GCI Equipper

Know Justice Know Peace — Know Jesus Know Peace

I asked Charles Taylor, GCI Pastor in Miramar, Florida, to take this column and share notes from a sermon he gave on racial injustice. The point of his sermon was that in the midst of the real suffering and deep pain of racial injustice, we hold to the truth that God is real and he is there for us and in us. He will strengthen and comfort us as he brings his justice.

To this I say Amen, and thank you Charles for the following article. Have a blessed month.

Rick Shallenberger

Know Justice Know Peace – Know Jesus Know Peace

by Charles Taylor

We are at a time of crisis in our country—people are still suffering over the loss of loved ones during the coronavirus epidemic. Our hearts, prayers, and sadness go out to those who have lost loved ones, those who are still in hospitals isolated and alone and those fighting the virus from home. On the heels of this great pandemic we are faced with another crisis that has been smoldering for years in our country—like kindling on a fire has been the seeds of hatred—institutional racism, structural systemic inequality, and police brutality has once again erupted and spilled into the streets and all of our lives. “No Justice, No Peace” is being shouted from the rooftops, for there can be no peace in this world or any world where there is injustice. It might feel peaceful for those in control, but for those who are being mistreated, marginalized, and killed, there is no peace.

As believers in the Way and followers of Christ, to know true justice is to know we have been made right with God through Jesus Christ—forgiven, accepted, and transformed. To know true peace, is to have peace that transforms our lives. This peace dictates that all humans are created in the image of God and every human is to be loved and valued—never using skin color or anything else as a determining factor of how someone is treated. Christ died for all humanity—all with the same intrinsic value and worth.

Christ followers empathize with those who are hurting, have lost loved ones, and feel the evil sting of racial injustice. Any person of color has felt this pain, many of us have been profiled, and many of us have even lost family members at the hands of racial violence and injustice. Empathizing begins with listening to others—hearing the deep thoughts and feelings of the other without your pre-conceived opinions and evaluations.

As we look at the recent and past events of our country—horrific injustices, murders, and a whole range of inappropriate responses—we see a great need for monumental lasting change not only in our society but also in the transformation of hearts. Racism has no place anywhere. It’s not black against white, or race against race—it’s humanity against the tyranny of racism and injustice. Its love against hate, its unity against domineering division.

Recent events surrounding the wrongful deaths of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, and George Floyd in Minnesota (and many countless more unnamed, but lamented) are tragic and illustrate severe racial injustices and systemic inequalities in the United States. I am angered and saddened over the recurring trauma experienced by African Americans. (I relate to Ephesians 4:26, which reminds us it is okay to be angry, just don’t sin in your anger.) Racism and any violent abuse of power must be condemned; there has to be a call for justice for victims and their families. As humans, we should combat attitudes and systems that perpetuate racism. I am grateful for those law enforcement officers who honorably serve and protect our communities and urge our members to uphold them in prayer.

Racism is an affront to the value of individuals created in God’s image and to the divinely designed diversity of redeemed humanity. This denial of personhood and belonging runs contrary to the peace and unity that God intended in the beginning and that the Bible depicts as our destiny.

Racism appears in beliefs or practices that distinguish or elevate one race over others. When accompanied and sustained by imbalances of power, prejudice moves beyond individual relationships to institutional practices. This racial injustice is the systemic perpetuation of racism. Its existence has unfairly benefitted some and burdened others simply due to the color of their skin and the cultural associations based upon perceptions of race.

No race or ethnicity is greater or more valuable than another. We believe that the good news of Jesus Christ has the power to break down racial and ethnic barriers (Ephesians 2:14–18). It has the power to love and forgive and the power to be all that God created us to be as a nation!

Speaking up

Why should we speak up? Why must the church speak up?

  • We speak up because we have love and empathy for those in pain and suffering from injustice.

Paul reminds us to rejoice with those who are rejoicing, and to weep with those who are weeping (Romans 12:15). This is a time for empathy and compassion.

We understand pain, we understand suffering, we understand grief, but we cannot claim to understand the grief, pain and suffering someone else is going through. So the first thing to do is acknowledge the pain, listen to the grief, and then join them in their suffering. Joining them means hearing them, standing up for what is wrong, and speaking against injustice. We speak up because we are affected by brothers and sisters facing pain, and grief, and suffering as the result of injustice and mistreatment. Speaking up does not mean joining others in sinful reactions. Neither does speaking up mean offering empty platitudes. Many of us have experienced going through a deep personal trial and a Christian friend feels compelled to quote Romans 8:28 and remind us that God said all things will work together for good. Those in pain don’t need to be reminded of the promises as much as they need to feel your understanding, your love and your empathy. Being present is often more powerful than any words expressed.

2) We speak up because speaking up is a mandate of Jesus Christ to the church.

We are burdened by the same injustices Jesus dealt with as he stood in the synagogue and proclaimed, “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—[hatred, racism, greed, fear, anger, revenge and unforgiveness are all prisons]—and recovery of sight for the blind—[two types of blindness—where one just can’t see and where one refuses to see]—to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). 

This was Jesus proclaiming his mission for himself and the church. As the Father sent me, so I send you. Go and speak up!

3) We speak up because black lives matter—because all lives matter!

Black lives matter. What does this really mean—black lives matter? It means yes, all lives matter, but until black lives matter, all lives don’t matter because black lives are a part of all lives, and black lives have not mattered in many ways.

Genesis tells us all humanity was created in the image of God. Jesus lived, died and rose for all humanity. The same value placed on one life is the same value on all life.

I heard an example regarding the understanding of black lives matter: When an individual’s response to black lives matter is “all lives matter”, it’s like going to a funeral where someone has lost a child, and they are speaking about how much they loved their child and how painful the loss is and how much that child’s life mattered to them. Then someone stands up and says, hey my child’s life matters, too. Yes, your child’s life matters, but right now we are trying to help this mother process and heal from her loss. Yes, all lives matter, but unless black lives matter, how can one say all lives matter, when part of the “all” doesn’t matter to some?

We have to know that all lives matter to God. Our view of God can never match how infinitely big and eternal God is, but our view of God has to be huge! We have to believe that nothing human society says or does or writes can change what God has said about you and me! Redeemed, infinite worth, valued, called by name, made in his own image, intelligent, beautiful, chosen, forgiven, blessed! It is incongruent that human beings be treated unfairly, with disdain, disrespected or disregarded, because that is the opposite of how God created us to be treated. God created us to be in relationship with him for eternity. He determined our worth; he determined our value. No other human can determine that, only God can.

4) We speak up because we see the big picture.

One would be blind not to see and praise God for how things have changed through the years. Young people are motivated and mobilized to make things better. We see people from all races, colors, creeds, and cultures joined arm in arm marching and protesting and demonstrating peacefully—humans against racism. As humanity, we join in one voice seeking justice, equality, peace, and hope. And we know that God is the answer! His kingdom is coming and not even the gates of hell can prevail against it!

Jesus said, I have come to give life and life more abundantly; the devil has come to kill, to steal, and to destroy.

We have to see the big picture. The battle might look like it’s against flesh and blood, but the real battle, the invisible one, is not against flesh and blood, it is against principalities, evil in high places, demonic forces that thrive in hateful racism, injustice and promote eye-for-an-eye retaliation.

Jesus, however, came in the spirit of reconciliation and calls us to be reconcilers. He came to give us life in abundance—all of us. He came to show there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female—all are equally loved by him.

He came to bring us his justice.

The crowds shout “No Justice, No Peace.” As believers we see things differently. When we know his justice, we will know peace. If we know Jesus, we know peace. In other words, we know true justice only when we know the peace of Christ.

He came and restored us to relationship with the Father. He brought two groups of people together—Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles). He brought us together through his death on the cross. The cross got us to embrace, and that was the end of the hostility. Christ came and preached peace to those who were outsiders and peace to those who were insiders. He treated us as equals, and so made us equals. Through him we both share the same Spirit and have equal access to the Father.

Know justice, know peace. Know Jesus, know peace.

The Gift of Hospitality

Many of us around the world have been quarantined in our homes due to Covid-19. We are craving relationship, getting together with family and friends, sharing meals—hospitality. Now is the time to prepare to share this gift with others.

By Bob Regazzoli, Pastor, Australia

During the recent bushfires in Australia, we heard that some people who lost their homes were being invited into the homes of people they didn’t know. This is the gift of hospitality – love and friendliness to guests and visitors. This is something many of us have missed during this ongoing pandemic.

One common theme from conversations with church members over the years has been their memory of being not only welcomed at our services, but then being invited to a meal by one of our members. The gift of hospitality is vital for healthy churches.

In this age where many people are time pressured, we can easily overlook one of the most common and needful Christian practices – to be hospitable and inclusive of those who visit our congregations, or to those who may express an interest in Christianity. Hospitality has been one of the dominant characteristics of the Christian church down through the centuries.

During his ministry on earth, there are a number of accounts of Jesus sharing meals, either in providing the meal, or accepting the hospitality of others. Remember his feeding the crowds with loaves and fishes, or cooking breakfast for his disciples on the beach after his resurrection. He asked Zacchaeus if he could stay at his house. He accepted invitations to eat with the Pharisees (Luke 7:36; 11:37; 14:1). It’s in sitting or reclining around the meal table, sharing food, drink, and telling stories, where we really get to know another person and commune with them.

One of the best ways to get to know visitors and new members is to extend an invitation to spend more time with them. Not only do we welcome people at church—which includes chatting over a cup of coffee or a snack during hospitality time, but we should also offer to meet outside the walls of the church—in a coffee shop or restaurant, or invite them to our home, or to meet for a shared meal at a park.

