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Thursday, 13 February 2020

Mark 5:21-43 Face to Face with Jesus

What did you like about Tamara’s story? What helps her deal with her sickness? How is Tamara’s journey with cancer different from those who have cancer but don’t know Jesus?
In our story of Jesus this morning, Jesus is by the Sea of Galilee where he’s been teaching the people all about who God is and what the kingdom of heaven is all about. Jesus is doing this because he cares so much about the people and he wants them to know how much God loves them and how he wants them to live together so everyone will want to know who God is when they see how they live together.
Jesus had been on the other side of the sea, but crossed over because the people there were scared of him after he healed a man filled with evil spirits. But a whole crowd of people follows Jesus to learn more about God and see Jesus do more miracles. In the crowd is an important man named Jairus, whose young daughter’s really sick. Jairus comes up to Jesus and pleads with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” Many of you know what it’s like being sick and to go through times of suffering. One important lesson I’ve learned is that Jesus meets us during those times; he comes close to us so that we can feel his presence. Jesus loves us deeply and cares when we’re suffering. This is why Jesus goes with Jairus to see his sick dying daughter.
As Jesus goes with Jairus, there are people crowded all around them, getting in the way, bumping each other and even Jesus. Remember, everybody wants to be close to Jesus and hear about God and the kingdom of heaven and maybe even see Jesus do more miracles. In the crowd is a woman who has been sick for twelve years. During that time, she spent all her money going to doctors, trying medicines and hoping the doctors will heal her, but nothing helped and now she has no money left. Her only hope is a miracle and Jesus can do miracles; he’s healed so many people already, maybe he can heal her too.
She quietly moves through the crowd, getting closer and closer to Jesus, thinking to herself, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” I can only imagine how scared she must be and yet at the same time, holding with all her might onto the hope that Jesus can heal her. Suddenly, Jesus is right there in front of her and she quickly reaches out and touches his robe. Right away the woman feels Jesus’ power flow into her body and she knows instantly that she’s healed! Can you imagine how she feels, being healed after twelve years of being sick. Hallelujah!
Then Jesus stops and turns around, asking, “Who touched my clothes?” Jesus felt power leaving him and he’s wondering who it was that had such faith that when they touched him, they were immediately healed. We know it’s the woman who just got healed, and we also know now that it’s Jesus’ power that healed her. Can you imagine how scared the woman is as she realizes that Jesus is looking for her. The woman knows that she has to tell Jesus what has happened. She comes and falls at Jesus’ feet and, trembling with fear, tells him the whole truth. She knows she received Jesus’ healing power without his permission and she’s scared that Jesus might take it away again.
But remember who Jesus is. He’s the Son of God who has come to bring healing and hope into the world. The greatest healing Jesus brings is healing from our sin. God created us to have a relationship with him; he created us very good. There was no sickness or disease or sin, but Adam and Eve decided they wanted to do things their own way and be like God. But instead their choice, and so often our own choices brought sin, disease and even death into the world. Jesus comes to bring healing, healing from our sin when he goes to the cross and takes our sin there and takes the punishment for our sin on himself. He dies, but three days later, to show the world that he has the power to defeat sin and death, rises from the grave. Jesus is the one who is life and gives life brings healing and hope.
Jesus also came to show us what the kingdom of heaven is like, a place where there is healing of our bodies, minds and souls. Jesus can easily heal the woman’s sickness and does so because he cares and he’s able to. We’re now called to bring the news of hope and healing into the whole world, beginning right here, that Jesus loves us and can heal us from whatever makes us sick, whether in our bodies, our minds or our souls. Jesus turns with love to the woman and I can see him taking her face in his hands and looking her straight in the eyes, face to face, tells her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
Then a messenger comes from Jairus’ home with the horrible news that his daughter has died. Jesus simply tells Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” What I love about Friendship group is how you hear these words of Jesus and really live them out. Jesus keeps on going to Jairus’ house and when he gets there, he goes to the daughter’s room where she’s lying on her bed. Jesus takes her by the hand and says, “Little girl, I say to you get up!” Right away she gets up out of bed and begins to walk around! We see that Jesus can not only heal, but that he has power even over death! Jesus is Lord over everything as he later on rises from the dead himself to show he’s Lord even over death. Both Jairus and the sick woman come to Jesus because they trust that he can change their lives. This is why we come to Jesus too, for healing, hope and life change, for forgiveness, grace and acceptance.
The hard question is, “Why do some people get healed and I don’t?” What we do know is that Jesus can change our lives even if we aren’t given the healing we’re asking for. Jesus hears our prayers and has compassion for us and loves us deeply. When we hurt, Jesus weeps for us and with us. Jesus is also there to comfort us and hold us safe. Jesus is with us in our suffering and pain; he’s there to comfort and hold us safe. The last words Jesus gives us before he went back to heaven are,All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
We don’t know why Jesus heals some of us, but not all of us. We do know that God wants all his children healed and that when Jesus returns there will be no more sickness, disease or death, that our bodies, minds and souls will be made new again. We know that it’s not because our faith is weak that we’re not healed, even the Apostle Paul, one of the great heroes of the faith was given a thorn in his flesh that was never taken away. As Tamara Jolee said, because Jesus is with us, we can surrender to Jesus no matter what happens, he will give you the strength you need, and through you, in how you live out your faith, you show us how faithful Jesus is and how much he loves us, as we see your faith and trust in Jesus.

