GCI Equipper

If Only We Had…

… young families, teenagers, more people, a building or better place to worship, someone under the age of ___ in our church, a seasoned pastor.

What do you believe you need to make your congregation or fellowship group successful?

I love to look at a Scripture with new eyes – asking God to help me see something I haven’t seen before, or to understand something I perhaps misunderstood before. Admittedly, this has caused me some pain over the years as he has revealed to me things I’ve misinterpreted, misunderstood, or completely ignored.

I was recently reading Matthew 9 and came to the last verse of the chapter, which I’ve heard and used many times in sermons.

 “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:38)

I’ve made comments in sermons such as: “Brethren, we need to ask God to add workers, to bring new people to us so that we can do more for the kingdom.” I’m sure you’ve heard this. I’m also sure you’ve personally asked God to provide more workers, and sometimes those requests are quite specific. “God, if we had a person devoted to youth, we could really grow.” “Lord, please send us some generous donors.” “Father, Son and Spirit, please provide us a building so we can establish roots in a community and serve it for you.”

There’s nothing wrong with these requests, and I believe God has future plans for each one of our churches, but I believe they miss the point of this passage. As I read the text with fresh eyes, there were a few things that I hadn’t really paid attention to previously. Perhaps my observations can be a blessing to you.

Jesus is active at work

Reading the whole chapter, we notice just a few things Jesus did prior to making this statement.

  • Jesus forgives and heals a paralyzed man
  • Jesus calls Matthew – a tax collector – and eats with sinners and tax collectors
  • Jesus teaches about old and new wine and wineskins
  • Jesus raises the dead daughter of a synagogue leader
  • Jesus heals a sick woman – 12 years with bleeding
  • Jesus heals the two blind men
  • Jesus rebukes a demon and heals a mute man
  • Jesus teaches and preaches – healing as he goes

He was meeting needs right where they were. He worked “as he was going.” In today’s vernacular you might think of on his way to work or on the job site, in the neighborhood, in the home – and as our churches change and grow. It seems we are often looking for places to do ministry, places we can make an impact for the kingdom, things we might do, if only we had…, not paying attention to the opportunities right around us. If God is in us – and he is – why are we always looking for somewhere else to do ministry? Could it be that God gave us the job we have, the home we have, in the neighborhood we live in, because that’s where we are needed? Could it also be that God has our congregation or group meeting where he wants us to meet for the present and there is opportunity to join him right where we are? This is not to say God won’t leave us there. We are always prepared to move if it seems good to the Holy Spirit and to the group, but we don’t want to wait to join the harvest in the meantime.

Notice how Matthew 9 ends:

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:36-38)

He had compassion on the crowds; he saw them as sheep without a shepherd. They needed care, comfort, hope, security, truth. They were more than he could reach in his lifetime, which is why he told his disciples they would do greater works than he. They would be the workers sent out to the harvest field. They would be the ones to give care, comfort, hope, security and truth. And they would inspire other workers to go out into the harvest field. Could it be that we are the ones to provide care, comfort, hope, security and truth to others by living and sharing the gospel? Is this what Paul meant when he said the love of Christ compels us to no longer view others as “others”?

This leads to the second observation.

God wants to send us out to his harvest field

He wants us to participate with him. He is already producing fruit; he invites us to join in his harvest. Notice that? He has done the planting, the weeding, the watering, the tending of the fields. It is his harvest, and he is the master gardener. All the work has been done in and through Jesus. It’s time to bring the harvest in and celebrate. We are invited to be part of that harvest. We are invited to partake of the glorious fruit of seeing lives transformed, seeing hope restored, seeing people grow in relationship with Father, Son and Spirit. I wonder if we are so busy asking God to bring people to us so that we can do things our way, that we aren’t seeing where God is sending us so we can participate in his way. Notice the text does not tell us to ask for more workers; it tells us to ask God to send out the workers we already have. In other words, there is a lot of work to be done, so let’s get started. What are we waiting for? Are we not allowing our faith to move forward? Big question: Do we trust him for the harvest?

If we do, then why are we continually praying and asking God for what we already have? God has already provided our congregation and/or fellowship group with what we need to participate with him in the present. Could it be that the things we don’t have are the things we don’t need – at least yet? I believe we already have in each of our groups what we need to join Jesus in what he is doing in our local neighborhood, in our work place, in our homes. The harvest is plenty because he is always at work. As we center our focus on the Love Avenue in 2022, it becomes important to start looking around at those whom God has called us to love. Maybe this will change the way we pray.

I believe GCI is going to grow, and many of our congregations and fellowship groups might still be in transition to where God will place them in the future. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a harvest to participate in. Because I also believe God has us where he wants us now, and we don’t have to keep looking forward to what we might do “if only…” He invites us to participate in the harvest right now. You and I are the workers the original disciples were praying for; let’s let Christ’s love compel us to join in the harvest.

Harvesting with Jesus,

Rick Shallenberger

What is a Healthy Church?

Grace Communion International president, Greg Williams, has set a goal for GCI churches to be the healthiest expression of church we can be.

Equipper asked several pastors and ministry leaders around the world to define healthy church in a sentence or two. The responses were encouraging and perhaps a bit challenging. In order to include more quotes, we edited several down to a main point. See if you see some common themes, which we will summarize at the end of the quotes.

A healthy church is Christ focused, in loving fellowship and intentionally seeking the Spirit’s lead in wisely being Christ’s body in the community, physically and digitally. – Bharat Naker, Australia

A healthy church worships Jesus Christ and insists that he is the reason and goal of everything the congregation does. It is a church that equips people to use their gifts to participate in the life and work of Jesus and is a force for good in their community. – Dishon Mills, US

A healthy church is a body of believers who are walking together and seeking to know the blessed Trinity as we are known by them.” – Bill Winn, US

A church that preaches Jesus Christ, is outward rather than inward focused, moves forward on its knees, is unified in thought and action and whose leaders strive to be sound examples to the congregations. – Peter Mills, UK

A healthy church is one in which the members not only care for one another but have genuine care and concern for others outside the church. – Debby Bailey, US

A healthy church is a church that strives to live out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) and the Glorious Calling (Acts 1:8). Wherever Jesus is at the center, and he is the heart of the life of the church, there you have a heathy church. – Charles Young, US

Healthy church is a congregation of Christ followers who are willing and seeking ways to engage in the community around them. – Carrie Osborne, US

When Jesus Christ is truly central in all we believe and do, we will be living in him and he in us. – Bob Regazzoli, Australia

Sharing in Jesus’ love, faith and hope with our neighborhood, and celebrating together the fruit of righteousness, peace and joy that is borne out of a shared life in Father, Son and Spirit. – Gabriel Ojih, US

A place where the members love, help, and edify each other; a church that thinks about the future and trains the new generation of leaders; a church that looks outward and is open to new people, and a church that does good in its neighborhood, bringing comfort and hope. – Marie Angelique Picard, France

Jesus is at the center of all that is said and done and also a church that finds a balance between looking up (Hope), reaching in (Faith) and reaching out (Love). – Tamar Gray, US

A healthy church is one where its membership is actively involved with God in doing His work of “seeking and saving the lost.” – Kenneth Barker, US

Where Jesus Christ is at the center and the leaders and members are thriving in their relationship with and participation in his life and work. – Aron Tolentino, Philippines

A healthy church is a group of believers joined together in relationship to recognize where God is working and are equipped and encouraged to use their gifts to join Jesus in that work. – Anne Stapleton, US

A healthy church encounters our triune God in every aspect of life and reflects the inclusive heart of Jesus in its being, which in turn empowers its doing. – Terry McDonald, US

It is where love amongst the members is evident, allowing differences amongst them to lead to diversity rather than division. It is where healthy theology leads to an understanding of who God is and leadership serves rather than rules. – Danny Zachariah, India

A church whose members are growing spiritually, with ever-deepening relationships with Jesus. Is outwardly focused, sharing the gospel message and being a blessing to the community, family and friends. And where everyone is empowered to use their giftedness in service to each other and their communities. – Jackie Mills, UK

A healthy church for me is a church that is forward thinking, inclusive, and willing to reach into people’s lives, those that are in the congregation and those who are not (yet). A healthy church is a relational church. – Linda Sitterley, US

Realizing the broader scope of where Jesus is already at work and what Jesus is leading us into and deciding to engage our congregation in joining him at work. – Bart Baril, US

A healthy church is being secure in a relationship with Jesus and willing to follow where He takes each one of us.  – Kirk Hayden, US

A healthy church asks not Jesus’ blessing on what the church wants to do, but rather seeks to understand what the Lord himself is doing in their midst and in their community, and follows him. – Luciano Cozzi, US

A healthy church to me is a church where the love of Christ is being received and shared, a place where disciples are being formed into the image of Christ and making disciples. – Charles Taylor, US

What common themes do you see? A healthy church…

  • Is focused on discipleship – Faith Avenue
  • Loves our neighbors (the one-square-mile (kilometer) around your church) in order to make disciples – Love Avenue
  • Is focused on helping members and guests focus on Jesus as the center of the center – Hope Avenue

A healthy church is focused on Jesus and is being led by him in the Great Commission of loving our neighbors, sharing the teachings of Jesus, and growing in faith, hope and love.

May God continue to bless us as we follow the GCI vision of being the healthiest expression of church we can be. If you want to know how to help your congregation become a healthier expression of the body of Christ, check out our GCI resources page.

Healthy Church Challenges

Equipper asked several pastors and ministry leaders around the world the question: What is your greatest challenge for healthy church? Answers were edited for space. It is our hope these answers might inspire discussion among your leadership teams.