It’s important to put our discomfort and/or fears aside. While we are wise to be mindful of cultural variations, and what will best serve the needs of the church visitor, we should not let our fear of the unknown or our concern about causing offense prevent us from extending an invitation. We all have different gifts and ways of reaching out to others. Notice Peter’s words: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:9-10).

The early church had a strong spirit of hospitality and communion. I can’t help but wonder if there will be a strong desire for hospitality and building of relationships following this pandemic. Just as the early church was hungry for like-minded relationship, people being stuck in their homes for weeks or months will also be craving communion—whether they understand what that means or not. What a blessing it would be if this were said of us after this pandemic: “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts [homes, parks, restaurants and churches]. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:46-47).

What is Worship?

By Emmanuel Okai, West Africa Regional Director, National Director, Ghana & Church Pastor Akim-Oda, Ghana

Like many who grew up in rural sub-Saharan Africa before the 1960s, I experienced various practices in African Traditional Religion similar to the performances of Baal priests during Elijah’s time.[1] I was raised in my maternal grandfather’s village, where shrines, deities, sacred groves, taboos, and festivals in honour of lesser gods and ancestors were the order of the day. As a child I observed the fervour and spectacle that accompanied the worship of created things—a worship regime based on fear, which often created mistrust even among close family members. The system of worship never promised nor could deliver anything beyond our earthly existence. Death was an enemy that held the community captive—enslaved with fear, without hope beyond the present world (Hebrews 2:15).

With maturity and experience, I came to see that worship is derived from the idea of worthiness, or something of immense worth or value. Worship is directed towards objects or beings worthy of our total devotion, respect, love, allegiance and service. Worship is “respect and reverence paid to a divine being or supernatural power.”[2]

As I read through the Scriptures, I came to see that Isaiah highlights knowledge of the true Creator God and good deeds as paramount in true worship.[3] When Elijah confronted and ultimately defeated the Baal worshippers in that rare religious contest, he told Israel to make a choice between two forms of worship[4] (1 Kings 18:21). False worship is based on wrong knowledge of who really is worthy of our devotion and allegiance. At an early age I came to the realization that God is the only one who is worthy of worship because he created and sustains all things—seen and unseen (Colossians 1:16).

It is not difficult to classify what I experienced in my childhood days as forms of false worship. However, it is more difficult to identify and categorize false worship practices that occur among those who do not bow to idols, especially those who mention the name of God or Christ as part of their proclamation of faith. Yet, Jesus declared: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21 NRSV). Foundational to true worship is knowledge of who God is and what his will is, and how to be in relationship with him and others. Anything we do that does not honour the Father’s will is not true worship. Jesus is the one who set the basis for true worship when he declared, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:24 NRSV).

Worship results from focusing on the life, death, resurrection, ascension and return of Jesus. The shepherds and wise men from the East were given detailed direction to the location of the Messiah (Luke 2:10-20) by angels, and they worshipped because he had been divinely revealed. Jesus emphasized the need to know the true God who is Creator of all that there is—seen and unseen.[5] In doing so, he is speaking of God as Father, Son and Spirit—in essence speaking of himself. Here are several examples of Jesus being worshipped:

  • A leper kneels before Jesus in worship (Matthew 8:2)
  • A ruler kneels before Jesus after Jesus healed his son (Matthew 9:18)
  • The disciples worshipped him after he walked on water (Matthew 14:33)
  • A Canaanite woman worships him as she asks for help (Matthew 15:25)
  • A man tormented by evil spirits came and bowed before Jesus (Mark 5:6)
  • A man healed of blindness by Jesus worships him (John 9:38)
  • Thomas worshipped Jesus by saying, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28)

He was worshipped after his resurrection and his ascension, and he is still worshipped today. Jesus is the object of our worship—all we have, all we do, all we hope for revolves around him. This is why we produced the GCI Worship Calendar. Our only focus is Jesus. We don’t focus on Israelite days—that is false worship. We focus on Jesus—his birth, his life, his death, his resurrection, his ascension, his identity, and his church. As Christians, nothing else is worthy of worship.

Worship that is true involves offering ourselves, totally and unconditionally to God.[6] We know that everything we have comes from him. We know our identity is in him. We know our future is in his hands. He is the only one we worship—asking him to guide our ambitions and goals to be in line with his will. True worship begins when we strive to love God above everything else, allowing his will to prevail in our lives as we serve him alone.[7] True worship is focusing on God—giving glory and praise only to him.

Actions that depict worship

  • Since true worship involves our total person, many actions that we perform constitute worship. When they proceed out of a good heart, our thoughts and desires for God are forms of worship.
  • We build our worship calendar and our special worship services around Jesus, our Immanuel—his birth (Christmas), his life (Epiphany), his love for the world (Palm Sunday), his passion (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday) his resurrection (Easter Sunday), his ascension (Ascension Sunday), his Body—the church (Pentecost), his identity (Trinity Sunday), his return (Christ the King Sunday).
  • Love those whom God loves—Jesus said when we love others, we are loving him. When we honor and respect those whom God has created and calls his children, we are worshipping God.
  • When Thomas was convinced that Jesus is Lord, he exclaimed, “my Lord and my God!”[8] Our confession of faith, prayers, singing and our declaration of God’s majesty in praises are actions of worship.
  • Worship involves our emotion. In exclaiming, “Rabboni,” Mary Magdalene was expressing a sigh of relief, and an emotional attachment, devotion and love to Jesus.[9] When people cry, laugh, shout or dance exuberantly (like David) in response to God’s grace, such emotion constitutes worship.[10]
  • Worship includes our thanksgiving – the healed leper and blind man returned to give thanks to Jesus; Mary washed and anointed the feet of Jesus[11], the disciples offered materials things to enable the work of God to progress. Offerings in terms of money, time, ideas and energy in the service of God are forms of worship.

No such thing as perfect worship

In his article, “Perfect Worship,” Joseph Tkach points out how inadequate we are in expressing our worship in the right way. Thankfully, as the apostle Paul told us in Romans 8, the Spirit intercedes on our behalf—not only in how and what to pray, but also in how to worship. Our best example for worship is Jesus, who spent his life worshipping the Father. Everything he did was according to the will of his Father. Tkach concludes, “The last word on worship is that we must look to Jesus as the one who is doing it right for us, and he invites us to join in what he is doing.”[12]

Our knowledge of the true God, our offering ourselves as living sacrifices, our determination to love our neighbour and our various actions meant to show our devotion and reverence for God must be mediated and perfected through Jesus, our Lord and High Priest, who sits in the heavenly realm offering the most acceptable worship on our behalf.

[1] 1 Kings 18:26–28.

[2] Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary

[3] Isaiah 1:2-3, 10-18: When we wash ourselves and cease from evil and do good, our sacrifices to God become acceptable.

[4] Elijah said “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him, but if Baal, then follow him”. Elijah was saying there is a true God and a false god; and Israel must make up their minds whom they would follow.

[5] John 17:2 – 3

[6] Romans 12:1 – “And so dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be living and holy sacrifice – the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.” (NLT)

[7] Luke 14:25 – 27 – Jesus demanded total commitment from any who claims to follow him; Matthew 22:36–38.

[8] John 20:24 – 29

[9] John 20:16

[10] 2 Samuel 6:12 – 14, 21 – 22

[11] Luke 12:3, 7

[12] Tkach, Joseph, “Perfect Worship,” 40 Days of Discipleship, A self-paced doctrinal educational plan, Volume 1, Grace Communion International, 2016, p. 124.

Making Church a Safe Space

Many in our society live in anxiety and fear—even fear of God. They are looking for a safe environment whose policy is “Do No Harm.” Would our church be considered a safe space? Here are some things to think about.

By Elizabeth Mullins, GC Hickory Love Avenue Champion

Outside of our consciousness, each of our bodies is constantly making an assessment: am I safe here? For those who have previously had physical, emotional, or spiritual safety ripped from them, their nervous system interprets threat differently. They will have a heightened response to perceived danger. Why does this matter in the context of our worship services? Understanding this framework helps us realize why creating visceral safety is important. Individuals need to experience felt safety to regulate their nervous system. A calmed, regulated nervous system is needed for the capacity to heal and learn new narratives about God.

We cannot talk about felt safety without mentioning power. If you are a leader, then you have a position of power and authority and therefore, the potential for abuse exists. Power becomes abusive when it’s wielded in arrogance to control, coerce, or dominate. Pastoral leaders should be cognizant of power dynamics and have a responsibility to make every attempt to do no harm. Have an accountability partner, or team who keeps you grounded and helps you avoid exploiting power dynamics.

Authoritarianism can creep in through the sermon message. With some Christian leaders, there exists the mindset: I am God’s emissary and I can say whatever I want to this captive audience. One thing is true about that statement: the audience may truly feel like captives! Longtime church members who are encultured with the same mindset will put up with it, but guests will not feel safe.

Healthy leaders set boundaries and respect the boundaries of others. Consider the following ways you can help create a safe space and avoid the appearance of running roughshod over the boundaries of your listeners:

  • Save working out your own trauma for the therapist.

It can be healthy for a leader to model vulnerability, even tears, but do not use the pulpit as your personal catharsis or intimate confessional. To witness the speaker becoming seemingly unhinged or oversharing is frightening.

  • Save the explicit, or even suggestive, jokes for your small circle of friends and family.

Your guests don’t want to hear anything in the worship service that will create an embarrassing mental picture.

  • Save specific topics of sexuality for discipleship.