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

Jeremiah 29:10-14 Hi God, It’s Me

Do you like talking with your dads? How about hanging out with them. One of my favourite memories with my dad is fishing with him. He told us stories of his family and what it was like growing up.
Today’s Cadet Sunday. We get to see what Cadets is about and what you’re doing and learning this year. I love that you’re learning about talking to God. What a great theme verse this year that tells us that God wants us to talk to him; to say, “Hi God, it’s me, I’m here.” Jeremiah says it this way, “Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.” We talked about praying here in Bethel a few weeks ago, and now we get to talk about it again. Thanks, because prayer’s really important.
One of the cool things I’ve discovered over the years is that God wants us to come to him to talk and trust that he listens when we talk. Jesus even tells us that we can call God “father” when we talk to him. Jesus uses the word “Abba” which can be father, but it’s more like calling God “dad” or “daddy.” The apostle Paul says the same thing in Romans 8, The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” Whenever I called my dad “Father” he knew I wanted something from him, because usually I just called him “dad.” Jesus tells us we can call God, “Daddy,” too to show him that our hearts love him like a daddy.
Your dads love you a lot, I know that because I’m a dad too, and a grand-dad. Even though we love you, sometimes we get tired, busy, distracted, or even grumpy and then when you come to us to talk, we might tell you to come back later. My dad’s pretty great, but when I was growing up, he was always busy. For a while he even worked 3 jobs at the same time so that we could go to the Christian school and camp for a couple of weeks in the summer. He loves us, that’s why he worked so hard, but he was usually too busy or tired to play with us, or even hang out with us very often. That’s the difference with God; he’s never too busy or tired to hang out with us. Fathers, heads-up, I’ve learned, mostly through messing up, that our sons, and our daughters, really just want us and need us to be available to them, they need and want you, not just the stuff you give them.
Jesus shows us God’s heart for children when he takes time to take children on his lap and bless them. The disciples saw them as just a nuisance and tried to shoo them away. Jesus tells his disciples, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” This would have been shocking to the adults hanging around Jesus because children were to be seen and not heard, and if they are seen, they’re supposed to be in the background so the adults could have the best spots. Jesus says, “No, the children are just as important as the adults and I’m taking time for them and blessing them.” Jesus also tells everybody in Matthew 18, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” You’re important to God, he even tells adults to be more like you because of how you just trust God and Jesus and how you freely love with all your hearts, something we sometimes forget as adults.
But sometimes it still feels like God’s far away and not listening, but that doesn’t mean it’s true. That’s how the people are feeling though in our Bible passage this morning. The people of Israel are far away from home. They’ve been beat up and defeated by their enemies and taken to a foreign land where they’re now slaves. All this had happened because God has allowed it because Israel had stopped listening to God, praying to God and obeying God. God had told them to take care of each other, to help each other out, especially the poor, the widows, and the orphans; all people who couldn’t take care of themselves. But the people of Israel had become greedy and selfish, only taking care of themselves and sometimes even taking away what little the poor, widow or orphans had, making them even worse off. So, God allowed the king of Babylon to defeat his people and take them far away from home.
Sometimes when our dads punish us, we feel like they don’t love us and that’s not true, same thing with God. Just because God allows his people to be punished, he still loves them because they’re his children. So God gets the prophet Jeremiah to send them a letter that tells them that God hasn’t forgotten them and that he’s going to bring them back home again. God has plans for his people, plans to save them, but also plans to save the whole world from their sins.  This happens when Jesus comes and invites people to trust and love God as their father. Jesus also goes to the cross to save us from our sins and he rises from the grave to show us that we’ll have eternal life through him and with him. Jesus now calls us to love other people like he does and to tell others how much God loves them and wants them to be his children too.
Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.” God wants us to know that he’s paying attention to what’s going on in your life at school, at cadets, at church, at home and wherever you are. No matter where you are, God’s listening, all he wants from you and all of us is for us to stop during our day to talk with him about what’s going on. He’s interested in your math test, your recess time, your chores and play time at home. He’s listening for when you ask for help and when you stop to say, “Hey God, what a wonderful day today, thanks!” Just like your dad asks you, “How did school go today,” God asks you the same kinds of questions because he wants to know from you how things are going.
If there’s something you feel you really need, Jesus tells us to ask him. What can you ask for? God told King Solomon in a dream, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” You know what Solomon asked for; he asked for wisdom. Jesus makes the same promise to us in Mark 11, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Just a heads-up though, God wants us to ask him for things that will help us be the people God wants us to be. God is not a store keeper who will give you all the toys and stuff you want, he’s all about the kind of man you’re becoming. Your counsellors have the same heart for you, that’s why they’re here, because they want to help you become a young man who loves and follows Jesus.  
What I love about praying is that it makes me feel like God is close by. My dad’s far away and when I used to talk to him on the phone, we felt close again. Praying does the same thing for me when I pray. But praying does take work and practice, it doesn’t just happen. Nancy Caparulo reminds us of this, “To know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. Be filled with all the fullness of God. These are - or should be - very humbling prospects. We humans don't get there by accident. We must persevere. Practice does make perfect. Ovid observed centuries ago that "nothing is stronger than habit." … It doesn't just mysteriously happen.
Ask your mom and dad to help you pray, maybe by doing the prayer at supper, or praying with you at bedtime, or maybe in the car while going to school or practice. Try finding a time every day where you can talk to God your father. I usually pray while I’m walking my dog Bellah early in the mornings, I pray with Real at bedtime so that he’s learning about talking to God. In the morning I ask God what he’s got for me for the day and I talk to him about the things going on in my family and in the church family because God likes hearing from us what’s happening. The more I pray, the better I’m getting at staying focused on God and talking to him and the more connected I feel to my heavenly father. That’s my prayer for you today.

