We long for special and profound ‘moments’ in our lives, but for some reason don’t really ever try and piece the moments together. Or, more importantly, we take in that moment, but don’t let it change and affect the moments that follow.
Today we wanna talk about Character. Who we are, who we’re becoming, and why a moment with Jesus can start us on an amazing journey of spiritual formation.
I guess you can say this whole series is about character: yours, mine, ours.
There’s a difference between Personality & Character. Isn’t there?
Personality is made up by the traits we have imbedded in us. Introvert, Extrovert, quiet, loud, sarcastic, funny, natural ability, etc.
– Bill is comfortable in a loud and full room
– Jill is quiet, but she has lots to say in the right moment
– Joe is strong, kind of born with strength, doesn’t have to do much for it
– Kate is as quick as a whip. She just always gets things fast.
Character is different, isn’t it? It’s who we’ve become, through the experiences we’ve had, either by choice or by chance. It’s how we’ve taken what’s been given to us and used it to make us better. It’s the values that we’ve allowed to be instilled in us – the ones that shine through in whatever situation we find ourselves in.
– Bill is truthful
– I can trust Jill
– Joe is reliable
– I’m comfortable leaving my kids with Kate
Personality is sometimes seen as the exterior, where Character is what’s inside; what’s foundational about us. That said, Character can be formed. Right? Character is something we can work at, something we can develop.
I can’t change my hair colour (you know what I mean), or my body type. I can’t make myself funnier than I am. There are some physical and personal traits that simply will always be. But my character…how I live out my personality…that can change.
I came across some writing that can help us identify when our character is slipping…
- THERE’S A GROWING GAP BETWEEN WHAT YOU SAY PUBLICLY AND HOW YOU LIVE PRIVATELY
- YOUR EMOTIONS ARE INAPPROPRIATE TO THE SITUATION
- YOU HAVE LESS AND LESS GRACE TO GIVE
- Everything HAS BECOME ABOUT YOU
- YOU KEEP JUSTIFYING YOUR BAD ACTIONS AND DECISIONS
(full article written by Carey Nieuwhof)
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If the story of Jesus is about anything, it’s about how someone can change. The reason the gospel is good news is because those who experience it are better for it.
There’s a word or short phrase that depicts that better than any other we see.
You didn’t see that one coming did you? Funny that we don’t use that word too often. I wonder why?
Perhaps you’ve been in a conversation with someone who has (legitimate) hangups with the church or with Christians. I have. Many of them of course. And I enjoy every conversation. I remember one person who was trying to help me see that I’m not like the people he or she is describing, saying, but “you’re not one of those born again types.” I had to say that I am…born again, but not really like ‘them’…but…I understand why they say and feel that. The person’s life they’re referencing doesn’t match up with the description they’ve given it, or the definition they think born again should have. This, we might say, is a breakdown in character.
Valid critical thoughts aside, we’ve witnessed dramatic, new life kind of change in others. We might even say that they’ve been re-born.
Who do you know that you could whole heartedly give this description too without hesitation?
– someone you’ve witnessed change…
– someone who lives this kind of life…
We can’t get away from Jesus’ words in John’s gospel. This is only one of two places we read the phrase born again, but it was so influential that the idea and understanding has stuck for 2000 years.
There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. 2 After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.” 3 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” 4 “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?” 5 Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. 6 Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. 7 So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”
That phrase, born again, a beautiful, yet torn apart phrase, was conceived in this story, in this gospel.
– Nicodemus goes to Jesus at Night (hmmmm)
– He’s intrigued with what? Jesus’ words & Jesus’ miracles. The evidence that God is with him.
– You wanna see God’s Kingdom? Be born again, says Jesus!
– The Spirit gives birth to spiritual life
The reason some people get tripped up with this phrase is because we’ve ruined for them? You see, our birth is only as significant as the life we live following our birth.
A birth certificate may prove that you were born, but it doesn’t prove that you’re alive. All we need for that is to look at you. Try this in a conversation. When someone says, ‘How are you?’, respond with ‘I’m Alive’. See what happens. It’ll be fun 🙂
Now, it’s not just if you’re alive that’s important, but how you are living that actually matters.
The day you were born is important only because it started you on the life you’re now living today.
So…as much as it matters that spiritual birth happened…what matters more is that spiritual life is occurring.
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It’s in 1 Peter that we see how this affects our character; who we are, who we’re becoming.
1 Peter 1…
22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.
Peter is talking about the Christian Way of Life. That way of life is LOVE. Loving one another deeply from the heart.
How does one love deeply from the heart, according to Peter? How is someone’s character formed in such a way to love so deeply?
– That kind of person has been purified by obeying the truth
– Purity. Obedience. Truth.
– An inner purity that comes from the power of the gospel
– The verbs in this sentence indicate an activity that wasn’t there before. (aka character change or formation)
– That kind of person has been born again
– This birth is from imperishable seed
– This seed, the word of God – is Jesus
– From this point on, your character will be forming into the character of Jesus.
Born Again. Re-Birth. Born from Above. This is what changes us, this is what starts us on the path towards becoming like Jesus.
