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Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Philippians 1:1-11 In My Heart

This past Sunday was my last Sunday as pastor of Hope Church. This Friday we are moving to Lacombe where I have the honour of becoming their next pastor beginning April 1. Saying goodbye to people who have become like family is always difficult, even while there is excitement about meeting new people and building new friendships. Here is what I shared with Hope Church on Sunday.

It's hard to believe that this is our last Sunday together. It's been an amazing journey being your pastor. You have all been part of making me into the pastor I am today; blessing me and my family, challenging me to be a better pastor through encouraging and sometimes even disagreeing with me. We walked through all those times together and now we’re here together and I can sincerely say that you are in my heart. Many of you have become dear friends to my family and I. We've laughed together, cried together and have grown deeper into our relationships with each other and I pray, with Jesus. This letter from Paul to the church in Philippi touches on what I feel today and what I wish to share with you this morning.
This is a letter of love and appreciation from Paul to the believers in Philippi. They’ve a long history of working with and supporting Paul in his ministry. Paul begins with a blessing, reminding them their relationship rests in their relationship with their heavenly Father and in Jesus Christ, "Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." Paul offers his blessing to all the believers because he cares deeply for them. I can understand where Paul is coming from as I'm in the same situation in caring for all of you here. Our lives have become intertwined over the past 3 years, some more deeply than others, and I am blessed to have walked with many of you through both joy-filled and deeply sad times, trying to help you keep your eyes on God.
Paul talks a lot about joy, praying with joy because of their partnership together in the gospel. Joy is a key theme in this letter. This joy is rooted in their relationship together in Jesus. In John 15, Jesus talks about remaining in his love and experiencing his joy, "If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." Later on, Jesus, when talking about going away, referring to his death and later return to heaven tells his disciples, "Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete." It's through and in Jesus that our joy is rooted, knowing that Jesus loves us so much he took our sin on himself to the cross where he died for us so that we can experience the joy of forgiveness and grace as God’s children. Jesus went home to heaven to prepare for our coming home and to prepare for his return when heaven and earth will be one once again.
Paul's in prison as he writes this letter. It’s like a house arrest which allows him the freedom to still preach the Gospel to those who come to visit him. Yet in spite of being in prison, his thoughts are filled with joy because of his friendships with the believers in Philippi. Joy doesn't come from the things we have, it comes from the relationships we have. These make you rich, especially if they’re built in Jesus. I count myself a very wealthy person.
Paul's joy comes in knowing that God’s working in and through the people there. He knows that when God begins something, he carries it through until it's complete. God has plans for Hope Church; I see his work in you, transforming you into images of Jesus filled with grace, love, compassion and forgiveness towards others. I hear stories from people not from our church who know you and I hear of your sincere love and grace and I know that God’s just starting something wonderful here. I’ll continue praying for you as God works out his plans here.
It's good to feel this way. As Paul says, they're in his heart and you’re in my heart and we share God's grace together. We’re brothers and sisters, children of God together, forgiven, cleansed, redeemed, chosen and loved deeply. Over the past few weeks I've heard many words of appreciation from many of you and I want you to know that those feelings are mutual. This isn't meant to wash any difficult times away or forget those times when the appreciation on both sides might have been missing. After all, as Joyce will gladly let you know, I'm not always the easiest person to get along with. Yet we stuck it through those times and we grew together and I hear this truth from Paul as well. The Scripture describes the church as family, with all its blessings and warts, but often it's the warts that force us to grow more gracious and kinder. We've persevered together, but now it's time for you to carry on the work that God has prepared for Hope here while Joyce, Melissa, Real and I move on to follow God's call somewhere else.
Prayer is a big thing for Paul. It keeps him focused both on God and on his mission to share the Gospel wherever God leads him. Prayer is an important part of growing in faith and in your relationship with God and each other. When you pray for someone regularly, coming to God asking for him to work blessings in their lives, God creates love and appreciation for them, and you begin to see them through Jesus’ eyes and how he’s blessing you through them. Pray for the people of Parkland County, fall in love with them as God does. Paul mentions near the end of his letter to the Ephesians, "Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints." Because you’ve been in my prayers, you’ve become precious to me. Seeing God work in your lives is one of the great blessings of being a pastor.
Paul's prayers are for those in the church; that they'll continue to grow in their relationships with each other and Jesus and be transformed more and more into the people God has created them to be, "that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ--to the glory and praise of God." Paul knows our identity comes from Jesus and God our Father while the Holy Spirit reaffirms this constantly in our hearts, minds and lives. His deepest desire is that they’re becoming more and more like Jesus.
This is my prayer for you as well. You’re precious to us and I want nothing more for you then to come so close to Jesus that he transforms your lives completely. This looks like your love for Jesus, for each other and for the communities God has placed you in, growing deeper, lived out with servant hearts and lives; transforming your relationships and neighbourhoods as God continues his work of transformation in you. I pray for wisdom as you move forward in the work God has for you here in the Parkland area.
Finally, my prayer for you is that you will continue to be filled with the fruit of righteousness in Christ and grow in your closeness with Jesus, in love, peace, joy, kindness, compassion, and a desire to share your faith with those God has put into your life. Peter in his first letter expresses what I know about you, "Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls." I pray the best for you because you are in my heart and you have blessed me and my family so I pray to God to bless you as well. But in the end, my greatest desire is that God will be praised and glorified because of you. It gives me a lot of happiness to know that God may have used me in some of your lives to know him more.
May God give you wisdom and insight as you move forward in the work Jesus has here for you to accomplish; both within the church to look more and more like Jesus so that others might continue to find God at work through you, calling them into a closer relationship with him. Blessings my friends.

