GCI Equipper

Faith is Not Enough

Participating in the Love Avenue doesn’t make us right with God—it shows we already are.

I spent most of my life studying the Bible in an effort to get right with God. I studied the Old Testament so I could be faithful to some of the law, statutes, and judgments. I studied the New Testament so I could gain Jesus’ and the apostle’s teaching on how to get right with God. My goal was to grow in grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18) – again, so I could be right with God. I struggled with certain passages such as when James tells us faith without works is dead. I knew if I could study enough, I’d get right with God, and then the good works would naturally flow from me. The question was, how much study and growing in grace and knowledge does it take to “get right with God.”

One of my first pastoral superintendents made a comment to me that struck me to the core. He said, “Rick, your focus on deepening your walk with God has turned into an excuse to not participate with him.” What? Shouldn’t getting closer to God and becoming like him precede following Jesus’ instruction to go and make disciples? What if I do it wrong? What if I say something wrong? What if… What if…

I have since come to see this perspective to be more common among believers than we’d like to admit. It is easy to spend our time studying, praying, meditating, and fasting, rather than participating in what God has called us to. In other words, in all the studying, praying, etc., we miss the point. I’ve come to see that Jesus is more concerned with orthopraxy than orthodoxy. He called us to be disciples in order to help us make disciples. Let me explain, or better yet, let’s let the apostle James explain.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:14-17 ESV)

This is what my supervisor was trying to tell me. All my studying (my orthodoxy) about how to get right with God did not get me right with God—Jesus did. He made me right with God through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. He wanted me to stop focusing on myself and focus on the new commandment he gave – to love others as he loves me. Practical love in action (orthopraxy) shows others I believe in Jesus, who he is, what he said, what he did and does, and his purpose. This is called living faith or living in and through your faith. Because I know I am already forgiven, redeemed, adopted and reconciled through Jesus, I want to share this good news (gospel) with others so they can live in the truth of being forgiven, redeemed, adopted and reconciled. I want to be “helpers of their joy” (2 Corinthians 1:24). Isn’t that what we want to do – help others live in the joy of knowing the Lord? James continues:

 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (James 2:14-26 ESV)

My dear fellow pastors and ministry leaders, let’s help our members put their faith to action by providing them opportunities to participate in what Jesus is doing in their community of faith, in their homes, in their work environments, in their neighborhoods. Let’s help those God has entrusted in our care to be helpers of others’ joy. Let’s help them understand that they weren’t called just to come to church, but to experience the joy of participating with Jesus in what he is doing. And let’s get practical in how this can be done.

We don’t meet our neighbors in order to invite them to church—we meet them to share life with them. We meet them to show we care about them. We meet them to show them they are valued and worthy. We develop relationships with them so we can watch their home and property while they are gone, and they can watch ours. We want to know when they are celebrating and when they are mourning, so we can share life with them. This is faith with works – living faith – because this is Jesus living and loving others through us.

Likewise, we meet our church neighbors to show we are a church that cares for the neighborhood. We want to provide safe activities for their children. We might clean up our church neighborhoods because we care about our neighbors. We might go to a neighborhood sporting event and hand out water – not to get people into church, but because it is hot, and we want to provide some relief. We might host a “trunk or treat” in the church parking lot, not to save anyone – Jesus has that covered – but to provide a safe place for children to be on Halloween, and a place for families to gather and meet one another. Whatever we do, we do for others – allowing Jesus’ love to flow through us. We talk with people, we listen to their stories, we help them feel valued and worthy.

As Dr. Walter Kim shared in his presentation to the GCI Home Office, we listen with humility, learn from others with curiosity, lament with solidarity, and love with self-sacrifice. In other words, we show interest to others because we know their value to God, and we know many feel unloved, unworthy, and unknown.

Faith without works is dead, but faith in action is participating with God by sharing his love and life with others. James never says faith is bad. Orthodoxy is good and vital, but when it is coupled with orthopraxy, it becomes very good. This is participating with God in making disciples. This illustrates what it means to be right with God.

Rick Shallenberger
Editor

“Take Your Everyday, Ordinary Life…”

Our everyday, ordinary lives can result in something quite extraordinary in the hands of our Lord and Master.

By Bob Regazzoli, Pastor, Australia

The title of this article is taken from Eugene Peterson’s translation of Romans 12. As we are now in Ordinary Time with the Christian calendar, this is a season when we can reflect and act on where the Holy Spirit is leading and guiding each of us in his mission of living and sharing the gospel.

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. (Romans 12:1 MSG, emphasis mine)

Our everyday, ordinary lives are to be given each day as an offering to God. This is the kind of offering God is looking for. Not only do we live in this awareness every day, but we pray each day for God to help us be aware in whatever we set our hands to do, that he is present in our lives. To illustrate this, we can look at the impact members of the early church had as they went about their daily lives.

In Acts 9:36-10:1, we find three members mentioned by name. Tabitha, or Dorcas – a woman full of good works and acts of charity – was a seamstress who made tunics and other garments. Simon the Tanner showed generous hospitality to Paul and his travelling party. Cornelius, a Roman centurion who worshipped the God of Israel, was a man of prayer and generous in alms giving. He and his household were baptised by Peter.

What did they all have in common – a seamstress, a tanner, and a centurion? They went about their everyday, ordinary lives, worshipping God, and loving their neighbours. Their examples are recorded by Luke for all time. They embodied what we focus on during Ordinary Time – our walk with Jesus, and in particular, how to apply this in the Love Avenue. Croatian theologian Miroslav Volf summarised it well:

We need to build and strengthen mature communities of vision and character who celebrate faith as a way of life as they gather before God for worship and who, sent by God, live it out as they scatter to pursue various tasks in the world. (Quoted in Imagine Church, by Neil Hudson.)

I like the way this is explained: Members gather together before God for worship, and then, sent by God, are scattered. They are sent out to “Live and share the gospel.” This brings to mind Ecclesiastes 3:5 – “a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them.” We are the living stones that Christ is using to build his spiritual temple, and each week we experience that scattering and gathering process.

Worshipping God is not just a worship service experience, but it’s our whole life. What we do when we go away from the worship service is just as important in our service to God, because it’s all of life. The NIV says it this way:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. (Romans 12:1)

In whatever vocation we have in life, we offer our lives to God.  As a technician, a bus-driver, a baker, a teacher, a cleaner, parent, grandparent, in whatever we do in our everyday, ordinary lives, we are doing good works. We’re meeting people, we are showing love and respect to all, we are praying for people, whether they know it or not.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

The body of Christ – each one of us – is God’s personal handiwork, or masterpiece, which has been created in Christ to do good deeds, as this is all according to the purpose of the Master Designer.

There is a beautiful old hymn called “Take My Life and Let It Be,” and in the verses of this hymn, we are reminded how every aspect of our everyday, ordinary lives can be used as an offering to God.

All of our Christian life involves faith, hope and love – living in discipleship, worship, and witness. Most of us live in multiple communities. There is our immediate neighbourhood, our worship community/neighbourhood, our work community, social, sports, recreation, business and purchasing, online communities. Think of the multiple encounters that each of us have with other people through the course of one week. Then multiply this by the number of members in our congregations, and it adds up to a whole lot of encounters. All these encounters are with God’s beloved, and we are here to show the faith, hope and love of God to each and every person.

As the hymn lyrics go, “Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee.” Our everyday, ordinary lives can result in something quite extraordinary in the hands of our Lord and Master.

A Conversation with Paul…

A candid conversation with the apostle Paul about sharing the gospel[1], part 1.

By Michael Morrison, GCS President

“Paul, I have a question. You teach that Jesus died for everyone; he experienced the results of sin that they deserved, but he didn’t deserve those results, so everyone could be rescued from death. That’s really good news for everyone. You are traveling land and sea to tell people the good news that they’ve all been reconciled to God by the death of Christ.”

“Yes, that’s right. So, what’s your question?”

“Well, their sins are forgiven. If they die tomorrow and get taken to the judgment seat of Christ, they are going to find out that God is not counting their sins against them. That’s good news for them if they die. So why are you risking life and limb to tell them the good news in this life? Won’t they learn the good news anyway?”

“OK, I see you have part of the picture. In fact, you have seen parts that many people don’t. In my mellow moments I say that’s a good question, so be thankful I’m mellow right now. I know you are not challenging me but wanting to learn.

“Maybe we could start by asking an important question: What’s wrong with sin and unbelief? Why is God so hot and bothered about sin? He created people because he wanted them to live, right? So why doesn’t he just wink and laugh and just let them live?

“Here are a couple of reasons that God doesn’t like sin. First, sin hurts the people he loves. Sin is not just a random list, like a land mind buried in the field, if you happen to walk this way rather than that, then you get blown up. No, sin is something that hurts people, and God tells us what is sin because we aren’t able to figure that out on our own – if he let people define sin, everyone would come up with their own definitions, and those definitions would be slanted toward their own benefit, and people would get hurt. That’s basically what most societies do.

“So, sin hurts people, and I want people to stop hurting each other. In my sermons and letters, I give them a few basic rules of conduct, and some basic principles by which they might figure out some others. I want people to love one another and telling them to avoid sin is really a way to give them some practical instructions on how to love one another. Do this, avoid that.

“Another thing that’s wrong with sin is that it disses God. He’s the Creator, and he’s been around a long time, and he knows what works best, and he’s told us what that is, and then people go off and ignore him and do their own thing. That shows disrespect, even hostility, to the God I love.

“Now, maybe that bothers me more than it does God, but I think that God has good reasons to be bothered by it, too – not for his own benefit, really, because he doesn’t get any ‘benefit’ from us anyway, except that he enjoys our love. God is bothered by disrespect because it’s a barrier to people learning how to love one another. They are refusing to listen to good advice, refusing to follow the instructions; their stubbornness is just another manifestation of selfishness.

“So, it just boils down to sin management? You travel land and sea to tell people to stop sinning? And this story about Christ being crucified – that’s just an emotional story designed to get people to stop sinning?”

“A little bit yes, but mostly no. The main goal of it all is love. God is love, and he wants to share that love with us. He loves us, and he wants us to love one another. That’s the plan, and that little word ‘sin’ is an umbrella word that covers everything that’s not according to the plan. God’s plan is love, and he wants it to succeed, and his opposition to sin is just another way of saying that he wants to eliminate all obstacles to love.

“Love can’t really be defined as a set of behaviors. You folks in the 21st century can program robots to do certain behaviors, but love means more than that – it’s an attitude of wanting to honor, respect, and help other people. That attitude may be expressed in different ways at different times, and that can’t be spelled out in a manual or computer program. However, there are certain behaviors that are always problematic, and God does want people to stop doing those. That’s a minimum; it’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not the whole program.

“If you’ve got two armies fighting one another and you want them to love one another, it won’t do much good to go into the battle with a slogan of ‘make love not war.’ No, the first thing you want them to do is stop shooting at one another. That’s a minimum, just to get them started on the right path to reconciliation and love. When we tell people to avoid certain behaviors (many people call them sins, but I prefer to use that word for the general principle behind it all), we are telling them to stop shooting. After the smoke clears, then we can start on the next step, the bigger step, the real goal.

“Is Christ crucified just an emotional story designed to get our attention? No. It is an emotional story, and it does get our attention, but that’s not the main purpose. The main purpose is that it actually does something about our sin and guilt, and this is difficult to describe because it deals with invisible realities – you might call it metaphysics.

“‘Sin’ is not just a particular behavior, but a spiritual reality. It’s a disruption, a distortion in the relationship we have with God. It’s static in the line – static so bad that we can’t hear what God is saying. But this static doesn’t just happen to us – people do it on purpose because they really don’t want to listen. Sometimes the static happens to us through no fault of our own, but all of us also participate in that static, because sin has already distorted the way we think, and our natural tendency is to think of ourselves first, rather than to love others, rather than to be like God in the way that we are supposed to be.

“We have failed, we have resisted God’s work in our lives, and that’s wrong. We are guilty of doing something wrong, of setting our thoughts on something that isn’t God. Our minds are so distorted that we don’t love the best and most glorious being in the universe. This is sad, even an outrage – we don’t even want what God is offering. We don’t deserve to get it.

“It’s like we are pottery that is broken beyond repair. Most people would think it’s easier to throw the scraps away and start all over, but in his death, Christ redeemed us. He went to the scrap heap and picked up the pieces. Sure, it might be easier to start over with a new batch of clay, but Christ demonstrates his love for us by saving us, repairing us, and he did it through his death on the cross.

“There is some metaphysical, spiritual, invisible logic there, that the Creator could represent us all and be thrown away like so much junk, and then be brought back from the scrap heap, not just as a representative, but as one who somehow includes all the pottery he has made. The potter became a pot, was smashed into tiny pieces, and was put back together again – not just with some superglue, but by going into the fire hot enough to fuse those pieces back together again, better than before.

“So, Christ crucified is not just a story – it’s the engine that drives the whole thing. That was the key step in the plan, that made it possible for the rest of it to proceed, for the Holy Spirit to begin melding our pieces back together again, to get us toward wholeness, to move us into the plan that God had all along.”

“Jesus was and is the plan. He’s the one who puts each one of us back together. But there is a caveat. For his work to be effective, desire is needed. Next time, let’s talk about the importance of the pottery desiring to be put back together.”

[1] Sometimes the distinctive voice of Paul can be seen, but for the most part, Paul speaks in a manner that is closer to my own; he puts it in language I can understand.

Place-sharing

The practice of place-sharing brings intentionality to the nature of the relationships we form with our neighbors. Check out the following videos to learn what place-sharing is, why it’s valuable, and how it reflects the ministry of Jesus.


What is Place-sharing?

GCI President Greg Williams discusses our participation in the Great Commission and how we can share the love and light of Christ with our neighbors.

Click the image below to watch the video.


Why is Place-sharing Valuable?

Watch these interviews with Place-sharing practitioners to hear their stories about how place-sharing has transformed them in their participation in Jesus’ ministry.

Click the image below to watch the video.

Integrating the RCL and the Worship Calendar

The Revised Common Lectionary helps us stay focused on the Worship Calendar, which helps us stay centered on Jesus, who is the center of everything.

By Glen A. Weber, Regional Support Team, US Central

Like many of you, I was not a fan of the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL). I had all the usual thoughts about its origins, restrictiveness, my great Holy Spirit inspiration of topics, and other objections. It had taken me years to learn how to exegete a passage rather than give “concordance sermons.” I was one who had my sermon topics and basic passages chosen several weeks or months in advance.

Four years before I retired, I began to occasionally use the lectionary, especially on weeks when I didn’t feel “my passage/topic” was appropriate for that time. Most of the time, however, I was still using the “Glen Weber Chosen Lectionary.” I had created my own lectionary out of resistance to something created by pastors/bishops/scholars who worked together to focus on Jesus, the worship calendar, and to ensure pastors preached through the Bible every three years. The members were not aware of which sermons were from the RCL, and which were from my personal lectionary. Interestingly, many of the best comments from those in the congregation were coming on the weeks I used the lectionary.

Although I preach less often now that I am retired, I continue to use the RCL when I preach. It has worked out that I have either been asked or needed to replace our pastor on several Christian worship days. Even when I wonder about the scripture passages chosen for a particular worship day, I can always find something in the RCL passages that relates to the current calendar event. Here is an example:

How is this possible?

For Ascension Sunday (possibly the most important worship day of the Christian year, in my opinion), the Gospel passage was John 17:20-25, where Jesus is praying to the Father for those who were disciples then, and for those who would believe in the future. Knowing the Ascension was about Jesus returning to the Father, I was meditating through the passage for what might apply to the ascension. And there it was, in verse 24: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” (Emphasis mine.)

Jesus wanted humanity to be with him where he would be – in the presence of God!

It was further affirmation that the key to our preaching is always keeping Christ at the center of our messages, particularly when we come to the annual reminders of Jesus’ incarnation, birth, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and sending of the Holy Spirit. Getting sidetracked by trivia or overemphasis of Greek works and similar thoughts are not necessarily helpful to focusing listeners on the work of Jesus in the life of creation and humanity.

The week after Ascension Sunday, I was also asked to preach on Pentecost. The Epistle passage was Romans 8:14-17, where Paul writes about being led by the Spirit and that we have been given the Spirit of adoption. I called this sermon “The Ascension Extended” and referred to the reality, from the previous week, that after Jesus ascended to the Father, he then extended himself back to humanity through the Holy Spirit.

In my early years of preaching, I would have never felt comfortable preaching a sermon out of four verses! Now it has become a common practice that not only keeps my sermons shorter (many are shouting hallelujah) but it also gives me opportunity to focus more intentionally on Christ. Thanks to Facebook and other social media, one can always have quotes/memes available to add to the message.

During this season of Ordinary Time, the RCL passages give us ample opportunity to focus on what the Holy Spirit does in the ministry of Jesus through the church. I am writing most of this on the afternoon after our pastor just preached an important sermon from the Old Testament pericope on Christ’s healing ministry from the example of Naaman in 2 Kings 5.

Very soon we will be approaching the beginning of the new worship year with Advent, the 12 days of Christmas, Epiphany, and beyond. May we all take advantage of this amazing lectionary used by millions every week and ask the Holy Spirit to show us how to focus on Jesus Christ, who is the Center of our worship of the Father.

A Biblical View of Disassociation

Though disassociation is a rare occurrence, there are times difficult decisions must be made for the health of the congregation and/or an individual.

By Dr. Greg Williams, GCI President and James Henderson, Superintendent – Europe

 

By God’s grace, we have moved away from being sheriffs to caring shepherds who point people to Jesus. With that said, there are times when a situation needs special attention and decisions need to be made for the physical, emotional, or spiritual health of a congregation or an individual. In these cases, we look to Paul’s example for guidance. It is clear Paul had compassion for the congregations under his care. He wrote in 2 Corinthians 11:28 of “the daily pressure” on him of his “anxiety for all the churches” (ESV). The New Testament is littered with examples related to church oversight and discipline that inform the church throughout all ages.

Paul’s desire for all Christians was that their faith would grow abundantly, their love for one another would increase, and that from their congregations the word of the gospel would spread forth as far as possible (see 2 Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:8). He was also concerned lest bad influences infiltrate the church and turn some believers away from the truth of Christ. He warned converts not to desert his supervision and not to listen to troublemakers, which appeared to be the danger in Galatia (see Galatians 1:6-7).

In order to protect the church, Paul allowed a system of church discipline, and, in so doing, he set precedents for church practice that remain relevant for us today. In extreme cases this would involve removal from fellowship, sometimes called disassociation. As we discuss this subject, it’s important to remember that the context was always concern for the churches and a hope that that troublemaker(s) would repent and be restored to fellowship. Redemption and salvation were the keynote thoughts behind the practice of disassociation.

Let’s consider some of the instances of disassociation in both Paul’s writings and in the General Epistles.

Heresy

Both the apostle Paul and the apostle John strove to maintain the purity of Jesus’ teachings within the churches. Their desire was to keep Christians focused on the life and work of Jesus Christ and to protect them from heretical views. Note what John wrote to one of the house groups in his circuit:

Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works. (2 John 9-11)

The instruction was to not admit and welcome someone intent on spreading heretical views about Christ into their fellowship. This was a common theme in Paul’s letters, most notably in Galatians. He was concerned about shielding the church from spurious versions of the gospel of Jesus.

Paul told Timothy to “charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:3) and instructed Titus, “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him” (Titus 3:10). Other translations of the Titus verse include the word “heretic” or refer to doctrinal division. For example, “If a man is a heretic, after the first and second admonition reject him” (KJ21); “[As for] a man who is factious [a heretical sectarian and cause of divisions], after admonishing him a first and second time, reject [him from your fellowship and have nothing more to do with him]” (AMPC); “Have nothing to do with people who continue to teach false doctrine after you have warned them once or twice” (GW).

