The Holy Among Us

I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me. (Acts 26:17b-18)

The turnaround in Saul’s life was shocking. He was a strictly observant and well-educated Pharisaic Jew who saw the fledgling Christian Church as a threat to true religion. Saul did all he could to stamp out the flame of Christian faith by having followers of Jesus hauled off to jail. He even blessed the murder of Stephen with his approving presence (Acts 7:58). But then everything changed when, on the road to Damascus to round up more followers of Jesus, Saul had an encounter with the risen Jesus.

Child with Bible by Samantha Sophia-34200-unsplash

Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash

Something happens when human beings encounter what is divine. Throughout the Bible, when people encounter an angel of the Lord, or the Lord Himself, they are often overcome with awe and become profoundly aware of the depth of their sin. But then they are given new information, new status and new direction.

The new information that Saul received was that he was persecuting Jesus personally when he persecuted Jesus’ Church. The new status that Jesus gave to Saul was that of a servant and witness of Jesus. Saul’s slate of past sins were wiped clean and he was given an important role on the team of the One whom he had been fighting against. Jesus then sent Saul in a new direction. Instead of heading towards the Christian Church to destroy it, Jesus sent Saul out from the Church into the world to help save it.

It is hard to imagine a more radical transformation. With the great change came a new name as Saul became Paul, the missionary to the Gentiles and the writer of most of the New Testament.

Prior to His resurrection, Jesus’ divinity was present, but hidden. It was always there, but only those with the eyes of faith could see it. One day, everyone will see Jesus in all His glory and every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (see Philippians 2:6-11). But in the meantime, Jesus has infused the holy and divine into this mean and coarse world to give us hope.

We meet holy Jesus in the pages of the Holy Bible where He gives us the new information that all our many sins are completely and totally forgiven by Him. We meet divine Jesus in the waters of Holy Baptism where He gives us the new status of being beloved, unconditionally accepted, children of God. We meet sacred Jesus in the bread and wine of Holy Communion where Jesus nourishes us with His Body and Blood and sends us in a new direction as His representatives to share His healing love with a broken, hurting and dying world.

Jesus has placed His holy and divine gifts all around you. The holy is among us.

Dear Jesus, thank you for the Holy Bible, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. Please help me to see you in these precious gifts so I may be transformed by Your holiness. Amen.  

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The Path to Heart Health: Serving

Years ago, when I was in Grade 10, I served along with the other Grade 10 students at our school’s High School graduation banquet. I and another student were assigned to serve the head table where the graduates sat. After the meal, one of the grads asked me if I wanted to tip. I eagerly said, “Yes!” Then he moved his plate to the side to reveal the “tip” that he had written on the paper table cloth, “Don’t take any wooden nickels.”

Serving by Toa Heftiba-422025-unsplash

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Serving is hard because it humbles us and it therefore goes against our natural human drives of deriving our sense of identity, self-worth and motivation from self-glorification, not humiliation. But Jesus gave us a new inner heart and He did it by becoming a servant. First of all, Jesus humbled Himself by setting aside the use of His divine power and glory to become an ordinary human being Who lived in an insignificant village in an unimportant part of the ancient world. Second, Jesus served us by giving His life as a ransom for many (and the word “many” here actually means “all”). Jesus willingly went to the cross and gave His precious God-human life in exchange for your human life to buy you and me back from sin, death and the power of evil. And on the third day that followed His death, Jesus rose from the dead to give you a new life with Him that will last forever.

Jesus continues to serve us by giving us a new inner heart. When we have faith in Jesus, He gives us an entirely new inner core to our being. And with this new inner core, this new inner heart, Jesus also gives us some other new thing that are very important.

First, Jesus gives us a new identity. With our trust in Jesus instead of ourselves, how others treat us does not impact our identity, because our identity does not depend on what other people say about us. Our new identity only depends on what Jesus says about us and what Jesus says about us is that we are beloved, forgiven children of God.

Second, Jesus gives us a new sense of self-worth. With our trust in Jesus, doing demeaning tasks does not impact our sense of self-worth, because our sense of self-worth is not based on what we think we are worth in comparison to others. It is based on what Jesus thinks we are worth. You are so precious to Jesus that you are the treasure that He found in a field and then He went and sold all that He had so that He could buy the field that you were in. To Jesus, you are a pearl of such great value that He went and sold everything that He had to buy it.

Jesus considers you to be so precious and so valuable that He has given you the pure, right relationship that He has with His heavenly Father. Before time began, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit lived in a community of perfect, self-giving love where each person of the Trinity loved the other two with an unconditional, infinite love. Because you are with Jesus, you are now part of that divine community of love. Because you are with Jesus and Jesus is with you, you now have an all-access pass to the infinite love of God.

