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Posts in Erin Arendse
Listening to God in his Word

Acts 15: 30-31 “So the men were sent off and went down to Antioch, where they gathered the church together and delivered the letter. The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message.”

The letter mentioned in today’s passage was an argument for why Gentiles entering the Christian faith should not be required to adhere to Jewish customs of circumcision. At this point in the history of the church, the bible as we know it today didn’t exist yet. In fact, they were literally writing it as they went along. It seems plausible that the early church understood in some way that letters like this one would become important pieces of the church’s growth and development. Maybe they even had some inkling that such letters would be read centuries into the future, as they are today.

As the early church heard God’s word in the form of these early letters and descriptions, we see that they were encouraged by them and that they gathered together to listen as a community. This is an example of how we too can grow wise from listening to God’s word. By gathering as a community to hear and be encouraged by the letters of those who walked with Jesus on earth, we can grow in wisdom.

As we look toward Sunday, think about how you hope to grow in wisdom as we gather together.

Becoming Wise

Acts 14: 11-13 “When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker.  The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.”

Our passage today comes from a time when Paul was in Lystra. He had just healed a man who could not walk, and the people of Lystra totally lost their cool. They believed Paul and Barnabas must be gods, and they started offering sacrifices to them. Naturally, Paul was distressed and had to work double time to calm them down and convince the people of Lystra that he was not, in fact, a god.

The next time Paul goes to Lystra, he takes Timothy with him. Timothy, unlike Paul, is culturally and ethnically Greek and understands the likely reactions that people will have to any of Paul’s actions. This means that Paul, with Timothy’s guidance and feedback, is able to preach the gospel in a clear way, rather than creating confuse and chaos.

In this way, we see Paul becoming wise – learning from his mistakes and making better choices in the future (the third type of becoming that we saw this past Sunday). This increase in wisdom enables Paul to more clearly hear God’s voice and to respond to his call. What sort of mistakes have you made recently that you can learn from to become wiser today?

Becoming Like You

Romans 15: 15-16 “Yet I have written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”

We see here in Romans 15 (as well as in Acts 9, 22, and 26) that Paul has a clear sense of his calling. As we read through the chapters where Paul expresses his calling, we see that his confidence stems in part from an understanding of who he is. Paul has become who God made him to be – himself.

As you become who you are, it becomes easier to hear God. As we consider what it looks like to discern God’s call through a deeper knowledge of ourselves, it’s useful to think of the acronym SHAPE: Spiritual Gifts, Heart Passion, Ability, Personality, and Experience.

Paul, for instance, takes each of these things into consideration as he explains why his call is so clear. He is a Roman citizen, which gives him license to travel broadly and safely. He has extensive training in Jewish law and custom, which gives him authority with Jewish leaders scattered throughout the Roman Empire. He has the gift of teaching and of debating with religious leaders. And his experience as a person who previously persecuted the church makes his conversion all the more remarkable.

This morning, I’d like to challenge you to spend some time figuring out your SHAPE. What are the things God has given you that could help you understand yourself and your calling?

Becoming Like Jesus

Galatians 4: 18-19 “It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!”

Listening to the voice of God involves a process of becoming. One level of becoming is to become like Jesus. Paul compares this to the anguish of childbirth (though one does wonder what experience he has in that arena). But Paul’s urgency in this stems from knowing that a likeness to Christ makes it easier for us to hear God’s voice clearly.

Jesus was exceptionally good at hearing his father’s voice. He had a connection to his father, and so he understood things intuitively that those without that connection might find strange or difficult to navigate. As we become more like him, we’ll grow in that connection as well.

It’s sort of like how everyone in your family knows that it’s always grandma’s job to make the apple pie for Christmas. It might be awkward for your new brother-in-law that first year if he accidentally brings an apple pie and rains on grandma’s parade. But as he becomes more like your family, it will become more clear to him that what your family really needs is his gravy recipe. As he becomes more like your family, it will be easier for him to hear and understand the rhythms and traditions of that space.

