Having a Fresh Start This New Year

On Sunday we are starting a brand new series called Fresh Start. This series is all about finding a new beginning, a new direction, and wiping the slate clean.

It seems that at this time of the year, everyone is talking about making better and different choices. About starting fresh. Whether that’s talk show hosts, to people trying to get you to sign up for a gym membership.

The point is that while it certainly is cultural, to talk about new beginnings, it’s most of all – biblical.

God, throughout the Scriptures, offers us a fresh start. Offers us a new beginning. He offers to wipe the slate clean and start again.

And this is so needed. So often in life we seem to just accumulate hurt, brokenness, mistakes, and baggage. And it can be almost impossible sometimes to work through it all. So instead of working through it all, God chose to deal with it all through the death of his son. Through this one act he gave us a fresh start and a new beginning.

So that’s what we are going to be looking at for the rest of the month of January and most of February. How we can find a fresh start in faith, friendships, family, futures, and finances. And most of all, how we find a fresh start today.

Fresh Start

What is the Father Like?

FarSideGodComputerSmallOn Sunday we looked at who the Father is. Many of us have this idea that like this comic shows that the Father is in heaven ready to smite. That if it weren’t for Jesus, the Father would be angry with us. That the Father’s natural disposition is not being nice like Jesus, but anger, wrath, and punishment. But this is not the picture Jesus paints of his Father

We began exploring how the Father is one who goes looking for the lost, and hurting in Matthew 18:12-14. In this passage Jesus is clear that the Father’s desire isn’t for anyone to be lost. That he notices you, and comes to seek and find you when you wander off. The posture of the Father is one of yearning, inclusion, and finding, not vengeance and “smiting”.

The second passage we looked at is Matthew 7:7-11. In this passage we see a Father who loves to give good gifts. And this matters because so often we have this feeling that God is stingy, uninterested, or that we need to “work harder” (more prayer, fasting, or faith) for God to answer our prayers. But Jesus reveals a Father who is generous, active, and approachable. Jesus reveals a Father in heaven who is filled with abundant generosity not scarcity. And this is a picture we need to get straight and hold onto.

The third passage we looked at was Luke 6:35-36. Here we see something that we often forget. The Father is merciful. Jesus is so clear, and succient reminding us the Father is merciful. The Father is not full of wrath, and anger but full of mercy. Jesus isn’t the nice one, while the Father is the angry one. Jesus reveals who the Father is, and he is clear that he is merciful. So whatever else we do with some of the other complex passages in Scripture we need to be clear on this: the Father is full of mercy.

And finally, the last passage we looked at was the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. This really summarizes all the other passages. That when the son demands his inheritance the Father’s generosity is so deep, he is even willing to give when it hurts and will be taken advantage of. We see also that the Father searches and looks for his son, like a lost sheep. We also see the Father welcome home the son with compassion and love and mercy, not judgment and wrath. We lastly see the Father being full of forgiveness.

So the main point on Sunday was to centre on the picture of the Father as revealed by Jesus. One who is loving, generous, merciful, and forgiving. This is our Father in heaven and this should change how we live.

Dads, we need to be Fathers like the Father in heaven.

Parents we need to parent like the Father in heaven.

Christians we need to live and follow the “house rules” and “house values” of our Father in heaven. We need to be about mercy, forgiveness, compassion, and love as well

So on Sunday we gave the challenge to get closer to the Father, and live like the Father. This is a good reminder to us because we need to get rid of the idea that God is sitting by a computer ready to smite. We need to get centred on the Father that Jesus reveals.


Sermon Notes

Big Idea: The Father is loving, generous, merciful, and forgiving

Take Aways…

  • We have a wrong picture of God the Father
  • Our picture of God the Father needs to be based in the revelation of Jesus Christ
  • If our picture of God the Father is off, so will our lives.
  • The Father’s reaction isn’t to smite but to find
  • Heaven is not about scarcity, but abundance, and gift, and generosity
  • The Father is merciful
  • Jesus didn’t die because the Father was angry, Jesus died as an expression of God’s love not anger
  • The Father Jesus reveals is loving, merciful, generous, and forgiving.
  • Next Steps: Go to the Father. Thank our fathers. Live like the Father
  • The greatest tragedy of our lives, is that we forget who we are. Henri Nouwen

Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new? What picture did you have of the Father in your mind before today’s sermon? Was he generous or stingy? Kind of angry? Forgiving or judgy? What has shaped your image of the Father? What image / passage most resonated with you today? What has changed in your view of the Father after today? What questions do you have? How can you live more like him?

