Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect – Wait, what?

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” It’s all too easy to wonder for a brief moment how that could be, and then go about your day, forgetful of the awkward sense of impossibility you felt, until the next time you read or hear that verse. But it’s always there, haunting the back of your mind: God demands perfection! That’s not me! What sacrifice is left for me?

When you read Jesus’s words, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” (Matthew 5:48) it’s all too easy to wonder for a brief moment how that could be, and then go about your day, forgetful of the awkward sense of impossibility you felt, until the next time you read or hear that verse. But it’s always there, haunting the back of your mind: God demands perfection! That’s not me! What sacrifice is left for me?

There’s good news, of course, in the context, in the original language, and in the realization that, as James MacDonald likes to put it, God has made no provision for you to live the Christian life in your own strength, intelligence, or ability – it’s better than that!

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The End is Near: Seeing the Kingdom that is near, here, within, and coming.

The Kingdom of Heaven is more than meets the eye: The Kingdom of Heaven has come near you, it is here, it is within you, and the Kingdom of Heaven is coming.

I was struck by an idea presented in a recent church service: The Kingdom of Heaven is more than meets the eye: The Kingdom of Heaven has come near you, it is here, it is within you, and the Kingdom of Heaven is coming. We tend to think the Kingdom of Heaven as something in the future that we’re all waiting for, and that’s partly true, but it also carries other profound dimensions.

The phrases Kingdom of Heaven and Kingdom of God refer to the same thing. Jesus used both phrases one right after the other in Matthew 19:23-24, explaining to His disciples how difficult it was for people to enter the Kingdom of God/Heaven.

The End is Near

When Jesus sent out the disciples ahead of Him to the places He would soon visit, he told them, “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” (Luke 10:8-9)

Jesus had been teaching His disciples about the kingdom of Heaven and now the disciples were preparing the people to hear about it, as well.

You and I are those people and God has sent out his disciples to reach us. Will we welcome his servants? Or, will we reject them and have it said against us,

Say, ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.Luke 10:10-11

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Those who mourn are blessed: Reading scripture backwards.

A few weeks ago our pastor taught on the Beatitudes, Matthew 5:3-12, and he highlighted something I hadn’t really considered: The verses from 3 to 12 are not simply separate sayings, like little nuggets of wisdom. Instead, they form a whole and each verse builds on the one before. They reveal a pattern for the life of a Christ-follower.

A few weeks ago our pastor taught on the Beatitudes, Matthew 5:3-12, and he highlighted something I hadn’t really considered: The verses from 3 to 12 are not simply separate sayings, like little nuggets of wisdom. They’re not like some parts you might find in Proverbs, superficially a list of individual, wise sayings. Instead, they form a whole and each verse builds on the one before. Have a quick read through with that in mind and we’ll pick up after,

Jesus began to teach them,

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:3-12

The first thing that struck me was that these people were “blessed.” Blessed?! Blessed… Maybe they were blessed because each ‘bad thing’ was followed up by a comforting thing, like “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,” but that’s a little morbid, isn’t?

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Sanctus Valentinus: Behind the Verse

Oh, Saint, to your name, thereof,
My question is this, what is love?

On a warm summer’s day, sunshine beaming down on country fields, and in the vibrant spring of my life, many, many years ago now, I once spoke these fateful words to a certain girl I liked very much: I don’t know what love is. What precipitated this sad half-truth was a silly conversation, strewn with longing undertones and yearning unsaids. Half-truth, I call it, and still do, even from the moment the words slipped from my mouth. I knew I could love, I believed I had been doing it for some time, but with such an abstract term, complicated by our overuse, I still wondered at, and was haunted by, the question: What is love?

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Lives of Quiet Desperation

Henry-David-ThoreauMy father, on more than one occasion, has referenced this quotation in various discussions on purpose and meaning: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation“. I’ve been thinking about that lately. So, I Googled the phrase this evening and came across this enlightening write up, entitled Quiet Desperation, on the words, the man behind them, and where those thoughts can lead, either for good or for ill. Here’s an excerpt to give you a taste,

One night very early on in a life, a young boy lay back on the rocky New England soil, contemplating the heavens,  “looking through the stars to see if I could see God behind them.” This quest became one of the primary motivators of his life — one might say he never stopped looking into nature for the ultimate truth.

But what did Henry David Thoreau mean by his famous observation, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them”?

You may have seen those Facebook/Twitter/Instagram memes, the ones that say something to the effect of “Everyone you meet is battling inner demons that you known nothing about.” It’s so true. As much as we want to be open and free with our feelings and emotions with friends and family there are some things too deep, too subtle, too sensitive, to speak openly about. I think of the late Robin Williams. A man of laughter but a man of surprising inner turmoil to the point of ultimate desperation. If you don’t have a friend you can talk to, know that you have a friend in Jesus.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

John 3:16,17

Soli Deo gloria

We have to go back

I just got done watching the entire series of Lost on Netflix for the second time. What a trip. What story telling. This time around things came a little bit easier. I more often had “aha!” moments and more than a few head-nods to the writer’s foreshadowing. For having gone as long as it did, for having kept almost all of its cast members the entire time, for having a grand story arch they stuck to and finished, and for the sheer magnitude of the undertaking, I can’t think of a better television series. Believe me, I’m a Browncoat, so you can take that to the bank. ;) So, if we have to go back, here are my main take-aways from the show’s six-year run…*spoiler warning*

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Titanium vs Supafly

I’m not a frequent patron of clubs but apparently there’s a popular song making the rounds lately…

Titanium’s a great song, catchy, fantastic vocals, uplifting and inspiring, but I have a complaint: it’s wrong. It’s wrong in its statement and it’s wrong in its message.

