Lent: Seven Woes of Jesus ~ Week 4: Cleaning the Dishes and Heart Transformations

clean-1445150So on Sunday we continued our series of Lent looking at the seven woes. And the “woe” we unpacked was this one from Jesus:

What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish and then the outside will become clean too.

And here Jesus enters into a debate on the cleaning of cups. And there are lots of cultural things going on here that we unpacked on Sunday but the main point of Jesus really is this: having stuff clean on the outside (our actions, our religious rituals, our following the rules) doesn’t matter if inside we aren’t clean (our hearts, desires, and wants).

Jesus is trying to point out something that is obvious to anyone – you can do the right thing with the wrong motives and it misses the point. That your kids can clean their room not because you want them to, but because they want to to go to a party. Your employee can go above and beyond, not because they care, but because they want the weekend off. Your spouse can be all thoughtful and caring, for you to only realize they got in a fender bender. The point is that the right actions without the right heart is deadly. That what good is it if you do the right thing – but your heart and motives are off? What good is it if you follow all the rules of the Bible – but inside you are seething with greed, excess, and sinful desires? What good is the outside of a cup looking clean, if the inside is full of junk?

Jesus’ desire to move our focus from the outward to the inward and where the work needs to be done. Because here is the truth: all of our hearts are dirty and filled with junk. Everyone has some brokenness, some greed, some hurt, some pride, some agenda, some mixed motives and desires that need to be changed.

And the truth though is that following the rules doesn’t change our hearts. I know this because my kids sometimes follow the rules, but they aren’t doing them happily and their hearts remain unchanged. For our hearts to be changed we need an encounter, and an experiences specifically with Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

So on Sunday we unpacked this main idea: that we all need a heart change, a heart transformation, and a heart cleansing.

And so to do this we took communion and took time to connect with Jesus. We took time and created space to ask for a heart cleansing, because that is what we all need. We all need some transformation from hurt to healing, from grime to grace, from hate to hope. And the way this happens isn’t by doubling down on following the rules, but doubling down on an encounter with Jesus. And that’s our challenge for the week: to have an encounter with Jesus that changes us. Because that’s where the magic is of following Jesus, not out of duty and legalism, but out of freedom with a new and changed heart.

Sermon Notes:

Big IdeaWe all need a heart change, a heart transformation, and a heart cleansing

Teaching Points:

  • “I think what Jesus is warning us about is that it’s entirely possible to be a religious, dedicated Christian, and yet totally miss the life-giving nature of a life centered squarely on his teachings. Some of us have exchanged Jesus for a Christian religion.” Benjamin Corey
  • The inner life is what matters.
  • Following the rules and the law doesn’t matter unless your heart is changed.
  • A heart change matters more than following the rules.
  • What God wants aren’t people who just follow the rulesGod wants people who have hearts like his.
  • Following the rules doesn’t change your heart.

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? Have you ever had an experience of someone “following the rules” for the wrong motives? How did it make you feel? Why don’t you think following the rules changes our hearts? How can Jesus change our hearts? How can we ensure that they stay changed?

Discussion Questions for Families:

Use the example I gave from Hudson, or maybe one from your own life to talk about motives. Talk about how we as parents love when our kids do the right thing, but more than that want to see the right heart. Ask them what the difference might be in simple and easy thing like dishes, like cleaning up toys, etc.

Challenge for the Week: Have a heart change

Lent: Seven Woes of Jesus ~ Week 3: Gnats, Mercy, and Cumin

spices-1-1523661-639x950On Sunday we looked at the fourth woe of Jesus. And in the fourth woe Jesus says this,

What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel.

And here Jesus is confronting the religious leaders of his day for not living like God and for not prioritizing or orientating their lives in the way of God. The way they are living isn’t bringing them closer to God, or God closer to the world.

The truth is that if our religious energies go into the “minor” things rather than the “major” things of following God we can become an obstacle to God. And that is actually what Jesus is arguing that they are missing the more major, weightier, and important commandments. Apparently Jesus thinks some laws and commands matter more than others, and he’s right of course.

Jesus pulls an allusion to Micah saying what does God require mercy, justice, and faith. He says essentially what good is tithing your herb garden when you forget about the major things? What good is following the minor rules if you don’t get the major ones right?