Thursday, 30 January 2020

John 13:1-17 Discipline of Service

Service is often the favourite spiritual discipline for many followers of Jesus, especially in our Reformed tradition. Our Reformed faith works at instilling a lifestyle of gratitude in each person which often leads to a spirit of service. If we’re honest with ourselves, serving is one of the ways we try to make God happy so that he’ll kind of over look some of the bad things we do. We are a church of doers: Circle of Friends, Friendship, Youth ministries, children ministries, Christmas dinner, Mexico mission trip, volunteering at various thrift stores, volunteering at school, various ministry leadership teams, and much more. The youth ministry has also added service to help our youth connect faith and service as part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
Serving makes us feel good. When we help someone, they thank us. When we go away to serve, like in Mexico, we meet new people, experience a new culture and it’s warm! When we serve, we often get to see the results right away. When we harvested a lady’s garden in Clive, we could see how much we accomplished and we got cookies and lemonade. When you serve at Circle of Friends, you see the people enjoy the food and fellowship, in Mexico you see a house built.
But we often have a harder time with unseen, un-thanked service, or the yucky jobs. A woman who worked as a janitor in a senior care home mentioned how people often don’t even see her, taking the hard work she does for granted. She felt as if she was considered less because of the kind of work she did. As anyone who has looked for volunteers can vouch for, it’s easier to find someone to serve soup than to clean toilets or wipe up vomit from the carpet. Jesus knows this. It’s meal time; the Passover meal, and Jesus and his disciples are gathered around the table. They all know their feet need to be washed because they stink since their feet are all close to each other’s faces as they recline at the table. Problem was that no one’s willing to take up the towel and basin and starting washing the other guys’ feet, that’s way too nasty and only the lowest servant does that job. Remember that they’ve just been arguing about who’s the greatest, no one’s arguing to be the lowest in the kingdom.
Quietly Jesus gets up and grabs the towel and basin and begins washing his disciples’ feet, turning their world upside down. Jesus knows who he is as he washes their feet; he’s the Son of God, King of kings, saviour of the world, but he as reminds his disciples in Mark 10, he came to serve, not to be served. You may think that washing feet is nasty, but Jesus serves us in an even greater and harder way when he goes to the cross to wash away our sin, bring us new life, and take away our guilt to bring us freedom from sin and death. In bringing us new life, he also brings in a new world order where the last shall be first, the weak are strong, where the one who is the greatest is a humble servant.
The discipline of service is about countering our pride; about cultivating humility; leading us out of our self-centered selfish lives into lives shaped by humble service that blesses others. Serving reminds us that our lives are not our own, but belong to our faithful saviour Jesus Christ and that he has prepared good works for us to do. Serving helps shape us to be more like Jesus. As Paul writes, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility values others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: … taking on the very nature of a servant.” Jesus tells his disciples, “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” We’re called to be foot washers; offering our lives, gifts, and resources in service to Jesus.
Service is a way of living. As Richard Foster writes, there’s a difference in “choosing to serve and choosing to be a servant.” When we choose to serve, we’re in charge and we choose when and how we want to serve. Service becomes a discipline when we serve in Jesus’ time instead of our time. A servant’s not in charge, he gives up the right to whom we will serve and when we will serve. It’s easy doing things we’re good at and things we like doing. The harder service is doing things we don’t like or want to do. We’re not always called to easy service; often we’re called to harder service in things we don’t like or with hard people or for hard people. How we do the work reveals our heart’s orientation: towards God or towards ourselves. Do you serve hoping to be noticed, or grudgingly, or do you serve joyfully, thankful that you’re able to help someone else, able to be a blessing in a small or big way? 
Service to be service must take form and shape in the world in which we live, according to Foster. Develop eyes that see the opportunities to serve, especially in our community and neighbourhoods. The question is: will we serve or ignore the opportunities; do we wait until it’s convenient? Small acts of service like holding doors, helping someone with a flat tire, picking something up that someone dropped, speaking well of others, shoveling the walkway for your neighbour before you head off to work, and other small acts of service, especially ones that are unseen contribute to “a sense of a deeper love and compassion among people though they cannot account for the feeling,” according to Foster. In one church where I was serving, a man had an embarrassing accident during the service, one that was quickly apparent to everyone there. Another man in the congregation quietly took him to the bathroom and cleaned him up. Most people never knew of his humble service, but it reminded me of Jesus taking on the nasty jobs quietly and calling us to quiet humble service.
We often get blinders on when it comes to serving, often not seeing the opportunities to serve our community and neighbourhoods. Many of you are busy; your days are filled with running here to there; we’ve scheduled our days so full that you believe that you can’t serve more. I’m not asking you to serve more, sometimes I’ll even advise you to serve less because many times our reasons for serving are based on guilt or obligation rather than a desire to serve. Sometimes we’ve scheduled too much in church that we make it almost impossible for you to serve because we want give everyone what they want instead of what they need.
The discipline of service comes in many shapes. In Peter, we see the importance of the service of being served. We cannot save ourselves from our sin, we need Jesus’ service on the cross and in the empty grave to wash us clean. For others to serve, sometimes we need to allow them to serve us. Often, we don’t want to be served because of a sense of veiled pride. While going to seminary, there was Joyce and 5 kids. I hated needing to ask for help and then one wise couple came to us and asked us to let them help us because they felt God desired this. It’s my pride that stood in the way. I needed to learn to serve by allowing them to serve us. There’s the service of hospitality, opening our homes and table to guests and visitors. Peter in his first letter calls us to, “Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another.” Paul also says if you want to be a bishop in the church, you need to practice hospitality. Hospitality connects us to the generous heart of God who pours out his blessings to his people.
There’s the service of common courtesy, the service of kindness and interest in others, taking time with them and for them. Paul tells Titus to “be gentle and show perfect courtesy toward all people.” We can serve by helping each other bearing their burdens, coming alongside each other in difficult times, and then there’s the service of sharing the Word with each other. This actually starts in the church, sharing God’s word with each other, what we’re learning, sharing words of scripture as encouragement, support and building each other up.
Like all spiritual disciplines, service is meant to help us become more like Jesus, in this case by working on humility and focusing on those around us instead of ourselves. In doing so, we also help create healthier, happier communities that look more like the kingdom of heaven.

