Say What: Post-Sermon Q&A….. Does God’s Grace And Our Work ever meet?

So, this past Sunday we were exploring Jesus’ very strange story about workers in a vineyard, each rewarded with identical pay for work of varying lengths.
Why?  Because the owner of the vineyard wanted to do so.  
Period.
 
What’s that called?
Grace.
 
Grace = Divine goodness and mercy poured into a person’s life just because God feels like giving it.
Each one is invited into the vineyard to work for the master.
And each receives the benefit of being in that vineyard.
Just because the master wanted to bring them in.
All they did was accept the invitation, and enter, and begin to work.
How they were paid was determined by the Master.
And not in a way that you could predict by some formula of (hours x rate), or the like.
 
And then a few questions came in after the service. 
They all boiled down to the same basic thing:
“Can we reconcile the message of this parable with other Scriptures, which seem to show that works matter? Does the Bible not contradict itself?”
 
Two things need to be kept in mind:
1.  Christ came to earth to provide a complete, total, absolutely guaranteed welcome into the family of God, and eternity in the household and home of God – in heaven, and then one day on the New Creation.
2.  God is intensely interested in how we live.  What we do matters. A lot.
 
All through the Scriptures, from the earliest pages of the Old Testament, we read that God pays attention to what people do and how they live.  And their eternal destiny hinges on living in obedience to him.  That is how Cosmic, Eternal Justice works.  
 
Those who can attain to the standard of heaven will enjoy the eternal presence of the Creator. 
Those who can’t, won’t.  
That’s always been how it is. 
And that is how it remains.  
And living by this rule of Justice remains an open option for all of us.
 
But there is also another option.
And that is living by the way of Jesus.
The way of Jesus is the way of the cross.  
It is his perfect righteousness being credited to us.
And all our sins completely washed away and forgiven in the majestic power of his shed blood.
And our eternal life guaranteed by the mind-blowing power of his Resurrection.
 
When we accept, empty hands and hearts open wide, the offer of His Presence and Salvation, we are granted eternal glory.  
 
Period.  
 
Whether we live our whole life surrendered to him, or open the doors of our heart in the last moments of our lives on earth.
Timing doesn’t matter.
And maybe the math doesn’t add up.
But that is how the Lord simply chose it to be.
 
Now… we don’t have to accept Christ’s offer.
Don’t need to place ourselves fully in his eternal, grace-giving camp.
Understand that.
 
BUT, if we say “Nyet” to Jesus, well…. back to the basics of Eternal Cosmic Justice.  
And… 
Good luck with that.  Hope it works out for you.
 
I, for one, don’t want to go that route.
Because I, for one, am absolutely SURE I cannot measure up to the standard of goodness, purity and perfection that Heaven would demand.
Now, maybe you are better than me.
But, really, can you swing that? Are you absolutely SURE about that?  Want to risk it?
 
Hence you will read in passages that speak of Final Judgement that works do enter the equation.
They will for every person.
Eternally blessed, though, are the people who have Jesus standing beside them when they are before the Cosmic Throne of Judgement.
Telling the Great Eternal Judge that his record, Jesus’ record, is to be entered into the court records instead of ours.
And that the merits of his life are to be the basis for our eternal destiny.
 
Thank you, Jesus!
 
Make sense?
 
What, then, for the rest of our lives?
What about the decisions we make?  The chances to serve?  
Does any of that matter?
 
The key verse that helps us make sense of all that is Ephesians 2:8-10.
8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this;  it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.  
                                               (New Living Translation – my favorite)
 
Grace, alone and totally, is what saves us.  Pretty clear. That’s verses 8-9.
But then Divine Grace, present in our lives, changes our lives.  That’s verse 10.
 
Grace, when it takes over, begins to propel us towards DOING good stuff, stuff that makes the Lord smile, stuff that brings peace and joy into the lives of others, stuff that reduces the groaning and pain that Creation itself experiences.
 
This good stuff doesn’t happen in secret.
People see it.
And God’s hope and plan is that as they see it, they’ll find it attractive and be drawn into a relationship with the Saviour, too (check out Matthew 5:16, and 1 Peter 2:12). 
 
AND 
(now we’re getting into mystery that I don’t fully understand and that the Bible only hints at)
It seems that somehow what we do by way of thankful, obedient living in response to Jesus’ great gift of salvation – 
        – somehow this shapes what we will end up doing and experiencing in the glory of the New Creation.
 
Jesus tells a story (yup, another one) in Matthew 25:14-30, the one about talents, which hints at that.
And 1 Corinthians 3:15 seems to comment on this, too, telling us that people for whom obedience in this life is shaky and marginal WILL be saved but won’t be able to see any of the fruits of their years of life on earth in eternity…..  which suggests that there are others, those who work hard at serving the Saviour, who devote their lives fully to him, who WILL see fruits of that in glory.
 
Which is  something I find exciting.
Imagine – meeting someone that you’ve brought to the Lord, when you stand together before the throne.
Imagine – that widow whom you befriended and cared for, being greeted by her in heaven.
Imagine – the person who had struggled with disabilities, staggering all through this life, dancing and happy in Glory, mind and body full and whole…. and you get to see it.
WOW!
 
How’s that for motivation to serve the Saviour today?

Say What? Q&A from Sunday’s message on “A Banquet RSVP”

This past Sunday we listened to Jesus tell a story from Luke 14 – the Master holds a banquet, inviting some of the most important people from the village. And they all send along last minute, very lame excuses. Which are, really, more insults than anything else. They blow off the Master’s hospitality and generosity. He gets angry. And invites everyone that the important people would NEVER invite to a banquet at THEIR house. The master also withdraws any future invitations to these self-important people; they are left outside for good.

Two challenging questions came up after the service. Let’s dig in….

1. What bothers me about this parable is the temper of the master, and his knee-jerk reaction to invite the others, the downcast. Why didn’t he invite them in the first place? Does God really have a temper? Is this what God is like?

