Thursday, 30 March 2017

Abraham's sacrifice and Jesus at the cross

In Genesis 22 we are given one of the most uncomfortable stories in scripture in which God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. While a reading of the story reveals that God may have never really intended Abraham to sacrifice this child (Child sacrifice is strictly forbidden throughout scripture), a careful reading should not leave anyone feeling altogether comfortable with this scene. And that is the point somewhat. Oftentimes we become far to comfortable with our walk with God and forget that what he might ask of us or call of us may lead us down a road which is quite uncomfortable. Furthermore, the saturation of the story of Jesus on the cross often numbs us to the reality that it is an incredibly uncomfortable scene as well.

The connections between Isaac and Jesus, once looked for, are numerous and meaningful. They are certainly not two stories that most people would put together, but they're connections which make for some good pondering. Also, it is a great example of how the covenant and promises God made to those in the Old Testament are consistent with those made through Jesus.

Question for group discussion: Everyone share a time in their life when your faith has forced you to do something uncomfortable? What is comfortable about your faith walk right now?

Here is only some of those connections;

1) Forced to carry the wood used for their own execution:

Jesus was famously forced to carry his cross from where he was whipped and beaten to the place where they crucified him. This was probably done by placing the cross-piece over Jesus shoulders with his arms stretched back and bound to the wood. In Genesis, Abraham placed the wood for the burnt sacrifice "on top of" his son Isaac. Isaac literally carried the wood for his own sacrifice up the mountain to the place where Abraham intended to sacrifice his son. For both these scenes we see a willing sacrifice burdening itself on the way to their own death.

It's interesting to note here that Isaac would also have been bound to the wood once the altar was ready. This means that not only did they both carry the very thing they would die on, but they were also each bound to it by force.

Question for discussion: What does it mean to you for Jesus to be bound? What are you bound to in your life now? Is it negative or positive?

2) Son of miraculous birth:

Jesus was born to a virgin following the appearance of an angel to his mother, father and others. The story of Jesus' miraculous birth is one of the most famous in the world. Isaac was born to a man nearly a hundred years old and a woman about ninety. This fact, in and of itself, is proof in the story of the miraculous birth of Jesus.

But what lies behind the fact of these miraculous births is that God intervened in both of them in order to solidify a promise. Isaac was given to Abraham to show him that God intended to make Abraham the "father of many nations" and this his descendants would number "like the stars in the sky." This only reinforces the fact that for Abraham he was being asked not only to sacrifice his son, but also all his hopes and dreams for the future. Abraham was being asked to sacrifice the very promises of God. Likewise, when Jesus died on the cross many believed that this would be the end, the defeat of, the promised messiah of God. But more on this on point three.

Question for discussion: What is a promise from God that you're trusting in right now?

3) The lamb is always a substitute?

God gives Abraham a ram in place of his son Isaac. This is very meaningful to the old testament understanding of sacrifice and the temple. The new testament abounds with illustrations and allusions to Jesus as the acceptable sacrificial lamb. Jesus 'took the place' as the lamb. This was important to the temple-understanding that the Jews of the first century would have had, who believed that the sacrifice of the lamb on the day of atonement covered the sins for their nation. This is the great difference between Jesus and Isaac, that while Isaac was replaced by the lamb, Jesus became the willing sacrificial lamb himself, all the way to death.

Questions for discussion:

  • Everyone share something in your life that is precious to you. How would it make you feel to Give that up? 
  • With the stories of Abraham and Jesus in mind, what do you think these stories are trying to tell us about sacrificing what we have?

Saturday, 11 February 2017

The New Jerusalem: Anniversary service 2017

Today we're looking at the entire chapter of Revelation 21. This chapter has been used many different ways throughout history. We definitely come to this passage with preconceptions and ideas around what it means and what its purpose is. If you wish to view the passage click HERE for a link that will bring you to Revelation 21. If you weren't present for the message, feel free to take some time and read through the point summaries and answer the questions together with your house church.
The city is God's presence- The city from heaven represents God's dwelling with his people intimate, immediate presence.

