Bible Study: Jesus is God’s Remedy for Our Guilt


Big Idea: Jesus is the only one who takes all of our sin, guilt and shame away from us

Read: John 1:29-34

Ice-breaker question: If you can think of a situation, please describe an event that happened over which someone felt immense remorse and/or guilt. What impact did that event have on that person over the long run? How did they cope with their guilt?

Observation (What does the passage say?)

1. How did John the Baptist describe Jesus?

2. Why was John baptizing with water?

3. What did John see descend upon Jesus?

4. What did that indicate to John about Jesus?

Interpretation (What does the passage mean?)

5. In what ways is Jesus the Lamb of God?

6. Why was it necessary for Jesus to take away the sin of the world?

7. Why couldn’t God simply release us from our guilt?

8. Why can’t we compensate for our own sin?

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

9. Jesus has more than completely paid for all of your sin: past, present and future. What does that reality mean for you?

10. How can we frequently remind ourselves of the total forgiveness that we have in Jesus?

(This Bible study is part of the Gospel of John series at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church and fits with the message that was preached on September 3, 2017.)

 

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A Miraculous Rescue: Perfect Love Drives Out Fear


A few years ago, when I was in my previous parish, a member of the congregation, who was also friend of mine, asked me to go visit his Dad in the local hospital. His Dad has recently received a diagnosis of terminal cancer and he was very anxious and afraid.

Scrabble fearFear is a very powerful emotion. All of us have fears and our fears tend to control us. Whether it is a fear over making a major decision, or fear over writing an upcoming exam, or fear over having a tough conversation with a friend or co-worker, or fear over what other people might be saying about us, whatever our fears my be, they control us by leading us into behaviours like avoidance, or controlling, or procrastination because we want to try to manage or avoid the situation. But our fear-filled behaviours don’t really deal with the situation and they usually make things worse for ourselves and for those around us.

We even us religion to try to manage our fears. There is an idea out there that if we believe in God and do the right things then he will help us to avoid our fears and he will give us a pain-free life. Nothing could be further from the truth. For God loves us too much to leave us in our fears. We know that because the Bible tells us in 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)

God wants us to be free, not fearful. He want us to be free from being controlled by our fears, free from being manipulated by others who are afraid, free to follow wherever he leads, free to be wise and loving even when we are surrounded by others who are filled with fear.

Perfect love drives out fear.

To take a closer look at how God’s perfect love drives out our fears, let’s look at Exodus 14. The background to this passage is that the Israelites were being held in slavery in Egypt. But after a series of ten plagues, Pharaoh finally told Moses that the Israelites could leave. So the Israelites gathered together whatever belongings they could carry and they left in the middle of the night.

We begin our look at Exodus chapter 14 with verse 5: When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds about them and said, “What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services!” Let’s focus on this phrase in verse 5, What have we done?  This is a statement of fear. As you look at verse 5, I invite you to think about this question: What are Pharaoh and his officials afraid of? They are afraid of losing their economic engine, which was the Israelite slaves.

You see, your fears reveal what you value and fear losing. Do Pharaoh and his officials fear the one true God? No. They don’t value God at all.

We continue with verse 6:

 So he had his chariot made ready and took his army with him. He took six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, so that he pursued the Israelites, who were marching out boldly. The Egyptians—all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, horsemen and troops—pursued the Israelites and overtook them as they camped by the sea near Pi Hahiroth, opposite Baal Zephon.

10 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?

Now let’s focus on a particular phrase in verse 11, when the Israelites said to Moses, “What have you done to us?” This also is a statement of fear. Notice how similar it is to what the Egyptians said. Remember your fears reveal what you value and fear losing. What were the Israelites afraid of? They were afraid of losing their lives. Did the Israelites fear God? Not as much as they feared losing their lives.

And in this way, all of us are exactly like the Israelites. We may believe in God, but all of us have something that we value and fear losing more than God. And that fear keeps us in bondage. When we are afraid of losing our lives, then we are never free to give our lives towards something worth dying for. When we are afraid of loneliness, then we are never free to give ourselves to someone else. When we fear failure, then we are never free to take a chance to learn and grow into the person that God wants us to be. When we fear poverty, then we are never able to see how rich we are in Jesus. When we fear conflict, then we are never free to be a person of peace.

