You Are Part of the Family

Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. (Hebrews 2:11)

 Each of us has a unique experience growing up in our families or origin. Most of us are from different families and even siblings who grow up in the same family have different experiences because of birth order, personality, gender and other factors. Our family-of-origin may have been encouraging and supportive or it may have been traumatic and abusive, or somewhere in between. Whatever our experience was, we tend to measure the meaning of the word “family” by our own family-of-origin experience.

This passage tells us that we are now part of God’s family through Jesus. In some respects, God’s family is like our own family-of-origin. We didn’t choose our family, our parents, or our siblings. We were born into our family. Also, the defining characteristics of our family are what they are. Being a Smith or a Jones, or whatever our surname is, was established long before we arrived, and we carry our family identity with us wherever we go.

So it is with God’s family. We became part of God’s family as a total act of grace by our heavenly Father. Because he loves us, he sent his Son, Jesus, to suffer and taste death for everyone so that we, through faith, would be made holy and be brought to glory.

But what is different about God’s family from our family-of-origin is that, for many of us, our family-of-origin experience was a law experience where we often felt like we never measured up to the ideal held before us. So we continually strive to measure up and we bring that striving into our life as an adult.

Therefore we struggle to fully comprehend that God’s family is a family of total grace. Because of Jesus, the life we are living right now, with all of our personal struggles and brokenness and sin, is the ideal for a follower of Jesus. We are totally dependent on Jesus and we rely on him moment by moment for the grace that we need to carry on. That is exactly as it should be. And your life and mine, just as it is, has been made holy because of Jesus’ presence in us and we are living in his glory, right now, through our relationship with him.

All this is hidden from every other human being—and sometimes it is also hidden from us too—but it is nevertheless true. You are part of the family of God, along with your brother Jesus, and billions and sisters and brothers in Christ who also have brokenness, sin and struggles in their lives, and grace is the defining characteristic of our new family. And it is all because of Jesus.

Dear sister or brother in Christ, you are in the family of God. Jesus is your brother, his Father is your Father and the same Holy Spirit that enlivened, encouraged and strengthened Jesus, now moves through you and all of the rest of God’s family. Remember who you are.

Prayer:  Dear Jesus, please help me to always remember that you have made me part of the family of God. Dear Holy Spirit, help me to live in the grace my Father gives me through my brother Jesus. Amen.

“Hearing God’s Voice: Hearing, Listening to & Following the Shepherd”

(Based on John 10:7-18)

Today we continue our series “Hearing God’s Voice” and throughout this series we look at the Bible’s picture of the relationship between Jesus and his followers and how it describes that relationship as being like that of a Middle Eastern shepherd and his sheep, where the shepherd directs the sheep, not with a fence and not with force, but with the sound of his voice. As Jesus said in John, chapter 10: 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:27-28) So the Bible is telling us that the normal pattern for a follower of Jesus is to able to hear his voice. And my prayer is that this series will help you to do just that.

So today we are thinking about the Shepherd’s Voice and our three points for today are Hearing, Listening and Following.

So we begin with Hearing and our first question is “How does God speak to humans?” Let’s start by taking a look at the book of Genesis to see how God spoke to humans there, and as we do that please keep in mind that at this point in human history there is no Bible. When we study the book of Genesis, we are reading a written word from God, but the people that we are reading about did not have any written word from God to read. And that is important to remember.

As we take a quick overview of Genesis, we notice that there are at least five different ways that God spoke to humans during this time frame. God spoke directly to Adam, Eve, the serpent, Noah and Abraham. God spoke through circumstances, (in Genesis chapter 12) such as when he allowed serious diseases to come upon Pharaoh and his household to communicate to Pharaoh that Sarah, who he took into his harem, was actually Abraham’s wife, an important piece of information that Abraham withheld from Pharaoh. In the book of Genesis, God appeared in human form, such as the three men who appeared to Abraham near Mamre (in chapter 18), and the man that wrestled with Jacob wrestles near the Jabbok River (in chapter 32). God spoke through dreams to Abraham (chapter 15), Abimelek, (ch. 20), Jacob (ch. 28) and Joseph (ch. 37). And God also spoke through angels. The word angel means messenger so, for example, there were two angels that brought a message of warning to Lot before Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed (ch. 19).

All of the information in the book of Genesis was passed down from generation to generation as an oral history and at some point, about 35 centuries ago, Moses began writing down that oral history. Moses was probably able to do that writing task because of the education that he received as he was raised in the household of Pharaoh. Moses also recorded the history that happened during his lifetime and so those other books that he wrote—Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy—along with Genesis, formed the Torah, which is the first five books of the Bible.

From this point in history onward, God started speaking to humans in a new way: through written words which he inspired people to write down and pass on to others. Over time these writings were gathered together and compiled into what we know as the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.

God also spoke through a special group of people called prophets. We often think of a prophet as someone who foretells the future. But a prophet in the biblical sense is someone who speaks a message from God to people. Many of these messages from God were written down and included in the Old Testament of the Bible. Books such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea and Jonah and several others all contain messages from God given to people through a prophet.

One of the unexpected ways that God spoke in the Old Testament was through a donkey owned by a man named Balaam. This is a fact which gives preachers like me great hope, for if God can speak through a donkey, then it is possible for him to speak through me also. But, as far as we know, God only spoke through a donkey one time, and so we preachers continue to pray that God will speak through us, not because of who we are, but in spite of who we are.

Another thing that may surprise some people is that in the past there have been times when God has spoken through people who do not believe in him. In the Old Testament, we have the example of Cyrus, king of Persian. In Ezra 1:1-3, we read,

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing:

“This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:

“‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah.Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them. (Ezra 1:1-3)

So through Cyrus, God gave a very clear message through someone who did not believe in nor follow the God of Israel. In the New Testament, we have the example of Pilate’s wife who sent her husband this message as he was about to pronounce judgment on Jesus, “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.” (Mt. 27:19b)

Most significantly for us today, starting about 2,000 years ago, human beings began hearing the voice of God through the God-human, Jesus Christ. We read in Hebrews 1, In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. (Hebrews 1:1-2) As Jesus speaks to us through the Bible and through the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, he tells us that he loves us, forgives us, accepts us, renews us, enlivens us and heals us.

