GCI Equipper

Invitation to the Dance

When the Son of God put on humanity and became the Son of Man, he was inviting us to participate in the relationship – the dance – that he shares as Father, Son and Spirit.

Cheryl and I love to dance, in particular to waltz or slow dance. Good dancing is fluid – it is two individuals becoming one on the dance floor. Dancing is more than moving to the beat—it is following the rhythm and flowing with the music. It is being in communion with the music and with your dance partner. Good dancers almost glide across the floor as they move together with one purpose. I don’t dance as well as I’d like to, but I love the experience of Cheryl and I moving in unison, sharing in the joy of the dance and the company of each other.

Is it any wonder several have described the Trinity in similar terms? Perhaps because of my love for dancing, the first time I read the Trinity described as a circle dance (some call this perichoresis, which we will explain), I had an immediate image in my mind and became intrigued to learn more.

I was in a class on leadership and was reading George Cladis’ book, Leading the Team-Based Church. In the book he suggested we set up our leadership team based on the model of the Trinity, which he termed, “The circle dance of God.” Cladis got this term from the seventh-century writer, John of Damascus, a Greek theologian, who described the relationship the Father, Son and Spirit share as a “circle dance.” Cladis writes:

John depicted the three persons of the Trinity in a circle. A perichoretic image of the Trinity is that of the three persons of God in constant movement in a circle that implies intimacy, equality, unity yet distinction, and love. (p. 4)

John of Damascus didn’t invent the term. Fourth-century church father Gregory of Nazianzus used the term to describe the relationship between the divine and human natures of Christ. Other theologians add words such as co-indwelling, co-inhering, and mutual interpenetration as they try to describe the relationship of the Father, Son and Spirit. The Greek term is perichoresis; the Latin term is circumincession.

There is a “happy mistake” in connecting perichoresis with a dance. The word was originally created from the prefix peri and the verb chōreo, meaning to “contain,” “hold,” or “make space.” The idea is that the members of the Trinity contain each other, or penetrate or permeate each other. However, a similar Greek word, choreuō, means “to dance,” and some people therefore thought that perichōresis means “to dance around.” The connection is more of a pun, not a literal definition. Although the real meaning is mutual indwelling, not dancing, Christian writer Paul Fiddes points out, “The play on words does illustrate well the dynamic sense of perichoresis…” (Participating in God: A Pastoral Doctrine of the Trinity [Westminster John Knox, 2001], 72; see also the Journal of Theological Studies, 1928, pages 242-254).

I like the visual image of a dance because it not only helps me understand the relationship shared by Father, Son and Spirit, it also helps me understand what I have been invited into. (In addition, it helps me explain the idea of team-based ministry, but that is a topic for another time.) For the purpose of this article, let’s think about perichoresis and the incarnation.

When the Son of God entered Mary’s womb, he came to assume humanity. He didn’t just come alongside of us to walk with us, he came to become us. He became the second Adam, the new beginning. The Creator became the created. And because he is eternally in the perichoretic relationship with Father and Spirit, he brought that relationship to us and invited us to participate in that relationship. God is in us and we are in God. Paul reminds us that in Christ we are new creations – we become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Jesus assumed all of humanity – even the process of being formed in a womb. Think about that for a moment. God in a womb?! The idea that God gave up his (metaphorical) robe of light to enter the womb as a zygote, then an embryo, then a fetus, all to develop toward his birth, is mind-boggling. We know part of the story of his birth. We know little about his infancy, toddlerhood, and preteen years, and it’s hard to imagine God learning to crawl and walk, and write, and talk. We have a brief story of when he was 12 and spent time talking to leaders in the temple, but we know little about his life until he entered his ministry at about 30 years of age (Luke 3:23). We can only speculate on why there is so little about him before he started his ministry, but it is evidently not important. What is important is to know why he came – and that was to restore us, redeem us, forgive us, include us, reconcile us; to show us we are loved, and to invite us to the dance, a never-ending relationship with God.

One of the marvelous truths about Jesus is that he lived a life without sin. The author of Hebrews tells us he was tempted in every way we are tempted, yet he lived without sin. I believe this is because he never forgot who he was, and he never forgot whose he was. Jesus knew he was the Son of Man, but he also knew he was the Son of God. He was in an intimate relationship with the Father and the Spirit. He never stopped participating in the dance. Further, he wanted his disciples to know and experience the unity he shared as part of the Triune God. Remember what he said in his prayer after the Lord’s Supper?

As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:21-24 NRSV)

I submit that one of the greatest gifts of the incarnation is the invitation to participate in the relationship of the Trinity, to be in Jesus as he is in the Father and the Father is in him. It is vital to know who we are, and to know whose we are. I believe that when we realize we’ve been invited to join Jesus in what he is doing, it makes sharing his love and life with others a great joy. I believe when we join the dance, we will learn to glide across the floor (ministry and mission) in rhythm with him. I believe we will fall in love with the experience of Jesus and us moving in unison, sharing in the joy of the dance and the company of each other.

Keep dancing,

Rick Shallenberger

The Awe of the Angels

That the man Jesus was also God incarnate became (and still is) one of the founding doctrines of the Christian church.

By Tim Sitterley, US Regional Director, West

Several years ago I was in the city of Managua Nicaragua during the celebration of La Purisima. La Purísima is a religious event in late November/early December that celebrates the conception of the Virgin Mary. Catholic devotees celebrate with nine days of prayer and the building of an altar in their homes, as well as singing and gifts for those who visit it.

On December 7 comes La Gritería, which translates as “the shouting.” At 6 pm, people start to shout the question: ¿Qué causa tanta alegría?” (What causes so much happiness?), and others respond with “La Concepción de María” (Mary’s Conception). (The Immaculate Conception is a dogma of the Catholic church that states that Mary was conceived free from the stain of original sin. This is not a GCI belief.)

This sounds like a joyous and innocent celebration, and I was somewhat surprised that our host warned us to make sure we locked the gates and stayed off the streets. As the evening progressed I understood. The “shouting” morphed into fireworks that would rival any celebration, along with gunfire into the air. By midnight gangs of teens and young adult males roamed the streets vandalizing anything in their path.

I suspect the real meaning of the celebration became lost amid this revelry. There was little that night that reflected or honored the Catholic belief in the immaculate conception of the mother of Jesus. Much like the Fourth of July in the States, the real meaning of the day faded under the desire to eat, drink and blow stuff up.

No matter where you live in the world, we love our holidays – religious and secular. How many of them have lost their real meaning, and are now just excuses to take a day off, barbecue something and watch a sporting event?

What about Christmas?

Sure, we may put a “Jesus is the reason for the season” sign on our lawn or fit a nativity scene into the festive holiday decorations. “Silent Night” is considered to be the most translated song on the planet (it’s even translated into Klingon and Elven), and for a brief moment in a Christmas Eve service we may pause to contemplate the events of a long-ago Middle Eastern night.

But do we stop to contemplate the truth that the significance of that first Advent rivals all other holidays and celebrations combined? Or do we get caught up in the external trappings of the season, or worse, in the useless argument over WHEN the events surrounding Jesus’ birth took place, rather than focusing on WHAT those events meant for all humanity?

The apostle John tells us that the Word, the one who was with God and was God, the one through whom all things were made, the true light that gives light to everyone, THAT “Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Without the Word putting on flesh and dwelling among us, Easter, communion and the ascension would not have occurred.

But wait, there’s more!

When I was in Nicaragua I witnessed poverty and despair at a level I could never have imagined. The country had been devastated by years of partisan civil war. Entire families lived 24/7 in the city dump, existing on whatever they could scavenge. At a church-run feeding center I watched older children feed their younger siblings, knowing there would not be enough food for them to eat. Crime was so rampant that our taxi driver carried an AK-47 assault rifle.

I wept for the beautiful people I met. I prayed for the nation as a whole. But I got on a plane a few days later and returned to my comfortable life. There was no chance of me voluntarily moving to Nicaragua and living their life. But when we celebrate the incarnation we celebrate just that. The second person of the Godhead left the splendor of heaven and, as Eugene Peterson renders John 1:14, ”moved into the neighborhood.”

Peterson captures the magnitude and significance of the incarnation well in his paraphrase:

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. (Philippians 2:5-8 MSG)

The conjunction of divinity and humanity represented in the incarnation story changed everything—for ever! That the man Jesus was also God incarnate became (and still is) one of the founding doctrines of the Christian church. The Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) wrote that Jesus is “recognized in two natures [God and man], without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ.”

The apostle Paul sums up the relevance of the incarnation to each of us when he writes this:

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. (Galatians 4:4-5)

We may not know the exact date of the nativity. We may get side-tracked by some of the pagan overlay, or the rampant commercialism that dominates the season. But if you miss out on the real reason for the season—that the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us—then you have missed out on the understanding and basis of Christian faith and hope.

“When the time had fully come,” Jesus, the one John told us “was with God, and was God” (John 1:1), descended through time and space to take on the form of a human infant. This was an event so miraculous, so significant, that heaven itself opened to reveal choirs of angels celebrating the event in song. And EVERYTHING was different. The hope for all humanity now lay in a simple feeding trough, watched over by a teenaged girl who would later be called the Theotokos, the God-bearer.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:8-14)

May we never lose the awe of the angels as we celebrate the birth of Emmanuel, God With Us.

The Holy Spirit, Prayer and Connect Groups

Prayer, individually and collectively, is vital to being a healthy church and being strong in our faith.

By Bob Regazzoli, pastor, Australia

The Word has always taught how important prayer is in our Christian lives and in our relationship with our heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, in the Spirit. Most of our prayer life is private and personal, and corporately we are led in prayer during our worship services. What may not be quite as common for many Christians is praying with others in a small group setting.

