Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Year of Jubilee

The US space shuttle Atlantis touched down this past week on its last planned mission. It has been in service 25 years and travelled some 120 million miles over 32 missions. NASA is ending the Space Shuttle program with 2 more flights by the other two shuttles. After all is said and done, you can buy one of the used shuttles for $28.8 million.

The US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4’ 8 ½”. That is an exceedingly odd number. Why was that gauge used? Because that is the way they built them in England, and by and large, English expatriates built the US railroads. Why did the English build them like that? Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that is the gauge they used. Why did “they” use that gauge then? Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools they used for building wagons, which used the same wheel spacing. Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing? Well, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of the old, long distance roads in England, because that is the spacing of the wheel ruts.
So who built those old rutted roads? Imperial Rome built the first long distance roads in Europe (and England) for their legions. The roads have been used ever since. And the ruts in the roads? Roman war chariots formed the initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels. Since the chariots were made for Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing. Therefore the US standard railroad gauge of 4’ 8 ½” is derived from the original specifications for an Imperial Roman war chariot. Imperial Roman army chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the rear ends of two war horses. Bureaucracies live forever.
Now the twist to the story: When you see the space shuttle sitting on the launch pad, there are 2 big booster rockets attached to the side of the main fuel tank. These are the solid rocket boosters, or SRBs. The SRBs are made by Thiokol at their factory in Utah. The engineers who designed the SRBs would have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRBs had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site. The railroad line from the factory happens to run through a tunnel in the mountains, and the SRBs had to fit through that tunnel. The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad track, as you know, is about as wide as two horses’ behinds. So, a major Space Shuttle design feature of what is arguably the world’s most advanced transportation system was determined over two thousand years ago by some guy measuring the width of a horses’ rear end.

Do you see how the past can create baggage, often when we are not even aware of it? Baggage is not necessarily good or bad; a lot depends on how we carry it. If something happens in life, we can hang on to the emotions that will resolve into bitterness. We can harbour bad feelings left over from disagreements. We can carry wounds from emotional and other battles. On the other side we can use the challenge to lead us to growth. In dealing with issues of truth we can use it to sharpen and clarify our faith. We can also carry forward cautions and knowledge that inform and direct our actions today. But know this: holding on to the bad stuff makes us a captive, and in so doing gives away the power and control of your life to the past. While the event or other person has moved on, we cannot. We get stunted in our growth as people and as followers of Jesus. We get stuck in that spiritual nursery that Hebrews 5 talks about, where we lose our ability to discern the difference between good and evil: Hebrews 5:8-14 “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation, being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” We lose our ability to discern between right and wrong. We lose the joy and peace that comes from a clear and uncluttered relationship with our Creator. We lose the sense of that still, quiet voice of the Spirit as He leads and guides us. In short - we lose. But then Jesus announces the Year of jubilee.

What is the Year of jubilee? The Jubilee was to be sounded every 49 or 50 years. Every 7th year was a Sabbath year. The Year of Jubilee was the 7th Sabbath of the 7 year sabbatical cycle - hence 7 times 7 is 49. The biblical requirement is that the Jubilee year was to be treated like a Sabbatical year, with the land lying fallow, but also required the compulsory return of all property to its original owners or their heirs, in addition to the freeing of all Israelite indentured servants. Two freedoms were in place - the land was “freed”, or returned to the original owner. This had the effect of ensuring the 12 tribal boundaries in the Promised Land would not change. In essence, you couldn’t sell and buy land in Israel - you only leased it for a maximum of 49 years. The second freedom was of servants. No Israelite could be a servant for more than 7 years. So the Year of Jubilee was about freedom. It was about freeing the land and the people. This is what the Lord proclaims for us today. In fact, we have three Jubilees before us.

