This is It!


On March 5, 2009, Michael Jackson announced his final concert appearances at the O2 Arena in London. During the press conference, Jackson said, “I just wanted to say that these will be my final show appearances in London. When I say this is it, it really means this is it.” The concert series was extended from 10 to 50 shows and all were sold out. Unfortunately, Michael Jackson did not perform any of those concerts because, 18 days before the first one, he died, and his death was announced around the world.

Michael Jackson’s was a more famous death than any of ours will likely be, but all of us are headed in the same direction as him. Aches and pains, illness and disability, growing old and frail: all these things remind us that we are dying, and there is nothing that we can do to avoid it.

But God has something better in mind for the creation that he loves very, very much. Clothing himself in human flesh, God the Son came to defeat death and decay for us. The cost for Jesus would be high. It would cost him his life, both in living a perfect human life and in dying a sinner’s death on the cross. Yet Jesus loves you so much that he did not consider that too great a price to pay to free you from death’s claim and give you a rich, full, abundant life with him that begins now and goes forward throughout all eternity.

Now please understand this: Jesus is the key! The reason that our present lives are rich, full and abundant is Jesus’ presence in our lives. The reason that life after death is going to be great is because it will be life with Jesus. The reason that we have a confident future hope of healing, renewal, restoration and justice in this world is because Jesus is going to come back to this world one day and make us and all things right. The goal of our faith is not earthly blessings, eternal life or heaven. The goal of our faith is Jesus because he fulfills all of our ultimate needs and desires with divine super-abundance. If we aim for something else and miss Jesus, we miss everything!

And so we rest in Jesus. Everyday we lay our lives down before him, and we invite him to come and live his life through us. And we trust that Jesus will do everything that he wants to do in and through us. And as we do that, our lives will become signposts that point to Jesus and say, “This is it!”

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep…. so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Cor. 15:20, 22b)

May the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection always bring you life-giving joy!

In Christ’s love,

Pastor James

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Love Will Save the World


 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (1 John 3:16)

We cannot overstate the importance of love. Love will save the world, overcome all hurts and heal all wounds, but love needs to be shared.

How do you make someone love you?

And the answer is… you can’t. Not even God can make someone love Him because, if He did force someone to love Him, then it wouldn’t really be love. The best that God can do is create an environment where love may exist and then love unconditionally.

God’s love is not like the counterfeit versions offered by the world. More than an emotion, God’s love reveals itself in action. We see God’s active love in three ways. First, God loves us by providing all that we need for daily life in this world. Second, God loves us by rescuing us. On our own, all humanity is lost and condemned. But God the Father sent His Son Jesus into the world to save us from sin, death and condemnation. Third, God loves us by giving sacrificially for us. God the Son, Jesus Christ, set aside the riches and glory of heaven to enter into this world and die a horrible sinner’s death so that we can have forgiveness, salvation and life through Him.

There is no doubt about it, we are loved.

How can you make someone love what you love?

Again, you, I and God cannot. All we can do is love and hope that, as people fall in love with us, they will begin to love what we love.

Imagine being a single parent who wants to find a life partner.  We want to love, and there are people who might love us in return, but will they love our child too?

God’s love does not end with us. He not only loves us, He also loves every other person in the world, even those lost and condemned souls who chose not to love Him.  But will we let God love us so much that we love those whom He loves?

After telling the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus said, “…there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:7). Do we share in heaven’s joy over one sinner who repents? In a podcast I listened to recently, a speaker said that the Christian Church in Canada is in its current sorry state because we have forgotten our passion for lost people.

How do we make ourselves love lost people?

We can’t. It is only when we remember the peril of being lost and the greatness of God’s love that love for lost people begins to grow within us.

Jesus showed us what love really is: He emptied Himself for the sake of others. By immersing ourselves in Jesus’ love, His love transforms us from being people who are centred on ourselves to being people who love those whom Jesus loves. Living by faith, we believe that we already have all the love that we need in Jesus; therefore, we have been freed to love as He loves: by emptying ourselves for the sake of others.

Love will save the world.

In Christ’s love,

Pastor James

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Thankfulness in All Situations


Dear Fellow Followers of Jesus,

Setting aside a day to emphasize thanks giving as our country does is a very good thing. When thinking of things for which we can be thankful, if we have the blessings of good health, family and food, those things are usually come to mind. But are there more things for which we can thank God?

In his letter to the Jesus-followers in Philippi, Paul wrote, “… for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.  I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.  For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11b-13). Granted, Paul is talking about contentment, not thankfulness, but these two things are related because contentment frees us to look up to God and be thankful, and thankfulness to God helps us to see our life in the light of God’s love and we naturally become content. So what is the secret to Paul’s contentment?

It starts with how we see ourselves. If we are physical beings with hungers that need to be satisfied, then contentment and thankfulness can only happen when those needs are met. Presented with even a minute possibility of lack in one area of need and our heart finds it impossible to be content, let alone thankful. With this view of ourselves, contentment and thankfulness are rare and momentary with anxious worry being the norm.