How can we speak about sexuality in a setting that should be hope infused, new believer focused, and Christ centered? In very general terms! Acknowledge that in God’s good, original intent, we are created sexual beings. Joyfully proclaim that in Christ’s finishing work, our sexuality is redeemed. Give comfort that when we wrestle with our already/not yet healed sexuality, we are reminded of our dependence on God and our call to esteem our sisters and brothers above ourselves. Discussions on the specific ways sexual expression can go awry, should be saved for a discipleship setting where there is trust, mutuality, and consent.

  • Save intimate, distinct challenges for one on one.

Calling out a person or a group during the worship service is abusive. Period. Even if you don’t use any names. It takes zero courage to stand at a distance (literally, since the speaker is usually at a distance and often elevated) and lob accusations. Instead, it takes far more courage to sit close to someone, make eye contact within a relationship of trust, and say, “I love you and I’m concerned about you.”

  • Save your personal opinions for another setting.

We each have a lens shaped by our experiences. Expository speaking, following the RCL, helps you guard against merely dispensing your own point of view, which will inevitably be biased. The Bible speaks for itself, on its own terms. Exegete the passage and trust that the Spirit is mediating, and the Word is challenging your listeners.

Every time we welcome a new person into our church, we hope it will result in enduring proximity for the long haul. There are no shortcuts to life-on-life discipleship. Misappropriating authority during the Sunday sermon will not speed up the discipleship process and it can cause you to lose the opportunity altogether. Strength and gentleness coexist in Jesus. Let us boldly proclaim Hope in Christ, gently centering and holding space for hurting people, all the while calling them to more!

Law and Grace

Article by Gary Deddo, President of Grace Communion Seminar

Even after centuries of debate, Protestantism does not seem to have settled on how best to speak about the connection between faith in God’s grace in Jesus Christ and the life of obedience. All informed biblically grounded Christian teachers recognize that salvation is God’s work and that it is received by faith. They also recognize that the resulting life with Christ involves obedience to Christ. The problem is how to affirm one without denying—or severely qualifying—the other. How to avoid both works righteousness and antinomianism.

Click here for the full article.

Church Hacks 004 | How to Livestream a Pre-recorded Service

The pandemic has prompted churches, pastors, and ministry leaders to make big changes in how we do our worship services. Many of our churches have made the leap to livestreaming and have found great value in providing this kind of service. Livestreaming a pre-recorded service can alleviate the stress of last-minute technical difficulties, and also give you the opportunity to include others in your videos. Check out this month’s video Church Hack for a step by step tutorial on how to livestream a pre-recorded services.

Church Hacks 004 | How to Livestream a Pre-recorded Service

Program Transcript

The pandemic has prompted churches, pastors, and ministry leaders to make big changes in how we do our worship services. Many of our churches have made the leap to livestreaming and have found great value in providing this kind of service. Livestreaming a pre-recorded service can alleviate the stress of last-minute technical difficulties, and also give you the opportunity to include others in your videos. Check out this month’s video Church Hack for a step by step tutorial on how to livestream a pre-recorded services.

Also, check out our infographic Church Hack on how to improve the quality of your recordings.

Also, check out our infographic Church Hack on how to improve the quality of your recordings.

Crafting A Digital Worship Service w/ Joe Brannen

Crafting A Digital Worship Service w/ Joe Brannen

Video unavailable (video not checked).

In this episode, host Anthony Mullins, interviews Joe Brannen who pastors GCI congregation in Surrey Hills, OK. Together they discuss the challenges and opportunities of crafting a digital worship service during a global pandemic, and what best practices to implement when we begin to re-gather for in person worship.

Program Transcript

“I think God uses difficult times to push the church outside of the walls, and I think that is what is going on right now. The Church is being faced with the real question, ‘Are you going to be the Church in the world around you, or are you just looking at the building as being the Church?’” -Pastor Joe Brannen

Main Points:

  • Should churches continue to stream services after we re-gather for in person worship? (2:55)
  • What have you learned from streaming your service? (7:11)
  • How do you connect with your viewers, to invite them into the life of your church? (9:55)
  • How do you start and maintain an online service, once you re-gather for in person worship? (13:10)
  • What does it look like to include online viewers in the life of the church moving forward? (29:40)



  • Streaming Pre-recorded Services Church Hack – a video that gives an overview and how to stream a pre-recorded service.
  • Recording Basics Church Hack – an infographic for best practices for quality recording.
  • GCI Creative Community Facebook Page– join the conversation between multimedia team members, Hope Venue Champions, worship team members, pastors, and anyone else who serves in their GCI congregation. The group serves as a safe space to share ideas, give feedback, and discuss best practices, all while having fun and expressing our God-given creativity!

In this episode, host Anthony Mullins, interviews Joe Brannen who pastors GCI congregation in Surrey Hills, OK. Together they discuss the challenges and opportunities of crafting a digital worship service during a global pandemic, and what best practices to implement when we begin to re-gather for in person worship.

“I think God uses difficult times to push the church outside of the walls, and I think that is what is going on right now. The Church is being faced with the real question, ‘Are you going to be the Church in the world around you, or are you just looking at the building as being the Church?’” -Pastor Joe Brannen



Main Points:

  • Should churches continue to stream services after we re-gather for in person worship? (2:55)
  • What have you learned from streaming your service? (7:11)
  • How do you connect with your viewers, to invite them into the life of your church? (9:55)
  • How do you start and maintain an online service, once you re-gather for in person worship? (13:10)
  • What does it look like to include online viewers in the life of the church moving forward? (29:40)



  • Streaming Pre-recorded Services Church Hack – a video that gives an overview and how to stream a pre-recorded service.
  • Recording Basics Church Hack – an infographic for best practices for quality recording.
  • GCI Creative Community Facebook Page– join the conversation between multimedia team members, Hope Venue Champions, worship team members, pastors, and anyone else who serves in their GCI congregation. The group serves as a safe space to share ideas, give feedback, and discuss best practices, all while having fun and expressing our God-given creativity!

Gospel Reverb – Heartburn w/ Lance McKinnon

Heartburn w/ Lance McKinnon

Video unavailable (video not checked).

Program Transcript

Heartburn with Lance McKinnon

Listen in as host, Anthony Mullins and guest, Lance McKinnon, unpack these lectionary passages:

August 2        Romans 9:1-5 “Heartburn”

August 9        Romans 10:5-15 “Lord of All”

August 16      Romans 11:1-2, 29-32 “Rejection Objection”

August 23      Romans 12:1-8 “Mind Over Matter”

August 30      Romans 12:9-11 “Second Fiddle”

If you get a chance to rate and review the show, that helps a lot.
And invite your fellow preachers and Bible lovers to join us!

Heartburn with Lance McKinnon

Listen in as host, Anthony Mullins and guest, Lance McKinnon from Grace Communion Seminary, unpack these lectionary passages:

August 2        Romans 9:1-5 “Heartburn”

August 9        Romans 10:5-15 “Lord of All”

August 16      Romans 11:1-2, 29-32 “Rejection Objection”

August 23      Romans 12:1-8 “Mind Over Matter”

August 30      Romans 12:9-11 “Second Fiddle”

If you get a chance to rate and review the show, that helps a lot.
And invite your fellow preachers and Bible lovers to join us!

Sermon for August 2, 2020

Speaking of Life 2036 | Hand’s On Experience

The best way to learn is often hands-on, right? We learn best when we actively participate in the learning process. Jesus knew this about his disciples and invited them to participate in his miracles and ministry. God still works that way with us today. He is inviting you to participate in “hands-on” acts of blessing for others and transforming you too as part of the process.

Program Transcript

Speaking of Life 2036 | Hand’s On Experience
Heber Ticas

I remember when I taught my daughter how to drive a car. You can imagine how nerve-racking that was. My daughter believed that since she was good at driving go-karts, learning to drive a vehicle would be simple. She even believed that having me teach her wasn’t necessary. Although she picked it up fairly quickly, there was no way she could have learned just with her go-kart experience. She needed to be hands-on with that regular car steering wheel. She needed to feel the road and feel the car hugging the curves.

The best way to learn is often hands-on, right? We learn best when we actively participate in the learning process.

Jesus knew this about his disciples. You may have heard the story about how a great crowd showed up, and Jesus had compassion on them and healed the sick. At dusk, his disciples thought they should send the people away to buy food, but Jesus had other ideas:

That evening the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.”

But Jesus said, “That isn’t necessary—you feed them.”

“But we have only five loaves of bread and two fish!” they answered.

“Bring them here,” he said. Matthew 14:15-18 (NLT)

You probably know the rest of the story. After having the crowd sit down, Jesus gave thanks, blessed, and broke the loaves and fish, and the disciples passed the food out to the 5,000 men, plus women, and children. Everyone ate and was full, and the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftovers. They had a hands-on experience where they participated in blessing others, and as a result, they learned a lot about how God’s kingdom works.

Jesus could have just told them what he was going to do. He could have explained with words how his Father was going to take those five loaves and two fish and feed all those people. Instead, he had the disciples do it. They passed out the food to all those people, and they were the ones who picked up all the leftovers.

The disciples got to participate in feeding more than 5,000 people. They saw the faces of the men, women, and children, and they watched them enjoy the food. And as a result of their hands-on experience, the disciples were transformed by being a part of the process. Their own faith was strengthened, and they learned how God’s love looks and feels.

God still works that way with us today. He lets us participate in “hands-on” acts of blessing for others so that we are transformed as part of the process. We learn, like the disciples did, that we are part of God’s kingdom on earth when we engage in hands-on participation wherever we see God at work. When we do it, whatever that hands-on participation looks like, people’s lives are changed, and so are we.

May you know the transforming power of hands-on participation with God today.

