Where is the Evidence?

“Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.”
– James 2:18

I have always liked the book of James, mostly because it speaks to our need to have our faith expressed in real ways. Some have had issue with it because it seems to lean towards earning our faith by what we do. This however, is not the reality. The reality is that if we have faith, it must express itself in what we do and how we live. We cannot have (or rather do not have) faith when it exists only in our minds and hearts, it must spill over into our hands and feet. What we do (our deeds) are evidence of what we believe. If we profess the love and grace of Jesus, how then are we living it?
There is so much evidence of this in the bible. One of the main judgements God had against Israel was their exploitation and abuse of the weak and powerless. They were not reflecting the character of God in how they lived. They identified themselves as the chosen people of God, but then neglected the fact that they were called to represent God to the world. We too are called to be God’s representatives and reflect his character. How we interact with people in our workplaces, our schools, at the mall and online all must reflect our relationship with Jesus. That our relationship with Jesus that is so flooded with the knowledge and understanding of his grace that it overflows in us and oozes out of every aspect of who we are.
So the focus again needs to come off of us. It has to be on him. We cannot hope to live this out unless we are oriented and centered on Jesus. Our desire to make a difference in this world cannot be rooted in our effort, but rather in our desire to reveal who Jesus is as he fills us and his spirit moves in us. Our deeds are not about doing better or trying harder. The evidence of our faith is the deeds that pour out of us as we dwell in and live out who Jesus is.

If you have a minute read the entirety of James 2 here: James 2 Text

Are You Connected?

John 15: 4-5
“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

This has always been a passage that I appreciate. It reminds me that I need to stay connected to Jesus, and to be rooted in my faith. It reminds me that I am not the source and that it is Jesus in me that enables me to live and love as I should. It is not my strength, my will, or my dedication that enable me to “bear fruit”. It is my connection and relationship to Jesus that does. I draw strength, hope, joy, love from the true vine and as I take more and more of that into myself it begins to pour out of every aspect of my life.
There is one other aspect to this passage that I have overlooked in the past and that is that it is about US and not ME. All the “you’s” in this passage are plural. While this might not be a huge revelation to you, it is another reminder to me that I am not doing this alone. That Jesus calls us to do this together. We all grow together as we draw our lives upon Jesus. As Jesus works in each of us, he uses us to help encourage, mold and shape each other. It is a pretty unimpressive thing to see a plant where only one shoot or branch has sprouted, but to see a tree in full bloom is a thing of great beauty.
My hope in this:
1) You are able to remain strong in your connection to Jesus and experience a deepening of your relationship with him.
2) That you can have people whom you journey with as you grow and bear fruit together.

What Joy is Before You?

“looking only at Jesus, the originator and perfecter of the faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:2

I was struck by this verse today. I was struck by it because I realized that in face of uncertainty and difficulty there is a way to endure. That way is through realizing that there is something much greater ahead for me. That no problem, no obstacle, no struggle is greater than the love and hope I have in Jesus.
I needed to hear this again because unless I repeat it, I forget it. My hope becomes a trinket, a good luck charm. But in reminding myself firstly what God has done in and through Jesus, I can remember and see that there is so much more ahead of me. Jesus endured his suffering and shame, not because he had greater will or strength. Rather it was his dependence upon his father, and the knowledge that his plans and his ways are better. He took joy in carrying out his father’s will. In what God had planned for him.
What is God’s will? To buy back and restore his creation. To buy back and restore me. To buy back and restore you. The joy set before Jesus was the restoration of you and me. That what he was enduring was the pinnacle act in God’s plan to bring us into relationship with himself.
So what difference does this make? For me, it is in getting my heart set upon the joy that lies before me. In fixing my eyes upon the hope and knowledge that God is restoring me. That I will one day along with all my brothers and sisters in Jesus stand before him and know peace, know joy and what it is means to be his child. If we can set our lives upon this joy that lies before us we can endure, we can scorn shame, we can find hope. We will find life that is rooted deeply in Jesus and the work he has done, and is still doing, to present us before his father as holy, blameless, free and restored. My prayer is that you can catch a glimpse of the joy that God has in store for you. If you want or need prayer I would love to pray for you or with you, send an email to chris@gpchurchofchrist.com.

When Was the Last Time?

When was the last time you felt a sense of wonder? of awe? It is easy to get so used to some things in our lives that we begin to take them for granted. From things like the sun rising everyday and taking your next breath. How can the seemingly ordinary, routine things of life become a source of joy and and amazement?
As with most things in our lives it begins with what we are focusing on. How are we seeing our world and the things in it?

