Sunday, October 23, 2011


I've never shared one of my sermons before, here goes....if you want the live version I'm speaking this morning at Cedar Creek Christian Fellowship....

We like to put labels on things. It makes things easier to find. Sometimes it makes things easier to put away. But mostly labels are used for identifying things. I imagine a surgeon in the middle of performing an intricate brain surgery saying, “Pass me that thingy over there.” His colleagues would shake their heads and say, “What thingy are you talking about?” Meanwhile, critical moments are lost because he doesn’t have a word to use for ‘the thingy’ that he needs. “That thingy over there” is not very specific. It could mean anything. It could mean anything from tweezers, to clamps, to a scalpel. Without the label he can’t communicate what he’s really wanting. People could start handing him all sorts of things, none of them correct. If he had a label for ‘the thingy’ it would be passed to him immediately. Surgery would go on. No confusion.

We like to put labels on people too. We use all kinds of labels. Some labels describe what people do: teacher, lawyer, farmer, accountant, nurse, mom, athlete, astronaut, and pastor. Some labels describe the amount of power that a person has: president, CEO, Commander, Corporal, Premier, Prime Minister, Queen, laborer, Emperor, Manager, VIP, Petty Officer, servant, boss, and employee. Some labels describe how we view the world: Right Wing, Left Wing, Conservative, Liberal, Philanthropist, Environmentalist, Capitalist, Socialist, and Communist. Some labels describe our age: youth, baby boomer, senior citizen, Gen X, Gen Y, modern, child, post-modern. Some labels describe your marital status as well as our sex: Mr., Mrs., Miss or the nebulous Ms. Some labels describe our heritage: English, Dutch, German, Ukrainian, Irish, Jewish, Spanish, French, Chinese, Indian, Metis, Aboriginal. Some labels describe our religious practice: orthodox, protestant, catholic, extremist, atheist, Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, evangelical, fundamentalist, Deist, Theist, post-modern, New Age, believer, non-believer. Some labels describe our problems: addict, alcoholic, manic depressive, OCD, ADD, hyper, lazy, and angry. Labels are useful to clearly identify people. One person could have many labels. Sometimes we use labels to hurt and draw lines between ourselves and others. Sometimes there is no emotion at all connected to being labeled.

Jesus has been given many labels over the centuries. Some of these labels are flattering, others not so much. Jesus used labels to identify himself too. The book of John is full of statements that Jesus uses to give clues to his identity. He calls himself the bread of life, the light of the world, the gate, the good shepherd, the resurrection and the life, the way, the truth, the life, and the true vine. These labels are hints to who Jesus is and what he is all about. I find that these labels also give me hints as to what my identity is, as a disciple of the light of the world, the good shepherd and the true vine.

This morning I want to look at the labels that Jesus uses for himself in John 14. Jesus knew that his time with his disciples was coming to an end so they go off by themselves for a bit. He starts the evening together by washing his disciple’s feet. Most of the words recorded from John 13 through John 17 are in red. They are Jesus words, full of last instructions, hope for the future and prayers for himself and his disciples. None of the other gospels relate this time with his disciples in this way. It was a personal time, a conversation. Jesus tells them what is going to happen to him. They asked questions and Jesus comforts the people he is going to leave. Let’s start reading at verse one of John 14. The red words say: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house there are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. I will come back and take you to be with me that you may also know where I am. You know the place where I am going. Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Thomas, the man of questions, honestly asks what maybe everyone was thinking and didn’t have the courage to say. He essentially says, “Jesus, you’re saying all this stuff to us and I still don’t really get it.” Jesus responds with three labels for himself. The first one was “The Way.” Can you say that with me? The Way. When Jesus says that he is the way, this is something that Thomas and the other disciples would have heard before. In Deuteronomy 5:33, the way is mentioned. Moses had just received the ten commandments from God. God was making ‘a way’ for his people to be close to him. In verse 32 God says “So be careful to do what the Lord your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or the left. Walk in ‘the way’ that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess.” Isaiah 30:21 also makes reference to the way. It says: “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Thomas knew that the way was describing how a person lived, how they experienced life, and how they could live in obedience to God. The way was following the prescribed rituals and commandments. The way was rule keeping. The way was pleasing to God. The way was impossible. What Jesus was saying to Thomas when he said that he was the way, was that he embodied all of those rituals and commandments that were previously the way to God. Jesus said that he was the way. He was the way to God. Throughout the book of Acts and once in 1 Peter, the early Christians were labeled as followers of the Way. It was their identity being aligned with Jesus, the way. Paul killed followers of the WAY.