Our ageing congregations and scarcity of young adults and children.
– Jackie Mills, UK

The greatest challenge we have faced on the way to becoming a healthy church is having the focus turn from what today’s society considers a healthy church to be (fancy buildings, large attendance, exciting live worship performances, all kinds of programs and events to keep people busy) to what we should be as Jesus has called us to love this world and share the glorious message of the gospel. – Terry McDonald, US

I think the greatest challenge is the lack of a missional rhythm. More than making new disciples, mission helps a congregation find its purpose. It keeps a church healthy by causing the congregation to continually seek God’s discernment for how we should “be the church” today.  Participating in the work of Jesus Christ in one’s own [neighborhood] keeps the congregation from being to inwardly focused, and inevitably stagnant. – Dishon Mills, US

One challenge is maintaining the patience and perseverance on the part of the leaders and teams to go through the process, because it will take time. Another is managing the load of people, since we deal with volunteers who are serving in the avenue teams on top of their day jobs or vocations. – Aron Tolentino, Philippines

The greatest challenge is making sure that we as a congregation are all on the same page and have the same goals. There have been many challenges and divisions facing us, but if we focus on doing the work of Christ, we can manage some of the hurdles that we face. – Linda Sitterley, US

Helping members overcome fear, propaganda, and re-engage in the life of the church. – Bill Winn, US

Making God’s love the priority within the church (1 John 4:19). Loving with a true and sincere heart. Loving without procrastination or hypocrisy. Finding innovative ways to reach people and share the gospel. Make the gospel real in the everyday life of young people in the faith. – Marie Angelique Picard, France

Greatest Challenge:  compensating for and countering the effects on believers of the stony ground and the thorns in Jesus’ parable of the sower – the cares of this world, deceitfulness of riches, desires for other things, peer pressure and persecution for their faith/beliefs. – Marty Davey, US

Finding new people for our members to love and share the gospel in deed and word. Many have small circles of influence – especially during COVID. We need to put love into action in our community in a consistent way and trust the Holy Spirit to make kingdom connections. – Anne Stapleton, US

Time and change. Making healthy decisions for a congregation, especially in a timely manner for community engagement, usually means change. And change is hard even when it is necessary, desired, and in motion. – Carrie Osborne, US

Discerning what the Spirit defines as a heathy church as opposed to what people define as a heathy church.  – Charles Young, US

The greatest challenge for healthy church (GCI vision) is how we can cascade what “healthy church” is all about to our local church members. – Justine Paolo G. Parcasio, Philippines

Our greatest challenge at this time is getting our meetings off Zoom and finding a suitable meeting place for our church to meet in person.  [We need to find] a community that God has prepared for us to go out into that community and demonstrate and express his love for them. – Cella Olive, US

Motivating volunteers to serve in leadership positions. Members are convinced that they can’t do it or that they don’t have what it takes. Changing this mindset is my greatest challenge. – Grant Forsyth, US

Keep trusting in Jesus, and not to try to impose our will instead of waiting on him. The challenge is to keep listening to the lead of the Spirit, and to follow his lead. – Bob Regazzoli, Australia

Because the church is a spiritual organism, the challenges are spiritual. I believe when members are moved by the reason for their calling, the understanding of who God is, by being “compelled” by the love of God, the challenge of resisting God’s leading will be diminished and ministry will become a joy. – Bermie Dizon, US

Reengineering our paradigm from a dominator model. – Bart Baril, US

Breaking out of an inward and upward focus primarily to more fully participate outwardly too, especially since members are mostly unable to be living in the community in which they worship together. – Bharat Naker, Australia

Division. Our culture has been so ingrained within us that we divide ourselves into small boxes thinking that is who we are. Politics, sexual orientation, gender are three current methods the world is using to divide us and make us think less of others. – David Howe, US

Putting everything into a relationship with Jesus and keeping our focus on him; he never lets go.  – Kirk Hayden, US

Changing the mindset of members from “pay and pray” to one where they accept their identity as disciples of Jesus Christ with a responsibility to actively participate with him in the work he is doing. – Kenneth Barker, US

Getting members to believe: God can and will work through all of us for his purposes, as well as to think beyond what we can see in the physical.  – Tamar Gray, US

Getting members to take the time to participate in the life of the church. Busy lives and work pressures get in the way of meaningful engagement in the church. A small percentage of the membership tends to carry the load for the church. – Danny Zachariah, India

Consistent member participation in the process of discipleship through relationship. – Charles Taylor, US

To recognize what the Lord is actually doing and surrender to his will, rather than attempting to bend his will to ours. Every congregation has its own God-given passions and gifts, and the Lord works with them in a unique way. – Luciano Cozzi, US

Editor’s Note:

What challenges are you facing? We all face challenges as we work toward healthy church, but please don’t be discouraged – you are not alone. When Jesus gave us the great commission in Matthew 28, he put two important bookends around that commission. The first is to remind us who he is: “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.” The second bookend is just as important: “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” The commission is also an invitation to join him in what he is doing, to participate in the work he said he would continue to its completion. Jesus gave us two vital words to keep in mind as we work to be the heathiest expression of church we can be. He said, “Follow me.” It’s our best course of action.

Healthy Church Focus

Equipper asked a number of GCI pastors around the world the question: “What is your main focus at this time in your pathway toward healthy church?”

A tendency among leaders is to focus on too many things at once – address all the challenges at the same time. This is our goal, but is it where the Holy Spirit is leading us? As we seek to follow Christ, we want to ask him for clarity of focus. Where are you leading us, Lord? What do you want our group or congregation to focus on? Following are the responses from around the world – edited only for space.

Mentoring leaders in the process of building the three Avenues, especially the Love Avenue. – Bharat Naker, Australia

Our main focus is to help people understand how valued and loved they are by Jesus and how in turn they should see value in and love others. – Debby Bailey, US

As part of my GCS Trinitarian Youth Ministry course, I have created a strategic plan for youth ministry in the UK. My main focus is to support the UK leadership in implementing this plan. – Jackie Mills, UK

Discerning how we can best participate in the work Jesus is doing in our target community. – Dishon Mills, US

Getting our members back to in-person worship. It’s hard to invite people to a church our own members won’t show up to. – Bill Winn, US

Supporting Pastoral Councils and their congregations in returning to physical church and navigating the post-Covid landscape. Working with our developing leadership group in creating a missional culture. – Peter Mills, UK

Our focus is on building our Faith Avenue and focusing on our youth. – Tamar Gray, US

Our main focus right now during COVID is to keep the encouragement and momentum going toward equipping the congregation for reaching out to the community – especially with neighborhood camps – once things open up. – Anne Stapleton, US

Taking our avenue teams through GCI leadership tools using the book A Giant Step Forward and the GiANT Core program as references. Our hope and goal is for these leadership tools and principles to become part of the culture of the local church, from the pastoral team, to the avenue teams, to our ministries and general membership. – Aron Tolentino, Philippines

My focus is to challenge prospective leaders in small tasks followed by encouragement and positive feedback. My hope is that this will begin a journey toward healthy leadership within the avenues. I realize that this will take time. – Grant Forsyth, US

Prayerfully seeking Holy Spirit’s direction for our congregation as we seek to match our congregational abilities/gifts/experiences with found and known needs in our community. – Carrie Osborne, US

Training and mentoring the team to transition to a new leadership structure and fill in the gaps that will be created on account of retirements.  – Danny Zachariah, India

We are seeking the Spirit’s leadership to rethink and rebuild systems and structures, multiply leaders of welcoming, befriending and discipling, while leveraging technology and social media. All in our effort to recommit to neighborhood engagement in innovative ways that leads us to a formal launch of our congregation in the neighborhood soon – Gabriel Ojih, US

Dealing with the aftermath of Covid. Getting the train moving again. – Bart Baril, US

Our goal is to make sure that we all speak the same vocabulary and are immersed in the same culture. With such an atmosphere, it will be easier to communicate effectively and efficiently what God is revealing to us and to support our denominational directives. – Bermie Dizon, US

Our main focus is sharing and discussing the 5 Voices among the Pastoral Team and the congregation so that the gifts that were given us by the Holy Spirit will be ascertained, explored, and then matched to our Faith, Hope and Love Avenues in service. – Cella Olive, US

For our local church – Grace Communion Baguio, we have requested the GCI Philippines – National Ministry Team to conduct a class/training/equipping for our local church’s pastoral team, ministry leaders and emerging leaders. By starting with the leaders, we believe that we can by then share the vision to our local church members. – Justine Paolo G. Parcasio, Philippines

My main focus is to get everyone to speak the same language. Having the Avenues as our platform makes this much easier. As we begin to refine our Hope Avenue, now that we are somewhat out of the pandemic, it makes it easier to begin the transition into focusing on our Faith Avenue. – Linda Sitterley, US

Our main focus right now is building the health of the leaders of the three avenues. – Terry McDonald, US

Getting the focus off us and onto those in our neighborhood. When we think we are not ready yet to follow Jesus, when we worry about ourselves and what we will say, we miss the point of faith. As Jesus focused on others – especially those hurting or considered “less than” – so should we. – David Howe, US

Building a small core of disciples who know and accept their identity in Christ and who allow the love of God to take hold in their lives. Disciples of Christ who make other disciples of Christ. – Kenneth Barker, US

The Lord has guided us and blessed us greatly for a number of years now, since we adopted the concepts just exposed. As a pastor, I am no longer sitting in the driver’s seat. He is driving, but even so, sometimes we can still tend to be “back seat drivers.” Our main focus currently is to reassess what the Lord has accomplished in our church and community through the Covid year, and make sure we continue to follow Him, rather than going back to a “rut” or “routine” as before. A number of things are clearly here to stay, and the Lord has made that abundantly clear. – Luciano Cozzi, US

Equipping the current team in facilitating and being committed to the process of discipleship and healthy spiritual lives and disciplines. – Charles Taylor, US

Father, Son and Spirit, may you lead us to be the healthiest expression of church we can be by giving us clarity of purpose and a strong focus on priorities. May you lead us to celebrate what you are already doing, and guide us in how and when to make changes. Amen.

