GCI Equipper

A New Birth

The birth of a child is not only exciting, it changes everything.

I’ll never forget the excitement that filled our home as we anticipated the birth of our daughter. We decorated her room, we bought furniture, a car seat, clothes and all the items needed to take care of a newborn. We talked and talked about what it would be like to have her in our life. We celebrated her birth with great fanfare. Friends and family came over to share in our joy. We were now a family of three and we knew everything was going to change. And then a few days after her birth, we put everything away and waited for the next year to celebrate.

Wait! What?

OK, the last sentence was completely fictitious. Kayla is now 32 years of age and we are still enjoying her presence in our lives. She brought a son-in-law to our family and they have given us three grandchildren to love and share life with. Her birth was just the beginning of her existence and we will never stop celebrating her. She was, is, and always will be a big part of our life and a great source of joy.

You may know where I am going with this illustration. I marvel how quickly we put Christmas behind us each year. It seems we look at the incarnation as a singular event rather than a monumental change in every aspect of life. Jesus didn’t just come as a baby human, live a few years, change a few things, and then return to being God. Jesus came to bring eternity to humanity and humanity to eternity. When God became flesh, he remained flesh. The Christmas birth is just the beginning of the Incarnation. Incarnation is God taking on flesh—this has never changed.

Why would God do this? Because he loves you. It’s that simple, and that profound. We know the verses:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given… Isaiah 9:6

And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us… John 1:14

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son… John 3:16

But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman… Galatians 4:4

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation… Colossians 1:15

Being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death… Philippians 2:8

For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest… Hebrews 2:17

The Son of God took off his robe of light and put on pigmented human skin. The creator became part of the created. He came to redeem, to restore, to reconcile, to forgive, and to fully demonstrate the love of the Triune God for humanity. Some theologians use the phrase, “He became one of us so that we could become like him.” This would be better phrased: he became one of us so he could make us to be like he is (1 John 3:2). Jesus is the unique and only Son of God. He came to us, in flesh like us, to eternally unite the human to the divine. He is our forever High Priest, uniting God to us and us to God. This is Incarnation.

Incarnation is more than Christmas, it is Epiphany, Easter Preparation, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter, Ascension Sunday, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday and Christ the King Sunday. It is Jesus in every aspect of our lives every day of our lives. He never stops being God in the flesh for you and for me. He never stops being our Savior and our High Priest. He never stops living in us through the Holy Spirit. He never stops accepting us, including us, forgiving us, and loving us.  He never stops being who he became for us.

May God help us anticipate the coming of Christmas, to rejoice in the day, and not let the fullness die when the day is over. The birth of Jesus was certainly an exciting event in history – God becoming flesh changed everything. May he continually make things new in our love and appreciation for the Incarnation.

Still celebrating,

Rick Shallenberger

Christmas Presence

By Cara Garrity,
GCI Development Coordinator

It seems Christmas sneaks up on me almost every year. Maybe it’s the busyness of the year-end or the daily routines that obscure meaningful passing of time. Maybe it’s overwhelming preparations or inattentiveness and distractibility. Whatever the cause, I wonder if you are like me and find yourself unprepared to be present to the sacred meaning of the Christmas season.

The GCI worship calendar is designed to help orient us to Jesus as the center of the center. The liturgical calendar— through intentional and formational rhythms of worship— seeks to center and organize the lives of Christians around Jesus.

Unfortunately, we often find ourselves manipulating or ignoring the worship calendar around our busy schedules rather than allowing it to orient us around Jesus as the center.

Christmas is a season of joy and wonder because God is with us! It cultivates a posture of contemplation and celebration of this transformational truth. In the person of Jesus, we encounter Immanuel, God with us. John tells us:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

In Jesus, God the Son has stepped fully into our humanity. He has met us in all our mess and brokenness. He has walked among us. He has become one of us. The transcendent has become immanent. In the Christmas season we celebrate this profound, all-transforming truth that God has decidedly gifted us his incarnate presence in the birth of Jesus.

Christmas is all about presence. (Not to be confused with the belief that Christmas is all about presents!) It is about the incarnate presence of God in Jesus Christ and how this presence has changed everything. The worship calendar seeks to orient us towards this truth each Christmas season. And yet, we struggle to be present, to live with an awareness of and engagement with the transformational witness of the Christmas season. We struggle to allow it to orient us to the incarnate One.

In speaking about spiritual transformation, Ruth Haley Barton said this:

Many of us try to shove spiritual transformation into the nooks and crannies of a life that is already unmanageable, rather than being willing to arrange our life for what our heart most wants. We think that somehow we will fall into transformation by accident.1

What would it look like this Christmas season to be intentionally present to the truth of the incarnate presence of God in Jesus Christ rather than trying to shove it into the nooks and crannies?

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • The 12 days of Christmas is not just a fun song! Traditionally the Christmas season lasts twelve days in the Christian calendar—between Christmas day and Epiphany. Consider dedicating these twelve days to be intentionally and profoundly present to the truth of Jesus’ incarnation rather than rushing through one busy day of Christmas festivities. Here is a link to a suggested reading plan.
  • Contemplate the humanity of Jesus: Read the four Gospel accounts. Do an in-depth study of a Gospel account. Journal about what the humanity of Jesus means for you personally, for your community, and for the world. Go on a prayer walk or do meditative movements thanking Jesus that he knows what it’s like to move around in a human body.
  • Be present to the presence of God: Silence. Solitude. Retreat. Meditation. Lectio Divina. Media fast.
  • Celebrate corporately: Read through a Gospel account as a small group. Participate in a special Christmas worship service. Go through a Christmas devotional together as a church community.
  • Lament personally and corporately: In the Christmas season we profess that Jesus came to our world not as we wish it were, but as it actually is in all of its messiness and brokenness. Be present to suffering in the presence of Jesus who knew suffering. Be present to your tears in the presence of Jesus who wept.
  • Be intentional: In whatever form you open yourself to be oriented to and transformed by the incarnate One, know it will not happen by accident: Physically block off time in your calendar. Set a timer. Take a day off. Wake up a half hour early. Put your Bible on your coffee table. Schedule corporate celebrations with advance notice.

Being present does not come by accident. This Christmas season I pray that you are empowered by the Holy Spirit to be intentionally present and oriented to our incarnate Jesus.

 

1 Barton, Ruth Haley. Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation. InterVarsity Press, 2006.

Suggested Readings for the 12 Days of Christmas

The 12 days of Christmas is a good time to remind ourselves of the story of Jesus.

December 25 — Luke 1:26-56

December 26 — Luke 2:1-21

December 27 — Luke 2:22-38

December 28 — Luke 2:41-52

December 29— Isaiah 7:10-17; Isaiah 9:2-7

December 30 — John 1:1-18

December 31 — Matthew 2:1-12

January 1 — Mark 1:1-11

January 2 — Luke 3:1-22

January 3 — John 1:19-34

January 4 — Matthew 3:1-17

January 5 — Luke 4:1-13

A Child Is Born…For Us

By Bill Hall, GCI National Director, Canada

It has been my custom as Canadian Director to send a year-end card to Canadian donors thanking them for their financial support over the past year. As it is also the Christmas season, the image I select for this card features some rendering of the nativity scene. This year is no exception.

In addition to my usual greeting and word of thanks, I decided to add a quote from Isaiah which is part of the chorus in that well-known Christmas favorite, Handel’s Messiah:

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6 NKJV)

In particular, I decided to feature the line: “for unto us a Child is born.”

The Church has always interpreted these prophecies as referring to Jesus and his coming as the prophesied Messiah.

When looking at different translations of this part of Isaiah 9:6, I came across this rendering in the New Revised Standard Version: “For a child has been born for us….” Reflecting on the Incarnation, I think this rendering gives us a glimpse of what God has done for us.

Sometimes I think we tend to downplay the importance of the Incarnation, especially when we are in the Easter season and reflect on the significance of Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection. Yet it all started when the Holy Spirit impregnated that young virgin so long ago in Nazareth.

In the Incarnation, humanity, as James Torrance says, was “born again.”

A good analogy would be like having an iPhone that has suddenly started to act up. The apps don’t work, you are missing calls because the phone refuses to ring, and it seems like the battery life is non-existent. However, Apple in their wisdom provides you with this little wire tool that allows you to reset the iPhone to factory settings. Once you do that, the phone works again.

That’s like humanity after the “fall.” The life and relationship the Triune God had intended for humankind had gone awry. Humanity was in need of a reset to restore us to that relationship that God had intended for us.

As Paul’s words in his letter to the Roman church read:

Therefore, just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.  For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:18-21 NRSV).

Jesus took on our humanity through the Incarnation—for us—and continues taking on our humanity with him as our high priest (see Hebrews 9,10). He continues to minister on our behalf:

For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. (Hebrews 9:24).

