Holy Week: Good Friday

Today’s blog post has been written by Laurin Vroom!

Hey there friends!

Today is what we call “Good Friday” also known as “Holy Friday.” It doesn’t seem so good when you think about what we’re celebrating today: The crucifixion of Christ. This is the day we remember what Jesus went through to bring us back into intimate relationship with the Father. Jesus was hit, mocked, spat on, whipped and ultimately hung on a cross next to the lowest of criminals. You can read the story in more detail in Matthew 27:27-55.

There is something good, no great, that came of all this torture and unfair treatment. Christ suffered out of an intense, selfless love, for humanity. He wanted to demonstrate how much He loved His Father, and what complete obedience and unconditional love looked like. He shed His blood, so that it would symbolically cover over our sin, and make us righteous so that we can once again be in an intimate relationship with God- no longer separated by sin. This is an incredible Truth to get our heads around.

I want to challenge you today, to sit somewhere comfortable, by yourself, read the story of the Cross and seriously reflect on what it means, and what Christ’s sacrifice means to you. Think about how hard it would be for you to forgive everyone who spat, hit, beat, whipped and mocked you if you were being killed for a crime you never committed. Think about Jesus’ words, and how super-human Jesus’ forgiveness is.

When Christ ascended to heaven, He later gave the gift of His Holy Spirit, so that this super-human power can live inside of us! This holy power of God, living in us, is what strengthens us in our faith, helps us forgive those who’ve wronged us, helps us love those who hate us, etc. Anything you think is too hard for you, you can look to the Cross, to the One who gave everything for you and you will always find the strength you need.

There is a song that is super appropriate that I encourage you to listen to as you reflect: Once and for All by Lauren Daigle.

Her song reminds us that we can remember, connect and experience the love of Christ, when we remember the Cross and what He did for us on Calvary. That even though you and I are like the criminals that hung next to Jesus- sinful, broken, selfish, screw-ups- He still extends His love and grace to us when we look to Him. She sings about laying down her life to live for Christ, just like He laid down His life for us. I’ll leave you with a few of her lyrics, and pray that on this Holy Day, you take the time to remember what a gracious, loving and selfless Savior we live for.

God I give You all I can today
These scattered ashes that are hid away
I lay them all at Your feet

From the corners of my deepest shame
The empty places where I’ve worn Your name
Show me the love I say I believe

O Help me to lay it down
Oh, Lord I’ll lay it down

O let this be where I die
My Lord with thee crucified
Be lifted high as my kingdom fall
Once and for all, once and for all

There is victory in my saviors loss
and In the crimson flowing from the cross
Pour over me, pour over me

O let this be where I die
My Lord with thee crucified
Be lifted high as my kingdom fall
Once and for all, once and for all

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Holy Week: Holy Thursday

Today’s Blog Post has been written by Tim Huyer!

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As we prepare for Good Friday, we consider the sacrifice of Christ and what his death means for us.

For me, the image of Jesus, hanging on the cross, uttering the words “It is finished” is one of the most powerful images I can imagine. While suffering indescribable torture – not just the physical torture of a horrific execution but also the much worse spiritual torture of bearing the wrath of God against all of our sins – he gasps out these three words.

These words, like all the words in Scripture, are a message to us. In this case, it was a message so important that, while literally suffocating to death (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2004/apr/08/thisweekssciencequestions), He found the strength and breath to say it to us.

So what do these three words mean? Just exactly was this “it” that is finished? Jesus did not follow grammar rules on avoiding ambiguous pronouns (https://www.cedarville.edu/~/media/Files/PDF/Writing-Center/Student/avoiding-vague-and-ambiguous-pronoun-references.pdf), so there is no clear antecedent to the word “it” in the Gospel. We must instead use other methods to find out what He meant.

We can rule out a few of the things that cannot be the “it” that He said. God’s work on earth is not finished. It continues.

The Word of God is not finished. There is plenty more scripture in the Bible.

Jesus’ time on earth is not finished. We know He rose again three days later. We also know He is coming again.

It isn’t even the last words He said on the cross. Those words, as we know, are found in Luke’s Gospel. (http://biblehub.com/luke/23-46.htm)

“It” must mean something else.

I think the “it” is the purpose for Jesus being nailed to that cross in the first place. The reason why Jesus became man and came to earth.

Jesus came to earth to die for us. He came to fulfill the Law, to atone for our sins, to reconcile us to God. He completed this task, this gift of unthinkable grace, on the cross.

The Bible speaks about our fall from grace. How we sinned and stopped walking with God, turning away from Him time and time again.

Everything changed the moment he spoke these three words.

Because of Jesus’ gift of his death, because of the blood of our Lord and Saviour, our fall is finished. Our being cast out is finished. Our being condemned to death and damnation is finished.

