You Are Chosen

Have you ever felt overlooked? 



In a world where we are too often valued for our talent, our looks, our skills, our success, or our money, it’s easy to buy into the belief that we just don’t measure up. Too many of us see ourselves as second rate, as second class, as also-rans. We are the benchwarmers while the stars are getting all the attention. We are always the bridesmaid and never the bride. And if we were honest, many of us identify as the rejected, as the unloved, as the worthless.

The economy, in large part, is driven by dissatisfaction. Advertising is designed to make you feel like you’re missing something, something important, something critical. We often buy into it hook, link, and sinker, but we quickly find out that the product advertised falls short of its claims. Or even if it lives up to the hype, we still feel that level of discontent. We still feel incomplete. We still don’t like the image staring back at us when we look into the mirror. 

I’ve shared before that I’ve wrestled with how I see myself. From a young age, I became convinced that I was somehow less than…

Less desirable. 

Less talented. 

Less potential. 

In a world where winners are only winners if there is a sea of losers in their wake, it’s no surprise that we have come to measure ourselves by these merits. If we make it, if we have the nice house with the two late-model cars, the beautiful, smart, successful spouse, and the 2.8 well behaved, popular, kids with a bright future, then we are the winners. Then we have reason to believe in ourselves. 

But for the rest of us, for the ones who are only scraping by, for the ones who can only dream of a moment alone from our loud, relentless children, for the ones who work two or three jobs and still manage to make just enough to be broke, for the ones whose marriage is on the fritz, the one who feels tired and broken-down, and alone, for the rest of us, too often we see ourselves as worthless. We see ourselves as defeated. We see ourselves as less. 

But Jesus has something to say to the less-thans, to the never-weres. He has something for the broken down and defeated.

In John 15, he is pouring out his heart to his disciples in the final days of his earthly ministry. It’s been a whirlwind of emotion, particularly in these last chapters. Jesus, knowing what is to come soon enough, is taking this opportunity to impart his most essential teachings, reminding them of his core values- and their commands as his followers.

And as he does this, he reminds them of their past. 

John 15:15-16 says “I don’t call you servants any longer; servants don’t know what the master is doing, but I have told you everything the Father has said to Me. I call you friends. 16 You did not choose Me. I chose you, and I orchestrated all of this so that you would be sent out and bear great and perpetual fruit.”

You didn’t choose me. I chose you. 

Earlier in his ministry, he even remarks: “If the Father who sent Me does not draw you, then there’s no way you can come to Me.” (John 6:44). 

Jesus’ disciples, the ones who Jesus called chosen, the ones who he reminded them wouldn’t have been following him had the Father not drawn them, were not the kind of people that you’d expect a leader like Jesus to call as his disciples. 

In fact, they would have been seen as unqualified to follow Jesus. And yet Jesus chose them anyway.

They would have been considered poor choices for the risk-averse leader. And yet Jesus chose them anyway.

Consider Peter and his brother Andrew, or James and his brother John, for a moment- some of the more well-known of Jesus’ followers. In Matthew 4, Jesus sees them casting their nets into the lake. Verse 18 simply says they were doing this because they were fishermen. 

For those of you not familiar with 1st-century Jewish culture, which my guess would be, most of us: Fisherman was not a career that a young boy aspired towards. You didn’t dream of one day being a fisherman. You pictured of transcending your station through study and hard work, setting yourself apart from the rest of society. For people in Jesus day, this meant becoming a rabbi- highly respected teachers and interpreters of the Scriptures.

Everything in Peter and Andrews lives was arranged from a young age with the hope of becoming a rabbi. They went to school; they memorized the Torah- the first five books of the Bible. They trained daily. They worked hard. All with the hope of someday having a rabbi invite them to follow him and be his disciple. But only the best of the best, a select few, would be the chosen ones.

And that wasn’t their story. It was never meant to be. Instead, these boys became fishermen. These boys were just not good enough. 

Maybe you know what that’s like. Maybe you’ve dealt with the disappointment of being told that you weren’t enough. 

Maybe it’s a former relationship that said you just didn’t measure up. Or it was a boss that said you were insufficient. Maybe it’s a broken friendship. Maybe it’s something inside you that makes you feel like you just aren’t good enough. You don’t measure up. You don’t make the cut. 

Maybe you had dreams. Maybe you had aspirations. Maybe you had goals- visions of how you thought your life would turn out. 

And now you’re a fisherman. And it’s time to set those dreams aside. 

For many of us, reading the story of Jesus calling his disciples, his call to them seems foreign, odd, even ridiculous (if some random dude told you to leave everything and follow him, would  you?), but when Jesus calls to them in Matthew 4 and says “Come, follow me,” what Peter and Andrew heard… what James and John heard… what Matthew heard… was “You…are…good…enough! I choose you.”