As we look at the dynamic life of the early church, we find that coming together in prayer was part of their way of life and worship. Following Jesus’ ascension, we read of the apostles arriving in Jerusalem and meeting together in an upstairs room. “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers” (Acts 1:14). This was just prior to the day of Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

In the next chapter we see how they lived this new Spirit-filled life. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). The Holy Spirit inspired the new believers to learn the teachings of Jesus from the apostles, brought them together in fellowship for the sharing of meals and the breaking of bread (which could have been referring to Communion) and a devotion to prayer. In this context of learning how to strengthen their new community, prayer was part of what believers did together.

One of the joys of sharing our lives together as Christians is when we are together in connect groups or small groups, where we can spend time building relationships by sharing what’s going on in our lives, worshipping and praising God with thanksgiving and praying about various needs. All this lays the foundation for other optional activities. While some groups meet primarily for prayer, others may include a time of shared prayer as part of their Bible discussion, book reading, or other type of meeting/gathering.

In a GC podcast, Anthony Mullins interviewed Carmen and Charles Fleming on “The Impact of Connect Groups on the Local Church.” https://resources.gci.org/media/gcpodcast

One notable statement made by Charles was “transformation takes place in community.” This was evident in the early church. Following the arrest of Peter and John, they went back to the other believers and reported what the chief priests and elders had said to them. The response of the community? “When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God” (Acts 4:23). The following verses contain their prayer, and we read that “after they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly” (v. 31). This community prayer led to the Holy Spirit working more powerfully in their lives, increasing their faith and confidence.

Later, Herod had Peter arrested and imprisoned, “but the church was earnestly praying to God for him” (Acts 12:5). He was miraculously released from prison by an angel, and he then went to where the members were meeting. “When this [the reality of his miraculous release] had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying” (v. 13).

Praying together deepens our love and appreciation for one another as we seek the lead and guidance of the Holy Spirit, and it builds and strengthens the unity of our faith.

One couple in our congregation has been facilitating a prayer group for almost 20 years. The group meets for about 30 minutes before every worship service to pray about members’ needs and for the worship service and all involved. This has been a significant ministry.

Our national church board instituted the practice many years ago of spending time in prayer before any business was discussed. A devotional is given by one of the board members, followed by various members praying for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all that is said and done. Further prayers are offered during the meetings.

We see from the history of the church in Acts that there is a direct connection between the church members praying together and being filled with the Holy Spirit. As Paul reinforced later, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-19).

As Christians, we come to the Father through Jesus, our high priest, in the Spirit. He is always living to intercede on our behalf (Hebrews 7:25). As we live in him and he in us, we join with Jesus in his faithful response to the Father. We join him in intercessory prayer. We participate with him in his ministry. As we have seen, intercessory prayer within the community was an integral part of the life of the early church.

Prayer, individually and collectively, is vital to being a healthy church and being strong in our faith. If you haven’t participated in a prayer meeting or connect group where there is prayer, do yourself a favour and join one, or initiate one with other members. There are mature Christians who would be more than willing to assist.

Paul’s timeless message to the church communities in his day and down through the ages is this: “Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18).

The Strength of My Heart

By Eugene Guzon, Superintendent of Asia

Life as we know it is changing. Along with many natural disasters and political turmoil, the prolonged COVID-19 situation has made people’s situations even more challenging and uncertain. We do not need to look far to see pain, hardship and loss, which has perhaps hit home for you as well. I recently experienced this in a personal way when I lost my mom because her heart and lungs failed due to pneumonia. It made this year an unforgettable one for me.

Regardless of where you are, it is likely that you have your share of heartbreak. It could be an illness experienced by you or a loved one. It could be a lost job or a business failure. It could be broken relationships or family conflicts. Or it could simply be a sense of deep frustration and helplessness as you see society going through a seemingly irreversible turn to ruin. In the face of these, it is natural to become fearful, discouraged and depressed. Our first tendency is to panic and look inward – to our own strength, knowledge, financial ability, our own power and connections. As believers, we know that doesn’t work. We need to follow the example of the faith heroes in the Old Testament and the disciples and early church of the New Testament and look outside of ourselves and to the one real solution. Note what the psalmist said:

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:26)

This psalm is attributed to Asaph, one of the officials and a worship leader during the time of King David and King Solomon. Asaph was a godly man who saw the brokenness of the world and a society living as if there was no God. He saw believers struggle while those who disregarded God lived in apparent prosperity. He doubted and he wrestled at times with his faith. Asaph tried to serve God, but there were moments when he also found it hard to understand his afflictions. In many ways we can relate with Asaph’s challenges, can’t we?

In Psalm 73:26, we see how Asaph came to encounter God and how God turned his protest into praise. What encouragement can be found in this psalm?

My flesh and heart may fail

The word flesh here pertains to our bodies, but it also figuratively means our physical power and physical authority. One moment, we find ourselves strong, healthy, and in the prime of our lives. The next moment, we find ourselves sick, aging, growing weaker as the years go by. It can happen gradually, but it can also happen quickly. With a single accident or diagnosis, our health can take a turn for the worse. Even in the context of these last two years, we are reminded of how fleeting life is. We can try to keep our bodies strong and fit, and we may be healthy now, but the reality is we will not always be strong.

The verse also says that our hearts may fail. This doesn’t just pertain to our physical hearts, but also refers to our will, our feelings, and our emotions. Here we see an acknowledgment that in this life, we will come face to face with heartbreak, discouragement, and fear. Our journeys will include valleys as well as mountaintop experiences.

God is the strength of my heart

This is our great encouragement. Our own strength may fail, but even when all else is lost, God holds firm. He is our strength, our anchor, our sustainer. When we feel our strength is failing, when we get overwhelmed and we lose heart, he is the one who keeps us going.

It is interesting that the psalmist did not say “God is the strength of my body.” Of course, he is the source of strength, and he is Jehovah Rapha, our healer. Fifteen years ago, I had a bout with colon cancer and thought I would be gone in a few months. But in his mercy, God gave me new life and allowed me to survive that ordeal. Other things he has not healed, and all of us know times God has healed and times he has withheld immediate intervention.

We trust that God always knows the better way, the better time, and he allows suffering to visit us for a better and bigger reason. Our assurance is that no matter what happens to us, God will give us the strength and the courage to endure.

God is my portion forever

The word portion is often used to refer to someone’s wealth or inheritance, which can come and go quickly. God, however, is our eternal portion. In Jesus, God has given us an eternal inheritance. We have been adopted and brought into a relationship where we experience his grace, his forgiveness, and his life.

Like Asaph, as we continue to look to God, we will experience a change in perspective about who God is and who we are in him. We believe and cling to the priceless gift of salvation, of a glorious body at the resurrection, and of communion with the Lord and with all the saints forever. Paul said this to the believers in Corinth:

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. (2 Corinthians 4:17)

As we walk forward in faith, we will experience overwhelming pressures in this life. Let us not grow weary, but fix our sights on God, cling to his promises, and trust that what we have in him is far greater than anything else we will encounter in this physical world.

Church Hack – Advent

Many GCI congregations celebrate Advent with special services and events. This month, our church hack offers a closer look at advent symbolism, the candle lighting ceremony, and a powerpoint template to go along with your Hope Avenue gatherings this season. #GCIChurchHacks

Click the link below to access and download the GCI Advent 2021 Church Hack.


Examining the Walls

Do you know the social, emotional, physical, and spiritual condition of young people in your community?

Nehemiah had a BIG challenge. Jerusalem, the religious center for the Jewish people, was in ruin, and God put it on Nehemiah’s heart to rebuild the Holy City. After a period of mourning, lament, and prayer (Nehemiah 1:1-11), he petitioned the Assyrian King, emperor of the region and conqueror of Israel, to lead an expedition to rebuild Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:1-10). When Nehemiah arrived at Jerusalem, what did he do to begin his monumental task? Did he start calling contractors to get quotes for the work? Did he gather the leaders in Jerusalem and show them his blueprints? Did he call the insurance company to see if the walls were still under warranty? Nehemiah did none of these things. Here is what Nehemiah did:

I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days I set out during the night with a few others. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on. By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. (Nehemiah 2:11-13)

Nehemiah examined the walls. He wanted to see the extent of the damage and to see if there was anything that could be salvaged. Despite his brilliance and capabilities, Nehemiah entered the Holy City as a humble learner, letting the conditions on the ground inform his strategy.

For many of us, discipling children and youth feels like a monumental task – like rebuilding Jerusalem must have seemed to Nehemiah. Perhaps you are in a congregation that does not have any young people. Maybe you only have a handful of children and youth and you are desperate to keep them engaged. Many of us want to connect with our younger neighbors, but we do not know how. To those in this situation, my questions is, “Have you examined your walls?” Do you know the social, emotional, physical, and spiritual condition of young people in your community? Do you know the extent of the damage the world has inflicted upon them and what of God can be salvaged? Like Nehemiah, are you humbly seeking to know the state of your children and youth?

In 2022, we are asking GCI congregations to give special attention to the Love Avenue — focusing on how we bear witness in our communities to the King and his coming Kingdom. In most congregations, reaching adults is what naturally comes to mind. However, our younger neighbors also need to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ and be given an opportunity to experience the kingdom. In thinking about how to build up our Love Avenues, we should not neglect children and youth and follow Jesus’ command to bring the children to him (Matthew 19:14).

Coming up with a plan to engage young people is a monumental task. In fact, it is too big for us. The good news is that God has a plan to engage our younger neighbors, and Jesus is already at work in our community. Our job is to discern how to best participate in what Christ is already doing. Here are some ways to start:

  • Pray

Like Nehemiah, we should start with prayer. We should pray for eyes to see and a heart to care for young people. We should also pray for God to show us how to best participate in what he is already doing.

  • Look at your community’s census data

Visit a site like Sperling’s Best Places (www.bestplaces.net) and plug in your community’s zip code. The site will give you demographic information, religious statistics, education statistics, and other useful information. Studying this information can help identify needs and opportunities.

3) Talk to local experts

Set up a meeting with a local school principal or staff at a youth-serving organization. Ask them what they see and the best way for your congregation to be a blessing to young people.

