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I think that John 12:8 is sometimes misinterpreted and used as an excuse not to help the poor.  This, however, is not in keeping with the rest of scripture.  John 12:1-7 tells the story of Mary pouring very expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet.  Judas who would later betray Jesus asked why this perfume wasn’t sold and the money given to the poor.  Verse 8 is Jesus’ answer to Judas:  You will always have the poor; you won’t always have Me.  Jesus would have seen Judas’ insincerity and ulterior motive, just as John evidently did.  His response needs to be taken in light of the context.  We know that Jesus cared about the poor.  His answer to a young man who wanted to know what more he could do besides keeping all the commandments was to give to the poor.  (Matthew 19:21)

Was this use of perfume a waste as Judas suggested?  Again, Jesus could see Mary’s heart.  He knew that she was honouring Him by anointing Him in this way.  She did what she knew how to do.  She knew that He would not be with them much longer so she gave what she had of value and worshipped her Lord with it.   Worshipping the Lord and giving to the poor are not mutually exclusive; we should do both. (Luke 10:27)

I heard an interview recently with Arloa Sutter, Executive Director of Breakthrough Urban Ministries www.breakthrough.org and author of The Invisible. She believes that Jesus may have been quoting from Deuteronomy 15.  In Deuteronomy 15:4-5, we read that the Lord would bless the people if they would only obey His commandments—the ones referred to in Deuteronomy 15:1-3 regarding the cancellation of debts every seven years.  In Deuteronomy 15:11 the Israelites were commanded to make sure that they opened their hand to the poor and needy in the land.  We must do the same, but not grudgingly, and not only in view of the blessing we will receive, for the Lord loves a cheerful giver.  (II Corinthians 9:7)

Did Jesus mean to say that we don’t need to help the poor?  Certainly not.  Arloa Sutter said, “Jesus might be saying love them extravagantly.  I’m not going to always be here, but the poor you’ll always have.  So love them, because when you love them you’re loving me, and do it with extravagance.  Don’t hold back.”  Now that Jesus is not on Earth in the flesh, the way we honour Him includes what we do for others.  Whatever you do for the least of these, He said, you do for me.  (Matthew 25:34-40)

Matthew 7:1-5 is the passage, probably familiar to many, that tells us not to judge lest we be judged.  Whatever standard we use to judge others will be used to judge us as well.  Christ gives the example of trying to remove a speck of dust from your brother’s eye while you have a plank in your own.  Then we get to verse 6 which talks about dogs and pigs.  In Jesus’ time, both of these were considered unclean and undesirable.

Many commentaries will tell you that Matthew 7:6 means that we should not present the gospel to anyone who refuses to listen.  This view has support from other passages in the Bible, such as Proverbs 23:9 which tells us not to bother trying to talk sense to fools, and Matthew 10:14 which advised the disciples to shake the dust from their feet when they left a town where they weren’t welcome.  When a Canaanite woman asked Jesus to heal her daughter (Matthew 15:21-28), Jesus told her that it was not right to throw the children’s bread to the dogs.

That is not to say that we should avoid talking to anyone who doesn’t believe as we do, or who questions what we believe, for Christ certainly did not set that example.  The Bereans were commended for their questioning (Acts 17:10-11), because it showed that they were eager to understand.

Other commentaries suggest that this verse continues the teaching on judgement.  Judgement in the first five verses of the chapter is about criticism or condemnation, something that we have no authority to do.  That is God’s job.  The judgement referred to in verse six is equivalent to discernment.  We must not badger or enrage someone who has heard what we have to say but refuses to agree with us, and it requires discernment to determine whether people fit into that category or are questioners like the Bereans.

My pastor has a different point of view.  He would explain to you that if you have withheld food from animals, even domesticated ones, long enough, they will turn on you.  If you throw pearls to hungry pigs, even though they are seen as valuable to you, they would be of no use to the pigs.  Therefore, my pastor would argue, you need to provide unbelievers with that which is helpful to them.  Consider what the recipient needs rather than what makes you look noble.  Getting back to the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:27-28, we see that she was commended for her faith when she answered Jesus saying that even the dogs are allowed to eat the crumbs that fall from the table.

So what are we to do?  Exercise discernment, and if you need some, ask God for it.  (James 1:5)  Be willing to speak to anyone until you know that they don’t want to have anything to do with you.  Try to be helpful to those you encounter.  Don’t spout doctrine in “Christianese”, but answer their questions as clearly and honestly as you can.

