For those of you who don't know, before I started working here at the church, I worked in retail. (Glorious retail!) And, although I loved the people I worked with, I was so happy to move into the role I have now. I'm especially thankful as the Christmas season rolls around.
This past Christmas, our family was celebrating at my sister-in-law’s home. And as we were eating our Christmas dinner, my husband Mike said, “Hey Jo, remember the last time we were here for Christmas, we were packing up to go home at this time because you had to start work the next morning at 5a.m.”. Because, if there's one thing you know working in retail, it's that Christmas isn't truly Christmas if people can't go shopping for great deals on Boxing Day.
It just seems like people are always concerned with the next thing. Never content with where we are now, we constantly look to what might lay ahead.
To keep going with the retail theme, one year in late January I remember trying to buy some winter boots for my son who had grown out of his pair. No luck, they've already got the sandals out in the shoe store. Looking to buy a nice summer dress in July? Sorry, they've already rolled out the fall flannels. Sometimes this incessant looking ahead drives me crazy!
With one exception.
On December 26, after all the excitement of Christmas is over and I finally have a moment to rest, I sit down... and I think about Easter. Because the story of Christ's birth is beautiful and miraculous, but it means little to us without the incredible, powerful, life-giving work of the cross.
Sometimes these days after Christmas can be disorienting. You've spent so much time looking forward to a certain day, and – in a flash – it's here and gone. But Emmanuel, God with us, is as true and powerful today as it is on Christmas day, and as it was 2000 years ago. So after the wrapping paper has been cleaned up and the decorations are packed away, let's remember that, as God's people, we still have so much to look forward to. We have new life in Him, and an eternity to worship our Christ the Lord!
Jolene Sanders, Director of Worship
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.
- 1 Peter 1:3-4
Like most people I can get caught up in the hype of a new year:
“It’s a brand new year; are you going to be the same old you?”
"A fresh book with 365 blank pages."
"A blanket of shimmering snow before you, just waiting for your first footprints to fall."
"Sitting at a crossroads of undiscovered adventure."
Oh, I know them all.
But that first one – the one about being the same old me – that one lands pretty hard with me. Because as Christians we are called to be growing in our faith. Growing in our dependence on the Saviour. Growing in our devotion to His Word. Growing in our love for one another. Growing in grace. In Mercy. In holiness.
A number of years ago I was going through a pretty tough time emotionally and spiritually. I felt like no matter what I did, I could never be enough for myself, my family, or my God. Nobody made me feel this way – my family was just as loving and kind as they had always been, but I was held captive by my own feelings of unworthiness. My thoughts consumed me.
Let me rephrase that…
My thoughts about me consumed me. And then Scripture became something I turned to in order to make me feel better about my thoughts about me.
Colossians helped to break me out of my reverie. You see, when I got to Colossians 3 it felt like God was shouting at me, “You have received all the blessings and grace and mercy and kindness of being a child of God, so why don’t you start believing it and living like it?!?” God can shout pretty loud, but sometimes He has to in order to drown out the sound of our own thoughts.
So I started praying Colossians 3:1-3 every day – sometimes every hour. When my earthly mind told me that I was failing again, Colossians reminded me that the victory was already mine. When my thoughts kept my eyes on myself, God used Colossians to remind me to fix my eyes on Jesus. My old self has died, and my life is now hidden with Christ in God.
So when I think of the brand new year, I can honestly say that I don’t want to be the same old me. I don’t even want to be a better version of me. I want to be someone who is changed by God’s Word and impacted by the gospel message that the old has passed, and the new has come.
With this new year before us, Pastor Aaron is beginning a series on Colossians, looking at the supremacy of Christ. As we work through this book, we have put together a custom Bible reading plan for you to follow. Beginning on Sunday, January 13, 2019 the Colossians Bible reading plan will be available daily in the "Bible" tab of the Calvary App. Each day will give you a short passage in Colossians plus a few selected passages in the Old and New Testament. Saturday we have scheduled a catch up day, a day where you can read any passages you have missed, or go deeper with the material you have already studied.
We'd encourage you to read the passages thoughtfully and prayerfully. Consider these things:
- Keep a journal or make notes in the margin of your Bible
- Re-write the passage in your own words
- Ask "Who - What - When - Where - Why - How" questions of the passage
- Think about the "Big Idea" of the passage, and write it down. This will give you a map through Colossians.
- Personalize the meaning: Ask: "How could my life be different today as I respond to what I'm reading?"
