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Friday, 20 November 2020

Proverbs 22:1-6; Ephesians 6:1-4 Meet the Parents

 

Like father, like son,” is a common proverb I am finding out is truer every day as I look at who I am as a person, a husband, and father. Many of my habits, beliefs and character come directly from my dad and grandfather. I will admit that I sometimes cringe at this, because I have inherited some of my dad’s weirdest habits, along with the good stuff. Sorry youth, I always said I wouldn’t become like my dad, but I have, and as you get older, you will also look more and more like your mom or dad too! Yet with all the weird and good mixed together, my parents tried hard to be faithful to God’s call to them to make raising kids who love God their first priority. They wanted us all to be successful in all areas of life, but faith and character where their priorities, as for most Christian parents.

To all the parents and grandparents out there this morning, can you relate to this comment made by an anonymous pastor, “Sometimes we are so involved with simply living life day to day and week to week that we fail to keep the big picture in mind; that we parents are shaping a whole new generation.” Our passages from Proverbs and Ephesians this morning remind us again of what our first priority needs to be as parents: to raise them to know and love the Lord above all else in wisdom. In the Bible, wisdom is about learning to live well with God, each other, ourselves and creation. Wisdom is outward looking, living to bless others and the community. Wisdom usually leads to sacrificial living; parenting is all about sacrificial living, determining what is best for our children rather than focusing on what they want. Wisdom is about developing biblical character.

Our passage this morning from Proverbs connects together through verses 1 and 6. When you read scripture, to figure where a story or passage begins and ends, or to figure out the main theme, you look for repetition of words or ideas. These verses are a smaller section within a larger section that stretches from verses 1-16 and that main theme is training our children that character is better than gold and silver. Verse 1 begins with, “A good name is more desirable than great riches,” while verse 6 is more well-known to many of us, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not turn from it.” Wisdom literature says that if you live this way, if you walk this way, normally this is what will happen. This is why some of us as parents live with the heartbreak of children who have walked away from God, even though we raised them to know and love Jesus.

A good name comes from our parents, a gift we hand down to our children. Ecclesiastes 7:1 tells us that, “A good name is better than fine perfume.” Another way to translate it is, “A good reputation is more desirable than fine oil.” There is an echo forward here to the woman who arrives at a dinner Jesus is at and pours a jar of precious perfume over his feet and then washes his feet with her hair. Fine oils were used for anointing and special occasions, making them valuable and desirable, but our family name and reputation is even more important according to Solomon. The wisdom and character needed to have a good name is found in the next few verses. We’re called to value people because we are all created in the image of God, we’re not to judge a person by how much money they have. We just need to look at Jesus’ life to see how Jesus honoured many people that the wealthy and influential looked down on, hanging out with those on the fringes of society rather than with those in power. Wisdom gives us the ability to recognize danger and deal with it well, this is why Jesus calls us to follow him and calls himself ‘the way’ to show us how to live wisely. A humble heart is wiser than a proud heart. One of the things Jesus taught was to serve rather than be served.

When I hear the warning about snares and pitfalls, I hear the echo to Psalm 1, “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.” Wicked often seems exciting and appealing and it never lives up to its promises, it always ends up taking from us emotionally, spiritually and even physically. This is why parents need to be aware of their children’s friends and activities so that they have those discussions on what wisdom looks like in their friendships.

This is why Moses told the Israelites in Deuteronomy 6, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Talking about God needs to happen regularly as part of our normal daily lives. In Deuteronomy 4, Moses gets the grandparents involved too, telling us to pay attention to our own lives, “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.”

It’s becoming more and more important that as parents, we teach our children wisdom around social media. It’s not only about safety, but also about character and a Christ-like presence on social media. How do we show our children and grandchildren how to be a positive presence that builds others up instead of tearing people down, that brings peace and hope rather than anger and rage, how to recognize wisdom and truth rather than the loudest rage that attracts the most clicks and likes? This means as parents we need to be aware of our presence online and how we respond. Kevin DeYoung writes, “Brothers and sisters, it’s OK to have an unarticulated thought. It’s OK to go about our lives in quiet worship and obedience. It’s OK to do your homework, read your Bible, raise your kids, and make your private thoughts prayers instead of posts.”

In Ephesians 6, Paul addresses the children, reminding them to obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honour your father and mother”—which is the first command with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on earth.” Parents are important, they’re a gift from God who love you, take care of you, put up with you when you’re crabby, they also are the ones who are going to invest in you more than anyone else ever will, they willing sacrifice themselves for you, even though you don’t often recognize it; this is why God calls us to honour our parents. Your parents work hard at modelling faith in Jesus to you, showing you in words and actions that Jesus is number 1 in their lives and you are probably a really high number 2. Parents teach us how to forgive, how to offer grace and mercy, while also holding us accountable for our actions and how to live life wisely.

God is our example of fatherhood and parenthood. He is both righteous and just, teaching us right from wrong and punishing us when we sin so that we learn what a healthy full life looks like in Jesus. That’s what parents do because they want the best for us. Following Jesus is about personal continual change, about character in action, about living life shaped by Jesus, it’s for our children’s sake, but also our own.

God guides us, teaches us what our lives should look like so that we can keep his name good; parents pass on to their children a good name to keep, as well as passing on Jesus’ name to them as we carry the name Jesus, the best name! God is merciful and gracious, teaching us the cost of forgiveness in sending Jesus, his son, to take our punishment on himself so that we can experience new life and reconciliation with God our father. That’s also what parents do, they want healthy close loving relationships with their children and are willing to sacrifice greatly to make that happen, just as God our father wants.

Parenting is the most important responsibility you will ever be given, but parents cannot raise their children alone, this is why at baptism, we promise as a church to help raise all our children to know the Lord, to follow Jesus and carry his good name and keep it good. We need the church to help parents raise their children in the Lord. So, whether you are married with children, married without children, or single, we all have the responsibility to raise our children in the Lord. This is an amazing witness to our communities when we join together to invest in our children as parents, and as a church family, to raise hope-filled children and young adults who know their call to live for Jesus.

