Saturday, October 31, 2009


Matthew 9:

11When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?"

12On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.

13But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

Jesus tells the Pharisees to learn the meaning of the phrase, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” He is quoting from Hosea, one of their prophets.

Pharisees desired sacrifice. Their self-measurement was often based on how much they gave up to please God. Their history of sacrifice included many offerings to pay the price for their sin. The blood of animals, the first fruits of their harvest and tithes of all their increase marked their obligations to Jehovah.

Every generation of Christendom has also had followers who measure their godliness by their sacrifice. Separation from the world, dedication to the church and personal devotion are characteristic responses of people who are sick of the world and seeking something better. No price is too high and no sacrifice too great in following after truth.

But Jesus says something else here. God has more desire to show mercy to us than to exact payment from our failures. God is willing to pay the whole price just to have us as His own. Like the message of Hosea, God is married to a prostitute and wants to win her heart.

Jesus wants the Pharisees and us to think about mercy as our motivation. What is the difference?


-payment for failure


-demand for justice

-based on what you have

-eye for eye and tooth for tooth

- to gain approval


-gift in spite of failure

-freely chosen

-a call for love

-based on what you do not have

-denial of retribution

-to invite acceptance

How does this play out in our choices? What are your motives for being a follower of Jesus? There is no better reason than mercy.

Recognizing that God has been generously merciful to sick sinners, we adopt the code of mercy. Our lives will focus on loving those who have not earned our favour. We will live satisfied with forgiveness rather than demanding retribution for the wrongs against us.

We will go out of our way to entertain strangers and surround our lives with sinful people for the purpose of paying forward on the mercy we received from God.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


There are plenty of Old and New Testament passages that tell God’s followers to avoid bad company. Wrong associations can corrupt good morals and lead to all sorts of temptation. The problem has often been with Christians who make this their social code and only hang out with believers who are living right. It made sense to the Pharisees and also to many Christians. Many churches do not know what to do with sinners—both believing and unbelieving sinners.

Beyond obvious reasons to avoid corrupting influence and temptation, there are ten thousand opportunities for faithful followers to go with Jesus to the table of sinners. Apparently Jesus felt perfectly comfortable to teach his disciples to do the same and then encourage all believers to go into the world with the good news about the Kingdom.

Luke 5:

31Jesus answered them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."

At one level, this sounds like a good concession for do-gooders. The Pharisees may have heard this phrase and assumed that Jesus was saying that they were the healthy ones. The sinners were obviously sick! Healthy people should stay away from the sick in case they catch something.

Maybe, there were some aspects of strict Judaism that produced healthy living and thinking, but Jesus would not let them assume superiority because of their status.

The Pharisees viewed themselves as ‘The righteous’. Jesus says something that echoes their belief. It was their understanding that they should call sinners to repentance—and call they did.

The Pharisees call for repentance took the form of demanding surrender to the Law of God. It was preached in the synagogue, in the Temple and in countless encounters with people who fell short of the righteous demands of the Torah. They were careful to preserve the separation. The only thing they knew to do with sinners was to be critical and judge them.

Jesus upset the leaders when he chose to get close to sinners and accept them.

How are we to bring health to the sick and call sinners to repentance? For starts, we recognize that Jesus is the doctor and our limited good health is directly a result of Jesus’ healing influence. In a world that obsesses over healthy living, Jesus does not spend much time focusing on the healthy. We must never forget that good health, clear thinking and good relationships are gifts from God.

Spiritual health always starts from an understanding of our sickness. We need Doctor Jesus and there is no self-deprecating groveling involved in seeing that. It is a wise acceptance of our spiritual malady and need to appeal for God’s help in getting well. It is our personal repentance to admit our sickness to God and surrender to His treatment.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Matthew 9:

9 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" came and ate with him and his disciples.

11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?"

12 On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.

13 But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

We must never forget that Jesus has a mind of his own when picking associates. He rarely chooses people on the basis of their popularity, righteousness or skills. In fact, one might be hard-pressed to explain why Jesus doesn’t show a little discretion when calling people to follow Him. It is equally disturbing to see his apparent lack of discretion about which social invitations are accepted.

Sometimes Jesus says ‘no’ to the crowd’s request to come teach and heal, but ‘yes’ in a notorious request to dinner.

Meet Matthew. In fact the scripture we read was written by him. While he calls himself Matthew, Luke and Mark refer to him as Levi. This name may indicate that Levi was from the tribe of Levi, the people who served as priests and staff of the Holy Temple. Matthew writes his gospel to a Jewish audience.

