Advent is the new year in the church. New years are often a time for resolutions and for thinking of ways we want to improve. We don’t always think of Advent as a season of reflection and renewal, but what if we shifted our thinking? What if we found a way to reduce distractions, to simplify things, and to focus on remembering the coming of Christ and anticipating his return? How might we be transformed by that, and how might the world be transformed by our faithful witness of watching and waiting with hope?

John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life

 

I Peter 5:5b – 7

all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.

 

Let us pray:

Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen

When I was a non-believer, my favorite Bible verse, the one I put in all the sympathy cards, the one I always quoted to people when they were upset was I Peter 5:7. By itself, I always quoted it as “Cast your cares on him for he cares for you” It’s a nice sentiment. It is a lovely thought. But the whole of it encompasses more than just giving up our burdens to a caring God – it has to do with our posture in the laying them aside and it has to do with the fact that God has asked us to not just surrender our anxieties, but our very selves. In fact, God says to not only be humble before God, but to be humble to one another – to lay aside our need to be right, our need to be first, our need to prove our point, and instead trust that God will be faithful in demonstrating just exactly who is right and vindicating our position.

We have to surrender ourselves or we risk losing who we are called to be to our sinful nature. God has called us to be different, to live differently, but sometimes we just don’t get it. Sometimes we have to learn the same lessons over and over. And I will tell you that every message I preach is intended not only for you, but for me and sometimes I wish you listened better, but then I remember that I need to listen better, too. So here we are again: God has called us to be humble. And God doesn’t call us to that without also having lived it: Jesus had every reason to be exalted his whole life, but as we prepare to go through advent, we will remember that even though Jesus was born a king, he allowed himself to live as one of us, to be tempted like one of us, to be a human being with wants and needs and desires – he emptied himself and showed us what humility looks like (you only have to read Paul’s hymn in Philippians 2 to know that this humility was beautifully expressed in who Jesus is) Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

This is what God is calling us to. This is what Peter is talking about in his letter to suffering Christians: give up your very selves and trust God because God cares what is happening. God will lift you up because it is God’s reputation on the line.

And here’s the thing: you can’t truly surrender your cares to God unless you actually trust God to handle them, which means letting them go 100%, which means that you cannot be proud about the resolution. You cannot think you can solve the problem – that’s pride, too. You can’t think “oh I’ll just tell God about it to hedge my bets” as though God is one of many options in the resolution to the concerns you have.

When you pray and ask God to handle your situation, your illness, your decision, your future, your work – you no longer have to worry about it. You no longer have to keep tossing around ideas to fix it. You no longer have to turn it over in your mind wondering what is going to happen next.

Instead, when it comes back to mind, you say “I have given that to God. I cannot do better than that”

This doesn’t mean you forgo doctor appointments or medicines or family counseling or going on the job interview – what it does mean is that you surrender the OUTCOME to the God who cares about what you are going through and wants you to turn it over to him.

I do also want to say that sometimes anxiety is a mental disorder. Sometimes only medication can resolve it. That is not what I am talking about, because that is not something you have control over (think of it like diabetes = you can’t control your blood sugar without medication with that, so with an anxiety disorder, the same is true of your anxious thoughts) If that is true for you, that is completely different.

Because casting your anxiety on God is about the anxiety you control, the worries you bring on yourself, the things you refuse to let go of, not the things you can’t let go of because your brain won’t let you.

Humility means being willing to let God own your issues. It means resolving to continually give them back to him, not trying to wrest them away. It means knowing that when that worry or fear starts to pop up again, I am going to remind myself that it does not belong to me anymore. I do the things I need to do, and I let God own what happens next.

I go to the doctor and hear the diagnosis.

I participate in counseling sessions.

I go to the job interview.

But all the while, I remember that God has been given the outcome controls. So if the diagnosis is bad, I do the treatment and trust that God will be with me.

If the divorce still happens, if the children still go into foster care, if I don’t get the job, if everything falls apart – I still trust God with the outcome. I do not worry that God will fail. Life is hard. Life has obstacles to overcome and challenges to face, but if I cast my cares on God, I am trusting that God will provide.

Jesus said that in this world we would have trouble, but that he would be with us and that he would send a Comforter.

Paul reminds us that God is working all things for good and he tells us to pray continuously.

And here, Peter says, give it to God because God cares.

There are people who suggest that we should limit our prayers to the big things: cancer, disasters, car accidents, job loss.

But I believe God caring doesn’t stop at the giant things – God cares about the little things too: the sick pet, the lost keys, the crazy day. As long as you are not praying out of selfish ambition or pride (yeah, let’s not pray for Rockstar parking at the Target on Christmas Eve, ok?) but truly out of a place of ‘here God, I can’t, you can’ God will listen and God will answer.

Sometimes the need feels too big. That’s ok, too, because when you are humble enough to know that God can handle it, the Holy Spirit intercedes on your behalf, sometimes groaning right along with you. You see, when Jesus said he was going to be with us, he didn’t just mean that he was everywhere in the world and therefore available to us.

He meant that like a best friend, like someone who loves us, he would be there – next to us, suffering with us, knowing our need and caring about it.

God has given us a beautiful promise – God is mighty, God is powerful, God is able, and God cares about you. God promises to take your burden if you cast it on him.

I love that word “cast” – it isn’t just a laying it down, but if you have ever seen fishermen at work, which remember, Peter was a fisherman by trade, when they cast a line or a net, they throw it out as far as they can. They don’t try to keep it close and successful fishermen keep the line out in the water, they don’t reel it back in every 5 minutes. They wait.

Peter isn’t using this word casually. He suggests that we throw our burdens as far as we can away from ourselves: all the way to God’s throne, where they can actually be addressed and managed by the God of all mercy and grace. The God who cares about our needs and about us.

So what things do you need to surrender to God today? How can you, right now, cast your cares on God? How can you say “here God, I can’t, you can” about the things in your life that you cannot control?

I ask everyone to take a sticky note and write your one thing down. I have this jar up here on the table and I am going to ask everyone to come and put their one thing in it. We are going to leave this jar here, on the altar. And every time you start to want to take your burden back, picture it here – all of it, sitting in this place where God sees it and no one else knows it. And as each of us think of the burdens in this jar during the week, pray that God will move on behalf of the person who laid it down. It doesn’t have to be a long involved prayer – just “God, you know what is there and who put it in. Show them your care by working on their behalf. In Jesus name, amen”

In this way, we are not only surrendering to God, but sharing the load with our fellow Christians, which is also an admonition that we have been given about the burdens we carry.

