Sunday, December 28, 2008

Who's the Grinch

Sermon Text: Matthew 2:1-12
1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2 "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him." 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: 6 'AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH, ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH; FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.'" 7 Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him." 9 After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.

Years ago, Dr. Seuss wrote a book called How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Many of you know the story, which happens in the town of Whoville. The Grinch hated seeing and hearing all the people celebrating Christmas--so he tries to figure out a way to stop Christmas from coming to Whoville.
He decides if he steals all the presents, decorations, and special Christmas food then he can stop Christmas from coming. The Grinch spends the whole night before Christmas sneaking around and stealing everything Christmassy from all the houses in Whoville. When Christmas morning comes the Grinch is shocked his plan didn't work--Christmas still comes to Whoville. The people are still happy and they gather hand-in-hand to sing Christmas songs. He learns Christmas is more than just presents and decorations.
In Matthew 2:1-12 we see a Grinch. This is the story of the Magi finding the Christ-child. [Read the Matthew text here.] Let’s zoom in on these characters a little more closely.

Do you know what would have happened if it had been three wise women instead of three wise men? They would have asked for directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, brought practical gifts, and there would be Peace On Earth.

We don’t know how many magi there actually were. We assume three because there were three gifts. We do know they were: men of science--astronomers, highly educated, wealthy, upper class citizens, and highly respected in their Gentile culture. The magi were not particularly prone to faith in Jewish religion being Gentiles. These men were virtually the exact opposite of the shepherds. In essence they were seekers after the truth, visionaries, and spiritual.

Herod the Great reigned from 37-4 B.C. He was a non-Jew, an Idumean, who was appointed by the Roman Senate. He was ruthless: murdering his wife, three sons, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, uncle, and many others. No wonder he had no problem killing so many babies in Bethlehem. His reign was noted for splendor. He constructed many theaters, amphitheaters, monuments, pagan altars, and fortresses. His greatest work was the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, begun in 20 B.C. and totally completed in 64 A.D. It was destroyed by the Romans 6 years later (in 70 A.D.). He was choleric in personality. He was power hungry, self-absorbed, and ruthless.

Chief Priests and Teachers of the Law
The chief priests and teachers of the Law were trained and educated in the details of scripture, but spiritually ignorant. They knew the right answers, but didn’t possess the right heart.

The baby
Jesus was the real King of the Jews.

The Conflict
In this story we see some conflicts taking place. There was conflict between the Chief Priests – the Jews, and Herod – the Gentile over-ruler. Israel was known as a troublesome province of the empire, never accepting Rome’s rule.
Between Herod and the Magi: Herod tried to mask the conflict, but in reality he was at odds with them. Herod’s true colors came out when the magi didn’t go back and tell him where the Messiah was.

Between Herod and Jesus: Jesus was a threat to Herod. Jesus was the Messiah, the true King of the Jews. Herod was an imposter. He was not entitled to the throne by heritage or divine choice. There is an obvious conflict between these two. The king of the Jews was to be God’s representative, like God, and in the line of David (both spiritually and physically). Herod is the antithesis of God--devaluing life, pagan, murderous, self-centered, and so on. Herod is a Grinch-like character, who seems to be in conflict with everyone around him. There is another Grinch-like character in this story: sin. Keep this in the back of your mind. So, which one is the real Grinch?

The Motives
Let’s go back to the story and join the journey of these characters. And, to help us identify the real Grinch we have to look at their motivations. All of these characters were on a journey. They were all seeking for meaning in life, for something outside of themselves to put life in context. They were searching for something more than they had. This desire was motivating them to do what they did. All of the characters were searching for meaning.
This is also a picture of people today. Within people there is a desire for meaning in life. There is a natural (God-given) quest to seek for something of substance outside of ourselves. There is a battle between this God-given drive and the self-centered nature in all of us.
Notice how the characters dealt with this search for meaning and substance in life.
Herod believed the self was to be the focal point of life. Put yourself first--no one else will put you first. Look out for “numero uno.” His attitude was “every man for himself.” All of his drive and seeking was motivated by self-preservation. Don’t you see the same drive in people today? Selfishness motivates people to do all kinds of things. The Grinch’s selfish motivation made him want to steal Christmas.
Chief priests and teachers of the Law believed the Law and Knowledge (Torah) was paramount. Knowledge of the Law was what you were to seek for. Everything centered on knowledge and learning. They debated the fine points of the Law. They formed groups around theological interpretations. They made and broke relationships based on their views of the Law. They didn’t stress the importance of the Law-giver, but emphasized the Law. Today people still make knowledge paramount. They have the errant belief they can figure it out and come up with all the answers. Just listen to all the talk radio and television shows. Read the papers. The hosts and the callers have the answers to all the world’s problems.
The Grinch was also trying to figure it all out. He thought he had, but was confused again. This is normally the way it works.
The magi were searching for meaning in life outside of themselves. They were seeking the One who made life meaningful. Money was not an issue to them. Power was not an issue to them. Position and titles were not issues to them. They were seeking for something that would help them make sense out of what was going on in life. Perhaps you’re one of the ones who fall into this drive. Maybe you’ve tried the self-centered approach and it has left you empty and lonely. Maybe you’ve tried to figure it all out and it has left you cold and full of questions. Now, perhaps, you are seeking for something that would help you make sense out of life.

Notice the results of the actions of these three characters. Herod, the self-absorbed and power-hungry, was led to frustration, failure, and loneliness. The chief priests and teachers of the Law, the “I’ve-got-all-the-answers” people, found cold hard facts but they missed the meaning, they never really got it. The magi--sincere seekers of truth, meaning, and substance in life--discovered the incarnate God.

Notice the actions of the magi. They saw what was going on around them, where they were, the star. Something in life got their attention: the star. Something caused them to question meaning: the star.
What is your star? What is it that has you questioning meaning? What has seized your attention and made you start wondering what’s going on? Has God used a situation in life, a tragedy, a sickness, a financial crisis, a friend, or a book?
The magi started on a journey for truth, meaning, and substance in life. God led them on their journey. God has led you to this place, this morning, on purpose. Not one of us is here by accident.
The magi searched in the wrong place--Jerusalem. It was logical to go to Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the capitol city, so naturally you’d go there to look for a king. However, it was not logical if you knew the whole story. The Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. The logical thing would have been to go to Bethlehem. We often think we know more than we know. As a result we search where we think we ought to look, but it’s the wrong place.
If we knew the whole story, we’d know to go to Jesus to start with. God put them back on course. God looks at the sincerity of our hearts and guides us in our search for truth, meaning, and substance in life.

The Issue calls for a Response
Where are you going to choose to search for meaning and purpose in life? Self-absorption? Answers: trying to figure it all out in your own mind? Or faith in Christ?
Let’s get back to the Grinch?
Who is the real Grinch? Not Herod; he couldn’t steal Christmas. Not the chief priests and teachers of the Law; they couldn’t steal Christmas. Not sin; it couldn’t steal it (in fact, Christmas happened because of sin).
The real Grinch is our own selves. It is you, it is me. We stole Christmas from ourselves. We gave up: eternal life, our relationship with God, our character and integrity, peace.
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death (James 1:13-15). We have forfeited Christmas – the incarnation of Emmanuel, God with us because we have blown it.
But, unlike Dr. Seuss’ Grinch--we can’t get it back to ourselves. We need a Savior. We need Jesus!

