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?

Love Builds Up

1 Corinthians 1:13 - Love Builds Up

At first glance, this week’s Epistle reading (1 Corinthians 8:1-13) doesn’t seem to be relevant to us in the 21st Century. Paul is counselling the church in Corinth as they deal with a divisive issue.

An Ancient Conflict

Paul is wading into a conversation about whether Christians can, in good faith, eat meat that has been used ritually in pagan ceremonies. This is not a burning issue for us. But we can still glean a principle that is important for every generation to grasp. (And on a side note, this is often how Scripture works. It might speak to an ancient conflict, but there is always a more generalized spiritual principle that we can discover.)

The principle that Paul gives us in this conversation is that “knowledge puffs up but love builds up.” In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul speaks to Christians who feel that they have a greater level of spiritual enlightenment than others in the church.

The issue is that the “enlightened” people know they can eat this meat with a clear conscience, so they look down on people who are hesitating in fear of spiritual contamination. They see themselves as the strong and the others as the weak.

While we don’t worry too much about this problem these days, the principle continues to come up in other ways. We still have people who feel that they are more spiritual than others. They have achieved a ‘higher level’ of spiritual experience and maturity. And in fact, some may indeed be more spiritually mature. In the example of the situation in Paul’s time, he actually agrees with the ‘strong.’ Clear knowledge and understanding is important. It is better to be knowledgeable than not.

Love Builds Up and Knowledge Takes Second Place

However, there is a problem with knowledge. Overemphasizing its importance often leads to pride, superiority, and power. In turn, these develop unequal and broken relationships. For Paul, knowledge is not the ultimate good. That place always belongs to love. Later in the letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells us, “If I…can fathom all mysteries and have all knowledge… but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2)

Does this mean that knowledge is unimportant? Of course not. We are called to study and learn and grow. This is an essential aspect of discipleship. But it never replaces the central importance of love in the Christian faith.

In fact, all knowledge should lead ultimately to love.

The Hope Canteen Podcast, Episode 32: Christmas and the Incarnation of Jesus Christ

Christmas and the Incarnation of Jesus Christ
Episode 32: Luke 2:1-20

Rich in tradition, the festival of Christmas brings hope and joy to the shortest, coldest days (at least here in the northern hemisphere!) But more than that, Christmas celebrates the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. This is the beginning of God’s great work of healing and redemption, of reuniting Heaven and Earth, God with God’s Creation. The Incarnation shows us both the love and the humility of God. Join us around the virtual table as we talk about Christmas and the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.

How will you celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ? Please join the conversation! Add your reflections in the comments below or visit the Hope Canteen on Facebook and Instagram.

Book Study: Surprise the World! — Eating Together

Surprise the World -- EAT

In this series, we are looking at Michael Frost’s book, Surprise the World, with its challenge to live surprising lives. He uses the acronym B.E.L.L.S. to describe what this might look like. In our last reflection, we looked at the first letter, which stands for BLESS. Today, we are looking at the second habit, EAT.

Frost challenges his readers to try to eat with three people this week, at least one of whom is not a member of the church. Of course, this is much harder in the time of Covid. It might have to be a coffee or a walk outside. Even if we have to wait for Covid to end, it is still worth pondering why eating with someone is so important.

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Frost reminds us that eating and hospitality have a special place in Christian practice. Eating together was the one thing that Jesus told us to do when we meet. We are familiar with the Eucharist, but Christians also celebrated love-feasts, a time of eating and being together. The table with food is the central symbol of Christian gathering. Frost writes, “It represents hospitality, inclusivity, generosity and grace.” It may not seem like much, but in the ancient world, the Emperor Julian the Apostate complained that meals of hospitality were one of the central ways that Christians were ‘perverting’ the empire! There is power in gathering.

Eating Together to Change the World

When Frost encourages us to eat with other, he is not talking about the sacrament. He means a meal and hospitality. Why? Because there is something special about sharing a meal together. It has deep meaning in every culture. He writes, “The table is the great equalizer in relationships. When we eat together we discover the inherent humanity of all people. We share stories. And hopes. And fears. And disappointments. People open up to each other.”

