Special Feature

Awesome Wrath, Amazing Grace (Thanksgiving)

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How many here have Instagram? I do. I’m pretty much done with Facebook these days, and I’ve mostly shifted over to Instagram. I like it a little more because it’s a little more dumbed down. There’s not as much going on in the feed as there is on Facebook. It’s just a stream of pictures, comics, and quotes that I can thumb through, and then double if I like.

Most of the stuff on there, and I’m assuming this is how it works for you too, I just scan past and never think about again. But there was one quote that I saw recently that caused me to pause and has stuck in my brain. It’s a quote from a theologian named Steven Lawson.

It goes like this:

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“Grace is not amazing until you know the wrath of God.”

I tried to find the context for the quote, whether it was a sermon or a book or something, but couldn’t. And that’s ok because this short sentence is powerful enough on its own. The background is likely the famous song Amazing Grace which starts, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.”

And both of those echo what we read in Ephesians 2:1-9. Please turn there and listen to how we are described before Jesus saves us:

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Here we read how God sees us before we are saved, before He resurrects our hearts, before we admit we are sinners and accept Jesus as our Saviour. He sees us as dead in our sins, sons and daughters of hell, workers of disobedience to whom evil comes so naturally, we don’t even notice it. He sees us as His enemies, deserving of wrath, and condemned. Meaning that even the good we thought we were doing, wasn’t good at all, but actually worked against God. (Isa 64:6; Romans 1)

And yet, despite being a dead, wretched, lost, blind, enemy of God – He shows us an incomprehensibly great kindness by sending His only Son, trading His Son for us on the cross, and accepting his death for our sake. He then cleanses us from unrighteousness, comes to live inside us, and promises that from now on we will be with Him forever. And what is the cost of this great salvation? What must we do? Good deeds? Give money on Sundays? Go to church? Punish ourselves? No. Jesus completely paid the price, all we must do is believe He did it. That’s why we’re here, singing, giving, serving, and studying His Word today, right?

More Wrath More Grace

BUT, here’s the thing. Steven Lawson was right. “Grace is not amazing until you know the wrath of God.” It’s almost a mathematical equation. The more you understand how much wrath God had prepared for you, how much trouble you were in, the more amazing you will understand His grace and forgiveness and the work of Jesus to be. BUT, the opposite is true too. The more you think you deserve God’s grace, the less amazing you’ll think it is.

We just had that tornado touch down in Dunrobin outside of Ottawa, right? Every time something like that happens in the news I hear someone say the same thing, “Nothing like that ever happens around here. We live in such a boring place. I wish we would have something cool happen like a tornado or hurricane or something!”

I promise that no one in Dunrobin is thinking that way. None of the people who the tornado missed are jealously looking at their neighbours house and wishing it would have wiped them out. None of the parents are looking at those with terrified, injured children think, “Wow, my family is so boring. I wish my kid had been almost killed by a tornado.”

Why? Because they saw firsthand the devastation, the damage, the wrath of the storm. Because it touched them they have a respect for it, fear of it, and for many, a thankful heart that it wasn’t worse.

Those who are far from the storm, safe in their homes, watching it on the news laugh at the storm, mock the storm, even wish the storm upon themselves for fun. Why? Because they have not felt its fury. But those who were in it, closest, who were holding each in a basement other while the storm ripped their house apart, they respect the wrath. I watched a video of a man who was in his home with his daughter when the tornado hit. It ripped off the roof of their house, and his daughter went flying up. He grabbed her little hand as she was being pulled into the storm, and held on for dear life until it passed. That man isn’t at home joking about wanting the storm to come to his town. Why? Because he felt the wrath of the storm.

The Gospel Balance

Christians are often criticized because we talk too much about sin. We are sometimes characterized as being joyless, fun-sucking, lemon-eating, sourpusses who spend too much time thinking about how bad and undeserving and guilty we are. The church is sometimes seen as a guilt factory where people who come in needing some help or encouragement are told instead that everything is their fault and that they should actually feel worse. And in some cases, that can be true. Some churches, some preachers, even me on occasion, concentrate too much on the bad news. Which is why there are so many that refuse to talk about the bad news at all.

People generally don’t like feeling guilty, shameful, wretched, blind, or lost – so they avoid places, like the church, where those feelings happen, and instead, seek out places that affirm them. They join groups that make them feel good about their life choices, feel accepted no matter what they’ve done, encourage them to do it more, and get told that they should never have any bad feelings about it. This is great when a person is trying to lose weight, learn a craft, study for exams, or get free from an addiction – but it works the other way too. Alcoholics go to bars to be surrounded by people who won’t judge them, addicts go to clubs to be with people who do what they do, violent people seek out people who want to be violent with them, sexual sinners seek out people who sin like they do and won’t criticize them, and argumentative jerks go to online chat groups…

What they want is to get rid of the feeling of guilt, shame, and fear that what they are doing is wrong. They want to be surrounded by people who will say: “Despite how you feel, despite the warnings in your head, despite your feelings of guilt and shame, keep doing it. You’re fine. You’re good. You were built this way. You deserve it. Your excuses are enough reason. You’re the exception. All of your actions are justified – because you are just like us. And if enough people say that it’s ok, good, right, beautiful, helpful, and healthy – then we can start to believe that. And we’re going to make sure everyone else believes it too.”

The Gospel of Jesus Christ exists within a paradox where guilt meets grace. There is a tension in Christianity that we all hold at the same time – and it is in that tension that we must live in order to create within us a heart of praise and thanksgiving. Christians exist in the tension between God’s Righteous Holy Wrath against us sinners who deserve Hell and the mystery of God’s Amazing Grace.

We hold in our minds, at the same time, the knowledge that we are dead, wretched, lost, blind enemies of God who have utterly rejected Him, with flesh that keeps pulling us towards sin, loving sin and self too much, and failing God every day – and the knowledge that somehow, for some reason that we will never understand, God loves us so much that He traded His Son for us so that we could be with Him forever (Rom 11:28-36). Or as Romans 5:6-8 says it,

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

That quote that I mentioned before, “Grace is not amazing until you know the wrath of God.” could be restated, “Grace cannot amazing to you unless you know how wretched, lost, blind you actually were.”

That’s why Christians spend so much time talking about sin – because we know the damage it does and the consequences of not taking it seriously. That’s why Christians spend so much time praying. Because we know that we can’t really trust ourselves, our minds, our hearts to lead us the right way. That’s why Christians don’t run from guilt, but instead walk through that guilt into grace. If we ignore the guilt, we cannot get to forgiveness. Because when we feel guilty, ashamed, and afraid of God’s wrath, it forces us to go to Jesus to deal with it.

Jesus the Advocate

My daughter Eowyn memorized a verse this week that I really needed to hear. As she was working on it, I was going through a tough time, making some bad decisions, getting really down, Satan accusing me over and over in my ear – and she kept coming to me, handing me the book, and reviewing the verse to make sure she had it right. So I had to read it multiple times that day and eventually is sunk in. It’s from 1 John 2:1 and here’s what it said:

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

What a healing balm that has been to my soul this week. The apostle, in this book repeatedly calls Christians, “My little children”. I like that and needed to hear it so much. It’s a reminder that as grown up and smart as I think I am, spiritually I’m still a child. I’m not all grown up and mature, like my Heavenly Father. I’m still learning, growing, making mistakes, and tripping over my own feet. And God knows this. When I sin, He’s not looking down on me in wrath. No, I’m a Christian. I’m forgiven. I’m one of His kids.

Sometimes I still get afraid that God is mad at me for the things I’ve done. That God is punishing me. But then I remember Romans 8:15–16 which says,

“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…”

I have to remind myself: I’m a Christian. God is my dad. When I sin, He still loves me. I’m no longer under His wrath. And as His kid, His child, I don’t need to be afraid of Him.

People tell me sometimes that I can be sort of scary. I have angry eyebrows, a pointy beard, and a loud voice and that freaks people out. Do you know who isn’t scared of me? My kids. They’ve seen my face, heard my voice, and know me – so they don’t get scared when I talk – even when I want them to be! I raise my voice during a conversation for some reason, people turn their heads and wince, babies cry, sirens start going off in the distance – and my kids laugh. Why? Because they know I’m not scary. I’m their dad. That’s how God wants me to see Him too.