James and John are seen fishing with their father. It has been suggested that these boys could have been as young as fourteen or fifteen when Jesus calls them to follow. So these teenagers had been determined to be insufficient… unable to make the cut…

And Jesus calls them and tells them, “You… the ones who didn’t make the cut… you can know what I know… you can be…like…me…”

When Jesus chose these boys who didn’t cut it, he was saying something profound. You may not feel like you’re enough, you may not see yourself as extraordinary. But Jesus looks at you and recognizes somebody that can be like him, that can do what he does. It’s people like you that God used to change the course of human history.

Matthew presumably would have made some mistakes to get to the place where he was a hated tax collector. That wasn’t a career you were encouraged to apprentice towards. Even fishermen, who were not considered significant or particularly honorable, would have looked down on tax collectors.

While little is known about Simon the Zealot, Zealots were part of a radical militant movement that aimed at overthrowing the Roman rulers of Israel. Zealots would eventually be the catalyst for the uprising against Rome in the late 1st century, which ultimately led to the destruction of the temple. If nothing else, Simon would be too extreme for most rabbis. But not for Jesus…

In fact, Jesus centered his ministry on the truth that your past did not have to define your future. When he called Matthew as a disciple and went to eat with him, the Pharisees demanded to know why Jesus would dare to eat with “tax collectors and sinners."

Jesus replied in Matthew 9:12, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Jesus consistently chooses the "wrong" people to further his mission. He consistently chooses the broken, the beaten, the rebel, the thief, the liar, the forlorn, the has-been, the never-was, the failure, and the loser. He does this on purpose. Because it declares over them and over you that this is not how God sees you. You are so much more than the distorted view you’ve developed. You are more than you ever imagined.  

You are God’s chosen.

In Ephesians 1, Paul expands the words of Jesus to remind us that it’s not only his closest followers of whom this is true. Like Jesus’ rag-tag group of misfits, we too are chosen. We also have been drawn to Jesus and beckoned to become a part of Jesus mission.

Paul writes: “Blessed be God, the Father of our Lord Jesus the Anointed One, who grants us every spiritual blessing in these heavenly realms where we live in the Anointed—not because of anything we have done, but because of what He has done for us. 4 God chose us to be in a relationship with Him even before He laid out plans for this world; He wanted us to live holy lives characterized by love, free from sin, and blameless before Him. 5 He destined us to be adopted as His children through the covenant Jesus the Anointed inaugurated in His sacrificial life. This was His pleasure and His will for us.”

He tells his readers in Colossians 3:12, and he’s telling you: “You are God’s chosen people. You are holy and dearly loved.”

You are God’s chosen.

This is how God wants you to see yourself. 

You may be used to seeing yourself as useless…

Or used…

Or unloveable…

Or ugly…

Or worthless…

Or hated…

Or dirty…

But what God sees is someone holy and dearly loved. 

What God sees is someone worth dying for. 

And he’s calling you to embrace who you are really are, who He has called you to be. 

Because when you embrace your true identity, it changes everything. 

When you see how God sees, nothing will ever be the same.

Defining Characteristic

A few years ago, I had a strange experience. I had met up with a parishioner for a meal. Our conversation was wide-ranging, but somewhere along the way, they began to share how much they appreciated me. Now, for those that don't know me, stick with it... I'm not going for vanity here...

They shared about how they appreciated my ministry, my authenticity, and my transparency. The meeting had been incredibly gratifying; I will never get tired of hearing how God has worked through my ministry to impact a life. It's incredible.

But after talking about it for perhaps 20 minutes, the tone of the conversation took a hard pivot. Because after all fo this, they had some grievances... not for me... but for another pastor they knew.

Not just any other pastor, though, one of my good friends and colleagues. What had been an encouraging, edifying conversation became a half-hour diatribe about how THAT person was practically the opposite of me. They were, in fact, the worst. Their ministry was a sham. They had no authenticity; in fact, they were hypocrites- the worst kind of hypocrite: a narcissistic, cocky, impersonal, spiteful hypocrite.

Needless to say, that didn't sit well with me. At all. 

Obviously. It's stuck with me after all these years. 

And, if I'm honest, that hurt our relationship. Because what does it say to me when they were so eager... to disparage my good friend, somebody I care for deeply?

How intimate of a relationship can be forged when there is such anger and resentment in their heart, even if it's not targeted at me directly? 

How much can somebody love me if they hate somebody that I love?

Parents, have you ever had somebody bad-mouth your kids? I'm not talking about people who bring up legitimate issues, but people who treat your children poorly. 

How have you received that? 

Spouses, how do you feel when you hear somebody mistreat your partner? 

I can't imagine I'm alone when I say that I go into a complete, full-court press, take no prisoners defense.

You want to get me angry, disparage my wife. 

You'll meet the angry Frenchman...and you won't like the angry Frenchman!

It's probably unsurprising, then, that we who are made in the image of God, are not so different from our heavenly Father. 

One of Jesus' inner circle puts it well in 1 John 4 when he lets us in on God's thought process: "If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers."

