GCI Equipper

Pastoral Self Preservation

Dear Pastors and Ministry Leaders,

I’m pretty adept at self-preservation—building walls to protect myself. These walls often prevent me from disclosing too much, from entering deeper relationships, from bringing challenge to others, from succeeding in certain areas because of fear, anxiety or trying to prove something.  And I’m not alone.

Prior to studying for my MA in Biblical Studies, I decided to enter a MA program specializing in Marriage and Family Therapy at Azusa Pacific University. To prepare myself, I took a number of undergraduate classes in counseling and psychology. I quickly learned about the many walls people put up to protect themselves. And I became more aware of the walls I had built to protect myself.

I built walls to keep people out, and I built walls that prevented me from fully opening up to God. The irony, of course, is that walls mean nothing to God—he sees right through them. This doesn’t, however, prevent us from attempting to build them.

A few years ago, I needed to bring high challenge to a few people I worked with. I asked my peers to pray about the situation, asking them to ask God to give me clarity and courage. I was in a leadership training session and brought the topic up on more than one occasion. At one point the leadership consultant turned to me and said, “Rick, we all believe you know what you need to do. What is preventing you from moving forward?” Then he brought out the GiANT tool “SELF PRESERVATION” to emphasize his question.

“Here are three questions you may want to consider,” he said, “Let’s start with the first. What are you afraid of losing?”

It was a good question. I knew the answer, but I didn’t want to admit it. After a few moments I said, “I’m afraid when I bring this challenge, they won’t like me anymore. I am afraid of losing relationship.” This admission was the start to seeing the situation differently. In striving to be a healthy leader, I could focus on being liked, or I could focus on leading leaders. My healthy leadership goal is to be liked by those I lead; reality reminds me I may not be liked by everyone and that’s OK; I still need to lead.

Self-preservation is something we all face. Let me share a few self-preservation statements I’ve heard from pastors and ministry leaders over the years.

  • If I train this person, he/she will end up taking my job and I’m not ready to retire.
  • I don’t need to train anyone, we are a small congregation and I don’t need any other leaders.
  • I spent three years working with someone who ended up leaving the congregation and serving at another church.
  • New leaders make too many mistakes. It’s better if I just do things myself.
  • I really don’t have anything to offer another person.
  • Truth be told, I feel unqualified to lead, so how can I help others lead? They will soon see how much I don’t know.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Walls are easy to build, and we may have multiple walls. Let’s briefly look at all three questions and the impending result.

What am I afraid of losing?

I was afraid if I brought challenge I wouldn’t be liked as much. Guess what? That’s true some of the time. At other times, however, relationships have deepened as a result of bringing challenge. Some people get offended when you bring challenge; others are grateful. I learned a long time ago that taking offense is a choice. For me to take offense requires me to conclude your intent was to offend me. Even if that is the case, grace should cover even intended offenses. To build healthy leadership teams, it is sometimes vital for leaders to bring challenge. The GCI mantra is High Support, High Challenge, Grace Always.

If you train someone who ends up being more qualified than you, God bless you. That’s true leadership – coupled with humility and grace. That doesn’t mean that person will take your job. But when the time comes for you to turn over the reins, you can rest assured your congregation will be led by a healthy leader. If you train someone and they leave and serve another congregation or denomination, you’ve still blessed the body of Christ. And again, God bless you for it.

What am I trying to hide?

Most of us spend a lot of time hiding our insecurities and fear of failure. I’ve never met a current denominational leader who believed he or she was perfect for the job. All of us feel inadequate and insecure on our own, and we thank God we are not on our own. Jesus is the head of the church, and the perfectly healthy leader. The Holy Spirit continually teaches and guides us. Healthy leadership includes knowing our limitations and finding others who can help fill in the gaps. All of us have brothers and sisters who help make us look good; that’s the sign of a healthy team.

Give your insecurities over to Christ. Acknowledge your mistakes and failures – learn from them. Let others learn from their failures. When they do, they likely won’t make the mistake again.

What am I trying to prove? To whom?

Years after my father had died, I found myself still trying to prove my worth to him. Because I grew up in a non-affirming household, I found myself constantly seeking approval and affirmation. Over the years I’d been told by several that I would never be in pastoral ministry. Sometimes I find myself wanting to prove to the nay-sayers that I made it. These are unhealthy self-preservation tools that not only prevent me from being a good leader, but also keep me from developing some good relationships. When my focus is on self-preservation, my focus is on me. See the problem?

The solution to getting past this wall of self-preservation is knowing who we are in Christ. My real identity is child of God, and the same is true of you. You are a beloved child of God because of who he is, not because of what you’ve done. You are chosen, adopted and loved because of a Father who loves you, not because you have to prove anything to him or anyone else.

What walls have you put up? What are you afraid of losing? What are you trying to hide? What are you trying to prove? To whom? Asking and answering these questions from time to time helps us break down the walls of self-preservation, enabling us to build deeper relationships and influence leaders.

And if you really want a challenge, ask other leaders in your faith community to help you acknowledge and face your walls of self-preservation.

Breaking down the walls,

Rick Shallenberger
GCI Equipper Editor-Publisher and US Regional Director

Leading Leaders

The Call to Engage, Equip, Empower and Encourage

By Heber Ticas, GCI pastor and Superintendent of Latin America

It was a daunting Sunday afternoon. My wife and I were exhausted from the demands and responsibilities of a growing congregation. As a bi-vocational pastor with a demanding “tent-building” job, it was tough to find time to get everything done. I vividly remember sitting on our deck venting about the enormous task ahead of us. While venting, I recalled the scene when the pastor whom I had trained under stood up before the congregation voicing his frustration about not having enough help around him. I remembered thinking, he did have help, he just didn’t ask for it or offer opportunity to participate. I recalled musing that I was available and would have done more if given the opportunity.

My wife and I were feeling the same level of frustration as my former pastor. As we talked, I recalled an exercise from a regional conference on “Win, Build, Equip and Multiply.” The exercise required us to rate the weakest part of our ministry with the intent of bringing attention to a healthy balance. It may not surprise you to hear “Equip” was weakest part of my ministry.

Looking back, I now clearly understand that the Holy Spirit was at work in my life bringing me to a place of health as a pastor. He had already placed the pieces in his church for the healthy balance that we needed. After all, it is his church. If I was to lead the congregation through the renewal process we were starting to experience, I needed to become a leader of leaders. I needed to understand the importance of giving away ministry from a place of health, rather than from a place of frustration and discouragement. I needed to surround myself with a healthy team. In order to achieve this, I first needed to surrender my weariness and all self-preservation to the renewing work of the Holy Spirit in my life.

I could not agree more with Equipper editor, Rick Shallenberger, in his introductory article last month where he states that “healthy church begins with healthy leadership.” I experienced that reality first hand. In GCI we believe that healthy ministry is Team-based Pastor-led. What does it look like to be pastor led? What does a profile of leaders of leaders look like? A healthy pastor engages, equips, empowers and encourages others. This month we will give a quick overview of these four areas, and next month we will expand on each one.

Engage—as leaders we must be sensitive to the work and calling of the Spirit in the life of others. As we recognize the gifting in others and we acknowledge the needs of the ministry, we intentionally invite others in and give them opportunity for participation. Let’s acknowledge we sometimes (often) struggle with giving ministry away, and with leader readiness; however, we must be willing to engage the journey.

Equip—one of the most frustrating things for leaders in the making is to be invited to lead without the proper training. A healthy pastor understands that one of his/her main responsibilities is to develop and multiply healthy leaders. Developing a healthy leader requires intentionality and recognizing the difference between a ministry worker and one that leads others. As healthy pastors, we acknowledge that equipping leaders is of high priority. Next month’s Equipper will have an article on “Developing Others.”

