Resting While God Drives


“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36)

I like to drive. Whenever we go on a family vacation, I am usually the one who is behind the wheel. However, on our annual summer trips to Alberta, there is a stretch where Susan usually drives so I can rest. I like to be in control, but there are times when I need to give up control to get where I and others need to go.

Driving by Tim Mossholder
Photo by Tim Mossholder

Maybe you are like me in that way. If you are, Jesus is showing both of us a different way to live. In chapter 14 of his biography of Jesus, starting with verse 32, Mark describes Jesus’ emotional state as he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus is distraught because he knows that he will soon suffer excruciating physical pain and alienation from his heavenly Father for our sake. He begs to be released from the suffering that is set before him and yet he lets his Father determine what happens next.

Jesus is perfect, both in his divinity and his humanity—he is the ideal person—and yet he takes what we tend to treasure most—our personal autonomy—and lays it down before God the Father.

Jesus is showing us that the best way to live is to let our heavenly Father drive the bus of our lives. Jesus is not play-acting an elaborate charade for our benefit. He is telling us that it is the best way for him to live, too, and it is the way that he does, in fact, live.

It seems like a huge stretch for us to even consider letting go of our will until we remember that we were made by God for relationship with God. We were made in the image of God. We bear the indelible imprint of our Maker and we are incomplete without him.

Jesus accepted the cup of suffering that the Father set before him and willingly went to the cross to suffer and die to remove all the sin barrier that was standing between us and our God. Now the union between us and God can be made complete. As our heavenly Father works in and through us like a hand within a glove, we will accomplish things that are far beyond what we can ask or imagine. And it begins anew each day as we pray the prayer that Jesus prayed to our heavenly Father, “Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

We let our Father drive the bus of our life while we rest. And in the end, Jesus will make sure that we all get where we need to go.

Dear heavenly Father, you are the potter and I am the clay. Please help me to put my will in your hands. Come and accomplish through me what you know is best. Amen.  

There Is Always Hope


Then He said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with Me.” (Matthew 26:38)

Sometimes I realize that I think of Jesus as being like Superman. You know, faster than a speeding bullet, stronger than a locomotive and able to leap across tall buildings in a single bound. And Jesus is super because He is God.

But Jesus is also human, and I tend to forget that. And Jesus’ humanness is not a fake disguise, like Superman’s pretense of being Clark Kent. Jesus really is human.

So when I read in the Gospel accounts about times when Jesus was greatly challenged, I have operating in the back of my mind the assumption that those challenges were not really real for Jesus. All he needed to do was find a nearby phone booth and change his clothes and he would be able to deal with that difficulty like it was child’s play. But it was not really like that.

In Philippians 2:7, we read that Jesus “…emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Jesus emptied Himself, that is, He set aside the use of His divine powers and He lived life as a human being just like you and me.

DSCN5963
Inside the Church of All Nations is the bedrock upon which it is believed Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.

And Jesus’ humanness is clearly evident as he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus’ “…soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” Three times, Jesus asks His Father to take away the cup of suffering that Jesus was soon going to drink to the bottom. This is no pretense. And the emotional suffering that Jesus experienced in Gethsemane would soon give way to physical suffering as Jesus was beaten, flogged and nailed to a cross where He would also experience the spiritual suffering of abandonment by His Father who turned away in horror at the sight of our sin on Him.

There are times in our human lives when our soul feels overwhelmed to the point of death. There are times when we suffer great physical pain. There are times when our heart is broken by guilt or overcome by shame and it feels like God has turned His back on us. But because of Jesus’ very human suffering that last feeling is never true. God will never turn His back on us.

In Jesus, we have a God who knows from personal experience what it is like to experience human suffering as we do. And the suffering that Jesus experienced results in glorious gifts for us like forgiveness, soul healing, eternal life and kinship with God. Jesus is with us in the midst of our suffering and He will bring us safely through it. With Jesus, there is always hope.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, when I suffer please help me to never lose sight of You. Carry me, I pray, and help me to rest in You. Amen.

King’s Cross by Timothy Keller – Chp 15 – The Cup


Opening prayer

Read the italicized passages of Scripture in Chapter 15.

