Sunday, August 28, 2016

Philippians 3:16

I’m not a big sports fan, but you know that.  I have a favorite hockey team, and I picked the Habs because that has the potential to annoy the most people.  But I really don’t watch sports.  If we have a Super Bowl Party, I will watch some of the game.  When the Habs make it to the playoffs, I will watch them play. 

In Australia I faithfully watched a yearly rugby league match called the State of Origin.  And I watch the Olympics, when the Canadians are in competition, mostly.   

And while I don’t always watch the competitions there were two stories that caught my attention.  One of course was Bolt winning Gold in the 100 metres, 200 metres and 400 metre relay, for the third time.  And the big one of course was Michael Phelps bringing his lifetime total to 28 medals, 23 of those gold.

They have not only been winners; they have been consistent winners. They have proved themselves over and over. 

We’ve just finished with the 2016 Olympics and this 3:16 seemed a natural because it contains an analogy of sports competition.

Through the past 10 weeks we’ve been looking at various Chapter 3s verse 16 in both the New and Old Testament.  Not because there is anything mystical about the combination but simple because it seemed kind of cool.   And you’ve heard me, Stefan and Deborah look into a variety of books and topics.

This week we’ve landed in  Philippians 3:16  But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.   And you know the cardinal rule of biblical interpretation right?  Yep; after the but comes the truth.

So like all the other verses that we’ve looked at Philippians 3:16 can’t stand by itself.

So, let’s go back a little bit and we land in the Scripture that was read this morning Philippians 3:12-15  I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.  No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,  I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.  Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you.

And so Paul compares the Christian experience to a race, and with that comes two thoughts for having a successful race. 

He says if we are going to reach the end of the race and claim the prize that we will need to do two things.  We will need to forget what is behind and we will need to look forward to what lies ahead.

And then he reiterates the point in vs 16 by telling us to “Hold on to the progress we’ve made.”

Two distinct commands, made in opposite directions and yet affirming one another. 

Throughout the Bible we are treated to a Hebraic Literary device called parallelism and that simply means that something is stated twice in different ways.  For example, Psalm 23 says “The Lord is my shepherd”  “I shall not want” and Psalms 78:1 says  Psalm 78:1
 “O my people, listen to my instructions.” “Open your ears to what I am saying”

 and Ecclesiastes 3:1  “For everything there is a season,”  “a time for every activity under heaven.”

 I'm sure that King David would have been proud of Paul and his writing style. 

So if we are going to achieve all that we have been called to achieve, if we are going to run the race that has been set before us and if we are going to hold on to the progress that we’ve made to this point then there are somethings that we are going to have to let go of.

Things that need to be disposed of.  Not simply placed in a closet to be taken out and dusted off from time to time, fondled and examined, but gotten rid of completely.

So in the race we discover that what is behind is fine, but it is behind and unless our effort remains consistent it has little bearing on the result of the race.   A runner doesn't place any stock in how many circuits he's done, only the number that are left.    If you watched the 200 metre semi-finals last week in the Olympics in those last 20 metres Usain Bolt knew that the first 180 metres weren’t going to count for anything unless he stepped on it. 

And as great as yesterday may have been and regardless of what you may have accomplished yesterday you need to understand the reality of the old cliché  “Today is the first day of the rest of your life” 

How do you want to spend today?  Yesterday is gone, it cannot be altered, changed or relived. 
If you continue to live for yesterday you won't only miss out on today, there's a pretty good chance that you'll miss out on tomorrow as well.  What do we need to hold on to and what do we need to let go of?

1) In Order to Hold unto Forgiveness We Need to Let Go of Resentments   Our lives stretch out in front of us like an unmarked page, maybe we'd better take the time to clean our pens before we leave our mark. 

Resentments are dangerous toys for Christians to be playing with and there is no place for them within the grace that God has given us.  My favourite American President  of all time was Abraham Lincoln, and Emerson once said about Lincoln “His heart was as great as the world but there was no room in it for the memory of a wrong.” 

If somebody did something to you yesterday or last year, forget it.  If somebody said something about you as a kid, forget it.  I love the comment that says “Speak well of your enemies, after all you made them.”

You say “Preacher I can forgive but I can't forget.”  That may be your philosophy but it's not the philosophy of the Bible.  Instead Jesus told us in Mark 11:25  But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.”

You see the measure with which you forgive is the measure that Christ uses when He forgives you.  “But Denn you don't know what they did to me or said to me.”  No I don't, and my heart breaks for all of the hurts out there, but it also breaks for the hurt that people do to themselves when they hold on to and nurture the hurts of the past.  Why?  Because that will destroy you quicker than anything. 

We all know 1 Corinthians 13 as the love chapter of the bible and part of that chapter tells us 1 Corinthians 13:5  It (love) keeps no record of being wronged.

So when you constantly bring those old hurts up to your friend, family member or spouse, when you can’t let it go, you are really saying “I don’t love you enough to let this go.”

When you dwell on how hard done by you are it will eat you up and make you bitter.  If someone can make you stoop so low as to hate them, they win. 