In a way, we can think of a new testament, a new story, beginning at this point. The “it” that is finished is the story of our fall. The story of our redemption is begun. That story will continue until He comes again in Glory and, speaking from the throne, says “It is done.” (http://biblehub.com/revelation/21-6.htm)

3 minutes – 3 questions: Lent Edition

Hello everyone! We are back for another 3 minutes – 3 questions (I feel like I’m hosting a game show!) where we will be wrapping up our Lent blog posts.

If you don’t remember, here’s how it works:

“I’m going to ask three questions. After each question, I challenge you to stop and think about each question for ONE WHOLE MINUTE and ONLY ONE MINUTE. After you have gone through all the questions, please feel welcome to revisit each one and take your time doing so. But for the first time only stop for a minute to think.”

Ready? Not yet! Before reading the questions, take some extra time to pray.

 

Question 1 

a) What does sacrifice mean to you?

b) What does sacrifice look like in your life? 

Yes I know there are two parts… yes you can have a bit of extra time.

Take a minute (or two) to think, and answer. 

 

Question 2

Are there areas in your life where you need to ask God for help and greater self-control in order to resist temptation?

Take a minute to think, and answer.

 

Question 3

What are the mental and physical challenges that you have faced during Lent? and that you face regularly?

Take a minute to think, and answer.

 

Some last thoughts:

  • Take some time to go over the questions again.
  • Pray for any struggles you may be facing and pray in thanks for God’s help.
  • Read the blog posts which address each of these question if you haven’t already; and if you have, read them again! The links to the posts can be found within each question.

In the desert with Christ

This week’s blog post on Lent has been written by the awesome James Duckett!

We all know Lent can be difficult—but it’s supposed to be difficult! And while we don’t like giving things up (like chocolate or TV) and though it can feel like a chore to take on a new challenge for Lent (like praying for someone you don’t like), part of the reward comes from doing something that is challenging. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth doing, right?

But some of the challenge in Lent can be mental, and not just physical.

Let me explain.

When we struggle through the challenges of Lent (like the ones mentioned above, or others), we have to act in a way that doesn’t really reflect our reality. We have to turn down chocolate when we know that we really want it. We have to do something other than watch TV (hopefully something prayerful or penitential—that is the idea after all!) even though the TV is right there and everyone has been spoiling all the exciting plot twists. We have to put ourselves in the desert when we’re really not there.

But it’s not easy to hold these conflicting ideas in our heads: “I am going to resist chocolate and imagine my life without chocolate (even though it’s all around me),” or, “I’m going to say these prayers even though it’s the last thing I want to pray for.”

But dealing with these conflicting ideas is nothing new for Christians—or at least it shouldn’t be. For example, “Jesus is fully God, but, Jesus is also fully human.” Those two ideas aren’t compatible, yet they’re both true. “God is eternal and immortal, yet, God died on the cross.” Again, two ideas that are not compatible, but both are true.

The central idea of Lent is that we are placing ourselves in the desert with Jesus. While Jesus is preparing for ministry, we too will prepare—but we are preparing for the central event in Christian history: the passion, death, and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Our fasts or chores in Lent help us feel like we are in that desert with Jesus, even though we aren’t.

But it is worth pondering both of the conflicting ideas:

#1 – We are really not in a desert at all. Things are much better for us than they were for Jesus for those forty days. We can count our blessings and be thankful that we aren’t struggling without food and water and shelter.

#2 – We really are enduring something (even if we are enduring it through our own choice). We are experiencing circumstances less pleasant that we are accustomed to so that we might better understand Jesus and become more like him. Jesus learned in prayer to rely solely on his father for all his needs. We too can learn some small part of that.

And while we are prayerfully pondering in the desert, let us also ponder another great mystery of our Christian faith: we are saved through Jesus, yet, we are still waiting to be saved at his return. As before, both are true, and both have something to teach us.

Happy trails in that desert!

MEMORY VERSE SATURDAY – OBADIAH

I was initially very tempted to just say “memorize the entire book”. Don’t panic just yet! Obadiah is actually only one chapter long with a total of 21 verses; a difficult but not impossible feat to memorize it all. However, I leave you with this one verse:

Obadiah 1:15

The day of the Lord is near
    for all nations.
As you have done, it will be done to you;
    your deeds will return upon your own head.”

Obadiah is not a lovely chapter full of ponies and rainbows. It is actually rather dark, and it shows the Lord taking revenge upon those who have wronged His people. So remember before you speak or act, of the people in Obadiah who suffered because of the suffering they caused others.

Essential Questions: Is there any other way to salvation other than Jesus?

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Photo Credit: Canstock, macelmooij

Is there any other way to salvation that through Jesus Christ?  It is a question that is debated at great length.  Let us look at both sides of this question for a minute.

If the answer is yes, then as long as we are doing good things and believe in something; then we will have a good relationship with God.

