Brett Ullman Interview

This past week we interviewed Brett Ullman. Because of that we don’t have a regular recap. However, We’ve listed the questions we posed to Brett, with a paraphrase of some of his responses.

Also, for our small group discussion folks, their is a scripture text to read at the bottom, with some questions to think about for your small group this week.

(Brett Ullman Summary)

Why don’t you tell us a bit about who you are?
I’ve been talking to students part-time and full time for more than 15 years. I love to research and study and share valuable information that helps students and parents better navigate life and faith.
You used to be a school teacher. True? What led you into that? What led you out of that? And how did you sense or understand God’s call in your life to make that transition? 
Yes. I started out as a school teacher. I worked in the TDSB for almost 10 years. I would say that I fell into my vocation, as much of my family were involved in education. My university journey was unique in that I ended being accepted for one major and studied another. In regards to doing what I do now, it started with one talk about 15 years ago, on teen and music culture. That snowballed (short answer) into what I do now. I eventually left my teaching gig and began to do this full time.
Why are teens (and children) so important to you? What is it about investing in them that both excites you and challenges you?
It’s exciting because they have so much potential to do good and become the best version of who God’s calling them to be. Yet, it’s difficult because many of them are broken and have experienced things they now have to overcome.
I often say that the spiritual advice we give teens is similar to the advice we give adults, just framed differently. Does that ring true for you? If so why?
We’re all human and deal with the same things. Adults and students alike.
After all these year…why did you and why do you still follow Jesus? 
Because Jesus is True. The gospel is true. It’s not just what I feel, it’s what I’ve come to know as true. So even when things are difficult and I don’t ‘feel’ God, I still know that Jesus is true.
If you had one or two things to say to the local church (to us), what would it be? 
It revolves around spiritual growth and discipline. Be strategic about your spiritual journey. Don’t just let things happen, make things happen. Also, be intentional about your faith. Read, Pray, set aside time to do what you need to do to follow Jesus fully.
– – – – – – – – –
(small group discussion)
If you got a chance to listen to Brett’s Interview, what were some things you took from it? What did you learn? What was affirmed? Anything cause you to ask more questions?
Since we didn’t have a ‘formal’ teaching time on Sunday, let’s take some time to simply go through a few  scriptures, reading together, hearing together, learning together.
John 1:14 (msg)
The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory,
    like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
    true from start to finish.
This week Eugene Peterson passed away at age 85. He paraphrased this scripture for us (The Message). What resonates with you as you read these words from John 1?
Mark 10:46-52 (msg)
They spent some time in Jericho. As Jesus was leaving town, trailed by his disciples and a parade of people, a blind beggar by the name of Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, was sitting alongside the road. When he heard that Jesus the Nazarene was passing by, he began to cry out, “Son of David, Jesus! Mercy, have mercy on me!” Many tried to hush him up, but he yelled all the louder, “Son of David! Mercy, have mercy on me!”

Jesus stopped in his tracks. “Call him over.”
They called him. “It’s your lucky day! Get up! He’s calling you to come!” Throwing off his coat, he was on his feet at once and came to Jesus.
Jesus said, “What can I do for you?”
The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”
“On your way,” said Jesus. “Your faith has saved and healed you.”
In that very instant he recovered his sight and followed Jesus down the road.

What stands out in this text? Is it the man’s calling out (twice)? Jesus stopping immediately? Any or all of it?

What can we learn from this man? How can we call out to Jesus? How about Jesus’ question, ‘what can I do for you?’

What may we be blind to or blind from?

Jesus ‘saved’ & ‘healed’ the man. How are these different & the same?

THIS IS US: COMMUNITY

Last week we started with saying a few Thank You’s…(It was Canadian Thanksgiving)

Sometimes, when given the opportunity to be grateful, we bring up ‘something’: job, money, car, experience – and that’s fair. However, if their was a poll, I really do think that ‘someone’ not ‘something’, rather, people would top that list for us. Your community of people: friends, family, neighbour, co-worker, fill in the _______.

We know this to be true:
When community is healthy, Life is Good.
When community breaks down, Life is Hard.

– – – – – –

You had to know that as we walked through this series we’d land here eventually:

THIS. IS. US.  We Are Community.
– something we celebrate and are proud of
– something we continually work on

We are only as strong as our sense of community.

