True Value


However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace. (Acts 20:24)

Years ago, I spent a bundle of money on some pens (and a very special surprise gift) that all turned out to be worthless. As painful as that experience was, I did not learn from it because I did the same things again a couple of years later. It took a double does of pain for me to learn that lesson.

You are very precious to God. And you will spend your precious earthly existence on living a life of some kind. The only question is on what kind of life are you going to spend your precious earthly existence?

Mother and Child by Les Anderson-189376-unsplash.jpg

Photo by Les Anderson on Unsplash

Most of us think of ourselves as builders who are building a life for ourselves. We go to school to get an education or a trade so we can have a career which will support ourselves, and our family if we have one. We also have hobbies and family gatherings, seasonal celebrations and vacations and we tend to think that all these events and activities comprise our life. But how much value does the life we build really have?

Before the apostle Paul became a follower of Jesus, he went by the name Saul and he summed up his pre-Jesus life this way: he was “…circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless” (Philippians 3:5-6).

Then Saul had an encounter with the risen Jesus (see Acts 9 & 22) and he realized that the life that he had been trying to build for himself was completely and totally worthless. For Jesus had given Himself to Saul, and in Jesus, Saul/Paul had a new life that was so radically different from the old that it was altogether different kind of life, and his old life was worthless by comparison. Even his physical existence was no concern to Paul because his new life from Jesus would continue forward forever through time and death into rest in heaven and then resurrection life in the new heaven and earth.

Paul’s life was worth nothing to him because he had died to himself and he knew that Jesus was living his life through him. As Paul wrote in his letter to the Church in Galatia, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Imagine living your life where you do all your normal life things, but you don’t worry about what will happen to you at all because you know that in Jesus you have a new and different kind of life which is far more valuable than your “normal” life. Your new life is your real life and one day everyone will see how beautiful and precious it is. But in the meantime, you rest in Jesus and He lives His life through you. Even though it is hidden, nothing can take your precious new life away from you.

You can know with certainty that new life from Jesus is yours because it was given to you as a totally free gift in your Baptism.

Dear Jesus, please help me to release my grip on my “normal” life and live the new life that You give me. Please come and live Your life through me. Amen.

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Acts 2:42-47 – The Path to Heart Health: Groups


Summary: We tend to think that we can get all that we need out of life as an individual. But God does something special in our lives when we gather together with others around God’s Word and share life together. God helps us to grow.

Big Idea: We exercise the new heart God has given us through devoting ourselves to biblical teachings, sharing life with other believers, eating together and prayer.

Ice-breaker question: Describe what happens at your favourite holiday meals with family and/or friends. Why are those events so special?

Read: Acts 2:42-47

Observation (What does the passage say?)

  1. What are the four things that the believers devoted themselves to?
  2. What did they do with their possessions?
  3. Where and how often did they meet?
  1. What did they do in their houses?

Interpretation (What does the passage mean?)

5. What does being devoted to the apostles’ teaching look like?

6. The word “fellowship” here means to share in something that is held in common. In this case, it refers to sharing in life together as followers of Jesus. What are some things that followers of Jesus have when they share life together that they do not have on their own?

     7. What makes eating together with someone else a special thing?

  1. Describe how praying with someone else is different from praying by yourself.

Application (What does the passage mean to me personally?)

Sharing life together with other people gathered around God’s Word, food and prayer does not earn or enhance our salvation. Through faith in Jesus, our salvation is already complete. Sharing life with other believers is part of how we live out our new life in Jesus.

Living in Christian community and having spiritual friendships looks different for different people depending on their circumstances and their personality. For example, introverts find being in groups of people to be very draining, but they tend to do well at maintaining one-on-one friendships over a long period of time. On the other hand, extroverts are energized by being in a group, but because they process by talking, people who need a listening ear might not get from them the support they need.

9. Taking into account your circumstances and your personality, how are you doing at living in community and/or maintaining spiritual friendships?

  1. What are some intentional things that you can do to foster a shared life with other believers?

 

This Bible Study focuses on the same passage as the sermon on Feb 18/18 from Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC.

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The Dividing Line


They brought [Paul and Silas] before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.” (Acts 16:20-21)

Following Jesus is not for the faint of heart. While there are always positive things in every culture that Jesus-followers can support and affirm, every culture also contains things which need to be redeemed. This creates a dividing line which eventually leads to persecution by the culture for it deems the Christian stance as unacceptable and unlawful.

Car on Road with a Dividing Line by Ferdinand Stohr-140932

Photo by Ferdinand Stöhr on Unsplash

There is also a dividing line in every human heart. That lines divides what one will do from what one won’t, and the placement of that line is determined by our values and our relationships.

