Weird Weather

What is with the weather? One day it’s beautiful, sunny and warm, the next day it’s snowing, cold and miserable.  Didn’t Old Man Winter get the memo?  Spring is supposed to be here!  It’s hard to believe that just a week ago we had August Temperatures in March.
I have discovered in my travels that all over the world the weather is the same as it is in Nova Scotia. It’s either too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry.  And some people are never happy with whatever the weather is doing right now.
Unfortunately it’s not just the weather some people are dissatisfied with.  They’re dissatisfied with their job, their family, the government, television, traffic and the general state of the world. Nothing is every right for them. And I don’t know what would or could make a difference for them, if anything.
Each of us has a choice. We can be content with our life or we can be discontent with our life.  At the very least, if we are going to be discontent let’s try to make things better instead of simply whining and complaining about things we can’t change.  Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

One Fish Two Fish

(Read to Page 9)
Truly a classic.  If you are familiar with the story, how many people have read this book?  If you are familiar with the story then you know that Dr. Seuss isn’t content to entertain us with stories of Whimsical fish.  One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish Blue Fish was first published in 1960 and is one in the series of “Beginner Books” along with other classics such as The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham and Hop on Pop.  And before Seuss finishes he introduces us to a variety of strange and wonderful animals like the Seven Hump Wump and the Zed with one hair on it’s head. 
For those who aren’t familiar with Dr. Seuss his actually name was Theodor Geisel, Seuss was actually his middle name and in German it is rhymes with Choice.
Theodor Geisel was born in 1905 and died in 1991, he was married twice but never had children of his own, he has been quoted as saying, “You have ’em; I’ll entertain ’em.”
For those who are curious Seuss began drawing cartoons for magazines in the 1920’s and 30’s  wrote over 60 books in a career that spanned more than 55 years, the first one was published in 1937 and the last one was published in 1998, seven years after his death. 
During the Second World War he worked for the US army producing animated films to be used by the defence department.
So, back to the book. (Read last three pages of the book)
One Fish Two Fish is a celebration of those things that are the same but different.  Did you catch that?   One Fish Two Fish is a celebration of those things that are the same but different. 
If there is one question that I am asked as a pastor more than any other it would be . . . “Why are there so many different denominations?”  Or sometimes it is simply phrased “Why are there so many different churches?”  And usually I surprise the person with my profound and theologically deep response which is: “What is your favourite fast food?”  Once they get over their initial surprise at the intellectual depth of my question they will usually respond by telling me they like burgers or pizza or fried chicken.  To which I probe deeper, McDonalds, Burger King, Harvey’s, Pizza Hut, Greco or KFC.   And then I tell them my preference and why it’s my preference.  There is a theological phrase which is sometimes used to describe this phenomena and it is “Birds of a feather flock together.” 
That’s why you don’t see cowboy hats in a hip hop club or dew rags in a Jazz bar. 
And while we should celebrate the diversity of the Christian experience that isn’t normally the way it is, it sometimes seems that in order to justify what we do we need to demonize what others do. 
And so if they don’t sing like we do, if they don’t preach like we do, if their service times are longer or shorter than ours then they must be wrong.  And not just a little wrong but a lot wrong.  And that thinking has divided families and more than that it has divided the Christian family.
There is the old joke about the guy who gets to heaven and as Saint Peter is giving him the tour they pass a section with a high wall and when the guy starts to ask what it is Saint Peter says “shhh, it’s the Wesleyans and they think they are here by themselves.”  And you can substitute Wesleyans for Baptist, Pentecostals, Catholics and others.
It’s almost like through the years we have either skipped scriptures like Ephesians 4:3 Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.  Or the prayer of Jesus in John 17:23 I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.  Or perhaps Ephesians 4:13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.
Or if we don’t ignore those scriptures then we think unity should mean uniformity and they are two different words. 
This morning I would like us to focus on the lessons we can learn from “One fish, Two Fish, Red Fish Blue Fish.”  In the scripture that was read earlier Jesus calls the fishermen, Peter and his brother Andrew and John and his brother James, to follow him,  and his call to them is found in Matthew 4:19 Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!”   If you grew up in a traditional Sunday School program you probably sang the Song “I will make you fishers of men, fishers of men, fishers of men.” 
And so I thought it was fair that if Jesus could use the analogy of fish for those who would follow him, I could probably stretch that far as well, and I’m not alone.  Do you remember the story at the end of John, it’s after the resurrection and the boys have gone back fishing and have caught nothing? Jesus appears in the morning mist and commands them to drop their nets on the other side of the boat and they caught so many fish they thought the net would break.  And then we read this John 21:11 So Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net to the shore. There were 153 large fish, and yet the net hadn’t torn. Because people are funny, theologians through the years have tried to figure out why John would mention the number of fish in the net.
Augustine had a great theory, he figured that there are 10 commandments and 7 is the perfect number of grace and that’s 17 right?  Now if you add all the numbers from 1 to 17 together, you know 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 all the way up to 17 you’ll get 153.  And not only that but if you were to arrange them like this, with 17 fish in the first row, and 16 in the next row, and 15 in the next row you get a perfect triangle which of course symbolizes the Trinity.
On the other hand, Cyril of Alexandria said that the 100 represented the fullness of the gentiles, the 50 symbolized the remnant of Israel and the three of course was there for the Trinity. 
Jerome suggested that there were 153 different types of fish in the sea and it was symbolic of the church reaching all the people in the world.  Both Cyril and Jerome saw the fish as symbolizing those who would come to know Jesus.   So if I am out there on this one at least I’m not alone.
So First of all we must discover What Makes a Fish a Fish?  I don’t know what you think of when you think of fish, but when I think fish I think of fish and chips, and I would like all of my fish to look that way.  Lightly battered and golden brown.  And so it was a shock when a friend of mine ordered fish and chips in Sierra Leone and it didn’t look at all like we imagined.  Did that make it wrong?  Nope it was still fish and chips, it was just different fish and chips.  So again I ask the question: What Makes a Fish a Fish?  This time I take you to dictionary.com where I  discovered that a fish is actually:
 Fish: [fish] Show IPA noun, plural ( especially collectively ) fish, ( especially referring to two or more kinds or species ) fish·es, verb
noun
1. any of various cold-blooded, aquatic vertebrates, having gills, commonly fins, and typically an elongated body covered with scales. 
So in order for something to be a fish it needs to be cold-blooded, it needs to be aquatic, it needs to have a vertebrate and it must have gills.  That is what a fish is, commonly they have fins, but not always, and typically they have an elongated body covered with scales, but not always. 