Empower—a healthy pastor does not engage and equip others only to have them sit on the sidelines. He/she creates spaces for leaders to step into leadership roles. He/she commissions them before the body for recognition and a healthy charge.

Encourage—ministry in isolation is not healthy ministry. A healthy pastor leads a group of men and women who are for each other and who lift each other up throughout the difficult journey of ministry. A healthy pastor will call up, affirm and engage ministry leaders through both the good times and the difficult times of ministry. A leader of leaders will recognize when to lead with strategies, support and challenge but will also recognize when to pastor and encourage a ministry leader.

My leadership teams have changed throughout the years. My present leadership teams include some who have journeyed with me from day one, and some who were in their early teens when our renewal process began. I recently needed to restructure our youth ministry because the youth leader asked for time away from ministry to deal with life. Looking around, I saw that the Holy Spirit had already supplied the answer as I recognized a team of three young people (Stephanie 21, Chris 18 and Cristian 20) to lead the ministry. These young leaders in the making will need high support from myself and from other mentors – support that includes continued engagement, empowerment, equipping and encouragement.

I praise the Holy Spirit for providing our congregations and our denomination with gifted individuals and with a new generation of leaders who are willing to make the needed sacrifices to participate with Jesus’ everyday mission to the world and in his church. I pray that the Lord continues to tug at our hearts and bring us clarity in those areas where we need to grow as leaders of leaders.

 

Leadership FATE

This article is written by Tim Sitterley, GCI Regional Director

“Team-based pastor-led is how I want to lead,” one pastor shared, “but I don’t have a good record choosing the best leaders for the congregation.” Her statement reminded me of a telling scene in the 1990 movie “Crazy People.” When his coworkers start believing that job stress is affecting his performance and his mental health, advertising executive Emory Leeson (Dudley Moore) is sent to a mental hospital. Leeson’s employer is convinced the unique and unorthodox views of Leeson’s fellow mental patients would make them excellent advertising executives, so during one of their group sessions Leeson’s boss asks the question “Who wants to be an advertising executive?” There is an enthusiastic response from everyone in the room.

Moore’s character, however, understands the true nature of his fellow patients, so he follows that question with a question of his own. “Who wants to be a fire truck?” There is a far more enthusiastic and unanimous response.

Finding qualified members for our congregational leadership teams can sometimes be as challenging, and it’s important that we understand the true nature of those…often enthusiastic…individuals we work with, and with whom we strive to build healthy teams for a healthy church. For this reason, we recommend using the simple acronym FATE when choosing our teams. FATE stands for Faithful, Available, Teachable and Enthusiastic.

Faithful, in this context, is more than just showing up. It implies an individual willing to use the gifts and talents given them, in a consistent manner, for the benefit of the congregation. The imagery of the faithful servant in Matthew 25 comes to mind. “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.” The willingness to step out and step up—time after time—even in the face of occasional failure—is an attribute to seriously consider when choosing team members.

In today’s busy world, Available will often be a challenge. Often there is a competition for the attributes and skills that make up good leaders. Occasionally rescheduling meetings to accommodate members of the team will always be necessary. But when rescheduling for one team member becomes the norm, the toll it takes on the rest of the team makes whatever gifts that individual brings to the table less and less relevant.

A Teachable spirit is a must for all members of the team, including the leader of the team. We are not talking about someone just using their “guardian” voice here. Guardians may initially resist a new idea or concept, but once the effort has been made to build a bridge of understanding, the guardian will gladly move forward. But when a member of the team refuses to learn and adapt, they become a boat anchor preventing future progress.

And finally, there is Enthusiasm. As in the opening story, enthusiasm to be a part of a team is often quite evident. But as we’ve seen, other factors must be taken into account. On the other hand, the lack of enthusiasm for what the team is doing, or where they are being led, can undo even the best laid plans. A member of the team may be faithful, available and teachable, but if they are like Eeyore, the continuously pessimistic gray donkey from Winnie the Pooh, the overall effect on the rest of the team will always be negative.

It may be the desire of many to be a part of a leadership team. But after prayerful consideration, it may not be their FATE. That consideration, however, is an essential part of a Team Based/Pastor Led model. To see prayerful consideration in action, one simply needs to study the selection process of the seven deacons in Acts 6. Or maybe you can just sort things out by asking “Who wants to be a fire truck?”

REAL Teams

This article is written by Randy Bloom, US Regional Director

In the early years of my ministry I was mentored within an omni-competent pastoral leadership culture. You know the drill: the pastor had all the answers—how to run a youth ministry, how to minister to the elderly, how to reach out to the community, how to raise children, how to counsel for baptism, marriage, family issues, how to rebuild a carburetor. (Ok, a bit of exaggeration here, but not much.) Any team consisted of a group of people who could help the pastor get the job done.

Even though I was a young and dumb minister, I saw the problems inherit in this approach, but I was expected to “lead” as I was trained. I found it frustrating. I am confident the omni-competent approach only added to the sense of insecurity and incompetence I already felt as a new minister. After all, it was obvious to me that all people—including pastors—have shortcomings and grow by experience. But if we are expected to act as if we know it all, how can this not but add to our frustration (and the frustration of others) by trying to do it all. It didn’t make sense to me then, and now I understand why.

Much has been said and written in Equipper and on our GCI resource page about developing team-based/pastor led ministries. I highly recommend you watch the REAL Team videos that our new president has shared. REAL is an acronym for Relationally connected, Enthusiastically engaged, Affirming and Liberating leaders. But what are we talking about and why is there so much emphasis on this?

First , a widely accepted axiom of learning is that repetition enhances learning and retention. So, we continue to address the value of team-based/pastor led ministry and how it is lived out.

Second, we are striving in GCI to use the same language. (Next month we will discuss the importance of using GCI language.)

Third, we hope to help you avoid some of the problems we’ve faced over the years. Sadly, it took being employed outside the church environment for me to begin to learn the need and value of team-based leadership. (This doesn’t have to happen to you!) One of the first and most important things I learned about working with teams was that “team-based” is not purely democratic and certainly does not mean anarchy. Someone still needs to lead (in GCI, this is the pastor), but leaders need to learn how to lead. As Equipper Editor Rick Shallenberger mentioned last month, Healthy Church begins with Healthy Leadership. I had to learn to lead and thus, when I re-entered employed ministry with GCI, I was able to apply what I had learned (and continue to learn to this day) about team-based ministry.

For team-based leadership to occur, you need a team—a REAL team. We use the acronym REAL to describe the kind of team that is healthy and that provides the kind of leadership needed for a healthy church.

Relationally Connected

REAL team members live in a close relationship with each other and our Triune God. They spend time with each other outside of planning sessions. They pray together. They have fun together. They share the joys, challenges and tragedies of life together.

Enthusiastically Engaged

They are enthusiastic about participating in the ministry of Jesus within their congregation. While they may live with a keen sense of what are at times sobering realities, they trust Jesus to lead and provide. They work collaboratively together, and they do so willingly and with joy and a sense of expectation. Enthusiastic team members serve out of love, not for a title, recognition or out of a sense of entitlement.

Affirming

REAL team members who are relationally connected and enthusiastically engaged are also affirming. They encourage each other and members of the congregation. They look for the best in each other and help fellow team members who stumble or need assistance. Affirming team members respect the absent. That is, they don’t talk negatively about others behind their backs. REAL teams have no place for nay-sayers or foot-draggers.

Liberating Leaders

REAL team members are always mentoring someone. They get joy out of mentoring someone and then they mentor to lead. They are constantly on the lookout for someone to mentor. This means they aren’t territorial about their ministry. They see themselves as Jesus’s bondservants who serve him first, with a recognition that the ministry they are involved in belongs to Jesus (not them) and eventually needs to be shared and passed along to others. Finding, mentoring and liberating leaders is part of building a healthy leadership team – and it leads to church growth.