4) Volunteer

Volunteer at a local youth-serving organization to meet your younger neighbors. This will also give you an opportunity to learn from local experts how to best care for them.

The last thing I want to mention about Nehemiah is that he believed. He was not daunted by the condition of the walls. Despite the size of the job, he believed in a God big enough and strong enough to rebuild Jerusalem. That same God is with us today. I pray that you believe in a God who is big enough to use your congregation to be a blessing to the children and youth in your neighborhood. I encourage you to examine your walls so you can be a part of what God is building.

By Dishon Mills
Generations Ministry Coordinator, US.

A Team-Based Faith Avenue w/ Sarah Strub

A Team-Based Faith Avenue w/ Sarah Strub

Video unavailable (video not checked).

In this episode, Anthony Mullins, interviews Sarah Strub. Sarah serves as the Faith Avenue Champion in Big Sandy, Texas. Together they discuss the Faith Avenue Team and how it integrates with the other Avenue Teams in the congregations.


“He is the source of all the good things that we are trying to build, like the Faith Avenue in this instance. And our job is to connect with him, he’s doing the heavy lifting and he will produce the results that we want to see. We can just rest in that. “
– Sarah Strub, Faith Avenue Champion


Main Points:

  • As the Faith Avenue Champion in your congregation, how do you work in collaboration with the Love and Faith Champions? (5:24)
  • With the Faith Avenue playing a significant role in church life, how important is the relationship between Pastor and Faith Avenue Champion and what does collaboration look like on that level? (8:39)
  • What steps have you taken to build a Faith Avenue team? And as a follow-up, why is a team-based structure important to the Faith Avenue? (18:36)
  • Let’s talk about the synergy and overlap of the Faith Avenue and Love Avenue. In what ways do you see these two Avenues closely aligned? (23:05)


Gospel Reverb – Filled With Expectation w/ Joseph Tkach Jr.

Filled With Expectation w/ Joseph Tkach Jr.

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Listen in as host, Anthony Mullins and Joseph Tkach Jr., retired GCI President and Board Chair, unpack these lectionary passages:

January 2 – 2nd Sunday of Christmas
John 1:10-18 (NRSV) “The Word Became Flesh”

January 9 – 1st Sunday of Epiphany
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 “Filled With Expectation”

January 16 – 2nd Sunday of Epiphany
John 2:1-11 “Fill the Jars!”

January 23 – 3rd Sunday of Epiphany
Luke 4:14-21 “Filled With Power”

January 30 – 4th Sunday of Epiphany
Luke 4:21-30 “Fulfilled”

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Sermon for January 2, 2022 (Second Sunday after Christmas)

Speaking Of Life 4006 | Already a Good New Year

A new year is approaching! This means new beginnings, new journeys, and new resolutions. The New Year is often an opportunity to improve ourselves or expand what we have. But While this can be a healthy practice, it is also beneficial to reflect on the blessings that we already have. This New Year, let us open our hearts and ears and receive what God has already given us. Let us experience his grace and love through the light of his son, Jesus Christ.

Program Transcript

Speaking Of Life 4006 | Already a Good New Year
Cara Garrity

This week, we are blessed to celebrate the coming of another year with fireworks, parties, and cheers of “goodbye” to 2021 and “hello” to 2022. At the start of a new year, many people use the opportunity to take stock in their lives. They make resolutions to lose weight, exercise more, save money, and stop procrastinating. There is nothing inherently wrong with making a New Year’s resolution, however, have you ever noticed that resolutions are often focused on self-improvement?

Why do we often base our New Year’s resolution on things we do not like about ourselves or things we think will make us whole? Why, when reflecting on our lives, do we tend to look at what we do not have versus what we have?

The truth is, God wants something different and better for us. While we do actively participate in the work to become more like Christ, our Triune God invites us to be focused on the blessings we have already received and how we are being transformed by the goodness of God.  Paul writes:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.
Ephesians 1:3-6

The reality is that if we are in Christ, we have already been blessed beyond imagination. It is God’s pleasure to bless his children and he does not withhold his best from us. What would happen if we made our New Year’s resolution in light of what we have received in Christ? What if we saw ourselves as overflowing with blessings? What if we saw ourselves as already chosen and adopted in Christ?

For this new year, I challenge us to rest in the truth of what God says about humanity. Through Jesus Christ, we are holy and blameless in his sight. I pray that we will experience every spiritual blessing in Christ, no matter what this year has in store.

I’m Cara Garrity, Speaking of Life.

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

The theme for the second week after Christmas is the God who comes to our rescue. Our call to worship Psalm speaks to God’s power to bless his children and emphasizes that nothing can stand against him. In Jeremiah we read about how God is the redeemer of Israel and about the joy that comes from being rescued by him. In Ephesians, Paul celebrates Jesus as our Savior, facilitating our adoption through his life, death, and resurrection. John speaks about Jesus, in his incarnation, as the light for all people who lived among us.

A New Light, A New Beginning

John 1:1-18

Happy New Year! We are lovingly gifted by God with another year to worship him and to be a blessing to each other. Every hour for a 24-hour period, people around the world watched their clocks strike midnight and brought in the new year with fireworks, celebrations, and time with loved ones. It seems like, at least for a little while, we were all united in our gratitude for another year of life. For many, a new year brings hope because it represents a chance for a new start.

2021 had to be one of the most anticipated years of all time. 2020 brought us a global pandemic, a racial reckoning, a divisive U.S. presidential campaign, and a slew of devastating natural disasters. For many, 2020 was a year they wanted to see in their rearview mirror—as if ending the year would bring an end to the challenges we faced. It was commonly said, “2021 is going to be better because it can’t be any worse than 2020!” Despite social distancing requirements, we brought in 2021 with hope and gusto. We craved a new beginning—the opportunity for a better tomorrow. Now that we are saying “goodbye” to 2021, we have to admit that 2021 did not solve all our problems. Furthermore, some 2020 challenges are still with us, in one degree or another, as we head into 2022.

Scientifically speaking, there is no magic in the coming of a new year. Most people understand that New Year’s Day celebrates another successful trip of the earth around the sun and not some mystical “reset button” on our lives. We intellectually understand that we will have the same problems on January 1 as we did on December 31. Yet, every year we make resolutions, celebrate, and hope for a brighter day. It is like the hope of a new beginning is irresistible.

Perhaps we are wired to crave a new beginning. It could be because we want an unpleasant situation to end. Maybe we are in a rut, and we desire a break in the monotony. Or it could be that we carry pain or shame, and we want freedom from that emotional burden. Whatever the reason, there is something inside us that is attracted to the thought of a fresh start. It may be that deep down all humans subconsciously know that our lives, our world, need to be remade. We need to be made new. We need a new beginning.

Towards the end of the second century, life for the Christian community was challenging. The Jerusalem church was being scattered because of the destruction of the Holy City and persecution by Jewish leaders. Most of the 12 apostles had been martyred and believers had good reason to fear for their lives. Christianity was catching fire in the Gentile world, but disagreements between Jewish and non-Jewish Christians threatened to divide the emerging church. It is in this climate that the apostle John wrote his Gospel. Note how he starts:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. (John 1:1-9)

To John, Jesus is the beginning of everything; he is the light the world needed. Christ’s relationship with the Father, with the Holy Spirit in their midst, is the true start to all things. This passage should remind us of the creation story in Genesis because John quoted the phrase, “In the beginning.” The world had become dark, and God started by saying, “Let there be light.” In a similar way, the apostle was presenting his audience with a new beginning—the light has come, and he has a name.

Further, John is giving us a glimpse into the relationship between the Father and the Eternal Son apart from us, and their connection is deeply intimate. It is a relationship of love that led to the creation of the universe. It is that same love that compelled Christ to put on human flesh and dwell amongst us – to become the light that removes the darkness.

John’s relationship with Christ gave the apostle the insight to see creation as a relational act—the result of the internal relations of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Moses, the author of Genesis, was inspired to write about the beginning of the world, and the law was given through Moses but Moses did not enjoy meals with Jesus. Moses was a mighty prophet, but he did not hear Jesus laugh or sing. Moses saw incredible things, but he never felt Jesus’ comforting embrace. It is no wonder that John wanted to reintroduce his audience to the God of relationship.

Let’s read the next 9 verses:

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (John 1:10-18)

The Holy Spirit inspired John to understand that his readers needed to be reminded who Jesus is – to help them deal with all the challenges they faced. It may have seemed like a dark time to John’s audience. It may have seemed like the gospel movement would end. Many believers were suffering for the sake of Christ, so John wanted to shine a light on Jesus and remind them he was the true light. He did not want his audience to have a superficial, shallow understanding of Christ. Rather, the apostle wanted Christians to live in the reality of God’s power and love. So, John started by revealing that Jesus is the Creator God. He is the one John the Baptist spoke about; he is the one and only Son, who came from the Father; he is the Son of God who became the Son of Man. Their hope in Christ is well placed because he is the reason that hope exists. He is the source of hope and the light for all humanity.

Not only does John distinguish his Gospel by invoking Genesis 1, but he also gave Jesus a title not found in Matthew, Mark, or Luke. John called Jesus “the Word,” which is a term packed with meaning. In Greek, the term refers to a person’s words and the logic and reason behind those words. In Hebrew, “the word of God” is a synonym for “the law of God.” The law was viewed as the tool God used to bring about his will on the earth. Since John was appealing to people with both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds, it made sense for the apostle to have both definitions in mind. Therefore, John explained that Christ embodies the reason and wisdom of God, and he is the means by which God accomplished his will on the earth. Jesus has the power to make things new and to make new beginnings. John hoped his audience would live in the reality of Christ. He wanted them to see their situation through the lens of Jesus, the One whom the darkness cannot conquer.

