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Friday, 29 November 2019

John 17 Protected and Kept Safe

This morning we’re reflecting on the final point of doctrine in the Canons of Dordt: the ‘P’ in TULIP, perseverance of the saints. Perseverance of the saints is all about God’s faithfulness to those he’s chosen as his own. Jesus has washed us clean from our sin, but we still sin; we’re tempted and even give in to the power of temptation. The writers of the Canons know this, “Because of these remnants of sin dwelling in them and also because of the temptations of the world and Satan, those who have been converted could not remain standing in this grace if left to their own resources. But God is faithful, mercifully strengthening them in the grace once conferred on them and powerfully preserving them in it to the end.”
We can even sin deeply. We only have to look at the Bible for examples of people who followed God and still did terrible things; David raped Bathsheba and murdered her husband, Solomon built temples for other gods and worshiped with some of his wives there, Peter betrayed Jesus. These are just some of the people who did great sin and God refuses to let go of them. The Canons know that we still sin, but offers hope, “For God, who is rich in mercy, according to the unchangeable purpose of election does not take the Holy Spirit from his own completely, even when they fall grievously. Neither does God let them fall down so far that they forfeit the grace of adoption and the state of justification, or commit the sin which leads to death (the sin against the Holy Spirit), and plunge themselves, entirely forsaken by God, into eternal ruin.”
Jacob Arminius taught that we could be saved and then lose our salvation. According to Arminius, our salvation depends on the choice of man’s will whether or not he or she perseveres in the faith, “those who truly believe and have been born again not only can forfeit justifying faith as well as grace and salvation totally and to the end, but also in actual fact do often forfeit them and are lost forever.” This is why the Synod of Dordt came out so strong against the Arminians, because if we can lose our salvation, what hope do we have in life? This would mean God’s grace is not irresistible or strong enough to keep us safe from Satan.
John 17 is Jesus’ powerful prayer for his disciples and followers and those who will believe in him. Jesus is getting ready to go to the cross for our sins, to wash our sins away through his sacrifice for us; and as he normally does, Jesus goes to his Father first in prayer for strength and guidance. It sometimes puzzles me that Jesus tells God what he’s done since God knows it already, but it’s part of having a close relationship together, that you share the things going on and what you’ve done with those who are really close to you, even if they know already what’s going on.
Jesus tells his Father he’s done everything God asked of him, bringing God glory on earth by finishing the work God gave him to do. Jesus has given eternal life to all those God has given him; he has revealed himself to them and they believe that God has sent Jesus. Now, as Jesus is preparing for his death, resurrection and return to God, he turns to God to ask for protection for all those who are following him, for all those that Jesus has been protecting and keeping safe. This is the image of God that the Bible gives us time after time, a God who protects his people, a God who saves his people, a God who remains in relationship with his people through good times and bad.
But following Jesus isn’t safe, this is why Jesus tells us to count the cost when we decide to follow him. We’re chosen to be sent into the world to tell the world about Jesus; a world that rejects Jesus, a world that hates Jesus and his followers. As followers of Jesus, we’re not hidden in some secret fortress somewhere, instead we’re given the good news of Jesus to bring it into the world, to invite others to join us in following Jesus and accepting him as their own Lord and Saviour. This is why Jesus prays for our protection.
This isn’t about physical safety; it’s about God protecting our souls. When we face hard times or persecution, the one thing we don’t have to fear is that somehow, we might lose our salvation when doubt might come up. God protects us, Psalm 91, “Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” God’s protection means there are going to be hard times when we’re going need him. 2 Corinthians 4, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”
David Platt, pastor of a church in Washington, DC writes of meeting a young teacher, named Alisha, in a remote village in the Himalayas who shared her family’s journey of coming to faith in Jesus. As a child, because she was born on a bad day, her grandfather declared that she was born to worship the devil. So, from the time she was 3 years old, she had to go every evening into a small room outside their house to make an offering to the devil. Then one day a blind man came through their village talking about Jesus, whom they had never heard of before. This blind man came into her family’s home and told them about Jesus and how Jesus has authority over the devil and sin, that Jesus is the one true God who came to conquer sin and the devil and death so we can be forgiven of our sin and restored to a right relationship with the one true God. Her dad soon believed in Jesus and everything changed in their lives. Alisha no longer had to serve the devil. But the village was angry because they all believed that Alisha’s dad had introduced a new god to the village and bad things would happen. They were shunned in the village.
One day Alisha’s parents went to get water and supplies from another village, but they didn’t come back. The village leaders came to the house and told Alisha her parents had died in a rock slide because they followed Jesus, but in reality, the village leaders had stoned them and pushed the bodies down the mountain. Alisha didn’t give up on Jesus and ended up in the city where she found a church to be part of. When she was baptized, her family and the village broke off all relationships with her. She went to school to become a teacher, and now is teaching and sharing the Gospel of Jesus in the very mountains where her parents were martyred for believing in Jesus. God kept her safe, leading her to a church that supported her in her faith and encourages her in the dangerous work of going back to her village and sharing the gospel of Jesus as she teaches their children.
Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary writes, “The ‘P’ (perseverance of the saints) is an important spiritual component of the Calvinist scheme. If you acknowledge your own total inability to save yourself and if you throw yourself on the mercy of a sovereign God, you need the ‘P’ if you are to avoid the fears of divine arbitrariness.” Paul reminds us in Romans 8:32–35He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?”
Jesus prays for more than our physical protection; he prays to protect our hearts and minds. Jesus prays for God to sanctify us by the truth, to protect us from the evil one. To sanctify is to set us apart for God’s work, to purify us, and cover us with his presence because we are his. Jesus prays for unity because in unity we find strength, we’re encouraged and built up, as Paul tells the church in Thessalonica. God created us in his image, created us to be in community. Just as God is three in one, so we find our identity and protection together in the family of the church, the body of believers with Jesus as our head, who protects us from the evil one.