What do you think it means to become more like Jesus? What might it look like for you to take steps toward that today?

dry bones

Ezekiel 37: 4-6 "Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” 

If you're not familiar with Ezekiel's vision of the Valley of Dry Bones, I recommend reading the entire thing in Ezekiel 37. This is an unusually vivid expression of God's promise to renew all things, and the imagery in it has always haunted me. 

The idea of God leading Ezekiel to a valley filled, inexplicably with the dried bones of human brings to mind images of great human tragedy. This is a sorrowful place! 

But then Ezekiel prophesies and the bones become bodies again. But initially "there was no breath in them." Ezekiel prophesies again, and the four winds come to fill the bodies with breath, and they stand up to become "a vast army" (the Hebrew word for "army" here could also be translated "force" or "strength").

It would have been easy for Ezekiel to say, "these are too old; let's just build new ones." But he was willing to lean into God's call for the dry bones in front of him. This Sunday, we're going to think about hearing and responding to God's call. As you prepare for that, consider what dry bones in your life might feel too old or dusty to redeem. He might be calling you to leave them, but he might be calling you to prophesy for new life. Spend some time listening to him for clarity  this morning.

more beautiful repaired

Luke 15: 22-24 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. (Read the entire story of the prodigal son here.)

In another beautiful story of renewal, we encounter the prodigal son. Here, Jesus tells the story of a father and son who are reunited after a long separation. And not just any separation, but the sort that had the potential to destroy their relationship. 

However, in a symbol of the work that Jesus came to do, we see the Father race out to embrace his son, rather than rejecting him. Not only is the son welcomed home, but the Father throws a party for him! Similarly, the renewing work that Jesus does is not just to fix things that were broken, but to celebrate and glorify the completion of that work - to make the repaired thing even more beautiful than it was when it used to be whole!

What might you celebrate with him today as you reflect on the renewal of all things in your life and in the lives of those you love?

 

Do you want to get well?

John 5: 3-6 "Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

This is a lovely story of renewal. In particular, it's noteworthy that Jesus asks the man by the pool if he does in fact want to be well. We get the sense that if the man had said, "No," then Jesus would have let him continue to be unwell. Jesus is unsatisfied to simply force us into renewal. Instead, he desires that we also wish for renewal and that we choose to participate in and receive it willingly from him.

Jesus is standing today, asking if you also want to be well. He's not saying that it will be easy (the man by the pool's initial response, "but I can't"); he is simply asking if we desire it. Take some time to meditate this morning on the spaces in your life where you think Jesus might be asking, "do you want to get well?"

The Lamb at the Center

Revelation 7: 16-17 "Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."

Revelation points us to the promised end of the work that Jesus is doing in the world. It sounds like a lovely place to end up. Of course, this promise is not yet fulfilled. Even though Jesus has come and has given the gift of himself to us, the end result of that gift is not realized. 

Jesus actually calls us to help him in the work of making that goal complete. Throughout the bible, we Jesus calling us to renew ourselves, our minds, and the world around us. And the beauty of this passage in Revelation is the promise that he will carry that work to completion. 

Where do you hear Jesus calling you to work toward the renewal of things today?

Doing a new thing

Isaiah 43: 19

Behold, I am doing a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.

This might be a familiar New Year's passage for some of you. It fits quite well with the ideas we discussed in church this Sunday - that Jesus is working to renew all things in creation, and we are joining with him in that project.

As you wake up this morning in a new year, what is the new thing that you think God might be calling you to or doing in you this season?

At the feet of an infant

Matthew 2: 11  On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 

This is a beautiful scene. A moment of honor and awe. Wealthy and mighty men bending their knees at the feet of an infant. 

This morning, amidst the flurried chaos that often accompanies the last days before Christmas, take a moment to pause and reflect at the feet of Jesus - this extraordinary infant who came to earth because he loves you. Savor a moment of peace at his side today.

They Were Overjoyed

Matthew 2: 9-10 “After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” 

Eventually, the Magi make their way to Bethlehem, where they find baby Jesus. Matthew tells us that “they were overjoyed” to have finally found the child. And of course they were! They had come on a long journey, and the journey had finally reached its end. They had found the one they were seeking.