But if we are spiritual beings enveloped in a physical body that serves as our interface with the surrounding world, then our situation is vastly different. With this understanding of humanity, our greatest needs are spiritual needs: reconciliation, forgiveness and peace from God the Son; infinite love, unconditional acceptance and providential care from God the Father; and encouragement, assurance and direction from God the Holy Spirit. Jesus, who is God the Son, has opened the door for us to have a relationship with himself, the Father, and the Holy Spirit, and it is through this relationship that all of our spiritual needs are met.

Because all of our spiritual needs are met through Jesus, we are whole and complete regardless of what our physical circumstances may be. Times of plenty do not derail us and times of deprivation to not disturb us. We live our lives from the inside out, not the outside in. Everything on the inside has been completely taken care of by Jesus, so we can be content and thankful in times of plenty and in times of need. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.

In Christ’s love,

Pastor James

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The New Temple: Jesus is Our Connection with God


At our house, we have a utility trailer that we use to store extra garbage from when we are cleaning up around the house or yard and when it gets full and I have some time, we take it to the transfer station. So a few weeks ago, one of my sons and I took some garbage to the transfer station. As we were emptying the trailer, I saw something that I wanted to keep. And I knew that I had to decide whether to keep it or not. But I also knew that someone else in our family had made the decision to throw that item away. And I realized that something more important than that thing was at stake here. Someone I loved had made a decision, and I had a choice whether to undermine that person and their decision, or not. I decided to let that other person have authority in my life and I threw the item away.

Close up of hands charging mobile phone

Photo by Rawpixel.com

Authority is at the root of everything we do and the question of who has authority to do what and to what extent is very important. But instead of thinking about authority “out there,” I am inviting you to reflect with me on authority “in here.” Consider, if you will, this question: To whom do you give authority to make changes in your life?

Most of us function like self-guided beings most of the time and we don’t give authority to make changes in our life to anyone unless we can see some personal benefit coming back to us. So we do what our boss says because we know that we will get a paycheque at the end of the month. Or we do what our friend suggests because we want to be liked by them. But we don’t give complete authority to anyone because the only one that we really trust is ourselves.

Here is the problem with functioning like that: At some point in our lives, all of us will experience a time when we come to the end of our own personal wisdom and resources and it is not enough to handle what we are facing. Infertility, the loss of a dream or the death of a loved one are only some of the things that can happen in our lives that are beyond our ability to manage or control. But we also have in our lives, messes of our own making that blow up in our face. Whether it is something that happens to us or something that we caused, we can give that situation our best shot and our world still comes crashing down around us and in us. And what do we do then? Because if our best efforts won’t work and we won’t let anyone else speak truth into our lives, then there is no hope for us getting through that situation.

These are human things that all of us experience, regardless of what we believe. It doesn’t matter if we describe ourselves as an atheist, an agnostic or a follower of Jesus, all of us will experience these times when we come to the end of ourselves.

So if you are here for the first time and you feel that way at times, please know that you are not alone. I’m glad that you are here because we want this to be a church where people of all ages and backgrounds are welcomed into the family of God and we hope that you feel welcomed, supported and encouraged here.

And the good news for today and everyday is that Jesus came to give us hope in the midst of our hopeless situations. If you remember only one thing from today, may it be this: When Jesus rose from the dead, he proved that he can turn our lives around.

Today we are continuing to reflect on the life of Jesus as we look at a biography written by one of Jesus’ followers named John. And another of the re-occurring themes that we see pop up in John’s biography of Jesus is authority. People were constantly questioning Jesus’ authority to do the things that he did, and we see that in the passage that we are looking at today. One piece of information that is important for you to know is that the events in our reading today happened right after Jesus chased out a bunch of merchants who were set up on the grounds of the ancient Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. We begin at John, chapter 2, starting with verse 18 and the readings will be on the screen.

But the Jewish leaders demanded, “What are you doing? If God gave you authority to do this, show us a miraculous sign to prove it.” (John 2:18)

Right away, we see that the Jewish leaders are demanding that Jesus tell them what authority he has to chase all of the merchants out of the outer courtyard of the Temple. And it is a legitimate question. But they make their demand in a way that is unusual for us reading these words almost 2,000 years later. First, they look to God as the ultimate authority, and that makes sense because, after all this is the Temple, the place where God lives. Back then the people would certainly have understood that God is everywhere, but God promised that he would live among his people in a special way, so the Temple was a visible reminder that God was living among his people. People from all over the ancient near east came to this Temple to meet with God, to worship God and be blessed by the assurance that God loves them, is with them, forgives them and gives them eternal life. So because the Jewish leaders and Jesus are on the Temple grounds, it was natural to ask for proof of authority from God. We probably would have looked to some human authority as being the source of authority in a situation like this. We might ask, “Who said you can do that? Was it our leadership in our church, or was it some local, provincial or national authority?”

And the second reason that the demand of the Jewish leaders is unusual for us is that they asked for a miraculous sign as an indication that authority was given. We would likely never do that. We would ask for a permit, or a licence, or an email or contract, or the name of a recognized authority with whom we could check.

