As Dependable as the Weather

Penn of Denn
Awesome weather last week.  On Wednesday we were digging out from 35 cms of snow and on Saturday I was in the city doing hospital calls and I had the roof down on my car.  Gotta love Nova Scotia weather.  If nothing else, it certainly gives us something to talk about.  In one conversation someone said “The only thing you can depend on with Nova Scotia weather is that you can’t depend on it.”  Which although a fairly innocent comment about metrological affairs would be a fairly scathing comment about someone’s character.
A very good question I would think would have to be “How dependable am I?”  Jesus told us to let our “yes” be “yes” and our “no” be “no”.  Is that a reality in our lives?  Can people depend on us to do what we said we would do, when we said we would do it?  And if they can’t then we have a problem bigger than strange weather patterns, it becomes a matter of integrity.  And you can be assured people will talk about that just like they talk about the weather.  I hope nobody will have reason to say “The only thing you can depend on with Denn is that you can’t depend on Denn.” 
  
Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Discover Anger

Not what we would expect at all.  We are closing in on the final act of the gospels and Jesus has come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, the greatest of all the Jewish feasts.  On Sunday he arrived in Bethany and from there he rode a donkey into Jerusalem fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah.  The crowds had flocked out to see him and waving palm branches, laying their coats before the donkey and singing his praises.  It was a great day.  That evening we are told that after he had visited the temple that he returns to Bethany, which is just outside of the city and then on Monday he makes his way back to the city and back to the temple.
And it is there he freaks out.  There are merchants in the temple courts selling animals for sacrifices and exchanging money so people from away will have the right currency to pay their temple tax.  It is a carnival atmosphere.  And it is like Jesus snaps. He was like a madman, tipping over tables, chasing animals, speaking in harsh tones.  Jesus was angry, angry!  And maybe some of you are thinking, “well maybe he was a little upset but I don’t think he was angry.” 
Nope, a little upset doesn’t tip over tables and chase animals, he was angry.
It is so out of character. Or at least out of the character that we hold so near and dear.  This isn’t the picture that comes to mind when most people think of Jesus.  They see him holding a lamb or holding a child, feeding the hungry or healing the sick.  They see his hands as gentle and caring.  I’m sure that in most people’s minds they would expect the hands of Jesus to be soft and tender and not the hands of a carpenter, who worked without the benefit of power tools. 
And while that has to be a part of the picture of Jesus is it the entire picture?  Most of us have a home page for our internet browsers mine is Canoe.ca  Goes way back to when most of the news sites were American and Canoe came along and they had bill boards up that said “Don’t surf the net canoe it.”  But that is a different story for a different time.  Part of the canoe site is a photo of the day and it shows a snippet of a photo in a box and it is remarkable sometimes when you click on the photo and it expands and it isn’t anything like you thought it would be.
It is the same picture but you aren’t seeing the entire picture.  And sometimes we are guilty of doing that with God and Jesus.  We are only seeing a part of his character and are basing our assumptions about him on that one part of the picture. 
And so for some people Jesus is only gentle and caring, he never raises his voice and never gets angry.  True, they see him as the good shepherd but a shepherd who only cuddles and coddles his sheep and never disciplines them and never corrects them and would never ever raise his voice in dealing with them.  He is a non-judging, non-demanding, non-condemning  and he lets the sheep do whatever it is the sheep want to do, and never says “You are a bad sheep”.
He is a Jesus who was always understanding, always accommodating and never correcting and certainly never condemning.  And so while we can see this Jesus as opening up a dialogue with those in the temple who were selling animals and changing money and perhaps coming to a meeting of the minds we find it really difficult to get our heads around this scene that is described in detail in all four of the gospels.
It is the day after the triumphant entry, the day after Palm Sunday and it is only four days away from Jesus eventual arrest, trial and crucifixion.  After his grand entrance the day before we are told that Jesus had returned to Bethany, where he spent the night.  Now Jesus has returned to Jerusalem and makes a bee line for the temple which is where our story picks up.
But before we look at the story let’s look at the back story.
The temple that is spoken of is Solomon’s Temple; it had been an integral of Jerusalem for more than five hundred years since it was built by King Solomon, David’s son until it was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70.  Understand that we don’t have anything in Canada that was built 500 years old. 
The temple occupied the top of the top of Mount Zion; it covered an area of almost 30 acres and contained several distinct areas.  Let’s pull up some pictures.  Here is where the temple sat in relation to the city of Jerusalem during Jesus ministry, as you can see it dominates the entire city, that site is now occupied by the Dome of the Rock Mosque.  Here is what it would look like if it was built out of lego and here is a replica that you can see in Norfolk Virginia, It was constructed over a thirty year period by Alec Garrard, which was 23 years longer than it took to build the original. 
This large outer court was called the court of Gentiles and anyone could come into the court of the Gentiles.  We are told that at the inner edge of the Court of the Gentiles was a low wall with tablets set into it and in theory if a Gentile, that is someone who was not a Jew passed that point the penalty was death.  The next area was called the Court of Women and that was as far as a woman was allowed to go unless they had actually come to offer a sacrifice.  Next was the Court of the Israelites, here was where the big celebrations were held and it was here that the sacrifices were given to the Priests to be made.  And that was the next area the Court of the Priests and within that was the Holy of Holys where we are told the High Priest went to commune with God.
And it was here in the Court of Gentiles that this entire drama took place.  Historically we are told that the businesses that set up in the court of the Gentiles were businesses of opportunity, especially at Passover.  This was the celebration that the faithful tried to be in Jerusalem; as a matter of fact we are told that even today the Passover celebration finishes with the words:  Next Year in Jerusalem.  And so the city was filled with pilgrims and the temple was alive with different dialects and accents.  And while it was really neat that people would travel from far off places to celebrate it was problematic in a couple of ways.  First of all if they were coming to the Temple for the Passover they would have to offer a sacrifice of a dove and secondly they would have to pay the temple tax of a half a shekel paid using a specific currency.  Not a problem if you lived in Jerusalem but if you were travelling any distance it would be difficult to bring a dove suitable for the sacrifice with you and the coin that was to be used to pay the temple tax was fairly specific to that area and so often times travellers would have to get their money changed.  That’s the short part of the story.  So stalls were set up where you could buy doves and where you could get your money changed, but if you’ve ever been in a market you understand that people are raising their voices and cajoling customers to buy their doves instead of their neighbors and people are jostling and laughing, haggling over prices and cursing what they had to pay.  People are now using the temple courts as short cuts to get to various parts of Jerusalem and the reverence has been replaced with convenience.
And it is into this scene that Jesus stepped the day after his triumphant entry and just four days before he would be arrested, tried in the mockery of a trial and crucified.  So let’s pick up the story in Mark 11:15-16 When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace.
Listen to the verbs here:  Drive out, Knocked over, Stopped everyone.  Sounds like he was a little ticked off, a little put out, maybe a little angry with what was happening.  And that doesn’t sound like the Jesus that we are taught about.  The gentle, compassionate, never angry, never condemning Jesus.  And that is confusing, because we are told that we shouldn’t get angry, and that anger is wrong. 
Buddha said “Anger will never disappear so long as thoughts of resentment are cherished in the mind. Anger will disappear just as soon as thoughts of resentment are forgotten.”
While Madeleine Brent wrote “Anger and worry are the enemies of clear thought.”  And Ralph Waldo Emerson   offered us excellent advice when he wrote “For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.”  And here are words of great wisdom from Ambrose Bierce, “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.”   I’ve given those speeches. 
The bible even weighs in on the subject when Solomon wrote in Proverbs 22:24-25 Don’t befriend angry people or associate with hot-tempered people, or you will learn to be like them and endanger your soul.   And again in  Proverbs 29:22 An angry person starts fights; a hot-tempered person commits all kinds of sin.
And most of us think of anger as a “Sin”.  “Forgive me because I got angry” we pray or we tell the person on the other end of our anger “I’m sorry I was angry.”    And so now we have this dichotomy to deal with.  We perceive anger to always be wrong and to be sinful behaviour and yet we see Jesus acting in a way that seems to be angry.  And there are multiple instances in the scriptures with God being angry, and that is the word that is used “angry”  not a little put out or mildly annoyed but angry. 