So God can speak to us in many different ways, but the main way that he speaks to us is through his Word, the Bible. That is one way that we can know with certainty that God is speaking to us. And when we may wonder if God is speaking to us through another way, we always compare what we are hearing to the Bible to see if what are hearing lines up with what God has already said to us in the past.

Our second question under Hearing is “How do we hear God speak to us?” Most of the time God does not speak to us with an audible voice that we hear with our ears. Usually, he speaks to us spirit-to-spirit. When Jesus gave us the give of faith in him through the Holy Spirit, he brought our spirit to life. Prior to the time when we believed, we had a spirit, but it was dead. Jesus brought our spirit to life, and Jesus now communicates to us from his Spirit to our spirit. Regardless of what way Jesus speaks to us—whether it is when we read or hear the Bible, or when a mature Christian friend gives us some thoughtful advice, or when something significant happens in the circumstances of our life, or we use our common sense, or when a thought comes upon us—whichever way Jesus speaks to us, that message is communicated to our spirit and that is where it will land. Our spirit is how we receive messages from God.

So it is very important that our spirit be healthy for two reasons: 1. So we can hear with our spirit, and 2. So we can discern whether what we hear is from God or not. To use the Shepherd and sheep metaphor, we sheep not only need to be able to hear someone speak to us. We need to be able to tell if the voice we hear belongs to our Shepherd or someone else.

Now you might be thinking to yourself, “Here it comes. The pastor is going to give me something else that I need to do in my life. And I don’t have any extra time or energy to do one more thing.” I can see what you might be thinking that. But what I actually going to say is the opposite. Becoming more spiritually healthy usually does not mean adding more things to your already busy life. Most of the time, what is required is to take away something from our already over-busy lives. Too much noise and too much activity can actually draw health, life and energy away from our spirit. So what our spirit usually needs to become more healthy is to turn off whatever noise is in our lives, take a time-out from the frantic activity we are engaged in and be still and know that God is God (see Psalm 46:10). We are better able to hear Jesus and discern whether or not it is his voice we are hearing when we are spiritually healthy.

So this might be a good time to practice hearing Jesus’s voice. I invite you to pray and ask Jesus to tell you one thing that you can do in your life to help your spirit to become healthier. After you pray, take a few moments to sit in silence with your heart and mind open to whatever Jesus wants to say to you. And if something comes to your mind, I ask you to take note of what it is.

Okay, now Jesus may have said something to you or he may not have. One of the things about hearing his voice is that we cannot force Jesus to speak to us. He speaks to us when he wants to and often he speaks to us at a time when we do not expect. So if you did not get any sense of Jesus communicating something to you, do not be concerned about that at all. But if Jesus did tell you something that you can do to help your spirit become healthier, I invite you to share what Jesus has told you with another Jesus follower.

Our second main point is Listening. And there is a difference between hearing and listening. And every mother knows this. For example, a teenage son may hear his mother calling out to him to clean up his room, but if he doesn’t pay any attention to the sound that he hears, is he really listening? No. So there is a difference between hearing from God, which happens when our spirit receives a message, and listening to God, which happens when we pay attention to the message that our spirit has received.

And when it comes to paying attention, our motivation becomes very important. What motivates us, or what are the reasons why we should pay attention to what God is saying? First of all, there are negative reasons regarding why we should pay attention to what God is saying. In other words, there are reasons why you do not want to not listen to God.  And to get at those reasons, let us look at John 10:7-10a

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.[a]They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; (John 10:7-10a)

I believe that everybody is listening, that is, everybody is hearing and giving their attention, to someone or something. And when it comes to who we are listening to, all of those different voices can be distilled down to 4 categories. And here are three of them: First, we could be listening to our own flesh. This happens when our pride, our ego or our own self-centredness is the main voice that we listen to. Second, we could be listening to the world. Examples of listening to the world would be when we pay attention to voices—it might be people we know, or songs we hear or movies or TV shows that we watch, it could be ideas that we read in books—basically anything outside of us that lead us away from God. Third, we could be listening to the devil. Now, just a word about the devil. The devil is powerful, but the devil is in no way equal to God. The devil does not know all things, the devil is not all-powerful and the devil is not present everywhere at the same time. The devil is not able to create anything, he can only corrupt good things that God has created. And the devil tries to manipulate and entice people by twisting the truth and making false promises that pledge heaven but deliver hell. We listen to the devil when we believe his lies and give in to the temptation that he holds before us. Addictions, whether they are drug addictions or behaviour addictions, are a significant way that the devil binds people in our culture today.

The devil is the thief of John 10:10 who only, and let me emphasize the word only, he only wants to steal and kill and destroy. And while I have made a distinction between the flesh, the world and the devil, they all have the same effect when you give your attention to them. They all lead you away from Jesus and his protective, sustaining life-giving love.

The fourth option of people that we could listen to is Jesus and here are some positive reasons, or some reasons why you do want to listen to God. Let’s turn once again to John, chapter 10, and we pick up on the last part of verse 10 where Jesus said

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” (John 10:10b-18)

So here are some reasons why we do want to listen to Jesus. First of all, we want to listen to Jesus because he is God. Jesus, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, created us, he knows us and he knows what is best for us. And since Jesus is God, then doesn’t it make sense that he should have the most prominent place in our life and that we should listen to him?

