in the valley of the shadow of death, in a spiritually dry and exhausting place, where nothing much happens or changes. 


But again, this is not a place where you would want to stay for very long either.  I honestly don’t blame people for wanting to stay away if church is dry and dusty. 


Some people simply get so preoccupied with other things, stressed and distracted ... church becomes just another thing to squeeze into their already busy schedules.  


Some people say that they would much rather go for a walk than go to church. To golf, to play some other sport, or to sleep in, rather than go to church.   


Or maybe it’s just that people are tired of hearing that they have to make a difference ... when their primary interest is simply trying to catch happiness and meaning by being focused on self. 


Some people wander away from God because praying seems to be a futile endeavour.  They ask and ask God for something, but then don’t receive what they’re asking for.


And it isn’t that the request is something frivolous.  Maybe they ask that they would find a Christian spouse.  Or maybe they ask that they would find a decent job.  Or maybe they ask that a loved one would get better. 


But God doesn’t seem to hear or he doesn’t seem to care enough to actually answer the prayer. So God himself may be irrelevant if he can’t or won’t answer prayer the way we would like him to.


But what happens when our prayers ARE answered?  If so, it is often set aside as a coincidence.


Some church people drift from God because others at the church just aren’t caring enough or interested enough in them or their opinion. 


Maybe someone in church was mean or uncaring or selfish or abrupt or harsh.  Or maybe an opinion was given and no one seemed to jump on it.  “We should do this or that.”  OK, then you make it happen.  That’s not at all what I meant.  What I meant is that others should make it happen.  . 


Some people drift away from God because they get into the wrong crowd - possibly in high school or perhaps after graduation.  Partying and drinking and smoking up just seems too tempting and too much “fun”.  The feeling is that life should be an ongoing party and no-one should be telling me what I should or shouldn’t do. 


All too easily, an ugly thing becomes tolerated, even viewed as the possibly useful thing, then the permissible thing, and finally the attractive thing. It does not happen in a moment. Standards are lowered gradually and imperceptibly. Sin becomes known by another name. We accommodate at one stage of life things which earlier would have been totally unacceptable.            Raymond Brown


Some of those who grew up in church end up living a lifestyle that they know is incompatible with God’s will, but they think that their personal happiness depends on it ...  so maybe God just doesn’t want them to be happy. 


Others come to the conclusion that they do not want any boundaries placed on them when it comes to what they should and shouldn’t do, whether it comes to the inappropriate use of drugs, alcohol, their sexuality, whatever ... it could really be a host of things.  It’s much easier to ignore God and walk away from him, than to stay close and feel bad or adjust one’s behaviour or lifestyle.


There are many reasons why some - maybe even ourselves - slowly drift away from God over time. 


All those things don’t necessarily mean that a person will stay away from God for the rest of their lives, but I guess, the danger is there that they will.  Eventually the result could be a growing alienation from anything to do with God, that they carry through their whole lives and into their graves.  


This is somewhat different from those who, by all accounts, seemed to have had a very strong personal faith in Christ, who were baptized, possibly became members, were highly involved in the church, maybe even gone to Bible college or seminary, but who have come to the conviction that they were sorely mistaken and as a result have become more and more antagonistic toward Christianity and zealous in their desire to dissuade others from the Christian faith.


I believe even these individuals could potentially have another change of heart, but it is much less likely, and only some very dramatic event could potentially bring them back to faith.


In either case, the temptation is to either write individuals off completely, because, as the Bible points out clearly, there is in fact a point of no return (Heb. 6:4-6).


For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of God’s message and the powers of the age to come, and who subsequently have fallen away, since they are crucifying all over again the Son of God, bringing harm on themselves while causing others to view him with contempt.          Hebrews 6:4-6


The problem is that I don’t think it is for us to determine who may be at the place of “no return.” 


On the other hand, the temptation is to think that people who walk away from God are saved, no matter what their life and faith choices may be.  This is captured in the simplistic phrase “once saved always saved,” as well as on a misunderstanding of Proverbs 22:6, ...


Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.                        Proverbs 22:6


... which, like all proverbs, is not a unqualified promise but a statement of a likely outcome.


In other words, it is very hard to distinguish at times between a person who has temporarily walked away from God and the one who has rejected God completely and finally - which is why, I think, when it comes right down to it, we should treat anyone who walks away from God in the same way.


Now, I have always been fascinated by the reasons why individuals reject Christianity, especially those who seemed to have had a strong conversion experience.


This week I have again glanced at some books I read years ago.  They included: 


  • Why I am not a Christian,” by the philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) published 1927; 55 years old at the time.

  • The misery of Christendom,” by former Lutheran theologian Joachim Kahl;[2] (1941-); published1968; 27 years old at the time.

  • Farewell to God,” by former evangelist Charles Templeton (1915-2001); published 1996; 81 years at the time.

  • Why I rejected Christianity,” by former Christian apologist John Loftus (1954-); first published 2006, 52 years old at the time. 


The first is an atheist, the second a liberal theologian turned philosopher, but the other two, Templeton and Loftus, relay what appear to have been genuine conversion experiences prior to their rejection of God and Christianity. 


As I read through the books I have tried to list the reasons given by these authors under broad topics.  I should just interject at this point that the previous reasons why people in church slowly wander away from God and the reasons why convinced Christians decide to reject their faith, are not necessarily different. 


So, for example, the death of a loved one despite ongoing prayer, could make someone who seems to be a strong Christian turn their back on God.  The same is true of the whole issue of lifestyle choices, which has to do with God being a killjoy ... not wanting his followers to have “fun”, however defined, which is why this may seem a bit repetitive at times.


1. Personal Reasons


Even those who see themselves as the most rational of all opponents to faith don’t walk away from God simply because of philosophical or theological issues.  So often the reason for the choice to reject their faith is for personal reasons, after which logic is used to justify that rejection.


The first of these personal reasons is some kind of moral compromise. It isn’t as if this is something new.  Even in the church of the 1 century, were those who walked away from the faith because of this.


Some people, eager for money, have walked away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.                                                                     1 Timothy 6:10


... In the last days people will love themselves, love money, ... love pleasure rather than love God                                                                   2 Timothy 3:1-2,4



One common reason why people abandon their faith is because they knowingly compromise God’s standards and either don’t want to feel guilty about it, or who are surprised when their fellow Christians are not as supportive or as accepting of their behaviour as they would like them to be


Interestingly, two of the authors I mentioned, originally married Christian wives but subsequently had long-standing affairs and eventually divorced their wives.  On the basis of his own experience, one of the men argued that the sexual morality of the Bible should be rejected because it is simply unattainable. 


The other one (Loftus) wrote about how negative his feelings of guilt were.  Guilt needs to be rejected out of hand, and since it is part and parcel of the Christian experience, belief in God and Christianity needs to be rejected. Get rid of the cause of your guilt and be a much happier person.  Another person reason why apparently “strong” Christians reject their faith is because they were hurt.


Some individuals want a loving, caring and faithful Christian community to uphold and support them.  When they are personally disappointed because someone in the church doesn’t live up to their expectations, or when they experience negative interpersonal conflicts with people in the church, they walk away and reject God.


Some of these experiences, of course, can be horrendous - like being sexually abused by a Christian leader, or a prominent pastor being caught in moral sin.[3]


Some individuals are rightly offended by the blatant greed and avarice of some TV evangelists that spend much of their time pleading for money and who live in unbelievable luxury,[4] some of whom are blatant liars.[5]


When I was doing some research this week, I came across one article about a prominent speaker back in the 1980’s, who I went to hear on more than one occasion in Vancouver. Apparently, he, was a complete charlatan who had lied about his personal experiences and had numerous affairs on his numerous wives.[6]


But most of the time, the reasons for walking away from the church, and possibly from God, are much more trivial, often nothing more than minor disagreements or personalities that rub each other the wrong way.


While it is true that Christians have done immeasurable good: ministered to the sick, the dying, the bereaved, built schools and universities, orphanages and hospitals, cared for the poor, fed the hungry, brought education to the illiterate, and otherwise improved the lives of millions,


... other so-called Christians have also has used religion or theological differences as a means to excuse and encourage violence, oppression, war, torture, murder, hate and division. 


So the second reason why some former Christians have turned their back on God is because of the ...