So the next question has to be What Makes a Christian a Christian? Like fish, we sometimes think all Christians should be prepared the same way, not necessarily lightly battered and golden brown but we think they should all look alike, act alike, perform alike and like the same music.   And then too often we get bent out of shape when they arrive prepared a little bit different.  But really, What Makes a Christian a Christian?  If we go back to dictionary.com Christian is defined this way: Chris·tian [kris-chuhn] noun
1. A person who believes in Jesus Christ;  adherent of Christianity.
2. A person who exemplifies in his or her life the teachings of Christ.
Which is kind of nebulous.  If we go back 1700 years this is how the early believers defined themselves as Christians.  The Apostle’s Creed
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.  The third day He arose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Church Universal the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.
So according to that creed a Christian believes that Jesus was the Son of God, That he was Born of a Virgin, conceived of the Holy Spirit, was Crucified and rose from the dead.  A Christian is forgiven of their sins, and will have a place in heaven.  It doesn’t say anything about how long our services are or what type of music we sing in church, it doesn’t tell us what version of the bible to read, whether we should baptise by immersion, pouring or sprinkling.  It doesn’t even tell us whether we should wear robes, suits or jeans when we preach.
Jesus told his early followers in Mark 16:16 Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned. Which of course should spark a whole other sermon on baptism.  And then told them in John 16:9 The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me.
But it’s not enough that we simply believe, let’s refine it a little bit with the words of Jesus, after all he is the Christ in Christian and he tells us in John 14:23-24 Jesus replied, “All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them. Anyone who doesn’t love me will not obey me. And remember, my words are not my own. What I am telling you is from the Father who sent me.
It was Soren Kierkegaard who said “It is so hard to believe because it is so hard to obey.”
Just Because it looks Like a Fish Doesn’t Mean it is a Fish sometimes the entire biology thing confuses me.  But then again it doesn’t take a lot to confuse me.
And to add to that just because we call it a fish doesn’t make it a fish.  We call lobsters and scallops “Shellfish” and we call the people who catch them “fishermen”.
But because shellfish don’t have gills or a vertebrae they aren’t really fish.  Doesn’t matter what you call them, even if you they come on your fisherman’s platter they still aren’t fish.  And because Jelly fish aren’t fish either.  Nor are the little gold fish you buy in a box.  
And then you get the creatures that look like fish, you know whales and porpoises and dolphins, but they aren’t fish either.  They don’t have gills they have lungs, so they aren’t fish they are mammals.  An eel is a fish, but a water snake that kind of looks like a ell isn’t a fish it’s a reptile. 
There are groups of people who look like Christians and sometimes they are called Christians, but that doesn’t make them Christians.  You may be thinking “that’s a little harsh pastor; I thought you were better than that.”  Yeah,  a lot of people make that mistake.  Because Jesus said that if we love him we will obey him, which means if we don’t obey him we don’t love him.  Remember John 14:21 Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them.”   Sometimes people say they believe in Jesus and all those things about Jesus, but then their lives suggest something else.   
And when people say “I believe in Jesus I just don’t believe he was born of a virgin, and I don’t believe that he was the Son of God and I don’t believe he was raised from the dead.”  Well they might believe in somebody but they sure don’t believe in Jesus. 
Just Because it Doesn’t look Like a Fish Doesn’t Mean it’s’ Not a Fish   I don’t think that there are any more bizarre creatures in all of God’s creation then fish.  And some of them don’t look anything at all the way I like my fish to look, for those of you who have forgotten that would be lightly battered and golden brown. 
But in nature there are some really cool looking fish.
If we go back to our definition of fish Fish: [fish] Show IPA noun, plural (especially collectively) fish, ( especially referring to two or more kinds or species ) fish·es, verb
noun
1. any of various cold-blooded, aquatic vertebrates, having gills, commonly fins, and typically an elongated body covered with scales. 
They all always cold-blooded, they always have a vertebrae and they always have gills.  They commonly have fins, but they don’t always have fins, some are like the Spotted Hand Fish and they have what look like feet.  And typically they have an elongated body covered in scales but not always some have round bodies like the Puffer Fish or lumpy bodies like the Rock Fish and the shark is a fish but it doesn’t have scales. 
You can find groups of Christ Followers in the Appalaction mountains who literally claim the promises of Mark 16:18 They will be able to handle snakes with safety, and if they drink anything poisonous, it won’t hurt them. They will be able to place their hands on the sick, and they will be healed.”  And as a regular part of their worship they handle poisonous snakes, and that is just weird.  But really that doesn’t matter, because weird or lack of weird isn’t what defines you as a Christian.  I don’t know a lot about churches that handle snakes and you don’t ever have to worry about me taking a job pastoring a church that handles snakes or for that matter even attending a church where they handle snakes but that isn’t what makes them Christians and it’s not what keeps them from being Christians.
Now if they believe that their salvation is somehow wrapped up in handling snakes and not in the grace and forgiveness of Jesus, that’s a different story.
I’m sure that compared to some church Cornerstone would be considered a little strange,  and there are certainly churches out there who we would consider a little different in their worship, and it would have nothing to do with snakes, but worship isn’t what defines us a Christians, or at least it shouldn’t be. 
You aren’t a Christian because of the type of music you sing, or how long your services are, or whether you worship in a church building or a movie theatre or in a home.    It’s not a matter if you jump or shout or just sit quietly with your hands folded.
And I get tired of Christians and churches who insist that everyone worship the way they do and read the same translation of the bible that they do, and dress as they do, and embrace the same causes and vision as they do.
One valid criticism of missions was that some missionaries weren’t content to bring Christ to unreached people they wanted to introduce them to western civilization and make them dress and act like Europeans, and sing the same music that was sung in cathedrals across England and the Continent.  And somehow they felt that English or French or German were holier languages then whatever it was that the national people spoke. 
In Canada the issue wasn’t that the church wanted to introduce the First Nation people to Jesus, that was noble, to introduce people to a God of grace and love and forgiveness.  What was a crime was when the church felt that had to steal their language and culture at the same time.
That was what is technically known in preaching as a tangent or a rabbit trail, but we are back now.
So, back to the message.  If it isn’t how we worship, or what we sing, or how we dress or how long our services are that makes us Christians what is it?   It is what we believe about Jesus; that he was the Son of God, that he was born of a virgin, that his death on the cross was atonement for our sins, that he was raised from the dead.  It is not only believing in the Grace and forgiveness of Christ it is accepting that Grace as a reality in our lives and committing our lives to him.  If we are going to be a Christ Follower than it means that we are going to follow Christ, that we are going to follow his teaching and we are going to follow his commandments. 
Two thoughts to close, supposedly it was Augustine who said “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”  That’s not bad advice considering that just hours before Jesus would die for us he prayed for us and part of his prayer was John 17:23 I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.  
And a part of experiencing that perfect unity in His church will be embracing the wonderful diversity of His church.

