I think parenting is an exercise in trust and hope. I mean you spend hours and hours with your kids, coaching, guiding, and if you’re at all like us – disciplining your kids.
Sometimes if I’m honest you wonder if it’s all worth it.
Like you know it’s all worth it, but after a giant fight at bath time, when your soaking, and kids are crying doubt creeps in. I think that’s why parenting is hard, because you are really playing the long-game in parenting. You are hoping that what you do today, pays off in decades. And it’s hard sometimes to keep motivated or to even know if all your effort is having an impact when the results are years and years away.
But then every now and then you see some glimmer, you see a glimpse, you see some of the fruit.
As many of you know Krista and I accepted a new position, so we’ll be moving and changing churches in the next few months. This was an incredibly hard decision, but one we feel certain about. A tough point though came when we came to tell our kids.
We sat down with Hudson, told him about the move. He asked great questions, he processed it all, and in the end he asked to pray. This is what he prayed,
“Dear God help daddy to trust you with this move, find us the best house, best new friends, and help daddy with his new job to do really really great. Help mom and dad not to be sad, but excited. Amen”
And sometimes after hours and hours of wondering if anything sinks in, to little ears that don’t always seem to listen, you have a moment like this. You have a moment when you realize that your kids aren’t just kids, but people God speaks to. People who can pray better than you, and say the things you struggle to say, and people who remind you God is always working.
So all of this is to say that if you’ve had a long week with your kids, don’t forget all that’s growing underneath. Because when God reveals their little hearts, you realize all the effort is worth it. It’s always worth it.
On Sunday we are going to talk about prayer. Prayer is something that is really important and should be part of the regular fabric of our lives. Prayer is something that really releases God to work in the world and in our lives.
So on Sunday I am going to teach on prayer, but more importantly we are going to have a chance to practice prayer. We are going to have a time to actually pray for another. We are going to have a time to anoint people with oil, because I believe that prayer can heal. Prayer can change lives. So that’s where we are going on Sunday. We are going to be looking at this passage:
Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven. Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops.
On Sunday we looked journeying with others again. This is a key mark of a follower of Jesus, that they don’t follow him alone. Because we all need others, we need support, direction, and love. Life is meant to be lived together.
And this is actually what we discover way back in the very beginning. God shows up to Adam and says, “It’s not good for man to be alone”. And here I don’t think he is just talking about Adam specifically but humanity in general. That we were not created to live and journey in this world alone.
What is quite amazing is that pre-sin Adam still needed someone. That it’s not sin and challenges that causes us to need to journey together, but something in our very makeup. That it is simply put not good for humanity to journey alone. We all need others. We need a “helper” or “companion”.
Now this word in English gets read through patriarchal lens and it makes it seem like what Adam needs is a domestic wife to support him. That he needs a little helper at home. And this is not only demeaning to women but to God too, because that is not what God is saying.
God is actually saying it is not good for Adam to be alone, he needs a helper. He needs someone to save him, to protect him, to sustain him, to shield him, or to journey with him. The word “ezer” (helper) is most often used in the Psalms to refer to God’s activity of saving, sustaining, protecting, rescuing, or giving hope. So a “helper” is not a nice little addition to your life, but an active presence that guarantees your future through saving, sustaining, protecting and rescuing.
God is saying I believe that we all need those people in our lives. We all need companions who help us to journey into life, because life isn’t meant to be lived alone. This was the main point on Sunday, that life is meant to be shared with others. So I ended with a very specific challenge, to journey with two other people closely for the rest of this year. I truly believe that it isn’t good to live alone, so I challenged all of us to journey with others closely for this whole year. Two people at minimum (and your spouse doesn’t count) because we all need companions to rescue, protect, help, save, and give us hope.
For some of us we are doing this, and just need to keep doing this. For others we have friendships that can become deep and committed but we need to invest in them. And for others we don’t know where to start with relationships, but we are called to pray for them. Because God still wants to make sure all of us don’t live alone but with life-giving relationships.