The truth is a powerful thing. Sometimes we need to know it, even if it kills us. Sometimes we avoid it because the truth is too hard to take. Sometimes the truth is simple and easy to understand, like the answer to a mathematical equation. Sometimes the truth is asking us to be humble, like when it points to a fault we have. Sometimes the truth is asking us to change. For a long time truth has been treated like a weapon. If you have truth you use it to beat other people, that don’t have the same truth as you do, over the head until they see it the same way that you do. When we use the truth as a weapon that divides us, we have lost sight of the WAY. To keep on the path, the way, we need the truth to guide us. Jesus also labels himself as the Truth. Say it with me… the truth. When Jesus says that he is truth, he’s saying that the truth is available, it’s not a weapon to use. It’s free, anyone can have access to it. He’s saying that truth is within our grasp, it isn’t unknown. He’s also asking his disciples to apply truth to how they walk, the way. In John 8:31&32, Jesus says to the Jews that believed in him, “If you hold to my teachings, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” A few verses later in vs.36 he says, “So if the Son has set you free, you will be free indeed.” Jesus is truth and freedom.

So often we just want parts of the truth, the parts that we like, the parts that are easy, the parts that don’t require us to change how we act. We use the truth to justify what we want instead of letting the truth point us in the direction that we need to go, the way. We’ve all done this. Let me give you an example. Sometimes we go to the Bible, the word, the truth, to seek out an answer to make what we want to do alright. This is the “Well, the Bible doesn’t actually say that this is not permitted, so then I guess it’s okay for me to do it” approach to truth. Does the bible really say that I can’t sleep around before I get married? Does the Bible really say that I can’t smoke cigarettes? Does the Bible really have guidelines for how much I should give and to whom? This is often our approach instead of letting the truth, Jesus, be our focus; we focus instead on getting away with things that the truth isn’t clear about. The truth reshapes the way I think about myself and others. The truth says that sleeping around will hurt me and the other people. The truth wants me to be close to God. If we begin to make truth out of allowances, instead of letting the truth permeate us and lead us, the way will be lost to us. Jesus wants to shape our way. It’s what Jesus wanted for his disciples. “If you hold to me teachings, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” This is beautiful. This is challenging. This truth, the Truth that shapes our lives brings freedom and life.

Jesus also gives himself the label; the life. Say it with me…THE LIFE. Throughout my years teaching Heroes, I have been given a definition of what most young people think the life is. It is: having a well paying job, driving a really nice truck, being able to pursue the hobbies that you love the most, having a gorgeous partner, travelling the globe, having a family, and living in a mansion. This is the dream. This is the life. We hear people say things like “So and so is really living the life.” The flaw with this dream, this life, is that it leaves very little space for Jesus. When Jesus says that he is the life, it’s an invitation. He invites his disciples to walk the Way, guided by the truth that leads to life, full life. I think that for most of us, we have not believed that when Jesus labeled himself as the life, that it is a life that we want. We have ideas, like those kids in my Heroes class that life is about pursuing ‘the dream’. When Jesus says that he is the life, it isn’t really attractive to us. The Life that we want from Jesus has more to do with eternity than the present. Our definition of the life will either lead us to God through Jesus or away from God; away from the way, and the truth.

So far, we have begun to digest the labels that Jesus used to identify himself as the way, the truth and the life. But there is more that we need to think about…the rest of John 14:6 says, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” For a long time, I think that this might be the only part of this verse that Christians have latched onto. This is what is on billboards and bumper stickers. This is what we try to tell the world. This is just the story of the cross, without a life that is shaped by the one that died there. This part of the verse gets misquoted and is misguided without the first part that we have looked at. The way, the truth AND the life are the access codes to the Father. Jesus says that by following the way, being guided by the truth, living His life, gets you into contact with God. Anything else is a sham, it’s just a show, just religion. Verse 7 says, “If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well.” So, by knowing Jesus as the Way, the Truth and The Life we get to know our Father as well. Our life gets rearranged by knowing Jesus and having a close connection with the Father. AMAZING!