The church not only included the likes of

Florence Nightingale (nursing),

William Wilberforce (vs. slavery),

George Müller (orphans in 19th cent. England),

Mother Teresa (sick and dying in Calcutta),

Lord Shaftsbury (children in England),

Thomas Stephenson (street children, England),

Abbe Pierre (homeless in France),

Camilus de Lellis (Red Cross),

Clara Barton (US Red Cross),

William Booth (Salvation Army), and

David Livingstone (medical missionary to Africa).


It also included Thomas de Torquemada, the 15th century leader of the Spanish Inquisition,

Rodrigo Borgia, also known as pope Alexander 6th,

the vicious conquistador Hernando Cortes (brutal conquistador; cf. Pedro de Alvarado),[7] and

Athanase Seromba who encouraged the Hutu soldiers to kill the Tutsi’s who had come to find shelter in the church during the Rwandan genocide.



In the middle ages, heretics, which often just meant other Christians who didn’t believe exactly like those in charge of the church, were tortured and burned to death.  Sometimes so-called heretics were killed in the tens of thousands.[8]  A lot of good people died horrible deaths.


Conquistadors, many of whom considered themselves devout Christians, decimated the native populations by the 100’s of thousands, sometimes in awful ways.


Because the actions of Christians are unjust and unfair, Christianity needs to be rejected as false.  One former Christian also argued that the whole issue of who goes and doesn’t go to heaven is unfair as well since ... .


b. Religious beliefs are based on birthplace


The argument is that people become Christians because of where and when they were born - something totally beyond their control.  God, if he was just, could never hold anyone accountable who did not become a Christian if they were born, for example, in a Muslim or Hindu society.  Therefore it would also be presumptuous to assume that Christianity is the true religion.


Another argument against Christianity and God is that ...


c. Hell is too horrendous

Some former Christians come to the conviction that a place of eternal punishment is unfair and unjust because whatever crime or evil was committed was done within time and space.  . 


Now, because Jesus believed in and spoke of hell, he cannot be God, he cannot be the best and wisest of men.


By the way, we should remember that hell is not at all what we may picture it to be.  Yes, it will be a place of regret and one where God is not present, but that does not mean it is one where people are being tortured by Satan and his hordes.[9] (Lake of fire where demons and the souls of the evil hang out together as per Dante’s Inferno)


One big argument against Christianity or faith in God is that the OT portrays God as a vindictive, bloodthirsty, tribal god. 


d. The God of the OT is bloodthirsty


In the OT, God is portrayed as unjust, brutish, vain, vindictive, and violent, especially when it comes to how Israel was told to annihilate the inhabitants of Canaan and how God needed to be appeased with animal sacrifices.


The mass killing of cows today is not in relation to the temple sacrifices in biblical days, however, on holy days and festivals, literally hundreds and hundreds of animals, cows, sheep, goats, and pigeons would be killed by cutting their necks.


Another argument against God is based on ...


e. The suffering of the innocent


The basic premise is that a loving God should not allow suffering of any kind, but particularly the suffering of the innocent, such as children, or good people.


This is a world map where the level of suffering is rated.  The darkest areas are where human suffering is the greatest.  As you can see, there are countries in Africa, such as Mauritania, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Congo, Angola, and Mozambique;

On the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen;

In Asia, there are countries such as Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Vietnam.  But this map was from 1992 (25 years ago).  Things have changed to some degree.  For example, places like Syria and Iraq would likely rank among the highest of where people suffer.


Nevertheless, if you overlay this map with one on global illiteracy or global hunger or global state of peace, those very same countries generally fare the worst.[10]  


The view of some who reject their former faith is that there is such a pervasiveness of suffering, pain and death in nature and due to human activity, that a loving God would not be able to stand idly by. 


The third category of reasons why some former Christians turn completely away from God has to do with science.


This is the view that science and faith, or reason and faith, are mutually incompatible.  The argument goes, that if you are a rational being you have to reject faith.  If you believe, you have to reject logic.  The fact that many eminent and highly intelligent scientists are also Christians has to be ignored.


a. Genesis is wrong


The point is made that the creation account in Genesis contradicts scientific fact, especially when it comes to the age of the universe and the development of life on the earth.


b. Miracles are not possible


It is argued that the writers of the Bible are reflecting a superstitious worldview that simply does not fit with what we know to be reality. 


Part of this superstition is the belief in miracles, which means that much of what is recorded as history in the Bible is in fact myth and legend.  Because the account of Jesus’ life in the gospel are full of myth and legend, it is impossible to discover who Jesus really was and what he really said.


c. Lack of definitive proof for the existence of God


There is no conclusive proof that God exists.  Mind you, neither is there conclusive proof for the non-existence of God.  However, some who lost their faith would argue, it is more likely that God does not exist because prayers are not answered, there is suffering in the world, miracles aren’t possible, and so on.


d. No afterlife is possible


Because the brain is what holds our memories and gives us our personalities, when it is destroyed after death, we cease to exist.  There is no afterlife.


A few comments on the above.  First of all, there is a reason why I listed the three main categories in the order I did.  That is because in my experience, the most common reason why people walk away from God or perhaps simply from the church, are first and foremost personal issues.  The least common reason why people fall away is because of scientific reasons.


Second, while I understand the various reasons for walking away from God, I obviously don’t think that they are conclusive.  For one, belief and reason don’t necessarily have to be contradictory.  There are Christians who are highly intelligent, logical, open to reason and so on.[11] 


I am convinced that Hume’s argument against the possibility of miracles does not hold water, nor do I believe that prayers aren’t answered (although many perhaps not the way we would like them to be). 


Although I personally struggle with some passages in the Bible, I don’t conclude that God is sexist, racist, or evil, nor do I agree that God has to get rid of all evil in the world in order to be good and loving.  


Never-the-less, I am equally convinced that some Christians have allowed their own insecurities and weaknesses and failings and desires to make them easily offended, unproductive, and unconcerned for the environment. 


I readily admit that the history of the church is, at times, appalling, to say the least.  Further, I agree that a view of the Bible as a science book has led to the condemnation of Galileo, forcing him, under the threat of execution, to recant his assertion that the earth rotated around the sun, and placing him under house arrest for the rest of his life. 


However, I realize that I do not have to be able to answer every person’s questions or doubts or problems with the Bible or the God.  It’s quite OK to say, “that’s a good point, I’m still thinking about that one myself.” 


That’s not to say that we should simply remain blissfully ignorant or not become aware of how some intellectually honest yet convinced Christians have dealt with some of these issues.  For example, there are good reasons why God may not want to alleviate all suffering on earth, free will being just one of them.


However, the point that I really want to make, is that for whatever reasons, good and bad, people do walk away from the faith - they backslide or they fall away permanently - those of us who love them and want the best for them - are deeply concerned for them, their lives, their souls.


How do I deal with someone I love walking away from God?


  1. I Will Get Close To God


In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. 

                                                          1 Peter 3:15


Come near to God and He will come near to you.

                                                          James 4:8


Many Christians seemed to have lost the ability or the time to be close to God, to grow close to God.  But honestly, if we are not close to God, it’s pretty hard to invite anyone back to God. 


Some of us need to learn again the practices that allow us to be close to God, to know that we are close to God and He to us. 


2. I will live out my faith consistently


Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that someone opposing you will be ashamed.       Titus 2:7-8


A model of good works and integrity.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  Let me add, “one life lived well is worth a thousand sermons.” 


None of us are immune from simply and slowly sliding away from God. It is simply too easy, because of the constant noise and commotion and activity we are surrounded with to disconnect from God.


It’s like a married couple that don’t realize that they have stopped communicating, that they are slowly but surely drifting apart, until they simply are strangers to each other - and they walk away.  It is really more a matter of not paying attention, not making things better, than it is about anything malicious or decisive.


Reminds me of a story is told of a man in a charismatic church who, during a time of spontaneous prayer kept calling out in a loud voice, “Fill me, Lord! Fill me, Lord! Fill me, Lord!” This went on for a while until an older woman in the congregation got annoyed and prayed in just as loud a voice, “Don’t do it, Lord; he leaks!”


The truth is, our faith can spring a leak.  And once that slide has begun to take place, it just becomes easier to inch away even further from God. 


The real tragedy is that if we don’t find that time, those opportunities to stay close to God, we will end up living our lives as if God doesn’t exist- functional secularists- and our ability to help those who have backslidden is severely compromised.  We really have little if nothing of substance to share with them.


3. I will treat them with respect and humility


I have to do this even if I don’t agree with someone’s lifestyle choices, their philosophy on life, or their religious or atheistic convictions. 


Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.                                                1 Peter 3:15-16


I don’t have to agree with someone’s lifestyle choices or their philosophy on life or their religious convictions.  I don’t have to pretend that I approve of all choices they make.  And I shouldn’t be apologetic when it comes to sharing my own convictions and beliefs.  But I need to maintain a spirit of humility and respect in the process.


Remaining gentle means that I will not be harsh or angry with them.


Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.  And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.  Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.    2 Timothy 2:23-26


I believe that when we get loud and aggressive in our arguments, when we end up in a verbal fight, when we write others off because they won’t agree with us, when we react in anger to them, then we have lost the right to share our faith with them. 


We can disagree agreeably.


I think there is nothing wrong with saying, “I think I understand what you are saying, but I disagree with you,” as long as it doesn’t turn into a bitter argument where one person tries to convince the other of their rightness of their position.  It doesn’t work well because it usually just entrenches people in their own position.  And this is true, in our marriages, our work relationships as well.


I know of a Christian who simply had to be right every time, and because he was gifted with a good mind and the ability to express himself well, it seemed to himself that he always “won” an argument.  The problem was that everyone resented him for being a know-it-all and I think it partly contributed to the failure of his two marriages. 


4. I will continue to love them


Genuine love and concern goes a long way toward helping a person come back to God. 


Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.                     

1 Corinthians 13:4-8


Love not only deals with our own pride, selfishness, resentfulness, suspicion, lack of forgiveness and impatience … but love means that we are genuinely interested in the wellbeing of others.  And that sincere care for another person is also the best way to gain a listening ear. 


As much as my children hated to hear me lecture them or tell them what I think they should or shouldn’t to, I think they now realize, that the only reason I did this was because I genuinely care for them and love them and because I do want the best for them.


5. I will not stop praying for them


I don’t think there is a problem with praying for someone to find their way back to God, and to do so over and over again. 


I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone.  ...  This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.                                                   1 Timothy 2:1,3-4


My prayer usually is that God would bring some person or some circumstance into the life of a person who doesn’t know or has rejected God, someone or something that will allow them to reconsider the reality for God’s existence and his love for them.


Sometimes we give up on a person too soon.  We stop praying too soon.


6. I will encourage them to return to God


Given the opportunity, and the potential openness of the other person, it’s never wrong to ask a person what is keeping them from coming back to God.


It may be that it is pointless ... pride keeps them from considering the possibility that they might be wrong.  Or they are absolutely and irrevocably convinced that God doesn’t exist.


Or it may be that a person simply feels too guilty, too messed up, or that they have been gone for too long to come back to God.  And I think that is where we can encourage someone that it’s never too late.  God, like the father in the story of the prodigal son, would like nothing better than to forgive and embrace them. 


I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.”  So he got up and went to his father.  But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

                                                         Luke 15:18-20


The story that Jesus told, which is usually known as the parable of the prodigal son, was meant to demonstrate that even the person who has sunk to the lowest level, if genuinely remorseful, will be forgiven and embraced by God. 


Maybe that is the boat you are in today.  Maybe you think that you’ve lived your life too long away from God.  Maybe you think that God would never accept you.  Maybe you think that you’re too old or too young.  Or too ornery or too far gone.

Nothing is further from the truth.   


Or maybe you’re here this morning and you’re just cluing in that you’ve been sliding away from God for some time now ... that your faith, once vibrant and strong, is but a shell of its former self.  Is it time to do something about that?


One closing thought.  Why is it, that many of us don’t give much thought about our own eternal destiny or the eternal destiny of our love ones?  Is it that we have become so concerned about our own and their physical, financial, relational well-being ... that we and they are successful and happy on this earth, that we have lost our concern for what is by far more important?


Or could it be that our view of God has somehow morphed into someone who really doesn’t care about our conduct.


If I lack concern for the eternal destiny of my loved ones, could it be that I’ve become exclusive focus on earthly success and happiness, or that I’ve unwittingly embraced the view that everyone, no matter what, will be with God in the hereafter?


Is that what I really believe, and if not, does something in my life, actions or prayers need to change?




[1] Refrain:  O victory in Jesus, my Saviour forever.  He sought me and bought me with his redeeming blood.  He loved me ‘ere I knew him, and all my love is due him.  He plunged me to victory, beneath the cleansing flood.  (Eugene Bartlett, 1939)

[2] Das Elend des Christentums

[3] Pedophile priests; Marvin Gorman affair; Jim Bakker infidelity with Jessica Hahn; Jimmy Swaggart caught with prostitute; Ted Haggard homosexual encounters and drugs;

[4] Unbelievably wealthy - Benny Hinn (42 m), Pat Robertson (100 m), Joyce Myers (25 m), Kenneth Copeland (25 - 760 -1,200 m), TD Jakes (150 m), Creflo Dollar (27-100 m), Joel Osteen (40 - 50 m), Eddie Long (10 m), Paula White (5 m), Peter Popoff (100 m), Paul & Jan Crouch (100 m), Robert Tilton (100 m), ... So many different numbers on different websites.

[5] Pat Robinson swore that he could leg press 2000 lbs at 79 (an impossibility).  Peter Popoff claimed to know information about his audience which his wife was feeding him through an earpiece.   

[6] Mike Warnke - his “testimony” about being a member of a satanic church and the things they did was a completely fabricated lie.

[7] Cortes seemed to consider himself a Christian.  It is unclear if Alvardo did the same). 

[8] 20,000 Huguenots c. 1572, pope Pius V; 50,000 Albigensians c. 1209, pope Innocent III.

[9] Although, the lake of fire is the one where the beast and the false prophet (Rev 19:20), and, after Jesus’ 1000 year reign, Satan (Rev 20:10 - note the reference there to them being tormented day and night for ever and ever), death and Hades (the abode of the dead - Rev 20:14), and finally the lost, those whose name is not in the book of life, are thrown (Rev 20:15), the “second death” (Rev 20:14).

[10] Exceptions:  Russia, Nigeria and Libya fare very low on the 2016 peace index.  

[11] Mind you, some are not.

Jan 07 - Fighting, Accepting Or Encouraging Change

Fighting, Accepting or Encouraging Change

January 7, 2018

Acts 6:8-14

** Audio Portion Not Available **


January 7th, 2018

Acts 6:8-14


Change that actually affects us personally, whether good or bad or morally neutral, is always hard to adjust to.  However, some changes are simply inevitable.  Aging for example. 


One inevitable change is growing older.  That’s simply not an option.  And we know that the changes in our bodies as we age can sometimes be annoying, sometimes troublesome.  Getting old is not for wimps.


Some people would like to change the aging process, or at least prolong it.  Botox, lipo-suction, face lifts, tummy tucks, cremes and lotions.  While some of this may make a person look younger, the problem is that the actual aging process cannot be stopped.  And sometimes trying to look younger just backfires.  - Change we truly cannot do anything about - accept it gracefully (serenity prayer).


As I’ve mentioned previously, change that affects us personally is hard for us to adjust to.  It was so throughout history and it is today.


[When the King James Version of the Bible was first published in 1611, it was widely criticized and rejected.  At the time, Hugh Broughton (1549-1612), a renowned Hebrew scholar, wrote,


Tell his majesty that I had rather be rent to pieces with wild horses than any such translation by my consent should be urged upon poor churches.[1]]


Back in the 1600’s a relatively young Isaac Watts didn’t enjoy church worship and wrote 222 hymns over 222 Sundays, which single-handedly changed the worship of his time.  One of those hymns was “Joy to the World.” 


At the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America in 1789, a priest, Rev. Adam Rankin said,


I have ridden on horseback all the way from my home in Kentucky to ask this august body to refuse to allow the great and pernicious error of adopting the use of Isaac Watt’s hymns in public worship in preference to Rouse’s versification of the Psalms of David.


[When Robert Raikes started his Sunday School Movement for very poor children and youth in England in 1780, the Archbishop of Canterbury (Frederick Temple?) called together the bishops to discuss what could be done to stop him.  The Presbyterians from Scotland and the Congregationalists of New England opposed it because they said that running Sunday school broke the Sabbath commandment.]


Some changes are opposed by well-meaning people even when those changes are good.  Today, I want us to think about change, both inevitable and not, both good and bad, and how we can respond to it. 


What do we do when change is definitely bad?  Even though something bad might be happening, a lot of people don’t oppose it, most often because it doesn’t seem to affect them personally.  I mean whether or not the war in Syria ends or continues doesn’t really touch the average Canadian. The depletion of the ozone layer doesn’t seem to negatively impact us at this time. 


