Acts of God

The Pope resigns, a revision of history wins the Oscar, an asteroid misses earth, and a meteorite doesn’t. There was so much to write about while I was gone.

Have you ever noticed how—when a natural disaster happens—it is an act of God, but when a natural disaster is averted it’s a happy coincidence? When the meteorite crashed into Russia earlier in the month, over a thousand people were injured. That was a tragedy, but what if the same meteorite had of landed in New York city, or Hong Kong or Moscow? Or for that matter what if it had of landed just off the coast of New York or Hong Kong causing a tsunami? The devastation would have been overwhelming and God would have copped the blame.
Granted, I was in vacation mode so I may have missed it, but I don’t recall anyone in the media saying, “Thank God that meteorite landed in a frozen lake.”
How often does that play out in our lives?  When bad things happen we ask God, “why?”  But when bad things are averted, we simply consider ourselves lucky. This week let’s take time to notice the hand of God in our everyday lives, and take the time to thank Him.  Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.   

Rebuilding Your Altar

They couldn’t believe their eyes.  The altar had been torn down! The altar, the very core of their spiritual life and
spiritual heritage and now it was just rubble. 
They had never actually seen the Temple or the altar it housed themselves, but they had heard the stories and their parents
and grandparents delighted in telling them how glorious it was or had
been.  On their trip back to Jerusalem they spoke
often of the day they would arrive and how they would be able to worship at the
altar that Solomon had built and dedicated to the Lord and how they would
finally be able to present offerings and sacrifices just as their forefathers
had done, but it was not to be.  What had once been a beautiful tribute to the
God of Israel was now nothing, it was just,
just a mess.
Actually the damage wasn’t limited to the altar, then entire temple had been devastated and would
never be restored to it’s former glory,
but the altar was the where the people directed their attention because it was
here that the priests offered the sacrifices to God. Sacrifices of wheat, oil and animals. 
It was here that their sins were forgiven.  And now it was gone.  And so they started to work to restore and
rebuild the altar so they could once again make offerings to God. It was only
after the altar had been finished would they start the task of rebuilding the
temple.
So what has happened? 
What had happened to Solomon’s temple and the altar that it housed?    
The temple was built around 966 B.C. by King Solomon, the
son of King David and Bathsheba.   About 30 years later after the death of
Solomon Israel was divided into two sections,
the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom,
also referred to as Israel and Judah. 
During the next 400 years the two kingdoms were alternately blessed and
brought under persecution depending on their obedience and faithfulness to
God.     
In 586 B.C. the Southern Kingdom and Jerusalem fell to
Babylon and the victors took the people of Jerusalem captive and transported
them back to Babylon where they served as slaves until Babylon fell to the
Persians around 538 B.C.  Under the rule
of Cyrus the Persian the Jewish exiles were allowed to return to Jerusalem and
that’s where our story picks up.  Just to
clear things up a little bit let’s pull up a map and take a look at where
everything was happening.
The scripture that was read this morning was from the book
of Ezra which is 15th book of the bible.  Written by the prophet Ezra around 440 B.C.
this book was originally linked with the book of Nehemiah in the Jewish
scriptures as a single volume.  Why was
it written?  Ezra uses the book to
contrast purity with compromise.
So where were we?  Oh
yeah the temple and the altar have been destroyed and now the first of the
exiles have returned to Jerusalem.  
If we read the description of the temple we discover that
there were two altars mentioned.  A small
altar just outside the Holy of Holy,
which was called the Incense Altar and it was here the Priest burnt incense
each day.  And then there was a much
larger altar which was located at the entrance to the temple. 
And this thing was ginormous, the altar was thirty foot
square and stood 15 foot high, just slightly small than the worship centre, if
you don’t include the platform and almost as high as the ceiling.   It was constructed out of stone and covered
in bronze and it was here that offerings were presented by the priests to
God.  And this was the altar that had
been destroyed and was rebuilt in Ezra 3.
But what does that have to do with us?  Good question.  If you look around you discover that we do
not have an altar at Cornerstone, traditionally Wesleyan Churches do not have
altars.  In the Catholic and Anglican tradition, the altar is where the Eucharist or Communion is
served from, what we might refer to
as the communion table.   Some of you might know that Saint John’s
Anglican Church uses our building for their Wednesday morning Communion service
and they move the communion table up on the platform and it becomes the altar.
In some Evangelical Churches,
you will hear the rails at the front of the church referred to as the altar or
the altar rails and people are encouraged to come to the altar to pray and when