As we step from today into tomorrow let's forget all of the petty hurts and injustices, and all of the big hurts and injustices from the past.  It’s time to let go of those resentments.

If you can forget only one thing in today, forget the grievances that you have against others whether they be friend or foe and get on with your life.

2) In Order to Hold unto Trust, We Need to Let Go of Worry If you've been in our living room then you know that we have a rocking chair, and rocking chairs are like worry.  They give you something to do, but they don't get you anywhere. 

I am convinced that 2/3 or those who suffer mental illness are worrying about something over which they have no control. 

What happens is that worry starts off as a thin stream of fear trickling through our minds.  But then as it is encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.  All your good positive thoughts are diverted into the channel of worry.

Has that ever happened to you?  You start worrying about something and pretty soon you discover that it has consumed all your other thoughts. 

Let's put it into perspective.  There are 773, 672 words in the Bible, don't ask me how I know, just trust me on it. 

The word worry is used 36 times.  compare that with trust that is used 137 times, faith used 255 times, believe used 185 times and love used 646 times. 

And most of the times that the word worry is used we are either being told to not worry or being asked why we are worrying.  

It's been said that “Worry has killed more people than work.”  but maybe that's because more people worry then work.  Listen up people, “Worry” is a sin.  it's not just a danger, not just a nuisance, not just a pastime, not just a habit it is a sin! 

There are Christians who can’t understand why people struggle with alcohol or tobacco or cussing and yet they say they can’t stop worrying.

The same Bible that says do not commit adultery and do not kill also says do not worry.  Worry is a sin because worry is saying, “I don't believe that God can handle my problems.” 

Too often we are like the old lady who said, “I always feel bad when I feel good, because I know that I'll feel bad after a while.”  There are two types of things that we worry about, a) things we can do something about, and b) things we can't do anything about.  So we ought to do something about the first group and forget the second group. 

Corrie ten Boom survived the concentration camps of Nazi Germany and she reminds us “Worrying is carrying tomorrow's load with today's strength- carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn't empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”

 Face it;  Whatever is going to happen will happen, whether we worry or not.

3) In Order to Succeed, We Need to Let Go of our Failures Too many people today are paralysed by the fear of failure.  Much like Mark Twain wrote, The cat, having sat upon a hot stove lid, will not sit upon a hot stove lid again. But he won't sit upon a cold stove lid, either.”

Nobody likes to fail, but it is unfortunate that some people seek to escape failure by not trying, which in itself guarantees failure.  Maybe we need to adopt the philosophy of George Bernard Shaw who said, “When I was a young man I observed that nine out of ten things I did were failures, I didn't want to be a failure so I did ten times more work.” 

We can't be afraid of failing because fear of failure becomes the fear of trying.  With every attempt comes the possibility of failure. 

Let’s go back to sports analogy.  Every runner in the hundred metre sprint with the exception of one failed to win.  But that doesn’t mean that they will never run again. Here is an aside, did anyone see the difference in Andre De Grasse’s reactions between when he won the bronze in the 100 metres and when he won the silver in the 200 metres?  Recently there was a study done that showed that athletes were visibly happier with bronze then with silver, and it was almost palpable in Andre’s case.  Think about it when you win bronze, you just made the podium, when you win silver you just lost the gold, you were the first loser.

Every achievement in human history had the potential to fail.  When we were recruited to start what would become Cornerstone we were told that it would be really tough and the majority of new church projects actually failed.  That was encouraging.  As a matter of fact, since Cornerstone started our district has started 10 new churches, only 5 are still worshipping.

But if we had allowed the fear of failure to colour our decision there would be no Cornerstone today.

Everyone one of us has failed at some point in our lives, and if we are going to be all that God wants us to be then we will need to look beyond our past failures to future successes.  Failure is not defeat, at least it shouldn’t be. 

And the person who decides whether or not yesterday’s failures will colour what you are attempting to do today is you.   

The only impact that yesterday's failures should have on today's endeavours is that they should have made us wiser.  Let's forget our failures as we move into the future.

4) In Order to Reach for the Future, We Need to Let Go of the Past  We’ve already talked about not letting our failures get in our way but we can’t let our successes get in our way either.

There is nothing wrong with having pride in the achievements which God has permitted us, if it's not a gloating pride and we recognize that it was God who was the author of our success.  But our achievements have as little bearing on tomorrow as did yesterday's failures. 

When I was selling on commission it didn't matter how good last week was you started on Monday with no sales.

No matter how high our attendance was last year, no matter how many people came to our services over the past twelve months, no matter how many people were touched and no matter how many people came to the Lord we can't stop trying.

It doesn’t matter how fast Andre De Grasse ran at the Olympics, if he wants to eventually win gold in the Olympics he has to keep pushing himself for tomorrow.

When the runner is a lap ahead of his opponents he doesn't stop to gloat, the race isn't over until the very end.  Too many sports teams have gotten lazy in the last period, inning or quarter only to have an almost certain victory snatched out of their grasp by a hungrier team.  No matter how good we think we are doing we are never good enough to stop trying.