In Canada, political change usually doesn’t affect us personally either, except when it comes to the amount of tax we pay.  The growing national and provincial deficits don’t seem to have a negative effect on us.  


Generally I’m inclined not to say anything about politics from the pulpit. I mean, some of you are Trump supporters, others of you are not.  But today I think I will say something.  


Justin Trudeau is quite open about the fact that he (and the liberal government) will push for gender diversity and gender fluidity, by which is meant the right of everyone to choose their gender at will.  That wouldn’t be so bad, I guess, but by “everyone” they are including children, even of prepubescent age


So it’s perfectly OK for parents to refuse to put down the gender of their newborn child.  The health card for their child will read “u” for unspecified. 


In the immediate future, Canadian passports will designate gender as male, female or “x”. 


Prisoners soon will be placed in prisons based on gender identity.  Which may be fine if you were born male and are placed into a female prison population, but may get you in a heap of trouble if you were born female and you’re placed in a male prison.


In Ontario, under bill 89, the provincial government can potentially take away children from parents and foster parents who don’t accept their child’s (or young persons’) “sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.”  And again, that’s regardless of age.[2] 


Imagine that!  The government is able to seize your biological children if you are known to oppose the current theory of “gender identity.” 


Personally, I think there is so much gender confusion because children are told that gender is a matter of how they feel.  So you’re 6 years old.  It’s high time you figure out whether or not you’re a girl or boy.  Well, mom, I think I feel more like a girl than boyThat’s terrific, honey, so today you’re a girl, you dress like a girl, you go to the girls’ washroom and change room, regardless of your biology or genetic make-up, and regardless of how you may feel in the future


But this is not only happening in North America.  In Britain, parents of 4 year olds received letters from their school board encouraging them to let their children choose their gender before they start elementary school, either male, female or something else - maybe the educators thought of genderqueer, tri-gender, gender fluid, intersex, non-binary.  I think the intention behind this may be well meaning ... it is supposed to reduce bullying. 


But at age four, or even at age 10 for that matter, children have no clue as to what constitutes gender differences.  They are still children, for crying out loud. They don’t even think about that stuff unless it’s pushed on them. 


And what happens when it IS pushed on them?  There is one family in Ontario[3] who decided to do exactly that.  They currently have five and a ten year old boys who both identify themselves as girls and are referred to as “she” and “her”, and a 7 year old girl who identifies herself as non-binary and is addressed as “they.”  Repeatedly, this family is celebrated in the Canadian media as special and exemplary.[4] 


But why would you want this for your children?  Yes, there will be adults who struggle with their sexual orientation or gender identity. And those who do are to be embraced and loved for who they are.  But I don’t think any of them would wish this struggle on children. 


Why shouldn’t children simply grow up and figure it out when they’re adults.  Why would educators want to push children into becoming promiscuous, transgender or homosexual, as if that is somehow preferable to being sexually reserved, straight, and fine with their biological gender?


Parents who push gender fluidity on their children need to be reminded that the suicide rate among the transgender population is ten times higher than the overall population?[5] 


And I have a hard time believing that this statistic can be blamed on harassment and bullying?  For one, the BC Teachers’ Federation makes sure that all school children are taught a curriculum that supports and promotes a LGBTQ lifestyle. 


In reality, in Western society it is rather fashionable and cool to be gay, lesbian or transgender, and God forbid that anyone makes any comment that could be interpreted as being less than supportive.[6] 


[On a recent “Survivor” show, when a contestant revealed that another contestant was transgender, something that is obviously wrong to do, the moral outrage and chastisement was something to behold.  It was the only time when the host, Jeff Probst, bypassed the voting and basically kicked the offender off the show.  It was the unforgivable sin, and that despite the fact that “Survivor” is all about lying, deceiving, and often finding devious and immoral ways of discrediting others or gaining an advantage in the game – which otherwise is kind of admired.] 


And why is it that the black population in the USA, who actually receives a disproportionately amount of discrimination, has a very low suicide rate by comparison?


Another value that is high on Justin Trudeau’s priorities is government funded and institutionally encouraged abortion on demand.  Now this is not something new.  What is new is that Justin Trudeau recently earmarked $ 650 million of tax money over the next 3 years to promote and fund abortion overseas, in part to counter Trump’s ban on US tax dollars being used in this way.

And this is also an ongoing priority for left-leaning provincial governments, which is why abortions do not need a doctor’s referral and why they are free.  It is why the abortion pill, a pill that is designed to terminate pregnancies up to nine weeks, is available in six provinces for free (BC will join 5 other provinces on January 15th , 2018 – a prescription is needed).  

If we think that the government priorities do not impact us, maybe we can simply ignore such issues.  But if we do, then eventually it will in fact impact us, for example, when some educator or social worker claims that an 8 year old child is same-sex attracted or confused about their gender and the parents don’t agree. 


Imagine getting to the place where parents who do not encourage their prepubescent or adolescent children to explore their gender identity are considered to be unfit parents.


As a church we are currently faced with a situation where our very successful summer programs, the summer camps, whether sports or crafts or adventure, will no longer be eligible for government funding through the Canada Summer Jobs program.


Why?  Because the program is now only open to organizations and individuals who attest in writing to adhering to a series of “values” that are near and dear to our premier, Justin Trudeau.

 (The attestation:  The (summer) job and the organization’s core mandate respects ... reproductive rights).[7]


The government states quite up front in the applications that a potential employer not only has to follow the values and rights contained in the Charter or Rights and Freedoms, but also the values and rights that are important to the current Liberal Government of Canada


The Canadian Charter of Freedom and Rights is meant to limit the government powers over its people.  Nowhere in it do you find reference to reproductive rights, by which is meant government funded abortion on demand.  Instead the Charter speaks of the freedom of conscience and religion. 


While the application forms for summer intern workers state that this new policy does not automatically exclude religious organizations, it makes it abundantly clear that it will only consider organizations and students that are willing to state that their core mandate reflects the very same values as the current Canadian government. 


In essence the liberal party is making sure that tax dollars are prevented from going to any Canadian employers and students who do not share its own convictions.  Which, if you think about it, is trampling on the rights and values that are foundational to any Western democracy.  It is not at all liberal or free thinking, but exactly the opposite. 


So we can ignore the changes that are happening, because we don’t think they truly affect us, but sometimes when we do, it may bite us in the future.  I am certain that more changes will come along those very same lines.  Maybe non-profits will be required in the very near future to sign similar attestations in order to retain their non-profit status.


But still, it is easy to ignore.  Now the Jews in the first century did not see Christianity as something to be ignored, maybe because they knew that acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah would revolutionize their faith, and they did not want it to change.  


In the NT book of Acts (short for “The Acts of the Apostles”), chapter 6 we meet the first deadly resistance to the message about Jesus Christ, Jesus the Messiah.   It is the story about Stephen, the first Christian martyr.  I’m not going to read the whole story for you, just the reason why Stephen was arrested and the charges that were brought against him.  Keep in mind this was likely only a year after Jesus’ crucifixion (i.e., around 34 CE).


Now Stephen, a man full of God's grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.  Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called) - Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia.  These men began to argue with Stephen, but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke.                            Acts 6:8-10


Steven was one of seven men who were appointed by the apostles to oversee the provision of food for the widows in the Jerusalem church.  His name, like that of the other six, is Greek, which indicates that he may not have been born in Palestine. 


He was someone who not only was full of personal charm (God’s grace), but also whose ministry was accompanied by signs of divine power, miracles, what exactly these consisted of we’re not told. 


The Synagogue of the Freedmen (Gk. Libertinon), could be in reference to Jews whose grandparents or great-grandparents had been enslaved by the Romans in 60 BCE when Pompey conquered and the Romans occupied Palestine, but who were set free by Roman slave owners.  On the other hand, it could be referring to individuals who themselves had previously been enslaved and who, in some way, had gained their freedom. 


It is unclear whether there was just one such Synagogue or a number of them in Jerusalem. 


Those Jews who attended this synagogue were, in part, from northern Africa.  Cyrene was a city in what today is Eastern Libya, near the border to Egypt. Red dot at the top and a bit left of the screen.  Alexandria was the major sea port in Egypt in the Nile Delta.[8]  Probably more Jews lived in Alexandria than in any other city outside of Jerusalem.


Cilicia and Asia were Roman provinces in Asia Minor, what today is the country of Turkey. The apostle Paul came from Tarsus, the capital of Cilicia, the red dot toward the right of the screen.[9]  Ephesus was the capital of the province of Asia.  The other red dot.


