4 The Puzzle of Childing

Do you remember TV families when you were a kid?  There seemed to be more extended ones then there are now, you know more families with several generations living under one roof.  The Waltons had their Grand Parents living with them, the Beverly Hillbillies had Granny, the Munsters had Grand Pa and the Adams family had Uncle Fester and Cousin It.  And if the grand parents weren’t living with the family they at least dropped in for a while like Endora in Bewitched.
My father grew up with his grandfather living with the family and as children he would often tell us stories of what it was like with Grampy Guptill in the home.  My mother lived next door to her grandparents and spent as much time with them as she did in her own home. 
And yet with the changes in society we see less and less of that, and on television we only see the parents of adults as serious disturbed individuals who are the reason their children are the way they are.  Seriously next time you are watching television check out how the parents are portrayed.    
On a more positive note the other day I commented to Angela on the number of multi-generational families we have attending Cornerstone, Parents, Grand Parents and Children.
We started this series the first week looking at the Puzzles of Family and then we looked at the Puzzle of Marriage and then last week it was the Puzzle of Parenting.  And while week one was kind of broad and sweeping and covered everyone the past two weeks have been a little more focused and I’m sure that there were folks in weeks two and three that might have felt there wasn’t anything there for them because they either weren’t married or weren’t parents.
I would suspect that this one has something for everyone. 
This week my message is called “The Puzzle of Childing” and I know that’s not a word but I couldn’t think of anything else.   And I would suspect that it has a broader appeal because we are all someone’s child.  Anyone here who never had parents of some kind? Anyone found in a turnip patch?  That’s where my folks said they found me, as my sister was fond of reminding me.
The more astute amongst us will have clued in to the fact that this week’s scripture reading is the same as last week’s.  Last week I focused on the last part of this scripture, the part about adults not provoking their children to anger, not exasperating them and I had a couple of parents ask me if their kids had been talking to me.  And I may have noticed a smirk or two on the faces of some of our younger folks.    But there has to be a balance here.  And that is the first part of Ephesians 6 where Paul writes Ephesians 6:1-2 Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord, for this is the right thing to do. “Honour your father and mother.”
And that is a direct reference to the fifth commandment of the “Ten Commandments” which of course are found in both Exodus and Deuteronomy.  In Exodus we are told Exodus 20:12 “Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the LORD your God is giving you.”
It’s interesting that the child parent relationship is the only relationship that makes it into the Ten Commandments.  We don’t see any reference on how to treat our spouse, other than the obvious “do not commit adultery” in the seventh command, or how to treat our siblings, other than the obvious “do not kill” in the sixth commandment, but we are told here that we must honour our parents. 
But what does it mean to honour your parents?  Not sure in 2012 that is even on the radar and if it is if we give much thought to the concept of honour.  I was talking to someone last week and we spoke about being afraid of our folks.  And not a fear because of physical punishment but a fear never the less.  We were afraid of disappointing them, afraid of letting them down and certainly afraid of disobeying them.  That doesn’t mean we didn’t disappoint them, let them down or disobey them but we certainly thought twice about doing it.   
Now I realize that there are probably some of you here who are all knotted up inside, the stomach acid is boiling and you’re thinking, “Like that’s ever going to happen, after the way they treated me.”  And unfortunately that is the reality of today that whenever you speak about parents there is someone in the group who was abused, physically, emotionally or sexually while they were growing up. Some of you may have grown up in the homes of alcoholics or workaholics, abusive or neglectful parents.  Perhaps you had parents who were distant or cold and uncaring.  And you want to cry out “How can I honour people who are un-honourable?”  “How do I honour someone who never once honoured me?”  
What is God asking of you this morning? Is God asking you to put on a mask and pretend it never happened?  Is God demanding that you push your feelings out of sight and go about the duty of honouring these people who have betrayed you and hurt you severely?  Will God settle for pretend honouring?  Nope, he does not want make believe honouring and I don’t want to minimize the hurt that you’ve felt or negate it in any way and before I’m done this morning we are going to deal with that issue.  So please bear with me.
Obviously the command to honour our parents means different things at different points in our lives.  We often think that our relationship as children and parents takes a parrael path through life.  But often times it looks more like this, when we are young we are dependent on our parents and it is their responsibility to take care of us, when we become adults that relationship changes and comes closer together as we are more like peers, never quite peers but more like peers and then many times as our parents age their children take more of a role in the caretaking department.  Assuming responsibilities and making decisions.  And that isn’t easy for that transition to happen.  For either party.   Sometime children don’t want that responsibility and sometimes parents are eager to give it up.  And as more couples are putting off their decision to have children until they are older the consequence is that often times they end up dealing with children on one end of the spectrum and aged parents on the other end.  Another one of those perks of having your kids in your twenties.     
And so to honour our parents means different things at different times in our lives.
As children to honour your parents’ means to Obey Our Parents, just do what they say.  That’s what’s behind this commandment when we are young.  That’s why Paul wrote Ephesians 6:1 Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord, for this is the right thing to do.
Regardless of what the pop psychology of today says obedience is still something that we need to expect of our children.  God knows that there is a rebel streak inside the heart of every little kid, and God knows that parents are going to have to carefully and consistently confront that destructive force or they will eventually lose their children to spiritual shipwreck.  Throughout the scriptures God gives guidelines for parents on how to establish boundaries for their children and how to discipline their children and how to nurture them and love them. 
We have swung from the extremes of two or three generations ago when parents, (especially fathers) were unreasonable tyrants or the place today where parents, (especially fathers) have abdicated their place of authority in the home.  The pattern of authority is all one piece and you cannot expect to break it in one spot, i.e. the home and then expect it to work in the rest of society. So if children don’t obey their parents then there’s a pretty good chance they won’t obey their teachers and ultimately will find it hard to obey the civil authorities.   And so God says to the children, Children at this point in your life you honour your parents by obeying them.
As children become teens and Young Adults they begin to exercise more independence and make more and more decisions on their own. It’s at this point in our lives to honour our parents’ means that we need to Respect Your Parents and cooperate with them.  During this phase in their lives young adults don’t need constant supervision and long lists of do’s and don’ts in their lives.  Those teen years are the time when they begin to make some of their own decisions and well they should, it’s a part of growing up.  In saying that let me add this warning to the teens out there, some of the decisions that you make now, that seem right for today will have ramifications on your entire life.  And as much as we as parents wish we could make those choices for you we can’t.   And in this period of your life the carrying out of the fifth commandment would be “Stay respectful, stay cooperative with your parents.” 
Adolescence is the only time in your life when a person believes that they know it all.  It’s at that point that they become convinced that all adults have suffered irreparable brain damage, and at that particular point in life nobody knows as much as a teenager, and if you don’t believe that just ask one of them. They know all the answers.  When I was a teen I had answers to questions that weren’t even being asked.
When we were in Australia a friend put a sign on his son’s door that read: “TEENAGERS! Tired of being harassed by your parents? ACT NOW!! Move out, get a job, pay your own way while you still know everything!”
By the way, that isn’t anything new, listen to what Mark Twain wrote well over a hundred years ago “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around.  But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned.”
And God says to adolescents, “Even during this troublesome turbulent time: Honour your parents.”  Yes, children during this time are supposed to begin to differ and disagree with their parents, that’s a part of separation process, often times it is simply them saying “I am my own person with my own opinions.”  I was brought up by a Ford driving, Tory voting, Leaf’s cheering father.  By the time I was 18 I was voting liberal driving a GM and cheering for the Habs.   But all through this agonizing era teens are called to be respectful and cooperative toward their parents so these changes can be negotiated within the context of the family community and not isolation.