I like the way G.K. Chesterton put it in his book Heretics: “Humility is the thing which is for ever renewing the earth and the stars. It is humility, and not duty which preserves the stars from wrong. from the unpardonable wrong of casual resignation; it is through humility that the most ancient heavens for us are fresh and strong. The curse that came before history has laid on us all a tendency to be weary of wonders. If we saw the sun for the first time it would be the most fearful and beautiful of meteors. Now that we see it for the hundredth time we call it, in the hideous and blasphemous phrase of Wordsworth ‘the light of common day’. We are inclined to increase our claims. We are inclined to demand six suns, to demand a blue sun, to demand a green sun. Humility is perpetually putting us back in the primal darkness. There all light is lightning, startling and instantaneous. Until we understand that original dark, we have neither sight nor expectation, we can give no hearty and childlike praise to the splendid sensationalism of things.”
As we get used to things we tend to become unimpressed with them. However, as we approach life with a greater sense of humility we can discover a new sense of wonder. We can see things with fresh eyes, hear with fresh ears. Our ability to wonder is connected to our ability to quiet ourselves and soak in the amazing nature of all that surrounds us. It is also about noticing. Once we can humble ourselves and slow down, we can then take in more details, more of what lies before us. It is true in relationships and it is true in how we appreciate our world. If we can allow ourselves time to appreciate the people in our lives and the world around us we can discover a refreshed sense of awe. We can then re-experience wonder and joy as we live our lives with renewed sight. If we open ourselves to this possibility we can find greater appreciation for this life that God has given us, the world he has created and the wonder and joy that comes with knowing such a faithful and loving father.

James 1:17
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

Is Jesus Enough?

I was thinking about my own relationship with Jesus and what could possibly change who He is to me. If my life was completely flipped upside down and nothing was going right, would it change how I relate to Him? When things are good I am thankful and happy. When things are bad I get negative. Either way I try to place the blame on something I must have done or I distance myself from Jesus.

I realized that if I am going to call myself a disciple of Jesus I need to have a relationship built on who he is, and not what he does for me. I need to understand how I walk with him is not contingent or dependent upon what I have to offer. Even on what he can do/has done for me. Is Jesus himself enough? Do I only want Jesus for what he has to offer me and how he can improve my life? We usually default to the answer of “no” or “of course not”. I feel that this is either because we are afraid to look at our lives in a more honest way, or we are afraid of what it might cost us. You see, as we let go of “regular” things and pursue Jesus, we might find we get asked to sacrifice, to give things up, to have less for ourselves. Less money, less power, less comfort, but more Jesus. How does that sound to you? On its face not very appealing, unless you’ve met Jesus. You see, to really know Jesus is to see what being human actually is. In Jesus we see real life, real freedom, real hope. Jesus didn’t do things the way the established order did. He made time for the insignificant, he honoured the lowly, he gave his time and energy to show people their worth. That is what Jesus has in store for us too. If we can learn to grab a hold of him first and foremost. Ask him to drag us around with him, we will begin to see things differently. Our yearning for a better car, a better job, better health, better friends. This will all fade as we begin to see more and more of who Jesus is. As such, we will also find ourselves giving more, sharing more, wanting less, getting deeper friendships. We will see our lives improve but most likely not in the way we would have wanted. As we make Jesus the centre of who we are, we will learn what it means to be human, and what it means to truly live.

So, if you find you are tired of where you are at, maybe it is time to get to know Jesus? To decide that he is enough, and let go of all the other things that cling to your soul. Maybe it is time to say, “Jesus you are enough”.

Matthew 6:33-34
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Are you feeling dry?

We all come to points where we are tired, worn down or sick of people. It is a normal part of life, but for people who follow Jesus we need to remember to have patterns in our lives that renew and revive us. It is easy for us to keep trying to soldier on, put on a brave face and try harder. It is more important however that we recognize our dependence on God. That we need to come to him and ask to be refilled, renewed, restored. God wants us not our deeds, God want us not what we can do for him. We have a God that is unlike any other. Read this passage from Micah chapter 7: 18-19
“Who is a God like you?
Who forgives sin
and pardons the rebellion
of those who remain among his people?
Who does not stay angry forever,
but delights in showing loyal love?
Who will once again have mercy on us?
Who will conquer our evil deeds?
Who will hurl all our sins into the depths of the sea?”