So whether that means investing in your good relationships, investing in your potential relationship to become good ones, or investing in prayer for God to help you create some. We are all called to invest in relationships to live with and for one another. Because God is right, “It is not good to live alone”, we are called to live together.
Big Idea: Life was meant to be shared with others, and we need to journey together
It is easier to be selfish and self-interested in our world, but it not better
That we need to be journeying with others, if we want to journey with Jesus
Life is not complete without someone to share it with
“To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul”. Simone Weil
Commit to journeying closely with 2 other people this year
Adult Discussion Questions:
What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? What relationships have impacted you most? Which relationships do you have now that are closest? Who have been your “ezers” or helper and companions in life? Are there people in your life who are this to you now? Are there people in your life who you are like this for them? Can you commit to journeying with at least two people for this year?
Discussion Questions for Young Families
Journeying together isn’t just for adults but for kids and families as well. Studies show us that kids need 5 adults caring and pouring into their lives to truly thrive. So spend sometime thinking about the adults who can pour into your family, and what family you can pour into. Who are you journeying with as a family? And go spend time with them this week.
Challenge for the Week: Commit to journeying closely with 2 other people this year
While I was preaching up North at our denominational camp, our Pastor Emeritus here Randal Rehkopf graciously stepped in to share. Randall was the pastor here for seven years before I came, and is still a pastor here really. Randall has a wonderful sense of God’s spirit, and wisdom. I hope that this sermon on hope might encourage you.
On Sunday we really opened up a pretty deep and difficult topic: eschatology. This is the study of last things, and what will happen at the end. This includes heaven, hell, the second coming of Jesus, who will be saved, and lots more. So we actually have given it two weeks to discuss, and this week I covered why eschatology matters and what’s called corporate eschatology.
But first why does eschatology matter?
Well the simple reason is that it’s practical and crucial for our everyday lives.
At first this seems like…well…a lie. I mean for many of us we don’t think that what happens at the end of the world does affect our lives all that much. But my contention is that it should, and it should shape our lives. And here is why: our view of the future, shapes our present. How the world ends, is how we should be living now.
So practically this really matters. We believe that Jesus is coming again, and when he does he will put the world to rights. He will fix all that is broken with the world. We will live in harmony with one another, with God, and with the earth. So what this means is if this is our destination – we need to start to live it now.
This means the church should be talking about racism. Why? Because in the end all the peoples of the earth will worship together as one. So we need to be challenging racism, sexism, and all that divides us now. We need to practice inclusion.
This means the church should be taking seriously creation care. Why? Because the Bible tells us that the earth will be renewed, not burnt, and we are to steward the earth. So we should be caring for the earth now. Eschatology shapes our present.
Michael Bird puts it this way:
“Eschatology is not just pie in the sky. There is a deeply practical side here, for how we act in the present is deeply impacted by what we think of the future. What we think about evangelism, justice, ecological responsibility, pastoral care, budgets, the church, and ethics is based on what God has done and will yet do for his people through Jesus Christ. If our actions echo into eternity, if we contribute something to God’s coming kingdom, we will be constrained to operate with a kingdom perspective.”
And he is right. So eschatology matters and is practical.
So we gave that big overview, and that what we believe in a nutshell is this: Jesus is coming again to set the world right. That Jesus coming isn’t something to be feared, but longed for. That when Jesus comes it will be a good thing, and he will fix all that is broken. He will come again bodily, imminently, and personally.
This is what orthodox Christians believe. But where orthodox Christians disagree are some of the details and sequence of events of Jesus’ second coming. So we moved from discussing the big picture, to some of the details, specifically found in Revelation 20:1-8. We discussed the three major camps people fall into when thinking about how Jesus will come again: postmillennialism, premillennialism, and amillennialism.
