Biblical Justification

A little over a year ago, I had a coworker who was the closest thing to an enemy I have ever had. There is no need to go into antics and attitudes; it is suffice to say that we did not get along or like each other. One day, he wanted to run out to grab some lunch. Our office was a few blocks, walking distance, from a number of restaurants, but he didn’t feel like walking, so he asked me if he could borrow my car to run and grab some lunch. With my whole being I wanted to tell him “no” in many different ways, most of them of the not-very-nice variety.

If it had been someone I got along with, someone I would refer to as a friend, there wouldn’t have been any hesitation. I probably would have tossed them the keys and made a joke about making sure they filled it up before they returned it. As I handed the keys over, presuming that any joke would be met with a snarky remark, I didn’t say much, if anything, as he headed out the door.

Another coworker, who was very aware of my “displeasure” with working with this individual looked at me in shock and said, “Why didn’t you just say no?” I turned to her and said, “I couldn’t think of a good reason not to let him.” The only justification I had for my actions was that the Bible instructs to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27).

Using Scripture to justify one’s actions isn’t a new phenomenon. Throughout history, including events recorded in the Bible, people have used God’s word to justify their actions, both good and bad. While I am sure you can think of many examples, at least one has been in the news recently, the truth is that if you are using the Bible to justify your actions, it should only be because you are showing more mercy than was to be expected, or more grace than others would, or more love than is required. The Bible should never be used as justification for hate, causing harm or treating others in any way that you would not welcome on yourself.

We have all heard the “Golden Rule”, and while there are many different wordings, Jesus made sure to give us the example we should follow – “do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). What makes Jesus’ phrasing unique is that, while other versions of the Golden Rule focus on not doing harm, Jesus opens the door to going above and beyond the norm. In other words, Jesus is not just saying “don’t be mean to each other”; He is saying “go out of your way to be nice to each other.”

Now, my story above is not the norm for me. It is the most extreme example from my life I could think of, and even at that, it wasn’t like I did it with a joyful spirit. In truth, I try to be nice and treat others with respect, but I seldom find myself doing something that others would react to as more than what is expected. So as I reflect on the world around me, I am resolved to make sure that I am erring on the side of love so that I might be a light in this world. That way if I am ever asked why my actions were out-of-line with what was anticipated, I can gladly say “because the Bible says…”

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The Long Game

We have all seen a situation where the short-term fix is favoured to the long-term solution. In sports, General Managers will trade top prospects for proven talent in an attempt to win now. In politics, decisions are made by the ruling party in an attempt to stay in power. In business, quarterly profits are the driving force behind many decisions. Even in raising children, we make decisions sometimes to just try to get through a hectic day.

The problem with the “short game” is that the consequences of pursuing short-term success can often cause long-term pain. Looking at the scenarios above, we can all think of an example of a team that languished at the bottom of the standings for years because they traded away future stars, or a government that created huge debts by spending to win the vote, or a business that went bankrupt because their quick fixes never resulted in a long-term strategy.

Our human nature desires instant results. We want it all, and we want it now. We want results, and we will deal with the effects of those decisions later – we let “future me” worry about those things. We have to learn to plan for the future – put off the instant desires and consciously focus on what is best in the long-term.

God is the master of the “long game”. He is patient and works His purpose out over time. He doesn’t take a shortcut or sacrifice the overall plan for a quick win. After walking through the Old Testament this year, I have a new appreciation for how God was patient with His people and worked to keep them on track so that when the time was right, Jesus could come and fulfill His purpose.

Maybe there is no better example of God rejecting the “short game” than when Christ was in the desert and being tempted by Satan. Jesus rejected the opportunity to take the easy way out because He knew that path would lead to ultimate defeat. He had to be patient, wait for things to fall into place and stay true to His mission.

When it comes to our spiritual growth, we need to keep our eye on the long-term goal as well. We don’t want to go through the trials and the growing pains, but they are so important. We don’t become the people we are without going through the hard times. “You learn more from failure than you do from success. Don’t let it stop you. Failure builds character.” Though it is not known who first coined the phrase, we have all found it to be true.

God doesn’t promise us the easy life if we put our faith in Him – in fact, Jesus warns that we will endure hardship for His sake and that it is the narrow path, not the wide one, that leads to Him. God isn’t a genie in a bottle waiting to grant us our every wish; He is the potter who is shaping the clay, molding it to become a beautiful creation. We can’t rush the process. There is no substitute for experience. We need to simply draw close to Him and allow Him to work in us. He is patient and loving, and if we just let him sculpt us to become the creation He wants us to be, the results will be glorious.

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Time to Talk

They say there are two things you should never talk about at work: politics and religion. I am just guessing here, but I don’t think it’s because they are two fascinating subjects and productivity would go down as employees lost track of time joyfully discussing them.

As for politics, I think we should start talking about it more, and more importantly, listen to each other. But this is not a political blog, so I won’t get into that any further. But as for religion – as Christians – we should not only welcome conversations about our faith, but pursue them.

