Do Not Misuse Your Money

Everybody ready for tomorrow?  April 30th, last day to get your
taxes filed for 2011.  Or maybe you’ve
already filed.  Maybe it depends on
whether it you are getting money back or paying money out.
And taxes are a touchy subject for some folks, Politicians
are elected or rejected often based on what they promise to do with our taxes.  Oh, if we only had every tax cut that had been
promised to us by the parties who got elected into power. If I recall a little bit of my world history the United
States was born out of frustration with taxes that were being paid to the Crown. 
I understand here in Canada the Canadian Revenue Agency has
come up with a new motto:  It used to be:
More Ways to Serve You, but now it is: 
“We’ve got what it takes to take what you’ve got.”
And taxes have been a touchy subject as long as there have
been taxes being paid, and that has been for quite a long time.  How do you think the Egyptians built the
pyramids, or the Myans built their cities, or the Romans constructed the
aqueducts and coliseums?
And as long as there have been
folks collecting taxes there have been folks resenting having their taxes
collected.  Throughout the New Testament
the term “Tax Collector” is often used in statements like Matthew 9:10 Later, Matthew invited Jesus
and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors
and other disreputable sinners.  Or
Mark 2:16 But when the teachers of
religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other
sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?” Nice.  And when the religious leaders criticized Jesus one of the
charges was Matthew 11:19 . . .‘He’s a friend of tax collectors and other
sinners!’
So here we are in week last of our
Stewardship month.  You can all breathe a sigh of
relief.  Through the month of April we
have been looking at what Jesus said about Money.  So on April 1 we looked at “Don’t Serve
Money”, on the 15th it was “Be Careful Where You Store Your
Treasures” and last week was “Don’t Worry About Money”.   
Sometimes pastors
choose to not speak
about money in church, maybe
in hopes that somehow their
people will learn about it on
their own, perhaps by osmosis.  Or maybe it’s because they
feel that talking about money is
too personal or too obtrusive.
but Jesus talked a lot about money, he talked about the way people make it and
what they do with it after they have it. 
And because money is talked about in the scriptures, and because Jesus
seemed to attach a great deal of importance to it, to the point of linking it
to our eternities it is something that needs to be addressed. And we can’t just
ignore it because it bothers some people and offends other people.
Seriously, what would happen if every preacher prepared his
messages to not offend or bother anyone? 
You might as well open fortune cookies. 
But apparently Jesus wasn’t afraid to express his opinion on
a wide variety of topics that are deemed off limits today.  People’s behaviour, people’s attitudes and
people’s money.  Surprisingly though,
especially if you are in the habit of watching the political situation in the States, Jesus
never talked about politics.  He never told people how to
vote, never expressed a preference for a certain political party, never wore a
campaign button or
endorsed any particular candidate or political party.  Just sayin’.
And this is how this particular
story of Jesus happened.  Matthew 22:15 Then the Pharisees met
together to plot how to trap Jesus into saying something for which he could be
arrested. In the original language it says “they wanted to ensnare him
with his own words”.  And so the
Pharisees enlisted some unlikely allies, in the NLT we are told they were
“supporters of Herod”  the actual word
used was “Herodians”.
So on one side you have the Pharisees, the religious elite
of the Jews and on the other side you have the Herodians who through their
support of Herod, the puppet king of Palestine, are de-facto supporters of Rome.  What is that old saying about “strange
bed-fellows”? 
And so this unlikely and unholy union asks Jesus a question that
on the outside seems like simple curiosity.  Matthew 22:16-17 They sent some of their
disciples, along with the supporters of Herod, to meet with him. “Teacher,”
they said, “we know how honest you are. You teach the way of God truthfully.
You are impartial and don’t play favourites. Now tell us what you think about
this: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
Now we need to understand that
this was not just a general question about Jesus’ philosophy on taxation.  They were not talking about taxation in
general they were speaking of a very specific tax.  2000 years ago in conquered Palestine there
were several different layers of taxation, much as there is today in our country. 
Those in the know tell us that
there was a first of all a ground tax. Kind of like our property tax.  Then there was income tax, that’s self-explanatory.   And then there as what was called “the poll
tax” or the “Tribute”.  This tax had been
put in place when the Romans conquered Israel in in 63 B.C. and had to be paid
by every male from the age of fourteen to the age of sixty-five, and by every
female from the age of twelve to sixty-five. 
It was a tax paid simply for the privilege of being alive and living as
a subject of the Emperor. 
And people resented paying
it.  There had already been one
rebellion, 25 years earlier, primarily over this particular tax. So you see
where this is going, right?  If Jesus
speaks out in favour of the tax, the ordinary people are going to be outraged;
it will solidify what the religious right has been saying about Jesus not being
the Messiah.  However if Jesus rejects
the tax the Herodians will take the report back to Herod, and eventually to the
Romans, that Jesus is talking treason and encouraging people to not pay their
taxes. Win, win for the enemies of Jesus, lose, lose for Jesus himself.  In Australia they would say it was a bit of a
sticky wicket, here we would say that Jesus was between a rock and a hard
place. 
Doesn’t seem to bother him
though he doesn’t even break stride, instead we read Matthew 22:18-19 But Jesus knew their evil
motives. “You hypocrites!” he said. “Why are you trying to trap me? Here, show
me the coin used for the tax.”  Some
people have commented that it shows that Jesus wasn’t concerned about money
because he didn’t even have a coin on him. But the coin he was talking about wasn’t simply pocket change,
it was a denarius.  And it was a silver
coin that was the equivalent of a full day’s salary.  But I think it goes deeper than that.  The problem with the coin was the inscription
on it. On one side would be a picture of the present ruler and the inscription
“Tiberius Caesar, son of Divine Augustus.” 
This picture and the claim of quasi-divinity made the coin a portable
idol, is it any wonder that Jesus wasn’t carrying one with him.
So they waited with baited
breath, waiting to find out who Jesus would offend, knowing that there was no
way that he could come out of this unscathed.  And the we read Matthew 22:20 When they handed him a Roman coin, he asked,
“Whose picture and title are stamped on it?” Simple question, perhaps
they thought he was simply stalling for time and so they answered.  Matthew 22:21 “Caesar’s”. And I’m sure they were thinking
. . . “and” “Well,
then,” he said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what
belongs to God.”
And then we
are told in Matthew
22:22
His reply
amazed them, and they went away. So what was Jesus saying and what is
the message for us today?
Some of Your Money is the Government’s 
Nobody really likes paying taxes, that something that most of us
have in common, we think we pay too much and deep down think others pay too
little.  We always assume the burden
falls to those of us in the middle.  The
very poor don’t pay tax and neither do the very rich.  Most of us were not surprised at the attitude
expressed by American business woman Leona Helmsley. 
Helmsley was worth over a billion dollars, when an employee
commented that she must pay a lot of taxes when she said “We don’t pay
taxes. Only the little people pay taxes…” She took it as her due that
she shouldn’t have to pay taxes.  Of
course she did go to jail for income tax evasion.  But the reality is that all of those who
enjoy what our country has to offer should pay taxes.  It was President Franklin D. Roosevelt who
said “Taxes,
are the dues that we pay for the privileges of membership in an organized
society.”
Jesus was acknowledging that
there was benefit to being a part of the Roman Empire.  The sword of Rome might have been wielded by an
oppressor but it had brought peace to the known world, something that hadn’t
been seen in hundreds of years. Road systems were developed for trade, water systems were built
and laws were being enforced.  It wasn’t perfect but it was
working.  It was the Roman Historian Publius
Cornelius Tacitus who wrote “The repose of nations cannot be secure without
arms. Armies cannot be maintained without pay, nor can the pay be produced
without taxes.”
We grumble and complain about
government waste and extravagance but as long as we want our public health
care, as long as we want our children educated, as long as we expect a degree
of safety, both from outside forces and from the criminal element there will be
taxes that have to be paid.  If we expect
safe water to come out
of our taps when we turn them on, and if we expect our streets to be plowed and
our garbage to be picked up we will have to pay taxes. 
And the more you travel the
more you appreciate our system. 
