Too Pretty to Work.


I don’t like to judge, well sometimes I do but that’s a “Penn” for another time.  But, seriously, I read a story last week about Laura Fernee a scientist from London.  It appears that Ms. Fernee had to quit her job because of physical limitations…… actually it was because of her physical appearance.  She told reporters “The truth is, my good looks have caused massive problems for me when it comes to employment, so I’ve made the decision that employment just isn’t for me at the moment.”  She’s not completely destitute though, Fernee’s parents are covering her expenses including rent, gym membership and more than $2,300 a month in designer clothes. Good work if you can find it.

I probably can’t understand all that Dr. Fernee deals with, I’m not that pretty, but people all over the world overcome physical challenges.  When I think of a scientist who has persevered in spite of his limitations I think of Stephen Hawking, who’s not very pretty at all but still has lots going against him. 

Each of us will face challenges in life, perhaps not as daunting as Hawking or Fernee, but challenges nevertheless and the one person who will decide if we will quit or press on will be us.  Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.   

Who is this Man? The Least of These

It was John Lennon who said, “Jesus was all right, but his
disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.”  And from what I hear when I talk to
people and read what people have to say about Jesus that seems to be the common
opinion.  Jesus was all right but
Christians not so much.  People, even
unchurched people have this view of Jesus who was super compassionate and
loving, never judging and always forgiving. 
And they like that about Jesus, and they don’t feel that they see that
in those who call themselves by his name, by his church.  As a matter of fact the church as often seen
as just the opposite of Jesus.  The
church is often seen as uncaring and unloving, judgemental and
unforgiving. 
And too often when Christians hear people make disparaging
remarks about the church they find themselves nodding and apologizing.  In fact I’ve been guilty of that myself, of
talking about how the church is made up of imperfect people and quoting people
like Ghandi
who supposedly said “If Christians would really live according to the teachings
of Christ, as found in the Bible, all of India would be Christian today.” 
I remember reading and agreeing with the statement “The
church is like Noah’s Ark, if it wasn’t for the judgment on the outside you
would never be able to stand the smell on the inside.”  And I have had to repent of that
attitude.  It is a disservice to both the
church and to Christ. Over and over again the bible refers to the church as the
bride of Christ and it must grieve him when people say “I love you but I can’t
stand your wife.” 
Last week I mentioned that the life of Jesus shaped the
world as we know it today.   I would clarify and elaborate on that by
saying I truly believe that the life of Jesus has a shaped the world for the
better.  That the best parts of the world
as we know it today are a direct result of Jesus.  And that has happened not because a man named
Jesus lived and died 2000 years ago. 
Last week as we began this series we looked at what we as a church
believe about Jesus.  And that in our
statement of faith it says that our beliefs are in line with historic
Christianity.  And then we looked at what
that meant in our beliefs about Jesus. 
That he is the Son of God, that he was conceived of the Holy Spirit and
born of a virgin, that his death on the cross was in atonement for our sins and
that on the third day he rose from the dead. 
This we believe.  
But those aren’t the things that have  shaped the world for the better.  You see, Jesus’ greatest contribution to the
world wasn’t that he was the son of God, who was conceived of the Holy Spirit
and born of a virgin.  The greatest thing
that Jesus did wasn’t dying on a cross or being raised from the dead.  And it wasn’t how he lived; it wasn’t because
he was loving and kind and compassionate. Because if all that Jesus left for
the world was Jesus, he would simply be a foot note in history, if that. 
But Jesus didn’t just leave his teaching, Jesus didn’t just
leave his example, the most important thing that Jesus left was his
church.  You see Jesus’ greatest
contribution to the world was his Church. 
Last week we looked into
Matthew 16 where Jesus asked the apostles who they believed he was, and after
Peter had replied and said “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living
God”  Jesus responded and said  Matthew 16:18 Now
I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will
build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.”
The bedrock of the church, the
foundation of the church was to be that acknowledgment that Jesus is the Son of
God, that Jesus is the Messiah.  And on
that foundation a bunch of people who had nothing going for them, other than
the one they followed, changed the world. 
Without Christ there would be
no Christ Followers, there would be no church. 
And for some people that wouldn’t be much of an issue because they
haven’t seen the church as a positive influence. 
It was Friedrich Nietzsche who said “I call Christianity
the one great curse, the one great intrinsic depravity, the one great instinct
for revenge for which no expedient is sufficiently poisonous, secret,
subterranean, petty — I call it the one immortal blemish of mankind.”   
But then again this was the
same Nietzsche who was cared for as an orphan by his Christian Grand Parents,
who was educated in a university that was started by the church, who was
treated in a hospital founded by the church, who died in 1900 the Year of our
Lord and was buried in a Christian graveyard.
Without Christ there would be
no Christ Followers because they were the gift that Jesus gave to the world, he
told the world Luke 6:47 I will show you what it’s like
when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it.
The impact that Jesus made, he
made though those who followed him.  If
there had been no Jesus there would have been no Jesus followers to make a
difference in the world.  But what was
the difference He made through them?
This morning I want to take you
back to the scripture that was read for us. Jesus is teaching the crowds about
the day of judgement.  And as part of
that teaching he talks about people being divided into two groups.  We aren’t always comfortable with that
thought but this is Jesus’ story so we will let him tell it his way  Matthew 25:34-36 “Then
the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my
Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.
For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was
a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me
clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited
me.’
Now if you know the story, the
righteous ones say “But when did we do that for you? We don’t remember ever
feeding you or giving you a drink, or visiting you in prison.”  And the response comes back in Matthew 25:40 “And the
King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of
these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’
And I would suggest that it has
been the church’s response to “The least of these” that has changed the world.
Jesus Shaped How We Think of the Poor 
Even the church’s harshest critics seem to think the Salvation Army
is doing a good job.  For the past couple
of years I have volunteered for their Christmas kettle campaign and I stand in
the mall, wearing a Santa hat, ringing a bell and collect money for the less
fortunate for Christmas.  And that is
only a small part of what they do, they feed the poor, provide shelter for the
homeless, show up whenever there is an emergency or natural disaster.  But why is that?  The Salvation Army didn’t just magically appear
out of nowhere.  In 1865 a Jesus Follower
named William Booth thought the words of Jesus were important when he told
people to take care of the poor.  And the
Salvation Army has continued to do that for almost 150 years.
At Christmas time we collected
enough money to partner with World Hope to drill a well in a village in Sierra
Leone, why?  Because almost twenty years
ago a Wesleyan Pastor by the name of Joanne Lyon took the words of Jesus
serious when he said Matthew
25:35
For I was
hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a
stranger, and you invited me into your home.   And when his followers said “When did
this happen?”  Jesus told them Matthew 25:40 “. . . I tell you the truth, when
you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters; you were doing
it to me!”
 I’m
not saying that compassion is limited to Jesus and his followers but when
disasters happen it is the World Hopes and World Visions, and Samaritan Purses
and the Compassion Internationals that are there firstest with the
mostest.  Why?  Because two thousand years ago Jesus was born
and told his followers to care for the poor and the unfortunate.
Which is why in 1863 when an
international organization was founded in Geneva Switzerland to care for those
in need the symbol they chose was a Red Cross.  
It’s why the organization that was started to provide a safe refuge for
young men from the streets of London in 1844 was called the YMCA.   Young Men’s Christian Association. 
And because Jesus welcomed the
little children it was the church that established the first orphanages, and
because it was Jesus who had compassion on the lepers it was the church that
ministered to those who were considered unclean and undesirable by the rest of
the world. 
While the rest of the world
shunned those with leprosy there were Christ followers who remembered that
Jesus touched them and healed them so in his name they embraced those who were
untouchable to the rest of the world. 
Which leads us to the next
point. 
Jesus Shaped How We Think of the Sick How many people here were
