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Friday, 26 July 2019

Genesis 2 The Trees of Knowledge of Good and Evil and of Life

For the rest of the summer we’re going to be looking at trees found in the Bible. The Bible is full of trees: from the first chapter of the Bible until the very last chapter of the Bible, you find references to trees and plants and the gifts they give us. Trees are an important part of the cycle of life that God has embedded as part of creation. Trees contribute to their environment by providing oxygen, improving air quality, climate enrichment, conserving water, preserving soil, and supporting wildlife. During the process of photosynthesis, trees take in carbon dioxide and produce the oxygen we breathe. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “One acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and puts out four tons of oxygen. This is enough to meet the annual needs of 18 people.” Trees, shrubs and turf also filter the air by removing dust and absorbing other air pollutants such as carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. After trees capture unhealthy particles, the rain washes them to the ground.
Trees also supply us with many things that make our lives better: tree sap that can be made into glorious syrup, bark for canoes and utensils, wood for building and other purposes, fruits and nuts for food, and beauty to enjoy, among other uses. In Genesis 2, creation is completed in all its vast array, and it’s very good. Now God plants a garden in the east, in a place called Eden. It’s a garden filled with trees that are pleasing to look at and good for food. Right in the middle of the garden, where they’ll always be noticed, God plants 2 more trees: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life. This is where God places the man, it’s the first home for humanity and humanity’s task is to take care of the garden, to discover the potential in everything and then help it all to flourish and be everything God has created it to be. We have a deep relationship with creation, having been made from dirt and then formed by God’s own hand and then being told to care for it.
We discover in the garden that we’re not meant to be alone; so, God creates a woman from the rib of the man because God saw that the man was alone and it was not good. Relationships are key to our health and our flourishing and are important to God as well. His desire is to have deep relationships with us, but he doesn’t force himself on us. God gives Adam and Eve the opportunity to choose relationship with him by commanding the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will surely die.” There’s a choice here, a test of obedience and trust, Adam and Eve are able to eat from any tree in the garden, free choice from any tree except one, the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
It’s so easy, and yet proves to be so hard. The tree is good, it’s designed and created just as God intended. For the Jews, knowledge is less about knowing stuff with our heads, for them, knowledge comes from experience, from doing or not doing something. It’s like teaching your children that the stove top is hot when you’re cooking, they know it because you’ve said so, but it’s only after they’ve touched the hot stove top that they really know that it’s hot when you cook. This is the kind of knowledge the Jews hear about when God calls the tree the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
The choice is to trust God that knowledge of evil through having done it, is not the best kind of knowledge for us, that God’s word is good enough. Yet it’s hard because we often learn best by doing, and the reality is that because we know evil through having done evil, we recognise it quickly. We still face the same issue today. We look at who God calls us to be, the limits he places on us and we question God’s limits and commands. We’re told that if it looks good and doesn’t hurt anyone else, it’s fine and don’t worry about what God says, after-all, the Bible an ancient book and doesn’t really apply today. The question is: do we trust God and put our relationship with him first, or do we satisfy our desires at the possible cost of our relationship with God? God allows us to choose.
This story is about being faithful to God. God doesn’t want a relationship based on rules and religious rituals, as God says later through the prophet Hosea, For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings. As at Adam, they have broken the covenant; they were unfaithful to me there.” Just like you want your boyfriend or girlfriend, or your spouse to stay faithful to you because the relationship is precious to you, in the same way, God wants you to see your relationship with him as precious too, he wants you to come to him and tell him that you want to follow him, to live like his child.
Satan uses the tree to test humanity’s commitment to God by casting doubt on God’s commitment to them. Satan offers Adam and Eve the opportunity to step out of a dependent relationship with God and become independent, to be their own gods. As Bob George writes, “Adam and Eve choose lie over life,” they choose a relationship with themselves rather than with God, which explains why there is so much loneliness today, because we’ve stepped back from our best relationship for much less. Adam and Eve choose death over life and this is why we need Jesus; he chooses death on the cross, taking our sin and dying for us so that we can have life through and in Jesus; a new life where our best relationship is being renewed again. Paul writes in Ephesians, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”
The wonderful thing is that there’s another tree in the garden, the tree of life is there, right beside the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Matthew Sleeth reminds us, “The tree of life is always here, right beside temptation—just to remind you. Beside every bad decision in life, there is a good alternative.” Adam and Eve are kicked out of Eden so they cannot eat from the tree of life and escape death. Can you image a creation where sinners could never die and we would simply drift further and further away from God forever? There would be no hope because the penalty for sin could never paid, we could never experience a relationship of love and grace with God again, there would be no salvation.
Jesus uses the image of a vine rather than a tree in John 15, Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” When Jesus describes himself as the vine, it reminds me of what Paul says in Romans 1, that when we walk through the woods, when we take a close look at the trees and vines and fruit and nuts, and birds nesting in the trees, that we see God, that we can recognize him through creation, through the trees and vines.
Trees and vines provide life to their branches, they’re the source of life for the branches, and the only way that the branches can produce fruit and abundance. In the same way, our life strength and nourishment come through Jesus. If you are feeling wilted and depressed, Jesus can revive you, bring you back to your feet again with strength and hope. He does this through many different ways: Scripture, preaching, friends and family, through creation itself as you walk through the woods or along a stream or river, or work in your garden, or sip a cup of coffee and allow the taste, aroma, and energy connect you to the life giving relationship with Jesus he’s calling you to.
Just like oak trees produce more oak trees and pine trees produce more pine trees, being connected to Jesus, the vine, produces followers who look like Jesus. As you leave here this morning, take a look down the tree lined street and let the beauty of the trees remind you of the beauty of Jesus and the life that we have being connected to him.