(Pictures from Africa)  Because
this is what health care looks like without the taxes we pay.  And this is what education looks like without
the taxes we pay.  And this is what main
roads look like without the taxes we pay. 
This what the drinking
water supply looks like without the taxes we pay.  And this is what dinner looks like,
actually that has nothing to do with taxes it’s just one of my favourite Africa
meal pictures. 
And so Jesus was telling us
that if we want all the benefits that our tax dollars bring then we will have
to pay taxes.   And I’m proud to pay
taxes in Canada, although truth be told I think I could be just as proud even
if I only paid half as much.
And maybe tax time can even be
a time to be thankful.  You understand
that you pay more in taxes than your Grandparents, or maybe even your parents
made.   When I was a teenager I remember my father telling me what he
paid for income tax
that year and he seemed excited about it. 
When I asked him why he said “Do you know how much I had to make in
order to pay that much in tax?”
And so today, as 2000 years ago
there are taxes that must be paid, and I also think that our Governments need
to pay heed to other words from 2000 years ago as well, it was Emperor Tiberius Caesar
who observed “It is the duty of a good shepherd to shear his sheep, not
to skin them.”
Some of Your Money is Yours  Then
there is the money that we get to keep. 
And this money comes with all kinds of choices.  Will we spend it or will we save it?  And what we will spend it on and what will we
save it for?   Last week we looked at
Christ’s words when he told his followers Luke 12:22 Then, turning to his disciples, Jesus said, “That
is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food
to eat or enough clothes to wear.”  And
while we are not to worry about such things we are still required to provide
them. 
And some of us make good
choices and some of us make bad choices. 
Last week there was a story in the news about a single mom who was
destitute and was about to lose her home but then she won the lottery.  That’s supposed to be a good news story, but
my first thought was “What was a single mom who was destitute and who was about
to lose her home doing buying lottery tickets?”  You understand that is
a message for a different time, but lotteries are really a tax on the mathematically
challenged.
If we spend more than we make
eventually it will catch up with us, if we spend our money to support our
addictions, eventually that will catch up with us. 
And I don’t think that
Christians are supposed to be destitute but I do believe that we are supposed
to be responsible with what we have.  A
good exercise for all of us is every once is a while just sit down and figure
out where you are spending your money. 
Are you using it wisely or not. 
And that really is subjective, what you might consider wise I  might consider foolish.  But if you are having trouble paying for food
and shelter or if you have problems giving the government their share or God
his share then you may be spending it in places that it shouldn’t be
spent.  And those are all part of the
choices we make.
Some of Your Money is God’s  From
the very beginning of the book
people have offered up something as an offering or as a sacrifice.  So in Genesis and continuing throughout the
Bible we see people returning part of what they have to God.  Notice I said “returning” because we need to understand
that all that we have comes from God, from our lives to our livelihoods.  And sometimes that was called offerings, and
sometimes it was called sacrifices and sometimes it was called a tithe.
And those gifts, those sacrifices, those offerings
were given for a couple of different reasons.  From the time the Israelites began gathering
together for corporate worship there were costs associated with that
worship. 
If you read through the Old
Testament first there was the Tabernacle, which was like a portable temple that
needed to be constructed and maintained. 
There were priests who led the people into worship who needed to be
paid, there were scrolls and ink for recording the scriptures that needed to be
purchased.  There were sacrifices and
offerings that were part of their worship which needed to be provided.  And God called on his people to provide for
those expenses.  There was a fiscal
responsibility to their worship. 
Could God have done it without
the giving of his people?  Sure he’s
God.  But he knew that anything in life
that doesn’t cost you something
isn’t worth anything. 
Today there is still that practical aspect of our
worship.  If you want to worship under a
tree by yourself there will probably be very little practical cost associated
with that.  However, if you want to come
together corporately to worship there are costs associated with that.  We’ve talked about this before.  Before we even look at salaries at
Cornerstone there is a building to be paid for and maintained.  There are mortgage payments that have to be
made every month, there is power that needs to be paid to light and heat the building,
there are cleaning supplies and insurance and snowplowing and lawn mowing. Last
week they were here to inspect and maintain the alarms and emergency lighting
and to inspect and clean the Heating and Ventilation system.    And that is before we do anything in the
building.  And then there are the
salaries and curriculum and licensing costs that allow us to provide the
ministries for you and your family.
Do we require that people at Cornerstone give?  Yep, sure do. 
Does that mean that if you don’t give you can’t worship here?  Nope. 
Does that mean that if we are going to send someone around to your door
looking for your offering envelope? 
Nope.   
But if you don’t give there will be no Cornerstone.  You understand that right?   If the people of Cornerstone didn’t make the sacrifices
necessary to pay the bills then
the staff would be laid off, the building would be sold and there would be no
Cornerstone.  Because there is no magical
pot that we go to for our funds.  Every dollar in our budget comes
from those who call Cornerstone their church home.
But more than just the
practical side of giving is the spiritual side of giving.  Because even if you were worshipping under a
tree by yourself there should still be a sense of giving back to God.  Early in the story that was called making
sacrifices and it involved bringing meat, grain, wine or oil and offering it to
God as a gift.  Did God need those
things?  No he is God.  But it goes back to anything that doesn’t
cost you anything isn’t really worth anything, including your worship.  Because it allows us to acknowledge that what
we have comes from God and to be thankful for that which we keep.       
And very early in the story it is laid down what God’s
people are to return to God, When the law was laid down over three thousand
years ago it was written Leviticus 27:30 “One tenth of
the produce of the land, whether grain from the fields or fruit from the trees,
belongs to the LORD and must be set apart to him as holy.”  And it was reiterated in Deuteronomy 14:22 “You must set aside a tithe of your
crops—one-tenth of all the crops you harvest each year.”      
And often when you bring up the
tithe people will tell you that the tithe is an Old Testament concept, and that
is a sermon in itself, but when Paul was writing about money to the church in
Corinth this is what he wrote. 1 Corinthians 16:2 On the first day of each
week, you should each put aside a portion of the money you have earned. The
believers in Corinth had a Jewish heritage so I wonder what they assumed when
Paul said that should put aside a portion of the money they had earned.
And then they will go on to
tell you that the Tithe was used for something very specific and that is true,
listen to the words of the prophet Malachi 3:10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there
will be enough food in my Temple. The tithe was provided so that the
temple and all that was involved in temple worship could be maintained.  And we don’t have a temple and priests and
scribes but we do have a church and we do have a pastoral staff. 
So what is the tithe?  Tithe simply means tenth and throughout the
word of God the concept is reiterated that all that we have comes from God but
he requires a tenth of it back.  For the
people of God this does not mean that we give God ten percent of what is ours,
it means that He allows us to keep ninety percent of what is His.  Now listen to the last part of that verse
from Malachi
3:10
Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough
food in my Temple. If you do,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open
the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t
have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!
And so God tells his people, “If you tithe, if you return
to me ten percent of what I have given to you then I will bless you”  You see when we give to God, we are just
taking our hands off what already belongs to Him.
And as a side note, we live in
a great country where if you give to God what is God’s than Caesar won’t want
nearly as much.  When you do up your
taxes this year and you use the receipt that is provided by Cornerstone for
your giving you will discover that Caesar will give you a break on your
taxes.  If you gave a hundred dollars a
week, which is the tithe on a fifty
thousand dollar salary,
 then you will save over $2,500.00
on your taxes.  And to quote F. J. Raymond “Next
to being shot at and missed, nothing is quite as satisfying as an income tax
refund.”