Questions

  1. How was the way that Jesus faced death different that the way that others, even early Christians, faced death?
  2. What was different about the death that Jesus was facing?
  3. Timothy Keller writes about Jesus’ Gethsemane experience:  “But now he is beginning to taste what he will experience on the cross, and it goes far beyond physical torture and death” (176).  What is Jesus beginning to taste?
  4. How is God’s anger “…a function of his love and goodness” (177)?
  5. How is God’s wrath a measure of how much he loves you?
  6. On p. 178 and following, Timothy Keller talks about humans respond to suffering.  Assuming that suffering is a gap between the desires of our heart and our circumstances, many of us will do anything to avoid such suffering.  The Stoics and Buddhism deal with suffering avoidance by teaching that suffering is an illusion and we ought to suppress our desires.  But to suppress all desire results in the elimination of love.  What role did Jesus’ desires play in his willingness to endure great suffering?
  7. Keller describes Jesus as “…wrestling but obeying in love” (180).  What does that look like for us?
  8. What is the difference between our deepest desires and our loudest desires?
  9. How does Jesus’ love help us to trust the Father in our suffering?
  10. Keller writes, “…your deepest desires and your actual circumstances are going to keep converging until they unite forever on the day of the eternal feast” (181).  How does Jesus make this a promised future reality for us?

In closing, read aloud from the last paragraph on p. 181 to the end of Chapter 15.

Closing Prayer

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

Going for the Gold


Here in the Vancouver area, we are in the midst of this amazing, once-in-a-lifetime season called the Olympics.  The able-bodied Games ended a couple of weeks ago and last Friday, the Paralympic Games began. And the whole world is watching.  An estimated 3.5 billion people watched the able-bodied Games on television.  By Feb 26, 33.1 million or 99 percent of the Canadian population had viewed some television coverage of the Games.[1] On Feb 28, the last day of the Games, 26.5 million Canadians, about 80 percent of the population of the whole country, watched at least part of the Gold Medal Men’s Hockey Game.[2] I was at the Abbotsford Airport during the game and there was a fully booked Westjet plane sitting on the tarmac and they couldn’t load it because everybody wanted to stay and watch the game.  And I heard on the news this past week that the same thing happened at YVR with an Air Canada flight.  And what we wanted to see as we watched the various events was for our team, our athletes, to win the gold medal.  And every other country wanted gold medal winning performances for their athletes too.  Steve Yzerman, the general manager of the Canadian Men’s Hockey Team, responded to questions about whether there was too much pressure being put on the Canadian team to win gold by saying, “It’s the same with every team, they all want to win gold.  Do you think that the Russians will have a parade for their team if they win silver?” And this drive for gold was perhaps best illustrated by Canadian Chris del Bosco in the Men’s Skicross Final.  He had a bronze medal locked up, but he decided to push for the gold.  He fell, and as a result, ended up with no medal at all. “I wasn’t content,” he said after the race.  “Third, I guess it’s all right for some people, but I wanted to give 100 per cent for my sport and my country.”[3]

There is within each one of us a desire to go for the gold.  In the Soul Cravings Prequel, Erwin McManus writes,

“Whether it’s striving for success or longing for significance, whether it’s trying to create a better world or become a better person, there is a drive within us all.  We are designed with a need to move forward.  Without it our lives become only shadows of what they could have been.  You can live without pursuing a dream, you can function without passion, but with each passing moment, your soul will become more and more anemic.

Your soul longs to become, and you can try to ignore it, but soon you will find yourself hating your life and despising everyone who refuses to give up on his or her dreams.”[4]

All of us crave destiny, all of us want to write a life story that is far better than the one that we are living now.  And, over time, our desire for destiny usually leads to a crisis.  For a few of us, there is a crisis of success.  We actually achieve our goals, we actually get to the top of whichever ladder we are climbing and when we get there we find that the trappings of our success are so empty.  But for many of us the crisis is one of frustration as we compare the dream in our hearts with reality around us and see a huge, unbridgeable gap between what is and what we long to be.  And that’s what happens in this video clip from the movie Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.

Sometimes things don’t work out like we hope that they would. So we have this desire for destiny but that desire so often feels unfulfilled.

During this Lenten season, I am reading through the portions of the Bible that record the last week of Jesus’ life before he died.  And as I read through those portions of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, I am struck by how much content of those books is dedicated to those last seven days.  I know of no other biographical writings that do that.  And though each of those four books has their different nuances and emphases, in all of them there is this inevitable march towards the cross.   There is the jubilant welcome into Jerusalem.  But then there is conflict with the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the leaders of Jesus’ own religion, Judaism.  There is the moment when Judas, one of Jesus’ close followers, goes to those religious leaders to make arrangements to betray him.