Second, we want to listen to Jesus because only Jesus is going to protect us from the thief. This means that only Jesus is able to pay the price to protect us from the thief. To pay the price to buy back all of humanity from our bondage to sin would require a perfect human life of infinite value. Only a perfect God-human could fulfill that requirement and that is exactly who Jesus is. But it also means that only Jesus is willing to pay the price to protect us from the thief. Of all the human beings who have existed throughout all of human history, only Jesus loves us with the pure, unconditional, infinite love that is necessary for someone to be willing to suffer and die for the whole world, even those who hate him.

Jesus not only protects you from the thief, Jesus also gives you abundant life. The life that Jesus gave you when he gave you faith and brought your spirit to life is an abundant life because of its quantity. In other words, it is an eternal life. The life that Jesus gives you is everlasting and nothing, not even death, can take that life away from you.

The life that Jesus gives you is also abundant because of its quality. The life that Jesus gives is far superior than any other life because Jesus gives us life with him. Our relationship with Jesus is what makes our life richer, fuller and abundant. We simply rest in Jesus and he lives his life through us. And as he does that, he makes things happen that are far beyond what we can ask or imagine. Our life has more meaning, more purpose and produces more Holy Spirit-fruit because Jesus is living in us.

The life that Jesus gives you is also abundant because of what is to come. One day Jesus will come back to this earth and raise us from the dead to give us a body that will never grow old, never get sick and never die. We will see Jesus face to face, he will wipe every tear from our eyes and every wrong will be made right, every injustice will be overturned and every wound will be healed. We look forward to that time knowing that, because of Jesus, that life is already ours. And that is part of make life with Jesus so rich, full and abundant.

So we want to listen to Jesus because of who he is. He is our Good Shepherd. So we hear him and we listen to him.

Our third point is Following and let’s think about what it means to follow. Imagine for a moment a flock of sheep who know the sound of their shepherd’s voice, they listen to their shepherd and they follow him. When the shepherd says to the sheep, “let’s go” what do the sheep do? They go. When the shepherd says to the sheep, “let’s stop here” what do the sheep do? They stop. So following involves obeying what we hear Jesus say to us.

Now sometimes when we hear the word “obey” there is something inside of us that bristles at the thought. It is important for us to remember that our relationship with Jesus is not a master-slave relationship. The relationship that we have with Jesus is like the relationship between a padawan and a Jedi where the young apprentice patterns his or her life on that of their master so that one day they can become a Jedi too. That is why we obey Jesus when he tells us something. We do what Jesus directs us to do because we want to pattern our life on his so that we can become more like him.

So today we talked about hearing, listening to and following Jesus. Now I want to tell you something that is very, very important for all of us to remember, especially when we find ourselves far from God. When we realize that we have been listening to the wrong things and we find ourselves mired in some kind of evil quicksand, remember that Jesus is always the way out. Jesus is love, so it is fitting for us to take the words of 1 Corinthians 13 and substitute Jesus’ name for the word “love”. And I want to leave with these words from Jesus and about Jesus. Please, please, please remember that Jesus keeps no record of wrongs. Jesus does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Jesus always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Jesus never fails. Amen.

 (Shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC on November 22, 2015.)




Our True Value

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:10)

My Dad used to say that one of his teachers from Camrose Lutheran College would often remind his class that money was not the root of all kinds of evil, it was the love of money that the Bible tells us is the root of all kinds of evil. The love of money can possess both people who have lots of money and those who do not, and it is just as toxic in both situations.

We really have to guard our hearts carefully with respect to money. What sorts of attitudes do have about money? Do we think that more money will solve all of our problems? Then we are looking to money as our saviour. Do we believe that the many challenges we face will go away if more money came to us? Then we are trusting in money as our protector. Do we desire more money in our investments so we will be looked after in the future? Then we are clinging to money for our security.Money2

All these attitudes are a form of love for money and nothing good will happen in the financial area of our lives until we ask God to help us to turn away from our love of money and seek forgiveness in the arms of the God who loves us.

The real problem is that we sell ourselves short. We don’t really see what we are worth in the eyes of God. We don’t believe in our true value and we don’t live as if God’s valuation of us is really true. Because we think that we are worthless when stripped of all our possessions and abilities, we then strive to add value to ourselves by completing tasks and gathering assets.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The truth is that you are so precious in the eyes of God that God the Son came to earth and became human in order to save you. Jesus shed real blood, his blood, in order to buy you back from sin, death and the power of the devil. One drop of Jesus’ blood is of infinite value because it is not only human blood, it is the blood of the divine Son of God. And Jesus didn’t shed just one drop of his blood, he gave it all because he loves you. If you were the only person in the world, Jesus would still have gone to the cross for you.

Stripped of all your possessions and abilities, you are of infinite value to God. You and I don’t need money, we need Jesus. Let him guide you in how to relate to and manage money.

Money, possessions and abilities add no value to our life at all. The true value of your life and mine is already infinite. But in the hands of Jesus, our money, possessions and abilities become additional ways to love and bless others.

Prayer:  Dear Jesus, thank you for your great love for me. Help me to see how I am of infinite value in your eyes. Help me to believe and live as the infinitely precious child of God that I am because of you. Amen.

Hearing God’s Voice: The Shepherd and His Sheep

Imagine for a moment a marriage relationship where the husband and the wife live on separate floors of the same house, the wife lives upstairs and the husband lives downstairs. The husband goes about his everyday life, but he never sees his wife. He knows that she loves him. There are some old love letters that she sent to him years ago and he reads a portion of one of those letters nearly every day. He can call her on his cell phone anytime and he knows that she hears him. But she never says anything in return.

The husband longs to be able to hear his wife’s voice. He wishes that they could live on the same floor of the house and share their lives together in a deeper, more intimate way. He wishes that they could sit down together and talk, back and forth, sharing what’s in their hearts and minds with each other so that they could grow to know each other better and experience a shared love and a shared life.

