Golden Kernels Revealed


And [Jesus] said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Luke 9:22)

When I was young and growing up on the family farm, my Dad showed me how to take a ripe head of wheat with one hand, grind it into the palm of the other, then blow the chaff away to reveal the golden kernels of ripe wheat, which we would then eat.

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Photo by Melissa Askew on Unsplash

Every human being in this world is a mixture of good and evil. It has been that way ever since our first parent made a bargain with the evil one and gave him dominion over what God had entrusted to them. We still bear the Divine Image of our Creator, but that Image has been tarnished and our source code has been corrupted by the virus called sin.

We cannot fix or separate this messy mixture. But God can.

God the Son took on human flesh to become the one healthy wheat stalk in a field of diseased and dying stems. And then this God-human, Jesus, did something even more extraordinary. He pulled all the evil in the world onto Himself and suffered what we deserve so that His life-giving goodness could be released and spread throughout the entire world. He was ground, like a ripe head of wheat, into the palm of wicked men until there was nothing left of Him.

But, on the third day that followed, God’s goodness was available for all to see. Jesus rose from the dead and everyone who “eats” His goodness has the nutritious forgiveness and eternal life that He freely gives.

We humans tend to value and seek glory. But Jesus saved us and the whole world through weakness, suffering and shame. Are we ashamed of Jesus and the way He saved us? Do we quickly skip over His suffering to get to the glory on the other side? Or do we embrace Jesus and the way of suffering as our way in this world until God’s goodness is made complete in the new heavens and earth to come?

God is not a sadist. He does not cause our suffering. But He can use the suffering we experience to thrash the chaff out of our lives and help us to mature into golden, rich kernels that bring God’s blessings to others. All that He asks is that we embrace Him as He lovingly carries us through the fire and the darkness (cf. Isaiah 43:1-3a).

Dear Jesus, thank You for loving me and being willing to suffer so that I could have You and Your goodness in my life. Help me to hold tightly onto You as You carry me. Help me to trust that I am always safe in Your loving arms. Amen.  

True Compassion


Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left. (Luke 8:37)

This is a situation I find very curious. The people of the Gerasenes had a demon-possessed man living in their cemetery in chains and under guard and the demon’s control of the man was so great that the man tore off his clothes and was powerful enough to break his chains. And yet, at some level, the people of that region were okay with the man’s dreadful situation.

I can feel better about myself in a perverse manner when I know of someone who is worse off than me. That might help me to feel better, but I have no compassion on the one who is suffering. In fact, if they get better, I might have a problem because then I would have no one to whom I could feel superior.

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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

The ideal to which Jesus compares all things is the fullness of life—being fully human and alive, healed and whole in all ways, living in a close personal relationship with God and with our fellow human beings—that everyone who looks to Him in faith will experience in the new heaven and earth.

Jesus’ mission is to reach down into the muck and the mire of our sin and suffering and lift us up into the ideal life which He wants to give to us. The healing that Jesus does, whether it is a healing recorded in the pages of the New Testament or a healing done in a hospital today, is always a foretaste of the ultimate healing to come. Those miraculous healings, for every healing is a miracle, are signposts from God which point us toward His Son, through whom our ultimate healing will come.

Because Jesus loves, forgives and accepts us, our dead spirit has been resurrected and healed and it already has fullness of life through Jesus.

So we can have compassion on those who suffer, not feeling sorry for them because they are worse off than us, but wanting fullness of life for them through Jesus. So we serve as Jesus’ hands and feet, lifting others out of the muck and the mire of their suffering so they can be open to Jesus.

Dear Jesus, help me to know the depths of Your compassion for me. Help me to have true compassion on those who suffer. Amen.

 

Being Open to God Working Through You


“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34)

It is easy for us to think of God as being too busy with more important matters to be involved in my insignificant life in my insignificant corner of the world. As a result, even though we go through the motions of living a cheerful, hope-filled life, underneath the surface we live a life of quiet desperation, for what hope is there that, on our own, our life will make a difference that matters? None.

In chapter 1 of Luke’s biography of Jesus, we have accounts of two surprising pregnancies. Zechariah and Elizabeth were old and infertile, but they were promised a baby boy who would prepare the way for the Messiah, God’s special representative sent to save the world. Mary, a poor teenage girl in an insignificant village in the remote region of Galilee was told that she would be the mother of the Messiah. Through miraculous means, the all-powerful God of the universe would make a temporary home in her womb and she would play a significant role in ushering God’s divine rescue into the brokenness that surrounded her.

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Photo by Artem Bali on Unsplash

Much has been made of the difference between how Zechariah and Mary were treated after they responded to such amazing news. Both had questions, but Zechariah was struck mute until after the birth of his son while Mary had no negative consequences at all.

The key to understanding why things happened as they did is evident in the words Zechariah and Mary used in forming their respective questions. Zechariah asked, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” Mary asked, “How will this be since I am a virgin?”