That’s the best reset possible. Praise God for the reset given to us in the Incarnation.

A New Column: Youth Vision

A column dedicated to the adults who are actively participating in the discipleship of children and youth.

By Dison Mills, GCI Generations Ministry National Coordinator.

As the recently named national coordinator of Generations Ministry (GenMin), I am proud to introduce you to Youth Vision, a new column in Equipper.

Whether you are a parent, pastor, avenue champion, or ministry leader, our goal is to bring you information each month that will help you be more like Christ to the young people God has put in your care. The discipleship of our youth is not only for the benefit of our young people, but the process can bring new life to adult Christ-followers. In Acts 2:17, the apostle Peter reminds us that Jesus has ushered in a new era — a time when God is pouring out his Spirit on all humanity. One characteristic of this new era is that young people will see visions. Now, I am guessing that most of the young people you and I know will not receive a divine vision, however, we can assume that there are things that God wants to say to the world through our children and youth. This column will not only provide ways to live the gospel with youth, but it will teach adults how to make room for youth vision, voice, and sharing their gifts.

Some of you who are reading this may be in a congregation with little to no youth presence. Perhaps you are part of an older congregation. We will also include articles that will help congregations discern the best way to connect with the young people in their community. It is my prayer that churches in this category will develop a “not yet” mentality. Instead of saying, “We do not have any children,” I hope you will say, “We do not have any children yet.” Perhaps if you are open to it, God can do a new thing in your midst.

Thankfully, I am not alone in writing this column. From time to time, we will feature wisdom from skilled child and youth leaders.  Our denomination has many with a wealth of experience, and I hope to tap that precious resource. I want to personally thank those who have led GenMin in the past: Jeb Egbert, Ted Johnston, Greg Williams, Anthony Mullins, and Jeff Broadnax. I am proud to be following in your footsteps. I also want to thank the countless youth leaders, camp staff, and Sunday school teachers who faithfully and lovingly volunteer to serve GCI’s children and youth. You inspire all of us because Jesus shines so beautifully through you.

I am thankful for our past, and I am excited for our future. For those of you who have been in this denomination for a while, I grew up in YES, then went to YOU. I went to the camp in Orr and then returned as a high school worker. Later, I directed New Heights Summer Camp for five years. I have seen the wonderful things our fellowship has done for youth, and I sincerely believe the best is yet to come. To God be the glory!

Church Hacks 005 | The Benefits of PowerPoint

An important part of an inspirational Sunday service is having smooth transitions, which help avoid unnecessary distractions. One program that helps create a seamless service is PowerPoint. PowerPoint, a presentation software, is a tool that could help create an engaging online worship experience. In this episode of Church Hacks, Tim Sitterley will explain how PowerPoint can bring value to the online worship experience and how it can help the viewers be engaged. He will also talk about tips, tricks, and guides in preparing an effective PowerPoint presentation.

Church Hacks 005 | The Benefits of PowerPoint

Program Transcript


An important part of an inspirational Sunday service is having smooth transitions, which help avoid unnecessary distractions. One program that helps create a seamless service is PowerPoint. PowerPoint, a presentation software, is a tool that could help create an engaging online worship experience. In this episode of Church Hacks, Tim Sitterley will explain how PowerPoint can bring value to the online worship experience and how it can help the viewers be engaged. He will also talk about tips, tricks, and guides in preparing an effective PowerPoint presentation.

Also, check out these articles about PowerPoint Pointers and Worship Presentation Platforms.

PowerPoint Pointers

Worship Presentation Platforms

Also, check out these articles about PowerPoint Pointers and Worship Presentation Platforms.

PowerPoint Pointers

Worship Presentation Platforms

Gospel Reverb – The Lord’s Renown w/ Sherwood Lingenfelter

The Lord’s Renown w/ Sherwood Lingenfelter

Video unavailable (video not checked).

Program Transcript


The Lord’s Renown with Sherwood Lingenfelter

Listen in as host, Anthony Mullins and guest, Sherwood Lingenfelter, unpack these lectionary passages:

January 3                  Ephesians 1:3-14                 “Destined for Adoption”       (7:28)

January 10                Mark 1:4-11                           “Well Pleased”                      (20:51)

January 17                Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18         “Wonderfully Made”             (30:41)

January 24                Mark 1:14-20                        “Follow Me”                           (42:11)

January 31               Psalms 111:1-10                   “The Lord’s Renown”           (53:44)

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!

The Lord’s Renown with Sherwood Lingenfelter

Listen in as host, Anthony Mullins and Sherwood Lingenfelter, senior professor of anthropology and former provost of Fuller Seminary, unpack these lectionary passages:

January 3                  Ephesians 1:3-14                 “Destined for Adoption”       (7:28)

January 10                Mark 1:4-11                           “Well Pleased”                      (20:51)

January 17                Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18         “Wonderfully Made”             (30:41)

January 24                Mark 1:14-20                        “Follow Me”                           (42:11)

January 31                Psalms 111:1-10                             “The Lord’s Renown”           (53:44)

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!

Crafting the Experience of First Time Guests w/ Elizabeth Mullins

Crafting the Experience of First Time Guests w/ Elizabeth Mullins

In this episode, host Anthony Mullins interviews Elizabeth Mullins, his wife, and the Love Avenue Champion in Grace Communion Hickory. Together they discuss the experience of first-time guests and how to craft a safe worship environment.

Program Transcript


“The Church is not just the Sunday gathering. But often it is like the front door, it is that first impression. Our deep desire is to see people enfolded into a loving community. By God’s design, belonging in the body of believers is transformative.”
Elizabeth Mullins, Love Avenue Champion

Main Points:

  • Why does the first-time guest’s experience matter? (1:55)
  • What can make a worship experience unsafe? (7:10)
  • What are some signals that a church is safe and guests are welcome? (12:50)
  • In thinking about our guests, what does healthy authority and power look like? (17:52)

Resources:

  • Greeter Ministry– mobilizing a team that extends hospitality to guests and members
  • First Impressions– An Equipper article about the importance of considering first impressions in the Hope Avenue.
  • Making Church a Safe Space– An Equipper article about crafting the environment of your Sunday service.
  • The Gift of Decentering – An Equipper article about making room for other’s to flourish during your Sunday Service.

In this episode, host Anthony Mullins interviews Elizabeth Mullins, his wife, and the Love Avenue Champion in Grace Communion Hickory. Together they discuss the experience of first-time guests and how to craft a safe worship environment.

“The Church is not just the Sunday gathering. But often it is like the front door, it is that first impression. Our deep desire is to see people enfolded into a loving community. By God’s design, belonging in the body of believers is transformative.”
Elizabeth Mullins, Love Avenue Champion

Main Points:

  • Why does the first-time guest’s experience matter? (1:55)
  • What can make a worship experience unsafe? (7:10)
  • What are some signals that a church is safe and guests are welcome? (12:50)
  • In thinking about our guests, what does healthy authority and power look like? (17:52)

Resources:

  • Greeter Ministry– mobilizing a team that extends hospitality to guests and members
  • First Impressions– An Equipper article about the importance of considering first impressions in the Hope Avenue.
  • Making Church a Safe Space– An Equipper article about crafting the environment of your Sunday service.
  • The Gift of Decentering – An Equipper article about making room for other’s to flourish during your Sunday Service.

Sermon for January 3, 2021

Speaking Of Life 3006 | Fitting In and Belonging

Do you feel like you don’t fit in sometimes? Like you don’t belong? Paul reminds us in Ephesians that, through Jesus even the most diverse groups are united. Because of Christ’s love, we don’t have to change to belong. In the kingdom, our differences are celebrated, gathered together in the body of Christ reflect God’s glory.

Program Transcript


Speaking of Life 3006 | Fitting In and Belonging
Cara Garrity

One of my favorite movies growing up was inspired by Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night. The lead character is a high school female soccer player named Viola. When the school cuts the girls’ soccer program, the coach for the boys’ soccer team refuses to let Viola play, saying that girls can’t compete with boys athletically. Viola spends the rest of the movie trying to prove she’s good enough. She goes undercover as her twin brother and plays on a boys’ soccer team for a competing school, hoping to beat the team that refused to let her play as a girl.

Though we likely haven’t gone to the extremes that Viola did in the movie, we’ve all probably experienced something like this—the feeling like we don’t fit in, being excluded based on difference, feeling pressured to change ourselves, or needing to prove ourselves to belong. Maybe we’ve been the reason another person felt like they didn’t fit in. Maybe we’ve excluded others based on difference, pressured them to change, or required them to prove themselves to belong. Wanting to be included is natural – we all want to belong. But sometimes we think that we, or others, can’t fit in and still be ourselves. The Bible has good news for all of us who thought we didn’t fit in.

