Monday, July 20, 2009

New direction

So, I have been at LSCC for 2 1/2 years now, preaching almost evry Sunday. I have seen some wonderful growth in the people and even myself as we look into the Word together. Some weeks I have covered a ton of material, perhaps too much for the short time we have together.

I am interested in approaching some of my sermons in a more narrative fashion - focusing more on a single thought rather than 3 or 4, and coming at it with more "life experience" and perspective, rather than strict teaching/lecture style. Faith and growth in Jesus is part of our everyday life, and that is what I want to connect with in my sermons.

So bear with me on this journey, and may God lead me on in my own journey. Thanks for being with me on this part.

In His service,
Steve

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Psummer Psalm Pseries - Psalm 40: Out of the Pit


1I waited patiently for the LORD; and He inclined to me and heard my cry.
2He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay,
And He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm.
3He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God;
Many will see and fear and will trust in the LORD.
4How blessed is the man who has made the LORD his trust,
And has not turned to the proud, nor to those who lapse into falsehood.
5Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders which You have done,
And Your thoughts toward us; there is none to compare with You.
If I would declare and speak of them, they would be too numerous to count.
6Sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired;
My ears You have opened; burnt offering and sin offering You have not required.
7Then I said, "Behold, I come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me.
8I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart."
9I have proclaimed glad tidings of righteousness in the great congregation;
Behold, I will not restrain my lips, O LORD, You know.
10I have not hidden Your righteousness within my heart;
I have spoken of Your faithfulness and Your salvation;
I have not concealed Your lovingkindness and Your truth from the great congregation.

I grew up in Christian Service Brigade, and so spent a lot of time doing outdoor stuff, learning about the woods and bike repair and the stuff of life. So, as a dad, I want my kids to have that same kind of experience. We are starting up a Treks program this fall, a beginning program of CSB. But I was in a store another day and I saw one of those science learning kits you get for kids. It was called “how to make quicksand”. Now I ask you… is that really one of those skills I want Benjamin to learn. “Here, son, learn how to make quicksand!” I can imagine when he hits puberty and gets dumped by his first girlfriend because she wants to go out with the quarterback. The next day the quarter back goes out the front door and crosses his lawn for school when, bingo, he falls into a pit of quicksand. I mean, where is a kid going to use that kind of knowledge?

Quicksand is one of those things that once you are in, the more you move the worse it gets. If you panic you sink. But panicking is natural. When you get stuck and it feels like something has grabbed your foot and leg, your reaction is to try to jerk it out, to fight it.

Has life ever felt that way? You get into a situation and no matter what you do, you just seem to be making it worse. You get yourself more stuck. Listening to a Christian radio talk show yesterday got me thinking about our situations. The question was what do I do, I’m not hearing from God.

I don’t know your circumstances and the details of your life, but I do know the first thing you need to be encouraged with is patience. Right at the beginning of this Psalm we read David saying I patiently waited. He was anointed as king but did not take that position for many years! He was chased around the country by Saul for a long time, and you can get the sense of “When will this ever end?” Be patient because you know God hears. His salvation is coming. He promised in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that He will not allow you to be destroyed, He has a way for you. 2 Corinthians 4 talks about how so much of life can come against you, but God is bigger than any of it. Claim these first couple of verses for yourself before God today: I waited patiently for the LORD; and He inclined to me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm.

The second thing I encourage you to do is share your testimony. What has God done for you? Have you told anyone? One of the neatest things about new Christians is their excitement, their joy. God has just done a miracle in their life and they want people to know. They want others to have the same experience as they did. All to often in the church decades old Christians roll their eyes at each other and think, “They’ll get over that. Just give them time.” What a sad commentary about our relationship with the Creator of the ends of the earth. One morning you are sitting there eating Fruit loops or oatmeal thinking about the day ahead of you and the door bell rings. You open it and there is the queen. What do you do? “Oh, Hi Lizzy. I wasn’t really expecting you, but, I guess if you want you can come in. That crown is a bit too shiny this early in the morning isn’t it?” I would hope that if the queen took time out for you, you would be quite excited to spend as much time with her as you could, and the minute she left, the MINUTE she left, you would be on the phone or on the computer tweeting about it to everybody you knew. You meet Jesus, you ask Him if He’ll help you with that problem with your friend, and He does. Aren’t you excited when your prayers are answered? You need to tell others what Jesus is doing today for you.

Hear what David says in verse 3: “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; many will see and fear and will trust in the LORD.” The answered prayer puts a song in his life, and as a result of that testimony many will will turn to God. That is a huge part of how God wants to use all of us. When is the last time you told someone something that God did for you? Don’t let another day go by without you doing that.