Postmillennialism believes that Jesus will come after a 1000 year reign. This view was popular before WW1 and WW2 but the world wars really killed some of the optimism that we could move into a golden age (millennium) without a dramatic intervention of Jesus Christ.
This leads us to the second camp – premillennialism. This is where people believe Jesus will come before (pre) the millennium. This view is very popular in culture currently, and is probably the default position of most of the evangelical world.
Lastly, there is amillennialism which believes that we are currently living in the millennium rule of Jesus and he will arrive again.
We outlined some of the pros and cons to each view, and which one I personally lean towards. But we ended with discussing the main point: that Jesus is coming again and we need to be ready.
We closed with some wise words from Augustine: Unity in essentials (i.e. Jesus is coming again), liberty in non-essentials (i.e. how that all works out), and love in all things (no matter what we believe). And I think that’s a pretty wise stance.
We challenged ourselves at the end to discuss with a friend what we think the end looks like, and then to reflect about how we need to live now. Because eschatology isn’t just about where we go when we die, but how we live now.
Big Idea: Eschatology sets our focus and direction
Theology is a pilgrimage. It never stops thinking, questing or questioning. Following Jesus means that every morning begins a new part of the journey. Michael Hardin
Eschatology is the study of last things.
The end sets our direction and our focus.
From first to last, and not merely in the epilogue, Christianity is eschatology is hope, forward looking and forward moving, and therefore also revolutionizing and transforming the present. Jurgen Moltmann
Eschatology is about hope.
Jesus is coming again and we should be ready.
Three Views: postmillennialism, premillennialism, and amillennialism.
Eschatology sets our focus and direction
Adult 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 do you think happens at the end? Had you given it much thought before today? What was most interesting to you from the sermon? What did you think of Andrew’s talks on the three different camps? What personally do you need to change now in light of what happens in the end?
Discussion Questions for Young Families
Talk to your kids about how Jesus is coming again. Tell them that when he comes back he will fix the world and put it back right again. Ask them if there is anything that they think Jesus will fix when he gets back. Ask them how they might start to fix that now, and pick one way to do that and do that together.
Challenge for the Week: Have a discussion about what the end is like, and live in light of the end.
On Sunday we began our series looking at how God can give us a fresh start. The beautiful thing about God is that he cares about us so deeply that he wants to wipe the slate clean. This idea though of God forgiving us is so familiar to us, that it’s lost some of its radical power. The God who created the spinning galaxies and molecules, hope, life, birth, and birds and trees sees all the hurt we do to ourselves and one another and still offers us forgiveness. This is really radical. Just think about it, we don’t do that with our family, friends, or ourselves. We hold onto hurts for years, our guilt traps us. And yet the perfect and holy God above and within, says grace, forgiveness, have a fresh start. This is wonderful. Just listen to this verse from 2 Corinthians:
Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him. 2 Cor 5:17
So if this is what God is about, and wants to do – how do we experience it? That’s the question isn’t it. How do we live this fresh start, find it, and experience it?
That’s what we spent the rest of the time on, on Sunday. We looked at a parable of Jesus in Matthew 13 that explains how we experience this Good News. And what we learned was our experience of this Good News is dependent on our hearts. Jesus shares that when the Good News is spread, it’s like seed and soil. And when the seed is spread it lands in different soils, or hearts. Some of our hearts are hard and rocky, and this Good News doesn’t penetrate or transform. Some of our hearts though are shallow and we love the idea of a fresh start, but when things get tough we give up. Others of us have this Good News go deep, but then greed, consumerism, and self-centeredness choke out the growth within us. But some hearts, some soil, is ready and it goes deep and lasts.
So on Sunday we asked a really important question: What is the soil of your heart like? Is it rocky or receptive, hard or soft, weedy or clean?
Because the state of our hearts is often the defining factor in experiencing a fresh start or not. God’s clear – he wants to give us a clean start. The question is are we ready to receive it?