For many years I didn’t look for the chance to share my faith at work. I didn’t hide it. Everyone knew I was a Christian, even commented on it. but I didn’t actively look to  engage in conversation about it. After all, doesn’t Peter in 1 Peter 3:15 tell us to always be prepared when someone asks? It doesn’t say to volunteer the information.

The Bible tells us that our lives should be a reflection of our faith; be the same person on Monday as we are on Sunday, and I figured if I did that, God would lead people to me that would ask. On occasions they did, and I would be happy to converse with them about my beliefs, but those times were few and far between.

I would be lying if I didn’t admit that the taboo nature of religious conversation didn’t have an effect on my approach to religious talk at work. Not only did I want to avoid getting reprimanded for doing it (not that I was ever threatened with consequences) but I also didn’t want to alienate people as the “pushy Christian”.

I would like to think that most Christians conduct themselves so that those around them would notice their relationship with God. The problem with stopping there is that we are supposed to be changing the world, and it is very hard to do that when you meekly sit in your corner and wait for someone to come up to you and say “Hey, you seem like a nice person. I want to put my faith in whatever it is you put yours in”. That’s not going to happen (First off, no one talks like that.). Sure, meekness is good, but we need to be bold for Christ.

Here is the thing – it doesn’t take much to insert faith into conversation these days. I have found a number of different times lately where just sharing my point of view on a subject has opened the door to talking about my faith. You don’t have to push it into the conversation, or be controversial (anymore than Jesus was anyway), or even blatantly try to steer the conversation in a certain way. If you look, and ask God for the opportunity to share your faith, you will find that the conversations happen naturally.

It’s time to stop thinking that the unsaved will come to us when they are ready if we just behave ourselves. It’s time to stop keeping Jesus to ourselves and worry that they may not like that we talk about Him. It’s time to share, with gentleness, respect and love, the reason for our hope with the people we see everyday and need Jesus is every way.

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Happiness

In the board game Careers, you win the game by collected a combination of 60 units of money, fame and happiness. The basics of the game are that the board has a number of different career paths, and you can choose the ones you want. Each path gives you the chance to earn money, fame or happiness – with each career offering different potentials in those three areas. The first, and most important, strategic decision you have to make is how much of each criteria you need to collect to win. Each player has to decide how to divide up their 60 units. Do you want to focus on one area, or spread it around between all three?

The winner of the game is the one who is able to collect enough points in each category to meet, or exceed, their started goal. And because that formula can be different for each player it is possible to win while having less in any or all categories than another player.

Much like in the game, in our lives we choose where we want to focus our efforts and which goals we want to reach. We all put our own weights on different criteria to decide if we are “winning” or not. While most of us pursue financial stability (at a minimum) and some of us crave fame – all of us strive for happiness. Unlike the game, we often don’t see happiness as success on its own. We see it as a product of having money (lots of it), fame (popularity), or other criteria like respected occupation, advanced degrees, big house, fancy car… the list goes on.

“The world” tried to convince us that view of happiness is correct; that it is product of having those things. While each of us is tempted by different things, we all can be tricked into thinking that we need “more” to be happy. And while striving for success is not a bad thing on its own (its OK to work hard towards a goal). The problem comes in thinking that you won’t be happy until you reach it.

Happiness is not found in things; it is a choice we make. The Bible has many verses about being joyful, content and giving thanks to God in all circumstances. Having the newest gadget may make you happy for a short time, but it will soon fade away. The key to happiness is being content with what we do have and putting value into what really matters – our relationships with Christ and other people that are important to us.

“Winning” at life isn’t about collecting the most things. We don’t win by having more than others. Our goal should be to make a difference in people’s lives and to live a life worthy of being called a child of God. That is going to look different for all of us. Our goal should be to make God happy and in doing that, we will find great joy.

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All That You Need

During my last year of college, there were two “quote boards” that I was frequently around. The first was a small whiteboard in the newspaper office. The other staff members and I were generally in there for long hours late into the evening putting the weekly publication together. We were a pretty close group, and it was common for one of us to say something funny – whether deliberate or not. The second was a large (3’ x 5’) blue piece of paper that was hung on my dorm room wall during my senior year. My roommate, Aaron, and I were close friends and each other’s comic relief. So we would “honour” each other’s “great” quotes by inscriping them on the sheet.

I have long forgotten most of the quotes, but there are a few that will stick with me for a long time. One of those is Aaron’s response to me asking if he had an item I needed. His response? “I have all the supplies that you need.” It is very possible that my mood, time of night and the delivery of the line were contributing factors to me recording it for posterity, but for whatever reason, I think that was the one I repeated the most.

Jesus expressed the same sentiment in Matthew 6, He just used a few more words (verse 25-34). To paraphrase – Don’t worry; I’ve got your back. Everything you need; I’ve got you covered. We, rightly, are reminded through this passage not to worry, but I think we often forget that the reason that we don’t need to worry, besides the fact worrying seldom solves anything, is that God is on our side and looking out for us.

We tend to be a self-reliant culture. We rely on our own abilities to make ends meet and act as if asking for help, even from God, is somehow a sign of weakness. We would rather suffer alone than seek the help we need. Sure, being able to solve your own problems is a needed skill, but when we reach our limit we need to remember we can reach out to God.