Working harder is exhausting, and it just keeps your eyes focused on you. This year, set your eyes on things above. Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our salvation. The One in whom we find life.
It’s unfair that all the fun stuff is made for kids. Light up shoes? For kids. Scented markers? Apparently for kids. And while I do my devotionals and navigate through page after page of monotonous black print on white pages, kids get these beautifully illustrated Children’s Bibles. Pictures of animals lining up 2-by-2 to board the ark, or of the stormy sea before Jesus calms the waves. But my favourite Bible illustration – by far – can be found on the very first page; the lush green landscape of the Garden of Eden.
In my mind, I imagine a Sunday School teacher reading through the story of Genesis to her class. The children in awe as she describes the plants and animals. Giggling as Adam and Eve are strategically placed behind leaves and shrubbery. And then, as the snake slinks out of the tree and starts up a conversation with Eve, I imagine the kids shouting, “Don’t listen to him! Don't do it! He’s the bad guy!”
Or maybe I imagine that because that’s what I’m internally shouting as I read that story.
Looking at those painted figures on a page, it’s easy to think, “Really?? Eve! Adam! What’s the deal?! There was literally only one rule!” Adam and Eve had access to what seemed to be heaven on earth if only they would be obedient in this small way. I would give anything to be in that garden; to walk with God.
And yet, in full honesty, every day I struggle with obedience. Each morning I wake up determined to do my best, and each evening I skulk around like Adam and Eve did after eating from the forbidden tree. But we are not made to dwell on our sin (as I'm so often inclined to do) and it was in reading through Romans 5 that's I've started to reconcile this.
Read the verses here from the Message:
“So death, this huge abyss separating us from God, dominated the landscape from Adam to Moses. Even those who didn’t sin precisely as Adam did by disobeying a specific command of God still had to experience this termination of life, this separation from God. But Adam, who got us into this, also points ahead to the One who will get us out of it.
Yet the rescuing gift is not exactly parallel to the death-dealing sin. If one man’s sin put crowds of people at the dead-end abyss of separation from God, just think what God’s gift poured through one man, Jesus Christ, will do! There’s no comparison between that death-dealing sin and this generous, life-giving gift. The verdict on that one sin was the death sentence; the verdict on the many sins that followed was this wonderful life sentence. If death got the upper hand through one man’s wrongdoing, can you imagine the breathtaking recovery life makes, sovereign life, in those who grasp with both hands this wildly extravagant life-gift, this grand setting-everything-right, that the one man Jesus Christ provides?”
As we look ahead to communion this Sunday, (and even further ahead as we anticipate Christmas), let us dwell on this incredible “rescuing gift” that God sent in his Son. The sin of Adam and Eve belongs to us still, but the guilt and shame do not! Think about that! Delight in that!
So often I fall into the same sin that Adam and Eve did. And when I see it, I have the same exasperation as when I read that Genesis story. But the beauty of the grace of Jesus is that it far surpasses the sin of Adam. It far surpasses my sin and yours. So please come to Calvary this Sunday prepared to receive the overwhelming grace that is given through Jesus Christ.
Jolene Sanders, Director of Worship
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)
On Thanksgiving Sunday we spent some time in Habakkuk, a small book in the Old Testament. Habakkuk was a prophet who was called by God to give a message to the people that judgement was coming because they had been so disobedient and spiritually dysfunctional. Frankly, Habakkuk is ticked with God that He won’t do anything about it, and that the people are getting away with their sinfulness. He writes,
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?
Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted. (Hab 1:1-4)
Israel was in spiritual ruins, and God tells Habakkuk that he is going to use the Babylonians to judge Israel’s sinfulness (1:6). Habakkuk does not see this as a good thing and complains again, basically asking God, "Aren’t you able to do this some other way?".
God uses this moment to instruct Habakkuk about who He is, what He is doing, and how He is going to go about doing it. He also takes the time to remind Habakkuk about our proper response to God during times when we don’t completely understand what God is doing or why He is doing it. God reminds Habakkuk that “the righteous will live by faith”. There is a quiet confidence that the child of God can know that when we don’t completely understand our challenges, that we can trust Him.
Through a series of conversations between God and Habakkuk, Habakkuk finally comes to grips with what is happening. He understands that even though he and the people might suffer under the Babylonians, that God is still God and is sovereign and will be with them through it all.
Often the greatest tests of our fragile spirituality happens when we are faced with impeding suffering, pain and abuse. I am not talking about some fake, mask wearing, smile faking spirituality that tell everyone that “I’m ok”. What I am saying, and I think Habakkuk is instructing us, is that even when life is tough, God is there, doing something that requires faith and trust in Him.
