The Source of All Love


So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11 MSG)

What does it take for love to flourish? It takes love. But where does love come from? To be more specific, where is the initial source of love that starts the whole process of love flowing from one person to another? That initial source can only be God.

Love Grafitti by Renee Fisher-494610-unsplash
Photo by Renee Fisher on Unsplash

But does God really love? This is the defining question of humanity’s quest for meaning, purpose and understanding in this world. How does one answer such a question? What evidence does one allow and what criteria are used for measuring that evidence?

Natural knowledge tells us that something amazing must have happened to generate all the wondrous complexity and beauty that we see in nature around us. And human beings tend to root their reason for being in the stories or theories that they believe explain how all we see came to be. But when the revealed knowledge of the Bible is disallowed as evidence, humans invariably end up in one of two camps. Either they worship an indifferent god who demands to be pleased, or they believe that mechanistic, material forces are the foundation of all existence and action, and that makes love impossible.

As followers of Jesus, we are a strange people, for we accept as valid evidence an ancient book written by various authors over a span of 1500 years. The Bible is unique when compared to all other ancient manuscripts for it stands up, in an exemplary manner, to the scientific scrutiny of textual criticism.  But the greatest feature of the Bible is the story it contains of a God who stands apart from all other gods, for this God is love. The God of the Bible is a three-in-one God in whom perfect, self-giving, sacrificial love has always existed and will always exist. God created the world, but not so more beings could love Him, for He has no need for our love. God created the world so that there could be more love.

One often overlooked characteristic of love is that you make yourself vulnerable to having your heart broken when you love. Loving someone else includes the possibility that they could reject you and there would be nothing that you could do about it. It’s the price one pays to love.

To make it possible for love to abound, God set things up in such a way that we could reject Him, and all of us have done that in one way or another. Speaking figuratively, we could say that all of us have broken God’s heart. But God’s love is not dependent on us accepting Him. Because He loves us, God the Father sent His Son, Jesus, to save us from our hardheartedness, turn us around and bring us back to the source of all love: God.

As we rest in God’s love, He works in us to help us live a lover’s life… and love will flourish.

Dear Jesus, shine the light of your love on the hard, wayward parts of my heart. Fill me with your love so that I may better love You and others. Amen.

The Path to Heart Health: Investing in Treasure in Heaven


Worry seems so natural to human life that we think that it is a natural and okay for a Christian to worry too. But it is not. Jesus makes that very clear in Matthew 6:25 when He said, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life.” When Jesus tells us not to do something and we do it anyway, that is called sin. So worry is a sin. And the reason that worry is a sin is because it is the opposite of faith. Faith says, “God can.” Worry says, “God cannot.”

Worry leads us to some very dark places. Sometimes worry says, “God cannot, therefore I must” which means that we are putting ourselves in the place of God, and that is not a good thing. Other times, Worry says, “God cannot, therefore things are hopeless” which means that we have closed ourselves off from the possibility of God bringing anything good into our lives from the challenge that we face. That’s called despair and that is not a good thing either.

Worry by Cristian Newman-67308-unsplash
Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

Now God is not limited by our lack of faith. He can and will bring good things out of the challenges people face whether they believe that He will or not. But when we worry, we lose the joy of anticipating what God is going to do in our lives. We lose the blessedness of being aware that we are being carried along by God even in the midst of the trouble we face. And we cannot experience the fullness of the new life that Jesus gives us if we are going to hang on to our worry habit.

If ever there was a time when Jesus would have been justified in worrying it would have been when He was in the Garden of Gethsemane. This happened right after the Last Supper and just before Jesus is betrayed by Judas. Jesus knew that He was going to have to suffer greatly so He went with His band of followers to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Matthew records this for us in chapter 26 of his Gospel, starting at verse 36:

36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

43 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. 44 So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.

45 Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

47 While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. (Matthew 26:36-47)

Let’s think about Jesus’ state of mind for a moment. Was He afraid? Absolutely. Was He filled with dread? Most certainly. Jesus described His own state of mind by saying, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” (v. 38). But was Jesus worried? I don’t think so. I say that on the basis of Jesus’ own words when He prayed to His heavenly Father, “Yet, not as I will, but as you will.” (v. 39) Jesus was not worried because He placed His life in His Father’s hands and trusted that somehow, someway, His Father would bring about His best for Him.