The magi point us to the right choice: break with the self-absorbed quest and go beyond mere knowledge. They teach us to search for the One who can give life meaning and substance.
You can live the self-absorbed life motivated by selfish ambition and self-preservation.
You can keep trying to figure it all out, gathering information, searching for answers as if you have the mental capability to know it all.
Or, you can worship Jesus. Open your treasures and give yourself to Him. What are you going to do, Mr. Grinch?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Ordinary Shepherds, Extraordinary God

Luke 2:8-20

Do we have a class system in Canada? Are there jobs in our city, in our life that we consider below ourselves? People are working all around us. When we go to a mall there are tons of retail personnel, there are cleaners of the floors, the garbage cans, the windows, the bathrooms and the food court; there are security guards. When you buy a product it is surrounded by people – people who mined the materials in parts of Africa or Asia, or grew animals from which the material was sourced, people who refined those products, people who then assembled and packaged them, others who shipped it and drove the truck or worked on the ship; even those who received it in a warehouse, then shipped it to another, and then put it on a shelf for you or I to buy. Which job is worth more? They all had a place, a part in the process, but we often look down on some of those people as the consumer. Because we are paying money, we are worth perhaps a little bit more. That gives us the right, we think, to think we are superior in attitude, if not in voice or action. But we are no more special in God’s eyes.

The shepherds in the New Testament times lived lonely lives. Much of the year they had their sheep out in the countryside, and they were not regarded very highly. There was a predisposition to their status in society, and it was pretty low. So where does God first take the message of the incarnation, of Emmanuel, God with us? It goes to the shepherds. Who would God send it to first if it was today? God sends the message to all – a message of Good News. Did the angels ask or command the shepherds to do anything except to not be frightened? No. But these uneducated men shared their experience of God, and many listened. Take this to heart, we are all pilgrims in this journey. We need to be bringing whoever is near us along, encouraging and helping them in their own walk with Jesus.

So, we have looked at Elizabeth and Zacharias, Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds. Other characters in this story are the magi. What is one common denominator for all these people? They all experienced a visit by an angel. Two of them had dreams where the angel(s) spoke to them, the rest were visited in person. I want us to leave today with a few thoughts –

First, Seek God – wise men still seek Him. I saw a video online this past week called the Story of Stuff. It is a very sobering look at how our world operates. It is a call to action to change what we are doing with our world. As important as that is, sometimes there is a place for the call to action to change what we are doing with Jesus. We need Christ in us. Our consumer driven society tries to tell us differently. The problems in our life try to give truth to the lie that there is no God, or that God is not concerned with where I am at. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The tragic fires causing death, the accidents on the roadways, the sickness, both physical and mental and social that affect us, our families, and our world are the result of sin and selfishness going back to the Garden of Eden of which we were all a part. God hurts to see His creation subjected to this stuff, but that was the price of free will, the ability for you and I to choose who will sit on the throne of our lives. I am here to tell you Jesus needs to sit there, if you want peace and love and grace in your life. Whether you have been a Christian for a week or for 4 decades, know the truth that wise men still seek Him.

Second, God is doing things that may cause us fear – but there is nothing to be afraid of. Most of these nativity people were afraid, and they were told to not be afraid. Here we are some 2012 years and 3 months later and God has said to us, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear (or timidity), but of power and love and discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7) God is at work redeeming people to Himself. He is using us and calling us to be involved, and he says, “Do not be afraid.” This truth is connected to God’s promise of presence and the faith we have in God to fulfill that promise. In the Great Commission God says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Hear that promise? I am with you always. What is there to fear if God, the lover of your soul, is with you?

Third, Know the Good News – God wants you to share it. This is the basic call of the one who follows Jesus, the one who calls themselves a Christian. You have to know it personally. For the shepherds it was an announcement, but not fully understood until that little baby they saw in the manger was resurrected from the grave for the forgiveness of our sins. Do you remember Peter? He was the man that rejected Jesus 3 times, who was always putting his foot in his mouth, trying his best to be all that Jesus wanted. It wasn’t until he was walking in the power of the Holy Spirit that his life became energized, alive. It wasn’t until then that he fully understood the Good News and began to share it in earnest, because he experienced it. This uneducated fisherman preached a sermon that would put any preacher to shame in Acts 2, and listen to what happened: “37 Now when they (the people assembled) heard this (Peter’s sermon), they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?" 38 Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 "For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself." The angels came and told the Good News, make sure you know it in your heart. Is there joy there? Happiness? I pray so, but if there is pain and sadness because you are far from God, and you need a touch from God, take the time right now to talk to Him, to ask forgiveness and ask for Him to come into your life as Lord. Don’t put it off.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Joseph - The Silent Superhero

Superman was created in 1932 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. It was sold to Detective Comics in 1938, appearing in Action Comics #1 on June 1 of that year. Superman has gone on in the comics and movies and action figures and on and on.
Batman first appeared in 1939, created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. Spiderman in 1962 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditka. We are a culture that likes heroes. I remember as a kid growing up on western comics where the heroes could draw fast and had integrity. Our heroes today tend to have fatal flaws and struggle, sometimes to make a story interesting, and sometimes to make them more human.
Then there are the silent heroes – the heroes in our everyday lives that model dedication or integrity or the triumph of the human spirit in the face of tragedy and loss. On David Felter’s blog he had a link to a YouTube video ( of DJ Gregory who has cerebral palsy. He walked very haltingly but learned to play tennis. He then set a goal of walking every hole of every round of every course of the 2008 PGA tour. He completed it and to many people he was a hero and a role model.
Today we are going to look at another everyday hero, a silent guy. Many, if not most, would not call him that, but he set an example none-the-less. His name is Joseph.

Verse 19 – Pursue the right thing. We can read the newspapers and magazines and find story after story of people who did neat things, but in a different time and place they blow it. There’s the family that gets a nice big new house on TV’s extreme home makeover, and months later sell it for the money. The heroes in our stories have flaws that make them more readable and human. I love to look for the heroes with integrity. On a show that lasted 4 years there was a Mountie named Benton Frazier, who was beyond reproach. He was somewhat na├»ve but he knew who he was and lived by his ethics. In Christian Service Brigade I grew up with the 7 points of valor:

HONOUR The man of honour is the man whose word is true. Psalm 15:1, 2 The challenge is to not just know the right stuff, but to apply it. Integrity of words and life are the foundation of our testimony, our witness. If people around us are to see Jesus in us, our word must be true.
COURAGE No fear can overcome the courageous soldier's promise. Joshua 1:9 Fear is all about what has not happened yet. We have not been given the spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and a sound mind.
CHIVALRY He is always ready to be strong on behalf of anyone weaker than himself. Romans 15:1 Where are the men who take initiative today. We need to be proactive, not just reactive, for the gates of hell will not prevail. It takes a strong man to reach out and pull another up.
PURITY To be clean in heart, mind, speech, and body is to be strong. Psalm 119:9 Our materialistic society is a breeding ground for idols and temptations. All of who we are needs to ring true to the Good News.
LOYALTY A man of faithfulness, devotion, and allegiance. I Corinthians 15:58 Life is not a series of quick fixes. It is largely the task of 3 steps forward, two steps back. It is the rushing game on the gridiron. We need to plug in for the long term, but be open to the vision, not just the method.
OBEDIENCE A man who knows how to obey will be better able to lead others. John 14:21 We need to hear God's voice. We need to know it intimately. We need to let it sink deep into our soul so that His desires become ours. We need to put our faith into action.
DEDICATION A man of whole-hearted dedication to the Lord Jesus Christ. Luke 9:23-24 Denial of selfish ambition and the complete surrender of all that we have - body, mind, strength, possessions - to the control of Jesus is what He asks. He set the example. Not us, but Him. Not ours, but His.

