Sunday, December 27, 2009

Post Christmas: Stewardship

Matthew 6:19-24 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other You cannot serve God and wealth.”

We talk a lot about stuff at Christmas time. The church likes to say stuff is bad, but the church so often has a lot of stuff itself. The issue is not how much stuff you have, but what you do with it. Bonnie and I were talking with a friend on Thursday and we mentioned how it seems the people who are most generous in life are those with the least amount of stuff to give. The more we have, the harder it is to give stuff away. Stories abound of rich people passing by the poor and homeless, and the ones near poverty themselves are the ones who help one another. Jesus and His disciples watched a rich man put a whack of money in the offering plate, and how it counted little because he did it in such a way so everyone would know it was him. His stuff had made him proud. As they watched a poor widow put in a few cents, most of all she had, He commented that God was greatly pleased because she gave sacrificially. Today we still encourage tithing because it provides the facilities and a place from which to minister - this is a real privilege in freedom. We have to make sure, though, that we don’t get to the point where this building owns us, where our bottom line is what drives ministry. So how do you know when stuff is owning you? What are some indications that we are getting off focus of following Jesus with all we got? Let me suggest a few ways we need to check ourselves:

1) You stop praying. When I was in high school I was on the wrestling team for 4 years. One of the principles they taught you was to fake your true intentions. If you wanted to attack the other guy’s legs you first reached and touched him near his head. His attention is drawn to where your hand is, not where your body is beginning to move to. Ephesians 6 says that we are in a wrestling match today. We are wrestling “not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” When Satan tries to come against us he is going to reach into our stuff. Sometimes he distracts by letting us have a lot, sometimes by not enough. His purpose has nothing to do with our stuff for he knows it is so temporary, so superficial. It is that slight of hand he is pulling so we look away from what is really happening. And what is happening? In that passage in Ephesians 6 Paul goes on to talk about the armour of God and then these words: “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” Prayer is the environment that connects us to the spiritual. Prayer connects us to God and allows the Holy Spirit to work freely. Prayer moves things that don’t otherwise move. Prayer directly battles the forces of darkness. Prayer lets us see into the spiritual realm with eyes that would otherwise be blind. When we are distracted by stuff, then, we stop praying. Sometimes it creeps up on us gradually, sometimes all at once without realizing it, but we don’t seem to have time to spend with our Creator and Savior.

So I ask you not about your stuff, or even what you are doing with it; I ask you about your time spent before the throne. God longs to use you and I, but we need to be talking and listening to Him.

2) You stop watching your words. In the New Year we will be looking at 7 Points of Valour. There is an integrity in following Jesus that we pursue; a congruency between the things we believe and how we live. One of the things that seems to be slipping in those who profess a relationship with Jesus is words. We use careless words, we use careless language. I am shocked at how little respect there is for people and children in public. You go to a mall with little ones and a group of teenagers or twenty-somethings go by having a conversation and invariably it is salted with swear words. I have seen it on blogs by people who profess Jesus as Lord and I wonder what their sense of holiness is. God calls us to be like Jesus in thoughts words and deeds. So often deeds are emphasized, but what we say should agree with our behaviour, and behaviour with our words. Not only purity of language, but gentleness of words. When we get distracted we begin to forget how easily words fly off our tongue and can harm others. We forget how easily our life can turn astray by talking behind people’s backs, by not guarding what comes from within. James likens the tongue to the small rudder that has the ability to turn a large boat around. A person can spend years build a good character and depth of ministry only to throw it all away in a moment of anger and poor choice of words.

There is a discipline in life as followers of Jesus. We seek to be like Jesus in thoughts, words and deeds, as the Holy Spirit works within us. Freedom in Jesus is not licence to do anything or say anything we want. It is the freedom and ability to do the right thing because God is changing us. When a person starts a diet, they begin a discipline. They count calories. They start a regimen of exercise. And they go through the next several days or weeks on schedule. Then along comes something to distract them. Maybe it is a good book, a person, Monday Night football, a cream puff. Their discipline gets broken and one day turns into six, and soon they are back to where they started. When stuff distracts us we begin to lose guard of the little things like our words. But those little things begin to turn our life. How have your words been? Have they been encouraging and God focussed, or complaining and self-centered? Let God use you through your words. Focus on Him and not the stuff around you.

3) Your concern for others “tanks”. The passage we read earlier is found in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. In the course of that talk by Jesus he touched on so many aspects of our life in relation to others. One of the basic premises of Jesus’ teachings is that you cannot be a follower of His and NOT love your neighbour. In parables and practise Jesus said the love of God will change you. From pastors and evangelists, church leadership and scholars you will hear the truth that justice and mercy go hand in hand with our faith. Tony Compolo was a guest on The Hour with George  Stroumboulopoulos and was quite articulate about our mission as followers of Jesus. He said you can’t separate the church from compassionate ministries. They go hand in hand. Jesus said we need to minister to those who are sick and homeless. And so Jesus calls possessions or wealth a “master”. I remember watching AFV on TV and watching as the little kid is dragged along by a huge dog, trailing from the leash. Where the boy thought he would be controlling the dog, reality had it the other way around. If stuff is getting control of you, it will become your master, and the commands to love God and love your neighbour will take second place to what you want.

4) You begin to live by comparison. One of the biggest problems people have in affluent societies is to live by comparison. They begin to think they should have as much or more than the next guy. Affluence becomes the gage of our faith; or at least our sense of entitlement. We fail to acknowledge that those stuck in cycles of poverty look to us with the same envy, that they wonder why they do not have what we have. Life is not about comparison. It is living as a steward - God’s steward. We are responsible to God for how we live our lives. What we deserve is based on God’s grace, not our worthiness. Let go of your concern for what others have, and look to God who has given all you need to accomplish His purpose in you.

We live with the understanding that all we have is a gift from God, and that it still belongs to God for we are His steward. He gives us these things with the expectation that we will use them not for ourselves, but for His glory, His kingdom. We get upset quite easily at exorbitant bonuses paid to people who think their position of leadership is worth so much more than the person who does the actual work. Part of the frustration is not the comparison, but the expectation that those to whom much is given will reciprocate in turn. Look around you today and issues of stewardship are all over the world. There are issues with the stewardship of our financial foundations and economies. There are issues with stewardship of our climate. There are issues with the stewardship of our environment, and the list goes on. We each have a challenge before us as this year draws to a close and a new one begins. What will we do with the stewardship of gifts and talents and resources like time, money and relationships that we have from God? This is our year. 2010 is the year God is calling all of us to put forth our best efforts and focus on what He is calling us to do and be. 2010 is the year God is calling Louise Street Community Church of the Nazarene to cast off the past and any comparisons of other churches. He calls us to consider what and who we have and to use all to His honour and glory.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Prophesies of Christmas - Out of Egypt

Hosea 11:1-5 “When Israel was a youth I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son.  The more they called them, the more they went from them; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning incense to idols. Yet it is I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them in My arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of a man, with bonds of love, and I became to them as one who lifts the yoke from their jaws; and I bent down and fed them. They will not return to the land of Egypt; but Assyria--he will be their king because they refused to return to Me.”

Matthew 2:1-15 “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “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."
When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.
They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet:
Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. 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."
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. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.
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. And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.
Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him." So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt. He remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "OUT OF EGYPT I CALLED MY SON."

Hosea - Hosea is the first of the minor prophets, of which there are 12. They were often collected into one scroll as a unit, comparable to the major prophets of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. He was the only one of the 12 from the northern kingdom of Israel, and his prophecy is primarily directed to that country. In Chapter 11 we see a glimpse of God’s love for Israel in a reference to God bringing the nation out of bondage from Egypt. We read that passage earlier, and then the one where Matthew, under the inspiration of the Spirit, applies it to Jesus. Just as Israel, as an infant nation went down into Egypt, so the child Jesus went there. And as Israel was led by God out of Egypt, so also was Jesus. We don’t think Jesus was there long, but we know that they did not return until King Herod died, which was 4 BC. That is why scholars suggest that Jesus was born around 6 BC. There is a spiritual application here found in the fulfillment of this prophecy. I want to go on a slightly different track and suggest we focus on the journey itself. Mary and Josepph, with baby Jesus walking down to Egypt and back, carrying what they could. When Heather was a few weeks old we had to move. It was very hard, and the place we moved to was only temporary so much stayed packed. It was about having to leave a place more than going somewhere else. It was hard, and I imagine it was really hard for Mary and Joseph to make that trek.

