#CoffeeTimePrayer: God’s freebie




Growing up, I watched a lot of Oprah. My favourite episodes were the ones where she gave stuff away. Who doesn’t like freebies? As the years progressed and her show gained in popularity, the freebies escalated too. I remember in one show everyone got a car. The audience lost their minds.

Funnily, nothing brings out the worst in people like the prospect of a freebie. It either turns us into starry-eyed dreamers who show up for free toasters or microwaves and end up buying dubious timeshares, or we become staunch cynics with jaundiced eyes who don’t believe any good can come of anything. There’s no middle ground.

In Matthew 20:29-34 we read the story of Jesus healing two blind men. It’s outside of Jericho, and Jesus and a big crowd are coming past. The men had probably heard about Jesus – calling him, “Son of David,” presumes some knowledge of him – but whether they actually believed the rumours we can’t say. Still, a supposed healer and holy man coming through the neighbourhood? What did they have to lose?

Jesus turned aside to their calls and asked them, “What can I do for you?” I’m sure Jesus knew what they wanted. But did they? Would they ask Jesus for what they wanted or, faced with the prospect of a “freebie” healing, would they lose their heads like an Oprah audience or regard the opportunity as suspect at best?

Looking at the story’s conclusion – both men are healed and choose to follow Jesus – it’s easy to see that Jesus’ motives were pure. He didn’t confront the two blind men with an ultimatum before feeling compassion for them and curing their blindness. The “freebie” was a genuine, no-strings-attached miracle.

How do we approach Jesus when faced with the opportunity for “freebie” grace? Do we go mad with it, “squandering” it on ourselves with little to spare or care for anyone else, or do we decline it because we’re afraid there are Ts and Cs or hidden costs we don’t want to pay? Either is a waste of a wonderful miracle – a continual second chance with God!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for the miracle that is your grace! Help me to be generous with it, both with myself and the folks around me. Amen.

#CoffeeTimePrayer: Little brown jobs


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In Patrick Henry’s The Ironic Christian’s Companion, he writes about what he calls “Little brown jobs.” It’s a term borrowed from bird watchers who sometimes, despite being experienced at their hobby, simply can’t identify a bird and dub them “little brown jobs”. Henry equates this to grace in the Christian walk: sometimes Christians, despite being experienced in their faith, struggle to identify grace when they see it. Henry’s advice is to resist interpreting certain inexplicable things as God’s grace merely to pacify our fears and to accept LBJs for what they are—LBJs.

I like this. Far from negating God’s grace in our lives, it points to the truth that we understand so little about grace—and that that’s okay! Grace, like God, is a mystery, and while it’s often beyond our understanding, it’s never beyond our experience.

Have you ever come on anything quite like this extravagant generosity of God, this deep, deep wisdom? It’s way over our heads. We’ll never figure it out.

Is there anyone around who can explain God?
Anyone smart enough to tell him what to do?
Anyone who has done him such a huge favor
that God has to ask his advice?
Everything comes from him;
Everything happens through him;
Everything ends up in him.
Always glory! Always praise!
Yes. Yes. Yes.

(Romans 11:33-36 MSG)

#CoffeeTimePrayer: How to be a stumbling block, according to Jesus


After exegeting the depths of Matthew 18, I can confidently present to you how to be a stumbling block, according to Jesus.

1. Don’t see your own sin (Matt 18:6-9)

Curiously our own sins are never quite as bad as other people’s. Weird how that works, huh? I guess it’s just because we try harder, you know? We go to church, we do Bible stuff, we tithe, we try to be Good Christians. Are we perfect? Of course not! We’ve got some sin going on in our lives. But Jesus died for that, so we’re just taking it one day at a time in his righteousness! Hallelujah amen!

2. Don’t worry about other people (Matt 18:10-14)

God helps those who help themselves. We’re pretty sure the Bible says that. In Proverbs, maybe? Anyway, we can’t always be worrying about other people. They need to work out their own salvation. God forbid we become enablers or something. That would be anti-gospel!

3. Shame other people for their sin (Matt 18:15-17)

Hate the sin, love the sinner – gosh do we ever live by this rule! True Christian love is to help others break free from the sins in their lives, especially if they’re, you know, super obvious. We don’t want them to give the wrong impression about Christianity or, Lord forbid, our churches! We can’t have that! It might scare folks off if a bunch of sinners – we mean real sinners – showed up in church, and then the offerings would just plummet. How can we do the Lord’s work without offerings?

4. Don’t forgive people as you’ve been forgiven (Matt 18:21-35)

We’re all just human…but at some point the sanctification has to kick in, right? We can’t soft-soap people – tough Christian love, that’s the way. If sanctification doesn’t appear to be happening, something must be wrong. Maybe they’re not committed enough. Are they not at church every Sunday? Do they party, live together outside of marriage, cuss, refuse to volunteer for things, give less than their ten percent, make questionable choices? In that case, decisions have to be made…

It’s not that we’re being unreasonable. God loves them! He forgives them! But it’s such a kick in his teeth if they don’t at least try to live up to that forgiveness. We all try our best; why shouldn’t they?


If you’ve ever been a stumbling block, raise your hand. Maybe your hand is in the air too! Let’s try to remember that the next time it starts to point fingers at people. Jesus would rather we chop it off than keep nursing its accusations.

Prayer: Lord, forgive me for being a schmuck. Help me to remember how merciful and forgiving you’ve been to me – and harangue me into being so to others. Amen.