So why did he not refer to himself as Levi in writing the gospel?

A name carries a reputation and his was ill-reputed.

Matthew was a tax-collector, a profession that was despised in Palestine at that time. Rome auctioned off tax territories to various individuals; after the tax-collectors gathered the amount they had bid, any money that was left over they could keep for themselves. Many of them collected as much money as they could in any way that they could in order to become rich very quickly. Tax-collectors were considered to be so dishonest that they could not testify in courts of law.[i]

Jesus went to Matthew’s tax booth and asked him to become a disciple. What went through the minds of other tax collectors or Jews coming to pay their taxes? Jesus not only called Matthew to follow, but proceeded to a party at Matthew’s house.

This raised the suspicion of the local religious leaders who then questioned Jesus’ disciples—why was their master dining with tax collectors? Shouldn’t a religious teacher avoid dining with sinners?

Matthew was no doubt a Jew, but the religious establishment saw their need to separate from those who did not live according to the customs and sentiments of Judaic practice.

He was a Jew, but not a good one in the eyes of his peers. He was a failure as a Jew. And this is exactly who Jesus called and associated himself with. He took Levi the tax collector and grew him into Matthew the disciple and gospel writer.

It begs the question about our lives—who do we choose to sit at the table with?

Sunday, October 25, 2009


For the past eleven years, New Song Church has served a meal on Friday nights. It began when Windsor Christian Fellowship[i] approached us about coming alongside to help in our mission to reach the urban poor. They brought people, funds and food and mentored us in the organizational detail to provide this ministry.

Currently, an average night feeds 150 people. The food is excellent and there is a noisy atmosphere of saints and sinners sharing the same space. Occasionally, hostilities erupt as outside feuds or overly-sensitive types bristle in the crowded room. But usually, the room is filled with laughter, gratitude, gossip and the limp of grace. Our ministry manager Kim Kostescu is doing an outstanding job.

For some churchgoers, the attitude towards this ministry may be one of distanced appreciation. It’s great that you are serving ‘those people’. It may be great in the eyes of some because they cannot imagine themselves sitting at the table.

Could it be that the ministry closest to Jesus’ heart comes from the ones who simply eat and listen to strangers at the table? Many times, the life of God has flowed to the hungry simply because a humble person took time and offered acceptance by sitting as a potential friend at the table.

In fact, Jesus did some of his best work in the dining room.

Friday, October 23, 2009


Luke 5:

8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon's partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, "Don't be afraid; from now on you will catch men." 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

Simon did what all humble sinners do in the presence of God. He realized that Jesus was a different sort of man from himself and that it was time to decline involvement.

Sin separates us from God and it separates us from the good guys. Simon realized that he didn’t belong with Jesus and chose to bow out.

Here was the best fishing tip of their lives and Simon tells Jesus to go away.

How prepared are you for God’s blessings? God wants to take your history and use it to shape your future with Him. But, it is here that we encounter a personal crisis. “I’m not worthy and not ready to have God do something good in my life.”

There are some who experience God perform a miracle or a generous blessing but must immediately distance themselves from God out of fear.

What was Simon really afraid of? Was he afraid of being associated with religious people? Was he aware that God was calling him? Was he afraid of the miracle as if some sort of witchcraft were in operation and could be dangerous? Was he afraid of the success that Jesus had brought in the catch of fish?

Jesus tells him ‘Don’t be afraid.’ Do you know how many times an angel or Jesus appears in Scripture and the first words are ‘Don’t be afraid’? There is something ‘other-worldly’ and overwhelming in the event of supernatural beings entering our realm. It’s as if we think they don’t belong here.

Jesus makes a job offer that is unconventional. He doesn’t ask them, he tells them that are going to have a career change and follow Jesus catching people instead of fish. What nerve He has!

Has Jesus ever told you to follow Him? He invites all of humanity to follow Him into the Kingdom of God. We of the natural world are called to live in the supernatural world.

Will you be like Simon and tell Jesus to go away? Will you listen to Jesus’ invitation and choose to trade in your history for a future with Him?

It is a call to follow. That takes faith to trust God to make sense of a risky future.

And if you read on, the rest is history. We are the men and women that Jesus and His followers have caught. He calls us to become ‘people fishers’.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Luke 5:

4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch."

5 Simon answered, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets."

6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

So finally, the sermon is over. Now the preacher is telling the fisherman how to catch fish. Simon could have scoffed at the request and told Jesus ‘Enough is enough! I’m going home to get some sleep.’

