Salvation – Its Not Just About You

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We are currently in the season of Lent. This is a time when we would traditionally pay more attention to themes such as confession, sin and sacrifice. This is an important area of our lives because, as I’ve often even wrote here, sin kills things. That’s simply what it does. But, the flipside is that salvation heals things.

Here, though, is what I want to unpack today: Sin isn’t just what we do (actions), it’s also part of our systems and relationships (systemic).

Pentecostal theologian, Amos Yong at Fuller, puts it this way, “Sin itself is undeniably social in character. … Because all creation labors under the bondage of sin, human creatures struggle with sinful relationships, life systems and environments from their conception. But, if sin has this inextricably social dimension, then so has sanctification.”

He goes on to write that “the purification from sin and the consecration to holiness therefore inevitably have to involve the reconciling of alienated relations, the redemption and renewal of social structures, and the healing of the world.”

What this all means in theological jargon is this: Salvation isn’t just about you and your sins; it’s about everything in the world – that in and through Jesus’ death and sacrifice, He wants to save not only us from our personal bad actions, but also the broken relationships we have in the broken social structures around us.

What this means is that salvation isn’t only individual, it’s also relational and cosmic. Meaning it involves everything. And, this is really really good news.

Jesus is not just interested in saving you, but also in saving your broken relationships, and the broken systems in and around us. Jesus is about a salvation that involves all the different aspects of “us.” Sin has a social dimension to it, and so does sanctification or salvation. Jesus wants to save every area of brokenness in the world, including our relationships and systems.

I write all this to remind us of one thing at Lent: That, yes, the world is broken and we can see it all around us – we don’t need to deny it. Instead, we can work against it, because Jesus is interested in saving every bit of creation.

Of course, we should confess our sins and brokenness during Lent. We absolutely should invite Jesus to work in our lives – to convict us, heal us and transform us. But, we should also ask how we might partner with Him in the healing of the world, because salvation has never been about just “you,” but about all of “us.” Sin does have a social dimension to it, but redemption does too.

So, during Lent, as we focus in on our sin and brokenness, let us not forget the broken systems of the world and the relationships around us that need to change. Because, while we might sometimes forget this, Jesus certainly does not, so neither should we.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have I forgotten mercy, justice, or faithfulness?

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

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

Sermon Notes:

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

Teaching Points:

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

 

Adult Discussion Questions:

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

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

Sharing Spices and Missing the Point:

 

spices-1477563-640x425On Sunday we are going to be looking at something that is controversial, but well Jesus says it so we should believe it – and it’s this:

Some rules matter more than others.

And while that might strike you as odd or even untrue – the trouble is it’s biblical. Biblically speaking while there are lots of important rules, or rhythms we should have as Christians there are some that matter more than others. And that even if you do some of the minor obligations, or regulations but miss the big ones – Jesus isn’t happy.

And while it sounds funny that there is actually a hierarchy of importance in the way of following Jesus it is true. Jesus himself says that there is a “greatest commandment’ which means there are “minor commandments”. And here is the tension: sometimes we value or prioritize the minors over the majors.

So that’s where we are going on Sunday. But here is the question I have for you before we get there: what do you think the majors of faith are? Think about it, pray about it, and then on Sunday let’s see what Jesus has to say about it.

What’s The Language of God?

On Sunday we started our series on Hebrews, looking at it through the lens of language. Because Hebrews has some really interesting language to it. It has the language of the Son, sacrifice, priests, and faith. And even though, for many of us, a lot of this language is far from our context, it can be life-changing to learn it.

So we began by looking at how God’s language is Son. That’s actually what the first few verses of Hebrews share. It tells us how Jesus is the perfect and exact representation of God. Jesus reveals who God is perfectly. It says this:

Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son…The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command.

That verse where it says that now God has spoken to us through his Son, it literally reads “God has spoken Son”. Jesus doesn’t just share the words of God, but is the Word of God. And this has some huge implications for us.

First, it means that God is actually “Jesusy”. If Jesus is the perfect revelation of God, then Jesus isn’t just like God – God is like Jesus. God is Jesusy. If we want to know who God is, we now look to Jesus. Jesus is the complete, perfect, and full revelation of who God is. So if we want to know what God is like, what God cares about, and how God acts – we look to Jesus. Jesus then becomes the centrepoint of our faith, our interpretation of the Bible, and the lens we look at everything through. God is Jesusy.

The second thing is that we then know a few things about God. God then has to be at least as nice as Jesus. If Jesus reveals God, then we cannot have a divided God with the Father being  mean and Jesus being nice. Jesus reveals God perfectly, so God is at least as nice as Jesus. We also then know that God cares for us because of the actions of Jesus.

The main point is that Jesus is the language of God. Jesus is the way we know God, and the way we learn about who God is. Jesus is the reason we know that God is loving, that he isn’t vindictive or capricious. Jesus is the reason we know God is worth following!