Bad influences

The church in Corinth was a confused and divided church in many ways, and Paul points to the word of the cross of Christ as being the starting point for healing restorative love among them. In his first letter, Paul tells the congregation that they should have acted earlier in disfellowshipping someone who had been involved in a sexual relationship with his father’s wife (this wording implies the man’s stepmother). The congregation should have been shamed by what was happening, says Paul.

Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? (1 Corinthians 5:2)

He then instructs the church not to delay in disfellowshipping him as quickly as possible. He then asserts his authority in dealing with church discipline by stepping in when the church has failed in its duty to discipline someone who was flagrantly and openly defying the church’s code of acceptable behavior. Having stepped in, he lets the church leadership carry out his excommunication instruction.

In this instance Paul moves swiftly to protect the church from an ongoing negative influence. It’s of note that he does not tell the church to give the offender a first and second warning, but rather tells the church to act immediately on this matter.

Slanderous and accusatory spirit

Both the Old Testament and the New Testament are very strong when it comes to someone with a slanderous and accusatory spirit. The problem with slander is that it can create a climate of suspicion. Note the words of Paul to Timothy, where he discusses someone who causes division:

He is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction” (1 Timothy 6:4 ESV).

Paul and John both dealt with accusers who slandered them and refused to accept their ministry. In his 2nd letter to Timothy, Paul wrote:

Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. (2 Timothy 4:14-15 ESV)

It appears that Alexander the coppersmith was on his way to Timothy. Did he intend to discredit Paul’s message, and that’s why Paul mentioned this to Timothy? Paul also warned of Hymenaeus, who, along with someone called Philetus, were “upsetting the faith of some” and whose “irreverent babble” would “spread like gangrene” (2 Timothy 2:16-18). By rejecting “the stewardship from God that is by faith,” Paul explains, “some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Timothy 1:4, 19-20). The phraseology “handed over to Satan” refers to disassociation (see 1 Corinthians 5:5).

The apostle John also writes of “Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first,” and who “does not acknowledge our authority.”

So, if I come I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church. (3 John 9-10 ESV)

Diotrephes was probably a church leader, perhaps an elder or a deacon, who refused John’s ministry and encouraged others not to welcome John or those sent from him.

In both instances, those involved rejected the apostolic ministries of either Paul or John, and there was a clear spirit of rebellion, thus demonstrating a lack of humility and of teachability.

Summary thoughts

First, we understand that grace is not a license for “anything goes” – in fact, grace teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness and unrighteousness. But we also understand that we live in a turbulent world where human brokenness is on full display, and we are agents for healing that can be found through Jesus. Our job is not to judge and condemn, but to reach out and lead others to the One who heals.

As Dr. Walter Kim said in his presentation to us, we need to listen with humility, learn with curiosity, lament with solidarity, and love self-sacrificially. This is our first approach.

With this said, as church leaders, we have a responsibility to maintain decency and unity within our churches. When destructive levels of division arise, there is the need to address these matters. And bear in mind that even when a person has violated his/her right to gather with other believers, it doesn’t mean that the church has pronounced a judgment of eternal consequence. The discipline has been done with the long-term desire for restoration.

The above scriptures help inform the disassociation policies and practices of Grace Communion International. When it comes to people who cause division by creating heretical factions within our congregations, we may issue first and second warnings before removing them from fellowship. There are, however, other occasions—which could involve slanderous accusations and a refusal to accept or recognize pastoral ministry—when a pastor or pastoral leader, having sought advice from his or her denominational supervisor, might remove someone without warning from fellowship in order to protect the congregation or fellowship group from damage or attrition. In all these matters the major concerns of the church remain redemptive and salvific.

I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. (Romans 16:17 ESV).

The main objective for our pastors and servant leaders within GCI is not to dominate our brothers and sisters in the faith, but rather to be “helpers of their joy” (2 Corinthians 1:24). It can sometimes be a challenging task, so please remember to pray for them in their daily care for the churches.

Church Hack: Accessibility

Healthy Church always seeks to create a healthy environment where both attendees and guests feel welcomed. This is not something that occurs accidentally—there must be some intentionality behind it. In fact, it is a vital ministry of the church. This month’s church Hack provides best practices and reflective questions to consider your congregation’s accessibility.

#GCIchurchhacks

To view and download this month’s church hack visit: https://resources.gci.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/2022-CH7-Accessibility.pdf?fbclid=IwAR2_rg-J0xu6l94R2INhpHSKgmdO3_j0m5NKiGtva6nx4RCvYGW4x0tt1pk

2023 Denominational Celebration Watch Party

Save the date for the 2023 Denominational Celebration!

The Denominational Celebration is the perfect time for your local congregation to be encouraged, inspired, challenged, and to reflect and discern the vision to which God has called your unique congregation. If you are able to spend time together over meals, in worship, and in prayer together, it is the perfect time to take your next step toward Healthy Church.

Even if you are unable to attend in person you can still participate by hosting a watch party with your local congregation. Daily worship sessions and each keynote session will be livestreamed. We will also provide resources to host local breakout sessions and relational building activities.

Have questions about hosting your own Watch Party?

Join us for a watch party webinar. The webinar will address:

  • What is a watch party?
  • How do we plan a watch party?
  • Content provided by GCI Tech support
  •  Q&A

The webinar is being offered at multiple times to accommodate different time zones. When you register, please select the date and time that works best for you.

  •  Tuesday, October 18, 2022 – 8:30 AM – 10:00 AM (EDT)
  •  Tuesday, October 18, 2022 – 12:00 PM – 1:30 PM (EDT)
  •  Tuesday, October 18, 2022 – 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM (EDT)
  •  Thursday, October 20, 2022 – 9:00 PM – 10:30 PM (EDT)

Show and Tell

Let’s make Jesus real to our young people and get them involved in mission.

I recently went on a trip to Israel. The experience was life changing and I am still processing all that I learned and felt. Walking in the places that Jesus walked and standing where he stood deepened my appreciation for who he is and what he did. The journey made him more real and made the Bible come alive.

For example, the photo shows me touching the rock that the resurrected Christ sat upon when he restored Peter (John 21). Prior to that point, I imagined the story very differently. However, being there brought a reality to the story. No longer do I have to imagine the scene. While I still have to imagine the people in the story, the setting is no longer a product of my imagination. I have touched it. I have stood where it happened. It is real to me.

In our discipleship of young people, we do a lot of telling them about Jesus, which is right and good. We need to tell them about the life that is in Christ as many times and in as many ways as we can. At the same time, nothing beats tangibly showing them Jesus. Most of us cannot sponsor a trip to Israel for our young people, but we do not have to travel far to see Jesus in action. He can easily be seen at work in hospitals, neighborhood clean-ups, homeless ministries, nursing homes, mission trips, turkey giveaways, and numerous other places where people selflessly serve their neighbor. He can be seen in Christian concerts, public laments, prayer vigils, and other events that boldly demonstrate the nearness of the kingdom. It is one thing to talk about Jesus, but it is another thing to show young people the difference he makes in their neighborhood.

In addition to teaching your children and youth about the gospel, I encourage you to get your young people to participate in gospel demonstrations in your community on a regular basis. Let them see that Jesus is alive and at work all around them. He is not just confined to within the four walls of the church. He is everywhere. Getting your young folks out into the community will make Christ more real and relevant. It will show them that our faith is not just about words, but it is about a relationship with a living God. The earlier this can start the better. There are developmentally appropriate ways that even elementary-aged children can participate in the work Jesus is doing in their neighborhood. For instance, getting your little ones to hand-deliver cards they made for people in a local nursing home is one way to help them learn early on that God can work through them to bless others.

Let us do all we can to make Jesus real for our children and youth. Let us show and tell. As you do, I pray that your young people will say of Jesus, “I have touched him. I have stood where he stood. He is real to me.”

By Dishon Mills, US Generations Ministry Coordinator

Gospel Reverb – Gospel Priorities w/ Rex Dela Pena

Video unavailable (video not checked).

Listen in as host, Anthony Mullins talks to Rex Dela Pena about this month’s lectionary passages. Rex graduated from Ambassador College in Big Sandy, Texas in 1994 and became a ministerial trainee in the Philippines. Right after graduation, he served as the national youth ministry coordinator and directed S.E.P. [Summer Educational Program] youth camps for 15 years. He is currently the Leadership Development Coordinator for Grace Communion International Philippines.

September 4 – Proper 18
Luke 14:25-33 “Gospel Priorities”
4:28

September 11 – Proper 19
Luke 15:1-10 “Lost and Found”
16:32

September 18 – Proper 20
Luke 16:1-13 “Trustworthy”
33:28

September 25 – Proper 21
Luke 16:19-31 “The Chasm Within”
45:51

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Program Transcript


Gospel Priorities w/ Rex Dela Pena

Welcome to the Gospel Reverb podcast. Gospel Reverb is an audio gathering for preachers, teachers, and Bible thrill seekers. Each month, our host, Anthony Mullins, will interview a new guest to gain insights and preaching nuggets mined from select passages of scripture, and that month’s Revised Common Lectionary.

The podcast’s passion is to proclaim and boast in Jesus Christ, the one who reveals the heart of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And now onto the episode.


Anthony: Hello, friends and welcome to the latest episode of Gospel Reverb. Gospel Reverb is a podcast devoted to bringing you insights from Scripture found in the Revised Common Lectionary and sharing commentary from a Christ-centered and Trinitarian view.

I’m your host Anthony Mullins, and I’m delighted to welcome this month’s guest, Rex Dela Pena. Rex graduated from Ambassador College in Big Sandy, Texas in 1994 and became a ministerial trainee in the Philippines. Right after graduation, he served as the national youth ministry coordinator and directed S.E.P. [Summer Educational Program] youth camps for 15 years.

He was ordained as a minister of the gospel in 1999, and now serves in the capacity of leadership development coordinator. Last year, he finished his MA in transformative spirituality from the Asian School of Development and Cross-cultural Studies. He is working on his PhD, (man, what an overachiever!) with an emphasis on postmodern Filipino counseling, particularly in formation, prayer, and spiritual direction.

He resides in Baguio City with his wife, Sheila, and they have been married for 24 years. And I have known Rex since 1990. So, we go a long way back. I love my brother. Yes, we are getting old, my man, but it’s so fun to have this conversation with you today. Rex, thank you for joining us. Welcome to the podcast.

And for those in our listening audience, who may not be familiar with you, we’d love to know a little bit about your story. Tell us about Rex.

Rex: Yeah, thank you, Anthony. I’m based here in, in Baguio City. And you’ve been here, I think in 2016. And it’s great to be here.

It’s great to be in a place where you can really help people and in the process, get to understand your own journey as well. And like what we talked about before, I am what you would call a lover of dogs. Yes. And you mentioned that I was able to finish my master’s in transformative spirituality, but I was telling Sheila that the other half of the diploma should go to my Labrador, Skippy, because he would always attend the zoom classes with me.

Anthony: Did he learn a lot in the process?

Rex: I think he enjoyed sleeping a lot.

Yeah, that it. I’m looking forward to hearing more of these stories with you when you and Elizabeth come over here.

Anthony: We’d love to come back. We had such an amazing experience. Not only with you and Sheila, but all the brothers and sisters in the Philippines. It was just one of those experiences that we will remember for a lifetime, and you were a great host.

And by the way, you have a fantastic laugh and hopefully that’ll come out as we have this conversation here today. It’s one of the best laughs I’ve ever heard.

Let’s get to the passages. We have four pericopes to unpack together:

Luke 14:25-33              “Gospel Priorities”                               Proper 18 (Sept 4)

Luke 15:1-10               “Lost and Found”                                Proper 19 (Sept 11)

Luke 16:1-13              “Trustworthy”                                     Proper 20 (Sept 18)

Luke 16:19-31             “The Chasm Within”                            Proper 21 (Sept 25)

 

Anthony: I’ll read our first pericope, Luke 14:25-33. It’s from the New International Version. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 18, in Ordinary Time, on September 4.

25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ 31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

Now Rex, Jesus here has a very interesting way of recruiting disciples by telling them the ways they cannot be his disciple. What do you make of this high calling Jesus gives us as disciples?

Rex: It’s very different from how our leaders would recruit people to follow them. Whereas here, if Jesus is recruiting people and he’s laying down all these qualifications or criteria, the immediate response of people may be – perhaps people who are reading this now, they’re like, man, he’s making it really difficult for me to follow him! Especially, he says, if anyone comes to me and does not hate. A lot of people would need to understand why it was worded that way. It says if anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife, children; it’s hate everybody including yourself.

But no, but we can understand that this is not about your emotion. It’s about your attitude. It’s about your mode of action toward the people you care most about. It doesn’t mean that you hate them. We read in Matthew 10:37 – Well, Matthew 10:37 softened that line. And for us, we understand it now as to love them less, that Jesus is your number one priority.

Of course, you love your parents, your brothers, your family, but that relationship, all of the relationships we have, they take second priority. Jesus is going to be our all in all.

And this is a very challenging criteria because come to think of it, many times we are torn between what we need to take care of – our priorities, our plans, our goals, but Jesus Christ here is telling us that we need to make that choice.

We need to make that commitment. That part of it is counting the cost and it cost that much to follow Jesus. Remember here, large crowds were traveling or following him. And then Jesus turned around and said, “Hey, if anyone wants to follow me, do this. Or unless you do this, you cannot be my disciple.”

And I’m just wondering, how did they react? What! You’re making it more difficult for us to follow you.

But now we can understand that when we consider being a follower of Jesus, we really need to count the cost. What are we doing? What are we going to prioritize? What are the things in our lives that we need to sacrifice or to let go?

Anthony: It’s interesting to me, Rex, that as we think about this passage, Christologically, Christ-centered, Jesus is never asking us to do something that we don’t see inherent in him. In other words, in his own journey on earth, we see him doing these very things he’s saying with his own family. Many of his own family members didn’t believe him in terms of who he was, but he, in obedience to the Father, went to his death, even death on a cross. And that had to be painful for his own family, but his priority was the Father’s priorities for his life.

And I think we see what he’s saying, in reality in Jesus, don’t we?

Rex: Yeah. And whoever does not carry their cross… just like what you said, Jesus did not say these things as if it was something that he wasn’t going to do. He did. He carried that cross, and he’s calling us to do the same to consider the spiritual sacrifice.

It’s like marriage, you don’t approach it haphazardly. You really think about it. What can I give? How can I really follow through with my commitments? What do I need to realign or reorder in my life or reenter in my life so that I can do this?

And the example here of building a tower, estimating how much money it would cost to complete it, or even a king going to war – it’s just us being mindfully aware of the cost. Because we really need to understand that we need to count the cause in the light of who Jesus is as well. That he is the God who never gives up, despite all the challenges we may face, despite the discouragement we may face. We can count all those things, but we can be encouraged knowing that we are not alone, that Jesus Christ is the one who’s leading us, is taking care of us. He’s our victory in all of these things. And that’s why we cannot follow him on our own. He’s the one who strengthen us, who is strengthening us to follow him and to even follow through in those commitments.

Anthony: You’ve mentioned counting the cost several times now. And I’m curious – we know that all Scripture points to Jesus. He said so himself as he was walking with the brothers on the Emmaus road. I’m curious, how can we interpret counting the cost in light of the God revealed in Jesus Christ?

Rex: If we can understand or even just reflect on what Jesus did, how much sacrifice he offered so that we can totally understand the depth of his love.

And his sacrifices will always point to us the victory has been won for us. It’s a done deal. We just need to appropriate in our lives all the things that have been promised for us and walk with courage that we’re not doing this out of our own strength. It’s him. It’s Jesus Christ sustaining us.

We count the cost. In other studies about this word, I heard a pastor said counting the cost would also mean bringing along our unlikeness, how far we are from the image of Jesus, bringing all of these things, our imperfections, all our brokenness, bring them all as we follow Jesus Christ. Because in the process of following, in the process of obeying and surrendering, we become transformed into his image.

Anthony: Yeah. Bring our whole self; that is what courage is. Wholeheartedness – our whole self. So, as I think about this per Rex: following Jesus is walking as he walks by the Spirit and sometimes, we call that discipleship. And I’m just curious as you exegete this passage, what really is discipleship about?

Rex: For me, discipleship is following Jesus. It’s about surrendering our relationships to him. Discipleship means giving up anything that takes precedence over Jesus Christ in my life. That means anything that gives me identity or security because he is to be my all in all.

And, this is not predicated upon my ability to do all those things, but I’m reminded of Philippians 1:6. It’s the deeper realization that Jesus has already started to work in us. And he will be faithful to complete it.

It’s about walking a daily walk with Jesus, asking Jesus, what do you want me to do today? Or where do you want me to join you? What are you telling me today? Or what do I need to surrender to you? What do I have to give? And it’s a real intimate relationship with Jesus Christ and it’s not … Discipleship, sometimes people get a little triggered with the word discipleship, because it can mean for many people a very structured program.

It’s about following Jesus. It’s about knowing him. It’s about experiencing him. When we pastor say, the Lord loves you, that for us is an experiential reality for us, rather than a theological concept.

So yeah, it’s a daily walk: Jesus, lead me today. Where do you want me to go? What do you want me to do? Use me in according to your divine pleasure. Use me. Make me a vessel or whatever you can do.

Anthony: Yeah. There is a big gap, is there not, between knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus, relationally?

And we think about the triune persons, Father, Son, and Spirit. They’re persons – as in they’re personal, so of course the walk is going to be personal, is it not?

And I appreciated what you said. Sometimes we can be so structured. And structure matters; don’t get me wrong. But we can be so structured that it almost squeezes the life out of just walking with him in the cool of the evening, harkening back to Genesis and just talking with the Lord in that way. So yeah, that’s good. Thank you, Rex.

Let’s move on to our next passage. It’s going to be Luke 15:1–10. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 19 and Ordinary Time, which is September the 11th.

Rex, would you read it for us please?

Rex:

1Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. 8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Anthony: There goes that Man again, Rex, eating with sinners and welcoming them! What does this tell us about this God that we see in Jesus?

Rex: From this passage, it’s all about people or things being lost and being found and rejoicing for what was lost and now found. The tax collectors and sinners were drawing near to Jesus.

And what this passage tells us is that Jesus is a God who is not intimidated by sinners. In fact, he reaches out and welcomes them. The woman finding the coin, the shepherd finding the one, leaving the 99 – and what that tells me is that we are all valuable to him, that he’s willing to search for us.

(And one person said, if he’s willing to leave the 99, the shepherd’s making the 99 feel so unsafe, but that’s another altogether study on the cultural background of the time.) But the fact that Jesus Christ or that shepherd is willing to really go out and to really search for that one sheep or that one coin tells me that Jesus is really showing how loved we are.

We are important. We are valuable in his sight.

Anthony: I’ve heard it said that if Jesus didn’t dine with sinners, he would always eat alone. And so, I’m glad he welcomes me and eats with me and certainly is my sustenance on a day-to-day basis.

Rex: And the imagery of him eating with sinners, that is a powerful image of him being able to relationally accept them. They are loved. I’m just trying to put myself in a situation where, for example, I have made a huge mistake, or I have offended the person or something. And then this person would still ask me out or [say] let’s eat, let’s share a meal. That would communicate so much love. That would communicate forgiveness. That would communicate, Hey, everything is going to be alright. Eating together is such a powerful image of a community and [unintelligible] for a sinner to be eating with Jesus that’s — man! I’m ready to be in that banquet.

Anthony: Yes. Yes. Amen and amen. I’m getting the imagery in my mind, Rex, about the condescension of Jesus. Meaning, in his incarnation, he came to us; he came into the far country. And to sit down and dine with us is to, in one sense, to condescend. But that’s what love does.

It’s much like a parent getting down on the floor with their young child and playing with them. You condescend because love goes downward, if you will. And thanks be to God, that’s who he is!

And therefore, I think Jesus would say, go and do likewise. Not out of a, hey, this is a legalistic perspective, but this is what love does. And that’s all God can do, is act out of who he is. And he is love. And therefore, that’s why we see this imagery of the shepherd with the sheep.