God wants us to be free and he loves us too much to leave us in bondage to our fears. And so, God helps us to deal with our fears is by leading us toward and through our fears, not away from them. God led the Israelites right into the situation they most feared, being under mortal danger from the Egyptian army. And then God led them into the scariest part of their deepest fear by leading the Israelites into the Red Sea. Remember, these are people who do not know how to swim. And in Hebrew thinking, the sea was a place of chaos and danger. And yet, with God, their deepest fear became the way of salvation for the Israelites. You could say that God saved his people by baptizing them, that is, by immersing them in the waters of the Red Sea and then raising them safely to new life on the other side.

Because God wants us to be free, he leads us into our fears. And then he brings us safely through our fears to new life on the other side where we realize that our fear was nothing but a lie. And the value and the trust that we had attached to what we feared losing gets transferred to God because it was God who saved us. God’s value to us increases because we have experienced his deliverance, and our faith grows.

So when you find that God has brought you to the place that you fear most, what do you do? The answer is in verse 13. 13 Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today….” When you come face to face with your fears, the best thing to do is to stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring to you.

A few years ago, I realized that one of my great big fears was to lose a child. And eventually I was able to come to a place in my mind where I was able to truthfully say to myself that, if that happened, I know that God would somehow get me through it. But it is one thing when you face your fear is an abstract way, and it is quite another when you do it in real life. In the summer of 2012, my fears became real when my son Logan nearly drowned and ended up lying in a coma, cold and still, in a hospital bed in Kelowna. I was totally and completely helpless. And during that first night in our motel room, after everyone was asleep, I took a shower. And I broke down and wept in that shower and I cried and cried until I had nothing left in me. I was spent. All of my strength was gone, but so was all of my fight and my fear. I was still in the bottom of a deep, dark pit, but I was not alone. God was with me in that pit, and that made all of the difference. And over the course of the next several days, God lifted me through that pit and safely to the other side, and he will do the same thing for you.

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, I am challenging you to give your fears to God. You see, the goal of our faith is not to avoid our fears. The goal of our faith is to not be afraid of anything, but God. When the only thing that we are afraid of is God, then there is nothing to be afraid of, because God is love, and perfect love drives out fear. The goal of our faith is to be a person like Moses, who was able to keep his head when all those around him were losing theirs, and then say to a friend or a loved one, “Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you.”

I visited my friend’s Dad in the hospital and I served him Holy Communion, just like we are going to receive in a few moments. Later, my friend told me that my visit with his Dad was a turning point. He was no longer afraid.

A few weeks passed and my friend asked me to visit his Dad again. This time his Dad was in hospice and bed-ridden, and death was not far away. I asked him if it would be okay if we prayed and he said, “Sure!” I asked him what should we pray about and he said to me words that I have never forgotten, “Pray for my deliverance.” We prayed together. And a few days later, God answered his prayer and delivered him from this vale of tears to rest in the arms of his Saviour Jesus until the day of Resurrection.

Dear friends, we have a God who loves us too much to leave us in our fears. So do not be afraid. Stand firm, and you will see the deliverance that the Lord will bring you. Amen.

(This message was shared at Walnut Grove, Langley BC on March 12, 2017.)

 

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The Gospel: It is Bigger Than We Think


October 2017 will mark the 500th Anniversary of the start of the Reformation, so you are likely to hear something about that over the coming year. Now you may wonder what difference a dusty, old historical event makes in your busy, fast-paced life here in the Lower Mainland of BC. Turns out, quite a lot.

The Reformation was a movement that was focused on reforming the Christian Church so that the Gospel was, once again, the foundation and centre of all that the Church taught and did. And the Gospel is the Good News of what God has done in this world to save us from sin, death and condemnation. The Apostle Paul clarified and emphasized the Gospel in his first letter to the Corinthians Church:

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.  By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

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, and then to the Twelve… and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.  (1 Cor. 15:1-5, 8)

So the essence of the Gospel is that Jesus died for our sins and rose again. But the really big question is: “What does this mean for us in our lives?”

Paul writes, “By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain” (v. 2). But what does it mean to be saved? In the Church, we often speak of salvation as being able to go to heaven when we die, which it is. But salvation also means much more than that. And when we limit the scope of salvation to simply going to heaven when we die, we will go to heaven when we die, but we will miss out on much of the rich, full, abundant life with Jesus that He wants to give us now. Jesus wants to save us for much more than just going to heaven.

