Category Archives: Christian Commentary / Bible Study

Blind Bart


 A Story of the Kind of Courage That Can Change the World

46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. [Mark 10:46-52]

Recently I had the pleasure of hearing my good friend Mark preach a sermon on this passage.  Some of the points that he made during that sermon struck me in a new way.  I want to take a few minutes to parse them out and maybe give you a new way of reading this passage as well.

First a question – How do you see Jesus?

Bart was blind.  He couldn’t “see” Jesus at all.  As a result of time and distance neither can we.  But Bart knew that Jesus was near and that he had a reputation as being a merciful healer, so he cried out “have mercy on me.”

When he was rebuked and told to stay quiet he called out even louder.  Why?  Not only why did Bart persist but more importantly why did the disciples try and silence him in the first place?  He clearly needed healing, why put him down?

It’s disruptive when someone in need interrupts us from our agenda.  I get it, do we put people down because we are afraid of doing something wrong, being inconvenienced, or getting dirty?

Jean Vanier said –

“Fear is at the root of all forms of exclusion”

But Bart overcame that fear.  He was courageous in the face of ridicule.  He refused to be excluded based on his disability.

When he finally got the chance to speak to Jesus his request was simple and obvious.  “I want to see..”

In this context the request would have carried the double meaning.  Not only did Bart want to see, but he also desired to be seen by others. Those with disabilities in Jesus’ day where on the outside of everything.  The overriding cultural attitude was that their disability was the consequence of sin.  They were therefore excluded from all forms of community.  The fact the Jesus was willing to stop, see Bart for who he was, listen and act upon his request is all you need to know about how we are to view those around us who are on the outside.

We live a hurried existence.

Twice in the last few days I have had people comment about this hurried world by using the same expression.  They have said that it’s as if everyone is running around like their hair is on fire.  That is quite the mental image and I think it says a lot about the way too many of us our living our lives.  You can’t see anyone, understand their needs and serve them if you are preoccupied with a fire on your own head.

We need to stop.  Not just slow down but completely stop what we are doing.  Stop like Jesus stopped.  Stop and see the people around us, I mean really see them.  Stop and hear them and stop and know them.

Only when stop in this way will we be able to impact people’s lives and change the world.

What’s causing the fire on your head?  What do you wish people would see about you?

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Becoming Your Best Self


“There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self.” Aldous Huxley

I think it was Oprah who first introduced me to the concept of the “Best Self”.  It certainly sounds like something she would say anyway.

Lately I’ve been dealing with a strong desire to get back in touch with who I am.  I’ve told my closest friends on more than one occasion that due to a difficult season of life I’ve become a version of myself that I hardly recognize and quite honestly don’t like.

As a result, I’ve been working through  these four steps to help get back to the person I used to be.

1 – Call yourself out.

When you catch yourself thinking or behaving in a way that doesn’t feel authentic.  Say so.  This isn’t me, I don’t like this, why am I doing this?  You’re not alone in this.  The apostle Paul said as much when we was talking about grace and law in Romans chapter seven.

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. [Romans 7:15]

2 – List 3 to 5 qualities of your best self.  (more if you can)

                So you don’t like yourself, so what?  What do you like?  How do you want to be perceived?  Do you want to be happy, energetic, full of integrity, trustworthy, outgoing, and helpful?  That’s part of my list, yours will be different.  By naming your best qualities, even if they are just aspirational, you start to shape your mind to create the person you want to become.

3 – Live it.

                Actively show up and live those qualities for just one day.  Hell, even just one hour.  As you do it, go for longer and longer periods every time. Before long they will become your active way of living.

4 – Ask for help.

This last one isn’t for the faint of heart.  If you are having trouble identifying your best (and worst) qualities, ask a trusted friend what they see.  Be prepared for brutal honesty.  Often-times those closest to us see things more clearly than we do.  And their advice is sometimes hard to hear.  But if you want to be your best self you really should listen.  Maybe what you thought was a good quality is being perceived in a negative light.  Sometimes we can go too far and come across as self-righteous, arrogant or aloof (that’s me again).   Or maybe what you don’t like about yourself isn’t that bad and you can cut yourself a little slack.  Regardless, asking for help builds trust, increases credibility and lets people know that you are committed to improvement.

Everything is a process.  Some days you’ll be better at this than others.  That’s okay.  I’m still learning to be my best self everyday and there are still days when I don’t like the person I have become.  That’s okay too.  The goal isn’t perfection, it’s just to be a little better today than I was yesterday.