So, tell us more. What would you want pastors, preachers, and teachers, and Bible students to know about the parable of the lost sheep?

Rex: I’d like to highlight verse 5 and when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulder. I could just visualize here the sheep is too weak to return on its own.

And there are times when we as pastors need to understand that some of our friends, some of the people in the church may have, (I put it in quotes) may have lost their way, and they feel too weak or too embarrassed or feel too guilty to return on their own.

But Jesus Christ is modeling for us that there is so much joy when one lost is found and there is a (it’s in that passage) there’s a glaring contrast with the religious leaders who grumbled, but Jesus Christ is showing us the intense joy of someone being brought back. That’s why it’s consistent in the three parables, the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son, the idea of searching.

There was this song, Anthony. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with this song. It’s called, “When God Ran.” Have you heard of that?

Anthony: I have.

Rex: And the idea that God is searching; God is looking and the idea that we have been found. And many times, we cannot [accept it.] Maybe out of shame, out of guilt, out of our weaknesses, we feel as if we don’t deserve to be brought back or whatever situation we may have right now where we feel we are not worthy to be loved or to be accepted.

Then the idea of the shepherd placing the sheep on his shoulder. I would like to imagine that’s me being the sheep, and Jesus Christ carrying me on his shoulder when I feel lost, when I don’t know what to do, when I feel alone or I feel rejected, when you question your worth. I don’t belong to the hundred and they’re the 99. They’re the good ones. And I’m the bad one here. I didn’t make the cut.

But Jesus Christ is always ready to welcome us back. And not only that, when we are too weak, just like this shepherd, he lays it on his shoulder. I would like our listeners to understand it. Jesus Christ is always ready to pick you up.

Jesus Christ is always ready and willing because that’s how much he loves us. And there are times when we look at what we have done or the output of our hands, and we look at ourselves as not enough. Jesus Christ is always willing.

And that there’s an intense joy. Could you imagine a God who delights in you? Especially when you are not (I’ll put it quote here) you are not performing how some people would feel that they need to earn the grace, or they cannot accept fully the grace. That’s why they feel as if they still need to do something so at least they were able to have a share in whatever they’re enjoying right now in terms of the relationship with Jesus Christ.

Anthony: As I’m looking back over verse 5, Rex, Jesus joyfully puts the lost sheep on his shoulder. And I’ve mentioned this story in a previous podcast, but it bears repeating.

At the time of this recording, my wife, Elizabeth, and I just visited with her parents in West Virginia over the weekends. Jim and Sandy are their names. And Elizabeth’s favorite story to tell from her childhood is when she got lost at a church festival. There were thousands of people there, and it took her parents and the extended family quite a while to find her. And you can imagine the fear that was creeping up in her parents. We’ve lost our girl, our baby girl, the youngest of two. And they finally found her, and her dad took her into a room, and everybody thought that’s where she was going to get punished because, how dare you run off from us? Why weren’t you paying attention?

And she loves telling that her dad knelt down to look her in the eye and said, “Everybody expects me to punish you. But I’m just so glad I found you!” And he hugs her.

And you can imagine, even for a young girl (as Elizabeth was at the time), how much that taught her about a father’s love. And ultimately points to our heavenly Father who loves us with an intensity that goes beyond any earthly father. So, I just think that kind of bears or highlights this reality that God just rejoices to carry us home.

Rex: And let me add, as pastors, as ministry workers, or as under shepherds, I pray that through the Spirit, we may participate in the heart of God for those who still need to really know him. May we have that welcoming spirit of Jesus towards people who struggle. People who may have stumbled.

People who may have messed it up, who may have messed up their lives, or simply people who may not have it all together. It’s basically all of us anyway. And may we share in the joy, (the passages there says intense joy.) May we share in the joy. Celebrate when one who has been lost has been found.

Anthony: What else would you encourage preachers and teachers to focus on from this passage, if anything?

Rex: Our encouragement is Jesus alone.

I remember someone said, I’ve been preaching sermons for 30 years, and it seems that nothing’s changed. Their lives are not changed.” And this preacher basically asked: is worth it?

And the encouragement that he received was, yes, because it’s the work of Jesus. Jesus is really happy when we preach in and out of season for those people who are struggling, and we preach the message for people who are doing well in their lives and those who are down and out.

But there is a call for us to really go for those who are hurting, those who are feeling lost. And this is a very difficult task sometimes because there are times when the people who need help the most are the ones who will reject us first. But if we can also share in the passion of Jesus, in his love, in searching for these people and making them feel loved and welcome despite all of these challenges, I think that’s the encouragement – that we have Jesus.

And there are times when we may feel like we’re not able to help a lot of people who are hurting, but being able to simply participate in that, even experience how Jesus would bring a person back, how Jesus would heal and renew and transform. We’re just invited to join. And then in the process, really see the wonderful works of his hands in transforming the lives of so many people, sheep who are lost and being carried.

And I am just imagining the story you shared about Elizabeth. And because back in the day, it was really all about being disciplined, right? Your steps are measured. I remember when you were more scared of the ushers. But I could just imagine where people expected Elizabeth’s dad to really be harsh.

And I think that’s a very powerful story. Many times, people in general had that impression that God is like that. That he’s angry, that he is very exacting, that he is watching over a shoulder to see if we are checking off the right list.

Anthony: It’s a good word. I’m encouraged by this. Isn’t it beautiful how the Spirit ministers to us through Scripture? We can get so familiar with some of these parables and stories of our Lord, and yet to be refreshed and renewed once again by Scripture is such a beautiful thing.

Let’s transition to our next pericope, which is Luke 16:1 – 13. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 20 in Ordinary Time, which is on September the 18th.

And it reads,

1 Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ 3 “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ 5 “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 “‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’ 7 “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ “‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’ 8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. 10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? 13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Verse two tells us, Rex, to give an account of your management. What my experience is, most people dread hearing come to the principal’s office or we need to talk, or the boss wants to see you, man.

It can just elicit anxiety right away. So, why do we fear being held in accounts?

Rex: Because there is a big part of us that feels we are not able to measure up. When you’re called like that, we fear being held in account. What did I do wrong? We’re focused on my mistake or what did I miss?

Because usually when we are called by our superiors, especially in that tone of a voice, oh, it’s, “Give me an account of your manager.” So, I think it’s by default that we look at ourselves as not good enough. So, when someone ask us about something, whether it’s a report, or it’s a computation, or it’s a whatever we’re supposed to finish, or a project, and there is that fear. Is this good enough? Is this something that’s possible?

I’m a student right now, and I think you are too right, Anthony?

Anthony: I am. Yes.

Rex: Yeah. So, when you turn in your paper, and you look at your paper and you try to see the comments. And I remember even in college where you look for the red marks. You look for the encircled sentences.

And then no matter how well you have done sometimes, that one little red mark could really throw you off. So, no one’s going to say, Hey, come on, call me and ask me for an account of your management.

If you are a fiscal manager, just like what we have in this passage, he knew he was going to find out. He knew he’d be caught wasting the money of his boss. But what’s amazing here is that he was commended. And that’s why this parable really needs to be studied well, because if you just read it, your first reading would be like, what? You’d be asking, what? This is a dishonest steward, and yet he’s being commended?

It doesn’t make sense. What’s interesting here is that in Luke 16:8, the sons of this world. And there’s a comparison, the sons of this world and the sons of light. It’s a distinction. I think it’s a Jewish category of delineating good people. The good question that we need to ask is, why was he commended or why was he commended after all these things?

It’s getting clearer here that he was commended for his foresight. He was not being commended for his wickedness, but for his foresight to take care of his earthly future. And there is that call for us. I think I’m answering the second question here, but there is the point where we as Christians need to be as determined, as focused when we consider our life in eternity. Our eternal life needs to be as determined, needs to be very focused on our priorities, of making sure that our lives become an expression of who we are in Jesus.

Anthony: Yeah. I think sometimes accountability is seen in a negative light, but accountability is not persecution. The Lord wants us to grow up into the head who is Christ, to mature in him. And we always go back to the question: Who is God? Who is Jesus, who is the Spirit, who is the Father?

We realize in giving an account of ourselves (as you’ve already vividly and very eloquently talked about the love of God), there’s nothing to fear in being held in account. We will all give an account. And I think on some level, it is going to be excoriating — not because God doesn’t love us, but we’ll see and be thankful for what God has done for us to wipe the debt. So, in that way, I long for it.

But this is interesting, Jesus talks so much about fearing not, because he knows us. He’s human, and he knows what the human experience and condition is like. So, we’re going to have fear, but the more that we focus on our Lord, that fear begins to slowly dissipate and know that he has given an account for us, and his account says that he loves us. Hallelujah praise God for that.

The scripture goes on to say that no slave can serve two masters. And I hear that a lot. Sometimes it’s preached well sometimes, not. What is the big deal and how can we think through that statement?

Rex: Yes. I think for me, if I’m going to explain this to a person right next to me, I would begin with asking, what’s the most important thing in your life? Because Jesus is making that contrast between serving God and serving mammon. And he’s the one who already told us that you cannot serve both God and money.

He’s already telling us. And Jesus is talking about what we serve or what we worship. Clearly, some people serve money, but we are very much encouraged to really think again and ask. We are to serve God. We need to be making sure in our hearts that we are not serving mammon and money.

And the question is, so how can you tell? How can people serve money? Because typically we’ll just say, I own it, I spend it, I’m not serving it. But when we see it as having its power over us, when we see money as a source of our security, a source of things that we want, we need, when people work so hard to obtain it and treasure it, of course, and all of these things would indicate that money is worthy of all my energy, my time, and my attention.

And there are times when money is looked at as security for the future, or even as something that’s very essential.

There’s so much fear going on in the world right now. And what’s the first thing that a lot of people could think is: I will be unscathed if I have all these riches to protect me. That’s how people serve money when money becomes everything for them.

But the next question would be: how much do we value our relationship with God? How do we look at God? Is he really our security? Is God really a source of all things that we need and want? Do we treasure him? Are we so compelled by his love for us that all of the things that we have – time, money, talent, possessions, and all that – are offered to him?

Anthony: That’s a good word. And a very relevant word for our time, Rex. Thank you.

Our final pericope is Luke chapter 16:19 – 31. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 21 and Ordinary Time, which is September 25th.

Rex, read it for us, please.

Rex: Okay.

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ 25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ 27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ 30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ 31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Anthony: Rex, I mentioned in a recent podcast that when we come to parabolic teachings, we have to come with an open mind. Often, you’ll hear people say this parable means such and such clearly. And I think, clearly? I’m not sure.

So, let me ask you this – rich man and Lazarus (let’s first start with the gospel), where do we see good news in the preaching of this text?

Rex: There is that connotation where people think in their minds that you are blessed by the Lord when you have riches, that being rich or having all these goods that you are enjoying in your life right now would indicate being loved more by God, being blessed more by God.

And those like Lazarus – who’s begging, covered with sores, he’s basically longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table – that they are not loved by the Lord. They are way too far from the blessings that God could give to anyone.

Anthony: In thinking about that Rex, I’m struck how the rich man is still trying to get Lazarus to serve him in this “us and them” context, which we love to do that as human beings, don’t we? To put people in a category and think they’re less than and they’re more than.

But Jesus’ teachings seem to invest so much time describing the difference between wealth and poverty, rich and poor. And of course, as you just pointed out, it turns things on its head, upside down. Who we think are blessed, really might be standing alone in darkness in a way that they don’t recognize.

So why do you think Jesus invests so much of his time talking about the rich and the poor?

Rex: Because it’s easy for wealth or riches to take our attention, our centered-presence or awareness. It’s easy for wealth to become a God in our lives, whereas poverty being poor and being deprived of these things that this rich man is enjoying can open our hearts to the reality of how much we need the Lord, how much we are dependent on him for everything.

So, there is that danger. Jesus is talking about the dangers of wealth. And the difference between earthly wealth and heavenly – if I may say heavenly – wealth.

And it’s easy for the wealth that we may have accumulated to be our sense of security and even our identity, even our source of pride. Even entitlement – that’s why this rich man said, have pity on me, but please send Lazarus. He’s still a slave, he’s still a beggar, so send him because I can’t take it. I can’t take it anymore. Or okay, since you won’t ask him to do what I’m requesting you to do, but can you just at least send him to my family? It’s still, do it for me. A rich person has so much entitlement that they can just send people, use people to do their bidding.

And it’s very interesting, when we look at this passage talking about there’s the bridge across the chasm and when the rich man said, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent. Abraham responds, If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced, even if someone rises from of the dead.

For me, the point of this parable, this is not about the portrayal of heaven and hell. We really need to be careful not to just use this passage as such. But it’s judgment against the leadership of the time, even perhaps the selfish, rich people of all times. And the focus here is that in Jesus Christ, the son of God, he has always been reconciling the world to himself.

He’s the one who can cross that bridge from here to us or from us to you. He’s the only one who can cross that bridge and reconcile us – not our wealth, not our poverty.

Anthony, I’m going to have to give you a little bit of context here. Sometimes in our culture here [in the Philippines], the thinking is that you can even use your money to gain favor, to ask God for favor, but it’s not that. It’s not your money.

Or a person who is the outcast of society can use his situation as even a form of entitlement. See, I have nothing in this world, so you’re supposed to bless me now. If you’re God, if you love me, then you’re supposed to bless me. But it’s not that. It’s about him reaching out to us. It’s about him bridging, crossing the bridge for us.

Anthony: Yeah, he is the vicarious man who did for us what we could not do for ourselves. Hallelujah, that he is the one who entered into the far country and took us with him to the Father.

And I can’t help [but think] as I’m hearing you talk and looking at this passage again, just how wealth can blind us to the reality of how things are! Lazarus is still looked down upon, but the rich man, he’s not in a great place, but he can’t even see it really. He thinks things are still the way that he imagines them to be.

And that’s part of the myth, as you talked about earlier, that wealth means blessing from God. But if that’s the case, Rex, then Jesus himself, wasn’t blessed. If we’re going to use that metric — because he was born to a peasant family, born in a manger, probably amongst the animals, just in a poverty situation.

But he was blessed. And so, once again, the kingdom of God turns things upside down. Let me ask you this, Rex, is there a warning here for us beyond what you’ve mentioned so far?

Rex: For me, the warning in this teaching is that we really need to be aware that anything in our lives can distract us from our relationship with Jesus Christ. And particularly here, wealth.

And Anthony, I live in a third world country, and we send overseas Filipino workers by the thousands every day. And that’s for people to just be able to provide for what their family needs. But when we look at the people and categorize them according to the accumulation of wealth, and then use that as a determining factor for us to say whether they’re blessed or not, we really need to be very careful with that.

And that even goes [for churches], if I can use that analogy, as well. Because churches need to be careful with this mindset as well, where we look at megachurches and we look at everything that they have. And then we look at what we don’t have or what’s happening in our churches. And then we begin to question Lord, how come they seem to be more blessed than us?

It’s the same thing. It’s just taken in a community context. How come they have a nicer auditorium, where we meet in a non-descript place. They have all these wonderful instruments, and we only have one acoustic guitar. We need to be careful that we are not using wealth as the standard to measure God’s love for us.

Anthony: Yes. Amen. And amen brother. That was an important word to end on. God does not despise the day of small things. Does he? And often our churches are small and when I say ours, I’m talking, every denomination. The average church size is small. And I liked what you said about sometimes we meet non-descript places; it doesn’t look like the most attractive thing to enter into, but Jesus is the attraction, right?

When the love of Christ is made manifest in the community of believers, it is attractive. And people are longing for community. To commune with some relationship, and that we have in spades as we continue to surrender to the personal God who loves us so tenderly and yet, so fiercely in Jesus Christ. Hallelujah.

My brother Rex, I am so grateful for you. Thank you for joining us on the Gospel Reverb Podcast. This has been a blessing. We’ve been longtime friends, and I’m so grateful for that and long for our paths to cross again. But thank you, brother.

Our tradition here is to end in prayer, and so, Rex, if you’d be willing, would you pray over our listening audience?

Rex: Sure.

Our triune God, we are ever so grateful for who you are and how you move in ways we may not fully comprehend in our lifetime. Thank you for the parables you’ve given us. Thank you for the word. Thank you for the illumination. Thank you for the discussion such as this, because we’re able to share and flesh out some of the details, the nuances that can shed light on the things that we need to hear and have those seeds planted in our hearts.

Thank you that you love us all. Thank you that we are special in your sight. Thank you that you are willing to reach out to us. Thank you that you have loved us even before we became aware of the concept of love. Thank you that you are walking with us. You are renewing us. You are showing yourself to us. You are allowing us to hear your voice in the different circumstances in our lives. So that again and again, we come to the realization of how loved we are, how much you are embracing us, how much you are just growing us so that we may fully experience your grace, even in the most ordinary ways in our lives.

God, would you bless the hearers of this podcast. Would you open their hearts to receive? And Holy Spirit, I pray that you’ll just continue to reveal the rich riches of your word to everyone, particularly to those who will be speaking and explaining and preaching in the pulpit because we need your word.

And so, thank you that you always have unhindered access in all of us. Thank you that your love is not diminished by our capacity to understand everything. So, I just thank you for all that you are to us and just surrender all that we are to you. Bless you for all of this. In Jesus name, amen.


Thank you for being a guest of Gospel Reverb. If you like what you heard, give us a high rating and review us on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcast content. Share this episode with a friend. It really does help us get the word out as we are just getting started. Join us next month for a new show and insights from the RCL.  Until then, peace be with you!

 

Event Planning w/ Ceeja Malmkar

Video unavailable (video not checked).

In this episode, Cara Garrity, interviews Ceeja Malmkar, MTC Coordinator & Love Avenue Champion GCSurrey Hills, Oklahoma US. Together they discuss Love Avenue Event Planning.

“The Love Avenue just suggests getting outside the walls of the church and loving others, and Jesus has shown there are so many different ways to love people. And it’s just so exciting every single time, no matter what we’re doing, no matter what kind of Love Avenue event it is that we’re coming together as the body. And then we are including and inviting those in our neighborhood because we’re better together and we make bigger impacts.”
Ceeja Malmkar, MTC Coordinator & Love Avenue Champion

 

Main Points:

  • What are some Love Avenue events in GCI around the world? 3:12
  • What are some characteristics of a healthy Love Avenue event? 7:40
  • How do you involve your team in planning & executing a Love Avenue event? 19:19
  • What are key steps in the process of planning & executing a Love Avenue event that we may miss? Something subtly different than Hope or Faith Avenue events? 24:36
  • How do you connect Love Avenue events back to the life of the church? 31:12

 

Resources:

The Art of Neighboring – Church Hack outlining some tips to build relationships with your neighbors.

Neighborhood Engagement Planning checklist – help your team plan a fun-filled event that connects back to the life of your congregation.

Practical Ways to Build Neighborhood/Community Presence – Equipper article on our call to participate in our neighborhoods.

 

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

Program Transcript


Event Planning w/ Ceeja Malmkar

Welcome to the GC Podcast, a podcast to help you develop into the healthiest ministry leader you can be by sharing practical ministry experience. Here are your hosts, Cara Garrity and Jamie Garcia.

Cara: Welcome everyone to today’s episode of GC Podcast. I have Jamie Garcia here again with me today as co-host. Now it’s the middle of the summer here.

And so, I’m wondering, Jamie, what is some of your favorite summer activities?

Jamie: Cara, I miss you! Camp. Yeah, so much. It’s actually my favorite summer activity. Sadly, we are not able to have it here in the Philippines because of pandemic restrictions, but it’ll always be my favorite.

Cara: I love that. And it’s a little bit of a cheat because at a youth camp, you have a lot of different activities put together. That’s a little bit of a cheat answer, but I’ll allow it. I’ll allow it and speaking of youth camps and neighborhood camps with youth today, we’re actually going to be talking about Love Avenue events.

And so, what’s a Love Avenue event that you’ve been part of that has been really meaningful to you, Jamie?