Hey, thanks for the question. Appreciate your digging deep, and willingness to wonder and challenge.
I’m hearing two parts to the question:
a. are the “others” second-rate invitees?
b. what’s this about God getting angry? Is he a tempermental sort?

a. You are, actually, on to something. The Bible’s story, from beginning to end, shows God working to bring salvation and renewal to the WHOLE earth and peoples EVERYWHERE. But he chooses to do this working through a select group – the family and descendents of Abraham; the nation of Israel. Over many hundreds of years they get special messages from God, are guided by God, and groomed by him to be the nation through whom the Saviour would be born. It was a special privilege. But also carried a special responsibility in that they were also to be the “Light To The Nations.” (see, for example, Genesis 22:18, Isaiah 42:6 & 49:6).

The problem was that the religious leadership of Israel became complacent and arrogant. They figured God was ONLY interested in them. That salvation, and eternal glory, was NOT for anyone outside of their circles. And over time they made the circle of those they thought were “IN” with God smaller and smaller.
Jesus tells his story to that religious snob crowd, and deliberately sets the story on their “turf.” Which sets up the very unexpected ending that blows up in their face with huge shock value.

Are gentile (non-Jewish) people “after thoughts” in God’s plan of Salvation?
Not according to God. Just according to the snobs Jesus was having lunch with.

Do the Jews have a special place in God’s plan? Oh yes.
Romans 11 talks about that. And Romans 1:16 says that Jesus came to bring salvation “to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile.” A special place – and special responsibility. That’s how it is for those already inside the Kingdom.
In today’s world we might want to think of this in terms of us who are inside the Church – believers. Is Jesus only for us? Is life within the Church only for our benefit? Or…… ought we always to remember those who are not yet in, that God has a heart and desire for them, too?

b. Now, about God getting angry.
There’s actually plenty in the Bible that describes God getting angry. Just – be careful how you read that. Don’t think an explosive, trigger-happy kind of temper. You know – the sort that blows up every time somebody does anything that seems or feels to set off the abusive dad.
Rather – think how you would feel if you discovered someone was stealing all the money away from your elderly grandmother. It’s wrong. It’s destructive. It’s a horrible violation. Would you not get angry? And would that anger not be justified?
Anger itself, you see, is not wrong. It is a gathering of energy directed against a wrongful situation, wanting and working to make things right. Anger is very powerful. And, honestly, few if any people are able to harness it well or for long. That’s why the Bible warns us not to hang on to anger for very long – lest it morph into something poison and destroy us (see Ephesians 4:26). It turns us bitter, and resentful and can kill our inner spirit.

When people are given a beautiful invitation to share the hospitality and luxury of God’s banquet hall, and then insult him by way of response, just blowing him off – is not anger an appropriate response?
God is not some gentle giant who only laughs and says “yes” to whatever we do and want. He is pure and perfect Love. That Love desires and works for what is right and true and just and good. And whatever comes seeking to destroy the right and true and just and good – well, God will work against that. With all he has. He will not stand by, twiddling his divine thumbs, watching his beautiful Creation and Creatures be forever ruined. That’s the whole point of Salvation, and Jesus coming. And the Cross.
But those who insist on poking their finger in God’s eye, so to speak….. well – you want to get a rise out of him? The Bible’s message is “You will. Just like the arrogant elite in the story.”

I hope this helps.
Thanks for asking. Feel free to write back if you want to chat more about this.

2. It seems in this parable that those “invited” do not come, but those “compelled” or “brought” under objection do attend the banquet. Does this speak of “God’s election” as understood by Calvinism as opposed to “man’s election” as understood by Arminianism? It is interesting that the woman healed in Luke 13:12 Jesus called her but she could not raise herself and so Jesus laid “His” hands on “her” and with the man in Luke 14:2, Jesus “took him, healed him and let him go”. In both cases Jesus “took charge” and did what He decided needed to be done.

Thanks for asking about this. One of the challenging, and very mysterious threads of Bible teaching is the relationship between God’s saving will and power, and the call for human response. The question is – does this parable speak to that conversation? I don’t think so. If anything, the parable speaks to the servants of the Master, emphasizing the importance of extending a winsome invitation to come to the Banquet.

It’s important to remember that all stories (parables) are told in a particular social setting and within a specific culture.
The setting was the Pharisee’s home – where nobody would even THINK of inviting an outsider to banquet.
And the culture was such that if someone so unlikely were actually TO receive an invitation, they would be obliged to refuse. That was the proper and polite thing to do. The servant would then be expected to NOT go back to the Master and say, “Well, see, I tried. Told you they wouldn’t listen.” Instead, keep inviting / encouraging / convincing them that they REALLY were wanted by the Master, that they WOULD be welcome, that their presence IS valued.

That’s what “compel them to come in” means. It’s not really about the doctrine of election. More than anything – it is about the call to determined mission.

For us today? In our culture that is not very faith friendly or aware, perhaps now more than ever we have to be aware that sharing the Gospel is an ongoing, relationship-based challenge of inviting / encouraging / convincing people that God REALLY wants them, that they WOULD be welcome if they approached him in prayer, that their presence IS valued within the community of God’s people.

Hey – good questions. Challenge the thinking. And an encouragement to keep digging deeper.

Scripture’s Call to Submission…. and questions about Abuse: post-sermon Q&A

Good afternoon, everyone –

Last Sunday we worked our way through the challenging topic of “Submission” as given to us in 1 Peter 2:13-3:22.
If you missed it, the podcast is online here on the PKN blog.

Three responses came in during Q&A…..

1. So…. “Make my day” is not Christian? Pity. I did like the idea.
Hmmm, yes well you’re right. While it might feel good to extend the “right fist of fellowship” to someone who has wronged you, it is not particularly the sort of response that reflects Jesus. Sorry – we’ll have to leave this one to Dirty Harry.

2. How do you submit, while protecting yourself & others from abuse?
OK – this touches on one HUGELY important part of the “Submission” conversation. And SO glad that you asked.
It ties right in with this next question……

3. Even with all that “life” has tossed my way, including ways in which God’s grace and mercy were evident, I still wonder WHY the hard “stuff” was allowed to happen to me as a child.
Have I submitted ENOUGH, or…..? Confusion reigns!