The Jews from both Northern Africa and Asia Minor had left their places of birth and had moved to Jerusalem, likely because of their zeal for their faith.   They would have continued to speak Greek and their synagogue services would have been conducted in Greek, while other Jews in Jerusalem likely spoke Aramaic and read the Torah in their synagogues in Hebrew. 


Steven may have previously attended the Greek speaking synagogue prior to and maybe even after his conversion.  Some NT scholars think that he is likely from Alexandria because his speech is a bit reminiscent of Philo of Alexandria. 


Whether or not he was from Alexandria, Steven seemed to have been eloquent and intelligent, using his intellect and mind in dealing with the arguments or disputes that arose between himself and his fellow Greek-speaking Jews. 


The arguments were likely over the identity of Jesus and the implication to Judaism. 

  • Was Jesus the Messiah or was he not? 

  • If yes, how did Jesus’ death impact the Jewish sacrificial system at the temple in Jerusalem? 

  • How did his healing ministry on the Sabbath impact the way that the Sabbath rest should be understood and practiced? 

  • Did Jesus teach that food in and of itself is not what defiles a person – makes that person unclean, and was does that imply about the Mosaic food laws?  


Because Steven’s arguments seem to be convincing, at least that’s what’s implied in this passage, his former synagogue friends turned opponents decided to deal with him in another way. 


Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, "We have heard Stephen speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God."  So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law.  They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin.  They produced false witnesses, who testified, "This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law.  For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us." Acts 6:11-14


Blasphemy in the narrow sense, meant that Stephen would have said something sacrileges about God.  But here it likely has a more narrow sense.  The blasphemy was “against Moses and God,” that is, the charge was that he spoke out against the Law of Moses as found in OT books like Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, likely as understood and interpreted by the Pharisaic Rabbis. 


So false witnesses were produced by this synagogue to testify against Stephen in front of the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish court of law.  Blasphemy against God was punishable by death.  And if putting into question the Mosaic Law was considered to blaspheme God, then this also held the death penalty. 


As the Jewish historian Josephus tells us, 28 years after Stephen’s death (62 CE), Jacob, the half-brother of Jesus who had become the primary leader in the Jerusalem church, was convicted by the Sanhedrin of breaking the Mosaic Law, and was subsequently stoned to death.[10]   .


The high priest Hananus (Ananus) … assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was Jacob (James), and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.


In Stephen’s case, the false witnesses didn’t fabricate something that was completely untrue, but they told half-truths.  Stephen was alleged to have spoken against the temple and the Mosaic Law when in fact he had likely said that Jesus is more important and better than the temple and more authoritative than the Law of Moses. 


He was accused of teaching that Jesus would destroy the temple, when in fact he likely taught that Jesus at one time had foretold the complete destruction of Herod’s temple (cf. Matt 24:2). 


The reference to Jesus destroying the temple is based on Jesus’ words after he had cleansed the temple, that should “this temple” be destroyed, that he would rebuild it in three days (John 2:19). 


The author of the gospel of John tells us in an explanatory note that Jesus wasn’t speaking about the actual temple, even though he was standing in it when he spoke the words, but about his own body … in other words, if the temple of his body was killed he would be rebuilt or raised from the dead within three days (John 2:21).


This was a charge that was raised against Jesus during his trial as well (Mark 14:58), and was shouted up at him in mockery when he was hanging at the cross (Mark 15:29), although at both of those occasions, Jesus was accused of saying, I will destroy this temple and will rebuild it in three days”. 


Stephen may have argued that, based on Jesus’ words, the sacrifices performed at the temple were no longer the primary way of being made right with God.  In essence that would have sounded a lot like the priests and the sacrificial system as outlined in the Mosaic Law were no longer necessary, and this would have threatened not only the livelihood of the priests and Levites, but also the authority of the high priestly family. 


If we jump forward in Acts to Stephen’s speech, notice his words with regard to the temple of Solomon:


Solomon built a house for God.  However, the Most High does not live in buildings made by human hands.  As the prophet (Amos) says: “’Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool.  What kind of house will you build for me?’ says the Lord.  ‘Or where will my resting place be?  Have I not made all these things?’”                 Acts  7:47-50[11]


God does not need your temple, the Herodian temple, Stephen said, because he fills the universe.


Stephen might also have said that the whole of the Mosaic Law could best be obeyed by focusing on two commandments: Love of God and love of one’s neighbour.  Taken to its logical conclusion, this also put into question the validity of the commandments having to do with ritual cleanness. 


Further, like Jesus, Stephen may have rejected the rabbinic interpretations of the Law of Moses which had become as important to the Pharisees as the Law itself.


Stephen had told those in the synagogue, “The Rules Have Changed” and it’s a good thing!  He told them that a new age has dawned, the age of the Spirit, the age of the Messiah, the age of the New Covenant.  The old is passing away. 


But in saying this, Stephen challenged the status quo of his religious world and thereby attacked something that was considered sacrosanct.  They responded by killing (stoning) Stephen.  They could not accept that this new thing was good, was life-changing, was necessary, was planned by God. 


The real question then, is one of discernment.  Is some change good and necessary?  Is another change bad and detrimental? If it is good, can I encourage it?  If it is bad, can I do something about it?


If you’ve been around for a while, maybe you can remember the changes that have taken place in the church in just the last 50 years - some good, some bad.  If you went to church back in 1968, maybe you can remember what it was like. 


Worship style has changed considerably, at least in those churches that do not consist of just a handful of aging seniors.  Some Christians are still sitting on a dead horse and don’t realize it’s time to dismount. 


And to some extent, post-modernity has caught up with some churches as well.  In those churches, morality has become relative … what is ethically right for you may not be for me, and what I understand to be evil may not be for you


Sin is just so much grey and God will forgive everything in any case.   That, unfortunately, has not been a good change.  Hopefully we will never be like the immoral people about whom the Prophet Isaiah wrote about:


Woe to those who say that evil is good and that good is evil; that darkness is light and that light is darkness…

                                                          Isaiah 5:20


So within the church that follows Jesus, the essentials shouldn’t change.  Faith about the person and work of Jesus, for example.  Or the mandate of Jesus’ followers.  For example, do you know what the mandate of FCC is?


A few years ago, the staff of FCC tried to distill the mission of the church to:  “We strive to be authentic people who are compelled by God’s love to make a difference.” 


This mandate is based on some biblical principles.  For example, being authentic or real means that Christians aren’t phonies who think they’re better than others.  I think of what the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome: 


AUTHENTIC PEOPLE:  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.   For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think… . Let love be genuine.  Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.  Love one another with brotherly affection.  Outdo one another in showing honour.

                                                Romans 12:2-3,9-10      


We want to be real.  To be true.  To be authentic.  To be genuine. 


Second, the motivation to do what is right and caring and good is the fact that we have received God’s love, as we read in 1 John 4.  I’ve just picked a few verses from the passage, but the whole passage carries the same theme.


COMPELLED BY GOD’S LOVE:  This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. …  We love because he first loved us. …  And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.             1 John 4:9-11,17,21


And what does God’s love compel us to be and do?  To make a difference!  And by that we mean a positive difference in the lives of others.  This positive difference may be spiritual, emotional, relational, or financial … but it is actually making someone else’s world better. 



Go into the whole world and preach the good news.                                                                           Mark 16:15


And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God. 

Hebrews 13:16


Carry one another’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.                                         Galatians 6:2


We are God’s workmanship, created in Jesus Christ to do the good deeds which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.                     Ephesians 2:10


If we are people of faith, then we know that we have a mandate from God, to tell others of God’s love in and through Jesus, to share with the needy, to carry the burdens of those loaded down, to do the good that we were put on this earth to do … and we are compelled by his love to look for ways of fulfilling it. 


So the question for me, as we enter a new year: given our mandate, what does God want Friendship to look like in 3 years, in 5 years?


What changes does he want to see happening.  And I don’t just mean what the changes there might be to the physical building.  And it isn’t as if a lot of good things didn’t happen in the past or aren’t happening now. 


– Dwell service

– Friendship Club luncheons

– Women’s retreat

– Youth & Middle School ministry

– Children’s ministry

– Arts day

– Outdoor service

– Summer programs

– Missions trip


And many, many other things. 


So here are some things that I hope will happen over the next 3 to 5 years. 


Our building and grounds are used for so many community events, and I hope that will continue. 