Luggage - Whenever you see someone in a movie trying to rush with a suitcase you know it is going to fling open at a most inopportune moment. You hear stories of luggage coming down the ramp all taped up or in a sealed plastic bag because they got mangled in transport. We are off to Toronto for 4 days on the 28th and I hope our luggage stays with us rather than taking a scenic route. I remember dropping my brother off at the airport in Montreal in 2000 - he was headed with his family to Cameroon. He had shipped some stuff ahead, but he had these big tubs with straps wrapped around them, doing his best to make sure everything stayed in one piece on the long trip. On the journey of life we pick up luggage and baggage. Some of it is good, some of it not so good. Our attitudes and outlook are shaped by events and people in our lives, so that when we look at ourselves we are rather complex people. You see me as a simple, handsome pastor; but I am a twin, born last of 5 children, lived in 3 provinces with various experiences in post secondary education and relationships both deep and shallow that have come and gone. I have been on a journey with ups and downs for 46 years; and I have luggage with me. As I try to follow Jesus with all I got, sometimes I have to adjust it. A bag slips off my shoulder and interferes with something else I am doing. Sometimes our luggage is about how we perceive ourselves - our self esteem.  Sometimes it is about emotions we carry with us, like anger or compassion. Sometimes it drives us to be mean, or to be nice. And God calls us out of Egypt. He calls out of normal, complacent life, out of bondage to be on a journey with Him. We need to be cognizant of the luggage we carry with us. Maybe we have arrived, maybe not. Let us take a few moments today to consider some of the people in the Christmas story and the luggage they carried on their journey. Maybe we can relate to some of their luggage and be reminded of how we can lighten our load.

Joseph - In 2003 Bonnie and I moved from Ontario to Alberta. In early June of that year I was having a conversation with a guy I was doing some yard work for. I had been talking to him about my inability to find a job and the sense that maybe we would look out in Alberta where Bonnie’s parents lived. He said he was leaving in 4 days with an open flatbed trailer to pick up an antique car in Vancouver and that he could take some stuff out to Stettler for us. Ben was just over 2 and Heather was 4 months old. By the time we had made the decision we had 3 days to pack and load a trailer; and so we travelled to a distant land. We had little time, but the opportunity was there. Joseph had the burden of a baby and new wife from the get-go. He had to look after a family, when he had been thinking he had time to live a little with his new wife. And then when the baby is young, he is told in a dream to go to Egypt. The Bible says they left that night. They had no time to pack. Up, out the door with what you can grab, and on the road. In a very real sense he had very little luggage; but he had the care of his young family - a big responsibility. What did he do with his luggage? He left it before God, and when God said move, he did. He trusted that God knew his situation and left it all in God’s hands. When God spoke Joseph responded with obedience. This Christmas season, what is God speaking to you about? God already knows what is in your luggage, all the stuff that goes with you. He accepts you and calls you as you are. Don’t delay - follow Him in obedience. He’ll help you with your luggage.

Wise men - The Magi were burdened with stuff… a lot of it. I can’t relate to them. Much of life has been lived from pay check to pay check it seems. For most people, that is life, whether old or young. This economy has shaken things up even more. But the Magi had lots of resources. What did they spend it on? Bonnie is reading a book about the church in the Facebook age. The guy who founded it went from $0 to $3 Billion in 3 years. Can you get your head around it? What would you do?  The Magi didn’t just spend it on themselves, but put it towards pursuing God and ultimately, a new King. They were not in it for what they could get. It wasn’t about “investing” or reserving a place of honour with royalty. They travelled far, found the object of their search, left their gifts and went home. There’s the saying that “wise men still seek Jesus”. They had the baggage of stuff. Stuff is funny. We think we own possessions, but possessions tend to own us. The more we have, the more we have to lose. We hold on to it tighter and tighter. The Magi gave their luggage away. The secret to stuff is to not hang on to it to tightly. I am told when you hold the reins of a horse, you hold them loosely. The same is true with stuff. The Bible says we are just stewards of it anyways. What lasts? What goes into eternity? The only thing is people. Use your stuff then, to help people, to glorify God. In the Muslim community in Waterloo, Ontario, they wanted to build a community center. How did they do that? Half the people sold their homes and went to live with the other half. They gave the money for the church, for their community; and they will stay with the other family until they can get back on their feet financially. They understand that the stuff is just something to be used. Have you ever heard of Evangelicals doing that to build a new church? And how did God use the magi’s stuff? It came right when they had to leave for Egypt. God used it to provide the costs for the long trip and the stay in Egypt. God’s grace works in wondrous ways. Don’t hang onto stuff to hard this season. Enjoy the gifts, but see how God can use them in the New Year.

Mary - Even Mary had luggage? Think about it - raising the Son of God? The Messiah? Talk about walking down a road with a heavy load, a big responsibility! A young mother, probably 14 or so years of age, is told she has the Savior of the world in her arms. A couple days ago the Queen of England surprised travellers when she took a commuter train to the country for a holiday. She had no luggage and a single body guard. A little girl was ready and gave the queen some flowers. How would you be if royalty or deity were suddenly in your care? Some of the luggage we carry is about our self esteem. We think we could never be worthy enough, good enough for the queen let alone God Incarnate. God has reached down at Christmas and raised us up. We don’t have to do anything but respond to God’s unmerited favour, His relentless love. If you are caring that kind of luggage, let it go. It is not worth anything, because it simply is not true. God created you, and though this fallen world tries to mess you and your life up, don’t go down that road. Let the One who created you ignite that spark of wonder at God who does new things. He did a new thing through Mary and Joseph. He wants your life that He paid for in blood because He loves you so much. He wants to refine you so you may be ever more in relationship with Him.

Shepherds - burdened with a message. They had angelic illumination… what do you do with that? A message straight from God’s messengers, just for them! They went and saw what the angel said was true… then what? Back to the same old - same old? Have you ever had an event change your life? I imagine those shepherds were never the same. In their heart was the words that were for all people; Good News for all the people! A Savior has been born! How many years would it take for them to forget those words, that experience of seeing the little baby? How long before the need to tell others the Good News would pass? Each of us has a message about eternity in our hearts. We have had a visitation from God if we are His children and Jesus is the One we follow. When was the last time we shared the message that Jesus saves to someone who has not heard. Jesus gives us opportunities and courage and the words - we need to open our eyes and look for them. We all have a bit of the shepherds in us. Share the Good News that you have been given this season.

Baby Jesus - Luggage? Even Him? Remember where He was before He was born? In the incarnation Jesus took the form of a bondservant, giving up much that was rightly His. He became focused on His mission, so that the wood of the cradle rubs up against the timber of the cross. One of the reasons I believe in free will, that we have a choice, is because I believe Jesus had a choice. The mystery of salvation was that God Himself became the sacrificial Lamb. In the midst of all heaven He turned his back on right and privilege. He carried with Him what could be, maybe even should be, and subjected it to His Father’s will. He prayed, “Not My will but Yours be done.” There is a humility in what He did that He modelled for us.

It is time to let go of the luggage and baggage you have. Follow in the steps of Jesus and pursue Him and His will for your life. What better time than Christmas to renew your life and commitment to Jesus. As we close this service, take the time you need to put Him in His rightful place as Lord of your life.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Prophecies of Christmas - Throne of David

Isaiah 9:1-7 “But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles.
The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them. You shall multiply the nation, You shall increase their gladness; they will be glad in Your presence as with the gladness of harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. For You shall break the yoke of their burden and the staff on their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, as at the battle of Midian. For every boot of the booted warrior in the battle tumult, and cloak rolled in blood, will be for burning, fuel for the fire.
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore the zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.