So I ended with a simple but clear challenge. If Jesus is the language of God, we need to get to know Jesus. The only way our view of God stays true is when we focus in on Jesus Christ. So this week I said get to know Jesus deeper. Read the gospels, pray, and worship him. If Jesus is the language of God, then it’s worth learning that language.

 

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Jesus is the language of God.

Teaching Points:

  • Language can shape, direct, and expand or limit our thoughts.
  • The language of Hebrews: Son, Sacrifice, Priests, and Faith
  • Has God changed between the Old and the New?
  • Our understanding of who God is has grown with the coming of Jesus.
  • Jesus does not speak God’s words, He is God’s Word.
  • Jesus Christ not only speaks for God, He is God, and reveals God.
  • God is Jesusy.
  • The only way our view of God stays true is when we focus in on Jesus Christ
  • God has to be at least a nice as Jesus.
  • Jesus is the creative language of God.
  • We can be sure that God loves us, and knows us
  • When you get to know Jesus you get to know God

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?

Have you ever had a bad experience with church? Have you ever had a beautiful experience with church? Why or why not do you think being a part of a community of believers matters? How might you more deeply commit, and participate in church? What next steps can you take?

Discussion Question for Families:

Talk to you kids about the importance of community. Ask them who other than you as their parents, are adults that they really respect. Ask them why, and then think about how you might have them invest more in your kids, because raising kids takes a community.

Challenge for the Week: Commit and participate in a church, to transform lives.

Finding God all Around Us

1310598_43430592Today I want to just focus on a quote from Eugene Peterson that really spoke to me:

You would think that believing that Jesus is God among us would be the hardest thing. It is not. It turns out that the hardest thing is to believe that God’s work – this dazzling creation, this astonishing salvation, this cascade of blessings – is all being worked out in and under the conditions of our humanity: at picnics and around dinner tables, in conversations with bling beggars and suppurating lepers, at wedding sand funerals. Everything that Jesus does and says takes place within the limits and conditions of our humanity. No fireworks. No special effects. Yes, there are miracles, plenty of them. But because for the most part they are as much a part of the fabric of everyday life, very few notice. The miraculousness of miracles I obscured by the familiarity of the setting, the ordinariness of the people involved. (Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in 10 000 Places)

I’d encourage you to read it again, and again, and again until it starts to make sense and seep in.

If I were to summarize this whole paragraph and what it means I’d say this: We often miss the activity of God all around us, all around us. The point is that we often discount everyday regular life as a place where God is working. But the story of Jesus says that he is just as active in picnics, parties, and in people’s lives as he is in temples, miracles, and worship settings. The point is that sometimes we don’t see God working, because we aren’t looking where he works most: in everyday life.

It’s hard to believe that God works best and most often in the everyday rhythms of life. But this is precisely Peterson’s point.  It’s not hard to believe that God is involved when a miracle happens. It’s harder to believe and perhaps see that God is involved in your conversation with the neighbor, cutting the grass, playing with your kids. But he is. He is there, so maybe we should start looking for him.

At least that’s what I got out of the quote…What about you?

The Failure of Religion

1412713_28106567Recently I was reading some of my notes on Abraham Joshua Heschel’s excellent book “God in Search of Man”.  I came across this quote that I’d wrote down. I thought I would share it because of its depth, its challenge, and I think its truth:
“It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion – it’s message becomes meaningless.”
What do you think about it? When I read this quote, it so convicted me as a pastor, because the life of faith shouldn’t be dull or insipid. But I wonder how often faith moves from a living fountain, to a dead pool? I also wondered how am I ensuring that the faith I preach is living? That the love I espouse is active? That the relationship I have with God never becomes irrelevant, dull, or oppressive. These are the questions that this quote brings up for me that I’m thinking through today.
What about you? What do you think about it? What questions does it bring up?

Money, Peace, and Prosperity

1222896_52704774On Sunday we looked at how to have true peace, freedom, and hope in relation to our finances. It might sound a bit funny to talk about money at church like this, but this is something that Jesus spoke a lot about and also causes a lot of stress in our lives. My bet is that if you could have peace, hope, and freedom in your finances you would want that.

The trouble is that our answer to finding peace is always to have more money. But more money doesn’t bring about more peace or freedom. The reality is that you might even have experienced this personally. That perhaps a few years ago you thought you only needed a bit more and you’d be set, but it hasn’t brought a deep transformation of peace. The truth is that if our life is based on having more, then our peace is always out there before us rather than residing with us.

So we looked at Jesus’ discussion on possessions, worry, and life in Matthew 6. He begins by saying not to worry about everyday concerns. The problem is that for many of us this seems like an impossibility or a fantasy, but we’ve forgotten that many of us at one point in our lives lived this way. And we lived this way because of trust. My two boys trust me to make sure that they have cheerios, goldfish, and raisins to snack on. Worry and stress does not consume them because of the trust they have.