I suggest to you, that when you can surrender this one thing to God today, if you can remember that God cares enough to stand with you in the midst of your trial, if you can allow the rest of us to pray for your need not even knowing what it is, if you can trust that God can where you can’t, you will be freer than you have been for a long time – trusting the God of miracles to care about your mess.

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As we have been doing every week in this series, I will remind you of what it looks like to say that the love of God is found in every page of Scripture. Follow along on your sheets and whenever I point at you say whatever is bolded on your page:

What does it mean to say God loves?

God loved us enough to create us, to form us from the dust.

God loved us enough to let us fail, to let us choose our own way over God’s – to let us chain ourselves to sin and defeat and heartbreak and sorrow and death.

God loved us enough to provide a rescue, a way back: through wanderers, murderers, adulterers, defaulters, promise-breakers, foreigners, strangers, and lovers.

God loved us enough to show us mothers, judges, kings, and prophets who loved and spoke for God and kept reminding us of the promise of redemption

God loved us enough to show us how evil and wrong continually mess things up and how obedience to God fosters holiness and bestows blessing

God loved us enough to send us Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, to preach and live peace, grace, hope, joy, and love.

God loved us enough to see Jesus rejected, to see him die, to see him buried.

God loved us enough to raise Jesus from the dead and send the Holy Spirit to remind us of all we have in him and empower us to live like Jesus.

God loves us enough to want us to live like Jesus – an abundant life infused with all the fruit of the Spirit, redeemed, free, loved.

God loves us enough to still let us choose our own destiny.

God loves us enough to promise the hope of forever, of resurrection from the dead, and final judgement.

God loved us enough, God loves us enough, God will always love us enough.

For God so loved the world…

God loves you.

God wants you to know it. God wants you to live in it.

God wants you to be able to love others because you know you are loved.

God’s love is expressed to us every week, most tangibly, as we gather at this table: The Son who died and yet lives, gave everything so we could know the depth of God’s love.

So, Come. Drink the wine. Eat the bread. Know you ARE loved.

God loves you. Go, love the world with him.

John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life

 

James 1:19-27

19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

 

Let us pray:

Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen

Three Indiana judges have been suspended without pay for their involvement in a shooting during a drunken brawl outside a White Castle restaurant in May.

The state Supreme Court said in an order published Tuesday that the county circuit judges — Andrew Adams and Bradley B. Jacobs of Clark County and Sabrina R. Bell or Crawford County — behaved in a way that was "not merely embarrassing on a personal level; they discredited the entire Indiana judiciary."

Adams previously was sentenced to a year in jail with all but two days suspended after he pleaded guilty to battery in the incident, during which he and Jacobs suffered gunshot wounds.

An investigation by the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications depicted the judges as wandering the streets of Indianapolis, where they were attending a judicial conference, in a drunken haze in the middle of the night on May 1.

The judges and a fourth man, Clark County Magistrate William Dawkins, met up at a bar where they drank for several hours before deciding to go to a strip club, which was closed, investigators said. So they then went to the White Castle.

The judges remained outside while Dawkins went inside at about 3:15 a.m., according to judicial documents. That was when two men drove by in a car and shouted something out the window, to which Bell "extended her middle finger" in response, investigators said.

The men pulled into the parking lot and got out, which led to "a heated verbal altercation ... with all participants yelling, using profanity, and making dismissive, mocking, or insolent gestures toward the other group," according to the documents.

The confrontation ended when one of the men from the car, identified as Brandon Kaiser, pulled a gun and shot Adams once and Jacobs twice, investigators said. Both men underwent emergency surgery and were hospitalized for several days.

Judges arrested for disobeying the laws they help enforce. Laws they know. Laws they quote. Laws they are sworn to uphold in the enactment of justice. It is shocking to us, still, in this day and age, when people who are expected to behave one way, with decorum and propriety, with dignity and honor, act as though they are eighth graders left unsupervised at the mall. This is the same reaction we once had when learned of disgraced priests who hurt children or celebrity pastors who cheated on their wives, or even famous actors who portrayed good guys and then we found out were not so nice behind the scenes to those around them. Over time, we have become less shocked by some of these things because they happen so often, we nearly expect them. But it does still seem odd to hear of judges, who know the law so well, who are expected to tell others what it means and how to do it, have seemingly forgotten all about it and become the very criminals they usually punish.

This is what James writes to the church in this letter = when you only hear the words of God and do not behave as though you believe or know them, you are like someone who looks in the mirror and immediately forgets their own face. Imagine that for a moment: you look in the mirror and forget what you look like as soon as you turn away. James is telling us that the law of God, the law that we are to follow as Christians ought to be as familiar to us as our own faces and just as difficult to dismiss in our thinking and lives.

James is the brother of Jesus. His father is Joseph, his mother is Mary. James grew up a devout Jew, just like Jesus. He was raised by the same people and lived and played and engaged with Jesus the same way any of us do with our siblings. I imagine them playing hide and seek in the family compound, or chopping the wood their father would use to build tables and doors for others in the community, or telling jokes at the dinner table. They would have celebrated Passover together, and the family would have frequently told the story of Jesus being forgotten at the temple when he was twelve and how worried everyone was on that trip to Jerusalem.

So it’s easy to understand how James was pretty reluctant at first to believe his big brother was the Messiah. It’s easy to understand why he and his other brothers told Jesus to go to Judea and gather disciples – they wanted him to show his hand so that this whole thing could get nipped in the bud before it got out of control. But the resurrection. James saw Jesus after the resurrection.

We read about it as an offhand comment Paul makes in I Corinthians: Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Paul is giving his testimony and he is referring to James the brother of Jesus as one who was given a special audience with Jesus after the resurrection. James became a big deal in the church. James became a prominent leader who wrote this letter to the Jews who had become Christians but were not in Jerusalem any longer, reminding them that the law they had known was fulfilled in Jesus, and the royal law – the law that Jesus had commanded them to follow was the law that leads to freedom: the very law we have preached in so many messages, the law that changes who we are to our core when we live it, the law that frees us from lists of dos and don’ts, the law that says simply love your neighbor.

James says if we hear it and we don’t live it, we are in danger of being just as shocking as those judges in Indiana: people who know better, but don’t do better. James says that when we follow it, when we do live it, then we have gotten rid of moral filth and evil in our lives.