And this is a really convicting and challenging teaching because here Jesus wants to change the metric of our holiness. Holiness isn’t about just following the rules, but which ones you actually prioritize and put the most effort into. Following Jesus is about the greatest commandments, mercy, faith, and justice.

So we ended with this main point: Some things matter more than others and we need to orient our lives around those things

The truth is we can be religious and still miss the point like the Pharisees. We need to have our lives orientated around the main things: faith, mercy, and justice like Jesus asks.

So we ended with a simple challenge. To sit and contemplate on this question:

Have I forgotten mercy, justice, or faithfulness?

Because that question matters. It matters to Jesus so it should matter to us.

So that’s what we did on Sunday, but it’s also worth doing right now, because whenever our lives major on the minors we are missing the point.

Sermon Notes:

Big IdeaSome things matter more than others and we need to orient our lives around those things

Teaching Points:

  • Their way of living will not bring them closer to God, or God closer to the world
  • Jesus believes some commands matter more than others.
  • The things we often measure our holiness and righteousness against aren’t always the things God is measuring.
  • It is so easy to neglect the most important things while keeping other religious things going.

 

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? Have you practiced Lent before? Why or why not? Is there something you could give up this year for Lent? Have you ever considered that you might be “spiritually blind”? Can you think of other examples of “spiritual blindness”? Why is being spiritually blind so very  dangerous? Are there any areas you feel you might be blind to?

Challenge for the Week: God reveal the areas of blindness in me.

Lent: Seven Woes of Jesus ~ Week 2: Blind Guides, Hell, and Learning to See

glasses-1554870-1280x960On Sunday we looked at the second and third “woe” of Jesus. And a series examining the “woes” of Jesus isn’t something that is generally fun, but it’s so needed. We, as a culture, don’t do great with responsibility and reflection; we do blame, turning a blind eye and busyness really well. Which is why we need Lent to slow down, reflect, and listen to God’s Spirit.

So on Sunday we looked at how Jesus calls the Pharisees blind. How they believe they are helping God, but are in the way of God’s movement. How they go to great lengths to make converts but because they are blind, make them twice as bad. How rather than condemning making oaths that you intend to get out, they implicitly agree with it. How they are blind and don’t even know it.

And that’s the trouble with spiritual blindness, you don’t know you are. You think you see things clearly when you are actually on the wrong side of God’s movement.

And we only have to look back a little ways in history to see how often people in the church have been on the wrong side of the Spirit of God’s movement. When we look at how people argued slavery was ordained by God, how women are inferior to men, how it’s right to kill in Jesus’ name in the crusades, or more recently, how the church treats people with mental health challenges. I could go on and on about how we have clearly been blind in the past to the movement of God.

I brought this up because if people in the past were sure they weren’t blind, but turned out they were – then we need to acknowledge the fact that we most likely are blind in some ways to the move of God as well. That if the religious, moral, and spiritual elite (Pharisees) got it wrong, if the church has got it wrong in the past, how can we be sure we have it all right? So the challenge though is that we don’t know what we don’t know. We don’t know where we are spiritually blind.

So we landed on this main point: In our blindness we can oppose the movement of God. And the way we discover our blindness certainly doesn’t come from listening to my voice or words, but from the voice and words of the Spirit. So we challenged ourselves to pray a radical prayer daily this week: God Reveal the areas of blindness in me. 

The only way we will discover our blindness and be healed from it is if we listen and hear the Spirit speaking to us. Because I know there are areas in my life I’m spiritually blind, and I need to see clearly to follow clearly. So that’s our challenge ask Jesus to reveal areas of blindness to you, and listen for him so we can follow clearly.

Sermon Notes:

Big IdeaIn our blindness we can oppose the movement of God.

Teaching Points:

  • We, as a culture, don’t do great with responsibility and reflection; we do blame, turning a blind eye and busyness really well.
  • Holy Spirit if we are missing the point show us.
  • It’s not enough to follow God, You have to follow God in the right way.
  • If you have a false idea of God, the more religious you are, the worse it is for you – it were better for you to be an atheist.  William Temple
  • In our blindness we can oppose the movement of God.
  • We’re all blind but didn’t know it.
  • The way we will discover our own blindness is to listen to the Spirit.
  • Reveal the areas of blindness in me.

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? Have you practiced Lent before? Why or why not? Is there something you could give up this year for Lent? Have you ever considered that you might be “spiritually blind”? Can you think of other examples of “spiritual blindness”? Why is being spiritually blind so very dangerous? Are there any areas you feel you might be blind to?