See, so many of us can get on board with the idea of loving God. I mean, he's God after all. Especially when we had experienced his overwhelming, never-ending, insurmountable, sacrificial love. When we recognize just how far God was willing to go to win my heart, it's not surprising that we choose to return such love with adoration of our own. 

In fact, for much of the history of humanity's relationship with God, this was the primary thing that mattered. The measure of your devotion to Yahweh was measured by how faithful you were to obeying his commands or by the level of sacrifice to which you were willing to commit.

In fact, the definitive statement of God's people throughout the Hebrew Scriptures is called the Shema and is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength."

The main thing in the eyes of God's people was their faithful love of God. And while they were called to honor the people around them by their actions, that was a distant second to the original command to love God.

And if you were to look around so many of our churches today, you would be forgiven for thinking that this is still the case today. A common saying that you might hear in a church in America today goes something like this: "My covenant is between me and God, not me and man." 

The implication is clear: as long my relationship with God is okay, it doesn't matter what my relationship with you look like. So long as I love God with my heart, soul, and strength- perhaps throw in mind as Jesus did in Matthew 22. Heart, soul, mind, and strength. Done. 

Andy Stanley calls this a vertical focus, one where we look only to God, understanding our morality to be just that which impacts my direct relationship with God and vice versa.

People, in this thinking, are incidental, as long as God and I are good. 

But in much the same way that you can't bad-mouth my beloved and be cool with me, John reminds us that there's no such thing as loving God and hating his beloved. And just to drive this home, remember that the Greek word translated as "hate" in most of our translations can be translated with disregard, disrespect, detest, or dismiss as unimportant. So you can't claim innocence on a technicality. 

In fact, John says that the metric that God uses to determine who is and is not a child of God has shockingly little to do with your deference of God alone. In fact, while observing and honoring God's commands are critical, it becomes increasingly clear that you might as well ignore them if you are unwilling to embrace this new means of measurement. 

1 John 4:7-8 says, "Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. 8 But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love."

And don't think this is an invention of Jesus' disciple John. While he certainly hammers it home while removing any ambiguity, Jesus makes a habit of standing on this principle throughout his ministry. 

In Matthew 22, when addressing the greatest commandment, Jesus affirms the Shema's directive, but quickly adds a twist. He declares: “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

This can't be overstated. The entirety of Jewish society hung on this principle: Loving God with the core of their being. Not just their worship, but their entire culture. So when Jesus says that Loving God with your heart, soul, mind, and strength isn't enough, it is revolutionary. While there are directives in the Hebrew Scriptures to love your brother, this is the first time in the history of God's relationship with humanity where they are placed together in such a way, that they are given equal importance, that one is said to be not only equally important but equally indispensable. You can't have one without the other.

So important is this command that Jesus spends a significant portion of his final days with his disciples continually reiterating its importance. 

Perhaps nowhere is it more noticeable than in the hours following Jesus' final meal with his followers. In John 13, Jesus is preparing them one more time for the events that await them: of his pending betrayal, torture, and death. 

In verse 33, he says, "Dear children, I will be with you only a little longer. And as I told the Jewish leaders, you will search for me, but you can’t come where I am going. 34 So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. 35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

Jesus could have chosen any number of attributes to be the distinguishing mark of his followers. In the past, it had been piety, sacrifice, fasting, and circumcision. But Jesus flips the script, saying that life would be different from now on. Because the command that he gives them would define their life. It would be the critical piece of evidence proving their identity.

Love would make all of the difference. 

In John 15, Jesus continues this theme as he challenges, pleads even, with his disciples to abide in him- to reorient their lives on receiving life and nourishment from him. He invites them to abide in his love, to forcefully, intentionally choose to root themselves in his love. And that the fundamental way to do this was to do what he says. And what is his commandment? Well, he's glad you asked: "This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. 13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command."

Again, Jesus points out the distinguishing mark of his followers. You could pursue any number of religious directives that reveal your commitment to God, but if you don't do what he commands, viz-a-viz, loving one another, the implication is that you are NOT, in fact, friends of God... just as John said that those who do not love are not children of God. 

Jesus is calling us to rethink what it means to love God. For too many of us, we see it as a vertical, me and God kind of love. But Jesus invites us to a new way of thinking, a new understanding of what it means to love God. 

And in embracing this paradigm shift, we will find a whole new level of intimacy with God. Loving others doesn't come at the expense of loving God, it expands your capacity to love God. You pour out love on others and are given a greater ability to love in return. You are filled up to pour out. And each time you pour out love, you receive love in greater and greater measures. 

So abide in Christ's love today by pouring out love on those around you, demonstrating the counterintuitive, sacrificial, life-changing nature of God's relationship with us. 

And discover the life-changing results of a life poured out. 

The True Nature of Love

If you have kids… or siblings… or have spent any amount of time with kids of any ages, one thing tends to be clear: they wear their hearts on their sleeves.