Passages like Psalm 7:11 God is an honest judge. He is angry with the wicked every day. Or in the New Testament John 3:36 And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment.”
Perhaps the truth lies in the words of Aristotle who said “Anyone can become angry — that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way — this is not easy.”
So here are some questions we can ask ourselves about Anger and perhaps we can find some answers in this story.
What makes you Angry?  And probably I could get a whole range of answers here.  Some would be appropriate and some would be wildly inappropriate.  I read a news story the other day about a guy who was in court in Ontario charged with Road Rage, actually he was charged with a whole range of things but bottom line it was road rage. 
Someone had cut him off in traffic, I don’t know if it was intentional or not, and buddy forces him off the road with his truck, rams the offending vehicle a couple of times and then grabs a chain saw and threatens the other driver with it. 
Do you get angry in traffic?  In the Parking lot?  In the supermarket when someone cuts you off with their cart?  Do you get angry because of the way people treat you?  Because of some slight, either real or imaginary? 
Why was Jesus angry here?  I think there are a couple of reasons, the most obvious is found in   Mark 11:17 He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”
He was angry because people were disrespecting God’s temple and making a mockery of God’s rules.  What was supposed to be a Holy place had become an everyday place, what had been set aside as a place to worship God had become a place to worship money.  And because of that people’s relationship with God were in jeopardy.  And that made Jesus angry.
That was why Jesus was upset with the Pharisee, they were putting religion ahead of people and putting roadblocks between people and God.  Once when Jesus was teaching some parents tried to bring their children to him to be blessed and his disciples scolded them for interrupting Jesus while he was teaching and then we read in Mark 10:14 When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children.”
When people and churches stand between others and God that should make us angry in the same way it made Jesus angry.   When people are more concerned with their preferences and their comfort rather than reaching out to those who need Jesus, that is a reason to become cranky and when people and churches that call themselves “Christians” do a disservice to Jesus’ name and nature by being rude and bitter, that should make us angry.
But there was a second reason that isn’t as obvious but just as valid, and I understand that this is speculation but I think Jesus was upset over the fact that those who were supposed to be leading people to God were taking advantage of them. 
These were pilgrims who had travelled a long way to be able to worship God in the temple and they were being ripped off.  Historians tells us that the same dove that was being sold in the temple court yard could be purchased outside the temple for a fraction of the price, but coincidently the same people who benefitted from the sale of the doves inside the temple were the ones who had to inspect the ones from outside to make sure they would be suitable.  Can you say “conflict of interest”?
And the temple tax had to be paid in a certain currency, the principle had been laid down that the tax was paid for the upkeep of the temple, and that was a good principle the temple needed to be maintained and that needed to be paid for by those who used it.  But then the principle was distorted and became a burden.  Because now it wasn’t enough that the right amount be paid but it had to be paid in the right currency.  So while other currency was used outside the temple the priests insisted on a certain type of currency.  When the pilgrims came they had to get their money changed.  And if it was a straight exchange then the rate was about 20% but if you needed change back the rate doubled.  And so Jesus was angry because people were being taken advantage of.
What was happening was legal, but was it right?   Personally I think Jesus would be a little cranky over what happens in the name of business and commerce in our society today.  When companies ask the rank and file to make wage concessions and give up benefits and then give their executives million dollar bonuses, I can understand the anger there.   And I don’t think it would be billion dollar bailouts that he would have had in mind for the big banks and wall street, just saying.
But here is a rule of thumb, If you are getting angry over your feelings or over your stuff, you are probably getting angry over the wrong things. 
Understand that Jesus didn’t lose his temper, he got angry.  Which leads us to the next question.
How Do You respond In Your Anger? This is a matter of time and degree.  Sometimes people get angry and their response is way over the top.  If you lash right out you have probably reacted the wrong way.  Which is why  Thomas Jefferson cautioned people “When angry, count to ten before you speak. If very angry, count to one hundred.”
There was something in this account that I just picked up last week.  At the end of the scripture that I spoke on last week was this line:  Mark 11:11 So Jesus came to Jerusalem and went into the Temple. After looking around carefully at everything, he left because it was late in the afternoon. Then he returned to Bethany with the twelve disciples.   And then we pick up the story the next day Mark 11:15 When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices.  Wow, he must have seen what was happening, left and figured out what his response should be and then came back. 
John’s account of Jesus in the temple comes at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and there has been debate over whether it was the same incident or a separate incident, and I can say categorically it could have been the same incident or a separate incident.  But there is a neat line there in John’s account.  John 2:15 Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the Temple. He drove out the sheep and cattle, scattered the money changers’ coins over the floor, and turned over their tables.   I wonder in that account if the taking the time to braid the rope together was his way of counting to ten.
If you find yourself reacting immediately in anger, you are probably in the wrong.  You are letting your anger control you instead of controlling your anger, which is why the bible tells us in Ephesians 4:26-27 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil.
Ephesians 4:26-27 NIV “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.
It was Phyllis Diller who said “Never go to bed angry, stay up and fight.”  I’m not sure that is what the Bible had in mind.  Because if you aren’t controlling your anger then your anger is controlling you.
And then find out how you deal with what makes you angry.  Remember when the disciples wouldn’t let the children come to Jesus and he got angry?  What did he do?  He taught the disciples what their correct response should be and then he blessed the children.
What can you do about what makes you angry?  How do you correct it, how do you deal with it?  Can you be part of the solution?
The other thing to note is that there was no personal violence in Jesus’ response, granted he set animals free and scattered coins but there is nothing to indicate that he struck anyone, that he hurt anyone.
Martin Luther King Jr. was angry, Mahatma Ghandi was angry, Timothy McVeigh was angry and Osama Bin Laden was angry.  Two will go down in history as heroes two will always be villains.
The scriptures don’t tell us not to be angry but they do warn us in Ephesians 4:26-27 NIV “In your anger do not sin”
Do You Understand The Price Of Your Anger?  There is an old saying that there is only one letter difference between “anger” and “danger”.  The guy in Ontario who responded in anger to being cut off in traffic, you remember the guy with the chain saw?  He’s going to jail.
I can’t count the marriages that I have watched dissolve because of an angry spouse.  Sometimes situations where there was abuse but often just times where the other partner just got tired of the anger and venom that was being spewed. 
Jesus got angry over what was happening in the temple, and he responded after thinking about it and without violence.  And the result?  A lesson was taught, not just for that specific point in time but for the next two thousand years.  The temple courts were cleared at least temporarily and I’m sure that some of those who were chased out examined their motives.  But what else happened?  Mark 11:18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.
This was the tipping point in Jesus ministry.  The lives of African American’s was changed irrevocably for the better because of the anger of Martin Luther King Jr.  India’s future was changed because of the anger of Ghandi and they paid the price with their lives.
You get angry over abortion, or poverty or social injustice, or people disrespecting God and his name and voice your anger and there will be a price to be paid.  Chances are that you won’t be killed, but it might be the way people view you, or it might be a promotion or it might be contempt.
But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t get angry about those things, it just means that you need to be aware that there is often a price to be paid.  Remember the words of Edmund Burke who wrote “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” 
Anger has been the catalyst that has changed our world for the better.  Agree with them or not it might be the anger of the “occupy movement” that causes people to take a closer look at corporate greed and what big corporations are willing to do in the name of profits.  After all the founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley got angry over child labour and the founders of the Wesleyan Church go angry over Slavery.  But it can’t be repeated enough: Ephesians 4:26-27 NIV “In your anger do not sin”

