Get a Life – Group

They were the ultimate church plant.  They started with 11, grew to 120, then to
3000.  Not bad, as a matter of fact very
good.  But how did they do it?  I guess that question has to be asked by
anyone who is even remotely interested in church growth.  What was the secret that they had that
allowed this group to grow from a diverse gathering to a world changing
movement?  We can probably find the
answer in the scripture that was read for us earlier in the service. 
That was the earliest description of the Christian
church.  During the past 2000 years many
churches have tried to duplicate or at least replicate what they saw as the
perfect church, and that really is impossible to do.  That early church existed in a completely
different culture then we exist in today, it was separated from the crucifixion
and resurrection by months not centuries and its leaders had spent the past
three years of their lives walking side by side with Jesus. 
To duplicate it today would be impossible, and to be
truthful we glamorize the early church and skip over the problems they had.  Because here is the reality: they were made
up of people, just like the church today, and because of that there were times
they had issues and that they had problems. 
That had to deal with sexual sin.  Did you think that was a new problem?  They had to deal with substance abuse.  Did you think that was a new problem?  There were personality clashes, and people
who didn’t want to get with the program. 
There were people who wanted to be Christ followers but who still wanted
to live like the devil, there were folks who had weird doctrinal ideas who
wanted to be in positions of leadership. 
But it was also an incredibly powerful time of miracles,
prayer and God’s outpouring of his spirit. 
And was no doubt the most powerful period in church history.
To bring you up to speed, Jesus has been crucified, buried
and has risen from the dead.  For forty
days he teaches his disciples and appears to any number of people.  After forty days he instructs his disciples
to stay in Jerusalem and to wait for the Holy Spirit to come to give them power
and courage.  And then he returns to his
Father and they wait.  For ten days they
wait.  And then it happens.  Fifty days, seven weeks after the first
Easter, during a Jewish celebration, called Pentecost, which means fiftieth
day.  Sometimes it was called the Feast
of Weeks.  Seven days, seven weeks get
it?  The city is packed with pilgrims and
the Holy Spirit arrives.
This is what is written by Luke
in the book of Acts:  Acts 2:1-4 On the day of
Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there
was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled
the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of
fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with
the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave
them this ability.
And while that is really cool,
it’s not what I’m talking about today. 
What we are looking at today is
what happened later on that morning. 
Peter, you remember Peter he
was the one who denied Christ three times. 
The same Peter who wouldn’t acknowledge Jesus in the presence of a
handful of people begins to preach to the crowds who had gathered for the
Pentecost celebrations.  And he tells
them the entire story of Jesus, you can read all about it in Acts chapter 2 and
then the story climaxes with these words.   Acts 2:41 Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to
the church that day—about 3,000 in all.
So, first thing in the morning there were 120 believers
before the day was done there were 3,120 believers.  And that was the foundation of what we now
refer to as “The Church”  The fact that
there were 3000 converts was amazing, the fact that they appear to have kept
most of those 3000 converts was miraculous. 
In 1990, the year we moved to Australia there was a church
on our district that was averaging 289 in their morning service, that year they
reported 541 converts as the result of a drama that had been presented in their
church.  Last year, 23 years later that
same church reported an average morning attendance of 263, hmmm.  Sometimes it’s easier to get em then it is to
keep em.   
If you’ve been in Cornerstone over the past month or so
you’ve heard us talking about our “Life Groups” and perhaps your reaction is,
“Oh yeah, same old, same old.”  Or
perhaps you’ve decided that we’ve just starting using a new name, but it’s more
then a name it is a philosophy concerning our small group ministry. 
The thing that we discover when we look at the church in the
book of Acts is that small groups have been around since the very beginning of
the church. 
As a matter of fact for all purposes small groups were the
early church.  They would go to the
Jewish Synagogues and temples to worship corporately, but then they would meet
in private homes through the week for instruction, prayer and to celebrate
So they had this concept of big church and little church.  And big church, or what happened on the
Sabbath, and little church what happened through the week each served a
distinct yet complimentary purpose in the life of the early church. 
The first church building wasn’t even constructed until 200
years after the death and resurrection of Christ.  And so this morning we are going to take a
look at our life groups using Acts chapter 2:41-47 to put them into a
historical and biblical perspective.
To make things easier we are going to use the word “life” as
an acronym.  I don’t know if I’ve ever
used an acronym for a sermon outline before. 
In this case the acronym stands for Love,
Interaction, Friendships and Edification,
and if we look into the record of the very first small groups we see each of
the four characteristics evident there as well.
Let’s start with Acts 2:44-45 And all the
believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold
their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. The
first thing I want to look at this morning is LOVE.   Probably one of the great attributes of the
early church was the love that they exhibited for one another.  And that was no accident, in the last days
before Jesus was executed he made this statement to his followers John 13:35 Your love for
one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
That statement holds true 2000 years after it was made.  Nothing, and I mean nothing will attract
people to this church quicker then a visible display of his love. 
If Cornerstone could only be known for one thing it
shouldn’t be the quality of our service or our music or the preaching it should
be for our love. 
Listen to what the Paul wrote to the church in Corinth: 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 If I
could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I
would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy,
and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and
if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I
would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed
my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have
gained nothing.
And then after Paul defines what love is he makes this
finishing statement, 1
Corinthians 13:8
and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless.
But love will last forever!
Way back in the beginning when we were deciding exactly what
Cornerstone would be we set down and wrote out what we called our core
values.  They were 7 statements that we
felt were crucial to what we were trying to achieve here and one of those
values stated:  Cornerstone is committed to showing Christ’s love to those who attend in practical
and tangible ways.
And we certainly aim to do that.  We have done some neat things like providing
meals for families when someone has been really sick, or when a couple bring
home a new baby.  But within the
structure of the church itself it is difficult to know exactly where and how
those things need to be done. 
Part of loving one another is helping to carry one another’s
burdens, but we can’t do that unless we know what those burdens are and as much
as I enjoy our Sunday Worship Celebrations they aren’t the best place for
sharing those burdens.  Instead that
happens best in small group settings where people can open up and honestly talk
about their concerns.  Where we can wrap
our arms around one another and say “Let me pray for you” or to have someone
say “Please pray for me”.
W. Kimball said
“God does notice us, and He watches over us. But it is usually through another
person that he meets our needs.”
If we continue on in the story
we read Acts 2:44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they
had. And so the next thing here is Interaction     
It’s easy to think this scripture applies simply to money
but they shared everything they had, their money, their talents and their
On any given Sunday Morning we have close to fifty people
involved in the service at Cornerstone. 
They include the people who greet you at the door, who are on the
worship team and band, who read scripture and pray or teach your children in
Nursery, Children’s Church or Junior Church and ignite.  And that’s good, but it means that we have
another two hundred and fifty people who aren’t involved in making it
happen.  And that’s just the way it
Time constraints alone make it impossible for me to open up
the service and ask, “Does anyone have any questions?” and then to allow people
to discuss what we had just dealt with. 
Not going to happen.  But in a
small group we can do that, we can discuss a topic, we can ask questions we can
offer opinions.  The first question that
is asked in our life groups is, or is supposed to be, Looking back at your notes from this
week’s teaching, was there anything that particularly caught your attention,
challenged or confused you?  In
other words we can learn from each other. 
Ralph Waldo Emerson “In every man there is
something wherein I may learn of him, and in that I am his pupil.”
In the small group discussion should not all come from the
leader, nor should it all be directed at the leader instead it should involve
interaction by all the members.
They worshiped together at the Temple
each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great
joy and generosity—
But it was more than simply serving together, the next thing
we see are Friendships So the question that begs to be asked is why is
the quality of friendship so different from the first quality of Love?  Good question and one that I beat around
while putting this message together.    
In John
15:12 Jesus makes this statement John 15:12 This is my
commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.
So what is Christ commanding us
to do?  Is He commanding us to
demonstrate an emotional response of love to all believers?  I don’t think so.  If we were to feel an emotional love for
everyone who professes to be a Christian our emotional reserve would soon be
depleted.  Instead I think he’s telling
us that we have to exhibit an attitude of love, that we need to demonstrate the
attributes of love to one another and you can find those in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 Love
is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does
not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being
wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth
wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and
endures through every circumstance.
And one of the ways the early
church did that as we mentioned earlier by helping with the physical needs of
one another.  But there was more then
that in some of the relationships described in this passage.  Let’s go back to what we read earlier  Acts 2:46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes
for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—
This is a description of people sitting around enjoying each
other’s company.
A reality of life is that friendships will not happen
between 9 and 10 or 10:30 and 11:30 on Sunday mornings.  You might make acquaintances and they may
evolve into friendships but if you are counting on that one hour a week to make
new friends, you are going to be disappointed. 
It would be nice if they did, but that isn’t going to happen. George Washington said
“True friendship is
a plant of slow growth.”  And an
hour on Sunday morning just isn’t going to do it. 
But when you spend time together learning from one another
and praying for one another, and yes eating with one another the possibility
becomes a lot more likely and we need friends. 
We need them in order to be everything we are supposed to be.  It was Henry Ford
who said “My best friend is the one who brings out the
best in me.”  And we need friends
to be there when times get tough, fair weather friends aren’t friends at all
they’re just people you know.  Jim Baker “When I went to prison I didn’t lose any friends,
I just found out who my friends really were.”
And sometimes those friendships
don’t last forever and they don’t have to. 
In 1983 Angela and I took our first full time position in the ministry
as a staff pastor in Upstate New York. 
And it wasn’t a good year, that might be an understatement.  What was it that Queen Elizabeth said about
1992,  “1992 is not a year on which I shall
look back with undiluted pleasure. In the words of one of my more sympathetic
correspondents, it has turned out to be an Annus Horribilis.”  Well, 1983 was the Annus Horribilis  for Denn and Angela, and into our lives came
Al and Nancy Vardy, a couple whom we had been acquaintances with in college, if
that.  As a matter of fact Al and I
didn’t even like each other in College. Al and Nancy were pastoring a small
church about ½ an hour away from us and for a period of 10 months we became
best of friends.  Our friendship could be
best defined in the words of Solomon in Proverbs
There are “friends” who destroy each
other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother.
Angela and Nancy were pregnant with their first child at the
same time and both were far from home. 
Al and I were going through problems in our churches and we were
together every chance we could get.  We
laughed together; we cried together, we dreamed of the future together.  And then we didn’t see each other from October
1985 until we spent a couple of hours together at our daughter’s graduation
service in 2010.    Does that negate our friendship, no not at
all, each one us needed somebody right then, and God provided someone for
us.  But that relationship could not have
developed in a Sunday morning setting. 
If you stop and think about it you realize that I’m right,
friendships only happen when you spend time together and time learning together
and that is another vital part of the life groups.
All the believers devoted themselves to
the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including
the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. The last letter in life is e and that
stands for Edification So, what is edification? I was tempted to call it
education but it is so much more than that. 
 It is the personal and spiritual
growth that occurs in individuals. And growth is essential in our spiritual
journey.  In nature things are either
growing or dying, there is no middle ground, and it’s the same with our
spiritual life.  And when you stop
learning you start dying and the minute a man ceases to grow, no matter what
his years, that minute he begins to be old. 
Remember the words “They can’t call you an old dog as long as you are
learning new tricks.”   
And I know that some of you are thinking “well why can’t I
grow spiritually by myself” Cause, it’s not going to happen and that’s why the
bible, God’s word says things like
As iron sharpens iron, so a friend
sharpens a friend.
 And Hebrews 10:25 And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people
do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is
drawing near.
If we are going to grow it will be with other people, Albert Schweitzer made this statement “In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out.
It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should
all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”
But there is also the education component to it.  Alexander McLaren writes “An earnest
desire after fuller knowledge is the basis of all healthy Christian life. We
cannot realise, without a great effort, the ignorance of these new converts.
‘Parthians and Medes and Elamites,’ and Jews gathered from every corner of the
Roman world, they had come up to Jerusalem, and the bulk of them knew no more
about Christ and Christianity than what they picked up out of Peter’s sermon on
the Day of Pentecost.”
Small group learning keeps us from going off the tracks, and
keeps the preacher from going off the tracks. 
We read our bibles and come to a conclusion about a passage, happens all
the time.  It’s when we sit down with
other believers in a small group setting and they can either affirm that conclusion
or they say “You know, that’s the dumbest thing I ever heard.” Either way, it keeps
us centered.
And it’s not just the learning that helps us to grow,
therapist Virginia Satir made this comment “We need 4
hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs
a day for growth.”  And that’s a
lot more comfortable in a small group than the lobby after Church.