And here was God the Father’s best for His Son, Jesus: Within moments, Jesus was betrayed by one of His own followers and arrested. He was beaten and mistreated by His own people, by the leaders of His own faith. He was turned over to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, who had Jesus brutally flogged and then condemned Him to be taken outside of the city walls, stripped naked and nailed to a cross to suffer and die. While Jesus hung there in excruciating pain, people who passed by mocked him and hurled insults at him. Even when He died, Jesus could not be left alone, for a soldier plunged a spear into His side just to make sure that He was really dead. As nightfall approached, Jesus’ body was taken down from the cross and hurriedly placed in a nearby tomb so as not to defile the Sabbath Day which was about to begin.

Now if the story had ended right at this point, we would think that God the Father was a monster for allowing such things to happen to His Son. But that is not the end of the story. For on the third day that followed, Jesus walked out of that tomb fully alive and fully human.

And because Jesus did that, everyone who believes in Him has forgiveness of all their sins and a new life with Him that will last forever. And everyone who looks to Jesus also has the sure and certain promise that this earth, with all of the evil that it contains, will pass away. And Jesus will bring into being a new heaven and earth in which there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away (Rev. 21:4). And you will have a new body that will never get sick, never grow old and never die. You will see Jesus face to face and He will wipe every tear from your eyes. And now, billions of people are part of God’s family. And that all happened because Jesus placed His life and all that He had in His Father’s hands and God the Father gave Jesus His best.

So how can we live a worry-free life? First of all, we release every part of our life in this world into God’s care. That includes our own lives, the lives of all of our loved ones, all of our activities and possessions and all of our time: past, present and future. We give it all to God and we let Him take care of all those things.

Second, we trust. We trust that God will take care of those things in the way that He knows is best. Our trust is not a blind trust. We put those things into God’s hands and we trust that He will take care of them because we know God’s Love, Wisdom and Ability.

We know God’s Love. As valuable as all those people and things are to us, they are more valuable to God. God loves our life more than we love ourselves. Our loved ones are loved by God more than we ever could love them. Our possessions were made by God and our abilities came from God, so we know that He cares about all those things. Therefore, we release all of those people and things into God’s loving care, knowing that He loves them with infinite love.

We know God’s Wisdom. God’s wisdom and knowledge is infinite, therefore we trust that He will know what is best for all of our earthly people and possessions.

We know God’s Ability. God’s power and ability are infinite, so God not only knows what is the wisest and most loving thing to do, He is also able to make it happen. And God has promised us that He will indeed bring to fulfillment the wisest and most loving result for our lives on the Day of Resurrection. For a time, in this life, we have to suffer. But later, God’s best for us will come and it will all be a beautiful, sweet gift to us from Jesus. As Paul writes in Romans 8:18: I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)

We release and we trust and then, third, we refocus. We ask God to help us to love what is in heaven more than we love what is on earth. So what is there in heaven to love? God. God is in heaven and God is the reason that we love heaven. We also love heaven because of the things that are in heaven. In Heaven, there is perfect peace, perfect justice, perfect life and perfect love. All the things that we long for here on earth already exist in heaven, so we learn to love what is in heaven. And we fill our minds with thoughts of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We reflect on God’s actions: what He has done for us in the past, is doing for us in the present, and will do for us in the future. We reflect on His qualities and characteristics, for example, His love, His wisdom and His perfection. And as we do that, as we re-focus on God, our love for Him will grow so that we not only love God, we adore Him.

As our love for God grows, then we will also begin to see our life in this world in a different light. It will seem to us as though this world is a garden and our time here is a season like Spring. And God has put us in this world to be His gardeners where we plant the seeds of God’s Word and we nurture any new seedlings of faith in Jesus that germinate and grow. And that work of sowing and nurturing is very, very important because we are planting and nurturing for a future harvest that is going to happen in the life to come.

When we see our life in this world for what it really is, then we invest in storing up treasure in heaven, we invest in sharing this Good News about Jesus and we do that because we love what is going to result in heaven.

And that treasure in heaven in which we invest is not personal benefit or reward. The treasure that we seek to store up in heaven is people: People who know Jesus and trust in Him, people who will be in heaven because of Jesus, people who will get to enjoy resurrection life in the new heaven and earth to come because of Jesus.