The difference between different soils, and different hearts is often one word: yes. Hearts that are receptive, soil that is good, are hearts that say yes to Jesus. That keep saying yes to Jesus. That don’t stop saying yes to Jesus.
That’s how you experience a new beginning; you don’t stop saying yes to Jesus.
Today you can have a fresh start in your faith, and it begins by saying yes.
We ended with giving everyone a simple, but lifelong challenge: say yes to everything Jesus asks you this week. Just keep saying yes, and he will lead you not only to experience a new start, but a new future. Can you imagine how different your marriage would be if you just said yes to Jesus every time he asked you to apologize? Can you imagine how different your family would be if you said yes to Jesus every time he asked you to show grace? Can you imagine how different your community and even world might be if we just say yes to him consistently?
So that’s my challenge, a hard one, but a worthy one. If we want to have a fresh start this year, it begins with Jesus, and it begins by saying yes.
Big Idea: Today you can have a fresh start in your faith, and it begins by saying yes.
When you have a new beginning you have new possibilities
God is into fresh starts and new beginnings
We have become so familiar with the idea of God forgiving us, that it’s lost its power
Gardening takes good soil and patience
What is the soil of your heart like?
Keep saying yes to Jesus.
This week whenever Jesus asks you to do something: say yes.
Adult 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 was funny? Has God’s promises of forgiveness lost any of its “shock” for you? What is the soil of your heart like? How do you think saying yes might keep your heart soft? What is he asking you to say yes to today?
Discussion Questions for Young Families
Talk to your kids about soil, and how things need good soil to grow. Maybe even plant a few plants. Talk about how our hearts are like soil – and that they stay good by saying yes to Jesus. Ask your kids what Jesus might be asking of them, and then help them to say yes.
Challenge for the Week: This week whenever Jesus asks you to do something: say yes.
On Sunday we looked at the parable of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”. In this movie we saw how Grinches are people who enjoy wrecking other people’s joy. That they are bitter, hateful, spiteful, and often live alone up on a mountain with a dog – or maybe cats too.
The point is that with the Grinch Dr. Seuss actually perfectly portrays people in our own lives: people who are petty, small, angry, and bitter. Part of the difficulty with Christmas is that we often end up in close proximity to Grinches. And this can be dififcult and stressful but the question isn’t so much how do we deal with such people? But instead, one question deeper – how do people become Grinches?
We looked back to the movie and again Dr. Seuss is right on. People become grinches when their heart shrinks. When is starts to grow small and cold. One of the number one things that causes this is bitterness. Bitterness will shrink and shrivel your heart faster than anything.
So if that’s how you become a Grinch, how do you prevent that? Because Grinch’s aren’t just around us, but also inside us.
For that we looked, not to the movie, but to Hebrews 12:12-14 where we read this, “Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord. Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many”.
We camped out here for a while, because the author of Hebrews gives us four really practical steps to prevent “grinchiness”. The first is he teaches us to work at peace. To never give up on peace, to never give into apathy, but instead to work as best we can at peace. He also reminds us to live a holy life. And a holy life looks like Jesus’ life. So we could say to work at living like Jesus. Thirdly, he teaches us to rely on one another, and care for one another. Grinches live lonely lives, and we need to be reminded of the importance of caring and supporting one another. And last but not least, to watch out that bitterness doesn’t take root in our hearts.
What we all know that is living like the Grinch isn’t life-giving. So make a choice to live differently. That’s what changes the Grinch, he makes a decision and his heart grows a little bit. That’s what we need to do too.
So we ended with a challenge to prevent Grinchiness, by rooting out bitterness. To this Christmas work at peace with those who it’s tough, to work at living like Jesus, to ask for care and support for those around us.
And if you get a chance why not watch the movie, because it’s great, and a classic.
Big Idea: Prevent Grinchiness, by rooting out bitterness
Parables hide in plain sight.
A Grinch is someone whose heart has shrunk and shriveled.