Nice or Right?

Perhaps you have heard the radio ad where the young lady is telling us the things she learned from her mother and number one on the list is “It’s more important to be nice than to be right.”  Really?  I think that being nice is. . . well nice.   But I think that if you are right about something, especially something really important that “right” trumps “nice”. 
If you had to choose between your doctor, your mechanic or your lawyer being nice or being right, I would think that you’d prefer that they were right, even if there weren’t nice. For eternity sake if you had to choose between your church being right or being nice, I hope you’d choose right.
There are times that I have to say things and do things as a pastor that aren’t nice but they are right.  And I do it because I love people and want the very best for them.  And there are times the church has to take stands that society doesn’t always view as nice, but they are important and they are right.  The Bible admonishes us: to speak the truth in love and so perhaps the real lesson we need to learn is how to be nice when we are right.Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.  

What’s in it for Me?

What do people really get for
all their hard work?  In 2013 that is a
line of thought we’d expect to hear. 
What do people really get for all their hard work? What do I get out of
it?  What do you get out of it?  But it isn’t necessarily a question we’d
expect to find in the bible, but
there it is in Ecclesiastes 3:9 What do people really get for all their hard work?
What’s in it for me? Solomon
has just finished listing the activities of a lifetime,
birth and death, weeping and
laughing, keeping and giving away, loving and hating. 
And when it is all through, when everything has been said and done
what’s the purpose.  It wasn’t just to
provide the Byrds with a hit song. 
What do people really get for all their hard work? What is
the purpose of it all? What do you gain? What is the purpose of life?  Is it worth it all?  Questions that are asked by thousands and
thousands of people every day.  And if
you haven’t asked those questions lately you either have at some point in your
life or you will at some point in your life. 
Why do I do what I do?  Is what
I’m doing meaningful?
Our jobs, our faith, our church activities, what do we
really get from all our hard work?  As I
prepare my messages sometimes I wonder if they have any impact if they change
lives or if they just go in one ear and out the other.  Kind of like the new preacher who the first
three weeks he was in his new church he preached the same message every
week.  It was entitled “Gird up Your
Loins” and it dealt with service and character. 
After his third week he was approached by the board and they asked him
if he had any other sermons to which he replied “Sure I have all kinds, but you haven’t done anything about the first one
Now I don’t know where you are in your professional life,
but  let’s talk about the work that we do
at Cornerstone.
So Bayley and team do you ever wonder if all the work that
goes into preparing the Sunday morning experience is appreciated?  And all the volunteers that help out in
Nursery, junior church, children’s church and ignite, do you ever wonder if
people appreciate the effort and commitment that is involved in Children’s
ministry?  Last Sunday there were 81
children in all the children’s programs. 
Stop for a minute and imagine how different the service would have been
for you if they had of been in here with the adults instead of in programs
designed for them?  On your way out hug a
children’s church worker. 

