Preparing for Jesus’ Yes

1430243_28387738On Sunday we looked at two Christmas stories. These two stories are very similar, both people receive amazing promises, have an encounter with an angel, and have some amazing desires met. The difference between the two stories is in the responses of the two people.

The first, Zechariah is promised to receive a special child from the Angel Gabriel. This is an amazing thing, and something he has been hoping for. But because his heart isn’t ready, he is unable to fully receive the promise. His response to Gabriel is “how will I know this will happen?”. He essentially asks, what more proof will there be that this promise will actually come to be? And Gabriel turns to him and essentially simply states, “The fact you are talking to an angel of God should be enough proof”. The point is that for Zechariah his initial response was a bit of reluctance, of hesitancy, of doubt.

The very next story though shows a bit of a different response. The angel Gabriel shows up to Mary and gives her a very similar promise. That she too would bear a son but that this son would be the Messiah. What an amazing promise! Her response though is very different from Zechariah’s, she says, “I am willing to accept whatever God wants”. Her response is willingness.

So we ended asking the question if God were to show up today – what would be your response to him? Would it be reluctance or acceptance? Would it be doubt or willingness?

I think this is an  important question to ask because I believe we’d like to be like Mary – responding with acceptance and willingness. The trouble is the longer we wait for God’s promises the more difficult it is to respond with Mary. We start to base our hopes on our expectations, rather than on God’s ability to do the impossible. We start to base our hopes on our reality, rather than God’s.

So we ended with this challenge on Sunday. Let’s prepare our hearts for God’s arrival. Jesus is coming; that’s what Advent is all about. So let’s prepare our hearts so that when he comes we can respond like Mary, with willingness and acceptance.

The only way to prepare our hearts to be able to be like Mary, I think, is to simply get closer to God. The closer we are to God the more likely we can respond rightly to God. So this week focus on getting closer to Jesus. Spend time with him in prayer, in conversation, in closeness and let that start to prepare your heart for his arrival. Advent is a time of preparation, so let’s prepare for Jesus because one thing is sure. He is coming, so let’s be ready.

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea We need to have willing hearts

Take Aways…

  • Advent a time of waiting but also preparing.
  • We couch our expectations in our version of reality
  • Zechariah has based his life on what he thought is possible
  • We can be so unprepared in our hearts and minds, that we don’t even believe the promise and struggle to receive it.
  • In Zechariah’s response there is reluctance, in Mary’s there is willingness
  • What would be your response -willingness, or doubt?
  • We need to prepare our hearts to accept the impossible.
  • We need to have willing hearts.
  • Get close to God

Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new?

What have you been waiting for? Would you say you are ready to receive it? What might be your response today to Jesus’ arrival in your life? How can you get closer to Jesus this week? What will you do this week?

Discussion Questions for Young Families: This week simply watch your kids. Give them something exciting, something great, and watch how easily they receive it. Kids have a natural way of receiving good things without questioning it. Why not learn from them this week.

Challenge for this Week: Get close to Jesus.