Next it says,

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.”

God doesn’t want us to sin. Part of the reason He wrote the Bible was to show us our sin. The Law of the Old Testament, the stories of Israel, the hard-hearted Pharisees, the cruel Romans, the arrogant Greeks, the false teachers, the superstitious pagans – we see ourselves in all of them, and we see our sin. The Bible shows us our faults and then guides us on how to make it right. God doesn’t want us to sin. He still hates sin and hates seeing His children doing it – and will oftentimes discipline us so we can learn about the wrong we’re doing.

Later in chapter 3:9-10 we read:

“No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.”

Though we’ll never be free of our sinful natures until we get to heaven, God doesn’t want us to be “practicing” sin. We fall, we fail, we develop a bad habit, we go to the wrong place for comfort, that happens to all of us. But when Christians do it, we recognize it as sin. That means we don’t want to do it, even though we just did. We want to change, want to be holier, and we ask for God’s help. But sometimes we keep falling, right? Does that mean God hates us? Does that mean we’re not really Christians? That’s what Satan the Accuser wants us to think (Rev 12:10).

No, there’s an amazing but in there. It says,

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

And I’ll keep reading,

“He is the propitiation for our sins…”

If a human being was creating a religion what would that say? It would go, “I’m writing down all these things so that you won’t sin. But if you do sin, boy are you in trouble! You’d better not! Jesus won’t be happy with you!” But that’s not what it says, is it?

It says that Jesus is our Advocate. In other words, Jesus is our lawyer. He takes up the cause for us before God the Judge. He presents our defence, speaks to God for us, He mediates the conversation with God and He’s on our side. He’s our Advocate before God. And God listens because Jesus is “righteous”, meaning He is perfect. More than this, Jesus is also “the propitiation for our sins”. That means that Jesus was the sacrifice who bore God’s wrath against us so that we could be free.

This is where the understanding of “Grace is not amazing until you know the wrath of God.” comes into play again. Christians sin. Someone said to me recently that they didn’t want to come to church because they feel like a hypocrite. I told them, “It’s ok. We’re all hypocrites.” What did I mean? I meant that even though all the Christians in the church say we hate sin, we all keep on sinning. All of us. We keep sinning, keep doing things our own way, keep denying God and living as practical atheists, keep being selfish and bitter and trying to steal God’s glory. But what happens when we sin? Do we lose our salvation? Or does God simply forget about it? Does He pretend it didn’t happen? Do His kids get away with sin?

No. Do you know what happens? A Christian sins, again and again, and Jesus, our Advocate, says, “Father, don’t count that sin against them. Remember, I took the punishment for that sin. You poured your wrath out on me for that. They are still free.”

When Jesus was on the cross, God looked at the entire timeline of human existence, at the sins of all who would believe – from Adam and Eve to the very last believer at the end of time – potentially billions of people and billions upon billions of sins – and He poured the exact amount of wrath out on Jesus to pay for all of them. All our sins in our past and all the sins in our future are not forgotten by God – they are paid for by Jesus.

Christians who recognize that they are sinners, and how deep that sin goes, are people who recognize the immensity of the wrath that Jesus took for us – and recognizing that allows us to begin to understand how Amazing His Grace really is.

And understanding that grace, that undeserved merit, and then seeing all the other good things God gives us which we absolutely do not deserve – changes our lives. It makes us more willing to forgive others. Knowing that when we were enemies of God He forgave us allows us to forgive our own enemies. Knowing how generous God has been with us allows us to be generous with others. Knowing that Jesus came to serve us makes us want to serve others.

That’s why Christians take time to contemplate our sin and the wrath we deserved because of it – but the grace we got instead – it causes us to praise, to worship, to give thanks.

Thanksgiving

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Chances are when you sit at the table with whoever you are celebrating with, you’re going to say grace before you eat. At least I hope you do. It’s an important habit all Christians should have – to stop for a moment and recognize that where you are and what you have is a good practice to develop humility. But when you do sit down and say grace, when you think about all the things you are thankful for, I want you to remember that that list is much longer than you realize. One Christian leader said it this way: “Everything above Hell is grace.” (Bill Stafford)

Allow that thought to enter your Thanksgiving this season. Allow yourself to see how great a sinner you are and then, as you contrast your darkness with light, realize how great your Saviour is.

Why Do Christians Serve Others? (Volunteer Appreciation Sunday)

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Macy’s story is packed with some wonderful truths. First, that we never really know what’s going on in people’s lives, do we? We are pretty amazing at covering up our feelings and putting on a brave face for the world. Macy cried herself to sleep every night but didn’t want to share what she was going through with anyone – until she hit bottom.

Second, that we are not only meant to be part of a family but part of a Christian community. Sometimes our families let us down, hurt us, even work against our faith – but when we become a Christian one of the gifts we are given is the church, the Body of Christ, a group of like-minded, like-hearted people who care about us. Once she decided to share what was going on with people, she made a point to hang out with Christian friends, her youth group, her small group, and to come to church. Christians need each other and need to be meeting together regularly (Heb 10:24-25).

A third thing I noticed was that she found healing and solace as she served others. She called her time of serving others a “getaway that helps her see the world in a different way”. She was healed and renewed, disciple and comforted, as she served others.

That’s what I want to talk about today, the heart of a Christian servant. As I said, there is so much in her story that strikes a chord with what I want to talk about today. But if I may, before we jump into the Bible study, can I pull a fourth thing out of that illustration that isn’t so much a part of what she said, but in the background of her story?

Full credit to Macy for being humble enough to share her feelings with her friends, to attend her small group and youth group, and to volunteer in that ministry to parents of special needs children – but all of the places she described as bringing her comfort, required a lot of work and sacrifice from others that aren’t in the video.

There would be no small group to go to without a small group leader and coordinator. There would be no youth group without a youth pastor and volunteers. There would be no “Breakaway” ministry without organizers. There would be no building to have it in without administrators. No Bible to read or devotional guide without translators and printers. For Macy to get comfort, she needed a connection to the Body of Christ. For her to feel fulfilled in service, for her to grow in maturity and faith, she needed someone to do the work of putting all of those things together, right? That’s The Body of Christ at work. In this we see Jesus calling different Christians with different gifts and aptitudes to work together to serve each other and their community in His name.

Motive for Service 1: Our Love for God

Please open up to Romans 12. We’ll go through the whole chapter because in it we see the Biblical view of what’s going on here. But we’ll take it in parts. It begins.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

It starts with the motives behind our acts of service. Remember I said that every time you read a “therefore” you have to ask what it is there for? Paul, the previous chapter, has just described the inscrutably amazing grace of God that He would save continuously rebellious sinners like us. His point is that it is absolutely crazy, totally mysterious, almost incomprehensible, that God would look on such hard-hearted people and then trade His Son for them. And he follows that with chapter 12. He says that in light of this amazing grace, the undeserved Love God has shown you, He deserves our worship. In light of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, which shows the depth and perfection of His love for us, how complete His love for us is, we should love Him back by presenting our own bodies to Him as a living sacrifice.

God, in the old covenant, demanded the blood of animals as an act of worship, and Jesus was the final sacrifice and the fulfilment of that requirement. Now, Paul says, God doesn’t want more sacrificial burnt offerings, but instead, He wants you to show your faith in Him, your love for Him, your thanks to Him for what He has done, by living your whole life as a sacrifice to Him. One a big, one-time sacrifice, but a lifetime of spiritual worship.

That’s our first motive for serving others – showing love to God for what He’s done.

Motive for Service 2: The Example and Teachings of Jesus

The second motive we have we read about starting in verse 3,

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”

The second motive is the teachings and example of Jesus. This verse uses the word “think” three times. It’s about how we see ourselves, who we think we are. This goes right to the teaching of Jesus, and it’s perfectly captured in Mark 10:35-45. Let’s read that together:

“And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ And he said to them, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’”

What’s going on here? If we were to break down this request it would be simply this: “Jesus, we want to be great. We want to be on top. Sure, you can be the tippity-top, but we want to be next, first in your kingdom.” What is Jesus’ response?

“Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?’”