Friday, 22 November 2019

Ezekiel 36:22-38 Giving Us a Heart of Flesh

This morning we are reflecting on the fourth letter in TULIP. The “I” stands for Irresistible Grace, which is the beautiful doctrine that points to God’s deep commitment to us and how he reaches out to us. We sing the song, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,” and irresistible grace is all about God making his grace so sweet to us that, while we may fight against it for a time, in the end our hearts are so drawn to Jesus that we find we have no choice but to accept his love for us and commit ourselves to become his followers and children of our heavenly Father.
The heart of the Canons of Dordt lies in the teaching that our faith is a gift from God, as Paul teaches us in his letter to the church in Ephesus, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” The Canons of Dordt puts it like this in the third and fourth point of doctrine, “faith is a gift of God, not in the sense that it is offered by God for man to choose, but that it is in actual fact bestowed on man, breathed and infused into him.” This image of how God gives us faith brings me back to creation where God gives humanity life by bending over us, making us with his hands and then breathing his life-giving Spirit into us. This is the same image that the Canons give us of how we are given the gift of faith, it’s breathed into us as a gift of life.
Ezekiel 36 is all about heart change, changing hearts from stone to flesh. This heart change leads to relationship change. God’s people kept walking away from him, going after other gods that were more interesting and seemed to promise a lot more. Now God gets ticked off at them and allows them to be taken into exile, showing them that their new gods are weak nothings. But God doesn’t give up on them, he keeps coming after them. The Jews are far from home, living with loss and grief, not fitting in here in the land of their conquerors. Now God shows up, It is not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes.  “‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.” God’s going to bring them home again!
Then there’s that beautiful picture of renewal and hope, I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” God acts on us and in us first, making it possible for us to come back to him. He pours his Spirit into us to move us to follow his decrees and keep his laws. God does this in a spirit of generosity and grace, with promises of abundance and flourishing when they return home. Their land will become like the garden of Eden, their cities rebuilt strong and fortified, the people becoming as numerous again as sheep, echoes back to God’s promises to Abraham that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the night sky or the sand on the beach.
Irresistible grace is more about experience than about head knowledge. It’s God pursuing you like a lover until the reality of his love overwhelms you and you find that you can’t say ‘No’ to him. This is the story of the prophet Hosea in the Old Testament, a prophet who is told to marry a prostitute and to love her and never give up on her. Hosea and his wife Gomer are a picture of what our relationship with God is like; we keep running away, God keeps overwhelming us with his love and desire for us and captivating our hearts. How has God overwhelmed you with his love and desire for you, how have you experienced God’s irresistible grace in your life?
The Arminians taught that “the Spirit calls inwardly all those who are called outwardly by the gospel invitation; He does all that He can to bring every sinner to salvation. But inasmuch as man is free, he can successfully resist the Spirit's call… man's free will limits the Spirit in the application of Christ's saving work. The Holy Spirit can only draw to Christ those who allow Him to have His way with them. Until the sinner responds, the Spirit cannot give life. God's grace, therefore, is not invincible; it can be, and often is, resisted and thwarted by man.” Arminius believed that even though God may want us to be his children, we can tell God “No.” God’s not able to persuade us to become part of his family, even though that’s what he wants. Our salvation depends on us accepting God first.
The Reformers taught that “the Holy Spirit extends to the elect a special inward call that inevitably brings them to salvation. The external call (which is made to all without distinction) can be, and often is, rejected; whereas the internal call (which is made only to the elect) cannot be rejected; it always results in conversion. By means of this special call the Spirit irresistibly draws sinners to Christ. He is not limited in His work of applying salvation by man's will, nor is He dependent upon man's cooperation for success. The Spirit graciously causes the elect sinner to cooperate, to believe, to repent, to come freely and willingly to Christ. God's grace, therefore, is invincible; it never fails to result in the salvation of those to whom it is extended.” For me, this is a huge comfort, knowing that God doesn’t give up on me, that he’s going to persist until his grace moves me to accept him. God’s also working to transform me. He loves me so much he accepts me for who I am, and he loves me too much to let me stay the same, but gives us the Holy Spirit to make me more and more who he has created me to be. This goes for you too.
Irresistible grace leads to what in church language, we call regeneration. The Canons describe it this way, “This divine grace of regeneration does not act in people as if they were blocks and stones; nor does it abolish the will and its properties or coerce a reluctant will by force, but spiritually revives, heals, reforms, and—in a manner at once pleasing and powerful—bends it back. As a result, a ready and sincere obedience of the Spirit now begins to prevail where before the rebellion and resistance of the flesh were completely dominant.” The Holy Spirit helps our hearts make a U-turn back to Jesus. The Holy Spirit works in our hearts to attract us to Jesus by reminding us of how much Jesus loves us, how he went to the cross to die for you so that you can have peace, hope and love shape your life and help us obey and become more like Jesus. It’s like we got sick and the Holy Spirit works to make us better again. This is a huge comfort to me because it fills me with hope that whenever I am talking to others about Jesus, whenever I’m praying for my neighbours and friends, and others to accept Jesus, I can trust that Jesus is going to love on them so much that they’ll finally submit to him.
There was an older man in Thunder Bay who kept showing up at the Christian Community Center guys’ group. He was such a miserable guy that at times we would even ask him why he was even there. He would never give us a straight answer. Then one evening, as we were talking about what it means to be a man after God’s own heart, the other leader there with me looked straight at this miserable guy and said, “It’s time you admit that God wants you.” I was shocked when the guy’s response was to start crying. He said, “I didn’t want to come, but I couldn’t help myself, I had to keep coming to hear that someone loved me too much to give up on me, but I could never really believe that until right now. Thank you.” That’s irresistible grace in action.