The city is us- The New Jerusalem as a city wouldn't be a city without it's people. The city is adorned like a bride just as the church is described as Christ's bride in the New Testament. God's people are also described as God's bride in the Old Testament. If we are the city, and the city is God's presence, then this has immediate and real impact on who and what we are.

The city is mysterious- We must accept that the description of this city, as it stands, is impossible. It's impossible at least how we understand possibility and impossibility. The fact that it's impossible says much about how we should approach it.

The city is victorious- In contrast to the conquering eternal city of Rome which ruled the world at the time of this writing, the city of heaven is victorious in different ways. Think not of how the New Jerusalem is victorious in the ways of Rome, but think of how the New Jerusalem is victorious in the ways of Jesus' Kingdom of God.

  1. God's new city does away with the old and brings a new creation. How has God changed you in the past? How is God changing you now? (Making you new)?
  2. What is the difference between the person you are, and the person you want to be?
  3. What are two ways this church can help you become that person?

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Peacemaking: The ways we fail every day.

Our church just recently got into another discussion on peacemaking. Specifically on some of the more radical statements Jesus made in regards to how we are to treat our enemies. Such as this one:

"If you love those who love you, what reward do you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?" (Jesus)

What this passage makes clear is that there is a calling to love that goes beyond what the world would expect of anyone. He says that the worst people to us are capable of, and usually live, the same level of love for their own families and people that we do. He riles up the crowd by asking, "Are you really any different than them."

How about this one:

"But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven." (Jesus)

Again, Jesus ups the anti on what loving others really means. the phrase "but I tell you" giving an indication that he's about to say something different than what we would expect. and the "love your enemies" definitely living up to the thought.

There are certainly many more quotes and passages that I could throw at you at this point. The problem is that the whole radical love for even our enemies thing so often gets puffed up into some sort of 'ideal' rather than a true 'calling.' And Jesus' radical teaching on peacemaking becomes just some nice thing that he said which we use to counteract the Old Testament bloodshed, rather than letting it be a challenge. We all too often shy away from actually living in any practical way.

For this article I'm going to assume that you've made up your mind on a calling to peacemaking through Christ or not. (Maybe you've never really given it any though, in which case now is a great opportunity). But in the meantime there's another problem facing us would be peacemakers which is not so often talked about. And this is the fact that we live in a society in which the question "Who is my enemy anyway?" is almost more prevalent than "who is my friend?"

We live in a peaceful society far detached from Jesus' Jerusalem filled with Roman occupation and tax collector traitors. In Jesus world who the enemy was was obvious, and he had some radical thoughts on how to treat these people. (Radical as in unexpected, not radical as in violent or revolutionary). In our world the very idea of having a personal 'enemy' seems almost unchristian unto itself. Even though Jesus assumed, even promised that we would have enemies if we followed him. So we're left with some of the greatest teachings of Jesus seeming kind of useless to our everyday lives since the 'enemy' seems so absent from our experience.

But I don't believe that 'enemy' needs to be interpreted as we think it should. But more importantly, I think that we need to realize that even though our enemies may seem scarce, the kind of radical love that Jesus wanted seems far too scarce as well. What I want to give you in this article is not a large philosophical discussion about pacifism. Instead I want to give one idea which, if we all started to live it, I believe would actually begin to bring Jesus' radical peace-creating love into this radical love starved society. Here it is:

Stop Gossiping!

Just bringing this up makes me feel old fashioned. But the truth is that gossip is one of the most destructive things that you can have in a peaceful community. If you want to check out what the Bible says about it, here's some proverbs. Prov. 16:26; 18:8; 26:20. Look them up, but you can also take my word for it, scripture is pretty universal that gossip is a pretty destructive quality.

And let's be clear. I'm not limiting this to the kind of gossip that we still imagine from middle aged, empty-nesting stay at home moms from the 70's. (Not to offend anyone, I respect you stay at home moms from the 70's). We need to realize that this is something that we're all capable and guilty of. This comes out in the griping about that weird co-worker. Or the way you all make fun of that one friend when they're not around.