Luke 1:31-33 “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end."

There is a song by Wes King called Life Is Precious. A line in there stands out for me: “I can’t imagine not being able to see.” I knew a man legally blind that God used in wonderful ways even though his life was spent in darkness and blur. What a precious thing being able to see is. There are blind people all around us, and indeed, once we were blind but now we see.

Verse 2 “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.” This verse talks about mystery being unveiled; about coming to understand something which was previously hidden. What is the true nature of salvation? What is God really doing in our midst? For the Jews in 700 BC the answer was coming. Everything will be made plain. The Messiah will bring about the culmination of their hopes and plans. He will fulfill their prophecies that God has been speaking to them. He would usher in a new age… It just wasn’t what they were expecting. They thought He was going to be a King, and free them from the oppression they were in. They thought that all the promises and blessings were about stuff, about this flesh and blood. How short sighted is that? It is so obvious to us today about what God was doing down through history. But what do we think today is about? Do we still think God’s blessing is about stuff? Even today we need the Light of the World to illuminate our understanding. We need Jesus just as much today as the nation Israel did 2700 years ago.

Verses 3-5 “You shall multiply the nation, You shall increase their gladness; they will be glad in Your presence as with the gladness of harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. For You shall break the yoke of their burden and the staff on their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, as at the battle of Midian. For every boot of the booted warrior in the battle tumult, and cloak rolled in blood, will be for burning, fuel for the fire.”
And today I still don’t have all the answers. I know enough to know that God is beyond me. I cannot hope to fully understand His thoughts and ways, even though He has revealed so much of Himself to me, to us. I don’t understand free will, and how it relates to people. There are people who use their choices to control, hurt and even kill others. Others who have no chance. What have I to offer the one who has grown up with an abusive and alcoholic parent? What chance in life do those orphaned by AIDS in Africa where an older brother of 8 years of age has to look after his brothers and sisters because both parents are gone? How do I offer hope to those who are suffering untold horror at the hands of others? The best I can do is talk of the grace of God who went through much of what we have gone through, to the point of dying on a cross. He knows our lives and He can relate; and some day we will be in a place when all the answers will be made clear. While it may not happen in this life, we know there is a day coming when we shall see Jesus face to face, and all will be known. In that day there will no more tears and pain. No more will people take advantage of one another because we will be in God’s presence and we will be all we can be in Jesus. Satan, sin, and death will never again be known. And the light of the glory of God will shine upon us forever. Stand firm in your faith today, and you answer will come in the end.

Verse 6 “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” And we know the story of Jesus. We know He was born to be a King like no other. But what of those names in Isaiah?

Wonderful Counsellor: Ever go to someone for help? Ever been disappointed by someone who thought could help you? My brother Dan was in Thailand at some meetings. His left knee swelled up and was quite painful, so he went to a doctor and they said you have gout. They gave him no help other than a diagnosis and that gout is from eating shellfish and too much red meat. He doesn’t like shell fish and all he had was a Big Mac. So he goes back to Cameroon, where there are no McDonalds, and goes to a doctor there. That doctor says, “You have gout.” Well, he was still in pain, so he goes to a third doctor, and they say, “You have gout. Oh, and all you have to do is take this medication.” Well, after a day and a half on the medication he is finally pain-free. The first 2 professionals gave him no real help, and just told him what he could have found out for himself on the internet. Isn’t it nice when you find someone who can help?
Jesus is our Wonderful Counsellor. Wonderful regularly means supernatural, so we understand the Messiah as a supernatural counsellor. But even if wonderful just meant wonderful, think of the extreme wonderfulness of what He did. At His first coming, Jesus brought words of eternal life. He not only showed us the way to live, He made it possible! In Christ we are free from being slaves to sin. How wonderful is that? A lot better than settling a painful knee problem - although it is wonderful to have our physical needs helped too. When Jesus comes again, He will rule with perfect wisdom and grace. He will gather us all to be with Him. It just doesn’t get better than that.

Mighty God: We are shopping one day and we see this package in the grocery store. It was two bumpy rubber balls and the packaging claimed it will keep your laundry fresh and static free. Just throw them in the dryer and you are good to go. I found they work better if you throw a fabric softener sheet in with them. So instead of just a fabric softener sheet, we have a fabric softener sheet and 2 bumpy rubber balls in the dryer. Have you ever had something that didn’t live up to its claim? The Messiah is our Mighty God - that’s a pretty big item on a resume!
This is a term applied to Yahweh and scholars suggest refers to the Messiah’s ultimate triumph over evil. That happened at Jesus’ resurrection. 1 Corinthians 15 tells us that Jesus conquered Satan, sin and death! You want someone on your side? Look to Jesus who is the Mighty God, and sits at the right hand of the Father.  Revelation reveals that He will accomplish what He wills, and that the “good guys” win. Even today He can heal physically and emotionally and socially and mentally. He is a Mighty God, and He loves you and I.

Eternal Father: There are many bad fathers out there. There are fathers who have abused their spouse and kids. There are fathers who have abandoned their families. There are fathers who have wrecked lives all around them because of addictions and weaknesses. If you are one of those children who had a father like that, seek Jesus. He will always be there. He will always provide. Understand Him in the big picture. You may have had a lousy life, but God was there with you in that lousiness. In the grief He was there. In the celebration He was there. Sometimes He performs the miraculous; sometimes He lets the fallen nature of this world run its course. In the light of eternity, God is doing a wonderful work in you. 2 Corinthians 4 says “16 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison”. God is in the business of refining your spiritual nature. You may think He owes you good stuff, but He doesn’t owe you anything. He died while you were selfish and doing your own thing. He died while you ignored Him and His creation so you could pursue your own selfish stuff. He died, so that if you turn to Him, He will grant you life eternal and life anew in the spirit. He is your Eternal Father. He really does have your back.

Prince of Peace:  Bonnie has a character in her new book that sits above a river on the bank, listening to the wind and watching the trees swaying; and he really is beside himself. As he reflects on the nature around him he is transported to a place peace, in spite of the circumstances he finds himself in. He knows that God is Sovereign. At the heart of that Sovereign God is love for His creation, and He longs to give you that peace that passes all understanding. He calls us to rest in Him. I don’t know your troubles, but I do know it is not God that has caused it. Man, in his sin, has really messed things up. The angels told the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth Peace among men…”

There is a day coming when Jesus will return in all His glory. He will not be coming as a baby, but as a King. He will not come to just dwell, but to rule. He will right all the wrongs, and straighten all the crooked. The Bible says to look up, for the day draws nigh. Reflect this season on the Messiah who is coming again. Celebrate His incarnation, but be encouraged, for He will come again to live with Him in a place He has been preparing for over 2,000 years.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Prophecies of Christmas - Emmanuel

Isaiah 7:10-16 “Then the LORD spoke again to Ahaz, saying, “Ask a sign for yourself from the LORD your God; make it deep as Sheol or high as heaven."
But Ahaz said, "I will not ask, nor will I test the LORD!"
Then he said, "Listen now, O house of David! Is it too slight a thing for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God as well? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. He will eat curds and honey at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good. For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken.”

Matthew 1:18-25 “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.
But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.
Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL," which translated means, "GOD WITH US."
And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.”

The History Lesson: 
Isaiah was born into an influential, upper class family. In his 60 years (from 740-680 BC) he rubbed shoulders with royalty and gave advice against foreign alliances, encouraging Judah to trust the Lord. He also says much about the redemptive work of the Messiah and says more about the person and work of Christ than any other book of the Old Testament. He attacked the social ills of the day as he say saw those abuses as symptoms of spiritual declension. Most of his life was lived in Jerusalem and tradition says he was martyred during the reign of Manasseh. He saw the northern kingdom carried off into captivity by the Assyrians in 722 BC.