Friday, 15 November 2019

John 3:1-21 Whoever Believes

Last week we talked about picking teams and how if we weren’t very good, we just got put on a team even though they didn’t want us. Today we’re going to talk about something even harder, like when teams are picked and we’re completely left off them. Right away we feel it’s unfair, that everyone should be chosen. This is what many people feel about our point of doctrine this morning called Limited Atonement.
Limited Atonement is the most controversial of the 5 points in the Canons of Dordt. The question has to do, first of all, with the value of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The Early Church Father Augustine taught that the atonement of Jesus Christ is big enough for all people. There’s enough power in Jesus’ sacrifice to cover the sins of every human being who has ever lived. What Jesus did on the cross is more than powerful enough to cover the sins of every person in the world.
 Does the atonement mean everybody is automatically saved?” Does Christ’s death on the cross save the whole world? There are people who believe that Jesus died for the whole world and everyone will go to heaven. They’re called Universalists. Arminians don’t believe in limited atonement, but they also aren’t Universalists. We both agree that not everybody is saved through the atoning death of Jesus Christ. There is a limit to the effectiveness of the cross. As the theologian R.C Sproul writes, “The real issue is the question of the intent and of the design. Arminianism teaches that God, when he planned the way of salvation, intended the atonement for all men, and designed it as such. Calvinism says that God designed the atonement of Jesus Christ to be for the elect only. Every single person for whom Christ died is saved.” You don’t have to worry about whether or not Jesus’ sacrifice is good enough to cover you, as a follower of Jesus and part of God’s family, you are saved.
Jacob Arminius was teaching that we choose to believe in Jesus first. This gets us back to last week, where we were reminded that the Bible teaches us that our faith begins as a gift from God and that we believe through faith, so it all begins with God instead of our choice to believe. There’s this tension that we find in the Bible between God choosing us, but also the call for us to choose God over the gods of the world. Some people refuse to choose God and Jesus. Much of this tension lies in the reality that we’re not able to understand God and need to accept these tensions in faith, realizing that we do have a responsibility for our faith that fits in with God choosing us. This helps us to understand why there are some people who are not saved.
Most of us know the story of Jesus and Nicodemus, the story of one of the religious leaders in Jerusalem who wants to know more about Jesus and his message, but who’s afraid of the other leaders. Jesus and Nicodemus have this fascinating and confusing conversation about being born again, about entering into the kingdom of God and how we need to be born of water and the Spirit. Then Jesus compares the Spirit to the wind that blows around you but you can’t see it, only feel its presence. Nicodemus is left scratching his head, asking, “How can this be?”
Jesus then talks about Moses and the bronze snake. The story goes like this in Numbers 21, “Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.” Jesus is pointing to his own death on a pole, a death that’s going to save people from their sins and give us new life after tasting the death that sin holds. But in Moses’ story, not everyone was saved, only those who looked to the snake on the pole were healed.
Now comes John’s famous words, For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” These verses are deeply loved for a reason. They’re filled with hope and grace, love and mercy and forgiveness. But there’s a warning here as well, not everyone’s going to be saved, only those who believe in Jesus. This is limited atonement. Later in John’s gospel, we hear Jesus talking to God in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Jesus looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.  For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.Jesus goes on to tell his Father. “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word.” Jesus doesn’t come to condemn the world, because Jesus cares deeply even for those who don’t accept him because everyone’s created in God’s image.
Comfort is found in the peace we receive when we realize that as a follower of Jesus you don’t have to worry whether or not Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross has washed away your sins and made you right with God: it has. But there are people who do great evil and deliberately refuse to accept Jesus. They’re not made right with God because of their own choices. Not everyone’s going to be saved; God is also a God of justice. An older lady who had lived with her abusive husband for way too many years, in order to find peace with God and comfort for her soul, needed to know that her husband, who was unrepentant and unashamed of his actions and the terrible hurt he has caused her and their family, is going to be held accountable by God for the evil he has done. Limited atonement does not mean that God is a small God, or doesn’t love people as much as the Bible says he does. Limited Atonement means that God hears the cries of the oppressed, sees the victims of evil and holds those who have deliberately done evil accountable. There are evil people in the world who don’t repent; Jesus’ sacrifice will not make their evil right.
God holds us accountable for our sin, yet when we seek truly his forgiveness, Jesus’ sacrifice washes us clean again. Jesus tells us we need to be born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’” When we allow the Holy Spirit to work in our hearts, transforming us to be more like Jesus, born again, which is represented by the water of baptism as a sign that our sins are washed away, we don’t have to be afraid of not being part of the family of God. This is why we need to know all of Scripture, to hear that God doesn’t give up on us even after Adam and Eve turned away from God, hearing that Abraham was called to be a blessing to all the nations of the world, that God loves the world so much that he sends his own son Jesus to die on the cross to wash us clean from our sin, that there are going to be people in heaven from all over the world and from every culture and ethnic background.
Limited Atonement doesn’t mean that there’s going to be a small number of people that are saved, only that Jesus’ sacrifice doesn’t save everyone, it’s limited to those who believe in Jesus. There’s this wonderful picture in Revelation 7 that shows us how big God’s love and acceptance is,After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.  And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!