Thursday, 19 November 2020

Joshua 24:15; Acts 16:32-34 It Takes a Family

 

The story of Joshua is too often overlooked in favour of other great men and women in the Bible. Noah, Moses, Samson, David, Solomon, Peter and others seem to capture our attention the most while Joshua remains in the background. The others seem to have lived much more exciting lives! I believe part of it is his unshakeable faithfulness in his commitment to following God. For Joshua, as we are reminded in this verse, a verse often found on plaques in many Christian homes, faith is a family affair, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Joshua is near the end of his life, and what a life it was! He was born in Egypt, saw God save his people from Egypt’s slavery, saw God part the waters of the Red Sea, and then destroy Pharaoh's army so Israel could feel truly safe and unafraid because God is on their side. Joshua and Caleb were the only two spies sent into the Promised Land to scout it out that trusted God to help them win the land, and Joshua wandered with the Israelites for 40 years before being chosen to lead Israel after Moses’ death, leading Israel into the promised Land and helping them to settle in the land and conquer the peoples living there.

Now Joshua gathers the leaders in Israel; the elders, leaders, judges, and officials, and reminds them of who God is and who they are as God’s people, calling them to stay true to the Lord. Joshua now challenges them to choose: are they going to follow the idol gods of the nations they’ve just defeated or are they going to follow Yahweh who has chosen them as his people? Joshua clearly states where he and his family stand, “But as for me and my household we will serve the Lord.” Joshua’s decision is for himself and his entire household, it’s a family affair. Family is more than just parents and kids, it’s the entire family: aunts and uncles, grandparents, cousins and those who have become part of the family even if they aren’t blood related. 

Fathers and mothers, are you declaring publicly with words and actions that you and your family are serving the Lord only, that you’re putting aside your other gods? God chooses us, we need to choose him. As a family, is Jesus central to the choices and decisions you make, is Jesus central to your life and how you live? Aunts and uncles, how are you modeling Jesus in your life, how are you investing in the faith of your nieces and nephews and showing them how to live a Jesus centered life? Older brothers and sisters, how are you helping your younger brothers and sister choose to serve Jesus first? If you have no family here in Bethel, if you’re a single person here, how are you investing in your church family, helping others to choose Jesus first, investing in the children, youth, families, or seniors here to grow in their faith? church, how are you enfolding our singles into your families? 

Just as Joshua declares that he and his household will serve the Lord, we see something similar happening in the story of the Philippian jailor. Unlike Joshua, the jailor didn’t have the opportunity to see God at work in mighty ways, defeating powerful kingdoms, providing for the needs of his people for 40 years. Instead the jailor sees the faithfulness and grace of Paul and Silas in not escaping from the jail when their chains were loosened and the prison doors opened. Paul and Silas saved his life in not escaping when they had the opportunity, and in their actions, the jailor knows there’s something missing in his life and so he cries out to Paul and Silas, “What must I do to be saved?” The answer? “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”

There’s something going on here, can someone who doesn’t believe be saved just because they belong to the right family? Is that what Paul and Silas is saying? In the jailor’s time, when the father converted, the entire family would convert. The household knew the importance of faith together. They knew the importance of parental leadership for the entire family; we’ll get more into that next week. Our children need to be taught how to make wise decisions, but the choice to follow Jesus begins as a family decision by the parents, sometimes it begins with one parent deciding for the family to follow Jesus. It all starts with faith in Jesus Christ. It’s about taking Jesus seriously, after-all he took us seriously, going to the cross and the grave for us and rising up from the dead so we can have new life. Jesus takes us seriously, getting us to carry on the work he begun to bring the gospel into the world, going so far to tell his disciples, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”

What makes faith a family affair? It’s the support, encouragement, and family wisdom that makes faith a family affair. It’s grandparents helping out their children to pass the faith on to the grandchildren. It’s the uncles and aunts coming alongside their sibling to help teach the faith to their nephews and nieces and show how faith works in real life, how Jesus’ forgiveness and grace brings new life and the challenge to dedicate ourselves completely to Jesus. It’s how the extended family and close friends who are like family, are there to encourage, teach, and model commitment to Jesus through the wisdom gained through living life; holding each other accountable to their faith commitment to Jesus, sharing their stories of failures and victories in following Jesus and how their faith carried them after messing up and how Jesus gave them the strength to confess and then change. In Galatians 6, Paul says, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” There is that connection we have to each other, no matter what our bloodline is, Jesus’ blood trumps everyone else’s.

One of the positives I see coming out of these times is how families are worshipping together as families, all sitting together and worshipping together as a family rather then scattering throughout the sanctuary or building. With slower schedules, more families are taking the time for family devotions again. When we were in Ontario for our nephew’s wedding a few weeks back, one of the great things was gathering together as a broader family to eat and pray together. As families together, we learn and model how to pray and listen to God and the working of the Holy Spirit. We model together as a church family for the children and youth of our church how to spend time in prayer; talking and listening to God and responding to God. We have this commitment to each other through Jesus, as Paul reminds us in Romans 12, “so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”

Following Jesus as families and households helps us to understand and practice forgiveness and grace. There is no family that has no opportunities to practice forgiveness. In practicing forgiveness, we help each other to understand God’s forgiveness; when we suffer the consequences of how we sometimes treat each other, we understand better the cross as the consequence of what we’ve done. Because it’s Jesus on the cross instead of us, we learn what grace looks like. When we live this out in the context of the church family, we become a powerful witness for what new life in Jesus can look like to others.

Within the household of faith, we’re better able to live out a joy-filled faith that’s rooted in Jesus, trusting in God, and listening to the Holy Spirit; a relationship based on commitment and trust in God and in each other. We never need to walk alone. Even when we cannot be with each other in person, we know that we’re not forgotten because the household of faith keeps reaching out to make sure no one feels forgotten or alone in times such as these; we remind each other that Jesus promises that he is with us always. Today encouragement might come through the phone, messenger, Zoom, Facebook live, Instagram, or even through TikTok. Some of us need to learn how to use these tools better so we can also use them to help each other continue to grow in our faith, in our relationship with Jesus, and with each other as families joined together as a church family rooted in Jesus.