His response is to say, “Do you know the qualifications for greatness in the Kingdom of God? Do you know what kind of things you need to have on your resume in order to be even considered to be part of my kingdom let alone one of the greatest in it?” Of course, they respond,

“And they said to him, ‘We are able.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’”

What was the cup He had to drink, the baptism he had to be baptized in? It was the cup of ultimate service, of ultimate sacrifice. It was the cup of God’s wrath, of great suffering on the cross, and the baptism of being buried in a tomb. Keep reading in verse 41,

“And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John.”

Not because James and John were wrong, but because they had thought of asking first! They were indignant because of their own ambition and jealousy. So Jesus stops everyone in their tracks. Look at verse 42,

“And Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’”

What’s the lowest rank in a society? Below everyone else? Slave. But even among slaves there is a hierarchy. Some served more wealthy homes others had governing authority over other slaves. What is the lowest of the low? The slave who is “slave of all”. Jesus was the servant of all, going from the highest place to the lowest, the “slave of all”. That’s the attitude that the followers of Jesus are supposed to have.

How do people know that we are disciples of Jesus? By the fish decal on our car? By the big bible we carry? By the cross sign on our church? By the songs we sing? By how many things we decide not to go to? No. Jesus says in John 13:35,

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

How do people know whether or not we love one another? How do you know that someone loves you? By their words? A little. But more by their deeds, right? What they do. How do people know that we are followers of Jesus? Because we love people the way He does.

Turn to Philippians 2:1–8 where it’s written this way,

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

That’s the second motivation for serving others, the teachings and example of Jesus – because He told us to and modelled how. But there is a third motivation, but before we get there, take a look at the next verses and instead of motives for service we see the method.

The Body of Christ Working Together

Start in verse 4,

“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”

Here we see beyond the motives and into the methods of service. Here we recognize that God gives different gifts to different people according to His plan and His grace. Then He tells is people to use them, right? He saves us as individuals and then makes us part of a church. I’m concentrating today on the motives rather than the methods, but since it’s here, let’s notice that not everyone serves in the same way. Just as I said with Macy’s story, there are a lot of different people needed to make up the ministries of the church.

Look in verse 6. Here we see prophets, not describing people who see the future, but the preachers who speak the Word of God to the people, keeping them on track with what God wants. Next comes those who serve, which is similar to the word for Deacon, but simply means someone who spends time giving practical aid to the community of believers. Then we have the teachers who have the ability to explain the scriptures in a way that people can understand it and apply it to their lives. Then we have the exhorter, the cheerleaders in the church who keep encouraging, urging, imploring, spurring God’s people to keep going because they know God is doing something special. Then there are the “contributors”, which are simply the people who God has gifted with material and financial wealth who pay for things without grumbling about it. Then you have leaders who organize and plan the ministries so everyone is on the same page, and those who have the gift of mercy, which are essentially the Christian social workers, the good Samaritans who have a special heart for the sick, the prisoner, the hurting, the difficult cases.

Each of these believers, working together, make a healthy body of Christ. But this means two important things. First, that everyone has a job and second that not everyone is supposed to be doing the same thing.

Notice that everyone in the church has something to do. Maybe you’re not a leader or teacher. Maybe you’re an exhorter or a helper. You’re not good at planning things hospitals kind of freak you out, but you’re happy to show up and help get things done. Maybe you are a gifted leader, but you don’t know much about the bible and you don’t have any money. You need a teacher and a contributor. Maybe you’re a great teacher, but you get discouraged easily. You need an encourager. Maybe you don’t have much time to serve or help or lead, but God has given you the ability to make money. It’s ok that you’re a contributor.

But what happens if people get their wires crossed and start thinking that one gift is better, one position is more Christian? Trouble, right? People that are great at encouraging feel bad because they’re not teachers. Contributors feel guilty because they don’t help more. Helpers feel dumb because they aren’t good at administration and leadership. The teachers are annoyed by the helpers because they don’t know enough Bible trivia.

That’s not how it’s supposed to work, is it? Each person is only responsible for the things that God has planned out for them and for using the gifts that God has given them.

Motive for Service 3: Competition

Now, let’s get back to motivations by looking at verse 9

“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

There’s a lot of good stuff in going on in here, but what I want to concentrate on today is in verse 10, “Outdo one another in showing honour.” This is an interesting turn of phrase and commentators argue a bit about. In one sense this means, “Each of you should honour each other more highly than yourself.” Or “Respect each other by showing deference to one another.” But there’s another side of this there, and that’s the competitive angle.

This whole section is about God’s Upside-Down Kingdom, where we bless our persecutors, seek out people who are weeping, spend time with the lowly, assume we need help, give our enemies gifts, and overcome evil with good. Remember what Jesus said to James and John? “Whoever would be first… must be slave of all.” (Mark 10:44)

He said this kind of thing many times. In Matthew 19 after meeting the Rich Young Ruler, His disciples were confused about who could get into heaven. Surely, if this rich, religious young man couldn’t, than nobody could. Jesus replied saying, “…many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Matt 19:30)  He then told the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, where a landowner gives the same payment to everyone working in his field, regardless of how many hours they had worked. He ends that story saying, “So the last will be first, and the first last.” (Matt 20:16)

In short, He was talking about His Upside-Down Kingdom where the wealthy, self-satisfied, celebrities are on the bottom, and the “poor in spirit”, “the meek”, “the reviled” and “persecuted”, (Matthew 5:2-11) and “the slaves of all” are on top.

Jesus never criticized James and John for wanting to be great, wanting to be like Him. But instead, explained His recipe for greatness. And what was that recipe? Servanthood.

I’m a competitive guy. I like playing games and I like winning them. That’s why I like verse 10 and 11 so much. It says “Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.” It’s like Jesus says, “Ok, guys. If you’re going to try to compete against one another to see who is best, who is going to win the biggest prize, who is going to get the most points – then compete at who can serve and honour the most people, see who can help the most people, who can feed and clothe and teach the most people. I’m not about who can score the most goals, I’m about who can get the most assists. Ready, set, go!”

But there’s a catch, right? Every game needs rules. Remember Jesus teaching in Matthew 6? That’s the rules of the game. He says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” (6:1) In this game, the more love you show to others, and the more secretive you can be about it, the more points you get – but you do it for others to see, or you do it for the wrong reasons, you lose points. Fun, right?

Conclusion

Our motives should be a mixture of all three of those, right? One of them is likely going to speak to you more, but whatever your motivation, whether you are motivated by your love for God and you want to thank Him for saving you… or you’re motivated to serve out of obedience to Jesus’ teachings… or you’re motivated by that competitive spirit that makes you want to be the best Christian servant you can possibly be… two things that we always need to remember is that it is God who saved us, God who enables us, God who motivates us, and therefore God who gets the glory – and that we cannot do any of this separate from the rest of the body of Christ. God always gets the glory and there are no Lone Ranger Christians.

Let me close with this: Today is the day that the church is has set aside to recognize some of the amazing people that help Beckwith Baptist Church. Not because we want them to lose points, but because we want to honour them, thank them, hold them up as examples for us to follow, and to honour them as people who have shown us the love of Jesus through their service.

These are people of all kinds, from all walks of life, with many different stories, different gifts and different struggles, but are all here together, in this church, serving for God’s glory. It is because of their service that we can be part of such a loving, excellent church and by honouring them, we honour the God who saved them and gave them to us as a gift.

How to Prepare for The Lord’s Supper

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Tonight we are going to be doing something a little special, something we haven’t done since I’ve been the pastor here, and that is to have an evening communion service. It’s interesting how this happened. Some people came to me and said that they felt like they wanted to “change up communion”.

If you know me you’ll know this immediately raised my hackles and made me wonder what was about to go down. I’m all for new worship music, trying things in church, experimenting with new ministries and seeing what happens, but I’m definitely going to have some issues with messing with the sacraments. They’re a big deal.

My first thought was an unfair one to them. I thought, “Oh great, these people want to make the Lord’s Supper cool by doing weird stuff with it.” And I’ve heard some weird things. I know of churches where those leading communion didn’t say anything, but just played a couple songs off YouTube hoping people would get the gist. I know of churches that refuse to serve gluten-free bread because it’s not as holy as bread made with wheat. I know of churches that make women wear doilies on their head or they won’t be served. I even lived next to one church that encouraged people to bring their pets to church so they could have communion too. I’ve heard all kinds of ways to fancy up Communion. Things like doing it at McDonald’s with hamburgers and coke or even serving it with French onion dip or whip cream.

