Spinning our Webs

Have you had enough spiders this fall? Incredible, the number of arachnids we have around the outside of our house right now. Mind you, having lived in Australia for four years—where you could saddle the spiders and ride them like ponies—these aren’t a particular threat.

It’s not the spiders I mind; live and let live, right? It is the webs. There is nothing more annoying and frightening than walking into a web, unless it’s the thought you had down under: what spun the web could weigh as much as a small puppy. Yuck!

Spiders aren’t the only things that have webs. So do we! Webs of influence and webs of relationships that are all interconnected to the centre—you. I was told recently that, on average, churched believers have a relationship of some kind with seven people who aren’t in church or in Christ. It might be a co-worker or someone you share a hobby with. It might be the parents of your kids’ friends or a relative. Who is in your web?

Maybe it’s time you actually took the time to see whom you could introduce to your church and whom you could introduce to your Lord. After all, it might make an eternity of difference. Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Mending our Brokenness

Ephesians 4:  The Gift
Do you like to get a gift?  Sure you do, everyone loves to get gifts.  Well most people, remember this from our series last Christmas.  (Clip from Big Bang Theory)
Often when we think of gifts in a church setting we think of the gift of grace, or the gift of salvation or maybe spiritual gifts but in the scripture that read this morning there was a different set of gifts that was spoken about.  Ephesians 4:11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers.
Seriously have you ever thought of me as a gift?  So who are these people the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers?  Well apostles were the apostles.  An apostles position and qualifications are outlined in the book of Acts when the remaining 11 were seeking a replacement for Judas.  Acts 1:21-22 “So now we must choose a replacement for Judas from among the men who were with us the entire time we were traveling with the Lord Jesus— from the time he was baptized by John until the day he was taken from us. Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus’ resurrection.”  And when Paul was claiming his right to Apostleship he said 1 Corinthians 9:1 Am I not as free as anyone else? Am I not an apostle? Haven’t I seen Jesus our Lord with my own eyes? Isn’t it because of my work that you belong to the Lord?  So the topic of Apostles is moot now. 
Often when we think of prophets we think of those who foretell the future.  The whole Tarot cards or crystal ball thing, but that isn’t how the bible uses the term prophet.  Biblical prophets  weren’t into foretelling they were into forthtelling.  And they is a difference, fore-telling is where you say “this will happen at a particular time in the future.”  Forth-telling is more of a warning, “If you continue on this path this will be your destination.”  So in the popular sense a prophet would say “on December 3rd you will be in Toronto”  where a biblical prophet would say “If you continue west on the trans-Canada you will wind up in Toronto.”  Or more accurately a prophet would state:  “This type of behaviour will result in these consequences.”  I have said different times that that the message of the Old Testament prophets was “Turn or Burn”, other words if you continue in the destination you are travelling, this will be your final destination.  And these guys were not local church pastors in any stretch of the imagination, they were itinerant preacher, and that continued into the New Testament, prophets travelled to different areas with their message. 
To a certain extent that is still part of my job as today, when I warn you of the consequences of your behaviour or choices, when I caution you about the end result of not following Jesus, I am simply forth telling the future.
The evangelists that are mentioned here would be those that we think of as church planters or missionaries.  They took the good news somewhere else.  I have met guys who have started a half a dozen churches in their careers; and others who have travelled overseas doing the same thing those are the type of people that are spoken of here.  When I was preparing to start Cornerstone I had a coach by the name of Jim Griffith and he had planted several churches in the States, he would fit into that category.
And then there were the Pastors and Teachers and many of the commentators felt that this was a twin role for those who oversaw the local church in the New Testament.  The word pastor sounds a lot like pasture and there is probably a good reason for that.  Pastor comes from the Latin word that meant shepherd.  And the shepherd’s main responsibility was to take care of and protect the sheep.  You might recall that Jesus referred to himself as the good shepherd and when he confirmed Peter’s calling on the beach of the Sea of Galilee he told him John 21:17 A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.
So the pastor was to take care of the people of God, protecting them and guiding them, but it went further than that.  Remember this was long before the printing press was invented so there were very few  books to be had and those there were available were incredibly expensive, a book the size of our New Testament would cost a year’s wage for the average person, and so most of what was taught to the masses was taught orally.  The story of Jesus was told long before it was written, and sometimes I still refer to myself as a story teller. 
And often it was the pastor who could take what the prophet had said and bring it to a practical level that the local congregation could use, because he knew them and they knew him,  Georg C. Lichtenberg (1742-1799, German physicist, satirist) Said  “With prophecies the commentator is often a more important man than the prophet.”  And it was the pastors and teachers who were the commentators. 
One of the big differences 2000 years ago between Evangelists and Prophets as opposed to Pastors and Teachers, were that pastors and teachers stayed in a church as opposed to the other group who were constantly on the move.
And so Paul is telling the early believers that those who “pastored” them and those who “taught” them were a gift given to the church by Christ himself.  
So maybe you are thinking:  well if they are gifts how come they cost us money?  If it’s a gift why isn’t it free? 
When I was 11 my parents were given a horse which became mine. And even though “Extra Time” was free all the other stuff wasn’t.  We needed a barn to put our free horse in, hay and oats to feed our free horse, a saddle and halter so we could ride our free horse.  Get the picture?  Dad often commented on how much the free horse was costing.  Some of you might remember our Great Dane “Diesel”, he was like a horse and he was free as well, but we still had to feed him and pay his vet bills and buy lots and lots of fabreze.  If someone gave you a car, you would still have to put gas in it and maintain it and insure it.  Maybe you aren’t identifying with those examples; how about this; did you ever receive a Christmas gift that required batteries? 
And that was the introduction.  You see along with being gifts to the church these positions had something else in common and that was what they were supposed to do, so back to the scripture.
Ephesians 4:11Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers.
So why does the church get these gifts?  Ephesians 4: 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.
The NIV translate vs 12 this way To prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up While the KJV translates it this wayFor the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:  because of the comma that is used here we see two thoughts: “the perfecting of the saints” and “The work of the ministry”  other translations see it as one thought.  “The perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry”  in other words to prepare God’s people for works of service or to equip God’s people to do his work.
Now we could get into a lot of different thoughts on what it means for God’s people to do God’s work.  But we aren’t, at least not today.  Today we are going to focus on the word that is translated “Perfect” or “Equip” or “Prepare”.  Why just one word?  Because it is a really, really important word.  A word that applies to each one of you. 
Have you ever come across one of those scriptures that you’ve looked at dozens of times and heard preached on dozens of times and all of a sudden you see it in a brand new light?  It was that way with me and this particular scripture.  The word that is used in the original account in this instance is a Greek word, that isn’t a coincidence because the entire passage was written in Greek because that was the common language when this was written.  That makes sense right?  I mean if we were writing a book in Nova Scotia today we wouldn’t write it in Greek we’d write it in English.  And sometimes when we see a word out of context it doesn’t tell all the story. 