Sure, it all still feels pretty innocuous. And the real problem is the fact that it can be fun, and even build commodore at the expense of only one person. Scripture even calls gossip "choice morsels." And beyond this, we cover up what we're really doing by claiming that we just have to 'get out our frustration,' or that we 'just concerned' about the person in question. There's almost no recognition of the fact that we're doing something destructive.

The calling for those of us who take Jesus' calling to peacemaking seriously need to see that our calling matters in these 'smaller' situations as well. It may oftentimes be uncomfortable, but we need to realize that if we're going to show radical love we're going to need to show some radical honesty. Only honesty with the person we're frustrated with, or those we're concerned for is going to bring any more actual peace.

Sometimes it's difficult to approach someone with this kind of honesty. Not to mention that it can be equally as uncomfortable to But I believe that our calling to stand out in love and the renewal of relationships may require some sort of conviction in this area.

Monday, 13 June 2016

We can agree that shootings are bad, right?

This may seem like a hastily written article. Frankly, it is. I know that I'm already behind on what I am sure are countless posts, blogs and articles writing about the most recent and tragic shooting. And although the horror of what has happened is still present in our minds, I think that it's important for us as a Christian community to reflect on one important thing.

I implore the Christian community to not allow this to become yet another round of debate on homosexuality and LGBTQ issues in general. It seems as if my adult life has been spent watching the church divide itself with a distinct lack of conquering on both sides. I hope not to see any hateful comments directed at the LGBTQ community as much as I hope not to see any of the standard righteous indignation from the progressive side.

This is not a time to show our sides or where we have always stood. This is only the time for compassion and deep, meaningful, genuine prayer.

Because no matter where we stand on these issues I hope that we can all agree that the senseless killing and targeting of any people group is a tragedy. We can agree that mass killings are wrong right? We can agree that targeting individuals based on their sexual orientation is wrong right?

I hope that we can show support and compassion to our LGBTQ neighbors, friends and family after this crisis. I hope that this is something that we can finally stand against together. Wherever you have generally fallen be it traditionalist or progressive (especially traditionalist), I hope to see a unity of love shown without judgment, prejudice or condition. No matter where you have stood, please do not content yourself to be silent.

The Network Church will continue to love and support the LGBTQ community. You are not alone. You are loved and prayed for.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

We wrote down our vision- What do you think?

Churches can spend a long time trying to define their vision. The basic values of our vision have always been at the root of why we do what we do and why we want to do it. I've always been proud of our vision, and I have always loved how we were able to describe it.

Like this...
Yup, I'm talking about the triangle. That's been our vision for a long time, and it continues to be our vision. You might not remember all the words to our vision statement, but I bet you can remember a triangle. It's the one with three sides.

It only made sense that when we spent the last year writing down our hopes and dreams for the Network Church, the three values this represents would come to the front.

Here's what we wrote down. Catch the vision!

The Network Church Vision Statement

We are part of God’s family, committed to expanding God’s Kingdom by:

GLORIFYING God as Lord of this Kingdom: We worship together. We pray and give thanks together. We bring glory to God through our actions. We continually thirst for a closer relationship with God.

GATHERING together as God’s Kingdom: We learn together and from one another. We mentor and follow one another. We take care of and serve one another. We challenge and support one another.

GIVING together to bring God’s Kingdom to the world: We are all ministers to those around us. We care for God’s world through compassionately meeting needs. We act like Jesus acted. We find where God’s working and join in on what He’s doing.

We may have disagreements or differences, but we unite around these three principles to bring God’s Kingdom into our communities and our lives.


If you're interested in seeing how we came to these values, feel free to look these up.

(Galatians 3:26-29; Genesis 1:27-28; Matthew 28:18-20; Ephesians 2:19-22; 2 Chronicles 7:14-16; Exodus 20:1-7; Hebrews 4:14-16; Psalm 76:4; Ephesians 4:11-13; Matthew 18:20; Acts 2:42-47; Romans 12:9-13; Ephesians 5:21; Mark 12:41-44; James 2:14-17; Matthew 25:35-40; Acts 20:35; Luke 10:1-9; 1 John 3:16-19; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; John 17:20-23; Romans 14:17-19; Philippians 2:1-4).