Thankfully that’s not what they meant. The idea, they explained after I calmed down a bit, was that instead of having it as a short tack-on to the end of a worship service, to meet together at a special time so we can concentrate on what we are doing. Instead of little, tiny pieces of bread, serve an actual loaf and let people have something to chew on. Instead of teeny, Barbie-sized cups of juice, use dealcoholized wine in a bigger cup. The mission wasn’t about making it “cool”, but to make it more authentic, more prayerful, to take better care of how we do it, and to have a greater experience with it than is possible in the 10 minutes we spend at the end of a service.

That was something I could get behind and was more than happy to help plan. So that’s what we’re doing tonight. In my original plan, I intended on giving a short sermon explaining what communion was all about, but it occurred to me that speaking for too long might distract from what we are trying to do there, so I figured I’d give it a bit larger of a treatment this morning in preparation for tonight.

The Lord’s Supper and Signs of the Covenant

So with that in mind, please open up to Matthew 26:26-28, which tells us of the institution of the Lord’s Supper.

This is the Thursday evening before Good Friday, mere hours before Jesus will go to Gethsemane, Judas will betray Him, Peter will deny Him, the disciples will abandon him, and Jesus will be arrested by the wicked Sanhedrin, falsely accused, brought to an illegal trial, and then sentenced to death. It says,

“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Part of what you need to know about the Lord’s Supper is that Jesus didn’t invent it out of whole cloth. Jesus took an old ceremony and imbued it with new meaning. This was the festival of the Passover which had been instituted in the Law of Moses and celebrated for hundreds and hundreds of years so the Israelites would remember the miracle that occurred when they were slaves in Egypt; the plagues, the miracles, and especially the final miracle when God sent the angel of death to kill the first-born sons of Egypt, who could only be spared when a spotless lamb was killed and it’s blood spread on their doors.

Jesus took that powerful symbol, which all Jews knew intimately, and effectively said, “I’m the true Passover lamb. Sin and death hover over everyone, but I will be your spotless lamb who covers and protects you from the consequences of your sins. I will give up my body for yours and allow it to be broken for you. I will spill my blood so you can live.”

Jesus was creating a powerful object lesson. The broken bread and poured wine symbolized His death on the cross. But the cup had a double meaning. During the celebration of the Passover, four cups were traditionally drunk. This was probably the third of the four cups which would be passed around so all could drink out of the same cup. And before passing it, Jesus said, “…this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (vs 28) That was very specific language and there’s a lot going on there.

Covenants are simply agreements between two parties, like a contract. And throughout the Bible, God often forms covenants with His people and then seals them with a sign. He established a covenant with Noah not to flood the earth and sealed it with the sign of the rainbow. He made a covenant with Abraham and the sign was circumcision. When God rescued his people from Egypt and gave them the Law, He made a covenant with them at Sinai. It said,

“Then he [Moses] took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, ‘All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.’ And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.’” (Ex 24:7–8)

In the same way, Jesus took the Passover wine and amplified its meaning. As He was promising to be their Passover Lamb and save them from sins, He made a promise, a covenant with them and all who would believe, written in His spilled blood, symbolized and remembered every time we pour the wine, and then drink it, making it a part of us – and as we share the cup, share the wine, we become part of each other. The blood of Jesus, the covenant that saves us, is the banner we all come under during the Lord’s Supper. It’s a great levelling field and a powerful, important, and serious symbol – and that’s why we don’t mess with it.

Why can’t we use burgers and coke? Why can’t animals take it? Why do we give warnings before we do it? Why is it for believers? Why do we take it so seriously? Because it’s a very serious thing that Jesus told us to do, symbolizing the very essence of our faith.

When The Lord’s Supper Isn’t the Lord’s Supper

Now, please turn with me to 1 Corinthians 11:17-32. This is the passage I usually read when we have Communion, but I don’t read the entirety of it, usually due to time constraints, but I would like to today. This is another passage speaking to the serious nature of the Lord’s Supper, or Communion, and how important it is that we get it right. Now, when I say “get it right” I don’t necessarily mean “do the ritual properly”, which you will see as we read. If you recall, the Corinthian church was kind of a mess and had gotten a lot of things wrong, and the Apostle Paul was writing this letter to correct them. It says:

“But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.”

There are three things I want to point out in this passage to help guide what we are going to do this evening.

First, I want you to notice verse 20 which says, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.” What does that mean? This church was doing the same thing we have done each month for many years and will do again tonight. They were meeting together for worship and fellowship and then taking time to break bread and share the cup of the covenant together. So how could it not be the Lord’s Supper? The answer isn’t that they were doing the ritual wrong, but that their hearts weren’t right before God as they were eating and drinking. The offence was that instead of having the Lord’s Supper in the way Jesus intended, they were simply going through the religious motions (something many so called “Christian churches” are guilty of institutionalizing today, by the way.) What was the evidence that God didn’t accept their Lord’s Supper? Because of how they were treating one another. Sure, they had the elements before them, they were eating the bread and drinking from the cup, saying the words, and singing the songs – but the church was divided.

Paul says there were “factions” and “divisions” among them. They had separated themselves by class, race, economic status, gender, lifestyle, even by favourite apostle and beliefs. People were treating each other carelessly, with disrespect, forgetting each other’s needs, not caring for the poor and needy and oppressed among them, but instead were using those situations as a way to gain advantage over one another. They weren’t in “communion”, united under the banner of Jesus, and it showed in how they sinned against one another in so many ways. They weren’t caring for one another or forgiving one another, or doing most of the “one anothers” in the Bible. That meant they weren’t listening to the Holy Spirit, which meant they were still in unrepentant sin, which meant their hearts weren’t right with God, which meant they weren’t worthy or ready to take the Lord’s Supper, the very sign God gave us to demonstrate humility, sacrifice, forgiveness and unity.

I think that’s something our church needs to be very careful not to skip over. I know we are a friendly church, but I also know that there are a lot of hard feelings among the people here, offenses given and taken and not dealt with, old rivalries and unforgiveness, even bitterness here in our church. Don’t assume that this verse isn’t talking about us. Examine yourself. Why?

Because of how seriously God takes this offence? Look at verses 29–30,

“For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.”

To “discern the body” has a two-fold meaning. First it means to understand what Jesus did for us on the cross, and second, that they are in right relationship with the Body of Christ, or other Christians. In other words, the Lord’s Supper is reserved for humble, believing, repentant, forgiven Christians. It is for people who understand what Jesus meant in Matthew 5:23–24 when He said,

“… if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

And in Matthew 6:15 where He said,

“…if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

God doesn’t want our worship until we’ve show sacrificial love to others, especially those who make it difficult.

How serious does He take this? Not only will He reject our worship, He actually brought sickness and death to the church to demonstrate His displeasure. Would God do that? Certainly. Consider what happened to Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 when they lied about their tithing and God struck them dead. Consider God allowing the city of Jerusalem to be razed to the ground, sending His people into Babylonian captivity, far from their Promised Land for 70 years. Yes, God takes our faith, His church, and the sacraments very seriously and will sometimes allow His discipline to show in serious ways. We talked about that a little bit a few weeks ago.

Why is It God Not Blessing Us?

This all reminds me of Isaiah 58 where the nation of Israel wonders why so many things are going wrong with them. Turn there, but keep your thumb in 1 Corinthians. God says to the prophet in verse 1,

“Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins.”

The next verse is dripping with sarcasm:

“Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God.”

Every day they come before God, perform religious rituals, read some bible, say some prayers, tell God how great they are and how much blessing they deserve, and wonder why everything around them is falling apart. In verse 3 the people say,

“Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?”

What’s going on here, God? We’re coming to church, singing the songs, studying your word, saying the prayers, doing the ministry stuff, going to meetings, eating the bread, drinking the wine, even fasting? Why are we not seeing victories, answers to prayer, miracles? And the answer comes from God,

“Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure…”

Stop there. That’s the problem. They’re not fasting or worshipping God. All they have in mind is their own pleasure. Back to verse 3:

“Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD?”

God is saying, “Do you think I just want you to go through some religious motions and then treat everyone around you badly? Do you think you can come before me and ask for things when I know that you are utterly indifferent towards those who I’ve told you to take care of!”