What we don’t talk about.

Don’t know if you have been following the newspaper accounts of the unfortunate death of Raymond Taavel this past week in Halifax or not.  The bare facts of the case are that Taavel tried to break up a fight outside a downtown bar and in the ensuing fight died.  The interesting thing about the story is that because Raymond was a well-known gay activist the case has taken on a life of its own.  Some of Taavel’s friends have branded the incident a hate crime and claim that there was a homophobic element to the incident.  Probably at some level, every act of physical violence is a hate crime, but there is no indication that the accused, Andre Denny, knew the victim was gay.
Others have blamed the criminal justice system.  It seems that Denny had been free on a one hour unescorted pass from the East Coast Forensic Hospital and hadn’t bothered going back. 
The truth is, that like most cases of violent crime in our city, the root cause was alcohol. Even the accused acknowledges that,  he claims the incident was just a “drunken fight”.   And yet no one wants to talk about the fact that if it hadn’t been for alcohol, Raymond Taavel would probably still be alive today.    Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Don’t Worry Just Trust

How many folks out there were born after 1958?  So what do you think of the change in the Old Age Security age?   If you missed the last budget the age for eligibility has changed for the Canadian Old Age Security from 65 to 67 and I would suspect that is only the beginning. And it really doesn’t affect how I was thinking about retirement because my plan has been to continue pastoring until I’m seventy.  All things being equal.  But for some people it is a concern, they have been anxiously awaiting the day they turned 65 and could begin drawing that enormous amount the government has been promising them.
 A little history lesson here, the first public pension plan in Canada was put into place in 1927 and it basically required the federal government to share the cost of provincially run, means-tested old age benefits. 
The plan as we know it was introduced in 1952 and allowed people to retire with some benefits when they turned 70.  In 1965 legislation was passed that reduced the eligibility age to 65, phased in over a five year period.   
We are planning on going to the SaltScapes Expo next week and if it is like the other years it will be full of different tourist destinations in the Maritimes, food exhibits, and retirement service people.  Interesting.
And at first you would be tempted to think that is simply related to the demographics of those who read SaltScapes, but it’s not just the SaltScapes Expo.  If you go to the boat show they are there too.  Not the tourist and food exhibits but the retirement people.  And if you go to the home show or you go to the RV show there they are.  Walk down the mall and there they and everyone talks about their RRSP’s and when they plan to retire, the freedom 55 or 60.  Angela and I are on the freedom 85 plan.  Figure if we can retire at 85 and die at 90 we should be all right.
I was recently reading that it was in the 1950’s that western society achieved a standard of living that had never before been seen in history.  We had come to a place where the average person was no longer living day to day or a hand to mouth existence.  All of a sudden the average family had discretionary income, the opportunity to buy what to that point had been considered luxury items and to save for retirement.
Today we have stepped even beyond simply saving for retirement to the point that we are not content with being able to retire to a life of ease we want to be able to enjoy all the facets of life that escaped us during our years of employment.   
And it is a concern for folks that they may not be able to have that lifestyle when they eventually retire.  And certainly I have seen examples in the past of people who sacrificed things in order to have lots in place for tomorrow only to have tomorrow arrive without them.
We want to go from being Yuppies to being WOOFs (Well Off Older Folks).  And so there is a whole new industry that has sprung up so that we can invest now for that day down the road when we no longer have to work, whether that day comes when we are 55, 65 or 85.
If you live in Canada when you retire you may have to worry about whether you can have full cable or basic cable, you might worry about whether you will be able to travel, you may have to worry about whether you live in a nice neighborhood or a sketchy neighbourhood, you might even have to worry about whether you buy Kraft dinner or the no name mac and cheese but you will not starve to death or have to go naked.
I have delivered groceries to people who told me that their children had nothing to eat and when I got there they were watching cable and the apartment smelled of cigarette smoke, indicating that there were apparently choices that had already been made that precluded buying food, but that’s not the same as not having food to eat.
If tomorrow Angela and I were unable to work, we would eventually have to sell our home and sell our cars, we might lose everything we own.  We might lose our lifestyle but in Canada in 2012 we would not lose our lives. 
For the vast majority of those of us who live in Canada today the concept of worrying about what we will eat or what we will wear is radically different then it was when these words were spoken.  Today we worry about what our choices will be, will I have chicken or will I have beef? Will I wear the red top or will I wear the blue top?  Which pair of shoes will I wear today?  Will it be Tims or McDonalds for lunch. 
Today those are frivolous choices; 2000 years ago they were life themselves. When Jesus said Luke 12:22 Then, turning to his disciples, Jesus said, “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food to eat or enough clothes to wear.”  He was talking to people who sometimes did not have enough food to eat and who only had a very basic wardrobe.
Let’s put this passage into context.  The crowds coming to hear Jesus preach have grown from tens of people to hundreds of people and now we are told in Luke 12 thousands of people have gathered to hear the words of Jesus.  And it is as he is teaching a group of thousands we are told in  Luke 12:13 Then someone called from the crowd, “Teacher, please tell my brother to divide our father’s estate with me.” And Jesus makes a turn in his teaching and starts to talk about greed and makes the statement Luke 12:15 Then he said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.”   And then he tells them a story.  It is sometimes referred to as “The Parable of the Rich Fool”  you may remember I referenced some of it last week.  This man had so much that he didn’t know what to do with it, he has to tear down his barns to build even bigger barns to hold all that he had. 
Jesus was drawing a picture of a man who we rich beyond the average person’s imagination?  If you showed our homes and cars and lifestyle to the majority of the world we would be that man.  Our RRSP’s and mutual funds are simply bigger barns.
Remember that this story was told in a society where people lived from day to day.  That was the nature of the beast, it was a subsistence economy, you grew it, caught it or picked it and that was what you had.  Or you made it and sold it to buy something that you needed for today, and that is how many people still live around the world. 
And so I’m sure that many of them were feeling a little smug when they heard Jesus say: Luke 12:21 “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” 
“Not a problem Jesus, we have that covered you don’t have to worry about that.  We promise we will not store up earthly wealth.”    Seriously, they had no barns that were bursting at the seams; their daily concerns had more to do with how to find food and clothing then what to do with all the extras.  His apostles had given up everything to follow him, they had left behind their professions and their possessions, and then we read in Luke 12:22 Then, turning to his disciples, (it was almost as if he knew what they were thinking) Jesus said, “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food to eat or enough clothes to wear.”  He was telling them, you can be caught up in a little amount of stuff as well as lots of stuff.
This was not a once off statement, did you catch what he said “That is why I tell you. . .” this was an ongoing discussion.  Perhaps at the end of the day as Christ and the twelve sat around the fire the discussion would turn to what was on the menu for the next day, where they were going to come up with enough food for the twelve of them.  It had to be a concern, especially for whoever was in charge of making dinner. 
Can you imagine the food they must have gone through when they were travelling around the countryside?  Everyday twelve men would eat breakfast and then they would eat lunch and pretty soon it was supper time and they would have to eat again.   My father used to tell the story about an incident that happened with his father during the depression, my Grandfather was working down on one of the wharfs on Grand Manan and one of the other men said “It looks like it’s lunch time”  to which my Grand Father replied “It might be lunch time at your house but at our house it’s just twelve o’clock.”   So maybe the apostles didn’t have lunch time they just had noon time.  But even if they skipped lunch it was still 24 meals a day, that had to come from somewhere.  And then there was the clothing issue, “Peter is really rough on his robe, and it’s starting to wear in the back, and if he doesn’t do something soon we are going to be seeing more of Peter than we want to.  And all this walking is wearing out our sandals, does anyone know where we can buy a dozen pair of sandals?  Cheap?”
This entire section is directed at the committed, to people who had already given up a lot to follow Christ and now he is challenging them to take one more step of faith.  Understand they were a lot further down the path then most of us are.  They had already given up more than any one of us has given up.  Now he was telling them to not even worry about the basics about staying alive. 
First Jesus Told them: Do Not Worry!  The word “Worry” is mentioned 34 times in the Bible and in 26 of those instances it is prefaced by the words “Do Not” and another five times we are asked the question “Why worry?”  And I would say that the command to “Not Worry” is a whole lot easier said than done.  How often have you been told “Oh don’t worry about that.”  Or how often has someone asked you “Why are you worrying about that?” 
Those of us who don’t worry much can’t understand those who do worry.  “What good does it do?” we ask.  And those who do worry can’t understand those of us who don’t worry.  “Don’t you care?” they ask.  So I’m not sure that the command “not to worry” is real helpful in itself.  But maybe this will help. (Bob Newhart Video Stop It)
So roughly translated Jesus was saying “Stop it”.  And  I’m not sure that the simple command to not worry by itself is overly helpful, so Jesus goes on to add to the command.
And so Then He Asks Them: Why Worry?  We all know that worry doesn’t accomplish anything, it is different from trying to find a solution.  With worry we don’t say “How can we solve this?” It jumps right to worst case scenario.
Realistically we need to be able to be able to look at what life might have in store for us, but we can’t stop at that point and not move on.  Every decision we make in life might have negative consequences, Jesus himself challenges people to count the cost before they move on, but to move on. 
Trust me when we were in the planning stages of this building there were nights that I woke up in the middle of the night and wondered how were we going to make that $9,000.00 a month mortgage payment, that was more over $2,000.00  than our monthly income, and what would happen if nobody came.  And then I would think: it’s a going to be a great building in a great location, and if worse comes to worse than we will sell it and move on and then I would go back to sleep.  Amelia Earhart said “Of course I realized there was a measure of danger. Obviously I faced the possibility of not returning when I first considered going. Once faced and settled there really wasn’t any good reason to refer to it again.” 
Earhart realized that either she would make it home safe and sound or she wouldn’t and she determined that it wouldn’t be a point of worry.  I’m sure she did everything in her power to increase the odds in her favour, but she knew that worrying wouldn’t change the outcome.
At some point we need to realize that whatever it is in our lives that we are worried about, it will either happen or it won’t, and all of our worry won’t make one iota of a difference. 
 And so Jesus asks his disciples Luke 12:25 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?   60 seconds that’s all, will worry add even 60 seconds to your life?  Of course not.  If anything worry will subtract time from our lives.  In the physical sense health professionals warn us about worry and what it does to our blood pressure, and how it creates ulcers and gives us head-aches and stress. But more than that it robs us of time we could be spending doing other things, productive things.
Of course Jesus wasn’t expecting an answer, it was simply a rhetorical question so he warns them.  Luke 12:26 And if worry can’t accomplish a little thing like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things?
In the parable of the sower Jesus talks about good seed that was sown and took root and began to grow but was soon overtaken by the thorns.  And then he told them the meaning of the parable Luke 8:14 The seeds that fell among the thorns represent those who hear the message, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity.
In his book “Crazy Love” pastor Francis Chan challenges us with this question “Do you see evidence of God’s kingdom in your life Or are you choking it out slowly by spending too much time, energy, money and thought on the things of this world?”
What is it that steals your attention away from God?
It was French playwright Jean Anouilh who said “We poison our lives with fear of burglary and shipwreck, and the house is never burgled, and the ship never goes down.”  And Winston Churchill who said “When I look back on all the worries I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which never happened.”
Here is a reality check: your wishing won’t make it happen and your worry won’t keep it from happening. 
So what is the opposite of worry?  Trust.  Finally He Challenges Them: Learn to Trust! 
We worry about things when we don’t trust them.  Whatever that level of mistrust is or why we don’t trust.  Worry is a lack of trust.  People worry about flying because they don’t trust airplanes, people worry about being on the water when they don’t trust boats, people will often worry about what their kids are up to because they don’t trust their kids.
And sometimes that is warranted, at some time perhaps we were let down or we know someone who was let or we read about someone who was let down.  But sometimes it is simply us worrying.  What was it the psychologist asked in the video “Have you ever been buried alive in a box? Do you know anyone who has been buried alive in a box?’’
Jesus tells the disciples: “Look around, do the birds worry?  Yet God feeds them.”  Little side note here, the birds don’t worry but the birds do work, God doesn’t just drop the worms in their nest.  “Look at the wild flowers”  Jesus suggests “Even Solomon, the richest king in our history didn’t dress like them” 
If you can imagine the worst case scenario why not flip it and imagine the best thing that could happen.  Be like the guy who fell off the ten story building and when he went by the third floor someone heard him say “So far, so good.”
Jesus was asking the disciples “Has it worked out so far?  Have we starved to death or had to run around naked?”   I mentioned earlier that the word worry was used 34 times in the Old and New Testament, the word trust is used in 134 times. 
The question is this:  Can you trust God?  Can you trust him to provide for you and to allow you to provide for his church?  
Two things to finish with  this morning, it was Mitzi Chandler who said “Worry is as useless as a handle on a snowball.”  I have no idea what that means but it sounds great. 
And the most important thing this morning is the last words of our scripture passage and they are the words of Jesus in Luke 12:32 “So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.
Can you believe that today, are you able to trust the one who holds the universe in the palm of his hand?