Jamie: One regular effort we have is called donut conversation. So basically, that’s like a donut as in donut. So, we do that with student leaders in a target school community that we have. It’s a monthly thing where about 80 to 100 students gather online for a conversation, and we maximize that time with them to share life experiences.

And also have devotionals with them. With that we are able to help them, not just with the word, but also with topics like leadership, career relationships, et cetera.

Cara: Yeah, that’s fantastic. Whenever ministry includes food, that’s always a good time, breaking bread around the table.

So why don’t we go on ahead and tune into what our guest today, Ceeja Malmkar, has to share with us about Love Avenue event.


Hello, friends and welcome to the latest episode of GC Podcast. This podcast is devoted to exploring best ministry practices in the context of Grace Communion International churches. I’m your host Cara Garrity. And today I am overjoyed to interview my friend, Ceeja Malmkar. Ceeja’s the MTC coordinator and Love Avenue champion at GC Surrey Hills in Oklahoma, USA.

Ceeja, welcome to the pod. I am so happy to have you join us today.

Ceeja: Yay. I am so excited. Cara, I love doing these with you. So much fun!

Cara: And today we’ll be talking about Love Avenue event planning, and there’s so much to talk about with that. So, let’s just jump right in and get started.

The first thing that I’d love for us to talk a little bit about is just some ideas of Love Avenue events. What are the kind of things that we’re talking about when we talk about Love Avenue events?

And so first, before we even get into a little bit of brainstorming, I put out a question to GCI and asked what kind of Love Avenue events are happening around the world in GCI. And I got a little bit of feedback that I want to share to show what is God doing in the Love Avenue around the world.

And here are some examples of Love Avenue events happening in GCI around the world:

In Comunion de Gracia Internacional Peru, they have as part of their Love Avenue, an event where they take water and food to the local hospital and they sit with and provide food and meals to people who are waiting for their families outside of the hospital and are a presence with them, a presence of Christlikeness with those in their community.

In GCI Pasadena, they do a VBS, and nativity and Easter play where they connect with those in their community. They have activities for children, and they make invitations and relationships in their community through being part of the tennis community as well as the senior socials in their neighborhood. And so being present with those in their neighborhood.

Then in GCI Morewell Australia, as they are learning to form themselves as a missional community, they are trying out this year, something called a “Love Does and Join Us” board. Together as a church community, they have a board where they share “love does,” so ways that they are expressing Jesus’ love in their neighborhood. And then a “join us” board: ways that they want to invite the church community to participate with them in the neighborhood, things that are going on, ways that they can join Jesus in his mission and ministry in the midst of their neighborhood. And so, they’re forming and learning together in community.

And so those are some examples, Ceeja, of Love Avenue events that are happening around the world in GCI. What other examples of Love Avenue events do you want to share either from GC Surrey Hills or just other ideas that, that you’ve encountered along the way?

Ceeja: yeah. What is amazing about the Love Avenue is it gives us direction, but it gives us freedom, right?

And so, once we are able, as you heard, all of the events that you just talked about, they were all very different and that’s what’s important. This is why it’s so important to get out and get to know your target neighborhood, because they’re going to look different for different people. There are all kinds of different events.

I’ve experienced everything from a live nativity where we raised funds to pay off the past due lunch accounts at our local elementary school, all the way up to fun water balloon battles in the big baseball field where the whole neighborhood came and just enjoyed themselves. There are so many different things that you can do, and that’s why if we get out, we get to know our target neighborhood.

What is their age bracket? Is there a large number of children in our neighborhood? Is it an older community? What are these things that we can learn? So, if we get to know them, that’s when we can know how to serve them best.

The Love Avenue just suggests getting outside the walls of the church and loving others, and Jesus has shown there are so many different ways to love people. And it’s just so exciting every single time, no matter what we’re doing, no matter what kind of Love Avenue event it is that we’re coming together as the body. And then we are including and inviting those in our neighborhood because we’re better together and we make bigger impacts.

Cara: Yes. I love that. And what you say about getting to actually know your neighborhood, because what is going to connect with folks in one neighborhood might be really different than what’s going to connect with folks in another neighborhood. And just like you said, those examples of Love Avenue events happening around the world in GCI are so very different. And so, it can look different from local church neighborhood to local church neighborhood.

And so even though the format or the specific event might change, what are some characteristics of a healthy Love Avenue event that you would say, Ceeja?

Ceeja: Yeah. So, your healthy Love Avenue events always have, at least for me, they have some characteristics that you want to make sure that your event holds.

So, for me, it is one kind of the checklist I go through:  are we doing this together? Are we providing an opportunity for people who want to get involved? Both from my church and my neighborhood. Am I providing opportunities for them to serve?

Another thing that is important for us is, do we have something at this event to reach all ages? For example, when we do an event, let’s say we’re doing a block party. We want to make sure that we have something there for the younger children. Usually, we’ll have a moon bounce or a face painter or goody bags or something for the younger children.

Then you want to make sure you have something for the older children and teens. For us, we’ve built a large Gaga ball pit that we like to take. If you don’t know what Gaga ball is, it’s like this new sport that’s kind of like Dodge ball below the waist. It is a lot of fun, and the teens and kids love it. We’ve also done Nerf battles or a water balloon battle.

They’re already having fun. Also, we need to think about our grandparents. It is hard for someone older in their age to stand, especially in the Oklahoma heat for four hours. So, we want to make sure that we provide seating for people. And if I were going to have tables and chairs for the grandparents at an event, you might be surprised what happens when you throw a few Dominoes sets on those tables.

It’s thinking about all the different kinds of people, all the different kinds of age groups, and it’s bringing collectively the whole group together to love on your neighborhood. And when we come together and when we’re serving all these different aspects, and everyone feels loved and cared for it is just incredible.

The move of the spirit, the impact that you can make together as a church and a neighborhood coming together to serve. And it’s just a beautiful thing.

Cara: Yeah, that sounds like a beautiful thing. And I’m thinking that as local churches think about these particular characteristics and the formats that they may be able to be expressed through, maybe even as they brainstorm different events that could happen—game night or festival or block party, or bringing meals and water or a water balloon fight, things like that—as a church is coming together with their neighborhood to discern, what would be a good way to come together and love the people in their neighborhood.? What are some questions that might help our listeners to assess whether an event is a good fit for their neighborhood?

Ceeja: Yeah. So, this is really important, right?

Because you don’t want to put a lot of effort into this event and then no one comes. But sometimes that does happen, especially when we’re starting off. When I first started doing this outreach as Love Avenue events in my neighborhood, when we first started, I can remember we did a baseball game, and we had a few people come out.

It wasn’t as big as and impactful as I hoped it would be. That wasn’t the right fit for our neighborhood because that’s all it was: a baseball game. And so right there, how many people was I [not] including? There weren’t children playing the game, it was adults, but it was only athletic adults really. I didn’t even play because I don’t play baseball.

So just taking that into account, I was able to learn from that. Now it was still beneficial. It brought us together even though it was small, we can be small but mighty. And God was able to start showing us, okay, next time think of something that would include everyone.

We learned that in Surrey Hills, we have a lot of families. And so, you can’t do something that doesn’t have something for children, or the adults can’t come because we have children. And so, once we learned from that, we were able to regroup and since then, we’ve been able to keep that in mind. And it’s really proven to be very effective. If your target neighborhood is a retirement community, you might not want to throw a carnival that is filled with carnival games and bounce houses and face painting.

Yes. A retirement community might not enjoy that the same. However, they might love a bridge night. Or a Dominoes tournament or something like that. It’s just being creative. And it’s also understanding that what fits for one church that you may hear about, doesn’t mean that’s what you have to do.

Yes. The beautiful thing about the Love Avenue is we are so open to create, to think outside the box. Years ago, when I first went to—at that time, my pastor was Mike Rasmussen—and when I went to him and I said, Hey, I want to do a water balloon battle, he thought I was nuts. He thought I was nuts.

He let me know he thought I was nuts. But he said, look, if you really think that this would work, then I’ll support you, but I don’t see it. But what was important there is that he trusted me, and I really felt like this would work. Now. It has been an annual thing. It’s one of the largest attended events from our neighborhood and every year I’ve got to rub it into him a little bit more.

Huh? Huh? See pastor Mike. So, no. Creativity is so beautiful. It is a beautiful thing. Think outside the box. In fact, talk to some people. Run it by some of your neighbors. That’s always a great idea. Of course, you have to get to know your neighbors first and have friends in the neighborhood.

But once you develop those, I’ll go to my neighborhood friends and say, “Hey so I’m thinking about this. What do you think?” And I’ll get feedback there but create. Be as creative as you can. Just because you hear someone else does something, you can do something totally different. And as long as you are loving and meeting your neighbors where they are, then that’s exactly what the Love Avenue is all about, serving them and loving them well outside of those church walls.

Cara: Yes. And a couple of things from what you shared, Ceeja, that I think are really important. The first is being present and actually being a neighbor in your neighborhood. Actually, knowing your neighbors, what is important to them, maybe even asking them, what do you think about this? Or, running some ideas by them, knowing where your neighbors are.

If we’re meeting people where they’re at, we need to know where they are first. And so that kind of presence I heard is really important in assessing whether an event is a good fit for the neighborhood. The other thing that I heard is, how we define success as we learn and discern is important because maybe not every event is going to be a home run in the way that we might want to define success.

But we do learn, and God does teach us. And that is data that we can take with us. And we are still formed in the process of following Jesus in mission in our neighborhoods. And so, to not say, oh we tried one thing and it didn’t work. So, we’re never going to engage in our neighborhood again is maybe not necessarily the way that we assess what’s a good fit in our neighborhood, but we keep learning.

We keep getting to know people. We keep praying and discerning, and we see, okay, maybe what can we do differently? What can we do next? And we don’t take those failures personally, because ultimately, it’s not about us. It’s about what God is doing in our midst.

Ceeja: We can’t underestimate the impact that we may have made. You can’t underestimate the impact of planting a seed. So, you may have an event and only have two people show up for five minutes or maybe they just walked by and didn’t even mean to show up, but you don’t know if you took that time out to talk to them.

You don’t know the power of a planted seed. I never understood that so much as I do now because we did all of our Love Avenue events without a church. We had a little trailer house, four miles from our target neighborhood where we were building a church. So, for four years we never used our church building.

We did it all in the neighborhood, in the community hub locations that the neighbors were familiar with. So, the school parking lot, the neighborhood park, the neighborhood ball fields, and that’s where we did these things. And it’s amazing looking back now that our church doors are open, to see so many people walking through the doors that I haven’t seen since pre COVID.

But those relationships started at some of these neighborhood events and outreaches and camp Surrey. And we’re seeing the fruit from that labor three to six years ago that we didn’t even know that this was going to happen. It’s just amazing, the power of relationship. And God sees those seeds planted, even when we can’t.

And so, trusting him, he says, go out, make disciples of all people. And how Jesus made disciples is he did life-on-life with them. He loved them. He taught them while doing life with them. And we can’t fail if we are just going out to love and build relationship with our neighbors, just like Jesus did.

Cara: Amen. That’s so well said. Thank you, Ceeja. And as we’re thinking about events and what shape they could take, or how we know what might connect well with our neighbors. That’s, I think, one piece of thinking about Love Avenue events and what that can look like in our local neighborhood context.

And then the other piece of that is the process actually planning and executing and putting it together. And so, I want to talk a little bit about that piece of it now, too. And so, I’m wondering, Ceeja, how do you involve your team, your Love Avenue team in planning and executing a Love Avenue event?

Ceeja: I would be so lost without my team. I don’t know if I could do anything without my team. because they’re so important. I know that building a team can be difficult, but it is the most rewarding and amazing thing once you have that team built. So, for me, I have a team, there are 11 of us on my Love Avenue team.

We meet monthly. We have monthly meetings and then we do hard events every other month, so six times a year. And when we come together, we talk, we have a plan, we have a calendar, we know our direction and we come together. What’s so beautiful is I have everything from a 14-year-old is my youngest team member, all the way up to, I believe 76 is my oldest team member.

And we have about every generation in between in that on the team. And we mesh so well together. It took some time, but we empower each other. We can appreciate each other’s point of views and different stances in life and experience in life. And I think that is one of the reasons why some of our events turn out so well is because I have all those different voices on my team, speaking into them.

We in GCI, we are “Team Based–Pastor Lead” in our Avenues. We are team based—Avenue champion led. I understand that I will set the meeting times. Now this is also important, and I think this has everything to do with the Love Avenue. When you’re building a team for the Love Avenue, it’s important you don’t just send an email and whoever shows up, shows up. That’s not really meeting people where they are. We are a family, we are friends. So, we’ll set a day, I’ll send out reminders, but we’re seeing each other. We’re doing life together outside of that once-a-month meeting. And even when it’s not technically a meeting, we’re talking about the upcoming events and what can we do and how can we do this?

And what’s been beautiful is we had a “trunk or treat” last year. And my Love Avenue team, like I told you, that’s 11 people. We had over 2000 people at the “trunk or treat” that came from the neighborhood and the community. And we had about 20 or less members from our church at this event. And 11 of them were off the Love Avenue.

That goes to show you what you can do even if all you have is your Love Avenue team; you can still make a big impact. [With] every Love Avenue event, I feel like more and more church members get involved, but what’s even more beautiful?

You’re like, whoa, how do you do that with 20 people? I didn’t do it with 20 people. I did it with 20 people from the church and about 30 people from the neighborhood and I will tell you this over the course of the last five years of doing this: my percentages are changing because we have those people that have helped from the neighborhood, they are now weekly attenders of our church.

So, this is how this works. This is how relationship works. I used to brag that I made sure that I had someone on my Love Avenue team that was not GCI, that was not a weekly attender of my church. I wanted a neighborhood voice on the team because these are neighborhood events.

Now I can’t say that because that person is now a member of our church, so I’m going to have to find somebody else to bring on. But these are the amazing things that God can do when we just open our hearts and we open our willingness and we just say, okay, Jesus, let’s do this.

Cara: Yeah. That’s incredible.

And what I hear is that working together with a team, joining Jesus in ministry is really powerful. It’s a really powerful way to join Jesus’ mission.

Ceeja: Absolutely.

Cara: And as you’re working with your team and you’re engaging in Love Avenue, particularly with events—because there’s many ways to engage in the Love Avenue. A healthy Love Avenue is not just events. So, we’re talking about events specifically.

What are key steps in the process of planning and executing a Love Avenue event that we may miss, and I’d say particularly maybe things about a Love Avenue event that are subtly different than a Hope or a Faith Avenue event?

Ceeja: The first thing is going to be, we already talked about it, your target audience. Who are the people that you’re trying to reach? And we need to talk about this out loud because sometimes that can get lost. Are we reaching all of our neighbors? (All of the age brackets, which I talked about, another thing is.)

A lot of people think that, like I said, you have to use your church. We are slowly transitioning more events to our church, but we will never move them all to our church because our goal is to be a neighborhood church part of the neighborhood. So, we want to utilize these neighborhood hub points that neighbors are already comfortable.

Some people are burned, some people are hurt, and it freaks them out to go to a church for an event. And to meet them where they are to start off in a space such as the school parking lot or the neighborhood park—those are really important aspects, I think, to include in some of your events.

And it’s also very important for some of our churches that rent or share their buildings and they don’t have full access or use with them. And I just want them to know that’s okay. In fact, in my opinion, that’s preferable. You have plenty of time to move things toward your church once you build that neighborhood following, this habit of neighbors coming together for these things.

And the location is very important. Also, the timing. Unfortunately, with the Love Avenue, you really have to take in account that school calendar and the weather, the time of year for the different events obviously.

Of course, I’m a little crazy. We do a golf cart parade for Christmas, and I’m like in Oklahoma, that’s a little crazy, it’s cold every year, but we do live in a golf course community. And so, there’s a lot of golf carts, but even for that activity, we make sure it’s only 20 minutes outside. And then we had a place to go inside to get out of the weather.

Another huge thing, and this might be, in my opinion, one of the most important things about a Love Avenue event versus your Hope or your Faith Avenue, you have got to be able to tie this back into the life of the church. With your Faith Avenue, you’re already going deeper. It’s much easier to do. Your Hope Avenue is in your church. It’s your worship experience. So those things are easier. With your Love Avenue, it is just as important to do this, but not make it a bait and switch it.

It can’t be, “Oh, by the way, we did this so you guys would come to our church. This is our church and the service times.” That’s not it.

For example, for us we had a block party last year. Hundreds of people came, it was a wonderful time neighbors, cooking and eating and playing yard games and corn hole.

We had some live music and then we watched a movie on the lawn, and I asked pastor Joe to get up there on the mic and thank everyone for coming, to introduce himself and who he is. And he introduced himself as the pastor of Grace Communion Surrey Hills. And he just thanked everyone for being there.

He let them know that we are all about the neighborhood and loving and serving them well, and that we’re better together. And then he just said, “I just want you guys to know if anybody would like to join us. We’re meeting tomorrow in the school at 11:00 AM and hopefully we’ll see you guys then. And if not, I just want you to know, we love you and we will see you at our next event.” But that tied it into the church.

Those gift bags that we make for children, they will be specifically from GC Surrey kids and or camp Surrey. And we will also advertise our next event at our current event or our next outreach. Our next Love Avenue activity, we will announce in advance. It’s so important to connect it back.

Another thing is with our events, you’ll always see on the advertisement, “This event is sponsored by the Surrey Hills neighbors and Grace Communion Surrey Hills.” It is not just about our church and trying to get people through the doors. They’re not just numbers to us, they’re our neighbors. And so, we do this together and we really try to esteem the neighborhood.

Or if we’re doing an event and partnering with the local Lions Club, we really push that they have really helped. When we esteem others, it’s amazing the impact. People pick that up.

That is going to be something that doesn’t have to be awkward. A lot of people are like, “Oh, if we tie this back into the life of the local church, it’s a bait and switch. It’s awkward.”

And it doesn’t have to be that way. We can be honest and open with who we are, and we are GC Surrey Hills, but our passion is to love and serve our neighbors, and so we want to join you in making this neighborhood better. And all of a sudden, they start to feel a part of something.

We don’t build the church. God does. Jesus builds his church. And so, we do what we need to do, and we open the invitation and then we let Jesus go to work, but we are prepared with open arms. And it’s amazing. Like I said, here we are three or four years later and I’m seeing all these people walk through the door on Sundays that I’ve met at camp Surrey or a neighborhood event years ago.

So, it’s beautiful what God can do.

Cara: Yes. And that’s an excellent point, Ceeja. That’s something particular that we need to think about with the Love Avenue events is how do we thoughtfully tie it back to the life of the church without falling into that bait and switch? Because like you mentioned earlier, the Love Avenue events are the things that we’re doing in our neighborhood outside of the walls of the church.

The Hope Avenue, the Sunday worship service is obviously tied to the life of the church. You walked in the front door. But how do we do that in a thoughtful manner with the Love Avenue events that we have.

I love what you said as well about the location and something that, I would say about that too. That it’s important as we venture into our neighborhoods and maybe have events in locations other than the ones that we’re used to, where our church meets or things like that, it’s important to know the rules and regulations in whatever that location is as well. Some parks require park permits or to serve food you need certain permissions to do that. And so just keeping those things in mind as we go into our neighborhood, understanding the lay of the land as we meet our neighbors and have events there.

Because I think you’re absolutely [right]; I love that idea of being thoughtful about physically, location-wise, having Love Avenue events outside of the walls of the church as well and in the neighborhood.

And so then how are we being thoughtful about doing it legally and thoughtful about tying it back to the life of the church and those rhythms that we have?

Ceeja: We have great resources for that as a denomination. Before every event I do, I email Cheryl Corson at our home office, and I just let her to know this is what I’m thinking. I’m thinking we’ll have about this many people; here are the activities. And just doing that, if there is any red flag she sees, she’s able to come back and say let me check on this. Or she’ll say, thanks for letting me know; you’re good to. It is just that extra layer of protection and I’m very thankful for it. And I do it with every event that we do.