Challenge for the Week: God Reveal the areas of blindness in me.

Lent: Seven Woes of Jesus ~ Woe 1 – Hypocrites, Exclusion and the Kingdom

7 WoesOn Sunday we looked at the first “woe” of Jesus and opening up the series and the practice of Lent. I shared how Lent isn’t fun but necessary. Necessary because the truth is we as Christians need to challenge ourselves to live and look more like Jesus. Stanley Hauerwas writes this:

It is surely the case that many of us are kept from entering the kingdom by the lives we lead as Christians. Our problem is very simple – we simply do not know how to live as a people who believe that Jesus is the resurrected Lord.

And I believe that is true. Lent then is a time of re-centering on how to live like Jesus, appreciating his sacrifice, taking a hard look at our lives, and asking for challenge and conviction.

Lent also matters because it prepares us for Easter. We spend so much time preparing for Christmas but the true Christian holiday is Easter and I think we need to invest time and energy into that as well.

And lastly, Lent matters because it can save our faith. If you practice Lent then at least yearly you will go through a season that is slower, inward focused, repentance focused, and one that is a bit darker. And this matters because somehow we’ve bought into the illusion that the Christian faith is all light, rainbows, and sunshine. So when our lives turn dark, as can happen, we think we’ve lost of our faith. Lent reminds us that going through a dark time is actually part of faith.

So with that we kicked off our series beginning to look at the seven woes of Jesus found in Matthew 23. We focused in verse 13, and the first woe.

The first thing we realized was that the Pharisees weren’t bad people, they were people deeply desiring for God to move. And in many ways we slant the Pharisees in Christian circles so that they are different than us, but they really are very similar to us. And this is why then when Jesus condemns them we need to hear these words and apply them to ourselves. We need to make sure we are following Jesus, and not just our ideas about Jesus.

So Jesus says, “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either.”

And in this Jesus starts to bring up the offensive reality of the gospel. That the gospel, or entering the Kingdom of heaven, isn’t offensive because of who it rejects but who it includes. The Pharisees were busy sharing who was in and who was out.  The difficulty is that the people they were rejecting were the people God was including. So Jesus comes to them and confronts them and says – you exclude people from God’s Kingdom (shutting the door), and then refuse to enter yourself. You not only bar other people from going in, but refuse to enter yourself.

Jesus throughout his ministry welcomed people into the Kingdom the Pharisees didn’t believe deserved to be there.  And the truth is that the people Jesus welcomed into the kingdom – tax collectors, prostitues, and sinners – didn’t deserve to be in the kingdom. And neither did the Pharisees. It was an act of grace and mercy.

So Jesus confronts the Pharisees for rejecting the people that God is including. But this isn’t about them, it’s about us. So we came to this  main point because we do the same thing the Pharisees do. The main point is this: God’s Kingdom and grace is bigger than all of us.

The question though is are we acting like the Pharisees? Are we barring people from entering? Are we excluding people God’s spirit is including? Would Jesus say to us, “Woe to you for shutting the door, on people I’m inviting in”? It’s a really important question, one that we landed and ended on.

I invited people to really reflect on that question. Are there people in our lives whom we are rejecting that God is including? Are you standing in the way of what God is doing? Do we have enemies that we believe don’t deserve God’s kingdom, or to be part of what God is doing – as they are?

So to make this personal and practical we ended with this challenge: to pray for our enemies daily. The truth is it’s hard to reject people we are daily praying for, and that is what will ensure we don’t stand in the way of God’s movement. So the challenge for all of us was simple: pray for our enemies and get out of the way for God to move. Because the Kingdom is bigger than we think, and God is inviting people in.

Sermon Notes:

Big IdeaGod’s Kingdom and grace is bigger than all of us.

Teaching Points:

  • Lent isn’t fun, but is necessary.
  • Going through a dark time doesn’t mean we’ve lost our faith, it’s actually part of our faith.
  • The gospel isn’t offensive because of who it excludes, the gospel is offensive because of who it includes.
  • Jesus welcomed in people the Pharisees didn’t believe deserved to be there.
  • The Pharisees in the name of God are denying the movement of God.
  • The kingdom is big enough for everyone.
  • The gospel is for everyone wherever they are at or it’s not the gospel.
  • No one deserves the kingdom, but we are all invited to it.
  • God’s Kingdom and grace is bigger than all of us.

