Holy Week Sunday April 4 – A PRAYER FOR EASTER SUNDAY 62 The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. 63 “Sir,” they said, “we remember [...]
40 DAYS AND 40 NIGHTS – THE JOURNEY TO THE CROSS
Sunday April 4 – A PRAYER FOR EASTER SUNDAY
62 The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. 63 “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ 64 So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.”
65 “Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” 66 So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
11 While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” -= Matthew 27:62-66, 28:1-20 (NIV)
Beautiful Saviour, Wonderful Son, Jesus Messiah!
Today we celebrate with JOY what You have done for us. The tomb was empty, and the angels confirmed to the women that You indeed rose again from the dead.
They thought the story was over and they were simply mourning Your loss, not sure how they could continue without You.
But that was not the case.
You changed the world!
We praise You today that we no longer have to suffer for our own sins. We can come to You, asking for forgiveness and turning away from our disobedience, and You save us!
You save us!
You have risen! You have risen indeed!
You appeared to the women and to the disciples to prove to them what God had done. They saw with their own eyes and attested to your majesty and glory.
And today, as we plunder through another pandemic-occupied Easter, we give thanks that You are here with us, even when we can’t gather together as a church.
You bring us together.
You inspire us to share Your love with others.
You call us to go and make disciples and baptize in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Give us the strength, the joy and the inspiration to do Your will in this exhausting and spirit-crushing time in our history.
May the resurrection always inspire us to walk in obedience.
May the resurrection always inspire us to think of others before ourselves.
May the resurrection always inspire us to leave behind our old habits and ways that hurt us.
May the resurrection always inspire us to seek You above all else.
Lord Jesus, we can never thank You enough for what You have done for us. But we come before You on this glorious morning praising You.
Thank You for Your True Love for us.
Thank You for sending lifelines this past year to help us persevere.
As You have promised, ALWAYS be with us, God! Be with us until the end of the age.
May we walk as a Resurrection People sharing the knowledge that Your act of love has saved us, and that this act of love is free for anyone who desires it.
May the world see Your goodness when they see us, and may they pursue You with all of their hearts.
Use us, Lord, in the days, weeks and months to come.
Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest.
Be our friend that never leaves our side.
Be with us until the very end of the age.
For we ask and pray all these things in the name of the One who has saved us, Lord Jesus!
Thank you friends, for hanging in there with me for these 47 days. I hope you have been blessed. Happy Easter, and may God be with you all until we meet again!!
Saturday April 3 – AFTERSHOCK
“51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” “ – Matthew 27:51-54 (NIV)
I have never been to California but have been dying to go there my entire life. Not only did I want to see all of the sites musically related (such as the Capitol Building – “the building that Nat (King Cole) built”, and countless amazing record stores such as Amoeba, etc) but to be in the land of sunshine enjoying the beach and the weather. The closest I got to California was having my album ROUND mastered and pressed there (at one of the best record making plants in the world, RTI).
But there is ONE thing that I am happy I have never experienced: a California earthquake.
And although I am happy I have avoided that experience, there is only one thing worse than a California earthquake: a California aftershock. It actually doesn’t seem fair that after a devastating earthquake that there could be EVEN more destruction to come in aftershock.
During the pandemic we have felt aftershocks if you will from the surging of second (and now third) waves of the virus taking over. All of us are tired of the pandemic and have no patience anymore for people not following the rules.
The aftershocks have been tiring.
What a powerful moment that must have been in the temple after Jesus died on the cross. To see the curtain torn from top to bottom must have shocked the religious leaders of the time.
It was just another aftershock from the Son of God doing the will of the Father.
The earth shook.
The rocks split (and you know how easy it is for rocks to split on their own!)
Tombs broke open.
Incredible. Not only was the spiritual world affected by Jesus’ death, but so was the physical world.
The crucifixion is not just a story shared by fellow Christians to get people’s curiosity aroused and draw them into a Gospel-focused life.
The crucifixion is a God-enabled transformative landmark event that reset the world that we know of. This reset made it possible for anyone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah to have everlasting life.
No wonder the rocks split and the tombs were opened!
God was making it clear what had just happened. The aftershocks were a natural response to this amazing historical moment.
There are times that there are aftershocks to the miracles and the movement of God in the 21st Century and we sometimes fail to see the signs and wonders. I am not talking about conspiracy theories or signs for the end of the age (which believers have debated and tried to predict for centuries, but God still has the timeline on that locked up!). I am talking about lives that turn to Jesus after a miraculous healing from cancer, or protection from the virus or mercy shown during our own moments of loss and suffering.
God loves us so much that He was not willing to let us simply be separated from him or to let us die an earthly death as the final end. He needed a reset that would transform the natural order of sin and death and He used His only Son to make it happen.
True love is not what feels good. True love does right and what is needed, no matter how it feels.
God’s True Love for us continues to have aftershocks in our world, and we need to have the eyes to see and the ears to hear in order to experience the blessing.
One of my favourite “Bible Films” would be the Franco Zeffirelli’s film “Jesus of Nazareth”. Although the film is not completely historically and scripturally accurate it is a moving portrayal of the Gospel story that continues to inspire me. It is a yearly tradition to watch it, although there have been years I have missed it. One of the characters that Rose-Frances and I love is the Centurion who comes to ask Jesus to heal His servant. Although in Scripture there is a suggestion that others speak to Jesus on the Centurion’s behalf, the scene is a tender one. The Centurion knows that if Jesus simply says that his servant will be healed that he WILL be. The Centurion’s faith was noted by Jesus and because of this, the servant was healed.
In the film, the same centurion is the one who is at the cross and recognizes that, along with the other Roman guards, that “surely He (Jesus) was the Son of God”. However there is not evidence that this is the same Centurion but it makes for a great dramatic element at the crucifixion.
The aftershocks of True Love in the eyes of those who did not believe prior to the death of Jesus.
The other reason why we enjoy the character is that Ernest Borgnine, the man who plays the Centurion, resembles Rose-Frances’ dad, John. In fact, the faith of my father-in-law was very much like the Centurion’s. When he knew that he was diagnosed with cancer and had limited time left on earth, he was able to surrender all of his emotion and plans to God. He loved serving in his local parish and was a true humble servant. If he had approached Jesus to ask for healing for a friend or family member, John would have trusted Jesus and knew that He would do what He said He would do. But John knew that this was his time and because of his strong faith, it prepared him for his Beautiful Mile.
The faith of a man who experienced the True Love of God in his life. That is a most beautiful aftershock of the events on Golgotha.
Did you know that after Jesus’ resurrection that holy people were also resurrected after him and were seen in the holy city by MANY people? I seem to forget about this fact when I read this part of the book of Matthew.
How incredible is this?
And could you imagine being someone who lived in the city and you happen to come across George, your best friend from school who died of cancer last year, WALKING, FULLY alive and wandering the city. Can you imagine what it must have felt like for George? Seems very Marvel/Avengers-y to me (the blip), but it would have been wild to be dead one day and alive the next!
The aftershocks of True Love.
As we wait in the land between the crucifixion and the resurrection, take time today to remember Jesus’ True Love for us. His willingness to do what is right, no matter what it cost Him. Remember to worship Him today that He has brought you into this amazing relationship with Him that has changed your life for the better. Count all of your blessings, list them as items of praise, and lift your hands in the air in thankful praise.
May the aftershocks of True Love inspire you to worship, to love and to change your world in Jesus’ name and for all those who are struggling because they do not know Him.
Happy Holy Saturday. See you tomorrow for our Easter Sunday gathering on Facebook at 10:30 a.m. ET 🙂
Friday April 2 – A PRAYER FOR GOOD FRIDAY
“27 Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. 30 They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. 31 After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
32 As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. 33 They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). 34 There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. 35 When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. 36 And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. 37 Above his head they placed the written charge against him: this is jesus, the king of the jews.
38 Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” 41 In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. 42 “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.
45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli,[a] lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).[b]
47 When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”
48 Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. 49 The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”
50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.” – Matthew 27:27-50 (NIV),
Our hearts turn to You, today.
It doesn’t make sense that You would allow Your only Son to be beaten and mocked. Why would you allow Him to go through that for us? Never has a love so selfless changed the world in such a powerful way.
We don’t deserve this. You know us.
And yet you offer Jesus to save us, and we are beyond grateful.
On this Good Friday, we remember what Jesus has done for us. We remember how He was mocked: the scarlet robe, the crown of thorns, the staff in His hand.
Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.
The criminals who were crucified on each side of Jesus had done terrible things. The one criminal whose heart had softened to Jesus was able to see the love of God in one moment.
It changed him forever.
Those who threw insults at him thought that Jesus was a fraud. They thought that the story was over. Even the religious leaders expected Jesus to break God’s plan to prove to them that He was the Messiah. Jesus trusted God, but He was not going to put the Lord to the test. He stayed faithful to the mission to the very end.
Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.
How many times have we hurled insults at You, mocked You, ignored Your call in our lives? How many times have we threatened to believe in You if only You would prove Your power to us? How many times have we said, “If You do this God, then I will know You are the true God” when You have been with us all this time?
Forgive us, Father, for we know not what we do.
Jesus, in Your loving kindness, show us mercy for the times we don’t understand.
Show us mercy for the times we take Your sacrifice for granted.
Show us mercy when we only think of ourselves and not others.
We are a grateful people on this very Good Friday: we are humbled by Your sacrifice.
We give You praise because You are a forgiving God and a loving Father. We do not deserve the gift You have given us, but we are so thankful.
Live in us. Move in us.
We are grateful that the story does not end here, but for today we are overwhelmed by how much You love us. Your love has changed us, and we will never be the same.
As we wait at the foot of the cross, we see Your arms stretched outright, Jesus. Thank You for loving us so much that You call us friend. Thank You for laying down Your life for us.
May we share this truth with the world. and may You dwell in us today.
Live in us. Move in us. Forever.
For we ask and pray these things in Jesus’ name,
Thursday April 1 – THE ROOSTER CROWS AGAIN
“31 Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:
“‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’
32 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
33 Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”
34 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”
35 But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.
42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
69 Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said.
70 But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.
71 Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.”
72 He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!”
73 After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.”
74 Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!”
Immediately a rooster crowed.” – Matthew 26:31-35, 42, 69-74 (NIV)
When I was in Grade 9, I joined the Outer’s Club. I think this surprised my parents because the last thing you could say I was was the “outdoorsy type”. Don’t get me wrong, I love being in the outdoors, just as long as I can go back indoors at the appropriately scheduled time. I suspect the reason I joined the club was probably because there were some girls that I liked that were going on the trip, and I think my friend Joe was going as well, so it seemed like a good idea.
To be honest, there is not much I remember about the trip. I did learn a lot and what I did enjoy the most was the fact that we rode our bikes to the location. The surprise of the trip was on the ride home. I was probably going way too slow and couldn’t keep up with my friends, because I ended up riding with a girl named Brooke (her name changed to protect her innocence). Now, Brooke and I were from different social circles and I didn’t know much about her at all. What I do remember is that we rode back together for what must have been a very long bike ride but felt like a few minutes. As we began to talk, I was amazed at how much we were connecting. Our chat flew by and this was probably the first real and long conversation I had ever had with a member of the opposite sex. As we arrived back at the school, we said goodbye and wished each other a good rest of the weekend.
Over that Sunday I thought about Brooke and was quite taken with the fact we had made a connection. I honestly thought I had made a new friend out of my social circle and was looking forward to getting to know her better.
Monday came and when I arrived at school I was eagerly looking to find Brooke to say hello. When we met in the hallway and I said “Hello!”, she looked at me and, as she was with some friends who were in Grade 10, ignored me and then continued on with her friends.
She blew me off.
I couldn’t believe it. Maybe this was all in my mind that we had actually made a connection and had started a friendship (and you must remember at this point I was not thinking romantically about Brooke, I was thinking I had made a real connection as a friend). When she seemed less than interested to see me, in fact, embarrassed that I had said hello to her in front of her cool friends, it did make my heart sink a little.
I felt like a nobody.
A music geek.
I am sure many of you can recall stories from the playground in elementary school or in the halls in high school where you were betrayed by someone. Or, even worse, some of you might remember other kids pretending to be your friends and then when you least expect it, pull the rug of truth out from under you and pretend they don’t even know you. It hurts.
And yet, Jesus knew that arguably His most devout disciple would deny having any knowledge of Jesus three times before the rooster crowed.
It didn’t hurt Jesus so much as He knew it had to happen, in order to fulfil scripture.
Or did it?
I always wonder if Peter’s denial of knowing Jesus, hurt Him deeply. I guess it doesn’t hurt as much if you know it is going to happen.
Poor Peter. His passion for loving Jesus was second to none. If there was any disciple that would continue Jesus’ work after the crucifixion it was Peter. And yet, he too ended up responding like we all do when faced with a public investigation into our faith lives.
“Oh, are you a Christian? Are you one of those Christians who are anti maskers and believe the virus is all a hoax?”
“Do you believe in those tele-evangelists who prey on seniors to get them to give up their life savings for God and buy themselves expensive planes?”
“Are you the ones who hate the LGBTQ?”
“Why are you always so judgemental?”
When the magnifying glass is put on us, and the lamplight during the interrogation blinds us, we become embarrassed to call ourselves Christ followers.
It is hard to NOT be lumped into the crowd of “believers” who spew hate, division and conspiracy for conspiracy’s sake. It is easier sometimes to simply play down the fact that we are Jesus followers in order to please people. If you are a people pleaser, you will find it most difficult to live a sacrificial life for God. For me that was one of the first “gods” I had to slay as I began my ministry at James Street.
When I am asked about what I do professionally, I would always say “I am a worship pastor” which led to some very blank stares. I then tried to explain what the role entailed and sometimes the look would change to just a slightly blank stare. I have never had anyone question why I would be a worship pastor or why I believe in a God that is simply a collection of fairy tales and bad psychology. Most times people are keenly interested in what I do. I then get to tell them about all of the amazing things I get to do, see my excitement and they get excited to hear more. I love it when it becomes infectious!
But there are times, when my ‘audience” might be antagonistic to me because of my faith. In those moments it is easier sometimes to say that I am just a musician.
And the rooster crows yet again.
Jesus, in the midst of knowing what was going to happen, and even praying in the garden for possibly a change in plans, prayed “Your will be done” to His Father. He knew that this journey would not be easy, but He did it for His friends.
He did it for a world who wanted nothing to do with Him.
When I think of the pain Jesus endured, I get embarrassed and overwhelmed that I would deny His presence in my life just to be accepted by others. I think about how my response must break God’s heart, and God is reminded again that humans are fickle and have very limited faith spans.
If Peter the devout disciple could do it, then it means we all can.
And some of us can admit we have.
We live in a time when the flock of God no longer need to be scattered but brought together. To overlook our petty differences and work together to show how much God loves us. We need to be bold, sharing God’s love with gentleness and respect as opposed to treating it like a cheap consumer good to be flogged.
Don’t let the rooster crow again for you. Show God’s love to others in how you treat one another and, most importantly, those you don’t know.
Be kind, overflowing with patience and empathy and allow the Holy Spirit to give you the right words and right actions when you doubt yourself.
Trust in the One who loves you with arms stretched out wide. He understands and still loves you.
Draw closer to Jesus as you remember the journey to Golgotha.
Just a reminder that tonight we will be on Zoom at 6:30 p.m. and we will see you on either Facebook or YouTube at 10:30 a.m. ET on Good Friday.
Wednesday March 31 – THE LAST SUPPER
26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
30 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
– Matthew 26: 26-30 (NIV)
Something I miss so much during the pandemic has been going out for dinner.
Sharing a meal is a big thing. In Biblical times, it was one of the most intimate experiences one could have. If you were invited to someone’s table, it was a sign of honour. Someone cared enough to have you in their inner circle.
Today entire families don’t eat at the table anymore. When our family was younger we would all sit at the table and find out about how everyone’s day was and connect. Nowadays with one child off to University and the other in High School and working two part time jobs, having a meal together all at the same time becomes a real challenge. Some of my most favourite times with my family is when we can go out for dinner together. I think the Clause family is at it’s best when we hang out together over a wonderful meal.
On this night in Holy Week, I am sure the disciples were ready for what would have been another meal with the Master. But this time, the tone seemed a bit more serious.
Jesus talked about eating His body and drinking His blood. Even by 21st Century standards that seemed a little dark and almost bordering on gothic! I am sure the disciples had no idea that Jesus was about to become the sacrificial lamb on which the fate of the world rested. But, on this night, Jesus shared the first communion time with his friends. He prepared them for this incredible selfless act: dying on a cross in order that our sins would be forgiven completely. Jesus knew that once He had died and rose again that it would be difficult for His friends to cope and to do the work they were called to do. He knew they would be tortured and treated cruelly because they called Jesus the Messiah. Sharing this meal was another way the disciples could be comforted by His loss, and empowered to share the Gospel with their world. It was yet another gift Jesus gave them which allowed them to connect with one another.
To this day, sharing the Lord’s Supper is a critical part of a gathering for the 21st Century church. It also helps us to keep our eyes focused on Jesus, as well as being encouraged by community at the same time.
Something I miss so much during the pandemic has been sharing the Lord’s Supper with you all. Not virtually, but in the same room.
We have done our best online but it is just not the same. It is hard to sense the spiritual energy in the room, yet for now it is all we have until we can assemble together again. I want to thank you all for hanging in there and being patient. It has been hard on all of us, and yet I am grateful for the ways we have connected in lieu of our in-person gatherings.
Jesus reminds us in the Lord’s Supper of the great gift He has given us, by offering His body and blood as the Final Sacrifice for sins. Never again do we have to kill an animal for our sins, because the True Paschal Lamb known as Jesus paid it all for us.
All we need to do is accept His gift with thankfulness and carry our own cross for our journey.
I would love to suggest that although we will celebrate communion this Easter Sunday (as it works out to be the first Sunday of the month), I would love to encourage you to do this with your family when you break bread this weekend. Take time to remember what Jesus has done for us, and celebrate with those living with you to do the same. I know this year looks different again for all of us, but even if you are living alone, recite the words from Matthew 26 as you eat and drink. For the Clauses we won’t all be together this year, and we won’t be seeing my extended families for another Easter and it hurts. However, I know that we will all be blessed by making decisions that think of others before our needs and wants and that help to rid us of this awful virus.
I love that when the meal was ending they sang a hymn and then made their way to the Mount of Olives. There was joy in that time together, in that calm before the storm. It is good for us to model this behaviour whenever we are faced with challenging circumstances ahead of us: break bread and celebrate with joy!
May you find joy as you remember the Last Supper, and may you celebrate as best you can this weekend. I am looking forward to sharing the Lord’s Supper with you all online this Sunday. Have an amazing Wednesday and look forward to seeing you tomorrow night on Zoom for our Maundy Thursday gathering!
Tuesday March 30 – DO WHAT YOU CAME FOR, FRIEND
“14 Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests 15 and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. 16 From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.
20 When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. 21 And while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.”
22 They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?”
23 Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”
25 Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?”
Jesus answered, “You have said so.”
47 While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48 Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” 49 Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.
50 Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.”
– Matthew 26:14, 20-25, 47-50 (NIV)
Judas is one of the characters of the Passion story that I believe has been misunderstood over time. He is known as the man who gave up Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, or in our currency, around $200 US. Most of us would ask why would Judas give up Jesus for such a small amount? Certainly it would have provided for Judas at a time when he could have used the money. He knew that Jesus’ time was just about over (thanks to the religious leaders), and he thought he could take care of himself before everything went bad. However I don’t believe that Judas knew Jesus would be crucified. He was simply an opportunist who wanted to profit from his time as a disciple.
If we had the choice to select one of Jesus’ disciples to be a trusted friend, I can guarantee you that Judas would be picked last. I sometimes wonder if we wouldn’t pick him because he is too much like us!
I can identify with Judas in many ways. I am sure there were times he was discouraged about what Jesus was doing. I am sure Judas wanted Jesus to overthrow the Roman government and when it wasn’t happening, Judas decided to take things into his own hands.
But here’s the complication: without Judas, there is no resurrection.
Without Judas betraying Jesus, the events that needed to happen would have unfolded in a very different way.
In verse 50, Jesus speaks six very powerful words: “Do what you came for, friend”.
The one word that sticks in my throat is “friend”.
Jesus KNEW what Judas had done. It was no surprise. It was part of the plan. And the part that is most significant is that Jesus calls Judas “friend”.
Not the devil.
Not the evil one.
Jesus reminds Judas that he is a friend, and always will be.
Jesus knew Judas would be emotionally overwhelmed by Jesus’ death on a cross. Jesus knew that Judas would have incredible feelings of regret and remorse. In that one moment before everything changed, Jesus reminded Judas how he felt about him: he was His friend.
Friend. What kind of friend betrays you for $200 US?
In six words, Jesus reminds us that even those who are considered our enemies or those who are against us, need to be loved.
Judas played a crucial role in the Passion story and yet, few would call him a friend of Jesus. But Jesus makes it clear that Judas WAS His friend.
Who do you feel has betrayed you recently? Do you still hold onto feelings or grudges against this person? If Jesus can call the person who gave him up to the Sanhedrin a friend, then we can show mercy to those who have wronged us.
This is the Gospel message: Love God and love your neighbours as yourself.
During Holy Week, I want to invite you to follow the Jesus way and forgive those who have wronged you. This is not an easy task and is not one to be taken lightly. Forgive them (and if you can tell them in person then by all means do it), ask God to forgive them – and you for showing mercy – and move forward. In doing this, you honour God in the highest manner and show how much you truly love Him.