When we follow Jesus, the dividing line in our heart is moved by Jesus’ unconditional love for us. Common understandings of God being distant and remote were smashed by the God who came near to us. Deistic portrayals of God as a blind watchmaker who wound up the world and let it go on its own were turned on their head by the God who rolled up his sleeves and plunged his hands deep into the mire of our muddy mess in order to restore his once-beautiful garden. High and mighty gods don’t allow themselves to be stripped naked and nailed to a cross to suffer and die, but our God did.

Jesus has given you a new identity. You are now a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. Because your loyalty is to King Jesus, you can see the difference between what can be affirmed and what must be redeemed in our culture. Your King will always stand with you, so you do not need to be afraid when persecution comes. Your place in his kingdom is secure.

Dear Jesus, thank you for making me part of your kingdom. Help me to remember that you are always loyal to me. Help me to be loyal to you. Amen.

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Mt. 20:20-28 – The Path to Heart Health: Serving


Summary: Our old heart was focused on having power over others. But Jesus laid down all his power and gave his life to save us. As we rest in Jesus’ humility and love, he sets us free to serve others with self-less love.

Big Idea: We exercise the new heart that God has given us through serving others.

Ice-breaker question: Describe a time when someone served you in a way that you did not expect.

Read: Matthew 20:20-28

Background: Jesus and his disciples are travelling from the area around the Sea of Galilee to Jerusalem. They are east of the Jordan River and probably around Jericho. The sons of Zebedee are James and John who are, along with Peter, Jesus’ closest disciples. James and John may have been cousins of Jesus if their mother Salome was, as some say, the sister of Jesus’ mother Mary.

Observation (What does the passage say?)

1.What did the mother of James and John ask of Jesus?

2. What was Jesus response?

When the other ten disciples found out about the request, they were indignant with James and John. Jesus responded by calling them altogether and telling them what they should and should not do.

3. What did Jesus tell his disciples they should not do?

4. What did Jesus tell his disciples they should do?

Interpretation (What does the passage mean?)

5. Give some possible reasons why the mother of James and John made the request that she did?

6. Why is it a problem for a follower of Jesus to want to have power over others?

7. How did Jesus serve us?

8. As followers of Jesus, what is our motivation for serving others?

(If you have time, read Acts 12:2 to see what happened to James. Also, you can read Matthew 27:37-38 to see who was on Jesus’ right and left when he was publicly declared to be the King of the Jews.)

Application (What does the passage mean to me personally?)

9. What is one area of your life where you need to give up power or the desire to control?

10. Describe how you are or will be intentionally serving others.

 

This Bible Study focuses on the same passage as the sermon on Feb 11/18 from Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC.

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The Path to Heart Health: Worship


In December, my Mom was at home on a Sunday morning when she began getting an pain in her shoulder. This pain spread down her arm and increased in intensity until it became an excruciating pain that went all the way to her fingertips. When they checked out at her local hospital, tests indicated that she had had a heart attack. The same day they transported her to Edmonton where a couple of days later she had a stint put in her heart and she was back home before the end of the week.

Reading Bible by Kiwihug

Photo by Kiwihug on Unsplash

The heart is vital to human life. Each of us only has one heart and we cannot do without it. If it stops working we die. So it is important for us to do what we can to take care of our heart.

We use the word “heart” to refer to our physical heart, but we also the word “heart” to refer to the core of our inner being. Our inner heart is who we really are deep down inside. Within our inner heart is our personality, our emotions, our memories and our motivation.

Just like our physical heart, our inner heart is very important. King Solomon was one of the wisest people who ever lived and he wrote this about our inner heart, Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (Proverbs 4:23) Solomon is telling us to be careful about what we allow in to our inner heart because everything thing that we do begins in our inner heart. And when there is a problem in our inner heart, it leads to problems in other parts of our life. At some level, all of us, whether we believe in God or not, whether we follow Jesus or not, we all know that this is true. Everything crime, every betrayal, every careless word spoken always begins in someone’s inner heart either with an evil thought or a false belief or some combination of the two. Jesus said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.  All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” (Mark 7:20-23)

And if we are honest with ourselves, all of us will admit that we have these kinds of thoughts sometimes. That tells us that there is something wrong with our inner heart. One of the prophets of ancient Israel, Jeremiah, was referring to this problem we humans have in our inner heart when he wrote, The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9) Another prophet from ancient Israel, Ezekiel, describes our inner hearts as being a heart of stone (see Ezekiel 36:26). Martin Luther captured our inner heart problem in this way, “Scripture describes man as so curved in upon himself that he uses not only physical but even spiritual goods for his own purposes and in all things seeks only himself.”[1] We all have an inner heart problem.

But what we tend to do is ignore what is going on deep down inside of us. And that never works because the problems in our inner hearts always surfaces somewhere, somehow. It usually shows up as a problem in our most intimate relationships such as with God or with the people that are closest to us. And if we never admit that there is a problem in our inner heart, then those relationship problems keep repeating over and over again.

