Discover Injustice

This wasn’t the way it was supposed to end.  He was the product of a good family, he had been raised worshipping God, he had followed God’s calling, had done God’s work and had preached God’s message and this wasn’t the way it was supposed to end.
In a million years he would never have predicted this, after all wasn’t God supposed to protect him?  People had flocked from all over the country to hear him and to respond to his message, surely they would rise up and demand his release, or not.   At first it seemed that he had been imprisoned to serve as an example to others.  There was a lesson there:  Don’t mess with Herod.  And he thought that after the crowds spoke he would be released with a slap on the wrist and be told to behave.
But his time in prison stretched on and on.  And then one day his nemesis came to visit, the king himself.  And in the small prison cell they talked, and talked and talked.  They spoke about the past and they spoke about the future.  They swapped ideas and ideals and even if they didn’t always agree it seemed as if they had formed a bond.  The king told him that there were those who wished him harm but that he was under the King’s protection so it would be all right. 
And then one night when things were quiet they came for him in his cell, they told him they were there on the orders of the king.  Perhaps he was to be released at last; he could almost taste the sweet air of freedom.    And as they led him out of the dark prison he knew his day had come and then, they killed him and desecrated his body.  It wasn’t enough that they had murdered him; they cut off his head and placed it on a silver platter to display to the King and his drunken cronies. 
And that should have been the end, but the king couldn’t stop thinking about the man he executed and when he heard about this new preacher he was sure that it was the ghost of John coming back to finish what he had started. 
It is a very appropriate story for the day before Halloween.  It starts with the fear of a ghost it has an evil person and includes a flashback to a beheading.  It is the conclusion of John the Baptist’s ministry on earth.  The story is out of sync with the time line of the gospel story, it actually belongs at the beginning of Jesus ministry, shortly after he had been baptised.  Because it was there we read in Mark 1:14 Later on, after John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God’s Good News.
  So this story is a flashback for Herod.  The name of Jesus is starting to spread and the question is being asked “who is this man?”  It is interesting that Jesus had returned to his hometown of Nazareth and had met limited success there, people who had seen Jesus as a little boy in the local carpenter shop were having problems grasping that he wasn’t actually the son of Joseph but was the son of God.  And Jesus seemed to understand that, saying in Mark 6:4 Then Jesus told them, “A prophet is honoured everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family.”
But outside of Nazareth people were abuzz with the stories of Jesus.  His preaching and his miracles.  The stories he told and the people he healed.  And finally the news reached all the way to the palace of Herod  and we don’t know if it was guilt or superstition or a combination of both but Herod’s response is found in Mark 6:16 When Herod heard about Jesus, he said, “John, the man I beheaded, has come back from the dead.”   And then we read the account of what happened.
Two weeks ago I spoke about the ministry of John the Baptist and how his message was one of repentance, he was calling people to change their behaviour and he didn’t limit himself to the common folks.  You might say “he called them as he saw them.” And in this particular case what he saw was problems with King Herod.  Now understand that Herod wasn’t really a king, he was a figure head for the Roman government in Palestine.  And this wasn’t the Herod that we are familiar with from the Christmas story; this is that Herod’s son.  And apparently while on a business trip to Rome Herod had seduced his Sister in law and she had left her husband, Herod’s brother Philip and had moved back to Palestine with Herod.  And John the Baptist saw this as problematic.   For a couple of reasons, the main one was that it was wrong under Mosiac law for a man to marry his sister in law.  And so John publically denounced Herod and his new bride Herodias, if you are wondering about her name she was also the daughter of Herod’s half-brother, not only making her his sister in law but also his niece.  That’s not a family tree it’s a wreath. 
Now it didn’t seem to bother Herod, he was used to people saying nasty things about him, he was a politician.  It was Pierre Trudeau who when he heard about comments that then President Richard Nixon had made about him said “I have been called worse things by better people.”
But while it didn’t seem to bother Herod at all it bothered Herodias a lot.  Mark 6:19 So Herodias bore a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But without Herod’s approval she was powerless,
So to appease he wife Herod has John imprisoned, but he refuses to execute him, as a matter of fact he actually begins to develop a relationship with John listen to how the story continues,  Mark 6:20 for Herod respected John; and knowing that he was a good and holy man, he protected him. Herod was greatly disturbed whenever he talked with John, but even so, he liked to listen to him.
And this is where the story takes a strange and warped turn.  In the scripture reading earlier it we are told that when Herod’s birthday came that Herodias seized her chance to get rid of the pesky prophet.  A big party was thrown and the guests included the who’s who of that area of Palestine, the high ranking government officials, the military commanders and many of the leading citizens.  And part of the entertainment was a dance performed by Herod’s stepdaughter, Herodias’s daughter. 
We don’t know what the dance entailed but we are told that it greatly pleased Herod and his guests, so much so that he tells her “Ask me for anything you like,” the king said to the girl, “and I will give it to you.” He even vowed, “I will give you whatever you ask, up to half my kingdom!”   Incredible, I would personally wonder how the Romans would feel about that.  You gotta think that the bubbly had been flowing for a while before that offer was made. 
And the girl was taken aback she wasn’t sure what her response should be and so she left the room and went to ask her mother what she should ask for.   Do you see the significance in that statement?  The bible says: she went out and asked her mother. 
Herodias had allowed her daughter to dance in front of a group of partying men without her supervision. What does that say about her mothering skills?  And when her daughter asks what her request should be Herodias replies “Ask for the head of John the Baptist.”  The girl goes back and makes the request and her stepfather grants it.  He has John executed and presents the decapitated head to the girl on a platter.  Bizarre.
And I’m sure some of you have the same question that John’s disciples must have had, and perhaps even the same question that John might have had when he realized his fate.  “How could God allow this to happen?”
Perhaps that is a question that you have asked in your own life at some time or another, “How could God allow this to happen?”  
But understand this, John’s death was the result of choices that had been made.   We can believe that God has given us the gift of free will or we can believe that God plays us like pieces in a game, but we can’t have it both ways. 
And that’s so often what we want in life, we want to do whatever we want to do when we want to do it, but we want God to step in and save us from the consequences of our own actions.  And it is a double edged sword, we can’t insist on free will for ourselves while insisting that God remove it from others.  
Reminds me of the story of the Inuit who was out hunting in his Kayak and suddenly the temperature dropped so he built a fire in the middle of his small craft.  Well you know what happened, the fire burnt through the bottom of the boat and it sunk.  Which goes to prove that “You can’t have your kayak and heat it too.”
Mark 6:24 She went out and asked her mother, “What should I ask for?” Her mother told her, “Ask for the head of John the Baptist!”
John’s Death Was the Result of an Evil Person.  Regardless of your philosophy you eventually have to admit that evil exists in the world.  And it doesn’t matter if you think it’s nature or nurture, evil is evil.    Joseph Conrad wrote  “The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.” 
John died because Herodias was evil.  She wasn’t misguided, it wasn’t the result of her upbringing.  It was because she was evil.  Proverbs 4:16 could have been written about her For evil people can’t sleep until they’ve done their evil deed for the day. They can’t rest until they’ve caused someone to stumble. 
And evil snowballs, it doesn’t end with one act of evil.  We don’t know what Herodias was like before she left her husband in favour of her brother in law, but when she was confronted with her behaviour she demanded that John be locked up.   We alluded to the fact earlier that she permitted her daughter to perform at a party for a male audience, don’t know for sure how old her daughter was but most scholars agree that she was in her teens.
When she is presented with the opportunity she calls for John’s death.  And she doesn’t simply tell her husband to kill John she demands his head.    The request is relayed to Herod by Herodias’ daughter who demands Mark 6:25 So the girl hurried back to the king and told him, “I want the head of John the Baptist, right now, on a tray!”   Boy, you can tell the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
 And the bizarre thing about it is that even at that point Herodias probably wouldn’t have acknowledged that what she was doing was wrong, for her it was simply necessary. 
She was the poster child for William Congreve’s words “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.”
John preached repentance but that wasn’t what Herodias wanted and her assumption was that if the one who denounced her was gone that would remove her guilt.  It’s like plugging your ears when you don’t want to hear something.  Or when people stop coming to church because it makes them feel guilty about their behaviour, or not reading their bible because what they read cuts too close to home.
And so John died because Herodias was evil.
Mark 6:26 Then the king deeply regretted what he had said; but because of the vows he had made in front of his guests, he couldn’t refuse her.
John’s Death Was the Result of a Weak Person  Ultimately though Herodias didn’t have the power to kill John, she would whine and complain and makes people’s lives miserable but she didn’t have the ultimate power to say “Off with his head.”  That power was held by her husband.  At the beginning of the story we read Mark 6:19-20 So Herodias bore a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But without Herod’s approval she was powerless, for Herod respected John; and knowing that he was a good and holy man, he protected him.
In the story it says that Mark 6:26 Then the king deeply regretted what he had said; but because of the vows he had made in front of his guests, he couldn’t refuse her.  Come on, he couldn’t refuse her.  Sure he could have he was king.  He had refused her before when she wanted to kill John. 
It might have meant a scene with his step daughter:  “She would have pouted and said “you told me anything, you big meanie you.”  She might have stomped and cried, but still.  He might have had to apologise, maybe some people would have thought less of him.  But really at that point he should have realized that in that instance it was a case of mind over matter, those who would have minded wouldn’t have mattered and those who mattered wouldn’t have minded.   
At that point he decided that he didn’t want to refuse her any more. 
Maybe it was the booze, in the news reports maybe the announcers said “John the Baptist died  today, alcohol may have been a factor.”   Because certainly booze has been the cause of more deaths and more tragedy than any other single factor in life, outside of war.  If guns killed as many people as alcohol did each year there would be a national outcry to ban all firearms.   
Seriously if you took a loaded rifle and pointed into a crowd and pulled the trigger they would put you away for a lot longer time then if you got into your car drunk and caused the same damage but don’t get me started. 
It may have been an issue of pride, Herod didn’t want to lose face in front of his invited guests and whether that was a valid concern or not life was cheap 2000 years ago and so rather than try to explain or justify why he wouldn’t grant her wish, he did.
Or maybe he was relieved  to find a cheap way out, maybe after he made the offer he started thinking about what all it might cost him and so it was almost a relief when he could grant her request and it wouldn’t cost anything.
250 years ago Edmund Burke wrote “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”  Herod wouldn’t be considered a good man by any definition but all that was required on that day for evil to come out on top was that Herod didn’t take the high road.  All he had to do was say no and he didn’t.
And so John died because Herod was weak.
But those were the only two who would have to take responsibility for John’s fate. 
Luke 3:19 John also publicly criticized Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, for marrying Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for many other wrongs he had done.
John’s Death Was the Result of a Faithful Person  We don’t like this one, it makes us a little uncomfortable but the truth of the matter is that John would have been released long before his execution if he had of agreed to stop criticizing Herod and Herodias .
Sometimes we seem to get this naïve idea that if we are doing the right thing that things will work out.  Nope, as long as there are evil people in the world doing the right thing isn’t going to be the popular course of action.   Last week we looked at the 12 apostles and how the majority of them were executed for their faith.   Throughout history good people have died because of their goodness, and not just people taking a stand for their faith.  Martin Luther King Jr. and Ghandi both were assassinated simply because they wanted to make life better for others.
Jesus was killed because of his righteousness.  And perhaps you will recall his words in John 15:18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.”
But you understand that this wasn’t the end of the story.  That ultimately John was the winner.  On that day it may have seemed that he lost but he did all he was called to do and he was faithful to the end.  It is reported that John Wesley once said “Until my work on this earth is done, I am immortal. But when my work for Christ is done … I go to be with Jesus.” 
A couple of things we should note.  If we believe what we say about eternal life than although this was certainly a tragedy in the earthly sense it wasn’t a tragedy in the eternal scope of things.  John would have been granted eternity with the God whom he served.  We were told at the beginning of the story that John had been born in his parent’s old age which means they had probably been spared the grief of seeing their son executed and as far as we know he had no siblings. 
I Don’t want to minimize what happened to John but here was this free spirit, whom we are told spent most of his adult life in the wilderness and now he is penned up like an animal in the prison of Herod.  He was set free that day.  When a loved one dies sometimes we get tired of hearing the cliché “They are in a better place.”  But if they were a Christ Follower, and we believe what we say we believe then we have to believe that they are in a better place.  We may miss them, but to wish them back would be selfish. 
John had fulfilled his mission, to announce and prepare the way for Jesus.  With his imprisonment his life was effectively over,  as long as Herodias lived he would not be a free man.  I don’t know for sure but I would suspect that John walked to the executioner with his head held high.
And when John the Baptist’s work was done, and when evil had done its best to silence him his message still lived on and God would greet John saying “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