I’ve already told some of you this story, but it’s a great story.  I have been driving my little red car for a couple of years now without a speedometer.  I’ve been using my GPS to tell my speed.  But finally figured I’d break down and replace it.  Now understand there were only 7500 of those cars sold worldwide so I finally tracked down an instrument cluster in the UK and ordered it on eBay. I had just gotten back from vacation and a friend of mine was monitoring my PayPal account for me while I was gone and he was still getting notification emails about any activity, and so shortly after I placed my order on eBay and paid for it with PayPal I received an email from Greg saying “I don’t even want to know why you just spent $82.00 on a speedo.”  You see it pays to know the language and the context.
All that was said to say that word that was used for “Perfect”, “Equip” and “Prepare” in the Greek was καταρτισμός  katartismos. 
Now for thirty years I have heard preachers say this Greek word was also used to describe how a bone healed after being broken, how it was knit back together.  And that is certainly one of the ways that word was used.  And that is a neat concept, but I am not a medical doctor and I have never had a broken bone, ever.  So it really didn’t mean a lot to me.
But, in April of this year I was in Indianapolis at a training session for coaching.  Don’t look at me funny it wasn’t for coaching athletes; it was for coaching pastors although come to think of it it would probably be beneficial to athletes as well.   Sidetrack.  In the first session our instructor referenced this work and this word and he told us that it was used to describe how a bone healed after being broken, how it was knit back together.  Well duh, I knew that and it still didn’t do anything for me. 
Then Tim continued and said katartismos was the same word that was used to describe “Fixing a torn fishing net”  Light bulb.  When I first graduated from High School I fished with my dad on the herring seiner the “Rali II”  and part of our responsibilities was to fix the net where it was torn. We called it “Mending Twine”.  And I spent many an hour on a hot wharf after a night of fishing mending twine, and the surprising thing is I was pretty good at it.  Surprising because it seemed a lot like Cat’s Cradle, the game not the song and I was never any good at playing cat’s cradle.  My father and sister would play and I would sit and watch because whenever I tried it just frustrated everybody.
But when I went fishing I discovered that I was pretty good at finding holes in nets and fixing them.  I also discovered that when you are pretty good at finding holes in nets and fixing them that the skipper can always find you lots to do. 
But when Tim mentioned the connection you can imagine where my adhd mind went, it was like I had seen a squirrel.  I’m not sure what he said after that because I was thinking about how my net mending skills were the same as pastoring God’s people.
Nets Get Broken  Nets don’t come from the manufacturer broken but it isn’t long after they start being used on a regular basis that they start to take a beating and the little holes that make up a net become bigger holes.  Life isn’t easy for a fishing net, they are tossed overboard, dragged though salt water, hauled back on board by equipment and then they are left to dry in the sun.  In the case of a herring seiner, when everything was working properly and the planets were lined up and you held your mouth just right you could catch hundreds of tons of fish in those nets.
A lot of times life just wears on the nets and the twine breaks. And we would spread it out on the wharf and mend a hole here and a hole there, replace some worn twine and sew it back together again. 
And it’s the same with people.  We come from the manufacturer whole but life wears on us, disappointments, failures and betrayals take their toll but so does life in general.  The day to day and the minutia that makes up the every day.  And before we know it the twine has frayed and in some spots has actually broken. 
But sometimes it wasn’t just a little hole here and a little hole there; sometimes it was a really big section was torn away.  You would catch the net on something, or it would twist the wrong way and all of a sudden one broken spot had become many broken spots.
Pastor Mike told me a story the other day about a friend of his from Grand Manan who was fishing recently and they caught a whale in their seine.  Perhaps you don’t know the concept of seining.  You drop you net over the side with a tow boat and then the larger seiner steams in a circle bringing the net around the fish, then you close the bottom and pump the fish aboard the fishing boat.
When they had finished making the big circle they had a whale in the middle of their seine and before they knew it the whale decided it didn’t want to be in their seine and he left, leaving a huge mess in his wake.  Lots mending was needed there.
And sometimes something catastrophic happens in our lives, a major illness, the death of a loved one, a marriage goes south, a career gets derailed and suddenly an entire section of our life has been torn away and lots of mending and healing is needed.  
But whether the damage is little or large Broken Nets Need to Be Fixed   You can’t just let it go, because the strength of a net, which is really a bunch of holes tied together, is dependent on the strength of the pieces that make it up.  So when we look at the mesh in a net the strength is that they are inter-connected but when one small  piece of twine breaks it puts more strain on the ones around it, until they break as well.  Kind of like when you hurt your left leg and start putting more pressure on your right leg and pretty soon your right leg is hurting as well.   
And so on the fishing boat mending twine was an ongoing process.  You would spread out the net and poke looking for those broken spots and when you found the break you would sew it back together with a needle that looks like this. 
I can’t mend your life.  I wish I could but I can’t.  And I know some people want their pastor to fix them, or often they want the pastor to fix someone else.  And I can’t do that.  It is God who is in the life fixing business.  But first you need to find those broken spots, and acknowledge them and let him poke around in your life, as painful as that can be and put things back together.
And as a pastor and teacher my job is to help you identify those areas of brokenness in your life and to encourage you in those areas.
And it takes time, mending nets often involved hours on the wharf, mending your life won’t happen overnight.  And we didn’t fix all the holes in the net at the same time instead we would fix a hole and then move on and find another one.  You ever find God doing that in your life?  He finds a broken spot and He doesn’t just knit it together, instead he shows you what needs to be done and then helps you do it.  And then he moves on to the next broken spot in your life.
Maybe it’s forgiving someone, a broken relationship or maybe it’s asking for forgiveness.  Maybe it’s forgiving yourself.  In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul describes perfect love and in Vs. 5 he writes “Love keeps no record of being wronged.”   Remember what your mother said “you keep picking at that and it will never heal.” 
Maybe it’s a habit in your life, or behaviour that you need to take care of.  David makes an interesting observation in Psalm 38:3 . . . my health is broken because of my sins.
Sometimes our brokenness is a result of our behaviour, plain and simple we break ourselves and we need to stop. 
And sometimes in our brokenness we simply need to rest and recuperate, just slow down and let God do his work.  Jesus makes a great promise in Matthew 11:28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” 
Mended Nets are Like New  The net may not be brand new but it is like new, it has been redeemed, it is able to be used again.   And many times it is actually stronger in those spots than it had been previously.  Stronger twine is used, more care is taken and the mend is newer than the old. 
Sometimes people think that God could never use them that they are beyond redemption, because of their brokenness.   But they don’t need to be replaced they need to be mended and God is the master mender.  Remember God created you so he knows all about you, but you have to let him do his work and you have to be willing to do your work.
Time and time again you hear me go back to 2 Corinthians 5:17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!   That’s what God does, makes us like new again.  But only if we want him too.  And it is a process that continues, because as long as we live we will experience brokenness, but God’s promise is that  we don’t have to stay broken. 
When we were mending twine on the wharf we had to spread it out in order to find the holes, and often we would find them hidden beneath a layer here or a layer there.  Are you willing to spread your life out before God and let him examine it? 
 Can you pray like David the words of Psalm 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;