People sometimes ask, “Why isn’t God answering my prayers?” One answer is found here, and is echoed in the New Testament book of James 4:2-3,

“You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”

God was rejecting Israel’s worship, their religious activity, their prayers, and bringing harsh discipline to them because their hearts were not in the right place. How did that show? By the fact that they weren’t repenting from their sin, and were, in fact committing sins against one another, even against the weakest among them. That’s exactly what was happening in Corinth, and I fear, it may be happening here too.

The point is that what Paul is saying here, when he says, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.”, is that though they were going through the motions of Communion, performing the ritual of the Lord’s Supper, their private lives and how they treated each other showed that their hearts were far from God, and a far cry from the kind of sacrificial love that Jesus was trying to teach them through this sacred meal.

A Reminder of The Cost

Flip back to 1 Corinthians. The second thing Paul tells them in verses 23-26 was to remind them of the cost of their salvation, found in the elements – the very body and blood of Jesus. The reason we celebrate communion is to remember the Life, Crucifixion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus – to remember the cost of our sins and how terrible it was when we were enslaved by them. And then, to remember that our sins, no matter how terrible, are forgiven because of the goodness of God sending His own Son and the love of Jesus demonstrated on the cross. And then, to take that love and grace and share it with one another in His name, exemplified by eating and drinking His Body and Blood together!

Communion is a powerful time, but it becomes meaningless, even dangerous, when we do it with our hearts in the wrong place.

Self-Examination

That’s why the third thing I want to point out is what we are supposed to be doing before the Lord’s Supper – and that is to examine ourselves; to do an inventory of our head, heart, and soul, to examine our actions, thoughts, and motives. Look again at verses 27-29,

“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”

We are commanded to invite God to open us up the way Psalm 139:23-24 says,

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”

To open the Word of God and allow the Holy Spirit to do soul surgery on us. As it says in Hebrews 4:12–13,

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

That is actually what we are going to spend the majority of our evening doing tonight. In order to obey Jesus in this way, we will be reading scriptures, privately confessing our sins to God, publically confessing our sins to each other, accepting forgiveness, and then having the Lord’s Supper together. My invitation to you is to take time to prepare for it today. To read scripture, get right with God, prepare yourself to confess to your brothers and sisters, and to accept Jesus again as your only hope of salvation, the only one who can cleanse you from sin.

Big Book Bundle Sale!

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I recently decided to stop working with my publisher and get the rights back to my book so I could sell it myself. The biggest reason was that their printing and shipping costs made my book far too expensive. But I’ve got some great news! When I closed out my arrangement they had a pile of books left in stock that they sold me at a discount. PLUS, Canada Post allows me to ship one package free every Tuesday in October.

So that means that very soon, I will have up to 19 books that I can ship free! But you must order SOON!

I actually taught this book as a class a while back and I think it worked quite well for group discussion. I even came up with some PowerPoint slides with some extra questions.

Single copies of the book are available on Amazon.com for $14.99 ($19.49 CAD) plus shipping, so I’ve worked out this deal for bundled offers:

Buy 5 copies for $65

Buy 10 for $100

Remember, the free shipping deal is first-come-first-serve and the books are only while supplies last. The best way to make sure you get your bundle deal shipped free is to pay in advance via my PayPal page and then telling me via my Contact Me page.

For more information about The Art of the Christian Ninja book, click here:
https://artofthechristianninja.com/my-books/

In Defence of Mothers

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Mother's Day

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It’s my contention that in North America today, particularly in Ontario, the role of the parent is deeply undervalued. I could talk all day about the epidemic of absentee fathers, broken marriages, and the dismantling of the traditional family that is causing the foundations of our civilization to crumble – but I don’t really want to do that today. That’s a bummer topic for a beautiful spring day when we are meant to be celebrating mothers.

But I stand by my statement – that parents, even the role of mothers, is being undervalued by our society these days. I’ve talked a lot about the rise and curse of individualism over the past weeks so I won’t repeat that, but one of the effects of radical individualism is that people are distancing themselves from their mothers at very early ages and staying away.

Consider the expectations in the province of Ontario, right? As a girl grows up in this province it is very rare for them to consider being a full-time, stay-at-home mom, as a life-choice. We tell girls that they can be whatever they want to be and celebrate women of achievement in business, science, and athletics (which is great), but when we ask a girl, teen, or person in their 20s what they want to be when they grow up, the one seemingly unacceptable answer is “wife and mother”. “Ok, but’s fine to do on the side”, we respond, “but what do you really actually want to be?”

That’s why Rachel felt lost and discontent when she was forced to become a stay-at-home mom, right? She couldn’t process how being a mom would bring God more glory than her being in the workforce. Like many girls and women, she’d been conditioned for years that her greatest value was in her ability to gain a career, make money, and become a success.

I’ve talked to so many women who were taught that they need to be everything to everyone all the time – and they feel guilty no matter where they are. When she’s 10 she loves playing house and when she’s 16 years old it occurs to her that she would love to be a mom – but now somehow she feels bad saying so. Instead she feels pressure to find a “career path”. She doesn’t want to, but the idea of being a mom somehow feels counter-cultural, and the peer pressure is immense, so she goes to university to take something she is only sort-of interested in. When she’s at university her biology is telling her to find a husband, make some babies, and make a home – but somehow that also feels wrong too. She’s been told for so long that she’s supposed to want sex but not kids, boyfriends but not husbands, relationships but not marriage – that she pushes down her natural desires as unnatural and tries to distract and medicate her feelings away. She feels that quitting school to be a mom is somehow letting down all women everywhere. She feels guilty for wanting kids and sad for not having them. She feels guilty for not wanting to be at school but afraid of being stuck doing something she doesn’t even want to do. She feels shame for even wanting a husband to take care of her and that she can take care of, and is afraid that as time wears on that the deepest desires of her heart will never be met.

But she looks around and this whole province seems designed to keep her out of the home. The lifestyle most people desire here actually requires a dual income family. To stay home feels like a financial risk. That makes the government happy because they need you out there paying taxes and buying things – so they make it so you never even have to go home. IF you’re a normal couple, by the time you get around to having kids, you’re usually up to your eyeballs in mortgage and car debt, but ok, sure, have a baby, but you only get 55% of your income for 12 months, so you’d better get back to work or you’ll lose the house. But don’t worry, the government will pay for daycare. And when they’re older, they’ll pay for before school programs and after-school programs so you stay at work. And they’ll pay for community programs and all kinds of things so you can stay at work and never even have to see your kid. It’s almost like they’re saying, “Thank you for creating another citizen, now get back to work, we’ll take it from here.”

Being a mom seems not only counter-cultural but downright anti-establishment! Is it any wonder that there is time and research money going into developing artificial wombs? I know I sound like a tinfoil hat wearing nut, but I’ve already seen articles where feminists are championing these artificial wombs[1] as amazing devices that can liberate women from the burden of childbirth so they can get rid of that pesky reproductive thing that keeps them from their career goals. One article was entitled “Artificial wombs could liberate elite women at the expense of the reproductive classes[2]”. There’s a healthy level of moral insanity in that title that I don’t even want to get into.

Rachel’s discontent and deep question about her value as a mom are ones that many women these days understand: “Should I stay home with my kids? Is being just a mom enough? Why, when I go to work, do I want to be at home and when I stay home, I want to be at work? Why do I never feel like I’m in the right place doing the right thing?” Both stay-at-home moms and career women wonder if they’re achieving their purpose. And often, both are miserable.

It wasn’t until Rachel surrendered her discontentment to God and had that epiphany moment where she heard God speak to her that things started to change and the guilt and fear and discontentment started to subside. She said she felt God say, “I see you there and yes, you are valuable, you are important, you are doing what I want you to do, and you are in the right place. Yes, I’m with you, and despite your weaknesses and fears and temptations, you being a mom is exactly what I want you to be. It is exactly where I want you.”

Moms Show Us God

We should be championing the role of moms in our society – and I’m not just talking about biological mothers, though obviously, that’s a unique and very special bond. I’m talking about the women who give their lives to children as step-moms, adoptive moms, foster moms, and grandmothers. They have a special, unique role in this world that needs to be championed and protected. The maternal role can’t be replaced by dads or government agencies. It’s special, and the women who give their lives to be mothers are special people.