Fall has Fell

Angela and I were marvelling at the autumn colours last week as we drove along the highway. The woods were a kaleidoscope of colours, no two the same. It wasn’t hard to imagine Jack Frost painting each leaf individually. One of the many things we missed during our time in Australia was fall colours. As beautiful and gorgeous and wonderful (have I used enough adjectives yet?) as the weather was in Australia, and it was beautiful and gorgeous and wonderful, their trees didn’t change in the fall. To be truthful, I don’t think I ever truly appreciated the various hues that paint our forests until they weren’t there to see. That’s a sad reality of life as well—you don’t realize the good you have until you don’t have it anymore.
As much as I enjoy the fall scenery I don’t appreciate what it takes to make the leaves change—chilly fall mornings leave me cold, so to speak.
That’s human nature though isn’t it? We never seem to want to pay the price, no matter how small. The great thing about the beauty of heaven is that the price has
already been paid, and all we have to do is claim it.
  
Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Discover the 12

Discover the 12
What a group.  In another time and another place they would have killed one another or at least inflicted grave injury on each other.    We know some of their stories and others we only know by name.  But we do know who they were and even if we can’t name them all we can name some of them.  
If you’ve been around Cornerstone for a while you know that sometimes Denn preaches to inspire and sometimes Denn teaches to educate and sometime you can get both in the same message.  This one started off as geared toward inspiration but changed more into the education model.   Mainly because as I started delving into the lives of the 12 I realized that most of us really aren’t familiar with the twelve men who Jesus picked to change the world.
This is a really, really important group of people.  Remember when Jesus was crucified there were only a handful of people who were even brave enough to be seen with him at his death.  That after Jesus’ death and resurrection and his return to the Father there were only 120 gathered in the upper room.  That’s about half of the number of people who will worship at Cornerstone on any given Sunday.  And through the efforts of the eleven remaining disciples the world was literally changed. 
No I understand that God was working, and the Holy Spirit was moving but it ultimately happened because of these men.  This was the group that God had chosen to accomplish his plan through.   And they literally changed the world that they lived in, without television or radio or the internet, without force or violence they reshaped humanity in a matter of half a century.
So who were they?  Where did they come from and what were they like?  Well let’s start by saying they were people, they weren’t statues or stained glass they were people, living breathing people.  With all of the faults and foibles, passion and vision that make us people. 
The twelve are listed in three of the four Gospels, Matthew Mark and Luke, and then eleven of them are listed in the book of Acts, by that time they were missing Judas because he was hanging out by himself.  Here is how the various accounts list the group.
Matthew 10                            Mark 3                       Luke 6                        Acts 1
Simon (Peter)                          Simon (Peter)              Simon (Peter)              Peter
Andrew                                   James                           Andrew                       John
James (son of Zebedee)          John                             James                           James
John                                         Andrew                       John                             Andrew
Philip                                       Philip                           Philip                           Philip  
Bartholomew                          Bartholomew              Bartholomew              Thomas
Thomas                                    Matthew                      Matthew                      Bartholomew
Matthew                                  Thomas                        Thomas                        Matthew
James (son of Alphaeus)         James (son of A)         James (son of A)         James (son of A)
Thaddeus                                Thaddeus                    Simon the Zealot         Simon the Zealot
Simon the Zealot                     Simon the Zealot         Judas (son of James)   Judas (son of James)
Judas Iscariot                          Judas Iscariot              Judas Iscariot              Judas Iscariot             
It’s interesting that some have made much ado about the fact that they aren’t listed in the same order in all four accounts.  Really, I think some people have way too much time on their hands and spend that time over analyzing things.
Presbyterian Preacher J. Vernon McGee writes “I have a book called ‘Marching Through Mark’ in which I compare the lists of apostles as they are given in the four Gospels and in the Book of Acts. It is interesting to make this comparison of how they are listed and the different names that are used.”
And Dr. David Smith  notes in the Wesleyan Bible Commentary “Reconciling this specific list of the disciples in Mark 3 with the others in the New Testament remains a hermeneutical puzzle.”
My advice to those who are seeking deeper meaning in the order of the lists would be; Stop it!  I have two children not 12 children and sometimes I refer to them as Deborah and Stephen and sometimes I refer to them as Stephen and Deborah.  It’s not rocket surgery people it’s just the way they were mentioned, stop overthinking things.
Obviously there is significance to the fact that Peter who became the ad hoc leader of the group is always mentioned at the top of the list and that Judas who is always identified as Judas Iscariot (who later betrayed him) winds up at the bottom.  And that makes sense.   In all the lists the first five remain in the top five although in slight different orders, twice Andrew is mentioned second, and John and James each make the second spot once and Philip is always mentioned fifth.  And along with Matthew and Nathanael these are the only ones whose individual’s calls are listed in the bible. 
But regardless of where they are on the list these men are known as the Twelve Apostles and they were Jesus closest followers.   By the way don’t know if you’ve seen this or not. . . . (Pic of Jesus and Twitter)   Now the twelve weren’t the only ones to follow Christ during the three years he taught but they were the closest ones to follow him. 
It goes back to the fact that all of the Apostles were disciples but not all of the disciples were apostles. 
So What do we know about the twelve?  That’s a good question, the answer for most of us is not much.  So maybe it’s time to get to know the twelve a little better.
Mark 3:16 Here are their names: Simon (whom he named Peter) 
Simon  was the leader of the twelve, we know him better as Peter.  Mark tells us that it was shortly after Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness that he walking along the shores of the sea of Galilee and came across two brothers, Peter and Andrew who were fishing and we read this  Mark 1:17-18 Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” And they left their nets at once and followed him.   We kind of get the impression from this solitary account that this was the first time that Jesus had met the brothers but the other Gospels fill in the blanks on this and we see there was a little bit of history. 
It was Peter who was the one who vowed that he would never deny Christ and then after Jesus was arrested he denied him not once, not twice but three times.  But it was also the same Peter who grabbed a sword and hacked off a guy’s ear in the garden when they came to arrest Jesus.  Peter was the first one of the twelve to clue in that Jesus was more than just a good man and great teacher.  Matthew 16:16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”   And in response we read Matthew 16:18 Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer .  What a compliment to be called a rock.    And in a very real way it was on Peter “The Rock” that they church’s foundation was laid. 
Other than James the bible doesn’t record how the various apostles died, we have to go to church history for that,  but there is a hint in the words of Christ how Peter would die.  John 21:18-19 “I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.”   And tradition tells us that Peter was crucified in Rome, and at his request was crucified upside down because he said he wasn’t worthy to be crucified like his Lord.
Next in Marks account we read Mark 3:17 James and John (the sons of Zebedee, but Jesus nicknamed them “Sons of Thunder”)  It seems that Jesus had an affinity for nicknames.  In this case it is thought the “Sons of Thunder” came from the nature of the brothers.  Maybe you remember the story that was told in the Gospel of Luke, the twelve are returning to Jerusalem and their travels took them through Samaria, apparently one village didn’t roll out the welcome mat to Jesus and his followers so listen to this account.  Luke 9:54 When James and John saw this, they said to Jesus, “Lord, should we call down fire from heaven to burn them up?”   And unfortunately through history that has been some peoples response to those who choose not to follow Jesus, but listen to Christ’s response here.  Luke 9:55-56 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. So they went on to another village.
Or maybe their name came less from their temper and more from their ambition, in Mark 10:35-37 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came over and spoke to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do us a favor.” “What is your request?” he asked. They replied, “When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.”   Well you know what they say “If you never ask, the answer is ‘no’”