Yesterday ended last night at midnight

I am reading a novel about a man’s attempt to change the past. In this case he is trying to prevent the assassination of JFK.  I know that time travel isn’t possible but it is just a novel.  Although sometimes I wonder if we are on the bank, while the river of time flows by or if we are in the river that takes us past the banks of time?  Thoughts like that are what make me Denn.

But the novel got me thinking…. which isn’t a bad thing.  What would I change in the past if I had the chance?  Have you ever spent time wondering about how you would change the past if you had the opportunity? 

The protagonist in the novel is working under the assumption that the US would be a better place if Kennedy had  lived and maybe it would have been. Or maybe it would have been worse, but we will never know.  And we can never know for sure what would have happened if our past had  been different. 

I know I harp on it all the time but here it is again: we have no control over yesterday but we have control over tomorrow by the choices we make today.
  
Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Discover the Name

Do you like your name?  And if you do now did you always like your name?   As a teenager how did you feel about it?   I heard two Jr. High girls talking in a mall once and one asked “Do you like your name?”  To which the other replied, “No I hate my name” and the first girl said, “Yeah I hate mine too.”  I think it’s a fact of life that most of us hate our name at some point in our lives, probably because of the way our parents abuse it, “Dennison Vance you get in here right now you have some explaining to do”  
Yep my first name is indeed Dennison, I was named after my father’s uncle.  But I have never gone by Dennison and other than times when we had a supply teacher in class or when my parents thought I had misbehaved I have never been called Dennison.  That’s not a hundred percent true, Austin White called me Dennison when he was little.
Had I been born 32 days later my name probably would have been Stephen because a month and a day after I was born my Grandfather Stephen was killed in an industrial accident. 
But my name hasn’t been static, for the first 18 years of my life I went by Denny, when I went away to college I thought it was time to grow up so I started going by Den.  D.e.n.  just one “n”. 
I had an interesting conversation with a person in Australia just before we moved home in 1994, they asked what Den was short for and I told them, they asked me how Dennison was spelled and I told them.  And then they asked “well shouldn’t Den have two ‘Ns’?”  To be truthful I had never thought about it before.  So when we arrived in Bedford to start Cornerstone in August of 1994 I became Denn with 2  “ns”. 
When I went to work at my first church in 1981 I discovered for some people my name was simply “Pastor”  in 1984 we added an addition to our home and the name he called me was “daddy”  a year and a half ago I got a new name and it was “grampy” as opposed to the times Angela simply refers to me as “grumpy”.  A pastor friend of mine was asked if he ever woke up grumpy and he replied “sometimes and sometimes I let her sleep in.”   But that is a different story.
But I am really not defined by my name, I like it now, it’s different, kind of like me.  But I think that the Bard was right when he said William Shakespeare   “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”    Which might be why Gertrude Stein wrote “A rose is a rose is a rose.”
Some people are very proud of their names, in particular their surname, I have a friend in Truro by the last name of Wallace who lays claim to a relationship with William Wallace of Brave Heart fame.  But that is really outside of our control isn’t it.    It was the Czech author Milan Kundera who wrote “We don’t know when our name came into being or how some distant ancestor acquired it. We don’t understand our name at all, we don’t know its history and yet we bear it with exalted fidelity, we merge with it, we like it, we are ridiculously proud of it as if we had thought it up ourselves in a moment of brilliant inspiration.”
And that was all said to lead into our message this morning.  Our scripture begins with an interesting story.   Jesus and his apostles have come to Capernaum and Jesus is teaching them a lesson about the Kingdom when John suddenly bursts into the room let’s pick up the story there.  Mark 9:38 John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.”   Remember a couple of weeks ago I spoke about the 12 Apostles and mentioned how Jesus had nicknamed John and his brother James “The Sons of Thunder”?   It was John who wanted to call down fire from heaven to burn up a village in Samaria that didn’t welcome Jesus and his followers and now he is forbidding someone from doing good in Jesus name. 
And we really don’t know what the issue was.  Maybe John thought he was doing the right thing, he might very well of thought that the guy was out of line, he didn’t know him so he assumed that Jesus didn’t know him and that he didn’t know Jesus.  John may have thought that when Jesus said “Follow me” that he was only talking in the physical sense, that you could only follow Jesus if you could see him and be with him in the here and now.  If that was the case then Jesus’ followers would never have been able to expand past that a few hundred people isolated in a particular point in history.
And really we don’t know who the guy was.  Some have suggested that he might have been one of John the Baptist’s followers who heard John talk about Jesus and call him the “Lamb of God” and took John’s words to heart.  Others have speculated that he may have been one of the seventy-two that Jesus sent out in  Luke 10:1 The Lord now chose seventy-two other disciples and sent them ahead in pairs to all the towns and places he planned to visit.   Because apparently the Demon thing fell in the job description because when they came and reported back to Jesus we read Luke 10:17 When the seventy-two disciples returned, they joyfully reported to him, “Lord, even the demons obey us when we use your name!”   So maybe John just didn’t recognize the guy, or maybe he was just some fellow who had heard Jesus speak bought into his message and laid claim to it. 
Or maybe there was a darker side to John’s comments because it was only a couple of dozen verses before that we read Mark 9:17-18 One of the men in the crowd spoke up and said, “Teacher, I brought my son so you could heal him. He is possessed by an evil spirit that won’t let him talk. And whenever this spirit seizes him, it throws him violently to the ground. Then he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast out the evil spirit, but they couldn’t do it.”
So maybe John was stinging a bit,  that this guy was doing what he hadn’t been able to do.   Just saying.   Or maybe John was like a some churches today, he had drawn a circle around his group and assumed that anyone outside the circle was wrong. 
We don’t do that do we?  I hope not, I hope our circle is big enough without being too big.    It was Edwin Markham who wrote  “He drew a circle that shut me out–  Rebel, heretic, thing to flout.  But love and I had the wit to win– We drew a circle that took him in.”  And if you are older than dirt you might remember the song called “Circles” by the Captain and Tennille which had the opening line “He drew a circle that shut me out He was afraid of what life was all about.”   Toni Tennille said the song was inspired by Markham’s poem.  There don’t say you didn’t learn anything today.
So maybe whoever the stranger was he was outside the circle that John had drawn.
Now if anyone had the right to be cranky that someone had been using his name it should have been Jesus.  But listen to his reply in Mark 9:39-40 “Don’t stop him!” Jesus said. “No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us.
And if we just had that one scripture we would have to understand it to mean that anyone, that is anyone who lays claim or has ever laid claim to the name of Jesus should be considered a Christian or a Christian church.
Recently in the news in the US a prominent Pastor made a statement that caused an absolute furor in the media, he said that the Mormon Church, or Latter Day Saints as they prefer to be called weren’t Christian.  The secular media was aghast, how could that be, the Latter Day Saints profess to follow Jesus so how could another Christian say they were a cult. 
Actually the context of why the discussion was even happening was outside the scope of Canadian thinking, it was in relation to Mitt Romney possibly running as President and whether or not Americans would vote for a Mormon.    I can’t even imagine that would be a consideration about who would be President.  Oh well, different strokes for different folks I guess.