Spend five minutes with a child, ask them a handful of questions, and you’ll get a pretty clear picture of their understanding and beliefs. They believe what they believe and it impacts everything in their lives, whether they like it or not and whether they want it to or not.

Just look at a kid at Christmas time, and you’ll see this written all over their faces. Santa is such a powerful parenting tool because many children are absolutely convinced (and from some parents, continually reminded) that if they aren’t good, Santa won’t bring them any presents. But if they BEHAVE, then Santa will come with much generosity! That’s the deal. They believe it. That settles it. 

The thing about most children is that they haven’t discovered the concept of believing something and having it not impact their lives. 

If you’ve ever believed there’s a monster in your closet or under your bed, you remember the impact that had on your life. If you were like most kids, this terrifying reality significantly impacted your nighttime rituals. When you believe that you’re in danger from a monster that comes out at night, you tend to need to keep a light on. You have your parent (or parents) check all of the possible hiding spots for monsters before sleeping. Maybe you have a stuffed animal… or even a real animal… that stays with you as protection.

There’s really no such thing as a child who believes there’s a monster under their bed who goes around pretending like that’s not their prevailing thought every time they enter their room. That’s not a thing. 

Because when a child believes something, it changes them. 

The strange reality of adults is that we’ve developed this strange ability to declare belief in something but somehow have it not impact our lives. 

Unlike children, we have developed the ability to believe something in our heads, but not in our hearts. It’s this kind of thinking that caused James to use extreme language when he said, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”

The reality, according to James, is that you can claim to believe whatever you want for as long as you want, but in the end, you show what you truly believe by your actions. 

I think this is why Jesus talked about the need to have a child-like faith in Matthew 18. Children believe with no pretenses, even when it doesn’t seem to make any sense. They believe so entirely that they will attempt to restructure their lives around that belief. 

In John 15, when Jesus is instructing his disciples about the critical way that they must stay connected to him is by abiding in his love, by remaining firmly rooted in the love that Jesus demonstrated not only on the cross but throughout his life and ministry. The defining characteristic of Jesus was his care and compassion, both for his disciples and for those who needed it the most.

So Jesus tells his followers, if you want to bear fruit, if you want to receive the nourishment that only God can give, then abide in my love, forcefully reorient your life around receiving my blessings.

But it seems like he does a quick pivot in verse 10 of John 15 when he defines what it means to abide in his love: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

Jesus even goes on to say, in verse 14: “You are my friends if you do what I command.”

This kind of seems like an odd juke when Jesus has been talking about embracing and abiding in his love. How can Jesus say that he no longer calls us servants, but friends, but then also tell us that to be his friends we have to do what he says?

That doesn’t sound very friend-like, does it? 

But while to our ears, this feels a little bit strange, Jesus is really just having a DTR discussion- he’s defining the relationship and setting boundaries and expectations.

When I got married, back in 2007, there was a lot of this, really. We had to have a lot of DTR's. Not to define the overarching nature of relationships, but we had to decide what our lives would look like in this new phase. We created new boundaries. We set new expectations.

Now sure, Jennifer and I never used the WORD, but if we were to go back and codify some of the transactions that happened in those first 6-12 months, you could really argue that we gave one another commands. 

It’s part of the mutual submission within of a loving relationship. 

Within my abilities, I defer to her as often as I can. And within her abilities, Jennifer does the same. 

Because the thing about love is that it’s not just something you feel. It’s not just something that happens in your head. It’s not just the warm, fuzzies, or date nights, or romantic getaways. 

If you’ve ever been in a dysfunctional relationship, you know what it’s like to have somebody claim to love you but not show it in the way that they live their lives. Abusive relationships take this to an extreme level. 

At some point, relationships that don’t have a mutual deferment, that don’t commit to loving their partner practically, and that frankly are unwilling to operate in reciprocated obedience to one other, at some point that relationship will fracture. At some point, that relationship will cease to be.

That relationship has a shelf life. 

And so when Jesus says that the way to abide in his love is to keep his commands, it’s operating by the same kind of principle as any other relationship. It just so happens that one of the members of that relationship is the God of the universe, who gave up everything to pursue us. 

So while he challenges us to reorient ourselves around him, to make him our true north, so to speak, he does it as part of a profound, abiding, sacrificial, never-ending love for you. 

He never asks FROM us what he was not willing to do FOR us.

Read throughout Jesus’ teachings. Read the entire teach of the New Testament, for that matter, and you’ll find that the commands of Jesus pale in comparison to the promises of Jesus. 

We’re so used to dysfunctional relationships that too often become one-way streets, with one member constantly giving and the other consistently taking. 

But that’s now how Jesus operates. 

He explicitly states his operating modus operandi, the reason behind his requirements.  John 15:11, “ I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

Earlier in his Gospel, John reminds his readers of another of Jesus’ central goals, found in John 10:10: “The thief approaches with malicious intent, looking to steal, slaughter, and destroy; I came to give life with joy and abundance.”

Jesus offers a new way to live, a better way to live. 