When scripture speaks of mothers it gives them unique characteristics, using them as examples, even to teach about God. In Deuteronomy 32:18 God describes himself in maternal terms saying, “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you, and you forgot the God who gave you birth.” In Isaiah 49:15 God says, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” Moms, especially biological moms but certainly all moms, have a special version of love and compassion for their children that no one else has – not even dads. There’s a bond there that is unlike any other. No matter how much you’ve messed up, your mom will never forget you. And so God says, “You are my kids. I birthed you. And just like it’s crazy to think of a mom forgetting and not having compassion on her crying, hungry, pained baby – it’s even crazier than you’d think I’d forget about you or stop loving you.”

God brought His son into the world using a human mother and that was a special relationship, even until Jesus’ death where Mary stood at the foot of the cross. As Jesus wept over Jerusalem He compared his love for them as being like a mother hen gathering her chicks under her wing. Paul actually used motherly terms a lot. He said the heavenly Jerusalem is called the “mother” of Christians (Gal 4:26) because she is where we will be protected and cared for. He said that at times he felt like planting churches felt like being a mother in labour and his teaching like nursing babies (Gal 4:19, 1 Thess 2:7)

There are negative examples too. When the leaders of Israel were sinning against the nation they were compared to an unfaithful mother who leaves their family to pursue selfish pleasures (Hos 2:2-5; Isa 50:1). The idea was meant to be outlandish and condemning, that a mom would choose to take off on her children to become a prostitute – but that’s what they were doing.

God’s Design for Moms

And so, for the little bit of time, we have left this morning I want to advocate for the position of mom as being something special, unique, and important – something that no one else can do. Maybe reverse a tiny bit of what culture is trying to do to moms these days.

Pregnancy is God’s Idea

First, we must realize that moms are God’s design. Eve was to be “the mother of all living” and the way she would have children would be, even in the Garden of Eden, would be to conceive a child inside her, to hold it for a long time in utero, and then to feed it with her own body until it was strong. That’s not a biological accident, it’s God’s design (Gen 3:16, 20). We know from nature that there are lots of options that God could have gone with for making babies, but He chose for babies to be literally inside their mothers, protected by them, feeding them from their own body’s nourishment, bound to them unlike anyone else.

That tells us something about what God wanted to do with motherhood – the bond he was creating between mother and child to teach us about the bond that God has with us. It’s deeper than any other relationship. Deeper than friendship, deeper even than marriage. And it’s a picture of God’s love for us – that He is our source, our provider, our protector, our comforter, and the one who loves us more than anyone – no matter what.

Moms Are Not Dads

The second thing is that moms are not dads. I believe that the Bible teaches that men and women are the same in some ways but different in others. We were not designed to be exactly equal, but to be complimentary – like two pieces of a puzzle.

Generally, moms are more nurturing and protective, dads are more about consequence. Moms are the ones who will ask everyday if you’ve had a shower, if you cleaned behind your ears, if you’ve washed your hands – dads won’t notice until you start to smell.

If a mom is cold, the whole family has to put on sweaters whether they like it or not. Why? Because she can’t help but want to protect her family. A dad is more likely to let you freeze and tell you it’s building character – and then when you turn blue from hypothermia say, “Well, you should have gotten a sweater.”

It’s been said that women civilize men, and that’s true of their families too. It’s the mom that is concerned about manners, proper dressing, what others think of you. It is from mom that we learn to give ourselves a once-over, check our teeth for parsley, ask ourselves what effect our clothes will have on others before we leave the house. Sure, that can get carried away, but it’s also a gift. The civility of culture is in large part connected to the civility of mothers. As mothers have gotten more self-centred, superficial, rude, impolite, and vulgar, so has society.

Mothers are more emotional and more empathetic. It is from the mom that you learn that it’s ok to cry and be comforted – and from the dad that sometimes you need to suck it up. The mom dotes over the sick child reminding them that they are cared for, the dad makes a joke and then pokes the part that hurts to remind them that life is pain.

Moms also have designed into them special kind of fragility. Now, I don’t want to get in trouble, and I’m sure I need to think this one through a bit more, but moms have a special kind of fragility that causes their sons, especially, to learn something about the world. You can wrestle and punch your dad, you can trade insults with your dad, you can tell your dad you hate his guts and wish he would drop dead – and he’ll roll with it. You can’t punch your mom, insult your mom, or tell your mom to drop dead – because it’ll cut her to the heart. A mom can get fierce when defending her children, but when it comes to her own children, she has a special kind of fragility that teaches the child something special about life that dads usually can’t. From your interactions with your mom you learn that your thoughts, your actions, your emotions are valid and important and powerful – she listens and feels along with you – but you also learn that they have consequence, because there are some things you can say or do that will leave scars in your mom that never fully heal. That’s a difficult, but necessary gift God gives people.

And of course, all this teaches us about God, right? As we watch our moms we learn what God is like. Though He tells us to address Him as male, God has no gender, and sometimes in the Bible presents Himself as having maternal characteristics. In the life of Jesus we see a man who men can relate to – a man who stood up to injustice, yelled at hypocrites, handcrafted a weapon and drove the evil out of His house, ordered demons around like a general commanding an army. But we also see maternal tears, deep compassion, overflowing love, high levels of empathy for others, a nurturing heart, willingness to express emotion and even fragility. No matter how messed up someone was, Jesus listened, and forgave, and restored, and loved, and protected. No matter how sick they were, no matter how contagious, He touched them – just like a mom would. No matter how much of an outcast they were, they found themselves accepted at Jesus’ side. We learn a lot about Jesus from moms.

Moms Are Human

And finally, I want to remind us that moms are human. I honestly feel bad for women today, especially moms, who are constantly bombarded with the message that they are not enough, that they don’t do enough, that if they just did more, things would be better, and that everything wrong with their family is somehow their fault.

A husband makes bad financial decisions and then guilts his wife into both working and keeping up the home. A messed up kid gets himself in trouble and then blames his mother for not being perfect. Internet articles telling women who have just had a baby that they need to look like supermodels and get back to work within six weeks. The church telling busy moms that they don’t host or serve enough. A hundred books and blogs and social media posts showing Instagram perfect homes and families that just telling them the dozens of things they are doing wrong.

We have to remember, and moms, you have to remember, that moms are human. We hold women to an impossibly high standard – and moms, sometimes, more-so. I’m pretty sure that every mom I know if you sit them down and ask them, will almost immediately tell you why they feel like a failure. They feel like a failure as a wife because they’re not fulfilling their husband’s needs. They feel like a failure as a homemaker because their home is messy and their kids eat too much processed food. They feel like a failure as a role model because they are tired and busy and think their kids are way behind where they should be. They feel like a failure as a Christian because they’re not reading their bible or praying or serving enough. They feel like a failure as a citizen because they want to volunteer but can’t. They feel like a failure with their own bodies because they don’t look the way they want to.

Moms, I want you to stop all that. What you are hearing is not the voice of God. It’s the same thing Rachel went through. Satan’s voice says, “Your husband doesn’t love you, your kids are stupid because of you, your house is disgusting because of you, your friends are all doing better than you, you’re fat and ugly, you’re lazy, your wrong, you’re not trying hard enough, you aren’t good enough, you’re the problem, and you should just quit.” That’s the devil sowing seeds of discouragement in your heart.

Mom, you’re human, and that’s ok. Kids, mom is human and that’s ok. Dads, mom is human and that’s ok. And to the mom’s, if you stop your guilt trip for a minute and listen to God’s voice, you will hear something very different.

You may feel like your messing everything up and the weight of the world is on your shoulders – that everything you do wrong will ruin your family. But Philippians 1:6 says, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Who gave you that child? God did. Gave you that family? God did. Who started that good work? God did. Who will bring it to completion? God will. Can you stop God? No. If God called you to be that person’s mom, He will equip you to do the job – and all the things you can’t do are things you’re not meant to do. God gets the glory because God does the work. You just need to admit your weakness and trust Him. Your weaknesses are not your fault and are not a reason to feel guilty. Your weaknesses are built into you so that you will learn humility and realize your need for God and others.

You may feel forgotten and unappreciated, but Hebrews 6:10 says, “For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do.” The work you are doing, even the stuff you get zero credit for and no one even notices, is all taken into account by God and credited to you. He sees. He knows. He rewards. He is just.