We have a God who delights in forgiving, showing mercy and compassion. We have a God who takes the worst parts of us and refines them. His love is described as loyal, unrelenting, boundless. It is a well that we must ensure we are continually drawing from. It is the source of life that enables and empowers us to live as his children. It is the strength we need to overcome our struggles and the courage to proclaim his love to everyone. If we are not regularly returning to the well, we will dry out, become weak, fall apart. We must recognize that God does not want or expect us to be strong enough. He is the one who deals with our sins, and he is the one who transforms us to be more like him. We must therefore learn to rely upon him and come the well where he refreshes and restores us.
So how do we come to the well? In many ways and no one way is the only way. Most common is to spend time reading the bible and praying. Allowing his word to saturate your spirit and wash over you. Music and praise is another key component to this. If we are joining in worship of God with other people we recognize that God is at work in us, his church, and that we rely on him. Serving is one of the most overlooked ways we draw near to God, but as we lay aside our own wants and needs and engage in service of others we begin to gain greater awareness of the value and dignity of others. We express in tangible action that we desire God to use us to lavish his love on others.
So, make sure you are returning to the well, the source of life. Find time and create spaces where you can be renewed and restored in God’s presence. Understand anew that we have a God who loves to show mercy to us, who will not let anything stand in the way of us coming to him. Come to the well and be refreshed.

Does It Change Anything?

I have been thinking about how is my day to day life impacted by my relationship with Jesus? It is one thing for us to acknowledge that we need Jesus in order for our debt of sin to be paid, but there is so much more to a relationship with Jesus than that.
It is about transformation and restoration. What God wants is for us to be whole, to be complete and we cannot have that apart from him. If you look at the biblical story, the entire narrative is about God seeking to restore all of creation to its proper state. I know for myself I often lose sight of the bigger picture and get too focused only on myself and my own shortcomings. Jesus calls us to take part in the restoration of all things. We are called to be peacemakers, advocates, servants, and leaders. We are called to be agents of change. So the question remains, how does Jesus change how I live? How does he transform and shape every aspect of my life? How do I treat the homeless person I walk by, the grumpy cashier, the annoying co-worker? How does the fact that I know I am loved by the king of the universe affect how I treat people? My challenge is to ask God to have his love drench every fibre of my being so much so that it spills out over everyone I meet. Will I have dry and crusty days? Sure, but I will acknowledge them and pray for God’s love and grace to move through me despite them.
I believe that we can take a hold of God’s love and hold tight then he will show us what restoration looks like. Restoration of our hearts and lives, restoration of our friends and families, restoration of this world. This question remains, do we want this?

“The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.”
Isaiah 58:11-12

Let’s Do This!

We Want to Raise $10000!
This is considered a Tax Deductible donation as well!

We have the opportunity to make a difference for refuges from Ukraine. Through Graceland Canada (an organization working in Poland) we can help them meet the needs of the many Ukrainian refuges in their country.

Graceland Canada and USA and Poland are currently helping in the following ways. . .
1) Taking financial donations from Canadians/Americans and forwarding them to frontline workers here in Poland (we’re acting as the middleman)
2) Supporting a church just a few km from the border who are sleeping 200 and feeding 300+ per day (they impress us because they moved their worship services to the cultural centre in order to house refugees)
3) Financially supporting the extended family of a Graceland student family who had to flee and leave husbands behind. These women left with nothing but a suitcase and their kids. We are providing them with cash for purchasing necessities. It is our plan to support this family longer term. They are currently looking for an apartment, and it’s our hope to provide rent for them for a few months until they get settled.
4) Financially supporting women and children refugees currently “living” in the train station refugee shelter by giving them envelopes with cash. We are using this as a teaching opportunity for a young woman we are mentoring. She goes to the train station to hand out food and supplies with her youth group, and we are entrusting her with these envelopes. She is so excited to do this and is blown away by how the Lord is moving — this is simply a gift of love.
5) We have a student who is taking people into her home and we are helping with finances if/when she needs it. She had a couple of women with her for 2 weeks, they have now moved on to Germany.
6) Once our intern leaves, we will make our small Annex apartment available to a refugees as a transitional place—it’s not suitable for long-term living, or for families and it can only be used until the end of summer when we have more teachers who need housing (which is now at a premium).

After April 10th:
Donations for refugees from Ukraine can be sent via Interac email transfer to: treasurer@gracelandministries.com, designated Project 94. The only administrative cost is the bank transfer fees. Our treasurers, Bonnie Eadle and Susan LaCount are forwarding the refugee money with the money they usually transfer to Graceland, so the bank fees are coming out of our General Fund thereby leaving 100% of the funds donated available for the relief effort.

Growing Through Affliction

Dave shares a thought and a song he wrote as he reflected on our theme of Grow Up and Make a Difference.

Don’t Try To Change The World

Mark shares some thoughts on what it means to make a difference and gives 3 steps we can take to grow up and make a difference.

3 Steps From 1 Thess 1:3
Hope in Jesus
Grow in capacity to love
Be Faithful to a mission