Please Pray Again

Who are Gordon C. Gladden and Ethel Thomas, and why does someone want me to pray for them?  Are they sick?  Do they need Jesus? What’s the story?  Last week we received a letter from the US, hand addressed to: Cornerstone Wesleyan Church, 1215 Hammonds Plains Rd. Halifax Regional Municipality Canada.  No postal code and no province.  Inside was a half sheet of lined paper and hand printed it said: Pray for Ethel Thomas and signed by Gordon C. Gladden.  So I did.  And then I did what any sane person would do, I Googled their names.   I was amazed to discover the number of times their names came up in the first 9 pages of Google results.
Churches across the United States have been receiving identical requests for prayer since 2004 and Gordon and Ethel have appeared on prayer list in Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, and Anglican churches as well as Temple Beth Shalom, which is a Conservative Jewish Congregation in New York City.
Is there anyone in your life who you would ask strangers all over North America to pray for?  Just think of the cost of stamps and envelopes. 
I don’t know what Gordon and Ethel’s needs are, but when they cross my mind I will whisper a prayer. Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?

Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?
Thus begins Dr. Seuss’s book “Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are”.  First published in  1973 Seuss’s tale takes our hero, only identified as “Duckie”, on a journey to show him how blessed he is, but it is done by showing how unfortunate other people are. 
Perhaps your parents did that to you when you didn’t want whatever it was they were serving for supper and they would remind you of the children in Africa or India who would be more than happy to have what you were being served.  And I discovered the appropriate response was not “well let’s put it in an envelope and mail it to them.” Or perhaps you remember the pithy little saying from yesteryear, “I was sad because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.”  And I discovered the appropriate response there was not “So I took his shoes, he didn’t need them.”
In 2010 I was teaching in Ghana in West Africa, People have asked when I’m going back and that would be next January and I will be talking more about that in the days ahead.  But back to the story, I was in Ghana when the news of the Earthquake in Haiti reached us and I was intrigued by the response, Joe Ocran the National Superintendent of Ghana told me “In Africa we watch Haiti because it reminds us how lucky we are to live in Africa”
Let’s finish up the story.  (Read last page of book)
And maybe that is normal to put our lives in perspective by looking at the lives of others.   Perhaps we have become so used to what we have that we lose perspective on how lucky we are to have it.  Which is why Thomas Fuller commented “Eaten bread is soon forgotten.”
It doesn’t take long for us to become accustomed to what we have, and so our first house which seemed so massive and beautiful when we first moved in soon became simply ordinary and it isn’t long before that new vehicle which impressed us so much when we drove it off the lot becomes simple transportation. 
In the scripture that was read earlier Paul gives direction to the early Christ Followers on how they were to live their lives and he finishes with this bit of advice Ephesians 5:20 Give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We probably don’t often think about how little these people had compared to what we have today.  2000  years ago life was rough, Ephesus was located in what is now Turkey and it was occupied by the Romans, who reigned as conquerors.  In many ways it was exponentially worse off than what we would refer to as a third world country today.
Remember there would have been no running water, no sanitation, no garbage collection, no electricity, no modern school system, no human rights and no hospitals.  There was hunger, there was persecution for being followers of Christ, there was disease and there were high infant mortality rates.  And Paul tells these folks Ephesians 5:20 And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  And when those early believers stopped and thought about it they were probably better off than many people were in that day and age.  And because they didn’t know what we would have today they didn’t know what they were missing then.  When I was growing up I didn’t miss the computers and video games of today and five hundred years from now when society looks back and wonders how we existed with the little we had in the way of technology they won’t understand how blessed we were.
“Have I ever told you how lucky you are?”  Because the reality is that we don’t often take the time to reflect on how blessed we are, sometimes it’s too easy to compare ourselves to those who have more than us than to look at those who have less.  Because we know in our heart of hearts that those who have less than us could have what we have if they only worked harder just as we know those who have more than us are just lucky.
In the stories of Jesus there are no more dramatic accounts then those who were healed of leprosy.
Lepers lived without friends, family or future.  They lived a life of tragedy without a home and without a hope.  Have you ever heard someone say “They treated me like a leper” or “they acted like I had leprosy?”  Back in the eighties when AIDS was just surfacing and  society and science still didn’t have a grip on how it was spread or who would contract it you would often hear those who had acquired AIDS make that statement, “I feel like a leper.”  And while I wouldn’t want to minimize the hurt that people feel when they ostracized by others it is doubtful that anyone in this time could ever fully comprehend what life as a leper was like 2000 years ago.
Leprosy was probably the most feared disease of the time, and that wasn’t just then either, we don’t think of leprosy as a modern disease but the world health organization estimates that there were 192,246 new cases diagnosed last year (2011)
We forget that the rest of the world doesn’t have the health care that we have.  And while we gripe about a half-hour wait for the doctor or a three-hour wait in outpatients there are many places in the world where the closest hospital is a day journey away, and drugs are almost impossible to acquire for the common person.  As a matter of fact it’s not a far stretch to say that this group of people would be considerably smaller if we lived in a third world country, because some of you would not have survived without the medical care that you have obtained in Canada.
And so people were terrified of leprosy, as you can well imagine, and so at any sign of a skin disease the person was examined by the Priest and put into quarantine, if the symptoms disappeared the person was considered cured however if became apparent that the disease was or could be leprosy the consequences were actually quite dire.
And if the physical effects of leprosy were horrible there was something even worse.  The leper had to bear the mental anguish and heart break of being totally cut off from the people he loved, being banished from society and shunned by everyone.
The book of Leviticus contained the law for the people of Israel and this is what it said Leviticus 13:45-46 “Those who suffer from a serious skin disease must tear their clothing and leave their hair uncombed. They must cover their mouth and call out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as the serious disease lasts, they will be ceremonially unclean. They must live in isolation in their place outside the camp.
 Nice huh?
The person with leprosy was not allowed to mingle with anyone who didn’t have the disease, they weren’t allowed to live in the village or the city they had to move into the wilderness living in caves and hovels, their only companions other victims.  The closest they could come to a person without the disease was six foot which would have made for a tough time keeping your marriage intimate, but that didn’t matter because once you were diagnosed with leprosy you were considered dead and your spouse could remarry and your estate was divided up amongst your heirs.
There has never been a disease that has so separated people from the rest of humanity as leprosy, not even AIDS.
And numerous times in the gospels we read accounts of Jesus violating a half a dozen Old Testament laws as he touched and healed lepers who had come to him seeking healing. 
They were asking for the one thing that they desired more than life itself, to be healed.  That their disfigured faces would once again be looked upon with love instead of revulsion, that twisted limbs would become straight and that life, life would return to normal.
And in each of these cases we are told that when Jesus touched them that instantly the leprosy disappeared.     
I wonder what it felt like as the nodules disappeared and their skin was made smooth again, as twisted limbs became straight and strong.  I wonder how many of them had lost appendages to the disease and what it felt like as fingers and toes grew back.
And there are a pile of life lessons that we can learn from those who were healed from this horrible disease, we see how they realized that their only hope was Christ, we can see how they approached Jesus humbly, without demanding that their requests be met.  And we should marvel at their faith, how without question they believed what Christ offered them. 