born at the Grace Maternity Hospital here in Halifax.  Do you know why there is a Grace Maternity
Hospital?  Because in 1906 some followers
of Jesus decided that there should be a hospital in Halifax where “Fallen
women” could have their babies safely and with dignity.  Because they remembered how Jesus treated
“fallen women”.  And those Jesus
followers did the job so well that when the city of Halifax decided to start a dedicated
maternity institution they asked the Jesus Followers to start it and the
Salvation Army called it the Grace Maternity Hospital. 
And if you were born in
Halifax, and weren’t born at the Grace then there is a pretty good chance you
were born at the old Halifax Infirmary which was started by the Sisters of
Charity in 1886. 
In the second and third
centuries two plagues hit the known world and historical reports tell us that
up to 1/3 of large cities were dying.  
That the population was so overwhelmed that the dead were simply thrown
into the streets, and eventually not just the dead but the dying where thrown
into the street. 
Rodney Stark’s book, the Rise of
Christianity; How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant
Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries” argues
that one of the main reasons for the success of Early Christianity was the
Christian emphasis on caring for the sick. During the late Roman period there
were a number of devastating plagues.  It
was during this time that Christianity saw some of their most prolific growth.
Why?  Stark contends that Christian communities
would have had better survival rates during these plagues because of the
healthcare they provided for one another.  And not just for each other, Christians also
cared for the sick in non-Christian communities, which Stark says, would
increase the likelihood of their conversion, especially in times of death and
uncertainty.
Dionysius a Bishop of the
early church wrote this “Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and
loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of
danger they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and
ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed life serenely happy; for
they were infected by others with the disease.” 
Why would they do that? 
Because they remembered the stories of Jesus who would touch those who
were considered untouchable.
It is why the first hospitals
were started by Jesus Followers in Monasteries and even today have names like
Saint Jude’s and St. Joseph’s and St. Elsewhere.  Because for two thousand years those who have
taken the name of Christ read the stories in the Gospels where Jesus saw the
sick and had compassion on them, saw the lepers and touched them, even when
others wouldn’t and they remembered how Jesus healed people. 
When the disciples of John came
to Jesus to ask if he was the messiah Jesus told them in Luke 7:22 Then he told
John’s disciples, “Go back to John and tell him what you have seen and
heard—the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the
dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.”   And the followers of Jesus still do it
today.  When I travel through Africa the
majority of hospitals and clinics have been built by Christian churches.  Not all of them but most of them.  And those that were started by other groups
were started because of the example set by the Christian Church and it’s always
been that way.
Remember how the early Christ
followers ministered during the Plagues in Rome?  Here is an excerpt from the Stark’s book “The
Rise of Christianity” “Thus, a century later, the emperor Julian launched a
campaign to institute pagan charities in an effort to match the
Christians.  Julian complained in a
letter to the high priest of Galatia in 362 that the pagans needed to equal the
virtues of Christians, for recent Christian growth was caused by their “moral
character, even if pretended,” and by their benevolence toward strangers and
care for the graves of the dead.”
And because a Jesus Follower by
the name of Tommy Douglas remembered how concerned Jesus was with the ill he
thought it was important for all Canadians to have access to medical care. 
But it wasn’t just for the poor
and the sick that Jesus makes a difference. 
Jesus Shaped How We
Think of Slaves. 
Slavery is one of
those issues that people often bring up when they are criticizing the
church.  Which really goes to prove their
ignorance of history?  The church did not
start the slave trade but it was instrumental in stopping it. 
In North America when we think about Slavery we think of a
two hundred year period in US history, we think of the Southern States,
plantations and cotton fields.  But slavery
has always existed and exists today. 
However Christianity is the one religion that went out of its way to
bring an end to slavery in the Western world. 
The Church that was built on the name of Jesus was the most
influential institution in the abolitionist   movement in the US. 
When you read the history of those who sought to end
slavery, people like John Brown, who fought and died in the battle against slavery,
Harriet Beecher Stowe who wrote “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” a novel that has often been
credited with energizing the anti-slavery emotions of the US prior to the civil
war and Abraham Lincoln who was willing to lead his country into war to end
Slavery, the one thing they have in common was their Christian upbringing. 
Men like John Newton who made his living from the slave
trade met Jesus and became a voice crying out for the end to slavery.  This was the same Newton who would go on to
write “Amazing Grace”.  It was the same
John Newton who met with a young politician by the name of William Wilberforce
who after becoming a follower of Jesus was thinking of leaving politics.  Instead Newton convinced him to stay in
Parliament and devote his career to the abolition of the slave trade in the
British Empire.   And Wilberforce fought
the good fight and finally in 1807 the slave traded was banned and in 1833
Parliament outlawed slavery.
John Wesley called Slavery the greatest evil of his day and
the Wesleyan church was born out of the anti-slavery movement of the early
1800’s through the efforts of men like Orange Scott and Adam Crook, who was
described as: a man who loved God and hated slavery. 
It was Jesus followers who were at the forefront of bringing
about the end to slavery.  And why?  There was no personal gain to be had; in fact
they often were at risk for their views and their preaching.  There was no financial incentive and yet they
embraced the truth of “for God so loved the world”. 
2000 years ago slavery was a
part of life, and had been for thousands of years before and so the teaching of
the early church was revolutionary when Paul wrote in Galatians 3:28 There
is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all
one in Christ Jesus.  And the
thoughts of Colossians 4:1 were a brand new
teaching, Colossians 4:1Masters,
be just and fair to your slaves. Remember that you also have a Master—in
heaven.  
But don’t think that slavery is simply a historical battle
that has been won.  It is estimated that
there are 27 million slaves in the world today. 
And Jesus followers are still in the forefront of that battle to end
slavery. 
Jesus Shaped How We
Think of Children
There have been abuses, there is no doubt about that bad
people did bad things to children in some church run orphanages.  But the reason those bad things happened in
church run orphanages is that if it hadn’t been for the church there wouldn’t
have been orphanages. And you may be thinking “That might have been a good
thing”.  But if you did away with
orphanages you wouldn’t be doing away with orphans. 
The church provided orphanages as a way to save the lives of
children who had been deserted by their parents or left parentless because of
illness or accident.  The church did it
because society wasn’t doing it.  And the
church knew the importance of loving and caring for children because that was
the way of Jesus.
If you Google “Jesus and children” You will see paintings and
pictures of Jesus with the children, you will find lists of scriptures where
Jesus spoke about children and interacted with children.  If you Google Mohammed and children you get
very different results. 
And because Jesus said things
like Matthew 19:14 But Jesus said, “Let
the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to
those who are like these children.”, the first orphanages were started
by the church in the first century by Jesus followers, and the first orphanage
in the US was started by a Roman Catholic order of sisters, the first
Orphanages in Halifax were the Protestant Orphanage and Saint Joseph’s
Orphanage. 

Were they perfect, nope?  And I’m sure
through the years there were bad people who worked there, but the reality is
when society was ignoring children in need the church of Jesus was doing
something to help them. 

So how do we change the
world?  The same way you eat an elephant,
one piece at a time.  You see Jesus
didn’t call us to change the world.  In
Matthew 25 he didn’t tell his followers to build hospitals and orphanages and
start international relief agencies. 
What he said was when you see someone hungry, feed them, when you see
someone who is thirsty give them a drink, when you see someone without clothes
help them out and when you see someone who is sick, give them care.  And that’s not too difficult, is it?
And it was because of Jesus’
words and his actions that Jesus followers have built hospitals and orphanages
and started international relief agencies. 
So this week take a look around
and see how you can touch the life of someone in need.  And who knows, you might meet Jesus at the
same time. 

You’ve Sent Mail!


Apparently, it was new technology for her and she was really struggling. I just happened to be there for her conversation with the support staff as she went over the process step by step. She wanted to make sure that she had done everything right and that the recipient would get her message.