It’s quite unlike the life that the world offers. It’s nothing like what you read about in books or see in movies. 

This life is not defined by its monetary victories, and it’s not measured by our popularity. It can’t be gauged in poll numbers, and it can’t be quantified in advanced analytics. 

But it’s the only life worth living. And it’s the only life that follows through on its promise. 

So abide in the true vine today by remaining in Christ’s love. Embrace the life that he is calling you to, not out of slavish devotion to a dogma or doctrine, but driven out of love for God, knowing that he has already given you his everything, offering his grace and mercy and compassion through his life, teaching, death, and resurrection. 

Commit yourself to this life and discover the life that Jesus wants for you, the life filled with joy and abundance!

Renewing Your Foundation

Well folks, if you're listening to this close to publication day, we've officially begun the week of love. Valentine's Day is this Thursday, and I hope that whoever has won your heart is treating you with the grace and respect you deserve, not just this week, but every week. Plus, few other weeks allows you to over-indulge in chocolate without judgment. If that isn't a reason to celebrate this holiday unashamedly, I don't know what is!

A couple of summers ago we had an issue at our house where uncared for water in the cellar had compromised the structural integrity of the I-beams that supported the structure. Even after installing a sump pump to address the water situation, unbeknownst to us, several of the support beams were rotting away to the point of collapse. And one Saturday night, one of them finally gave way. With a loud bang, it crumbled beneath us, causing part of the floor to sag down by several inches.

When Will, our head trustee got down there to diagnose the problem, we discovered how dangerous it was. As we carefully replaced each I-beam and concrete block, we found at least three of the eight remaining beams were critically compromised, crumbling as we moved them.

It was a disaster waiting to happen. 

In the upper part of the house, there were no signs of trouble, no indication of what was brewing beneath the surface, but the foundation was not sound. And left unattended, the house would have collapsed in on itself. 

It’s the nature of life. The unseen things have a tremendous impact on everything else, whether we recognize it or not.

A common theme throughout the Scriptures is God’s tendency to expose the heart of his followers, particularly those who claimed to speak for him. 

These were often people for whom everything SEEMED like everything was fine in their lives, but beneath the surface, everything was crumbling.

One famous example from the Hebrew Scriptures is found in Isaiah where God cuts to the heart of his people, saying, "These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.”

And if this was true of God through his prophets in the Old Testament, it was made even clearer through the ministry of Jesus in the New Testament.

In Jesus' famous Sermon on the Mount, he spends a considerable amount of time instructing his listeners that their actions come from the overflow of the heart. And that God sees the heart. So just because your hatred of somebody hasn't driven you to murder doesn't mean that your heart is clean. In fact, Jesus said that uncontrolled anger is equally as dangerous to the soul as murder.

The problem that Jesus saw was that too often it was ever so easy for the people of God to divorce their inward lives from the outward appearance. In his devoutly religious culture, it was increasingly comfortable to put on the trappings of religious piety without seeing any real change in the hearts of the people. A.W. Tozer calls this "settling for little."

Lance Witt calls it image management: when you present a portrait of yourself on the outside that doesn’t match up with the reality of your heart. 

One group of people who appear to have been the most guilty of were a pious group called the Pharisees. In most ways, these men were considered to be religious elites. They kept all of the laws given to them by prophets and other leaders from years before, and they even created laws on anything and everything that the law didn’t explicitly cover. They even created regulations to remove any amount of ambiguity in the law. The law says not to work on the Sabbath. Well, we will codify precisely what it means to work. 

These men went to extreme lengths to prove their holiness to the people around them. Jesus points out these measures in Matthew 23: "On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels."

Now it wasn’t uncommon to see a Jewish man in Jesus day with prayer boxes attached to them in some way, typically on the left arm, but often seen attached to the forehead. Neither was it odd for somebody to wear prayer robes with tassels. These were prescribed to symbolize a person’s commitment to God. 

So if both of these were typical, what was the problem? 

Well, the first thing that Jesus points out is that they make a show out of their devotion. The New Living Translation uses the word extra to describe both of Jesus' examples. Where I might use a small box, maybe 2 inches by 2 inches, they'd have a box that covered their foreheads. Where you might have a prayer shawl with 4-inch tassels, the Pharisee would double that with 8-inch tassels. Anything to prove to you that everything you can do, they can do better. 

But as you read through the 23rd chapter of Matthew, you’ll see a progressively harsh condemnation of this kind of thinking until he gets the what I see as his harshest condemnation yet, in verse 27: "What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people's bones and all sorts of impurity. 28 Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness."

The problem with these men was that they had the appearance of right living, all the outward signs of being good and godly men, but it was all an act. Worse, they were corrupt and immoral, like a beautifully adorned tomb. No matter how much you doll it up, a tomb will always be a tomb, a place of death.