And here is the thing about investing in treasure in heaven. Whatever treasure you have in heaven is safe and secure. The people that you love who died believing in Jesus can never be taken away from you. Jesus is keeping them alive and safe in His loving arms. And, one day, Jesus is going to invite you to put your hand in His and He will lead you through death’s dark door into the brilliant light of heaven. And Jesus is going to say to you, “Come over here. There is someone who has been looking forward to seeing you again.” And there your loved ones will be. Amen.

(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC on February 28, 2018 and it is based on Mt. 6:19-27.)

The Stages of Faith: Jesus is Worthy of Our Trust


Years ago Susan and I we were able to purchase and develop an acreage near Olds, Alberta. And if any of you have ever done anything like this before, you know that there is a multi-stage process to doing something like this. In our project, We first had to acquire the land, then we bought an old farm house that needed to be moved, then we obtained the permits that we needed to move that house, we had to have services (like power, natural gas and telephone installed), we had to have a well drilled, the wooden basement had to be built, the house had to be moved, the addition that we planned had to be built, and so on and so on, and so on.

Level by Michal Jarmoluk
Photo by Michal Jarmoluk

Now what I am telling you is partially a confession because what happened is, after we were able to move in and we had a roof over our heads, the project stalled. I got busy with other things and I never completed the final stages of the project until just before we moved to Saskatoon so I could go back to school to become a pastor. And this is a pattern with me. Because even in the house that we live in now there are some renovation projects that are not complete.

And the development of a human soul is like the development of a property. Just as you develop a property by building a structure on it, so also a human soul is developed by building in faith in it. There are stages along the way as we grow in faith and all of us tend to stall out at some point. And the stage where we stall out in our faith is the point where we become comfortable. Whatever faith stage we are at, that stage seems to work for us, so we just stay in that stage. Unless something happens, either outside of us or inside of us, we won’t tend to grow in our faith beyond where we need to, and then because our faith doesn’t grow, our soul doesn’t grow, and we fall short in becoming the person we could be.

My goal today, whether you are here for the first time or you have been part of this church for some time, is to encourage you to grow in your faith in Jesus. Because Jesus is God and you were made by God to have a relationship with him. There is a God-sized hole inside each and every human being and only God can truly fill that hole and help us to blossom and grow into the fullness of who we can be. And the key thing to remember is that Jesus is worthy of your trust.

Let’s begin with some basic information about faith. First, we need to define faith. And the definition that I am putting before you is that Faith is trust. When we have faith in someone or something, we trust that they are reliable, that they are truthful, and that they are trustworthy.  Second, Faith always has an object. Faith is trusting in someone or something. Our default position is to trust in ourselves, but we also trust in other things, too. We trust that the TV will turn on when we press the power button on the remote control. We trust that water will come out of the faucet when we open the tap. We trust that the sun will come up each morning. Some mornings more than others. So we can say that we have faith in all these things. A third thing about faith is that it is initially based on a promise. When we make an appointment to meet someone at a coffee shop for coffee, there is a promise made and we trust that the other person will keep that promise. A fourth aspect about faith is that it is eventually confirmed by evidence. In the beginning we trust in our friend to show up at that coffee shop at the agreed upon time, but that faith is confirmed by evidence when they actually do show up. And the more times that our faith is someone is confirmed, the stronger our faith grows in them.  With this basic information about faith, we can say that everyone has faith, we only differ in the object and the stage of our faith. Even an ardent atheist has faith, but their faith has a different object that that of a Christian. Perhaps they would say they trust in science while a Christian would say that they trust in Jesus.

There is a scene in the movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” that illustrates what faith is. Indy has to get the Holy Grail to save his father, and to get to the location of the Grail he has to cross a deep chasm.

Indy trusted in the promise given by the diagram in his father’s notebook that showed that it was possible to cross the chasm and his faith grew when it was confirmed by the evidence of the bridge supported him when he stepped out over the chasm. (To see this video clip, click here.)

So let’s consider the stages of faith as we look at the biblical account of Jesus healing a royal official’s son which is found in John 4:43-54.

This royal official served under Herod Antipas, one of the sons of Herod the Great. We don’t know if the official was Roman or Jewish, but regardless of his religious or ethnic background, he was in trouble. His young son was dying and there was nothing that he could do to help him. Somehow, this official had heard of Jesus and, in desperation, he traveled the 32 km from Capernaum to Cana to see Jesus and begged him, again and again, to come and heal his son.