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? Have you practiced Lent before? Why or why not? Is there something you could give up this year for Lent? How have you seen in the past people getting in the way of what God was doing? How have you in the past excluded people God was including? Who are the people you need to pray for and work to include in God’s kingdom?

Discussion Questions / Responses for Young Families

Talk to your kids about the reality that God’s kingdom is for everyone, even the people we struggle with and really dislike. Start to teach them to pray for those who are their enemies. Start to lead them to live like Jesus through prayer.

Challenge for the Week: Pray for our enemies daily.

Mental Health Sundays: What Can We Do as a Community?

On Sunday we were very blessed to have a few experts and professionals in the mental health field come and share with our church on a panel.

We believed it was important to hear from professionals in this area, who have given their lives to healing, caring, and supporting others. Receiving professional help is something that in the evangelical church receives some stigma in some circles but it is absolutely crucial.

So we are grateful to the panel for their discussion, which you can hear on our podcast.

We ended our time together with three simple challenges: welcome and include, pray, and continue the conversation.

First, as a next step we talked about welcoming and including others with mental health challenges. That this is something we can all practically do in any church you attend. We can create safe spaces for people to journey together, and to include those who often feel excluded by the church.

John Vanier and John Swinton write this,

If the church has anything to offer to people with mental illness (and indeed to anyone else), it is the provision of a space where they can truly feel that they belong.

And I believe that is so true, and absolutely needed.

Kathryn Green McCreight writes,

From a theological perspective, the most dangerous thing about mental illness is that it can lock us in ourselves, convincing us that we are indeed our own, and completely on our own, isolated in our distress.

This is why as churches, as communities of believers, as followers of Jesus we must welcome and include people who are struggling.

The second thing we reminded one another to do was to pray. That praying for others, and letting them know you are praying for them is a tangible reminder of our care and support. In some situations as we journey with people we are not always sure of everything we can do, but one thing we can always do is pray and remind them of that.

Miriam a woman who struggles with mental health writes this:

When you don’t know what to do or say, the one thing you can do is pray and let the person you are praying for know you are. It is a true expression of compassion and Christian love

And lastly, we reminded one another to continue the conversation. That this is the just the beginning and one thing we can do is to continue to learn and listen. We can learn more about mental health, and listen directly from those who are struggling. We can ask how we can help, and take action.

And through these three steps we can start to make a difference and changing the world, by changing someone’s world. As we remember to welcome and include, pray, and continue the conversation.

Mental Health Sundays: Myths, Lies, and Mental Health

mental_health_week_web_0_0On Sunday we opened up a really important topic: mental health. Mental health is someone that affects huge numbers of people (estimates are around ¼ of people), yet it is one health challenge that has tremendous stigma, exclusion, and a lack of understanding surrounding it. And that’s something we want to change.

So we began by exploring some of the realities of what mental health is. We shared some basic information about three major mental health illnesses. But then to move it away from theory, and “clinical” descriptions I read the following first hand accounts from people struggling with mental health challenges.

Liz writes:

“Depression is a very emotive subject for me, especially among people who have never had to live with it. It is that hidden disability that no one really understands fully – least of all those who suffer with it. The symptoms include feeling overwhelmingly tired, angry, emotional and with a need to withdraw from the world around you. Seeking treatment can also make you feel even more depressed as you feel that you are even more of a failure at not being able to get through it on your own.”

William Styron writes in Darkness Visible:

“The pain is unrelenting, and what makes the condition intolerable is the foreknowledge that no remedy will come – not in a day, an hour, a month, or a minute. If there is mild relief, one knows that it is only temporary; more pain will follow. It is hopelessness even more than pain that crushes the soul. So the decision-making of daily life involves not, as in normal affairs, shifting from one annoying situation to another less annoying – or from discomfort to relative comfort, or from boredom to activity – but moving from pain to pain. One does not abandon, even briefly, one’s bed of nails, but is attached to it wherever one goes.”

And Miriam writes:

“As someone with a mental health illness, you get the feeling that somehow you are more difficult to deal with within the institution of the “church”. In a naïve way I believed the church would be open to all. However, my experience makes me feel that I am on the outside of the institution and an embarrassment.”

The truth is that Jesus never turned away from someone in need, so neither can the church.