Love the Lord your God with all of your soul, mind and strength.
May your heart resonate with the beauty of God’s grace.
Walk your journey knowing you will be blessed as you forgive.
Your burdens will be lifted.
You can breathe again.
If you still feel you aren’t good enough to accept God’s grace and forgiveness, remember that He too called Judas His friend. He loves you. May the healing begin the week in your acts of forgiveness.
Do what you came for, friend.
You are Loved.
Monday March 29 – GREAT LOVE
36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”
40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.
41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
– Luke 7:36-50 (NIV)
I have to say that this story from Luke is one of my favourites from the New Testament. There is so much here that to unpack it would take at least a four part sermon series. I will tell you though what I love about it: it demonstrates the great love of God.
I believe 21st Century Christendom has forgotten one of the most important concepts that separates Christianity from other world religions: it is the concept of forgiveness.
Why is it that it is so hard to forgive? Jesus always believed in second chances and He demonstrated this so many times in the New Testament. The woman with the alabaster jar of perfume is one of them.
I can imagine what the look on the face of the Pharisee as this woman began to kiss Jesus’ feet and to anoint them with very expensive perfume. She was known as a sinner and did not have the greatest reputation. This was a no no for Jesus, who was seen as a holy man or Rabbi in the eyes of the Pharisee.
And yet, I wonder what the Pharisee’s face looked like when he dealt with his own sins directly. Would he look as disgusted? Probably not.
I love the old saying, “When you point a finger at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at you”. There is so much truth to this statement. We need to understand that the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye cannot compare to the plank in our own.
“But whoever has been forgiven little loves little”
When did we lose sight of forgiving those who wrong us? When did we become a people who judge first and ask questions later? When did we lose sight of the mercy and forgiveness of God? Jesus makes very clear in this story that it was BECAUSE of the sinful woman’s great love for Jesus that He forgave all of her sins.
ALL of them. Not one was missed.
I believe when we judge and cannot forgive others, it is because we have not experienced the deep deep love of God fully or we have forgotten about His love. This is why it is crucial to meditate on the love of God regularly. It keeps us in check and reminds us of how imperfect and sinful we are as well.
An internet meme that I saw today spoke volumes to me: “Don’t judge someone because they sin differently than you”.
When we have “walked a mile in someone else’s shoes”, we begin to gain compassion and understanding as to why someone would sin a certain way. Seeing that all sins are equal in the eyes of God, we are in an equal playing field.
When we love God with everything that we are, authentically, unconditionally and without expectation, God sees us and forgives us. He knows every innermost thought and feeling, regret and remorse, and knows when our hearts are sincere.
The woman with the alabaster jar of perfume loved from the depths of her soul. Her love overflowed through her actions, where she could not contain her love for Jesus. She did not try to manipulate Jesus into doing anything for her. She gave the perfume that was probably meant for her own burial one day – this costly perfume – and anointed Jesus. This was the greatest gift she could have given and Jesus publicly acknowledged her love.
Today on the first day of Holy Week, I share this story to remind us all of the importance of forgiveness as an act of worship. As we forgive, we confirm that God’s love is real and genuine and that it has changed our lives. Is there anyone in your life that you have not fully forgiven? Have you held onto these feelings of hate or judgement and it has been eating away at your joy? You have the right to release these feelings, forgive the person who has wronged you and move forward. Forgiveness is an act of worship that shows how much you love God.
Forgive and move towards the cross.
The other important part to this story is the reminder to love God with all that you are. The great love you have for Him, as it is proven here, allows God to forgive the sins you have committed.
If you need to be forgiven, love God with passion and reverence.
As you worship during this holy week, may love and forgiveness be at the top of your list. Allow the example of the woman encourage us all and allow us to experience the deep deep love of Jesus.
You are Loved and we are called to love Him in a beautiful worshipful response. Your faith has saved you. May the peace of God be experienced as you journey to the cross.
Sunday March 28 – Day 40 – CELEBRATE THE KING!
“Everyone in Jerusalem,
celebrate and shout!
Your king has won a victory,
and he is coming to you.
He is humble
and rides on a donkey;
he comes on the colt
of a donkey.” – Zechariah 9:9 (CEV)
“28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”
32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”
34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.”
35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.
37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”[a]
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”” – Luke 19:28-40 (NIV)
It was foretold that Jesus, the King, would win a victory.
It was foretold that He would ride a colt/donkey, and that He would be a humble King.
Can you imagine the day? Can you imagine the excitement?
The closest thing that I can get to that experience would be with two winning sports teams.
The first: Rose-Frances and I stayed over in Toronto the night the Blue Jays won the World Series in 1992. They were in Atlanta, and we watched the game on the big screen at the Skydome. There were many fans watching the game and when they won, pandemonium hit the streets of Toronto. Walking back to our hotel that night was an experience I will never forget.
The second: Riley and I travelled to Pittsburgh in 2017 after the Penguins won back to back Stanley Cups and we went to the victory parade. The energy was electric, and it was filled with joy and celebration.
Although there were no confetti cannons in Jesus’ day, they weren’t needed. I can imagine the shouting and screaming (as if at a Beatles show circa 1964-66 USA), the praise and the celebration would have been greater than any mega church on any given Sunday. God had sent His only Son and the world was celebrating the change that was just around the corner. Jesus’ numerous healings and miracles had made him the news of the day, yet He didn’t come in the procession riding in a limousine.
He didn’t even drive up in a red Ferrari.
He didn’t even ride up on a white stallion.
Instead, He came in on a donkey, as a humble servant.
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
The shouts and praise of the crowd are what Jesus deserved. Palms were lowered before the donkey as they rode by. The whole image is so cinematic. The King was here and in the flesh! God came through on His promise of the Messiah at last!
And this is where we pause the story. We know what is to come. But it is a moment in the Passion story that many of us love to freeze and put on hold. The moment when all was perfect. In fact, one would not be surprised if at this point of the story, Jesus says, “I think I could get used to this celebrity status and star treatment. Maybe we could put off the crucifixion for just a couple of weeks, right, Lord? There is no rush, right?”
As we saw on day one of this series: Jesus wants no part in this earthly celebrity. He wants to do the will of His Father who sent Him. Anything less and the mission would have been in vain.
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
For today, we celebrate the King who entered to the sounds of praise. Even if the disciples didn’t shout His praises, the stones would have cried out in praise. I have to say the stones were very silent when the Jays won as well as during the Penguins parade.
May the echoes of the crowd fill our minds and hearts right now, today. May we be inspired to praise Him with our own shouts of praise.
Today marks the official last day of our devotion series. 40 days went by very quickly, didn’t it? I hope that these thoughts have inspired or encouraged you to praise Jesus today. I hope that your Lenten journey has been one of reflection, prayer and contemplation. I hope that you are closer to Jesus than you ever have been before, and that you can say without a doubt that you are ready for the week to come.
Starting tomorrow, we will continue this series on the events leading up to Good Friday, so I hope you will join us for another seven days of daily devotions.
Today we hope you will join us at 10:30 a.m. ET on Facebook for our own Palm Sunday worship gathering. If you can’t join us, find time today to worship Jesus. Maybe it will be with the windows rolled down singing your favourite worship songs. Maybe it will be gathering your family together to pray. Maybe it will be a walk in nature to reflect on the creativity of the Father. Maybe it will be doing a sacrificial act for someone in need. Make today a day of praise and celebration for what Jesus has done.
Happy Palm Sunday!
Blessed is he king who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest!
Saturday March 27 – Day 39 – I HAVE OVERCOME
33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33 (NIV)
I can’t believe that 39 days (well actually, a little MORE than 39 days for me) have already passed since deciding to write this series of daily devotions. I hope they have been a source of encouragement to you during Lent and that it has helped you to draw closer to Jesus.
One of my favourite songs to worship to is Charlie Hall’s “I Have Overcome”. At the time when I first heard the album, I had just started working at James Street in my position as worship pastor. As an album, “On the Road to Beautiful” didn’t really grab me on the first listen. However, as I gave it a few more spins and I began to focus on the words, the album became a source of inspiration and fuel for my personal worship times. One of my most cherished moments was putting the CD on in a very very large American SUV (first time driving one ever) tackling the rush hour multi lane Atlanta highways. I was traveling from the airport to the hotel, getting lost in the process (I don’t believe in 2003 I had access to a GPS – how things have changed!). Putting on the CD and hearing that opening piano ostinato that begins this song, I began to breathe and to relax as Charlie sung these words:
“And I can see that my hands are trembling, I can see that my legs are weak
I can see that my head is spinning, but I will overcome
And I know that my heart is hurting, And I know that my soul it aches
And I know that it seems I’m failing, but I will overcome, yeah”
I was in a city called Alpharetta just outside Atlanta for the very first LIFT worship conference led by the Passion team. It was my first time hearing Louie Giglio and met both Matt Redman and Charlie Hall on that trip. It was also the trip where the majority of the songs from the Surrendering…Everything album were started or written completely. It was a real time of renewal and healing from a time that I did my best to live my life and ignore God in the process.
Throughout this entire season of Lent, we have been tested and blessed. We have been agitated and we have been calmed. We have been frustrated and we have been enlightened. And though it all, God has been in the details. He has walked with us, cried with us, carried us when our anxieties began to shut us down. That is why it is so important to read this passage at the end of the book of John to remind us the importance of Lent:
If Jesus had never said yes to God, we would be without hope and without peace.
If Jesus had never said yes to God, we would await punishment and death for our sins.
Jesus tells his disciples prior to verse 33 that they will all be scattered and although they will leave Jesus alone, He has the Father and the Father is with Him. He then continues and shares with the disciples that this truth (Jesus being with the Father) would bring peace to the followers. It meant that what God said He would do has been completed perfectly. Mission accomplished. Sin has been defeated. We no longer have to live in fear or to await our punishment. Jesus has taken all of this on His shoulders because He said yes to the Father.
In saying yes, we can take heart because Jesus has overcome the world!
Jesus has overcome every obstacle He faced for us because He loves us. He lived in obedience to His Father, which He calls every single one of us to do. He reminds us that God is not the stereotypical judgemental figure with grey hair and a long beard that likes to torture us from above. God is not the sadistic ruler who would rather see us suffer.
In fact, quite the opposite.
Who would give up their own son to a violent and humiliating death if they wanted the human race to suffer? God, in His infinite wisdom, wanted to show us just how much He loves us. He showed us what it means to surrender everything in order to do what is right. He models that for us. And although God could have simply said “I’m done with these people” and allowed us to die without a chance of everlasting life, He said, “I Am”.
In doing so, Jesus was able to overcome the world.
Jesus overcame death and the natural order of the world to rise again. His transformational resurrection from death to life has overcome everything we know about our natural world. And for this, we need to take heart!
Some translations use the term “cheer up”, “be of good cheer”, “be of good comfort”, “courageous/courage”, “encouraged”, “trust ye”, “brave” “take hope”, “be glad”, “you need not fear”, and “never lose heart”.
Of all of those terms, I love “never lose heart” (Phillips). I love this because it sums up the road we have traveled these 39 days: in the wilderness that we face in this lifetime, we are to never lose heart, because Jesus has saved us.
We are to never lose heart, because Jesus knows what we are facing, He understands, and makes a way for us in all situations EVEN during our own end of life journey.
We are to never lose heart because God has not abandoned or forsaken us. He is here, in this Lenten journey, desiring that we walk this road with Jesus from the triumphal entry to the empty tomb. Now that we have taken almost 40 days to prepare our hearts, now Jesus’ gift to us actually means something to us.
We have taken His gift to heart and it has changed us.
Jesus’ gift is not meant to be hidden but rather we are called to share this gift with the world around us. By showing the fruits of the Spirit in your daily lives, the world begins to see how amazing Jesus truly is and that He has overcome the world for everyone.
Jesus loves us, so we too, shall overcome any circumstance in our lives.
The song “I Will Overcome” ends as a prayer from Charlie to God:
“God listen to me shout, I’m so far from anywhere and I’m calling out
Lead me, lead me to the rock that is higher than I
You’re my breath, You’re my breath, You’re my very life
Infinite, Holy King meets weak and frail Christ in me
And I will overcome not by my strength but by Your grace and love”
The truth of the Lenten journey is this: we will overcome not by our strength but by the grace and love of God alone. When we begin to TRUST these words, as we imprint them on our hearts and begin to live out what it means to overcome, we are ready for what comes next. We are ready for the moment that Jesus is betrayed by Judas. We are ready for the moment that He is denied by Peter. We are ready for the centurion to see Jesus for who He really is. We are ready to deal with the pain and suffering Jesus endured on our behalf and it leads us to the promise of the empty tomb.
You are ready for Easter because He has overcome the world. He has overcome YOUR world and you are ready to enter in.
Church, never lose heart. Jesus has overcome so that you might live an amazing and spirit filled life serving others and sharing His grace and love to all.
Tomorrow will be our last prayer in the series and then I will have a daily devotional based on the events of the week leading to Calvary. Thank you for joining me in this journey and I pray that you will overcome all the obstacles you face by leaning on God’s grace and love. Join us tomorrow for our Palm Sunday online gathering at 10:30 a.m. See you tomorrow!
Friday March 26 – Day 38 – THE SONG
“The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.” – Zephaniah 3:17 (NIV)
The book of Zephaniah is a small but powerful collection of poetry documenting the goodness of God. At the end of the book, God restores Jerusalem and gathers all of the nation together to “pour out his burning indignation” (3:8). However, that sounds a lot worse than what really happened. God’s presence is there in the restoration in the remnant of the city. The people are called to sing and rejoice.
And then, something amazing happens.
God desires to rejoice over His people with singing.
Yes, that’s what I said, singing!
The God of Israel…the God of Jacob, of Abraham and Issac, rejoicing over YOU with singing.
Can you imagine God singing over you, like a parent sings over their restless infant before their bedtime? As a musician, I cannot imagine what a sound that would be. All I know is that it would be perfect…every note, every rhythm and rest, inflection and tone would probably blow me away.
Honestly, can you imagine God singing over us??!!!
Singing certainly beats rebuking, I can tell you that.
For a lot of us, all we can focus on at times is how much God is disappointed with us. Some of us live in the shadow of the fear of God’s judgement for the things we have done and the things that we have failed to do. Sometimes we feel the sin in our lives is too great to even approach Him.
But here’s the thing: no sin that we have ever committed is too much for God to forgive us.
This is the truth, whether you believe it or not.
We have all beaten ourselves up for the sins that we cannot stop ourselves from doing. The more we beat ourselves up, the more we think we are unworthy of God’s love and we never change. At times it just seems to get worse.
What if I told you that all God wants is to bring unity to His people and to bring those who are far away from Him into His presence?
We see it at the end of the book of Zephaniah. We see God is so happy to see His people coming together in genuine worship of Him after their sinful experiences (worshipping false gods, focusing on pleasures instead of worshipping Him, etc).
He is so happy that He SINGS over His people.
The next time you get to that point of not forgiving yourself, ask God to forgive You. Ask Him to give you the strength to let go of the sins that bind you and make you unable to worship Him.
He is a forgiving and loving Father, full of grace and mercy for all who approach Him.
Don’t allow the thoughts that you have in your mind about yourself distract you from this truth: the God of the Universe truly truly loves you. Truly.
He has changed the course of history just to be with you.
He offered up His only Son just to be with you.
He waits for you, as you deal with your thoughts and your emotions, with your doubts and your low self esteem.
He waits for you, and is ready to sing over you at any time.
Are you ready to hear the song God has for you?
On that day when I see God face to face, I know I will worry about the things I have done and the things I have failed to do. I have never wanted to disappoint God but, I know that my actions in the past have. But here’s the thing: He knows. He knows about it all. He knows about the nights you prayed to Him in tears not knowing what to do.
He knows, and He still loves you.
He still cares.
And He still has a song waiting for you.
The idea of God being delighted over me is actually overwhelming. And I think for a lot of us, we need to focus less on the sins we have beat ourselves up over and more about the delight we could bring God with our lives.
Don’t get me wrong. If you have never confessed your sins to God, you need to. This is a must. However if you have confessed your sins and asked for His forgiveness and yet you still keep beating yourself up and go back down the same roads, focus on the delight of God.
Think of delighting Him when you care for the widow and the orphan.
Think of delighting Him when you put others before yourself.
Think of delighting Him when you are at that crossroad with that particular sin and put Him first. It will make all of the difference in the world.
“ in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.”
May this truth fuel you today and may you await the beautiful song God has planned for you as you worship Him fully.
You are Loved. May you delight Him in you thoughts, your actions and your plans and rejoice!
Have a lovely weekend – see you tomorrow!
Thursday March 25 – Day 37 – WE DON’T NEED RELIGION
“7-9 The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness.
10-11 I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it.” – Philippians 3:7-11 (MSG)
We’ve all done it.
We decide to walk on the grass in the park on a beautiful spring day. Not a cloud in the sky! The smells and sights washed in the brilliant sun have made this a near perfect moment.
And then it happens.
As we walk, looking into the beautiful blue sky, we take one step that doesn’t seem like the one before it. When the ground was once firm and solid, this step seems…soft. As our shoe sinks as if in a small amount of quicksand, the aroma hits our nose.
Yep. We just stepped in a big pile of dog dung.
There is nothing worse than ruining a good pair of shoes, or trying to clean them after stepping into doggie doo doo. Whatever good vibes you were experiencing before this have evaporated and you run home trying to get your shoes clean.
No one who owns a dog has a shelf of puppy poo in bags in their man cave to display as trophies to show their friends. Everyone throws them in the garbage. There is no redeeming value in canine crap.
In Paul’s letter to Phillipi, he talks about his life before Jesus and after Jesus. He shares that the things he thought were important now are meaningless, insignificant, or for a lack of a better term, dog dung.
In our Lenten journey, there are some things in your life that you need to throw out in the trash. Things that have the same worth as ca ca. Has God been nudging at your heart? Do you have a better idea of what you need to let go of? If you aren’t sure, ask yourself this question: “What ways of living as a believer do I need to let go of in order to truly worship Jesus?”. Don Berry-Graham is one of the few pastors I know that was never hung up on being addressed by his pastoral title. In fact, he made very clear to people that he met that Jesus was more important to him than the title of “reverend” or “minister”. In his personal worship, he placed the worship of title and status into the dumpster.
Has your study of God’s word and your numerous university degrees become a god to you? Would you rather have a theological discourse with someone or share with them the ways that Jesus has made a practical difference in your life?
To quote Brian Houston (*the great songwriter, not the Hillsong guy*), “We don’t need religion but we could use the love of God”.
I have spent a lot of my music ministry at James Street and Graceworks tearing down the conventions and inventions of man. With my guitar in my hand, proving that you can worship God just as powerfully with one guitar than you can with a Casavant organ. I don’t want an inferior brand of righteousness, I want the real thing. I want to worship Jesus with all that I am and breathe in His goodness and His power. I want to be holy, as Jesus the Servant King was holy. This takes a lifetime of living, a lifetime of sinning, a lifetime of regret, prayer and surrender.
By trusting God, we begin to experience God’s righteousness in a different way. It becomes authentic and real. It is no longer a set of rules that we follow like mindless robots and turn off our emotions in the process. God’s righteousness takes everything that we are: heart, mind and spirit, and changes us. We develop a hunger and desire to be with God, to know Him and to fill our lives with goodness, God’s goodness.
Anything else that doesn’t fit in the category of God’s goodness can be kicked to the curb.
It does not matter the list of things we have done in the name of Christianity in order to gain God’s favour. What does matter, and this is the crux of the Lenten journey:
God’s grace covers us because of who He is, not by what we have done.
God’s grace covers us because of who He is, not by what we haven’t done.
God’s grace cover us because of who He is, not by the letters that follow our name.
God’s grace covers us because of who He is. Period.
Lent is a time of soul searching and I hope that you have had moments over these past 37 days to reflect on where you are right now. Know that wherever you are right now is ok. What matters now is where you want to be tomorrow. If your heart desires an authentic faith but you have been stuck in dogma and religiosity, all it takes is one prayer lifted to heaven spoken directly from your heart:
“God, make me real in You.
Do not let me stay stuck in the rules and regulations of religion.
Show me Your heart and may Your Holy Spirit fill me.
My heart longs for You. Help me, Lord. I don’t know where to start.”
As we are honest with ourselves and with God, we can walk this Lenten journey being refined by the true love of Jesus. May we know God’s resurrection power. May we be a partner in His sufferings and as we one day walk that Beautiful Mile from earth to heaven, may we experience life beyond the grave.
My prayer for all of us is that God will reveal the place where we need to start this journey of discovery and transformation.
Be blessed, church. See you tomorrow.
Wednesday March 24 – Day 36 – BRIGHT LIGHTS
“14-16 Do everything readily and cheerfully—no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night so I’ll have good cause to be proud of you on the day that Christ returns. You’ll be living proof that I didn’t go to all this work for nothing.” – Philippians 2:14-16 (MSG)
“14 Do everything without complaining and arguing, 15 so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people. 16 Hold firmly to the word of life; then, on the day of Christ’s return, I will be proud that I did not run the race in vain and that my work was not useless.” – Philippians 2:14-16 (NLT)
Doing anything readily and cheerfully during the pandemic is an impossible feat. Especially today.
