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Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Romans 3:9-20 Sin Infects Us

It’s the 400th anniversary of one of our coolest confessions; the Canons of Dordt! Just over 400 years ago, an international meeting of teachers and pastors from various countries got together to talk about some of the things Jacob Arminius, a teacher at the University of Leiden, had taught and whose students after his death began spreading through the church. The Arminians taught that our election is based on foreseen faith, that Christ’s atonement is available to all who freely choose to accept it, limited human depravity, the resistibility of God’s grace, and the possibility of a fall from salvation. The Synod of Dordt rejected these views and wrote out the Reformed teaching on these points to give us a deeper assurance of the salvation that we find in the Scriptures. Our faith always points us to comfort and hope.
The Arminians teach that we work with God for our salvation by choosing to cooperate with the Holy Spirit. This means that we choose God first instead of God choosing us first. Instead of faith being a gift to us from God, faith is instead a gift that we give to God. The Arminians focus on our free will, our ability to choose to repent and believe in God through our own choice, though they do believe that we are all infected by sin. They believe we are sick, but can work with God to get better. Now this was all in reaction to the images in Scripture that compare us to worms because of our sin. The Arminians had a hard time with that because we’re created in the image of God and loved deeply by God, so they focused on the strength we have in being God’s children.
We were created by God, without sin, perfect and holy, but when Adam and Eve had an opportunity to become just like God by disobeying him, they did, and because of their sin, the entire human race is infected by sin. The Canons put it this way, “Human beings brought forth children of the same nature as themselves after the fall. That is to say, being corrupt they brought forth corrupt children. The corruption spread, by God’s just judgment, from Adam and Eve to all their descendants—except for Christ alone.” This corruption that we call sin has infected every part of our hearts, souls and minds. This sin keeps pushing us away from God and making ourselves the center of the universe. According to the Bible, our sin not only infects us, it kills us. The Apostle Paul in his letter to the church in Ephesus writes, As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.”
The Canons tell us that we are infected by sin through Adam and Eve. They disobeyed God even though they knew the consequence was death. Now this death is both physical and the place we live, shaping who we are. The only one not touched by this sin infection is Jesus, who is human, but is also completely God and so is un-infected by sin and because of this, Jesus is able to take our sin to the cross and bring us healing from its infection. Jesus is our soul’s antibiotics, our soul’s best medicine that completely heals us.
Paul comes out strong in Romans 3, taking a number of Old Testament passages from the Psalms and Prophets to emphasize that we are all under sin;As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.” The poison of vipers is on their lips.” “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Now remember that Paul’s quoting poetry and Old Testament prophets who regularly use hyperbole, saying something with extreme language in order to get God’s message across. Jesus uses the same kind of language when he says things like pluck out your eye if you look lustfully at a woman or cut off your hand if you steal. Paul’s message is that we all need Jesus to get right with God our Father. Our sin is serious and only Jesus can heal us. We cannot heal ourselves, or save ourselves from our sin.
That’s what total depravity, the ‘T’ in the TULIP of the Canons of Dordt, looks like. It reminds us that there is no part of our lives that is untouched by sin, no part of our life where we don’t need Jesus to come in and make us fully and completely clean. It keeps us humble, keeps us coming back to Jesus. The Heidelberg Catechism, question and answer 62, says “But why can our good works not be our righteousness before God, or at least a part of it?” The answer is “Because the righteousness which can stand before God's judgment must be absolutely perfect and in complete agreement with the law of God, whereas even our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin.” Paul writes in verse 20 “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
When we do something good, and we do good things all the time because the image if God is still found in us, even if it’s twisted by sin, the good we do doesn’t heal us or save us. But it does give us a glimpse of the image of God still found in each person. This is why you can find amazingly kind, generous people who help others, fight for justice for those who are oppressed, and work hard to make our world a better place, but who don’t follow Jesus. This kind of good, called common grace, is found in everyone because God gives everyone different gifts to bless our world. But this good does not save us from our sin.
Even when we do something good, it’s infected by sin. I remember sitting in my study in Montreal. My study overlooked a park right across the street. The park was right in the middle of the street and the neighbourhood children would play and ride their bikes and scooters on the road around the park. On this afternoon, the children were riding their bikes like usual, when one of the little boys wiped out. His cries of pain filled the air, but his mom didn’t seem to hear him, so I went out to help him with his skinned knee and tears. It was a good thing to do, but there was also selfishness involved, I wanted him quiet and happy so I could concentrate on my sermon again. A touch of sin in a good deed. We know these things are true because we experience them all too often, staying silent when nasty things are said or done; allowing quiet prejudice make us believe we are better than the other person because of their skin colour, ethnic background, or social standing; or being critical of other believers because they read the Bible differently than us or worship differently than we do. All quiet ways where sin shows up in our hearts, even if it never reaches our lips.
We find hope in God’s commitment to us. We may be dead in our sin, but as Paul reminds us in Ephesians 2,But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” God never gives up on us. Right after sin enters into the world, God promises a saviour, someone who will crush the serpent’s head. Jesus comes and shows us how to live, offering forgiveness and grace, washing our sin away on the cross, and then sending us his Spirit when he returns to heaven so that we have God in us, guiding us and comforting us, changing us to become more and more like Jesus, giving us the gift of faith that keeps drawing us to back to God our Father.
We may be dead in sin, but Jesus gives us new life! Our sin has been healed and we’re being changed each day by the Holy Spirit to be more like Jesus; perfect and healed from sin.