The first is the Jubilee of Salvation. At some point in our lives we have all been captives of sin. When you read the book of Romans, you quickly understand what bondage means. You can imagine a scenario where you have no choice in life. In our own history in Canada we have situations where children were taken from parents with no recourse, and taught values and traditions totally foreign to their history. No choice was given - it was a done deal. You could try and fight it, but that got you nowhere. You could do nothing, absolutely nothing. Each of us existed in that realm spiritually. Sin was in your life and you were under judgement for that. It didn’t even originate in you, but went back to a Garden long ago. You came of age and made your own choices, and they fell short. Nothing you could do could help you save yourself. But in the midst of that lost-ness Jesus reached down, drew you to Himself and gave you love. He took your sin with Him to the cross, and redeemed you. He bought you back from sin. When you were lost in the Egypt of your sins, He sent the Deliverer to bring you out of captivity and so you are free. He has given you the Holy Spirit as a guarantor of that salvation. You are sealed to the day when you shall see Him face to face, and in that work of God He brought healing into your life. He brought healing from the ravages of sin. He is still at work in your life, bringing healing from the past. In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ He declared the Year of Jubilee from sin. You are free to follow, free to choose, and free to be all you can be in Jesus.

The second Jubilee is the Jubilee of Sanctification. It is such a big word, but you know what? Even after salvation and being freed from sin, you were still a slave to Self. You were forgiven the sin that was in your life, but there is a connection to that past that tries to drag you back. As the nation Israel walked further and further from Israel, again and again the tug to go back to the slavery and the bondage there pulled at them. Even at the border of the Promised Land they did not want to go forward, and so they wandered around in disobedience and confusion, missing out on all the Lord had for them. And so we, even after Salvation, wander around in our spiritual lives without much direction. We circle around and don’t seem to be getting anywhere. And then Jesus breaks in and declares the Year of jubilee. The work of His Spirit brings renewal to your life. As you surrender to Him you are freed from the tyranny of self. You are no longer in the struggle of doing the things you don’t want to do, and not getting done what you meant to. It is a work of God, in response to your surrender. Give up your rights just like Jesus gave up His rights in the incarnation. Pursue humility not just before man, but before God, and He will come and bring freedom and a peace that is beyond understanding.

The third Jubilee is the Jubilee of Revival. Have you ever had someone walk past you, and in their passing you enter their scent. Usually and hopefully it is their perfume or aftershave. On occasion it is due to their hygiene. The fact is they left a lingering residue of their presence. The things in our past can hold us captive. We talked about baggage, but sometimes it is not so easy to describe what lingers. We understand there is a realm beyond our senses. As we walk through life and engage with one another and experience tensions and issues, we know there is a spiritual battle going on. We know that there are very often things around us even today as a result of those interactions in that spiritual realm. But we also know this, that greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world. Yahweh is greater than the god of this world. There really is no comparison, but Satan tries to disrupt the work of God any way he can. His minions follow and disrupt, trying to get us to focus on ourselves. He keeps pushing on us, wearing us down. Like the boa constrictor, the snake wraps around our souls and spirits and community and squeezes. He constricts so it is hard to breathe, hard to see clearly. Our thoughts turn inward to survival, to our needs. And we feel hurt, and disappointed, and angry, and vengeful, and the list goes on. But Jesus comes and declares the Year of Jubilee for you and I. He calls us to lay our baggage and sacrifices down at the foot of the cross and look to Him. As we call out to Him for freedom from the captivity of where we were and what has happened, He sends His Spirit to work in us revival. The head of the snake is cut off and we are free without constriction. And this Jubilee is not just for our church, it is for our city. God is moving. He is breaking down the rulers and powers and the world forces of this darkness. There have been strongholds set up and Jesus is breaking them down into nothing, because the presence of God will not tolerate those things. For you and I, as followers of Jesus, they have no power or influence. We are free in Jesus, and as we meet from week to week we can rest in the victory of the freedom God gives.