I hope that our sense of unity and community, that is, among those who call FCC their spiritual home, will increase.  I mean, despite all that could potentially divide us, we focus on what we have in common.  But hopefully that togetherness will grow.


Part of that is the way that we get involved and participate with other believers as we meet in small groups, pray together, help each other grow in our faith, and demonstrate concern and care for each other.  I think we can do much better in this area. 


I hope we continue to be relevant to the younger generations and deal with real life issues, without having to compromise the truth.  


I hope that we will become even more compassionate about a hurting world.  I was blown away that in December alone we raised $ 17,000 for life saving lab equipment for the clinic in Lokoja.  May that kind of care for the most needy and vulnerable never stop and only increase. 


Whatever the changes are, I will not be a part of it because I will be retiring from FCC at the end of June of this year.  20 years is a very long tenure for a pastor, and the reason why I lasted this long is because FCC has been a wonderful place and a joy and privilege to be a part of. 


This has not been an easy decision, but one that I think is necessary for both myself and for FCC.  It is a good thing, so I hope that you will embrace this change. So please don’t tell me that you’re sad to see me go.  On the other hand, you don’t have to tell me that you’re happy about it or that it’s about time. 


I’m not sure where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing, but I know that you have a great board and staff that will make sure that things transition and progress smoothly. 


Will this change be challenging?  I think at times it will be, but more for me personally, and less for the church.  Nevertheless, I am convinced that this particular change will be for the better.  It will bring glory to God as each one of us at FCC fulfills our mandate given to us by our heavenly Father. 


It was Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) who said:


- When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully at the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.                                               Alexander Graham Bell


If we no longer focus on the closing doors, but on the ones that are opening, then we will anticipate changes in our lives and in the church, assured that God himself never changes, and that ultimately nothing surprises Him.


Like the Jews in Stephen’s day, we can dislike change, even if that change is ultimately good and beneficial.  So I hope that you will choose to invest yourself in exploring new initiatives and opportunities that will be there for you.


But not all change is good.  So I also hope and pray, that as believers you won’t look at negative change as something to simply accept.


I also think that the most important change this year, will be the change that will take place inside of you.  And the change agent you will be because God’s love compels you to make a difference..








[1] Broughton complained of the mistakes of the translation in a pungent eight-page pamphlet entitled A Censure of the late

translation for our Churches: sent vnto a Right Worshipfull knight, Attendant vpon the King.

[2] For an online version of the bill, see http://www.ontla.on.ca/web/bills/bills_detail.do?locale=en&BillID=4479.  See 1.2.3.iii. and 74.3.c.iii.

[3] Stocker-Witterick.

[4] In the future, Trudeau wants to house prisoners based on gender identity.  Which may be fine if you were born male, but may get you in a heap of trouble if you were born female.

[5] Suicide attempts range from 32% to 50% across countries (one US study at 41%).  42% report a history of self-injury in the USA.  Suicide attempt rate for Homosexuals are around 20%.  Suicide attempt rate for overall population is less than 5 % (4.6%). 


[7] Both the job and the organization’s core mandate respects individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights.  These include reproductive rights, and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression.

[8] Originally founded in 322 BCE by Alexander the Great, who named the city after himself.

[9] Tarsus had a large Jewish population.  The Babylonian Talmud refers to the Synagogue of the Tarsiyim located in Jerusalem (Megillah 26a).

[10] Josephus, Antiquities, book 20.9.1. 

[11] Amos 5:25-27 LXX

Dec 31 - How To Break Out Of A Rut

How To Break Out Of a Rut

December 31, 2017

James 1:22-25; 2:14-18



James 1:22-25; 2:14-18

December 31, 2017




Tomorrow is New Year’s Day, and it is a time when a lot of people make resolutions in the hopes of experiencing positive changes in their lives.  But in order to do so, a lot of people will need to get out of the rut they are currently in. 


  • Dear God, my prayer for 2018 is a fat bank account and a skinny body.  Please don’t mix it up like you did this year. 

  • Every New Year I resolve to lose 20 pounds and I do.  The problem is that I gain 25.

  • My New Year’s resolution is to stop buying worthless junk on Ebay, because QVC has better specials.

  • It is to stop re-living the past and spend more time worrying about the future.

  • My new year’s resolution is to do less laundry and use more deodorant.


    Being stuck in a rut is an expression from a time when roads and trails would really have ruts.  So much easier to follow the rut than try to get out of it.


As you are aware of, being stuck in a rut now has the metaphoric meaning of doing the same things, day after day.  It generally has a negative connotation, like, “a rut is just a grave with the ends knocked out.”


One kind of rut we can get stuck in, is the nagging feeling that while we go through our daily routine we are somehow missing out on the mission or calling or purpose of our lives.  For whatever reason, we’re just not able to discover what it is. 


We get up every morning and plod through our daily routine, somehow hoping that inspiration would strike, that God would somehow hit us over the head in some way and get our attention, and tell us what it is that we’re supposed to do. 


However, doing the same thing over and over again in the hopes that somehow things will be different, will not actually bring about any change in our lives. 


So if we are in a rut long enough, we might just throw in the towel and settle for the mediocre existence that our current routine gives us.   After all, there is a certain comfort to being in a rut.  Things are predictable.  Familiar.  We may not particularly like what we’re getting, but at least we know what we’re going to get. 


Not only that, it takes effort getting out of a rut.


When I was a boy, about 12, I rode my 10 speed through the city of Munich (on my way out to Hersching with Arzberger & Bakoni).[1]  Street cars were running on many streets, not like a rail way with raised tracks, but instead the rail imbedded in the asphalt or cobble stones with a groove on one side of the track. 


If you had a bike with normal tires, they would ride quite easily over the tracks.  However, the groove was just the right width to accommodate the thinner wheel of a ten speed bike. 


And, as can guess, when I was making a turn, I did not watch the tracks very carefully and ended up with the front wheel in one of these grooves.


There were a number of things that I could have done.  I could have stayed in the groove.  I could have remained stuck in the rut, become path dependent.  But I knew that wasn’t really an option because it would keep me from going where I wanted to go … and I would eventually get hit by a street car.


I could simply force the front wheel to turn, but I would be certain to fall over and wipe out.  So that too was not a real option.


I could stop in the middle of the busy street and lift my front tire out of the tracks, but I didn’t want to take the time or risk getting in the way of a car. 


So I did the only thing that I felt I could reasonably do.  I jumped the front tire out of the groove.  And that took a bit of effort.  It takes effort to get out of a rut, it takes almost no effort to just stay in it.


The fact is that every human being has a tendency to settle into ruts.  That is just a part of our nature.  All of us resist change by our very nature – we don’t like our routine upset.  And so it is much easier not to think about the rut we’re in, than to take a good look at ourselves and our lives in order to bring about change. 


We are creatures of habit.  For example, there is likely a place in the sanctuary you prefer to sit in.  In fact, there may be a certain seat you prefer to sit in. 


I read one time, if more husbands were self-starters, fewer wives would be cranks.  Not sure if that’s true.  But have you ever watched TV and you have misplaced the remote control?


Isn’t it just our nature to watch a program we don’t like and watch all of the commercials because we are too lazy to get up and change the channels?


Most of us live our lives that way.  The program may not be too hot, but we are just too comfortable, just too lazy, to get up to change the channel.


Being in a rut can be described as following a routine.  We get into the habit of living our lives a certain way.


I don’t think that a rut has to always be bad.  We can get into very good ruts.  For instance, we can have the habit of a daily devotional time.  Or we can incorporate physical exercise into our weekly routine.  Or we can get into the habit of eating healthy.


Today I’ll be reading two passages out of the book of James.  Each one of these speak of two different kind of people, each of whom has a certain approach, a certain habit of dealing with their knowledge and belief. 


Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says. 

a. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.  

b. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does.                                    James 1:22-25


In James 1, you have, on the one hand, those who hear the word but don’t do it.  They have knowledge of the message or word about Jesus or perhaps they know Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of God, but they do not apply it to their lives.   


On the other hand you have the one who looks intently and continually into “the perfect law that gives freedom[2] and doing it.  This is NOT the Law of Moses, which enslaves and burdens people with a long list of do’s and don’ts, but is in reference to the Law of Christ, that is meant to free people to do the right, the loving, the merciful, the kind thing from the heart. [3]  


The second passage is from James 2.  And there you have two individuals as well.