This royal official had what we might call Crisis faith. We are facing a crisis in our lives and the things that we usually trust in are of no help to us. In desperation, we search for something, anything, that will help us in our dilemma. It is during a crisis that our faith shifts and grows. As I mentioned earlier, we get comfortable in our faith because it works for us It is usually not until our faith quits working for us that we reach out and try a new object of faith or we trust our existing object of faith more.

And it is during Crisis Faith that the object of our faith becomes very important. From the best historical evidence that is available, one can say that only Jesus has died and risen from the dead. So when Jesus tells us that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life, that is a promise that we can trust in the middle of any crisis we face.

For Jesus is not like all the other promise makers. Of all the founders of the great religions of the world, only Jesus’ tomb is empty. His followers were willing to die trusting in Jesus because they knew that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead was an actual event. Why would they die for something that they knew was a lie? Why would the Gospel writers record women as the first witnesses of the resurrection, when women were not even allowed to give testimony in a court at that time, unless it really happened that way? Why didn’t the enemies of Jesus simply end the whole charade right at the beginning by going to the tomb where Jesus was laid and parading his dead body through the streets to show that he didn’t really rise from the dead, unless that dead body was alive and walking around appearing to people for a few weeks? Jesus is the only One who can really help people when they are facing a crisis that involves death. This is why God has given this, all Christian churches, the mission of leading people into a growing relationship with Jesus. And because we want to reach people who do not go to church, then we need to be a church that unchurched people love to attend.

We go back to the biblical account and pick things up at verse 49:  “Sir,” replied the official, “come with me before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live!” The man believed Jesus’ words and went. (John 4:49-50)

Here we have what we could call Confident Faith. The royal official has stopped begging, he simply accepts what Jesus says and returns home. But why does he do that? It is because there is something about Jesus and his words that are different from when anyone else communicates with us. When Jesus gives us a promise, he somehow also gives us the faith to trust in that promise. That is what happened with this royal official.

We continue with verse 51: On his way home his servants met him with the news, “Your boy is going to live!” He asked them what time it was when his son got better, and they answered, “It was one o’clock yesterday afternoon when the fever left him.” Then the father remembered that it was at that very hour when Jesus had told him, “Your son will live.” (John 4:51-53a)

Now the royal official had Confirmed Faith. He had evidence that Jesus keeps his promises because his son, who was dying, is now on the road to wholeness and health. And that Confirmed faith very quickly becomes Contagious Faith as this man shares with his family what Jesus did and said to him and they too believe in Jesus.

So which stage of faith are you in? Maybe you do not believe in Jesus. That’s okay. We hope that you feel like this is a place where you feel welcomed and supported and encouraged. And if you want to have a conversation about faith, give a note to one of the others and I or someone else will contact you. Maybe you are in the midst of Crisis Faith and, if you are, let us know, because there are people here who are willing to walk with you through that crisis. Perhaps you are walking in Confident Faith because somehow, someway, you simply believe the promise that Jesus has given to us. That’s great and we want to encourage you to keep walking in that Confident Faith. Or maybe Jesus has intervened in your life in a way that has given you Confirmed Faith. That’s fantastic because now you have a story that you can share with others when the time is right. Or God has spilled so much joy in your life that you cannot help but have Contagious Faith. If that is the case, that’s great because our church needs people that are willing to invest in leading other people into a closer relationship with Jesus.

But regardless of the object or the stage of your faith, I invite you to think about this question: When things go wrong in your life, what do you say to yourself? What is the key theme of your inner dialogue with yourself? I don’t know about you, but I know that there have been long seasons in my life where I say derogatory, harsh things to myself that I would never speak to another living person. And my life was shaky house of cards as a result. It might have looked good from the outside, but the smallest tremor would have brought the whole thing down around my ears. So why do we condemn ourselves when Jesus doesn’t even do that? John 3:17 tells us, For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17)

So here is another question for you to consider: What would Jesus say to you? I can tell you. Jesus would say this to you: “I love you, I am always with you and you are forever safe with me.” So here is my challenge to you: Tell yourself what Jesus would say to you. Tell yourself that Jesus loves you, that Jesus is with you and you are forever safe with Jesus. And if you do this, it will change your life. Because Jesus is worthy of your trust. Amen.

(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC on January 7, 2018.)

