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Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Galatians 6:1-10 Making Disciples: Actions and Words Go Together

Someone once told me that followers of Jesus are caught, not taught, the point being that people are more attracted to people who are trying to make a difference through the things they do as they talk about Jesus than people who only talk about Jesus. When people see what following Jesus looks like, they become more open to hearing about who Jesus is. James, Jesus’ brother gets this. He writes, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.”
There are 2 parts to following Jesus, becoming deeper and more intentional disciples and making disciples. Today, making more disciples most often happens as the people we are trying to reach see us actually living out our faith in the community. This is where Paul’s words come in. Paul is talking about what freedom in Jesus and following Jesus looks like. Larry Richards writes, “in all of life’s adventures, we can live in total honesty with ourselves and with God. We will never deceive ourselves into believing that Christian freedom is a license to sin. We can always commit ourselves to doing good, sure that “at the proper time we will reap a harvest of joy.” Richards connects our faith with doing good, and in the doing good, the Holy Spirit reaps a harvest of souls for Jesus.
Paul starts off by calling us to restore those who are caught in sin and to do it gently. This is more than just forgiving someone, it’s about working with the person to get their relationship with Jesus and the church healthy and right again. James 5:19–20 says, “My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” Sin is a serious business to God, it cost Jesus his life, sacrificed on the cross, because we’re sinners unable to save ourselves. God is a God of justice as well as of love. The reality is that we still sin, even after the cross, this is why followers of Jesus are called to restore instead of condemn those who mess up. This takes love and effort to reach out, gently confronting and having those hard conversations because the relationship is too important to give up on. Our example is Jesus who died but was raised up from the dead to show us that our relationship with our heavenly Father is restored again. We’re called to make our relationships of chief importance out of gratitude to Jesus. This is a powerful witness to our community.
Following Jesus isn’t always going to be easy, it isn’t going to revolve around us, but rather on how we follow him. When we do good works, we’ll still often face rejection and even persecution, but we’re called to carry on anyway because it’s all about Jesus. This takes humility and a sacrificial spirit shaped by the Holy Spirit. We can accept that we need to carry our own burdens, but Paul calls us to also help others with the burdens they carry. There will be times when it gets tiring, especially if we’re doing it out of a sense of obligation instead of gratitude to Jesus. We can get bitter, feeling that others aren’t doing their fair share, this is why we’re warned about not comparing ourselves to others. Faith can easily become a Sunday only thing that creates a lack of love or compassion. This is emotional and spiritual burnout stuff, when our hearts, souls, minds and bodies get tired and we wonder if the good we’re doing makes a difference.
Keeping our eyes on Jesus and his grace to us helps to keep us going when we get tired. We’re reminded Jesus sacrificed himself out of his deep love for us. Jesus knows we’ll have times when we get tired, this is why he calls us to “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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 souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Jesus tells us to come to him when we get tired in doing good, when we find it hard to keep up our compassion. He renews our strength, hope, and love.
True spirituality arises out of a grace-based relationship with God,” according to Daniel Bush and Noel Due. Our relationship with Jesus is a constant reminder of why we do good, why we focus on blessing and helping others. Many people who don’t follow Jesus also do good in the world, the difference is that they take care of people and forget their souls because they don’t believe in souls. They fight poverty, abuse, trafficking, and for mental health and so many other really good things and we need to join with them, it's important that we are working alongside those in our communities are blessing others. But we also get to offer Jesus; we get to offer unconditional love, spiritual strength and endurance for those times when their situations don’t change, we offer the life transformation of hope that lies in eternity where Jesus’ justice and rightness waits, the very things we are working for right now. We offer freedom from fear and bitterness, from anger and hopelessness because we offer Jesus. We offer freedom to dream again, freedom to hope again, freedom to love again. More people are caught into the faith through goodness than are taught into the faith.
A lot of the good that needs doing has nothing to do with physical doing. What does doing good look like when physically you’re unable to actually do anything, when you’ve worked hard your whole life and now have come to a place where physically you’re unable to do good like you have in the past? Doing good also looks like offering encouragement and praying for those who can do the physical work. It looks like financially supporting groups and ministries that are doing good, because they’re unable to do good without generous people supporting them with material and prayer support and words of encouragement.
I’ve often been blessed in conversations with you as you make it a point to encourage me, and it helps me to not grow tired. You’ve been part of Jesus’ rest for my soul. This is an important act of good that blesses so many people. I’m no longer amazed at how many people I meet who are discouraged, tired, not sure how to move forward. A word of encouragement is a powerful act of good today, whether it’s for someone in your family, the church family or perhaps the grocery clerk, the person you meet in the condo hallway, or even in McDonalds. Remember, people are more often caught by kindness into following Jesus than taught.
Jesus often uses the image of farming and Paul picks up on that by encouraging us that there is a harvest waiting. “A person reaps what they sow.” According to Jesus in Mark 4, what we sow is the Word of God and it’s going to fall in different places, but there’s a harvest and it will be a great harvest; 30, 60 and even a 100 fold. It’s a harvest that’s all about hope and new life and eternity with Jesus. Julian the Apostate, the last pagan emperor of Rome, understood the power of Christians when he wrote,These impious Galileans (Christians) not only feed their own, but ours also; welcoming them with their agape (Christian love), they attract them, as children are attracted with cakes… Whilst the pagan priests neglect the poor, the hated Galileans devote themselves to works of charity, and by a display of false compassion have established and given effect to their pernicious errors. Such practice is common among them and causes contempt for our gods (Epistle to Pagan High Priests).”
Michael Craven writes, “Emperor Julian clearly saw the writing on the wall. The Roman Empire would not succumb to political upheaval or force but to love, the love of Christ. Julian's dying words in AD 363 were "vicisti Galilaee" (You Galileans [Christians] have conquered!).” Jesus wins because his followers love people into the church.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Genesis 27:1-40 Jacob: Liar