Mike, do you ever wonder, if when people look at the great financial reports
you do, if they realize the amount of work that goes into being treasurer?  Or for that matter if they even look at the
great financial reports you do.
Each of us feels that we should be contributing to society
and the church but there are times when we ask ourselves “Does what I do make a
What do people really get for all their hard work?    I’m here to say that it makes a difference
when you work for the kingdom
of God. Of course people
being people they don’t like to compliment you, in case your head becomes too
big.  But Bayley go ahead and have the
team sing off key and mess up the tempo and see what happens, people will
remind you of how good you were on another Sunday.  And Mike you go ahead and make a few errors
in people’s income tax receipts and that’ll get you noticed.
You never notice the person doing the sound unless it’s too
loud or not loud enough. When it’s just right who cares?
Although this isn’t the thrust of the message just let me
say that you need to let people know that they are appreciated in church.  And you need to let your wives, husbands and
children know that you appreciate all they do as well.
So back to the question: What do people really get for all
their hard work?  Money, praise, glory,
satisfaction.  Sure, sometimes but not
all the time. So this morning we need to look at the three elements of this
question and then answer the personal question of; where do you fit into the picture?
The question is asked in the book of Ecclesiastes, which of
course is the 21st book in the bible.  Traditionally we have been told that Solomon
wrote the book of Ecclesiastes but we don’t know that for sure, the author only
identifies himself as “The Teacher”, “The Preacher” or “The Leader of the
Ecclesiastes was written as the author struggled with the
meaning of life, if you’ve ever wondered “why?” this is the book for you. It
reveals how to find spiritual significance in our world.
As we move ahead with our vision and dreams for our church,
it might be a good time to evaluate how we want to proceed with those dreams
and visions.  As I’m sure most if not all
of you are aware there is never a shortage of work in the church, only a shortage
of committed believers to do the work.  Every
one of you who is a part of Cornerstone can and should take a productive part
in doing God’s work in our community. 
Every one of you can and should have a role in God’s plan
for Cornerstone. There is work that goes on every week at Cornerstone and if anything,
the workload is going to get heavier as we continue to grow.  Every once in a while I joke with the staff
and say, this was a lot easier when there were just fifty of us.  But that isn’t why we are here, to provide a
fun little club for fifty people.  We are
here to reach people and impact lives, and in order to do that we need your
help.  Denn can’t do it by himself and
the staff can’t do it by themselves. 
And so the question remains: What do people really get for
all their hard work?
The First thing we need to look at is a) The Worker  Who is the
worker?  Good question, you understand
there is only one person who will have a spiritual impact on Cornerstone.  And that is you. There is only one person who
will have an impact on the growth of Cornerstone.  And that is you.  There is only one person that we need to
commit themselves to the vision of seeing Cornerstone be the church God wants Cornerstone
to be.  And that is you.  If you see that, then you are committed.  If you see that then, you are a part of the
dream.  And if you make sure that you are
willing to sacrifice then we will have a banner year. God has great things in
store for Cornerstone  and for his
Kingdom.  And the missing ingredient
might be you.
The good news is that you don’t have to worry about what the
fellow in front of you is going to do or what the gal behind you is going to do
or what the Leadership Team or the staff are going to do.  All you have to worry about is what you are
going to do.
God told Noah, “You will build an ark.”  God told Abraham “You will leave your home
and go to a land I have promised you”. 
God told Moses, “You will deliver my people out of slavery.” He told David
“You will be king.”  He told Jonah “You will
go to Nineveh.”
What is he asking you to do? 
Someone once said “I never pray for a good
garden unless I have a hoe in my hand.” It’s not enough to pray that God
will bless your church unless you are willing to do something.  It’s not enough to look around and wonder why
there are no visitors unless you are willing to invite some out.  It’s no good to wonder why that specific
bible study or support group isn’t offered unless you are willing to lead or
host it.   After
thirty years in ministry I have discovered that some people in church just sit
back and pay the bills and some just sit back.
Well in 2013 at Cornerstone we can’t afford either.  There are bills that need to be paid, I can
assure you of that, but more than that there is work to be done and plenty of
Each of you will have an integral part to play in the
development of Cornerstone in the upcoming year. And there is no way I can
force you or guilt you into taking part, it will always be your choice.
So now we know who the worker is I guess you are all
wondering now what the work is.  b) The Work Now I’m sure that some of
you are thinking, “But Denn I can’t
do anything in the church.  I’m too old or
too young or too busy.   I don’t have any talents the church can use
and I can’t afford to give.  Every person
here has something to offer.  God will
not ask you to do something you can’t do, he may ask you to do something you
won’t do, but he will never ask you to do something you can’t do. 
If there is absolutely no place you can serve at Cornerstone
then perhaps you can give, if you can’t work or give then we need your
prayers.  If you can’t say anything
positive about the church then don’t say anything negative.  There are 3 questions that each person who
attends Cornerstone is going to have to ask if they are going to be a part of
Cornerstone and not just someone who drops in once in a while.  1) What will God have me do to help fulfil
the vision of Cornerstone?  2) What will
God have me give to fulfill the vision of Cornerstone?  And the third question ties in with questions
1 and 2 and that is 3) Will I be obedient to what God is asking me to do and
give or not?
It was Robert Frost who said
“Everyone is willing.  Some are willing
to work and the rest are willing to let them.”  In the church,
everyone is willing.  Some are willing to
sacrifice and the rest are willing to let them.”  If our dream is going to be successful, it will only succeed through the sacrifice of
God’s people.
The battle cry when we were raising the capital to start
this building was, “Not equal giving but equal sacrifice” and that is still
what it takes, and that doesn’t just apply to money it applies to giving of
yourself as well, giving of your time and your talents and giving of your
There are people who choose to come to the early service,
not because that’s their first choice but in order to make room for guests in
the second service.  There are folks who
come who aren’t fans of the type of music we use on Sunday Morning but they
believe in the vision we have for our community, there are those who might wish
that Denn was a little more formal but they believe in the vision we have for
our community.   And so they are willing
to surrender their preferences for the vision. 
But whether it has to do with money, time or preferences a
sacrifice isn’t a sacrifice until it cost you something.
And when we ask people to serve at Cornerstone we know that
we are asking you to sacrifice something. In order to find the time to do
something for God you may need to take that time from some other area of your
life.  Whether it be time that you would
have used for chores, or work or simply time that would have been spent doing
nothing we are asking that you sacrifice it. 
Because nobody can make time they can only find time.  But in order for Cornerstone to be all that
Cornerstone can be there will be work that must be done and the more work
that’s done by you the more it’s going to be your church.
Listen to what the teacher says
in Ecclesiastes 3:22 So I saw that there is nothing better for people than to be
happy in their work.
And in Ecclesiastes
. . . I even found great pleasure in
hard work, a reward for all my labours.
So we’ve discovered who the
worker is and what the work is, but what is c) The Reward?   The most
important reward will be Changed People.  The reason we have been placed in Hammonds
Plains is not so there would be a Wesleyan Church here. It wasn’t so we’d all
have some place to go on Sundays and it isn’t to provide a comfort club for the
saints.  Jesus told his disciples in John 4:35-36 You know the
saying, ‘Four months between planting and harvest.’ But I say, wake up and look
around. The fields are already ripe for harvest. The harvesters are paid good
wages, and the fruit they harvest is people brought to eternal life. What joy
awaits both the planter and the harvester alike!
The reason we have been placed here is to see people in
Bedford and Hammonds Plains and the surrounding area come to a saving knowledge
of Jesus Christ.  Without Denn Guptill the people of our community will
survive.  If there wasn’t a Cornerstone
I’m sure that our community would somehow limp along. But without Jesus Christ
people are destined for hell. 
Now we are not the only ones presenting the gospel in our
community, but we have a responsibility to proclaim the salvation of Jesus
Christ as if we were the only gospel preaching church for a thousand
We have been given the means to see hearts changed in men
and women in our communities but we have to do our part and that is work.  But what a reward that will be, knowing that because of us someone has gained
eternal life.
Changed people will lead to a Changed Community.  I am
convinced that we can and will have an impact on our community.  And,
as more and more people come to know the Lord and a greater percentage of our
population become Christians that it will have a dramatic effect on our
communities.  As the morals of a people
rise so will the moral standards of the community, the tide raises all the
So when everything is said and done what is the final
reward? When you finish your last Junior Church lesson, when the last sermon is
preached, the last song is sung, the last youth group is led, the last bulletin
is printed and handed out.  What if at
that point you haven’t seen a single person come to know Jesus? What if you
haven’t changed your street let alone your world?
Well if you have sacrificed as
God has asked you, if you have given as God as asked you and you have worked as
God has asked you then you will receive the greatest reward which you can be
given.  For as you stand before your
master and as He sees your obedience then he will say as the master did to his
servant in Matthew 25:21 “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
In the final analysis, it doesn’t matter much what Denn
Guptill thinks of your performance. It really doesn’t matter how much or how
little you’ve done in relation to anyone else. 
It doesn’t matter how your work measures up on this side of
eternity.  But what does matter is what
you’ve done with what Christ has given you.
Your works won’t save you; the
scriptures are very clear about that. 
Last week we looked at Ephesians 2:8-9 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t
take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the
good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.
But they are also clear that
once you are saved that your works present the evidence of your salvation.   That’s why Jesus’ brother James wrote in  James 2:18 Now
someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say,
“How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you
my faith by my good deeds.”
Time and time again the scripture come back to the concept
of the tree being identified by its fruit, what kind of fruit are you
bearing?  We say it over and over again
that it’s one thing to talk about how committed you are to God but where is the
evidence? The two most important books in most people lives are their cheque
book and their date book, by looking through those books you will discover
where your commitment is.
On the back of the form that was handed out this morning is
a whole list of ministry opportunities that exist at Cornerstone.  And some are specific, you really need to be
able to sing if you are going to be on the vocal team, and if you want to be in
the band it would be helpful if you can play an instrument.  Don’t like teens?  Maybe assisting Pastor Ben in the youth
ministry isn’t for you.  But I would
suspect that there are areas that you are able to serve. 