And just like physical birth, a spiritual re-birth is just the beginning. Everyday is a day to grow, and change, and become.
Think about it this way. We are ING people.
Do you wanna be identified for what ‘happened’ to you, once, a while ago, or…what is continually happening in and through you?
Starting is wonderful and exciting. Continuing is filled with purpose and depth.
Being born again is one thing…continually being formed is quite another. Don’t stop your journey at the start line, keep moving forward towards the finish line.
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What are you doing to form your character? Solitude? Prayer? Scripture reading? Gathering with community? Rest? Do you allow the difficult things in your life to change you for good or for bad?
Have you asked that initial question from Jesus? Can I be born-again, re-born, made new?
Have you been guilty of living off the fumes of your initial spiritual re-birth experience? Why do you think that even though one’s initial experience with Jesus is real and beautiful, that it’s easy to get complacent and allow your spiritual/character formation to stall?
Read the 1 Peter text again. What do you take from it? How do those words challenge you?
Let me ask you…who still has a home phone? Apparently, 1/3 of Canadians don’t have a home phone anymore. Most of us understand that something has shifted in the last number of years. Technology is one thing…but…also…people used to enjoy (or be at least be ok) getting calls, not so anymore. These days, when someone calls, we’re shocked. “Who’s calling me? Why would anyone call me?”
One of my favourite comedians does a routine on the difference between the doorbell ringing, let’s say 30 years ago, to the doorbell ringing today. 30 years ago we were ok with someone coming to the door, we said, hey, I wonder who that is, let’s go see. Today, we’re shocked that someone would drop by, and before even checking to see who it is, we close all the lights and pretend that nobody is home. This is the same attitude we have with phone calls. What are we afraid of? That we might have to respond to something too quickly. If they text me or leave a voicemail, I can think about my response before giving them an answer.
Over the next few weeks we’re going to dive into what it means to be us. THIS. IS. US. A series about who we are, who we’re becoming and why it matters. Our first stop on this journey? Calling. Why calling is an important part of what it means to follow Jesus, and why we simply must be aware and attentive to what Jesus is calling us to do and who he’s calling us to be. Here we go.
There’s an obvious difference between getting a (phone) call, and ‘calling’. Both require a response, but the implications are far different. Understanding our CALLING being much more important.
The word ‘called’ shows up 480x in the Bible (NIV) , and almost 800x in a topical sense. What do you think about when you hear the word ‘calling’? or ‘called’? There was an old joke about being ‘called’ to Africa. Someone would, with a deep voice say, ‘go to Africa’, and you’d say, ‘no Lord, not Africa’. Africa is a beautiful place, but it was a metaphor for something you’d never want God to ask of you.
For some people, when we think about calling, it invokes fear, for others it inspires adventure. If anything, calling should be connected to purpose. Biblically, it is something you are ‘called to be’ and ‘called to do’.
As you can imagine, there are many published lists of ways to identify your calling. From Christian writers, to self-help authors, to Oprah – people wanna help us figure out our calling.
Here are a few from a Forbes list…
– Ignore the future, deal with the present
– Say yes to odd opportunities
– Find a problem to solve
– Don’t follow someone else’s dream
– Ask the elderly for advice
– Spend time before you spend money
– Don’t confuse a job with your purpose
– Be authentically uncool
All good, right?
Calling is about What are you called to? Who are you called to? How you discover that calling?
18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him. 21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
If you were in Galilee today, they’d show you a boat that may have belonged to Andrew & Peter. It was found in an archeological dig one dry summer. It’s a reminder of what the disciples did (for a living), and what they left (to follow Jesus) They were making a modest living, selling things other people wanted – fish.
Why give it up? Well, Jesus was compelling. They’d heard about him and they just couldn’t say no. Callings are like that. You just know. Deep in your gut.
Why do it today? Why respond to wild and adventurous callings, or event more subtle and simple ones? JESUS.
“Christians everywhere regularly give up lifestyles & practices that look attractive, to maintain lives of honesty, integrity, faith, hope and love.”
Sometimes the calling is slow and faint, until we can’t ignore it any longer. Other times it’s more sudden and dramatic. We know this for sure: Jesus has a way of getting through to us.
What’s the call in Matthew 4? Follow me (physically, not just to hear or listen) & Fish for people instead of fish. Notice in this text that Peter is called by both his names, his old one and his new one. Which leads us to Matthew 16…
Jesus, in conversation with his disciples, asks them who they think he his. They give a few answers (some say this & that, John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah), but Peter gets it right and says, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God”. What follows is amazing… 17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades (hell) will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
After Peter affirms and tells Jesus who he is, Jesus turns around and tells Peter who he is. You Are…Peter…Rock…one of the broken, yet called people that I will build my church on. You can’t see it, but this church you’ll be building will be so strong and impactful, not even the gates of hell can knock it down. And I will give you the keys…the tools…to fulfill this calling in you’re your life.
So Peter, who do you say that I am? MESSIAH. And Jesus, who do you say that I am? Who are you calling me to be? ROCK/PETER – a new name for a new calling.