Ahaz was king in Judah. The northern kingdom (Ephraim) and Syria (Aram) were rebelling against their overlord, Assyria. They were attempting to force Judah into their alliance, even if it meant disposing Ahaz and substituting a puppet king in his place. What was Ahaz to do? Isaiah was given a word from the Lord that Ahaz should just trust in the Lord and all would be well. Ahaz was inclined to trust in Assyria - again, an outside nation, rather than God. He said the right words, but God knew his heart; so when Ahaz wouldn’t ask for a sign, God gave him one. And the sign was this - “Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” This prophecy referred to a young woman who was unmarried at the time, and within 12 years the people against Ahaz were indeed forsaken and taken over by Assyria.

How it was Applied:
That may have been the end of those words, but it wasn’t. Another person echoed those words, and said that passage from Isaiah was Messianic; that the Anointed One was foretold to have been born of a virgin, and that His name would be Emmanuel, or God With Us. In his book Matthew gives us the “Jewish” slant of the life of Jesus. He wrote this Gospel to Jews to answer their questions about Jesus of Nazareth who claimed to be their Messiah. So in Matthew 1:22-23 we find this: “Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL," which translated means, "GOD WITH US."

An old segment of the church get really caught up in the wrong part of this prophecy. They get stuck on the virgin birth, and begin to postulate that must mean something else for Mary and how she was born. They raise Mary to a place between us and God, when this verse really emphasizes God with us and that the Mediator has come - His name is Jesus for He shall save the people from their sins. The wonder of Jesus is not really how He was born, but that He was born. A little baby, in the middle of an oppressed, tiny country, in a manger because there was no room in the inn; yet it was God incarnate. John 1 says that He was in the world and that He came to His own. Would we have done any better? The Jews were caught up in the Law, in tradition, in their synagogues. How they did things were so important, because God had given them the Law. What they couldn’t understand was how a man could fulfill the Law, and in its fulfilling the Law was replaced with a New Covenant. They didn’t get the “God with us” part. We look back and see how plain and simple the Gospel is, that Jesus did what no man could, and in doing that left us the promise that “as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name”. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

And God is still among us. Revelation 3 says that He stands at the door of our heart and knocks, and if we open up to Him He will come in. God is with us…today; but is He in your heart? People in Israel of long ago were staying in an inn, snoring through the night without realizing what was happening in the shed out back. People passed Mary and Joseph as they made their way down to Egypt. They would travel through Nazareth, perhaps even picking up a yoke from Joseph the carpenter without realizing that one of the kids running around the place was the Son of God. They never noticed nor gave it another thought that they were in the presence of deity. People are out in this city shopping till they drop, planning Grey Cup parties, working and doing the stuff of life - all passing by the One who can answer their deepest longings and questions. They put it off because they are so busy, too important, they don’t feel the urgency of the hour. They missed the very presence of the Creator of the Ends of the Earth in their midst. So we go out, just as the disciples did, and tell people about what we have seen and experienced: indeed, the Son of God is with us. Don’t miss His presence in your life because you are too busy or too upset with Him. Understand that God can be in your life in all that you do.

Applying it Today:
Our culture has materialized so much of life. We have to find that balance between living in this world as salt and light and living an incarnational faith. Christians have always looked at the world and seen the Gospel wherever they find themselves. They early church used a fish, as in the Greek the acrostic Jesus, Christ, God’s  Son, Savior spelled “FISH” (Icthus). We have crosses on or inside our buildings. What if we came to North America today and it was totally secular? How would we talk about the Gospel? This holiday season let us remember that God is with us.

When you look at a Christmas tree, remember the wood of the manger that rubs up against the wood of the cross. Jesus was lifted up on a tree, and in being lifted up brought salvation near for us all.

When you see the lights, think of the stars in the night sky and how the Wisemen followed one star to Jesus. On top of the tree we often see an angel, not unlike one who came with the proclamation of the Good News and of peace toward men to the shepherds. When you see the gifts decorated with colourful paper and bows and ribbons, be reminded of the greatest gift, that God came among us and gave His life so that we would have relationship with Him restored anew. When you see the candy cane be reminded of the purity of the lamb dying on the cross, His blood shed so that like a Shepherd He could rescue His beloved sheep.

Let the dark nights remind us of what we were saved from, that God pulled us out of darkness, of being slaves to sin, and set us free. You see that jolly old Santa, a marketing icon given its final form by the Coca Cola company, know that Jesus died for him as much as the next person. When you see the colourful decorations, think of that celebration when we shall see Jesus face to face.

I am not saying that we “spiritualize” everything. I am saying we need to relate our faith to the culture today, because God is with us today. His presence is more than history, it is beyond history. His presence is more than building and hymns and choruses. It is more than stuff, it is beyond stuff. Live your life in the truth that God is with you, in your life, right now, and throughout your week. Open your life and your mind to that understanding, that truth. Surrender to Him and let Him do a miracle this holiday season in and through you.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Greatest Gift

Philippians 2:1-11 “Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.
Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

We just celebrated Remembrance Day. King George V of the United Kingdom in 1919 formalized what we know of this day because the armistice for WW1 was signed on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. The Great War was over and there was recognition of the great cost of war. Jesus talked about that cost in terms of love. He said that the greatest love a man can have is to lay down his life for another. In war, that is what happens. Whether we agree with war or not, whether we support the aims of the conflict or not isn’t the issue; the issue is for Jesus was the price one was willing to pay for love.
I have fond memories of Christmas as a kid growing up. I remember going down early with my twin and walking into the living room which was lit only by the lights of the tree. Work socks were full of stocking stuff, presents around the tree wrapped in bright and coloured paper. I remember one year getting a long red metal toboggan. It went fast and was one of my favourite gifts. It was used over several years and had the dents to show it. Some of my Christmas memories and desires a kid has morphed into some of the traditions we do today as a family. We have a little plastic train that we put under our tree. It goes round and round on track that gets duct taped together. We have a wonderful box that has a drawer for each of the 24 days in December leading up to Christmas Day in which we put a little something for the kids. Each morning they are up and looking in it for that day’s treat. I have also had some wonderful gifts. A few years ago I got an M500 Palm Pilot. It was great to have an electronic Calendar and Adress Book to take with me. Unfortunately, one day I had stuck it in my back pocket and upon sitting down I cracked the glass. I can still use it to play music, but since I can only see half of the screen and it doesn’t respond to the stylus well, it sits idle much of the time. More recently I received a newer Palm Pilot. It had more memory and was easier to sync with my online Calendar. Now if I could only find it, it would be great! It’s black, about this big… let me know…
What’s my greatest gift? Though Bonnie didn’t come wrapped in shiny paper on Christmas, she really is the greatest gift I have received on this earth. Greater than Bonnie? Well, the only thing is what others have already called the Greatest Gift. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…” For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ. The gift God gave us that resulted in the ability to have a relationship with Him is rooted in His character. God gave us the gift of love - Love is the Greatest Gift there is. God set the example of Love, and of giving love. All the gifts that Bonnie has given me, that I have given her and the kids, is all about love. We love so we give. And we give love in so many ways.
As we enter this Christmas season I want to live you with a few thoughts about giving love this year because it models what Jesus has done in you and I. Because we have been given these things, we can and need to turn around and give them to those around us.