Do you need a new beginning? Do you need to see a way out of darkness? Do you need a fresh start? The good news is that Jesus is the light to illuminate your path, and he is the way to a fresh start. The Word of God has made all humanity new through his life, death, and resurrection, and he is willing to make you new as well. We are not talking about a superficial newness, like we seem to crave on New Year’s Day. We often desire change like weight loss or having a better work/life balance. These things are good; however, the change Jesus brings impacts this life and the life to come.  He can change us on the inside in such a way that everything becomes new. He brings a new beginning to how we see God. He brings a new beginning to how we see ourselves. He brings a new beginning to our purpose. He may not change our problems, but he can cause us to soar above our troubles. He may not change how you look, but he will make you confident in the skin you are in. He may not bring back the person you lost, but he will comfort you so you can comfort others. He can do all things well and make everything new.

As we celebrate a new year (and we are free to celebrate), we need not wait for a planet to orbit the sun to get our new beginning. We can turn to Christ as the light for our way out of any darkness. He is our fresh start. This process begins with honest, humble prayer. We should be transparent before God and tell him our heart’s desire. At the same time, we need to humbly acknowledge that our desire may be misguided. For example, a person may ask God to help them lose weight, which is the most common New Year’s resolution. In his love, God may give the person what they need instead of what they want. While losing weight may be helpful, God may be more concerned about that person’s self-image or concept of beauty. What may seem like God ignoring our prayer may be God working to cure our disease and not treat our symptoms.

The next step in seeing the way forward is letting God make us new. We can be so focused on what we think we need that we do not let God give us what we truly need. We can derail God’s restorative work if he operates in a way we do not expect. Using the same example, the person who desires weight loss may have a negative self-image due to past trauma. In praying about the weight loss, God may begin to bring those past hurts to light. It is natural to want to avoid thinking about those painful memories, but God would not bring it up unless he was willing to bring healing. In this example, talking to someone, especially someone with counseling experience, could help find God’s path to renewal. As believers, we need to follow where the Spirit leads, trusting God to know the best way to make us new.

When we allow the light to show us the way and to make us new, the final step in the process is to share our newness with others. Christ followers belong to each other, and God will not make us new for ourselves alone. We can share our newness by sharing our testimony—telling the story of how God brought renewal to our lives. We could also seek to bless those who are trying to make the same journey. Sharing the insights that God gave us can be of tremendous benefit to others. Plus, helping our brothers and sisters gives our own struggles meaning and allows us the joy of seeing God make someone else new.

Celebrating the new year can be a great reminder of the new beginning we have in Jesus. We do not have to wait another year to get our fresh start because Jesus is the Creator. He knows how to make something out of nothing. He is also the Light and he knows how to chase away the darkness. He is the Word so he knows how to accomplish God’s will in our lives. Our Jesus knows how to make everything new.

Filled With Expectation w/ Joseph Tkach Jr. W1

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Filled With Expectation w/ Joseph Tkach Jr.
January 2 – 2nd Sunday of Christmas
John 1:10-18 (NRSV) “The Word Became Flesh”

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

  • What does the new year represent to you? Do you like to make resolutions?
  • If we made a New Year’s resolution in light of what we have received in Christ, what kinds of resolutions would we make?
  • Why do you think new beginnings are attractive?
  • What do you think John meant when he said that Jesus gives light to the world?
  • In what ways has Jesus made you new?

Sermon for January 9, 2021 — Baptism of the Lord

Speaking Of Life 4007 | God’s Whistle

In this episode, Greg shares a nostalgic memory from his childhood. Chances are you have a certain sound that takes you back to your youth; where it be a phone call ringtone, grandpa’s familiar car engine rumbling as it arrives in the garage, or a simple term of endearment from mom. We can easily get lost through the chaos of life but just like that familiar whistle, God calls us into his kingdom and find peace beside him.

Program Transcript

Speaking Of Life 4007 | God’s Whistle
Greg Williams

I can still hear dad’s whistle or mom’s call from the back porch when it was time to come home from spending the day outside. It’s a sound from a simpler time—when we worked and played outside until the sunset and were back out in the morning to watch it rise. That sound always meant it was time to come home.

Every child who hears that call knows which home to go to. We recognized the call because we knew who was making the call.

I see a similarity in the book of Isaiah. Here I see God calling to his children—not only reminding them where they are from, but whose they are. Reinforcing that they are part of his story.

Note Isaiah’s words in chapter 43:

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.
Isaiah 43:1-2 (ESV)

You are mine, he says, and I will always be with you—even walking through fire with you. And when you go out on your own… Notice this next part when he says he will whistle them home…

Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth,
Isaiah 43:5-7 (ESV)

Israel did not stay true to God’s covenant and was carted away from home. They came to exile in Babylon. There they settled and became somewhat comfortable in exile. But true to his word, God called them to remember who he was, who they were in him, and to leave Babylon and come home.

Like a parent’s voice that reminds us who we are and where we’re from, God reminds them of their story. He whistles for them to come home.

Do you hear the echoes in this story? This is creation itself—he created you, he formed you. Then the next story—”when you pass through the waters, I will be with you,”—this is the exodus story.

God is reminding them who they are and calling them back home from the four corners of the earth.

Has God called to you like this? He is whistling you home. He’s calling you to come out of this disorienting, scattered world and return home to your story. Back to the story, he’s writing for you.

He’s calling you to be who you truly are—the beloved royal child of God. It’s time to respond to the whistle and come home.

This is Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 29:1-11 · Isaiah 43:1-7 · Acts 8:14-17 · Luke 3:15-17; 21-22

This week’s theme for this Baptism of the Lord Sunday is the voice of God. The call to worship Psalm describes the power of the Lord’s voice over the forces of the natural world. Isaiah 43 tells the story of God’s voice gathering the family of Israel to bring them home. Acts 8 tells us of the Spirit and word of God crossing old divisions between people. Our sermon is on Luke 3, and the climax of the story is God speaking at Jesus’ baptism.

Made Extraordinary by Jesus

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Read, or have someone read Luke 3:15-17, 21-22, prior to the sermon.

Have you ever been so committed to a cause or relationship that you felt nothing could stop you? We only get a few of those moments—falling in love, going on a mission trip, having kids, finding our vocation—that fill our veins with purpose. You find yourself with strength you never knew you had. Boldness, stamina, focus seem to come out of nowhere. For a few moments, you seem to walk on air.

These supercharged connections are some of life’s great blessings and we only get so many. It’s like you don’t need to sleep or eat anymore. You are consumed with purpose.

John the Baptist was consumed with purpose. By the time we see him, he’s in the white-hot center of his vocation, living in the desert, wearing rags. He has a singular focus. Today we’ll look at Jesus’ baptism and John’s part—or lack of part—in it. We’ll look at how John’s vocation gave way to Jesus’ vocation and the beginning of the adventure we call the gospel—our vocation.

The vocation of John

One of the first things we hear John say is:

…but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. (Luke 3:16 ESV)

John refers here to the slave’s work of untying someone’s sandals. Slaves were everywhere in the ancient world, and since everyone wore sandals, this would have been a common situation in those days and one of the lower duties of being a slave.

John says he isn’t worthy to do this for Jesus. This is a verse we are familiar with, but it would sound completely strange to them. John looked to them like a prophet—one of God’s messengers they hadn’t heard from in centuries. They even thought he might be the long-awaited Messiah. He looked like everything they’ve been waiting for. And one of the first things he says is, “I’m not your guy.”

This is an important moment. John embodied everything they’d come to expect about God moving. He ate, dressed and talked like Elijah, the prophet hero of their culture. And he says, It’s not me.

This meant that the new movement of God wasn’t going to look like the old movement. The prophets of all the centuries, symbolized by John in this moment, were not even worthy to approach Jesus, only to point to him. Then they are to leave the stage.

The Gospel of John portrays the Baptist saying this with its trademark stylistic language: “He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me” (John 1:15 ESV). John the Baptist is a prophet just like the prophets of old, but he is not here to declare political victory for Israel, nor is he here to declare the age of military peace and harmony. John is here, like the prophets, to declare the entrance of God.

We’ve seen this in our own lives as well. Think of all the times that we’ve been doing things like we always do, business as usual, and Jesus arrives on the scene in a new way. Maybe you’ve been praying for someone, and you see that prayer start to take hold and their life and situation start to change. Are you ready to walk away and give the glory to God? Or will you steal the moment for yourself?

Maybe you’ve been pouring yourself into someone’s life who is just learning about faith, and you see the Spirit take hold of them. They are given the energy and insight and freedom that comes with Jesus being present. Will you bask in that moment, congratulating yourself for your evangelism efforts, or will you join in the greater glory of giving that honor to God? Will you watch them grow, even surpass you, and be used by God to do great things, or will you sink into jealousy?

At the same time, we’ve seen that rush of faith in our own lives: The way we used to do things has passed away; behold the new has come. Over and over we see this throughout our faith lives, as we grow from “glory to glory,” as Paul put it (2 Corinthians 3:18, KJV). We see the old way we were doing things no longer working. The old gossip sessions ring hollow, the drinking doesn’t give us the same escape, we start to see our enemies as three-dimensional people with their own problems – it is the approach of Christ, and he’s burning the chaff off of you. Behold, the new has come.

The footnote to this is that our lectionary reading this week actually leaves out a few verses. Luke interjects the story of John’s imprisonment by Herod right in the middle of this. It’s a strange interlude, and some people believe it was added in later.

But I believe it was there from the beginning. John’s imprisonment and death was tragic, but in the end,  he wanted nothing more. His disappearance from the stage was certain to be violent, and the contrast is vivid. The old way, represented by John, is dead and the new way, Jesus, is alive and unkillable.

The vocation of Jesus

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, (Luke 3:21 ESV)

When scholars approach this moment in Scripture, they often question why Jesus was baptized at all. John’s baptism, as is said in other places, is a baptism of “repentance.” It is a baptism of renewal and realignment with the purposes and character of God. It’s a revival of law-keeping and walking away from sin.

The issue arises: Jesus never sinned, so why is he being baptized? He’s the sinless Lord, why would he need the baptism of repentance? He wrote the law, so why would he need to re-declare his allegiance to it?