I’m Heber Ticas, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 17:1-7, 15 • Genesis 32:22-31 • Romans 9:1-5 • Matthew 14:13-21

The theme for this week is “how God changes us.” In Genesis 32, we read the story of Jacob and how he was changed after wrestling with God. Psalm 17 provides an example showing that we often fail to realize that any good we do is simply God working through us, but we can be transformed whether we realize the source of that good or not. Our sermon outline titled “When One Cries…” features Romans 9, where it discusses how God changes us by helping us to develop compassion for others in our journey of faith. Lastly, Matthew 14 tells the story of feeding the 5000, which illustrates how God uses our participation in working with others to change us and increase our faith.

When One Cries…

Romans 9:1-5 NRSV

You might start with an example of empathy you’ve seen or experienced—something as simple as a time you cried during a movie.

Have you ever wondered how the people who make movies get babies to cry on cue? I recently watched a short video featuring Elaine Hall, who works in Hollywood as a “baby wrangler.” A “baby wrangler” is someone who interprets between what the director wants a young child to do in front of the camera and the baby or young child.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cCuvt8wjKX8&app=desktop – You can either show the video or part of it, or you can use the summary that follows.

Elaine noticed early on the empathetic nature of babies and young children. So she used empathy to get the baby to respond as she wanted. When she wanted the baby to cry, she cried—loudly. And when she wanted the baby to stop crying, she stopped crying and reassured the baby that everything was OK.

If you’ve ever had more than one small child at home, or worked around a number of small children, you’ve probably found this to be true. Whenever one started crying, others followed suit. The New York Times wrote an article in 1989 highlighting new research (at that time) showing that babies are born empathetic. Researcher Jean Piaget originally thought that empathy wasn’t possible until a child’s cognitive abilities had developed enough, like around 7-8 years old. The 1989 studies showed that babies from a few months old through their first year “react to the pain of others as though it were happening to themselves. On seeing another child get hurt and start to cry, they themselves begin to cry, especially if the other child cries for more than a minute or two.”

Empathy is not limited to babies. All of us experience empathy. Many men don’t like to admit when they get tears in their eyes from watching a movie, or listening to a sad song, but watch them when their child or spouse gets hurt. We feel for others—and this is one of the greatest gifts God gives us through Jesus.

The idea of empathy for other people is talked about and illustrated in Scripture. Let’s look at a passage where the apostle Paul shows his empathy for his people, the Jews:

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit—I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. (Romans 9:1-5 NRSV)

We can almost feel Paul’s grief and sadness over the unwillingness of most Jews to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. He points out that if anybody should have recognized Jesus as the Messiah, the Jews should have, since they were given the covenants, the law, and the promises, as well as stories of the patriarchs’ faith. The Jews were aware and watching for the Messiah, but they missed him, and Paul is sad about their “stuckness.” The Jews were expecting a Messiah who would deliver them from the political oppression they were in under Roman rule. When Jesus didn’t fit that expectation, he was killed, and the Jews remained stuck.

Paul is demonstrating his love for these who remain stuck. Perhaps you’ve felt the same feelings toward others who are stuck in the law, stuck in the lies that they are not worthy of God’s love or that God doesn’t love them. It’s this love that Paul speaks of to the believers in Corinth when he says this love compels them to view others differently—no longer viewing the world as “us” and “them,” but to see all as people Jesus died for. We want to view all as those whom God loves and to whom Jesus’ sacrifice applies.

What are the key takeaways from this passage?

  • Even when we love God, we can become “stuck.” The Jews worshipped God and kept the old covenant, but they became rigid in their understanding of God. They put God in a box, placing expectations on how God should fulfill his promises. We do the same. It’s easy to lump people into categories—saved and unsaved, forgiven and unforgiven, children of God and not children of God, us and them. How have you put God in a box? Who do you think might be exempt from God’s love, or from the forgiveness of the cross? This leads right to the 2nd key takeaway.
  • Those who are “stuck” deserve our empathy, not our judgment. It can be tempting to dismiss those who seem stuck in old traditions or beliefs. We might think, “Why can’t they just get it?” Our role, however, is not to demean but to encourage and affirm God’s love for all people, regardless of beliefs. We hurt because they are stuck, we grieve for their unbelief. We cry because they don’t know their Abba/Father.


  • Recognize that we all are on a spiritual journey in our relationship with God, and growth never stops. We are constantly growing in our love for God, in our understanding of God’s love for us, and in our love for others.
  • Accept others where they are, even as you lovingly encourage them to reflect on God’s love for all. The story of the blind men describing an elephant reveals how all of us only see facets of God. We are at different levels in understanding, and each level is essential toward our continued growth. Just as we wouldn’t expect a first grader to do algebra, so we must keep our expectations about spiritual understanding applicable to each individual’s progress on the journey.
  • Embrace your natural empathy. Try to understand what is shaping the other person’s view, even as Paul understood how the Jews’ disappointed expectations of the Messiah shaped their view of Jesus. Ask God to help you see others as he sees them, through his eyes of love.

Babies have it figured out. We’re all in this together, and when one of us cries, we all cry, whether we show it or not. No amount of logical arguing is going to change a person’s viewpoint. No well-thought-out Facebook post is going to finally make a person see their theological error. Empathy—which is based on the love Christ gives us for others—is the answer. If we really have the same heart for other people like the apostle Paul had for the Jews, like Jesus has for us, we will acknowledge it is not “them” and “us,” it’s just us. So we love people, we accept people, we encourage people, and we trust the Holy Spirit to work in all our lives.






Small Group Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever learned something by doing it yourself? How did doing the activity shape your learning experience, rather than being told about it or reading about it?
  • Why might God choose to have us participate in helping others know him? Why would God desire to share this experience with us?
  • The idea of empathy focuses on our shared human experience. If you reflect on a time when you went through a difficult experience, you might have found comfort by talking to people who had gone through something similar. Why do you think that is?
  • When it comes to religious beliefs, many times people are more concerned about being right than about being loving. If God were to prioritize them, how do you think God would rank right beliefs and lovingkindness?
  • Facebook is sometimes used as a forum to try to persuade others to one’s particular political or religious beliefs. Why doesn’t a well-written Facebook post persuade people to change their minds?

Sermon for August 9, 2020

Speaking of Life 2037 | Rembrandt’s Question

In the face of danger, our biological response might be to automatically fight, flee, or freeze. When facing life’s many storms, we also have the option of responding in faith, turning toward Jesus. In him, we know we have a savior who can calm the storms. He is our source of strength in times of trouble.

Program Transcript

Speaking of Life 2037 | Rembrandt’s Question
Greg Williams

The Bible shares a few stories of Jesus and water, which may seem even pedestrian to us. Those of us who grew up watching cruise ships and massive cargo ships on the ocean don’t know what it was like to have a storm come up when you are in a vessel smaller than a Volkswagen van!

More than once, we have stories of Jesus calming the storm, such as Matthew 14 in which, returning with Peter from walking on water, the text reads:

And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” Matthew 14:22-23 (NRSV)

In the ancient understanding, the sea represented chaos, death, and danger. Only God could control the sea.

When he was 29 years old, Rembrandt painted the famous Christ in the Storm on the Lake of Galilee based on the similar episode in Mark. The original painting is large, four feet across by five feet high, using Rembrandt’s signature mastery of light and dark to make an emotional impact, every face on the boat bears its own expression and tells its own story, from those trying futilely to hold the boat together to those who are resigned to their fate.

Jesus wakes up from sleeping in the back of the boat and has a look of total peace and trust that God is in charge. Close at hand there is another figure, almost out of place and wearing clothes that seem out of the color scheme slightly. He stares straight at the viewer.

A close count will show, as you might guess, 12 disciples and one Lord, making for 13 figures in the painting. Look again and you will see 14. The figure in the foreground, staring compellingly at you as you gaze at the painting is none other than Rembrandt himself.

Scholars speculate Rembrandt may have been doing the lectio divina exercise of seeing himself within the story of Christ. He was so passionately invested in this story that he pictured himself within it. It poses the question:

Where are we on the boat? Where are we on the night that Jesus walked out to the disciples on the water or when a storm came out of nowhere and tossed the boat violently? It’s a question worth asking at any point in our lives, and in any of the stormy seas we may face. Are we turning outward to stare at the sea or turning back to the Lord himself?

The really good news is that no matter how violent the seas, nor how distressed you and I become, the Lord is with us. The calm, sure, saving Jesus is ever-present in this boat we call life. We actively participate by looking to him in calm and stormy seas.

I’m Greg Williams, speaking of life.

Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b • Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 • Romans 10:5-15 • Matthew 14:22-33

This week’s theme is God’s unlikely story: how God uses counter-intuitive heroes and broken people to get the epic of redemption told. Genesis 37 begins the story of Joseph—the prideful dreamer who was sold into slavery. Psalm 105 is the poetic retelling of Joseph’s redemption story. Matthew 14 tells the story of impetuous Peter walking on water, falling in it, and walking again. Our sermon, “Paul’s Rosetta Stone,” is based on Romans 10. Paul is in the middle of connecting the Hebrew story of redemption with the gospel. The long and very human story of Israel crescendos in Christ, then continues in the long and very human story of us.

Paul’s Rosetta Stone

Romans 10:5-15 ESV

In the summer of 1799, a French foot soldier was working on a building near the town of Rashid (Rosetta). They used whatever materials they could find—scrap lumber and metal, even ancient stone and ruins that were in the sand. This soldier noticed a particular stone covered in ancient writing, and went to his superior officer to tell him about it.

The ancient writing was in three languages. Two were Egyptian—one in hieroglyphics and one demotic (more like written script of languages today)—the third was ancient Greek. No one had ever been able to translate hieroglyphics before, so the Greek (which people could read) became the key to unlocking the hieroglyphic language. Light flooded into the mysterious Egyptian history and overnight Egypt became a place and story known to the world.