Grinches aren’t just around us, but also inside us.
That the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Work for peace.
Holiness looks, and lives like Jesus.
Work at living like Jesus.
Work with one another.
Root out Bitterness with making a decision.
Adult 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 are some of your favorite Christmas movies? Do you have any Grinches in your life you have to deal with? What has been helpful in learning to deal with them? Is there any bitterness developing in your heart that needs to be dealt with? Whom do you need to work at peace with? How can you do that?
Discussion Questions for Young Families
Watch the movie, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, and then talk about how bitterness can make you into the Grinch. Talk about how it’s important to be grateful at Christmas, to work for peace, and to give. Ask them if there is anyone they want to give to.
This Sunday we looked at the movie A Christmas Story to give us a fresh perspective on the Christmas story. And we watched this clip of little Ralphie so deeply hoping for a Red-Rider BB Gun.
The point of the clip on Sunday was that in our day and age – we don’t hope like Ralphie does. We are so generally worried about “living in reality” that we reing in hope. We don’t place our hopes on getting this one thing.
But that’s not what we see actually in the life of Mary. She is given an amazing promise of God, something that seems not just unlikely but impossible. But Mary doesn’t let doubt in, she doesn’t temper her hope with “realism”, she doesn’t lower her expectations, but let’s her hope in God run wild. Listen to what she says in Luke 1:46-55:
Mary responded, “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed. For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me. He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him. His mighty arm has done tremendous things! He has scattered the proud and haughty ones. He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands. He has helped his servant Israel and remembered to be merciful. For he made this promise to our ancestors, to Abraham and his children forever.”
Mary hopes completely in God. She lets her hope in a merciful and strong God run wild. She doesn’t temper her hope with realism, or pragmatism. She hopes against all odds, that God has moved and is working within her.
And I think this is something we need to learn at Christmas especially. We need to learn to hope because Jesus is coming. Jesus is coming and with him everything changes. So we need to learn to hope, we need to let our hope run wild. That was the main point of Sunday. To let our hope in Jesus run wild.
And like Ralphie so deeply desiring a BB Gun, I asked everone one question: What is it you really want for Christmas?What are you really hoping for? And we’re not talking about gifts or deep desires. Is it for a marriage or body to be healed? To finally find a spouse, or purpose? To have a child, or a have a relationship healed? What is it you really want for Christmas?
Because I think that Christmas is a time to let our hope out, to share with God what we need and place our trust in him. That’s what Mary does, and I think that’s what we should do as well. And if there is ever a time to hope, I believe it is now.
So why not today answer that question: what are you hoping for this Christmas? Why not share with Jesus and trust in him to act. Because I know we often think about, “what happens if I get let down?” Well I think Christmas is about asking, what if God shows up and comes through. Because that’s what he did way back when, when he entered the world. And I think he can do it today.
So what are you hoping for?
Big Idea: We need to learn to hope.
Advent is a time where we wait and prepare for Jesus.
We don’t hope all that much anymore.
We don’t get our hopes up, because it is easier, but not necessarily better.
We need to learn to hope recklessly.
As Christians we can truly hope.
What do you really want this year for Christmas?
The more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it has established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild. G.K. Chesterton
I believe in Hope, capital H, because I believe in Jesus.
Hope is the act of taking the next step. Karl Barth
Adult 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 are some of your favorite Christmas movies? Would you say you’re someone who hopes – or keeps your hopes realistic? How come? What are you hoping for this year? Who are you hoping with that can support you as you watch and wait for God to move? What reasons do you have to hope in God? How has he been faithful to you in the past? How might he be faithful to you this advent?
Discussion Questions for Young Families
Spend sometime talking with your kids about hope. If they write down what gifts they are hoping for, why not have them make another list. “Things I’m hoping for, or things we can pray for”. Have them make a list of things and then pray over those things, and bring those things to Jesus.