The book of Ephesians was written to a group of people who were very diverse, and it tells us this diversity was intended by God who determined that being unique was a blessing. Notice what Paul writes:

With all wisdom and insight, he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Ephesians 1:8b-10 (NRSV)

It says that God’s will is for Christ to bring everything together, to unite diverse peoples and things in heaven and earth. This is who he is—the great unifier. After all, he created us differently; he loves our differences, and he wants us to love and appreciate diversity.

On our own, we struggle with diversity. When someone is different from us, we sometimes have a hard time celebrating those differences and embracing them. But that is what Christ in us enables us to do. Regardless of our feelings of being excluded, or our practice of excluding others, we can be confident that God’s perfect plan is for everyone’s complete inclusion. Christ is the way we first accept our own uniqueness and then accept the unique personhood of others.

What does this look like? When we know we’re loved and accepted and valued by God for who we are, that loving acceptance cannot help but overflow to others. How the mystery is carried out might be difficult to explain, but we can witness its effects. Christ in us is at work, “gather[ing] up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”

As you move through the world, you might feel pressured to change to belong to a group, like Viola did in my favorite high school movie, or you might feel tempted to exclude someone like the boys’ soccer coach did in the movie, but Christ’s way is to help us lovingly celebrate, appreciate, and embrace the differences we encounter in the world.

A mentor once told me that “because of who God is, we don’t have to ‘fit-in’ to truly belong.” The mystery is this: when we appreciate God’s loving acceptance for ourselves, we can extend it graciously to others.

May you be a gracious participant in Christ’s gathering together of all people.

I’m Cara Garrity, Speaking of Life. 

Psalm 147:12-20 • Jeremiah 31:7-14 • Ephesians 1:3-14 • John 1:(1-9), 10-18

The theme for this week is God the gatherer, emphasizing God’s desire to include everyone, even those marginalized by culture. The call to worship Psalm discusses the ways God looks after and provides for human beings, including them in his blessings. Jeremiah talks about God’s plan to gather and comfort the ancient Israelites who were scattered as the result of foreign conquerors, and John tells about Jesus and how he gathered us into himself to become “children of God.” Last, Ephesians 1:3-14, our sermon text, reveals God’s wish to gather all people, in all their uniqueness, into loving relationship in Christ.

God Gathers Diverse People

Ephesians 1:3-14

If you’ve done any traveling, you’ve probably noticed cultural differences, often within the same country or even the same state or province. There are different accents and different slang words, depending on where you are. In the Midwestern part of the U.S., a soft drink like Coke would be called “pop,” but on the Eastern or Western coasts, it would be called “soda,” and in the South, it’s called a “coke”—regardless of the carbonated soft drink’s flavor. These are simple examples of how different people experience and label the world. Culture influences how we talk, the language we use, and the systems (or rules) that are in place to help everyone coexist.

Unfortunately, some systems unfairly benefit some people and hurt others, especially those who don’t conform to cultural expectations. God, on the other hand, welcomes diversity. The book of Ephesians offers us wisdom about navigating the choppy waters of diversity. It’s a letter written by a Jew (Paul) to a Gentile audience with a message that emphasizes how God has broken down the cultural wall between these two different groups—keeping in mind that any non-Jew was considered a Gentile. In Christ, God resolved the animosity that diversity can bring. Let’s look at Ephesians 1:3-14 to see how God gathers us together.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6 NRSV)

The passage begins by praising God for blessing us all—Jews and Gentiles—with spiritual blessings in Christ. God is the giver of all good gifts and we are the recipient of those gifts. The greatest blessing or gift he gave us is Jesus, and only Jesus can give us the spiritual blessings the rest of the passage speaks of.

 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1:7-10 NRSV)

The blessings include (and you can expand these thoughts):

  • A new identity—“being holy and blameless before him in love”
  • Adoption—“as his children through Jesus Christ”
  • Grace—“that he freely bestowed on us in the beloved”
  • Redemption—“through his blood”
  • Forgiveness—“according to the riches of his grace”
  • Knowing the mystery of his will—“according to his good pleasure”
  • An inheritance—“having been destined according to the purpose of him”
  • Given the Holy Spirit—“the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption”

All who are in Christ are given these blessings—spiritual blessings in Christ. Sadly, many believers feel they have a special link to the blessings of God that others don’t have. Perhaps they believe…

  • … their day of worship is better than others—and thus they judge.
  • … their method of worship is better than others—and thus they judge.
  • … their theology is better than others—and thus they judge.
  • … their race is better than others—and thus they judge.
  • … their gender is better than others—and thus they judge.

See a pattern here? Paul was continually dealing with Jews judging Gentiles and Gentiles judging Jews. Sadly, judgment continues today. We judge denominations; we judge methods of worship; we deal with misguided notions of superiority; we judge things we do not understand. Paul wanted to emphasize a couple points:

All are blessed

Paul is making the point here that all who are in Christ have the same spiritual blessings—every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. This includes a new identity, forgiveness, redemption, grace, adoption, inheritance, knowing the mystery of his will and being given the Holy Spirit. Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free—all are blessed in Christ.

None of this was an afterthought or a plan B. It was “before the foundation of the world,” and our adoption gave God great pleasure. “The riches of his grace” was “lavished on us,” without any prerequisites to meet.

Even the adoption wording here is interesting in that it is not speaking to an individual but to a community, and it hearkens back to God’s choosing of Israel back in the Old Testament. Community, the gathering of all people, is the emphasis, not individual believers and personal salvation. God is throwing the doors to the kingdom open wide.

All are forgiven

 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1:7-10 NRSV)

Our sin of believing we were cut off or separated from God because of things we have said, done, or thought, has been forgiven—proven by Jesus’s willingness to shed blood as a witness of God’s grace. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” Jesus says in John 14:9 (NRSV). In submitting to the suffering of the cross, Jesus showed God’s willingness to absorb our hatred and our death into himself, only to transform it into life and love. It’s a mystery to us, this love and grace, and it fulfills the plan “before the foundation of the world” to bring everything together: heaven and earth united in Christ.

All are included

 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:11-14 NRSV)

Our commonality is our inheritance, the seal (or presence) of the Holy Spirit. This shared spirit enables us to live and thrive despite cultural differences or even our individual human eccentricities. We experience transformation as we embrace our inheritance and acknowledge God’s gathering of all people in Christ. The Holy Spirit enables us to widen our view to see how all the pieces of the world are necessary to create the beauty of the whole. It’s like the fractals of a kaleidoscope view—we don’t realize how many diverse components, whether in people, culture, or nature, create the entirety of our human experience.

Application:

1) God’s intention and plan is to include everyone. That should be our intention and plan, too. As human beings, we sometimes place burdens on people that God never does. We can expect people to look or behave differently than what feels comfortable to them. People that don’t fit with our unwritten cultural norms are in Christ, too.

2) Be aware of hidden, personal biases, and learn how to lessen them.  Sociologist Charles Gallagher at LaSalle University in Philadelphia says, “When you think backwards, what you think is normal is really cultural pressure that pushes you into bias, implicit and conscious.” Some communities in the U.S. are still segregated today as the result of the legacy of institutional racism, and it’s from these communities that we create our social circles and close relationships. Experts say that our relationships, including the experiences associated with them, affect hidden biases. These biases can start in children as young as six years old, and they’re reinforced by the media and social settings. It’s important to know that we can mitigate implicit biases by recognizing where they exist and also by intentionally exposing ourselves to people and cultural experiences that are different than our norm.

We are God’s agents on earth, tasked with participating in the plan of “gather[ing] all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (v.10). This means we need to create an intention to overcome any biases we might hold as part of our participation in God’s great gathering of all in Christ. We do this by continually listening to the Holy Spirit for ways we can communicate God’s love and inclusion to all.

For Reference:

https://virtualspeech.com/blog/cultural-differences-in-body-language

https://www.tolerance.org/professional-development/test-yourself-for-hidden-bias

https://www.cnn.com/2015/11/24/living/implicit-bias-tests-feat/index.html


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life
  • In the Speaking of Life video, it mentions a movie plot where a female athlete went undercover to “prove” she could play on a boys’ soccer team. This highlights how sometimes we place burdens on people before we include them, asking them to be different than what they are. Can you think of other ways we might put expectations on people to follow certain norms, especially when it comes to attending church?
  • Cultural norms are like water, and we are the fish. We don’t know life without them. Have you considered that you might hold implicit biases? Why do you think it’s so easy for us to overlook implicit biases?
From the sermon
  • As pointed out in the beginning of the sermon, we can have cultural differences within the same country, even within the same state. How can we learn to expect and even relish difference and diversity when our internal programming only wants the familiar?
  • Which of the spiritual blessings means the most to you? Why?
  • Consider the metaphor of diversity as a jigsaw puzzle. How does exposing ourselves to different cultural experiences help us participate in God’s gathering of all people in Christ? What does this practice do to our worldview?
  • Do you have ideas of what you can do in your area to expose yourself to people who are of a different culture and those who have different cultural experiences? If so, please share them.