But what I marvel more than anything is that in all of the accounts there is only one record of a leper saying “thank you.” 
Think about it, their lives were radically changed, their lives were literally given back to them but the only time we hear a thank you is in Luke 17:15-16 One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan.
Perhaps Jesus should have asked “Did I ever tell you how lucky you are?”    So I wonder why those who were given so much didn’t even take the time to say a simple thank you?  Because maybe, just maybe it might provide insight into our response to God for the many, many blessings in our lives. 
Perhaps They Were Overwhelmed with What happened.  Sometimes what happens is so incredible that we can’t find the words to acknowledge what has happened.  And maybe that’s what happened, it wasn’t that they were ungrateful it was just that so much more was happening in their lives that they simply didn’t get around to saying thank you.  Kind of like those “thank you” notes that you’ve always intended to write.
For whatever reason it is sometimes harder to show gratitude for the big things then for the little things.  It’s easier to thank someone for saving our place in line then for saving our life.   Benjamin Franklin said “Most people return small favours, acknowledge medium ones and repay greater ones — with ingratitude.”
And so in the haste to get their lives back, they forgot the one who had given them their lives back.  Very few of us will be physically in that situation, although there are some who owe a doctor or paramedic their very lives.  But what about the spiritual gift of salvation? Are we so overwhelmed with the gift of eternal life that we haven’t taken the time to thank the giver? 
Or maybe They Were Underwhelmed.  Oh sure they had been given their health back, they had been healed from this horrible disease, but it wasn’t enough.  You’re probably wondering what more could they want?  They had probably thought about this day for a long time, and imagined what it would be like.  But sometimes our imaginations are greater than reality.  Have you ever talked to someone whose life has changed radically, a windfall of money, or a healing or a better job and yet they still aren’t happy.  They still haven’t found what they are looking for.
Perhaps they thought that life would be like it had been before the disease only to discover that their spouses had remarried, their property had been divided between their children, and their job was now filled by another person. 
Perhaps they realized that they had lost the freedom they had as lepers.  Confusing, maybe, but as a leper they had no social responsibilities, no moral responsibilities, they didn’t have to provide for others they didn’t have to worry about disciplining the kids or doing a good job at work.  All they had to do was stay alive.  Mark Twain made this statement: “If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you; that is the principal difference between a dog and a man.”
Some people become Christians and then are disappointed because they don’t become more popular, they don’t get a better job, or make new friends, or they aren’t healed.  They are disappointed because they are still human and life still goes on. 
Epicurus said “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; but remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”
Or perhaps They Took It For Granted. You know what I’m getting at here.  They thought “Well of course he healed me that’s what he’s supposed to do.” 
Kind of the difference between a dog and a cat.  You feed a dog and they think you are the most wonderful person in the world, you feed a cat and they wonder what took you so long.  Somebody said that when you take care of your dog the dog thinks you must be a god, when you take care of your cat the cat thinks it must be a god.
We don’t thank the Doctors who make us better physically because that’s what doctors are supposed to do.  We don’t thank the teachers who make us better intellectually because that’s what teachers are supposed to do, and we don’t thank the pastors who help us grow spiritually because,. . . well let’s not go there it’s too self-serving.
Too often people view God as some genie in the air who is there only to take care of our wish list and we never acknowledge the debt because we don’t really acknowledge the gift.  Most prayer lists have a lot more items on the “I want” side than on the “Thank you side.”  When our prayers are answered how often is it written off as a coincidence?  Or do we think “Well of course God answered my prayers, he’s God, that’s what God is supposed to do, answer my prayers.”  Don’t take God for granted, he doesn’t have to answer your prayers, after all he’s God.
The truth is we don’t know why the we don’t read about others taking the time to thank Jesus for being healed, but we do know that one did.  I would suspect it’s the same proportions today, most of the time we don’t take the time out of our lives to express our thanks to God. 
How would our lives change if we embraced an “Attitude of Gratitude”?  If we took the time to pause and give thanks to God and to others?  Maybe we need to take heed of the words we started with in Ephesians 5:20 And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  
It was William Bennett who said “Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that thankfulness is indeed a virtue.”  Who comes to mind right now that you should be saying thank-you to?  How about your parents, you know there was a period in your life that if they hadn’t been there you would have died.  And there was probably a time in your life that if they hadn’t exhibited some self-control they would have killed you.  But you’re still here and there’s probably a lot of things in your life that you need to thank your parents for.
How about a particular teacher?  Years ago I phoned a man by the name of Joe Thomson in Saint John to thank him for the impact that he had on my life.  Joe was my grade twelve English teacher, but more than that he was my debating coach and a good portion of who I am as a public speaker was formed by influence that Joe had on my life.  And it took me twenty years to get around to thanking him.
How about God, what has God done in your life that you need to stop and say thank you for?  Look around at the country we live in, the life style you have, your health, your family, your salvation.  You have experienced God’s salvation haven’t you?
You see all Jesus gave the leper was life, he gives us an even more incredible gift he gives us eternal life. 
“Have I ever told you how lucky you are?” 