Friday, 25 October 2019

1 Thessalonians 5:12-28 Giving Thanks in All Circumstances

Today is Thanksgiving, a day our government gives us to get together and think about all the things we can be thankful for. It’s a day for many of us filled with family, big meals, football and hockey games and church, even though it’s a Monday. Thanksgiving and gratitude are big themes in the Bible. Over and over again we’re called to have grateful hearts, to be thankful to God in all circumstances. Our verses today are not a one off, but part of a consistent message that this is who we are called to be as children of God and followers of Jesus. Here’s just a few passages that call us to be thankful, Psalm 100:4Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.” Colossians 3:15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” 1 Chronicles 16:4He appointed some of the Levites to minister before the ark of the Lord, to extol, thank, and praise the Lord, the God of Israel.”
This morning we’re going to briefly reflect on verses 16-18 Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” As followers of Jesus, these three calls on our lives shape who we are and how we walk through life. The first call to our hearts is to be joyful always. Paul’s not speaking to just to individuals, but to the entire church in Thessalonica. We’re all called to rejoice always. Not just once in a while, or only in good times, but always. How is it possible to experience joy when things are hard, when there’s loss and disappointment and hurt? It’s not normal or natural to most people today. It takes a deep trust in God.
When we believe that God is in control of the present and the future, we’re able to experience joy because we know that God is always with us, that God became human in Jesus and knows the suffering and hurt of life, as well as the celebrations and joy in life. Jesus embraces suffering, even suffering on the cross, so that we can experience the hope and peace which leads to joy because we know that Jesus will use the hard times to help us be more like him and use us to be a blessing and hope for others.
The second call to our heart is to pray continually. Paul does not mean we should be in a prayer meeting all day long. He’s calling us to go through our days with an awareness that God is always with us in everything that we’re doing. It’s like going through your day with a wonderful friend always beside you, getting involved in the things that you’re doing. It’s natural to just talk about the stuff you’re doing, sharing what you think and feel with each other, and sometimes just being with each other quietly, but just being together is good. My sons and I can just sit there and grunt and we know what’s going on, my wife and daughters don’t usually get it, but that’s ok, because we all talk with God differently. But there’s a spirit of thankfulness in these types of relationships, even if you don’t say the words, “Thank you.”
Fredrick Beuchner writes, According to Jesus, by far the most important thing about praying is to keep at it. The images he uses to explain this are all rather comic, as though he thought it was rather comic to have to explain it at all. He says God is like a friend you go to borrow bread from at midnight. The friend tells you in effect to drop dead, but you go on knocking anyway until finally he gives you what you want so he can go back to bed again (Luke 11:5-8). Or God is like a crooked judge who refuses to hear the case of a certain poor widow, presumably because he knows there's nothing much in it for him. But she keeps on hounding him until finally he hears her case just to get her out of his hair (Luke 18:1-8). Even a stinker, Jesus says, won't give his own child a black eye when the child asks for peanut butter and jelly, so how all the more will God when his children... (Matthew 7:9-11)?”
The third call on our heart is to give thanks in all circumstances. I was thinking about how often I say ‘Thank you’ to people and I noticed that usually it’s only after I’ve received something from them, whether it’s help or a gift or something else. I normally don’t give thanks when someone’s give me a hard time or if I’ve had to give someone something, especially if it’s something I really want to keep for myself. I don’t give thanks for pain, even though pain is a sign that something’s wrong and needs addressing. Yet pain helps us deal with stuff before it gets worse. Doctor Paul Brand reminds us that pain is a gift that protects our bodies from further harm as it leads us to find healing. A counsellor friend back in Montreal says it’s the same emotionally, that emotional hurt is a sign that something’s not right and it’s time to get help, from God and those God has placed in our lives to walk with us through the good and hard times. The church is Jesus’ gift, a place where sisters and brothers come together for each other.
Pain can help us get closer to God, teaching us trust. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1, Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” I’ve learnt that the hard times in my life have helped me to better understand the hard times others go through, they’ve made me kinder, gentler and more compassionate towards others. This has helped me to give thanks in all circumstances, knowing that God is there and can use it to bless others and give us a glimpse of heaven through the comfort we experience from God through the Holy Spirit and our church family.
We thank God, because through thanksgiving we receive even more blessings. When we thank God, we remember the things he’s done for us and feel glad. When we give thanks, we find security and peace of mind and we see what we have instead of what we don’t have. Giving thanks opens our hearts to trust God more, so that we’re ready for new blessings. In gratitude, we savor life’s goodness, and therefore live to the fullest. Today, many of us will sit down to a tasty dinner of turkey with all the trimmings, we already ate an amazing breakfast. Take time to revel in each flavor, and to share your joy and delight with others. Gratitude’s about stopping to enjoy, taste, and delight in the goodness of life. And it’s sharing our joy with God, as well as with our neighbors. I love how Ann Voskamp puts it,At the last, this is what will determine a fulfilling, meaningful life, a life that, behind all the facades, every one of us longs to live: gratitude for the blessings that expresses itself by becoming the blessing.
To thank God in all circumstances is to be able to see God working in each and every situation of our lives so that his will is done. The three commands of joy, prayer and giving thanks stand at the center of God’s plan for us, to shape us into who he’s calling us to be. So this Thanksgiving, may you experience the joy of knowing the Holy Spirit is with you, may you be aware of his presence and may you give thanks for our faithful Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and all his blessings and be his blessing wherever you are.