What assessment would we give of a marriage like that? We would say that there is something wrong in the marriage and it would seem to us to be a cold, empty relationship. And yet that is what a relationship with God is like for many people. They know about God from the Bible and they know that God loves them. They pray to God and they know that God hears them. But they don’t hear from God in return and they experience little or nothing of God’s love in their everyday life. Their relationship with God seems cold and empty.

And this is a problem because the Bible describes our relationship with God in a much different way. The Bible describes the relationship between Jesus and those who follow him as being like the relationship between a shepherd and his sheep. A shepherd protects the sheep from danger and enemies. A shepherd makes sure that the sheep have enough nourishing food to eat and sufficient clean water to drink. But Middle Eastern agricultural practices are very different than ours are in North America. There a shepherd does not keep the sheep penned up for 24 hours a day and bring fresh food and clean water to the sheep like we sometimes do here. And in the Middle East a shepherd does not use a dog to herd the sheep from pasture to pasture as is done in Australia and New Zealand. In the Middle East, sheep may be penned up for safety at night. But during the day, the shepherd directs his or her sheep, not with barriers and not with force, but with his or her voice. The shepherd talks to the sheep and the sheep follow the shepherd because they know the voice of the shepherd. In John chapter 10 we read these words from Jesus, The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. (John 10:2-4)

Note the closeness of the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep: “He calls his own sheep by name” the Bible tells us. Also notice the importance of the voice of the shepherd is in this biblical word picture. The sheep know their shepherd’s voice. As soon as that gate opens in the morning, the sheep are listening for the sound of that voice. When the shepherd speaks, the sheep listen to what the shepherd says and they follow the shepherd wherever he leads them because he speaks to them and they know his voice.

Our passion and purpose here at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church is to see people know and make known God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And we understand that word “know” in both an intellectual and an experiential way. We want people to know more about God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, but we also want people to experience a close, personal relationship with the God who loves them infinitely and unconditionally.

So today we are starting a series called “Hearing God’s Voice” and the hope and the prayer behind this series is that it will help you to hear what God is saying to you and, as a result, help you to go deeper in your relationship with God. This series is based on the book Hearing God’s Voice by Henry and Richard Blackaby and we will reflect on this topic this Sunday and next, then we will take a break for a few weeks for Advent and Christmas and then pick up the series again in the New Year.

Now sometimes when people hear someone speak about hearing directly from God they get nervous. And the reason for that anxiety is that there are instances where people have claimed to hear from God and it has led to bad results. Sometimes people have claimed that God has told them that it is okay for them to have an affair or swindle someone out of a large sum of money because God told them that it was okay. There are people who, in the midst of a psychosis, have heard what they think is the voice of God and have committed a terrible crime under the direction of that voice. There are religious leaders like Jim Jones and David Koresh who claimed to hear new revelation from God, and the result was the destruction of many, many lives, including their own. And so, it is necessary that I share with you an important distinction which is from the book Hearing God’s Voice: “When God speaks, he does not give a new revelation about himself that contradicts what he has already revealed in Scripture. Rather, God speaks to give application of his Word to the specific circumstances in your life.”[1]

So I pray that this series will be a blessing to you and I want to leave you with these words from Jesus:27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.” (John 10:27-30)

(Shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC on November 15, 2015.)



[1] Henry and Richard Blackaby, Hearing God’s Voice (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2002), 18.

Recalling God’s Words to Me

Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. (1 Timothy 1:18-19).

It is so easy to drift away from the faith. In the first chapter of his letter to Timothy, Paul indicates how such a drift can start: focusing on speculative ideas rather than doing God’s work; meaningless talk; and living a life that is opposed to sound gospel doctrine.

Paul instructs Timothy to command people in the conflicted and troubled church of Ephesus to stop teaching false doctrine. Timothy is young, inexperienced and shy, it seems. (In many ways, Timothy is the opposite of Paul.) So Paul points Timothy towards what will be his source of hope and strength: the prophecies that were once spoken over Timothy. To prophesy is to speak God’s Word to others.

Perhaps you find yourself in a battle right now. Maybe you are battling with a temptation that seeks to carve up your soul and destroy your life. You may find yourself in a struggle for health and life and you do not know if you will win or not. Or maybe you are dealing with toxic conflict in a close relationship and you have no idea how to stop the craziness let alone find a way towards healing and hope.

If that is your situation, let me assure you that you are not in this battle alone. Jesus is God-with-you, and not just at Easter and Christmas, not just on Sunday morning or when things are going well. We have a God who rolled up his sleeves like a gardener and willingly got himself dirty as he immersed himself in our muck and mire in order to stop the craziness and bring redemption, renewal and restoration. This same Jesus has cleaned you up and given you a new identity: you are now God’s beloved, holy and precious in his sight.

And the battle that your find yourself in does not belong to you. The battle belongs to the Lord (1 Samuel 17:47, 2 Chronicles 20:15). As you step aside from living your own life and invite Jesus to come in and live his life through you, he will fight the battle for you. And he will win. We know that Jesus’ victory is certain because he defeated our enemies of sin, death and Satan when he suffered and died on the cross and rose again from the dead on the third day that followed. Your only battle is to cling to the Saviour who is already holding on to you.

What words of God were spoken over you? The life-giving words of salvation as God claimed you as his forgiven, beloved child in the waters of Holy Baptism. The nourishing and healing words of Jesus as he feeds you with his Body and Blood—“given and shed for you”—in the sacred meal of Holy Communion. The personal words of hope and encouragement God speaks to you as you immerse yourself in his Word.

I encourage you to recall God’s Word to you so that you may face the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience. Jesus loves you and he is carrying you in his loving arms.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, please help me to recall the Scriptural words that have been spoken to me in the past. Help me to hear what you are saying to me today through your Word. By your Holy Spirit, help me to hold on to the faith and the good conscience that you have given me. Amen.

