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Sunday, 12 July 2020

Psalm 137 Weeping by the River

The psalms are the songs of the people of Israel; songs to God from the heart during good times and hard times. Songs give us the words that we often don’t have otherwise, the words our hearts want to say but our mouths and minds can’t find, so we turn to the psalms to express what’s on our hearts and souls.
When we read Psalm 137, it’s important to ask ourselves, “What’s happened here to cause them such pain, such a deep desire for vengeance?” The Babylonians conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the temple that King Solomon had built so many years beforehand. The Babylonians were violent and used violence to terrorize their victims. The Babylonian soldiers murdered, abused the women and children, looted Jerusalem and took the best educated and wealthiest Jews with them to Babylon to be slaves and use their skills to help the Babylonian empire become even more powerful.
These Jews are in Babylon and now being told to sing the songs of Zion: songs of praise to God. They’re being mocked, the Babylonians are telling them, “Sing your songs to your powerful God who couldn’t defend you from our gods who would love to hear your songs.” The Jews are in exile because they had turned their backs on God, had not cared for the orphans, the widows, the poor and oppressed in Israel; often oppressing their own people for their own profit. Now they find themselves in a place where they are being oppressed and the only one to turn to now is God, Yahweh; the God they had spent so much time ignoring or only doing the bare minimum faith duties they thought would keep God off their backs. They had miscalculated badly. It is important to remember that not all persecution is punishment, Jesus warned us that if we follow him, people will persecute us.

Question: is it unfair for God to punish us so harshly when we do something wrong?

But now the exiles turn back to God and pour out their grief, “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.” They’re unable to sit by the waters of the rivers of Israel, the mountain streams, the river Jordan. “There on the poplars we hung our harps,” unable to play the music of the Zion, “for there our captors asked up for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy,” however their tears and tight throats make it impossible for them to sing songs of joy. Yet even in their grief, the people of God know that God is always ready to welcome us back like the father in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. God is ready to hear their prayers, the sobs of their hearts, reassuring them that he is always with them; even in a foreign land living among their enemies.
The prophet Ezekiel gives us a wonderful image of how God goes into exile with his people; Ezekiel 10:18–19, “Then the glory of the Lord departed from over the threshold of the temple and stopped above the cherubim.  While I watched, the cherubim spread their wings and rose from the ground, and as they went, the wheels went with them. They stopped at the entrance of the east gate of the Lord’s house, and the glory of the God of Israel was above them”… 11:22–24Then the cherubim, with the wheels beside them, spread their wings, and the glory of the God of Israel was above them. The glory of the Lord went up from within the city and stopped above the mountain east of it. The Spirit lifted me up and brought me to the exiles in Babylonia in the vision given by the Spirit of God.”
These are themes and situations that we here in North America honestly find hard to relate to. We don’t really understand exile, the deep loss that comes from violence, at least for the most part, or the feelings of hopelessness and grief expressed in this psalm. In Montreal, we had members of the church there who had fled from Pakistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the violence and persecution they experienced there. Most of them left family behind, experienced horrible violence against themselves and their families. They all carried soul and heart scars which are only made deeper and more painful every time they hear news from family who are unable to leave for many reasons, including a flawed Canadian Immigration system.
I heard stories I can’t share here because of how disturbing they are; just because they’re Christians. As a church, we supported a Congolese pastor’s sister in the Congo who was so badly abused that she required multiple surgeries to survive. She’s still there and committed to helping other women in the same situation. She told her brother that she’s grateful for Jesus and knows Jesus is the only answer to her country’s violence. We talked with our local MP and Immigration Canada. We connected with the Congolese community to offer support and encouragement and help them get their stories out into the wider community.
Those who live where there’s real persecution understand this psalms’ cry for justice. We hear these verses and many of us don’t quite understand the deep cry for vengeance, though I’ve walked with people who’ve been abused who do understand, especially since our justice system doesn’t always work the way it should. This is why we’re in the middle of a serious conversation about race and racism today. These are hard heart cries to God, “Remember Lord… don’t let them get away with what they’ve done against us,” Happy is the one who repays you (Babylon) according to what you have done to us,” and the comes the anger and pain out of the hearts, “happy is the one who dashed them against the rocks.” It’s easy for us to remind people that “Vengeance is mine says the Lord” but when you sit down with them and hear the horrific stories and experiences, they’ve lived through, you start to get an understanding of where this verse is coming from. God wants to hear our cries; he is a God of justice!

Question: does knowing God is a God of justice give you hope?

So how does this psalm fit today? It reminds us that we’re part of a world wide church where many of our brothers and sisters are experiencing violence and persecution. Karina Kreminski suggests that Psalm 137 calls us to respond by: 1. rejecting sentimentality: don’t simply feel bad for a few moments and then change the channel in your brain. Allow the uncomfortableness of this psalm sit in your heart; ask God how to pray and support our persecuted brothers and sisters. 2. Be a “wise one on the edge of the outside: we need to look at our own culture and offer helpful critiques as well as learn from people and groups very different from ourselves about what injustice and violence may be happening right here. This makes us bigger and stronger, giving us a voice and presence against injustice.
3. We need to present the alternative vision of the new creation. What we see in this world is not the entire story. We need to speak the vision of the Bible into our world as an alternative to the violence, hate, bigotry, racism, greed, sexism, and narcissism we see all around us. We need to be able to confess our own sin and the sin around us, to tell of Jesus, who calls us back to God, and teaches us the way to walk in our world and be who Jesus calls us to be. Jesus, fully God and human, took our sin and brokenness to the cross in order to usher in a new world shaped by peace, righteousness, justice, forgiveness, grace and possibility. Jesus gives us his Spirit to equip us to live out his values and to call others to follow him with us.
Lastly, Karina calls us to be a voice for the marginalized and the weak, to be willing to take risks to speak up for the oppressed and those exposed to violence and persecution. This is prophet language, Jesus language of loving our neighbours as ourselves, of sitting by the rivers to weep with them, and listen to their stories. Through their stories and weeping we hear Jesus, Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled,” and verses 10–12, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “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 look ahead to when we can sit on the banks of the river of God, singing his songs with all our brothers and sisters in the faith. We do need to grow our imagination of who the church is and remember that we’re part of a much larger church than what we experience here in Lacombe. We have brothers and sisters who are living out Psalm 137 even today who can use our prayers and our voices to speak out for them.