Monday, 14 October 2019

Luke 9:18-27 Who Do You Say Jesus Is?

Who do you say I am?” Jesus asks this question in the area of Caesarea Philippi, where the Cave of Pan, the place of the pagan Gate of Hades was found. It was in this area that Jeroboam, the first king of Israel, led the northern kingdom of Israel into idolatry. This was also the same place where the Greeks and Romans received revelations from the god Pan who was mentioned in classical writings as a "seer" and a giver of revelations. In 19 BC Herod built the Augusteum, a magnificent white marble temple dedicated to Augustus Caesar in front of the Cave of Pan. This was a place of gods, a place where Caesar was declared lord and saviour and god.
Before Jesus asks the disciples who they say he is, he asks them, “Who do the crowds say I am?” There’s a variety of answers, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah, who was one of the most powerful prophets from their past, and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.” The prophets were never really embraced by the people. Prophets were fascinating to the people, seen as different; always calling the people back to God’s way of doing life and leaving status quo behind, but they were also blunt and gave the people no room for excuses for how they were living. The disciples recognise that Jesus is different though, that he’s talking God’s words in a different way, that Jesus is not just repeating God’s words, but giving us God’s words directly as God.
Today if we would ask the crowd who Jesus is, I wonder what their answer would be; likely some would say he’s a fairy tale figure, or a wise Jewish teacher like a Buddha or Confucius, or perhaps a fraud, a Jewish charismatic teacher who fooled a whole lot of people for a long time now. Many will say that Jesus is a good person who says a lot of good things about morals and ethics, though he goes too far in what he expects from us. A lot of the people I’ve introduced to Jesus like what he says, but don’t want to give him full power over their lives as the Son of God.
Jesus then asks the disciples, “Who do you say I am?” It’s interesting that this question comes after Jesus first asks who the crowds say who he is. The underlying question is are you being swayed by what the crowd believes. Jesus asks us the same question, “Who do you say I am?” Think about this question for a moment, “Who do you say Jesus is?” Jesus asks us this question with respect, he wants to hear us identify him and choose him; he wants to know who we really think he is and puts us on the spot by asking straight out. We need to spend time with this question.
Peter speaks up, The Christ of God.” Peter has seen what Jesus can do. Jesus sent them out with power to heal and cast out demons as they preached the kingdom of heaven. Peter saw Jesus take the bread and feed a hungry crowd of thousands. He has no doubt who Jesus is, though he doesn’t necessarily understand what being the messiah or Christ means. He knows the promises of Isaiah 11 of a root coming from the stump of Jesse who will bring righteousness and justice, he knows of Daniel 7 and the coming of the anointed Son of Man coming to rule on the throne of Israel. Yet Peter’s probably not thinking of a suffering messiah like in Isaiah 53, which is why Jesus warns them of the suffering in his future and that they’ll share in his suffering if they continue to be his disciples. Do you understand what confessing Jesus as Messiah means?
Jesus goes counter-cultural now. He makes us think twice about confessing him as Messiah when he tells us what it means, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Confessing Jesus as Messiah and following him is about giving up our lives. Today people look to politicians, sports stars, entertainment stars to save us from our sometimes-dreary boring lives, to save our jobs, our dreams, to give us what we feel we need to enjoy life the way we’re told we’re supposed to. 4 years ago, the people looked to Trudeau as their saviour, a few months ago we looked to Jason Kenny as our new saviour, some turn to the Kardashians to save them from their lives, others turn to Taylor Swift, whiles other turn to the latest phone, gaming computer or whatever to save them from their lives.