You may feel exhausted, stressed out, and like you’re way behind, like you need another schedule, another plan, another set of hands, more hours in the day – and if you could just get that then you’d be under control – but listen to Psalm 127:1–2, “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” And Psalm 4:8, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.”

The first and most important relationship you need to build is between you and God so you can understand that the safety of your children doesn’t depend on you but on God. The peace of your home and your own soul doesn’t depend on you, it depends on God. The building of your home and your family doesn’t depend on you alone, it depends on God.

That’s why it’s ok to nap sometimes, why it’s ok to step back, why it’s ok to release the worry – because God is real, God is strong, God is there, and God knows best. He acts on behalf of those who love Him.

When the apostles had returned to Jesus from their first mission, they were probably like kids after a long trip – a mixture of tired, excited, grumpy and happy – and it says in Mark 6:30–32,

“The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves.”

You see how Jesus treats these guys? It was better for them to walk away from all the people and plans and bustle so they could be with Him. Why?

Another time, it says in Luke 10:38–42,

“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.’”

Why would Jesus rebuke Martha in this way? Because, if you seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and then all the things that you are worried about will come after (Matthew 6:33).

I know that moms are always worried that they aren’t doing enough and that somehow they are wrecking their kid’s future. Dads don’t feel this way all the time – we end up feeling it in retrospect as we look at the results of our parenting and wonder how we messed up our kids later.

But moms, you need to cut yourself some slack. You need to trust God and build your relationship with Him first. James 5:16 says, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” Do you want your prayers for your family to have power? Then seek righteousness first. Put down the controls, stop guilt tripping yourself, stop listening to the voice of Satan, stop listening to culture and embrace one the greatest gifts imaginable – being a godly mom. I may not know everything about you, but I know this… with God, you are more than enough.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/sep/04/artifical-womb-women-ectogenesis-baby-fertility

[2] https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/feminism/2017/11/artificial-wombs-could-liberate-elite-women-expense-reproductive-classes

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Racism Prejudice and the Gospel.JPG

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Closedminded Prejudice

It’s been a troubling week again this week as we read about the race riots and murder in Charlottesville, Virginia and the 17 people killed in Barcelona, Spain just this week. It is strange how these things come in waves. Before now I hadn’t really considered how vehicles could be used in a terrorist attack, but now it doesn’t even come as a surprise to hear that someone has rammed people a crowd with a car and killed people. It turns out that suicide bombings are hard to do and more preventable than a vehicle attack, and so we are going to read about this more and more.

What do we do with all this? For a while, up here in our small town in Canada, it was easy to start to think that we were over all this hatred, but in a very short time we witness hatred off all kinds – nationalism, racism, religious – leading to violent outbreaks all over the world – even in our own back yard. Type in “Canada” and “Racism” into Google News and there’s plenty to read.

Fear and prejudice are dividing people more every day. Facebook, YouTube, and our favourite news channels don’t simply tell us what is happening, but turn into echo chambers of what we want to hear so that we’ll keep clicking and watching – which fuels tribalism and separation as we hear less and less diversity of opinion and more and more of ourselves reflected back at us. It’s easy to slip into an “us and them” mentality where I and the people like me are the good guys and everyone else is stupid, evil, and unworthy of our attention or love. And I know for a fact that we are not immune to this here because I’ve heard it and seen this type of thinking from my own friends and fellow believers as they publically denounce other nations, people groups, celebrities, news organizations, movements, religions – even other believers, churches, and pastors. We become more known for what we are against than for what we are about, which not only fuels separation and tribalism, but a prideful, elitist mentality that makes us think that we are better, smarter, and holier than everyone else.

Think about it for a moment. If I asked you to list all the groups you are against, it would be much easier than to list the ones that you identify with and have compassion for, right? I’m not going to list them here because it’s the only thing you would hear and remember from this sermon, but consider for a moment the groups and people you have seen, or have personally vilified over the past weeks, months and years. The people you believe you are better than, smarter than, holier than– and who should just shut up or go away. That’s not love, that pride. That’s not humility, that’s fear. That’s not a Christlike heart, that’s closed-minded prejudice.

Our Role in Salvation

We talked about this over the last few weeks, and even over the past months in our study of 1 Corinthians: Christians are not better than others. We are simply a group of those God has chosen to show the truth to. Yes, that is a bold claim these days – the claim to an exclusive truth – but that’s what we have. We believe that the claims of Jesus Christ being the way, truth and the life, and that no one can come to God except through Him are true – and that every other way is false.

But that shouldn’t lead us to pride, but humility! Remember the verse from Ephesians 2:8-9 last week? We emphasized how much our salvation is not our doing! “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

What do Christians believe about our role in salvation? That we are saved “by grace”, “not our own doing”, “not a result of [our] works” meaning that what Jesus did for us on the cross by taking our sins upon Himself and dying in our places is completely undeserved. It was an act of grace. This is the most distinctive feature, the most special thing, about Christianity, which comes right out of the Bible. There is no other system of thought, no other religion, either past or present that teaches that the path to life, peace, heaven, and God, is an act of divine, completely undeserved favour.[1]

Most other religions (like Bahai, Buddhism, Hinduism) believe that hard work and good deeds will lead to their life’s fulfilment and is their path to God, or freedom, or becoming a god, or whatever their version of heaven is – and that if you don’t do enough you get punished in some way. Islam believes that when you die your deeds will be weighed by Allah and if the good deeds (like prayer, pilgrimages, and generosity) outweigh the bad then you can get into heaven. The only way to really guarantee that you will go to heaven is to be martyred, or die in service to Allah, which really tips the scales. Other religions like Jehovah Witnesses or Mormonism have used some Christian language to give their religion credence, but rewrite or add to the Bible to include a whole bunch of extra works and financial giving that needs to be done or you will be rejected by God. Some who call themselves Christians, like Catholics and Eastern Orthodox have drifted from the doctrines of grace and teach that not only do you need to believe in Jesus, but you need to check off a series of good-deed and religion boxes or you can’t get into heaven. They also teach that even if you believe in Jesus you can lose your salvation by doing bad things – and have a list of ones that are so bad that you can never be forgiven for them. That’s not what the Bible says either.[2]

Last week we talked about the Doctrine of Total Depravity, the belief that everyone, by their very sinful nature, is bent away from God and would never choose to obey Him – and that even our supposed good deeds are still unacceptable to God because they are still tainted with our own selfishness, greed, false motives, and lack of insight.

In this world, it is only Christians that teach that humans cannot do anything good, or achieve any benefit in the afterlife, by our own works. We believe we are utterly and totally dependent on the grace of God.

Consequences

Believing in the Doctrines of Grace and Total Depravity has some serious implications for how we think of ourselves and others, doesn’t it? In one sense they can bring us to despair. We love to think that we are the masters of our own destiny and have the ability to impress others, even God, with our good deeds – and finding out that we can’t, can be a blow to our ego. On the other hand, this can also lead to a deflating depression where every time we start to feel good about ourselves we are reminded that we are utterly weak and wretchedly sinful. Wrongly applied, it can lead to a sort of depression that makes us feel worthless.

And so most people ignore it. It’s hard to tell people there is nothing they can do to save themselves because they are totally depraved sinners who are dead in their transgressions. And so the gospel gets repackaged to emphasize the more positive side, telling people that Jesus loves them, that they are special, chosen, children of light, separate from the dark and messed up world – which is all true, but not the whole story!

The Doctrines of Grace and Total Depravity don’t merely end in a depression funk where nothing matters – that’s only where it starts because that is where it must start. It’s meant to drive us to the bottom so we must look upward in worship and thanksgiving. Multiple times in the Bible it says that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (Psalm 138:6; Proverbs 3:34; Proverbs 29:23; Matthew 23:12; Luke 1:52; James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5) And scripture gives us many different stories that emphasize the point.

Naaman had leprosy and was sent to be cured by the prophet Elisha, but didn’t like that the solution would be as simple as washing in the Jordan river seven times. He wanted something grand and dramatic and instant, not something so humbling that took so much time and obedience, so he got mad and was about to go home. It was only when he humbled himself that he was clean.