Saturday, 23 March 2019

John 5:1-15 Do You Want to be Healed

Are there things about yourself that you wish you could change, but it feels too hard? Are there hurts in your life, broken relationships, or places in your soul where there’s nothing but emptiness and addictions to fill that emptiness? Do you struggle with illnesses or physical, emotional or intellectual disabilities that you’ve prayed for years to be healed from and yet nothing changes? How do you hear Jesus’ question to the invalid by the pool, “Do you want to get well?”
It’s the Sabbath and Jesus is in Jerusalem when he finds himself at the pool Bethesda, which means “Place of Mercy,” an interesting name considering what’s about to happen here. Our Bible places verse 4 in a footnote. It’s likely this verse was added to offer some explanation to why so many disabled persons are lying there, “For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.” Jesus meets a man who’s been an invalid for 38 years. We don’t know how long he’s been there, hoping to be that first person in the pool when the water gets stirred up by the angel.
Then comes the strange question, Jesus asks the invalid, “Do you want to get well?” My first reaction to this question is, “Duh! Why do you think I’m here?” One commentary suggests that Jesus is trying to get the man’s attention. Since the invalid has likely been there a long time, many people have walked by him in that time and the question, “Do you want to get well,” would definitely grab his attention. Part of the reason for asking the question would be to hear the man’s story. Telling our story helps us to remember old emotions, thoughts and hopes. Hearing the man’s answer is a way for Jesus to get to know his deepest desires, the deep desires that keep him at the pool even though he’s never been first in the pool when the waters were stirred. Telling his story helps the invalid recapture his hope to be cured. It can be so easy to lose hope and sometimes we need someone, something to happen, to rekindle hope inside us again.
Another reason for Jesus to ask whether the invalid really wants to get well is that he may be comfortable with the way things are. Begging was not uncommon and people were not shamed for having to beg in order to eat. He’s been an invalid for 38 years; a long time. When we went downtown in Montreal to offer lunches to street people, the teens were surprised to hear how many of these people were content to live on the street and survive by begging and depending on the kindness of strangers. In Jesus’ time, they would also have depended on the charity of the temple and the offerings taken there for people like themselves. If he’s healed, he’ll have to take care of himself. The way the man answers will reveal his heart and true desire to Jesus.
Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” The man keeps trying to be healed, he hasn’t given up hope even though he hasn’t succeeded yet. Even while relying on the kindness and charity of others, this man still has hopes and dreams for more than simply existing. One of the important ways we reveal God’s image in us is through the ability to see beyond our present situations and dream about what might still be, to see what’s possible, giving us the ability to keep hope even in seemingly hopeless situations.
Jesus, seeing his heart and desire, responds, Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” Jesus speaks and the result is instantaneous, the man picks up his mat and walks! This is amazing, life changing, completely unexpected on his part. We hear an echo back to creation here, God speaks and it was so. This is a God thing, something only God can do; reversing the effects of disease, disabilities, making the man whole again, renewed and restored, physically, emotionally and spiritually. This is pure grace given. This man is no better or worse than any other person there also waiting, hoping, praying for healing. As we see later on, he doesn’t even know who Jesus is. It’s