There are few warnings that Jesus gives to his listeners that cuts to my heart more than those levied in Matthew 23. For some, perhaps, it may be encouraging to see Christ kick down people as self-righteous as the Pharisees, but when I hear these words, I shudder. Because I know how easy it is to present a particular image to people in our church, how easy project a false representation to the world while allowing my inner life to waste away.

Worse than that, Lance Witt suggests that the greatest danger in our spiritual lives isn’t just projecting a false image, but getting comfortable with it. 

The Pharisees got comfortable playing the game. They were comfortable portraying a role that looked nothing like their heart.

And Jesus exposes this in a major way, declaring that though they seemed alive, they were truly dead.

This is the danger of a life lived disconnected from the true vine.

It’s why Jesus places such a premium on the heart, on tying your heart in with his own. 

Jesus reminds us in John 15, “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. 7 But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.”

An imploding spiritual life, one that looks shockingly like my basement did that fateful Saturday night, finds its origin in a disconnect from the true vine. And it usually finds its root in allowing a substitute to replace it. 

For the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, they relied on their own personal goodness in place of the true vine. For others its issues of comfort or power, money or prestige, sex or pleasure. You can find this root in objectively bad things, such as addictions, narcissism, abuse, and neglect. But these aren’t the only things that draw us away from the vine. They can be things like hobbies, careers, friends and even family can all creep in as our source of life and find us missing the life that Christ has for us. 

The cure to an imploding spiritual life is to reorient yourself on the true vine. It is purposefully re-embracing the God who is the source of life. A branch that no longer receives nourishment from the vine cuts of its very life source. When it does this, everything attached to it sours. Its vitality is snuffed out. Even though it may still appear to be connected, it slowly withers away, becomes brittle, and, before long, will separate entirely.

So abide in the true vine that gives life. There is no substitute for the real thing. You can have all the trappings of life, but miss it entirely. 

But Jesus offers us the chance to find our life in him, to find it truly and everlasting. To find in him true life that causes all substitutes to pale in comparison. 

So abide in the true vine today, allow his life to transform you from the inside out, and allow his grace to redefine in you what it means to be alive. 

I’m believing in you and cheering you on today! Seek your True North Today!

Embracing Your Value

Well, folks, it didn’t take long for me to rebrand this blog. I knew I wanted to do this for a couple of reasons. Mainly because it’ d give me the flexibility to publish on days that WEREN’T Monday, but also enabled the blog to be applicable on Tuesday. 

I settled on True North for two reasons: one, it’s a subtle nod to my home and native land. If you know the Canadian national anthem beyond the opening salvo of “O Canada…” you might recognize that there’s a line that describes Canada as the “true north, strong and free.” So clearly it shouldn’t be shocking that I would try to sneak a little of my Canadiana into my writings. 

But beyond that, the real reason I went with that is that there’s been because a common theme of the blog thus far has been on reorienting our lives around God’s best for us. To me, the concept of True North brings me to travel practices of ship captains or other night travelers in days of yore. The north star was the fundamental way that they would orient themselves. Everything else could be dark, there could be no land on the horizon and no hints of which direction to go anywhere around them, but the experienced captain could rely on the north star to direct them where they needed to go. Once they found true north, everything else fell into place.

It’s that way in our spiritual life, too, isn’t it?

Jesus said that the cares and concerns of life so often steal our focus, steal our joy, and steal our peace. We get confused. And we get overwhelmed by all of it.

And we feel so lost. 

But Jesus said that the anxiety and worry that so naturally wells up within our spirits can be combatted when we reorient our lives. 

Matthew 6:33 says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all these things will be given to you too.”

This is the spiritual equivalent of finding our true north. When we discover true north, everything falls into place. 

That’s my hope behind this blog is that it can help encourage you, for sure (that’s why I called it Monday Motivation to begin with), but more than encourage you, I hope that it challenges you to find our True North and to orient ourselves around it! 

Speaking of Canada, last Wednesday in Canada was a mental health awareness day. It’s become a pretty standard deal to engage in the common hashtag of #LetsTalk. Everybody from professional hockey teams (basically Canadian royalty), politicians, down to the ordinary folks encourage free communication about the struggles of life, as it relates to mental health.

If we were honest, one of the things that we struggle within our culture is openness about our struggles. We fight alone, in isolation, painfully aware of our brokenness, but firmly believing that we have to do this alone, that it is the way that we have to be.

Theologian Henri Nouwen refers to it as allowing our brokenness to be under the curse.

The problem becomes that we allow our brokenness to stay in the dark. And it’s in the dark that that brokenness to define us. It’s in this place that our struggles become our identity. We see ourselves as under the curse of our problems because they exist in the dark. 

But that’s not God’s hope for you. God doesn’t want you to keep your brokenness in the darkness of the curse.

Henri Nouwen is so striking when he writes, “The great spiritual call of the Beloved Children of God is to pull their brokenness away from the shadow of the curse and put it under the light of the blessing. This is not as easy as it sounds. The powers of the darkness around us are strong, and our world finds it easier to manipulate self-rejecting people than self-accepting people. But when we keep listening attentively to the voice calling us the Beloved, it becomes possible to live our brokenness, not as a confirmation of our fear that we are worthless, but as an opportunity to purify and deepen the blessing that rests upon us.”