Sermon for January 10, 2021

Speaking of Life 3007 | God’s Graffiti

For hundreds of years, humans have used graffiti to tell a story of what is happening around them. Often, common symbols are used to mark a territory belonging to an individual or group. In the gospels, we see the Holy Spirit inspiring the repeating the use of words to create connections between gospel accounts, and mark that “God was here”. Just as God is living and active during Biblical times, he is constantly and faithfully working in the details of our lives. May you see the marking of his fingerprints in your life today!

Program Transcript


Speaking of Life 3007 | God’s Graffiti
Greg Williams

During World War II, American soldiers developed a graffiti image that became an emblem of survival. Especially if you are from a military family, you’ve seen the image before: a person with a comically long nose peering over an edge with the phrase, “Kilroy was here.”

This odd image became a rallying cry for American troops to draw wherever they went. Every time they took an enemy stronghold or made it through a battle, Kilroy would show up on the wall. It was an image of hope and determination, as well as some much-needed humor.

There’s an oddly similar practice in the authorship of the gospels. A word will show up in one story and appear in another, tying the two narrative locations together to help us read what’s going on. It’s the Holy Spirit’s equivalent of “Kilroy Was Here” in the pages of scripture.

Let me give you an example of this practice, which the academics call a “verbal thread.” In Mark 1, Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan and comes up out of the water to see the heavens “torn” open. We see Mark use this same word in another poignant place:

And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Mark 15:37-38 (ESV)

This verbal thread, this “Kilroy Was Here,” helps us tie together the story of Jesus’ baptism and the tearing of the curtain. Just as God tore the heavens to tell us that he was pleased with Jesus, so he tore open the curtain to tell us he is well-pleased with us.

Another important place is Peter’s denial of Jesus in John. In Chapter 18, Peter is in the temple courtyard and denies he knows Jesus as he warms himself by the “charcoal fire”. When Jesus lovingly restores Peter in Chapter 21, he’s waiting on the beach cooking fish over a “charcoal fire”. These instances are important verbal play that make us pay attention. How do these stories inform each other? We want to ask what do we learn about God when we put these anecdotes side-by-side?

In a sense, God does this in our lives too. Every once in a while, when we look with the right kind of eyes, we can see his graffiti on the wall: “God was here.” God was present, God brought this blessing or this change, seemingly out of nowhere and his fingerprints are all over it. I encourage you to keep a watchful eye for the threads of God’s presence in your life.

I am Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

 

Psalm 29 • Genesis 1:1-5 • Acts 19:1-7 • Mark 1:4-11

The theme for this week is the voice of the Lord in re-creation. The call to worship Psalm describes the tremendous power of the voice of God that rules over every last detail of creation. Genesis 1 tells us of the voice of God creating the universe out of nothing—speaking it into creation. Acts 19 shares about the re-creation of being in Christ, signified by receiving the Holy Spirit. Our sermon covers Mark 1, the baptism of Jesus. The powerful symbols of re-creation and re-telling of this moment of Jesus’ life culminate in the blessing of God’s voice ringing through creation: “I am well-pleased with you.”

The Baptism of the Lord

Jesus Immerses himself in Our Story

Mark 1:4-11 (ESV)

Read or have someone read Mark 1:4-11 ESV.

One tool often used in journalism is the nutshell paragraph, often just called the “nut graph.” This is that split-second summary most of us are used to seeing near the beginning of an article.

“Today in Washington, lawmakers gathered to discuss…”

“Trade negotiations continue between this and that country, with no end in sight…”

“In this article, we’ll look at how the hurricane affected the small town and…”

After giving that nutshell paragraph, the journalist will then go on to expand the story with background, events and conclusions. The first paragraph is essentially a contract between the writer and the reader: “here’s what we’re going to talk about, so you know you’re not wasting your time.”

This is different from artistic writing, where the story may be told over chapters and chapters. The story is often told slowly to keep you reading. Even commercial writing for a product might be a little more subtle about what they’re actually talking about than journalism.

Jesus’ baptism is Mark’s “nutshell paragraph.” Mark writes his gospel in blunt, no-frills language and at lightning speed compared to the other three Gospels. You could almost summarize Mark as saying “and then and then and then” over and over all the way through the book! It was probably the first Gospel written, and that may have affected the speed portrayed within it.

Mark starts the conversation with this image of Jesus getting baptized by his cousin in an obscure strip of country east of Jerusalem. The crowd is a mix of cranky and hopeful, including people from the well-heeled to the unsavory parts of society. It is here that Mark compacts several stories into one narrative.

Here’s your nutshell paragraph for today. Let’s use it to look at how the baptism of Jesus tells us the world’s story, Israel’s story, and our story.

The World’s Story

And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:10-11 ESV)

Another literary term we could use here is a nod, a wink, or a tip-of-the-hat. Writers and movie makers will sometimes make an oblique, sideways reference to something their audience will know. Think of shows that might use language or themes from politics either as a joke or to express a certain theme. As an American, if I hear the term “revolution” or “colonist,” it has a meaning tied to a story. The images brought to mind by those words might be completely different to a person in Africa, because they have been part of a different story.

The Gospels are heavily painted and layered with winks and tips to the Old Testament story. In this instance, we see strong references to the creation story in Genesis: the water, the Spirit hovering over the water and the voice of God starting a story.

Mark is telling us that Jesus is the re-creation. Everything is being made new and different. In many ways, it’s all starting over. We see this theme throughout the Gospels. The authors use wording like “in the beginning” and emphasize garden imagery and other things to bring across the fact that the human story is being told again, but this time with the author as a character himself.

We have the advantage of reading this from a historical point of view. But we also need to put ourselves in the mindset of those seeing this happening and first hearing these words. For them, water was not only necessary for life, but it was also a symbol of all that was chaotic, death-giving, and wild in the world. John’s vision of a new heavens and new earth in Revelation 21 includes the line “…and there was no more sea.” That doesn’t mean there was no water, but the chaos, destruction, and anti-life had all been brought to bear under the rule of Christ.

So baptism itself was a bit of a scary un-creation. It was meant to symbolize a kind of death. Can you breathe down there? No, you cannot. Further, you are at the mercy of the person holding you. With Jesus going down into the “death” of the water and coming up again, he signified his death and resurrection, and this act referenced the original creation itself.

The question will buzz in the back of all our minds: Why was Jesus baptized? Mark and others describe John’s work as a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” But Jesus didn’t have any sin to repent of and never would, so why is he there?

While we’re at it, why was Jesus crucified for crimes he never committed and bearing the sweat and heat of a life which he had created to be perfect? As Paul writes: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Just as we go through baptism, so Jesus goes through baptism. Just as we go through life with all its pain and joy, so did Jesus. Just as we go through painful distance from God because of our sin, so Jesus did, although he never committed the sin.

Put simply: He acted like us, so that we could act like him. But it’s not just an act – it is reality. He was one of us; we are being re-created to be like he is in our innermost being.

Part of that was entering baptism, going through what was an obscure ritual at the hands of his eccentric cousin who himself had little clue what was going on. Our baptism memories might be just as humble. This is the story Jesus entered. For lack of a better word, he was immersed in our story. This happened in his incarnation, in the womb, and was demonstrated again here at the Jordan River, and would be demonstrated again in his suffering and death. The good news is that he brings this story to a happy conclusion in his resurrection, and because he has joined himself to our story, we will be with him in his resurrection, too.

Israel’s Story

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “Behold, I will send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” (Mark 1:1-4 ESV)

Many of us are familiar with commercial breaks on TV. They are often used to add a helpful break in the story right before some huge reveal or twist, or before a famous star arrives on the scene. You might see someone’s reaction and then cut to commercial, leaving you on the edge of your seat wondering what comes next.

These words from Isaiah are kind of like that. Mark superimposes them here—a herald of the coming of Israel’s God when the way is prepared for him by the prophet. These words resound at the beginning of his Gospel and then Jesus arrives. Israel’s God has come, and he just happens to be in the form of a Hebrew kid from the lock-your-doors side of town, speaking with an accent! “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” A big reveal indeed!

The retelling of Israel’s story launches:

And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. (Mark 1:5-6 ESV)

Here is Israel—people passing through the river. We know from other Gospels that they are most likely on the east side of the river. John is re-enacting the story of Israel as they entered the promised land by crossing the Jordan River from the east.