I would have thought by now everyone would know how to send a message, but apparently not. At her age, maybe she had never used the technology before; who am I to judge?  Finally she seemed to get it right, so she paid for her stamp, stuck it on the envelope and dropped her letter in the slot. It happened the last time I was at the post office.

It’s amazing how something that seems so simple can be complex if you’ve never done it before, and it seemed as if this young lady had never “mailed” a letter before.
Sometimes we are quick to tell someone, “Just pray about it.” But if they’ve never done it before – regardless of their age – the process can seem daunting. So instead of suggesting that they just pray about it, maybe we should offer to pray for them so they can see how it’s done.

Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.
  
           

Who is this Man? The Basics

Who is this Man? 
Matthew 16:13-20
If you were to ask the average person “Who is Jesus?”  I am sure that you would get a bunch of
different answers.  Some would say that
he was the Son of God; other’s might say that he was a prophet or a religious
leader.  Some might even say that he was
nobody, that he never existed.  If you
watch the television show “Bones” you will sometimes hear the main character
refer to the “Jesus Myth”  and for some
that is all Jesus is or was, a myth. 
I would suspect that a large segment of the population don’t
have an opinion, Jesus for them is a non-entity.  That doesn’t mean that they think he doesn’t
exist, it simply means that they don’t think about him at all.  They don’t have an opinion because to them
Jesus is not relevant to their lives. 
And I would suspect that there might even be those here today who share
that opinion, or non-opinion would be more accurate. 
You are here in church because it’s easier than not being in
church, your parent or your spouse wants you to be here so you are here.  And you listen to the worship team sing, and
you listen to some God talk from Denn and then you go home, your obligation has
been fulfilled for the time being. 
I was in that category, before I became a Christ follower, I
wasn’t antagonistic about Christ, I simply didn’t think about him, ever. 
And it wasn’t that I was ignorant, I had the opportunities
to know him, I went to Daily Vacation Bible School when I was a kid and my family
was vacationing on Grand Manan.  I went
to a Baptist Sunday School, sometimes. 
The Baptist church was the church we didn’t go to when we didn’t go to
church.  When I got older I learned to
change the channel when the TV Preachers came on and to find another radio
station when Back to the Bible interrupted my music.
It was only when I was personally challenged to have an
opinion that it became clear that it was important for me to have an
opinion.   Not just an opinion of who others thought
Jesus was but who I thought Jesus was. 
If we go back to the scripture
that was read for us this morning we discover that Jesus is challenging the
twelve to have an opinion about him.  Matthew
16:13
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea
Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
And the apostles had several
answers for him, Matthew 16:14 “Well,”
they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say
Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”
And those seemed to be fairly reasonable answers, but they
were the wrong answers.  It’s the same
today, when we hear people say “He was a good man”  or “he was a prophet and a great teacher”.  They seem reasonable, but they are
wrong.  He is so much more than
that. 
And sometimes we find those who want to recreate Jesus in
their own image.  Which is why Pulitzer
prize winner Chris Hedges whose books take a stand against war and capital
punishment would write “Jesus was a pacifist.”   And why Mikhail Gorbachev would say “Jesus was the
first socialist, the first to seek a better life for mankind.”  And why Elton John  stated “I think Jesus was a compassionate,
super-intelligent gay man who understood human problems.”
But just because everyone has an opinion doesn’t mean they
are right.
So, who is this man?  Not for Elton John, not for Chris Hedges, or
Mikhail Gorbachev.  Not for your
neighbour, or your pastor, or your spouse or your parents.  Who is he for you, today?    Because that is the question.  When the apostles got through telling Jesus
what others were saying about him he challenges them by saying Matthew
16:15
Then he asked them, “But who do you say I
am?”   And today, March 19th
2013 he is still asking that question: 
But who do you say I am?
Over the next several weeks we are looking at the question
“Who is this man?”  Who is Jesus?  And how has he impacted the world? And
ultimately and more important: how has he impacted your world? 
Last summer our theme was “What Jesus said about himself”
And for two months we examined the words of Jesus in the book of John when he
said over and over again “I am. . .”  I
am the way, I am the truth, I am the Life, I am the light of the world, I am
the good shepherd.  But what Jesus said
about himself is as irrelevant as what others said about him if it doesn’t
change and impact our lives.
The world  as we know
it has been shaped by Christianity.  If
there had been no Christmas, if there had been no Easter the world that exists
today would be a radically different place. 
The reality is that it didn’t matter whether I acknowledged
Jesus or not, he has shaped the world we live in. 
The majority of the world in some form or another takes the
time to acknowledge his birth and an equal number of people take the time to
recognize his death and resurrection. 
Now, they may not recognize it by being in church but it is recognized
in the sense that the day is different than other days.  Most people don’t go to work on Christmas
Day, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  It is
a time to gather with family and to have a celebratory meal, to give gifts and
speak about good will and wish each other a Merry Christmas, and a Happy
Easter.  And they recognize that there is
something different about that name.
If you take your bulletin and look at the front on the very
top it says May 19, 2013.  We take that
for granted.  That is the date.  More correctly it would say AD 2013, but what
does the AD mean?  It is short for the
Latin phrase Anno Domini  which translated
into English is: In the year of our Lord. 
For most of human history time
was measured by those who were in power at the time.  In the book of Luke we are told that Jesus
ministry began when he was baptized by the John the Baptist and the Holy Spirit
descended on him and the Father said “This is my son with whom I am well
pleased.  But when was that?  Luke spells it out for us.    Luke
3:1-2
It was now the fifteenth year of the
reign of Tiberius, the Roman emperor. Pontius Pilate was governor over Judea;
Herod Antipas was ruler over Galilee . . .
Imagine setting time that way
today, It was the fifth year of the reign of Harper, the Canadian Emperor,
Darrell Dexter was governor over Nova Scotia and Mike Savage was ruler over
Halifax.  It is so much easier to say it
was 2013. 
The bible tells us that the birth of Jesus was originally
dated by the fact that most of the known world was ruled by Caesar Augustus and
today we know that Augustus died in 14. 
14 What?  14 the Year of our
Lord.  When Jesus was crucified it was
under the authority of Caesar Tiberius. 
Tiberius died in 37, the year of our Lord.   History has been divided into two sections
those things that happened before Jesus was born and those things that happened
after Jesus was born. 
And so the greatest men and women in history, for good or
for evil are defined by two dates, when they were born and when they died, and
those dates are referenced to the birth of a baby in a stable in a little
village in a small occupied country over 20 centuries ago.  And so Napoleon Bonaparte lived from
1769-1821 in the year of our Lord.  And Mahatma
Gandhi lived from 1869 to 1948 in the year of our Lord.  And if you were to visit the grave of the
great Atheist Friedrich Nietzsche  on his
tombstone you would see his life summed up by the dates 1844-1900,  in the year of our Lord. 
Muhammad, the founder of Islam lived from 570 to 632 in the
year of our Lord.  There have been
attempts through the years to secularize this by referring to it as CE or the
Common Era, but common to what?  To the
birth of Jesus.
If there was no Jesus there would be no 2013 and because our
calendar was developed by a Jesus follower by the name of Gregory not only
would today not be in the year 2013 it wouldn’t be May 19th. 
But it’s not just time that is defined by Jesus.
When you hear somebody say “turn the other cheek” they are
quoting Jesus, when they speak of someone being a prodigal son, they are
quoting Jesus.  Most people know the
“Golden Rule”  but do they know that it
came from Jesus?  Phrases such as “The
blind leading the blind” and “Cast the first stone”, “turn the other cheek”,
“go the extra mile” and giving someone the shirt off your back.  All come from Jesus.    
So, let’s go back to the our scripture.  Jesus has asked the Apostles “Who do people
say that I am?”  and they give him a
variety of answers.  And if I asked you
today “Who do people say Jesus is?”  You
could give me a variety of answers.  Some
good, some bad, some indifferent. 
And it’s easy for us to parrot what others think about
Jesus, whether it is the good or the bad.   
To say “Well the bible says”  or
“Denn, or Cornerstone says” 
But Jesus deemed those answers as irrelevant when he then
looked at the Apostles and said “That’s all well and good but what really
matters is this:  Who do you say I
am?” 
Matthew
16:16
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”   Now if Jesus was just a good man, or a
prophet or a moral teacher this would have been the opportunity for him to have
clarified his position.  To tell Peter
and the rest of the gang, “Nope, not at all, I’m just a prophet pointing to
God.”  “I am simply a Rabbi, directing
you to the truth.” 
Instead Jesus replies by saying
Matthew 16:17-18 Jesus replied, “You are
blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to
you. You did not learn this from any human being. Now I say to you that you are
Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all
the powers of hell will not conquer it.”
You
understand the significance here right? 
Jesus is claiming to be God.  Of
all the major religious leaders in the world, Moses, Buddha, Confucius and
Mohammed.  Only Jesus claimed to be
God.  It was C.S. Lewis who first put
forth the proposition that based on Jesus claiming he was God we can accept his
claims in only one of three ways.
1)     
He knew he wasn’t God but said he was, which
would make him a Liar.
2)     
He thought he was God, but wasn’t, which would
make him a lunatic
3)     
He said he was God and he was. Which should make
him Lord.
And Jesus said this was to be the bedrock of
the church, the acknowledgment that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living
God.  And once a church starts to waver
and compromise on that, they might call themselves a church, others might call
them a church but the foundation has begun to crumble. 
If you were to visit our website you would
discover our statement of faith which opens with this statement:  Cornerstone is
part of the Wesleyan Church
, an evangelical, Protestant denomination, and our
beliefs are consistent with historic Christianity. The following are some
doctrinal statements that directly influence the way we live our lives and the
way we operate our ministries at Cornerstone. We believe these to be the basic
truths about God and our relationship with Him. We’re open to change and compromise
on a variety of issues… these aren’t them.
And then the first thing
on the list, the foundation for everything else is:

1) We believe in one God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit (The
Trinity), and the Saviour of all people who put their faith in Him alone for
eternal life.
We believe the words of Jesus
in John 14:6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth,
and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.  Not a way, a truth and a life,  not one way, one truth, one life.   But the way, the truth and the life.  And that goes back to our statement of
faith,  “Our beliefs are consistent with
historic Christianity.”  And those
beliefs are summed up in the Apostles Creed.
The
Apostle’s Creed
I believe in God,
the Father Almighty,
the Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
The third day He arose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Church Universal
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.
Amen.
We believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son our Lord.    
Peter called Jesus the Son of
God, Nathaniel called Jesus the Son of God, 
the Angel Gabriel called Jesus the Son of  God, the rest of the Apostles called Jesus
the Son of God, the Devil called Jesus the Son of God, Jesus called himself the
Son of God and on the day that he was baptised by John we read these words. Matthew
3:16-17
After his baptism, as Jesus came up out
of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending
like a dove and settling on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my
dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”   Even God acknowledged Jesus as his
son. 
That is the Jesus who we
believe in and worship at Cornerstone. 
We don’t worship a good man, or a prophet or a great moral teacher.  We worship Jesus, the Son of God. 
But more than that, We believe that Jesus was conceived of the
Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary
The virgin birth is not just a
myth and not just a doctrine you may or may not believe in.  It is the central part of who Jesus is.  If Jesus was simply the son of Mary and
Joseph, regardless of how righteous and morally good they might have been that
would have made Jesus nothing more than a man with really good parents. 
The virgin birth plays an
important part in both accounts of the Christmas story, you remember the story Matthew 1:18 This is how
Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to
Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she
became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Luke tells us the same story in
Luke 1:26-27 In
the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to
Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be
married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David.
And if there was one person who
should know Mary’s sexual history it was Mary and she seems pretty sure that
she won’t qualify when Angel tells her she is going to be a mom.  Listen to what Mary says Luke 1:34 Mary asked the
angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”
And people object to the virgin
birth saying that it is impossible.  Of
course it’s impossible that’s the mystery and the wonder of the birth of
Christ. 
We are talking God coming to earth.  How should he come?  The same way that you and me and Genghis Khan
and Adolph Hitler were conceived and born? The prophet Isaiah said that God
would chose a sign, and he did, he stepped outside the boundary of natural laws
that say that in the act of conception a male and a female would each
contribute a cell which would become a new person. 
Instead God did what had never happened before and has not
happened since and that is he produced a child with only one cell.  You read in the papers about same sex
parents, don’t believe it, it can’t happen. 
It takes ingredients from a boy and a girl to make a baby.
If you can believe that Jesus is the Son of  God then you should be able to believe that
Jesus was born of a Virgin. 
But it’s not just how he was
born that was important,  We believe that Jesus suffered under
Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
This is the doctrine of
atonement.  The reality that Jesus died
for our sins.  Now we may never be able
to fully understand all the ins and outs of why Jesus had to die for us, but
the Old Testament was very explicit that there was a price that had to be paid
for the sinful behaviour of each one of us. 
And we are told in Romans 4:25 He
(Jesus) was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life
to make us right with God.
And then we are told in Romans
5:17
For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused
death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift
of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and
death through this one man, Jesus Christ.  The gift of Christ’s salvation if for
everyone, but like every gift it has to be received.  You might decide that it didn’t look good for
Denn to be driving around in an 8 year old Smart Car so you decided that you
wanted me to have a new car, still a convertible and still made by Mercedes but
different, you know what I mean?  And so you
bought me a new car and you told me that you had bought it for me, and that I
could have it, no strings attached.  It
would be a gift.  But that gift would
only become a reality when claimed it. 
If I never accepted it, left it parked in your driveway, even though it
was a gift it would not benefit me. 
The gift of grace is available
for everyone, but you have to claim it. 
But Jesus simply dying for us would have been a nice gesture
and that would have been it.  But Jesus didn’t
simply die for us.    And that is why We Believe That On The Third Day Jesus Arose From The Dead.   This is another one of those “But that’s
impossible” things. 
And I will be the first to admit, it is impossible.  But then again if it wasn’t impossible it
wouldn’t mean a whole lot would it. 
Within the scope of things Christians have never denied this point, as a
matter of fact it is the foundation of our faith. 
Our faith acknowledges that a person cannot come back from
the dead, but our faith doesn’t believe that Jesus was just a person; instead
we believe that he was God.  And if God
put the rules of nature into force then God can step outside the rules of
nature.  We see that time and time again
throughout the bible, they are called miracles and you either believe in the
supernatural or you don’t.  We believe
that his birth, the virgin birth was miraculous and we believe that his
resurrection was miraculous.
And we believe it not just because one person said it
happened but because the bible records numerous people who witnessed it.  The first were the ladies who are mentioned
as being the first to the tomb, and then we read that Christ appeared to the 11
remaining apostles and then other disciples. 
Paul spells it out for us in 1 Corinthians 15:4-7 He was buried, and he was raised from
the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the
Twelve. After that, he was seen by more
than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though
some have died. Then he was seen by James and
later by all the apostles.
 And
there are people who want to believe in a Jesus who wasn’t born of a virgin,
and a Jesus who didn’t die on a cross and a Jesus who wasn’t raised from the
dead.  But if we are going to believe in
Jesus and worship Jesus and trust our eternity to Jesus we need to understand
that he comes as a package.  Paul writes
in 1 Corinthians
15:17 And if Christ
has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of
your sins. 
It was the philosopher C.S. Lewis who wrote, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite
importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”
Over the next three weeks we
will be looking at how Jesus shaped the world that we live in today, but the
more important question is: How has he shaped you?