But most of us aren’t children anymore, nor are we teens or even young adults.  We have moved on in life to being adults ourselves and with that come a whole new series of challenges.  It’s at this point in our lives that we’ve established our own families and households and careers but our parents are still alive and a part of our lives.
For most Boomers their parents are at least in their early seventies and most are older than that, what is our responsibilities to our parents in this stage of our lives? 
And so this commandment does not stop when we leave the home, the fifth commandment is binding on all us until both of our parents have passed away.  And for adults the way you honour your aging parents is very simply to Treasure Your Parents.    How do we Treasure our parents?
Once we have come through that turbulent period of our lives called adolescents, once we have got out on our own and had a family of our own, we start to realize that our parent’s brain death was only temporary, if it happened at all, and then we start raising kids of our own and we begin to realize how much service and sacrifice went into raising us.  How much love time and energy went into raising you as a child.  And your heart begins to soften toward your parents, and you have those golden years to treasure your parents and to be there for them.
If I was to ask you to name the most important things in your life what would your list look like?  Children, Parents, Spouse, Friends, Career, Home, Hobbies, Sports. 
So what would happen if say you no longer had your Career?  If your friends were dying, your parents were gone; you were unable to play your sports or enjoy your hobbies and had to move out of your own home.  It would sure shorten the list up, wouldn’t it?  That’s why as parents get older their children become more important to them.  Often it is all they have left out of all that was important to them. 
Because the older our parents get the less love and respect and esteem they receive from the world they live in.  For many of our parents the brightest spot, the flame that burns closest to their heart is their children, for many of them that is the most important part of their lives.  But their children are in the busy years of their lives, having children and raising them, climbing ladders and you know what I mean
And sometimes we need to just slow down and say “thank you” to our folks and give back to them some of what they’ve given to us.  And if we don’t show that we appreciated what they did for us how will they know? And that cuts, that’s why in King Lear that the Bard wrote How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is To have a thankless child
Many of you people have taken time to send cards, share holidays and include your parents in the special times in your life, call them and send gifts letting them know that they are treasured.  And every time you do that type of thing you are honouring your parents.
And all of this goes beyond the bumper sticker that said “Honour your parents: they haven’t written their will yet”.  As our parents become older we may find them more and more reliant on us.  And society tells us to shuffle them off somewhere where they won’t be an inconvenience, where they won’t cause us undue hardship.  And there are times and circumstances where that is the only viable option, but not always.  And that is no excuse for children to ignore their parents during their time of need.
I don’t think we need to return to the concept of the extended family home with three or four generations living under one roof but I do believe that we as adults that we need to make sure that our parent do not lack for the necessities of life and that they aren’t left in need or loneliness.
And as the demands on us becomes greater we need to realize that if we are to honour our parents it will necessitate some sacrifices on our behalf.  In the New Testament the early believers were instructed to take care of the older widows in their fellowship and then Paul qualifies the instructions with these words:  1 Timothy 5:4 But if she has children or grandchildren, their first responsibility is to show godliness at home and repay their parents by taking care of them. This is something that pleases God.
And many of those sacrifices are the same ones that our parents made for us when we were growing up.  How many times did they put their plans on hold to drive us somewhere?  How often did they clean up after us, or run errands for us.  How often did their lives, their wants and their needs take second place to ours.  You say sure but they are our parents. . .exactly. 
Christ himself gives the example.  When he hung on the cross, and those of you who know Christ personally can imagine what was on his mind as he hung on that cross between heaven and earth, he’s there paying the price for your sins and mine.  He’s taken on the totality of sin and he’s in agony, dying an excruciating death on the cross and there are only seven things recorded that Christ said on the cross and one of them was when he looked down and saw his mother and used a little bit of the strength he had left to ask His friend John to take care of his mother.  Is it any wonder the command to honour our parents ended up in the top five.
Giving up precious time to visit or serve or minister to our elderly, or ill or dying parents needs to be seen as a potential blessing and not an imposition. 
A very practical part of this is the entire concept of reaping what you sow.  You realize of course that the example that you set in how you relate and deal with your parents will be the one followed by your children.  We cut a groove in our children by the way we treat our parents.  It was the philosopher John Locke who wrote “Parents wonder why the streams are bitter when they themselves poisoned the fountain.”  Or what goes around comes around.  The Greek philosopher Euripides (er-rip-e-dees) observed “Unblessed is the son who does not honour his parents; but if reverent and obedient to them, he will receive the same from his own children”
If you’re wondering about how confused your parents can get, well maybe Sam Levenson had the answer when he said, “Insanity is hereditary.  You can get it from your children.” 
And so God is saying if you honour your parents I will honour you.  How are you doing in honouring your parents today?  Is this something you need to pray silently about right now or make some amends?
Let me take a few moments right now to speak to those ones who are at a complete loss over how to honour parents who have dishonoured, abused and in some cases almost destroyed them as children.  What does God expect you to do?  And right off I want to assure you that God is not asking you to ignore the pain you feel, God is not asking anyone here to deny the pain their parents caused, and God is not asking anyone here to gloss it, to pass over it lightly or to forget it. 
To one degree or another we have all been failed or hurt or disappointed by our parents, some very minimally, by God’s grace I fall in that category, very minimally disappointed by my parents, almost not at all.  I have really great parents, and I don’t have bad memories of them nor am I disappointed in how they raised me.  But others have been devastated by their parents and God is not asking you to block that out, he’s asking you to identify it and own it and grieve over it.  And if you are going to come out of the other end you are going to have to deal with it and ultimately you are going to have to discuss it with your parents. And that isn’t going to be easy.  But you do need to clear the air about your grief and your disappointments with them.
How long can we carry the anger and place the blame?  How long can we define ourselves as an “Adult child of a . . .whatever” It probably was wrong, and you probably were hurt, but some people are as angry as if yesterday was today.  You cannot continue to allow what they did to determine who you are, and if they can make you stoop to their level then they win.
Nowhere in the Bible are we specifically commanded to love our parents, we are told to love our spouse, to love our God, to love our neighbours but nowhere are we told to love our parents.  The interpersonal dynamics between children and parents are just too intense.  Some of us come out of it intact and some just barely escape.  Sometimes too much has transpired for the child to love the parent.  God, strangers and neighbours don’t put the same demands on us that our parents do, and so we aren’t commanded to necessarily love them but we are commanded to honour them.  And sometimes that means we need to forgive them and get on with making the life that God wants us to have.  You say, “Denn, I’ll never be able to forgive them.” Then they win!  Because the New Testament teaches us that we will be forgiven in the same way that we forgive.
My mother grew up with a very abusive mother. How mom raised the kids she did is a credit to her not to her mother.   And I did not know the extent of that abuse until I was an adult, my mother did not poison how I viewed my grandmother as a child.
In the late eighties my grandmother began to suffer from Alzheimer’s and could no longer live alone.  My mom moved her to Saint John, not to our home but to a senior’s complex nearby.  And for the last three years of my Grandmother’s life my mother honoured her by visiting and taking her out to lunch and bringing her home for special family times and attending to her personal needs.  Dr. Laura Schlessinger made these comments “It is possible to maintain cordial contact, assist a bad parent with such basic needs as food or housing and medicine, and not spend a lot of time marinating in negativity in front of them or behind their back.  It may not be ideal, and it may not salve your feeling, but that small something you do ennobles your soul anyway.”  
So, where are you at?
Thanks to Bill Hybels for many of the ideas in this message

