Remember Who You Are


As we begin this morning, I invite you to think about some realities about your personal life:  This is the one and only life that you are ever going to live.  Your life has a beginning and your life will have an end.  You are at some point along the timeline of your life, but you do not know how far.  You do not know when your life will end.  It could be today, next year or seventy years from now, though for some of us, because of our age, another seventy years is not likely.   Regardless of how old you are or how much life you have left to live, all of us have this present moment and all of us are faced with the essential and ultra-important question:  Who are you?  Or to put it another way, what kind of person are you in this moment?

Mirror
Mirror (Photo credit: Chapendra)

If I were to hold up a mirror before you that could reflect back to you the kind of person that you really are, and I asked you, “What do you see?”  how would you respond?  Most of you would give one of two answers, both of which are wrong.  Some of you might say, “I am basically a good person.”  Nickey Gumbel, in the Alpha video series, offers a thought experiment for those of you who believe yourselves to be good people.  Imagine for a moment, that one of these support beams was a vertical scale that was used to rate the goodness of all the people in the world.  As you go up the scale you increase in goodness and as you go down the scale you decrease in goodness.  Now I need to tell you in advance that the next four questions are not rhetorical questions for you to think about, but real questions to which I am inviting you to give a response.  Can someone give me a name of a famous person who is really good?  Where would you place that person on this scale?  Can anyone give me the name of a famous person who is really bad?  Where would you place that person on this scale?  Now I am inviting you to think about, but not answer aloud, the following question:   Where would you place yourself on this scale?  Some of us would place ourselves on the upper half of the scale.  We would acknowledge that there is some bad, but altogether, the good in our life outweighs the bad, so we would be towards the upper end of the good scale.

But here is the foundational mistake that we all tend to make.  We tend to compare ourselves to others and we say to ourselves, “Well, at least I am not as bad as that other person is, so I am basically a good person.”  But the scale of goodness is not measured by comparing ourselves to what other human beings do.  The scale of goodness is measured by perfection and all of us fall short by a long ways.  Another way to say it is this: the top of the goodness scale is not the top of that beam, the top of the goodness scale is the sky.  None of us, not even Mother Teresa is really good when measured against perfection.  The Bible tells us, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and “all” includes everybody.  As we said during our Confession of Sins, God is a holy and powerful God and sin cannot exist in his presence.

It is common in our culture for people to think and to say or imply that everyone is going to go to heaven when they die regardless of whether they believe in Jesus or not.  Let’s think about this for a moment.  Most reasonably intelligent people will admit that they have some sin in their lives.  Now imagine that you are transferred from this life into eternity just as you are.  If you go into eternity with even a little bit of sin, and that sin is spread out over the infinite future, what will you have?  You will have an infinity of sin, and another word for an infinity of sin is hell.  Measured against perfection, no human being is good enough to say “I am basically a good person.”

Others of you might respond to the question, “What do you see in the mirror?” by saying, “I am worthless.”  Maybe when you look at your life you don’t seem much in the way of accomplishments that are valued by those around you, you don’t see worthwhile talents or useful gifts, or you don’t seen an accumulation of wealth or property and so you conclude, “I am worthless.”  This too is an incorrect answer.  God knows that you are sinful and deserving of punishment and yet he says this about you in Malachi 3:17, “On the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty, “they will be my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him.”  God loves you so much that he came into this world, became a human being and lived a human life that meets the sky-high standard of perfection.  The God-human, named Jesus, then took upon himself the penalty for all the sins of the whole world.

English: The Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia ...
English: The Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River in Washington. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Imagine that you are standing in the Columbia River Valley downstream from the Grand Coulee Dam.  Now imagine that behind the dam, instead of water, is all of God’s wrath over all the sin of all humanity.  As you watch in horror, you begin to see a crack develop in the wall of the dam.  Within moments, the dam bursts and a wall of God’s wrath begins rushing towards you.  But all of a sudden, the ground opens up and swallows up all of the wrath so that none of it, not even a drop, touches you.  That is what Jesus has done for you and for all humanity.  He has stood in between us and God the Father and swallowed up all of the wrath of God through his suffering and death on the cross.  As J. D. Greear writes when he used this word-picture that I borrowed, “[Jesus] … swallowed up every ounce into Himself, so that not a drop remains for you or me.  He drank the cup of God’s wrath to its dregs, turned it over, and said, “It is finished.”[1]

Because of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven for all of your sins.  Jesus has taken away your sin and covered you with his perfection. Now, because of Jesus, you are welcomed into the presence of God.  More than that, you are given special status.  You are now children of God.  The apostle John declares this truth so beautifully in his first letter to the church.  I invite you to listen as I read it again from The Message paraphrase, starting with chapter 2, verse 28.