It’s a process of becoming, not a static recipe for who to be.

That One Thing!


Question – Do you have a recurring sin?

Even the most faith-filled followers of God can mess up habitually.  It’s nothing to be super ashamed of.  One of my favourite sayings is a line I coined a few years back.

Today is NOT Judgement Day…

What I mean when I say that is that it’s okay to make a mistake, even the same mistake, over and over again.  The key is to try and learn from it and move on.

In my experience sins fall into five main categories.  Fear, judgement, lying, blame and manipulation.  And there are eight keys to fighting your habitual sins with love.

1 – Say Your Sins.

Confess them, through prayer and in community with each other.  Get it out in the open.  You can’t get help if you don’t admit you have a problem.

2- Live Like You’re Vulnerable.

Admit your weaknesses, like before.  Stay away from temptation and practice radical separation.  When Jesus told his disciples to pluck out their eyes and cut off their hands (Matthew 5:29-30) he wasn’t advocating self mutilation, he was deliberately using a form of hyperbole to drive the point home.  Just get as far away from the temptation as you can.

3 – Think About Your Sins Effect on Others.

It’s not about you.  Love is not self-seeking and neither should we live in a selfish manner.  If we keep our minds focused on other-centeredness we are less likely to sin.

4 – Don’t Confuse Acceptance and Agreement, Grace and Approval

Grace is not a license to sin. Messing up is not a path to blessing.  God wants to be kind to us but that is not to be abused.

5 – Remember Who and Whose You Are.

We are ambassadors of the Kingdom.  We have a higher calling.  When you fall into a sinful pattern try to remember that you are better than this.

6 – Drive Out Fear With Love

Do Not Worry.  Let nature and history be your guide.  There are literally thousands of people who have experienced the same kinds of temptations you are faced with.  Look to them, read their stories and take comfort on how they overcame.

7 – Get it TOGETHER

Go to the community of believers.  Spend time with others that are on the same path, facing the same struggles and living life in a similar context.  Build honest relationships and ask people for feed back. When you’re ready, and can take a bit of constructive criticism ask the question “what do you see in my life that I need to work on?” and take the advise you receive back seriously.

8 – Jesus Is The Key

He was called the friend of sinners.  Let him be your friend too.  Read his teaching and work out what it means for you in community.

We all have that one thing that slows us down.  Look to Jesus and his community to help remove it.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

 

Whom Do We Follow?


I think most people can agree that in 2018 we’re living in unique and uncharted history.

That might sound silly, all history is unique and uncharted while we are living it, but that’s not the point.

The point is that in 2018 things are very different than they have ever been before and the choices we make today can and will have lasting effects on our future.  It’s as if we are standing at a crossroads of history.  Fifty or a hundred years from now people may look back on these moments and say that the era in which we are now living was a major turning point.

History is a funny thing.  It turns all the time.  But this time somehow feels different to me and as I look back over some of the major sociopolitical events of my lifetime I see an accelerating trend that appears irreversible and that is scaring the hell out of me.

Sociologist and historians have begun to refer to our current cultural moment as the turning point from Christendom, in which most people identified, at least nominally, as members of the Christian religion to a new “Post-Christian” period.  For the first time in over 1500 years polls are showing that people who identify as Christian have fallen to less than 50% in most western countries.  And those who identify as having no religion all are the fastest growing segment of society.

What this means for our society is not yet known.  For clues we can look back to the pre-Christian period, that time before the Church became the dominant sociopolitical force but that will only give us a few clues, looking backwards can’t accurately predict the future.

In the pre-Christian period for example the sanctity of life was not a given.  As a result, unwanted babies were simply thrown in the trash, people were bought and sold as nothing more than units of labor, conscripted into armies and treated like “canon fodder” to advance the ambitions of a despotic leader.  Human rights were practically non-existent.

Over the last 1500 years however the Church has played a big role in the slow progression away from these attitudes.  The Church wasn’t perfect but Christian monasteries were the first to take in unwanted children giving them a chance at life, William Wilborforce, a devoted Christian politician, championed the abolishment of human slavery and the Red Cross was founded to help and protect wounded soldiers left to die on the battlefield.

One only needs to look to societies where Christianity has failed to penetrate to see what our future could be.  Abortion, human trafficking and even the failure to adequately care for war veterans were once the exclusive purview of nations heavily influenced by Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim theology.  But as the influence of Christianity wanes these debates are becoming more and more mainstream.