A Firm Foundation

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14)

I have spoken these words beside many a gaping grave that is ready to swallow up the earthly remains of someone who lived and loved but is now dead. At those times it can seem like I am tossing a thimble of hope into an ocean of despair, but that is not the intention. The purpose of directing our attention to key verses like 1 Thess. 4:13-14 and others in times of grief and trial is to remind us of what we already know, to draw us back to what is already, ideally, the bedrock of our life so that we remember and are encouraged to go forth in faith knowing that, because of Jesus, we have a sure and certain hope even in the face of death because Jesus has overcome death for us.

This means that, in between crises, we invite Jesus to come in and examine the bedrock of our own personal life, toss out what is corrupt or faulty and lay down a foundation of truths like,

“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);

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation; the old has gone, the new had come” (2 Cor. 5:17);

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer life, 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” (Gal. 2:20);

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own” (1 Cor. 6:19); and

“For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (1 Thess. 4:14).

That firm foundation will not only give us hope, encouragement and strength as we face a crisis, it will undergird our entire being as we build our life upon it. Jesus is our chief cornerstone and he will never fail us.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, thank you for your love and grace. Please come into my life and show me the parts of my life bedrock that need to be dug up and thrown away. Please plant your truth deep in my heart and be the foundation of my life. Amen.

The Last Minute of Play: The Final Buzzer Sounds

(Based on Revelation 21:1-5 and John 14:1-6.)

Today we continue with the series called “The Last Minute of Play” and the theme verse of this series is Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise,  making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 4:15-16). And the Big Idea of this series is that if we could live now with the same clarity and purpose that we will have at the end of our life, we will be able to live a more meaningful and joyful life.

And today we are thinking about what happens when The Final Buzzer Sounds. In a timed sporting event—such as hockey, soccer, football or basketball—when the Final Buzzer sounds, the game is over and play comes to an end. But what happens when life comes to an end? It turns out that how we each answer this question has a great influence on whether we think that there is any meaning or purpose to life. Andy Steiger, in his book Thinking: Answering Life’s Five Biggest Questions, writes “…if we want to know the meaning of life we first need to determine if there is an author of life and if eternal life is possible.”[1] My goal as your pastor is to help you live a purposeful life as a follower of Jesus Christ. So that is my first reason for inviting you to consider what will happen to you when you die. My second reason is to address the fears that we tend to feel when we think of our own death. And my third reason is to try to clear up any misconceptions we may have about life after death so that we can live in the confidence and joy that comes with a biblical understanding of life after death. So our three points for today are 1). The fact of the resurrection, 2). Our fear of death, and 3). The wonder of what is to come.

So, point one, the fact of the resurrection. It is important for us to admit at the outset that the entire Christian faith either stands or falls on the basis of one particular event. And that event happened around 30 AD, when a person by the name of Jesus of Nazareth died on a cross outside the city walls of Jerusalem, was buried and then rose again from the dead on the third day that followed. Now either that event actually happened or it didn’t. If it actually happened, then Christianity is true and we have hope in the face of death because of Jesus. But if that event did not actually happen, then the entire Christian faith is a fraud and there is no verifiable hope for anyone of having life after death.

Now you might be saying to yourself, “Wait a minute! There are other religions that claim to offer life after death. If Christianity is false, that does not mean that they are also false.” And you would be right. But no other religion in the world makes the claim that the founder of the religion is a God-human who died for the sins of the whole world and then rose again from the dead. Buddha does not make that claim, Mohammed does not make that claim, Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion, does not make that claim, and Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon religion, does not make that claim either. Other religions in the world may offer life after death, but no other religion in the world backs up that claim with a historically verifiable example of someone rising from the dead. So that is why I say, if Christianity is false, then there is no verifiable hope for anyone of having life after death.

Now your faith, and how sincere it may or may not be, has absolutely nothing to do with whether Jesus’ resurrection is true or not. Your faith does not make Jesus’ resurrection true, and if you are agnostic or atheistic, that does not make Christianity false. Similarly, what you or I or others say about Jesus’ resurrection does not make it true or false. Either Jesus really did rise from the dead, or he didn’t. Jesus’ resurrection is a matter that lies in the realm of facts, not in the realm of opinion or belief.

Now I cannot prove to you beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus really did rise from the dead. But I can point you towards evidence that would lead one to conclude that he really did.

There is evidence in the Bible. For example, in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul writes, For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas,[that is, Peter] and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (1 Cor. 15:3-8) So what is Paul doing here? Like a police officer giving testimony at a trial, Paul is both giving an eye witness report and reporting that there are other eye-witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. Those who received his letter could then check with those living witnesses to see if what Paul said was really true.

There is also evidence outside the Bible from unfriendly sources that refer to Jesus’ existence, his death and his resurrection. In the early second century, the Roman historian Tacitus wrote, “to put an end to the rumor that he had ordered the fire, Nero invented charges of guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a group of people whom the Roman mob called ‘Christians’ and hated because of their shameless activities. During the reign of Tiberius, Christus, who gave his name to this group, had suffered crucifixion under the procurator Pontius Pilate” (Annals 15.44). Around the same time, in 112 AD, Pliny the Younger, who was the Roman governor of a region in present-day Turkey, wrote the following about Christians, “… they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and to sing… a hymn to Christ as if to a god” (Letters 10.96, 97). Writing in the late first century, Jewish historian Josephus wrote, “At this time there was a wise man named Jesus and his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. Many people among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive” (Antiquities 18:63).

There is also literary evidence such as the fact that, according to Scripture, the first witnesses to the resurrection were women. In that culture, women were not considered to be reliable witnesses in a courtroom, so one would never write a story that way in that time unless it were really true.

There is the evidence of the profound change in the disciples of Jesus, who were transformed from being indecisive and cowardly to being people of conviction who were willing to die for their faith. What could make such a dramatic difference in people’s lives? Well, seeing someone who had risen from the dead would do it. Also, church history tells us that all of the disciples, except for John, died as martyrs for their Christian faith. Now those disciples knew whether Jesus really did rise from the dead or not. Why would they die for something that they knew was a lie? They wouldn’t. The most logical explanation for their willingness to be martyrs is that Jesus really did rise from the dead.