And it benefits the church by having people who serve, it benefits others who
don’t have to serve every week and it will benefit you when you get to meet
people you’ve never met before and you become a part of the mission.   

So, what do
people really get for all their hard work? 

A Year to Live

I found out the other day that I have less than a year to live.  It was quite a shock when I found out.  It wasn’t my doctor who told me but an article that I read.   The thesis was that when you subtract the time sleeping, working, tending to personal matters, hygiene, odd chores, medical matters, eating, travelling, and miscellaneous time stealers, you have about 14 days in each year to spend as you wish.  The life expectancy of a male in Nova Scotia is 78 years, so that leaves me with 347 days. 
So, the questions begs to be asked, “What are you going to do with your days?”   After all, it is really up to you.  Nobody else can spend that time for you.  You may allow others to steal it from you but it will be your decision. Is it any wonder that Jesus’ brother James wrote” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.”
The choice is yours, so are you just going to put in time and try to get the most years in your life, or are you going to try to get the most life in your years? Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.  

Grace, More Than a Girl’s Name

When I had been a Christ follower for a few days my best
friends brother asked me what my favorite song was, I wasn’t sure exactly what answer
he was looking for but considering he was a pastor I figured that “We’re Here
for a Good Time” by Trooper wasn’t the right answer, and so I said “Amazing
Grace”.  Now to be truthful I’m not even
sure if I could have hummed the tune or quoted any of the words but it was the
only “Christian” song that I could think of on the spur of the moment. 
“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch
like me.  I once was lost but now am
found was blind but now I see.”  It is probably
the most recognized tune in the Church. 
In July of 2010 Darlene Zschech led a group of 18,000 worshippers in the
Philippines in singing Amazing Grace in 60 different languages.  And apparently it is the only song that
sounds good on bag pipes. 
Not only is Amazing Grace the most loved song in the
Christian Church but Amazing Grace is indeed the defining doctrine of the
Christian Church.  But what is
grace?  Before I became a follower of
Jesus Grace was either the name of the lady who lived down the road from us, or
was what we said before we ate at my grandmother’s house.  Neither of which was relevant to me.  But Grace is more than a girl’s name and it’s
more than the obligatory prayer whispered before a meal when you have the
pastor over for supper.
So, what is grace? Well, grace can mean a whole bunch of
things from elegance to mercy to the prayer you say before you eat. 
But when we are talking about Divine Grace it’s defined in The
Oxford English Dictionary: “The free and unmerited favour of God as manifested in the
salvation of sinners and the bestowing of blessings.”  But what does that mean?
 Through the years you
have heard me define grace by saying “Justice is getting what you deserve,
mercy is getting less then you deserve and grace is getting what you don’t
To illustrate, suppose one of your children misbehaved.  Now that won’t work, because I know that your
children never misbehave.  So you will
have to imagine that one of your children had misbehaved, still a bit of a
stretch but work with me.   Your child
has misbehaved and because it’s 2013 you can’t spank them so you banish them to
their room until they are 18.  That is
justice, getting what they deserve.  But
after an hour or so you start feeling sorry for them so you tell them it’s all
right they can come out now.  That is
mercy getting less than what they deserve. 
But then you say, “You know what, let’s go for an ice-cream.”  That is grace, when they get what they don’t
But what does grace look like?
His Name was Joseph
and he began his life with a silver spoon in his mouth.  His father was Jacob, Abraham’s Grandson, who
had become a wealthy land owner and farmer and Joseph was his favourite
son.  From the time he was just a child
it was evident that he was favoured, and perhaps a little bit spoiled, or
actually perhaps a lot bit spoiled, actually there was no perhaps about it, he
was daddy’s favourite and Daddy wasn’t afraid to show him or his other children
how he felt about Joseph. 
I don’t know what the final straw was, maybe it was the
beautiful coat that his father bought him, or maybe it was when he had the
dreams about his brothers bowing down to him and worshipping him.  Maybe it was when the rest of his brothers
had to tend the sheep out in the field and Joseph stayed at home.  Or maybe it was just that opportunity
presented itself.  Joseph had gone out to
the fields to check up on his brothers for his father, and the brothers saw
their opportunity.  They threw Joseph
into a dried up well and then to add insult to injury they sold him into
From favourite son to slave and the story doesn’t end
there.  Joseph was taken to Egypt and was
sold to a man named Potiphar.  If we
follow the story along we discover that Joseph was able to gain the trust of
his master and eventually became manager of everything that Potiphar owned, but
when he refused to give in to the advances of his master’s wife she framed him
for rape and he ended up in prison.
From favourite son to slave, from trusted servant to
prisoner, you really know the path to downward mobility don’t you Joseph?  And to be fair, Joseph’s problems began
because he wasn’t very gracious.  Well
it’s pretty obvious that if anyone needed God’s grace it would be Joseph.  But he’s not alone.  Some
Need God’s Grace Because of Their Attitudes
you know, the way we speak to
people and treat people.
If Joseph started from the top and worked his way down Moses started from the bottom and
worked his way up.  The people of Israel
had become slaves to the people of Egypt and when the pharaoh began to feel
threatened by the growing number of Israelites in his country the Bible says he
decided to make their slavery even more bitter, kind of the old “I’ll give you
something to cry about”.  When the harsh
working conditions didn’t break their spirits he issued an order to the
midwives to kill the baby boys of Israel as soon as they were
born.  When the midwives refused the
Pharaoh ordered all the newborn boys to be thrown into the Nile River.  And it was into this climate that Moses was
His mother hid him for three months and when it became
apparent that she could hid him no more he was placed into a floating basket
and placed in the reeds at the edge of the Nile
in hopes that someone would find him and take pity on him.
And don’t you just love it when a plan comes together?  Because that’s exactly what happened and the
story gets better because he wasn’t found by just anyone he was found by the
daughter of the Pharaoh.  Who promptly
feel in love with this beautiful little baby boy. And the story gets better and
better, Moses was adopted into the royal household and enjoyed all the perks
and privileges of growing up the adopted son of the most powerful man in the
What an opportunity to help his people, to make a difference
in his world, to impact society.  There
was so much that he could do, but did he? 
No.  As a matter of fact we find
no indication that Moses even acknowledged his roots until he was forty years
old and on that one occasion he saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite and he
killed the Egyptian and buried his body in the sand.  Nasty temper Moses, obviously you never read
anything by James Barrie because he said “Temper is a weapon that we hold by the blade.”
Moses, what were you thinking, you had the power the
prestige and the position to make a difference in your world and you blew
it.  Obviously you weren’t thinking were
you? You ever feel like Moses?  You had
it all and then you  blew it, and all
because you couldn’t control your temper. 
Some Need God’s Grace Because of
Their Temper,
we say and do things in the heat of the moment and hurt those
around us.
Some called him King, others said he was a man after God’s
own heart, she called him honey. David was
greatest King.  He had taken the Jews
from being nothing more than a collection of Nomadic tribes to being one of the
most powerful nations in the known world. 
It was under David’s leadership and direction that Israel reached
the high point
of her history.  Economically,
politically and spiritual Israel
was at its peak. And David was riding high on the crest of popular opinion.
Now I don’t know if David got bored or if he was going
through a midlife crisis thing or what happened but one day when his troops had
all gone off to war, David stayed home. 
And you know what they say, “Idle hands are the devil’s hands.”  Well David should have kept busy doing what
he was supposed to be doing.
The bible tells us that one afternoon that David has just
gotten up from taking a nap, a nap, must be nice to be king.  And as he’s strolling along the roof top of
the palace he notices that one of his neighbours is taking a bath in the buff
in the backyard. Well this lady was not hard to look at all and David sent someone
to find out who she was.  The answer came
back that she was Bathsheba and that she was the wife of one of David’s
soldiers, a man named Uriah.  
David didn’t waste any time, he had Bathsheba brought to his
home, I don’t know what he was thinking, perhaps he didn’t know what he was
thinking, perhaps he wasn’t thinking. 
Maybe it was all innocent and he wanted to compliment her on her beauty,
or maybe warn her that when she bathed in the buff in the backyard that it
wasn’t nearly as private as she thought it was. 
Or maybe he knew all along where this would lead.  It was Scottish Writer Margaret Opliphant who so wisely pointed out “Temptations come, as a general rule, when they are sought.” 
Well it may have started out innocent but it didn’t end innocent,
I think David must have been a fan of Robert A. Heinlein who wrote “Always yield to
temptation, you never know when it will pass your way again.” The bible
says they slept together and if that is all they did there wouldn’t have been a
problem, but the next time David sees Bathsheba she had some news for him, she
said something like “Hi Daddy.”  David,
David, David.  What have you done?  Well we know what he did, but why did he do
Well David begins to think, and scheme after all he didn’t
get to be King for nothing.  And he sends
for Uriah thinking that Bathsheba could seduce her husband, although he had
been away from home for a while so there probably wouldn’t need to be a lot of
seduction, and Uriah would think the child was his, he must not have been real
good with math.
But that isn’t the way it happened.  Uriah refused to go home; he said his fellow
soldiers were out defending the country it wouldn’t be right for him to be spending
the night with his wife.  Oh drat, it’s
on to plan “B” then so David invited Uriah to dinner, proceeded to get him
drunk and then sent him home, but still Uriah refused.  Well if you can’t blame hubby then get rid of
hubby, and that’s what David did, he had Uriah’s commander send him deep into
enemy territory and Uriah was killed.
So let’s see, David, you slept with another man’s wife, and
then you had her husband murdered.  Hope
she was worth it.  David you were
thinking with your hormones and not your head. 
And if you were to get what you deserved under the law of your kingdom
and your God you would be killed, you are in serious need of God’s grace. 