Joseph was a man who pursued the right things. He recognized there was a problem with his pregnant betrothed, and did not want to shame her. He also wanted to honour his God in purity, and this talk of angels was pretty farfetched. Indeed, if this was God’s doing, wouldn’t he clue Joseph in too! He sought to keep Mary’s shame to a minimum; that is, until he heard from God.

Verse 20 – Always be listening for God’s voice. Bonnie’s novel coming out next June is about a woman’s journey to God; about how she starts hearing her dead husband’s voice, but eventually hears her dead God’s voice – who isn’t dead anymore. Jesus who died still speaks to us. The Holy Spirit guides and directs us. God is in His holy heaven, let all the earth be silent says Habakkuk. Here he speaks to Joseph in a dream. He spoke to Elijah in a gentle breeze. Je spoke to Zacharius and Mary through the angel Gabriel. Paul met God on the road to Damascus. He speaks to us through the Scriptures, through nature, and in our heart. There’s a song I used to sing in youth group that says, “Don’t try to tell me that God is dead, He woke me up this morning. Don’t try to tell me that God is dead I talked with Him today. He opened up my blinded eyes and set me on my way. Don’t try to tell me that God is dead I walked with Him today!” Have you heard from God lately? I was reading a short autobiography of the man who led us in music at the clergy conference. He went through a period of depression in his life, and the thing that turned it around for him was the discipline of reading his Bible every day. Listen for God today. And if you do hear from Him…

Verse 24 – 25 – Do the God thing. Most of the time the right thing is the God thing, but sometimes He leads us in a different way, a different direction. There was the prophet who was told to marry a prostitute as a picture of Israel. Remember the Judges, and Peter and Paul? When God calls us out of the ordinary, He always equips us to do the job. Missionaries like the Goforths and Adoniram Judson, and Hudson Taylor, and the ones in our denomination today – all called to specific lifelong tasks. For us it may be as simple as to love our enemies, to bless those that persecute us. In the whole Biblical record we never hear Joseph speak; but we do see him obedient to what God has given him: to be a father to the Son of God.

Paul writes that Jesus did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped but emptied himself and taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness, He humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross. What an amazing Savior. He didn’t consider His rights first, didn’t cling to what He could gain, what He should have, who He should be, how others should think of Him.

It sounds an awful lot like someone else I know; someone we have been talking about today! Someone else who didn’t say, “I got rights, it’s my decision;” But instead lived a life that said, “I will follow your will and your way, O God.” No, we don’t read words of Joseph. There are no beautiful songs or thought provoking stories that begin, “And Joseph said.” But there is one powerful thing--a Son; a Son, who although He was fully God, was also fully man; a Son, who needed a father to guide Him, to point Him in the right direction. Jesus needed Joseph.

And we need more people like Joseph in this world. Not just the honorable Joseph who was going to do the right thing by kindly and quietly divorcing Mary. No, we need the Joseph who had the dream and chose to obey. Those who don’t worry about what other people think, those who are less concerned about themselves and more concerned about others, dads who take the time to listen, to love, to train, moms who are patient and understanding and willing, people who are willing to go where God calls. There may be no quotes in a book somewhere that you or I have made. No newspapers may write about us, no interviews on TV, no awards or accolades may be done in our name--but I would like to think that, like Joseph, it doesn’t matter. I am walking with Jesus. Just like we can catch glimmers of who Joseph was in the man that Jesus grew up to be, people should be able to catch glimmers of who Jesus is in the parents, the spouses, the children, the students, and the friends that we are.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Mary: Ordinary Woman, Extraordinary God

Luke 1:46-55 “46 And Mary said: "My soul exalts the Lord, 47 and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. 48 "For He has had regard for the humble state of His bond-slave; for behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. 49 For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name. 50 AND HIS MERCY IS UPON GENERATION AFTER GENERATION TOWARD THOSE WHO FEAR HIM. 51 He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble. 53 HE HAS FILLED THE HUNGRY WITH GOOD THINGS; and sent away the rich empty-handed. 54 He has given help to Israel His servant, in remembrance of His mercy, 55 As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his descendants forever."

We tend to hold Mary out here at arm’s length. When you consider that she is a main character in the story of the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, it seems she should be closer. To put it in the language of our society--she is a star. For a culture that loves stars, Mary should be easy to get too know. Today, as part of our celebrity worshipping culture she would have a book deal on mothering, appearances on Oprah, and a blog read by millions.
What you will find, however, if you try to get to know Mary better is that there really isn’t a lot to know. If she is a star in this story she doesn’t have many lines, not very much “screen time,” so to speak. We find that there are many other people we can study in the Bible, people with more verses dedicated to them, characters that seem to matter a whole lot more in the greater scheme of things. If Mary really is a “star” she would have had more things to say and do in the Scriptures. If Mary is so important, there would be a lot more action surrounding her.
Certainly there was much action going on as the angel visited her and then she went to tell her mother what had happened. I am sure there was a flurry in that house--some hollering, some crying, great disappointment. When your daughter comes to tell you that she is pregnant and not yet married that causes some action to take place. It could easily be the plot of a film.
But we don’t hear any of that part of the story in the Bible. The angel comes to Mary. The news is given. She accepts it. It is a really short scene. We don’t get to know her very well at all. We don’t get any good shots of what she looks like or what she is wearing. We know that Joseph hears and we will find out more about his role next week. We don’t hear, however, how mom and dad took it; we don’t know what their responses were. We aren’t privy to the conversations at the well, the talk at the loom, or the gossip while grinding the wheat.
She drew water from the well--women did that in Jesus’ day. She wasn’t allowed to go to the synagogue to learn, but her father would have taught her--that was the custom. She had no real choice in her marriage partner, her father chose Joseph for her--that was life. She probably sewed, baked bread, kept house, worked with animals, helped raise her brothers and sisters.
All of those things were typical life tasks, the work of woman in 4 BC. And in the midst of this very ordinary life, in an ordinary town, something extraordinary happens. An angel comes and makes a pronouncement. She has a question about how it will happen, but there is no doubt. Instead, she makes a simple statement.
“May it be to me as you have said.” If you weren’t listening you might miss it. In the grand and epic drama that is unfolding in the Gospel of Luke this little line could be passed over in an instant and yet, it is the most important part of the story so far. It reveals everything we need to know about Mary: “May it be to me as you have said.” An extraordinary God was going to use an ordinary woman. What would that be like? Would you like to be used by the extraordinary God?

There are at least 3 things we need to be used of God.