Emptying Yourself and Not Controlling the Outcomes

863912_92856468So on Sunday I was preaching in St. Catharines on Emptying Yourself. The main idea was that Jesus emptied himself, and so we are also called to empty ourselves on those around us. The idea was to see people not as interruptions but opporutnties to empty ourselves, giving away grace, hope, and life.
And so after the service I went out for lunch with two of the pastors from the church. And as I’m leaving the downtown area a man looks at me sitting on a bench near my car and says, “Sir, do you have any change, I have a handicap and would love a coffee”?
I looked in my dash and there was a $2 (which I thought was God’s provision ~ because I never ever seem to have cash). I gave him the toonie and went to get back in my car. But my sermon kept echoing around in my mind, and I wondered – “Is this emptying myself?” So I talked with the man a bit more, and he asked if I was a Christian. I said I was, and I saw that my bank was directly behind where we were talking. So I quick walked in, grabbed some more cash, and gave it to the man.
This is normally in the story where God moves in and changes lives, where people accept Jesus, and where we feel like we did a wonderful thing. Expect that didn’t happen at all. Instead the interaction with the man turned sour. He got quite angry at me for not getting out more money. And so as I gave him the money he turned and stomped off leaving me feeling a bit confused, unsure, and unsettled. I wondered to myself, “God what did I do wrong?”
But I think that’s sometimes the wrong perspective isn’t it. We focus on the outcomes, rather than the obedience. We focus on the change we create, rather than leaving that up to God, and simply following in his footsteps. These were my thoughts as I walked back to my car.
I thought maybe there is something I can learn from this…
And as I’m thinking this through, a lady drives up next to me and rolls down her window and gets my attention. She says to me, “I just saw what you did, and you are far too nice. I never would have been able to do that.” She said “I hope that he uses the money for the right things, and not drugs.” I said to her, “I hope so too, but as a Christian my calling is to give, and not judge how the gift is used”. She said she’d never thought of that before and thanked me for what I did and drove off.
As I reflect on this whole little experience I believe I learned one key thing. Focus on following Jesus, and leaving the rest up to him. Maybe I was to give the money to help the man, to help this lady, or even for me to learn something. And maybe God is using this experience to change all three of us.
The point is I think we should focus on following more than anything else. Don’t worry about the outcomes, and whether the action or gift worked or failed. Focus on being faithful and following as best you can. That’s what I learned and what I want to keep learning and most of all keep practicing.

The Hard Stuff is the Only Stuff Worth Doing…

On Sunday we’re wrapping up our series on becoming an apprentice of Jesus. We’re going to look at one last key part of following Jesus that changes lives, deepens your life dramatically and connects you to Jesus like nothing else. So I’m really excited about Sunday.

But I’m also nervous…

Because the truth is that following Jesus isn’t easy. Following Jesus has never been easy. It is simple: trust Jesus, love others, forgive enemies, give generously, and put others first. Simple things…but not easy things to live out. And so on Sunday we are going to look at the simplest and most basic part of following Jesus…unfortunately it also happens to be the hardest to follow…

But sometimes the hardest things are often the most life-giving things.

Maybe you’ve had this experience. Maybe you’ve decided to actually forgive someone, not the type of forgiving that doesn’t matter, but the forgiveness that is…work. Maybe you’ve actually simplified your life so that you can give more. Maybe you’ve given your time and life for others knowing that hurt and abuse can happen. If you’ve ever done anything like this then I think you’ll know what I mean when I say the hard things are the only things worth doing. The fact that they are hard is what makes them so worthwhile. The irony is that following in the tough stuff leads to more freedom and joy. Resisting Jesus’ leading simply leads to a dead end. Mother Theresa once said, “Whenever I see someone sad…I think that they are refusing Jesus something”. So on Sunday we are going to be looking at what Jesus is really asking of us. We are going to seek not to refuse anything to him, but to honestly ask him, “What would you have me do?”

My guess is that’s a pretty good question for today too. Why not ask him today, “what would you have me do?” Let it be a wide open question, one that you’re willing to follow. Because the opposite of what Mother Theresa said is also true. Whenever I see someone fully content, at peace and connected, I think they must be refusing Jesus nothing…

Compassion leads to…Action leads to…change…

This Sunday I want to explore something that is quite personal to me. My feelings and motives. I want to explore the idea how when we feel like Jesus we end up acting like Jesus.

In our journey following Jesus, it’s when we actually start to feel like him that we are moved to become like him. When our heart, desire, and emotions are shaped by God then we end up responding to those situations like God would. This is where the prayer “God let my heart break over the things that break your heart” stems from. When our heart breaks over the same things that break God’s heart that is simultaneously a difficult place to be and the only place we should want to be; because then our actions will represent God when at our core they have the heart of God.

This is what I want to explore next Sunday through a story of Jesus and the feeding of the 5000. But before we get there maybe start to explore this reality through your own story.

  • When have you impacted / acted like Jesus prompted by a Jesus like heart?
  • When has someone else changed / impacted you because they acted out of a heart moved by God?
Because it’s my belief that our lives get changed because of people who have a heart like God and then act on it. If this has been true in your life, share it through a comment below or you can simply email me.
For the rest of this week though focus on feeling like Jesus would and let that guide your actions…