Memory Verse of the Day (if I can remember it!)

James 4:7 "So humble yourselves before God. Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you."

Thursday, April 18, 2013

God wants a relationship

The vast majority of us use Facebook on a daily basis. Some of us use it on an hourly basis. And even more seem to be hooked up to the steady drop of the Facebook IV. If I were to ask what is the purpose of Facebook, why does it exist, how would you respond? Connection would be your likely answer. Connection to your friends, to your family and yo the outside world. Sports, news, weather, there is so much that just Facebook alone can deliver. Facebook allows you to see what your friends and family are doing even though they may be miles away. It allows you to watch your nieces and nephews grow up through picture and video uploads. More than ever before, we can remain connected to those we love through our computers, tablets and smartphones.

Why do we strive to be connected? Why has a simple idea like Facebook taken off so dramatically that billions of users across the globe find themselves returning there day after day, hour after hour?

Because we were built, at our core, to have relationships. We were not built to live on this earth alone. We were meant to commune. To love and be loved. Woven into the very foundation of our lives exists a desire to share our experiences at a level known only to man. We are driven, good or bad, by this desire. In fact, we often mistake another person's approval for a relationship and therefore strive to impress those around us by what we say, do and live. We long for relationships. This is why God instituted marriage. He knew that the intimacy that can only come between a married couple is unmatched in any other relationship. This is why children have parents. To model a loving and accepting relationship that shows them no matter what they are loved.

When a man breaks the law in our country and is convicted, he is sent to prison. However, when that man also breaks the law within the prison, he is then often sent to solitary. Being in prison is bad enough. However, if even worse punishment is required, we remove human contact as the ultimate punishment. Because we were built to be with others. Men describe solitary as the worst forum of punishment. Many men have even gone insane from too much time alone. We need interaction from other humans.

God made Adam, yet observed quickly that it was not good that he was alone, and so he made a mate for him, Eve. God understood this need for man to be in a community with others. He understood that need, because understood man. He built man that way, in his image, and God too desires a relationship.

God desires a relationship with us. With you, and with me.

God did not simply put humans on this earth to watch them play, fight, grow and then die. He did not make man and woman just for his amusement, although our antics must amuse him at times to be sure. He did not make man so that he could have slaves to do his every bidding, or to surround himself with 'yes-men'.

No, God desired man to commune with him, the creator.

However, after sin entered God's perfect world, it soon became evident that man would require rules and guidelines. Left to our own devices, our sinful natures would often get the better of us and we would find ourselves in situations that are not pleasing to our creator. We would find ourselves doing things that hurt our relationships. Both the relationships we had with those around us, as well as the relationship we had with God himself.

So rules were to be implemented.

In any situation where multiple humans are involved and you will find a rule book. Sports? Yep. Work? You bet. Home? Most definitely. On the road? For sure.

Rules are a part of life. Rules are required because most of is won't have the decency to think about anyone else but ourselves. Our sinful natures cause is to first look inward before we look outward. When put together with others also looking down at their own desires, there will be collisions, there will be conflict. So God realized, as man realizes in every culture and in every time period, that rules are a requirement if man is to have successful relationships with others.

Did you hear that? Rules are for relationships.

Many look at Christianity and say that there are just too many rules. Many Christians within our own circles think that there are too many rules.

Why do we think that way? Why are we focused on those rules and why are they so important? How many of us who were raised in the church had to memorize the ten commandments as a child?

Many church circles devote so much of their energy on expressing what we all should or should not be doing. We focus on how this person did this and that person did that and how wrong they were! We see someone come into the church with obvious, sinful baggage and we look down our noses. We tell them, clean up! Maybe not with our words, but all too often with our looks and our actions. We say that by grace we are saved, yet we evidence our belief that the grace extended to us is not quite enough. We show the world that by grace and by us following the rules we are saved.

Yet, that is not the message of the Bible. This is not the Jesus I see when I read the gospels. I do not see a Jesus standing and proclaiming a rule book. I do not see him barking out orders about how to live or how not to live, in order to receive the kingdom of God. I do not see a man stressing over anyone's sinful state as being a barrier to the life he offered.

I do, however, see him extending grace. I see him offering love and acceptance. I see him living life fully. I see him eating with sinners. I see him touching the sick. I see him feeding the hungry. I see him... building relationships.

Of course, Jesus was asked about his rule book. Yes, the rule book he put in place with Moses. The rule book that he gave, yet wasn't really focusing on during his time with the people. Jesus was asked, by a well meaning man who was very much like us, focused on the rules, which of the ten commandments was the most important. Of all the commandments, how on wreath could Jesus narrow it down to just one? There are so many important ones or there. They all are extremely important. So, was this a trick question? Narrowing down a single commandment add being the of the highest importance?

So how did Jesus respond?

Love God with all your heart.

Really? What about killing, stealing, committing adultery? Aren't those important rules? Is Jesus saying they don't matter? Are they not also important?

Important, yes. Most important, no.

Love your God. But Jesus doesn't end there. He goes on to say that of equal importance is that we love our neighbor as ourselves.

Jesus didn't sweep any of the other commandments under the rug. He didn't negate the other commandments. But he did simplify what it takes to be sinless. With those two simple commands, the problems of the world disappear. The fighting, the wars, the killing and the stealing. Every other commandment ever given is unnecessary if we just abide by those two. Every other rule book is abolished. With those two, simple commands we are set free from the bondage of regulations. We can live life fully.

I want to be first in line, so my heart desires that I push my way front. But, wait, I love God and want to please him so I can't do that. Oh, and I also love my neighbor more than I love myself so I can't do that. In fact, with those two things in mind, I am happy to let others first.

Did you catch that? I'm happy. I'm happy because I put others first. I put the relationship in front of myself.

Why was Jesus so popular? Why did he have such large crowds that followed him everywhere? Jesus focused on relationships, not rules. Jesus focused on acceptance, not condemnation. He cared for those he touched. He loved those he interacted with, and he put them first. We love to feel special, we love to feel important. As such, we will gravitate towards this in our lives that make us feel this way. Jesus made people feel special because he cared, honestly cared, for each of them.

I realize that I'm treading some liberal waters here. I understand that I'm potentially blurring the line between acceptance of a sinner and acceptance of the sin itself. That is not my intention. Jesus never once accepted sin in anyone's life. But he chose grace and love first. However, he wouldn't shy away from any teachable moment where he could make someone realize the error of their ways. He maybe wouldn't come out and say "you're wrong". Instead, he would demonstrate what it meant to move upward towards God. The woman caught in adultery and about to be stoned? Go and sin no more. The rich man wanting to know what he needed to do in order to be saved? Sell all of of your possessions. The Pharisees trying to scam people in the temple? Rage at their injustice. Jesus knew how to get right to the point.

Consider the adulterous woman. She was about to be stoned for her sins, yet Jesus pointed out that they all were guilty. No one was righteous. And, instead of rebuking the woman, he was gentle and simply told her to move forward on a new, better path than the one she was currently on. Go and sin no more.

