The Problem With Fences

A few weeks ago our boys were helping their grandpa on the farm. Their assignment for the day was to take down a fence.

Fences can be very useful things. They help keep important things in. Things like dogs and chickens and cows, and sometimes even our kids. And sometimes they help keep other things out. Things that are bad or cause damage or pollute or stir up trouble.

There’s no doubt fences can really be good things. The problem is, we often give way more attention to the fences than we need to. Let me share an example.  

One day Jesus was walking through the grain fields and his disciples were breaking the heads off the grain. It was the Sabbath and doing something like that was against the rules, while at least the interpretation of the rules by some of the rule-keepers of the day (Mark 2).

It was a common perspective. Sometime later the rabbis would talk about “putting a fence around the Sabbath.” What they meant by that was that in order to guard against the dangers of breaking the Sabbath they felt it was necessary to add more stringent rules to ensure that someone didn’t break the Sabbath. In effect, they “put a fence around the Sabbath” making sure its value wasn’t lost. The problem arose when the focus became about the “fence” and not about the Sabbath itself.

That was Jesus’ concern when confronted about the Sabbath in Mark 2. In response to the religious “fence-keepers” he said, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of the people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27 NLT).

What was Jesus saying? He was reminding those who were accusing the disciples that the real issue is not the fence they’ve put up around the Sabbath but what was on the inside of the fence that really mattered.

The Sabbath then was meant to focus us on God himself. It was there so that we would find rest and new life in Him. It was established so that the worshipper would continue to bring themselves back to the place where their lives were centered.

This wasn’t just the purpose of the Sabbath it was the focus of the law.

The focus of the law, or we might even say, the teachings of God have never been about the fence, or about what’s on the other side of the fence—it’s always been about the One who is at the center.

The danger then is that we can spend too much time focusing on the fence and not what’s on the inside of the fence. The very thing that gives life.

Jesus said he didn’t come to abolish the law but to fulfill, or accomplish their purpose (Matthew 5:17).

With the arrival of Jesus the centering and life giving reality of the law is fulfilled as we find ourselves dwelling in Him.

It’s in Jesus that we find abundance and life (John 10:10).

The application then of all this is to be careful about the fences that we put up. Fences can be good. They can give us clarity and focus to what’s important. But they can also become a focus in and of themselves.

And the danger of that becomes that we take our attention off the One who is the center of all life and abundance.

The challenge then might be found in a few questions.

What’s my focus these days? Keeping the rules? Staying disciplined? Or abiding in the One who loves me and desires that I simply rest in Him?

Where’s my heart today? Is it anxious? Full of guilt and shame over trying and failing and not measuring up? Why not simply be present to God today? Stop striving and trying to be good enough, just be fully present to Him.

 - Ric


At The Heart of the Matter

Treasure. We all have it. Every one of us has treasures of some kind. It could be our Coke collection, or our photography equipment or all that Spice Girl stuff we’ve kept since we were in Jr. High School.

Treasures are important to us because we place value on them. Sometimes it’s a monetary value and other times its more a sentimental thing. But either way, we treasure them!

Often it’s the treasures we keep that reveal who we are. We protect them. Keep them secure. Have secrets around them. Spend enormous amounts of time in relation to them.

Maybe that’s why Jesus talked so much about treasure. He knew something about them, and us.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said we need to “store up our treasures in heaven.”

Why? He gave the answer in the very next verse.

Because “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

He knew something. He understood the power of treasure. And he realized that if we give our hearts to the wrong kind of treasure then it’s possible we’ll miss something important.

Here it is. Here is the principle Jesus is teaching: Life organizes itself around the heart, so we need to be careful what we give our heart to.

That’s it. That’s why money and wealth and possessions are so important to understand. If we give our hearts to them then we will find they take the place of Jesus in our life. We'll start to serve them. Instead, as Jesus teaches, to use them for the kingdom of heaven.

“No one can serve two masters,” Jesus says, “you cannot serve both God and Money.”

You just can’t do it. You can’t give your heart to two different treasures. For in the end our hearts are ruled by only one.

So if we want to understand money, wealth and possessions, we would be wise to first take some time to understand our heart.


Sunday's Coming: Thinking About Death That Leads To Life

[Sunday's Coming will be periodic thoughts that come out of my study and preparation for the upcoming Sunday's teaching]

I worked in a Funeral Home for two years while I was going through seminary. And one of the things I noticed about people when it came to death was it was always an uncomfortable experience. It wasn't just the loss and grief that I observed, it was the genuine discomfort that came when people had to confront what they feared the most.

Somehow, deep within the human psyche there's this fear of seeing our own mortality. Or maybe better, there's this fear of not only losing control but losing everything that you are in the blink of an eye.

What's so amazing to me then, is that in the Kingdom of God, death becomes the pathway to life. In fact, when we read through the Gospels, and particularly focus in on the passion narratives (those passages that tell us about the final weeks of Jesus' life and death) we find that Jesus walks right into death with all of its suffering, pain and horror.