The third thing I want you to be encouraged to do is to remember. In my relationship with Bonnie we have worked hard not to use superlatives when we are frustrated. Have you ever heard someone say, “You never…” or “You always do that…” when it is just emotion speaking. Perhaps you are feeling isolated and alone, and so you say, “You are never around!” when the person is around a fair bit. When we allow those emotions to speak, we forget about all the times when the person was there and just erase them with a 5 letter word. SO when times are tough and God seems far, we may want to say to Him that He is never around, or has never been close. Don’t go there; instead remember your journey with Him. Remember also His journey with Israel and the early Church. He is heavily involved in humanity. David encourages us in verse 5: “5Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders which You have done, and Your thoughts toward us; there is none to compare with You. If I would declare and speak of them, they would be too numerous to count.” These are John’s words in his gospel when he says if I were to try to write all the things that Jesus did there wouldn’t be enough books in the world to finish it. Write milestones in the back of your Bible, so that when you are down you can look in there and see the date you first met Him; the day he answered that prayer about the car; the day He sanctified you anew; the day He just said to you out of the blue, “I love you, you are mine.”

Lastly, I encourage you to follow Him. Be obedient to the things He has called you to do and to be. The place to start is the being part. Israel was heading for the promised land. They were going to a land of riches and plenty. God taught them in several different ways the kind of people He wanted them to be so that when they got there, they would be able to handle the responsibility and task at hand. He taught them to rely on Him. He taught them to focus on the needs of the present and let God worry about the future. He taught them that holiness was the most important thing, and that included loving your neighbour. In fact, one of the biggest indicators of holiness is the kind of love you showed the people around you.

You know what? That hasn’t changed. David said way back then it wasn’t about the sacrifices and offerings; it was about the obedience. What David says in verse 8 sums it up nicely: “I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart." Your Law is within my heart. DO you remember what the Law is? It is the revelation of God; it represents the very character of God. So David is saying that it is all about having God’s character in our life. We say it today with the phrase “Christ-like”. That is our “big-picture” purpose - to be more like Jesus.

Four things: Patience, Testimony, Remember, and Follow. Stick to it. Don’t give up. But don’t be satisfied with an old faith. Don’t be satisfied with a faith that has to go back 5, 10, or 30 years to share what Jesus has done for you. He wants to meet you each day; He wants to chat with you through His Word and the people around you. Be current in your faith with both confession and repentance as well as praise and worship. Don’t let the church just be some dry, boring experience. It should be an organism full of life. You are the ones that give it life. If you don’t or won’t or can’t, no one else will. Take some time and read through this Psalm this week. Let God encourage you through it.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Psummer Psalm Pseries: Psalm 37 - Wisdom


1Do not fret because of evildoers,
Be not envious toward wrongdoers.
2For they will wither quickly like the grass
And fade like the green herb.
3Trust in the LORD and do good;
Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.
4Delight yourself in the LORD;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.
5Commit your way to the LORD,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.
6He will bring forth your righteousness as the light
And your judgment as the noonday.
7Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him;
Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,
Because of the man who carries out wicked schemes.
8Cease from anger and forsake wrath;
Do not fret; it leads only to evildoing.
9For evildoers will be cut off,
But those who wait for the LORD, they will inherit the land.
10Yet a little while and the wicked man will be no more;
And you will look carefully for his place and he will not be there.
11But the humble will inherit the land
And will delight themselves in abundant prosperity.

When it comes to poetry there are many popular ones. Sometimes in the seasons of life we are called to love and poetry expresses some of those feelings like this one:

Sonnet XLIII (Elizabeth Barret Browning)
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,--I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!--and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Other poetry is good for every day, and some of my favorites are limericks

A flea and a fly in a flue
Were imprisoned, so what could they do?
Said the fly, "let us flee!"
"Let us fly!" said the flea.
So they flew through a flaw in the flue.

There was a farmer from Leeds,
Who ate six packets of seeds,
It soon came to pass,
He was covered with grass,
And he couldn't sit down for the weeds!

There was a young man from Japan
Whose limericks never would scan.
When asked why this was,
He replied "It's because
I always try to fit as many syllables into the last line as ever possibly I can.

Psalm 37 is an Alphabetic acrostic. Every second verse starts with the following letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It has themes of righteous and wicked running through it. It seems to be written to those who follow God going through a rough time. Let’s have a look at the theme David develops.