I Owed a Debt I Could Not Pay . . .

1.5 Trillion dollars. Imagine, that’s a 1.5 followed by 12 zeros.  That is enough to pay off the national debt of England, enough to give every Canadian $50,000.00 or enough to buy every person in the world an iPod.  1.5 Trillion dollars, if it was paid in $1000.00 bills, it would be a stack 163 km high and in dollar coins the pile would reach to Mars. 
That is the amount of tax revenue that the Obama administration is trying to raise in taxes.  I wonder if the President ever lays awake at night wishing someone would just come along and pay the bill for him.   After all, he didn’t create the debt, he just inherited it. The American public seems to be blaming the President for their folly.
We can’t even imagine a debt that large, but what about the spiritual debt that we owe?  You know the one the Bible talks about when it says, “The wages of sin is death”. 
We are responsible for that one but what if it was just paid off, clear and free?  That is the offer that Jesus makes.  The question is: Will you allow him to pay your debt?  Because he is willing, but you have to be as well.
Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Hanging with Who?

He was a little confused.  There were some people who loved him and others who hated him. He thought he was doing a good thing, a necessary thing, even a God thing, but obviously there were those who disagreed. 
Nehemiah was one of the Jews living in exile and was in the service of the King of Babylon a king by the name of Artaxerxes, whom for simplicity sake we will now refer to simply as King Art.
And Nehemiah’s life had been very comfortable, he had a great job, a nice place to live and job security for as long as he lived. He was the King’s cupbearer, which doesn’t seem to be much of a job today but then it was very important.  In a time and place when leaders were deposed with more permanence then a vote of non-confidence a king couldn’t be too careful.
Thus, if you were a smart king, you had a cupbearer whose job it was to ensure that your cup was not hazardous to your health.  He carried that cup with him everywhere he went, it never left his sight and he could always reassure the king that when his drinks were poured that there would be nothing wrong with the cup.
Now the only drawback with the job was that Nehemiah always  got to have the first drink out of the cup, just in case.  But being an optimist Nehemiah’s outlook was kind of like the guy who fell of the ten story building and when he went by the third floor someone heard him say “so far, so good.”   Nehemiah had it made, and he knew it.
And then one day his comfortable little world was disrupted when his brother showed up after having been away for a while. They were sitting down having a Tim’s and Nehemiah asked Hanani how things were going in the old home town, not really expecting an answer or at least not an honest answer.   And if you think people really want to know how you are the next time someone asks you,  tell them the truth.
But Hanani obviously chose being honest over being polite because he said “You know brother, it stinks, Jerusalem is in ruins, the walls around the city have collapsed and everyone is just kind of moping around. It’s really kind of sad.”
And for some reason something clicked with Nehemiah, he had no real connection to Jerusalem, his grandparents had been brought to Babylon as slaves sixty years before and Jerusalem was no more tangible than was the far side of the moon.  He had heard about it before, he even knew that it had been destroyed and left in ruins, but it had never been real before.  And now for whatever reason it broke his heart.  And the more he thought about it the more it bothered him, it began to gnaw away at his very being and eventually he began to mope around and it wasn’t long before the king noticed that something was bothering Nehemiah.  After all Nehemiah was a constant fixture at the king’s table, he was always there with the king’s cup. 
Well it didn’t take much prompting from the king before Nehemiah poured out his heart, telling his boss the entire story, how Jerusalem had been left in ruins and that it was breaking his heart. The king asked what he wanted to do about it and the words he spoke almost came from their own volition.  He wanted to return to this city he had only heard of and do the impossible, he wanted to rebuild the walls and rehang the gates.  And amazingly enough the king agreed and that is where we began our story. 
He was a little confused.  There were some people who loved him and others who hated him. He thought he was doing a good thing, a necessary thing, even a God thing, but obviously there were those who disagreed. 
The story is found in the book of Nehemiah which is the 16th book of the Bible. 
We are told that the book was probably penned by the prophet Ezra drawing from Nehemiah’s memoirs.  You’ll remember that the Babylonians had conquered Israel in 586 BC and had taken the residents of Jerusalem into captivity.  Persia in turn conquered Babylon in 539 BC and later allowed the Jews who wanted to return home.  Some chose to remain because Babylon had become home.
Under Ezra the remnant who returned had rebuilt the temple, but the city walls were still in ruin.  The events that the book chronicles happened between 444 and 432 B.C.
So what’s up with Nehemiah?  Well throughout the story we run into a multitude of different characters, each who has his own agenda and who affected Nehemiah and his quest in different ways.  As I read through the book I realized that the same is true with us as well, that none of us function in a vacuum, in isolation.
We all are surrounded by people, for good and for bad.  It was John Donne who wrote “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” So, who are some of the people that Nehemiah comes in contact with and what effect do they have on our hero?