Need God’s Grace Because of Their Actions. 
How many of us have done what we knew we shouldn’t be doing?  Because we going to enjoy it for the here and
now regardless of how it might affect our future or the future of those we

For three years Peter
had walked with Jesus.  For three years
Peter had listened to Jesus.  For three
years Peter had been Jesus closest friend. 
And in three statements he dismissed those three years as irrelevant and
Each month we celebrate communion, or the Lord’s supper; the
first time it was celebrated was with Jesus and the twelve apostles the night
before he was to be crucified.  He knew
what was going to happen but the rest of them didn’t, so at the end of the meal
he tried to bring them up to speed.  When
Peter heard Jesus talk about how things would turn out he tried to reassure his
friend that he wouldn’t be alone.  He
made statements like: “Even if I have to die for you I’ll never desert you.”  And Jesus looked at him and said “Peter the truth is, this
very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.”
Well, you can’t say he wasn’t warned.  I’m sure that most of you know the rest of
the story.  Jesus is arrested and hauled
first before the High Priests and then before Pilate, the Roman Governor.  Peter who had been so filled with bravado
just hours before followed from a distance and found himself huddled for warmth
around a fire with servants of the high priest. 
As the flickering flames lit the faces around the fire one of the
servant girls looked at Peter and asked if he was one of the disciple, “nope,
not me.” He replied, “Must be someone who looks like me.”  At the words another person looks up and
says, “She’s right, I’m sure that you were with the one they call the Messiah”
and again Peter shook his head and denied it. 
It wasn’t long and someone said “you were with them; you even talk like
a Galilean.” And with that Peter began to curse and swear, denying that he had
even met the carpenter.
I wonder what Peter was so afraid of?  These weren’t people of influence, they had
no authority, they weren’t even making accusations, they were just
curious.  But in Peter’s mind they held his
freedom if not his life in their hands.  Ernest Hemingway had it right when he said “Cowardice, as distinguished from panic, is almost always
simply a lack of ability to suspend the functioning of the imagination.”
And then the rooster crowed. 
Peter, fisherman, apostle, coward. 
How could you do that to your best friend?  Peter, you’ve painted yourself with such a
bright yellow? As a Christ follower have you ever denied Christ?  Maybe it wasn’t with words but with the lack
of words, you knew you should have spoken up and you didn’t.   Some Need God’s Grace Because of Their Waffling.  One day they claim Christ with their
words and deeds and the next day their words and deeds say “I don’t know Jesus”  
Have you ever felt like you had
blown it in your Christian walk?  Have
there been times that your behaviour has been less then admirable?  Perhaps like Joseph you just can’t seem to
get it right, and you know that God must be angry at you or you wouldn’t have
such rotten luck.  But the story hasn’t
been finished yet.  Joseph eventually
became the second most powerful man in Egypt and because of his position
he was able to save his entire family during a famine that affected entire Eastern Mediterranean. 
He summed up his life in a conversation that he had with his brothers in
Genesis 50:20 You
intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this
position so I could save the lives of many people.
Maybe like Moses you have a
temper that needs to be brought under control, and let there be no doubt about
it, if you have a problem with your temper it will need to be brought under
control.  But Moses story didn’t end with
him on the lamb, instead God brought him back to Egypt to deliver the people of Israel from
slavery to freedom.  That was where the
original Passover celebration came from. 
  When the writer of the book of
Hebrews was listing all the heroes of faith in the bible he gives Moses five
verses, more space than anyone else on the list.  This is only part of it Hebrews 11:27 It was by
faith that Moses left the land of Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger. He kept
right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible.
Have you struggled with moral
failure like David?  Figure that you’ve
blown it and there is no hope for you? 
Don’t know if you can fall much further than David fell, and yet in
Psalm 51 we read David’s prayer of repentance Psalm
Have mercy on me, O God, because of
your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my
sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin.
And?  Well in 2 Samuel 12:13 David is talking to Nathan the
Preacher who confronted him with his sin, and this is a part of that
conversation:  2 Samuel
Then David confessed to Nathan, “I
have sinned against the LORD.” Nathan replied, “Yes, but the LORD has forgiven
you, and you won’t die for this sin.
story wasn’t over.  In the New Testament
Jesus is referred to as the Son of David on at least 15 occasions.
Do you ever feel like Peter?  In your life, or your behaviour or your words
you have denied knowing Jesus. You can’t imagine that he could ever love you or
forgive you after your betrayal.  And yet
it was after Peter’s betrayal, after his denial that Jesus gave him three
opportunities to express his love.  One
affirmation for each denial.  And then
Jesus looked at him and said “then take care of my sheep”, entrusting the early
church to Peter.  If we read through the
book of Acts we discover Peter preaching in front of thousands of people, and
when he was arrested and pulled in front of the authorities who commanded him
to stop never again speak or teach about Jesus listen to what he said, Acts 4:19 But Peter and
John replied, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him?
And maybe you have nothing in
common with Joseph, Moses, David or Peter but here is the reality:  We All
Need God’s Grace Because We Are People
Each of us is far from God, and
according to his word justice for us would be to be separated for eternity from
God and goodness, and light and love, and compassion.  In our tradition that is called hell.  Mercy for us would be annihilation, to simply
cease to exist at death.  But instead God
offers Grace, the thing we don’t deserve, eternal life in his presence. 
Why did Jesus come?  It was the tax collector Matthew who recalled
a prophecy from the Old Testament that speaks of the coming messiah, the one we
call Jesus Matthew 12:20-21 He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering
candle. Finally he will cause justice to be victorious. And his name will be
the hope of all the world.”
It was that great American philosopher Yogi Berra who said
“The game isn’t over until it’s over.”  If you feel like you’ve failed in your
Christian walk Jesus isn’t going to crush you or put out your flame, even if
that is what you deserve, he is there to pick you up.  Listen to the promise of the Bible, this is
for you this morning, I don’t know where you are on your spiritual journey but
this promise is for you.
God saved you by his grace when you
believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation
is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about

Dropping the Writ.

He dropped the writ, we’ve been waiting for it and wondering when it would happen and now it has happened.  Dropping the writ is an awesome term.  It is much classier than simply saying that he called an election.    However it doesn’t really matter whether you are dropping a writ or calling an election the end result is an incredible privilege.  A privilege that the majority of the world will never have and that the minority who do have it often take for granted. 
So this election, instead of grumbling and complaining let’s pray and ponder.  Pray that the leaders who will lead our province well will be elected, regardless of their party, and ponder the issues so that you can vote responsibly.
But, however you vote, please vote.  Because the person who chooses not to vote is no better off than the person who does not have the right to vote.
Regardless of what some people say, democracy isn’t a God given right, you won’t find it in the bible, but it is a right that has been paid for with the blood and sacrifice of people.  So over the next four weeks pray and ponder and on October 8th take the time to do what most of the world can’t, vote.
Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.  