Staying Close

Have you heard about the family in Ontario that is appealing the water bill that was received by their late father’s estate?  Apparently, when their dad passed away he left the tap running in the bathroom and it was three weeks and $586.44 worth of water down the drain before his body was found.  Three weeks! I certainly hope that when (notice that I said “when”, not “if”) I die, that I will be missed by someone, anyone, in less than three weeks.  I don’t want to be critical of a family I don’t know but three weeks is a long time for your absence to go unnoticed.
It did get me thinking about the impact that we have on those around us. The Bible describes our life as a morning mist, here and then gone, but even a morning mist is noticed by those nearby.  Back at creation, God said “It is not good for man to be alone.”  Not to live alone and not to die alone.

Is there someone important in your life that could be gone for three weeks before you realized they were missing?  If so, why don’t you pick up the phone and give them a call today? 
Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

The Puzzle of Parenting

My oldest niece has a philosophy, actually she has many philosophies but I’m only going to share one with you today.  Her philosophy on parenting is this:  The government should put birth control in the water and people would have to pass a parenting test in order to get bottled water.
Makes sense to me, we make people takes tests to drive a car, fly a plane and pilot a boat.  We even make people take a test to babysit but. . . any idiot can have a baby and many do.   400 years ago Samuel Butler wrote “Parents are the last people on earth who ought to have children.”
Two weeks ago I spoke about the Puzzle of Family and last week it was the Puzzle of Marriage, this week we are going to look at parenting.  Because really those of us who have children want to be good parents, and now as a grandparent I hope my children will be good parents. 
And it’s probably unfair but from my view as a grandparent I probably expect my kids to be a better parent then I was.  And the reality is that I am probably harder on myself in regards to the type of parent I was then Stephen and Deborah are. 
There isn’t a lot of advice on parenting in the scripture but there is some.  A lot of times what we have are stories, stories of good families and stories of bad families.  But the scripture that was read this morning has some helpful advice for those of us who have chosen parenthood or have had parenthood thrust upon us.
As parents we rather enjoy the first part of the scripture, the part about children obeying their parents and honouring their mothers and fathers.  We want that to be their life verse, and it is a good verse,  but it’s not what we are talking about this week, this week we are talking about the last part of that scripture, that part that says in Ephesians 6:4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.
Interesting choice of words here; do not provoke your children to anger.  In the New King James Version it says Ephesians 6:4 And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.  
And the New International Version reads this way Ephesians 6:4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
And if you can remember being a child you can remember being exasperated with your parents and there were probably times that you were angry with your parents.  It was Bette Davis who said “If you have never been hated by your child, you have never been a parent.”  And sometimes it’s not a bad thing for your kids to be angry with you; you did the parent thing and put your foot down.  You were right and you did it for the right reason and they were angry with you and they probably didn’t understand and if they did understand they would still be angry and that’s just the way it is.  I think the technical term for that is “tough” and sometimes the answer to “Why” is “Because I am your parent.”  End of discussion. And sometimes it has nothing to do with being fair and it has nothing to do with being their friend, because your first priority is not to be your child’s friend it is to be your child’s parent.  Because friends don’t always have your kid’s best interest at heart.  I bought my son a T-shirt years ago that sums it up and it says “Actually friends let friends do lots of stupid things.”
But then there is the other side of the coin where we drive our kids nuts.  The side where we exasperate our kids by our behaviour.  And we have a responsibility to do right by our kids.  And that is an incredible responsibility. 
So what is it we do that will exasperate our kids?
We Exasperate Them With Our Inconsistencies Our kids are an audience that is always there.  They hear what we say but more important they see what we do, and they may not mention the inconsistencies that they see, but you can be sure they are storing them away for future reference.  And so when we tell them to do something and then we don’t it,  that is exasperating and when we tell them not to do something and then we do it, you got it. 
There is nobody else in our lives that will see us at our best and our worst the way our kids do.  And I know that it’s tough because they see us when we are tired, they see us when we are frustrated and they see us when we aren’t wearing the masks that we wear in public.
But our kids are always watching and they are always learning, Paul reminds Titus in Titus 2:7And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind. Let everything you do reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching.
And for kids one of the biggest inconsistencies is when we tell them “Do as I say, not as I do.” 
I’ve told you the story before about the most difficult one of all, one day a little boy’s mom caught him tell a fib.  “Do you know” she warned “what happens to little boys who tell lies?” “No what, Mommy?” he asked.  “Well,” she said, “there is a man up in the moon, a little green man with just one eye, who sweeps down in the middle of the night and flies away to the moon with little boys who tell lies and makes them pick up sticks all the rest of their lives.  Now you won’t tell lies any more will you for it’s awfully, awfully naughty.”
American author James Baldwin nailed it when he said “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”  And then we punish them for doing what we modeled.  I wonder how many kids get punished for swearing by swearing parents?  And then the parents say “I don’t know where you learned those words.” And the kids thinking “sure you do.”  Or when kids are punished for drinking when their parents have booze in the house.    
Nowhere is it truer than at home that more is caught then taught.  Now you may be able to rationalise to your satisfaction why you can do something and they can’t by using the standard, “because I’m an adult” but that doesn’t always cut it with a child or a teen.  “Do as I say not as I do” is no longer a valid child raising technique. 
There is no place that the consistency of your Christian walk will be examined more closely or more minutely then at home by your children.  How you model being a Christian, I have discovered through the years that parents who support the church financially and talk about it when they kids start working in High School they will tithe what they make.  Kids who watch their parents read the bible and pray, same thing.  For better or for worse your kids will probably grow up just like you, and ain’t that a thrilling thought.  
We need to be a pattern that our children can follow.  Every year I see more and more of Captain Burton Guptill creeping into me.  And some of those things I like and others I don’t like and some I’m not sure of.  And if I’m not real careful my kids will be a lot like Rev. Denn Guptill, the good, the bad and the indifferent.  I may not be responsible for everything that Stephen and Deborah do and are, but I will always be responsible for the areas where they followed my example.
We Exasperate Them With Our Insincerities Inconsistencies deal with our behaviour, insincerities deal with our relationships. 
Again you are like a television that is always on.  So when you tell your children that they need to respect those in authority and then you talk about what jerk your boss is, what is the lesson you are teaching?  What are we teaching our children about our elected officials, or their teachers or the police?
What are we teaching our children about how to treat their future spouse?  Probably one of the most serious repercussions of the do as I say not as I do mentality will be in the stability of the family unit as we see more and more children following the pattern that their parents set for them.   Do you want your child to speak to their spouse the way you speak to yours?
It must be traumatic for a child when they are told by their parents “We don’t love each other anymore but we will always love you.”  That’s reassuring, not! Because they had probably heard their parents profess their love for each other at some point as well.  And they know how that ended. 
So then we have children whose main model of marriage is one which ended in divorce and then people get upset when their kid’s marriages follow the same path as theirs.
We Exasperate Them with Our Irrelevance
There is a great description of King David in the book of Acts it says: Acts 13:36 For after David had done the will of God in his own generation, he died and was buried with his ancestors, and his body decayed.   Very simply David did what he had to do when he had to do it and then he died.  He didn’t do the will of God in his father’s generation or in his grandfather’s generation but in his own generation.    This is 2012 it’s not 1972 or 1982 or even 2002 it’s 2012.  And our children are living their lives in their days not yours and not mine.  Like David they will have to serve God in their own generation.
Now I know that things are different now than when you were a kid.  And that things weren’t as easy then as they were now.  Am I right?  The only thing I don’t know is the story that you string to your kids about what it was like when you were growing up.  But I can guess.  I’m sure that you tell them how you loved school, and always got straight A’s and never talked back to your parents or teachers and how you delivered all of the newspapers in your town no matter what the weather and never complained about anything. 
Have you told them yet how you had to get up at four in the morning and break the ice out of the basin to wash and then before dawn you had to milk the 200 cows and split 10 cord of wood before walking 17 miles to school mostly in snow storms, and back then we really had snow.  And then when you got home you had to do your chores all over again and study by candlelight and be in bed by six.  Am I close?
Hey I understand I’m fifty one and every year the winters get colder, the snow gets deeper, the walk to school gets longer, my grades get better, the herd of cows gets larger, and that pile of fire wood gets higher and higher. Son when I was your age.
And the worst part is that I was never an A student, I caught a bus or drove 11 out of 12 of my years in school.  We had electric heat so we didn’t burn wood, and never owned a cow.  In fact I’m working on a new story to tell the kids.  “Son when I was your age we didn’t have Wii or X-box all we had was electronic pong, remember that?  We didn’t have computers we only had calculators and they only added, subtracted, multiplied and divided.  And when I did get a computer it had 2 k of memory and I bought the expansion pack that added another 14 K.  And when I was your age we only got two channels on our black and white TV and you had to get up to change those channels.”  Doesn’t sound as good does it?  Maybe I’ll go back to the cows.
Today is 2012, it’s been almost 40 years since I was a teenager and it’s a whole new world out there, and things are a lot different.  Our kids have been through a couple of recessions,; they will inherit a monstrous national debt that will be our legacy to them.  They have to cope with wonderful travesties of nature like aids and HIV.  Beer is no longer the biggest thrill in town and neither is grass.  Coke and crack are freely available and more is on its way.  These aren’t the simpler times that we grew up in, so let’s not try to convince our kids that they are.
Elinor Moraunt was an British writer who lived about a hundred years ago.  She tells how once she stopped her daughter from doing something by saying: “I was never allowed to do that when I was your age.” To which her daughter responded “But you must remember, mother, that you were then, and I’m now.”
And I know in your mind the kids aren’t the way they were back then either, as one writer stated, “Our youth love luxury, they have bad manners, contempt for authority, they show disrespect for their elders and would rather talk then exercise.  Children are now tyrants, not the servants of the households.  They no longer rise when their elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, talk in front of company, gobble their food and terrorize their teachers.”  Of course that was written twenty three hundred years ago by Socrates.
We Exasperate Them With Our Insulation Part of our job is to protect our children.  And that is a serious responsibility.  Especially when they are little.  But we can’t wrap them in bubble wrap forever.   
That’s a toughie isn’t’ it?  Most of us have spent the majority of our adult lives protecting our kids, maybe protecting them too much.  Some lesson will only be learned when we have to pay for them and if mommy and daddy are always there to pick up the pieces and pay the bill those lessons will never be learned. 
Deborah was forever putting her hand up on the stove when we lived in Truro.  And we warned her about it and confession time probably slapped her hand and told her no and explained about pain.  And it wasn’t until she was about two and a half and she reached up and laid her hand on a burner that had just been turned off that she learned her lesson.  And do you know she never put her hand on that stove again.  Because sometimes you have to touch a hot stove to discover how hot it really is. 
I mentioned before that when I was growing up Dad always told me “If you are going to dance you got to pay the fiddler.”  Maybe it’s time that we introduced our kids to the fiddler.
So if we aren’t supposed to provoke our children to anger or exasperate them what are we supposed to do?  Let’s go back to the scripture  Ephesians 6:4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.
So instead of provoking them we need to bring them up with the discipline of the Lord and instruct them but what does that mean?  For some folks it goes back to “Spare the rod and spoil the child” and that is using the discipline as a verb, but in this case it is a noun and the word that is used in the original language literally meant calling attention to something or a mild rebuke or warning. Which goes along with the definition from dictionary.com where  it is spelled out this way: dis·ci·pline [dis-uh-plin] 1. training to act in accordance with rules.
So this means that parents are to be the first line of instruction into God’s word for their children.  That’s why Solomon reminds us in Proverbs 22:6 Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.
And the only way you are going to be able to show them the right path is if you know it yourself.  So commit yourself to doing the right things for your kid’s spiritual education.  Bring them early and consistently to church, they are going to take their cues from you about how important church attendance is.  And if you tell them that it is a priority but it takes third or fourth place on the list for things you do on Sunday, church is really, really, really important except when there are sports that get in the way or the weather is too nice or the weather is too not nice, or there is company coming, or company is here or the company just left or we are going somewhere to be company what is that really saying to them?
We have a great kids program here and we have a great youth program, but they will only be of benefit to your kids if they are in them.
And that means exposing your children to Christian books and Christian music and sending them to Christian camps and youth rallies.  Because if you want your child to be a good hockey player then you make the effort, and if you want your child to be a good musician you make the effort and if you want your child to be a good student you make the effort.  So if you want your child to be a good Christ follower then you have to make the . . . effort.
Two things to finish up I’ve said it before and it bears repeating again and again.  1) If you have children who are grown up and you have never had any real problems with them and they are serving God then I would suggest that instead of patting yourself on the back that you would be far better to get down on your knees and thank God, because as my daddy used to say “I would expect it is more good luck then good management.”  He also said “There’s only 18 inches between a pat on the back and a kick in the pants.” But that’s a different story.   And 2) is just as important.  If your kids haven’t turned out the way you think they should have and if you feel a little disappointed and even a mite embarrassed sometimes then I have a deep and profound thought for you, write it down and carry it in your wallet, engrave it on your mind cause here it is, “Always remember that God has trouble with his kids too.”