Friday, 24 January 2020

Matthew 4:1-11 Discipline of Solitude

The discipline of solitude scares a lot of people. Many of us are not used to being alone with only ourselves or our thoughts as company. Social media is always just a fingertip away. One of the things I’ve noticed over the past 10 years is that there are more people struggling with loneliness, even though they have 600 friends on Facebook, or talk until 2 am on Snapchat. Lots of us have a lot of acquaintances, but few or no close friends; people we can safely share our deepest thoughts, dreams, or fears with.
Sadly, many of us have been hurt or betrayed by others after sharing private stuff because we trusted them. I’ve walked alongside young girls who were pressured to share themselves with boyfriends and then got hurt deeply when their private stuff got shared with others. Others have been bullied and abused, often online where it’s more hidden, leading to loneliness and even depression. Solitude is then unwelcome, unwanted. They simply want someone who understands, who cares. They don’t know if they can ever trust again, yet still want someone to be close to. Close relationships, trusting relationships are built through spending time together, by being together with each other regularly and often to learn trust, even with God.
Richard Foster, Henri Nouwen and other writers on soul care teach that, “Jesus calls us from loneliness to solitude, that our fear of being alone… drives us to noise and crowds.” They describe loneliness as inner emptiness and solitude as inner fulfillment. This inner fulfillment comes from a deeper relationship with God that comes from spending time in quietness and solitude in order to listen to God. This is why God calls us in Psalm 46 to “Be still and know that I am God.” We get it, when we meet someone we like and want to get to know better, we don’t go to noisy clubs with music pounding and vibrating through our bodies, we find quieter places where we can talk and learn more about each other. Maybe my age is showing here.
Jesus practiced solitude on a regular basis during his time here on earth. Our passage this morning is simply one of the many times the Bible tells us about Jesus heading into the wilderness or other quiet places in order to find a time to be alone with God and listen to his Father’s guidance. The Holman Bible Dictionary tells us that, “People in biblical times mostly feared the desert as a place inhabited by beasts of prey, snakes, and scorpions even demons to which one might drive out the scapegoat. So it was appropriate as a place for Jesus’ temptation.” In our story this morning, Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit right after his baptism by his cousin John into the wilderness to be tested. The wilderness in Jewish thought is connected with the 40 years of wandering after their miraculous escape from Egypt. Whenever they told the story of how God saved them from Egypt, they called the dessert “the great and terrible wilderness.” In the wilderness, God provided manna, quail, and water from the rock. He led them in the wilderness, protected them, and gave them his law so they would know how to be his people. But the wilderness is also connected to rebellion against God.
For Jesus, the wilderness becomes a place of testing. Jesus represents Israel going into the wilderness to meet God, to be shaped by God, to learn obedience, as Luke mentions in his gospel. In the wilderness there’s silence from the noisiness of people, there’s silence to listen to God and hear him, time to study God and his Word in his creation to know God better, a place where life slows down from its busyness. The wilderness is where you go to be changed and shaped by God. God invites us into the wilderness through the prophets. Jeremiah 2, Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem: “This is what the Lord says: “‘I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the wilderness, through a land not sown. Israel was holy to the Lord, the first fruits of his harvest; all who devoured her were held guilty, and disaster overtook them,’” declares the Lord.” The wilderness is where Israel learns trust, learns of God’s love for them.