James tells us to be slow to get angry, quick to listen. He later also says to care for widows and orphans. These are instructions for what loving your neighbor looks like: taking care to listen and perhaps understand something that is beyond your normal sphere of understanding, so you can care for those who are on the margins, those that the rest of the world casts aside and tries to devour. James gives us these instructions to help us see that loving our neighbor encompasses more than just doing nice things once and a while for someone down the street (although that’s a good thing) it means changing how we interact with the world around us so that the very way we display our emotional temperature is radically different from those around us.

We live in a culture of outrage and indignation that pronounces judgements and throws around memes and posts expressing angst and hurt before ever waiting to hear the other persons point of view. Some have said we have turned ourselves into emergency addicts: seeing each new outrage as a new crisis to submerge ourselves in, facts be damned as we rage against the vile oppressor, whoever they may be. This behavior is not contained to one group or another, either, it has become an outflow of any group who says you are in and you are out and when you are out, you often do things that are a violation of everything those of us who are in believe in.

This happens with non-Christians, you might say, but certainly not with Christians…well, sorry to disappoint you, but it is happening in our churches too. When we say this person is not welcome or that group is not welcome or that kind of person is not welcome in our churches and then stand in places where those people are welcome and announce their vileness to us: we are just as engaged in outrage culture as those who point their fingers at churches and decry the things we stand for without understanding them. We become angry over things that others within the church do or say, we become angry about the ways in which someone disagrees with us and we don’t take a moment to think about a response that is loving and kind, we lash out. James says that is evil. It breeds hate and harm.

Jesus prayed for unity for believers. Jesus said that we would be known by our love for one another. Jesus told us to love our neighbors. And if we cannot live by the words Jesus died for then are we even following him?

This week, if you watch the impeachment hearings, read stories of betrayal or sorrow, or hang around people with opinions that are different than yours, spend a few moments listening to what someone else has to say, taking some time to understand the perspective that seems so foreign to your own, recognizing that all outrage does is burn like a flash and feed hate and animosity. 2000 years ago, James warned believers that this was a bad idea, almost as if he had a vision of what our culture in this century might look like. Really, he knew what people are like and he knew that no matter the day or season, people find ways to be less than loving to one another. And he reminds us that loving our neighbors is far more satisfying, far more freeing than reacting with righteous indignation over every slight and differing opinion.

God loved us so that we could love others. We love others by breaking away from being angry at every turn and instead finding ways to listen before we speak, to understand before we condemn, to live out the royal law that brings freedom, remembering what we are supposed to look like even after we turn away from the mirror. We are called to love. Because God loves us.

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As we have been doing every week in this series, I will remind you of what it looks like to say that the love of God is found in every page of Scripture. Follow along on your sheets and whenever I point at you say whatever is bolded on your page:

What does it mean to say God loves?

God loved us enough to create us, to form us from the dust.

God loved us enough to let us fail, to let us choose our own way over God’s – to let us chain ourselves to sin and defeat and heartbreak and sorrow and death.

God loved us enough to provide a rescue, a way back: through wanderers, murderers, adulterers, defaulters, promise-breakers, foreigners, strangers, and lovers.

God loved us enough to show us mothers, judges, kings, and prophets who loved and spoke for God and kept reminding us of the promise of redemption

God loved us enough to show us how evil and wrong continually mess things up and how obedience to God fosters holiness and bestows blessing

God loved us enough to send us Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, to preach and live peace, grace, hope, joy, and love.

God loved us enough to see Jesus rejected, to see him die, to see him buried.

God loved us enough to raise Jesus from the dead and send the Holy Spirit to remind us of all we have in him and empower us to live like Jesus.

God loves us enough to want us to live like Jesus – an abundant life infused with all the fruit of the Spirit, redeemed, free, loved.

God loves us enough to still let us choose our own destiny.

God loves us enough to promise the hope of forever, of resurrection from the dead, and final judgement.

God loved us enough, God loves us enough, God will always love us enough.

For God so loved the world…

God loves you.

God wants you to know it. God wants you to live in it.

God wants you to be able to love others because you know you are loved.

God’s love is expressed to us every week, most tangibly, as we gather at this table: The Son who died and yet lives, gave everything so we could know the depth of God’s love.

So, Come. Drink the wine. Eat the bread. Know you ARE loved.

God loves you. Go, love the world with him.

John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life

 

Hebrews 10:21-25 from the Message:

So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.

 

Let us pray:

Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen

Giving Hope: creatively do good together. That is the way we have distilled these 4 verses to a t-shirt slogan. But it really means something deeper and it defines us not only as members and attendees of this church, but as Christians who are necessarily called to do three things: Living a life that holds on to hope (full of belief, confident that we’re presentable…keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going), creatively doing good (let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out), and being together (not avoiding worshiping together), as the author of the book of Hebrews says.

Hebrews is a fun book. It ties together in a way that no other New Testament book does the entire picture of Old Testament sacrifice as a foreshadow of the work of God in Christ on behalf of the world. The book has no identifiable author, but there are many theories: Paul, Apollos, Clement, Barnabas, Timothy, Priscilla, or Junia. In the end it is somewhat irrelevant who wrote the book, but who ever it was had some great insights and gave us some great passages of scripture.

The faith chapter, for example, is found in Hebrews 11, where we read a minor synopsis of the Old Testament Hall of Famers – those who held on to the hope they had, who gave it away, and who did God’s work in the face of adversity, not even having seen what God’s final plan might look like.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, the author writes, and this phrasing helps us see faith for what it is: something we know about and trust to happen, but haven’t yet experienced.

But faith isn’t the only thing in Hebrews: it is also a chapter full of hope. In it we learn that our redemption has been purchased, so that we can move into the very presence of God. We no longer live with the guilt of past sin, we no longer have to stand trembling and ashamed, instead we lean in and receive the beautiful grace that was bought for us with the shed blood of our redeemer, Jesus.

Our hope, then is multi-faceted: it is the hope of Christ’s work in us now and the hope of an eternity in God’s presence. It is the hope of the resurrection from the dead, the hope of bodies transformed and spirits renewed. It is the hope of abundant lives now, full of the grace and mercy we have been given, being given to others. It is the hope that we cling to, by faith, and that in this place we have resolved to give away. It is the hope that defines us as Christians, as those who know who God is and what God has promised and the hope that allows us to believe that the faithfulness of God is foundational to who we are now and who we will be as God continues the transforming work in each of us through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Even Job, as we read in our scriptures from the lectionary today, had a grasp on this hope, although he had no view of Christ in his life. Listen again to Job’s words from Job 19:25-27:

I know that my redeemer[b] lives,
    and that in the end he will stand on the earth.[c]
26 And after my skin has been destroyed,
    yet[d] in[e] my flesh I will see God;
27 I myself will see him
    with my own eyes—I, and not another.
    How my heart yearns within me!