The first is the knowledge that God’s blessing isn’t based on what we deserve. This is good news. It means it doesn’t matter who your mom and dad were or weren’t. It doesn’t matter whether you have a doctorate or failed grade 8. It doesn’t matter whether you have money in the bank and a regular pension set up, or you live day to day from pay check to pay check. It doesn’t matter whether you can run a 5 minute mile, or struggle up a 3 steps. In fact, God’s love has nothing to do with you, but everything to do with God. Jesus even said that it is hard for someone rich to be used of God because all their stuff tends to get in the way. I know I know, some of us are thinking, “Well, I’d like to give it a try – the part about being rich, I mean.” My point is, start where you are. Don’t fret about who you’re not, what you haven’t got, what’s missing. Just give what you got to God and watch Him take your ordinary stuff, your ordinary life and do a miracle. And some of you ladies are saying, “After last week’s story about Elizabeth and this week’s story about Mary - I don’t want that kind of miracle!” I think God is interested in other things …

How big is your God? We may have an opinion that may or may not be true. That is why we go by what the Bible says and not just by what we feel like today. When we read the passage called the Magnificat in Luke, we see some of Mary’s understanding of her God; and when faced with an impossible situation of being pregnant while yet a virgin, she accepted Gabriel’s answer at face value – “God is big enough!” Last week we saw Zacharias had to face the same question. He didn’t do so well, and he was struck silent until his impossible baby was born. God created the universe. Have you thought about what that means. One writer talked about the wastefulness of creation – about how much extra stuff God created that is just “extra”!
One show I like to watch on TV is Hubble’s Camera. It shows picture upon picture of stars and galaxies, of nebulae and gasses and light and darkness across unimaginable distances – and as far as we know it is only on this tiny speck of a planet that intelligent life is found. He created so much, and until Hubble we didn’t even know existed. This is my favourite picture. It is called HDF or the Hubble Deep Field. It sees galaxies and light that is about four-billion times fainter than can be seen by the human eye. It is looking at the slice of sky about the width of a dime at 75 feet. As we look at this picture, scientists consider that we are looking at the horizon of the galaxy – its outer edge. They also say that we could look in any direction and this is what we would see, for the universe is spaced somewhat evenly. Though this doesn’t jive with how old they say the universe is, the fact is it is a big place. And the God who put that all together knows how many hairs are on your head, keeps your tears in a bottle, and is looking out for you. The Psalmist asks, “What have I to fear?” With a God unimaginably bigger than this unimaginably big universe looking out for me, what can anyone do to me. Are you encouraged? I hope so. Mary understood this in a much smaller way, and she echoed the words of her Son who would later say, “Not my will but Your will be done.” We can hear the question, then, “Is there anything that limits His power?” and know in our hearts the answer is “Well, actually there is one thing.”

Our choices. There is this sin problem. We are born in sin, and we need to deal with it. It is not a small problem, and actually God has already dealt with it. It doesn’t automatically kick in, though. Remember the injections kids get before they go to school? By law children need vaccinations to protect from outbreaks of infectious diseases. The kid doesn’t have to do anything – when it is time, between the parents and the school and the public health board the child will get their inoculation. It’s not the same with this sin thing. God is offering forgiveness and abundant life and His presence as a gift. We have a choice – take it or go it on our own strength. Now, we make this decision initially and our life changes. The Holy Spirit is put as a seal on our heart, a guarantor. We are redeemed, sanctified, justified, propitiated, forgiven, set apart, adopted, snuggled by God says Bonnie, and the list goes on. But each and every day we need to continue to live in that decision, to renew that commitment that saw us not just accept Jesus as Saviour, but also as Lord! We are not saved anew every day, but we consecrate ourselves each day, each moment of each day to God. It is like Christmas is celebrated every day. Every day we experience the incarnation, the indwelling of God in our hearts anew. We can ask and even argue, “How can this be, this indwelling;” but don’t get distracted by semantics from what God wants to do in your life. Say with Mary, “"Behold, the bondservant of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word."

The light that shone on Mary that day is the light that longs to shine on each of us from our heavenly Father everyday. It isn’t just a one-time occurrence kind of thing--it is a life-light. The only way to live in the life-light of God is to say, “May it be to me as you have said.” She was willingly obedient to do whatever God asked of her.
Was it because Mary was a totally different, amazing person that deserved this kind of blessing? If we look at the scope of Scripture we will see that God works with the regular, ordinary folk all the time. He chooses the smallest, the underdog, the failure, the outcast, the ordinary to do His extraordinary work. The only thing that matters is that my heart and your hearts are open and ready to say with Mary: “May it be to me as you have said.” Whatever comes my way, “May it be to me as you have said.” When I am in the valley, “May it be to me as you have said.” When I am on the mountaintop, “May it be to me as you have said.” Those ordinary words become extraordinary when we speak them to our God.

You might not feel like you have anything special to offer. Just remember that God chose ordinary Mary. He can and will choose ordinary you and me also. Today a light is dawning wherever a heart is completely submitting to God’s great plan.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Out of barren places

Luke 1:5-22 "5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years. 8 Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering. 11 And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. 12 Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. 13 But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. 14 "You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 "For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother's womb. 16 "And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. 17 "It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." 18 Zacharias said to the angel, "How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years." 19 The angel answered and said to him, "I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 "And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time." 21 The people were waiting for Zacharias, and were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them; and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple; and he kept making signs to them, and remained mute.

When God is involved, very simple, ordinary things take on new meaning. A donkey becomes a messenger of God. A staff becomes a snake and a symbol of God's power able to divide seas. At Christmas the trappings of the holiday can become more as well. The candles become symbols of the Holy Spirit's presence. Ceramic figurines remind us of the power of the incarnation. The evergreen tree reminds us that the wood of the cradle rubs up against the timbers of the cross. The sparkly lights can remind us of the angelic host telling the shepherds of the Good News of Jesus' birth.
God partnered with a very ordinary Mary and Joseph to accomplish extraordinary things. Indeed, Christmas is about ordinary people in regular life circumstances, in simple surroundings that are transformed by God's loving work in the world. Today we are going to look at unlikely characters having an unlikely experience.

We meet Zechariah and Elizabeth, a married couple with good lineage and also a good track record of faith and obedience to God. Elizabeth, however, is barren. In ancient times, people believed that the inability to conceive was directly related to sin; the punishment was a barrenness. Jesus later challenges this notion of sin and barrenness in His ministry. Today we do not believe sin to be the cause of infertility, but it is important to remember the context of Luke’s narrative—ancient people believed this connection existed. Luke wants people to know that Elizabeth and Zechariah were good people, obedient to God, who did not warrant this kind of punishment (v. 5 "In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord."). They were older in age, had lived their lives in service, and had probably prayed for several decades for a baby. What have you prayed for decades about? What dream of yours have you sent heavenward over the years? Have you heard an answer yet?