Please Play Again

Well, it’s that time of year again.  The time of year that Canadians from coast to coast look forward to with wonder and longing.  No not spring, that’s right it’s time for, a drum roll please, r-r-r-roll up the r-r-rim.
All over our fair country, Canadians are finishing their coffee and with baited breath rolling up the rim of their cups, to see if they are the newest winner of a car, a camera or a donut.  And I’ve been doing all right this year because I have won not one but four. . . coffees. 
But it took a while, after my fourth or fifth “Please Play Again” of the season, I was thinking, “I don’t have any luck at all.” 
Suddenly I realized that I had just spent more money on a cup of coffee than most of the world would spend on food for the day. I live in a beautiful home, have a wonderful family, pastor a great church and I was cursing my luck.
But isn’t that really human nature?  So maybe now, before I roll up a rim, I will try to remember how lucky I am, whether I win a coffee, a car or a “Play Again.”   Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Horton Hatches the Egg

(Read from beginning  to page with animal friends running away)

Yep this is the same Horton who Heard a Who, and this is where we first hear his philosophy “I meant what I said and I said what I meant, an elephant is faithful one hundred percent.”
Is the book familiar to anyone?  This was one of Seuss’s first books, it was published for the first time in 1940, fourteen years before the sequel, and it was one of the books that my parents read to me when I was little.  In the part that I read this morning you were introduced to the two main character’s Horton the Elephant and Mayzie the bird.  Now if we were to continue to read the story we would discover how Horton was captured by hunters and that he and the tree, and the nest and the egg were sold to a circus, where people paid to see an elephant sitting in a tree.  And it is when the circus stops in Palm Beach that Mayzie re-enters the story. She seems mildly amused that Horton is still sitting on the silly egg until the egg begins to hatch and then we pick up the story again.  (Read from “But at that very instant, the egg burst apart” to End of the book)
And there are really two lessons that we discover in the book.  From Mayzie we learn the cost of quitting while from Horton we discover the reward of persistence.  But really, most of us know that already.  We have lived our lives long enough to have discovered the reality that we won’t accomplish a lot in this life if we quit too soon.  We know that, but many of us still quit when we should keep working at whatever it is we are working at.  We quit our efforts to improve ourselves, we quit relationships, we quit our jobs.  And the reasons sometimes seem valid, we are tired, we aren’t seeing the benefits soon enough, we see a better opportunity, we are criticized or we just don’t want to do it anymore. 
The problem is that in many cases when you quit it doesn’t just mean you don’t continue to go forward often times you go backwards.  So, if you’ve been losing weight and you quit your weight loss program too often you don’t just stay at that point you actually gain back the weight you’ve already lost.  When you stop exercising you don’t plateau you fall back, when you quit learning your mind begins to atrophy, when you quit a relationship you have to start all over building trust, when you quit a job you lose your seniority. 
And I realize that sometimes there are good reasons for quitting but often times the reason are rooted in the here and now and aren’t focused on the long term. And that is why Paul warns the early believers about the dangers of quitting.  Let’s go back to the scripture that was read earlier, we are told in Galatians 6:9 So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.
In Galatians 6:8 Paul talks about those who live to please the Spirit, that’s us, Christians.  And he tells us that we will be rewarded for the good we have done, but then he adds, if,if,if,if,if,if,if,if,if we do not give up. 
One of the methods we use to prove a mathematical equation is by induction, which is by trying the converse of the equation.  That is to say that    a+b=c but only when c-b=a.  Now if you are like me you say “But letters aren’t math, numbers are math, letters are spelling.”   So let’s regress and say that 2+3=6 but only if 6-3=2. Which it  doesn’t.
Now I have said all of that to say this, we will be rewarded if we do not give up, so if we give up we will not be rewarded.  In other words don’t quit. Falling down is not fatal, staying down is. 
Don’t let your defeats defeat you; realize that no problem will last forever.  Every mountain has a top, every hill has a summit, every tunnel has an end and every night has a dawn. 
I’m sure that every one of us could think of some reasons why we should chuck everything and give up whatever it is that we are doing.  Don’t tell me why you can’t go on, don’t tell me why you have to quit.  People have told me why they were quitting as a spouse, why they were quitting as a parent, why they were quitting their job or why they were quitting school.  And they had pretty good reasons and do you know what?  I don’t want to hear, because I know that you’ll have a good reason, but good reasons aren’t what God is looking for. 
You say but pastor you just don’t know what I’m going through.   I’ve got problems.  Yes, I do know and this may sound callous but we all got problems. Very seldom do I get a telephone call where someone calls to tell me “Pastor I just called to tell you I’ve got a perfect marriage.”, or “Pastor I am just thrilled to death with my teenager, he fills my heart with joy every minute of every day.” or “Pastor Guptill. God is blessing and I have more money than I have bills.”  I don’t get phone calls like that. 
Our Christian life is not a rose garden, children can get sick, we can be fired and spouses can be unfaithful.  But God has a very special message for you, and this is it, “don’t give up, don’t quit.”   If the devil doesn’t bother you it’s probably because he doesn’t think you are worth the bother. 
The Christian life is not made up exclusively of mountain top experiences, because if you are progressing then you will find that between the mountains are often valleys.  In this congregation there are broken dreams, and destroyed promises and heartaches.  And God has a very special message for you, “Don’t give up, don’t lose heart.”  We will be rewarded if we don’t let our problems defeat us.  
All too often instead of talking about our victories we talk about our failures.  We talk about our short comings, you know, “My biggest problem is that I’m indecisive or at least I  think I am.” 
But the truth is that the thing which will determine the success or failure of our Christian life is not the defeats, and it’s not the shortcomings.  The criteria that God will use to judge us will not be the valleys we go through, but how we react while we are in those valleys.  Do we quit or do we keep on keeping on. 
Don’t lose heart and don’t quit.  Well the question then is this, why do people quit?  I mean face it we live in a society of quitters.  In a society where if things aren’t just up to snuff it’s easier to bail out then to correct the problem.  That’s why we have a divorce rate in Canada of over forty percent.  It’s easier to quit then to solve the problems in the marriage.  We just quit and try again.  But that seems to make it easier to quit again because the divorce rate for second marriages is almost seventy-five percent.  What does that tell us? 
So when work gets to hard we quit, when the church has problems we quit, when we find school too tough or too boring we quit. The problem is that every time we quit, it’s easier to quit next time and we go through life quitting everything, and we never stretch and we never grow and we never become everything we could and should be. 
But why do we quit? Because if can answer that question, if we can identify why we are tempted to quit then maybe we won’t have to.