people are invited to come and pray for salvation that is called an “altar
call.” That is a good idea, but that
is a fairly recent term, that is to say in the last 150 years. It originated in
the camp meetings of the late 1800’s where people were encouraged to come to
the front to pray and they would kneel at the front pews. The front pews became
known as the mourner’s bench,
because people came and were remorseful about their sin.  The mourner’s bench eventually became the
altar, but it’s not really the altar
that’s just what it’s called.  How
confusing is that?
Within the New Testament there
is no reference to the early church having altars,
altar rails, or altar calls.  However we read this reference in Hebrews 13:10 We have an altar from which the priests
in the Tabernacle have no right to eat.
What do you think that is? Two
verses later we read  Hebrews 13:12 So also
Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates to make his people holy by means
of his own blood.
And then only three verses
further along this is written Hebrews 13:15 Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice
of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name.
The altar that we as Christians have is a personal altar; we
no longer need the priests to offer up sacrifices for us,
it’s been done. Our relationship with God is a personal relationship and that
is the altar at which we need to worship. 
You can’t worship at my altar and I can’t worship at your altar.
But sometimes have you ever felt
like your altar had fallen into disrepair? 
That your relationship with your Saviour isn’t what it once was?  In the book of the Revelation Jesus is
addressing the church in Ephesus
and he says Revelation 2:4 “But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or
each other as you did at first! They had lost their first love, their altar had fallen down.
What causes that to happen? 
And is there anyway to correct it or better yet keep it from happening?
Let’s start by saying that in most cases this isn’t
something that happens all at once,
you know you wake up and think, “Wow, my altar has fallen down.  That was kind of sudden.”  Instead it usually happens gradually, a little bit of erosion at a time.  Not a lot of people suddenly decide to just
walk away from their spiritual commitment. 
“You know I don’t think I’ll be a Christ Follower anymore, no particular reason, I just think I’ll stop
believing.”  That’s not the way it
happens, altars don’t just fall
down.
1) Sometimes it’s
Neglect. 
Like most relationships, our relationship with God requires a
commitment.  If you tried to sustain a
marriage relationship without putting any time or effort into it what would
happen?  What do you mean you’ve tried
it?
What happens is that gradually you drift apart, not because you no longer love each other but simply
because you neglect to spend time together. 
And regardless of what the old maxim says absence doesn’t always make
the heart grow fonder, instead
absence sometimes makes the heart go wander.
If a relationship is going to survive there needs to be communication, you need to talk to one another and you need to
listen to one another.  Neglect
communication and you neglect the relationship and it won’t be long before it’s
in ruins.  Why?  Because without communication we don’t know
what the other person is looking for,
what their expectations are and where they want the relationship to go.  So instead of their being a relationship you
simply have two people occupying the same space but going in separate
directions.  And while that is the way
too many marriages end up that’s not the way most marriages begin.
Do you remember during your courtship how you wanted to be
with each other all the time?  You would
talk for hours about nothing, just
to talk to one another.  And then after
you were married there seemed to be more and more outside activities, children,
work and friends.  Pretty soon the energy
and time you had for one another was being spent on others and there wasn’t any
time or energy left for the relationship. 
And one day you wake up and you don’t know the person who’s sharing your
bed and your life.
In our spiritual life the same thing can happen.  We make a commitment to God, accept the gift of forgiveness and eternal life
that he offers and we are so keen.  We
want to be in church every time the door opens,
we’re reading our bibles and spending time in prayer.  We want to tell everyone about the wonderful
change that has taken place in our lives.
And then other commitments arise,
and perhaps it’s work that keeps you away on Sunday or the kid’s hockey games
or maybe it’s just life. By the time the day is done you can’t find time to
study your bible or to pray and you don’t want to hear the “all you have to do
is get up an hour earlier” line because you’re not getting enough sleep as is.   
And before you know it Church is a once in awhile endeavour
and prayer is what you do when you need help or when the kids are sick or you
might get down sized at work, and
you know you have a bible you’re just not sure where it is.
And one day you look and the altar of your relationship with
Christ is nothing but a pile of rubble.   
British Author Owen Felltham said “Negligence is the rust of the soul,
that corrodes through all her best resolves.” 
And the Bible tells us in 2
Chronicles 29:11
to not neglect our duties and in Nehemiah 10:39 not to neglect God’s house and in 1 Timothy 4:14 to not neglect our