Incarnational Trinitarian Theology

ITT is the foundation of team-based, pastor-led ministry. Are we practicing what we preach?

By Glen A Weber, Retired Pastor – US Central Region Support Team

One of the greatest experiences in my 46 years in full-time ministry was listening to the 25 hours of teaching about the “Nature of God” from Dr. Kyriakos Stavrinides in the early 90s. The lectures focused on the Person of the Holy Spirit and his relationship to the Father and the Son. I was hooked!

Roughly ten years later, Dr. C. Baxter Kruger was invited to speak at one of our GCI (WCG at the time) International Conferences and he opened my mind to the life of the Trinity – perichoresis! I had been excited about the impact of the Holy Spirit as a Person, but now the doctrine of the Trinity took on a new life. I was beginning to understand that the interpenetration of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit – “the dance,” Dr. Kruger called it – was the reality of the love, grace, mercy and other qualities of God active among the three Persons. Even more amazing was the understanding that we are invited into that dance – into the life of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Over the years, our pastors and members became much more versed in Incarnational Trinitarian theology. It has been a joy to experience our life in the Triune God.

Practicing the Trinity!

In 2011, I participated in Dr. Russell Duke’s Grace Communion Seminary class on Pastoral Leadership. One of his key areas of focus was on types of leaders, especially team leadership. He presented Jesus’ three ministry teams within the twelve apostles. (Many seem unaware that Jesus had three teams of four members.) There are many lists of the apostles in the Gospels and the names are often given in different order. However, the 1st (Peter), 5th (Philip) and 9th (James, son of Alpheus) names always appear in the same location in every list. And members of each team remain consistent, though in different order in the various lists. Dr. Duke taught us, “This structure would enable Christ to assign tasks to each group, or one task to all groups, by communicating with the three leaders.”

When I began pastoring in Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA churches in 2005, I began to work with my elders. We called them the pastoral team and we met every two weeks to spend time together, discuss needs of the congregation, plan sermon topics together and more. Three years later I was asked to pastor GCI’s New Hope Christian Fellowship in Los Angeles. The previous pastor had retired and appointed a three-person team of elders to lead the pastoral search and transition. For the next eight years we met every two weeks. I never made important decisions or changes in direction without working with the pastoral team. When someone brought an idea (or complaint) to me, it was wonderful to be able to say, “I’ll discuss it with the pastoral team.” It was the most joyous years of my ministry.

Since that time President Greg Williams has set the pattern for GCI leadership as “team-based, pastor-led.” For many pastors, this has been a difficult challenge to implement. We have been a top-down, pastor-led ministry for most of our years as pastors. Transitioning to create a team takes effort, personal change by the pastor and intentional implementation.

Along with the “team-based, pastor-led” approach, Greg Williams has also introduced the Three Avenues of congregational activity – Hope (worship), Faith (discipleship), and Love (witness). I have been honored to coach a group of pastors who have been actively appointing “Avenue Champions” to facilitate each of the avenues. Each Avenue Champion has been gathering a team and begun to take much of the load off the pastor, while at the same time working closely with the pastor as a team. The pastors meet regularly with their Avenue Champions. Every pastor I coach has expressed how much it has helped their ministry by having clear direction in each of those areas of the congregation, and also having a team to carry the implementation so he/she doesn’t have to be planning and executing every service, Bible study, Connect Group, engagement activity with the community and other activities.

I believe this is practicing the life of the Trinity and the Incarnational ministry of Jesus. After all, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are a “team.” In the beginning of his ministry, Jesus created a team apparently involving three smaller teams. As leaders in GCI, it seems only appropriate that as we teach and practice Incarnational Trinitarian ministry, we should also be working closely with a team of people who have other team members working with them – no matter our size.

A fellowship group of four people could begin practicing the three Avenues (Hope, Faith and Love), studying GCI material for suggested ways the Avenues function (each congregation or fellowship group will be different) and begin praying into that aspect of their group. What might the Holy Spirit do in our denomination if all of us were actively practicing the life of the Triune God? What if a small fellowship group has one person (with possibly one or two more on the team) praying about Hope (our worship gatherings and preparations for visitors), another praying about Faith (for God to open doors for discipleship and Connect groups) and a third praying about Love (witness in word and action through engagement with neighbors and people around us)? Might God begin to answer those prayers by sending us as laborers into the harvest!

Here are a couple things to consider:

  • Pastors/Fellowship group facilitators – what steps can you take to advance the three Avenues through “team-based, pastor-led” ministry? Perhaps you can contact your Regional Director for direction and advice. May we follow Jesus’s example.
  • Members – if your pastor/facilitator sees you as a person who could begin to pray into and maybe even take steps to facilitate one of the Avenues, are you willing to begin taking baby steps? (God loves the prayers of 70-, 80- and 90-year-old people!) Are you willing to become part of the team that the Holy Spirit can use to do amazing things in his ministry in your area?

May we all be actively living the life of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!

Church Hack: Adding Internet

One thing we heard a lot just before our 2021 Virtual Celebration was, “We just don’t have internet where we meet.” But what if you did? Having internet during our Celebration would have meant you could have met in a group to share the experience. You could live stream your service so that people who can’t normally attend could worship with you. But isn’t internet expensive? That’s where Mobile Beacon comes in.

Click on the image below to download this month’s Church Hack.

Year C Sermon Pericope

Intentional Preparation is a critical element for a Healthy Hope Avenue. Click on the image below to download the pericopes for the upcoming year in the Christian calendar. Begin the prayerful process of planning for the seasons and your congregation’s spiritual formation in Year C.

New Curriculum: On Being the Church

On Being is a four-part interactive connect group curriculum, designed for biblically-based, dynamic discussions around being a disciple. We are excited to release, part II of the series On Being the Church. This part of the series would be a great curriculum for your new member or believer Connect Group

Tell the Story…

…but remember that each Bible story centers around Jesus.

Think of the story of Noah’s Ark. What comes to mind? Maybe you thought about animals marching to the ark two by two and seven by seven. Perhaps you thought about the rain that fell for over a month. Or, maybe you imagined a dove with a branch in its mouth. Did you think about how the story of Noah’s Ark connects to Christ’s redemptive work? Most people familiar with the story do not, and I think the cause of this can be found in how we were taught.

In admonishing a group of Jewish leaders, Jesus explained:

You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:39-40)

Christ revealed that he is the interpretive key of all Scripture. He, not the Bible, is life. The Bible is life-giving inasmuch as it speaks to us about Jesus and helps us navigate our relationship with God and other people. From cover to cover, the Bible focuses on the God revealed by Jesus and his loving interaction with humanity. Jesus is the path by which we find understanding of Scripture. However, children’s discipleship curriculum resources often do not connect with the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of humanity’s Savior.

If we are not careful, we can present biblical stories like Noah’s Ark as if they are somehow separate from Jesus’ story. Noah’s Ark is a great story by itself, but more importantly, it says something about God’s character. He is righteous so he must judge and address human evil, and his love for us causes him to move heaven and earth in order to save us. The ultimate demonstration of these aspects of God’s character can be found in Jesus, so Noah’s Ark can be used as a way to understand God’s overwhelming love, as shown in Christ. That love is still at work in our lives, and he cultivates Christ in every Christian. Every lesson we teach children and youth should bring them to Christ.

Many Christians have observed that every story is a subplot of the story God is telling. Each of our stories is a part of Jesus’ story, from start to finish, whether we know it or not. This truth should make us feel included, important to God, and part of something greater than ourselves. It should also bring us humility, causing us to view everyone’s story as important and worthy of our attention. Additionally, it shows the Bible as a unified whole — showing how God, through Christ and throughout all ages, worked to make himself known to people. It helps us see the different ways God worked with human beings in order to rescue and redeem us. Highlighting Christ helps them understand that God is at work with us today and we are a continuation of the same story.

This can be a challenge. As a former youth minister and camp director, I know how hard it is to find a curriculum that does not conflict with GCI’s doctrinal stance, let alone one that recognizes Jesus as the center in every lesson. Generations Ministry (GenMin) is working on supports for our congregations.

In July 2021, a group of local experts on children and youth were gathered to form the GenMin Advisory Council. The group was charged with helping to discern God’s will for the children and youth served by GCI. The members of the council include the following: Eula Doele, Reuel Enerio, Tamar Gray, Ceeja Malmkar, Desiree McKinnon, Carrie Osborne, Ruth Phillips, and Hazel Tabin. Part of the role of the council is to help collect best practices and curriculum resources for those serving young people. We aim to release a list of resources by the latter half of 2022. Please pray for the council as we seek to help our congregations make much of Jesus. We hope that we will better learn how to tell God’s story.

By Dishon Mills, Generations Ministry, GCI-USA

 

The Role of the Cross Generational Care Coordinator w/ Cara Garrity

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In this episode, Anthony Mullins, interviews Cara Garrity. Cara is a graduate of our GCI Internship and Pastoral Resident Programs and currently serves as the Development Coordinator in our fellowship. Together they discuss the role of the Cross Generational Care Coordinator in the Faith Avenue.