But there were a lot of people who condemned the Pastor who said the Mormons weren’t Christians.    And I’m sure that at least a few of those were thinking of this passage.
But like any other scripture it can’t be taken in isolation.  Because there are other scriptures that come into play as well, like when Jesus warned people in  Matthew 7:22-23 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’
Or his warning in Mark 13:6 for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many.
So it appears that on one hand you have Jesus saying “if they use my name they are one of mine.”  And on the other hand he is saying “Be careful not everyone who uses my name is one of mine.”
So how do we balance this dichotomy?
We Need to Realize that His Name is Descriptive  Shakespeare said that if you called a rose by a different name it didn’t make it a different thing.  But by the same token calling something a rose will not make it a rose.
When the Gospel Writers talk about the name of Jesus they were talking about a very specific Jesus.  Jesus who always was and always is.  Jesus who is not only the son of God but is God.  Jesus who was born of a virgin, Jesus who lived a sinless life, Jesus who died on the cross, Jesus was raised from the dead and Jesus who will someday return.  That is the Jesus that is named in the Bible.  And churches around the world embrace that Jesus. 
If someone handed you a tulip and said it was a rose, you would know right away it was not a rose.  But only if you knew what a rose looked like.  However if you had never seen a rose it is conceivable you would think the flower you had been handed was indeed a rose and you might even tell other people it was a rose.
But would that make it a rose?
And so we have churches and those who are part of those churches who say “Here is Jesus, but he’s not the Jesus who was born of a virgin, because we don’t believe that.  And he’s not the Jesus who was the Son of God because we don’t believe that.  And he’s not the Jesus who was raised from the dead or who will return again.”   Then I would tell you that you are looking at a tulip and not a rose.
And so when Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, called Mormonism a “theological cult” he was correct.  Because the Jesus of the Latter Day Saints is not the Jesus of the Bible.  On the other hand I think Jeffress was over the line when he went on to declare “Evangelicals ought to give preference to a Christian instead of someone who doesn’t embrace historical Christianity.”   
I think history has shown that you just because you are a good Christian doesn’t mean that you will make a good national leader.  And vice versa.
Lifeway Research a Christian research firm in the states did a survey and found that among Protestant pastors 75 % disagreed with the statement that Mormons were Christians.    But hopefully most of us would agree with the president of Lifeway Ed Stezer who stated “Though pastors believe overwhelmingly that Mormonism is not Christianity, their opinions should not be confused with personal scorn for Mormons, A person can respect a religious group and even appreciate their commitment to traditional moral values without equating their beliefs with Christian orthodoxy.”
But understand that it’s not enough to claim the name of Jesus without claiming the Jesus of the name.
His Name Is Holy  This goes back to what we believe about Jesus, if we truly believe that he is God then his name deserves the same respect as the name of God.  And that takes us back to Exodus 20:7 “Do not misuse the name of the LORD your God. The LORD will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.   and we’ve talked about this before.  To misuse God’s name is to use it in a frivolous manner, to misuse Jesus’ name is to use it in a frivolous manner.  It’s not an exclamation, or a statement of surprise or anger.  It is a holy name and deserves to be treated as such. 
It’s not just a command about the way we speak, it’s also a commandment concerning the way we live.  When you call yourself a Christian then you are calling yourself a follower of Christ, you are in effect taking his name his name and attaching it to yourself and to your behaviour.   And when your life does not reflect your commitment as a Christian then you are misusing his name.  So, when you call yourself a Christian then live like the devil what does that say?  What are you doing to the name of Christ with the way you are living?
Not only is his name descriptive his name is holy, but more than that:
His Name Is Powerful  If you read through the book of Acts you discover that the early church depended on the name of Jesus.  It was in the name of Jesus that the message of the Gospel was preached, it was in the name of Jesus that people were healed, it was in the name of Jesus that tyrants were rebuked and it was in the name of Jesus that people found the strength to be martyred for their faith.
And there are great scriptures that we claim and hold unto to, scriptures like John 14:14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.   How often have we heard that promise, and how often have we claimed that promise?  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. Wow!  But did Jesus actually mean that you could ask for anything in his name and it would be yours?  That you and yours would never be in want, that you would never be sick that you could ask for anything in Jesus’ name and it would be yours?
That’s how it is preached sometimes and that is a heresy and a mockery of the words of Jesus.  Seriously you can’t just cherry pick verses like this and let them stand on their own.  You can’t just take a sentence out of the bible and look at it in isolation.  The very least that you can do is look at the verses that immediately surround that verse.   In this case we need to look at John 14:12-13 I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.   What is it talking about here?  It is talking about doing what Jesus did.  That your prayers and your life would bring glory to God.  And you are thinking “Well sure Denn, but if I won the lottery that would bring glory to God.”  Do you really believe that? 
This goes back to the line in the Lord’s prayer that says “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  There is power in Jesus name and that power is living in Jesus name and means that we live in such a way that our requests are requests that Jesus would honour.  John 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.   We like the last part.  Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.   But you can’t isolate that from the first part of Jesus statement and that is that you will bear fruit that will last, because that is what your requests are supposed to lead to.  When you pray for the power and desire to live the life that Jesus would have you to live, that power is there.   When you pray for the strength to resist temptation, that strength is there.  When you pray that you will be better able to bear the name of Jesus and that your life will produce the fruit that Jesus wants you to produce, that request will be answered.
As a young Pastor I thought that praying “Your will be done” was a cop out, that if we were truly to pray in faith, believing that whatever we asked for in Jesus name would happen that we were just given ourselves an out by praying “your will be done” because if our prayers weren’t answered then we could just say “well I guess that it wasn’t in God’s will” 
But what if we truly believed that God is smarter than us, and ultimately that God wants the very best for our lives, even if at this point in our lives it doesn’t seem that way? 
Sometimes we are like children who feel that we need every shiny new toy that captures our imagination and every cone of ice cream or candy bar that tickles our fancy and that doesn’t bring glory to God. 
But have you ever wondered what would happen if every prayer you ever uttered had been answered in just the way you wanted it to be answered? 
The power that is in the name of Jesus is the power to live as a new creation, the power to be a witness to his name, the power to bear the fruit that he would have us to bear. 
Paul wrote these words to the believers in the Colossian church, Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, all the while giving thanks through him to God the Father.   Now listen to how it is said in the New International Version,   NIV Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Discover your Place

