Do You See the Good or the Lack?

12523184_10156725505805643_6099962064558674436_nThis week I started taking Asher to skating lessons. He did well…and by well I mean at one point he was flopping around on the ice like a fish out of water. But he did stand and skate on his own having a great time.

As I was waiting for him to come off, I heard a parent immediately share with their child how they can improve, what they need to do better, and how they can try harder. They were kind and quiet but still affirming all the work to be done.

Asher came off and immediately said – loudly and proudly – “Daddy I great at skating. I great skater”

Now objectively this is utterly false unless great skating means lying on the ice for 5 minutes. But I realized I had a chance to affirm the good in him or his lack. He was skating on his own which was new, learning to stand up from falling on his own, and he was trying hard (hence the tired lying on the ice). Was he gliding around the ice doing pirouettes…no of course not.

So the point though is this: so often we have chances and choices to affirm the good in people or their lack. We can affirm how they are growing, doing well, or where they are lacking. And I think we often choose to affirm the growth areas rather than the good already present. And I think that affirming the good in people is a little difference, that can make a huge difference.

And this is actually what God does so often as well.

He affirms the good in us rather than our lack: you are holy (Colossians 1:22), you have a new nature (Colossians 2:10), you are God’s masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10). And if God does that, I just think we should too. We should affirm the good we see in others. We should celebrate the imperfect steps people are taking towards good goals. We should be people who affirm the good rather than the lack.

So of course I said to Asher, “You did Great Asher – you’re a great skater”

Lent: Seven Woes of Jesus ~ Week 6 (RECAP)

Hey everyone – somehow this post and podcast was stuck in “draft” form for quite a while. So its from a couple of weeks ago. But if you missed it here is what happened!

Lent: Seven Woes of Jesus ~ Week 6: Prophet Killers, and Rejecting the Truth

On Sunday we continued in our series looking at how Jesus calls the religious elite of his day to follow God his way. And that’s a message we still need.

So on Sunday we looked at his last “woe” where Jesus essentially condemns the religious leaders as being like their ancestors – people who killed the prophets.

Now the prophets in the Old Testament weren’t so much future tellers, as “forth-tellers” ~ telling the truth to people in power. And this is what got them killed, and it will still get you killed today. The prophets stood up to the kings and powerful and called them out for trusting in military power (horses and chariots), for neglecting the poor, and treating the immigrant and foreigner wrongly. The prophets essentially took the reality of their lives and brought it before the powerful and said, “you are obligated to address this” and if you don’t God’s judgment will come upon you.

And Jesus standing in that tradition comes to the Pharisees and does the same thing. He says that by rejecting him and his message of Good News for the poor and hurting, they are rejecting God and being like those who killed the prophets of old. Jesus says that if they continue to reject the poor, forget about mercy, and neglect justice that judgement and even hell itself will be their destiny.

But here is the interesting part – this isn’t what Jesus wants. Jesus in the passage makes it very clear that what he really wants is to gather them together, like a mother hen, to care and protect. But because the Pharisees reject him, and the truth he brings – they also reject his protection. That when we reject Jesus, we are left all alone with the consequences of our sin. And that’s what happens to the Pharisees – they reject Jesus and suffer the consequences of their own sin.

But here is the hopeful part – we don’t need to make the same choice. We can learn from the example of the Pharisees how hard it is to listen to truth from God, how hard it is to value justice, how hard it is to practice love for the lowly, but how absolutely necessary it is.

So on Sunday we ended with this main point: The Pharisees missed the point, but we can listen and hear Jesus.

Jesus didn’t want destruction, difficulty, and judgement to come upon the Pharisees, but it did because of their rejection of him. Because whenever you miss God’s voice difficulty is on the horizon. But whenever you listen hope is on the horizon

So we ended with a challenge: to listen to Jesus. To actually sit and be open to Jesus, and invite him to speak at least daily into our lives. To let him shape us, and bring up some of the areas we need to change. The truth is hard to hear, but if we want to be gathered together, live like Jesus, and experience his care and comfort we cannot reject him and his way of life. And that begins with hearing and listening.