The End

That pretty well
tied up the morning.  Jesus has been
teaching his disciples about a whole range of subjects involving the kingdom of God and now he ties it up with a pretty
bow and hands it to those who were listening and basically tells them, “You are
responsible for what you are going to do with what you have heard.” 
Christ knew the
reality of life, he realized that as persuasive as he might be that everyone in
his audience would have the opportunity to respond to his message in one of two
ways.   They would either accept it or they would
reject it.  In other words the people who
listened to Jesus Christ the Son of God preach had the same option that you
have today, either accept what you hear or reject it, there is no middle
These words come at
the end of the Sermon on the Mount arguably Jesus’ best known message.  It all started in Matthew
One day as he saw the crowds gathering, Jesus went up on the
mountainside and sat down. His disciples gathered around him, and he began to
teach them.
And for the next one
hundred and five verses Christ shakes his disciples’ preconceptions of religion
to the very roots.  Everything they had
been taught, everything they had been led to believe, everything they had ever
seen was turned inside out.
Not content to have
his disciples think that his was an easy road to walk he spoke of problems, and
persecutions, trouble and tribulations. 
If Christ was preaching today we would say that he was
And so by the end of
the Sermon on the Mount Jesus brought people to the place that they had to
completely re-examine their ideas of happiness and success.  Where they had to review what they believed
and why they believed it.  And in so
doing he destroyed many of their concepts of the law, murder,  adultery, divorce, oath taking, service,
love, giving, prayer, fasting, money, holiness, worry, and judging. 
And the words of the
Sermon on the Mount were Red Letter words. 
This is the end of our summer series, not necessarily the end of summer,
there are actually 13 days of summer left. 
We started our Red Letter summer series a little before summer actually
started so only fair that we should end it a little before summer actually
Probably the most
famous of Jesus’ Red Letter Words are those found in the Sermon on the Mount
which in many ways is the foundation of Christianity. 
Kurt Vonnegut, made
this comment in his book, A Man Without a Country “For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never
mention the Beatitudes (Matthew 5). But, often with tears in their eyes, the
demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course,
that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on
the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.
“Blessed are the merciful” in a courtroom? “Blessed are the
peacemakers” in the Pentagon? Give me a break!” 

And at the end of chapter seven Jesus has the nerve to tell his
listeners that his teachings  aren’t
options, but instead they are to be standard equipment for the believer.  The last verse of chapter seven explains why
the people were compelled to listen to him, Matthew 7:29 for he taught
with real authority—quite unlike their teachers of religious law.
He knew what he was
talking about.  From time to time I have
been able to teach as one who had authority. While I was in High School and
then again in 1984 and for a while in the 90s  I worked part time selling suits, and I spoke
with authority on that subject. 
Reminds me of the
story of the man who had stomach pains, went to doctors  and specialists, had x-rays and ultra sounds
but they couldn’t come up with a reason for his pain.  Well he figured that he was going to die, so
he decided that he’d go on a trip, and he went to a clothing store to buy a new
wardrobe, the tailor looked at him and said “You look like you’d wear a 42
jacket, 16 shirt, 33 sleeve, and a 32 inseam. 
A 7 1/2 hat,  11 ee  shoe and 36 underwear.”  To which the man replied “Ah hah you’re wrong
I only wear size 34 underwear.”  And the
tailor said “Oh no sir if you wore size thirty four underwear you’d always have
pains in your stomach.”   Now there was a
man who spoke with authority.
When I preach I try
to preach with authority.  And sometimes
when I’ve tried to teach with authority I’ve gotten in over my head.  But it was very obvious to the people who had
gathered around that Jesus had the authority and knowledge to preach that way.
Every once in a
while you will hear someone say “I don’t think they know what they are talking
about.”  And that’s fine if it doesn’t
matter, but those are words you don’t want to hear about your doctor, or your
lawyer or your plumber. 
And they are definitely words that you don’t want to hear in reference
to the one who is talking about your eternity. 
If you are going to stake your eternity to a particular teaching you
will want to be sure that the one doing the teaching has the authority to
You ever talk to a car salesman and think you have a deal and then they
say “I’ll need to have my sales manager approve this.”  You thought they had the authority but in
reality they didn’t. 
But those who listened to Jesus that day were convinced that he had the
authority to close the deal that when he said in John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth,
and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”  That he had the
authority to make that statement. 
And so to tie
everything together Christ does what he does so well, he tells us a story.  And he divides all the listeners of his
sermon into two categories. 
So often in Christian
circles today we hear that we are not to be judgmental, people say “But you don’t
understand, it’s not clear cut, you don’t understand the circumstances.” 
But Christ drew very
clear and decisive lines.  As my daddy
says, sin is black and white and grey is just a colour of paint.
And Christ tells a
story of two men, because one wouldn’t have been enough and three would have
been too many.  And these two men have
several things in common.  Just as each
one of us have several things in common.
1) They Both
Heard the Word.
  Both of these men had heard what Jesus Christ
had to say.  The relevance of this
message has to be directed firstly at those who have heard the word.  And that isn’t difficult.   Much of the world has at least a passing
acquaintance with the bible and Christianity organizations like Wycliffe
continue to translate the bible into different languages and world literature
and others continue to translate the word into national dialects. But most
people in our country and our community have a least the opportunity to hear
the word.