Consider the rich man. Jesus cuts right to the heart of the matter, knowing that his failing was his love of his riches and his possessions. This man walked away, knowing what he had to do but he couldn't bring himself to do it. Again, Jesus doesn't rebuke the man. He doesn't ridicule him for his selfish desires. He simply states what needs to be done. Sell everything you own and follow me.

Finally, consider his treatment of the Pharisees. He wasn't gentle, he was harsh. He wasn't timid, he was in their faces. He knew their hearts. He knew that they were about oppression. They oppressed the people with legalism. They oppressed the people by discouraging their relationship with God. The Pharisees did the exact opposite of what God's intention was for man. Instead of culturing a people of relationships, they demanded legalistic practices as a way of them earning their way into the kingdom. They made God out to be a demanding, fearful tyrant rather than a loving, caring father. So Jesus hit them hard to show them, and those around them, the error of their ways. You brood of vipers!

God wants a relationship with you. He doesn't care who you are or where you've been. He's not looking behind you at your sordid past. He's holding out his hand and looking forward. He's saying, come and sin no more. He's saying put aside everything you consider important and follow me. Drop whatever it is that is hindering your walk and grab his hand.

Accept the offer that is on front of you. There are no conditions to be met. There is no small type to read. There are no added clauses to contemplate.

It's open. It's free. It's why you are here.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Owning Up

Own up. Man up. Cowboy up! However you describe it, being able to stand up and take the blame for something you've done takes guts and courage. And it goes against everything in your nature.

I want to discuss the importance of owning up and accepting the consequences of our actions. In doing so, I want to look at three different examples that are set before us in scripture. A poor example, a pretty good example and then a great example. Examples of how men in the past have handled accepting the blame, that help us see how we should as well.

Anyone who has had kids, taught kids, worked with kids, or in any way interacted with kids in any sort of disciplinary manner has been introduced to the "Not Me" ghost. Who wrote on the wall? Not me! Who broke this plate? Not Me! Who spilled the milk? Not Me!

Kids show us that we learn how to cast the blame from a very young age. When kids fight, it was always the other one who started it (and therefore is to blame). When asked why did you hit your sister? The answer is rarely, because I am a sinner in need of grace... No, it is usually, because she hit me first!

We learn, without having to be taught, that when the heat turns up, pointing the finger often helps save our bacon. Of course, it doesn't work nearly as often or as well as we like to think it does. We nearly always end up causing ourselves more grief, pain and hardships. But, of course, then we can just try and  point the finger again and try to lessen the blow, right?

There are a couple of commercials on the radio that I've been annoyed with lately. They are advertising for some debt counselling program. Now, the programs are necessary and I fully support them. However, the that they are conveying through these commercials I do not support. Basically, they are saying that they know your current debt situation is not your fault. They say that you are not in this mess because of anything you have done, but because life is simply unfair. This may be true in some cases. There are unexpected surprises that arise, and we can easily be caught unawares ad un-prepared. However, so many financial issues nowadays that we face are largely our own fault. We spent money we didn't have. We bought based on some future plan that never came about. We were careless. We didn't prepare and save when we should've, instead we spent frivolously, and now when we need the money we don't have it. So this commercial really bugs me. Because they are completely aligning themselves with our sinful nature. These companies are appealing to our desire to cast blame elsewhere. They stroke our egos, just so that they can garnish our business.

Why does this come so naturally to us? Why is it so easy for us to so quickly resort to this way of our nature? Because it is our nature. Jeremiah 17:9 says that our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked. Our hearts, our nature, our sinful self, our old man. Whatever you want to call it, we're naturally inclined to act in a selfish way, such as casting blame.

There are many reasons why we try to cast blame elsewhere. We cast blame because we are prideful. We don't want to look incompentant, or stupid. So we throw the blame to someone else so that they look incompenent instead. Our human nature is naturally prideful. Humility plays second fiddle when our pride is at stake. Another reason is fear. As kids, we fear punishment for what we did. So we try and throw the blame on to someone else. As adults, we fear the same. We fear the consequences, we fear the retribution, we fear the shame. By casting the blame onto someone else, that other person is more likely to receive the brunt of the consequences of our actions. Most of the time, we justify casting the blame in this manner because the person we are blaming is often partly to blame. Maybe even more so than us. So we think it is OK that we throw all the responsibility onto them to save our own dignity. Other reasons revolve around easing the pain, as well as an attempt to make ourselves simply feel better. No one likes to mess up. No one enjoys failure. And being confronted with that failure, with our mistakes, our defense mechanisms kick in. We strive to protect our pride, to protect our sense of self worth. So we cast off the blame.

The first example I want to consider this morning is the first man who ever walked this earth, Adam. In Genesis 3:11-13, we enter the story after Adam and Eve had just eaten from the one tree God told them not to eat. God walks into the garden, "Adam! Eve! Where are you guys?"
     "We're hiding, because we're naked." Adam states, as if that was a good enough explanation and hopefully God would just walk away now. But, of course, he doesn't, so he asks,
    "Who told you that you were naked? You didn't eat of the tree that I told you not to eat from, did you?"
And Adam, the first man. Adam had never before been faced with an accusation. Eve had never even rebuked him for not taking out the garbage yet. Adam had perfection delivered to him on a platter. And yet, when faced with the reality of his first mistake he'd ever made, he responds,
     "It was that WOMAN! That Woman YOU gave me!"
Wow. Not only is Adam's first response to sin to cast the blame, but he throws the blame at both his bride AND God! Not only is it Eve's fault for giving Adam the apple in the first place, but it is also  God's fault for giving him Eve. So, God turns to Eve,
     "Eve, what did you do?" And Eve doesn't miss a beat,
     "It was the SERPENT!"
Do we need any more evidence that this is in our nature? The first humans, and their first reaction to being accused of something they were fully responsible for was to cast the blame.

Another piece of scripture that I'd like to focus on for this sermon is found in the book of 2 Samuel chapter 12 verses 1-20 (read it here). In this passage, we see a pretty good example of a man who owns up for his sin. The prophet Nathan takes his life in his hands as he approaches and actually rebukes the king. As king, David could've easily taken Nathan's life for his accusation. Being told that you messed up, that you were wrong, is never something someone wants to hear. And being a king, you could definitely shut the guy up easily enough. But, of course, David doesn't do this. He doesn't even consider the possibility. He instead hears what was said, and realizes he's been called out onto the carpet. And he realizes his sin. And he admits it. He doesn't cast the blame, he doesn't throw Nathan out, he mans up, and owns up to his actions.

What is required to actually man up to what we have done? When we are confronted with our failure, with our mistakes, when everything inside of us yearns to run, to cast blame, what do we need? We need equal doses of courage and humility.We are quick to take the credit. We are quick to accept congratulations when things go right. That is easy. It requires nothing but pride, really, and we tend of have that in spades. But to accept blame? To own up to what we have done? That takes a lot more. That takes courage and humility. Two things that most of us struggle with daily. Humility to allow our pride to be hurt. Humility to let others know that we're not as great as maybe want them to think we are. Humility to accept that we're not as great as we want to think we are. And courage. Courage to own up to our failures. Courage to face the consequences of our actions. Courage to stand up to what may come, because we made the choice that put us where are are. Courage to be humble.