not this man’s faith that made him well, but simply Jesus’ grace and compassion. This grace is extended even further when Jesus goes to the cross, carrying our sin, our soul sicknesses, our spiritual disabilities there and through his death bringing forgiveness of our sin, healing, wholeness, and renewal. This is offered to everyone, no matter who we are, we don’t earn forgiveness and grace, we don’t deserve it, Jesus gives out of his great love for us. In giving forgiveness and soul restoration to us, Jesus equips us to enter into the world to bring transformation and healing to others; calling us to work for healing and wholeness within our homes and communities.
Jesus heals this man on the Sabbath, on God’s day, a day of God focused praise and worship, a day of rest and restoration with God. Jesus never does anything by accident, by healing on the Sabbath, he’s pointing to God as the one with the power to heal the invalid man; that renewal and restoration that is found in him. Jesus pushes us on our attitudes towards the Sabbath. What is the Sabbath for? Is it about rules that hem us in, surround us to make sure we don’t mess up, or is it an opportunity to show our community what renewal and restoration look like? What does it mean to be in the image of God? Is it about singing songs and listening to sermons and giving money, or might there be more to Sabbath like joining God in bringing hope and mercy and aid to the people of our community? Does Jesus’ healing here show us how to connect with God on the Sabbath by being among those who are hurting and sick and bringing healing and love?
The Jewish leaders focus on the laws and rules designed to make sure the people honour the Sabbath Day, but they forget that the Sabbath Day is about God and his people, about restoration and renewal and God’s kingdom coming. They don’t allow compassion to stretch them in their beliefs and understanding of God and the Sabbath. Jesus points them, and us, to God’s heart for people, challenging us on our heart for people, challenging us on our compassion for others. Jesus’ healing of this lame man echoes back to the Old Testament prophecies pointing ahead to the coming Messiah, the one who will make the lame walk, the blind see, and the deaf hear. These prophecies were read regularly in the synagogues on Sabbath and Jesus’ miracles are all signs pointing to him as the Messiah, to God’s kingdom being close.
Dr. Sylvia Keesmaat reminds us, “We are painfully aware that God’s kingdom is not yet here. We know too well that the powers of darkness still have a deathly grip on our world. We know that sickness, sudden death, unfair death, and injustice—in short, sin—still wield a deathly power over us and our communities. And we know that this isn’t how God intended it to be. So we live with a terrible tension between what we experience and the vision of the kingdom that Jesus proclaims.” Until Jesus returns, not everyone experiences healing, not everyone finds relief from the pain and sorrow they live with, but we do live with hope because we know Jesus and he is always with us, able to heal us.
We hear Jesus’ warning, See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” We are sinners, which is why we need Jesus, but remember that we have been given the Holy Spirit to guide us, to give us strength to resist the temptation to sin and wallow in our desires rather than swim in God’s desires for us. Jesus makes us whole again and calls us to take our relationship with his Father seriously so that nothing worse happens.
We see God’s kingdom in all its fullness in John’s description of the new heaven and earth coming in Revelation 21 and 22 when there will be no more sickness, mourning, or death, where the leaves of the trees are for healing, and the water of life flows in a stream in the middle of the city. And as we wait, we bring healing to our communities and in our lives as we point to Jesus, and we celebrate the healing that we experience from a gracious God.

