A Faith Journey

When He left, Jesus gave the command to take the Good News into all the world. His time on earth showed that some people needed to rethink their idea of who was welcome into the kingdom, because Jesus did a really good job of turning them on their heads by eating with tax people, caring for those who were ill, and talking with those who had multiple husbands. God made sure the message got reinforced and shared after Jesus went back to heaven with Peter’s vision of the animals in the sheet (Acts 10-11) representing the welcoming of any nation who fears God and does right.

So it’s not a huge leap to get to the idea that anyone could get into heaven, as long as they’ve been forgiven of their sins, have a relationship with God and believe in Him. Which is why we should first and foremost be open and willing to tell whomever God puts in our path about the love that He has shown us, about how He has supported us, and how He cares for us. We should do the very best we can with each and every opportunity that God sends us, give them the care, respect and opportunity that each of us would want.

But there’s two other sides to this, neither are as hopeful. The first is the fact that you individually can’t save everyone. Even someone with the reach of a Billy Graham, Kirk Cameron, Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer, or Steven Furtick can’t save everyone, it’s why we are all called by the Great Commission. Sometimes we have to choose to save the one or two people that we can. The lesson applies to other areas of our lives; we should do our best and let God handle the rest. God knows the potential of that one person you may bring to God, you can only do your part.

The third side is a story that is seen in 3 of the 4 gospels (Matthew 10, Mark 6, Luke 9 and 10) and in Acts as well. It’s the recommendation of Jesus to shake the dust off your feet when you’re not welcomed in a home or town that you’re traveling through or bringing God’s message of peace to. Basically it’s suggesting to leave them to whatever fate they may have. Maybe that means years from now something will change, maybe it doesn’t, but according to these stories, it’s not our job to be overly concerned or focused on their future. Of course we can pray for them, but each person is ultimately responsible for their own future.

So this week I encourage you to walk with faith.  Do the best you can, live a life that honors God, share your faith and don’t let the negative take you down with it.

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What To Do With Today

Each moment of our lives we’re given both the opportunity and the challenge to accept what’s in our past, live in the moment and work towards the future. Some of us choose to only live in the moments, others of us are stuck in the past, and some of us only see the future. It’s healthiest if we can balance all 3 of those, that we fix our mistakes from the past (whether the past is just 10 minutes ago or 10 years ago), seeing life for what it is in the moment, and take smart actions that would build a good future for us and those we care about. Living in the past, present and future means that you’re not just focused on your life, but the lives of those around you as well.

Since there are only so many hours in a day and so many days in our lives, we have to sometimes make tough decisions about the things we do “today” and what we put off into the future. There are some things that I don’t think we should ever put off until tomorrow, like telling someone you love them and praying. Sometimes asking for forgiveness or apologizing should be done that day, while other times it should be put off until things cool down.

In my weekly devotional this past week I talked about how we have the opportunity with each day to start fresh, to have a clean slate, to get a new lease on life. God is a past-present-future God. He’s been with us through everything that happened in our pasts, and He’ll go with us through whatever our future holds (and Jeremiah 29 reminds us that He promises us a future). But one of the biggest gifts He gives us is His presence in the here and now. He can give us the insights, peace, patience, endurance, and words we need to navigate whatever each day brings, including helping us to know what needs to be taken care of today and what can keep until tomorrow.

One of the notable points of Jesus’ ministry on earth was His willingness to stop and care for someone who needed Him. He put off whatever plans He had to help them, to listen to them and to heal them. A few examples are the woman at the well, Zaccheus, Lazarus and a demon-possessed man, Jesus met them on His way to wherever He was going and stopped to make time for them.

I’m not saying that we should be stopping for everyone or everything we come across in a day, but encouraging us to follow the example that Jesus set and taking care of what’s truly important each day. It’s why we need to know our priorities and make sure they’re taken care of. Are you taking care of what’s truly important in your day or just going with what’s easy, creating regrets and wasted opportunities? I encourage you to remember the gift that we have with each day, and each moment of your life.

The Party Before The Win

Today I have more of a question to think over with you than the usual reflections. I’m thinking about the fact that the celebration of Palm Sunday (which is happening this coming Sunday) comes before the sobering events of Good Friday which are followed by the celebration of Easter. How often do we celebrate before the sad event and after it? Why did it happen this way?