When the disciples hear the call to carry their cross daily, they hear the call to give up everything and follow Jesus, to turn away from all the saviours and heroes of the day, from the things that others hold as valuable and important and follow Jesus and his way of self sacrifice. Jesus went to the cross to make us right with God, to take away our fear, our doubt, our hurts and brokenness so that we can face the future with strength and hope, knowing that we are loved, accepted and gifted in order to be change makers.
Carrying our cross means we give up the things that we’re trusting in and follow Jesus’ way; becoming the people Jesus is calling us to be. When a person was condemned to be crucified, he had to carry the cross beam of his own cross to the place where he was going to be crucified. Everything they owned was taken away from them, they were denied burial, showing that they’re nothing. Jesus calls us to a new identity; an identity based on following Jesus as children of God; dead to the values of the world that opposes God. Carrying our cross is about self-sacrifice and identifying with the poor and the hurting, with the broken and the sinners and speaking out on their behalf, about holding onto our possessions lightly and being quick to give to others when there’s need. It’s about embracing the kingdom of heaven and working at making it real here and now.
It’s not enough to confess Jesus as Messiah. Even the demons confess that Jesus is the Messiah. Luke tells us of a man possessed by an evil spirit. When the spirit sees Jesus it cries out, “Ha! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” We can say the words, “You’re God’s Messiah,” believe it and still not follow Jesus. This is harsh, but truth. Jesus doesn’t promise changed circumstances in our lives as a reward for confessing him as Messiah and following him, instead Jesus asks, “Who do you say I am,” and then warns us that following him is going to be costly and even painful; it means accepting a cross and losing your life; it means being transformed by Jesus.
Think about what you really believe when you’re asked “Who do you say Jesus is.” Look into your heart and be honest about who you really believe Jesus is; is he your Messiah, Saviour, God, or is he more of a guide or respected teacher you can ignore when it suits you? How are you allowing Jesus’ Spirit to change you, transform who you are in response to who you say Jesus is?
Jesus warns us that the cost of following him is high, not because God wants us to suffer, but because, through the presence of the Holy Spirit, we begin living counter-culturally, our values, morals and priorities change and come into line with Jesus’. Through the Holy Spirit we become less self-centred and more other-centred, we open our eyes to what is going on around us and work to shape it into more to look like the kingdom of heaven, we take seriously what Jesus teaches and don’t apologize for believing differently than what our culture tells us is proper, and we share respectfully with others who Jesus is, what he expects, and why.
Make a list of the things that are important to you and be honest with yourself, don’t spiritualize it. Ask yourself how your faith in Jesus actually affects the things on your list. Read the Bible, starting with Matthew 5-8 And Galatians 5 and ask if your life is shaped by the Sermon on the Mount or the fruit of the Spirit. Read 1 Corinthians 13 to see if your love for others really looks like that. Think about the sacrifice it will take when you confess him as Messiah and follow Jesus as God. Be honest to yourself about your faith and church membership; is it about you and what you get out of it, about how the church serves you, or is it about becoming the person God created you to be as part of his family?
Who do you say Jesus is and how does your answer change your life? An important question to live with.