So to begin this conversation I unpacked 3 myths I see in the Christian world concerning mental health, and then next week we’ll look at how to help and support those with mental health.

The three myths we unpacked were: mental health is caused by sin, mental health can be cured by prayer alone, and mental illness isn’t welcome in the church.

The truth is that we love simple and easy explanations so when it comes to mental health we often reach for those easy solutions: you must have sinned. Yet this reduction of a complex issue that involves emotions, chemical imbalances, physical realties, and social environments to just personal sin that is “God is sending consequences” is directly against the Bible. I know that sounds harsh but in John 9 when the disciples try to reduce someone’s illness to personal sin – Jesus directly confronts them and contradicts their view. So we need to contradict this myth as well.

Secondly, we looked at how mental health is still believed to be cured by prayer alone by 35% of the church. This is also incredibly unhelpful and a myth. I’m not saying I don’t believe in prayer for healing, but that with any other physical illness we not only pray but also seek medical help. But when it comes to mental health there is the myth that prayer, reading your bible, and more self-discipline will be enough. This is simply not true, not helpful, not Biblical (see my sermon on James 5 for more), and needs to be stopped. I absolutely believe that prayer can cure mental illness, I just don’t believe it is the only cure.

Thirdly, we looked at how mental illness isn’t welcome in the church. I say this is a myth not because I don’t believe it’s true, or that it doesn’t happen in churches; but that in the church as it’s meant to be this exclusion should never happen. Jesus would never exclude or isolate someone who is hurting. So if we want to follow Jesus, this idea that mental illness isn’t welcome in the church needs to go. Following Jesus requires that we welcome and include especially in this area.

So those are three myths we unpacked, along with the myth that “the church can’t make a difference” in this area, because I believe we can. I believe that if we get serious about journeying with people and supporting them. Yes professionals and health care experts are needed (see next week) but so too are caring communities of support. And that’s what the church can and should be.

Jean Vanier & John Swinton write this,

The church has a history of pioneering in health and social care and I believe it is time for us to step up to the challenge of working in the area of mental health.

So on Sunday to wrap up I gave us one main point and one challenge. The main point was: Mental health is real and we need to address it. And then the challenge to do this was simple this week: to learn more about it. To fight against the stigma, lack of awareness, and exclusion by learning and growing. This is obviously just the first step but it’s a necessary one. And next week we’ll learn how to take another step as a community.

“Give to us grace, O Father, not to pass by suffering or joy without eyes to see; give us understanding and sympathy; and guard us from selfishness that we may enter into the joys and sufferings of others; use us to gladden and strengthen those who are weak and suffering; that by our lives we may help others who believe and serve you, and project your light which is the light of life.”   H.R.L. Sheppard (1880-1937)

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Mental health is real and we need to address it.

Teaching Points:

  • ¼ people experience an episode of mental health challenges.
  • It is not okay to hold prejudice against those with mental health challenges.
  • Three major mental health illnesses: bipolar, major depression, dissociative identity disorder.
  • Myth #1: Mental Health Challenges are caused by personal sin and punishment from God.
  • We cannot reduce the cause of mental illness to sin.
  • Myth #2: Mental Health Challenges can be cured by prayer alone
  • I absolutely believe that prayer can cure mental illness, I just don’t believe it is the only cure.
  • Myth #3: Mental Health is not welcome in the church.
  • We believe that people struggling with anything are welcome in this place
  • The church is one of, if not the most important thing in combating mental illness and changing it.
  • The church has a history of pioneering in health and social care and I believe it is time for us to step up to the challenge of working in the area of mental health. John Swinton and Jean Vanier
  • The greater our understanding the greater or depth of care

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? What experiences have you had in relation to mental health? Did you realize that mental health was that prevalent? Why do you think it’s important to talk about? What myths have you believed about it, or are still working through? How can you learn more about it this week?

Discussion Questions / Responses for Young Families

Today learn more about mental health. Look up on the internet for some good discussion guides to talk to your kids, and use one!

Challenge for the Week:

Learn about mental health

Strong Start: Finances, Generosity, and Why Money Won’t Fix Your Life

Twenties on White

On Sunday we opened up a bit of a difficult or uncomfortable topic: money. Most times churches talk about this, it’s because they want more of it. But on Sunday the point wasn’t that I wanted anything from anyone, I wanted something for everyone. And what I believe we all need, isn’t more money, but a better relationship to money.