James and John are most often identified together and along with Peter made up Jesus’ inner circle and probably were friends with Peter before they were apostles.  Their call follows in the verse after Jesus called Peter and his brother.  Mark 1:19-20 A little farther up the shore Jesus saw Zebedee’s sons, James and John, in a boat repairing their nets. He called them at once, and they also followed him, leaving their father, Zebedee, in the boat with the hired men.
James is often referred to as James the Greater and he became the first bishop of Jerusalem, his fate is recorded in Acts 12:1-2 About that time King Herod Agrippa began to persecute some believers in the church. He had the apostle James (John’s brother) killed with a sword.
It is traditionally believed that John outlived all the other apostles and lived to an extreme old age, writing The Gospel of John as well as first, second and third John and the Revelation before dying naturally at Ephesus in about AD 100.  It was John who was referred to as “The disciple whom Jesus loved.”  And John was the only one of the twelve who was at the cross with Jesus.
Mark 3:18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James (son of Alphaeus), Thaddaeus, Simon (the zealot),   Next on the list is Peter’s brother Andrew.  Andrew is the lynchpin that holds this group together, we don’t think about it but he is the common denominator throughout the gospel accounts.
John 1:40-41 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of these men who heard what John said and then followed Jesus. Andrew went to find his brother, Simon, and told him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means “Christ”).
And then there were the Sons of Thunder, we can’t draw a straight line from Andrew to them but you would have to speculate that there was a connection there, and in John 1:44 we read Philip was from Bethsaida, Andrew and Peter’s hometown.    Not Peter and Andrew’s hometown, which with Peter’s position with the twelve, you would think would be the order. 
Remember the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand?  John 6:5 Jesus soon saw a huge crowd of people coming to look for him. Turning to Philip, he asked, “Where can we buy bread to feed all these people?”   Who comes up with the answer?  John 6:8-9 Then Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up. “There’s a young boy here with five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that with this huge crowd?”
Andrew was a connector, he was connected with all kinds of people and he used those connections to introduce people to Jesus.
Do you know what the X in the Union Jack is called?  St. Andrew’s cross.  And tradition tells us that Andrew was crucified on the “Crux decussate” or X-shaped cross.
And then there is Mark 3:18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James (son of Alphaeus), Thaddaeus, Simon (the zealot),   Remember we said earlier that Philip was from Andrew’s hometown?  Well that’s where Jesus called him.  John 1:43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Come, follow me.”
And listen to Philip’s response to meeting Jesus: John 1:45 Philip went to look for Nathanael and told him, “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”   
And apparently it wasn’t a fluke, Philip was known as someone who not only knew Jesus but was willing to introduce him to you.  John 12:20-21 Some Greeks who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration paid a visit to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee. They said, “Sir, we want to meet Jesus.”
But this was not the same Philip who introduced the Ethiopian Eunuch to Jesus.  That Philip was one of the seven deacons chosen by the early church in Acts 6. 
Tradition tells us that Philip was crucified with Bartholomew in the city of Hierapolis, but as a result of Philip’s preaching from the cross the crowd released Bartholomew.  
Mark 3:18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James (son of Alphaeus), Thaddaeus, Simon (the zealot),    Those in the know tell us that Bartholomew was also known by another name and that is Nathanael.  Remember Philip went to look for Nathanael and told him , “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”   And I love the response he gets:  John 1:46 “Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”   But before his encounter is over we read this  John 1:49 Then Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God—the King of Israel!”
The only other time we see Bartholomew, or Nathanael in the gospels in in John 21 when Peter takes a bunch of the guys fishing. 
Tradition tells us that Bartholomew ended up in Armenia, where his preaching led to the conversion of the Polymius, the king.  The Kings brother was so enraged about his brother’s conversion that he ordered the execution of Bartholomew. 
Mark 3:18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James (son of Alphaeus), Thaddaeus, Simon (the zealot),    Matthew is the last person who’s actual personal call is recorded.  And in the day it may have been the most controversial call of them all.  
Matthew 9:9 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him.   Now tax collectors weren’t anyone’s favorite person and if you do a search of tax collectors in the New Testament you find them mentioned with thieves and prostitutes, drunkards and sinners. 
William Barclay wrote  “Matthew was a tax-collector and, therefore, an outcast; he was a renegade and a traitor to his fellow countrymen.”  And if you know Matthew’s story, right after Jesus calls him he throws this tremendous party and invites all his friends to come and meet Jesus.  And if you can’t imagine what type of friends a tax collector might have it’s spelled out in Matthew 9:10 Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners.   Matthew wrote the gospel that carries his name, sometimes he is referred to as Levi.  Tradition tells us that Matthew ventured as far as Ethiopia and although there are no details given regarding Matthew’s death the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church each hold the tradition that he died a martyr.
There are no records of how the remaining five apostles were called.  They just appear in this account.  And for the most part we don’t see them mentioned much in the gospel accounts. 
Mark 3:18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James (son of Alphaeus), Thaddaeus, Simon (the zealot),    Most of us know Thomas as “Doubting Thomas”  from his reaction to the news of Jesus’ resurrection.  You remember the story, they are all excited about seeing Jesus and Thomas who hadn’t been there said “I won’t believe it unless I see it myself.”  And we are fairly critical of Thomas for that but it probably isn’t far off from how we would react.  But when he finally saw the risen Christ we are told that without hesitation Thomas believed. 
John mentions that Thomas had a nickname and that was Didymus, which meant “The Twin”.  My dad is a twin and he will be 74 tomorrow and some people still refer to him as “One of the twins.”
We are told that Thomas spread the news of Jesus further than any other apostle and was killed with a spear in India in AD 72.
Mark 3:18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James (son of Alphaeus), Thaddaeus, Simon (the zealot),    Is sometimes known as James the Less, in Fairvale just outside of Saint John there is an Anglican church called St. James the Less, but most people just refer to it as Little Jimmy’s. 
We are told that James was beaten to death with a club for preaching the gospel in Egypt. 
Mark 3:18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James (son of Alphaeus), Thaddaeus, Simon (the zealot),   Is referred to as Judas (son of James) in two of the listings of the Apostles and the feeling is that after Jesus was betrayed by Judas Iscariot that this Judas decided to go by a different name and really who could blame him?
Early church tradition tells us that Thaddaeus was killed in Beirut along with his friend Mark 3:18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James (son of Alphaeus), Thaddaeus, Simon (the zealot),   who is next on our list.  Charles Dudley Warner wrote “True it is, politics makes strange bedfellows.”  Well apparently so did becoming an apostle.  If Matthew was on one end of the spectrum then Simon was on the other side.  Matthew worked for the Romans and Simon was a member of a resistance movement or a terrorist organization, depending on where you were sitting, that was intent on overthrowing the Roman occupiers. 
And that brings us to Mark 3:19 Judas Iscariot (who later betrayed him).   What can we say about Judas?  Even people who don’t know the story now what a Judas is.  But who was he?  Who was this Judas Iscariot?  Well we don’t really know all that much about him, we do know that his father was Simon and that his surname Iscariot was probably a combination of the Hebrew words Ish and Kariot, which would then be translated, Man of Kariot. From the scriptures we discover that he was appointed treasurer of the twelve and that he became a thief, stealing from that very same treasury.  And we know that his betrayal of his closest friend led to one of the most horrible deaths imaginable?
Some people say that Judas never meant for Jesus to die, that he was only trying to force his hand so that Jesus would establish his kingdom and overthrow Rome.  But we will never know, at least not on this side of eternity.  We do know that Judas was so overcome with remorse that he returned the money he had received for his treachery and then hung himself.
So there we are, the twelve, who are displayed for us with all of their faults and foibles.  It’s good because we are reminded that the first twelve who were chosen to be closest to Jesus sometimes blew it and sometimes let him down, but with the exception of Judas went on to live their lives and sometimes gave their lives for the Kingdom.
The lives and the deaths of the Apostles are the greatest evidence there is for the resurrection because these men would have known if Jesus hadn’t actually been raised from the dead, and if he had of remained in the tomb then they would have gone back to being fishermen, and tax collectors and zealots. 
So let me end this morning with yet another quote from William Barclay who said “These twelve had all kinds of faults, but whatever else could be said about them, they loved Jesus and they were not afraid to tell the world that they loved him–and that is being a Christian.”