1) Nehemiah Had His Sponsor  At some point or another we are all going to need a sponsor in our life.  Someone who believes in us and is willing to go to bat for us. This is the person in your life that you could call at 3 o’clock in the morning and tell them you need a thousand dollars and they would write you a cheque or go to the bank machine and get the money.  This is the person in your life that you could tell your deepest darkest secret and they wouldn’t walk away.  You can call them your sponsor, or your mentor or your best friend. 
Reminds me of the bumper sticker that says “Friends help you move, best friends help you move bodies!”  Just kidding.
In Nehemiah’s case this was the King, what had started out as a master servant relationship had obviously morphed into something completely different.  The king not only believed in Nehemiah and Nehemiah’s dreams but he wanted to be a part of them and he didn’t just pay lip service.  When he asked Nehemiah what was bothering him and then Nehemiah told him listen to the King’s response, Nehemiah 2:4 The king asked, “Well, how can I help you?”
Now it’s easy to ask that question but where the rubber meets the road is when a person tells you how they can help.  “How can I help you?”  “Well I’m glad you asked, you could do this and this and this.” What now?
 I guess there’s one of two things that will happen, either it will get done or it won’t get done.  
Listen to what happened in this case,  after Nehemiah stated his case and told the king exactly what he would need we read in Nehemiah 2:8 . . . And the king granted these requests,
Take a look around, we often take this building for granted, for most of those who worship at Cornerstone the building was always here, but it has only been here since 2005.  Before that we worshipped at the LeBrun Centre in Bedford and before that at the Empire Cinemas in Bedford. 
And there came a time that we decided that we needed to build and we discovered that the guidelines for borrowing money from our denomination are similar to what the banks used to be, they like to limit the amount you borrow to around three times your annual income and our annual income at Cornerstone was around $80,000.00 when we were getting to build.  That would justify a mortgage of around $250,000.00, which was the before tax price of our land, no building, just our land. 
And HC Wilson, our district superintendent at the time believed in our vision enough that he signed the papers authorizing a million dollar mortgage.  And if things had of gone south it would have been HC Wilson who would have had to answer for that decision.  You understand that our total income was $80,000.00 a year in the 12 months before we moved into and the payments on our mortgage for the 12 months after we moved in would be $96,000.00 and H.C. Wilson signed the papers because he believed in what we were doing, knowing that if it went south he would go south with it.
Sometimes you don’t even have to ask, I remember when Angela’s dad passed away in 2004 my best friend drove up from Yarmouth the next day to be with us, didn’t ask if he could or should he just did it.  And in 2005 when I was sitting in my office just before we dedicated this building there was a knock on my office door and he was there again.
You probably don’t have too many of these people in your life because it requires such a commitment, and you probably can’t be this type of person to many different people for the same reason.  Which is probably what Thomas Fuller meant when he said “If you have one true friend you have more than your share.”
But Nehemiah wasn’t able to fulfil his dream with just the King.  When Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem he spent the first three days scoping out the situation and then he approached the local leaders and told them what God had laid on his heart for them to do.  You might say that he cast the vision for them.  And listen to their response back to him, Nehemiah 2:18 They replied at once, “Yes, let’s rebuild the wall!”   But that wasn’t all the scripture also says, So they began the good work.  2) Nehemiah Had His Supporters  
Throughout the book of Nehemiah you read about people who helped to rebuild the gates and the walls surrounding Jerusalem.  Eliashib helped rebuild the Sheep Gate, the sons of Hassenaah repaired the Fish Gate,  Meremoth repaired one section of wall and Jedaiah fixed the next section.  It was Hasshub who rebuilt the Tower of the Ovens. And how would you like to have been Malkijah who got to repair the Dung Gate.  And then there was Shallum, listen to what he did, Nehemiah 3:15 The Fountain Gate was repaired by Shallum son of Col-hozeh, the leader of the Mizpah district. He rebuilt it, roofed it, set up its doors, and installed its bolts and bars. Then he repaired the wall of the pool of Siloam near the king’s garden, and he rebuilt the wall as far as the stairs that descend from the City of David.  Wow! Talk about an overachiever, that guy was definitely a keener.
If we are going to accomplish everything we need to do in this life we are going to need supporters, they may not be there at 3 o’clock in the morning with a thousand dollars but they will be there to help.  And if you are going to make an impact in the lives of those around you then you need to be willing to help when they need it. 
These are the people who help you move, bring meals when you are sick, watch the dog when you are away.  They might not help you move a body but they will help you move a coach.
Let’s go back to BB, Before the Building.  It was just 8 years ago that we started to seriously talk about buying property and building a church home, and there were a number of people who were all excited until it actually came time to commit something and make some sacrifices and then they disappeared, obviously a lot more talk than walk.
But there were others who were willing to do whatever it took, and vacations were postponed and new cars weren’t bought and 50 or so people committed the 358,000.00 that was the beginning of this building.  And they not only committed it but they paid it. 