Abandon Ship

The Costa Concordia has been the focus of the news over the past few days.  If you’ve been hiding under a rock, the Concordia is an Italian cruise ship that ran aground in Tuscany this past weekend.  Initial reports point to human error for a tragedy that resulted in the loss of upward of three dozen lives, a half billion dollar cruise ship and the confidence of the cruise industry.
There has been a lot of talk in the media about problems with the crew and emergency procedures during the incident.  Not to negate the loss of life but there were more than 4000 people aboard the ship when it started to take on water.  Over 4000 people, and 99% of them survived. That doesn’t happen when an airplane hits a rock.  Someone must have done something right at some point.
What was most bothersome were the reports and videos of adults pushing children out of the way as they rushed to get to safety.   Adults who were more concerned over their priorities than the future of the children. 
My prayer is that as Cornerstone continues to grow, that this generation never becomes so selfish that we willingly sacrifice the next generation for the sake of our own priorities and preferences.  Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

The Puzzle of Marriage

It is said that Socrates was asked by a young man whether or not he would recommend marriage, Socrates replied by saying “By all means marry. If you get a good wife, you will become happy; and if you get a bad one, you will become a philosopher and the world needs more philosophers.”
Last week I finished my message on family by stating: If there is one word that sums up successful families it is commitment.  And so let’s begin this week by stating the one word that sums up a successful marriage is commitment. 
If a family is going to succeed there needs to be a commitment. And that is why marriage has been so important throughout human history because it is a couple publically saying “We are committed to each other, forever.”  Whether it was an elaborate ceremony or a simple ceremony marriage is public statement of intent.  That is why a segment of the gay community was so adamant in their desire to have the right to marry.  It wasn’t to undermine marriage for the rest of us, it wasn’t because they wanted to make a mockery of the institution it was because they recognized the importance of making that “Lifelong commitment” they wanted to be able to say to their friends and family and the world at large “we are committed to one another.”  For right or for wrong.
(Video of weddings)
What do they have in common?  Not a lot, although the Princess Bride is my favourite wedding movie scene of all time.  But if you watch in each case it was a public statement saying:  We are committed to each other.  Whether vows recited in a grand cathedral, jumping the broom in a slave compound or posting your vows on the door of the staff room, legally I don’t recommend the last one.  Whether that is actually the case or not will be revealed in time but for that moment in time that is their desire and intent.  Do you remember your wedding vows?  When you recited these words or words very similar.  I take you to be my wedded husband or wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy law and thereto I pledge you my faith.  And we meant it.  Not one of us went through that ceremony thinking, “I’m going to do this again in 5 years or 15 years or if you are a Hollywood celebrity in 6 months”
Which is why Princess Diana said “I think like any marriage, especially when you’ve had divorced parents like myself, you’d want to try even harder to make it work.”
And in most cases that is what is missing when a couple is simply living together, they have not publically stated “this is forever” and everyone knows that it could end tomorrow if one or the other just walks away.   And don’t let anyone tell you that living common-law after a certain length of time is the same as being married legally.  If you live together for thirty years and tomorrow you decide it’s over, it’s over.  You might have to divide some assets but it is how do you say “tout fini”. 
Sometimes I will talk to a couple who are living together and their rationale is “We want to see if it will work before we get married.” 
The best of intentions perhaps but to quote my favourite philosopher, Yogi Berra “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice but in practice there is.”  
Read this interesting article online at www.nytimes.com “Couples who lived together before marrying have nearly an 80 percent higher divorce rate than those who did not and they seem to have less regard for the institution, according to a study of Swedish women by the National Bureau of Economic Research here.”    One of the authors who was involved in the study stated “Swedes were chosen because they tend to precede American social trends by 10 to 15 years.”
So what is this marriage of which I speak?  And why is it so important?
Socially: Marriage Protects the Family Let’s start here with some secular definitions  The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language mar·riage (mărʹĭj) noun
1.         The legal union of a man and woman as husband and wife.
www.dictionary.com agrees because their definition is
1.         The social institution under which a man and woman establish their decision to live as husband and wife by legal commitments, religious ceremonies, etc.
Obviously not Canadian definitions.  
The reason that cultures throughout history have tended to lean toward a monogamous form of marriage was to strengthen society through stable family units.  Without some type of formal agreement, there was nothing to hold family units and thus society together. 
We are starting to rediscover that with men who are paying child support to children from one or two failed relationships, while not really being fathers.
Moms who are left raising children by themselves or ending up in blended relationships where parents can’t really function as parents.  Is it any wonder that the concept of “till death do we part” was an integral part of society up until the last forty years.   Reproduction doesn’t make you a parent it just proves that the plumbing works. 
Whether it is a full blown wedding that cost tens of thousands of dollars or simply jumping the broom, marriage is simply a couple affirming their desire to spend the rest of their life with each other and to raise a family.
Religiously: Marriage was ordained by God.  It’s interesting to note that in a society that is as non-church going and pagan as ours is, church weddings are still the way to go for the majority of Canadians.  They are looking for the scripture reading, the prayers and the god talk. I’m not sure if it’s seeking to reclaim a little bit of religious heritage, if it’s just considered the right thing to do or if they are just covering all their bases.  Something borrowed something new something religious something blue.
And indeed the concept of marriage is the very first human institution.  In the account of creation, after Eve is created Adam says in   Genesis 2:23-24 “At last!” the man exclaimed. “This one is bone from my bone, and flesh from my flesh! She will be called ‘woman,’ because she was taken from ‘man.’ “Actually what he said was “Hubba hubba.” The scripture continues by saying This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. 1126 words into the bible, as soon as we have man and woman the concept of marriage is defined.  You have two and they come together and you have one.  And that oneness was defined by God.  It happens emotionally, it happens spiritual and in the act of lovemaking the couple becomes one physically.  And that is why within the scripture the act of sex is set apart for husband and wife.  Otherwise how can you become one with this person and that person and another person without giving up a little bit of yourself each time?
And so within the religious sense when God created man and woman he created marriage.  In verse 25 it says Genesis 2:25 Now the man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame.  It doesn’t say Adam and the woman, or Adam and his girlfriend; it says Adam and his wife. And the same as the social reason it was for the good of the couple, the good of the individuals and the good of the resulting family.
But how long has the church been involved in the actual marriage ceremony?  Probably not as long as you would think.  The act of getting married has always involved something even if it was as simple as the couple stating that they were married, you say that sounds like they were simply living together.  No, they had made a commitment to each other and to their family and to their community as being married, it was not a temporary thing it was a commitment.  As society progressed the commitment would often be accompanied by a celebration, remember in John 2:1-2 The next day there was a wedding celebration in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration.  The scriptures don’t tell us about the wedding ceremony simply the wedding celebrations.  As a matter of fact if you read through the bible you will see all kinds of references to wedding feasts and wedding celebrations but not to wedding ceremonies.
Up until the ninth century the church was not involved in the mechanics of people becoming married at all, then prayers and blessings were added to the celebration, some by the priest and some by the couple.  Around the twelfth century it became customary to ask the parish priest to take part and he would question the couple concerning their intentions but the church still didn’t take an official part.
