The Covering That Never Fails


[Jesus said,] “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)

One of the children’s stories that I remember reading when I was young was The Emperor’s New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen. The tale describes a vain emperor who delights in wearing extravagant clothing. When two tailors offer to create for the emperor a set of clothing far more exquisite than had ever been seen before, the emperor agrees and soon begins pouring money into the project. The tailors had promised that quality of these new clothes would be so superior to normal clothes that only those who excelled in intelligence and ability would be able to see them. Of course, there were no clothes, but the emperor, the people in the royal court and the common folk of that land were all too vain or insecure (or both) to admit that. Only an innocent child had the sincere frankness to exclaim what everyone could see, “He’s not wearing any clothes!”

White Coathangers by Andrej Lisakov-541769-unsplash
Photo by Andrej Lišakov on Unsplash

You and I are like that emperor in many ways. We say and do things that we think will bring us honour, but our efforts are like “invisible clothes” that fail to impress and bring shame upon us instead of the covering of honour that we seek.

God knows our frailty and nakedness (see Rev. 3:17) and in His mercy, compassion and love for us, He offers us a different and better covering than we could ever make for ourselves.

This covering was forged in the furnace of our affliction, but not by any ordinary human being. God Himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, became fully human to suffer the guilt, shame and condemnation of the whole human race.

In exchange, God gives us a new covering. But this covering is not clothes, praise from others or social standing. The covering that God gives us is a person: His Son, Jesus.

Through faith, we are always covered by Jesus. Regardless of how discouraging or upsetting our circumstances may be, or what other people may think of or say about us, we are always covered by Jesus and His love. How far could one sink in society before they are beyond the covering of Jesus’ love? You could go all the way down and Jesus and His love would still be with you.

It is Jesus and His love that lifts us up, encourages us and gives us the honour of being a beloved, forgiven child of God. And that covering can never be taken away from us!

Dear Jesus, help me to turn away from trying to bring honour to myself. Instead, help me to rest in the covering of You and Your love. Amen.

Bible Study – Isaiah 43:16-21 – The Challenge of Change: Our Unchanging God Does New Things to Help Us


Summary: Past experiences can help us look forward the future with hope. But dwelling on the past can hinder us from following God into the new things that He will do in the future. Jesus, and the refreshment, renewal and life that He gives us, are what help us to follow Him through whatever challenge or transition the future may bring to us.

Big Idea: The new thing God did in sending Jesus to be our Savior encourages us to follow Jesus into the new things of the future.

Ice-breaker question: Would you classify yourself as someone who welcomes change or do you find change difficult? What are some possible reasons for how you feel about change?

Read: Isaiah 43:16-21

  1. As the Lord begins speaking to the people through the prophet Isaiah, He refers to something that He did in the past. What event did He refer to and why is it significant for the Israelites?
  2. Why would God’s action in the past, during a time of great challenge and transition, help the people to trust in Him more fully as they face times of challenge and transition in the future?
  3. Describe a past experience where God helped you in a significant way.
  4. How does that past action of God help you to trust Him more as you go into the future?
  5. In verse 18, God said, “Forget the former things; do not dwell in the past.” What can happen to our faith, vitality of spirit and direction in life when we dwell in the past?
  6. How is dwelling in the past different from drawing on the past to face the future with confidence?
  7. In verse 19, God said, “See, I am doing a new thing.” He then paints a word picture of streams of water bringing forth life to plants and animals in the desert, something which would have been familiar to the Israelites, who lived in an arid land. God is telling us that the new thing that He is promising to do will bring restoration, rejuvenation and life to the parched, barren lives of His people. What may have caused the lives of God’s people to become parched and barren?
  8. Have there been times when your life was parched, barren and lacking life? What might have been some contributing factors?

Read: John 4:4-14

  1. God did a new thing in the person of Jesus by coming to earth and becoming human to be our Savior and bring us into the family of God. How does Jesus refresh and renew you from within like “…a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (verse 14)?
  2. Looking again at Isaiah 43, in verses 20-21, God said that He was going “…to give drink to my people… that they may proclaim My praise.” What are some things that you want to praise God for today?

 

 

 

This Bible Study focuses on the same passage as the sermon on July 15/18 from Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC.

Golden Kernels Revealed


And [Jesus] said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Luke 9:22)

When I was young and growing up on the family farm, my Dad showed me how to take a ripe head of wheat with one hand, grind it into the palm of the other, then blow the chaff away to reveal the golden kernels of ripe wheat, which we would then eat.

Wheat by Melissa Askew-29034-unsplash
Photo by Melissa Askew on Unsplash

Every human being in this world is a mixture of good and evil. It has been that way ever since our first parent made a bargain with the evil one and gave him dominion over what God had entrusted to them. We still bear the Divine Image of our Creator, but that Image has been tarnished and our source code has been corrupted by the virus called sin.

We cannot fix or separate this messy mixture. But God can.