Saturday, 4 July 2020

Psalm 46 River of Gladness

I grew up with 2 rivers close by; Slate River and the larger Kaministiquia River and I have great memories of spending time on both of them. Water and rivers keep coming up in the Bible in all kinds of ways and places. Water’s often connected to life and cleansing and punishment, sometimes all these themes together in the same story; think of the flood. Most of the important events in Israel’s history are shaped by water and point to important changes in Israel’s relationship with God. The Belgic Confession reminds us that one of the ways God reveals himself to us is through creation. Water often points us to God and what kind of God He is; so this summer we’ll be looking at rivers in the Bible.
Psalm 46 is best known for verse 10, Be still and know that I am God.” This verse is a good reminder for many of us who have a tendency to get way too busy; so busy we sometimes put God second or third in our lives. One of the best things about this COVID time is that life has slowed down a bit and many of us have gotten to spend more time together as families. Yet there’s so much more to this psalm then a call to “be still,” that we miss if we only read the first part of verse 10.
The psalm starts off by reminding us who God is, “our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” You have to suspect with a beginning like this that this had to have been written during a time when things aren’t going so well and the people are worried and afraid. Verses 2 and 3 strikes fear in our hearts, “the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its water roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” I’m picturing a tsunami, a giant wave that shakes mountains; this is end of the world, flood over all the earth kind of pictures; this is huge landslide into the sea kind of imagery where the very ground under our feet can’t be relied on. Everything’s chaotic and everyone’s wondering, “Who can we turn too, who can protect us, keep us safe?”

Question: who or what do you turn to when you’re afraid?

As I listen to the news and to politicians, I hear fear: the economy’s going south, oil prices may not recover for years, the COVID keeps hanging around. Students and young adults are worried about finding work and what school is going to look like next fall, seniors are worried about their health and what happens if they do get sick. Everything seems to be coming together into a perfect storm of events to devastate our province, country and world. Everything’s going wrong, the world’s upside down, things are never going to be as good again as they are now and it appears no real help is coming. I hear a lot of fear and worry from many people, perhaps not as much in our beautiful area, but even here, there are threads of fear and worry that creep into our hearts and minds.
Then come these words of hope, There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her; she will not fall; God will help her at the break of day.” Life may not be going the way we had prayed for or hoped, and yet the city of God, Jerusalem is filled with gladness due to a river whose streams make glad the city of God! According to the psalmist, the reason why we don’t fear, why when everything’s a mess and filled with chaos and the world can’t seem to get their act together, when injustice, violence and fear is all too normal, we still live with confidence and hope because there’s a river flowing through the city bringing life and hope.
If you know the geography of Jerusalem, you know that there’s no river flowing in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is located on top of a small mountain and while there are a few springs in the city that fill a number of pools, there is no river, so what is the psalmist talking about here, what is this river that the writer is talking about? The psalms are poetry creating word pictures and this is a picture of God’s grace and the life-giving influence of worship and service flowing out of the temple of God. The poet echoes Ezekiel 47 where Ezekiel sees a river flowing from the temple through Jerusalem; the river is lined on both sides by trees full of fruit. The river flows down the mountain into the Dead Sea, a sea so salty that nothing’s able to live in it, and where the river flows into the Dead Sea and swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds—like the fish of the Mediterranean Sea.”
God’s river of blessing pours into Jerusalem and then streams branch off of it to flow into every neighbourhood, every nook and cranny of the city, to reach all God’s people to help them worship Him and live out their worship in service to God and each other. While the entire world shakes, God’s city stands firm and secure on a solid foundation. There’s nothing to fear. God is within her, she’s not going to fall because He’s our fortress, He’s our security!

Question: when has God’s presence given you a sense of safety and hope?

God’s not content to stay in His city, God’s on the move, His river flows out from the city and into the world bringing life, bringing an end to war, to bring His peace and rule into the world that is broken and tired of rulers who are focused on their own agendas rather than protecting and providing for their people. “Come and see what the Lord has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.” This is why God sends Jesus; to be the king of peace and establish the kingdom of heaven here on earth.
The world has been in rebellion against God ever since sin entered into the world, bringing chaos and we’re part of it. Now God is righteous and just and our rebellion means death, but God is also a merciful God and He never gives up on us. He sends Jesus, who is both fully God and human to enter into the battle against Satan. Jesus takes our sin on Himself and becomes sin for us, going to the cross because the punishment for sin is death. God is also merciful, so Jesus takes our place so that we can experience peace with God, forgiveness, and new life. Jesus defeats sin and death on the cross and rises from the grave as a sign of his victory, giving us his Spirit so we can serve Him and build His kingdom here on earth until He returns and establishes His kingdom of peace over all creation.
God’s voice breaks into the peace, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” We’re able to be still because God steps in to protect us, to take away the threats that take our attention away from God, so that we can refocus our lives and hearts back on God again. Psalm 46 is about God’s protection and power, and it’s His protection and power that allow us the opportunities to “be still and know that God is God.” It’s not our power and strength that makes us feel safe enough to just be with God, it’s all God.
When we read, “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth,” we hear the echo forward to Paul’s confession in Philippians 2, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Jesus is bringing peace and hope, and he calls us to be his messengers, inviting others to join us in trusting him and letting go of the fears that many of us carry inside us. We bring hope through acts of service as part of our worship through loving and serving our community; letting God’s blessings flow through us into the community we belong to. We carry hope with us and can show others how to let go of their fear and worry by inviting them to join us as followers of Jesus, the King of Peace.

Saturday, 20 June 2020

1 Kings 11:1-13 Solomon: Tempted by Other Gods

When I was praying over, and putting this series on Jars of Clay together, I knew from the beginning that this story of King Solomon needed to be part of it, but because it’s such a hard story, I left it to the end of the series. There are such deep cracks here in Solomon’s soul, and it seems so hard to understand how these cracks were able to become so deep. The great King Solomon ends up bowing down to gods made of wood and stone, how can that be?
King Solomon becomes known for his wisdom around the world. He received this wisdom from God when he first became king. When God tells Solomon to ask for whatever he wants, Solomon replies, Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” Solomon chooses wisdom to help him lead Israel well and becomes so wise that people like the Queen of Sheba travels a long way to come see this incredibly wise king. God also gives Solomon wealth and power because he’s so pleased with Solomon’s choice.
Solomon begins as a wise king, caring deeply for his people, working hard to make wise decisions to complicated disputes that leads to the people marveling at his wisdom and compassion. An example of Solomon’s wisdom is shown when 2 mothers are fighting over the same child. Solomon proposes to cut the child in half, but then chooses the woman willing to give the child to the other woman in order to save its life even though she had to give the child away. People are struck by Solomon’s wisdom. Things are going well in Solomon’s life and kingship.