The truth is that money will not fix your life, or make it better. And while at first glance that seems well…just not true. Who wouldn’t love more money? The truth is we know that it is true.

  • We all know people who make way less than us, but are much happier than us.
  • We all know people who make way, way, way more than us but whose lives aren’t full of happiness and joy.
  • We all know people who have maybe won the lottery, inheritance or whatever, only to see that money…vanish.

The truth is that while our culture tells us that money will fix our problems, the Bible teaches that our relationship to money is the problem. Getting a huge raise, or money doesn’t actually automatically generate more generosity, self-control, or self-discipline. And the truth is if we want financial freedom it doesn’t come from having more money, but a better and different relationship with money.

So we looked at this small passage in Acts where Paul’s preaching says this, “You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” And this is so true! Expect for many of us it doesn’t feel…well true. For many of us it honestly feels better to receive a huge bonus, then it does to give and cut our neighbors lawn. But that’s actually not what Paul is talking about or Jesus for that matter. Paul is not talking about individual experiences or moments, but a lifestyle.

A better way to translate that passage for our context would be this: a generous life is wholer, better, and happier than a stingy life.

And that’s true.

When was the last time you met a truly generous jerk?

When was the last time you met a really happy, fully alive, stingy person?

It just doesn’t happen.

Jesus is right; a generous life is better than a stingy life. The trouble is that generosity is not random, it is strategic and a discipline. And disciplines are hard to create and generate.

So we ended the sermon with a few steps to starting to create the discipline to be generous so that we might find new freedom. The three steps were pretty simple and straightforward: make a budget, choose a % to give, and track your money.

Generosity doesn’t start with randomness but with a plan. So make a budget to examine your life and where you are spending and where you should be spending. Then choose a % to give. The main problem with generosity is that it is not habitual, so giving a % is key. Start anywhere but keep increasing it as you grow. And lastly, track your money. What you don’t manage soon becomes a disaster. So manage your money.

These are three simple steps, and there is so much we could get into but they will give the basis for a strong start this year. And to go deeper we are having a financial course here at the church, and if you’d like to be part of it just email the church office here for details.

So we ended with a challenge: put effort into our finances. Because no one has ever regretted putting effort into it and becoming a more generous person.

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: A generous life is happier, fuller, and better, than a stingy life

Teaching Points:

  • The key to financial freedom is not having more money.
  • Having more money will not fix your financial life.
  • Money will not solve all our problems.
  • The problem isn’t money or the lack of it; the problem is us
  • It’s better to give than to receive.
  • A life orientated around giving and generosity is the way to live.
  • Generous people don’t give when they have enough; generous people orient their lives so they will always have enough to give.
  • Having more money doesn’t give us more self-control.
  • A generous life is happier, and better than a stingy life.
  • Generosity is a discipline.
  • Make a budget, choose a % to give, and track your money.

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? What did you think about Andrew’s statement “The key to financial freedom is not having more money “? How does that relate to your life? Would you say your life is orientated around generosity? How can you maybe start to take some of those steps? Do you have a budget? Who can help you to create one? Can you start or increase your % of giving? How can we support you in this?

Discussion Questions / Responses for Young Families

Today rather than talking about generosity, start to teach it. Start to encourage your kids to give money away. If you do an allowance, ask them to give a %. Start to teach generosity from the beginning.

Challenge for the Week: Put effort into your financial life to become generous.

Strong Start: Friendships, Family, and the Direction of Your Life

friendship-1483251-640x455On Sunday we opened up the book of Proverbs to learn about friendships. Friendships are these things that are all around us, that I think we end up taking for granted so often. But this is something that not only do we need to change, that Solomon would argue we must change to have a full life.

So we jumped in looking at various different sayings of Solomon pulling out three key points:

  • Friendship can matter more than family
  • Friendship will determine the quality and direction of your life
  • Friendship based on deep trust is all that matters

So first we looked at how friendship can matter more than family. This is something pretty shocking to say; not only in our day but in Solomon’s day and age. Because in his day and age you had no health insurance, crop insurance, or retirement. Your insurance or safety net was your family. Family was obligated to help in a time of crisis.

And this is actually why Solomon says that friendship can matter even more than family. He writes, “there are “friends” who destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother”. (Proverbs 18:24). Friends can stick closer than family.

