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The Story of God: Grace

Matthew 20:1-16, NRSV

Reflections

We exulted in Christ not because of the fact alone that he made us as equal, but in making us as equal, He revealed something more amazing. He revealed himself. His personality and predilection to see justice ever through the tinted glass of mercy. Through blood-stained lenses of grace. Grace — that mystery and miracle in God that is always in excess of favor deserved. Grace — that condition of congenital benevolence passed down by God on us for the sake of others. Grace — A.W. Tozer, defined it as “the good pleasure of God that inclines him to bestow benefits upon the undeserving. It is a self-existent principle,” he said “inherent in the divine nature and appears to us as a self-caused propensity to pity the wretched, spare the guilty, welcome the outcast, and bring into favor those who were before under just disapprobation.” Grace.

— Dr Maurice Wallace

  • Invitation of Grace
  • In the parable, God goes out five times to look for workers
  • God is always in pursuit; it’s never too late for God to pursue you
  • God employs us to His work
  • God pays; there is no bookkeeping, only book of Life
  • God’s extravagance generous grace

  • Insistence of Grace
  • Insist on the last in line to go first
  • So that all will see His grace

  • Judgement of Grace
  • v13-15: In becoming righteous, it limits to end of Grace
  • Mrs Turpin, from Flannery O’Connor’s short story, Revelation


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A Deeper Love: The Dynamics of a Flourishing Marriage

Speaker: Rev Dr Chuck DeGroat


Do you long for a deeper love? Most do, but the reality is harsh. Half of all marriages fail. This tragedy is magnified by the reality that many couples stay together but enjoy little intimacy, friendship, and happiness. Amidst our busy lives, few couples have the time or energy to devote to growing their marriage. And few have any sense of vision or tools for a flourishing marriage. Together, we’ll explore the dynamics of a flourishing marriage. We’ll explore how connection, even more than communication, fosters flourishing marriages. We’ll see how difficulty and disagreements actually provide our best opportunities for growth and depth. And we’ll explore practical ways of fostering deeper connection for lasting love.


Our (deepest) addiction is to our own ego, and through this addiction our relationship to everything else is ruined.

— Wendy Farley

  • Death of Marriage, i.e. Dying to Live
  • Deep transformation comes from (a bit of) dying
  • Dying in smaller vision of marriage, in self-centerness, when there are two agendas at work

  • Thriving, or merely surviving
  • Quality of marriage is directly related to the capacity of navigating in many deaths
  • Leaving the life before
  • Smaller dreams and visions have to die first
  • Avoidance or ignorance of deaths in marriage is the enemy, not the death itself

  • The “dance” you learn from your parents
  • 3 Demons Dialogues (or Dances), from Dr Sue Johnson
    • Find the bad guy
    • Protest Polka
    • Freeze and Flee – resignation

  • Questions for Couples
  • Do you want more? As Jesus often asks, what do you want? what do you long for?
  • What are you willing to sacrifice? Small things like habits, bigger things like being in control, being the righteous one
  • Who do you want to become? Who do you want your partner to become?

  • To be mature, accept to be transformed
  • Just trying to survive, or willing to die and be transformed

  • Private Meditation and Journaling:
  • What emotions are stirring in you as you reflect on Chuck’s talk? Do you feel shame? Anger? Disappointment? Confusion? Hopefulness? Elaborate.
  • How did you want your spouse to think best of you when you were dating? What “best self” did you project? Was it successful?
  • Where might your “ego” or “false self” be an obstacle to intimacy in your marriage?
  • If you imagined your marriage as a journey from youthful idealism to mature wisdom, what would your marriage look like in its most mature phase?