Question: what impresses you most about Solomon’s wisdom?

The historian who wrote 1 Kings describes how Solomon slowly turned away from God, from being a young king fiercely committed to following God’s will and being a good wise king, to becoming a foolish king worshipping idols made of stone and wood who demanded Solomon’s loyalty and worship even though they weren’t even alive. Rabbi Telushkin describes how Solomon declined in his faith. Solomon enters into a number of ‘diplomatic marriages’ with the daughters of other kings and princes, beginning with Pharaoh’s daughter. The world’s wisdom says these are wise marriages but God’s wisdom says different, Deuteronomy 17:17, “He, the king, must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.” Paul approaches it slightly differently, 2 Corinthians 6:14 says, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?
Marriage is a key relationship in our lives and shapes us deeply. Too many Christians approach marriage too lightly, believing that “true love conquers all” and if the person you love doesn’t follow Jesus, it will work out in the end because of love. These marriages more often end up with both of them not belonging to a church drifting further and further away from Jesus.
The world’s wisdom says to gain lots of wealth for security. God’s wisdom says that the king is not to accumulate large amounts of silver and gold; Jesus teaches us to be aware of where we put our trust in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Solomon grows in love with wealth; his goblets and utensils all made of gold to show off his wealth. Solomon begins raising taxes and institutes forced labour even though Israel’s history is rooted in being slaves in Egypt. This does not make Solomon a beloved king. Solomon begins to trust in the same things other kings did; large armies, lots of horses, wealth and strategic marriages, all against what God’s wisdom says is wise.
Rabbi Telushkin describes this part of Solomon’s life as the “unwisdom” of Solomon. Solomon “loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, “You must not marry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” God knows our hearts, how quickly we can turn away from him. Solomon’s wives lead him away from serving and loving God alone.

Question: what are some things that pull you from God?

Solomon has no excuses; God has met him twice in his life time. Most of us can say we’ve experienced God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit at some time or another, but God actually met with Solomon twice. God is angry! God wants what’s best for us; to be the people he’s created us to be. This is why he gives us his commands, this is why Jesus came to teach us how to live: love God and our neighbour, showing us his love by taking our place on the cross for our sin and rising from the grave three days later to give us new life washed clean of our sin. So often we think that Jesus’ way of living is for others; that we don’t really need them. We get so easily distracted from God; worshipping the blessings he’s given us, making them the center of our lives instead of him. We’re just setting ourselves up to fail and fall.
Solomon puts God’s wisdom aside and builds pagan temples so his wives can worship their own gods and then, over time, Solomon actually begins to worship and bow down before his wives’ gods. Idolatry is the worst kind of foolishness! Solomon joins his wives in following some of the cruelest gods at that time, gods that demanded human and child worship, gods that reveled in all kinds of immoral behaviour. “Solomon did ‘the evil’ in the eyes of the Lord.” Solomon doesn’t just do evil, the writer calls it “the evil,” which is lost in the NIV. Solomon does the worst kind of evil, the worst foolishness; he turns his back on God for idols.
Solomon no longer believes he needs God. Solomon has become so used to doing his own thing, relying on his own wisdom, that he no longer feels like he needs God any more. Solomon no longer uses the wisdom God has given him to distinguish between good and evil. Solomon made me think all week about the things in my life, the blessings and gifts God’s given me. I read through Ecclesiastes and heard Solomon’s lament that everything is meaningless; he has everything and yet life has become dull. Solomon’s biggest problem is that he let all the good stuff of life disconnect him from God. Over the past three weeks I took a course called Embodied Discipleship in a World That Has Gone Virtual. I’ve discovered how easily we can become disconnected from each other and God, especially when technology is our main means of connecting with each other. The main thing I’ve learned is that it takes effort to keep connection, and discipline to keep healthy relationships and not fall into the trap of mindlessly scrolling through my phone or tablet. God demands more from us, an intentional worship of him.

Question: how much work do you think you need to put into a healthy friendship or relationship? Is it worth it to you?

Solomon’s problem was that he stopped putting effort into his relationship with God and got drawn into the sin of worshipping his wives’ gods because it’s easier. We have so much and sometimes it becomes a barrier to God. Our days are so filled with God’s blessings that life is easy and we don’t see God anymore or how much we need him. We begin to worship the blessings instead of the one who blesses us, commit the evil Solomon did, though we would never call it that.
Life’s not meaningless. God wants our entire hearts and lives. Jesus has called us to build his kingdom here, to help our world catch a glimpse of what Jesus’ kingdom is like, shaped by healthy relationships, justice, peace and grace, forgiveness, of blessing others so that everyone is able to develop the potential God has placed in them.
Giving yourself totally to God as he demands means we need to stay connected to God and we have the ability right at our fingertips. I was introduced to the Pray as You Go app this week, it helps me to slow down and simply spend 5-10 minutes a day to pray, the Bridge app has an audio Bible that you can have reading the Bible to you while you are in your craft room, in your workshop, while sitting on the deck or while walking. As we enter into summer, take time to reconnect with God, with members of our Bethel church family, and with yourself after a stressful ever-changing time: connect to our God who never changes his commitment to us.

Saturday, 13 June 2020

Matthew 26:69-75 Cowardly Peter

Brave, broken Peter; strong and weak, bold and cowardly all at the same time. Mathew’s telling of Peter’s story is a hard one, a story where Peter is left broken and weak, weeping bitterly. Earlier in the evening, Jesus told Peter that he would disown him three times, and we know Peter’s answer, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.” But Peter can’t live up to his bold words, just a couple of hours later, Peter can’t even stay awake while Jesus prays, even though Jesus asked him and James and John to stand watch for him. Then Peter cuts off the ear of the servant of the high priest when Jesus is arrested in the garden. Now, in this morning’s passage, Peter disowns Jesus three times, just as Jesus had said.
There are so many questions in this story, how did Peter turn from being so bold and brave to being so cowardly so quickly? Was he afraid that once they know he is one of Jesus’ followers that they would also remember that he was the one who cut off the servant’s ear? Is Peter afraid that he will be tried alongside Jesus, does seeing Jesus in front of the Sanhedrin, the religious court suddenly make all Jesus’ predictions of his death real to Peter? There’s so much we don’t know about what is going on inside Peter’s head. In Matthew’s telling of the story, this is the last time in his gospel that Peter’s name is mentioned; we don’t hear any words of forgiveness, we’re left hanging about Peter’s standing with Jesus.
The last we hear of Peter by name in Matthew’s gospel is, “Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!” Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.” Let’s sit with the rejection of Jesus by Peter for a moment. It became so much more than just, “I don’t what you’re talking about,” Peter even called down curses to emphasize that he’s not connected to Jesus at all. Now Peter’s devastated; it’s sinking in exactly what he’s done. To emphasize Peter’s disowning of Jesus, Matthew follows Peter’s story with Judas hanging himself out of his sense of deep guilt and sorrow.