May the Force Be With Us

There are the same number of Jedi Knights as there are Wesleyans!  Well, that’s not entirely true, there are the same number of Jedi across Canada as there are Wesleyans in Atlantic Canada.  But still. . .    
They are in decline and while some are quick to offer up reasons, nobody is offering up solutions.  Those who have left speak about how they have outgrown their faith or talk about its lack of relevance.  Those who still embrace their beliefs would say that those who left never truly understood their religion, or simply didn’t have the commitment to see it through.  That would be the Jedi knights, not the Wesleyan, we are actually growing.   
In the last census, Statistics Canada discovered the number of Jedi Knights in Canada had fallen from a high of over 20,000 to slightly over 9,000.   It is interesting to note that the Jedi still outnumber some other religions.   According to Statistics Canada, there are more Jedi Knights than all the declared Satanists, Scientologists, Zoroastrians and Rastafarians combined.   But, if the downward trend continues that won’t always be the case. 
We have Wesleyan churches that are travelling in the same direction as the Jedi and unless we can find solutions instead of excuses. . .
Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.   

Mother’s Days for Elizabeth

It is a familiar story and one that fits with Mother’s
Day.  A woman who wasn’t supposed to be a
mother becomes a mother.   It is one of
the most familiar stories in the Bible but a story that is over shadowed by
another story and gets lost.  We are all
familiar with the first couple of Chapters of Luke, it is the Christmas
story. 

But the Christmas story didn’t start when the Angel appeared
to Mary, no the story began half a year earlier and 100 kms away. 
Before the angel appeared to Mary and Joseph he had already
appeared in Jerusalem to a man named Zechariah to announce the birth of a boy
who would be named John and who would be a cousin to Jesus.
And the story of John, or more important the story of
Elizabeth is a story that should resonate with most of the women who are here
today. 
So let’s begin our journey 
where our Journey should begin, at the beginning.  Historically we are at the end of four
hundred years of silence in the Story of Israel.  The last recorded words from one of God’s
prophets had been written in the book of Malachi and the people of Israel have
been waiting to be delivered from the various occupiers of their country.  
So let’s start with a little background about
Elizabeth. 
We know who she was, because it is recorded in Luke’s
Gospel, Luke 1:5 In the time of Herod king of
Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division
of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron.  
So she was a descendent of
Aaron, who was Moses’ brother.  And it
was from Aaron that the Jewish priesthood was descended. 
And then we read in Luke
1:6
Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in
God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations.   Not only was Elizabeth from a
religious family, but she herself was righteous and was careful to obey all of
the Lord’s commandments and regulations. 
She was good people. 