Mark takes a moment to describe the fact that John looked and dressed (and probably smelled) like Elijah, the wild and wooly prophet of the wilderness in the Old Testament.

Finally, Jesus appears, passes through the water, and then is immediately led out into the desert by the Holy Spirit where he prepares for ministry and is tempted—just as Israel wandered in the desert for forty years. Jesus re-enacts the story of Israel, but instead of complaining and rebelling, he does so in perfect obedience.

Do you see that? Jesus is re-telling the story in the right way. He is coming to complete the story that Israel began. As he says in Matthew: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 3:17). He came to finish the story.

The next detail shows us a hint of the future of God’s relationship with humanity. Jesus is plunged under the water and comes back up:

And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:10-11 ESV)

The heaven’s being torn open. There are fine words in Greek for opening or disclosing, but Mark chooses the word “torn.” This is an important choice of words. One vital thing to remember when reading the Gospels is that the authors never wasted ink—they made their word choices carefully.

In this case, that word “torn” appears in only one other place in the Gospel of Mark. Years later, Jesus is crucified. Among the many things going on, “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Mark 15:38). This is the same word! Just as God tore the division between his dimension and ours in the moment of baptism, so he tore the curtain open that separated the Holy of Holies for centuries in the temple.

That brings us into…

Our Story

Jesus’ baptism retells the story of the creation of the world—the voice of God and the Spirit hovering over the water. It also retells the story of Israel—passing through the waters of the Red Sea on their way to the promised land, then wandering in the desert just as Jesus went to the desert. Finally, the baptism of Jesus retells our story.

 And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. (Mark 1:7-9 ESV)

The passivity of Jesus’ baptism is striking. He comes out to the desert to be baptized by his eccentric cousin who is just about to get in so much trouble that he’ll be beheaded by the king. John’s work was a renewal movement, disruptive and disturbing to the powers that be. He didn’t go through HR or fill out the proper forms before initiating. This is a wild, strange spectacle, no doubt visited by as many lookers as participants. And it’s in the middle of this that Jesus humbles himself into the process.

John tries to stop him:

I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me? (Matthew 3:14 ESV).

There are parallels to birth—the helplessness, the water, that first breath when you come into the world. This is the message of baptism and the gospel: This isn’t a self-improvement course or a bit of good advice—this is re-birth. You don’t need a course correction; you need to start over.

John begins to understand the power of what’s going on. He says he isn’t worthy to undo the strap on the sandal of the One coming. That is preparation for washing feet, which was the lowliest servants’ work, as we know from several other times in Scripture. But John says, “I can’t even get that close, this is above my pay grade.”

That’s that truth of it. Despite Hollywood and Hallmark’s many platitudes to reach down inside ourselves or speak from the heart, the gospel tells that the answer isn’t in there. We need stronger medicine. We need Jesus to come from outside and immerse himself in our story. And that’s what he did.


Small Group Discussion Questions

Questions for Speaking of Life: “God’s Graffiti”
  • We talked about the World War II graffiti slogan “Kilroy was here” that was used by soldiers. Do you and your friends or family have a similar kind of slogan or private joke you use to encourage each other?
  • We talked about how God’s graffiti shows up in our lives—small reminders of God’s presence that we see throughout our lives. Do you have any incidents like this? Did you feel that God was seeing you?
Questions for Sermon: “Jesus Immersed Himself in Our Story”
  • Do you remember your baptism? Was it a humble occasion in a make-shift church baptismal, or a hot tub? If you were baptized as an infant, have you heard stories or seen pictures? What is the story of your baptism?
  • We talked about how Jesus is re-telling and re-creating the story of humanity. Does that make sense to you? Why do you think he chose to re-enact the story of Israel in his life?
  • Have you seen God re-create or redeem the “lost stories” in your own life? Maybe mistakes you’ve made that he’s worked through and made something good? Relationships he’s redeemed? Difficult circumstances that he’s re-woven with blessings?
Quote to Ponder: “A story is based on what people think is important, so when we live a story, we are telling people around us what we think is important.” ~~Don Miller

Sermon for January 17, 2021

Speaking Of Life 3008 | Lukewarm Coffee

Receiving the perfect gift, having someone offer the exact help we need, the space to vent without judgment. If you have ever experienced any of the events described, you have a glimpse into a powerful feeling of being known. The Psalms reveal that our Creator knows us better than we know ourselves. And through Jesus, God gives us himself to be known. There’s no greater gift than knowing and being known by God.

Program Transcript


Speaking of Life 3008 | Lukewarm Coffee
Cara Garrity

I have a friend who likes her coffee lukewarm. Her husband on the other hand will only drink it piping hot. Early in their marriage this created a moment of tension. One morning her husband prepared some fresh hot coffee just the way he would like it. Then he surprised her with a cup to enjoy for her morning reading. She seemed touched by the gesture, but he noticed that she didn’t drink it. In fact, she let it sit so long that he knew it would no longer be any good. From his perspective she had wasted his efforts of kindness.

But, instead of showing frustration, he took her coffee and went to heat it up in the microwave. Now it was her turn to be frustrated. From her perspective he was about to undo her patient waiting for the perfect cup of coffee. Thankfully, with some sharing of coffee preferences, marital disaster was averted. The problem wasn’t that her husband didn’t know how to brew coffee. It was that he didn’t know his wife.

I think we could all agree that the best gifts come from those who know us best.

With that in mind, listen to this Psalm that speaks of the Lord’s knowing of us.

“O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.” Psalm 139:1-4 (NRSV)

We could read more of this passage to discover that the Lord knows us better than we know ourselves. As the one who created us, we can know that he is the only one who knows us perfectly. And that means he knows the perfect gift to give us. The Christmas season we just celebrated was all about that perfect gift—Jesus Christ his one and only Son. In this gift, God the Father has given us himself to be known. This is what we were created for, to know the Father like the Son knows the Father.

When we receive the gift of Jesus, we will also have an epiphany about ourselves. As we come to know Jesus, we will come to know ourselves the way our Creator knows us. It’s only after receiving the gift of Jesus that we come to see that knowing the Father and being known by him is the life we are made for.

And since he knows us perfectly, we can trust he knows how to brew the perfect cup of coffee—even if it’s lukewarm coffee.

I’m Cara Garrity, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 • 1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20) • 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 • John 1:43-51

This week’s theme is being known in the Lord. The story from 1 Samuel recounts Samuel’s first encounter of hearing the Lord’s personal call into service. 1 Corinthians 6 maps out some moral implications of being a disciple who lives “in Christ.” The Gospel text in John 1 presents Jesus’ intimate knowledge of those he calls to walk with him. While the Psalm is normally the call to worship, we built the sermon on Psalm 139, which explores God’s presence to us and his intimate knowledge of us.

The Gift of Being Known

Psalm 139:1-18 (NRSV)

There was a recent poll by a local news station that showed 94 percent of participants agreed with the statement, “Nobody really knows me.” In an age where the front porch has been replaced by a back deck hidden behind a wrap-around fence, our society seems bent on remaining “unknown.” But this comes at a cost. All the technological advances to help people “stay connected” have done little to offset the growing feelings of isolation and loneliness that are widespread in our culture. Today we discover a breath of fresh air that comes to us from Psalm 139. This is a beloved favorite for many, as it reminds us that no matter how alone we may sometimes feel, there is One who knows us more deeply than we know ourselves.

The Psalmist finds this truth to be a marvelous reality to meditate on. He seems to take long strides in saying what could be said very quickly. He begins with “O LORD, you have searched me and known me.” He could just end there but instead he goes to great length to make the same point over and over. This truth of being known by the Lord is like a diamond of great beauty that one wants to examine at every angle to capture all the sparkling interrelated facets.

We will linger today with the Psalmist so we too can be dazzled by the glimmering beauty of being known by our gracious Lord.

Before we start, it will be helpful to acknowledge that the Psalm seems to be written by someone seeking vindication—possibly from false accusations. The writer is beseeching the one who knows the truth of his situation and knows his heart. He wants the Lord to weigh in and judge him and his situation according to his perfect knowledge. He is seeking refuge in the Lord’s saving knowledge of himself. We may not feel we can be so bold in such a prayer. Do we really want God’s all-seeing gaze to search our innermost thoughts? Do we really want him to search our hearts to the core? Surely it wouldn’t take long for God to see that we have no grounds for vindication. Even we are aware that we have hidden sins. But for the believer, we must add to this the fact that we are hidden in Christ. Who we truly are is who we are becoming in Jesus. We do not fully know who we are yet, but the Father does, and when he searches us, he finds Jesus living in us. And there is our rock-solid vindication. Ultimately then, this Psalm points us to Jesus, in whom we have our life and our vindication, not on our righteousness but on his. So, with that in mind, let us continue.