The climax of the book comes when Habakkuk announces his reconfirmed faith and trust in God, and the song he sings is captured in chapter 3. For our time on Sunday we focused on three truths about cultivating a heart of thankfulness, even when we don’t feel like it or understand what God is doing. They flow out of the verses found in Habakkuk 3:17-19:
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer's;
he makes me tread on my high places.
Habakkuk realizes because of who God is, that he can...
- Thank God regardless of the challenges (17)
- Thank God for his salvation in the challenges (18)
- Thank God for God’s strength through the challenges (19)
So what was the take away for Thanksgiving Sunday?
Despite our challenges, what are we thanking God for? He has given us His Spirit to be present with us through our challenges, and that He ultimately gave us His Son, Jesus Christ. That through faith in His work on the cross we can find hope for this life and the one to come. Even while we wait and trust through the challenges we face, God’s strength is sufficient in our weakness.
I hope this is your experience with God. If you have any questions about this or about following Jesus in the challenges of life, I'd love to talk with you. Send me an email or set up a time to talk on a Monday night.
Pastor Aaron Groat
I'm a big story kind of person. Not necessarily the small details, but the overall larger story.
One of the things you often hear when working in youth ministry, is the question “Where does God fit in to my life?” … or perhaps “Where does God fit in to my story?”. Well, this fall our Students are working through a lesson series from Compassion Canada that tries to shift that focus. Shift it away from ourselves, and instead on to how we get involved in God's story. But do you ask that question of yourself? Where does God fit in to your life, your story?
In my early days as a believer, I had a very me-centred focus on God and what it was to be a Christian. I thought it was all about what I had to gain, about how God fit in to my overall story arc. And as I mentioned, I'm a big story kind of guy, I like to look at how the thing unfolds. So, in my late teens, God was just becoming the supporting character in MY story arc. But it wasn't until a few helpful and loving people stepped in, to show me the error in that logic, that I began to see that I was, in fact, NOT the main character.
I think too often we view God in that lens, from our perspective, from our story line. We're the main characters in the story of our lives. Everyone else is a secondary or supporting character. But is that really how it is? When you read the Bible, who's the main character? Is it the people interacting with God? or is God the main character, and all the people in the Bible are the supporting cast? I'd argue that it's the latter, that we are the supporting characters in the far greater story of God. We are the characters who are part of the cast, some of us have speaking roles, some of us nod, shake our heads, or otherwise react to what's happening in the scene in front of us. We each have a role to play in this story of life, but ultimately this is a story of God. Of His almighty sovereignty, His everlasting grace, His big beautiful plan for redemption. And because of that, we don't need to ask where God fits in to our story, but rather where we fit in to God's story.
So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.
Secondary characters don't pull stunts like this. This is the work of one really big main character whose story is bigger and better than anything this world could come up with. And I'd like to know more about how I can get involved in His story.
Mike Sanders, Youth Director
When I was in High School I attended a church that believed that when you were too old to attend Sunday School, you were just the right age to begin teaching Sunday School. By the time I hit grade 10, I was teaching a boisterous class of grade 4 boys in a big gymnasium crisscrossed with room dividers.
Words can’t describe the noise level. Each week I came, woefully unprepared, to teach Bible stories to those boys and hoped I was making some sort of a difference.
Recently I read Psalm 78 and reflected on those early days of teaching Bible stories in a gymnasium in Kitchener. You have to understand that Psalm 78 was written by Asaph; he had been appointed to pass on the stories of the marvellous deeds of God Almighty so that future generations would know and worship the Lord. But here’s the thing you'll notice when you read that Psalm: Asaph didn’t just tell the historical stories; he taught lessons about the goodness of God in the face of Israel’s repeated disobedience.
Stories and lessons? C’mon, what’s the difference?
Well, the facts of what happened in Israel’s past is the story, but why and how God responded is the lesson. The physical and spiritual acts performed by God to rescue his people is a story, but the impact of how we worship and serve a faithful God is the lesson.
Psalm 78:6-8 tells us that God established a testimony and law which we are commanded to teach to our children so that they in turn tell their children, so they will set their hope in God and not forget His works. Check it out:
He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.
And I think this goes beyond the value of just teaching stories to our own children – this is transferrable to the relationships we have with those who are spiritually younger as well. By knowing the law and testimony of God (the stories and the lessons), future generations will not harden their heart toward the Lord.