Maybe it was out of religious respect… maybe Simon was just overtired and not ready to put up a fight… maybe he was curious at the request…

Setting good reasons aside, he humors Jesus and drops the nets into the water.

The next scene is one of holy chaos. The biggest catch of his life is in Simon’s net. There are so many fish that the strain is breaking their nets. As they haul in, the load is starting to sink the boat.

Using the fine acoustics of the serene lake, Simon yells over ‘Help!’ The others come and both boats are getting so full of fish that they are taking on water and starting to sink!

From all over the lake multiplied thousands of fish had schooled under the boat Jesus sat in. This happened after the expert fishermen had failed to catch anything. This was a miracle that astounded these veteran fishermen.

When you do a favor for Jesus, payback is a blessing. He had imposed on them to use their boat for his ministry and now they were being rewarded for their sacrificial willingness to serve.

Monday, October 19, 2009


When Jesus was starting his ministry, he gathered some fishermen to join his expedition. Luke tells the story of a day with a convincing effect on Simon Peter, James and John.

Luke 5:

1 One day as Jesus was standing by the Sea of Galilee with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, 2 he saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

Jesus began his public ministry by speaking in the synagogues. He was a practicing Jew and the synagogue was the appropriate place for religious talks and discussions.

Jesus knew that the good news of God’s Kingdom would include more than the people who were already religious and busy in the synagogues. He carried the message with him into the community. He was becoming well known and recognized in public, so His preaching ministry outgrew the form and confinement of the synagogue.

Jesus understood something about communication and acoustics. Have you ever noticed how well sound travels across still water? Jesus borrowed Simon and his boat and moved offshore where His voice would carry better across the serene bay. Jesus will always use the people and things available to Him if the people are willing.

Simon and the guys could have told Jesus they were too busy and that the boat was unavailable. They were washing their nets after an unsuccessful fishing expedition that lasted through the night.

The only thing in their nets was seaweed and that needed to be cleaned off. So Jesus request to borrow Simon and his boat could have been politely dismissed as impractical and lousy timing.

Does Jesus ever ask tired, busy people to do something? All the time!

So Simon decides to go along with it. Maybe he was overtired and not thinking clearly. Maybe he knew about Jesus and was trying to do a good deed in the public eye by helping this celebrity teacher.

For whatever reasons that made sense at the time, Simon goes along with this religious teacher’s request and lends him aid.

I can picture him sitting in the boat listening to Jesus and watching the crowd. Jesus the righteous Rabbi and Simon the low-life fisherman ~ working together for the first time. What a contrast of stereotypes!

Saturday, October 17, 2009


All over the world people complain about their lot in life. They wish for more money, more excitement, more rest, a better job, a better marriage, better skills – as if there is more to life than is presently experienced.

But what will you do if God offers to improve the quality of your life by making changes to it? Will you have the guts to follow His lead wherever it may take you? Will you answer with the life-changing ‘yes’?

Faith is risky business. We choose to say ‘yes’ to God based on a little bit of knowledge. Faith takes a daring step and responds with willingness to the God who offers Himself.

Some never take the risk of faith. They choose instead to stay back and rely on the security of what they know for certain. The fear of change and the fear of failure keep many comfortably numb to the exciting promises of God.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Through the Holy Spirit, we can sometimes be given certain pictures, visions, dreams or words. Sometimes a simple picture says more to you than a thousand words of explanation. God understands the multi-complex ways in which we come to understanding. Don't be surprised when a startling dream makes you think about something deeper in your life.

Sometimes people sense that God is saying something to another or to shed light on a situation. As we learn to share these impressions and humbly explore their significance we find that truth reveals itself in surprising ways.

Sometimes we will immediately understand a symbolic message. Other times we will have to share it with others to discern its meaning. If there is no clarity or understanding to come from it, then we let it go. Some things may not be clear to you for a long time, but one day you will understand.

I Thessalonians 5:19 says "Do not put out the Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything."

It’s important that we do not let these experiences replace or oppose what God clearly communicates through Scripture, the fellowship of believers and our conscience. Without exception, God speaks with consistency. Everything he says can be referenced and supported elsewhere. God’s words are alive and interconnect with truth on all levels.

Let’s remember that we are all children in God’s Kingdom and learners. If you want to be a good student, sometimes you have to sit near the front and pay close attention. Sometimes you have to crack open the books and ask others to help you understand.

There is no shame in wanting answers. In fact, we are encouraged to diligently seek God and listen to His voice.