Righteous verses Wicked
First, let’s get the basics right. This is not an “us” verses “them” Psalm. The “wicked” are not our enemies. They don’t look different from us. They have as much money and stuff as us. The difference between the wicked and the righteous is that the righteous trust in God, have a world view that includes the Creator of the ends of the earth, and the wicked don’t. It doesn’t describe their attitudes or bent to sin anymore than the righteous. The righteous, sadly, seem to struggle with sin as much as the wicked. Maybe we don’t run to certain sins in the same way, but we still struggle with pride and judging and selfishness within the church. How many churches have been guilty of splitting over issues not related to loving Jesus with your heart and soul and mind? This Psalm is reflective of the book of Proverbs where you see
the foolish man compared to the wise man. There we find the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, and that the fool has said in his heart, “There is no God!” Don’t let the term “wicked” throw you - in our culture today it has a lot more connotations than this Psalm intends.

The righteous are simply the ones who trust in God. Trust is a little word with big connotations. When you look at the verbs used: dwell, delight, commit, rest and more you get a better sense of the word trust. When you have a good friend who is there with you through both good times and bad times; who sees you when you are cleaned up and made up as well as at your worst first thing in the morning or sick as a dog; who is with you when you are the good guy and doesn’t give up on you when you blow it - then you begin to understand what it means to trust in God. You can go to Him as you are and find love. That love will invariably change you, but God died for you while you were at your most depraved. Understand this, though: you have to go to Him. He is offering so much love and forgiveness and grace and help, but if you don’t reach out and take it with a measure of commitment, you remain far from God.

The wicked are the ones who trust in themselves. It’s not that they are necessarily mean, but more that they have the belief that they are the center of the universe. Their purpose in life is to get what they want, to do what they want, to be what they want. All their decisions are focused on who they are. When we look at it that way we understand that we are in many ways wicked ourselves. We want safety for our family. We want stuff for us and our comfort. Living life in the Kingdom of God is about balance. We are called to be selfless and at the same time to be good stewards of what is entrusted to us. As a parent then, I do want safety and health for my family which is in my trust; and for myself so I can continue on to care for my family. The real issue is, “What are you doing with Jesus in the midst of your responsibilities?” The primary call to become a Christian is not to escape hell and gain eternal life. The primary call to become a Christian is so that you can live a fuller and more complete life in relationship with your Creator. You may have a lot of money, you may have great health and a large family; but if you haven’t got Jesus you are missing the most important component.

The Results
Verses 9, 11, 22, 29, 34 “But those who wait for the LORD, they will inherit the land”, “the humble will inherit the land”, “those blessed by Him will inherit the land”, “The righteous will inherit the land”, “He will exalt you to inherit the land”. The Psalmist is quite confident that the righteous will inherit the land. Remember this is David speaking in the Old Testament. The promises given need to be seen in the full understanding of the whole plan of Salvation. Ultimately these promises are spiritual in nature and refer to eternal life. Eternal life, though wrought through the sacrificial death of Jesus, was and is applied to both those in the future of that event as well as those in the past. Salvation is and was always by faith, not works. Works are derived from faith, and from a human point of view (like James) are representative of that faith. You can’t separate the two. There was also the promise to Israel that if they obeyed the Law and followed God in a theocracy He would bless them and cause them to prosper; unfortunately they didn’t and so the events of the exile. They are not so different than us. In our own way we have wandered far from God and so journey back to Him. The Israelites had the pillar of fire and cloud to lead them, we have the presence of God through the holy Spirit who was set as a seal upon our lives as a promise of redemption when we breath our last.

Verses 2, 10, 20, 22, 28, 34, 36, 38 “they will wither quickly like the grass and fade like the green herb”, “Yet a little while and the wicked man will be no more”, “the wicked will perish”, “those cursed by Him will be cut off”, “the descendants of the wicked will be cut off”, “when the wicked are cut off, you will see it”, “lo, he was no more; I sought for him, but he could not be found”, “transgressors will be altogether destroyed; the posterity of the wicked will be cut off”. The Psalmist is equally assured that the end result of a selfish life will result in being cut off. Again, the application is primarily spiritual in nature. We are in the New Covenant and blessings are all about who we are in Jesus. Along with this understanding is that Israel was judged for turning their back on God and pursuing idolatry and selfish pursuits. In God’s timing, there is much grace. Judgement often came in generations rather than days or even years. When it comes down to it we also recognize that judgement is God’s business, and not ours. That is why we started off by explaining it is not an “us” verses “them” issue. Anyone out there to us is a “pre-believer” that God loves and is trying to reach. We read in the book of Hebrews that it rains on both the righteous and unrighteous. The axiom that good happens to good and bad happens to bad is just not true. Often we do reap what we sow, but that follows from the company we keep and the consequences of lifestyle and day to day choices.