So – some thoughts, and these are BY NO MEANS exhaustive.

Number one – above all – and no exceptions allowed – ABUSE IS ALWAYS WRONG.
Taking advantage of a person emotionally, physically, economically, sexually for one’s own gratification is absolutely and completely wrong. In God’s eyes. In the eyes of the Church. Period.

Scripture is hugely clear on the precious, valued nature of human life.
We are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27)
God watches and values your life (Luke 12:6-7)
He made and treasures you (Psalm 139:13-14)
We are, as human beings, just a little lower than the angels (Psalm 8:5)
That is why, over and over and over again, Scripture calls those who have power and authority to protect the vulnerable and the weak. And God promises strong judgement against those who abuse those that depend on them. (eg Zechariah 7:9-10, Deuteronomy 27:19, Ezekiel 16:49, Exodus 22:21-24, James 1:27…)
Husbands are called to love and care for their wives, and to treat them with respect (1 Peter 3:7, Ephesians 5:28).
Parents are called to care for children. And among all believers there is the call to love and serve each other. (Philippians 2:1-4).

Abuse is all about power. It is about manipulating the life of another person for one’s own immediate pleasure, gratification, and advantage. Scripture, I hope you can see, speaks very strongly against that – it goes TOTALLY against the heart of God.

So…..
Yes, I will serve you.
Yes, I will submit and defer to you.
But no, I will not assist you in committing an offense against the clear will and heart of God.
No, I will not assist you in sin.
This is why the apostles, when commanded by the Jewish Supreme Court to stop preaching the gospel, did not quietly submit and crawl home. Instead (Acts 5:29) they replied, “We must obey God rather than men!”

Nobody is allowed to dominate and take advantage of and ravage another person’s mind, body, or heart.
Ever.

Many who abuse, and claim religious right to do so because of some supposed biblical right and position (“You must submit to your father”, “You must surrender to your husband”, “You may not tell anyone, I command you.”) fail to read the full measure of the Bible’s teaching on submission.
They call for submission on the part of those they want to use.
But they refuse to obey, themselves, the call of scripture to all those in power to relinquish their power for the sake of the weak – and to remember that they will have to answer directly to God for how they used that power!

If you are reading this and find yourself in such a position, please know that you DON’T have to keep suffering.
God’s heart goes out to you.
Heaven hurts for you.
The angels weep for you.
It is not your fault.
You DON’T deserve it – not now. Not ever.
You DON’T have to let it continue.

And I hope you know that you don’t have to face this alone.
No matter what the abuser says, don’t keep it a secret.
You may feel ashamed. But the shame is not yours to bear. It belongs on the shoulder of the perpetrator. THAT person should be hanging his or her head in shame.
You are a survivor. Lift up your head. Realize the value you have in the eyes of God.
And then go to someone you trust and share the story.
Don’t walk the path to freedom alone!

And Church – hear this:
As a community we need to foster a setting of safety where people can come forward with their stories without worries of shame and gossip.
We must provide safe shelter (Galatians 6:2 – bear one another’s burdens)
And be willing to confront.
To name the sin of abuse for what it is – the deep damage to a precious human life.
To stand face to face with an abuser and demand it stop.
To call in the authorities as needed, and quickly.
Call out those who claim to be pious, and yet misuse their power. Their actions make them worse than unbelievers (1 Timothy 5:8)

Nobody deserves abuse.
Nobody “has it coming.”
God never punishes someone for some supposed past misdeed by allowing abuse to happen.
Abuse is a twisted, sinful, deeply flawed human action that needs to be rooted out wherever we confront it.
No silence.
No secrets.
And it is NOT what 1 Peter 2:13-3:22 is talking about when it calls us to submission. At all!

Confusion In Disappointment: post-sermon Q&A

Three questions came in this week following last Sunday’s sermon on the life and struggles of Simon Peter.
If you missed it, you can download the podcast from pastorkensnotes.com
So, here we go with some responses…..
Is repentance required before “Emblepo” happens?
In a word – No.
Nowhere in Scripture do we read that we are required to first repent, that we are to first turn our thinking and behaviour around, before God will look at us is with love and forgiveness.
If this were true it would mean that the message of the Bible is no different than the message of any other religious holy book.  It would mean that we earn our way into God’s good graces.  We begin to act right and he begins to smile at us.  We leave our sin before the look of grace is extended to us.
And if that is true, I’m really not interested in the Christian faith any longer.  I quit.  Because there is NO way that I could keep that kind of an act going.  I’d falter in my repentance.  And God would start screaming at me.  And I’d be done.
Thankfully, this is NOT true.
This is NOT the message of the Bible.
At all!
Here’s the truth:
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”(Romans 5:8).
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
God in Christ took the initiative of making our salvation a reality.
Simply because he loved us.
He did so in his compassion and grace.
First.
Our response to that is one of repentance.
Response.
Emblepo – that the Son of God looks at us, knows us, loves us anyway, and gives his life for us who are total sinners.
That is the good and totally radical news of the Gospel.
 