So on Sunday we had one challenge: To once a day for just 5 minutes a day sit, be open to Jesus, and invite Jesus to speak

Because we each have a choice. A choice to listen and to respond, or not. And that choice can make all the difference.

Sermon Notes: 

Big Idea: The Pharisees missed the point, but we have a choice, we don’t have to.

Teaching Points:

  • Prophets told the truth
  • Your present reality is dictating your future
  • Jesus isn’t angry with how they relate to God, but to those around them
  • God isn’t impressed with religion, and he still isn’t if you ignore the people he sends to direct you and the people you are to care for
  • When we reject Jesus we are left with the consequences of our sin on our own
  • the heart of Jesus is still grace
  • Whenever you miss God’s voice difficulty is on the horizon but whenever you listen hope is on the horizon
  • The first step to hearing Jesus is opening yourself to Jesus
  • Invite Jesus to speak to us and change us

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? Why do you think that hearing the truth is so hard? What “rises up” or reaction do you have to when someone tries to share with you “the truth”? How have you maybe ignored Jesus in the past like the Pharisees? How can you ensure that you don’t miss or ignore Jesus now?

Challenge for the Week: To once a day for just 5 minutes a day sit, be open to Jesus, and invite Jesus to speak

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.

Why Friends Matter More than Family

friendship-1309415-639x852On Sunday we are looking at a really important topic but one that’s sidelined in our world: friendship.

I know right away the word sounds a little…well my little pony with rainbows and stuff. It sounds kind of weak, or something you’d hear on a children’s show talking about the “power of friendship”.

And while I have those initial reactions and resonances I also know that they are untrue. There is power in friendship. In fact, it’s probably the one thing in our culture that we need to regain more than anything else. We have so many connections, but not that many deep friendships. We know lots of people, and know how to network, but not how to cultivate decade long journeying with others. And this is something I want to address on Sunday.

  • Why are relationships and friendships so important?
  • What makes them unique?
  • How do we invest in them?
  • And why do we need them?

And to do that we are going to look at Solomon who says some pretty shocking things about friendships. That friendship will determine the quality of your life and the direction, more than finances, or even your family. That friendships are more important than family and are closer than family. That having good friendships is the key to a good life.

So that’s where we are going on Sunday.  I hope you can join us, to learn about the “power of friendship” even though I know that sounds lame, but it is anything but that.

Envisioning Your Future Self

back-to-the-future-part-2-1409979-1279x852I read this recently by author, and podcaster Lewis Howes:

You become what you envision yourself being.

And in all honesty I think that’s really true. I’m not really big into the “positive self thinking” kind of movement. But there is a deep truth in that quote. That if you envision yourself as failing, as having nothing to contribute to the world, as lacking in value and worth to others it ends up being the “lens” you see yourself and the world through. It ends up conditioning and determining some of your actions and behavior, and you end up sometimes becoming what you envision.

This is nothing new or revolutionary, this is something social psychology and even psychiatry have known for a long time. That the “tapes” we play in our minds, contribute heavily to our actions and who we become. And we could discuss that, but I’d rather discuss something more revolutionary. Not who you envision yourself becoming, but who the Bible says you are.

Lewis Howes wants you to focus on “who you want to be”. The Bible wants you to focus in on who you already are. And I think that one little shift makes all the difference. Lewis, rightfully, wants you to focus on becoming a positive and healthy person. The Bible has a different perspective, to tell you who you are so that you can live into that reality. 

The Bible and the Spirit of God doesn’t want to tell you, “Envision becoming this way”. The Bible and the Spirit of God tell you that fundamentally at a core level, this is who you are – now live into that reality. The Bible doesn’t want you to dream of being holy, pure, loved, or new. The Bible states unequivocally as follower of Jesus, that you are holy, pure, loved, and a new creation.

The Bible is less concerned with trying to get you to envision who you can become, than for you to believe who you are. Because once you know who you are, you can live out of that reality. The Bible isn’t trying to get you believe that you can be holy, pure, and new – through positive thinking – but to believe that you are holy, pure, and new through Jesus Christ.

And this small difference can make all the difference.

Because I can tell you – if you follow Jesus – you are pure, holy, loved, and new. And while you might not always live out of that centre, it’s your true centre. And the beauty is this then – this reality isn’t beyond any one of us because it is true of all of us.