What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save him?

a. If a brother or sister lacks clothing and food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warm and eat,” and yet you do nothing to help provide life’s necessities, what use is that?  So faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. …

b. But I will demonstrate [the reality] my faith by what I do.                                            James 2:14-18


On the other hand, you have those who profess faith in Christ, but whose faith finds no practical application in the way they live their lives.  On the other hand you have the writer of James who says that the reality of his faith is demonstrated by what he does, that is, by what he does to help others. 


Both type of people have a certain approach to life, to truth, to knowledge and to faith.  But one is forgetfully focused on self, the other one remembers Jesus’ teaching and therefore makes a positive difference in the lives of others.


The negative rut is the habit of not applying what they should know to be true and right.  The positive rut is the habit of practically applying in everyday life what is believed.


So a rut isn’t necessarily bad.  However, as Will Rogers once said,


So a good rut is usually a place where you don’t just sit still.  It is usually a positive rut where we are on the move, doing something good. 


Successful people are people of action. They know how to get things done.   The fulfillment of dreams and goals are the result of action.  So even as Christians, it’s very important that we are self-starters, people of action. 


Whether we like it or not, we sometimes need to be forced out of a rut.  I listed three things that will often motivate people to get themselves out of a rut - there are others as well, of course.


(It is sometimes not when we see the light but it's when we feel the heat that we get moving) 


People sometimes change because of desperation.  They won’t go to the dentist until the tooth ache becomes unbearable. 


Some alcoholics seek help after they lost their job and their spouse and children left them. 


Others need to get fed up with feeling bad or depressed or tired or worried, before the point that they will do something about it. 


Pressure motivates us to get out of a rut. You go to the doctor and he says, "Lose 50 pounds, quit smoking and start to exercise or you will be dead in 6 months!”  That will motivate us.


Or your boss says, "Improve your performance or you're fired!

Or your teacher says, "Get an A on this test or you fail the class!

Or the bills are piling up and there isn’t enough money to pay them all. 


That's pressure.  That may motivates us to get out of a rut.


The world around us is on the move all the time.  This week I thought back to my grandmother.  When she was a young girl growing up, there was no electricity or running water, and the primary mode of transportation was the horse and buggy.


She saw the change to the automobile, she lived through two WW’s, she saw the first manned landing on the moon.  She saw the advent of the personal computers. 


And there continue to be changes in our society that force us to adapt, to change.  Who would have thought that e-mail, texting, voice mail, tweeting, and the mini-computers we call smart phones would become so prevalent.  Next thing are flexible smart phones.


The problem with being forced out of a rut is that often it isn’t permanent.  We cram for the final, but our study habits don’t change.  We go on a diet, but our eating habits don’t change.


Anyone can be forced out of a rut.  But the better way to get out of a rut, is not to be forced out by circumstances, but to do so voluntarily as a matter of conscience and choice.  In fact, the best way to break out of a negative rut is to decide to develop a positive habit.


  1. I gain a new perspective


    In James 1, there is an individual who hears the word but doesn’t apply it to his or her life.  And this person is compared to a man who takes a look at his face in a mirror and then, when he walks away, can’t remember what he looks like.  It seems ludicrous until you realize that these are cursory looks without even an interest to seeing what is really there.


    Have we taken an honest look into the mirror of our lives and seen what really is there?  In order to break out of a rut, we need to do a bit of an analysis of our lives.


    Most of us never ask the question, Am I in a rut?   Am I on a merry-go-round?  Do I feel trapped?  Is life just more of the same over and over again?   The first step to getting out of a negative or destructive rut is to recognize that we’re in one


    But even if we ask ourselves the question, and answer in the affirmative – yes I think I am in a rut – then we may have a hard time putting our finger exactly on the reason why we feel that way.  So the second step to getting out of a negative or destructive rut is to be able to identify the reason why we are in one.


    Here are some questions we may want to consider:


    There are reasons why you and I get into negative ruts - and why we stay there.  No one does this without some kind of payoff.  I think part of the payoff is being selfish. 


    Why do industrialists deliberately pollute rivers, lakes and oceans?

    Why do strip miners ravage the surface of the earth?

    Why do some hunters deliberately shoot endangered species?

    Why do some pornographers exploit children?

    Why do televangelists fleece their gullible sheep?

    Why do mothers abort their unborn babies?

    Why do husbands and wives abandon their marriages and families for new lovers?

    Why do tobacco companies deliberately hook young people on nicotine?

    Why are the rainforests in Brazil and Central Africa disappearing?


    You know the answers and so do I.  Selfishness.  Putting self-interest, profit, first.


    Selfishness is why we naturally do what comes easier.  After all, it is much easier to sit in front of the TV than to go for a walk. 


    Selfishness is why we do what we derive personal satisfaction from.  It is much easier to spend 60 hours at work and see something accomplished than to read 5 minutes in my Bible where the accomplishments are hidden.


    No-one stays in a negative rut without some kind of pay-off.  If our diet is terrible, the payoff may be satisfying a craving.   

    If we never exercise, the payoff is lack of pain.  Instead of “no pain, no gain”, our motto might be “no pain, no pain.”


    So we need to take an honest look at ourselves.


    The writer of James writes of two individuals claiming to follow Jesus.  However only one is in the game, is a player, while the other one is simply a spectator, someone permanently on the side line. 


    Jan Hettinga in a book entitled “Follow Me: experiencing the loving leadership of Jesus”, describes those who only say they believe.  Among a bunch of other things, …


  • They prefer to be spectators – watching, listening, but not really participating.

  • They are focused on themselves – on their needs, their personal rights, their preferences, their comforts, and insist on arranging their lives around these.

  • They are intent on remaining uncommitted - they don’t want to be tied down.  They don’t want to be accountable.  They don’t want a lot of responsibility. 

  • They have little or no sense of overriding spiritual purpose or cause and prefer to drift through life.


    So when it comes to the question, “What exactly do I want to see happening in my life?” I am not referring to winning the lottery or finding a spouse or driving a Ferrari.  What I am referring to, is adjusting my life so that I am in the game, that I am focused on God, that I am committed, and that I am engaged in fulfilling my purpose in life. 


    And in order to do this, I need to get out of negative and destructive ruts in order to get into good ones.


    So, let me ask you, if you had the ability to get rid of all of the pressures and problems that potentially stymie positive change … what exactly would you incorporate into your life? 


    Another way of asking the question is:  What needs to change for me to live a life that honours God?


    Or, if we want to be a bit more specific, we can ask:  What do I want in my marriage?


    If we ask that question, figure out the answer, commit myself to implementing it while praying, “Lord, change me so that my marriage is what it’s meant to be.”  We shouldn’t think that the primary change has to be in the lives of others … my spouse has to change, my children need to change.   Because the only person that I can change is myself.  I can change how I relate to my spouse, how I speak to my kids.  And maybe, because of the changes I make, they might be motivated to change as well.


    We need to believe that change is possible.  And by this I don’t mean pride at our own independence and self-sufficient.  What I am speaking about is the assurance that God has empowered me to become a better person.


    Who is right?  The believer who says "I can't" or the believer who says, "I can”?  The fact is, they both are.  Our attitude in the power of God at work within us determines our ability.   So, as believers we need to stop saying "I can't" and start saying, "With God, I can".  


    If we start a new year’s resolution, but we tell ourselves even ahead of time that it’s unlikely we will keep the resolution, maybe because we’ve failed in the past, then we are almost certain to fail again.

    God spoke to Moses about going to Pharaoh, and Moses said, "You've got the wrong guy!  I'm a nobody.  You can't use me."[4] 


    God spoke to Gideon about fighting the Philistines, and Gideon said, "You've got the wrong guy!  I'm the youngest kid in the poorest family in the smallest tribe!"[5]


    God came to Jeremiah about speaking on his behalf, and Jeremiah said, "You’ve got the wrong guy.  I'm just a teenager!"[6]


    What would you like to change about your life?  Whatever it is, you've got to believe it can be changed in and through God.  If you don't think it can be changed, you will stay in the rut you are in!


    How do I break out of a rut?  I gain a new perspective; and then I start a new pursuit.


    As I thought about possible new pursuits in my own life, I came up with six (6) different areas that needed to change.  You can likely think of more, or simply different ones. 


    The fact is God made our bodies for movement.  He made us for activity.  We live in a sedentary society where most of the day we sit on our blessed assurance doing very little.


    Do you know what absolute inactivity is called?  It’s called death!  God made our bodies to move.  Lack of movement leads to a lack of energy, of being tired, too tired. 