Third, Jesus gives us a new motivation. We do not need to seek fulfillment for ourselves because true fulfillment is ours when we live the life that Jesus has given us. We already have a new identity as children of God. We already have a new sense of self-worth because we are loved by God. Jesus gives us extra significance by inviting us to participate in God’s work of providing for the world through our vocations, and by joining Jesus in His mission of seeking and saving what it lost.

So instead of self-fulfillment, our new motivation for life in this world is love. We serve, even in demeaning ways, because we know that God loves us and we want other people to know that God loves them too. So a licensed practical nurse changes a patient’s bed pan and cleans them up because they are an agent of God’s love. A high-powered executive teaches Sunday School to Grade One students because he is an agent of God’s love. A wealthy business woman wipes down tables after a church fellowship time because they are an agent of God’s love.

We come into the church with worldly eyes and we think that in the church there is a hierarchy of power, just like there is in the world where the important and powerful people are at the top and they do the most important jobs. But Jesus turns that pyramid upside down.

When there was a squabble among his followers over who was most important, Jesus said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:25-28 NLT).

The picture of the church that Jesus paints for us is a picture of radical egalitarianism where the greatest among us—Jesus, who is our Lord and the head of the Christian Church—served us by giving up His life to give us life with Him. With Jesus, you are now set free to serve. Your life is already safe in Jesus’ hands. You don’t need any earthly power because you already have Jesus. You have a new life with Jesus and you have a new heart from Jesus.

There is a hunger for community in our world. People are looking for a place where they can belong and be accepted and loved. Ideally, the Christian Church is supposed to be the community for the people of the world. But the problem is that the Church is made up of sinners so we cannot be a community of love and acceptance for the world on our own. We need Jesus and we need each other. We need each other to keep pointing us back to Jesus for it is only in Him that we find the love and acceptance that we need. And then, as we rest in Jesus and let Him live his life through us together, He will be the life that will create among us the community that the world needs. Amen.

(This message was based on Mt. 20:25-28 and was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley, BC on February 11, 2018.)

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Mt. 6:19-27 – The Path to Heart Health: Investing in Treasure in Heaven

Summary: It is very easy for us to value things on this earth and then become worried about losing them, so we become stingy. But God invites us to see that he unconditionally loves us and infinitely values us. When we do that, God’s generous love transforms us into being generous people.

Big Idea: We exercise the new heart that God has given us by investing in treasure in heaven.

Ice-breaker question: Did you ever have something that was very valuable to you that ended up getting ruined? What happened?

 Read: Matthew 6:19-27

Observation (What does the passage say?)

  1. What does this passage say about where we should store the things that we value?
  2. What are some examples of treasures that we store up on earth?
  3. What are some examples of treasures that we store up in heaven?
  4. What are the differences between treasures that are stored on earth and those that are stored in heaven?
  5. For what reasons should we not worry?

Interpretation (What does the passage mean?)

6. What does it mean to say that our heart is in the same place as where we store what we value?

7. How does money become a master that we serve?

8. Why cannot someone have both God and money as a master that they serve?

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

Verses 22-23 are using a Hebrew expression that refers to generosity. Using this expression, saying that someone’s eyes are healthy means that they are generous and saying that someone’s eyes are unhealthy means that they are stingy. So Jesus is saying here that if someone is generous, their whole body is full of light. But if someone is stingy, their whole body will be full of darkness. Jesus is also saying that your interior world is where there is supposed to be light. So if there is darkness in the place where there is supposed to be light, then the darkness there is going to be very great.

9. What is going on in your interior world that prevents you from being freely generous?

The remedy for our stinginess is God’s gracious love. Because He loves us, God the Father sent His Son into the world to save us by being our substitute on the cross. Because He loves us, Jesus suffered and died to take away all of our sins and rise from the dead on the third day that followed to give us a new life with Him that will last forever. Because He loves us, the Holy Spirit has lovingly applied all of God’s promises of forgiveness, salvation and eternal life to us personally in our Holy Baptism and gives us the gift of faith to receive and trust in those promises.

The treasure that is (temporarily) stored on earth is God’s. You are His precious treasure, far more valuable than birds who know better than us to trust God to provide for their daily needs. God looks after the birds. God will provide even better care for us in this life so that we are prepared for life in the world to come in which there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away (see Rev. 21:4).

  1. What will help you to trust more in God’s love for you?


This Bible Study focuses on the same passage as the sermon on Feb 25/18 from Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC.

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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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