Have you experienced the Jubilee of Salvation? Give up your striving and accept Jesus. Have you experienced the Jubilee of Sanctification? Surrender. Have you experienced the Jubilee of Revival? Call out for Him in a new way.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Journeys and Destinations

Exodus 15:1-13 “Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the LORD, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea. The LORD is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father's God, and I will exalt him. The LORD is a man of war: the LORD is his name.
Pharaoh's chariots and his host hath he cast into the sea: his chosen captains also are drowned in the Red sea. The depths have covered them: they sank into the bottom as a stone. Thy right hand, O LORD, is become glorious in power: thy right hand, O LORD, hath dashed in pieces the enemy. And in the greatness of thine excellency thou hast overthrown them that rose up against thee: thou sentest forth thy wrath, which consumed them as stubble. And with the blast of thy nostrils the waters were gathered together, the floods stood upright as an heap, and the depths were congealed in the heart of the sea.
The enemy said, I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my lust shall be satisfied upon them; I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them. Thou didst blow with thy wind, the sea covered them: they sank as lead in the mighty waters. Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders? Thou stretchedst out thy right hand, the earth swallowed them. Thou in thy mercy hast led forth the people which thou hast redeemed: thou hast guided them in thy strength unto thy holy habitation.

It makes sense to talk about Journeys and Destinations at this time of year. Being the long weekend, many are travelling to cabins and cottages to open them up for the summer. I remember as a kid travelling from our home in Bramalea, Ontario to Huntsville, 2 ½ hours north to my mom’s parents house - a cottage on a wonderful lake. For a little guy that was a long trip. At the end would be a private sandy beach, a great lake with swimming and fishing, cool moss to run around on, birch trees providing wonderful shade. But there was that necessary confinement in the back seat looking for the bridges and markers that said you were almost there.

There are at least 2 distinct ways of taking trips. The first emphasizes the destination. We want to go to Victoria Island. We get on a plane, and in a few hours we arrive at the island’s airport. You arrive for a business meeting or to visit family. You get there, get it done, then return home glad to be back to the routine you left behind. The second emphasizes the journey itself. We get our maps from CAA and after a couple or three days of travelling we board the ferry to the island; after we have spent time in the Rockies and Banff, in the Okanogan Valley and Vancouver, camping and spending time exploring what lies between us and the destination. Sometimes the first way needs to happen. Sometimes the second way should happen, but we don’t bother. The second way is harder and longer. It breaks our routines. You learn things along that journey; most of them good, but sometimes a breakdown occurs. It costs more, because of the greater time you are away from home longer - you eat out and sleep at camp sites or motels. You can also take this scenic route and not learn anything. Some people will hop the train and just watch the scenery whisk by.

Several thousand years ago the nation of Israel went on a journey. They had been trapped in the land of Egypt by a ruler who turned them into slaves. They cried out to God and He sent a deliverer by the name of Moses. God used Moses to get His people free and so they left. As they were leaving we find that the Egyptians gave them gold and jewellery, an unexpected blessing as they entered the wilderness. They left what was known for the unknown.  They were headed for the Land promised to Abraham so long before. Some people on that trip had one thing in mind - the destination. The stuff they experienced on the way was just inconvenience until they got to where they were going.  I expect comfort was one of those things they valued. They couldn’t stand living out of a suitcase, with no mailing address. It is interesting to note that many individuals throughout the Scriptures had no permanent address. Adam and Eve had to leave their home, evicted, though that was pretty much their fault. They went into a big unknown world to make a life for themselves. Abraham was called out of his country to a place he didn’t know. Many of the prophets had no real home, wandering and spreading the message of God. Mary and Joseph had to flee to Egypt for a couple years.  Jesus had no place to lay his head during His itinerant ministry. Paul wandered all over the known world - his suitcase was his home.