Friday, 15 March 2019

1 Peter 2:1-12 The Living Stone and a Spiritual House

Peter is writing this letter to churches who are going through persecution, causing many believers in Jesus to scatter throughout the Roman Empire, which also helped to spread the Gospel of Jesus to more and more people, but at the same time there are those who are beginning to wonder if God had abandoned them, if God really cared for them. Many newer believers came from pagan backgrounds and had worshipped gods who used humanity for their own purposes and then would abandon and neglect them until the god wanted something else or got bored and played with them. I wonder if now some of them are beginning to wonder if Jesus is the same as their old gods.
Peter writes to offer them hope and meaning in the middle of their suffering, encouraging them to stand firm in their faith, pointing them to Jesus who understands suffering and persecution. This is one of the great strengths of the church, that we don’t walk alone, that when we get discouraged, when it seems the world has turned against us, God brings people into our lives who encourage and bless us, who are able to help us keep our eyes on Jesus and to see how he is present, even in the middle of chaos and crisis. We have hope because, as Peter mentions in chapter 1, we can stand firm in the tempests of life and hold onto our hope because Jesus rose from death to life, defeating Satan and death. It’s in the hard times that our faith is proven true and is strengthened.
Because Jesus has given us new life and new hope, Peter calls us to continue in the Jesus way, “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like new born babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you might grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good,” and “I urge you as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from the sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God in the day he visits us.”
We’re never promised easy lives when we accept Jesus as our Lord and follow him. Jesus himself called us to carry our crosses, warned us that we would be persecuted if we follow him, but he also promises us the Holy Spirit to guide and comfort us and give us strength. Jesus knows suffering and persecution; he was rejected and unjustly sentenced to death as a blasphemer and traitor. But Peter also reminds us that Jesus is also chosen by God and precious to God. We cannot measure how much God loves us by how hard our lives are going, or how disappointing life can be. We know how much God loves us by looking to Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross for our sin so that we can approach God as his holy children fully forgiven for our sin. Satan thought he had God on the ropes when Jesus went to the cross, rejected by both the religious and civic leaders of the time, but Jesus turned it completely around on Satan, defeating him in his resurrection from the grave and now sitting in heaven where all authority has been given to him, including authority over Satan.
Jesus is the foundation and source of our salvation, of our forgiveness and new life. He is “the stone laid in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone.” The Dictionary of Biblical Themes tells us the cornerstone is a “stone that can be in the foundation, above ground level or at the peak of the roof (the “capstone”). The cornerstone of a large building gives it a reliable and firm foundation, leading to the sturdiness and stability of the whole building. In Scripture, such foundation-stones are taken as symbolic of the basis of faith in Jesus Christ and the church. Jesus Christ is represented as both the foundation upon which the church is built, and the capstone which crowns the whole.”
Our faith is built completely on Jesus: his teachings, his life, and all that Scripture reveals to us about Jesus, and what he did on the cross for us and all creation. As the cornerstone of our faith, we know that we are on solid ground when we turn to Jesus, when we shape our lives on who he is and what he has done for us. When the ground seems to be shifting under our feet because life can be chaotic and uncertain, we know that we can always trust Jesus to be our solid foundation in life, a constant source of strength, a sure guide when the way forward feels uncertain, and a reliable presence that never abandons us. Peter keeps pointing us to Jesus as the one person we can lean on and trust as he is chosen by God and precious to God and so is everyone who are living stones because we are in Jesus. Being precious to God means Jesus is highly esteemed, highly valued by God because Jesus is his only begotten son who has taken the sin of the world on himself to redeem the world and begin the process of restoring the creation back into a right relationship with God.
What is this building then that Jesus is the cornerstone to? Peter tells us that we are like living stones and we are being used to build a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood. Peter here is talking about the church, the house of God here in earth. We are a living house, living out the kingdom of God here on earth, offering the world a glimpse of what heaven is like, a place of grace, forgiveness, acceptance, love; a place where you are encouraged to discover and use the gifts you have to make our community a better place for everyone, a place of shalom where everyone has an opportunity to flourish and experience God’s blessings.
A big part of what we do, according to Peter, is offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Paul calls us in Romans 12 to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” This is about how we live, this is all about being and becoming who God has created us to be as people in his image.
Yet it’s more than that. Peter calls us to be part of the holy priesthood. Our spiritual sacrifices are offering our lives in service to God to draw people back to him. Priests stand between the people and God, offering sacrifices that bridge the gap between God and the people, seeking God’s forgiveness and his blessings on the people. Our spiritual sacrifices begin with prayer for the people in our lives and around us who haven’t yet accepted him as their Lord and Saviour, praying for the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives, praying that Jesus will reveal himself to them in a way that draws them to himself. Then, as we go about our lives, living good lives so that the people can see our good deeds, we look for, and even arrange for opportunities to share our faith, to share why even when life is difficult, or especially when things don’t go well, we trust in Jesus as the foundation of our life.
But it’s also true that Jesus is a stone that causes some people to stumble, a rock that makes them fall because they simply cannot accept Jesus as their Lord, they cannot accept that they are not the center of their own lives, that Jesus loves them that he calls them to shape their lives on him. When they come up against Jesus, the cornerstone doesn’t bend or beak, they break and stumble and fall instead. The glorious news is that Jesus still loves them, is willing to pick them up and bring healing into they stubbornness and hurt. Our cornerstone stays strong and firm through anything life or Satan can throw against him, and we are able to connect to that strength and stability when our lives are chaotic and broken because we are living stones built on Jesus.
Let’s finish with the lyrics of a song by Hillsong called Cornerstone that goes like this:

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly trust in Jesus name

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly trust in Jesus name

When Darkness seems to hide His face
I rest on His unchanging grace
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil
My anchor holds within the veil

Christ alone; cornerstone
Weak made strong; in the Saviour's love
Through the storm, He is Lord
Lord of all

Sunday, 10 March 2019

2 John Walking in the Truth

I learned some truth this past week, kids are getting faster and bigger every year and I’m not as good at hockey as I thought I was. Sometimes truth is uncomfortable because confessing to the truth may mean that either our pride takes a hit, or people might look at us differently. We have seen this in our leaders in Ottawa this past week where a scandal is unfolding. There were no laws broken, but there was inappropriate pressure applied because of political reasons and the appearance of justice being done was tainted, something that never helps a nation that prides itself on being a place where justice is valued.
This letter of John to the lady chosen by God, a church he has a close relationship with, is a letter that bothers many Christians in our country today because it unashamedly points to Jesus as the truth and warns us against accepting anything that contradicts Jesus and the about who Jesus is. This isn’t a politically correct letter and there’s no tolerance for those teaching anything different than the truth of who Jesus is. 5 times in the first 4 verses John uses the word truth. He starts off by telling them that he loves them in the truth, because their relationship is centered on Jesus who is the truth. John tells us in his Gospel that Jesus told the disciples in John 14:6 “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
John’s reassuring the church that they know what truth is because they know Jesus. Our culture doesn’t accept that truth can be found in a person, yet that is at the heart of our faith. If you want to know truth about life, about what’s important and not so important, about what will help you grow as a person and become all that you can be, about healthy values and principles that will build a strong flourishing society, you find this truth in Jesus. As John Franke writes in Christianity Today, “Truth is not finally to be found in abstract notions or theories, but rather in the person of Jesus Christ, the unique Son of God and the living embodiment of truth. From this perspective, knowing truth depends on being in proper relationship to this one person who is divine truth. Jesus is categorically different from all other prophets, witnesses, and messengers from God. Jesus is all of these things, yet more. Along with the Father and the Spirit, Jesus himself is God.”
The amazing thing about this truth according to John, is that this truth lives in us, it’s accessible to us all the time, we don’t have to search for it because it will be with us forever. John is referring to the Holy Spirit that has made our hearts its home, the Spirit that keeps pointing us to Jesus, that guides us in the truth that is found in Jesus, and comforts us when life gets complicated and hard at times. When you walk in something, like a lake, you are completely surrounded and embraced by the water, and it’s the same thing walking in the truth of Jesus, it’s like being completely surrounded and embraced by the presence of Jesus.
John’s writing to a church being pressured by false teachers who were denying that Jesus was human like us. They were teaching that Jesus was divine, but denied that his humanity, instead Jesus just looked like a human. But John pushes back against them when they deny that Jesus is human, “I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world,” calling them deceivers, or liars.