Could Jesus have looked at Judas with love & forgiveness as well?
We are not told directly in Scripture how Jesus looked at Judas.
And, as always, we should be careful about commenting from silence.  What often tends to happen is that in such cases we easily inject our own biases and understandings and begin to attribute them to God – perhaps not such a great idea, eh 😉
When it comes to Simon, Scripture tells us lots about Jesus’ mind and heart towards this unstable disciple.  It tells us that he prayed for him. That he calls him to be a support to others. That he welcomes him to a meal even before Simon’s repented of his denials.  Jesus looks deeply into Simon’s heart and soul (emblepo), and treasures him anyway.
That all said – what DOES Scripture tell us about how Jesus deals with those who are his enemies?
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
It tells us that our Lord loved us while we were yet outside, still enemies. (Romans 5:7-10).
And if that is so for us, why might it not also be so for Judas?
A brother in the Taize community once wrote, “The gospels are so discreet concerning Judas’ motives because they do not want to satisfy our curiosity, but rather to lead us to faith. They do not clarify the abyss of darkness of the drama of Judas; they reveal the unfathomable and incomprehensible depth of God’s love.
We act upon the picture we have of the world and of reality.
How is that picture shaped in us?
Do we have a responsibility for this picture?  How?
Wow, what a question! There are multi-year courses at university that explore this very topic.
I’m absolutely convinced that I won’t be doing it justice with a short answer here.  So, my apologies in advance.
So…. how do we come to understand reality?
Partly through our experiences – the homes and communities in which we were raised.  The schools we attended.  The people we encountered.  The places we lived.  They all shape us and how we understand reality.
Partly through teaching – the schools we attended, the upbringing that nurtured us, the religious institutions that trained us.  They form our image of reality.
And partly through how God wired us up – how he carefully crafted our emotions, our intellect, our gift mix of abilities.  The unique mix of abilities that make each of us unique also forms a lens through which we come to see and understand what happens around us…. “reality.”
Are we responsible?
Yes, absolutely.
Ezekiel 18:1-3 is instructive in this regard.  People in Israel were beginning to say, “Hey, I’m not responsible.  God shouldn’t condemn me if I don’t live his way.  It’s the fault of my parents – they trained me wrong; led me astray.”  And the prophet says, “No, sir!  Each person stands ultimately responsible for their own life.”
And so there it is.  We are not responsible for what goes on around us.  But, at the end of the day we ARE responsible for how we react to it.
It’s interesting that my friends in the 12 step movement are more strict in this regard than just about anyone else I know.  They tell me that until and unless a person is willing to take responsibility for their life and their future, there is no hope.
Could that be why, again and again, Scripture presents the call to believe and obey – and tells the hearer to choose?
(eg Joshua 24:15; Mark 1:15; Acts 16:31; Acts 17:11).
Here’s one other interesting and sobering part of all this – given that my life and the way I’m wired is quite different than you, perhaps the Lord’s wisdom would call me to be careful not to so quickly judge you according to my personal standards…. that is, to expect that the road I’ve travelled is the only reasonable way and picture of reality, and only a fool would do otherwise.
The margins of grace, someone once said, are far wider than we often expect.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all this week.

Disappointed with God – post-sermon Q&A @ KCRC

This past Sunday we explored the fourth in our series “Rocky Faith” – on the life of Simon Peter, and some of his experiences as a friend of Jesus.

This week’s encounter was less than strong or pleasurable.
It happens in a setting of deep disappointment. The crowds that gathered regularly, as well as many of the disciples of Jesus, were finding what he taught and what he did to be out of synch with what their teachers had told them to expect from the Messiah. Messiah would come with power. Messiah would chase the political oppressors away. Messiah would usher in an era of justice and freedom for Israel.

Jesus, instead, taught love and forgiveness.
He healed all who asked – including foreigners.
It didn’t compute for many – and they threw up their hands and walked away.
Disappointed with Jesus.

Which led to the question, “What happens when WE become disappointed with Jesus?
Because what he does, around us or in our lives, doesn’t fit with what we expected?
Do we also feel like throwing up our hands and walking away?

During post-sermon Q&A the following three responses came in……
1. “Is it a good way of carrying your emotions on your sleeve to one’s response to God?
What about wisdom: hold your tongue, think it over first?”

2. “Peter’s confession may have been in the middle of disappointment/despair, but it was a pretty powerful & bare-bones confession anyway: Jesus has the words of life; Jesus is the holy one of God, sent by God. Is that enough to hang on to?”

3. “Not my will be ever done; but Thy will be done – till we draw our last breath.”

Thanks for your input into the conversation.
Here are some thoughts in response……

1. “Is it a good way of carrying your emotions onyour sleeve to one’s response to God?
What about wisdom: hold your tongue, think it over first?”
As someone has said, “A good portion of wisdom is not just knowing what to say, but when to say it.”
So true, and especially so when it involves other people!

What about with God, though?
Ought we sit on what we are feeling, swallow it, temper our responses?

I find the best direction comes from the Bible book of Psalms, the hymnal of ancient worship.
There’s much there that can help shape our interactions with the Lord:
There is praise addressed to the Lord in word and song (both old and new).
There is the celebration of God as found in nature, and in the beauty of the santuary.
There is passion expressed for God’s Will and Word.
AND….
….there is some very poignant expression of sorrow, regret, confusion, and disappointment with God. Such as the the opening words of Psalm 44. In fact, such distress is one of the major themes recorded in the Psalms. Very open. Very blunt. Laying it right open on the table as a form of confession.

The Holy Spirit inspired the inclusion of these painful words within the Psalms.
We could, perhaps, view them as simply the pained and misguided words of the gathered community. The trouble is that nowhere else in Scripture do we read clear prohibitions against such prayers.
So, I understand this as divine permission, and even holy guidance into how we are to respond when feeling deep disappointment and despair.
Honest expression to the Lord of heaven and earth.
Laying our cards on the table, so to speak.

Interestingly, contemporary churches in North American evangelical circles, including ours, often have a difficult time knowing what to do with pain, disappointment and struggle when it comes to worship. We’re good at praise. We know all about celebration. But lament? Not so much. At least not until recently. I’m thankful for worship leaders who are helping us re-engage what the Psalms have so clearly modeled.
Here are two articles you might want to consider reading:
My God, My God, Why?
Where Are The Songs Of Sadness?

May we, as a congregation, always be sensitive to the pain and struggle that brothers or sisters in Christ may be experiencing. May we provide them room to express that inner darkness in a safe, caring way even as we seek to minister encouragement and hope in gentle ways in Christ’s name.
2. “Peter’s confession may have been in the middle of disappointment/despair, but it was a pretty powerful & bare-bones confession anyway: Jesus has the words of life; Jesus is the holy one of God, sent by God. Is that enough to hang on to?”
Indeed it is!
You’re absolutely right on the mark.

Simon Peter was confused – his faith was rocky, teetering, unsure. Things didn’t line up as he’d hoped they would. But somewhere inside something clicked. Somehow he had a sense that in spite of what he didn’t have figured out, there was something here with Jesus. There was NO other one to whom he could go. Life would be found – somehow, someway – with Jesus. This Jesus is the one who would connect him and his friends to God. Only Jesus.