We live in an age where we have lost any expectation of the miraculous and we have lost our connection with God as the ultimate authority over all things, including our day-to-day life. And because that has happened, because we don’t share God as a common reference point in our society, we have lost our regard for truth and we have lost our compassion for each other.

A few years ago, I walking home from the church building and a car going east on 88th avenue pulled into the left turn lane at 208th street and a motorcycle was right behind it. At first, it looked like the car was going to complete the left turn on an orange light, but then the driver decided to stop suddenly before entering the intersection. The motorcycle was following too close to stop. The motorcycle driver tried to avoid the car, but he clipped the back right corner with his bike and with his left foot. He managed to get his bike off the road and up on its stand before he collapsed in pain. The woman got out of her car and would like to guess what her reaction was? She went around to the back right hand corner of her car, saw the minor damage there and she was immediately very angry. Meanwhile, the motorcyclist is in extreme pain and I’m calling 911.

Only several minutes later after the fire truck, ambulance and police arrive did the woman calm down enough to be concerned about he man and his injuries. I am not condemning the woman for her reaction, because all of us, including me, are just like her. We are queen or king of our own little bubble and as long as nothing bad happens in our bubble, we are okay. But the moment that something is disrupted in our bubble, we fall apart, because we have forgotten that we are connected to God and to everyone else through the God that is over us all.

Jesus wants something better for us than the life we are now living. Jesus is inviting us to give him authority over our lives, not to dominate us, but to protect and bless us. When we give God authority to speak truth into our lives, then we are able to receive his direction for us as he leads us away from things that harm us and others, and as he leads us toward patterns of life that connect with and receive the many good things that God wants to give to us.

Now as unusual as it was, the demand of the Jewish leaders was small potatoes compared to Jesus’ response.

19 “All right,” Jesus replied. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

20 “What!” they exclaimed. “It has taken forty-six years to build this Temple, and you can rebuild it in three days?” (John 2:19-20)

Jesus’ response was baffling to the Jewish leaders and it is baffling to us to. But the reason for the confusion is that the words have a double meaning. And we often encounter words having a double meaning in John’s biography of Jesus, a surface meaning and a deeper meaning. When people only understand the surface meaning they are confused. But when they understand the deeper meaning of a word, a new and greater understanding opens up to them which enables them to see and experience life with God and his love. So John keeps telling us about people that come to this new understanding and believe that Jesus is the Son of God who has come to save them and the world.

We continue: 21 But when Jesus said “this temple,” he meant his own body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered he had said this, and they believed both the Scriptures and what Jesus had said. (John 2:21-22) So when Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” he was referring to his own body. But what did he mean by that?

A temple is a place where God and people meet. Prior to Jesus’ time on this earth, people would meet with God at the Temple in Jerusalem, or in the Tabernacle, which was a portable tent and courtyard that served as the forerunner of the Temple. Jesus is saying that now that he has come onto the scene, the Jerusalem Temple is not longer needed as a place where people can meet with God and receive more of the life that God wants to give to them because now Jesus is with us. God the Son set aside the use of his divine powers for a time to come to earth to become one of us. Born as a helpless human baby, raised as the son of a poor carpenter, Jesus knows from personal experience what life is like for us. Jesus lived human life just like us in every way except that he did not do any bad things, nor did he fail to do what was good. And later on, as we follow the life of Jesus, we will see how he willingly went to the cross and suffered a horrific death to more than pay the cost of forgiveness for all the sins of the whole world.

What that means is that Jesus is now the way that people meet with God. A special place or a building is no longer needed. You don’t have to buy a membership or make a donation to qualify for a relationship with God. Through Jesus, you already have a relationship with God. You don’t have to worry about guilt, shame or death because Jesus has already taken care of those things for you. You don’t have to earn forgiveness, love or acceptance from God because Jesus has already opened up the door for you to have all those things for free.

Far too often, people are going through life as if the weight of making life good is all upon them. As a result, the challenges of life become burdensome and overwhelming.

But what Jesus is trying to tell us is that the best life is a life where, every moment of every day, we know that God loves us and is with us, we know that God is making all things, even the hard things, work out for our good in the end, and we know that Jesus is working in us and through us to accomplish what he knows needs to be done. That is the good life and that is the life that Jesus wants to give to you today. Jesus wants to give you a beautiful life with him that lasts forever.

And Jesus is able to give us that life because he raised his body, his temple, from the dead on the third day after he was executed on a wooden cross. Jesus is alive and he is with us right now. The fact that Jesus rose from the dead is the proof that Jesus had authority to chase the merchants out of the temple grounds. It is the proof that Jesus loves us, is with us and give us eternal life. So we don’t need to take control over our own lives, nor place our life into the hands of others. Instead we give Jesus authority over our lives because he is the only God who has come to save us.

Jesus’ resurrection is also the proof that Jesus will raise us from the dead one day in the future. And one day Jesus will come back to this world to make us and all things right once again. On that day, Jesus will raise us from the dead too and give us new bodies that will never grow old, never get sick and never die. And we will live forever with Jesus in the new heaven and earth forever.

