I Am Convinced


Several years ago, when I was interning to become a pastor, a family in one of the congregations that I served lost a 14-year-old son in an automobile accident. This passage was read at his funeral:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

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Photo by Rhodi Alers de Lopez on Unsplash

Being completely convinced is not a small feat. There are only a handful of things for which we can say, “I am convinced.” We need evidence to make such strong statement. This makes Paul’s words in Romans 8 even more remarkable because he is not talking about an historical fact or a repeatable scientific result. Paul is talking about love. We have learned not to trust love because personal history has shown us that love is fickle. It comes and goes with the mood and the circumstances of the lover. But not in this case.

 

Paul is talking about the love that God has for us. God’s love for us is always infinite and unconditional. God’s love for us will never fail us because God will never leave us nor forsake us. God’s love for us is what moved God the Son to wrap Himself in human flesh and become one of us to save us from sin, death and everlasting condemnation. God’s love for us is what moves the Holy Spirit to flip all the switches in our soul from “God Hater” to “God Lover,” from “No Faith” to “Faith,” from “Condemned” to “Saved,” and from “Spiritually Dead” to “Fully Alive.”

The evidence that convinced Paul is of two kinds. Part of what convinced him was subjective evidence, his personal experience of life with Jesus. Jesus carried Paul through controversies, beatings, and imprisonment, and through it all, God used Paul’s gifts, experience and knowledge to convince others that God loves them and they also followed Jesus. But Paul also knew that there was ample objective evidence—information that was open and available to all—that was convincing. For example, Paul knew how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament promises of a Saviour from God. Paul also knew that Jesus’ tomb was empty and that Jesus had appeared to many witnesses after He rose from the dead.

The resurrection of Jesus is the proof of God’s faithful love for us. It is because Jesus rose from the dead that Paul can say that nothing, not even death, will separate us from Jesus and His great love for us. Convinced of God’s love, we get to experience the joy of being carried by that love through thick and thin, until the day that Jesus carries us home and faith turns to sight. Then we will know that God’s love never fails.

Dear Jesus, please convince me of the strength and the truth of Your love. Help me to trust in You and Your love in good times and bad. Give me opportunities to share what has convinced me with others in the hope that they might also be convinced. Thank you for Your love! Amen.

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God’s Ultimate Judgment


“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” (Romans 2:1)

The most well-known Bible verse these days is probably “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Mt. 7:1). What people want to avoid is feeling condemned, but there is something else in play here.

The reason that we should not judge others is because whenever we condemn someone else, we also condemn ourselves because we do the same things. This is not only true in a general sense (“we are all sinners”) but also specifically, for we tend to see and loathe in others the sins that tend to be a problem for us.

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But the solution is not to cast off all discernment and let everyone do whatever they want and not say anything because we are all sinners. That notion is ludicrous and will lead to much harm and regret. Just because I got caught in a trap does not mean that I should not warn people when they play near the same trap.

No, the solution is to peel back the layers of our onion-like soul before God and be totally transparent before him. He already knows our sin. When we confess our sins to God, we are not telling him something that he doesn’t already know. Confession is agreeing with God.

We agree with God that we are sinners through and through. But we can’t stop there because God does not stop there. For God the Father sent his Son, Jesus, to be our Saviour. And Jesus willingly went to the cross where he took all the judgment for all sin upon himself and paid the full consequence of that sin. Jesus was condemned. We were set free. As people who cling to the coattails of Jesus, God’s ultimate judgment of us is that we are his forgiven, beloved, beautiful children.

Let us rest in the gracious judgment of God. Let’s make this our core identity. Then when we tell someone that they are doing something wrong, our motivation will be love for them. If our love for others is so great that we are willing to suffer personally so they can have a better life with God, that is the kind of love that the Holy Spirit can use to change the trajectory of someone else’s life forever.

Dear Jesus, thank you for your love and forgiveness for me. Help me to be both wise and loving in my relationships with others. Help me to love other people like you love them. Amen.