Victories need to be used just as failures are, as simple lessons of life.  If we learn not to do a particular thing because it results in failure, then we have to learn to follow our successes.  The trick is just because something worked well yesterday doesn't necessarily mean that it will work just as well tomorrow.  New ideas and concepts can quickly become dated and traditional if we aren't careful.  We can't hold onto the old simply because it is old, nor can we embrace everything new that comes down the track just because it's new.  The church is here to minister to society and as society changes so must the church.  We don't change the message, but we may need to change the medium.

Techniques, programs and equipment that were suitable 50, 30, 20, 10 5 or even 1 year ago may not be suitable or effective today.  We can't always base our operation or what worked in ancient history or for that matter what worked yesterday.  We need to continue to learn and to use those things that we learned to further the Kingdom of God.  We need to forget the failures and also the victories of yesterday and push onto new victories tomorrow.  Let's never become one of those churches that is always talking about the good old days, and how good God was back then, and what a perfect world it used to be.

But simply forgetting isn't enough, Paul continues to say in Philippians 3:13-14  No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,  I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

It's not enough to let go of the past if you're not ready to stretch ahead and grab hold of the future.  You know what they say, “It doesn't matter if you are on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there.”

God has great things in store for you!  If you want them.  But unless you reach out and take them they'll never be yours. 

Today you are at a different place than you were yesterday.  And tomorrow you will be at a different place than you are today.  Some things that will happen you have no control over, but you can control how you will face tomorrow. 

Your future belongs to you, it's yours and it's there if you want it.  No matter what your past may be your future is spotless.

I believe that this is going to be a great year for Cornerstone and I intend to do everything I can to make it just that. 

I plan on straining ahead toward what is ahead.  I believe that things will be done in, through and by Cornerstone Wesleyan Church that have never been done before, do you believe that?

Can you join me in believing that?  Do you believe that Cornerstone Wesleyan Church has something to offer to our communities, to Hammonds Plains, Bedford, Sackville, Dartmouth and Halifax?  Do you believe that we are preaching a Christ who is relevant for today and do you believe that we are offering the needed love and acceptance that the people of our communities are crying out for?

I believe that we do, and I believe that we can see souls saved and lives changed.  Can you see it?  Can you reach it?  Can you believe it?  but more than that I believe that our people, you, are going to get a deeper vision of the Lord and reach out to the people whom you love and care for.

We have to dream.  We have to have a vision of the future.  But more than that we need to be willing to reach out for that dream, willing to strive for it to yearn for it to strain toward what is ahead.

The picture that Paul is drawing is that of a runner, not content to simply run, but pushing himself to be victorious, reaching out with his fingers straining to push himself over the finish line before his competitors.

Paul was ever pushing, ever straining for the cause of Christ.  He was never content to simply watch the race go by but instead had to be in the very fore front.  Not content to finish last, or third or even second.  Instead Paul sought to run the race as a winner, forgetting the laps that were behind him, his eyes seeing only the victory tape at the end of the course and pushing himself on to that victory.

God has brought you to where you are, you don’t have to start over but every day you have to start.   

Sunday, August 21, 2016

James 3:16

James 3:16

The date was October 1st 1770 and the event was the funeral of noted evangelist of the time George Whitfield.  Whitfield was a contemporary of John Wesley and Wesley had been asked by Mr. Whitfield to deliver the funeral message.

It is interesting to note that their relationship went back to their days at Oxford and they had both been part of the group who formed what was known as the Holy Club, a group that would eventually led to the formation of the Methodist Church.

Whitefield was a number of years younger than Wesley and although he was close friends with Charles Wesley, John’s younger brother, his relationship with John was more mentor and protégée.

A few interesting facts about George Whitefield.   In 1739, when he was 25, he visited the Colonies, in what would eventually become the United States, and held evangelistic meetings.  One historian said that George Whitefield became America’s first celebrity and by the time he returned to England that 80 percent of all American Colonists had heard him preach at least once. 

It is said that outside of royalty he was perhaps the only living person whose name would be recognized by any person living in the Colonies.  It was during that time that he became close friends with Benjamin Franklin and Franklin once estimated that without amplification Whitefield could be heard by more than 30,000 people.

After Whitefield preached in one community Benjamin Franklin wrote, “wonderful... change soon made in the manners of our inhabitants. From being thoughtless or indifferent about religion, it seem'd as if all the world were growing religious, so that one could not walk thro' the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street."

One source stated that during this relatively short ministry, he died at 56, which used to seem really old, that he had He preached at least 18,000 times to perhaps 10 million hearers.  So you can understand what Whitefield meant when he said “I would rather wear out than rust out.”

But back to the funeral.  I’m sure that there were those who were confused by the fact that Wesley was asked to preach Whitefield’s funeral, especially when they discovered that Whitefield himself had requested Wesley.

You see even though John Wesley had been George Whitefield’s mentor during the early years of Whitefield’s ministry the two had a falling out over doctrine.  And for the past twenty years were at odds.  You see Whitefield was a Calvinist and Wesley was an Armenian.  And if you know what that means then you understand the rift, and if you don’t know what that means you’ll have to buy me a coffee because we don’t have the time to get into it this morning. 
Suffice to say that Calvinist and Armenians often find themselves on opposite sides of the theological spectrum.