Imagine a man who has lived a horrible lifestyle—smoking, drinking, over-eating and not exercising—and his lifestyle results in congestive heart failure. The only way that he can survive is through a heart transplant. Fortunately for him, a young man dies in a motorcycle accident and he has made prior arrangements for his heart to be donated. The first man receives a new heart and lives. But shortly after getting out of the hospital, he goes back to his horrible lifestyle—smoking, drinking, over-eating and not exercising. What would we think about such a man? We would say that there is something wrong with him. Someone died and gave him another chance at life and he is wasting it.

Yet many of us do exactly the same thing. And I think that the reason that we tend to do this is two-fold. First, we are ever and always, in this life, sinners and there is nothing that we can do to change that. And second, our understanding of the Gospel is too small.

Even after we are saved, there is a gap between what our thoughts, words and deeds should be and what they actually are. But that is not the problem. The really big problem in our lives is that we think that we have to try to manage that gap. But that is a big, hairy lie and satan is using that lie to trap people, including those who follow Jesus, in an endless cycle of sin, guilt, shame and regret.

The truth is that Jesus already knows about that gap. He always has. And His suffering, death and resurrection infinitely covers over that gap. More than that, He has promised to make His home in our heart and live His life through us. Our role is not to manage the gap between what is and what should be in our lives. Our role is to simply rest in Jesus and let Him live His life through us. And many of the spiritual disciplines that the Church has encouraged Christians to use over the centuries are focused on practicing resting in Jesus. We overcome, not through effort, but through rest. (Ironically, though, because we are often so twisted up in the ways of the world, it takes some effort for us to rest. This is something that is hard for us to learn, because we have so much to unlearn.)

The Gospel is a really, big deal. It is not only the foundation of our forgiveness and our hope for heaven, it is the centre of our life right now. It is bigger than we think.

In Christ’s love,

Pastor James

 

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The Cost of Forgiveness: The Passover


Years ago, when I was young, I was helping my Dad and our hired men move some equipment home from some fields of ours that were about 10 miles from home. I was driving one of our 3-ton grain trucks which had a 5-speed manual transmission. Most of the trip home was uneventful, but 1 mile away from home, I turned a corner and instead of downshifting before the corner and then going up through the gears as I should have done, I simply left the transmission in 5th gear, coasted around the corner and then let the engine lug its way back up to full speed. By the time I turned into our yard, the engine was making a terrible racket and the truck died on the driveway. Steam poured out from the engine when we opened the hood. A later diagnosis by a mechanic indicated that the engine was shot and needed to be replaced at a cost of about $2,000. This was in the early 1970’s and that sum of money would be equivalent to about $9,000 today.Engine

Later, my Dad asked me what I did and after I told him, he said, “Don’t do that again.” which is what men say to each other when they mean “I forgive you.” He paid the bill to replace the engine and I never heard anything more about it.

It always costs something to set someone free.

I invite you to turn now, if you have a Bible or a Bible app, to Exodus chapter 12. And the backstory to this passage is that the Israelites, through no fault of their own, ended becoming enslaved and were threatened with genocide by the Egyptians. So God sent a series of plagues which were designed to bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. If you want, you can underline or highlight the phrase “I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt” in verse 12. You may remember that the word “judgment” means “to set right”. And for God to set right the ancient super power of Egypt, He had to overturn the injustice of slavery, which was the foundation of the Egyptian economy, and He had to reveal the counterfeit nature of Egypt’s false gods and demolish their power. Egypt’s power came from an unholy source and was therefore demonic, and that power needed to be shattered to set free both the Israelites, and the Egyptians.

The sixth plague, the plague of hail, which did not fall in the area where the Israelites lived, was different from most of the other plagues in that the Egyptians who believed what Moses said were given an opportunity to take an action step of faith and reduce their losses by bringing their livestock and servants in from the fields and putting them under shelter to protect them from the hail that was to come. Faith always means responding to what is declared by taking an action step that is consistent with what one hears and believes. The tenth and last plague was similar to the sixth in that it also offered a way out through an action step of faith. But this plague would be universal throughout the land of Egypt. This time, everyone, even if they were an Israelite, would need to take this action step of faith in order to be protected and set free.

It always costs something to set someone free.  And the cost of setting the Israelites free was paid for by God. He gave instructions that each family was to set aside a year-old lamb without defects and take special care of it for four days. Then on the fourth day, the lamb was slaughtered at twilight and its blood was spread with a hyssop branch on the vertical side posts and the horizontal top post of the door of the family home. It was in the family home that each family ate the special Passover meal that God instituted for the children of Israel and no one was supposed to leave the home until morning. And so, while each family remained inside their blood-marked house, God traveled throughout the land of Egypt and struck down the first-born of both people and animals, but at each house marked with the blood of the lamb, he passed over. It always costs something to set someone free, but God paid that cost by providing the blood of those lambs.