It was a party, everyone was there, it was a celebration, the video clip you just watched was from Jesus Christ Super Star 2001 and I love the Palm Sunday scene, it captures the excitement and joy of that day.  From the excitement of the crowd to the animosity of the religious leaders and the torment of Judas.
There was a sense of anticipation and expectancy in the air, people knew that something was happening and they wanted to be a part of it.  As Jesus rode into town the crowd went wild cheering him on and laying a carpet of their coats before him.  He was the one that the prophets had spoken of and now he was riding into their town.  We read the story earlier in the service, how the people welcomed Jesus into their town, how they proclaimed his greatness and their loyalty.  And yet it was all short lived.  A week later instead of crying “Hosanna”, the crowd was yelling “Crucify him”.  Seven days after they yelled “Bless the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” they hollered “We have no king but Caesar.”
A few things that we need to note as we look at what happened that day as Jesus rode into Jerusalem.
First of all understand that this was planned.  Remember in the first part of the scripture that was read this morning?  Mark 11:1-3 As Jesus and his disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. “Go into that village over there,” he told them. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a young donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it hereif anyone asks ‘What are you doing?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it. . .”.
Now we might be tempted to add a whole range of mystical application here, that maybe this was a miracle or a step of faith on Jesus behalf, you know, just do and it will happen.  Chances are that Jesus knew the man and had arranged in advance for the donkey to be there.  The words “The Lord needs it” were probably a password so the man would know that he was giving the donkey to the right people.  I mean he’d feel kind of silly had the two disciples shown up and he had to tell them, I gave the donkey to two other guys who were here about an hour ago. 
We know that Jesus had friends in Bethany, that’s where Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived and so it’s not that far of a reach to see that Jesus had already put steps in place for his entrance to Jerusalem.  Which would lead me to suspect that if it were alright for Jesus to do preparation and not always wait until the last minute and then call on God in panic that there might be a lesson there for us as well.
The story of the triumphant entry is told in all four of the Gospels and there are a few things that we pick up in the story at first glance; first it was a borrowed animal.  Interesting that Jesus started his life in a borrowed manger, preached from a borrowed boat, rode a borrowed donkey and was buried in a borrowed grave.  And yet have you every noticed how we hold so tight to the things which in reality are only borrowed, at the end of our life everything we have will belong to somebody else.
The second thing that jumped out at me was the donkey had never been ridden.  I spent a few years around horses and the like and if horse has never been ridden the first time is always an adventure, there is much activity and excitement and a lot of times you end up on the ground looking up with the horse looking down, and they always have either a look of contempt or pity.
They don’t call that process “Breaking a horse to the saddle” for no reason, it takes some time and some effort and yet Jesus gets on and rides away as nice as can be, and Mark doesn’t even comment on it.  Maybe because as we mentioned previously Mark was writing down Peter’s account and the silly fisherman didn’t realize how spectacular of an event this was.
But there is something else there that might not mean a whole lot to you and me but to the people of Jerusalem it meant a great deal, and while Mark didn’t mention it Matthew wants to makes sure that people don’t miss it so he reaches back into the Old Testament and pulls out a reference from the prophet Zechariah 9:9 Rejoice, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem! Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey— riding on a donkey’s colt.
Jesus knew that the religious leaders were out to get him and yet instead of slinking into the city under the cover of darkness he rides triumphantly in a manner that is bound to reveal him as Messiah. 
Those in the know would get it, they would be able to connect the dots.   Those who weren’t in the know would have their curiosity piqued and ask what was going on.  But either way Jesus was making a statement and he begins this last act with a deliberate challenge, a throwing down of the gauntlet so to speak.
If that is indeed what he was trying to do he certainly succeeded.  But what about the people in the crowd that day?  We know that less than a week later they weren’t shouting hosanna, as a matter of fact some of the very people who wanted to see him crowned on Palm Sunday wanted to see him crucified on Good Friday. 
So who was in the crowd that day?  Who was it shouting to God in praise?  Who was it waving palm branches and laying their coats on the ground in front of Jesus?  Would it surprise you to hear they were the same people who make up the church today?  Very little has changed about human nature in the past 2000 years.  So who was there?
1) Judas was there.  I would suspect that we wouldn’t have to look very far in the crowd that day in order to find Judas Iscariot.  You remember Judas don’t you?  He was one of the twelve and the treasurer of the group.  Ultimately he would be remembered through history as the one who would betray Christ to the authorities.  Now at this point Judas had not even talked to the high priest about a deal. It would be another three or four days before Judas would go to the chief priests and ask what they would be willing to pay if he would betray his friend.  But do you really think that the turning point came after the triumphant entry?  Do you think that half a week could make a man turn from being a committed follower of Jesus Christ into the one who would turn his friend and teacher over to be executed? 
Whatever it was that had turned Judas heart had happened before that last week, oh something might have been said or done to trigger the incident but the wheels were already in motion.  On the day that Jesus rode into town being proclaimed Messiah Judas already knew that he had lost the first love that he had for Christ.  Judas’ true nature is revealed in a story told by John in his gospel.  Jesus has already entered into Bethany, and is attending a dinner given in his honour.  His three friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus are all there.  Martha is doing what Martha is always doing, preparing the food and serving it to all the guests, Lazarus is being a typical man in this situation and is doing nothing.  Understand ladies, Lazarus isn’t deliberately doing nothing, he just looks around and doesn’t see anything to do. The third sibling, Mary comes into the room with a container of perfume which she proceeds to pour over the feet of Christ and then she wipes it off with her hair.
A little bizarre but I’m sure that in that cultural and historical setting it must have been acceptable because no one jumps up and says “Wow that was kind of strange.”  But someone does object, this is what we read in  John 12:4-6 But Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would soon betray him, said, “That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor.” Not that he cared for the poor—he was a thief, and since he was in charge of the disciples’ money, he often stole some for himself.
And so it would appear that while Judas had all the outward trappings of one of the disciples that in here, where it counts, there had never been a transformation.  Oh people looked at him and said there is a follower of Christ, one of his disciples, he is a Christian. 
But Judas and God knew that was a lie.  When he shouted hosanna that day he didn’t mean it, he did it because it was expected of him.  And in churches all over our city today there are people who are known as Christians, who sing the songs, pray the prayers and may even be in a position of leadership.  But they know and God knows that it’s a lie. I would daresay that there is someone here today who is in that very position.  And there is a nasty word for people like that, it comes from the Greek word which meant to play a part or an actor and that word is hypocrite.
And the bible has a little advice for you in the book of James 4:8-9 Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done.
Because if you don’t, you might fool Denn, and you might fool the people of the church, and you might even fool your family, but you aren’t fooling God.
2) The Religious Leaders Were There.  They weren’t shouting, they weren’t singing or waving palm branches or laying their coats down.  They weren’t in the least bit interested in being identified with Christ, I mean you have to give them credit, at least they were honest about it, they weren’t pretending.  They had their minds made up; they weren’t going to believe in him, no matter what.  It didn’t matter how many miracles they witnessed, how many times they saw lives changed, they had already made a decision to not follow Christ, and we’ll never know what it was that kept them away, pride, sin or the fear of losing control but it was something.
Not all of the religious leaders were like that, in the Gospels we read about men like Nicodemus the Pharisee and Jairus the ruler of the Synagogue.  But the majority of them, if they had a favourite hymn it would be “I will not be moved.”
And today we have people who tell us that Jesus was a great religious teacher or a good man or a prophet, but they draw the line at saying he is God.  They resist any effort that people might make to introduce them to Christ, and they’ve hardened their heart to the spirit.
There are people like that in every church, they are there because they have to be.  Their parents have drug them out, or it’s their spouse or a friend.  And they may have to be there but they’ll be darned if they are going to enjoy it.  They sit or stand with their arms folded (and if their arms aren’t actually crossed they are crossed on the inside) and never sing a word, their minds are made up and the preacher certainly won’t be the one to change it.
King David made a statement in Psalm 14:1  it was there he wrote Psalm 14:1  Only fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”
A few years back I saw a picture, it looked something like this.  Someone had written the words “God is Dead” on a wall and then signed Frederick Nietzsche’s name to it. Under it someone had added these words “Nietzsche is dead” and signed God, hah, hah.
Listen up, just because you’ve made up your mind that there is no God or that Jesus Christ isn’t God doesn’t make it less so. Or maybe you are kind of like the person that George Orwell described in Animal Farm when he wrote He was an embittered atheist (the sort of atheist who does not so much disbelieve in God as personally dislike Him).
It really doesn’t matter because the Bible says in Philippians 2:10-11 that there will come a time Philippians 2:10-11 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
3) The Curious Were There Call them what you like the undecided or seekers they heard the noise and wanted to find out what it was all about.  They probably got caught up in the excitement and began to sing and shout and wave palm branches but they still weren’t a hundred percent convinced that Jesus was the Messiah.  Perhaps they hadn’t heard him speak, or maybe they didn’t know anyone whose life had been changed or who had been healed.  So they were there for themselves to find out.
Most of us don’t come to know Jesus as Lord the first time we hear the message, as a matter of fact most of us don’t come the first half dozen times we hear the message.  It often takes time and multiple hearings before we come to the place that we are ready to surrender our lives to him.  For some it is fairly quick for others it takes a little longer.  The secret is that you remain open to God and to his message.
Jeremiah 29:11-13For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.”
We do know that less than two months later, after Jesus had been crucified, after Jesus had risen from the dead, after Jesus had taught for another forty days and ascended into heaven, after the Holy Spirit fell upon the small group of believers in Jerusalem and after Peter preached on the streets of Jerusalem, perhaps to many who had been there on Palm Sunday that this is recorded in  Acts 2:41 Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.   That would be a good day at church, one would think.
And so if you are here today, but you have never made a decision to follow Christ continue to seek him, but here is a warning, don’t take too long.  2 Corinthians 6:2 For God says, “At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.” Indeed, the “right time” is now. Today is the day of salvation.
Why today?  Because you don’t know what might happen tomorrow.  And friends listen up you who say “I’m almost convinced.”  90% found is still lost.  I would hate to think that any one of you might slip into eternity, by the way that’s just a pastoral way of saying kick the bucket, without having the assurance of your salvation.
4) The Committed Were There.  Along with Judas I’m sure the other eleven disciples were there, probably Mary, Martha and Lazarus were there, no doubt Mary Magdalene, maybe Zacheaus, Simon the leper and others whose lives and bodies Jesus had touched.
For many that day Jesus was not just an abstract or an ideal he had changed their lives and they were there to express their thanks and their adoration to him.  Psalm 135:1 was a reality to them and they were going to follow those words that said Psalm 135:1 Praise the LORD! Praise the name of the LORD! Praise him, you who serve the LORD,
I don’t think that I’d be far off in saying that most of you folks fall into that last category; Jesus is a real part of your lives.  Through his power and his grace your sins have been forgiven.  And when you come on Sunday mornings your praise is genuine, and to you I leave the words of the book of  Hebrews 13:15 Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name.
If you are in one of the other categories today I would encourage you to move into a right relationship with God.  The scriptures tell us that he doesn’t want anyone to die without knowing him, and that means you.  Whatever it is that has been holding you back let it go. If you have never asked Christ to be Lord of your life then you need to right now, and it is as simple as acknowledging that he is God and that you are a sinner and asking him to forgive your sins and turning from them.  You say “Denn it can’t be that simple.”  Oh yes it is. Just that simple.  If you’ve made a commitment to Christ but you aren’t living for him, or if there is unforgiven sin in your life then you need to ask for forgiveness.
Let’s pause for a minute of silent prayer.  You might be thanking him for all he’s done for you, or you might be asking him to forgive you, right now only two people need to know your prayers, you and God.
 