Zechariah asked for proof that would convince him what the angel Gabriel said was true. Mary believed what Gabriel said was true and was curious about how it would happen. Mary was open to the possibility of God working in and through her and Zechariah was not. So God gave him a 9 month “time-out” to think about it.

Over and over again in the Bible we see stories of God working in amazing ways through the very old, the very young, the poor, the weak, the foreigner and the outcast. But the most amazing story, and the one that runs through all the others, is the story of God Himself setting aside all the power, riches and glory of heaven to become just like you, a human being with an insignificant life in an insignificant corner of the world. And God worked through that human life of His to save the world and break down all the barriers between us and Him so all people could have a rich, full, abundant life with God. All because one poor, insignificant teenage girl said “Yes” to the possibility of God working through her.

Sometimes I wonder if there were other young women whom Gabriel approached prior to Mary, but they said, “No” to God working through them. I wonder how many there might have been. Of course, this is pure speculation on my part, but if there were any such young women, I think that they would have been filled with regret if they later found out what could have been.

I don’t want you to have regret over what could have been. The time to live a rich full life with Jesus is now. So I urge you to be open to God working in and through you. God loves you and He is constantly at work among the ordinary and insignificant. That’s were He does His best work. God can work in and through you.

Dear Lord, thank you for the way that You work through the ordinary and insignificant to accomplish great things. Help me to trust in Your love and be open to You working in and through me. Amen.

Jesus + Us = Peace


Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

God gives us a wonderful promise in this passage: we do not need to be anxious about anything, we simply bring our cares and concerns to God and He will guard our hearts and minds with His peace.

There are two key prepositions in this passage which help us to understand how this is so. The first is “with thanksgiving.” How does one bring a serious care or concern to God with thanksgiving? Some of the things that we are anxious about are very serious.

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Photo by Aubin A Sadiki on Unsplash

It’s faith that helps us pray with desperation and still be thankful. As overwhelming as the challenge we face is, God is greater. He holds the whole world and all time—past, present and future—in His hands. Not only is He powerful, He is also loving. We know that God is loving because God the Son came into this world and became human to suffer all the everyday challenges of human life. We have a God who knows what it is like to grieve over the loss of a loved one, to celebrate in joy with friends, to be hungry, lonely, happy and sad. But God’s love goes further than this. For Jesus willingly went to the cross to suffer and die to open the door to eternal life for us.

We always were going to live forever. But now, because Jesus has saved us, our eternal life will be spent with God. It begins now as the Holy Spirit turns our hearts and minds toward Jesus and we trust in Him to save us. It continues after death when we go to reside with Jesus in that home He has built for us to rest and wait. And life with God reaches its fulfillment in the new heaven and earth when evil is banished, death is destroyed and all things, including us, are made new again.

We can be thankful when we pray because God has already given those things to us. The troubles we experience in this world are only temporary. They are like kindergarten conundrums which prepare us for the fullness of life to come.

The second key phrase is “in Christ Jesus.” The peace that comes from knowing that we have a God who loves us, is with us and is actively at working drawing us closer and closer to the salvation He is unfolding for us and for the world. That peace guards us in Christ Jesus. The peace comes to us because of Jesus and it keeps us connected to Jesus as we rest in Him and He lives His life through us.

It is in Jesus that we have peace, joy and life, and the best place to be is in Him.

Dear Jesus, I am often anxious and worried about many things. Help me to come to You with thanksgiving for Your love. Help me to give You my cares and concerns and receive the peace that You give. Amen.

 

The Source of All Love


So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11 MSG)

What does it take for love to flourish? It takes love. But where does love come from? To be more specific, where is the initial source of love that starts the whole process of love flowing from one person to another? That initial source can only be God.

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Photo by Renee Fisher on Unsplash

But does God really love? This is the defining question of humanity’s quest for meaning, purpose and understanding in this world. How does one answer such a question? What evidence does one allow and what criteria are used for measuring that evidence?

Natural knowledge tells us that something amazing must have happened to generate all the wondrous complexity and beauty that we see in nature around us. And human beings tend to root their reason for being in the stories or theories that they believe explain how all we see came to be. But when the revealed knowledge of the Bible is disallowed as evidence, humans invariably end up in one of two camps. Either they worship an indifferent god who demands to be pleased, or they believe that mechanistic, material forces are the foundation of all existence and action, and that makes love impossible.

As followers of Jesus, we are a strange people, for we accept as valid evidence an ancient book written by various authors over a span of 1500 years. The Bible is unique when compared to all other ancient manuscripts for it stands up, in an exemplary manner, to the scientific scrutiny of textual criticism.  But the greatest feature of the Bible is the story it contains of a God who stands apart from all other gods, for this God is love. The God of the Bible is a three-in-one God in whom perfect, self-giving, sacrificial love has always existed and will always exist. God created the world, but not so more beings could love Him, for He has no need for our love. God created the world so that there could be more love.

One often overlooked characteristic of love is that you make yourself vulnerable to having your heart broken when you love. Loving someone else includes the possibility that they could reject you and there would be nothing that you could do about it. It’s the price one pays to love.