Be Encouraged
So be encouraged. There are several verses I want to highlight in this Psalm.
Verses 4-7 “Delight yourself in the LORD; and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him, and He will do it. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light and your judgment as the noonday. Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him…” Delight, Commit, Trust - as we draw close to God, He places upon us the image of His Son. As we become more like Jesus and understand who we are before God and His love and His grace the desires of our heart will be turned to things of peace, joy and love. It is an interactive relationship we have with the everlasting God, the Creator of our souls; and in these verses is the promise He will see us through to the end - as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow and every morning.
Verse 16 “Better is the little of the righteous than the abundance of many wicked.” People who pursue life with selfishness will find all their riches and pleasures pours like sand through their fingers, and they are left empty-handed. There is a place in each of us that is God shaped. That place is on the throne of our life. As much as we try to stuff other things and people there we will ultimately be unfulfilled. But when we understand the simplicity of the Gospel, that God is love and grace, the stuff of this world no longer holds sway over us. We won’t need much, because we have God and He looks after us.
Verses 23-24 “The steps of a man are established by the LORD, and He delights in his way. When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, because the LORD is the One who holds his hand.” What a wonderful promise we cling to when we wake up every morning and pray, “God, go before me and prepare my path. Lead me on.” We serve a living God who walks with us on the mountaintops as well as through “the valley of the shadow of death”. God looks after us.
Verse 25 “I have been young and now I am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his descendants begging bread.” Another promise to hold dear. The world may be crashing down around us, and there may seem like there is no longer any truth or reason for life, but in Christ we find the answers. Our Heavenly father is a good Daddy, and He loves to bless us. May we have the same testimony as David.
Verses 39-40 “…the salvation of the righteous is from the LORD; He is their strength in time of trouble. The LORD helps them and delivers them; He delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in Him.” Take refuge in God. Run to Him like a child clings to his mommy’s or daddy’s knees. You think of the story of David’s life. As a kid he was the shepherd with courage, taking on bears and lions in the strength of God. We see him anointed as future king, and then victory over the giant Goliath. We see him soothing Saul’s demonic oppression with his music, and rising up in the army of Israel as he trusts in God. We see him on the run from Saul, waiting for God’s timing in His promise of kingship. As king we see him in victory and defeat. We see him in great sin and great misery. We see him humble bfore God. We see his pride and the judgement of God in and on his life. In the end we see God using him to reveal Himself to the world around him. Much was accomplished for the nation under his reign. What I am amazed at is how involved God was. There was never an issue of is God there, but in good and bad, working out his faith in very real ways. May you work out your faith in very tangible and practical ways

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Psummer Psalm Pseries - Psalm 19


1The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.
2Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.
3There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard.
4Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their utterances to the end of the world.
In them He has placed a tent for the sun, 5Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; it rejoices as a strong man to run his course.
6Its rising is from one end of the heavens, and its circuit to the other end of them; and there is nothing hidden from its heat.
7The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.
8The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.
9The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether.
10They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.
11Moreover, by them Your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
12Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults.
13Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not rule over me; then I will be blameless, and I shall be acquitted of great transgression.
14Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer.

Ever had your eyes opened up to something you never saw before. It is like understanding an illusion. We had Lou Leventhol from Emmanuel Baptist Church speak at the ministerial Christmas banquet. He did 2 illusions. The first was with a newspaper. He ripped it up and then unfolded an unripped newspaper - it was quite impressive. In the second one he made a Bowling ball appear out of a big notebook - also quite impressive. In 2 Corinthians 4 we read that the god of this world - Satan - has blinded the eyes of the unbelieving. One of the reasons why it is hard to reach people for Jesus is because they are blind! How difficult that must be, to be blind. In John we read a story of a man born blind. Jesus heals him, and for the first time in his life he can see! This Psalm talks a bit about this. This Psalm challenges us to open up both our physical and our spiritual eyes and look around. In these verse we find 2 revelations of God and a revelation for our self.

1) Verses 1-6 Natural revelation “glory of Elohim”
This is a great passage full of imagery. It talks about the out ward light, the sun, and its portrayal of God the Creator. The first few verses are great: They talk of speech without words or voice. Although they may not be popular, mimes create a message with nether sound nor words, but easily tell the story of their heart. The trick is to look around you, at the world and creation, and see God rather than man. We as humans have messed up our world in so many ways that we can make it hard to see God. Some of us need to slow down in order to see God. Some of us need to get out more into the world. Just open yourself to the possibility and see how God answers your search. The thing about the sun, is that even a blind man can feel the heat of the sun. In the same way, even a non-Christian can feel the love of the Gospel. We go through phases in music, and one song that comes and goes over the years is Louis Armstrong’s A Wonderful World. That song is about looking around you and seeing the wonder of life. We spent some time yesterday at Kinsmen park by the wading pool. I was struck by all the mothers and dads of varying shapes and sizes caring in the same way of love for their little ones. There is a commonality of human experience that also involves a search for understanding. It is a search for the reason of life, and ultimately the answer is found in Jesus.