Discussion Questions / Actions for Young Families: Today talk to your kids about what God the Father is like. How he is loving, generous, forgiving and merciful. Tell them this is who he is, and who you want to be like. Make a promise to them to try to live like their Father in heaven.

Challenge for this Week: Get close to the Father, and live like the Father

Forgiving Mr. Poopy Pants

1972495_10153908206870643_725029330_nJust a heads up this post concerns poop. Just so you know and it’s out there ahead of time.

Here’s what happened. Krista was taking Hudson to nap, and I heard this conversation from the bathroom.

“Mommy you have to forgive me for pooping in my pants. We learned that at church this morning, when someone does something wrong, you have to forgive them. Okay mommy?”

Now besides the fact that I couldn’t stop laughing, and the poop problem, this was a beautiful moment. Because here is what it showed – that Hudson understood what he was taught.

So often we learn something but never apply it, never practice it, or never learn how to live it out. So after I stopped laughing (and grinning that Krista had to deal with this ‘accident’), I was so glad. I was glad because as a parent Hudson now gets forgiveness. This is not a minor thing, this is not a little thing, this is a major thing. The entire Christian faith is built on forgiveness so if Hudson gets a handle on it at 4, think about how that could shape his life?

Which leads me to my main point: thank you to anyone who pours into kids.

I am so grateful for each friend, mentor, Sunday school teacher, church family member, who supports and pours into my kids. Sometimes it’s through teaching in our Sunday School, or giving him cookies and talking to him on a Sunday morning. The point is that your investment in my kids’ lives, the others as well, is changing them. And it’s a beautiful thing. So thank you to everyone who cares for kids anywhere.

And on this Sunday I was so grateful for each person who cares and pours into our kids here at our church specifically. So for every time you’ve wondered if it’s worth it, every time it’s been chaos, every time it didn’t feel successful – know that sometimes, with God’s grace, it sticks and changes someone. And last Sunday it stuck with Hudson, as he reminded his mommy about the importance of forgiveness. And that is something we all need to be reminded of from time to time. So thank you.

Amazing Grace ~ A Hope and A Deep Challenge

1374033_79721327This Sunday we talked about grace. Grace is a tricky and a challenging thing. It’s a tricky thing because true grace is so difficult to actually practice, but it is absolutely necessary, because grace changes people.

We looked at the parable of the Unmerciful Servant in Matthew 18. And in this parable there are two really important principles or truths for us. The first, a deep deep encouragement. And it is this: that God is a God of grace. We see the King as a metaphor of God, forgiving a deep debt. A debt so big it couldn’t be payed off. This is grace, unmerited favor, forgiveness, and who our God is. God is a God who forgives impossible debts, because of the surplus of his love.

The second thing we see though is a challenge and a warning. We see the man who has the debt payed off, not changed by the grace that is given, and he goes and strangles a man for a minor debt. The king in the story is enraged and throws the man into prison until he can pay off the debt. And Jesus ends with the saying, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.

Now Jesus is not saying that the Father is unwilling to forgive to the unmerciful servant. This is a shallow reading that contradicts the first part. The King is willing, able, and actually does forgive the debt the man owes. The change in response of the King is because of the lack of response from the unmerciful servant. It is as if Jesus is saying as long as you seek to live according to the law, ledger books, and counting of sins and slights you will not be able to experience the grace of God. This isn’t because God isn’t willing to give it, he is. The first part of the parable is clear about that, but you will be unable to receive it because you will be living counter to God’s kingdom.

The point is that to really receive grace, we have to also be willing to give grace. Giving grace to others around us is a demonstration that we have been transformed by  God’s grace. Giving and receiving go hand in hand. The challenge then for us as Christians is to give grace, and not trying to earn it or track the sins for and against us.

So we ended up with both an encouragement and a challenge. An encouragement that God is a God of grace. And a challenge, that to truly enter into a relationship with this God at a deep place, we have to be willing to let his grace change us and flow through us. So we ended with this challenge: give grace. Give grace. And I think that’s a good challenge for us all.

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: We can live with ledger books or we can live with grace

Take Aways…

  • Grace is central to theology and the Christian faith
  • If you don’t live by grace, you run the risk of not receiving grace.
  • The debt was so large it could never be paid off, only forgiven.
  • For each and everyone of us, there is grace available for us
  • This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart. – Jesus
  • God is a God of grace
  • No matter how much you owe to him, big or small today you can owe nothing at all.
  • How unutterably sweet is the knowledge that our Heavenly Father knows us completely. No tale bearer can inform on us, no enemy can make an accusation stick; no forgotten skeleton can come tumbling out of some hidden closet to abash us and expose our past; no unsuspected weakness in our character can come to light to turn God away from us, since He know us utterly before we knew Him and called us to Himself in the full knowledge of everything that was against us. A.W. Tozer
  • God knows you completely, so he can accept you completely
  • That if we seek to live by the law, we will die by the law.
  • An unwillingness to give grace, Often shows a heart that grace hasn’t touched
  • We can live with ledger books or we can live with grace
  • Its okay there is grace
  • We need to give grace to keep our hearts soft
  • Give grace this week

Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new? Why do you think grace is so hard to give? Why might it be incredibly important to actually give? As you think about grace, who do you need to give grace too? Take time to look at the last post that includes a quote from Jay Bakker. What parts of it challenged you, did you disagree with, did you agree with? What parts do you think you need to put into practice?