So then no matter how much you might struggle with it, to live it, to truly know it – it’s still true and today you can live it.

So all I’m wanting to say is that Lewis Howes is right, “You become what you envision yourself being” I just want to make sure what we envision ourselves being is what the Bible says – holy, pure, and loved (Colossians 3:10-15)

Christmas at the Movies: Charlie Brown and Gathering and Gratefulness

Title_frame_from_A_Charlie_Brown_ChristmasOn Sunday we began by watching a clip of Charlie Brown’s Christmas. This is where Linus tells Charlie brown what Christmas is about. And I think for every Christian there isn’t a real disagreement that Christmas is about Jesus. But how this plays out in our lives there is a lot of diversity, and I think some wasted energy.

So on Sunday I wanted to clearly explain what I think Christmas being about Jesus means. And to do this we thought about what the actual first Christmas was like.

Most likely the first Christmas was full of some anxiety, some stress, mess, and transcendent joy. This is because every birth I’ve been at part of it had some anxiety, stress, mess, and transcendent joy. As a Dad I was quite terrified by everything with the birth of our first son, and this is at a hospital with loads of medical professionals. I couldn’t imagine what Joseph must have been feeling, and the stress to not harm the Son of God as a baby.

But what I’ve also known is that amidst the worry, stress, and excitement there comes a moment of transcendent joy when you hold the newborn baby in your arms. And what has happened in every instance after this, in our world, is that family and friends come over, bring food, and gifts and we celebrate the gift of new life.

And as I was reading the Christmas story, something new hit me. I always thought of how the shepherds and Magi showing up are displays of God’s glory and power. Now though, I see them maybe more of displays of the humanity that God tenderly cares for.

Mary and Joseph were alone without anyone to share the birth with, and God sends shepherds to rejoice with, and Magi to worship and give gifts. And it struck me: the very first thing Jesus did was gather people together to express gratefulness and gratitude at the gift of life.

Before Jesus did any healings, miracles, teaching, or dying and rising again – his very first act is to bring people together to celebrate and be grateful. Because of Jesus’ birth Mary, Joseph, Magi, and Shepherds are drawn together to celebrate and be grateful for the gift of life in their hands.

This is what happened on the very first Christmas, and I think it needs to ground what we believe Christmas is about. Christmas is about gathering together to be grateful for the gifts of life God has given us. When we say Christmas is about Jesus, that’s true. But I wish we would understand how part of what the truth is, is to actually do is to cause us to gather with family and friends with grateful hearts and celebration.

Christmas, if it is about anything, is certainly not about boycotting, arguing, or debating. Christmas is about gathering and celebrating. Christmas is about sharing in the gift of life that is given to us. Christmas is about gathering and being grateful.

So that was the main point on Sunday; Christmas is about gathering and begin grateful. And then we closed with actually practicing this. We gathered for a Christmas meal and shared things we were grateful for. And I think that’s a good practice to do this Christmas.

Sermon Notes:

Big IdeaChristmas is a time to gather and be grateful.

Teaching Points:

  • Christmas is about Jesus.
  • What is central to Christmas?
  • We have a sanitized picture of the birth of Jesus
  • God sends people to celebrate and appreciate the new birth
  • Jesus’ birth directly caused people to gather, be grateful, and celebrate
  • Jesus gathered together diverse people, to appreciate the gifts given to them
  • The story isn’t just about what happened back then but what should happen today.
  • We should gather friends and family together, and practice being grateful for the gifts God has given us.

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? What was funny? What can you be grateful for this Christmas? How has God given you life, strength, hope, or something tangible in the past year? Who can you share your gratefulness with?

Discussion Questions / Responses for Young Families

Today it’s simple – ask your kids what they are most grateful for in life. But beforehand help them to learn the right example by sharing what you appreciate and are grateful for about them.

Challenge for the Week: Gather with people and be grateful

The Meaning of Christmas

christmas-bulbs-1258956-639x750On Sunday we are looking at what the meaning of Christmas is. And while I think at first glance that seems pretty clear – it’s about Jesus. I’m not so sure we know how that actually applies to what we live, and what we do.