So off Israel goes, to the Promised Land. First stop is Mount Sinai. Moses has to pick something up, a map as it were. The moral map that Moses was after would guide them along the way. This was a major step to the Promised Land, something they couldn’t skip. The nation of Israel went from bondage and slavery, to freedom following God. And what did they do? First they complained about the taste of the water. They walked out into the desert and immediately were thirsty. They came to a place of bitter waters - the water was sick. The first thing they did was let fear control them and complain. They just crossed the Red Sea, the waters parted so they had dry land to cross. The Egyptians followed and were drowned. They saw the power of God move them out… and they were afraid of where He moved them. Here at the bitter waters, God healed the waters and then God led them to the springs of Elim. Then Israel complained about the food. They were hungry - where would you get enough food for a nation when you were in the middle of the wilderness? God provided Manna. The only thing was they had to gather it day by day. God only provided what they needed that day so they had to learn to trust Him. A bit further along they complained about being thirsty - they weren’t even at Mount Sinai yet and already bang, bang, bang they have grumbled and complained 3 times, many wanting to go back to Egypt. What did God do? He provided water from a rock. Moses called that place Massah and Meribah because they quarrelled with himself and wondered if God knew their problems. Finally they got to Sinai, and while Moses was gone talking to God they made a golden calf. Now, if it was me, I would hope I would have acted differently. Do you get that sense of kids asking, “Are we there yet?” The kids all pile out of the car as they reach the first gas station and continue to find faults. The whole way you had people grumbling and murmuring. You had people questioning Moses’ leadership. These people just wanted to get where they were going. It seems that they would have preferred bondage and slavery to God’s presence.

They missed the lesson of the water at Elim. Moses said in Exodus 15:26, “If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the LORD your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, He will put none of the diseases on you which He put on the Egyptians; for God says, “I, the LORD, am your Healer.”” They missed the lesson of the manna. When they were hungry He provided something that tasted like wafers and honey. Until they went to the Promised Land, manna was there - day in and day out. Even though they wandered for 40 years in the wilderness, some 1.5 million people, they never went hungry. God was their Provider. They missed the lesson of Meribah, where God showed them in the midst of testing He was there. He was their Comforter. The worst of it all was that by the time they got to the edge of the Promised Land, they were too afraid to go in. The land was all they hoped it would be but the people, the obstacles in the land were too big. The promise of God was extended to them and all they had to do was reach out and take it. What a crazy story of people trying to get somewhere, but never arriving. The only reason for failure was their lack of faith in the God who had done so many miracles in their midst.  At one point we read that God said He would destroy the people for the 10 times they failed to trust Him. Isn’t it interesting that 10 is the number of plagues God placed on Egypt before Pharaoh would let the people of God go? Here at the Promised Land they themselves turned their back on God 10 times.

And so we are on a journey, both as individuals and as a community of Believers. As individuals we are on the road to glory, to the revealing of who God is in our lives. God changes us day by day into the likeness of Jesus, revealing Himself to us and the world around us. As a church God takes this motley group, if I may say, and uses us to accomplish His purpose in this place. We are all travelling to the Promised Land, to the place where we will be in His presence, a place we can call home. And we haven’t arrived yet, but we have a choice. We can choose to look only at the destination and let the journey pass us by. In so doing, we will miss much of His blessing, for He leads us with His presence today like He led the nation of Israel through the wilderness. As a Church we need to be a people of the journey, of God going before us and we following His lead. Let the destination worry about itself. We will cross the Jordan River in due time, but in the mean time, let us see the miracles of God’s healing and provision and comfort in our midst.

Let us learn the lesson of the bitter waters that God can heal. Over the last 15 years as a church we have lost many friends. We have made bad decisions that cost us fellowship. But we have also seen God heal in our midst, so let us call Him Healer; let us recognize our mistakes and our brokenness and ask God to heal.. Let us trust Him with our lives, our loved ones’ lives. Let us not just trust God for our physical lives, but our spiritual lives that are worth so much more. God heals us spiritually. Eternal life is what happens to us when we are healed of the sin problem. So let us not be like the children of Israel and grumble about things that we feel are obstacles or aren’t right. God will make all right. He is our Healer, and anything that is out there against us, pulling us down, strangling the life out of us has no power here. God is the Healer and He will heal us.