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Jonah 4 Angry at God

Is there anyone you find it hard to forgive, because they’ve hurt you deeply and God seems to have let them get away with it? This morning we’re wrestling with two themes that run through the entire Bible, how God is a compassionate God and how God is a just God. Both compassion and justice are rooted in God’s love. It’s easy to see how compassion is rooted in love, but justice is also rooted in love; both for the one being hurt, but also for the one doing the oppressing because justice is about drawing them back to God and God’s will for their lives and for the society at large. Justice is meant to transform hearts.
Jonah preaches destruction to the people of Nineveh and Nineveh, led by their king, repents and God shows them grace and compassion. Now we see Jonah’s reaction to God’s grace, and while it’s easy to condemn Jonah for being so angry over God’s grace, yet I get it. It feels so wrong when those who do something horrible and evil are shown mercy and seem to walk away without any sort of consequences for the brokenness they’ve caused, even if they have said “sorry.”
Jonah prays to the Lord, basically challenging God, I told you so, Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” Jonah’s praying scripture, Exodus 34,The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” But Jonah fails to pray the second part of this passage, “Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” Our God is a God of both compassion and justice.
We see this especially in Jesus, who on Palm Sunday, looks down on the city of Jerusalem and cries for the people there, the same people who less that a week later will unjustly crucify him. Jesus, even while weeping over the people, takes their injustice and sins on himself, and pays the penalty for our sin on the cross because God is a just God and there needs to be justice done for sin and evil. In Jesus, compassion and justice come together and brings us new life, new beginnings for those who accept Jesus. We are connected to Jesus in his resurrection.
The Lord comes back to Jonah and asks, Is it right for you to be angry?” God intends for the answer to be “No,” because who can tell God what he should or should not do, yet Jonah’s unspoken answer is, “For sure it’s right to be angry, and you should be too because these people you’re showing mercy to are evil and hurt your people!” Jonah gives God a chance to carry through on his judgment of Nineveh by camping out east of Nineveh to watch God destroy them like he had promised. I get it. I’ve walked with way too many people who’ve been hurt deeply, so deeply it completely changed their lives, changed who they are, and then watched their abuser walk away free with a slap on their wrist, or even worse, with no consequences at all. Movements like #metoo or #churchtoo are so powerful, because they speak to a lack of justice, a failure for society to take into consideration the one who has been hurt. Hurt people need to see some form of justice done in order to find some healing in themselves. To be honest, wouldn’t it give you a tiny bit of pleasure to see justice done to Nineveh?
God shows Jonah a little grace by providing a plant to give Jonah a little shade. I always think of Jonah as being a grumpy old guy, but this plant actually makes him very happy, maybe even bringing a smile to his face, but that joy is short lived as the Lord then sends a worm to eat away at the plant and it dies, leaving Jonah unprotected again from the beating sun. God seems to have a bit of an in-your-face sense of humour here, setting Jonah up for disappointment. Jonah’s response is, “It would be better for me to die than to live.” This is the second time that as soon as something doesn’t go his way, Jonah’s response is, “Let me die, life isn’t worth living if I don’t get what I want.” Not only won’t God show justice to Nineveh and destroy the, now he takes away his compassion from Jonah, at least this is how Jonah experiences God’s action.
God asks Jonah, Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” Jonah doubles down on his whine with, “It is. And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.” Think about this, Jonah cares more about a plant that he didn’t plant, water or take care of over living breathing people, including children. God now asks Jonah, “And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” They may be enemies of Israel, but they are still people, all who are also created in the image of God, even if they don’t know it, this is what God means when he says they don’t know their right hand from the left; they’re ignorant about who he is.
Israel hears this story and challenge, and it’s a story of hope because God is a compassionate God, but also a just God who demands that they turn back to him. Israel is not as different from Nineveh as they claim; the rich and powerful in Israel also oppress the poor, the widows and those who were vulnerable, and God sends prophet after prophet to keep calling them back to him. The reality is that we so often hurt people because we go through life with a me-first attitude that comes so naturally. How many people are waiting for us to experience justice for the things we’ve done?
The story ends here with no answer from Jonah. I wonder how long he sits there waiting for Nineveh’s destruction before heading home. We’re still left with this question of how does compassion and grace fit together. God is complex, we don’t easily understand who he is. Sometimes he blesses the believer and punishes the pagans and other times he blesses the pagans and punishes the believers. Sometimes the punishment for injustice is quick and harsh, other times there’s unexpected grace. God’s not just a God of wrath or love, but as one woman in a Tim Keller Bible study notes, he’s both!
Jesus calls us into a deep and difficult faith. Hear who he calls us to be in Matthew 5, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” This is easy to teach and say; it’s so hard to live out.
Jonah couldn’t, many people I’ve walked with who have been deeply hurt find it extremely difficult to live this out as well. I find it hard to tell the person who has been hurt to work on forgiving, it seems wrong to put that on the victim, and yet in forgiving, there is healing and we become more like Jesus in doing so. This is why Jesus calls those of us "who are weary and burdened, to come to him, and I will give you rest. take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your sols. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." The reality is that we can’t forgive in our own strength, we can't find healing in ourselves, we need the help of the Holy Spirit to forgive and show grace to those who’ve hurt us deeply. It’s also important that while we practice forgiveness, we also hold others accountable for their actions, for it’s not love to let people get away with hurting others, it is love to make sure they experience the consequences of their actions, but with the goal that they might be transformed, that their character becomes shaped by Jesus as they learn to love instead of hurt.
This is about our character, about who Jesus is shaping us to be. We find healing and rest in Jesus and as we find healing, Jesus helps us to forgive, even as we hold others accountable for who they are and what they’ve done. God will also hold them accountable for their actions. Compassion and justice can come together, but in a messy world, it can only be done through Jesus.