Question: have there been times when you denied knowing someone because you were embarrassed of them? How did that make you feel?

Is there forgiveness for Peter, is God’s grace and the forgiveness that Jesus prays to the Father for on the cross when he asks, “Forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing,” for Peter too? There are so many people, so many followers of Jesus who live with this kind of question still today. We know the cross, we know Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for our sin, we sing about amazing grace, we know Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is about new life for us, but still our hearts ask, “Can I really be forgiven, is God’s grace for me too, why would Jesus forgiven me, does he really know me, do I deserve it?” These are heart breaking questions that come out of hurt and doubt, out of brokenness, which is why they are so hard.
Most people don’t plan to fail, they don’t set out to fail or fall, to hurt others, God or themselves, and yet it happens so often. Often it happens because we think we’re stronger, wiser or cleverer than we really are. Many of us don’t have a good sense of our own weaknesses in some of these areas of our lives, or we may not have a willingness to admit any weaknesses. It’s amazing to me how easily we find excuses for our sins or failings, or how quickly we minimize our sin until it rises up and slaps us in the face with its seriousness and consequences.
Jesus is about to be executed. Plans are being made to make sure that there’s no way for Jesus to escape the cross. People are even willing to lie to make sure Jesus is convicted. Peter’s disowning of Jesus adds to the weight and pain of Jesus’ journey to the cross for our sin. Peter is a reminder of how quickly we can find ourselves in a position where we might turn our back on Jesus for any number of reasons. This often happens even after hearing Jesus’ warning in Matthew 10, “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.

Question: have you ever lost a friendship because you said something cruel and hurtful? Did you try to make it right again?

These are hard words, words that are likely echoing through Peter’s heart right now. But Jesus isn’t done with Peter yet, Jesus’ love and grace shine through. In the cross we find forgiveness, we find hope. It’s a costly hope and grace, forgiveness comes at a huge cost to Jesus. on the cross he faces Satan’s power while carrying the weight of the sin of the world on his shoulders. The cross is filled with physical, emotional and spiritual pain as our brokenness is taken with Jesus into the grace so that new life might rise up in Jesus’ resurrection!
We move from Matthew’s Gospel to John’s Gospel and John’s account of how Peter is shown forgiveness and grace. When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!
Peter is given the opportunity to offer three ‘yeses’ to Jesus as a contrast to his three ‘no’s’ the night of Jesus’ trial. Jesus has cooked them all breakfast, they’re eating together, a good feeling. In this moment of hospitality on Jesus’ part, he turns to Peter and offers grace and restoration. Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, using the Greek word for love “agape” the first two times, which is a higher, deeper kind of love and Peter responds by saying that he does love Jesus, but uses the Greek word for love that is “philos,” brotherly love. The third time Jesus also uses “philos” love when he asks Peter if he loves him and Peter tells Jesus, “Of course I philos love you.” Jesus adjusts to who we are and our capabilities and cracks, and then continues to work in us, to go deeper with us and in us to grow our love from philos brotherly love to the deeper committed agape love.

Question: how hard is it to say “I was wrong, I’m sorry” when someone asks you to apologize?

Peter was broken, a cracked jar of clay; now Peter’s restored by Jesus, renewed and forgiven! His cracks are still visible, still there, but they now add to the beauty of his ministry, giving him the strength to be bold for Jesus, filled with Jesus’ strength and boldness rather than his own. It’s no accident that it’s Peter on Pentecost who stands up to the crowd and preaches Jesus Christ, who explains the coming of the Holy Spirit. We’re reminded that Jesus gave Peter his name, “The Rock” before Dwayne Johnson claimed the name, and told Peter that on the rock of his confession that Jesus is the Messiah, the church will be built and the gates of Hades will not over come it! Jesus uses Peter to lead the disciples to begin the church, to change the world with his bold message that Jesus is Lord!
If you’re wrestling with feeling like you don’t love Jesus enough, if you’re wondering if you can be forgiven, if your sin is feeling too large to ever be forgiven, know that Jesus gets it, his grace is big enough for you and your past, his desire is to restore you and have you experience his forgiveness and with it comes the challenge to allow him to use you, cracks and all to grow his kingdom here. Jesus isn’t done with you yet, he loves you with a deep agape love, and he loves you right into forgiveness.

Saturday, 6 June 2020

Exodus 4 Moses: Uncertain

Moses is a powerful person in the Bible and called the greatest prophet. Even Moses himself realized that God used him in a powerful way in the history of Israel and the world. In Deuteronomy 18:15, Moses points to the coming of Jesus, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.” Israel eagerly waited for this great prophet, this Messiah and they thought they found him in John the Baptist, “They asked him, “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” John instead points to Jesus as the great prophet, “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “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.”
Moses points ahead to Jesus in many ways: he’s a prophet and law-giver, like Jesus; Moses leads Israel out of slavery into freedom, Jesus leads out of slavery to sin into freedom; Moses performed miracles such as manna while Jesus feeds 5,000 people and the people right away connect Jesus with Moses, John 6, “After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Yet this amazing prophet started off filled with uncertainty and self-doubt, unsure he could do what God was calling him to do. This same uncertainty filled me this past week as I looked at the world around us with all its brokenness, injustice and violence. As a pastor, as a husband and father of a family with both white and First Nations children who have experienced racism, I asked God, “What do you need from me, who do you want me to be right now, I can’t let this simply go by, but I feel so inadequate right now.”
Moses was raised in Pharaoh’s palace to lead. But Moses led in his own strength when he killed an Egyptian soldier for beating an Israelite and he ends up running away and herding sheep for 40 years. Now God meets him in a burning bush, calling him back to Egypt to lead his people out of oppression and injustice into freedom. God’s calling Moses to stand up against the most powerful nation in the world. Is it any wonder that Moses has doubts?