Tuesday, 3 November 2020

Matthew 9:35-38 The Workers are Few

 

Jesus is in Galilee, travelling among the villages and towns of the area. Galilee is in the north, in the area of the Sea of Galilee, north of the area of Samaria and Judea. Jesus is proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and as a sign that his ministry is from God, Jesus is healing every disease and sickness with power that can only come from God. In chapters 8 and 9, Jesus heals a leper, Peter’s mother-in-law, casts out demons, calms a storm, heals a paralytic and a woman who bled for 12 years without finding a cure until Jesus. Jesus raises a young girl from the dead, gives sight to a blind man and a voice to a mute man, and casts out demons. One after another, Matthew in rapid fire, tells of one healing or miracle right after another. It’s almost overwhelming as you read through these two chapters.

This follows Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount where Jesus lays out what life looks like in the kingdom of heaven, how the values of the kingdom of heaven, and how we understand the reality of life, is different from the world around us. Jesus reveals a kingdom focused on community and helping others flourish, while our world encourages us to normally focus on serving ourselves first; the kingdom of heaven focuses on purity and holiness while our world focuses on pleasure, power, and gathering stuff for ourselves first. An English Literature class in a Texas university was given the Sermon on the Mount and asked to write a response to it. The professor was surprised at the anger the Sermon on the Mount created in many of the students. One student wrote, “It is completely unrealistic and unreasonable that anyone would expect people to live by such outrageous standards. They are impossible to follow.” The gospel does create high expectations for those who choose to follow Jesus.

Matthew now shows Jesus moving into the next stage of his ministry. Jesus is travelling through the towns and villages of Galilee, a more agricultural area in the north by the Sea of Galilee, calling the people to repent and believe for the kingdom of heaven is near. Galilee is a place of regular people who work hard, raise their families to know God and follow him. Their faith has made them passionate though for the coming of the promised Messiah, and this led them to produce a number of revolutionaries who fought against the rule of Rome. The Zealots, which Peter and Judas Iscariot sympathized with, had their roots in Galilee. Wikipedia describes them this way, “The Zealots objected to Roman rule and violently sought to eradicate it by generally targeting Romans and Greeks.” Rome fought back, once crucifying 2,000 rebels at one time. At the same time, Jerusalem and the people of Judea looked down their noses at Galilee as a backwater of ignorant uneducated people. This created a lot of uneasiness in the land, which increased the hope for the Messiah. This is the context Jesus is bringing the gospel news in.

Crowds of people keep coming out to hear Jesus and get healed. There’s a searching for hope, life is often hard under Rome. Jesus brings a message of hope. Jesus sees that they are harassed and helpless, disrespected by both Rome and Jerusalem; like sheep without a shepherd and he has compassion on them. The people were looking for someone to follow who would care for them. We hear echoes back to the Old Testament prophets; Ezekiel 34:23–24, “I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.” The prophet Micaiah prophesied in 1 Kings 22:17, “I saw all Israel scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd, and the Lord said, ‘These people have no master. Let each one go home in peace.”

Jesus comes as the Good Shepherd, the compassionate shepherd who protects his sheep, who has come to lead them to places of safety where they can rest and flourish. In Matthew’s story here, Jesus moves from sheep imagery to farming and a picture of harvest time. Galilee is a farming community, and as Jesus is walking the roads, the roads are lined with fields of grain and wheat and barley. It must have been harvest time as Jesus is walking through the area and he uses the image of a harvest to encourage his followers to see and recognize the opportunity to bring the people hope, Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.”  

I wonder if the disciples scratched their heads at what Jesus has just told them? It’s easy for us to see how Jesus creates the conditions in our hearts where the seed of faith is able to grow and flourish. The church, our families, Christian schools and Christian groups in public schools, friendships, and more are all part of how our seeds of faith grow and we’re able to flourish as followers of Jesus. But the kingdom of heaven has a way of turning our worlds and lives upside down; in order to really flourish in our faith, we are called to die to ourselves and our wants and desires.

In John, Jesus talks about wheat producing many seeds, John 12:24, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” Jesus is the Shepherd who gives us the seed of faith as a gift to grow in our hearts, but Jesus is also the shepherd who gives his life for his sheep so that the seeds to faith may produce many more seeds, where his sheep can go and bring many more sheep into the shepherd’s care. Jesus dies so we can be free from the punishment our sin deserves, Jesus’ resurrection offers us new life. We’re then called to die to our own wants and desires and to care for the things and people Jesus cares for.

Jesus’ teaching, miracles and compassion have soaked into the people’s hearts. The soil has been prepared, the seeds planted and nourished, and now the fields are ripe for harvest. Right after Jesus tells the disciples the harvest is plentiful; he gives them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. Jesus gives them these orders, Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.” The disciples are to call the people to “Repent and believe for the kingdom is near,” the same message Jesus brought and the power is a sign they are bringing God’s message. The disciples are to call the people to follow Jesus and accept him and the harvest is plentiful.

The situation today is not that different from Jesus’ time. COVID, conspiracy theories, political systems gone haywire, a tendency to conflict and division have all combined to create a sense of anxiety, frustration, confusion, fear, and more in many people today. One study recently has said that up to 60% of the people in Alberta have seen a negative downturn in their mental health and I would add, that there are many people wondering if there is anyone left who really cares about them instead of just using them. People are searching for something, or someone they can trust and rely on to guide them through this time in a healthy way. I see the Holy Spirit at work preparing the people’ hearts for the gospel news of Jesus Christ and we are the workers the Spirit is using to bring in the harvest.

We follow a God who cares, a God who understands our fears and anxieties because Jesus became human just like us. This is the hope we offer, a compassionate Jesus who has placed his people here to bring the gospel news into our anxious, divided society and create safe communities where people can find rest and renewal in these troubled times in Jesus. I like how Karen Ehman puts it, “You know, when we get to heaven someday, I like to imagine what the Lord will say to us. I don’t think we are going to be congratulated on our successes in our careers or even applauded for our parenting. Do you know what I imagine the Lord saying to us? The same thing I say to my son when I notice that he and the shoe pile have arrived at our place. “Oh, hey. You’re home! Who’d you bring with ya?”

Who’d you bring with ya?