Friday, 12 July 2019

Jonah 3 Unexpected Grace

Jonah’s had quite a journey, running west instead of heading east, encountering a great storm and ending up inside the belly of a fish for three days. Just in case you wonder if this is really possible, the Smithsonian website mentions that “Sperm whales sometimes swallow squid whole, so it could definitely manage a human. In fact, there’s a story of a sailor being swallowed by a sperm whale off the Falkland Islands in the early 1900s.” But Jonah’s story is not about the fish, it’s actually about people who have been so violent and evil that the cries of their victims rose to heaven and now the Lord is about to punish them, which is why he sends Jonah to let them know that they’re going to be destroyed in 40 days.
This is the first unexpected sign of grace, as the Lord doesn’t give up on Jonah, but offers him another opportunity to do what the Lord’s called him to do. Jonah doesn’t deserve the Lord’s grace, after-all he deliberately turns his back on God and rejects God, but God is persistent in both his call and his grace. So finally, after discovering that he can’t run away from the Lord, Jonah obeys the word of the Lord and heads to Nineveh. Grace is a big theme in the Bible and we see it time and again in Jesus’ life. There’s the Samaritan woman he meets at a well. She’s an outsider because of her life history and style, but Jesus treats her like a person and she responds by becoming his first evangelist, sharing his grace with everyone else in her village and many become followers of Jesus. Then there’s the woman caught in adultery; the men of the city are ready to stone her for her lifestyle, but Jesus shows her grace and protects her. When everyone leaves, he lifts her up and calls her to sin no more while showing grace, acceptance and forgiveness.
The thing about grace is that it’s powerful and can soften the hardest hearts, but at the same time, we can accept grace and still remain stubborn hard unchanged people. J.I. Packer writes, “God’s grace becomes wonderous, endlessly consoling, beautiful, and humbling only when we fully believe, grasp, and remind ourselves of all three of these background truths—that we deserve nothing but condemnation, that we are utterly incapable of saving ourselves, and that God has saved us, despite our sin, at infinite cost to himself.” It’s only when we realize just what Jesus gave up for us by going to the cross and taking our sin on himself, that we begin to experience the wonder of God’s forgiveness and grace and are transformed. This is the beginning of gratitude shaping us and our lives so that we also become streams of grace flowing out into our communities and the people in our lives.
Jonah makes his way to Nineveh, a great city that takes three days to go through. Jonah heads into the city a day’s journey and preaches his message, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” I may be guessing here, but knowing how much Jonah hates Nineveh, I’m thinking Jonah is enjoying preaching this message of doom to Israel’s enemies. Yet, as we’ll see next week, Jonah also knows that God is also a gracious and compassionate God and there is always a chance that things might not turn out the way he wants.
Then the unexpected happens, pagan Nineveh, violent Nineveh’s king hears the warning and actually takes it seriously, coming down off his throne, putting on itchy rough sackcloth as a sign of repentance, and sits humbly in the dust, making himself small before God. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” Now remember that this story is being told to the Israelites, God’s people who have walked away from him over and over again, people whom God is getting ready to send into exile because they won’t obey his laws, and now they hear that their greatest enemy repents and listens to the Jewish God. This is meant to be a slap in the face to the Jews to wake up and repent and come back to God.
Nineveh’s only hope is that God will show mercy and grace to them. This is our only hope as well. Maybe we haven’t killed anyone, or oppressed anyone to the point where they cry out in desperation to God, but we all sin each and every day and there’s no way we can make things right with God. We depend on God’s grace found in Jesus who came to take our sin on himself and pay the price for our disobedience on the cross and rose from the grace after defeating death itself, all so that we can experience new life, and that we might show the world who Jesus is through our words and lives.
God is seeking change, seeking justice in Nineveh, for the people to change their violent and unjust ways. God desires societies and cultures to promote justice and righteousness. We are called to create communities where women and men, youth and children are able to flourish and discover their gifts and then be encouraged to use these gifts to help make the community a better stronger place for everyone. Time and again, God sends prophets to call his people to take care of the orphans, the widows, the foreigner among them, to protect the helpless and to be generous and gracious to them.
God’s not looking for us to say the right words or do the correct rituals in order to be saved, he’s calling us to the right kind of life and heart, as Isaiah 58:6–7 reminds us, Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”
In our profession of faith classes, we watched a series of videos called For the Life of the World. These videos explored difference aspects of life and made us think about what living out our faith today looks like. Our faith is not a gift given to us to simply get us into heaven, our faith is given to us so that we can be a gift to the world, that we can bring harmony into all the areas of life, a harmony that sings with God’s voice into all corners of our world, shaping our world so it looks like Jesus’ prayer, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
The people of Nineveh join their king in repenting and turning from their evil ways. The question then becomes, how is God going to respond? “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.” God shows Israel’s enemy unexpected grace and mercy. This is a grace offered to you, to everyone who believes in Jesus, who trusts in him alone for their salvation and who desire to live in obedience to Jesus, willing to be transformed by Jesus through his grace. I’ve worked with many people who believe that Jesus can’t forgiven them because their past was so messed, their sin was way much too horrible to ever be forgiven. They believe this because of the guilt they feel and they can’t forgive themselves, but God looks at us through his son Jesus who makes us right with God, who takes our sin on himself so we can experience new life again. This is grace, unexpected grace.
This is a grace that Jonah can’t understand and doesn’t want to see, a grace that seems too much to offer the enemies of God’s people. It’s a grace that is simply pure gift, pure God.