Jesus is our Temple. Jesus is our connection to God. He always loves us, he is always with us and he knows and wants what is best for us in the long run. And that is something for which we can be truly thankful. Amen.

(This message is based on John 2:18-25 and is part of our series on the Gospel of John. It was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC on October 8, 2017.)

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Anger Over Restricted Access to God


Some time ago, my wife, Susan, and I had a discussion that went something like this: She said, “You have an anger problem.”

“I do not,” I replied.

“Yes, you do,” she responded. “You have a problem with anger.”

“I do not have a problem with anger. I am simply very passionate about some things.” To her credit, Susan did not roll her eyes at this point in the conversation. This was not the only conversation we had about my anger, and for a long time I denied it. But finally, I was able to see that Susan was right. I had a problem with anger and I needed to do something about it.

Fence by Mitchel Lensink

Photo by Mitchel Lensink

We all get angry at times. It doesn’t matter if we believe in God or not, attend worship services or not, or follow Jesus or not, all of us get angry. But is our anger a good thing? I would be inclined to say that it is not, because most of my experiences with anger, whether it is someone getting angry at me or me getting angry at someone else, end up in regret. And you cannot take back hurtful words or actions just like you can’t put toothpaste back in a toothpaste tube once it has been squeezed out.

It is because of the damage that anger usually causes that some people will say that all anger is bad and people should never get angry. But is that really true? If we look to the Bible for some words of wisdom about anger, we will find a verse that says, “In your anger do not sin.” (Ephesians 4:26). That passage doesn’t say that all anger is bad. What it says is that when you do get angry, don’t do bad things. So it is possible to be angry in a good way.

But what does good anger look like? We are going to look at an example of good anger today. And if you only remember one thing from this message, let it be this: Jesus got angry when something prevented you from having free access to God.

So we are continuing our look at the life of Jesus as recorded by a person named John, who was one of Jesus’ followers. And one of the things that keeps popping up in John’s biography of Jesus is conflict. And those conflicts happen because Jesus keeps challenging people at the level of their core values because he knows that, unless there is a change at the level of our core values, our lives will never align with the abundant life that he wants to give to us.

So we are starting today in John, chapter 2, at verse 13, which reads, “It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover celebration, so Jesus went to Jerusalem.” (John 2:13)

So let us get our bearings here. Jesus lived in the northern part of the Holy Land around the Sea of Galilee. Nazareth was his home town, but he made Capernaum, which is on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, his base during his ministry. Three times a year, every Jewish man was required to go to Jerusalem and worship at the Temple there for three special religious occasions. The Temple was the centre of Jewish religion in ancient times and those occasions were the Feasts of Tabernacles, Passover and Pentecost. The Feast of Tabernacles occurred in the fall, in fact, this year it begins on Wednesday. Passover happens in the spring and next year Passover begins on March 30, which is Good Friday. Pentecost happens fifty days after Passover and next year it will be on May 20.

So the events of our reading take place in the spring, and Jesus would have walked, along with many other pilgrims, to Jerusalem, a distance of  about 180 kms, which would have taken 5 days and is like walking from here to Seattle.

We continue with our next verse:  “In the Temple area he saw merchants selling cattle, sheep, and doves for sacrifices; he also saw dealers at tables exchanging foreign money.” (John 2:14) The Temple area referred to here is a large elevated area in Jerusalem where the Temple was located. The whole area was 150,000 sq. m. or 37 acres in size. The outermost part of this area was called the Court of the Gentiles. A Gentile is anyone who is not Jewish, so anyone, even people who were not Jews could come to the Temple and worship God in the Court of the Gentiles. But closer to the Temple was a short screen or fence and only Jews could go inside that area. So the Court of the Gentiles was the only place where a non-Jewish person could come worship the one, true God. That area was set aside for non-Jewish people to worship God.

And it was in the Court of the Gentiles where the merchants had set up their stalls for selling livestock and their tables for changing money. These were necessary services because pilgrims traveling a long distance could not bring with them the animal that they were going to sacrifice. And there was only one kind of currency accepted at the Temple for people to give their offerings and to pay their Temple tax. So people had to change the money that they brought with them into the currency that the Temple accepted. The problem was not with the services that were being offered. The problem was the location where they were offered.

Here is another illustration of the Temple area. At other times in history, these businesses were set up east of the Temple across the Kidron Valley. But that was not as handy as having for the merchants or the pilgrims. So these merchants set up in the Court of the Gentiles because it was convenient for them and for the Jewish pilgrims to have those stalls in that location. But because they did that, it meant that non-Jewish people had no place to worship God. Because they chose what was most convenient for them, the merchants actually created a barrier to other people coming to God.

Here is how Jesus responded:  Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the Temple. He drove out the sheep and cattle, scattered the money changers’ coins over the floor, and turned over their tables. Then, going over to the people who sold doves, he told them, ‘Get these things out of here. Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace!’” (John 2:15-16)

Jesus is obviously very angry. And what is he angry about? The whole reason that Jesus set aside the use of all the divine power that he had as God the Son and came to this earth to live a human life was to give all people free and open access to God through him. Jesus came so that everyone could know that they have a heavenly Father who loves them. Jesus came so that everyone could know that they have a Saviour who more than paid the full cost of forgiveness for all of their sins. Jesus came so that everyone could know that they are never alone because the Holy Spirit wants to make his home in them to encourage, lead and guide them and build them up in faith, hope and love.