Let’s go back to the story Nehemiah 4:1-2 Sanballat was very angry when he learned that we were rebuilding the wall. He flew into a rage and mocked the Jews,    saying in front of his friends and the Samarian army officers, “What does this bunch of poor, feeble Jews think they are doing? Do they think they can build the wall in a day if they offer enough sacrifices? Look at those charred stones they are pulling out of the rubbish and using again!”       3) Nehemiah Had His Critics Here’s the reality folks if you ever say anything or attempt anything worthwhile you will be criticized for it.  And we can’t understand that.  I mean why would people criticize you for doing something good?  Nehemiah must have wondered that himself.  All he was trying to do was rebuild the walls of the city, what could people possibly find wrong with that?  And yet they did. 
Nehemiah should have paid attention to Robert Kennedy who said “One-fifth of the people are against everything all the time.”   Like the old guy in the church was asked “You’ve been here for 80 years, you must have seen a lot of changes.”  To which he replied “Yes, and I was against them all.”  We don’t know for certain exactly why Sanballat was so upset with the rebuilding of the temple but some scholars have said that he was the Governor of Samaria, which is the area to the North of Jerusalem and felt that Nehemiah was encroaching on his territory.  Whatever the reason we find Sanballat surfacing time and time again throughout our story trying to turn the people against Nehemiah. 
How do you answer critics?  Good question, I have been pastoring for 30 years now and believe it or not there have been a few times that people have criticized things that I’ve said and things that I’ve done. Actually there have been more then a few times.  And there are a couple of things that I remember when  Calvin Coolidge was President he said “I have found it advisable not to give too much heed to what people say when I am trying to accomplish something of consequence. Invariably they proclaim it can’t be done. I deem that the very best time to make the effort.”  And the Greek Poet Epictetus wrote “If evil be spoken of you and it be true, correct yourself, if it be a lie, laugh at it.”
There will always be critics, realize that and get on with doing what God wants you to do.  Even Jesus who was born perfect and lived a perfect life had critics. 
The next group that Nehemiah had contact with were his critics squared.  Listen to the story in Nehemiah 4:11 Meanwhile, our enemies were saying, “Before they know what’s happening, we will swoop down on them and kill them and end their work.”       4) Nehemiah Had His Enemies  The critics said nasty things about him, and spread rumours about him but it was his enemies that wanted to do nasty things to him. 
That’s pretty serious stuff, and as Henry Kissinger said “Even a paranoid can have enemies.”  But Nehemiah wasn’t going to be put off by threats; he stationed guards whenever he had people working on the wall, he told them to keep a watch out and to be careful. 
In our spiritual life we have enemies, those who not only want to see us fail but actually try to make us fail.  You know what I’m talking about; they try to persuade you to abandon your faith to compromise your morals and to deny your God.  And our greatest enemy is Satan, he wants to leave your spiritual life in ruins and he will use any means possible to do it.  1 Peter 5:8-9 Be careful! Watch out for attacks from the Devil, your great enemy. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for some victim to devour.    Take a firm stand against him, and be strong in your faith.
And like Nehemiah the only solution is to be on guard. 
Nehemiah could never have accomplished what he did, even with the King’s help and his supporters help in the face of his critics and his enemies if he was functioning in his own strength but he wasn’t. Let’s go back to the story: 
Nehemiah 6:15-16 So on October 2 the wall was finally finished—just fifty-two days after we had begun. When our enemies and the surrounding nations heard about it, they were frightened and humiliated. They realized that this work had been done with the help of our God. 5) Nehemiah Had His God  From the very beginning the dreams and desires of Nehemiah came from God. And God helped them do what people said they would never be able to accomplish on their own.  
The story is told that when the Panama canal was being constructed that Colonel George Washington Goethals  faced severe criticism about the project, when a co-worker asked when he would answer his critics Goethals responded “When the canal is finished.”  It appears that worked for Nehemiah as well, listen to Nehemiah 6:15-16 So on October 2 the wall was finally finished—just fifty-two days after we had begun. When our enemies and the surrounding nations heard about it, they were frightened and humiliated. They realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.
When you set out to do something great for God, understand that will not exempt you from criticism or from the attacks of the enemy.  When I first went into the ministry when people criticised me or attacked me personally I would wonder whether or not I was doing the right thing.  But then I realized that people were meeting Jesus and lives were being changed and I couldn’t make everyone happy but I had a moral obligation to make God happy.  Sometimes you will hear me speak of “Playing to an Audience of One.”  And God is that audience. 
That is the secret for your Christian life and for the life of our church to make sure you are doing what God wants you to do.  Because if God is on your side then you are on the winning side.  Listen to Romans 8:31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us?
Let’s read that together Romans 8:31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us?
Now let’s personalize it Romans 8:31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for me, who can ever be against me?
So where are you at today, and who are you hanging with?