Monday, 24 June 2019

Jonah 1 Can You Run from God

At 17 I left home because I felt I didn’t fit in, but really, I was running from God and church because I thought God was unfair. It took a navy chaplain to call me back to God and the church. Jonah seems like a pretty simple story, and at its heart, it is: God calls Jonah, Jonah hates the Ninevites so much he runs away, God makes Jonah go to Nineveh anyway and the Ninevites repent while Jonah has a hissy fit. God’s plan happens even though Jonah resists. But there are many layers in this story about Jonah and us, about God and his relationship to all people, and how Jesus is revealed over and over again.
There’s a lot of crazy stuff in this story of Jonah, beginning with the Lord coming to Jonah and telling him to go to Nineveh and preach against it. Jonah’s the only prophet ever called to go outside of Israel to the capital city of one of the cruelest empires ever. Assyria was extremely vicious and gory, cruel and obscene to their enemies. Israel’s one of their conquered nations and the Assyrians demanded heavy tribute payments that kept Israel poor and hurting. Even God says its wickedness has come up before me; the Bible’s way of saying that the people were being cruelly oppressed and crying for mercy and relief. God responds to such cries because he’s a compassionate God. The prophet Nahum also prophesied that God was going to destroy Nineveh, so why send Jonah?
Why not simply punish Nineveh? It doesn’t make sense to send Jonah. Jonah’s a Jewish patriot. In 2 Kings 14 Jonah supported King Jeroboam’s military campaign to extend Israel’s borders, Jeroboam was the one who restored the boundaries of Israel from Lebo Hamath to the Dead Sea, in accordance with the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, spoken through his servant Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath Hepher.” Going to Nineveh feels like a betrayal to his country, so Jonah heads in the opposite direction, heading west instead of east to Nineveh. This is huge because the sea is a place of chaos to the Jews, a place to be feared. Nineveh probably won’t listen to a Jewish prophet anyway and it could cost him his life. The sea isn’t any greater threat than Israel’s enemies. Why send a prophet unless God’s open to giving them a chance to repent and willing to forgive them? It’s crazy to give God’s people’s greatest oppressor an opportunity to escape punishment for the pain and suffering they’re causing.
Haven’t we often wondered why God doesn’t punish people who do wrong? Tim Keller writes, “Jonah doubts the goodness, wisdom and justice of God,” because Jonah senses that by sending him, God is opening the door to grace and mercy for the Ninevites, and that’s just not right or just in Jonah’s eyes. When we face painful times, don’t we sometimes doubt what God is doing, doubt that God knows best and can make good happen out of bad, as Paul writes in Romans 8. How often do we trust our own wisdom over God’s, believing God is holding out on us, like Adam and Eve did eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? Can God really be merciful and still be just and faithful? These are hard questions and often we can’t understand why God does what he does, it takes faith and deep trust because these are theological and heart problems.
Jonah runs, but you can’t escape God. The Lord sends a great storm, a word-play on Nineveh being a great city. Both are dangerous places for Jonah. As Tim Keller says, our actions have consequences, sin has storms attached to it. Sometimes God acts and punishes directly, other times he allows the natural consequences of sin play out. Not all out storms are a direct result of our sin; for the sailors, the storm is a result of Jonah’s sin; God acting directly in the storm. The lots they cast to figure out who’s to blame for this God-strength storm point straight to Jonah.
Jonah cares nothing for the sailors’ safety, putting them at risk of God’s anger by getting on their ship, and yet here they are, doing everything they can to save his life. They turn to their gods to help them while Jonah is silent before God. The sailors are open to Jonah’s God even though Jonah is silent. Jonah refuses to use his faith for the common good even though they’re all in the same boat, all created in the image of God. A private faith has no public good; that’s still true today.
Life storms can be times when faith is grown, when trust, hope, patience, humility and other spiritual fruit can be developed in ways that times of calmness and peace can’t. In the storm, the sailors turn to Jonah’s God. Jonah refuses to go to pagans with God’s message, and here God uses even Jonah’s stubborn disobedience to lead pagans to himself. In this storm, even Jonah’s heart is transformed as he recognizes them as men together with him in the same situation instead of just gentiles. Jonah begins to take responsibility for the storm they’re in, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” It’s the same with us, when we start to see the people around us as people with stories and lives so similar to our own, we begin to connect deeper to them and our hearts become more open to being transformed by the Holy Spirit to care about them and wanting them to know Jesus because Jesus is the only way to God.
Jonah acts to save the sailors, telling them to cast him overboard and God will save them. Jonah’s a small reflection of Jesus who entered into the storm of sin to save us. In the darkness of sin’s storm, Jesus goes to the cross. He enters the darkness of sin into a time of tragedy, loss, and injustice to satisfy God’s justice, to pay the price and take the punishment for our sin on himself so that we can be right with God again. In the middle of that storm of sin, that time of darkness and despair, God’s mercy is at work, offering us forgiveness and pardon, satisfying the justice and faithfulness God demands because of our sin. In Jesus, justice and mercy come together.
The sailors finally throw Jonah overboard, but only after doing everything they could to save him. They sacrifice the one for the many, just like the high priest advises the Sanhedrin to do with Jesus hundreds of years later. Jesus uses what the sailors do to Jonah to respond to the religious leader who are asking for a miraculous sign from him, Matthew 12, “He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here.
Jesus points ahead to his death on the cross for our sin, using Jonah as an image of what death feels like. Jesus comes and preaches a message of repentance, offering an invitation to come back to God. Jesus gives up his life so that we can experience forgiveness and new life that is shaped by the grace and love of Jesus, a life that is dedicated to helping others come to know Jesus and his grace and forgiveness, the power that comes from the Holy Spirit to change the places we live to look more like the kingdom of heaven where people flourish, becoming the people God has created us to be, a kingdom where everyone is welcomed in, where friends and enemies sit together at Jesus’ table.  
Jonah is thrown overboard, the sea grows calm, the anger of God seen in the storm is turned aside. God provides a large fish to swallow Jonah. The pagan sailors sacrifice to Jonah’s God in fear and trembling. Proverbs 9:10 tells us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” These pagan sailors have been shown who God is, the very thing Jonah is called to be doing to Nineveh, and he does God’s will anyway, even against though he was running away from it. God, in his grace, continues to draw people to him, even in our resistance. What is preventing you from telling others who you believe in, from inviting them to come to Bethel with you? The people of Lacombe are waiting for your invitation to come to get to know Jesus with you? Why would you be afraid to invite them?

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Acts 2:1-21 What Does This Mean?

