Christmas is one of my favourite times of the year. I’m not going to lie – we get our decorations up pretty early and leave them up pretty late. The truth is, I just love this time of year. Some aren’t as into it, but I am.
I bring this up for a very specific reason…This time of the year is a great time to actually show God’s love in real, practical and tangible ways that don’t come off as weird. You can actually reach out to your family, friends and neighbours in real ways without it seeming odd.
1. You can invite neighbours over for a Christmas party
2. You can make cookies and drop them off
3. You can give small and meaningful gifts to co-workers
4. You can actually invite people to a Christmas Eve service
These are all simple and pretty straightforward things to do, and I mention them because I believe that Christmas is a time of action. The reason we gather together as Christians at Christmas is because God acted. The reason we give gifts to one another is because God acted. The reason we have hope in this season is because God acted.
Again, I bring this all up to remind you of something pretty simple… If God acted on His love for the world, so should we.
So, what might it look like to love those in your world? What might it look like to tangibly remind people that they matter? What might be a way you could surprise someone with an example of their value? The message of Christmas is that God surprised us with His actions, giving us something we weren’t expecting. What might that look like in your life?
I know we all live in different contexts and places, but one thing each of us can do is to show love in those different contexts and places.
So, invite people over for a party, drop by cookies, share a gift, write a note, do something. Remember, we are here today becauseGod did something, so let’s follow His lead this Christmas.
So Asher broke my phone. Like he dropped it / threw it and cracked the screen…with a case on. I’d have a picture to show you but again – Asher broke my phone.
Now if you’re house is anything like mine when these things happen it is never when you feel filled with patience, lots of time to deal with it, and in a good space. Instead, Eden was crying, and we were trying to get out the door to pick up Hudson from school, so he wouldn’t be wondering where we were. It was then that I asked Asher for the phone that he didn’t want to give me and the throw / drop happened.
I was very frustrated (meaning mad and angry) and I kinda huffed and said now you can’t use dad’s phone or any phone again. And he didn’t say anything but got into the stroller, and crawled into the bottom and fell asleep.
As I was pushing him and his sister towards school God hit me with a thought, “what matters more, a broken screen or a broken heart”. And this is why occasionally I don’t want to hear from God, because when God speaks he can be challenging and convicting. I knew in my heart I was angrier and upset with a broken phone, than making sure I didn’t harm or break Asher’s heart when discussing it with him. I know inwardly I wanted him to really feel how frustrating this was for me. But that’s the problem, I was thinking about me.
So we came back home and I woke him up and got the other kids snacks so we could talk. And as soon as he woke up he gave me a huge hug with little tears and said, “Daddy I so sorry about your phone”. So I hugged him back and said, “It’s okay, it was an accident” because he hadn’t meant to wreck the phone. I talked to him, hugged him, and made sure he felt okay.
And this response only happened because God reminded me that what matters more in life is not things, but people. But so often that gets reversed. So often that gets missed. And we can be so quick to lose perspective, especially with our kids.
Because perspective matters. My hope and prayer is that when Asher grows older he doesn’t remember how mad Dad got when I broke his phone; he’ll remember how well I dealt with it with patience, love, and understanding. Of course that didn’t happen in the moment, but that’s the beautiful thing about life. We get second chances, and can make it right.
So I write all of this to remind us all of one thing: don’t let the little things get in the way of the big things. And in the scheme of life, a phone is a little thing, a relationship is a big thing. So if in anyway you’ve maybe like me missed the point, focused on a thing rather than a person, or overreacted – why not make it right today. Call a friend, tell your spouse your sorry, give your kids a hug and say you love them. Because what I needed that day was a reminder from God, that broken hearts matter more than broken phones and things and maybe you might need the same reminder today.
On Sunday we had a great celebration, that our church has been here 60 years. We have been blessed with 6 decades of change and influence in our community and partnering with change in people’s lives.
And so we celebrated, we threw a party, we had a BBQ and bouncy castles. But more than that I also shared on Sunday where I believe we are headed for the next 60 years. And what I believe is this: that the future that is coming is greater than anything we have seen before. That we will be saying, “Who could have seen that coming?”
Because while I know lots of people like to talk about the end of the world, the difficulties of the church, and how the future is dark – that isn’t how Paul talks. Instead, Paul believes, like I do, that there is always good and grace on the horizon. So on Sunday we opened up this passage of Scripture from Ephesians 3 which says, “By his mighty power at work within us, God is able to accomplish infinitely more than we would ever dare to ask or even to hope.”