And now Jesus comes to the Temple and he sees that his people, the people who knew God best, the people who knew God’s salvation plan for the whole world, the people who personally knew God’s merciful and gracious love, those people had blocked off the way for other people to come to God because they had chosen convenience over conversion. The people of God showed that their core values were not aligned with God’s because they choose what was best for themselves instead of what was best for those who were outside the family of God.

Imagine that a woman and her children move into an impoverished area of the city. This mother begins to get involved in her community. She becomes a block parent, she joins the neighbourhood watch program. She sees that some of the people on her block do not have enough food to eat, so she decides to put on a big Thanksgiving feast for her whole block. She spends weeks planning and organizing the event. She makes up some fliers and distributes them throughout the neighbourhood. She cooks up several turkeys and makes mashed potatoes, gravy and corn with pumpkin pie for dessert. When the big day comes, the woman’s house is cleaned and the table is set and she waits for the doorbell to ring. But no one shows up. And she goes to the front door to see why no one is coming, she sees that her children have left their backpacks piled up in front of the front door and none of the neighbours can get in her house. The mother becomes angry at her own children because she was trying to help people and her children were preventing that from happening because they chose what was more convenient for them instead of what was best for other people.

It is hard for us to see what good anger looks like. It is hard because we realize that Jesus has reason to be angry at all of us because, without even realizing it, all of us tend to chose our own personal convenience over opening up access for others to God. We choose what works best for us instead of what is best for others and we build up barriers like these boxes here until the barriers are so high other that other people can’t worship God even if they want to.

But it is also hard to see what good anger is because we realize that our anger always falls short. We get angry because our values are always centred on ourselves. Jesus got angry because people were blocking what others needed most: a living relationship with a loving God.

But there is another part to this story. In verse 17 we read: Then his disciples remembered this prophecy from the Scriptures: ‘Passion for God’s house will consume me.’”

The word house usually refers to a building, and Jesus was passionate about his Father’s house, that is, the Temple, because that is where people could meet with his heavenly Father and receive the assurance of his love and forgiveness for them. But the word house also means a family. We see that in the Bible when Jesus’ parents had to go to Bethlehem before he was born because a census was ordered by the Roman emperor of the time. Luke 2:4 reads: So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.” (Luke 2:4 NIV) So Jesus is passionate about the building of God because it is the place where all people can meet with God. But Jesus is also passionate about the family of God.

And Jesus’ passion led him to a garden where he was arrested. And Jesus’ passion led him to a fortress where he was condemned. And then Jesus’ passion led him to a cross where he suffered. Jesus’ passion (his strong desire that all people would come to know God and be saved) led him to his passion (his suffering for all the sins of the whole world). Jesus more than paid for the forgiveness of all of your sins and mine, including all the times when we chose our own convenience instead of opening up access for others to God.

And as Jesus hung on the cross on a hill outside the walls of Jerusalem, he could turn his head to the side and see the Temple. He could see his Father’s house. Inside that Temple was a huge thick curtain that separated the holiest place in the Temple from the outer rooms. Only once a year did anyone go in there when the High Priest made atonement for the sins of the people. When Jesus breathed his last breath and gave up his life, this thick curtain was torn in two from top to bottom. Now the barrier between God and people was removed. Everyone and anyone could have free access to God through Jesus.

We live in a challenging time for Jesus-followers. Most people are not looking for a relationship with God, even though that is what they really need. Sometimes it can feel like we are helpless and under attack. But there is still things that we can do. We can choose to inconvenience ourselves so that others have free access to God. We can pick up the barriers that we have put in front of others and we can clear away anything that might get in the road of someone who wants to come to God. And we can be ready to welcome into God’s family all people of all ages and backgrounds that he is drawing to himself. Amen.

 

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From Shame to Glory


Last month, before I and my family headed home from our camping trip last month, I bought a pack of gum. When we opened it up, one of my kids said, “Hey, this is the gum that has “Truth or Dare” on the wrapper!” So our kids started playing a game of “Truth or Dare” using the questions that were printed on the gum wrappers. And everything was going well until this question came up, “What is the worst thing that you have ever done?” And someone in our family answered, “Sometimes I eat too much” which is a safe answer, but at least it was better than what I did which was not answer the question at all.

Sad by Francisco Moreno

Photo by Francisco Moreno

There is something very powerful about shame, and we all experience the power of shame. It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe in God at all, or if you believe that God exists but you are not sure what that means or if you identify as someone who is trying to follow this person named Jesus, all of us have felt the soul-crushing power of shame.  We are all the same here. And if you are here for the first time, I hope that you feel welcomed and supported and encouraged here because our dream is that this would be a church where people of ages from all backgrounds are welcomed into the family of God. And if you only remember one thing from today, let it be this: Jesus turns our shame into glory for us.