   And now, children, stay with Christ. Live deeply in Christ. Then we’ll be ready for him when he appears, ready to receive him with open arms, with no cause for red-faced guilt or lame excuses when he arrives.

29            Once you’re convinced that he is right and righteous, you’ll recognize that all who practice righteousness are God’s true children.

3:1           What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at

it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are. But that’s also why the world doesn’t recognize us or take us seriously, because it has no idea who he is or what he’s up to.

2 But friends, that’s exactly who we are: children of God. And that’s only the beginning. Who knows how we’ll end up! What we know is that when Christ is openly revealed, we’ll see him—and in seeing him, become like him. 3      All of us who look forward to his Coming stay ready, with the glistening purity of Jesus’ life as a model for our own.

4 All who indulge in a sinful life are dangerously lawless, for sin is a major disruption of God’s order. 5    Surely you know that Christ showed up in order to get rid of sin. There is no sin in him, and sin is not part of his program. 6    No one who lives deeply in Christ makes a practice of sin. None of those who do practice sin have taken a good look at Christ. They’ve got him all backward.

7 So, my dear children, don’t let anyone divert you from the truth. It’s the person who acts right who is right, just as we see it lived out in our righteous Messiah. 8    Those who make a practice of sin are straight from the Devil, the pioneer in the practice of sin. The Son of God entered the scene to abolish the Devil’s ways.

9 People conceived and brought into life by God don’t make a practice of sin. How could they? God’s seed is deep within them, making them who they are. It’s not in the nature of the God-begotten to practice and parade sin. 10     Here’s how you tell the difference between God’s children and the Devil’s children: The one who won’t practice righteous ways isn’t from God, nor is the one who won’t love brother or sister. A simple test.[2]

Dear friends, I urge you to stay with Christ, live deeply in Christ, abide in Christ, and continue in Christ.  Stay just as rooted and connected to Jesus Christ as the branch of a grape plant is rooted in and connected to the vine.  Let the nourishment and life of Jesus flow in you and through you and Jesus will produce fruit in your life that God will count as very good.

English: Old vine Shiraz / Lighter version Deu...
English: Old vine Shiraz / Lighter version Deutsch: 80-jährige Syrah-Rebe. Hellere Version (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So what does it mean to live deeply in Christ?  Simply this, remind yourself each day of these two truths:  First, you are a sinner so deeply infected by sin that it would take a sacrifice of infinite worth to pay the penalty for all your sin.  Second, Jesus loves you so much that he gave his own life to be that sacrifice of infinite worth so that you could have forgiveness and eternal life with him. That is what it means to stay with Christ, live deeply in Christ, abide in Christ, and continue in Christ.

Who are you?  Because of Jesus, you are a forgiven child of God.  As things are now, you don’t look any different and you may not feel any different than someone who is not a child of God. But one day, Jesus will return to this earth to set all things right.  And when that happens, your status as a child of God will be revealed for all to see.

In The Beauty and the Beast, the Beast is transformed by the love of the beautiful Belle, a transformation that is revealed outwardly when the beautiful one makes a declaration of love for the beast before time runs out on the enchanted rose.  The same will happen for us when our beautiful one returns and declares his love for us when time runs out on this broken world.  “When Christ is openly revealed, we’ll see him—and is seeing him, become like him.”  (1 John 3:2b The Message).

Remember who you are in Christ:  you are a forgiven child of God.  But also remember that you are not the only one that Jesus loves.  There are thousands of people in our area who are not children of God and are headed for an eternity where they are condemned by their own sin.   What if we made it our goal to have all the people of the Langley-Surrey-Abbotsford region be revealed as children of God at the end of time? I do not know how to make that happen.  I am not smart enough.  But I know that all things are possible with God.  And I also know that it will begin with the people of this worshiping community remembering and living out who they are in Christ:  forgiven children of God.  Amen.

(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley, BC, on August 11, 2013.)


[1] J. D. Greear, Gospel:  Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary (Nashville:  B & H Publishing, 2011), 101.