 

The Key to Peace: Living on the Solid Ground of God’s Love


For the Mighty One is holy,
and he has done great things for me.
He shows mercy from generation to generation
to all who fear him.
His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
He has brought down princes from their thrones
and exalted the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away with empty hands. (Luke 1:49-53 NLT)
    

Many years ago, there was a king who loved his people. Because he loved his people, he Roadbuilt a road through his kingdom. The road ran from the highlands in the north to a major seaport in the south. And the purpose of the road was to give the people an opportunity to prosper. With a secure, safe, all-weather road, the people of the land could travel to sell the vegetables, wool and livestock that they produced and to provide specialized services like shoe-making and cabinet making in far off places.

However, once the road was built, very few people travelled upon it because there were no places along the way for travelers to stop for the night and replenish for the journey. This was the time before trucks, buses and cars and only the wealthy had horses, so most people walked.

So that more people could use the road, the king invited his subjects to volunteer to build a roadhouse every 15 miles along the road. The king specified that at each location a tower should be built so that members of the king’s army could watch the road and make sure that travellers would be safe. Each location would also have an inn and each builder would serve as the innkeeper providing free food and lodging for the travellers that passed his or her way. The king would provide all of the materials for the tower and the inn. He would also provide the land where each tower and inn would be located and he would also give additional land to raise the food needed for the travellers. All each builder had to provide was their willingness to build and to serve.

Now this was a problem in that day and age because the society of that time had very clear layers. Those with wealth or large holdings of land or sought-after skills like being able to chase a hard rubber disk over a frozen pond were the people that others looked up to and envied. But at the very bottom of that society’s staircase were those who worked with their hands, common labourers like builders and servants. So the number of volunteers was less than half what was needed to build a tower and inn every 15 miles along the road. The king decided to work with the willing and begin with the volunteers that he had.

There was one volunteer who looked like a perfect candidate for the position. His name was Bert. Bert’s father was a carpenter and Bart had apprenticed under his father while growing up. Bert’s mother managed a small inn and so he was familiar with what it took to care for travelers who were hot, dusty, hungry and thirsty after a long day’s travel on the road. So without hesitation, the king picked a spot for Bert to build a tower and an inn.

Bert’s tower went up very quickly. But the design departed in some significant ways from the king’s specifications. Bert built an extra story onto his tower and that extra story was made into extravagant living quarters for his family. When the tower was complete Bert quickly moved his family into the penthouse suite that he built for them. The view up there was amazing. But those living quarters required more of building materials that the king had supplied which left fewer left over for the inn. So the inn ended up being a drafty shack that let the heat out and let the dust in. It took a long time to climb up and down the stairs each time a guest arrived, so Bert made the inn into a self-serve location where people checked themselves in and checked themselves out. The food was the same thing every day, a foul-smelling pot of mutton stew left to cook over an open hearth. Because no one tended it, sometimes the meat in the stew was raw, other times it was burnt to charcoal-tasting mess. Those travellers who dared to stay at Bert’s location only did it once and never again.

Word got back to the king about what was happening at Bert’s roadhouse. The king was very displeased with this servant-builder and so he asked Bert to come to his castle one day and explain why he did what he did.

“Why dear king, don’t you know?” Bert replied. “I do what I do because I need to take care of myself and my family. I know that I am on my own in this world. I cannot trust you to take care of me. You have other things to look after in your kingdom and you needn’t be bothered with looking after me. Those travellers will be just fine. I have set things up so that they will have a place to stay as you wish. You do not need to worry about me, dear king.”

The king responded, “But I am worried about you. You don’t seem to understand that the purpose of this road is to bless the people and the purpose of the roadhouses is to help people to use the road. Your purpose is to serve the people on the road not yourself. I love my people and I love you dear Bert. But you cannot see that I love you because you do not believe that I love you. And because you do not believe that you are loved, then you fail to love others. I promised that I would provide you with what you needed to serve others, and you took what I gave you and used it to serve yourself. It is time for you to go back to your father’s home until you are able to learn that the essence of building and serving is love.” So Bert and his family went back to his father’s home where they lived in a little hut out back. And the king sent his men to tear down Bert’s tower and the rickety shack of an inn. And then the king asked someone else to come and build and serve in Bert’s place.

Among all the people who volunteered to build and serve on behalf of the king, there was one with a very unusual background. His name was Brett. Brett’s father was one of the wealthiest men in the kingdom. As a young child, Brett had played in the royal nursery with the king’s own son, the crown prince. Brett was educated by some of the finest tutors in the land and he was trained in all the skills of being a knight, for his father had hoped that he would be a commander in the king’s royal army. To continue in that direction would have been an easy thing for Brett to do, but he chose another path. Brett  loved the king and he loved the king’s family. He loved the crown prince like he was his own brother. And Brett knew how important this road was to the king’s heart. The king had built that road at a great cost to himself because he wanted to bless his people, but that road would only be a blessing if the people used it.  And building a roadhouse would help the people to use the king’s road.