Discussion Questions for Young Families: Rather than discussing the sermon with your kids this week, find a way to practice it. This week when your kids make a mistake or screw up – instead give grace and talk about it. Maybe you take their punishment for them, you clean up the mess, or you let them off the hook. Just make sure you share with them why you are doing it and why it matters.

Challenge for this Week: Give grace this week


The Challenge of Grace

968281_45652240This week we are going to be looking at a really important but a challenging topic. We are going to be looking at grace. We are specifically going to be looking at the parable of the Unmerciful Servant in Matthew 28 and how it should shape our lives.

So to get us started on thinking about grace, I want to post a rather lengthy, but very thought provoking passage on grace. It’s written by Jay Bakker and I want to post it to get us thinking about grace, and what it means. And then we’ll come back to this quote on Sunday.

So here it is and I hope it gets not only your mind but your heart thinking about what grace really is (p.s. I highlighted two of my favorite lines):

We cheapen grace when we make it temporary, a ticket to an afterlife; when we say grace gets you into heaven, but holiness is what is required of you now. If grace isn’t about ‘right now’, but instead about ‘in the future’ then we are tempted to make it something we can earn in the time between. We might not have earned gracebefore we received, but we think we have to continually earn it again now that it’s ours. We do this because we desperately want to have some control over grace. We want even the smallest ability to claim that we somehow earned this grace, that we’ve got it. Which in turn allows us to say that other people don’t have it. If we’ve earned grace, other people can fail to earn it. …But that’s not how grace works. It’s a pull on us that we surrender to. We have nothing to do with it… Christians are always looking for someone or something grace can’t cover. So we end up putting restrictions on grace…in order for grace to truly be grace, it has to extend to absolutely everyone, no matter what, no questions, no expectations. Otherwise we think that somehow by living a moral life, or giving to the poor or voting a certain way or dedicating our lives to a certain thing, we’ve deserved it… We never let grace overwhelm us…Rather than being humbled and baffled by grace, we draw lines around who is in and who is out and pretend we’ve done something to earn grace. Our fear that we are accepted no matter what leads us to restrict grace, to redefine it, as if somehow we could possibly understand or control grace… People will live untransformed by grace. Some will use it as an excuse to be uncaring. Others will use it as a license to sin. But none of them will ever be transformed through legalism…when they are transformed they will be transformed by grace… When we really understand it, we will always find grace offensive. And that’s exactly the way it should be. If we start to feel comfortable with grace, then we’ve lost what it really means.

What do you think? What lines do you like or wonder about?

Lenten Reflections: Stations of the Cross, Station 10

Station 10: Jesus is Stripped of his Garments

Written Reflection:

Jesus is now stripped for his garments. He is now totally open, vulnerable, able to feel the shameful looks and angry stares of the crowd. As the soldiers rip off his garments it opens the poorly closed wounds and fresh blood is seen.

Jesus stands naked, bloody, as people jeer at him. He is completely defenseless before them, as a lamb led towards the slaughter. And as the people look at him, Jesus looks to heaven. Picture the anger of crowd, the condemnation, the pride, and the arrogance. Take a moment and confess when you too have looked down at someone. Confess to Jesus moments when you have been like that crowd, and receive his forgiveness

Optional Christianity ~ Picking and Choosing What to Follow

Soren Kiekegaard wrote:

“The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly.”

The problem is that he is right, and what he said is true. Because deep down sometimes my wish was that certain parts of following Jesus were optional.

I want to keep the “he loves me with grace” part. I want to keep the unconditional love, forgiveness, and mercy part. I want to keep the God sacrificing for me part. But when it comes to me giving grace freely I’m okay with it…the first time. I’m sort-of okay with it the second time. I’m less likely to be good with it the…77thtime…

But here is the point: giving grace, forgiving, and sacrificing aren’t optional parts of following Jesus. He says we are to love our enemies (Matt: 5:44). He says we are to forgive as we’ve been forgiven (Matt 6:12). He calls us to a life of sacrifice (Luke 9:23).