Arab Spring? Not so much.

What’s with all the protests?  And I guess if I have to ask, then I’m probably part of the problem.  The occupy Wall Street and now the Occupy Canada movements have been all over the news and I have heard at least one commentator compare these protests to the, “Arab Spring”.  The Arab Spring involved protests in Tunisia and Egypt; a civil war in Libya and civil uprisings in Bahrain, Syria and a host of others.
And again, maybe it will identify me as a part of the problem but those involved in the Arab Spring were demanding things like the opportunity for free elections and enough food to eat and in response their blood flowed in the streets.  Not sure if that’s a fair comparison with what is happening on Wall Street and the Grand Parade in Halifax.
But the protestors are angry for a reason, and with Wall Street executives taking bailout money and bonus money in the same year, they make an easy target for that anger.
Personally, I think if everyone who laid claim to the name of Christ actually lived like Christ wanted us to, you know the entire, “Love God and Love others” thing, there would be less to protest and fewer protesters. 
Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Discover Baptism

John the Baptiser
This is how it all began!  For thirty years Jesus had lived a life of obscurity as the son of Joseph the carpenter.  He had been like all the other boys, had grown into a man and took over his father’s business.  And now his ministry was about to begin in earnest.  But it would be really hard to just show up and start preaching. 
People would want to know “Who is he?”  “Where did he come from?”  “Why is he here?”    People would want to know “What qualifies this man to say what he is saying?” 
And so 800 years before Jesus would be born in a manger the plan was already taking shape.  In the opening words of Mark we read  Mark 1:1-2 This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. It began just as the prophet Isaiah had written: “Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, and he will prepare your way.”
Most of us don’t stop to think that Jesus, the son of God came to this earth as a newborn infant  in just the right place at just the right time.  It wasn’t by chance that Jesus was born where he was born and when he was born.  It was part of a plan, part  of the plan.  Five hundred years before Alexander would conquer Asia the plan was in place, seven hundred years before there would be a Roman Empire the plan was in place.  A plan that would rely on the language of Alexander and the infrastructure of Rome.
And God didn’t just throw a dart at the time line of human history to determine when and where Jesus would make his entrance.
I’ve talked about this before, it is really really important.  God could have chosen any time in the scope of history for his Son to come to earth and for the church to be born, and yet he chose a specific spot on the time line of history.  Why?  Why at that particular point in time?
According to historians there was no better time for the church to flourish than the two hundred year juncture of history known as The Pax Romana.  E. J. Goodspeed notes: “This was the pax Romana. The provincial under Roman sway found himself in a position to conduct his business, provide for his family, send his letters, and make his journeys in security, thanks to the strong hand of Rome.”
The Roman Peace had spread across the known world, providing one of the few windows of opportunities for the land and sea to be travelled safely without the threat of warring factions. For the first time roadways connected points across the known world.  But it went beyond simple transportation and incorporated communication as well.  Instead of having to learn a multitude of languages and dialects it was only necessary to know one.  Greek was the common language, a reminder of Alexander’s conquests, allowing the written word to be sent to encourage and correct the growing churches in diverse cultures.   
It was not a coincidence that the Creator chose this point in time to interrupt history William Barclay writes in the Daily Study Bible: “It was no accident that Christianity came when it did. It came in God’s own time; all history had been a preparation for it; and the circumstances were such that the way was open for the tide to spread.”
Matthew begins his telling of the story of Jesus 1500 years before Mary would meet Joseph Matthew 1:1 This is a record of the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah, a descendant of David and of Abraham: John begins his story of Jesus before the very beginning of time itself.  John 1:1 In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Luke begins his story not with the birth of Jesus but with the birth of Jesus’ cousin John.  Luke 1:5-7 When Herod was king of Judea, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah. He was a member of the priestly order of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of Aaron. Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old.
And in many ways that should have been the end of the story.  They were good people, they were righteous people, but they had no children, not for lack of trying but very simply written because Elizabeth was unable to conceive and they were both very old.  And 2000 years ago there really were no options.   But God had a plan and one day when Zechariah was serving in the temple God interrupted their lives and their plans with his plans.  Luke 1:11-13 While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John.
And then we don’t hear from or about John for 30 years and then his story begins another Gospel  Mark 1:1-4 This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. It began just as the prophet Isaiah had written: “Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, and he will prepare your way. He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the LORD’s coming! Clear the road for him!’” This messenger was John the Baptist.
John 1:6-7 God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony.
John was sent to prepare the people of Israel for the ministry of his cousin Jesus, and by all accounts he did a pretty good job of it. And it was a remarkable story, John should have been teaching in the temple, remember who his father was.  Instead we discover him preaching in the wilderness and apparently doing an awesome job of it.
 And his ministry had two parts, the first part was where he derived his nickname from,  Mark 1:5 All of Judea, including all the people of Jerusalem, went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River.   By all the accounts that we read in the four Gospels, people were flocking to hear John preach and they were responding to his ministry.
 The entire baptism thing is kind of interesting.   For us as Christians we see this as the beginning of the ritual which we call baptism but baptism had been happening for hundreds of years in the Jewish faith.  When a gentile, someone who wasn’t a Jew wanted to become a Jew it required a number of steps, one of which was baptism.  But for the person who was already a Jew the thought of being baptized would be a pretty difficult concept to grasp.  The question would be “why?”  after all they were part of God’s chosen people by default, they had been born into that family. 
William Barclay wrote in the Daily Study Bible,   “The Jew knew baptism; but the amazing thing about John’s baptism was that he, a Jew, was asking Jews to submit to that which only a Gentile was supposed to need.”
And so John preached a message of repentance, and it would appear that he was a powerful speaker because the story records that people were being baptized in droves.  And as a part of his message John continued to point to another, he would tell the people; “There is one coming who is even more powerful than I am, the one who was promised is coming.”
And you know the story, how one day as John preached and as people responded Jesus showed up.  While we do know that Jesus and John were related, somehow, we don’t know how close they had been up to that point, we don’t know whether they had played together as children or hung out together as teenagers.  Whether they had ever shared their dreams and aspirations with one another.  The only other account we have in the bible of the two being together is found in Luke’s gospel and happens shortly after the Angel Gabriel has told Mary that she will conceive and carry the son of God.  Mary leaves her home travels to stay with her relative Elizabeth, and we read this Luke 1:39-41 A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
The next time was see them together is in Mark’s account and his telling of the story is pretty simple and concise Mark 1:9 One day Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River.  
But John knew who Jesus was, if we read the account in the other three gospels we get the entire story, how John objected that he wasn’t worthy to baptize Jesus, but his cousin insisted so John complies.
And I shouldn’t have to tell you the rest of the story, because you are very familiar with what happened next.  Mark 1:10-11 As Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart and the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.”   You get the picture right?   It’s a clear picture of the Trinity.  The Son is standing on the river bank, the Spirit descends and the Father speaks.
