Tag Archives: Jesus

Perfection!

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” – Jesus (Matt 5:48)

That may be the scariest verse in the whole Bible. Love your enemies – tough but willing to try. Forgive others – hard but doable. Be perfect – yeah, that train left the station a long time ago!

As the saying goes, “to err is human”, but some of us struggle with the idea of being less than perfect. My wife is a perfectionist and that comes in handy – she is the world’s best proof-reader, and I wouldn’t be publishing this blog without her keen eye. I also have some perfectionist in me, but at some point long ago, I developed the attitude that “good enough” would be acceptable. It still bugs me when I make a mistake, but I don’t lose sleep about everything being absolutely perfect.

In The Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancey presents two very different ways to approach Jesus’ instruction. One is as “absolute ideals” and the other as “absolute grace”. On the one hand, Yancey describes Leo Tolstoy’s attempt (and failure) to live up to God’s perfection. On the other, Yancey documents Fyodor Dostoevsky’s acceptance that he would never live up to it, and that he doesn’t have to because of God’s grace.

You will notice as you read Matthew 5 that Jesus is upping the standards by which people are to live. As a final exclamation point, He instructs us to be perfect. As Jesus is in the middle of His most famous teaching lecture, and in an attempt to find the middle ground between Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, I look at this verse in the context of a modern-day school teacher.

When a teacher hands out a test, they don’t instruct the students to answer some of the questions correctly; they want the students to try answer all of them correctly. In other words, the teacher would instruct their pupils to answer the questions perfectly. When the tests are handed back in, no teacher is surprised when there are wrong answers on most, if not all, of the tests. While they would tell the students to be perfect, they would also expect that they would make some mistakes – either through carelessness or because they did not learn the subject well enough.

When Jesus instructs us to be perfect, He does so in the same way. He knows we are going to fall short because He knows we are not perfect. The beauty is, with that knowledge, He doesn’t lower the bar. He keeps it unattainable!

Having a teacher (boss, mentor, wife…) who pushes you is one of the best gifts you can recieve. They don’t let you settle for “good enough” – they make you better. Jesus looks at each one of us and pushes us to be the best we can be. We never achieve perfection in this life. But like a good teacher, He doesn’t flunk us when we fall short. In fact, He picks us up and says, “Keep trying. You can do it!”, and most importantly “I’m with you to help.”

It is important to note that this doesn’t soften the call to perfection. Like I said, the bar is still set impossibly high, but it isn’t set high to discourage or even condemn. It is set so that in every situation, we know the call is to make the right choice, do the right thing and do it all in love.

Like Tolstoy, we should strive to live a life that is pleasing to God, and like Dostoevsky, we should rest assured that our righteousness is not in ourselves, but in the perfection of Jesus.

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Light to the World

It happens to me the most when I am out grocery shopping. Maybe because that is the most consistent place I see people I don’t know. From the guy playing his guitar at the front entrance to the mother trying to get in and out as quick as possible with a couple toddlers in tow, I can’t help but wonder.

A few years ago I went to help serve a meal through an organization that provides them to the homeless downtown. It was a youth service project, and I was along as one of the “responsible adults”. As we prayed just before the doors opened, the woman who heads up the ministry told us to “keep our eyes out for Jesus. Every meal we try to figure out if one of the guests is Jesus in disguise.”

As I look at the man with the quitar or the woman with the children, I can’t help but wonder are they Jesus is disguise? Would I treat them any differently if I thought they were?

Honestly, I try not to make eye contact with the musician standing next to the open case collecting spare change. I seldom have any change on me, save for the quarter that I used to free the shopping cart from the corral.

As I cross paths with people in the store, I try to be friendly and courteous, but I am on a mission to get out of there as quickly as I can. Sure, I smile at the kids, and give a you’re-braver-than-me look to the mother as she sheepishly pulls her tot from the cookie aisle.

So, I question, how many times have I walked right past Jesus and not even noticed?

The phrase “what would Jesus do” has faded from pop culture, but the question is still as valid as ever. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, he often went out of His way to touch someone’s life. Sometimes, He sought his target out, think of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) who He called down from the tree and invited Himself over for lunch. Sometimes, He is interrupted, while on mission, by the slightest touch, like the woman who had been bleeding for years (Luke 8:40-55).