Friday, 30 October 2020

Titus 2:1-15 Teach and Encourage

 

When I look at Titus and the place and church he’s been sent to in order to “straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town,” my heart goes out to him. Paul has not given him an easy task. Titus is on Crete, a place most people looked down on; a people with terrible reputations whom no-one respects, not even their own prophets. Listen to how Paul describes the situation in chapter 1:10–14, “For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain. One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” This saying is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the merely human commands of those who reject the truth.”

It seems the church on Crete is filled with quite a group of characters who may have accepted the good news of Jesus, but haven’t yet begun to allow the gospel to shape their lives in any way. Their lives are making a mockery of the gospel, and yet, while this is a tough crowd, they also have great potential to reveal the power of Jesus to transform lives and communities. This is why Paul tells Titus to focus on teaching the gospel; to give the people healthy instruction for living life as Jesus followers. The goal is to help them, and us today, “to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” Faith is not just about believing the right things, it’s about the transformation of our heart and lives in response to Jesus.

Paul identifies different groups of people in the church and how the gospel should shape them. Paul tells Titus to teach the older men what a gospel good news centered life looks like for them, “be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, love and in endurance.” Older men are to show self-discipline and dignity, be in control of themselves, quick to listen and slow to speak, showing wisdom. Paul wants the older men to be sound, or healthy in their faith, a faith shaped by the command of Jesus to love God with everything they have and are and to love others as themselves. Older men also need to show how they stay grounded in the faith and with an attitude of love through good and hard times. People look up to the older men as examples on how to live; they are models and mentors, whether they accept that or not, and people look to how they live more than at what they say. Our values and beliefs are revealed more through how we walk through life than in the words we say. ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ is not an acceptable way for older men to act, their role in the community is too big for that kind of a life, according to Paul.

Paul then moves to the role that older women need to hold in the church; “be reverent in the way they live, not to slander others or be a slave to wine, but to teach what is good.” Reverent has to do with being holy, with living in a right way according to God’s wishes. Paul emphasizes a few things especially: don’t slander others, be gracious in how you talk about others, speak well of people and build them up instead of tearing others down and gossiping. They’re not to be slaves to wine. It seems that some of the older women especially were becoming addicted to wine, this may be why they also had issues with slander as drinking too much loosens your tongue and you often end up saying things you later regret, you say things that you may feel, but in cruel mean ways. Instead the older women were to use their words for good, to teach what is good and help them become better people.

The older women are then called to urge, or encourage the younger women, acting as mentors and models to these younger women. These older women can show these younger women how to love their husbands and children; love in the 1 Corinthians 13 way of patience, kindness, humility, with trust, hope and perseverance. Being a wife and mother isn’t always easy and it’s not even always appreciated, even though it’s hard and extremely important work. Mothers are the ones who do the main raising of the children. Most of us learned our main values and morals from mom, most of us learned the stories of the Bible from mom first, we learned love and commitment from mom first. Dads are just as important in a child’s life, but the majority of the day to day raising of children rests with the mom. That’s true even today where the roles of mom and dad have shifted a bit, but moms still carry the major share of child raising.

This means that the foundation of our society begins with mothers. I know some women cringe when they hear the call to be subject to their husbands. The Greek word is submit, we need to hear this through Paul’s call in Ephesians 5 for mutual submission and then for wives to respect their husbands. Husbands need their wives’ respect in order to be strong healthy husbands and fathers who take their responsibilities seriously. Paul knew what psychologists today are rediscovering; that women and men need different things from each other: women desire love and men desire respect. This is why older women investing their time, energy, and love into the younger women in church is so important, they have learned that husbands experience love through respect, and this makes them stronger husbands and fathers.

When people outside the church see how younger men and women have mentors and models who really care and invest in them; building strong adults and families, they find it difficult to blaspheme the word of God because of how the gospel creates strong healthy communities of flourishing families. Our families are an important witness to the power of the gospel in our lives. When we let the gospel shape our relationships within the family, we build solid foundations for our children, a place where they can grow safely, surrounded by an extended family that values investing in each other and helping them to find their hope and security and strength in Jesus.

Paul now turns his attention to the young men, urging Titus to teach them to be self-controlled by being an example himself in doing good, mentoring them. Part of mentoring is that in his teaching, Titus is encouraged to show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech. Titus’ own life and teaching is also part of his witness to the working out of the gospel news in our lives. It’s one thing to read about how God wants us to live as a witness for him, it’s another to watch someone live out Jesus’ way in actual real messy life.

There’s something inspiring about watching the life of someone who is living out their faith in beautiful generous ways; watching how they practice self-control, Christian character, joy, love and more in all their relationships in their families, workplaces, school, and community. It inspires others and gives us the courage and strength to live the same way, which then increases our witness to the gospel and Jesus. Our children, our youth and our community are watching us, seeing if what we say we believe is being practiced. This is why Paul even mentions how a slave can be a witness in how he or she does their master’s bidding, all so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive. Have you ever thought that you are a witness to your boss about Jesus? This is why Paul in another letter reminds us to do everything as if we’re doing it for the Lord. It gets noticed!

Following Jesus, teaching and encouraging each other in who Jesus is calling us to be as individuals and as a church, shapes how we live together within our families, church and community so that our teaching about Jesus is attractive, drawing people to Jesus. Through God’s grace, we say “no” to ungodliness as we wait for Jesus’ return and do the good God has prepared for us to do to create healthy communities that reflect Jesus’ teaching and life, a place where everyone is able to flourish in the gifts God has given us.

Monday, 12 October 2020

2 Timothy 3:10-17 All Scripture is God-Breathed

In our story here this morning, we see how close Paul and Timothy are. Paul’s sharing his life with Timothy; telling him all about his joys and struggles, his purpose in life and the persecution he’s getting from living out his purpose of bringing the gospel to everyone. He’s sharing his faith, way of life, and how he’s learned the importance of patience, love and endurance. Paul’s life centers on Jesus and he’s enjoying the blessings and enduring the struggles that come with a Jesus-centered life. Paul’s sharing all of this with Timothy in order to strengthen and encourage Timothy in his own life and ministry. 