For the next six weeks we are looking in the Gospel of Mark.  This Gospel was written by John Mark, a young man whose mother’s home was a meeting place for the early church.  Those in the know tell us that Mark was probably recording the events of Jesus’ life from Peter’s perspective. 
Interestingly there is an incident toward the end of Mark’s account that takes place during Christ’s arrest that is recorded only by Mark.  Mark 14:50-52 Then all his disciples deserted him and ran away.   One young man following behind was clothed only in a long linen shirt. When the mob tried to grab him, he slipped out of his shirt and ran away naked.  
Many scholars feel that this young man was none other than Mark Himself. 
The Gospel of Mark was the earliest gospel written, perhaps as early as A.D. 50 and was written primarily to non-Jewish believers.  The reason it was written?  To show that Jesus was the Saviour of the entire world.  More than forty percent of this book takes place during Christ’s last week.
This morning more than focusing on whom John was I want to look at what John was doing.  He was baptising.  Now understand that John wasn’t baptising people in the sense that we baptize people today because this was before Christ’s death and resurrection and offer of grace.  But John’s baptisms set the stage and provided a pattern for the baptism that would become an integral part of Christianity. 
When John called people to repent and then to be baptized as a sign of that repentance,  people were thinking that baptism was about the here and now, something I am doing right now.  And today when someone decides to be baptized they see it as a “right now” decision, something they are doing today. 
But two thousand years ago baptism wasn’t simply about one point in time for those being baptized, whether they realized it or not their baptism wasn’t simply limited to the present it encompassed all of their life.  Baptism was in effect a statement about their past, it is was a statement about their present and was a statement about their future.  Because two thousand years ago baptism was as it is now a line drawn in the present that separates the past from the future.
Matthew 3:1-2 In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”
Baptism is a Statement of Regret for the Past  As long as you think you are doing all right and there’s no need for a change in your life there is little chance you will change. The scriptures tell us that John’s message was “Repent of your sins and turn to God”  the word that is translated repent in the bible simple meant “to think differently about”. 
For many people their behaviour before they meet God is irrelevant.  For most they have narrowed the ten commandments down to “thou shalt not kill” and figure as long as they aren’t a murderer they are doing all right.   It’s almost like they feel that is the starting point now, that it reallyis a slippery slope, two hundred years ago Thomas De Quincey wrote, “If once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes to think little of robbing; and from robbing he comes next to drinking and Sabbath-breaking, and from that to incivility and procrastination.”  
It’s only when we come to realize that sin is disappointing God with our behaviour, it is when deliberately and consistently choose to please ourselves instead of God.  There is a description of the sinful behaviour of the people of Israel in Judges 17:6 In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.   And proverbs 21:2 tells us the problem with that Proverbs 21:2 People may be right in their own eyes, but the LORD examines their heart.
So repentance is when we choose to leave the path that we had been following to follow the path of God.  When we turn away from what was yesterday and turn toward the tomorrow that God has in store for us.  So baptism is a statement of the past.
Matthew 3:5-6 People from Jerusalem and from all of Judea and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River.
Baptism is a Statement of Decision for the Present  In the bible the act of baptism wasn’t something that you thought about and prayed about and planned.  It was something you did.  When they confessed their sins he baptised them.  Right then and there. 
Read the book of Acts, when Philip led the Ethiopian Eunuch to the Lord in the middle of the desert we read Acts 8:36 As they rode along, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look! There’s some water! Why can’t I be baptized?”
When Paul was in Philippe  speaking to a group of people along the side of the river we read this account.  Acts 16:14-15 One of them was Lydia from Thyatira, a merchant of expensive purple cloth, who worshiped God. As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart, and she accepted what Paul was saying. She was baptized along with other members of her household . . .
When Paul and Silas were in prison and the earthquake caused the prison doors to be opened and the guard thought they had all escaped and was going to kill himself.  But Paul and Silas were still there and they shared the gospel with him,  listen to what happened. Acts 16:32-33 And they shared the word of the Lord with him and with all who lived in his household. Even at that hour of the night, the jailer cared for them and washed their wounds. Then he and everyone in his household were immediately baptized.
Some people ask “well isn’t it enough that I believe?”  Well apparently not because Christ tells us in Mark 16:16 Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved.   And in the first sermon ever preached by Peter after the resurrection of Christ on the Day of Pentecost we read Acts 2:38 Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins, turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ to show that you have received forgiveness for your sins.”  Not just repent of your sins and turn to God but you need to be baptized.  Why? To show that you have received forgiveness for your sins.  It was their testimony.  In effect they were saying, “Look this has happened in my life.” 
And just before Jesus left the disciples he gave them their marching orders, so to speak.  Matthew 28:19-20 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.”  It wasn’t enough to make disciples and teach of all nations, they were supposed to be baptized. 
Baptism wasn’t something that people put off until another day it went hand and hand with their decision to follow Christ.  It’s not something that happens somewhere down the road of our Christian Journey it marks the beginning of our Christian journey.  It is our first act of obedience to Christ.  It is saying “there is some water, why can’t I be baptized?”
So baptism is a Statement for the Present
Luke 3:7-8 When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said, . . . “Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God.”
 Baptism is a Statement of Belief for the Future Baptism is driving a stake in the ground for all to see and for you to remember.  Baptism is that milestone that you can look back to as the beginning of your journey.  John was warning them that baptism without a change in heart and behaviour was simply getting wet. 
It doesn’t mean that we are saved by the way we live, Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:8-9 God saved you by his grace 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.   You can’t earn your way into heaven, but once you have accepted his grace and decided to walk his way it should be evidenced in your life. 
When John baptized people he expected that they would change their behaviour.  When you chose to follow Christ you are choosing to live as a Christ follower and that is following his directions and guidelines.  And those directions and guidelines are found in his teaching and they are for the purpose of making us better people, who love God and love others. 
So now I am going to speak clearly and plainly.  If you have chosen to be a Christ Follower and you have not been baptized you are being disobedient.  And the question is why?  What are you waiting for? 
And when I ask people that I get a variety of reasons.  “There is still stuff I need to take care of in my life.”  From the scriptures the only thing you need to take care of in your life before you get baptized is accepting God’s grace in your life.
Others are afraid of how they will respond to being immersed, or afraid of how they will look when they come up.  I have never dropped anyone or drowned anyone in a baptism service. 
And part of the baptism service is that it is a humbling experience, most people don’t look good wet, that’s just a fact of life.   And vanity shouldn’t be what stands in the way of obedience. 
I am sure that there were people who stood on the side lines and felt like they should respond to John’s call but they question that overrode their desire to be obedient was “what will people think?”  And there are people today when we talk about baptism who wonder “what will people think?”  But the overriding question has to be “What will Jesus think about my being disobedient?” 
In two weeks we are going to have a baptism, that is October 30th what is keeping you from being baptized?  Remember the words of Christ Mark 16:16 Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. 