So Brett stepped away from his wealth, his position and his inheritance and he volunteered to be a builder and an inn keeper for the king. The king questioned Brett and asked if he was certain about his choice, for he was stepping away from much worldly wealth. And the young man nodded and with a smile on his face said, “Yes, I am certain.”

So the king set before the young man a map and designated the location where he would build. The young man was very determined to serve his king well, so he made sure that both the tower and the inn were well-constructed. He served his guests well, making sure that they had the best rooms and the best food, while he lived in a small hut in the back. The king noticed how Brett was building and serving and he invited him to train others to do what he was doing and then go build and serve in a second location. Which he did. And when the king saw that he was building and serving in the second location in the same way that he did at the first, the king invited him to build at a third location, and then a fourth, and so on.

The king was very pleased with this unusual servant-builder and so he asked the Brett to come to his castle one day and explain why he did what he did. “Why dear king, don’t you know?” Brett asked. “I serve you in this way because I love you. And what is more, I know that you love me. You have shown great kindness to my family when my father was permanently injured in the Battle of Iron Creek. He was no longer able to fight or even to work and yet you made sure that there was money in our coffers and food on our table. You have cared for us and supported us all these many long years and for that I am eternally grateful. You have never failed us when we needed you. So how could I turn my back on you when you needed me?

The king blessed the man and sent him on his way. As word spread about the roadhouses that the king had built along his road, more and more people began to use the road. Those who did prospered as they travelled the road to buy and sell goods and provide services in far away places.

And sometimes at night, when the guests were all well-fed and sound asleep in their beds, Brett would go outside and look up at the stars and he would begin to sing: “Oh, how my soul praises my Lord. How my spirit rejoices in my King and Saviour! For he took notice of his lowly servant, and I realize that I am truly blessed.”

Dear friends, here is the lesson of the story. The king is God. God loves his people. So God the Father built a way of salvation through his Son, the crown prince, Jesus. God offers to everyone life on the solid ground of salvation, forgiveness and eternal life which he gives us through Jesus. When we humble ourselves and turn our hearts away from power, privilege and possessions to live on the solid ground that God provides, then we have peace, because the things that Jesus gives us can never be taken away from us. And Jesus is able to work in and through us to bless others and help them along God’s way of salvation.

However, when we take what God gives us and use it to gather power, privilege and possessions for ourselves, then we will never have peace. We will always be insecure, because the things that we gather and build up for ourselves can always be taken away from us. Sometimes, because he loves us, God shakes or even shatters our human-built towers to bring us back down to the solid ground of his love. The key to peace is living on the solid ground of God’s love.

(This sermon was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church at Langley BC on December 10, 2017. It is based on Luke 1:39-56.)

Jesus, Words, Faith & Life


Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live even though they die, and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)

Jesus is the Master of the metaphor. When he describes himself using a metaphor, he not only expands our understanding of him, he usually expands our understanding of the word that he uses to describe himself. For example, when Jesus says, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35), he is saying that he supplies nourishment like bread does, but the nourishment that Jesus gives us is so much more than the nourishment of ordinary bread that they are not really comparable. Jesus is the Bread that gives life, but, again, the life that Jesus gives is far more than life in the regular sense of the word.

So when Jesus says, “I am the resurrection,” he is not merely saying, “I raise people from the dead,” which he does. Jesus is saying far more than that. Jesus is saying that all of our hopes, desires, dreams and prayers for

life in the face of death,
hope in the midst of hopelessness,
redemption in a situation where all seems lost,
reconciliation where there is estrangement,
comfort when grieving a great loss,
peace in the middle of a storm, and
joy in a time of great sorrow

are all found and fulfilled in him.DSCN6608

And faith helps us to shift from measuring our quality of life by our view of our circumstances to measuring our quality of life by Jesus’ view of our circumstances. Our view is always partial and incomplete, as “… in a mirror, dimly…” (1 Corinthians 13:12). But Jesus’ view is truth. Believing in Jesus is actually believing that his view of my life is accurate and, therefore, I should live as if what he says is really true, because it really is.