We need to think about the purpose of John’s baptism with a little more dimension. Yes, he was offering them a way to declare their allegiance and turn away from sin, but all that was part of declaring they were part of what God was up to. John the Baptist is orienting them toward God, calling them to pass through the waters, as the ancient Israelites did on their way to the promised land.

Jesus comes not as the detached observer or the gloved surgeon to the human story. He dives right in. For him to join in the baptism was for him to declare that he was not only one with God’s purposes and movement in the world; he was declaring that he, as the Son of Man, is one with us.

Baptism, especially as John practiced it by immersing people in water, is a bit like death. It’s meant to be. We are never quite so helpless as we are when we’re underwater—we can’t breathe, and we have to trust the person who put us in there to get us back out. When we rise from the water, we are wet—mascara-streaked, toupee floating on the surface behind us. We are humble and fresh and a bit helpless, like a newborn baby.

For Jesus to participate in this death and re-birth was for him to declare himself part of the pathetic and beautiful story of humanity. He wasn’t baptized just into water; he was baptized into us.

This fact can be an immense comfort to us. When God became one of us, he didn’t take the easy track. You can’t read more than a paragraph of Jesus’ life in which he wasn’t challenged, exhausted, misunderstood and finally killed. For him to be baptized into the human condition meant that he was immersed in the fatigue, boredom and heartbreak that comes with it. Remember, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).

The heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke3:21-22 ESV)

Jesus’ baptism was a frighteningly vivid Trinitarian moment. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are there right next to each other. Luke tips his hat in several directions to the Old Testament writers, accenting the different imagery present.

  • The heavens are opened – This is similar phrasing to the description of the Genesis flood; the heavens being opened and torrents of rain coming down.
  • The dove descends – This is an allusion to the dove returning to Noah after the flood with the olive branch in its mouth, showing him that the flood was receding, and the promise was coming to be.
  • I am well-pleased – Here Luke echoes the Genesis account, in which God says over and over that “it is good” and he was well-pleased with all he created.

All this Genesis imagery in one place speaks about Jesus’ vocation—re-creation. Jesus’ “job” is not just to do everything better, but to start it over. There are several examples of this kind of Genesis language used about Jesus. God is starting over again—like the flood, like the original creation—giving us a new heart and putting his own Spirit in us.

One early indicator of the kind of world Jesus is re-creating is with John himself. Jesus is making a world in which the last shall be first, and the weak will be made strong. He’s making a world in which a powerful, popular figure like John lives his whole life to introduce Jesus and disappear. John is one of the first residents of the new Jesus world. Instead of living for himself and his own ego, he lives only to introduce Jesus and then immediately go to the sidelines.

What freedom! John is one of the first to be made “free indeed” by Jesus, delivered from his own ego and drawn into God’s amazing purpose. This is the “upside down kingdom” of Jesus. Instead of being slaves to our insatiable egos, God delivers us to be part of his great plan. Instead of status, he gives us purpose; instead of solitary narcissism, he invites us to be part of a family. He is re-creating, making all things new, and that includes the way we as human beings interact with each other and treat ourselves.

Your vocation

Theologian Frederick Buechner said it beautifully: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” This is about vocation—which comes from the root word “vocal,” meaning calling. This is much more than your job, although it can include your job, but it is what God has called you to in his overarching purpose in humanity—the meeting of your gladness and the world’s deep hunger.

That vocation can mean a history-shaking post like John the Baptist or Billy Graham or Corrie Ten Boom. It can also mean joyfully serving that special-needs child or overcoming the abuse you’ve endured in your life by stopping the cycle and showing kindness. Those moments of vocation can bring you to the rugged strength of John the Baptist, the unflinching obedience of Peter, the joyful participation of Mary. These were not extraordinary people. They were made extraordinary by Jesus.

Where is the extraordinary he’s calling you to today?

Filled With Expectation w/ Joseph Tkach Jr. W2

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Filled With Expectation w/ Joseph Tkach Jr.
January 9 – 1st Sunday of Epiphany
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 “Filled With Expectation”

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 “Made Extraordinary by Jesus”
  • Do you feel that you’ve found the vocation that God called you to, even if just for a moment? Remember, vocation doesn’t mean job per se, but could be parenting, leading a ministry, volunteering, etc.
  • Do you think it was difficult for John the Baptist to “disappear” after Jesus arrived? How do we know, when Jesus is not with us bodily, that he has “arrived”? What indicates that?
  • What does it mean for Jesus to “re-create” us? Have you seen him redeem what you thought was lost in your own life?
Questions for Speaking of Life: “God’s Whistle — Isaiah 43”
  • Did one of your parents have a call or a whistle that brought you home at night? Do you have one for your kids? (Share stories)
  • How does God call us back to our story, to who we truly are when we get distracted by a loud, driven world?
  • Why does God continually call us into fellowship with each other? Why can’t we do faith on our own?
Quote to ponder: “Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.” ~~Frederick Buechner

Sermon for January 16, 2022 — 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany

Speaking Of Life 4008 | No Comparisons

People tend to compare themselves with other people and soon after you will be in a rabbit hole of blaming, self-distrust, and anger. God reminds us time and time again that he exceptionally and wonderfully created each one of us in his own likeness. He created each one of us with our own unique gifts. God calls us for who we are amidst our imperfections.

Program Transcript

Speaking Of Life 4008 | No Comparisons
Michelle Fleming

Comparison is a trap that is so easy to fall into. It’s a cheap and easy ego boost to notice when we are bigger, better, faster, stronger than someone else we know. It can also be brutal, when we come across someone who effortlessly exceeds our abilities.

Human beings tend to compare themselves whether we know it or not. We compare our appearance, our intelligence, our personalities, and our perceived success. Comparing yourself with other people leads to dissatisfaction and poor self-esteem. The issue with comparison is that we are our own point of reference.

The wonderful truth is that we are made in God’s image. Our identity is not based on our performance or how we measure up to others. God created each one of us as his unique beloved child, with our own talents and gifts. Notice how Paul addressed this in his letter to the believers in Corinth.

God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful. … All these gifts have a common origin, but are handed out one by one by the one Spirit of God. He decides who gets what, and when.
I Corinthians 12:4-11 (The Message)

And this is why comparing ourselves doesn’t make sense, because God isn’t holding out on any of us. He created you uniquely, on purpose, with a purpose. Each person has been given spiritual gifts that are intended to reveal God to others, and God decides how every person can best reveal the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to the world.

Comparing yourself to others, or trying to be like someone else is ignoring the special gifting God has given you, and robbing the world of those gifts. In fellowship with one another, we reflect God’s love and glory into the world around us. And everyone benefits.

May you embrace your unique gifts from God as you share the love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with the people in your world.

I’m Michelle Fleming, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 36:5-10 · Isaiah 62:1-5 · 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 · John 2:1-11

The theme for this week is God’s great reversal, where God’s way of moving in the world upends human beings’ expectations. We sometimes project human tendencies for punitive anger and “quid pro quo” (a conditional exchange) on God, forgetting God’s great love, mercy, and solidarity with us (John 3:16-17). Psalm 36, our call to worship, speaks of God’s steadfast love and the abundance found in him. An example of this is found in Isaiah 62, where God says he will not rest until his people are vindicated and restored to their glory, regardless of what they may deserve. 1 Corinthians 12 shows how the great reversal happens by illustrating how there are many kinds of gifts and service. No gift is better than any other, all gifts are needed, and God is the source of them all. Our sermon text, John 2, emphasizes the beginning of the great reversal with Jesus’ first sign, turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana.

The Beginning of the Great Reversal

John 2:1-11 (NRSV)

If you remember the movie The Wizard of Oz, you probably remember at the beginning how the main character Dorothy Gale was feeling down and misunderstood by her family. Her dog Toto was taken away by the nasty lady Miss Gulch to be euthanized because he had chased her cats. Toto escaped from Miss Gulch’s bicycle basket and made it back to Dorothy, but since her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry didn’t stop Miss Gulch from taking Toto the first time, Dorothy decided to run away. While talking to the traveling Professor Marvel, Dorothy noticed the wind picking up. A tornado was on the way. Dorothy made it back to her room just in time to get hit on the head, and then the tornado appeared to take the house on a wild ride to the land of Oz.

During the whole time Dorothy is in Oz, what did she want to do? [wait for response] She wanted to go home. By the end of the movie, what do we realize? [wait for response] She always was home—she had never left; it was all a dream. That was a reversal of what we, the viewers, thought was happening. We thought the fantastical land where she found herself and her new friends, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion, were real, at least real in the story. We were surprised to find out that Dorothy never left her home, and Dorothy was surprised herself to find that she didn’t want to run away and that everything she wanted was at home. The outcome reversed what we thought was really happening and what was really important.

God has always been showing humanity that what we think is important might not be what’s really essential, and that his way of moving in the world is very different from what we might expect. One example of this was the way Jesus was born to poor parents rather than to wealthy royalty (Luke 2:7). Another example is found in John 2:1-11, which tells the story of Jesus’s first sign or miracle at the wedding in Cana.

Read John 2:1-11.

What can we notice about this passage?

  • How this story fits with Epiphany in the church calendar: An “epiphany” is a unique insight. It might be helpful for us to read this familiar story with the understanding that this miracle or sign is revealing something unique about Jesus or the way God works in our world. What deeper truth does this familiar story show us?

By considering the themes in the passage, we can look at this familiar story in a new light—an epiphany:

  • The theme of hospitality: The wedding was taking place in Cana of Galilee, which was a poor area. Hospitality, though, was of the utmost importance in the culture, and the wedding hosts would have been shamed for not supplying enough wine. However, it was also customary for guests to bring drinks and food to help out. We could speculate that the community wasn’t doing its fair share to support the festivities, but we don’t have the backstory. What we are told is the wine ran out.