Paul reminds Timothy that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Paul’s living this out, but Jesus also warns his followers that if they choose him, they’ll face persecution. We always talk about being unique, about living life our way, our culture even encourages this, at least until your values become different from the culture’s, then you’re told that your values don’t belong and you need to change to fit what the majority accept as true and right. Be unique, but not too unique, is what it comes down to. In most cultures, Jesus’ message and values are different from the majority. Jesus embraces humility, self-sacrifice, responsibility, extreme generosity, acceptance of those on the fringe and who don’t fit in, calling us to accept God’s truth and way as our own, and Jesus calls us to be so much more than we are right now.

Paul’s encouraging Timothy to keep on living out what he believes and what he’s been taught. I love how Paul tells Timothy that you embrace what you’ve been taught because of the relationship you have with the people who have taught you; his grandmother, his mother, Paul and others. These are people Timothy trusts and loves and who love him back, they want the best for him. It’s true even today, as your pastor I can tell you something, but if you hear it from your grandparents or a favourite aunt or uncle, you’re much more willing to trust them because of the relationship you have with them. These are the people who’ve taught you about God and the wonder and specialness of the Bible as God’s own words given to us as a gift.

Part of the reason Paul’s writing Timothy is because Nero is the emperor and has begun persecuting Christians. This distracted everyone from taking a closer look at how evil, cruel and immoral he was. Romans were leaving their traditional beliefs, including believing that Caesar was a god, and were turning to other faiths, including following Jesus. Rulers back then, just as today, will often identify a small group of people who are slightly different than everyone else and then accuse them of all kinds of immoral things, of not believing the right things, just to take the attention off of their own behaviour. This often turns into mob rule, something we’re seeing way too often today all over the world and we’re not immune to it.

In these unsettled times, times filled with anxiety, uncertainty and fear, Paul points Timothy to Scripture, reminding him that it’s God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. I hear echoes here back to Genesis 1 & 2 and how God created us. He created order and beauty out of chaos, he took the earth itself and formed a man, giving it life by breathing his breath, his Spirit into it to give it life. This is what Scripture does, it brings life and hope, points us to the one who gives new life: Jesus. Scriptures are the good news that show us who God is, revealing Jesus as God’s Word made flesh.

Paul reminds Timothy that the Scriptures are useful for teaching. They reveal what’s true about life, pointing us to Jesus and his life and teaching. Jesus calls himself the way, truth and life as he calls us to follow him and place our hope in him for salvation. We are constantly being told that there is no absolute truth, that we create our own truth. If we all could create our own truth, what happens when our created truths contradict each other, compete against each other. If they are opposite, then one person’s truth will be wrong, will be a lie. Jesus calls us to believe in him, to look to him for the truth. We don’t create truth; we discover truth in Jesus. In finding the truth in Jesus, we discover in the Scriptures how to live life well with God and each other, with ourselves and with creation.

Scriptures also rebuke us, tells us to be honest about where our hearts and desires really are. The Scriptures don’t allow us to fool ourselves into thinking we’re better than we really are. That’s hard for a lot of us to hear because, while we say that we cannot earn our salvation simply by being good, that’s often how we live, believing that if we’re good enough, God could never say ‘no’ to us. We want to be with Jesus when we die, but we want to have fun and do what we want right now too. We seem to think that a holy life is a dull life, but Scripture shows us that the most exciting life is one where we give our all to Jesus.

The Scriptures are a very helpful source of correction for us. It guides us back to healthier ways of thinking and seeing life and the world around us.; from false beliefs to true beliefs about who we are. There are a lot of people of all ages, from young children to older seniors who struggle with mental health right now. The last while has been difficult for many of us. We have been restricted from socializing the ways we are used to, physical connections are limited, some have lost their jobs, and so anxiety, fear, mental tiredness and depression have affected most of us at some point in the past 6 months, some are wrestling with their mental health in some serious ways now. Some of this has biological roots and so if you are struggling right now, you do need to see a doctor or therapist.

Yet some of it comes from how we see things. We falsely believe that we’re alone and no one understands, we falsely believe that we have no value and nothing to offer, we falsely believe we have no future and no way forward, we falsely believe that others look down on us for being weak, and we falsely believe that no one cares. When we believe these things, anxiety, fear, and depression can knock us down real hard. This is why we need to turn to Scripture, or if your loved one is walking through a hard time mentally and emotionally, remind them again of the truths found in Scripture, that they are not alone, that the Holy Spirit is with us always to comfort us, remind us of who Jesus is and what he taught, to give us strength and hope. They will experience them through your love and compassion and presence.

The Scriptures remind us that we’re beloved children of God, precious in his sight, princesses and princes in the kingdom of heaven. Scriptures don’t promise us an easy future, but that there is a future and a way forward and Jesus is with us through it all. While others may look down on us, Jesus doesn’t, he is filled with compassion and love for us. He became human so he could experience life as we do, with all it’s struggles and joys so that no matter what is happening, we know we can always go to him and he will understand. God cares, Jesus cares, and as a church, we care too.

Finally, Paul reminds us that Scripture trains us in righteousness to grow our faith by giving us spiritual and life practices that teach us how to live well with God, with others, ourselves and with creation. The goal is that we are equipped for every good work. I like how Paul says it in Ephesians 2, For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” We’re reminded as we look for the good works prepared for us to do, that we do so as God’s handiwork, as his masterpieces in this world. We do these good works out of gratitude to Jesus for how he took our sin and brokenness to the cross where he defeated sin and death and in his resurrection 3 days later, shows us that we are now dead to sin and resurrected into a new life of hope.

As we move forward as Bethel Church, looking ahead to the opportunities our renovated building will bring, Scripture and the Holy Spirit will guide us as we seek to do the good works prepared for us to do to make our city a more blessed place to live, as we bring others to Jesus to experience the salvation and full life that Jesus offers.

 

 

Friday, 9 October 2020

2 Timothy 2:1-13 Entrust the Gospel

 

Before Jesus returned to heaven, he left us with one last mission, to “go make disciples.” This is at the heart of what the church is all about, it’s our main mission, our “raison d’etre,” as we would say in Quebec. I’m always amazed at how quickly though that we can get distracted away from our main mission, or discouraged because the task is so large and, seemingly, unending. So the question, at least in my mind, is what is the best way to be a disciple-making church, to be a disciple-maker myself? There have been so many programs in the past; there was friendship evangelism, the Jesus project, and others, all designed to help the church make disciples. We embrace them for a while and then go chasing after the next shiny program. But is there another way shown in the scriptures on how to go about making disciples who go and make more disciples?