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Preparing for Lent

Lent is another one of those traditions that tend sneak up on us every year. Perhaps you're one of the many who are saying right now, "Lent? is that today?" or let's be honest, "Who cares about lent?" Lent is one of those seasons which has almost lost it's meaning for us today.

Now you might be saying. "Hey, I'm ready for Lent. I've got my fasting item all pegged down. I'm ready to go." But the purpose of lent is not suppose to be about fasting in the first place. You might disagree with me, many might as a matter of fact, but the truth is that Lent is not about fasting it is about preparation. We are preparing ourselves for Easter. Fasting is one important tool in this, to be sure, and yet as with many things in the modern Christian faith it is the tool which has become the goal. Let us fast for fasting is spiritual, rather than fasting as part of a greater goal and mindset.

The art of preparing oneself is one which we seem to be loosing. The thought of preparing yourself in a spiritual way makes me think more about those few moments before we take communion, or possibly a prayer at the beginning of a service. The idea of taking something like an entire season to 'prepare' for a moment like Easter seems ridiculous. And yet, this is what we practically do all the time.

How much planning goes into your family Christmas? How much scheduling goes into your family vacation? We are actually very used to the idea of planning and preparing far ahead of time, and these times of preparation often take far more time than the actual thing we're preparing for. We spend a month getting ready for Christmas day. We spend six moths planning a two week vacation. Examples could go on.

The art of 'preparation' when it comes to a spiritual endeavor should be no less apparent. And this is the purpose of Lent. Yet it seems that the way we approach Lent, even when it's from the right place, seems to have less to do with preparing for something greater and more to do with fasting for fasting sake. Is it any wonder then why we come to moments in our lives like Easter and find that we are in no different a spiritual place to accept it than we ever have been before?

I would never suggest to anyone that they should not decide on something to give up for Lent. The practice is completely valid. The practice of discipline and the act of emptying ourselves are always worthwhile if done constructively. But I would say that they must also be done with purpose. When we prepare with purpose I think we will find more meaning and more fulfillment in our endeavors.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Loving our Enemies: What if we prayed for ISIS?

Over the last couple weeks I've seen a myriad of posts and articles about how we pray for victims of disaster and violence around the world. But the question that's been going through my mind keeps circling back. Who is praying for ISIS? Who is praying for Al Qaeda, or Al Shabab?

The last thing I would ever want to do is minimize anyone's suffering, or any tragedy around the globe. The victims of the Paris attacks and also the victims of other attacks we've seen in Beirut and Kenya this year all deserve our attention, our compassion and our prayer. I want to give credit to all the amazing things that individuals have done, the compassion shown and the goodness exemplified within these tragedies. But this is not the focus of this article.

The focus of this article is to ask, what can we do about it? Specifically, what is the response of the church? What is the Jesus way to respond? And I believe that the answer to this is actually very simple.

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Luke 6:27-28

I said simple, not easy.

Jesus had a radical way of standing up against hate and aggression. He taught that the only way to actually defeat evil is to stop it from spreading. Defeat evil with good. As Martin Luther King said:

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

This idea, and these words of Jesus quoted earlier are some of the most widely loved and appreciated teachings of Jesus. We adore and often cling to Jesus teachings of loving others, including our enemies. We claim that this kind of teachings is the grounding, and lifeblood of the Jesus we know, experience and worship.

So why does it seem like no one is praying for ISIS? Maybe the people who recognize this and live out the teachings of praying for those we see as the worst kind of person in the world aren't all that active in social media. I don't know.

But here's what I do know. I believe in the power of prayer to make a true difference. And so I implore the Christian world out there. Pray for Paris and pray for Beirut. Pray for the victims of misguided and terrible violence. But also pray for the enemies and perpetrators. In this we have a hope for change.