What do you think of when you think of Pentecost? Is it as special to you as Christmas or Easter, does it touch your heart like Good Friday services do? We often overlook Pentecost and yet Pentecost is the most exciting day of the year, it’s God coming close to us, sending his Spirit to live right inside each of us to keep us focused on Jesus and remind us of everything he taught and to reassure that we are blessed loved children of God. How more special can a day be?
It’s Pentecost today, 50 days after Easter and 10 days after Jesus returned to heaven, and today is the day the Holy Spirit was poured out into the world onto those who accepted Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. Pentecost has been around for a lot longer than we realize. In Leviticus, the people of Israel are called to celebrate Pentecost, also called the Feast of Weeks. It comes 50 days after the Passover. It’s a harvest festival, celebrating God’s blessings on his people. On Pentecost, you bring 2 loaves of bread made from the first fruits of the wheat harvest and offer it to the Lord. It’s also a time to remember the gift of the giving of the 10 Commandments at Mount Sinai to the people to shape them into who God wants them to be as his people.
The time of waiting is over, the gift Jesus promised of his Spirit arrives in the blowing of a violent wind, with tongues of fire and the ability to speak in other languages. For the disciples and thousands of others there, it’s an echo of God’s presence at Mount Sinai where God meets his people after saving them from slavery and death by leading them through the waters of the Red Sea and destroying those who wanted to keep them in slavery. Exodus 19:16–18, “On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently.”
Pentecost has often been a day for doing baptism when we remember how God has saved us through Jesus, washing away our sins and leading us into new life in him from the things that we’ve become slaves to; how God comes close to meet us. This is why it’s so special to be able to celebrate Nicole’s baptism this morning. Pentecost in the New Testament brings in a new chapter in God’s work of saving his people and creation.
The apostles are touched by flames from heaven, filled with the Holy Spirit and they rush out into the streets. Words telling about Jesus flow out of their mouths like streams of living water, telling everyone around them about how God has sent his son Jesus to earth to bring us back to God the Father because our sin has built this barrier between us and God, a barrier that we can’t bring down ourselves because of our sin. The apostles remind the people how Jesus died on the cross, cursed for us so that our sins are paid for, washed away through the blood of Jesus and how Jesus rose from the grave and is now in heaven and now is pouring his Spirit on us to bring this good news to all people.
The covenant, that promise of a close relationship with God made at Mount Sinai, is renewed in our hearts as Jeremiah tells us in Jeremiah 31 is coming, “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
The people listening to the apostles are perplexed and amazed at what they’re hearing, especially since it doesn’t matter where they’re from, they’re hearing the apostles speak in their own languages. “What does this mean?” they ask. Now there are always mockers and they laugh, “They’ve had too much wine.” Peter turns to the crowd to explain what’s happening, he reminds them of what the prophet Joel said, “‘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. I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”
God’s Spirit is poured out into the world and it’s a life changing Spirit. It causes our sons and daughters to prophesy, to speak out what God is doing in our world, to see visions of what God is doing and how God is working in the world, building his kingdom here. I really appreciate how over the years it’s the young people and young adults who keep inspiring me through their dreams of what can be. You see only possibilities, something many people lose as they get older. Older people dream again, finding hope again, seeing the world with renewed eyes, seeing the potential in our world again, renewing their energy and passion again for God’s plans. God’s coming close to his people, revealing his presence in the world, reminding us that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, words of reassurance and grace.
What an exciting picture of the church! It’s not about committees and groups and meetings that make sure everything runs just so, it’s about dreaming, about training our eyes, ears and hearts to see where God is working and then dreaming how we can join him in reaching others, about coming alongside people and helping them to dream with the Holy Spirit, dream of full lives, of changed lives, of healthy communities that know Jesus and are helping each other reach for their potential, building each other up, being an encouraging community that lives well, forgives well, laughs and lives life well together in our day to day activities and work and study and play.
The picture is of the Holy Spirit flowing into the world like a river, pouring out of heaven and filling the earth. It’s a river we are part of, sometimes it’s an exciting white-water river ride, other times it’s a lazy river where people are refreshed and renewed, but either way, we’re in it! Dreaming and visions are not about the future, they’re about seeing right here where Jesus is at work around us and then dreaming of how we can join him, dreaming of what Jesus is making possible. Martin Luther King Jr dreamed of a time where all people would be seen as equal, where slave and free men could sit together and his children would be treated according to their character instead of their skin. It took hard work and great sacrifice, but it was a dream that was possible based on a changing culture.
Dreaming frees our imaginations so that we can see past “this is the way it is,’ to sense and see how God is pouring out his Spirit onto all people, including us. Dreaming helps us see how events and circumstances connect to God’s desires. We look backwards on Pentecost to Joel in order to see where God is found today. In Joel’s time, the people were drifting away from God, sound familiar, yet Joel comes to them with the news that God still wants a close relationship with them through his Spirit. Joel encourages, instead of condemns. Today, people still need encouragement rather than someone beating over the head because they’re not following God properly. Pentecost is about encouragement and excitement as God comes close to us through his Spirit, helping us to speak Jesus into peoples’ lives.
The pouring out of the Spirit, dreaming and vision making is not about making more church work, creating more programs or ministries, or getting busier. Pentecost is about learning to see what Jesus is already doing in your life and the lives of the people around you, helping them see Jesus. Backyard bbqs with friends or neighbours who are not connected to Jesus yet, ball games with your kids’ teams, relaxing on the beach with friends are all times where the Spirit can flow through you onto others. Dreams help us to see how this is possible, to see the opportunities that are here. Dream this summer, have visions about how Jesus can work here in our community, and allow the Spirit to use you to speak Jesus encouragingly into one person’s life this summer.