[2] Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (1 Jn 2:28–3:10). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

The Full-bodied Flavour of Easter


I really enjoy a good Chai Tea Latte.  But a while ago I bought a Chai Tea Latte from a different coffee shop than where I usually buy them.  Perhaps my drink was made by a trainee, or maybe people at that store were learning how to prepare a product that was new for them.  I hope that that is not how that coffee shop usually makes a Chai Tea Latte because it was a poor imitation of the real thing.  It was weak, watered-down and lacking in flavor.  It was called a Chai Tea Latte, but it fell far short of what a Chai Tea Latte really is.

Pirate's Green Tea Chai Latte at The Conservatory
Pirate’s Green Tea Chai Latte at The Conservatory (Photo credit: chris_frost)

I think that some of our ideas of life after death are like that Chai Tea Latte, a poor imitation of the real thing.  On the one hand, I hear grieving people comfort themselves and others with things that simply are not true, like “everyone is going to go to heaven,” “now he/she is an angel,” or “now he/she is watching over me.”

On the other hand, even when we Christians get it right, we often fall short (and I am including myself in this) in fully expressing the great and wonderful hope that we have in Jesus Christ.  We tend to emphasize a body-less existence in heaven as the end goal of life with Jesus when it is really only an interim step.  Yes, when we die our soul will be separated from our body and those who believe in Jesus will live with him in joy and peace.  But the end goal of our life with Jesus is the resurrection.

When Jesus rose from the dead he had a real, physical body, but it was a physical body that was different from the ones we have.  He somehow looked a bit different because people had trouble recognizing him at times.  He could eat, like we do, and people could touch him, but he could also appear and disappear and travel through a locked door.

When Jesus raises us from the dead, our physical body will be made new and be like Jesus’ resurrection body.  Our body and soul will be reunited and we will be fully human in a way that will be greater than we ever were before.  All of creation will be restored and “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:3b-4).

Jesus is not going to toss his Father’s creation on some cosmic trash heap.  He is coming back to make all things new and he is inviting us to play a part in the process in the meantime.  In ways that we do not fully understand, when we, as God’s people, serve to bring a measure of God’s love, redemption, justice or peace to this dying and broken world we make a difference that will show up in the new heavens and earth.

The message of Easter is much more than, as our adversaries sometimes caricature it, “pie in the sky.”  Let’s serve up for the world a venti-sized portion of the rich, creamy, full-bodied message of cosmic restoration bought and paid for by the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross.  Sometimes people don’t know that they need it or don’t want it, but the resurrection message is the only one that will fully satisfy the thirst of the human heart.

In Christ’s love, Pastor James

(This devotion was originally written for the April 2013 newsletter of Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC.)

The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller – Chp 6 – Embracing the Other


Opening Prayer

Ice Breaker

Resting in the Text:  Ephesians 5:18-33 (p. 19 of The Meaning of Marriage)

Discussion Questions:

  1. Author Kathy Keller writes, “Male and female are ‘like opposite’ to one another.  They are like two pieces of a puzzle that fit together because they are not exactly alike or randomly different, but they are differentiated such that together they can create a complete whole.  Each sex is gifted for different steps in the Great Dance” (174).  How would you describe what she means in your own words?
  2. She continues, “Genesis 3 recounts the Fall, in which both man and woman sin against God and are expelled from the Garden of Eden. We immediately see the catastrophic change in the unity between man and woman.  The air is filled with blame shifting, finger pointing, and accusation.  Rather than their Otherness becoming a source of completion, it becomes an occasion for oppression and exploitation. The woman remains dependent and desirous of her husband, but it turns into an idolatrous desire, and his protection and love become a selfish lust and exploitation” (174). How would you describe a situation where a married couple’s Otherness “…becomes an occasion for oppression and exploitation”?
  3. Have someone read Philippians 2:5-11 aloud.  How does Jesus’ submission help us to submit to the Other?
  4. On pages 175-6, Kathy describes the “dance of the Trinity” a dance that “[m]ale and female are invited to mirror and reflect…[in] loving, self-sacrificing authority and loving, courageous submission” (176).  What do you think about the dance of the Trinity?  What would it be like for a husband and wife to mirror and reflect that dance?
  5. How do Jesus’ definitions of authority and leadership differ from the world’s definitions?  What difference do Jesus’ definitions make?
  6. Kathy Keller defines the biblical role of a husband as “…that of savior, a servant-leader, who uses his authority and power to express a love that doesn’t even stop at dying for the beloved” (178).  Women, how do feel about the thought of submitting to a husband who loves you in that way?  Men, would you, with God’s help, be willing to commit to loving your wife (or future wife) in that way?
  7. Kathy Keller says that, generally speaking, men have the “sending” gift of independence and women have the “receiving” gift of interdependence (180).  What are some ways that each of these gifts is a blessing from God?  What are two ways that each of these gifts can be turned into sin?
  8. Embracing the Other sometimes means more than embracing someone who is different.  In the midst of conflict rooted in gender differences, it can mean embracing qualities in the Other that make no sense to us and then we attribute a moral quality to those traits (i.e. they are wrong and bad) (182-3).  In situations like this how does Christ’s embrace of us sinners help us embrace the Other?
  9. Kathy tells us, “Only try this at home or within the community of believers, the church.  It is only safe for us sinners to attempt to rescue our royal heritage and our creation gifts of gender roles where resources such as repentance and forgiveness can be (and very often will need to be) accessed” (185).  What do you think of complementary gender roles?  What are your thoughts about Kathy’s position that they should be applied only in the church or at home?
  10. What are the benefits of complementary gender roles in a marriage?