To explore how Jesus does this we are reflecting on an event described for us in the Bible in John 2:1-12. That reading described events that took place at a wedding and so here is some information about weddings in Bible times that will be helpful for you to know because wedding customs back then and there were different than they are today. First, the father would choose a bride for his son and then the son, or groom, would pay a price for the bride. The bride and the groom would be betrothed to each other. The betrothal was just as binding as a marriage and, like a marriage, it could only be broken by divorce, but the bride and groom did not live together, nor was the marriage consummated. The bride continued to live in her parent’s home, while the groom went back to his father’s home and began adding on to the family residence to build a home for him and his bride. This usually took about a year, and when it was complete, the father told the son that it was time for the wedding. The groom and his best men would go to the home of the bride and then bring the bride and her attendants back to the groom’s home for the wedding and a week of feasting and celebrating. Then the bride and groom would live in the home that the groom had prepared for them.

This background information on ancient marriage customs in the Middle East is important for more that our reading today because word pictures about marriage show up again and again in the Bible. God uses the word picture of marriage to describe our relationship with him. Everyone who believes in Jesus is part of the universal Christian church. And the church is called the bride of Christ.

But marriage customs are also used as a road map to describe how the future will unfold. God the Father chose us to have a close intimate relationship with his Son. By coming to earth, living a perfect human life and suffering and dying on the cross, Jesus paid more than the full price for his bride. He has made a promise to us that he belongs to us and we belong to him and, from his side of the relationship, that promise is unbreakable. Jesus has now returned to his Father and is preparing a home for us. And when his Father says that the time is right, Jesus will come back to earth in a visible way to take us back to the home that he has prepared for us. And when we get to that heavenly home, there will be a huge celebration, much like an ongoing wedding feast with the best of aged wine and the finest of tasty food. We will live forever in the new heaven and earth, the home which Jesus has prepared for us.

Hospitality in the Middle East was very important then, and it is still important today. The groom and his family were expected to provide food and drink for all the wedding guests throughout the seven days of celebrating. To run out of wine in the middle of a wedding feast would be a huge embarrassment. People would be talking about this for years bringing huge shame upon the groom and his family. Jesus’ mother, Mary, was also at this wedding. Perhaps she was a close relative who was visiting in a back room with the groom’s family and that is how she came to know that the wine had run out.  Discretely, she came to Jesus and told him what had happened. Jesus told the servants to fill up some stone water jars with water and when some was drawn out and taken to the person in charge of the feast, that person was amazed at the quality of wine that the water became. He went up to the groom and praised him before all the guests, saying, “A host always serves the best wine first,” he said. “Then, when everyone has had a lot to drink, he brings out the less expensive wine. But you have kept the best until now!” (John 2:10) Jesus took the shame of the groom and turned it into glory for him.

In the article “How America’s Culture of Shame is a Killer for Boys” author Mark Greene describes an event he witnessed as he and his wife were swimming in the Frio River in Texas. There are some high rocks along the river that people would climb up and then jump into the river. One young boy climbed up the rocks, but then had trouble mustering up the courage to jump off into the water. Several times he walked up to the edge of the rock, looked over the edge and then stepped back. People were shouting up words of encouragement to him. And then it happened. One boy hollered out in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear, “What are you, a girl? You’re just a scared girl!” Here was one boy shaming another and degrading all the girls within earshot at the same time.

The shame-er had probably been shamed himself at some point. He knew that it hurt and he knew how to do it. The father climbed up the rocks to his son. He tried to comfort and encourage him, with no success. Finally, the father threw his son off the rock and jumped in after him. The young boy fell awkwardly, hitting the water with a belly flop and when his head surged above the water he let out a scream of anguish. The father grabbed hold of his son and held him as he swam to shallow water. Then he carried away to a quiet place as tears spilled down his son’s face.[1]

How do you or I make shame like that go away? We can’t. The best that we can do is to try to say that things are okay, when they are not. But Jesus has a way of dealing with shame that is beyond what any human can do. It starts with love. Jesus’ unconditional love and acceptance of us is what gives us the courage to even look at our shame and see what is there. Do we feel shame because of something wrong that we have actually done? Jesus’ love comes with total forgiveness for all of our failures. Do we feel shame because of something wrong that was done to us? Jesus’ love comes with truth that tells us that we are not responsible for the abuse that we experienced. Do we feel shame because the soundtrack of our lives has been playing “You’re No Good” for so long that we have begun to believe that it is true? Jesus’ love comes with a playlist of songs like “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” which gives us a new identity. Because of Jesus, you are a pure, beloved, righteous child of God and Jesus is crazy in love with you.