Friday, 7 June 2019

Acts 16:16-34 An Unexpected Convert

This morning we’re continuing the story we began looking at last week when Paul makes his way to Philippi in response to a vision where he meets Lydia who accepts Jesus. A bit of time has passed and Paul’s continuing to preach the good news of Jesus and inviting people to accept Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. One morning, as they’re heading to the place of prayer, they’re met by a female slave who has a spirit inside her that helps her predict the future. This means she and her owners are probably connected to the Temple of Apollo, the Olympian god of prophecy.
The slave girl follows Paul and the rest of his group, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most-High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” The spirit in the slave girl recognizes that they’re followers of Jesus, that their God is more powerful than the god she represents. This is what’s Ascension Day about; that Jesus returned to heaven and is now sitting on the throne beside his Father with all authority in heaven and earth given to him. You would think that Paul would appreciate the slave girl’s testimony, the affirmation from someone possessed by the spirit of one god affirming that your God is the greatest, but Paul gets annoyed with her, turns around and says to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to come out of her!” Immediately the spirit leaves the slave girl, she’s saved from the spirit through the power of Jesus. This is a god-level battle and Jesus wins hands down.
In this story though, there’s a sense that it’s not finished, there’s stuff left undone. I’ve so many questions still. Why doesn’t Paul free the slave girl from her masters, what happens to her, why doesn’t anyone seem to care about her afterwards? The slave girl’s freed from the spirit in her, but she’s still a slave girl and is worse off now than when she had the spirit in her. Her value’s much less now. We see this in how her owners act, they get ticked off at Paul and Silas; get them thrown in jail for “advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.” There’s no mention of the slave girl, no concern for her knowing Jesus, for her soul, she was a nuisance now gone away. Heart and soul freedom are always connected to Jesus. So often, when we find relief from some struggle, we believe we’ve made it and yet many times there’s soul healing we forget to work on. The spirit may be gone, but the slave girl still needs soul healing but she’s overlooked, forgotten.
Paul and Silas get thrown into prison, placed in an inner cell with no windows or fresh air, and their feet placed in stocks so they can’t move around. Their freedom’s taken away. Justice isn’t the concern here. Rome has established the great Roman peace, the Pax Romana, but it’s a peace that’s simply an absence of conflict and they used brutal ways to keep the peace. Rome was a brutal master at times. Paul and Silas are stripped and beaten with rods; a punishment designed to intimidate them into silence. Just as Jesus was unjustly condemned and crucified because Pilate put justice aside for peace, now Paul and Silas are thrown in prison unjustly because the magistrates prefer peace over justice.
How would you react to such injustice? How do you react to any injustice against you today? Do you react in anger, do you whine and complain that life’s not fair and expect someone to step in and make things right, do you fight back? Paul and Silas go in a completely different direction, they pray and sing hymns to God while the other prisoners listen to them. This blows my mind! It’s probably not how I would react. While Paul and Silas sing and pray, the other prisoners listen to them, unlike the prisoners on the cross with Jesus who mock him instead, adding to Jesus’ pain as he suffers there for our sins to make things right between us in God. Rather than responding in gratitude, as we’re called to do, the prisoners on the cross add to Jesus’ suffering. Yet Jesus doesn’t fight back and this changes the heart of one of the prisoners, leading him to ask Jesus to “remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus reassures him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” An amazing response! How we react to injustice is noticed by the people around us. The cross changes things in a big way, it changes us and how we respond to the things of life, it frees us from lots of anger, bitterness and hatred that can wrap us in heavy chains.
Then the Lord steps in, there’s an earthquake that shakes the foundations of the prison and opens the prison doors. The prisoners have freedom staring them in the face, all they have to do is grab hold of it. The jailer wakes up, sees the prison doors open and knows he’s in deep trouble. Rome is an unforgiving master; the jailer knows this is going to cost him dearly and is about to kill himself to escape the harshness of the punishment that waits for him. The jailer is a slave to his fear, to the oppression that makes up the peace of Rome. What a difference from our master and Lord who offers freedom from fear, freedom to mess up and know that our master’s love is unconditional and his grace and peace is freely given. Before the jailer can take his own life, Paul shouts out, “Don’t harm yourself! We’re all here!”
Paul and Silas’ response to injustice, their worship even while in chains has captivated the other prisoners so deeply that none of them flee even though the prison doors are open and they have the opportunity to flee. The jailer rushes in and falls trembling before Paul and Silas. He can’t believe what he sees and brings them out of the cell and asks, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” I wonder if he even knows what he’s asking for here. All he knows is that Paul and Silas have something that he needs, something that allows them to know peace in the middle of injustice, a peace very different from the peace of Rome. The jailer turns to the ones who, as the slave girl told everyone, “are servants of the Most-High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.”
Paul and Silas talk to the jailer about this Jesus who is able to free the jailer from his fears, about what freedom looks like when you’re free from your sin, when your relationship with the Most-High God is made right again and you’re adopted as a child of God, so much better than being a child of Rome. Paul and Silas challenge the jailer to believe in Jesus as Lord over Caesar and trust in the peace and freedom of Jesus over the peace and freedom of Rome. The jailor takes them and washes their wounds, and then realizing that he can be freed from the fear he lives with under Rome, freedom from the guilt of the injustice he was so often a part of, he and his household are baptized, washed clean by the Holy Spirit and an unexpected convert is added to the growing church in Macedonia.
What’s keeping you from being completely free, what do you need to be saved from? The simple answer is sin, the more complex answer is recognizing the things that wrap us in chains, the things weight us down, the things we turn to for meaning, purpose, security other than Jesus. Many people today are slaves to anxiety and fear. Guilt wraps many in heavy chains. We’ve been told over and over that Jesus forgives us yet so many people never accept his forgiveness and guilt wraps them in its chains. Addictions to things like power, lust, drugs, alcohol, and pleasure wrap us tightly in chains while making us believe that we’re experiencing the best that life has to offer. But in the dark of night, our hearts know better.
Salvation is about so much more than forgiveness of our sin, it’s about freedom from fear and oppression, freedom to flourish and develop the potential within each of us. It’s about being able to live in shalom, the Jewish word for peace, in healthy relationships with God, each other, ourselves and creation. This is why Jesus returned to heaven after dying on the cross and being raised from the dead to wash away our sins, so that he could send the Holy Spirit to bring hope, peace, and transformation into our hearts in a personal and intimate way and save us from the anxieties, fears and soul oppression so many of us struggle with today.