Friday, 11 October 2019

John 1:35-51 Follow Me

The Apostle John’s story of Jesus’ time here on earth has a slightly different focus than the other gospels. Mathew, Mark and Luke all want us to know who Jesus is and how he went to the cross to cover the punishment for our sins so that we can have a renewed relationship with God our Father and to help us live out the new life we receive from Jesus through God’s forgiveness and grace. But John has a different feel to his story. The reason John tells us Jesus’ story is so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” But he tells Jesus story from a very personal angle, focusing a lot on Jesus’ focus on people. In verse 14 we already get a hint of this, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The word translated “made his dwelling” can also be translated “he tabernacled” among us, bringing to mind God’s presence with his people during the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness as a sign of his commitment to his chosen people.
Jesus is now wandering through Israel, teaching and preaching; calling God’s people to “repent and believe because the kingdom of heaven is near.” Now Jesus begins to gather a group of people around him, to invest in them so that later they will be able to carry out his message to others. Jesus is gathering together a group of disciples. In Jesus’ day, rabbis and teachers gathered together disciples who followed them with the goal of becoming just like their rabbi, imitating every aspect of their rabbi’s life from his clothes, to the way he did things, and learning to share their rabbi’s teaching exactly. This is why, when we read the 4 gospels, they’re remarkably similar even though the writers were quite different from each other. Jesus is gathering together a group of disciples in order to train them, shape them, and then release them into the world to continue the work he has come to do; to draw the people back to God.
Now Jesus finds himself in the same area as his cousin John. Two of John’s disciples are with John and suddenly John points to Jesus and says, “Look, the Lamb of God!” Just the day before, John pointed Jesus out to his disciples and identified Jesus as, Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.” John was always pointing people towards Jesus, including his own disciples.
Looking back from where we are today, we hear John’s words and we right away go to the cross and how Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away our sin through his sacrifice. We connect Jesus to the Passover lamb whose blood was spread on the door-frames to protect the people from death, or we hear Isaiah 53 and how the lamb was silent as it was led to the slaughter. Jesus is someone special, he has come to take away the son of the world, not just our individual sins, but the sin of the entire world. His coming sacrifice will be more than good enough for the need of all people. John points us to the cross and its importance.
But is this what the two disciples of John heard? No matter how they understood what John meant, the two disciples are attracted to Jesus and follow Jesus. Jesus sees them and asks, “What do you want?” What a great question. What do you want from Jesus? We all want something from him. I was looking for someplace to belong, for someone to simply accept me for who I was since I was lonely growing up, never having fit into the church or school. I was different from the others and my family was always on the fringes of the church. My choices as a teen were not always the best, and some people can never let those things go. As someone said to me this week, “Church can be a lot like high school.” That was my experience too. So, what do you want? Forgiveness for things you feel guilty about, maybe you’re looking for influence or for a purpose or direction in life, or maybe change in the church, or certain gifts or talents, or maybe acceptance, to feel like you are valuable to somebody, or whatever you’re looking for. We all tend to come to Jesus for something.
John’s disciples aren’t quite sure what to say, perhaps not even certain what they want, so they answer with a question, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Probably they’re looking for the opportunity to have a long talk with Jesus to see why John speaks so highly of Jesus, to get to know him and ask him questions about what Jesus is teaching. Jesus graciously responds, “Come and you will see.” This is the invitation the 2 disciples are looking for and they follow Jesus and spent the day with Jesus. Now Andrew is so impressed with what he sees and hears, he rushes off and finds his brother Peter and tells him, “We have found the Messiah.” Andrew brings Peter to Jesus and Jesus names Peter, which shows Peter and those who are watching that Jesus is the one who gives us our identity, shows us who we are.
The next day, as Jesus is getting ready to head to Galilee in the north, he finds Philip and says to him, “Follow me.” Philip goes and finds Nathanael and tells him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Now Nathanael is skeptical because of Jesus’ background, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” There’s a snobbery going on here, Nathanael’s looking down his nose on a small-town bumpkin teacher. But Philip convinces Nathanael to come and see who Jesus is and Jesus acknowledges that Nathanael is a good moral man, a good Israelite and follower of God, letting Nathanael know that Jesus knows him and his heart, even before Philip called him. Nathanael’s convinced Jesus is someone special and becomes a follower of Jesus, calling Jesus, “Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”
It strikes me that following Jesus quickly leads to calling your friends and family to come and see Jesus, to follow him too. There’s a social part to following Jesus, we don’t do it alone, we do it together, inviting others to come follow Jesus too. We are called to become a community together, a family together; a family that laughs together and that weeps together, a family that hurts together and leaves no one on the outside looking in. Too often we judge each other, overlook each other when they need us the most, look past each other because we get put into a box and set aside.
Following Jesus is also really personal because Jesus knows our hearts, our deepest longings, our fears and hurts, our confusions and discouragements and he calls out to these places of our hearts when he calls us to follow him. In Jesus’ time, when a rabbi called you to follow him as his disciple, you would dedicate yourself to watching and listening as closely to the rabbi as you possibly could. One expression was to be “covered in the rabbi’s dust.” In The Moral Maxims of the Sages of Israel: Pirkei Avot, Martin Sicker writes, “What is the sage attempting to convey by his urging that one “become covered with the dust of their feet”? Some consider this to reflect the imagery of a group of disciples sitting on the earth at the feet of their master, who is seated on a stool before them. … Others, however, see it as urging the disciple to follow in the footsteps of his master wherever he goes, figuratively as well as literally. In either case, the teaching may be understood to convey the idea that the disciple should always remain within the ambit of his master’s “dust” or influence.”
The goal is to look like, sound like and be like Jesus. Following always leads to ongoing transformation. This is why we have asked you to pray over your personal faith plan, to remember and be open to the transforming power and movement of the Holy Spirit as you follow Jesus. We are transformed as individuals, but the Spirit also transforms the entire church to truly become the family of God, the body of Jesus. The highest compliment you can receive is when someone says of you or of Bethel, “When I see you, I see Jesus.” This is the goal of following Jesus.