A Life to Live

56 years ago, a life was saved and a world was changed.  When 23 year old Joanne Schielbe discovered she was pregnant, she was a student at the University of Wisconsin and she knew two things. She knew she wasn’t in the position to raise her unborn child but she wanted the very best for that child.  Paul and Clara couldn’t have children of their own but they promised Joanne that if she would allow them to adopt her son, that they would do their very best to raise him right and by all accounts they did.
I wonder what the world would look like today if Joanne had of chosen to abort her child instead of allowing him to be adopted?  If she had of decided that his life wasn’t worth her inconvenience and the heartbreak of giving him up? 
We’ll never know because  the decision Joanne made would have a profound impact on how the world looks today.  And that decision was reinforced by the love that Paul and Clara would show the child they had been entrusted with.
So we can only wonder: what would the world  look like today if Steve Jobs had of been aborted instead of adopted?
Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

The Body and the Head

Interesting word “instead”!  It is a transition word that cannot stand by itself because the question is begged to be asked “Instead of what?”   The past couple of weeks we have been parked here in Ephesians 4 and today our focus begins with Ephesians 4:15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.
 Most of us have heard the admonition to speak the truth in love, often it comes right after we have acted like a jerk.   Or probably have spoken like a Jerk.  Whatever the words were that came out of our mouth they may have been truthful but apparently they weren’t considered to have been loving and there is always someone there to remind us to “speak the truth in love.”  And that is great advice, it is akin to “you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar” although I’m not sure why you are trying to catch flies. 
 And if the truth was known most of us could probably benefit from that advice, the bible abounds with advice about how we speak and being careful of the words we use.  Solomon reminds us in Proverbs 12:18 Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing. Or as my Daddy use to tell me  “Keep your words sweet, you never know when you may have to eat them.”
And in most cases it’s just a matter of stopping to think before we speak.  It might be the truth but is hurtful?  Why are you saying it?  Is it necessary?  And don’t just flippantly say “But it was true.”  That is only half the equation and in most courses 50% is a failing grade. 
And then there are other times that we are so mushy and loving that we never speak what is true because we are afraid of hurting someone’s feelings.  And that isn’t useful either. 
If you are speaking love without the truth you might as well be working for Hallmark for all the impact it will have.  We are told that the Rabbis were so concerned with this concept that they went so far as to decree “All brides are beautiful on their wedding day.”  That way people could speak in love about how beautiful the bride was and regardless of how she really looked they would be speaking the truth. 
Because really what is the solution when you are in this situation  (Video clip from Seinfeld Ugly baby).  So to absolve you of that difficulty I have decreed that “All babies are beautiful”.
And taken in isolation these words would mean simply what we often use them to mean, they are great advice and more of us would benefit from putting that advice into practice.   If Paul had simply written Ephesians 4:15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.  Then it would mean no more and no less than “Speak the truth in love.”  But those words cannot be read in isolation because they are preceded by that pesky word “Instead”. 
It is a great verse but we often take it out of context.  In this case that’s not a bad thing and I’ve met a lot of Christians through the years that really need to take that sentiment to heart, but it wasn’t what Paul was trying to convey to the early church. 
And you are thinking, “What does it matter?” or “what does it mean?”  and those are great questions, they go back to that question that I said we all ask or should ask every time we hear a sermon and the question every preacher should ask as he writes a sermon.  “So what?”  What is the take away? What is the message for today?
So to find the truth of this passage we need to answer the question “Instead of what?”  And we do that by simply reading the verse before this verse.  Ephesians 4:14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth.
Instead of being immature like children, instead of being tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. Instead of being influenced by people trying to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth.  Instead of those things we will Ephesians 4:15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.  A couple of things to remember.  This letter was not written to an individual.  There are letters like that in the bible, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon those letters were addressed and written to a person.  This letter was addressed and written to a church.  There are things that we can and should apply to our personal lives but it was first written to a collective group of Christ followers. Like us.  So it was advice to the church. 
The past two weeks I spoke first on Ephesians 4:11-12 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.  And I spoke about how Christ gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers as gifts to the church.  And the purpose of that gift was to equip God’s people to do God’s work.  And part of equipping you is helping you mend the brokenness in your life.
Last week we looked at what that work was:  Ephesians 4:13-14 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. . . And I told you that the work of God’s people was to be God’s people.  As Christ followers our primary responsibility is to be like the Christ we follow, and that happens as we grow and mature in our Christian faith. 
So week one was kind of my responsibility as your pastor, Christ’s gift to you, week two was kind of your responsibility as followers of Christ and week three is our collective responsibility as a church. 
So as a church we have a responsibility to speak the truth in love.  And that truth is God’s truth.  It is the message of repentance and the message of forgiveness.  It is the message of grace and the message of judgement.  It is the message of heaven and the message of hell. And sometimes churches are good at one side of that coin or the other.  They do a really good job of the repentance, judgement, hell side of the message.  They feel compelled to preach the truth.  But they aren’t so good at the forgiveness, grace, heaven side.  Or there are churches that flip that coin over and they want to tell you all about the forgiveness and grace of God and how heaven will be a wonderful place, but they forget about repentance, judgement and hell. 
And 50% still isn’t a passing grade.  But the world is looking for both sides of the coin, they want to hear the truth but they want to hear it spoken in love.  People don’t want to hear you say “Have you heard the good news?  You are going to hell!”  200 years ago  Adam Clarke wrote “Scolding and abuse from the pulpit or press, in matters of religion, are truly monstrous.”
Case in point.  On Thursday while the world was mourning the passing of Steve Jobs, the response from Westboro Baptist Church was the news that they would picket his funeral. Why?  Because by their account “He had a huge platform; gave God no glory and taught sin.”    Now by all accounts Jobs had been raised Lutheran and converted to Buddhism later in life.  Didn’t profess to be a Christ Follower and that has its own consequences.  There was a pressing need in Jobs’ life to meet Jesus.  But as far as we know he didn’t.  So while he will have to deal with the consequences of that decision, he had no moral obligation to give glory to a God he did not serve.  However, the followers of Westboro Baptist Church profess to following Christ, therefore they are to be like Christ, to demonstrate Christ Likeness  and part of their obligation is recognize an follow the teaching of Ephesians 4:15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.
So were they speaking the truth?  Probably, for all people can say and write about Steve Jobs and he was certainly a culture changer, nobody has indicated that he gave Glory to God.  Were they speaking the truth in love.  Nope, not at all.  These are people who picket the funerals of American soldiers because they disagree with American policy and who host the website godhatesfags.com I’m kind of thinking they are going to have a lot to answer for. 