Here is the twist in their story: a barren woman beyond the age of childbearing is pregnant by the power of God. This isn’t the first time in Scripture that a barren woman had conceived. Look up the stories of Hannah and Sarah. God has done this for many women who participate in His plan for the world: a baby, who will do great things and fulfill God’s promises, needs to be born. Barren wombs that are opened are always opened for extraordinary purposes! Why does God choose barrenness as the birthplace for key people? One reason is it shows the proof of His power and His person. Remember also the temptations of Jesus and John the Baptist’s ministry – in the desert. Paul spent 3 years in the desert after his conversion.
It also gives a sense of His timing - He doesn't always choose a ready made man or woman that can jump into the ministry tomorrow. He starts with a baby and all of the world has to wait another 30 years while that baby grows. Remember in Egypt, and the children of Israel are crying out to God in their slavery? He calls Moses. The people had already been crying to God for hundreds of years, and they have to wait another 80 years until their deliverer comes. In Israel before the birth of Jesus they had been crying for another Deliverer who would get the Roman yoke off their shoulders. God's timing is not ours, and so after years of praying for a baby, and probably given up for Elizabeth was past the age of having children.

And one night, an angel comes to Zechariah (verses 11-20). Zechariah and the angel’s conversation is interesting. Gabriel goes into detail about who this child will be, how he is to be raised, what he will do, and the joy he will bring his parents—all wonderful, helpful, crucial things. And yet, Zechariah doesn’t buy it. His response is one of doubt and sheer disbelief that this could happen. He fails to be amazed at Gabriel’s message.
What is it that makes Zechariah question this heavenly messenger? Perhaps it is because the message seems impossible due to past disappointments and years of unanswered prayer. Questions are natural, doubts will come, but God still invites us to be a part of His grand plan. And there is nothing we can do, to thwart God's plan. We see there are consequences to Zechariah’s questioning. Gabriel told Zechariah that he would be unable to speak until the baby’s birth. Was this a punishment or a blessing? Zechariah would have a lot of time to listen to God while he sat silently for the coming months. It wouldn’t be Zechariah’s voice that would be heard, it would be the work of God seen by all. God works in extraordinary ways—even the blessing of silence!

We live in a world of broken promises. How many times do we get let down in a month, a year, a lifetime? Too many! How many disappointments do we face, heartaches do we feel, losses do we suffer? Too many! We ask God why things are happening to us. We beg God to give us what we want. We cry out and feel as if our voice is not heard. All this can lead people to a very jaded view of life and God. Even when we are given the greatest news in the world, like Zechariah, we don’t buy it or believe it. How could we? We have been disappointed one too many times. We have prayed one too many prayers. Years have gone by, no answer has come, and the pain grows greater. We may even begin to believe God doesn’t hear us. Some people say, “There is good news? So what, it is probably too good to be true.” Others continue to pray, talk with others, and make a lot of noise hoping someone, anyone, will hear. But we often wonder if anyone is really listening. When God does answer, like He did for Zechariah, we might not hear it, understand it, or believe it because of the noise in our hearts. The voice of disappointment can be louder than the voice of God’s promise.

I want to leave 3 thoughts with you. The first is to be faithful in prayer. God hears. Sometimes this is the hard work of our faith - to put our heads down and keep on praying, even when it looks like everything is against us. God is faithful. In His time He will provide what you need. Just understand that life is bigger than you. Life is more than your little universe, and God is weaving a tapestry of history that reveals His grace and love. Don't give up. Be patient. Whether it be needs in your life, in this church, in your friends, or as big as your country - God hears.

The second thing is to cling to Jesus in times of barrenness. Keep the hope of trust in Jesus. Understand that those dry, lonely places are where God loves to work. There is a relationship with God you can develop that those with plenty don't understand. God will meet you there as He has met countless others. Cling to Jesus, He will not dissappoint.

Finally, be ready for God to answer. You don't know what wonderful surprise God is working on. The Israelites prayed for a Messiah and He came, and in the midst of their barrenness and crying they weren't ready to accept Him and what He stood for. He came and brought a New Covevnant, one filled with love and grace, but they said no, for they loved their law. Are you prepared to accept what God brings?

Advent is the time we celebrate the fulfillment of the promised Messiah. For centuries the people longed for a Messiah. They prayed time and again; they waited year after year for the Messiah. Despite the long wait, God didn’t disappoint. The Messiah did come; Jesus Christ was born. God is always faithful, God is always at work, and God always keeps His promises. Even if we don’t believe Him, God is still faithful. God is patient with us just like He was with Zechariah. Despite Zechariah’s disbelief, John was born; God answered the prayer. God has given each of us the gift of Jesus Christ: the promise of new life, hope, and forgiveness. We may not have every prayer answered in the way we hope or expect, but the best answer has been given: Jesus. If we will just listen, we will be able to see how God is at work in our lives, our world, and our churches.
Let’s quiet our hearts before God. Zechariah was an ordinary person whom God used for extraordinary things, that can be true of you also. Hear what God wants to say to you today: “I know the plans I have for you says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Running the Race to Win: The Pursuit of Biblical Holiness

Psalm 139:1-14, 23-24 “1 O LORD, You have searched me and known me. 2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you understand my thought from afar. 3 You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways. 4 Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O LORD, You know it all. 5 You have enclosed me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high, I cannot attain to it. 7 Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. 9 If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, 10 even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me. 11 If I say, "Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night," 12 even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You. 13 You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother's womb. 14 I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well. 23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; 24 and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.”

What is holiness? What does it look like in our life? Let me share 3 ways holiness affects our lives:

1) Awareness of our shortcomings and sins.

It is not just Christians who often lack a realistic awareness of their short comings, but we seem to do it so easily! We may base the estimation of our character and conduct upon comparisons with those with whom we associate (2 Corinthians 10:12). We almost develop a “Holier Than Thou” club with our friends – these friends who instead of holding a mirror to us to help us see ourselves for who we really are, hold a hand drawn caricature instead, of what they think we want to be.

It is only when God’s people are confronted with the glory and holiness of God will they realize the full moral dilemma of their lives (Isaiah 6:5; James 1:25; Hebrews 4:12-13).

Being human talks about how we struggle with eternity in our souls. Paul talks about being citizens of 2 worlds of how even though we have these flesh and blood bodies, we also have a heavenly citizenship. So there are tensions in us. The infinite struggles with the fintite.

There is an inner tension between knowledge and performance (motivation) (Romans 7:18-19 “18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.”) There is a struggle not just of right and wrong, but the underlying motive that defines right and wrong. I am not talking about situational ethics, but about the purpose of our actions.

Saul the Pharisee kept the Law to gain acceptance with God. He had the motivation and energy to fulfill the Law as God demanded (Philippians 3:4-6)

Paul the Apostle understood the true purpose of the Law (to reveal his inability to keep it) and his own moral weakness/failures (Romans 7:24)

There is also an inner tension between the flesh and the Spirit (emotion) (Galatians 5:13-26 “13 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." 15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. 16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.) Cf. deeds of the flesh verse 19-21 and Fruit of the Spirit verses 22-23 Have you ever acted out of emotion? Someone runs into you on the ski hill and you start yelling and pushing. Someone cuts you off on the highway and you not only beep your horn, but you tailgate him and allow your anger to finish your conversation. Someone working in your office gets a big bonus and that spirit of jealousy sets you on a path to talk down about them or ignore them. Someone comes in from the outside and starts crowding your territory so you start complaining and talking about them behind their back. You begin to try to get people on your side. Listen to the next few verses in Galatians 5 – “19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

The more the Christian learns to practise the denial of the flesh and to experience the control of the Holy Spirit, the more he will enter into the resolution of this tension; but the more he understands the demands of the perfect Law, the more he will experience this tension.