God wants to do more in our lives that we have ever hoped, dreamed, or even imagined. The words there translated “infinitely more” means literally vastly more than more. God has vastly more than more in store for you.
And this is something I have believed about this church from day one and still believe it is true.
When I came here to be the lead pastor, we had to preach for a “call”. Which basically is a terrifying process where you preach and then everyone votes on you afterwards. Just a small bit of pressure…but it obviously went well.
But this was the verse I preached then. That I believed regardless of whatever happened in the vote, that God had good things in store. And I still believe that. That while lots of people like to pronounce doom and gloom; God is pronouncing life, love, a better future than could ever be imagined. This is your future, and this is mine.
So on Sunday we simply closed with having people state it aloud. To actually say, “God has infinitely more in store for me than I could ever hope or imagine”. Because there are lots of other voices that are saying different things, but I think we need to listen to the Spirit’s voice. The Spirit that says, I have infinitely more in store for you than you could ever hope or imagine. And that…that is good news.
Big Idea: God’s got more in store for you, me, and this church.
- If you don’t appreciate the markers you reach, you often stop reaching them.
- “Who could have seen that coming?”
- The future that is coming is good.
- God’s love is so beyond us that we cannot grasp it, but we can experience it.
- Because when you trust in the future he has for you – you find it.
- Listen and trust in the future God has for you.
- Your dreams are too small for God, God’s got bigger in store for you.
- Are you willing to let God loose in your life?
- Your future isn’t dependent on you but on what God has in store for you.
- “God has infinitely more in store for me than I could ever hope or imagine”
Adult Discussion Questions:
What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? When you look into the future do you see hope or difficulty? Do you believe that God might have infinitely more in store for you? Are you willing to let him loose in your life? What might that look like to trust in his voice? What next step might you take? Who can you ask for support as you continue to follow him?
Challenge for the Week: Trust in God’s voice
On Sunday we looked at the last of the strands of DNA within our church. We looked at how we here practice, “Unity in Diversity”.
And this value is one that is so needed and also so rare in our current church culture in the West. In the West we are so quick to divide, to call out “heresy”, to be angry and aggressive in person, on Facebook, in blog comment sections, and online in general.
What we looked at on Sunday is how a culture of division, and raising “secondary” issues to “ultimate” issues has taken hold. That people are quick to say, “if you don’t believe in…[insert current hot topic position] you aren’t a true Christian.”
In essence, the church is taking the easy route of dividing, and isolating – rather than loving and holding onto unity.
But this is not part of our DNA here at our church. Instead, we hold strongly to relationships over difference. Instead, we practice unity in diversity. Or as St. Augustine reportedly said, “Unity in essentials, liberty in non-essentials, and love in all things”.
We then explored not only how this is part of our DNA, but part of the calling of God found in many places but especially Galatians 5.
In Galatians 5 we read of how Paul is furious with how some in the church in Galatia are raising secondary issues (circumcision) to being a primary issue. In essence, they were taking a non-essential and saying it was an essential. And Paul has some brutally strong language for those who confuse those categories (just go read verse 12…wow!). And Paul warns the church that one divisive person, one angry person, one person who confuses the categories of essential and non-essential can infect an entire church. They can pollute it, damage it, and harm its witness.
And I think that’s the trend we see around us in the wider church culture. But the point for us and our church is to not ever let that drift happen here. Our focus is to continue to practicing unity in diversity. Or as Paul says to do what is most important, “Faith expressing itself in love”
And that’s where we ended. I challenged us to just put that verse into practice. That is how we keep the main the thing “the main thing”, by ensuring that we express our faith in love. So I challenge everyone to love someone difficult this week. To actually move away from dogma, discussions, and debates to praxis – to faith expressing itself in love.
Because here is the truth, it’s much harder to separate from someone you are actively seeking to love. So put love into practice today.
Big Idea: Hold onto unity in diversity.
- If you don’t talk about it, you won’t live it
- Within Christianity as a whole in the West we are not all that generous towards one another or gracious.
- We are shrinking what we believe orthodoxy is, to the beliefs we personally hold.
- Unity in essentials, liberty in non-essentials, and love in all things
- We are committed to one another even if we disagree.