Monday, 4 November 2019

Ephesians 1:1-14 No Conditions

How many of you enjoy games where teams need to be picked first? I never minded them because I was pretty good athletically, but a good friend hated these games because he was usually picked last. If you were good enough, you got picked, if you didn’t have much to add to the team, you were forced onto one of the teams, which often made you feel pretty rotten. It’s no different when you are looking for a job; you need to be able to offer your new boss something of value in order to get the job, whatever that value might be. Relationships are the same thing, whether it’s a friendship or something deeper, we bring different things into these relationships that the other person wants. This is good and wonderful, but what about our relationship with God, can we bring anything of value into our relationship with God? Are we good enough to get chosen for his family? Right from the start, I want to emphasize that we don’t have to earn God’s love because we already have it! That’s what’s at the heart of unconditional election: God chooses us first simply because he loves us. We don’t do anything to earn it.
Joseph Arminius taught that “Through faith Christ’s righteousness would be applied to us: God elects believing sinners and rejects unbelieving sinners. The new covenant that God made with us after the Fall included the gift of all the means of grace that we need to believe in Christ, to repent, and to be saved.” It comes down to saying that God chooses those he knows will believe the gospel. Election is based on God knowing beforehand that we will choose to believe in Jesus. It’s up to us to believe and so then be chosen to be saved. This means it’s the sinner's choice of Christ, not God's choice of the sinner, that is the ultimate cause of salvation.
The problem is that we know in our own hearts that we only choose God when we need him, not because we want him. Then, when we get what we want or need, we go back to the way things were beforehand and only come back to God when something comes up again. Our relationship with God is all based on what he can give us, or what he can do for us. We place conditions on our relationship with God and assume that it must be the same way with God, that he only chooses the people who were going to choose him anyway. There’s no comfort in that, no hope, no peace because this means our relationship with God is based on my heart and changing feelings and needs.
The “U” in TULIP stands for unconditional election. This is all about comfort and peace because as Paul says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” Do you hear the comfort, “he chose us before the creation of the world, in love he predestined us to be children of God, and we have been given his glorious grace?” This is all about God choosing us way before we could ever choose him. We don’t have to fear whether or not we’ve been chosen by God or that we belong, because it’s not up to us, God has chosen us already. You don’t have to worry about not measuring up, not deserving God’s grace, or being afraid of not belonging because God says, “You belong, you are mine, I choose you as my child to be a princess or prince in my kingdom.”
But the comfort and hope go even deeper. Theology and doctrine have to be practical and help us in our day to day life, otherwise it’s just chasing after the wind, as the expression goes. So Article 17 in the Canons of Dordt talks about parents who have lost children at really young ages, or maybe even in miscarriage and they offer this comfort: “Since we must make judgments about God’s will from his Word, which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by nature but by virtue of the gracious covenant in which they together with their parents are included, godly parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom God calls out of this life in infancy.” My nephew Aaron died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome when only a few months old and we found peace and comfort knowing that Aaron is with Jesus now, we don’t have to doubt that at all. The Canons of Dordt are the only confession I know that talks about tiny babies belonging to God. For this article alone, I love the Canons. The writers of the Canons tell us that we need to teach about election “for the glory of God’s most holy name, and for the lively comfort of his people.”
This doctrine is not a club to be used by us to figure out who is chosen by God and who isn’t; it’s a gift of hope and comfort to offer people the hope that God chooses them even though they don’t measure up and can never measure up. I think of Mother Theresa going into the slums of Calcutta to serve the beggars and forgotten people there, people no one wanted to be close to, people rejected by society as being unworthy, these are the people Mother Theresa went to serve and offer the gift of Jesus Christ, the gift of healing and hope and eternal life with a God who loves and accepts them, who loves them enough to send his own son to earth to become like us and take our sin and brokenness, our soul sickness because of our sin to the cross where he takes our punishment on himself so that we can know healing, hope and acceptance.
A Taize devotional reads,God chose us “from our mother’s womb,” from the very beginning, before we even had the time or opportunity to do or to deserve anything. God says an unconditional yes to the people he calls “his servant,” whom he “redeemed” from harsh slavery and who now belong to him. He also says this yes to each one of us; he becomes the source of a life that satisfies our thirst for recognition and love, that can spring up even in the midst of our deserts and that will never run dry. When we become aware of God’s yes, we become witnesses to this belonging and we sing its praises just as the witnesses in this text do; we become able to make our own the joyful song that Brother Roger proposes to our soul: “I belong to Christ, I am Christ’s.”
One of the reasons I came back to Jesus was because I was searching for a place where I could belong, where I was accepted for who I was. I found this acceptance in Jesus who has accepted me, chosen me for who I am, but who loves me too much to allow me to stay the same and who has given me the Holy Spirit to keep moving me to change more and more to be like Jesus.
Unconditional election is life changing; leading to lives of gratitude, love and grace because of God’s grace and love. The next question after realizing that we are chosen by God is, ‘What are we chosen for?’ We’re not just chosen for eternal life, but we’re chosen for something. Richard Mouw writes, “God elects us to participate in a covenant community that shows forth his sovereign rule over all areas of life.” We’re chosen to be part of a community of believers that brings the hope of Jesus into the world. The Apostle Peter, an early church leader writes, But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
We’re chosen to share our faith in Jesus with others so they can come to know the God who loves them so deeply because he has chosen them to be his precious children. We are chosen to live together as the family of God to give the world a glimpse of what the kingdom of heaven is all about, which is why, because of the amazing grace of unconditional election, we follow Jesus with all our heart, we live together in love, we live humble lives of loving service and we share our faith in Jesus so that all those in our lives can know God’s unconditional love for them.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Romans 3:9-20 Sin Infects Us