After dropping Rose-Frances to work, and making sure Riley was up for his 8:30 class, I went out to pick up a few groceries. On the way home, the “D” on the dashboard (which indicates the gear the car is in) began to flash. After almost 40 years of driving, I have never experienced THAT before. I also knew that it probably wasn’t good.
I hate cars. If you ask me, they are a necessary evil that we have to endure. Some people love cars: they love everything about them. For me, as long as it works I am happy. But when it doesn’t work, or acts up, I begin to complain. Big time.
I called the shop and spoke to my main man, Brian. He told me that I should bring it down as soon as possible as it sounded like something to do with the transmission.
The T word.
I have lived though many vehicles in my life where the transmission failed. The last one was what I would consider probably one of my least favourite vehicles: a Blue Montana van (which replaced our favourite maroon Montana van that got rear ended in Pennsylvania when we were driving back from our New York City trip). When transmission problems happen it is never good. However we love this car and I have vowed to get the transmission fixed as it is worth it to get it done.
Dealing with cars (whether I am driving them or dealing with them) makes me angry. I don’t know what it is – you can ask Rose-Frances – but I become a different man behind the wheel. I also become a different man when I am dropping off a vehicle and waiting to hear about it’s impending death or expensive repair.
Complaining about a vehicle is a pastime that I inherited from my father. I remember when my Mum and Dad were going to get a used vehicle for me to use to drive in to McMaster every day for my first year. My Dad was not the greatest wheeler and dealer, and he always looked at the price of a vehicle as opposed to looking at the condition. We bought a Mercury Bobcat (which was known as the “Me_cury Bo_cat” as it was missing those letters on emblem on the rear end of the car). The car was a piece of junk which lasted a year if that. We called it the Flinstones car, because the floor board in the back seat was rusted out and you could see the road (again, not the safest vehicle I ever drove).
But the “Bo_cat” wasn’t the least safe vehicle I ever drove. That award is given to one of my favourite vehicles (and I don’t know why): the 1974 Gold Duster.
The Gold Duster did a few very interesting things. When you would make a left turn, the car would stall. So my Dad taught me how to make the turn, put the car in neutral and then restart the car as I was making my way out of the left turn. My friends were always impressed that I could do it so flawlessly but as they say, practice makes perfect.
The other interesting thing at the end of the life of the Gold Duster was that it would overheat. I suspect the rad was gone and my Dad decided he was not putting any more money in the car. I had a summer job on a farm in Vineland so it meant I had to take the QEW from Grimsby to Vineland which was about a 20 minute drive. I would drive on the highway for about 10 minutes and then the car began to overheat. My Dad taught me how to pull over, grab a large rag, open the rad (which at this point was squealing and bellowing white smoke from the front of the car) and run away from the car, let the car cool down, fill it with a jug of water, grab the very warm cap with the rag, close it and make my way for the second half of my journey. I did this two times every day that summer.
The interesting thing is that looking back on it, I was glad my Dad allowed me to do this. I am sure my Mum was never told what I was doing because I was her baby and was very much protected (being the baby and the only boy). That experience taught me that I didn’t have to be scared of vehicles and that I actually could face challenges positively and do the best with what I am given. In those days, I never complained because I expected the car to overheat. I was simply surviving.
Nowadays I don’t have to worry about survival and because of it, i can easily get into the habit of complaining. It is easy to argue with someone about ministry or music and yet I forget that my attitude (my complaining and arguing) is being viewed by others. I sometimes fail to remember that when I call myself a Jesus follower that people will watch my actions to see if they line up with the carpenter born in Bethlehem.
And as we have seen, Christians have been criticized (and quite fairly) because of the their actions during the pandemic.
The world sees Christians as complaining and arguing about having their rights infringed upon. They won’t wear a mask because it is the government imposing a fascist policy upon them and that isn’t “Christian”.
The world sees Christians complaining about lockdowns and restrictions, that the big bad government won’t allow us to meet and worship in person. We have a “right” to meet and worship. It is part of our constitutional rights, some of our American friends would say.
Where in the Gospel does it say that we have to make sure our rights are honoured by a government or a society?
The last time I checked, the government in Jesus’ day put Him to death.
Jesus never said, “Blessed are those who complain, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven” so why do we feel complaining and arguing about ANYTHING is worthwhile?
Complaining and arguing uses up too much energy and emotion in my mind, and I am so tired of complaining when things don’t go my way.
So now I am thinking the worst for our beloved CRV and I am looking at Auto Trader ads at new used cars and called my mechanic to ask him, “So if it is the transmission and we can’t drive it, do I have to get CAA to tow it to the transmission shop?” (I am asking this because when you are a one car family, that one car decides the fate of the entire family and their schedules. During the pandemic, getting your car repaired has been a challenge).
Yes, I am crazy. I am a believer who loves to complain it seems. And I am at my wit’s end and I am ready for a change.
Church, the world is watching, whether we want to believe it or not. It is crucial that we live lives that not only honour the truths of God but also respect the lives of those we do not know. We are not living to PLEASE them, or doing things to make them like us. We are living a life that is God honouring and therefore one that does not include complaining or arguing.
Let us go out into the world uncorrupted and may we be a breath of fresh air in this polluted world.
May we share with the world what a God honouring life looks like: one that good and directs others to Jesus.
Let us hold onto the truth of God’s word that it may bring light into the dark places, and inspire those walking in darkness to turn to Jesus.
Let us be living proof, Bright Lights, that God exists and that He loves us.
When we complain, our light diminishes bit by bit until all we are left with is bitterness and hate.
Church, be Bright Lights in a time of selfishness and darkness.
Be Bright Lights in a time that is filled with bleakness and despair.
Be Bright Lights, allowing the Holy Spirit to shine from you into this world that is struggling without Jesus.
Currently I am still awaiting word on the CRV but I am not going to complain or argue. I am blessed that we have such a great vehicle and I am hoping that it can be easily fixed. I will not let a vehicle’s life or death get in the way of sharing God’s love with others. Even though I love this vehicle, it is just a metal box on four wheels. The people that I come into contact with that will be fixing and repairing the vehicle are more important and how I respond makes a difference.
Be Bright Lights to a world not celebrating Lent and who don’t have any idea what it truly means. Be the loving and compassionate bridge between the world and Jesus.
See you tomorrow church (and yes, I will keep you posted on the CRV!)
Tuesday March 23 – Day 35 – KEEP ON KEEPING ON
“12-13 What I’m getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you’ve done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I’m separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.” – Philippians 2:12-13 (MSG)
Maybe it was growing up in the 70’s but I remember this saying quite well:
Keep on Keeping On
I didn’t realize that there was a fabulous Curtis Mayfield song by the same name, so I suspect that is what I kept hearing. For those who want to hear this song, here is a link to a great live performance of the song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-l91O9VxN0
The words stick in your mind, don’t they? We keep on KEEPING on during the pandemic. We get excited that vaccines are on their way, and we wait on the hope of a new day when we can all “get together” and resume our normal lives.
I so miss travelling. Nothing I love more than boarding a plane and ending up somewhere new. I miss my trips to Atlanta to attend a Lift worship conference, our family trips to New York City or to Pittsburgh or to Sanibel Island. One day, we will be able to resume traveling without fear of dying. In the meantime, we just keep on keeping on.
In Paul’s letter to Philippi, he commends the church on living in responsive obedience. They have been keeping God’s rules and laws and because of it they have been thriving. Paul knows how hard it is to follow God’s law, so he encourages his friends to not only keep on keeping on but to DOUBLE their efforts! Increase their obedience!
What I love about the Message interpretation is the second part of this passage:
“Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.”
We all love energy. Some of us love hanging out with certain people because they exude such an amazing energy: positive, full of life, and filled with joy. These are the kind of people that make it EASY to hang out and to just be who you are. There is never a dull moment, and you feel like you are a better person after having spent time with them.
Then there are the energy suckers. They are kind at first glance, but then begin to become work. A lot of work. A lot of desire to talk about their problems and to remain in their world for far too long. When they call you on the phone, you do your best to avoid them because you know it won’t be a quick 2 minute phone call. The problem with energy suckers is that they have NO idea that they are energy suckers. They think that they are contributing and helping you work out some issues when in the end, their focus is on themselves.
All of your energy leaving your body and all you can wish for is the visit to end.
You do not have to worry about God. God not only replenishes our energy but the energy living inside us IS His energy.
If you have a relationship with Jesus, God is always willing and working inside you in order that He would be glorified and worshipped. Seems selfish, yes, but this is God we are talking about here. When God dwells within us, there is never an energy drain but an energy surge…a recharging of our souls, hearts and minds. And for that, ANY time spent with God is a win-win scenario.
When we experience the energy of God through the Holy Spirit, we have the desire to keep on keeping on. We don’t want to give up. We want to persevere as we discussed yesterday, because the Giver of our energy is worthy to be praised.
Have you been drained by the demands of new things during COVID-19? Have you even noticed the energy drain or have you been on your running wheel like a crazed hamster oblivious to your energy level? I believe it is crucial that we all take special care in noticing when we are beginning to fail and have our spiritual lives running on empty.
We are called to keep on KEEPING on in Jesus.
Keep on KEEPING on in our prayer life.
Keep on KEEPING on in connecting with our friends.
Keep on KEEPING on in sharing with the world how God has been so good to you, and why God’s love is worth it all.
May your responsive obedience in keeping with God’s grace and mercy, fuel your energy and allow you to do things you never thought were possible.
The God of Lent reminds us that we are to remember Jesus’ sacrifice and respond in love to everyone we come into contact with, energy drainers or not. Be aware of where your energy level is and if it is low, worship Him. Spend time in His presence.
In other words, keep on keeping on.
See you tomorrow, church!
Monday March 22 – Day 34 – WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU MAKES YOU…
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
9 Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. 10 But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.
12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” – James 1:2-12 (NIV)
“Modern Family” has always been one of our favourite shows in the Clause household. In one of the episodes, Manny corrects his stepfather Jay who placed a sign in his room saying “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger”. Manny shares with Jay that a friend’s grandfather had a heart attack and actually “lots of stuff that doesn’t kill you makes you weaker”. There are times that I agree with Manny.
No one likes trials. No one likes hardship. And yet, when you speak to the generation that had very little after the first World War, they were still able to be happy. They appreciated everything they had and didn’t take a meal for granted. For my parents, and many from that generation, leaving food on your plate was the biggest insult you could make to a host inviting you to dinner. You never wasted food because there wasn’t enough to go around, so you valued everything there was to eat.
James reminds us that in matters of the faith, if we are tested, that we are to be filled with joy. It means we will be refined and we will learn perseverance. As we persevere, we grow and mature. God is also pleased because James reminds us that if we do persevere during trials, then we will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised.
All we need is love…for Him.
Oh yes, and not doubt.
During Lent, and especially dealing with COVID-19, we have all experienced different kinds of trials and tribulations. Doubting has been part of the landscape and for most believers I am sure many have faced their doubts with respect to God acting on their behalf. It has been very difficult to watch fellow believers south of the border and how some have traded the Gospel in for some politicized way of living that resembles 1952 but without the kindness, respect and discourse from that era. In my head I have been thinking, “If THEY are right in the eyes of God, does the God that I have grown to know and love not exist?
I began to doubt, which James reminds us, is not a good thing to do.
IF we ask for God’s wisdom we not only need to ask humbly but we also need to TRUST that God will share His wisdom with us. I do not want to be double-minded and unstable. I want to trust God’s promises and know that He will truly lead me to the right answer and the right situation 100% of the time. No doubts.
If you are struggling right now in a situation that seems impossible to change or to be freed from, know that God is willing to help. As we offer up these trials to Him, we trust that He will release us and as we persevere, we get more mature in our faith. We don’t ask the question “Why?” so much as asking the question, “When?”.
God loves those who persevere, who don’t give up and put their trust in Him wholly. If you are in a bad situation, it is crucial to have fellow believers come to your aid not only by praying for you but walking alongside you. We as the church need to support each other in our struggles. We need to be willing to be available and open to those in the church. We need to reach out from time to time with a friendly “How are you?” text. Now, you may not get a genuine response, but then again you might. As we trust each other and the Lord, we learn the Art of Perseverance and help others to experience the same.
It is not a spectator sport.
As we learn, we persevere.
As we persevere, we grow.
As we grow, we mature.
As we mature, we learn….and the cycle begins again.
I believe the best way to learn perseverance is to spend time with those from an older generation than ourselves. My Dad shared what it was like to live during the depression and having an alcoholic father who would disappear from time to time. He shared with me the hardship growing up in an orphanage when his brothers and sisters were taken away from his mom (my Grandmother) by the government because there were just too many children to take care of on her own, and native children as well. He persevered, watched himself around alcohol (he is a teetotaller) and to this day because of his good work ethic still remembers his employee number 32 years after his first retirement! (My Dad was called back to Westinghouse after his retirement to help out in a temporary function). Whenever I speak to older generations, I am blown away by all of the terrible things they had to endure, and it helps me to understand the importance of moving forward without giving up.
Blessed are you, the one that does not give up but keeps persevering.
God sees and is honoured when you persevere for Him.
Jesus is our great role model when it comes to this. His entire ministry in 33 years was about not giving up – ever. In those weakest moments, He always consulted His father in prayer, gaining wisdom and not doubting, and He always responded maturely and in faith.
Jesus knew and trusted His Father and in doing so, completed the plan of salvation that has changed our lives forever.
Remember that in this life we will suffer. We will go through trials of all kinds. At the centre of all of our worry and strife, we keep the Father’s Heart close to us, because He understands. He understands and wants us to succeed. He is our greatest cheerleader and encourager. And if we do not doubt when we ask to receive more of God’s wisdom, we will be blessed. Right now I cannot think of a more essential experience than being blessed by God thanks to our perseverance.
Know that God is in your corner, whether you have created this mess yourself or because of circumstances outside of your control. He loves you and understands our condition and state better than we realize.
And the reward? The crown of life!
Today, as you start a new work week, celebrate the fact that Jesus is in your corner, encouraging and speaking truth to you. Listen well, and then speak, giving thanks to God for all He has done. A God who gives generously without finding fault (and that in itself is a miracle to celebrate. Worship Him with every fibre of your being and may God bless you with that beautiful crown.
Have a lovely Monday everyone!
Sunday March 21 – Day 33 – Prayer for the Fifth Sunday in Lent
This week has been difficult. It has challenged us to our cores, and yet You still desire that we fight for our joy. We ask that You would give us the desires of our hearts and that our plans would succeed. May we celebrate with joy the things You have done for us, and the ways You have shown Your power and might.
Show us what it means to pick up our crosses and follow You.
May we surrender everything, day by day, to You for You are the Holy One, the Prince of Peace, the King of Heaven.
Forgive us for the times we have sinned this week. Help us to move forward from our sins.
Help us to get our eyes off of ourselves and focused completely on You.
Let us be honest with You, so that our relationship can be real and significant.
Heal and transform our hearts so that we don’t get stuck on rules and regulations.
Help us to live justly.
Help us to walk humbly.
Help us to live in obedience to You, O Lord.
May our actions please You, and may our lives be a fragrant perfume.
May the impossible be made possible through Your Holy Spirit.
Make us healthy.
Make us well.
Make us a hopeful people as you begin to transform us into the holy people you desire.
Thank You, Lord, for making a way for us, for loving us, and for understanding us. May our lives and actions honour You and bring You glory this coming week.
For we ask and pray all of these things in the precious name of Jesus,
Saturday March 20 – Day 32 – SABBATH, SABBATH
“But first, you must start
respecting the Sabbath
as a joyful day of worship.
You must stop doing and saying
whatever you please
on this special day.
Then you will truly enjoy
knowing the Lord.
He will let you rule
from the highest mountains
and bless you with the land
of your ancestor Jacob.
The Lord has spoken!” – Isaiah 58:13-14 (CEV)
Funny that this passage falls on a Saturday but to be honest, there was a bit of design on my part to make this happen. So much has been talked about in the church but so rarely has the term “sabbath” been more ignored or misunderstood. In the same way, these last two verses of this chapter have also been misunderstood as well.
The concept of sabbath rest is critical to our understanding of Lent and the journey to the cross. We are called to follow God’s pattern: after He created the universe, He rested. We are called on the sabbath to rest from our work and to refrain from thinking about work. These two verses have been misinterpreted as meaning that we are not to seek our own pleasure on the sabbath. The true meaning of the phrase “You must stop doing and saying whatever you please” refers to speaking about matters pertaining to business, not leisure. You are to stop doing and saying whatever you please with regards to your work. You must not let your servants or employees work either. This must be clearly understood: God desires you to rest.
Sabbath rest is always meant to happen before the start of new important work. It is not meant to be recovery time but what I like to call “building up time”. When I worked with Pastor Don, he made very clear to me the importance of not working on gatherings on Saturdays: for those in ministry, Saturday is their true sabbath. He was always so good at preparing his messages and work in advance that it gave me the freedom and luxury to plan music for our gatherings. When Saturday came, I could enjoy it (for the most part) with my family. I loved this rhythm and found that it worked well for me. I learned very early on as well that gigging on a Saturday night was also not the best thing for me on a Sunday and began to stop the majority of Saturday shows (save for our tribute shows for Gracenotes). I rested before the work of leading our community in worship, and it made me more alert, aware and focused on the work at hand. Sabbath Rest for us should always precede an important job or project.
When we went into lockdown and Pastor Melissa and I had to work with the rhythms of the pandemic, I spent a lot of Saturdays working. I found that by the time I got to Sunday I was wiped out and feeling completely spent. For me, my leading suffered and I tried to find ways to find a balance. Even though the work I was doing was trying to lead people into the presence of God, I was not giving my best to God. Now there are times that if I have to work on Saturday to get ready for our Sunday gatherings, I will take a sabbath rest on a day during the week to regain my balance. This has made all the difference in the world. We need our sabbath!
For a lot of us who have been working from home during the pandemic, it has been difficult to achieve clear boundaries between work and rest and when this happens burn out is inevitable. When we are burned out, we cannot effectively do the work God has called us to do. We begin a cycle of always being on, and not always being effective. God knows that we need a break from time to time. He created this day to help us reset, begin again and reflect on the 6 days that went before it. By observing the sabbath, you are honouring God and worshipping Him.
Even if you don’t get to go to church!!
Are you feeling burned out by the demands of your life and your work? Then fight to honour God’s rule for us by observing the sabbath.
Does it take you forever to do tasks and you keep working without taking a break thinking it will help? It might be taking you forever because you haven’t prepared your task with the proper rest. Jesus was the greatest model for observing the sabbath: before every big moment in His ministry, He rested prior to starting.
The Alpha and Omega.
The Son of God whose Father never sleeps but does take a sabbath rest!
So if observing the Sabbath is something Jesus does, we need to follow His lead in order to have a worshipful life. A life changed by the cross.
Take time to breathe deeply during a sabbath rest. Pray, worship, enjoy knowing the Lord and you are promised that you will be blessed.
Have a wonderful Sabbath. See you at our gathering online tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. 🙂
Friday March 19 – Day 31 – THE IMPOSSIBLE MADE POSSIBLE
“Then your light will shine
like the dawning sun,
will quickly be healed.
Your honesty will protect you
as you advance,
and the glory of the Lord
will defend you from behind.
When you beg the Lord for help,
he will answer, ‘Here I am!’
The Lord will always guide you
and provide good things to eat
when you are in the desert.
He will make you healthy.
You will be like a garden
that has plenty of water
or like a stream
that never runs dry.
You will rebuild those houses
left in ruins for years;
you will be known
as a builder and repairer
of city walls and streets.” – Isaiah 58:8-12 (CEV)
I have always wished that I was more handy.
I grew up with a Dad that did do things around the house but he usually never allowed me to join him, because he had a very low patience level. Any time we would work together would usually end in raised voices on his part. However the one thing we did do together was build electronic projects together. Sometimes he would build them and I would just watch and then other times he would ask me to join in. I remember the times we would drive to Mississauga to go to the Heathkit office if Dad was having problems getting one of our stereo kits to work. They had the proper equipment to test if the circuits worked or not. Along with record shopping in Toronto with him, those were some of my happiest childhood memories.
When I was young, my Dad did build something for me. He built this mini work bench that I could use to work on my own projects. I loved that bench and when I no longer used it to make or create things, because it was too small, I used it to hold recording equipment when I started to do ping ponging recording with two cassette decks in our basement. I so wanted to be handy but, like my Dad, had no patience to do work like sanding and refinishing. I did try to refinish my first electric guitar but it was a disaster. Now that I am older, I have been able to develop working with tools and my level of patience, and I would love to build my own guitar pedals and one day build a guitar kit and customize it to my liking. Over COVID, I have been learning how to fix my own guitars and set them up (i.e. fret levelling, neck resets, more detailed intonation set ups) and it has been very rewarding to learn these skills. When I get a free chance, I will spend time going over my old guitars and do a good set up job. My next desire is to learn how to replace the nut on the guitar and cut them by hand (this is where the strings pass through where the headstock meets the neck – the white coloured piece that is usually plastic and could be improved by going to a bone or synthetic bone material).
But enough of me geeking out about guitar stuff! My point in sharing all of this with you is that there is something extremely fulfilling about doing something with your own hands and create something new out of materials or parts.
I remember when our friend Tim made the suggestion that we should use the balance of the money from the sale of the old building on James Street to invest it in a Habitat for Humanity styled project. I loved the idea, but was disappointed to know that our funds would help maybe only one family. How great would that be to help a family in need of housing and create, with our own hands, something that would last forever and be an incredible blessing?