Poor Me

What a bummer of a day it was.  First, when I was at Tim Hortons to finish things up for my Sunday message, I discovered I had lost my USB key that my nearly completed message was stored on.  Then, as I made my way in the torrential rain, I pushed the wrong button on my key fob and instead of unlocking the doors, it opened the roof, so I had to go home to get changed and dry my car out.
The Community Remembrance Day service that I had helped plan had to relocate to the community centre and the size of the crowd was just too large for the facility we had.  Bummer.
So let me recap. While I was enjoying a coffee that cost a day’s wage for many people of the world, I realized that I wasn’t able to put my message that I had prepared on my netbook, onto my laptop.  Then, I inadvertently put down the roof on my convertible in the rain and had to return home to put on dry clothes from my closet- full of clothes.   Then to top it off, we had way too many people show up for our Remembrance Day service.  No wonder I was bummed out.
  
Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Discover the Name

Do you like your name?  And if you do now did you always like your name?   As a teenager how did you feel about it?   I heard two Jr. High girls talking in a mall once and one asked “Do you like your name?”  To which the other replied, “No I hate my name” and the first girl said, “Yeah I hate mine too.”  I think it’s a fact of life that most of us hate our name at some point in our lives, probably because of the way our parents abuse it, “Dennison Vance you get in here right now you have some explaining to do” 
Yep my first name is indeed Dennison, I was named after my father’s uncle.  But I have never gone by Dennison and other than times when we had a supply teacher in class or when my parents thought I had misbehaved I have never been called Dennison.  That’s not a hundred percent true, Austin White called me Dennison when he was little.
Had I been born 32 days later my name probably would have been Stephen because a month and a day after I was born my Grandfather Stephen was killed in an industrial accident. 
But my name hasn’t been static, for the first 18 years of my life I went by Denny, when I went away to college I thought it was time to grow up so I started going by Den.  D.e.n.  just one “n”. 
I had an interesting conversation with a person in Australia just before we moved home in 1994, they asked what Den was short for and I told them, they asked me how Dennison was spelled and I told them.  And then they asked “well shouldn’t Den have two ‘Ns’?”  To be truthful I had never thought about it before.  So when we arrived in Bedford to start Cornerstone in August of 1994 I became Denn with 2  “ns”. 
When I went to work at my first church in 1981 I discovered for some people my name was simply “Pastor”  in 1984 we added an addition to our home and the name he called me was “daddy”  a year and a half ago I got a new name and it was “grampy” as opposed to the times Angela simply refers to me as “grumpy”.  A pastor friend of mine was asked if he ever woke up grumpy and he replied “sometimes and sometimes I let her sleep in.”   But that is a different story.
But I am really not defined by my name, I like it now, it’s different, kind of like me.  But I think that the Bard was right when he said William Shakespeare   “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”    Which might be why Gertrude Stein wrote “A rose is a rose is a rose.”
Some people are very proud of their names, in particular their surname, I have a friend in Truro by the last name of Wallace who lays claim to a relationship with William Wallace of Brave Heart fame.  But that is really outside of our control isn’t it.    It was the Czech author Milan Kundera who wrote “We don’t know when our name came into being or how some distant ancestor acquired it. We don’t understand our name at all, we don’t know its history and yet we bear it with exalted fidelity, we merge with it, we like it, we are ridiculously proud of it as if we had thought it up ourselves in a moment of brilliant inspiration.”
And that was all said to lead into our message this morning.  Our scripture begins with an interesting story.   Jesus and his apostles have come to Capernaum and Jesus is teaching them a lesson about the Kingdom when John suddenly bursts into the room let’s pick up the story there.  Mark 9:38 John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.”   Remember a couple of weeks ago I spoke about the 12 Apostles and mentioned how Jesus had nicknamed John and his brother James “The Sons of Thunder”?   It was John who wanted to call down fire from heaven to burn up a village in Samaria that didn’t welcome Jesus and his followers and now he is forbidding someone from doing good in Jesus name. 
And we really don’t know what the issue was.  Maybe John thought he was doing the right thing, he might very well of thought that the guy was out of line, he didn’t know him so he assumed that Jesus didn’t know him and that he didn’t know Jesus.  John may have thought that when Jesus said “Follow me” that he was only talking in the physical sense, that you could only follow Jesus if you could see him and be with him in the here and now.  If that was the case then Jesus’ followers would never have been able to expand past that a few hundred people isolated in a particular point in history.
And really we don’t know who the guy was.  Some have suggested that he might have been one of John the Baptist’s followers who heard John talk about Jesus and call him the “Lamb of God” and took John’s words to heart.  Others have speculated that he may have been one of the seventy-two that Jesus sent out in  Luke 10:1 The Lord now chose seventy-two other disciples and sent them ahead in pairs to all the towns and places he planned to visit.   Because apparently the Demon thing fell in the job description because when they came and reported back to Jesus we read Luke 10:17 When the seventy-two disciples returned, they joyfully reported to him, “Lord, even the demons obey us when we use your name!”   So maybe John just didn’t recognize the guy, or maybe he was just some fellow who had heard Jesus speak bought into his message and laid claim to it. 
Or maybe there was a darker side to John’s comments because it was only a couple of dozen verses before that we read Mark 9:17-18 One of the men in the crowd spoke up and said, “Teacher, I brought my son so you could heal him. He is possessed by an evil spirit that won’t let him talk. And whenever this spirit seizes him, it throws him violently to the ground. Then he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast out the evil spirit, but they couldn’t do it.”
So maybe John was stinging a bit,  that this guy was doing what he hadn’t been able to do.   Just saying.   Or maybe John was like a some churches today, he had drawn a circle around his group and assumed that anyone outside the circle was wrong. 
We don’t do that do we?  I hope not, I hope our circle is big enough without being too big.    It was Edwin Markham who wrote  “He drew a circle that shut me out–  Rebel, heretic, thing to flout.  But love and I had the wit to win– We drew a circle that took him in.”  And if you are older than dirt you might remember the song called “Circles” by the Captain and Tennille which had the opening line “He drew a circle that shut me out He was afraid of what life was all about.”   Toni Tennille said the song was inspired by Markham’s poem.  There don’t say you didn’t learn anything today.
So maybe whoever the stranger was he was outside the circle that John had drawn.
Now if anyone had the right to be cranky that someone had been using his name it should have been Jesus.  But listen to his reply in Mark 9:39-40 “Don’t stop him!” Jesus said. “No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us.
And if we just had that one scripture we would have to understand it to mean that anyone, that is anyone who lays claim or has ever laid claim to the name of Jesus should be considered a Christian or a Christian church.
Recently in the news in the US a prominent Pastor made a statement that caused an absolute furor in the media, he said that the Mormon Church, or Latter Day Saints as they prefer to be called weren’t Christian.  The secular media was aghast, how could that be, the Latter Day Saints profess to follow Jesus so how could another Christian say they were a cult. 
Actually the context of why the discussion was even happening was outside the scope of Canadian thinking, it was in relation to Mitt Romney possibly running as President and whether or not Americans would vote for a Mormon.    I can’t even imagine that would be a consideration about who would be President.  Oh well, different strokes for different folks I guess.