One More Roll

I was having a coffee at Tim Horton’s ( I know that’s hard to believe), when I heard a staff member comment on how pleased she was that the “Roll up the Rim” contest was finished for yet another year. Curious, I asked why that was?  She told me it was because some customers would get so upset when they didn’t win. Interesting.  They got upset because they were leaving not having what they didn’t have when they arrived.  They had paid for a coffee and received a coffee but were cranky because they didn’t get more than the coffee they paid for. 
Roll up the rim is a life lesson. For all the scraping and conniving, all the work and toil that we expend during our brief time on spaceship earth, we will all leave not having what we didn’t have when we arrived. Or as Job said, “naked I came into this world and naked I will depart.”   We all know that we can’t take it with us, so why are we so willing to sacrifice the forever for the temporary?
The prize under the rim of life is an eternity with Christ and every cup is a winner if we are only willing to roll it up and claim the prize. Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Be Careful with Your Treasures

For those of you who have been living under a rock or in a cave for the past month or so today is the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.  And because of our Halifax connection most of us are familiar with the story of the Titanic and feel a certain link with the tragedy.  And while it is probably the most well-known ship wreck  today it is by no means the largest.  1,523 people lost their lives when the Titanic hit the iceberg and sank 100 years ago and while that is a incredible tragedy it pales in comparison to the 9,500 who lost their lives on the Wilhelm Gustloff when it was sunk by the soviets in January of 1945 or even the loss of 4375 lives when the MV Doña Paz collided with an oil tanker in the Philippines and sank in December of 1987. 
Others contend that the Titanic was the greatest sea tragedy up to the point in history but on February 06 1822 the ocean going junk Tek Sing hit a reef off of Indonesia and went down with all 200 crew members and 1600 passengers. The SS Sultana was a Mississippi River steamboat paddle wheeler that exploded on April 27, 1865 with a loss of over 1600 lives.
Perhaps it is simply the story of the tragedy, the hype that had gone into promoting the ship as the greatest ship to ever sail the ocean and the fact that it happened on her maiden voyage that makes it so memorable. 
 A little Titanic trivia for those who are into that type of thing.  The ship took three years to build and cost 7,500,000.00 which in today’s dollars would be $400,000,000.00  She was at the time the largest ship ever built, The Titanic was 882 feet and 8 inches long (268 meters) and her gross tonnage was over 46,000 tons, which had nothing to do with her weight and instead was a measurement of her overall internal volume. The ship was approximately 11 stories high.  And for 1912 the size of the Titanic was almost unimaginable, but compare her to the Oasis of the Sea today, which is 300 foot longer and her gross tonnage is 225,282 tons.  Which is almost 5 times that of the Titanic.
The statement that the Titanic was unsinkable and “Not even God could sink this ship” appear to be just a myth and there are no records of either of those statements having been made before the tragedy. 
The cause of the Titanic tragedy has been debated for 10 decades but the reality is she was travelling at high speed and hit and iceberg.  Had she been carrying her full complement of lifeboats the death toll would have been far less but executives at White Star felt that the 32 lifeboats recommended made her look too ungainly and used up too much deck space.
For one hundred years there has been speculation about the amount of treasure that was aboard the Titanic when she sank.  There have been rumours of Gold and Jewels and we all know about the “Heart of the Ocean” the blue diamond that was featured in the movie.  Listen carefully, there was no Rose, there was no Jack and there was no blue diamond, it was just a movie.
With the discovery of the wreckage in 1994 and the subsequent exploration there have always been those who have anticipated the discovery of millions of dollars in treasure.  But apparently that wasn’t the reality.  According to the cargo manifests there was no treasure aboard the Titanic, it was a passenger ship and carried minimal cargo and what she did carry was just every day stuff.
This morning I want to tell you about two men who sailed and died on the Titanic that day. 
Now even though the Titanic wasn’t carrying a cargo of gold that is not to say that there weren’t several personal fortunes aboard, the list of first class passengers read like a “Who’s who” of 1912.  Business men, owners of companies, movie actresses and the like.  It was the greatest ship to ever sail the ocean, her owner “The White Star Line”  had made sure the entire world knew what a privilege it would be to sail on the Maiden Voyage of the Titanic.  The first class passengers included some of the most prominent members of the American social elite. 
The list included industrialist Benjamin Guggenheim; Macy’s department store owner Isidor Straus and his wife Ida;( a little side note, it is reported that when the crew tried to get Ida to board a life boat she refused to leave her husband’s side saying “I will not be separated from my husband. As we have lived, so will we die, together.” There was George Dennick Wick, the founder and president of Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company; streetcar magnate George Dunton Widener; Pennsylvania Railroad executive John Thayer, Charles Hays who was president of Canada’s Grand Trunk Railway and we shouldn’t forget George Wright, a developer from Halifax.
And being in first class wasn’t a bad place to be on the Titanic, The cost of the First Class Parlour Suite in 2012 dollars would be in excess of $83,000.00 while a first class room would cost you the equivalent of $3,000.00 per person about the same price as a balcony room on the Queen Mary 2 would cost you today for the same trip.  But along with the nicer room and better food was the greater chance of survival in first Class.  60% of the first class passengers, including 94 % of the women and children survived compared with 44% of the second class passengers and only 25% of the third class passengers.
It is interesting that the wealthiest men in first class went down with the ship and perhaps that was part of the personality that had allowed them to reach that place in the financial world.
But regardless of how much these men were worth on April 14th 1912 on April 15th 1912 all they were they were left holding was who they were and not what they had. 
Let’s go back to the scripture that was read earlier  Matthew 6:19 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal.” 
Understand that I am in no way making a judgment on the people who died that day on the Titanic other than to say that in their lives and deaths we have an illustration of how fleeting life actually is.   
1) There Was a Man With Earthly Treasures According to all reports the richest man on the Titanic that day was 47 year old John Jacob Astor IV  who was travelling to NY with his second wife 18 year old Madeline.   Divorce and re-marriage were frowned upon in the circles that Astors were part of especially when your second wife is just a year younger than your son.  And so John and Madeline had spent their Honeymoon travelling overseas and were now returning to the US for the birth of their first child.  
John Astor had gotten his money the old fashioned way, he had inherited it, but he turned a small fortune into a large fortune.  He was an inventor and an investor, and on April 14th it is estimated that John Astor’s personal fortune was in excess of  $150 million.  Now that doesn’t seem like much today but in 2012 dollars it is estimated that it would be worth in excess of $119 billion, that’s serious change. 