spiritual gifts and in Hebrews 10:25
to not neglect meeting together as believers. 
2) Sometimes It’s Sin  Neglect is something that happens when
we’re not paying attention but sin is a conscious decision.  It happens when you as a believer decide that
even though you know that you shouldn’t take part in a particular activity.  Even when you are fully aware that it is
wrong and is diametrically opposed to God’s will and God’s word you are going
to do it anyway. 
We often want to shift the responsibility to others, they
led us astray.  That’s what Adam and Eve
did, you remember the story.  God had
given the first couple everything their hearts could desire and in exchange
asked for one simple thing, obedience. 
You can do anything but you can’t eat from that tree.  And sure enough, fruit cocktail for lunch.  And when God confronted them Adam said “It
was the woman you gave me.”  That was a
twofer, blamed Eve and God in one breath. 
And Eve not wanting to be outdone pointed her finger at the devil and
said “It was the serpent” And the serpent didn’t have a leg to stand on.
But we don’t sin because of other people we sin because we
want to and because we make a choice to be disobedient.  And the same as sin put a barrier between the
first couple and God sin puts the same barrier between us and God.  
We’ve talked about his before that God will never take you
beyond your disobedience.  If you are
stuck in your spiritual life you might want to take a look at what it is that
has become a road block.  Maybe it’s a
relationship that needs fixing, maybe it’s a point of integrity that needs
correcting, maybe God is asking something from you that you aren’t willing to
give. 
Jesus’ brother wrote these
words in the book that bears his name James 4:17 Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not
do it.   Have you had a discussion
where God has asked you for your time or your talent or your money and you’ve
said no? James 4:17 Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not
do it.  
And when you consciously
disobey God you put a wall up between you and God.  Listen to what God says in Deuteronomy 31:18 At that
time I will hide my face from them on account of all the evil they commit by
worshiping other gods. And those other gods don’t have to be little
idols, they might be the gods of pleasure, or the gods of career and
advancement or the gods of money and gain. 
And you stop growing,
God won’t let you move ahead while you are disobedient and you are too
committed to just turn your back and walk away from God and so there you are
stuck and miserable.  And you cannot
worship God while you in that position. 
Your altar has been torn down and it’s nobodies fault but your own.  Eric Butterworth
defined sin as “SIN: Self-Inflicted Nonsense”
And the only way you can continue to grow in your faith is
to surrender to his will, become
obedient and get back on track.
3) Sometimes it’s the
Company We Keep 
You’ve all seen the
T-shirt that says “It’s hard to soar with eagles when you have to work with
turkeys.” It’s hard to maintain a vibrant healthy spiritual life when you’re
always hanging out with people who are indifferent to the claims of Christ or
worse are hostile to the claims of Christ.
And I know you are thinking “Oh yeah well Jesus hung out
with sinners and was even called a friend of sinners.” That’s true, but remember they weren’t his primary
relationships.  Jesus’ primary
relationship was what he had with the disciples,
and Jesus motives for hanging with the grotty people was so they would stop
being grotty people.  What are your
motives? 
The Bard
said “Company,
villainous company, hath been the
spoil of me.”   And the bible says in Psalm 1:1 Oh, the joys of
those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners,
or join in with mockers.
You hang out too long with the wrong people and pretty soon
you find that you are doing more of what they do then less of what you should
be doing and one day you look and can’t find your altar.
Here’s the question,
if’n you find that your altar has been torn down,
through neglect or sin or bad company can you rebuild it?
Oh yes you most certainly
can.  And what is the secret?  Ezra 3:3 Even though the people were afraid of the local residents,
they rebuilt the altar at its old site.
In other translations it says They rebuilt the altar on it’s
“foundation.”
4) You Need to
Rebuild Your Altar on the Old Foundation
Remember what Jesus wrote to
the church in Ephesus?  Revelation 2:4-5 “But I
have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at
first! We already looked at that part, but it goes on to say Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the
works you did at first.”
If you find that your altar has
been torn down or has fallen down then you need to rebuild it, not on a new foundation but on that original
foundation and not by yourself but with God’s help.  1 Corinthians 3:11
For no one can lay any foundation other than
the one we already have—Jesus Christ.
And what is that
foundation?  It is the foundation of
repentance and forgiveness.  The
foundation of faith and grace.  The foundation
of His word and Prayer.  The foundation
of obedience. The foundation of fellowship with other believers and regular
corporate worship. 
So where you at this morning?  How’s your altar? Is it doing all right?  Is your relationship with God on a solid
foundation?  If not it can be.