And for years their theological views separated these two preachers.  They spoke publically against the others views and wrote theological discourses defending their stands.  It wasn’t bitter or nasty, they didn’t call each other names they just didn’t agree and they didn’t pretend they did. 

Neither one of the men was a stranger to opposition or disagreement, as a matter of fact we are told that Whitefield welcomed opposition, he was quoted once as saying “The more I am opposed, the more joy I feel”.

And then something happened. Listen to how John Wesley described what happened at Whitefield’s funeral.

“There are many doctrines of a less essential nature ... In these we may think and let think; we may 'agree to disagree.' But, meantime, let us hold fast the essentials...

Wesley and Whitefield had come to a place where they agreed to disagree.  They decided that the kingdom was greater than their personal views.

I heard that phrase when I first began my ministry, when I discovered that one of my greatest supporters in our church and I differed theologically and Russell explained that we just needed to “Agree to disagree” and it worked.  And through the past thirty years I have agreed to disagree with a pile of people.

It was only in the past couple of years that I discovered that was a Wesley phrase, but it wasn’t original with Wesley.  In a letter to someone a few years earlier Wesley had written,  "If you agree with me, well: if not, we can, as ‘Mr. Whitefield used to say, agree to disagree.’”

We are in week nine of our 3:16 series, which if you haven’t been with us through the summer we been preaching from various Chapter 3 verse 16s found in the Bible.  We began back in June with the obvious one John 3:16 and have gone from there, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament.  And the staff has been really enjoying the series.  Hope that you have as well, but if not then I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

This week’s 3:16 comes from the book of James.  We might be tempted to think this book was written by the Apostle James but it was in fact written by James the half-brother of Jesus, same mother different father.

And I love the book of James, it is so full of practical advice.  Not everybody agrees with me,  Martin Luther once wrote, “St. James' epistle is really an epistle of straw.”  But that wouldn’t be the only thing that Luther and I would have to agree to disagree over. 

And James writes about the dangers of the tongue and warns about playing favorites in church, he tells us that faith without works is dead, that’s a part of what upset Luther. 

Over and over again James addresses issues that have the potential to damage the church. 
And in this particular section James reminds his readers of the dangers that can arise when we disagree with one another.  Which is where this week’s 3:16 comes in.   In James 3:16 we read, James 3:16  For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.

But like all the other 3:16 this verse can’t stand alone, and it begins in James 3:1  Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly.

So specifically this passage is directed toward those who teach in the church, and while we might be tempted to narrow that down to pastors it really goes much broader. 

And so it is in the section that Shawn read for us that James lays out guidelines for “Agreeing to Disagree”

The first thing we need to realize is that We All Teach    While this scripture was specifically directed toward those who taught formally in a church setting it really applies to all of us.

Because anytime we attempt to persuade someone of our particular view we step into the shoes of a teacher.  And that is where difficulties arise, because the only things we attempt to teach are those things that we feel passionately about. 

Which is why Barclay wrote “One of the most difficult things in the world is to argue without passion and to meet arguments without wounding. To be utterly convinced of one's own beliefs without at the same time being bitter to those of others is no easy thing; and yet it is a first necessity for the Christian teacher and scholar.”

We might be trying to convince someone of our particular theological view, or political view, or preference for our favorite sports team or food or music choice but in all of that we are teaching.  Or attempting to teach. 

There was a time that was done face to face, or if you wanted to reach a broader audience you wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper.  My dad loved to write letters to the editor, he was that guy.  And I must confess that I have written a letter or two in my day.

Today we have social media and people try to convince others of their view via Facebook or Twitter or whatever platform they choice to use.  And because sharing a link or cutting and pasting is much easier than actually sitting down, composing a letter, writing a letter, finding an envelope, addressing the envelope, buying a stamp and mailing a letter, more people attempt to persuade others of their views. 

Unfortunately, because it’s that easy we often don’t think about what we are saying or conveying.  It’s a very passive aggressive way of getting our opinion across.

So what can we learn in today’s scripture.

James 3:14-16  But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying.  For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic.  For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.

The Wrong Side of the Argument

There seems to be a lot of stuff here but when you boil it down there are two factors that come into play here and colour our teaching in a very negative way.  Two things that will make things go south, and James identifies these as Selfish Ambition and Jealousy.

Selfish Ambition is the need to win the argument no matter what.  Ultimately that is what it’s all about.  And this is the one I struggle with the most.  Before I was a preacher I was a high school debater.  And when I debated you argued both sides of the issue.  So you weren’t crafting your arguments because you were passionate about the issue, you were crafting the arguments so you could win.

That for right or for wrong the goal was to convince people to believe how you believed.  And when you are being scored on a win lose basis there is no problem, but in life it’s normally not that simple.

Not everybody will believe what you believe, no matter how passionate you are about it, and if your goal is to make sure everybody believes what you believe you will a very annoying person to be around.