There is much other evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, and if you want to learn more I encourage you to seek out more information from writers like Lee Strobel, Gary Habermas and others.

Our second point for today is our fear of death. Now it is perfectly natural for us to be afraid of death. Years ago when I was a sales agent for a petroleum company, my bookkeeper told me a story about her son. When he was a little boy, he broke his arm. His parents took him to the hospital and the doctor said that he would have to set the bone so that the arm would heal properly. This was going to be a painful process, but the doctor told the young boy not to worry because he was going to put him to sleep. The young lad became very, very anxious and his parents could not figure out why. Later they discovered the reason. A few weeks prior, the family pet had to be taken to the vet, where it was decided to put the animal to sleep. The little boy was upset because he thought that he was going to die.

Probably most of us feel some level of fear when we think about our own personal death. And our fears usually fall into one of two different categories: First, what will happen to me before I die, that is, how painful will it be? And second, what will happen to me after I die? With regard to the first category of fear, what will happen to me before I die, we live in a time where we can point people to medical science for strategies that are available to us to provide care and control pain before we die. So we don’t need to worry so much about that.

With regard to what will happen to us after we die, Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.  My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  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.” (John 14:1-3) Jesus is saying to us, when the time comes for us to die, we do not need to worry, because Jesus has taken care of death for us. All of the worries or concerns that we may have about going through this one-time, one-way process are disarmed because Jesus has already died our death for us. All of the dark, scary and lonely aspects of our death have already been suffered for us by Jesus and now there is no way that death can come between us and Jesus. Jesus has prepared a place for us in his Father’s house on the other side of death and Jesus will go through our death with us. And with his infinite goodness, Jesus has transformed death. Instead of a hopeless end, Jesus gives us endless hope. With Jesus, death is now a doorway into a more wonderful life beyond.

This brings us to our third point, the wonder of what is to come. It is important for us to acknowledge that there are two stages to life after death. The first stage is sometimes referred to in the Bible as “paradise,” for example, when one of the criminals who was crucified with Jesus said to him, “Jesus, remember me when you come into you kingdom.”  Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise ” (Luke 23:42-43).

When a follower of Jesus dies, their soul is unnaturally separated from their body, their body is laid in the ground, and their soul goes to be with Jesus in paradise. Some passages of the Bible speak of this stage as being like sleep, so whether a person is fully conscious or not, we don’t know. But we do know, based on what the Bible tells us, that the follower of Jesus who dies will be alive and they will be with Jesus. So that is stage one of life after death.

Stage two of life after death will start when Jesus returns to this earth in a visible way. And everyone who is alive when Jesus comes back will not experience Stage 1 of life after death. They will go right to Stage 2. Here is how the Bible describes the second and final stage of life after death which I will read to you from 1 Corinthians, chapter 15 of The Message,

But let me tell you something wonderful, a mystery I’ll probably never fully understand. We’re not all going to die—but we are all going to be changed. You hear a blast to end all blasts from a trumpet, and in the time that you look up and blink your eyes—it’s over. On signal from that trumpet from heaven, the dead will be up and out of their graves, beyond the reach of death, never to die again. At the same moment and in the same way, we’ll all be changed. In the resurrection scheme of things, this has to happen: everything perishable taken off the shelves and replaced by the imperishable, this mortal replaced by the immortal. Then the saying will come true:

Death swallowed by triumphant Life!
Who got the last word, oh, Death?
Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?

It was sin that made death so frightening and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage, its destructive power. But now in a single victorious stroke of Life, all three—sin, guilt, death—are gone, the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ. Thank God!

So when Jesus returns, he will reunite our bodies and souls and raise us from the dead, making us fully alive and fully human in a way that will be so glorious that it is beyond what we can fully comprehend right now.

Now the second stage of life after death isn’t only for human beings. In Romans 8 we read, For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:19-21)

When Jesus returns, all of creation will become perfect in beauty, wholeness and wonder. All evil and corruption will be scooped out of this world like one would use a spoon to scoop a fly out of a bowl of soup.  As good as the good things in the world are right now—the beauty of creation and the love of family and good friends—those things will be even better when all things are purified, renewed and glorified when Jesus returns. We thank God for the many good gifts that he has given us in this life. And though we grieve over the thought of leaving them behind, we look forward to what Jesus has for us in the future, knowing that the good things of our life now will be revealed in their glorified state on the Day when he comes, and we anticipate the surprise of a future that will be far beyond what we can imagine.

The fact of the resurrection and the wonder of what is to come are true whether you believe them or not. Your faith makes no difference in those matters. But where your faith does make a difference is in the fear that you may feel when you think about your own death. Do you believe that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead? And do you believe that Jesus will raise you from the dead too? Jesus has promised us that we he will take care of us when we die. So we do not need to be afraid. This is what we believe. Amen.

(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC on November 1, 2015.)

[1] Andy Steiger, Thinking: Answering Life’s Five Biggest Questions (Abbotsford BC: Apologetics Canada, 2015), 20.


Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)

I love Philippians 2:1-11, but I often miss the main point of this passage. Verses 6 to 11 are a beautiful description of Jesus Christ and who he is—and I love those words—but that whole section is an illustration which Paul is using to encourage the reader to be humble—and that encouragement usually goes right past me without making a dent in my pride-filled heart.

Humility does not come naturally to me. I suppose it does not come naturally to anyone. Some people are humble but their humility is self-referential (e.g. I am not good enough to do something like that) so it is actually a false humility.

Only Jesus can make us truly humble. Only Jesus can slay the fire-breathing dragon of pride that thrives in the heart of every human being. Only Jesus gives us a new life with him where we do not need to be concerned about power because Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth and he loves us. With Jesus as the King over our lives, we do not need to be concerned about protection because we are forever safe in his loving care. Not even death can separate us from Jesus and his great love for us. With Jesus managing each moment of our day to day life, we do not need to be concerned about purpose for the goal of the Most High God of the universe is to seek and save that which is lost, and he invites us to join him on his mission of renewing and restoring all things.