As I ponder the question, I realize that Jesus wasn’t concerned with the status of anyone He came into contact with. Of course, He wasn’t looking for Himself in others; He would help anyone who needed it, without a second thought about if there would be any benefit to Him.

Maybe the question I should be asking myself is “how can I be Jesus” to the people I pass on my weekly sojourn to the grocery store. Can I brighten someone’s day with a kind word or a helping hand? Should I go prepared with a pocket full of coins? Can I be more than just friendly and actually give 5 minutes to hear someone’s story?

Jesus calls us to be a light to the world (Matt 5:14-16), so whether I am looking for Jesus, trying to follow His example or being a model of Him to the world, I need to let my light shine everywhere.

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Tolerant Love

I think we have become a little confused. In this age where information is as easily accessible as it has ever been, and sharing opinions and beliefs with the masses is as easy as a placing a “#” in front of a word, it has become too easy, and too common, to get pushed and pulled in the wrong directions.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that sharing information is one of the most important activities that humans can do. We have the ability to solve a plethora of issues if we work together and build off each other’s ideas. But where we run into trouble is when we build off of the wrong idea – or in the wrong direction. When we take something that starts out as good and twist it until it is nothing like what it started out as.

Lately, the idea that causes me the most concern is tolerance. On the surface, tolerance is an ideal attitude. We should all be tolerant of others – not forcing others to bend to our whim or, worse, discrimination because of someone else’s beliefs. However, as I look at the world around me, I see that tolerance has become the poster word for accepting anything and everything. There are two reasons that his current view of tolerance causes problems.

The first is that people demand that your views be tolerated. This is, in fact, a very intolerant attitude. Instead of being on the defensive against the social norm, there are many who take to the offensive, trumpeting the idea that if you do not accept their way, then you are intolerant.

The second is by accepting someone else’s beliefs and being sympathetic to their views. Now, I know what you are saying, isn’t that not only the very definition of tolerance but the way we should treat each other? Why yes it is, under most circumstances. Where it is problematic is when the person’s belief we are tolerating is sinful.

Let me give you an example of where being tolerant is a bad idea. My two children both like to stay up past their bedtime. If I were to say that because they do not want to go to bed that they shouldn’t have a bedtime that would not be tolerant – it would be irresponsible. A 5-year-old needs to go to sleep before 11 pm if she is to be ready for school the next morning.

A passage from the Bible has recently taken on a new meaning for me as I have contemplated this issue. In John 8:1-11 Jesus is presented with a woman who has been caught in adultery. The Pharisees, in an attempt to trick Jesus, quote the Law which states that she should be stoned. If I were standing in Jesus’ sandals, there would have been two responses that I would have to choose between. One, is to uphold the Law and have the woman stoned. The other is to ignore the Law and allow her to go. Either of those responses would have played right into the Pharisee’s hand.

But Jesus saw a third response. Now, we don’t know what he was writing in the sand, but whatever it was, it was enough to have every person turn and walk away. When they had all left, he doesn’t pick up a stone (He, of course, was without sin) nor does he condone the act, He instructs her to leave her life of sin.

What amazes me about this story is that Jesus did not condemn her, nor did He accept that the women had made her choice and he would simply accept that is the way she has chosen to live.

Discrimination is wrong. Hate is wrong. But so is skirting the truth; so, you don’t offend and compromise God’s Truth to appease the current trends.

When we are faced with the hot issues of today, we need to stand uncompromising on the Truth. None of us get to  make up what the Truth is. We get it from God. He has given us His Word and the Holy Spirit. We need to hold fast to the Word of God and do it with love for the person. Love isn’t blindly accepting of anything and everything, it is often manifested in helping someone see the error of their ways.

Jesus loved the woman in John 8 enough to show her great mercy and instruct her to turn away from her bad choices. We should all strive to walk that balance.

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One Prerequisite

Last week I wrote about how the Gospel message is simple. In fact, it can seem too good to be true. God has offered us eternal reward in exchange for earthly love. Think about it this way: if you were offered unlimited wealth in exchange for loving someone who needed nothing from you, you would probably ask “what’s the catch” before signing on the dotted line.