Missed it.

It happened on my way back from Ghana. It was the second to the last leg of our journey home and we had been in the air about four hours.  I was deeply engrossed in a movie and for no apparent reason I opened the window shade, and I was stunned.  There was the most incredible view that was almost indescribable.  There were mountains, and ice fields, glaciers and fjords.  I thought we were over the Atlantic….. apparently not.  When I looked at the map on the screen in front of me, I realized that I was enjoying Greenland from 36,000 feet. Who would have thought?
I was absolutely mesmerized and for 15 minutes I couldn’t take my eyes off the unfolding tabloid beneath us, I finally understood the concept of “Pining for the Fjords.” 
It was then I looked around the aircraft and saw that perhaps 10 shades were open and people were enjoying a view they had probably never seen before and might never see again.  But for the most part the majority of the passengers were reading, sleeping and watching videos, blissfully unaware of what was unfolding beneath them.
And that’s life.  So often we do the ordinary and miss the extraordinary.  But it doesn’t always have to be like that.  Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.   

Lydia’s Journey

She was a successful business woman,  actually she was a successful business owner
and that was virtually unheard of in the time and society she lived in.
Remember this was 2000 years ago in a culture that was slightly male centered;
actually it was very male centered. Females weren’t exactly chattel but they
weren’t exactly equals either. And here was a woman who was not identified by
whose wife she was instead she was identified by what she did.  She wasn’t Lydia Bob’s wife she was Lydia
from Thyatira, a merchant of expensive purple cloth.
And she was a woman who had an appointment with
destiny.  It was the Sabbath and Lydia
had gathered with a group of women to pray at the edge of the river that flowed
past the city of Philippi, if we pull down our trusty map here we discover that
Philippi, which was named after Phillip the father of Alexander the Great, was
located here in what we know as Greece and this is actually the first place
that the Gospel was preached in Europe, and it would appear that Lydia was the
first convert in Europe.  We are told
that she was from Thyatira, which is across the Aegean Sea in what we now know
as Turkey.    And we know that she was a
specialized merchant, she sold purple cloth, a cloth that was worn by royalty
and the wealthy families.  The city of
Thyatira was famous throughout Asia for the purple dye they produced and Lydia
had obviously capitalized on this and was now marketing her fabric in Europe
using the city of Philippi as her base. 
And it was to the city of Philippi that Paul and his
companions had come after leaving Asia. 
As was their tradition they immediately sought out the closest Jewish
community to teach about Jesus.  In this
case there was no synagogue in town, probably because the Jewish community wasn’t
large enough, instead the people gathered alongside the river on the Sabbath to
pray and worship together.  And this is
where Lydia first encountered Paul and consequently encountered Jesus.
So how did this happen? 
First of all Lydia was in the The
Right Place 
I know that we can meet
God anywhere.  That we can worship God on
the golf course or at the hockey rink or fishing on the lake.  We can but we don’t.  If God’s name is used on the golf course, it’s
normally not in positive way, not to say it couldn’t be. 
There is something to be said about sacred spaces, about
church.  That’s why the Israelites had
the tabernacle in the wilderness and the temple in Jerusalem.  God knew the value of there being a spot
where you could leave the world outside for a little while and focus on God.
When a congregation decides to build a church building one
of the first issues is often finances.  I
love the cartoon where a man is telling the pastor at the door, “Pastor I’m
glad you don’t know where the money is coming from for the new building, for a
minute I was afraid you wanted to get it from us.”
But the pattern from the Old Testament was that the people
of God would pay for the house of God.
When we built this building we called our campaign “Building
on Faith” and the precedent for that offering was set in the Old Testament
where we see how much the people of Israel contributed to make the tabernacle
and temple a reality.  And when the time
comes for phase two the money won’t come from some magical pot it will come
from those who call Cornerstone their church home.
And that desire for sacred
space is one of the reasons why we built this building. Now you know and I know
that the church is not a building it is the people in the building, but if you
were to ask any one of the people who worshipped with us during the ten and a
half years we met at the Lions Den or Empire Theatre in Bedford I am sure they
will tell you this is different.  And