For Jesus, it’s 40 days to fill his mind with his Father’s Word so that when the testing comes, he’s prepared. Testing comes for all of us. The word here in the Bible can be translated as either tested or tempted; it often feels the same. These are the times where we find out how deep our faith has settled into our hearts and minds; how much we’re allowing the Holy Spirit to shape us into who God is calling us to be. The times of testing show us how much we trust God. When the first time of testing happened in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, they chose to trust the serpent and follow their own desires, trusting that they knew better than God what was best for them. It’s the same for us.
Jesus came to be tested. He shows us how to trust God’s plan for our lives by filling ourselves with his words. Jesus is tempted by Satan to take other paths to do God’s plan, but they all call Jesus to set aside his trust in the Father, to trust words other than God’s words as the best way. In his time of solitude in the wilderness, Jesus prepared for this by filling his mind and souls with God’s words, building his trust and faith through filling himself with his Father’s words and will. Jesus is shaped by solitude; by seeking God’s presence in the quiet places of the wilderness. Jesus trusts his Father all the way to the cross, trusts the Father’s way to deal with our sin and make us right with God again is the best way.
Temptation and testing are always just around the next corner. Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, is tempted to turn and take another path, but in trust and faith tells his Father, “Not my will, but your will be done.” Jesus takes the path to the cross and is raised up three days after his death to show that sin and death are overcome. We’re saved to do good works prepared for us to do to show our gratitude to God. We’re being renewed by the Holy Spirit to be like Jesus. The Holy Spirit reminds us of Jesus’ words so we will trust Jesus who gives us strength to go through the times of testing. Satan acknowledges Jesus as the Son of God; Jesus shows himself as the Son of God through his response and faithfulness to his father in spite of the temptations. His time in the wilderness prepared him well to respond to Satan and reject him.    
Solitude offers the opportunity for study and reflection, for prayer and times of simply being in the presence of God, being aware of who God is and who we are as his children. But solitude is a discipline, it takes hard work to take the time to be silent, to be alone. Yet we don’t need to find a cabin in the mountains or a monastery to practice the discipline of solitude. The corner of a coffeeshop where no one knows you, spending time walking on the walking trails, even setting aside a place in your house where you can be alone for a bit. If your house is crowded, setting aside a chair where, whoever is sitting in it must be left alone for 10 minutes so they can pray or simply be still. If you are able to actually take a day to get away with your Bible, perhaps a devotional book, for artists, getting away with paint and brush, with a camera, or pencil and paper to listen and respond to God’s moving in your life is a blessing that will strengthen you for times of temptation and testing. Keeping a journal of what comes to you helps you to continue to reflect on where you see God at work in your life and around you.
Solitude gives us space and time to examine our character and who we are and then invite the Holy Spirit in to help us change to be more like Jesus. It gives us an opportunity to reorient ourselves to Jesus. It helps us with setting goals for the future, whether short or long term. Richard Foster puts it this way, “God delights in showing us exciting new alternatives for the future. Perhaps as you enter into a listening silence the joyful impression to learn how to weave or how to make pottery emerges. Does that sound too earthy, too unspiritual a goal? God is intently interested in such matters.”
Solitude helps us in our relationships as we come away more attuned to Jesus and his compassion, drawing us to others, helping us to be more than we are now. Solitude helps us be more aware of God’s presence, teaching us to trust God’s way for us.

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Acts 17:10-12; Philippians 4:8-9 Discipline of Study