Our worship of God leads to bigger things beyond our own fulfilling experience.
Our worship show God how much we love Him, and in doing so, He blesses us with opportunity and experiences to bless others. This is a fruit of worshipping Jesus that we should not take for granted. We are reminded in verses 8 to 12 that if our worship is true and sincere, God will watch out for us. He will allow our “lights to shine like the morning sun”, we will be healed, defended and best of all, He will be with us. His presence through the Holy Spirit will bring us peace.
We are reminded again here in Isaiah to not mistreat others, slander them or falsely accuse others. We are also called to feed those in need, to care for those without homes and in doing so, our light will shine to those who need to see it most.
I have been struggling with our work as a church. We are at a crossroad to be sure, and what we do and the decisions we make now will affect what we do in the next five to ten years. Being a church that is not bound to a building we have great freedom, but at the same time, it seems we have very few people to do the work. We keep getting smaller and we are most certainly barely holding on if you use money as an indicator (which in all ministries should never be the litmus test for success).
My challenge to all of us is this: we so critically need to worship God with all that we are during this Lenten pandemic season, whether we can meet together or not, so that God will inspire us to dream dreams for him. God will then lead us to the next phase of our ministry and give us opportunities.
Do you have any dreams for your own personal ministry and for Graceworks or your own church? Has God been inspiring you or bringing people into your life that have a particular need? I wish to encourage you to not dismiss or sit on these dreams. Share them with us. Do you feel that we can’t do these things because we don’t have the “humanpower” to make it happen? Pray and make a leap of faith that God will provide people to help us. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that Graceworks would be known by those in the city as a spiritual repairer and a builder of the dreams of others? We have all been squashed in life to not follow through on our dreams either by ourselves or those close to us. Now is the time to offer these dreams to God and for us to show how our worship of God has been worthwhile. It would be amazing if we could be a part of rebuilding the spiritual landscape of our city – that God would trust us to do the work and be truly inspired.
May our worship overflow into dreams and ideas for God. May we be inspired to do things that might seem impossible now, but with God’s help become reality. May the impossible be made possible with God. All we need are believers willing to worship and to respond. Share your dreams with others, church, no matter how big the dream might seem. We worship a powerful and amazing God, so let’s stop doubting and start dreaming again.
The Impossible made possible! May God rebuild us from the inside out so that we are ready for the possibilities and opportunities!
Have an amazing weekend 🙂
Thursday March 18 – Day 30 – TRUE WORSHIP
“Do you think the Lord
wants you to give up eating
and to act as humble
as a bent-over bush?
Or to dress in sackcloth
and sit in ashes?
Is this really what he wants
on a day of worship?
I’ll tell you what it really means to worship the Lord. Remove the chains of prisoners who are chained unjustly. Free those who are abused! Share your food with everyone who is hungry; share your home with the poor and homeless. Give clothes to those in need; don’t turn away your relatives.” – Isaiah 58:5-7 (CEV)
Growing up, I spent a lot of time in my childhood church. My parents were friends of the pastor and his wife, and I became friends with their two sons. So not only was church a religious thing, it was also a very social thing as well. My Dad served on council and my Mum spent a lot of time working in the kitchen for special church functions. They did serve as best they could, because they knew it was the right thing to do.
Spending so much time in church allowed me to see human behaviour at it’s finest and at it’s worst. One of my least favourite memories caused me to be so turned off with church and Christians that I let go of my faith.
I didn’t know his name, because he was a C+E Christian, which means he only attended church on Christmas and Easter. We will call him Arnie. Mind you, I am sure he attended more than that, but not by much. He dressed the part and wore his suit and tie, and did what he felt was required by God in terms of attire. To be honest, I only noticed him after what happened. It was a usual Sunday morning service. However for this Sunday I was sitting with my friend John. John and I have been lifelong friends and in my youth (and to the day), whenever we spent time together we usually spent it laughing. We simply couldn’t help ourselves. And on this Sunday, we must have been really being ourselves.
John and I were talking, laughing together and yet completely listening to our Pastor’s message (those were the days that I could multitask). But we must have been distracting to at least one person: Arnie.
After the service, I was making my way downstairs to the basement where we would normally have coffee hour. To this day I don’t remember why I was alone but there were no other adults near me.
Expect for Arnie.
Arnie began to talk to me. Actually, it wasn’t actually talking. He proceeded to grab me by my shirt and push me aggressively to the corner of the vestibule. “Your laughing and talking distracted me in MY worship today! What do you have to say for yourself?” he then proceeded to warn me that I would never ever do that again or he would tell the Pastor and my parents.
My first thought was, “Who are you?”
My second thought was, “What did I do?”
My third thought was, “I don’t want to get in trouble”
After that day I would see him in church (very rarely) and I avoided him at all costs. I am sure that the look I gave him was not a happy one. What gave him the right to violently grab me and threaten me? His righteousness. I had disrupted his worship of God, something he was told he needed to do to be right before God and nothing should disrupt that.
Arnie focused on the things he needed to do for God, as opposed to his heart being right WITH God.
Arnie also failed to remember this teaching from Mathew 18:5-7 (GNT):
“5 And whoever welcomes in my name one such child as this, welcomes me.
6 “If anyone should cause one of these little ones to lose his faith in me, it would be better for that person to have a large millstone tied around his neck and be drowned in the deep sea. 7 How terrible for the world that there are things that make people lose their faith! Such things will always happen—but how terrible for the one who causes them!”
After that day, I couldn’t believe in a God that had guys like Arnie as His followers. Arnie was the reason I walked away from the church in my teens. I respected going for my parent’s sake, but the words, the music and the rituals meant nothing to me anymore.
The beauty of the Gospel is that it is always true, always loving, always genuine. It shines even when humans get in the way and turn our hearts away from that beauty. It just sometimes takes believers whose hearts have been transformed to inspire us again and to start anew.
When we lose the plot of God’s intentions, in other words, if we forget the reasons why God made the rules in the first place, we get stuck. We focus on the things we are supposed to do – the actions of obligation – and forget the heart of God’s law.
Verses 5-7 outline what true worship really looks like in the eyes of the Lord. We are to serve those who are treated unjustly. We are called to give freedom to those who are abused. We are to make sure that we share our wealth and abode with those who need it. We are to clothe those who have nothing to wear.
It says nothing about physically threatening a teenager because he distracted your “worship”.
It says nothing about how the rituals and acts done in worship are more important than loving your neighbour or treating children with respect and love when they need correction.
Making a difference in our “corners of the world” are our true acts of worship, not simply singing to songs in church on a Sunday.
It took me a long time to deal with Arnie’s actions. I never shared this with my parents, because I felt I was the one that was completely in the wrong. When I fell in love with Jesus years later, I vowed to never forget Arnie and the lesson he taught me. It may also explain why I was very supportive of having our children at the back of the room when we worship together in our gatherings: the distractions of life ARE a huge part of our worship. Our response to these reactions truly show how much we love God, because we put others before ourselves. We remember what it was like to be children, and how important it is to love them. They need to feel that they are truly loved and have an essential part to play in the life of the church.
Our true acts of worship make a difference in the lives of those who need it. God sees what we do and His heart is full. What an amazing thing: to know that your actions bring God joy! Our Lenten journey calls us to share with others and to be generous of heart, to embrace justice and to “see to it” that it happens in the lives of those wrongly accused. Don’t get wrapped up in the trappings of religion and ask God to open your heart and mind to what it means to truly worship Him. Don’t be like Arnie.
See you tomorrow, church.
Wednesday March 17 – Day 29 – BE REAL OR GET LOST
“1Shout the message!
Don’t hold back.
Say to my people Israel:
You’ve sinned! You’ve turned
against the Lord.
2 Day after day, you worship him
and seem eager to learn
You act like a nation
that wants to do right
by obeying his laws.
You ask him about justice,
and say you enjoy
worshiping the Lord.
3 You wonder why the Lord pays no attention when you go without eating and act humble. But on those same days that you give up eating, you think only of yourselves and abuse your workers. 4 You even get angry and ready to fight. No wonder God won’t listen to your prayers!? – Isaiah 58:1-4 (CEV)
“O.K. God, I know You aren’t listening to me anyway but just this once, could You please open your ears to my pleas?”
Do you wonder why it feels as if the Lord is not listening to your prayers?
Do you wonder why even when you do everything God requires of you?
Chapter 58 of Isaiah makes pretty clear why you might be having a problem with connecting with God, and this is going to be brutally honest and hard to hear, but here is is:
You are thinking only of yourself.
This chapter is a most convicting one for me, being a worship pastor. On most days I would say that my conviction is there to love God, and other days, it seems I am only loving myself. If you saw me behind the wheel you would wonder where Christopher went and who this maniac was yelling at people.
For the rest of the week we are going to look at Isaiah Chapter 58 with a hope to uncover some of the truths here that will help us in our Lenten journey.
Shallow worship is something that God detests. He wants only those who have sincere hearts to worship Him, otherwise the worship is mere words and actions. Sincerity is what God wants.
And to be honest, isn’t that what we all want, too?
How often when we visit churches do we desire an authentic and sincere time of worship? As a worship pastor, my desire is to see the hearts of our people moved during our gatherings. When I look out and see the responses, my heart’s desire is that the community is connecting with the Living God. So often I wonder if the responses are genuine, even though they look genuine.
Authenticity in life is what we all wish to experience. If your employer is commenting on your work and tells you that you are amazing and yet deep down is not happy with your achievements, this lack of authenticity affects us in the long run. If we find out years later that our spouse actually DOESN’T like our hair style or how we dress after lying to us just to make us happy, the truth will hurt.
God has no time for lies. He detests when we try to pull a fast one on him, and we see this laid out clearly in chapter 58. We can do all the right things before God in accordance with His law, but if our hearts are far from Him, our worship is worthless.
And this is where it gets important: if we believe that our worship leads to change (social action and personal convictions to mention two), then if we aren’t real about it, then the consequential actions and convictions will be based on lies and eventually fail. We see this so often in large churches that tend to have a lot of money: they make the appearance of their worship seem legit but deep down, their hearts are focused on money and power. Are we surprised then, when God doesn’t respond to us?
During Lent, we need to be honest about our intent and our motivation behind what we do, especially in our worship of God.
Are you being completely honest with Jesus today?
If you are angry with God, tell Him!
If you are empty and have nothing left to sustain you, ask God to fill your cup!
If you don’t really believe all of this mumbo jumbo about God and yet your partner or family members assume you have a relationship with Jesus because you are playing the part to make them happy, be honest with them and God.
There is always a moment in the life of a believer when doubts and questions plague us and make us feel that God really doesn’t exist. We have all experienced it. The worst thing we can do is pretend so that Mom and Dad don’t get mad at us.
It is crucial that, if God means something to you, then you need to be honest with those around you and God. Then, that can be a starting point to either investigate Jesus or to finally reject His claims and live without Him.
My hope, is that you will give God another chance as you do you best to be real.
For those who are walking with the Lord and you are experiencing silence, take this time to examine your heart. Is there something or someone that is causing your heart to be cold towards God? Be real with God. Tell Him exactly what you are feeling. I am amazed at the number of Christians who won’t tell God when they are upset with Him. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but that word fear is speaking about reverence, not feeling scared that God will strike you down dead.
As you pray, leave time to listen to God. Still your heart, let the silence fill the space and listen. Are your thoughts being moved in a different direction? Test those thoughts to know that they are from God. Do they honour Him? Do they glorify Him? Do they line up with his laws and expectations for us based on scripture? If so, write them down and continue to pray on them.
A relationship with God is not about doing all the right things in the hope that our hearts will change, a relationship with God is about having our hearts and minds changed and then doing the right things in response to His love.
Let His love fill you today, even when all you feel is hatred and anger.
Let His love lead you today, to a new way of listening and praying.
Let His love transform your patterns and actions into ways that honour God and desire Him to listen to you.
If God is not listening to your prayers, be real or you most certainly will get lost, and being lost is an awful state to be in.
May God see you where you are at right now, and may He draw you closer to Him.
If the silence of God is overwhelming and you feel your heart and actions are right in God’s sight, speak to a trusted friend of the faith and share with them what is going on. Ask that they could share things with you in confidence, and then pray together. In this Lenten journey of drawing near to Jesus, we need to do this in community which has been made nearly impossible because of COVID-19. Call your friend, make a Zoom meeting or FaceTime them. Reach out to fellow believers that you trust and get them to pray for you. It is only through our relationships with other believes who understand and have been down the same roads that we can feel truly supported and encouraged.
In other words, don’t do it alone.
Today, in your Lenten journey, be real with the maker of the heavens and the earth so that you will never be lost. Be encouraged that He wants you to be open to Him and trust Him. He wants you, not the concept of you imagined in your own mind.
Be real, so that you never get lost.
Tuesday March 16 – Day 28 – PICK UP YOUR CROSS
“23 Then Jesus said to all the people:
If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross each day and follow me. 24 If you want to save your life, you will destroy it. But if you give up your life for me, you will save it.” – Luke 9:23-24 (CEV)
Jesus said many things in the apex of his ministry on earth that were recorded in the Gospels. This particular verse is problematic and cumbersome, and something that I have struggled with my whole life as a Jesus follower.
“How do I forget myself when I am the ONLY one living this life?”
It is one thing to say “think of others before yourself” it is a completely different matter to forget ourselves, or as the New International Version says, deny ourselves.
We need to eat. We need to take care of our bodies. We have desires and passions and dreams for this life and I believe that God allows us to follow our dreams and EVEN encourages it. However when you look at this call in Luke, it complicates matters plenty.
One thing that the pandemic has shown is not only the selfishness in others but also the selfishness in myself. It is a daily fight to challenge myself to deny or forget myself, take up my cross and follow Jesus. During this Lenten season, it has magnified my need to take care of myself, make my daily lists for myself and make sure that I am taking care of myself, because I cannot expect others to do it for me.
The pandemic has also made me so much more anxious about my life expectancy. Every trip to the grocery store, every interaction in public that I need to make in order to take care of daily life has me feeling in the back of my mind that this could be my last outing before contracting the virus and getting deathly ill.
The focus is easily on me, and when it is, I am only living HALF of this passionate and purpose fulfilled life that God has called me to live.
I have a former student of mine that has been diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. She has been fighting this for a year now, and her post on Facebook this morning brought me to my knees:
So how does one tell these faces “Mommy has cancer”…?
“___” is 7yrs old. She has a little friend whose mom is dying of cancer.
“_____” is 3yrs old. She doesn’t know what cancer is.
Your guess is as good as mine.
The text was accompanied by the faces of her two sweet and joy filled children. Children that should not have to be separated from their mother. Children who should have their mother at all of their graduations, weddings and births of their own children. This is not only unfair, it is sadistic. God has the ability to heal her and to show His power through this miraculous event. Instead, my student is left with limited time with her beautiful family walking a journey of suffering, pain and grief that no young parent should ever face.
As I shared with your yesterday, I am angry with God for taking my friend Steve home and leaving his two children and wife without a Dad and husband. I am even more angry that my student has to deal with all of this. There is no meaning in my human comprehension and understanding here. It makes MORE sense for God to show How amazing and powerful He is by healing them. Both would have acknowledged God in their miracles as they both love Jesus with every fibre of their being.
How could Steve and how could my former student forget about themselves? THIS is their life to live. It makes more sense to focus completely on self in order to experience the most that life has to offer in the limited time remaining.
As I shared with you yesterday, Steve packed a lot of life in his almost 8 years. His acts were mainly selfless ones that assisted other people. On social media, I keep reading about the ways he helped countless young musicians, sound technicians and other creatives in their artistic callings. Honestly, if it was ME, I would turn my phone off, shut down all of my social media accounts and live in my studio listening to all of my records and playing my guitars. I would not want to create any new music because that would be work, and work I would probably never finish so why do it?
I would be all about ME ME ME.
I would want my family home and with me, making them miserable in the process.
In the midst of all these thoughts, this passage from Luke rubs me the wrong way. It makes me even more angry that God would make such a suggestion: forgetting about myself, taking up my cross and following Jesus.
And yet, this is exactly what the Son of Man did, in order that we would live forever.
Jesus COULD have lived the perfect life. He WAS God, so He could have lived the richest most comfortable life of anyone in history. He could have had any convenience at His disposal and lived a reclusive life.
But if He had, our numbers would all be up with no chance for forgiveness or eternity spent with God. Instead, darkness, emptiness and judgment. If you think this life is long, imagine eternity!
If we attempt to protect ourselves from every potential pain, hurt, failure and trouble, we will lose our lives trying to save what is ours.
Surrendering everything to Jesus means just that. If we decide to give up our lives, our family, our friends, our financial futures, our careers, our desires and our personal agendas, Jesus promises to give all of our lives back to us.
But on days like today, I don’t believe this promise. I don’t believe He will do what He says. I am skeptical. There are things I cannot give up, and I refuse to accept this invitation simply because I do not trust the offer.
And herein lies the rub: I have truly missed the good news of the Gospel all of this time if I cannot surrender. Why do I feel that some aspects of my life can be surrendered but the other ones, the ones I hold closest to my heart, are non negotiable? Haven’t I seen the hand of God in my life in the past? Don’t I remember what He did for me at my lowest point? Do I forget how He forgave me of my sins and moved me from a place of darkness to a life filled with light and promise and hope? Do I forget those public moments of praise in community with other believers and felt the movement of the Holy Spirit in the room drawing me closer to Jesus? Why do I forget so easily?
It would be so easy for my student to renounce God, settle her affairs and live the best life she can in the time she has left. Steve could have locked his front door and hidden away from the world until the time he was taken Home. Yet, he did the exact opposite. In his book, “Cancer Trip (1)”, Steve recalls the time he came home after the first surgery and decided to leave his door unlocked so friends could visit with him. He lived life not simply for himself, but he trusted that God had his living and dying in His hands and he trusted.
He trusted God would do what He said He would. And in the end, although Steve did not get a complete healing and more than eight years more on the planet, he was given a beautiful mile between earth and Heaven that spoke volumes about God’s goodness to him and to the world around him.
Steve surrendered, and so did my student.
So what is my problem?
The Art of Dying is the early recognition that our lives are NOT our own. They are God’s, and we are given the miracle of life to experience, to thrive and to embrace fully. A purpose-fulfilled life filled with passion, promise, hope and love. Lots of love.
Love for one another, even those who don’t embrace our worldview or love of Jesus.
Love for a life that has greater meaning, no matter the length in months and years.
Love for Jesus, who defines the time we have so much greater than what we could given our own agendas and needs.
We let anger, disappointment, fear and sadness overtake us so that we forget His promises. Your life is not your own, and you are also not expected to deal with your anger, disappointments, fears and sadness all by yourself either. He is there, silently calling, inviting you into this space, but the echos of your past becomes a dissonance so loud that it drowns out His hope for you.
If anger is your cross, pick it up and follow Jesus.
If disappointment is your cross, pick it up and follow Jesus.
If fear and sadness is your cross, pick them up and follow Jesus.
If cancer or any other sickness is your cross, pick it up and follow Jesus.
When we take that beautiful mile from earth to Heaven, we will see only then how important it was to pick up our crosses and follow Jesus, even when our lives were in complete messes and disarray.
Remember, just because we love Jesus we are not promised a long life, just an amazing one. May you start living this amazing life that God has in store for you NOW with no regrets and no complaining.
Pick up your cross and follow Jesus. Live the life of purpose, passion and love He has for you.
Monday March 15 – Day 27 – BE LIKE STEVE
“4May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.
5 May we shout for joy over your victory
and lift up our banners in the name of our God.
May the Lord grant all your requests.
6 Now this I know: The Lord gives victory to his anointed. He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary with the victorious power of his right hand.” – Psalm 20:4-6 (NIV)
This morning I received a text from my friend Michael letting me know that our good friend Steve passed away after his lengthy fight against cancer. Steve was diagnosed with cancer in 2013 and was given a very very short life expectation of one week. After various surgeries and treatments, he stretched one week to almost 8 years.
Steve and I met, I believe, through our friend Eric and we played in Eric’s band. Steve played guitar and I played bass. As a guitar player I was tired of bringing numerous guitars for the sounds I wanted, not to mention a large pedal board and sometimes two amplifiers. Playing bass, all I needed was my bass and and amp. Luxury for a musician who has to travel and move his own gear!
I quickly learned that he was a progressive rock fan but also loved the Beatles. As we got to know each other, I invited him to join us on our various tribute shows and he was always a favourite with the crowd. I even invited him to our BIG paying gig in Orillia, where I was able to bring a 5 piece band for a yearly Beatles’ event that was one of my performing highlights. The band recreated the White Album song for song for their show, but we ran out of time to do Revolution 9 (which was a blessing because we had no idea how to perform it and we were going to do a jam and just let things happen – sometimes I like to leave certain elements in a live performance to chance just to see me on my toes). It was a joy to play with Steve, and when he was INTO the moment on stage, it was fun to watch him perform.
One of the last gigs we did together was at a Tom Petty tribute at the Casbah. One of the songs he wanted to do was “The Waiting” and planned to do the guitar solo, which was phenomenal. One of the moments when we practiced and made us both crack up was looking at each other during the line, “Everyday you see one more…” and we wanted to make sure we got the lyric right between “card” and “yard”. On cue, as that line came up, he would turn to me on his left and get eye contact with me, we would sing the right line and it would crack me up.