  • Couples Debrief:
  • Share your reflections from the time of private journaling
  • How honest do you think you were when you were dating? Did you, as a couple, do any kind of false “dance” with each other, as Chuck talked about? How?
  • What smaller dreams of marriage need to die? Do you have a sense that you’ve been honest about the need for those smaller dreams to die?
  • Do you have a recurring fight? In what way does this represent your attachment to a smaller dream of marriage? An attachment to your own false self or ego?
  • Talk about your level of investment in the “death of your marriage” for the sake of its flourishing. How hopeful are you? Be honest, even if the answer is “hopeless.” This might be the best hope for your marriage

What we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else. It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are… because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing. It is important to tell our secrets too because it makes it easier… for other people to tell us a secret or two of their own…

— Frederick Buechner in Telling Secrets

  • There are couples who would settle, like being roommates, or tolerate with each other, or being in cold wars
  • Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, by Robert Putnam
  • Most people live in a community of two
  • But we are made for connections
  • Genesis 2: Man looking for kindred spirit

  • Tabula Rasa – Children start with blank slate
  • John Bowlby: Attachment Theory, Relational Orientation
    • Anxious-resistant insecure attachment
    • Anxious-avoidant insecure attachment (distant)
    • Disorganized – dismissing feelings

  • Listen and own their own baggage
  • Open to new experience
  • Physically more healthy
  • Higher self-esteem
  • More highly resilient

  • Lots of communication strategies and tools
  • Lots of personality tests and tools to help understanding
  • But below the surface, deeper questions:
  • “Do you respect me?”
  • “Are we gonna be ok?”
  • “Am I enough?”
  • “Can I depend on you?”
  • “Are you gonna be there fore me?”
  • “Do you notice me?”
  • Often result in rejection, withdrawn
  • we might be stuck with our patterns, our dances
  • But we are not just trying to change our patterns or dances

  • Primal Panics
  • Our brains respond and react automatically, quickly
  • Emotional responsiveness to our partner
  • with Empathy
  • move towards your partner

  • After the questions of What do you want? What are you willing to sacrifice? Who do you want to become?
    • See the larger patterns: Repeating the same fight, the same dance
    • Name the Emotion – get in touch with your emotion, be aware of your feeling, like anger, confused
      • Ask yourself what’s underneath the Primal Panic? By going deeper, we become less reactive
      • Turn toward your partner, away your own self (but also be aware of the risk of rejection)
      • Ask if you can share your feelings at that moment with your partner
      • If your partner is willing to hear, share your heart, not your critiques
      • Partner listens, connects
      • Both talk how it feels to be connected
    • Cultivate positive connection, safety in connection
  • 5 Love Languages – pathway to quality connections
  • But when we don’t have connection, what’s our substitute for the intimacy? Substance abuse, pornography?

  • To have extraordinary patience
  • Be gentle, for each person is fighting a great battle
  • Have hope, don’t settle with “Just OK”
  • Move towards connection with one another

  • Private Meditation and Journaling:
  • What emotions are stirring in you as you reflect on Chuck’s talk? Do you feel shame? Anger? Disappointment? Confusion? Hopefulness? Elaborate.
  • How did you experience “connection” in your family growing up? Was your family disconnected? Over-connected? Did you keep a distance from the feelings of others? Did you feel responsible for the feelings of others?
  • How do your family connection patterns play out in your marriage today? Is there a place where you get “stuck” that feels familiar?
  • What has happened in your marriage that hurts connection? Maybe you’ve experienced broken trust, a betrayal, or simply absence?
  • What do you need from your spouse? How would you describe your longing for connection

  • Couples Debrief:
  • Share your reflections from the time of private journaling
  • Talk about your relational patterns. How do you connect as a couple? Are there ways that you sabotage connection?
  • What did you long for around connection when you were dating that you have not experienced satisfaction in through marriage?
  • When have you felt like you’ve experienced the beautiful “dance” Chuck talked about? Is there a time, a place, or a moment that you can recall? What did it feel like? What happened to make it possible?
  • Finish this sentence: I have a dream that one day we’d be able to connect and flourish in a way that looks like…

  • Q/A
  • Pursue yourself, pursue God, pursue your partner
  • without pursuing yourself, it’s unlikely that you will pursue God

  • Share your pain and fear with your partner
  • Be vulnerable, to allow bonding

  • Biblical reference, Genesis 3 “Where are you?” Pursuing yourself, God, your partner

  • Marriage is hard work
  • More about the intentionality
  • Avoid being asleep in relationship, or going auto-pilot
  • It’s more exhausting to numb out of relationship
  • It should be more restful when you focus on relationship


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The Story of God: Forgiveness

Matthew 18:15-35, NRSV

Reflections

When Christ’s promise defines possibilities, memories of the traumatic past become for us just that — memories of one segment of our past. They need not colonize the present nor invade the future by defining what we can do and become. Past wrongdoing suffered can be localized on the timeline of our life-story and stopped from spilling forward into the present and future to flood the whole of our life.