I realize that not everybody will believe everything that Denn believes.  That would require that everybody was a Habs fan, that everybody thought a really good hamburger was the perfect food, that everybody crossed their theological Ts and dotted their doctrinal Is just like I do, and everybody would roll their eyes when people talked about the moon landing.  Sometimes even I have a hard time believe everything I believe. 

And if my goal in life was to persuade you to believe as I did. . .I would probably alienate you and possible that would stand in the way of my sharing the really important thing that I have to share with you, the love and grace of Jesus.

You might not know it but I’m fairly passionate pro-life, and early in my ministry it coloured a lot of what I said and how I said it.  And I was very public and very loud about my beliefs.  And there were people who didn’t attend our church because of that stand.  Was it a bad stand?  Nope, I am still passionate about what I believe when it comes to protecting life from natural conception to natural death.  But that can’t stand in the way of what I have been called to do and that is to help depopulate hell.  And my political views, or how I feel about international situations, or the Habs, or the moon landing are all secondary to my calling.     Now if you ask me how I feel about the subject I will tell you, and if I’m in a situation when I need to speak up, I do.  But it no longer defines who I am.

And even in spiritual issues, I know what I believe but if my only goal is to make you believe the same way, it probably won’t happen.

There isn’t a person at Cornerstone or maybe in the world who would be in 100% agreement with me on everything.  And that’s fine, hopefully we can agree to disagree.  

And I have to realize that the Apostle Paul didn’t convince everybody to believe the same way he did, for that matter Jesus didn’t convince everybody to believe what he said.  I can preach into your head but only the Holy Spirit can preach into your heart.

The second side of the equation is Jealousy.  And maybe you are wondering how that works.  I think that comes into the equation when you are arguing one side of the argument but wish you were on the other side.  

And in this situation you are really trying to convince yourself that what you believe is right and in order to do that you belittle the other person’s beliefs and arguments.  Because if you can convince yourself that their beliefs have no merit than you will feel better about what you believe. 

Sometimes when I hear or read the arguments of those who deny faith it seems that they are jealous of the faith they don’t believe in.  And there are times that I hear Christians argue against immoral behaviour that it seems that they are jealous of what they are missing.

James 3:13, 17-18  If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom.  

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.  And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.

The Right Side of the Argument:   In this section James speaks of the characteristics of Godly wisdom.  Remember he is telling folks how they should teach, and it is apparent that that if you are going to make an impact it has to go beyond the words that you use. 

And he so starts by telling us that if we are going to teach then need to start by living your message.  Doesn’t matter what you are teaching about, if your example is inconsistent with your message, your example will win out.  And it all goes back to you have to walk the walk and talk the talk but you also have to walk the talk and talk the walk.

If you say you are concerned with the environment and drive a hummer, the environmental message might be lost.  If you say you love God but you live like the Devil, you will have a pretty shaky witness.  If you say church is a priority but you only make it out every six weeks or so. . .

And listen to the attributes of this type of this type of wisdom.  We are told this type of teaching is Pure, Peace loving, gentle, willing to yield to others, full of mercy and good deeds.  It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.

Are they the attributes that you demonstrate while you are trying to convince someone of your point of view?

How many have been watching the Olympics, even a little bit? 

So have you watched the sprints?  It seems like the eyes of the world are on Bolt and De Grasse,  this has been so surprising for so many.  Here are two competitors, one will win one will lose.  It’s that simple.  And at least during the past week we’ve seen that they can still enjoy one another’s presence.

Here are some things I’ve learned, though years which are some practical ways you can demonstrate those attributes.

Don’t be Anonymous:  If you have a problem with somebody or something then own it.  It is really hard to deal with anonymous complaints or differences of opinions.  Though the years I have received my share of “Suggestions”, and when there is a name signed to the “Suggestion” then you can at least talk about it with the person.  But when there is no name you can’t enter into a dialogue and you don’t even know if it’s valid, a suggestion coming from someone who is committed to Cornerstone and it’s ministry has to carry more weight than the same suggestion coming from someone who attends another church.

Don’t draw Lines in the Sand:  There are somethings in life that I don’t like.  I don’t like anchovies on my pizza.  I don’t like rap music.  I don’t like Brussel sprouts and I don’t like lines drawn in the sand.  You know what I mean.  In the movie, the hero, or sometimes the villain will use a stick to draw a line in the sand and then they say something like “If you step over that line bad things are going to happen.” 

And sometimes we do that, we get to the end of the argument or disagreement and we finish with an ultimatum, “If you don’t do this, or don’t do that then . . . “ We draw a line in the sand, and it’s really hard to back away from that.

The year I graduated from High School I went to work fishing with my father and that winter the boat was laid up having some work done so the crew scattered and found different work.  I was working back at Tip Top and  a situation came up and I told my manager that if it happened again I would quit.  That evening I was telling my father what I had done and he said “You know if it happens again you are going to have to quit.”  And he told me about a captain he worked with on the tugs who was always threatening to quit, and it became a joke and so did he.