Now that’s big!

I spent part of last week travelling. I got a good deal on a ticket to Atlanta Georgia that went by way of Fort Lauderdale, Florida and saved $150.00 over a more direct flight.   But it wasn’t just a trip to see how much of the Eastern Seaboard I could cover in one day. It had a purpose. The purpose was to attend a leadership intensive, but the side benefit was that on Sunday morning, I worshipped at 12stone Church and on Sunday evening, I was able to catch a service at one of the campuses of North Point. The total combined attendance at those two churches is greater than the combined population of Hammonds Plains and Bedford.  Can you imagine?  Now understand that’s not in one service or even in one location . . .  but still.
I love to see big things done for the Kingdom of God and while we shouldn’t expect every church to be like 12stone or North Point or every pastor to be like Kevin Myers or Andy Stanley, it wouldn’t hurt if we all had their passion for reaching the lost and for doing our very best possible to advance the Kingdom and introduce people to Jesus. 
Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Gently, Gently

I cringed when I saw it fall on the TV news.  It seemed so.., so disrespectful,… just not right.  I couldn’t believe they allowed to happen.  But I suppose, how do you stop such a thing from happening once events have been set in motion.  In case you’re wondering, it was the report that the Stanley Cup fell off a table on its way to visit Bonavista Newfoundland, the home town of former Bruin, Michael Ryder.
The cup was fine, other than a small dent in the top, and Ryder can claim that he left more than his name on the cup.  It’s not the first time the cup has fallen off a table. It happened in 2000 and stranger things have happened to Lord Stanley’s cup through the years, including having been punted into a canal and being used as a flowerpot! You would think people would be more careful.
There used to be a time that I was very careful about how my Bible was treated, but I’m probably less conscious of it now. Maybe it needs to become a concern again.  If I was dismayed at the treatment of a sports trophy, how much more should the careless use of God’s word trouble me?  

Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Measure of Success

When I was in High School I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I grew up, sometimes even today I’m not sure what I want to be when I grow up.  However I had plenty of dreams and aspiration, and whenever I visualized myself doing any of those particular things that I dreamed of doing I was always a success.  I never pictured myself as an also ran, I was always the very best, I had always a succeeded in whatever field it was that I had chosen. 
Most of us are driven to succeed, somehow in something we want to be more than average. Well in most cases, I remember during the 2004 Olympics I heard a competitor in the women’s triathlon say “I don’t expect to place in the top three but it’s be nice to come around 10th or 11th.”  Aim high, but think about it, half the people you know are below average.  And half the people your friends know are below average.
We all want to be successful; we’d like to have an Oscar for something, anything, gracing our mantel.  And if we don’t feel that we’ve reached our goals then we live vicariously through our kids, pushing them hoping they’ll will succeed where we didn’t and they’ll be the next Wayne Gretzky, Tiger Woods or J Lo, well maybe not the next Tiger Woods.   If we can’t have our own Oscar then we will just have to make do with our kid’s Oscar knowing deep within our hearts that during their acceptance speech they will tell everyone how much they owe to us.  Maybe. 
And maybe at that point we are confusing success with fame.  You will hear the media talk about a successful actor or actress or musician or media personality and then they’ll tell how they’re dealing with their anger problems, substance abuse or their seventh marriage.  And you think “Oh so that’s success.”
This is fame (picture of Madonna) and this is success (picture of mother Theresa).   Madonna once said “I won’t be happy till I’m as famous as God.”  You see becoming famous is just part of the journey, you only think it is a destination.  Don Johnson said “Once you become famous, there is nothing left to become but infamous.”  Which I think is where Madonna is probably at.  And a hundred years from now nobody will know who Madonna or Don Johnson were but people will still talk about the Mother Theresas and the Helen Kellers and the Albert Schweitzers and Billy Grahams. 
Davie Crockett said “Fame is like a shaved pig with a greased tail, and it is only after it has slipped through the hands of some thousands, that some fellow, by mere chance, holds on to it!” 
But what is success if it isn’t fame.  And what do we have to do to be successful and how do we know when we’re finally there?  If we were to venture out onto the street and ask people those questions what would the answers be?  Let’s listen in and find out.   Clip from e.ssentials vol. 4 #5 What does it mean to be successful?)
How would you answer that question?  What does it mean to be successful?  A boss I had many years ago used to tell me that “Luck is what failures call success.”  How would you define being successful? Would you talk about your job, how much money you make, your great title and all the perks that come with your position.  Maybe you’d talk about your family, your marriage, how much you love your spouse, how proud you are of your children.  Or maybe you’d speak in terms of your hobby, what your golf score was, how big your sailboat is or the size of the buck you shot last year.   What does it mean to be successful?
And what if we were to narrow that down and ask, what does it mean to be spiritually successful?  What would your answer be then?  Would you talk about how often you attend church, how much you give, how many of the Ten Commandments you’ve been able to keep, how you have tried to do everything required of you and of all the things that you’ve sacrificed for God?
That’s what the people were doing in Micah’s day; they wanted to know how many sacrifices they would have to make to please God.  Micah has just done the prophet thing, you know “Turn or Burn” and the people seem more interested in the first option then the second. And they ask the prophet, Micah 6:6-7 What can we bring to the LORD to make up for what we’ve done? Should we bow before God with offerings of yearling calves?   Should we offer him thousands of rams and tens of thousands of rivers of olive oil? Would that please the LORD? Should we sacrifice our firstborn children to pay for the sins of our souls? Would that make him glad?  
They wanted to know what they could do to achieve spiritual success. And I’m sure that their first born children were hoping that Micah wouldn’t pick number three.
I wonder if Micah stood there thinking, “Hmmm, this might be a good time to ask for a raise.” Or maybe he was tempted to say “Put more in the offering plate, treat your prophets better and send the missus and I on a cruise, that should just about do it.”
Instead he looks at the people and says Micah 6:8 No, O people, the LORD has already told you what is good. . .
This story is recorded in the book of Micah which is the 33rd book in the bible and was written by . . .Micah, to warn the wicked and encourage the righteous. 
And so the people were asking “What do we need to do to appease the lord, to right the wrongs that we have done and to make up for our evil behaviour.”  And they were thinking that maybe it was simply a matter of doing.  When in reality Micah tells them that it was a matter of being.  Which I’m sure was a bit of a downer for them because often doing is a lot easier then being.
If the church could tell people today, “What you are or who you are is irrelevant, how you behave toward God and others doesn’t matter all that matters is that you give us your money.”  We’d probably never have another financial concern, just pay your tithe and then eat drink and be merry.  I’m sure there would be people thinking “Cool, it’s like paying premiums on eternal fire insurance.”  But listen to what God’s word says in 1 Samuel 15:22 But Samuel replied, “What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Obedience is far better than sacrifice. Listening to him is much better than offering the fat of rams.”  
And so Micah responds to the questions that the people had by saying “You already know what to do, now do it.”  But just in case they had forgotten what is was there were supposed to do Micah lays it out for them,  Micah 6:8 No, O people, the LORD has already told you what is good, and this is what he requires: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.  
I’m suspecting that the guidelines for finding spiritual success are the same today as they were 2500 years ago.  And these are guidelines for God’s people, they aren’t a plan of salvation, this isn’t how to get saved, it’s how to behave after you are saved.  This isn’t a check list to get you into heaven, “Wow if I do 1, 2 and 3 then I’m in.”  Nope not at all, God’s word is very clear that you cannot earn your way into heaven.  That’s why Ephesians 2:8-9 God saved you by his special favour when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.  
This list is for you as a believer, as one of God’s children and it is a guideline for spiritual success. 
So here they are 1) Success Means Doing the Right Thing.
Now what is right is not necessarily what is permitted or what is lawful, it is what is right.  It’s doing the right thing for the right reasons.  And Micah implies that the people already knew what they needed to do.  Throughout the Old Testament we see the people of Israel’s actions described in a couple of different ways sometimes we are told that they did what was right in their own eyes and sometimes we are told that they did what was right in the eyes of God and by implication these were different actions.  And for those people they knew what was right in the eyes of God because they had God’s word, the Torah and they had God’s prophets.