Dear friends, God is inviting us to open up our hearts to him and admit that we have a problem at the centre of our being and let him deal with it instead of trying to manage it ourselves. Because God wants to give us a fresh start and a new life with him.

When someone has a physical heart that has become diseased beyond the point of repair, they need to have a heart transplant. But before there can be a heart transplant, two things need to be in place. First, there has to be a donor heart available. This donor heart has to be healthy and strong and it also has to be a match to the person who needs the heart. Second, there has to be somebody who is willing to pay the cost of the heart transplant. One estimate that I saw online said that the cost of a heart transplant is about $1.2 million.[2] Now there are not too many individuals who can afford to pay for such a procedure, so usually some kind of health insurance, either government or private, is needed to pay that cost.

The cost of replacing your or my inner heart is far greater than the cost of replacing a physical heart. First, it is not a matter of simply switching parts because all the hearts in the world are already diseased. An entirely new heart has to be created. Second, no human being can afford to pay the cost of getting a new inner heart because none of us has enough resources in our lives to pay the cost of re-created and replacing an inner heart.  Then if you multiply the astronomical cost of replacing one inner heart by the number of people who have ever lived, are living or ever will live and an infinite amount would have to be paid for there to be any hope for inner heart health in the world.

But the Good News is that Jesus has provided the donor heart that the world needs. We read in the Bible that God is love (see 1 John 4:8). This means that love is at the centre of God’s being. We could say that God’s heart is full of love. And because he loves us, God wants to give us a new heart that is full of love.

So God the Son, that is Jesus, became human so that there could be a human heart full of love that could be a match for us. And Jesus paid more than the total cost of an inner heart transplant for every human being by going to the cross and willingly shed his precious blood. We read in the Bible that “…the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7b). The blood that Jesus shed was human blood because Jesus is human. But that blood was of infinite worth because Jesus is also God.

We go through life trying to revive our already dead inner hearts when Jesus has a new heart that he wants to give us for free. The cost of the heart transplant is already paid for in full, the donor heart is healthy, strong and full of love. The question is: Do you trust Jesus enough to let him do inner heart surgery on you? Do you trust Jesus enough to put your life in his hands, let him rummage around in your chest and expose the problems that are there and then make room for the new heart that he wants to give you? Because if you did, you would start to experience healing and growth in your life. You would have stamina, strength and determination that you did not have before. Because when you trust in Jesus, you not only have his heart within you. You have all of Jesus within you and Jesus is living his life through you. And it is Jesus’ presence within you that makes all the difference in life for he will help you to see and experience the world in a new way as you rest in his love and let him live his life through you.

Now at this point the heart transplant metaphor breaks down because what happens in a physical heart transplant is the old, diseased heart is taken out before the new heart is put in. But throughout life in this world, even though Jesus has given us a new inner heart, our old sin-sick inner heart remains. That means that there is always going to be, in this life, a struggle within us between our old heart and the new one that Jesus has given us.

And so I am setting a challenge before you today to be intentional in two very important ways. First, I am challenging you to be intentional about not feeding and not exercising your old heart. Let it atrophy and waste away. So when Jesus shows us that we have a problem in our inner heart, we ask him to help us to turn away from that. Second, I am challenging you to be intentional about feeding and exercising your new heart so that it can be healthy and strong.

Throughout Heart Month, the month of February, we will be reflecting on things that we can do to take good care of our new heart. And today we are looking at worship. Worship is adoring, praising or thanking God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in response to what he has first done for us. Worship does not earn us brownie points with God. It is because God already loves and accepts us that we worship him. Worship is spiritual in that there is spirit-to-Spirit communication between us and God. Worship is physical because our body is involved in our worship of God so worship can mean tears, it can mean lifting our hands, it can involve kneeling, it can be sitting in the sun or going for a run.

Today I am asking you to consider making a commitment to exercise your new heart through worship. This is not something that you have to do. This is totally voluntary. I am only asking you to pray and think about this. Perhaps you have already made a personal commitment to worship and you are already living that out. In that case, you don’t really need this exercise. If that is what you are doing, I want to encourage you to simply continue doing what you are already doing. If you have not made a personal commitment to worship, you could benefit by challenging yourself to worshipping on a regular basis. I am asking you to pray about whether doing so would be helpful to you or not.

If you decide to commit yourself to regular worship, then write down on a piece of paper that you could stick in your Bible, or in your journal if you use one, how many days a week you think you should read the Bible and how many days a week you think you should adore or praise or thank God when it is just you and him. Your private worship could be in your bedroom, in your car, in a coffee shop or some other quiet space. Then you could also write down how many times a month you want to challenge yourself to worship corporately with your brothers and sisters in Christ in a Christian church somewhere.

My Mom is now part of heart health therapy group that meets weekly to learn about heart health and then they go and exercise together. It is part of what the people in the group need to do to keep their hearts healthy.