Cara: Yes. That safety, that protection, that layer of protection for the people that we’re trying to care for and love in our neighborhoods is one expression that love of Christ.

And so, in addition to what you’ve shared, what are—not that it’s not enough because those are wonderful insights—but are there other best practices or gotchas that you’ve discovered along the way?

Ceeja: Yeah. And I think this could probably go across the Avenues, but I can speak from a Love Avenue standpoint.

And that is that being team-based is very important. We don’t build teams to just have people to do the work. We build teams to empower people and to give them a voice and to work together.

An example of this is for this camp Surrey that we’re doing this summer. I have been thinking about it. I came up with the theme that I thought was amazing. My husband loved it. I okayed it with our R.D. [regional director] and our pastor, and I thought, okay, I’m going to take this to the meeting and everybody’s going to love it.

And I took it to the meeting, and they were like, “Eh, yeah, it’s okay. I get where you’re going, but Ceeja, this isn’t a teen camp. This camp is for children.” And so, I was going to use the word “elevate.” I really liked that theme for elevate, and my team came to me and said, “Ceeja, we like the direction it’s going. We like where it stands. We like how you can make this biblically lifting God up in your life. But why don’t we use a term more simple, ‘lifted.’ That way, our kindergarteners and first graders, they can relate to it.” And I just thought, duh of course, but I would’ve never thought of that on my own, but my team did.

First of all, they felt comfortable to bring me challenge. And then when I heard that challenge, I was so thankful for it. I feel now it is so much better than what I had thought of before, but because they are different people, because we are a team, they were able to say, eh, you’re not thinking about this. What about this? And it’s so much better.

Empowering your team, not just using them to work, but really giving them a voice. My team, I truly believe, if I were to take the dirt nap tomorrow, they would be just fine. They would know exactly what to do because we are team based. Now I don’t want to take the dirt nap tomorrow. I’m just saying.

Cara: Yes, let’s not. But as an indicator that a well-developed team is important.

Ceeja: It is so important. And you don’t have to have perfect people on your team because if that’s what you’re waiting for, you’re never going to have a team. If people are willing then, and they have the heart to love people, no strings attach, those are the people you want on your Love Avenue team. I don’t know. It’s so important.

I could not do this on my own. My team, I always say this, they just make my job so easy. They make me look so much better because of who they are and how hard they work. So, I just think building a team is incredibly important and including your neighbors is also important. Those are just really big practices that I would highly suggest you do. If you are starting to reach out to your neighborhood.

Cara: Yes. Thank you, Ceeja. And then one more question that I have for you is, we mentioned briefly earlier that events are not the wholeness of the Love Avenue. They’re one aspect of the Love Avenue.

And so, can you talk a little bit to that? Maybe about the role of events in the Love Avenue or the other pieces and rhythms of the Love Avenue. Basically, how do the events fit within the overall shape and rhythm of the Love Avenue?

Ceeja: This is going to look different for different churches.

This has taken years to get it to this point for us. We do five kind of fun events a year, and one big outreach a year as the Love Avenue. We do it every other month. And so, we do the things I told you: “trunk or treat,” Christmas parades, water balloon battles, camp Surrey, but we also do a food drive for our neighborhood senior living center and our community food pantry.

And then in between those big events, we also have smaller outreach. One of the things we’re starting right now is a Surrey Hills garden club within our church. Now what’s interesting about that is, you hear that and you’re like, oh, that’s Faith Avenue. That’s a connect group to keep our flower beds, weed free and flowers planted and stuff like that.

But as a neighborhood down our main boulevard, we have these flower beds in the middle, and they are upkept by volunteers from our neighborhood. We created this GC Surrey Hills garden club to be able to do these service projects to help the Surrey Hills garden club with those medians.

And what started as a connect group is now doing something in the Love Avenue. They’re outreaching and they’re serving their neighbors. It all flows together. I think sometimes we can make the mistake of, we see Faith, Hope, Love Avenue as these just three very distinct and separate things, when really, they’re very connected.

They are distinct, but they are connected and they inter-penetrate one another. And so, we have to keep that in mind if maybe you’re like, we don’t have the people right now. We only have two people on our Love Avenue team. But do you have connect groups that those two people on your Love Avenue team could team up with some of these connect groups and do outreaches to serve their neighborhoods?

Love Avenue really allows you to think outside the box in that way and utilize all the Avenues coming together and utilizing the different strengths and the different passions. The best example I have is, like I said, a connect group of a garden club, but now we’re going to use that connect group in the Love Avenue to serve our neighborhood garden club to do service projects there.

Cara: Yes. And the other piece that you mentioned, Ceeja, that I think is really critical. We are thinking about the Love Avenue. We’re not dependent solely on events. Events are good and fun and an important aspect. But even this example of the gardening club, this is a rhythmic kind of day-to-day way of actually being present and neighbors in your neighborhood in Surrey Hills. And so, I think that’s in a really important piece. Because if we’re only missional—you said, you guys have six big events a year—if you are only present in your neighborhood six times a year, how would you build relationships?

Ceeja: Yeah. Those events would not work if that’s all we did were those six events.

The reason those six events work so well, the reason why they’re so well attended is because we are out 365 days a year being a neighbor as individuals and as a church. We have connect groups going all over this neighborhood. It’s amazing because we’ll be in a leadership meeting and pastor Joe may say, I met this person, and they are joining. And I’m like, whoa, that person comes to our wine night, and somebody will say, oh, I saw them at our, I talked to them last year at our block party. It’s amazing to see the little connections that go all. over

I went and got my hair done last month. My hairdresser said, what is your pastor’s name? And I said, Joe, and she said, I play softball with his wife. He’s one of my favorite people in the stands and this is the beauty of a neighborhood church. We all live in this area, so we are the church seven days a week. And so, as we’re out, we’re doing this as individuals,

One of the most amazing things is I wish I could see all the little connections that God sees. Because I feel like I have been blessed the last five years that he has opened my eyes to be able to see many of them. And it’s probably not even a fraction of everything that he can see.

The connections are just absolutely mind blowing how this has come together. This is the beauty of being a neighborhood church. It is not all about events. Those events are like the cherry on top; they’re a time for us to come together and reunite, but we are connecting on a weekly basis, if not a daily basis. We are connecting as we are seeing our neighbors walking at night, stopping and talking to them, going to the neighborhood park and hanging out with our family and talking to other family members there getting involved.

There are other organizations in our neighborhood that do their own outreaches. Are we as neighbors going to support their events? Are we going to support them and showing up and helping where we can? It is all of this. It all ties together in this beautiful thing called relationship. And when that happens, you will see that these fun events that you do, they are well attended because the relationship’s already there, but that it takes intentional work.

It takes being a neighbor and engaging the people that God has placed all around you every single day as an individual and as a church.

Cara: Yes. Yes. I love how you say that we’re the church seven days a week. Because that’s really the heart of joining Jesus in mission and events are fantastic and an amazing way to engage our neighborhood.

But without that posture and that heart of being the church seven days a week, events are just going to be events. Six events a year does not mission make, and so that’s important to understand, even as we’re talking about what makes a good Love Avenue event, to understand events in their proper context of the wholeness and the fullness of the rhythms of a Love Avenue and just the missional rhythms of Jesus and his church.

So, thank you for sharing that, Ceeja. That, I think, gives us a lot to reflect on and ponder as we’re thinking about the fullness of the rhythms of our Love Avenue.

And so, as we start to wrap up, what final words do you have for our listeners?

Ceeja: I guess my final words would be, we have to remember that Jesus is doing the work. He is leading this, right? It doesn’t fall on our shoulders. He carries that burden. We just get to join him. And he’s given us the perfect example in his life on how to make a disciple. And if you look, every single time, it starts with him making a friend; it starts with him being in relationship with, in my opinion, really messed up people.

These were not perfect people that he brought on as his disciples; they were messed up, everyday people that he met in their brokenness, and he loved them, and he loved them well. And that takes so much of the pressure off.

So, if we can do that, it does not matter if your Love Avenue team is three people or 30 people. It doesn’t matter if your outreach or [at] your event you have one person show up or a thousand people show up. If the heart behind it is to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, loving and serving our neighbors, then it’s already going to be a winning experience.

Those events, while it has been fruitful for us as a neighborhood church in reaching out to our neighbors, it has been just as fruitful for us as a church and going deeper in trusting and working together with Jesus. It’s just been amazing. And just keeping in mind that you are beautifully and wonderfully made, even as the church that you are, whether you are a small fellowship group of six people [and] everyone’s retirement age or older, that is beautiful.

There is an impact that you can make in the Love Avenue, just with the size you are, the age you are, the gifts you have. There is something that you can do. That goes, if you are a congregation with 150 people and have 30 people in your Love Avenue team, you can also do this. Don’t let your numbers, your age, the size of your teams, the size of your finances. Don’t let that discourage you. You can still join Jesus in making an impact in your neighborhood. And that’s what the Love Avenue is all about: joining Jesus and your brothers and sisters to make an impact in the very neighborhood where he has placed you.

And so, if we can hold onto that, if we can hold onto that, then what is success? Success cannot be defined by numbers. Success is defined by relationship and Love Avenue outreaches, Love Avenue service projects, Love Avenue events. They are all an opportunity to build and grow in your relationship.

And so, if we can keep that in mind, then we don’t fail. We just don’t fail. It’s an amazing thing. And it’s a wonderful opportunity. We have to join Jesus and what he’s already doing in our neighborhood.

Cara: Amen. And amen. Thank you, Ceeja. This has been a lot of fun before I let you go. We get a little bit of fun left.

We’ve got a couple of random questions for you, and you can just respond with the first thing that comes to mind. Are you ready? All right let’s do it.

What fictional world or place would you like to.

Ceeja: Oh man. Atlantis. Yeah. That’s funny. I’m from Oklahoma. So, I like to think I’m an ocean girl, even though I’ve not only been in the ocean, like a couple times in my life. Atlantis was a pretty cool place.

Cara: Yeah. That’s great. What dish would you bring to a pot?

Ceeja: Yum. Now you’re making me hungry. I would probably bring red wine roast.

Cara: Ooh, now I’m hungry.

Ceeja: Yes. It’s one of my favorites. It’s one of my favorites.

Cara: That sounds really good. All right. If you have to choose, you have to sing karaoke. What song do you choose?

Ceeja: “No One Else on Earth” by Wynonna Judd. I know my country roots are coming out.

Cara: Yes. I like it. I like it. What is your favorite holiday tradition?

Ceeja: Oh, man, honestly my favorite holiday tradition? This is so hard. I have two. One of them is a Christmas Eve service with my family. It is so special to me. I had no idea how special it was until this last year. We didn’t have a building to do a Christmas Eve service, and it was really hard for me. We did attend another. It wasn’t the same. And so, it’s just that Christmas Eve service. There’s just something beautiful about it.

My other favorite holiday tradition would probably be Halloween, just bringing people together, having a lot of fun, serving the kiddos in my neighborhood. We usually get about a thousand kids to our front doorstep on Halloween. And so, it’s a lot of fun just to meet them where they are.

Cara: Yes. I love that. I love both of those. Next. This is a tough one. Okay. Would you rather always be slightly late or super early?

Ceeja: Me, I would rather be super early. In reality, I’m usually slightly late.

Cara: You and me, both. You and me, both.

Ceeja: But ideally, my personality is to be super early. Before I had children. I was early to everything, like 30 minutes to an hour early for every day. And now it’s eh, I’m that person that comes in one minute after, five minutes after.

Cara: Oh, so you are super early. That’s not even tough. Okay. Yes. then final question. What is your favorite summer activity?

Ceeja: Okay, so this has changed. I used to love in the summer, fishing. I love cat fishing. It’s a fun thing. I had children and that kind of slowed down, fishing, camping, that kind of stuff.

But then let’s see, two weekends ago we got to have a Love Avenue team day. It was just a relational day for my team to come together. We didn’t have anything to talk about or to plan. It was just a time for us to come together and hang out and enjoy each other. And we went kayaking. We just got some kayaks for our pond behind the new church, and I have never been kayaking in my life before.

And so, this was new to me. So, we went kayaking, and we kayaked for probably four hours in the small pond, and it was just the most relaxing and amazing thing. So now my new summer fun activity is kayaking.

Cara: Love that. Yes, that’s so great. Ceeja, I appreciate you joining us on this GC Podcast episode so much.

I think that we’ve learned a lot, and it is our practice with GC Podcast to end the show with prayer. So, would you be willing to say a prayer for our churches and pastors and ministry leaders and members in GCI?

Ceeja: Absolutely.

Father, Son, and Spirit, we just, oh Lord, we just thank you. We thank you for who you are, that you are a God of relationship, and you include us in the middle of that relationship, Lord. And I just celebrate you and who you are and what you are doing today.

Lord, I thank you. I thank you that you give us the opportunity to join you in what you’re doing. We’re pushing that little plastic lawnmower God, while you’re actually doing the work, but it’s the relationship and the inclusion that you give us that is just so amazing. And we just thank you so much for that, Lord.

I just asked that you be with all of our members in GCI and our churches all over the world, Lord, that you be with the pastors and the Love Avenue teams, and that you just reassure them that you’ve got this. That you’ve always had this and that they may be able to rest in that and simply join you in loving and serving their neighborhoods and their neighbors well, Lord.

We know that you are faithful to finish what you start, and we trust you. And we love you so much. We thank you for Cara and Reu for taking the time to doing these podcasts, to help meet our members where they are in helping them grow and learn in all the different aspects of ministry, Lord.

So, we just thank you and we love you. And we ask all of this in the name of your son, Jesus, our very best friend. And together we say, amen.


Cara: Amen. That was a great interview. And I appreciated the practice of hosting Love Avenue events in neighborhood or common spaces that Ceeja mentioned. I think that is a really tangible way to express that you’re part of the neighborhood and that you’re here for your neighborhood.

What’s something that stood out to you that Ceeja mentioned about Love Avenue events?

Jamie: A lot of things, actually, Cara. I enjoyed listening to Ceeja so much. I enjoyed listening to their activities. For me, the thing that stood out the most is when Ceeja said never underestimate the seed that we make. Yes. I love that because from a planning perspective, we will have things that we expect and things that we want to see.

But in reality, what we do, planting seeds, God will make it grow in his time. And as we participate, we never underestimate every opportunity to love our neighbors as he leads us.

Cara: Amen. Amen. Thank you for sharing that word and reflection with us. That’s a good one. And so, before we go on ahead and end our time today, what’s going on with the GC curriculum On Being In and With the Word, Jamie.

Jamie: On Being In and With the Word is a seven-week series that focuses on the Bible and a method studying scripture. It is the last curriculum to be released for On Being series. All the curricula in the series can be found here on the website at resources.gci.org/on-being

Cara: Thank you. Friends, we’re at the end of another episode and we really appreciate you joining us. If you enjoyed what you heard, go on ahead and give us a rating wherever you’re listening to this podcast. It helps us get the word out and to help others join in on our conversations. So, until next time, keep on living and sharing the gospel.

We want to thank you for listening to this episode of the GC Podcast.  We hope you have found value in it to become a healthier leader. We would love to hear from you. If you have a suggestion on a topic, or if there is someone who you think we should interview, email us at info@gci.org. Remember, healthy churches start with healthy leaders; invest in yourself and your leaders.

 

Sermon for September 4, 2022 – Proper 18

Program Transcript


Speaking of Life 4041 | Refresh the Hearts of the Saints
Greg Williams

Have you ever had friends who have hurt one another deeply and who are unable or unwilling to work together to heal the rift? Perhaps you have a deep desire for them to reconcile, and it hurts that it has not happened.

That’s what the Apostle Paul faced in his shortest letter, which he wrote to his friend, Philemon. Philemon was the previous master of Onesimus, who had been recently converted, and who now worked with Paul. Paul wanted slave and master to reconcile, so he sent Onesimus on a perilous journey to return to Philemon. Paul’s message of reconciliation is there for us to read, where he condenses his desire for their relationship to be restored by a simple phrase:

 “Refresh my heart in Christ.”

Paul’s heart, along with others who loved both Philemon and Onesimus, longed for healing. Paul’s appeal to Philemon was not something that could be easily ignored because, as Paul had pointed out earlier in the letter, Philemon enjoyed refreshing the hearts of others. Note Paul’s words to his friend:

For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you. Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you…
Philemon 1: 7-9 (ESV)

For the apostle Paul, the healing of relational rifts was a core part of the Gospel ministry – so much so that he reminded Philemon that he could be “bold enough in Christ to demand it.”  Paul knew Christ had given everything to enact reconciliation between God and man, and he often emphasized that we too ought to make every effort to bring reconciliation wherever we go. Yet here Paul chooses a path of loving guidance, knowing full well what was at stake for each person.

As a runaway slave, Onesimus put himself in great peril by returning to Philemon. Under Roman law he had no protection against Philemon’s wrath should Philemon not heed Paul’s plea. For Philemon, accepting Onesimus back and relinquishing his ownership of him would have had social ramifications that might lead to a loss of status and influence in his community. What Paul wanted from each was contrary to their own self-interest. Why risk it?

Because it would refresh the heart of Paul, and certainly the heart of God. That’s what reconciliation does; it refreshes the heart.

Sometimes our friends who need reconciliation might be like Onesimus and Philemon, and they need a prod. Sometimes it’s not our friends, and we need a prod. The road to reconciliation is fraught with challenges and calls for a depth of humility that we often struggle to muster. It often seems easier to simply cut a relationship loose and play the tired game of pretending the problem doesn’t exist.

Yet, for those on the outside, their hearts are grieved by the lack of restoration, and they eagerly wait for us as their friends to walk the often painful path of reconciliation that Jesus has laid out for us.

Through the great reconciler, we can have the courage and wisdom to take such a bold step. Do not shy away from the pain and struggle this will bring, for in so doing we refresh the heart of God, our hearts within, and the hearts of those around us.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 • Jeremiah 18:1-11 • Philemon 1-25 • Luke 14:25-33

As we enter our 18th week of Ordinary Time, we are brought to consider the implications of following God. Our theme this week is the often painful path to perfection. The Psalmist declares his amazement at the wonders of the life God has created for him to live. In Philemon we have a plea for reconciliation between two people who have had a painful rift in relationship. Jeremiah warns us that the process of being molded by God will at times be disruptive and uncomfortable. In our sermon passage, we are told that Jesus expects us to be willing to give up everything, including family, for his sake.

Spiritual Risk Assessments

Luke 14:25-33 (ESV)

“An untenable risk.” This is the term used to define the point at which a given course of action should no longer be pursued, or perhaps actively worked against. Companies performing risk assessments are expected to define untenable risks to their operations. For a powerplant, those risks might define the point of balance between operating safely and operating efficiently. For an investor, it’s when the risk of failure for a given project is too high to justify the cost of investing. For an individual, it could be when an exciting job opportunity is eclipsed by the upheaval the move would cause.

These risk assessments are examples of why it’s important to consider the implications of your actions and choices. They are perceived in Western culture as examples of prudence and responsibility. And they are reflections of a challenge that Jesus gave to his disciples 2000 years ago.

Speaking to his disciples, Jesus warns that complacently following Jesus is not enough—we need to think through the implications of that course of action. Let’s read what Jesus said to them.

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25-33 ESV)

It is hard to read this passage of Scripture and not think of your siblings, parents, or spouse. It references those we love and asks a heart-piercing question, are you ready to place Jesus above all of them? In the risk assessment of our spiritual lives, is the cost of following Jesus more than we could bear? If you feel yourself thinking that it might be, it might reassure you to realize you’re not alone.

Even after decades of Christian living, this question will continue to lead passionate followers of Christ to a place of doubt. The cost seems too great, yet the reward is incalculable. The scale of our spiritual risk assessment teeters back and forth wildly. We know it will land on the side of our eternal relationship with God (Jesus has shown us that), but this doesn’t reduce the anguish caused at the thought of the sacrifices he is calling for.