The abortion debate is alive and well as are discussions of Euthanasia and welfare programs.  The poorest members of society continue be victimized by those with wealth and power.  Human trafficking resulting in sexual slavery and indentured servitude is happening right under our noses in every city and province of Canada while arguments regarding how best to educate our children about things like sexuality and the funding for social programs to assist the poorest among us continue to be hijacked by far-right discussions of personal responsibility.  All of this results in the restriction rather than expansion of human rights.

What is the true Jesus follower to do?

First, we must remember that Jesus was no friend of the ruling class.  When Christians align with political power the result is almost always an ugly, misshapen form of oppression.

Jesus was called a friend of sinners, relentlessly pursuing the downtrodden.  What an irony that today his followers are seen in the opposite light!  How can people love God, whom they can’t see if those of us who claim to represent him don’t respond to outsiders with love? David Kinnaman; unChristian; What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why it Matters

It sickens me that Christians can in one breath proclaim the love of Christ and salvation for everyone while voting in politicians who gut social programs, close boarders and deny access to health care on the basis of some misaligned morality and “traditional” values.  There is a huge disconnect and when people really study the teachings of Jesus the untruth of what many of His followers teach becomes glaringly obvious.  The sad fact is that most self-proclaimed Christians refuse to see it or try to explain it away by saying that Jesus didn’t really mean that to apply to us, just to his first century followers.  That quite frankly is heresy.

When people live life the way Jesus intended the result is undeniably counter cultural.

There is nothing more powerful than the Christian life lived out in obedience; there is nothing worse than a flat, self-righteous form of faith that parades around in Christian clothes. David Kinnaman; unChristian; What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why it Matters

Christians who endeavor to embrace Jesus stand out.  They are perpetrators and ambassadors of an entirely new way of living.  The way of Jesus is not the way of politics or religion but the way of discipleship on a completely different plain.

Jesus declares not that he has come to reform religion but that he’s here to END religion and to replace it with himself. – Timothy Keller; King’s Cross

Followers of Jesus are not perfect.  We get it wrong a lot, probably more often than we care to admit.  But our heart is aligned with Jesus, completely and totally.  No pretence, no caveats and no compromise.  We work together in community to study the scriptures and learn from one another to bet better versions of ourselves and better followers of Him each day.

We are not followers of a book, or a set of rules, we are followers of a person.

If your religion does not look like Jesus, it’s heresy, plain and simple.

 

 

Prayer School Conclusion


The following is an excerpt from the upcoming book and training series "Prayer School" For more information or to book a Prayer School training seminar write to the Matthew 5:5 Society here and subscribe to the blog for regular updates and release dates as they become available.
Chapter Nine: Conclusion

Make my life a prayer to you
I wanna do what you want me to
No empty words and no white lies
No token prayers no compromise [Keith Green]

I grew up in a religious home.  It seems funny to me to say that because I never felt like church was an obligation.  It was just what we did.

My parents weren’t overtly religious. We lived our lives simply.  My sisters and I were taught to live with integrity, give when appropriate, be generous with our time and to go out of our way to be considerate of others and welcoming to strangers.  It was obvious to anyone that we were “church going folks” but we didn’t wear our faith on our sleeve, pound the Bible at every turn or try to convert anyone to our way of life.  When it came to evangelism especially we believed that God touches the hearts of mankind in his own time.  It is our job to make friends with people from all walks of life to be ready to disciple new seekers only when they were ready to hear what we had to say.

We called it Friendship Evangelism.

I remember my mother once confronting my father about his apparent lack of a structured prayer life.  She had always followed structured prayer and devotional time herself, working through various devotional books and guides but my father did not.  It was during a time when our community was going through some difficulty and we where being encouraged to make specific prayer request on behalf of the church.  So, my mother asked him one day why it never seemed like he prayed to God for anything.

His response was to quote 1 Thessalonians 5:17 “Pray without ceasing”.

At the end of his first letter to the church in Thessalonica, Paul lays out a list of final instructions to the church meant to keep them faithful to the teaching they have received.  To pray without ceasing in this list is not to be considered a continual conversation with God, that your whole life is to be about prayer but that your life should reflect your relationship with our father in heaven.