REAL team-based/pastor led ministry is a challenge, but a great goal. REAL teams help a congregation in many ways. Overall vision and plans that need to be developed and decisions that need to be made are better done with the input of a variety of people with different skill sets, perspectives and personalities. This leads to healthy church. Can we do this? Yes, we can, with a humble heart, a willingness to learn, and the help of the Holy Spirit.

Being Called Up

The Value of Life-on-Life Mentoring

Written by Anthony Mullins, National Coordinator for pastoral residents. interns and coaching.

Have you ever had a parent, teacher, coach, pastor or mentor tell you something you did not want to hear, but you knew you needed to hear? I mean the kind of words that hit you like a truck in the immediacy of the moment and yet somehow those words are strangely life-giving. I suspect most of us have and we are better for it. Sometimes the most profound learnings in our life are embedded in challenging words from someone we respect and admire.

“I want to involve you in church leadership, but until you consistently show up, I can’t and won’t.” Those words were spoken to me by Tom Mahan, then GCI pastor in Kennesaw, Georgia. Most importantly for the purposes of this article, he was a significant mentor in that season of my life. Those words stung because he was “calling up” something better from me. His words were like a mirror revealing an area of needed growth in my life as a disciple of Jesus. (Link to Calling Up article in Equipper archives.)

In my twenties, I was employed as a sales representative by a national event-planning company requiring extensive travel. Most years, while at that particular firm, I would travel out-of-state upwards of thirty weeks per year, which often included Sundays. My presence at the weekly worship service was erratic at best. In those days, Pastor Tom recognized the Lord had given me an ability to connect well with young people. He expressed a desire for me to lead the fledgling youth ministry in our church and he knew I had a keen interest in teaching and discipling teenagers. There was just one problem—my lack of presence, availability and commitment to the cause. My mentor had an important decision to make. He could simply acquiesce to the situation or he could bring appropriate challenge to this teaching moment. For my benefit and growth, he chose the latter.

My personal experience tells me bringing challenge only hits the mark if first there is a relationship of trust. Trust is built over time together and through a lot of relationship. In that way, a relationship of trust resembles a Crock-Pot instead of a microwave. It’s a slow-burn rather than a quick fix. Therein lies the beauty of a mentoring relationship. Mentoring, done well, is a life-on-life relationship girded by Christ’s love for one another. My relationship with Tom looked like sharing meals together, watching football together, talking about church life and leadership together, discussing theology and what it meant to be Christ-centered in all things, and praying together. Because of that relationship of trust, Tom was present to celebrate some of the sweetest moments in my life and to mourn with me in the face of heartache and perceived failure. Tom mentored through the lens of a great life mantra: care about what people you care about, care about.

As a pastor and ministry leader in Grace Communion International, I am standing on the shoulders of giants who took the time and effort to mentor me well. The challenge Tom brought me that day was a catalyst for change in my life. It helped me see the importance of showing up in lives of people in my community of faith. Soon thereafter, I made an intentional job change to be more available to what the Lord was doing in the life of our church. The Father was at work in the “calling up” to draw me into a deeper abiding relationship with Jesus and more active participation in his ministry by his Spirit. I am forever grateful for those courageous words of challenge from a mentor and friend.

You have what it takes to be a good mentor: time and the compelling love of Jesus Christ.

The best use of your life is love.

The best way to express love is giving your time.

The best time to love is now. – Anthony Mullins

 

A New Look at Lent

Lending With the Promise of Repayment

Written by George Hart, retired GCI pastor

My first memories of Lent are not particularly positive, but not necessarily negative—more indifferent. I remember when I was six years old, in the first grade, and the Lenten season approached. I was given a Lenten coin folder, the type with slots that you can insert coins in, one for each of the 40 days of Lent. In each slot you placed a nickel.

Now, if you are 6 years old in 1958, a nickel is a lot of money. I could buy a heaping ice cream cone, or 10 pieces of Mary Jane candy for a nickel. But I didn’t have a nickel, so I had to ask my mom or grandmother to give me a nickel for the card. I’m sure they got as tired of me asking each day, as I got tired of asking. Even young, I could detect a building sense of annoyance as I approached them with coin folder in hand, expecting them to provide the daily nickel. When they ran out of nickels, I had no other source. Typically, by day 12 the project was abandoned.

It didn’t make a lot of sense to me, and to make matters worse, the only explanation I was ever given for doing this was, “You just need to do it, because God expects you to.” As I think about it, I don’t recall every completing one of those folders. It was another one of God’s expectations for me that I never met.

So, what did I learn? I learned that Lent was about making a halfhearted effort at giving up something I didn’t have (for some reason that was never explained to me) and falling far short. Perhaps your experience is different from mine, but those memories pretty much remained with me for several decades.

It was about 20 years ago that I rediscovered Lent and it changed my view. What did I discover?

First, I learned many Christians think Lent originated with the Roman Catholic Church, and because of that, they don’t want to observe it. For this reasoning, we can most likely thank the Anabaptists of the 16th century, who discarded all Christian holy days on the theory that they were Roman Catholic innovations. That was their best information at the time, but today we know that they were wrong. In many cases, Rome was the last place to observe holy days. Lent has a long history in the church dating as far back as the first couple of centuries after the death of Christ. That was long before there were any Protestants or Catholics, as we may think of them today.

Lent is a period of 40 days starting on Ash Wednesday (March 6, 2019) and ending on the Saturday before Easter Sunday (April 20th 2019). If you look at the calendar, however, you will see there are 46 days in that time period. The 40 days of Lent exclude Sundays. Sundays are excluded because they are days of celebration in the church—a day for celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. So the Lenten season is actually 40 weekdays plus six Sundays.

The objective of Lent is spiritual preparation for Easter; it’s a season for reflection and taking stock. Traditionally many people have chosen to give something up as a discipline, or as a reminder of Christ’s sufferings. The number 40 is connected with many biblical events, but especially with the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness preparing for his ministry by facing the temptations that could lead him to abandon his mission and calling. Often people give up something they enjoy like meat, alcohol, sweets, television, etc.

But Jesus is not looking for self-torture, self-hatred, woe-is-me thinking, 40-days of starvation or self-loathing. I believe there is a lot more to Lent than giving something up. I believe Lent provides us a focused time of simply and honestly looking into ourselves and getting down to what’s real. Self-loathing and shame are not being real about who we are in Christ. Further, every Sunday during Lent carries with it a part of the victory that is ours through the resurrection of Jesus, and points us to the great celebration, the Super Bowl of Sundays, Easter Sunday, when we celebrate our Lord rising from the dead and the victory over death that is ours!

Lent is not just about giving up something. It’s about seeking something—a closer relationship with Jesus. I suggest rather than deprive yourself of something, add something that will enrich your life spiritually. Think of the good things that Jesus asks of us and “follow him” by doing one of those. You might choose to reconcile with someone you don’t like or perform acts of kindness. You may set aside a period of time each day to reflect on creation and God’s goodness. You may make a phone call each day and share a devotional with someone who needs encouragement or affirmation. There are many great Lenten devotionals, some free on line, that will enable you to journey through Lent and reap a spiritual harvest.

The word Lent comes from a word that means “to lend.” The concept is lending something for temporary use on condition of repayment with interest. In other words, the idea for Lent is not about performing some obligatory ritual but rather enjoying 40 days of devotion that will reap spiritual benefit for our lives. If through our Lenten commitment, whether we choose to give up something or to add something, we experience greater conformity to the mind of Christ and more effective ministry on behalf of the world, we will have certainly “lent” something with the promise of “repayment with interest.”