Let us learn the lesson of the manna, of trusting God for all we need. He is our Provider. Day in and day out He has promised to provide for us. Jesus said to seek first God’s kingdom and that He will look after the rest. There may be things that come against us so we look poor, we look hungry, and the future looks bleak. But God, our Provider, Jehovah Jireh, is faithful and will not leave us hungry. We are the Bride of Christ! How can we say He will neglect us and leave us and not provide? Those are the lies of the evil one, and they have no power here. Spiritually you have a feast with the Master Chef of the universe at your disposal every day. Rest in Him. You don’t need to store up treasures here on earth. We don’t need to protect our bank accounts, our savings, our building, our stuff. None of that really matters because we know the God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills. Would you rather have onions on the banks of the Nile back in bondage, or rib steak in the presence of God almighty? It doesn’t look so much like a wilderness with God at the helm, does it?

And let us learn the lesson of the dry times. When we are tired of the journey, when we are parched from the stuff of life and the winds of change, let us go to God who is our Comforter. We are so short sighted sometimes. We look at what is in front of us and think that is all there is. God is so much bigger than the here and now, than these things we have around us. We see a rock, but God sees a fountain of life. We see empty chairs but God sees room for us to grow and reach out. We need to stop our striving of trying to be more than we are in our own strength, of trying to be things that we are not. It is not us that is so great, but our God, and who is bigger than He? God is in us right now, in the details in our lives. As we rest in Him, He will come and comfort. He will come and change us; He will do that work that transforms us. We will go to Him weak and heavy laden and He will give us rest.

Learn the lessons of Israel’s past: Don’t grumble, but step out in faith and praise God. Don’t doubt and fear, but surrender all you are to Him, trust in Him, and He will give you the victory. And when God says go, go; you don’t want to be wandering in some desert for 40 years because you weren’t willing to step out in faith. Know this: we are not only on a wonderful journey together, you and me, with God; but we are entering our Year of Jubilee. I look forward to sharing with you next week what God has said about that!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mothers’ Day 2010

2 Timothy 1:1-7 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, according to the promise of life in Christ Jesus, to Timothy, my beloved son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did, as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day, longing to see you, even as I recall your tears, so that I may be filled with joy.
For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well. For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.

Raising children is hard work. So much so that an American writer once suggested to never have children, only grandchildren. Bill Cosby talked of the first generation by uttering “parenting can be learned only by people who have no children”. Remarking on the adolescent independence Bill said. “You know your children are growing up when they stop asking where they came from and refuse to tell you where they are going.” Another gave the threat: “What my mother taught me about JUSTICE – “One day you’ll have kids, and I hope they are just like you… then you’ll see what it’s like.” There is also a truth that says, “ An ounce of mother is worth a pound of clergy.”

There is a general consensus about the value of mothers. Most of us can relate stories of a mother’s love or a mother’s protection. It is taken for granted that you do not cross between a mother and her kids. There is wildness in the protection many mothers have for their kids. They not only fiercely protect their children, but they are the ones who leave the way open for them to return home when they leave. There is grace that flows from a mother’s heart that we men struggle with at times.

In Yancey’s book ‘What’s So Amazing About Grace’ he admits that grace is unfair. It is unreasonable to expect a woman to forgive the terrible things her father did to her just because he apologises many years later, and it is totally unfair to ask that a mother overlook the many offences her teenage son committed. Grace however is not about fairness. Yancey goes on to talk about God’s amazing grace - unmerited favour towards us.

Unfortunately, “ungrace”, or the lack of grace, is like the background static of life for many families, nations and institutions. It is our natural human state. We read the paper, watch the news and we can think that we are surrounded by poor examples of mothers and fathers. We try to relate what our faith means to us and so we talk of the Father’s love even though there are many people out there with no father or a negative understanding because of the failures of the dads.  With mothers we have a better record. As we reflect on mothers today we think about the difference they have made in our lives and that of our society.

