The Most Radical Spiritual Gift

spiritualgift.pngI think that in today’s day and age there is one really needed and really radical spiritual gift. It’s not seen in a lot of places and it’s certainly undervalued in most places. And, it’s just this…hospitality.

Hospitality is the gift of opening up a space so that others feel safe, loved and valued. Read that sentence again. Because, isn’t that what our world needs? Isn’t that what our family, friends, neighbours and co-workers need? A safe place to feel loved and valued.

The gift of hospitality is used when we really welcome people into our lives without any preconditions or expectations. We simply welcome. And, I think if we want to change lives with Jesus, it begins with learning this gift and this art. Opening up our lives, homes and hearts to others with no expectations other than giving them a place to feel loved and valued.

To do this, though, is really difficult because it first requires us to be centred and whole in our own identities. If not, we try to make people into what we think they should be, rather than loving who they are. And, no one likes being changed.

Henri Nouwen puts it this way: “True hospitality is welcoming the stranger on her own terms. This kind of hospitality can only be offered by those who’ve found the center of their lives in their own hearts.”

So, how do we practice this really radical gift of hospitality? Well, I think the first step is to actually welcome the hospitality that Jesus has for us. Because He welcomes us as we are, and loves us right there and then. So, for some of us, before we take the step of opening up our hearts and homes to others (which we absolutely need to do!), perhaps the step for today is to just remind yourself that you are loved by God exactly as you are. He actually likes you, loves you and wants to be with you.

And, once this starts to shape who you are, you’ll be able to share that love with others. Once you accept that you are accepted by God, you can start accepting and loving others.

Of course, we all have unhealthy areas in our lives that need to change. I’m not saying those don’t exist. I’m saying that people want to be loved firstand that love changes people, not our judgment.

So, today, practice the radical gift of hospitality by welcoming someone in as they are or by allowing Jesus to welcome you as you are. Because that’s what our world needs and what I know I need.

Creative Love in Action

The book of Hebrews has some interesting encouragement for all of us. The writer says this: “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another.” (Hebrews 10:25, NLT) Or, as Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message:“Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out.” And, I think this is a beautiful thing, not just to read, but to actually experience. I know this, because a few weeks ago, I experienced some inventive and encouraging practical love.

As some of you might know, being handy is not a skill that I have. I mean, my tool set is mostly from Ikea and used to put together Ikea furniture. So, handy isn’t something I “really do.” Some guys from Bethany wanted to encourage and welcome us into this family here. So, they did it in an amazingly creative way. They talked with us, showed up and built us this amazing sandbox. They wanted to be as inventive as they could in encouraging love and helping out. They found a way to use their gifts (and they are totally handy) to encourage us.

mills-kids-in-sandbox

I can tell you this left a huge impact on our family’s life. Not only do our kids now have a place to play and get totally dirty, they also have a daily reminder that we are loved by our new church in our backyard. It’s something Krista and I look at daily, and feel appreciated and loved.

So, I mention this because I believe in making heroes out of the right people. And, the true heroes in our lives are people who take these verses seriously and live them; who find creative and inventive ways to encourage people, and show love in practical and real ways.

So what about you? What gift do you have today that you could use to encourage someone? Maybe it’s not with a sandbox, but what about surprising someone with a coffee, a conversation, a new book or a date night by watching their kids? How can you put love into action in creative ways? Because I can tell you personally that when you do, it changes lives. Because when some guys from our church did that for me, it changed our life.

CHANGING THE WORLD, IN A FEW EASY STEPS

changeworldAs you might have noticed, I actually believe that Christianity is meant to have an impact in the world; that we are actually called, as Christians, to partner with God in changing the world. And that sometimes happens by just changing someone’s world.

But, if you are anything like me, this is often inspiring, but difficult to live out. You might say things like, “I’d love to be part of making the world a better place…but how do I do it? Where do I start? What does it look like for regular people?”

If you have ever read any of the stories of the saints, they might inspire you, but also leave you scratching your head for how to begin.

Well, the other day, I ran across this little acronym from Michael Frost about how to practically follow God in making daily impacts. It’s incredibly simple and straightforward. The hard part isn’t in understanding it, but in actually doing it. And, he gives these weekly small ideas for how to begin to make an impact…

B – Bless others. Do something that makes someone’s life better. Focus on blessing three people a week and at least one who doesn’t go to church

E – Eat with three people this week. That could be people in your workplace, friends or neighbours. And try to eat with at least one person who doesn’t go to church as well.

L – Listen. Simply stop and pray and listen for where the Holy Spirit is guiding you. So often the Holy Spirit is speaking, but we aren’t listening. So, slow down and listen.

L – Learn. Spend time reading the Bible with a focus on getting to know Jesus. If you’re not a regular reader, start with the Gospels. Focus in on getting to know Jesus, so you can live like Jesus.