I am in no way denying the story and power of the cross this morning. Some of you may be thinking that. I am saying though that the Life and relationship, or closeness to the Father, come through walking the Way and letting the Truth shape our lives every minute of every day. If you want Life in the present; follow Jesus. If you want to know Truth: apply it, let the Truth, capital T, change you. If you want direction, walk in the Way. In connection to the identity that Jesus revealed by these labels, the way, the truth and the life; how would you label yourself? Are you a follower of the WAY? Are you a disciple of the Truth? Are you an apprentice of the LIFE?

To close this morning I would like to read a portion of scripture from Ephesians 4 from The Message. It captures this idea of the way, the truth and the life beautifully and gives us much encouragement! Paul writes to the Ephesians these words from prison: “In light of all of this, here’s what I want you to do. While I’m locked here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk – better yet, run! – on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling of, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this in humility and discipline – not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.

You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, on baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness.

But that doesn’t mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift. Verse 11 goes on to say, He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts. He handed out the gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christians in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ. No prolonged infancies among us, please. We’ll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are an easy mark for imposters. God wants us to grow up, to know the TRUTH and tell it in love – like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we can grow up healthy in God, robust in love.”

So, Run on the road, the WAY, know the Truth and tell it in love, become fully alive in the LIFE! Jesus is the way to the Father.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Quiet Girl

I was a quiet kid. I could spend hours cutting paper into tiny pieces and writing notes on them to my Mom. I think she still has one of them. This little scrap of paper with the words, "I love you, Mom" and a flower drawn in pencil. I also devoured books, which lends itself to quietness. As I got older I remember walking a lot and exploring nature in quietness. I don't remember talking a lot. Maybe I did, but I don't really remember that. I was at my book club last night and I was reminded of a story. We were talking about getting in trouble at school when we were kids and how earth shattering that was for most of us. So frightening for one of the girls that she actually passed out in the principal's office and whacked her head on the photocopier. Talk about a traumatic experience; she wasn't even in trouble! The principal just wanted to ask her a question about her brother, who was in trouble!

I remember getting yelled at by my grade three teacher. We were in the classroom working on some kind of school work. I sat near the window. Outside the window was one of my busmates. I'm not sure why he wasn't in his classroom. He made a gross face at me through the window. I remember it. He had boogers. He pulled the skin down from his eyes and his nostrils up with his fingers.....really yucky! I stuck my tongue out at him. With the eyes in the back of my teacher's head, he saw me stick out my tongue. The boy disappeared from the window as my teacher told everyone to put their heads down on their desks. Then he tore a strip off of me. I was so humiliated. I felt like crawling into a hole. I didn't get in trouble for talking, which seems to be the problem with most girls, but my tongue still got the better of me!
At some point, I found my voice. I can't remember at what point in life this started to happen. I'm still quiet a lot of the time, but I talk when I need to. I say what needs to be said. So much so that I write this blog in the hopes that someone will hear what it is I'm trying to say. I wrote and recorded an album over ten years ago. I was defintiely saying something then too. It surprises me sometimes that I have this need to be heard. It doesn't seem to go with the quietness that I cultivated as a kid. I think sometimes your gifts and abilities trump your nature. As a musician, it's all about being heard. As a writer, my readers may not audibly hear my voice as they read, but they hear my thoughts in black and white on the page. I have to say that it is scary sometimes. It is like going to the principal's office. Putting my voice out there in the hopes that it will make a difference even though my nature is to do the opposite takes all the guts that I have sometimes.

I think what I want to say today is that your nature can sometimes keep you from doing what you need to do. If you're quiet, you may be the person that needs to speak up. If you are generally loud, you may need to zip it sometimes and let other people talk. If your holding back because you're afraid, even though you're desperate to give it all you've got; do it! By stepping out of what is comfortable, your nature, to use your gifts and abilities you will see incredible growth in yourself. Your nature will likely not change, you may always have a bit of fear, but you will be doing that thing that gives you life and purpose.