God the Son took on human flesh to become the one healthy wheat stalk in a field of diseased and dying stems. And then this God-human, Jesus, did something even more extraordinary. He pulled all the evil in the world onto Himself and suffered what we deserve so that His life-giving goodness could be released and spread throughout the entire world. He was ground, like a ripe head of wheat, into the palm of wicked men until there was nothing left of Him.

But, on the third day that followed, God’s goodness was available for all to see. Jesus rose from the dead and everyone who “eats” His goodness has the nutritious forgiveness and eternal life that He freely gives.

We humans tend to value and seek glory. But Jesus saved us and the whole world through weakness, suffering and shame. Are we ashamed of Jesus and the way He saved us? Do we quickly skip over His suffering to get to the glory on the other side? Or do we embrace Jesus and the way of suffering as our way in this world until God’s goodness is made complete in the new heavens and earth to come?

God is not a sadist. He does not cause our suffering. But He can use the suffering we experience to thrash the chaff out of our lives and help us to mature into golden, rich kernels that bring God’s blessings to others. All that He asks is that we embrace Him as He lovingly carries us through the fire and the darkness (cf. Isaiah 43:1-3a).

Dear Jesus, thank You for loving me and being willing to suffer so that I could have You and Your goodness in my life. Help me to hold tightly onto You as You carry me. Help me to trust that I am always safe in Your loving arms. Amen.  

Bible Study – Psalm 109 – Silly Love Songs: Our Neediness for God’s Love


Summary: Given enough time, all of us will face challenges that are beyond our ability to meet and that’s when we cry out to God for help. But God wants something more for us in life than that. He invites us to live in continual confidence of His saving love for us. That begins by being aware of our own neediness.

Big Idea: Awareness of our own neediness is the starting point for becoming confident in God’s greatness.

Ice-breaker question: How would you define confidence and why is it important?

Background: Psalm 109 is like a case someone is making before a judge as they ask for judicial action in a situation that they are facing.

Read: Psalm 109:1-5, 16-20

1.What injustice is the writer of the Psalm (the Psalmist) asking God to rectify?

2. If you are willing, describe a time when someone did an injustice to you.

Read: Psalm 109:6-15

3. What action is the Psalmist asking God to take?

4. Have you ever wished for some similar things to happen to someone who was hurting you?

Read: Psalm 109:21-31

5. The Psalmist is not only asking for God to do something to his enemy, he is also asking God to do something for him. What is the Psalmist asking God to do for him?

6. The Psalmist then make the case for why he needs to be saved. What are some of the reasons he gives?

7. If you were to make a list of all the reasons why you need God to save you, what would you put on that list?

8. In verse 26, the Psalmist appeals to a particular quality of God as he asks God to save him. To which quality of God does he appeal?

9. Which qualities of God would you appeal as you ask God to save you?

10. In verses 30-31, the Psalmist praises God in advance of his requests being fulfilled because he is confident that God—based on who He is and what He does—will fulfill his requests. How would your prayers be different if, after making your prayer requests to God, you praised Him in advance because of your confidence in Him?

11. Our ultimate reason for confidence in God’s ability to save us is Jesus. What neediness of ours did Jesus address?

12. What characteristics or actions of Jesus help us to praise Him, even in times of great challenge or need, because we are confident that He will save us?

 

This Bible Study focuses on the same passage as the sermon on July 8/18 from Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC.

True Compassion


Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left. (Luke 8:37)

This is a situation I find very curious. The people of the Gerasenes had a demon-possessed man living in their cemetery in chains and under guard and the demon’s control of the man was so great that the man tore off his clothes and was powerful enough to break his chains. And yet, at some level, the people of that region were okay with the man’s dreadful situation.

I can feel better about myself in a perverse manner when I know of someone who is worse off than me. That might help me to feel better, but I have no compassion on the one who is suffering. In fact, if they get better, I might have a problem because then I would have no one to whom I could feel superior.

Grieving by Ben White-194220-unsplash
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

The ideal to which Jesus compares all things is the fullness of life—being fully human and alive, healed and whole in all ways, living in a close personal relationship with God and with our fellow human beings—that everyone who looks to Him in faith will experience in the new heaven and earth.

Jesus’ mission is to reach down into the muck and the mire of our sin and suffering and lift us up into the ideal life which He wants to give to us. The healing that Jesus does, whether it is a healing recorded in the pages of the New Testament or a healing done in a hospital today, is always a foretaste of the ultimate healing to come. Those miraculous healings, for every healing is a miracle, are signposts from God which point us toward His Son, through whom our ultimate healing will come.

Because Jesus loves, forgives and accepts us, our dead spirit has been resurrected and healed and it already has fullness of life through Jesus.

So we can have compassion on those who suffer, not feeling sorry for them because they are worse off than us, but wanting fullness of life for them through Jesus. So we serve as Jesus’ hands and feet, lifting others out of the muck and the mire of their suffering so they can be open to Jesus.

