The Hope Canteen Podcast, Episode 40: Abraham and the Promises of God

Abraham and the Promise of God
Episode 40 – Romans 4:13-25

On today’s podcast, we are talking about Romans 4:13-25. This is part of a letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to a community in Rome. At that time, Rome was the capital city of the biggest empire in the ancient world. In the short passage today, Paul is reflecting on the promises God gives to Abraham. The whole story of the Jewish people leading to Jesus begins in a promise that God made to Abraham around 4000 years ago.

The question for Paul is what does it mean to be in relationship–or covenant–with God? Is our relationship grounded in our ability to fulfill the commandments of God? Or is it grounded in our trust in the reliability of God’s promises? For Paul, we really need to grasp this distinction if we are going to have a rich and deep relationship with the living God.

Join the conversation! How do you remind yourself to trust in the promises of God? Please add your own thoughts and insights in the comments below.

The Hope Canteen Podcast, Episode 39: Grace in the Wilderness

Podcast 39: Grace in the Wilderness
Episode 39: Mark 1:9-15

This week, we turn to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. After his baptism, Jesus is driven into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. This story reminds us that, while the wilderness is an important place of purification and spiritual growth, it can also be a place of grace. For this reason, people have long retreated to literal and figurative deserts to pray, wrestle with sin, let go of unholy attachments, and encounter God.

The 40 days of Lent that began with Ash Wednesday call us into a kind of wilderness. There, the stuff of everyday life is stripped away and we are invited to meet God honestly. It is important to note that we do not enter the wilderness alone; like Jesus, we go with the Spirit of God, and with God’s words of love ringing in our ears.

How has God met you in the deserts of your life? What stark landscapes of the heart is God inviting you to explore this Lent? How are you discovering the love and grace of God in the wilderness?

Fasting for Lent

How do you observe Lent?

In the Anglican church, it is common to hear someone ask, “What are you doing for Lent?” The answers are a mixture of giving something up and taking on something new. You often hear things like:

“I am giving up chocolate for Lent.”

or “I am cutting back on alcohol.”

or “I am going to read the Bible more.”

or “I am going to volunteer at the soup kitchen.”

The question often arises, why do we fast and take on disciplines for Lent? Is there something earth shattering about giving up chocolate? The answer is no. So why do it? Here are four simple but profound reasons.

Fasting for Obedience

1) The first reason is that Jesus asks us to do these things (see Matthew 6:1-18). It is about obedience. Of course, he doesn’t specifically ask for chocolate. That is not the point. Rather, it is part of a three-fold challenge from Jesus that gives focus to Lent. It is traditionally listed as prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

These are meant to be serious practices, but not legalistic ones. Jesus wants us to pray because prayer is the language of our relationship with God. It is how we grow closer to God. Jesus wants us to fast because fasting allows us to find freedom from unhealthy habits. And Jesus wants us to give alms because it is an expression of care and compassion for people in need, and we need to practice doing that. Giving up chocolate or alcohol or whatever is an expression of fasting and doing without, not for its own sake, but for education and healing.

Learning through Fasting for Lent

2) Fasting is partly about learning. I don’t mean about facts, but about deep inner truths. It helps us realize that many people live in poverty and will never have what we are struggling to do without. We grow in humility as we see that we can do with less than we think we need, and that we have resources that can be used to help others.

In the book of Isaiah, fasting is closely connected with justice. The prophet criticizes those who fast and do other religious rituals, while simultaneously perpetuating injustice. He writes, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry…?” (Isaiah 48: 6-7a). Part of the purpose of fasting is to help us develop a heart of compassion, which leads to generosity of spirit.

Fasting for Reflection and Growth

3) Fasting for Lent also teaches us something important about our inner life: we need heart healing. This is Jesus’ main goal. He calls us to fast because he wants us to grow deeper in maturity. The problem is that we have many unhealthy habits and attachments in our lives. For instance, let’s say I fast from all sugar during Lent. It doesn’t seem big. But the reality is that I would find that hard. I am used to quite a bit of sugar in my diet. Therefore, when I find it hard, I need to ask myself, why? What am I learning about myself? What am I learning about what I serve?

Now let’s imagine that it is so hard that I find myself getting irritated at my kids or wife. Again, I need to really think about this. What is it within me that is struggling? This should be easy: just stop eating sugar. But why don’t I have the patience and strength?