This is a man who has lost absolutely everything. We tend to revere him for patience, as though his losses somehow gave him the ability to withstand longer. But I submit that what we should remember Job for is his willingness to question and his willingness to believe despite the circumstances: for the hope that he stubbornly held onto even when everything was terrible. He clung to hope when all else was lost, when even his wife would have him curse God and die. Job’s hope is pre-Jesus, but Jesus helps us know that Job’s hope was not in vain, that Job’s hope was right, and that our hope then is right and not in vain.

Our hope is also something that others can see and know that God is faithful. We have the opportunity to give our hope away by living into the hope that we have. We can serve those around us, which is what the author of Hebrews reminds us to do: Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, as Eugene Peterson tells us in the Message version of the book. We give hope away by encouraging others, by helping others to see who Jesus is, to see the hope we have fulfilled in the life we live for others.

The last part of that scripture reminds us that our hope is bigger and more real to us when we celebrate it and work it through together. In the NIV, this verse says “and do not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing” because the author knows that the Church as a collective is needed for the fulfillment of our hope, too. We cannot hold onto the hope we have unless we do it together, unless we work through it collectively. We need one another. We need to see God at work in each other, we need to hear how God is doing things, we need to know where there are hurt people because we know hurt people need healing and sometimes we are the means for that healing and help. Our gatherings are about worship, too, worshiping God collectively is important. And all of the different aspects of worship draw us closer not only to each other, but to the God we love and serve.

So God’s love for us is visible to us in the hope we have and in the beauty of our collective worship and mission. We are together to love and to serve and to give our hope to those both in this space with us and in the world around us. Our vision is not just a t-shirt slogan, then; instead it is the wonder of a Christian life lived for those around us so that they to might know the hope of a God who loves. Giving Hope – Creatively Do Good Together.

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As we have been doing every week in this series, I will remind you of what it looks like to say that the love of God is found in every page of Scripture. Follow along on your sheets and whenever I point at you say whatever is bolded on your page:

What does it mean to say God loves?

God loved us enough to create us, to form us from the dust.

God loved us enough to let us fail, to let us choose our own way over God’s – to let us chain ourselves to sin and defeat and heartbreak and sorrow and death.

God loved us enough to provide a rescue, a way back: through wanderers, murderers, adulterers, defaulters, promise-breakers, foreigners, strangers, and lovers.

God loved us enough to show us mothers, judges, kings, and prophets who loved and spoke for God and kept reminding us of the promise of redemption

God loved us enough to show us how evil and wrong continually mess things up and how obedience to God fosters holiness and bestows blessing

God loved us enough to send us Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, to preach and live peace, grace, hope, joy, and love.

God loved us enough to see Jesus rejected, to see him die, to see him buried.

God loved us enough to raise Jesus from the dead and send the Holy Spirit to remind us of all we have in him and empower us to live like Jesus.

God loves us enough to want us to live like Jesus – an abundant life infused with all the fruit of the Spirit, redeemed, free, loved.

God loves us enough to still let us choose our own destiny.

God loves us enough to promise the hope of forever, of resurrection from the dead, and final judgement.

God loved us enough, God loves us enough, God will always love us enough.

For God so loved the world…

God loves you.

God wants you to know it. God wants you to live in it.

God wants you to be able to love others because you know you are loved.

God’s love is expressed to us every week, most tangibly, as we gather at this table: The Son who died and yet lives, gave everything so we could know the depth of God’s love.

So, Come. Drink the wine. Eat the bread. Know you ARE loved.

God loves you. Go, love the world with him.

John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life

 

Philemon

 

Let us pray:

Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen

It’s the story of a church leader who was doing all the right things.

It’s the story of his worker who had not.

And it is the story of the pastor asking the church leader to do the right thing again, even though it was harder than ever. Even though the right thing meant giving up his rights. Even though the right thing looked a whole lot like a one-sided deal.

But one thing had changed: the worker had come to Christ. The worker had become, in the pastor’s care, a brother in love. The worker had shifted from the one who stole and cheated and lied to the one who was forgiven by the One who had saved us all.

This letter of Paul’s could have been written in any time and in any place. It has all the elements of a good movie, even: the bad guy with the change of heart and the good guy who has the opportunity to make it right and the one who brings everyone together because of the One who brings everyone together.

The only problem with the story is that we don’t know the ending. In fact, except for a vague statement of ‘wrong’ we don’t even know the beginning. The beauty of this story, which is included by way of a letter from one leader to another, is that we don’t have to know all the details: we can all find ourselves in this story in one place or another at one time or another.

This letter that Paul writes to Philemon is one that has stayed in the canon despite it’s short length, despite it’s incomplete story, and despite it’s very personal nature, because it resonates (or it should resonate) with all Christ followers everywhere: it is the story of forgiveness and redemption that all of us know – we are either the one who must give it or the one who must ask for it or the one encouraging another to live it: but all in all this is the story of Christ’s love writ in real circumstances.

In Philemon and Onesimus’s story, Onesimus is the sinner. He has, at the least, run away and potentially, he has stolen from his master. Philemon is the wronged master. In the Roman empire, people often sold themselves into slavery to pay debts. The slavery was generally temporary; slaves had the opportunity to earn their freedom. Slaves who broke their agreement were despised by most, because they were doubly in error: they had broken their word and they had defaulted on a debt. Because of this, Philemon has rights in the Roman empire, that include the option of condemning Onesimus to death.

But Jesus.

Paul tells Philemon that even though he could exercise his rights, Onesimus has not only had a change of heart, he’s become Philemon’s brother in the Kingdom, serving Paul as though he were Philemon himself. And that should mean something.

The Kingdom that we are a part of, God’s Kingdom through Christ, makes us behave differently. We waive rights that we would have insisted on before, we challenge the status quo that insists that each of us is better than the rest of us. We defy logic. We love the ones who have hurt us. We give to those who might take advantage of us. We surrender our rights to the love and favor of the God who runs the Kingdom we live in: we are always only looking for God to say well done at the end of our living instead of living for the accolades of our world. We don’t care what others think – we care only that God has said love your neighbors, pray for your enemies, and live as though the designation of last place is as precious (if not more so) than the designation of winner.