- Hold onto unity in diversity
- You come together because of your shared belief in Jesus
Adult Discussion Questions:
What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? What would you say are some of our core values? Have you noticed the trend towards dividing and debating in Christianity? Have you ever fallen into it? Why do you think it’s happening? Do you think that “holding onto unity in diversity” is important? How come? Who can you love this week? What can you practically do?
Challenge for the Week: Love someone you disagree with this week
On Sunday we opened up a brand new series exploring the different aspects of who we really are. We looked at the ways in which God has designed our church, and some of our “DNA”. I believe that God creates not only unique people, but unique churches with something unique to offer.
So over the next few weeks we want to explore and reveal some of what makes this church, “us”. And we began by exploring grace.
We looked at a really important parable in Matthew 18. Here Peter essentially asks Jesus how many times we should forgive one another. Peter is asking this question in response to realizing that communities aren’t perfect. No church or group is perfect, we all let one another down and sometimes even hurt one another. Peter asks how are we to deal with that? What are the boundaries on forgiveness? How far does grace extend?
And Jesus tells a story of a man who was given an extreme amount of grace as his debt was removed, but then squeeze out this tiny debt from another fellow servant. In essence the story is one we know well: someone abuses grace. The man though who abused the grace given is eventually thrown into prison and suffers for the rest of his life.
And Jesus ends with this deeply challenging saying, “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”
And what we unpacked on Sunday was how, if you refuse to give grace, you can’t be saved by grace. That if you reject the grace that is given, by refusing to give it to others, you can’t be captured by it.
Terrence Malik, in his beautiful film The Tree of Life, puts it this way, “The nuns taught us there are two ways through life … the way of Nature… and the way of Grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow.” And that’s true.
But the reason I love our church so much is that it has chosen the way of grace. Grace is given first. And this is harder than justice or law first, but it’s the only way to truly live. Because Jesus always gives us grace first, he died while we were sinners and didn’t deserve what he gave us.
The point is that for me, I believe a huge value of our church is showing grace first. And that we can’t drift from this. And while it may sound tempting and biblical to stand up for TRUTH, for righteousness, for the law, and for justice (which usually means punishing someone) – it isn’t right. Jesus gives grace first. Grace is what everything proceeds from, and we need to follow that lead. Which is why I love the church.
The truth is the past few years at this church have been very good, but this isn’t because I’m good, it’s because the church is gracious. I shared stories of how the church has given me grace over the years, and why that changed me, and changes lives. And I ended with this main point: Keep choosing grace. Because grace is like a muscle, the more you use it the easier it is to give it. The less you give it, the harder and less likely you will be to give it.
So we ended with a simple challenge: to show someone grace today. To not wait but to show someone grace in an everyday way. To let something go, to give something undeserved, to actually take a step. Because the truth is grace changes lives, and it’s the reason I love this church, and I believe it’s our calling to not just believe but live out.
Big Idea: Keep choosing grace.
- If we don’t know who we are we can drift from whom God has made us
- Our DNA: Grace, Transformation, Harmony
- Grace matters most to me, because I think it matters most to God
- There is no perfect community, because all community involves broken people
- The really contentious point of grace isn’t receiving it, but giving it
- If we reject grace, we can’t be saved by grace.
- Grace is the thing that makes relationships work.
- When relationships lose grace they become built on law and legalism but that’s not a relationship. That’s a contract
- Jesus is a grace-first God.
- Grace needs to be a habit, not just a belief
- When you stop practicing grace you start to drift from it
Adult Discussion Questions:
What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? What would you say are some of our core values? How has someone in this church showed you grace? Why do you think grace is so transformational? Why do you think grace is so hard to show? Who might you be called to show grace to today?
Challenge for the Week: Show grace today
On Sunday we are starting a brand new series here called: Our DNA: Three Strands ~ Grace, Transformation, and Harmony. We are going to be exploring some of what makes us – “us”. We want to be looking inward and to really examine some of our core values.
Because the truth is if you don’t know what you value, you can drift or lose them.
Holding onto who we are isn’t just important, it’s imperative, because just like how you were designed – I believe God has designed our church in a certain way. We all are unique with unique gifts to the world. And I believe the same is true of our church.
So that’s what we are starting on Sunday looking at the first of our values: grace. It might not be a surprise but it certainly does matter. Hope you can join us.
Today I want to take a look at the paradoxical nature of the cross. The cross is simultaneously judgment, and forgiveness all in one. And whether the cross is judgment or forgiveness is often the result of perspective.