Jesus’ love is what heals and removes your shame. And Jesus often does that through a relationship with another human being. Ken Dyck, who along with his wife Bonnie, founded Freedom Session, says that we may share our shameful secrets with other people, but there is about 10% of those secrets that we will take to our grave. We don’t tell anyone the things that we are most ashamed of because, we believe that, if we did, that would change the way that the other person would feel about us. Through the Freedom Session program, special relationships are set up where people can share their deepest, darkest secrets with another person who has been trained to hear those things with grace and love. And when you share your most shameful secrets with someone else and that other person still loves you in the same way that they always did, then you know that you were believing a lie and the truth has set you free. And when you have been set free from your shame, then God often brings people into your life who have the same kind of challenge that you have. And as Jesus’ love flows through you, then you become a conduit for them getting set free. And their freedom is your glory. Jesus turns our shame into glory for us. I have experienced this myself through Freedom Session and it is a beautiful thing.

Imagine what it would be like if this could be a community of faith where more people could come with their shame-filled secrets and find fellow sojourners who are little further down the road than they are. And through the special relationships that people are able to form here, they are set free from their guilt and shame by Jesus.  Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing?

The risen Jesus is here today. He has promised us that he is present in this special meal that we are about to enjoy. We do not fully understand it, but we believe Jesus’ words when he said, “This is my Body” and “This is my Blood.” This sacred meal called Holy Communion is a foretaste of the great wedding banquet to come at the end of time. As we come forward to share in this meal, we are not only celebrating this meal with Jesus and with each other, we are also sharing this meal with all the faith-filled people who have gone before us into heaven and with our sisters and brothers in Christ around the world. This is a meal where you can experience Jesus’ love for you.

Remember, Jesus loves you. And that is what changes everything for us. Amen.

(This message was presented on September 24, 2017 at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley, BC.)

[1] Mark Greene, “How America’s Culture of Shame is a Killer for Boys,” The Good Men Project (Internet; available at: https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/megasahd-why-americas-culture-of-shame-is-killing-us/; accessed Sep 19, 2017).

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What Do You Want?


A week ago Saturday, Susan and I and our family heading over to our son’s fiancée’s family’s house for dinner. They moved in to a new place 8 months ago and we had not been there since so there was a bit of preparation that we needed to do. We made sure that we had their new address, then we printed off a Google Map with directions from our place to theirs, and then we headed out. Because we knew where we were going, and we knew how to get there, it was a straightforward journey to get from our place to theirs.

Love by Song Heajin

Photo by Song Heajin

So where are you going with your life? In his book, You Are What You Love, James K. A. Smith says that all of us have a vision of the good life that we are headed towards. We have a picture in our minds of what we want our life to be like and that picture is shaped by our desires. We like to think that we human beings are led by our thoughts, so if we give them a better education or we teach them the right things, we can shift the trajectory of their lives to a more noble path. But the reality is that we are led by what we love, for we always steer our lives towards the things that we love.

But that can lead to problems for we human beings do not tend to love the best things, or we love good things, but not in the right way. For example, I love food. And my love for food gets me into trouble because I eat more than I should. I also eat for the wrong reasons. I eat not only when I am hungry, but also when I am nervous, anxious or afraid. I use food as a sedative, as a source of comfort and a way to celebrate. But my love for food is likely shortening my life and could kill me one day. My vision of the good life would involve comfort and lots and lots of food. But my vision of the good life will result in my death unless I change what I love.

So what is your vision of the good life that you are headed towards? What are the things that you love?

If you are here today and find yourself thinking that there has to be more to life than what you are experiencing right now, you are not alone. Whether you believe in God or not, whether you know about this person named Jesus or not, all of us go through times where the good life seems to be nothing more than an elusive dream.

But the Good News is that our lives are not only shaped by what we love. Our lives are also shaped by the love that others have for us. And there is someone whose love for you is so great and so pure that it will knock you and I off of our trajectory of self-centredness and onto a new path where unconditional love becomes both the engine and the attraction of our lives. That someone is Jesus. And the future that Jesus has in mind for you leads to goodness, rightness, healing and hope, where your life becomes part of the Great Story where Jesus is redeeming, restoring and recreating the world for eternity.

So if you only remember one thing from today, let it be this: Jesus will recalibrate and fulfill your deepest desires.

To find out more about Jesus we continue to work our way through a biography about Jesus written by one of his followers, whose name was John. And John not only wrote about the life events of Jesus, he also captured the themes that were important in the life of Jesus, things like light and darkness, love and hatred, and we see these themes pop up repeatedly in this biography. Today, we are looking at John, chapter 1, starting with verse 35, and the first person we will encounter is another person named John, who is also known as John the Baptist.

35 The following day John was again standing with two of his disciples.36 As Jesus walked by, John looked at him and declared, “Look! There is the Lamb of God!” 37 When John’s two disciples heard this, they followed Jesus.

38 Jesus looked around and saw them following. “What do you want?” he asked them. (John 1:35-38a)

“What do you want?” is the question that Jesus asks. Jesus understands that our desires determine our direction. And he knows that nothing significant will change in our lives until there is change at the level of our desires. This is often why significant trauma is necessary before people make significant changes in their lives. Unfortunately, something big and painful needs to happen before we become open to changing our desires so that they align more closely with God’s desires. In the life of an addict, this is called “hitting bottom” and, in our own way, we are all addicts. Each of us has some area of our lives in which we intensely crave something but it never really satisfies, even when we get it.