Dear Jesus, help me to know the depths of Your compassion for me. Help me to have true compassion on those who suffer. Amen.

 

Being Open to God Working Through You


“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34)

It is easy for us to think of God as being too busy with more important matters to be involved in my insignificant life in my insignificant corner of the world. As a result, even though we go through the motions of living a cheerful, hope-filled life, underneath the surface we live a life of quiet desperation, for what hope is there that, on our own, our life will make a difference that matters? None.

In chapter 1 of Luke’s biography of Jesus, we have accounts of two surprising pregnancies. Zechariah and Elizabeth were old and infertile, but they were promised a baby boy who would prepare the way for the Messiah, God’s special representative sent to save the world. Mary, a poor teenage girl in an insignificant village in the remote region of Galilee was told that she would be the mother of the Messiah. Through miraculous means, the all-powerful God of the universe would make a temporary home in her womb and she would play a significant role in ushering God’s divine rescue into the brokenness that surrounded her.

Yes We Are Open Sign by Artem Bali-570693-unsplash
Photo by Artem Bali on Unsplash

Much has been made of the difference between how Zechariah and Mary were treated after they responded to such amazing news. Both had questions, but Zechariah was struck mute until after the birth of his son while Mary had no negative consequences at all.

The key to understanding why things happened as they did is evident in the words Zechariah and Mary used in forming their respective questions. Zechariah asked, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” Mary asked, “How will this be since I am a virgin?”

Zechariah asked for proof that would convince him what the angel Gabriel said was true. Mary believed what Gabriel said was true and was curious about how it would happen. Mary was open to the possibility of God working in and through her and Zechariah was not. So God gave him a 9 month “time-out” to think about it.

Over and over again in the Bible we see stories of God working in amazing ways through the very old, the very young, the poor, the weak, the foreigner and the outcast. But the most amazing story, and the one that runs through all the others, is the story of God Himself setting aside all the power, riches and glory of heaven to become just like you, a human being with an insignificant life in an insignificant corner of the world. And God worked through that human life of His to save the world and break down all the barriers between us and Him so all people could have a rich, full, abundant life with God. All because one poor, insignificant teenage girl said “Yes” to the possibility of God working through her.

Sometimes I wonder if there were other young women whom Gabriel approached prior to Mary, but they said, “No” to God working through them. I wonder how many there might have been. Of course, this is pure speculation on my part, but if there were any such young women, I think that they would have been filled with regret if they later found out what could have been.

I don’t want you to have regret over what could have been. The time to live a rich full life with Jesus is now. So I urge you to be open to God working in and through you. God loves you and He is constantly at work among the ordinary and insignificant. That’s were He does His best work. God can work in and through you.

Dear Lord, thank you for the way that You work through the ordinary and insignificant to accomplish great things. Help me to trust in Your love and be open to You working in and through me. Amen.

Jesus + Us = Peace


Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

God gives us a wonderful promise in this passage: we do not need to be anxious about anything, we simply bring our cares and concerns to God and He will guard our hearts and minds with His peace.

There are two key prepositions in this passage which help us to understand how this is so. The first is “with thanksgiving.” How does one bring a serious care or concern to God with thanksgiving? Some of the things that we are anxious about are very serious.

Peace by Aubin A Sadiki-347339-unsplash
Photo by Aubin A Sadiki on Unsplash

It’s faith that helps us pray with desperation and still be thankful. As overwhelming as the challenge we face is, God is greater. He holds the whole world and all time—past, present and future—in His hands. Not only is He powerful, He is also loving. We know that God is loving because God the Son came into this world and became human to suffer all the everyday challenges of human life. We have a God who knows what it is like to grieve over the loss of a loved one, to celebrate in joy with friends, to be hungry, lonely, happy and sad. But God’s love goes further than this. For Jesus willingly went to the cross to suffer and die to open the door to eternal life for us.

We always were going to live forever. But now, because Jesus has saved us, our eternal life will be spent with God. It begins now as the Holy Spirit turns our hearts and minds toward Jesus and we trust in Him to save us. It continues after death when we go to reside with Jesus in that home He has built for us to rest and wait. And life with God reaches its fulfillment in the new heaven and earth when evil is banished, death is destroyed and all things, including us, are made new again.

We can be thankful when we pray because God has already given those things to us. The troubles we experience in this world are only temporary. They are like kindergarten conundrums which prepare us for the fullness of life to come.

The second key phrase is “in Christ Jesus.” The peace that comes from knowing that we have a God who loves us, is with us and is actively at working drawing us closer and closer to the salvation He is unfolding for us and for the world. That peace guards us in Christ Jesus. The peace comes to us because of Jesus and it keeps us connected to Jesus as we rest in Him and He lives His life through us.

It is in Jesus that we have peace, joy and life, and the best place to be is in Him.

Dear Jesus, I am often anxious and worried about many things. Help me to come to You with thanksgiving for Your love. Help me to give You my cares and concerns and receive the peace that You give. Amen.