You can choose how you respond to your brokenness. While the fear in our heart tells us that the only response to our brokenness is to spiral deeper into it, Jesus offers us something else, something new. 

In the passage we’ve been deep-diving into over the last few weeks, Jesus reminds his broken disciples of their deep value in the eyes of God. In John 15: “My commandment to you is this: love others as I have loved you. 13 There is no greater way to love than to give your life for your friends. 14 You celebrate our friendship if you obey this command. 15 I don’t call you servants any longer; servants don’t know what the master is doing, but I have told you everything the Father has said to Me. I call you friends. 16 You did not choose Me. I chose you, and I orchestrated all of this so that you would be sent out and bear great and perpetual fruit. As you do this, anything you ask the Father in My name will be done. 17 This is My command to you: love one another.”

Jesus emphatically declares that he chose his closest followers. This is no small thing. These were men, by and large, who had been left behind by their society. They were less thans, has-beens, or never-weres. They were often labeled as not good enough, as rejects, as deficient in some meaningful way. 

But Jesus sees them not as worthless, but as people with insurmountable worth, as ones who are deeply and dearly loved. 

Paul reminds us in Ephesians 1:3-4 that the same is true for us who come after the disciples:  “Blessed be God, the Father of our Lord Jesus the Anointed One, who grants us every spiritual blessing in these heavenly realms where we live in the Anointed—not because of anything we have done, but because of what He has done for us. 4 God chose us to be in a relationship with Him even before He laid out plans for this world; He wanted us to live holy lives characterized by love, free from sin, and blameless before Him.”

The beauty is that our brokenness doesn’t have to define us because though we are often broken in a more profound way than we let on, often being broken on a deeper level than we ever realize, the love that God has for us far outpaces our brokenness. He sees the depths of your pain, the depths of your sin, and the depths of your brokenness, and his love is exceptional. And your worth is substantial.

Jesus used another metaphor that compares the Kingdom of Heaven- a Hebrew shorthand for God, to a   jeweler searching for the finest pearls. Jesus said in Matthew 13: “When he found a pearl more beautiful and valuable than any jewel he had ever seen, the jeweler sold all he had and bought that pearl, his pearl of great price.”

Jesus makes this clear: You are that pearl of great price. 

You are the one for whom God sold everything.

You are God’s chosen. 

You are highly valued. 

You are deeply loved.

Lance Witt once wrote: “You are more broken than you know, and more loved than you can imagine!”

Bring your brokenness out of the darkness of the curse and into the light of God’s blessing! Because you are his beloved. 

Live in that identity today. Let it impact everything else because Christ paid a high price for you. Rest in that love today!

I’m cheering you on today! Seek your True North Today!

Growth Agent

When I was younger, my mother kept a garden. She loved to reap the benefits of all of her hard work. So she kept it tilled, planted seeds, and most important weeded out anything that could interfere with her harvest. Naturally, I got drafted to help with the weeding process, which at 10 and 11 years old was something that I cared very little for. But over time, I saw the benefits of my job, as I yanked carrots out of the ground or popped beautiful red ripened tomatoes into my mouth fresh off the vine. I grew up in the suburbs, but I was never afraid of wiping some dirt off of the veggie before eating it. It all seemed so natural and delicious.

One thing that I found out about the gardening process somewhere in those formative years is that sometimes you have to make counterintuitive decisions in the process of developing a healthy harvest. With certain tomato varieties, for example, I learned that to maximize your yield, you had to remove flowers in the early stages of planting. Now for the initiated, flowers turn into fruit…at least on the tomato plant.

So, it struck me as crazy that in order to produce more tomatoes you had to cut off the very flowers that become tomatoes. Now, you’d do this for a variety of reasons. If the plant was newly-planted, the flowers were removed to prevent it from expending energy on developing fruit before it was ready. You’d also do this to ensure that the plant would grow out more, rather than focus on producing its fruit before its season.

Pruning isn’t just limited to tomato plants. Naturally, it applies to a variety of bushes, trees, and vines, from roses to grapes. Master horticulturalists intimately understand the process of getting the most out of their product, even knowing how to cut them down to help them become more than they would ever be on their own.

Jesus lived in an agrarian society, which means that the vast majority of his audience had some understanding of cultivating land or farming of some kind. They either had a private garden for their own supply, or they worked on a farm. Several of Jesus’ parables center on farming of some kind. This was a way of life for his listeners, so they latched onto it, often needing little explanation- at least as it pertained to the surface meaning.

In John 15, Jesus uses another farming metaphor, this time related to growing grapes. Viticulture has a long history in the middle east, particularly in Israel, so it’s not shocking that when Jesus is talking about how God works in the lives of his people that he would use terms like this.