Dwayne Casey, the beloved coach of the Toronto Raptors, was fired after what was considered many successful years as head coach. He had every reason to complain about his circumstance and situation and unfortunate turn of events. But instead, he wrote Toronto a letter.

Dear Toronto,
Thank you.
Thank you to basketball fans across this city and the country of Canada who supported the Raptors and welcomed my family with open arms during our seven years here. Thank you to all the fans who cheered us on at the Air Canada Centre while we built this program into a playoff contender, packed Jurassic Park even in the cold and rain, watched the games from home and offered their undying support as we traveled this road to relevancy together.
(here’s where it gets good)
Thank you for teaching our all-American family the Canadian way. That being polite and considerate to one another is always the best way. That diversity is something to be embraced and celebrated. That taking the time to learn about each other’s cultures is the surest way to find common ground and understanding. Thank you for making our children feel safe, valued, and comfortable in their own skin. We cannot express how important it has been to build the foundations of who our children are as human beings in a country that shows through its words, and actions…that all people deserve basic human rights, and a chance to reach their goals through education and hard work.

Dwayne Casey was obviously impacted by a deeper sense of community than he had experienced before arriving to this great city.

There is a word in Scripture that pops up about 20x. It’s the word for fellowship – KOINONIA, which also can translate into community.
– this word depicts what it means to follow Jesus together and not alone.
– You’ll see it in places like Acts 2:42, 1 John 1:7
– We don’t read it in John 17:20-24, but the heart of it comes through as Jesus prays for us to be one.

You’ll find in other scriptures that this idea is referred to when the words one & another are grouped together.

Scripture encourages and instructs us to be devoted to one another (Romans 12:10), honour one another (Romans 12:10), live in harmony with one another (Romans 12:161 Peter 3:8), accept one another (Romans 15:7), serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13), be kind and compassionate to one another (Ephesians 4:32), admonish one another (Colossians 3:16), encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11Hebrews 3:13), spur one another on toward love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24), offer hospitality (1 Peter 4:9), and love one another (1 Peter 1:221 John 3:113:234:74:11-12). That is what true biblical koinonia (community) should look like.

It’s been said that Community is at the centre of God’s mission. (David Fitch)

You also may have heard this before…there is nothing like the local church, when the church is working right.

– – – – – –

There is a certain passage of scripture that not only tells us about community, but shows us how it should play out, and gives us perhaps the greatest metaphor for community ever laid out.

1 Corinthians 12.

This is where Paul refers to the church as the Body of Christ. How fitting.

Chapter 12 is found in the larger context of chapters 11-14, a discussion about spiritual gifts, and the even larger context of some conflict that Paul is addressing with the Corinthians.

Lets read it and see where it takes us…

Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

We can see the context right away. Paul wants to instruct the initial readers (and us) about spiritual gifts. He wants us to be informed verses uninformed. He wants us to be influenced by Jesus, rather than by useless (mute) idols. So when he starts us off with the phrase, Jesus is Lord, Paul wants us to truly see how important that confession is – and that we can only come to that with the help of the Holy Spirit.

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

We can see that spiritual gifts is still a focus, but Paul starts to narrow in on another theme: There are different kinds of gifts, service, work, skills, but they all come from the SAME Spirit.

He gives us some examples of what people offer the larger community, and emphasizes that it’s the same Spirit who distributes and determines these gifts.

What do we learn about community here?
– we all make a contribution
– we all play a part
– each of us has a gift to offer

We might agree that much of the breakdown in community, wherever that is, starts when people see themselves as islands, and not as part of something larger. When people think that their contribution to society is greater than their neighbours, things go south. When we think that we, or our skill, or our intellect is better than the next guy or girl, the sense of community is lost.

This leads us to what comes next…

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 

This sections seems to be written for those who thought their part was more important.

I’m sure we don’t see that happen anymore these days? People never think what they do or what they offer is more important than the next person? (enter sarcastic smirk) But if we’re honest, it’s in our weakest moments that we experience this or reflect this kind of thinking in our own lives.

The inclusion of both Jew & Greek, slave & free in this text are very important. Paul writes about this in other letters (he includes rich & poor, male & female, strong & weak), and the point is always the same: We may be different, but because of God’s spirit in us, we are one.