Love means we give freedom. God gave us freedom, freedom to choose. We have freedom because we were created in the image of the God of Love. We have the freedom to choose to accept the gift that God so freely offers, the gift of salvation. Jesus died while we were yet sinners, not while we were good enough. He holds that gift out even now to those who are yet sinners, those who are old in their sins, and those still young. You and I need to reach out in love and offer the gift of freedom to those around us. Freedom doesn’t mean we condone or we think grace is cheap; it means we see the value of the individual who was created in the image of our God. It means we refuse to pass judgement on them, because God is not finished with them yet. We need to offer it while people are in the midst of being wrong, in the midst of sin, in the midst of our messy lives. Jesus saves, not us. We are not called to throw the Bible or the Law at people, we are called to throw love at them. We give people the freedom to say, “Not now, Jesus” and still be all we can be to them. What does that look like? I think it looks like compassionate ministry. Jesus said when we feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty, when we invite the stranger in, clothe the naked and visit the sick and the prisoner we have done that to Him. We need to see people in need as Jesus sees them. He sees them as the prodigal’s father sees his son who has gone astray out in the world. God longs to see the lost come home. Jesus says that our faith has to be in our actions of love or it is not faith. So we give people the freedom to make mistakes, to be who they are. In the midst of that we share the Good News we have experienced as we are able. We love them because they are our brothers and sisters. Give the gift of freedom this season.

Love means we give hope. There is hope in this life and the next. God has shown us that we can change. As Nazarenes we believe that the power of God is at work in us through the Holy Spirit changing us into the likeness of Jesus. Isn’t that a wonderful truth? When we extend people freedom, we do it knowing that God can change them. They say first impressions are lasting impressions. The truth is people change. Pastor Debbie works in the prison system which is designed to rehabilitate people. One of the biggest factors for a successful reintegration into society, into community upon their release is some connections with people. Who will give them a chance? Who will give them hope, or who will just see them and judge them as they were? We believe God changes, right? How do we put that into practice? I look forward to pastor Debbie sharing her ministry in the federal penitentiaries with us, and allowing us to enter into her ministries in practical ways in the months and years to come. There are people in our city caught up in cycles of addictions and abuse and ministries like the Bridge on 20th work hard to provide hope to those people. They provide resources and tools to help them get out of those destructive patterns, and we can join with them in giving that hope. The work of Christian Counselling Services headed up by Bee Jay Carter speaks hope into their clients. Your Best You speaks hope to women who have been pushed down by people and the world so they have a hard time seeing worth and value in themselves. This season, give hope.

Love means we give joy. The Psalmist especially speaks of the joy of our salvation. So often we look at what is not working, what is wrong, what we haven’t got. We need to look at what we do have, what is right. That is what Philippians 4:8 means when it says “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Life is messy. It is depressing. It is hard. But God is love, and even “though our outer man is decaying, our inner man is being renewed day by day.” The message of hope we give in freedom is joy. We have the answer to life. We know the last chapter and it is wonderful. Doesn’t an eternity in the presence of your Creator give you even a smidgen of joy? God has given us joy. Give the gift of joy this season. Let people see your excitement about God and His ability to change us both today and in the life to come. My dad said his funeral needs to be a celebration. He knows when he sees Jesus face to face he will be changed. There may be temporary grief, but he is entering an eternity without any sorrow or sadness or pain or grief. Let the joy of the season be the joy of your salvation.

God is good, God is great, God is love. We have been given the Greatest Gift in the life and death of Jesus. We celebrate the incarnation over the next 6 weeks, and in a few months the death and resurrection. We experience in so many ways that gift in our faith, in our day to day walk with Jesus. Turn around and give that same gift of love this season to those around you.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Remembrance Day Service - 2009

Ephesians 6:10-20 “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.”

Christianity has a long history. We may not be familiar with church history over the last 1900 years but we know the stories from the life of Jesus. We know the older Hebrew stories. When I say King David, what stories come to mind? Throughout the Scriptures are admonitions to remember. The Jewish feasts and celebrations were all about remembering key events from the past. We are called to make markers in our life so when we are going through rough times we can look at something tangible and be reminded of God’s faithfulness, even when our emotions are going haywire.

Today we want to remember our Canadian heritage around the world. Canada’s military has pursued peacekeeping activities and defended freedom internationally for a long time. Do we remember what the Canadians accomplished in wars gone by? What about WW2?

At the start of WW2 an agreement had been announced for a British Commonwealth Air Training Plan to be centered in Canada. This project alone trained more than 131,000 aircrew personnel for the Commonwealth. Canada contributed 72,800 pilots, navigators, aerial gunners and bombardiers, and flight engineers. These Canadians saw service in almost every theatre of war.

The First Canadian Army was the senior Canadian operational formation in Europe during the Second World War. By the end of 1943 Canadian formations in the UK consisted of three infantry divisions, two armoured divisions, and two independent armoured brigades.
Canadians were instrumental in the capture of Caen in 1944. They also won another major victory in the closing of the Falaise gap later the same summer. In the costly and difficult battle of the Scheldt estuary that autumn, the Canadians cleared the sea passage to Antwerp, already in Allied hands. In the bitter battle along the Hochwald Ridge in February 1945, Canadian losses were extremely heavy. This battle opened the final attack across the Rhine, which was a prelude to the unconditional surrender by Germany on May 7, 1945. A part of the army had been instrumental in Sicily and Italy before joining the rest of the Canadian army in north west Europe.

The reality of war is filled with violence and pain and death. But the heart of WW2 was a struggle for freedom. Freedom from oppression. Freedom from fear. Freedom to make choices in life. Freedom to live and to love. Isn’t that something worth fighting for, worth dying for? Many of us have relatives involved in the armed forces. My grandfather was drafted in WW1 but never got off Canadian soil before the war ended.

Many of our soldiers who fought did not return, and we remember them today. We remember that our freedom was bought at great cost, by those who paid the ultimate price. And they did not die in vain, for we all share in the freedom they brought us. The Global Symposium of Peaceful Nations recently named Canada as the most peaceful country in the North and Central America and Caribbean region and put it eighth place worldwide on its global peace index. Canadian ambassador Gary Doer accepted the award at the symposium in Washington last Sunday.

We look around today and we still have wars and rumours of war. Our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters are serving in Afghanistan and other places around the globe. Violence and death reigns in some of those places, but our soldiers go to bring Hope to the vulnerable; Help to the powerless. As I read testimonies and letters of soldiers from the past, they talk about their service in that currency of Hope; Hope that they would make a difference; Hope that because they are there in those places freedom may come.

Many of those soldiers had a faith they took with them. It wasn’t a faith based on an institution, but faith based on a relationship with a God of Hope. Jesus’ words recorded in the Gospel of John says that “If the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed!” So we remember those soldiers who have died in the pursuit of freedom. We remember the price that was paid for our freedom. Know this, though, that there is a place inside each of us that no enemy can touch. No one can put bonds or shackles or imprison that place. It is that place where the breathing part of us resides; the part of us distinct from these fleshy bodies;  the part of us that gives power and reason to these physical bodies; and at the core of that place resides a connection to the eternal. It is in that place that we can meet the Creator, the One that made us with a Purpose. Jesus said that He came that we might have life, life abundant. In the midst of war or peace, you can have a hope of the eternal - Jesus Himself said what is arguably the most well-known verse in the Bible - For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not die spiritually, but have eternal life.

So we remember and we pray God’s blessings on those gone before us, and for an enduring Hope in our own lives, on this Day of Remembrance.

That is the words I shared with the legion and residents of 2 seniors facilities this past week. There is hope. For you and I, though, the call goes beyond hope. You and I are on the front lines of another battle. We are called to become more like Jesus as we mature in the faith - what is at the heart of Jesus' finished work on the cross? To overcome and destroy the work of Satan. He fought a spiritual warfare that dogged Him his whole life. From Herod trying to kill Him as a baby to Pilate allowing Him to be crucified, He was constantly involved in a spiritual war. We can’t even try to understand it as just a mental or spiritual conflict, for Jesus died in that conflict. It affects our physical world. So the call for us today is to speak, “Peace” and “Hope” to those around us, but it is also to roll up our sleeves and step forward ourselves to the front lines. The enemy is coming against us to take captives, to destroy. Who will stop them? A prophet of old speaking the words of God said, “I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one.” There is a gap in our world today. The forces of hell array against us in this church, in this city, in this nation, and around the world. And the challenge is for you and I to step up and offer our services to the King of Kings. is now happening. Your Best You small group is on and another conference is slated for the last week in January downtown at the Bridge On 20TH. Christmas is coming. There are many other opportunities to engage the enemy. Follow the lead of the Holy Spirit, cinch up the armour of God and in pray, let us go out and stand in that gap.