different in a good way.  And there are
those of your who have met God here and have been changed, it is the right
place.  King David wrote in Psalm 55:14 What good
fellowship we enjoyed as we walked together to the house of God.
Now I know that Lydia and her companions weren’t in a “Church”
building but they were at a spot that they had set aside for prayer and
worship.  They weren’t there fishing, or
swimming or boating they had gone to the river to seek God, the commentators
tell us that in cities and communities were there was no Synagogue that it was
not unusual for Jewish worshippers to find a place close to the water to meet
with God.  Here is a photo of the actual
river where this happened.
Not only was Lydia in the right place but she was there at The Right Time It all came together, we’ve
all been there, perhaps you’ve been in church a hundred times but then it
happened, you knew the time was right.  I
don’t know how many times my best friend has spoken to me about my need for God
but it was on September 2nd 1979 at 8:15 p.m. that I met with God
and he forgave my sins.  It was the right
time. 
Charles
Spurgeon was a London Preacher in the late 1800’s and he had this to say
“She (Lydia) 
was a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, but just at the right
time for hearing Paul we find her at Philippi; providence, which is the
handmaid of grace, led her to the right spot.” 
The week before Paul wasn’t there, a week later and he wasn’t
there but that day he was.  If Lydia had
decided to sleep in that morning, or go to the flea market, or mow the lawn or
spend the day at the beach she would have missed it.  But it was the Sabbath and she had gone to
meet God and she did. 
There is a great promise in the
book of  Jeremiah
29:11-13
For I know the plans I have for
you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you
a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look
for me in earnest, you will find me when you seek me.
When is the right time?  When you decide to seek Him you will find
him, is that today?  Only you can answer
that question but Paul would probably tell you the same thing he told people
2000 years ago in 2 Corinthians 6:2 For God says, “At just the right time, I heard you. On the
day of salvation, I helped you.” Indeed, God is ready to help you right now.
Today is the day of salvation.
When is the right time to meet God?  Right now! 
You have no idea what will happen in your life when you leave this
service this morning.  There is no better
time then now.
But it still wasn’t enough that Lydia was in the right place
at the right time, she made The Right
Decision. 
I truly believe that Lydia
was being wooed by God, that she was being pursued by the Hounds of
Heaven.  Paul spoke and she heard with
her ears but God spoke and she heard with her heart.  The Bible says that she was a worshiper of
God.  Scholars tell us that meant that
she was a gentile who recognized the God of the Jews but hadn’t actually
converted to Judaism.  She knew of God
but she didn’t actually know God.  There
are people like that here today; you’ve come to worship a God you’ve heard of
but that you haven’t actually met.  You
are in the right place at the right time, but you have yet to make the right
decision.
Listen to what happened that
day, Acts 16:14 One
of them was Lydia from Thyatira, a merchant of expensive purple cloth. She was
a worshiper of God. As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart, and she
accepted what Paul was saying.
Three things happened. 
First of all Paul was preaching. 
That’s what I do, I preach and I love to preach, I was called to preach
and it is who I am.  When people ask me
what I do I prefer to tell them I am a preacher over a pastor or minister.  When I was nineteen I preached my first
sermon and my Pastor was a man named Jack McKenzie and after the service he
came up and shook my hand and said “You did a good job preacher.” Thirty-three
years later whenever I see Jack he calls me “Preacher” and that is the greatest
compliment I ever get. 
But understand it wasn’t anything Paul said that changed
Lydia’s life.  The second thing that
happened was the Bible tells us that the Lord opened her heart.  She did not open her own heart. Her prayers
didn’t do it; Paul didn’t do it.  God did
it.  But it still wasn’t enough, the
puzzle still wasn’t complete.
In theory everything was in place.  When I travel in Africa one of the favorite
phrases of our team is “In theory” but it was Yogi
Berra who said “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice
but in practice there is.” 
But what made the theory a reality was the last part of the
statement “And she accepted what Paul was saying.”  She still had to make the decision, God may
have brought her to that place next to the river, he may have brought Paul at
that specific time, he may have opened her heart, but she still had to make the
decision.
And it will have to be you who makes the decision, nobody
else can do it for you. 