Somewhere deep inside of us these things resonate with us for we were made for a relationship with God. We each have a God-given purpose and Jesus is inviting us to let him live his life through us to fulfill that purpose. That takes humility on our part. But it is through humility—the humility of Jesus and the humility of trusting in Jesus in all things—that we have life.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, please help me to be truly humble. Show me the areas in my life where I am prideful and, by your Holy Spirit, help me to turn away from my pride and towards you. Please come and live your life through me. Amen.


Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. (Ephesians 4:15)

Recently, as Susan and I were reading through the book Grace Walk by Steve McVey, I realized that I have been very self-absorbed. In the last chapter we read, the author asked the question, “Do you find yourself absorbed with self-analysis?” (111) “Yes,” I thought to myself, “that’s me!” I realized that I think about myself a lot and much of what I do—even little things like weighing myself each day—is driven by a self-focus instead of a God focus. I realized that I needed to forget about myself and let Jesus be the head of my life.

In Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, he uses the metaphor of the human body to describe our life in Christ. Jesus is the head and, therefore, his thoughts are our thoughts and his wisdom, love and life fill and enliven us. “For in him we live and move and have our being…” (Acts 17:28). A toe does not spend time thinking about itself, nor does a toe have a life apart from the rest of the body. We think that a toe is less of a toe if it cannot be independent and self-sufficient. But the truth is a toe is more of a toe if it is connected to the body and has Jesus as its head.

When we toes decide to forget about ourselves, let Jesus be the head of our life and follow what he tells us, our lives become much simpler and freer.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, help me to forget about myself. Please be the head of my life. Help me to hear your voice and follow what you say to me. Amen.

Last Minute of Play: It is All a Gift

I have a relative who plays in the NHL. His name is Lance Bouma and he plays for the Calgary Flames. His Mom, Cheryl, is my second cousin on my Dad’s side, so Lance is my second cousin, once removed. I am also related to Lance in a second way. Lance’s father’s sister is married to my mother’s brother, so one of Lance’s aunts is also my aunt. Susan and I know Lance’s parents fairly well. Lance’s Dad, Bernie, and I were in Kinsmen together. Cheryl and Susan taught school together in Provost. And both Cheryl and Susan were pregnant with their second child at the same time. It turned out that Lance was born the day after our son, Morgan. But even though we knew Lance’s parents pretty well, we really didn’t know Lance because Susan and I and Brandon left Provost before Lance was born.

So it was a revelation this past summer when we were visiting with Lance’s aunt and she said that Lance was humble, and she repeated it for emphasis. And that surprised me, I think, because I was expecting someone who played sports at a high level to self-confident and proud, but not humble. Later, when some of us got a chance to talk to Lance at the Paulgaard Family Reunion, we realized that what his aunt said about him is true. He is a very humble and down-to-earth person.

And as I have thought about that later, I realized that humility really is the proper posture for a high performance athlete. And if you think about some of the great athletes, like Wayne Gretzky or Sidney Crosby, they have an aura of humbleness about them. And the reason that humility is the proper posture for a high performance athlete is that it takes a team to accomplish great things. And the team is not just the athletes on the ice or on the field. The equipment manager, the receptionist, the trainers, coaches, team management and even the guy who sharpens the skates are all part of the team that surrounds every high performance athlete and helps her or him succeed. Even an athlete in an individual sport like golf or tennis has a team of people around them that supports them.

So any athlete that thinks that they are achieving great things on their own is simply not in touch with reality. What is worse is that their pride and self-centredness will close them off from the rest of their team and make them less able to receive what their team wants to give them. And soon they will find that they are no longer able to achieve what they once did because they are trying to do things on their own.

It is the same for you and me in our own life. All throughout life, you and I are surrounded by a team that God has put in place to provide for us, to support and encourage us and to help us to accomplish the things that God is setting before us. The question is, “What is our posture towards our team? Is it humility and thankfulness? Or is it pride and self-centredness?”

Today we are continuing the series “the Last Minute of Play” and the theme verse for this series is Ephesians 5:15-16 which reads, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16 – NIV) And the Big Idea behind this series is that if we could think about what things are really important at the end of our life and then live like those things are important right now, we will have fewer regrets when we come to the end of our life.

Today is Thanksgiving Sunday and so today we are thinking about thankfulness. And the Main Idea of this sermon is, if we could really see things how they really are, overwhelming thankfulness would be our natural response. And the two things that get in the way of us becoming truly thankful are our understanding of management, and our expectations regarding outcomes.

The Oxford Dictionary defines management as “the process of dealing with or controlling things or people.”[1] When we manage, we arrange or use the resources and gifts that God has given us in a certain way and we relate to people in a certain way and usually it is because of a goal that we want to accomplish. And when we think of management, we usually think “If I do A, then B is going to happen.” We think if we manage things in a certain way, then we can expect certain outcomes, and that is called cause and effect thinking. And that type of thinking works in certain basic situations. If I heat water up to 100 degrees Celsius, it boils every time. If I reduce it to 0 degrees Celsius, it freezes every time. But when we get to complex systems where there are lots of different people involved, like sports, or life, cause and effect thinking doesn’t really work very well. There isn’t a coach or an athlete in the world who thinks to him or herself “If I do A, then B is going to happen.” They might think “If I do A, then that increases the chances that B will happen, but I don’t really know for sure.” So cause and effect thinking doesn’t really work in sports, and it doesn’t really work in real life either.

And here is another thing about cause and effect thinking. Not only is it faulty, it is faithless. When we function with cause and effect thinking we are the ones who call the shots and make things happen, so we don’t need God in our lives and we don’t need faith. We are, in effect, the god of our own life.

