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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.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Acts 9:36-43 Death is Overcome

Last Sunday we had 3 men who are going  through the Teen Challenge program come to our church and share how Jesus and the faith based program for those committed to changing their lives after living in drug and alcohol addiction. A common theme in their stories was extreme loss and darkness in their lives before looking for new life. This is why I decided to reflect on the story of Tabitha's resurrection, a story based in community and faith in Jesus.
This morning we’ve had the privilege of hearing stories of life transformation in these men who have shared their stories of finding healing that is rooted in the power of Jesus. It’s easy to focus on the stories and on how the young men made their way through darkness and are now walking with hope and have really found new life. These men found healing, not because they were special, not because God has huge plans for them, but because Jesus entered their lives and the Holy Spirit is working in them. The power of their stories is how they point to Jesus who brings new life.
Tabitha is not healed because she’s a good person loved by lots of people. Plenty of good people die every day who do good and help others. Our temptation is to look at the person who’s healed and given life instead of who brings life and healing. The apostles are becoming known for their power, for having the same power to heal and do miracles that Jesus had. Now there’s a huge difference between healing someone and bringing them back from the dead, but the people care so deeply for Tabitha, that when she dies, they figure they’ve got nothing to lose by calling Peter and praying that just maybe, he can do something. They urge Peter, “Please come at once!” and Peter does.
Peter arrives and he’s taken upstairs and shown the robes and clothing that Tabitha had made. It’s like they’re trying to convince him that Tabitha’s worthy of a special miracle. Even her name, which means gazelle and refers to loveliness, seems to suggest that she’s special enough for such a miracle. Yet, as children of God, we’re all precious to him, all princesses and princes in his kingdom and worthy of healing and new life.
Peter sends everyone out of the room and gets down on his knees and prays in humility. He knows that he doesn’t have the power to heal or raise Tabitha from the dead in his own power, this can only come from Jesus who defeated death on the cross where he washed away our sin and claims victory over Satan and death, bringing new life to all those who believe in him. When Peter goes to his knees and prays for life for Tabitha, we hear echoes back to the Old Testament and Elisha raising a widow’s son from death into life in 2 Kings 4 through prayer. Elisha, like Peter, knows that the power of life comes from God, not from himself. Peter turns to the dead woman and says, “Tabitha, get up” and she does! It echoes back to Jesus’ raising the daughter of Jairus from the dead with the simple words, “My child, get up.” There’s no need for elaborate rituals or secret words or formulas, life comes from Jesus who is the Word of life.
Tabitha’s story comes as part of several new life stories that come all in a row: Saul’s conversion, Aeneas’ healing, Tabitha’s rising from the dead, and then Cornelius’ conversion. These all point us to different aspects of what new life in Jesus looks like and point us to what the kingdom of heaven’s all about. Tabitha’s new life is a glimpse of the resurrection life found in Jesus and what’s waiting for us after our death; resurrection life with Jesus. Tabitha’s resurrection was temporary; she died again as did Lazarus and others raised from the dead in Scripture, but we’re already experiencing resurrection life in Jesus that death cannot take away from us because death is now simply a doorway into eternal life in the kingdom of heaven. This is why we live with hope and in the new life found in Jesus.

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Acts 9:1-19 Jesus Acts First