I confess that many times I have told the stories of God without teaching the lessons. Telling the story is easy, but teaching the lesson is hard because it means getting personal. It means examining my heart to ensure that God is doing a work there before I teach others about God wanting to do a work in their heart. It means being humble and teachable and vulnerable. It means ensuring that my testimony begins with God’s testimony. It means knowing with certainty that God is the hero of my story (both the parts in the past and the parts yet unwritten) before I try to teach anyone else that God also wants to be the hero of their story. I taught Bible stories for years before I realized that if the people don’t see how the lesson impacts me, they’ll never see how it can impact them.
You might be a Sunday School teacher or helper, or maybe you are influencing future believers in your family, workplace or your community. As you communicate God’s Word, remember that it is the lessons that draw people to set their hope in Christ.
I’d love to hear from you about the lessons God is teaching you. Let’s grab a coffee (or three!) and encourage each other with the marvellous works of the Lord.
Candi Thorpe, Director of Administration, Communication and Frontline Ministries
It took me a while to decide what to write about this week. I wanted to write something beautiful and inspiring, but instead I’m going to write about discipline.
I even gave a few tries at writing a lovely little Mother’s Day blog, but no… we’re going to talk about discipline.
Before we go any further, take a moment to read through Hebrews 12.
To many of you it’s a familiar passage. It encourages us to run the race set before us. When I was younger, I always thought that was a great analogy, because it seemed so exciting! I pictured the 100-meter dash at the Olympics; adrenaline pumping, crowds cheering, putting everything on the line.
But the reality is that our race is more like a really, really, really long marathon.
You’re probably going to feel like walking for part of it. Or you might get a cramp partway through and wonder if you’ll make it to the finish line at all.
You will get tired.
But the author of Hebrews writes, “It is for discipline that you have to endure…. For the moment, all discipline feels painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Emphasis added)
As a parent, I know how difficult it can be to discipline a child. But I also know that not to discipline my son would be a disservice. Because I don’t just care about who he is now, I care about his whole life. It can be painful and frustrating, but we discipline our children because we love them.
And how much more does our Father in Heaven love us. So much so that he takes the time – despite our resistance, despite our stubbornness – to shape and mold us into who we are meant to be.
So press on - even when you feel exhausted, even when you’re overwhelmed – press on to the finish line.
Jolene Sanders, Director of Worship
“I do not claim that I have already succeeded or have already become perfect. I keep striving to win the prize for which Christ Jesus has already won me to himself. Of course, my friends, I really do not think that I have already won it; the one thing I do, however, is to forget what is behind me and do my best to reach what is ahead. So I run straight toward the goal in order to win the prize, which is God's call through Christ Jesus to the life above.” (Philippians 3:12-14)
“For He disciplines for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10)
There is no doubt that the tragic events of the past couple weeks have rattled us all a bit. From the tragic loss of life in a bus crash to the senseless violence of a man in Toronto, all of us have been forced to hold our loved ones closer and recognise the brevity of life.
There are no easy answers when it comes to the why. Why did this happen? How could God have allowed this to take place? These are good questions. These are hard questions, and in the middle of the crisis there are no easy answers. I find later that after some time has passed, allowing a period of reflection, we can come to terms with some of these things, but it’s never an easy process.
What encourages me about both of these events is that people came together to reach out beyond themselves to find hope and encouragements. Many turned to their faith and it was in the confidence and hope of the gospel, they were able to start the process of healing and restoration.
Sean Brandow, the chaplain to the Homboldt Broncos, spoke to the community vigil of this hope when he said,
“Where was God? That question has two answers. God is on the throne and God is with the broken-hearted. We know that God is on the throne, Jesus walked this earth, he died, he was buried, he rose again. It says in the scripture that he is now seated at the right hand of the Father, in control of setting up our leaders, putting people in the place where they need to be at just the right time, for just the right purpose, making sure that things line up according to his plan. I don’t claim to understand how this seems like it’s in God’s control at all, but it is. He’s still on the throne, he’s still God. You know, I asked the question as you look at God on the throne, it’s easy to look at God from a distance but the second part of that question of where is God is that he’s with us.” 1
I’ll allow you to read the rest of the message yourself, but those two answers cut across the airways of Canada and beyond. In other words, our God is still sovereign and He is still with those who suffer. Powerful words to our nation who is struggling to find meaning in these situations. I don’t claim to understand how God’s sovereignty works, but I do know that He is working out His plan in this world that is so much bigger than me or my comfort. I don’t claim to understand how his comfort works but I do cling to the truth that He is with me no matter what. He loves us and in spite of the evil around us, He is with us through the pain and anguish – gently encouraging and speaking words of hope and love.