What do you imagine it looks like to finally reach the end of your journey towards Jesus? Our journey may not end quite so literally as the Magi’s did, but every journey does eventually come to a close. We also speak in Christian circles of Jesus walking along with us on this journey, which means that we think of him as being both our destination and our traveling partner. What might it look like or feel like for you to reach the end of this journey with and towards Jesus?

And all Jerusalem with him.

Matthew 2: 3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.

Not everyone is entirely pleased with the Magi's journey toward Jesus. For Herod, Jesus represents a particular threat - the loss of his crown and power. And Jerusalem is disturbed with him!

I've read this passage probably a hundred times, and I'd never noticed the part about Jerusalem being disturbed along with Herod until this time around. As I was thinking about it today, it occurred to me that the mention of Jerusalem in this verse points to the eventual reality that Jesus undermines the power, not just of Herod, but of the religious structure.

Jerusalem had been the religious capital of Israel (housing its temple) for centuries. Naturally, the arrival of a Jewish king would send some flutters through the community. Some might find themselves hoping for the overthrow of Herod and Rome. Others might find themselves fearing the advent of such a war. Either way, the news of a Jewish King would cause a stir among the temple leaders and the inhabitants of this powerful city.

If such a proclamation were to be made today, what do you think your response would be? What would you hope that such a pronouncement meant? How might Jesus might be making tremors happen even now?

Where is the One?

Matthew 2: 1-2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

Yes, yes. I know we used this same passage yesterday. But there's another interesting item here for our reflection. 

The Magi got lost!

They got so close to Bethlehem, and then in the end, they couldn't find Jesus! They stopped at a fairly logical place to ask for directions. After all, they were looking for a king, so why not stop at a palace? But in the end, Jesus was not where they expected him to be. 

How often isn't this the case for us? We think we've come so far. We feel that we've gotten so close. And then we realize we've been looking in the wrong place. Jesus is not in the palace, but instead in the barn - with the animals and the shepherds and the unwed parents and the ones for whom there was no room. 

Where are you looking for Jesus today? 

On a Journey Towards Jesus

Matthew 2: 1-2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

As we continue to unpack the vision for City Church through the Christmas story, we see in the Magi a model of what it looks like to move toward Jesus. We'll unpack it throughout the week, but in particular today, I want to focus on the decision of the Magi to seek him out in the first place.

The Magi were from far away - outside of the group of people for whom the Messiah was expected to come - yet they came to see and worship him anyway. They wanted to partake in his blessing. 

And everything about this story in Matthew suggests that their visit was welcomed by Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. We are told Mary "treasured these things in her heart." Perhaps she saw the visit of the Magi as a symbol of the wide and welcoming ministry Jesus would eventually have. 

If you are at City Church and you feel like you’re outside of the group of people that Jesus came for, the Magi are evidence that you are not! What does it mean to you that the Magi are listed as being among the first people in Jesus’ life to understand the meaning of his birth?

A lovely picture

Matthew 1: 24 "When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife."

This Sunday, Bill introduced us to CCLB's new vision statement. We are "a radically welcoming community on a journey towards Jesus, joining with him in the renewal of all things." Matthew 1 is indicative of this sort of community in the way that Mary and Joseph join the Lord in the renewal of all things. Mary, a pregnant, unwed teenager, is welcomed by her fiancee Joseph (not the father of her child) at the behest of God. And together they journey very literally with Jesus (Mary's future child) toward the renewal of all things.

They couldn't possibly have known what that renewal would look like or what their lives would bring them. But this start of their lives together is a lovely picture of what Jesus calls us to, and what City Church is seeking in our life together.

As we move forward during Advent, we'll consider what the practical day to day of this looks like, but for this morning, will you consider what this might look like in your own life (and not just on Sundays)?

