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Experiencing Loss

“Where’s the heartbeat?”

That small question began us on a journey that so many other couples have travelled, the journey from expectant parents to grieving people.

We were excited to become first-time parents in 1998 — we had waited quite a while after getting married in 1991 and we were ready to begin the next chapter in our lives.

Unfortunately the pregnancy was far from easy –– there were hormones to take, lots of complications, and then the diagnosis of a cystic hygroma (sac of water) at the base of our baby’s head, indicating potential birth or learning defects.

Despite the doctors’ advice we continued with the pregnancy because, whatever would happen, God would prepare us.

We were not prepared.

On June 26, 1998 I gave birth to our firstborn, a girl named Rachel Ann. She was born still, and we grieved. Oh, how we grieved.

Some told us to “just have another one” as if babies were as plentiful as Tic Tacs or sticks of gum. A few told us that the Lord knew we wouldn’t be able to handle her medical issues so He just spared us by taking her home. Most said they were sorry for our loss. Some didn’t say anything at all.

October marks the 30th anniversary of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, a time when families and friends remember little loved ones who were gone too soon.

If someone you love has experienced the loss of a child, there are a number of ways to comfort and support to the family. Here are just a few:

  1. Celebrate Life
    In the eyes of those who are grieving, it makes no difference if the child was miscarried after a few days or born still at full term. Where there was life, now there is none. The Psalmist reminds us that God knit us together, and we were known by Him from our earliest moments of life. So celebrate the life, no matter how briefly he or she lived.
     
  2. Honour the Child
    Try not to refer to him or her as “the miscarriage” or “the stillbirth” when you are speaking to the grieving parents, but instead say “your child.” Ask if the parents named their child, and if they did then use that name in conversation. You may be surprised to know that even parents who do not know the gender of their child still use names or nicknames for their baby, so ask what they named the child and lovingly weave the name into conversation.
     
  3. Give Some Space
    You may want to call, visit, hug, make meals and pray. But they might not be there just yet. Be available and ready to bear the burden of grief when the parents want to talk, but don’t push. Recognize that too much space might be seen as uncaring, and too little space can be suffocating. Watch for signs that the parents want to talk, or that they want to walk.
     
  4. Remember the Whole Family
    Many guys go into caregiver mode after a loss, wanting to ensure their spouse is recovering well. But Dads grieve too, so remember to check in with them. Give them a safe space to talk or not, depending on how they are feeling. And the same goes for grandparents —  they are experiencing all kinds of emotions as they process the loss of their grandchild. My mom told me after the fact that she was absolutely wrecked, but felt she couldn’t let her guard down for fear of upsetting me or others around me. Check in with all the family members and let them know you are praying for them.
     
  5. Time Doesn’t Heal All Wounds
    Grief takes as long as grief takes. The Bible tells us that there is a time to mourn, but it doesn’t qualify the statement with a timeframe. Don’t assume that just because “enough time has passed” (whatever that means), the family is ready for another pregnancy. It’s frightening, it’s daunting, and it’s kinda none of your business when they decide to try again — if ever. Time doesn’t heal wounds, but God in His mercy can bind up wounds, trade ashes of grief for the beauty of life. He heals.

If you have walked this journey of miscarriage and/or infant loss, my heart aches for you. But your story is not for you alone. Mark Batterson says, “If you don’t turn your adversity into a ministry, then your pain remains your pain. But if you allow God to translate your adversity into a ministry, then your pain becomes someone else’s gain."1 

Maybe your ministry is comforting others with the comfort that you yourself received (2 Cor 1:3–5). Or maybe your ministry comes from realizing how alone you felt and you don’t want another man or woman to experience that sadness. Regardless, I pray that your ministry to others is informed by your experience with a healing, loving and merciful Father.

Candi Thorpe
candi@calvaryburlington.ca

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Thanks for What?