Monday, 7 October 2019

Luke 18:18-30 Treasure

This morning we’re looking at the last of the 3 Ts: treasure. The little kid in me comes out whenever I say treasure, and images of pirates and ships and treasure chests quickly come to mind. I grew up on stories of Black Beard and hidden treasure and maps to hidden gold. There’s something about gold and treasure that grabs our hearts, we love to dream abut it, of striking it rich. This is why Vegas does so well, it taps into the desire for instant richness and being able to live in the lap of luxury without having to work any more. One young man once told me that church life and following Jesus can be boring compared to the excitement of Vegas and the rush of winning.
Jesus talks about money and treasure a lot; his focus is on souls and relationships, on wise living, on what’s at the heart of the kingdom of heaven. People fight over money all the time, it’s one of the main stresses in many marriages. Money is often used as a source of power or control; it can be used to bribe and tempt people into doing things that they know aren’t smart or right. A lack of enough money can lead to people to do things they know they shouldn’t, but feel they have no choice because otherwise they might not eat or have a home.
We deal with money everyday, so we need to be aware of its power over us and the great good that it can do. Luke tells us a certain ruler asked Jesus, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” This is an honest question from a wealthy young man who has everything; he’s part of the upper-class has wealth, power and influence, but no peace in his soul. When other people look at this young man, they see someone that God must love a whole lot to have given him all the wealth and prestige he has, so why would he be worried about eternal life? Still, he has a sense that there’s more to life than wealth, so he turns to Jesus, the great rabbi, with this important faith question.
Jesus doesn’t answer the ruler’s question, instead asking him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good--except God alone.” There’s a whole other sermon right here! Then Jesus says, “You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honour your father and mother.” If you’re just listening to Jesus here, you’d think that eternal life is about doing good stuff, but Jesus is always deeper than that. When the ruler tells Jesus, “All these I have kept since I was a boy.” Now we see Jesus get to the heart issue, “You still lack one thing, doing good isn’t the thing to get you eternal life, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Then comes one of the saddest moments in the entire Bible,When he heard this, he became very sad, the Greek can also be translated, he became deeply grieved, because he was very wealthy.” His wealth just became a barrier between him and Jesus. Jesus warns us in Matthew that you can’t serve both God and money and to store up treasures in heaven, because where our treasure is, that’s where our heart is too. His wealth isn’t the issue, it’s his faith and trust in his wealth that creates his deep grief. His focus is on what his wealth gives him instead of what Jesus is offering him. He can’t see that his wealth has become a set of chains wrapped around his heart, preventing him from becoming free to completely trust in and follow Jesus. We don’t find out what happens after this meeting, but this rich ruler may the only person in the gospels to turn down a personal invitation from Jesus to follow him.