1) Some People Quit Because of Criticism  Let me share with you some incredible wisdom I have acquired over the years, anyone who ever does anything, anyone whoever says anything, anyone who ever stands for anything will be criticized.  And you can take that to the bank.
You can’t please everyone.  Not even God can please everyone.  As many of you know I love convertibles and so during the summer I pray “Lord let it be nice so I can put the roof down on my car.”   At the same time there are selfish gardeners and farmers who are praying, “Lord let it rain so my crops will grow.” 
The church is doing great things, we are growing, exciting things are happening, and some people love us for that and some people really aren’t that impressed at all.  I guess we’ll have to let God decide. 
You aren’t the first person to be criticized nor will you be the last.  How about when God asked Noah to build a boat, 450 foot long, 75 foot wide, and 45 foot high, in the middle of the desert?  I mean first he found out the zoning was all wrong and his back yard was zoned for light agriculture and not heavy industry.
And then during the 98 years it took him to build the thing think of the rumours and abuse he had to put up with.  “What are you building Noah, a house?”  “Nope, I’m building a boat.”  “A boat, but there’s no water Noah.”  “Oh but there will be” 
“Sure Noah, sure. Hey everyone have you heard about Noah, Lamech’s son.  He’s gone around the twist, he hasn’t got both oars in the water, the lights are on but nobodies home.” 
Listen up criticism will not spell failure, but your reaction to criticism might. Regardless of what people say, and how they say it, don’t give up, don’t quit, fail not, don’t lose heart.  Let God be the judge.  Abraham Lincoln once wrote, “If I tried to read, much less answer, all the criticisms made of me and all the attacks levelled against me.  This office would have to be closed for all other business.  I do the best I know how, the very best I can.  And I mean to keep on doing this, down to the very end.  If the end brings me out all wrong, ten angels swearing I had been right would make no difference. If the end brings me out all right, then what is said against me now will not amount to anything.”
Remember the moon wouldn’t shine if it paid attention to the dogs that barked at it.  There are two reasons why people are critical, listen up if you are criticized or if you are a criticizer.  The first reason is because it is easier to criticize it then to do it. There are two types of people in this world, those who do things and  those who sit back and demand to know why it wasn’t done their  way.
 The second reason is that critical people are usually little people, I don’t mean little physically I mean little emotionally, and little spiritually and they are trying to cut you down to their level  because it is a lot easier to bring you down then to pull themselves up. 
2) Some People Quit Is Because of Self-Doubt .  Some people quit because they lack the confidence to continue they might believe in what they are trying to do but they don’t believe in themselves. They talk themselves into failure.  “How in the world could somebody as worthless as me make a contribution, I’m nothing but a failure, I’m good for nothing and nobody loves me, and I might as well just go over and sit in the corner and nobody will ever miss me or care.”   
If you think you have lost you probably have.  If you have told yourself you can’t do it then you probably can’t. Remember what Leo Tolstoy wrote in War and Peace “We lost because we told ourselves we lost.”
I’ll tell you what, you tell yourself that long enough and you’ll believe it, believe it long enough and you’ll become it.  Friend you are not worthless, you are special, and you are a wonderful, magnificent marvellous creation.  There has never been anyone like you before and there’ll never be anyone life you again.  You are unique; you are a masterpiece of God.
Listen up on the first five days God pioneered success with the creation of this beautiful world.   But on the sixth day God personalized success by creating man in his own image, covering him in skin, stuffing 263 bones in wrapping them in 500 muscles and then starting that six inch by four inch miracle called your heart pumping. 
And it pumps, and it pumps, and as long as it pumps it needs to remind you of how special you are, and it pumps 70 times a minute, 4200 times and hour, 108,000 times a day, 36,792,000 times a year.  And by the time you have lived to be seventy then your heart will have beat some 2,575,440,00 times.   And you wonder why you feel tired. 
And every time it beats it pumps 2 1/2 ounces of blood through 96,000 kms of arteries, veins and capillaries. That is 175 ounces a minute, 656 pounds  an hour, 7.9 tons a day, 2873 tons a year, that is 201,130 tons in a seventy year life, or 402,260,000 pounds.  Trust me you are special, you are a child of the King. He put a lot of thought into you.  You are not a nothing and you have absolutely no right to belittle yourself.
We each need to take the words of David to heart when he prayed to God in Psalm 139:13-14 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
If you look at a piece of art and say “That is really garbage”,  are you criticizing the art or the artist?  Ultimately your criticism is of the artist, and when you criticize yourself it is blasphemy against God. Don’t quit. 
3)  Some People Quit Because Discouragement .  They have tripped and fallen so many times that they feel like it would be a whole lot easier to stay right where they are then to get back up.  Came out of the back door of our house in Truro one February morning, a light snow was falling and I didn’t notice the ice on the top step.  Man you want to see this much preacher sailing through the air.   And I remember distinctly thinking when I landed, “I wonder if I could just stay here until spring.”  I hurt so much that I didn’t know if it was worth the effort getting back up. 
Ever feel like that?  But listen up, the test of your character isn’t what it takes to keep you going, it’s what it takes to stop you, to make you quit, to say I’m through.  Babe Ruth, the man who was known as the home run king in professional baseball is the same man who struck out 1330 times. 
I was brought up with a poem that my mother kept on the door of the fridge. 
When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low, and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.
Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about,
when he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don’t give up though the pace seems slow,
You may succeed with another blow.
Success is failure turned inside out,
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far;
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit,
It’s when things seem worst, that
You Must Not Quit.
It was Richard Nixon who said “Defeat doesn’t finish a man—quit does. A man is not finished when he’s defeated. He’s finished when he quits.”
If God commands you not to quit, then he will provide the grace that you will need to keep going.  If you quit you will never know what you might have accomplished.  If you quit: it will be easier to quit again.  If you quit you will lose your dream.  If you quit you will damage your self-esteem.   But if you do quit then you need to understand that not only will you affect your life but you will affect the life of those around you.  You don’t live in a bubble and you might be the inspiration that someone needs to keep going, as long as you don’t quit.
Two thoughts to close the first comes from George Patton “Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.”
The second is much more important because it is God’s promise for you Galatians 6:9 So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.
Now let’s personalize it.  Galatians 6:9 I will not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time I will reap a harvest of blessing if I don’t give up.