Sermon for March 3, 2019

Watch video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9Ll6Xn7Vi8

Readings: Exodus 34:29-35 • Psalm 99:1-9 • 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 • Luke 9:28-43

The theme this week is Christ is our Glory. In Exodus, we read the story about Moses displaying God’s glory in his face and needing to wear a veil. In Psalm 99 we are reminded the Holy Lord was seen in the pillar of cloud, and he is holy. In 2 Corinthians we read that the veil of Moses is symbolically removed when we are transformed into the glory of Christ. This week’s sermon is from Luke 9 and reminds us Jesus is the glory and the story behind our story.

Transfiguration: The Story Behind the Story

Luke 9:28-43 ESV

Suggestion: Have someone read Luke 9:28-36 prior to the sermon.

Introduction: People love stories, especially stories that last. How many of you remember stories your parents told you? What about your grandparents? Do you have a favorite Bible story? What about a favorite Jesus story?

Suggestion: You may want to ask the congregation to share a couple of their favorite Bible stories or Jesus stories. Share yours.

I’m sure you realize the gospel was preached for years by verbally sharing the stories about Jesus. One of the stories rarely considered a favorite Jesus story is the Transfiguration story, which is found in all three synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke. What is fascinating though, is today’s story is not just about what happened on the mountain during the Transfiguration, but also what happened afterwards. There is a story behind the story on this Transfiguration Sunday.

Let’s read the story:

Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray (Luke 9:28 ESV). 

Luke says, “about 8 days”; Matthew and Mark both say, “And after six days.” All three authors are showing a period of time between when Jesus prophesied his death and this transfiguration event. There is no contradiction because many people count days differently. If I say something will happen after six days, how do you count those days? Is today the first day? Is the day of the event the sixth day? Or the seventh day? None of the authors are making a point about the days—they are just showing there was a time lapse.

A couple things you can note: Jesus took his three closest disciples with him, and he took them to a mountain to pray.

The mountain image is central to the story of Israel. They are going “up the mountain” like Moses used to do with God, like Abraham did with Isaac, like Elijah did when he was on the run.

And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white (Luke 9:29 ESV).

I chuckle a bit when I read Mark’s version. He said, “And his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.”

That’s an important image for the time. Laundry in Jesus’ day was a brutal, primitive process. Clothes were stomped on in a bucket, and then hung up to dry, sometimes brushed with a hedgehog hide to get the nap and the dirt out. Once a wool garment was washed, it was considered less valuable.

In that society clothing was a mark of status. If you were wealthy or part of the upper class, your clothes were cleaner…and newer. It was very rare to see white clothe—there was no such thing as soap, the roads were mud, and many people rarely bathed. To be “radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them” was a very rare observation. Today we might not even notice, but Peter, James and John certainly did.

And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem (Luke 9:30-31 ESV).

The fact this is Moses and Elijah brings out much speculation. But it is interesting when Moses came down the mountain with the Ten Commandments his face was radiant, shining from the glory of God. You can’t help but speculate that Peter, James and John got to view a bit of God’s glory when they saw this transfiguration.

I love how Luke summarizes here that Moses and Elijah “appeared in glory and spoke over his departure.” The apostles weren’t invited into the conversation, but Jesus allows them to get a taste of what it looked like for him to go home for a moment. They got to see Jesus get energized to prepare for what’s next.

Moses and Elijah represent the law and the prophets, almost like the left brain and the right brain, the logical and the artistic. Here are two major parts of humanity coming together. Here also is the whole story of Israel. Aside from God himself, Moses and Elijah were the most revered characters in Jewish history. And here they are standing with Jesus.

I think that is the great message of the Transfiguration, the awesomeknowledge of who Jesus is. I love the way Luke describes the observers here:

Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him (Luke 9: 32 ESV). 

When they became fully awake… they saw. Jesus, after all the danger of the beginning of his ministry, is showing them that yes, God is behind all of this. The law and the prophets and the many centuries were leading to a destination—and here he is! Behind this story, behind our own small story, is the great story! The story of it all is grace, the grand story of it all is goodness, the grandest story of it all is Jesus!

When they became fully awake… they saw! May we be fully awake today and see! There are those moments, occasionally, when it seems God lets us see through to the great story where we see that the law, the prophets and all the story of humanity is part of his grand narrative.

The story behind the story. It’s like when my kids were born into the world and all the pain and fear and worry evaporated for just a moment. Or when we are here worshipping and there is a connection and an understanding in the body of Christ that we find nowhere else. Or when forgiveness is shown, when someone finds freedom from addiction, when the frenzied soul finds rest and a cup of cold water. These are moments when we see the true narrative, the true story. There’s something behind, beyond, and more important than these little stories we see on the surface. There’s something that somehow ties all these loose ends together, all these pieces that don’t seem to make sense.

This is the ultimate demolition of what we used to believe about faith, about working our way to salvation, about the law over grace. It’s not about what we do and how good we are; this is Jesus’ story. His story involves all people and is beyond all of us. It is Jesus in his glory.

And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said (Luke 9:33 ESV).

Here Peter does his Peter thing. Heaven has opened before them, the veil has been lifted to expose blinding, radiant light and Peter says, “Hey I’ve got an idea!”

Peter has been ridiculed through the centuries in various sermons, but let’s look at this again. Although he seems to have the spiritual gift of bending his foot up and shoving it in his mouth, this happens because he’s the only one with the grit to say something! While everyone is dumbfounded or trying to think of the perfect thing to say, at least he is saying something! This is why he becomes one of the greatest heroes of the church.

Three tents. Peter is referring here to the feast of booths—a Jewish festival at harvest time every year. They would build small booths where they would hang out for the festival and feast. This was a time to thank God for all the proceeding year’s provision and to pray for a good rainy season. But it was also designed to help them remember their wilderness journey from Egypt to the promised land.

Peter is thinking—this has got to be it! This is the Promised Land, let’s hold onto this moment! But God cuts him off.

Peter doesn’t realize that the Transfiguration shows us who Jesus is, and in Jesus we understand the kingdom is already, but not yet. The kingdom is here and yet is to come. We get this blinding, dazzling moment, but that’s not where we live, not where we set up our tents right now.

As [Peter] was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”(Luke 9:34-35 ESV).

Just as they had a moment of clarity, the cloud rolls in. This is the cloud for their protection. This is the cloud of God’s presence that was on the holy of Holies, this is the cloud that led the children of Israel through the desert. This is the cloud that hovered over the waters at the first creation and now hovers here at the time of the new creation.

God says the same thing he said at Jesus’ baptism: this is my Son, my chosen one. Let’s listen to that, as we are looking behind the veil to the bedrock story, the grand narrative, what is God’s final word on you: you are my child, my chosen one. All the things you’ve been called in your life, all the names and epithets you’ve been called don’t compare to this bedrock reality—you are God’s child and chosen one first; that’s where we start.

“Listen to him!” It’s not about Moses or Elijah, God tells us, listen to Jesus.

And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone (Luke 9:36 ESV).

Alone. That will be the theme for most of the gospel story. Jesus alone. This is Jesus getting the last pep talk from his dad, that last little touch of home. Then suddenly, alone. He knows what that’s like.

The nurse can hold your hand while you give birth, but it is finally you and only you who knows the pain of childbirth. One day your spouse will die, your children will be supportive, but much of the time you will be on your own. Alone. Someday all of us will die and there will be a moment where, despite friends and family, it will be just you and your body shutting down.

Jesus not only knows what suffering, weakness, poverty and hunger were like—he experienced solitude as well. His strength is renewed here; he has looked to the story behind the story, but the moment has come for him take his final journey. He knows what that’s like, and he is with us even when no one else is.

And just when you think this story ends, all three authors continue with the same story.

On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. And behold, a man from the crowd cried out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out. It convulses him so that he foams at the mouth, and shatters him, and will hardly leave him. And I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” While he was coming, the demon threw him to the ground and convulsed him. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astonished at the majesty of God (Luke 9:37-42 ESV).