Accepting the blame and standing tall when the accusation is rightfully placed at our feet is critical. Yet, doing this will not relieve us of the consequences of our actions. It is very important to understand that owning up to our mistakes is not the end. As kids, we still would get spanked or grounded, although maybe the punishment wasn't as severe as it could've been. As adults, we still have to work through the mess we are responsible for making. Actions have consequences. David still had to suffer through the death of his child. Yet, while he mourned the tragic path his choice had taken him, he also stood up, dusted himself off and accepted these consequences, praising God.

When I thought through the many examples laid out in the Bible of men that were gracious in front of blame, of course I quickly considered Jesus. Yet, he never did anything wrong. Therefore, he was never faced with an accusation.

Oh. Wait. Yes he was.

When accused of something we have done, we resort to blame. When accused of something we actually didn't do? We take every ounce of our power to ensure that the world is aware that we are being falsely accused.

Jesus displayed a nature that is completely contrary to how we react. We throw blame even when it is surely ours to bear. Yet Jesus spoke not a word, even though he was falsely accused. Jesus took the punishment, the consequences, of the actions of every human that ever had and ever would walk this earth. Jesus bore the pain, the humiliation, the torture when he deserved none of it. And not only did he not react, but the words he did speak were to ask God the Father to forgive those inflicting the pain. What courage that would require! To be the only one on earth to never sin, yet to sit quietly and accept the blame, the shame and the consequences of everyone's sins. What strength he showed us all when he  held back. He could've easily displayed that he truly was the Son of God by striking everyone down with lightening. But he didn't. Jesus took the blame and the consequences that we rightfully deserved, and the only words he spoke were "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."

So, how can we have the courage to stand up and face the consequences of our actions? How do we graciously bear the blame that is truly ours? There are two crucial truths that we must remember when walking through these situations.

First of all, we read in Psalms 37:23-24 that "...the Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand."

We are not alone. David wasn't alone. Adam and Eve weren't alone. God is right there beside us as we walk through the consequences. Jesus is holding our hands, ensuring that even though we stumble, we won't fall. We all will stumble. But God will never let us go. It is easier to muster up the courage, to stand tall and brave to face the consequences of our actions when we know that God is standing right beside us, unwavering and strong. We can be brave knowing that regardless, God doesn't walk away. God doesn't leave us in our mess to clean up on our own. Instead, he's right beside us the entire time, expressing his love and forgiveness.

Which leads me to the second point.

Romans 8:1-2 says that "...there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death."

Not only will God not leave us when we fail, but he has forgiven us. As in the story we read of David, when he confessed his sin Nathan told him that God had forgiven him. Of course, this did not mean he didn't have to still face the consequences. However, David could face them with confidence, without shame, because he knew that he was forgiven. He knew that his sins were removed as far as the east was from the west. He stood confident, not in his own self, but in the forgiveness and grace that God granted him. And he proudly faced his future, because he refused to shamefully dwell on his past.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Remove the Thorn

I have a sermon on Paul's thorn here already. However, this weekend my pastor spoke on following Jesus and mentioned Paul and his thorn. Again, it struck me that Paul asked three times for the thorn to be removed and then accepted it.

Three times.

How many times have you asked for your thorn to be removed? Three times? Three hundred times? I know I'm hitting probably three thousand times since my thorn came around 4 years ago.

So can I accept my thorn? God's grace is made perfect in my weakness. And my thorn keeps me week. Can I accept that his grace is being made perfect in me?

My pastor also made a statement that we are never drawn closer to God than in our times of need. How true that is! If God removed all of my thorns, would I fall away from him? If I think back to the times my life didn't have these thorns, was I closer to God then or now?

I would have to say I'm closer now.

This isn't to say that God wants us to live a life of suffering. I don't believe that for a second. But it does mean that he allows us to go through these times in order to grow closer to him. We are ultimately here on this earth for his glory. And by going through sufferings and coming out the other side refined, God is glorified.

So, have I asked for a thorn to be removed three times or more? Yes. Has God yet removed it? No, not yet. Does that mean he never will? Nope. Does that mean I need to accept my situation and lean fully on him? 100% yes.

Monday, September 17, 2012

How Great a Sacrifice

Sometimes we fail to realize the extent of the sacrifice that God willing went through to grant us all salvation. No, let me rephrase that. Most of the time.

I was listening to a sermon in our church recently and I started thinking about my situation I was currently in, and how great it would be of God just swooped in and took care of it all for me. Why wouldn't he do that? I wondered. Then the sermon continued, and made me think about something more important than my current work situation, or financial predicament that I had walked into this time. God do swoop in. God saved me. God sent his son to die on the cross for me. And you. And that guy I don't like so much. And that driver that cut me off this morning. Jesus died. But do I care?

I started thinking, why do I focus so much on the physical world around me? Why do I devote so much energy to worrying about what is happening, or worse, what might happen? Why does Jesus' sacrifice not hold a more prominent place in my heart, why isn't it the first thing I think of rather than just on Sundays when the pastor reminds me?

I thought again about whether or not God swooping in and rescuing me from my situation would likely teach me anything. Which would probably be a major reason why he doesn't do it. It made me think of a little analogy.

Let's say I take off Friday evening, head down to the closest casino, and join a poker game. Now, maybe things start turning south for me and I start losing money. So, to try and take one more stab at getting my money back, I put the family SUV, our only vehicle, on the line. And I lose...

Wow, what do I do now? How do I tell my wife? What a stupid thing I did! Remorse would flood in, tears pour out. Feelings of shame and regret overwhelm me, how could I ever have done such a thing?

Suddenly, I remember my rich uncle. I call him, explain my plight, and within a day, he swoops in, buys our family another SUV and all is well.

Great ending, right? Wrong.

Did my rich uncle sacrifice? Maybe a little, but in the end the little bit of cash it cost him to buy us a new vehicle didn't affect him at all. Did I learn anything? I would hope so, but my experience with human nature says likely not. In a a situation like this, I would likely go back and do it again. Depending on how great the feelings of pain and regret were, maybe I wouldn't do it again for a month. Maybe a year. But, likely, I would.

So let's rewind. Let's say I have an uncle, but he's not rich. He's single, but has only one vehicle and often struggles to make his bills each month. Of course, I don't ask him for a new truck, but he hears of what I've done and he gives us his only vehicle. Humiliated, yet grateful, I accept his offer because he won't have it any other way. This uncle sacrificed. This uncle gave up more than he could afford so that my family could move on past my mistake.

Would I learn from that? I would think most people would. I would think that the constant reminder of a relative walking to work, walking to the store, walking to the library would help in ensuring that I never put this vehicle up at risk like that again.

God sacrificed it all. Jesus gave up his life, so that I could live. Jesus suffered and died so that I could be saved.

So what do his sacrifice mean to me? How does it change my life? Do I think about it every time win, very time I fail? Am I grateful that he paid the price I never could've paid?

Lyrics from the song "Once Again": Jesus Christ, I think upon your sacrifice. You became nothing, poured out to death. Many times, I think about your gift of love, now I'm in that place once again.

Do you think upon his sacrifice? When you are tempted, do you look to the cross? Do you consider the price that he paid for you? Are you humbled? Are you grateful?

Let the cross change you.