But that was April 14th, on April 15th John Astor held no more in his hands then did 46 year old George Bailey who was a stoker in the ship’s engine room. 
In vs. 19 Christ warns us about storing up treasures that can be lost.  Now what Jesus was talking about were things that could rust, rot or get ripped off. Today you don’t have to wait that long for things to become worthless, only until the warranty runs out. There is nothing in this life that is invincible, nothing that cannot be worn out, broke or stolen.
Everything we earn, everything we buy everything we collect is susceptible to damage.  And Christ is basically telling us that if if that is where your treasures are then you are doomed to disappointment.  In Christ’s day people associated material blessings with God’s blessings.  Now that’s silly isn’t it, I mean we would never be guilty of that would we? 
In other words if’n you could buy a new chariot every year then people would be convinced that God was rewarding you for something or because of how good or righteous you were. 
Now I don’t believe that Christians ought to be destitute.  You see I believe that we are children of the King, and as such we are not to inherit poverty.  On the other hand I don’t necessarily agree with the Prosperity theology that is swept through the Evangelical Church a few years back.  It been referred to as a cargo cult and that is pretty close to the truth.  I’ve met some devote Holy Spirit anointed Christians who can pray heaven down, but who have really done no more than exist financially over the years.
And I get real concerned when I see Christians getting caught up in the world’s philosophy that more is better.
Think about it how often do we buy toys just to have toys? My daddy used to warn me about, “Spend money you ain’t got to buy things you don’t need to impress people you don’t like.” Think about it, you may be able to buy it but you can’t keep it.
Now if that’s bad enough may I remind you that even if you do keep it, if it doesn’t rot, rust or get ripped off, even if it don’t die the day after the warranty runs out, friends listen up because this is important, friends some day you gonna die and they’re gonna put you in a hole in the ground and throw dirt in your face, and then your kids are gonna go back to the house and fight over everything you left behind.
Because as Job said, Job 1:21 He said, “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave.”  Billy Graham said something very similar when he said, “There won’t be a u-haul following your hearse.”  And Edmund Burke said, “everything you own will at the end of your life belong to somebody else.” friends you can’t keep what you have, the only thing that will be yours for eternity is what you are.
Or as Colonel Sanders the founder of KFC said “There’s no good reason to be the richest man in the cemetery.”  
The things of this earth aren’t the treasures you are supposed to be concerned about; they are not the best investments.  You may not lose your shirt but there is a pretty good chance that you might lose your soul.
In Luke 12 Jesus tells a story about a man very much like John Astor, a man who had accumulated so much he had no idea how to spend it and Jesus finishes his story with these words  Luke 12:20 But God said to him, “You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?” Don’t you just hate it when he says stuff like that? 
In John Astor’s case the answer was most of his fortune went to his son Vincent.  To his wife Madeleine, he left the use of a 5 million dollar trust fund and an annual paycheck of $500,000, as well as use of his New York mansion and his Newport mansion and all of its furnishings, the pick of whichever luxury limo she wanted from his collection and 5 of his prized horses – as long as she did not remarry.  
It’s real easy though to come to depend on our financial resources instead of our spiritual resources, to trust in our money more then our God.  But if what we possess in this life is earthly treasure and doesn’t last then what is the secret?  How do we obtain that heavenly treasure? 
Jesus goes on to tell us in Matthew 6:20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.
Let’s get on with the story.
2) There Was a Man With Heavenly Treasures   There was another John sailing on the Titanic on her maiden voyage. His name was John Harper and he wasn’t travelling first class he was travelling second class, his ticket would have cost the $60.00 or about $690.00 in today’s money. 
John Harper was the Rev. John Harper originally from Scotland.  Harper was a 39 year old widower travelling with his six-year-old daughter, Anna and his niece Jessie W. Leitch.  The reason they were making the trip?  John Harper was the pastor of Walworth Road Baptist Church in London and he had been invited to Chicago to preach for several weeks at the Moody Church. 
So why do we remember John Harper?  If you Google his name you get hundreds of hits, ranging from today’s Wikipedia references to Newspaper accounts from a hundred years ago.  So what made him different.  The accounts tell us that he made sure that his daughter and niece were safely aboard a life boat, but that was done by scores of men, many didn’t have a choice, the rules very much were “Women and children first.”
Various accounts tell us that it was John Harper who convinced the band to play “Nearer my God to Thee.”  We are told that Harper was heard to rally people toward the life boats shouting “Women, children and the unsaved into the lifeboats!”
And there are accounts from survivors that to the end, even when he was in the ocean that John Harper was presenting people with the claims of Christ and the offer of Salvation, using the words of Acts 16:31 “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.”  We are told that when he asked one man if he was a Christ Follower and the man said no that Harper took off his life belt and gave it to the man saying “You need this more than I do.”
There are even accounts of a man coming forward and claiming to be John Harper’s last convert. 
I truly believe that on April 15, 1912 that John Harper was greeted in heaven with the words “Well done my good and faithful servant.”   
One other interesting bit of Trivia, Harper’s daughter “Anna” died in 1986 at the age of 80.  She died on April 10th the anniversary of the sailing of the Titanic and was buried five days later on April 15th. 
And Jesus continued his thoughts in Matthew 6:21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.
In the big scheme of things it doesn’t really matter what John Astor did with his treasure or what John Harper did with his treasure.  The question that matters is 3) Where are Your Treasures.  Our as one with wrote  “It’s not what you’d do with a million, if riches should e’r be your lot, but what you are doing at present with the buck and a quarter you got.”
You will never be held accountable for what I have been entrusted with, and I will never be held accountable for what you have been entrusted with.  But whatever it is that we have, there is only room in your life for one #1 priority, and if that isn’t Jesus Christ, then no matter how good and noble that #1 priority is it is the wrong one.
The whole issue is not so much a question of wealth as it is a question of loyalty.  What demands a greater degree of loyalty in your life? And if it’s Christ then there will be times that that need to be demonstrated.
Now then in saying all of that let me say this, one of the places that believers need to invest their heavenly treasure is the local church.  You see throughout the New Testament and throughout history the church has been God’s agency for change in the world.   The very first account of the church of Christ is found in Acts 2:44-45 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need.
The early Christians made an investment into that which would change the world and would ultimately affect the eternal destiny for literally Billions of people.  And your investment into Cornerstone Wesleyan Church will have eternal ramifications.  If the church can offer a further reaching ministry through your giving and a thousand people get saved it was a worthy investment, if a hundred people get saved it was a worthy investment, if ten people get saved it was a worthy investment.  As a matter of fact if one person gets saved because of a sacrificial investment made by you wouldn’t  the investment be worth the return? It would be if it was your child or your spouse.
Every area of our church’s ministry cost something, sometimes it’s money and sometimes it is time but every ministry we offer cost somebody something.  And every one of us has to be willing to share the cost.  But not every one of us has to give the same, I believe in the concept of not equal giving but equal sacrifice.  If your giving to the kingdom is going to be worth anything it will need to cost you something.
What is a sacrifice to me may not be anything to you on the other hand it may be way out of your reach, only you and God know what entails a sacrifice for you, right. 
And we are going to need a commitment from everyone in the church if we are going to fulfil our mission. 
The choice my friends lies with each one of you.  You can invest your time and money in things that won’t last, and will at the end of your life belong to somebody else or you can invest them into those things which will last for eternity.
In two weeks each of you will be asked to fill out a commitment card and we will be asking that you prayerfully consider filling it out. 
This is how we arrive at our annual budget at Cornerstone, we don’t just pull a figure out of the air we ask you; what type of church you would like Cornerstone to be? What type of ministries would you like us to offer for the community and for your family.   What type of impact would you like us to have on the world. 
I think we do it well; I don’t try to guilt you into what you should give, or at least not a lot.  And there is a line on the bottom of the card that says if you need to change your commitment through the year you can, just let us know.  I would like to think that this is the most important Sunday in the year because it really does give each one of us the opportunity to say “This is my church”   
  

A Story of a Saving Not a Sinking

Breaking through the mist, the ship’s passengers and crew were greeted by a sight that would haunt many of their dreams for years to come. Passenger Luke Hoyt would write in a letter; “In the Providence of God it has come to Emma and myself to be of assistance to our fellow men and women in the greatest ‘Tragedy of the Seas’ and it was a tragedy. The horror of it all was appalling.”