It really wasn’t until 1563 that the Council of Trent required that Catholic marriages be celebrated at a Catholic church by a priest and before two witnesses.  By the eighteenth century marriage had become a religious event throughout Europe.
Spiritually: Marriage is an Analogy of God’s love for us. In the Old Testament Israel is called God’s bride. Isaiah 62:4-5 Never again will you be called “The Forsaken City” or “The Desolate Land.” Your new name will be “The City of God’s Delight” and “The Bride of God,” for the Lord delights in you and will claim you as his bride. Your children will commit themselves to you, O Jerusalem, just as a young man commits himself to his bride. Then God will rejoice over you as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride.
Throughout the New Testament the relationship between Christ and His church relies on the analogy of a marriage.  In 2 Corinthians 11:2 The Bible says For I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God himself. I promised you as a pure bride to one husband—Christ.  In Ephesians 5:25-26 For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.  And several times in the Revelation the church is called the Bride of Christ.
When the prophet Isaiah was looking for a way to describe the salvation of God listen to the words he chooses Isaiah 61:10 I am overwhelmed with joy in the Lord my God! For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation and draped me in a robe of righteousness. I am like a bridegroom in his wedding suit or a bride with her jewels.
So if Marriage is important how do we make it work?  And that’s a good question because marriage doesn’t have a great success rate, although it getting better.   Back in 1987, it was expected that 50.6% of all marriages in Canada would end before the 30th wedding anniversary.   That’s where we get the stat that half of all marriages will fail.  Statistically it is now expected that only 37.7% of all Canadian marriages will end in a divorce before the 30th anniversary.
There aren’t many things that cost as much and require the commitment of a marriage that we would enter into if we knew there was a 38 % chance it wouldn’t work.  Couple of questions then.  Would you let a Dr. perform surgery if he lost 37.7 % of his patients on the operating table?  Would you hire a lawyer who lost 37.7 % of his cases?  Would you consider your car safe if the brakes worked 63.3 % of the time?   Of course you wouldn’t you’d have to be a complete idiot.   Brad Paisley summed it up in his song “If Love Was a Plane”.  (Play clip)
So are there some things we should be aware of that will help raise the percentage?  Some people say that it’s pre-marital counselling, but I’m not sure. 
Over the past thirty years of ministry I have done pre-marriage counselling with literally dozens of couples and I have come to one inescapable conclusion.  Most of those people were not in their right mind.  It didn’t matter how poor, broke or destitute they were, they behaved like they had the world by the tail.  If you tried to talk budgets with them and explained that finances are the primary reason for marriage break ups why they’d look at you like you were crazy.  “Why pastor, money might come between other couples but it would never come between us.”
If one or the other has a family that makes the Adams family look well-adjusted they say, “So what, we’ll just love them anyways.”
If you try to talk to them about possible sexual issues in their marriage they look at you as if you have come from another world and have a third eye in the middle of your forehead, “what, us have sexual issues in our marriage, I don’t think so pastor.”  I must marry a select group of people because when I explain to them that four out of ten marriages end in the divorce courts they always assure me that they are in the six out of ten group that doesn’t.
Sometimes I wonder why I even bother to waste my time in premarital counselling anyway.  They cuddle up close, hold hands, make puppy dog eyes at one another give me all the answers that they think I might want to hear.  When couples are dating and engaged they are blind to one another’s faults.  You’ve heard it said that love is blind, sure is I’m convinced of that.  Love is blind and deaf and stupid. 
I am sure of the fact that one of the main reasons why marriages fail is because people don’t know what they are getting themselves in for.  If we could show them where their life will be in five or ten or fifteen years we could cut the divorce rate dramatically, of course that would be because fewer people would actually get married.
Now at this point I should be able to tell you the things that will make your marriage a success and guarantee that you will be one of the couples who will stay together forever.  . .
If I could do that than I would have already written the book that would make me rich and I would never have to worry about those couples that I have married or provided marriage counselling to.   Sorry, I would suspect that my batting average is the same as the national average.    Over a hundred years ago Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher, wrote “It is obvious that all sense has gone out of modern marriage; which is, however, no objection to marriage but to modernity.”
No secrets but here are some things I have learned over the past thirty years of marriage and ministry.
There is nothing deep here people.  It Will Take Two to Make it Work.  One person cannot make a marriage work and one person cannot save a marriage. That may sound fatalistic but that is the reality of the situation.  You say “Come on Denn, nothing is impossible.”  You ever try to dribble a football?  In this day and age if one person wants the marriage to end the marriage will end, you may drag it out but it will make two to make it work.
A Wedding is a Point in Time, A Marriage is a Line of Time  Randolph Ray said “Marriage is never finished, the lesson is never learned, and the effort is never at an end.  Marriage like life is a matter of solving the little things, the big things generally take care of themselves.”
Men And Women Are Not The Same.  I think this may be the most important thing you will hear today.  Too many people think men and women are the same except the fiddly bits.  But we are different.  I know that I’m making a generalization and all generalizations are wrong, but in most cases men and women are different.  We think different and we react different.  In Australia they would say “We are as different as chalk and cheese.”
Stephen Hawking is considered by many to be one of the smartest man in the world today, and last week on his seventieth birthday he was asked about his successes and failure as well as regrets he has and then he was asked what he spent a lot of time pondering and his reply was “Women. They are a complete mystery.”
A great book on this subject is “Men are like Waffles Women are like spaghetti” by Bill and Pam Farrel.  The premise of the book, and again it is a generalization, is that with men we put all of our life in boxes with walls around them.  And while it seems we get better at multi-tasking as we get older, we are just getting faster at jumping between boxes.  Women on the other hand everything connects and one noodle touches every other noodle on the plate and where this really comes into play is in communication so I’m going to let Pam and Bill explain.  (Video clip)
There is another difference between men and women and it is defined by the most unusual source.  Albert Einstein is best known for his theory of relativity but this is a lot more practical for us today.  “Men marry women with the hope they won’t be changed, while women marry men with the hope that they will.  Invariably, they both end up disappointed.”
And finally here is the secret, If You Are Both Committed to Making it Work It Should.  Notice I didn’t say it will, only that it should.    A few years ago I was called upon to perform my cousin’s wedding, I almost said marry my cousin but that is just too close to home.    And here was the essence of what I told the couple “at some point you are not going to want to be married to your spouse, and at that point you will have to decide if you are willing to work at it or if you are going to call it quits.”  Often times the problems that people see as insurmountable are only temporary and often divorce is a long term solution to a short term problem.  If we are committed and determined to make it work, it probably will.  Now let me pray for all of the marriages here at Cornerstone.

Unseen Blessings

I got up the other day and there was just a light dusting of snow on the ground. When I looked out the window I saw several set of tracks crossing the front lawn.  On closer examination, I realized that they were deer tracks where several deer had crossed the yard sometime through the night.  
My first thought was “Darn, I wish I could have seen them.”   One of the joys of living in Kingswood is the opportunity to see wildlife, whether it is deer, rabbits, foxes or maybe even bears.  My philosophy is: if you don’t like wildlife then you shouldn’t live in the woods.

Then I had an epiphany: it still happened even though I missed it.  The deer were there while I was sleeping.    It is so easy in our lives to think we haven’t been blessed because we didn’t actually get to see the blessing when it happened.  Then, because we haven’t actually seen the blessings we assume they didn’t happen.   But God doesn’t stop working just because we are sleeping or not paying attention.

Why not take a few minutes to look around today, you may not see the deer but you might see their tracks.  Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