Question: when have you had times when you have been asked to do something and you thought you did not have the skills required? How did you feel?

Moses’ doubt comes out in his first 4 excuses for not being able to go to the elders of Israel and then the king of Egypt with the message to let God’s people go free. Moses basically says, “I’m nobody really, what if they ask hard questions, nobody will listen to me anyway, and I’m a lousy public speaker.” Moses sees all his faults, all his weaknesses and inabilities to be able to do what God is asking him to do. In Moses’ eyes, his weaknesses are bigger than God’s greatness. God gently and patiently responds, giving Moses powerful signs to show the elders, promising to give Moses the words that he needs to convince the elders and Pharaoh. God gives us what we need to accomplish the call he makes to us to be his witnesses in our communities. “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” He’s not going to send us into these situations and opportunities on our own and without his help. We’re called to join God in his exciting plan of redemption, renewal, and restoration of our world.
But then comes Moses’ fifth excuse, “Please send someone else.” Does this all sound familiar? Have you even used some of these same excuses to give yourself permission to not be God’s servant and embrace Jesus’ call on our lives and his commands to love and to make disciples, to not share your faith with others, or maybe you’ve come up with your own, “I don’t know anyone who doesn’t already know Jesus,” or “I’m so busy, I don’t have time.” Moses moves from uncertainty and being unsure of his ability to plain refusal. There seems to be something in many of us that, even though our self-doubts and feelings of inadequacy are addressed, we still refuse to accept that we are capable.

Question: what are some excuses you’ve used to get out of doing something you we being asked to do? Have you ever given excuses to God to not do something the Bible tells us to do?

I’ve sometimes wondered if that’s because our self-image is often based on what we can’t do rather than what we can do, and this gives us permission to not engage the world as Jesus calls us to. Why are so many Christians so uncertain and filled with so many doubts when it comes to giving Jesus our whole heart and lives, of embracing who Jesus calls us to be, of accepting the challenges of living out God’s kingdom here on earth. In times like this, do you feel a call to stand up and speak out Jesus’ words calling for love, for justice, for healing? What holds you back from speaking out against injustice and standing up alongside those who are oppressed, silenced, rejected and ignored. This past week I heard of some of our young adults wanted to attend the rally in Edmonton or Red Deer to add their voices against the injustice of racism, and I was proud of them because our faith calls us to stand up against injustice. In unity with others, we find what we need to respond to God’s call. Ecclesiastes talks about 2 being better than 1 and 3 being even stronger; talking about how community gives us strength.
It’s not a sin to feel inadequate or have doubts. Jesus told us to count the cost of following him before committing to do so because he knows it will be the biggest commitment of our lives. We’re called to carry our crosses and we look to the cross of Jesus to recognize that this is no small thing. Jesus gave up his life for our sin and he calls us to now give him our entire life in return. Our hope lies in the resurrection, knowing that Jesus is powerful enough to give us whatever we need in any circumstances to follow his call and be the persons and church he has created us to be. Our strength lies in Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit to give us what we need to accomplish Jesus’ call to love God with everything we are, to love our neighbours and to make disciples.

Question: do you really believe that God will give, or has given you what you need to be his church here in Lacombe to follow his call to love our neighbours as ourselves and to make disciples? What do you feel you need?

When Jesus and the Holy Spirit call us, it’s not because we’re so special or have special gifts; what Jesus is looking for is faithfulness and trust that he will give us what we need to do what he’s asking us to. It’s important that Jesus calls us to be part of a community, that we are never called alone. God tells Moses “Your brother Aaron is already on his way to meet you, and he will be glad to se you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you to speak and will teach you what to do.” Healthy Christians consistently reflect on themselves and look at who they are, their lives and actions, and their relationship with Jesus. You will never be perfect; what Jesus is looking for is a willingness to allow the Spirit to lead you and shape you. Jesus is looking for your openness to keep growing and maturing, to anchor yourself in Jesus. When you look at Jesus’ disciples, none of them were special in any way, but they were willing to trust and obey and follow the Holy Spirit’s leading.
All week I’ve been thinking, reading and praying about how to respond to the unrest and injustice of the time we’re in. I don’t have a lot of answers, I’ve felt Moses’ uncertainty, and yet, as followers of Jesus, we cannot remain silent, nor can we refuse to act. How, I don’t know yet, but this is when we need to really start listening to understand the experiences of our black, First Nations, Korean and other minorities, and then humbly ask how to work towards a just, righteous society that reflects the kingdom of God.

Saturday, 30 May 2020

Acts 2:1-41 "What Shall We Do?"