April 15th, 1912 is a date known by most of us as the date the unsinkable Titanic sank. But while we often focus on the lives that were lost that night, not everyone who sailed on the Titanic drowned in the frigid north Atlantic waters. And the credit for that has to be given to the R.M.S. Carpathia. The Carpathia, owned by the Cunard Line, was the first vessel on the scene that fateful night.
It had been just over four hours before that wireless operator Harold Cottam had relayed to Captain Arthur Rostron the distress message he had just received from the Titanic. The message was short and filled with urgency “Come at once. We have struck an iceberg.”
The Carpathia, an intermediate sized passenger liner owned by the Cunard Line had departed New York City on the same day the Titanic had begun her voyage from Queenstown, Ireland. Rostron, like most mariners of the day, was aware that the White Star shipping line was launching their greatest ship, the Titanic, but he had no idea that their paths were destined to cross. For years Cunard and White Star had been competing to have the largest and fastest liners. The Titanic and her sister ship the Olympic had been built to take the premiere spot away from Cunard’s R.M.S. Lusitania.
Upon hearing the message, Captain Rostron immediately turned his ship to the last known position of the ill-fated liner. Once Rostron had made sure that he had done everything humanly possible he sought divine aid. The captain, a devout Christian, moved to the wing of the bridge to pray for guidance. Steaming at a speed twenty percent faster then her rated top speed through a moonless night across hazardous waters the Captain would later comment; “Someone else’s hands must have been at the helm of this ship.”
During the four hour trip the Carpathia’s crew did everything possible to prepare for the rescue of the passengers and crew from their rival’s vessel. Gangways, cargo nets and ladders were positioned over the rail; lifeboats were prepared in their davits. Spare clothing and blankets were collected, and soup and coffee were put on in the galley. But through all the preparations the Captain and Crew of the Carpathia had no idea of the magnitude of the tragedy. They fully expected to arrive and find the floundering Titanic, wounded but still alive. Instead when the Carpathia finally arrived they found nothing at all.

Arriving at the Titanic’s last known position, instead of being greeted with the sight of the crippled liner they discovered empty ocean. Passenger Hoyt wrote; “Nothing was to be seen, however, and it was supposed the Titanic had gone down with all on board, but soon appeared out of the ‘Dark of the Dawn’ first one boat and the other 18 in all.”
Within four hours, all 712 of the Titanic survivors had been brought aboard the the Carpathia. Those who were able climbed up rope ladders and nets, those who couldn’t were hauled aboard in slings. Children were placed in canvas bags and hoisted to the decks above.
With the rescue done and no more survivors to be found, Captain Rostron ordered the Carpathia’s flag lowered to half-mast and assembled a memorial service as the ship steamed over the site where the Titanic sank.
The Titanic’s sister ship, the Olympic, was now close enough to relieve the Carpathia of the survivors. However it was decided that those who had gone through the ordeal should not have to transfer to another four stack vessel flying the White Star flag. The Carpathia would continue the voyage the Titanic had begun, delivering the Titanic’s remaining passengers to their original destination: New York City.
And so the Titanic sank into history while the Carpathia sailed into oblivion.
John G. Langley, Chairman of the Cunard Steamship Society, a retired lawyer stated “History would remember the Titanic but would forget the story of the Carpathia.”  A story he said should be remembered not as a story of a sinking but of a saving.
The Carpathia’s career ended while part of a convoy travelling from Liverpool to Boston, on July 17, 1918. Crippled by two torpedoes from a German U-boat, the crew and passengers were in the process of abandoning ship when a third torpedo ripped into her hull, killing five crew members and sending the Carpathia to the bottom.
And there she rested undisturbed, in 500 feet of water off the coast of Ireland, for over eighty years before adventure novelist Clive Cussler and NUMA (National Underwater Marine Agency) discovered her on May 27, 2000. And while the discovery of the Titanic was a world wide news spectacle the discovery of the Carpathia was greeted with the same apathy as was her life and death.

This is a reprint of an article written by Denn Guptill for “Atlantic Boating News” in 2003

A Special Day

Apparently, April 15th is going to be a big deal this year.  There have been television specials, magazine articles printed, books published and movies re-released.  Federal, Provincial and Municipal governments have all hopped on the train, or more appropriately, got on the boat.  Canada Post has released commemorative stamps and the mint has done a special coin. On one website, there was a listing of 37 different events in and around Halifax that would revolve around the event that happened that day. 
We are even planning an event at our place. We will be having family over, enjoying a special meal and topping it off with a decorated cake.  I understand why we are doing it, the day has a very special meaning in our home.  And while I appreciate it,  I just don’t understand  the fuss the rest of the city is making about our daughter’s twenty-fifth birthday.
We all have priorities and it is difficult to understand why the things that are important to us aren’t nearly as important to others.  Sometimes in church it’s the same way.  We want everyone to feel passionate about the same things as us, but what is really important is being sure that we are passionate about the same things as God.    Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Good Friday: Easter Sunday