It’s the 400th anniversary of one of our coolest confessions; the Canons of Dordt! Just over 400 years ago, an international meeting of teachers and pastors from various countries got together to talk about some of the things Jacob Arminius, a teacher at the University of Leiden, had taught and whose students after his death began spreading through the church. The Arminians taught that our election is based on foreseen faith, that Christ’s atonement is available to all who freely choose to accept it, limited human depravity, the resistibility of God’s grace, and the possibility of a fall from salvation. The Synod of Dordt rejected these views and wrote out the Reformed teaching on these points to give us a deeper assurance of the salvation that we find in the Scriptures. Our faith always points us to comfort and hope.
The Arminians teach that we work with God for our salvation by choosing to cooperate with the Holy Spirit. This means that we choose God first instead of God choosing us first. Instead of faith being a gift to us from God, faith is instead a gift that we give to God. The Arminians focus on our free will, our ability to choose to repent and believe in God through our own choice, though they do believe that we are all infected by sin. They believe we are sick, but can work with God to get better. Now this was all in reaction to the images in Scripture that compare us to worms because of our sin. The Arminians had a hard time with that because we’re created in the image of God and loved deeply by God, so they focused on the strength we have in being God’s children.
We were created by God, without sin, perfect and holy, but when Adam and Eve had an opportunity to become just like God by disobeying him, they did, and because of their sin, the entire human race is infected by sin. The Canons put it this way, “Human beings brought forth children of the same nature as themselves after the fall. That is to say, being corrupt they brought forth corrupt children. The corruption spread, by God’s just judgment, from Adam and Eve to all their descendants—except for Christ alone.” This corruption that we call sin has infected every part of our hearts, souls and minds. This sin keeps pushing us away from God and making ourselves the center of the universe. According to the Bible, our sin not only infects us, it kills us. The Apostle Paul in his letter to the church in Ephesus writes, As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.”
The Canons tell us that we are infected by sin through Adam and Eve. They disobeyed God even though they knew the consequence was death. Now this death is both physical and the place we live, shaping who we are. The only one not touched by this sin infection is Jesus, who is human, but is also completely God and so is un-infected by sin and because of this, Jesus is able to take our sin to the cross and bring us healing from its infection. Jesus is our soul’s antibiotics, our soul’s best medicine that completely heals us.
Paul comes out strong in Romans 3, taking a number of Old Testament passages from the Psalms and Prophets to emphasize that we are all under sin;As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.” The poison of vipers is on their lips.” “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Now remember that Paul’s quoting poetry and Old Testament prophets who regularly use hyperbole, saying something with extreme language in order to get God’s message across. Jesus uses the same kind of language when he says things like pluck out your eye if you look lustfully at a woman or cut off your hand if you steal. Paul’s message is that we all need Jesus to get right with God our Father. Our sin is serious and only Jesus can heal us. We cannot heal ourselves, or save ourselves from our sin.
That’s what total depravity, the ‘T’ in the TULIP of the Canons of Dordt, looks like. It reminds us that there is no part of our lives that is untouched by sin, no part of our life where we don’t need Jesus to come in and make us fully and completely clean. It keeps us humble, keeps us coming back to Jesus. The Heidelberg Catechism, question and answer 62, says “But why can our good works not be our righteousness before God, or at least a part of it?” The answer is “Because the righteousness which can stand before God's judgment must be absolutely perfect and in complete agreement with the law of God, whereas even our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin.” Paul writes in verse 20 “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
When we do something good, and we do good things all the time because the image if God is still found in us, even if it’s twisted by sin, the good we do doesn’t heal us or save us. But it does give us a glimpse of the image of God still found in each person. This is why you can find amazingly kind, generous people who help others, fight for justice for those who are oppressed, and work hard to make our world a better place, but who don’t follow Jesus. This kind of good, called common grace, is found in everyone because God gives everyone different gifts to bless our world. But this good does not save us from our sin.
Even when we do something good, it’s infected by sin. I remember sitting in my study in Montreal. My study overlooked a park right across the street. The park was right in the middle of the street and the neighbourhood children would play and ride their bikes and scooters on the road around the park. On this afternoon, the children were riding their bikes like usual, when one of the little boys wiped out. His cries of pain filled the air, but his mom didn’t seem to hear him, so I went out to help him with his skinned knee and tears. It was a good thing to do, but there was also selfishness involved, I wanted him quiet and happy so I could concentrate on my sermon again. A touch of sin in a good deed. We know these things are true because we experience them all too often, staying silent when nasty things are said or done; allowing quiet prejudice make us believe we are better than the other person because of their skin colour, ethnic background, or social standing; or being critical of other believers because they read the Bible differently than us or worship differently than we do. All quiet ways where sin shows up in our hearts, even if it never reaches our lips.
We find hope in God’s commitment to us. We may be dead in our sin, but as Paul reminds us in Ephesians 2,But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” God never gives up on us. Right after sin enters into the world, God promises a saviour, someone who will crush the serpent’s head. Jesus comes and shows us how to live, offering forgiveness and grace, washing our sin away on the cross, and then sending us his Spirit when he returns to heaven so that we have God in us, guiding us and comforting us, changing us to become more and more like Jesus, giving us the gift of faith that keeps drawing us to back to God our Father.
We may be dead in sin, but Jesus gives us new life! Our sin has been healed and we’re being changed each day by the Holy Spirit to be more like Jesus; perfect and healed from sin.