Steve got joy right.
We had a wonderful chat a while back and he assured me that he was walking with Jesus and that he had worked out his salvation. He didn’t have to tell me this because of the way he lived. When he met soon-to-be wife Isabel at some of our paying gigs, I could see a difference in his demeanour and energy. He looked truly happy. His walk with Jesus as he struggled with the demands of his body and the cancer ravaging it simply leaked from him effortlessly.
He trusted and he loved Jesus. In all of the interactions he had with those vying for his time and attention, he treated people with gentleness and resolve. He was a straight shooter but he also knew that it’s good to tell the truth, just don’t always be telling it.
Even though Steve did not get to live a long life, God gave him the desires of his heart: he had love, he had his children, and he pursued all of his artistic interests as he dealt with cancer. He wrote two books about his cancer journey, made countless amazing videos making music from his home studio, played with his band, managed a few new artists and was able to contribute to Gracenotes’ Summer Music Festival not to mention spending time with his family.
God allowed Steve’s plans to succeed because Steve TRUSTED in God and had surrendered his life to Jesus.
Steve got so much more than he lost.
The Lord has also given victory to Steve: he has been greeted into the arms of God to live eternally. Steve no longer has to deal with pain, or worry about his family, or deal with another hospital stay. He has been freed and for that, I am happy.
But to be honest, I am also downright angry at God that Steve never experienced a complete healing. I am angry that his children will no longer hear his voice, or his wife be able to fully embrace him in this life. Steve should have had longer on this earth. He did so many good things for others and made his corner of the world a better place. Wouldn’t you think that God would extend his earthly life so that others could benefit?
The truth is, none of us are promised a long life here on planet earth. What we are promised is a full and amazing journey if we know WHO is driving the train.
As I mourn my friend I think of you, the church, and wish the same sentiments for you that are outlined in Psalm 20:
“May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.
May we shout for joy over your victory
and lift up our banners in the name of our God.
May the Lord grant all your requests”
May your desire be granted to you by God, and may your plans succeed during this season of Lent. Continue to shout for joy that because of Jesus, you can share in the victory of beating sin and death. May your requests be granted and may the world see the joy God has created in your heart. Do not let anything rob you of that joy today. Steve did not allow his suffering and his shortened life expectancy rob him of living fully in God.
I hope that on the day this devotion gets to you that your sky is a brilliant suburban blue. I pray a friend reaches out to you and blesses you with their encouragement. I pray that although we know our days are numbered here, that we can live IN THE KNOWLEDGE that heaven is not far away. Our beautiful mile from earth to heaven can be just that. Leave your worries and your cares at the foot of the cross and know that Jesus will walk with you in your struggles and in your victories. You will never be defeated, ever.
Steve got joy right. Joy is an essential requirement and part of the Lenten journey. Church, be like Steve today and celebrate the life you have been blessed with. Know you are Loved.
Sunday March 14 – Day 26 – Prayer for the Fourth Sunday in Lent
Creator and perfect One,
We are hungry yet we are not willing to give up our relationship with you for some earthly benefit.
You desire a BIG life for us, filled with our passions and our dreams, that brings You honour and glory.
You invite us to be a part of this amazing journey, and all we need to do is accept the blessing. Help us to receive You with open arms and open hearts.
May Your unfailing love get us through the challenges of this Lenten season, and through the pandemic. As we wait, you are doing a new work in us, and we give You thanks.
May we worship You and let go of the circumstances that cause us to sin.
God, fill us with Your spirit.
Take our negative thoughts as we leave them at the foot of the Cross. We wait in hope for You to make us new.
Forgive us, Lord, and reassure us that You have forgiven us fully.
Soften our hearts so that we can forgive others and let go of the pain and hurt we have been holding on to for so long.
Hear us, Lord. Don’t be silent when we come to You earnestly and honestly.
Open our ears, Lord, so that we may hear You today. Your still small voice resonating in our hearts.
Let us cast all of our anxieties on You because You truly care for us. You have shown us how much You love us time and time again – help us never to forget this truth.
Let us know the plans that You have for us, the plans that will help us to prosper and to bring eternal hope. Our future is in Your hands, O Lord!
How You love us! You are amazing, O Lord! Be ever so near to us when we call on You.
Increase our joy, Jesus, as we remember the sacrifice You made for us. May we share this joy with everyone we meet.
We ask all of these things in the beautiful and loving name of Jesus,
Saturday March 13 – Day 25 – IN HOPE: JOY
“ 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. “ – Romans 12:12 (NIV)
“11-13 Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fuelled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.” – Romans 12:11-13 (MSG)
Over the last five days, if you hadn’t noticed, the theme of our devotions have focused on an aspect of hope. During Lent, this season is a period filled with hope and expectation. Even though we are well aware of how the story will develop, we wait IN HOPE for God’s one-time deal of the century for humankind.
And in accepting this deal, we can be joyful in the hope we have.
Think of one of the greatest deals you have ever had on an item that you were so desperately wanting to purchase. How did you feel knowing that you were purchasing something that was worth so much more, but you got it for a steal? It made the item purchasing worth more than what you paid for it.
God’s deal of the century in allowing Jesus to pay the price for our own sins is great cause for the deepest joy we could ever experience.
Because of Jesus, we will never have to know what it would be like to be separated from God for eternity.
Because of Jesus, we can live in joy knowing that our debt has been paid in full.
I love how the Message translates “Be joyful in hope””: “Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant.” We do need to be alert and awake, but cheerfully expectant of whatever situations we face in life.
Jesus’ sacrifice allows us the opportunity to experience joy and to share it with others. This is the Good News.
We are also encouraged not to give up when the hard times come, and they always do. Like living through COVID-19 and various lockdowns, right?
We are then called to “pray all the harder”. Sounds like good advice.
Heard this before? Yep, in almost every devotional in this series!
When you experience joy from your relationship with Jesus, how do you share that joy with others? For me it is an easy method: I simply write a song that captures where I am at in my walk with Jesus. This weekend, your challenge is to find a practical way to share the joy you are feeling today with others. It doesn’t have to be showy. It could be an anonymous random act of kindness made for a stranger. It could be simply putting out energy that resonates with God’s grace and love.
For those of you who spend time driving around the city, someone has taken it upon themselves to write these very positive messages at intersections for people to read and be encouraged. Rose-Frances and I have really enjoyed them and been encouraged as well. Here are some of the signs, on white signs with blue lettering:
“Love who you are. You’re so lovable and kind”
“Feel the love in your soul”
“Believe in you”
“You will be just fine my love”
“You inspire me, to be so much kinder”
In one of the signs, one of the “T”’s was subtly painted in the shape of a cross (“You will be just fine my love”). I KNEW IT! Here was a believer, sharing her or his love for Jesus by encouraging others by God honouring invitations and encouragements. What a great way to share the joy we experience having been saved by Jesus’ sacrificial gift!
Your challenge does NOT have to be glamorous or over the top. It could be doing something for your neighbour like picking up the garbage on the street left by students and people who work at the hospital. My neighbour John does whenever he can and it makes the neighbourhood more beautiful. Over a period when he was healing from surgery you could tell that he hadn’t been picking up the garbage: the street was beginning to look like an abandoned alleyway downtown. His act of kindness brought me and others on our street joy.
In hope of Jesus, we celebrate that hope with others so that they can experience more joy.
Church, be joyful in the journey of Lent. Be patient as you deal with all of the afflictions around you, and don’t stop praying because you think God can’t hear you. He can, and He is there.
Our community love singing the song “Joy” by Rend Collective and the one meme that was taken from the band says, “seriousness isn’t a fruit of the spirit, but joy is!”.
May you share your joy extravagantly this weekend with the world you come into contact with, and may your joy overflow all the days of your life!
Friday March 12 – Day 24 – IN HOPE: THE BEST LAID PLANS
10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” – Jeremiah 29:10-14 (NIV)
I have no idea what it feels to be exiled.
Being displaced from your homeland or having to go on the run in order to survive, the concept of exile is a foreign one to me. In the book of Jeremiah, he is sharing the Lord’s promise to those of Jerusalem: in 70 years God will come back for them and fulfill his good promise.
Many of us take Jeremiah 29:11 out of context and most of us would say it is one of our favourite passages. It reminds us that God DOES care about us, and God WANTS the best for us. For many of us who grew up thinking God was going to judge us for our actions and that there was very little love shown to us, this is a game-changer.
In some ways the pandemic feels like we have been exiled from our lives prior to March 9, 2020. The difference is, God hasn’t led us to this moment. What He is actually doing is leading us to the next moment. I truly believe that the pandemic is not God’s punishment for a sinful world. What I do believe is that He can use this moment in our history to show His great love for all of us. When I believe this to be true, these words echo in my head:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
The best laid plans that we can ever follow are always from the Lord. He created us, so He knows our innermost design. He knows “what makes us tick”.
But more than knowing us, God CARES for us.
How many of us TRULY believe this truth?
It is too easy to dismiss the idea that God wants us to prosper. For some of us who despise the “prosperity gospel”, we get cynical when we hear that God would like us to prosper. When I hear that word prosper, I immediately associate financial wealth with it (which, we would all agree, would be amazing). However, God is not speaking about that specifically. God uses the term “prosper” as meaning to have a family and develop a clan of sorts. To be blessed with those who are children, grandchildren and possibly great grandchildren. This is where the richness of life dwells: in our family.
The greatest blessing in my life is my family. Not only do I have the love of my life, but I have two amazing children and my “core family” define who I am and make life worth living. THIS, to me, is prospering: living a life of blessing from God through our family. I am also blessed to have a wonderful extended family through my Dad, my sister and her family, Rose-Frances’ mom and brothers, as well as nieces and nephews and now what I would call “great nieces”. My heart has truly been heavy by the fact that I cannot spend time with my extended family, who also help define who I am. This will now be the second Easter I have not spent with them and this exile is worse than being banished into the wasteland. I miss them with all of my being.
God is speaking to all of us during the pandemic: all we need to do is to listen to His still small voice and trust Him.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
God has been gracious and has protected my family during COVID-19, especially my Dad who is in long term care. It has been difficult to see him decline from a distance, however God is continuing to make sure we are not in harm’s way. As of writing this devotion, my Dad has had his second vaccination and the long term care home that he lives in have been protected through all of the outbreaks.
God is merciful! How He loves us!
I now know two friends in the city who have contracted the virus and thankfully are both on the mend and recovering.
God is powerful! How He loves us!
Today, I would like to challenge you to make a list of three things that God has provided for you during the pandemic and through Lent. How has God shown His desire for you to prosper and not harm you? How has God shown you hope and a positive future? Maybe you have a burden in your life that you cannot see any way out of and that His hope is not great enough to tackle that burden.
Remember this, God sees things differently.
God is in the business of making miracles happen. How He loves us!
As we continue past verse 11, the Lord promises the following:
“12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.”
God is not interested in making a plan for us and then letting us go on our merry way. He makes our relationship with him invitational, and desires this more than anything.
God promises to pray to Him and He will listen! How He loves us!
This truth still blows my mind. Why would God desire a relationship with selfish, sinful, imperfect me? There are others who would be better suited to this relationship. If I desire to seek Him out with all of my heart, and all that I am, I will find Him.
If we desire to seek Him out with all of our hearts, and all that we are, we will find Him.
We will be brought back from captivity to our own depravity.
We will be found.
If you are feeling that the pandemic has exiled you from truly living, remember that if your heart truly seeks the Living God, you will find Him and He will bring you back from this captivity.
Maybe you are feeling overwhelmed by your family members and the fact that they do not want to know anything about God? You wish that they would all come into this deep deep knowledge of the power of God’s love for us, and that they would seek Him. Remember that if we call out to God, He will listen.
Don’t hold anything back from Him, no matter how much it hurts to open up to Him.
If you wish to return to your Homeland, your First Love…rest in the truth that the God of the Universe wants nothing less than time spent with you. It doesn’t really matter how long it has been since you have truly connected. He is not keeping a record of the time that has passed.
He simply wants You to know how much you are loved.
If it feels like you have been in exile with God, know that He has plans for you. He has plans for you to prosper and not harm you. God promises a new hope and a new future that you can believe in and trust.
God is amazing! How He loves us!
See you tomorrow, church 🙂
Thursday March 11 – Day 23 – IN HOPE: CAREFREE
“6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” – 1 Peter 5:6-7 (NIV)
“6-7 So be content with who you are, and don’t put on airs. God’s strong hand is on you; he’ll promote you at the right time. Live carefree before God; he is most careful with you.” – 1 Peter 5:6-7 (MSG)
I never remember this word being used as much as it is today. So many young adults right now will say, “I am feeling so much anxiety right now”. When I was young, we didn’t use that word to describe what we felt. We would either say we were stressed out and simply had to deal with it (which usually meant ignoring it, pushing it down deep inside of us or allow our external actions relieve the stress i.e. physical activity, etc). Today we are seeing more and more examples of young people feeling anxiety and being able to express it in those terms. Anxiety has the ability to shut us down and make us slaves to that emotion.
And yet the Apostle Peter reminds us that as we humble ourselves under the gracious care of God that we can cast all of our anxieties on Him.
Very simply, because He cares for you.
He cares for you.
Let those words sink in a moment.
Think about all of the people in your life who care for you. The ones who TRULY care for you.
Would they do everything they could to protect you? You bet they would!
Would they make sacrifices to make your life better? Without question!
Would they take a bullet for you? In a heartbeat!
When someone cares for you, they do it because they are motivated by your well being and care. That is how love responds.
You can lay down every anxiety on Jesus because He has experienced everything you have, and He understands. He has walked the road of humanity, although also being fully God, and His heart breaks when one hurts. God was so overwhelmed by the state of the human condition that He felt it necessary to sacrifice someone He loved, His Son.
I love how in the Message version of this passage that instead of using the word Anxiety, Eugene Peterson uses the following:
“Live carefree before God”
Without a care in the world
When my kids were younger, I loved when they would both spend time together. They were so consumed with having fun that they weren’t aware of their parents watching them. As we get older, we get more concerned with how we appear in front of others, never wanting to be uncool. However, in those innocent days, you could see the authentic joy they would experience being with each other. One of my favourite photos captures the time when Emma decided to dress Riley up in girl clothes and he just let her do it. Why? Because he knew that she cared for him and that he could be himself.
Without a care in the world.
Are the cares of this world dragging you down from the life you could be living in Jesus? Are you wide awake at night worrying about those things in your life that always bring stress and anxiety?
“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
If you would rather be living a carefree life before God, we need to release each and every single worry and lay them at the foot of the Cross. I know this is easier said than done, but if we don’t, we will always be caught up in the anxiety, which leads to depression and a life that is not what God had intended for you. Casting our anxieties has to be a daily exercise for each one of us, for it to truly work: “Lord, I cannot control my emotions or my feelings in response to this, but I know YOU can take this anxiety from me because YOU care for me.”
You care for me.
For those who have sleepless nights, cast your anxieties at the foot of the Cross before your head hits the pillow. Do it so you can live carefree before God, living the life He wants for you. Whatever causes your greatest stress will not last forever, even though it feels like it will never change, or you will never be able to be free from this stress.
“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
Taking this daily step will help you to move towards a carefree life before the Lord. I wish I could promise you that your stress and anxiety would disappear for good. Sadly in my experience I still deal with stress that raises my blood pressure. However as I cast the cares of the day at the foot of the Cross, I know that I can face the challenges of the day a little more equipped.
Life during the pandemic has been anxiety inducing. Do not let these external factors critically affect your joy in the Lord. Fight for the joy that you experience. Living carefree knowing that the sun will shine again one day is sometimes all that we need to get to the next day.
God cares so much for you that as you cast your cares, He will be there and He will take them upon Himself.
The King of the Cosmos LOVES you and CARES for you. As we celebrate this truth this Lenten season, may we cast all of our anxiety on Him so that we can live the carefree life He desires for us.
One more day until the weekend. Cast your cares on Him and know the sun will shine again.
Wednesday March 10 – Day 22 – IN HOPE: CAN YOU HEAR ME?
“But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord,
I wait for God my Saviour;
my God will hear me.” – Micah 7:7 (NIV)
There is nothing more frustrating that NOT being heard.
Whether it is in a classroom where the teacher fails to pick us when we have our hands held high in the air to answer a question that we actually know, or not getting a response from someone that we respect on social media, not being heard is frustrating. I apologize in advance for the long story but I think it is worth sharing.
Like many people my age, I grew up seeing and loving Monty Python. As a Beatles’ fan, I remember hearing about this television show called The Rutles, which was a parody documentary on the life of the Beatles, and wanted to watch it. I waited until the night it was first aired. I asked my parents if I could watch it on the main TV in the front room and began to set up a portable microphone and recorded the audio of the show onto a cassette. Little did I know that it would become one of my favourite comedy films of all time. The next day, which I believe was during March Break 1978, my mum and I drove to Hamilton to Eastgate Square and we found the soundtrack in the Robinsons’ music section. In a transaction that included me getting a hair cut, my Mum’s part of the deal was to buy me the album. I LOVED the soundtrack so much that the album was played more often than all of my Beatles’ records in my room in 1978.
Fast forward to 2018 (June 30 to be exact) and a post on Twitter sent by a woman known as “@embearpark” to Eric Idle (the writer and creator of the show who was a member of Monty Python) and to James Cordon, the creator of Carpool Karaoke and famous night show host. She replied to a post that someone had made that would suggest how cool it would be for Eric Idle to feature in a Carpool Karaoke driving in the UK singing a famous song from a Monty Python sketch. I then responded to everyone in the tweet and said, “I would even be interested in Eric doing an episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee!”.
Then, the unthinkable happened.
You have to understand that on my Twitter account, I would post many things but then NO ONE WOULD RESPOND. I have to thank Jackie Scott for being one of the only people to respond to any of my tweets. So, I expected to make the Tweet, only to let it fade into the silence that is my Twitter account.
But then, yes, the unthinkable happened.
Eric Idle responded to my tweet.
He said, “Can I have tea?”
Now, you would think as a tea drinker that my mind was blown by THAT kind of response. To be honest, the fact that THE Eric Idle responded to my tweet was mind blowing enough.
But my mind was blown in a different way.
In the Rutles’ show, they talk about the substance that was introduced to them by Bob Dylan and had a huge affect on their music…
The Beatles of course had experimented with a drug that is now legal in Canada, but for the Rutles, it was tea.
So I ran with referring to one of the lines that Eric’s character, Dirk McQuickly, used when asked if he had tried tea.
My response to Eric was: “Plenty of tea…and biscuits!! :)”
Now, at this point I am freaking out that THE Eric Idle is responding to me on Twitter when no one except Jackie seems to see my tweets.
Then things really got intense.
I then receive yet ANOTHER response from Eric. And this time, he was following my train of thought:
“Dirk liked that”
BOOM! My mind is now COMPLETELY blown by this exchange. I tell everyone in the house what is going on and then I log on to Facebook and post the following: “Ok I am geeking out on Twitter as THE Eric Idle is responding to my tweets!!!!! Keep me sane here, Facebook friends!!!”
I then go scrambling through my old cassettes looking for my Rutles tape that I made back in 1978, find it and then take a photo to post it and show Eric. I mean, NOW that I have his attention, I might as well make the MOST of it!
I then respond to Eric.
“What’s not to like? Dirk had great taste. 🙂 (and can I just say thank you for the Rutles?)”
I thought it was appropriate to thank him for a project that has given me years and years of enjoyment.
His response? “Probably my favourite gig”
Ok, at this point I am planning what we will make for him when he and his fly over from the UK to Canada to visit like old friends. Again, I am freaking out. Finally, I share with him the photo of the cassette and how the 13 year-old me fell in love with the Rutles – here is the photo:
Our twitter discussion ended with Eric “liking” my photo, as well as the woman who started the original tweet. I was worried I had geeked him out but in the end it didn’t matter. Do you know why?
Because in a social media format that I go usually go unnoticed, Eric Idle HEARD me.
He HEARD me, and he responded to my tweets!
How often do we pray to God and we think He hasn’t been listening because we don’t get what we ask for?
The truth is, God hears. He knows what you are facing and the difficulties you are dealing with. He knows how hard the pandemic has been on you, and He longs to comfort you with his unfailing love.
The question I pose to all of us is this: Are we truly hearing God?
Are we taking the time we need to listen to His still small voice?
We need to shut the outside world off, go into a room by ourselves and pray these words: “Lord, open my ears that I may hear You today”.
I will admit I have never HEARD the voice of God but I have heard His movement in my life.
God uses people and events to respond. However if I am not open to looking for these signs I will ignore them and miss the blessing.
It is simple as praying these words, over and over: “Lord, open my ears that I may hear You today”.
And you will be surprised by joy: the joy of knowing and loving God, and being heard by Him.
It is not a mere platitude when I say that God loves you so much. He wants you to know Him, and He wants to be involved in your journey on this earth.
So if you have ever prayed the prayer, “God, can You hear me?”, rest assured that He can and He does. Be prepared to await His response, and prayerfully invite God to speak to your heart. Prepare to have your minds and hearts blown by His response, from the God of the universe who holds you in such high esteem. Never doubt or forget how much He does love you!
See you tomorrow, church!
Tuesday March 9 – Day 21 – IN HOPE: UNFAILING LOVE
“20We wait in hope for the Lord;
he is our help and our shield.