Paul pushes this point/theme as he continues…

14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.

My favourite kind of Jazz is BIG BAND. Duets and Trios are fine, but BIG BAND is where it’s at. New style or Old grove? It doesn’t matter. An 18 piece band playing their guts out, all doing something different, all playing the same song – It’s both magical and powerful.

If we’re not careful, we can start to look down on other parts of our body. Wish that one part looked different, wished that another part performed differently. Wishing that you played their part instead.
We Cannot Make This Mistake. We all make this music sound amazing – together.

A word about suffering…

The first time my dad was sick, which lasted for many years, culminated in him having to remove his leg. My Dad passed away at 66 from Cancer, but for years before that he dealt with a terrible pain in his left foot. After almost ten years of dealing with it, the doctors decided to remove part of his leg. In the weeks and months leading up to this operation, he was so ill – tired, weak, always thirsty. His body was fighting the pain in his foot.
What happened after the operation was truly amazing. My dad was back. Colour, strength, energy, everything. He didn’t have a leg, but he didn’t have pain. Why? Because his body didn’t have to compensate for what was taking place in his left foot.

The hurting parts of our body affect us as much as the good parts do. You suffer, I suffer. That’s how it works. Think of any back pain you’ve had, or a stubbed toe, or a tooth ache. Your whole body suffers because one part of your body is in pain. It’s the same with the church. We feel the pain of others.

Now it works the other way too. When you succeed, I’m happy. When you do well, I cheer you on. That’s how it should be.

This is community. Every single part plays its role. We win together and lose together. It’s beautiful and real and authentic.

This is why Paul gets us to some of these final words in verse 27.

2Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

THIS IS US.

WE ARE THE BODY
WE ARE COMMUNITY
WE ARE FAMILY
WE ALL CONTRIBUTE to the WHOLE

We know it to be true in a small group. We know it to be true in our larger community. And we know this to be true in the church world wide.

We all have an important part to play. We all have something to contribute. We all make a difference. And when one part is missing, the others feel it. And I bet (and know) that the missing part feels it too.

– – – – – –

So what do we do with this information now? In Paul’s words, we are now informed.

  • Figure out what part you play
  • Play your part well to the best of your ability
  • Contribute to the whole (gifts, resources, passion)
  • Appreciate what others bring to the table
  • Let’s keep making the table longer & wider (as our local body grows) and the fences lower & thinner
  • Understand & appreciate other Christian expressions and traditions
  • Don’t try and go solo. We were meant to follow Jesus together.

The church has it’s imperfections. That is for sure. If you find one that doesn’t, trust me, when you show up it will be imperfect. Here’s the deal: there’s no other place or way to be a Christian, just like there’s no way for a hand or a foot to be what they are unless they’re connected to the body.

THIS IS US.
WE ARE THE BODY OF CHRIST.
WE ARE COMMUNITY.

– – – – – –

small group discussion:

When we talk about community, what are your initial thoughts or questions? Why is this both a beautiful topic and a tough topic?

“Community is at the centre of God’s mission”. How so? Why?

Anything you’d like to talk about in regards to Paul’s image or metaphor about the church in 1 Corinthians 12?
– Jesus is Lord
– Spiritual Gifts
– We are like a body. Many Parts. One Spirit.
– Suffer together? Celebrate together?

You are the Body of Christ. Wow? or Huh? or Both?

How can we be better at being the body of Jesus? In the church? In the world?

Overflowing with Thankfulness?

Can we say ‘thank you’ for days on a calendar? By that I mean, holi-days on the calendar?

They seem to get us back to centre. They remind us of what’s important. They force us to rest?

Holidays have a purpose…to re-centre us…

  • Labour Day (grateful for the job you have)
  • Christmas (reminded that there is a bigger story to find yourself in)
  • New Years (a finish and a start line)
  • Family Day (self explanatory)
  • Thanksgiving (also self explanatory)

If someone were to ask…what defines you? What describes your faith…what’s the main characteristic of your life in Christ?

I hope that the word THANKFUL is fighting for a top spot on your list.

In Philippians 4:11 we read some very important words. If you’re a Christ follower or not, these words can change your life. Paul says, “I’ve learned to be content in whatever circumstance”. Not easy words to say or to live. Why? Because it’s easier to focus on the downside of life’s circumstances.