And so they had this choice they had to make in their lives, follow God’s direction or do what they wanted to do.  Now those two are not always mutually exclusive, I would hope that as a Christian, a Christ Follower that the decision you make would be line with the word of God. That when you look at decisions that you have to make that you would ask yourself, “I wonder what God would have me do here?”
And once you have that figured out that you would do the right thing.
Now sometimes it’s fairly easy, we have scriptures that give us fairly strong direction in our life.  The Ten Commandants, tell us things like Don’t worship other Gods, Don’t take God’s Name in Vain, which by the way if you are wondering what that means, if you are not talking to him or about him, then don’t use his name.  Saying “Oh my God” or simply “My God” simply as an exclamation, those are taking God’s name in vain.  And by now you have probably figured out what OMG means.  That was what was technically called: an aside.  Back to the message.
Don’t have idols, keep the Sabbath, honour your parents, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat on your spouse, don’t covet what other people have and don’t murder anyone.  So for the people of Micah’s day they shouldn’t have had to think too hard about committing adultery or murdering someone, those were no nos.
In the New Testament we have scriptures like Galatians 5:19 – 21 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, your lives will produce these evil results: sexual immorality, impure thoughts, eagerness for lustful pleasure, idolatry, participation in demonic activities, hostility, quarrelling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, divisions, the feeling that everyone is wrong except those in your own little group, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other kinds of sin. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.      
So if we have the opportunity to engage in say impure thoughts, perhaps something we see on the internet or television and we think “golly I wonder if this is what I ought to be doing?”  The answer should be clear.  Maybe it’s not as clear cut as that, maybe it’s hostility or quarrelling.
There are other scriptures as well, like the words of Jesus in Mark 7:21-23 For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder,  adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, eagerness for lustful pleasure, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you and make you unacceptable to God.” 
In most cases doing the right thing begins by not doing the wrong thing.  Doing the right thing means loving one another, forgiving one another, helping one another and standing up for one another.
But Spiritual Success is more then simply doing the right thing 2) Success Means Loving Mercy.  When we think of God showing us mercy, of reaching down into our sinful lives and forgiving us, of giving us the opportunity to being a new creation and granting us eternal life in heaven we are overwhelmed.  And if he shows that much mercy to us how should we respond?  Perhaps by showing that mercy to others?  Maybe, but what is mercy? 
When we look into the bible we discover that mercy is almost always synonymous with forgiveness within the New Testament.  James 2:13 For there will be no mercy for you if you have not been merciful to others. But if you have been merciful, then God’s mercy toward you will win out over his judgment against you.  
Does that sound familiar?  Pretty close to the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:14-15  Jesus said “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
And in Matthew 5:7 God blesses those who are merciful,   for they will be shown mercy.    
As a matter of fact Jesus tells us an entire story about mercy in the book of Matthew, maybe you remember it.  Peter asks Jesus how many times we should forgive someone who wrongs us, “seven times” he asks, which seems pretty generous.  To which Jesus responds “no seventy times seven.” 
I don’t think that Jesus meant that we should forgive a person 490 times but not 491, I think he meant that we are to show the same type of mercy to others that God shows to us. 
Then Jesus tells the story.  There was a man who owed the King millions of dollars with no means to pay it back, when he asked the King for more time the King said “tell you what, why don’t we just forget the entire thing?”  And the man’s debt was forgiven.  Well as you might imagine the man was ecstatic. 
On his way home to tell his wife his good fortune he ran into an old acquaintance who owed him a couple of thousand bucks, when he asked for his money and the man couldn’t pay he had him arrested and thrown into jail.  When the King heard he was furious and he ordered the Man arrested and brought to him and then he asked him Matthew 18:32 – 33 Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, “You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me.  Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?”
And the King ordered the first man thrown into prison until he could pay back every nickel of his debt.  And Jesus finishes his story by saying Matthew 18:35 “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters in your heart.”  
We need to love mercy if we are going to be spiritually successful because if we don’t not only will God not show us mercy but we will be consumed with anger and bitterness.
And thirdly 3) Success Means Doing Walking Humbly. There are those who would say you could in theory accomplish the first two without the third.  You could live rightly, do all the right things and love mercy and forgive others without walking humbly with your God.  But in reality and in life that breaks down.  My favourite philosopher, Yogi Berra said “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice but in practice there is.”   Which is probably why the word of God says Romans 3:10 As the Scriptures say,     “No one is good—   not even one.”
The prophet Isaiah paints a word picture which is very appropriate for this time of year, he writes in Isaiah 64:6 We are all infected and impure with sin. When we proudly display our righteous deeds, we find they are but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall. And our sins, like the wind, sweep us away.  
The only thing we have going for us goes back to a scripture I read earlier Ephesians 2:8-9God saved you by his special favor when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.   Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.
If you were with us through the summer weeks you will recall that our series was entitled “No Ordinary Family” and we looked at Hebrews 11 where we read about the champions of faith from the Old Testament, it is a Hall of Fame for Bible heroes.  People like Sarah and Abraham, Noah, Isaac and Jacob, Joseph and Moses, David, Samson, Gideon and Samuel.  All names that we are familiar with from Sunday School and reading the Old Testament Stories.  They built arks, killed giants and pulled down temples.  They believed God when he promised the impossible. Do you remember who we looked at first in the series?  Sure you do, his story is found in Hebrews 11:5 It was by faith that Enoch was taken up to heaven without dying—”suddenly he disappeared because God took him.” But before he was taken up, he was approved as pleasing to God.  

So who was this Enoch and what was it that he did?  If we go back into  the book of Genesis we discover that he lived seven generations after Adam, that his father was Jared and his first child was Methuselah and the sum of his heroic actions are recorded in Genesis 5:24 He enjoyed a close relationship with God throughout his life. Then suddenly, he disappeared because God took him.   In other translations it tells us that “He walked with God.”

When we walk with God we acknowledge that he is smarter than we are and we let him take the lead.
A Scripture to close, as you read this with me make it your prayer Psalm 25:4-5 Show me the path where I should walk, O LORD;   point out the right road for me to follow. Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you.