“When they had come down from the mountain.” They have gone to see into the heart and core of reality, into the story beyond the story where the ends come together. And the next thing they encounter is the kind of story that makes the least sense in our world—the suffering of a child. This story of a child having seizures and being harassed by evil seems to make no sense. Do you see the contrast here? They’ve just witnessed the great coherence at the center of everything and here they are in the most incoherent situation on earth.

The Holy Spirit led Luke, and also Matthew and Mark, to put these stories next to each other. This up on the mountain story contrasted with this down-in-the-valley story; the heights of clear beauty and the depths and ruin of the swamp on the same page.

There is nothing more heartbreaking than watching a child suffer. Experienced doctors, people who have watched hundreds of patients die, still throw up their hands and weep at the suffering and death of a child. Here is a person who has no choice, no way of avoiding what’s happening to them, and doesn’t understand it.

From a bird’s eye view, the blinding clarity of the Transfiguration is set next to the blinding darkness of this suffering world.

I believe this story reminds us who it is who sees us. The beloved Son of God, the one who is far greater than Moses and Elijah, sees the conflicting, confusing world we have to live in. He sees that we live within beauty and ugliness at the same time. He wants us to know that he knows. He also wants us to know that the Transfiguration is the peek into the eternal, into what matters the most and the only reality that will be left standing in the end. He wants us to hold onto that, to look for glimpses of it, and to remember the story behind the story.

Let the Transfiguration story remind you of who it is who sees you. Jesus knows you. He rejoices with you, he grieves with you. He is there in your mountains, he is lifting you through your valleys. You live in the not yet, but know he has eternity already secure for you. Remember he is the story behind your story.


Small Group Discussion Questions

  • What’s the most blinding light you’ve ever seen? An arc welder? An explosion? The flash on a camera? What was that experience like?
  • The sermon discusses how Jesus went off by himself to recharge (praying, resting, solitude), and perhaps that the Transfiguration was a “recharge” of touching base with the Father before his final journey. Why do you think Jesus went off to recharge like this? Do we have these kinds of practices in the modern Christian world? Why or why not?
  • Simon Peter wants to set up three tents in this story (v. 33), believing that this is where they need to set up their tabernacles, as he would in his Jewish observance. But he is cut off by the voice of God and doesn’t do so. There are times when we want to “set up camp” where we find God’s blessing breaking through, but he always seems to call us “back down the mountain” into struggle and daily life. Why do you think that is? What does God teach us in that kind of journey?
  • There is a stark contrast in this story between the Transfiguration (vv. 28-36) and the suffering of a child (vv. 37-43). Why do you think the Holy Spirit put these stories next to each other? Why this contrast of blinding light and painful darkness?
  • Read Exodus 34:29-35 and discuss what it must have been like seeing Moses’ face display God’s glory. Share when you’ve seen God’s glory.
  • 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 tells us our veil is removed when we see Christ and are transformed into his glory. Share your story of when God removed your veil and helped you see him.

Sermon for March 10, 2019

Watch video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M31oyZzjN3Y

Readings: Deuteronomy 26:1-11 • Psalm 91:1-2, 9-15 • Romans 10:8b-13 • Luke 4:1-13

This week’s theme is Our Home Is With God. In Deuteronomy, the Israelites are told to settle where God planted them, and to always remember who it was who brought them home. In Romans we are reminded that all can find their home in Christ—Jew and Gentile. Luke shares the story of Jesus in the wilderness—he knew this was not his home; his home was with the Father. This week’s sermon goes through Psalm 91 and reminds us to dwell in the shelter of the Lord.

Our True Dwelling Place

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-15

Introduction: Talk about some of the places you’ve lived. Maybe show pictures of homes around the world to give an overview of what dwelling places look like.

What is your dwelling place? It would be normal for us to answer that we live in a mobile home or in an apartment on the 3rd floor of a housing complex. Maybe a condo, townhouse or single-family home in a residential area. Whatever the case, these are our homes. It’s where we live.

Whatever the kind of house you grew up in, or place you called home, aren’t they tied into a location or a physical structure? But a dwelling place is more than a plot of land, four walls, stucco, bricks or siding and lathe and plaster.

The Psalmist said this:

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust” (Psalm 91:1-2).

I’ve never really trusted in my homes. So many things can hurt a home: fire, flood, earthquake, tsunami, wind, termites, rodents, mildew, mold, neglect, war, or other people. Our home may be where we temporarily live, but as the Psalmist reminds us, it is not really where we dwell. It’s not where we put our trust. It’s not where we find true rest.

Rest, refuge and eternal protection are found only in the presence of our Lord. This is where God wants us to dwell, it’s where he invites us to dwell—in his presence. And truly, it’s where we need to dwell. Every other place is temporary, and most often, much less than desired.

Why then do we often find ourselves living as though there is no true refuge and fortress? The truth is, it’s easy to get swept up in those hard times of life when we lose sight of and connection with God’s never-ending presence. All of us experience life struggles and hard seasons.

The Badlands

There is a region of barren plateau in the western U.S., mainly in southwestern South Dakota and northwestern Nebraska, that is noted for its harsh terrain. Mostly barren of vegetation, and with large tracts of heavily eroded, uncultivable land, the place is often difficult to navigate by foot. This extreme environment is called The Badlands.

Have you ever been through a “badland” where life was tough, extreme and hard to manage? Of course you have; you may be going through a badland right now. It is when we are in these badlands that we can start to believe the lie that we are alone, that there is no refuge and no place to land. We aren’t the first to fall for that lie.

The nation of Israel was birthed out of a long “badlands” experience. The children of the promise—of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—found themselves in slavery and servitude in Egypt for hundreds of years. They believed they were alone, that God had forgotten them. They saw Egypt as their temporary home—but it wasn’t their dwelling place. God had other plans. He used Moses to lead them out of the badlands of Egypt and into a land of promise—a peaceful and safe place to dwell. Right before entering this promised land, God reminded them that he had a plan all along. They entered Egypt as a large family; they left as a large nation—a nation upon whom God was pouring out his favor. Notice Moses’ words:

Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous.  But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor (Deut. 26:5-6).

This people group went through some very hard times—you can read the first five books of the Bible to read the story of Israel. They did become a great nation. God’s goodness was ever-present, leading and guiding them to a place prepared for them, a land flowing with milk and honey. Okay, not literal rivers of milk and fountains of honey. But a place of God’s abundant provision, sustenance and grace. He was with them all along. Their tough circumstances, troubles, trials and tribulations were not because of God’s absence. He was with them all along. He is with us, all along the journey. Over the bumps, bruises and broken hearts. Through the pain, sorrow, suffering and grieving. It’s not a stretch to say that we all have been through hard times. But it is also not a stretch to say we all also have the promise of love from God—yesterday, today and forever.

The rest of Psalm 91 speaks of the blessings of making our dwelling in Christ. But let’s not take it so literally that we think we will never have suffering or conclude that hardships and suffering is a sign of God’s displeasure.

If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,” and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent (Psalm 91:9-10).

Wait a minute, weren’t we just talking about being in the badlands and suffering? Doesn’t the New Testament tell us we will suffer with Christ? Haven’t good people gone through harm and disaster? Absolutely. Israel went through suffering, the apostles faced harm and suffering, Jesus faced harm and suffering. But none of it overtakes the promise. None of it affects our eternal dwelling place. Through it all, God is with us.

For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent (Psalm 91:12-13).

Does this sound familiar? This is what Satan quoted to Jesus in the wilderness. Like many, the enemy misinterpreted what the Psalmist was saying.

Let’s read on:

“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation” (Psalm 91:14-16).

Christ understands our pain and suffering, he went through it. He had his own badlands experiences. The ultimate, of course, was the crucifixion. Remember what happened right after Jesus was baptized and the dove descended telling him that he was God’s beloved.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness [the badlands, if you will], where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry (Luke 4:1-13).