In the same way, we need each other. This church is our inner heart health group. We need to continue to meet together weekly so that we can learn from God’s Word, so we can encourage one another in faith and so we can exercise our new hearts in worship.

Jesus has saved our lives by giving himself to us. It is his heart that beats within our chest.

Dear Jesus, we thank you for the new heart that you have given us. We pray that you would bring to our mind problems in our old heart. Please help us to turn away from those things. Guide us now on what we need to do to exercise our new hearts through worship. In your name we ask this. Amen.

(This message is based on Colossians 3:12-17. It was shared on Feb 4/18 at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC.)

[1] (Luther’s Works, vol. 25, p. 345, see also pp. 291-92) quoted in “Glossary: Incurvatus in Se,” Mockingbird (Internet; available at: http://www.mbird.com/glossary/incurvatus-in-se/; accessed February 3, 2018).

[2] “How Much Does a Transplant Cost?,” National Foundation for Transplants (Internet; available at: http://www.transplants.org/faq/how-much-does-transplant-cost; accessed February 3, 2018).

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No More Favourites


Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. (Acts 10:34-35)

According to Peter’s religion, it was not lawful for him, a Jew, to associate with or visit a non-Jew. But now God was doing a new thing and this new beginning was entirely orchestrated by him. Through a vision, God gave specific directions to Cornelius, a Roman soldier who as a devout believer, to send for Peter. Through another vision, God prepared Peter to receive this request and agree to go visit Cornelius. And Peter saw that God was behind this new beginning when he heard the story of Cornelius’s vision and saw his faith, which Peter recognized as being the same as his own.

Man & boy in baseball cap by Nathan Anderson

Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

This was when Peter realized that God does not show favoritism. All of us are in the same boat. All of us would be lost and condemned forever without God’s gracious intervention. But God the Father sent his Son, Jesus, to be the one perfect substitute for all people. Jesus willingly gave up his life to suffer and die on the cross to more than pay the full cost of forgiveness for all people. On the third day that followed, Jesus rose from the dead to defeat death for all people. The risen Jesus generously gives to all people his free gifts of salvation, forgiveness and eternal life.

God no longer has any favourites. You do not need to strive to please him or earn his favour. He already unconditionally loves and accepts you.

Your only challenge is to trust that this Good News is really true and that it applies to you. Your faith does not make it true. Your faith only helps you to receive what is already true.

Dear Jesus, thank you for being gracious to me and giving me new life. Help me to grasp how wide and long and high and deep your love for me is. Help me to rest in your love and share it with others. Amen.

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Resting in the Saviour’s Embrace


In one of those calendary coincidences that happen from time to time, Ash Wednesday coincides with Valentine’s Day this year. Part of me thinks that this is unfortunate. (“Attendance might be lower than usual at this year’s Ash Wednesday service,” I think to myself.) But the better part of me thinks that this is great because the day that the world celebrates romantic love is the kickoff to the season during which the Christian Church celebrates that the King of Love showed us what true love is really like.

Romantic love is held up by the world as the epitome of love, but it is actually only the trailer that God uses to get us interested in the movie that true love can be between two people who share it. It’s not flashy or seductive. You wouldn’t sell much chewing gum/cars/records using true love as the draw. But it is real. Ask any mother. The true love that carries a fevered infant through a sleepless night is self-less, sacrificial and self-giving.

God is Love by Olga Delawrence

Photo by Olga DeLawrence on Unsplash

We love romantic love because it feels good. But what we need is a true love that makes us good. And this is the love that the King of Love has for you.

In his hymn My Song is Love Unknown, Samuel Crossman writes:

My song is love unknown,
My Saviour’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown
That they might lovely be.
O who am I,
That for my sake
My Lord should take
Frail flesh and die?

Who am I indeed? I am nobody. But I am loved by the King of Love, therefore I am somebody, I am his beloved.

The love that God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit has for us is so amazing that we cannot really believe that it is true. We kind of half-believe it. Because, we think to ourselves, if it were really true, the guilty would get off scot-free and the real sinners (think tax collectors and prostitutes) would get into heaven ahead of all the good, upstanding citizens of the world.

That’s exactly right! And that’s exactly what happens! Dear friends, the Good News is that you and I are the tax collectors and the prostitutes whose sin is so obvious that there is no point in hiding our shame. And it is this, our shameless openness to the King of Love, that enables us to receive his loving embrace of unconditional acceptance, forgiveness and restoration. It’s our innate tendency to try to be “good” that stiff-arms the Saviour who seeks to wrap his arms of love around us. Only when we stop trying to save ourselves and drop any pretense of anything good within us does Jesus’ soul-cleansing love wash over us.

So everyday is Valentine’s Day when we rest in the Saviour’s embrace.

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:10)

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