On Thanksgiving Sunday we spent some time in Habakkuk, a small book in the Old Testament. Habakkuk was a prophet who was called by God to give a message to the people that judgement was coming because they had been so disobedient and spiritually dysfunctional. Frankly, Habakkuk is ticked with God that He won’t do anything about it, and that the people are getting away with their sinfulness. He writes, 

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?
Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted. (Hab 1:1-4)

Israel was in spiritual ruins, and God tells Habakkuk that he is going to use the Babylonians to judge Israel’s sinfulness (1:6). Habakkuk does not see this as a good thing and complains again, basically asking God, "Aren’t you able to do this some other way?".

God uses this moment to instruct Habakkuk about who He is, what He is doing, and how He is going to go about doing it. He also takes the time to remind Habakkuk about our proper response to God during times when we don’t completely understand what God is doing or why He is doing it. God reminds Habakkuk that “the righteous will live by faith”. There is a quiet confidence that the child of God can know that when we don’t completely understand our challenges, that we can trust Him. 

Through a series of conversations between God and Habakkuk, Habakkuk finally comes to grips with what is happening. He understands that even though he and the people might suffer under the Babylonians, that God is still God and is sovereign and will be with them through it all.

Often the greatest tests of our fragile spirituality happens when we are faced with impeding suffering, pain and abuse. I am not talking about some fake, mask wearing, smile faking spirituality that tell everyone that “I’m ok”. What I am saying, and I think Habakkuk is instructing us, is that even when life is tough, God is there, doing something that requires faith and trust in Him.

The climax of the book comes when Habakkuk announces his reconfirmed faith and trust in God, and the song he sings is captured in chapter 3. For our time on Sunday we focused on three truths about cultivating a heart of thankfulness, even when we don’t feel like it or understand what God is doing. They flow out of the verses found in Habakkuk 3:17-19:

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer's;
he makes me tread on my high places.

Habakkuk realizes because of who God is, that he can...

  1. Thank God regardless of the challenges (17)
  2. Thank God for his salvation in the challenges (18)
  3. Thank God for God’s strength through the challenges (19)

So what was the take away for Thanksgiving Sunday?

Despite our challenges, what are we thanking God for? He has given us His Spirit to be present with us through our challenges, and that He ultimately gave us His Son, Jesus Christ. That through faith in His work on the cross we can find hope for this life and the one to come. Even while we wait and trust through the challenges we face, God’s strength is sufficient in our weakness.

I hope this is your experience with God. If you have any questions about this or about following Jesus in the challenges of life, I'd love to talk with you. Send me an email or set up a time to talk on a Monday night. 

Pastor Aaron Groat

 

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Rooted in God

I love to go on long walks and hikes. Everyday I walk my dog in the park by my home I always pass a tree. It’s just an old tree, and I’m not even sure of what type it is, but every time I go by, I am reminded of my children and when they were little. Each of them climbed this tree on our visits to the playground, and somehow they all carefully navigated their way to the main branch.

 

That tree seemed so much bigger back then. Now when I pass by, I recall those moments and how quickly life goes by.

Have you noticed that the tree is a very symbolic image in Scripture? Many varieties are mentioned including the olive, palm, oak, willow, pine, fig, and poplar –  just to name a few. There are many themes that come from this imagery as well. We often talk abut being rooted in our beliefs and values, and bearing fruit from our faith.

We have such a small window of time to build into our children, to guide them and to be examples. 

I love that our church has a Sunday school program where our children can gather, grow and learn. Our children’s ministry is rooted in God’s Word and we teach from Bible-centred curriculum. May we be reminded that the roots are what give a tree its strength, and nutrients!

Tanya Chant, Director of Family & Children's Ministry

“Let the field exult, and everything in it!  Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy.” Psalm 96:12

“He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”  Jeremiah 17:8

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Stories, Lessons and the Works of the Lord

When I was in High School I attended a church that believed that when you were too old to attend Sunday School, you were just the right age to begin teaching Sunday School. By the time I hit grade 10, I was teaching a boisterous class of grade 4 boys in a big gymnasium crisscrossed with room dividers.