Get Moving


I'm sure you've all heard the statement that "you cannot steer a parked car". Pretty obvious statement, really. If a couple thousand pounds of steel and iron is sitting still, twisting a steering wheel in circles will do nothing.

I actually have this stupid habit while going through a drive thru where I simply slip our truck into neutral. I'm not sure why, maybe I'm just bored, maybe I'm afraid the truck knows better than I do about the junk food I'm about to ingest, so I'm just making sure it doesn't make a run for it. Whatever the case, I often do it. And yet, almost just as often, I tend to forget I just did it. So, we get the food, I release the brake and step on the gas and rev the engine nice and loud... As I roll backwards towards the guy behind me that was probably too close in the first place...

Steering a parked car or revving the engine while in neutral. Both actions get us nowhere. We have so much power and freedom within our grasp, but if we don't put the vehicle in drive and start moving, what good does it do for us?

One of the questions most Christians ask is, what is God's will for my life? Seeking God's will, for me, has never been easy. Every time I've come to a crossroads, people say "Pray about it." So I do. And yet rarely, in fact never, has God suddenly spoken out of the clouds and thundered "Go that way!". In this day and age, how do we know what to do?

Have you ever felt God speaking to you? Have you been moved to do something or to go somewhere, but you just don't know what or where? I believe that God has a purpose for each one of us. But, sometimes it seems that he could maybe be a little more liberal with the details, don't you think?

Scripture Reading - Genesis 12:1-9

We all know the stories of Abraham. We likely have heard the story of him being asked by God to sacrifice his son, Isaac. But the story I want to focus on today is the start of his recorded journey as a man of great faith. When Abraham was 75 years old, he received a call from God. Let's read about it in Genesis 12:1-9:

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you. ”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.

Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land. ” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.

Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.

What really strikes me about this passage is the lack of details that were given. Lets first examine the call.


The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

Go. Leave your country. Leave your people. Leave your home. Go.

If I was Abram, I think I would've had a few questions. At least one very specific question, which way? God doesn't specify any further details, not that we read here anyways. God simply says, Go. Pack up, say goodbye, and start walking.

Sounds like a pretty dangerous, open ended calling. Many of us wouldn't do as well as Abram did I'm sure.

There is a belief out there that if we cannot see, it is impossible for us to move in a straight line. In fact, we will actually move in circles instead. If you ever watch the show Mythbusters, you may have seen the episode where they took on this belief to find out if it was a myth or not. In the episode, they walked, swam and drove while blindfolded. In all the cases they tested, they were never able to move in a straight line. They attempted the same tests multiple times with the only consistency between the tests being that they didn't go straight. In one test they walked left, in the next right, in another they circled multiple times.

Jaime states that "Trying to walk in a straight line while being blindfolded is an exercise in futility because without any cues like vision or sounds... you're relying on purely mechanical means of determining your direction. But you're fluid, you're not like a machine. You can kind of meander and wander."

I find it very interesting that we, as humans, are so dependent on our sense of sight. Without vision, we go in circles. How true that is in life in general. Without vision, without a sense of direction, we either sit with our car in neutral, or we go in meaningless circles.

God didn't specify what direction Abram was to take, but it does say that when Abram left he "set out for the land of Caanan." How Abram knew to go in this direction, I'm not sure. Abram was in touch with God, and had a close enough relationship with Him, that while he didn't know exactly what God wanted, he seemed to have a rough idea. God only said that He would show him where to go. If we were to start walking blindfolded, left to our own devices we would walk in circles. But, as God stated here for Abram, we aren't on our own. God won't allow us to walk in circles. As blind as we may feel that we are, we need to rest assured that God will steer us ever so gently in the direction he wishes us to travel.


While God didn't give Abram specific details about the journey he was about to embark upon, he did give him some great assurances.

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you. ”

God tells Abram that he will be made into a great nation, that his name will be great and that God's blessings will be upon him. God would bless those that blessed Abram, and even curse those that cursed him.

Abram didn't ask for these things. This was purely God's idea. This was entirely God's choosing. If Abram was seeking these things for his own purposes, I have a feeling that his journey wouldn't have ended up be nearly as successful. If he was setting out on his own to make name for himself, it likely wouldn't have happened. It surely wouldn't have happened to the degree of greatness that his name now still holds.

God's blessings and assurances likely put Abram at peace and at ease. Abram didn't have to sweat the details. He wasn't worried about going right or left, because he knew God was with him.

If we flash forward many years to the life of Joshua we see a man also of great faith, who also stood at the beginning of a great journey and needed God's assurances.

In the beginning of the book of Joshua, God encourages him three times to "be strong and very courageous". Joshua had the impossible task of leading a bunch of farmers into the Promised Land to take over walled cities fortified with stone and rock and protected by powerful armies. Pitchforks against swords, I suppose being encouraged to be courageous was likely quite necessary.

Let's read a portion of this passage, Joshua 1:5 and 6:

No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.

God doesn't say "Joshua, you are a great man. You've exercised regularly, you are very fit and stronger than an ox. You can beat these guys". Not even close. God simply says, "As I was with Moses, so I will be with you." Swords, spears and walls of rock don't stand a chance.

One of my favorite passages is found in Romans chapter 8, specifically verse 31:

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

God maybe called Abram out on a very risky and unknown adventure. But he made sure that Abram realized that he wasn't alone. Was it unorthodox? Yes, for sure. In those days, families stuck together. Families lived in the same place, generation after generation. You didn't just pack up and leave your parents. Nowadays, we can't seem to get away fast enough. But in Abram's day, it was almost unheard of to do such a thing. Was it open ended? Most definitely. If any of us were to receive the same calling today, would we know what direction to go? Yet it was filled with assurances. Did it really matter which way Abram went? Maybe in the long run, but God was more concerned that he simply started moving.


And Abram did. The next verse says that at 75 years of age, Abram packed up his family and set out for Canaan.

I checked Google Maps. Of course, the highways didn't exist then that do now, and I'm not 100% sure of where Harran was exactly, nor where he ended up in Caanan. But, if the many maps that exist on the internet of this journey are to be believed, this journey was probably over 800 kilometers long! On foot. With donkeys, sheep and cattle. With kids, women and servants. Over desert lands. I'm not sure how far they could've walked in a day, but many assume maybe 20 kilometers with such a group. If that was true, that means they were out walking the desert for 40 days. Can you imagine? I wonder Abram had any doubts about his choice. Am I going in the right direction? Should I have gone south? Maybe east instead?

And it wasn't until he arrived at Caanan that God finally spoke and said "to your offspring I will give this land."

Finally, a word of confirmation from God. It wasn't the GPS voice saying "You have reached your destination". But it was confirming the direction Abram was going. His offspring would receive this land. Not necessarily he himself, but his kids or his grandkids.

What is most impressive to me about this entire story was Abram's obedience. God said 'Go' and Abram went. He didn't hesitate. He didn't question. He didn't ask for more directions, or for more information. He packed up his things, and he started moving.

There are a few examples of this type of faith and obedience throughout the scriptures. I would like to look at a couple of them this morning.

The first is the Israelites crossing the Jordan, found in Joshua 3:14-17.