Lots of Christians around Christmas debate how the meaning of Christmas is Jesus. For some this means fighting consumerism, for others it means being able to say “Merry Christmas”, not “Happy Holidays”, or there are lots of other debates going on.

So while every Christian would agree, that Christmas is about Jesus, what that practically and actually means is quite different depending on what Christian you talk with.

So that’s what I want to clear up on Sunday. I want to clear up what Christmas being about Jesus really means practically for our lives. What we should positively be doing if that statement is true. And it’s something simple, it’s something practical, and like the best simple and practical things – it’s absolutely transformational.

Christmas at the Movies: Home Alone and Hilarity

home-alone-boyGUEST POST: Pastoral Intern Carter Whyte

This week we began our “Christmas at the Movies” series – using classic Christmas movies to help shed new light on Jesus’ coming to earth. The enjoyable viewing of Home Alone served two purposes for this first message in the series: it taught us about our forgetfulness, and it forced us to put the message into action by having fun.

Just like Kevin’s parents forgot him at home when they went away for Christmas, oftentimes Christians forget something very important when we enter this holiday season: Joy!

We read in Luke 2 that when an angel announced Jesus’ birth to nearby shepherds, the angel proclaimed, “I bring you good news that will be great joy to all people.”

How often do we celebrate because of Jesus? 

Sometimes Christians become fun-suckers, boring, and somber. We may try to rationalize these attitudes by saying that being serious and focused are important because we have a mission to complete and our days are numbered. But think: If the good news is supposed to bring joy into our lives, can we possibly spread the message of this good news without bringing joy along?

We know that joy is good! Laughter refreshes us! Doing fun things relieves us of the worries we have been carrying around! None of us want to go to work every day when there is absolutely nothing pleasurable about it.

There is a time for sorrow, and mourning, and self-reflection. But there is also a time for joy, and shouting, and self-expression! And Christmas is that kind of time!

Christian maturity should lead to more joy, as a result of a deeper connection with the Spirit that produces joy, and the Jesus that brings joy to the world! So let’s be mature this Christmas and let our lives be filled with joy because of Jesus.

  • With still a few weeks until Christmas, why not consider adding in some extra celebrations with your family and the people around you?
  • Invite people from work over to have a fondue dinner!
  • Do something new and exciting with your spouse!
  • Add something new to a traditional Christmas dinner – invite your family into a sing-along, or invite somebody new along! (Or write a poem!)
  • Join in with your kids when they are silly, or build a gingerbread house with them this Sunday for the competition in Plattsville!

Don’t forget to have joy and spread joy to others this Christmas!

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Don’t forget to bring joy with you this Christmas. 

Teaching Points:

  • Sometimes it’s easy to forget the most important things
  • “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people”
  • God is about Joy, and the instigator of Joy
  • You don’t win points by being more conservative than God
  • Don’t forget to have fun this Christmas.

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? What was funny? When have you forgotten something important? What brings you joy at Christmas? How can you spread joy? How can you have fun? What can you do today to bring joy to your family?

Discussion Questions / Responses for Young Families

Ask your kids what is most fun thing to do at Christmas. Then go do it.

Challenge for the Week: To go have fun!

Leadership Like the Dawn

dawn-2-1504573-1280x960I stumbled across this verse and it just jumped out. Listen to it deeply especially if you are a leader of any kind. Because here is a beautiful description of what power, authority, and leadership should be. It’s poetry but that’s why it’s so inspiring:

When one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of God, he dawns on them like the morning light. (2 Sam 23:3-4)

I think that’s just a beautiful picture of leadership rightly exercised. That when leadership is done rightly it’s like “he dawns on them like morning light”. That when leaders are full of justice and fear of God, their leadership isn’t heavy and burdensome. It’s soft, it’s light, it’s full of future and promise like an early morning. And just as the dawn creeps up pushing away darkness, this is what it’s like when someone rules justly and in the fear of God.

When I think about my leadership if someone were to describe it like that to me, I would be honored. That’s what I hope for, that my leadership would be like the breaking of the dawn. My guess is if you are a leader you hope that too.

So what can you do today to start to live into that vision of leadership? Because it’s worth chasing after, just like the dawn chases after the night.