Earlier this year we took a look at this same story and at that time we focused on the importance of blessings, especially blessing others. But like every story in the Bible, there is so much more to learn about who we are and who Jesus is and how Jesus changes life and brings the kingdom of heaven closer. So, this morning we’ll take 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. Though it is really hard to see how the light of Jesus can shine through Jacob’s cracks.

Deceit or lying is one of those character traits that can sneak up on you and change you before you even realise it. It usually 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 at the same time you’re 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. The great thing is that you get away with it for a while and it makes life seem to go along more smoothly and slowly deceit and lying becomes a part of who you are and how you move through life. The sad thing is that so many people today believe that deceit and lying isn’t a big deal and will find lots of situations 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 deceit and lying we do or experience 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.

The problem is that deceit is always personal, directed towards someone; it’s not a victimless action because there is always someone affected, often that person is you yourself and who you are 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. I like how Carey Nieuwhof puts it, “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.”

Jacob is encouraged by his mother to deceive his father to get the family blessing. Jacob goes along with his mom and lies and deceives his father into thinking that he is really his brother Esau, and as you heard, Jacob and Rebekah are successful and they get what they want. It’s not just a simply lie that Jacob and Rebekah tell, it’s a whole 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 from their herd instead of hunting for game and cook it up just the way Isaac likes so he focuses on how good it tastes, and then there is the direct lie when Isaac asks Jacob straight out, “Are you really my son Esau,” and Jacob replies, “I am.”

Practical wisdom tells us that lies and deceit will always catch up with you 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 lie just grow and grow until it falls apart because it’s based on a weak and shifting foundation. We see this in Jacob’s life. Because of what Jacob and Rebekah did, Jacob has to leave home. He ends up with relatives Haran where he ends up marrying sisters but deceit and lying mark Jacob’s life. Jacob deceives his father and brother, he ends up deceiving and manipulating his father-in-law Laban, he gets deceived by his father-in-law, by his wives and later on his own children. All these lies and deceits bring great pain and brokenness in Jacob’s life and the life of his family.