In truth, it is not easy. And this is the point. We don’t mature and grow unless we push beyond what is comfortable. If everything is comfortable, we stagnate. Giving up chocolate or alcohol–or whatever–amounts to putting controlled spiritual and emotional stress on our lives. This is partly so that we can push through it. But the real reason is that it gives us a glimpse into our souls and shows us we need healing.

Fasting for Lent for Healing

4) Healing is the point. God is nothing but love, and looks with compassion on our struggles. God wants to heal our souls, and this doesn’t happen quickly. The New Testament doesn’t distinguish heart, soul and mind in the same way we do. They are a whole, and inside are a mixture of positive and negative emotions, impulses and drives. There is compassion, hospitality, courage, love, and a host of other good stuff. There is also anger, fear, lust, unhealthy hungers, violence, prejudices, and a host of other bad stuff. They are all mixed up together.

Part of the Good News is that Christ came to bring healing and wholeness to human beings. He brings grace, mercy, and love to transform our hard hearts into soft hearts. This is neither a simple nor a quick process.

We tend to hide our hurt, pain, and negative emotions. But if we bring them into the gentle light of Christ with honesty and humility, he will heal them over time. Sometimes we need to do this soul work with another person guiding us, be it a spiritual mentor or a psychologist.

Fasting for Lent helps us to find the areas of hardness in our hearts by surfacing what needs the most healing. The next step is to pray for God to heal those places. Spend time in prayer for your inner being. God wants to birth within you a new creation. This is the deeper meaning of fasting.

The Hope Canteen Podcast, Episode 34: The Baptism of Jesus

Episode 34: The Baptism of Jesus

Jesus’ formal ministry begins when he is baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. Mark 1:1-12 tells us that as he rises out of the water, the Holy Spirit alights on him. Then, God’s voice proclaims from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” As we remember the baptism of Jesus this week, we can take the opportunity to reaffirm our own baptisms and to hear God’s voice saying the same thing to us.

Join us around the virtual table as we talk about baptism, creation, and God’s love for us.

The Hope Canteen Podcast, Episode 22: The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard

Podcast 22: The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard

In this episode, we’re talking about Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard. He tells the story of a landowner who goes out to hire workers at different times during the day. When it comes time to pay them, they are shocked that the landowner pays them all the same amount. Even those who only worked an hour receive a full day’s wages.

Join us around the virtual table as we reflect on what Matthew 20:1-16 can tell us about God and about ourselves. Please join the conversation! Add your insights in the comments below.

What Does it Mean to Store Up Treasure in Heaven?

Building Treasure in Heaven

The one who has God for his treasure has all things in One.

A. W. Tozer

This series is about using Jesus’ image of building Treasure in Heaven to help us understand the life of Christian discipleship. The image of treasure focuses us on what is of central importance. It is also an image of desire. People will sacrifice much to find ‘hidden treasure.’ Before I continue in my series, I want to remind us what Jesus is telling us with this image of building Treasure in Heaven.

What does it mean to store up treasure in heaven? First, building treasure in heaven is NOT about getting points with God. It is NOT about impressing God. It is NOT about completing a religious checklist of dos and don’ts. Storing treasure in Heaven is NOT about God rewarding us with material wealth because we have done spiritual good in obedience. In fact, it is NOT about getting anything from God.

Continue reading “What Does it Mean to Store Up Treasure in Heaven?”

How to Be a Good Christian

How to be a Good Christian

Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

– Jesus, quoted in Matthew 6:33

One of the questions that people sometimes ask is ‘what do I need to do to be a good Christian?’ I appreciate that this question is usually asked by people who want to take their faith seriously, but don’t know what that looks like. I also appreciate that they are coming to me to help them in their Christian journey. The only problem is that this is the wrong question. Before I get to my answer, let me reflect for a moment why this is the wrong question.

1. God and My Laundry List

There are two problems with this question. First, it assumes that Christianity is a list of things that you can do, and that once you do them you are a good Christian. But that is not the case at all. In Matthew 19, when a rich young man asks Jesus a similar question, Jesus tells him to sell everything he has and give the money to the poor! There is no end of actions you can perform to try and be a good Christian.

Continue reading “How to Be a Good Christian”