To pray without ceasing is to make your whole life a kind of prayer.  The list Paul gives here also includes things like teaching and warning others of the consequences for poor behavior, a version of the golden rule, rejoicing, testing prophesies and rejecting evil.  Prayer is just one piece of a much bigger discipleship puzzle.

My goal in writing this guidebook has been two-fold.  First off, I wanted to help my readers to begin to pray like Jesus.  Jesus gave his followers this prayer in part as a lesson in communal discipleship.  I have tried to show throughout this work aspects of both personal and intercessory prayer, praise, thanksgiving, submission, personal requests, confession, forgiveness and temptation.  Second, I wanted to lay the foundation for a life of teaching and discipleship.  The role of a Christ-follower in the broader community of believers and seekers is to be both teacher and student.

Though I rarely saw my father stop what he was doing and pray on his own he would often lead others in prayer.  His prayers were always careful to point out that he was doing so because Jesus tells us to and would almost always began in a similar fashion, “Father God, we come to you today as your son Jesus instructed us, to humbly acknowledge your presence in our midst and ask that you…”

I hope that I have been able to show even just a little of that spirit in the proceeding pages.  Jesus taught us to pray directly to the father with equal parts praise, submission, boldness, humility, conviction, and intercession.  As part of my on-going commitment to discipleship my prayer is that each of my readers will take from these pages a sense of God’s presence in their lives, a new understanding of prayer and the way in which God communicates with his creation and a commitment to “pray without ceasing” through the way they live out their lives.

The Lord’s Prayer serves as a framework for how we are to pray.  I have given you a structure to follow that if you use it will enrich your prayer life.  I personally have prayed this way for 15 minutes every morning for the better part of two years and I can say that it has changed me in ways I can’t even begin to explain.  Some mornings have been easier than others.  Some days I have a hard time thinking of anything to add and I’m done in less than 5 minutes, other days I keep praying well beyond the 15 minutes mark without getting past the first few phrases.  It’s not the time that counts, nor it is always necessary to get all the way through.  Most importantly, it’s about opening your heart to God to both listen and petition his spirit.

I hope I’ve inspired you to try it.  Jesus taught his followers to pray this way because it covers everything we should be praying for, both in our personal lives and through interceding on behalf of our fellow believers.

Happy praying – Amen!

 

 

Empty Your Backpack


Anxiety weighs down the heart,
but a kind word cheers it up. [Proverbs 12:25]

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” [Matthew 11:28-30]

You can see it in their eyes.  Sometimes you can see it the way they walk.  They are the burdened.

The statistics are staggering.  In 2013, the most recent data available, 3 million Canadians, 11.6% of the total population over the age over 18 reported that they had a mood or anxiety disorder.  Mood disorders are characterized by a general lowering of a person’s happiness while anxiety is characterized by excessive and persistent feelings of nervousness and fear.  93% of people with one of these disorders have taken prescription medication with anti-depressant drugs the most prescribed type of drugs for patients between the ages of 25 and 44.

What causes anxiety and depression?

I’m no Doctor but based on my experience I can say with certainty that there are two main causes of depression and anxiety.

First off, depression is mainly an inability to forgive your past mistakes.  I’ve heard it said that depression is the imaginary demon we all carry reminding us of past injustices and set backs we have experienced.  The demon wants us to feel bad about ourselves, its desire is to hold us down and keep us from moving beyond feelings of disappointment and frustration.

Depression has also been described as anger turned inward.  That’s why when people try and get is to really examine our feelings we often lash out.  We don’t want to think about it because it hurts too much so we settle on a generalized, low level depression to numb the pain.  When that stops working we reach for a prescription or other type of bottle to further suppress our true feelings.

The cure of depression therefore is to examine the past.  Stop, take it out of the backpack of experience we all carry, look at it and let it go.  The past belongs in the past.  Like Rafiki says in The Lion King,

“Ah yes, the past can hurt.  But the way I see it, you can either run from it, or learn from it.”

Anxiety on the other hand is an attempt to live in the future.  Anxious people are constantly worried about what might happen and end up worrying themselves out of experiencing life as it happens.

This isn’t the same as being cautious.  Caution is warranted planning.  It accounts for the possibility of something going wrong and takes steps to either prevent disaster or mitigate the damage that could occur.  Putting on your seatbelt or wearing a helmet to play baseball is cautious, thinking about having a wreck every time you get in the car is anxiety.