This position is appealing.  It is wonderful to think that we only have to be a “good person” to be in a good relationship with God.  We are a very achievement oriented culture and the idea that  all the “good people” we see will be in right relationship with God appeals to us.  It is seen as the “tolerant” position too.  It means that the devout Jew or Muslim will also be in right relationship with God.  By saying that there are many paths to God and that Jesus is not the only way, then there is no concern that someone will be offended.  It is the position that makes everyone happy:   the nice lady at the library, the person who works with the homeless, the devout Jewish neighbour – everyone is happy and is reconciled to God.

But, what if the answer is no that there is no other way to God but through Jesus?  Jesus says “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one can come through the Father, except through me.” (John 14:6).  Oh, but can we really believe what Jesus says about himself?  Isn’t that a self-serving comment?

Perhaps.  But what if it is the truth?  Paul testified before the Jewish Council that salvation could be only found in Jesus. (Acts 4:8-12).  He also wrote in 1 Timothy 2:3-6 that there was one person who could reconcile us to God – Jesus Christ.   Paul did not follow Jesus around.  In fact, he persecuted the early Christians until he had a personal encounter with the risen Jesus.  He had no self-interest in promoting Jesus as the saviour of the world.  In fact, he lost everything – his prestige, his money and eventually his life – because of what he believed.

I look at it this way.  If it is true that there are other ways to God, then why was Jesus’ birth, death or resurrection necessary?  God would not need to come down from heaven in human form.  Jesus would not have to die to pay the price for our sins.  Jesus would not have had to conquer death by rising again.  God could have just said “Take another path.  I am not giving up my son and killing him for you.”

But this is not the God of the Bible.  The God of the Bible is a God of justice.      He requires payment for the sins of the world.  Yet, He is also a God of mercy.  In His wrath and judgement, He did not destroy humanity, but rather gave them garments to wear when He exiled Adam and Eve from the garden (Genesis 3:21).  God wanted the relationship to be fixed and so He sent Jesus as the mediator for our sins to stand in our place and take the punishment.  If there was another option, don’t you think God would have taken it?

If we decide that there is no other way of salvation but Jesus, it can be an uncomfortable position to hold.  It may not be considered tolerant.  (Of course, that may not be true, if you consider what Jonathan Dodson has to say).  It can leave you worried about your family and friends who are on a different path.

I can’t tell you what the answer to the question is for you.  It is something you have to think and pray about for yourself.  Yet, the answer to the question is important.  Not only for our own faith journey, but also for others.  It will affect how we deal with people every day.  Do we think that what we believe doesn’t really matter to the world at large, because everyone is heading in the same direction anyway?  OR do we believe that we have something wonderful and life-giving to share with them through our words and deeds?

Essential Questions: How does sin affect me?

Over the last few essential questions, we have been looking at what our response to Jesus and the gospel should be.  I would like to take this opportunity to remind us of why we need Jesus and why we need to consider our response to the gospel.

Advent starts next week.  It is the time when we consider why we need Jesus in our lives and start to prepare for His coming.

Faith in Jesus is personal.  Our response to the gospel is personal.  Sin if personal.  Today, we will re-examine the question – How does sin affect me?  When we get right down to it, we are interested in what God can do for us, personally, and preferably, right now.

As we continue our inquiry, let us pray for God to open our hearts and minds to learn more.

Praying_Hands_clip_art_hightO God, my Creator, who sent your Son as the Way, the Truth and the Life to save me and all the world, I long to understand all that it means to be loved, known, and forgiven by you, and to be made whole: at peace with you, others, myself, and your creation. Open my eyes to all that you are, and draw me closer to you, I pray. Amen.

Read the following passages and see how they speak to you.

[B]ut, your iniquities have made a separation
between you and your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you
so that he does not hear.  (Isaiah 59:2)

Or consider the way it is put in The Message

There’s nothing wrong with God; the wrong is in you.
Your wrongheaded lives caused the split between you and God.
Your sins got between you so that he doesn’t hear.

Read also Romans 6:20-23

20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

What do these passages say to you?  Essentially, what the Bible is trying to say is that sin alienates us (you and me) from those who mean the most to us.  It alienates us from God, so He does not hear us.  It alienates us from our loved ones and even from those who could be friends, so we feel alone.  It alienates us from God’s good creation, causing us to be poor stewards of the world God entrusted to us in Genesis.  It even causes us problems with ourselves, as we listen to the voices of shame and insecurity in our heads; affecting what we think of ourselves and how we treat others.  Basically, we are hopeless, guilty, lost, helpless, and walking in the way of death because of sin.  But all is not lost!  There is a happy ending as we know – God sent His Son Jesus to rebuild that relationship.

For now, identify the things in your own life that put a wedge between you and God, between you and your family or friends, even between yourself and the person God made you to be?  Try to become conscious of these things, not to feel shameful, but to learn about yourself.  The more you know and understand your own sin, the more you will be able to see the need for God in your life, to determine your response to Jesus and to accept His grace.