Jesus Will Carry Us


[Jesus said,] “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” (Mt. 23:37)

A few years ago, the shocks went out on our family van. If you have ever had this happen to a vehicle you were driving, you know what it is like. There is no “give” left in the suspension and the vehicle bottoms out when it goes over minor bumps. Bad shocks become a bigger problem when you try to pull a trailer. The vehicle is unable to function normally and if you don’t fix the problem, more serious damage to your vehicle can result.

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Photo by Prince Abid on Unsplash

There is also a shock absorber in the human heart which serves to lift us up even when we go over bumps in life. Because of our broken human nature, we usually try to be our own personal shock absorber. However, this doesn’t work very well and that becomes obvious when we get shook up by a bump that we hit. Then we get anxious or afraid (with men, fear often shows itself as anger) because we know that our present suspension is failing us, and serious damage could soon result.

The solution? It would be easy to say, “Give up trying to hold up our own lives and let Jesus do it for us.” While that is true, a change at a deeper heart level is needed. We need to give up our understanding of what the good life looks like and embrace God’s definition of the good life. Jesus was referring to us when He said, “I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of” (John 10:10 MSG). God’s definition of the good life is life with Jesus, trusting in Him for all things in every moment of our lives. We were created to let Jesus carry us through life, so we need to give up trying to hold up our own lives.

How do we know that Jesus will carry us? Years ago, I heard a preacher on the radio describe a young boy’s experience during a prairie fire in the 1930’s. The fire came so close to the family farmhouse that the young boy could feel the heat through the glass of his bedroom window. The boy’s Dad and the hired man fought against the blaze with shovels and wet burlap bags. Thankfully there was a road between the fire and the farmyard and the fire did not cross the road.

The next morning, the young boy went for a walk to survey the damage. Seeing a charred lump in the middle of the road, he kicked it and six little yellow chicks scurried out from underneath the blackened mass. Seeing the fire, a mother hen gathered her chicks under her wings. They were saved, but she was consumed.

This is what Jesus has done for us. He allowed the punishment for our sin to be poured out on Him instead of us. He was consumed, but we were saved.

Resting in Jesus’ love for us, we do not need to be anxious or afraid about anything. Nothing, not even death will separate us from Jesus and His great love for us. With our trust in Jesus instead of ourselves, we live with a lightness of heart and a joyful spirit that is both rare and attractive in this broken and hurting world. Our attitude can give us opportunities to share with others the Good News that Jesus will carry us.

Dear Jesus, please help me to place my life in your hands and trust in You for all things all the time, especially when I hit a bump in life. Amen.

Jesus Helps Us to Judge by True Standards


A few weeks ago, I was heading home after the Sunday worship service here at WGLC, and since I park on the east side of our building, I drove through parking lot of the mechanic shop next door and I was going to turn right from there on to 88th Avenue. The traffic was very busy at that time, so I checked both ways for pedestrians, and then I looked to my left and waited, and waited and waited. Finally, there was a break in the traffic and I let my foot off the brake and began to accelerate. My eyes scanned back to the right so I could make my turn and that is when I saw the skateboarder who was about to pass in front of me. Fortunately, this skateboarder was very capable. He saw me begin to move and abruptly stopped, and danger was averted.

When I reflected on what almost happened, I realized that I believed an assumption that was not true. The view to the right is obstructed on that driveway, and I had assumed that no pedestrian could cover the distance on the sidewalk that I could see in the time that I had been waiting. I had never even considered the possibility of a skateboarder being on the sidewalk. A skateboarder could cover that distance in the fraction of the time someone walking would take. Because of my assumption, I was blind to how things really were and I did something that almost resulted in tragedy. That tragedy was averted, but my assumptions needed to change or, in time, the same thing would happen again, and next time the outcome might not be as fortunate.

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Photo by Raquel Martínez on Unsplash

Being willing to change our assumptions and beliefs is daunting because it is very hard work, and there are a couple of reasons why that is so. First, it often means uncovering things that we didn’t even know we believed, and those things do not tend to get uncovered unless there is some kind of pain or conflict in our life that draws our attention to it. Second, changing our assumptions and beliefs is hard because it means letting go of something that we have held on to for a long time, and that does not feel safe to us. But if we don’t do the hard work of examining our assumptions and beliefs and changing those that need to be changed, we will continually misjudge the situations we face, make bad decisions and, sometimes, that will result in disastrous consequences.