Words can’t describe the noise level. Each week I came, woefully unprepared, to teach Bible stories to those boys and hoped I was making some sort of a difference. 

Recently I read Psalm 78 and reflected on those early days of teaching Bible stories in a gymnasium in Kitchener. You have to understand that Psalm 78 was written by Asaph; he had been appointed to pass on the stories of the marvellous deeds of God Almighty so that future generations would know and worship the Lord. But here’s the thing you'll notice when you read that Psalm: Asaph didn’t just tell the historical stories; he taught lessons about the goodness of God in the face of Israel’s repeated disobedience.

Stories and lessons?  C’mon, what’s the difference?

Well, the facts of what happened in Israel’s past is the story, but why and how God responded is the lesson. The physical and spiritual acts performed by God to rescue his people is a story, but the impact of how we worship and serve a faithful God is the lesson.

Psalm 78:6-8 tells us that God established a testimony and law which we are commanded to teach to our children so that they in turn tell their children, so they will set their hope in God and not forget His works. Check it out: 

He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.

And I think this goes beyond the value of just teaching stories to our own children – this is transferrable to the relationships we have with those who are spiritually younger as well. By knowing the law and testimony of God (the stories and the lessons), future generations will not harden their heart toward the Lord. 

I confess that many times I have told the stories of God without teaching the lessons. Telling the story is easy, but teaching the lesson is hard because it means getting personal.  It means examining my heart to ensure that God is doing a work there before I teach others about God wanting to do a work in their heart. It means being humble and teachable and vulnerable. It means ensuring that my testimony begins with God’s testimony. It means knowing with certainty that God is the hero of my story (both the parts in the past and the parts yet unwritten) before I try to teach anyone else that God also wants to be the hero of their story. I taught Bible stories for years before I realized that if the people don’t see how the lesson impacts me, they’ll never see how it can impact them.

You might be a Sunday School teacher or helper, or maybe you are influencing future believers in your family, workplace or your community. As you communicate God’s Word, remember that it is the lessons that draw people to set their hope in Christ.

I’d love to hear from you about the lessons God is teaching you. Let’s grab a coffee (or three!) and encourage each other with the marvellous works of the Lord.

 

Candi Thorpe, Director of Administration, Communication and Frontline Ministries
candi@calvaryburlington.ca

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The Worshipping Church

 

As September comes with the renewed energy from some rest over the summer, we embark on a new ministry year that promises to move us as a church toward greater spiritual maturity – measured by a deepening love for God, love for His people and serving our community. I hope you are anticipating and praying for God to do something very special among us as a church this year.

September is also a time for me as your pastor to point us towards Jesus and His church in a very intentional way.  For 4-6 weeks, I address a topic of the local church and our call to mission. Themes have varied from year to year but I believe it’s important to focus in to what God would have our church be for the coming year. This September I want us to zoom in on what it means to be a worshipping church.

Worship is something that we often take for granted in the local church.  We make statements like “the worship was really good there” or “I didn’t like the worship” without really thinking through the implications of such a subjective comment.  Worship is much more than “really good” or “not likeable” if we have a firm understanding of what worship is. Worship is hard to define but put simply, “is the priority we place on who God is in our lives and where God is on our list of priorities.” (Delesslyn A. Kennebrew).

So, beginning this Sunday, I will be preaching for sermons in a series entitled, “The Worshipping Church”.  Each week we will unpack a various aspect of worship and its implications for the local church as we make it a priority.  It is my prayer that these messages will challenge us to reconfirm what we believe about worship and how what we do on a Sunday morning collectively is so important.

What I want to challenge you with this as we lead into Sunday is summed up in one word, “Preparation”. What is critical to these messages is how we prepare for them in advance.  Have you ever thought that the week leading up to Sunday is preparing us for what happens when we gather to worship as a church? I came across this quote from Jerry Bridges and it cuts to heart of what it means to be true worshippers of God who prepare.