First, mothers should be saluted for their tenacious love. A mother’s love goes deep. Part of this is the nature thing. Any mother, be it a human or a bear or other animal, does what she can to protect her young. When danger comes near to little ones, you hope you are not the cause of it. A mother’s love for their child can supersede all else, including their own health and well-being. When Bonnie asks how much I love her, I tell her mine is an undying love; but I know her love for us is a dying love - she would give the ultimate sacrifice for us. Jesus said the greatest love is just that - that one would die for another.
That tenacious love mothers have is also long. How long will a mother love a child who wanders far from home, and the values of home? What can a child do to be separated from his or her mother’s love? The answer to both those questions are pretty obvious. I have known mothers who have prayed for their children their whole life. They have been supporters from day one in the areas where it counts the most - eternity. I just read an article about a woman who lost her parents 11 years ago. About a month before they died she had a dream they died and phoned them. The woman’s mom told her they had recently been on a plane with very rough weather and they didn’t know if they were going to make it. What did she pray for when she thought it was the end? She prayed for her daughter, for all the things she would need if they were gone. A month later they did die in a plane crash and eternity will reveal the fact that she was still praying for her daughter. A mother’s love is tenacious -it is deep and long.

Does this remind you of Another’s love? There is One who loves with an agape mindset. It is an unconditional love, and whether you had a great mom or not; regardless of whether you mom is still alive or not, there is Someone who loves you with much more than a mother’s tenacious love. God loves you - so much in that while you were still a sinner, still far from Him, He died for you. His agape love waits for each of us, every day, to come to Him so that He may bless us with His presence, with His love. That love is shed abroad in our hearts by the Spirit. His love has no limits and He has promised His presence and acceptance for all of eternity. We sing that song, “How Deep the Father’s Love For US” and wonder that we could be loved so much.

Secondly, mothers should be saluted for their tremendous impact. When you read this passage from 2 Timothy you can see the eternal impact a mother can have. Men tend to leave the babies to the mother. They get all busy working and then get home and get tired and watch football or hockey, while the mother continues 24/7 care for the child and the house. When the kid gets old enough to throw a football or shoot a puck, then dad then perks up and thinks he can contribute. Meanwhile the child has the faith of their mother. The developmental years of the child were spent in the arms of his or her mother. I am reminded of the stats that talk of how men are happier after marriage; women not so much. These days it tends to be the day care workers that spend the most time with the children, and we need to be careful where that will take us as a society. Many a leader in the church today will talk of time spent with their mother; of the influence of their mother’s prayers on their life. A mother’s love is transformational. To know you will always be accepted regardless is a priceless thing. It can provide that safe place to grow and learn and explore.

There is that other One whose love changes us, who provides all the resources we need to live in holiness. He goes before us, setting things up by His prevenient grace. He can do that, because He is not tied to our time, but is outside of time - He is eternal. He knows us intimately for He is our Creator. In this knowing He provides what we need to stand in this fallen world. He has given us a Comforter, a guide on our path. And His love and grace is not just for the good ones, but for all. While we were yet sinners He died for us. All these things are about impact - impact not just in the world, but in our individual lives. He is changing us, and His Kingdom is about change in the people, the world around us. We are not saved just for eternal life, but to effect peace and justice, love and grace in this world today. The P E A C E Plan is an initiative begun by Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. Senior pastor Rick Warren's stated intention in launching the P E A C E (or PEACE) Plan is to involve every Christian and every church in every nation in the task of serving people in the areas of the greatest global needs. The tag-line is 'Ordinary people empowered by God making a difference together wherever they are'. P E A C E is an acronym for the stated methodology for achieving the plan: "Promote reconciliation - Equip servant leaders - Assist the poor - Care for the sick - Educate the next generation." We are all called to that on the local level; to be involved in people’s lives, helping with needs as we can. In doing this we are worshiping God. In doing this we are following Him. In doing this we are living out our faith in life.

Mothers should be saluted because where they are that is where home is. What makes a home? Is it the four walls and a roof? There are many people without that - does that make them not a family? Watching the news in Nashville this week and seeing the effects of flooding you quickly come to the conclusion that most of what we have is just stuff. It is not going to last forever, and will probably leave our possession one way or the other much sooner than we expect. If it is not the stuff, it must be the people. A home is where the love is, where the care is, where the relationships are. Studies in years gone by show that being loved and accepted is ranked consistently as one of the highest values we hold dear, whether we are young or old. We all need a place to call home, but it is with the right people regardless of the place. Most often than not, that is where mom is. As we grow older, we still need mom, we still connect.