Well you can guess what happened, the situation came up again and I had to quit, didn’t really want to but the line had been drawn in the sand.

I was wisely counselled when I accepted my first positon as a full time solo pastor “Choose carefully the hill you want to be crucified on.”

In the past couple of months, I’ve had a couple of people draw a line in the sand, one in effect said “If Cornerstone holds the same view as the Wesleyan Church on this position we are leaving.”  Seriously? Where do you go from there? 

There was a fairly significant vote this summer in how the Wesleyan Church defines membership, I voted against it, I was in the minority.  But simply because I didn’t agree with it doesn’t mean that I take my ball and go home when it didn’t go my way.  Have I been convinced that it was the right move?  Not yet.  But it was a move that has been made.

And finally,  Don’t make it personal:  This really goes back to the agreeing to disagree philosophy.  We live in a society that speaks loudly about tolerance but has very little tolerance for those who don’t agree with society. 

Sometimes you may want to say “The world is full of idiots, and you are their king”,  but really, is it helpful?

The problem is that once you allow it to become personal then it’s all downhill from there.  You eventually digress into name calling and demonize the person you are arguing with.  And if you’re not careful even offline arguments tend to follow Godwin’s law to a certain degree.  Are you familiar with Godwin’s law?  First stated by American attorney Mike Godwin it states, “As an online argument grows longer and more heated, it becomes increasingly likely that somebody will bring up Adolf Hitler or the Nazis.”

You don’t have to convince everyone of your point of view.  And if they don’t agree you’re your point of view, or your theology for that matter it doesn’t make them less of a person.

As a matter of fact you can have relationships with people who don’t agree with you.  Reg Thomas is a Wesleyan pastor in Perth Andover NB, and we have been best friends since we were 14.  And we disagree on pretty much everything.  But we are still best friends.

In closing, listen to the words of Peter, 1 Peter 2:17  Respect everyone, and love your Christian brothers and sisters. Fear God, and respect the king.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Daniel 3:16

Daniel 3:16

To do what is right or to do what is smart. 

Have you ever been faced with a situation where those seem to be your only two options? 

You know what’s right, you know what God requires of you and yet that doesn’t seem to be the wisest course of action.  Maybe it’s a matter of doing the right thing, or not doing the wrong thing.

And while you know what you should do, at the same time you are doing a quick cost analyst in your head.  If I do this, what will it cost me in terms of friends, or money or job security?  Should I speak up or remain silent on an issue?  If you are like me I’m sure that’s you’ve discovered that sometimes silence is golden, sometimes it’s just plain yellow.

And that question to do what was right or to do what was smart was the question at the heart of today’s 3:16.

For those of you who haven’t been with us this summer we have been preaching from a variety of Chapter 3 verse 16s since June.  We of course started with the obligatory John 3:16 and then we moved to the oft quoted 2 Timothy 3:16, and we’ve been in the book of Acts, Joshua and Ephesians.  

Because this is a family Sunday and we have many of our children with us in the service I rummaged around in the tickle trunk and discovered that we actually had a flannel graph set for one of our 3:16, which also happens to be one of my favourite Old Testament stories.

This morning we are looking at Daniel 3:16  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you.  And we are going to start by telling you the story:

Three young men who were only doing what they thought was right and now they were to pay the ultimate price. Because they had disobeyed a royal decree they were to be put to death, and not just any death they were to suffer a nasty death. 

To many, they had made the right choice, but I’m not sure anyone thought they picked the smart choice.

I mean if you had to be sentenced to death this wasn’t the one you’d want to pick.  They were to be thrown into an immense furnace used for firing pottery and apparently the occasional execution. Not a situation that anyone would want to be presented with, but here they were.  And I’m sure at that point they thought of those great words of Yogi Berra’s “The Future ain't what it used to be.”

Our story this morning happened after Babylon had conquered Israel and the Babylonian King a man by the name of Nebuchadnezzar had ordered that a the most promising young captives from Jerusalem were to be brought to the palace as his personal slaves. 

And the story is about three of those young men whose names were, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  I know of one person who used to call them Your Shack, My Shack and Little bungalow and I had a professor at Bible College who was in the habit of referring to them as Shake the Bed, Make the Bed and in the Bed you Go.  But their names, at least the names you would know them by were Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Those however were not the names they were born with.  Those names were Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah,

But part of the slavery process was to erase who they had been, so their birth names were taken away and they were given Babylonian names, so that’s when they became Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  That of course wasn’t confined to customs 3000 years ago, how many of you remember the scene from the Roots mini Series when Kunta Kinta was told that his name was Toby?

For three years they were taught and trained in the court of the king and at the end of that period Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were the honour students and were appointed as advisers in the King’s Court.

But that was then and this was now.  If we fast forward ahead three years we discover that King Nebuchadnezzar has come down with a bad case of deity envy, that is he wanted to be God. And if’n you’re God then you should be worshipped and that’s where we come into the story. 

So, Nebuchadnezzar had a huge idol created and erected.  When the royal musicians played everyone was to bow down and worship the statue, everyone, even exiled Jews. If we had background music here it would change to a minor key signifying that something bad was about to happen.