Today we're celebrating Pentecost. How many of you knew it was Pentecost when you got up this morning and thanked God for this special day? Pentecost is not celebrated like Christmas or Easter where we can see in our mind's eye what is happening because Jesus is physically present as a child or God raising him up from the grave. On Pentecost Jesus is also present, but not in a way we can physically see him, this is the day of his Spirit coming, the day of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost is not a new festival; the Jews celebrated Pentecost 50 days after Passover to remember the gift of God's Law given to them at Sinai after they left Egypt and slavery. God gave them the Law to shape them into his people and into his image as a people distinct from the other nations of the world. It was one of the more popular festivals for the Jews to attend because it came at a good time of the year for traveling.
The disciples are all together in a house in Jerusalem because Jesus had told them to stay in Jerusalem. Luke writes in chapter 1, "On one occasion, while Jesus was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." While the disciples are all together, a sound like a violent wind blowing came from heaven and filled the house. In Greek and Hebrew, the words for wind, spirit and breath are the same. Because we live after this happened, we can translate this as, "Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind, spirit, or breath came from heaven." It fascinates me that they understood right away that this is a God thing, something coming from heaven.
Luke records that what looked like tongues of fire settled on each of their heads and they were filled with the Holy Spirit, immediately beginning to preach in various tongues or languages so that everyone around them could understand what they were saying. This is an echo back to the tower of Babel where God gave multiple languages to the people so they could not understand each other and would therefore spread across the earth. Now languages are given so everyone can understand the gospel news of Jesus Christ. With the coming of the Holy Spirit, the disciples feel compelled to move out into the streets to share the gospel message of Jesus Christ in the language of the people; so different from today where we keep the gospel message so often hidden inside the church because we are afraid to talk about Jesus wherever God has placed us.
There are always some who will mock the gospel story and the messengers, even the apostles are not immune to having this happen to them. Jesus made it a point to tell his followers that exactly this would happen, that it will even go beyond mocking at times right into persecution and even death for Jesus' sake. Mocking and criticizing is easy, listening and understanding is harder. Even in the church we are not immune to this. Often I hear Christians make fun of other Christian traditions because they might be quite different from how they worship or understand who God is. It is not unusual to hear Christians criticize others, even within their own church because they wish to do something different, wish to express their faith in a way that is not how it was done in the past, or exploring different Biblical images found in the Scripture and looking to see how these images of God might help us understand God better, or do some who wish to explore doings things in ways different from how it is presently being done. It's a shame that there is too often little grace found in churches who name themselves after Jesus who taught and modeled extreme grace. So we should not be surprised to hear that there are Jews who mock Peter and the other disciples as they preach the gospel news of Jesus.
Peter, the one who betrayed Jesus stands up and addresses the crowd. Jesus has forgiven Peter; it's amazing how forgiveness and grace can change a person. Peter now preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ; the good news that God has sent the Messiah, the saviour promised to Israel and it's the very man they had arranged to have executed by the Romans on a cross. this has all been talked about by their own prophets hundreds of years earlier already. Peter points to the prophet Joel, "In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy." This is the Spirit being poured out, the beginning of the last days, waiting for the return of Jesus while making disciples and inviting people to join them following Jesus.
For Peter, the proof that Jesus is the promised Messiah is found in the miracles, wonders and signs Jesus performed in front of them all, and yet they still killed him, just as it had been prophesied. However the good news is that God raised Jesus from the dead because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. This was,  and is all part of God's plan. Jesus is at the center of all this.
Peter uses the Hebrew scriptures to show how the prophets and the great King David had all pointed to Jesus and what was happening. All that happened and was going on, happened just as the prophets had pointed to, all under the guidance and will of God, from the death and resurrection of Jesus to what was happening with the Holy Spirit, "Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear." This is a God thing happening and the people can accept or reject it, but God is moving and inviting them to be part of what's coming. The gift Jesus had told them to wait for has come, the Holy Spirit. God is there with them again, now in the presence of the Holy Spirit while Jesus sits at the right hand of God, the place of power.
This gift has come on the day the Jews celebrate the giving of the Law, the tool God used to shape his people and now God has given the people the Holy Spirit to shape them into the people of God; into the family of God with God as our Father. The Law taught the people how to live with God and each other, the Holy Spirit now points us to Jesus who taught us how to live with God and each other, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself." The Law was given as a gift to teach the people about who God was, and now the Holy Spirit is given to the people as a gift to help them do as Jesus had commanded them, "Go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."
The Jews who were there that Pentecost heard the gospel message and many of them cut to the heart, hearing the truth in what Peter was preaching; they knew their Scriptures and how God has called them to live since Jesus simply summarized what God had been saying for thousands of years. They know they need to respond, they know that how they've done things in the past hasn't worked somehow, after-all, they had been part of the crucifixion of the promised Messiah and Lord. So the people ask, "Brothers, what shall we do?" 
The answer is simple, "Repent and be baptized, everyone one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins." Repent. A message going back to the prophets, it was John the Baptist's message and Jesus came with the message, "Repent and believe, for the kingdom of God is near." This is not a new message, but for the prophets, for John, for Jesus and now for the apostles, repentance is at the heart of being a disciple. But repentance is hard because you then have to admit that you have sinned and made God less and yourself more. Repenting means confessing that you have made something other than Jesus you Lord and master and turning back to Jesus. It's about turning to God and what he has done; it's not about what you can do, it's about what Jesus has already done.
Repenting is tied to forgiveness and forgiving; forgiveness from God of your sins and your forgiving others. And as Jesus teaches in Mark 11, "And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins." Repenting is more than feeling bad, saying sorry and than doing exactly the same thing all over again; that's what my grandson does, but he's only 3. Repentance is about changing. Confess and change. Change your priorities, change your focus, change your values, change your lifestyle, change your habits and desires, change so that you line up with Jesus' teaching and life examples. Give up who you are and become who Jesus is commanding you to be. Stop looking in the mirror and look to Jesus and allow him to transform you. This is what the Holy Spirit has come to do that the Law was unable to do. And then while you are being transformed by the Holy Spirit, it becomes a joy to invite others to change with you and explore what that change needs to look like. This is making disciples, this is what Pentecost is all about.
Repentance is about humility, about putting Jesus first, putting his agenda for your life as your highest priority, humbling yourself to his plan for your life, to pursuing his kingdom rather than building your own. Humility gives the Holy Spirit space in your heart and life to begin the process of change within you, creating a deeper desire in you to be more like Jesus, working deliberately to imitate Jesus. Just as Jesus invited others to be his disciples, so the Holy Spirit is able to give you the wisdom and courage to invite others to become disciples along with you, investing in them, making them into disciples, teaching them to obey all that Jesus taught by showing them how to do this in your own life.
Pentecost is often seen as the birth of the church as we know it today, but Pentecost is about the acceptance of the gift of transformation from God. Just as the Law at Sinai was the beginning of the transformation of a slave people into a nation shaped by God, so Pentecost reminds us that God has given us the Holy Spirit in order to be transformed into a family or body made up of people from all nations and backgrounds to reveal to the world who God is. The Holy Spirit has a way of turning lives upside down in positive up building ways where your life begins to take on new meaning and purpose as the Spirit turns you more and more to Jesus and taking on Jesus' call to make disciples while becoming deeper more intimate disciples of Jesus yourself. I will never promise easy when it comes to following Jesus and accepting the challenge of the Holy Spirit to be transformed through repentance and transformation, but I can promise that your life will never be the same again.
So this Pentecost, repent and believe and accept the gift of the Holy Spirit. Keep your eyes on Jesus as his disciple and partner with the Holy Spirit to become a disciple maker for Jesus.