Today is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Please pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are persecuted for their faith in Jesus. Their hope in God and their trust in His Word carry them through their daily battles. “You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word.” Psalm 119:114.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Best Practices of Our Faith - Evangelism Part 2

John 1:1-14 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light. There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…” (NASB)

Salvation: Lewis Chafer notes 33 gifts given to us in the salvation instant. In Volume 3 of his 8 volume Systematic Theology work he explains the changes salvation brings in details. This is who you are in Christ! You can do amazing things - this is on top of all the other neat strengths and gifts He has given you as an individual.

There are 3 priorities I want to leave with you about sharing your faith. Too often we can get caught up in programs or details or ourselves or fear when we try to share your faith. Relax and be yourself, but think about these 3 things.

Initiative: We read in 1st John that we love, we are capable of love, because God first loved us. Go took the initiative to restore the broken relationship with us. It is called the incarnation; where God became flesh, God became man. He went out of His comfort zone, gave up His rights and privileges, and became one of us. John 1:12 says that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The book of Romans tells us while we were yet sinners Jesus died for us. God modeled initiative with us; we can follow in His steps. I have seen some studies where they asked non-Christians whether they would go to church and what it would take to get them there. It was amazing how many said they would go if they were invited by a friend, and it was equally depressing that most of them said they had never been invited. Take a chance this year and invite a friend out to something. Maybe it won’t be a morning service, maybe it will. Maybe it will be our Christmas banquet, or another special meeting we do for fellowship. Maybe it will be a special Bible study or something we hold in our house. If you want me to come and do a study for some people who need Jesus, all you have to do is ask and I will be there (At least in Saskatoon). There are some great studies we can get for those wanting to discuss religion, or who want to know more about Christianity.
How many of us started going to church because our grandparents or friends invited us? Billy Graham Crusades were so successful not just because Billy preached from the Bible, but because many of the people were there because some Christian friend or family member took them. You are the only link to Jesus for some of the people in your life. Take the initiative, and pray for the opportunities.

Intentional: When football is played, 12 guys line up against 12 guys (The NFL has its roots in the CFL so...). Do they go out on the field and wander around, wondering if something might come their way? No! They have set plans on both offence and defence. Even if they aren’t catching the ball they go out and run a pattern to draw the defence away from where the ball is going. While watching the Riders play yesterday, I heard that Hamilton’s offensive line has not allowed a sack of the quarterback in the last 3 games. Those guys on the offensive line have a job to do, even if they never plan on touching a ball for the entire game. Without them, the quarterback is in big trouble.
So it is with witnessing. That word witness is about having a testimony of an event. When we talk about witnessing for our faith, we are referring to what God has done in our lives. You have to be intentional; intentional about understanding your story and intentional about witnessing. God has a playbook for your life. Quarterbacks carry all their plays on a little wrist thing - yours is here in this book called a Bible. Get to know your Playbook inside out.
There are 3 stories in life. The first is God’s story. We talked about that last week. That’s the story of God redeeming people. It begins in creation with the creation of man in His image, runs through the Fall in the Garden of Eden and then what God did to restore that broken relationship. It is about Him becoming a man so that in dying for our sins we are given the freedom to follow Him as we turn to God in faith.

The second story is your story. It has 3 parts. They are:
1) Life before God
2) How you met Jesus; how you “got saved”
3) The change that God has done in your life since

When I was a kid I know I lived for myself. I had good ethics because I grew up in a good family concerned about community, but I had no hope nor footing in life. One day after church I went home and gave my life to Jesus. I had heard the stories of God in the Bible, and I came to understand that for hope and a footing, I needed Jesus to forgive my sin and I needed to follow Him. Jesus has never left me since. I have had good times and a few rough times in the past 40 years since Jesus came into my life - but I have never been left on my own, and I have come to understand fully why I am here on this planet. Life is messy, but God is love.
That is my story in a nut shell. You need to be able to articulate that story for yourself. You don’t have to dwell and relate just how bad or sinful you were; we get it. You need to share that encounter with God where you realized you needed Jesus. You can simply lay out the way to Jesus as you explain what happened in your life. The third part is where you talk about what Jesus has done in your life. What has He done. This is a good exercise in to help look at the reality of God in you.
As we read both the Old and New Testaments we see again and again lives changed by Jesus and God’s grace. The book of Acts again and again shows God at work. How does that compare to your story - what is your story? One question I like to ask new people I have met whom I know is a Christian is how they came to be following Jesus. That is your story. Take some time this week and write out your story. Keep it simple, and just follow those three parts.

Listen: The third story is the other person’s, the one who doesn't know Jesus yet. You have been challenged to be praying for a few people who need Jesus. How well do you know their story; their struggles? In order to know that you have to ask questions, but then you have to listen. Understand that it is God who saves. We can’t talk someone into heaven. We simply share what God is doing and has done in our life, and then ask people where they are at. We listen. We want to know where they are at so we can pray for them, and provide the answers to many of life’s problems through Jesus. We want to be a real friend, not just have an agenda to “Reach them” for Jesus. Yes, they do need Jesus and they probably don’t know it, but it is easier to love someone into the kingdom than to talk them in. In your listening, the Spirit can give you the right words to share and the right things to do to help. If you are too noisy and full of yourself, you can miss God’s message. You can and will miss the key needs they have. Is their marriage falling apart? Don’t push that away just because you want them to “get saved”. God will meet them in the midst of their crisis. Listen and let God lead you. It is a holy thing to see someone begin to follow Jesus. It is amazing that He uses us as part of that process.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Best Practices of our Faith: Evangelism

Acts 17:16-34 “Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols. So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present. And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, "What would this idle babbler wish to say?" Others, "He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,"--because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.
And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, "May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean." (Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.)
So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, 'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD ' Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we also are His children.' Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead."
Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, "We shall hear you again concerning this." So Paul went out of their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.”

Salvation, or The Gospel, or the Good News is this:
Admit you are a sinner  Romans 3:23
Believe that Jesus died for your sins John 3:16
Confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, or Leader and Forgiver Romans 10:9-10

Peter sums it all up in the story of Jesus in Acts 2:14-36, 38. You can talk also about Steps to Peace With God, the 4 Spiritual Laws, or the Roman Road which looks at several verses through Romans to define the process of salvation. Next week we will talk about what happens at salvation. We acknowledge that salvation is a process, but it is also an event, when an ultimate decision is made.
For those who personally experienced salvation in time gone by the call is to Holiness; but Salvation when viewed in 2nd or 3rd person is evangelism. The Truth is, people need to hear the story of Jesus. How do they hear this wonderful story? The buzz is out that people who don’t know that story won’t come to an event to hear it. The church is not able to attract people like they used to, and if all our evangelistic efforts are based solely on an attractional model, we just won’t see much happening. If the people won’t come to us, we need to go to the people. The Emergent church emphasizes this, that to impact the world we have to go live in the world. We have to be the light in a dark place. This is not new. I grew up in a church that believed and taught this. Yes, we did events, but we also were challenged to take our faith with us everywhere we go.
Evangelism used to start with asking two questions. James Kennedy in Evangelism Explosion called them the 2 diagnostic questions because the answer people give you enlightens you to where they are at spiritually.
1. If you were to die tonight, would you go to heaven?
2. If you were to die tonight and were asked at the gates of heaven, “Why should you be let in?” what would you say?
These are great questions and I still use them. Evangelism used to start there, and in a Christian culture people understood them even if they were far from God. Today we don’t live in a Christian culture. Many non-Christians have little of the childhood Sunday School that you and I had. Immigration adds more and more people to the mix, and they bring other religions and cultures. How do you and I share the Gospel with them? What has to happen now more than ever in that pre-salvation place people are in? Let me share 2 thoughts with you.