— Miroslav Volf

  • Commitment to the truth
  • Surrender to mercy – but not a consent for others to sin against us

  • Was it hard for God to perform all these miracles?
  • Jesus carrying the cross is the hardest thing for Him and God
  • It is wrong to say it isn’t hard for God to forgive


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The Story of God: Transfiguration

Matthew 16:24-17:8, NRSV

Reflections

Behind all things
behind the grey surface
there is a glory escaping
born of heaven
and belongs to heaven
a light that welcomes
a more profound way of seeing things
that transfigures the world
that casts a spell of hope
that sees the glory in the cross
and life within death
it is a glory
that meets us here
on this mountain
where Jesus Christ
covered in the dust of the world
is caught up in the glory of heaven
welcome to the mountain

— by Rev. Roddy Hamilton

  • Peter avoids the cross
  • Thinking all the glory he sees is sign of God coming to take over the world

  • Listen to Jesus
  • Because of who He is (v17:5) “Listen to Him”
  • Because of what He teaches; Jesus’ message is more important than Moses’ Laws
  • Because of His mission


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The Story of God: Provision

Matthew 14:13-33, NRSV

Reflections

Christ has planted his Table like an oasis along our pathway, in order that when we become weary with travel, weak and hungry in our souls, discouraged and wounded because of our false steps, stumbling, and failing, we may then enter there and be refreshed with the living Bread of Life.

— Carl Olof Rosenius (1816-1868),
a Lutheran lay preacher on the Eucharist as the viaticum, the pilgrim’s food

  • Provision to our needs
  • In this passage, Jesus healed people, feed people
  • But also to challenges we face
  • People are hungry, both spiritually and physically

  • Provision for our soul
  • Purpose of our lives
  • We are the channel of Jesus’ power
  • Life in mission with Jesus

  • Provision to our response
  • Peter asked “command me”, then “save me”


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The Story of God: Simplicity

Matthew 6:25-34, NRSV

Reflections

Life is deep and simple, and what our society gives us is shallow and complicated.

— Fred Rogers,
in Christianity Today

  • Just a little anxiety or worry could cripple us
  • We have cluttered life, spirituality, attachments
  • Whatever we treasure on earth, don’t expect it to give you peace and rest

  • Opposite of Simplicity
  • Don’t worry, worry doesn’t produce anything (v27)

  • Priority of Simplicity
  • Trust in God and be part of His Story
  • Our priority is to seek God first (v33)
  • v33: But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness

  • Rhythm of Simplicity
  • To live daily life/rhythm one day at a time, especially during time of suffering


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The Story of God: Identification

Matthew 3:13-17, NRSV

Reflections

Home is the center of my being where I can hear the voice that’s says, ‘you are my beloved in who I am well pleased’. Jesus made it clear that the same voice that he heard in the Jordan River and on Mount Tabor can be heard by me. He makes it clear that there is a home with the father. But if I decide to keep control, if I go out into the world, I will keep running around asking everything, ‘do you really love me, do you really love me?’ I give all the power to the voices of the world. It is the world that defines me then. The world’s love is full of ifs, ‘yes I love you if you are good-looking, if you are intelligent, if you are well off, if you are educated, if you have connections, if you are productive’… endless ifs and it is not too hard to know when I have left home spiritually. Resentment, jealousy, desire for revenge, lust, greed, ambition, rivalry are all obvious signs that I have left home, that I am letting the world define me with its love full of ifs. But when I am home with the Father then I know I am the beloved. I can confront and console and admonish without any fear of rejection or need for affirmation, I can suffer persecution without the need for revenge or receive praise without using it as proof of my goodness.