So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea ) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.

The faith that Joshua and these priests displayed is actually quite remarkable. God told them to go, and they went. However, God didn't say "Here, I stopped the river so you can cross. Get up and go across." No, the priests had to actually step into the water. Did they know that God was going to stop the water? Well, they may have had an idea that might happen due to many, many years ago when Moses led their fathers and grandfathers across in a similar manner. But, there were no signs this was going to happen again. In fact, the river was at flood stage! Remember just a few months ago when the rivers here were flooding our banks? If there were no bridges, and God told you to go to the other side, would you just walk into the river carrying the Ark of the Covenant, weighing hundreds of pounds, on your shoulder? I know if it was me, I would probably have the faith and the energy to head down to the edge, but once I got to the edge, and if nothing had happened, would I continue? The priests had to actually step into the edge before the waters parted. But the fact is, they did. They moved, believing that God would come through. They had faith that God would reveal the way. And He did. He stopped the waters, and piled them up a great distance away so that the entire people of Israel could walk across on dry ground.

The next example I want to discuss is Jesus himself. Let's read Matthew 14:15-21.

As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

“We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

“Bring them here to me,” he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

This story happens immediately after Jesus had just heard the news that John the Baptist had been be-headed by King Herod. Jesus withdrew to get away from the crowds, yet the crowds followed him. First of all, the compassion Jesus has for us is incredible. Not too many of us would've been able to put up with that. In fact, the disciples knew what had happened, and I'm sure many of them were grieving too. In fact, that would likely explain their reaction to the crowd when they tried to convince Jesus to send the crowd away when it was time to eat.

But, Jesus doesn't. And, while his compassion here is incredible and likely a sermon in itself, what I want to focus on is his act of faith. The only food they had in this crowd of 5000 men, as well as women and children, was a basket containing two fish and five loaves of bread. Not even enough to feed Jesus and his disciples! Yet, Jesus commands his disciples to bring the food to him, and he directs everyone to sit and he gave thanks. At this point, again if it was me and I had passed the test of faith to this point, I probably would be saying grace with one eye closed, and one eye peaking at the basket, hoping it suddenly starting multiplying. If, after saying grace, there was still only 5 loaves and 2 fish, a lesser man would've likely hung his head and sent everyone away. I guess I was wrong. This wasn't what God was going to do, this must not be how he was going to act. Go home, see you all later. Yet, Jesus doesn't hesitate. He doesn't miss a beat. Instead, he breaks the bread, and starts passing it around. And it wasn't until this act that the miracle began. It wasn't until Jesus pushed passed the barriers of doubt that God acted.

And, then of course, we have the example we already read about this morning with Abram. God told him to go, and he went. And it wasn't until 40 some days later that Abram received confirmation that he was heading in the right direction.

Are you at a crossroads? Do you hear God calling, do you feel him leading? Are you moving? Or are you sitting quietly, awaiting further instructions? What if those are all the instructions you are going to get? What if God wants you to get your feet wet? What if he wants you to break the bread, and then start passing it around?

Does God want you to start a ministry to the poor? Does God want you to step out and go in a completely new direction? Has he laid someone, or something, on your heart yet you are just not quite sure what to do about it?

These examples we've read about this morning show us that just sitting and waiting is not the answer. We need to Go. We need to move. We need to kick that truck out of neutral and start rolling.

How do we apply this in real life? This sounds all well and good, but then Monday morning rolls around, reality bites again, and suddenly the clouds roll over and confusion reigns. How do we start moving when we don't know the direction, when we don't know how or when God will act?

The first thing is obviously to spend time in prayer and in His Word. Abram, the priests and, of course, Jesus were all men that were close with God. They worshipped God, they spent time in His presence. They knew they could trust Him, whatever the circumstances.

The second thing would be to consider what, or who, God has laid as a burden on your heart. And then start thinking of ways you could move in that direction. Has God laid a burden on your heart for homeless people? Then volunteer at the Coffee Cart Wednesday nights. Go down to and volunteer at the local soup kitchen or shelter. Or, maybe God has laid missions on your heart, yet you can't see how you could actually do that. So, plan a trip to the closest missions training center. Call and inquire about the many different organizations. Attend a Missions conference.

The point is, start moving. God doesn't expect you to put your truck into gear, and suddenly be going 100 miles an hour down the road. He just wants movement.

Maybe you don't know where God wants you. Maybe you don't really have a burden for missions, or the homeless. But you feel God wants you to serve. Then start serving. Start serving the homeless. Start serving your church. Start moving in a direction so that God can use that movement to steer you in the direction He wants you to go.

God is the master of the spontaneous. We love to plan and detail every aspect of our futures. We save for retirement, we save for our kids' educations. We plan out our trips, when will we visit family, when will we travel on vacation, when will we go to the beach.

God says in James chapter 4 verses 13-15:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

God wants us to move. God desires to show himself faithful. God wants us to trust Him, to rest in Him. God doesn't want us to solidify ourselves in our own securities of future planning and risk management strategies.

If God is calling you, get off that couch. Get off that chair. Put that truck into neutral and head towards Canaan. God will reveal himself to you. God will direct your paths, and make your ways straight. But first, you are required to step forward in obedience.

Too Much God… Really?

My sister-in-law works at a Christian bookstore in Saskatoon. Recently she had a lady come in and ask, "Where are the books that help you when you are sad, or going through a tough time?" She answered her, pointing to a section of books she thought would be just what the woman was looking for, and then turned to walk away. But the lady called her back. "These are nice" she said, "but I was hoping for something a little less, well, with not so much God in them." She looked at her in brief bewilderment, then kindly let her know where the nearest Chapters bookstore was. "No," she said "I want some God, just not so much."

Really? Too much God? Surely we all know there is no such thing. We laugh at a storey like this, yet this lady voiced an opinion that seems to becoming more and more commonplace amongst us as Christians. Even among us here. While we may not voice them, the thoughts are that God can be overbearing, demanding, rather strict, and sometimes downright pushy sometimes tend to creep into our thinking or reasoning at times. I need him to be with me here, or to help me through my struggles there, but otherwise I would appreciate it if he would back off and give me my personal space.

I hope these sentiments don't ring true for anybody here. Well, at least I hope they don't ring true to the extreme that you would say it out loud to a Christian bookstore salesperson at least. However, if many of us stopped right now and truly dug deep, examining our hearts and our soul, we'd find a very similar line of thinking. We maybe don't express it, don't voice it, but it's there. We feel that there is a line of "too much God", and we tend to get uncomfortable when he crosses it.

This morning I want to read a passage that I actually read briefly last week. At the time, I hadn't planned to use this passage so I thought it would be OK to do so then. So, for those of you that were here, you were treated to a sneak peak of sorts I imagine. However, as I pondered the subject I wanted to discuss, this passage kept with me. I want to talk this morning about letting go of ourselves, and letting God be God in our lives. Many of us may have read the bumper sticker that "God is my co-pilot". What we will see this morning, is that God doesn't wish to be our co-pilot at all. He wishes to be our pilot, our leader, beyond question.

Matthew 16:24-27:

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? For the Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of his Father and will judge all people according to their deeds.