The Passover is the greatest story of redemption in the Old Testament. But the Passover lamb that gave its life and its blood to set the Israelites free from bondage points forward to a greater Lamb who made a greater sacrifice to set countless more people free in a much greater way.

For each one of us, whether we realize it or not, is in bondage in three ways. First, we are in bondage to the sinful nature that we have inherited from our first parents. We can not help but sin to some degree in everything that we say, think and do. Second, we are in bondage because of the guilt and shame we have as a result of the bad that we do and the good that we do not do. We are condemned by our guilt and shame and that condemnation overwhelms us. Third, we are in bondage because we are estranged from God and from each other. Cut off from the only true source of life and lacking life-giving connections with others, we fail to flourish and be fruitful.

There is always a cost to set someone free, and that cost is always paid for by the innocent party. All the bad that we do and the good that we withhold creates a debt to those that we have hurt and that debt must be paid in order for there to be forgiveness, healing and restoration. Through my actions, I created the debt of the cost of replacing that motor, but my Dad, who was innocent, paid the cost of that debt so I could be set free.

Every time, we sin, we not only hurt ourselves and others, we hurt God by our hurtful actions against those who bare His image, we hurt God by our disrespect towards His glory and His character, and we hurt God by our disregard for his wisdom as our Creator. But God, the innocent party in this whole matter, has decided to more than pay the full cost of our debt so that we can be set free.

In the first chapter of his biography of Jesus, the apostle John records for us the words of John the Baptist who pointed towards Jesus and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Today is the first Sunday of the season of Lent, that time of year during which we reflect on Jesus’ journey towards the cross and what that means for us in our everyday lives. On a long-ago Sunday, as lambs without blemish were being selected for Passover, Jesus, the one perfect human being rode into Jerusalem as people cried, “Hosanna! God save us!” The ultimate Passover Lamb was singled out. Four days later on Thursday, as the Passover lambs were being slaughtered, Jesus prepared to eat the Passover with His followers for the last time. Passover began at sundown that day, and before the next sundown, Jesus gave up His life and His blood so that the angel of death will pass over us, instead of striking us down forever. Jesus’ blood was spread on the vertical and horizontal posts of the wooden cross, marking our place of safety and refuge. A hyssop stalk was used to offer Jesus a drink of wine vinegar as His lifeblood drained away from Him. With His last bit of strength, Jesus cried out, “It is finished!” And with that He gave up His life and died.

If that were the end of the story, it would be a sad tale indeed. But the really, really good news is that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day that followed. His payment for all the sin in the world was so full and so complete that death no longer had any hold on Jesus. His resurrection is a declaration of victory! All of our guilt and shame has been taken away from us, God no longer condemns us and Jesus has given us a loving and lasting relationship with our heavenly Father.

However, as good as that news is, it is nothing more than pleasing information unless it is followed up by an action step of faith. God gave the Israelites Good News of how He was going to preserve them and set them free. And yet the freedom that God promised did not happen unless the Israelites’ faith moved them to apply the blood of the lamb to the doorposts of their home. Then, and only then, were they protected and set free.

You can know all about the forgiveness that Jesus wants to give to you, but it will all mean nothing until you apply that forgiveness to the doorposts of your heart and live as if it is actually true. Because of Jesus, God does not condemn us. God forgives us, God loves us, and God adores us. And yet far too often, we talk to ourselves and we treat ourselves as if none of those things were really true. So even though God has set us free, we do not really live free. And then, because we are still in an imaginary bondage, we can never set other people free either. We can never love others, that is, we can never want what is best for them, because we don’t really believe that God really wants what is best for us.

And so my challenge for you, for the next week and beyond is to live every moment of every day as if you really are forgiven and as if you really are loved by God. Now you might respond to me by saying, “But I don’t feel like I’m forgiven. I don’t feel like I am loved.” And I would say to you, “Your feelings are not the final decider of truth. God is. So who are you going to believe, your feelings or God?” If you must, fake it until you can make it. Because faith is not trusting in your feelings or your past experiences. Faith is trusting in God, and only by trusting in God will you be free.