“Cross Generational Care has to be defined in Jesus Christ. Because wholeness is in him. He is our true humanity. So, we can’t understand care apart from Jesus. Apart from who he is. Who he has made us to be, and who he is transforming us into. So, a simple way I like to think about the care piece, is discipleship. It is engaging and creating spaces for disciples to be made and for transformation in Christ. Cross Generational care is creating those spaces for discipleship to occur for all generations”
-Cara Garrity, GCI Development Coordinator

 

Main Points:

  • What in the world is a Cross Generational Care Coordinator and how does it support the Faith Avenue? (5:10)
  • How does a Cross Generational Care Coordinator fit into a congregation with members who represent one generation? (9:00)
  • Give us a sketch of who would be an ideal candidate for a Cross Generational Care Coordinator in a local church setting? (14:45)
  • In a team-based model of ministry, we envision the Cross Generational Care Coordinator collaborating with the Faith Avenue Champion. What are some practical steps for collaboration? (19:49)
  • What are some activities you would recommend to help launch a vibrant Church Life ministry? (31:57)

Resources:

  • Being the Church – A new curriculum that is part of the On Being Series focusing on the purpose of and our participation in the Body of Christ.
  • Youth Vision – a column in Equipper dedicated to the adults who are actively participating in the discipleship of children and youth.
  • InterGenerate: Transforming Churches through Intergenerational Ministry – InterGenerate, By Holly Catterton Allen, addresses important questions of why we should bring the generations back together, but even more significantly, how we can bring generations back together.
  • Engage All generations – Engage All Generations, by Cory Seibel, suggests how every church can build on its potential and become a more vibrant witness of God’s Kingdom

 

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Gospel Reverb – Confessing Our Hope w/ Ted Johnston

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Listen in as host, Anthony Mullins and GCI Regional Support Team Member, Ted Johnston,

November 7 – Proper 27
Hebrews 9:24-28 “Is It Real or Is It Memorex?”
(6:20)

November 14 – Proper 28
Hebrews 10:11-25 “Confessing our Hope”
(17:40)

November 21 – Proper 29
John 18:33-37 “What Have You Done?”
(26:39)

November 28 – Advent 1
Luke 21:25-36 “Redemption is Drawing Near”
(39:20)

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!

 

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Sermon for November 7, 2021

Speaking Of Life 3050 | Like Kin

Program Transcript


Speaking Of Life 3050 | Like Kin
Jeff Broadnax

When I was 18 years old, I met someone who would change my life for the better. Here’s the catch: we couldn’t have been more different as people.  John was a white man from Great Britain; I was a black kid from Cincinnati, Ohio. He was old enough to be my father, and I played more basketball in one weekend than he had his entire life. I called July 4th Independence Day; he called it Rebellion Day. But we both loved the Proverbs and we both called Jesus, Lord.

John would regularly stand up on my behalf to tear down manmade barriers that tried to keep me from being who God destined me to be. Over the next 30 years, we would transcend cultural norms and become family despite our racial, ethnic, and generational differences.  

In America, the pandemic and political or racial tensions of recent months have made it easy to feel disconnected or fragmented from others. It’s been hard to stay connected with people close to us and even harder to connect with those who might be different. But discovering how God can help people move from fragmented to family is an important practice that we should look at more closely.

One biblical example of an outsider becoming family can be found in the book of Ruth. The story begins with the Israelite family of Elimelech and Naomi who left Judah and moved to Moab with their two sons to escape a famine. They lived there a long time; their sons grew up and decided to marry two Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth.

The relationship between Israel and Moab was complicated and broken.  Relational betrayals had left spiritual scars and historical animosity between them. These differences could have very easily created a fracture in the relationship between Naomi and her daughters-in-law.

The story takes a sad turn when the father Elimelech and the two sons become sick and die, leaving three widows and no children behind. Naomi urges the two daughters-in-law to go back to their families and remarry, and Orpah does. But Ruth insists on staying with Naomi, even leaving Moab and her family to go back to Judah with Naomi. Ruth works hard to find food for the two of them until Naomi realizes there is a distant relative named Boaz who could marry Ruth as part of Israel’s legal system to care for widows. Boaz marries Ruth, and she bears a son named Obed. Let’s read how Naomi’s friends celebrated Obed’s birth:

Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.”  
Ruth 4:14-15 (NRSV)

This son was the grandfather of King David and part of the lineage of Christ.

The foreign woman Ruth was an outsider, not part of Israel’s culture or religion, but God chose to include her in Jesus’ ancestry. In a society where sons were prized, the Israelite women praised the outsider Ruth, saying that she was better “than seven sons” (v. 15). Ruth’s love for Naomi was widely recognized and appreciated, and Ruth became like kin to Naomi, regardless of their religious and cultural differences.

This example of love and kinship between two women from different cultures can instruct us today. Because God saw fit to include an outsider in Jesus’ heritage, we understand that love transcends differences.

Family isn’t just restricted to blood relatives. Because of Christ’s Divine love, we are united into one human family.

Filled with the Spirit, may you have the heart of the Father to love one another, including the outsider, and embrace our diverse representation of the imago Dei (the image of God). 

I’m Jeff Broadnax, Speaking of Life.

 

Psalm 127:1-5 · Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 · Hebrews 9:24-28 · Mark 12:38-44

The theme this week is God provides a way without shame and blame. Psalm 127, our call to worship, reminds us that God provides for us, and anxiously working, worrying, or feeling ashamed as we live and move in the world is unnecessary. God provided for Naomi and Ruth, as written in Ruth 3 and 4. By allowing a Moabite woman to be part of Jesus’ lineage, God reveals how social constructs that shame and exclude people are not the way God’s love operates in the world. Mark 12 further illustrates this when Jesus honored the widow who gave her two small coins at the temple. Our sermon text, Hebrews 9, helps us understand that God isn’t interested in shaming or blaming us for our shortcomings and our resulting feelings of separation. Instead, love handles the reality of humanity’s brokenness with grace and shows us how to do the same for each other.

How Not to Play the Shame/Blame Game

Hebrews 9:24-28 (NRSV)

There’s a trend online called “pet shaming.” It’s where people post pictures of their pets with signs confessing what they did. Some of them are funny [show photos from brain-sharper link]. The owners know that posting pictures of their pets and exposing their misdeeds won’t change their pet’s behavior or make them “good,” but they are humorous. Shame and blame don’t create real behavior change in animals, and they aren’t effective for real change in humans.

There have been actual public shaming sentences for some people in the U.S. where they have had to wear signs announcing what they did. This can range from having a fluorescent-colored license plate on their car to warn about a past driving under the influence conviction (DUI) to having to wear a large placard sign for eight hours for domestic abuse. There’s plenty of discussion about whether public shaming is an effective deterrent for crimes.

Psychologists continue to question whether shame and blame actually change behavior. Blame is a defense mechanism we’ve all used at one time or another, and shame is what tells us we are not good enough and will never be good enough. Hopefully, we have learned that “shame and blame are games that everyone loses.”

God isn’t interested in shaming or blaming, though some churches seem to disagree. God created humanity and he understands how we are made. We respond to love and kindness and shut our hearts to shame and blame. Christ’s sacrifice is evidence that we don’t have to make penance or feel ashamed of our human brokenness. Let’s read about it in Hebrews 9.

Read Hebrews 9:24-28 NRSV.

What can we notice about this passage?

First some context: This message is not to Gentiles, but to Hebrews – Jewish Christians who were being persecuted and tempted to leave Christianity and return to Judaism. Hebrews is the only New Testament book that discusses Jesus Christ as our high priest, connecting him with the Old Testament priest Melchizedek. The main purpose of the letter is to show the supremacy and sufficiency of Jesus.

For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Hebrews 9:24-26 NRSV)

These verses compare and contrast Christ’s sacrifice with the Levitical high priest who entered the Holy of Holies on one day each year. The need for annual sacrifices, presented by the high priest, interposed the religious system, in this case, Judaism, as a mediator between the people and God.

The writer points out the clear superiority of Christ who “did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands” but appears in heaven and who did not have to “offer himself again and again” as the high priest had to offer sacrifices every year. This highlights Jesus as fully divine as well as fully human. No longer was there a need for anyone to be the mediator between the people and God.

Though the repetition of the annual sacrifices reminded the people of their sinfulness, it also reinforced blame and shame, and it created a “sin rut,” one that they could see no way out of. Blame and shame do not show the way out of the rut. Christ’s sacrifice, made in love, was done once, and our “repetition” of it, found in our ritual of Communion, now reminds us that love showed us the way out of the sin rut.

In verse 26, the world translated “sin” is hamartia in the singular, not plural. However, because the letter is addressed to a community, it appears that this is talking about sin in the collective sense, as if Christ’s sacrifice was intended to dismantle systems of sin that are participated in by many people collectively, either knowingly or unknowingly. God is concerned about human-made systems of oppression that create suffering for humanity.

In addition, the passage makes us think about how we still scapegoat, shame, and blame people. This is particularly true for people who differ from us – as in race, gender, belief systems, and political views, to name a few. In some respects, it’s as if we have our own “sacrificial system” that places blame on others. Christ’s sacrifice, “once for all,” means we don’t have to sacrifice each other in a negative spiral of shame and blame. Verse 26b uses the Greek perfect tense to show that not only was Christ’s sacrifice important at that moment in history, but it is still “in force” today and into eternity. It’s as if humanity is being lifted out of the sin rut of shame and blame by the arms of love in an ongoing effort.

And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:27-28 NRSV)

These verses remind us of our mortality and impermanence, something that we often try to forget or feel as if it is something we need to apologize for. Our elder brother Jesus Christ was also mortal (fully human and fully divine), and it was his mortal humanity that made his sacrifice possible. Who better to understand our weaknesses than one who “has been tested as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15)? Here we are reminded that Christ promised to return, not to deal with sin but to “save” – or usher in salvation in the form of God’s kingdom or system on earth – for those who love him. Christ’s second coming is not about sin, shame, or blame. It’s about love, a transforming love that looks forward to establishing God’s righteous rule on earth.