Prince of Peace

Isaiah 9: 6

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Today's passage is another, much loved "christmas" passage that points to Jesus as the bringer of peace, and it demonstrates something particular about the sort of peace that Jesus brings. It's not as if Jesus is peaceful simply because he's powerless to defend himself. In fact, if he wanted to respond to threats with violence, there is no power that could withstand him (he is "mighty" and "everlasting"). This makes it all the more remarkable that he chooses to submit to the violence of the cross for the sake of bringing peace to the world. 

Here we come against what theologians call the "already; not yet" reality of Jesus's kingdom: it is already here because of what Jesus gave for us, but we do not yet see the fullness of that kingdom on earth (most of us encounter violence of some kind every day of our lives). But Jesus' peace is one that demands a response. His sheer innocence in the face of violence calls us to put down our own tools of destruction and to respond to our world with peace.

It's hard. Sometimes it feels impossible. And it might mean that we suffer great pain. But this is what it looks like to follow and become more like Jesus. Reflect this morning on one or two areas in your life where you think Jesus is calling you to respond with his peace. Ask him what that might look like today.

Jesus, bringer of peace

Luke 2: 13-14 "Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.'”

As we draw closer to Advent, it's worth noting the ways in which peace is associated closely with Jesus. In fact, in Luke 2 when angels appeared to announce Jesus' birth to the shepherds, they sing of peace! It strikes me as important here that they do not sing of generosity, or of grace, or of honesty. They sing of peace.

That's not to imply that generosity, grace, or honesty are somehow less important than peace. But it strikes me that the particular thing the angels celebrated in Jesus' coming was peace. Ultimately, Jesus came and died to usher in a season of peace between his people and himself.

That being said, we look at the world today, and it doesn't seem particularly peaceful. As you think about Jesus and peace, you may find yourself longing for his peace to more present and more tangible. And that longing is actually healthy and a good thing. At City Church, we seek to join Jesus in the renewal of all things, and his peace is part of that. So how might you join him in the renewal of peace today?

Violence in the soul

Hebrews 12: 14 "Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord."

Sometimes violence is less intense than war and physical struggle. For instance, I imagine that if you stop and think about it, you can come up with at least one person with whom you regularly have some sort of conflict (even if it's just in your own soul). Reflect on that for a few minutes this morning. What is one thing you can do or say to follow in the steps of Jesus and improve on that situation of conflict?

Radical Peace

2 Corinthians 5:21 "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

One of the sins that Jesus became for us when he died on the cross was the sin of violence. There is a paradox here, given the intense violence of his own death. But it is clear from Jesus' life and his submission to this death that violence was a thing he refused.

For instance, at the end of Jesus' life when Roman soldiers came to take him away, Peter (one of his disciples) pulled out a sword and sliced off a soldier's ear in an attempt to defend Jesus. But Jesus stops Peter and even goes so far as to HEAL the man who is about to take him to what Jesus knows is going to be a slow and brutal death.

It's hard for us to digest this sort of commitment to peace. Even if we're not big fans of conquering territory and starting fights, most of us would make use of violence for the sake of defending those we love and want to protect. What does it mean to you then, that Jesus is so radically committed to peace? 

On the mountain of the Lord

Genesis 22: 14 "So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, 'On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.'”

Yesterday, Greg talked with us about the story of God's apparent demand that Abraham should sacrifice his son Issac. (Spoiler: at the last minute, God provides a ram as a substitute for Issac.) This story has troubled people for centuries, and it's definitely confusing! If God is testing Abraham, it feels like a pretty cruel test. 

But Greg pointed out a couple key things here. The first is that human sacrifice was fairly common during Abraham's time, so while Abraham was likely heartbroken by God's request, he wouldn't have seen it as completely out of left field. Second, it seems likely that God's eventual substitute (the ram) actually signaled to Abraham that his God was different than the God's of neighboring tribes and nations. In a way, by providing the ram, God signaled to Abraham, "Human sacrifice is ultimately not what I ask of you."

Put yourself in the position of Abraham. (It might help to listen to Greg's exploration of Ancient Near East sacrificial practices in this week's sermon; you can listen to that on CCLB's podcast.) What do you think of this reading of Genesis 22? Was it cruel for God to ask this of Abraham? Or does this make sense as a step toward nonviolence for God's people?