The reason for that craving is that every human being was created to have a relationship with God. Billy Graham use to say that each of us has a God-sized hole in our heart. St. Augustine, writing more than 1500 years before Billy Graham, said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in You.” Even though every human being was designed for a relationship with God, we all tend to try to fill that God-sized hole with other things. And even though these other things will promise us the moon, they will never really satisfy our heart’s desire for a loving relationship with the living God. What we need is for Jesus to re-calibrate our desires. And Jesus does that through the relationship with him that he is offering to us.

Continuing with our passage, we read: They replied, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”

39 “Come and see,” he said. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon when they went with him to the place where he was staying, and they remained with him the rest of the day. (John 1:38b-39)

What these two disciples wanted was to be with Jesus. They knew Jesus personally because Jesus used to be a follower of John the Baptist just like they were. They probably saw the Holy Spirit descend and remain on Jesus when he was baptized, which was a special sign from God given to indicate that Jesus was the Messiah, the Chosen One that God promised centuries before to send to save his people. So they knew that there was something very special about Jesus. What did they want? They wanted Jesus, and that desire would make an eternal difference in their lives.  He would be their great one, their teacher, who would show them how to re-calibrate their desires. And Jesus did that by spending time with them changing the habits that they had in their lives.

Habits have the power to re-channel what we love. Just as a canal can change the course of a river, so also a habit can change the course of our desires. For example, a father begins watching the news at 10 o’clock because he is curious about what is going on in the world. He likes watching the news, so he builds into his life each day. He does not intend to let it take over his life, but soon, his wife goes to bed without him. He ignores and eventually gets angry at his children when they interpret the news to ask him a question. Eventually the news has taken over his life and he is left all alone in the living room. But he is okay with that, he is blind to the damage his habit has caused, because now the habit has done its job and he loves watching the news.

What we need is different habits that propel our desires in a different direction. Building a habit takes hard work because one must overcome a huge amount of resistance in the beginning. That is why we need to have a compelling vision for our lives that motivate us to overcome that resistance. Generally speaking, people don’t like to get up extra early and engage in activities that result in sore muscles and fatigue. But someone who is training for a marathon will get up at 5 am and run for an hour each day to train. After a while of doing that, the runner will find that their desires begin to change and they actually want to get up early and get dressed in their running gear. They want to go out and run in the early morning darkness and get soaked by the November rain because they can feel the difference that the training is making in their lives. They feel a smoothness to their stride and a nimbleness in their body. They are able to quicken their pace and it feels natural, even normal. Even when they are not running they notice positive changes in their lives. They have more energy and they feel more in touch with their body. They know that all of this is because of their training, so they are even more motivated to run. The habit has done its job, and now they love to run. But this is a life-giving love, because they use the extra energy and vitality that they have in their lives to love and serve the people around them with the grace and the joy that God has poured into their lives through this habit.

So what, or rather, who do you want to love?

The Good News of the Bible is that God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit loves you and is for you. God the Father loved you so much that he gave his one and only Son, whom he loved, for you. Jesus loved you so much that he willingly went to the cross and gave up his life for you. On the third day that followed, he rose from the dead for you. Jesus now sits enthroned in heaven at the right hand of the Father and he intercedes with the Father for you. Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit to be a comforter and encourager for you. The Holy Spirit lives in your heart and provides ongoing direction for you. He continually brings to your mind the many good things that God has done, is doing and will do for you.

When you breathe your last breath, Jesus will come back for you. He will take you to the place in heaven that he has prepared for you. One day in the future, he will come and make all things right for you. He will restore, recreate and resurrect your body for you. He will wipe every tear from your eyes for you. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain for you. You will see Jesus face to face and then you will know with certainty that he always has been and always will be for you.

So who do you want to love? The best possible life you could ever live is one in which you love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, strength and mind and you love your neighbour as yourself. That is God’s vision of the good life for you. And when you allow Jesus to re-calibrate your desires, you will find that all of your deepest desires will be fully satisfied in Jesus. He is the One who loves you like you have always wanted to be loved. He is the One who accepts you like you have always wanted to be accepted. He is the One who brings meaning and purpose and significance to your life because, with Jesus, the things that happen in your life now can make a difference in someone else’s life for all eternity. You will be able to say with Andrew, “I have found the Messiah!” You will be able to hear Jesus say, as he did with Peter, “I have given you a new identity and a new name. You are my beloved and I delight in you.”

Near the end of the movie Wonder Woman, the main character, Diana, battles with the god of war, Ares, and, as they fight with each other, Ares tries to convince Diana to destroy humanity because human beings do not deserve her protection. She responds by saying, “It is not about what you deserve. It is about what you believe. And I believe in love.”

Do you believe in love? Do you believe that Jesus loves you? Will you rest in Jesus’ love and let him believe in love for you? Because Jesus’ love for you will transform you love so that it draws you towards him. And it is in Jesus that you will find what you are looking for. Because Jesus will recalibrate and fulfill all of your deepest desires. Amen.

(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church on September 10, 2017. It is based on John 1:35-42 and is part of our series on the Gospel of John.)

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