When did you become a follower of Jesus, or are you still trying to decide if you really want to commit yourself to him? Before you came into church, did you know Jesus or were you searching for something to help you get through life and just kind of found your way here? Who was a part of your making a decision for Jesus, what is it that caused you to start searching and led you here and to Jesus?
One thing we learn in Saul’s story is that Jesus begins working in our lives and hearts way before we make a decision to follow him and he leads us to the point where we choose him. Choosing Jesus is a real choice, but it doesn’t start with us, it starts with Jesus. Some of your stories are spectacular encounters with Jesus, but many of our stories are about a long journey of faith and obedience within a supportive family and church community who helped us get to know Jesus as young children. This is a blessing.
If you have a spectacular story of meeting Jesus, that often means that there was hurt and confusion in your life, perhaps loneliness as well. Some of you, you may even have grown up in the church, you pushed back against God, you may even be pushing back right now, but Jesus doesn’t give up and keeps coming after you even while he gives you room to figure things out. Many people don’t meet Jesus until later in life, there’s no age limit on meeting Jesus. Some of you may still be journeying towards making a commitment to following Jesus, but know that Jesus is always there.
Saul has a sudden meeting with Jesus, an unexpected meeting that changes Saul and leads him to accepting Jesus as his Lord. Even those who don’t follow Jesus use Saul’s life changing encounter with Jesus as an expression of a personal life changing moment; they call it a Damascus Road moment. Saul’s a Jesus hater, a passionate Jesus hater. His goal is to destroy Jesus’ followers. Saul admits it later in Acts 22, “I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison,” and in Acts 26, “Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. I was so obsessed with persecuting them that I even hunted them down in foreign cities.”
Hatred’s a powerful emotion and Satan is able to use it to hurt and even destroy others. Hatred and fear often go hand in hand. Deep inside, many people fear Jesus and so react with anger against his followers. The church is also not immune to feeling hatred and fear, but our fear is often against those who believe differently than us. This is why Jesus sums up the law as “Love God with everything you are and have and love your neighbour as yourself.” After-all, we’re all created in the image of God, even those we don’t like, those we hate.
Jesus has plans for Saul, and so while Saul is travelling to Damascus to hunt down more followers of Jesus, Jesus sets up a meeting just outside of town. Here’s how Luke tells it, As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” Imagine what’s going on in Saul’s head, something weird is happening and he’s not sure what, but because Saul’s a well-educated Pharisee, a man who’s studied the Scriptures deeply, he realizes that this is a God moment. So, he asks, “Who are you, Lord?” Now imagine Saul’s shock and horror when he hears, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.” Fear must be flooding into his heart and Saul doesn’t dare not do what Jesus says, but when he stands up to go into the city, Saul discovers he’s blind. He had been blind to who Jesus is, and now Saul’s blind to the world around him.
As Saul stumbles his way into the city and finds a place to stay, Jesus goes to meet someone else who’s going to impact Saul’s life. In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered. The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.” “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
Ananias isn’t all that excited about what Jesus has called him to do, but he’s obedient and goes and places his hands onto Saul’s eyes, and through the power of Jesus, heals Saul. He tells Saul who it is that he met outside Damascus, “Brother Saul, the Lord--Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Right away Saul can see again, and because he can see, we know that he is filled with the Holy Spirit, all because Jesus arranged a meeting on a dusty road outside of Damascus, a foreign city, an unexpected place. I’m guessing the only thing that gives Ananias any satisfaction in healing Saul is Jesus’ promise that Saul is going to suffer for Jesus’ name. I’m also guessing that Ananias must be wondering why Jesus would choose murderous Saul to be his chosen instrument.
Saul becomes a Jesus follower; he’s changes his mission in life from getting rid of all the Jesus followers and becomes one of the very people he hated so deeply. Saul’s a completely different person all because Jesus reaches out to him first. If Jesus would have waited for Saul to reach out to him, it would never have happened. There’s comfort and hope in knowing that Jesus reaches out to us first and that when we choose him, we’re responding to what he’s already doing in our hearts and lives. It means that we don’t have to worry about whether or not we can drift so far from God that we can lose our relationship with Jesus. Ephesians 1 reminds us that Jesus chose us already before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight, chose us to belong to him!
This is why the Canons of Dordt and our confessions are so important because they keep reminding us that God chooses us first and he will never let go of us. He may let us wander away for a while, but he draws us back again, the good shepherd comes after his wandering sheep. I know that because I was one of those sheep who had wandered away, but in the middle of the ocean God came to meet me again through the person of a ship’s chaplain.
This is more than head knowledge. When you’re crying into your pillow at night because one of your kids is a wandering sheep, we trust that Jesus will meet our kids and draw them back. Things like election and perseverance of the saints are doctrines of comfort and hope. Every time we see a baptism, we’re reminded that Jesus reaches down through the veil between heaven and earth and places his seal and claim on our children. It means that if you’re wondering if God could ever forgive you for the rotten things you’ve done, if he could ever love you in your addictions and brokenness, you can find hope and comfort in the knowledge that Jesus has already made the first step in coming after you and he’ll use the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and people who follow him to draw you to him, or back to him.
This is the message of the cross, that our sin is not enough to separate us from Jesus’ love, that his love and sacrifice washes away our sin and brings new life. Our circumstances may not change, by following Jesus we may even have to suffer for it, but Jesus will use even that to help others get to know him. Following Jesus, we gain a new family, new hope and new goals and a new identity: beloved children of God called to invite others to join us in following Jesus.