Interestingly enough the
Elizabeth who is mentioned here is actually a relative of Mary, Jesus
mother.  Earlier I called John a cousin
because I didn’t know what else to call him. 
And that’s what he would have been called in those extended families,
when you can’t think of anything else to call someone who is kin you call them
your cousin.  You know if they aren’t
your brother or sister, niece or nephew then they have to be your cousin.
When Gabriel appeared to Mary
at beginning of the Christmas story he reveals this to her,  Luke 1:36 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become
pregnant in her old age!
In the King James Version it
calls Elizabeth Mary’s cousin but the word in the original Greek was much
broader than that and simply meant someone who was related to you,
somehow.  And she may have been her
cousin, we just don’t know.  What we do
know is that Elizabeth was a descendant of Aaron and we are told that Mary was
a descendant of David’s so whatever relationship was on their Mother’s side of
the family tree. 
However I think if you had of
talked to Elizabeth she wouldn’t have defined herself by her family background
or her behaviour, instead in her private moments I think she would have defined
herself with the next statement in this scripture which says, Luke
1:7
They had no children because Elizabeth
was unable to conceive, and they were both very old.   
Now we really don’t know how
old she was.  Obviously She was old
enough for it to be mentioned, but perhaps because it was in relation to her
child bearing years it was just relative. 
After all in that day and culture when women were married and began
their families when they were in the teens, if you had been married for twenty
years and hadn’t had a child it might be assumed that the baby wagon had passed
you by. 
When we were in Truro we had
two ladies who had children the same time that our daughter Deborah was born,
and in 1987 we thought they were old, they were in their mid-thirties, which twenty
five years ago seemed old to be having babies. 
So we don’t know how old Elizabeth was. 
But we do know that she
experienced the heart ache of not having a child while all of her peers were.
Elizabeth Knew the Heartache of Being Childless  Now understand, not everyone wants
kids.  Sometimes we meet couples who are
childless and we jump to the conclusion that they are unable to have
children.   But that isn’t always the
case, and as a boss of mine used to tell me: The only thing you get from
jumping to conclusions are sore feet. 
Some couples choose to not have children for a variety of different
reasons, and that is fine, that is there decision, it doesn’t make them less as
people and when a woman chooses not to have children, that doesn’t make her
less of a woman.  And I understand that,
some people choose not to own a cat, that I don’t understand.   But I digress. 
But that was not the case with Zechariah
and Elizabeth.  We are told that they
were unable to have children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, as we
progress in the story we discover that this had been a heartache for them.  And it was a matter of prayer, they had not
only done their part in trying to make a baby they had asked God to do his
part, to no avail. 
For people who are trying to
start a family and it’s not working there is an incredible amount of stress and
frustration and eventually heartache. 
Often time’s children have been part of the dream and the plan since the
first doll was held.  For many couples
and even more women it has always been assumed that children would be part of
the equation, and then they aren’t. 
Add to that the cultural
demand, even today, on having children, most couples have been there the
endless questions about when it’s going to happen, throw perspective
grandparents into the mix and the pressure is immense.  And to Zechariah and Elizabeth there was the
responsibility to have a son who would carry on the priestly lineage of their
families.
But it wasn’t working, and
Elizabeth was taking the blame.  Remember
the scripture said that she was unable to conceive.  But seriously, they wouldn’t have known that,
what they knew was that “They were unable to conceive”  but it ended up in her lap and the they
became She. 
I would suspect in that time
and culture if a man married three different women and none of them had
children everybody would say that he was unlucky to have married three barren
women, but really?
If there had of been a Mother’s
Day 2000 years ago it would have been Elizabeth’s least favorite day, it would
have been a reminder of what she wasn’t. 
And I’m sure that there are those who worship at Cornerstone who have
either skipped the service today or wish they had of skipped the service today
for the same reason as Elizabeth, it is a reminder of what they aren’t but
wished they were.
And there is nothing I can say
today that will ease your hurt or make you feel any better about today.    But let me pray for you. 
It seemed that just when Zechariah
and Elizabeth had grown used to the fact that they would grow old together
without children God interrupts their plans. 
Luke 1:11-13 While Zechariah was in the
sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the
incense altar. Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him.
But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer.
Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John.
By this time in history there were more priests than there
were jobs for priests, so they took turns working in the temple, good work if
you can find it.  And Zechariah’s turn came
up and he was chosen to enter into the temple and offer the sacrifices and
while he was in there the strangest thing happened. 
He’s doing the things he supposed to be doing, preparing the
sacrifice, getting it ready to be offered, preparing his prayers and the
scriptures he will read as part of the ceremony and God interrupts him, with an
Angel.  I don’t know what angels look
like but they always start off their introductions with the words “Don’t be
afraid”. 
And Zechariah was a little spooked; actually he was a lot
spooked.  After all he was supposed to be
alone in the altar area, there were no windows just lit by flickering torches,
maybe he’s whistling as he worked.  And all
of a sudden he’s no longer alone.  I
don’t think he was spooked because there was an angel there, I think he was
spooked because there was anyone there.
And if we read through the conversation the Angel, who
identifies himself as Gabriel tells Zechariah that his and Elizabeth’s prayers will
be answered and that they will be parents and that their son will do great
things for God. 
And after the angel drops this
bombshell, I mean good news on Zechariah he gets this response; “What?”  Actually that was a rough translation his
actually words were Luke 1:18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure
this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”
My wife is well along in years,
that charitable, love how it is put in the King James Version  Luke 1:18 And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I
know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.   Guys here’s a Mother’s Day hint, I
don’t think that “well stricken in years” is the most appropriate way to
describe your wife’s age.
You got to love this, for years
Zechariah and Elizabeth had prayed for a son, They had been praying so long it
had become route and I don’t think they really expected it would be answered
and had never stopped to consider what would happen if it was answered, there
would be diapers to buy, a house to be baby proofed and they’d have to get a
baby seat for the camel.
Presumably they knew what
caused babies and presumably they had been trying that particular technique
without success so the assumption would have to be that there would have to be
something miraculous about this.
And to be fair, it may not have
been disbelief as much as curiosity that caused his reaction, he knew the other
way wasn’t working so what was going to change?
If you don’t know the rest of
the story it would appear that Gabriel was a little sensitive about not being
believed because he responds by saying in 
Luke
1:19-20
Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of
God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! But now, since you
didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the
child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.”
Boy, do you know where I’d be
if folks still lost their voices when they didn’t believe the promises of
God?  Yeah, preaching to a very quiet
church.
And the story continues. 
Luke 1:14-17 You will have great joy and
gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes
of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be
filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth.
Without commentary don’t you
find it interesting how those thoughts are joined? 1) Great in the eyes of the
Lord 2) filled with the Holy Spirit 3) must never touch wine or other alcoholic
drinks, just saying.
Luke
1:57
When it was time for Elizabeth’s baby to be born, she gave birth to a
son.
Elizabeth Knew the Joy of Being a Mother  At her age I’m sure that she felt the
exhaustion of being a mother and at times the frustration of being a mother but
that’s not where we are going today.  
And if Elizabeth was like most parents she probably dreamed dreams of
what her child would do and what he would be when he grew up. 
Probably
because of his divine announcement John’s mother probably pictured him of doing
great things for God, maybe someday being the high priest. 
If you were
to ask Elizabeth to predict the future of her son it would probably of had to
do with the priesthood.  It was John’s
lineage, his father was a priest and his mother was the daughter of a
priest.  And I’m pretty sure that in
Zechariah’s mind that if his son was going to have an impact for God it would
be through the religious establishment that the family was familiar with.  After all why wouldn’t it be?  My father was a sea captain as was his father
and his father, and there was a natural assumption that I would be as well.  The entire Denn getting seasick on wet grass
didn’t seem to factor in at all. 
The bible
doesn’t tell us anything about John’s childhood, but if he was like most
children he was loved and doted on.  I’m
sure that Elizabeth showed him off at every chance, and probably wasn’t the
least bit sensitive when she was around women who were childless. 
But when John had grown up we
read that he went into the wilderness and when the time was right he appears
preaching repentance, baptising people and telling them that the messiah was
soon going to appear.  Both Matthew and
Mark give us the same description of John. 
Mark tells us in Mark 1:6 His clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and
he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild
honey.
And I’m sure that regardless of
the fact that Elizabeth probably didn’t understand what John was doing, nobody
in their family had ever done anything like that before, that she was one
hundred percent behind him.  She probably
bragged to her neighbors about John and all the people that he baptized. 
We know nothing about John’s
childhood and how his parents raised him and loved him, what we do know is that
Elizabeth and Zechariah were chosen by God to raise John, and God doesn’t do
anything without a reason.  So we need to
assume that it was because of the way that his parents raised him that John was
who he was.  Remember that earlier in the
story that John’s parents were described as Luke 1:6 Zechariah
and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s
commandments and regulations.  Our
children will follow God or not follow God, that will be a decision that they
need to make.  However we have a
responsibility to lay the foundation that they will need to follow God. 
As we read the accounts of
John’s preaching it is evident that the foundation of his faith was well
laid.  It was Abraham Lincoln who said “All that I am
or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” 
We can only assume that John the Baptist would have said the same
thing. 
If there had of been a Mother’s
Day 2000 years ago it would have been one of Elizabeth’s favorite days. 
For those of you who are
raising children, and it doesn’t matter if they are one or a hundred and one
Mother’s never stop raising their children, I would like to pray for you
today. 
But ultimately it would have
been the thing that would have brought Elizabeth her greatest joy, that her son
was serving God, that would cause her greatest pain.
Maybe you know the story of
John and maybe you don’t either way let me bring you up to speed. You will
recall that John had been preaching repentance throughout the country and part
of that was confronting people about their behaviour.  After all unless a person feels a sense of
wrong over their behaviour they won’t feel compelled to repent.  One of the people that John called out was
King Herod, this wasn’t the same King Herod from the Christmas story, instead
it was his son, the King Herod from the Easter story. 
Apparently Herod’s younger
brother, Phillip, had married a woman by the name of Herodias and somehow she
ended up married to Herod.  The
assumption is that she left the younger brother for the older brother.  And John began to publically take issue with
the morality of the entire situation. 
I’m not sure that it bothered Herod that much, he was probably used to
people criticizing him, after all he wasn’t the most lovable tyrant.  But it was getting to Herodias and we are
told that Herod had John imprisoned as a favour to Herodias.  Here was John who had spent so much of his
adult life in the wide open spaces of the wilderness now confined to a prison
cell.  Must have been tough but it would
get tougher.  
But listen to this little
snippet in Mark 6:19-20 So Herodias bore a grudge against John and wanted
to kill him. But without Herod’s approval she was powerless, for Herod
respected John; and knowing that he was a good and holy man, he protected him.
Now maybe you know how the story ends for John, you hear
people talk about how immoral our society is, how far we’ve fallen but this
account reveals what life was like 2000 years ago in the society that John and
Jesus were called to confront.
Herod throws this big party for everybody who was anybody
and part of the festivities was a dance performed by his step- daughter.  When the dance was over Herod applauded and
told her “that was awesome, I will give you anything you desire, right up to
half my Kingdom.”  Not sure how the
Romans would have felt about that, but I would suspect that Herod had been in
the bubbly. 
So the girl went over to her mother and had a little girl
talk and she came back and we pick up the story in Matthew
14:8
At her mother’s urging, the girl said,
“I want the head of John the Baptist on a tray!”
Now
that seems a little extreme, and I’m sure that everyone knew that it was the
booze talking but we read in   Matthew 14:9-10 Then the king regretted what he had said; but because of the
vow he had made in front of his guests, he issued the necessary orders.   So John was beheaded in the prison.
Elizabeth Knew the Pain of Losing a Child  and I understand that this is
speculation, that because John was born in Elizabeth’s old age that she had
probably already passed away when John was killed.  But we don’t know that.  We don’t know how old “Old” was in the case
of Elizabeth.  So for the sake of the
sermon let’s assume that she was still alive. 
I can think of no greatest tragedy for a parent than to lose a child, regardless
of the age of that child.  Parent’s
aren’t supposed to bury their children, children are to bury their
parents.  But from the beginning of time
this type of tragedy has happened. 
Perhaps you will remember that one of the first stories in the Bible
tells of how one of Adam and Eve’s sons killed his brother. 
There is a pain that will never
go away and a hole that can never be filled. 
I don’t know every story at Cornerstone but I do know that are mothers
at Cornerstone who have lost children who were in their twenties and thirties
and forties. And there may very well be those here who lost children who never
grew to adulthood.   And I know that there are mothers in
our church family who lost children before they were born, and that loss is
just as real and just as heartbreaking.
The second funeral that I ever
performed was for a little girl who never breathed air and never looked into
the eyes of the two people who loved her more than they could ever say. 
If we believe what we say we
believe about when life begins then they are children and their mothers are
mothers and when we invite the mother’s to come forward at the end of the
service to receive their treats they have the same right to be here as any
other mother. 
And there are those here today
who have lost a child who is still alive, because of strains in relationships
and circumstances that can never be explained there are sometimes chasms
between parents and children that can never be bridged and the heartache is
always there for lost children and grandchildren.  
If there had of been a Mother’s
Day 2000 years ago it would have been a painful day for Elizabeth, a reminder
of all that she lost. 
  