So it’s not unexpected that he would talk about vines and branches to his audience when he declares in verse 1 that, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes[a] to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed[b] by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”

Pruning is so counterintuitive to the uninitiated because it seems on its surface that it’s harming the plant. The very idea of wantonly hacking at a vine doesn’t make any sense to me. If you look at a video of somebody pruning, it sometimes can seem as though they are cutting at random, cutting too much, and cutting too far.

And while it makes sense why you’d cut off a dead branch or rid the vine of dead leaves, it seems like a waste to cut a healthy, fruit-bearing branch. Why punish the branch for doing its job?

The truth of the matter is that pruning isn’t a punishment, and it’s not harming the plant.

In fact, pruning is about productivity and provision. A skilled gardener knows where to cut and how far to cut. Though it may seem random to an outsider, each cut is meticulous and calculated to be done at precisely the right place.

But why? What purpose does it serve?

The answer shocked me when I first heard my friend Matt LeRoy tell me, only to confirm it in my own research.

The gardener prunes the vine because the nature of the vine is to grow where you cut it. Biologically, the vines are designed to send added nutrients and energy to the ends that have been cut.

The gardener doesn’t cut the branch to harm it, he does it to make it grow.

Even further, where the cut is made, often two or three shoots will form at the place of cutting, so we’re not only talking about additional growth but sometimes exponential growth.

All of which would not be possible if the master gardener didn’t lovingly, expertly, faithfully prune the branch.

You may be seeing where I’m getting at, but Jesus said that God is the master gardener. When we abide in him, orienting our lives around him, choosing to make him the source of our life and nourishment, the by-product is becoming fruitful.

But it doesn’t mean that our walk is going to be easy. It doesn’t mean that he won’t continue to challenge us. Quite the contrary, when God sees your potential to bear more fruit, he will push you toward that potential.

I had a professor in seminary that CLAIMS that he was pushing me harder than other students because he saw a future doctoral student and he wanted me to be fully prepared for the next step of my academic journey. Where he might not have been so harsh in grading or as nitpicky in some grammatical or citation matters, he pushed me, hoping that I would grow and blossom as a student.

God often works the same way, using situations that we face to challenge us, providing opportunities for pruning, for removing branches in us that do not bear fruit, and be promoting new growth by strategically, surgically cutting things out of your life.

This isn’t a comfortable process. Growing rarely is, but what I’ve found is that God’s plan may be challenging, it may even hurt, but it will not harm.

The question that I would leave you to reflect today is this: how is God pruning your life today? What area is he promoting new growth? And how can you surrender yourself to his movement today?

Remember, the words of Paul in Philippians 1, which are my prayer for you today: “I thank my God every time I remember you, 4 constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, 5 because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”

I’m believing in you and cheering you on this week! I can’t wait to worship with you on Sunday!

Love you all!

No Substitute

I wanted to share a little more about what we talked about yesterday in our Facebook Live video from John 15. As a refresher, John 15 says: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

Jesus identifies himself as the true vine, or literally in Greek, the genuine article. This is a critical term because it stands in contrast to anything that is counterfeit. There is no end to people, ideologies, concepts, careers, and pursuits that attempt to worm their way into our heart, to vie for our affection, and to become our priority.

The things that may come to mind when you hear that tend to be primarily things that we label as “bad” or “wrong,” but that’s not the limit to which God sees counterfeit vines.

More often than not, the barrier to being sold out for God isn’t the quote-end-quote bad things in our lives, but ostensibly are the good things, things that we could even argue are gifts from God!

Careers, hobbies, friendships, and even families are good things, given by God to build us up, to provide stability, and for our enjoyment. But the danger exists that these gifts can take the place of the giver.

That instead of reaching out to God for nourishment, we reach out to these things. We abide in them instead of abiding in Jesus, the true vine, the genuine article.

Then these good things take the place of what is best and become harmful. In using Jesus’ metaphor, they suck the life out of us instead of nourishing us. They replace something genuine with something counterfeit.

Jesus challenges his followers to commit to following him by abiding in him. This isn’t a passive act of not moving, but a conscious act of reaching out and grabbing on, refusing to let go.

It’s not a choice we make once and for all, but a day-by-day, even a moment by moment decision we make. It’s an obedience that we engage in that creates room in our schedules for the giver and not just the gift.

And it’s in this continued obedience that we discover the joy that for which we have so long been searching.

Jesus says in John 15:11, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

When we prioritize our lives around the life-giving, freeing, joy-filled love of God, we discover that the other things in our lives begin to fall into place. We have higher satisfaction at work, a better relationship with our families, and a more balanced outlook on life.

As you go about your week, I challenge you to abide.

Choose to intentionally reach out and grab hold of Jesus, creating space in your life for him. In this act of obedience, you’ll find the joy beyond measure, and peace that passes all understanding.

I’m believing in you and cheering you on this week! I can’t wait to worship with you on Sunday!

Love you all!