His friend Alan Hirsch goes further: “Missional hospitality is a tremendous opportunity to extend the kingdom of God. We can literally eat our way into the kingdom of God! If every Christian household regularly invited a stranger or a poor person into their home for a meal once a week, we would literally change the world by eating!”

Eating Together as a Sign of Grace

As with blessing, we don’t invite people into our homes because we expect them to become Christians or come to our church. We invite them because we want to get to know them at a human level. But the act of inviting people in and showing them the love of hospitality is a sign of the kingdom of God.

Whether or not it leads to a conversation about faith, we leave that to God. In having fellowship, we don’t judge people’s lifestyles or eating (or drinking) habits. It is an act of grace to prepare food for another person and get to know them around a table. And who knows, you may learn something new and grow a new friendship. God can do lots of great things over a simple dish of food.

(NOTE: These reflections are only meant to be a synopsis and study of Michael Frost’s work, Surprise the World! Our purpose is to encourage our readers with these great ideas. If you interested in going further, please go read the book. You can order it here:

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The Hope Canteen Podcast, Episode 26: The Greatest Commandment

Podcast 26: The Greatest Commandment
Episode 26: The Greatest Commandment

Some experts in religious law try to trip Jesus up by asking him a challenging question: which commandment is the greatest? Jesus’ answer is both profound and surprising. Join us around the virtual table as we talk about Matthew 22:34-46.

Please join the conversation! How do you live into the greatest commandment? Add your insights in the comments below.

Book Study: Surprise the World! — BLESS

Surprise the World: Bless

In this series on Michael Frost’s book Surprise the World!, we are looking at missional habits. What is wonderful about this book is that Frost gives us an easily understandable way to faithfully live out the Christian life. He uses the acronym B.E.L.L.S., which stands for Bless, Eat, Listen, Learn, Sent. The idea is that while we are not each called to be Evangelists, we are called to bless the world through our life.

God calls us to point people to the Kingdom of God through our actions, and if needed, our words. We do this by living surprising lives, lives that make people notice that something is different in the way that we live. What are these habits that people notice?

Living Blessing

The first one is BLESS. Frost challenges every Christian intentionally to bless three people every week. One person should be from within the church; one person should be outside the church, and the third person could be either.

To bless someone is one of the simplest things we can do. The word ‘bless’ originally meant a few different things. It meant to speak well of someone or to praise them. It also meant conferring material or spiritual well-being upon someone. As the word has evolved, we now use it in the sense of building people up, filling them with encouragement so that they can increase in strength and prosperity.

Frost puts it like this: To bless someone else is “anything that relieves their burden in life. Anything that helps them breathe more easily. Anything that lifts their spirit or alleviates their distress. It can be a small thing or large.” Blessing can take a number of different forms. Frost gives us three common examples to start us off.

Bless with Words of Affirmation

This is the simplest way to bless someone. It is as simple as sending someone a note letting them know that you have noticed something about them or appreciated something that they did. You can pick up the phone, or just say something in passing. People really appreciate words of encouragement. Mark Twain once said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” To affirm something about someone is to connect with them beyond the superficial.

Bless with Acts of Kindness

This is the simple action of doing someone a favour with no desire for acknowledgement or reward. There is an old Alcoholics Anonymous card which contains nine daily promises. One of them is “I will do somebody a good turn and will not get found out.” Obviously, it doesn’t matter if you ‘get found out,’ but the idea is to just do something nice as a principle. Is there a neighbour you can help? Someone in your family who is struggling? Is there somewhere you can volunteer? Everyone appreciates someone who gives.

Bless with Gifts

We all like to get gifts on a birthday or at Christmas. But Frost challenges to go one step further. How about random gift giving? At the heart of love is the act of giving. Giving a gift is a symbol of love; that is why they are special. A gift doesn’t have to be big, but it requires us to be on the lookout for what others need. Is there a struggling family who could use a casserole? Is there a book that someone has been talking about? Maybe just a balloon for a small child? Whatever it is, it will be a blessing.