Many people believe that we need to work hard to build a strong bank account so we can retire and not have to worry. One of my bank’s financial advisers suggested a $1,000,000 was enough. That blew my mind. Others have said a half million is enough, but that means that our entire working life is focused on building our bank accounts instead of being Jesus’ presence here. David Platt writes, “It makes me wonder if we have subtly, dangerously, and almost un-knowingly guarded our lives, our families, and even our churches from truly being affected by God’s words to us in a world of urgent spiritual and physical needs around us. Jesus wept over those in need. He was moved with compassion for the crowds. He lived and loved to bring healing and comfort to the broken. He died for the sins of the world. So why are those of us who carry His Spirit not moved and compelled in the same way?” Jesus went to the cross, not so that we could have big bank accounts, but so that we could become free from sin and how it causes us to love in and trust things more than Jesus. Does our wealth blind us to the needs of our neighbours; can it become a barrier between us and our neighbours in need? Our wealth is a blessing that helps us to bless others, to model Jesus’ generosity.
I understand being wise with our money. My parents grew up in The Netherlands during WW2 and my father’s stories of not having enough to eat and the fear of not surviving shaped the rest of his life. He was always afraid of not having enough. He taught us to work hard so that we’ll always have enough. Success meant having financial security. The problem is that this made it hard for him to really trust God to provide for us. I learned that same fear from my parents, even though they never deliberately taught us to fear not having enough, it still seems to slip into my soul when the future becomes cloudy and uncertain. My parents loved the Lord and taught to trust in Jesus for our daily needs, but there was always that tiny bit of fear inside, a fear many of us can relate to. We trust God to provide and yet find it hard to completely trust God with all our stuff. The question then becomes, “If we can’t trust Jesus to provide for our physical needs, how can we trust him then with our souls?” Now working hard is good, yet the reality is that there are people who work hard who go hungry. God fills the Scriptures with calls to be generous and bless the poor, the widow, the orphan to remind us that we are all in life together.
Most people want to be generous, they like the feeling of knowing that they’ve helped someone else, even if only in a small way. But often fear and doubt prevents us from being really generous. As Randy Alcorn writes, “Too many of us are bored with our Christian lives because we don’t see the daily opportunities for adventure granted us by our sovereign God…. One afternoon, I bought lunch for a stranger at a pizza place (I left my credit card with the cashier while I ate and told her to use it for whoever came in next). As I saw the stranger smile, this thought came to me: God has me here today, not for a random act of kindness, but to fulfill His ancient plan and purpose. He prepared in advance for me to buy lunch for this man at this place and time.” This is why we need to be wise in our giving, deliberate in planning our giving and still open to the moving of the Holy Spirit to recognize moments to be generous and bless others.
It’s wise to do most of our major giving in a thoughtful, planned way. But even unanticipated giving is not ultimately random. If you believe that God’s in control, then being somewhere at a certain time when a specific person is also there that we can bless, in a small or large way, is not random, but arranged by God. Our call is to follow Jesus, love others, serve our community and share our faith. Following Jesus and trusting him is a life changer; freeing us from fear to shape our hearts and lives around Jesus. We’re given treasure to expand the kingdom of heaven here on earth and invite others to follow Jesus with us so they can also experience the life changing freedom Jesus offers when we accept his call to follow him and trust his leading and grow our treasure in heaven instead.
Rosemary Jensen reminds us that, “Our treasures are the gifts that God has given us to use for His glory. Our treasures consist of time, talents, energy, creativity, and material wealth. Of course, all these belong to God anyway. In fact, we owe our whole lives to Him in gratitude for what He has given us in Christ Jesus.” I wonder if the best cure for boredom is one people don’t normally think about: giving more time, money, and energy to God’s Kingdom work. Something to think about this week.