The good wine provided by Jesus allowed those at the wedding to experience God’s abundance of hospitality. They literally tasted it, comparing it to the wine they had tasted first. Jesus’s first miracle was to create a place of belonging and hospitality that was outside the humanmade constructs of culture. Culture (i.e., what was expected at weddings during that time) had failed; Jesus provided even better hospitality than what was expected.

  • The theme of abundant grace: Jesus’s actions show us what grace looks like. Not only was he God incarnated, but he was also grace incarnated. His miracles, or signs, were not just to benefit the people involved but rather to show the lavish kindness God bestows on his creation. One scholar suggests that “once the Word becomes flesh, the rest of the Gospel shows you what grace tastes like, looks like, sounds like, and feels like” (Karoline Lewis).

The six water pots were estimated to be 20-30 gallons each, filled with water that was changed into the best wine. Because weddings during that time could last as long as a week, the best wine was served early on, and then when the guests were less observant (and maybe tipsy), the cheaper wine was introduced. Not so in this case. Isn’t that how abundant grace works? You might be expecting something, maybe trying not to get your hopes up, when something much better comes your way. That’s an experience of Jesus’s abundant grace, an experience of God’s lavish gift-giving, that we can easily rationalize away if we’re not observant.

  • The theme of marriage and restoration: We can read about the metaphor of marriage in Hosea 2:14-23, noticing that wine is a symbol of restoration (Joel 3:18; Amos 9:11-15). In Isaiah 55:1-3, the prophet talks about enjoying “wine and milk without money and without price.” Wine symbolizes how God will make things more than right—he restores his kingdom (i.e., his way of working in the world) and our status in it, no longer subject to cultural constraints and comparisons.
  • The theme of subverted cultural norms: Jesus often pointed out the exclusionary nature of Jewish culture with its ideas about holiness and purity. There are plenty of stories about who was considered “outside,” like the woman at the well (John 4:4-42), the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11), children (Matthew 19:13-14), and the man with demons (Mark 5:1-20). Jesus chose to spend time with people considered “outsiders,” to the point that he was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard (Luke 7:34-36).

If Jesus wanted his first sign noticed, he could have presented the wine to the hosts, or at least to the bride and groom, and explained what he did and why. Instead, the story shows us that the “insiders,” the ones in on the surprise, were the servants who filled the water pots. It was those people who were often invisible in Jewish culture who had the first glimpse of who Jesus was. The invisible ones got to see God at work in the world first, much the same way a woman (Mary) saw the resurrected Jesus first (John 20:11-18).

If we read the Bible closely, we will notice that God’s way of moving in the world disregards class or social structure or “the way things are done.” Instead, we are encouraged to invite those to dinner who cannot repay (Luke 14:12-14), and we are told we should not discriminate against the poor by favoring the rich (James 2:2-4). Most cultural norms are constructed in a way that excludes and diminishes some people; God’s way throws open the door to welcome all as beloved children, even giving special honor to those most often forgotten.


  • Watch for experiences of God’s abundant grace and hospitality in your life. It’s easy to overlook the minor blessings that come our way. You know what I’m talking about: the stranger who opens the door for you when your hands are full, the close parking spot when your knees ache, the sweet and tart taste of a grapefruit in season. These could be just coincidences, but it’s also possible a loving God used “coincidence” to shower you with an instance of loving grace.
  • Notice your own tendencies to exclude those different from you and to favor those that culture deems worthy of acceptance. It’s human nature to gravitate toward those who look or think similarly, and it’s easy to think highly of those that culture has esteemed worthy of our attention, whether it’s because of power, fame, or appearances. God’s way, however, calls on us to expand our vision for who is our neighbor (Luke 10:30-37). We are called on to reverse the cultural norms that exclude and embrace God’s way of loving acceptance.
  • When you have the opportunity, lift up those who are invisible. Giving opportunities to those who are overlooked or forgotten offers you the chance to participate with God in reversing the negative effects of discriminatory social constructs.

We can read the story of Jesus’s first sign as a miracle and as the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. But we can also see the water turned into wine as indicative of Jesus’ mission itself: to reveal who God is, to reveal God’s great abundant love and grace for all, to establish God’s commitment to restore us as his beloved people, and to begin the great reversal, showing that the cultural expectations about who is worthy and who is not, or who gets to participate, or who is loved and blessed is different than what human beings might think. Just as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz realized that her perceptions of life and home were incorrect, we can understand the limitations we often place on God’s willingness to love us as well as the limitations we put on our love for others.

For Reference:



Filled With Expectation w/ Joseph Tkach Jr. W3

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Filled With Expectation w/ Joseph Tkach Jr.
January 16 – 2nd Sunday of Epiphany
John 2:1-11 “Fill the Jars!”

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
  • Do you have social media accounts like Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter? What have you noticed about the quality of the interactions on social media sites?
  • Have you ever heard about or read criticisms of social media like Facebook and Instagram that discuss its role in encouraging unhealthy comparisons? If so, please explain how you see this happening (or not) and why you think this way.
From the sermon
  • How does noticing experiences of God’s grace in your life change your perspective? In other words, how is your relationship with God and with others enhanced?
  • The sermon noted how Jesus chose to let the servants participate in the miracle of the water being turned to wine. They were “in” on the secret surprise when normally no one noticed them. Can you think of other Bible stories where Jesus paid attention to someone who was usually considered invisible in that culture?

Sermon for January 23, 2022 – 3rd Sunday after Epiphany

Speaking Of Life 4009 | Practicing Christ in the Kitchen

Our amazing God is indeed present everywhere! The wise and respected Brother Lawrence always tried to find God even in the simplest of tasks like washing the dishes. Just like Brother Lawrence, let our actions be founded in the love of Christ that his light may shine through us.

Program Transcript

Speaking Of Life 4009 | Practicing Christ in the Kitchen
Greg Williams

In the summer of 1642, a young disabled veteran named Nicolas Herman took vows to join a religious community in Paris. He described himself as a “great awkward fellow who broke everything,” and was acutely aware of his humble, flawed stature.

He took the religious title Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, or Brother Lawrence as he’s widely known. He joined the monastery and was given a task to perform, and he did what he was asked. But he was soon seen to be a man of wisdom and he became sought by many visitors for spiritual counsel. Over time, even famous thinkers and powerful church leaders came to listen to him.

But they had to go to the kitchen to find him. Brother Lawrence washed the dishes.

This giant in the spiritual wisdom tradition, this sought-after guide in faith, was the cook who spent his days in the kitchen steam, among the pots and pans. And that was the key, he practiced the presence of Christ there in the smallest of tasks. Every plate he washed, every dish he prepared, he did so as if Jesus were right there with him.

One of his most famous quotes describes this:

“The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clutter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament.”

Brother Lawrence washed dishes until his health no longer allowed it and then he became a sandal-maker. And that was his life; though he was one of the wisest of men at that time, he never left the kitchen or the workbench. Shortly after he died his letters were compiled into the enduring classic Practicing the Presence of Christ, and it’s been read and reread by millions of people.

Brother Lawrence’s story reminds us that God works through people we might never expect. And it helps us see how God uses every part of the body. As Paul wrote:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many.
1 Corinthians 12:12-14 (ESV)

The body of Christ—interconnected, mutually supportive—needs every part to be whole. If this back kitchen cook had been ignored because of his humble position, we would have missed out on his message and edification for the whole body.

Brother Lawrence, like so many forgotten, “insignificant” people, turned out to be a light that shines through the centuries. May we continue to shine the light of Christ in whatever we are called or asked to do. 

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 19:1-14 · Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 · 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a · Luke 4:14-21

The theme for this Third Sunday of Epiphany is the discipline of feasting. We are called as God’s people not just to withdraw, but to party when the time is right in the joy of the plenty he gives. The call to worship Psalm tells of the bounty of God’s amazing world and how we can take joy in it. Nehemiah talks about the reading of the law and the great feast to follow as they declare again their love for God. 1 Corinthians 12 tells of the many gifts of the Spirit and how they can work together in joyous harmony. Our sermon comes from Luke 4, in which Jesus declares that with his coming comes the year of Jubilee and feasting.

Jesus Declares Jubilee

Luke 4:14-30 ESV

You have to imagine this scene as it first happened. This is probably a relatively small, humble setting. The synagogue would have been crowded and well-used, not unlike a lively rural church that smells like old coffee and Pine-Sol. The congregants are the oppressed, occupied people of Israel. They lived in relative peace with their Roman conquerors much of the time, but their lives were restricted, and their culture disrespected. Revolts against Rome were crushed mercilessly.

The synagogue was one place where they could be themselves, reading about the promises of their God to deliver them one day.

Over the grind of years, especially under the thumb of a decidedly pagan oppressor, some tribalism and animosity toward outsiders had developed. They believed Israel was God’s chosen people, and that Rome—with her disgusting gods and terrifying power plays—would eventually be destroyed on the day of God’s deliverance. Israel would be exalted again, and their enemies would be demolished.

During Jesus’ time, small Israelite terrorist groups existed that would stage riots and assassinate officials in hopes of bringing about God’s great military deliverance. God’s salvation would be for them as a people, and the rest of the world would pay for their arrogance.

And on this day, Jesus stands up to read where these promises are read. But he reads a different section for the day, and that’s where the story takes a turn.

 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:14-30 ESV)

Today in our reading, Jesus takes aim at exclusivity. He places just the right dynamite at just the right places to explode our judgment of who’s “in” and who’s “out.” He topples our understanding of who the desirables and deplorables are; he breaks down the “us versus them.”

We need a few historical coordinates to understand what’s going on here. At that time in Israel, there was the belief that God would come and deliver his special people and destroy their enemies. Based on their reading of the Old Testament, they believed that God’s deliverance would be physical and political, and that the barbarian hordes, Rome especially, would be broken by God’s strength. Israel would be exalted.

We need to view that sympathetically, although it seems foreign to most of us. A few generations before Jesus came, people were tortured and killed for keeping Jewish practices and beliefs. Their grandparents had been killed for things like keeping the sabbath, which is why it was so important when Jesus confronted these realities. The people of Israel were a displaced minority, so their identity was extremely important to them. Within the story of that identity was the exclusive deliverance of Israel, hand-picked by God to be his people and the rest of the world could, quite literally, be damned.

