Psalms 20:3-4 (NRSV) 3 May he remember all your offerings, and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices. 4 May he grant you your heart’s desire, and fulfill all your plans.
What drives your life? Is it the pursuit of personal goals and feeling fulfilled or is it obedience to God’s will? Can it not be both? It seems the ancient king of Israel, the “anointed” one, was praying for just this kind of balanced relationship with God. Bless me, O Lord, and may I bless You at the same time.
My prayer for today: “There is a balanced relationship with You, O Lord, that I earnestly seek. On the one hand I covet Your favor for all my offerings of service and obedience. May how I live my life above all be pleasing to You.
On the other hand, there are certain dreams and desires in my heart which will bring me contentment and fulfilment. They have to do with family and home, friendship and health, success at work and fun at leisure. Grant these to me, O Lord according to Your will.
May my pursuit of personal goals and dreams nevertheless be a path of obedience to Your will for me and an acceptable offering of living sacrifice. Correct me when I go astray and break my heart when it yearns for the wrong things. But fill me with pure joy even while dwelling in sweet communion with my Creator and Eternal Lord.
May I feel genuine happiness even as I sacrifice earthly pleasures for heavenly treasures.
May I know the satisfaction of a servant whose Master deems him to be good and faithful.”
– John Smith, 2016-02-09
A Steady Diet of Change
A year ago I was uprooted from my work in Red Deer, Alberta and relocated to Weyburn, Saskatchewan. It was at the same time the most difficult, refreshing, uncertain, exciting and significant move of my life. So much change! The transition to a new province, city, church family, church ministry, home family situation and house has brought changes to my everyday life! In the process I have learned some important things about how God uses change to transform human lives.
- Change is Inevitable. God designed us all to be born, live, age and then die in about the same way. Things happen to adjust or even disrupt the timetable but there is an established cycle of transitions that a human life has from a fetus to a child, child to an adolescent, then adolescent to an adult. All of these stages (and the micro-stages) in between involve constant change. I looked differently at 55 and 25 and 15 and 5 years old and 5 days old and 5 months before coming out of my mother’s womb. To expect life to be without change is to fight the system that God has put in place. There will be change as long as you are alive!
- Change is basically good. We probably like to talk about growth, transformation, development and maturity. Generally we recognize that these describe good and healthy processes in our human lives. The fact is that these are all different kinds of CHANGE. We were one way and then we became different by some degree in a way that was good.
- Change can be bad. Things can change for the worse as much as they can change for the better. The transition from child to adult known as adolescence is often a difficult and sometimes troublesome change process. The outcome can be good despite some hard years but some people go into adulthood with life going from bad to worse. Change in any area of life has the potential of going awry and bringing unwanted results. Some people (I would say many) have become wary of change and determine to keep things the way they are no matter what.
- Change is necessary. The Bible says in Romans 12:2 / Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. I must be shaped (changed) by God’s will or I will be shaped (changed) by the world around me in ways that will hurt me. Not only must I be changed, but I must be a positive change-maker to those around me. Ephesians 4:15-16 / But Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love. If I am to be healthy, and if the body of believers to which I belong is to be healthy, we must each be growing up into Christ and help each other to grow in this way. There’s a lot of good change that will happen!
- Change is difficult. This brings me back to the past year’s experience. All of the transitions that I have had to make, especially so many in a short period of time, have been hard. Leaving a church I served and a city where I lived for over 17 years was tough. Seeing the last of our 3 children become an adult and leave home gives my wife and I a sense of emptiness. Buying and selling houses, moving all our possessions and setting up in a new community was a lot of hard work!
But God has blessed me with a renewed mission in ministry and refreshed me in so many ways by this change. At the end of the day I have to say that I am grateful for it. I have learned that to follow God is to be served a steady diet of change.
“One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” / Matthew 4:4
No one lives for very long when they are deprived of food so eating is a vital part of our daily lives. Meals, snacks, treats and coffee breaks give us the fuel our bodies need to get through our day. We require the nutrients in our food to maintain our health and to replenish the energy we burn as we work and play (or relax). This is so natural to us that we hardly need to be reminded about eating for physical well-being, although we often need some encouragement to make healthy choices.
But when it comes to our spiritual health it seems getting fed is not nearly so natural for us. We go days, weeks, even years without being spiritually fed and then wonder why we feel empty inside. A hunger within us that can only be satisfied by God is as important to our lives as that appetite for physical nourishment. The food our souls crave is the wisdom of our Creator. We are blessed to live in a time when God’s Word is readily available to us in the Bible. Why not feed regularly on the scriptures? Devouring a few treats a couple times a week at church is better than nothing but hardly a plan for sound spiritual nutrition. Why not embark on consuming a daily quota of God’s Word? On this website I have set up a Daily Bible Reading tab that will help. If you follow the suggested daily readings your heart will ingest the entire New Testament from September 24 to December 31.