Friday, 25 October 2019

1 Thessalonians 5:12-28 Giving Thanks in All Circumstances

Today is Thanksgiving, a day our government gives us to get together and think about all the things we can be thankful for. It’s a day for many of us filled with family, big meals, football and hockey games and church, even though it’s a Monday. Thanksgiving and gratitude are big themes in the Bible. Over and over again we’re called to have grateful hearts, to be thankful to God in all circumstances. Our verses today are not a one off, but part of a consistent message that this is who we are called to be as children of God and followers of Jesus. Here’s just a few passages that call us to be thankful, Psalm 100:4Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.” Colossians 3:15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” 1 Chronicles 16:4He appointed some of the Levites to minister before the ark of the Lord, to extol, thank, and praise the Lord, the God of Israel.”
This morning we’re going to briefly reflect on verses 16-18 Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” As followers of Jesus, these three calls on our lives shape who we are and how we walk through life. The first call to our hearts is to be joyful always. Paul’s not speaking to just to individuals, but to the entire church in Thessalonica. We’re all called to rejoice always. Not just once in a while, or only in good times, but always. How is it possible to experience joy when things are hard, when there’s loss and disappointment and hurt? It’s not normal or natural to most people today. It takes a deep trust in God.
When we believe that God is in control of the present and the future, we’re able to experience joy because we know that God is always with us, that God became human in Jesus and knows the suffering and hurt of life, as well as the celebrations and joy in life. Jesus embraces suffering, even suffering on the cross, so that we can experience the hope and peace which leads to joy because we know that Jesus will use the hard times to help us be more like him and use us to be a blessing and hope for others.
The second call to our heart is to pray continually. Paul does not mean we should be in a prayer meeting all day long. He’s calling us to go through our days with an awareness that God is always with us in everything that we’re doing. It’s like going through your day with a wonderful friend always beside you, getting involved in the things that you’re doing. It’s natural to just talk about the stuff you’re doing, sharing what you think and feel with each other, and sometimes just being with each other quietly, but just being together is good. My sons and I can just sit there and grunt and we know what’s going on, my wife and daughters don’t usually get it, but that’s ok, because we all talk with God differently. But there’s a spirit of thankfulness in these types of relationships, even if you don’t say the words, “Thank you.”
Fredrick Beuchner writes, According to Jesus, by far the most important thing about praying is to keep at it. The images he uses to explain this are all rather comic, as though he thought it was rather comic to have to explain it at all. He says God is like a friend you go to borrow bread from at midnight. The friend tells you in effect to drop dead, but you go on knocking anyway until finally he gives you what you want so he can go back to bed again (Luke 11:5-8). Or God is like a crooked judge who refuses to hear the case of a certain poor widow, presumably because he knows there's nothing much in it for him. But she keeps on hounding him until finally he hears her case just to get her out of his hair (Luke 18:1-8). Even a stinker, Jesus says, won't give his own child a black eye when the child asks for peanut butter and jelly, so how all the more will God when his children... (Matthew 7:9-11)?”
The third call on our heart is to give thanks in all circumstances. I was thinking about how often I say ‘Thank you’ to people and I noticed that usually it’s only after I’ve received something from them, whether it’s help or a gift or something else. I normally don’t give thanks when someone’s give me a hard time or if I’ve had to give someone something, especially if it’s something I really want to keep for myself. I don’t give thanks for pain, even though pain is a sign that something’s wrong and needs addressing. Yet pain helps us deal with stuff before it gets worse. Doctor Paul Brand reminds us that pain is a gift that protects our bodies from further harm as it leads us to find healing. A counsellor friend back in Montreal says it’s the same emotionally, that emotional hurt is a sign that something’s not right and it’s time to get help, from God and those God has placed in our lives to walk with us through the good and hard times. The church is Jesus’ gift, a place where sisters and brothers come together for each other.
Pain can help us get closer to God, teaching us trust. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1, Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” I’ve learnt that the hard times in my life have helped me to better understand the hard times others go through, they’ve made me kinder, gentler and more compassionate towards others. This has helped me to give thanks in all circumstances, knowing that God is there and can use it to bless others and give us a glimpse of heaven through the comfort we experience from God through the Holy Spirit and our church family.
We thank God, because through thanksgiving we receive even more blessings. When we thank God, we remember the things he’s done for us and feel glad. When we give thanks, we find security and peace of mind and we see what we have instead of what we don’t have. Giving thanks opens our hearts to trust God more, so that we’re ready for new blessings. In gratitude, we savor life’s goodness, and therefore live to the fullest. Today, many of us will sit down to a tasty dinner of turkey with all the trimmings, we already ate an amazing breakfast. Take time to revel in each flavor, and to share your joy and delight with others. Gratitude’s about stopping to enjoy, taste, and delight in the goodness of life. And it’s sharing our joy with God, as well as with our neighbors. I love how Ann Voskamp puts it,At the last, this is what will determine a fulfilling, meaningful life, a life that, behind all the facades, every one of us longs to live: gratitude for the blessings that expresses itself by becoming the blessing.
To thank God in all circumstances is to be able to see God working in each and every situation of our lives so that his will is done. The three commands of joy, prayer and giving thanks stand at the center of God’s plan for us, to shape us into who he’s calling us to be. So this Thanksgiving, may you experience the joy of knowing the Holy Spirit is with you, may you be aware of his presence and may you give thanks for our faithful Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and all his blessings and be his blessing wherever you are.

Monday, 14 October 2019

Luke 9:18-27 Who Do You Say Jesus Is?