    Because of our inactivity, we may become too tired to change.  We know what they ought to do, it's just that we are too tired.  Fatigue is a major cause of procrastination. 


    One of the reasons why some of us can’t get our act together in our homes, our families, our spouses, our work … is because we are just too tired to make any adjustments that would make it better. 


    Have you noticed how quickly patience are sent home after surgery in a hospital?  It’s almost like the surgeon announces after an operation, “OK, here’s the last stitch … off the table you go and walk back into your room.


    Why is that?  In part, it’s because doctors know that inactivity kills.  The quickest way to get healed is to get moving


    If you want to get out of a rut, the quickest way is to get your body moving.  Something happening makes something happen.  You feel better, you look better, you live longer. 


    But there's spiritual reasons too.  The Bible says, God created your body, Jesus paid for your body, if you’re a Christian, then the Holy Spirit indwells your body -- you better take care of it!


    To get energy -- and that's what you need, to change -- you've got to expend energy.  An individual in our church said that one of the best things that can be done for depression is to start walking.  It will help. 


    Some of the most spiritual advice I can give some of you is to start the rut of taking better care of your body.  That will make a difference in your life. 



    I’m not speaking of playing a video game or doing cross-word puzzles.  I am speaking of getting into the habit of reading constructive material.


    You need to challenge your mind as much as you do your body.


    By this I mean that you get into the positive rut of doing something creative.  It may be playing an instrument or gardening or drawing. 


    Probably one of the most important positive routines we can practice is to set aside time in order to develop genuine and vital relationships.  This can apply to our family members, to other Christians, to non-Christians, to friends regardless of whether or not we have a similar socio-economic background, similar interests, or similar problems.  


    This is the positive routine of a regular quiet time with God, in particular a gratitude-filled prayer life.



    This was the one area that James was most concerned about in his letter.  The whole point he made in chapter 2 is the fact that faith which remains selfish and non-responsive to the needs of others isn’t real faith at all.


    In order for me to break out of a negative rut

    I have to gain a new perspective,

    I have to start a new pursuit, and …


    By that I mean that I need to have the ability to stick with the new pursuits that I’ve chosen to incorporate into my life.  And that means, first of all, that …


    I heard it quipped that there are three kinds of people:  Accusers, excusers, and choosers.


    Accusers blame everybody else for anything wrong in their lives.  Their favorite phrase is, "It's your fault!  It’s his fault!  It’s her fault!  It’s my parents’ fault!  It’s my spouse’s fault!  It’s my friends’ fault!  It’s God’s fault."  Accusers love to pass the buck.   They have existed from the very beginning:  Adam took it like a man; he blamed his wife. 


    Excusers have excuses, justifications and rationalizations, for everything that’s wrong in life.   "The reason I'm stuck in life is because I’m an introvert or because I’m short or because I’m tall or because of some other reason.


    Ninety nine percent of all failures come from people who developed a habit of making excuses.


    Accusers and excusers end up being losers.


    Choosers accept responsibility for their own life and happiness, they know they have the ability to make choices, and when they make a mistake they admit it and, if need be, apologize.


    In order to persevere in the possible changes we want to make, we need to stop blaming others, stop making excuses, for why we haven’t made those changes.  Instead we need to take responsibility for our lives and the choices we make. 


    I can persevere in the changes I want to make if I don’t believe that I have to wait for ideal circumstances in order to make those changes. 


    A lot of people say that they will change when the time is right.  Circumstances will always be less than perfect

  • If you’re waiting to have children until you can afford them, you likely will remain childless. 

  • If you are waiting to spend more time with your spouse once you’re retired, by that time, you might have become strangers living in the same house. 

  • If you are going to start working out when life becomes less hectic, you may never make it to the gym. 


    Another way to think about this is that people often slip back into their old, negative habits when things go sideways in their lives … when things become more difficult.  The necessary perspective is the determination to stick to the positive change even if circumstances aren’t perfect and even if circumstances become more difficult. 


    I won’t start drinking again when work becomes harder. 


    In order to persevere in the changes I want to make, I need to assume responsibility for my life, I can’t expect ideal circumstances, and …


    We need to be aware (beware) of the great excuses why we should slip back into the old ruts.  I’ve just pointed out one … life becomes more difficult.  But there are literally thousands of excuses why we give up on a positive change in our lives … it’s too hard, it’s not fun, I don’t see immediate change, whatever ….


    So, in order to break out of a negative rut, I need to gain a new perspective, I need to start a new pursuit, I need to choose a new perseverance, and ….


    With the pace of life that most of us are in, we need to schedule for change by changing our schedule!  I truly believe that we need to combat our bad ruts by building positive ones into our lives.


    I sometimes think that the frenetic pace of life in our society is somehow tied to the belief that our worth is tied to our business!  The busier I am, the more important I must be.


    We hold back from God and from any commitment because we are already too busy and over-committed.  Or maybe our kids are, so we are kept preoccupied running from pillar to post to make sure they have every experience possible. 


    If that’s the case, then we need to re-program.  We need to schedule for positive ruts in our already full schedule.  And that might mean dropping some other stuff that clogs it up.


    In order to break out of a negative rut …


    The fact is that, at times, we will need to make ourselves accountable to others in order to get out of old ruts and make our lives what they should be.


    Truth be told, there is a huge difference in motivation if I make up by mind to change, or if I tell someone else to make sure to hold me accountable. 


    Every person that is dealing with the negative rut of addiction is aware of this principle.


    In order to break out of a negative rut, I need a …

    [New Perspective, New Pursuit, New Perseverance, New Program, New Partnership].  Lastly I need to stop procrastinating.


    In other words, I don’t wait for the perfect time.  I do it now!

    Wife:  "I'm aiming to change!

    Husband:  "It's time to pull the trigger!" 


    None of us are guaranteed tomorrow.  When you say "one of these days" you're really saying "none of these days". 


    James Albery (1838-1889), and English playwright, once wrote a short poem about someone like that,


    "He slept beneath the moon,

    he basked beneath the sun,

    he lived a life with `going to do'

    and died with nothing done.


    Imagine living a life of “going to do” and not doing any of it.  It’s sad, because it is appears to be a life wasted. 


    And it is tragic to waste our lives.  We have to stop saying, “Tomorrow,”  "One of these days..."  "Someday”.  “Sometime in the coming year.”  We need to start saying, “Now!”  “Today.”  Everyone has dreams, but dreamers are a dime a dozen.  Faith without action is dead.   


    James was concerned about those who went to church, but whose faith was only in their heads.  These are individuals who hold back from God and hold back from life.  They may believe in Jesus but they aren’t following him. 


    James may have been writing about our own time.  Many people say they believe in God.  But it is abundantly clear that professing belief in God and allowing that belief to make any discernible difference in life are two entirely different things.


    To believe in an all-powerful supreme being to whom we own our very existence and yet to life as if we are the ones in control no longer appears strange to us.


    Do you trust the salvation offered in Jesus but have a problem trusting the sovereign control and agenda of Jesus in everyday life?


    Breaking free from a rut is breaking free from the wear and tear of a self-indulgent, self-saturated, self-centered society.  It is trusting the God, who himself chose the radical tactic of self-sacrifice to reveal that he is a God whom we can trust; because he meets us at the place of his humiliation, the cross.   He will not exploit our trust.   That is the motivation for following Christ comes from.


    Try this exercise.  Imagine yourself standing before God’s throne of grace.  Now place all those favorite and treasured things and people that you hold dear into the hands of God.  As control passes from you to him, what happens inside you?  Panic or relief?  Alarm or peace?


    The worst mistake I can make in life is to delay committing myself to Jesus Christ.  Some of you have been thinking about it for weeks, months, maybe even years.  Today is your day!  Today, you can give your life completely to Christ. 


    But maybe God telling is telling you that you’re in a different rut, and that you need to start something new today.






[1] While on my way to Villa in Herrsching (Viertel Lochschwab; Riederstrasse 13?) am Ammersee with Michael Arzberger and Bella Bakoni. 

[2] James also uses this expression in 2:12 - Everyone will be judged on the basis of the Law of Freedom.  Jam 2:13 goes on to say that there won’t be any mercy for those who have shown no mercy (compassion).  

[3] This is the “royal law”, to love others as oneself (Jam 2:8).

[4] Ex 3:11 – Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt.

[5] Jud. 6:15 – O Lord, how am I to deliver Israel?  Behold, my family is the least in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s house.

[6] Jer 1:6 - Alas, Lord God!  Behold, I do not know how to speak because I am a youth.