On the other hand churches that claim there is no hell, and that God loves everyone and therefore everyone will go to heaven may be speaking in love but they aren’t speaking the truth. And they are going to held account for that.  Jesus’ brother James wrote 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.
And 50% still isn’t a passing grade.
And it all goes back to our responsibility in the second part of Ephesians 4:15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.
There are two thoughts there.  The first is that we are to be more and more like Christ.   To teach as he taught and to love as he loved.  And we can’t cherry pick, you know only focus on the parts of Jesus’ teaching that we like.  We can’t pull out the lovey dovey things that Jesus taught and forget the warnings he gave about judgment and the harsh condemnation he made of sinful behaviour.
Nor can we simply teach the parts about Judgement and condemnation and forget all he taught about grace and forgiveness and love.  Nope they go together and to separate them is to change the meaning of what Jesus was saying.
And we can’t say that we follow Christ and not follow him.  Would Jesus picket the funeral of Steve Jobs?  I think not.
The second part of that verse tells us that Jesus is the head of his body, the church.   Paul goes on to expand on that thought in the next verse Ephesians 4:16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.   And I could preach an entire sermon on what it means to be the body of Christ.  Oh right I have. 
Almost a year ago I spoke on being a part of the body, and I’m sure that there are some here who remember that.  You are probably thinking “Oh yeah that was on January 2.”  And you probably remember the main points that were 1) We have something in common, 2) We are all different, 3) We Need To Be Heading In the Same Direction  4) When One Part Of The Body Hurts, The Whole Body Hurts. 
So I don’t need to go there again.  At least not today.  But what does it mean and what are the implications of Christ being the head of the body?
1) He is the Head of the Body  That should be pretty self-explanatory.  I saw a lady shopping the other day who only had one leg; she got out of the car she was driving and using crutches went into the store and did her shopping, she had challenges but she was able to function without the leg she is missing.  A friend of mine in New Brunswick only has one arm, he lost his other arm in a fishing accident 40 years ago.  And sometimes you will see Stan mowing his lawn or riding his bike, he has some challenges but he is able function without the arm he is missing.
In extreme cases you will hear of someone living with an artificial heart or having a kidney transplant or even a lung or heart transplant.   
But missing your head, not so much.  Sometimes we will ask  “do you even have a brain?” in which case perhaps you need to go back to the first part of this message.  But the truth is that the body cannot function without a head.   So what happens when the head is separated from the body? 
You ever wonder where the term “capital punishment” came from?  No?  Too bad.   You see the term capital originates from the Latin capitalis, literally meaning “regarding the head”.   And so a capital crime was originally a crime that was punished by removing the head from the body.  And while it offends our modern sensibilities when done properly it was a much more humane method of punishment than hanging, the gas chamber or the electric chair.  Just saying. 
We know that the body cannot function without the head.
In the same way the church can’t function without Christ.   And by that I mean Christ in his proper place, as head.  When a church denies the deity of Christ, when a church refuses to acknowledge the virgin birth, the death and the physical resurrection of Christ they have removed him from headship and they are no longer a part of his body.  They aren’t really a church they are just a group of people who meet on Sunday.  And you can connect the dots on that yourself.
You say  “that’s a little harsh Denn.”  Yes it is and I’m so glad it wasn’t my idea it’s very clear in the scriptures.  Time and time again the concept is taught that Christ is the head of the church and the church is the body of Christ and they can’t be separated. 
And if you thought that was harsh listen to this: A few years ago we saw a whole angel cult going on listen to what the bible says about that:  Colossians 2:18-19 Don’t let anyone condemn you by insisting on pious self-denial or the worship of angels, saying they have had visions about these things. Their sinful minds have made them proud, and they are not connected to Christ, the head of the body. For he holds the whole body together with its joints and ligaments, and it grows as God nourishes it.
Interesting “those who worship angels are not connected to Christ, the head of the body.”
Here is the second thing we know about the head:  The Head Gives the Body Direction the body cannot move the way it was created to move without direction from the head.  Oh there can be spastic movement without the head but it is without purpose and without direction.
When I was about six my dad was in the forces and we lived in Germany.  Now instead of living in the Canadian married quarters we lived in what was known as the economy.  That meant that we lived in a German village, in our case we lived in a village called Herzfeldt and rented from a local family.  And that family raised chickens, and from those chickens they got eggs, and sometimes I would wander down and watch them sort eggs, because when you were six in 1966 you were allowed to wander.  And one day when I was down with the chickens I discovered they also used their chickens for meat.  And at a very impressionable age I saw several chickens have their heads removed, and yes the phrase “run around like a chicken with its had cut off” is grounded in truth.  An interesting experience for a six year old.  But even though the chickens were moving they weren’t moving with purpose or direction.
The church should get its direction from Jesus, his message should be our message and his purpose should be our purpose.  And what is that?  Luke 19:10 Jesus said “For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”   Sounds like he came to help depopulate hell.  If Christ came to extend God’s grace to a world that needs it kind of sounds like that is what we are supposed to do. 
And his church may seek to do that in different ways but that really has to be the bottom line, not what is the church doing but why is the church doing it?  And so the question has to be: is the church as concerned about the lost as Jesus was?  And does that dictate our direction?
Because if the body isn’t taking direction from the head then it is getting its direction from the wrong source.  And it is only when the body of Christ takes its direction from Jesus that it will ever be all that it’s supposed to be and will accomplish all that it’s supposed to accomplish.  Earlier in Ephesians Paul had written   Ephesians 1:22 God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church.   Why is Christ the head over all things?  For the benefit of the church. 
Ephesians 4:16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. The Head Makes the Whole Body Work Together  The last point referred to the body as a whole, in the case of this analogy the Church as a whole but verse 16 breaks that down to tell us that the head makes the whole body work together.    The only way the body is healthy is when all the parts are working together properly.  If I want to walk across the stage I don’t even think about it but the brain is calling upon all kinds of body parts to make it happen.  My feet are being picked up and put down, my legs are moving in a forward direction, my arms are moving, my eyes are seeing, my inner ear is keeping everything upright and balanced.    And that is done in the brain.  The brain makes all of those things happen, and makes them happen in the right order. 
When we as Christ Followers allow our lives to be controlled by Christ listen to what happens Ephesians 4:16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. If you are a Christ follower than the Christ who you say you follow has a special work for you to do.  And when you do it, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. 
Conversely when each part doesn’t do its own special work, the other parts don’t grow and the whole body is not healthy and growing and full of love. 
Try walking with a sore foot, or with tired legs or blurry eyes or when you are suffering from vertigo.  Doesn’t go nearly as smoothly does it?
So what are the take aways?  Well even though it’s out of context it certainly wouldn’t hurt us individually to speak the truth in love.  As a church we have an obligation to present the truth of God, the entire truth from grace to judgment with love.   As a church we must take our direction from Jesus and finally as part of the body we need to find our place and fill it. 