So, he stayed. And kept listening. Kept learning. Kept his eyes open. Kept wondering.
And eventually, he found certainty and peace – reflected in the letters that he wrote, which we have in the bible as 1 & 2 Peter.

There is much in life and faith that we aren’t sure of, either.
May those uncertainties not be the occasion for us throwing away our faith.
Because, truly, the only one bigger than our pains and disappointments is Jesus.
His words ARE life.
He IS the only final sure way to connect to our Creator.
In days of joy.
And in deep times of struggle.

3. “Not my will be ever done; but Thy will be done – till we draw our last breath.”
Amen!
Yes, Lord – your way and life in me.
When I understand you.
And when I haven’t a clue about what is going on, and why.

May Jesus be the centre of your experiences this week.

Wobbly On Water: some post-sermon Q&A

Good afternoon, everyone –

This past Sunday we worked our way through the second in KCRC’s current sermon series called “Rocky Faith.” This one was called “Wobbly on Water”, out of Matthew 14:22-33 and dealt with Simon’s encounter with Jesus on the water – scared, then attracted, then miraculously walking, then sinking, then scared, then rescued.

We marvelled at Simon’s faith that drew him out of the boat, contrary to EVERYTHING common sense. He was a fisherman. He knew people sank. And, most likely, he didn’t know how to swim (like many professional fishermen still today). But – out he went! Amazing!!

And then doubt crept in. We wondered what it would take, by way of evidence, to keep doubt from creeping into Simon’s heart…. or ours? And realized that we all succumb to it somewhere along the way. More often, even.

And finally – we humbly took heart noticing how Jesus stepped in and saved Simon – didn’t abandon or ignore him, didn’t demand he learn to swim and rescue himself. He saved him, immediately, as Simon was heading towards death by drowning.

We face storms of various sorts in our lives. Times that are overpowering, and deeply unsettling. We have a Lord who is greater than our storms, and who promises to NEVER abandon us. With that knowledge, perhaps he will call us to feats of faith – our personal version of “walking on water”: doing what otherwise seems impossible, in the power that God alone can provide.

Two questions and a comment came forward this week:
1. The changes of life – they can happen so fast. So much change. Help me to stand solid, please Lord!

2. Pastor Ken, you’re a scientist by training. Can you figure out the physics of how a person won’t sink in water? Or – might this story be a kind of parable, and not a “miracle” that defies physics?

3. “Immediately” Jesus saved Simon, according to Matthew 14. What happens when we feel like we’re drowning but it seems like the Lord is letting/making us wait a LONG time for a response? Or maybe it seems that we won’t ever get one? Can this cause more doubt?

Thanks for the honest, deep, thought-provoking feedback!

1. The changes of life – they can happen so fast. So much change. Help me to stand solid, please Lord!
I SO resonate with this. And, the older I get, the less confident I feel about my own ability to navigate change in my life; the less powerful I feel to be able to overcome obstacles in my life. I feel more like a lead balloon that sinks than someone who can rise above it all in victory.
More and more I find myself intense in a prayer something like what you shared, “Help! Keep me from sinking, Lord. Don’t let me disappoint you, Lord. Make something positive out of what seems like a frustrating dead end, Lord.”
I HEAR you.
And suspect there are a lot of people who also resonate with and pray that same prayer!
2. Pastor Ken, you’re a scientist by training. Can you figure out the physics of how a person won’t sink in water? Or – might this story be a kind of parable, and not a “miracle” that defies physics?
You are right. I am trained as a scientist. Could I come up with physics that allows people to walk on water?
Sure – freeze it; saturate it with salt; add gelatin; cause a high pressure flow of water to come upwards out of the depth, enough to support a person’s weight.

OR…. this:
I firmly believe that God created the Cosmos. Every part of it. And continues to make it function as it does, in regular ways – so regular that we can predict how things will tend to go. We call those predictions and regular behaviours “laws of nature” or “laws of physics.”
I don’t believe that God is some sort of divine watchmaker, who thought up and “built” the cosmos, wound it up, and then walked away to let things unfold as they will.
The bible tells us, “He upholds all things by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3), and “in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).
He remains intimately connected with that which he so wonderfully made.
Meaning – he can change things as he want, at any time, so that they deviate from the norm.
Such deviations we tend to refer to as “miracles.”
I believe they happen. They happened in bible times. I believe Jesus really DID heal people and really DID rise from the dead. And really DID walk across the water. Because he, the Son of God, is master of all these. They do NOT master him.
Nothing like actually SEEING that – the laws of nature being suspended – to drive the point home to the disciples.
He is divine – that’s the whole point of what he did.
Really did – not just story. If it were that, we’d know. The gospels are very clear about when something recorded there is presented as story, as parable, and when it is presented as fact. And there is not even a remotest hint that Matthew 14:22-33 is parable. It is presented as fact. Best we accept it that way.
3. “Immediately” Jesus saved Simon, according to Matthew 14. What happens when we feel like we’re drowning but it seems like the Lord is letting/making us wait a LONG time for a response? Or maybe it seems that we won’t ever get one? Can this cause more doubt?
Ah, yes – there’s the rub, eh?
In Matthew 14, Jesus steps in immediately because otherwise Simon goes under and drowns. And there is more learning and serving that has to happen. His purpose on earth is not yet complete. Later, though, Simon has to endure longer struggle. He is imprisoned a number of times. He is whipped savagely and has to endure the natural healing process. And eventually he is crucified, upside down, and dies a slow death for the sake of his faith in Jesus.
But never – ever – never – ever does our Lord abandon Simon. Or forget about him. He continues to hold Simon right to the end, at which point when death seeks to claim him, the Resurrected Jesus claims him as per the promise of John 14:3, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” Or, as Romans 8:39 triumphantly promises, “NOTHING in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Does that mean Simon never doubted again? Or struggled in his faith again? Actually, yes he did. The bible records him stumbling a number of times – when he denies Jesus, for example. And when, after Pentecost, he withdraws from hanging out with Gentile believers because he is afraid of what some powerful Jewish believers might say.