21 In him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in his holy name.
22 May your unfailing love be with us, Lord,
even as we put our hope in you.” – Psalm 33:20-22 (NIV)
As we walk from the wilderness to the cross over this season of Lent, one of my prayers is this: that we would all experience God’s unfailing love.
Because, really, isn’t that all we need?
When we get down to it, the one thing that has affected all of us in our spiritual lives is when we have experienced God’s love firsthand. When we fall away from Him from time to time, we want to experience that love again as if it were the first time.
There are those who have never experienced that love before. Why does this happen? Why is God’s unfailing love not attainable for everyone? It doesn’t seem fair. I wish I could give a calculated step-by-step instruction for those who have never experienced the unfailing love of God. Evangelism would be pretty easy and risk free.
But it wouldn’t be meaningless.
How can love be meaningless, you ask? Good question, however to understand love you have to understand one very simple human action beforehand: The Art of Waiting.
We have all experienced waiting. Some of us are very good at it and others, like me, are not. I used to think I was a delayed gratification kinda guy but that is not the case. Mind you, I will leave the last thing that I enjoy the most on my dinner place as my last bite or morsel just to savour it. But lately, and especially during COVID-19, all we have been doing is waiting.
And in the waiting it has either allowed us to deepen patience and grace, or it has made us angry and unreasonable.
As we wait in hope for the Lord, something happens in the process. We begin to value the people in our lives who are waiting WITH us. We begin to value the thing we are waiting for.
Waiting is an art. For some of us, we keep busy doing other things in order to make the time fly by. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t.
I would like to suggest that as we wait, we praise:
Give worship to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Joseph.
Give worship to the King of all Kings.
As we inhale each breath that we remember Jesus and the sacrifice He made for us.
As we exhale each breath, we let go of the circumstances that cause us to sin.
As we breathe in again, we ask God to fill us with His Spirit.
As we breathe out again, we release the negative thoughts we have and lay them at the foot of the Cross.
One of the websites we would look at when the kids were younger on the night of December 24 was www.noradsanta.org. We wanted to track Santa’s whereabouts and see if he was getting close, so that the kids could go to bed. Even after they knew that Santa was a real person a long time ago but that he wouldn’t be coming down the chimney, Riley would still look at the site. He was waiting and it helped him to be content in the waiting.
How many of us have waited for a package, only for it to be detained due to Covid-19 delays? One package I was looking for was the new McCartney III album on red vinyl (it came with a limited edition poster too, which is always fun). Delay after delay after delay from McCartney’s US store. Then, one day, when I checked the tracking information, it said it was on it’s way from the Hamilton processing centre! What joy it brought to know that the album was almost here!
When we wait on the Lord, the knowledge of knowing that we will experience His presence soon is overwhelming. That is why I love worshipping in a community so much (and why I miss it so much): when the Holy Spirit is in the same room with us all, hearts change. Minds refocus. We sense the calling of the Spirit to draw closer to each other and to Jesus, “the perfecter of our faith”. Waiting for us to be able to worship together again has been extremely difficult, but I continue to wait.
But we simply just don’t WAIT – we wait in HOPE:
HOPE that God has heard my prayers of asking for His forgiveness and that He will reassure me that I am truly forgiven.
HOPE that His unfailing love will never leave us, and that we can experience that love every day of our lives.
HOPE that God will not leave us where we are today, but that He will motivate and inspire us to take one more step closer to the Cross, and to the world that is struggling without Him.
HOPE that God will soften our hearts so that we can forgive others and let go of the pain and hurt we have been holding on to for so long.
So church, as we wait in hope for the Lord, may His unfailing love be with us as we put our forever hope in Him. Rest in His love and know that you are so worthy to experience it today.
Do not hesitate, but continue to wait. May His unfailing love get you through your challenges today, tomorrow and for the rest of your earthly days.
Monday March 8 – Day 20 – ACCEPT THE BLESSING
“14-17 Work at getting along with each other and with God. Otherwise you’ll never get so much as a glimpse of God. Make sure no one gets left out of God’s generosity. Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent. A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time. Watch out for the Esau syndrome: trading away God’s lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite. You well know how Esau later regretted that impulsive act and wanted God’s blessing—but by then it was too late, tears or no tears.” – Hebrews 12:14-17 (MSG)
I have to make a confession: I really associate with Esau.
Do you ever get those moments when you just HAVE to have something to eat? You honestly feel like you are going to die if you don’t eat something as soon as possible. If you remember the story in Genesis 25, Esau had come in from the field and was able to smell this amazing stew that his brother Jacob was making. Now Esau was a hunter, and he was good at it, whereas Jacob preferred “indoor living” and clearly, was something of a good chef. Esau was so hungry he thought he was dying, so he asked Jacob for some stew. Jacob replied by making an offer: “my stew for your rights as the firstborn”.
Now, you have to remember, being firstborn offered many advantages and it was a title that was cherished and respected. It would be like paying 3 billion dollars for a Shamrock Shake…although the Shamrock Shake does have minty goodness, it is NOT worth 3 billion dollars.
And a bowl of stew, no matter how hungry you are (and Esau thought he WAS dying of hunger at the time), is not worth giving up the rights of a firstborn.
How many times in life do we decide to make crummy deals just to take care of a want or desire? Deals that we will regret later on, but at the time seem necessary.
How many times do we give up the favour of a loving and grace-filled God for things that are so worthless in comparison that we should know better before we get deceived?
This is what I believe a good definition of sin is: trading God’s grace for something that can never fully satisfy, and that creates a greater divide between God and ourselves.
The world has so much it can offer us in exchange for a relationship with Jesus: money, power, fame, pleasure, materialism…the list goes on. But have you ever thought of things in your life that do not seem bad that get in the way of our relationship with God?
The love of our family, and our desire to protect and care for them before loving Jesus.
Putting your financial health above Jesus.
Putting your physical health above Jesus.
We would all agree that these things, in and of themselves, are not bad things. However, when we put even the most beautiful and worthy things as being more important to us than God, we have just traded our birthright for a small bowl of stew.
In God’s economy, when we surrender everything we are to Him, He blesses us with more than we can fathom.
When we put Him before our plans, our agendas and our desires, He provides in ways we could never have imagined.
When we make the trade for a bowl of stew, we get less than what we deserve.
When we make Jesus the King of our lives, surrendering everything to Him, we get our lives back and so much more.
In the bustle of life and the worries that we experience, we can easily forget this truth: God desires the biggest life for us as we live for Him. Our joy, happiness and well being are His top priority. When we sacrifice in Jesus’ name, He sees it and is honoured.
Now when I say that God desires the biggest life, I am not suggesting that when we renew our relationship with God that we automatically get an infusion in our bank accounts, our houses automatically get bigger and are relocated magically to a Hawaiian Island. It means that we will stop living for things that can be bought by a bowl of stew. We live and commit to the greater story, God’s eternal story, that is continuing to be written and YOU are now part of it. Imagine at the end of your life looking back on all you have done, and seeing the ways that God allowed you to serve Him and His world. Imagine the effect your work has had on the kingdom and how pleased this has made the God of the universe. The God of Abraham and Issac. The God of us! You were part of an incredible story that changed the world and the rest of eternity. If we can only remind ourselves to look forward into the future when we are offered a yummy bowl of stew, it would make a world of difference AND a difference to the world.
During the pandemic it does feel like we have lived in a vacuum of sorts: isolated from people and changes in our daily routines. However, we need to be mindful of the fact that our thoughts, prayers, decisions and actions have a significant impact on the future of God’s kingdom.
Do we believe this?
WE have a part to play in this amazing story.
We cannot keep playing down the role we have in eternity. The world is looking to us, or even trying to ignore us, but the truth is this: what we do will have eternal consequences.
And the amazing thing is that God has invited you to be a part of this amazing journey. We just have to accept the blessing.
In this season, may you be encouraged to not make the lousy deal and give up your opportunity to be a part of God’s story. May we continue to work at getting along with one another in the church, and that we don’t leave anyone out intentionally. May we love from the core of who we are every day, and may that love be inspired by the One who first loved us!
It is not too late to want and accept God’s blessing. The time to enter into God’s story is right now. In the words of Pete Townshend, “I call that a bargain, the best I ever had” (Bargain, Pete Townshend, 1971)
See you tomorrow, church!
Sunday March 7 – Day 19 – Prayer for the Third Sunday in Lent
Amazing and forgiving Father,
We want to be made new this Lenten season.
Jesus, we cannot imagine what it would have been like to have been in the wilderness for 40 days and being tempted in the ways You experienced. You did all of this because You love us with an everlasting love.
Open up our world to the many wonders You have in store for us, O Lord!
May we weep openly for the times we turned away from You and betrayed You.
We mourn the pain that we have caused You.
We wait on You for You to renew our strength.
May we be of good courage as we cope with the effects of the pandemic.
May we continue to trust that You will strengthen our hearts through it all.
Let us take Your word and Your teachings and imprint them on our hearts.
Let us hear the word and then do what You have called us to do. Put our faith into action for Your glory alone.
Lord, You are good!
Lord, You are worthy of our praise!
As we worship You as a community, remind us of the need to develop disciples. Although we love getting together, and we ARE called to come together, we are also called to be sent out, and to be Your hands and feet in this hurting world.
May this new week be filled with new hope, new opportunities and new moments of peace found in You.
We praise You! We thank You! We surrender all that we are to You, O Lord!
For we ask and pray these things in the Alpha and Omega,
the Beginning and the End,
the Prince of Peace,
and the name of Saviour of the World, Jesus!
Saturday March 6 – Day 18 – TO LOOK GOOD IS TO DO GOOD
“22 Do what God’s teaching says; don’t just listen and do nothing. When you only sit and listen, you are fooling yourselves. 23 Hearing God’s teaching and doing nothing is like looking at your face in the mirror 24 and doing nothing about what you saw. You go away and immediately forget how bad you looked.” – James 1:22-24 (ERV)
We live at a time in history when we literally have all of the information we need at our fingertips. If we need to know something, we Google it (yes, Google has become an action word!). If you aren’t Googling, you aren’t learning, right? In the history of Christendom we have never had such a wealth of information to study, encourage us and help draw us into the presence of God. Most sources can be obtained for free without any personal sacrifice to any of us. You would think that the wealth of information given to us would make us the most faithful and fervent generation for Jesus that ever lived, right?
So why is it that in 2021, we see many people leaving their faith (as well as the church) and that Christianity is becoming less and less enticing for those who are on a new spiritual journey?
Why is it that most of the hearts of followers have grown cold towards Jesus in the 21st Century?
We all have great intentions. A lot of us probably had THIS conversation in our heads at the start of the pandemic: “Now that I have all of this extra time on my hands thanks to the virus, I am going to do _______. _______ and _________.” Now, how many of you were able to complete those things? I have to admit, I have been blessed during the pandemic but I was forced to wake myself up and come up with new solutions for our church community. I spent the first two weeks many many many hours researching, learning and understanding more about live streaming and how to do it as a church with champagne tastes on a beer budget. In having to respond so quickly and with an approach to do church online, it inspired me to do more. It elevated me out of my classic winter blue funk and got me assessing other aspects of my professional, personal and spiritual life. This time for me has been a creative and inspiring period.
There are others who cannot make the same declaration.
Isn’t it a truism that the more we do, the more we want to do?
James reminds us that it is not enough to simply hear God’s teachings. If we simply listen and do not act on His word, the truth inherent in His word gets forgotten.
The last thing God wants us to do is to forget the hopeful life He has in store for us.
It doesn’t matter how many devotionals we read, how many spiritual books we have digested and that sit on our shelves and make us look well read.
It matters if we have taken God’s word and IMPRINTED it onto our hearts.
It matters if the truth we have learned makes a difference in the lives of those around us.
It matters if God’s teachings inspire others to look to Jesus and desire to know Him in a deeper way.
Although this reference dates me, I loved Billy Crystal’s portrayal of Fernando Lamas on Saturday Night Live (if you have never seen this, google it lol!). His favourite tag line was “You Look Marvellous!”. He would also say “I would rather look good than feel good”. Sometimes we THINK we look great leaving the house in the morning and then when we see our reflection in a store window on the way to work, our opinion changes immediately: “WHAT WAS I THINKING? I LOOK TERRIBLE!”.
Can you imagine what it would be like to look in the mirror before you left the house, looking disheveled and ragged, bedhead and wearing half of your old tattered pyjamas, look terrible and then leave the house because you had just forgotten what you REALLY looked like? Could you imagine the response you would get from passers by? From your work colleagues? I have to admit, I have been tempted to lead worship in my pyjamas online during the pandemic (because i would be very comfy) but because I love you all I would never subject you to this sight.
The truth is, to look good is to do good.
Meditating on God’s word day and night creates a natural response in us: we WANT to act on God’s teachings because they are imprinted on our hearts. There are times when life does throw us some “curve balls”, and we find it “difficult to make contact”. But when we are in that beautiful moment where our lives intersect with the will of God, amazing things happen.
The world begins to see more of Jesus and less of us.
To look good is to be good.
The more we do for God, the more we want to do. The more selfless things we do, the more we feel blessed, and we want to respond in love to God’s blessings. But if we don’t allow God’s teachings to ring true in our hearts, like a favourite melody or a cherished memory, then our faith becomes challenged and eventually we will fall into ambivalence and apathy.
How many times over the course of the pandemic that I heave heard some heart resonating truths from Pastor Melissa as well as from all of our supply preachers and never fully responded to their challenges? Do you find yourself doing the same thing? Do you only watch our gatherings because you like the music or the children’s story but don’t want to go deeper? I am reminded of many large churches who have very very few active small groups because the majority of the congregation are good with their hour of entertainment and then ready to move on with their busy and tightly scheduled lives.
God’s truth demands more than just an hour of your time.
I also throw this out to you, church: maybe we aren’t growing because we are a church that only wants to be entertained for an hour and nothing more?
Do you think this is true?
We are not alone. The global Christian church is experiencing the same kind of issues. People want what they want, take what they wish and then go on their merry way. Living a surrendered life is the last thing on many people’s minds and hearts it seems these days. Many have served the church for years and now as they reach their retirement years need a break from serving. And yet, God reminds us that a life of service is not finished until we walk that beautiful mile home to be with Jesus.
As we move forward as a church, it is crucial that the desire to see people have an active and significant relationship with Jesus is greater than anything else in our lives.
And therein lies the real problem: our hearts have grown cold because we do not feel the urgency to make disciples of Jesus in the 21st Century.
And this is why our churches are dying.
As we act on God’s teachings, we respond by doing good and then we begin to “look good” i.e. the world sees our good works and are emotionally affected by it.
Lent is a perfect time to renew our commitment to Jesus. A time to reflect on God’s word and to respond in love. Our response will affect the world, and will draw people who have receptive hearts and who are in need of a Beautiful Saviour. Let us commit to God and to each other that we will not only listen but respond in love, so that we can fulfil our mandate: to make disciples of Jesus, no matter what.
May God’s love reach us in different ways during this Lenten season and may you always look good to the world by doing good in Jesus’ name.
You look MARVELLOUS, church! 🙂
Friday March 5 – Day 17 – WAITING 2: BE OF GOOD COURAGE
“Wait on the Lord;
Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart;
Wait, I say, on the Lord!” – Psalm 27:14 (NKJV)
“I pray to God—my life a prayer—
and wait for what he’ll say and do.
My life’s on the line before God, my Lord,
waiting and watching till morning,
waiting and watching till morning.” – Psalm 130:5-6 (MSG)
Life in the 21st Century has blessed us with many advancements thanks to technology, but it has also been a curse and made certain life experiences obsolete. Some of you might be too young to remember this, but I remember the days that we would stay in line to buy concert tickets. The year was 1989 and it was announced that Paul McCartney was coming to Toronto for a concert. His last show here was in 1976 when I was 11 and unable to see the show. My parents would not allow me to go. I had also asked to see The Who in the same year in October and I was also denied. Sad because that was Keith Moon’s final paid show with the Who before he died. I love my parents but I have never fully forgiven them for saying no 🙂
In those days, the only way to get a ticket for an event was to either 1) go on the phone and dial, redial, redial, redial over and over again until you could get through right at 10:00 a.m. or 2) stand in line at a ticket booth/store that had a Ticketmaster outlet.
At the time I was finishing up my music studies at McMaster, was engaged to be married the following April and was teaching guitar part time in the back of a music store in Burlington. I had become friends with the receptionist as we were both huge Beatles’ fans and we were both loving Paul’s recent album, “Flowers in the Dirt”. I even performed at her wedding (and played “Put it There” for her Dad). Once we heard that Paul was coming to Toronto we decided we would stay up all night and camp out for tickets. She would bring her fiance/husband and I would bring Rose-Frances to the concert.
Now, some of you might find staying up all night an easy task. However I am a simple man who loves his basic comforts of life: food and sleep. I was very worried that I wasn’t going to be able to stay awake. Thankfully the weather was perfect and I remember actually enjoying my time with my friend and with other Beatle people in line. By the time the sun rose, we were ready and crossing our fingers that we would be able to get tickets. Just because we stood in line for the tickets didn’t automatically guarantee us tickets, it gave us the opportunity to possibly get tickets.
It was 10 a.m., and we were being let in to the Ticketmaster at the Burlington Mall. We were I believe second or third in line, and we were able to secure seats halfway from the front on the floor of the Skydome. I had hoped for better but was happy that I was finally going to see Paul for the first time. It seems that the courage I struck up from within myself to stay awake paid off. The concert remains one of my favourite shows of all time.
Four words that I think we need to spread more during the pandemic are as follows:
BE OF GOOD COURAGE.
The more I think about it, it is a great salutation.
“Be of Good Courage, my friend, as you cope with the lockdown”
As we pray to God that He would deliver us from COVID-19, the one thing I believe we need to pray for is courage.
Courage is the product of a determined mind and heart that will do everything it takes to make something happen. Usually, courage is manifested in a moment when all odds seem to be against you.
When we wait and watch for God during those dark nights of the soul, as we pray for courage, the God of the Starfields journeys with us. The Spirit gives us confidence and hope.
One of the most courageous acts I have ever witnessed happened at the birth of my daughter. She was in breech position (our Doctor had told us she was in the right positioning at our last appointment, so this was a shock to us). My wife, determined and full of courage, soldiered on and gave birth “naturally” as opposed to having a c-section (ok am I right in saying there is nothing natural about childbirth? lol).
The look on her face I will never forget. She was so focused and working so hard to make sure our Emma made it to earth safely. She is the strongest, bravest person I have ever met and in that moment, was so proud of her. Thankfully we didn’t have to wait and watch until dawn when Emma was born. She was born at 10:50 p.m. after a long long day of watching and waiting.
Has the pandemic allowed you the time to watch and wait on the Lord? Has your heart been strengthened or do you feel weaker? Lent is all about the waiting and the watching, hoping that God would meet with us in our moments of sadness and weakness.
Lent is about hoping in the truth that God never leaves us or forsakes us.
Lent is about waiting on a response from God, trusting that He will strengthen our hearts.
If you are at the end of your rope, I invite you to pray right now that God will give you the courage to get through all of the life challenges you are facing right now. These challenges will not last forever, but God’s promise to be with you always will never change.
As our lives are on the line before God, let us watch and wait until dawn, knowing that joy does come in the morning.
Church, be of good courage and don’t lose hope.
He loves you. Rejoice and give thanks!
May He strengthen your heart and mind during this season of Lent, and may you sense His presence in your lives today. Have a wonderful weekend!
Thursday March 4 – Day 16 – WAITING
“But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” – Isaiah 40:31 (ESV)
I was going to start today’s devotional with the words, “I am not good with waiting”, then I realized the following truth:
“I like to wait”, said NO ONE EVER.
As we have seen during the pandemic, human behaviour is best described by the following words: “ I want what I want, and I want it NOW”.
We have been waiting for this pandemic to be over.
We have been waiting to resume our church gatherings and be together again (the last time that we were together was almost a year ago on March 8, 2020).
We have been waiting to reunite with our family members to celebrate calendar events like birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter…the list goes on.
We have been waiting for work life and school to go back to normal. Online learning sucks.
I have been waiting to perform in person again, although I have been enjoying my online shows, it is still not the same.
Whoever said that waiting develops character did not survive the pandemic of 2020-21! lol! I feel in a lot of ways that all of these distractions, losses and limitations have simply made many of us more anxious, cold-hearted and reclusive beings.
And yet, in waiting, I have developed perseverance, determination and a desire to do things that I have been putting off for way too long: like cleaning and sorting through our basement, rewiring and setting up my home studio to not only record but also to do live streaming without having to do a complex set up and take down each time, and learning how to do guitar repair work like fretwork/levelling and more detailed setups. As I have worked from home, I have decided to listen to my entire record collection from A-B (ok, I’m only at B – and I have bypassed all of my Beatles’ albums otherwise I would spend years just listening to the Fabs lol). Right now I am at the second volume of the Big Chill soundtrack, and I have enjoyed the trips down memory lane.
I guess it seems that waiting for real life to begin again has done one thing for me: Waiting has allowed me to start living the life that I needed to live.
Waiting reminds us that there is always something we need to address in our lives whether we like to admit it or not.
As we wait on the Lord, we learn to understand that His timing is always perfect.
At the time, we may not feel this, but in hindsight we can see that God knows.
When I think of our struggle as a church in dealing with the building on James and Jackson, that we were able to finish paying off the mortgage at just the right time. We were able to put the building up for sale at just the right time. If we had waited we could have made more money on the sale, however, we have no idea if that would have meant at the cost of lives that were hurt by the dangerous conditions in the building.