So, let’s take a moment to break the text down a little further. What is it that Jesus is asking of his disciples in this passage?

Setting the bar high

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25-27 ESV)

Jesus does not mince words when he presents the disciples with his expectations. Jesus wants everything from us. He is presenting us with a core biblical teaching, the primacy of God. The Ten Commandments declared that we were to have no other God before him, and Jesus teaches us the heart of that law – there should be nothing in our lives set before God. When Jesus tells us to hate our family, he does not mean literally. We know this from looking elsewhere in Scripture. For example, he shows love for his mother and provides for her on the cross by charging John with her care. Furthermore, 1 John 4:20 tells us that the person who hates his brother cannot love God! So where does this leave us?

Jesus has shown us he desires love not hate, so we can say with confidence that here he is using exaggeration to stress the importance of a teaching. The extreme reaction we feel at the idea of hating our family is the intent behind Jesus’ teaching here, that aversion to hating them, should be reflected by an even greater love for God.

By setting his bar so high as to be unattainable, Jesus is setting out for us a lifelong goal of loving God more and more. The Christian walk is a constant struggle to put God in the proper place at the center of our lives. As long as he’s not there yet, we haven’t achieved the goal of loving him so much as to hate everything else.

Jesus does set within his example an achievable goal. Contrasted with the call to reject our family is a call to reject ourselves, take up our own cross and follow Jesus. Jesus has demonstrated we can follow through on this call. And that call to a sacrificial love that endures much is core to what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Jesus has called us to an often- painful path to perfection and he wants us to be aware of all that could come with it.

Doing the assessment

For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, “This man began to build and was not able to finish.” (Luke 14:28-30 ESV)

For anyone who has done some renovations or overseen construction, the fear of unknown costs and setbacks is an ever-present reality. Common advice is to take the quote given to you and add at least twenty percent to determine your budget for the project. Falling short of the financial needs of such a project can have far-reaching consequences. A botched renovation can put the whole home at risk, and a half-finished building is a danger to those who enter it.

And it’s not a process that ends once the project begins. Progress reports, inflation costs, and fluctuation in markets are all things that seem irrelevant until they affect the things one must purchase. A change in the cost of lumber can have dire consequences when you’re building a wooden house!

It is an equally agonizing process for our spiritual lives. And it is appropriate to point out that while many of the would-be disciples Jesus was speaking to in this passage were new, some had been with him throughout his ministry. But that doesn’t reduce the need for these moments of introspective spiritual self-assessment. No doubt Judas did not always intend to betray Jesus, but at some point, he began to value something more than God. Perhaps it was money, or as portrayed in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar, perhaps it was the ideal of a Jewish nation that did not jive with who Jesus was revealing himself to be. Regardless, something led him to conclude that the cost of discipleship was too great.

This call from Jesus to carefully assess the cost of following him is not completed the moment we declare him to be Lord. Rather, it should become a regular practice to think about the depth of the call God has made to us.

A forecast less dire than it might seem

Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:31-33 ESV)

Everything that we’ve discussed so far could lead us to the conclusion that the Christian life is one of joyless introspection and confessions of inadequacy. Indeed, taken alone, this passage could lead us to the conclusion that since we fall short of perfection, perhaps we should just give up. Thankfully this passage does not sit alone. Luke takes pains to emphasise to us that the calling of Christ is one that requires complete and utter devotion, a devotion we are unable to provide.

Our passage today comes before the parables of the lost sheep, coin, and son. All these parables speak of the incredible love of God that is present amid the failures of his children. Where there is a gap in our ability to relate to God, Jesus steps in and fills that gap. An allusion to this can be seen in the final example Jesus gives in this passage: the king who is not capable of fighting the enemy coming toward him. In this example, a cost is going to be paid regardless – the other king is coming to wage war on him. While the man thinking about building his tower can simply decide not to build it, the king cannot simply decide to ignore the army that is approaching his lands.

Counting his cost, he realizes he comes up short. But that is not the end of his narrative; the parable does not conclude with his defeat and death. Instead, the king realizes his need to seek the mercy of his opponent. Like this king, we found ourselves in conflict with a foe impossibly beyond us. But this foe is not Satan, or sin, but rather God himself. In our past rebellion, we found ourselves aligned against the Creator of all things. Jesus refers to this when he tells the apostle Paul in a vision “It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (Acts 26:14b). Opposition to God is an exercise in futility, much the same as this king’s war.

If the king had insisted on his own rule and way, he would have found himself not just without crown or country but also without his life. Instead, he must sue for peace, he must give up the crown and country, he must “renounce all he has.”

On the path to salvation, destruction is found in every direction except the narrow path that leads to Jesus. The cost of discipleship is not just about counting what we must give up to follow Jesus, it is also about recognizing how much greater is the loss of not following him. This is the point of Jesus’ lesson. Without him there is no life, no resurrection, no hope, and no future. Without him you would have no mother, father, brother, or sister. Without him there is no narrow path to keep to.

When we count the cost of discipleship, we will consistently find we are incapable of providing what is required. We too need to realize our need for mercy and grace. Counting the cost does not lead us to the conclusion that we will pay and sacrifice what is needed—it leads us to the conclusion that we cannot pay or sacrifice enough. But we do not despair. Our inability is contrasted by the Holy Spirit’s ability and desire to take hold of us and lead us back to the foot of the cross. It recalls the costly price that has been paid for us by Jesus, and the horrific cost we would endure if it had not been paid. And it is in light of his loving sacrifice that we once more commit to acknowledging him as the center of our lives.

Let’s conclude with the powerful words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship:

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “Ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.

Gospel Priorities w/ Rex Dela Pena W1

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September 4 – Proper 18
Luke 14:25-33 “Gospel Priorities”

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Program Transcript


Gospel Priorities w/ Rex Dela Pena W1

Anthony: I’ll read our first pericope, Luke 14:25-33. It’s from the New International Version. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 18, in Ordinary Time, on September 4.

25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ 31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

Now Rex, Jesus here has a very interesting way of recruiting disciples by telling them the ways they cannot be his disciple. What do you make of this high calling Jesus gives us as disciples?

Rex: It’s very different from how our leaders would recruit people to follow them. Whereas here, if Jesus is recruiting people and he’s laying down all these qualifications or criteria, the immediate response of people may be – perhaps people who are reading this now, they’re like, man, he’s making it really difficult for me to follow him! Especially, he says, if anyone comes to me and does not hate. A lot of people would need to understand why it was worded that way. It says if anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife, children; it’s hate everybody including yourself.

But no, but we can understand that this is not about your emotion. It’s about your attitude. It’s about your mode of action toward the people you care most about. It doesn’t mean that you hate them. We read in Matthew 10:37 – Well, Matthew 10:37 softened that line. And for us, we understand it now as to love them less, that Jesus is your number one priority.

Of course, you love your parents, your brothers, your family, but that relationship, all of the relationships we have, they take second priority. Jesus is going to be our all in all.

And this is a very challenging criteria because come to think of it, many times we are torn between what we need to take care of – our priorities, our plans, our goals, but Jesus Christ here is telling us that we need to make that choice.

We need to make that commitment. That part of it is counting the cost and it cost that much to follow Jesus. Remember here, large crowds were traveling or following him. And then Jesus turned around and said, “Hey, if anyone wants to follow me, do this. Or unless you do this, you cannot be my disciple.”

And I’m just wondering, how did they react? What! You’re making it more difficult for us to follow you.

But now we can understand that when we consider being a follower of Jesus, we really need to count the cost. What are we doing? What are we going to prioritize? What are the things in our lives that we need to sacrifice or to let go?

Anthony: It’s interesting to me, Rex, that as we think about this passage, Christologically, Christ-centered, Jesus is never asking us to do something that we don’t see inherent in him. In other words, in his own journey on earth, we see him doing these very things he’s saying with his own family. Many of his own family members didn’t believe him in terms of who he was, but he, in obedience to the Father, went to his death, even death on a cross. And that had to be painful for his own family, but his priority was the Father’s priorities for his life.

And I think we see what he’s saying, in reality in Jesus, don’t we?

Rex: Yeah. And whoever does not carry their cross… just like what you said, Jesus did not say these things as if it was something that he wasn’t going to do. He did. He carried that cross, and he’s calling us to do the same to consider the spiritual sacrifice.

It’s like marriage, you don’t approach it haphazardly. You really think about it. What can I give? How can I really follow through with my commitments? What do I need to realign or reorder in my life or reenter in my life so that I can do this?

And the example here of building a tower, estimating how much money it would cost to complete it, or even a king going to war – it’s just us being mindfully aware of the cost. Because we really need to understand that we need to count the cause in the light of who Jesus is as well. That he is the God who never gives up, despite all the challenges we may face, despite the discouragement we may face. We can count all those things, but we can be encouraged knowing that we are not alone, that Jesus Christ is the one who’s leading us, is taking care of us. He’s our victory in all of these things. And that’s why we cannot follow him on our own. He’s the one who strengthen us, who is strengthening us to follow him and to even follow through in those commitments.

Anthony: You’ve mentioned counting the cost several times now. And I’m curious – we know that all Scripture points to Jesus. He said so himself as he was walking with the brothers on the Emmaus road. I’m curious, how can we interpret counting the cost in light of the God revealed in Jesus Christ?

Rex: If we can understand or even just reflect on what Jesus did, how much sacrifice he offered so that we can totally understand the depth of his love.

And his sacrifices will always point to us the victory has been won for us. It’s a done deal. We just need to appropriate in our lives all the things that have been promised for us and walk with courage that we’re not doing this out of our own strength. It’s him. It’s Jesus Christ sustaining us.

We count the cost. In other studies about this word, I heard a pastor said counting the cost would also mean bringing along our unlikeness, how far we are from the image of Jesus, bringing all of these things, our imperfections, all our brokenness, bring them all as we follow Jesus Christ. Because in the process of following, in the process of obeying and surrendering, we become transformed into his image.

Anthony: Yeah. Bring our whole self; that is what courage is. Wholeheartedness – our whole self. So, as I think about this per Rex: following Jesus is walking as he walks by the Spirit and sometimes, we call that discipleship. And I’m just curious as you exegete this passage, what really is discipleship about?

Rex: For me, discipleship is following Jesus. It’s about surrendering our relationships to him. Discipleship means giving up anything that takes precedence over Jesus Christ in my life. That means anything that gives me identity or security because he is to be my all in all.

And, this is not predicated upon my ability to do all those things, but I’m reminded of Philippians 1:6. It’s the deeper realization that Jesus has already started to work in us. And he will be faithful to complete it.

It’s about walking a daily walk with Jesus, asking Jesus, what do you want me to do today? Or where do you want me to join you? What are you telling me today? Or what do I need to surrender to you? What do I have to give? And it’s a real intimate relationship with Jesus Christ and it’s not … Discipleship, sometimes people get a little triggered with the word discipleship, because it can mean for many people a very structured program.

It’s about following Jesus. It’s about knowing him. It’s about experiencing him. When we pastor say, the Lord loves you, that for us is an experiential reality for us, rather than a theological concept.

So yeah, it’s a daily walk: Jesus, lead me today. Where do you want me to go? What do you want me to do? Use me in according to your divine pleasure. Use me. Make me a vessel or whatever you can do.

Anthony: Yeah. There is a big gap, is there not, between knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus, relationally?

And we think about the triune persons, Father, Son, and Spirit. They’re persons – as in they’re personal, so of course the walk is going to be personal, is it not?

And I appreciated what you said. Sometimes we can be so structured. And structure matters; don’t get me wrong. But we can be so structured that it almost squeezes the life out of just walking with him in the cool of the evening, harkening back to Genesis and just talking with the Lord in that way. So yeah, that’s good. Thank you, Rex.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life
  • Were you reminded of a relationship in your life in need of reconciliation by that message? If so, how might you go about participating in that reconciliation?
  • How might you go about “refreshing the hearts of the saints” this week?
From the Sermon
  • Have you ever found Jesus’ call for complete and utter devotion intimidating? What might you fear losing in your commitment to him?
  • Do you take the time to “count the cost” of your faith as part of your spiritual disciplines? Share how you’d go about doing it.
  • Bonhoeffer pointed out that the cost of discipleship is ultimately paid by Jesus, and that it is for this reason that we should be faithful in our following of his calling. How does the costly grace freely given by Jesus encourage you in how you live your life?

Sermon for September 11, 2022 – Proper 19

Program Transcript


Speaking Of Life 4042 Loving Us Out of Lostness
Michelle Fleming

Since the pandemic lockdown starting in March 2020, there have been seasons of fads and trends to keep us entertained. Early on in the pandemic,
I jumped on the jigsaw puzzle bandwagon. My friend and fellow Speaking of Life presenter, Cara Garrity even surprised me with a few in the mail to cheer me up during lockdown. And I wasn’t the only one. By the end of 2020, retailers were having difficulty keeping jigsaw puzzles in stock, and news stories reported that “there was a global shortage of puzzles.”     

If you’ve ever put together a jigsaw puzzle, you know the excitement of seeing the picture take shape. You start with trying to create the outside edges and work your way in. But what happens when you get down to the end and there’s a piece missing? Words can’t describe the frustration as we begin searching for that lost piece.

Jesus tells a story about a similar frustration in his parable about the Lost Coin found in Luke 15. Let’s take a look:

“Or imagine a woman who has ten coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and scour the house, looking in every nook and cranny until she finds it? And when she finds it you can be sure she’ll call her friends and neighbors: ‘Celebrate with me! I found my lost coin!’ Count on it—that’s the kind of party God’s angels throw every time one lost soul turns to God.”
Luke 15:8-10 (The Message)

The parable is intended to show us God’s grace. God is like the woman, tearing the house apart to find the coin, and we are like that lost coin. The coin doesn’t know it is lost, doesn’t know its value, and doesn’t know what it means to the woman. In addition, the coin does precisely nothing to be found, so the parable is not about repentance. And that tells us that we don’t have to achieve a level of morality or perfection to be worthy of being found. Instead, the parable shows how God finds us valuable enough to search relentlessly until we are found. Until we know how valued and loved we are. God, like the woman searching for the coin, is determined.

And this brings me back to that missing jigsaw puzzle piece. We can understand a little about how God must feel about us when we are disconnected from ourselves and God. We’re the piece of God’s puzzle that will complete the picture of the kingdom of God. Just as we search and search until we find that missing puzzle piece, lost in the sofa cushions or under the chair, so God seeks to demonstrate our inherent worth by showering us with love and showing us we belong. Our part is to let ourselves be loved and say “yes” to the reality of our value as human beings, created and precious in God’s sight.

Jigsaw puzzles allow us the satisfaction of seeing the full picture becoming complete, and when we can’t find the last piece, that completion is thwarted. Our efforts to find the missing piece can remind us of the Parable of the Lost Coin, and we can think about how God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit seek a connection with us and want to love us out of our lostness. The only thing we have to do is let them.

May you know and never forget how deeply you are loved and valued by God.

I’m Michelle Fleming, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 14:1-7 • Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28 • 1 Timothy 1:12-17 • Luke 15:1-10

The theme for this week is the restoration of relationship. Our call to worship in Psalm 14 contrasts the response of the foolish with the wise and the inevitable struggling and suffering that goes along with trying to go it alone, not relying on God’s presence. Jeremiah 4 emphasizes the sorrows we bring on ourselves by thinking we can handle this life without seeking a relationship with God. Paul reminds us that Jesus has saved us, and God seeks a relationship with us, regardless of our checkered past. Our sermon text is Luke 15:1-10 where Jesus tells the Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Parable of the Lost Coin, showing us that lostness is our typical state and one that we need not fear.

Lost and Found

Luke 15:1-10 (NRSV)

We all have lost something, and we recognize that feeling associated with loss: the knot in the pit of our stomachs. Most of us have also experienced the joy of finding something we lost—the elation and satisfaction of having something we valued restored to us.

Consider sharing a personal story about something you lost and found.

Imagine being in a foreign country and losing your wallet. That’s what happened to American soldier Chad Reid, who was headed home from Afghanistan. On the night before he was to leave, Chad lost his wallet on a busy Afghan street. That meant his credit cards were gone, and more importantly, so was his military ID. Meanwhile, aircraft mechanic Bill Peasley, who was working in Afghanistan as a civilian, went out to dinner that night, and he found Chad’s wallet. It took a few phone calls—first try was to Chad’s mother in Denver and then to his grandfather in Pennsylvania. Finally, Peasley was able to connect with Chad via Facebook and return his wallet just hours before his scheduled flight back to the US. You can imagine how delighted Chad was to receive something back he thought he’d never see again.

Our sermon text today has Jesus sharing two parables about being lost and being found. Let’s take a look.

Read Luke 15:1-10, NRSV.

What can we notice about this passage?

These two parables about being lost and found appear right before the parable of the Lost Son (or the Prodigal Son), so the theme of lost and found is an important one for this 15th chapter of Luke. To set the stage for these parables about lost and found, notice the first two verses of the chapter:

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So [Jesus] told them this parable. (Luke 15:1-3 NRSV)

Luke takes a special interest in often pointing out that Jesus ate and spent time with “sinners.” In Luke, we find the story of the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume and her own tears (Luke 7:36-50), the story of the tax collector Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10), and the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). Interestingly, even though Luke records at least three meals where Jesus was criticized for hanging out with sinners, Jesus never comments about the sinners’ behavior. Within the cultural context, sharing a meal meant more than just eating together. It meant friendship and acceptance, and by eating with tax collectors and others deemed “sinners,” Jesus shows his complete acceptance of them.

While we believe that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NRSV) and might feel like we should lump ourselves into the “sinners” category, Jesus does distinguish between human beings who perpetually fall into behaviors that are contrary to God’s will for humanity and those “righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7, NRSV). The righteous, in Luke’s estimation, are those who are actively striving to live within God’s law in the context of Jewish society of that time. The point that Luke makes is that Jesus reaches out for people who are on the fringes, who frequently engage in behaviors that are not in their best interests or the best interests of those who love them. If we’re following Jesus’ example, we will take the side of those who might be considered “losers” in our culture and speak out on their behalf.

By looking at the basic structure of these two parables, we can see the following similarities:

  • There is a larger group, and one of that group becomes lost.
  • The main character of the parable searches relentlessly for the lost one.
  • The restoration of the lost one becomes an opportunity for the whole group to celebrate.
  • Jesus summarizes the lesson by talking about repentance.

Let’s look at each of these components:

Lost

The two parables focus on two familiar situations for the cultural context: a shepherd loses a sheep, and a woman loses a coin—the equivalent of a day’s wage. If we read the parables carefully, we’ll notice that the lost sheep and lost coin don’t know that they’re lost, nor do they play a role in being found. The lost sheep and coin do nothing to help the shepherd or the woman find them.

Those who are “lost” are engaged in habits that aren’t life-giving. While certain habits, like addiction, have destructive tendencies, other seemingly harmless habits can also negatively affect or destroy relationships over a lifetime. Selfishness and the desire to control others are two examples. Notice that degrees of “lostness” still have the same basic effect: our lostness keeps us from enjoying the fullness of relationship with God and/or with others.

Found

This is the most important aspect of the parables: the main character is completely committed to finding the lost and restoring it to the larger group. The shepherd and the woman in the two parables are actively seeking the passively lost sheep and coin. The searchers are relentless in their care and concern, and in their desire to restore the lost to the larger group. God’s desire to restore is critical. By focusing on God’s determination to restore us to right relationship, we can let go of the idea that our own efforts are what makes us “found”, saves us or makes us right with God. We can rest in God’s gracious character.

Celebration

This part in both parables is the aspect that seems most out of place. Would a shepherd throw an over-the-top celebration because he found one lost sheep when the other ninety-nine were fine? Would a woman, who was so concerned about losing one day’s wage (the equivalent of the lost coin), hold a celebration that would create additional expenses? Jesus’ inclusion of this lavish celebration demonstrates God’s great joy and welcome for all people, righteous and sinners alike. This is the absurdity of a God who loves and delights in us. Grace doesn’t add up – it doesn’t make logical or economic sense – but it is the driving force of love that governs all of God’s interactions.