And then there is the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane. One senses that there is a great fork in the road at this point in Jesus’ life.  If he chooses one way, he will get the gold medal that he has been striving for all of his life.  He will achieve the desires of his heart. His life mission will be complete.  If he chooses the other way, which is the easy way, he will fail in all that he set out to achieve.

And to get the gold medal, Jesus has to go the hard way, he has to go to the cross.  And when he gets there, the people in charge will not invite him to stand on a podium, so they can put flowers in his hand and sing his favourite song.  No, they will force him to lay down on that cross so they can put nails in his hands and feet and shout words of derision to him.  And the suffering will be worse than any suffering any other human being has ever had to endure in the whole history of humanity. Because it won’t be just the physical suffering that Jesus will experience.  This Jesus, this kind, loving human being who never did anything wrong, this Son of God who never in all eternity had ever experienced any distance or estrangement in his relationship with God the Father, this innocent God-human will experience the infinite pain of having his Father turn his back on him because of human sin, our sin.

There in the Garden, Jesus knew what lay ahead, and yet he chose to go to the cross because he wanted to win the gold that was on the other side of the cross.  And so he made his decision, and the die was cast.  And a whole series of events began to quickly unfold.  Jesus was arrested, beaten, condemned, flogged, nailed to a cross to suffer and die, and then was buried.

But on the third day, Jesus rose from the dead.  On the third day, the angels cheered.  On the third day, he said to his followers, “Do not be afraid (Mt. 28:10), Peace be with you! (Luke 24:36) Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?  Look at my hands and feet.  It is I myself!  Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” (vv. 38-39)  Jesus won the first prize, and that is Good News for everyone.  For the gold that Jesus was going for was not his own salvation.  He didn’t need it.  The gold that Jesus was going for was not a shiny medal, or recognition from his people group, or a huge endorsement contract.  No, the gold that Jesus as going for was you,  and you, and you, and every one of you who are inside this building and every person who is outside of this building too.  The gold that Jesus was going for was the whole wide world.  And Jesus died and rose again so that all of us could have a life with him that lasts forever.  Jesus went to the cross so that every young woman could know with certainty that all of her sins were forgiven.  And Jesus went to the cross so that every old man could know with certainty that one day Jesus will heal and transform their tired old body into a new resurrection body that will never grow, never get sick and never die.  And Jesus went to the cross so that every child who has been used or abused or neglected would know with certainty that they have a Saviour who loves them.  And this Saviour has been wounded too.  But he comes with healing on his wings and he binds up the wounds of the broken-hearted.

There is this idea in religion that if we just do everything right, then God will give us a good life.  But that idea is not true. It is a lie that causes pride and self-centredness on the one hand or despair and hopelessness on the other.  This idea is part of religious thinking, but it is not part of following Jesus.  As we look at 1 Peter chapter one, we can tell by the way that Peter is writing that he is addressing people who are suffering because they follow Jesus.  And Peter doesn’t tell them that these things shouldn’t happen to them.  He doesn’t tell them that they can turn the situation around if they would just work harder.  Instead, he points them towards the gold that Jesus has already won for them.  The Message puts it this way:

3What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, 4 including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! 5 God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole. (1 Peter 1:3-5 The Message)

Imagine a tape measure with the measuring tape pulled out to its full length.   Now let’s pretend that this tape measure represents the new life with God that Jesus gives to us.  It begins with our baptism, when we believe, and it continues forward into eternity forever.  Now the part of our life with Jesus that we live in this world is like the first millimetre on this tape measure.  And the part of our life that we live in the new heaven and earth is all the rest of the tape measure.  In this first millimetre, we will experience suffering, trials and tribulations.  But even in this millimetre, Jesus will help us through all of those difficult times.  And in faith, we look forward to the future, to the gold that Jesus has already won and put into place for us: life everlasting with no more tears, no more suffering, and no more death.  We will have complete wholeness and health, and we will experience perfect fellowship with God and with other human beings.  In this life, our faith will be put to the test, but the tests will strengthen our faith so that we make it all the way from the start of the tape to the beginning of the second millimetre, to that next chapter in our lives when we get to see with our own eyes what God promises us in his Word.