Can you imagine the difference it would make in our lives if we really believed that death has no claim on us and, because of Jesus, we will live, even though we die, and, therefore, we will never die? Anxiety and worry would disappear. Decisions would be made based on faith, not fear or greed. We would joyfully embrace the many good things of this world, but not hold onto them too tightly, for we know that a time will come for us to say good-bye and let go so we can awake and arise to the new life in the new heaven and earth that Jesus has prepared for us.

Do you believe this?

Prayer: Dear Jesus, help us to believe with all of our heart, soul, strength and mind that you really are the resurrection and the life. Amen.

Have Faith in God


Then He said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And His disciples heard Him say it. (Mark 11:14)

This section of Scripture (Mark 11:12-25) is one that I find confusing. What did the fig tree to do deserve to be cursed by Jesus? And yet Jesus uses the fig tree event as an opportunity to teach His disciples about faith, prayer and forgiveness.

“Have faith in God,” is Jesus’ response to His disciples’s amazement over the shriveled fig tree. Because of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and His sacrificial death outside that city’s walls, we are now adopted into the family of God. It is faith that opens our hearts to receive this undeserved, incredible gift. And with our new status as an unconditionally forgiven and infinitely loved children of God, you and I can go to our heavenly Father and ask for anything—absolutely anything!—and truly believe that God is already inclined to grant our request with generosity that is infinite in its goodness. With faith in God, that is, as we actually live as the beloved, forgiven children of God that we are, we can ask Abba Father for things which are far more amazing that a shriveled fig tree and He will make it so.Figs by Bodie Pyndus

But praying half-heartedly or not forgiving those who sin against us means that we have forgotten who we are. Our prayers become the pleadings of one who does not belong, instead of the confident requests of a beloved daughter or son. Our hearts resist releasing those who hurt us into the loving care of God because we do not believe in the loving care of God for us. So we cry for justice for ourselves, but it is revenge and retribution that rule in our hard hearts, and our lives become as fruitless as the fig tree Jesus encountered on the way to the temple.

When Jesus cursed the fig tree, He made permanent what was already true. On our own, you and I are unable to bear fruit, just like that fig tree. But Jesus came into this world to give us a new life, a new identity and a new destiny. And as we rest in Him and He lives His life through us, our lives will bear much fruit.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, thank you for bringing me into the family of God. Please help me to live as a beloved, forgiven child of our Heavenly Father. Help me to rest in You. Amen.

 

 

With Jesus, the Impossible Becomes Possible


[Jesus said,] “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:24)

Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man is a troublesome passage for those of us who live in the west for, in comparison to the rest of the world, we are rich. And Jesus is telling us that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for us to enter the kingdom of heaven. When the disciples respond by asking, “‘Who then can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” (Matthew 19:25b-26). We tend to try to figure out who is rich and who is not because we think that Jesus has given us a loophole into heaven… if we are not rich. But then we overlook the fact that Jesus slams that loophole shut when he tells us that it is impossible for anyone to be saved with human effort.

Back in ancient times, there was no middle class like we have today. There was a very small minority who were rich and a large majority who were poor. The rich often got that way at the expense of the poor. The focus of the rich was on maintaining and adding to their wealth, so much so that they could not imagine life without their wealth. We see this in the rich young man’s decision to not give his wealth away and follow Jesus.

The poor, on the other hand, were unencumbered by wealth and possessions because they had none. They knew that they were in a desperate situation and they had no reserve of food on hand. So they were much more open to trusting in a Saviour who promised to rescue them and to praying to God for daily bread. The rich thought that they already had a saviour (their wealth) and daily bread.

With our smartphones, RRSPs and refrigerators, we tend to function more like the rich people of the past than the poor. We live in a very affluent part of the world where there is huge resistance to the Gospel of Jesus because we have so much. Being saved is impossible with us.

But with Jesus, the impossible becomes possible. In the parallel passage in Mark 10, we discover how Jesus felt about the rich young man: “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” (Mark 10:21a) Jesus loves us rich, lost people. And because he loves us, the God-human Jesus offered up one perfect human life of infinite worth as the ultimate sacrifice to pay for all sin. The eye of that needle has now become as large as Jesus. And us broken, desperate camels can always enter the kingdom of heaven through him.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, please free me from the grip that wealth and possessions has on my heart. Help me to see how desperately I need you. Help me to rest in your love. Amen.