Bless with No Ulterior Motives

Frost is encouraging us to lead surprising lives. But he also adds a small word of caution here. While we bless people as a way of living surprising lives, we have to be clear that we are doing this for no other reason than to be a blessing. There is no agenda. There is no expectation. For instance, if someone takes your gift and never thanks you and throws it in the garbage, that is not your issue. We only want to be a blessing because we have been blessed so richly in Jesus.

How have you been blessed yourself? How have you blessed others? Add your thoughts in the comments.

(NOTE: These reflections are only meant to be a synopsis and study of Michael Frost’s work, Surprise the World! Our purpose is to encourage our readers with these great ideas. If you interested in going further, please go read the book. You can order it here:

This post contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a small commission for purchases made through these links. Thank you for your support.

Building Treasure in Heaven: What Love Looks Like

Jesus shows us love

Three things will last forever–faith, hope, and love–and the greatest of these is love.

St. Paul (1 Corinthians 13, NLT)

It is fitting to end this series on Building Treasure in Heaven by reflecting on love, because as Paul beautifully puts it, love is the greatest of all the virtues. In fact, we can be bold and state that, ultimately, all the virtues are in support of love or are expressions of love. Love is at the heart of the Christian life for the simple fact that God is love and Jesus shows us what love looks like. If there is one virtue that we need to focus on, it is love.

What is Love?

There are two problems with the English word ‘love.’ First, we can love God, love our children, love coffee, love the sunset and love going fast. They don’t all mean the same thing! Second, in English, ‘love’ usually means a feeling, whereas in the Bible, ‘love’ means a feeling but ALSO a decision and a practice. One can practice love without feeling anything. This is important.

As Tim Mackie points out in his video on Biblical love, Jesus’ disciples didn’t consult a dictionary to find out the meaning of love; they looked at Jesus. They saw a man worried that the leaders of Israel were not protecting the people of Israel and drawing them to God. Jesus saw the people as ‘sheep without a shepherd,’ so he lived to show them what love looks like.

Christ washing the Feet of the Disciples by Jacopo Tintoretto, c. 1575-80 (The National Gallery)

The disciples watched Jesus spend three years reaching out to the people in need, completely bypassing the leadership. He healed people who were sick or worried about their loved ones. In many different ways, he taught them the good news of the coming of the Kingdom of God. He fed thousands of hungry people. Jesus continually reached out to people on the margins, bringing grace to the rejected: the lepers; people struggling with demons; tax collectors and prostitutes.

The Scandal of Love

Jesus’ care for people was deeply shocking to the religious establishment of his day. He taught the disciples about love with shocking actions. For instance, he got down on his knees like a slave to wash the dirt and filth of the day off of Peter’s feet. Peter couldn’t handle that, but Jesus invited him to look deeper: this is what love looks like. It reaches out and shows mercy, especially when the situation is messy and hard. Love reaches even to the people who hate us and whom we might hate. It is not necessarily a feeling. In fact, we might even be repelled by acts of hard love. But Jesus calls us to love anyway.

Love shows itself in action. To show mercy is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. Why? Jesus helps us to understand when he gives us the great commandment: we are called to love God with all our heart, and to love our neighbours as ourselves. He doesn’t separate these, but makes them one piece. We love God by loving our neighbours, and love our neighbours because we love God.

We Know What Love Looks Like Because God First Loved Us

The New Testament teaches that our love for both God and neighbour is PRECEDED by God’s love for us. God’s love reaches out in Jesus Christ for healing and salvation. God comes to us. We don’t have to go to him. God crosses the great divide between us. In Romans 5:8, Paul writes, “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” And in 1 John 4:9, the apostle John reflects, “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us.” And of course, John 3:16 reads, “God so loved the world that he send his only begotten Son…”

The point is that when we love, we are most like God. God shows love and mercy to the righteous and the unrighteous alike. That is who he is. At the heart of the universe is a heart beating with love, drawing all things to himself for the purpose of wholeness, healing and restoration. This is salvation. Love is both the greatest vision of all things, as well as the lowliest and simplest act of kindness. When we look at how God works and what God values, we see what love looks like.

Love binds everything together. It is the best way to understand what it means to Build Treasure in Heaven.