God holds us, too, friends. Always.
And it is AWEFULLY important for us to keep reminding each other of that.
And to keep hanging in there as loving representatives of Jesus to each other in the hard times. The longer the hard times go on, the more determined we need to be to hang in there with each other.
And to keep praying for each other.
And then…. when the doubt does creep in, to hug and encourage each other, pick each other up, dust each other off, remind each other of the gracious and strong forgiveness that is ours in Christ, and encouraging each other to move forward and leave the past behind.

Does that make sense?

Perhaps these questions, and my beginnings of response to each, prompt further questions or responses from you.

I’d be glad to have you continue the conversation with your comments.

May the Holy Spirit guide our collective reflection, drawing us ever deeper into the Life of Jesus.

And may His Peace fill your hearts this week!

Rocky Faith – some post-sermon Q&A

This past Sunday we began a new series called “Rocky Faith.”

It came out of a request from one of you for some messages dealing with Bible characters and how faith showed up, grew, and was challenged in their lives. Earlier this year we met Ruth. For the next few weeks we are going to encounter Simon, Jesus’ “lead hand” among the disciples; the disciple with the rocky faith who became a Rock for Christ’s cause on earth. We’ll probably see something of ourselves in him. And, most of all, I hope that we’ll see the loving, gracious, saving empowering presence of Jesus as He works in and through Simon. Causing us, it is my prayer, to wonder prayerfully about how Jesus might be at work in and through us.

I’ve posted the manuscript and study guide for the message here on the PKN blog site:
Rocky Faith – A New Beginning

 

Three questions came rolling in after the service.

1. How would you describe the glory of God?

2. Is it possible to have different responses when we experience God’s glory, or is Peter’s example the only true response?

3. You interpreted Peter’s words “Master, we’ve worked all night and haven’t caught anything. But if you say so, we’ll let down the nets again” as sarcasm, concession, or something like that. Couldn’t it also be a beginning-to-bud recognition of something powerful he sees in Jesus; a genuine desire to obey?

Great questions. Thanks for them!

1. How would you describe the glory of God?
The Glory of God – how would I describe our experience of it? I would say it is a sense of the bigness, the greatness, the wonder of God. At least – of one part or another of that. I don’t think anyone could see the FULL wonder of God, for that would be too much. Which is why the Bible records God saying to Moses, “No one can see my face and live.” (Exodus 33:20) It’s not that God doesn’t want us to see him. Rather, it is that he is too overwhelming to be seen full on, face to face. So he does to us like he does to Moses, hiding us and covering us graciously, and then allowing us a glimpse of him. Sometimes more of a glimpse. Sometimes less. But a glimpse of one part of who he truly is. So, sometimes we may glimpse his pure wrath against sin. Sometimes we are given a wee insight into his power. And sometimes we have a wondrous experience of his fatherly compassion and tender love. All parts and ways of experiencing the glory of God.

2. Is it possible to have different responses when we experience God’s glory, or is Peter’s example the only true response?

Building on #1, I’d say “Absolutely!! There are indeed different responses to experience difference facets of the glory of God.”

Let me name two.

Job 22:29 says God brings down the proud and saves the humble (see also Psalm 18:27).
To those who think they’re pretty good (and somehow it seems that Peter probably was one of those) he’ll knock us down a rung or two, before rebuilding us to work in and through us. St.Paul is another classic example of that – needing to be knocked off his horse, blinded and overwhelmed, with a permanent disability afterwards… only THEN could he be an effective servant of the Lord.
In such cases, there may well be a significant element of fear in our experience of the glory of God.

But there are also times when we have been deeply hurt in life. We are bruised. We gasp for air. It feels as if the flame of life is barely flickering, sputtering, ready to go out. We are deeply, deeply down.
In Matthew 12:20 Jesus claims a quote from Isaiah as being about himself, saying “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.”
In such times the Lord, in mercy and tender love, gives a taste of heavenly peace and hope for the future. What a wonderful gift!! Thank you, Lord, for granting this.

Can you think of other sorts of experiences and responses to God’s revealed glory?
3. You interpreted Peter’s words “Master, we’ve worked all night and haven’t caught anything. But if you say so, we’ll let down the nets again” as sarcasm, concession, or something like that. Couldn’t it also be a beginning-to-bud recognition of something powerful he sees in Jesus; a genuine desire to obey?

Hmmm – indeed. Perhaps Simon is seeing something in Jesus. As you pointed out in your email with the question, “he’s already witnessed (Luke 4) the powerful announcement of Jesus’ ministry, a couple miracles by Jesus, including the healing of his own mother-in-law. ”

The term Simon uses in Luke 5:5 to address Jesus is “epistates” – teacher / rabbi / master. It is a term that disciples or apprentices would use of the one who knows WAY more than they do. Which is why Simon obeys.

But there’s also the language that he uses to describe his fruitless fishing – the Greek term reflects “really hard, frustrating, tiring labor.”   i.e. he’s done.  Also, his response to the miracle tells me that Simon certainly wasn’t prepared for what he ended up experiencing! Making me think that part of his obeying was just “going through the motions.”

So part of Simon wants to obey.
And part of him just wants to finish cleaning up the gear so he can go home to sleep.

Bit ‘o column A.
Bit ‘o column B.

As you indicated in your email, “As is in each of us, there’s probably a mixture of these two extremes, often at the same time. Some exasperation at the confusing, slow, almost “naive” way of God’s working. But also a recognition of God’s authority and power and amazing grace.

Indeed – faith that’s a “work in progress” is never clearly driven by only one motivation.
We’re often all mixed up inside our souls and minds.
And the more complex the situation, the more mixed the motives might well be.

Thank you, Lord, for sticking with us as we learn – sometimes so slowly.
Thank you, Lord, for continuing to pour out your grace on us.
Thank you, Lord, for being so patient with us!!!
Perhaps these three questions, and my beginnings of response to each, prompt further questions or responses from you.
I’d be glad to have you continue the conversation with your posted comments right here on PKN.

May the Holy Spirit guide our collective reflection, drawing us ever deeper into the Life of Jesus.