And this brings us back to the very beginning.  What kind of gold are you and I going to go for?  Sandy Miller is an Anglican cleric who used to serve at Holy Trinity Brompton, the church in England where the Alpha program began.  He has said that, in a way, there are 3 conversions or steps that we experience in our journey of faith.  The first is our conversion to Christ, that moment in time when we begin to believe in Jesus Christ and trust him as our Lord and Saviour.  The second conversion is our conversion to the church, that moment when we begin to identify with the Christian Church, see ourselves as part of that body and begin to fulfill our role within that body.  The third conversion or step is our conversion to the kingdom. This happens when we begin to see ourselves as servants of God seeking to expand the dominion over which he rules, bringing about his justice and shalom peace and encouraging more and more people to trust him as King of their lives.

When we see the world with kingdom eyes, we see things as they really are.  We see a broken and dying world that badly needs a Saviour.  With a heart that is captured by God’s kingdom values, we are moved to live and serve in love in whatever ways we can.  And when we live our lives for the kingdom, our trials and tribulations fall away.  Because we are part of something that is much bigger than ourselves.  We are part of God’s work of saving the world.  And here’s the thing about the kingdom of God, it advances in both good times and bad as God works through us.  In fact, it has been said that the kingdom advance further and faster in tough times than in good times.  So even in the midst of tough times, we can praise God and be thankful to him.  For we are working together to bring about a prize that’s worth far more than gold, the eternal salvation of people all around the world.  Now that’s a destiny worth living for.  Amen.

(shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church on 14 March 2010.)


[1] “The Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games: By the Numbers,”  (Internet;  available at:  http://www.vancouver2010.com/olympic-news/n/news/the-vancouver-2010-olympic-winter-games-by-the-numbers_297556Ko.html; downloaded 13 March 2010).

[2] “Only 1980 Games Surpasses 2010,” (Internet; available at:  http://sports.espn.go.com/olympics/winter/2010/icehockey/news/story?id=4957570; downloaded 13 March 2010).

[3] “Canada’s Del Bosco falls in skicross final,” (Internet; available at:  http://www.cbc.ca/olympics/freestyleskiing/story/2010/02/21/spo-men-skicross-sunday.html; downloaded 13 March 2010).

[4] Erwin McManus, Soul Cravings Prequel (Power to Change:  Langley BC, 2009), 13.

How Faith Helps in Tough Times


Today’s message is a reflection on how faith can help us through tough times.   And perhaps we could begin by thinking about how much things have changed economically in just the past twelve months.  Last spring, I remember reading an newspaper article which said that with the shortage of land available for housing in the Lower Mainland, along with demand for housing from off-shore interests, this area will likely be immune from a decline in housing prices.  I think that article was in the real estate section of the paper.

I also remember a conversation I had with a financial planner who said that his company’s research was indicating that Canadian equities were over-valued and due for a correction, but American equities were somewhat under-valued and looking like they had some upside potential.

Well, we all know what has happened since.  March of this year was the ninth straight month of decline in Vancouver housing prices.[1] And 2008 was one of the three worst years since 1900 for the Dow Jones with a decline of about 36% by the end of the year.[2]

If you are like me, you like to manage things as best you can to arrive at a good outcome.  But there are times in our lives, when, no matter how well we have managed things, we find ourselves in a terrible situation.  And in those moments it is vital for us to remember that knowing God is more important than having a good outcome. Continue reading “How Faith Helps in Tough Times”

Faith, Suffering and Joy


Opening Prayer

Read 1 Peter 1:1-25a

  1. Who is the writer of this letter?
  1. To whom is the writer writing?
  1. How does the writer describe the people being addressed?
  1. Who would properly be described in that way?
  1. How have these people been chosen?
  1. What are they chosen for?
  1. What does this mean for us in our lives?
  1. What has God given us?
  1. Though we rejoice in God’s gifts, there is also reason for sadness.  Why?
  1. What good can result when we experience trials?
  1. How can we experience both grief and joy at the same time?
  1. How did the prophets, that is in this case, the Old Testament writers, serve us?
  1. As a response to what Jesus has done for us, how are we to think?
  1. How are we to be?
  1. What does it mean to “be holy”?
  1. How are we to live?  Why?
  1. How are we to relate to our brethren?
  1. In a situation where everything is changing so rapidly and where life is so brief, where do we place our hope and confidence?
  1. What does this mean for our lives?

Closing Prayer