God wants something more for us than the life that we are now living. God wants us to see things how they really are so that we can make good decisions that not only help us to thrive at life, but also help others to thrive at life too.

Today we are going to be looking another story from the life of Jesus. But before we do that, we need pause for a moment and reflect on the word “judge” because it is a word that shows up in the reading that we are going to be looking at.

Decades ago, if you asked people which is the most recognizable verse from the Bible, the answer likely would have been John 3:16:  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. Today, the verse that people are most likely to recognize as coming from the Bible is Matthew 7:1, where Jesus says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” No one likes to be judged, but people use this verse to say, “I can do whatever I want and you have no right to say anything about it.” But is that what Jesus really meant when He said this? Because in the passage we are going to look at in a few moments, in John 7, Jesus says something different about judging. He says, “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” (John 7:24) So in John 7 Jesus is telling us to judge and in Matthew 7 He is telling us not to judge. How are we supposed to understand what Jesus is telling us?

The first thing that we need to clarify is that there is both a broad and a narrow definition for the word “judge.” In the broad sense, all of us judge all the time. As we go through the day, on a moment-by-moment basis, all of us are assessing the situations we face and then we make decisions about how to respond to those situations based on our assessment. That’s what judging means in the broad sense.

But judging is also used in a narrow sense, such as when a judge finds someone guilty of a crime and sentences them to time in jail. Judging in the narrow sense has a connotation of condemnation.

So let’s turn to Matthew, chapter 7, verses 1 to 5. Here Jesus says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Mt. 7:1-5) Jesus is speaking about judging in the narrow sense, in the sense of condemning someone. When Jesus says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” what He is effectively saying is this: Do not put yourself above someone else and pretend that you know all that there is to know about them or that you know what their eternal destiny will be. When you do that, you are putting yourself in the place of God. God is the only One who knows all that there is to know about a person. God is the only One who will decide what a person’s eternal destiny will be. Let Me help you deal with the issues in your own life first, and then together we can help that other person deal with the issues in their life. But don’t put yourself above other people and don’t pretend that you are God.”

Now we turn to John 7:1-27 and we see in this passage that Jesus is in conflict with a group of Jews called the Pharisees. The Pharisees are often mentioned in the Bible as being opposed to Jesus, but there were many good things about them. They were upright, moral people. They believed many of the same things that Christians back then and today believe. The Pharisees believed that all of the Hebrew Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, was from God and was important to know and to follow. They believed that God will raise people from the dead on the Last Day, and they also believed in angels and other spirits.

But where the Pharisees and Jesus came into conflict was over the issue of how God saves people. The Pharisees believed and taught that only people who kept all of God’s commandments, not only those commandments that were written down in the Old Testament, but also of the laws that were passed down in the oral tradition, only if you kept all of the laws from God would be saved by Him. Jesus believed and taught something that was quite different. Jesus believed and taught that salvation was a gift from God, given through faith to everyone who believes in Jesus.

Even though many of the Pharisees opposed Jesus and some of them wanted to kill Him, Jesus still loved the Pharisees and He still reached out to them. Jesus knew that this was more than a difference of opinion about a theological issue. Jesus knew that because the Pharisees were focused on external obedience, they were blind to the more important issues that were prominent in people’s lives beneath the surface. Therefore, they were continually misjudging situations and making bad decisions. Jesus’ words to the Pharisees are words of love as He refers to judging in the sense of making decisions in everyday life and says, “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly” (John 7:24).

The event that started this conflict was when Jesus healed a man at the Pool of Bethesda. John records that event in chapter 5 of his biography of Jesus. The Pharisees considered healing to be work, so for them the most important thing in that situation, when Jesus encountered this man who had been ill for 38 years, would be for Jesus to keep the law and not heal the man on that day, which was the Sabbath, the Jewish holy day. Jesus was sent to seek and to save that which is lost (see Luke 19:10) and that included this sick man. For Jesus, the most important thing in that moment was to love this man into the family of God, and that is exactly what Jesus did by healing him.

