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The Story of God: In Remembrance of Her

Matthew 26:1-13, NRSV


The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter. A good many different theories have been held as to how it works; what all Christians are agreed on is that it does work. I will tell you what I think it is like…. A man can eat his dinner without understanding exactly how food nourishes him. A man can accept what Christ has done without knowing how it works: indeed, he certainly would not know how it works until he has accepted it.

We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed. Any theories we build up as to how Christ’s death did all this are, in my view, quite secondary: mere plans or diagrams to be left alone if they do not help us, and, even if they do help us, not to be confused with the thing itself. All the same, some of these theories are worth looking at.

— C.S. Lewis
Mere Christianity

  • Extravagant love of Mary
  • Typical application of this passage: Mary showing her commitment
  • But this application might make us feel guilty
  • Same story in Mark: “She did what she could”

  • Extravagant love of Jesus
  • We always find Jesus to be with the weakest, most vulnerable
  • We do not sacrifice a person for a principle
  • The shepherd would go look for the one lost sheep, even with 99 on hand

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The Story of God: Urgency

Matthew 25:1-13, NRSV


I love songs about horses, railroads, land, Judgment Day, family, hard times, whiskey, courtship, marriage, adultery, separation, murder, war, prison, rambling, damnation, home, salvation, death, pride, humor, piety, rebellion, patriotism, larceny, determination, tragedy, rowdiness, heart-break, and love. And mother. And God.

— Johnny Cash

  • Parables are for us to think
  • We could be doing a lot of religious rituals, bypassing the heart
  • This parable is threatening, parable of judgement

  • v8-10: You can’t borrow intentionality
  • You can’t live off your spouse’s spirituality

  • v10: You can be too late for readiness, because God is just
  • God is both Love and Justice
  • There is urgency

  • We can get sleepy, because there are things in life we don’t want to deal with
  • It could be addiction
  • v13: Do not get sleepy with spirituality

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The Story of God: The Banquet

Matthew 22:1-14, NRSV


“Fears the Lord.” Reverence might be a better word. The Bible isn’t interested in whether we believe in God or not. It assumes that everyone more or less does. What it is interested in is the response we have toward him: will we let God be as he is, majestic and holy, vast and wondrous, or will we always be trying to whittle him down to the size of our small minds, insist on confining him within the boundaries we are comfortable with, refuse to think of him other than in images that are convenient to our life-style? But then we are not dealing with the God of creation and the Christ of the cross, but with a dime-store reproduction of something made in our image, usually for commercial reasons. To guard against all such blasphemous chumminess with the Almighty, the Bible talks of the fear of the Lord—not to scare us but to bring us to awesome attention before the overwhelming grandeur of God, to shut up our whining and chattering and stop our running and fidgeting so that we can really see him as he is and listen to him as he speaks his merciful, life-changing words of forgiveness.

— Eugene H. Peterson
A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

  • Possible responses to this tough passage, that the city was burned and destroyed:
  • Justify the violence, and for yourself
  • Run away, and have nothing to do with this act and God
  • Be struggle with it, and deal with it

  • What really gets God angry: Complete refusal of God’s Grace
  • God is the king who invites
  • But we have competing invitations: Beware, it is easy to get distracted in life
  • Some might think it is invitation to be servant for the king, which might mean less freedom, being abused

  • v11: King insists to cloth us
  • We would get thrown out when we refuse King’s Grace
  • People who refuse King’s wardrobe, the robe of Grace
  • Allow Him to cloth you

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Traveling Light

The Story of God: Grace

Matthew 20:1-16, NRSV


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


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


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


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


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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