Andrew Sung Park writes this,
“When the cross of Jesus is seen from the perspective of the oppressed, it signifies God’s suffering with them; seen from the perspective of oppressors, the cross means God’s suffering because of them”.
And this little difference – makes a huge difference.
The truth is that God suffering on the cross signifies God’s solidarity with all who have been abused, oppressed, or hurt through evil. God knows what it is to be killed by an empire about power, oppression, and might.
Yet the cross is also simultaneously reminding us that God’s death is because of oppressors. That the death of Jesus Christ is the result of oppressive systems, people, and regimes that use violence to make peace. The cross stands in judgment of those systems, and offers forgiveness to those who are oppressors.
The trouble with this, or the offensive part of this is that we like to most identify with the oppressed. We like to most identify with the God who suffers with us, not because of us.
But the truth is that I am not really all that oppressed (I’m white, western, male, and educated). And the reality is that most of us probably reading this are not the oppressed in many significant ways. Through simply being born in the West many of us have inherited much privilege that others do not have.
I bring this up because I know personally I would much rather look at the cross as a place of God’s solidarity with me, but I know if I’m going to be honest I also need to look at the cross as a place of God’s judgment with me. Of the ways in which I can and do participate in systems that hurt other people. The difficulty is that in today’s day and age we don’t often see the ways in which our actions contribute to hurt around the world. We don’t see how our privileges might be at someone else’s expense.
I say this all not to make anyone feel guilty – because I believe guilt is a terrible motivator. I say this all because what God has been speaking to me and reminding me of is that yes the cross is a giant reminder that I’m forgiven. But the cross is also a giant reminder that there is evil in the world, and it’s often in us.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn famously said,
If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
And I think the answer to Solzhenitsyn’s question is – Christians should be willing to destroy a piece of their own heart. Christians should be willing to do the hard work of examining our hearts and seeing how we might change. Christians should be the most motivated to change because when we look at the cross we know two things: 1) we are forgiven and included, so we should not be scared or fearful of doing a courageous moral inventory; 2) we all have sin and evil within us, so we should know we need to do a courageous moral inventory.
So I say this all to remind us of one simple thing: we should be so grateful for God’s forgiveness, so grateful that we do the hard work of examining why we need it. Because if you are anything like me there are actions I need to cut out, there are habits I need to be freed from, there are revelations from God’s Spirit as to the best path I need to hear. But it is easy to ignore doing the hard work of inwardly looking.
I just think that the cross invites us to do that hard work of inwardly reflecting on our lives. The cross says to us we are welcomed and included, but that there are parts of all of us that need to be changed. May we have the courage to really examine our lives, listen to the Spirit, and make changes so that we might not only accept the gift of grace from Jesus Christ – but live like him.
Recently I’ve been thinking about Jesus saying we need to become like little children to inherit the Kingdom of God. And I’m sure there are lots of really great interpretations of this verse, with lots of really meaningful applications.
But the one I’ve been thinking about today is what if Jesus is talking about imaginations?
I mean as I think about my own kids, the one thing they have is so much imagination. And imagination, along with wonder, seems to be something we lose as adults.
Just recently I’ve had two interactions with Asher that remind me of the wonder of imagination. One, I was sleeping and he hit me with a stick and said, “Wake up daddy – I hit you with my magic stick. See it work you wake up” and he bounced off singing, and waking up all his animals. Then we were wrestling and he stops me and says, “I win daddy – I have laser eyes *blink blink* I got you again.”
These are things that never ever occur to me…
And I know that Jesus could be talking about a lot of things, but what if he’s talking about how we won’t be able to enter the Kingdom unless we can imagine it? Unless we can maybe dream up what it might look like? And how it might actually affect our lives right here and now?
What if part of the problem of us seeing the Kingdom really changing lives and changing communities ~ is because of our lack of imagination for how it might happen? What if our shrunken imaginations are actually shrinking the possibilities for the kingdom?
Ever since Asher beat me in wrestling with his laser eyes I’ve been thinking about that question. What possibilities might Asher see for the Kingdom that I’m missing? What might Asher fearlessly try that I wouldn’t? What might I see if I had the imagination and wonder of a child fully invested in the Kingdom of God?
I don’t have any great answers to that question…but I think it’s a great question to start with. And so while I don’t how it all plays out, I’ve been praying a new prayer recently because of my kids, “God give me eyes to see your world with childlike imagination.” Because once we start dreaming, and imagining we can also start following.