Let’s start with a bit of context and a timeline so we’re all on the same page. After being on earth for some 30 years, and doing public ministry for 3 years Jesus’ time on earth is wrapping up. In the Bible Palm Sunday (also known as the Triumphant Entry) happens less than a week before the Last Supper (the time of celebrating the Passover and the initial event of the Lord’s Supper) which comes right before Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, which comes 3 days before His Resurrection on Easter Sunday. During Palm Sunday there was a large crowd that gathered and shouted “Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord” while they spread garments and leafy branches on the road for the donkey to walk on that Jesus was riding on. Then a week or so later we get to Easter on which a few women find the tomb Jesus had been buried in empty, they have a brief encounter with Jesus and then they tell the apostles what had happened (Jesus eventually appears to them and others before going back to heaven some 40 days later).

So back to the question: why this big Palm Sunday celebration? It almost feels like you’re celebrating the winner of the big sports event of the year before the event is played. Maybe because God knew how much cover-up from the government there would be after the stone had been rolled away from the tomb, so there couldn’t be as public an event. Maybe because Easter was meant to be a more holy celebration and not a party. Maybe because Palm Sunday was for everyone but Easter is only for those who believe. Maybe because God enjoys a good celebration as much as we do and saw an opportunity to reveal (and celebrate) the truth. Maybe it was to just give Jesus the proper recognition of who He was.

I invite you to share your thoughts on the party before the party, and to remember to celebrate the King this Palm Sunday.

Seeking Mercy, Finding Healing

I thought today we’d take a look at the story of Bartimaeus in Mark 10:

“Then they reached Jericho, and as Jesus and his disciples left town, a large crowd followed him. A blind beggar named Bartimaeus (son of Timaeus) was sitting beside the road. When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus of Nazareth was nearby, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
“Be quiet!” many of the people yelled at him.
But he only shouted louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
When Jesus heard him, he stopped and said, “Tell him to come here.”
So they called the blind man. “Cheer up,” they said. “Come on, he’s calling you!” Bartimaeus threw aside his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked.
“My rabbi,” the blind man said, “I want to see!”
And Jesus said to him, “Go, for your faith has healed you.” Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus down the road.”

Bartimaeus’ story reminds me of many of our lives. So many of us are crying out for some attention, even something as simple as just to get a word in edgewise. With the wonderful inventions of technology we’ve been given the ability to connect with more people than ever, which both helps and hurts our cause. It’s easier to get an apology to a family member, communicate a message of love to our partner or learn something that could further our lives. That doesn’t mean that they’ll listen of course.

Which is exactly what Bartimaeus experiences in the beginning. But Bartimaeus doesn’t give up. He persists in sharing his message, believing that he knows the truth and that Jesus can help him. Maybe Bartimaeus would have run into Jesus another time, but more likely this would be his only chance to connect with Jesus. Fortunately we usually get more than one chance to make things right.

So Jesus hears Bartimaeus and decides to listen. Then Jesus, who knows everything, asks Bartimaeus what could be considered an obvious question: what do you want? Sometimes it’s important to ask the stupid questions to make sure we’re on the same page. In Jesus’ case, He was checking Bartimaeus’ faith and heart out.

Bartimaeus just wanted a little attention from Jesus, what he got was a whole lot more. Sometimes when we turn to Jesus for help, or reach out to others, we get a whole lot more than we asked for. He may have been happy to just have been noticed by Jesus, happy for people to stop telling him to shut up and just listen to what he had to say, but I’m sure Bartimaeus’ dream was to see again. Maybe you’ve been asking Jesus for a job, but He’s got something bigger and better for you. Maybe you’ve been praying for a relationship to be fixed, when God’s got a better one in store for you. Maybe you want healing, but God wants to do something bigger with your life story. I can’t answer for what God will do in your life, but I do know that like Bartimaeus you have to get out there and start seeking if you want to find.

What about you? What are you seeking? Will you join me this week in being open to what God could have in store for you?

Full of Heart

This month one of the things we’re talking about is heart.  The Bible is full of examples of heart, both the believing kind and the giving kind.  One of the greatest, most compassionate hearts is Jesus’.  There are stories recorded in the Bible and countless that didn’t make it into the official pages that show examples of how Jesus loved and cared for those He interacted with, especially those who were in need.  Sometimes we see heart displayed through grand gestures, but other times heart is displayed through the very simple things.