Friday, 4 October 2019

1 Corinthians 12:1-31 Talents

This morning we’re looking at the second of the three Ts, talents, or gifts. Now Paul’s writing to the church in Corinth, a church that has so much going for it, but it’s also got lots of issues, like many churches today. These Corinthian churches come from all kinds of backgrounds and Paul has some good conversations with them, to teach and encourage them. The people come from different social backgrounds, some rich, some poor, some slaves, some free, a few Jewish people and a whole lot of gentiles who often looked down on the Jewish people, meaning there are insiders and outsiders in the churches. God pulls them all together in a group of churches where they meet regularly to worship God and learn more about Jesus who came to set everyone free from their sins through the cross, but who also brought the kingdom of heaven close; a kingdom different from Rome and other kingdoms. We get a glimpse of what the kingdom of heaven is like in the church. This is why Paul sometimes gets pretty hard on them, because sometimes they give the kingdom of heaven a bad name.
The kingdom of heaven is a place where everyone’s equal and respected because we’re all created in the image of God. The kingdom of heaven is a place where people are built up and encouraged, a place shaped by justice and right living with each other based on loving God and our neighbours. In our passage this morning, Paul’s talking to them about how the Holy Spirit gives us gifts to help us build healthy churches. Valerie Nicolet-Anderson writes, “Apparently, their house churches had plenty of people feeling like they brought something special to the life of the church: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues, and interpretation of tongues. Because of that diversity of gifts, there seemed to have been some talk among the Corinthians about whose gift was best.” It seems that some of the people thought they were more special than the others because of the gifts they have and the others don’t have. Even in churches, pride sometimes gets in the way of being who Jesus calls us to be.
Paul reminds them that we do life together as followers of Jesus. Jesus’ last prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane before his death was for unity among his followers, so it’s ironic that the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives us to strengthen the church actually become things that they fight about. We’re in this together, we’re given gifts for the common good, as Paul writes, to make things better for everyone, not just ourselves. Paul uses our bodies as an example of how the church works, “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.”
I love how Paul plays with this. I imagine Paul looking at his hand and then writing, “Now if a foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.” Then Paul must have been laughing when he tells us to imagine a whole body made up of eyes or ears, how ridiculous that would be. The Holy Spirit gives all different kinds of gifts because the church is made up of all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds, meaning we learn, grow and serve in all kinds of different ways.
I love reading and learn a lot from books, but I’ve also learned that if someone helps me to actually do something the first time, I learn it even better. YouTube has thousands of videos that show people how to do things since many people can’t be bothered to read instructions and because they learn better from seeing how it’s done. We have members in Bethel that are really gifted at using words to teach, others who have the wonderful gift of graphic design to create images and pictures to help us see in pictures what we’re talking about, while others are able to take the ideas and build clocks to help us think about time, or find trunks to place our gifts in this morning. Some can sing or play music to help the truth of scripture soak into our hearts during worship, while others have voices that resonate in our souls when they read the Bible, and then there are those who are prayer warriors who support the ministry of Bethel, while others create cards and write notes to encourage and bless us.
There are those who do repairs in our building, while others connect with the youth or seniors or women or men in deeper relationships as mentors and friends. Some have the gift of making money and the gift of generosity to help support the ministries of Bethel so we can work to help the kingdom of heaven grow, and then those who have the gift of organization and administration to help everything to run smoothly. Some love children and help them learn to love Jesus through their love in nursery, Sunday School, Treasure Seekers. So many gifts, many not mentioned, all given to bless each other and the ministry of Bethel church so we can grow deeper in our love and commitment to following Jesus, loving others, serving our community and learning to share our faith. One thing we need to embrace is the practice of mentoring each other in the gifts we’ve been given. Too often we do things ourselves and fail to share our gifts so others can learn how to use their gifts.
This morning we’ve commissioned a number of people to teach and lead our children and youth our faith and model how faith works in life. Each of the teachers and leaders have different gifts that they bring to the table to help our children and youth get to know Jesus better and to understand life as Jesus does. Some have the gift of wisdom or knowledge, others have the gifts of listening and compassion, some have the gifts of laughter and encouragement. All these gifts are needed for our youth and children to grow to know Jesus.
But the church is not just the youth; there are our seniors, our singles, our young families, our middle aged folk whose children are beginning to leave the nest to explore the world, and our young adults who are actively engaging a world that has changed so quickly over the past 20 years and who are equipped to navigate it and help us to see the world and its potential through their eyes and gifts. No matter who we are or what stage of life we’re in, we’re all on a journey following Jesus and we all have been given gifts to bless our church and be blessed and build the kingdom of heaven. Now some have used their gifts so much that they need time to rest and rejuvenate for a short time and be encouraged and blessed, while others have an opportunity to explore the potential of your gifts and even learn new gifts.
Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians, So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Our gifts are given to us to help us grow deeper in love for Jesus, for each other and to build our community.
The Holy Spirit’s at work in each of us and has given different gifts to each one of us. There’s no one here that doesn’t have a gift from the Holy Spirit, and these gifts should be celebrated, but more importantly, used to continue building up the church because they’re given to create unity and a healthy body of Jesus so that the world will notice and be drawn to Jesus.