Application:

  • Remind yourself of your value in God’s sight, and let love transform you. When we understand that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit know us intimately, the good and the bad, yet love us without reservation (remember Christ’s sacrifice, “once for all”), it’s as if our “cup of love” is filled and can overflow to others. We are not known or identified by sin or sinful behavior; that is all taken care of in Christ. God sees us in our true identity—his beloved children. We participate with Jesus and through the Holy Spirit he will lead us to change; we become better people as a result of God’s love flowing in us and through us.
  • Celebrate Communion by understanding how we have been set free from the sin rut. Each time we participate in the ritual of Communion, we are reminding ourselves and each other that we are not shamed or blamed by God for our shortcomings. Instead, we are held as precious, worth the very life of Jesus Christ, “once for all.” Love has lifted us up out of the sin rut, and loving others is how we participate with Christ in helping set them free.
  • Examine yourself for ways that you still engage in patterns of shaming and blaming others. Our culture encourages us to point fingers, compare ourselves, and engage in other shaming and blaming behaviors. By remembering who we are in Christ, and by remembering others are also God’s beloved, we can express transforming love to others even in situations where holding them accountable is necessary. We remember that shame and blame don’t change people; love does.

Even though the pictures of the guilty pets we saw in the beginning were funny, shame and blame are not funny. Shame and blame are used to put others down – the opposite of what God calls us to do – and are ineffective means of getting someone to change. That is why the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit reached out to humanity in loving sacrifice, “once for all,” so that we could be transformed by love and then extend that transforming love to one another. May God help us share his love and life with others through the good news that Jesus removed our shame, and there is therefore no reason to blame.

For Reference:

https://www.brain-sharper.com/social/pet-shaming-ob/

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/its-the-shame-effect-judge-orders-public-humiliation-for-domestic-abusers/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201509/5-reasons-we-play-the-blame-game

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/traversing-the-inner-terrain/202009/the-shame-and-blame-game

Video unavailable (video not checked).

Confessing Our Hope w/ Ted Johnston
November 7 – Proper 27
Hebrews 9:24-28 “Is It Real or Is It Memorex?”

CLICK HERE to listen to the whole podcast.

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!

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Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life
  • The Speaking of Life video talked about a deep friendship between two men who were very different from each other in a number of ways. Have you ever had a close friendship with someone who was very different from you? If so, please share how you became friends.
  • Despite long-held prejudices between Israel and Moab, Naomi and Ruth loved each other. When considering the relationship of Naomi and Ruth, have you ever thought about how unusual it was for an Israelite to accept a foreigner as kin (in this case, like a daughter)? How can different cultures learn to love each other like that?
From the Sermon
  • How does knowing that God isn’t interested in shaming or blaming you make you feel? How does knowing this affect your relationships with others?
  • How does viewing Communion as a celebration of breaking free of our “sin rut” add meaning to our participation? Rather than making you feel guilty, does it help you recognize your worth in God’s sight?

Sermon for November 14, 2021

Speaking Of Life 3051 | The Underdog’s Tale

Program Transcript


Speaking Of Life 3051 | The Underdog’s Tale
Greg Williams

One of the most famous story plots in history is the tale of the underdog. From the oldest story of the slave who turns out to be royalty, to the modern sports movie about the unlikely heroes who never let go of their dreams—we resonate with those on the bottom. A narrative about a child of privilege who simply goes on to be an adult of privilege would be less interesting than a grocery list.

There has to be loss, risk—a tightrope the underdog finally makes it across into the promised land. This story resonates with all of us no matter our background.

Hanna, the mother of the prophet Samuel, was one of these biblical underdogs. She suffered from barrenness, which was a great stigma in the ancient world. When she was finally blessed with a child she sang her famous prayer:

The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn.
1 Samuel 2:4-5 (ESV)

The underdog theme, the upside down-ness of God’s miraculous work runs throughout it. The weak become the strong; the barren are pregnant; the poor are brought from the back alleys to the head table.

Throughout redemptive history, this story appears again and again. God confounds our strata of who matters, who’s important, who’s powerful. The underdog becomes the superhero.

The same kind of song is picked up centuries later by another underdog:

he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.
Luke 1:52-53 (ESV)

This is the Magnificat, the song Mary sings early in her pregnancy with Jesus. She’s an unwed teenage mom from a country backwater—she couldn’t be more of an underdog! And she becomes the most famous woman in history, and God uses her to confound the world.

And so we see that still at work in our lives. God uses the least likely to break his kingdom into the world. How many times have we been thrown off by a child or a person with special needs and reminded of life’s fragility and beauty? How many times have we seen God speak through a person who seems to offer nothing else?

God, not only loves the underdog, but through the centuries he often plays his song of life through the least likely instruments—are we listening?

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

 

1 Samuel 1:4-20 • 1 Samuel 1:4-20 • Hebrews 10:11-25 • Mark 13:1-8

The theme this week is waiting on God. 1 Samuel 1 tells us about Hannah waiting on God for a child. 1 Samuel 2 is Hannah’s song of rejoicing about God keeping his promise. Mark 13 tells about the incoming of God’s kingdom and waiting watchfully for his timing. Hebrews 10 is the basis for our sermon about the culmination of the waiting and promises of Israel: Jesus Christ.

To Enter Boldly

Hebrews 10:11-25 ESV

Read, or have someone read, Hebrews 10:11-25 ESV.

The first thing you run into at Fort Knox, Kentucky, home to about half of the U.S. gold reserves, is the steel fence. Make it over that and you must deal with who-knows-how-many landmines in the surrounding field and apparently a machine gun that is laser-activated. There are expert marksman guards on each corner of the building, which is made of concrete-reinforced steel that is supposedly bomb proof. The 20-ton vault has a door that is 21 inches thick.

Only one president, Franklin Roosevelt, has ever been inside and other VIP visitors are rarely allowed inside. And inside? Because of the secrecy of the building, the exact contents are uncertain, but the feature presentation is $190 billion in 27-inch gold bars. The vault has also been temporary home to originals of the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta and the golden Holy Crown of Hungary from the 10th century.

If you make it inside by some miracle and fill your pockets with gold bars, you are still on the Fort Knox Army Base, home to roughly 40,000 people – many of them armed – who won’t be happy that you broke in!

When we read about the Holy of Holies in the Old Testament, we have a kind of ancient, sacred version of Fort Knox. The outer courts of the temple were the only place the public was allowed. There they brought their sacrifices to the priests. The next chamber was the “holy place,” where only the priests were allowed to represent the people before God.

Keep in mind here that the priests, like the elite guards of Fort Knox, were not just anyone. They had to be of a certain tribe of Israel (the Levites) who had been doing the ministry work for centuries. Generation after generation passed on this vocation to the next with certain clothing, language and rituals that went with it. The priest tribe, like Judah, the king tribe, had very specific duties in the life of Israel.

Also like Fort Knox, much of the nation’s gold was held in the tabernacle (and later temple) in these chambers. A huge solid gold Menorah provided the only light in the holy place – no doubt worth a fortune in today’s money. Beyond this room was the Holy of Holies, separated by an ornate curtain that was about 3.5 inches thick. The high priest, after months of preparation, went into the Holy of Holies once a year into the presence of God on behalf of the people.

For anyone but the right person at exactly the right time to go into this chamber was a bit like jumping the fence and running toward Fort Knox. You’re not just in trouble, you’re dead.

The temple was called the “navel of the world” – meant to be the place where the life of God connected with earth. The power and strength and glory of God entered the world right at this point, which made it sacred and even dangerous.

It is this small square of heavily guarded, mysterious space that becomes a central image to the author of Hebrews.

In our reading today, we run into three words that show us the action in this moment in redemptive history. Let’s look at:

  • Kathizō—Sat down
  • Parrēsia—Confidence
  • Parakaleō—Encourage

Sat Downkathizo

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down [kathizō] at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. (Hebrews 10:11-13 ESV)

Our reading for today begins with the image of the priest doing his work. This was the temple life, with all the intensity of Fort Knox – the rituals were centuries old; the preparation was meticulous. The operative word here is that the sacrifice was repeated.

Every year the priest brought sacrifices for the people. Every year they repeated the ritual, which included the priest standing. The contrasting image is of Jesus sitting.

The priest was standing – on guard, in motion, at work, unstopping. Jesus sits because he’s finished. With all the watchfulness and guardedness of Fort Knox, the priest stood as a sentinel. The image of Jesus is at rest.

The work of sacrifice in Israel had to be done over and over to cover new sins, and the sins of the priest. Jesus as the perfect priest and perfect sacrifice covered all sins forever.

This is a great comfort to us as we look back at our lives. There was never a moment when Jesus paused to say, “Oh, can’t cover that one!” There was never a hitch in the plan where Jesus shut it down because the sins were too big or too ugly. We know that the work of redemption was accomplished successfully and decisively.

Jesus’ work of redemption was done and is done, so he sat down. Just as his Father rested on the seventh day because the work of creation was complete, so Jesus completed his earthly work and sat down.

Confidenceparrēsia

Therefore, brothers since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22 ESV)

This word for confidence – parrēsiameant much more than simply boldness. The connotation is wider and speaks to your place in society. It’s the word for speaking in the assembly – the center of Greek society. It meant to speak frankly and truthfully with your head held high.

Only certain privileged members of society could speak with this kind of honor. It meant they weren’t slaves and their words had weight. A person outside of elite circles wouldn’t dare speak with parrēsia in the wrong setting – and here the writer of Hebrews says that’s what we have in Christ.