This past Friday, March 3, was the twelfth anniversary of the murder of four Mounties near Mayerthorpe, Alberta. One of those Mounties was Peter Schiemann, the son of Pastor Don Schiemann who was, at the time, the District President of the Alberta-British Columbia District of Lutheran Church-Canada. In an interview a short time after his son’s death, Pastor Schiemann said that he bore no ill will towards the man who took his son’s life. Let’s think about that for a moment. What did it cost Don Schiemann to forgive that man? It cost the life of his son. That was the price that he had to pay to forgive the man who killed his son. How can someone do that? There is only one way. Don knew then and he still knows today that both he and his son, Peter, have a heavenly Father who loves them and has forgiven them, even though it cost the life of His Son. Don knows that he and Peter have been set free by God the Son, Jesus Christ, and when the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:36)  Amen.

(This message was shared at Walnut Grove on March 5, 2017.)

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Remember the Rescue


One time, when I was a little boy, I was watching from the barn door as my Dad was working with a Red Angus cow and her calf. The calf was freshly born and my Dad was trying to help it get up and have its first drink of milk.  The barn door was open and there was a wooden gate across that open doorway to keep the cow from getting out. My Dad was so busy with the cow and her calf that he didn’t notice that I had climbed over that gate and into the barn. But that mama cow did. She let out a snort and charged towards me, my Dad hollered and I froze. Fortunately, our hired man, George, was just on the other side of that gate and he grabbed a hold of me and pulled me up and over the gate just as the cow was giving me a boost from the other side with her head.Red Angus cow B

Being rescued is a great thing! In one moment, you are overwhelmed with helplessness and fear over the great danger you face. And in the next moment, you are flooded with happiness and relief because someone gave of themselves to reach out and rescue you. But what often happens after those waves of relief from a dramatic rescue drift away is that we tend to forget the rescue. We tend to forget the danger we faced before we were rescued. And we tend to forget the joy we felt after we were rescued.  And here’s what happens when we forget our rescue: First, we revert back to living with a sense of entitlement. We live as if we deserve all of the good things that we have in our life and when something is not going the way that we think that it should, we complain to ourselves and to others. And the second thing that happens when we forget our rescue is that we are unable to feel compassion towards others. If someone is suffering, we think to ourselves, then they must have done something to deserve it, and helping them doesn’t even enter our mind. We are too busy working hard at gathering up more good things for ourselves.

But when we remember our rescue, we become different people. We live with an ongoing sense of gratitude. Every day we are thankful for everything, because we know that, if things had been just a little bit different, that rescue would not have happened. We realize that we deserve nothing and everything, even pain and discomfort, is considered to be a gift because, after all, we are alive. When we see someone in the same situation we were in, we have compassion on them because, we think to ourselves, but for the grace of God there go I. And people who remember their rescue and are filled with gratitude and grace are very special and rare in this world. They bless others because they radiate joy and they point people to something beyond themselves: the source of their rescue, which is always God.

Sometimes it is obvious when a rescue is needed. Like in Exodus, chapter 1. Jacob’s family, who had moved to Egypt because of the famine many decades prior, had grown in number to the point where the Egyptians considered them to be a threat. So they enslaved them. And when their numbers continued to grow, the Pharaoh gave orders that all male Hebrew babies were to be thrown into the Nile. So the Hebrews were suffering because of enslavement and genocide. It is obvious to us and to them that they need to be rescued. Contemporary examples of an obvious need of rescue would be people who are suffering because of war, natural disaster or oppression.

And two things happen when the need for rescue is obvious: the people that need to be rescued cry out for help, and those that see the need for rescue rush in to help them. And so we read in Exodus 2, “The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. 24 God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. 25 So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.” (Exodus 2:23b-25)

But there are also times when the need for rescue is less obvious, as when an addict is able to hide their addiction to anger, drugs, alcohol, porn or romance novels, or when their addiction is one of the more socially acceptable kinds like perfectionism, performance addiction, work addiction, narcissism or controlling, either through domination or withdrawal. The need for rescue is also less obvious when it is denied by a worldview such as materialism, or when it is papered over by the wealth and prosperity that we have in the first world.

Even those of us who believe in Jesus can stop seeing our own need for rescue. Yes, when we believe in Jesus we have the sure and certain hope of resurrection life right now because of Jesus, but God’s saving work in us is not complete. All of us still have bad habits and addictions that enslave us and hurt others, we all still have wounds and pain that have not yet been healed, we all still have rebellion hiding in dark places in our hearts, and we all still have bodies that are growing old and dying a little more each day. So those of us who are in the church also suppress our own on-going need for rescue by God.