S – Sent. Live realizing you’re sent and look for God active in the lives around you. And when you see it, take note of it.

And, in all honesty, these are pretty straightforward ways to start to change the world. Bless others, eat with others, listen to God’s Spirit, learn about Jesus and look for Jesus in the world. Sometimes the most counter-cultural and impactful decisions are to the simple, yet hard things.

So, if you’re looking to partner with God in changing lives, maybe it begins by inviting a neighbor over to eat; maybe it means cutting a friend’s grass; maybe it means carving some time out to listen to the Spirit; maybe it means reading the Gospels or just looking for God in your day. I know none of these are huge things, but God is often found in the small, regular, daily things.Remember, God isn’t asking us to do giant things, rather He is asking us to do faithful things. And, maybe that means a meal with friends this week. It’s not a bad place to start!

Do you love Jesus, or your theology about Jesus?

It is the deconstructive work that is painful because we have learned to emotionally invest , not in Jesus, but in our theology. A good test to determine whether Jesus or our theology takes precedence is to discern the degree to which we are willing to unlearn something and learn something new about Him. Michael Hardin

Ooh that one hits home. The truth is our theology is never perfect, but are we actually open to having it be changed by God? Are we actually willing to unlearn something, to learn something new? Christ

As I look back on my life as a Christian, pastor, and theology-nerd the amount of stuff that’s changed is dramatic. The question though isn’t how have I changed, but am I willing to continue to be changed by the prompting of God’s Spirit and Truth? Because one thing is for sure, I don’t have it all perfectly together. And I need to invest in Jesus, not in my theological thoughts about Jesus. And the difference between those two things can sometimes be wider than we think.

But what about you? How have you changed and grown in depth with Jesus? How has your theology changed? How is it changing? 

Because one thing is sure, we all need to become more like Jesus and that process involves change and it never ends. May we be open to that process and to the prompting of God’s Holy Spirit to conform us more and more into the likeness of Christ.

Finding God on Your iPod

Well on Sunday we are launching a brand new series here at church: Finding God on your iPod. We are going to be looking at songs that reveal truth, and have impacted my relationship with God.

Some of the songs you might know, some you might not. But the beautiful thing is that God is all around us and ready to speak to us through so many ways. And we hope to find one way that God speaks to us on Sunday is through music.

I’ve found that at very specific and important times in my life God’s spoken through a song.

So we want to explore some of those over the summer.

But before we get there, what about you? What songs has God used to speak to you? How did he reveal his truth or a thought to you? I’d love to hear what songs God has spoke to you through, and who knows maybe I’ll use one!

god on ipod series

Science, Relationships, and Spirituality: This is Your Brain in Anger

AngerOn Sunday we took a look at the surprising connections between science, the Bible, and our relationships. We looked specifically at what happens when we get angry or enter into conflict and how while our physical systems are amazingly designed to avoid physical danger, they sometimes increase our emotional danger.

Here’s what we learned. That when we encounter or perceive danger we enter into a flight or fight response. This response does a few things: it short-circuits our higher level thinking and shuts it down, it dumps a bunch of chemicals into our system to fight or flight, and it reacts sometimes instantly.

And now this system is amazing for us to respond to physical threats: like a snake that we jump away from, or a falling rock we instantly respond to. This system though is not as amazing when it comes to social threats such as criticism, emotional hurt, or intense arguments.

Our fight or flight response can “hijack” our higher level thinking in these moments and we can end up either shutting down or becoming very aggressive. We talked about the different physiological responses, but asked a very simple question: how do we overcome this? Because we all have probably been in fights and in that state where we’ve said things we regretted (fight), or not said the things we should have (flight). So what do we do?

Well we looked at three concrete biblical steps, that amazingly correspond to science as well. The first is something we can do to help prevent being “hijacked” by our emotional response, and that this: to let heaven fill your thoughts. The truth is what we fill our minds with leave traces and predispositions. So if your mind is filled with negativity, junk, anger, and rehearsing of hurts, we are actually encouraging those very things. So Paul gives some very practical advice, “Let heaven fill your thoughts”. Focus on the things that are good, healthy, true, and life-giving. Focus on the truth of the gospel, and let that fill our minds more than the normal stress, anger, and hurt we carry.

The second thing we noticed is that when we feel that “fight or flight” response coming on, we can shut it down. Sometimes it builds, and it is possible to actually exercise self-control. We talked about how the Holy Spirit can give us self-control and how to pray for it, and practice it.

And last but not least, we talked about what to do when we’ve had a really in-depth hurtful argument. Solomon gives this really wise advice. He says this: Fools vent their anger, but the wise quietly hold it back (Proverbs 29:11). And what he means here is not to deny your anger or your hurt, but not to actually vent it all around.