Paul shows us just such a way here in his letter of encouragement to Timothy, in this passage here this morning. I am part of a discipleship, disciple-making ministry called 222disciple that is based off of Paul’s encouragement found here. At the core of what we’re doing is we focus on making disciples that make disciples. Did you know that if you make a new disciple of Jesus every day for 20 years, you will have led 7,300 people to Jesus? That’s a lot of new disciples! The problem is that doing this is really hard work and the disciples you make still need someone else to help them mature as followers of Jesus, growing stronger and deeper in their faith.

Here in this letter from Paul to Timothy we see a different way, a way to make disciples that will make a huge difference through investing in a few others who will then invest in still others; all growing strong in the faith. Paul encourages Timothy to be strong in the grace that’s in Jesus. This is an echo back to chapter 1:7 where Paul tells us that we’ve been given a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. This spirit is lived out in the grace that is in Christ Jesus who set us free from the power of sin and the fear of death by going to the cross where he paid the penalty for our sin. Jesus was buried, and as Paul reminds us in verse 8, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel.” This all echoes back to so many promises in the Old Testament that pointed to a saviour who would crush the head of the serpent Satan, and come from the family line of King David. God keeps his promises and this is all part of the strength and power we find in Jesus.

This is all stuff that Timothy learned from his grandmother, mother and Paul himself. Timothy is a disciple of Jesus because his family and Paul invested in him to lead him to Jesus and accept Jesus as his saviour. A side note here, investing in our kids and their faith is never wasted time or energy, it’s the best thing we can do for them. Now back to Paul and Timothy, Paul now commands Timothy, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” This is the mentoring model of discipleship where you look for someone to invest in and then start investing in them. You do this by sharing and showing them what you’ve learned and how it has shaped your life and influences how you live and make decisions. Then, at a certain point, usually way sooner than we think, this person is now capable of mentoring someone else just as you’re mentoring them.

Who has mentored you in life, in faith? Consider reaching out to them and let them know how much you appreciate them.

Paul repeats his command to join him in suffering. This makes sense, because when you really care about someone else, you find yourself willing to do almost anything for them, including suffering. When you deeply care about a friend, co-worker, neighbour, school friend, you are willing take the chance on speaking up about Jesus and who Jesus is to you so that they can hear about Jesus too. It’s not always easy, we often find it hard to start these conversations about Jesus.

Paul uses a number if examples of other people to encourage Timothy in disciple-making. Paul starts by using a soldier as an example staying focused on the commands they are given by their commanding officer. Paul’s not referring to battle and fighting here, but to pleasing the commanding officer, putting the orders of the officer ahead of his own wants. The soldier’s whole focus is on accomplishing the officer’s command. Our commanding officer is Jesus and his commands are straight forward: love God, love your neighbour, and go and make disciples. As we saw last week, these three orders are all inter-related and all pointing to us going and making disciples.

Paul then uses the image of an athlete. An athlete’s day is shaped around training and practice, learning the game as well as they can so that they’re ready for anything that might come us, for any surprises the other athletes might bring to the game. But Paul focuses in on competing according to the rules. This is about obedience and dedication. You hear an echo here to Jesus telling his followers, “If you love me, you will keep my commands,” obedience is an important part of our relationship with Jesus, an important part of being a disciple. There is also the call from Paul in the chapter before this to live holy lives, the point being that our lives give weight to our words and teaching as we invest in others as we lead them to become disciples of Jesus.

Now Paul moves to an example that many of you can relate to, the image of a hardworking farmer. The farmer puts in the hard work, he adapts to whatever the weather and circumstances are given him, and he places his trust and faith in God, getting on his knees in trust and faith to talk to God, and then gets off his knees and to his feet to put in another day’s hard work, looking ahead to the harvest. Investing in people is hard work, just like the farmer working towards harvest time, a lot of hard work goes into walking together with someone to guide them in becoming a disciple who is trained to make more disciples.

Investing in people, mentoring them into a deeper relationship with Jesus so they also become disciple makers takes a lot of hard work, commitment, focus and even sacrifice on both your parts. There is always a cost involved, as Paul reminds us here. Churches and Christians are often like my dog Bellah: loving, mostly gentle, but also easily distracted. Bellah gets distracted by cats, squirrels, rabbits and almost anything that moves, while churches get distracted from making disciples by new programs, church conferences that promise easy growth, and the people issues that always come up when a group of people commit to each.

Paul is focused, works hard and keeps the command from Jesus to go make disciples. This is one of those areas in Paul’s life where should copy him, as he mentions in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Paul is so focused on helping others discover the salvation found in Jesus, “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” His heart and soul are filled with those who don’t know Jesus yet, for those who haven’t accepted Jesus yet as their lord and saviour. That’s what keeps Paul awake at night praying, that’s what keeps him going each day: the desire for others to accept Jesus.

Jesus invested in 12 disciples, training them to teach others, making disciples who would go on to make more disciples. This is the method that Jesus has passed, a method that Paul encourages, often encouraging older men to mentor younger men, and older women to teach younger women.

Paul recognizes the power of mentoring others to train others to teach the gospel news to make new disciples who are trained to teach even more people about Jesus. This is why Paul commands Timothy to teach others who will teach still more people about Jesus. At the beginning of the sermon, I mentioned how if you led one person to Jesus each day over 20 years, you would lead 7,300 people to Jesus. But you would not have had the time to help them become mature disciples of Jesus. But if you invest in 2 people each year who will then each invest in two people more each year, after 21 years you will have led 3 ½ billion people to a mature faith in Jesus. That’s half the world’s population right now! Who are you mentoring, who can you reach out to and offer to mentor them?