Now if you grew up in church and Sunday School then you probably already know the story. 

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego may have been favourites of the king but right now they weren’t making him very happy. 

You see when everyone else bowed, they didn’t.  Must have had something to do with the entire Deuteronomy 5:7-9 You know where it says, Deuteronomy 5:7-9 Do not worship any other gods besides me.  Do not make idols of any kind, whether in the shape of birds or animals or fish. You must never worship or bow down to them.

However Nebuchadnezzar considered himself a fair King and thinking that perhaps his star pupils had misunderstood the command, perhaps it was the entire second language thing, he gave them another chance.  If Nebuchadnezzar had of been an English speaker trying to convey his message to someone who spoke another language he probably would have simply repeated the initial command, only slower and louder. You know what they say to be multilingual means you speak many languages, to be bilingual means you speak two languages and to be monolingual means you speak English.

Where were we?  Oh yeah, bow down or be tossed in the furnace.  And maybe you know the story, and maybe you don't. 

This morning I want to look at the response of  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to the challenge they faced.  Obey God or do what seemed like the smart and practical thing. So where were we?  Oh yeah, King Nebuchadnezzar had this huge stature built and commanded everyone to bow down and worship it when the music played. 

But instead of doing that we read the story in Daniel 3:16-18 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, Your Majesty can be sure that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”

A common theme through this series seems to be that as Christ followers we are required to believe. In John 3:16 We talked about how we need to believe that God sent his Son, In 2 Timothy 3:16 it was how we need to believe the scriptures came from God.  In Acts 3:16 the crippled man had to believe that he had been healed.  In Joshua 3:16 the priest had to believe that the Jordan River would dry up when they stepped into it carrying the Ark of the Covenant.   And last week’s message from Ephesians 3:16 talked about prayer, which of course is wrapped up in our belief.

So what was it that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were called to believe?  

They absolutely believed that they were doing the right thing and that because of that they were committed to their course of action.  And this wasn’t a mamby pamby “Yes I believe I’m doing the right thing” type of faith, they were willing to put everything on the line. 

Talk is cheap, it’s easy to say that you’ll always do the right thing.  But what happens when doing the right thing cost you something?  What happens when taking a stand cost you acceptance with your friends or your family. 

We talk about someday having a bigger worship centre, but what happens when your commitment to seeing a new church built cost you money and time.  What happens when your commitment to truth and integrity cost you advancement in your career.  What happens when you are standing in front of the blazing furnace and you are told “Bow or Burn”?

We discover where there belief began when we read today’s 3:16, Daniel 3:16 O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you.   So we begin by discovering that They Believed in God’s Purpose They knew they were doing what they had to do and because of that they didn’t need to say anything.  They didn’t have to convince themselves and they knew they couldn’t convince the king so why waste their breath. What were they supposed to say?  It wasn’t that they weren’t guilty of what they were being accused of, they were.  I remember getting pulled over for speeding in Australia, a very isolated incident let me assure you. And when the officer approached me he asked if I had a reason for speeding.  A reason for speeding, the only thing I could think of was that it was a beautiful evening, I had the roof down and it seemed appropriate to be driving that fast. So I looked him in the eyes and said “no sir.”  Sometimes there’s no need to say anything.

They weren’t the only ones in the bible who took that approach,  Matthew 27:12-14 But when the leading priests and other leaders made their accusations against him, Jesus remained silent. “Don’t you hear their many charges against you?” Pilate demanded. But Jesus said nothing, much to the governor’s great surprise.

Jesus didn’t have to convince himself and he knew that he wouldn’t convince Pilate or the leaders. 

There are times in your life that you have said what you’ve had to say, you’ve taken your stand and now all you can do is see how it shakes down.  When Martin Luther took a stand against the Catholic Church 500 years ago he was called in front of the powers that be and was offered the chance to recant, which means to change his mind.  Much like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were given a second chance, and Luther said “Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me.”

Let’s keep reading, Daniel 3:17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. Their faith in their action was grounded in the fact that They Believed in God’s Protection.   Maybe they were thinking back to the stories of how God had delivered his people time after time when they were faithful.  Of Noah and Moses, of Abraham and David and a host of others.  Perhaps they remember the words of the Psalms where David wrote Psalm 55:16-18 But I will call on God, and the Lord will rescue me. Morning, noon, and night I plead aloud in my distress, and the Lord hears my voice.
He rescues me and keeps me safe from the battle waged against me, even though many still oppose me.

When Peter was in prison and the Roman authorities were going to separate his head from his shoulders God stepped in.  When Paul was aboard a ship that was threatening to sink, God intervened.   We all have experienced or know someone who has experienced the direct intervention of God.  God will protect and keep us.  Jesus told the apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane,  Matthew 26:53 Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly?

Sigmund Freud said “I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father's protection.”  And I can’t think of any need in our relationship with Christ as the need for our heavenly father’s protection.  We need to realize that God cares about us and we need to be able to say with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego the God whom we serve is able to save us.