We don’t know what Philemon did when his runaway slave came back to him. But we do know that if Philemon was a true follower of Jesus then the right thing, although it was the harder thing, was what he did.

This week someone told me that Christians too often are the ones who throw stones, who spend their time condemning others and hurting them instead of standing up for those who are finding their way or being dismissed and detained and victimized. My answer to that is that true Christ followers find their place catching the stones that others throw and dropping them in order to love both sides: those who can’t see past their own righteous indignation to throw them and those who can’t run away when they are lobbed. It isn’t comfortable to stand in between. It isn’t easy. It isn’t even fun, but the Jesus who dressed in human flesh even though he is God, says that this is the way of the cross. We don’t get to throw stones, even at those we disagree with. We don’t get to adamantly insist on our rights being acknowledged of fulfilled, even when we are right and the other one is wrong, because Jesus calls us to something more. To a hope in a life where giving of ourselves and giving all we are offers the return of abundant grace that makes our surrender a precious receipt of the beauty of God’s favor. God’s blessing is God’s presence and we forfeit that blessing when we insist on making ourselves the first and foremost in any situation. Loving others is hard work, it requires effort to be kind.

Paul gives this introductory statement about who Philemon is:

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.

Based on this, it seems reasonable to assume that although Onesimus deserved something else, Philemon, in love, welcomed his former slave as a brother in love.

We all might be Philemon. We all have been Onesimus. We all have been in the position of asking for grace where we deserved something else. That is the very definition of the gospel: God gives us grace and mercy when we deserved anything else. God offers us relationship where we once were rebellious. God says please come to me even when we run away. In fact, God started the redemption story by offering ways to get back in relationship and building a plan whereby God himself would come to us, would pursue us, so that we might see the truth of God’s love in the beauty of a babe in a manger, the harshness of a savior on a cross, and the glory of an empty tomb that promises a resurrection that defies the damages we do to each other.

God asks us to love God more than we love ourselves because God loves us and gave himself up for us and because in the place where we live into God’s Kingdom, we can receive the blessing of God in our lives.

How could we possibly imagine saying no to that? I don’t think Philemon did; I hope that each of us refuse to as well.

If you aren’t a Christ follower today or if you aren’t sure if your life of Christ following looks like this, I ask you to remember God’s love for you as we move into our time of response and reflection. It is at the table of Christ, what we call communion, that we find our way home. It is through communion that grace is given and that redemption makes its way from our heads to our hearts. It is my prayer that everyone who hears my voice today will know that Jesus lives and that Jesus loves and that you are welcome, no matter who you are or what you have done.

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As we have been doing every week in this series, I will remind you of what it looks like to say that the love of God is found in every page of Scripture. Follow along on your sheets and whenever I point at you say whatever is bolded on your page:

What does it mean to say God loves?

God loved us enough to create us, to form us from the dust.

God loved us enough to let us fail, to let us choose our own way over God’s – to let us chain ourselves to sin and defeat and heartbreak and sorrow and death.

God loved us enough to provide a rescue, a way back: through wanderers, murderers, adulterers, defaulters, promise-breakers, foreigners, strangers, and lovers.

God loved us enough to show us mothers, judges, kings, and prophets who loved and spoke for God and kept reminding us of the promise of redemption

God loved us enough to show us how evil and wrong continually mess things up and how obedience to God fosters holiness and bestows blessing

God loved us enough to send us Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, to preach and live peace, grace, hope, joy, and love.

God loved us enough to see Jesus rejected, to see him die, to see him buried.

God loved us enough to raise Jesus from the dead and send the Holy Spirit to remind us of all we have in him and empower us to live like Jesus.

God loves us enough to want us to live like Jesus – an abundant life infused with all the fruit of the Spirit, redeemed, free, loved.

God loves us enough to still let us choose our own destiny.

God loves us enough to promise the hope of forever, of resurrection from the dead, and final judgement.

God loved us enough, God loves us enough, God will always love us enough.

For God so loved the world…

God loves you.

God wants you to know it. God wants you to live in it.

God wants you to be able to love others because you know you are loved.

God’s love is expressed to us every week, most tangibly, as we gather at this table: The Son who died and yet lives, gave everything so we could know the depth of God’s love.

So, Come. Drink the wine. Eat the bread. Know you ARE loved.

God loves you. Go, love the world with him.

How can we see God's love through the giving of the Holy Spirit and the expectation to live a holy life?

One of my favorite hymns is based on this passage. Hear how a faithful God gives us confidence.

John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life

 

I Thessalonians 5:13-24

II Thessalonians 2:13-17

 

Let us pray:

Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen

I grew up in the church of the Nazarene. I spent my whole life hearing words like entire sanctification and holiness and salvation. I probably knew what sin was before I knew my colors and I learned scripture and I knew all the Jesus stories and the Old Testament stories better than I knew any pop culture reference.

So I was really shocked and surprised as I grew up when other people: my husband and his friends, my school mates, my work colleagues were either unfamiliar with these things or understood them in a way that was completely different.

In fact, that is often the case with ideas and concepts that we are familiar with because we know them well: we expect everyone else to understand them exactly the way we do, because we know them and understand them as a second part of us.

A married couple I know tell the story of their initial dating this way: Bob (not his real name) met Carrie (not her real name) in college. They started dating and Bob’s Christian faith – the faith he’d had since childhood – became an issue because Carrie wasn’t a Christian at all. So one day, he took his girlfriend to a place where everyone in their college “parked” and he told her with great sorrow and conviction that he was not allowed to be unequally yoked with her.

He broke up with her, using Jesus as the excuse – or at least that’s what he thought.

She left their conversation completely perplexed as to why he broke up with her over eggs!

Eventually, she became a Christian after they parted ways and they met again some years later and now they’ve been married for over 20 years, solidly Christian people with a heart for service.

The wonder of that story is that two people had a long conversation about their future together and one of them had absolutely no idea what the other was even talking about!

The reason I say all of this when I talk about these letters Paul wrote to the Thessalonians is because there are a lot of things that could be very confusing in this letter, things that we often think we understand, but which we are often thinking about eggs while we should be thinking about Jesus.