Following Jesus is all about being constantly transformed more and more into the image of Jesus. We never reach an age where this isn’t true. My Beppe told me just before I was ordained to not let the seniors off the hook when it comes to being challenged on their relationship with Jesus and growing closer to him. We’re never finished in our lifetime working on transforming our minds and hearts to be more like Jesus. She confessed that at the age of 93, she was still working on patience, forgiveness and trust in God, especially when it came to her children and grandchildren’s relationships with Jesus.
Last week we reflected on prayer and how prayer is the key spiritual discipline that draws us close to Jesus and the Father through the Holy Spirit. This morning we’re taking a look at the spiritual discipline of study. The discipline of study is one of the main ways that God uses to transform our minds; how the Holy Spirit works to replace our old ways of thinking and living with new life-giving habits and ways of living. We come to Scripture with the expectation of being transformed by the Holy Spirit as we study who God is, his relationship with us and his call on our lives.
Studying Scripture fills us with hope as we study the lives of God’s people in the past and see how God never gives up on them and how they were transformed by God; sometimes in spite of themselves. We find that we can forgive ourselves because Jesus already has. We discover that situations can change, people can change, our lives can change as our stories change as they are shaped by Scripture. As one blogger writes, “Turn the pages of His Word and your life can turn around.”
Scripture is where we go to make sure that the teaching we hear is true. When Paul flees from Thessalonica, he ends up in the town of Berea. As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.” One of the things I appreciate about being your pastor, is how a number of you are willing to talk with me about what I preach from the pulpit or teach in a class and challenge me on what I’ve said or how I’ve said it. You hold the teaching and preaching I give up to the light of Scripture to make sure that it’s true. It reassures me that you’re engaged in the discipline of study, that you want to be shaped by God’s Word first, just as the Bereans did.
We see from the Bereans that studying is different than the devotional reading that most of us do. Reading the Bible devotionally is a good thing, but often our devotional reading is based more on feeling, a quick pick me up, or a quick word of guidance for the day. Richard Foster describes the discipline of study as “a specific kind of experience in which through careful attention to reality the mind is enabled to move in a certain direction.” Study is meant to direct us repeatedly and regularly to how we think about God and the relationships we’re part of. What we study shapes our thinking, how we live and what we really believe. Our thinking shapes our doing and our character.
What we study forms our habits, the things we do automatically, often without even thinking. This can be anything from how we respond when we’re tired or angry, or how we react to stress or temptation. We can respond or react in healthy strong ways, or in selfish damaging ways. This is why we listen to Paul when he writes, Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Paul calls us to think about, or reflect deeply on what shapes us to be more like Jesus.
Richard Foster identifies 4 steps when we study of Scripture: repetition, concentration, comprehension, and reflection. Repetition helps to settle scripture deep into us. Reading through a book or a series of stories in a book multiple times helps us better see how God is at work. The more we read through the book or stories, the more they become part of us and shape our behaviour and thought patterns. The second step is concentration. As you read through the book or stories a number of times and concentrate on what you are studying, your ability to learn from what you’re reading increases greatly. Pay attention to phrases, repeated words, movements in the stories or passage, and to where and how God appears. For those of you who are older, talk to a high school or university student about how they study and they will tell you that reading things over and over again, and concentrating on what they are reading is how they learn things well so that it stays with them longer than simply a day.
Comprehension is the next step. There is a difference in knowing something and actually understanding what we’re studying. Comprehension focuses on the knowledge of the truth that’s in what we’re studying. We search for truth so that we know who we are, why the world is the way it is, and who God is. When we study Scripture, we discover Jesus who calls himself, I am the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6) and he offers this word of hope in John 8, “If you hold to my teaching, you really are my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” What is this truth that will set us free and what are we set free from? We discover that this world was made good by God and that sin enters in and twists the good when humanity chose themselves as gods instead. The brokenness in the world is the result of choices we make to make ourselves gods.
But God doesn’t up on us. He promises a savior, Jesus who is God, who comes to lead us back to God our Father. Jesus gives us a glimpse of what the kingdom of heaven is like, a place where the blind see, the lame walk, the sick are healed, and shalom fills the land, and sin has been paid for by Jesus on the cross as our perfect substitute. Jesus rises from the grave as a sign to us that sin and death are defeated and that we’re guaranteed eternal life in the kingdom of heaven. This sets us free from worry, anxiety and fear because we know that we are children of God and held in the palm of God’s all-powerful hand. We’re able to go through life with confidence, knowing that we’re never alone and that no matter what’s happening, Jesus is always with us through his Spirit. When we put into practice what we learn, we experience God's presence and peace and begin to understand who we are, who we belong to, and who we’re called to be as followers of Jesus. Our identity gets rooted in Jesus rather than our fleeting accomplishments, looks, wealth, position or any other identities that keep changing and disappointing us.
With God's words in our ears, we take the last step in studying: we reflect on what we have learned through our study and allow God to set the pace of our life, guide the course and the speed we travel through life. Study without reflection, without letting what we study actually shape and guide our lives, carries little worth. I have friends who are intelligent and know the Bible better than I do and yet they don’t believe, they don’t allow the Bible to shape their lives and hearts. The Bible to them is only a piece of ancient literature. They also live without hope beyond this life; their foundation in life keeps shifting. One of them wrote in an email a few weeks ago that he’s tired of always having to change what he believes about social issues just because society keeps shifting.
As followers of Jesus, we study the Bible because, as Ann Voskamp writes, God is the steady, the consistent, the voice at the ear who shows how to take the next step, and the next step after thatI don’t have to keep up to anyone else — I simply have to keep company with God. I simply have to keep close to Him.” Study helps us stay close to God and become more like Jesus.