I recommend you pray each time you read. If questions emerge that you would ask someone or you seek to explore some of the concepts that the Holy Spirit shows you, please feel free to contact me. If you call the church line at 306-842-6424 and leave a message for me I will contact you. I am John Smith, evangelist for the Weyburn Church of Christ as of June. There’s nothing I enjoy more than sharing good food with another hungry soul!
– John Smith
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”
One of the credit card companies in the states has had an interesting ad campaign for quite some time. Mastercard has had commercials in which they place value on things in ascending order. One entitled business says “Business suit: none, Office cubicle: none, corporate ladders to climb: none, a small business to call your own: priceless.” Those very successful commercials have piggybacked on Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of heaven. There are many things that money cannot buy. To find out the true value of our most priceless possessions it helps to talk to someone who has survived a house fire. When everything goes up in smoke, most of the “big ticket” items can be replaced, but things that are more lasting and personal cannot.
Jesus shows us that God’s reign and way of doing things is the most priceless possession available to all of us. Hidden treasure or fine pearls? What a way to describe the kingdom of heaven! God’s kingdom rule is something that is truly priceless. May we always seek first His kingdom and His righteousness…
Proverbs 18:17 “The first to present his case seems right until another comes forward and questions him.”
When I was preaching in Lloydminster, a member of that congregation gave me a book and said “I think you might enjoy this.” It was a fiction novel by John Grisham. It had been so long since I had read a fiction book I almost didn’t know what to do. But I read it and I loved it. I started reading not only all of John Grisham’s novels, but any legal thrillers I could get my hands on. In most of those books the prosecution puts on their case and I think “How are they going to defend against that?” Then the defense starts cross examining, asking questions and the flaws in the prosecution’s case become clear.
God wants us to question, to ask questions. Asking questions was a key teaching method of the rabbis (including Jesus, see Matthew 21:23-27). The noble Bereans (Acts 17:11) questioned and examined the scriptures for themselves to see if what Paul was saying was true.
Questions can sometimes feel threatening to teachers, but they shouldn’t. Lynn Anderson once said that some churches want people “repeating answers, not asking questions.” Robert Fulghum (the bestselling author of “Everything I Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten” and many other books) once taught a high school art class. To encourage his students to ask questions, he wore two buttons on his smock. One said “Trust me I’m a teacher.” The other said, “Question Authority.” Honest questions are our friends. They aid us in our search for deeper faith and our God is big enough to handle all of our questions.
“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death-that is, the devil-and free those who all their lives where held in slavery by their fear of death.” Hebrews 2:14-15
When we talk about the core gospel, we usually mention 1 Corinthians
15 where Paul defines the gospel as the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. And from this passage we find it easier to talk about what Jesus has done for us on the cross, meaning “he died for our sins.” And praise God for that! That is true. But what about the empty tomb? Jesus died for me and He died for you. But He did so much more than that. It is the resurrection after all, that gives meaning to his death. “…if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). He rose from the dead for me and He rose from the dead for you. Just as we can cling to the cross like the hymn “Rock of Ages” talks about, so too we should be able to cling to the empty tomb. He left that grave for us. He spent 40 days in that resurrected body (Acts 1) before ascending to heaven…for us. Nothing in my hand I bring simply to…the empty tomb I cling.
Isn’t it high time that we told the rest of the story? That Jesus didn’t only die for our sins on the cross, but he rose from the dead…for us. He did this so that we would never look at coffins and funeral homes and cemeteries the same way. Death is not final and we believe that because of Jesus. How practical is the resurrection? Let another song answer that question, “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow…Because He lives, all fear is gone…Because I know He holds the future…and life is worth the living just because He lives.”
“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12
“We have committed the Golden Rule to memory, now let’s commit it to life”
What an Olympics! Canada wins the most gold medals of any country
to host a winter olympics. Ever. An amazing achievement. Since gold has been on many of our minds (and on our television screens) for most of the last month, I thought it would be good to remind ourselves of the “Golden Rule.” Sometimes it is helpful to spend time in neglected areas of scripture which is why we are tackling Nahum in our Adult Bible Class. But it is also good to return to the more familiar teachings.