And as powerful as their faith was in what they were doing and as strong as their faith was in God’s protecting hand I think that the most incredible and powerful statement is yet to come.  We can stand and say “I believe that I’m doing what is right and I believe that God will take care of me.”  But how many of us have the faith to echo those words with these, Daniel 3:18 But even if he doesn’t, Your Majesty can be sure that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”  You see ultimately They Believed in God’s Plan  God will save us, but if he doesn’t then we will still obey him.  God does protect his people, but we all know even if we don’t understand it, that sometimes that doesn’t save us physically, if that was the case there’d be no martyrs. 

Listen to what Peter had to say in 1 Peter 3:12-14 “The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right, and his ears are open to their prayers.
But the Lord turns his face against those who do evil.”
Now, who will want to harm you if you are eager to do good?

We like hearing that but Peter’s not through because he says But even there it is again But even  if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t be afraid and don’t worry.

One of my favourite sections of the bible is found in Hebrews 11, it is the faith hall of fame. We read about heroes of the Old Testament, people like Noah and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses and Joshua.  Listen to what the bible says about these servants of God, Hebrews 11:32-35 Well, how much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. Women received their loved ones back again from death.

That’s the list I want to be in.  The list of the winners, the victors they trusted God and God came through.  God is good.  But let’s keep reading the same author, the same book, the same chapter, carrying on from the same verse  Hebrews 11:35-39  But others trusted God and were tortured, preferring to die rather than turn from God and be free. They placed their hope in the resurrection to a better life. Some were mocked, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in dungeons. Some died by stoning, and some were sawed in half; others were killed with the sword. Some went about in skins of sheep and goats, hungry and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world. They wandered over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.
All of these people we have mentioned received God’s approval because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised.

If I had my druthers I’d druther be in the first group.  But we don’t always get our druthers, do we?  And the people in the second group were serving the same God as the people in the first group.  And we are told by those in the know that there have been more Martyrs in the last hundred years then there were in the nineteen hundred years before that.  And God hasn’t tumbled off his throne, he’s still a good God and a merciful God and we have to believe that ultimately he knows exactly what he’s doing. 

 Over fifty years ago five young missionaries flew to South America to reach a tribe that had never heard the name of Jesus.  One of those missionaries, a young man by the name of Jim Elliot made this statement “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”  It wasn’t very long after he made that statement that he and his companions were killed by the very people he went to reach.  People around the world reacted in shock to the news of the slaughter.  How could God allow that? And yet Jim Elliot’s wife Elizabeth eventually saw that entire tribe come to know Jesus.  Elliot couldn’t have kept his life even if he had of lived to be a hundred.  And yet how many people will live for eternity because of Jim Elliot’s sacrifice?

And as the guys stood staring into the flames of the furnace they said "God will deliver us, but if he doesn’t, tough we still won’t bow."  Can you believe in the goodness of God no matter what?

Let’s go back to the story.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s response was not what the king was expecting to hear and he was furious.  He commanded that the three be tossed into the furnace and they were. 

From the description given of the furnace it would appear that it was commonly used for executions, that is was constructed in such a way that the accused were tossed in through an opening in the top.  In this case the fire was burning so hot and so furious that it actually killed the soldiers who were escorting the three men.  And so the story ends.  They took a stand for God and they lost.  Good was defeated and evil was victorious, but was it?

Keep listening to the words of Daniel,    Daniel 3:24-26 But suddenly, as he was watching, Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in amazement and exclaimed to his advisers, “Didn’t we tie up three men and throw them into the furnace?”
“Yes,” they said, “we did indeed, Your Majesty.”
“Look!” Nebuchadnezzar shouted. “I see four men, unbound, walking around in the fire. They aren’t even hurt by the flames! And the fourth looks like a divine being!”
Then Nebuchadnezzar came as close as he could to the door of the flaming furnace and shouted: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stepped out of the fire.

And finally Their Belief was Proven  God was there, he had a plan and it entailed keeping those three young men alive.  They were to go on and play an integral part of the Government of Babylon during the time the people of Israel were in exile and a measly little thing like a blazing furnace wasn’t going to stand in God’s way.  Who was the fourth man?  There have been different theories, some have said it was an angel, others Jesus.  The truth is we don’t know, but we do know that he was there for a purpose. Imagine being thrown into an execution furnace, what would your first reaction be?  Mine would be to scream.  “Ahhh I’m burning” and then you realize against all odds that you were fine, what would your reaction be?  Mine would be to scream.  “Ahhh I’m not burning.” Whoever or whatever the fourth person was I think he was there to bring comfort and reassuring to the guys.  

Because whether we burn in the trials or whether we don’t burn in the trials God’s promise is that he will be there for us.  Hebrews 13:5 God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never forsake you.”   That’s the promise folks.  God will never fail you or forsake you.  Do you believe that this morning?  Perhaps you are standing at the door of your own furnace, my prayer for you today is that you have the faith to not only believe that God will do what is good but also to believe that whatever God chooses to do will be good.  I hope and pray that the prayer of your heart will be, “But even if”