In that badlands experience he showed us how to go through and navigate the tough times: trust God, remember his word (scripture), speak truth and look to Father, Son and Spirit for strength, courage and peace.

God doesn’t take away all our suffering—he walks through it with us. Sometimes he carries us because we lack the strength to move forward. When our dwelling is in Christ, we know the badland experiences are temporary. And we know they cannot and will not determine our future, for God has already secured our future for us. And in that dwelling, nothing can harm us.

Conclusion:

The Israelites went through a lot of “badland” experiences. But they were given hope for a better way of life and living. God – Father, Son and Spirit – offer the best way of life and living. They called it the Promised Land. There, as long as they dwelled with the Lord, they had multiple blessings. When they turned from that dwelling, they experienced a lack of blessings – we call these curses.

The apostles went through a lot of badland experiences, but they have all received their Promised Land—eternity with Father, Son and Spirit.

We also go through badland experiences and we look forward to our Promised Land. Our Promised Land is not a geographical location, or a physical territory, however—our ultimate dwelling place is a person, and his name is Jesus. Dwell in him. Read his words of truth to you. Take time to pray over those words and ask for insight and clarity. Share with him your desire to dwell in him. Ask him to show you how he is your true dwelling place. Let friends and family know they also have a safe dwelling place—in Jesus.


Small Group Discussion Questions

  1. When you hear the phrase, “dwelling place,” what do you think of? Share the kind of house/home you grew up in.
  2. The Israelites wandered around a lot, and even though they were in Egypt for hundreds of years, that was not their home. They went through hard times. Name a time that has been tough for you (health, finances, family, career, school, etc.)
  3. Though they went through painstaking experiences, the Israelites were promised a land “flowing with milk and honey.” Even in times of trouble, God was with them. Share a time when, even in the midst of a hardship, you knew God was with you.
  4. Jesus was in a time of temptation and trial (a “badland”) (Luke 4:1-13). What can we learn from how he navigated that experience?
  5. When thinking of a “dwelling place” as a spiritual location (as opposed to a physical one), where do you spend your time? What (where) is your dwelling place?
  6. What are some of the next steps you will take to reside in the dwelling place of the Lord on a daily basis?
  7. Read Romans 10:8-13: What does it mean to you that all who call on the name of Jesus will be saved? What does this have to do with our dwelling place?
  8. As you read  Deuteronomy 26:5-6, what stands out to you?

Sermon for March 17, 2019

Watch video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QL_IuA_PV_M

Readings: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 • Psalm 27:1-14 • Philippians 3:17-4:1 • Luke 13:31-35

The theme this week is God’s promises are sure. In Genesis we read about the promise God made to Abram, which we know came to pass. Psalm 27 reminds us we have nothing to fear and can live in confidence as we wait for the Lord. Paul reminded the church at Philippi (and us) that our citizenship is in heaven. This life is temporary. The truth that sustains us is that God is in control and his promises are sure. The sermon this week, from Luke 13, reminds us to not allow the threats and fears of the world to get in the way of what God is calling us to do. We often hear lies telling us Jesus is not in control, but we know the truth.

Jesus Gets the Last Word

Luke 13:31-35 (NRSV)

Introduction: Share a story about yourself or someone you know who was discouraged from doing the right thing. Ask members to share an example of when they were discouraged from doing the right thing.

It’s probably no surprise to you that Jesus did not get a lot of affirmation from the religious leaders of the day. Let me share one example from Luke:

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luke 13:31-35 NRSV).

At first glance, you may not give this passage much thought. But let’s notice what is going on here.

The passage begins with the Pharisees wanting Jesus to “Get away from here.” Both Herod and the Pharisees were probably fearful of Jesus being in their territory. Herod had political standing at risk and the Pharisees were losing ground to Jesus. Acting out of their fear of loss, they use cunning and trickery by saying, “Herod wants to kill you.”

Really? Let’s remember this wasn’t same Herod who had the children killed when Jesus was very young; that Herod had died. This is the Herod who said he wanted to meet Jesus after hearing about the miracles he did. Now, it’s possible Herod fluctuated from wanted Jesus to die, and being fascinated by what he was hearing about him. But it’s more likely the Pharisees’ warning was born out of fear and pride, and they are trying to use Herod to scare Jesus away. After all, Herod has displayed a cunning and brutally scheming heart to retain his power and prestige.

Let’s take my opening question a bit deeper. Are there times in our lives where we can relate to Herod and the Pharisees’ desire for control? Are there times we want to do things our way—when we want to be in control? Have you ever been in a situation where you would like to say (or perhaps you have said) “Look away for a moment, Jesus, I can take care of this my way”?

When Jesus enters our territory, he does so as Lord and Savior. He is the ruler and owner of all. He is the Lord of our life; do we trust him with this authority? When we don’t, we may find ourselves responding in fear and pride just like the Pharisees. We may trick ourselves and others that things would be better if Jesus would just move along and keep his nose out of our business.

You see, when we believe we are in control, or when we see ourselves as our own rulers and owners, we conclude there is much to lose if we lose that control. This leads to fear; and out of this fear we can find ourselves moving in devious and deceptive ways to hold on to our perceived control.

Fortunately, Jesus is not swayed by scheming, trickery or deceit.

Going back to Luke 13, Jesus recognizes their scheming and trickery and responds fearlessly:

“Go tell that fox for me,’Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow,  , and on the third day I finish my work'” (Luke 13:32 NRSV).

Jesus, in contrast to Herod and the Pharisees, does not act out of fear or pride, but fearlessly proclaims that he will continue his work – work that will be completed in humiliation on the cross. Jesus acts like one who has nothing to lose, even as he heads to Jerusalem where he will lose his life. Jesus is the only one in this story who lives fearlessly.

Addressing Herod according to his tricky heart rather than his kingly crown is not just name calling—it is letting Herod know he sees him as he truly is. Jesus is the true ruler who knows the hearts of all people. He knows our hearts as well. We only fool ourselves when we live as if we are the ultimate authority of our own “territories.” When Jesus calls us out on our “foxy” ways, he does so to call us into a way of life that produces faith, hope and love.

How does Jesus live so fearlessly? How can he enter territory where he’s not wanted and continue doing the ministry he was called to do? How can he continue journeying to Jerusalem when it looks like a literal dead end? Jesus is getting his marching orders from another source, a trustworthy source that compels him forward with courage. Jesus knows and trusts the Father’s leading and mission for him. Jesus doesn’t have to second guess his every move. Notice his comment: “today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way.”

Jesus knows who’s really in charge in each territory he enters. He knows the true owner of all things and is therefore able to walk freely without fear of loss. God provides and guides towards his good purposes. This is also the walk Jesus holds out to us. How might our lives look if we journey with the Father trusting him with every step? What freedom and fearlessness await us as we walk with Jesus? The Father has made provision for us in his Son to journey with him in the Spirit with fearless freedom.

Jesus knows what awaits him. Notice how he alludes to the cross:

It is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! (Luke 13:33b-34a NRSV).

So that others understand Jesus is not condemning Jerusalem, Luke includes Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem.

How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Luke 13:34 NRSV).

This striking image of Jesus as a mother hen who gathers her chicks by spreading her wings reminds us of Jesus spreading his arms out on the cross to“draw all peopleto himself” (John 12:32 NRSV).

Between the fox and the hen, it is Jesus who establishes the pecking order and gets the last word. That last word is spoken on the cross as the “mother hen” lays down her life for her chicks.

This is a beautiful maternal metaphor that reveals something of the Father’s heart. God stands up to any “fox” who wants to threaten and scare us away. We are made for walking with the Lord, and Jesus has secured this purpose with his own blood.