Saturday, 23 May 2020

2 Samuel 11 David and Bathsheba

There’s a saying, “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely,” meaning a person's sense of morality lessens as his or her power increases according to Lord Acton, a British historian in the early 1900s. We see this play out in this story of King David and his neighbour’s wife Bathsheba. David has become arrogant; instead of going out on the battlefield with his men, David stays at home like an eastern emperor, staying safe in his luxury while others fight his battles for him. This arrogance and use of power and privilege is what gets David into deep moral trouble. One evening David sees his neighbour’s wife taking a bath and he wants her, even after his servant tells him she’s someone else’s wife, a close friend’s wife.
The servant remembers Bathsheba’s first encounter with the King, “I remember the first time that she met King David. It was a hot spring evening and she went to take a bath on the roof of the house where there was a cool breeze. This is what we all did, it was normal and even though King David lived right next door, she thought he was with her husband Uriah on the battle field. Even if she had known he was home, men never looked, they had too much respect for other people, especially a best friend’s and trusted general’s wife. Uriah, like Bathsheba’s father, was one of David’s most trusted and dearest friends, one of his 30 mighty men who had pledged their lives to the king.”
This story of David and Bathsheba is one of deep betrayal where King David steals the wife of one of his most trusted generals. Emily Dickinson wrote, “The heart wants what it wants." Depending on how old you are, you might connect this quote with Woody Allen or Selena Gomez instead. This is how David acts in his relationship with Bathsheba; but God calls for our hearts to want God more than anything else. David treats Bathsheba horribly, treating her like something you buy, use, and then throw away. He doesn’t treat her with any kind of respect and when Bathsheba tells David she’s going to have his baby, David becomes even more cruel and calculating, sinking even deeper into sin, walking even further away from God’s will. David moves from lust and adultery into something even worse. 
Bathsheba’s maid servant told me that when Bathsheba found out that she was going to have a baby, she right away sent her to let King David know. Then, a few weeks, later she learned that her husband Uriah had stayed a couple of days at the King’s palace, believing that the king wanted to talk to him about what  was happening on the battle field since her husband was one of his most trusted generals, it was a good idea to consult with him. The king told Uriah to spend the night with Bathsheba, but I’m not surprised that Uriah spent the night with the king’s servants instead. Uriah is an honourable man and he would never sleep in a comfortable bed while his men were on the battle field. She’s not saying that King David was wrong to stay home, but that Uriah was a very honourable man who loved God and his people.
David’s plans to have Uriah spend the night at home with Bathsheba fails, so he creates an evil plan to solve his problem. David knows he has to do something because if his other generals find out what he’s done, they will rebel against him because he betrayed one of the great men in the army and Israel, all because David’s become greedy, arrogant and cruel, just like so many other kings of that time. David knows he has to hide his sin, so he writes a letter to Joab, a general known for being ruthless. David tells him to make sure that Uriah dies in battle. David then tells Uriah to take the letter to the general Joab. David trusts that Uriah will not read the letter, even though he’s a general himself and it would be natural for him to need know of David’s battle plans. Uriah’s honour and loyalty are a contrast to David’s cruel evil ways.
The maid servant remembers the day Bathsheba heard her of husband’s death, it was devastating for her. A couple of weeks after Uriah had come to the palace to talk to King David, a messenger came to our home with the horrible news; our master Uriah was killed in battle! I couldn’t believe it, Uriah’s one of King David’s mighty men and has fought with the king for years, even going into hiding with the king when King Saul had tried to take King David’s life before he was king. How can he be dead? Who’s going to take care of us, who’s going to help my lady Bathsheba raise her baby and protect us from King David? I’m so afraid, Uriah’s gone!
David thinks he’s gotten away with his sin; he even takes Bathsheba into his palace after her time of mourning for Uriah is over. Bathsheba becomes another one of David’s wives, and when the baby is born, it’s a son and David’s feeling blessed, even though he’s created enormous chaos and put the kingdom of Israel at risk; all so he could have another man’s wife and hide his sin. David’s put God’s plan of redemption at risk with his selfish sins. If any of the other generals or any of David’s 30 mighty men learned of David’s callous murder of Uriah, they would have rebelled against him, bringing the nation into civil war, destroying Israel. In David’s arrogance, he counts on knowing that the only one who knows what really happened is Joab, and he’s fiercely loyal to David and will never say anything. But even if Joab doesn’t tell a soul, God knows and we learn that “the thing David had done displeased the Lord.”
Bathsheba’s maid servant remembers King David’s servant coming to take my lady Bathsheba as one of his wives. Then more heartbreak, when their son was born, he died. Bathsheba mourned again; her heart was broken. But the Lord heard her cries and saw her broken heart. The prophet Nathan came and was really hard on the king, but it did change the him, King David turned back to the Lord and even asked Bathsheba for forgiveness after repenting to God. The Lord blessed her with another son, Solomon, who became king after David. Life isn’t always easy, but I know the Lord watches over us.
This story echoes forward to Jesus and how he is betrayed by someone close to him, one of his twelve disciples. Judas betrays Jesus because Jesus isn’t claiming the throne of David in Jerusalem. This betrayal leads Jesus to the cross, where Jesus claims kingship over all creation as he defeats death and bring healing and wholeness into creation again. The cross brings forgiveness, even for betrayals such as David’s and Judas’. Jesus’ death and resurrection are a sign that forgiveness isn’t easy or cheap. Jesus’ grace is costly, even as it’s offered free to us. It calls us to respond by offering our lives to Jesus.
God sends Nathan to confront David with what he’s done and who he’s becoming. It’s not just what David’s done, it’s about who David has become: a king in the image of other earthly kings rather than following God who calls us to love him above everything else, and to love his neighbour as himself, to show mercy, fight for justice and to walk humbly with God. As Jesus teaches, you get more out of life by giving than taking. When David’s confronted with who he’s become and how he’s destroyed the lives of people he’s called to protect, David repents; he changes and begins working on becoming who God has called him to be.
The cross calls us to repentance, to a searching of our souls and hearts to recognize how we’ve hurt others because we want to be gods of our own lives.  We are called to embrace Jesus’ call to follow him so that God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. The cross confronts us, calls us to focus on our character, on who we are, and whether we allow what we say we believe about Jesus to actually shape who we are. Faith is about how our relationship with Jesus shapes our character. It comes down to obedience in becoming who Jesus calls us to be: people shaped by grace, mercy, forgiveness, desiring justice, fighting against oppression within our cultures, creating communities of health where people are able to flourish; summed up in Jesus’ command to love God above everything and to love our neighbours as ourselves.