But there were a lot of people who condemned the Pastor who said the Mormons weren’t Christians.    And I’m sure that at least a few of those were thinking of this passage.
But like any other scripture it can’t be taken in isolation.  Because there are other scriptures that come into play as well, like when Jesus warned people in  Matthew 7:22-23 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’
Or his warning in Mark 13:6 for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many.
So it appears that on one hand you have Jesus saying “if they use my name they are one of mine.”  And on the other hand he is saying “Be careful not everyone who uses my name is one of mine.”
So how do we balance this dichotomy?
We Need to Realize that His Name is Descriptive  Shakespeare said that if you called a rose by a different name it didn’t make it a different thing.  But by the same token calling something a rose will not make it a rose.
When the Gospel Writers talk about the name of Jesus they were talking about a very specific Jesus.  Jesus who always was and always is.  Jesus who is not only the son of God but is God.  Jesus who was born of a virgin, Jesus who lived a sinless life, Jesus who died on the cross, Jesus was raised from the dead and Jesus who will someday return.  That is the Jesus that is named in the Bible.  And churches around the world embrace that Jesus. 
If someone handed you a tulip and said it was a rose, you would know right away it was not a rose.  But only if you knew what a rose looked like.  However if you had never seen a rose it is conceivable you would think the flower you had been handed was indeed a rose and you might even tell other people it was a rose.
But would that make it a rose?
And so we have churches and those who are part of those churches who say “Here is Jesus, but he’s not the Jesus who was born of a virgin, because we don’t believe that.  And he’s not the Jesus who was the Son of God because we don’t believe that.  And he’s not the Jesus who was raised from the dead or who will return again.”   Then I would tell you that you are looking at a tulip and not a rose.
And so when Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, called Mormonism a “theological cult” he was correct.  Because the Jesus of the Latter Day Saints is not the Jesus of the Bible.  On the other hand I think Jeffress was over the line when he went on to declare “Evangelicals ought to give preference to a Christian instead of someone who doesn’t embrace historical Christianity.”   
I think history has shown that you just because you are a good Christian doesn’t mean that you will make a good national leader.  And vice versa.
Lifeway Research a Christian research firm in the states did a survey and found that among Protestant pastors 75 % disagreed with the statement that Mormons were Christians.    But hopefully most of us would agree with the president of Lifeway Ed Stezer who stated “Though pastors believe overwhelmingly that Mormonism is not Christianity, their opinions should not be confused with personal scorn for Mormons, A person can respect a religious group and even appreciate their commitment to traditional moral values without equating their beliefs with Christian orthodoxy.”
But understand that it’s not enough to claim the name of Jesus without claiming the Jesus of the name.
His Name Is Holy  This goes back to what we believe about Jesus, if we truly believe that he is God then his name deserves the same respect as the name of God.  And that takes us back to Exodus 20:7 “Do not misuse the name of the LORD your God. The LORD will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.   and we’ve talked about this before.  To misuse God’s name is to use it in a frivolous manner, to misuse Jesus’ name is to use it in a frivolous manner.  It’s not an exclamation, or a statement of surprise or anger.  It is a holy name and deserves to be treated as such. 
It’s not just a command about the way we speak, it’s also a commandment concerning the way we live.  When you call yourself a Christian then you are calling yourself a follower of Christ, you are in effect taking his name his name and attaching it to yourself and to your behaviour.   And when your life does not reflect your commitment as a Christian then you are misusing his name.  So, when you call yourself a Christian then live like the devil what does that say?  What are you doing to the name of Christ with the way you are living?
Not only is his name descriptive his name is holy, but more than that:
His Name Is Powerful  If you read through the book of Acts you discover that the early church depended on the name of Jesus.  It was in the name of Jesus that the message of the Gospel was preached, it was in the name of Jesus that people were healed, it was in the name of Jesus that tyrants were rebuked and it was in the name of Jesus that people found the strength to be martyred for their faith.
And there are great scriptures that we claim and hold unto to, scriptures like John 14:14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.   How often have we heard that promise, and how often have we claimed that promise?  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. Wow!  But did Jesus actually mean that you could ask for anything in his name and it would be yours?  That you and yours would never be in want, that you would never be sick that you could ask for anything in Jesus’ name and it would be yours?
That’s how it is preached sometimes and that is a heresy and a mockery of the words of Jesus.  Seriously you can’t just cherry pick verses like this and let them stand on their own.  You can’t just take a sentence out of the bible and look at it in isolation.  The very least that you can do is look at the verses that immediately surround that verse.   In this case we need to look at John 14:12-13 I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.   What is it talking about here?  It is talking about doing what Jesus did.  That your prayers and your life would bring glory to God.  And you are thinking “Well sure Denn, but if I won the lottery that would bring glory to God.”  Do you really believe that? 
This goes back to the line in the Lord’s prayer that says “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  There is power in Jesus name and that power is living in Jesus name and means that we live in such a way that our requests are requests that Jesus would honour.  John 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.   We like the last part.  Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.   But you can’t isolate that from the first part of Jesus statement and that is that you will bear fruit that will last, because that is what your requests are supposed to lead to.  When you pray for the power and desire to live the life that Jesus would have you to live, that power is there.   When you pray for the strength to resist temptation, that strength is there.  When you pray that you will be better able to bear the name of Jesus and that your life will produce the fruit that Jesus wants you to produce, that request will be answered.
As a young Pastor I thought that praying “Your will be done” was a cop out, that if we were truly to pray in faith, believing that whatever we asked for in Jesus name would happen that we were just given ourselves an out by praying “your will be done” because if our prayers weren’t answered then we could just say “well I guess that it wasn’t in God’s will” 
But what if we truly believed that God is smarter than us, and ultimately that God wants the very best for our lives, even if at this point in our lives it doesn’t seem that way? 
Sometimes we are like children who feel that we need every shiny new toy that captures our imagination and every cone of ice cream or candy bar that tickles our fancy and that doesn’t bring glory to God. 
But have you ever wondered what would happen if every prayer you ever uttered had been answered in just the way you wanted it to be answered? 
The power that is in the name of Jesus is the power to live as a new creation, the power to be a witness to his name, the power to bear the fruit that he would have us to bear. 
Paul wrote these words to the believers in the Colossian church, Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, all the while giving thanks through him to God the Father.   Now listen to how it is said in the New International Version,   NIV Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