When things get too quiet and you are not hearing anything new from God, go back and rehearse what you know He’s already told you. Often the reminder of what you already know attunes your hearing. Sometimes going back to the basics brings clarity to what’s blocking your connection.

There is nothing more life changing and powerful than recognizing God’s voice. Let’s keep our communication flowing to God as well. It is two-way communication.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Sin has done a good job of destroying our ability to hear God clearly. Sin causes us to hear what we want to hear and not necessarily what was spoken to us. Part of the way God restores us and opens communication is through our conscience. The Holy Spirit of God comes to dwell in us like a hearing aid in our ear. Muffled messages can be amplified by God to speak to our conscience. We are able to determine right, wrong, best and worst as God’s Spirit interacts with our conscience and our free will.

Jesus said that the sheep recognize the Shepherd’s voice. RCA Victor’s logo of a dog listening to a gramophone in entitled ‘His Master’s Voice’. The idea was that this dog could hear the voice of its owner through the technology.

God’s technology for us is a hearing aid called ‘the conscience’. His Spirit is the battery which empowers our conscience to hear God’s voice clearly.

You can hear God speak to you through new thoughts, formation of convictions, clear directions and amplification of truth in your mind. Rarely and occasionally, there might be an angel or a voice from heaven, but don’t miss the quieter ways that God is speaking right now.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


From the Scriptures we find that humanity is interconnected. There were no people who hid in a cave for 40 years and then left behind their writings as wisdom for us to follow. God always used people who knew people. Every prophet, priest, king or commoner used by God had influence and connection with others. Even in captivity, the Hebrew slaves had each other to lean on and keep a remnant of faith alive.

Your relationship with God depends on your interconnection with others who share the faith. Not even Adam got to be left alone. God said it wasn’t good and created Eve so they could form community and family.

You are too small to get the whole message by yourself. You need other people to talk to, pray with, problem-solve and worship with.

There are times when we need solitude. We need to be alone and quiet to hear God. Those times may be profound and very personal. Much more often, we will hear God through the words and actions of others. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. As the many parts of Christ’s body, we are designed for working, loving and thinking together. God happens when we get the connection right with each other.

Friday, October 9, 2009


The Bible is a collection of God’s messages, the history of God’s followers and inspired teachings. Most Christians believe that these writings give us the basic teaching and knowledge on which to pattern our values and understand what God’s purposes are.

Martin Luther was a Catholic monk who emphasized that the Scriptures had more authority than the traditions of the church and its interpretations. The phrase ‘sola scriptura’ means ‘scripture alone’. He maintained that scripture is the best tool for interpretating of scripture. It speaks for itself.

He said, “a simple layman armed with Scripture is greater than the mightiest pope without it".

In your life, God’s words from the Bible are enough to communicate God’s love and truth to you. If a group of you had to have one book on a desert island and this was it, explorers could come back hundreds of years later and find that generations of followers consistently knew God. Their values and beliefs would compliment and align with millions of followers throughout time.

This amazing collection of writings has been preserved and survived countless persecutions. You can go back to the earliest copies in existence and find that every language group has translated the message of Scripture solidly and accurately.

Don Hewitt, creator of "60 Minutes," on his special talent as a journalist: My philosophy is simple. It's what little kids say to their parents: "Tell me a story." Even the people who wrote the Bible knew that when you deal with issues, you tell stories. The issue was evil; the story was Noah. I've had producers say, "We've got to do something on acid rain." I say, "Hold it. Acid rain is not a story. Acid rain is a topic. We don't do topics. Find me someone who has to deal with the problem of acid rain. Now you have a story."

Terry Ann Knopf in Boston Globe Magazine, in Reader's Digest.

How does God want to communicate with you? He already has through His Story. When you read it and hear it, God is mystically present to lead you to understand something deeper than words on a page.

Hebrews 4:12 reminds us that "the word of God is living and active" and "sharper than any double edged sword."

I guarantee that the words are alive and actively change you, if you are open to hear what God wants to say to you. As you learn to digest it, it comes to life.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Version #1—

Scintillate, scintillate, globule vivific, Fain would I fathom thy nature specific. Loftily poised in the ether capacious, Strongly resembling a gem carbonaceous.

Version #2— en francais

Scintillement, scintillement, peu ├ętoile, comment je me demande ce que vous ├¬tes, vers le haut de au-dessus du monde tellement haut, comme un diamant dans le ciel.

Version #3 –

Twinkle, twinkle, little star, How I wonder what you are, Up above the world so high, Like a diamond in the sky.