— Henri Nouwen,
The Return of the Prodigal Son

  • We all want to be clean, but not just on the outside
  • Baptism is a way for us to come clean

  • Identity of Jesus
  • John the Baptist had gone out in the wilderness, to protest the existing system in synagogue/temple
  • Our identity are shaped by our actions
  • Jesus getting baptized by John, is more for the the identity than being cleaned
  • To affirm John’s mission, calling people to repent

  • Identity of His Mission (v15)
  • Jesus’ understanding of people, as part of mission, to feel our miserable experience, pain

  • Identity of Us
  • God the Father gives us the identity by loving us


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The Story of God: Fulfillment

Matthew 2:13-23, NRSV

Reflections

If there’s one thing that comes through in every bit of the Christmas story, it’s that if you are a smart, sophisticated person and you insist only smart, sophisticated people have the truth, you’re not going to be much of a Christian. Maybe you’ll never become a Christian at all, but you certainly won’t be much of a Christian till you get over it. Jesus Christ, the gospel, Christmas, turns the world’s idea of success upside down.
All during Jesus’ life, the apostles and the disciples keep saying to him, “Jesus, when are you going to take power and save the world?” Jesus keeps saying, “I’m going to lose power to save the world.” They go, “Lord, when are you going to take power and save the world?” They don’t get it. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Absolutely.

— Timothy Keller
from a sermon preached in 1996

  • Putting “Herod” back in Christmas
  • A sobering situation from an insecure king
  • 3 scenes in the scripture

  • Fleeing out
  • Homeless refuge from murderous king
  • Lowest status possible, marginalized, outcast
  • Inner feeling of homelessness; let Jesus be our home

  • Violence, injustice, pain
  • But God is still here

  • Herod the king is dead
  • Jesus the true king lives on


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The Story of God: Courage

Esther 4:1-17, NRSV
Matthew 5:13-16, NRSV

Reflections

Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty or mercy which yields to danger will be chaste or honest only on conditions. Pilate was merciful till it became risky.

— “Screwtape,” a senior devil, to his nephew, “Wormwood,”
in The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

  • “It reminds us that our engagement with the (U.S.) empire can quickly become a case of the frog in the pot of boiling water. A little support of war, a little indifference about the environment, a little disregard of poverty, a little failure to notice racism or sexism, a little collapse of indignation and hope, a little innocence about class privilege; a little of this and a little of that, and all too soon comes a lethal society.” from Out of Babylon, by Walter Brueggemann

  • Courage is needed to save others, the poor, the oppressed
  • Esther has the power to save, but there is risk
  • We too, like Esther, have great power, also with risk

  • Courage is needed to save ourselves
  • Esther’s identity was replanted

  • Has to be fueled by grace of God
  • It’s all gift from God (v14)
  • We need the “Great Esther” in Christ Jesus
  • Not trying to be Esther ourselves


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The Story of God: Hope

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:2-4; 3:17-19, NRSV
Matthew 26:36-38, NRSV

Reflections

As I have grown old, my feelings about God have tapered down to gratitude and hope. Gratitude is the pleasure of hope come true. Hope is the pain of gratitude postponed. Gratitude comes easy, on its own steam, whenever we know that someone has given us a real gift. Hope comes harder, sometimes with our backs against the wall, laden with doubts that what we hope for will ever come. Gratitude always feels good, as close to joy as any feeling can get. Hope can feel unbearable; when we passionately long for what we do not have and it is taking too long to come, we are restless as a farmer waiting for rain after an August without a drop… living by hope can get awfully wearying.

— Lewis Smedes,
My God and I

  • Season of Advent after time of Ordinary
  • Season of Joy and Hope
  • Cynics’ view: Hope as “Moral Cowardice”; Nietzsche writes, “Hope is the evil of evils because it prolongs man’s torment.”
  • Season of Waiting

  • Hope is the movement from Pain towards Joy
  • Hope is not denial of pain, but to turn to God
  • Hope is expression of pain, embracing the pain
  • To listen is to hope, only longing for what exists
  • Hope is delay of Joy

  • Jesus enters pain of the world, and moves toward Joy


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