Friday, 31 May 2019

Acts 16:6-15 Open to a New Direction

Do you know where Jesus is leading you, what his plans are for you for right now or in the future? How can you be sure that your plans for your life are Jesus’ plans for your life? As a church, we went through the Church Renewal journey for 2 years and a big part of church renewal is listening to God, to each other and to the community to figure out where Jesus is leading us. What did you hear and where are you praying for Jesus to lead Bethel or your own life? Jesus often leads us through our passions; the things that get our hearts and souls going and yet it’s also important to make sure that it’s Jesus we are following rather than us leading Jesus where we want to go.
Paul’s living out of his passion for Jesus. He’s travelling through Asia Minor, sharing the gospel and good news of Jesus everywhere he goes. The places Paul’s going to are places where he’s most comfortable because of his background and culture. He was raised as a Jew but, in his training, he was also influenced by Greek philosophical and rhetorical training. Paul wants to head to the northeast of Antioch into Asia, but is stopped by the Holy Spirit from going there. He heads to Troas on the coast and is then prompted by the Holy Spirit in a vision to go to Macedonia, into Europe, which is a different culture and place than Paul was planning on. Paul is being called to go in a new direction different from his plans.
I wonder sometimes what went through Paul’s head when he gets a vision to head to Macedonia? “God, I’m not ready to go there, I don’t really want to head there, what’s wrong with my plans? Do I have another choice, do I have to?” A question I keep asking myself is, “How open am I to changing direction and focus, both personally and as a pastor?” How open are we as Bethel to changing our focus and direction if Jesus leads us somewhere different from where we want to go? I love country music and one song that keeps challenging me is Carrie Underwood’s song, Jesus Take the Wheel. In the song, Carrie cries out to Jesus to take the wheel of her life after her life falls into chaos. Does Jesus have the wheel to Bethel’s car or have we placed Jesus in the passenger seat, offering directions but with no control over where we are heading?
Jesus creates opportunities for us to partner with him, has ways of opening doors and calling us to join him and do unexpected things for him and our community, to become a church and people that we might never have thought we could be. It begins with listening to Jesus and examining our passions for Bethel and for our community, looking at what the things that get our hearts beating faster because we can’t stand the way things are because they can be so much better, looking at ways of being a blessing that brings tears to our eyes because there are so many people around who are crying out for someone to see them, to hear their heart cries, to come alongside them to bring hope and relief.
Are we asking Jesus to create a passion in us for what he wants, for a desire to follow where he’s leading us? When we do, it often becomes clearer where Jesus is leading us. Yet, even if we’re not exactly sure where Jesus is leading us, we continue doing the work of blessing, of growing deeper in our faith, learning about Jesus and inviting others to join us in following Jesus as we continue the ministry we’re already doing.
As Paul listens for where Jesus is leading him, he keeps sharing the gospel wherever he is. Paul, with his friends and companions, head to the city of Samothrace and then to Neapolis and finally they end up in Philippi. Philippi’s an important city on a major trade route, meaning people from all over the empire could be found here. It was made a Roman colony by Augustus and given Roman rights and status, a huge honour. Here in Philippi, the Roman Empire was powerful and popular, a little bit of Rome in Macedonia. In this area, there are few Jewish people to be found, which meant Paul’s normal starting place for preaching the gospel, which was the synagogue, isn’t going to work here because there wasn’t one.
Paul waits until the Sabbath, and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, he makes his way to the river where he hopes to find a few Jewish people worshipping God and instead he finds a group of women. Again, imagine what Paul must be thinking, the vision he had was of a man from Macedonia and instead he finds a group of women. Among the women is Lydia, a follower of God and a dealer in purple dye from the city of Thyatira, a city from the area Paul has just come from in Asia. Paul has got to be confused, wondering if he understood the vision properly, but Paul trusts Jesus and shares the gospel with these women and the Lord opens Lydia’s heart to respond to Paul’s message. Here’s an echo back to the resurrection of Jesus where it’s the women who first meet Jesus and who then take the message to the rest of the disciples.
Paul’s expectations may be messed up, but the reality is that God often works in mysterious unexpected ways, using people and situations we would never think of to accomplish his plans. The Lord opens Lydia’s heart.  This is not a story of the first church in Europe, though Lydia’s home becomes the first church in Europe, but this is another story of how the Holy Spirit is crossing cultures and social boundaries to grow the church and God’s kingdom. It’s not about what we’re doing, it’s about what Jesus is doing.
Brian Peterson writes, This text stresses that it is God who is in charge of the mission, God who sets the direction, and God who determines its results... Social and cultural barriers crumble, and this corner of the empire is beginning to be changed by God’s grace.” God’s mission moved forward because his followers listened to his moving and were willing to put God’s mission first over their own plans and desires. I don’t know yet what Jesus’ particular plan is for Bethel. There are many churches in Lacombe and the greater area, and there is a divine plan for each of us. How willing are we to take the time and put in the energy to listen to God in prayer, in taking a deep look at the passions that live in our hearts, souls and lives for Bethel and the people of Lacombe. We need to listen to each other, we need to listen to our community to hear the needs within our community so we’re able to bless them with acts of service and then offer invitations to join us, invitations based in shown love and concern for them. Eric Barreto writes, “learn to find opportunities to do God’s work in unexpected places.”
Jesus is all about people, he has placed us here to reach people. Jesus went to the cross, taking our sin, the sin we each do each day, to the cross to wash it away in his death. Jesus did this for people, not church projects, in order to draw us back to our heavenly father who loves us unconditionally and wants the world to know this. This love shapes our lives as we respond in love to God and offer our neighbours the greatest love we can give them, the love of Jesus.
Bill Hybel talks about a holy discontent, a discontent that lives inside because we can see that there are things that just shouldn’t be in. For Hybels it was the church’s lack of caring for the souls of those in his community, he couldn’t stand seeing churches meeting every Sunday and not caring enough for those who don’t yet know Jesus and taking the chance of rejection and inviting them to join them in their journey of following Jesus. He couldn’t stand seeing churches put more energy and passion into the colour of carpet for the sanctuary, or what brand of coffee for fellowship time after church than for their neighbours who desperately need to know Jesus.
Our main mission is to show the world who Jesus is and it begins with the people we already know. Who is Jesus leading us to, who are the people Jesus has placed in your life who need to see Jesus’ impact on your life, how he has transformed your life and who you are, who need to feel Jesus’ love through you, who need to hear an invitation to follow Jesus with you as you go through life and see how God’s story, your story and their stories are all intertwined in Jesus.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Acts 11:1-18 Who is In, Who is Out