Give Me the Moon and Stars and

Darn, I wish I had of thought of that.  Quebec resident Sylvio Langevin has filed a lawsuit claiming sole ownership of the Earth.  Not to mention all the other planets in our solar system, several of the moons and all of the space that separates them.  Langevin’s explanation was that he wanted to collect planets “like others collect hockey cards.”  That sounds valid, in some bizarre way.
And really,  who are we, collectors of stuff, to criticize Sylvio’s desire to own the solar system? It’s just a matter of degree.
You might wonder what he would do with the Solar System but the vast majority of the world would wonder what we could possible do with the stuff that we have.  I remember hearing a story years ago about a visitor from Africa asking his Canadian host,  Who lives in that house?” They were pointing at the garden shed.  When they explained it was for storing things he couldn’t get over that they would provide a “house” for their stuff. 
It’s not that I’m opposed to stuff, I own a lot of it myself. It’s just another warning for us to be careful about what we “need”.  And I’m kind of bummed that now I won’t get a chance to own the solar system.  Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

The Lorax

Read the Lorax to the end of “There is no one on earth who would buy that fool Thneed.”  How many of you have read the Lorax?  Anybody catch the movie yet?  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story of the Lorax, he continues to beg the Once-ler  to stop cutting down all of the Truffula Trees but his warnings are ignored due to the demand for his product, everyone wanted a Thneed.  The Once-ler continues to build more factories, kind of like the rich man in the story who kept building more barns, and cut down more trees bringing in aunts and uncles and cousins to do all the work.  Until eventually the story comes to its logical but sad conclusion when we pick up the story Read book from “And then I got Mad”  to “I worried about it with all of my heart”
Kind of a dark story isn’t it?  The Lorax was written by Dr. Seuss, or Theodor Geisel in 1971, the year I turned 11.  Geisel stated that he made a point to not begin writing his stories with a moral in mind, he said that “kids can see a moral coming a mile off” And added that “there’s an inherent moral in any story”
But even with that in mind many of the Dr. Seuss books expressed his views on any number of social and political issues.   Perhaps these wouldn’t have been as popular for children if the title had of reflected the underlying moral.  The Lorax would be entitled “The Importance of environmental awareness in industrialized society”  The Butter Battle Book would be “The tragic futility of the Nuclear Arms Race”  The Sneetches would be “Racists and other Stories”, The Grinch would be “The Psychological Implications of Holiday Motivated Materialism” while Green Eggs and Ham might be known as “How the Fear of the Unknown Hinders the Development of Informed opinions”
And so at first glance the Lorax is a story about the environment and there are any number of resources out there to use “The Lorax” in the school system to educate children on the environment. And yet I would suggest that what happened in the book was only a symptom of the disease that infected the Once-ler and his kin.
That the real issue in the book and at play in Canada today, the underlying cause of our destruction of the environment and might I be so bold as to add ultimately the underlying cause of the destruction of our souls is “Greed”, or as I like to call it “The cult of the next best thing.”
Seriously the Once-ler didn’t destroy the Truffula Trees and chase off the Brown Bar-ba-loots and The Humming Fish simply because he could, he destroyed them for a reason.  And that reason was greed.  He wanted to be able to make and sell more thneeds
In today’s world the reason we pollute and waste and don’t pick up after our selves isn’t simply because we want to it’s because we are greedy. 
Either we can make money by raping the planet of its resources or we don’t object to poor environmental practices because it would cost too much of our money to do it better or it would cost too much of our money to do it right. 
So as long as fossil fuels are the cheapest way to heat our homes and power our cars then that is what we will use.  Not because we are in favour of the emissions they poduce but simply because the alternatives cost too much.  If tomorrow I came out with a better fuel than gasoline, a fuel that gave off absolutely no emissions and could be burned in everyone’s automobile without any modifications people would be all over it.   But what if it cost twice as much as gasoline?
I was a fisherman before I was a pastor and my father was a fisherman and his father was a fisherman and his father was a fisherman, I’m not sure about his father. 
But I do know that the reason we have fishing quotas is because if it was up to the fisherman they would catch everything they could sell, until there was no more to sell.  As long as there was one fish left to catch and everyone was afraid that someone else might catch it instead of them that fish wouldn’t be safe. 
That’s human nature.  If we were honest most of us would have to say that we struggle with greed in some form or another.  We might call it ambition or determination or the desire to succeed, but really it is the desire to have more stuff.
As we look at what we have and what we want the question shouldn’t be who wants more stuff? Instead it should be “How Bad Do We Want More Stuff?” 
So this morning we are going to take a look at. . . .Greed.
Collins Dictionary defines Greed: Excessive Desire, especially for wealth or food.
American Psychologist Eric Fromm said “Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction.”
But not everyone agrees, Ivan F. Boesky said “Greed is all right, by the way … I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself.” And Donald Trump said “The point is that you can’t be too greedy.”
On the other hand listen to where Jesus puts Greed Mark 7:21-22 For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness.
And if we go back to our the scripture that was read earlier Jesus said Luke 12:15 Then Jesus said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.”
 So with all due respect to Donald and Ivan maybe Greed isn’t all right.  But it’s something that most of us have struggled with, that ever-consuming quest for more.  After all most of us would agree with Woody Allen when he said “Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.”
But don’t make the mistake of thinking that Greed is a sin reserved for the rich. 

We Can be Greedy for Stuff  The Bible speaks a lot about money, but contrary to popular opinion it’s not opposed to making it or keeping it.  After all Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, Job and many others in the Bible were very wealthy.  However the Bible gives several warning concerning how we acquire our wealth, what we do with it after we have it and what it does with us after it has us. 

I’ve mentioned before about getting ready to move to Australia in 1990.  We had sold most of our furniture, our car and the man had just come to pick up my Motorcycle and I was struggling with how little we had actually accumulated in 8 years of marriage and even more with the fact that I didn’t have any of it left.  And it was then I realized not how much stuff I owned but how much stuff owned me.
This quest for stuff is as old as time itself and history is filled with accounts of the depths to which people were willing to go to get stuff.  The Bible warns in 1 Timothy 6:10 For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.  
Sound familiar? It even works when we change it to read 1 Timothy 6:10 For the love of stuff is at the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving stuff, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. The bible is saying be careful as to what motivates you, that’s why Jesus said in Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

It was John Wesley who taught the early Methodists Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can. Not bad advice, even after 250 years.  By the way if you give to the church we have numbered envelopes available, makes it easier for you and also allows us to give you a receipt at the end of the year for tax purposes. This is a great country, if you were to give a 100 dollars a week to the church come the end of the year when you file your income tax the government will give you back about twenty five hundred dollars of the taxes you paid. Just mark on your communication card that you want a set and drop it in the offering box. Or even easier sign up for Pre-Authorized Debit.