Jesus knows that every human heart is broken in some way, Jesus knows that all our human natures are twisted and for us to try to keep God’s laws perfectly in an impossible task. It only crushes us when we try. Our external obedience is not what Jesus looks at, Jesus looks at the human heart. Because of the great darkness that He sees inside of each and every one of us, Jesus, the Son of God, became fully human so that He could take all of that darkness away from us and give us His light, His forgiveness, His place in God’s family, and His love. And this is only the first step in God’s two-part gift, because a day is coming when Jesus will come back to this world and make the salvation that He has already given us fully complete. Now we live in a broken and hurting world and our bodies age, break down and eventually die. Then we will live in a renewed and restored earth that is reconnected with heaven and we will have bodies that will never grow old, never get sick and never die. We are going back to the garden and this time we will have free and open access to the tree of life that stands at the centre of the garden.

Jesus loves you and accepts you unconditionally. You are a beloved, forgiven child of God. You have eternal life with Jesus and the Holy Spirit dwells within you. Your body is His temple. All of this is a totally free gift from God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Dear friends, I encourage you to fully open the gift of life that Jesus has given to you and live it to the fullest. What do I mean by that? There is a temptation to think that because Jesus has forgiven us, it is okay for us to keep judging things, that is, to keep using our old assumptions and beliefs to make decisions, just as we were doing before. But if we keep doing that we will always be misjudging situations, we will always be making bad decisions and we will never be able to live the rich, full, abundant life that Jesus wants to give us.

Imagine for a moment, that you are in a conflict with someone else. I am asking you to think of a conflict because it is when we are in conflict that our true beliefs and assumptions rise to the surface. When you are in a conflict, what is the most important thing for you? If you are like me, when I get in a conflict the most important thing that rises up within me is for me to be right. When I let that be the most important thing in my life in that moment, I will sacrifice everything else in order to make that happen. Now here is another question: When I do that, when I allow me being right to be the most important thing in the middle of a conflict, who am I being most like, Jesus or the Pharisees?

I am being like a Pharisee.

Jesus is calling us to suppress and shed our old Pharisee ways and embrace loving other people closer to Jesus at the most important thing in our lives. It doesn’t mean that we won’t have conflicts, but it will change our conflicts into opportunities to love other people closer to Jesus. We still speak truth, but we speak it with a different motivation because we want the person with whom we are in conflict to grow closer to Jesus, and we do it in a different way because we love them, and we speak the truth with love.

This is why Jesus called all people in the Christian Church to love one another. It is not easy to love someone when you know some of their faults and foibles, or when you have been hurt by something they said or did to you, or by something they said about you to others. But God uses that hard work of loving our sisters and brothers in Christ to help us examine our inner beliefs and assumptions and change them. It is through the hard work of loving our fellow sinners in the Church that we grow to become more loving people. And prepares us for the even greater task Jesus has for us of loving the world. We are part of the Body of Christ in the world, and it is through us that Jesus will share His saving love with the world. When loving other people closer to Jesus is the most important thing to us deep down in our heart, then we will make much better decisions. Jesus helps us to judge by true standards. Amen.

(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church at Langley BC on May 6, 2018. It is based on John 7:1-27.)

 

 

The Importance of Remembering Forgiven Sins


“Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” (Mt. 18:33)

I am writing this three days after the Humboldt Broncos bus crash, and as bad as the initial news was, things only seem to have grown more terrible in the time since. Two more people have died, and two players were mixed up, which makes it obvious that the injuries to the survivors were much worse than I thought. Many lives are going to be changed forever.

I feel for the driver of the truck who collided with the bus. I can’t imagine the guilt he must feel. How can there be forgiveness for his part in this tragedy?