Who do you say I am?” Jesus asks this question in the area of Caesarea Philippi, where the Cave of Pan, the place of the pagan Gate of Hades was found. It was in this area that Jeroboam, the first king of Israel, led the northern kingdom of Israel into idolatry. This was also the same place where the Greeks and Romans received revelations from the god Pan who was mentioned in classical writings as a "seer" and a giver of revelations. In 19 BC Herod built the Augusteum, a magnificent white marble temple dedicated to Augustus Caesar in front of the Cave of Pan. This was a place of gods, a place where Caesar was declared lord and saviour and god.
Before Jesus asks the disciples who they say he is, he asks them, “Who do the crowds say I am?” There’s a variety of answers, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah, who was one of the most powerful prophets from their past, and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.” The prophets were never really embraced by the people. Prophets were fascinating to the people, seen as different; always calling the people back to God’s way of doing life and leaving status quo behind, but they were also blunt and gave the people no room for excuses for how they were living. The disciples recognise that Jesus is different though, that he’s talking God’s words in a different way, that Jesus is not just repeating God’s words, but giving us God’s words directly as God.
Today if we would ask the crowd who Jesus is, I wonder what their answer would be; likely some would say he’s a fairy tale figure, or a wise Jewish teacher like a Buddha or Confucius, or perhaps a fraud, a Jewish charismatic teacher who fooled a whole lot of people for a long time now. Many will say that Jesus is a good person who says a lot of good things about morals and ethics, though he goes too far in what he expects from us. A lot of the people I’ve introduced to Jesus like what he says, but don’t want to give him full power over their lives as the Son of God.
Jesus then asks the disciples, “Who do you say I am?” It’s interesting that this question comes after Jesus first asks who the crowds say who he is. The underlying question is are you being swayed by what the crowd believes. Jesus asks us the same question, “Who do you say I am?” Think about this question for a moment, “Who do you say Jesus is?” Jesus asks us this question with respect, he wants to hear us identify him and choose him; he wants to know who we really think he is and puts us on the spot by asking straight out. We need to spend time with this question.
Peter speaks up, The Christ of God.” Peter has seen what Jesus can do. Jesus sent them out with power to heal and cast out demons as they preached the kingdom of heaven. Peter saw Jesus take the bread and feed a hungry crowd of thousands. He has no doubt who Jesus is, though he doesn’t necessarily understand what being the messiah or Christ means. He knows the promises of Isaiah 11 of a root coming from the stump of Jesse who will bring righteousness and justice, he knows of Daniel 7 and the coming of the anointed Son of Man coming to rule on the throne of Israel. Yet Peter’s probably not thinking of a suffering messiah like in Isaiah 53, which is why Jesus warns them of the suffering in his future and that they’ll share in his suffering if they continue to be his disciples. Do you understand what confessing Jesus as Messiah means?
Jesus goes counter-cultural now. He makes us think twice about confessing him as Messiah when he tells us what it means, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Confessing Jesus as Messiah and following him is about giving up our lives. Today people look to politicians, sports stars, entertainment stars to save us from our sometimes-dreary boring lives, to save our jobs, our dreams, to give us what we feel we need to enjoy life the way we’re told we’re supposed to. 4 years ago, the people looked to Trudeau as their saviour, a few months ago we looked to Jason Kenny as our new saviour, some turn to the Kardashians to save them from their lives, others turn to Taylor Swift, whiles other turn to the latest phone, gaming computer or whatever to save them from their lives.
When the disciples hear the call to carry their cross daily, they hear the call to give up everything and follow Jesus, to turn away from all the saviours and heroes of the day, from the things that others hold as valuable and important and follow Jesus and his way of self sacrifice. Jesus went to the cross to make us right with God, to take away our fear, our doubt, our hurts and brokenness so that we can face the future with strength and hope, knowing that we are loved, accepted and gifted in order to be change makers.
Carrying our cross means we give up the things that we’re trusting in and follow Jesus’ way; becoming the people Jesus is calling us to be. When a person was condemned to be crucified, he had to carry the cross beam of his own cross to the place where he was going to be crucified. Everything they owned was taken away from them, they were denied burial, showing that they’re nothing. Jesus calls us to a new identity; an identity based on following Jesus as children of God; dead to the values of the world that opposes God. Carrying our cross is about self-sacrifice and identifying with the poor and the hurting, with the broken and the sinners and speaking out on their behalf, about holding onto our possessions lightly and being quick to give to others when there’s need. It’s about embracing the kingdom of heaven and working at making it real here and now.
It’s not enough to confess Jesus as Messiah. Even the demons confess that Jesus is the Messiah. Luke tells us of a man possessed by an evil spirit. When the spirit sees Jesus it cries out, “Ha! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” We can say the words, “You’re God’s Messiah,” believe it and still not follow Jesus. This is harsh, but truth. Jesus doesn’t promise changed circumstances in our lives as a reward for confessing him as Messiah and following him, instead Jesus asks, “Who do you say I am,” and then warns us that following him is going to be costly and even painful; it means accepting a cross and losing your life; it means being transformed by Jesus.
Think about what you really believe when you’re asked “Who do you say Jesus is.” Look into your heart and be honest about who you really believe Jesus is; is he your Messiah, Saviour, God, or is he more of a guide or respected teacher you can ignore when it suits you? How are you allowing Jesus’ Spirit to change you, transform who you are in response to who you say Jesus is?
Jesus warns us that the cost of following him is high, not because God wants us to suffer, but because, through the presence of the Holy Spirit, we begin living counter-culturally, our values, morals and priorities change and come into line with Jesus’. Through the Holy Spirit we become less self-centred and more other-centred, we open our eyes to what is going on around us and work to shape it into more to look like the kingdom of heaven, we take seriously what Jesus teaches and don’t apologize for believing differently than what our culture tells us is proper, and we share respectfully with others who Jesus is, what he expects, and why.
Make a list of the things that are important to you and be honest with yourself, don’t spiritualize it. Ask yourself how your faith in Jesus actually affects the things on your list. Read the Bible, starting with Matthew 5-8 And Galatians 5 and ask if your life is shaped by the Sermon on the Mount or the fruit of the Spirit. Read 1 Corinthians 13 to see if your love for others really looks like that. Think about the sacrifice it will take when you confess him as Messiah and follow Jesus as God. Be honest to yourself about your faith and church membership; is it about you and what you get out of it, about how the church serves you, or is it about becoming the person God created you to be as part of his family?
Who do you say Jesus is and how does your answer change your life? An important question to live with.