Venting your anger all around doesn’t actually lessen, but encourages it. When we have difficult conversations our tendency is to share and spread it, rather than dealing with it. And when we do that, we get angry and in the flight or fight response…again. So Solomon gives this wise advice: don’t spread it, deal with it. Don’t put it on Facebook, process it. Don’t keep repeating it, own it.

So those are some of the connections we looked at, and ended with a simple challenge: deal with and prevent anger and conflict. Take these steps and try to put them into practice to not only seek to prevent extra anger and conflict, but to deal with it when it happens.

 

 

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Our brains and bodies are complex and amazing

Teaching Points:

  • The amygdala perceives and responds to danger around us
  • The amygdala is incredibly fast but it’s actually not all that discerning
  • Two reactions: fight or flight.
  • Hijacking is when our emotional state shuts down our higher reasoning.
  • Let heaven fills your thoughts…
  • Pray for Self-Control and Practice Self-Control
  • Deal with anger, don’t vent it.

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? Which type of response do you most often do – fight or flight? Can you relate to any of the examples shared? Have you ever seen how venting anger can make things worse? When and how? Is there anger that you need to deal with? Who can help you with that?

Discussion Questions for Young Families

Today use our learning to help with your kids. If they get upset remember it can take a while for them to re-centre. Give them space and encourage them even when things get angry and hard.

Challenge for the Week: Deal with and prevent anger.

Theology 101: Eschatology ~ Heaven, Hell, and Tough Questions

On Sunday we discussed two controversial topics: heaven and hell. I think around these two topics there has been so much fuzzy thinking, so much conjecture, so much just  silliness sometimes that many people just avoid thinking about them.

Well that’s what we tried to clear up.

1195401_84100834We took a look first at heaven, looking at the picture of life painted without sin prior to the fall in Genesis and revealed in Revelation. What we see so clearly is that we will continue to have deep relationships with others, with creation, with tasks and purposes, and most of all, with God. Heaven is not a place where we float around in the clouds, singing songs on harps to Jesus. Heaven is here on earth – where we move, live, and create with God, others, and creation. Heaven is a beautiful continuance of all that is good and worthy in our lives. And it’s a beautiful thing.

N.T. Wright describes it this way:

The redeemed people of God in the new world will be the agents of his love going out in new ways, to accomplish new creative tasks, to celebrate and extend the glory of his love.

And that sounds anything but boring.

With that we turned to discussing the doctrine of hell. Now this is a confusing, and unclear doctrine for most people at the best of times. Much of their thinking has been more influence by popular culture, Dante, and poor theology than the actual Biblical account. And something we want to at least acknowledge up front is that there isn’t a lot of Biblical material that deals with this directly. And that much of it is metaphorical. That doesn’t mean hell’s not real, but perhaps not every image is meant to be taken literally (i.e. hell is discussed as a place of darkness and fire – which seem to be mutually exclusive).

So with those provisos we dived into the topic by addressing first and foremost: why do we even need this doctrine?

Many people struggle with the idea of hell, and so I discussed why I still believe we need to retain the doctrine. First, is that I do believe that the theme of hell, and judgment are in scripture. Secondly, that God honors free will. And thirdly, that justice requires putting things right.

So I want to expand on the idea that God honors free will. I don’t believe in what’s called “universalism” (that everyone gets to heaven), because I believe in free will. I believe that God, out of love, created us with free will. Which means we are free to reject God, and even reject heaven if we choose. And I don’t believe that God will override that free choice. Robert Farrar Capon writes,

Both heaven and hell are populated entirely and only by forgiven sinners. Hell is just a courtesy for those who insist they want no part of forgiveness.

Also I believe in justice, so I also believe in the necessity of hell. I don’t believe that justice can just pretend that evil doesn’t have consequences. I believe in hell because I believe that ultimately true and deep evil needs to be confronted and made right. Part of that making right is there being justice for the victims and oppressed in the world. And in this then we need to be clear – God does not torture. As Michael Bird shares, “Hell is about justice, not torture”. And I think that Dale Allison gets to the heart of why my view of justice entails some doctrine of hell by writing this:

I do not know what befell Mother Theresa of Calcutta when she died, nor what has become of Joseph Stalin. But the same thing cannot have come upon both. If there is any moral rhyme or reason in the universe, all human beings cannot be equally well off as soon as they breathe their last and wake again.

Or as N. T. Wright comments:

I find it quite impossible, reading the New Testament on the one hand and the newspaper on the other, to suppose that there will be no ultimate condemnation, no final loss, no human beings to whom, as C.S. Lewis put it, God will eventually say, “Thy will be done.” I wish it were otherwise, but one cannot forever whistle, “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy” in the darkness of Hiroshima, of Auschwitz, the murder of children and careless greed that enslaves millions with debts not their own.