And another bad thing about cause and effect thinking is that it is no room for grace in it. It is completely a law-based system and because we are imperfect and flawed it will eventually grind us down. At some point, our source of hope, which is our own personal strength and effort, is not going to be good enough anymore, and we will be left helpless and hopeless. Cause and effect thinking results in pride, if you think that you can do it, or guilt, shame and despair, if you realize that you can’t.

Instead of cause and effect thinking, Jesus invites us into a totally different way of thinking about management and outcomes. In our first lesson for today, we heard these words from Philippians 4:6-7, Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7) We hear those words from God that talk about not worrying and having peace, but we may not know how to get from here to there. How do we get from living a frantic life that is full of worry to living a life where we experience peace that is beyond all understanding?

The answer is in the phrase “as you live in Christ Jesus” and to find out more about what it means to live in Christ Jesus, we turn to Galatians 2:20. There we read, 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.  This passage is telling us is that to live in Christ means that we resign from managing our own lives and we invite Jesus to come in and manage our entire lives in whatever way he thinks is best. That takes faith. We trust in Jesus and we trust that his management of our lives will be infinitely better than our management. We also trust that he will move us to do whatever really needs to be done. And we trust Jesus to bring about the outcomes that he desires. So leave whatever happens completely up to him. For those of us with control issues, this is a very, very hard thing to do.

But here is what happens when we trust Jesus to manage our lives and produce the outcomes he wants. We experience grace. Whenever a good idea pops into our head, we know that it is a gift from God because it didn’t come from us. Whenever we do something and we find it very enjoyable, we know that it is a gift from God, because Jesus was the one who made that activity happen. Whenever a good outcome happens, we know that it is a gift from God, because Jesus is the one in charge of outcomes in our lives. We didn’t make any of these good things happen, they are all grace, they are all gifts from God. And thankfulness in our heart is the result.

Now you might be thinking to yourself, “That is a fine and dandy way to live when one is healthy and everything is going alright. But I am struggling with a serious health challenge that severely impacts my ability to function. Or I am struggling with grief. Or I just lost my job. So how can I trust Jesus with management and outcomes when this is going on in my life?” My response is to simply point you back to Jesus and say, “I do not know the solutions to the challenges that you are facing. But I know that Jesus does.”

The truth is that the best outcomes that happen in the world occur when God is doing the managing. The creation of this beautiful, finely-tuned universe that was set up perfectly so that highly complex life forms could not only exist but thrive happened when God was doing the managing. The redemption of the whole world through the perfect human life lived, the horrific sinner’s death died and the resurrection from the dead by Jesus happened when God was doing the managing. The renewal and restoration of all things that will happen when Jesus comes back to this world in a visible way will happen when God is doing the managing. So if God’s management can bring about those kinds of outcomes, let’s trust him to manage our lives and produce the outcomes that he wants to happen in and through us.

Let me give you an illustration of how this works from my own life. One of the areas that I personally find challenging is managing my family’s finances. I know that this is an important area of life, so, in the past, I have put a lot of effort into trying to manage this area of life by myself. Sometimes, I would try tracking our finances by using an accounting system of some kind. But tracking your expenses after you spend the money doesn’t really help. And because I expected a certain outcome, when the accounting numbers did not add up to what I expected, I would get discouraged and quit. Sometimes I would try to forecast our finances with a budgeting system of some kind. But forecasting your finances doesn’t really help if your budget system loses touch with what is actually happening in your bank accounts. And I still expected a certain outcome and when the budget numbers didn’t add up to what I expected, I would get discouraged and quit that too.

Recently, I realized that I needed to give management of our personal finances over to Jesus and I needed to give the outcomes over to Jesus also. And three things happened when I did that. First, Jesus led me to a system that both tracks and forecasts our finances. Second, I don’t pay any attention when the numbers don’t add up to what I think they should. My task is simply to use this tracking and forecasting system that Jesus directed me to use. Jesus is in charge of the outcomes. And third, the outcome has turned out far better than I expected. And I think that the reason that has happened is that when I am trusting Jesus to manage my life and also trusting him with the outcomes, I have peace in my life. And the peace that I am receiving from Jesus in this process is stopping me from doing some therapeutic shopping (which is what I tend to do when I am managing my own life) to try to gain peace for myself somehow.

Every once in a while, an amazingly good outcome happens in our lives and it will transform our lives, if we let it. We see an example of this in the movie Finding Nemo. Because of the losses that he has experienced, Nemo’s Dad is very controlling, to the point that he is stifling his relationship with his son. They are separated and just when they are about to be reunited, tragedy strikes. But then a surprise happens. Just when it looks like Nemo is dead and gone forever, he revives.

If you are familiar with the rest of the movie, you know that the gift of getting Nemo back from being lost and nearly dead transforms his Dad. Instead of being protective and controlling, he is supportive and encouraging, but to get there, he had to give up control and trust that things were going to be okay.

It is the same thing with us. The greatest surprise in all of time happened in a garden nearly 2,000 years ago when someone who had been beaten, whipped and nailed to a cross to die, rose from the dead. You and I cannot manage things in a way that achieves that kind of outcome. Resurrection is a something that only God can do. And yet Jesus has already given us resurrection life. The seed of that same great surprise has been planted in our hearts through faith and one day you will open your eyes and see and experience resurrection life in all of its fullness. You will see Jesus face to face. He will wipe every tear from your eyes. He will wipe every tear from your eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will be gone. (cf. Revelation 21:4)

Our confidence is in Jesus, not in ourselves. Jesus is doing the managing. Jesus is producing the outcomes. It is all grace, it is all a gift from God. We follow along in Jesus’ wake enjoying the many wonderful blessings that he gives us. And through it all we have peace. And because of that God-given peace, we are better able to receive whatever our God-given team is trying to give us. And that leads to even more thankfulness. Amen.

(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC on October 11, 2015.)