Monday, 5 October 2020

2 Timothy 1:3-14 Suffering Together for the Gospel

 

Is there anyone here this morning that loves to suffer? Maybe you don’t love suffering, but do you at least appreciate it? Can suffering ever be good? Why suffer if you don’t have to, does suffering make sense? It makes me wonder; how do we hear Paul’s command to join with him in suffering for the gospel? It’s important to know that suffering just for the sake of suffering is not healthy.

Doctor Paul Brand is a Christian doctor who has worked with those who suffer from leprosy. He’s written a couple of books with Philip Yancy about pain and the human body from the Christian perspective, talking about how amazing the human body is, that it truly is fearfully and wonderfully made as Psalm 139 says. Doctor Brand tells us that pain’s a gift because it tells us that something’s not right and so we need to pay attention to what’s going on. Now he’s normally talking about physical pain, but the same principle applies to spiritual, emotional and mental suffering. Suffering, even suffering for the gospel, reminds us that things in the world are not the way they’re supposed to be. Something’s off or wrong when we end up suffering for sharing the good news of Jesus and following his way instead of the world’s way. What this suffering reveals is that the world needs the gospel news and the church even more than we realized.

Paul’s writing to Timothy, a young man Paul has left in Ephesus to pastor the church there. Paul values this relationship, it’s important to him since Timothy is more than just a friend. Paul’s invested in Timothy as a mentor, pouring his experience, knowledge and love into this young man. There’s love and appreciation here for Timothy and for the faith and gifts Timothy has. The faith has been passed down into Timothy from his grandmother and mother. A large part of our faith is rooted in community and relationship with God and each other, as we see in the relationships between Paul and Timothy and Timothy and his family.

Paul knows Timothy’s faith and his gifts; he encourages Timothy to fully fan into flames his faith and gifts. Now this isn’t a campfire, roasting marshmallows kind of fire, this is a middle of the field, throw everything on bonfire. The Holy Spirit that gives us the gift of faith also gives us the power, love and self-discipline to live out our faith. The word for power is dynamis, where we get the word dynamite from. This is a powerful strength from God; a spiritual inner courage that helps us to move forward and act despite fear,  strength with roots into the community of believers as we see in Hebrews 12 where the writer reminds us that we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. We don’t need to rely on our own strength and courage when we have opportunities to talk about Jesus; the Holy Spirit is at work in that relationship, in us.

Paul ties this power to love and self-discipline because these things are all given to us as a package deal in order to be disciple-makers. When love shapes our character and lives, when our character is based on a foundation of self-discipline and holy lives, talking about Jesus becomes more natural and easier. There is that warning here that always makes me pause, “So don’t be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner.” I immediately hear the echo back to Jesus’ words in Luke 9, Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” This is something I’ve wrestled with at times, especially with people I already know. In the back of my mind is that small niggling thought, “If I talk to them about Jesus, will they think I’m crazy and reject me as a friend?” I don’t want to be ashamed of Jesus, but the opinions of others often matter more to me than they should.

Timothy faces the same situation. Both Jews and Greeks thought the testimony about Jesus was crazy. For the Jews, the thought that Jesus was God was blasphemy, while for the Greeks, the fact that Jesus died and rose again, and in dying and rising from the dead, our sin is forgiven, and we’re made right with God was crazy. Paul reminds Timothy, “God has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything that we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.” God has a purpose for us, and it’s all connected to sharing the gospel news and making disciples. How we live is important: how we treat each other, and others reveals our faith. Our success in making disciples is not going to come from our own strength, but from the Holy Spirit working in us, helping us live holy lives and share the gospel.

Paul commands Timothy to join with him in suffering for the gospel. The question comes, if we have good news, why should we experience suffering when we share this good news and allow it to shape who we are? Why are people so threatened by the gospel news of Jesus? Jesus has destroyed death, a powerful hope in a week where many of you attended funerals, while others are walking in the valley of the shadow of death with loved ones. Jesus has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, offering us amazing hope, especially when life doesn’t go the way we had hoped, when we find ourselves facing our own mortality as people our own age die, and we realize that our own life is fragile as well. So why should we expect to suffer for offering hope?

Jesus himself warned us that we would face suffering when we choose to follow him.  Matthew 5:11–12, Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” We’re called to rejoice and be glad for persecution and suffering! Paul shares what he’s suffered in 1 Corinthian 4. Following Jesus and being his herald brought Paul lots of suffering as he went wherever God led him. He went hungry, was shipwrecked several times, and had that thorn in his flesh. Much of Paul’s suffering came at the hands of people because he shared the gospel news freely and openly. Suffering and persecution was a real thing for Paul.

People are threatened and lash out against Jesus and his followers because Jesus calls us to a way of life that looks different from the culture we live in. We’re called to live out the values of God, which are often different than the culture’s values. Jesus calls us to give him our complete loyalty, to turn our backs on everything that we consider most important, and that confuses people. Our culture values rights while Jesus values responsibility. We see this played out in the fight against abortion where our culture focuses on the rights of the woman over her body, while Scripture calls us to lives of self-sacrifice and responsibility and value the gift of life.

Our culture focuses on rights while the Bible calls us to give up our rights and submit ourselves completely to God as slaves to him. We’re called to love our neighbour and help them prosper and flourish, while our culture calls us to put ourselves first. Jesus calls us to live holy lives, our culture calls us to satisfy our every desire. We forgive and show grace rather than strike out when we get hurt. We’ve seen powerful examples of this, the Amish parents who forgive the man who killed their children and even reached out to his mother in her grief was admired by many even as they found it hard to understand that we return good from evil. The Bible calls us to live out our faith in public while our culture tells us to keep it private. These very different values from Jesus’ way of life can create confusion, even guilt and anger, and people lash out when they feel anger, guilt or fear.

Jesus can take away the anger, guilt or fear; he can help them discover a life of purpose and hope and build a community where everyone can flourish and find acceptance and love rather than the anger and division that is spreading in our culture lately! We are here to help those in our lives and communities to discover how different life can be with Jesus, how he can bring hope and peace, not just into our lives, but into the life of our community as well. Jesus uses us, his church to live as his church, modelling his love, grace, forgiveness, joy and a willingness to sacrifice in order that others can come to know Jesus. Paul reminds us, “This is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard when I have entrusted to him, our souls and lives, until that day.” Until that happens, we’ll experience times of suffering and rejection because we follow Jesus, as we share the gospel, living it out in our daily lives and values as a community of believers who trust the Holy Spirit to give us what we need to bring the gospel.