When you look at a guy like Jacob, with a family as messed up as his family is, I sometimes wonder why God even bothers with them. It is through Jacob’s family that Jesus comes to earth, but I still sometimes wonder why Jesus didn’t come from a healthier family, why are there so many broken and cracked jars of clay in his family line? Then I look at myself, at my family and the family I come from and realise that I am who I am because they are all a part of who I am because they’ve all been 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, he knows the importance of truth because he is truth, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” is how Jesus puts is. Deceit guides us away from Jesus, it twists truth and takes away from the full life Jesus intends for us.

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 to say something God didn’t, leading Eve and Adam to choose Satan’s lies over God. When you think about it, 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 create our own truth based on what makes us feel good instead of accepting Jesus as the truth and making him the first priority in our life; who shapes who we are, our values and focus. Even in church, we focus on what we want to believe and will explain away the teachings of God and Jesus that we don’t like and create our own truths.

Jesus leads us into the truth, the truth that we are sinners in need to forgiveness and grace, in need of a transformation of our hearts, minds and souls. This is why Jesus calls his message the gospel of the grace of God the truth in John 8 and he goes on to say that it’s truth that sets us free, free from the power of Satan in our lives. The truth of the gospel of grace is that it’s Jesus who comes to take our sin, our lies and deceit to the cross to bring his transformation and change in us and into the world through us because we can’t save ourselves from our own sin. Jesus comes to show us what the kingdom of heaven is all about, a place where humility and grace, where forgiveness and serving others, where people are encouraged to develop the potential God has placed in each of us, where genuine love for others shapes our community, where Jesus comes to bring full lives that offer hope to those searching for healing, meaning and a new start in life. Jesus comes to train us to bring the kingdom of heaven close, to help others to come to know him.

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 is now daily reminded of his weakness and with his new name, he is reminded of God’s power and blessing. He’s learned the truth about who God is, and about who he really is. Jacob needed to put aside the lie that he was the most important person in the world and everything was alright 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 to die so that we can experience new life in him.  

Jacob’s story provides hope for us. Jesus reveals the truth, he is the truth. If we want to know how the world is supposed to be, the truth of who we are and are called to be, we only need to look to Jesus. If you’re looking for peace and joy, for acceptance, forgiveness, maybe even a new life, Jacob’s story shows the truth about God who keeps reaching out to us and can transform your life in amazing ways. This is especially shown through Jesus and the cross. Billy Graham said about Jesus and truth, “Jesus is the only one who can bring peace and joy and the total satisfaction you are looking for.”