In terms of our metaphor, it takes confidence to walk right through the front door of Fort Knox. If the Holy of Holies were somehow here today – this frightening, lethal place – we could walk right in. We could enter with confidence because we are covered by the blood of Christ.

All the sacrifices, all the rituals and practices of centuries of Israelite life were only a shadow of the reality of come. Now that the Reality himself has come and done his work, we have his royal confidence.

Do we live in light of this confidence? Do we live with the boldness of knowing we’re loved and welcomed by the God who made the universe? How would that affect our need for approval or being the center of attention? Sharing the spotlight is much easier when you know how little the spotlight matters.

Encourageparakaleō

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging [parakaleō] one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV)

Allow me to share a quote, ironically from atheist philosopher Albert Camus, that reflects this reality of encouragement.

Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead.
Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow.
Just walk beside me and be my friend.

This is how we work together: walk beside me, encourage me, let me encourage you.

We don’t become the new people of God, the royal family who walks with royal confidence, on our own. We come to it together – walking beside each other as equals and encouraging each other toward Christ. There is not, as the disciples sometimes asked for, a privileged seat above all others, but a new equality that demolishes the separations in society.

No longer is it just one priest from one line going in one room, but all of us together in the presence of God in Christ. God gave us the most beautiful, infuriating, life-giving, soul-bending gift he could after his Son Jesus Christ— he gave us each other.

There is no Christian life without the Christian family, and that’s what our last point brings in – we are to be encouraging each other. Now that we have the royal confidence of Christ, we can speak boldly and honestly in our relationships. We can encourage each other to be part of God’s kingdom breaking into the world.

The dynamic is important here. Jesus made a way into that Holy of Holies that we could never make. Our works and our righteousness were nothing in the process. But now that Christ has saved us, God continues to work in the world through us.

There’s not even the slightest hint that we somehow “earn” our part in the kingdom. That work is done by Christ. But Jesus continues to work in the world through the “love and good deeds” we encourage each other to do.

What does this look like in the everyday, modern church? Our world is so self-focused, and the vague understanding of “spirituality” is so individual, that relationship seems to play a small part if any. But this individualism isn’t biblical.

The church community, interpreting and applying the Word, working out what it means to follow Christ in contemporary times and to share life in relationships – this strange pageantry is vital and sacred. To know Christ is to know each other and be bound together as family.

Sat down – Jesus sat down because his work is done, completed forever.

Confidence – Hold your heads high, royal sons and daughters of God. The riches of heaven are yours.

Encourage – The kingdom of God is “already, but not yet” and we live in that tension, supporting each other along the way.

“…all the more as we see the Day drawing near” (verse 25). We live in the time between the times. We wait for the end, knowing this current world is not our home. The closest we get this side of things is experiencing the presence of Christ together as a family. And that, even compared to Fort Knox, is riches indeed.

Video unavailable (video not checked).

Confessing Our Hope w/ Ted Johnston
November 14 – Proper 28
Hebrews 10:11-25 “Confessing our Hope”

CLICK HERE to listen to the whole podcast.

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!

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Small Group Discussion Questions

Questions for sermon: “To Enter Boldly”
  • Have you ever been to a place that was heavily guarded (government building, museum)? What was the experience like? Have you ever thought about the Holy of Holies that way?
  • What does it mean in your life that the saving work of Christ is done and yet still going on? What does it mean that the kingdom of God is “already but not yet”?
  • Hebrews 10:25 tells us to encourage each other in “love and good deeds.” Why is the church – fellowship with others – important to our relationship with Christ? How does engaging with each improve our spiritual lives?
Questions for Speaking of Life, “The Underdog’s Tale”
  • Have you ever seen an unlikely person speak wisdom? Has God ever spoken to you from an unlikely source?
  • Why does God choose unlikely, “nobody” people to become important characters in the story of salvation?
  • Have you ever felt like one of these unlikely underdogs God uses to do his work in the world?
Quote to Ponder: “When God wants to take charge of the world, he doesn't send in the tanks. He sends in the poor and the meek.” ~N.T. Wright

Sermon for November 21, 2021

Speaking Of Life 3052 | Royal Flush

Program Transcript


Speaking Of Life 3052 | Royal Flush
Cara Garrity

If you know anything about the game of poker, you are probably familiar with what is called, a “Royal Flush.” A Royal Flush is made up of the ten, Jack, Queen, King, and Ace cards that are all the same suit. What’s significant about this hand is that if you are ever so lucky as to have it, you are guaranteed to win…well, unless you were foolish enough to fold. But why would you fold when you are holding a Royal Flush. It’s the “king” of all hands and no matter what anyone else is holding or even if they try to cheat, you can’t lose.

So, if someone is holding a Royal Flush it’s pretty obvious what they should do. They should go “ALL IN”. Meaning, they should put everything they have in the pot because there is no chance of losing. The only reason you wouldn’t go “ALL IN” is because you don’t know what a Royal Flush is. Can you imagine how foolish you would feel if you folded only to learn later that
you couldn’t lose?

Permit me to make an unrefined metaphor: Jesus is our Royal Flush. When we know who Jesus is, we will know we can’t lose. No matter who is betting against you, you can trust Jesus gets the final word of victory.

It might be a crude analogy, but it does point to the reality the last book in the Bible makes. Picture with me a high-stakes poker game while hearing these words from the Book of Revelation:

Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood,
and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Revelation 1:5-7 (NRSV)

Jesus being proclaimed as Lord of lords and King of kings is a “Royal Flush” proclamation indeed. Those who put their complete trust in his hands should always be confident to go “all in” with no fear of loss.

Sure, the poker analogy can break down in many ways seeing that nothing compares to the one who is has been crowned King of kings and Lord of lords. But don’t let that bluff you into believing that Jesus is anything less than your sovereign and sufficient King. With Jesus, you always win.

I’m Cara Garrity, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 132:1-12, (13-18) • 2 Samuel 23:1-7 • Revelation 1:4b-8 • John 18:33-37

This week’s theme is the kingly reign of Christ. This royal theme is given voice by the call to worship Psalm, which recalls God’s act of establishing the Davidic dynasty. 2 Samuel 23 records the last words of King David, which serve as a herald of God’s everlasting covenant. The Gospel reading in John 18 uses irony with the interaction between Pilate and Jesus to indicate who the true king is. The reading from Revelation is more direct by praising Jesus as the “ruler of the kings of the earth.”

Jesus Is Not a Co-Pilate

John 18:33-37 (NRSV)

You have probably seen the bumper sticker that says, “God is my Co-Pilot!” On the surface this sounds like a good thing. It sounds spiritual, like someone has their priorities straight. But sometimes these little bumper sticker clichés may reveal something theologically flawed in our thinking. For example, if God is a co-pilot, then he is ultimately not flying the plane. He’s not in charge; we are. It means that we are still choosing the altitude and speed of our flight in life. It means we are picking the destination and determining the flight path to get there. God just becomes a helper to our goals and plans when we hit some turbulence or need some rest. If God is a co-pilot, we cease to be followers. We see ourselves perhaps as equal partners or pals on the same team, but either way, it puts us in the pilot seat.

So, this bumper sticker cliché will need to take a back seat today as we find ourselves on the liturgical calendar with a special day called “Christ the King Sunday.” This marks the last day of the Christian worship calendar before we  start over again with Advent. The Christian calendar, which focuses on the life, death, resurrection, ascension and return of Jesus, culminates with this crowning moment: Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords. No room for co-pilots.

So, in keeping with this theme and our chosen passage for today, we will title this sermon with a play on words. We will be looking at the interchange between Jesus and Pontius Pilate and in the end we will see who is really in charge. If you can stomach the pun, we will get a new bumper sticker to slap on your bulletin that reads, “Jesus is Not a Co-Pilate.” You have my permission to groan.

Let’s begin by reading the passage.

Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:33-37 NRSV)

It must be admitted that the passage we have before us has left out some significant portions of the story. But we can make do with what we have with maybe a few references to what has been left out. For starters, let’s back up and see what leads up to Pilate asking Jesus if he is a king.

John 18 outlines the arrest and subsequent trial of Jesus that grants him an audience first with Annas and then Annas’ father-in-law, Caiaphas the high priest. From here they send Jesus to be questioned by Pontius Pilate, the governor of the Roman province of Judea. This progression shows that Pilate was a man of prominence who had the authority to accept or deny Jewish requests for executions. The Jews admit in verse 31 that they “are not permitted to put anyone to death.” The way the text flows makes it  clear the crowd must get permission from Pilate to put Jesus to death. They see Pilate as their potential co-Pilate for their dastardly deeds.

Pilate, on the other hand, is conflicted over the entire matter. He is depicted as one in authority who wants to do the right thing. But the “right thing” for Pilate is what fits his own personal aspirations and political positioning. So he is reluctant to take action on a man that, as far as he can tell, presents no threat to the political state. Why create potential trouble for himself? The story describes Pilate going back and forth between his personal chambers and the public courtyard. He is a very conflicted governor caught in the middle of a fight he’d rather wiggle out of. And that leads to our passage at hand…

Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (John 18:33 NRSV)

When Pilate asks this question, his understanding of kingship is shaped by his own political way of ruling. If Jesus is a king, Pilate assumes he would be like-minded. So, what lies behind Pilate’s question is the concern that a king of an occupied country like Israel may want to rise up to overthrow its Roman oppressors. Pilate wants to know if Jesus is a risk to his rule. He may be wondering if Jesus has desires to stir up any trouble, such as putting together an army in hopes of revolting and challenging the power that belongs to the Roman emperor. Pilate simply wants to assess the threat level of Jesus to his own authority. If he is not a threat, Pilate would rather not get involved with an internal conflict between Jesus and his accusers. Pilate, like any Roman political authority, is being self-serving. His question, “Are you the King of the Jews?” can be read as a threat to Jesus. You can almost hear Pilate say under his breath, “take care how you answer, Jesus— remember I have the authority to have you executed.”