Small note here: I am NOT saying that this what Jewish people believe today. Their faith has evolved and changed dramatically since the first century. I’m not saying these are Jewish beliefs as a whole, but these are the beliefs that were in play when Jesus was here and in the specific society he was in. Do NOT assume what Jewish people these days believe; that is a very diverse subject that is another discussion entirely. Please know also that any problems we see in the people of Israel, or in any other faith group, are sins we’ve committed as well. The church has been just as exclusionary as first-century Judaism ever was at different times in her history. These issues aren’t pointed out for us to judge, but to be warned lest we do the same.

Jesus is coming up against this exclusivity, against the idea that we know what God’s “chosen” will look like. Let’s get to the passage:

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. (Luke 4:14-15 ESV)

It says Jesus was in the “power of the Spirit.” What had he just come back from? What had he just been through? He’d just been through 40 days in the wilderness, fasting and praying and spending time with God, and having the harrowing experience of Satan bugging him like a horsefly. We don’t see him coming out of college with a fresh degree or coming off a nice long sabbatical, a long vacation, refreshed and ready. He has been recently tried and tested, emptied and encouraged, so that he can be filled with the Spirit and fully prepared for his ministry.

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:16-18 ESV)

We have to set the scene here as well. Jesus is walking into the synagogue, as was his custom. He was there doing what faithful Israelites of the day were always doing. They would open the scroll and read and then sit down and offer a teaching based on the reading.

But the scene here is different. As the passage indicates, they are aware of Jesus and what he has been up to. Word has spread about his teaching and his presence, maybe even his miracles. They were waiting for him to say something profound.

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:19-20 ESV)

He’d shocked them: “This is about me and it’s happening now.”

What?! He was reading about God’s deliverance. He was reading about God’s great deliverance of Israel that they’d all been waiting for. But it sounded different than what they expected; it wasn’t what they thought it would be.

Jesus is talking about those who are the undesirable, those who are the broken and on the margins: the blind, the poor, the prisoners, the oppressed. Luke’s gospel is often economic, talking about Jesus’ special love for the poor and destitute. But the definition of “poor” here is wider than that as well.  It describes those who are of low social status in their society—women, children, disabled people, blind people.

Jesus is stating that the vision of God’s kingdom starts with and always includes these people.

The good news is not for those who think they’re together, but those who know they’re broken.

That’s the bombshell here. Jesus didn’t come to save the righteous, but sinners. He didn’t come to rain fire down on those bad guys, but to show the good guys and the bad guys that they need a Savior.

This is easy to forget in a changing world. Christianity was the dominant religion for a very long time in the west—several centuries. Many of us remember a time when almost everyone you knew went to church and the world stopped on Sunday. This next generation won’t grow up in that world. There will be a wide diversity of different worldviews in the air, different perspectives, and the traditional Christian one will become a minority.

Can we learn from this that we are not to view the rest of the world with fear and bitterness? Can we learn to be thankful that we know Christ as we do rather than be judgmental to the rest of the world that may not know him? The saved hostage doesn’t judge those that are still imprisoned—he aches for them, he prays for them, and he is grateful every moment that he has been rescued. Let’s let this be our attitude.

This is one reason it can be refreshing to hang out with recovering addicts, and if you never have, I’d recommend it! Those who have looked in the face of death and complete loss and know that every blessing in their lives is just that. Extra. They live with a certain freedom, knowing what it’s like to lose everything, knowing that they are just as capable of evil as the so-called “bad guys.”

Jesus says here that he has come to “proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor(v. 19) That’s another important historical piece. Let’s look at that phrase, which is heavy with meaning, and what it would have sounded like to the original hearers. Turn with me to Leviticus 25…

Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan. The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields. (Leviticus 25:10-12 ESV)

This is what was called the Jubilee year. In the Jubilee year, all property was returned to its original owners and the land rested from being cultivated. Those who had become indentured servants because of poverty were to be freed in that year.

It was a year of liberation, of return of property, and of simplicity. They were to live on what naturally grew off the land, not to work the land and destroy it trying to get what they wanted out of it. This would have been a simpler time; wealth and competition would have been at a lull because everyone was living under the same restrictions of production.

The year of Jubilee—the time when everything restarted, and those who were imprisoned were released. That’s what Jesus is talking about here. This was a very strict and serious part of being God’s people. The sabbath day and the sabbath years pointed to the great Jubilee of God delivering Israel one day. It was an integral part of what it meant to be God’s people.

Jesus declares that he has come to bring Jubilee. He has come to bring a time of release, of starting over again from ground zero. The over-complicated, sin-infested ways of “who owes what to whom” and “who offended whom” and “who’s winning and losing” need to be demolished. Jesus has redeemed all of that and enables us to start over. But this time we start over with him.

Here are a few things to put in our pocket today, as we look at this special reading of Jesus.

  • Jesus didn’t come for those who think they have it all together, but for those who are broken—whether they realize it or not. Every good thing in life is from him, every blessing we have is a gift from him, so let’s be freshly grateful.
  • Jesus came for all. In this same vein, we as God’s people need to be gentle with those who don’t call themselves Christians. Jesus gives several examples here of God’s mercy shed on those who were “outside” of the chosen. He had his strongest words for the religious establishment, for the US not the THEM. Let’s continue to tell truth in love, and be known for our welcoming and hospitality, for our feasting, instead of how well we withdraw.
  • The year of Jubilee—Jesus declared the year of Jubilee, the year that has never stopped. In Jesus we are released from our sin, guilt, and shame. Do you need a year of Jubilee in your life? Is there something that you need to let go of? Some bitterness or rage against someone, or against life itself? Let Jesus take care of that for you. Let this be the year of Jubilee. Let this be the year when you claim God’s peace and love against all odds.

Filled With Expectation w/ Joseph Tkach Jr. W4

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Filled With Expectation w/ Joseph Tkach Jr.
January 23 – 3rd Sunday of Epiphany
Luke 4:14-21 “Filled With Power”

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.

Program Transcript

Filled With Expectation w/ Joseph Tkach Jr.
January 23 – 3rd Sunday of Epiphany
Luke 4:14-21 “Filled With Power”

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: Jesus Declares Jubilee
  • What is wrong with the Us versus Them mentality? How does it degrade our commitment to Jesus?
  • What does it mean to be welcoming and open, like Jesus, and yet still tell the truth of the gospel?
  • Why do you think Jesus declared the year of Jubilee and celebrated even though he knew he was going to die? Even though he knew life would still be difficult?
  • The year of Jubilee was about declaring forgiveness of debts, freeing those we’ve enslaved. Is there anyone we need to, in the power of Christ, declare the Jubilee for in our own lives?
Questions for Speaking of Life: Practicing the Presence of Christ in the Kitchen
  • Do you have a house duty, like washing dishes, that you hate?
  • Have you ever “practiced the presence” of Christ? As if Jesus is right there with you no matter the task?
  • Do you believe that every moment in life is sacred and that every task can be worship? How does it change our lives if we do?
Quote to ponder: “This is what life is about. It is being sent on a trip by a loving God, who is waiting at home for our return and is eager to watch the [photos] we took and hear about the friends we made. When we travel with the eyes and ears of the God who sent us, we will see wonderful sights, hear wonderful sounds, meet wonderful people ... and be happy to return home.” ~Henri Nouwen

Sermon for January 30, 2022 – 4th Sunday after Epiphany

Speaking Of Life 4010 | Hitting Too Close to Home

We often say the phrase “too close to home” when we go through something embarrassing or uncomfortable that affects us directly in a personal way. A situation that would have made us shake our heads even when this is how Christ would have wanted it to be. Amidst our various personal experiences, let us continue to embrace the truth that our Father’s love is perfect and that he will always pursue to take us home with him.

Program Transcript

Speaking Of Life 4010 | Hitting Too Close to Home
Heber Ticas

Have you ever uttered the words, “That hit just a little too close to home?” It’s a familiar phrase we use when something is said that makes us feel uncomfortable or embarrassed because it touches on a sensitive or personal subject. The words spoken may be neutral or even positive, but if it connects in a personal way, we may try to put distance between us and what was said. So, we say something like, “That hits a little too close to home. Let’s talk about something else.”

Have you ever considered that hearing the Good News of Jesus Christ may have the same effect? The Gospel is the good news that God’s grace and love, forgiveness, mercy, and reconciliation have been given to all in Jesus Christ. We may at first hear such a proclamation with warmth and joy but then some implications for us personally come to mind.

For example, if God has forgiven my worst enemy, I may have to forgive them too. Or, if God has reconciled all to himself in Jesus, then I may be expected to seek reconciliation with certain people I rather not have anything to do with.

Or, more personally. If Jesus is Savior of the whole world, then I will have to trust him as my personal savior. I’ll have to admit that I need saving and that I cannot save myself. In short, I’ll have to turn around and trust in this one who has saved me. You may want to respond with, “That is hitting just a little too close to home. Let’s talk about something else.”

Or the Spirit may be breaking in to form in you a different and better response. Perhaps a response like we see in Psalm 71:

In you, O Lord, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame. In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me and save me. Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel. For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth. Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you. 
Psalm 71:1-6 (NRSV)

If you feel like God’s Word is hitting a little too close to home today, consider this response of trust, and take refuge in him. In his love for you, the Father never takes back his Word. He means to “hit close to home” because our true home is with him.

Mi nombre es Heber Ticas, Hablando de Vida.

Psalm 71:1-6 • Jeremiah 1:4-10 • 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 • Luke 4:21-30

This week’s theme is speaking God’s word boldly. The call to worship Psalm is an individual’s prayer for deliverance emboldened by God’s faithfulness. The Old Testament reading of Jeremiah recounts the Lord’s empowering of his prophet to “speak whatever I command you.” Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us that only the words empowered by God’s love will remain. Our Lukan text presents Jesus as a prophet who speaks gracious words even while facing fierce opposition from his hometown.