Good Friday
The night before the Israelites fled from Egypt the Angel of Death visited leaving the first born of the entire nation dead.  It was the darkest day in the history of Egypt.
Friday, October 13, 1307 the soldiers of King Philip of France arrested and executed the leaders of the Knights Templar, it was the darkest day in the history of the Templars.
On November 9 & 10 1938, the brown shirts of the Nazi Party instigated what would become known as “The night of Broken Glass” it would signify the beginning of the holocaust that would eventually leave 6 million Jews dead.  It was the darkest day in the history of the European Jews.
December 6th, 1941 the American city and naval base of Pearl Harbour was devastated by a surprise attack from Japan, a day described by President Franklin Roosevelt as “A Day that would live in Infamy.”   It was the darkest day in the history of the United States.
Today we come together to pause and remember the darkest day in history of the Universe, today was the day that mankind took it upon themselves to kill God. 
It Began When He Was Ignored by His Apostles
The events of that day began under the cover of night and finished when God plunged the world back into darkness when his Son took the sins of mankind upon himself.
For many the darkness was sudden and almost cataclysmic, perhaps there was even talk that this was the beginning of the end.  I’m sure there were those who were able to connect the dots. The one called the son of God is humiliated, beaten and mocked and as they nail him to the cross the noon day sun disappears under a veil of darkness.  Coincidence?  I think not. 
But the reality is that long before the sun disappeared at noon time darkness had already begun to descend into the final pages of the story of Jesus.
We are all familiar with the story, it had only been hours before that Jesus had gathered with his apostles to celebrate the Passover.  Only hours since they had stopped and moved away from the busyness of life to pause and remember what God had done for their people when he delivered them from the slavery of Egypt.  The Passover was a celebration, a time of joy and then Jesus dropped the bombshell. 
It wasn’t a new subject, time and time again Jesus had told the twelve that he would have to die, but it had always seemed vague, a someday kind of thought.  It had always been, “the time will come”, now it was “The time is now.”  And to add insult to injury he told them that he would be betrayed by one of them and denied by another.  And they response was classic, there was denial and there was anger.  “Not me” they protested, “this can’t be happening, we won’t let it happen.”
Only a week before they had seen him ride into Jerusalem surrounded by his supporters, cheered by the crowds as he rode through the streets. That was what they wanted, to be a part of a victory parade, not a funeral procession.   And with the meal finished and the news delivered he led them out of the upper room.  We are told in Luke 22:39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him.  Historically we are told that there were no public gardens as we know them in the city of Jerusalem two thousand years ago.  This wasn’t a park or a flower garden; this was an olive grove, a working garden and apparently a place frequented by Jesus and his disciples, perhaps a place of solitude away from the crowds and demands of his ministry.  And it would explain how Judas knew where to find him.
And then he asks his closest friends to do two things.  Not difficult things, not dangerous things.  He simply asked them to watch and pray.  He didn’t tell them to stand guard, he didn’t ask them to fend off the temple guards when they came for him he just asked them to watch and pray.
For three years they had been together, for three years he had poured his life into theirs, for three years they had listened to him teach, watched as he healed and witnessed his miracles.  It had now come down to the end, and all he wanted them to do was to watch and pray while he prayed alone.  And when he returned they were asleep.  Asleep, all he had asked them to do was to watch and pray.
Have you ever been disappointed by your friends?  Let down by someone you love?  Then you know how Jesus felt as the darkness began to descend. 
Song
When Religion betrayed him and His Friends Denied Him
Two thousand years before the Son of God was born in Israel His Father called Abraham and promised that his descendants would become a great nation.  Fifteen hundred years before the Son of God would be accused of blasphemy His Father gave Moses and the people of Israel the Ten Commandments.  A thousand years before the Son of God would stand in the temple being mocked and humiliated the temple had been built to honour his Father. 
The very religion which had its birth in the worship of the Father now conspired together to kill the Son.
Sometimes you will hear people say “I love Jesus, it’s religion I have a problem with.”  This past winter a video went viral which was entitled “Jesus Hates Religion”.   But when we condemn religion we fail to understand that for Jesus the Religion of Israel was foundational to whom he was as a man and who he was as God was foundational to the religion of Israel.  If God had hated religion he would never have instituted it and he would never have blessed it. 
Religion was never intended to be a road block between God and Man, instead it was supposed to facilitate man’s journey to meet God, it was there to provide direction and guidance.  The laws and regulations that had become restrictive had been put into place as guard rails and guidelines.  There were to keep God’s people from straying from his path and to protect them spiritually and physically.
But that had changed, religion had become a dirty word and instead of being doormen to the throne room of God the priest had become gate keepers.  And then Jesus had shown up and thrown the doors wide open.  And he was inviting in people that the priests had spent their entire careers trying to keep out. 
Jesus threated everything they taught, he threatened their very life style and position.  If God wanted us to come freely, if his grace was extended to all then the Gate keepers were irrelevant. 
And so it was that the darkness descended as God’s religion turned its back on God’s Son.
And it got darker when the religion that taught “thou shalt not lie” lied about the Son of God.  When the religion that taught “thou shalt not take God’s name in vain” called the Son of God the devil, when the religion that taught “thou shalt not kill” plotted the murder of the Son of God.
But it wasn’t just religion that betrayed Jesus, his life became even darker when those he called his friends betrayed him and turned their backs on him.
First it was Judas, who set a price on the head of Jesus and when it was met turned him over to the authorities.  We’ll never know why Judas betrayed Christ, was it for the money? For the thirty pieces of silver?    Was it to advance his political ambition or was it more diabolical?   In Luke’s account we are told that Satan entered into Judas and some would argue that negated the guilt of Judas.  And he may very well have been an instrument of Satan but there is absolutely nothing to imply that he was an unwilling instrument of Satan.    If indeed there is a battle in the spiritual realm between light and darkness we will each choose which side we will align ourselves with.
As one commentator said “It remains true that Satan could not have entered into Judas unless Judas had opened the door. There is no handle on the outside of the door of the human heart. It must be opened from within.”
But if Judas’s motive was questionable it was at least understandable.  The desire for money and power is as old as mankind.  What must have hurt even more was when Peter denied that he had ever known Christ.  He had even been warned, less than twelve hours before Jesus had told Peter to pray for the strength of his convictions.  And Peter had blustered that Jesus would never have to worry about his conviction, his strength or his courage.  “Don’t worry Jesus, I have your back, I would go to prison or go to the grave before I denied you.”
But deny him he did, not once not twice but three times.  And for Jesus the day got even darker.
Song
When The World Rejected Him  Probably one of the most quoted verses of the New Testament has to be John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  The Bible doesn’t say “for God so loved the people of Israel that he gave his Son”, or “for God so loved the religious people that he gave his Son.”  But “for God so loved the world that he gave his Son.”  And in turn the world rejected his Son.
Perhaps there was reason for the religious leaders to turn their backs on Jesus, he was shaking up their world, turning things upside down.  But the world, for three years he had taught those in the world, he had fed those in the world, he had healed those in the world.  And for three years it seemed as if the world had embraced him, only the week before they had shouted “Hosanna, Hosanna” as he had ridden into Jerusalem.  But not now, now they chanted “crucify him, crucify him.”  On Palm Sunday they had cried out “Hail to the King of Israel” but now they screamed “We have no King but Caesar.”
They had the chance at his trial to see Jesus walk away free.  Pilate, trying to find a way to not crucify Jesus, offered to let him walk away, “Just say the word” Pilate challenged the crowd “And I will set Jesus free, it’s up to you.” 
But instead of choosing the Prince of Peace thy demanded the release of a Servant of Violence.  They were offered Jesus but they choose Barabbas.  The Bible tells us that Barabbas was a criminal, a murder a terrorist. 
But that day he was chosen by the world as their champion. 
Jesus had left heaven for the world he had created, Jesus had offered himself up for the world he would judge and they had not only turned their back on him they had turned against him.  “free Barabbas” they cried, “Crucify Jesus” they demanded.
In an attempt to mollify the crowd Pilate ordered Jesus flogged, beaten with a lead tipped whip. 
And the soldiers did as they were ordered, they stripped away his robe and he was held by some and beaten by others. 
And as the crowd jeered, and as the soldiers counted out the cadence of the whip and as the lash took its toll upon his flesh, it was as if he was saying all over again “This is my body which is broken for you.”   And the day got darker. 
The Body of the Lord.
Distribution of the Bread
When God Forsook Him The Gospels tell us that when they had finished beating Jesus they took him out to be crucified.  Bruised and bloody they made him carry his cross through the streets of Jerusalem.   And when they came to Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, they nailed him to a cross and hung him to die.  Suspended between heaven and earth, hung between two thieves he took upon himself the sins of the world.  His closest friend would later write, 1 Peter 2:24 He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross. . .
The sins of Denn, the sins of each one of you.  And as the those sins marked his soul, small sins and large sins, sins of omission and sins of commission, mortal sins and venal sins it was then that he also bore not just our sins but the consequences of our sins.  The Bible tells us that our sins separate  us from God, that in his holiness God hides his face from our sins, that with our sins we build a wall between him and us.  And as our sins were placed on his Son, on the one who had never knew sin, The Father turned away from his Son. 
And the sun went dark and Jesus cried out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  And then with his last breath He cried “It is finished!”
The bible tells us that to make sure that Jesus had died on the cross a Roman solider thrust his spear into his side and water and blood flowed out.  And it was as if Jesus spoke even in his death to say “My Blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you.”
The Blood of the Lord.
Distribution of the Cup
Song
Easter Sunday
The night before the Israelites fled from Egypt the Angel of Death visited leaving the first born of the entire nation dead.  It was the darkest day in the history of Egypt.
Friday, October 13, 1307 the soldiers of King Philip of France arrested and executed the leaders of the Knights Templar, it was the darkest day in the history of the Templars.
On November 9 & 10 1938, the brown shirts of the Nazi Party instigated what would become known as “The night of Broken Glass” it would signify the beginning of the holocaust that would eventually leave 6 million Jews dead.  It was the darkest day in the history of the European Jews.
December 6th, 1941 the American city and naval base of Pearl Harbour was devastated by a surprise attack from Japan, a day described by President Franklin Roosevelt as “A Day that would live in Infamy.”   It was the darkest day in the history of the United States.
On Friday we came together to pause and remember the darkest day in history of the Universe, it was the day that mankind took it upon themselves to kill God. 
Most of us who are familiar with the Easter story know about the physical darkness that day, it is recorded in three of the Gospels.  Here is Luke’s account  Luke 23:44-46 By this time it was noon, and darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. The light from the sun was gone. And suddenly, the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn down the middle. Then Jesus shouted, “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!” And with those words he breathed his last.
You ever notice that when Jesus died the darkness lifted.   It was as if the world had done its very worst to Jesus, but now they could do no more to him.  But even though the physical darkness was gone a spiritual darkness still covered the earth.  Mankind had turned its back on God, mankind had rejected him and mankind had sought to rid itself of the Son of God.  And so on Friday Satan was sure that he had won, the high priests celebrated their victory, Pilate quickly forgot the events of the day and the followers of Jesus hid in defeat. 
But the story was not finished on Good Friday, Jesus didn’t stay in the grave and the world didn’t stay dark.  Today we are here to celebrate the return of the light.
 