 

“The vitality and genuineness of corporate worship is to a large degree dependent upon the vitality of our individual private worship.  If we aren’t spending time daily worshiping God, we’re not apt to contribute to the corporate experience of worship.  If we aren’t worshiping God during the week, how can we expect to genuinely participate in it on Sunday morning?  We may indeed go through the motions and think we have worshiped, but how can we honour and adore One on Sunday whom we have not taken time to praise and give thanks to during the week?
"I Exalt You, O God: Encountering His Greatness in Your Private Worship”, Jerry Bridges

 

Let me encourage you spend some time preparing for Sunday through Scripture reading, prayer, silence, service, whatever it takes to make sure that when we come together on Sunday we are ready to participate together and focus on our great God! I hope you will come with an expectant heart – ready to celebrate what God is doing and what He will continue to do.

See you the, by God’s grace,

You are dearly loved,
Pastor Aaron

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Who You Say I Am



This Sunday is “Name-tag Sunday” and I am so excited! And not just because I am terrible at remembering people's names (although I often am), but because most of my introductions go like this:

Me: Hi there! My name's Jolene.

Invariably a sweet older lady: Oh, Julie! What a pretty name!

Me: Oh, no, sorry, I'm JOLENE.

Older lady: Angeline! How nice!

Me: You know what? Just call me Jo. So nice to meet you!

Those interactions can be awkward and difficult, but there is value in being known, and being known rightly.

I could have let that little old lady call me Angeline, but that's not who I am.

It's interesting, though, that I would put so much time and effort into making sure people pronounce my name correctly, but when it comes to who I really am, I allow myself to get it wrong all the time.

All too often, I let Satan convince me that my identity is based on personal effort and accomplishments, and because of that, I am never satisfied with who I am.

I am constantly striving.

Constantly trying to make more of myself.

Constantly trying to prove my worth.

Constantly trying to hide my flaws.

There's a song I've really grown to appreciate called “Who You Say I Am”, and what I love about it is that it brings me back to the truth - that my identity is not based on what I do for Christ, but on what Christ has done for us.

Because when we strive to make more of ourselves, we are inherently making less of Jesus.

Of His power.

Of His might.

And I thank God that His power is made perfect in weakness, because often that seems to be all I have to give Him, but I am even more thankful that I am not defined by my weakness. That through His power and through His promise, who I am is wholly and completely because of who Christ is in me.

Jolene (Jo!) Sanders, Director of Worship,
jolene@calvaryburlington.ca

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

                                                                                                - Galatians 2:20

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Feeling Parched?

I have always loved desert imagery in the Old Testament; there’s something pretty amazing about God bringing beautiful new life to ground that had once been dry and barren.

In 2010 I had been going through a dry season in my spiritual life. I still loved Jesus and I knew He loved me, but I felt somewhat stuck in the ways I was growing. I was desperate for some relief from the dryness of my prayer life. I would go for walks in the evenings, asking God, “What needs to change? What are my next steps?”

One morning I opened an email from FEB Central and the first line jumped off the page. It said, “Have you ever wondered about your next steps?”

Yes!

The email described Women’s Ministries Institute, a 9-month course offered by FEB Central to equip women to grow deeper in their spiritual journey for effective leadership. I prayed about it and decided to join the class, graduating in June 2011. A few years later, Sarah Bean also joined, graduating as the Valedictorian of her class (Yay Sarah - great job!).

If you are a woman and are feeling like you are going through a place of spiritual drought, you are not alone. I know that there are days where you just go through the motions, and there are other days that you don't even bother trying to do that.

Sisters (and brothers!), we are promised in Isaiah 41 that when we are feeling dry and parched, God will not forsake us. He will pour out rivers, filling our valleys with life-giving water. He brings new growth to those places in our spiritual lives that have felt barren and dead.

If you'd like more information about WMI, you can talk to Sarah Bean or myself, and visit their website here: www.womensministriesinstitute.com. Maybe WMI isn't for you at this time, but please don't stop asking God, "What are my next steps?" Because God will always remind you that your next steps are the ones that draw you closer to Him.