2) Verses 7-9 Special Revelation, Scripture
A friend of mine had a wonderful testimony of how he came to the Lord. He was laid up in a hospital bed, and someone gave him a Bible. He started reading the book of Romans. If you know Romans, you know Paul poses several rhetorical questions in the first half of the book. As my friend read, he couldn’t answer or refute the questions. By the end of the book he gave his life to Jesus. In all my training to lead someone to Jesus, Scripture is always used. It is the foundation of our faith. It is where we derive our doctrine. It is where we find our understanding of who we are in Jesus.
Where as the first few verses of Psalm 19 talked about the outward light of the sun, these verses talk about the inward light of the Scriptures. The word for God here is different. It is Yahweh, God’s personal name, that is used here. The reason is simple: this passage is about Scripture, and the Scriptures simply reflect the character of God. Look at the words used for Scripture first: law, testimony, precepts, commandments, fear, judgements. These 6 things all reflect a different aspect of what God’s word does. The law, for example, talks about the ethics - what is right and what is wrong. The testimony is about encouragement. Scripture does so many different things. That is one reason why we hand out the daily planners from the Bible Society. They include 3 tracks: one to read a chapter a day, a second to read through the New Testament in a year, and a third to read through the Bible in a year.
Reading the Bible is one of 3 key things you need to be involved with. The second is prayer, and the third is community. These 3 are like a 3-legged stool, that sits firm on the ground. Even if one leg is a bit shorter than the others, a three legged stool never rocks. A 2 legged or 1 legged stool, on the other hand, is all about balance, and invariably you will fall. The reformation was based on getting back to the Scriptures, and in this age of post modernism we need more than ever to know and understand the depths of the Bible
Look also at the words used to describe the Scripture: Perfect/complete, sure, right, pure, clean, true, desirable. Aren’t these words that also describe God? Remember that the Law, the Word of God is basically a revelation of who God is. It makes sense that the character of God, then, is described in a description of the Word of God. Remember that passage in Hebrews 1:1-3a “ 1God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways,
2in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. 3And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature…” This is about revelation of who God is. That is what the Scriptures does for us.

3) Verses 10-13 Self revelation
Look at the words describing what the Scriptures does in us. The first word used is “desirable”. They create in us a yearning for God. I mentioned before the man in Winnipeg who was Islam and wanted to immigrate. He was told if he said he was a Christian it would be easier, so he started to read the Bible so he knew what it is about. He ended up becoming a Christian because the Scriptures do that. When Billy Graham preached, he always had a Bible in his hand, and a verse on his lips. It is the Scripture that God uses to cut us to the quick, to probe to the innermost parts of our lives.
The second thing Scripture does in us is to warn us, to guide us away from danger. A month or two ago my dad sent me some stuff from my childhood. One of the things he sent was a 5 star memory certificate. It was awarded to me when I was 10 years old. I had to memorize 5 things: the Lord’s Prayer, the 10 Commandments, the Beatitudes, the 23 Psalm, and the Books of the Bible. Those things along with the verses and stories I memorized in Sunday School and Stockade and Battalion were invaluable to me as I grew up. I just saw an article yesterday that talked about how people are leaving the church, not just when they enter college, but before that. We need as a church to teach our kids what the Bible says. We as adults need to know it ourselves, and not just from years gone by. We think we are self righteous because we follow the don’t commands about adultery and gluttony, but forget about the ones about gossip and the do ones about love. The Scriptures help us to stay current and in doing so keep us on the path of holiness. What was it that Jesus used in Hid temptation in the wilderness - it was Scripture.
The third word here is sins - the very thing that is against the character of God. You have God here… and everything that isn’t here is sin. Sin is what God is not. The Scripture illuminates sin in our lives. The Spirit uses Scripture to convict us, to lead us back to Jesus when we stray. Each of these three words are about illuminating us from the inside out; about changing us from the inside out. Allow the Scripture to invade your life like the rain water invades the dirt of the farmers fields. Let it saturate you with the character of God, and lead you in the ways of righteousness.
Make your commitment today, in the same way as verse 14 concludes this Psalm: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer.”