Nothings is worse than. . .

After I gave blood last week, I decided to enjoy a bowl of soup and a fig newton in exchange for the platelets that had been removed from me.  Before dishing up my bowl of soup from the po,t the volunteer tried some to make sure the temperature was fine and apparently it wasn’t because she burnt her mouth.  The other volunteer seeking to comfort her friend said, “There is nothing worse than burning your mouth.” And her friend agreed.   Well, I immediately thought of at least a dozen things worse than burning my mouth and that didn’t even include being eaten by a bear.
Denn being Denn, sometimes when I hear someone make a, “there is nothing worse than. . .” statement, I will offer suggestions of things that might be worse.  “What about . . .?”  Normally my suggestions are not considered helpful.
With the exception of, “dying and going to hell”, in most cases there is something worse than whatever it is that we are experiencing right now.  Even if you were eaten by a bear you would at least have the notoriety.   Let’s be careful that we aren’t guilty of blowing some things out of proportion while ignoring the obvious blessings that surround us. 
Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

The Purpose of the Net

This is week two in this particular scripture.  We started last week looking at verses 11 and 12, how Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers had been given as a gift to the church for a purpose.  Ephesians 4:12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.   And we took most of our time looking at the word equip.  And explained how in the original language that word implied a restoration.  It was sometimes used to explain how a broken bone would be knit back together in the healing process, but there was another way this word was used.  In the book of Mark when the various apostles are being introduced we read this Mark 1:19 A little farther up the shore Jesus saw Zebedee’s sons, James and John, in a boat repairing their nets.   The word that Mark uses here for “repairing” is the same word that is used by Paul when he talks about “equipping.” 
And the thought is fixing, mending, restoring. 
And so last week I spoke about how our lives were like fishing nets, that they came from the manufacturer whole, complete.  But they didn’t stay that way, as a result of doing what nets are supposed to do that nets often get broken, the mesh frays and sometimes they break.  In the same way our lives take a beating through the everyday wear and tear that comes with life. 
And there are other times that it’s not the little things that wear on nets, sometimes instead of small tears and frays happening to the net it will catch on something or twist the wrong way and all of a sudden the hole is that much bigger.  I told you last week how a fishing boat from Grand Manan ended up with a whale in its fishing net and the whale decided it didn’t want to be in the fishing net and so it left, resulting in a really big hole in the net. 
And maybe you’ve experienced a whale going through the net of your life, a death, a disease or some other devastation.  If that has happened to you then you don’t need me to explain it to you.
And then we talked about how nets couldn’t be left un-mended because the strain would make the holes bigger and the net weaker.  And there are no such things as self-mending nets, at least none that I’ve heard of.   And it’s the same with life, if we want to be all that God wants us to be we have to allow ourselves to be mended.  And I can’t do it for you, and you’ve already figured out that you can’t do it by yourself it’s going to have to be done with God’s help.
And then I spoke about how mended nets are like new again, they weren’t replaced but they were restored. And often times the repairs were stronger than the original net, because new twine had been used and they had been tied off by hand and not by machine.  
Of course the analogy here is that regardless of our past God can make us like new again.  In the Psalms David wrote   Psalm 51:7 Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.   And again in Psalm 103:12 He (God) has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.   And that is not as far as the east coast is from the west coast instead it is as far as the east is from the west.  Back in the Eighties Madonna had one of her first big hits with the song “Like a virgin” and it said “Like a virgin touched for the very first time.”   And while it’s not the intent of the song it is a pretty good analogy for the forgiveness of God.
And that brings us to the big question:  So what?  I mean, really isn’t that the question, that even if you don’t verbalize it, you ask yourself every time you hear a sermon preached?  It is for me, I want to know “How does this apply to me?” “What is the take home here?”
Mark 1:19 A little farther up the shore Jesus saw Zebedee’s sons, James and John, in a boat repairing their nets. Why were James and John mending their nets?  So they could use them again.  Nets are mended so they can be used for their intended purpose, so they can be nets.  And the purpose of a net is to catch things; fish, butterflies, golf balls and apparently legs.  I was looking for a video that showed how fishing nets were mended and if you put in the phrase “mending fish nets”  you get all kinds of interesting videos. 
So why does God mend the lives of Christ Followers?
Let’s go back to last week’s scripture again, Ephesians 4:11-12 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.
So what is the work that God’s people are supposed to do?  And how does that work build up the church, the body of Christ?  Is it the things we do as Christians?  All the little tasks and minutia that is required to operate the church and make an impact on our community?  Is it my task to equip you so you can do the various things listed on the back of the blue form that you were handed when you came in this morning? 
Is that the work of God’s people?  The question “what is work and what is not work?’  has stymied us for thousands of years.
And while it doesn’t have much to do with this message I think this is a great quote by Calvin Coolidge who was the 30th American President, and while it doesn’t really apply to the message it is very relevant in light of the US economy  “When more and more people are thrown out of work, unemployment results.”
And so here it is, this is one of my deep thoughts so hang on, you might want to write it down so you don’t forget it.  You see, if the net is restored so it can do its work, what work does it do?  It fulfils its purpose and therefore the work of the net is being a net.
And so the purpose and therefore the work of God’s people is being God’s people.  Did you catch that?  The work of God’s people is being God’s people.  And what does that entail?  Well for that we need to move on to the next two verses.  Ephesians 4:13-14 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth.
Now at first glance there appears to be three thoughts here as to what the work is that we are being prepared for.  So thought one is Ephesians 4:13 -14This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children.  And this is being mature in our Christian faith.  Thought two is in the middle Ephesians 4:13-14 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children.  So measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ, being like Christ or Christ like.   And then for many the third complete thought comes in Ephesians 4:14 . .  We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. That as a result of our maturity we won’t be blown about or tricked. 
Those aren’t three distinct thoughts but instead it is one thought which is simply expanded on and defined.  We mature in our Christian faith so that we can be more Christ Like and then because we are more Christ like we won’t be tossed and blown by every new teaching. 
There is a Process  We grow into our maturity.  Throughout the scriptures the analogy of our Christian life is that it begins with a new birth and then we grow in our faith and our knowledge.  Sometimes we expect instant maturity in ourselves or in others but that is never implied in the scripture, either in theory or practice.  Christ didn’t demand that the 12 have all the answers right away and He didn’t expect that they would have great faith from the get go.  They spent three years with Jesus and at the end of three years they still hadn’t gotten it right.  But somehow we have come to the conclusion that we should have Christian maturity instantaneously
When Paul tells the Christ Followers in Ephesus Then we will no longer be immature like children.  The implication is that there is a time that we are immature like children.  But the implication is also there that this is not the preferred state of our Christian life.  In the same way that we expect our children to grow up, and it concerns us when they don’t it is expected that we grow and mature in our Christian faith.
In life maturity isn’t something that happens in isolation, we have parents and teachers to guide us along that path.  It is never expected that we will just “grow up” without any help. And that help ranges from basic behaviour, like brushing our teeth and wearing clean clothes to acquiring the knowledge we will need to function in this world.  Imagine not knowing how to read or write, not being able to do basic math or trying to function without at least a rudimentary grasp of human history.
If we are to grow up in our Christian faith we will need instruction as well.  Instructions on how to behave, what is appropriate and what is inappropriate behaviour for a Christ follower, and we need to get over the entire “Don’t judge me” thing. 
It is not judging when we tell our children to wash their hands after going to the bathroom and to brush their teeth and to be polite and to do their homework.  In the same breath it’s not judging when we tell new believers that Christ expects us to behave a certain way, and the bible spells that out for us.  And that happens in community.  The old adage “It takes a village to raise a child” is true in our Christian faith as well.  It takes a community to raise a Christian. 
We learn by watching others but in our life there is formal teaching as well and that hold true for us as Christians.  And that happens on Sunday morning, and it happens in small groups and it happens individually when we read about Christianity. 
And I’ve talked about this before, it’s not just reading anything, I firmly believe that we will gain the most wisdom from reading books.  For thousands of years wisdom has been passed down in books of one kind or another and it is no different today.  And I know there are folks who say “I read newspapers and magazines.”  That’s not the same, they are great for news and entertainment but that’s not where you find wisdom.  Can you remember the last time you were reading a periodical and had an eureka moment? 
And don’t even get me going on the “I read what I need online.”  That is like approaching a total stranger and asking for their advice, you have no idea what they know or don’t know, what their background is or for that matter who they are.
I am constantly amazed by people look for medical advice on the internet.  It was Mark Twain who said “Beware of health books. You might die of a misprint.”
We encourage children and teenagers to read all through their school years and if they don’t like reading or don’t enjoy reading we want them to have remedial help.  When does that change?  And why do people brag about not reading?  I hear people say “I haven’t read a book since I finished university.”  That is nothing to brag about. 
If you just don’t like reading or you struggle with it, consider audio books.  They are available from the library or you can purchase them and listen to them in your car or while you walk or work in the garden.  I love to read but there are some authors that I get the audio books and listen to them because it’s just easier for me.
We should know more about Christ and Christianity today than we did a year ago and we should know more next year than we know now.  Do we? It was J. Vernon McGee who said “We are not to act like a bunch of nitwits today.”
And the unity that is spoken of here is exactly that, unity, not uniformity but unity.  Because as long as we are individuals we are going to look at things differently.  And we aren’t going to agree on every doctrine and theology.   And that is all right, seriously it is.    Supposedly it was Augustine who said “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”  That’s not bad advice, what is it that is important to us as a church, what are the essentials?
In my life I have decided what is really important, the things that I will fight for in my faith are those things spelled out in the Apostles Creed. And what are those?  Glad you asked.
The Apostle’s Creed
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.  The third day He arose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Church Universal the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.
So there are some essentials in there that make a church a Christian Church.  Belief in God and the divinity of Jesus Christ, in the Trinity, in the virgin birth of Christ, of his death and resurrection and the reality of heaven and hell. 
Along with a process There is a Purpose our Christian life would be meaningless unless we were striving toward something, and contrary to popular belief what we are striving toward is not heaven.   Ephesians 4:13This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.  What is the result of unity in our faith, knowledge of God’s son and maturity in the Lord?  It is so we will measure up to the complete standard of Christ.  So we will become Christ-like or like Christ. After all if we follow Christ it is expected that we will be like Christ.  Does that make sense?  And the only way we can know what Christ was like was by knowing his story, by reading the Gospels.  In a couple of weeks we are going to focus in on the Gospel of Mark and the story of Jesus that is told there.
You understand that the world thinks that being a Christ follower means that we become like Christ as well.  Read a couple of things this week that brought that home.  The first was an excerpt from the Colbert Report when Steve Colbert asked the question “If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”
And then in relation to the debate over Capital Punishment in the States I saw this banner over an article I was reading “Who Would Jesus Execute?”  Makes you think doesn’t it?  Or at least it should. 
And so our purpose, what we are striving for as Christ Followers is to be like Christ, teaching as he taught, loving as he loved, getting angry over what angered him and yes Jesus did get angry. 
But we will never know him until we meet him and spend time with him.  And that goes back to the process or gaining knowledge about God and his son.
There is a Product So the process, which is to learn and mature leads us to our Purpose which is to become like Christ.  And because we have learnt about God, because we have become mature in our faith, because we seek to emulate Christ there is an end result. 
Listen to what Paul told the believers in Ephesus.  Ephesians 4:14 . . . We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth.   The product is stability in our Christian life. 
When we know what we believe and we know why we believe it.  When we have matured in our faith and become Christ like then we have set our roots deep and strong. 
Paul talks about two things that believers have to be leery of, the first is “New Teaching”.  It always strikes me as slightly suspicious when all of a sudden someone is all excited about a new work, or teaching or doctrine.  For some reason, after 2000 years of Christian history there is something new that had been missed by Augustine and Tertullian, Calvin, Luther and Wesley and a plethora of others.
And the other thing that Paul warns those early believer about were people who sought to trick them.  It is an interesting word that Paul uses here, it refers to someone who gambles with loaded dice.  And the picture is of someone who uses words like crooked dice, they look all right but they aren’t.  And the only defence for this is knowing what we are supposed to know. 
I read years ago that the way they trained people to be able to detect counterfeit bills wasn’t by schooling them in what fake bills looked and felt like, it was by teaching them what the real thing was supposed to feel like and look like.
The question is Can you tell the real thing when you see it?  And that will only happen when you know what you believe and why you believe it.