Candi Thorpe,
candi@calvaryburlington.ca

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Press On

It took me a while to decide what to write about this week. I wanted to write something beautiful and inspiring, but instead I’m going to write about discipline.

I even gave a few tries at writing a lovely little Mother’s Day blog, but no… we’re going to talk about discipline.

Before we go any further, take a moment to read through Hebrews 12.

To many of you it’s a familiar passage. It encourages us to run the race set before us. When I was younger, I always thought that was a great analogy, because it seemed so exciting! I pictured the 100-meter dash at the Olympics; adrenaline pumping, crowds cheering, putting everything on the line.

But the reality is that our race is more like a really, really, really long marathon.

You’re probably going to feel like walking for part of it. Or you might get a cramp partway through and wonder if you’ll make it to the finish line at all.

You will get tired.

But the author of Hebrews writes, “It is for discipline that you have to endure…. For the moment, all discipline feels painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Emphasis added)

As a parent, I know how difficult it can be to discipline a child. But I also know that not to discipline my son would be a disservice. Because I don’t just care about who he is now, I care about his whole life. It can be painful and frustrating, but we discipline our children because we love them.

And how much more does our Father in Heaven love us. So much so that he takes the time – despite our resistance, despite our stubbornness – to shape and mold us into who we are meant to be.

So press on - even when you feel exhausted, even when you’re overwhelmed – press on to the finish line.

Jolene Sanders, Director of Worship
jolene@calvaryburlington.ca

I do not claim that I have already succeeded or have already become perfect. I keep striving to win the prize for which Christ Jesus has already won me to himself.  Of course, my friends, I really do not think that I have already won it; the one thing I do, however, is to forget what is behind me and do my best to reach what is ahead.  So I run straight toward the goal in order to win the prize, which is God's call through Christ Jesus to the life above.” (Philippians 3:12-14)

“For He disciplines for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10)

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God is Still on His Throne and He Still Cares

There is no doubt that the tragic events of the past couple weeks have rattled us all a bit. From the tragic loss of life in a bus crash to the senseless violence of a man in Toronto, all of us have been forced to hold our loved ones closer and recognise the brevity of life.

There are no easy answers when it comes to the why. Why did this happen? How could God have allowed this to take place? These are good questions. These are hard questions, and in the middle of the crisis there are no easy answers. I find later that after some time has passed, allowing a period of reflection, we can come to terms with some of these things, but it’s never an easy process.

What encourages me about both of these events is that people came together to reach out beyond themselves to find hope and encouragements. Many turned to their faith and it was in the confidence and hope of the gospel, they were able to start the process of healing and restoration.

Sean Brandow, the chaplain to the Homboldt Broncos, spoke to the community vigil of this hope when he said,

“Where was God? That question has two answers. God is on the throne and God is with the broken-hearted. We know that God is on the throne, Jesus walked this earth, he died, he was buried, he rose again. It says in the scripture that he is now seated at the right hand of the Father, in control of setting up our leaders, putting people in the place where they need to be at just the right time, for just the right purpose, making sure that things line up according to his plan. I don’t claim to understand how this seems like it’s in God’s control at all, but it is. He’s still on the throne, he’s still God. You know, I asked the question as you look at God on the throne, it’s easy to look at God from a distance but the second part of that question of where is God is that he’s with us.” 1

I’ll allow you to read the rest of the message yourself, but those two answers cut across the airways of Canada and beyond. In other words, our God is still sovereign and He is still with those who suffer. Powerful words to our nation who is struggling to find meaning in these situations. I don’t claim to understand how God’s sovereignty works, but I do know that He is working out His plan in this world that is so much bigger than me or my comfort. I don’t claim to understand how his comfort works but I do cling to the truth that He is with me no matter what. He loves us and in spite of the evil around us, He is with us through the pain and anguish – gently encouraging and speaking words of hope and love.