This is the tension between commitment and realization. We have the ideal set up for us in the Scriptures, especially in the life of Jesus. The reality of us living it out, though, can be very frustrating. This leads to the second affect holiness has on our lives.

2) Release from our failures.

I Thessalonians 4:3 says that our sanctification is the “will of God”. In other words, it is not just an awareness of our shortcomings and sin, but the sense we are no longer doomed to be slaves to sin. Romans 6:6 says “knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.” That means that our goal, which is to become Christ-like, is attainable! That saying that the “devil made me do it” is just a cop out, because God has provided everything you need to live a holy life. God has set you free from sin. He has set you free from bondage. Can you imagine being sick for a long time and then healed. I read that report from Danny Gales a couple weeks ago where the man’s legs which hung loose and useless from his body gained strength and were healed. He could jump and leap, and 50 Muslims ran to the alter seeking God. He was released from that thing that held him in its grip, and holiness does that same thing in our hearts and souls. Are you needing release from all that life has thrown against you? Do you need freedom from sin and that thing inside you that you constantly fight against? Turn to Jesus, the One who said “if the Son shall set you free, you shall be free indeed!”

3) Power for our life and focus

Holiness reveals to you the possibility of the fullness of the Holy Spirit – Ephesians 5:18 says to “be filled with the Spirit”. The verb tense gives the meaning of being constantly filled with the Holy Spirit”. This is understood as allow the Spirit to have control of your life. It is not some “ookie spookie” thing where you zone out or channel a spirit through you. It is about you saying, “God, I can’t do it without You. I need to hear you speak to me through the Bible, to hear that still quiet voice that encourages and leads and guides and directs.” You want to hear that voice? Do 2 things.

First, have a willingness to confess any sin of omission or commission. We grieve the Holy Spirit when we keep sin in our life. 1 John 1:9 says that if “we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Remember that verse from Psalm 139? Ask God to search and try your heart to reveal unconfessed sin in your life. End each day by praying that prayer. You will hear that small, gentle voice.

Secondly, you need a desire to realize the fullness of the Spirit. God pursues us. We need to also be pursuing Him. Do you think that all we have to do is to sit still and God will flood His blessings and accomplish His will in your life? No. You have to surrender your life, all your stuff to Him. You need to understand that you are a steward in this life, that all the things you have from your bank account to your spouse or job or even health, is God’s, and that He has given it to you as a trust. He has given you talents and strengths, be it two talents or five. What are you doing with them? DO you acknowledge they are His or do you hang on to them, hording them for yourself? God came to give you an abundant life, but it was a spiritual abundance. This stuff is just stuff, and it will all be gone one day; but your soul will last forever. The soul of your neighbour, of your brother or sister – how are you using the things God has given you to glorify Himself, to reveal Himself?

Jesus came to glorify the Father, to reveal the character of the Father to the world. We are called to become like Jesus, and in so doing reveal the Father to the world ourselves.

Taking it Home

So, what does sanctification look like day to day?

Know yourself as God knows you: read the Word everyday.

Have the same attitude as Jesus: Put others first, and pursue a life of love.

Keep in step with the Holy Spirit: pray without ceasing.

Emmanuel means God with us. We celebrate the incarnation at Christmas time especially, but every day is Christmas in our hearts. Jesus came as a baby so long ago that He might dwell in our hearts. He is there right now, if you have confessed your sins and invited Him in as your Leader, as your Lord. Take time today to talk with Him and walk with Him.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Emmanuel - God With Me

1 Corinthians 3:10-17 “10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. 11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work. 14 If any man's work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. 16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.” (NASB)

Sometimes we live life “out there”. Things are in motion and we just “go with the flow”. It is as if life is lived outside of us, and we have little input. Often this happens when we become driven by goals – and it is not always our fault. Consider the person who is deeply in debt and trying to pay things off. Life for them consists of a lot of work and scant money available for any “extras”. Life becomes “work long, eat simple, watch T.V. and sleep”.
For the one dealing with serious health issues life becomes consumed by doctors appointments, diets, drugs, hospital visits, and the like. For the one getting married… well, the focus is on The Day until it arrives. Sometimes we just let life begin to happen, and we, without realizing it, draw back from actively pursuing life and become much more passive. Life begins to dictate to us what we do, and when we do it. Then a big “out of the blue” event happens and we wonder where that came from, but often it came from our inattentiveness to life and health. It is that whole seagull at Niagara Falls story… Remember?
We need to stop regularly, though, and make sure we tune in to the life that is not “out there” but “in here”, in our hearts. 1 Corinthians 3:16 states this emphatically: “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”
So, we have accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior and the Holy Spirit dwells within us. What does that mean for us? It should mean that we understand our purpose in life much better. It should mean that our course in life has some very definite direction.

Let me suggest 3 priorities that should invade our day to day life because of who we are in Jesus, and then unpack one of them.

1) Strengths: God has called us to a purpose and equipped us for that purpose. Look at 2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” God has given us both general things like the Word and His Spirit to guide and direct and empower us for ministry, but He has also given us gifts. In Ephesians 4:12 we have that same word “equipping” used in relation to all of us in our ministry. My favourite part of Bonnie’s book Your Best You: Discovering and Developing the Strengths God Gave You is the following picture: “God gazes down at a child (let's say the child is you), a big grin on His face. His eyes twinkle at the sight of you. An angel stands behind Him, holding an enormous book filled with every good thing. Page after page of strengths, talents, and breathtaking abilities. Qualities that are found in The Creator of this child. The angel thumbs through the book. "Most Holy One, which gifts will You give this child?" God's eyes dance with delight as He ponders the wonders He can bestow upon you. He doesn’t want to rush this moment of joyous contemplation. He peers down at you, His smile growing. Suddenly, God throws his head back and laughs with pure joy. The sound is like every bird on earth singing all at once. Oh, He knows you so well. He knows what will bring you joy. The angel laughs with God. "Will you give this child courage? A love of nature? A sense of humor? Creativity?” The Lord of Heaven and Earth touches your cheek. "To this child I’ve already given the greatest gift of all. I have given my Child, so that we can forever be connected, in relationship." Then God, overflowing with happiness, throws His arms over His head and dances around you. "But even still, I have every good gift to give. I’m generous beyond all human measure. The joy it brings me is uncontainable." The Almighty God, Creator of heaven and earth, bends down and whispers in your ear, "Here my child. These are for you. I give you these gifts. Grow in them. Explore them. Use them to bring glory to My name. Let them be a constant reminder of My great love for you." "Pursue that purpose… go after it with all your heart.