And Solomon’s point is that any relationship built on chosen love, rather than obligation will be stronger and better. And this is just true. He’s not saying family doesn’t matter, but that friendship can run deeper than just family relations. Any relationship (family based or not) built on love, and choice will always beat any relationship based on obligation. And this is why we need to invest in our friendships and why they matter because they are formed by love and not by obligation.

Secondly, we learned that friendships determine the quality and direction of our lives. Solomon writes this, “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm” and this is true. That the people we are close to rub off on us for good or for bad. This is another reason that we need to choose our friends carefully, and invest in them wisely. We choose our friends, but once our friends have been chosen they will choose our destiny. This is why we need to continue to see and raise the importance of the value of our friendships.

And also, but not least, Solomon reminded us that if our friendships are not based on deep trust that they aren’t really friendships. That if someone lies to us and laughs it off, they are worse than a destructive killer (Proverbs 26:18-19). That a true friend will not let us walk into difficulty but will warn us (Proverbs 27:5-6). That true friends provide heartfelt care and counsel, not just what we want to hear.

So on Sunday from these three general themes: friendships matter more than family, friendship determines the quality and direction of our lives and true friends are built on trust; we came to our main theme. Our  main idea was simple but needed: We need to choose and invest in good friendships.

We need to choose and invest in good friendships.

If we want to have a strong start we will not regret investing in good friendships, and key relationships. We will never regret strengthening our relationships, and distancing away from difficult ones.

So we gave a challenge to choose and invest in good relationships. To seek out good ones and to cultivate them. No relationship just “starts” and becomes amazing without work and effort. Friendships require cultivation to be forged. So we challenged one another to actually put the effort in. To put the time into the good relationships built on trust, and limit the ones that cause harm. To seek out good friends and invest in them with our lives.

One thing is sure if we want to have a great 2016, a strong start, it won’t happen with poor, nonexistent, or shallow relationships. A great year starts with great friendships, so start investing in them today.

The Chinese have a proverb, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

The best time to invest in friendships was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. 

Sermon Notes:

Big IdeaWe need to choose and invest in good friendships

Teaching Points:

  • Three challenges: Serve weekly, connect with God daily, journey with 2 others
  • “Is it wise” is always a better question than “is it wrong”
  • Friendships are more important than family
  • Relationships built on love beat relationships built on obligation every time
  • Friendships determine the quality and direction of our lives
  • We choose our friends, but once our friends have been chosen they will choose our destiny
  • True friends are honest and trustworthy friends
  • We need to choose good friends
  • We need to invest in good friends
  • Friendships are not “found” but forged and cultivated
  • Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself. C.S. Lewis
  • Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival. C.S. Lewis
  • The best time to invest in friendships was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. Chinese Proverb

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? Had you thought about friendship being more important than family before? What do you think of that? How have you seen it be true that friendships determine the quality and direction of our lives? Who are your closest friends? Are they trustworthy and honest? Who should you be investing in? And how can you be better investing in them?

Discussion Questions / Responses for Young Families

Talk to your kids about the importance of friendship and how it determines our quality of life. Ask them who their best friends are? And ask them are they wise friends? Do they make good choices? Help them to think through making the best friends.

Challenge for the Week: Choose to invest in friendships this year.

Strong Start: Always Remember Who is In Your Boat

jesusboat_1200x800

On Sunday we began a brand new series looking at how to have a strong start this year. We looked at a very well known story of Jesus and the disciples crossing the sea, and coming up of a fierce storm. In this story Jesus is sleeping and the disciples wake him, and he calms the storm.

And there is so much packed in this little short narrative. Things like how Jesus sometimes leads us out into the unknown, how storms can come upon us quickly, how we can forget about God in struggles.

But on Sunday I wanted to land on one main point: Always remember who is in your boat.

The truth is that as we look forward into our futures we have no idea what they may hold. There may be already storms on the horizon, or it might look calm and peaceful. But we never know what might come upon us. And this isn’t something to bemoan or pretend isn’t true. We shouldn’t just count on positive thinking to get us through life. We should count on God, and that no matter what happens God was in the boat with the disciples and this makes all the difference.

Imagine if you could be assured God would be with you, no matter what you faced? Wouldn’t that make a difference, wouldn’t that change everything? Wouldn’t that give you hope?

And I think that’s something we need to take from this story, that God is with us through it all. God is able to calm the storms that come upon us, he is able to guide us through them. But we do need to rely on him. The disciples go to Jesus in the story and we need to as well.