Doesn’t this sound familiar too? The church is all about meeting together in the presence of God. The Bible doesn’t say, “Where you have a nice building, I am there.” It doesn’t say, “Where you have an ordained clergy, or a nice red hymnal, or any of the things we like to think are important, God is there.” It says where 2 or 3 are gathered. We could go meet in a cardboard box and still have a wonderful meeting in God’s presence. I am glad we have this facility, but it doesn’t make us any more a church than without it. We have one another, and that is what is important. It is the people - the love and grace between us that makes our community our home.

So we celebrate Mothers’ Day. Motherhood is vital, and it is important to understand what God has built into mothers is a reflection of His love and care for us. The chorus we sang earlier? The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning, great is Thy faithfulness O Lord.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The 7 Points of Valour: #7 - Dedication

If you watched the closing ceremonies of the winter Olympics from Vancouver a few months ago you saw a cross between a circus, a parade, and a stage show all dedicated to the stereotypes of Canada. Rooted in both Big and small RCMP, you saw giant floating moose and beavers, you saw Maple leaves and William Shatner. When things are dedicated you give a nod to the history and worth of the object. In almost every book you can find a dedication to someone or something that the author appreciated and allowed the book to be written. Dedication also means something given over for a specific use. In the Old Testament the utensils and items used in the Jewish temple were dedicated items. A very strict protocol was instituted for both the items and the priests charged with using them. In the IT world they talk of dedicated servers, a computer that has one use and only one use. When we talk of dedication as a point of valor, we are talking about this sense of focus. We are talking about the denial of selfish ambition and the complete surrender of all that we have - body, mind, strength, possessions - to the control of Jesus. Toby Mac in his song Made For You expresses it as “Anything I would give up for you. Everything, I'd give it all away.” That is what Jesus asks. He set the example in the incarnation. Not us, but Him. Not ours, but His.

DEDICATION is a man or women of whole-hearted dedication to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the 7th Point of Valour that ties the previous 6 together. This dedication, this complete surrender of self is the heart of the Gospel. It is part of the story of God. There is the historical story that goes way back to the beginning of time. It involves Creation and a Garden, a snake and a single command; and ends with a death on a cross followed by a resurrection. This is the story of redemption. Then there is your story. It too begins with a creation - your creation by the God who created all around us. It too is a story of redemption, but it is also a story about purpose. You were created with wonderful gifts and strengths. In generations gone past the church has focused on the separation between man and his Creator.  It has focussed more on where you and I have gone wrong rather than the stuff that is good. There’s a truth there about sin that we all have to face at some point, but beyond that is the story of God in the world today. This story talks of a community marked by justice and love and peace and holiness. We live in a fallen world and there is much we can and should do as the people of God. He has called us to live out our faith in ways that reveal who Jesus is, His love and grace.

So what do we do with this? First of all, know that the One to whom you dedicate your life to is your Creator. Let me read you a favourite story of mine from Bonnie’s Your Best You.

The Palmist reminds us in a different way of who we are before our Creator in Psalm 139:1-16 “God, investigate my life; get all the facts firsthand. I'm an open book to you; even from a distance, you know what I'm thinking. You know when I leave and when I get back; I'm never out of your sight. You know everything I'm going to say before I start the first sentence. I look behind me and you're there, then up ahead and you're there, too— your reassuring presence, coming and going. This is too much, too wonderful— I can't take it all in!
Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit? to be out of your sight? If I climb to the sky, you're there! If I go underground, you're there! If I flew on morning's wings to the far western horizon, You'd find me in a minute— you're already there waiting! Then I said to myself, "Oh, he even sees me in the dark! At night I'm immersed in the light!" It's a fact: darkness isn't dark to you; night and day, darkness and light, they're all the same to you. Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother's womb. I thank you, High God—you're breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvellously made! I worship in adoration—what a creation! You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something. Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, the days of my life all prepared before I'd even lived one day.” That’s you! You are loved and known by the creator of the ends of the earth. The One who calls you to follow Him has Love at the heart of His very character. If God is anything, He is love.