As the discussion time comes to a close, have someone read aloud the paragraph that begins on the bottom of page 189 with, “Remember, this person is utterly unlike you…”

Closing Prayer Time

The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller – Chp 7 – Singleness and Marriage


Opening Prayer

Ice Breaker

Resting in the Text:  Ephesians 5:18-33 (p. 19 of The Meaning of Marriage)

 Discussion Questions:

  1. Early in this chapter, Timothy Keller writes, “…single people cannot live their lives well as singles without a balanced, informed view of marriage” (192).   What results if a single person does not have a “balanced informed view of marriage”?
  2. Explain the meaning of the concept “overlap of the ages” (193). What are the implications of the “overlap of the ages” for our lives in general and marriage in particular?
  3. How does “[t]he Christian gospel and hope of the future kingdom… [de-idolize] marriage” (195)?
  4. What are some ways that the western church communicates the misguided view that single adults are somehow less than married adults (196-7)?
  5. How is human marriage a foreshadowing of the “…Real Marriage that our souls need and the Real Family our hearts were made for” (197-8)?
  6. How can “Gospel beliefs and experience” help us to have a deeper bond with the brothers and sisters in Christ in our faith community than with our family of origin (199-201)?
  7.  Why do Christians see singleness as good (201)?  Why do we also consider seeking marriage to also be good?
  8. What practical advice does Timothy Keller give to those who are seeking marriage (207- 217)?

As the discussion time comes to a close, read aloud the last two paragraphs on the chapter, beginning in the middle of page 217 with, “In fact, I would suggest something further….”

Closing Prayer Time

The Source of True Abundance


We are continuing our study of the Gospel of Luke and today we are looking at Luke 9:10-17 and an event called the Feeding of the 5,000.  This is the only miracle of Jesus that is recorded by all four Gospel writers:  Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  It takes place in the region of Galilee, an area which is in the northern part of the present-day nation of Israel.  

Just prior to this event, Jesus had sent out his twelve main followers with his power and authority to preach about the kingdom of God, to drive demons out of people and to heal the sick.  The word “apostle” means “one sent with authority” and so these twelve men acted on Jesus’ behalf as his representatives, just like an ambassador is sent with the authority of his or her government to act that country’s representative in the country where they are posted.  Now those twelve apostles are back and they excitedly tell Jesus about all the wonderful things that happened as they served as his ambassadors.

Jesus wanted to spend some time with the Twelve to help them process what had happened, so they went to a remote area near a town called Bethsaida. Continue reading “The Source of True Abundance”

Suffering


“We will never have the easy, unhesitating love of God that makes obedience to Jesus our natural response unless we are absolutely sure that it is good for us to be, and to be who we are.  This means we must have no doubt that the path appointed for us by when and where and to whom we were born is good, and that nothing irredeemable has happened to us or can happen to us on our way to our destiny in God’s full world….  It is confidence in the invariably overriding intention of God for our good, with respect to all the evil and suffering that may befall us on life’s journey, that secures us in peace and joy. We must be sure of that intention if we are to be free and able, like Joseph, to simply do what we know to be right.”[1]  (emphasis added in the Ogne & Roehl quote)


[1] From Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, 337-38 quoted in Ogne, Steve & Tim Roehl, TransforMissional Coaching:  Empowering Leaders in a Changing Ministry World (Nashville:  B & H Publishing, 2008), 182

“Counterfeit Gods” by Tim Keller – Epilogue: Finding and Replacing Your Idols


Opening Prayer

Focus How is it different to serve someone out of a sense of necessity than to serve someone out of love?