The Puzzle of Family

It was Tolstoy who said “All happy families resemble one another; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Have you ever stopped to think that both the Old Testament and the New Testament start with the story of a family?  And the bible itself is a collection of family stories.  There are happy families in the bible and there are unhappy families in the bible but there are no perfect families in the bible.  Why?  Because they are the stories of real families struggling with the same issues that families have always struggled with and will always struggle with.  Over the next few weeks we are looking at “Families: finding your place in the Puzzle”  Because the secret is not knowing what your husband should do, or what your wife should do or what your kids or parents should do, the secret is to know what your role is. 
We all play different roles in the family and even the same role will change as time moves on and the family changes.  Spouses have different responsibilities before and after children, parents have different responsibilities as they kids grow up and children have different responsibilities at different times in their lives.  And over the next few weeks we are going to look at how those pieces are supposed to fit, and notice I said “Supposed to”.
The secret of a really good puzzle is that there are no identical pieces.  In a jigsaw puzzle you might try to force a piece to fit, but that’s not what you are supposed to do.  And it’s the same way with crossword puzzles there may be other words that will fit the squares but they don’t fit the clue, or a word that fits the clue but not the square.  And you might try to fudge the spelling or the definition but that’s not the way it is supposed to work. 
Today I think most of us define family by the media, whether it be the Waltons and Little House on the Prairie, Leave it to Beaver or Rob and Laura Petrie.  The Huxtables or Dan and Roseanne, the Simpsons or Family Guy we are barraged with what family is and what family isn’t. 
But every family is different in its own way but I think Tolstoy was right “All happy families resemble one another; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
This morning we are going to try to figure out what those happy families have in common.
What is a family?  Our definition of Family would probably be different than it was a generation ago.  I know I’m old but when I was a kid I knew exactly one child who had a different last name than his mother’s husband.  And probably there were more than that out there but within my limited understanding they were the only divorced people that I knew.  And the concept of people living together who weren’t married, I knew it happened because the family whispered about one of my father’s uncles and the lady he lived with, but it was a scandal. 
Back then a family was a mother and a father, and their 2.3 children.  And when the media wanted to blend a family it happened because of death not divorce.  So Mike Brady was a widower and they never mentioned what happened to Carol’s husband. 
They weren’t sure what to do with the Mary Tyler Moore, the show’s producers originally wanted Mary Richards to be divorced but were afraid of the back lash from the public and that people would think that she had divorced Rob Petrie.  Do you remember when the television character Murphy Brown was pregnant and not married?  Even the White House stepped in and expressed an opinion.  then Vice President Dan Quayle said “It doesn’t help matters when primetime TV has Murphy Brown — a character who supposedly epitomizes today’s intelligent, highly paid, professional woman — mocking the importance of fathers, by bearing a child alone, and calling it just another ‘lifestyle choice,’”
But that has changed, at least in popular culture.  We are told that marriage can no longer be defined the way it had been defined in the past.  So now kids grow up in homes with only one biological parent, maybe.  People talk about starter marriages like they used to talk about starter homes.  And while you might be able to have 1 mom and no dad or 1 dad and no mom or 2 moms or 2 dads or 2 moms and 2 dads apparently the last taboo is that you can’t have 1 dad and 5 moms.  At least for now.
So what is family?  The dictionary I keep on my desk, a dictionary is a book with lots of pages that is arranged alphabetically, is the Collins Pocket English Dictionary from 1981 and it defines family this way. fam•i•ly [fam-uh-lee, fam-lee] noun, plural -lies, adjective 1) a) a social unit consisting of parents and their children. b) the children of the same parents.  I went on line to dictionary.com and it defined family this way  1. a. a basic social unit consisting of parents and their children, considered as a group, whether dwelling together or not: the traditional family.  b. a social unit consisting of one or more adults together with the children they care for: a single-parent family. 
And I suppose there are as many definitions of family as there are people defining family, it was Ogden Nash who stated “A family is a unit composed not only of children but of men, women, an occasional animal, and the common cold.” 
Without reading too much into it Abraham Lincoln said “How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”  
If the old adage is true “It takes a village to raise a child.”  Why do we need families? Why can’t we be content with villages?  Well apparently families have always been a part of the plan. I mentioned earlier that both the Old Testament and the New Testament begin with stories of families.  The Book of Genesis begins with the story of Adam and Eve and their children.  The first family.  And the New Testament begins in the book of Matthew with the story of Mary and Joseph and their first born son, Jesus. 
I suppose I could have started with Adam and Eve but I’m not sure there is a lot of good to be said about that family.  They were disobedient to God, they got turfed out of the Garden and I’m sure that there were a lot of bitter angry words spoken in that family.  Recriminations over whose fault it was that they had eaten the forbidden fruit.  Their story culminates with their first born killing his brother is a fit of jealous rage.  Maybe my father was right when he said “Everybody is good for something, even if it’s only being a bad example.”   
But then I thought, hey we are still close to Christmas and tonite we are showing “The Nativity Story” in our study so let’s start this series off by discovering what Mary and Joseph can tell us about a successful family.
It was Charles Caleb Colton  who wrote  “The family is the most basic unit of government. As the first community to which a person is attached and the first authority under which a person learns to live, the family establishes society’s most basic values.”  Our society will be shaped by our families and so we need to be very careful with our families   2500 years ago Confucius said “The strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home.”
So what should our families look like? What should they act like?  Perhaps if we look at the family that Jesus was raised in we can find some answers.  Because Jesus wasn’t raised in a bubble, he may have been the Son of God but he was raised in an ordinary home, with ordinary parents and ordinary siblings. 
I think one of the things that I marvel at here was the trust that was displayed in this family This was a Trusting Family.  You know the story I preached on it all though December, you heard it sung about in the malls and on the radio and you read about it in Christmas cards.  The story is summed up in Matthew 1:18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.  And here we are two thousand years down the road going; yep that’s how it happened.  But that’s not how it happens, virgins don’t become pregnant without help.  Mary knew that and Joseph knew that and yet if their marriage was going to work, if their family was going to be the family that God intended his son to be raised in then there would have to be trust. Mary trusted God and ultimately Joseph had to trust Mary.
And really Mary got the easy part.  God said that he would become pregnant, Mary declared that was impossible because she had never been with a man and the angel told her not to worry that with God nothing was impossible.  So for Mary, as long as she knew what she had done and what she hadn’t done if she ended up pregnant there was only one answer, and that was that God had done the impossible.  But Joseph had to take Mary’s word for it.  I know that there was the entire angel thing going on as well but ultimately Joseph had to take the high ground and believe that his fiancé did not and would not betray him.  The bible tells us Matthew 1:24-25 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.
A family will never be successful and happy without an element of trust.  And that means we take the high road and until we are proved wrong that we always think the best of our family members and that we always trust them to do what is right.    
I love the quote by Elsa Einstein, Albert Einstein’s wife who said “No, I don’t understand my husband’s theory of relativity, but I know my husband, and I know he can be trusted.”  And you know that if Elsa trusted her husband with the key to the universe that she trusted him with the little things as well.
And if trust is broken it can be rebuilt but it takes time and evidence.  I have sat across from a man who was unfaithful in his marriage and he looked at me and said “My wife doesn’t trust me.”  And I felt like saying “Why should she?”  but I didn’t instead I spoke about time being a healer and how he would have to earn back her trust.
And here is the secret if it is going to work, even if you have been disappointed you will eventually have to trust that person again or your life and relationship will be miserable.  That is what Jesus was talking about concerning forgiveness.  If the pattern continues then they have proved themselves to untrustworthy and that is a different issue.
I think we should trust our spouse and I think that we should trust our kids and I think that kids should trust their parents.  And yes perhaps you will be disappointed but I would like to think that your trust will prove itself.  
This Was a Godly Family  We don’t read a lot about the time while Jesus was a child but there are two statements that reveal a lot.  In Luke’s account we read: Luke 2:39 When Jesus’ parents had fulfilled all the requirements of the law of the Lord, they returned home to Nazareth in Galilee. What were the requirements of the law of the Lord that Luke talked about?  It was basically when Mary and Joseph had Jesus dedicated.  That wasn’t what it was called but that’s what it was.  They presented their child to God, gave thanks for him and committed themselves to raising their child in a godly home. 
And that commitment was shown later in the story.  In the scripture that was read earlier we discovered this: Luke 2:41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. We’ve mentioned before how important it was and still is for those of the Jewish faith to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem.  And I would suspect that for many it was just a dream or a “if only” thing.  You know if only we had the money, if only we had the time, if only Jerusalem was closer.  But the scriptures said that every year Jesus parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover.  And it wasn’t a short journey they tell us that it is about 65 miles or a little over 100 kms as the crow flies but they weren’t travelling by crow they were travelling by foot so it was probably a four day trip.  But it was a priority for them, there were probably other things they could have done with their time and with their money but it was a priority for them to do the right thing and to expose their children to the things of God.  And every family here will have to decide what will be a priority for them.  Is it God and the church and if so how does that work out in everyday life?
Do you remember the last part of the scripture that was read this morning? Sure you do, Mary and Joseph find Jesus in the temple listening to the teachers and asking questions and then it says in Luke 2:47 All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. Time and time again it the scriptures tell us that people were amazed at his teaching.  But that didn’t just happen, that was the result of being raised in a home where God’s word was taught and respected.  And that’s where Proverbs 22:6 comes in Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it. We all know the truth of “More is caught then taught”, so the question is when it comes to God what is being caught in your home?
This was a Protecting Family.  Families are supposed to be a safe place to go.  In the news lately we’ve been hearing about children being killed by their parents but that’s not what a family is supposed to be like.  Families are where we are to be protected, there is not a lot written about Jesus childhood but it is very telling what is written, we are told in Luke 2:40 There the child grew up healthy and strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favour was on him.
He grew up healthy and strong, so his physical needs were being met, he was filled with wisdom so his educational and emotional needs were being met and God’s favour was on him, so his spiritual needs were being met. 
In our scripture reading this morning we ended with Joseph and Mary finding Jesus, but listen to the next verse Luke 2:48. “Son,” his mother said to him, “why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.”   That’s what families do they worry over one another and do what it takes to protect each other.  And realize that we don’t always get it right, we can’t protect our kids and our family from everything.  Think about it, Mary and Joseph lost Jesus.  They lost the Son of God, how do you explain that?  Have you ever lost or broke something that was loaned to you? 
But they did everything they could to find him.
There should be no abuse or harm in a family, not physically and not emotionally.  As part of a family you should be safe from physical harm, and from emotional harm.  And not to minimize physical abuse but sometimes the most hurtful things that are done in a family are done with the tongue and not with the fists. 