Are you facing threats from social and societal pressures that tell you to “Get away” from Jesus? Many are afraid to share their faith because they are concerned about what others think. Don’t let this persuade you. Instead of fleeing in fear, be confident knowing Christ is with you. And what he is doing in your life, he will continue to do until completion.

When you find yourself wavering, remember who Jesus is.

When you have opportunity, share the good news about Jesus. The gospel isn’t a warning, it’s good news others need to hear.

When you feel you are losing control, let Jesus have the control. Watch how he leads you into right decisions.

After alluding to the destruction of the Temple, Jesus concludes the lament by saying:

You will not see me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luke 13:35 NRSV).

This reference to Psalm 118 is a statement of seeing Jesus as King and Savior. Even when our world is falling apart around us, we can look to Jesus to be King in every circumstance and as the one who saves us. As we do this, we can “see him” working in our calamities and suffering.

Jesus came to renew and restore. His promises are sure. As you go through life, remind others of the sure promises of Jesus. They need his strength; they need confidence in him. They need to know they don’t have to live in fear and anxiety. Jesus started a good work and he will finish it.


Small Group Discussion Questions

  1. From how many territories (areas) in our lives are we tempted to try and chase Jesus away?
  2. Can you think of examples where we speak as if we are looking out for Jesus’ good, when we are really just trying to remain in control as rulers of our own territories?
  3. How might knowing and trusting the Father as ruler and owner of all set us free from the fear and pride of trying to control our own territories?
  4. How does the maternal metaphor of Jesus relating to us as a mother hen affect you? Does this help build you faith? Does it challenge your concept of who God is?
  5. Read Genesis 15:1-12: What was going on in Abram’s mind? What are some of God’s promises you struggle to hold on to?
  6. Read Psalm 27: What does this Psalm say to you? Share a time you’ve needed to hear the words of this Psalm.
  7. Philippians 3:17-4:1 talks about our citizenship in heaven. What does this mean to you?

Sermon for March 24, 2019

Watch video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qr5DY0a_NDs

Readings: Isaiah 55:1-9 • Psalm 63:1-8 • 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 • Luke 13:1-9

This week’s theme is God our provider. The prophet Isaiah reminds us to thirst and hunger for the things that really matter. God’s ways are higher and better than ours and we can trust his provision. Paul reminds the church in Corinth that our food and drink is Jesus, who is the One God provided for all humanity. Luke reminds us that all need to change the way we look at God and repent. He is the only one who can save. The sermon focuses on our need to thirst after God.

Thirsty?

Psalm 63:1-8

Introduction: Talk about a time you were very thirsty and how good the water tasted. Perhaps let others share a story of when they were really thirsty.

Have you ever noticed there are times when the only thing that satisfies your thirst is a glass of water? It’s almost as if your body knows nothing else will work; you want water and you want it as soon as you can get it. Have you ever been this thirsty? Maybe for you, it’s not water, but something else that takes care of your thirst like nothing else.

Thirst is powerful; it can sap our energy, cause headaches, give us muscle spasms or cramps, and can affect our appetite. Chronic thirst can even affect our mental status, making us confused or even causing hallucinations. This topic might even be making you thirsty. Thirst must be quenched for good health.

In a similar way, spiritual thirst must also be quenched. Have you ever felt just as thirsty for God’s goodness and grace? What in your life makes you thirsty for God? And going a bit deeper, how do you participate in the ministry of Christ that generates the thirst for others to want what God has to offer? Let’s address both of these questions.

First, recognize your own thirst.

Before we can be the salt of the earth and bring others to seek relationship with God, we need to know where (and in whom) our thirst can be satisfied. The prophet Isaiah lays out a description of sustenance that is available to us all.

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live (Isaiah 55:1-3).

We thirst for more than water, don’t we? We thirst for success, fame, money, material possessions, attention, and recognition. These are not necessarily opposed to how God might bless us, but when we thirst for these things, they can easily become our priority—our focus, what we strive for. And they satisfy only temporarily. The prophet is telling us to thirst for what is eternal—for what money cannot buy.

The Psalmist put it into perspective for us.

You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you. On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. I cling to you; your right hand upholds me (Psalm 63:1-8).

It is God – Father, Son and Spirit – who truly satisfies. We might get physically thirsty from pretzels or potato chips, but we can get spiritually thirsty from mistakes we’ve made, sins we’ve committed, stepping away from God or from living with an incomplete picture of who God is and how much he loves us. We all have issues (interpretations) of the things that make us thirsty. But whatever the case, whatever issue or shortcomings we have, there is a place—a person—to go to. That place, that person, is Jesus.

When we forget this, we try to satisfy our thirst through other means. And while some choices may temporarily give us relief, there is only one lasting source. Jesus can satisfy your spiritual thirsts through forgiveness, redemption and grace.

Go to him. Take a drink. Sip slowly and guzzle deeply. Savor the moment and splash in his mercy and forgiveness.

When you believe you are in a “parched land” where you think there is no water, look to God. These “thirsty times” are designed to help us to seek God—to find his presence and drink in of his goodness and glory.

Personal Anecdote: Tell of a time you went through a time of spiritual thirst. Share how God entered into this time of thirst and filled your cup to overflowing.

Second, tell others where their thirst can be quenched.

This living water is not just for us. We are also called and created to guide and minister to others who are thirsty. Where will we take them? To whom will we point them?

When we’ve tasted and seen that God is good, it gives us strength, courage and spiritual nutrition to then reach out to others. You know and remember the times when you were thirsty. God satisfied. And you know that there are others who are thirsty. Share with them that God is the one who truly satisfies.

When we give ourselves to God, we can truly live. When we lead others to the source of living waters, they too can truly live.


Small Group Discussion Questions

  1. What do you eat that makes you thirsty? And how do you quench that thirst?
  2. When you are spiritually thirsty, how do you quench that thirst?
  3. Do you feel satisfied?
  4. Describe a time you helped someone else receive “water” when they were in a “parched land.” In other words, how do you share the living water of Jesus Christ with others?
  5. Read 1 Cor. 10:1-14 and share your thoughts from this passage. Why was God not pleased?
  6. Read Isaiah 55:1-9 and share some observations - what speaks to you?

Sermon for March 31, 2019

Watch video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2iXgzkGZGM

Readings: Joshua 5:9-12 • Psalm 32:1-11 • 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 • Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

This week’s theme is God’s forgiveness leads to new beginnings. God tells Joshua that the disgrace of Egypt is in the past; Israel has a new beginning in Canaan. Psalm 32 tells us how blessed we are for having our sins covered. 2 Corinthians reminds us that we are a new creation because Christ became our sin and reconciled us to the Father. This week’s sermon takes a deeper look at story of the prodigal son, the elder brother and the father. Do we see ourselves in the story? Do we see the Father’s heart?

The Father’s Heart

Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

Introduction: Talk about a moment in your life that stands out where you felt nothing but the deep emotion of love—such as watching your spouse walk down the aisle, holding your newborn baby, walking your daughter down the aisle at her wedding, welcoming your soldier son home from the war.

There are moments in our lives that stand out in our memory because they are moments filled with deep emotion—moments when the love and affection God has placed in our hearts for our dear ones overflows in abundance. That is just a taste of the love between Father, Son and Spirit—and the love between our Triune God and you.

We were created in the image of God to be his image-bearers—to show his heart of love. However, we more often than not stubbornly resist our calling to bear witness to who God really is.

When humanity turned away from God, we turned away from the source of our life and being. We became a law unto ourselves, taking all God has given us for life and godliness and wasted it in self-indulgent and frivolous living. We as human beings, even in our efforts to be good people, often find ourselves in places we never meant to be.

Today we will look at a story in Luke 15 most of us are familiar with. Most of us see ourselves in the story of the prodigal son and his elder brother. My prayer is that we start to live more like the Father and share his heart.

Let’s begin in Luke 15:

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:1-2).