So this week, in spite of what is happening in the Homboldt or Toronto, be reminded of the hope that we have in Christ. Peter reminds the church of this hope today and a time coming soon.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:3-6
Pastor Aaron Groat
As I begin to write this blog it is actually snowing outside. I’m not sure that we’ve had ice storms and snow hang on this long in quite some time. Although the snow can look beautiful on certain landscapes, I’m sure we are all ready for a real spring. We are ready for some sunshine, some colour in our gardens and to get outdoors! Today as I look out at the grey sky, I am reminded of Psalm 113:3 “From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the Lord is to be praised!”
I love the fact that whatever the topic, or lesson, story, big idea, praise or need for encouragement, the Bible always has an answer. In our Children’s Ministry we encourage our children to learn about the Bible and to study Scripture. Our focus verse for this year has been Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” We also review a new verse with our Bible story each week. We believe that it is important for our children to learn about the Bible and who God is and how much he cares for them. We also want our kids to understand how Scripture applies to their day to day life.
One of the resources I recently came across can be found at Ministry to Children. They offer lots of free lessons and ideas for learning verses. There is one titled “Short Bible Verses for Kids” and there is an option to print a colouring page for younger children. Check it out if you think it might be something fun to study.
Tanya Chant, Director of Family & Children's Ministry
I love a good story. No matter if it is a children’s book, a biography, or an engaging video, I love to hear a well-crafted story. Unfortunately, if you have been in a relationship or married for any length of time, you know that stories can get old. So much so that I jokingly tell newlyweds to not use all their best material in the first year – they have the rest of their lives to tell the same stories over and over again (profound apologies to my dear husband who has heard all of my stories repeatedly over the last 27 years).
What about you, what's your story? When someone asks you about your faith, are you still talking about the moment that led up to your conversion, or do you have a new story to tell?
Don’t get me wrong - as believers we are supposed to tell the story of what God has done in our lives. Psalm 66 says, “Come and see what God has done; he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of men… Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he has done for my soul.”
Yet, when the Psalmist wrote these verses, I don’t think they were meant to serve as a passive observation of all the things the Lord once did. Instead, I believe they were meant to be a call for others to witness and testify to God’s mercy and power. Come and see! Come and hear! Come and experience! Come!
Notice how many times the Psalmists write about singing a “new song” to the Lord (see Psalms 33, 40, 96, 98, 144, and 149 as examples). These ancient hymns tell us, "Sing a new song, you who love the Lord, because God continues to demonstrate goodness, marvellous grace, mercy, victory over the enemies of His people, and many other amazing things."
If you are a Christ-follower, you definitely have a conversion story. That thing that God once did in your life. But if God doing new things in your life and in mine, why are we still telling the same old story?
Now, before you think that I am defaming the song, Tell Me the Old, Old Story, please hear this - the story of the cross is timeless and absolutely should be told over and over again. That beautiful thing that was done on our behalf to deliver us from death to life underpins every single thing we could ever share about who we are, but it should also underpin why we live the way we do! We give God the glory because it is He who is doing the work in our lives.
So what’s your story? Throughout the month of April, write down at least four ways the Lord has met your need, sustained you, answered your prayer, or delivered you.
Sing a new song. Tell a new story. God’s deeds are awesome yesterday, today and forever.
Candi Thorpe, firstname.lastname@example.org
You may recall that during the month of February, our Student Ministries was working through the four ancient Greek words for love. We do studies like this to help us better understand what the original authors of the New Testament were trying to convey with their letters. And to better wrap our 21st century brains around 1st century people. We finished our series with the ultimate of all loves, which is Agape. Agape love describes the unconditional, divine love that God has for his creation, for us. Agape is a love that is selfless, and sacrificial. While researching this I stumbled on an article that describes Agape love like this;
“Agape...is unmotivated in the sense that it is not contingent on any value or worth in the object of love. It is spontaneous and heedless, for it does not determine beforehand whether love will be effective or appropriate in any particular case”
Agape love is not based on the value of what's being loved. Agape doesn't say, “If you're worthy of this, then you can experience it.” It doesn't require something; it is an undeserved love. Which makes perfect sense to why this is the love that the New Testament authors would use to describe God's love for us. We've done nothing to deserve His love, yet he gives it anyways.