Jesus is enough


For a religion that’s centred around grace, Christianity has a curious failing: we’re particularly susceptible to a starvation mindset. Afraid that we’ll never have or be enough, we hoard our things and our selves, living close-fisted lives. We see this in many churches. They either over-invest in showmanship, as if to say, “We sure have enough!”, or they hold on to “tradition” as if to declare, “Because we don’t have enough, we have to look after ourselves.”

I’ve been on more than one diet in my lifetime and let me tell you, nothing ramps up hunger than imagining going without. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has started a diet by eating everything “bad” so that it won’t tempt me later on! Similarly, few things threaten God’s grace more than thinking there isn’t enough of it to go around in the world.

Jesus knew this. In Matthew chapters 14 to 17 he addressed the “starvation mentality” so rampant in his time. He did this in a few ways:

He fed the crowds

Jesus’ ministry rarely divorced the practical from the spiritual. His disciples urged him to send the crowds home after he had taught them (Matthew 14:15), but feeding their physical hunger was as important to Jesus as feeding their spiritual hunger. In doing so he demonstrated a very basic truth: that his “bread”, his body broken on the cross, would be enough for the multitudes under the power of sin.

He fed “the dogs”

The story of the Canaanite (or Syrophoenician) woman (Matthew 15:21-28) has always puzzled me. Here we see a Gentile appeal to Jesus for help, only to be called a “dog” by Jesus – a racial slur. But Jesus used this encounter to turn people’s assumptions on their head: his disciples’ assumption that the Canaanite woman didn’t deserve help or healing for her daughter because she was a Gentile; and her own assumption that she wouldn’t receive help (or salvation) from a Jewish rabbi. Her faith bridged the prejudice behind both assumptions, and so her daughter was freed.

He “Transfigured” people’s need for Moses and Elijah

There’s a sad echo in Matthew 17:1-13: after Jesus’ transfiguration and the appearance of Moses and Elijah, Jesus returns to “normal” – a dusty, itinerant teacher, nobody worth erecting a shrine over (v4). Yet I believe it’s this nondescript moment after his transfiguration that carries the most weight: it showed that Jesus incarnate was enough. He far superseded the old laws and the old ways because he had chosen to live as a human and to die for the sins of humanity.

He paid the temple tax

In Matthew 17:24-27 Jesus paid the temple tax on his and Peter’s behalf, saying as he did so that “children owe nothing”. Jesus demonstrated on a small scale what he would achieve on a global scale: he would “pay the debt of the law” for every person who calls on him. Interestingly, the amount Jesus paid was actually more than he owed, another sign. Far from being stingy with his sacrifice, Jesus’ death paid more than what was due.

All of this is to say that Jesus denounced false nourishment. In Matthew 16:5-12 Jesus warned his disciples against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees. This yeast of theirs – that there wasn’t enough, and that only being holy by the standards of the law would grant you God’s forgiveness – would continue to threaten the gospel message among the disciples, both when Jesus was alive and after he had ascended.

The same yeast continues to threaten the Good News today. Rather than living as if we have more than enough, we try to hoard God’s immense grace, mercy and love in our personal, congregational and communal lives. But Jesus asks us, “You of little faith, why are you talking about having no bread?” (Matthew 16:7 NRSV). Just as he easily fed thousands physically, he feeds us spiritually with the same abundance. In Jesus we not only have enough; he is enough.

Seasons with God


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An interesting lesson I took away from a missions course I did late last year was that the natural realm is a general revelation, a way for God to accentuate unreached peoples to the possibility of his presence – a possibility realised in the specific revelation of Jesus Christ. I’ve been thinking about general revelation a lot lately as autumn has sped past, winter fast on her heels and kicking away the last of her leaves with cold, gusty winds. If God uses the natural world to speak to unreached peoples, then it must have something to teach us reached souls too.

So many of Jesus’ parables were rooted in everyday activities that had to do with the natural world. Harvests are a popular example Jesus uses, as is wine, water, desert, livestock, fig trees, grapevines, mustard seeds, grain, fishing, and fertile ground. Jesus was hardly a city boy. He used the cycles of the natural world to explain the cycles of God, the seen to explain the unseen.

This is echoed in our church calendar. For Northern Hemispherians, the church calendar syncs up with the natural world: Jesus born in mid-winter, a very real light in a dark and cold world, and resurrected come Easter and spring: new beginnings. But perhaps the natural world should speak to us even beyond this: nature’s cycles reinvigorating and energising, pausing and resting our spiritual lives; spring, summer and autumn our work week, winter our sabbath; or spring and summer our exodus, and autumn and winter our Canaan. We cannot always remain in the desert, spiritually speaking; at some point, we must enter our rest.

Winter isn’t an easy season for me. Some years ago I was treated for cancer, and my treatment coincided with autumn and winter. More than a decade later, the start of winter still makes me sad. For me, it’s associated with loss in a very real way, as I lost the innocence of my own mortality. Every winter makes me face that afresh. While it also means that I look joyfully to the summer because each one is one more than I had before, winter is a generally a stunted time for me, and I often spend it struggling to seek God.

But God’s general revelation reminds me of the mercy of his specific revelation. I look at the world around me: the dry and withered grass, often burned black; the cold, cutting wind herding people indoors; the bright, clear sky peeking curiously through the spread fingers of bare tree branches; choked plants in dry, infertile-looking soil. And I remember summer: how green and lush everything is, trees twice their size clothed in foliage, earth wet with rain and sweet with petrichor, white clouds rolling across a hazy sky, flower heads drooping and stirring in hot breezes. And then I remember a cross and an empty tomb…

Rather than feel guilty about my perceived lapse of faith during this time, I might more productively spend my time being enriched by Jesus in order that I may grow better and stronger come the spring and summer months. This isn’t death, sweet soul, it’s the moment before resurrection…

It’s a good moment.