So this week, in spite of what is happening in the Homboldt or Toronto, be reminded of the hope that we have in Christ. Peter reminds the church of this hope today and a time coming soon.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:3-6

Pastor Aaron Groat
aaron@calvaryburlington.ca

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What's Your Story?

 

I love a good story. No matter if it is a children’s book, a biography, or an engaging video, I love to hear a well-crafted story. Unfortunately, if you have been in a relationship or married for any length of time, you know that stories can get old. So much so that I jokingly tell newlyweds to not use all their best material in the first year – they have the rest of their lives to tell the same stories over and over again (profound apologies to my dear husband who has heard all of my stories repeatedly over the last 27 years).

What about you, what's your story? When someone asks you about your faith, are you still talking about the moment that led up to your conversion, or do you have a new story to tell?

Don’t get me wrong - as believers we are supposed to tell the story of what God has done in our lives. Psalm 66 says, “Come and see what God has done; he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of men… Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he has done for my soul.”

Yet, when the Psalmist wrote these verses, I don’t think they were meant to serve as a passive observation of all the things the Lord once did. Instead, I believe they were meant to be a call for others to witness and testify to God’s mercy and power. Come and see! Come and hear! Come and experience! Come!

Notice how many times the Psalmists write about singing a “new song” to the Lord (see Psalms 33, 40, 96, 98, 144, and 149 as examples). These ancient hymns tell us, "Sing a new song, you who love the Lord,  because God continues to demonstrate goodness, marvellous grace, mercy, victory over the enemies of His people, and many other amazing things."

If you are a Christ-follower, you definitely have a conversion story. That thing that God once did in your life. But if God doing new things in your life and in mine, why are we still telling the same old story?

Now, before you think that I am defaming the song, Tell Me the Old, Old Story, please hear this - the story of the cross is timeless and absolutely should be told over and over again. That beautiful thing that was done on our behalf to deliver us from death to life underpins every single thing we could ever share about who we are, but it should also underpin why we live the way we do! We give God the glory because it is He who is doing the work in our lives. 

So what’s your story? Throughout the month of April, write down at least four ways the Lord has met your need, sustained you, answered your prayer, or delivered you.

Sing a new song. Tell a new story. God’s deeds are awesome yesterday, today and forever. 

 

Candi Thorpe, candi@calvaryburlington.ca

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All You Need Is Agape



You may recall that during the month of February, our Student Ministries was working through the four ancient Greek words for love. We do studies like this to help us better understand what the original authors of the New Testament were trying to convey with their letters. And to better wrap our 21st century brains around 1st century people. We finished our series with the ultimate of all loves, which is Agape. Agape love describes the unconditional, divine love that God has for his creation, for us. Agape is a love that is selfless, and sacrificial. While researching this I stumbled on an article that describes Agape love like this;

“Agape...is unmotivated in the sense that it is not contingent on any value or worth in the object of love. It is spontaneous and heedless, for it does not determine beforehand whether love will be effective or appropriate in any particular case”

Agape love is not based on the value of what's being loved. Agape doesn't say, “If you're worthy of this, then you can experience it.” It doesn't require something; it is an undeserved love. Which makes perfect sense to why this is the love that the New Testament authors would use to describe God's love for us. We've done nothing to deserve His love, yet he gives it anyways.

Isn't that amazing?

I think of a passage like Romans 5:8, which states:

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.

Agape love. Unconditional, undeserving, sacrificial love for His creation. Why? Simply, because He does. We've done nothing to deserve it, we've in fact done everything in our power to reject it. Yet, He gives it, to the point of sending His son to die on a cross, that we might know it. Wow.

It's really easy to stop there, and just say, Agape love, that's God's love for us, neat!... BUT, our New Testament authors don't stop there. Several times we see this word used to describe how we ought to love others. John 15:9-13, We see Jesus commanding his followers...

This is my commandment, that you love (agapate) one another as I have loved (egapesa) you.”