Repentance

The lost sheep and the lost coin don’t really “repent.” However, both parables point out that without the restoration of seeking and finding, repentance could not take place. The word translated as “repentance” is the Greek word metanoia. Metanoia indicates a change in our worldview – how we see ourselves, others, and the world – as well as a change in how we respond. It means a transformation in our typical ways of understanding and reacting to life.

While Jesus welcomed those who were considered “sinners” in the culture of his day, we also might consider our own need for metanoia – a change in how we view ourselves and the world and the way we respond to situations in ordinary life. Too often we allow hurts from past experiences or our upbringing to influence our reactions and responses to the world around us. Some of us were not loved, valued, and understood the way we needed to be when we were younger, and this has created a particular way of seeing the world. Letting go of past hurts and letting God love us and love others through us is part of metanoia.

Application:

  • Recognize that God doesn’t require us to change before we can be found. Instead, being found and letting ourselves be loved creates a change in our worldview and consequently, in the way we respond to God, to others, and to the world.
  • Realize that God seeks after us relentlessly until we are restored. Restoration, connection, and acceptance are part of God’s vision and intention for humanity.
  • Know that we participate in God’s heavenly celebration when we show acceptance and love to those who might be thought of as “sinners” or “less than.” By following Jesus’ example of eating with those deemed unworthy, showing full acceptance and love, we play a part in the restoration of the lost to the larger group.

This third application is crucial to our participation in the Love Avenue. Do we see how God is reaching out to others – often through us? Are we focused on behavior and attitudes more than God’s purposes to restore the lost? By considering our own experiences with losing and finding items we value, we can understand a little about how God feels for those who are caught in the habitual web of negative behaviors. We can consider our own negative habits that might be destructive in our relationships, and we can think about our own need for metanoia, and celebrate that God has invited us to participate in others’ metanoia. We can know the joy of finding something lost that is valued, and we can rejoice with God when people, including us, are transformed in the way they view themselves and others.

For Reference:

https://www.rd.com/list/5-amazing-stories-of-things-lost-then-found/

https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-24-3/commentary-on-luke-151-10

https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-24-3/commentary-on-luke-151-10-2

https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-24-3/commentary-on-luke-151-10-3

https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/lost

 

Gospel Priorities w/ Rex Dela Pena W2

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September 11 – Proper 19
Luke 15:1-10 “Lost and Found”

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Program Transcript


Gospel Priorities w/ Rex Dela Pena W2

Anthony: Let’s move on to our next passage. It’s going to be Luke 15:1–10. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 19 and Ordinary Time, which is September the 11th.

Rex, would you read it for us please?

Rex:

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. 8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Anthony: There goes that Man again, Rex, eating with sinners and welcoming them! What does this tell us about this God that we see in Jesus?

Rex: From this passage, it’s all about people or things being lost and being found and rejoicing for what was lost and now found. The tax collectors and sinners were drawing near to Jesus.

And what this passage tells us is that Jesus is a God who is not intimidated by sinners. In fact, he reaches out and welcomes them. The woman finding the coin, the shepherd finding the one, leaving the 99 – and what that tells me is that we are all valuable to him, that he’s willing to search for us.

(And one person said, if he’s willing to leave the 99, the shepherd’s making the 99 feel so unsafe, but that’s another altogether study on the cultural background of the time.) But the fact that Jesus Christ or that shepherd is willing to really go out and to really search for that one sheep or that one coin tells me that Jesus is really showing how loved we are.

We are important. We are valuable in his sight.

Anthony: I’ve heard it said that if Jesus didn’t dine with sinners, he would always eat alone. And so, I’m glad he welcomes me and eats with me and certainly is my sustenance on a day-to-day basis.

Rex: And the imagery of him eating with sinners, that is a powerful image of him being able to relationally accept them. They are loved. I’m just trying to put myself in a situation where, for example, I have made a huge mistake, or I have offended the person or something. And then this person would still ask me out or [say] let’s eat, let’s share a meal. That would communicate so much love. That would communicate forgiveness. That would communicate, Hey, everything is going to be alright. Eating together is such a powerful image of a community and [unintelligible] for a sinner to be eating with Jesus that’s — man! I’m ready to be in that banquet.

Anthony: Yes. Yes. Amen and amen. I’m getting the imagery in my mind, Rex, about the condescension of Jesus. Meaning, in his incarnation, he came to us; he came into the far country. And to sit down and dine with us is to, in one sense, to condescend. But that’s what love does.

It’s much like a parent getting down on the floor with their young child and playing with them. You condescend because love goes downward, if you will. And thanks be to God, that’s who he is!

And therefore, I think Jesus would say, go and do likewise. Not out of a, hey, this is a legalistic perspective, but this is what love does. And that’s all God can do, is act out of who he is. And he is love. And therefore, that’s why we see this imagery of the shepherd with the sheep.

So, tell us more. What would you want pastors, preachers, and teachers, and Bible students to know about the parable of the lost sheep?

Rex: I’d like to highlight verse 5 and when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulder. I could just visualize here the sheep is too weak to return on its own.

And there are times when we as pastors need to understand that some of our friends, some of the people in the church may have, (I put it in quotes) may have lost their way, and they feel too weak or too embarrassed or feel too guilty to return on their own.

But Jesus Christ is modeling for us that there is so much joy when one lost is found and there is a (it’s in that passage) there’s a glaring contrast with the religious leaders who grumbled, but Jesus Christ is showing us the intense joy of someone being brought back. That’s why it’s consistent in the three parables, the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son, the idea of searching.

There was this song, Anthony. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with this song. It’s called, “When God Ran.” Have you heard of that?

Anthony: I have.

Rex: And the idea that God is searching; God is looking and the idea that we have been found. And many times, we cannot [accept it.] Maybe out of shame, out of guilt, out of our weaknesses, we feel as if we don’t deserve to be brought back or whatever situation we may have right now where we feel we are not worthy to be loved or to be accepted.

Then the idea of the shepherd placing the sheep on his shoulder. I would like to imagine that’s me being the sheep, and Jesus Christ carrying me on his shoulder when I feel lost, when I don’t know what to do, when I feel alone or I feel rejected, when you question your worth. I don’t belong to the hundred and they’re the 99. They’re the good ones. And I’m the bad one here. I didn’t make the cut.

But Jesus Christ is always ready to welcome us back. And not only that, when we are too weak, just like this shepherd, he lays it on his shoulder. I would like our listeners to understand it. Jesus Christ is always ready to pick you up.

Jesus Christ is always ready and willing because that’s how much he loves us. And there are times when we look at what we have done or the output of our hands, and we look at ourselves as not enough. Jesus Christ is always willing.

And that there’s an intense joy. Could you imagine a God who delights in you? Especially when you are not (I’ll put it quote here) you are not performing how some people would feel that they need to earn the grace, or they cannot accept fully the grace. That’s why they feel as if they still need to do something so at least they were able to have a share in whatever they’re enjoying right now in terms of the relationship with Jesus Christ.

Anthony: As I’m looking back over verse 5, Rex, Jesus joyfully puts the lost sheep on his shoulder. And I’ve mentioned this story in a previous podcast, but it bears repeating.

At the time of this recording, my wife, Elizabeth, and I just visited with her parents in West Virginia over the weekends. Jim and Sandy are their names. And Elizabeth’s favorite story to tell from her childhood is when she got lost at a church festival. There were thousands of people there, and it took her parents and the extended family quite a while to find her. And you can imagine the fear that was creeping up in her parents. We’ve lost our girl, our baby girl, the youngest of two. And they finally found her, and her dad took her into a room, and everybody thought that’s where she was going to get punished because, how dare you run off from us? Why weren’t you paying attention?

And she loves telling that her dad knelt down to look her in the eye and said, “Everybody expects me to punish you. But I’m just so glad I found you!” And he hugs her.

And you can imagine, even for a young girl (as Elizabeth was at the time), how much that taught her about a father’s love. And ultimately points to our heavenly Father who loves us with an intensity that goes beyond any earthly father. So, I just think that kind of bears or highlights this reality that God just rejoices to carry us home.

Rex: And let me add, as pastors, as ministry workers, or as under shepherds, I pray that through the Spirit, we may participate in the heart of God for those who still need to really know him. May we have that welcoming spirit of Jesus towards people who struggle. People who may have stumbled.

People who may have messed it up, who may have messed up their lives, or simply people who may not have it all together. It’s basically all of us anyway. And may we share in the joy, (the passages there says intense joy.) May we share in the joy. Celebrate when one who has been lost has been found.

Anthony: What else would you encourage preachers and teachers to focus on from this passage, if anything?

Rex: Our encouragement is Jesus alone.

I remember someone said, I’ve been preaching sermons for 30 years, and it seems that nothing’s changed. Their lives are not changed.” And this preacher basically asked: is worth it?

And the encouragement that he received was, yes, because it’s the work of Jesus. Jesus is really happy when we preach in and out of season for those people who are struggling, and we preach the message for people who are doing well in their lives and those who are down and out.

But there is a call for us to really go for those who are hurting, those who are feeling lost. And this is a very difficult task sometimes because there are times when the people who need help the most are the ones who will reject us first. But if we can also share in the passion of Jesus, in his love, in searching for these people and making them feel loved and welcome despite all of these challenges, I think that’s the encouragement – that we have Jesus.

And there are times when we may feel like we’re not able to help a lot of people who are hurting, but being able to simply participate in that, even experience how Jesus would bring a person back, how Jesus would heal and renew and transform. We’re just invited to join. And then in the process, really see the wonderful works of his hands in transforming the lives of so many people, sheep who are lost and being carried.

And I am just imagining the story you shared about Elizabeth. And because back in the day, it was really all about being disciplined, right? Your steps are measured. I remember when you were more scared of the ushers. But I could just imagine where people expected Elizabeth’s dad to really be harsh.

And I think that’s a very powerful story. Many times, people in general had that impression that God is like that. That he’s angry, that he is very exacting, that he is watching over a shoulder to see if we are checking off the right list.

Anthony: It’s a good word. I’m encouraged by this. Isn’t it beautiful how the Spirit ministers to us through Scripture? We can get so familiar with some of these parables and stories of our Lord, and yet to be refreshed and renewed once again by Scripture is such a beautiful thing.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life
  • Have you ever lost something of value? Did you find it, and if so, how did you find it? What lengths did you go to find it, and do you remember how you felt when you found it?
  • Have you ever considered that we don’t have to achieve a level of morality or perfection to be worthy of being “found”? How does understanding that make you feel about God’s love?
From the sermon
  • When considering the basic structure of the parable of the Lost Sheep and the parable of the Lost Coin, which part speaks to your heart the most: being lost, being found, the celebration, or repentance? Why?
  • If we understand the meaning of metanoia as a shift in worldview and response, how does that change your view of what repentance means?
  • How does understanding God’s desire to seek and save the lost affect our view toward participating in the Love Avenue of our congregation or fellowship group? How does it affect our view of co-workers and neighbors?

Sermon for September 18, 2022 – Proper 20

Program Transcript


Speaking of Life 4043 | Where is the Balm?
Greg Williams

Where is God when it hurts? It’s a question most of us have asked at least once as we’ve watched others struggle through unbearable pain or trial. For many believers, the hurt results in genuine cries of pain and frustration. Sometimes this is followed by a nagging guilt over our own doubts and uncertainties – as if asking the question is wrong, or going through pain makes us less than… It might reassure you to know that the scriptures describe many people who cry out to God as they seek to understand where God is in times of suffering.

The prophet Jeremiah is a good example. In his response to the cries of distress from the people of Judah and Jerusalem, he famously declared:

“Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of the daughter of my people not been restored?”
Jeremiah 8:22 (ESV)

For anyone who has experienced the feel of cool aloe vera on a nasty sunburn, you will know what a balm is supposed to feel like. It is both a source of healing and of comfort. Jeremiah is asking, where is the comforter? Where is the one who will heal the people and the land? Where is the redeemer?

In a world full of conflict and geopolitical instability, it is natural that we ask ourselves such questions. They are not a sign of faithlessness, and they should not move us to feelings of guilt or inadequacy. Pain, violence, and inequality are all consequences of a broken world in need of healing.

When someone collapses in the middle of a street, those who intervene might cry out for a doctor — that doesn’t imply an absence of help, rather it is a declaration of need.

Throughout this passage in Jeremiah, the language is intentionally vague as to who the speaker is. Is it Jeremiah or God speaking? The “daughter of my people” is a term best used by God. God himself is declaring the helplessness of the world that is broken and in desperate need of healing – is there one who can bring it the comfort and restoration that is needed?

When we cry out in frustration at the state of the world, we witness to the faithfulness of the Father and to his compassion that he feels as he looks upon everyone caught up in pain and suffering. He cries out with the prophet, “Is there one who can bring the comfort and restoration that is needed?”

In Jesus, we hear a resounding “yes” to that question. He has come as a physician to heal the sick and he has sent his Spirit who is a balm to fill, soothe and restore the cracks that permeate our broken world.

The next time you or someone you know calls out in despair, rest in the truth that we have God’s answer in Jesus. There is a balm in Gilead, there is a physician here. He has answered the call of a broken world. He has wept alongside it, suffered for it, and healed it with his wounds.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 79:1-9 • Jeremiah 18:18-9:1 • 1 Timothy 2:1-7 • Luke 16:1-13

The theme of this week’s scriptures is the singular faith God desires. Our passage in Jeremiah laments the fate of his people brought on by their idolatry and the Psalmist prays for their deliverance and atonement that the people might glorify him. In Timothy, Paul encourages believers to pray for the ability to lead lives focused on our faith in the one God and Mediator, Jesus. Finally in our sermon passage for today, Jesus warns that everything we have is given by God and intended to be faithfully administered in service to him.

Gifts Not to be Squandered

Luke 16:1-13 (ESV)

This year has seen the release of the latest Spider-man movie, No Way Home. In a gutsy gamble that seems to have paid off at the box office, this movie included three separate versions of the iconic superhero, drawing from previous reboots of the movie franchise, and tying them together in a neat temporally fractured bow. Most iterations of the Spider-man persona have the same back story. Newly imbued with superhuman strength and resilience, Peter Parker forgoes stopping a criminal when he has the chance, only to discover the same criminal murders his uncle and mentor moments later. With his dying breath, his uncle leaves him with one of the most memorable superhero mottos of all time: with great power comes great responsibility. Parker decides to live in honor of that statement, seeking to not squander the gifts he had been given.

Perhaps after hearing that quote, some people feel inspired to live up to their potential, while others breathe a sigh of relief and thank God they don’t have “great power.” Well, our message today is going to bring good news and bad news to both groups of people:

We may not have great power, but we do have great responsibility.

These are two truths that Jesus shares with us throughout his ministry, the implications of which can be found in our scripture passage today.

He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.” And the manager said to himself, “What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.”

So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, “How much do you owe my master?” He said, “A hundred measures of oil.” He said to him, “Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.” Then he said to another, “And how much do you owe?” He said, “A hundred measures of wheat.” He said to him, “Take your bill, and write eighty.”

The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.

One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Luke 16:1-13 ESV)

When tackling a parable, it is worth considering who in the parable we are supposed to identify with. In this parable it does not take long to realize that we are supposed to see ourselves in the place of the shrewd manager. Parables do not present perfect parallels for reality, but express practical, moralistic, and theological concepts that we as followers of Jesus need to embrace. When they are given in a series, as this one is, each one contains truth to be contemplated, but it’s all those truths woven together that form Jesus’ message. In this case Jesus weaves together a message for the Pharisees who were deriding the time he spent with sinners and tax collectors, and a message for his disciples who were also listening (Luke 15:1-2).

So, what is the message of these parables here in Luke 15:3-16:13? Let’s take a moment to outline the lessons that Jesus is sharing and how they tie into a larger conversation between him, the Pharisees, and the disciples:

  1. The parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin (Luke 15:3-10) give a message of hope for those who have gone astray. The parables are to be understood as God going to the sinners to bring them back into their relationship with himself. God pursues us and so we are saved. The return of those who are lost is a cause for rejoicing.
  2. In the parable of the Loving Father (Luke 15:11-32), Jesus expands on the sheep and coin. Not only is the return of the son who is lost a cause for rejoicing, the father happily and willingly forgives the son who turns from the path of self-destruction. We are left with a question in this parable: what will the envious and resentful older brother chose? Will he renew his relationship with the father, or turn and walk the path of Cain, allowing his pride and anger to rule over him?
  3. In our text for today, the shrewd manager continues the narrative of redemption that has been outlined so far. Having established that God pursues us, forgives us, and rejoices at our reconciliation, Jesus is free to turn to the question of our past choices and how we should act in light of them. This parable, which is directed to the disciples rather than the Pharisees, calls for them to follow in the example of generosity given to us and extend that generosity to others.

Jesus’ conclusion following these parables is that one cannot “serve God and money.” This statement from Jesus cuts to the heart of both Pharisee and disciple. It sets before them a clear dichotomy: opposition to God is not just defined by bad choices, sinful acts, or dubious professions, it is also defined by the pursuit of wealth, comfort, and earthly influence. The Pharisees hated what Jesus said here; they saw clearly in this message a condemnation of their lifestyle as well as a dismissal of the sins of the people Jesus was spending time with. They could not comprehend that the relationship with the sinner was more important to God than condemnation of the sin, so much more important that he sent his Son to remove the condemnation in order to restore the relationship.

In our passage, the shrewd manager is not a person to be idolized or celebrated, yet he is presented in the parable as the hero. He has cheated and swindled, and only at the last moment, with the certainty of unemployment and disaster upon his doorstep, does he change his ways. Yet this corrupt manager is set up as making the correct choices for one simple reason: he looks to the future.

The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. (Luke 16:8-9)

No power of our own

Jesus is telling his disciples that they need to change their perspective if they want to follow him. They need to look heavenward, with eyes firmly fixed on the eternal prize in Jesus. Many choices presented to us will have one of two outcomes, either to build unrighteous wealth here or true riches in heaven. While sins are forgiven with the costly grace of God freely given to us, pursuit of wealth for personal comfort and social status binds us in service to sin in a deep and dangerous way.

Within the narrative of this parable is a freeing truth: we possess nothing. Just as the manager has no wealth of his own, we too cannot claim anything for ourselves. Our wealth, our land, our health, our skills, and our potential, are all gifts from God. This is what was meant when we said at the beginning that we have no power. The question asked of us here is simple: what will we do with what we’ve been given?

Great responsibility

The prodigal son and the older brother, the lost sheep and coin, the disciples and pharisees, you and me, we all have a moment in our lives where we find ourselves in the shoes of the shrewd manager. Like the manager, all we have is not our own, but gifts given to us. Like the manager we realize that we have been unwise with these gifts, squandering them for our own gain.

This is where we are called upon to ask the question: what should I do next?

The choice the manager makes is based not upon his present needs, but rather what he hopes for in the future. This is the moral we are called to embrace. Christian forward thinking is not a matter of hours, days, or years, but of our eternal relationship with the Father.

Our great responsibility then is to seek guidance from that relationship. The generous gracious heart of the Father is our guide for good stewardship. Christian fiscal responsibility is realized when we are prayerfully considerate with the gifts we have been given.

Whether you are donating to churches and charities or buying a family home, this wisdom can be applied. Use of material wealth for our own need and even comfort is not necessarily sinful, but the parable warns us against placing those purposes before faithful service to God.

Our great responsibility is to take what we have been given and put it toward our eternal purpose, a life lived with God and one another. In so doing we will have been faithful with the unrighteous wealth that once held us in its grip, and gained in its place the true riches that come from service to God.