Songs
It began gradually, the light slowly pushing away the darkness of those horrible events.   The memories were still fresh in the minds of those who followed Jesus, his arrest, the mockery of a trial, his humiliation, the beatings, his crucifixion and death, and most shameful of all, their behaviour.   
The religious leaders plotted against Jesus but that was expected.  The world turned against him, Pilate sentenced him, the soldiers of Rome beat him and nailed him to a cross, but that was expected as well.
But where were his friends?  His followers?  One had betrayed him for money, one had denied him out of cowardice but there were nine that we have no idea where they were.  Only one of the twelve is listed as being at the cross and that was John. 
Where were those who had listened to his message with such eagerness?  Where were those who he had returned sight to?  Where were those who had been given back the ability to walk? Where were those who he had given the very gift of life to?  Even those who owed him the most had faded into the darkness.
For all practical purposes it appeared that Jesus’ ministry had been a waste of time and energy. On Friday afternoon it was apparent that his message, the message of love, the message of hope and the message of grace had died with him.  And if we closed the book right there that is exactly what it looked like.  The apostles had scattered, Jesus was dead and his message had been silenced.  But the story doesn’t end there, we have to keep reading. 
In Matthew’s account we read what happened next.  Matthew 27:57-58 As evening approached, Joseph, a rich man from Arimathea who had become a follower of Jesus, went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. And Pilate issued an order to release it to him.   The Light Was Reflected When Joseph Offered Up His Tomb.   From the accounts we know that Joseph was a rich man, we know that he was a member of the religious elite and we know that he was a secret follower of Jesus.  And it is in Joseph that we see the first glimmer of the light of the Kingdom.  Luke tells us that Joseph took a risk by going to Pilate and asking for the body of Christ to be released to him. 
It was a risk physically, it was only hours since the angry mob had demanded the death of Jesus and Joseph had no idea how the mob would respond to someone of privilege stepping up and identifying himself as a follower of Christ.  And yet that is exactly what he did. 
But the risk wasn’t simple a risk of physical harm there were the social and professional ramifications as well.  In Joseph’s actions he was condemning the very religion that he held leadership in, he was proclaiming that he didn’t agree with their actions and was willing to take a stand, even if it cost him everything. 
We know that it cost him his tomb.  Understand that this wasn’t some nebulous theoretical decision that Joseph made.  When he publically identified himself with Jesus it wasn’t the popular thing to do, those who had followed Jesus for three years were hiding in the shadow and for good reason.  Jesus had been crucified for being a traitor to the Roman Empire and to his religion.  And Joseph was basically saying “I’m with him”. 
When you take a stand today to seriously follow Jesus, not just call yourself a Christian because you aren’t a Muslim or a Hindu or a Jew, when you decide to let your light shine, then there will be consequences.  You will have to make decisions that may not be popular with your friends or your family; you may have to make choices that are at odds with your employment.   I don’t know the price that you will be called to pay but there will be a price.
But it wasn’t just a personal cost that Joseph had to pay; there was also a practical cost.   Matthew 27:59-60 Joseph took the (Jesus’) body and wrapped it in a long sheet of clean linen cloth. He placed it in his own new tomb, which had been carved out of the rock. Then he rolled a great stone across the entrance and left.
So you understand that this wasn’t just a loan this was a gift.  It wasn’t like giving someone a book to read and then getting it back, or letting someone use your car for the afternoon.  When Joseph put Jesus body in the tomb he no longer had the tomb.  He was going to have to go out and buy himself another tomb.  Don’t know what the tomb had cost, but it had cost something and people weren’t lining up offering their tomb.
In John’s account Joseph didn’t just ask for permission to bury the body of Jesus he actually came and claimed the body and took it down from the cross.  Under Jewish law he defiled himself by touching a dead body, perhaps he remembered Jesus’ teaching that it wasn’t enough to obey the letter of the law, there were times that the spirit of the law had to take precedence. 
And in that gesture the light began to shine again, in that visible, tangible display of love the words of Jesus and his teaching were proven to be true.  There was nothing to be gained by Joseph, Jesus was dead, his disciples were scattered and yet still he sacrificially gave of himself.  
The world had declared Jesus to be wrong, religion had declared him a heretic, the release of Barabbas showed Jesus to be a fool.  But the fact that one of his disciples was willing to give of himself with no hint or possibility of any gain showed that Jesus’ teachings had not fallen on deaf ears. 
And when Joseph showed the light of Jesus it wasn’t long before others were attracted to that light.   In John 19:39 With him came Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus at night. He brought seventy-five pounds of perfumed ointment made from myrrh and aloes.  Nicodemus, another religious leader, another secret follower.  Do you remember Nicodemus?  He first shows up in the early part of John’s Gospel, in the dark he approaches Jesus and is told by Jesus John 3:3 “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”  
And then we don’t see Nicodemus with Jesus again until he appears in this closing chapter when he fearlessly steps out of the darkness to pay tribute to Jesus.   Satan thought he had extinguished the Light of the World, but here was a spark and that spark lit another light.  Joseph was no longer alone but he stood side by side with Nicodemus and the light of Jesus was reflected in their love and in their actions.
Songs
Let’s pick up the story in Luke 24:1 But very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared.  And so we discover that The Light Was Revealed When the Women Went to the Tomb
When Mark records his account of Joseph and Nicodemus taking the body of Christ to Joseph’s tomb he notes that Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where Jesus’ body was laid.   And because the two women saw the light of Joseph and Nicodemus we see them returning to the tomb as soon as they were able after the Sabbath to deliver their final tribute and perform their final act of love.  As far as they knew Jesus was dead, they weren’t going to look for an empty tomb; they fully expected to find a body there, but still they went.  They went to show their love and appreciation for all he had done for them.  Do you see it happening?  More light breaking into a dark world.
But that is when we discover that the light wasn’t extinguished and the light that we saw in Joseph and Nicodemus was simply a reflection of the Light of Christ.    Do you see the light spreading?  No amount of darkness can extinguish even the smallest of flames.  Light always wins.  That why we were told in John 1:5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.  As long as there is even a flicker of light the darkness is broken and Jesus promised his followers that light, he told them in John 12:46 Jesus said “I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.”
On Friday evil thought that it had won, evil truly believed that the light had been extinguished and that darkness had prevailed.  But as long as there was a glimmer of light, the light was still alive.  The reality was that even before the women discovered the tomb was empty the light of Jesus was destroying the darkness of the world. 
The love and grace that Jesus had preached about was being revealed in the ones he had left behind. The apostles had come together again their common bond was still Jesus; the women who had supported Jesus in his life were still there and still committed to showing the love they had found in him.  His light was still shining.  But instead of the body of Jesus what the women found was an empty tomb and a question. 
You know the story, they arrive at the tomb, the rock that sealed it has been rolled away and slowly they make their way through the open door, not sure what to expect.  Had his grave been desecrated by his enemies?  Were his enemies not content to simply kill him did they have to pursue him to the grave?  But when their eyes adjusted to the dimness of the tomb it was empty,  and the scriptures tell us that they just stood there, puzzled, they had no idea what had happened.  And suddenly we are told that two men appeared in dazzling clothes and the women we are told were terrified, these guys must have been new angels because they forgot the standard angel greeting, you know the one “Do not be afraid.”  Instead they jump right to the question at hand,  Luke 24:5-6 Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? And before the women can even think up a reply they continue and say He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead!”  He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! 
The light was still shining, the darkness may have thought it won but its victory was as temporary as the victory the darkness of the night claims before it is scattered by the early morning dawn.
Jesus had promised his followers eternal light in John 8:12 Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”   The promise was alive again because Jesus was alive again.
Lee Strobel was an atheist as well as an investigative reporter and legal editor for the Chicago Tribune. Strobel’s wife became a Christian at Willow Creek Community Church and he began to investigate the claims of Christianity.  An investigation that would change his life.  He decided to begin with the lynch pin of Christianity, the resurrection.  After looking at the evidence for the resurrection Strobel then lists the various people whom the bible said Jesus appeared to after the resurrection.  He said that if you called each of them to a witness stand to be cross examined about what they saw and allowed them 15 minutes to explain that the total testimony time would be 129 hours.  In other words it would take you from breakfast on Monday until Friday at dinner time listening around the clock to hear the testimony of those witnesses.  
Lee Strobel’s conclusion was that the resurrection was indeed fact and he writes “As soon as I reached that monumental verdict, the implications were obvious. If Jesus overcame the grave, he’s still alive and available for me to personally encounter.”  The Light was still shining.
Songs
Let’s go back to the beginning of the story of Jesus, eight days after Jesus was born Mary and Joseph took their new born son to the temple in Jerusalem to present him for dedication.  And at the temple they met an old man named Simeon, the bible tells us that Simeon was a righteous man who had been eagerly awaiting the coming of the Messiah.  When he saw the baby Jesus he took the child in his arms and praised God saying Luke 2:30-32 “I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!”
The Light Was Released When Jesus Rose from the Dead.  If Jesus had of remained in the grave then Christianity would have remained simply a footnote in human history.  Another deluded messiah whose followers scattered when he died.  But Jesus didn’t remain in the grave and his light shines through those who choose to follow him. 
Jesus told his followers in John 12:46 I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.  All those who put their trust in him are promised an escape from the darkness of this world, an escape from emotional darkness and an escape from spiritual darkness.  He was talking about everyone who chooses to follow him, he is inviting you from the dark to the light, the promise is as real today as it was for the Christ Followers two thousand years ago because the resurrection is as real today as it was two thousand years ago when Paul wrote to the early Christians in the city of Ephesus and told them Ephesians 5:8-9 For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.
On Good Friday the darkness celebrated it’s victory but today is not Friday today is Sunday and the tomb is empty the darkness has been dispersed and the light has been given to those who believe that Jesus is the Risen Saviour and choose to follow the light.  Here is your promise for Easter Sunday 2012, and it comes in two parts 1 John 1:5 This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all.   And the second part is found in 1 John 1:7 But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.
Are you living in the light today?  You can be.  The promise is still there and it is still real.  If you have never stepped into the light I encourage you to take that leap today. 

Easter Monday?

I have often thought the concept of Easter Monday was kind of strange.  You just know it had to be a blatant quest for a four-day weekend. That someone, somewhere, had a eureka moment and decided that the Monday following Easter Sunday was obviously Easter Monday and as such deserved to be a holiday.  And it had to be a bureaucrat , they seem to be the only ones who get it off.
That’s fair; people ought to be thankful for Easter, if only for the extra-long weekend. Yesterday I heard some stores advertising that they were open on “Holiday Monday” and my first thought was, “I wonder what holiday that is?”
After all, it was too early for Victoria Day and too late for New Year’s Day.
It would seem that the world would like to borrow the church’s holidays, but would prefer not to acknowledge them.
So I had an idea. Everyone should be able to observe whatever religious holidays they prefer, i.e. Christmas and Easter or Passover or Eid ul-Adha, but in order for it to be a paid holiday, you would have to get a note from your Pastor, Priest, Rabbi or Imam, saying that you actually took the time to observe the religious holiday.   Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.