You might say that this isn’t that important because they’re still acknowledging Jesus as God, but Jesus’ humanity is just as important. Because of the fall of humanity into sin, you and I don’t measure up to God’s perfect standard. He set the punishment for disobedience as death and yet we constantly disobey God. But God is righteous and just, meaning we need to be held accountable for our sin, but doing good works doesn’t save us. Yet God is also merciful and he loves us, so he provides Jesus as a substitute for us: perfectly God so that he can take the sin of the world on himself and perfectly human so that the punishment Jesus took on himself can be applied to us. Humans sin, so a human had to bear the punishment, but that human had to also be God to take all sin in himself, this is why teaching Jesus wasn’t human takes away all the comfort and hope that we have in life, takes away any reason to live as Jesus calls us to live. If Jesus isn’t human, then his death on the cross is meaningless for us. Because of his humanity, Jesus offers us new life shaped by the forgiveness of our sins and the gift of eternal life and a call to live a life that shows our thankfulness to him so that others can be won over to Jesus.
John doesn’t want the people to lose their hope and strength that comes from knowing we are forgiven by God because of Jesus through the Holy Spirit. John’s prayer is that the church will trust in the truth that is Jesus, will not let go of what Jesus taught and modeled in his life while here on earth. Truth in Jesus is closely connected with love, the love Jesus taught and modeled, loving God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength and loving our neighbours as ourselves. When we follow these commands of Jesus, we know we’re living in truth, in Jesus. Truth is connected to integrity of character rooted in the love of truth, in the love of Jesus.
John’s warning us not to allow anything that is opposed to the truth, opposed to who Jesus is and what he taught, into our lives or hearts. He goes so far as to say, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, that Jesus is both fully divine and human, do not take them into your house or welcome them. Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work.” In John’s time, hospitality was a huge value, almost sacred in practice. Time and again, God calls us to be a welcoming people, generous in our hospitality and now John is saying that offering hospitality to those who teach something different than Jesus makes us partners in their wicked work. How can this be?
John states that we cannot be hospitable to truth and error at the same time. How far does this go? Can we associate with those who believe differently than us about LGBTQ issues, or how about working with Muslims and other faiths on social issues in our communities, or how about those who don’t accept that there is any God, can we learn from them and work with them? Is this what John is getting at in this letter? Truth and love are closely tied together in Jesus and in all John’s writings and Jesus himself often expressed love to those who didn’t accept him as the Messiah. Working together with others on social and justice causes is part of working out God’s will here in earth. We can work with others that don't believe in Jesus as we do for the sake of the common good in order to create healthy communities.
John is more concerned here with teachers already in the church, who call themselves followers of Jesus and yet deny parts of Jesus’ teachings, especially about who he is. Today we need to be aware of those who follow Jesus as a good teacher but reject his claims to being God, allowing them to pick and choose what they will accept from Jesus and reject Jesus’ call to obey all his commandments. We are called to reject their teaching and if they continue to teach against Jesus, we need to be clear that they are wrong and not welcome. This is a hard call into today’s culture because we are told that we need to be tolerant of everyone and they need to find their own truth. But Jesus calls himself the truth and that if we want to know truth, we need to know him. Truth is not something we create, it is found in the person of Jesus and in his teachings and revelation of who God is.
And is this also more personal, can we watch any television show, visit any website, read any novel we want because what we take into our minds and hearts either leads us towards Jesus and becoming who God has created us to be, or it leads us away from Jesus, which is what John is concerned about here. We are called to continue in the teaching of Jesus, and anyone who contradicts the teaching of the Bible about who Jesus really is cannot be in the teaching of Jesus, but neither can those who live inconsistent lives, not obeying Jesus’ call on our lives and his commands.