Second chances.  Mulligans.  Do-overs.  Don’t we all appreciate another opportunity to get things right?  When Adam bit into that apple, and sin entered the world, we were sentenced to live in a world outside of God’s favour. (Genesis 3:17-19)  Thankfully through Christ we have a second chance. (John 3:16)

II Corinthians 5:16-17 tells us that when we accept Christ we become a new creation.  That doesn’t mean that we suddenly become perfect; it means that we have a new position as children of God.  We still have to work on all the old issues in our lives, but God is a god of second chances.  He forgives us for the things that we haven’t got right yet, and He is working on us, helping us to become more like Christ.

Verse 17 is a general view of what verse 16 tells us more specifically.  Just as we have become a new creation, when we are in Christ we no longer see people according to their human qualities—race, gender, nationality, etc.  Now we see them as we are, a person for whom Christ gave His life.  God gives us the grace to see that person with spiritual eyes.

Before Paul met Christ (and his name was still Saul), he judged Christ on what he had heard about Him.  He saw Christ as a contradiction of all the religious laws that he followed so strictly.  Then Paul met Christ on the road to Damascus, (Acts 9:1-22) and his views changed.  He began to see Christ, and subsequently humans, whether Jews or Gentiles, differently.

The world judges you based on your past.  God judges you based on your future.  The world judges you based on what you have done.  God judges you based on what you can, and what He knows you will, become.  Let’s do our best to see others through God’s eyes.

Do you believe in miracles?  Do you think that Christ still performs miracles today?  In Matthew 8-9, we read the accounts of several of Christ’s miracles.  Matthew 9:23-26 tells us of the raising of the synagogue ruler’s daughter.

When Jesus arrived at the ruler’s house, there were already mourners wailing and lamenting.  It was customary to hire mourners for this purpose to help express the grief of the family.  The fact that they were already there meant that they had no doubt that the girl was dead.  When Jesus said that she was only sleeping, they mocked Him.  These people knew Christ, knew His character and had already witnessed other miracles He had done.  Surely, if He said that the child was asleep, they should consider it a possibility.  Yet, they were so certain of her death, they thought His statement was ridiculous.  Christ, however, had a different perspective on the matter.  He knew that He was going to wake the girl up.

Before performing this miracle, Christ sent all the mourners and onlookers away.  Only her parents, and a few disciples remained with Him to witness her resurrection.  This meant that believing that the girl was raised from death would become a matter of faith for everyone who did not witness it, and perhaps even for those who did.  Had she really been just sleeping?

I don’t know about you, but I like to have things explained and know the details of how things work.  In this case, like many others, Christ didn’t allow the details to all be known.  He left some things a mystery.  That is still often the case today.  Either we can’t understand the explanation, or there is some possible explanation other than a miracle from God.  Those who choose not to believe in God, can find another way to rationalize what has happened, but those who do believe must often exercise their faith to do so.  Jesus said, “Blessed are the people who have not seen and yet have believed.”  (John 20:29)

Since Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8), we know that He can still perform miracles.  He is able to meet every need, but He cares more about your salvation than your comfort.  He wants you to rely on Him.  (Matthew 11:28)  Seek Him first, and He will take care of the rest.  (Matthew 6:33)

Sometimes things don’t go according to plan.  For that matter, it might be more accurate to say that usually things don’t go according to plan.  Our plans anyway.  That was certainly the case for Joseph, whose story is told in Genesis 37-50.  Let me give you the condensed version in case you are not familiar with the story.

Joseph was his father Jacob’s favourite son which made his brothers jealous.  When he was a teenager Joseph had a dream that was interpreted to mean that one day his brothers would bow down to him.  This didn’t endear him to his brothers who conspired to kill him.  One brother opposed the killing, but was willing to leave him stranded in a well, with the intention of coming back to rescue him later.  In the meantime the other brothers came up with a different plan—to sell him as a slave.  Joseph was taken to Egypt where he worked for Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard.  Potiphar’s wife took a liking to Joseph and made a pass at him.  When Joseph refused her, she accused him of trying to rape her.  Joseph was thrown into prison where some time later he interpreted the dreams of two other prisoners.  Eventually one of them remembered him to Pharaoh, when Pharaoh needed a dream interpreted.  The interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream led to Joseph being put in charge of storing food for the famine that was to come, which saved the lives of many people including Joseph’s brothers who in desperation came to Egypt in search of food.  Joseph chose to forgive his brothers, but when their father died the brothers feared that Joseph would seek revenge.  Joseph’s answer to them is Genesis 50:20:  What you meant for evil, God meant for good.

God’s plans are not thwarted by the deeds of humans.  Because our perspective is so limited, it is difficult for us to really understand how things can possibly work out for good when we are in the midst of terrible situations.  I’m sure there must have been times when Joseph wondered why all these horrible things were happening to him, but he trusted God.  That is significant in itself since Joseph didn’t have the benefit of written scripture to encourage him.  Yet he must have had a good relationship with God, because scripture now tells us that the Lord was with Joseph, and Joseph continued to do the right things despite being physically harmed, sold into slavery and falsely accused and imprisoned.