Tuesday was Valentine’s Day, a day that people give hearts to each other both emotionally and literally.  Some couples spent a simple day or evening together, doing rather normal things, while other couples went out and really invested in an experience for their Valentine’s Day.  That doesn’t make one couple wrong or right, or more or less romantic, it just happens that they chose to spend Valentine’s Day as they did.  Sometimes the big gestures don’t mean as much as the little ones, for example if one person does a lot of traveling the more heart-felt celebration would simply be spending time together at home, rather than being out with countless other people.

For people of faith heart can be very important because it isn’t always about how far you’ve gone for your faith or how much you’re able to contribute to your church, but rather how big your faith is.  Heart sounds like a big word, as does faith, but that really just means that there are countless opportunities for learning how to live a life of love and faith, and that we can each experience love and faith differently.

Valentine’s Day may be over, but that doesn’t mean that the love story ends, just like Jesus’ story didn’t end on the cross or the ascension.  Each and every day is filled with opportunities to have a little more heart in dealing with each other and being a little more open to having Jesus show us how He would see the world, rather than letting our personal opinions and past hurts blind us.

“If I can just touch his clothes, that will be enough to heal me.” Mark 5:28

Men of Action

For our series on faith this month, I’ve invited a few of my friends to share their thoughts on faith.  Today’s thoughts come from Evan Smith who works with Intervarsity Student Ministries at York College.

In Mark 1, a group of men bring a paralyzed man to Jesus’ home for healing. When they can’t get to Jesus through the crowd, they climb to the roof and dig through it. The text says, “Jesus saw their faith…”

We learn two things about faith here:

1.    Faith is active and obvious. The men in the story believe Jesus can help their friend, and they take tangible, bold action based on that belief. For them, faith looked like falling bits of plaster, the sound of diggin, and a badly damaged roof.
2.    The object of faith is harder to see. These men had no guarantee that Jesus would heal their friend. In fact, a more likely outcome would be a lawsuit for destroying private property.

As the writer of Hebrews writes, “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (11:1)

The men in the story move confidently on a hope, modeling for us a fundamental paradox: faith means living as if the kingdom of heaven were here, even when all the evidence is to the contrary.

We trust our allegiance to an invisible King. What action does your faith produce?

Wow!  Evan’s right, sometimes faith is just as big and obvious as digging through a roof.  Thank you for that reminder!  You can connect with Evan at his blog, and share your thoughts on faith.

Faith in a Faithless Government

As I was finishing up my reading of the book of Mark in the Bible last week, my attention was drawn to a few verses at the end of Mark 15.  Let’s take a look at these verses.

Mark 15:42-45 “This all happened on Friday, the day of preparation, the day before the Sabbath. As evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea took a risk and went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. (Joseph was an honored member of the high council, and he was waiting for the Kingdom of God to come.)  Pilate couldn’t believe that Jesus was already dead, so he called for the Roman officer and asked if he had died yet.  The officer confirmed that Jesus was dead, so Pilate told Joseph he could have the body.”

Some background is necessary for this passage.  Right before these words, Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, was crucified on a cross.  In verse 37, he died.  Now, in verse 42, Joseph of Arimathea asked for Jesus’ body so he could bury him properly.  So who was this Joseph and why is he so important to talk about?  We learn from other New Testament references that Joseph was a wealthy man.  Verse 43 also tells us that Joseph was “waiting for the Kingdom of God to come.”  Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, and wanted to see him buried with at least some respect.

The important part is in verse 43 where it reveals that Joseph was “an honored member of the high council.”  This means he was probably a member of the Sanhedrin, essentially the supreme court, back in Jesus’ day.  Most of the members of the Sanhedrin were vehemently against Jesus and his teachings.  By stepping up to Pilate, Joseph was putting his faith before his job, even before his life.  Who is to say that he wouldn’t be crucified right after Jesus for making such a request?

It’s not always easy to stand up for what you believe, especially in situations where it isn’t popular to believe something or you are downright against the faith/practices of the others in the group.  Work places, homes, and families are all examples of places and situations you will be challenged to display your faith like Joseph, or cower like some of Jesus’ other disciples.  I think what Joseph knew was that no matter what those he worked with and associated with thought of his request, it was the right thing to do.

When you do right by your gut, heart and faith, you will feel better knowing you did the right thing, just like Joseph did.  When have you stepped up bravely for your faith?