Isn't that amazing?
I think of a passage like Romans 5:8, which states:
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.
Agape love. Unconditional, undeserving, sacrificial love for His creation. Why? Simply, because He does. We've done nothing to deserve it, we've in fact done everything in our power to reject it. Yet, He gives it, to the point of sending His son to die on a cross, that we might know it. Wow.
It's really easy to stop there, and just say, Agape love, that's God's love for us, neat!... BUT, our New Testament authors don't stop there. Several times we see this word used to describe how we ought to love others. John 15:9-13, We see Jesus commanding his followers...
“This is my commandment, that you love (agapate) one another as I have loved (egapesa) you.”
Jesus is calling us to love each other sacrificially, selflessly, unconditionally, and maybe the toughest of all, undeservedly. That's tough, don't get me wrong. Agape love is a tall order that none of us should take lightly. But it's something we've been commanded to by Jesus himself. This word is also used to describe the love, in a passage you all likely know very well, Galatians 5:22-23, which states;
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love (agape), joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
It's really easy to zoom past that first “fruit” and get to some of the more specific fruits of the Spirit. We get caught up thinking, okay, be kind, be patient, be peaceful, be good, be faithful, be loving. But the word used here is not philia (which describes a friendly love), nor storge (familial love). The word used in Galatians 5:22 is agape; unconditional, undeserving, selfless, sacrificial love. The fruits of the Spirit at work in our lives STARTS with this kind of love. And under this kind of love, the rest of the fruits get their framework, and their purpose. How God loves His creation, we too are to love.
We are about to enter into that time of the year where God's agape, love, is on display for all to see. Even the un-churched will hear of the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for us all. When you approach the cross this Easter, reflect on God's agape for us. Reflect on the fact that you can't earn it, and that you've done nothing to deserve it, YET, God gives it freely, unconditionally, and sacrificially, because He loves you.
Mike Sanders, Youth Director
John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
I remember one of the first times I worked my way through the book of Hebrews. I had been hesitant to read Hebrews because I found it hard to understand all the Old Testament references and what they had to do with the message that the author of Hebrews was trying to communicate.
So, I sat down and started chasing all those footnotes and cross references that you find in your Bible (a little aside – this is one of the reasons why I don’t think your primary Bible should be a digital device that doesn’t include these). As I read the Old Testament quotes, suddenly the book came alive as I saw the incredible way the author built the case surrounding the supremacy of Christ and the power of salvation through His death on the cross.
One of my favourite sections – and really it’s the pinnacle of the book in many ways – is in chapter 10 where the author writes, (italics mine)
And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
Hebrews 10:11–14 (ESV)
When I first read those verses, I wondered why it would mention “stands daily” and then “sat down”. Why would the author put these little details in? As I chased down the cross-references and read some other material I was struck with the thought that the reason why the priest could never sit down was because his job was never done. Every day, day after day, sacrifices would have to be made for the people by the priests. It was a never-ending job that required unbelievable dedication and endurance. There was no shortage of work. Sin continued to be committed, sin needed to be atoned for, and a sacrifice was necessary.
Until THE day when everything changed. Jesus changed everything.
Jesus gave His life as the final and ultimate sacrifice for your sins and mine. In one final act, Jesus took the punishment for our sin. The punishment that we are responsible for because we can’t keep God’s perfect law, was taken on Himself. Not multiple sacrifices, but ONE SINGLE SACRIFICE that made atonement for all sin for all time.
Let that sink in a minute as we approach the time of year where we come together as a church to remember that Jesus died and rose again (Good Friday and Easter) so that our sins can be forgiven and we can be made right with God. And then Jesus SAT down.
The priests in the tabernacle had no need of chairs because their work never ended, but Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest, offered himself as a single sacrifice for sins, for all time. After his sacrifice was offered and accepted, he did what no other priest serving in the tabernacle had done before. He pulled up a chair and sat down at the right hand of His Father (1). Your sin and mine has now been covered by the sacrifice that Jesus made. By faith, we accept that gift of grace. It moves me to tears to think that my Saviour did that for us, for His church, for any who would believe.
As we gather this Easter weekend, it is my prayer that the prodigiousness of this grace, that was poured out in the finality of Christ’s sacrifice, would move us all to proclamation and mission - proclaiming the good news to our friends and neighbours and serving people as an expression of love because of what Christ has done for us. Why not invite them to join you on Easter Sunday at Calvary – you never know what they will say until you ask.
And remember…. He sat down…
Pastor Aaron Groat
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