Monday, March 18, 2013

Find Your Life by Losing It

The Hard Sayings of Jesus M3

Date: February 17, 2013

Title: Find Your Life by Losing It

Text: Luke 14: 25-27; Luke 9: 23-25

Big Idea: When we take up our cross and lay down our life, we find our true life...

​I remember, when it was time to bring Joey home from the hospital after he had been born, how we placed him in his car seat for the very first time, and the car seat looked way too big for his little body. We had towels that we placed under his bum, at his sides, and behind his neck to keep him from flopping around. I'm not usually a particularly careful driver (there's a reason, I don't have a “honk if you love Jesus” bumper sticker on our car – I don't want to deter people from the Christian faith), but that day I drove down Oak Street and turned onto King Edward with great caution - under the speed limit - to be sure that I was aware of what was happening on the road. If you are a parent, you know that driving your newborn baby from the hospital to your home - especially your first - is a scary experience.

I hear that another scary day for a parent is the day you turn over the keys of your vehicle to your child when they get their license at age 16. While our son Joey, since the time he has been able to crawl, has expressed an interest in being in the driver's seat and holding the steering wheel, he won't be driving - hopefully - for at least another 12 years. But the day will come when we place the keys of our car into his hands.

A lot of us enjoy the thought of Jesus being in their car as a passenger, as someone who can provide advice from time to time, as someone whose presence can make us feel less alone, and gives us peace of mind by just being with us. But a less pleasant thought for many people is to think of Jesus in the driver's seat of our life; where we let go of the control of our lives and Jesus determines where we go and the speed of our travel - where Jesus is in charge our habits, our money, our ambitions. That can be a scary thought.

We are in a series called The Hard Sayings of Jesus: sayings that are hard in some cases because they are hard to understand and, in other cases, hard because they are hard to swallow – and hard to live out - impossible to live out without God's help.

The text that we are going to be looking at today would not have been difficult for people in the first century to understand, but it would have been even more difficult to swallow and live out.

Last week we looked at Luke, Chapter 14, verses 25-26, where Jesus says: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even life itself—such a person cannot be my disciple. (And if you were away last weekend for the long weekend or Chinese New Year the sermon focused how hating our parents serves as a sword which divides our families, but in many cases can actually make our relationship with them more healthy. (It is available on our website). Then in the very next verse Jesus says, “Whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

In Luke 9: 23-25, Jesus echoes similar words and we’ll be looking at this text today:

23 Then he said to them all: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for you to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit your very self?" (TNIV)


When Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me,” he is saying “You’ve got to be ready for a violent death," if you’re my follower. When we first read this it sounds crazy.

Can you imagine a politician like Christy Cark or Adrian Dix saying to a group of people, "If you vote for me and our party, you will lose your families, your homes - all that you love. So, who wants to sign on to my campaign?" However, as one of the commentators points out, instead of being a politician, we should imagine Jesus as a leader of a great expedition, making his way through a high and dangerous mountain pass to bring urgent medical aid to villagers cut off from the rest of the world. We can imagine our leader Jesus saying, "If you want to come any further, you will have to leave your packs behind. From here on, the path is too steep to bring all that stuff." It is not an easy message, but it makes more sense. And it's one that brings life.

When Jesus calls us to follow Him, He calls us to surrender control of our life to Him, and to even be willing to lay down our life for Him.

In Jesus' first century world, when He called on those who were considering following Him to take up their cross, that would not have been interpreted as a simple figure of speech. People would have heard that as an invitation to be seen as a condemned criminal, then to die a disgraceful, violent death. If we heard the expression, “Take up your cross many times,” we can immune to it. Ann Voscamp, the Canadian author, describes how she struggled with depression and at times would say to herself, “I'd be better off dead.” But, when she actually contracted cancer and was facing the real possibility of death – she realized how hard it was and how much she wanted to live.

In Jesus calls us to face some kind of death and follow him. Death to an old way of life, death to our way of life.

But Jesus says: "Whoever wants to save their life will eventually lose it, but whoever loses their life for me, will find it." Jesus then says, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet lose or forfeit their very self.”

So here is the paradox: following Jesus will cost us our life. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it in his classic book The Cost of Discipleship: "When Christ calls a person, He bids them come and die." But it is in following Christ and offering our life to him, laying ourselves down for Him, that we find true life. As Bonhoeffer said "Following Christ is costly, because it will cost us our life, but it is grace, for it will give us our true life." The paradox is that it's only in losing our life for Christ that we truly find it.

In our culture--and I find myself talking like this as well--we often speak of two tiers of Christians: "Christians in general," and "committed Christians." But with Jesus, He makes no such distinction between "Christians," and "committed Christians." With Jesus, a follower of Christ must be willing to pick up their cross and lay down their life, and in so doing will find it in the end. As C.S. Lewis says, it's not so much that Christ wants some of our time, some of our talent, or some of our money--he wants all of us. And if he has all of us to have our time, our talent, our money. Christ doesn't want to cut off a branch here and there. He wants the whole tree.

Not long ago, I read a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the pastor who was a key leader in the underground resistance movement which sought to resist Hitler. When it looked like his life was clearly in danger, Bonhoeffer—the pastor who was also a brilliant theologian--had the opportunity to take a distinguished teaching post at Union Seminary in New York City. Through his connections, he was able to leave Germany and find residence at Union Seminary. But he felt restless. In June of 1939, as he was reading the Scriptures he read in Isaiah 28:16, "The one who believes does not flee." Under Hitler things were becoming more scary in Germany. His friends told him, "Do not come back.” He was wanted by the Gestapo.But, he felt increasingly restless in NYC, and as he prayed about it, he felt God calling him back to Germany. So on July 7, 1939, just 26 days after arriving in New York, he boarded a ship and returned to Germany.

He was really living out his own paraphrase of Jesus' words in his book The Cost of Discipleship where he wrote: "When Jesus calls a man, He bids him come and die." Bonhoeffer would go on to lead the resistance movement against Hitler. He was discovered, arrested, imprisoned, and at age 39, engaged to be married. He was executed.

A couple of years ago, we featured the testimony of an 18 year old Korean girl on the screen named Kyung Ju (show the image).

Her dad had occupied a high-ranking position in the government of North Korea. Then, likely because of his commitment to Christ, he strangely went missing one day. He was likely martyred for his faith in Christ. Kyung Ju talked about how she was studying political science in South Korea. She talked about wanting to move to North Korea, to be engaged in the political sphere, as an ambassador for Jesus Christ -- fully aware that it may cost her life. As was true for Dietrich, and as may be true for Kyung Ju one day, there are times when taking up our cross, and laying down our life, will culminate in a one-time act. Someone said that you can only use the gift of martyrdom once.

But for most of us, taking up our cross will be an ongoing thing. Notice that Jesus says, in verse 23: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily." In Romans, Chapter 12, Paul, likely alluding back to Jesus' words, says: "Therefore I urge you to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice."

Typically, in the ancient world, when an animal was sacrificed, it was first killed, and then the body would get placed on the altar, and then it would be consumed. If you were to put a live creature on the altar, and then light a fire on that altar, what is the creature going to do? It will get off the altar! But what Paul is saying is to get back on the altar, to surrender. There are times when it will feel that you are going to die, but it is the only way to life.

Sometimes, surrendering to Jesus, taking up our cross, means that we give up a way of life that is sinful, and dishonouring to God. In John 8, we see that Jesus approaches a woman caught in adultery. He doesn't condemn her like the other people around her who have brought her to him. He says: "I don't condemn you, now go and sin no more. Surrender your sexuality to me, your thoughts, your habits, your actions." Sometimes the sin, as in the case of this woman, is more dramatic and more scandalous, but at other times sin is small and seemingly innocuous -- but something that Jesus is calling us to surrender and crucify.

Not long ago, after waking up I went downstairs, let our puppy Sasha out of the kennel she sleeps in and fed her breakfast, and then went upstairs to do some home work. I ended up coming back downstairs about half an hour later, and noticed that she was chewing something. I opened up her mouth, and discovered that she was chewing one of the Lego figures that Joey had been given for Christmas. Before leaving Sasha on her own downstairs, where it was dark and I should have turned on the lights and checked to see if there were any chewable toys of Joey's left laying around on the floor. I pulled it out of her mouth, and then Sakiko and Joey came down for breakfast. I explained what had happened to Sakiko, and she said, "Ok well, this figure is a little damaged, but it still looks okay. Here are a couple more, but one is still missing." So, I went back into the living room while they were still in the kitchen, and discovered what looked like a chewed over blue stick figure. The once robust plastic lego man been now looked a shredded skeleton, I thought it looks like it has been through a bomb explosion! Sakiko asked if I had found the other figure, and I felt inner conflict as my first impulse was to say, “No... have you?” but then I felt convicted -- that it was a lie -- sounds like such a trivial incident, but in that moment I felt that it was a matter of surrendering to Christ and so I showed her. We were able to replace the figure.

God not only addresses sin as in the case of the woman who was caught in adultery.

We see in the gospels again and again, people like the tax collector named Zacchaeus, who calls people to surrender their money to him. Jesus spoke about money a great deal during His ministry because He knew it held so much sway over people.

I was recently going through some statements about spiritual practices—what we call a rule of life—from some people, who were in a small group of mine, each of whom had given me their Rule of Life. I was reading one by someone who was recently married, about to buy a home and start a family, and I knew that finances were tight. Yet, when I saw what they were committing to give as a percentage of their income, I thought, "Wow, this person has surrendered their financial life to God, and God will honour them."

Jesus can call us to surrender a habit, our money, and the direction of our whole lives. When Jesus called His first disciples, the fishermen who ended up dropping their nets, leaving everything to follow Jesus into what was, humanly speaking, an uncertain venture, all but one ended up dying a martyr's death. Jesus calls us to deny ourselves, pick up our cross—prepare to die—and follow Him, and part of what that means, is that we are willing to follow Jesus in a direction we would not normally take; to give up our ambitions, and follow him where He calls us.

This week, as I was thinking about this text, I asked Sakiko what it means for us to live out this text, to take up our cross. She paused for a moment and thought, and said, "In my own life, picking up the cross and following Jesus meant leaving my country, and coming to Vancouver." As someone who loved her family, her culture, her church, her job in Tokyo, she had never imagined living in a different country. And yet, God had clearly spoken to her about a major change in her life, thankfully for me before I proposed.

Ironically, the surrender of my life has been taken the opposite direction. The person who inspired me to go into the Christian ministry is someone who happened to be a speaker at Mission's Fest this year: an Argentinean evangelist named Luis Palau. Luis Palau has had a ministry where he has travelled to different parts of the world as a missionary evangelist preaching the gospel. And partly because he was the one who inspired me to enter into the vocational Christian ministry, I thought that one day, I might have a ministry of travelling in some preaching or missionary context. As a younger man I did some traveling and speaking and there is a kind a glamour in being the fresh voice, the star, and not having to deal with the problems on the ground as I jetted away.

I didn't envision that I would be pastoring in my own backyard -- this is not that far from where I grew up.

I have had to surrender that ambition, to be this travelling ministry figure, because I sensed that God has called me here, primarily as a local pastor.

In a way, God has fulfilled the desire for me because, as other people have pointed out to me, Vancouver is an international missionary context. An urban mission specialist named Ray Bakke came here to speak here at Tenth, and he told me in my office (partly tongue-in-cheek) that just when it was getting too expensive to send missionaries around the world, God has sent the world to Vancouver at their own expense.

And there have been great gifts in being rooted in a particular community.

Simone Weil, said “To be rooted [in community] is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.”

I feel very fortunate to be in a place where I feel that I am living out my call, that I am where I feel God wants me to be.

Even though I feel I am where God wants me to be, I also don’t want to cling to a particular place or post, but release these to God.

I want to surrender my hope for the day, for next two weeks, or 6 months to him...

The more I walk with Jesus, watch Him interact with people in the gospels, the more I believe that He has our best interest at heart. We can’t even control our lives anyway, and we are best off ceding control to the one who is all powerful and loves us beyond our wildest hopes. Yes, Jesus does talk about us taking up our cross, but He says this so that in the end we may experience true life. Jesus said: "Whoever loses his life for me, my kingdom will find him."

Some of you are familiar with AA. One of the most important steps in AA is to surrender your will. The motive of the people who created AA, Bill Wilson and Sam Shoemaker, was not to shackle them in chains, but that people who struggle with drinking could truly experience freedom. Jesus' motive in calling us to give up the driver's wheel of our life is love ( Props: two chairs and a steering wheel—maybe borrow one from Carter Honda or Trembley Motors or Madjid) to give us freedom...

It says in John 10, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." One of the very best examples I have for this is rappelling. (Show a PowerPoint image of someone rappelling).

When you are rappelling down the side of a cliff when you are a beginner -- and this is especially true if you are afraid of heights -- it is very scary, and your inclination, as you go over the cliff, is to hug the cliff—your "language of love" becomes touch. But if you hug the cliff as you are going down, you are going to start scraping your elbows and knees, and maybe your chin as well. You can’t move very smoothly. In order to find joy and freedom while rappelling, you need to lean back, and trust your equipment. It is very counter-intuitive because if you throw yourself back over a cliff, you feel as if you are going to die. But as you release and trust your gear, you find real freedom.

I have rappelled a number of times, enough times to know you're best off simply trusting your equipment. I have also stood at the bottom of a cliff and, seeing folks rappelling for the first time hugging the cliff, I’ve encouraged them by shouting, “Trust the equipment, lean back.” In other words surrender to it. There is a part of their brain that wants to believe me, but there is also a part of their brain that doesn't want to surrender, and wants to hug the cliff.

And not just as a pastor, but as a human being, I feel like I've walked with Christ long enough to know that the only way to follow Him is to surrender to Him. And surrender is the only path that leads to real wholeness and freedom, and the fullness of life that He offers us. And maybe you here, there is a part of you that believes in God, but there is some part of your life that you are clutching on to.

And perhaps today you, whether you are exploring or a long-time believer, say in your heart, "I want to surrender my life to You. My will, my money, the way I live, the whole direction, I surrender to You. I'm going to let go, lean back and trust you.

In fact, take over the driver's seat of my life.


I don’t know the road ahead of me, I don’t even know where or how it will end—if I’ll make it through the journey alive, but I trust you and I will not be afraid because you are with me and my only hope in life and death is you, Jesus Christ.



Money and Eternal Life

The Hard Sayings of Jesus (M4)

Date: February 24, 2013

Speaker: Ken Shigematsu

Title: Money and Eternal Life

Text: Mark 10: 17-31

Big Idea: It takes a miracle for a wealthy person to inherit eternal life.

I recently saw the remarkable documentary on Ernest Shackleton’s attempted voyage in 1914 to reach the South Pole with his ship called The Endurance. Shackleton had failed twice to reach the South Pole and this time he was determined on making it. He placed an ad in the newspaper (I will read the ad):

"Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success. —Ernest Shackleton." 5000 people applied and 27 sailors were selected.

They set sail for the South Pole, but a day before reaching their destination disaster struck. They found themselves trapped in thick ice.

They ended up leaving the ship and camping out on the ice for months. When it became clear the ship would sink, Shackleton had his men take the lifeboats off the ship and they made plans to walk to the sea. Shackleton commanded his men to leave behind all their personal belongings – except for 2 pounds worth of stuff each.

Just as Ernest Shackleton commanded the men on the voyage to Antarctica to shed their belongings in order to live, Jesus calls us to shed things in our lives, so that we will have less stuff that clutters our relationship with him so that we can experience eternal life.

And by "eternal life,” Jesus wasn't simply describing a life that we would experience after we die, but also a life with God now, on earth; a life accompanied by God's very presence, power, and blessing.

We are in a series called The Hard Sayings of Jesus, and by "hard sayings" we mean the sayings of Jesus that are hard because they are hard to understand (at least on first read), or are hard to swallow and to accept, and because they are hard to live out -- in fact, in many cases, impossible to live out without God's help.

Today we are going to be looking at a passage in Mark, Chapter 10, verses 25-27:
25 "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God." 26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, "Who then can be saved?" 27 Jesus looked at them and said, "With human beings this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God."
This is definitely a "hard saying" of Jesus.
He says: " It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God." What did He mean by this?
Some people have tried to minimize the harshness of these words by appealing to the fact that there was an arch-shaped opening in the wall of Jerusalem, call "the eye of a needle,” and if a camel took off its load, crouched down, and sucked in its breath, it could squeeze through that little arch-way opening. However, the gate called "the eye of the needle" was not built until medieval times, more than 500 years after Jesus' ministry. So this couldn’t have been what he was talking about.
Others have said that there is an Aramaic, or Hebrew word, that sounds like "camel," but actually means "rope," and so some commentators have stated that Mark, the author of this gospel, must have misunderstood what Jesus was saying when He said "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God," that Jesus didn't mean camel - -He actually meant rope. But we know that He is actually referring to a literal camel going through the eye of a needle, because when he says this, we see in verse 26 that the disciples were amazed, and they said to each other, "Who then can be saved?" And Jesus states in verse 27 that "All things are possible with God."
How does an actual camel get through the eye of a needle (keep the image on the screen while I speak of the need for a miracle of transformation)?

The only way this is possible is for the camel is to shrink way down, to become the size of a tiny insect, or for the eye of the needle to become very big in order for the camel to get through it. In other words, either the camel, or the eye of the needle would have to be miraculously transformed. No amount of dieting by the camel, no amount of oiling the inside of the needle is going to get that camel through. It is going to require a transformation of either the camel, or the needle. A miracle. Jesus is teaching that in order for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God, a miracle -- a transformation -- has to occur.
Now we may not think of ourselves as being wealthy. And in fact, in the original Greek, it doesn't explicitly say that this young ruler was wealthy, but rather that he had "many things." But the fact is, almost all of us here are wealthy by the standards of the whole world. We live in a world where about 40% live on less than two dollars a day. The fact is, if you have a place to live, whether you own or rent and have a computer and in the internet, chances are that you are wealthier than 95 to 99% of the world. And even if you are a student, even homeless – if you calculate wealth in terms of access to food and shelter, the internet in a public library or medical care such as we have in Canada –you’re still in all likelihood still in the top of ten per cent of wealth.
And so when Jesus says it is harder for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, He is talking about us. He is talking about you and me.
The Scriptures teach that money can have a powerful, and at times even a demonic hold over our lives. Money can have a great grip on us. It can cause us to worry, envy, discriminate against those who have little of it, or too much of it. And one more thing: And this precisely is why Jesus spoke about money more than any other social issue. He knew that money was a rival god that could keep us from the Living God.
There is an enormous discrepancy between what we are brought up to believe and what our society rewards as belief. Talk about the cussedness of the race! It's money that measures the success or failure of most of the games we play most of our lives. It's money that gives us our identity, compared to which our identity in God is but a footnote. We expect more from financial success than from our relationship with God. From Credo by William Sloane Coffin page 129
We see this illustrated in the passage that immediately precedes Jesus saying: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God." He said this because He had an encounter with someone who is described as a "rich young ruler."
In verses 17-22 of Mark 10, we read about this young man who came running up to Jesus, greeted Him with great respect, and asked Him: "Great Teacher, what must I do to get eternal life with God in this life, and in the life to come?" And Jesus said: "Why do you call me good? No one is good, only God. You know the commandments: don't murder, don't commit adultery, don't steal, don't lie, don't defraud others, honour your father and mother." And the young man said, "Teacher, I've kept them all from my youth." And the text tells us that Jesus looked at him intently, and He loved him. And then Jesus said: "There is one thing that you lack. Go sell everything that you own, and give it to the poor, and then all your wealth will become heavenly wealth. Then come follow me." The man's face clouded over; he was deeply grieved -- this was the last thing he wanted to hear -- and he walked away with a heavy heart. He was holding on tight to a lot of things and could not let them go.
This young man's money, his possessions, have a powerful hold over him. It's noteworthy that this is the only time in the gospels that Jesus invites someone personally to come and follow Him, and the person says “no.” Now, when Jesus was preaching to the crowds, many people refused to follow Jesus, and walked away from Him, but this is the only time when Jesus personally approaches someone, and invites them to follow Him, and they decline.
What does this story tell us about the relationship between having money and getting eternal life? In other words, what role does our money play in our becoming a true follower of Jesus?
Let’s go back to the story of the rich young ruler.
The young man runs up to Jesus, falls to his knees before Him, and asks: "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus' answer is typical of a rabbi in His day. Jesus says: "Keep the commandments," and the young man says: "All these I have kept, since I was a boy." Jesus doesn't deny that at all. There’s no pushback from Jesus. No objection is raised by his disciples. In fact, if we were to read on, it's clear that they admire this guy. This young man is someone who is very virtuous. He is well-to-do. He is young, and probably quite attractive. As someone I know has pointed out, it is hard to be young, wealthy, and not attractive -- it is possible, but you've got to work at it! He says the path to eternal life is through the commandments.
As we saw in the Deuteronomy series in the fall, Moses after preaching several sermons on God’s law said, if you walk in God’s command today, if you love the Lord, your God, and walk in obedience to Him... You will live. You’ll experience life--not death, blessings-- not curses (Deuteronomy 30).
The path to eternal life is through the commandments. Both Moses and as Jesus said, if we listen to God's voice, hold fast to Him, we will receive life from God. The rich young ruler had kept all the commandments that Jesus had outlined (Jesus had outlined five of them), but the young ruler had failed to keep two other commandments. The First and greatest Commandment to have no other gods above God; to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Jesus knew this. And Jesus also knew that it was disguised money and possessions that was keeping him from loving God with all his heart. His heart was divided. His money and possessions were cluttering his relationship with God.
We see in the text that Jesus looked at him. In the Greek, the word "looked at" is an intensified version of the word "looked." In other words, Jesus looked at him intently, examined his soul. It wasn't a look of judgement, or anger. We read in the text that Jesus looked at him and loved him. When we love someone -- really love them -- we tell the truth. And Jesus said, "You lack one thing. Go sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure with God. Then come with me."
At this, the young man's face clouded over, and he went away sad. But in the Greek, it says that he "grieved.” It is the same word used to describe Jesus' grief back in the garden of Gethsemane, as He sweated drops of blood, and was about to face the horror of the cross.
The young wealthy ruler was greatly grieved, and he walked away from Jesus. As I said, he was the only person who was ever personally approached by Jesus, invited to follow Him, and said “no.”
Money and possessions continue to be the greatest hindrance for most people in actually giving their life wholeheartedly to God, and experiencing the eternal life of God. Now, I know from my years of pastoring and preaching that I can preach on "That shalt not murder," one of the commandments Jesus referred to in His conversation with the rich young ruler, and most people are on board with that. Or preach on "Thou shalt not commit adultery," another commandment that Jesus lists, and again, maybe a little lower percentage of people are on board with that, but still there is a general sense of agreement that it is a good and reasonable thing. Or if I preach on "Thou shalt not steal, do not lie, do not defraud," people tend on board with that. Even if people have a difficult relationship with their parent, or parents, "Honour thy father and mother" is agreed to be a good commandment in general.
However, when I call people in response to God's word, to give a substantial amount of their money away, there can be push-back in people's hearts, and sometimes through emails. When you hear Jesus calling on the rich young ruler to sell all that he has, and to give it to the poor, in order to have eternal life, he squirmed. 2000 years later this story makes us squirm. And the only way that we can live this call out, is through a divine intervention, a miracle. It’s impossible to do this on our own. It’s not in our nature. We are rich and the only way that a camel can become small enough to fit through the eye of a needle is through a dramatic and miraculous transformation in the camel.
One the clearest sign that God has done a miraculous work in us is that we have eternal life is that we are able to give away substantial sums of our money. It takes a miracle. According to the Google philanthropic foundation, it typically takes a person having 20 million dollars to be able to give away five percent of it. That is half of a tithe away from a feeling of financial security. One of the signs that God has done a transforming work in us, one of the signs that we really have entered into a relationship with God, that we really do have eternal life, is that our relationship with money has changed.
I spoke about my colleague Aisyah a couple of weeks ago. Aisyah was born into a devout Muslim family, a family of real privilege. Her dad was a distinguished ambassador from Indonesia and they were well-to-do. Her parents had what they regarded as a wonderful plan for their daughter Aisyah to study in different parts of the world, including the United States and Switzerland, to marry someone who was a devout Muslim, but who was also successful in a worldly sense. Her future was all set; she was walking down a path of enviable financial security.
But when she started considering the possibility of following Jesus Christ, she not only feared that she would be disowned by her family -- completely cut off -- but she was also keenly aware that following Christ would mean that she would be walking away from the wealth that she would have access to in her family coffers, if she did not commit her life to Christ. She counted the cost; she committed her life to Christ; and her willingness to walk away from that wealth is a sign that God had done a miracle in her.
In my own parents, who I know are a little embarrassed when I talk about them, but I have their permission, are a living example to me of how God has transformed their lives in this area. They grew up with substantial wealth and privilege in the days when Japan was still poor after World War II. They were sent to private schools; my mom ended up studying at an Ivy League school at a time when it was very rare for people from Japan after they lost World War II to study in the US. At my parent’s wedding they chartered a private jet to personally pick up their guests and bring them to the wedding. After they were married, they enjoyed a 2-month honeymoon traveling all over Europe at time when it was very rare for people from Japan to travel in Europe. When my family decided to move to Canada, it was very disappointing to both sets of parents, and the financial support dried up. So the family I grew up in was by Canadian standards of modest means. But given what they had grown up with, it would have been easy for them to centre their life on money, and the perks that money can bring. But since giving their lives to Christ, they have committed to giving substantial amounts of their money away, with great generosity. To me, this is a sign that God has really been at work in their lives.
So how do we respond to a text like this; the story of the rich young ruler, and the words of Jesus that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God?
First of all, we can't be legalistic about this. We are looking at Mark 10, but there is a parallel story of the rich young ruler in Luke, Chapter 18. In the following chapter, Luke 19, there is the story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector who offers his life to Christ. Zacchaeus doesn't give 100% of his wealth away; he voluntarily gives 50% of his wealth away. And the biblical starting point of giving wealth away is not 100%, it is not even 50%, rather it is 10%.
If you look at the story of the rich young ruler, the story of Zacchaeus, and the biblical call to tithe, there are different percentages that people give away, so we can't be legalistic about it. We can't be legalistic about giving away 100%, nor 50%, nor about 10%. So while the Scriptures do call us to give the first tenth of our income away as a starting point... we can’t be legalistic about it in the sense of saying if that doesn't represent a sacrifice for us that we can do whatever we want with the other 90%. You can't just check that box off and say we've tithed; I can now do as I please with my money. Giving shouldn’t be motivated by our desire check a box, but out of love for God and surrender to him. If 10% doesn't represent a sacrifice for us then we are called to give substantially more. What does this mean for us?
I've thought about this, and prayed about this.
If Jesus were to ask me to give away 100% of all that I own, I hope and pray that I would be able to do that, and trust Him; to trust that the wealth that I would receive, as Jesus says, would be greater -- spiritually speaking -- than what I actually gave away. I also believe that he would provide for me materially, or I die, and it was God's will that I enter the life to come more quickly than I anticipated. That I would be living this great adventure. But if God doesn't speak to me directly, in an oracle, then how am I to live?
As we saw last week, he calls us to deny ourselves take up our cross and follow him.
God has occasionally spoken to me very clearly, almost in an audible voice, but that has only been a handful of times. If God doesn't speak to me directly, then my model, as a follower of Christ, must be the way of Christ. And Christ was the one who gave it all for us, who sacrificed His life on the cross that we might become eternally wealthy, that our sins might be forgiven, that we might know the life of God now and forever.
Paul in 1 Corinthians 8 says that Christ, though He was rich, for our sakes became poor so that we, through His poverty, might become rich. So Christ really is the model for us in giving. That is, we are called to give to the point of sacrifice, to the point where we are not living to the standard we could be living in if we were not giving so much away in terms of how we live, our lifestyle; where we live, what we eat. That kind of life may sound difficult, but there really is attractiveness, a beauty, to this other way of life.... to giving to the point of really trusting...
One of the real gifts of the rebuilding project at Tenth (point to the UEH) was that we engaged in some years ago was it gave us many of us an opportunity to trust God in a significant way with our money. I realize some of you were here then, but a number of you weren’t so let me retrace a story I have shared from that time. When the earthquake hit in Washington state area a Wednesday morning, I was praying that the building would fall down – so that the insurance company could pay for it. But God gave us a great gift, by giving us the opportunity to give to the project so that as a community, so we could stay in the city.
During the campaign, Sakiko and I committed to giving—IF God enabled us--the equivalent of 50% of one year’s income – over the three-year (this would be over and above our regular tithe). We had no idea where that money would come from – when the campaign was beginning, we were looking at our bills at the kitchen table – and Sakiko pulled up one bill and asked how will we pay for this? I said “by cheque.” She said, “We don’t have the money in our bank account.” The next day or the day after that someone broke into our garage and our car ended up being damaged. We had more unexpected expenses as a result. We got off to a discouraging start. But amazingly, with God's providing in ways we could not have anticipated, we were able to meet our goal and actually go beyond our goal. There was a real of surge of joy for us. At the end of that year we were able to meet our goal.
As we were looking back at the high points of the year, God providing for us and enabling us to give more than we thought we could give was the first thing we mentioned. Priceless gifts came through that in a way we could not have anticipated.
Now in a fresh way, I have been thinking about what this means for me, and what it means for us as a community here at Tenth. The thought of being able to give more, particularly to the impoverished people in the developing world is exciting, and fills me with a sense of joy.
Some of you may know I'm in the process of finishing my first book, God and My Everything. I was having lunch with someone who is interested in the book project, and mentioned that the contract is set up. I'm not going to personally receive that advance money, and the future royalties bypass me and go into a fund. The net advance and royalty money will go to support impoverished children in the developing world and our missions partners.
And the person said, "But what if the book does really well? You never know, you could really regret this decision." Maybe there will be some bitter-sweetness if that unlikely scenario unfolds, but I do believe that there will be more sweetness, as there is a joy in giving generously. And I want to think and pray about how we personally as a family, and how we as a church can live and give generously, and even sacrificially. And to know the life and the blessing of God that comes of that way of life, as we become that kind of person.
Money can have such a powerful hold on us, and even a demonic hold. The paradox is that if we hoard it we think we may be more secure and happy, but we have more misery—there's a reason the word “miser” and “misery” have the same root.
How can the power of money be broken in our lives?
The way we can do that is by looking into the face of The rich young ruler. Not the young ruler that ran away from Jesus, but from Jesus, who was also a rich young ruler. And perhaps part of the reason that Jesus looked at this young ruler with such affection and connection was because He could identify with him, because Jesus was infinitely rich, in a spiritual sense. He was also a young ruler, who had done exactly what He was asking the rich young ruler to do.
He had, after all the riches and the wealth and the splendour of heaven, become poor for our sake. He humbled himself, took on the form of a servant, and became obedient to death -- even death on a cross -- so that we could be forgiven, so that we could inherit eternal life, so that we could be infinitely wealthy.
And when we look into the face of Jesus, the true young ruler, and we see how much He loves us, and how much He has given to us through His life, death, and rising again, then we can respond by giving all of us and all we have to Him.
As I look back over my journal and think through the great gifts that God has given me in the last two or three years, I find that I have often been on my knees saying, "God, you have been so good to me. How can I say thanks? How can I give more of myself, and more of what I have back to you?" More of heart and more of my life, more of what I have.
And if you are calculating in your mind the cost, in our text Peter says to Jesus: "We've left everything to follow you," and Jesus replied, "No one who has left home, brothers or sisters, mother, or father, or children, or fields, for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times in his present life, and in the age to come, eternal life."
As we give our lives, and what we have to Jesus, we are led on this incredible rich adventure. What we give away, we will get back a hundredfold. It may not be financially, but it will be given back us in some way a hundredfold. In this life and eternal life in the world to come.
And as one my teachers has said: "God's power and grace flow away from people who love money and power. But God's power and grace flow toward people who give it away."
So give and become a person who is truly blessed, truly rich.


Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Grace & Justice

City Series M-8
November 25, 2012
Speaker: Ken Shigematsu
Title: Grace & Justice
Texts: Deuteronomy 10:16-19, 15:1-11, 24:19-22; Matt 25:31-46

BIG IDEA: In response to God’s grace we are called to generously give and work for justice in the world.

When someone is introducing you what do you want said about you? Or, if you are introducing yourself say in 140 characters or less as in Twitter bio, what will you say about yourself? In my little intro I’m a pastor of Tenth Church in Vancouver and I am husband to Sakiko and father to Joey.

How we introduce ourselves tells others what we do, what we value, who we are in relationship with. When God introduces himself in the Scriptures, he calls himself a “The Father to the fatherless and the defender of widows” (Psalm 68:5).

One of the most important things God does in the world is to take up the cause of the poor and powerless. And, as we noted in one of the earlier messages in this series, this particular bio for God is remarkable. In the ancient world, as we’ve seen, the gods were capricious, cruel, self-serving, and favored the rights of the rich and powerful and gave virtually no rights to the poor. Whereas the living God regards all people, even slaves, as human and sacred. The bias that the Living God has, not in favor of the powerful, but the powerless, as historian Thomas Cahill points out, is unique not only in ancient law but in the whole history of law. God certainly loves both the rich and the poor, and in the Bible, while there are texts that call for justice for members of the well-to-do classes, his calls to extend justice to the poor outnumber those passages by about a hundred to one. And this emphasis has led some, like Latin American theologian Gustavo Gutierrez, to speak of God’s “preferential option for the poor.”

When a person reflects the compassion, generosity and justice of God they are called righteous.

Take Job for example:

The character Job in the Bible was described as righteous.

In Job 29:12-17, Job says:
12 For I assisted the poor in their need
and the orphans who required help.
13 I helped those without hope, and they blessed me.
And I caused the widows’ hearts to sing for joy.
14 Everything I did was honest.
Righteousness covered me like a robe,
and I wore justice like a turban.
15 I served as eyes for the blind
and feet for the lame.
16 I was a father to the poor
and assisted strangers who needed help.
17 I broke the jaws of godless oppressors
and plucked their victims from their teeth.
Old Testament scholar Bruce Waltke, who taught for many years at Regent College here in Vancouver, points out that the righteous persons like Job in Scripture are willing to disadvantage themselves for the sake of the community. The wicked, conversely, according to Waltke, are willing to disadvantage the community to advantage themselves.

In this final sermon in the Deuteronomy series we’re going to look at several texts in Deuteronomy that show us how we can become a person who is just and part of what it looks like to live this way (2x).

So first, how do we become a person of greater justice?

It's true that because of the sin virus that has affected us all so like the gods of the ancient world we can be selfish and self-serving.

But we are also made in the image of the Living God who is compassionate and just.

As human beings who are made in God's image each of us has at the very least a dormant seed of compassion and justice (use prop).

And as we are drawn into a relationship with the Living God, and experience his redeeming grace, the seed of compassion and justice within us is watered and the shoot of God’s love and mercy begins to grow out from us (use prop).

And Moses understands this is so as he preaches on the banks of the Jordan River and he calls his people – who are first made in God's image and then were redeemed by God's grace as they were delivered out of Egypt that land where they were slaves -- to become who compassionate and just.

In Deuteronomy 10:16-19:
16 Therefore, change your hearts and stop being stubborn.
17 “For the Lord your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords. He is the great God, the mighty and awesome God, who shows no partiality and cannot be bribed. 18 He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. 19 So you, too, must show love to foreigners, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt (Deut. 10:16-19).
Moses reminds the people of God that they had been slaves in Egypt, poor, and oppressed. And if they had been poor and oppressed people in Egypt, and then experienced God’s grace, God’s pure gift, as he sprung them free from their land of slavery, they in turn were to respond by showing God’s mercy and justice to the poor by loving the orphan, the widow, and the poor immigrant in your midst.

And all of us here are made in God’s image—so the seed of compassion and justice is at the very least dormant within us—and many of us have experienced the grace of God in a way that is even deeper than for the ancient children of Israel at the time of Moses. Many of us here have experienced God’s redemption, not physically but from a far more pervasive spiritual slavery to sin and a self-centered way of life, and we've been brought into a friendship with the Living God.

And if this has been our experience, we can express our gratitude to God by living lives of generosity, compassion, and justice.

But what specifically does it look like to live with generosity, compassion, and justice?

In Deuteronomy, Chapter 24:19-22:
19 “When you are harvesting your crops and forget to bring in a bundle of grain from your field, don’t go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigners, orphans, and widows. Then the Lord your God will bless you in all you do. 20 When you beat the olives from your olive trees, don’t go over the boughs twice. Leave the remaining olives for the foreigners, orphans, and widows. 21 When you gather the grapes in your vineyard, don’t glean the vines after they are picked. Leave the remaining grapes for the foreigners, orphans, and widows. 22 Remember that you were slaves in the land of Egypt. That is why I am giving you this command.
Doesn’t this passage reveal God’s heart of generosity? It’s clear in this passage that God doesn’t want the farmer to take the entire harvest for himself and his family, but to leave some of the harvest on the ground for the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow. In God’s view, the poor had a right to some of the farmer’s produce. Now most of us are not farmers, so what is the application here for us? It means that if we are God’s children and recognize how gracious God has been to us, and we want to walk in His ways as people who are righteous, then again to quote Bruce Waltke, as righteous people we will be willing to disadvantage ourselves for the sake of the community. The wicked, according to Waltke, are willing to disadvantage the community to advantage themselves. But the righteous, are willing to disadvantage themselves for the sake of the community.

So what does it look like to become like God and to be willing to disadvantage ourselves on behalf of someone else? What this means is that we take a more generous posture of life.
A couple of examples from life, and then one from a business owner, and one from how it applies to life in the larger world:
First, there is something I do a weekly basis that reminds me of the passage in Deuteronomy 24 that calls us to leave something for others when harvesting. It’s such a small thing, and I feel a little sheepish talking about it. Each week it’s my job to take out the garbage and recycling. It’s a very small thing I do, but it reminds me of this passage We always put bottles and cartons in the recycling blue box that we could cash in. But we always, actually it’s almost always my wife who rinses any of the bottles that we’ve used, because we know that they are going to be picked up by someone in the back alley. And if I bump into someone in the back alley as they are pushing their shopping cart and picking up bottles and cans that they can cash in for a small refund, I always thank them for helping us recycle.
And here’s something else we do that’s more substantial for us, but again not all that heroic. It was just something that my wife and I are completely on the same page. We want to honor God’s call to tithe, to set aside, the first tenth of our income on a regular basis for God’s work to our local church, but we also want to offer substantially more to God’s work with poor, particularly God in the developing world. We’ve had the privilege of directing money to help support a school for orphan children in the Sudan or a center that helps children and women recover from the trauma of being trafficked into the sex trade.
A couple of years ago our new accountant said, “You’ve given away money to charities to the point where it’s not a benefit to you financially. From a financial perspective, I would advise you defer some of charitable giving to future years.” We talked it over and said, “We appreciate your advice. We can’t foresee the future. We’re hoping, aiming to continue to give at that rate.”
It’s not done out of a sense of guilt or obligation. We know that God loves us as we are, but out of gratitude as we are able we want to give and to live more generously.
As I was discussing this sermon with my colleague Jade this week, he hesitated for a moment and said, “I have a personal story.” Jade said, “my dad is a frugal guy – is very careful with his money. My dad was a high school teacher—he earned a modest salary. When we were growing up, we would go out for dinner. I remember we always ordered the small portions of things. And his thriftiness at times bothered me. But as I grew older, I saw that he was very careful about spending money on himself. When we'd be in a store and we would say you should buy this shirt it would look good on you, he'd say maybe but I have a shirt. He was very careful about spending money on himself, so he could be generous toward others. He’d get a gleam in his eye because he had an opportunity to give to an impoverished single mother at church. He was quietly able help a number of refugees who used affectionately to refer to as his “boat boys” while getting established in Canada. And after they were able to establish themselves, every year at Christmas for about 12 years they would show up at the Holownia’s door with Christmas gifts as a way to say thank you.
Mr. Holownia is person who is willing to disadvantage himself and, in a relative sense, his immediate family for the sake of other families. Biblically, he’s a righteous person.
Second, if we are business owners, or in some kind of management position, the gleaning laws in Deuteronomy 24 show us that God doesn’t want us to squeeze every cent of profit we can out of people.
While profit is obviously is a necessary part of business, we can also advocate for practices that don’t try to charge the highest possible price to customers and pay the lowest possible wages to people.
Don, a friend and a follower of Christ, owns a series of car dealerships in North Carolina. He’s a friend of my mentor Leighton Ford who also lives in North Carolina. As I’ve shared before, through a self-study of his business, he discovered that men were getting better deals than women, and that Caucasian males were receiving the best buys on cars while black women were getting the worst deals. He realized that black women, many of whom were on lower incomes, were in effect subsidizing the car purchases of the relatively wealthy Caucasians males: by paying more than the market value for their cars, these minority women were enabling others to get away with paying less than the market value.

Don, a business leader who follows Jesus, knew his company was violating God’s call to act justly. Appealing to the consciences of his employees, he made the case for stopping discrimination against car customers and for fixing a fair market “price is price” sales policy on cars. Don said, “As a Christian, I believe we have to be willing to sacrifice some of our financial profits [for the sake of justice].” His employees, even those who were not religious, agreed.

He’s disadvantaging his business to advantage the community.

This week in response to last week’s message a person shared this story with me.

Bob Moore owned a thriving whole foods company. It was growing by 20 or 30% each year and company was generating millions of dollars in revenue.
(show slide)

​ Bob Moore

When he reached his retirement years, he thought about the possibility of selling the company. He had many offers. He could've become instantly rich.

But then he thought about how his 200-300 employees have given so much of themselves to the company. He thought how generous Jesus Christ had been to him. He decided to split the company into shares and over a couple of years give the company a way to its employees.

The employees were just blown away.

One employee who doesn’t believe in God wrote this, “Now as an agnostic – I do not share the same religious viewpoints, but I find Mr. Moore’s example inspiring. Seeing a real life example of what I envision non-hypocritical Christianity to look like is quite humbling and Mr. Moore’s ability to lead by example is wonderful to watch.”

Bob Moore is disadvantaging himself for the sake of the community. He’s an example of right living.

In our personal life and in our work life, as we looked at during last Sunday’s sermon and, third, wherever we can on we call global scale; we work to forward God’s vision for a world of greater mercy and justice. We see God’s heart for the poor, not only in the gleaning passages but throughout the book of Deuteronomy and the Bible.

For example, in Deuteronomy 15:4-5 we read:
4 “There should be no poor among you, for the Lord your God will greatly bless you in the land he is giving you as a special possession. 5 You will receive this blessing if you are careful to obey all the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today.
And then in Deuteronomy 15:1-2 we read:
“At the end of every seventh year you must cancel the debts of everyone who owes you money. 2 This is how it must be done. Everyone must cancel the loans they have made to their fellow Israelites. They must not demand payment from their neighbors or relatives, for the Lord’s time of release has arrived.
Any Israelite who fell into debt had to be forgiven those debts every seventh year. Creditors could no longer demand payment and they even had to return the pledges of collateral taken for the debt itself. The whole purpose of this law Tim Keller, a pastor and former teacher who has taught me much about justice, observes, was to remove one of the key factors causing poverty—long-term, burdensome debt. Every seventh year was called a Sabbath year in which debts and slaves were freed (Deuteronomy 15:1-18). But every seventh Sabbath year, that is every forty-ninth year, was declared a year of jubilee. In this year not only were debts forgiven, but the land was to go back to the original families as it was distributed in the Promised Land after the Israelites entered.

Bible scholar Craig Blomberg says, “This is the ultimate realization of private property. On average, each person or family had at least a once in a lifetime chance to start afresh, no matter how irresponsibly they had handled their finances or how far into debt they had fallen.”

Global debt – it’s a massive problem in our own world. When Jimmy Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his accomplishments after his post Presidency years fighting poverty and disease, he spoke about what he regarded as the most pressing problem in the world:
Interestingly he didn’t speak about terrorism, or religious extremism, or climate change—as significant as these are.

Here’s what Carter said:

At the beginning of this new millennium I was asked to discuss, here in Oslo, the greatest challenge that the world faces. Among all the possible choices, I decided that the most serious and universal problem is the growing chasm between the richest and poorest people on earth. Citizens of the ten wealthiest countries are now seventy-five times richer than those who live in the ten poorest ones, and the separation is increasing every year, not only between nations but also within them. The results of this disparity are root causes of most of the world’s unresolved problems, including starvation, illiteracy, environmental degradation, violent conflict, and unnecessary illnesses that range from Guinea worm to HIV/AIDS.

Of all the problems facing our planet, Carter chose to speak of “the growing chasm between the richest and the poorest people on earth” as the root cause of many of the other problems in our world including, starvation, illiteracy, environmental degradation.

N.T. Wright is one of the most respected theologians in our world today and he similarly says:

As far as I can see, the major task that faces us in our generation, corresponding to the issue of slavery two centuries ago, is that of the massive economic imbalance of the world, whose major symptom is the ridiculous and unpayable Third World debt. I have spoken about this many times over the last few years, and I have a sense that some of us, like old Wilberforce on the subject of slavery are actually called to bore the pants off people by going on and on about it until eventually the point is taken and the world is changed… I… want to record my conviction that this is the number one moral issue of our day. Sex matters enormously, but global justice matters far, far more. The present system of global debt is the real immoral scandal, the dirty little secret – or rather the dirty enormous secret – of glitzy, glossy Western capitalism. Whatever it takes, we must change this situation or stand condemned by subsequent history alongside those who supported slavery two centuries ago and those who supported the Nazis seventy years ago.

When people object to N.T. Wright by saying that while the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, that wealth is not finite, and that canceling debt and giving “handouts” literally strip the poor of their human dignity and vocation to work, all this will encourage the poor toward a sinful envy of the rich, slothful escapism.

Wright says:

“I want to take such commentators to refugee camps, to villages where children die every day, to towns where most adults have already died of AIDS, and show them people who haven’t got the energy to be envious, who aren’t slothful because they are using all the energy they’ve got to wait in line for water and to care for each other, who know perfectly well that they don’t need handouts so much as justice” (p. 218).

When you look at Carter and Wright’s passion for decreasing the gap between the rich and the poor of the world, and as we contribute in some way to this cause, we are reflecting the heart of God as we see it in Deuteronomy -- to care for the foreigner, the poor, the widow, the alien, the orphan, a heart that loves to see spiritual debt (sin) and financial debts forgiven.

When people, companies and nations disadvantage themselves in some way for the sake of the greater global community, it will be seen as a righteous act in God's sight.

When you listen to a message like this, perhaps you feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the need, even if we’re involved in some work of justice, particularly so, it can feel like a drop in the ocean.

And so I want to close with this application and invitation in giving or leading businesses. Some time ago I had coffee with Mike Yankoski. He has spoken here a couple of times (as you may recall he voluntarily spent five months living as a homeless person to get a sense as to what that experience is like). “Do you have any advice for me as I speak on issues of social justice to young adults? Seems like your church has a lot of them.” And I can’t remember what I actually said—nothing note worthy, but then I asked Mike “Do you have any advice for me when I speak on these topics?”

And he said “Yes. Because the needs are so vast in the world, I encourage people to focus on one issue. For Danae and me our passion is to help provide clean water.”

As you may recall when Mike spoke here, Mike shared about how he and Danae had the opportunity to partner with several organizations drilling wells and providing clean water in Uganda. One afternoon as they walked past a family’s hut they noticed ten graves, one for an adult and nine for children. All of them had died because they didn’t have safe drinking water. A week later, they were walking toward a neighboring village and suddenly the hot afternoon silence was pierced by cries of joy, whooping, and singing. From a cluster of nearby huts several women came running at them later and they were singing and dancing, and they had no idea what the women were singing, but they were singing, “Praise God, for clean water has come.” Singing because they were so happy they are no longer sick, their children would no longer die from diarrhea. For Mike and Danae it is unclean water; for you it might be trafficking.

A number of us here have been involved with the anti-sex trafficking movement, others with refugees, others with hunger, others with education, others with HIV/AIDS, others with racial, gender, or economic inequality, others care for the earth. Pray, expose yourself to some needs in the world, discern how God has gifted you and channel your response in expressing God’s compassionate, generous, and just heart for one cause in the world.

And our ultimate motivation, as we have seen in Deuteronomy and in Jesus Christ, to disadvantage our self to serve the poor and those in need, isn’t guilt or obligation, but gratitude for all that Christ has done for us who, being in very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
by becoming obedient to death
even death on a cross so we experience the joy of God’s life now and forever
Philippians 2:7- 8

In the early part of the 19th century, a young Scottish preacher named Robert Murray McChenyne preached a sermon on the text: “It is more blessed to give than receive” and he said, and I close with these words:

Now, dear Christians, some of you pray night and day to be branches of the true Vine, you pray to be made all over in the image of Christ. If so, you must be like him in giving…”Though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor”…Objection 1. “My money is my own.” Answer: Christ might have said, “My blood is my own, my life is my own”…then where should we have been? Objection 2. “The poor are undeserving.” Answer: “Christ might have said, “They are wicked rebels…shall I lay down my life for these? I will give to the good angels.” But no, he left the ninety-nine, and came after the lost. He gave his blood for the undeserving. Objection 3. “The poor may abuse it.” Answer: Christ might have said the same; yea, with far greater truth. Christ knew that thousands would trample his blood under their feet; that most would despise it; that many would make it an excuse for sinning more; yet he gave his own blood. Oh, my dear Christians! If you would be like Christ, give much, give often, give freely, to the vile and poor, the thankless and the undeserving. Christ is glorious and happy and so will you be. It is not your money I want, but your happiness. Remember his own word, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Invite Christ who gave it all for you to cleanse and make you new and make the world through you a more just place—and you’ll know from experience the words of Jesus:
“It is more blessed to give than to receive.”


Remade to Reconcile

City Series M-2
Speaker: Ken Shigematsu
Title: Remade to Reconcile
Text: 2 Corinthians 5:11-21
August 26, 2012

BIG IDEA: When we are reconciled to God, we become an instrument of God’s reconciliation in the world.


One of the great gifts of the Olympic Games is that it brings together people from so many cultures, social backgrounds, and countries.

And it’s great to see athletes, who may not share a common language, congratulating each other after a victory or consoling someone else after a defeat.

One of the reasons we are impressed with this kind of cross-cultural interaction is because we don’t see it very often.

Sociologist tells us that for most of us our friends look like us, earn about the same amount of money, and have similar backgrounds to us. And while we may have a few acquaintances that are richer than we are or poorer than we are, most of our real friends are just like us.

But this can change when enter into a friendship with Jesus Christ.

At our newcomers’ dinner, Connections, I tell the story about how on one Sunday a group of people spontaneously decided to go out for lunch after the worship service.

In the group was a man from India, who had been raised as in the Brahman priest sect. He was from a very traditional background. He had come to Vancouver and through the ministry of Tenth had given his life to Christ. There was someone gay in the group, who was more liberal in his sensibilities. There was an artist in the group, an engineer, I believe, and an accountant. (I wasn’t actually at the lunch). Apparently during the lunch someone looked around at the table and said, “Look at us, there’s no way we would be having lunch together if it wasn’t because of our common connection to Christ.”

And when we meet Jesus Christ personally, we discover that God remakes us so that we experience not only a new relationship with God, but we find we are in closer relationships to people who are different from us – people who might otherwise be distant from or even enemies.

In short, when we are in a relationship with Jesus Christ, we find ourselves reconciled to God and to people. But as we are reconciled to people – we find ourselves drawn closer to people different from ourselves – we will find that others in turn are drawn closer to God.

In 2 Corinthians, Chapter 5, verse 18, we read that God, who reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ, has also given us the ministry of reconciliation. Today, we're going to explore what this looks like.

Today, as we conclude this series from Corinthians on the Gospel in the City, or how we live out the way of Jesus in the city, we are going to look at what it means to serve to have a ministry of reconciliation in the world.

If you have your Bibles you please turn to 2 Corinthians 5: 11-21:

2 Corinthians 5:14-21 (TNIV)
14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin[a] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.


As we will see in this text, our ministry of reconciliation, our work of building bridges to other people, and then helping others cross a bridge to God, begins with our first being reconciled to God.

As we are reconciled to God, we find ourselves more likely to draw closer to people who are different from us in some way. As this happens, with the help of God, we’ll see people drawn closer to God.

But, what’s the first step in our becoming an instrument of God’s reconciliation in the world? How do we become people who reach out to people who may be very different from ourselves--and in some cases even with those whom we would naturally be distant from and even our enemies? How do we become people who “share the presence” of God through our lives so that others are reconciled to God?

The first step is our being reconciled to God--when we enter a relationship with God.

Edwin Friedman, the author of the classic Generation to Generation, writes about each of us is involved in a series of emotional triangles.

In relationships, there is often an unseen third person who affects that relationship.

A young boy seems angry is bullying his classmates. It’s later revealed that his father become beats him when he's drunk.

A woman appears to be increasingly distant from her husband. This emotional estrangement coincides with an affair that she has begun.

More positively:

A high school student is able to calmly resist peer pressure to use drugs at a party – even though it's costing him some popularity. It’s later shown that he has a great relationship with his father.

A newly-married woman has a surprisingly good relationship with her mother-in-law. Later it comes out that the newlywed has a really healthy relationship with her own mother.

None of our relationships exist in a vacuum. Each of them is affected by some unseen person in the relationship.

And, when God becomes a central part of our lives, all of our other relationships are shaped. When God is part of our life, all our other relationships are changed.

One of the signs that we have really come to know God, according to Romans 5, is that we have this sense of God’s love streaming into our hearts. And as this love from this unseen “third person” streams into and wells up within us, we become more loving people.

When we know how much we are loved by our Maker, we cannot help but overflow with love for others. In fact, the mark of a person who is in a genuine relationship with God is not a cross around their neck. It’s not a fish. It’s not even a set of doctrinal beliefs, as important as what we believe is. But THE mark of a person in a genuine relationship with God is love. Jesus said, “By this all people will know you are my disciples if you love one another.”

And when we are reconciled with God, when God is the unseen person that affects every other relationship we have.


Of course, the reason God affects every other relationship is because when God is in our life we become new people.

In 2 Corinthians 5:17 we read that if we are in a relationship with Christ, we are made new.

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

And when God comes into our lives we become new, and one consequence of being made new is we see people differently.

What we see is shaped by who we are.

Two people on plane can react very differently to a crying toddler in the row in front of them. One can be annoyed by the child and its mother or father. The other can be moved to compassion for the child and want to help.

What we see is shaped by who we are.

In verse 16 Paul writes that, as a result of being reconciled to God, we become new. We regard no one from a worldly point of view. In the opening message of this series, Lee Kosa talked about how when we are brought into a relationship with God it changes the ways that we see people. If we are not in a relationship with the living God, we see Christ, this historic figure, hanging on a cross, and we feel sorry for him, for his suffering. Or we assume, like most of the people of his day assumed at the time he was being nailed to the cross, that he was being executed for some heinous crime he must have committed. In much the same way that we would assume if we saw someone sentenced to an electric chair. But when we are drawn into a relationship with God we see Christ differently. We no longer see his death as an ignominious defeat, or as retribution for a crime he committed. We understand that, in a mysterious way, the Christ on the cross was bearing in his body the punishment for our sins so that we could experience the forgiveness of our sins and be reconciled to God…

And when we are in a love relationship with God, we are changed and become new people. We see Christ differently and we see people differently (vs. 16): “we no longer regard people from a worldly point of view,” because what we see is always the result of who we are.

We human beings tend to judge people on their appearance, what they do, how much money they have.

When we are drawn to God and made new, we see people differently because what we see is always the result of who we are.

And this isn't merely a theoretical point.

I know this to be true of my own experience.

As I shared before, as a young teenager the most important goal in my life was to be part of the popular, cool, tough crowd at school.

I worked really hard to gain admission to this group and made it – though just barely.

And I remember as a group we looked down on almost everyone else – including a group of soccer players who were also some of the more preppy students on campus. At the time, I was taking martial arts. I remember walking down the hallway and seeing one of the kids who was part of the soccer group sitting by his locker eating an apple. I wanted to impress my friends on the accuracy of my kicks, so as we were walking by I decided that I would kick the kid’s apple out of his hand. So I jog up and I am attempting to kick the apple out of his hand, but I missed the apple and instead catch his chin and drive his back into the locker.

It isn't so much hurt him physically, but it did humiliate him. I just walked on pretending that I was intending to kick him in the head.

About a year or two, later I committed my life to Christ.

Christ began to change in the way that I viewed people.

And I remember thinking that the kid Mark who I kicked in the head wasn't just some preppy loser, but someone who was made in the image of God.

So when I was in grade 11 and grade 12, I was attending a different school, but remember looking up his address, knocking on his door and he answered.

I said,” You probably remember me. I kicked you in the head. I have come to your house to apologize.”

He said, “Oh….Sure, but I'm curious why are you apologizing now?”

I said, “This may sound strange, but I have met Jesus Christ and this powerfully changed my life in the way I see people.”

He said, “It's interesting. You probably don't know this but my dad is a pastor and I’m a believer too.”

Being in a relationship with Christ totally changed the way I saw Mark and helped me see him as being a person made in the image of God and as a fellow brother from a different mother.

While I have been changed quite a lot by Christ – it's been ages since I've kicked anyone in the head.

I find I can slip into old patterns of relating to people.

I can find that I have more energy to start to talk to someone, socially engage a stranger at a coffee shop or at the gym or at park, if they're attractive or seem interesting.

And I catch myself saying this: Christ has loved so freely without reference to what I could do for him. Everyone is being made in the image of God.

The other day in a public setting (and, no, it wasn’t Tenth). I'm deliberately making the setting vague... I recognized someone I have met only once or twice as they were serving me. And this person was amazed in the sense that because she is not classically attractive in a worldly kind of way a lot people probably don’t remember her.

I thought I want to become the new kind of person—new because of Christ—that cares in small ways for people, people my old self would ignore or despise.

Being in a relationship with Christ, not only changes how we view a particular individual, but as many people in the community or nation really embrace Christ, it changes the way they see people from other nations, other races, other cultures.

I am originally from Japan. Part of the reason why the Japanese up until World War II subjugated other Asians to cruelty, slavery—including sexual slavery, and murder--was because they saw themselves as descendants of the gods, and therefore superior to other peoples. They had a false sense of purity.

In our own country, part of the reason that immigrants from Europe stole land, enslaved, raped and murdered many First Nations Peoples was because they saw the natives as savages.

Historically, south of border racism and slavery against blacks was “justified” because people thought that black people did not possess a soul.

How does Jesus impact this?

Miroslav Volf explains… that when Jesus came he not only remade things, but he also renamed things. 2X. Jesus renamed things--that others had called unclean, out of a false sense of purity, and called them clean….2X When we are made new in Christ, we will lose our false sense of purity, our false sense of superiority. We will name things clean that once we once deemed unclean because of our false sense of purity.

When we are remade, in Christ not only will we rename things, but like Jesus, we will also reach out to people who are different from us--different from us culturally, economically, religiously.

Our power for ministry, our motivation for reconciliation, flows from a love relationship with Jesus that transforms our vision…

Paul said in his letter to the church in Philippi (Philippians 2); “If any of you have any
encouragement from being united with Christ (any of you have any of this?), if any comfort from his love (any of you have any of this?), common sharing the Spirit (any of you have any of this?)… Our attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to used to his own selfish advantage, but became one who serves others…”

We will be drawn to them and then they may be drawn closer to God.

This summer I read the amazing story, the true story, of Louie Zamperini: the book by Laura Hillenbrand, Unbroken.

Keep the book jacket up through the highlighted section:

Louie Zamperini as a boy was living in Southern California and somewhat like me had been a juvenile delinquent. He got into fights, broke into homes and stole things and once jumped a train to Mexico just for the fun of it.

His older brother Pete was concerned about Louie, so he got him involved in the track and field team to channel Louie’s defiance into something productive.

(Keep the photo up over the yellow).

Louie began running and discovered this was his gift.

He ending up breaking a bunch of high school track records and at only 19 ended up running in the Berlin Olympics.

Many people predicted he would become the first human being to break the four-minute mile.

With World War II breaking out, Louie enlisted in the United States Air Force and became a bombardier. While flying on out on the Pacific less than 1000 miles west of Hawaii, his defective plane crashed and he found himself on a small life raft with sharks swirling around him. After 47 days at sea, his rafted floated into the Marshall Islands and he was immediately captured by the Japanese Navy.

Zamperini became a prisoner of war and he experienced brutality at the hands of the Japanese guards that would make the hair on your neck stand on end, or move you to tears, or great anger.

They were starved and beaten mercilessly with fists, kicks, and baseball bats and in the case of one particularly brutal prison guard by a belt buckle on the head again and again, until they would fall unconscious.

Amazingly Louie survived the POW camp where many had died.

After the war he returned to North America where he met married a woman named Cynthia. But because Louie was experiencing severe post traumatic stress disorder, he started drinking and became an alcoholic, got into fights on the streets and in bars, and experienced nightmares where he was being beaten by particularly a brutal guard, fighting for his life.

Because of the injuries he sustained in the POW camp, he could no longer run.

His singular ambition was to make enough money to go back to Japan to find the prison guard that had tormented him most and kill him.

As you can imagine, it was very difficult for Cynthia to live with Louie and said she was making plans to divorce him. But she was invited by an acquaintance in their new apartment building to attend a Christian service being held in a circus tent in LA. The speaker was a young, relatively unknown preacher at the time, named Billy Graham. And as a result of that service Cynthia was awakened to a relationship with God.

Louie was appalled.

Cynthia and their apartment neighbors invited Louie to go, but he adamantly refused. They kept inviting him. One day Cynthia told the little lie that tipped the balance. She said the Billy Graham's sermons were filled with reflections on science. She knew that her husband was interested in science, so he reluctantly agreed to go.

That night as Mr. Graham was making an invitation for people to meet Christ, Louie was spooked and ran out of the tent angry. But he returned with his wife on another night and felt as though God was speaking to him at the end of that meeting to offer his life to God.

When they returned to their apartment, Louie went straight to his cache of liquor. It was the time of the night when the urge to drink usually took hold of him, but for the first time in years, he had no desire to drink. He carried the bottles to the kitchen sink, opened them and poured the contents into the drain. Then he hurried through the apartment, gathering packs of cigarettes, a secret stash of pornographic magazines. He heaved it all down the trash chute.

In the morning he awoke feeling cleansed. For the first time in five years, the brutal prison guards had not come to him in his dreams and they would never return. Louie felt a profound peace.

He was not the worthless, broken, forsaken man that the guard had driven him to become. In a single, silent moment, his rage, his fear, his humiliation and helplessness, had fallen away. That morning, he believed. He was a new creation. Softly he wept.

(Paraphrased from Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand).

He lost all desire to gain revenge against his Japanese captor and instead felt compassion for him.

Prior to the winter Olympic Games in Nagano in 1998 Zamperini was invited to carry the torch past Naoetsu, the notorious prisoner of war camp where he had been starving and unmercifully beaten to an inch from death.

He said, “Yes.” And he wanted to offer forgiveness to the prison guard that had treated him with the most cruelty.

He had met the other guards on a previous trip to a prison in Tokyo where they were being held that time. When he entered the prison, he threw his arms around each of them and offered forgiveness. They were stunned. Louie shared with them how Christ had changed his life.

Several days before going to Nagano, he thought how he wanted to meet and offer forgiveness to the guard who treated him the worst and who had not been at the prison because he had been in hiding.

Louie learned that the guard was alive and now living in Tokyo.

He sat for several hours in silence and then clicked on his computer and wrote:

To Matsuhiro [sic] Watanabe,

​As a result of my prisoner of war experience under your unwarranted and unreasonable punishment, my post-war life became a nightmare. It was not so much due to the pain and suffering as it was the tension of stress and humiliation that caused me to hate with a vengeance.

​Under your discipline, my rights, not only as a prisoner of war but also as a human being, were stripped from me. It was a struggle to maintain enough dignity and hope to live until the war’s end.

​The post-war nightmares caused my life to crumble, but thanks to a confrontation with God through the evangelist Billy Graham, I committed my life to Christ. Love replaced the hate I had for you. Christ said, “Forgive your enemies and pray for them.”

​As you probably know, I returned to Japan in 1952 [sic] and was graciously allowed to address all the Japanese war criminals at Sugamo Prison…I asked them about you, and was told that you probably had committed Hara Kiri, (suicide) which I was sad to hear. At that moment, like the others, I also forgave you and now would hope that you would also become a Christian.

Louie Zamperini

The former guard almost spat the invitation and refused to meet Louie, but someone offered to deliver the letter. Whether he read it or not, no one knows.

Though our experience may not be as dramatic as Louie’s--when we are in Christ we are made new and we will see people and even our enemies differently, we will move toward them. As we do, in some cases they will be drawn to Christ.

You may have never been beaten like Louie or have kicked in someone in the head, but are you being called to offer forgiveness, or being called close to some who you would naturally be distant from, or even an enemy?

Take time to pray:


Saturday, December 22, 2012

Jowin Lau's Funeral Homily

December 15, 2012

Jowin Lau's Funeral Homily
​Earlier this month I received an email from my friend Sarah Tsang, who has known Jowin and Joeis since they were young children. My friend Sarah has clear memories of Jowin, and his twin sister Joeis, as five year-olds attending Sunday school and the Awana clubs at their church, dressed by their mom in matching outfits. Sarah, like many of us here, was devastated by Jowin's tragic death on the Lion's Gate bridge. There is nothing quite as painful as losing a loved one, especially when they are so young - Jowin was just 21 years old.
For a time, Jowin, like many of us in our teenage years - and I went down this path myself, in my adolescence – hung out with the wrong crowd, experimented with things he thought would lift him up, but ended up just bringing him down. But over the last year or two, he had begun to experience an amazing turn-around. Largely motivated by the turmoil, the struggles, the anger, and the depression that he had felt in some of his teenage years, Jowin wanted to study psychology, and become a counsellor who could help other teenagers through that often dark, difficult passage of their lives.
Just at a time when Jowin had discovered his life purpose, and was starting to hit stride as a young man, his life seemed prematurely snuffed out. And we grieve the loss of this thoughtful, generous, sacrificial, smart son, brother, friend, and I know that for some of us - especially those of us of Asian ancestry - it is difficult to really grieve and mourn and wail. There is something in our cultural heritage that causes us to hold in our feelings, and to hold back our displays of emotion.
But at times like this, we need to grieve, mourn, and wail. And some of us here carry a particularly heavy burden. We feel regret, at not having spent more time with Jowin, for not having done more for him. Some of us experience not only grief, but also regret, shame, and guilt. Those are the last things that Jowin would want you to experience. Jowin wants you to live without that burden - to become free. If he had lived to become a psychologist he would help you to acknowledge those feelings, but he would want to lead you to a place of freedom.
Jowin and Joeis' parents, Raymond and Peo, asked me as their minister to bring a word from scripture - from God – for this time as this. And while the pages of scripture contain much wisdom, they don't tell us why someone like Jowin, who was poised to enter the prime of his life, had his life tragically taken at such a young age.
But the scriptures do tell us that Jowin's death, on the Lion's Gate bridge, was not his end - that Jowin is alive, and in fact more alive than he has ever been before and in a better place.
In the gospel of John, chapter 14, Jesus is with some of His closest students on the night that He is betrayed by Judas, and the night before He ends up being nailed to a Roman cross. They realize that there is an assassination plot on Jesus' life, and that as those closely associated with Him, that their lives are also in grave danger. And so as Jesus gathers in an upper room with His students, sharing a meal, He notices that there is fear in the eyes of His friends. And so He offers these words:
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2 My Father’s house has plenty of room; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going." 5 Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" 6 Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:1-6)
And the scriptures teach that the Father’s house or heaven is a real place, a better place, and that Heaven is precisely where Jowin is right now.
And based on what people have experienced, who have been clinically dead, and have gone to Heaven, and then have been seemingly resuscitated, people prefer to be there than here. And so as much as we would do anything to bring Jowin back, as much as we grieve his loss, he would want us to know that he is in a better place.
Earlier this year I read the experience of a man named Don Piper. Don was driving on his way home from a conference and was crossing a small two-way bridge and an oncoming semi-truck suddenly swerved into his lane and drove right over his Ford Escort, crushing him and his little car. The medical personnel arrived, ran a series tests on him and confirmed that he had died instantly. Because he was clearly already dead the emergency workers did not make any attempt to move his body out of his crushed car.
90 minutes after the car accident a pastor named Richard who was driving along the road, stopped and asked the medical person personnel and police, “What had happened.” They explained how Don had his car run over by this semi truck and was instantly declared dead. Richard felt compelled by the Holy Spirit to pray for the man who had died. With the permission of the police and medical personnel, he walked over to the crushed car, lifted up the tarp, he began to pray for him. For some reason he felt led to sing the old hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” As he began to sing, to his utter shock Don, the man in the car, began singing with him. His life, ninety minutes after being clinically declared dead, returned to life.
In this book called 90 Minutes in Heaven, Don describes what it was like to actually go to heaven and to meet his friend Mike from high school who had led him to Jesus Christ…a popular athlete who had died at 19. He also describes movingly the beautiful music of heaven, the thousands of voices and countless different kinds of music, yet somehow all coalescing into a mesmerizingly beautiful, coherent, and sublime melody. He talked about the beautiful colours of heaven and how he felt more alive and more joy and happiness than he had never known on earth.
If heaven is real and Jowin is there, while his death has hurt us, death hasn’t hurt him It’s simply become a passageway to greater place.
There was a pastor named Don Barnhouse who served in Pennsylvania.
He was married with young children.
His wife died when they were young.
One day not long after his wife when Don was driving down a freeway in Pennsylvania with his young son and daughter. The sun was descending.
There was a huge semi-truck coming toward them in the oncoming lane. As the truck passed them the shadow of the truck swept over their little car.
Donald turned to his kids and said, “What would you rather have hit you, the truck or the shadow of the truck?” His kids said, “Well, of course, the shadow, because the shadow can’t hurt us!”
And Donald explained to them that 2000 years on the cross Jesus allowed the “truck of death” to run over him so that only its shadow would run over us. He explained how on the cross Jesus bore our sins on the cross so we could be forgiven and experience the life of God, but also in a life to come in heaven. He explained he bore the brunt of death on the cross so that only its shadow would run over us.
This past week, someone in our community that I know well, shared with me that her 25 year-old niece was killed in a tragic car accident. She was driving her car on windy road on a rainy, foggy night at high speed and she swerved off the road. She wasn't wearing her seatbelt. She went right through her front windshield, and died. And my friend was telling me that, a few days after her tragic death, she was grieving, mourning the loss of her beloved niece, and out of the blue she had this clear vision of her niece flying through the windshield and landing right into the arms of Jesus.

And on the night of November 28, when Jowin's car was in a terrible accident, he flew right into the arms of Jesus. And if Jowin could speak to us today, I know that he would say: "I'm in a better place."
His parents, Raymond and Peo, also told me that Jowin would not want his death to be in vain - that he would want something good to come out of it. I've been meditating on Psalm 90, where it says in verses 9-10 (and I'm just going to excerpt part of it): All our days pass quickly, then we fly away. We are like the new grass of the morning. In the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered. And the Psalmist says, in verse 12: Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Our endless days are numbered. And whether they pass away at 21, or 81, they are just a mist - it is here for a moment, and then gone. And in light of the brevity of our life, the Psalmist urges us to number our days, and to gain the wisdom that comes from the perspective that our lives on Earth will be over soon. And Jowin would challenge us to prayerfully reflect on the purpose, the meaning, and the potential legacy of our own lives. Why are we here? Who are we becoming? What difference are we making?

And the second thing that Jowin would want to say to us, if he were here, would be to prepare for our death. According to Jowin's psychologist, who was meeting with him one-on-one, the day before Jowin died, Jowin recommitted his life to God. As a young boy, Jowin believed. During his teenage years, he fell away from conscious relationship with God, but on the day before he died, in the presence of his counsellor - who happened to be a Christian - Jowin reoffered his life to God.
And if you offer your life into God's hands, you'll find that He carries you throughout this lifetime, giving you a greater peace, joy, sense of meaning and purpose than you would otherwise have. And on the day that you die, you'll find yourself cast from this life to the next, with God's everlasting arms beneath you.
Let's pray.