As we wait on the Lord, the book of Isaiah reminds us that our strength shall be renewed.
Renewed. Restored. Given back to us.
This pandemic has been a lesson in waiting on the Lord. It has been difficult for me as a worship leader wanting so desperately to lead a team again and yet having to wait until just the right time for the safety of others. I have prayed, consulted members of our leadership and our teams and waited on God.
The pandemic has shown the true character of us all.
For me, it has proven that I am a judgmental, righteous, unforgiving jerk when I am behind the wheel. When I am not behind the wheel, I have so much more patience and share grace with those who are struggling. This is a character fault I am working on. Deep breathing is helping, kinda. It doesn’t help when your 17 year old who is also driving and waiting to start driving school once restrictions lift, begins to tell you how BAD your behaviour is behind the wheel. It is a humbling experience to be shown your faults. Just nice to know that he still loves me, no matter how judgemental I am behind the wheel.
I have been inspired by the character of those who have done such amazing acts of selflessness and goodness. It has encouraged me to keep waiting in hope that the Lord’s timing is always right, always perfect.
For those who grew up in a Catholic church, one of the beloved songs from their hymnal would be “On Eagles Wings”. In fact I remember Rose-Frances telling me how much she loved the song growing up. That image of being lifted up and being able to soar is a powerful one. As we wait on the Lord, we are reassured that it will be an amazing flight.
We are reminded that we will run and not be weary – how amazing would THAT be?
We are reminded that we will walk, even on the hottest and driest of days, and not faint.
God recognizes when we wait for Him. He walks with us during the time of waiting, knowing that we desperately need Him for strength and for encouragement.
What are you waiting for today? Have you been praying that God would give you specific direction on a life plan or a situation that you can’t make sense of? In prayer, give that concern to God without delay. Pray that God would make clear His plan for you, and tell God that you are wiling to wait.
If you are willing to wait for God, God will not leave you hanging.
Trust that He is bringing all people, facts, significance and truth in line while you wait. He reveals it step by step, so as not to overwhelm us.
And at just the right time, as we wait on God, He will make everything known in His time.
Today may we all take a leap of faith in waiting on Jesus, knowing that it will be the best time we ever spent. Live, in truth, and in hope, that God will hear you and guide you.
“All things we be made beautiful in His time”
Celebrate this truth today and continue to hurry up….and wait 🙂
Wednesday March 3 – Day 15 – MOURNING
“Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.” – Matthew 5:4 (NIV)
“‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” – Revelation 21:4 (NIV)
Time to take one last look at Joel 2:12-14 (NKJV):
“Now, therefore,” says the Lord,
“Turn to Me with all your heart,
With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.”
Our third facet of this call of turning to the Lord is deeply connected with weeping: mourning. The Bible has many stories of those who have lost and mourning was an important aspect of the rituals of life. It was essential in order to continue living. In our culture, we tend to downplay grief and mourning and even go to great lengths to ignore it. For those who have experienced great loss, the process of mourning is essential to heal. Seven years would commonly be referred to as the period of mourning for someone you loved, and then you would continue life fully again.
In my life I have had to say goodbye to too many people. The deepest losses have been my Mum and my sister, Debbie. For both of these losses, I did seem to take a period of mourning that lasted for a period of time. For my Mum, I tried to simply soldier on which in the end caused me more emotional problems. For many many nights after she died, I would uncontrollably sob as silently as I could before I fell asleep. I mourned her death but I kept trying to fast track what I needed to do to get back to “normal life”.
The birth of my daughter 4 years after my Mum’s death became a great turning point to end my period of mourning. In fact, my daughter continues to remind me of my Mum in so many ways that she is a daily reminder and comfort to me. When Emma was little, she would hum and sing just like my Mum would when I was growing up. Emma is now studying to be a nurse and following in the majority of the women of our family (my Mum, my mother-in-law and my wife).
When my sister Debbie died, it was different. It was still a tragic and unexpected death but I was never fully able to come to grips with the manner in which she died. The night before her celebration of life, I was in the old cathedral on James and Jackson rehearsing a song for the event. It was one of her most favourite songs by one of her favourite artists: “Mail Order Annie” by Harry Chapin. As I was rehearsing there was something that happened that I will never forget and to this day moves me whenever I think of it.
As I rehearsed in the empty cavernous building trying to get the melody and phrasing right, I would break down at one of the peak lines of the song “Mail Order Annie, let’s you and me go home…”. Not only was it at the highest notes in the entire melody, it was the loudest moment in the song as well – the true climax.
EACH time I would try and sing it, I would begin to weep uncontrollably.
Now, the thing I have not shared with you is that this was all happening during a rain storm which, when I arrived at James Street, was a very light rain shower.
As I would try and reach the climax of the song, the tears would flow.
But then at the third time, something incredible happened.
The rain kept intensifying as I sang this song. When I tried unsuccessfully to hit the right notes and continued to sob, knowing that my sister had gone Home to be with Jesus, the rain was coming down at an incredible rate. As I looked to my left of the North Transept, I saw the stained glass windows FULLY closed, but water began to stream inside the church through the glass windows.
As the water flowed down the stained glass, which I had never seen before in the 8 years that I had worked there as well as the 13 years we had been attending James Street, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The windows were closed and locked, and yet water was coming in through them. I was starting to get nervous that maybe the church was going to begin flooding. It began to stream in at an alarming rate and unbelievably, ALL OF THE WINDOWS WERE COMPLETELY CLOSED AND LOCKED.
It was as if God was weeping with me, reminding me I was not alone, and the building was weeping WITH me during my time of mourning.
After I realized the water was not going to flood the sanctuary, the streams of water began to comfort me. In the end, I was finally able to sing the song for her as best I could the next day during her celebration of life. My one wish is that I would have performed the song for her when she was alive, as opposed to after her death. She would have loved it, and no doubt, the tears would have been flowing for both of us.
As I edit this particular devotion, one of my dear friends Steve Parton is in the beautiful mile of his life. In my song “Beautiful Mile”, I speak of that journey that we will all take at the end of this earthly life. My hope when I travel my beautiful mile is that I will be surrounded by those I love and that I am not alone. I want to go from seeing the faces of those I love on this earth to seeing God on that mile from earth to Heaven. My friend Steve is a musician friend that I have worked with on various shows and he has been battling cancer for many many years. I have never seen someone who had embraced his diagnosis and fought so hard to stay alive for his children and for the love of his life, Isabel. Many tributes have been coming in on social media, and I have yet to fully get my thoughts down on paper. I am already mourning the loss of my friend that I will no longer be able to share a stage with, or be able to ask him to give me late night feedback on song lyrics I have written via social media (which I did when I wrote some lyrics the night we heard Tom Petty was dying – the song will eventually be on the next pop record of mine).
Last summer I was so thrilled when he performed at our Gracenotes Summer Music Festival and recorded some amazing performances for the online show. No matter what he experienced, no matter what pain he was dealing with, he lived his life as a believer of Jesus making the most of every minute. I am already mourning his loss and as I write this finding it difficult to hold back the tears. However, I no longer need to hold them in because it is right and good for me to mourn my friend, to grieve his leaving and ache for his children and his wife. It is good to show the world that my friend is walking this beautiful mile and that I mourn for him. It is good for me to get angry at the thought of his family being without him and how unfair this all is. The tears will flow, and I will remember my friend through our shared memories together.
It is so crucial that we embrace the concept of mourning not only for loved ones, but for our sinful broken existence without Jesus.
We need to mourn the pain we have caused God when we turn to Him.
When we look at God calling us to mourn as we turn to Him, the truth in this call is this: God requires a true and authentic heart response from us. Just as we mourn the loss of those whom we love, we need to mourn our loss of a relationship with the living God when we have turned away from Him. We ask for forgiveness and God accepts our genuine “turn away” from our old selves and towards Jesus. The mourning may include weeping, feelings of anger and guilt, regret, and a desire that we could turn the clock back on our actions.
If Jesus is to mean anything to us, He has to mean EVERYTHING to us.
As we recognize who we are without God, we mourn. As our hearts turn towards him, the morning comes and it is filled with joy. And in the morning, God will wipe every tear from our eye, after weeping with us, and joy will fill our hearts.
Remember, the joy is worth it all.
May we all remember on this day in Lent that Jesus died so He could complete the old order. He rose again so that we would all be saved. There would be no more need for another sacrifice or separation from him after this life. Today, celebrate the joy you have in your hearts, which is Divinely given. Breathe, smile, run and dance. Worship the living God in song and may your joy infect your world and all you come into contact with.
The joy is worth it all.
Tuesday March 2 – Day 14 – WEEPING
“4 Sing praise to the Lord, you saints of His, And give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name. 5 For His anger is but for a moment, His favour is for life; Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning.” – Psalm 30:4-6 (NKJV)
“32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
35 Jesus wept.
36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” – John 11:32-36 (NIV)
Today we are looking back at the first passage we shared in this devotional, Joel 2:12-14 (NKJV):
“Now, therefore,” says the Lord,
“Turn to Me with all your heart,
With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.”
The Lord reminds us to turn to Him with all of our hearts, with fasting, weeping and with morning. Yesterday we looked at fasting and today we look at weeping.
Why is it that the Lord desires that we weep for Him? Doesn’t that seem a bit too much? Not really. When we look at the word weeping, it is much more than just crying. The Bible suggests that a good synonym would be lamenting, which suggests not only a response to loss, but also a deep emotional response to an external or internal stimuli.
I remember the times that I have openly wept, as they do not happen very often. They are the tears of my world shattering around me and are a response to either my lack of action, my own sin or a devastating loss.
If we are not weeping for the loss of our relationship with God in our pursuit of our own selfish lives, it is a sign that the relationship means nothing.
And God, being God, deserves our everything.
The crap and the masterpieces.
Our willingness and our inability to love Him fully.
Our inability to be true to ourselves.
We have all experienced those moments when we have pushed God away and want no part of Him because it just makes life easier.
And in those moments, God weeps for us.
In my own transformation story, John 11 plays a large legend. This is the story of the death of Lazarus, his friend, and Jesus’ response to his death.
He didn’t just cry a few crocodile tears and then went on His way, he WEPT.
He wept for Mary, Lazarus’ sister, and for all those who were weeping at the tomb. The scripture says he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.
Because He loves, He weeps at such an intense loss.
In my own transformation story, it involves hearing a Southern preacher on a radio station sometime in 1985 one evening in my car after driving my girlfriend home. The preacher spoke on John 11:35 and joked that most children when told to memorize scripture would pick this one as it is the shortest verse in the entire Bible. The preacher continued and said, “Although the text is not clear on the reasons why Jesus wept, I would like to think that it was because Jesus was sad that He had to bring His friend back from Heaven, where there is no more pain, no more suffering…”.
God used those words on that summer night to speak directly to my life (and for those keeping track, that girlfriend became my wife). I began to see that God actually wanted the best for us, and that He grieved when those He loves turn away from Him. It opened my eyes to the possibility of a loving God who wants the best for us, and it changed my perspective on Jesus.
Although the preacher’s words may not have accurately reflected Scripture, the truth we can take away from this is certain: God loves us so much that He is affected when we are suffering and in pain. He meets us in that suffering and weeps with us.
This is why God invites us to turn to Him in weeping: He wants a genuine, honest response from us that comes from the depths of our souls.
Have you ever wept with such intensity because of your estranged relationship with God?
I invite you to remember your lives before God made an impression on your heart. Do you remember what that life was like? Do you remember how grateful you were that Jesus had changed your situation in such a way that it altered your perceptions, experiences and relationships? Do you remember what it felt like to be forgiven for the first time and allowed a “do-over”, when you felt you didn’t deserve a second chance?
The grace of God calls us to weep for Him and to ask for forgiveness.
God’s grace reminds us there is nothing we can do, but turn to Him in fasting, weeping and mourning. He wants our response to be genuine and from the depths of who we are.
I can tell you that if I ever rejected God’s love, I would weep and mourn that loss. I would not be able to continue.
If you feel you have lost God’s love, or that you have never fully experienced it, I want to invite you to pray. I invite you to ask God, in the midst of the weeping for this loss, that you want a fresh start. For some of us, we pray this prayer daily. May you respond from the depths of your soul, with all that you are, in an honest and genuine prayer. As the tears fall, remember that each one is marked by God and never missed. He knows how you hurt. He knows your pain, and wants to renew your spirit.
As you weep through the night, God promises all of us that joy most certainly comes in the morning. The sun will shine again. God will not keep record of our wrongs or our poor choices.
He continues to love us.
He continues to shower us with blessing.
He desires us to be all we are in Him, and that we are equipped to do the work He has called us all to do.
May the true weeping of your night be over, and may you begin to experience that overwhelming sense of joy that God brings in the morning. May your joy overflow to the world that is struggling without Jesus and may they experience your joy. May it be infectious.
May your joy bring honour to God today and every day. See you tomorrow 🙂
Monday March 1 – Day 13 – FASTING
“17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” – Matthew 6:17-19 (NIV)
Fasting was an important part of spiritual life in Biblical times. It was a symbolic of grieving or repenting of sin (https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/bible-study/what-does-the-bible-say-about-fasting.html_). It is a method, like praying or meditating, that draws us closer to God. In Matthew 9, Jesus is confronted by the disciples of John and asked why His disciples didn’t fast (even though John’s disciples and the Pharisees did). He responds in classic Jesus fashion:
“And Jesus said to them, ‘Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” – Matthew 9:15-17 (ESV)
Jesus made clear that fasting is an important part of our spiritual lives, however the disciples would do it after Jesus’ resurrection. He told them that while in the presence of God, in the form of Jesus, they did not need to fast. He also alludes to the fact that fasting is useful once our hearts have been changed and devoted to God. If we fast with our old intentions and old ways of living before becoming believers, it will break us (like the new wine in old wineskins).
Our old vessels need to be READY for Him.
When we looked at Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness, we were told that Jesus did fast for 40 days. He met the evil one’s temptations with strength and clarity, not only because He was God but because He did the things that were part of the ways of a spiritual life at the time.
In our 21st Century lifestyles, we spend a lot of time looking at what we put into our bodies and how we take care of them. For some it becomes a religion, for others it is a natural extension of the call in Genesis for the cultural mandate: to prosper, to multiply and to take care of creation. It is good that we take care and keep track of what we put in our bodies. Health experts will tell you that if you lose a meal that it is not always the best thing. However, very few believers fast when they are faced with challenges that only God can solve.
I do not fast. I love food and when my blood sugar gets low, I am not a very nice person to be around. However, I have been feeling personally convicted lately about fasting and the potential spiritual benefits it can bring. However, fasting doesn’t have to be restricted to just food. It can be anything that we deny ourselves that affects our physical lives. It could mean fasting from watching television or from binging on a favourite Netflix show. It might be not spending money on a certain thing for a period of time. The idea behind fasting is to allow the body to join the mind in focusing on God and listening to the still small voice of Jesus.
You might ask: how does this line up with giving up something for Lent? You said earlier that it is better to do right in God’s sight than to give something up? Yes, I did. However, when we look at the life of Jesus, fasting was one thing He did and He also instructed the disciples that they could fast after His death. Does Jesus say you MUST fast? No, he doesn’t. For me, it is one spiritual discipline that I have struggled with and simply share with you all the fact that I believe there can be benefits to fasting.
But, as Jesus makes clear in Matthew 6 is that we cannot do it to gain attention from others. Plastering the news of your fast all over social media might not be the best way to do it. Jesus also makes clear that during a fast you are not to complain or to do it begrudgingly.
If we decide to fast, it is because we want to do if for God as a sign of our love and adoration for Him.
This is a thread that runs through pursuing a God shaped life: do everything out of conviction and with a willing heart. If you do it because you feel God requires it, and you complain all of the time and are completely miserable, you are not honouring God but in fact looking rather foolish.
New wine into new wineskins, right?
For some, fasting is not possible due to their own personal health and I would not recommend anyone do it if their health dictates they cannot (in this case, I would always caution you to talk to your family doctor and ask them about fasting). But there are different kinds of fasting that might be ideal for you. I recommend this web article as a starting point: (https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/spiritual-life/what-christians-need-to-know-about-fasting.html) Remember, whatever you decide to do, if you are abstaining from food and drink, consult your doctor before starting.
During Lent, I want us all to be aware of what we DO and what we DON’T do. If fasting every Friday will help you to draw closer to God and your health allows you to, then wonderful! If you cannot fast, think about those things that you ARE doing in the right spirit and make sure they are God honouring and glorifying.
Share the Good News with others by sharing with someone a miracle you have experienced in your life that you attribute to God.
When talking to a friend on the phone that is struggling, ask them if you can take time during the call to pray with them.
If you see friends on your social media posts that have been struggling with something and they are not walking with Jesus, then message them privately and ask them if you can pray for what they are struggling with. To this day when I have done this, I have never had anyone say “no thank you” to the offer of praying for them. Allow God to lead you with the right words and to be confident not in your abilities but in God to guide you.
As we do these things, it begins to open up our world to the movement of God and for others to contemplate on who God is. It creates opportunities to share Jesus in gentle, loving ways. May the Spirit guide you this week in the things you do and don’t do for Him.
Sunday February 28 – Day 12 – Prayer for the Second Sunday in Lent
Gracious and loving God,
We ask that You would renew us this week. We ask that You would fill our cups so that we would respond in love to all that we meet, being Your hands and feet.
Let us represent You well when we meet a stranger on the street or in our interactions on social media.
We hear You knocking, and we hear Your voice. We will open the door and invite You in, Lord Jesus!
In your very last temptation by the devil in the wilderness, you reminded us that we are to worship the Lord and to serve Him only. May our struggles this week lead us to this truth. May we take the time to devote to worshipping You alone.
Whatever it takes, Lord, we are going to live our lives for You.
Help us to do what is right, and may it please You.
We love You.
We hate what is evil.
We will honour Your commands.
We will do right IN love this week, with no expectation for reward or recognition.
May we trust You and wait on You with great longing and purpose.
We pray for those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and are recovering. We are grateful for those who ae getting better. May You be present with those who are suffering from this virus and bring them to perfect health. May what they have experienced draw them closer to You.
We pray for a world that is hungry and thirsty without You. In our hearts we are thirsty for YOU, the living God. We trust that You will send us all that we need at the right time.
Holy Spirit, move among us and change us, so that people might see the Good News in action.
For we ask and pray these things in Jesus’ name, Amen.
See you at 10:30 a.m. on Facebook 🙂
Saturday February 27 – Day 11 – THIRSTY
“1As a deer gets thirsty
for streams of water,
I truly am thirsty
for you, my God.
2 In my heart, I am thirsty
for you, the living God.
When will I see your face?” – Psalm 42:1-2 (CEV)
When I was a music teacher at a Christian high school in my former professional life, I played bass guitar in a student run praise team led by one of my colleagues who led the choir, Jane Roxburgh. One of the songs that we sang – as did the entire global church – was “As the Deer”. Like most of you, I have become so sick of this song that there is no way I think I could ever use it in a worship gathering (service) again. It has lost it’s power to draw me into worship.
But I do know what it means to be thirsty.
Thirst can overwhelm you. It can make you focus on NOTHING else but water.
During the pandemic, we have thirsted for many things this year:
• the need to be with others
• the need to worship together as a community
• the need to have normalcy during our daily lives
• the need to feel safe and protected
• the need to not stand in line for our groceries
• the need to never ever wear a mask EVER again 🙂
But during this time, how many of us have thirsted for God?
Some of us have found that COVID-19 has given us the opportunity to take the time to read God’s word, to pray, to meditate, and to study so it HAS been a time to renew and refresh. For others, your work has not stopped and in fact, you may have had more demands placed on you. You have not had a rest and in fact, you are burned out from exhaustion. For you, you thirst for a sabbath rest.
Lent is about understanding the existence of temptation, depravity and emptiness all happening at once. We lay each and every one of these things at the foot of the Cross, asking Jesus to sojourn with us once again in the wilderness.
I used to love watching my beagle Sophie drink water. She was not a refined creature in that respect. When she drank water, she could leave quite a mess around her bowl. In fact when she ate her dry food, she would eat a bite and then take off, dropping kibble around her bowl and all along the kitchen floor. When you watched her drink, you could see she was very thirsty. I miss that sound.
Depending on your experience this past year, whether you have had the time to drink or you are dehydrated spiritually, we all need to come to the Living Water during these 40 days on a daily basis. Just as our bodies will begin to falter if we do not have enough fluids, so our spiritual lives will suffer without making time to drink in Jesus.
If you have been tempted, ask for forgiveness and drink the Living Water.
If you have felt evil working all around you and affecting your spiritual heart, Come to the Water and rest.
If you have nothing left to give and you are spiritually dehydrated, refuel and refresh.
Know that God desires a pause for you…a moment of sabbath rest. If you have not been able to take one during the pandemic, I pray that you will speak to your employer about taking some time off. We all need time to do absolutely nothing but Be Still and Know…
Be Still and Know that God is there for you…and always will be.
If you come thirsty, know that He has enough to satisfy you.
Over this weekend, my prayer is that you will find the most beautiful and breathtaking streams to quench your thirst and to give you rest. Only then can we find the strength to follow God on this journey from the wilderness to the Cross.
In my heart, I am thirsty for you, the living God.