To make it possible for love to abound, God set things up in such a way that we could reject Him, and all of us have done that in one way or another. Speaking figuratively, we could say that all of us have broken God’s heart. But God’s love is not dependent on us accepting Him. Because He loves us, God the Father sent His Son, Jesus, to save us from our hardheartedness, turn us around and bring us back to the source of all love: God.

As we rest in God’s love, He works in us to help us live a lover’s life… and love will flourish.

Dear Jesus, shine the light of your love on the hard, wayward parts of my heart. Fill me with your love so that I may better love You and others. Amen.

Living in Grace


For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

This is easily one of my most favourite passages of Scripture. It is my creed, my life motto, my defining theme. I’m saved by grace through faith in Jesus. Full stop. That’s who I am. I need no one or no thing else. Jesus is my all in all.

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Photo by Sabine van Straaten on Unsplash

I say that this morning, but before mid-day arrives, I will be living as if I am saved by works, diligently scurrying hither and yon, like a disorientated mouse, seeking to gather up seeds of accomplishment for myself to affirm my identity and feed my sense of self-worth. What a waste of life and energy! Worse yet, that life and energy is spent on feeding a false hope. We can never be saved by our works. Our works can never be good enough to overcome the damage caused by sin.

That would require a perfect sacrifice and that price has already been paid in full. The first phrase of this passage is in the past perfect tense. I have already been saved by grace through faith. Therefore, my works are not a contribution in any way to my salvation. My works flow out of my salvation and they are for my neighbours. I don’t need my good works. Jesus has done it all already. God doesn’t need my good works. He owns everything already. But my neighbour does need my good works and my loving sacrificial service. My neighbour needs to know God’s love.

The receptacle that receives grace is rest. We rest in the grace, love and forgiveness of Jesus. All we do is receive. And then we let Jesus live His life in and through us. Whatever happens is whatever happens. We rest in Jesus’ love and leave the results totally up to Him.

The hardest part of grace for me is to believe that I can actually trust it, that I can take my hands off of the steering wheel of my life and the results will not only be good, they will be far, far better than I could have ever dreamed. This is where I get stuck.

But God even has grace for me when I get stuck. When I finally give up and turn to Him, He doesn’t shame me or condemn me. He simply says, “Ok, let’s go!” and He leads me forward in the perfect plan that He has prepared for me.

Living in grace is far, far easier than trying to do life on our own, and the results which God brings in and through our lives are far better than anything we could accomplish.

Dear Jesus, thank You for paying the full cost of saving me. Help me to overcome my internal resistance and live in the freedom and the grace You freely give to me. Help me to rest in Your love. Amen.

Communication


I have been thinking a lot about communication recently and I realize that I am lousy at it, which is ironic given that I am paid to communicate publicly. I am really challenged in this area. What happens with me is that I have a thought in my head, then I say something which I think communicates my thought to another person, and then I assume that they have the same thought in their head that I have in my mind. I continually assume that I have communicated when I really have not.

It is those assumptions I have that trip me up all the time. And behind those assumptions are some nasty bits of soul darkness like pride, the desire to be right and putting myself above others, which is me trying to be God just like our first parents did. (There is nothing new under the sun.)

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Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

Good communication begins with a posture of humility and the assumption that I have something to learn in this exchange. This is what fosters curiosity and interest in us for the other person. When we show that we are interested we are showing that we care.The thought we have planted in our mind may have been put there by God, but we cannot assume that we have that thought in its best and final form. Sharing that thought with someone else with the assumption that my idea can be improved and I may not be communicating it properly, not only shows honor towards the other person, it allows that idea to enter the space in between two of God’s creative creations and that idea can then be refined and improved. And when two or more people become involved in a communication process anchored in humility, thoughtfulness and respect, the communication becomes very effective and creative, resulting in better solutions than either individual could have generated on their own.

Of course, not all communication is for creative purposes. Sometimes the purpose of a conversation is simply to communicate information. Sometimes one needs to confront someone else. The same principles apply. Humility, a willingness to learn and a desire to understand all help us to become better at communicating.

And our desire to communicate well is always motivated by the sweet, loving communication that God gives to us. In Psalm 85, we read:

I will listen to what God the Lord says; He promises peace to His people, His faithful servants—but let them not turn to folly. Surely His salvation is near those who fear Him, that His glory may dwell in our land. Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven. The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest. Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps. (Psalm 85:8-11)

What beautiful words of love! We don’t need to be anxious or afraid, we don’t need to impose our will on others, we don’t need to make things work out the way that we think that they should. God has everything in His hands, He promises peace to His people and He will not let them end up in a hopeless place. We don’t have to be concerned about ourselves or our own personal agenda anymore. We are free to listen and love knowing that God is going to bring His very good things forward through the many circumstances in our lives.

We give thanks to God for the opportunities that He gives us to communicate with each other! We can look forward with joyful anticipation to the good things that He will bring us in the future!