And I wish that I could speak
words of healing into your lives and tell you that someday you wouldn’t grieve
for the child that you have lost.  But I
can’t, but please let me pray for you.
Today we celebrate mothers not
because mothers are better people or better women than those who have never
been mothers but because each of us owes something to our mothers, even if it
is only life. 

Who am I?

It just took two digits and all of a sudden I wasn’t who I thought I was. The other day I was topping up my “Mac Pass” and the “customer service” rep informed me that either my pass didn’t belong to me or I wasn’t who I said I was. Well I knew the pass was mine, it had my phone number on it, so that only left one possible explanation. I wasn’t who I thought I was.
I was just coming to grips with my new identity and was wondering where I lived and what I did for a living when the lady said “I’m sorry Mr. Guptill I typed your pass number in wrong.” Boy that was a relief.
And so I left the office the same person I was when I came in and that felt great.
Thirty two years ago I became a Christ Follower and my name was written in the Lamb’s Book of Life and I will never have to worry about being mistaken for somebody else when I stand before my Saviour. Nobody will type my number in wrong.
If your name isn’t in the Book then you really should take care of that before it’s too late.  Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.   

Stairway to Heaven

When I was
a teen if you gave a kid a guitar eventually they would learn to play Stairway
to Heaven.  Not always well, but it was
like the chopsticks of the guitar. That and Smoke on the Water and Cat Scratch
Fever.  I’m not sure that either the
stairway or the heaven that inspired Led Zepplin has anything to do with us
today. 
However
when I began to read through 2 Peter and came to the scripture that was read to
us earlier the immediate thought that came to my mind was: it’s like a stairway
to heaven.   We’ve spoken before of the
journey of Christianity, the voyage, the trip. 
That Christianity is not a static religion, it does not start and end at
the same place.  And it’s not a matter of
it starting here and finishing here, you need to move to a higher plane on the
journey and not just move from point A. to point B. but actually become a
better person on the journey. 
Paul talks
about our Christian life being a race, with a starting point and a finishing
point.  John speaks of us walking in the
light, Christ tells us to follow him and Peter speaks of each facet of the
Christian life leading to the next.  And while
most of us would acknowledge the journey metaphor, sometimes we become focused
on the destination, heaven, and miss out on the journey.  If’n God only saved you so you could go to
heaven you would think it would be easier if he just took you to heaven when
you became a Christians.  But he left us
here for a time and presumably he knew what he was doing.
William Golding puts it this way, “Consider a man
riding a bicycle. Whoever he is, we can say three things about him. We know he
got on the bicycle and started to move. We know that at some point he will stop
and get off. Most important of all, we know that if at any point between the
beginning and the end of his journey he stops moving and does not get off the
bicycle he will fall off it. That is a metaphor for the journey through life of
any living thing, and I think of any society of living things.” I don’t
think it would do injustice to William Golding or the scriptures to say that
his metaphor applies as well to our Christian walk. 
Have you
ever become so caught up in reaching your destination that you miss the
excitement and joy of the journey itself? 
 A number of year ago when I was
writing freelance I was given an assignment of doing a story on Chester Race
week.  It was beautiful weather and so I
thought; cool I’ll take my motorcycle down on the old road, it’ll be a gorgeous
trip. 
Well. . .,
first I underestimated the extra time the old road would take, then I
underestimated the number of old people who would be driving under the speed
limit, the amount of construction that might be happening and the possibility
of a garbage trucks picking up trash. 
Now if you know me at all you realize that I’m just a little anal about
time and suddenly my nice relaxing trip disappeared as I focused on when I was
actually going to make it to Chester.  The journey was no longer a consideration
only arriving mattered and I missed the trip I was looking forward to.
I know that
heaven is going to be a wonderful place, I believe that it has been promised to
me, I am looking forward to walking those streets of gold, of seeing my Lord
and meeting my God.  I’m thrilled at the
thought of no more sorrows and tears and no more aches and pains, but I want to
enjoy the trip this side of eternity as well. 
And Peter’s
second letter gives us some instructions for enjoying the journey and making
the most of it.  The Peter who wrote this
letter was of course Simon Peter, one of the 12 apostles and one of Christ’s
closest friends.  The letter was written
to believers scattered across the Roman province of Asia which is now modern
Turkey.
The letter
was written to warn believers about false teachers.  And as a part of his instruction we discover
the eight verses that were read for us earlier. 
And this is how it begins. 
2 Peter 1:3-4 By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for
living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the
one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence.
And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious
promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and
escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.
There is the promise.  Did you catch it?  That is God’s promise for our Christian
walk.  Right now, today, May 5th,
2013.  Let’s hear it again.  2 Peter
1:3-4
By his divine power, God has given us
everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by
coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous
glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us
great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share
his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.
Did you
catch it?  Let me speak slowly and break
it down into three components.  1. By His
divine Power.  2. God gives us everything
we need for living a godly life. 1. Through his great and precious
promises 
Now if that
don’t light your fire your wood is wet?   Think about it, isn’t it wonderful to know
that everything we need to live a godly life has been provided for us through
Jesus’ divine power, not our power but Jesus’ power?
And that he
doesn’t give us half or three quarters of what we need and expect us to come up
with the rest but he gives us everything. 
And then Peter goes on to tells us that we will be able to escape the corruption
all around us through that same power and then he gives us the road map so we
can discover where we are to go to obtain that promise. 
And so
after the promise that Jesus through his divine power will give us what we need
to live a godly life, Peter then spells out what that will look like, and he
begins by telling us
2
Peter 1:5
In view of all this, make every
effort to respond to God’s promises.   In
view of all what?  In view of the two
verses that came before that, in view of the promise that God has given us all
that we need.  But it is a two way
street, Peter is telling us that because we have the promise we need to make
every effort to respond to those promises. 
 And so It Starts with God’s Promise and our Responsibility
 