The church in Thessalonica was one Paul started after he left Philippi, where he had been beaten and thrown into prison. Paul is in Thessalonica with Silas, and here the Jews who are jealous of their success call out the non-Jews who were hosting them as housing rebellious insurrectionists. Paul and Silas and Timothy escape in the middle of the night to the next town. The Thessalonian Jews followed them to that town after some time and finally, Paul moved to Athens and left his co-workers behind, eventually heading off to Corinth. Timothy circled back to Thessalonia, and then caught up with Paul in Corinth – telling him of some of the things that the Thessalonians are doing and prompting Paul to write these letters. The first one gets sent and in pretty short order, Paul hears that the issues are continuing and that there are some Paul impersonators hanging around Thessalonia, so he writes the second letter for continued clarification.

The two main points he has are about what happens to Christ followers while they live and what happens to Christ followers after they die. Paul talks about Jesus coming back and he really wants to encourage the Thessalonians that even if they die before Jesus comes back, they are still redeemed and that Jesus has NOT returned yet, despite things they have been told to the contrary. And in all of this, Paul emphasizes what it means to be a Jesus follower, what it means to live for Jesus. He uses words that can have very complicated meanings for us today, such as sanctification and holy living. Not only do they have complex associations for us, but they weren’t exactly understood in the time of Paul – especially as the non-jews or gentiles and the jews who converted to Christianity – had learned of these things in different ways and in different terms all their lives.

Paul wants to give everyone a common language: be joyful, pray all the time, give thanks: this is God’s will for you and this will lead to holiness.

Until I began to follow Jesus, I understood holiness to be a list of rules; don’t do this and that things that would keep me from disobeying God’s law. But the reality is and Paul says it here again: holiness comes from turning our hearts away from our own circumstances, our own limits, our own understandings and turning to God’s: joyful, praying, thankfully turning our hearts and minds to God and knowing that these things along with loving our neighbor (hear Paul’s instructions in verses 12-15 of chapter 5 in the first letter) He also reminds us not to sit around waiting for Jesus to come back without being actively involved in the world around us, to work for what we need when we are able and to keep doing what is right: the things Paul instructed in the first letter. And in all of this, Paul says, God will sanctify you. God will do the work of changing you from the inside out.

A few weeks ago, before church I was talking to someone who said “I have this desire to be hurtful or to say hurtful things, but I know it is wrong, how can that be Christlike?” and it was wonderful to say, but it is Christlike because Christ told you it was wrong – whereas before in your life, you might not have known! Over time, Jesus will help you keep growing to the point where your first response is a loving one, and that again, is how you know that God is at work.

Jesus has redeemed us. Jesus has offered us a new way, a better way, and Paul tells us that the promise of this is not in the ways we control ourselves for ourselves, but in the ways we control ourselves for everyone else.

Jesus commanded us to love God and love our neighbor. This is holiness: living out that love by controlling what we do that would hurt someone else.

This is what God teaches us, this is how the Holy Spirit works through us, this is how Jesus is seen in us:

2 Thessalonians 2:16 & 17

When I was a girl the hellfire and brimstone preachers would tell us that if we weren’t saved and sanctified, our eternal destination was damnation.

But Jesus told us to live fruitful lives and love our neighbors and stop being fearful. Jesus gave us the power to do that through the Holy Spirit.

Paul reminds us that while we definitely will be with Jesus after our death, that the actual goal of Christian faith and life is to show others a life of joy and thanksgiving – to live for others so completely that our sanctification is actually predicated much more on how we demonstrate that love for neighbor and not at all on whether or not we want to avoid hell.

All of scripture reminds us over and over that our job is to love as God loves and that we cannot do it on our own. The love letter that we have read from God doesn’t just give us some special insight into God’s love for us, but the love letter is for us to put into practice loving others exactly the same way.

Salvation and sanctification and eternal life are not about selfish motives or self-centered behavior that makes me somehow better than others. Instead it is always about how what we do and say changes others. We are not transformed for our own sakes: we are transformed into the living breathing epitome of hope that Jesus has for us so that we can give that hope away, every single day by living lives that are above reproach by the power of the Holy Spirit, not so we can feel better about who we are, but so that others might be able to recognize the need for Jesus in themselves.

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As we have been doing every week in this series, I will remind you of what it looks like to say that the love of God is found in every page of Scripture. Follow along on your sheets and whenever I point at you say whatever is bolded on your page:

What does it mean to say God loves?

God loved us enough to create us, to form us from the dust.

God loved us enough to let us fail, to let us choose our own way over God’s – to let us chain ourselves to sin and defeat and heartbreak and sorrow and death.

God loved us enough to provide a rescue, a way back: through wanderers, murderers, adulterers, defaulters, promise-breakers, foreigners, strangers, and lovers.

God loved us enough to show us mothers, judges, kings, and prophets who loved and spoke for God and kept reminding us of the promise of redemption

God loved us enough to show us how evil and wrong continually mess things up and how obedience to God fosters holiness and bestows blessing

God loved us enough to send us Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, to preach and live peace, grace, hope, joy, and love.

God loved us enough to see Jesus rejected, to see him die, to see him buried.

God loved us enough to raise Jesus from the dead and send the Holy Spirit to remind us of all we have in him and empower us to live like Jesus.

God loves us enough to want us to live like Jesus – an abundant life infused with all the fruit of the Spirit, redeemed, free, loved.

God loves us enough to still let us choose our own destiny.

God loves us enough to promise the hope of forever, of resurrection from the dead, and final judgement.

God loved us enough, God loves us enough, God will always love us enough.

For God so loved the world…

God loves you.

God wants you to know it. God wants you to live in it.

God wants you to be able to love others because you know you are loved.

God’s love is expressed to us every week, most tangibly, as we gather at this table: The Son who died and yet lives, gave everything so we could know the depth of God’s love.

So, Come. Drink the wine. Eat the bread. Know you ARE loved.

God loves you. Go, love the world with him.

John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life

 

Philippians 4

 

Let us pray:

Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen

 

Maybe you’ve seen it. The black eye tape with an inscription as the athlete, usually a big burly football player, runs through their opponent in the latest competition: “Philippians 4:13”.

Perhaps you’ve heard it. The actress stands on stage with a quivering lip, holding the coveted trophy she’s just won, and bravely says that she can do all things through him who gives her strength, right after she thanks her producer, fellow actors, and her parents.

Sometimes I breathe it as a prayer. “Lord, I have so much to do, but I can do all things through you, right? Please give me your strength”

A facebook post, a wall hanging, a magnet, maybe.