And Christ always
lays responsibility on the person who has heard the word.  When Christ spoke of the sower in Matthew 13
he once again emphasised the necessity of hearing the word.  Regardless of the soils reaction to the seed,
the seed was never the less there.  All
too often we place the onuses on the church or the preacher.
Christ laid the
responsibility for a response on the hearer. 
If I failed to preach the gospel, if I failed to lay it on the line
concerning salvation, if came to Cornerstone every Sunday and I never mentioned
your need to embrace Jesus, then I might be responsible for your eternity, but I
have preached that you need Jesus Christ to be saved, that you need to repent,
and so from this point on you is paddling your own canoe, and once you have
heard it once it is in your court.
Christ never
commanded the disciple to go to extraordinary measures to ensure that people
got saved.  He commanded them to preach
the gospel, but he said in Matthew 10:14 If any
household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its
dust from your feet as you leave.  Everyone
should get to hear the gospel, but as Oswald J. Smith asked, “Should some hear the gospel twice before others have
heard it once?” 
Some people insist
that the church has an obligation to hound people into heaven, especially their
kids.  Uh-huh we have an obligation to
preach the gospel, we have an obligation to encourage Christians, we have an
obligation to represent Christ to a lost and dying world, and everyone in that
world should hear the gospel once.
But you have each
heard the gospel; your eternity is not in my hands or anybody else’s.  I have spoken the words of God, and you have
chosen to respond by either rejecting or accepting them.  Don’t ever try to lay a guilt trip on me
about your lack of salvation, or the lack of the salvation of anyone else in
this church.
In the parable of
the soil Jesus said, “The sower went forth and sowed.”  But the sower wasn’t credited when the seed
landed on the fertile soil, nor was he criticized when the seed landed in the
rocks, he just went out and sowed.
Both of these men
were in the crowd, they both heard the words of Christ, they had equal
opportunity to respond.  We may not have
the chance to sit at the feet of Christ today, but his message continues, and
his word continues.  Through personal
evangelism, through preaching, through the 
scripture.  Jesus Christ is still
speaking to people today, young and old, rich and poor, religious and non-religious.  And they are still accepting him or they are
still rejecting him.
2) They Both
Reacted to the Word
.  They were both doers.  They didn’t stand still in life.  Both men built houses and of course the
houses that were constructed were allegories of life.  Both men after hearing Jesus Christ speak got
on with living.  And in their lives I’m
sure there were many similarities.  They probably
had a wife and family, probably had an occupation, a job of some kind.  They would have had concerns, and
Because admit it or
not, like it or not, we have a lot in common with those of the world.  The bible says that we are in the world but
not of the world.  But many would deny
that we are even in the world.   Yet we
have so much in common with those who have never accepted Jesus’ offer of grace.  Pain, suffering, triumph, heartache, we laugh
and we cry.
A decision to follow
Christ does not exempt us from living, it doesn’t pull us out of the arena of
life.  Instead Christ said in John 10:10 My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. And
that is the point, when the world sees just how the Christian deals with life,
and tragedy and even ultimately with death we are a witness.
3) They Both Had
.  The greatest common denominator in the human
race is tragedy.  None of us will ever
escape tribulation.  It will always find
us one way or another.  Death and tragedy
are non-selective, we are told that the rain falls on the just and the
A number of years
ago a young man by the name of Scott McNaughton was stabbed and killed outside
of a bar here in Halifax.  It seems that Scott’s
wife and young daughter had been away for the weekend and he went out with a
couple of the boys and ended up in an argument over somebody else’s girlfriend
and was stabbed to death. 
Scott’s father was a
friend of mine, another pastor in Truro. 
I wonder if even for a moment Scott’s assailant considered the pain that
he would inflict on Scott’s Christian parents?
In both cases here
the bible says  The
rain came in torrents and the floodwaters rose and the winds beat against that
house.: in both cases the exact same tribulation fell upon each
man.  Now that isn’t the way it usually
is, usually our tragedies are uniquely ours. 
But even if the circumstances aren’t always identical the fact remains
that we will all suffer in this life.
Sometimes it’s
tempting to think that if we are believers that we will be exempt from the
troubles that plague the world, but that’s not the case.  Our commitment to Christ doesn’t give us a
“Get out of life free” card.
But along with the
similarities there were differences as well. 
1) Their Reactions
Were Different.
  The first thing we said about the men was
that they reacted.  And they did, but
they reacted in two different ways.  One
based the remainder of his life on Christ’s teachings.  What was it that Jesus said about the first
man?  “Therefore anyone who hears my
words and follows them.”  The words that
Jesus was talking about included but were not limited to the Sermon on the Mount.  They encompassed everything he taught
from  “for God so loved the world, to take
up your cross and follow me”, these were the Red Letter words.
And the teachings of
Jesus Christ became the philosophy that this man determined to live by.  How he dealt with his friends, family, work
associates and enemies.  This determined
how he prayed, how he gave and how he served.
His relationship to Jesus
Christ and his obligations to Jesus Christ were of paramount importance.  Today we would say he was a fully committed
follower or Jesus Christ.
On the other hand
the second man chose a different path. Christ described him as everyone who
hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice.  There was no response to the claims of Jesus Christ,
he heard the words, he understood what Jesus was saying but his prime concern
was himself.  He was ultimately looking
toward instantaneous gratification.
We really don’t know
why he chose that path.
a) Maybe He Didn’t
Believe Christ
when he said I
am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the father except through
me.  Maybe he thought that was a little
narrow.  Maybe he thought there must be
many other ways as well and opted to follow one of those.
b) Maybe He
Thought He Had Plenty Of Time To Get Things Straight.
We all do that to one degree or another. But
as the man said the only problem with waiting until the eleventh hour is if you
die at 10:45.  A number of years ago a
good friend of mine, Ed Newell, died of cancer. 
At his funeral in lieu of a eulogy his pastor read the letter that Ed
had left to be read. That is one way of making sure that the preacher says what
you want said at your funeral. And in it Ed said, “Don’t wait for the deep water to come, every one of us needs to get right
with Christ now.  Not tomorrow and not
next week but now.”
c) Maybe He Felt
Like It Just Wasn’t Worth The Effort
, kind of like the kid who fritters away his time at school, because he
doesn’t think it’s worth his time and then ends up in a dead end job and can’t
understand why.
We don’t know why he
chose not to follow Christ but we do know that’s the direction he took.
The biggest difference of course was in 2) Their Fates Were Different.  One
house stood up to the flood, storms and trials and one didn’t it is just that
One man had the
inner resources “which only Christ can give” to stand up to those
tribulations.  And the other man relying
totally on himself collapsed.  It is interesting
to note that the means that Christ uses to differentiate between the two men
was not, one was good and one was bad. 
It was not that one was moral and one was immoral, it was not that one
was religious and one was not religious. 
It wasn’t that one was right and one was wrong.
Instead it was the
same terms he used in describing others who would hear his message ant that was
wise and foolish.  Christ brought it
right down to where the rubber meets the road, and said that the spiritual
decisions that count in this life are not just decisions of the heart but also
decisions of the head.  And in those
decisions of life God has provided all the information we need to base our
choice on.  Some will make the right
choices and some will blow it.  But they will
make their decisions and will be judged wise or foolish because of it.
There is no other
way that we can separate them.  And
remember that wise and smart don’t always go together.  But what was in the difference?  It wasn’t the message, that was the same.  And it wasn’t in the house as far as we know
it was the very same type of house.
Instead the
difference lay in the foundation that the house was built on.  One winter morning in New York I looked out the window into the
back yard and there was an enormous pine tree lying across my back yard.  It had been pulled up by the roots, they had
spread out for meters in all directions but they had no depth.
Matthew 7:24 “Anyone who listens to my teaching
and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock.  Actually
I prefer Luke 6:47-48 “I will show you what it’s like when someone
comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. It is like a person
building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock.”
It wasn’t just on
rock it was dug down deep and laid on rock. 
The rock here signifies in the physical sense stable ground, secure
ground, and in the spiritual sense represents our anchoring ourselves to Jesus Christ.
In I Corinthians 10:4
Paul refers to Christ as the rock. As a
child growing up in Europe I’m sure that my
parents took me to the ruins of every castle ever built on the continent.  And I can still remember those castles that
had been literally carved out of mountains. 
Bearing mute testimony to the finality of rock.
Christ tells us that the second man simply built his house on the sand,
or in Luke he says “like a man who built a house on the earth without a
foundation”.  The man simply built his
house on the shifting Palestinian sands without so much as a foundation.  Many who would see the folly of this ploy
would do that very thing in their spiritual lives.  So how are you building your spiritual
house?  What’s the foundation like, and
what are you using for building materials?
I would challenge to read the story of Jesus in a translation that you
are comfortable with.  Read the gospels
and discover the material that Jesus has provided for the foundation of your

Wisdom of the Ages.

Recently I have found myself immersed in a book of wisdom.  I’m sure Angela is growing tired of my constant interruptions as I regal her with yet another new discovery.  As I read I am constantly thinking:” Wow!” “Amazing” & ”I didn’t know that.” Stories of great achievements by folks with obscure names and stories of inspirations share the pages of this book and I want to share many of the things I have discovered with those around me.  Of course, you realize that I’m talking about Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader.
I have also discovered a few mistakes in my reading. Not major mistakes but enough that I tend to read the rest with a grain of salt.  Uncle John, I am sure, would remind me “To err is human, to forgive divine.” And then he would let me know that quote came from Alexander Pope in An Essay on Criticism that Pope wrote in 1709 but wasn’t published until 1711.   But I digress.
Too many people view the Bible the same way. It’s an interesting book that is full of neat things, but they aren’t sure they can trust it and it certainly isn’t life changing.  And it will never be life changing until we embrace it for what it is: the Word of God.
Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.  

Avoiding Millstones

It is the stuff of nightmares, you’re unable to breath, the
pressure is closing in and your last thoughts reflect on what you wished you
had done.  Regrets fill your mind, if
onlys become your focus and as the darkness increases your struggles decrease
until what was you has departed and what is left is held firmly beneath the
surface by the weight of the millstone tied to your left ankle. 
I can’t even imagine a death more frightening then being
drowned, of knowing the ultimate outcome but being unable to do a thing about
it.  The panic, the sense of helplessness
and doom.  And Jesus told us that would
be preferable to leading a believer astray. 
In the context Jesus is referring to the little children who
were listening to him preach but the warning is reiterated in Matthew and Mark
and the implication is that we have a responsibility not only for our personal
salvation but also for our influence on other believers around us. 
We are almost to the end of our Red Letter Summer
series.  We started back in June and the
preaching team has focused on the words in the Bible that are printed in
Red.  Those are the words of Jesus and
they weren’t actually printed in Red in the original Greek, instead it was the
brainchild of an editor with the Christian Herald magazine in 1899 who thought
it would be a cool idea to print the words of Christ in Red in Bibles so they
would stand out. 

But red letters have been used for five centuries to mark important words.  They were first used on calendars to mark the
Holy Days, Red Letter Days. 