Saturday, 16 May 2020

Genesis 27:1-40 Jacob the Liar

Today we’re taking a look at Jacob and his tendency to lie and deceive the people around him. This is a character issue for Jacob, one of the flaws and cracks in his jar of clay. It can be really hard sometimes to see how the light of Jesus shines through Jacob’s cracks since it seems like he has so many flaws, yet his story also gives us hope as God never gives up on him.
Deceit or lying is one of those character traits that sneaks up on you and changes you before you even realise it. It starts off small, using the express lane in the grocery store when you have 17 items in your cart, telling your hostess that you love her food while trying to figure out how to slip it to the dog, telling the boss you’ve sent the email, or maybe it’s the old tried and true school lie, the dog ate my homework, though that won’t work right now! You get away with it for a while and it seems to make life to go more smoothly, but slowly it becomes a part of who you are. Sadly, many people today believe that deceit and lying isn’t a big deal and will find lots of times where lying saved a person’s life; like during war or in a domestic abuse situation. Yet how often do these situations really happen? Most of the lying we do is about more day to day common things and we do it to make life simple and easy for us, not for the other person.
Often, we don’t recognize how often we lie during the course of a day. The movie, Liar, Liar stars Jim Carrey, a crooked lawyer and divorced father. He loves spending time with his son Max; though he has a habit of breaking promises to Max and then lying about the reasons. His lying builds him a reputation as a successful defense lawyer, but when he misses Max’s birthday party and lies about it, Max makes a birthday wish that his father would be unable to tell a lie for an entire day, a wish that comes true. The rest of the movie is about how hard it is to always tell the truth.

Question: how easy is it to tell a small lie? Does that make it easier to tell a big lie later on?

Lying’s always about making life easier for you; but there’s always someone affected. At the very least, it affects who you’re becoming as a person. If deceit and lying is becoming too normal in your life, no matter how large or small, you need to deal with it. Carey Nieuwhof writes, “Sin is like a weed: It grows fast and you never have to water it. The best way to tackle sin is to pull it out by its root before it creeps into other areas of your life.” Lying slowly changes you, you become less kind and less compassionate since lying is about you. Lying slowly fills up our hearts, it slowly stains our souls so that we find it harder to hear God, to see him at work in our community, to feel the guiding of the Holy Spirit.
Jacob’s encouraged by his mother to deceive his father to get the family blessing. Jacob goes along with her and deceives his father into thinking that he’s really his brother Esau. It’s not just a simply lie that Jacob and Rebekah tell, it’s an elaborate set-up to deceive Isaac. Rebekah takes Esau’s clothes for Jacob, they cover Jacob with goatskins so he feels like his brother, they take a goat instead of hunting, and cook it up just the way Isaac likes. Finally, there’s the direct lie when Isaac asks Jacob, “Are you really my son Esau,” and Jacob replies, “I am.” Jacob and Rebekah get what they want.
Wisdom tells us that lies and deceit will always catch up with us at some point. Growing up, I remember being told that if I planned on lying at home, church or school to keep it simple and close to the truth because otherwise the lies will grow until they fall apart since lies are always based on weak and shifting foundations. We see this in Jacob’s life. Because of what Jacob and Rebekah did, Jacob has to leave home. He ends up with relatives in Haran where he ends up marrying sisters. Deceit and lying mark Jacob’s life; he deceives his father and brother, he deceives and manipulates his father-in-law Laban, he gets deceived by his father-in-law, his wives and his own children. All these lies and deceits bring great pain and brokenness in Jacob’s life and family.

Question: have you ever gotten caught in a lie? Did that change your relationship with the other person?

With a family as messed up as Jacob’s family is, why does God bother with them? Yet it’s through Jacob’s family that Jesus comes to earth. Still, I sometimes wonder why Jesus doesn’t come from a healthier family; why are there so many cracked clay jars in his family line? Then I look at myself, my family and the family I come from and realise that I am who I am because they’re all a part of making me who I am. It’s the same with Jesus, his family line shapes him. He knows the brokenness that deceit creates because it’s part of his family heritage. Jesus knows the importance of truth because he is truth, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” Jesus tells us. Jesus experiences how deceit twists truth and he knows how lying and deceit can take away from the full life he intends for us because lying breaks relationships, breaks up friendships and marriages because where there is lying, there can be no trust.
Jesus teaches about how destructive lying is, calling Satan the Father of Lies, referring back to Genesis 2 and 3 where Satan twists God’s words, leading Eve and Adam to choose Satan’s lies over God. We’re not a whole lot different; we keep choosing all kinds of things over Jesus to make ourselves feel good whether it’s our work, our play, our toys, power, influence or whatever. We talk a lot today about being true to ourselves, but often our truth is based on what makes us feel good. When we create truth this way, it keeps changing because we keep changing as people. Jesus identifies himself as the truth and says that if you want to be true to yourself, make him the first priority in your life because he’s truth; allow him to shape who you are, your values and focus.

Question: do you think that doing something like lying changes who you are, what kind of a person do you want to be? What do you need to do to be that person?

Jesus leads us into the truth, the truth that we are sinners in need of forgiveness and grace, in need of a transformation of our hearts, minds and souls because we’re slaves to every thing we make more important than Jesus. Jesus calls his message the gospel of the grace of God the truth in John 8. Jesus goes on to say that it’s truth that sets us free, free from the lies of Satan that tells us we’re in control and can save ourselves. The gospel of grace is that Jesus comes to take our sin, our lies and deceit to the cross. He transforms and changes us through his death and resurrection, washing the stain of sin off our hearts and souls, and uses us to bring transformation into the world. Jesus shows us the kingdom of heaven is already here through the church. It looks like humility and grace, forgiveness and serving others, where people are encouraged to develop the potential God has placed in each of us, to focus on justice and rightness in our communities. Jesus comes to create people that offer hope to those searching for healing, meaning, and a new start in life.
Jacob’s story provides hope for us. Jesus comes from the family of Jacob, the man known as a deceiver, a man whose name is changed to Israel, one who struggles with God. Jacob needed to put aside the lie that he was the most important person in the world and that everything was good if it benefited him. Jacob slowly learned to trust in God Almighty who is truth and trustworthy and shows his deep commitment to his people by sending his beloved son Jesus so that we can experience new life in him.
Faith is not just words and getting into heaven; faith is about how we live and who we are becoming, shaped by Jesus’ truth. Jesus invites you to allow him to help you become the true you, the person God has created you to be.