Love - You, more than ever before, have to live a life of love before your neighbours, unsaved family and friends, and strangers. This cannot just be an act; it has to be authentic. You have to love your neighbour as yourself - now where have I heard that challenge before?
You have to invest time and energy into those relationships. If you spend all that time with Christians you will never lead someone to Jesus. Take advantage outreach events like the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast and the Blades Family Faith Night; but those things should be just part of an ongoing dialogue about spiritual things. You earn the right to have that discussion when you live a life of putting others first (read “love”) because you surrendered your own life to Jesus . You are being transformed yourself by the renewing of your mind and heart by the work of the Holy Spirit in you. You are becoming more like Jesus in holiness which expresses itself as love.
Your neighbour hears you gossiping about someone; and what have you just done for the credibility of your faith and witness? You take advantage of someone and as you brag about it you are pushing that non-Christian even further away from Jesus. You keep the same vices and addictions as non-Christians and so they believe God is powerless to change. Perhaps we ourselves have come to believe that - a form of godliness but without the power. We don’t have to be perfect, but if you are constantly extending love rather than judgement, grace rather than self-righteousness, friendship rather than control, people will begin to understand the love and grace of God. They will begin to ask questions about why you are different. Are you different because Jesus is in your life? Is that increasing Christ-likeness happening in your life?

Authenticity - You have to be real and authentic. People aren’t as concerned about how good you are as they are about how real you are. Who wants a bleached out sanitized and sterilized life? Yet that is what we often pursue as the church, thinking perfection is what it is all about. In pursuing that we become institutional because we are pursuing the Law. The Law sucks the life out of our faith experience. It quenches new believers enthusiasm and causes the older saints to revert to a judging position rather than a vital discipling position. We are pursuing Jesus. We are meeting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. And one great truth about God is He accepts us as we are. Again and again we see Jesus approach and accept people where they were at - and in doing so was able to transform their life.
Zacheus was a thief disguised as a tax collector. Jesus had lunch with him and Zach responded to the truth of Jesus by repaying 4 times the amount he had stolen from people as restitution. The adulteress stood alone before Jesus with no accusers, and Jesus said, “Go and sin no more.” The Samaritan women was given the Living Water and she told the whole town about Jesus. The list goes on, but the principle is to be real in your faith. We want people to experience salvation because we know how important it is. Most of the people don’t know how important, so they aren’t going to listen to us unless we truly love them as people. You can’t fake love. You can’t do love out of ulterior motives, out of an agenda. People know and they don’t respond if all you are is a salesman. We are ambassadors - we have a message to share. Be real as you do that. I want to leave you with 2 practical things you can do today. Love and authenticity are lifelong pursuits. They are changes that happen over time.

Pray - Today you can pray. Everyone can pray. Make that list of 5 or 10 people who need the Lord and keep it near you day to day. Pray for those people often, that God would draw them to Himself. Pray for opportunities for yourself or other Christians in their life to be used to share the Good News. Pray for the Lord of the Harvest to send workers into the fields which are white and ready for a spiritual harvest.

Initiate spiritual conversations - Lastly, we need to be able to talk to people about spiritual things. Even though we don’t start with those 2 diagnostic questions, we can start with spiritual things. The program is one tool that the BGEA is offering us as a church. They are showing 3 commercials on TV programs over the month of November. Your neighbours are likely going to see them. The grocery clerks will, as will the people in your family. They are short, funny, and have a memorable hook line: “I got a guy for that!” “I can hook you up!” “I know someone”. We are going to give you some cards with soul chat on them as well as our church information. Those commercials are going to send people to the website where they will have an opportunity to read articles and videos and connect to a local church like us to get questions answered. We don’t have to wait for that phone to ring, though. You can hand one of those people near us a card and ask, “Have you seen the commercials? What did you think?” As you listen and respond, what a perfect opportunity to ask them about spiritual things without any threat. You have a common place to come from. We can do an event at the end of November where you could invite them to come for a discussion
Here are some other questions you can ask:
Have you read much of Jesus’ teachings?
What would you say is the most foundational thing in life?
Do you have spiritual beliefs?
Who is a spiritual person you admire?
Do you know who Jesus is?
What are your spiritual questions?
If you could ask God one question, what would it be?
I don’t believe in a God like that either. Let me tell you what I believe.
Have you ever gone to church?

The Great Commission is not just a Great Suggestion!  Start with prayer, and go from there. Let God lead. He has promised to provide the words when you need them; but what you need the most is just your story of what God, what Jesus has done in your life. Maybe you realize He hasn’t done much yet. If that is the case surrender yourself to Him and let Him continue that marvellous work in your life that He started so long ago. Today is the day of salvation. What are you doing with Jesus today?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Your Best You - God’s Image

Romans 5:1-8 “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

So what does it mean to be made in God’s image?

Being made in the image of God means you have a choice. You have a choice in life. Life comes at us hard and heavy sometimes and we can feel off balance. There has been some of the worst flooding in the Philippines. The water Is not solid, but by sheer volume it comes in and pushes and drowns and overwhelms cars and bridges, anything in its way. You get the sense that there is nothing you can do, that you are just caught in the current of life and swept along. Everyone has issues in life. If it isn’t financial, it is social, or mental or even physical. And in the midst of all that, you have a choice. Some people think the only way out is to give up. Some people do the “grin and bear it” thing. But you are made in God’s image, and with that image comes the ability to choose to accept God’s provision of grace in your life or not.
This choice to have God in your life or not is your choice. No one else can make it for you. No one else can deny you that choice. That choice is not dependent on where you are or what you have done in life. It is dependent upon you hearing what God is saying to you and deciding to follow Him.
One of my favourite stories in the Old testament is when Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. He says ask your God to show himself. They tried and failed, but when it was Elijah’s turn fire rained down from heaven and it was obvious who sits on the throne of heaven. The evil queen Jezebel hears and threatens Elijah’s life, so Elijah flees and wants to die. Great victory, sudden defeat. Then the story gets good, for God has not given up on Elijah. He pokes Elijah and says go to Horeb and so he does. After and earthquake and a big wind and a raging fire we see God speaking to Elijah in a gentle blowing… a small breeze. Though God is bigger than we can grasp and can destroy worlds at a single word, He reached down out of eternity and whispered in Elijah’s ear, “You are not alone!” Ever feel like you’ve blown it, that you have no worth? God’s not done with you yet.
In fact, God has done all the work, everything that needs to happen in order for you to be in a vital relationship with Him; so that the choice is now yours. What will you do with Jesus? In the quietness of your own mind and heart you can respond to God calling you to Himself.

Being made in the image of God means you have unlimited potential. Start with the biggest deposit of gold ever reported, in the headwaters of the Busang River in the steaming jungle of Borneo. The Canadian company Bre-X Minerals Ltd. didn't know about that when it bought rights to the site in 1993. But after Bre-X hired a high-living geologist to map the ore body, the deposit, along with the fever dreams that accompany gold, grew to monster size—by March 1997 that geologist was talking about a 200-million-ounce resource. You do the math at, say US$500 per ounce. The potential had several parties trying to get in on the action. Unfortunately within months the gold deposit was discovered to be bogus and it affected the whole gold industry for years. The potential in the ground turned out to be nothing at all.
Now take you. You are created by a personal God. He is the God that created the earth and the universe. You have that power available within you. You were not just created as an object, but created in His image to have relationship with Him. Your potential is not based on who you are or were; or your performance today or in the past. It is based on who God is. He has created you with unique gifts and a place in the church to serve. He has pursued you through the years for a very specific purpose, and continues to pursue when you turn aside and continues to support when you are on the right track. What does it take to change the world. It takes God; but the greatest thing about God is He wants to use you and I to do it.
You get in relationship with Him, and learn how to listen to Him and how to walk in obedience, then there is nothing you can’t do. In days gone by waters parted, men stood unburnt in the midst of fire, had years added to their lives, were healed and saved from sickness and enemies. You may have issues and people say you can’t do anything, but if God wants you to the unthinkable, you had better begin to think it because He is that big. He used a donkey to correct Balaam. He used a prostitute to model forgiveness. He used a self-righteous church leader to give us the most popular verse in the Gospels. He used a shepherd to slay a giant. He used a slave to prepare a nation for a 7 year famine. He used fishermen and tax collectors to found His church. What is He saying to you? I was reminded this past weekend that we can and need to take responsibility for who we are. You want to grow in Christ? Don’t just wait for the right church program to run, or a church leader to drag you to the alter. Go after it. You can do it. Paul said he could do all things through Jesus who strengthens him. So can you.