Saturday, 2 March 2019

Haggai 2 God’s Glory Promised

It’s been a month now since the Jewish people restarted the work of rebuilding the temple which had been interrupted 14 years earlier. Most of the work seems to be done and you can begin to see what the temple is going to look like when it’s completely done. The reality though, is that it’s not going to be even close to how magnificent King Solomon’s temple had been. It’s going to be a poor reflection of the former temple’s glory. It’s going to be as if they had built a rough shed on the foundation of a former mansion.
The Lord tells Haggai to ask Zerubbabel, Joshua and the people of Israel how many of them remembered King Solomon’s temple. 66 years have passed by since it had been destroyed, so not many of them would have much of a memory of the old temple, but they would have heard the stories of how magnificent the temple had been. Those who did remember the old temple wept aloud, as Ezra the priest writes, because it’s so much less now than it was before. This temple is only a shadow of the great temple, the one known around the world for being so amazing. The Lord asks them, “How does it look to you now? Does it seem to you like nothing?” These questions hurt, they force the people to realize much they’ve lost since the time when they were a strong nation under God.
The returning exiles have less money and access to gifted artists and skilled builders than Solomon did when he built the great temple. The people don’t have the resources like gold, silver, aromatic cedar, or other materials to make this temple as beautiful. It’s a shack compared to the old temple. Can you imagine how depressed the people must be, how sad their hearts are now that they can’t build something special for God? It’s hard to feel good about what you have right now when you had so much more before.
The Lord doesn’t allow them to feel sorry for themselves for long. “But now be strong Zerubbabel, be strong, Joshua, son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land and work. For I am with you. This is what I covenanted with when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.” The Lord takes them way back in their history to when he saved them from slavery in Egypt and brought them to the Promised Land where they are again. The Lord’s calling them to remember that he keeps his promises: promises to bless them so that they will be a blessing to the nations, a promise to be their God and that they will be his people. When people look back, they can look back in one of two ways: either they will see only how things were better back then: the kids were more respectful, you were captain of the hockey team and had lots of hair, you were slimmer and fitter then, the air was cleaner, and life was better. Others look back and they see how blessed they are now and how far they’ve come. They see how life has shaped them into who they are today and they feel gratitude, thankfulness and if they are followers of Jesus, they remember and this increases their faith as they see how God has been with them all the way.
The temple is about giving God honour and glory. Now God tells them, This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory. The silver is mine and the gold is mine. The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house. And in this place I will grant peace.” The Lord’s reminding them of his power in calling himself ‘Lord Almighty,’ a military designation of authority and strength which means ‘Lord of the heavenly armies.’ The Lord tells them to not fear because there is nothing and no-one more powerful than the Lord Almighty on earth or in heaven.
We see God’s power in Jesus Christ who came to earth to take the weight of the world’s sin on himself so that we can be right with God again. God is perfect and cannot accept us the way we are and since we cannot save ourselves, we need someone to be our Messiah. This is what God is getting at here when he talks about how the people are defiled, that “whatever they do and whatever they offer there (the temple) is defiled.” Jesus is both God and human and so is able to take our punishment on himself by going to the cross where, in his death, he fulfils the punishment for sin declared by God in the Garden of Eden, and defeats Satan’s plans to twist God’s creation so out of shape that it can’t be restored. Instead we’re renewed and receive new life in Jesus and are now called to live lives filled with gratitude and praise, and through the good works prepared for us to do by God, win others over to Jesus.
As Lord Almighty, he is going to shake the heavens and the earth and all nations. This is an image of judgement, of holding creation and all people accountable, pointing ahead to the Day of Judgement. The Day of Judgement is also connected to the coming Messiah, this is what the Lord means when he says, “and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory.” You might wonder how people who don’t acknowledge God or Jesus can desire him, especially in a time like ours when so many people are walking away from church and God, and yet everyone knows that the world isn’t the way that it should be, that there so much wrong and evil in our world, and they hope for better things, for some way, for someone who can make things right, to hold those who do wrong accountable, to stand up for justice and right. They are desiring Jesus even if they don’t know it, or want to admit it.
The Lord reminds the people through Haggai that everything is his, including the silver and gold. The glory of the temple doesn’t come from what it’s made of, it comes from the Lord filling the temple with his presence. Even though King Solomon’s temple was an amazing building, its glory came when the Spirit of God came and filled it. When Israel went into exile, the Spirit of God left the temple and followed the people east into Babylon. “My Spirit remains among you,” the Lord tells them, showing that the Lord is with them no matter where they may be. It’s not the people who build glory into it, the Lord’s the one who will fill it with his glory.
Haggai ends with, Tell Zerubbabel governor of Judah that I am going to shake the heavens and the earth… On that day,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,’ declares the Lord Almighty.” God is saying that Zerubbabel, a descendant of King David, is a guarantee of the promises God made concerning the new temple. These promises are fulfilled when a later descendant of David, Jesus, enters the temple, bringing the Father’s glory and peace. Jesus’ central focus, as John writes, is “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work,” which is renewing and restoring all things to his Father.
As Michael Williams writes, the apostle Peter tells us God is still building his house and that every person who comes to God through faith in Jesus is like a living stone that God is using to build a spiritual house: “As you come to him, the living Stone… you also, like living stones, are being built up into a spiritual house.” We’ll be reflecting more on this passage in a couple of weeks. The Holy Spirit used someone to bring you to Jesus, and now the Spirit wants you to be that somebody in someone else’s life. Just as God was calling the Israelites to make him their number one priority again, so Jesus calla us today to make him our main priority. If we do, we’ll be blessed. This means looking for the tools and materials that the Holy Spirit places in our lives to build God’s house in Jesus. What changes do you need to make in your life to get active in building God’s house?  Let’s get busy building the house of God, knowing that he fills it with his glory.