In these verses, we read how Jesus describes three steps we are all to take in our Christian walk. Turn from our selfish ways, take up our cross, and follow him. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, if you are anything like that lady in the bookstore wishing for less God in Christian books, then this isn't simple at all. And, because we are all human and all have tendencies towards selfishness, I will venture a guess that most of us here, in varying degrees, have the same sentiments towards God in our lives at times. And, therefore, these three steps, as we will soon see, are not as simple as they sound.

The first step is to turn from our selfish ways. It is a simple statement, yes. Yet it has a vast reaching impact. What are our selfish ways? Corrie and I have often discussed how pretty much everything that is wrong or off balance in today's society can be attributed to selfishness.

· Obvious cases such as robbery or assault I don't think anyone would disagree are due to the guilty party's selfishness

· However, have you ever thought about the high gas prices, or high prices for goods? Sellers are greedy and want to make more money to suit their selfish desires. When do prices go up? When demand rises and supply drops. Because the seller's know we need their product, so instead of thinking of others, they think of themselves and their selfish greed and jack up the price.

· Road rage? Many of us can easily relate to this one. Yet this is a prime example of selfishness. I'm too busy thinking of myself as better than the rest of you on the road to let you in my lane, or to simply pull in behind you instead of cutting you off, or to wait the extra few seconds rather than pull out in front of you. Road rage is a prime example.

· How about broken relationships? They didn't work because one or both of the parties involved couldn't think less of themselves and more of the other person. We refuse to accept when we've wronged someone because our selfishness doesn't allow it. But, we often refuse to forgive another when they have wronged us because we wish to hold that place of selfish power over them a little bit longer.

· Broken church families? Selfishness. The church wasn't meeting MY needs. I wasn't being fulfilled. I couldn't agree with the actions of this person, so instead of working it out between us, I just cut them off completely.

· Work stress? Bosses that won't pay a fair wage, yet expect a bend-over-backward sacrifice? Unions that strike for any given reason? Workers that refuse to take action because "that's not my job"? At the foundation, selfishness. A ME first attitude.

· What about parenting? Even good parents fall to selfish actions many times over. Frustration levelled at a child because they interrupted my precious ME time.

· Addictions are a great example of selfishness. Alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling are all caused by a selfish desire to get what I want, when I want it.

And the list could go on for a very long time. Our nature is selfish. We want to fulfill our own desires first, and when something gets in the way we meet it with frustration, anger, or other selfish actions to bully our way in front.

How many of you have a dream? Maybe it's a retirement plan. Maybe it's a house, a car, land, a perfect job or position in your company. Have you ever considered that maybe that dream is one of your selfish ways? I'm not saying that having a dream is wrong. I am saying, however, that many of us seek after that dream with such ambition and drive that we fail to "take an interest in others". We don't think of others as better than ourselves. In fact, we sometimes see others as objects in the way of our dream and act selfishly against them. When we allow ourselves to be so self-focused, we easily become frustrated. We become annoyed at those around us. Why can't Joe just do his job properly? Why can't my Boss appreciate the sacrifices I'm making? Why is this person taking so long in this lineup? Why can't that guy learn how to drive? Why is this clerk ringing up my groceries so slowly? All these frustrations that mount throughout a day are often caused by our selfish ways.

Paul stated in Philippians 2:3,4:

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.  Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

I have to be honest, I struggle with this verse. I like impressing others, it feels good to make someone else take notice. And, think of others as better than me? Well, sometimes that's easy. There are so many people that are completely talented, there's no doubt they're better than me. I don't have to think that, I know it. But what about that person on the road that I know is going to try and take my lane? What about that man smoking in the entrance to the mall, causing me and my family to have to walk through his cloud to get inside? What about that woman pushing the shopping cart with all her belongings down to the soup kitchen? Thinking of everyone as better than myself can be a troublesome task to be sure. And then, take an interest in others. For some, this comes naturally. For example, look at Jesus and how he interacted with the people.

Many have said that Jesus was so popular and well-liked because of his charismatic personality. And while that is likely true, I tend to think it had a lot more to do with the fact that he was perfectly self-less, he took an interest in those around him. Think about those who you enjoy hanging around with the most. Are they the ones that are constantly talking about themselves, the one in the group that constantly has to "one up" the last story? Do they tend to argue with everything you say? Or are they the ones that take an interest in you, the ones that make you feel special, and pay attention to you as a person? Yes, the people you most likely enjoy are the ones who ask you about your day, take an interest in your life, and are more than willing to step in and help you in whatever way they can in your time of need. Jesus would've been amazing to hang around. And that is the example of what he wants us to be as we walk down the road of this life.

Jesus says to turn from our selfish ways. Wow, such a simple step, yet so hard to take.

· Are you trying to walk away from a job, a relationship, a church because you have been hurt or your needs aren't being met? Jesus says, not so quickly. First, turn from your selfish ways. If your reasons for doing so are in anyway selfish, Jesus says no go.

· Are you annoyed at someone else's incompetence that is hindering you in some way? Jesus says, cool down, take an interest in them personally, and turn from your selfish ways.

· Do you think you are better than that person on the bus who is dirty, smells and looks like they just eyed up your purse? Jesus says, but for the grace of God, consider them as better than yourself, and turn from your selfish ways.

Thinking of others as better than ourselves is one of the most difficult, contrary to popular thinking and backward things we can do. Yet Jesus says to do it. In every aspect of your life, turn from your selfish ways.

Many of us have heard this phrase before. God gives to each of us what we can bear, and he wants us to take up our cross. What does this mean to you? Does this mean you will endure heartache, suffering, pain? Maybe. Does this mean you will be persecuted, bullied, abandoned? Maybe. Jesus doesn't elaborate here any further than simply "take up your cross". Remember, that this was before he was crucified. In the verses before these ones I read, Jesus predicts his death to his disciples. He tells them that he will be treated unfairly, beaten, abused and eventually killed by the elders. And in the same conversation, he tells his disciples that he expects them to do the same.

What exactly does it mean to take up our cross? We just spoke about turning from our selfish ways, and this is simply the next logical step. In Jesus' time, the cross was an ugly and horrific symbol. The Romans made the death-row criminals carry their own cross, the instrument of their pending execution, in front of everyone. As they did so, they were ridiculed, insulted and jeered at. This was the cross that Jesus challenged his disciples to carry. A willingness to endure persecution, ridicule and death. To die to self, to absolutely surrender to God.

One thing that always amazed me as I read through the stories of Jesus' life was how quickly the people turned from love for him, to hatred. How could these people suddenly switch gears like that? Near the end of his life, Jesus really challenged those around him to give up what they held most dear. And in that day, what every Jew held most dear was freedom from the Romans. They loved Jesus when they saw him as their Savior of the Roman oppression. Yet, once they began to realize that Jesus wasn't going to save them from their earthly troubles, they began to hate him. They could not give up their selfish ways, they could not take up their cross. They were so focused on the earthly comfort they desired, they couldn't see the eternal freedom Jesus was offering. Jesus said to them, what could be more valuable than your own soul? Yet, at the time they could only care about their physical well-being.