2 stories. 4 disciples. They discover who they are, who they are going to become. And why it mattered.
Here’s why it matters to us: We want to know what we’re called to & who we’re called to…(sometimes obvious and sometimes not so obvious) Calling defines us – our Calling identifies our impact. In every calling in biblical narrative, no one knew what would come, but they did know the first step – follow Jesus – follow this calling. Becoming a follower of Jesus meant that CALLING becomes more important than anything…as it directs and defines all the steps of your life. (big and small)
We can’t walk through all 480x we read ‘called’ in the bible. But here are a few important places:
2 Chr 7 who (you) are called by name
Gen 1 God ‘called’ the man (adam)
Gen 17 you’re now called Abraham (new name)
Rom 1 you’re called to belong to Jesus
Rom 8 called according to God’s purpose
Rom 9 called to be children of God
1 Cor 1 called to be his holy people
1 Cor 1 called into fellowship with Jesus
1 Cor 7 called to live in peace
Gal 5 called to be free
Eph 4 called to one hope
1 Pet 2 called out of darkness and into light
THIS IS US. A Called People. A Called Community.
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We don’t know where the call will lead us, but we are compelled to answer, because Jesus is the one calling.
God, in his mercy, reveals things little by little. We never know the impact of our calling, but we somehow know it’s worth it.
We don’t have to be perfect to respond, simply available.
Whatever our calling is, whatever Jesus is calling us to do, one thing is for sure, our calling calls attention to whatever new thing God is doing, and we’re part of God’s plan to help others see it.
? Will you answer the phone (the call) ?
Over the years I’ve had some episodes with my back. Some really bad, others just minimal. The last one (a few years ago) was the worst one. And it forced me to start doing something regularly that I never really did before. STRETCH… (bet you wish I could display a few for you? nope. you don’t!)
Labour day weekend is to our year, like stretching is to an athlete. Before an event, a race, a game, a match, what do athletes do? Warm up. Stretch. Get the blood flowing. Why – Because they want to be able to extend themselves to their absolute limits without holding back!
After the summer, you’ve been out of commission for a bit, thinking about all the vacation you can take, and hopefully you did, rest, and vacation. After labour day though, you feel like you gotta be on again, so what do you do, you prep yourself, you warm up…Kids go to bed earlier…Parents go to bed earlier…You mentally get ready. All this so you can perform to the best of your abilities come go time.
We’ve been on a journey as a church community for a while now. This is our 7th September (Library sessions). A few things I find amazing? The people who have joined us along the way – the people who’ve decided to follow Jesus with their hearts, their lives, their everything – the people who’ve grown so much in their faith, their impact, their purpose. Most amazing is how much we’ve been stretched along the way. Spiritually, Emotionally, in our faith, in our neighbourhoods, in our relationships.
This year we wanna see more of the same…and we also wanna see whatever else God has for us. Whatever else is an important word in our prayers. God, what else do you have for me?
Where does God work in us? Where does he work through is? These two places…
When we GATHER
– Sundays (worship, reunion, spiritual formation)
– Small(er) groups (community, friendship, growth)
– Volunteering/Contribution (we need what everyone has to offer)
When we SCATTER
– What we learn here is to be practiced out there
– What happened in our hearts when we gather, needs to come out of our hearts when we scatter
In our INTER-MISSION
– Sunday we are between mission assignments
– Sunday is a break from the world, from the rat race, from the business.
Through our OUT-ER-MISSION
– so we can get back to it
– so we can live on mission
– collectively (R4H, Woodcrest PS)
– individually (home, neighbourhood, work, school)
Now…let’s get back to stretching…will you stretch with me? where you are? where you’re reading this? No? Well then, read this story with me from Mark 3 instead? Let’s see what this whole stretching thing is all about…
“Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shrivelled hand was there. 2 Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. 3 Jesus said to the man with the shrivelled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.” 4 Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. 5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.”
A few things going on in this story…
– Another time (Jesus is doing what he has been doing, going into a gathering of people to teach or simply be present)
– A man with a physical issue was already there
– He’s being watched closely by religious people…
o Will he or won’t he heal on the Sabbath?
o This is a big question…Jesus liked to break religious rules!
– This bugs Jesus’
– He tells the man to stand up & stretch out his hand
– The man’s hand is restored
A few questions we have to ask ourselves…
– What rules/traditions/legalistic laws are holding us back?
– What part of me do I have to stretch out?
– Is their something in me that’s not right, that’s just in a state it shouldn’t be in, like this man’s hand? What am I going to do about it?
Stretching does three things:
– Physically, it loosens up what is stiff & tight so you can perform the activities that are before you that day…
– Emotionally, it pushes you to move out of your comfort zone and extend yourself…
– Spiritually, it reflects your dependence on Jesus, and how he wants to both make you well, and use your hands to do good…
The questions we want to ask ourselves are simple and profound…
Are you willing to stretch out your hand to God?
– as a community
Are you willing to allow God to stretch you?
(Take a few minutes to reread the story, and ask yourselves these questions as you pray)