Gospel Priorities w/ Rex Dela Pena W3

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September 18 – Proper 20
Luke 16:1-13 “Trustworthy”

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Program Transcript


Gospel Priorities w/ Rex Dela Pena W3

Anthony: Let’s transition to our next pericope, which is Luke 16:1 – 13. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 20 in Ordinary Time, which is on September the 18th.

And it reads,

Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ 3 “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ 5 “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 “‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’ 7 “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ “‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’ 8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. 10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? 13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Verse two tells us, Rex, to give an account of your management. What my experience is, most people dread hearing come to the principal’s office or we need to talk, or the boss wants to see you, man.

It can just elicit anxiety right away. So, why do we fear being held in accounts?

Rex: Because there is a big part of us that feels we are not able to measure up. When you’re called like that, we fear being held in account. What did I do wrong? We’re focused on my mistake or what did I miss?

Because usually when we are called by our superiors, especially in that tone of a voice, oh, it’s, “Give me an account of your manager.” So, I think it’s by default that we look at ourselves as not good enough. So, when someone ask us about something, whether it’s a report, or it’s a computation, or it’s a whatever we’re supposed to finish, or a project, and there is that fear. Is this good enough? Is this something that’s possible?

I’m a student right now, and I think you are too right, Anthony?

Anthony: I am. Yes.

Rex: Yeah. So, when you turn in your paper, and you look at your paper and you try to see the comments. And I remember even in college where you look for the red marks. You look for the encircled sentences.

And then no matter how well you have done sometimes, that one little red mark could really throw you off. So, no one’s going to say, Hey, come on, call me and ask me for an account of your management.

If you are a fiscal manager, just like what we have in this passage, he knew he was going to find out. He knew he’d be caught wasting the money of his boss. But what’s amazing here is that he was commended. And that’s why this parable really needs to be studied well, because if you just read it, your first reading would be like, what? You’d be asking, what? This is a dishonest steward, and yet he’s being commended?

It doesn’t make sense. What’s interesting here is that in Luke 16:8, the sons of this world. And there’s a comparison, the sons of this world and the sons of light. It’s a distinction. I think it’s a Jewish category of delineating good people. The good question that we need to ask is, why was he commended or why was he commended after all these things?

It’s getting clearer here that he was commended for his foresight. He was not being commended for his wickedness, but for his foresight to take care of his earthly future. And there is that call for us. I think I’m answering the second question here, but there is the point where we as Christians need to be as determined, as focused when we consider our life in eternity. Our eternal life needs to be as determined, needs to be very focused on our priorities, of making sure that our lives become an expression of who we are in Jesus.

Anthony: Yeah. I think sometimes accountability is seen in a negative light, but accountability is not persecution. The Lord wants us to grow up into the head who is Christ, to mature in him. And we always go back to the question: Who is God? Who is Jesus, who is the Spirit, who is the Father?

We realize in giving an account of ourselves (as you’ve already vividly and very eloquently talked about the love of God), there’s nothing to fear in being held in account. We will all give an account. And I think on some level, it is going to be excoriating — not because God doesn’t love us, but we’ll see and be thankful for what God has done for us to wipe the debt. So, in that way, I long for it.

But this is interesting, Jesus talks so much about fearing not, because he knows us. He’s human, and he knows what the human experience and condition is like. So, we’re going to have fear, but the more that we focus on our Lord, that fear begins to slowly dissipate and know that he has given an account for us, and his account says that he loves us. Hallelujah praise God for that.

The scripture goes on to say that no slave can serve two masters. And I hear that a lot. Sometimes it’s preached well sometimes, not. What is the big deal and how can we think through that statement?

Rex: Yes. I think for me, if I’m going to explain this to a person right next to me, I would begin with asking, what’s the most important thing in your life? Because Jesus is making that contrast between serving God and serving mammon. And he’s the one who already told us that you cannot serve both God and money.

He’s already telling us. And Jesus is talking about what we serve or what we worship. Clearly, some people serve money, but we are very much encouraged to really think again and ask. We are to serve God. We need to be making sure in our hearts that we are not serving mammon and money.

And the question is, so how can you tell? How can people serve money? Because typically we’ll just say, I own it, I spend it, I’m not serving it. But when we see it as having its power over us, when we see money as a source of our security, a source of things that we want, we need, when people work so hard to obtain it and treasure it, of course, and all of these things would indicate that money is worthy of all my energy, my time, and my attention.

And there are times when money is looked at as security for the future, or even as something that’s very essential.

There’s so much fear going on in the world right now. And what’s the first thing that a lot of people could think is: I will be unscathed if I have all these riches to protect me. That’s how people serve money when money becomes everything for them.

But the next question would be: how much do we value our relationship with God? How do we look at God? Is he really our security? Is God really a source of all things that we need and want? Do we treasure him? Are we so compelled by his love for us that all of the things that we have – time, money, talent, possessions, and all that – are offered to him?

Anthony: That’s a good word. And a very relevant word for our time, Rex. Thank you.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life
  • Have you ever had to cry out for help when you or someone with you was injured or in distress? How did you feel when you cried out? Contrast that to how you felt while you were waiting? When help arrived?
  • Have you ever cried out passionately for help from God? What prompted the call and how was it answered?
  • Jesus answered the call of a broken world; he wept, suffered over it, and healed it. How do you think we can be living out this continued ministry of solidarity and healing within your church neighborhood?
From the Sermon
  • What do you think are the upsides to having no power but still having great responsibility?
  • In the sermon we said the Phariseescould not comprehend that the relationship with the sinner was more important to God than condemnation of the sin, so much more important that he sent his Son to remove the condemnation in order to restore the relationship.” What can we be doing to ensure that the gospel people hear is one of freedom from sin and adoption by God and not one of condemnation of the sinner alongside the sin?
  • The sermon encouraged being prayerfully considerate with the gifts we’ve been given. How do you practice a discipline of prayerful financial management?

Sermon for September 25, 2022 – Proper 21

Program Transcript


Speaking of Life Script 4044 | The Investment of Contentment
Jeff Broadnax

They were known as the Roaring 20s in American history. It was a time of unprecedented prosperity. Unemployment rates were nearly non-existent, loan rates were unbelievably low, and the American economy seemed unstoppable. This seemingly unending dream of financial prosperity would soon be replaced by the nightmare event that ushered in the Great Depression – the stock market crash of 1929.

Looking back on this tragic time, economists point to several factors that contributed to the worst financial collapse in modern history – but it seemed the most common denominator was greed.

With stocks at an all-time high, much of the middle class decided they wanted in on the action. What had previously been the domain of the super-wealthy was now open to anyone interested. Some families borrowed money from banks to purchase stocks, having been assured the market would continue rising “to the moon.” Then as the market value began to freefall, banks began calling in those loans and thousands of families lost everything. The same families who would have been fine if it hadn’t been for greed.

Contentment seems to be a concept that is foreign to the world that we are living in. The pervasive message that is continually pitched to us is that “more is better.”

The allure of riches followed by the consequences of greed has plagued every civilization – including those in the first century. The apostle Paul issued some stern warnings to all followers of Christ regarding the issue of chasing after wealth at the expense of your spiritual well-being. In his first letter to Timothy, he writes:

But Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
1 Timothy 6:6-10

Someone once said, there are two tents: content and discontent. It is up to you which one you live in. Living in discontentment is a life where your thirst for more will never be quenched. Paul warns us to guard against this as the consequences of living this way are ultimately destructive and tragic.

On the flip side, a life of contentment helps you distinguish between wants and needs. When you are content, you are in a state of gratitude. Your focus is on what you have and not on what you wish you had.

Let us not get fooled into thinking that we are missing out on something. We have Christ. In Christ, we have been given everything needed for life and Godliness. With hearts of gratitude, we look to Jesus, who richly supplies all our needs, not our greed.

May Jesus help us be the church that ushers in the Great Contentment.  

I’m Jeff Broadnax, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 91:1-6 (14-16) • Jeremiah 32:1-3a (6-15) • 1 Timothy 6:6-19 • Luke 16:19-31

This week’s theme is God’s caring provision. In our call to worship Psalm, we can proclaim that God is our refuge and our fortress we can run to. In the Old Testament, Jeremiah acts out the word of the Lord, communicating that God has not forgotten his people, but has plans to restore them. In the epistles, Paul encourages us by sharing that God cares enough to provide everything that we truly need in this life. And in Luke, Jesus gives the parable of Lazarus and Dives, showing how Lazarus was comforted and cared for by God in the next age.

The Heart That is Moved

Luke 16:19-31

Oscar Schindler was a German industrialist during World War 2. He was also considered a proud member of the Nazi party. But when he began to witness the plight of the Jews who were in concentration camps, his heart was moved with compassion.

He knew that he could not possibly save all the Jews, but he could save some. Schindler used his wealth and privilege as a respected member of the Nazi party to bribe the German prison officials. The bribes went towards releasing Jews to work for him at his factories. This compassionate act on the part of Schindler saved many Jews from death.

By the end of World War 2, Oscar Schindler had spent his entire fortune saving the lives of more than 1200 Jews. Here was someone who could not live with himself if he knew he had the opportunity to save others but chose to do nothing.

We may not have the finances or status that Oscar Schindler had, but what matters is where our hearts are. Are we open to seeing to the needs around us when it is in our power to do so? Do we have hearts that can be moved?

Today, we are going to look at a parable that Jesus aims at the Pharisees. It’s a story about a man of great wealth and privilege. But despite all his great resources, he chooses not to help someone in need, even though the opportunity was always at his doorstep. And while this story is told to the Pharisees, may we have ears to hear it as well.

Read Luke 16:19-31

Earlier in Luke’s Gospel we see Jesus telling several parables concerning finances and resources. The parable just before this one was about the shrewd money manager. Jesus is on a roll here and is having another go at the Pharisees, whom he has identified as greedy and lacking in compassion.

Jesus pulls no punches with this parable. He sets up a story about two men who were polar opposites in their worldly circumstances. The first man is described as someone who is extravagantly dressed and wasteful–a wealthy man, who tradition calls Dives, meaning “rich.” The fact that Jesus gives the detail that he was dressed in purple shows that he was in the top tier of the population. When Jesus says that Lazarus longed to eat the bread that fell from the rich man’s table, he was talking about the practice of the super wealthy using their bread as napkins to wipe their faces and discarding the crumbs.

Next, you have the beggar, Lazarus, who was laid at the rich man’s gate. Being laid there more than likely meant that he was dumped there. This indicates that he may have been crippled or suffered some disfigurement or disease. In any case, he didn’t even have the strength to fight off the wild dogs as they came and licked his sores.

This pitiful and grotesque condition of Lazarus should have elicited a response out of even the most hard-hearted and greedy individual. And yet, Dives ignores the suffering of someone at his lowest point as Lazarus lays there at his gate.

The disturbing picture that Jesus has just painted for the Pharisees was done to get a reaction—to cause them to feel outrage over the lack of compassion in the rich man. We read later that the lesson was lost on the Pharisees just as it was on Dives.

At this point let’s check in with how this parable makes us feel so far. Do we feel the outrage that Jesus intended? Are we tired of seeing the greed that causes so much harm to others? Are we responding to the needs around us when we are able to do so?

Owen Cooper was a chairperson for the Mississippi Chemical Corporation. He had amassed much in his lifetime. As he got older, he reflected on how he had lived his life. A friend asked him, “If you had your life to live over, what would you do? Here is an excerpt of his answer:

If I had my life to live over, I would love more, I would especially love others more. I would let this love express itself in a concern for my neighbors, my friends, and all with whom I came into contact. I would try to let love permeate me, overcome me, overwhelm me and direct me.

I would love the unlovely, the unwanted, the unknown and the unloved. I would give more and I would learn early in life the joy of giving, the pleasure of sharing, and the happiness of helping…

I would choose to go where the crowd doesn’t go, where the road is not paved, where the weather is bitter, where friends are few, where the need is great and where God is most likely to be found.

Let’s read on in Luke 16:

The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. (Luke 16:22-23)

Now we get to the part of the parable where everything is equal. Death doesn’t play favorites; we are all taken at some point. Lazarus and Dives are both in the place of the dead. However, one person’s experience is that of comfort and relief and joy – paradise – and the other experiences the torment and misery of Hades. The tables have been turned. Now it is Dives who is separated from his life of ease and extravagance while Lazarus has been restored.

Any improvement in Lazarus’ situation would have been greeted with shouts of hallelujah. It wouldn’t have taken much for him to feel relieved, to know that God has seen him. The name Lazarus means He who The Lord helps.

At the same time, Dives was so accustomed to having it all, that to take the slightest step down would have been unbearable. To be stripped of all his wealth and privilege and to be on equal footing with everyone else would have been agonizing.

Despite the torment and agony that Dives is experiencing, he has still not had a change of heart. This is evidenced by his unchanged attitude about Lazarus.

So he called to him, “Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.” (Luke 16:24)

In verse 24, and again in verse 27, Dives pleads with Abraham to send Lazarus to do something for him — to serve him. He still doesn’t understand the position that he is in. He still thinks that he is above everyone else, especially Lazarus, as if Lazarus should bow to the whims of Dives. Dives has not humbled himself even in death.

Thomas Merton once wrote,

Our God also is a consuming fire. And if we, by love become transformed into him and burn as he burns, his fire will be our everlasting joy. But if we refuse his love and remain in the coldness of sin and opposition to him and to other men then will his fire (by our own choice rather than his) become our everlasting enemy, and Love, instead of being our joy, will become our torment and our destruction.

Let’s continue with the text:

But Abraham replied, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.” (Luke 16:25-26)

Abraham reminds Dives how different his life was from that of Lazarus. The difference was more than what was seen on the outside. The difference was the condition of their hearts. The real problem was not that Dives was wealthy, it’s that he refused to do anything with his wealth to aid others. He had a life of opportunities and hoarded everything for himself.

The chasm that could not be crossed in Jesus’ parable was the condition of Dives’ unchanged, prideful heart. When we ignore the suffering of others, our hearts become hardened. As pitiful as Lazarus’ physical condition was, it was only physical. But on the inside of Dives was a grotesque condition that was far worse. It was the condition of a greedy, unrepentant heart.

Although Jesus tells this parable to the Pharisees who were stuck in their greed, this parable has something to teach all of us.

Jesus, through his Spirit, is looking for open hearts – hearts that can be moved with compassion for others. We have all been given gifts, resources, and opportunities. And this Spirit is always with us, longing to commit us to the acts of God directed towards others and to remind us of our temptation to center on self.

May we do what we can with what we have, to be able to share with those who have so little. May we be reminded that when we have done something for the least of these, we are doing it to Christ.

Let us be warmed by the fire of God in our hearts as we seek to keep others warmed by that same fire. We anticipate the joy that awaits us as we see others through the compassionate eyes of our Father in heaven. We embrace the self-giving life of his son, Jesus. And we submit to the guidance of the Holy Spirit who moves our hearts to serve those who are in need.

Gospel Priorities w/ Rex Dela Pena W3

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September 18 – Proper 20
Luke 16:1-13 “Trustworthy”

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Program Transcript


Gospel Priorities w/ Rex Dela Pena W3

Anthony: Let’s transition to our next pericope, which is Luke 16:1 – 13. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 20 in Ordinary Time, which is on September the 18th.

And it reads,

Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ 3 “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ 5 “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 “‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’ 7 “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ “‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’ 8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. 10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? 13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Verse two tells us, Rex, to give an account of your management. What my experience is, most people dread hearing come to the principal’s office or we need to talk, or the boss wants to see you, man.

It can just elicit anxiety right away. So, why do we fear being held in accounts?

Rex: Because there is a big part of us that feels we are not able to measure up. When you’re called like that, we fear being held in account. What did I do wrong? We’re focused on my mistake or what did I miss?

Because usually when we are called by our superiors, especially in that tone of a voice, oh, it’s, “Give me an account of your manager.” So, I think it’s by default that we look at ourselves as not good enough. So, when someone ask us about something, whether it’s a report, or it’s a computation, or it’s a whatever we’re supposed to finish, or a project, and there is that fear. Is this good enough? Is this something that’s possible?

I’m a student right now, and I think you are too right, Anthony?

Anthony: I am. Yes.

Rex: Yeah. So, when you turn in your paper, and you look at your paper and you try to see the comments. And I remember even in college where you look for the red marks. You look for the encircled sentences.

And then no matter how well you have done sometimes, that one little red mark could really throw you off. So, no one’s going to say, Hey, come on, call me and ask me for an account of your management.

If you are a fiscal manager, just like what we have in this passage, he knew he was going to find out. He knew he’d be caught wasting the money of his boss. But what’s amazing here is that he was commended. And that’s why this parable really needs to be studied well, because if you just read it, your first reading would be like, what? You’d be asking, what? This is a dishonest steward, and yet he’s being commended?

It doesn’t make sense. What’s interesting here is that in Luke 16:8, the sons of this world. And there’s a comparison, the sons of this world and the sons of light. It’s a distinction. I think it’s a Jewish category of delineating good people. The good question that we need to ask is, why was he commended or why was he commended after all these things?

It’s getting clearer here that he was commended for his foresight. He was not being commended for his wickedness, but for his foresight to take care of his earthly future. And there is that call for us. I think I’m answering the second question here, but there is the point where we as Christians need to be as determined, as focused when we consider our life in eternity. Our eternal life needs to be as determined, needs to be very focused on our priorities, of making sure that our lives become an expression of who we are in Jesus.

Anthony: Yeah. I think sometimes accountability is seen in a negative light, but accountability is not persecution. The Lord wants us to grow up into the head who is Christ, to mature in him. And we always go back to the question: Who is God? Who is Jesus, who is the Spirit, who is the Father?

We realize in giving an account of ourselves (as you’ve already vividly and very eloquently talked about the love of God), there’s nothing to fear in being held in account. We will all give an account. And I think on some level, it is going to be excoriating — not because God doesn’t love us, but we’ll see and be thankful for what God has done for us to wipe the debt. So, in that way, I long for it.

But this is interesting, Jesus talks so much about fearing not, because he knows us. He’s human, and he knows what the human experience and condition is like. So, we’re going to have fear, but the more that we focus on our Lord, that fear begins to slowly dissipate and know that he has given an account for us, and his account says that he loves us. Hallelujah praise God for that.

The scripture goes on to say that no slave can serve two masters. And I hear that a lot. Sometimes it’s preached well sometimes, not. What is the big deal and how can we think through that statement?

Rex: Yes. I think for me, if I’m going to explain this to a person right next to me, I would begin with asking, what’s the most important thing in your life? Because Jesus is making that contrast between serving God and serving mammon. And he’s the one who already told us that you cannot serve both God and money.

He’s already telling us. And Jesus is talking about what we serve or what we worship. Clearly, some people serve money, but we are very much encouraged to really think again and ask. We are to serve God. We need to be making sure in our hearts that we are not serving mammon and money.

And the question is, so how can you tell? How can people serve money? Because typically we’ll just say, I own it, I spend it, I’m not serving it. But when we see it as having its power over us, when we see money as a source of our security, a source of things that we want, we need, when people work so hard to obtain it and treasure it, of course, and all of these things would indicate that money is worthy of all my energy, my time, and my attention.

And there are times when money is looked at as security for the future, or even as something that’s very essential.

There’s so much fear going on in the world right now. And what’s the first thing that a lot of people could think is: I will be unscathed if I have all these riches to protect me. That’s how people serve money when money becomes everything for them.

But the next question would be: how much do we value our relationship with God? How do we look at God? Is he really our security? Is God really a source of all things that we need and want? Do we treasure him? Are we so compelled by his love for us that all of the things that we have – time, money, talent, possessions, and all that – are offered to him?

Anthony: That’s a good word. And a very relevant word for our time, Rex. Thank you.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life
  • How content are you right now?
  • How do you spot when you are falling out of contentment?
  • What are the consequences of greed for us personally?
  • What joy do you derive from non-material things?
From the sermon
  • What inspires you to give to others?
  • How does it make you feel to see people who are experiencing homelessness?
  • Where is God moving you to serve the needs of others?
  • How do we stay humble before God?