Paul’s letter to the Colossians includes 3 places where the recipients and us are encouraged, inspired, challenged, instructed, reminded…to be THANKFUL.

For a small letter, he mentions it quite a bit. If you read other parts of Paul’s NT writing, you will notice that he’s often saying thank you to others, thank you Jesus, and simply exhibits a grateful heart and attitude. It’s almost like he believes deeply that if the world has to peg one characteristic on us, let it be that those who follow Jesus are known by how grateful they are in whatever circumstance they find themselves.

Is it hard? Yup.
Does it require some kind of godly perspective? Yes.
Is there any other way to be a Christian? Not really.

With that in mind, let’s look at Colossians 2:6-7

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (NIV)

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. (NLT)

As you can see, there’s more in the text than just how and why to be grateful.

Most times, in the scriptures, when we arrive at the word thankfulness, there was a lead up, a bit of context. These verses in Colossians are consistent with that.

Paul’s main idea? Receive Christ – Live in Christ. This is the gist of what Paul is trying to get across. He wants us to know that we don’t just receive Jesus, we live in Jesus. And living in Jesus can only happen when we first receive him.

It comes down to this question for Paul: What does it look like to conduct a life that has been impacted by Jesus?

He uses four words or participles to explain this: ROOTED, BUILT UP, STRENGTHENED, OVERFLOWING.

ROOTED & BUILT UP

These first two go together. You probably can get the analogy. In planting a tree or building a house, two things have to happen: go low (planting or foundation), then grow up or build up.

Rooted is a one time experience. It’s the planting of a seed, or a laying of a foundation. It happens at the beginning. Paul says this is essential for you to live in Christ. You have to be rooted in him – planted deep in the soil of Jesus.

Building is the continuation of what has been started. So don’t just plant a seed, don’t just lay a foundation…build on that foundation. Water and nurture that seed. See to it that the seed grows, that the house gets build up.

STRENGTHENED

This Paul’s word for our spiritual formation journey.

Are we strengthening our spiritual muscles?
Are we maturing in our understanding of Jesus?
Are we becoming more acquainted with the Holy Spirit?
Are we learning, growing, becoming, forming, loving, caring, serving, doing, impacting…?

OVERFLOWING (with Thankfulness)

And finally we reach the end of what Paul wants to get across.

If you’re rooted in Jesus, and you’re being built up in the ways of the kingdom, and if your faith is being strengthened and you’re growing stronger because of it, the natural progression is this: Your life will over flow with Thanksgiving. Your life will abound in gratitude. No matter what you’re going through, you will find a way, you will find a reason – to be thankful.

People will know this one thing about you – you are grateful for breath, for life, for food, for friends, for work, for family, for wins, for losses, for coffee, for water… (you get the idea?)

May we be known for our gratefulness – in whatever circumstance we find ourselves. This surprises our world, this shocks our neighbours, this stuns our co-workers. Why? Because it’s easier to complain, to worry, to be pessimistic…those seem to be the go to reaction.

Colossians 2 says…there is another way…if you’ve received Jesus…and you live in Jesus…may your life OVERFLOW with THANKFULNESS.

– – – – – – – –

For some of you going through a tough time, or even going through hell, you’re thinking that this is the last thing you need to hear. You can’t be thankful for anything right now. Please know that in your situation, there is so much grace. God knows what you’re going through and aches with you. He will be by your side until you can muster up the words to be grateful for something. But also know that sometimes, saying thank you is huge step of faith. If so, may you take that step of faith today.

Try and pray this prayer everyday this week.

Thank you Jesus…
For inviting me to receive you…
For the privilege to live my life in you…
In you I live, move and have my being…

Jesus, may I be rooted in you…
Jesus, may I continue to be built up in you…
May you strengthen me by the power of your Spirit to become the person you’ve called me to be…

And Jesus, may all this cause an overflow of thankfulness…may I be grateful, to you, for you, with others, on good days, on bad days, when I win and when I lose…

May your light, Jesus, shine through my posture of gratitude…everyday…in every way…to everyone.

AMEN

– – – – – – – –

small(er) group discussion:

Why would speaking about thankfulness be a tough sell for some people?

Do you think we should avoid the topic or simply understand that as important as it is, we must give others lots of grace and patience?

If you were to share, what would you say thank you for today?

Let’s read Colossians 2:6-7 together. What sticks out for you? What inspires, challenges, encourages or even bugs you about these words?

Take a few minutes to break down each important word/phrase:
ROOTED…BUILT UP…STRENGTHENED…OVERFLOWING with THANKFULNESS

I think Paul’s main question is: What does it look like to conduct a life that has been impacted by Jesus? If so, do you think Thankfulness needs to get to the top of the list of how people describe you or other followers of Jesus?

THIS IS US : created to create (good things)

Who’s your favourite artist? Maybe we should break it down to segments of art. Music, Poetry, Writing, Painting, Decorating, Fashion, Dance, etc.
Bands/Artists you may know: U2? Ed Sheeran? Adele? Sting? Paul McCartny?
Bands/Artists I know but you may not know: Foy Vance? Snarky Puppy? Christian McBride?

We hear this a lot about those who create art…they are ‘creatives’.

  • we lump them together
  • we appreciate them for their art
  • but don’t always really appreciate them for how they get to that art
  • then, we separate creatives and non-creatives
    • they can, we can’t
    • we think outside the box, they don’t

How many times have many of us said, I’m not creative, I don’t have a creative bone in my body. I can’t play music, draw, paint, take good photos, write lyrics, etc. So we leave the imagination to the right brainer; we leave the creativity to the artist.

(Artist: Wes Peel)

Of course, we must hounour our artists, that is for sure, but more than honour them, we must let them inspire us to be creative in our right!

The last two weeks, in our THIS IS US series, we’ve walked through two very important aspects of who we are. CALLING & CHARACTER. Today we move to this truth: We are Created to be Creative.

CALLING is about purpose
CHARACTER is about journey and formation
CREATIVITY is about mission, action & impact

We are all artists in our own way…being creative with the lives we’re called to live and the work we’re called to do. But how does this fit into our series…how does fit into our faith?

Paul’s words in Ephesians 2, specifically verse 10, speaks to this so well.

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

These words are screaming and shouting creativity, creation, and imagination.

This verse can really stand on it’s own, and has for many who have come across it. However, no verse really stands alone. In the previous 9 verses, Paul is setting us up to really understand and take in the depth of what we read in verse 10. Here’s a paraphrase of 2:1-9…

  • you were dead in your sins…
  • you used to live another kind of life…
  • you used to follow the ways of the world…
  • you used to listen to another ruler…
  • you used to follow your foolish temptations…
    • (Reminds us of last week’s conversation about new life, new creation and re-birth.)
  • BUT… (you gotta love the BUTs of the Bible)
  • Because of God’s great love & mercy…
  • We’ve been made alive in Christ…
  • How? By grace…thru faith…
  • Raised up in Christ
  • This change, this salvation, this new life, is God’s gift to us…nothing we can do to earn it…or buy it…it’s provided by Him

This is all in the lead up to verse 10…these words really set us up to understand what salvation is intended for…and here it is…

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

– – – – – – – –

We are God’s Masterpiece

  • The word for masterpiece can literally be translated as a poem, a work of art, handiwork, creation, workmanship, a sculpture, a musical score.
  • This is both who we are and who God’s sees us as.
  • We are literally works of art in the eyes of God
    • He is the artist, we are his creation
    • We are created…in the image of God
  • So when we talk about new creation, and new life, and rebirth, we are essentially saying that Jesus has MADE us new.

How amazing is it to know that not only did God make us (physically, biologically), but can also re-make us (character, insides, heart, soul, values).

You’ve seen someone who’s been re-made. By that I mean someone who used to act totally different, and now reflects a totally new image. Who comes to mind first? The beauty of this is that no matter what we did in our past, we can move away from that and be new. We don’t have to hide from it, we can acknowledge it, confess it, say bye to it, and move on.

Hear this loud and clear: I am God’s work of art. Pray this: And I invite him to continue to work on and in me, like a potter works on clay, because I totally trust that what he’s doing makes me better.

Here’s the second and possibly cooler part of this verse…

He has created us, in Jesus, so we can do good things

We are works of art who are called to create works of art!!!

In Genesis 1 we read this about the writer’s description of creation…

  • God makes the earth
  • God makes the sea
  • God makes the sky
  • God makes the sun
  • God makes the animals
  • God makes the vegetation
  • God creates man & woman

And what does each day end with? IT WAS GOOD!

(whatever you believe about old earth & new earth, 6000 years or millions of years, the writer of Genesis has one agenda, for us to know that God is and was behind everything that we see.)

When he created all of it he says, IT WAS GOOD!

In the first 4 days of God’s creation, he makes things we actually take for granted, don’t we? Earth, sky, light, night, etc. Be honest, you don’t appreciate the stars, the sky, bodies of water, nearly enough. And even to those forgotten things, God says, GOOD.

And when he’s done he takes a break, showing us that even though creativity may come easier to others, it’s still work, and it’s still hard, and it’s still important to take a break. This is why artists are taken for granted, because it is their unappreciated gift.

Now, back to Ephesians 2:10…

Just like God said at the end of his creative work, this is good. Jesus wants us to say of our created work, this is good.

Paul talks about it in reverse: Don’t create and then say it’s good, know that all that you do as God’s creation has the potential, first and foremost to be good and accomplish good. Because Jesus created us to do good things!

It’s our calling, as followers of Jesus to create and do good.

“To create is to reflect the image of God. To create is an act of worship.” (E. McManus)

“Whether we realize it or not, everything we do, everything we create is an expression of how alive our souls and hearts are”

It is an expression of what Jesus is doing in us.

The best of piece of art we are constantly working on – the most important works of art we will ever give ourselves to – are the lives we live. Which means that what we do in the present…with our lives…will last into God’s future.

So…If you’re an artist or not, may we take the role & responsibility of creating very seriously. This is our calling.

I mean, Paul, in Ephesians 2:10, goes as far to say that God prepared this in advanced for us to do.

THIS. IS. US. 

This has to be who we are, what we are about, how the world sees you, and us.

– – – – – – – –

What can and must we be creative with…or what must we be doing good with? EVERYTHING

May you be creative in…

  • your peace making efforts
  • your parenting
  • your neighbouring
  • your relationships
  • your work (actual day job)
  • your influence
  • your leading
  • your building
  • loving, caring, sharing,

“Without Imagination, our faith is merely a legacy to protect…but it’s so much more than that…it’s a story to tell, and live, and share.” (Aaron Niequist)

God’s work in us is a springboard to launch us into the continuing story of Jesus.

In order to do that we must continue to be creative in our telling, in our acting, in our living, in our doing, as we play out the story of God in everything we do.

– – – – – – –

small(er) group questions:

First up. Who’s a creative? Who’s not? Or who thinks they are and who thinks they’re not?

What can we learn from our artists? How can creativity help any of us in our jobs, roles, relationships?

Let’s dive into Ephesians 2 for a bit:
– What are your thoughts about 2:1-3?
– What changes in 2:4-8?
– How about the landing of this text in 2:10?

Talk about these words…
“we are God’s masterpiece”
“created in Christ Jesus to do good things”

Why and how does doing good require creative?

What areas of our life are we in desperate need of creativity?

Final thoughts & Prayer.

This Is Us: character form-ing, becom-ing, chang-ing…

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…

  1. THERE’S A GROWING GAP BETWEEN WHAT YOU SAY PUBLICLY AND HOW YOU LIVE PRIVATELY
  2. YOUR EMOTIONS ARE INAPPROPRIATE TO THE SITUATION
  3. YOU HAVE LESS AND LESS GRACE TO GIVE
  4. Everything HAS BECOME ABOUT YOU
  5. YOU KEEP JUSTIFYING YOUR BAD ACTIONS AND DECISIONS

(full article written by Carey Nieuwhof)

– – – – – – –

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.

BORN AGAIN.

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…

STORY/SCRIPTURE

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.

John 3…
There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. 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.” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?” Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ 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.

– – – – – – – –

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.

TAKE HOME…

Think about it this way. We are ING people.
– Becom-ing
– Chang-ing
– Form-ing
– Impact-ing
– Liv-ing

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.

– – – – – – – – –

(discussion questions)

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?

THIS IS US : CALLING

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?

Matthew 4…
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.

– – – – – – – – – – –

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) ?