Jesus’ answer is fearless:

Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” (John 18:34 NRSV)

Jesus answers with a question. That is a bold move in itself. It plants the thought, “who is interrogating who here? Who is really in charge?” Jesus’ answer in effect is saying, “Pilate, are you truly concerned about me being a threat to Rome, or have you been played?” Jesus is putting his kingly finger on the fact that Pilate’s political strings are being manipulated against him. After all, why is Pilate even investigating this baseless charge presented by the crowds? In the way John is telling the story, it is clear who is really in charge. He is presenting Jesus as the one who actually holds all the cards. Pilate is the one caught up and tossed to and fro, not Jesus. This is pointedly clear after John wrote his Gospel.

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father. (John 10:17-18 NRSV)

Jesus is no pawn, and he is not playing co-pilot with anyone. He is in control from beginning to end. Even Pilate later in the story seems to pick up on this reality. (See John 19:9-10).

Now Pilate is responding to Jesus, and we see him try to pivot:

Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” (John 18:35 NRSV)

Pilate’s non-answer to Jesus’ question is an admission that he doesn’t have anything on Jesus to warrant the death penalty. “This is not between you and me,” Pilate seems to be saying. He is also trying to reestablish that he is the authority in the room, not Jesus. With that floated into the air, he asks another question as a thinly veiled threat: “What have you done?” Pilate seems to realize he had lost some ground and wants to redirect the heat.

Jesus’s answer once again shows who is really the main player in the room.

Jesus answered “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” (John 18:36 NRSV)

Jesus now takes the opportunity to teach Pilate something that remains beyond his grasp. Instead of answering the question of whether he is a king or not he talks about his kingdom, which does not play by the same rules as Pilate’s kingdom. If it did, Pilate would know what to expect, like his followers would be fighting against his capture. But as Jesus says, “my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate is way in over his head. He has no idea what, or who, he is dealing with. He can only see things from his own political power-seeking point of view and therefore is blinded from seeing what’s going on and who Jesus is. Again, it is clear there is really only one person in this discussion in a position to ask questions. Pilate is but a pupil, and a poor one at that. But Pilate cannot shake his political fears as he reacts to the word “kingdom” with one final attempt of getting Jesus to answer to him:

Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37 NRSV)

If John was trying to be humorous with how he records this dialogue, he nails it. Pilate seems so intent on getting Jesus to answer his question that he inadvertently provides his own answer, “So you are a king?” Pilate meant it to be a question, but Jesus lets him know that he has in fact provided the answer to his own question. “You say that I am a king.” Jesus never had to answer his question. It’s almost like Pilate gets played once again by another Jew. But Jesus is not trying to manipulate Pilate. He is trying to help Pilate see that Jesus is not a king like the emperor, and his kingdom is nothing like Rome. Pilate needs to rethink everything he thinks he knows about power and authority, rule and control. Jesus brings a far superior reign to a kingdom beyond the control of any earthly power. Jesus is not playing games; he is speaking of truth. His kingdom is the reality that all other kingdoms will have to submit to. Jesus will not play co-Pilate and he doesn’t play co-pilot with us either.

Before we close this passage, we should not miss the opportunity to listen to the voice of the King who has a very pointed statement you and I should ponder on long and hard. Let me put emphasis on the word “you” in restating it:

Jesus answered, “YOU say that I am a king.”

When Pilate said Jesus was a king, he had in mind the same kind of king he was used to. He attributed to Jesus a projection of his own form of rule and authority. For Pilate, he could not imagine Jesus to be anything other than the kind of king that currently ruled the kingdom known as the Roman Empire.

What about you and me? Are we so different? Here on this final day of the Christian worship calendar, we celebrate Christ the King Sunday. We have come here today to join voices in praise to proclaim that Jesus is King. But let us listen first to Jesus’ voice, for we belong to him, and not to any other kingdom of this world. When we say Jesus is king, do we mean the type of king he has revealed himself to be? Or have we been manipulated and played by the crowds, the culture, the political voices, and powerful rulers of our day? Do we proclaim that Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords, while questioning his reign, as if he were a mere idol in our own hands to aid us in self-worship? Or, do we listen to our true King who came into this world for you and me, not to manipulate or control us, but to die for us and set us free to know him and his Father who are not of this world? If we have any remaining bumper stickers that claim Jesus is our co-pilot, today, on Christ the King Sunday, you are invited to lay them down at the foot of the cross where it belongs. Look up and behold your true King. You will find his reign to be a crown of rejoicing.

Video unavailable (video not checked).

Confessing Our Hope w/ Ted Johnston
November 21 – Proper 29
John 18:33-37 “What Have You Done?”

CLICK HERE to listen to the whole podcast.

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!

Follow us on Spotify, Google Podcast, and Apple Podcasts.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life
  • Using the analogy of a Royal Flush to speak of Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords, where is it helpful and where does it break down?
  • What does it look like to “go all in” with Jesus? If we are holding back from trusting Jesus, what is the problem and how can our brothers and sisters help?
From the Sermon
  • Have you ever thought about the message conveyed in the bumper sticker “God is my Co-Pilot”? Can you think of other clichés that may trip us up in how we think of God?
  • Can you relate to Pilate being caught between the demands of the crowds and his own personal concerns? Do you ever feel like you have strings pulling you in different directions? How can knowing Jesus as the true King in the room help cut those strings and bring us into freedom?
  • Discuss some implications of Jesus telling us that his kingdom is not of this world. Do our lives reflect living in this other-worldly kingdom, or do we blend in with the crowd?
  • What did you think of Jesus in how he handled the questioning from Pilate? How does the way John presents Jesus in this story make you think about Jesus? Who do you see Jesus to be from this passage?
  • The sermon challenged us to ponder Jesus’ statement, “YOU say that I am a king.” Ponder together how we may say Jesus is king, but we assume Jesus is the type of king we want him to be. How might Jesus be a king that does not align with how we want him to rule? Are there any “Co-pilot bumper stickers” you would like to confess and lay down at the foot of the cross?

Sermon for November 28, 2021 – Advent 1

Speaking Of Life 4001 | Hope is the Final Word

Program Transcript


Speaking Of Life 4001 | Hope is the Final Word
Greg Williams

When we think of passages to read for Christmas, we usually don’t flip straight to Jeremiah. The “weeping prophet” spent most of his career watching Israel be brutally and violently cleansed by Babylon. He was imprisoned, kidnapped, and left in a cistern to die. Not the kind of thing that usually shows up in the kids’ Christmas pageant!

Yet that is where the Advent readings start this year, with a frustrated prophet watching his home burn all around him. Right in the middle of Jeremiah, chapters 30-33, is the strangest collection of songs of hope, surrounded on every side by proclamations of judgment and lament.

Jeremiah writes:

“In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior.”
Jeremiah 33:15 (ESV)

Jeremiah spent most of his career – forty years or so – delivering bad news. He’d rebuked the people and warned them over and over of God’s wrath to come. He’d written, spoken, and even done some memorable street theater in some parts to get them to turn around. And it seemed to fall on deaf ears.

But it’s here, in the middle of all this, that he brings a message of hope. He brings the message that this harshness, this brokenness all around them will not have the final word. They are in pain and danger now, but tragedy is not the bedrock of the universe. That bedrock is hope.

Jeremiah prophesies about the future day, and the harmony of Jerusalem. In this message of hope from the Lord, Jeremiah also speaks of the righteous branch that sprouts from David’s line. It’s unsure if he even had a dim idea that he was describing Christ, but he too must have been encouraged by this message of hope which speaks of the Lord, our Righteous Savior.

Jeremiah’s message fits perfectly in our advent readings! We see the prophecy, centuries away from the event, of that righteous branch who would one day show us God’s heart. And we still find encouragement today, even right in the middle of our own personal pain and tragedy, that all of the tears are temporary, and that our great hope is the final Word—Jesus.

May God bless your season of Advent with his hope.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 25:1-10 • Jeremiah 33:14-16 • 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 • Luke 21:25-36

Our theme for this Advent week is hope is the final word. In the call to worship Psalm, the poet reminds himself that God has been keeping his promises since the beginning and will continue. Jeremiah talks about the “Branch to spring up from David” – singing hope as Israel burned around him. In his first Thessalonians letter, Paul reminds them of Jesus’ second coming and their great hope to persevere. In Luke 21, Jesus prophesies about the horrible destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, and how the hope of the Son of Man will triumph even then.

On Permanent Sojourn

Luke 21:25-36

Begin with a reading of Luke 21:25-36. All scripture quoted here is from the English Standard Version.

One of the cinematic methods used to show a great war is through flashes of violent scenes shown in quick succession. The destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 could be shown by such flashes from a writer of the time:

  • “and made the whole city run down with blood, to such a degree indeed that the fire of many of the houses was quenched with these men’s blood.”
  • “Round the Altar the heaps of corpses grew higher and higher.”
  • “Crowded together around the entrances many were trampled by their friends, many fell among the still hot and smoking ruins.”
  • They slew those whom they overtook, without mercy.” Josephus

These brutal images – and these are some of the less brutal ones – paint a picture of a merciless scene. Rome, the biggest superpower in the world, brings their full force to bear on one religious minority.