 

The second type of greed that we can fall prey to is self-centeredness We Can Be Greedy for Self.  We become like the little girl in grade one who went on a tour of a dairy with her class and after the tour when they had finished seeing everything the dairy had to offer the guide asked the class, “Now are there any questions?” and the little girl replied “Did anyone notice that I’m wearing a new jacket?”

One of Theodore Roosevelt’s children said this about their father “Father always had to be the centre of attention, when he went to a wedding he wanted to be the bride.  When he went to a funeral, he was sorry he couldn’t be the corpse.”
We get to the point that all that matters in our life is me and my family, it’s not just that we want the very best for ourselves we don’t care if we have to take it from someone else.  And then we justify it as looking out for our loved ones.  Sometimes it goes to extremes.  Remember ten or twelve years ago the mother in the States whose daughter was trying out for the cheerleading team in high school. In an effort to distract one of the other contestants so she wouldn’t do well in the finals she killed the other contestant’s mother.
And even though none of us would go that far, I hope, what goes through your mind when you are competing for a position, or one of your kids is trying out for a position on a sports team?  And it’s natural I know, that when you hear of a fatal accident on a highway that a loved one is travelling you pray “Please don’t let it be my husband or wife or child” That’s not wrong but in it not being your loved one it’s going to be someone else’s spouse or child and I hope when you say “Thank you God for it not being whoever” that you take the time to pray for the family that suffered the loss.
When Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome he said this Romans 12:10 Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.  Other translations say giving preference to one another.  Without trying to make people feel guilty at all, well maybe a little bit, how close do you try to park to the front door on Sunday Mornings? Do you try and leave the best parking spots for others, in particular for our guests?  A number of years ago I came up with Guptill’s theory of spiritual relativity and it says “The depth of your personal commitment to Christ is directly proportional to the distance you park from the front door of the church.”  And you don’t want to even get me started on how I feel about the best parking spot in the church parking lot having a sign reserving it for the pastor.  You don’t want to go there.
It might be worth asking visitors to churches how they feel when they arrive and the best seats are taken by the regulars.  And do know what, it’s my fault; it’s my fault for not educating you.  If we are serious about reaching our community then we need to say to our guests: “we value you, we value you enough to give you the best parking spots, which are the ones closest to the doors and we value you enough to give you the best seats, which are the ones in the back and the ones on the isles.” “We value you enough to give you our time before and after the service, even though we have friends to talk to.”  And if we don’t value our guests then we might as well shut the doors.
When we were beginning to talk about building in Truro I had one of our regulars ask me why we were building that he never had a problem finding a parking spot or a seat.  And that was all he was concerned about.
James the brother of Christ gave the early Christians a warning in the letter he wrote to the early church, this is what he said.  James 3:16 For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and every kind of evil. 

 

We Can Be Greedy for The Spiritual This is kind of an interesting twist on greed.  Maybe you are wondering exactly how you can be spiritually greedy?  How you could want too much spiritual stuff?  I mean isn’t it good to be spiritual?  As Christians shouldn’t we want more and more of the spiritual?

Let me digress a bit with a quote about money, now I know that we’ve already talked about money, that I’ve made my point about money and we really don’t have to revisit the first point at all. However bear with me.  J. Paul Getty was one of the richest men of his time.  He was a multi-millionaire when a million dollars actually meant something and he had this to say about wealth: “Money is like manure. You have to spread it around or it smells.”
I have met people who are as tight with their spiritual knowledge as Scrooge McDuck was with his money.  They go to every conference offered, listen to ministry CD’s and Podcasts galore, watch nothing but Christian programming on television, have read all of the latest Christian best sellers, have 47 different translations of the bible and have no interest in spreading that spiritual knowledge around at all.  And money’s not the only thing that begins to smell if it’s not spread around.
People who are spiritually greedy begin to view themselves as spiritually superior to others in the church, they’ve read more, heard more, consumed more.  But they haven’t shared more.  They never considered ministering to others with their knowledge, it’s like they are afraid that if they give it away they won’t have as much for themselves.
They are the great white sharks of Christianity, on a constant feeding frenzy, they aren’t discriminating about what they consume, as a matter of fact they take in so much from so many different sources that they don’t even know what they believe.  And like the great white shark they perform no useful function.
Every Christian, every believer has been called to minister.  I don’t mean we’ve all been called to preach but we’ve all been called to minister.
When your life is done and you stand before God and he asks, “What did you do to advance my kingdom” what are you going to say?  Well I listened to every sermon that Billy Graham every preached. And? And I read every book that Max Lucado and Beth Moore wrote. And? And I listened to every CD that Chris Tomlin produced, and I went to all these seminars, and used five separate daily devotional guides and, and, and … And then God will say “But what did you do to advance my Kingdom?”
You ever wonder why God leaves us here after we become Christians?  If our only reason for existence as a believer was to gain more spiritual knowledge and worship God wouldn’t we be able to do that better in heaven?  He left us here to make a difference, and that will only happen when we minister to other people.
So what is the secret?  The secret to not being greedy? Well the secret is keeping first things first.  Matthew 6:33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. 
Not making stuff your primary concern, not making self your primary concern, not even making spiritual things your primary concern, but making the Kingdom of God your primary concern. 
But how do we do that?  First of all find out what the Kingdom entails, and you can only do that by reading the book, this book.  The word of God.  By talking to God, and listening as he talks to you, that’s called prayer.  By learning about the Kingdom of God, that means coming to church and getting involved in a small group. And then taking what you learned about the Kingdom of God and apply it, do something with what you learned.  You say that sounds like it requires work.  Yeah but if it’s a priority then it gets done.  Right?  Jesus said Matthew 19:23-26 “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to get into the Kingdom of Heaven. I say it again—it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”
You say that’s impossible, well that’s the same response that his followers had The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked.  Here’s the secret  Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”
And when you know that you can’t do it by yourself then it’s time to ask for help.  In John 15:15 Jesus makes the most incredible statement, remember this is God, the creator of the universe, master of the cosmos speaking and he says John 15:15 I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. 
Did you catch that, “Now you are my friends.”  He isn’t just your God, He isn’t just your creator, He isn’t just your Saviour, He wants to be your friend.  And He’s the one you need to call. 
You have the opportunity to ask Almighty God for help, and here’s His promise to you, get a pen out and write it down it’s found in   Psalm 91:15 When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honour them. 
I can personalize that by adding my name.  And you can personalize it as well, this time you fill in the blank as we read it aloud.
So what is the challenge today?  Let’s go back to the Lorax and see where it ends.  Read last two pages of book.