He takes on his shoulders, not just humanity's sin, but the fullness of evil in all of its capacities. You might say, he walked right into death. But the scriptures tell us, that it was because of his death that the victory was won. Evil was conquered. Sin was dealt with. And Satan was undone.

All that opened the way for the resurrection. New creation was now on its way. The early church testified to this--it was his life, death and resurrection that they professed. That was the Good News.

Jesus' death led to life. Not just His life--but yours' and mine as well.

Yet here's the thing. In God's economy the very thing we fear the most, of losing it all, is the very path that we must take.

Faith in Jesus Christ is nothing less than losing it all.

And yet, that faith, that act of death by each of us, opens the door to more than we could ever know.

This is the path we all must take. This is how we follow Jesus.

Into the death that leads to life.


The Good Life

Am I good enough? A young bride shares with her new husband a painful sexual encounter from her past. She's looking at her partner, staring into his eyes, longing for him to give her some sense that she's good enough.

A man finds himself let go from a job and he wonders if he has what it takes. If his whole life is a failure. If he's good enough for anyone. A parent opens an email from of their young adult kids, and it starts with a this line, "I was never good enough for you. I never felt like I lived up to what you wanted my life to be ..."

These are the stories and moments of life that haunt women and men like you and I. These are the kinds of stories that lie beneath the surface of the heart. These are also the stories that become our inner motivators. It's out of these stories that we pursue new narratives, new pathways, new pursuits that lead us to what we hope will be "the good life."

People search for the Good Life in all sorts of ways. And at some point along the way the question often turns from their pursuit of the Good Life to a more personal question, who can be good?  And, am I good? They wonder if the "stuff" that makes them who they are is good enough. Or does the hurts and pains and sins and brokenness that clings to their personal story exclude them.

It's in this context of our personal stories that Jesus offers us something else. He offers us a vision of the Good Life. A life that invites us in--no matter who we are. A life that offers to touch the deepest parts of stories--no matter what has happened. And a life promises to transform the way we relate to those around us--no matter where we find ourselves.

Jesus called this the "easy yoke." He promised that it would give rest, rest for the soul.

He said it would come when we learn to pursue Him, and the Kingdom.

And He also taught that many would turn away because they felt the path would cost them too much.

Jesus invites us in to the Good Life. A life that he announces and teaches about in the Sermon on the Mount.

We continue the journey into the Good Life in our Sunday teaching series by the same name.

We continue the journey this coming Sunday, and we invite you to join us.


Neighboring (Love Your Neighbor)

We continue to encourage the NP Family to reach out to one another, connecting over coffee, inviting others to your house, sharing your life with one another. In fact, I want to challenge us to particularly reach out to others in our church family who aren’t part of your regular friendship circles. There’s a lot of amazing people, and each one of us is connected to one another through our common life in Jesus.

Which brings me to an important thought as we consider this teaching of Jesus. When Jesus commands us to “love our neighbour” our first reaction is often to begin considering just who our neighbour might be. We look around, maybe prayer about it, and then when our hearts have settled on who God is calling us to, we set out to love. Maybe it’s an act of kindness. Maybe it’s being present to them. Or maybe we go “BIG” and we re-order our lives, in some big effort of sacrifice.

I suppose when the day is done all that is good. And maybe, even just a little, the Kingdom has come just a little bit more. But I think what’s missing, at least for me, is the inner work of God’s grace at work in me, and then through me. What I mean is, when people like you and me muster up the energy and begin to focus in on love often do it out of a sense of our own strength. Like a reno project or a P90X workout. But that’s not the “easy yoke” that Jesus was talking about. Loving our neighbour and doing good deeds (something we are going to talk about a little more this Sunday) is not something that comes from us. It’s something that flows from us.

It’s the deeper work of the Good Life when who we desire to be—faith, hope, love, peace, joy—is the natural outflow of who we really are. The Good Life is not simply a command to be better. It’s a command to give up all else and follow Jesus. It’s the command to die to self so that nothing else interferes with the work of Jesus in us. It’s the command to hold on to God in love and faith and worship so that there rises up in us a (super-) natural outflow of love towards one another.

Here’s the thing. If we try to love others, we very well may do some wonderful things. But we also may find ourselves tiring of love. We may find ourselves getting irritated when they don’t love us back like we were hoping. And we may find ourselves feeling burdened under Jesus’ command. The secret then is in Jesus himself—“remain in me, and I will remain in you” (John 15:4). Out of this flows what Jesus calls the “easy yoke.” A joyful willingness to serve the other.

May we find ourselves this season, not just busying ourselves with family, friends, turkey, eating and football. But may we find ourselves deeply abiding in the wonders of God’s love. And then may we find our hearts overflowing with faith, hope, love, joy and peace.

Let us love one another, but only as we love the One who loves us with a greater love.