Jesus was in the company of two groups of people. First were the tax collectors and sinners—a group considered the outcasts of society, unworthy of Jesus’ time by the second group of people, the scribes and the Pharisees.

Some of us have been more like the first group throughout our lives—we know we are sinners who need forgiveness. We gather around Jesus to learn how to change and how to live.

Others may be more like the second group, believing they live pretty good lives. “I’ve followed God all my life. I would never do anything unholy or inappropriate. I would never be unfaithful to my spouse. I make sure I put something in the offering every Sunday, and I’m good to my family. I help out in the community, and I faithfully attend Bible study.” They gather around Jesus to find a way to trick him, or to look down on others. “Lord, there are so many people who don’t even do half the things I do for the church and for other people.”

To both groups, Jesus tells the parable.

There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living (Luke 15:11-13).

In essence, the younger son said the equivalent of, “Dad, I wish you were dead. I’m tired of waiting for my inheritance.” The father didn’t seem to take offense (as no doubt the scribes and the Pharisees would have) and yielded to his younger son’s demand.

The son immediately went out and wasted his inheritance on things that were a scandal to the people of that day. A rich man’s son who wasted his father’s inheritance was despised by society, and considered worthy of beating, rejection, or worse—maybe even death.

If we are honest with ourselves, we ought to admit that as humanity we are very much like this prodigal son. Each of us qualifies as a sinner—as the one who in seeking life has squandered our heavenly Father’s inheritance on loose and decadent living. Rather than finding our real life, we have brought upon ourselves death. Starving for the real life, we are often satisfied with pig slop.

I would guess this story hit the hearts of the sinners and tax collectors—they no doubt identified with the younger son in his struggles. Then Jesus gave the story a twist:

After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

When he came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.” So he got up and went to his father (Luke 15:14-19).

The son came to one of his lowest points—and this can happen to us as well. We get to the point we start to question what our existence is all about. This is the best place for any of us to come to—not that we want to end up as a slave slopping pigs, but that we come to our senses. God wants each of us to come to the realization of who we really are. We are not lost, forsaken, starving slaves. We are so much more!

So, this son, realizing he could at least get a job and some food from his father, heads home. Was he done with his wasteful ways? Probably not. We’d like to think so, but Jesus doesn’t say that the son has changed. Jesus merely says that the son has headed home because at least there he’d have a decent meal, even if he’d have to work for it.

What is clear is the prodigal son doesn’t really know or understand his father. Even though he “came to himself,” he still didn’t know who he was—the beloved son of his father. He expected his father’s judgment and condemnation, so he prepared himself to be placed in the role of a hired servant who would need to work to earn whatever he received from his father.

Jesus next begins to describe the father’s heart.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him (Luke 15:20).

This is the truth about how Abba feels about us: the father stands on his front porch, peering down the road, scanning the horizon for any glimpse of his son. In this story, the father isn’t in the field working, nor is he in the barn working the cattle. No, that is what the older son is doing. The father is on his porch waiting in anticipation of his younger son’s return.

When his son appeared in the distance, the father knew that shape, that walk so well, he swept up his robes and began to run in the most undignified way to meet him. He did not expect anything from his son—it was enough that he had come home again.

Jesus is painting a picture for us to see our Father as the Abba who is waiting in anticipation for the day when we will come back to our senses and return to him. He is not holding a long list of our faults and shortcomings, nor does he have an agenda we must follow in order to get right with him. All he asks is that we show up—and he will do all the rest.

The son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” So they began to celebrate (Luke 15:21-24).

Just as the father in Jesus’ story takes his son in his arms, Abba welcomes us into his embrace when we turn to him in repentance and faith. He knows the only reason we are there is because we have come to ourselves, we have come to see the truth about how far we have fallen from who we were created to be. And we have come to this place only because of his Son—the Son of God who went into a far country and brought us home to the Father.

Jesus, the Son of God, sat among the sinners, describing for them this amazing relationship that he, in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, was including them in. The Father, who longed for each sinner’s return, would in Jesus provide for them a place of dignity and honor: a new robe of righteousness in place of the tattered garments of sin and death; instead of the bare feet of a slave, brand new sandals of peace; and above all, the signet ring of our own inclusion in the life and love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit relationship. As God’s beloved Son, Jesus Christ left the glories of heaven, went to the far country of our humanity, shared in our broken humanity, so we could share in all that was his—this was what God intended from the beginning for you and me and everyone else who has ever lived.

I’m sure the tax collectors and sinners saw themselves in this story. But what about the Pharisees? I believe it was for them—and many of us today who believe we don’t have anything to repent of—that Jesus continued:

Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. “Your brother has come,” he replied, “and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.”

The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!” 

“My son,” the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:28-32).

The older son saw himself as a faithful worker. No doubt he was rehearsing in his mind every fault, and everything this brother had ever done wrong. He probably recalled every injury that had been inflicted on him in the past and was thinking about how unfair and unjust his father was. How often do Christians spend more time judging someone’s past than celebrating their forgiveness? Do I do that? Do you?

The truth is, the older brother was just as far away from home as the younger brother. He too had a mistaken concept of who his father was, and who he was as his father’s son. He also needed to “come to himself,” to “come to his senses.”

Can you see how Jesus was dealing with both extremes of misunderstanding our Father’s motives and heart? Jesus was pointedly showing the scribes and Pharisees their own evil hearts and motives because this was the way in which they were responding to the tax collectors and sinners coming to Jesus. They were just as guilty as those whom they rejected as the lost and the least, the unclean and unforgiven.

Their law-keeping and endless religious traditions did not give them special privileges in their relationship with God. They were not God’s special people because of anything they did—that was not the standard God used. The Jews were God’s people simply because he chose them and had claimed them as his own, giving them the right as firstborn to all that was his. The older brother was beloved by his father, not because of his performance, but simply because of who he was—the son of the father.

It is critical to see that Jesus not only goes into the far country to bring home lost sinners, but he also is the one who stands in our place as our older brother, the Anointed One to whom Abba has given all that is his. Abba has placed all things under Jesus’ feet because he went into the far country and brought us home to the Father. In so many words, Jesus was saying to the scribes and Pharisees, you are the ones to whom all has been given. But can’t you see—these were dead, but now in me they have new life? These were lost and forsaken, but in me, they have been brought home. Jesus knew this was why he had come—to include every human being in the life of the Father, Son, and Spirit in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension.

No one would be excluded—so the scribes and Pharisees needed to understand 1) no one was left out of God’s grace, and 2) they were just as much in need of grace as the tax collectors and sinners they despised and condemned.

Just as Jesus stands in the place of the prodigal, Jesus also stands in the place of the older son. He hears the Father’s words as Abba says all I have is yours, so let’s welcome home all who were lost but now are found and all who were dead but now who in you are alive.

Jesus leaves this story with the audience hanging—will the older son repent and change? Will he accept his prodigal brother and welcome him back home? Would the scribes and the Pharisees repent of their refusal to forgive and accept the sinners and tax collectors? Would they, as recipients of God’s grace freely offer that grace to others?

And that brings us to ask: Will we, as those for whom Christ lived, died, and rose again, share what we have been given with others? Will we be as gracious to others as God has been to us? These are questions worth wrestling with.


Small Group Discussion Questions

  1. Share a moment in your life when you felt a deep emotion of love.
  2. What do you think it means that we are to be image-bearers of God?
  3. As we began the sermon, did you relate more to the tax-collectors and sinners, or to the Pharisees and scribes?
  4. As you read, or heard, the story of the prodigal son, where did you see yourself? Why?
  5. Share what it means to hear the Father is willing to run to you.
  6. What would you say to the older brother if you’d been in the story?
  7. Read 2 Cor. 5:16-21. What does “New creation” mean to you? Explain being reconciled to the Father.
  8. Read Psalm 37 and discuss what verses stand out to you and why.