God’s word tells us that God
will do his part if we are willing to do our part.  Too often we want God to do it all, we want
him to take away our desire to sin and rebel, we want him to make us have
self-control that he should make us want to desire to pray more and spend more
time reading our bibles.  And if he did
that then was would never grow or mature. 
And he wouldn’t be God he would simply be the great enabler.
When our kids are little there
comes a time when it’s not enough that we can tie their shoes, they need to
learn to tie their shoes, it’s not enough that we can read to them, they need
to learn to read.  We would do our
children no favours if we carried them everywhere they needed to go and never
allowed them to learn to walk.
So in light of the fact that God loves us and cares for us
and promises to give us what we need he expects us to respond to that.  He isn’t going to simply zap us to heaven,
but neither is he going to leave us to our own devices as we endeavour to get
there.  Instead he expects us to use the resources
that he gives us to get there.
God provides the stairs we provide the energy and
determination.  Without the stairs the
journey would be difficult if not impossible. 
But they are stairs not an escalator. 
When our kids were little whenever we were on an escalator I
would tell them “I don’t like escalators, once I was on one and it broke down
and I had to wait three hours for the repairman before I could get off”  and they would groan and say “Oh Dad, you are
so lame.”  And then one day I had Deborah
and several of her friends over to Mic Mac and before they ditched me completely
I heard Deborah say as they got on the escalator  “I don’t like escalators, once I was on one
and it broke down . . .” And it was then that I knew my job as a father was
complete.
So let’s start at the
beginning, because the beginning is usually a good place to start.  
2
Peter 1:5
In view of all this, make every
effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous
provision of moral excellence, . . .
Our Journey Begins at the Bottom of the Stairs  On any journey you have to start at the
beginning.  If you are planning on
running in the Blue Nose Marathon then you will need to start at the starting
line, see I wouldn’t mind running a Marathon if I could start thirty or forty
feet from the finish line, but that’s not the way it works. 
This is where you start, you
can’t jump to the top, you have to begin at the beginning, and it’s the same
for everyone.   Some people try, they
want to start halfway up or at the top but you can’t.
And so the starting place in
our Christian walk is Faith, the faith to believe that Jesus is the Son of God,
the faith to believe he has the power to forgive our sins, the faith to believe
that he can make us a new creation.   The
word of God tells us in  Hebrews 11:6 And it is
impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must
believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him. That
is landing at the bottom of the stairs that is where your journey has to
begin,  by believing.  Paul tells us in the book of Ephesians 2:8 God saved
you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a
gift from God.  The New
International Version says it this way Ephesians 2:8
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from
yourselves, it is the gift of God.
But faith doesn’t exempt us
from having to do our part.  It is by
faith that we start the journey, but if all we have is faith and we don’t
exercise it or use it we will stay on the bottom landing. 
William Barclay wrote in the Daily Study Bible “In the
Christian life the supreme effort of man must cooperate with the grace of God.”
  It is the grace of God that
allows us to begin the journey of being a Christian.  Without our faith and God’s grace we could
never get to that part, and he promises to be with us on the journey, but we
have to take the first step.
That passage goes on to say 2 Peter 1:5 In view of all
this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith
with a generous provision of moral excellence. . .  The phrase moral excellence is interesting,
it has been translated as virtue, goodness or courage.  Once commentator says that the word would be
used to indicate that ground was fertile and good for planting.  Others say that it is the courage to do the
right thing, in this case the right thing is to grow and a mature as a
Christian. 
And it will take courage in
your Christian walk, the courage to do the right thing, the courage to say the
right thing the courage to say I am a Christ Follower and the courage to follow
Christ.
In the movie 42, the story of Jackie Robinson we are told that Branch Rickey, the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers needed someone who could turn the other cheek, as well as turn a double play.
In the movie Jackie Robinson states the challenge in blunt terms. “You want a man,” Robinson asks, “who doesn’t have the guts to fight back?”   Rickey replies: “I want a man who has the guts NOT to fight back.”  Jackie Robinson had Moral Excellence. 

And so the landing that the
stairway begins on is the declaration of faith that you are going to follow
Jesus, the faith to believe that he has forgiven your sins and made you a new
creation, the faith to believe and accept the grace that Jesus has to
offer.  And with that faith comes the
desire to move forward, to actually begin the exercise of following Jesus.  I have met people who have taken the step of
faith, but they can never seem to move on. 
They like the concept that they have been forgiven, but they don’t want
to give anything back.  They are quite
happy to stay at the bottom of the stairs, occasionally casting longing glances
upward but not willing to take the first step. 
2
Peter 1:11
Then God will give you a grand
entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.   Our
Journey Finishes at the Top of the Stairs 
I like to  have a destination,
not just to be going somewhere but to know where I am going.  I’m sure it’s a personality flaw but just
going for a drive seems senseless to me. 
When I had my motorcycle I would talk to other bikers who would tell me
of going for a 200 km drive, just a drive. 
When we had the speed boat folks would say “It must be nice to just take
the boat out for a spin.”  Why?  What is the sense in that? 
But I digress, If the journey
begins with a single step of faith we are told that it finishes with a grand
entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  That’s a fancy way of saying: heaven.  And the bible talks a lot about heaven and
eternal rewards.  We are told what there
will be and what they won’t be.  And we
can no more comprehend what that life will be then an unborn child would be
able to understand what this life would be like.  Imagine trying to describe rainbows and
sunsets to the preborn, and giraffes, and arms that would hold and hug.
But we do know that it will be
different than our life is now and that it will be better than our life is now,
and it will be eternal.  And the bible
describes in as having things we can understand, streets of gold, gates of
pearls, wall of jewels; you understand that what is valuable for us here is
simply building materials in God’s economy. 
And it describes heaven in terms of what won’t be there, there will be
no more suffering, no more tears, no more pain and nothing evil. 
And that is our ultimate
destination as Christians.  But, again if
that was the sole reason for Jesus coming and dying on a cross to save us, then
the moment we accepted the grace and forgiveness that Jesus had to offer we would
go to heaven.  But that isn’t the only
reason that Jesus came and died and it’s not the only reason that we accept
that grace and forgiveness that Jesus has to offer.
I’ve said it before, when you
look at a grave stone it’s easy to focus on the numbers, you know what I
mean.  It will  list the person’s name and then it will have
two dates, perhaps it might say 1914-1998. 
And it’s easy to look and say “Wow, they were born the year that World
War 1 began.”  Or to say “If they had of
lived for another two years they would have made it to the new Millennium”  But that wasn’t their life, when it started
and when it ended those are just dates. 
The important thing here is the dash, that represents the life they
lived.  It’s in that dash that the story
lies.
And sometimes as Christians we
fixate on the date that we became a Christ follower, the bottom of the stairs
and that’s important, there needs to be a beginning.  Or we will think about heaven and the
rewards, the top of the stairs.  And that
is awesome, especially for someone like me who needs a destination to make the
trip worthwhile.  But what is really
important is the dash, the steps that go from the bottom of the landing to the
top of the stairs, the life we live as a Christian and the difference that we
make in this life. 
At this end of this letter
Peter closes with these words,  2 Peter 3:18 Rather, you
must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. All
glory to him, both now and forever! Amen.  Did you catch the key word there?  Grow. 
We don’t start our Christians walk as mature Christians.  We don’t start our journey at the end, there
is a progression, there is a beginning and an end and a life that comes in
between.
So our journey begins at the
bottom of the stairs and our journey finishes at the top of the stairs, but for
most of us There are the Steps in
Between 
If you have read through the
New Testament you have discovered there are many lists, lists of things we
should do and lists of things we shouldn’t do. 
The reason of course is that books were rare and there were important
things for Christians to learn, things that they should do and things that they
shouldn’t do.  And those things couldn’t
be carried around in an I-pad or a Playbook, as a matter of fact they couldn’t
be carried around in a book.   They had
to be carried around in a person’s head and so they were put into a form that
was easier to remember. 
And that brings us back to
where we started:  2 Peter 1:5-7 In view of all this, make
every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a
generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge,
and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and
patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and
brotherly affection with love for everyone.  You don’t start with it all, you don’t
become a Christ follower and you are immediately bestowed with knowledge, self-control, patient endurance, godliness,
brotherly affection and love for everyone. 
By the way if that list sounds familiar listen to the description
of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives:
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and
self-control. There is no law against these things!
And I suppose that I could spend an entire series explaining
these things, but seriously how much explanation do they need?   Let’s read it again together, but let’s
personalize it
 2 Peter 1:5-7 In view of
all this, I will make every effort to respond to God’s promises. I will supplement
my faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence
with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient
endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly
affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.  
And the result? 
Listen to the next sentence that Peter writes: 2 Peter 1:8 The more you
grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of
our Lord Jesus Christ.
And that is the dash in our
Christian life, to be more productive and useful in our knowledge of our Lord
Jesus Christ.    But remember from the
very beginning we are told that it will require effort.  I don’t know where you are on the stairway to
heaven?  But you do, and you know what
the next step needs to be.  Maybe it’s
the first step, the step of faith or maybe it is taking next step to be more
like Jesus and to be faithful in following him.