Are we so different? How easily we can focus on our earthly discomforts. Money is tight this month, Jesus why didn't you give us a miracle to help make ends meet? Sickness and pain runs rampant through your body, Jesus why can't you just heal me? These miracles are not at all wrong to pray for, but they are wrong to focus on as a requirement for you to have a closer walk with Jesus. Jesus had such loftier goals for those around him, yet they had their heads buried so deep in the sands of their earthly comfort that they couldn't see it. And instead, Jesus' actions and words caused them to boil over in anger.

Are you willing to take up your cross? Are you willing to die to yourself? These first two steps are extremely similar. Turn from yourself, and die to yourself. Jesus never promised a life of ease. In fact, in John 16:33 he states:

Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.

Jesus states, in no uncertain terms, that we will have many trials and sorrows. But, he also doesn't dwell on that at all. Immediately he directs the focus upwards, saying "Hey, no worries! I've overcome the world." In other words, this is such a small part of what really matters. Take up your cross, yet realize that this world is merely a stepping stone to the lives for which we were made.

The third step is to simply follow Jesus. Yet what does this mean? How can I follow Jesus? Physically, we can't see him. He's not leading us down a hiking trail through the woods on the weekend. So how do we follow him? Have you ever had to follow another person through a busy city? If you know the person, and know how they drive, you can follow them pretty well. If you don't, you tend to constantly be making split second decisions trying to keep up. You don't know they are going to change lanes until they've already done so. The better you know the person, the quicker you can predict their movements and the safer your decisions will be. Yet, even just knowing the person you are following isn't enough. If you don't have a clue where you are headed, then you can't be sure that they changed lanes simply to go around someone else, or that they are actually going to turn soon. The better you know the person, and the clearer of an idea of the destination that you have, the more relaxed and confident you can be in your decisions.

The same holds true for following Jesus. Jesus focused a lot on two areas during his ministry here on earth. First, he led by example. Jesus told us how to respond to those in need, and then did it himself. Jesus explained to us what faith was, and then demonstrated it time and time again. He described how we were to respond to those who may persecute us, then laid down his life. Jesus taught and led the life that he wishes we all would live. However, he also focused on another area. The kingdom of God. Jesus knew that followers blindly tagging along behind him would not last. They would make bad decisions, stumble, and eventually lose their way. If, instead, those followers also knew the destination, Jesus knew that they would be much better equipped for the journey.

Are you faced with a tough decision? Are you unsure of the next direction that you should take in life? I am. Jesus says, 'Follow me.' Yet, if we don't know him, how can we follow him? And if we don't know where he is going, how can we stay the course?

To know Jesus, we need to examine his life on this earth. How did he respond in situations? How did he treat others? How did he live out his faith? I will examine just a few ways that we can follow Jesus.

· Love - This means the person in front of me at the line up. This means the driver next to me on the highway. This means the guy at work who I just can't stand. Love him. Love her. Love them. Jesus treated those around himself with love, and if we are to follow him, we need to do the same

· Help - Look around you. Are there people in need? Help your neighbour by shovelling the snow from their driveway. If someone asks you for spare change, buy them a meal. Stick up for the helpless. Protect those who are in harm's way. Jesus stuck his neck out for many people that society had rejected, abused and cast out. And he expects us to do so as well

· Live Modestly - While Jesus doesn't ask all of us to live a life such as Mother Teresa did, he does expect us to keep our eyes on that which is eternal. Jesus understood the drag and distraction that worldly goods can cause and warned us about falling into the trap of idolizing our possessions, or lack of possessions!

And the list can go on and on. To know Jesus, we need to examine his life. Read his teachings, and then read them again. And again. Analyze his reactions. Question his decisions. Why did he do that? Why did he say that? What was his intentions for going there? Studying Jesus' life and ministry will cause you to know him more and more. Jesus isn't an idea to believe in, he's a living example to follow, to love.

Is there such a thing as too much God? Of course not. Yet, many of us fall easily into the trap of living a life that only has enough room for "just a bit" of God. A story has been told of a professor that filled a jar with rocks, then pebbles, then sand. Each time, the jar was technically full, yet each time the smaller items were added, they filled the voids between the larger items. The professor explained that the rocks represented what was truly important, God, family, children. The pebbles represented the other parts of life, such as our jobs, houses. And the sand represented everything else, the small stuff. If we fill our jars first with sand, we have no room for the pebbles or rocks. Make room for God first. Clear out your jar of the sand and pebbles that so easily get in the way, and instead allow God to fill your life. Sundays should be a day that you rest in God, reflecting on the week where he was with you and leaning on him for the week that is to come and the strength that only he can give to make it through. Sundays should not simply be a day that you decided to fit God into your schedule!

Jesus says that we are to turn from our selfish ways, take up our cross, and follow him. For what is more important than our souls? What good will that $300,000 car do you when God calls your name? Jesus says that he will judge all people according to their deeds. Filling our lives with the small stuff first, and then "just a pinch of God" will never live up to this judgment.

This challenge is a life-long challenge for us all. We will all have to wrestle with turning from self, dying to self, and choosing to follow Christ daily. It is not something anybody will completely get a grip on while on this earth. However, praise be to God that Jesus has overcome this world. Our lives here on earth are such a tiny speck on the radar when compared to the everlasting life that lies before us. Enjoy the journey, have fun with your family, with the material blessings God has given you. But never let them be the sand that fills your jar first. Make sure you have "too much God" every day.


Have you ever been happy with second best? Have you ever been excited just to make the top five of a competition?

This winter, Corrie played soccer with the indoor soccer league in Kamloops. They just finished a few weeks ago where they played through the playoffs and won the tournament. It was very exciting for the entire team, but as they were celebrating, I looked over at the team they had just beat. One of the players suddenly cheered and said, "Hey, we got second place!" and the team all cheered.

Has that ever been you? That pretty much describes me my whole life. At the many track and field events I was a part of during my school years, my brother would often come home with all sorts of first place ribbons. I came home with a few second and third place ribbons, and I was always excited about them. I was into mountain bike racing in high school, never got first place, but was always very happy with my second, third, or fourth place finishes. I was happy to be second best. I was satisfied just to say I'd beaten most of the field, rather than wishing I had made first place instead.

Of course, placing in the top five of a competition is always a great achievement to be sure. I will never be disappointed with a good finish, and I would never express disappointment if my kids did the same.

But have you ever been satisfied with second best?

There's an opposite extreme as well. How many of you would admit to being a perfectionist? Does it drive you completely mad when things are exactly like you think they should? Would a second place finish be considered a failure? I work with a perfectionist. It is exhausting and frustrating for both of us. For her, she's frustrated that we can release work that isn't completely perfect. For us, it's frustrating that she has to pick at every tiny detail and make a fuss out of something that isn't perfect, when it is workable. Some perfectionists go to an even greater extreme and become what we have learned to be Obsessive Compulsive. Ever seen the show Monk? Demanding such high levels of perfection from ourselves can lead us into a life that is full of disappointment and frustration.

When it comes to our everyday lives, we must learn a balance between striving for perfection, yet being satisfied with our best efforts if they don't yield the top results we were hoping for in the first place. There are areas in our lives where being satisfied with your best efforts is sufficient. Being happy that you simply placed second is a reason for celebration. But there is one area that second best is just not good enough.