God’s Insight

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.  You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.  You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.  Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.  You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it. (Psalm 139:1-6 NRSV)

The first section of this Psalm highlights God’s insight that he has of his creatures. This insight is expressed in several ways, primarily by using opposites. The Lord knows when we sit down and rise up. This means he knows us for who we truly are whether we are inactive or active. There is a lie that goes around that what we do defines us. We are often told that our value is measured by what we can contribute or produce. As long as we are producing, we can be known to have some value. But God knows us beyond our utility. He knows us as his son or daughter, and his pleasure in us is not determined by our activity or inactivity. In this knowledge we can work and play and not fear that he turns his face from us when we grow too weary to do either.

The Lord also knows us in our inward thoughts “from far away.” The Lord is never so far to not know what is going on inside us. In fact, he knows what is going on inside us even more than we do. There is no long-distance relationship with the Lord. This means we can always bring to him our inner conflicts, our unresolved tensions and questions. We never have to fear creating distance between us and the Lord by sharing too much. He already knows from afar.

Verse 3 speaks of the Lord knowing our “path” and our “lying down.” Whether we are on the go or are at rest, the Lord never loses sight of us. When our lives become hectic and frantic, we may lose sight of where we are going and who we are, but the Lord does not. When we reach the end of our rope and run out of “get up and go,” the Lord does not walk on without us. The Lord has no problem with a change of pace. The psalmist writes, “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.” There are times with our walk with the Lord that we need his hand to give us a push from behind. There are other times when we need the Lord’s hands to drag us forward. Either way, the Lord knows when to push and when to pull. We can trust that his nail-scarred hands do both out of his passionate love for us. All this language using extreme opposites are ways to express that the Lord knows us completely in the totality of our lives. As the psalmist confesses, this knowledge is “too wonderful for me.”

God’s Oversight

Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you. (Psalm 139:7-12 NRSV)

The second section of this Psalm describes God’s divine oversight that he has for his creatures. Here the psalmist lets us know that there is nowhere we can go to escape God’s presence. Jonah would heartily agree. Some metaphorical language is used in this section to relay this truth—again using opposites. The psalmist covers all directions from up (heaven) to down (sheol) to east (winds of the morning) to the western horizon (sea). No matter what direction one takes, God will find us. I guess you could say the Lord never loses at hide and seek. How comforting it is to know that the Lord does not lose sight of us even when we may want him to. Verse 10 reminds us that no matter what direction our lives turn, Jesus will still be there to lead us and hold us to himself.

God’s Foresight

For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you. (Psalm 139:13-18 NRSV)

These verses describe God’s foresight of his beloved creatures. We are not accidents of nature or a random collision of atoms or arbitrary expressions of matter. We are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” That is an amazing truth to meditate on. The infinite and almighty God thought you up so he could spend the rest of eternity with you. That’s what you are created for. Not to be forgotten when your atoms and matter return to the dust, but to be re-membered in Christ, to be known and loved for all eternity. You were created to know God for who he is and to be known by him for who he created you to be. This is a level of knowing and being known that is so complex, we have but scratched the surface today.

Jesus knows the Father perfectly and the Father knows Jesus perfectly, and it is in Jesus that we are invited to participate in their perfect knowledge of one another. In Christ we will be known in a way that sets us free from all hiding and secrecy. We will be perfectly safe being known by the Father. In Jesus we will also know the Father in the same way (although not to the same extent) the Son knows the Father. In his perfect knowledge of the Father, we will know we are safe and secure in his presence. We will know his amazing love for us in the same way the Son has experienced the Father’s love for all eternity. We will find knowing the Father to be the absolute thrill of our existence.

After contemplating the overwhelming beauty of God’s knowledge of us, the Psalmist then proceeds to ask for God’s vindication. On the assurance that God sees all with his perfect saving knowledge, we too can bring all our concerns to him, knowing he will search it out and set it right according to his insight, oversight and foresight. All this is given to us in Jesus. In Jesus we never have to fear falling out of sight.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life
  • The Speaking of Life video stated that the “best gifts come from those who know us best.” Can you think of experiences in the positive or the negative that would agree with this statement?
  • What are the implications of God’s perfect knowledge of us and his gifts to us?
From the sermon
  • Would you have agreed to the statement “Nobody really knows me”? Share a time you felt unknown or misunderstood.
  • The sermon identified three ways in how God knows us—insight, oversight and foresight. Compare and contrast these three aspects of God’s knowing. Which one speaks to you to most in your present walk with the Lord?
  • How does the thought that God knows us so intimately strike you? Is it a comforting thought, or is it a fearful thought? What difference does it make to know that the Father sees Jesus in us? How does seeing ourselves “in Christ” change our experience of being known by the Father?

Sermon for January 24, 2021

Speaking of Life 3009 | Jonah—Prophet or Cautionary Tale

If you’ve ever thought you’ve developed a better path forward than the one God has revealed, remember Jonah’s cautionary tale. He was so confident in how God “should” be acting, he nearly missed what God was doing – spoiler God’s agenda is always love. Let’s not miss out on joining him in sharing that love with the whole world.

Program Transcript


Speaking of Life 3009 | Jonah—Prophet or Cautionary Tale
Greg Williams

If you ask anyone about Jonah, what will they say the story is about?

The whale. Every kids’ book and cartoon adaptation of Jonah features some hybrid of Moby Dick and Jaws creeping up out of the seaweed to swallow the hapless prophet.

But the real story is much bigger. Jonah is asked by God to avert the destruction of Israel’s sworn enemy, Nineveh. Jonah, out of an ethnic hatred of these people and anger about God showing them mercy, ran in the other direction as fast and far as he could.

At one point, he even chose to kill himself by jumping into angry seas rather than obeying God’s call. In his own rage and bitterness, he would rather die than soften his will to God’s.

God turns the tables on him by sending, as we all know, a giant fish.
God turns the tables again by hearing the Ninevites repenting and holding back his judgment.

But Jonah remains unmoved. He ends the whole book arguing with God over whether God is allowed to show mercy to these people.

In a sense, Jonah gets his theology right, but he misses who God is. Sure the Israelites are the people of God, sure the Assyrians were bloodthirsty and godless, but in the book of Jonah we read, God is:

 “…a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” Jonah 4:2 (ESV)

Isn’t that who we want God to be? Sure! But Jonah was blinded by his own self-preservation and his own thoughts on how God should be acting. Instead of a prophet, his story became a cautionary tale.

Has that ever happened to us? Have we ever so figured out how God should be acting that we miss what he’s doing? Does an obsession with theological details sometimes cause us to lose the big picture—that God loves the world and wants to draw everyone to himself?

Let’s not forget that God’s main business is love—and that love is messy, fuzzy, spontaneous, and generous. He’s not going to follow whatever expectations we have for him, and he’s not consulting us on how far to extend his grace. Halleljujah! Let’s be grateful! Embrace his lavish love for you and for your perceived enemies. That’s how GOOD God is.

I am Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 62:5-12 • Jonah 3:1-5, 10 • 1 Corinthians 7:29-31  • Mark 1:14-20

The theme this week is God’s unstoppable calling. The call to worship Psalm talks about God’s unstoppable power in the universe—we can’t stand against it; God has the final word. Jonah 3 tells about the repentance of Nineveh—a people that didn’t know or care about God. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul admonishes us to live with our calling in sight because the way the world runs is falling away before God’s incoming kingdom. Our sermon, from Mark 1, focuses on the calling of the disciples—imperfect people who were called into God’s unstoppable work.

Mark 1: The Paradox of Calling

Read, or have someone read Mark 1:14-20, then start by asking the members how the year 2020 disrupted their lives.

2020 was an interesting year. Things seemed fairly normal up to middle of March, and then the world changed. The strangest sights have become familiar. For months many stayed home and had their groceries brought by strangers in a mask. Restaurants that were open only sold carry out and served us curbside. Playgrounds were roped off with yellow police tape. For more than a month, toilet tissue was the hottest commodity.

One thing you can say about 2020 is that normal life was disrupted. Despite all the securities and technology of modern life, Covid-19 somehow made it through all and disrupted our lives. Add to that the many protests, the burning, looting and rioting. Yes, 2020 was a year of disruption. At times it seemed everything was being disrupted and kicked off the stable rails where it ran (and it’s still not over with).

Disruption.

The story in our text for today is one of disruption. Jesus not only called these men, but he also derailed their lives. They were the last people you might think of as call-able, and they did not really seem to get it until Jesus ascended right in front of them.

Let’s look at this story of calling, which holds a lot of disparate realities together at the same time. Like many of the stories of Scripture, this one is heavy with paradox.