And our need for rescue is greater than we think. It not simply the case that we are ill and need healing, or that we are performing at less than peak efficiency and we need some expert coaching. The bad news is that, apart from God, everyone in the world is dead and headed towards everlasting condemnation and there is nothing that we can do to save ourselves.

Thankfully, just as God was concerned about the Hebrews in ancient Egypt who needed to be rescued, so God is also concerned about people in the world today who need to be rescued. And just as God sent Moses to deliver the Hebrews out of slavery and genocide in Egypt, so also God the Father sent His Son, Jesus, to deliver the whole world from sin, death and everlasting condemnation. Jesus revealed His life mission when He stood up in the synagogue in His home town of Nazareth and read these words from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

Jesus came to rescue you and me and the gay couple who live across the street and the guys selling drugs in a run-down house a few blocks away, and the wealthy businessman who lives with his wife and children in a multi-million dollar house but nobody speaks to each other, and the teenage boy who stays up all night watching porn on his phone, and the teenage girl who lets boys do what they want to her because she thinks that is the only way anyone will love her. Jesus loves everyone in the world and Jesus came to rescue everyone in the world by diving into the world’s cesspool of sin, dragging us up from the bottom, throwing us onto the shore, washing us off and performing spiritual CPR on us until a new spirit coughs and comes to life within us. Jesus willingly gave up everything He had in order to rescue us. He took what was ours and gave us what was His.

So how now do we live? We remember the rescue. One could say that the greater the peril we faced, the greater the rescue we were given. We constantly remember that Jesus has given us the greatest rescue of all and we live with joy and gratitude as a result.

But we also live with a passion for reaching people. It is not easy to do life-saving work in post-Christian society were there is a higher percentage of evangelical Christians in Pakistan than there is in Quebec. It is not easy to do life-saving work in a context where the things that used to work do not work so well anymore. But these are not insurmountable challenges for God. For the God who was able to bring an ancient world power to its knees in order to rescue His chosen people is still able to rescue people today. So we will not let these challenges deter or discourage us.

And our passion for reaching people with the Good News of Jesus will be so great that we will willingly put the interests of people who need to be rescued ahead of our own because we love them. We are going to be a church of spiritual lifeguards who dive into the water to save drowning people. We are going to be a church of spiritual fireman who go into burning buildings to rescue those who are trapped by the flames. We are going to be a church of spiritual commandos who work together to rescue those held hostage by our common enemy. And all these things will happen when we remember the rescue that God has done for us.

And so I challenge you to remember the calamity that awaits those who live their life apart from God. And I challenge you to remember the rescue that Jesus has given you and wants to give to everyone in the world. As we allow our hearts to be transformed by the love of Jesus, He will show us how to do what seems impossible to us.

And today on this altar, the Saviour of the world is present with His Body and His Blood to rescue us and give us life once again. As we gather to receive this sacred meal, Jesus will cleanse us, forgive us, nourish us and heal us. Filled with Jesus love, He will renew our passion for people, and His rescuing work will continue. Amen.

(This message was shared at Walnut Grove on Feb 19, 2017.)

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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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The Precious Light


He said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? (Mark 4:21)

We have an abundance of artificial light in the world today. We simply flip a switch and a room can become lit up like it is daylight inside. Not so in the ancient world.

When darkness fell in the ancient world, light was a precious commodity and it required the sacrificial consumption of special fuel prepared for this very purpose. In the Ancient Near East, the usual fuel was olive oil, which is prepared by crushing ripe olives, pressing them and then separating the oil from the water in the resulting liquid.

It would be ridiculous to light a lamp, bring it into a room and then put it under a bowl or a bed. Jesus’ disciples, to whom He was speaking, knew that this was common sense. Rooms usually had a special stand on which to place the lamp so that its light could shine most clearly throughout the room.

John tells us that Jesus is the light of the world. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4-5) Jesus was “…was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

Jesus is the precious light that drives away the darkness of our broken and wounded hearts. It takes a lot of love to heal a broken soul, but all the love that is needed, and more, is present and available in Jesus.

What happens in secret matters (see Mark 4:22) for it is in our secret one-on-one times with Jesus that He pours His love, His life and His light into our lives. As we are renewed each day by Jesus and His love, then a light within us begins to glow. That light is Jesus, making His home within us, radiating His love and His light from the special place in our heart, a throne, which has always been meant only for Him.

Filled with Jesus’ love, we reflect that love into the world around us, bringing light and life and hope to dark places where there is no other hope.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, please fill me again and again with Your life and love so that Your light shines brightly within me. Amen.

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