I have seen time and time again in my life how God has provided just what I need exactly when I needed it. At times, it has been financial, and God has provided for me in ways that go beyond my comprehension. Other times, He has sent a friend who said just the right thing that I needed to hear. Still, other occasions, the Holy Spirit has spoken and prompted me in just the right way. Whatever the case, I have learned to trust God in all circumstances because I know He loves me, and I am never out of His sight.

It is good to have friends, neighbours and roommates who can come to your rescue when you need something. It is even better to rest assured in the fact that God is looking out for you, and He cares and loves you more than you could ever comprehend.

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Daniel’s Conviction

I don’t know about you, but when I am faced with severe consequences, I avoid doing the thing that I am not supposed to do. Not that there are any capital crimes I am contemplating, but if I were, the threat of punishment would be enough to keep me from doing them.

Through that lens, when I read the story of Daniel in the lion’s den, I can’t help but wonder what Daniel was thinking. Why, when he heard about the “no praying to God” decree does Daniel kneel in front of an open window and pray three times a day? Now, the Bible doesn’t say if it was out loud or not, but I imagine it was – simply because it just makes Daniel seem even bolder. I mean, he had to know that the decree was aimed at him, so why not just play it safe for the 30 days? It’s not like he had to give up praying, he just had to hide it so he wasn’t caught.

Sitting on this side of the history, we know how the story unfolds. God rescues Daniel, and the king is moved to praise God. Now, Daniel did have a history of God working things out for him. Sure, he was captured and taken into exile, but he was able to, through faith, work himself into good standing. But did he know that God would in fact rescue him as he did his friends in the fiery furnace? Probably not – yet it didn’t stop him from his conviction to pray.

Most of the personal prayers I pray are done silently. Sometimes I talk aloud to God, when I am driving alone, but for the most part the words are not audible. I hardly kneel to pray, save for the good night prayers I say with my children, where I kneel beside their bed. The time of day that I am praying varies – sometimes it is at night, sometimes in the morning – but I don’t have 3 devotional times a day. In other words, if someone was trying to catch me praying, it wouldn’t be hard for me to avoid being caught.

There is a little verse at the end of this story that I would bet most of us pay little attention to – “So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.” (Daniel 6:28) – the word that really stick out to me is “so”. The word “so” can be used to convey a number of different things, and in this case we could substitute the word “therefore”. In other words, Daniel prospered because of the events in the story.

Did Daniel prosper because:
The king now saw first hand that God was with Daniel?
The king figured he owed Daniel for his prideful error in judgement?
He trusted God and was willing to risk his life to praise God.

I believe the answer is “C”. I believe that God rewarded Daniel for his faith, not only that fateful night by sending an angel to shut the lions’ mouths, but throughout the rest of his life.

I am not faced with death for expressing my faith or praising God. Sure, it may rub some people the wrong way; it may cause me temporary inconvenience, but nothing like facing a pride of hungry lions. Then why don’t I live out my faith in public like I do in private? Why not kneel at my desk in the middle of a busy day? Why not sing praises at my desk? Why not engage in conversations about faith with those who desperately need to hear it?

I am sure that God would bless the effort.

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Good out of Bad

I am sure it has happened to you before. You are reading through a familiar passage and something hits you that you never pay much attention to before. It’s nothing really groundbreaking, just something you hadn’t given much consideration before.

I was reading through a familiar part of Daniel the other day, and I noticed that because of the faith of the Israelites, foreign kings proclaimed God as the one true God. It dawned on me that God was able to use the Israelites rebellion to make Himself known in Babylon. Though Daniel and his friend were taken captive as punishment for the nations disobedience, God could use that sad circumstance to further His Kingdom. God gave Daniel interpretation of dreams, and saved him from a den of lions; He also rescued Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from the fiery furnace. All of these stories ended with God being praised by a non-Israelite ruler.

It should not come as a surprise that God works good out of bad situations. God is the master at using what we see as tragedy for His purpose and glory. We often think of God working everything for our good (Romans 8:28), but as we focus on our own lives, we sometimes forget that He is working His master plan for the whole world.

For Daniel and his friends, their circumstances looked bleak, but God was ready to act. I am sure the events of the lion’s den and the furnace had an affect on their lives – how could you ever doubt God after living through those experiences – but they may have had an even bigger impact on those who witnessed the events. For the captives, it was a confirmation of their faith, and for the locals, it was an awesome display of God’s power and love – one that they may not have known if not for Israel’s adversity.

In our fallen universe, bad things happen. Some of them are caused by our own choices and others are random acts that we, at least as individuals, can’t prevent. Sometimes, we can connect the dots and understand the tragedy, and other times, we are at a loss as we try to make any semblance of sense.

I am the type of person who tries to make sense out of everything, to understand why things happen and what good can come out of them. I believe that everything happens for a reason, or maybe I should rephrase that: I believe that everything that happens can be used by God for His purpose. It may not make sense at the time, or even ever; we don’t always see how God is working. God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8). He may have a different path than we would have plotted, but in the end, He is working as only He knows how.

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