The Rosetta Stone was the first key to unlocking this mystery. Just a random piece of stone that someone took the time to notice. The writing on it isn’t very interesting, just a few regional laws that were being passed. But the stone itself made all the difference. In modern language, the term “Rosetta Stone” has come to mean a key piece of evidence or data that makes everything clear.

Paul’s letter to the Romans is the Rosetta Stone of the Christian story. This longest of Paul’s letters helps to hold together and translate the history of Israel with the current story of what it means to be God’s people in Christ. This is the key that fits the lock, or better yet, the view that gives us the vantage point to see all of the history of redemption—from the first Adam to the second Adam, from the children of Israel entering the promised land to a small house church in Rome gathering around the gospel.

In Paul’s Rosetta Stone, he lays the words of the old covenant in the Old Testament, next to the new covenant reality of life in Christ. He shows how the reality of Christ unlocks the ancient mysteries and translates and connects the old story with what God is currently up to.

The story of Jesus doesn’t destroy the story of the Old Testament—it completes that narrative. Jesus is the twist ending.

Look at these two Scripture passages to see the Rosetta Stone in action. The first is from a moment when God renewed the covenant with Israel, just before Moses died and they entered the Promised Land. Notice God’s words to Israel:

For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?” But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. (Deuteronomy 30:11-15 ESV)

Now, look at the next reading, centuries later, that Paul sends to the community in Rome:

For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:5-9 ESV)

Do you see this echo at work? Paul is laying out the completion of the Israelite story, even to the point of using the Israelite scripture!

Too often, modern Christians tend to separate the Old and New Testaments. Some even make the serious mistake of saying the Old Testament God was somehow a different person than Jesus, or that Jesus was God’s plan B.

Paul says just the opposite here, even to the point of exactly paralleling Israel and us. His point here is that in the days of Moses, people would “live by” (v. 5) the law—they had that deeper, richer life of knowing God by following the works and rituals of the law. All this was only meant to point ahead to Christ, to pre-shadow him.

Now that Christ has come, God himself can live in us. The connection between us and God is complete—not known only in the distant fragments of Israelite practice. To go on doing the rituals of the law was like keeping on your wedding dress days after the ceremony—you needed it in that moment, but after vows are said, the dress has done its job.

Paul translates the story of Israel through the gospel to show that it is completed only in Christ. Now we “live” by knowing Jesus, not following the works of the Law. We live when “you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (v. 9).

So, there’s our first point: Romans is the Rosetta Stone of the gospel, translating the historical Hebrew experience by Jesus, as experienced by the new Christian community.

Think about your own life in terms of the gospel as a kind of “Rosetta Stone.” Theologian Dick Keyes talks about a trip he took as an irreligious young man when he was a student at Harvard. He had been reading about Christian faith and was haunted by the truth of it—the gospel wouldn’t leave him alone. During this trip, he stayed at a hotel and ended up reading through the Gideon Bible that was on hand.

He was struck by the insight Scripture had into human life. He noted that the psychology and story of being human was illuminated by the gospel in a unique and accurate way. The gospel was the Rosetta Stone for his experience in life. Soon after, he turned his life over to Christ and has been in ministry ever since.

He found, as G.K. Chesterton put it: Christian faith is the key “because it fits the lock.”

Universally and throughout history, people have found themselves uncomfortable and alienated by human life. There never seems to be enough to feed our egos, our selfishness knows no bounds, and our appetites and pleasures drive us crazy. The secular liberal world might call it “maladjustment,” the New Age world might call it “lack of enlightenment” or “misalignment,” but the gospel has always called it “sin.”

The reality of sin and the need for redemption is an insight that resonates with the deepest of the human experience. Like the Rosetta Stone, putting the story of the gospel next to our own twisted, frustrated, exhausting human story makes sense of life. The gospel makes sense of the enigmatic story of life itself. It is the correct translation.

  • To our feelings of misalignment and alienation, the gospel offers the diagnosis of sin, and Christ the cure.
  • To our enormous egos and pride, the gospel offers the fact that we are the royal sons and daughters of God.
  • To our insatiable, insane appetites and desires, the gospel offers ethical and moral structure that houses and heals us.
  • To the pain of our human loneliness, the gospel offers the connection and warmth of the Christ community.

It fits the lock.

Now, let’s look at who Paul was writing to.

The church in Rome had been running for a few decades now. A few years before this letter, the Roman emperor had kicked all the Jews out of Rome in a political move. It was a horribly racist move to consolidate his power.

While they were gone, the Roman Christian community grew and took on its own identity—and was made up entirely of non-Jewish believers because the Jews were gone. What you had in that community instead of Jewish people embracing Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, was people who had been involved in the Greco-Roman cults, for whom it probably made more sense that Jesus was the Son of God. The Jewish people struggled with exclusivism and tension toward non-Jewish people; the Gentile people struggled with suddenly having to change their licentious sexual habits and focusing on worshipping one God instead of dozens.

When the leadership of Rome allowed the Jews to return, the church there had been running without them for a while. Not surprisingly, tempers flared, and divisions arose between Jewish and Gentile Christians. Paul spent a lot of his letter, and a good amount of his other letters, addressing this kind of tension. In chapter 14, he offers a long discussion on how eating meat that’s been sacrificed to idols, then sold in a butcher shop, is essentially irrelevant for God’s people. “Non-essential” issues like this shouldn’t make for division or judgmental attitudes in the community.

For one of the first times in history—and more successful than the world had seen before—a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural family of faith was starting. The main people groups Paul was writing to—the Jews and the Greco-Roman community—were quite different. For the average faithful Hebrew, life was a strict regimen of rituals and community occasions, with a high moral code and certain rhythm. For a Roman at the time, religion was a matter of rituals used to buy off the distant gods for good harvests, health and healthy children. Your religion didn’t have anything to do with your moral life (the philosophers ran that), and Roman men had almost no limits on their sexual recreation. Life involved a lot of drinking and partying.

Imagine a tight-laced fundamentalist and a bohemian liberal suddenly finding themselves part of a new faith community. Sharing meals, sharing beliefs, and calling themselves a family. It’s no wonder then what Paul wrote in verse 12-13:

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:12-13 ESV)

That’s the story. This is a community not favoring one specific heritage (as Jews may be tempted to believe) and not just another god among many (as the Greeks and Romans may struggle with), but one God for all the world, drawing them together into one family. The Jewish story is complete, bringing God’s promise to Abraham that his descendants would “multiply as the stars of heaven” (Genesis 26) through the stewardship of the Jewish people now to this universal family of Christ that transcends all boundaries.

So, how do we take the Rosetta Stone into our own lives? What does this mean for us on Monday?

  • First, God keeps his promises. Jesus wasn’t God’s Plan B after the Law “didn’t work”— he was the planned end of the epic story. God doesn’t have a Plan B for you. He’s bringing your story through, sometimes despite your best efforts. You are God’s plan A.
  • Second, the gospel is the Rosetta Stone of life. When the circumstances of your life don’t seem to make sense, translate them through the gospel. Is this making you more like Christ? Is this circumstance freeing you from your own ego and expectations? Is God calling you to do something in this moment that’s new and out of your comfort zone?
  • Third, God’s end goal was always to draw all people, from every nation and tongue, to the possibility of life in Christ. We aren’t democrats or republicans (or whatever political party in your country)— we are Christians. We aren’t blue collar or white collar, rich or poor, we are in God’s royal family and that’s what matters most.


Small Group Discussion Questions

Questions for Speaking of Life: “Rembrandt’s Pointed Question.” (Watch video to start)
  • Have you ever imagined yourself as a figure in one of the gospel stories? Or is there one that resonates deeply with you—that you could imagine yourself a part of?
  • Where are you on the boat in a picture like this? Looking at the storm or at Jesus? How do we turn our eyes toward Christ in a situation like this?
Questions for sermon: “Paul’s Rosetta Stone”
  • We talked about the gospel as the Rosetta Stone that correctly translates human experience and makes sense of it. Do you agree? Have you seen that at work in your own life?
  • We talked about experiencing life in Christ and that following his way is the best way to be human. Do you think about knowing Christ like that? Is it the key to being fully human, or a muted, restrained existence?
  • Romans is Paul’s Rosetta Stone, fully connecting the Hebrew history with the Christian experience. Does the fact that the whole narrative holds together, that Jesus was not God’s Plan B, make sense to you? Does it help the Bible make more sense?
Quote to ponder: “If you want to know who God is, look at Jesus. If you want to know what it means to be human, look at Jesus… And go on looking until you’re not just a spectator, but you’re actually part of the drama which has him as the central character.” ~~N.T. Wright

Sermon for August 16, 2020

Speaking of Life 2038 | Double Booked

The Bible is full of promises of God caring for his children. Do you ever wonder if God is capable of fulfilling all of his promises? We only have to look to Jesus to find the answer. Through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise of blessing to all of humanity!

Program Transcript

Speaking of Life 2038 | Double Booked
Michelle Fleming

Have you ever made the same promise to two different people? In our fast-moving world we may easily do this unintentionally. Like promising to meet a friend for dinner only to remember you already told another friend you would help her with a project. Or maybe you promised to take your daughter to a movie the same night you scheduled to watch your son’s baseball game. It’s the classic mistake of double-booking. It may have been a simple mistake, but it introduces a complex problem. You will have to choose who to break your promise to.

Doing this can become tricky. You don’t want to appear to play favorites and you don’t want to create tension between your two friends or in your family. Hopefully they will understand. But there is the risk of hurt feelings, maybe even some jealousy not to mention damaged trust. However, you slice it, double-booking can be divisive in your relationships.