Friday, 25 September 2020

Romans 10:1-21 How Can They Hear


In our passage this morning, we see Paul’s heart for people, especially for the Jewish people who haven’t yet accepted Jesus as their Lord. Paul’s heart desire is for everyone to know Jesus and to accept him as their Lord and Saviour, especially his fellow Jews. Paul wants them to know and embrace the gospel, to embrace Jesus who’s the core of the gospel news. It’s like when we have family who’ve drifted away from Jesus, or maybe you’ve accepted Jesus but your family and loved ones haven’t yet; when that happens, your deepest desire is that they will come to know Jesus and follow him with you.

The Jews know God. They follow the Law and do all the sacrifice and ritual stuff, but it comes more out of a sense of fear and duty rather than love and relationship. They follow the Law to the letter, even tithing a tenth of their spices to the temple, yet they’re unable to see how the Law points to Jesus, how the Law teaches us about our relationship with God and our neighbours. The 70 years in exile in Babylon has made them focus intently on fulfilling the letter of the Law and they forgot that the reason they went into exile was because they forgot that the heart of the Law is to love God and their neighbour and protect the vulnerable among them. Jesus is the culmination of the Law, living it out completely in his life and relationship with God the Father. Jesus lives it out on the cross through complete obedience to God’s will and out of complete love for us. The Jews are looking to the Law, Paul calls them to look to Jesus.

Paul’s desire is that the Israelites will move from the righteousness that is by the law, focusing on rule keeping, and embrace the righteousness that is by faith which says… the word is near you; it is in your mouth and heart. The word here is Jesus, we learn that from the first chapter in John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus didn’t hate the Pharisees; he wanted them to see that their salvation wasn’t coming from following the rules, but that it comes through him. Jesus freaks out on them for tithing spices and every small thing they own, but that’s because they’ve forgotten the heart of God for the poor, oppressed, widow and orphan. Jesus wants, just as Paul does, for their faith to make it past their head and into their hearts and to transform their lives. When we share the Gospel news with others, we’re not just giving them knowledge, we’re inviting them into a relationship with Jesus.

We can do all the laws and rules and still not be saved from our sin. You can know that Jesus is Lord, that he died on the cross for our sin, and was raised from the dead to show sin and death are defeated, and still be far from God. The Jews know God, they know him really well since God has been with them and saved them many times in the past, but they’re not accepting and following Jesus. Satan knows God and still is far from God, and definitely is not a follower of Jesus.

Paul encourages us, saying, If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” Jesus tells his disciples in John 14 that he is the way, the truth and the life and that no one comes to the Father except through him. Jesus goes on to say that if they really knew him, then they would know the Father as well. If you want to know God, Jesus is saying, you need to know him.

If Jesus is our Lord, then our allegiance and loyalty need to be given completely to him, our identity rooted completely in Jesus. Claiming Jesus as Lord is saying to the world that we’re not giving our allegiance to Caesar or anything else: Jesus is first! Richard Niell Donovan writes, “Rome considered Caesar to be Lord, and required its citizens and subjects to say, “Caesar is Lord.” To proclaim Jesus as Lord was to invite charges of disloyalty or treason, for which the penalty was death. It is likely that some of the Christians to whom Paul wrote this epistle knew Christians who had died for confessing that Jesus is Lord—and yet they continued their public proclamation—and so the church prospered, even as it was nurtured by the blood of the saints.” Claiming Jesus as Lord is not a light thing to claim. Paul says we need to believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, meaning that you’re trusting that Jesus really was sent from God and that he’s God’s only begotten son. This needs to be deep down faith, from the heart.

The hardest thing for the Jews was to move from following the Law to accepting Jesus as God’s son and as their Lord. It’s not much different today. There’s a surprising interest in spiritual and supernatural things, most people have a sense that there is more to the world than what we can experience through our senses. While many people will admit to a spiritual reality, our challenge is to help them see that Jesus is at the center of the spiritual realm and he calls us to follow him and accept him as the most important thing and person in our lives and hearts, to accept him as our Lord.

Paul asks, How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” I am often surprised by how little many people know about God and Jesus. We think everyone still knows the biblical stories of Christmas and Good Friday, but even those are being forgotten and this has been happening a while now. While at Redeemer University in the late 90s, an English professor, Deborah Bowen arrived after having taught at the University of Ottawa. She was surprised that half her students there didn’t know even the simple stories of the Bible. Jesus was a myth or a swear word, while Christmas was trees and gifts, and Easter was chocolate and bunnies.

How can they know who Jesus is if no one has even told them, how can they believe in Jesus if no one has ever taken the time to talk to them about God and Jesus? This is Paul’s question concerning the Jews, how about our co-workers, fellow students and neighbours?  There’s an interest in spiritual things today, just check out how many tv shows deal with spiritual or supernatural topics. Whenever I talk to someone in our city about faith and Jesus, I’ve never had anyone tell me off or walk away. Most times there’s interest, even if they’re only being polite. But how will the people in our city hear about Jesus if we don’t talk about him; share how he makes a difference in our lives and how his way changes us.

The people in our lives need to hear of the peace that passes all understanding that Jesus gives us; to offer them the freedom to stop chasing after all the things that we’re told will make us more beautiful, smarter, wealthier, more popular, more whatever. They need to hear that they can find forgiveness for all the wrong stuff in their past, that they’ve been given gifts and skills to bring change into our community, that Jesus calls us to create a community where everyone’s treated with honour because they’re created in the image of God, that we’re challenged to help others flourish and develop the potential God has placed in them, to live in grace and hope rather than fear and oppression. They need to know that they are loved by Jesus, that they belong to him. So many people are searching for a place where they can belong, be accepted. If we don’t tell them about Jesus and how he’s able to transform their lives, who will?

In the end, we want the people in our city to know the same thing Paul wanted the Jews to know, found in Romans 8:38–39,  “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” May the Lord give you the words and courage needed to share Jesus and remember, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” May your feet be beautiful this week and every week!