There are literally hundreds of languages that this message could be translated into. When it is told in your language in a way that you are used to hearing, it becomes a part of you.

The creator of the Universe is continually engaged in communication with us. Throughout every generation, culture and language group there is One God who speaks and listens to each of us.

God’s Spirit is described as a mighty rushing wind and as a gentle breeze. As we learn to respond to God, we are empowered like a windmill responding to the wind. It is God’s movement that energizes us. Our response to God creates an energy that empowers others.

In Proverbs we read "Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway. For whoever finds me finds life and receives favour from the Lord." (Proverbs 8:34) and Jesus said "My sheep listen to my voice." (John 10:27)

Monday, October 5, 2009


In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, there is a conversation between Alice and the Cheshire Cat. Alice asked, "Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?"

"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the cat.

"I don't much care where," said Alice.

"Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the cat.

This is sometimes the state of Jesus’ followers. Without a sense of where we want to go, there is a lack of direction.

Jesus knew that to be faithful to his purpose required a succession plan. He calls his followers to take over the Father’s business and to do greater things together than he could do alone. If you are to live with a mission in your life, you will get direction in the seasons of prayer.

Like Henry Ford trotting around the house to clear his head, the Christian gets alone with God to clear their heart. Without the consultations of the Spirit in our life, we do the will of the greatest need. Doing the will of the Father requires that we talk to Him and let Him speak to us.

Writer/philosopher George Santayana said:

Imagine people going to work day after day without knowing their company's business, yet that's exactly what happens when church members don't know what their church is trying to do. Fanaticism consists in redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim. [i]

Let’s not fall into the trap of being busy as a church while forgetting what we’re aiming for. An overworked church runs ragged and burns out. A church focused on eternal purposes finds a cycle of work and rest that extends the work far beyond the scope and imagination of the people involved.

Like some of the buildings in our neighborhood, there are people who have lost their purpose. Instead of being useful on purpose, they become relics of another time filled with useless artifacts.

Jesus came to announce the Kingdom of God. It is a kingdom that finds empty shells and renovates them for new purposes. It is a Kingdom in which rusted out and broken machines are refurbished and commissioned for new tasks.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ established a new order for the way of the world. Decay and uselessness have been superseded by a restoration plan to bring back thriving purpose. It was this purposeful Kingdom that Jesus gave His life to. He was not trampled underfoot and destroyed by the agenda of others. He laid down his life freely to end the death wish of the world.

But let’s not forget—the purposes of God’s Kingdom are greater than a million other distractions and needs. Eternal purposes are greater than deadlines and situations that need immediate answers.

Saturday, October 3, 2009


Mark 1:

35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: "Everyone is looking for you!"

38 Jesus replied, "Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come."

Jesus got up extra early some days. Before the sun rose he left the house and found a quiet place to pray. In separating himself from other people he was able to pray with perspective. Other times, it was after-hours prayer time. A solitary place following a busy day was essential to be recharged and intimate with His Father.

Being the leader in demand that he was, it didn’t take long for the disciples to come find him. The disciples started their day with a knock on the door. Already there were people coming to see Jesus and he wasn’t there! They left in a panic searching for Jesus.

Jesus is missing! We need him right now and he’s not here! Every felt their panic?

As the disciples thought about what was important, they believed that the needs of people were paramount. Of course they felt that way, since their Master was always going out of his way to prioritize people. How frustrating it must have been when the needs were not being immediately met by Jesus.

Following Jesus can be frustrating. There is an idealism and demand for compassion that can leave you running ragged and overwhelmed. The frustration lies in the need to rest in Father’s presence and having to let go of other responsibilities and relationships to do so.

Jesus was able to do incredible work between his times of prayer. It’s not that prayer was always easy or restful. His prayer times included fasting in the wilderness where he was tempted by the Devil. His times of prayer included weeping and deep questions. At the most difficult time he sweats drops of blood. And yet, he did not avoid times of solitude. The balance of rest and worship that occurred in these times kept him focused on his mission.

Long before Rick Warren, Jesus understood the purpose-driven life.

Instead of returning to the demands of the crowd, he tells his disciples that it is time to move on. The mission is to preach the good news in many, other towns. That is why he came. That is why he was sent.

The reality of staying focused on mission includes the need to leave others behind. Not even Jesus could do everything completely in a given situation.

His purpose stretched far beyond the temporary suffering or season of time that needy people found themselves in. Eternal purpose requires that some work happen in the immediate time frame while other parts of the work are accomplished beyond a lifetime.

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