The truth is doing those things are hard. Doing those things are counter-cultural and they don’t make sense. Forgiving doesn’t make sense when you let go the hurts and slights that have happened. Giving grace to people who don’t deserve it, want it, or use it in the right way doesn’t make sense. Sacrificing your life for people who could care less doesn’t make sense. I’m not arguing that those things make sense, I’m simply arguing that those things are the way we follow Jesus.

We’d love to make following Jesus easy without grace, forgiveness, and sacrifice. But my guess is that the reason you are at all interested in Jesus is because of his grace, forgiveness, and sacrifice. If we are followers of Jesus, we then need to be followers in grace, forgiveness, and sacrifice. Jesus never promises following him will be easy; he simply promises it will be worthwhile and lead to life.

So while sometimes I wish some things in the Christian life were optional, I now know better. Because sometimes it is living out the hard things that give the most meaning…

So today, who do you need to forgive? Who do you need to show grace to? How can you sacrifice for God? And yes, it will be hard, but you’ll be being like Jesus…

A Beautiful Story of Forgiveness and Leaking…

I love monks. There, now you all know. The following story shows why, it’s a story about Abbot Moses and he shows the depth of his connection with Christ by these actions.

A brother committed a fault. A council was called to which Abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it. Then the priest sent someone to say to him, “Come for everyone is waiting for you” so he got up and went. He took a leaking jug, filled it with water, and carried it with him. The others came out to meet him and said to him, “What is this Father?”. The old man said to them, “my sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the error of another.  When they heard that, they said no more to the brother, but forgave him.

Beautiful isn’t it. So since we all leak – who should you forgive today?

Learning to Forgive – Learning to Send Away

On Sunday we talked about forgiveness. We discussed that the literal meaning of “to forgive” in Greek means to send something away; it means giving up and giving over. So when we forgive we are giving up and giving over our hurts, anger, desires for justice, and all that happened to God. We are literally sending to him everything and trusting that he can hold onto our hurts and deal with them. That’s what forgiveness is.

Forgiveness frees us from holding onto the burden of hurt. Forgiveness frees us from replaying that event or conversation over and over again in our minds. Forgiveness frees not only the other person but also ourselves because we no longer are holding onto the hurt – God is.

Forgiveness is not simply forgetting. It’s not saying “no big deal” when what happened was a big deal. It’s not pretending that a wrong didn’t happen. Forgiveness is sending away the wrong to God, so that you can be made whole. That’s what forgiveness is all about. And we can make a choice to forgive.

We ended with inviting people to make that choice. And yes forgiving is a hard choice. But it is the only choice that leads to healing, because forgiving leads to God.

So to make that choice we invited people to write down their hurts, betrayals, and unforgiveness and to “send it to God”. To do this we invited people to symbolically burn the paper, shred it, or toss it out. The point was to do something physical and tangible that would be a reminder that we have forgiven that person, and “sent it” to God. The point was to do something physical that echoed what we were doing emotionally and spiritually. We were sending away our hurts; we were forgiving others.

So that’s what we touched on yesterday. After church I watched a video sent to me by a member from the church. It’s on forgiveness and I think it illustrates well what we’re talking about. The last line of the video is a great reminder for us today, “If God doesn’t come in forgiveness cannot come”. So why not watch it and today seek to practice forgiveness and sent to God anything that you’re holding onto…

Learning to Forgive

Forgiveness is really hard to do. I mean true forgiveness is extremely difficult to give and to do.

Forgiveness is easy:

  • When the person realizes the hurt they caused
  • When they feel regret, and a sense of responsibility over the hurt
  • When they ask for it and truly mean it
  • When they learn from the mistake and don’t repeat it.

When all of those things happen forgiveness seems almost natural and it is almost easy.

But what about when those things don’t happen? How do you forgive when someone doesn’t want it? How do you forgive when someone doesn’t even think what they did was wrong? How do you forgive when someone intentionally hurts you and is happy about it?

It is in those instances that forgiveness is truly tough. We know holding onto hurt for years just causes bitterness and isn’t healthy. But the other option of just forgetting about it and letting it go doesn’t seem to do justice to the depth of hurt we feel. So we end up with two options that aren’t helpful or healthy. We can either hold onto it, or forget about it when really what we want is to deal with it. But how do you deal with it when the other person or party doesn’t care and doesn’t want to?

This is the complexity of forgiveness. This is the importance of the topic and on Sunday we’re taking a look at how to practice forgiveness in the truly tough situations. But before we get there have you ever had to forgive in a difficult situation? How did you do it? What helped and how did God work in you to heal?

And for all we still hold onto, on Sunday we’re going to explore how to give it to God…