And we will always try to protect our kids, sometimes it’s frustrating as kids grow up and parents keep trying to protect them but that’s all part of it.  I was talking to my dad awhile back about a decision I had to make and he started in as if I was 15 years old ago, have you thought about this have you thought about that?  Hey Dad I’m 51 not 15.  But he was just concerned and that is because children grow out of childhood but parents never grow out of parenthood. 

It Wasn’t a Perfect Family Maybe you’ve heard the old adage “If you find the perfect church don’t go, you’ll ruin it.” And if you find a perfect family stay away so you don’t ruin it.   As long as families are made up of people there will be issues.  Can’t get around that.  Every one of us has the potential to ruin the perfect family.  I remember years ago spending the night at a couple who were about the same age as us and their public persona was that of the perfect family, with perfect kids and nothing ever went wrong they had it all under control.  That morning they couldn’t find the keys to the car, someone had misplaced them and the facade began to crack.  It was mildly amusing from my perspective, probably less so from theirs.  Someone said “Families are like fudge, mostly sweet with some nuts.” 
I mentioned earlier that Mary and Joseph lost Jesus.  But there had to be some responsibility there from Jesus.  Even if he wasn’t functioning in God mode he must have known that it wasn’t a good idea to just disappear like that, that maybe just maybe his parents would be upset.  I wonder if he got grounded?  I hope so.
There is a very telling part of our story in Mark’s gospel, Mark 3:20-21 One time Jesus entered a house, and the crowds began to gather again. Soon he and his disciples couldn’t even find time to eat. When his family heard what was happening, they tried to take him away. “He’s out of his mind,” they said. Jesus family didn’t get it, his siblings thought he had lost it.  But ultimately they came around.
If there is one word that sums up successful families it is commitment.  They are committed to one another for the long haul.  And that is what marriage is about, and we are going to cover that more next week as we look at “The Puzzle of Marriage”. 
If a family is going to succeed there needs to be a commitment. And that is why marriage has been so important throughout human history because it is a couple publically saying “We are committed to each other, forever.”  Whether it was an elaborate ceremony or a simple ceremony. 
If you are old enough to have seen the Mini-series “Roots” back in the last century you might recall a scene were a couple jumped the broom. It was a ritual to signify that they were starting a new life together.  And in most cases that is what is missing when a couple is simply living together, they have not publically stated “this is forever” and everyone knows that it could end tomorrow if one or the other just walks away.
And simply reproducing together does not make you a family.  It simply means all the plumbing works.   
I think it’s interesting that the family we talked about wouldn’t have fallen into the first definition of family, you remember the one from 1) a) a social unit consisting of parents and their children. b) the children of the same parents.  Because Jesus’ mother was Mary but his father wasn’t Joseph and they made it work because they were committed to making it work.  And if we are going to figure out the puzzle of our families it will only be when we are committed to making it happen. 

Priests with Brooms

I’m not quite ready to leave Christmas yet, at least not in the Penn.  Did you read about the fight that broke out in Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity during the Christmas season? The Church of the Nativity is the church built over the site where some believe Jesus was born.  The incident made the news around the world and there was even video available for those who wanted to see what actually happened.  It wasn’t pretty.  You see it wasn’t terrorists armed with bombs, it was priests armed with brooms.
That’s right.  Priests and brooms!  And the scuffle had to be broken up by policemen armed with batons and shields.    The 1700 year old church is administered by rival groups of Greek Orthodox and Armenian Clerics who were cleaning the church in preparation for Orthodox Christmas which is celebrated on January 7th.  The two denominations share the administration of the church and speculation is that the incident was sparked by perceived encroachments on one group’s territory by the other.
Bethlehem police Lt-Col Khaled al-Tamimi commented, “It was a trivial problem that… occurs every year, no one was arrested because all those involved were men of God.”  Then they should act like it.  Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Brand New Year Same Old Vision

Well here we are about 2000 years down the road from that first church.  I’m sure if Peter and John had of ever discussed the future of the Christian church that they could not have envisioned what it would be like 2000 years later. I mean 2000 years!  The Jewish religion wasn’t even 2000 years old at that point.
Close your eyes, come on work with me people.  For just a moment try to envision January 1st in the year 4012.  It’s twelve years after the Y4K crisis. 
So, the year is 4012, imagine what your work will be like, or your home maybe we will finally have the flying cars they promised when I was a kid.  Imagine what church in the year 4012 could be like. Almost incomprehensible isn’t it?  I know that you’re thinking the church won’t be here in 2000 years, “Denn the world won’t even be here in 2000 years.” 
I can almost hear an echo, “Come on Pete” Paul said, “the Church won’t be here in 2000 years, and the world won’t even be here in 2000 years.” Well it’s been 2000 years, and a lot of water under the bridge.  It started with eleven apostles and a handful of followers.  Fifty days after the resurrection there were 120 of them gathered together in an upstairs room in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit came just as Jesus promised.  And what were the immediate ramifications?  Listen to the description of that day we read this  Acts 2:41 Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.
Three thousand people, not a bad altar call.  If we added three thousand people to the group we have now we would have to have a Saturday Evening service, 3 Sunday Morning Services and a Sunday Evening Service.  In the new 700 seat worship centre we would have to build.
But it didn’t stop there, listen to what Luke records in Acts 2:46-47 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
Did you catch it?  It wasn’t just on Sundays that people’s lives were turned around and it wasn’t just at church where it happened it was each and every day and everywhere.  And it wasn’t that long before it was reported in Acts 4:4 But many of the people who heard their message believed it, so the number of believers now totaled about 5,000 men, not counting women and children.
Five thousand men, not counting woman and children.  And you know if there were five thousand men there would have been eight thousand women.  We are talking about a period of time spanning months perhaps weeks.  And even then, with that type of growth and that type of expansion, the early believers had no concept of what would happen.  They really were winging it, flying by the seat of their pants at that point.
They had no idea that in just thirty years that persecution would break out under Emperor Nero and tens of thousands of believers would die martyr’s deaths over the next 250 years, or that Christianity would become the religion of the empire under Constantine in 313.  They couldn’t have known about the split which separated the church into Eastern and Western factions.  Or the Reformation started under Martin Luther in 1521, or the Methodist Revivals of the 1700s led by John Wesley, or the Holiness Movement of the 1800’s or that late in the 20th century a new church called Cornerstone would begin.
They couldn’t see that far, they couldn’t believe that far, all they knew was that God was working in their lives, and in the lives of their families and neighbours.  Let me say this, it doesn’t matter if the church lasts another 2000 years or another 2 days the same God who worked in the lives of believers 2000 years ago is still working in the lives of believers today. 
So what can we learn on January 1st 2012from that early church?
1) We Need to Learn From The Past  The early church wasn’t very old and yet they still reached back to their beginnings.  The apostles were the more primary leaders in the church and whenever they were called upon to talk about the church or to defend the church they took their listeners back to the events that had happened with Jesus. 
They spoke of his miracles, of his crucifixion and his resurrection.  Now to us that’s theology, or doctrine.  To them it was their history; it was where they had come from.  It was who they were, and why they were.  And 2000 years later we can’t simply relegate the past to the archives to be forgotten.
To many of you Cornerstone has always been here, or to others we’ve only been around since the building was constructed in 2005.  This is the seventh New Year’s message I have preached in this building.  But it is the seventeenth New Year’s message I have preached at Cornerstone. 
We have a past, a history, and a story of who we are and why we are here.  And we are who we are because of that story.    And we need to learn lessons from our past.  We need to learn from our successes and we need to learn from our failures.  When we look at our past it goes back to August of 1994 when the Guptills arrived in Bedford after four years in Australia and our mandate, or mission or dream was to start a new Wesleyan Church in Bedford.  A church that would be non-traditional and that would appeal to a whole generation of people who were disenchanted with the church they grew up in. 
We often joke that we started with Angela and I, Stephen and Deborah, the cat and the hamster and then the hamster died.  Four months later we had been joined by Ian and Sylvia Richardson and Stan and Karen Wickwire and their family.  In April of 95 we began worshipping as Bedford Community Church, we went into that first service with a firm commitment, to be a part of our church,  from 13 people.  4 of them were under the age of 10.  By the end of the first month we had a group of about 40 men, women and children.  Not quite the 3000 from the day of Pentecost
For the first year and half we worshipped together in the Lion’s Den Community Centre at the Lebrun centre in Bedford and then we moved to the Empire theatre in Bedford in September of 96, yep there used to be an empire in Bedford it was where the Lawntons is now in Mill Cove and we stayed there for over five years returning to the Lion’s Den in January of 2002 where we stayed until the new building was constructed in 2005. 
And we were all beginners, this church planting stuff was a new adventure for everyone involved and we did some things right, and we did some things wrong and we need to learn from all of that.  With caution.  After all there were things that we did in those first couple of years that didn’t work because we didn’t have the right people or the maturity to pull it off.  And we need to be wise enough not to discard those things just because they didn’t work the first time.  We’ve also discovered that nothing we do is now engraved in stone.  When we try something new you’ll often hear the words “This is an experiment” that’s because I got tired of having to backtrack after a mistake and apologize.
There are things that we’ve done that have worked and we’ve learned that we need to keep doing those things, as long as they continue to work.  But only as long as they continue to work.  You see we are not in the business of breeding Sacred Cows. 
The nice thing about starting a church from scratch was that I didn’t have to listen to what I refer to as the seven last words of the dying church: “We have always done it that way.”  So, who cares?  If it works great, and I don’t just mean that it’s not a failure, I mean is it working to help achieve our goal which is to “depopulate hell.”  If it’s not working to achieve that purpose then it’s not working.  And if we are only doing things because we’ve always done them then we are breeding Sacred Cows, and my philosophy with sacred cows is that they make the best burgers. 
Dakota tribal wisdom passed from generation to generation tells us, “If you find yourself riding a dead horse, get off.”  It won’t do any good to reflect on all the great times you had riding the horse when it was still alive, if the horse is dead we need to get off.
It was George Santayana  who wrote “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  As we march into a New Year our goal is not to replicate the past, but to learn from it.  We don’t want to be the church that we were in 1995 or 2005 or 2011.