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Photo by Gift Habeshaw on Unsplash

There cannot be forgiveness if one looks at life like the unmerciful servant in one of Jesus’ stories (see Matthew 18:21-35). In this servant’s eyes, forgiveness is earned. So, when his master, the king, demands payment for his debt of ten thousand bags of gold, the servant begs for patience and promises to pay everything back to the king.

The king has pity on the servant and cancels the debt. But the servant remains unchanged. Perhaps he thought that his promise to repay was what moved the king to forgive him, so in a way he had still earned and deserved his forgiveness. He did not realize what a great gift he had been given, so the king’s great gift had no impact.

This forgiven servant then turns around and throws in jail a fellow servant who begged for forgiveness over a much, much smaller amount. When his fellow servants report his despicable actions to the king, the king reconsiders his decision and orders that the unmerciful servant be thrown in jail and tortured until he pays back all that he owes, which is an impossible task. The unmerciful servant has chosen the path of unforgiveness for himself.

God’s first response to us is always one of grace and love. He is always willing to forgive our sins, cancel our great debts and not let our past failures and faults come between us and Him. However, like the king in Jesus’ story, God will let us choose the path of unforgiveness for ourselves.

Will God’s forgiveness have any impact on our lives? That depends on whether we realize how much we have been forgiven. Only when we remember that we have been forgiven much do we have generous forgiveness in our hearts for others. So far, I have not driven a truck that collided with a hockey team bus and resulted in many deaths, but God has forgiven me for many, many serious sins.

Therefore, we remember our sins, which are forgiven, to help us be generous in forgiving others.

Dear Jesus, please help me to remember always how You have generously forgiven me so I can, with Your help, generously forgive others. Please continue to be with all who are grieving the loss of loved ones because of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash. Amen.

 

Facing Offense: Let Jesus Be Your Source of Love, Strength & Truth


Years ago, when I was still farming, I accidentally hit my thumb with a hammer and the pain I felt was so excruciating that I was certain that I had broken my thumb. So, I went to the doctor to get it checked out. After looking at it, the doctor explained to me that my thumb was not broken and the pain I was experiencing was from the pressure of blood building up under my thumbnail. He told me that he was going to have to poke a hole in my thumb nail to relieve the pressure and that would ease the pain. I wasn’t sure if I really believed him, but by that point I was in so much pain, I was willing to try almost anything, so I said, “Ok.” What the doctor then did was get a bunsen burner, a plier and a paper clip, and after unfolding the paper clip slightly, he put it in the pliers and held the paper clip over the flame and heated it until it was red hot. Then he pressed down in the centre of my throbbing thumbnail with the point of the glowing paper clip and burned through the nail. After a few moments, that red hot paper clip burned all the way through my thumbnail. I jumped and gave a little yelp as the hot paper clip hit my tender flesh and blood spurted out of the hole. The doc was right. Immediately, I began to feel relief from the pain and eventually that thumb healed up just like it was before. And I would not have minded the whole process quite so much, but I’m pretty sure he let out a little chuckle when I jumped because of the pain of that paper clip.

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Photo by Ian Keefe on Unsplash

Sometimes, you have to say or do something that might cause another person pain before you can help them, like that doctor did for me. Another example of a situation like that is when a mother takes her child to a clinic for a vaccination. However, in adult to adult encounters, we don’t like doing anything that might cause someone pain and offend them. Now we should not be obnoxious, but this reluctance to offend results in us being relationally paralyzed because it is impossible for us to go through life without offending someone else. All of us are sinners, so we cannot avoid doing or saying something in the wrong way. It is part of the nature of communication that we cannot say or do things in a way that they will never be misunderstood. All of us are broken, so we cannot avoid reacting when our personal heart wounds are touched, not can we avoid touching someone else’s personal heart wound because we don’t know what they are. We are all individuals with our own personal thoughts, personality and experiences, so there will always be times when others disagree with us, even if what we are saying is true. You cannot avoid offending other people. When avoiding causing an offense becomes the main thing in our lives, we withdraw from social interactions and we guard what we say to limit the likelihood of that happening, but then we become less than our true selves when we do that and we are not really helping others in the process.