The calling of these disciples and all of us is:

  • Ordinary, yet disruptive
  • Divine, yet utterly human

Ordinary

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. (Mark 1:16 NRSV)

Years ago in American politics, a Washington insider nicknamed the “hatchet man” was embroiled in scandal as part of the infamous Watergate Seven. He was tried and convicted and imprisoned in a very public trial.

Through the ministry of Christian friends, he came to accept Christ in his mid-forties. He then went on to start a global nonprofit for prisoners and to write over thirty books. We know the “hatchet man” as Chuck Colson, a member of Nixon’s inner circle in the ’70s. He went from Beltway destroyer to a minister of the gospel.

We all go through a transformation, but not as dramatic as Colson. Many of us are like the disciples, who, in many regards, could not be more ordinary.

They were fishermen. In that society you couldn’t get more middle class. They were even less interesting than the shepherds who got the announcement of Jesus’ birth. At least the shepherds were part of a slurred and disparaged part of society. The wise men were exotic, educated and rich. But when it came to the actual disciples, a good number of them came from a forgettable, lukewarm part of society.

And that’s the idea. As it’s been said before: God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called. These men were not community organizers like Chuck Colson or great speakers or businessmen. They were middle-of-the-bell-curve unremarkable, just like most of us.

Yet they were called ringside for the most important event in history.

Disruptive

Despite the sheer ordinariness of these men and these initial conversations, their lives were never the same.

Similar to the virus upending the tamed and explored modern world, Jesus’ call disrupted every part of their lives, and society shortly after.

This twist is contained in their first conversation:

And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. (Mark 1:17 NRSV)

Jesus met them where they were—using the net-casting image they were used to, but “fishing for people”? What does that mean? He just juxtaposed the strange and the familiar, and that is how their lives would be from then on.

These guys went from third and fourth generation fishermen in the belly of their family fishing boat to international fame and excruciating martyrdom. All in a few decades.

Jesus didn’t just change the plan or the coordinates, he changed the gravity. Suddenly the way they knew identity (occupation, family, tradition) would be turned on its head. What they waited for—the kingdom of God—was suddenly upon them in a way no one had guessed it would be.

Life—disrupted.

Most of us, like most people in church history, were not called quite this way. Yes, some of you may have dramatic stories like Colson, Dwight Moody, or Mother Theresa, but most of us will have a small circle of influence and be left out of the history books.

What does the call of Jesus mean for the rest of us?

Let’s take a small step to the side and consider a minor biblical character, Joseph of Arimathea, who shows up in about 2 ½ verses in the Gospels. He’s mostly known for donating his grave for Jesus’ burial.

Other than that, Joseph was an upper-class member of the ruling council who kept his interest in Jesus a secret. He was self-protective, half-in, half-out—like many of us if we’re honest. Yet he somehow followed the call even in his own small way. After Jesus’ death, Joseph used his influence to get the body for burial. He stuck his neck out—not dramatically, but in a way that was necessary for things to go on.

The final time we see Joseph is in John 19:

So they took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. (John 19:40 NRSV)

Here he is, with Nicodemus, doing slave’s work. People in the upper crust like him were never supposed to do that kind of work. But here he is, free from the status and prestige of his station, free to serve. He has been disrupted by the call of Jesus.

We have no indication that he changed his occupation or left it all. We just know that he was someone else after meeting Jesus.

And maybe that is the change we will see in ourselves. Sometimes there is this dramatic dropping of everything, sometimes the gravity changes in the details within your life.

So, the call of Jesus is ordinary—meeting unremarkable people in unremarkable lives. Yet it’s disruptive, changing the gravity we live by so that it’s never the same.

The call of Jesus is also divine, while remaining utterly human.

Divine

 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,  and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news. (Mark 1:14-15 NRSV)

Mark begins his gospel very suddenly. No birth stories, no long theological thoughts—Jesus just kind of appears, walks out of thin desert air.

And he announces that the “kingdom is at hand.” Those words seem strange to us in a world where royalty is rarely seen, but we have to try to put ourselves in that setting.

King Jesus. Sure, Savior Jesus or best friend Jesus, but King Jesus? And yet the imagery is all through the Gospels. Jesus is the son of David in the royal line, he is hailed as King of kings, and he is given a crown of thorns, a purple robe and enthroned on a cross.

We have to remember that Jesus didn’t just come to be our buddy and heal our self-image, he came to get God and the world right with each other.

So the calling of Jesus is divine. The foundational reality of humanity—its relationship with God—was fundamentally changed in Jesus. He calls us into that changed reality—not just a warm fuzzy feeling, not just a subjective journey.

In this passage, we see this exemplified in the fact that Jesus called them. In that society, if you were lucky enough to be educated and wanted to study with a famous rabbi, you had to go and find him. You heard about him, you researched, and you then asked if you could learn from him.

But Jesus comes to get these guys. He’s already at work as he “passed along the Sea of Galilee” (v. 16). He is on the move and invites them into what he is doing. If you’ve ever felt called by God into anything—the ministry, a marriage, a deeper relationship with himself—then you know he does the calling. He comes to get you and draws you to himself. The bigger the change that is needed, the stronger the call has to be. So, for some people who grow up in a Christian family and willingly go with it, only a slight nudge may be needed.

This is not a change of perspective, it’s a change of identity.

Human

The call of Jesus comes to the ordinary. The call of Jesus is disruptive, and it changes life forever. The call of Jesus is divine—the whole universe changed when he arrived. And the call of Jesus is utterly human.

Jesus calls human beings. He calls real-life flesh-and-blood people to his kingdom work in the world. Utterly human, imperfect people. Look at the guys in this story:

  • James and John had their mom ask Jesus for the prime seats in his kingdom (Matthew 20)
  • Peter denies Jesus the night before his crucifixion (John 13)
  • Andrew fled when Jesus was arrested—along with everybody else (Mark 14).

They, along with all the other disciples, are going to question Jesus all the way through. They will misunderstand him, push back on him, undermine him through the whole story. They will put their own agenda and themselves before him several times before they get it.

But they were disrupted by Jesus. They went to the ends of the earth with the gospel. They died in exile, most were crucified or otherwise martyred. These very human men received a divine summons—these are the called who were equipped along the way.

Ordinary, yet disruptive. Divine, yet utterly human. The call of Jesus is full of paradoxes, whether that means a call into ministry or movements that change the world or simply shining brightly where you are. He calls people in many different ways, each time inviting us to be part of what he is doing.

Did you get that? Jesus calls each of us as he is at work, desiring that we be part of what he is doing. He invites us to participate with what he is already doing.

We will make mistakes! We’ll do the wrong thing, take the long way, double back a few times. It seems like people don’t share that enough. The discipleship of the apostles was a comedy of errors, and one of them, Judas, never really got it. Mistakes—not even sin necessarily—are a reality Jesus has taken into account before the creation of the world.

He’s not looking for perfection; he’s looking for you.

So put yourself there on the lakeshore, tossing your nets into the water for the thousandth time. It’s a Wednesday, the wind is favorable, the catch is so-so. And here he comes—this man you’ve heard of, somehow associated with this new movement. Something in the fathoms of yourself responds when you hear his voice. What will you say?


Small Group Discussion Questions

Questions for Speaking of Life—Jonah, Prophet or Cautionary Tale?
  • What’s your earliest impression of the Jonah story? Coloring books in Sunday School? Veggie Tales movies?
  • Did you know the wider story of Jonah (running from God, hating the Ninevites, etc.)? Does that change your impression of him?
  • Have you ever been surprised by God? Have you ever seen him do something other than you thought he would?
Questions for Sermon—Mark 1: The Paradox of Calling
  • What’s one of your disruptive memories of the COVID-19 crisis and quarantine? How did it change your life? What about the protests?
  • We talked about how many of the first disciples were not exciting people with interesting lives, but that’s who Jesus chose. Did you know that? Share how that changes your understanding of Jesus’ call and who he calls.
  • We talked about paradox—how the call of Jesus is ordinary, yet disruptive, and divine, yet very human. Why do you think the call of Jesus isn’t more straightforward, more cut-and-dry?
  • Do you think Jesus calls people who aren’t called to go into ministry? What does that calling look like? In your life?

Sermon for January 31, 2021

Speaking of Life 3010 | Felt Not Seen

Have you ever stared at nature and become overwhelmed by the beauty of the moment? Not only are God’s works beautiful and majestic, but they also reflect his goodness and his love for each of us.

Program Transcript


Speaking of Life 3010 | Felt Not Seen
Heber Ticas

Work is a central part of our lives. I mean, we have to have an income to support ourselves and our families. We talk about “hard work,” and we’re suspicious of work that seems too easy. As human beings, the idea of work means putting forth effort, either mentally or physically, and having a tangible outcome. Some of the greatest works human beings have ever made are called “wonders of the world,” like the Taj Mahal in India or the pyramids in Egypt.