We live in a complex world full of difficult challenges. How should one interact with adult children who are making choices that break their parents’ hearts? How do those same children deal with the tough choices of their parents’ health and/or living conditions in their aging years? How do we deal with relationship struggles at school, in
the family, in the church family, or in the workplace? We need to do what the whole Old Testament tells us to do “do to others what we would have them do to us.” I can’t think of any better path forward in relationships than to embrace this golden principle of Jesus’ teachings. Each of us can “win gold” every day of our lives when we live like Jesus.
“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. Do everything in love.” 1 Corinthians 16:13-14
Years ago I heard Lynn Anderson quote the poet T.S. Eliot, who wrote in Murder in the Cathedral: “Tis the greatest treason to do the right thing for the wrong reason.” Among the final encouragements that Paul gives to the church in Corinth is the encouragement to “do everything in love.” It is sometimes easy to read this statement quickly and not consider how widely applicable the statement is. Do everything in love Paul? Check the mail in love? Mow the grass in love? Speak to someone in love? Discipline a child in love? Is the reason that we do something as important as the act itself, really? Paul’s answer, the Holy Spirit’s answer, is “yes it is.”
Motives are extremely important in God’s eyes. God is concerned not only about what we do, but more importantly WHY we do it. Is this not Paul’s point in that beautiful love chapter (1 Corinthians 13)? “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” Speaking in the tongues of men and angels, proclaiming and explaining the mysteries of God, being full of God’s revelation and biblical knowledge, having a mountain moving faith, giving one’s possessions to the poor, and even dying for one’s faith seem like acts that should stand alone as approved by God. How can anyone even question these great, sacrificial, giving acts? But Paul says the motive is even more important than the acts alone because God sees our hearts. Maybe this is why Jesus highlights the love of God as the defining characteristic of true believers: “By this all men will know you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:35). May the love of God be what motivates us in all that we do. “Do everything in love…”
“What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” Matthew 16:26
A while ago I was listening to Dr. Laura on the radio and she said, “I just got something from my favourite ‘minister’ person. I began to smile and sort of wave at the radio, as if she were going to mention my name (she didn’t). But then, oddly enough, she said “He is the minister for the Hesperia (California) Church of Christ, his name is Ray, and he always sends me great things to read.”
The story he sent her goes as follows: Ray went out with his family to a restaurant with his son and his son’s friend. The friend asked to pray for the food. He prayed “Dear God, Bless this food, please help us get ice cream for dessert, in the name of the republic for which it stands, Amen.”
Some lady nearby snidely remarked, “That’s the problem with this country, these kids don’t know how to pray.” The boy became upset and asked if God was mad at him. Before Ray could answer, an elderly gentleman said “No, God’s not mad at you. Ice cream is good for the soul. It’s good to pray for ice cream.” After he finished his supper the ice cream arrived. The little boy brought his ice cream over to the lady who had barked at him and said, “Here, I have a good soul. Would you like this?”
In the passage from Matthew 16, Jesus predicts his death, burial, and resurrection right after hearing Peter declare him “the Christ, the son of the living God.” Jesus turns back the Satanic temptation to stay away from the cross, by taking on Satan’s perspective directly. There are things more important than comfort, leisure, and security. There is the awesome, lifechanging, adventure of the mission of God. This is where Jesus is headed and what He is already engaged in. Our job as God’s people is to hand our “ice cream bowls” to others because we know what is most important in this world.
“Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.” Proverbs 27:1
It was a sunny Monday morning. I got into my car and started driving. I left Weyburn and headed down the highway. After driving for some 20-25 minutes, I arrived at the little roadside Cafe in Midale. There were several cars out front, but there were two in particular that I recognized. One belonged to the minister who preceded me here, Russell Ferris, and the other belonged to the Church of Christ minister from Estevan, Tim Pippus. We met in that restaurant, had an excellent breakfast, visited, laughed, and had a great time together. It was the first time in a long time that the three of us had a chance to visit. It was a great start to what was a great day. Watching us visit in that restaurant, it might have been safe to assume that this was a great start to a great week. However, the date of this breakfast get together was September 10, 2001 and, as Paul Harvey used to say, “Page two.”
The Bible continually reminds us that none of us lives with a crystal ball. We simply do not know and cannot see what will happen tomorrow. But often we get caught up in a cycle of living that denies this reality. We make plans for next month, next year, or even for the next ten years, when in reality all we have is today. “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 mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:13-14). Is it wrong to make future plans? I don’t believe so. Is it hazardous to make plans without considering the reality that all we can really see is today? I think that is what Proverbs and James are trying to get us to see. Lining up our agenda with God’s agenda can sometimes be frustrating or disorienting, but it’s the way that makes the most sense. Living our lives in “daytight” compartments removes anxiety about tomorrow and gives us focus for today.