Thankfully we get to see the end of Joseph’s story, and see that things worked out for the best.  Joseph saved not only his own family members, but also many Egyptians and whatever foreigners came to Egypt in search of food.  And because the Israelites were saved in Egypt, they went on to become a great nation.  Through the Israelites, Jesus came into the world, and brought salvation for all.  So Joseph saved more lives than he could have at that time imagined.  Joseph surely knew the promise that God had made to Abraham (Genesis 15:13-16), and he trusted God to fulfill it.

You may be in a struggle right now that you can’t see the end of.  You don’t know what will come of it, but God does.  He already knows what the ending will be.  I hope that you are able to look back at previous struggles and see how they worked out, and maybe that will give you some encouragement to keep going, and to keep doing what is right in God’s eyes.  God has a good plan for your life.  (Jeremiah 29:11)  Trust Him to fulfill it.

Do you ever feel like you want to just quit?  I do.  For example, right now it is the middle of winter which means cold, grey days and long, dark nights.  I am recovering from not one, but two car accidents within the last five weeks.  The second didn’t cause more injury, but it did create more hassle in car repairs and insurance paperwork.  The injury from the first accident, however, is still causing pain and severe headaches.  I have much I want to do, but little strength.  Others I love are suffering even more.  My aunt has a recently diagnosed inoperable brain tumour.  My sister-in-law is in the hospital being injected with harsh anti-rejection medications to try to save her second transplanted kidney.   Friends are dealing with work and family issues.  Sometimes I wonder, can we not just get a break?  Then I remember Galatians 6:9 and that we will be rewarded for our perseverance.

Galatians 6:7-8 tells us that we will reap what we sow.  Good seeds will produce a good harvest; bad seeds will produce a bad harvest.  Verse 9 tells us that we need to continue to sow those good seeds.  We need to be kind and helpful to others, and not give up.  Continuing to do good does not mean that we need to do everything.  We need to prioritize the things that consume our time and energy, but we also need to be sure that it isn’t all focused on ourselves.

Growing weary is not the same as growing tired.  Tired is a physical state that we encounter when we try to fit too much into our lives at the expense of rest.  Weary is an attitude of discouragement—we feel like it is just not worth the trouble.  Galatians 6:9 tells us that it is worth the trouble.  Some rewards will come sooner and some will come later, but this verse promises us that they will come.  The agricultural analogy is a good one.  Not all crops progress from seed to harvest in the same amount of time—some are ready in months while others take years.  It is possible that we will see the rewards for some of our good deeds soon, and it is possible that we won’t see others until eternity, but we are promised that we will see them, and when they come we will realize that God’s timing is perfect.  Take heart!  Don’t give up!

In my last post, I discussed Paul’s teaching that we are justified by faith and faith alone.  James 2:14-26 is often seen as a contradiction of Paul, but what James said was not directed at Paul, and for that matter what Paul said had not been directed at James.  Paul was speaking to a group of people who felt that they could earn their righteousness by obeying the law to the letter, and often to the point of neglecting mercy and compassion.  James was speaking to his brothers and sisters—those who already claimed to have a faith in God but were not showing it in their actions.

James is not saying that we need to have both faith and works in order to earn salvation.  If that were the case, we would be claiming that Christ is not our only saviour, but that we are saviours for ourselves.  This is not supported in the rest of scripture at all, and it is not what James is teaching either.  Faith in Christ is all we need for salvation, but true faith is more than just saying so; it is more than just intellectual agreement.  That is an essential first step, but it is not the last step.  True faith naturally results in obedience to Christ, and in the character of Christ being displayed through us.  Good works are the only way that other people will be able to see our faith.

If we were to go to court to claim our innocence in some matter, we would be judged on our actions; that is how the jury would decide if what we said is true.  The same principle applies to our faith.  Our actions are the evidence that shows the world that our faith is real.  Good works are the fruit of the tree that has faith as its root.  You are known by the fruit that you bear.   (Matthew 12:33)

It is a case of what motivates us.  Are we doing what we believe is right, as Paul’s audience was, because we are trying to earn gold stars, or are we doing what we believe God wants us to do because we love Him and want to serve Him?  Ephesians 2:8-10 ties it all together for us.  We are saved by faith, but we were designed to do good works.