Jesus opposed the prideful Pharisees who thought their way was better than God’s. The rich young ruler came to Jesus, pridefully believing he had earned heaven, and Jesus sent him away grieving after being shown that his faith was in his riches, not God. Peter pridefully claimed that he would never deny Jesus, and Jesus told him that he wouldn’t just do it once, but three times.

The young, arrogant, powerful Pharisee named Saul, who hated Jesus and helped to imprison and kill Christians, was stopped dead in his tracks and struck blind by the Lord Himself so he could understand who he was really opposing. And later, while suffering on the mission field as an Apostle of Jesus, he says, “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

Looking Up

This is what the Doctrines of Grace and Total Depravity do for us, they humble us and make us look up to God as our helper and strength. They make us realize that we are not wise, but God our Father is and He will share that wisdom with us. We are not good, but Jesus is, and He will share that goodness with us. We are not helpful, but the Holy Spirit is, and He will make it so that we can be.

Therefore, when we look at these terrible situations in Charlottesville and Barcelona – and many other atrocities committed in the name of racism, prejudice, hate, and fear, throughout the world and here at home – we can utterly condemn them as sinful and wrong – but never use them as a way for us to feel superior to others. Instead, they become a reminder of the sinfulness that still dwells in our own hearts and how far we have come because of what Jesus has done in us.

Both Christians and non-Christians I know look at those events and feel the same swells of fear, pride, and hatred. Fear of people different than them and therefore worse. Pride that they and those like them are the ones who are right and good and correct. And then feelings of hatred swell and the desire for revenge takes hold. Now, maybe they aren’t the ones who are going to drive a car through a crowd, or bomb a building, or bring clubs to beat down people that disagree with them – but when someone does, they are secretly glad, saying they “got what’s coming to them”, which Jesus says in Matthew 5 and John in 1 John 3:15 is no different than murder because they have murdered them in their heart (Matthew 5:21-22).

A right thinking sees these events and it brings them sorrow. Sorrow for the sin in this world, for the evil perpetrated, for those who died not knowing the Lord, for the judgement on those who committed the crime, and then – sorrow for all the sins in their own heart that are no different than those they just watched. It drives a right thinking Christian to God in prayer, to their knees in repentance, to righteous anger at the sin, and to a desire to help.

Racism is Unbiblical and Unchristian

We look at the prejudice and racism and we condemn it as ungodly and unbiblical. We know the church has dealt with this from the very beginning as the Bible shows us that sectarianism and nationalism even started to infect the church even as it was forming. But it was wrong then and is wrong now.

  • All human beings of all races are created in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27).
  • God shows no partiality based on external difference. 1 Samuel 16:7 says, “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
  • Jesus told us to love our neighbour and then told the parable of the good Samaritan highlighting the sins of racism and nationalism (Luke 10:25–37).
  • In Ephesians 2:14 we read that Jesus “has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” between peoples. Jesus smashed all those walls between us where we think we are better than anyone because of something external to us.
  • Galatians 3:28 we read that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Racism and prejudice are wrong and sinful. Jesus died for those sins, and Christians should obey Him by loving all people, regardless of their race. But these events don’t just remind us that something is wrong outside us but remind us of where our own heart is darkened in this area.

It should cause us to reflect on how we have disobeyed God by thinking our enemies are other people and not sin and Satan. Ephesians 6:12 says,

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

We should ask ourselves where our own racism and prejudice lies. Who do you hate because of their skin colour or nationality? Who are you prejudice against because of your upbringing? Who are you painting with the same hateful brush, lumping them in with all the others, because it’s easier than seeing them as individuals? Whose souls and eternities do you not care about? Who do you prefer because they are more like you? Who have you deemed unworthy of your attention or time? Are you sitting in an echo chamber that only feeds you what you want to or are you seeking through and turning all those thoughts over to God, judging them by the standards of God’s word?

A Hinderance to Evangelism

I know these stories are troubling, and I know that they can cause a “visceral” reaction within us – visceral means that we create by deep inward feelings rather than intellect – but I beg you not to let them. We are not immune to this and are going to see this more and more in our country and our area. We, in our church, are not immune to racism and prejudice, and we cannot allow them to take hold of our hearts.

We have been talking a lot lately about sharing our faith and this is directly connected. I said that we need to show people love before we share our faith, right? Well, if we hate these people because of our prejudices then we certainly won’t become friends with them, nor show them love, and therefore we will never be able to share with them. What group of people have you decided are not worthy of your love or the gospel?

I said that we need to pray before we share our faith. Are you praying for the salvation of the people you hate because of the colour of their skin or the nation they come from or the history you have with them? Probably not.

I said you need to tell them your story, right? Does your story include segregation, fear of certain people groups, and hatred against certain kinds of people? Or does your testimony share how you obey Jesus by loving the whole world, just as He does.

And I said you need to be patient with the people you are sharing with, right? Are you patient with those you hate? Jesus has given you much patience. He knows your thoughts and has watched as you claim to be one of His people but continue to sin, dismiss His Word, and reject His Spirit – but He still died for you, didn’t he? He traded Himself for you. He keeps forgiving you, loving you, helping you, equipping you, and listening to your prayers, doesn’t He? Why is he so patient? Because of His Amazing Grace and love for you. Are you showing the same to others? These events should cause us to reflect on and reject our own sin.

Gollum and Frodo

I know it’s not quite right to have an illustration at the end of the sermon, but this one, I think, will close us out well. All of this reminds me of a scene from Lord of the Rings.

For those who don’t know the Lord of the Rings, the ring as a sort of sentience, It’s alive and evil and corrupts all who wear it. There was one person who wore it for far too long. Smeagol found the ring one day while fishing and it immediately corrupted his heart. As he wore it he became more and more evil, more and more corrupted, until he was driven from his home town to live in a cave in the mountains of an enemy land. The ring gave Gollum unnatural life for hundreds of years, corrupting him inside and out until he was almost utterly consumed.

After hundreds of years, one day, when the hero of the Hobbit, Bilbo was wandering through the cave, the ring abandoned Gollum in order to find a new owner to corrupt in hopes of being taken out of the mountain. Gollum attacks Bilbo to get it back, but the ring turns Bilbo invisible and allows him to escape. But right before he is about to escape the mountain Gollum blocks his way and Bilbo is presented with a choice – kill Gollum or try to rush past him. He pulls his sword to put this vile creature to death, but instead of allowing his hate and fear to control him his heart fills with pity and Bilbo chooses to jump past instead.

In Lord of the Rings, the ring has passed from Bilbo to Frodo who has been given the task of destroying it – and we can see throughout the books that it’s slowly corrupting Frodo too. But Gollum has not gone away but is always following, always hoping to kill Frodo and get the ring back.

Then this happens:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IrOqnZdvI6M

JRR Tolkien used the Ring as a symbol of sin and Gollum as the creature who has been totally corrupted by it. He is a hateful creature breathing lies, curses, and threats at all times. Frodo feels it would be best if Gollum would have just died. The world would be better off without him. Gollum is hateful and deserves to be hated and dispensed with. He’s in the way, stopping the good people from doing good. But Gandolf, a sort of Christ figure or at least Biblical prophet type in the book, does not hate him – he pities him.

And then he speaks these words: “It was pity that stayed Bilbo’s hand. Many that live deserve death and some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. Even the very wise cannot see all ends.”

This reminds me of the Parable of the Weeds that Jesus told in Matthew 13:24-43.

“He put another parable before them, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’’”

Just as Frodo wanted to kill Gollum, the servants want to go out and pick out all the weeds in the garden, but the farmer says no, stating that his servants are not wise enough or careful enough to be able to do the job without messing up the whole field. They are not reapers and though they think they know what they are doing, they would be pulling out good plants with the bad and would do damage to the crop. He says, “When the time is right I’ll let the reapers do it because they’ll do it right.” And in the next verses we learn that the reapers are angels sent by God – not humans.

What’s the point? We are too much like Frodo and the servants, wanting to hastily jump in with our poor judgement, prejudice, racism, and ill motives, and try to do God’s job for Him. That’s not our job. What does God want? For us to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him. Our job, according to Jesus, is to love God, love our neighbour, and love our enemies – not dole out our own poorly conceived, ungodly, prejudice plans. We must repent and ask forgiveness for such thoughts….

 

[1] Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, “Grace”.

[2] https://www.gotquestions.org/how-to-get-to-heaven.html