And I’ll close my thoughts on hell with this quote from Daniel Migilore:

Hell is not an arbitrary divine punishment at the end of history. It is not the final retaliation of a vindictive deity. Hell is self-destructive resistance to the eternal love of God.

And I think that’s true. You don’t miss heaven by a bit, but by a constant and consistent refusal of the love and person of God.

So that’s what we looked at. It was a tough sermon, but I think one that will for sure spur more thinking and discussing. And certainly there are lots of other views out there. What I think is really important though is to be sure on what you personally believe. I think the hard doctrines and big ideas deserve thought and aren’t to be swept under the rug.

We ended with a reminder that the main point was that in the end all will be made right. That’s the purpose we are heading towards – a world put to right. A world that is finally fixed from evil, sin, and destruction. A world we live on in full communion with God, others, and creation.

We gave three simple little practical points with this to close. To focus on loving and not judging. Focus on sharing Jesus, not figuring out the details. We should be encouraged, it will end right. These are some practical ways that this should actually affect us. We should focus on loving and not judging who is in or out. We should be focused on sharing Jesus, not just debating details to death. And we should be encouraged that no matter what we see in the end God will make it right.

It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view. The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts: it is beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is the Lord’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us. No sermon says that all should be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything. That is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water the seeds already planted knowing they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that affects far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very, very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and dot the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the Master builder and the work. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are the prophets of a future that is not our own. Archbishop Oscar Romero

 

 

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: That in the end all will be made right

Teaching Points:

  • Heaven isn’t just a heavenly location but the place where God’s reign is full and comprehensive.
  • Heaven is a place where we have this clear, immediate, and personal connection with God.
  • The redeemed people of God in the new world will be the agents of his love going out in new ways, to accomplish new creative tasks, to celebrate and extend the glory of his love. N.T. Wright
  • “There is more to heaven than clouds, angels, and elevator music”. Michael Bird
  • The necessity of hell: free will and justice.
    “Hell is about justice, not torture”. Michael Bird
  • Hell is not an arbitrary divine punishment at the end of history. It is not the final retaliation of a vindictive deity. Hell is self-destructive resistance to the eternal love of God. Daniel Migilore
  • We need to focus on loving not judging.
  • Focus on sharing Jesus, not figuring out the details.
  • We should be encouraged it will end right.

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 lingering questions do you have about heaven or hell? Who can help you to wrestle through them? What you most looking forward to with heaven?

Discussion Questions for Young Families

Today talk to your kids about heaven and what it’s like. Talk about how we’ll have friendships, relationships, and tasks in heaven. Talk about how best of all we’ll have a relationship with God that is deeper and fuller than anything else.

Challenge for the Week: Keep being faithful to God.

Heaven and Hell – and a Lot of Questions

1157789_38642466So on Sunday we’re talking about hell. I know a topic that is…well…divisive to say the least. Some pastors love talking about – hellfire and brimstone – and all of that. Other pastors avoid it because they don’t know what to do with it.

But I want to deal with it honestly. I want to deal with objections. I want to deal with the Biblical passages. And I want to deal with this doctrine and topic in light of Jesus Christ.

So if you’ve ever had questions about hell, well you’re in good company, because I have lots. And I’m going to do my best to deal with them, talk about them, and hopefully even answer some of them.

And we’ll also talk about heaven, an equally misunderstood topic. And I’m going to do my best to do it all in 30 minutes. So if you’re around, are interested, and have ever wondered about heaven or hell – this is the Sunday to be there 🙂

Theology 101: Eschatology, Nicholas Cage, and The End Times

751034_82287592On 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.

 

 

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Eschatology sets our focus and direction

Teaching Points:

  • 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.

The End Times – What Will Happen?

1327662_78432201On Sunday we are going to be learning about eschatology. What’s that you might ask? Well it’s the study of last things. It’s the study of what might happen at the end of the world. And we all have ideas about that. Hollywood certainly does and it mostly involves zombies I think. But I’m not interested in what Hollywood says will happen at the end, I’m interested in what the Bible says.

So that’s what we are looking at on Sunday. We are going to be exploring some difficult passages and asking the question: what will happen at the end?

And here is why this matters and isn’t just idle speculation: because our vision of the end directs our actions now. And this is just true. If we believe in the end the whole world will burn, why bother caring for it? But if we believe the world will be renewed, then we had better steward it.

The point is that our view on what happens in the end will affect how we live now. So that’s what we are looking at on Sunday. And before we get there why not think through a little bit on your own. What do you think will happen at the end? What do you think and why? And on Sunday I’ll tell you what I think, and what I think the Bible teaches.