Info – John Newton

John Newton was born in Wapping, London, in 1725, the son of John Newton Sr., a shipmaster in the Mediterranean service, and Elizabeth Newton (née Seatclife), a Nonconformist Christian. His mother died of tuberculosis in July, 1732, about two weeks before his seventh birthday.[1] Newton spent two years at boarding school. At age eleven he went to sea with his father. Newton sailed six voyages before his father retired in 1742. Newton’s father made plans for him to work at a sugar plantation in Jamaica. Instead, Newton signed on with a merchant ship sailing to the Mediterranean Sea.

In 1743, while on the way to visit some friends, Newton was captured and pressed into naval service by the Royal Navy. He became a midshipman aboard HMS Harwich. At one point, Newton attempted to desert and was punished in front of the crew of 350. Stripped to the waist, tied to the grating, he received a flogging of twelve lashes, and was reduced to the rank of a common seaman.  Following that disgrace and humiliation, Newton initially contemplated suicide. He recovered, both physically and mentally. Later, while Harwich was on route to India, he transferred to Pegasus, a slave ship bound for West Africa. The ship carried goods to Africa, and traded them for slaves to be shipped to England and other countries.

Newton was a continual problem for crew of Pegasus. They left him in West Africa with Amos Clowe, a slave dealer. Clowe took Newton to the coast, and gave him to his wife Princess Peye, an African duchess. Newton was abused and mistreated along with her other slaves. It was this period that Newton later remembered as the time he was “once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in West Africa.”

Early in 1748 he was rescued by a sea captain who had been asked by Newton’s father to search for him.  He sailed back to England in 1748 aboard the merchant ship Greyhound, which was carrying beeswax and dyer’s wood. During this voyage, he experienced a spiritual conversion. The ship encountered a severe storm off the coast of Donegal and almost sank. Newton awoke in the middle of the night and finally called out to God as the ship filled with water. It was this experience which he later marked as the beginnings of his conversion to evangelical Christianity. As the ship sailed home, Newton began to read the Bible and other religious literature. By the time he reached Britain, he had accepted the doctrines of Evangelical Christianity. The date was March 10, 1748, an anniversary he marked for the rest of his life. From that point on, he avoided profanity, gambling, and drinking. Although he continued to work in the slave trade, he had gained a considerable amount of sympathy for the slaves. He later said that his true conversion did not happen until some time later: “I cannot consider myself to have been a believer in the full sense of the word, until a considerable time afterwards.”[3]

Newton returned to Liverpool, England and, partly due to the influence of his father’s friend Joseph Manesty, obtained a position as first mate aboard the slave ship Brownlow, bound for the West Indies via the coast of Guinea. During the first leg of this voyage, while in west Africa (1748–49), Newton acknowledged the inadequacy of his spiritual life. While he was sick with a fever, he professed his full belief in Christ and asked God to take control of his destiny. He later said that this experience was his true conversion and the turning point in his spiritual life. He claimed it was the first time he felt totally at peace with God.[1]

Connect

  1. The author says, “… idolatry is always the reason we ever do anything wrong.”  Do you think that he is correct?  Why or why not?
  2. For us to turn away from our idols, we need to see not only our personal idols, but also the idols of our culture which we tend to blindly accept as our own.  What can we do to help us recognize our personal idols?  Timothy Killer lists 4 things (pp. 168-170):
    1. _____________________________________________
    2. _____________________________________________
    3. _____________________________________________
    4. _____________________________________________
  3. According to Timothy Keller, what else is needed in addition to “repenting that you have an idol, or using willpower to try to live differently” (p, 171-2)?
  4. “In fear-based repentance, we don’t learn to _________  _______   __________ for itself, and it doesn’t lost its _________________________  ____________________.  When we rejoice over God’s sacrificial, suffering love for us—seeing what it cost him to save us from sin—we learn to _________  _______   __________ for what it is.  Fear-based repentance makes us hate ________________.  Joy-based repentance makes us hate _______  ________.” (p. 172)
  5. “Rejoicing in Christ is also crucial because idols are almost always __________ things.  If we have made idols out of work and family, we do not want to stop loving our work and our family.  Rather, we want to _________  ___________ so much more that we are not ________________ by our attachments.” (p.173)
  6. What spiritual disciplines help you put the gospel “on video” for yourself? (p. 175)

Vision

  1. What have you learned from studying this book that you can take and apply to your life both now and in the future?

Summary

Closing Prayer

[1] “John Newton,” Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia (Internet; available at:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Newton; accessed 15 Dec 2010).