So on Sunday we lingered just on that one idea: always remember who is in your boat.

We closed by looking at this wonderful piece of art by John Hendrix, and took home his piece of art as a reminder for us that no matter where life takes us – always remember who is in your boat.

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea“Always remember who is in your boat”

Teaching Points:

  • Crossing the sea is an image of transformation
  • Denying fear is useless
  • We shouldn’t have more faith in the storms around us than our saviour
  • “Always remember who is in your boat”
  • We are never alone

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? When you look forward in this year what do you see? Is it dark, hopeful, unsure? What do you hope to get out of this year? How can remembering God is with you help? How can you make sure you remember God is with you?

Discussion Questions / Responses for Young Families

Today it’s simple – share the story with your kids. Show them the artwork and have them create their own.

Challenge for the Week: “Always remember who is in your boat”

I’M ON FIRE!! Now what? Guest Post: Carter Whyte

This past Sunday we talked about what to do in response to when we are thriving in our relationship with God. Oftentimes, we look at the Bible and learn from God what we are to do when we are not doing well, or when things are not going so well. But this past Sunday we took a moment to think:

What were the really exciting moments in my walk with God in 2015? 

            When was I following God well? Thriving with Him?

The Bible has something to say to us when we reflect on these exciting experiences!

We learn from Paul’s example in Philippians 1:3-11, that moments of thriving with God are opportunities to express thanks, encourage, and re-engage.

We express thanks to God, because when we are thriving, He is working! Jesus has given us the Holy Spirit as our Helper, and we need to give God credit for His help in making us more like Jesus.

Paul also shows us that it is important to encourage one another when we are working hard in serving God. Don’t you find that honest encouragement from someone is refreshing and energizing? Paul encourages the Philippians, and we ought to encourage those around us for their hard work. God supplies what’s needed, but we still have to do our part – don’t forget that, and don’t withhold encouragement from others.

Finally, Paul finishes this passage, praying for the Philippians, that God might grant them greater growth in love – a love that is thoughtful, wise, and action-oriented. Let us be express our excitement when we are being faithful! But don’t forget: there is always more room to grow. And as we pray, and pursue further growth in love, we will grow to become more like Jesus than we are now.

As you consider moments in your 2015 when you were thriving with God – and even as you come to experience more exciting moments following Him in the future – how can you implement what the Bible says into your life?

Respond by expressing your excitement as praise to God! Refresh those around you with encouragement for their hard work. And after a short time of thanks and encouragement, get back on the path of growth, towards becoming more like Jesus.

May your exciting times of thriving with God be to you as a pit stop: a time to celebrate, be re-fueled, and drive better now than ever before in your adventure serving God!

Take time to share with someone this week about moments in your 2015 when you were thriving and excited in your walk with Jesus!

 

 

Big Idea: Moments when we are thriving with God are opportunities to express thanks to God, encourage each other, and re-engage in pursuing love.

Teaching Points:

–       Think about moments you had following God in 2015 that excited you!

–       What do we do when we feel like we are thriving with God?

–       God started this successful project in your life, and God is the one who will finish this project.

–       We must express thanks to God for how far we have come!

–       Yet, don’t ignore the fact that we had to work hard.

–       God supplies needs – but we still have to work hard.

–       Encourage each other for working hard!

–       There is no reason to keep from someone the refreshment that you could have given them through encouragement.

–       Re-engage in pursuing further growth in love

–       Re-engagement is important, because the day of Christ is coming

–       Our end goal is to be faithful to Christ until the end – our death or his return

–       Our continued pursuit of love really matters, so keep going!

Adult Discussion Questions:

What moments in 2015 were exciting in how you were following God and He was moving? Do you struggle with giving God the glory when you are doing well? What can you remind yourself of to remember that God deserves all the credit? Who in your life can you encourage this week for their faithfulness to God, and how that may have impacted you? What is the best kind of encouragement you like to receive in these times? How can you take time this week to celebrate moments of thriving, and also push forward towards further growth in thoughtful, wise, active love?

Discussion Questions/ Responses for Young Families

Take time this week after one of your meals together, to share with each other a story from your own life of following God and God being faithful. Give specific encouragement to each other for the hard work, and the faithfulness that each of you may have put in to serving God.

Challenge for the Week: Share with someone a story of when you were thriving with God in 2015.