This is similar to what Jesus is teaching, that if we can trust deeply in the Father who knows all our need, peace and life will flow into us. Peace comes from trusting the Father who knows and cares for us, not in having giant savings, RRSP’s, or salary increases. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t’ be prudent with our financial planning, spending, and habits. What it means is that peace doesn’t come out of good financial planning, it comes out of trust in the Father who knows and cares for us. Peace doesn’t flow out of having more, but deeper trust in God.

So we landed on the fact that until we get the trust piece right with God, the rest of our lives won’t fall into place. So the question is do you trust God? When and how has he been faithful in the past – so that you can be reminded – that he will be faithful today? Can you say you trust him? And if so, what is he asking you to do to put that trust in action?

So that’s what we explored on Sunday – that having more doesn’t bring peace – trusting in God brings peace.

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea Peace flows from trust in God

Take Aways…

  • We base our financial freedom on having more
  • Having more money doesn’t bring more peace, freedom, or happiness
  • God doesn’t want our money he wants our hearts
  • You cannot serve both God and money Jesus
  • Trust provides peace and freedom
  • Peace comes from the creator caring not what we own and have
  • We don’t trust our futures to our finances but to our Father
  • How big is your God? How much do you trust him?
  • Peace flows from trust
  • Steps for Trust to Grow
  • Decide and declare to trust God
  • Remember times of God Being Trustworthy
  • Put trust into action by following God

Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What surprised you? What made you think? What did you take away? What was new? What did you think about the idea that “more” doesn’t bring peace? Have you seen that true in your life or friends lives? How deep is your trust in God? How can you start to deepen your trust? When has God proven his trustworthiness to you? What next steps is he asking you to take?

Discussion Questions for Young Families: Take a moment and talk about your kids about today’s sermon. Talk to them about how life and peace comes from trust in God not the stuff they have. Ask them to think of when God has been faithful to them, when he has answered a prayer, or spoken to them. Focus on building their trust in God.

Challenge for this Week: Trust God, Be Reminded of his Trustworthiness, and Practice Trust

 

My Failures as a Father

733823_10152715963490643_1800426956_nOn Sunday for Father’s Day we looked at my failures as a Father. We looked at three major ones I’ve had in: attention, ownership of reactions, and affirmation.

The first failure was how I noticed Hudson had to get my attention often when I was at home. I was at home, but not “at home” really. But this isn’t the example of God. We never have to grab God’s attention, convince him to look our way, or ask for his time. We always have it, and isn’t that a wonderful feeling? Knowing that when you turn to him he is already fully there invested and listening? What if we took that practice into our relationships? That’s one failure, and one example of a place where I think we can all grow and change our relationships.

The second was with ownership of reactions. Whenever my boys do something wrong and I get that feeling of anger, punishment, or judgement welling up within me. I know that I have work to do inwardly. My boys can’t make me yell, can’t make me mad, can’t make me act ungraciously or without gentleness. I need to own those initial gut reactions. Or put another way, anything that comes out of me, is because of me. That’s how Jesus puts it in Matthew 7 that trees bear fruit from what’s within. That means my boys, your boss, your spouse can’t make you act meanly. That’s our personal responsibility to own. So what I realized is that before I can ever help guide my boys in the right direction, I need to ask Jesus’ advice, focus on my own stuff, get it right and then help my boys. Jesus uses the example of getting rid of the plank in our eye before trying to get out anyone else’s speck. What he’s saying is own and deal with your stuff, your junk, your less-than-Jesus-like reactions, then deal with others. So I learned I need to start with me before I can be really in the right space to help my boys.

The last failure I’ve learned from is lacking affirmation in my boys. It’s not that I don’t affirm the great things in my boys, I do, but not enough. As I read the gospels and the New Testament, Paul, Jesus, and other writers are consistently and constantly affirming who we are in Christ. They say we’re new creations, holy, pure, loved, chosen, desired, adopted, and fully connected to Christ. They are constantly reminding us who we are. And I need to do that with my boys. I need to constantly be reminding them of who they are, so that they know how to live. I need to tell them that they are good, loved, smart, fun, and beautiful so that they will begin to believe it about themselves, and live up to it. In essence, I need to affirm in them who they already are, and who they are becoming.

We ended with simply recognizing how powerful, if we just learned from these three failures, how our lives could impact others. What if in our significant relationships we show deep attention? What if we always deal with our stuff before ever helping others with their stuff? What if people realized that we are always affirming who they are and who they are becoming? How might those actions change your marriage, your children, your family, friends, and neighbors? I think it would change them a lot. If when people looked at you they see someone who gives full attention, who gives deep affirmation, and always seeks to live more Jesus-like. I think living like that is worth striving for, and for me I’m going to. Not only for me, but also for my boys. They deserve a dad like that, so I’m going to do my best to live that out.