If we think about natural wonders in the world, those same people might say some of God’s greatest works are the Grand Canyon in the United States or Mount Everest in Nepal. Or perhaps the Great Barrier Reef in Australia or Victoria Falls in Africa. These are breathtaking natural wonders–clearly not made by man.

The manmade wonders I mentioned, like the Taj Mahal or the Egyptian pyramids, certainly are a visible outcome of hard work, but the effort of creating them came at the expense of human beings, usually slaves. God’s wonders and works, however, never exploit human beings and instead, show love and care for all beings. Further, his greatest works are felt in the heart and not seen.

One of the best places in the Bible to hear descriptions of God’s works is the book of Psalms. Let’s look at a few verses from Psalm 111:

Great are the works of the Lord; they are studied by all who delight in them. Full of honor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever. He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds; the Lord is gracious and merciful…. The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy. Psalms 111: 2-4, 7 (NRSV)

If we look closely at the descriptions the psalmist gives for God’s works, we see qualities of God’s heart: honor, majesty, graciousness, mercy, faithfulness, and justice. Not only are God’s works beautiful and majestic, but they also reflect his goodness and his love. In other words, they reflect who God is by revealing his heart.

When we consider the beauty and majesty of the Grand Canyon or Mount Everest, we know they were created by a loving God who is devoted to showing his great love and compassion for all people, for all creation. The next time you visit or see a picture of one of God’s wonders, allow your heart to dwell on the love, compassion, and faithfulness that brought those wonders into being. This is the same Creator who made you and me, the same Creator who became human to draw us into a loving relationship. The greatest works of God are felt in the heart, not seen.

As you witness beauty in the world God created for us, I hope you experience his love and compassion.

Mi nombre es Heber Ticas, Hablando de Vida.

Psalm 111:1-10 • Deuteronomy 18:15-20 • 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 • Mark 1:21-28

The theme for this week is God at work, which challenges us to rethink our thoughts about work. Deuteronomy talks about God’s work among the ancient Israelites, using a prophet to speak to them when they said they could not handle speaking to God directly. 1 Corinthians discusses how we can get caught up in “works” or the practices that are important to us, to the point of forgetting that “anyone who loves God is known by him,” and Mark tells the story of Jesus’s work of casting out an unclean spirit from a man, releasing him from a burden. Normally the psalm is our call to worship, but this week it is our sermon text. Psalm 111 examines God’s works and the qualities of God’s works that we should think about imitating in our own work.

God at Work: More Than What You See

Psalm 111:1-10

Start by asking a few people to share what they did yesterday. Hopefully, a few will name work-housework-homework type activities. If they struggle, you could ask for a show of hands to these questions: a) did anybody cook a meal yesterday? b) did anyone clean their home or their car? c) did anyone work on classwork or schoolwork?

What did you do yesterday? A number of your answers were a form of work, something that you needed to get done to maintain your home or meet a deadline or feed your family. When we think of work, we focus on achieving or accomplishing something tangible, something we can see. If I cook a meal, I see the food on the plate, and I see my family eating the food. If I answer questions on a homework assignment for class, I can see the written answers I created. Even on our jobs, we have certain quantitative measures to gauge our performance. But I would like to suggest that there are other ways we can measure the effectiveness of our work, and we can start by reading Psalm 111 to understand a little more about the work God does.

Read Psalm 111.

What can we observe about the text? What does it tell us about how our work(s)—our participation with Jesus—should be? Because Jesus is in us, our works—the works that have meaning—are a participation with what Jesus is doing in and through us. Even our ordinary works are meaningful because Jesus is in us. He did ordinary work for most of his life; ordinary work is part of the Christian life, part of the life of Christ in us.

Let’s notice the key attributes of God’s works and think about how they relate to our work:

Verse 2:Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them.” God’s works are worth studying. It’s good to consider why God’s works are great, and why they are worth pondering over. Is it just that his works are awe-inspiring (like beauty in nature) or could it be something more? How and why might our works be thought of as “great”?

Verse 3:Glorious and majestic are his deeds, and his righteousness endures forever.” God’s works are full of honor and majesty. Not only do you see his majesty in some of the wonders of the world, but also in the intricacies of creation, in his interventions in our lives, in our calling, in his body. His works give evidence of his goodness (i.e., righteousness), and it lasts forever, attesting to his character of goodness. How do our works bring honor? How do they reveal our goodness (which is God’s goodness flowing through us)?

Verse 4: “He has caused his wonders to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and compassionate.” His works make him well-known for his graciousness and his mercy. How do our works show grace and mercy?

Verse 5:He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever.” His works provide for what we need, and he remembers his promises to provide. How did your work this week provide for your family or for your future? How did it show that you remembered your responsibility to your people (i.e., your family, your neighbors, your coworkers)?

Verse 6:He has shown his people the power of his works, giving them the lands of other nations.” There is power in God’s work and creating a legacy (v. 6). There is power in your work, no matter how humble, and a creating of a legacy or memory in those around you. What kind of worker would your family or coworkers say you are? Do you bring joy to your home, workplace, or classroom?

Verse 7: “The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.” God’s works are faithful to his plan and his promises to us. They are just for all and we can trust him to fulfill what he says he will do. How do our works show these fruits of the Spirit: faithfulness, justice, and trustworthiness?

Verse 8: “They are established for ever and ever, enacted in faithfulness and uprightness.” When God builds something (think relationship with you), it is meant to last forever. He always builds with the right motives. Though we think our works are only temporary, when they are performed with love, their impact is not forgotten. Do we stop to consider our motives, the “why” behind our work?

Verse 9:He provided redemption for his people; he ordained his covenant forever—holy and awesome is his name.” God redeems what seems lost in our lives with his goodness and his steadfast presence in our lives. Do we offer others goodness and a steadfast presence? Are we dependable?

Verse 10:The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.” God’s works can be best understood from a position of awe and wonder—which leads to the wisdom of knowing him. How can our own works be better understood if we approach them with awe and wonder? Do we view our work (or ability to work) as a blessing to us and others?

Application:

  • God’s works are much more than the tangible accomplishment or creation. They evoke positive emotions in others. So should our works. As we do the sometimes mundane work of living as a human being, we forget that the most ordinary of tasks offer us the chance to work as God works by recognizing the deeper meaning attached to whatever we do, whether it is cooking a meal, washing clothes, working a job to provide for our family, or being a good employee to help our employer and our coworkers. When we work, we represent Jesus and his life in us, evoking an emotional experience in others, creating a positive (or negative) legacy.
  • God’s work always brings blessing to others—even when that blessing is not immediately apparent. Our work should always be a blessing to others. As we saw in the Speaking of Life video, we can get caught up in the awe and wonder of the Grand Canyon. God’s works like the Grand Canyon evoke awe and wonder. As the video pointed out, human works are sometimes accomplished at the expense (sometimes even the lives) of others. We must be diligent to ensure that our work is always a blessing and never takes advantage of others, and when possible, we must do our part to help those who typically don’t have the voice or opportunities on the job, perhaps due to gender, race, or other issues of diversity. We look for opportunities to lift others up, make sure they are recognized for their gifts and abilities, and help ensure they are fairly compensated.

Taking time to consider that some of the most important aspects of God’s work are felt, not seen, helps us to pay closer attention to our own work and its impact on others. Jesus told us to love as he loves—encouraging us to pay attention to how we love and serve others in everything we do. Even the most mundane offerings, like cooking a meal, reveal God’s love through us to our families. Likewise, encouraging our fellow employees by recognizing their gifts and contributions, along with giving a voice to those who are sometimes overlooked, is how our best work is reflective of God’s work. It is part of Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, living in us and loving others through us.


Small Group Discussion Questions

  • In the Speaking of Life video, it talks about how a person’s work, such as the Taj Mahal or the Great Wall of China, can exploit or take advantage of others. Think of how you have witnessed people being taken advantage of in work or school. What can we do differently to promote God’s work ethic of love for others in our working activities?
  • Have you considered how what you do, either at work or at home, evokes emotional experiences in those around you? If so, what practices do you use to generate positive, loving emotions? If not, what could help you think about linking your working activities to a positive emotional experience for yourself and those around you?
  • Cultural norms can sometimes make us think that accomplishing a task is more important than how we feel or how others feel while we’re doing it. What can we learn from the way God works? What intentional practices can we use to benefit ourselves, our coworkers, or our workplace?
  • For many people, the thought of going back to work on Monday fills them with dread. How can changing our work focus from holding a production mentality to evoking positive, loving feelings in ourselves and others while we are working help us approach our jobs, no matter what they are, with a more positive attitude? How will this shift in attitude affect our productivity? How will it affect employee morale?