It reminded me, by contrast, of a classic Thousand Foot Krutch song, Supafly…

While the former is a big club anthem hit, the latter is a small, eccentric, awkward, left field entry from a decidedly unmainstream and unhip Christian rock band – but Supafly gets it so right.

A few years ago, at one of our company’s Christmas parties, I was talking with two very pretty young ladies, who were the clubbing type, about their boyfriend woes and being unable to find a good man. I don’t know how wise I was then but I asked them a question, “Where do you find guys?” Clubs, was the answer, and I replied, “Well there’s your problem, what kind of guys are you expecting to find there?” There’s a lot of action at clubs and they’re going to attract most the type that are attracted to action for action’s sake. Somehow the conversation settled on recommendations from friends but, really, what I had in mind the whole time was this: the context of where you are defines the kind of people you’re going to meet.

I believed, and I still do, that the Christian has the foundation to truly love another person because they see them for who they really are – a soul, a spirit, God’s very own creation, His son or daughter.

But back to the songs in question. Listen to the lyrics of each. Titanium speaks of inner strength. Actually, more like an inner hardness – an unwillingness to admit personal hurt even if that’s what it actually is. Supafly, on the other hand, delves into the thoughts and actions of “dogs and cats” and, in what I consider its crowning and inspired insight, exposes the pretense,

You think ya somethin’ more ya so supafly,
To the fact you’re blind, you’re soft inside,
It’s hard for me to get this through to you,
To the fact ya blind, baby, blind, baby

To the fact you’re blind, you’re soft inside – that’s it. That’s it.

We like to think we’re strong. We like to think we’re invulnerable to the criticisms of others. We like to think a lot of things that aren’t true.

The truth is we’re weak. The truth is we’re broken and easily hurt. The truth is we try to hide the truth.

Supafly’s lyrics contain a reference to Psalms 34 that talks about our condition,

I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. My soul will boast in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together. I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.

The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry; the face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth. The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all; he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.

Psalms 34:1-7, 15-20

We know that refuge is not found within ourselves. We might not know yet where help is, but God, who created Heaven and Earth, and knit you together in the womb, He’s calling to you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21)

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

Scary Dreams

I woke last Friday morning from a scary dream. I was traveling around the downtown Toronto subway system, trying to make my way around the bottom of the U. At some point, I got out of the subway system and started walking on the street. Nothing was scary at this point. I was just trying to make my way around downtown Toronto. I guess I was walking up the street to the next subway stop when I heard the explosion.

It was that kind of explosion. That deep, thunderous, rolling explosion. The kind that tears through your thin courage veneer and lays bare your soul. In my dream, I was so scared I didn’t turn my head for a while but I kept walking. People were looking, though, all staring, speaking in frantic tones, and looking down at the waterfront.

When I did turn my head, my fear was cemented. A massive warship was broken in charred, mangled pieces. It felt close enough to touch. The world seemed to turn grey, and for some reason it started to get cold. It felt like the end.

At some point in the dream, I started praying to God to save me.

I found myself getting into the back seat of a car with some couple in the front. In the backseat was a long-sleeved sweater, a toque, and pants. I put these on to ward off the cold. I remember feeling whole, bound up, confident that I could deal with the cold, in a much better condition than those frightened people running all around me to deal with what was coming next.

Shortly after this, I must have wakened because I don’t really remember any more of the dream.

When I awoke, that fear was clinging to me. I was happy that it was just a dream but my mind reminded me of a scene in a movie I once saw.

In the film, Constantine, there is a scene of a woman having a vision of Hell by being held under water. When her vision is finished she struggles frantically from the bath and exclaims “I knew it was real! I always knew it was real!” I’ve always remembered this line because it rings true to the feeling in the pit of our stomachs in some certain horrifying moments of our lives.

Having awoken, I was comforted by the knowledge of God’s love for me, love that overcomes fear,

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
1 John 4:16-18

From this we gain a peace that confounds understanding,

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

How do you get this peace?

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16

Then, go out and change your ways,

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Philippians 4:8-9

We all know it`s real. We always knew it was real…

Prayers and Promises

Did you know your prayers are already promised to you? Jesus says, in John 14:13-14, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” Why, then, have we grown up, from childhood, with the belief that “all we can do is pray about it and leave it up to God,” as if this were some thing to do with a little shame and as a last resort?

Hebrews 4:16 reads, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” The King James reads “Let us therefore come boldly.” Jeremiah 32:27 reads, “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?” Again, in Malachi 3:10, God says,  “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” Why, then, do we approach God in prayer as if we were troubling Him, pardoning our interruption, and begging for a meager sustenance of small things, as if small and large to us were of any consequence to God Almighty?

I know why we do this. We do this because we have rarely and perhaps never experienced  God’s answer to prayer for the things He seems to want us to pray for and about and to fully expect from Him.

We have never experienced the extent of God’s power, as it is written, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20) But not that only, “let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:6-8) And, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (James 4:3)

God’s gift of prayer is not some weak kneed comfort. It is a voice with God Most High, your King, who has promised to act on your behalf,  and to comfort you, to strengthen you, to uphold you with His righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10).

Selah.

Post-Script: I owe James MacDonald’s Walk in the Word podcast for sparking my interest on God’s promises and our prayers. The podcast, part of a series, was called Promise #1 – God Is Always With Me.

Post-Post-Script: You may find this further reading of value for more clarity: Why aren’t my prayers answered? I’m sure a google of the same question will yield great results.