But that is exactly what God is offering us. He promises us eternal rest in His glory for basically nothing in return. Of course, our response to this gift should be reflected in our actions; we should live by His principles. But those standards are actually for our benefit. To live morally is often the most effective way to live well. Ideas like forgiveness and treating others kindly go a long way to benefiting us.

There is, however, one catch to accepting God’s gift – we have to admit that we need it. The only prerequisite to personal salvation is to confess that you are indeed a sinner. We must acknowledge that we need the saving grace of Jesus’ blood and accept that Jesus came and died that we may be redeemed.

This fact has intrigued me for a while. On the surface it seems so simply; almost as if God was aiming to make the process as straightforward as possible so that everyone could achieve it. But, as with many of God’s ways, what first appears to be routine does, in fact, serve a greater purpose.

For the person who is struggling to accept this gift because they don’t think they are worthy of it, I have great news. You aren’t! None of us are, and that’s the point. Because not only are all of us unworthy, none of us are too unworthy. God’s gift knows no limits and His forgiveness covers everything.

If you have already received this amazing gift, your response should not be to act as if you had anything to do with it. Christians who act “holier than thou” are forgetting the fact that to gain the privilege of being called a child of God you must first declare that you are not any better than anyone else, and can only be made holy by God.

Because God offers salvation as a gift, not as something that could be bought, earned or solved, it not only means everyone has access to it, but that no one can boast about it. You don’t have to be rich or smart (two traits that can often get in the way of even seeking God in the first place); the only prerequisite is that admit you need the gift that is freely given to all who do.

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One Way

Saturday mornings have been busy for us since October. We enrolled both my 8-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter in the Jr. NBA program. So, every Saturday we get up early and trek off so my children can learn the skills and fundamentals of basketball. It is a full morning, with one playing at 9 and the other at 10:30. The program is run at different schools across the city, with each group meeting the same place each week.

The parking lot for the school my daughter plays at is on a side street, with “No Exit” signs posted at the entrance. Dead-end streets are fairly common in our town because every neighbourhood seems to curl into itself – using space well and offering plenty of quiet streets. What is different, and perplexing, about this particular street is that it is also a one-way street. Think about that for a moment; you can only travel in one direction, and there is no exit onto another street. The signs would indicate that the school parking lot is the final resting place for every car that started down that road.

In Romans 6:23 the Bible tells us that sin is a one-way street to a dead end. We all sin (Romans 3:23), so none of us are able to avoid starting down the road. Once we start down it, we can’t do anything ourselves to avoid being stuck forever. Some enjoy the road with no concern for what happens when they reach the end. Others convince themselves that if they follow the rules and obey the laws and are “good enough” that some way they will be able to avoid the dead end.

The truth is very simple. We cannot, on our own, avoid the penalty of our sin.

Obviously, I have not been stuck in my car in a school parking lot for the past 4 months. While city planners don’t always make the most logical decisions, they did design a way for you to exit the parking lot and get back to the main road. Sure, you can’t go out the way you came in, but the parking lot is connected to another parking lot and you simply exit that one and join the flow of traffic.

Jesus, who didn’t always do the most logical thing, did plan a way for us to avoid the penalty of sin. He subjected Himself first to a human body and then the humiliation and torture of death – and not just any death, one of the most gruesome imaginable. Through His death, He created a way for our sins to be forgiven and for us to join with God in eternal life.

Some people will hear about Jesus and decide that He is not the only way. Others will deny that He has a way at all. And still others will see His example and figure that if they are “close enough” to emulating it, they will be able to sneak past the dead-end. None of these approaches will allow you to avoid the consequences of sin. Jesus provides the way. All He asks of us is to confess that we are sinners deserving of death and accept that He is the only way to Heaven.

The truth is very simple. We can, through Jesus, avoid the penalty of our sin.

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What Christmas Means to Me

One of my favourite Christmas tunes is “What Christmas Means to Me” by Stevie Wonder. I say “tune” because the lyrics are not much to write home about, but the music is catchy.