The temple that Herod rebuilt, often called the Second Temple, was a wonder of the ancient world. It was over 470,000 square feet and over a hundred feet high. It was the central nerve of Jewish religious life and contained the Holy of Holies – God’s connection point with earth. By the time of its destruction, it had stood for about 500 years, and for most people it was considered as solid and eternal as the sun itself.

Jesus’ words, spoken a few decades before all this happen, describe this day of devastation:

And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. (Luke 21:25-28 ESV)

These words are often mistaken as referring to the Second Coming itself, but more likely they are referring to the destruction of the temple – this brutal battle that followed the death and resurrection of Jesus by less than a generation.

Let’s look at this today and see how we can learn from these ancient – and fulfilled – prophecies. But we need to start with the right question, and not reactively pillage this passage for what it might mean to us and leave behind what we don’t understand. The first thing we need to ask about this passage should always be our first question:

  • What does this tell us about Jesus?

Then, and only then, can we move on to…

  • What does this tell us about the people of God?
  • What does this tell us about ourselves?

What does this tell us about Jesus?

This should always be our first question when we approach Scripture – not how this applies to us but how it applies to God. What does it teach us about who Jesus is and after that, how do we apply ourselves to that reality?

This might be a disorienting reading for the beginning of Advent – the incredibly violent destruction of an ancient artifact. But let’s hold off judgment for a moment and see how it is entirely appropriate to start our first Advent theme: hope.

 And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves. (Luke 21:25 ESV)

Jesus starts here with a striking image, using a special kind of speech/writing that appears in several places in the Bible and was in wide use at the time – the apocalyptic. The sun, the moon, stars and sea – all of these will be shaken out of place. These are metaphors for political and religious structures that seemed to be as sure and predictable as the planets themselves falling apart and deconstructing.

These vivid metaphors were meant to express more about something felt than describe what exactly happened, and that’s what apocalyptic language is. Think about it this way – have you ever had your heart broken? Did the chambers of your heart shatter and the arteries collapse? Nope, but it felt like it.

Depending on your age, think about when…

Here you can add in a national event for your area that was widely felt. For this writer, an American, it would be something like the assassination of President Kennedy, or when the Challenger spaceship exploded, or the morning of 9/11.

The world ended, didn’t it? And yet it didn’t. That’s what Jesus describes here, perhaps with a tear in his eye, as the old way of relating to God ended and a new way took its place. The language in Revelation describes the literal, physical Second Coming and enthronement of Christ on earth, no question. But a lot of the language used is meant to express feeling more than specific events. The events themselves will be the end of the world as we know it, but mapping them out in some kind of detailed timeline is to miss the point of this kind of writing.

Jesus described what was coming shortly, and goes on later in the passage to say that “…this generation will not pass away” until this has happened (verse 31).

There’s a wrong-headed argument against faith that says Jesus predicted that generation wouldn’t pass before the Second Coming. Therefore, the logic runs, Jesus was incorrect in his prediction and therefore fallible and not who he said he was. There are some belabored Christian answers to this critique. But Jesus wasn’t talking about the Second Coming—he was talking about the completion of the coronation of Jesus as King. The temple was destroyed, and Jesus then took over as the connection between God and humanity.

And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. (Luke 21:27 ESV)

The old has passed away, the new has come. Here Jesus makes a reference to where one of the names for God came from, Daniel 7:

I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. (Daniel 7:13 ESV)

Daniel uses that same apocalyptic language to describe the ascension of this strange character, the Son of Man, to sit at the right hand of God. This describes Jesus coming into the kingly place as the temple, the symbol, falls away, and the Reality the symbol was pointing to steps into place.

What does this tell us about Jesus? This strange imagery drives home one of the major themes of Jesus’ life: the kingdom of God has come, and he is the king. His ascension is not just a theological construct or some religious artifact – he is king of Jews, of the Christians, of the world.

What does this tell us about the people of God?

Jesus was talking about his coming to take over as king of God’s kingdom. But the lingering question stands out: What does the destruction of the temple have to do with us today, right now? Again, we have to step back to look at the whole story of the people of God.

As modern Protestants, we misunderstand our history as God’s people regularly. We have a tendency to think that God gave the Law, the Israelites couldn’t keep it, and then Jesus had to clean up the mess.

From before Eve reached out for the fruit on the tree, God had written the plan for humanity. He chose from among fallen humanity one person, then one family, then one nation. Then from that nation, one lineage, and from that one family, the womb of a faithful teenage girl. All the practice of Judaism through all those centuries was part of the process of God coming to us in Jesus. It’s one long continuous story that culminates in Jesus. Nothing was wasted.

The symbol of the temple, like the wedding plans a girl might keep before she gets married, or the bike a boy rides before he drives a car, gives way when the Reality comes. But this doesn’t mean for a moment that the symbols weren’t important, just that they are, as Jesus said, “fulfilled” in him (Matthew 5:17).

Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it. (Luke 21:21)

In making what looks like a passing comment here, Jesus expresses the new reality of how the people of God will relate to him. He tells God’s people – God’s chosen people – to run away from Jerusalem. He’s pointing to the fact that now the people of God will worship him in spirit and in truth, not in a building. The presence of God now dwells with the people of God in fellowship with each other, not in a room shrouded by a curtain, as it was in the Holy of Holies.

And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars… (Luke 21:25 ESV)

This is not an uncommon image in apocalyptic language. The sun and the moon – the predictable dividers of day and night, the mainstays of the universe – will be disrupted. The very gravity of the universe shifted and our coordinates will never be the same – our points of reference are all gone.

Jesus tells them that something new is happening, and the Lord of Jerusalem is restored as the Lord of the Universe. The story of the people of God goes from shadows and promises into full relationship.

What does this tell us about ourselves? 

Only after we’ve applied this passage to God and to the greater story of the redemption can we bring it home to our own lives. The “living and active” word of God speaks to us continually, as we’ve seen in the story of redemption from Eden to Israel to today. What does this apocalypse (which comes from the Greek word for “uncover” and “reveal”) uncover about us?

One of the most important points, as we’ve already discussed, is our connection to the people of God. We are brothers and sisters with all those before, even before Jesus, and are part of God’s plan for the universe.

Another theme in this short passage is to keep watch:

But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. (Luke 21:34 ESV)

Jesus tells us about being aware, and to be ready, and to realize the fragility of what we think is forever. Jesus was prompted to this discussion by someone pointing out how beautiful the temple is. As we said, it was a wonder of the ancient world (not one of the Seven Wonders, but still famous). The temple was as sure as the sun and the moon, and then it was gone.

If you’ve ever seen something you thought was for sure suddenly fall apart, you know it’s a special kind of trauma. Many of us watched the World Trade Center – an icon of financial triumph – fall to the ground in a cloud of dust and fire. We’ve watched relationships crumble, stable organizations fall apart and the whole world grind to a halt when the virus came in 2020. These institutions aren’t wrong within themselves – they are the way the world runs – but a problem arises when we take them for granted, to trust them more than we trust God.

Keep watch, know that nothing is forever in the world because this world, as it is, is not our permanent home. This gives us a certain freedom – we don’t have to be beholden to trends and fads because we know where our identity lies. We don’t have to be fixated with the next promotion or the measly bit of spotlight we can catch, because we know that our worth comes from far beyond these things.

This sense of fragility gives us freedom as well as responsibility. Jesus calls us to keep watch, to not be inebriated by the pleasures and entertainment of the world, but to hold the world with an open hand, knowing it’s not permanent. Rather than get distracted by vying for the spotlight or anesthetize ourselves with shopping and diversion, we keep watch to know that God is on the move and we want to be where he is.

What does this tell us about Jesus? – Jesus is the king who came to power after old ways fell away. The symbol was obsolete when the Reality it signified arrived.

What does this tell us about the people of God? – This first coming of Jesus started a new era of God relating to humanity. Rather than in a temple, we worship in spirit and truth. Rather than being confined to a particular people group, the body of Christ stretches across the world.

What does this tell us about ourselves? – This cataclysmic event tells us that all our institutions—even the religious ones—aren’t permanent. The fragility of this world is absolute, and we look forward to an eternal kingdom.

Video unavailable (video not checked).

Confessing Our Hope w/ Ted Johnston
November 28 – Advent 1
Luke 21:25-36 “Redemption is Drawing Near”

CLICK HERE to listen to the whole podcast.

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!

Follow us on Spotify, Google Podcast, and Apple Podcasts.


Small Group Discussion Questions

Questions for Sermon: On Permanent Sojourn
  • Did you ever have your heart broken when you were a younger person? Do you remember feeling like the world was going to end? (share stories)
    • We talked about Jesus using the language of the “apocalyptic” in describing the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. This is a mode of description more concerned with feelings than specifically describing events. It’s similar to saying “my heart is broken.”
  • Do we often think of the reality that Jesus is king, that he is “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” (Luke 21:27)? We live in a time when everyone claims their “own truth” and often does not believe that there’s one coherent truth about the universe. How do we, in this time, lift up Jesus as king over all in a way that’s loving and graceful?
  • We live in a time when theologians say God’s kingdom is “already, but not yet.” Jesus brought in the kingdom, but it’s not here all the way, and won’t be until the second coming. What does it mean to live in this kind of tension? How do we live as the kingdom and wait for it at the same time?
Questions for Speaking of Life: “Hope Is the Final Word”
  • Do you believe that hope has the final word? What does it mean to live as God’s people of hope?
  • How do we keep hope in the hard times, like those Jeremiah went through?
  • We may think of Jesus as our best friend and comforter, but do we think of him as king of the universe? Does that change our perception?
Quote to Ponder: “All human wisdom is summed up in two words; wait and hope.” ~ Alexandre Dumas