Thursday, 9 January 2020

Luke 11:1-13 Discipline of Prayer

Sam closed his eyes as the elder began to pray with him. It went well the first 10 seconds or so and then he remembered that his wife had called to bring home milk and bread, which reminded him of breakfast, which reminded him of lunch and that his boss needed that report done by 4. Sam’s mind then drifted to how sunny it was today and that he should invite friends over for a bbq tonight, but I need propane. Suddenly Sam heard “Amen,” and the prayer was done.
Being a follower of Jesus is a life long journey of change, of committing ourselves to becoming more and more like Jesus, of being part of God’s work in transforming our communities to be more like the kingdom of heaven. To become such a follower of Jesus, the church developed what we call the spiritual disciplines. The reality of life is that we don’t automatically become better followers of Jesus without working at it. I look at our youth who play volleyball and basketball and I see the dedication and practice they put into it to become better players because they know it doesn’t just happen, they need to work at it, some more than others, but they all need to work at the practices and drills in order to play on the team. The Christian life isn’t any different, if we really want Jesus to use us to help make our world better, we need to work at being true followers of Jesus. In prayer we tell God, “Change me, your will be done, not mine.”
Prayer is all about communicating with God. It’s both talking and listening; though, if we’re honest, most of our prayers are mostly one way, and even then, many times prayer is more daydreaming and following rabbit trails in your mind than a focused conversation. This is why it’s healthy and wise to approach prayer as a discipline. Praying well is something we can learn. This is why the disciples asked Jesus to teach them. Scott Hoezee writes, “Jesus prayed all the time to the extent that the disciples finally just had to know how to do that themselves. All of which leads to an important point when it comes to preaching on Luke 11: often we think that what the disciples asked for were the words to say when praying. But in reality, what the disciples wanted was not a litany of key phrases or a checklist of prayer items. What they were inquiring after was how they could, in imitation of their Master, turn the entirety of their lives into an extended act of prayer, the same as they observed was the case for Jesus himself.”
Prayer’s not about the right words said in the right way, it’s about where you focus your heart; towards God. Prayers don’t need to be filled with beautiful words and lovely phrases; they simply need to be real. Some of the best conversations I’ve had with my dad were hard awkward conversations, but life changing. Jesus said a number of times to use plain talk, simply say what’s on your mind and in your heart. Jesus taught us to come to God as a child comes to her father with openness, honesty and trust. The reason God answers prayer is because his children ask.
Henri Nouwen writes, “Praying is living.” It’s not something that’s just done before meals, bedtime or in church. It’s paying attention to God by listening and watching throughout the whole day. We listen for God’s take on the world, looking at ourselves and others through his eyes. We ask God what he’s doing and how he wants us to join him in the work. In prayer, God invites us to join him in what he’s doing in the world and do things his way; in ways that bless us and others. As we practice the discipline of prayer more, we see more clearly what God’s will is. We learn how to pray and grow in love of God and others. God uses prayer to change us. We begin to see people and life differently the more we pray; we begin to see people and situations through the eyes and heart of Jesus.
Jesus teaches us to ask boldly. In the Lord’s Prayer, the requests “hallowed be”, “give us” and “forgive us” are all commands; more than simple requests, but strong expectations based on our relationship with God. Jesus encourages us, If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” The ultimate gift, the best thing God gives us is his Holy Spirit, there’s a trust needed that God gives us what we need and is best for us, even if it doesn’t feel like at the time. Prayer’s not just about asking, but about asking well and wisely. James tells us, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
Jesus tells us in John 14, “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” Did you hear that, when we come to God in prayer, you can ask for anything when your goal is to “glorify the Father through the Son.” It’s all about God, not us. Before I left for sea, my dad took me aside and said, “Son, I can’t give you anything because we don’t have much, but I have given you an honourable name, make sure you keep it that way for your kids one day.” This is something like what Jesus is getting at. This is why prayer needs to be closely connected to studying Scripture, since the better we know God, the more it shapes our prayer life so that glorifies the Father through the Son.
The story about the “friend at midnight” reminds us that prayer pops up all the time. Prayer doesn’t wait for convenient times and places, and prayer isn’t always polite. Life is too bumpy and unpredictable to only pray at mealtime and bedtime. Prayer’s at the heart of the relationship between us and our father. As parents know, a son or daughter who asks for something to eat is unlikely to ask just once. Our daughter Melissa is learning that kids have this annoying need to eat all the time! And as most moms can tell you, the repetition of “Mom, mom, mom,” sometimes causes even good parents throw up their hands, throw a cookie at their kid, saying, “There! Eat it! You happy now?!” as one writer comments, “Thankfully, Jesus tells us that our Father in heaven holds things together way better than we do as parents or grandparents and responds graciously with what we need.”
It’s important to believe that our prayers are heard and that God responds; that prayer changes things. We misapply the Bible’s teaching that God is unchanging; he’s unchanging in his character, but willingly and lovingly responds to his people’s prayers. Abraham negotiates with God over Sodom and Gomorrah, Moses changes God’s mind over killing all the Israelites and starting over again with him, Hezekiah gets 15 years added to his life; these are just some of the times talking with God changed God’s mind. Who God is, never changes; his plan and will don’t change and yet God responds to our requests because he’s a Father, our Father. We often think that what we pray for is the important thing. In reality, Jesus is more interested in the non-stop nature of prayer and its longing to stay connected to our Father, who alone gives us all good things.
When you read the gospels, you find that most of Jesus’ prayers are for others and come out of his compassion for them. The more we know Jesus, the more we love him and our neighbours, and the more powerful our prayers become as they get rooted in Jesus’ will and desires. The most important part of praying is starting. Start small, pray for the person in the car in front of you at a stop sign. Pray for the person ahead of you in grocery line, or Tim’s drive through, or the cashier, or your farm worker when they drive up, and simply pray something like this, “Lord bless them today and let them experience your presence.” When your eyes open in the morning, start the day by praying, “Lord, use me to be a blessing today.”
Richard Foster writes, “We must never wait until we feel like praying before we pray for others. Prayer is like any other work; we may not feel like working, but once we have been at it for a bit, we begin to feel like working… in the same way, our prayer muscles need to be limbered up a bit and once the blood flow of intercession begins, we will find that we feel like praying.” May prayer become part of who you are and your relationship with God.