Friday, 11 October 2019

John 1:35-51 Follow Me

The Apostle John’s story of Jesus’ time here on earth has a slightly different focus than the other gospels. Mathew, Mark and Luke all want us to know who Jesus is and how he went to the cross to cover the punishment for our sins so that we can have a renewed relationship with God our Father and to help us live out the new life we receive from Jesus through God’s forgiveness and grace. But John has a different feel to his story. The reason John tells us Jesus’ story is so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” But he tells Jesus story from a very personal angle, focusing a lot on Jesus’ focus on people. In verse 14 we already get a hint of this, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The word translated “made his dwelling” can also be translated “he tabernacled” among us, bringing to mind God’s presence with his people during the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness as a sign of his commitment to his chosen people.
Jesus is now wandering through Israel, teaching and preaching; calling God’s people to “repent and believe because the kingdom of heaven is near.” Now Jesus begins to gather a group of people around him, to invest in them so that later they will be able to carry out his message to others. Jesus is gathering together a group of disciples. In Jesus’ day, rabbis and teachers gathered together disciples who followed them with the goal of becoming just like their rabbi, imitating every aspect of their rabbi’s life from his clothes, to the way he did things, and learning to share their rabbi’s teaching exactly. This is why, when we read the 4 gospels, they’re remarkably similar even though the writers were quite different from each other. Jesus is gathering together a group of disciples in order to train them, shape them, and then release them into the world to continue the work he has come to do; to draw the people back to God.
Now Jesus finds himself in the same area as his cousin John. Two of John’s disciples are with John and suddenly John points to Jesus and says, “Look, the Lamb of God!” Just the day before, John pointed Jesus out to his disciples and identified Jesus as, Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.” John was always pointing people towards Jesus, including his own disciples.
Looking back from where we are today, we hear John’s words and we right away go to the cross and how Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away our sin through his sacrifice. We connect Jesus to the Passover lamb whose blood was spread on the door-frames to protect the people from death, or we hear Isaiah 53 and how the lamb was silent as it was led to the slaughter. Jesus is someone special, he has come to take away the son of the world, not just our individual sins, but the sin of the entire world. His coming sacrifice will be more than good enough for the need of all people. John points us to the cross and its importance.
But is this what the two disciples of John heard? No matter how they understood what John meant, the two disciples are attracted to Jesus and follow Jesus. Jesus sees them and asks, “What do you want?” What a great question. What do you want from Jesus? We all want something from him. I was looking for someplace to belong, for someone to simply accept me for who I was since I was lonely growing up, never having fit into the church or school. I was different from the others and my family was always on the fringes of the church. My choices as a teen were not always the best, and some people can never let those things go. As someone said to me this week, “Church can be a lot like high school.” That was my experience too. So, what do you want? Forgiveness for things you feel guilty about, maybe you’re looking for influence or for a purpose or direction in life, or maybe change in the church, or certain gifts or talents, or maybe acceptance, to feel like you are valuable to somebody, or whatever you’re looking for. We all tend to come to Jesus for something.
John’s disciples aren’t quite sure what to say, perhaps not even certain what they want, so they answer with a question, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Probably they’re looking for the opportunity to have a long talk with Jesus to see why John speaks so highly of Jesus, to get to know him and ask him questions about what Jesus is teaching. Jesus graciously responds, “Come and you will see.” This is the invitation the 2 disciples are looking for and they follow Jesus and spent the day with Jesus. Now Andrew is so impressed with what he sees and hears, he rushes off and finds his brother Peter and tells him, “We have found the Messiah.” Andrew brings Peter to Jesus and Jesus names Peter, which shows Peter and those who are watching that Jesus is the one who gives us our identity, shows us who we are.
The next day, as Jesus is getting ready to head to Galilee in the north, he finds Philip and says to him, “Follow me.” Philip goes and finds Nathanael and tells him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Now Nathanael is skeptical because of Jesus’ background, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” There’s a snobbery going on here, Nathanael’s looking down his nose on a small-town bumpkin teacher. But Philip convinces Nathanael to come and see who Jesus is and Jesus acknowledges that Nathanael is a good moral man, a good Israelite and follower of God, letting Nathanael know that Jesus knows him and his heart, even before Philip called him. Nathanael’s convinced Jesus is someone special and becomes a follower of Jesus, calling Jesus, “Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”
It strikes me that following Jesus quickly leads to calling your friends and family to come and see Jesus, to follow him too. There’s a social part to following Jesus, we don’t do it alone, we do it together, inviting others to come follow Jesus too. We are called to become a community together, a family together; a family that laughs together and that weeps together, a family that hurts together and leaves no one on the outside looking in. Too often we judge each other, overlook each other when they need us the most, look past each other because we get put into a box and set aside.
Following Jesus is also really personal because Jesus knows our hearts, our deepest longings, our fears and hurts, our confusions and discouragements and he calls out to these places of our hearts when he calls us to follow him. In Jesus’ time, when a rabbi called you to follow him as his disciple, you would dedicate yourself to watching and listening as closely to the rabbi as you possibly could. One expression was to be “covered in the rabbi’s dust.” In The Moral Maxims of the Sages of Israel: Pirkei Avot, Martin Sicker writes, “What is the sage attempting to convey by his urging that one “become covered with the dust of their feet”? Some consider this to reflect the imagery of a group of disciples sitting on the earth at the feet of their master, who is seated on a stool before them. … Others, however, see it as urging the disciple to follow in the footsteps of his master wherever he goes, figuratively as well as literally. In either case, the teaching may be understood to convey the idea that the disciple should always remain within the ambit of his master’s “dust” or influence.”
The goal is to look like, sound like and be like Jesus. Following always leads to ongoing transformation. This is why we have asked you to pray over your personal faith plan, to remember and be open to the transforming power and movement of the Holy Spirit as you follow Jesus. We are transformed as individuals, but the Spirit also transforms the entire church to truly become the family of God, the body of Jesus. The highest compliment you can receive is when someone says of you or of Bethel, “When I see you, I see Jesus.” This is the goal of following Jesus.