2) Salvation: People in your life who need to hear the Gospel. There are so many ways to picture life. Think of truth. You are following Jesus because in Him you found truth. THE truth. The truth that provides the answer to the question, “Why?” Maybe we can’t articulate it perfectly, or explain it well to someone who is antagonistic to us, but you know in your deepest places that the God who created the ends of the earth created you and wants a relationship with you. It is wonderful! It changed your life. Now look at your neighbour, the mechanic who works on your car, your financial advisor, maybe a child or parent or sibling, and they don’t know. You have this wonderful truth, and they don’t. What are you gonna do? What does God want you to do? There’s a song by Larry Norman that goes like this:

When you know a pretty story you don't let it go unsaid

You tell it to your children as you tuck them into bed

And when you know a wonderful secretyou tell it to your friends

Because a lifetime filled with happinessis like a street that never ends

Sing that sweet sweet song of salvation and let your laughter fill the air

Sing that sweet sweet song of salvation and tell the people everywhere

Sing that sweet sweet song of salvation to every man and every nation

Sing that sweet sweet song of salvation and let the people know that Jesus cares

Look around you as you sing it there are people everywhere

And to those who stop and listen this sweet song becomes a prayer

'Cause when you know a wonderful secret you tell it to your friends

Tell them that a lifetime filled with Jesus is like a street that never ends

Sing that sweet sweet song of salvation and let your laughter fill the air

Sing that sweet sweet song of salvation and tell the people everywhere

Sing that sweet sweet song of salvation to every man and every nation

Sing that sweet sweet song of salvation and let the people know that Jesus cares

1 Peter 3:15
“…always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you…”

3. Sanctification: People in your life who are your brothers and sisters in Christ. They need to be encouraged. They need someone to come alongside and challenge them to keep close to Jesus. We are a community here. It’s not about who’s better than the next one, or who has a more up front position. It is about working together as we all walk on this pilgrimage to Christ-likeness. Some of us may be further along than another. The only thing that means is that we have more responsibility to model and lead the way for those that follow.

3 priorities: Strengths, Salvation, Sanctification. These are not things to just talk about, they are priorities Jesus wants us to focus on in life.

Let me unpack the second one quickly. What does a person need to know to be saved? How do we lead someone to Jesus. There are three things, so they are easy to remember.

1. Recognize that you can’t “do it”. Do what? Do life – be good enough-deal with sin. The question to ask is this, “If you were to die tonight, would you go to heaven?” No one is strong enough, or good enough to do it. Think Grand Canyon – it is just to big to cross. There is that issue of sin, and most people will admit it. Read Romans 3:23, and Romans 6:23. In fact, the first 7 chapters of Romans is all about us not being able to do it. You have to give up – give up trying to do it all yourself.

2. Realize God “did it” for us. Jesus did what you and I could not. He dealt with the sin problem, and died for your sins personally. Romans 8:1 says there is now no condemnation for those in Jesus. Romans 6:23 says that the free gift of God is eternal life. And when Jesus does something, He does it all the way. There is nothing more to do, the work is done. Remember the Grand Canyon, He is the bridge. You have to accept what He did for you. How do you do that?

3) Release your hold on life, and give it to Jesus. We do that by confess our sin, and seeking God’s will. It is about surrender. The answer is simple – Christ in us; but it is hard, because it means we have to surrender our life to Him. When we accept Jesus we accept Him as both Savior and Lord, as Forgiver and Leader. It is not just a prayer and then life is all good. Romans 10:9-10 says “9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”

Do you see how it involves both the decision of your mind as well as the focus of your heart? It is not just about a prayer we said 20 years ago. It is about what you are doing with Jesus today. What are you doing with Jesus today?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Too Long

It has been a crazy month, and it has been hard to get back into the routine (which is important to how I work). We had a great month at the church with a lot of different things happenning. On October 5 we had a former pastor of LSCC come and speak for our denomination's 100th anniversary (Rev. Doug Cooney).

On October 19 I was in Ontario helping my parents move so we had Dr Gord Giesbrecht, from Horizon College here in Saskatoon come and speak. His lovely wife Debra played the piano for us and I appreciate greatly their friendship and ministry. Bonnie said Gord brought a message that was quite pertinent for our congregation.

On October 26 we had a missions emphasis, with a DVD that was also quite touching. Bonnie and I were at our district's clergy conference in Banff that weekend.

On November 2 we had Marilee Pierce Dunker, a daughter of Dr Bob Pierce (who founded World Vision and Samaritan's Purse). She did just a super job, and emphasized the Nazarene connection her dad had (he was saved at a Nazarene church).

On November 9 we had a service with the Royal Canadian Legion. There were 50 of them, so they almost outnumbered us 2:1, but after a touching service they invited us for lunch back at the Legion.

So here I am back in the office! My plan is to continue back posting sermons into 2007 while keeping current week to week, so do check back and see what is new.

In the meantime, I continue to peruse a few blogs and make comments. My latest one is here:
I should be the 5th or 6th comment down.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Psalm 138 “1 I will give You thanks with all my heart; I will sing praises to You before the gods. 2 I will bow down toward Your holy temple and give thanks to Your name for Your lovingkindness and Your truth; for You have magnified Your word according to all Your name. 3 On the day I called, You answered me; you made me bold with strength in my soul. 4 All the kings of the earth will give thanks to You, O LORD, when they have heard the words of Your mouth. 5 And they will sing of the ways of the LORD, for great is the glory of the LORD. 6 For though the LORD is exalted, yet He regards the lowly, but the haughty He knows from afar. 7 Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; You will stretch forth Your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and Your right hand will save me. 8 The LORD will accomplish what concerns me; Your lovingkindness, O LORD, is everlasting; do not forsake the works of Your hands.

Over4.5 billion people do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ. Of these, 2 billion have never heard the Gospel message.
78 million people per year die due to poverty issues. Over 1 billion people live on less than $1 per day.
300 million people suffer from curable diseases, and most of these are under 5 years of age.

3 things we should be thankful for:
Stuff- David knew both times of great need as well as great plenty. He spent several years being chased by Saul in the wilderness, living in caves and off the land. He was also a king, and could have anything and everything he wanted. Stuff is nice to have. It doesn’t quite do what we think it would, but in many cases it does make life easier; that is, of course, if you haven’t financed everything in order to get it. There’s a favourite Herman comic of mine where the Psychiatrist is talking to the man on the couch and saying, “What’s wrong? You have a cabin, a yacht, nice cars a Lear jet?” The client’s reply is that he only makes $75 a week! You can only juggle things for so long. Take a moment and look at your life. Thank-God for your stuff: your vehicle if you have one, for your toys, for your family members, for a place to keep you warm in the winter, for friendships.
Health – David seemed to have good physical health over his life. He had to fake insanity for awhile so he could spend time with the Philistines while Saul was after him. What about you? The thing about health is there is always somebody worse off than you, who in spite of the aches and pains you do have, would love to change places with you. We have been praying for Pastor Rick Gibson for over a year. He still struggles with paralysis in his left arm between his shoulder and elbow. He still struggles with his short term memory… and that is after 6 months in the hospital and rehab center. And he would say he was blessed. You go to the cardiac ward at Sick Kids hospital in Toronto, and see the sad cases, and then go to the next ward, the cancer ward and are thankful. Take a minute now and thank God for what you do have, for the health that you can be here this morning.
Salvation – David knew what judgement was. He sinned many times, and not only suffered personal loss and strife in his family, but also in the country over which he reigned. But over all that we find that he is called the apple of God’s eye. He knew what it was to be saved from death and sin, from himself. And if you are here today and have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, you too know salvation. Isn’t it glorious?
It was free for us, a gift. And as we celebrate communion we recognize the price that was paid for us was the blood of Jesus Christ. We couldn’t do it, we still can’t, and we can’t add to what was done by God’s Son. Take a minute now and thank God for your salvation.