It may be awkward for us to double-book, but it can be very painful to be on the receiving end. Especially if you are the one who must endure the broken promise. Even when you know it was an honest scheduling mistake, it still hurts to know your friend or loved one passed the broken promise to you.

An experience like this may make us wonder if God ever “double-books.” The Bible is full of promises the Father makes to his children. Is it possible he has over promised? Will he need to take back his promise to you in order to keep it with someone else? The answer of course is ABSOLUTELY NOT! The promises of the Triune God of love are aimed to bring peace in all our relationships, not to divide them. Psalm 133 gathers up rich imagery from Israel’s history as a description of God’s promises kept.

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.” (Psalm 133:1-3, NIV)

Our Father has no problem keeping his promises, even when he “double-books.” In fact, in Jesus we find that he goes far beyond just “double-booking.” He extends his promise of blessing to everyone in his Son Jesus Christ. You can rest assured that the Father’s promise to you will not be taken back by his promise to another. His glory is for all of our good.

I’m Michelle Fleming, Speaking of Life.

Genesis 45:1-15 • Psalm 133:1-3 • Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32 • Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

This week’s theme is God’s faithfulness to reconciliation. In Genesis 45, God is faithful to Joseph by bringing reconciliation and redemption between Joseph and his brothers. Psalm 133 sings of the beauty of brothers living in unity. Paul is adamant of God’s mercy to both Jews and Gentiles in a letter to the Roman church while Jesus is recorded in Matthew’s Gospel extending mercy beyond the house of Israel to a Canaanite woman.

God Forbid

Romans 11:1-2a. 29-32 NRSV

Start with a story of a time you questioned whether God had rejected you, perhaps before you came to an understanding of his grace. Or share a story of someone who believed he or she had been rejected by God.

When you read through the Old Testament—especially through the Psalms and the Prophets, you see many times King David or the Israelites believed God had rejected them. This is a real feeling, and something Paul addressed to the Romans. Let’s read our text for today.

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. … [skipping to verse 29] … for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.  Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all. Romans 11:1-2, 29-32 NRSV)

Notice that in this reading Paul asks a pointed question, “Has God rejected his people?” and then provides an intense answer, “By no means!” Then the lectionary reading omits the next 26 verses, where Paul is sharing details to the readers of this letter, which follow a meandering path where Paul attempts to show us how he got from his question to his answer.

This path recounts the story of Elijah and Baal with some prophet and psalm references thrown in. He includes some discussion about Israel’s failures which somehow opens a door for the inclusion of Gentiles. Then there is a metaphor about an olive tree that supports both natural and grafted branches. This sets up a warning for his Gentile Christian audience that they should not think their inclusion amounts to the Jews’ exclusion. Paul seems intent on making the point that God is not choosing between the Jews and the Gentiles but is working all things together in order to include everyone. Those omitted verses could contain a few sermons of their own. The verses add details Paul uses for the readers of this letter, all of which lead up to Paul answering his initial question: “I ask, then, has God rejected his people?”

The context shows us that Paul has been talking about Israel’s constant rejection of God. In Romans chapter 10—and remember that chapters and verses were added later, so this is a continuation of Paul’s thought—Paul writes about Isaiah’s prophecy that God would be found by those who did not seek him, and he would show himself to those who did not ask for him—a continuation of Paul’s point that Jesus offers salvation to all. Then Paul makes reference to this about God and Israel:

But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” (Romans 10:21 NRSV)

The context implies that Paul is raising this important question because his Gentile converts have somehow reached the conclusion that God has rejected the Jews. (Unfortunately, this idea still lives in many Christians today. After all, because Jews don’t accept Jesus as their Savior, God must reject them. That is a misguided conclusion that Paul is addressing.)

But it’s not just Israel. Most of us ask the question from time to time: Has God rejected me? After all, there’s times I have turned away, walked a different path, been more worldly than righteous, not sought God, etc. Has God rejected me? Have my sins and failures outweighed any good I do—as if God has us on some kind of justice scale?

Going further, we also face the conundrum of finding it easier to answer Paul’s question with a “Yes” when we think the people God rejects doesn’t include us. It can be easy to cast judgment and condemnation on others because of what they believe or don’t believe, what they practice or don’t practice, how they live or don’t live. If we believe God is passing judgment on those who are “less than” us—in terms of spirituality, obedience, etc.—we are hopeful he is not rejecting us. But even in that twisted way of thinking, we are still asking the deeper question, has God rejected me?

That’s really what’s at stake. As soon as we attribute to God a heart of rejecting people because of their failures, sooner or later our own failures will convince us that we too must be rejected. Before Paul goes into his long meandering path for his readers, he immediately answers the question so bluntly and harshly that he implies that asking the question itself is preposterous.

The NRSV I’m using here translates Paul’s terse “NO” with “By no means!” Other translations go with “God forbid” or “May it never be!” All these translations are trying to communicate the intensity of Paul’s “NO.” The word would be hard pressed to find its equal in being so emphatic. I might say it this way: to even ask the question is to admit a misunderstanding of who God is as Father, Son and Spirit. It is to acknowledge a misunderstanding of who Jesus was, is, and is to come. It is to neglect the truth of the gift God gave us at the cross, in the resurrection and in the ascension of Jesus. It is to make an assumption that God forgave only some at the cross, that Jesus is the Savior only to some.

Paul presents his Gentile friends with the closest evidence at hand for his answer—himself.

For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. Romans 11:2 NRSV

You can’t get more Jewish than that! Paul has done the one thing this Gentile church perhaps needs reminding to do. He has made it personal. It’s easy to talk about the “other guy” instead of looking at our own failures and shortcomings. Have you noticed how easy it is to do that? Paul knows why he is not rejected by God. It’s not because he is a Gentile and it’s certainly not because he was a good Jew. Paul knows that it is only by God’s mercy and grace that he is accepted and embraced by the Father. It’s not about him, it’s not about the Jews or the Gentiles. It’s about who God is as revealed in Jesus Christ.

Now we go to the end of the chapter, and the rest of our lectionary reading.

For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all. (Romans 11:29-32 NRSV)

Paul seems to know that he needs to change their focus. They should not judge God’s faithfulness by human unfaithfulness. He doesn’t want them looking at the Jews to judge who’s in and who’s out. But they also shouldn’t look at themselves, either. They are to look at God’s faithfulness to his people throughout their history.

God’s faithfulness is not a faithfulness to favoritism — it’s a faithfulness to himself. God keeps his promises and never goes back on his word. “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” This is the truth of who God is that prompts Paul’s intense reaction to any questioning of God’s faithfulness to his people. It’s God’s character Paul is defending. He’s not defending the Jews nor is he trying to denounce the Gentiles. What’s at stake is belief in the God of mercy who has been revealed in his faithfulness to us in Jesus Christ.

We do not want to miss the opportunity to make this text personal. “Does God reject us?” Have our failures added up to a point of no return? Is our heritage too tainted for God’s presence? Is there anywhere we can look to secure our own inclusion in God’s acceptance? There is only one place to look, and it’s not on our performance or heritage. It is on God’s faithfulness to his own Son, who includes us in his life.

As we look at Jesus, God’s Word to us, we will come to see that the Father would no more break his promise to us as he would reject his own Son. The Father speaks a promise to us in Jesus that he will never take back.

We are disobedient. God knows this and is not in any way surprised by this. Our disobedience continually points to God’s mercy. This is Paul’s main point. God will not—indeed cannot—reject us because of who he is. He is mercy.

We may never understand the “How” of God’s inclusion. Much of how God works his promises into eternal reality remains a mystery to us. God is merciful because God is mercy. This is how we know God did not reject his people; this is how we know he never will. We can say “no” to God; we can reject him and that decision will affect our life. We can live outside of his joy and his love and his mercy, but it is never because he rejects us; it happens only when we reject or disbelieve him.

God is a merciful God. Period. This is news many people need to hear. Many live outside this truth, which leads to doubt, fear, anxiety and misery. When someone tells you they feel God has rejected them for any reason, tell them who he is and help them say, God forbid.

Further, if you ever begin to question God’s faithfulness to his promises and purposes for you, or if you ever begin thinking that maybe God has rejected you, I pray you remember God’s mercy and answer your own question with—GOD FORBID!

Small Group Discussion Questions

Speaking of Life Questions
  • Springing from the Speaking of Life video, can you recall a time you “double-booked” on someone? Have you been on the giving or receiving end of a “double-booking”? Share your experience. How did it make you feel?
  • What did you think of the concept of God “double-booking” his promises? Why do you think we may limit God’s promises to only a few?
Sermon Questions
  • Did making Paul’s question personal change how you viewed his answer?
  • Why do you think Paul was so emphatic with his “God forbid” answer to the question, “has God rejected his people?”
  • Can you resonate with looking at others in such a way that makes you feel better about yourself? How does looking at God’s character rather than comparing our character to others increase our security in his acceptance of us?
  • Do you ever feel like God has rejected you? How can we encourage one another of God’s mercy during our times of failure?

Sermon for August 23, 2020

Speaking of Life 2039 | Sing the Story Again

From the everyday blessings, we take for granted to awe-inspiring miracles God is invested in every detail of our lives. Let’s sing the story of God’s goodness, again and again, until it becomes the theme and music of our entire lives!

Program Transcript

Speaking of Life 2039 | Sing the Story Again
Greg Williams

For a decade of my life, I worked with Youth for Christ, a worldwide youth movement engaging young people around the world with God’s story. In fact, their model for describing evangelism was called “Three Story Evangelism.” Three Story is a relational style of sharing the gospel showing how my story, my friend’s story and God’s story all overlap, and especially so in how the Lord of the universe is pursuing humanity.