And may His Peace fill your hearts this week!

Of Crackpots and Aching Hearts – Questions Asked at KCRC

Good afternoon, everyone –

Two questions came in after this past Sunday’s sermon about the woman anointing Jesus in a totally lavish, even excessive way. One about the message. The other about sanctuary Lenten decor.

Q: So what is the symbolism the of pottery jar on the little table beneath the cross?
Hey, glad you noticed. The pot was whole. And it represented the life of the believer, before the cross of Jesus. Low. As in surrender and submission. In it we carry the sum total of our lives. And bring them to the Lord.
Please return this coming Sunday. And notice the pot then. You might see a crack, or a chip, or a broken piece. Like our lives. Cracked pots we all are!… hah… maybe even crackpots. But never are the cracks or chips or broken pieces of our lives too much for the Grace and Forgiveness of Jesus, poured out at the cross. His blood shed is more powerful than even the greatest of our human failings. It cleanses us from ALL our sins (1 John 1:7). Nothing – not even the greatest of our sins – can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39). We are set free from the power and condemnation of sin (Romans 6:22) through Jesus.
Keep an eye on that pot each week during Lent. Notice how much BIGGER the cross is than that little pot. That’s the economy of Grace – Christ’s mercy is FAR bigger than sin’s stain.

THANKS BE TO GOD!!

Q: I am having trouble letting go of resentment and hurt and forgiving my brother. How can I anoint my Saviour in good conscience?
You have asked a deep, deep question. And I hesitate to even begin to answer.
The slick, easy response would be to say, “You CANNOT anoint Jesus – you must leave your gift of love at the “altar” and go be reconciled with your brother first. Then come back worship/love/serve your Lord.” (see Matthew 5:23)
And, without being able to converse with you, I’m guessing that this verse is echoing in your mind as you write the question.
Be very careful, though, about such thinking!

First off, it is important to note the direction of Mt 5:23. Jesus says to hold up if you “remember that your brother has something against you.” Now – HOW might that be? How could someone hold something against me? That can only be if I have caused them offense; if I have done them wrong.
That’s the heart of the passage.
It speaks to offenders. Not to survivors or victims.

The point of Matthew 5:23 is that Jesus doesn’t want us being cavalier in our worship – running around causing trouble here and there, hurting people, and then trotting off to worship as though nothing ever happened.
Don’t come into this house of worship. Wipe that smile/smirk off your face. You have hurt someone,” says Jesus. “You have damaged their life. Go back and make things right. Do that first. Then bring your smiling self to church.

Matthew 18:15-17 helps us in the case of someone who has hurt us.
We try to sort it out.
And perhaps the power dynamics of the situation require that we have someone with us.
And then, perhaps, the situation will be such that we CANNOT find a mediated solution and real peace
(note – that’s DIFFERENT than acquiesing, or sweeping things under the rug!!!!).
Then we have to back off.

We keep proper boundaries in place to avoid re-offense.
We don’t become door mats.
And we commit the situation and the perpetrator into the hands of Almighty God.
What my alcoholic friends call, “Let go, and let God.
Which is easier said than done.
And which is a process – trusting the all-Wise Judge to deal with the perpetrator in his Eternally Right way and time. We so often want to get revenge ourselves. Which can turn inward and consume us.
So we DO strive to learn to let go. The first, and hardest, step towards forgiveness.

What you don’t indicate is the nature of the problem.
Is the brother still hurting you?
Or was it a big, big hurt of the past (perhaps recent)?

I know you DON’T take the situation lightly – otherwise you wouldn’t have asked the question.
You care about it.
You want things right.
I sense that.
So, take heart!

The Lord is ready to hear you in prayer. Always.

And, while you’re on the journey towards dealing with this situation – however long and complicated that journey may be – please know that the sin committed against you will not and cannot freeze your life of devotion to Jesus.

That sin is not your master.
Jesus is.
And he calls you forward, step by step.
Parallel with your struggle towards forgiveness goes your Christian service to Jesus.
Hand in hand.

How do I know this? Well, I look at the Apostle Paul. At one point he got into an aweful to-do with Barnabas, the very person who had brought Paul into the Church (compare Acts 9:26 & Acts 15:39). They parted ways under unhappy circumstances. Thankfully, it didn’t stay that way. Paul later writes with affection that Barnabas is worthy of support (1 Corinthians 9:6). They worked towards, and eventually did, overcome their separation. And what about the time in-between these two points? Paul continued to minister. Even as he was working things through with Barnabas – what seems to have been quite a period of time – he annoints the feet of Jesus, so to speak, with his sacrificial service.

I pray that you will not carry this burden alone. I sense that it has gone on for some time. Please find someone you can trust to share it with, and to walk with you. As far as it is possible, live at peace (Romans 12:18). But where that is not possible, lean on the wise counsel, hugs, and prayerful support of other believers to walk with you towards letting God and letting God. And – keep serving Jesus along the way. Don’t let this wrong paralyze your soul, dear brother or sister!!

I hope this helps.
And I welcome any feedback or reflection from others.
May the Holy Spirit guide our collective reflection, drawing us ever deeper into the Life of Jesus.

And may His Peace fill your hearts!

Risks Of Faithfulness: Post-sermon Q&A

Last Sunday we worked our way through Ruth 3, and saw people take some big risks. It was strange, though. Because normally we think of risks as something we do to advance the well-being of our own lives, or some group we are personally part of. The risks taken here, though, brought no real benefit to those who took them. The blessings went to others.

We also got to thinking about how Old Testament law made provision to care for the vulnerable of Hebrew society through “Year Of Jubilee” and “Kinsmen-Redeemer” laws.

Some feedback came in after the message…..