Over the last couple weeks, I have been thinking a lot about what Christmas means to me. While the pure excitement and anticipation of the holiday is very real, and I am sure that I will make many joyful memories, the events of the next week are our response to the meaning of Christmas – not the actual meaning itself.

I will enjoy the food and probably eat too much. I’ll watch with anticipation as my children, nieces and nephews open their gifts (and my own inner child can’t wait to find out what is under the tree for me). I am looking forward to spending time with my family. Again, not the reason we celebrate, but the way we do.

So, what does Christmas really mean to me? I have struggled this week as try to put it into words. “Jesus is the reason for the season” just seems too flippant to really grasp the meaning of Christmas. I agree with the statemen; I just feel that a quick little rhyme doesn’t do justice to the magnitude of the event. Maybe the best way for me to articulate what Christmas means to me is to explain it from a perspective I will never truly comprehend.

I read a few years ago, around the time of Prince William’s wedding, that his late mother, Princess Diana, had wanted nothing more than to tell her young son that he could grow up to be whatever he wanted. It is the same thing that every mother wants to tell her child. But Diana knew that William could not grow up to be whatever he wanted. He would grow up to be heir to the throne, with all the responsibility and duty that came with the position.

I imagine that Mary had a similar struggle when raising Jesus. I wonder how much she knew about how his life would play out. Did she understand the prophecy as we do now – that they would be fulfilled in such a gruesome manner? Did she raise Jesus differently than her other children knowing that no matter what she taught Him or what advice she passed along He would never deter from His mission? As she held Him, wrapped in cloths and treasured the events of the first Christmas, did she know her baby couldn’t grow up to be whatever He wanted; He had come to be the Sacrificial Lamb?

You see, Jesus came not to live His life for Himself but to live it for me. He came so that He could experience the ups and downs of being the created, to grow-up feeling the emotions of being human, both the joy and the pain. He faced temptation, mobs and the cross. And He did it for me!

At Christmas, we celebrate our Lord and Saviour coming to redeem us. As I eat the meal, it will be a reminder that God provides for me out of His love. As gifts are exchanged, I know that it is done in honour of God’s ultimate gift for me. As I spend time with loved ones, it reflects God’s desire to be with me.

That is what Christmas means to me.

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Eternal Wealth

I am not often up late enough to catch Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, but the other night I was. When he announced his guest would be “The Future of the Mind” author Michio Kaku, I was intrigued enough to keep watching. Though the whole interview was interesting, one comment stuck out to me. Kaku said that to build a computer that is capable of working as our brains do, it would have to be as big as a city block, need a river to cool it and a nuclear reactor to supply it with power. Our brains use about 20 watts of power (less than a light bulb!)

My first reaction was “and you think that just developed randomly by chance?” Then, I was reminded of the story in Matthew 19 of the wealthy young man; you can read the whole story in Matt 19:16-24, but to summarise – a young man asks Jesus what he must do to get eternal life. Jesus tells him to keep the commands. When the man says he does, Jesus tells him if he wants to be perfect, sell his possessions and follow Him. The young man walks away sadly, as he was very wealthy. Jesus tells His disciples that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God.

While the passage in scripture refers to monetary wealth, the same principle can be applied to richness in any form: knowledge, prestige or comfort. If we are “rich”, we tend not to seek out help, we think we are self-sufficient and the need for Christ can get buried in the comfort we are afforded. Of course, many people who are well off seek Jesus. In the end, it is all in our attitude.

None of us are perfect, and none of us can live a good enough life to enter the Kingdom of God. We can be self-sufficient, well-educated and held in high esteem, but we are all sinners and have fallen short of the Glory of God. We are all in desperate need of a saviour. All we need to do is to admit it. Sure, most of us can probably check off the commands and say we pretty much keep them; we are, more or less, a good person, but we need to get on our knees (sometimes literally) and just confess that we, with all our “wealth”, are completely dependent on the One who came to save us.

So, like the wealthy young man, we are faced with a choice: give it all up to God, or walk away. For most of us, walking away may seem like the more attractive option, at least in the short term. We have our earthly wealth and comfort, we even have our knowledge and understanding, but to be made perfect, we need to admit that we are not self-sufficient – we need to admit we need Jesus.

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