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Show attention, affirmation, and ownership of reactions in relationships

Take Aways…

  • Failure #1: A Lack of Attention
  • The Prodigal Son had the Father’s attention even when he wasn’t there
  • We never need to grab God’s attention; we already have it.
  • Failure #2: My Initial Gut Reaction
  • Our reactions might be normal, but not Jesus-like.
  • What comes out of us is because of us
  • Failure # 3: Lack of Affirmation
  • I affirm who he is becoming
  • Have you been giving people your full attention?
  • In trying we will be improving.

Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What surprised you? What made you think? What did you take away? What was new? What failures have you learned most from? What would you add to Andrew’s examples? Which of the failures do you think you struggle with most? Where is God calling you to grow? How can you show some signicant relationships your attention, affirmation, and personal ownership of your reactions?

Discussion Questions for Young Families: Take a moment and talk about your kids about today’s sermon. Be sure to start off by telling them the ways you know you have messed up and failed. Ask them for their forgiveness and how you will be trying to do better. Take a moment and model vulnerability, confession, and trust.

Challenge for this Week: Pay attention, Affirm, And Own your Reactions

 

Changing the World Locally and Globally

I really believe we are all called to change the world. I believe that often begins by changing the world of those around us. This is a part of our calling as Christians – to be making a difference.

And when I talk about these things I always put it in this language: being locally grounded, and globally focused. Jesus says we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves, and we are to reach out and love them. There is then this great discussion on who is our neighbour, found in Luke 10:25-37. Jesus essentially ends up teaching that our neighbour is someone that is within our reach to help.

There are many next-door neighbors who need help in all sorts of ways: babysitting, cutting the lawn, a friend, meals, or support. The point is that if we can be part of making their lives better, we should be. That’s the locally grounded piece. But if our focus is purely on those around us but we miss the fact that we can be blessing to the world, I think we’ve also missed the point. God has blessed us in Canada, North America, and Europe I believe we are blessed to bless others.

So for me I consistently ask this question: which neighbor can I bless locally? which neighbor can I bless globally?

I think these are good questions to think about, and even greater questions to take action on. And if today you are wondering who you might be able to bless locally? Here’s a good way to get started, sit on your front porch, pray, and watch. Be open to God leading you, and pay attention and I’m sure you’ll find a way to start to bless and give. And if you’re looking for a way to bless globally, well there are many amazing organizations. For me though I’m really invovled in cbm Canada that does amazing work focusing on breaking the cycle of poverty and disability. And if you’re interested in what they do you can check them out in the video below.

The point is that as Christians we need to be involved with both our global, and local neighbours. We need to know names, and faces. We need to be making a difference because as John 1 puts it, when Jesus moved into the neighborhood he changed everything.

I Don’t Believe in that God Either

1364043_24141534I have had a recurring conversation with my friends, family, and neighbors over the past few years. Often what happens is this type of a scenario. They either know or find out I’m a pastor and eventually ask this question:

“So you believe in…[insert any idea / caricature / or type of god here]”

Essentially they are asking about who I have given my life to following. They wonder if I am following a god who lives in the clouds. If I believe in a god who is prejudiced, hates, and unloving or a god so uninvolved in the world that he becomes non-existant, etc, etc. In essence, they often ask if I believe in a caricature of God that they have either been taught, or have experienced through society.

The point is that these friends and neighbors cannot reconciled this caricature with reality. And so they wonder, “how do you follow a god like this…” And so my standard response is this: “Oh I don’t believe in that god either” To which they are often surprised. You don’t believe in a god who hates, who is distant, unloving, uninvolved, or prejudiced? I respond with no. I believe, follow, and absolutely trust in the God who looks, lives, and loves like Jesus Christ.

I share that the perfect representation of God is Jesus Christ (Colosians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3). Which in “un-theological language” means that not only does Jesus look like God, but God looks like Jesus. Which means that God is “Jesusy”. So when we see the supreme act of Jesus Christ, dying sacrificially on the cross for all people and being raised again, this is who God is. Someone who cares so much about injustice, sin, and evil that he enters into it, experiences the full brunt of it, so that we might be freed from it. This is the God I follow. Not some silly caricature of an old man sitting in a rocking chair in heaven. But a God who brings heaven to earth with the way he loves, and lives in the person of Jesus Christ.

So when my family, friends, and neighbors ask about what type of a god I follow – I love that question. Because I get to tell them that God looks like Jesus Christ. And that is a great place to start because people may be frustrated or turned off by church, nominal Christians, or caricatures of God but people are drawn to Jesus. So I always just start there and say, “If you want to know who I have given my life to following, and who I believe God is, look no further than Jesus Christ”

I think it’s the best and only place to start…with Jesus.