1. Someone reminded us that Michael Card wrote a song about how Jesus is our Jubilee.
Including this quote:
“Jesus is our jubilee: debts forgiven, slaves set free
Freed from sin, a new beginning”
Thanks!
It’s a great song. I used to own it till my cassette player ate the tape (yes – back then).
Here’s the youtube link:
Jesus Is Our Jubilee

2. How often was the “Year of Jubilee” supposed to be held? Every seven years?
Good thinking about the seven years! There was Old Testament law that made every seventh year a Sabbath Year. It was to be a year of rest for the Land. A wonderful provision. But it is not the year of Jubilee. That would come after a cycle of seven Sabbath years – i.e. 49 years. The next one, 50th, was the year of Jubilee. So taught Leviticus 25:10. In that way, it reflected the Feast of Pentecost, which came on the day after the annual seven weeks of the harvest cycle, i.e. the 50th day.
This legislation was supposed to ensure that every household or clan could recover lands that had been sold/taken away for whatever reason; Hebrew slaves were set free; and debts were written off. It was a year of new beginning. Can you imagine the freedom this would give?
Only…. there are no historical or biblical records of God’s people actually obeying him on this. They were too enslaved to their wealth. Too busy hoarding to share. Sigh – dear Lord, keep us from becoming slaves to our wealth!
You can find more details about the year of Jubilee at:
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08534a.htm

3. Would Naomi not also be provided for by Boaz and therefore benefit from a union between Ruth and Boaz? If yes, were Naomi’s actions in sending Ruth to the threshing floor one of a manipulative nature as opposed to a a risk in faithfulness? How in my life do I discern the difference?

Thanks for the question – it’s a hard one, and drills right down to our inner motives. When are they really sacrificial, and when are they self-serving?

Regarding Naomi – I’m not really sure. Honestly, I didn’t spend much time considering her part of the risk-taking venture. Focused more on Ruth and Boaz. So, you’ve got me thinking!

Were her motives all about doing good for Ruth? Or, as you suggest, that there’d be something in it for herself, too? Hmmmm. Perhaps a bit of both? Philosophy classes all over our nation are filled with debates about precisely this point – “Is it even possible to do something for another person without at least a bit of self-interest present?”

I know for myself that motives are really hard to discern – often they are mixed. It is rare that I find myself doing or saying something strictly for one reason. Or, if there is one dominant motivator, often behind the scenes there’s more going on. I suspect that to be true for most of us, at least most of the time.

So… how to tell? There’s the challenge – for a start, it requires a healthy dose of self-honesty. Which is enough of a challenge. As Kant and Freud observed, people’s true motives may be hidden, even (or perhaps especially) from themselves. Here’s why, as I’ve said before, it is so important to have one or two people in your life who have permission to call you out when you’re spewing a line to yourself or someone else. Have you got such a person in your life?

If you can be really honest – perhaps ask, “If I do this, and it doesn’t work out as I hope, how will I feel about it? And why?” If negatives come up – beyond disappointment that the other person isn’t helped as you expected – start digging.

So, for example, the parent who carts her child to hockey practice Saturday at 5:30am. “Ah, the loving, sacrificing parent” we think. “Doing all this for their child. How loving.” Really? All for the child? Here’s where it would be good, as that parent, to ask yourself, “And what if next year, the little guy doesn’t make the team and gets demoted to house league? How will I feel then? Is it really loving sacrifice?… Or am I harboring a secret wish that he’ll be an NHL star one day, and hoping for the glory that we’ll all share then?”

Another piece of this conversation is this – just because you get to enjoy some positive out of something sacrificial you do for another person, doesn’t make it all bad. It doesn’t even make it selfish. Selfish would be defined by who is at the centre of the decision making to do this act. If it truly is for the other, and you reap a benefit – bonus. But I wouldn’t call that selfish.

Agree? Disagree? Want to add something to the conversation?
Love to hear from you.

Preparing For Holy Communion – a question about preparing

Recently a question was submitted regarding Christian Reformed practice surrounding the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  Here’s the question, and my response:

Why do we no longer read the “Preparatory Exhortation” on the Sunday before celebrating the Lord’s Supper? Good question. This form, by the way, still appears in the back of our hymnals on p.976, 978 & 983. There was a day, early in my ministry, where every pastor was required to read these forms before Communion was celebrated – preferably the Sunday prior, or else before the Communion form itself was read. There was the additional requirement that a preparatory sermon would be preached, and that after communion an applicatory sermon would follow – perhaps that afternoon, or the next week.
Some Reformed denominations still hold to this practice. The CRC, however, has loosened its tie to this. Why? If you read the form you’ll notice that it immediately draws attention to 1 Corinthians 11:28-29 and issues a call for every believer to examine themselves morally and spiritually, repent of their sin, find peace with Jesus Christ, and then in assurance of salvation to come to the Table of the Lord. And, in fact, that was the old understanding of what these verses from God’s Word required.
However – is that correct?
As Christians today read this chapter we are realizing that, NO, this is NOT what these verses teach. These verses are NOT about private, personal moral & spiritual self-examination. They are, rather, a call for every believer in the community of God’s people to examine how they living their lives and celebrating the Supper within that community. The entire thrust of 1 Corinthians 11 deals with disunity amongst the Corinthians. They were living as though their faith was a private matter, as though worship and the Table celebration was a “me ‘n Jesus” time.
“NO, NO, NO!” shouts Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Worship, and coming to Communion, are all about living as the Body of Christ. Living together, worshiping together, celebrating together, serving together.
Together.
Together!
Together!!
Coming to the Broken Body & Poured Out Blood of Jesus as though it is only a matter of you and him, while ignoring others around you, is a gross violation of what the Supper is all about!
Pay attention to your brothers and sisters.
Love them.
Come with them.
Come TOGETHER!!!
If you don’t want to come together, don’t come at all.
THAT’S what 1 Corinthians 11:28-29 are teaching.
To then inject any other meaning into those verses is to not interpret them faithfully. And such forms are best left to the side.

Does that mean that self-examination is not a good idea?
Absolutely not! It needs to be a regular part of every believer’s spiritually disciplined life. Don’t tie it only to Communion, though. Self-examination needs to be much broader and more regular than that (unless, of course, we do Communion each Sunday…. but that’s another whole conversation).

And does it mean that we ought not reflect on the wonder and blessing of our Saviour’s sacrifice as we move into life?
Absolutely not! Of course we wonder. And give thanks. And praise. And pray.
May it be so.
But not only after coming to the Table.
Every day.
Continually!