And yet, Paul isn’t saying that he can do ALL THINGS through Christ – instead, listen carefully:

 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

 

Paul is SPECIFICALLY describing how Jesus gives him the strength, through the Holy Spirit, to learn to be content whatever the circumstances…

In other words – God doesn’t promise that you can do whatever you want or whatever you’ve committed yourself to: instead God promises through Paul’s words that no matter what circumstance you find yourself in, you can learn to be content.

I’m not saying that God won’t give you strength to do the things you must do. And I’m not saying that God won’t help you in your darkest moments. But I AM saying that if we are cross stitching this scripture on a piece of muslin to hang in our house, we would do well to remember that Paul isn’t talking about achievement or success: he’s talking about joy.

Philippians is a letter, after all, to a church that is experiencing a significant amount of persecution and suffering. Most Christians under Nero were, including Paul: he is after all, writing this letter from a Roman prison, while anticipating his own death sentence to be handed down any minute.

Paul and Silas founded this church in Philippi about 10 years earlier. Philippi is a place that was about half Greek and half Roman citizens by the time Paul arrived. The Roman citizens were primarily retired military and their families, who had been granted a parcel of land in the community after a military victory. The Greek citizens were those who had been there first, who now were primarily poorer and servants to the retired military group. The Christians faced opposition from the Roman citizens who felt a deep gratitude to the Roman empire for what they had and who were incredibly loyal to the Emperor, and they felt that any of the veterans and their families who converted were betraying their heritage and biting the hand that fed them.

Part of the reason for this is that Roman worship was pretty open about many gods – but the civil religion, the one that all Roman citizens were expected to be about – said that Ceasar (the emperor) was also a god. And thus, when the people said “hail Ceasar” it was more than an affirmation of respect, it was worship.

So Christians didn’t do that. Christians believe that Jesus is LORD of everything they do and say. Christians do not bend a knee to any other. Christians live their allegiance out to the God they’ve met and become a follower of – not swayed by political movements or currents of the day. As we have recently said – the law the Christian commits to obey is this: love your neighbor as yourself, no matter who your neighbor is. The Christian has no enemy.

Paul says some of this earlier in this letter too, to encourage the church in Philippi to keep going: Philippians 2 has a beautiful hymn to the Lordship of Jesus and the humility that brought him to us:

Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

These are words that Paul is writing to people familiar with the military, people who know how to obey and how to command, and Paul is telling them to think of the other first and to remember that their worship and allegiance are only to Jesus Christ, the Lord who has been exalted after dying for us.

But what does all of this have to do with joy, you might ask?

Well, the reality is that this letter mentions joy or rejoice no fewer than 16 times! This from a man who is in prison, writing to people who are experiencing persecution! Joy, Paul writes, is mandatory behavior that is made possible through the power of the Lord.

I can do all this through him who gives me strength, Paul says, and he’s talking about being content even though he’s poor. Or rich. Or failing. Or successful.

But the thing that caught my eye as I studied this week was not just the idea of being content, but this:

I have LEARNED to be content…Paul says. It didn’t happen overnight, it is learned behavior. And not only that but this is part of what Christ gives him strength to do: not just the being content part, but the learning part as well. Paul says I can trust God to teach me and give me the ability to learn how to be content whatever happens. And when I am content no matter what my circumstances, I am able to say Rejoice in the Lord Always, again I say Rejoice, even while I am in a Roman prison waiting for the Roman government to execute me.

I want to make sure we clearly see that Paul is not delusional, he is not happy go lucky, singing fa la la while pretending that he is not actually in prison or that his circumstances aren’t dire: Paul knows exactly where he is, what awaits him, and how serious it really is. He can likely hear the roar of the crowd from the coliseum as lions tear apart his brothers and sisters in Christ, or hear the screams of his oil-soaked compatriots as they are set alight in Nero’s gardens. He doesn’t deny this is happening, he doesn’t wish it away, he recognizes it is bad and negative and terrible.

But he also knows there is more. And he also knows that God is teaching him to be ok in the moment he is in, celebrating who God is even as he waits. He lives in prison, but preaches the Gospel by being content and by telling others of the good news of Jesus, the redeemer who sets people free from their bondage and sorrow and teaches them to be content, too.

Joy isn’t laughing as though your heart isn’t breaking when real sorrows and hurts come along. It is grieving those losses and still recognizing that the grief isn’t forever, that the grief is ok, but the feeling and the state of existence are two different things: being satisfied that the Christ who is Lord of all, the Christ who walked through suffering himself and who promises to walk through it with us, that is a joy that doesn’t succumb to the whims of circumstance, but it is a joy that is stronger than job loss, bad health, financial windfalls, and incredible success. It is a joy that stands separate from the feelings we have, but tempers every moment with a reverberating chorus of I will live in this moment with Jesus and it will not break me or wreck me or make me or magnify me. That is a joy worth having, a joy that brings with it peace that passes understanding.

If you don’t have that joy and peace, but you are following Jesus, remember that it is a learning experience. You can have it, but it is not something that just happens. Like any education process, it requires time and persistence and the work of God in your life. Let God work.

And the next time you see that verse on a bumper sticker, the one that says “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” remind yourself that it is not a promise of being able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but something much more thrilling and fulfilling and powerful: it is a promise of joy.

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As we have been doing every week in this series, I will remind you of what it looks like to say that the love of God is found in every page of Scripture. Follow along on your sheets and whenever I point at you say whatever is bolded on your page:

What does it mean to say God loves?

God loved us enough to create us, to form us from the dust.

God loved us enough to let us fail, to let us choose our own way over God’s – to let us chain ourselves to sin and defeat and heartbreak and sorrow and death.

God loved us enough to provide a rescue, a way back: through wanderers, murderers, adulterers, defaulters, promise-breakers, foreigners, strangers, and lovers.

God loved us enough to show us mothers, judges, kings, and prophets who loved and spoke for God and kept reminding us of the promise of redemption

God loved us enough to show us how evil and wrong continually mess things up and how obedience to God fosters holiness and bestows blessing

God loved us enough to send us Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, to preach and live peace, grace, hope, joy, and love.

God loved us enough to see Jesus rejected, to see him die, to see him buried.

God loved us enough to raise Jesus from the dead and send the Holy Spirit to remind us of all we have in him and empower us to live like Jesus.