May you be able to meditate on these words this weekend and may you draw closer to God as you drink. See you tomorrow for a time of worship together at 10:30 a.m.
Friday February 26 – Day 10 – TRUST
“Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him!” – Isaiah 30:18 (NIV)
“Woe to the obstinate children,”
declares the Lord,
“to those who carry out plans that are not mine,
forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit,
heaping sin upon sin;”
This is how chapter 30 of the Book of Isaiah starts. What a way to start a chapter! Isaiah (if we assume him to be the author of this chapter) comments on the wayward nature of the Jewish people. It seems that when the Jewish people were troubled by one tribe or group, they would look for the favour and support of another group rather than look to God. Most of the chapter discusses the rebellious nature of their hearts and paints a bleak picture for their future.
Then we hit verse 18, and hope begins to shed light on the path of the Jews.
As you know from an earlier devotion in the series, Rose-Frances and I have been watching a show called “Peaky Blinders”. In it, this English mob when confronted with a arch-rival family, try to team up with another mob family in order to survive. This human behaviour has been going on for centuries, as I am sure you might have even experienced this in your own families. In both the case of the Shelby family and the Jews, they did not consult God or carry out God’s plans. They carried out their own, consulting others and rebelliously doing their own thing.
And that is when the trouble begins.
A plan can be a wonderful thing. It usually involves a lot of thought and reflection before making a decision on how to act. It usually happens in advance so that people have a chance to do what they need to do to make the plan a reality. There also has to be a general consensus on the plan, otherwise it will fail.
There have been plans in human history that were devised by humans and not with the blessing of God. However, when these plans do happen, if they are against the will of God, very shortly thereafter the plans always fail.
If our plans are not rooted in God, they will not grow.
Do you ever stop and reflect on how frustrating it must be to BE God?
I mean, honestly, the sheep analogy fits humans to a T. Speaking for myself, there are moments where I am just truly NOT thinking and going by a gut instinct. Usually my instinct is right however I make sure that I pray over that instinct. I ask these very simple words: “God, is it in your plan that “this” should happen?”
If we go by instinct or just logic, our plans will most certainly fail.
Take for instance the old building on James Street. We could not pay our mortgage on the building after the renovations and we had to waive the white flag to the bank. However, something incredible happened: God made it possible that we were forgiven a large amount of the debt. We refinanced the mortgage and only less than two years before we left the building, on New Year’s Eve 2011, we made our final payment. We were moving into 2012 mortgage free.
God’s plan was for us as a church to stay in that location until the right time. The signs and direction that we had to take was very clear. The writing was on the wall and we responded to God’s plan. Looking back on it, His timing was perfect.
In all of the decisions we made about the building, I remember all of us praying fervently about it. We wanted to do what was right in the eyes of God. If God wanted us to stay, we would have stayed. The location became just too unsafe for us to continue to use it. However to this day, I have weird dreams about the old building. I dream that I am still using the building, even though I know it is falling down and unsafe, and then end up somehow leaving the building again and again. I miss it, however, losing the building allowed us to try new ideas that we could not do if we were in a traditional church building.
Now, as a church, we operate from one location (we have settled again) but we have been “on tour” for a long time, trying different venues in order to be the “church on the move”. We want to be in line with His will and being obedient to Him. Our leadership continues to pray about doing God’s will with our finances and our abilities.
But what about the times when we AREN’T obedient?
Isaiah 30:18 reminds us of what God is made of, even when we are disobedient.
Personally, I can hold a grudge for a long time – just ask my wife! If someone wrongs me, I can easily stop contact, write them off of my list and cast that person out of my life. It is a character flaw that I have been working on, really I have!
God is not made of THAT kind of stuff, although God is entitled to feel that ways due to the fact that His sheep can be rebellious, cold hearted and, speaking for myself, darn right out of it at times!
God operates on a higher level than that.
God longs to be gracious to us!
He wants to rise up to show us compassion!
God is a God of justice, wanting to do what is right all of the time.
Can you honestly believe this? The God of the Universe, Lord of the Starfields, Creator of Heaven and Earth wants to show us compassion.
He certainly doesn’t need to. He is God and can do what He wants.
But I have realized, over time, that this IS what God wants.
He really WANTS us to wait on Him and for Him.
Waiting on Him with regards to any decision we make. THIS pleases Him.
As a parent, I love it when one of my children ask for my advice. When they ask me and I share it with them and we talk it out together, I feel that I am fulfilling one of my roles as their Dad. I can see why it brings God such joy. At the end of the day, if I am truly honest with myself, I am most happy when I see my children thriving and happy. It brings me great delight and allows me to share in their joy.
Is there a major decision coming up for you in the near future? Have you consulted God fully on it? Have you waited on Him and His response? God wants you to trust Him. To FULLY trust Him in all of your plans, all of your ambitions, all of your hopes.
Trust is one of the main elements in Lent. We are walking these 40 days knowing that God is doing something about our sin, and is working on our behalf to change the situation. He does so by giving up His own Son as an act of love for all of us, so that we would listen for His voice.
That we would wait on Him.
That we would trust Him with our lives.
I am sure some of you have been hurt before so badly in your life journey that you have lost the ability to trust. It is my hope that Lent would be a season of not only returning to God but beginning to take the steps to trust again. Rebuilding trust does not happen overnight, but takes many many days, months and years. Let’s make Lent a 40 day start of a new journey of trusting Jesus with everything.
It begins with a single step. May you take that step today as you begin your weekend and know that, as Isaiah 30:18 reminds us, you will be blessed!
Thursday February 25 – Day 9 – GIVING UP CHOCOLATE
“The Lord is more pleased when we do what is right and just than when we offer him sacrifices.” – Proverbs 21:3 (NLT)
The Book of Proverbs is an amazing read. Sometimes, it can be a difficult read as well. The old ways of thinking centred around this truth: The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and that wisdom is a godly pursuit. Many of the truths found in this book are timeless and fit no matter what century you live in. The one truth we are looking at today I believe is important to review as we reflect on Lent.
in the past, I have always thought about the things that I could give up or stop doing during Lent. In fact, it was so important to me that I would focus on picking the right thing to give up, rather than getting my heart in the right position with God.
In Chapter 21 verse 3, Solomon shares an important truth: God loves it when we obey His commands and do His will rather than making sacrifices for Him.
I have to admit, in previous Lenten seasons I would give up something like chocolate THINKING that what I was doing was God honouring. The problem was, I was doing other things that were not in keeping with doing right. The sacrifice was an empty one.
Today I no longer “give up” something for Lent but instead, do something that is within God’s laws of righteousness and justice. I try to respond in love to the Gospel the last few years by doing something that will hopefully make a difference, and mention it to no one. This year, however, I have broken that silence in writing this devotional series. In fact, I think this series is becoming more about me and less than doing “a good thing”. I am benefiting from thinking long and hard about what this season is really all about. I hope though, in spite of this, that the reader IS being encouraged and drawing closer to Jesus through these musings.
My Mum made many sacrifices in her life. The one sacrifice I wish she would have made was to tell her family how bad her circulation really was in her legs near the end of her life. I wish she would have made the sacrifice of pride to ask for help and to let her family in as she struggled. She was scared and she kept it in, afraid to worry any of us. If she had shared more, even if we couldn’t have helped, we could have walked with her though her suffering. She wouldn’t have been alone. My mum died in a hospital bed after multiple surgeries trying to fix the issues with her legs. My children never got to meet their hard working Nana. If she had done what was right (i.e. see a doctor sooner, share her problems with those she loved) it might have extended her life. Sadly I will never know.
This is not to say that sacrifices can’t be a good thing. When we give something up in order to help someone else, and we offer that sacrifice in Jesus’ name, it has the potential to be a great blessing. However, God would rather see His children doing what they have been called to do from day 1:
Hate what is evil.
Honour His commands.
Do right in love.
I grew up in a Lutheran church. For my catechism when I was a teen, Pastor Dechert gave me this verse from the Book of Psalms and I wondered why he gave me this verse:
“1Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.” – Psalm 1:1-2 (RSV)
He must have known with my rock star ways that I would need encouragement to not take the advice of people not walking with Jesus. He knew that being a musician would cause me to be in various situations that might not be good for me. He wanted to remind me that God’s law is what I needed to focus on, and to be encouraged to study it in more detail.
These words from the RSV translation are still on my heart and in my mind almost 40 years later. They mean more to me now than when I first memorized them and regurgitated them during the catechism service.
Because he hoped in me, God’s word means more and more to me each day. It continues to teach me what is right and just, and that I need to spend more of my energies and focus on His truth.
Jesus was the final sacrifice for all of our sins, and we no longer need to keep making sacrifices.
What God wants from us are hearts that are willing to love Him and do what is right. He wants this more than giving up chocolate for 40 days.
What we need to do is to mediate on His laws day and night, and as Proverbs 21 says, pleases God when we do.
This Lent, I want to spend more time pleasing God than testing Him.
I want to spend more time mediating on His word rather than focusing on my selfish wants.
I want my children and eventual grandchildren to know that their Dad and Grandfather loved God and at the end of the day, found peace in God’s word.
I want our community to reach out to Jesus in prayer, and to put their trust in the Living Word.
This, is more important than giving up chocolate. May we all deepen our trust in God and keep meditating on His word. See you tomorrow.
Wednesday February 24 – Day 8 – WHATEVER IT TAKES
10 Now I have given up everything else—I have found it to be the only way to really know Christ and to experience the mighty power that brought him back to life again, and to find out what it means to suffer and to die with him. 11 So whatever it takes, I will be one who lives in the fresh newness of life of those who are alive from the dead. – Philippians 3:10-11 (TLB)
10-11 I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it. – Philippians 3:10-11 (MSG)
You know someone is desperate when they use the following three words in a sentence:
Whatever it takes
It could be trying to figure out a problem: Whatever it takes, I am going to figure out why this audio interface is not working!
It could be determination: Whatever it takes, I am going to get that girl to notice me.
It could be honouring a commitment that has soured: Whatever it takes, I am going to be beside you and walk with you even though you say you don’t love me anymore.
It’s amazing how three words can demonstrate a person’s resilience, resolve and character so clearly.
In our culture it is easier to take the path most traveled and that causes the least amount of pain. “Whatever it takes” has been transformed into “Whatever I please”. And herein lies the problem of why so many of us are anxious, afraid and empty:
We will do whatever we please, no matter what
In Paul’s letter to the church in Phillipi, he shares a very interesting point of view. He has come to the place in his life where he would give up everything in order to know who Jesus is. Everything else he considers “dog pies” in comparison to knowing Christ.
No doubt in his life he saw much human suffering and sin. It was only when he saw Jesus that he wanted to forge a new life for himself: a life filled with sacrifice and great joy as well.
For me, Lent has always been about recognizing Jesus’ suffering on the cross. It also marks for me the reality that Jesus KNEW His Father’s plan early on and lived in the knowledge that He was going to have to die. He was going to make the biggest sacrifice anyone can make for another human being. He lived through this knowledge and still chose this path. He did so because He loved His Father and would do anything for Him.
Why is it then that the 21st Century church has forgotten about this truth?
Today, it is all about your social media presence online and how your church “presents”. We are more concerned with getting people in the pews, paying the bills, getting a top notch ministry staff and creating programs to keep people “busy” and “occupied” rather than challenged and encouraged. We read up on all the latest church trends and best selling church authors’ numerous books in order to find some nugget of truth or strategy that we are missing in terms of growing a church.
But did we at any time embrace the truth that Jesus came so that we would have life, and that there is an entire world who does not have a relationship with Him. You don’t need fancy theological degrees to embrace the truth: Jesus didn’t suffer so we could be successful. Jesus died so that we could live forever.
When news THIS good hits the streets, all you want to do is share it with everyone you know.
One of my favourite web sites is Steve Hoffman’s forum. Steve is a mastering engineer in California and you might remember that he and Kevin Gray cut my album ROUND to record (vinyl). On the site, many different people talk about their favourite audiophile gear, their favourite masterings of certain recordings and you can even sell some gear and music through the site as well. For a long time, it was also my breaking news site. If any famous musician or celebrity died, I would see it first on the forums. The whole point of Steve’s site is that when you find a special pressing or piece of equipment that brings sonic joy, you want to share it with others and talk about it. Others also search out these facts so they can make informed decisions when they buy music. It was the first time I had heard about the 1964 stereo “tube cut” of the album Beatles for Sale on Parlophone and it changed my life (if these kind of things are your bag, message me and I can give you the details).
When a new restaurant opens in town and it has great food and great prices, you hear via word of mouth and it becomes very difficult to get a table without a reservation. There was an amazing Greek take out restaurant near our house that was amazing. Sadly, they could not pay the high utility costs at the time and they had to close. However they were busy every day. To this day, we have struggled to find a Greek restaurant that can match their prices and great food.
Our role as the church is to share what Jesus has done in our lives in such a way that an entire world takes notice. That they hear about us via word of mouth.
The world begins to see Jesus, and not our prejudice, our judgement and our opinions.
Whatever it takes, I want the church to share the good news of Jesus with everyone they meet.
We do this by showing kindness to a stranger, by opening a door for someone, for letting someone else in line before us (even though we have been waiting a long time already).
We show this by how we treat others online and the things we post on our social media. Do we talk more about love or more about judging those who don’t agree with us?
We show this by respecting and loving our neighbour, but at the same time, holding the truth of Jesus at the forefront of our lives: not as a crutch or a weapon but as an invitation.
An invitation to a life that is worth more than anything.
A life that is worth giving up everything for in order to know Jesus.
Today, it is my hope that your heart will resound with these words: “Whatever it takes, I want to be a partner in Jesus’ suffering. I want to walk with Jesus in His suffering this Lent so that I am completely transformed. I will give up everything in order to know Him”.
These are difficult words to say, let alone LIVE. But as we live in and try and understand the suffering, we become heirs with Christ. Heirs!!! How can this be possible?
It is possible because Jesus loved us: Whatever it takes, I will do my Father’s will
As we take this season to honour God, we honour what it cost Him for us to have eternal life.
May you have the strength to do the Father’s will today, and may you share God’s love in tangible ways.
Tuesday February 23 – Day 7 – LET MY LOVE OPEN THE DOOR
“20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” – Revelation 3:20 (NIV)
As a musician, there are certain songs that I play that are an integral part of who I am. I have loved them for years before as songs that have been part of the soundtrack of my life. When you love a song so much, you want to learn it to see what makes it “tick”. For me, one of those songs is “Let My Love Open The Door” by Pete Townshend. It seems that when I do play that song live, it gets a very good response. Part of that I believe is because the performer emotes his love of the song and it becomes infectious for the audience.
“Let My Love Open The Door…To Your Heart”
On our pizza nights, when Riley was young, he was so happy to see the pizza delivery guy at the front door that he would give him a hug. To this day he still loves pizza, but he no longer hugs the delivery guy.
Remember our reality before COVID-19 hit? If there was a knock at the door, most of us would check and see who was at the door, and then greet the person. Now during COVID-19, we experience contactless delivery so that when we hear the knock we don’t respond right away. We then open the door minutes later and see our package at the door, with the delivery person in their truck or already on the road. The only acceptance we get of our interaction is an email confirming that our parcel has been delivered. No human interaction. The delivery person is doing their job and is on their way.
What happened if your Intelcom delivery person ACTUALLY came in the house and joined you for dinner? What if one of your children gave the person a huge hug because they were happy to see you? Apart from worrying about social distancing issues, it would be a very unorthodox and unexpected dinner!
In chapter 3 of Revelation, it follows Jesus’ message to the angel of the church in Laodicea. If you remember, the church was not seen as cold nor hot, and was considered luke-warm. God reminds us that the WORST thing we can be is lukewarm to Him. Jesus reminds Laodicea that they are “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” and that they are in need of repentance.
Repentance = “Return to Me”
What if, during the pandemic, Jesus was the one knocking on your door, shouting “Here I am!”.
Would we answer the door?
Or would we be afraid to see Him face to face?
Would we feel like the church in Laodecia who had everything they needed to SURVIVE, but didn’t have what the needed to truly LIVE?
Jesus invites us relationally as the Son of God into a lifelong journey of faith. He is willing to make the first move.
All we need to do is open the door.
“Let My Love Open The Door…To Your Heart”
Now when I perform this Pete Townshend song, I can’t help but hear Revelation 3:20 at the same time and smile.
We have a God who loves us so much that He desires a real relationship with us. He is knocking.
He wishes to dine with us – one of the most intimate functions of trust and honour – to share a meal with someone. Jesus reminds us that it is a reciprocal relationship: “I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”
During this season of Lent, will we accept this invitation to allow Jesus into our homes and into our lives?
Will we ANSWER the door, or will we continue with our lives thinking that we have all that we need?
For me, I want to respond to Jesus the way Riley responded to the pizza delivery man. I would want to run up and hug Him. I would want to thank Him. I would be honoured that He chose MY door to knock on.
“Let My Love Open The Door…To Your Heart”
May we make more room in our hearts for Jesus this Lenten season, and may we continue to share this invitation with others. Don’t be afraid to open the door.
Have an amazing Tuesday, church!
Monday February 22 – Day 6 – WORSHIP THE LORD
“8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.” – Matthew 4:8-11 (NIV)
I hate to be cynical, but I truly believe everyone can be bought at a price.
I would LIKE to think that if someone offered me 100 billion dollars for my soul that I would have enough integrity and faith to say, “No thanks, my dance card has been filled already”. But, if I think of the difference that money could make in the lives of not only my family but in the city and around the world, it might make me hesitate and I would “want to dance”. Eradicating poverty would be an amazing thing, and if I could bring happiness to those around me, I would want to do that.
I wish I wasn’t a people pleaser, but I am.
The more I think about it, if I was tempted to have all of the greatness of the world while I was starving from not eating for 40 days, I would probably say yes just to get something to eat.
I am reminded of the story of Esau and Jacob, the twin brothers. Esau, the oldest brother trades his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of soup.
Yes, a bowl of soup.
Esau was famished and Jacob made him trade his birthright because Esau thought he was dying of starvation.
What a drama king!
Esau’s birthright had a price: a bowl of pottage, because as Esau said to himself, “What is the use of a birthright if I am going to die anyway?”.
This begs each of us to ask ourselves this question: What price can I be bought with? Do I have a bottom line for my soul?”.
Jesus reminds us that we should hold out for the best offer no matter how sweet an alternate deal may seem. His bottom line with the evil one was simple and straightforward:
““Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
Jesus KNEW His Father. Not only did He know His Father, He LOVED His Father. And because He loved Him, Jesus obeyed his Father’s will no mater what.
We see Jesus make clear that the evil one’s offer is an insult by the tone of His response. And, as we have seen in the two other temptations in Matthew 4, Jesus uses the Word of God as a shield.
‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
When Jesus was tempted, He also knew that the offer wasn’t completely legitimate. Sure, the evil one could have given Jesus power, but that was never going to happen. The evil one knew the value of Jesus and was willing to try using Jacob’s approach with Esau: make a terrible deal that would cheat the one being tempted. Although the evil one knew Jesus’ value, he was not valued.
You are valued by God.
The value of your life is immeasurable. Do you realize how much God values you? How He sees you? God has gone to such great lengths to capture your attention, to give you a life with purpose and significance. You have been called to a greater story than you could ever imagine.
You don’t wanna be trading THIS for a lousy bowl of soup.
There are days when we can feel unworthy of God’s love. There are days that we would accept the lousy deal because that is all we feel that we are worth.
Jesus reminded the evil one that we are to Worship God and to serve Him only. THIS is the beginning of a life filled with purpose and meaning. To be a part of the greatest story in the universe.
Because we are valued by God, we are of value to Him.
When we value God, we honour Him and amazing things happen.
Never forget that through the act of worship, we are drawn closer to God and blessing upon blessing flows into our world. Lives are changed. Lovers of Jesus serve those around them making their lives better because He first served us.
During the season of Lent, find time to worship God in the way that makes your heart sing. For me, I wish I could be leading us all in worship in the same room, with the presence of the Holy Spirit moving among us. But for now, leading worship online, singing at home and writing new worship songs have been the ways that I have worshipped. For some of you, it may be walking the winter wilderness and seeing the greatness of God in nature. Take the time to worship God and to serve Him, and your faith will deepen and grow.
Glorify Him, and see your life shine like diamonds in the night.
You are loved and you are valued by God. Continue to live this life that is worthy of Him.
Sunday February 21 – Day 5 – Prayer for the First Sunday in Lent
At the official start of this new week, we return to You.
We return to Our First Love, Jesus, who made the ultimate sacrifice for us, at just the right time in history.
We thank You for your Son, and His gift of everlasting life.
We are hungry for You.
We have been in the wilderness, thanks to COVID-19, and our worlds have been turned upside down.
May Your word be imprinted on our hearts during this new week, that we would have the strength and courage to meet all of the challenges we will face.
May we honour the widow and the orphan, the single Dad and the child who has no one to trust in anymore.
May we honour our city and those who live in it. May we be committed to a world that does not know You, or want to know You, and yet are struggling without You.
May we delight in You, not test You.
May You delight in us, oh Lord!
May we offer up every thought, every idea, every creative expression to You, Lord.
Holy Spirit, move among us and show us the things we need to see. Move our hearts closer and closer to Jesus.
We are Your children. Move in us and make us whole as we journey through this season of Lent.
May we rest in Your love.
In Jesus’ beautiful name, we pray, Amen.
See you tomorrow, church! 🙂