Saturday, 4 May 2019

Acts 5:12-32 Taking Risks for the Lord

How many of you have ever felt pressure to keep quiet about your faith? How many of you have ever felt threatened because you have decided to follow Jesus, or are connected to the church? What was your reaction, how did you respond? I’ve often heard followers of Jesus say that they wished the church today was more like the church in the New Testament, especially like the church community in Acts 2, but then I wonder if they’ve read past Acts 2.
The church described in the rest of the New Testament is a church that faces persecution, is messed up in all kinds of ways, and in many ways, looks a lot like the church today. Some followers of Jesus wish there was more persecution of the church today because they believe it would make the church stronger, and when you look at the persecuted church around the world, you see Christians who are willing to die for Jesus, who trust deeply in Jesus and are willing to lose everything just to follow him, but recognize that peace and an opportunity to live our faith openly is a gift. We can explore what a life shaped by Jesus is all about, recognizing that Satan will use these times of peace and blessing to pull us away from Jesus and create different gods.
While we’re not persecuted here in Lacombe or Canada, there’s pressure from our culture to be quiet about what we believe, to keep our faith to ourselves. In this way, the apostles faced the same situation. Jesus has returned to heaven; the Holy Spirit has come and now the apostles are busy teaching the people about the new life found in Jesus. They’re healing people, casting out demons, performing many signs and wonders, as Luke tells us. People are responding and believing in Jesus, the church is growing! Jesus, who died on the cross for our sins, has been raised from the dead and is now pouring out his Spirit into the people, bringing new life, new hope, a new way of living based on who Jesus is, on his life of obedience and dedication to God, and on Jesus’ teaching on what to following God looks like. The people are drawn to this new life.
Some wonder why we don’t see as many miracles today. The early church father Origen wrote that, “If they had not worked miracles and wonders, Jesus’ disciples could not have moved their hearers to give up their traditional religion for new teachings and truths and embrace, at the risk of their own lives, the teaching which was being proclaimed to them.” Missionaries report many more miracles on the mission field than we realize. In Uganda, when I was visiting there as a member of the Board of World Missions, we visited a small rural church and we were interrupted by a woman and her daughter who was yelling at us. The pastor told us that she was possessed by a demon who forced her to drink and abuse church leaders. He asked us to pray for the demon to leave. We laid our hands on her head and prayed simply for the demon to leave in Jesus’ name. She immediately grew quiet and peaceful. Months later I received an email from our mission coordinator who had revisited that church and he wrote that the woman had been re-baptized and had stopped drinking.
I do think Origen is missing something, the evidence of changed lives and how powerful the evidence of a transformed life is to someone who’s seeking to make sense of life, seeking hope in life. In Thunder Bay, an exotic dancer was living with her young son in a RV with little money, no propane, heat or food. Joyce and I invited them into our home and our pastor to come see how the church could help. She met Jesus and the change in her life was instantaneous. People noticed and marveled at how Jesus had changed her so radically and quickly.
The push back starts. The high priest and other religious leaders are jealous of the apostles, just like they were with Jesus. The people are listening to the apostles more than to them. I wonder if that is part of why culture keeps pushing back against the church, because deep down they’re jealous of the impact following Jesus has on people, on how Jesus commands our all. The apostles are arrested and thrown in jail. During the night, an angel comes, frees them, and then tells them to go into the temple courts and tell people about this new life. Did you just hear this? The apostles are in jail for exactly what the angel is telling them to go do, so any guesses as to where they’re going to end up again? The apostles have learnt trust and obedience, so once the sun comes up, there they are in the temple courts, teaching about the new life found in Jesus. Imagine how frustrated the Sanhedrin is when they find out what’s happened. Yet they’re also afraid of the people, so they tread carefully with the apostles. The guards don’t use any force because they’re afraid of getting stoned, this is about getting stoned with real rocks.
The Sanhedrin’s frustrated because the apostles are making them look bad, accusing them of being responsible for Jesus’ death. Their orders to the apostles are to stop it and be quiet. Peter and the apostles’ respond,We must obey God rather than human beings! The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
Our call is to obey God first, there will be times when it will cost us. But the cost must not cause us to forget who we follow and Jesus’ teachings and example on how to respond: with grace and love for the other person. We cannot allow bitterness or anger or fear shape our responses. We need to reply and speak up with words flavoured with honey as Proverbs 16 reminds us, “Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.” Peter reminds us in his first letter, 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. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.
Our words need to match our lives. Sometimes we need to take risks to follow Jesus well. A friend is an executive in a large company in the Mid-West. When his company decided to make changes in how they were going to pay their employees, he had to speak up because the changes were going to give higher bonuses for the executives but cut the average employee’s benefits. It was not illegal, but it was immoral. He lost promotions because he spoke up against his company’s greed. A student at Montreal’s McGill Law School who had an opportunity to go into the highest levels in international criminal law changed from international law to family law and joined a small firm in Toronto that did a lot of free work for woman who had been abused. She changed her focus in law after doing pro-bono work at a women's shelter because she believed the Lord can use her in that setting and she can be a more powerful witness for Jesus in defending those who had been abused. In Montreal, a number of Christian high school students stood up for fellow students who were being persecuted because of their Muslim faith by different teachers and the school board. They arranged a protest and wore crosses and crucifixes to stand up against new rules that would have prevented Muslim girls from wearing the hijab. Standing up against bullying was their way of living out Jesus’ command to love their neighbour. It cost many of the Christian students because a couple of the teachers made school life hard for them afterwards. I asked them to share why they were willing to take the risk of angry teachers or being mocked by those who are against the church and they all told me a similar story; that it helped them grow in their faith, that they want to be more like Jesus and show who Jesus is.
Our goal is to lead others to Jesus, to invite them to join us in our life journey following Jesus. This happens through our own transformed lives and our words as we share who Jesus is with words and action: how he came so that we can have a new life, a new relationship with our heavenly father, washed clean of all the stuff that stains our souls, healed of the hurts and broken parts inside each of us, a life filled with hope, meaning and purpose to offer this to everyone.