In Romans 5:1-11 Paul discusses the benefits of being justified by faith.  Years ago, I memorized Romans 5:1-2 in the New International Version:  Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.  And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

First of all, we are justified by faith.  I once heard someone define the term justified as “just [as] if I’d” never sinned.  Through faith, and only by faith, we are worthy to share in the benefits that Paul describes here.  They are gifts given through the grace of God to those who believe.  The NET Bible translates “justified” as “declared righteous”.  We don’t start out righteous, but we don’t have to clean ourselves up before we can be accepted by God.  All we have to do is have faith, believe.  (Romans 4:3-5)

The term peace here does not simply mean a contented feeling, but a state of peace.  It is not the peace of God, but peace with God.  We are not on opposing sides.  We can join God’s team, and the only way to get on the team is if we are justified by faith.  And this is only possible because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Jesus acts as a mediator for us to reconcile us to God.  As soon as we make the decision, we are at peace with God.  So, our faith plus Jesus gets us access to God’s grace.  We no longer have to worry about God’s wrath because He is surrounding us with His grace, His undeserved favour.  It was grace that allowed us to be justified by faith in the first place.

This all brings us to the hope of the glory of God.  Hope, as it is used in the New Testament, is not defined as wishful thinking but as expectation.  We expect to see the glory of God; we are looking forward to seeing the glory of God—to see God as He truly is.  We know that we will see God clearly in eternity, but we can also see glimpses of God’s glory now if we keep our spiritual eyes open.  (Titus 2:11-13, I Corinthians 13:12)

Sometimes we can get discouraged by all the things that we have to face in life, and maybe we sometimes think that God is punishing us.  He’s not.  It’s true that we may have to face the consequences of our unwise choices, but this is not punishment, because, if we are justified by faith, we are no longer under God’s wrath.   If we dwell on the promises of these two verses, perhaps our hope will be renewed.  What we are going through today is small in the light of eternity.  Even still, God is on our side.

In II Chronicles 6:13-42, Solomon humbles himself by kneeling in front of the entire assembly of Israel, and prays a prayer of dedication for the temple that he had just finished building.  He starts the prayer with praise for who God is, not for what He has done for him.  This is a good reminder for us, and it is the model that Jesus gave us in the Lord’s prayer. (Matthew 6:9-13)  God is worthy to be praised because of who is, not because He is a problem solving service for us.  And yet, Solomon also asks God to consider the requests of His servants.  He prays that God would hear and forgive.  (II Chronicles 6:19-21)  This implies the necessity on our part to repent.

In II Chronicles 6:18, Solomon states that God is too big to be contained within a physical structure on earth—even the highest heavens cannot contain Him.  So why then did he build the temple?  II Chronicles 6:20 tells us that God promised He would live there.  God wants to make Himself accessible to us.  God has established a covenant with His people, and through the temple they had a focal point to worship Him.  Even though the temple was often referred to as God’s dwelling place, it was not meant to contain Him, but to provide a place for His people to find Him.  That is not to say that today we need to go to a church to find God, for I Corinthians 6:19 tells us that we are now the temple of the Holy Spirit.  Through the death of Jesus Christ, who became the ultimate sacrifice for our sins, we no longer need to go to a temple, but we do still need to humble ourselves before God, praise Him for who He is, and ask His forgiveness.  Then He will hear our requests.

Do you ever feel like God doesn’t answer your prayers?  I do.  Particularly lately, I feel like He is ignoring my requests for pain relief.  Ephesians 3:20-21 tells us that He is able to do so much more than we could ask or imagine.  So, if that’s the case, why doesn’t He heal me?  Perhaps because He is doing something beyond my imagination.  Perhaps He has a better plan in mind.  I can’t conceive what that might be, but isn’t that what this verse is all about?

In Ephesians 3:14-19, Paul makes some pretty bold requests—essentially that we would have the power and knowledge of Christ within us, and in fact have Christ Himself within us.  Yet, Paul believed not only that God was able to accomplish this, but that He was (and since it is in the present tense, still is) able far beyond Paul’s (or our) expectations.  Even though Paul seems to be asking a lot, he is in fact not asking too much.  We cannot ask too much of God, because whatever we think to ask is well within His power.  That does not mean that we will always get things just the way we ask for them.  God has purposes beyond what we could imagine as well, and we know that His purposes for us are good.  (Romans 8:28, Matthew 7:11)  God wants to give us good gifts, but He also wants us to be humble, and to bring Him the glory.  He wants our requests to be made according to His will.  (John 15:7, John 14:13-14)

The beginning of Ephesians 3:20 talks about the power that is working within us.  If we allow Christ to work through us, and in us, we will be much more effective.  God’s desire is to make us more like Jesus, and in order to accomplish this, we need to do things His way.  I know that it isn’t easy to give up control, but if we give it to God, life can be so much better than we imagine.  God’s grace and mercy and love and power will never run out.  They are infinite, not limited by our finite minds.  His goodness to us will not change; we just need to be willing to accept it, and to allow Him to have the praise and the glory.  God sees the end from the beginning and we can trust that He has our best interests at heart.