2012 is almost here!

I got my first look at a 2012 calendar the other day and, to my surprise, it went right up to December 31st!  I checked every day in December and nowhere did I see a notation that indicated the “End of the World”.  Then I realized that I was looking at “my” calendar and not a “Mayan calendar.”  My bad.
In case you missed the subtle attempt at humour, according to some, December 21st, 2012, marks the end of the 5,125-year cycle of the Mayan calendar.  So, what does that mean to us a year away?  Well, depends on where you stand. For some it is indicative of a variety of doomsday scenarios, while others feel the cycle will just begin all over.  I think they just didn’t get to the drugstore to pick up their new calendar.  
And while we can make light of it, there will be many who take it very serious and want to make plans for the finale.  While the Bible does tell us that this old world does have a “best before date” it also tells us that “today is the day of salvation.”  And if you take care of that today you won’t have to worry about what’s in store for December 21st 2012.
  
Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Discover Purity

Things were beginning to escalate.  Up to this point Jesus had been criticized locally for some of his teaching but now they were bringing out the big guns.  The news of Jesus and his preaching was spreading throughout Palestine; remember last week I mentioned that the news had reached Herod in his palace and Herod thought Jesus was John the Baptist coming back from the dead. 
And apparently the religious leaders in Jerusalem had gotten wind of the one some were calling the Messiah.  And remember there was no television, no radio no internet.  Social networking 2000 years ago simply meant that people were talking to one another.  And the news of Jesus and his preaching had made its way to Jerusalem the spiritual capital of the region.  And there was a lot to tell. 
At one point before John was executed he sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the Messiah and Jesus gave them this response.   Matthew 11:4-5 Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”  Well apparently they weren’t the only ones spreading the news because word had gotten back to the religious leaders in Jerusalem and now they had come to find out what all the excitement was for themselves.  This could have a major impact on who they were and what they believed.  For hundreds of years there had been talk of a Messiah, it was the hope of the Jewish religion and now there was talk that this carpenter’s son from Nazareth was the one.
Now when they found him I’m not sure if they felt disappointed or vindicated, because the one that people were touting as “The next big thing” wasn’t exactly what they were expecting.  To start with they arrived at meal time and instead of being able to observe whether or not Jesus and his disciples followed all of the prescribed rituals for hand washing they didn’t wash their hands at all.  
Now we have to understand this was not a health issue or a hygiene issue, the hand washing that is spoken of here is completely ceremonial and it was not rooted in Old Testament law but in tradition.  Since the time of Moses the Jews had taken their direction from the Ten Commandments and the Pentateuch, which were the first five books of our Old Testament.  But bit by bit the religious leaders began defining what those laws meant and adding to them.  
The entire hand washing thing was a part of that.  The principle was that you shouldn’t touch anything deemed unclean.  And there was value in that.  But the principle was added to and modified, the thought was that you might have touched someone who was unclean without knowing about it or accidently touched something that you shouldn’t have.  And so an entire process was set up to take care of that.   So you would hold your hands up and a small amount of water would be poured over them and allowed to run down to your wrists.  Then you would take the fist of one hand and rub the palm of the other hand and then do the other hand.  The problem now was that your clean hands had touched the water that had touched your dirty hands, so now you would hold your hands downward and another small amount of water would be poured over them and allowed to drip off.   Those in the know tell us that this wasn’t just to be done before every meal but between every course of every meal.  You gotta think that had to get old after a while.
But apparently some of Jesus disciples didn’t follow the tradition in exactly the prescribed manner.  Mark 7:2 They noticed that some of his disciples failed to follow the Jewish ritual of hand washing before eating.   A couple of things worth noting here.  It wasn’t all of the disciples it was just some of them and it doesn’t say they didn’t wash their hands, wouldn’t want you to think they were complete slobs, it just says they didn’t follow the ritual.  And the religious leaders were all over this like white on rice demanding to know why Jesus’ disciples weren’t  following tradition.  Sometimes you gotta figure that we aren’t hearing all the story or if we are we aren’t hearing the tone the words were spoken in.
Their question could have been one of mere curiosity.  Mark 7:5 So the Pharisees and teachers of religious law asked him, “Why don’t your disciples follow our age-old tradition? They eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony.”   They might have simply been inquiring trying to understand better. 
But we have to assume that there was something condemning in their tone because of Jesus’ response to them.    Mark 7:6-7 Jesus replied, “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’”
I wouldn’t think Jesus was have gone down that road if they question had been asked just because they were curious and wanted to learn more.  But instead he refers to them as hypocrites and spends the next seventeen verses speaking about the dangers of focusing on being clean on the outside while ignoring what is happening on the inside. 
It seems this is a common theme whenever Jesus comes into contact with these religious leaders.  He refers to them as Hypocrites which of course is from the same root in Greek as the word for actor and literally means “one who wears a mask”  and to a certain degree we all wear masks at various points in our lives, and you are thinking “Not me Denn I am always completely honest and above board.”  Now you are not only a hypocrite but also a liar.  We are required by society and necessity to wear masks from time to time.  There are days that you aren’t on your game, you’re just a little off, not feeling the best and so you put on your good employee mask, or good spouse mask or good child or parent mask, and that’s fine.  And if you don’t you might incredibly rude, you would probably just define it as outspoken and honest but rude is probably closer to the truth.  
Have you ever had to deal with a bureaucrat or customer service rep who was not only a complete idiot but rude as well, seeming to relish in the little bit of power they have been granted in this life?  Sure, but you don’t say “Excuse me sir, you are a complete idiot and rude as well.”  No, you put on your smiley mask and carry on.  There are times that we need to put on a mask, that’s reality, that’s life.  But these men were defined by their masks their lives were a role they played they were experts on religious law and they could quote it verbatim but Jesus said that wasn’t evidenced in the way they lived.   And that probably wasn’t unique to them, Charles Haddon Spurgeon  once wrote   “When you see a great deal of religion displayed in his shop window, you may depend on it, that he keeps a very small stock of it within.”
And Jesus didn’t take this lightly listen to what else he had to say to these people
Matthew 23:25 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence!    And Matthew 23:27 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity.   And again in Matthew 23:28 Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.
Ouch, that’s gotta hurt.   And it wasn’t that the Pharisees were simply concerned with outward appearances, they were only concerned with outward appearances.  And it actually went beyond that, they were only concerned with certain outward appearances.  They could be cranky and rude and nasty but they felt as long as they kept the traditional rules they were alright. 
They were much more concerned with doing what they perceived to be the right thing then actually doing the right thing.  Jesus summed it up in the scripture that was read earlier Mark 7:8 “For you ignore God’s law and substitute your own tradition.”   And it can be so easy to fall into that trap.  Because tradition can be summed up as what we do, but following God is who we are.    And if it’s just a matter of washing your hands and not touching clean things and giving a certain amount of money and avoiding specific things and places then all we need is a list and not a relationship.  And the Pharisees were very good at keeping the list and insisting that everyone else keep the same list they kept.
But the religious leaders weren’t fooling Jesus and it was very doubtful that they were fooling anyone else.  At first glance they seemed to have it all together but once you were around them for a while it became painfully apparent they weren’t
Have you ever grabbed an apple that looked really good, taken a bite and got a nasty surprise, maybe it was bad inside or it was really sour, or too hard or too soft.  It wasn’t what you thought it would be, or maybe you see this flower from a distance (corpse flower)  and it looks really cool so you meander over for a better look, when you get closer you discover it is an Amorphophallus titanum and when you get within sniffing distance you realize why it’s called a “Corpse flower”.
Charles Horton Cooley an American sociologist from the late 1800’s wrote   “If we divine a discrepancy between a man’s words and his character, the whole impression of him becomes broken and painful; he revolts the imagination by his lack of unity, and even the good in him is hardly accepted.”
So what was the lesson Jesus was teaching that day? 
Being Clean On The Outside Is Not The Only Thing  This is what Jesus was trying to get through.  It’s not enough to just be clean on the outside.  The Pharisee’s life was governed by a list of rules, you can do this but you can’t do that, but it was obsessed with externals to the detriment of internals.
And if that was only a problem with the Pharisee’s then it wouldn’t be an issue today and this would just be a history lesson.  But for a lot of people their concept of Christianity is “thou shalt do this and thou shalt do that, but thou had better not do that over there.”
 And so some folks decree that if you are a good person and a righteous person then you do this whole list of things and at the same time you don’t do this whole list of things.  But there are problems with that type of thinking.    
a) It limits What Being a Christ Follower Means.   If we can narrow our relationship with God down to a set of rules or guidelines then any area of our life those rules don’t touch are outside the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  Following Christ must affect every area of our lives and not just those covered by the rule book.  
b) We Spend More Time Obeying The Rules Than Obeying God.  And anytime we begin to serve anything, no matter how good and no matter how noble that thing might be then it is idolatry.  Now we might as well set up our list of rules and regulations on an altar and bow down and worship them.  At that point we will have become so engrossed in following the letter of the law that we completely forget the spirit of the law.  The scary thing is that originally all those rules were put into place to point people toward God.  But then they took on a life of their own and people became so caught up in the rules that they didn’t have time for God.      
c) It Fools Us Into Thinking We Can Do It On Our Own. Listen up, you can’t do it yourself.  If you could then Jesus didn’t have to come to earth, didn’t have to die on a cross didn’t have to rise from the dead.  The Bible doesn’t tell us John 3:16 For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only rule book, so that everyone who follows those rules will not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.  And that is why we are told 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.
d) It Becomes A Matter Of Pride.    You know what I mean “Look at me, see how holy I am.”  “I don’t smoke, cuss, cheat, drink or fool around.  I read a hundred pages of the bible a day, give forty percent of my income to the church, pray five times a day and attend church six times a week.  Sunday School, Morning Worship, Evening Worship, midweek service and then twice a week I just come and hang around the foyer to round things out.”  But such self-centred spirituality leads to self-righteousness which in turn is just the opposite of holiness.  That was what Jesus was talking about here.  The Pharisees made an immediate judgement that Jesus and his disciple weren’t as good as they were.  Why?  Because they didn’t wash their hands the right way. 
But here is where it gets difficult because Being Clean On The Outside may not be the only thing but it Is An Important Thing.  You see Jesus wasn’t critical of the Pharisees because they kept the rules he was critical because it didn’t go any deeper than that.  They were content with the outside appearance.
Remember when Jesus compared them to cups and bowls that were clean on the outside but filthy inside?  Listen to Jesus’ instruction on how to fix that.  Matthew 23:26 You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too.
You need to let God take care of cleansing the inside, and as a result you will want to clean up the outside.   Sometimes people will tell you that “It’s what’s on the inside that counts.”  Sure but it’s not the only thing that counts, what’s on the outside counts too and regardless of what people say we often judge a book by its cover.  Really you have to; you don’t have time to read every book.  And we do that every day in all kinds of situations, we choose which food we are going to eat based on how it looks, if you list your house for sale the agent should talk to you about curb appeal and staging your home for the best results.  If you want top dollar out of your car you wash it and wax it and vacuum it out before you put it up for sale.
It would be shame if some people never got to see the inside of you as a Christ Follower  because the outside turned them off.
And sometimes our behaviour does.  If you call yourself a Christ follower than people expect you to follow Christ.  And I hear it all the time when you talk about people’s behaviour, even if they don’t say it out loud they are thinking it.  “Don’t judge me, Jesus wouldn’t judge me.”  Sure he would, if your behaviour didn’t match your words.  That’s exactly what Jesus was doing with the Pharisees when he called them hypocrites, and snakes and whitened tombs, he was judging them.  It was Jesus who said Matthew 7:17-20 A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.
So what are we to do?
Let God Do His Thing So We Can Do Our Thing.   We can’t clean the inside, no matter how hard we try we just can’t do it.  And if you’ve tried then you know the reality of that.  Paul summed it up in Romans 7:18-20 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
  I’ve told the story before about the old man who would stand up and testify in church that he was caught up in the web of sin yet again.  Finally another old guy couldn’t take it anymore and he jumped up and yelled, “For crying out loud, kill the spider.”  So how do we kill the spider? 
Paul tells us in Romans 12:2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.  Which seems to echo David’s words from Psalm 51:10 Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me.
It is God’s work, but it is your choice.  You have to invite him to do the work in your heart.  And when He cleans the inside you will want to display the new you by taking care of the outside. 

That’s a Bad Idea

That’s one of the dumbest ideas I’ve heard.  In response to a number of deaths in the Valley, related to people mixing alcohol while abusing prescription drugs, the provincial government has responded with . . . an ad campaign. 
The province wide campaign will include print and television spots warning people about mixing alcohol with their prescriptions.  A typical knee jerk reaction. We have a problem so let’s throw money at it. 
If people don’t know that it’s a bad idea to mix alcohol with prescription drugs  or for that matter mixing alcohol with driving, marriages or child rearing, do we seriously think advertising  will make a difference?  “Wait, I saw a television ad and this could be a bad idea.”
Of course it’s a bad idea and they already know that.  But I’m not sure that advertising the fact will make a difference.  It goes back to people making bad choices and that’s not always a rational process.    Before people will change what they do, they will have to change who they are.  I am not convinced that will be the result of an advertisment they see,  it has a lot more to do with a God they need to meet.  And that is more the church’s responsibility than the governments. 
  
Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.