An Unacceptable Prophet

Luke 4:21-30 (NRSV)

Today’s message comes to us around the midpoint of the Epiphany season. We have been traveling mostly with Luke this Epiphany season and today we will use Luke’s account to travel with Jesus as he returns to his hometown. Luke positions the narrative to correspond to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Because of this we can look at the story with an eye to Jesus and his ministry to see what epiphanies we may have by it. Remember, during the season of Epiphany we are looking at Jesus to see the mystery of God’s glory that he reveals. When we have a story about Jesus recorded in Scripture, we are seeing into the very heart of God, who he is and who we are in relationship to him. We will keep our eyes open for that perspective. In addition, we will be able to gain some insights into the ministry of the church as it participates in Jesus’ continuing ministry by the Spirit in our day and age.

To start with, the passage we have today is the second part of the passage that began in verse 14 and was on the liturgical calendar for last week’s message. In fact, the first verse for today’s reading was the last verse for last week’s reading.

Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21 NRSV)

For some context, Luke had just told the story of Jesus’ triumph in the wilderness over the devil’s temptations. Then Luke records Jesus as being “filled with the power of the Spirit” and returning to Galilee (Luke 4:14). In a synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus delivers his inaugural message. He does this by using a passage in Isaiah where good news is proclaimed. This message is well received, and everyone is excited about what they are hearing. But in today’s message he uses two other passages that have the opposite effect. We will see that epiphanies can often get a hostile reaction from eyes burned by the light that have been in darkness. But before we get to that reaction, we see first that the congregation responds positively.

All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22 NRSV)

Their rhetorical question about Jesus’ lineage is not to be understood in a negative sense, like it does in Mark’s account. No, for Luke, the hometown crowd is not offended by this. This is not a case of “familiarity breeds contempt.” Rather, the way Luke is telling it, the hometown crowd sees this as an opportunity that is too good to be true. If Jesus is all that he just proclaimed himself to be, a herald of good news, the Lord’s anointed, who proclaims the benefits and blessings of the Lord’s favor, then certainly this means his own longtime neighbors and family will be the main recipients—perhaps the only recipients. It is like hearing of an old high school buddy who just won the lottery and now everybody thinks they are entitled to some preferential treatment. But Jesus knows their hearts and he anticipates their reaction. He also knows they need to see that he is not the son of Joseph, but the Son of God.

He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” (Luke 4:23 NRSV)

There is nothing more frustrating than someone putting words in your mouth that say the very thing you’d rather keep concealed. Jesus hits his mark. The proverb “Doctor, cure yourself” means that the one who can heal or be a benefactor should take care of his own. It is not implying that Jesus has a problem that he needs to attend to first. Jesus’ next statement about Capernaum is clearer. If Jesus has done wonderful miracles in Capernaum, then certainly he should do the same in his own backyard. And maybe there is more to it than that.

Capernaum, since it was situated along one of the major international highways that connected Egypt with Mesopotamia, tended to attract a wider diversity of people. This meant that its population was made up of both Jews, and to their discomfort, Gentiles—and lots of them. Capernaum in this story serves as a contrast to the hometown Jews of Nazareth. If Jesus is doing miracles in such a questionable place like Capernaum, then he will have to prove his loyalty to his own hometown by doing the same in Nazareth. But Jesus will not be manipulated by the assumptions of people who thought they knew him best.

And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.” (Luke 4:24 NRSV)

The irony of this statement is that the word “accepted” here is the same word used in verse 19 where Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah. The prophet who is to proclaim the “acceptable” year of the Lord is himself not “accepted” by his own people. And with Jesus equating himself to a prophet, we get one of our epiphanies about Jesus’ ministry. It’s a prophetic ministry. This means that Jesus is the proclamation of the kingdom. He is God’s Word spoken to us, proclaiming the good news to the whole world—Gentiles included.

There is no other word spoken to us that gives us the proclamation that brings healing, release from prison, sight to the blind or freedom from oppression. As we, the church, participate in Jesus’ continuing ministry, we find that it has not changed. We too are to proclaim the kingdom in Jesus Christ. This means we point to Jesus in all that we say and do. We don’t proclaim ourselves or any other counterfeit “good news.”

Notice how Jesus goes about the business of proclaiming in his prophetic ministry: He uses the Scriptures. Last week we saw that Jesus gets a good response by citing Isaiah. This week we will see that he will get a hostile response by quoting from First and Second Kings. God’s Word always gets a response. Sometimes positive, sometimes negative. This is an important “epiphany” to remember when proclaiming the good news.

As members of the church, we are not trying to get a response— we are only trying to be faithful in proclaiming the Word. The response will follow, and we have no control over it.

Let’s see the passages Jesus uses to expose the hearts of those in his hometown.

But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian. (Luke 4:25-27 NRSV)

Jesus reminds them of two stories of the prophets Elijah and Elisha who were rejected by their own people. The first story is about Elijah providing an unending supply of food for a lowly Gentile widow and her son. In this story no provision is made for any of the Israelites. This is found in 1 Kings 17:8-16. Then Jesus refers to the story of Elisha, who healed Naaman, a Syrian army officer who had leprosy. This story is found in 2 Kings 5:1-14. Both stories show that the grace and favor God pours out was to their enemies, weak and strong alike.

The proclamation Jesus has is of a Father who does not show partiality. This did not fit well with the Jews’ expectation of the Messiah. The Messiah was supposed to come and destroy Israel’s enemies, not bless them. The Jewish people of that time pretty much had two basic beliefs about the Messiah. First, every generation believed that the Messiah would come soon and probably in their lifetime. Second, this soon-coming Messiah would vanquish the Gentiles and bless and restore Israel.

Jesus’ proclamation that “Today” this time of blessing had come fit nicely with their first expectation. But by announcing that “no prophet is accepted” and using Elijah and Elisha blessing Gentiles over Jews, Jesus completely shattered their second expectation. Here is their reaction.

When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. (Luke 4:28-29 NRSV)

The proclamation of the universal nature of the Father’s favor turns their initial favor of Jesus into outright hatred. They wanted to “hurl him off a cliff.” Like Satan who wanted Jesus to prove himself by throwing himself down from the temple, these Jews wanted the Messiah to answer to them and fulfill their expectations. This is an extreme hostile reaction. But Jesus did not soft-pedal what they needed to hear. He did not shy away from offending their pride and hurting their self-centered identities. True prophets are like that. They proclaim God’s word without compromise. May we as the church do so today even when our “hometown” turns hostile.

Unfortunately, the very favor and blessing Jesus’ hometown wanted Jesus to give was rejected. Jesus is the Father’s favor that is proclaimed. Like the hometown Jews, we too can fail to receive this favor when we want it on our terms.

  • When we harbor hatred in our hearts towards those who have hurt us, we are not receiving the favor the Lord graciously pours out on all.
  • When we size up our neighbors as people beyond the reach of God’s grace, we expose our own hearts of pride and prejudice.
  • When we determine who is worthy of God’s favor, we bring assumptions and expectations that are out of line with God’s grace.

It is not up to us to draw lines of division between who is poor and who is rich, who is blind and who is enlightened, who is in captivity and who is free, who is the oppressed and who is the oppressor. Jesus is the Prophet who comes to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind and to let the oppressed go free. He’s the only one who proclaims the acceptable year of the Lord, and that proclamation is made to all. But what if we are like Jesus’ hometown and we struggle to accept it? We have one final verse to consider.

 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way. (Luke 4:30 NRSV)

This passage ends with Jesus escaping being hurled down the cliff by somehow slipping through the crowd and going on his way. Throughout Luke’s Gospel we see Jesus go through the crowd many times, all the way to the cross. Nothing will stop the favor of the Father being poured out on all his children. Even the animosity we turn towards him does not prevent God’s favor toward us.

Praise God that Jesus is the Prophet sent to us. His word trumps any word we try to give ourselves and any word we try to give each other that is not from him. We can pray, thy will be done, because his will is perfect and brings light to our darkness, even when the light hurts. He loves us that much and he is faithful.

As we come to believe and receive this amazing grace, we can then turn to our neighbors and even to our enemies with the same grace, forgiveness and favor the Father has for us. In doing so we join Jesus in proclaiming the good news of his kingdom.

Filled With Expectation w/ Joseph Tkach Jr. W5

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Filled With Expectation w/ Joseph Tkach Jr.
January 30 – 4th Sunday of Epiphany
Luke 4:21-30 “Fulfilled”

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Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life
  • Can you think of an example of something “hitting too close to home”?
  • Can you think of different ways that hearing the good news of salvation can “hit too close to home”?
  • The Speaking of Life video ended with the reminder that the Father in his love never takes back his Word. When his word “hits too close to home” or offends us, how might the reminder of this truth help us?
From the Sermon
  • Have you witnessed the dynamic of a neighbor or family member reaching some level of success and everyone close to them wants preferential treatment? Discuss how Jesus’ hometown may be thinking of Jesus in this way. What do you think they want from Jesus? Can you sometimes see yourself in the hometown crowd in your relationship with Jesus?
  • What were some of the assumptions Jesus’ hometown held about him, about themselves or about others beyond their village? Can you relate to those whose assumptions were exposed by Jesus? Why is this experience painful?
  • What insights do you see with Jesus having a prophetic ministry, a ministry of proclamation? How might this inform the ministry of the church and its members?
  • What insights do you have with Jesus citing two Old Testament stories to correct the thinking of his hometown? How does Jesus’ use of Scripture to confront sinful hearts shed light on how the church addresses issues in its own communities?
  • Can you identify why the hometown reacted so violently to Jesus? What expectations were shattered and why were they so offended? Can you think of times that you were angered because Jesus did not do something on your terms?
  • What good news do you see in Jesus passing through the midst of the crowd?
  • Were there any additional epiphanies you had from this story told by Luke?