Being made in the image of God means you are loved. Earlier in our Scripture reading we read the truth that at our worst Jesus loved us more than anything - more than heaven, more than His rightful place there, more than the comfort and perfectness of God’s presence. He gave all that up just so you would know that Jesus loves you. Romans 8 starts with these words: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” Do you hear that? Jesus said that to the woman caught in adultery. He asked who condemned her, and there was no one. Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.
Jonah had a very specific message from God and yet He ran the opposite way, and God still loved Him and used Him. David committed adultery and murder and struggled with pride; but he was the apple of God’s eye. Job suffered tremendous calamity and loss, yet God met him in his need, and Job found grace and blessing. Peter had words that denied Jesus and words that were quick to hurt and pursue pride; but Jesus restores him not just to ministry but as head of the church in Jerusalem. Paul had little patience for the people around him, but took the Gospel to the Gentiles, to you and I.
Do you then dare think that you are beyond God’s notice? Do you think that in you the Creator has made junk or garbage? Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t buy that bag of goods that says that because you are the most important thing in the world to God. You were made in His image. You have the imprint of awesomeness in your life, on your soul. If you need God to quicken your spirit, if you need to be raised from the spiritual grave or rescued from coasting so far away you begin to question how real He is, spend some time in His presence and at the very core of who you are you will know you are loved. He has promised again and again that He will never leave you nor forsake you. You have a Friend that sticks closer than a brother regardless of your circumstances. Romans 8 closes with these words: “But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Being made in the likeness of God means you are a warrior. You see depictions of warriors and soldiers on the news, in books, and in the movies. We have this sense of heroes, of people going beyond the normal and accomplishing something remarkable, even unthinkable. An autistic 10 year old boy saved his teacher’s life this past week by doing the Heimlich maneuver when she choked on an apple. There’s a part in most of us that at times has daydreamed about being the hero. In Jesus, you are. You are clad with the armour of God and you take the battle to “the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” You can stand when all around you people are failing because eternity is in your heart, and the power of God is in your life. You have not been given a spirit of timidity or fear, but of power and love and of discipline. You can be that hero who stands in the storm, because you were made in the image of God. Pursue the knowledge and skills you need to understand your uniqueness in Jesus. Draw close to God and be filled with the Spirit. Don’t settle for mediocrity but pursue God with all your heart and soul and mind, and just see what He will do through you.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Psalm 95:1-7 “O come, let us sing for joy to the LORD,
         Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation.
    2Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving,
         Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.
    3For the LORD is a great God
         And a great King above all gods,
    4In whose hand are the depths of the earth,
         The peaks of the mountains are His also.
    5The sea is His, for it was He who made it,
         And His hands formed the dry land.
    6Come, let us worship and bow down,
         Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.
    7For He is our God,
         And we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand…”

As we look at the Bible in broad terms, we see God moving through the pages accomplishing the task of redeeming man to Himself. We see judgement because of holiness, and grace because of love. What about the story of your life? Can you see God there too? Has He been drawing you to Himself both before and after He met you at the foot of the cross at salvation? There are so many people out there that don’t get the story of the cross; they don’t know the story and they aren’t interested in the historical context. It seems they want a sanitized incarnation without any link to history or to the flesh and blood of reality. They want faith to be more about a practical theology than a spiritual response to grace.

This Thanksgiving, I trust that the cross is at the top of your list of what you are thankful for. With communion fresh in our minds, we are reminded again of the price paid for you and I to be redeemed.

The cross is about love - love in action. God is love in His infinite wisdom reached down out of eternity in order to make us free from the bondage we were in. Do you remember the story of Israel, of how they were enslaved in Egypt some 3500 years ago. They cried out to God and He delivered them. They were free from their bondage, free to make choices about life where there were no freedoms before. Outside of Jesus we are slaves to sin; powerless to help ourselves out of the futilities of life. There is that continual question about Why? What is my purpose; why am I here? Most of you, if not all of you have had that questioned answer. When you look around at your family and neighbours, though, there are people that are still enslaved. Who will be a Moses to them and stand before the god of this world on their behalf and cry, “Let them go - set them free”? We are saved to be ambassadors of Jesus, to share the reason for the hope that lies within us. I am thankful for my redemption, for the purpose that He has put into my life.

What are we redeemed for? What are we redeemed to? Sometimes we have visions of changing the world; of being successful in business or sports. For what did Jesus redeem you for? I was young when I accepted Jesus, and a teenager when I experienced that work of grace in my life when it was no longer a question of who would sit on the throne of my life. After high school I went o University for a math degree with an accounting option. Within a few weeks, though, I knew God wanted me elsewhere. The following year I went to Bible College, and after 4 years went to seminary part-time. I spent 5 years as associates in 2 churches and then moved to a maintenance job in a college for the next 9. A year of managing a Christian Campground and 3 as a supervisor in grocery retail brings us up to the time when we moved here to Saskatoon almost 3 years ago. So here I am having taken a scenic route to get here. Following Jesus is about what you are doing with Him today, in the present. All through my journey of the last 30 years I am thankful for God’s presence in my life in that daily sense. Through all the ups and downs I have never lost a sense of His presence. He has been faithful in good times and bad times. Do have that sense? God has promised to never leave us nor forsake us. Claim that promise in good and bad times. Rest in Him. These are not clich├ęs, but reality. This is where the rubber hits the road, where our faith reaches out and flexes its muscles. Job, who experienced tragedies and sorrow, never once doubted the presence of God. He had that assurance that in spite of his finite knowledge that God was there regardless of the circumstances of his life, regardless of the opinions of his friends, and in spite of what seemed to be endless sorrow. I am thankful for the presence of my Savior in my life.

There’s the story of Israel, and my story. The third story is yours and how you live out the redemption and presence of God in your life. Let me close with 4 encouragements to have more thanksgiving in the story of your life.

Philippians 4:6 “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Thanksgiving is a necessary ingredient to dealing with anxiety. You cannot beat anxiety if you don’t recognize what is good in your life. If in your anxiety you forget what God has done you will be lost in your worry. Remember, and be thankful.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 “in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” The will of God! You were created to be thankful! Some people think they have the gift of being critical or the gift of questioning. Be careful, and understand what God is saying. He was not pleased with those attitudes in Israel, so let them go, be thankful and see what God is doing in your life.

2 Thessalonians 1:3 “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater…” Being thankful helps us to focus on what is important; on ministry. We are thankful for two things here: for spiritual growth and for increasing love. When we cut to the chase, we want to see people fulfilling the 2 great commandments of loving God which is spiritual growth, and loving neighbours. When I see that as a pastor I am greatly encouraged. That is why we are here - to become more like Jesus. God is holiness and love; Jesus was holiness and love; let you and I be about holiness and love.

Ephesians 1:16 “do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers.” Thanksgiving gives us the recognition that we are in a community. We are reminded of the body of Christ as our focus is drawn to those around us. Pray for one another. One of the great blessings I have is every night to pray with my family for people in the church and for our extended family. It connects me to people, even to those that do not come every Sunday. Pray for one another because it will help you to be connected to one another.