2) We Need To Look To The Future  In many ways the focus of the early Church was tomorrow, because they were looking forward to the return of Christ.  Time and time again they were encouraged about the “Day of the Lord”, and his second coming.  For them it was something that could happen at any time, and to a certain degree we have lost that sense of anticipation.  But even though we need to anticipate the return of Christ, we can’t lose sight of the future as far as planning goes.  I know he’s coming back, but I don’t know when.  And neither do you or anyone else, regardless of what they say.  And so we need to live as if He was going to return tomorrow, and plan as if we have another 2000 years before he comes back.
I did not come back from Australia to start a church that would average 41 in the morning service, which was what we averaged our first year, nor did I come back to start a church that would average 241 in the morning worship, which is what we averaged last year or the 265 we are averaging now.  I would have been better off staying in Brisbane, growing a church there and enjoying the beaches, and they have some incredible beaches.  I came back to Nova Scotia with a dream of starting a church that would have a major impact in this area and this city.  A church that would not only impact individuals but would impact other churches, and that dream is every bit as fresh today as it was seventeen years ago.
But the reality is that it wasn’t always that fresh.  There were times that I doubted the vision that God had given me, there were times that I would have been happy to walk away from it.  By 2003 and I tired, we had been worshipping together for 8 years and I had been working an outside job for half of that time to keep things afloat.  We had been to 70 in our average morning attendance four different years and then for a variety of reasons we would drop back to the mid-forties again. 
In 2003 we were averaging 51 and I didn’t want to do it anymore.  My home church in Saint John was in the middle of a pastoral search so I asked the district Superintendent to let them know I would be available.  And he tossed my name in the ring and then we met for breakfast and he told me “Denn, past performance often dictates future potential and you don’t have a lot going for you right now.”  I was a little put out.  I told him, “If I had of taken a church of 50 and eight years later it was a church of over a hundred and the offering had increased by $70,000.00  I would be a success but I started with nothing and now we have a church of 50 with a budget of $70,000.00 so I’m a failure?” 
And then he told me that Saint John was going to have an interim pastor for two years and if I could turn things around I might be considered then.  My response was that if I could turn Bedford around,  I wouldn’t be going anywhere, and here we are.
In the first year that we were worshipping together I had two people tell me that they had dreams of Cornerstone at some point in the future with hundreds of people streaming in to be seated in the worship centre.  And there were a number of years that I doubted those dreams but to stand here on Christmas Eve and see hundreds of people streaming in to be seated in the worship centre it’s hard not to believe.
But we aren’t there yet,  I dream of a church that will not only have an impact on individuals but of a church that will have an impact on other churches.
And part of what our staff does it to encourage pastors from other churches.  We share our resources, we coach, we encourage.  That’s part of the plan. 
I love the words that Thomas Jefferson, wrote in a letter to John Adams “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.”

Cornerstone Wesleyan Church won’t always be a mid-sized church; to steal from Martin Luther King Jr.  “I have a dream, a dream of a day when Cornerstone Wesleyan Church will be a driving force in this community, a day when the most disinterested person in the Halifax Regional Municipality won’t be able to ignore what God is doing in this church, a day when literally thousands of souls have been rescued from hell, by God working through the people of Cornerstone”
Can you see it?  Because if you can’t see it in your heart you’ll never see it with your eyes.  Do I ever get discouraged?  Yep, sure do, do I ever stop believing, nope, it may not happen in this year but it will happen.  Six years ago we were averaging 42 in our morning worship and if you had of asked people if they could believe that in just six years we would be averaging over 250 and would have 643 out to our Christmas Eve service they would have said “That’s impossible”
But I still believe what the Angel Gabriel told Mary in Luke 1:37 For nothing is impossible with God.”    What’s impossible for God?  Nothing was impossible for God 2000 years ago, and nothing is impossible for God today.
In saying that we need to Learn from the Past and Look to the future, the most important thing is that we need to Live for the Present.  The past is wonderful and as the Russian Author Tatyana Tolstaya  said about the Russian people; “For us, the best time is always yesterday.”  I think maybe that’s true of all of us.  But regardless of how great yesterday was, the key word is was, it’s gone and we cannot recapture it. 
And as rosy as the future may be, its’ not here yet, all we have is the present.  And this needs to be where we are living.  And so what does the present, the next 12 months, the year 2012, that still sounds weird, hold for Cornerstone Wesleyan Church?  Good question.
More Folks Involved in Ministry  Small Groups, youth Group, creative team, children’s ministry.  Wouldn’t you like to be part of the team that shapes who we are?  Not negating all the volunteer opportunities at Cornerstone hands but this is front line stuff, where the rubber meets the road. 
And that’s not easy for me, I want to do it but as we grow and expand and continue to reach more people the reality is that I can’t do it all, and we will never be able to afford a staff that does it all. 
And here is the reality:  not only do we need you to be involved in ministry but you need you to be involved in ministry.  Because you will learn a lot more and go a lot further in your spiritual life as you prepare to teach others than you ever will simply being taught.  And that works from Children’s ministry on up.  When you develop and prepare curriculum you will have eureka moments that you will never get simply setting in a chair on Sunday morning. 
So the question shouldn’t be “Is there a ministry I can be a part of” the question should be “Is there a ministry that I can lead?”
Strategic Planning For The Future  What are we going to do when these two services are filled?  The time to be thinking about that is now, not then.  Are there more services in our future?  Are there satellite services in our future?  Church Plants?  Because I refuse to be content with what we have.    Do I want to be the biggest church in Halifax?  By no means, I don’t even need or want to be the biggest Wesleyan church in Halifax. 
I get so excited when I talk to AJ Thomas at Deep Water Church in the city and hear what they are doing in the centre of the city with a congregation that for the most part is under 35.  Or to talk to the ministry team at Hillside who are talking about a satellite location to reach people that they aren’t able to reach in their present location.

And Ultimately It All Needs To Be Covered In Prayer.  We can’t do it ourselves, Gabriel said “With God nothing is impossible”  he didn’t say “With Denn nothing is impossible or with Cornerstone nothing is impossible”  but “With God nothing is impossible”
I hope that your pray for Cornerstone and the staff on a regular basis.  That you ask God to give us the direction we need, to protect us and to use us.   This is God’s business and he wants us to succeed in it. 
I truly believe that God’s will is to reach as many people as possible with the good news of his salvation and Grace.  I don’t think we are being presumption to say God wants this church to succeed and for every church to succeed. 
A few years ago another pastor asked me asked me if we should focus on being in God’s will or on church growth?  I was a little confused and I looked at him and said “I didn’t know I had to pick one, I hadn’t realized that they were mutually exclusive.”  Personally I’m kind of partial to the theory that the purpose of the church is to grow, that it is God’s will.  After all that’s what the church did in the book of Acts and throughout the New Testament.  Why do people think they have to compromise their relationship with God in order to grow a church?
So I’m looking forward to a brand New Year of doing what God called me to do in 1994.