The cure for anxiety is similar as the cure for depression.  Stop, take it out of the backpack of experience, look at it, take reasonable cautionary steps and let it go.  The future belongs in the future.  Or as Jesus said:

do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. [Matthew 6:34]

So, leave the past in the past and the future in the future and live each day, no each moment as it comes.  In that way we will carry a much lighter backpack and enjoy life more. Tell me what you’re going to let go of today in the comments below…

Here’s a little more wisdom for the great shaman Rafiki for good measure…

 

Temptation


The following is an excerpt from the upcoming book and training series "Prayer School" For more information or to book a Prayer School training seminar write to the Matthew 5:5 Society here and subscribe to the blog for regular updates and release dates as they become available.
Chapter 7:  Temptation

And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one. [Matthew 6:13]

By this point in our prayer we are just about ready to wrap it up.  We have already prayed for blessing, praised God’s sovereignty, asked for guidance and offered our assistance in bringing about God’s will and purpose in the world, made requests for our personal needs, asked for and offered forgiveness of our sins.  But before we sign off there is one more thing we need to address; that is the spiritual warfare that is going on all around us trying to get us to backslide, causing harm to both ourselves and others and negatively damaging God’s reputation in the world.

Now is the time for us to pray for God’s help in battling temptation and protecting us from everything that can harm us moving forward.

In December 2017 Pope Francis gave an interview to TV2000, an Italian Catholic TV channel in which he stated that the phrase “lead us not into temptation” was a poor translation of the 4th century Latin that most modern day biblical translations are based on.  Noting that the Latin is itself a translation of ancient Greek, which is also a translation from the Aramaic that Jesus and his original followers would have spoken, Francis suggested that God as our loving father does not test his children by throwing us into temptation as the traditional translation would lead us to believe.  Rather, according to the Pope, a better translation would be to say, “let us not fall into temptation”, which suggests that God can and will protect us from it.

Although I agree with Pope Francis on this point I was taught the prayer in the traditional way and just as I personally preferred to say trespasses instead of debts or sin in Chapter 6, I prefer to say “lead us not” here.  It is nothing more than a personal preference of phraseology, the intended meaning is the same.  I firmly believe, along with Pope Francis that God is not the one leading us to be tempted, rather he is protecting us from our temptations.

It has also been my experience that many people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the presence of evil in the world.  Or rather, if they do it is something that is to be bemoaned and lamented about but not much resisted.  “It is what it is”, or “what can you do?” are the phrases most often heard in the face of unexplained hurt, pain and destruction.  We are quick to praise God for our good fortune but no one, it seems is willing to blame the demonic forces of evil for what is clearly their doing.  It is as if we all live in the fictional world of Harry Potter where Satan is the cosmic Lord Voldemort, he who must not be named, because to acknowledge his name is to give him legitimacy and power.   Or more to the point to acknowledge evil is to admit it exists and to somehow reduce the sovereignty of God to the Taoist concept of Yin and Yang.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  We live in a fallen world.  The presence of evil in the world is our doing, we invited it in and let it have dominion over us [Genesis 3].  Jesus refers to Satan as “the prince of this world” [John 12:31] and says that he has come to “seek and save the lost” [Luke 19:10].  Jesus’ main purpose in coming into the world was to save us from Satan.  And that is what we are requesting when we pray for him to “deliver us from evil.”  The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is in one sense a motivational speech given to soldiers as they ready themselves for battle.  But the battle they are preparing for is not a traditional assault on a physical enemy but one against spiritual forces of doubt, sin and psychological destruction.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. [Ephesians 6:12]

So, as we get ready to wrap up our prayer now is the time to pause yet again and pray specifically for God’s help in avoiding the many pitfalls that Satan will place in our path.  Pray that God will help us steer clear of the things we know we are weak to defend against as well as anything new he can cook up.  If we are prone to watching pornography when we are lonely, pray that God will bring people into our lives at just the right moment to distract us from our loneliness.  If we are prone to making bad decisions with money pray that God will give us wisdom to discern between our spending options. And finally pray that God will protect us from the effects of evil in the world over which we have little or no control.  Protect us from the Gang Bangers who frequent the crack den down the street or the tyrannical boss who wields his power like a megalomaniac.

God the father wants nothing more than to be our protector, our ever-present help in times of trouble [Psalm 46].  But like the prodigal father he will never impose his protection on us, we need to remember to ask for it.  Take a minute now and ask for his protection.

And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one. [Matthew 6:13]