God loves us enough to want us to live like Jesus – an abundant life infused with all the fruit of the Spirit, redeemed, free, loved.

God loves us enough to still let us choose our own destiny.

God loves us enough to promise the hope of forever, of resurrection from the dead, and final judgement.

God loved us enough, God loves us enough, God will always love us enough.

For God so loved the world…

God loves you.

God wants you to know it. God wants you to live in it.

God wants you to be able to love others because you know you are loved.

God’s love is expressed to us every week, most tangibly, as we gather at this table: The Son who died and yet lives, gave everything so we could know the depth of God’s love.

So, Come. Drink the wine. Eat the bread. Know you ARE loved.

God loves you. Go, love the world with him.

John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life

 

Ephesians 2:1-10 NLT

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins.You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

 

Let us pray:

Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen

 

I have a lot of favorite passages in scripture. There are several in Ephesians, but this one is one that reminds us that our good works and efforts are not the catalyst for salvation, rather they are the output that comes from the input of God’s grace.

What we do is because God’s grace by the power of the Holy Spirit has transformed us from what we were, from the ways in which we lived selfishly to something new, a masterpiece that reflects all of who God is in us: each of us individually.

I read about the word “Masterpiece” this week. In the NIV, the translators used the word handiwork, and that is a more literal translation of the Greek, but I think the New Living Translation editors wanted to underscore the idea that everything God crafts intentionally becomes a masterpiece.

As one of the world's premier art museums and home to such famed cultural icons as "Mona Lisa," the Louvre in Paris ought to have nailed the answer to the simple question, "What is a masterpiece?"

But no. When the museum posed that query to a bunch of its curators a few years ago, they were stymied. It wasn't that they had no answer, but that they had too many. Superlative craftsmanship, extraordinary design, great antiquity, rich materials, purity of form, artistic genius, originality, influence on other artists. All those qualities, and more, bubbled into the discussion…

The term "masterpiece" originated in the Middle Ages, when apprentice artisans had to prove their skills by submitting exemplary work for approval by the guild that governed their trade -- carving, metalwork, enameling. If the piece demonstrated mastery of the craft, the apprentice would be promoted to master and authorized to train others.

Later the meaning evolved under the influence of connoisseurs, who might judge art on the distinctiveness of its design, or scholars who often concern themselves with the history and authenticity of a piece…

Long-recognized masterpieces by established talents are the bulk of the show, but even their reputations have had their ups and downs. Johannes Vermeer, the 17th-century Dutch painter whose light-filled portraits of daily life have inspired 20th-century novels and films ("Girl With the Pearl Earring"), was pretty much ignored until 1866, when a French scholar touted the works' profound humanism in an influential essay. Only about 35 Vermeer paintings survive, of which the Louvre has lent "The Astronomer" to the Minneapolis show.

"What I like about that picture is that it not only has the intimacy of Vermeer, but also embodies the scientific curiosity of the 17th century," said Michael Conforti, president of the Association of Art Museum Directors and director of the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass. He added that it was "amazing" that the Louvre would lend the painting, which is "universally considered to be a great masterpiece. In my opinion, one doesn't have to be educated into an appreciation of that object; it has universal appeal."

…And the general public sometimes embraces certain works as "masterpieces" based mostly on their celebrity and fame. As every Louvre visitor knows, Da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" is the museum's primo masterpiece, a status the 1503 painting didn't acquire until after it was spectacularly stolen a century ago. Mona's well-armored case will prevent any such caper now, but it also keeps most people from seeing anything but the flash of their cameras against the glass…

"To me, a masterpiece is something that stands the test of time and is viewed as a masterpiece from generation to generation," Reedy said. "Secondly, it must influence generations of artists and change the way that people look at the medium -- be it painting, sculpture, decorative art or whatever. It must be so original that once you've seen it, you're indelibly influenced by its power, and any artist who goes in that direction is accused of studying under or being in the shadow of the original."

…The power of the masters inspires only admiration in Michael Kareken, a professor of painting and drawing at Minneapolis College of Art and Design.

"I'm really interested in traditional painting and art, so to me certain Vermeers or Rembrandts or Gericaults sum up what a masterpiece is," Kareken said. "They crystallize a whole set of artistic and cultural values and are technically brilliant above reproach…I believe in the transformative power of art; I do believe that. And those paintings that move you so much words fail you -- those are the masterpieces."

From the Star Tribune: http://www.startribune.com/what-makes-a-masterpiece/63790887/

God makes us masterpieces by transforming us. And God isn’t interested in making all of us into the same thing, but instead…God builds in us transformation that makes us stand out as beautifully unique and powerfully attractive to those around us: when you are able to move someone around you to the point that they are speechless – that is the wonder of being a masterpiece of God’s design.

 

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As we have been doing every week in this series, I will remind you of what it looks like to say that the love of God is found in every page of Scripture. Follow along on your sheets and whenever I point at you say whatever is bolded on your page:

What does it mean to say God loves?

God loved us enough to create us, to form us from the dust.

God loved us enough to let us fail, to let us choose our own way over God’s – to let us chain ourselves to sin and defeat and heartbreak and sorrow and death.

God loved us enough to provide a rescue, a way back: through wanderers, murderers, adulterers, defaulters, promise-breakers, foreigners, strangers, and lovers.

God loved us enough to show us mothers, judges, kings, and prophets who loved and spoke for God and kept reminding us of the promise of redemption

God loved us enough to show us how evil and wrong continually mess things up and how obedience to God fosters holiness and bestows blessing

God loved us enough to send us Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, to preach and live peace, grace, hope, joy, and love.

God loved us enough to see Jesus rejected, to see him die, to see him buried.

God loved us enough to raise Jesus from the dead and send the Holy Spirit to remind us of all we have in him and empower us to live like Jesus.

God loves us enough to want us to live like Jesus – an abundant life infused with all the fruit of the Spirit, redeemed, free, loved.

God loves us enough to still let us choose our own destiny.

God loves us enough to promise the hope of forever, of resurrection from the dead, and final judgement.

God loved us enough, God loves us enough, God will always love us enough.

For God so loved the world…

God loves you.

God wants you to know it. God wants you to live in it.

God wants you to be able to love others because you know you are loved.

God’s love is expressed to us every week, most tangibly, as we gather at this table: The Son who died and yet lives, gave everything so we could know the depth of God’s love.

So, Come. Drink the wine. Eat the bread. Know you ARE loved.

God loves you. Go, love the world with him.

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