To what does the Object of our dedication  ask us to dedicate ourselves too? Some people would try to sell you the Health and Wealth schtick. These are the people at the top, in leadership roles. The reason they do it is so you will give your money to the church so they can have more. They love the things of the world. It is easy for them to say it works because everyone gives money to them. Have you ever thought it odd they don’t live any longer than the next person? If God was really about health, wouldn’t they be the ones to live to 110 or 130? Unfortunately, the love of the Father is not in them. God did not come to make you rich, or keep you healthy. You can’t serve God and money; you can’t serve 2 masters, it just doesn’t work. So if it isn’t health and wealth, what is it?

There are 2 things we dedicate ourselves to. We dedicate ourselves to allowing the Spirit of God to work in our lives, to holiness. Paul put it this way in Romans 8: “God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun.” Well, that sounds great. You understand though, it is a challenge? How much are you willing to struggle with an addiction? How long will you struggle against anger or gossip or bitterness? The challenge to be like Christ is done in the power of the Spirit, but it takes will and effort to respond to God. Listen to the Romans passage preceding what we just read: “And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” We are citizens of two places. We have a heavenly citizenship marked with the seal of the Spirit and we are tied to this Fallen world while in these physical bodies. These bodies age and suffer the results of sin and the Fall from so long ago. But we know we will be changed one day, and see Jesus face to face in glorified bodies, changed into His likeness more completely than we could ever imagine.

The second thing we dedicate ourselves to is kingdom living - God’s kingdom. The command was to love our neighbour. Remember the Sermon on the Mount? Jesus talked of a changed life, a life that is bent to holiness and love. Jesus challenged us in each area of our life to be involved with others. We know this - this has always been the challenge of the Church. In dedication, we renew this commitment to do it in God’s strength and God’s timing. We don’t do it just out of duty, or out of a sense of evangelism, but because we are called to give that gift of cool water to the stranger on a hot day. The Gospel is about holiness and love. We are changed towards holiness before God, and challenged to acts and attitudes of love before others.

 I am a big believer in setting markers in our lives. As you read through the OT you see again and again a mound of stones raised to commemorate a special event, a time when God stepped out of eternity and acted in time.  In a sense Christianity has a huge one - the cross is a marker of the point of salvation, of the finished work that Jesus did on our behalf. The cross reminds us as does communion, of our relationship with Him. They are markers, and Jesus asked us continue with the Bread and the Cup until He comes back so we will remember. What about your spiritual walk? Do you have markers along your path that you can remember? Can you remember not just the times that God reached down and did a miraculous thing in and around you, but when you made a stand and said this is where I make my commitment? This is my future, He is my all in all. I have talked about how every day we need to wake and make that commitment. We dedicate ourselves to God, to following Jesus with all we got regardless of the cost. There is great value in marking these moments. In our tradition we ask people to come up and kneel at the alter rails and surrender all you are to God. Seek His Perfect Love, His entire sanctification. Every service you can do that as we close, but I also believe strongly this is a decision of the will. It is not made in some emotion, where when the emotion is gone so is the will to follow through. I invite you to take a few minutes in the quietness of your own mind, and dedicate yourself anew to Jesus.  You have been given a card and a pen. Put the date down, May 2, 2010, and write a statement about who you are before God. Are you sold out? Are you surrendered to Him? You can make that decision today, now. Making a mark on that paper is much easier than making a pile of stones to remind yourself, but the challenge is here to make an alter to praise God. Out of the stones of your life, set them down, rough as they are, and raise them up. He can make them holy - He can make you holy. Take that card and put it in the back of your Bible or on your dresser where you will come across it from time to time so you can be reminded of this moment of dedication. Listen to this song as you consider what is before you. We are dismissed when it is done.