The Old Testament writers were well aware of how God’s presence intersected in their collective stories. Notice these words from the prophet Isaiah:

Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the LORD. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many. Isaiah 51:1-2 (NRSV)

Isaiah’s words ring with a common biblical practice: memory. Remember who you are. Remember the quarry you were cut from, the story of Abraham and Sarah, the promise that they would outnumber the stars.

Throughout the Psalms, the poets retell the stories of the patriarchs and heroes to encourage the community. Or they sing through the truths of the faith to bring them back to mind. In many places, the psalmists sing praises for things God has brought them through. In other places, the psalmists encourage the community to hang on through hard times, knowing that God will show his faithfulness again.

When the early church met in homes, they told and re-told the stories of Jesus and read the letters of Paul and the other apostles. In a society in which only part of the people were literate, the stories would be memorized and recited to keep their new identity and new story in front of them.

And so, we meet today. We connect ourselves with the epic of gospel history as we meet to tell ourselves the great story. Then we encourage each other by sharing how God has entered our story in everything from mundane blessings to amazing red sea experiences in our lives. Telling and re-telling the story helps us to keep faith in focus.

How can we tell the story again today? How do we keep these truths in front of our mind’s eye? How can we, like the psalmist, look back to God’s goodness and look forward in trust?

Let’s sing the story of God’s goodness, again and again, until it becomes the theme and music of our entire lives.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 124:1-8 • Exodus 1:8-2:10 • Romans 12:1-8 • Matthew 16:13-20

This week’s theme is God working out his miracle in us. Exodus 1 tells the story of Moses’ mother putting him in a basket and God miraculously intervening. Psalm 124 tells the story of God saving Israel again from ruin and defeat. Matthew 16 is the pivotal moment where Peter—an unlikely voice—starts to miraculously understand who Jesus is. Our sermon, “God’s Revolutionary People,” discusses Romans 12. The people of Jesus are defined by a miraculous unity in diversity and purity. This revolutionary community crossed ethnic, political, and socio-economic barriers with a supernatural love.

God’s Revolutionary People

Romans 12:1-8 ESV

Begin the sermon by reading Romans 12:1-8 ESV

Paul presents some revolutionary ideas here and elsewhere in Rome, and we are going to talk about them, but first, we need to talk about parachute pants. Big hair. Bell bottoms. Pedal pushers. Stonewashed jeans. We can all think of styles that seemed like the thing to be wearing at the time, but in retrospect look than a little silly.

Ask for examples of other fads that faded. (Examples: headbands, fingerless gloves, beehive hairdos.) This could be a fun discussion.

Maybe this is a silly example, but it demonstrates an impulse we find all over in human society: conformity. Even, sometimes especially, in cultures that claim to be open-minded and diverse, fashions, many celebrities, and much of the “modern” art looks and sounds the same. If you look back on what “everybody was doing” twenty years after the fact, it can be a little embarrassing.

This conformity appears in places as innocuous as fashion trends, but it can go into darker places. Think of the Chinese young people almost a century ago all dressed as Mao Zedong. Think of the fierce and immediately recognizable aesthetic of the Nazi party. The ideology came with a uniform, the perspective came with a look, and the number one enemy in these situations is diversity.

Keep your scrunchie in place and your Bugle Boys pegged for a moment, and we’ll come back to it.

In the densely packed hallways of the book of Romans, a few themes ring out over and over. One of the main themes was unity—not surprising, considering the historical circumstances of the letter.

The Roman church was founded a few decades before this letter and believers had been living and working as a Christian community. But a few years before this letter was written, the Emperor Claudius had kicked all the Jews out of Rome. Consequently, the church there became exclusively Greek and Roman believers. Five years later, the Jews were allowed to return.

The Roman church developed divisions quickly between Jewish and Gentile believers. They had extremely different backgrounds, faith played a different role in their cultures, and these were communities that had defined themselves against each other for centuries. It’s no surprise, then, that unity is a major theme for Paul throughout his letter—as one family in Christ, we gather around one set of beliefs and behavior, and these cultural divisions of the past are no longer relevant. That was ideal, but it’s an ideal the church has been trying to live up to for two millennia with only partial success.

Paul describes his vision of the body of Christ:

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them. (Romans 12:4-5 ESV)

What Paul describes here cuts against the tensions that were going on the church. Conformity had become the theme—conformity to circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, dietary laws and other cultural practices that had nothing to do with being in Christ.

Especially in a relatively small, persecuted community like the church in Rome, conformity was one of the ways to keep together, one of glues that held them as a unit. Paul says that the gospel is stronger and more durable than conformity, and calls us to appreciate a diversity of callings and expressions within the Body of Christ.

Appreciating that diversity, even depending on the diversity of gifts, is the way the body of believers stays healthy. We’re not to compete with each other and try to find the in-crowd, but to accept ourselves and others and appreciate the differing voices that harmonize into one song.

So this stands against our natural default tendency to conform—to slip into cults of personality as silly as hairstyles or as dangerous as dictatorships. Paul calls us to step out in faith and embrace the unique ways that God has made people, even to the point of working together as one body. That’s not easy, but it’s the best life.

This revolution is like nothing the world had seen before. Biblical scholar Tim Mackie imagines one of Paul’s communities gathering (paraphrased):

Say you’re a Cyprian day laborer who drifted to Galatia (modern day Turkey) to find work. You hear in the town square there’s this leather worker named Paul who is constantly talking about a new King …. You get curious and go to see what his community is about … these people gather in a house community and you show up. You find three Jewish families, one who is very wealthy and brings his Egyptian slave. There’s a Roman metalworker. Three other people from Cypress where you’re from. There’s several homeless people, one is Asian, one is Macedonian – and you all sit there together. Then Paul talks about how Jesus died for all of us as one unit. Then you share a meal together. There’s nowhere else where anything like this is happening!

This kind of inclusion was mind-blowingly revolutionary at the time. Think of the master and slave mentioned there. Slavemasters generally saw their slave essentially as an appliance, not a person. In their home environment, they would never have sat at the same table and eaten together. Even if circumstances shoved you all into the same room together somehow, you certainly wouldn’t share beliefs. The Macedonian would have their own gods and the Romans would have theirs. There might be a single cult that worshipped Caeser, but that was pretty nominal, and not what you probably considered your people’s faith.

Paul asks them to give up all that division and to meet in these small diverse communities as an outpost of the new humanity in Christ—the new humanity that didn’t fall into conformity or old cultural divisions, but was part of a family that transcended these individual categories. To paint that, he calls us the “one body” of Christ.

And at the same time, he values diversity:

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (Romans 12:5 ESV)

Paul develops this in several places in his writing—the metaphor of a body in which all the parts not only appreciate each other, but depend on each other. There’s a celebration of diversity and difference rather than an attack on it, and this is the kind of complex relationship that can only be called love. Human beings, as displayed in the brutal uniformity of atheist empires, aren’t capable of allowing diversity in a relationship without some supernatural help!

C.S. Lewis drew the analogy between Christ and salt in our food. If someone had salt for the first time, and we told them we use it in most of our cooking, they might assume that everything tastes the same. But salt only brings out the flavor of the steak, potatoes, cabbage or whatever we put it into, that the diversity of it is magnified and celebrated by the salt. The uniqueness of each dish is brought out by the salt, just as the unique makeup of each person is accentuated and brought to life by Christ.

This is one of the revolutionary ideas that Paul puts forward here. The world hadn’t seen communities like this before, at least none that were near as coherent or lasted as long.

How do we take this revolution to our lives as a church? We live in a very different world, especially in the West, in which dividing along cultural and socio-economic lines is considered backward and barbarian. In Paul’s world, it was the order of the day and part of keeping society running smoothly. And yet despite all our modern lip service, these divisions still exist.

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:6-8 ESV)

We might look up to pastors because of their gifting when Paul lists that here with all the other gifts, actually after the gift of being a waiter/host/food-prepper. We divide ourselves along lines of education. If Jesus had what would have been thought of as a bumpkin or hick accent, would we have judged him? Categorized him?

We have our own divisions along the more traditional or contemporary worship expressions. Hymnal-thumpers look down their noses at PowerPoint-praisers as non-serious and self-focused. PowerPointers look at traditionalists with contempt as stodgy and obsolete. Yet Paul says that they both have something to offer the church, and we hold space for each other in love, life will be richer and better if we honor diversity.

These divisions may be small, even silly, but even these small fissures can become fault lines in the Christian community. We gather around the Trinity, which is a community in itself, and that love in diversity should be reflected in our lives.

The second revolutionary idea discussed here and elsewhere in Romans is even more uncomfortable than embarrassing 1980s styles. Sex. One of the most talked-about topics in human history—everybody has an opinion on it, maybe two. Wars have been fought over sex, and every other generation is convinced they invented it.

We may wonder why Paul talked about it so much. Sexual relationships and issues come up dozens of times in his letters, and it’s interesting how the church is uncomfortable talking about the topic! But it was a revolutionary marker of what it meant to be God’s people at the time, especially in Rome.

Roman wives were expected to keep to what might be familiar to us: absolute monogamy to one husband throughout their whole lives. Roman men were completely the opposite. Recreational sex was the cultural norm. Regular, upstanding Roman citizens went to prostitutes (often at their religious temples) and routinely used their slaves (men and women) for what one ancient writer called “everyday urges.” Sex with their wives was important because it was connected to childbirth, but most of the time erotic encounters for men were just an appetite like eating and drinking.