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Peter: Cowardly and Afraid

This is an uncomfortable story for many reasons because we wonder how Peter, who is so brave and heroic just earlier in the evening, telling Jesus that he is even willing to die for him, how Peter could so quickly turn around and allow fear to cause him to deny even knowing Jesus. This story is uncomfortable because many of us have experienced those times when we’re been real quiet about being a follower of Jesus because we didn’t really want the people we were with know we are Christians. There are a lot of reasons, sometimes it’s fear, sometimes we’re uncomfortable because of what we might be doing or where we might be, or perhaps it’s because of who we are with.
It’s easy to be brave about following Jesus when we know there will be no push back, it’s a little more challenging if we think we might get some push back about being Christian. Personally, my most uncomfortable times are when people are criticizing Christians for being close-minded, bigoted, angry, and even hate-filled because no matter what I say, I know I will be unlikely to change their minds. It’s takes time to show them that I work hard at trying to shape my life around Jesus’ command to love God with everything I am and have and to love everyone deeply.
We want to be strong and brave, to be heroes, at least most guys do, that’s why so many people love the Avenger movies, Batman and other superhero movies. I want to make a difference wherever God puts me and make our community a better healthier place to live. This is why our kids love the Bible stories of David and Goliath, of Daniel in the lion’s den, or of Daniel’s three friends thrown into the fiery furnace because they’re going to be faithful to God no matter what. But the reality is that, like Peter, we often allow fear to keep us from standing for Jesus all the time and everywhere.
Peter’s not even challenged hard about his relationship with Jesus. A servant girl comes up to him and says, “You also were with Jesus of Galilee.” There’s no threat here, no challenge, just a statement of fact. A second servant girl mentions to others around a fire that Peter was with Jesus and both times Peter denies it. A little later some others mentioned that Peter must be one of the followers of Jesus because of his accent, and in fear Peter denies this a third time. You know the story; a rooster crows and Peter remembers that Jesus had said that’s exactly what he would do. These are people with little influence and still Peter reacts out of fear.   
Fear is still one of the ways Satan keeps us from being a powerful life changing presence in our communities. Fear keeps us from dreaming for Jesus, keeps us focusing on what we don’t have instead of remembering that everything in this universe belongs to God. I’ve been asked, “What does a healthy vibrant church look like?” Over the years I’ve come to see that a healthy vibrant church is one that dreams big dreams for Jesus, has a vision for being a strong life changing presence in the community because Jesus loves them. A church with people who dream of Jesus doing powerful things in the world are dangerous to Satan so he tries to take away the dreams and visions by getting us to focus on reality and keep things safe. Satan uses fear to keep God’s kingdom from growing; fear of change, fear of failure, fear of the world around us, fear of the unknown.
Fear leads to doubting Jesus when he says that we will do even more than he did in John 14, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” The entire time Jesus was here in earth, Jesus is inviting people to repent and believe because the kingdom of heaven is near, and then shows how through his teaching, life and miracles. As part of doing even greater things, Jesus tells his followers that their mission in life is to go and make disciples, a mission shaped by love for God and our neighbours. When we live in Jesus’ love for our community, people react to us with surprise and they wonder why, especially in a time when so many people no longer have a relationship with Jesus.
This is why Peter, the very Peter who was afraid and denied Jesus, later tells followers of Jesus in the area we now call Turkey, Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” Peter points us to Jesus and he’s honest when he says that there will be times when we’ll suffer for what is right, for standing up as followers of Jesus, for sharing our faith and making inviting others to follow Jesus a normal part of our life. But Peter reminds us to keep on worshiping Jesus as our Lord, keep trusting Jesus and to make sure we’re able to tell people why we are followers of Jesus, why we willing face suffering, ridicule, and still focus on blessing our community.
We keep trusting Jesus because we know how much he loves us. We’re sinners. We don’t keep Jesus’ command to love God with everything we have and are and we don’t love our neighbours as ourselves. We don’t measure up to who God has created us to be. Because God is perfect and just, he can’t accept us the way we are, but he loves us too much to let us go, so Jesus comes to take our sin to the cross and the grave to make us right with God. Jesus is able to do this because he is completely God and completely human. But Jesus comes to bring healing and hope to the world, to establish the church to be his presence, to bring renewal in our lives and communities that point us to the kingdom of heaven. Our lives reflect the character of Jesus, the love and compassion of Jesus, the power of Jesus to stand against the brokenness and wrong in the world and still live out of love.
Jesus’ love is perfect and his love is what gives us the courage we need to stand up as his disciples no matter what’s going on around us. John reminds us, “This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” When you love someone, if they’re in a dangerous situation, you don’t even think about getting hurt yourself, you jump in to help. I remember coming across a car accident and how the father, in spite of the flames, was wrestling with the car door to get his son out of the back seat where he was trapped. The father never even considered standing back because of the danger of the flames, he rushed to save his son because of his love for him, there was no fear because of his love.
Trusting in Jesus’ love and choosing love as our approach to others drives out the fear that Satan wants us to focus on and nurture in our hearts. Jesus’ love gives courage and energy to create a better world where everyone knows Jesus and understands Jesus can change their life if they accept him as their Lord. Satan has always underestimated the power of Jesus’ love and how it can change the world. Churches need work at creating ways to bless our communities and it will involve change, creating new opportunities, and imagining new ways of being in our communities. Dreams need to be encouraged and shared, visions need to be cast of making a deep difference in our communities, conversations need to happen, and opportunities will raise their heads for followers of Jesus to make a difference because of their commitment to Jesus and who Jesus is calling us to be.
Jesus always provides exciting ways of moving forward, but it comes with a need for a deep commitment to making more disciples, to doing the hard work needed surrounded and supported by much prayer. When fear and anxiety creep in, Peter encourages you to “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”