And finally she made The Right
Response
(at this point those who are being baptized can go and get
prepared.)

Two things happened. 
The first is we were told that she was baptized.  I am sure she asked Paul “What now, what is
my next step?”  And he would have said “You
need to be baptized.”  And she probably
looked down at the river and said “Ok.” 
And she was baptized.  That was
it.
In the early church that is the way it happened, you became
a Christian and you were baptized and there was all kinds of symbolism wrapped
up in that.  It was a public statement,
you were saying “Look everyone I am a Christian and I want everyone to know.”  It was illustrative of the washing away of
your sins and of you becoming a new creation. 
It was an outward sign of an inward experience.
Listen to the stories of people deciding to follow Jesus in
the book of Acts: 

Acts
8:12
But now the people believed Philip’s
message of Good News concerning the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus
Christ. As a result, many men and women were baptized.
Acts
8:36-38
As they rode along, they came to
some water, and the eunuch said, “Look! There’s some water! Why can’t I be
baptized?” He ordered the carriage to stop, and they went down into the water,
and Philip baptized him.
Acts
22:16
And now, why delay? Get up and be
baptized, and have your sins washed away, calling on the name of the Lord.’
Why was it so important for
them to be baptized?  Because they
remembered the words that Jesus told the apostles Mark
16:15-16
And then he told them, “Go into all
the world and preach the Good News to everyone, everywhere. Anyone who believes
and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be
condemned.
Baptism is indicative of the
resurrection of Christ but in another sense it is indicative of our new
lives.  We die to our old lives and are
buried and then we come out of the grave as a new person.    It wasn’t the baptism that did the saving
but it is indicative of our obedience. Christ commanded us to be baptized as
believers and so anything less is disobedience. 
The bible also tells us that it is illustrative of Jesus death and
resurrection.  In Colossians 2:12 we read Colossians 2:12 For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And
with him you were raised to a new life because you trusted the mighty power of
God, who raised Christ from the dead.
The next thing that happened
was that she invited Paul and Luke and Silas and whoever else was with them
back to her place for a meal, what happened on the inside that day was
evidenced by her actions.  She wanted to
be with other believers.   We are told in
Romans 12:13Always
be eager to practice hospitality.   You
should want to be with  other Christ followers
and not just on Sunday.
You can’t have an inward change
without it causing an outward change. 
People ought to say “There’s something different about you now.”  The first evidence was her obedience, the
second evidence was her love, and that’s what Jesus meant when he said in John 13:35 Your love for
one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

Today we have a number of people who have experienced the forgiveness of
Christ in their lives and they are testifying to that inward transformation by
being baptised.