This reluctance to offend has also had a negative impact on our culture. Our culture has become more concerned about likes and dislikes than about truth. And when truth disappears, then next thing to go is compassion. Once I witnessed an accident where a motorcyclist was injured because he clipped the back corner of a car and the first reaction of the woman driving the car was to be offended because her car was scraped. We live in a culture where we greatly value the opposite of offending people, we want people to “like” us to the point where we will compromise moral, ethical or even legal boundaries to get the likes we seek. About ten days ago, an Australian judge sentenced a Canadian woman, Mélina Roberge, to eight years in jail for trying to smuggle 95 kilos of cocaine, worth about $20 million, into Australia on a cruise ship. Mélina and her partner in crime, Isabelle Lagacé, smuggled the drugs to finance their well-photographed trip to various exotic locations around the world. There was no concern about the impact those drugs would have on the people who used the. During her trial, Mélina told the court that the purpose of the trip was to gain more acceptance on social media. The judge, Catherine Traill said, “It is sad they seek to attain such a vacuous existence where how many likes they receive is their currency. She wanted to be the envy of others. I doubt she is now the envy of others.”

We and our culture are in trouble. Culture was given by God to humanity to help humans thrive in this world. But our culture’s aversion to offending people makes us unable to deal in truth. As a result, we are like a party boat floating down the Fraser River without an engine or a rudder. Everyone on the boat is partying up a storm while they slowly but surely drift out to sea.

But God wants something more for us and for our culture than the morass in which we now find ourselves. God knows that the way to change a culture is not by using political power from the top down. The way to change a culture is by changing one life at a time through a relationship with His Son, Jesus. God wants all people to thrive at life through a relationship with His Son Jesus, but for that to happen, people need to know the truth, even if it offends them.

So let’s take a look at our reading for some help on matters like this. If you have a Bible or Bible app on your phone, please turn to John 6:60-71. In this passage, Jesus finds Himself in a situation where what He has said has offended others, and let’s see how he handles the situation.

What caused the offence was something that Jesus said a little earlier when He told  people “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them to life on the last day” (John 6:54).

Now, there are two ways that someone can be offended: They can misunderstand and be offended, or they can understand correctly and be offended. At first, Jesus’ Jewish listeners misunderstood Him and were offended. They took Jesus’ words literally and thought that He was promoting cannibalism, something that would have been very offensive to Jews because of clear prohibitions in the Jewish faith against cannibalism and drinking blood. And we know that Jesus was not speaking literally because He said, The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe” (John 6:63-64). Jesus is telling His listeners that His words have spiritual significance that goes far beyond their literal meaning.

So what did Jesus mean when He said that unless we eat His flesh and drink His blood, we will not have life in ourselves? Why was what He told them so important that He was willing to take the risk of offending them? Jesus was telling the people that, in Him, God was doing something that He had never done before. God wrapped Himself in human flesh and blood and became a human being to save everyone from our headlong rush towards self-destruction. But as great and wonderful a gift as Jesus is, that gift means nothing if we don’t bring Jesus into our inner world and let Him reign there. Jesus’ words may have resulted in confusion at first, but then, even after He explained Himself and people understood what He said, people still were offended. In verse 66 we read, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” Jesus had gathered a crowd, but now the crowd betrayed Him.

Jesus then turned to His twelve closest disciples and asked, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” (v. 67) Just because someone is close to you is no guarantee that they won’t be offended by something that you say or do. But Peter gets it. He knows the precariousness of human existence and he has munched on the Bread of Life, so he knows the gift of life that Jesus has given him.  Peter responds to Jesus’ question by saying, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (vv. 68-69)

Jesus accepts Peter’s answer, indicating its truthfulness. And why wouldn’t He, after all, Jesus had chosen these twelve followers Himself. But here is the key: Jesus chose these twelve followers and He invested His life in them, even though He knew that Judas would betray Him, Peter would deny Him and all of them would desert Him when the temple guards would come to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Jesus intentionally made Himself vulnerable to these broken, betraying people. Jesus was both secure in and motivated by the love that He shared with His heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit to speak the truth to those He loved even though it was likely to offend them. Standing on the truth, Jesus knew that He was the only way of salvation offered to the world by God, so He had to tell the people. Jesus also knew that offence is sometimes the necessary prequel to acceptance, that people often kick back against something that threatens to turn all that they have thought and believed in the past upside down before, with time and the Holy Spirit, it settles in their heart and they know it to be true.