For Paul to call the Roman men in the believing community to sexual purity was absolutely revolutionary. That injunction as part of their new moral code in Christ would have been completely disorienting. It was progressive, disruptive, and most surprisingly to our modern ears, deeply feminist! But it makes sense. If we live in a society where there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, then the same sanctified ethic applies to all.

Instead of the pervading understanding of your body as your own property which you could use as you wanted, Paul asks them “to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world.” (Romans 12:1-2 ESV). You are not your own anymore, nor are you the slave of your insatiable, maddening desires. Your body is no longer just an afterthought that’s disconnected with your spirit and can be used how you see fit. Your soul, mind, and body belong to the Lord.

So, what about Monday? What do these two revolutionary ideas—unity in diversity and sexual purity—have to do with us two thousand years later?

There are several applications, but let’s briefly look at two.

Revolutionary Unity in Diversity

This is one of the great miracles of being God’s people­—young and old, male and female, all levels of education and physical ability have importance and a voice. Look at the rich imagery the prophet Joel talks about in the kingdom age:

And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. (Joel 2:28 ESV)

Revolutionary Sexual Ethics

If nearly complete sexual license doesn’t sound familiar to you, then you haven’t read the news in quite a while! Promiscuity on the level of Roman society and our present society causes innumerable problems with exploitation, corrosive relationships, and addiction, just to name a few. In this society, the Christian commitment to sex within marriage isn’t just unique, it’s revolutionary. A revolution of healed relationships, women not living in fear of exploitation, and celebration of God’s great gift of physical love rightly enjoyed should be the order of the day among the people of God.

Relationships, love, diversity and celebration—these are the rich and dangerous ideas of what it means to be God’s people.

Small Group Discussion Questions

Questions for Speaking of Life: “Sing the Story Again”
  • Isaiah 51 and many other places in Scripture call us to bring to memory our identity as God’s people. Are there stories of God’s undeniable goodness in your life that help you to remember who he is and who you are? Do these glimpses of grace in your life keep you going? Give examples.
  • How can your church community or small group keep up this practice of memory? How can you sing the story as a group?
Questions for sermon: “God’s Revolutionary People.”
  • Paul talks about some revolutionary markers of God’s people. The first he lays out is unity in diversity—the interdependent, spacious relationship of the Jesus family. Have you ever seen the beauty of this diversity in action? A connection in a group of people that can only be called miraculous?
  • Why do our human communities, especially those that aren’t imbued with God’s Spirit, tend toward uniformity and conformity?
  • The other revolutionary marker that Paul talks about is a holy, sanctified understanding of sexual purity. Why is this so important? Are biblical standards as important (and revolutionary) in our society as they were in the early church?
Quote to ponder: “Diversity may be the hardest thing for a society to live with, and perhaps the most dangerous thing for a society to be without.” ~~William Sloane Coffin, pastor and theologian

Sermon for August 30, 2020

Speaking of Life 2040 | Stopping the Spin

Our perception can shape our reality. Because of this, we must fill ourselves with the truth. Cling to this ultimate truth, you are loved and accepted by the Creator of the Universe!

Program Transcript

Speaking of Life 2040 | Stopping the Spin
Heber Ticas

The saying “the truth lies somewhere in the middle” is often used to explain how we each bring our own perspective about reality to any situation. If you have kids, you know this. A fight starts between siblings, and each one says, “He started it” or “She started it.” As a parent you know the truth is somewhere in the middle of those accusations.

Our interpretation of reality is partially defined by our unique life experiences and our temperament, and we find this is also true in how we think about our Christian lives.

We know that being human has its highs and lows. This is the reality of all of humanity and the Bible shares this reality. The Psalms, for example, are filled with hope and joy and encouragement, but they also sometimes have lots of anger and vengefulness. This is part of our human experience. These highs and lows can affect how we see God.

If we look at Psalm 105, we can see the psalmist is giving God glory for wonderful blessings poured out on the nation of Israel, but then the psalmist puts his own spin on Israel’s history:

The Lord made his people very fruitful;
he made them too numerous for their foes,
whose hearts he turned to hate his people,
to conspire against his servants.
Psalm 105:24-25

Notice how the psalmist blames God for the anger of the Israelites’ foes, saying “whose hearts he turned to hate his people.” Does a God of love really want people to hate each other? We can see that in passages like this one, the writer is playing on the human drama of the situation rather than speaking literally about how God behaves.  If we think about this in human terms, we parents can say that we would much prefer our children get along rather than fight.

Noticing our very human tendency to put our own spin on what we experience can help us when we start telling ourselves unhelpful and untrue stories about God. For example, when we’re faced with a job loss or a financial setback, do we think we’re being punished by God? If we face a serious illness, do we assume that we have sinned in some way, and this illness is our payback?

Noticing our tendency to interpret events as if God is against us can help us stop and gain perspective. We can consider what we know about God’s character, which is based on grace, and goodness. We can remember the kindness and love of Jesus in his dealings with people, and how Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9, NIV). We can think about the times that we felt God’s nearness and blessing, recalling those memories in all their detail. Positive actions like these can help us overcome the negative spin we sometimes put on difficult events in our lives.

Being human is hard, and challenges often crop up in our lives. Recognizing our tendency to blame God or others when we’re hurting can help us make different choices. We can “stop the spin” by remembering God’s love and kindness to us in our past.

Let us recognize and rest in the truth about God’s love for us today.

I’m Heber Ticas, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45 • Exodus. 3:1-15 • Romans 12:9-21 • Matthew 16:21-28

*The theme for this week is “the blessing of following.” In Exodus 3, we read the story of Moses and the burning bush, and we learn that God always equips us for any leadership role we’re given. Psalm 105 reminds us to seek the Lord and glory in his name, to give thanks and to praise. In Matthew 16, Jesus reminds Peter and the disciples to trust him, deny ourselves and follow him. The sermon outline, titled “True Discipleship: Loving as Jesus Loves” discusses the attributes of disciples of Jesus.

True Discipleship – Loving as Jesus Loves

Romans 12:9-21 NRSV

Ask the members to give a practical characteristic or example of what a “true disciple of Jesus” might be like. Then ask the same about someone “loving as Jesus loves.” Note the similarity in answers.

You may have noticed an emphasis in Equipper articles, GCI Update letters and RCL sermons on the new commandment Jesus gave. Most are familiar with John 13:35, which reminds us that disciples are identified by our love for one another. verse 14 describes this love:

I give you a new commandment that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. (John 13:34 NRSV)

So how are we to love one another as Jesus loves us? There are several passages in the Bible describing practical ways Jesus loves; today we will look at one passage in Romans. Let’s read it:

Read Romans 12:9-21 NRSV.

Let’s take this passage one thought at a time and share how Jesus loved us and how we can love others in a like manner.

Let’s take this passage one thought at a time and share how Jesus loved us and how we can love others in a like manner.

A suggestion is to either open this up for discussion, or give examples for these statements. You most likely won’t get through all of them, so encourage the members to come up with examples throughout the week and share at discipleship class or small group. After each statement ask, how did Jesus do this? What is a practical application today?

    • Let love be genuine
    • Hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good
    • Love one another with mutual affection
    • Outdo one another in showing honor
    • Do not lag in zeal
    • Be ardent in spirit
    • Serve the Lord
    • Rejoice in hope
    • Be patient in suffering
    • Persevere in prayer
    • Contribute to the needs of the saints
    • Extend hospitality to strangers
    • Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them
    • Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep
    • Live in harmony with one another
    • Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly
    • Do not claim to be wiser than you are
    • Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all
    • If it is possible, so far as depends on you, live peaceably with all
    • Never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mind, I will repay, says the Lord.”
    • If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning colas on their heads
    • Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good

It’s a tall order to be a disciple of Christ. There is a lot in the above list and it’s easy to focus more on our failures than our successes. Further, when we look at Romans 12 as a list of things we should not do, it’s easy to feel discouraged, because like Paul, we often find ourselves doing the things we do not want to do, and not doing the things we want to do. Discipleship is a life-long process of growing in grace and knowledge. It is loving others more today than we did last week. It is asking God to help us see others as he sees them, as his beloved. It is asking God to love with his love. It is asking God to make things plain for us.

So let’s simplify this passage and summarize these qualities—focusing on what we do rather than what we should not do.

  • A disciple is someone who follows Jesus and attempts to love as he loves:
  • A disciple is loving, kind, and authentic, honoring others whenever possible (vv. 9-10).
  • A disciple is passionate, hopeful, and willing to help and serve others, and when difficulties come, bears them gracefully through lots of prayer (vv. 11-13).
  • A disciple is empathetic, realizing how interconnected we all are as God’s children (vv. 14-16).
  • A disciple is peaceful, both within and without, and promotes peace even when wronged (vv. 17-20).
  • A disciple is an encouragement to be good and do good and believes that “being right” is much less of a priority (v. 21).

In other words, a disciple is someone who loves as Jesus loves, and is known to be a disciple of Jesus by his or her love for others.

Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life: “Stopping the Spin”
  • Have you ever witnessed an event with a group of people, maybe a sports event or school event, and everyone had certain details they noticed that no one else did? Why do you think we perceive reality through such different lenses?
  • Have you ever considered that our individual views of God could be influenced by our personality or temperament and our experiences? How have you seen this in your life or in lives of others?
From the sermon: “True Discipleship—Loving as Jesus Loves
  • After considering the sermon examples of what makes a good disciple, can you share examples from your own life of people who illustrated some of these qualities of good discipleship and loving others as Jesus loves?
  • The sermon says a disciple understands how interconnected we all are. What does this mean to you? How does it affect the way you treat others?
  • What do you think about our tendency to want to be right rather than to be loving? How do you think this tendency can limit our effectiveness as leaders and disciples?