Jesus is calling us to love each other sacrificially, selflessly, unconditionally, and maybe the toughest of all, undeservedly. That's tough, don't get me wrong. Agape love is a tall order that none of us should take lightly. But it's something we've been commanded to by Jesus himself. This word is also used to describe the love, in a passage you all likely know very well, Galatians 5:22-23, which states;

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love (agape), joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

It's really easy to zoom past that first “fruit” and get to some of the more specific fruits of the Spirit. We get caught up thinking, okay, be kind, be patient, be peaceful, be good, be faithful, be loving. But the word used here is not philia (which describes a friendly love), nor storge (familial love). The word used in Galatians 5:22 is agape; unconditional, undeserving, selfless, sacrificial love. The fruits of the Spirit at work in our lives STARTS with this kind of love. And under this kind of love, the rest of the fruits get their framework, and their purpose. How God loves His creation, we too are to love.

We are about to enter into that time of the year where God's agape, love, is on display for all to see. Even the un-churched will hear of the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for us all. When you approach the cross this Easter, reflect on God's agape for us. Reflect on the fact that you can't earn it, and that you've done nothing to deserve it, YET, God gives it freely, unconditionally, and sacrificially, because He loves you.

Mike Sanders, Youth Director
mike@calvaryburlington.ca

John 3:16:  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

 

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He Sat Down

 

I remember one of the first times I worked my way through the book of Hebrews. I had been hesitant to read Hebrews because I found it hard to understand all the Old Testament references and what they had to do with the message that the author of Hebrews was trying to communicate.

So, I sat down and started chasing all those footnotes and cross references that you find in your Bible (a little aside – this is one of the reasons why I don’t think your primary Bible should be a digital device that doesn’t include these). As I read the Old Testament quotes, suddenly the book came alive as I saw the incredible way the author built the case surrounding the supremacy of Christ and the power of salvation through His death on the cross.

One of my favourite sections – and really it’s the pinnacle of the book in many ways – is in chapter 10 where the author writes, (italics mine)

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

Hebrews 10:11–14 (ESV)

When I first read those verses, I wondered why it would mention “stands daily” and then “sat down”. Why would the author put these little details in? As I chased down the cross-references and read some other material I was struck with the thought that the reason why the priest could never sit down was because his job was never done. Every day, day after day, sacrifices would have to be made for the people by the priests. It was a never-ending job that required unbelievable dedication and endurance. There was no shortage of work. Sin continued to be committed, sin needed to be atoned for, and a sacrifice was necessary.

Until THE day when everything changed. Jesus changed everything.

Jesus gave His life as the final and ultimate sacrifice for your sins and mine. In one final act, Jesus took the punishment for our sin. The punishment that we are responsible for because we can’t keep God’s perfect law, was taken on Himself. Not multiple sacrifices, but ONE SINGLE SACRIFICE that made atonement for all sin for all time.

Let that sink in a minute as we approach the time of year where we come together as a church to remember that Jesus died and rose again (Good Friday and Easter) so that our sins can be forgiven and we can be made right with God. And then Jesus SAT down.

The priests in the tabernacle had no need of chairs because their work never ended, but Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest, offered himself as a single sacrifice for sins, for all time. After his sacrifice was offered and accepted, he did what no other priest serving in the tabernacle had done before. He pulled up a chair and sat down at the right hand of His Father (1). Your sin and mine has now been covered by the sacrifice that Jesus made. By faith, we accept that gift of grace. It moves me to tears to think that my Saviour did that for us, for His church, for any who would believe.

As we gather this Easter weekend, it is my prayer that the prodigiousness of this grace, that was poured out in the finality of Christ’s sacrifice, would move us all to proclamation and mission -  proclaiming the good news to our friends and neighbours and serving people as an expression of love because of what Christ has done for us. Why not invite them to join you on Easter Sunday at Calvary – you never know what they will say until you ask.

And remember…. He sat down…

Pastor Aaron Groat

aaron@calvaryburlington.ca

 

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