Jesus commanded that we be perfect, just as his father in heaven was perfect. Let's read Matthew 5:48

48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Pretty short. Pretty much to the point. A bit difficult to read between the lines on this one. Jesus commanded it, God expects it, we are to be perfect.

Well, I might as well quit right now! How could I possibly live up to such an expectation? I know, as we all do, that this is an impossible command. Only Jesus was able to live on this earth as a perfect human being. No one before, and no one after, could ever accomplish such a feat. I'm just happy if I make it through the first few hours of my day without falling.

However, before we throw in the towel, let's read a bit more of the context of this verse and see if we can figure out what triggered Jesus to utter such a seemingly unattainable command.

At the beginning of this chapter, Jesus starts with the beatitudes. God blesses those who are poor, those who realize their need for him, those who are humble, merciful, and so on. Jesus' sermon on the mount starts with a focus on those who would be viewed by others as coming in second place. Poor, mourning, persecuted. Jesus tells the people to be happy in persecution, for their reward is in heaven. The sermon moves on to comparing his followers to salt, or to a light.

But then Jesus moves onto discussing the law of Moses. If you took the time, and I encourage you all to do so, read through the commandments and regulations that were given to the Israelites in the Old Testament. The law was strict. The law was impossible for humans to follow completely. But the law was perfect, and it demanded perfection of those striving to follow it. Jesus states here that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. Let's read a section of chapter five, starting at verse 17.

17 “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. 19 So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.

20 “But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!

Jesus shows that only a perfect person would have even a chance at entering heaven. When he stated this, do you not think there were a lot of very disappointed and discouraged listeners in the crowd? Really? Jesus expects me to be better than even the Pharisees? Fat chance that's going to happen.

Jesus continues with verse 21.

21 “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’[d] 22 But I say, if you are even angry with someone,[e] you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot,[f] you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone,[g] you are in danger of the fires of hell.[h]

Did Jesus really just compare murder to calling someone an idiot? Suddenly, Jesus is ramping up the expectation scale. The requirements that he is placing in front of the people are starting to become extremely steep. What next? Verse 27 is what.

27 “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’[k] 28 But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

I would imagine at this point the crowd would be getting pretty silent. Anyone hearing this sermon must've been thinking pretty hard about their own lives. I just called this guy an idiot, I'm as bad as a murderer. And now Jesus has just said that even thinking lustfully about another person is committing adultery in my heart. Wow. Can anyone stand? Can anyone live up to these rules? Even my own thoughts condemn us.

Jesus continues and talks about taking vows.

33 “You have also heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the Lord.’[o] 34 But I say, do not make any vows! Do not say, ‘By heaven!’ because heaven is God’s throne.35 And do not say, ‘By the earth!’ because the earth is his footstool. And do not say, ‘By Jerusalem!’ for Jerusalem is the city of the great King. 36 Do not even say, ‘By my head!’ for you can’t turn one hair white or black. 37 Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.

Is this a bit of relief here? Jesus must realize that we cannot be perfect, because here he actually recommends that we don't make ANY vows. Why would he say this unless he indeed does realize that we're not perfect? Jesus shows here that a simple 'Yes, I will' or 'No, I won't' is all that is required. Do not vow what you cannot follow through on. Let your yes be yes, and your no be no. Yet, even in that simplicity, Jesus has still raised the perfection bar. For how many times have you made a promise that you had to break? How many times was your yes NOT yes, or your no NO no?

Finally, let's read the verses that lead up to Jesus' command of perfection, starting at verse 38.

38 “You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’[p] 39 But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also.40 If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. 41 If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile,[q] carry it two miles. 42 Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.

43 “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’[r] and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies![s]Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends,[t] how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.

Jesus is demanding perfection in our walk with God. He knows our human nature. Human nature is to strike back when we've been hit, yet Jesus says to do the opposite, to turn the other cheek. Human nature is to appeal if we're in a situation where the courts rule against us. Yet Jesus says to not only give them what was demanded of us by the courts, but to go beyond and give them even more. But the final statement Jesus makes here was probably the hardest for the Jews to hear. During the time of Jesus, the Israelites were under daily oppression and persecution from the Roman soldiers. They were slaves, and treated like a lower life form. Soldiers would often make the Jews complete tasks for them whenever they made the demand. Jesus brings up this situation, saying that if a soldier demands that they stop what they're doing and carry his gear for a mile, they were to carry it for two miles instead. Do you work for someone that you can't stand? Jesus says that when they demand something of you, you are not only supposed to complete the task, but complete it twice as well as they are expecting.

Is Jesus demanding perfection here? Yes, he is. But he is demanding it in the lives of those committed to him. Jesus continues to show that going the "extra mile" is demonstrating a difference. It is a witness of God in us. God treats us all the same, letting the sun shine and the rain drop on both the "just and the unjust alike". Jesus makes a point to say that only loving those who love us, or being kind to only those who are kind to us is nothing special. Yet loving those who don't love us, or being kind to those who are unkind, are the expectations God has for us. By doing so, we will show that we are different because of Christ living through us.

We are to be perfect, as God is perfect and he lives through us.

Strive for perfection. Strive for that first place prize. Second place here is NOT good enough.

However, we must take caution here. The Pharisees strived for perfection, and we all know how Jesus saw them. He called them a brood of vipers! We can easily get caught up in trying to perfectly follow every detail of the law. Maybe you've met some Pharisees in your own lives? These people have no room for grace. They are all about the law. Jesus made it very clear here that if we were to live this way, we would have to follow the law 100%. Impossible. And for this, Jesus died. We could not, so he did. We fall short, so he stood tall. By grace we are saved. It is not by what we've done, but because of Jesus.

Because of grace, we can fall short of the requirements of the law and yet still stand before God's throne pure and holy.

Yet, Jesus demanded our perfection after he demanded that we love our enemies. Jesus knew that life without love was no life at all. Paul stated this in 1 Corinthians chapter 13.

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

Perfection without love is just noise!

Does Jesus know we're not perfect? Of course. So why would he demand this from us? Because he knows that we must always be striving, always be trying, always be reaching for that goal. Is the goal unattainable? In this life, yes. Yet we are never to sit back, never be satisfied with the love that we have shown or demonstrated. We must be striving for that day when we can treat everyone with the love of Jesus. That means that demanding, unappreciative boss you work under. That means that husband that couldn't seem to care any less about you. That means the parents that may have abandoned you. Jesus says to love everyone, to walk that extra mile for those that are persecuting us, to turn the other cheek for those that strike us. This is the perfection Jesus demands. And this is the perfection we must strive to achieve. Benjamin Franklin once said that we should not fear mistakes, that we will all know failure, but we must continue to reach out. And that is what Jesus is demanding. He knows full well that we will fail, we will fall flat on our faces. Yet, he also knows that in striving to be perfect in demonstrating his love, we will shine like the city on the hill. Jesus demonstrated this love to all of us by praying for those that hung him on the cross and killed him. He never had thoughts of anger or revenge, but only love. And that is the goal we must aim for in our lives. Can we truly show love to all of those around us, regardless of how they may treat us?

Be perfect.