Have you ever met someone really different from you and thought there’s no way you could ever have anything in common and then later discovered how wrong you were? We were in downtown Boston on a multi-church mission trip, walking through the parks and alleys offering food, personal hygiene products for the women, clean socks and underwear to the people living on the streets. The youth were encouraged to talk to the people they gave stuff to, introduce themselves, and ask them a few questions. We did this so the youth would recognize that these are real people, not just a project to get done, to see that homeless people have names and lives and families, and people who love them and are likely praying for them.
Suddenly one of the young men from another church came running up to me. I felt the adrenaline start pumping and I immediately looked where he had come from to see if I could see what the problem was. The young man excitedly called out, “Hey Pastor Jake, there’s a Christian here who’s on the street and he wants to meet you.” He led me to a young couple and their dog. It was pretty obvious that they’d been on the street for a while. What you first noticed was the tats that covered them, and that the man had been drinking or doing drugs. As we came up to them, the man got to his feet and grabbed me in a big smelly bear hug. Then he completely surprised me by praying a blessing over me for bringing our youth downtown and teaching them that the homeless people are real people and not just a good deed waiting to happen.
The couple believed in Jesus, but hadn’t been to church for a while. They mentioned the dirty looks they got when they went and never felt accepted or wanted. The young lady pulled out a small Bible from her backpack and said they read from it everyday and loved the stories about Jesus the most. They prayed for their friends on the street everyday. Later that evening, the mission team were all surprised that Christians could live on the streets and have drug or alcohol problems.
This is the same surprise the early Jewish believers experienced when they heard about Peter going into a Gentile’s house, eating with him and then baptizing him and his whole household! He’s not a Jew! How can Gentles be believers, it just can’t be, they’re not God’s chosen people. This is actually pretty common; it comes down to ‘them and us’ ways of thinking. Ever since Adam and Eve hid from God and put on clothes to hide their bodies from each other, we have created barriers between ourselves and others. Even Jesus faced this kind of thinking from Jewish leaders in Luke 5, “But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Are there people in our city and area that deep down you think don’t really belong in church, that they can’t really become followers of Jesus because of how they live or because their values are different? We don’t want to say these things out loud, but these thoughts often float around in our heads.
Peter shares with them the story on how it all happened, how he had a vision from the Lord where a sheet came down from heaven filled with all kinds of animals, clean and unclean, meaning that the animals were now all unclean and unfit to eat. Peter’s horrified to hear a voice tell him to kill and eat and Peter replies in shock, “Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.” This is a horrifying thought because this will make him unclean to God. The voice then tells Peter, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” This vision happens 2 more times. Then three men show up and Peter is told to go with them and they all end up in the house of a Gentile. Gentiles ate unclean food and while they might believe in Israel’s God, they were always kept at an arm’s length because they didn’t really belong because they weren’t one of God’s chosen special people. At best, they were second class followers of God.
The Lord’s words echo back to creation where God looks at everything he has made and it’s ‘good’ and even ‘very good.’ When we look at people with ‘them and us’ eyes, we stop seeing them as beloved of God, we stop seeing them as created in God’s image and it makes it harder to accept them with love because they’re not ‘us.’ Think about this a moment, God creates a creature in his own image, that reflects him, that gives creation a glimpse of who he is. There’s no human being on earth whom God doesn’t care for, whom God hasn’t invested himself in. What shocks the circumcised believers is not only that Peter ate with these Gentiles, but that Peter baptizes them. This means that they’re now ‘us’ and this isn’t the way things work. The Lord’s words, “Don’t call anything impure that God has made clean,” is how to look at people. Jesus cares so much for people, he dies for everyone, even though not everyone accepts his gift of grace, but Jesus still loves them deeply, as should we. That’s what drives us to invite others to join us in following Jesus and see people through the eyes of Jesus and the lens of grace.
The Lord’s words point to the cross and what Jesus has done for people everywhere. Jesus’ death was not just for the Jewish people, his shed blood washes all those who believe in him clean from their sins, bringing life transformation to all of us. John 3:16 is not just about Jewish people, but the invitation is to people from all nations. Paul reminds us in his first letter to Timothy that “the Lord desires that no one is lost and for all to be saved.” We see this is the life of Jesus. Jesus is all about people over status and issues. Think of the people Jesus reached out to, a Samaritan woman on the fringes of her village’s life, touching an unclean leper everyone else ran from, a woman caught in adultery, a thieving tax collector, among others. Let’s take a look at a video called The Mission of the Church.
When I was getting to know Bethel through the search process, I was touched by how you have embraced serving the people of Lacombe. I listened to many of you talk about those who come to Circle of Friends, your love for the youth and how our youth ministry reaches out to so many young people, I heard a desire to go deeper but were uncertain on how to take the next steps. Your hearts for people drew me and my family here, and I believe this is Jesus’ heart in you. Before the service began, we saw a video by Casting Crowns of a girl searching for belonging, for hope, after the service there will be a video by Tenille Townes called Somebody’s Daughter, encouraging us to see the people around us.
Tenille Townes wrote, “This song was inspired by a drive I took with my mom in Nashville. As we exited off the interstate, we saw a young girl holding a cardboard sign with shaky hands. We started having a conversation about her, about what her story might have looked like and all the steps and disappointing turns that could have led her to standing right there looking for change. I think there's a lot we can learn from a kid at a lemonade stand... and from thinking about the beginning of what everybody's story looks like. I don't know that we take time often enough to think about what could be going on in the people's lives around us or what their past might have looked like, but when we do, we realize we are all more alike than we know.”
Jesus’ mission is all about people, about going deeper in us, helping us through the Holy Spirit to become more and more who we’re created to be, but also to bring hope, compassion, forgiveness, grace, acceptance and hope into a world that desperately needs Jesus, even though many don’t even realize this. It begins by praying for people in your life right now who need Jesus and his family, who need us; asking for eyes to see them and ears to hear their needs, and hearts of compassion, putting aside our own wants and looking at them through the eyes of Jesus. Pray for opportunities to bless them, to get to know them and opportunities to invite them to join us in our own journey of following Jesus, remembering that they don’t have to do it alone, we do it together.