Friday, 3 January 2020

Romans 12 Being the Body of Christ Together

It’s hard to believe that we’re at the beginning of 2020 already. In many ways 2019 seemed to fly by and yet others have said that it seemed to go so slowly, often because they were facing some difficult times. When things are hard, time seems to slow down, while when things are going well, time feels as if it speeds up, yet the important thing to remember is that whether time is flying by or dragging its feet, God is with us through it all, guiding, encouraging, comforting us and giving us wisdom when we remember to ask Him for it. It’s good to reflect back to see God’s hand working through the different events in our lives this past year. It gives us hope and strength as we begin 2020.
We have no idea what lies ahead of us, either as individuals or as a church, but we do know that God is with us, which is what we have just celebrated in Christmas. New Year’s Day is a good time to renew our walk with God and to make those resolutions everyone else makes, but to make ours within our relationship with God. This is what Romans 12 helps us do, to look at who we are and then seeing who God has created us to be and then say to God today, “This is who I want to be, and with the work of the Holy Spirit in me, this is who I will work to become this year 2020.”
Paul begins this section by calling us to make our day to day lives an act of worship, giving each day and each moment over to God for Him to shape and use. “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.” Worship is so much more than what we do here in this sanctuary, deep worship is taking what happens here and taking it out into the rest of the world as a witness to who we are as God’s children and pointing people to God through our lives of worship focused on developing the mind of God within us.
The starting place in transforming our minds is by filling our minds with God’s Word and connecting with God regularly in prayer. Bill Hybels wrote a book, “Too Busy Not to Pray,” saying that the busier our lives become, the more important it is to take the time with God so that in our busyness we make wise choices and decisions, building the ability to “test and approve what God’s will is.” Peter uses the imagery of eating to explain this, “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” We taste God through his Word and in prayer; it begins by coming together to pray and then we’re shaped even more in our personal time with God. Peter tells us in 1 Peter 1 that the angels long to look into these things. The word Peter uses is translated in other places as lust, the angels lust to look into the things of God in his Word. They have an intense desire, even after thousands and millions of years to know God more. The more we fill our minds with God’s Word, the more we too will long to know God more because this is how God has created us, with a God sized hole in our souls that can only be filled by Him.
Paul moves on to humility, stressing the importance of having a servant heart and approach to life, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought... so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” We live in a culture of self esteem; we focus a great deal on making sure that we believe we’re all OK and no one is less than anyone else. Jesus and Paul tell us that we need to first think of ourselves as servants, as less than others. This is where the transforming of our mind needs to start; we need to stop thinking that everything is about us and sincerely believe that everything is about Jesus. We cannot transform our minds without his help through his Spirit. Jesus taught and lived in a spirit of humility, coming to serve instead of being served. Imagine a world where people looked to serve others instead of always trying to get things their way; it would be a kinder world filled with much more peace.
This moves us straight into Paul’s next point; to use the gifts God has given us to serve. Paul goes through a whole list of gifts, these are not all the gifts, but a sampling of the types of gifts God gives us to develop and use to build up the church and her people. Some of the gifts are to help us know God better such as prophesying and teaching, some to help such as serving and giving, some to bless such as encouragement and mercy and some to take on extra responsibility such as leading the people. Each gift is shaped by the individual it’s given to so that it may look quite different from one person to the next, but they’re there and meant to be used to bless others. Some encourage through the ability to see discouragement in others and reach out with a hug and words of hope and unity, others are able to find words to build up and encouragement by recognising and speaking the blessing the other person is. Some of you have the call to fight for justice, to get involved in making our communities better places, some are called to use their artistic gifts to bring joy and beauty and often help bring awareness to different needs. Whatever your gifts; God wants to use them to make this world a better place. 
These gifts are given to us by God and to use them, we need to allow his Spirit to grow them in us. This is not something passive, we engage in developing our gifts by allowing the Spirit to guide us into wise ways of using what we have and who we are to bless others. The more you use your gifts, the stronger they grow. This is why Jesus gave us his Spirit; so seek out the Spirit’s wisdom and guidance this year as you commit to using the gifts you’ve been given. If you’re not sure what your gifts are, we can help you discover them and encourage you to develop them with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Finally, we move into the attitude we’re called to develop in our walk with God and each other, the call to love. Jesus shows us his love by going to the cross where he takes our sins and washes us clean, what a great way to begin a new year, knowing that we are washed clean from our sin! When we love as God loves us, we look out for each other, wanting everyone else to experience God’s blessings through us. There’s a whole lot of ways Paul lists here to live out love to each other, ways to live with each other well. We often read over these lists really quickly because we always figure they’re for other people and not for us. After-all, we’re basically nice people, but as we read through these slowly, we all have places where we need to grow in how we think, talk, and live with each other. In 2020 make it your resolution to love more, to forgive more quickly, and to become people of grace.
We cannot change who we are on our own; we need Jesus’ help through the gift of his Spirit in us. We tend to embrace whatever makes us the centre of our world and puts everyone else slightly, or not so slightly, under us. We look to make our own world better instead of working to make the world around us better. God works in us to change this, changing us into people who love others first and God above all. God invites us to come close and gives us his Spirit to make it happen. This year open your hearts to God’s Spirit and his call to come to him and be changed. You’ll be changed in ways you never expected and you’ll never regret committing yourself to becoming a deeper follower of Jesus and child of God by becoming more like Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit.