Imago Dei: East of Eden
By: Sarah Norman
God placed the Garden of Eden in the east (Gen 3:24). Then when he sent Adam and Eve out of the Garden, He sent them east and placed a guard at the entrance where they could no longer enter (Gen 4:24). The people who built the tower of Babel were from the east (Gen11:2). There's a whole narrative through the Bible where people are going east, away from God. They are just a little too far east to be fully connected with God. Throughout all the Bible, God is trying to bring us back to Him.
In Matthew 2 we see the wise men coming from the east to Jesus. We're told in Matthew 24:27 “For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” The way humans get back to God is through Jesus. We know the way back, but so many of us just choose not to take it. God's design for our lives is to live fully in his image, imago dei, like we talked about last week. That design is in stark contrast to how this world tells us we need to live. The way back to God being through Jesus is God's design for us and it is what brings us salvation and what brings us life.
We talked last week about the fact that our goal should be to delight in God's design for us. God created us all with a specific purpose to glorify Himself. We are created in his image because that is what brings Him glory. Being made in His image means we exhibit character traits of God. Last week I talked mostly to women, this week it will be mostly to men, but just like last week, this can apply to all of us.
God created us with a purpose, and part of that purpose is to take what we've been given, prepare something from it and present it to God. That is our act of worship to God. Worship is not just sitting in a church pew singing songs off key and listening to someone preach. Adam and Eve did not have buildings, church pews, musical instruments or another person to teach them. Their worship, and in Genesis 2, Adam's worship since he came first, was through his work, through his taking care of the earth. In Genesis 4, Cain and Abel's worship of God was in what they presented to God from the work they had done. God accepted Abel's sacrifice because he gave the best portion of what he had worked on. When you go to work, is that what you do? Do you see your office, your field, your farm, your factory or your home as a place where you can worship God through the work you are doing?
God told Adam to till the earth and to keep it. So not only does your worship of God have to do with how you view work, but he tells us to preserve, to take care of what He has given us. How different would our world be if everyone had this mindset about our work and our purpose. When we work, when we worship, when we go about our day, we are suppose to keep and preserve that which God has put into our care. Did Adam do that? No. Adam was to take care of the land and he was to love and take care of his wife, yet when the serpent shows up, he decides to say nothing to Eve, decides to not interject that maybe it isn't a good idea to eat fruit that God has forbidden, but instead, Adam sees an opportunity to usurp power from God and do his own thing, then instead of taking care of his wife, he throws her under the bus and puts the entire blame on her. Adam did not live up to his good design from God.
When men choose to live in the image of Adam, power is usurped from God and taken for themselves. We see evidence of that all over the world, in constant wars, in degradation of the environment, in the subjugation of woman as second class citizens throughout most of history and still in current day throughout a lot of the world. God did not call men to live in the image of Adam, but in the image of Himself.
Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:1-3 “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” This is what we have been called to as image bearers. To live with humility, gentleness, patience, love, and to seek unity in the spirit. To live in the image of Adam, taking power and authority wherever one can find it is not the calling God has put on men who are suppose to bear his image. Jesus said blessed are the meek, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are the poor in spirit. These are not characteristics we ever really want to think about, for both men and women, because they are portrayed in our culture as weak. A look back through history of the American church will show you these characteristics are left out when talking about men. They are used mainly to describe women, but these characteristics are not gendered and we see that clearly when we look at Genesis 2 and the work God told Adam to do in tilling the earth and keeping it, preparing the earth as worship and preserving what God has given.
So much of what we believe about manhood and womanhood has to do with results from the fall. We fail to see that, after the fall, God is constantly trying to bring us back east, back to Eden, back to before the fall. Before the fall, there wasn't a power struggle. Like I wrote last week, God told both Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, to subdue it and to have dominion over it. Those commands were not gendered either. The answer to our struggle to get back to Eden, is to look to Jesus. Just like the wise men from the east knew they needed to go west, seeking the one who brought the star, Jesus is constantly trying to bring us back towards God, back towards the original design He had for us before the fall. In our limited and fallible minds, we have such a hard time imaging the good design that God had in his original creation.
So this is not to berate men or any person who chooses to read this, this is to encourage you, as you go out into the world or remain in your home, God has given you a purpose and that purpose is to be used to worship him. He has given you a skill, a talent, that you are to take and prepare something that you can give back to God. And he has given you the job of preserving what he has put you in leadership over, whether that is land, family, your job or all of the above. That role is a big deal, and not to be taken lightly. We have seen the devastation that takes place when the role of preserving is corrupted. Women suffer, children suffer and the world is generally worse off. This world needs men who will take the role seriously, who will not see his place in this world as a place of power, but as a place God has put him to serve Him. This is where we find true life, when we can see God's design for our lives and take delight in how He has made us.
Women in the Image of God
By: Sarah Norman
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them,” (Gen 1:27 emphasis mine). God created male and female in his image. This verse is where we get the concept of imago dei, image of God. But what does it mean to be created in His image and why is it important? What impact does it have on my life or yours to understand who's image we were created in?
When God created this earth, he had a good and perfect design for it. There was peace and harmony among the animals, between animals and humans. There weren't natural disasters. Poverty and suffering did not exist. Life was so incredibly different that we really have no concept of what life would be like with no consequences of sin. God created man and woman who lived together in harmony. No one desired power, no one held onto to petty grudges, both valued each other and delighted in each other. Both delighted in the design God had on their lives, not confused about what they were to do or with who they were. God gave them both the commands to be fruitful and multiply, to rule and subdue the earth. They worked at this together. Then sin entered the picture. We stopped seeing each other as made in the image of God. We stopped seeing ourselves as made in the image of God. People began to turn inward, looking only at ourselves, caring only for ourselves rather than looking outward and up and seeing how God designed us to delight in him.
Psalm 139 is a familiar Psalm to most of us. David speaks of God's purpose on our lives before we were even thought of by our parents. He says that God knows every single part of us. We cannot hide anything from God. He knows our good, our bad, our sin and our shame. And He loves us. We cannot go anywhere to get away from Him, to hide from Him. He made us with purpose. He made us in His image, imago dei. It's so easy to let Satan speak lies into our hearts about who we are. We just celebrated Mother's Day so I will talk specifically to woman today. If you are an adult woman, it's so easy to look at your life and be disappointed about where you are. Maybe you are single and want to be married, or you don't want to be married but you feel pressure from everyone around you that you should be married. Maybe you had a dream to have a certain career and that dream just hasn't panned out. Maybe you're married and want children, but God hasn't given that to you, or maybe you're married and don't want children but feel pressure from everyone around you that you should. Maybe you are a weary mom, just trying to get through the days of diapers, dinners that no one eats, noise, dirt and disobedience. Maybe your a single mom just trying to make ends meet. Maybe you're divorced wondering what in the world God has planned for you and why things happened the way the did. Maybe your kids are grown and you're wondering what God wants you to do now. Maybe you wonder why God even made you a woman to begin with. Psalm 139 and Gen 1:27 speak specifically to you. No matter what your situation is, or what your season is, God made you for a specific, good purpose. He didn't make you as a woman as a last resort, as just someone to do Adam's bidding, as someone to constantly be stepped on, overlooked or thrown away. He made you with a good purpose. He made you to delight in Him and his good design for you.
We see this in the story of one of God's daughter's when we read about Rizpah in 2 Samuel 21. Here, David is trying to appease the Gibeonites, trying to right a wrong from when Saul was King. He gives seven sons of Saul for the Gibeonites to kill, 2 of those sons being Rizpah's. We're told in verse 10 “Then Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth, and spread it on the rock for herself, from the beginning of the harvest until rain fell on them from the heavens; she did not allow the birds of the air to come on the bodies by day or the wild animals by night.” So often we think of women as weak, as docile creatures who need to be taken care of, who can't do for themselves. We hear this from all parts of society but especially from the church, that women have their place and they need to stay there. But this picture of Rizpah, this is not a picture of a weak woman. It says she fought off the birds and wild animals, protecting her sons dead bodies. This is not the typical picture we see of a woman; this is a warrior. Her love for her sons drove her to protect them, no matter the costs. God created Rizpah for a purpose. She was part of his plan to usher in the end of the 3 year famine Israel was under. David saw Rizpah's persistence, buried her sons, along with the bones of Saul and Jonathan in a royal burial then God sent rain on the land.
So often we get frustrated with the purpose God has for us. There is purpose in the woman's life who is single, she is not just in a holding pattern until she can get married and fulfill her “bigger” purpose. There is purpose in the married woman's life who does not have children, but a career. God can work through her to bring co-workers and people in her community to Christ. There is purpose in the married woman's life who does not yet have children but desire's them. This is also not a holding pattern for you, God does not see you as lesser because children are not yet in your story. You should not see yourself as lesser. There is purpose in the life of the mom who chooses to stay at home and take care of her kids. Your days may seem endless, but God is using you to speak life and love into your kids lives, even through the difficult times. There is purpose in the life of the mom who chooses to go to work. God is showing you that He can use you to do great things both at home with your children and in the workplace. There is purpose in the life of the woman who's children are grown and out of the home. You're work is not done now that you've raised your children, your work has only just begun for the kingdom of God. God does not limit women in what we can do for Him. I am sure some people saw what Rizpah was doing and believed she was insane, that her grief had caused her to go hysterical. But God had a greater purpose for what she was doing.
If you are having a hard time seeing your purpose today, look towards God. See that God made you in His image. See that God gave you good work to do, no matter what season of life you may be in, no matter whether or not it looks the way you had planned it to look. God has not forgotten you. God has not forsaken you. He is inviting you to delight in the way He made you. He is inviting you to see yourself the way He sees you. Stop listening to the lies Satan is constantly trying to tell you, and believe what God says about you. “You are fearfully and wonderfully made”. God had a great purpose for you long before any human had any thought of you. God sent his son to die for you. He loves you.
By: Sarah Norman
The last several weeks, we have been discussing prayer, specifically that Jesus taught His disciples how to pray. We have learned about surrendering to God's will, trusting in God's provision and following the path God wants us to go. This prayer is ended with “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” One thing we see over and over again when we look at who Jesus is and who He wants us to be, is that the picture He gives us looks nothing like what our culture tells us to be and even more surprising, nothing like what evangelical culture often tells us to be.
He is telling us to pray, “for Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory”. That “yours” means God's, not ours. In our culture, so often, we see people grabbing for power, for glory, building little kingdoms unto themselves. If you look at evangelical culture throughout the 20th century, the religious right, the moral majority, so much of it tells us to take power back, that we are in the right so God will give us everything we want. It's prosperity theology at best, blasphemy at worst. We, as Christians, are not suppose to be in power. We are not suppose to be building kingdoms. We are suppose to surrender our power to God.
People so often read themselves into the battle scenes where God's people took back the promised land or choose to only see Jesus in Revelation taking back this world for Himself without seeing everything in between, without seeing Jesus' posture of humility and gentleness and meekness. Jesus set an example for us of how we are to conduct ourselves on this Earth. He set the example of a servant, leaving His throne and coming down to a broken world to die for us. Philippians 2 tells us that He did not see equality with God as something to be exploited, but yet He assumed the form of a servant and humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death on a cross. This is our example. Jesus is telling us that the kingdom and power and glory is God's, not ours.
We see in the story of Solomon what happens when we lose sight of who's kingdom it is, who has the power and who deserves the glory. We see in 2 Chronicles, King Solomon begins his reign so well, learning from His father David that Israel is God's people, not his, and his kingdom belongs to God. God asks him what he would like and Solomon tells God, “Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can rule this great people of yours?” He could have asked for money, power, fame, but instead he asked for wisdom to know how to rule God's people. He understood that he needed help, that he did not have all the answers and needed to rely on God for how to rule God's people. The first thing he did as king was to build a temple for God. When that temple was built and it was time to dedicate it to the Lord, Solomon “spread out his hands” (6:12) and “knelt on his knees in the presence of the whole assembly of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven,” (13). He was showing the people of Israel what a posture of humility looked like. He was showing his people that he was only their ruler because God put him there, and God was the true ruler of Israel.
This is the example of a leader that we need in today's culture. But that is not the leader that we ever actually choose. So often our leaders look like the subsequent kings of Israel, leading their country (or church) in idolatry, disguising it as worship of God, thinking they are to be praised above all else, that glory and honor and power are due to them rather than to God. This is who we choose because we live in a society that values the powerful, the rich, the prideful as opposed to the values that Jesus demonstrated such as humility, meekness and gentleness.
The rest of Solomon's life shows us what happens when we turn away from the things of God and follow after the world. Through Solomon's wisdom, given to him by God, he gained fame and notoriety. Everyone around knew who Solomon was and traveled far and wide to see his kingdom and all the great things he had done. Solomon began to marry many women to gain more fame and wealth, to make treaties with other kings and with these women came their gods. Solomon began compromising by allowing his people and his wives to worship all the many gods they brought into his kingdom. His people turned away from God and his heart was turned away from God. The more power and fame and wealth he had, the further he was from God. In his book he wrote at the end of his life, Ecclesiastes, he used the word vanity and the phrase “chasing after the wind” often. As he looked back on his life, he saw that all the things he had gained, all the power, all the fame, all the wives and wealth, all the things of this world were worth nothing more than chasing after the wind; they were all vanity and no substance. He saw that what his life had become was not the life God wanted for him and if you read his words, it is clear he regretted it. At the end of his life, he saw what he had seen when his rule began, that God was greater than he and that God was deserving of power and glory, not him.
As we end this series on what prayer looks like, may we examine the posture of our hearts as we go to God in prayer. When we go to God thinking we know better, wanting God to give us what we want, what our desires are, what will make us happy, we are making God into our own image, treating him like nothing more than a genie in a bottle, hoping he will fulfill our dreams. But when we come to God with a heart postured in humility, knowing that He is greater, he deserves all power and praise, that completely changes the tone of our prayers. When we pray as Jesus taught us, keeping God in the position that He deserves, we begin to see how much we need Him in every aspect of our lives. We deserve no power. We deserve no glory. We deserve no kingdom. All of it belongs to God and God alone.
It is my prayer that the church as a whole in America can begin to see where we, individually and collectively, have prioritized power and glory for ourselves rather than giving it all over to God. It is my prayer that we will see how prioritizing that power has hurt so many people. It is my prayer that we will repent and begin the work of reconciliation with those we have hurt. And it is my prayer that one day the church will truly be able to say “For to Him belongs the kingdom, the power and the glory. Amen.”
An Invitation to Freedom
By: Sarah Norman
In Matthew 6, Jesus gives us a blueprint for how to pray. We have been exploring this the last few weeks. We've learned how to surrender our wills to God by praying for His will, not ours to be done. We've learned to pray for God to give us just exactly what we need, no more and no less, lest we forget to rely on God. We've learned to pray for forgiveness as well as forgive those who've sinned against us. This week, we learned about temptation. In the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, he says, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil,” (Matt 6:13). If I am being completely honest, the judgmental, legalistic side of me automatically thinks of all the people I think who need to hear this message and flee from temptation. I forget about my own sins and temptation I struggle with. And when I remember, I realize how much I've allowed my religion to influence how I live rather than allowing Jesus to influence how I live.
In the world we live in, temptation is everywhere. But it has been that way since the beginning of time. A look through Biblical history shows us that temptation was there in the very beginning. Adam and Eve were tempted by the serpent and promptly shirked their own responsibility of their sin. Adam blamed Eve, but also blamed God for giving Eve to him. Eve then blamed the serpent for her sin. Neither took responsibility, and thus began the pattern of sin for every person who's ever lived. We see it in all the the stories of the Bible, Cain, Noah, Abraham, Lot, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Sampson, David, Solomon. The list could go on and on. All were tempted to sin, all gave into sin. The difference is, some realized it. Some allowed God to change their hearts. Some saw their temptation, saw their sin and knew it went directly against what God wanted because they had a relationship with God.
In this prayer, Jesus invites us into freedom. He invites us to pray a prayer that gives us a freedom from the bondage of sin. He invites us to flee from the temptations that are around us every day and to run toward Him. This world makes sin so enticing. When we are looking towards this world, choosing to follow people in this world, social media influencers, politicians, pastors, whoever it is we let speak into our lives, we take our eyes off of what the Bible says, off of what God is speaking to us, and so easily begin to follow what may seem good and right, but is contrary to what the Bible says. The world tells us to do what makes us happy, “you do you” as I said last week, follow your heart for it can never lead you astray. But God does not tell us to do what makes us happy. He doesn't tell us to follow our hearts. We read in Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Our hearts will lead us into sin every single time. I have been there. I've chosen many times to listen to my heart. I did what I thought would make me happy. And it did for a while. I had some happy times knowing I was sinning. But that happiness always ended. And then I was left with emptiness, and yearning for more.
We are designed to be filled with something. This world makes it so easy to be filled with the things of this world, money, sex, alcohol, drugs, entertainment, anger, gossip, again the list could go on. We get our fill, think we're satisfied, but we're never done. There will always be another temptation, always be another thing we think we need to fulfill ourselves. Jesus, in this prayer, is inviting us to something different. He's inviting us into a relationship with Him that will fully satisfy everything we need. He's inviting us to flee temptation, to flee the sin that holds us in bondage and run towards Him.
Justin spoke today about a commandment that is in every single Gospel. It's the only one repeated in all 4. Matthew 16:24 says “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Jesus wants us to follow him. He wants us to walk as he walked, do as he did, say what he said. Jesus was gentle, was meek, was a servant. He loved those who were untouchable, he gave humanity to all the dehumanized of the culture. He gave up His throne to walk this earth. He was tempted, he had emotions. Yet, through all of that, he was without sin. And he says to “Follow me.” That is his command.
This is not something we can do on our own. He tells us to pray “Lead me not into temptation.” He doesn't tell us “Just don't sin.” He knows we need help. He knows we can't do it without Him. He never intended us to do it alone, just like he was not alone. He prayed to God the Father daily. He modeled this so that we could see how we were intended to live this life.
Now if I'm being honest, I don't always want to pray, “Lead me not into temptation.” Sin is just easier in this world sometimes. We live in an incredibly forgiving, permissive culture of grace. We live in a culture where everyone is praised for being authentic and real without ever expecting anyone to then say, well how are you going to be different now that you know you shouldn't have screamed at your kids, or drunk that bottle of wine after they went to bed, or watched porn when your wife was out of town, or flirted with that coworker while your wife was watching the kids. It's good to be authentic and real, to share your temptations and sins, but Jesus didn't just leave us there in our sin. When people share their struggles, we should love them, not judge them, but gently point them toward Jesus. There is grace when we sin and there is forgiveness when we sin, but just as Jesus told the woman in John 8:11 “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more,” that should be our response, and that is hard. I think that's often why we don't pray this. We are comfortable in our sin. We know what to expect. But to live a life following Jesus, making the choice to not do the things we may want to do, that is hard, that is unknown to us. But it's what we are called as Christians to do.
If you claim Christ as your savior, following Him is not an option. That's another thing we've learned from this sermon series. He tells us to do some really hard things, but He doesn't leave us to do them alone. He's not going to tell us to do something and then just leave us to figure it out. He tells us to pray “Lead me not into temptation,” because He knows we need Him to help us, to lead us out of temptation. He knows we can't say no to it all on our own every single time.
If you're struggling with temptation or habitual sin patterns, God has not left you or forgotten you or counted you as too far gone. This prayer invites you into freedom from your sin, whatever that may be. This prayer invites you into a new kind of life, not one that looks like the world, not one that is easy, but one that you will find the satisfaction that you have been searching for. This prayer is meant to give you life abundantly.
Trusting God for Today
By: Sarah Norman
We are not a society that values dependence. Dependence on anything is seen as weakness. We are told from day one to work towards independence. So we save and we scrounge and we make sure that we can take care of ourselves. What if I told you that may not be what God wants for us? Before I go any further, know that I'm talking to myself here as well. I value independence. I value self-sufficiency. I value the bootstrap mentality. I don't necessarily believe all of those qualities and values are wrong in and of themselves, but when we divorce them from God and start believing that we can take care of ourselves, that we earned every single thing we have, then our values begin leaning towards prosperity theology rather than the Gospel. This is why we are learning about prayer. We're learning to not constantly ask God for things and expect He will give us exactly what we want as long as we live a good life, but that prayer is surrendering our wills and our lives to God. That type of prayer is very different. That type of prayer is something I've only just begun to learn about.
Last week we began learning about the model of prayer that Jesus gave the disciples. We learned that the disciples saw that Jesus had a very different relationship with God than what they did and they wanted to learn how to have that for themselves, so Jesus taught them how to pray. We learned that part of prayer is surrendering your will to God's will, not trying to bend God's will to yours. After we learn to ask for God's will to be done, not ours, we see Jesus say something that goes directly in the face of our American excess mentality. He says, “Give us this day our daily bread,” (emphasis mine). They lived in a very different society. Saving up food was not an easy feat. They didn't have pantries and refrigerators and freezers. They didn't have bank accounts and savings accounts. And they'd been told the stories all their lives of how God saved his people in the desert by providing their daily bread. He provided manna from the sky daily. Just enough every day to keep them alive till the next day. This concept is so difficult for our 21st century, American brains to comprehend. But this is not a foreign concept to much of the world. Much of the world have no idea where their next meal or drink of water will come from. And much of the world's Christians rely solely on God for those things. But us, here, living in our houses, with our savings accounts and a grocery store on every corner that we can go to any time we need anything, we don't understand this mentality. I'm not saying that what we have is bad. Having enough food to feed our family, running, clean water, heat and air conditioning are good gifts from God, but how often do we acknowledge they are gifts? How often do we find ourselves congratulating ourselves for having all we could ever desire? How often do we really have to trust in God for what we need today?
Translating this into 21st century America is not an easy task. I'm not saying that we need to begin only having enough food in our house for today, that we need to get rid of our freezers, or close our bank accounts...unless that is something you feel God telling you to do, then by all means, listen to God and trust Him for what you need. But in light of learning how to pray and thinking about what God gives, He gives us what we need for today. He gives us grace for this day. Not for tomorrow, not for next week, not for someone else's day, but for our day, today. My husband and I are praying through a big decision that would drastically change our lives. It's a decision that, if I let it, would cause anxiety and distress because it's not a decision that will be made for another few weeks and I don't yet know which way the decision will go. I don't yet have grace for that decision because it's not something I need today. I have grace to get through this day, this specific moment with my husband half way across the country and my children running around me screaming and yelling because that's what little boys do. God gives me what I need today, the grace and patience to parent alone and love my boys exactly how they are, that is what I need today. What is it you need today? Not what you want or think you may need. Spend time with God and ask Him what it is you need. He already knows. Trust that He will give you exactly what you need for this day.
In Luke 11:5-13, the parallel passage to Matthew 6 where Jesus is teaching about prayer, He describes a father who's child is asking for something he needs. Jesus says of course the father will give the child what he needs and not a snake or a scorpion. And then he says “How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” I read that correctly today, for the first time. I've literally never read the words Holy Spirit or if I had, they have never registered with me. Which might be why I've never really understood this passage. Anyone who has prayed for something and not gotten it has probably gone to this passage and asked God, “Why?” God doesn't tell us that he will give us everything we want, or even that He'll give us all the good things like the father. He says he will give us His Holy Spirit, which I would argue, is worth far more than anything else I could ask for. The more I learn about the Holy Spirit, the more I love the Holy Spirit. It's the Holy Spirit's power that we are given daily. Galatians 5:22-23 tells us “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.” These are things I need on a daily basis, and without the Holy Spirit working in me, they are impossible. These are the things I need from God, and he says He will give them if we ask.
The next thing Jesus tells us to pray is “forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Jesus puts these 2 things together because we cannot have one without the other. As a follower of Jesus, I know what it means to be forgiven. We celebrated Easter a few weeks ago. We celebrate that there's an empty cross and an empty tomb. What Jesus did on the cross bought us forgiveness of our sins. For that I am so very thankful. But because I am forgiven, I have to extend that forgiveness to others. I cannot withhold forgiveness when people wrong me. Ephesians 4:32 tells us “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” This is not an option, this is a command. Someone's transgression against me is not greater than my many, daily transgressions against God. I am not better than God or more deserving to hold a grudge than God. If God can forgive me, I have absolutely no reason not to forgive others. That does not mean the relationship has to continue, that does not mean that earthly consequences don't need to happen. If the transgression is in the form of abuse in any way, yes you need to forgive and God will help you do that, but you need to also be safe and allowed to be a whole person which may mean pressing charges or cutting off contact with that person. You can forgive while also making sure you are safe. Those 2 things do not need to be separate.
Justin ended this week's sermon with asking us to pray a prayer. I want to end my blog today with that same prayer. When we are used to believing one way about something, it's hard to allow God to change our hearts. When our culture tells you one thing, it's very difficult to do the complete opposite. But consider today where you may be following the culture. Consider how our 21st century American ideals inform your Christianity rather than allowing Jesus to be the one to inform you on how to believe. May this be the prayer we can all pray, “God, you're so good. Fill me with your goodness. Give me just enough of this world's good, but not too much, lest I forget that you are greater. God, make me forgive others, lest I become bitter. Help me to be better so that both of us might get better.”
Why We Pray
By: Sarah Norman
We are a culture that is constantly plugged in. We are always consuming media of some sort, social media, podcasts, radio, TV, news, and books. We plug ourselves into all these things then allow them to shape the people we are, allow them to shape what our lives look like, what we believe, what we stand for. So often, as we are plugged into the influencers and important people of today's world, we forget who it is we should be plugged into. It's easy to allow ourselves to be swayed one way or another by the people we are constantly listening to without seeking God. Rather than first turning on the news, opening your phone, consulting social media, we should first and foremost turn to God.
We see this modeled in scripture by Jesus. Jesus was revolutionary in so many ways, the most impactful being making God the Father accessible to people. Jesus showed his disciples that prayer wasn't just part of a religious ritual, it wasn't empty words repeated over and over. Prayer was a relationship with God the Father. Jesus took time to pray before He did anything else. Mark 1:35 tells us “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” This wasn't just a ritual for him. No one gets up super early in the morning for something that isn't meaningful to them. Jesus got up because He needed that connection with God.
This is not something that comes easy to us. We live in a world that tells us to do what works for us, “you do you”. I know I have said this often, and sometimes it is good advice. Not everyone is suppose to be living out their spiritual life the same. But, at the same time, prayer and a relationship with God is not optional for those of us who claim Christ as our Savior. So then, if it's not optional, what does that look like? How do we pray?
Jesus explains those answers for us. Typically when we think about prayer, we think about asking God for things, wanting to bend God's will to ours. Or we ask, but don't really expect an answer, wondering if God is really listening. Sometimes we even wonder if there's a point when we've prayed for something for so long. Justin made several great points in Sunday's sermon about our typical approach to prayer and how we so often get it wrong. First, Jesus tells us how not to pray. In Matthew 6, he tells us to not be like the hypocrites, praying loudly for all to hear how righteous you are. Jesus is not impressed by our big words, by our intellect, by the time commitment, or by the social spectacle we can sometimes make of prayer. Jesus tells us to go in a room, shut the door and pray in secret. He wants us to get rid of distractions and focus on Him. I am a mom. This is a hard concept, as I am sure it is for many of you. Getting in a room, completely by myself and no one interrupting, that is almost impossible. I don't really know the practicality of this, but I think the biggest point is that He wants us focused on Him, not on everything around us, not on the notifications on our phones, not on the constant lists we make in our heads of all the things we have to do, but on God. No one does this perfect, we're not asked to be perfect, but we are asked to try.
I think so often when we come to God in prayer, it can seem like God is not listening to us. It's where the grocery list of prayers idea comes in. We ask for all the things we want or think we need and then we're done and then we do it again the next day and the next and eventually wonder if God is listening because nothing seems to be happening. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:7-8 “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them for your Father knows what you need before you ask him,” (emphasis mine). When we pray, God already knows what we need. He knows our hearts, he knows what we will ask and he knows what's best for us. Do you believe that? Honestly I wonder. I wrestle with God knowing what's best because so often I think I know what's best for my life and I wonder why God doesn't do it, why it seems like He is silent. There have been times in my life when God clearly said no to something I thought was exactly what I needed. I have been blessed with the hindsight to look back and see that God actually did know best in those situations because my life would have looked drastically different otherwise. So when I have those clear examples, why is it still so hard? I think it can be hard because I'm constantly plugged into things other than God.
When I listen to things other than God, I forget that God's will is rarely what the will of this world is. What makes sense to God, doesn't make sense to us. Jesus goes on in Matthew 6 to say “Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” God's kingdom does not look like this world's. All we have to do is turn on the news or open Facebook or Twitter to see that the world is vastly different than God's kingdom. And I don't believe it's our job to make the entire world look like God's kingdom, but we can allow God to transform our own lives into what God's kingdom should look like. That transformation starts with prayer and a relationship with God.
We don't pray to change God's mind. God is God. He knows what we need before we ask. He knows what we need even when we don't ask. And I honestly believe He will give us what we need whether or not we ask. Prayer is about surrender. It's about surrendering our wills to God's will. It's about allowing God to change our hearts and make us more like Him. It's about seeking God first, and allowing God to show us how we can live our lives best for Him. We cannot learn this on social media. We are not able to learn this from books, (aside from the Bible). We will not learn this from movies or TV. We will not learn this from reading the news. We learn this from seeking God and surrendering to God. We learn this by asking God what His will is and not by telling God what our will is.
God wants a relationship with you. His word is full of examples of how Jesus was in relationship with God the Father. As Christians, we are suppose to follow in Jesus' footsteps. Jesus modeled this relationship for us so that we could live in the freedom of seeking God's will for our lives rather than constantly living in the bondage of the webs we create.
How tangled are you in the webs of your own creation? Are you willing to surrender to God's will for your life?
Graves to Gardens
By: Sarah Norman
In the last several weeks, we have asked lots of questions in learning why God came to this earth. If you could ask God one question, what would it be? Would you ask why there was so much pain and suffering? Why did COVID-19 have to happen? Why did your loved one have to die? Would you ask why God chose to do things the way He did? When you ask God your question, will you trust His answer?
God has spent all of time showing us He is trustworthy. From the first garden, the Garden of Eden, to the garden where Jesus was laid, we see that God had a good plan in the works. He knew when he first made Adam what Adam's choice would be, yet He still created him. He made a creation that He knew would betray Him, would cause Him pain, yet He still chose to enter into relationship with us. He chose to do that because He had a plan to save us.
The last words Jesus said while He was dying on the cross were, “'It is finished'. Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit,” (John 19:30). Jesus didn't just come to die, to experience what dying was like. He actually died. He was dead for 3 days. He experienced what no one living currently has experienced. As Christians, we observe Good Friday because we know what's coming and we celebrate Easter because of the miracle that happened, but we often don't talk about or think about what happened on Saturday. Jesus was dead. They laid his lifeless body in a tomb and still expected him to be there Sunday morning when they went to finish the burial. Saturday is the messy middle, the in-between place that we most often live. It's the place where we question God, where we cry out in our anger and sadness over whatever is happening. We see Mary Magdalene, John and Peter on Sunday morning but what was Saturday like for them? They spent 3 years following Jesus around, learning from him, hearing his teachings, hearing the prophecies, and yet they still didn't quite understand. They were heartbroken, probably asking the same questions of God that we often ask, Why did this have to happen? What does it all mean? What do we do now? We all have our Saturday's, our in-between, messy middle times in life where we have no answers and no solutions other than crying out to God, wondering what we should do next.
But the amazing thing about this story that is not just a story, but historical reality, is that Sunday came and Jesus was not there. John 19:41 says “Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid.” Jesus was not placed in a graveyard, he was not burned as was custom of victims of crucifixion but rather, he was placed in a tomb in a garden. Graveyards are where people go to die and stay dead. Seeds may be buried in a garden, but they don't stay buried. They sprout new life. Jesus was buried in a garden. That was not done by accident. He never intended to stay dead for long. On Sunday morning when the women went to finish the burial they went into the tomb and saw a man dressed in a white robe. He said to them “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.” (Mark 16:6) Do you think the prophecies finally made sense? Do you think they finally began putting the pieces together. They were told to go and tell the disciples so they did. Mary Magdalene chose to see the tomb in the garden, not the grave. After she saw Jesus, she ran to the disciples and proclaimed, “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18).
We know the story from their. Jesus did not stay dead. He resurrected from the grave. He defeated death. He did that so we may know new life in Him. He experienced death, suffering, separation from God, the weight of the sin of the world so that we could know Him and live with Him. Our faith means absolutely nothing if this did not happen. We would be worshiping a man still in the grave, able to do nothing because he would just be bones, degraded over 2000 years. But instead, we worship a risen Savior.
In the first garden, there was a tree that ended Adam's life, cursing the entire world. Near this garden, there was another tree that ended Jesus' life, saving the entire world. (Justin's Message 4/4). Jesus did not die just for the Jewish people, as we learn later in scripture. He did not die just for the men of his time as we see in his appearance to Mary Magdalene first. He did not die for one race, one class, one gender, but for all the world. Our faith is open to every person and is the answer to whatever question you have. God is not afraid of your questions, even the hard ones. He's not afraid of your anger, your hurt, your disappointment. God is big enough to handle your big stuff. We know that because of Easter. Jesus rising from the dead and ascending to Heaven, doing what no one else had ever done or has ever done is the reason I know things will be ok. It's ok to be in the messy middle. It's ok to ask your questions, to even wonder at times what the point of it all is or if God even exists. God is not afraid of those questions. But if you're going to ask, then trust God's answer. Trust that because of what he did on the cross, being willing to step into our pain, step into death, experience those things alongside us, then He has the answer. He sees you in your pain. He hears you crying out. He is not ignoring you. He is the answer to your questions.
So are you in a Saturday season right now? Are you in an in-between, messy middle place? Are you questioning God, wondering why? Don't be afraid to cry out to him. Don't be afraid to ask him your questions. Look to the cross and the empty tomb for your answers. Will you choose to see the tomb in the graveyard or the garden? Will you choose to see that Jesus died to bring new life to this world, a new covenant, not born out of empty rituals but a lasting relationship with Him? He wants to be in relationship with you where you are, rather in your in-between place or on the other side. He wants to walk with you through it. The cross and the empty tomb in a garden are what make that possible.
Why Did Jesus Become Man?
By: Sarah Norman
Why did God become one of us? Couldn't there have been a different way? Why would a great, all-powerful, almighty God leave His throne, put on skin and come to dwell among sinners, living with sadness, grief, pain and poverty?
I'm sure the disciples asked this question. They learned their whole lives about the coming Messiah. They believed the Messiah would come as a ruler, to set up His kingdom here on earth. They believed He was coming to overthrow the Roman empire and make the Jewish nation great again, as in the days of King David and King Solomon. They picked and chose the prophecies of old that they wanted to associate with who their Messiah was. When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, just a few days before His crucifixion, the disciples had no idea what was coming. They believed they were about to be apart of a revolution. They believed the people shouting “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel!” (John 12:13) were praising the man who would replace Caesar. They believed things were about to change, but they had no idea exactly what they were in for.
Jesus did come to change things, but not in the way the disciples had grown up believing. He turned the world upside down. He came to show the emptiness of their religiosity and show them what it truly meant to follow God. In John's gospel, he begins with saying “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and without Him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in Him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it,” (John 1:1-5). Jesus is the Word who was there in the beginning. He was there, creating all the things of this world, the sun, moon, stars, water, land, trees, birds, fish, animals and people. He created all the things and declared them good. He had a relationship with Adam and Eve that was severed by sin. And then Jesus became the answer to that severed relationship. He stepped into the broken lineage of Adam to make that relationship whole again. He came into the world as a light shining into the depths of our darkest places. Where that light shone, life was given.
Later in that chapter, John writes, “The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ,” (1:17). Up until that point religion was ritual and observance. It was legalistic, and performance based. The purpose of the law given by Moses was to show the people that they would never be good enough on their own, to show their desperate need for a Savior. It was so they could see what they had been missing all their lives when they finally met Jesus. John says Jesus came to bring grace and truth. He released us from following rituals with no purpose. He came to give us freedom based on what He did for us, based solely on His grace, not by anything we could do to earn it. And He came to have a relationship with us.
It's that relationship aspect of our faith that can sometimes be so difficult to understand. Why would God want to have a relationship with me? I've spent so much of my life running from Him, doing what I want to do, worshiping what I want to worship, living how I want to live. What does God want with me? There was a time in my life I asked these questions often. I knew Biblical truths, I knew the laws and the rules. I understood the religion aspect of my faith. But it was so hard for me to understand why He would want a relationship with me, someone who had spent so long running from Him. Galatians 4 tells us that Jesus came to earth, died for us so we could be adopted into God's family, so we could be heirs alongside Christ to the kingdom. Verses 6-7 say “And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” When we choose a relationship with Christ, we are adopted into His family. We are no longer slaves to our sin. We no longer have to live the empty life this world offers, or legalistic religion offers. We can live a life of freedom belonging in the family of God.
So why did God choose to come to this earth, to become one of us? He came to show us that God wants us to know Him as Father. He came to show us that we are meant to be in relationship with Him. He came to release us from the rigidity of the law and show us how to live in His grace. He did not come for the pomp and circumstance of setting up an earthly kingdom in the way His disciples believed He would. He came to prepare us for the kingdom that is to come, the Heavenly kingdom in which we are heirs along with Him.
What Can We Learn From Job?
By: Sarah Norman
Our pastor has posed many questions over the last few weeks for our church to consider. This week, he asked another one. Why? More precise would be, why has all this happened? The world has been rocked by COVID-19 for a little more than a year. Millions across the world have died. Millions more will suffer long term effects. Millions have lost their jobs. Children have lost a year of school that some say they will never be able to catch up from. People have been isolated, suffering from anxiety and depression that has only been escalated. Disparities in our country have been magnified. There is suffering everywhere we look. So why? Why does it happen? Why is there so much suffering in this world? Why does a good God allow all this to happen? I honestly don't know if we will ever have a perfect answer this side of Heaven to these questions. But we can look to God's word, specifically in the story of Job, for how to respond to suffering.
Job lived in the land of Uz, around the Saudi Arabian desert. He was not from Israel and most likely lived prior to Abraham. He did not have a Bible, or the Law, or Jesus. But he knew who God was. He lived a righteous life of service and worship. Satan basically made a bet with God that if all the wealth and livestock and children were taken away, Job would no longer be a righteous man, but one who blames God and hates God and goes his own way. So that's what Satan did. He caused all of his livestock and ability to acquire wealth to die. Then he killed all of his children. Job didn't realize it was Satan doing all of this, but believed it to be from God. His response was this: “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord,” (1:21). He refused to curse God's name. He understood God had given him all those things so he understood God had a sovereign reason for taking those things away from him. He had a patient faith, knowing God was in control.
So Satan tried again. He went to God for permission to cast physical affliction on Job. He thought that surely Job would curse God if he were sick and dying. His wife came to him and told him he should curse God and die. But his response to her was, “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God and not receive the bad,” (2:10)? This question is so profound and one that we should consider in our lamenting of all that we as a country have suffered this past year. We are so quick to thank God for the blessings, so quick to worship when life is going good. But when life is hard, when we are scared of losing what we have, we question God's motives, we question His goodness, we forget all He's done for us and often choose to go through those hard times on our own because we think God has abandoned us.
Two years ago, my oldest son became very ill. Looking back through the lens of hindsight, I see how much God was with us during that week and how much God protected my sweet boy. He had a very rare infection that the ER and his doctor didn't catch. The infection was burning him from the inside out. As I watched him grow sicker over about 2 days, I was frightened that when we finally got him checked in to a hospital, he wouldn't come home. I wanted to be angry at God and question Him, but my wonderful husband who is one of the most faithful men I know, pointed me to Jesus and challenged me to have faith in God and trust that God was sovereign and would take care of our little boy, whatever that looked like. Thankfully, once he saw a specialist, he was diagnosed quickly and received the treatment needed quickly and was healed. Had we waited a day, or the hospital waited to begin treatment until the diagnosis were confirmed, the outcome might have been much different. I don't know what my response would have been had the outcome been different. But I know I spent several days doing nothing but praying and reading scripture, calling on God to protect and save my son. I know that in our suffering, the only thing I had, the only thing I could truly lean on and draw comfort in was God.
The suffering we went through was small compared to what so many have gone through this past year. But the truth still remains. God is good. We praise God in the good and the hard. Justin said this week that suffering comes from creations of God that have been twisted and manipulated by and for evil. Our bodies are good things that God created, but because of sin entering the world, we get sick, we get hurt and eventually we die. Weather and God's creation of this earth is good and beautiful and breath taking, but because of sin entering the earth, we have hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, wildfires and famines that devastate entire states and countries. Sex is a wonderful gift of God created for a husband and wife to enjoy in marriage but because sin entered the world, for millennia sex has been used in power and domination, it's been used to rule over and hurt women and people thought to be inferior. There are countless good things that sinful humankind twisted and turned evil for the purpose of hurting others. But none of that negates God's goodness or his good purposes for the people He created. God created us with freewill and because we had the choice, we chose to rebel. What was God's reaction to his creation's rebellion? His reaction was to make a redemption plan to save the world.
The whole story of Israel is one of longing and suffering and desperation. But God, through the prophets, tells his people to hold on just a little while longer, that redemption is coming. He tells his people to be patient, that the story is not over yet. And then a baby came to earth, a baby that would change history forever. That baby lived a sinless life and grew up to be our redemption. He died in our place, took on all the sins of creation, all the rebellion of creation, took our pain and suffering on Himself. He defeated death and rose again so that even though we may know suffering on this earth, we will not know suffering in our death. If we choose to trust in Jesus and what he did for us, we get eternity with Him, an eternity of no pain, no tears, no suffering.
C.S. Lewis says in The Problem of Pain “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts to us in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” He wrote this while the love of his life was suffering and dying. He knew pain in a way that many can only imagine. God does not cause suffering arbitrarily. And even harder, we may never know the reason for some of our pain this side of Heaven. But I don't believe there is no purpose in it. James 1:2-5 tells us “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance, and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” I don't know the purpose of your suffering or my suffering, but I do believe God tells us throughout his word to look for joy, to find the joy a midst the suffering. That does not mean we have to put on a smile and pretend everything is fine. The book of Job is full of lament. He asked God why, he questioned God just like we would. But he didn't leave it there. He found purpose in his suffering. Job 19:25 says “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.” He knew God had not forsaken him. He lost everything he had and still chose to believe God was good. He lamented. He grieved. He was sad and angry. We're allowed to do all those things. Every person deals with suffering differently.
Friend, wherever you are and whatever you're dealing with, know that God is with you. He knows what you're going through. He knows what it's like to suffer. He wants to walk with you and show you how to get to the other side. He wants to help you find the joy in the suffering. It's hard and it's painful and you don't have to pretend that it's not. Jesus did not pretend that his suffering was not difficult. In fact, he asked God to take it from him, but submitted to what God wanted. Trust that God is with you. Be patient in your suffering as Job was, trusting that God is not finished with your story yet. Redemption in the pain will come.
Who Is My Neighbor?
By: Sarah Norman
Last week, we talked about a big question, why did God create the world. We explored several facets of this conversation, but ultimately the answer is, God created the world to bring himself glory. This week, our pastor posed another question, similar, but more difficult, especially in the polarized and tense times we live in. Why did God create us? Specifically, why did God create all 7 billion people currently living, 190 nations, 650 unique ethnic people groups?
This is a question that is easy to ignore as someone part of the majority culture living in a small rural town in North Carolina. I am not faced with difficulties relating to this question when I walk outside my door on a daily basis. But that's exactly why I need to face this question and need to consider all the implications to the answer of this question.
Two thousand years ago, things were not so different than they are today. Racism was just as prevalent, especially among God's people, the Jews. We see it explicitly a few times in the gospels. The first time is in John 4 where Jesus purposely goes through Samaria and talks to a Samaritan woman. Jesus broke all kinds of societal rules with this trip. Not only did he talk to a Samaritan who was considered unclean and not worthy to be around, but she was a woman, the worst kind of Samaritan. But Jesus showed her kindness and compassion, breaking social barriers to show His disciples that his good news was not just for Jewish men but for all people, Jew and Gentile, men and women.
Luke 10 gives us another example of how Jesus expected His disciples to break social barriers and show love to everyone. A lawyer tries to trick Jesus and asks him what you must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asks him to tell him what is written in the law and he answers, “ You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself,” (27). And then the man asks who is my neighbor?
I understand this question to my core. I like boundaries and for the most part, I have always followed rules. I would categorize most of my younger years as living in legalism. I added more rules so I wouldn't mess up and then expected others to do the same. So I get this question. He wanted to know how far he needed to go. He wanted to know who his neighbor was. Who was it that he was suppose to love as himself. Were his friends his neighbors? Were his family his neighbors? Were his in-laws his neighbors? Were the people living beside of him, or the people who went to temple with him, or the clients he represented in court his neighbors? Where did it stop. When we have spent our whole lives in a homogeneous society, it's hard for us to think outside our bubble. Jesus' answer to the lawyer's question was groundbreaking.
Jesus told the lawyer a parable. A Jewish man was walking on the road and was attacked by robbers when he was left for dead. A priest saw him, did nothing and passed him by. Stopping to help a man covered in blood, almost dead would have left him unclean and would have required him to perform a ritual cleansing. The man's life was not worth the trouble. Then a Levite saw the man and passed him by as well, probably for the same reason. Then a Samaritan man saw the man lying in the road. He saw the state he was in, and he had compassion on him. The story gives no indication of hesitation because he was Jewish. It says he helped him. He took him to an inn, and paid the innkeeper to care for him till he could come back. Jesus asked the lawyer which of these 3 were a neighbor to the man. He couldn't even bring himself to say it was the Samaritan, but he did say, “The one who showed him mercy,” (37).
The point of Jesus' parable was to say that literally everyone is your neighbor. It doesn't just stop with the people in your area, the people you like, the people you're comfortable with. Your neighbor is the one who looks different than you, the who who practices the Christian faith differently than you, the one who practices a completely different religion than you, the person who votes differently, the person who identifies with the LGBTQ community, the person of a different socioeconomic class, the person who speaks a different language making it difficult to communicate. When we live in our segregated, homogeneous groups, this is difficult to consider. When we live in the echo chamber of the algorithm that feeds us our news, it becomes easy to see people who believe differently than us as the enemy rather than our neighbor.
Revelation 9:7-10 tells us that John saw a vision of the end of times. It says, “After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” This is what eternity will look like, believers of all nations, tribes, ethnicities and languages coming together, praising the God who saved us. If this is what eternity will look like, what are we doing in the present?
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made a statement that I think about often. He said, “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is 11 o’clock on Sunday morning.” This was in 1963. It made more sense then when segregation and Jim Crow were still legal. But almost 60 years later, it still holds true for much of America. We make the choice to segregate into our comfortable groups on Sunday mornings rather than choosing to look like the kingdom of God and congregate with our brothers and sisters who look different than us. God made us different for a reason. Justin said this so well on Sunday that God's image is so magnificent and so diverse that He couldn't get all of his image into just one type of person, or one people group. He chose to use all the diversity of our world to show us his glorious image. For centuries, American Christians denied this fact. I'm sure it happened outside of America too, but this is our country, so America is where I'll talk about. From the beginning of people being on this land who were not originally here, light skinned people who claimed Christ as their Savior in one breath denied the humanity and dignity of dark skinned people in the next. Christians could have made a difference. They could have stood up and said denying basic human rights to any person was wrong. They could have stood up and said all people were created in God's image and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and enjoyed all the same freedoms in a country that claimed freedom was an inerrant right given by God. But for the most part, Christians did not do this. The association we are apart of was created because southern missionaries refused to give up their “rights” to own slaves. The problem we have in this country, if not created by Christians, was at the very least, perpetuated by the complicity of the Christian community. And because it was created by us, it is our job to take steps to fix it, to reconcile, and to move forward together, not by requiring those who look different than us to conform to our customs, traditions and ways of worship, but by celebrating our differences in Christ and learning to live together in mutual love and respect.
I don't have all the answers concerning this issue, I don't think anyone does. But I do think, as Christians we need to take a look at ourselves and evaluate how we treat our neighbor. We need to figure out who we have difficulty fully accepting and we need to ask God to change our hearts. I believe there are lots of means to change, lots of means to bring about reconciliation, some by changing laws and systems. But it has to begin by being honest with ourselves and asking God where we've been wrong and where our hearts need to change. Sometimes it's scary to ask what needs to be changed or where we are wrong, but God will meet you in the scary places every time.
Why Did God Create The World?
By: Sarah Norman
Why did God create the world? I think this answer is both easy and complicated all at once. The easy answer is God created the world and us and everything in the world because he loves us. But once we begin to consider all the evil in the world, all that the world gets wrong, the answer becomes harder to figure out.
It says in Genesis 1 after everything He created, that “it was good.” Everything God created pleased Him, it brought Him joy. And then on the sixth day He said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness...so God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them,” (Genesis 1:26-27). The concept of image bearer is one I have thought much about in the past several years as I try and teach my sons how we treat people, how we love people. People are made in the image of God. Justin brought up a point this week that I had never considered before. We are told to not make false idols, false images to worship because God is who we should worship. Created images are not meant to point to God because we are the created images meant to point to God. That doesn't mean that we worship ourselves or the people God created, but we are to live our lives in such a way that points other people toward the one who created us.
The purpose of God creating us was solely for His glory. The rebellious, human nature in me bristles and gets defensive when I think about this. When Justin mentioned it this week, I immediately thought about how arrogant that sounds, that God would create us for the sole purpose of glorifying Himself. It's so easy to put humanness on this concept, which is why I think sometimes it's difficult to understand and except. If I put it in a human context, my husband and I create a child so that child will reflect wonderfully on us and will grow up to glorify us. That is completely the wrong way to think about becoming a parent. Mostly because it will not happen. We are humans who sin and let each other down. Our children will not always reflect well on us and if we put something like that on them, they will more than likely end up resenting us. But God is not me, thank goodness. I don't completely understand the concept of an omniscient, all-powerful, always has been and always will be creator, but I am thankful that I don't have to. If I could understand exactly why God created me and everyone and everything on this earth and in the universe, then God wouldn't be God. God would be something I've made in my own image which will always disappoint me.
So when we think about the fact that God's motive for creating us was for His glory, that's not a bad thing. It's what He deserves. When I stop and think about the world we live in, the creatures that walk the earth, the land and it's beauty, the people created, not to mention the magnificent universe and beyond that's yet to be discovered by humans, I am in awe of God. Psalm 19:1 tells us “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the expanse proclaims the work of his hands.” When I stop and think about all that God has done, all that God has created, all that God has worked in my life, I have no other response than to worship Him with the awe that he deserves.
Justin asked a second question this morning, “Why did God create this world.” We can look at all the things God created both in the world and the universe beyond earth and see how amazing they are and see how they reflect God's goodness. But it's more difficult sometimes to wonder why He created a world where people would not worship Him, but rather worship themselves or other gods they created. When he made Adam and Eve, he knew what they would choose. He didn't want to create robots who all fell in line and did exactly what they were told. That love and devotion wouldn't have been real. So he gave us a choice, while at the same time knowing exactly what they would choose, what we would chose. God had a plan from the very beginning. We go back to the end of Genesis chapter 1 where it says, “Let us make humankind in our image,”. That is not just God the father talking, but God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. He had a plan, even then to save humanity from ourselves. He knew what Adam and Eve would choose and so he knew that eventually, when the world was ready, God the Son would come to Earth to save us from our sins, to save us from ourselves and the destructive choices that we most certainly will make when left to ourselves.
As we are in this Lenten season, preparing our hearts for the joy of Easter, this is what we have to reflect on. We are sinners. Left on our own, we deserve nothing but Hell. Without the blood of Jesus as our sacrificial lamb, that is what would most certainly have happened to all of us. No one can live the perfect life required to be in communion with our Holy God. The time leading up to Easter is not necessarily meant to be joyous as we consider what it was that put Jesus on the cross. I lament the fact that it was my sin that put Him on the cross. And if it was only my sin, and no one else, He still would have done it, He still would have died to save even one person. But it wasn't just me. We are all sinners. We all deserve Hell apart from Jesus. But that is not where God left us. Easter happened just for that purpose. Jesus died as the perfect spotless lamb sacrifice, but then defeated death and rose from the grave. That power that rose Jesus from the grave is the power that saves us, the power that allows us to say no to the sin that dwells in us.
John Piper says “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” God created us for His glory. So often we think that can only mean just sitting in a church pew, singing songs that we don't always like, listening to a boring preacher (not Justin of course), and then going home. But we don't always know how to glorify him outside of church. While God created us for His glory, He also created us all different. He gave every person gifts and talents and a creative brain to figure out how to use those gifts and talents to serve Him. Our glorifying God by being satisfied in Him does not look the same for every person. It can be done through art, through our work, through our relationships, through hobbies. God can use any passion we have for His glory if we are willing to give it over to Him. So consider today what you love to do, what God has given you a passion for. Think about how you can use that love to serve God and bring Him glory.
The Love of a Restless God
By: Sarah Norman
The story of Ruth is a story of a restless God. Like I said a few weeks ago, so often, we read Ruth as a love story, a fairy tale, but when we do that, we miss so many truths about who God is, how he loves us and the lengths he went to save us. This is not just a story of a woman and man meeting, falling in love and marrying, but a story of God drawing his people back to him after generations of following their own way, living their own lives. It's a story of how God made a way for Jesus to do the work he did on the cross to give us life with Him.
Ruth has never really known a life of rest. Most people in those days didn't. They lived, they worked and they died. If they were truly observant Israelites, they rested on the Sabbath. In the beginning of chapter 3, Naomi seeks to find security, rest, for Ruth through a marriage to Boaz. Naomi wants her daughter-in-law to be protected, to not be vulnerable, to not be on the margins of society any longer. At the end of chapter 3, she tells her the man will not rest until the matter is settled. For Ruth, a marriage to Boaz means rest and security. It means she will belong, she will be part of Israel, no longer an outsider, but part of God's family.
But this story is so much more than a marriage story between a man and a woman. As Justin pointed out in this week's sermon, Ruth did not find her completion in Boaz, but rather, she found her completion in God. So often in this world, we look to everything around us to give us validation, to find our completion. I have tried to find completion and validation in my job, my children, my marriage, my friendships. None of that gives me what I need. I can't look to a created thing, no matter how good it was meant to be, to find my identity. Just like Ruth only found completion in God, that is where we need to look as well.
God spent the first 3 chapters of the Bible creating the world. He made every living thing on this planet, then he rested, not because he had to, not because he needed to, but because he could. He looked at his creation, saw it was good and then rested. But then sin entered the world. And he could have continued resting. He could have said he no longer needed to intervene, His work was done. He's the creator of the universe, maybe He would have been justified in that. But He didn't. Since the beginning, since chapter four of Genesis, God has been restlessly working to draw his children back to him. Everything he does in the Old Testament is to bring his wayward and lost children back to him. He is patient and kind and loving. And the story of Ruth is no different. Without Ruth we don't have Jesus. She is the outsider. She is the marginalized. She is from the people group who were hated. Yet God brought her into His family. God had mercy on this woman who didn't belong and showed her that she belonged to Him. She had a place in Him.
The song, reckless love, talks about the concept of God being a restless God. It says “There's no shadow You won't light up, mountain You won't climb up, coming after me. There's no wall You won't kick down, lie You won't tear down, coming after me.” This is how God pursues us, this is how much he wants us as part of His family, as His own children. We can run away from God, look for God in all the things of this world, in alcohol, in sex, in social media, in politics, in food, in relationships, but we will not find our rest in any of those things. We may find ourselves numb enough to get on with our day, numb enough to continue existing, but true rest can only be found in God.
The restless work of God culminates in Jesus and what he did on the cross. From Genesis to Malachi, God had a plan. Everything he did pointed to that plan. The patriarchs and matriarchs of the faith pointed to that plan. God's kindness and love toward Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheeba pointed to that plan. God was showing his people that he had something better coming, but they needed to be watchful for it, they needed to be ready. And then he came. Jesus left his Heavenly throne, put on skin, and came to this world to live among us, to know what it was like to want, what it was like to be hungry, what it was like to hurt and grieve, and while he was here, he restlessly worked to show the people who He was and what he was coming to do. He endured a brutal death on the cross and resurrected so we could know Him, so we could be a part of his family, so we could find our rest not in the finite things of this world but in His infinite love.
I know when life gets hard, it's easier to run away, it's easier to shutdown and go on autopilot just to get through the days. It's easier to find temporary happiness in all the things the world has to offer. I know because I've done that, I've been there, I've looked for that happiness that doesn't last. Friend who is reading this, please know that even if you are running to the things of this world to find happiness, to find your completion, you can't completely run away from God. He sees you. He hears your. He knows your pain. He knows how lost you feel, how frustrated with everything you are and He loves you. He is restlessly pursing you. Cry out to Him. He can handle your pain. He can handle your anger. He can handle your questions. He can handle all of those things because He is your creator. He is not surprised by them. He loves you. He wants you to run to Him for completion, rather than seeking it in the things this world has to offer. He did all he did on the cross for you, all you have to do is trust in Him.
By: Sarah Norman
Kindness is a difficult concept for our world to understand. In Galatians chapter 5, we're told kindness is a fruit of the Spirit, meaning we can only truly access real, genuine, self-sacrificial kindness when we have the Spirit working in us, helping us to do so.
One of the major themes in the book of Ruth is God's kindness to those who do not deserve it. Ruth 2:20 says, “Blessed be he by the LORD, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” God looked on Ruth and Naomi with kindness that they had probably rarely felt. They had just moved from a country who worshiped a god who was not kind, Chemosh. Chemosh's name meant destroyer. They feared this god, not in the reverent way we fear the LORD, but in a fearful way. They worshiped Chemosh by sacrificing humans to him in hopes to appease his anger. God's kindness to Ruth was greatly contrasted by the fear felt toward the god of her people.
We see God's kindness towards Ruth all throughout this book, but especially in chapter 2. When Ruth set out to find food for herself and Naomi, she happened to find Boaz's field to glean from. God set up a system in Leviticus 19 called gleaning. This would not have been something Ruth was aware of, and it was rarely enforced by the field owners, but Boaz was different. Gleaning allowed for sojourners, widows and the fatherless to gather food from the edges of the field, and even asked that if grain was dropped, to not pick it up so those who needed it could gather it. Boaz made sure Ruth, both a sojourner and a widow, could glean from his field. He made sure she would have more than enough for herself and Naomi to eat. God's kindness was given to Ruth through Boaz.
God also set up a system in Leviticus called the Kinsman Redeemer. Women had no rights in this time in history. They were treated like commodities, traded like property. God set up laws for the Jewish people to make sure women were treated with dignity and were taken care of if something happened to the men in their family. If a woman was left widowed, her husband's brother, or male relative, was suppose to marry her, protect her, and ensure she was not left alone. The field Ruth happened to walk into, the man who happened to own that particular field, was a kinsman redeemer in her family. He was a distant relative of Elimilech's, Ruth's father-in-law. This field and this man were God's kindness to Ruth.
I'm sure being a widow in a strange land was scary. Walking around looking for food and a way to take care of herself and her mother-in-law was probably intimidating. Ruth was an outsider of the worst kind, from Moab. She was vulnerable as a single woman. The things that take place in this story were not coincidence. God had a plan. I'm sure Ruth was terrified that first day she went to the fields looking for food. She had no idea if this God she just met would take care of her. But God saw her. God looked at her vulnerable state and loved her. He protected her. He made a way for her. He redeemed not only her but her people through the line that would come from her.
Jesus came from Ruth, generations later. Jesus showed the ultimate kindness. He, a perfect sinless man, laid down his life and died for us. Just as Israel deserved destruction for the sins committed in the time of the Judges, we deserve destruction for our sins. Just as God showed Israel kindness by ending their famine, just as God showed the Moabite people kindness through His love of Ruth, Jesus showed us kindness most undeserved with his sacrifice on the cross. He took our place. He took my place. He died for my sins. I did not deserve that kindness, but he freely gave it. Justin said in his message this week that “kindness doesn't base its dose on what the world requires, kindness delivers the best because of what love requires”. There is no limit to God's kindness, it's based off God's love for me and his love is endless. Kindness and love like that are difficult for our finite, human minds to understand because it's not something we see often this side of Heaven. But for those of us who believe in God, trust in God and have a relationship with God, we have access to the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. That same Holy Spirit gives us power to live out God's love, kindness, gentleness, joy, peace, patience, faithfulness, goodness and self-control.
This is not something we'll do perfectly. In fact, I failed tremendously at this just this past week. Rather than speaking in love and kindness and patience, I spoke in anger and hurt someone. We read Romans 12 a few weeks ago and God has been reminding me today of one key part. Verse 10 says “Love one another with mutual affection, outdo one another in showing honor, (emphasis added). God did this for Ruth through Boaz. He didn't have to show her kindness. The system set up in Leviticus for gleaning and a kinsman redeemer were not enforced, but he showed her kindness, he showed her honor. That is what we are to do for one another. When we speak, when we act, we are to do so in love, in kindness. Our goal should be to outdo one another in kindness, not to outdo one another in anger. Thankfully when we fail, Jesus steps in. His kindness, his love, his gentleness knows no end. Because of what Jesus did for us, there is nothing beyond redemption.
Ruth's story shows us redemption is possible. When we fail, when we sin, we go to God, we ask forgiveness and he freely gives it to us. When we've hurt another person, we should also go to them. When we do these things, we learn we don't have to live in our sin, we don't have to dwell in our failures, but rather God is there to pick up the pieces, to show His perfect love and kindness. Ruth's story shows us no one is beyond redemption.
By: Sarah Norman
Ruth is a well known story in the Bible and in this world of Disney that we live in, it's easy to paint Ruth with the Disney brush as a princess who met her prince charming. Ruth was in a difficult place. She met a wealthy man who brought her out of that difficult place, married her and they lived happily ever after. It's a nice story. One we've seen on screen or read in books often. But if that's all we see in this story, we miss the most important aspect...God's redemption for his people.
Sodom and Gomorrah, another well known, but not fairy tale story, is the backdrop of Ruth's beginning. These cities were so wicked that God knew they would never choose him over their sins so they needed to be destroyed. Abraham fought against this, knowing his nephew lived in Sodom. He didn't want to see the destruction of any innocent people so he began bargaining with God on their behalf. God said he would save the whole city if there could be 10 righteous people found, but there weren't. Lot and his family were the only ones saved.
Once Lot and his daughters were safely away from the destruction of the cities, his daughters grew worried that they would no longer be able to marry and have children, therefore have heirs to carry on their family line. His daughters decided to get him drunk and then both have sex with him in that drunken state. From this encounter came Moab, and then the Moabite people. These people were a blight on Israel's history. They were outcasts. They descended from sin. Israel thought they were beyond redemption. But Ruth's story shows different.
The story of Ruth occurs during the time of the Judges. The last verse in the book of Judges sums up the time of Judges very well. Verse 25 says, “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” We see this perhaps most clearly in Judges 19. A Levite and his concubine stop to rest for the night in Gibeah which belonged to the tribe of Benjamin. A man asks them to stay in his house for he knew what would happen if they stayed in the town square. While eating dinner that night, a mob of men from the city came and wanted to rape the Levite. Instead of giving up the Levite, he gave up his virginal daughter and the Levite's concubine. The women were raped and abused all night, to the point of death for the concubine.
This story is very reminiscent of what happened in Sodom and Gomorrah and what ultimately led to their destruction. They wanted to rape the angels who visited Lot. That part of the story had a better ending as the angels were spared and these women were not. This story, when read by itself is heartbreaking and outrageous. It's difficult to see God anywhere in this story and difficult to see why God would allow such horrible things to happen. Israel expected the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah after what happened. And that is definitely what they deserved. They deserved to have sulfur and fire rain down on them for the wicked abuses that occurred. But thankfully, God does not always give us what we deserve. There is a reason why God is God and we are not.
At the beginning of Ruth, there was a famine so a man named Elimelech moved his family, his wife Naomi, and his 2 sons to Moab. They saw the judgment that God was bringing on Israel, and perhaps were afraid of total destruction like what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah so they jumped ship before anything could happen. But while in Moab, Elimelech died. Naomi's sons married Moabite women, then her sons died, leaving Naomi, Orpah and Ruth. These were three women, destitute and alone in a society that didn't value women and where it was difficult for women to find legitimate work to earn money for food and lodging.
Naomi heard whispers of the end of the famine in Bethlehem. She believed that perhaps she could find family and help there, so she decided to go back. She tried to tell her daughters-in-law to go back to their families. They were still young, they could still marry and have children and a life. Orpah decided to do this, but Ruth stayed. In Ruth 1:16 she says “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”
Ruth came from a pagan people. Maybe she knew their history of origin or maybe not, but she knew they did not follow the God of Naomi, the God of Israel. She lived with Naomi and knew she was different. Ruth knew Naomi had something and was going toward something that she would not have if she stayed in Moab. There, Ruth became a follower of God. She declared her allegiance to the God of Naomi, declared that she would worship Him. And here is where our redemption story comes in.
Ruth was a Moabite, an enemy of God's people. Naomi didn't want to return with a Moabite woman because she did not believe she would be accepted, she didn't believe God's redemption could extend to Moabites. But God had a different plan. God's redemption is for all people and we see that clearly in Ruth's story.
Ruth and Naomi return to Bethlehem and we learn here why God did not destroy Israel like he did Sodom and Gomorrah. His plan was to bring redemption to his people in an unlikely way. Ruth meets a man name Boaz and eventually marries. She becomes the great grandmother of King David and eventually Jesus comes from her line. Jesus is the Savior of the world, who defeated death, defeated sin and redeemed not only Israel but everyone who is willing to follow Him.
Israel deserved destruction. The story in Judges is just one that was written down, but that story was likely a common story. Is the world we live in much different? Do we value life more than the Israelites did? Do we follow God more or better than what the Israelites did? No we don't, but what we learn from this story is that God is full of mercy. God does not give us what we deserve. God is giving us as much time as he can to turn to Him. We all deserve destruction, we all deserve death, we all deserve Hell. But in God's infinite mercy that is not what we get. When we have a relationship with Jesus, who came from Ruth, we find our redemption in Him. In this world that's full of sin and pain and death, we can look to the story of Ruth and see hope. In this story that is so heartbreaking, we see redemption in what God did for Ruth, the Moabite woman, the despised, the outcast, the marginalized. And just as Ruth did, when we follow God, when we turn to God a midst all the things of this world that we could follow, we find our redemption. God is the God who can redeem even the most despised, the most outcast, and the most marginalized, if we only look towards him.
Living a Transformed Life
By: Sarah Norman
When I was growing up, I was always the different one. I was different than my family. I would rather read for an afternoon or play my piano than give any attention at all to a sport. I was different than my friends. I spoke differently, I listened to different music, I dressed differently. Growing up, it can be hard to be different. We're taught from an early age that we should conform, that we should be like those around us. We're taught that anything that deviates from the norm is not what the culture we live in expects. So we conform to fit in, we conform to not be made fun of. We conform to make others happy. When we do that, we lose ourselves and who God uniquely made us to be.
Psalm 139:13 tells us “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” God made each individual in this world. He made us with our likes and dislikes. He made us with our unique talents. He made us with our unique personalities that are unlike anyone else on the earth. God made us in his image, each of us important with a specific purpose.
The culture we live in spends lots of energy telling us to be “nonconformists”. But what the world wants is us to conform to their ways, leaving behind who we are. The world celebrates individuality as long as it's a certain kind that looks like everyone else's individuality. But God tells us something vastly different than what the world tells us. Romans 12:1-2 says “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God--what is good and acceptable and perfect.” If we are to conform to anything, we are to conform to God, not this world. Paul tells us here to not conform to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. Conforming to this world is easy, but making the choice to live for God is not...unless we allow God to transform our mind.
Living for God is impossible on our own. I tried for years and years. I lived a legalistic, moralistic life, thinking that I just had to follow the rules and be good enough. I knew who Jesus was but I didn't fully understand what He came to do, I didn't fully understand how to live in His grace. So I tried and failed, over and over again. The more I tried on my own, the more my life always went back to looking like the world around me. When I met Jesus, I learned to stop trying on my own. I learned that in my own strength, I would always fail, but when I allowed Jesus to transform me, that is when my life began to look different. That's when I began to see the world differently. Then and only then, I was able to live for Jesus.
God makes us individuals with unique qualities, not to be conformed to the world, but to live for him, to work for him, to live our lives for his glory and his kingdom. We are all image bearers, made to work together. Verse 3 tells us to “not think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment...” and verse 4 tells us “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” While God makes us all unique, the purpose of that is so we can work together for one purpose, to bring glory to His kingdom. Instead of calling people out for their differences, we should celebrate their differences and what they can bring to the table that we can't.
The next section in Romans 12 gives us practical ways that we can live out our walk with God, practical ways that we can love the people around us, believers and nonbelievers and how we can choose to not conform to the world we live in. “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil hold fast to what is good, love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor...” Tony Evans says in his commentary that “love is not primarily a feeling. Love is an action, meeting the need of someone else, even at personal expense.” In our world, this is difficult. The world tells us that everything is about us, look out for yourself, do what's best for you, contrary to how it effects everyone else. To a certain extent, yes, we have to take care of ourselves because we can not serve others if we have nothing left to give. But looking out for ourselves is a priority of the world. We're told to “outdo one another in showing honor.” That requires sacrifice on our parts. That requires thinking of others first, putting others first, dying to yourself and loving those that Jesus has put in front of you to love.
The only way we are able to do this, to love those who seem unlovable, to work in God's kingdom in the unique capacity he's given us, is by allowing Jesus to transform our hearts. On my own, I will always chose to live for myself, maybe my family, but mostly for myself. I will do what's best for me. But when I let Jesus transform my heart and my mind, I begin to see others differently, I see others the way Jesus sees them, as image bearers of God. When I consider what Jesus did for me when he died on the cross and consider that he did that not only for me, but for every single person I meet, that changes how I interact with people.
Justin said in his message today, “Everyone may not be a Christian, but everyone can be and Jesus died so that everyone would be.” What if we looked at every person we come into contact with through that lens? Those that make us angry, those who vote differently than us, those who parent differently than us, those who make more or less money than us, those we see suffering on the street, those who have never heard of Jesus, those who have heard of Jesus but want nothing to do with Him? What if we looked at them and treated them as if Jesus actually did what he did? He died on the cross for the one who votes differently, for the one who looks different, for the one of a different culture. And he didn't die on the cross to change what makes that person who they are. He died to save them from their sins, just like he did for me. I'm not called to judge people by the choices they make just because they are different and I think I make better ones. I'm called to love genuinely, outdo others in honoring them, bless those who persecute me, rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. I am called to be different than the world, to not conform to what the world conforms to. Most of the time, that is uncomfortable at best, impossible at worse, but my God specializes in the impossible.
I'm not saying we will ever do this perfectly. I don't do this well most of the time. But when we let God transform our hearts, he will help us to live differently. He will help us to see others the way He sees them. He will conform you, not this this world, but to someone who walks in His will.