Taking it home:
Use your stuff for others. Stuff is just stuff. The Bible tells us that God is the Giver of all good gifts, that we are but stewards of all we have. A steward doesn’t own what he has. It belongs to another, but the steward is responsible for what happens to the stuff. You and I are just passing through this world… we have eternity to spend in heaven where there is no want of anything. So don’t hang on to stuff here too tight. Recognize that what you have is indeed because God has blessed you. Be thankful for it, but also turn around and see how you can bless someone else with the stuff you are stewarding for God. I took the stuff for Bridge on 20th this past week. Linda, the Director, was very grateful for the donations that go to people who don’t have much. I had someone come in this week one afternoon. He and his wife were heading to Maple Creek, were between cheques, he has a bad back, and just needed some gas. I met him at the Petro Canada by Market Mall and filled up his car. I also bought some pop and snacks so they would have something on their trip. It was a few bucks. I am not one to judge whose fault he was in that predicament. How could I not help him out when he requested it? He came to us because we are a church. And I blessed him in the name of Jesus and said I would pray for him. Don’t hang on to stuff – give it away in the name of Jesus.
Use today while it is still here. Wake up every morning expecting to be used of God to draw someone unto Himself. Ask God for those opportunities. Don’t put stuff off until tomorrow, for tomorrow may never come, for us or the other person. If you put stuff off you will wake up with regrets rather than a song of joy in your heart. When the harvest comes and the crops are ready, the farmer doesn’t think, I am tired today, so I think I’ll just relax and sleep in, and get out in the field tomorrow. The harvest would not get done! The rains would come and he would only be half done. He makes the hay while the sun shines, and when the sun goes down he turns the lights on his tractor. Jesus said that the spiritual fields are ripe and ready for harvest. When you lay down tonight, I pray that you can reflect on how God used you today. Don’t wait.
Rest in Jesus. Let everything of your life emanate from the place where you meet Jesus. Let Jesus colour your conversations with your friends and families and neighbours. Let Jesus motivate your actions, where you spend your time. The Great Commandment is to love God with all your Heart and Soul and mind – let all of your being rest in who God is. Let all of your being reflect that you are a child of the Eternal God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. If you don’t know Jesus – you need to. Right now, as we close in prayer, ask forgiveness for your sins, and invite Jesus in to your life to be your Savior and your Lord.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Church - The Temple

Ephesians 2:13-2213 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. 17 AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR; 18 for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”


One of the temptations we often fall into in the Church is to think of the Church as a building. In the New Testament the Church is never a building. It is always a group of people gathered to worship God and to build each other up as the Body of Christ. Most of the churches of New Testament times met in houses or rented rooms, though some met outside. For several centuries the Church did not have legal status. Illegal organizations do not build buildings and put their names on those buildings. The New Testament uses a variety of images to describe the Church: the people of God, the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, the believers, the saints, the elect, and the field of God to name a few. The New Testament also speaks of the Church as the Temple of God. It uses the metaphor of a building to describe the Church, but it is not the building as building that describes the Church. It is the purpose and function of that building—the Temple of God—that describes the purpose and function of the Church.

Temples were noteworthy for several reasons in the biblical world. They were thought to be the dwelling place of the deity. They were sacred spaces where sacrifices were offered and worship was given. Temples brought people together for a common cause greater than local or even national interests. Often temples were the largest and most beautiful buildings in the city. They were monuments to the great devotion given to the god worshipped there. These characteristics of ancient temples suggest reasons the apostle Paul described the Church as the Temple of God even though he knew very well that the Church was a people, not a building.

The Church is a dwelling place for God (verse 22)

Paul declares in Ephesians 2:22 that in Christ “you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” The root idea of the word “dwelling” is house or home. The Church is to be a place where God is at home. This implies several truths. First, if the Church is God’s home, then God must be present in the Church. This means that Church is not primarily a place to talk about God or to do things for God. Church is a place where we are with God. And since Church is not a building, it is a group of people among whom God is present. If we gather for Church but God is not present, the fundamental reality of the Church as Temple has not happened. In 1 Corinthians 14:25 Paul describes what should happen when an unbeliever or someone who does not understand meets with the Church. That person “will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!’” When neither church members nor visitors recognize the presence of God, then Church as the Temple of God has not happened among us.

A second implication of God being at home in the Church is that God must be host rather than visitor. Because Church—the gathered people, not the building—is God’s home, He is in control of the activities and sets the agenda. One might think we are confused about whose home it is because we often treat God as the guest and act as if the Church belonged to us. If God is the homeowner, then His values will be those that are lived out in the Church. If God is the homeowner, the Church will become a reflection of His character and interests, not ours.

A third implication of God being at home in the Church is that the Church must be a place where God is comfortable. We do not have to prove ourselves at home. We are accepted for who we are. If God is at home in the Church, we will not ask Him to prove himself. We will accept Him for who the Scriptures reveal Him to be.

The Church Is Built With People (verse 20)

Ephesians 2:20 declares that the Church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” The chief cornerstone was the first stone put in place in an ancient building. Its length and width edges had to be straight and perpendicular because the walls were laid out by sighting along the edge of the cornerstone. Its vertical edge had to be straight and perpendicular because the walls were aligned to that edge. If the cornerstone was not perfect, the walls of the building would not be straight and might collapse. Paul’s point is the Church always looks back to Jesus for our bearings. If we align ourselves with Him, the Church will be straight and will last. If we become out of alignment with Jesus, the Church will become misshapen and liable to collapse.

1 Peter 2:5 further describes the Church as built of “living stones.” This describes the individual believers that become part of the Church. This means the Church must be highly personal and relational. We exist as people in a relational structure, not as occupants of a building.

We are not free to determine the shape of the Church. Its dimensions and shape were laid out in alignment with Jesus by the apostles and prophets of the first Christian century. Each successive generation consists of more people placed as living stones in the building called the Church. Inanimate stones fit quietly beside each other in a physical building. Being living stones set together in the Church can be more challenging. Sometimes we are put in the wall beside other stones we would prefer not being with. It is not our task to change them or to seek another place on the wall. Our task is to align ourselves with Jesus and to live in grace and peace with the other stones seeking to be together the dwelling place that pleases God.

The Church is a holy temple (verse 21)

1 Corinthians 3:17 declares, “God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.” It is hard to be clearer than this. The Church must be holy because it is the Temple of a holy God. A holy God cannot be at home in an unholy temple. A holy God who builds His Church with living stones demands that those stones be holy. Because the Church is God’s and not ours, the Church’s holiness must be God’s holiness.

As the Temple the Church is designed to display God to the world. A church that is not holy provides false advertising about God. We might despair of ever accurately portraying God to the world except for the fact that we have a living example of what such a life would look like. It would look like Christ. Thus the holiness required of the Church means submitting to the discipline of allowing the Spirit to form more and more Christ in us, Christ among us, and Christ through us. The ultimate purpose of the Church as God’s Temple is to bring glory to Him.

Take it home

Don’t hinder God’s presence, in your life or in this community. How do we hinder? Unconfessed sins, stubbornness/hardheartedness, grieving the Spirit.

Focus on relationships, both with God and people. How do we do this? Dialogue/communicate (prayer), Find a way to work together, Look for needs you can meet, Get out of your comfort zone.

Practice love, both to God and your neighbour. The great Commandment. How do we do this? Live out grace (includes initiative, forgiveness), Live in Hope