Jesus made Himself vulnerable to broken, betraying people like us because of truth and love.  Jesus knows the truth about us but He loves us too much to leave us the way that we are. Jesus comes to us and tells us the truth about ourselves through the Bible. The truth is that there is brokenness, betrayal and darkness in our lives just like there was in the hearts of the first followers of Jesus. It is painful to hear that truth about ourselves, but that pain prepares us for the greater truth that Jesus also gives us. In Jesus, God’s love has wiped away all our sin, guilt and shame on the cross. With Jesus there is no barrier between us and God, no condemnation from God, only unconditional love and acceptance. You have a close, intimate relationship with God the Father through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Live life in this world for any length of time and you will be sure to experience betrayal: a boyfriend who dumps you, a business partner who takes advantage of you on a deal, or a friend who shares a deep, dark secret that you have told to no one else. But there is one thing that will protect your heart from being torn in two when that betrayal comes. And that is to rest in the pure, faithful love of Jesus. Jesus knows and wants what is best for you, He will never let you down and you are forever safe with Him. And when your heart is resting in Jesus’ love and Jesus is living His life through you, then you will have the courage you need to love other people enough to tell them the truth, even if it offends them and they then decide to betray you. You will be sad about their departure, but it will not threaten you because you have all that you need in Jesus. You will be free, free to speak and live the truth with love for God and for the world.

Then we will be people that can make a lasting difference in this world. And as more and more and more people believe in Jesus, the culture we live in will be transformed as Jesus’ followers fulfill their role of being salt and light in this world. And it all starts with each of us letting Jesus be our source of love, strength and truth. Amen.

 (This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church on Langley BC on April 29, 2018. It is based on John 6:60-71.)

 

The Beautiful Season


One of the things that I do to relieve stress and get some fresh air and exercise is run. As a runner, I live for this time of year. Running in the Lower Mainland can be very dreary during the months from November to March. I usually run in the morning and during that time of year it is dark, cold and wet. But then April comes, the days start getting longer and the mornings start getting warmer. By 5 o’clock, the sun is already beginning to light up the northeastern sky and it is gorgeous. If I run later in the morning, the birds are singing a chorus of praise to their Maker, flowers and trees share their beautiful blossoms and delightful fragrances with me, and the light of the sun warms my soul. Because of the weather patterns in our part of the world, I know that for the next few months, I will get to enjoy more good weather and my heart sings with joy.

Runner by Jenny Hill-202432-unsplash.jpg
Photo by Jenny Hill on Unsplash

And yet I am still thankful for all those months of slogging through the cold and the wet. God was still there with me as I ran. Running alone with no distractions and no cell phone is a time of worship for me. And the running that I did during the dreary months helps me to better enjoy the running that I will get to do now.

You may have other outdoor activities that you enjoy, but we have this in common: After months of dreariness, this is a time of year when we get to enjoy those activities. And even the dreary months can be a time of preparation for this beautiful season. Seeds can be planted, stationary bikes can be ridden, plans can be made. God is with us in the dreary times, so even then things are good.

There are parallels between the annual seasons and life. There are times when each of will encounter challenges, dreariness, and grief. But the Good News of Easter and Pentecost is that a better season is coming soon. Jesus rose from the dead to defeat death for us and He has turned the worst thing that could happen into something good for us. On the other side of death is a Spring that will be far more glorious than any Spring has ever been before.  That never-ending season will be brimming with life and the light of the Son will warm our souls.

In the meantime, God is with us. We know that because Jesus has given us the Holy Spirit. While in Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals, “…Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive” (John 7:37-39).

If you are in the middle of a dreary season in your life, hang on to Jesus. He will carry you through and things will be much, much better in the end. And in the meantime, know that the Holy Spirit is with you.