And these particular Red Letter words seem a little at odds
with the picture that some people have of Jesus.  You know the picture of a Jesus who is always
loving and kind and never says a mean or condemning word, and is never
So let’s go back to the
scripture that Paul read for us earlier Luke 17:1-2 One day Jesus said to his disciples, “There will always be
temptations to sin, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting! It
would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around your
neck than to cause one of these little ones to fall into sin.   Wow, that doesn’t sound like the
softly cuddly Jesus that some people love so much. 
And some of you might even be
thinking that this applies to how we treat and act around children, little
ones.  But the meaning is anyone you have
a spiritual influence over, anyone who looks to you for an example.
There is a warning here, a warning that tells us that we are
not only responsible for our own salvation but to a certain degree we are
responsible for the salvation of others. 
And sometimes that is hard to get our head around.
And that isn’t a new difficulty, if we go back to the very
start of the story of man, in the book of Genesis, which is the first book of
the Bible.  There we read a story of how
Cain, who was the son of Adam and Eve, killed his brother in a fit of
And when Cain was confronted by God, after murdering his
brother Abel, Cain asked God that infamous question “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
And while God didn’t respond directly to his question the implication was “Yes
Cain, you are responsible for your brother.” 
Today if you talk to people
about their behaviour and how it might or might not affect a fellow believer
you get the same type of response as God got from Cain, “Am I my brother’s
Keeper, seriously?” and the implication is still clear “Yes you are.” 
Paul told the believers in the
early church in  1 Corinthians 8:9 But you
must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker
conscience to stumble.
Christians often spend a
lot of time worrying about the actions of the world and how corrupt the world is.  I have heard Christians talk about how
shameful Miley’s behaviour was on the MTV award show and I want to ask “What
were you doing watching the MTV award show?” 
Have you stopped and listened to the lyrics in the music they
But seriously, Christ
followers will not be held accountable for the actions of society. Jesus called
us to be salt and light but he never called us to legislate Christian behaviour
to an unchristian world.  And ultimately
I will never be held to account for the behaviour or misbehaviour of other

So, while we are not responsible for the actions of our brothers and sisters,
we are responsible for our actions.  We
may not be responsible if they stumble, but we are responsible if what we do
causes them to stumble.  I am a world
class klutz, I can trip over a line painted on the road.  And that really isn’t your fault, if I would
pick up my feet and pay attention to where I walk I’d be a lot better off.  But if you intentionally lay something in my
path and I trip over it then it’s a different story. 

And most of us have no
problem with that.  But I believe the
implication is also that if you, through carelessness leave something in my
path and I trip over it you are still responsible even though your intent was
not to hurt me.  And that’s a little
So how can Christians cause
others to stumble?
They Can Stumble Over Our Behaviour.  You realize of course that the depth of your
spiritual commitment will be measured by your behaviour?  That how you act, what you do, how you behave
in certain situations will be the measuring stick that people use to determine
your relationship with Christ. 
Now anytime you talk about
behaviour in referring to a person’s relationship with Christ you are
immediately accused of being a. Judgemental or b. a Legalist.  And I say yes, exactly.  Don’t try to browbeat me with those
words.  Listen to what Paul wrote in
Corinthians 5:12
It isn’t my responsibility
to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those
inside the church who are sinning.   That
is really important, but it’s not fun. 
It’s a lot easier to judge “Those people” out there who are doing really
horrible things, whoever “Those people” might be,  then it is to judge the people who we interact
with every week.  The people we have
relationships with.
But, the scriptures are clear
that we have a responsibility to say to other Christ followers “That is wrong
And as for a legalist, if
that means that I want people to obey the bible, then go ahead and stick the
label on.  I get so tired of seeing
people who profess to be a Christian but you’d never know it by their
behaviour.  And that’s not the way it’s
supposed to be. 
Jesus told us that as
Christians we would be light and people shouldn’t have to say “Look I’m a
light.”  Their actions should prove
that.  Lights don’t have to define
themselves.  All they have to do is be
what they are supposed to be, a light. 
Jesus told his followers in Luke 11:36 If you are filled with light, with no dark corners, then your
whole life will be radiant, as though a floodlight were filling you with
But the flip side of that
is also true, it doesn’t matter how strongly you announce that you are a light
if it’s not shining you won’t be believed. 
Nowhere are the words truer “What you are doing speaks so loud I
can’t hear what you are saying.”
At the same time Jesus told
his followers that they were to be the salt of the world and in the same way
that you don’t have to define light you don’t have to define salt.  If salt is salt then it tastes like
Throughout the Bible we are
told that there is certain behaviour that is not consistent with Christianity.
You know what those behaviours are, and those around you in the church know
what those behaviours are,, and even those outside the church know what type of
behaviour a Christian ought to exhibit and ought not to exhibit.  That’s why people feel free to say “And you
call yourself a Christian.”
Paul told early believers what
type of behavior wasn’t acceptable in the life of   Christians the lists haven’t changed.  Ephesians 5:3-8 Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among
you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. Obscene stories, foolish talk,
and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to
God. You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the
Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping
the things of this world. Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these
sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him. Don’t participate
in the things these people do. For once you were full of darkness, but now you
have light from the Lord. So live as people of light!
Another list is given in Galatians 5:19-21 When you
follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality,
impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling,
jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy,
drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as
I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the
Kingdom of God.
And I know that some folks
think lists like this are really negative and that we should focus on the
positive side of Christianity.  But if
there was a bottle of liquid that was poison you’d want to know that wouldn’t
you?  You wouldn’t care that there was a
negative skull and cross bones on the bottle, you really wouldn’t care about
all the positive things the liquid could do, even if it was pretty and tasted
nice.  If I it could kill you you’d want
to know: If you drink this bad things will happen.
If a bridge was out on a road
you were driving on, you would want to know that.  Even if the sign seemed a little
negative.  You wouldn’t care if there was
great view, or that it was a short cut if the bridge wasn’t out, you would want
to know that if you keep driving you will die. 
You want to be warned: If you continue on this route bad things will
Listen again to the last
verse:  Galatians
5:21 . . .
Let me tell you again, as I have
before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of
God.   That is a warning saying,
if you continue to act like this a bad thing will happen.
I didn’t have to show you
those lists, you knew what was on them, it wasn’t a surprise.  What is a surprise is how people justify
behaviour that is on the list.  Ralph Waldo Emerson said
 “That which we
call sin in others, is experiment for us.” And
Marshall said “We are too Christian really to enjoy sinning, and too fond
of sinning really to enjoy Christianity. Most of us know perfectly well what we
ought to do; our trouble is that we do not want to do it.”
Years ago we were at a
wedding and during the reception we struck up a conversation with a couple we
knew.  He had been a pastor; she had been
the piano player in the church.  Without
getting into a lot of detail they had left their respective spouses and were
living together.  Weren’t divorced, still
legally married to other people, but living together.  During the conversation we got talking about
television and she made the comment that they didn’t let her children watch the
Simpsons because of the morals that were communicated through the show.  Excuse me? 
My dear wife said she had to bite her tongue so she wouldn’t say, “Well
at least Marge and Homer are married.”
I really wanted one of my
points to be Keep Your Pants On, but decided that wouldn’t be
appropriate, so forget you saw it. 
Whether it was the pedophile
scandal that the Catholic Church has been through or the various celebrity
Christians from Jesse Jackson to Jimmy Swaggart or when a local pastor or
spiritual leader is involved in a sexual misconduct major damage has been done
to people’s faith because some Christians haven’t been able to keep their pants
on.   And from this scripture I would suspect that
they will be judged not only on their sexual sin but also on the result their
sexual sin had on others. 
People are watching how we
live, and when we blow it there is the possibility of someone saying “Well
there must not be much to this Christianity thing.”
But what type of behaviour
should we be exhibiting?  Read the book,
check out: 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!
Or Philippians
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your
thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and
admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep
putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard
from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.
But it’s not just our
behaviour, or what we do that can cause people to stumble, they can also
stumble over what we don’t do. 
They Can Stumble Over Our Lack
of Love
The day before Christ was crucified he set out a litmus test for
his believers.  This is the way that
people will recognize you he said, and it wasn’t by how you dress, or how long
your hair is, or whether you are pierced or tattooed.  Jesus didn’t say that people would know that
you were his disciple by your church membership or political affiliation
instead what he said was recorded by John 13:35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you
are my disciples.”
Of course the converse of that is true as well, If you do
not have love for one another it will prove to the world that you are not his
St. Augustine
made this statement “What does love look
like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor
and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the
sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.”
Paul defined love in the book
of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or
proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it
keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but
rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith,
is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.   And when you show love like that people
know it has to be superanatural.
And so when we do not exhibit that type of behaviour we are
setting up a stumbling block for believer and unbelievers alike. 
And these two, our behaviour and our love have to go
together.  We can be completely righteous
but if we don’t show love, it will cause people to stumble.  On the other hand we can love everyone but
not be obedient to Christ in other areas and that becomes another block for
people to trip over.
Can Stumble Over Our Words 
The way
we speak and what we say reveals a great deal about our Christian character or
lack of Christian character.  The tongue
is the most powerful influence in the church and it is able to build people up
or tear them down. 
we moved to Australia the hot topic in the church down under was the issue of
speaking in tongues, the Charismatic movement was gaining a lot of traction and
the topic of whether Christians should always speak in tongues or never speak
in tongues was causing a lot of strife in some churches.  And I remember someone saying “you know
brother those unknown tongues will destroy the church.  I don’t know about that but there sure have
been a lot of churches destroyed by the known tongue.  
When John Maxwell,
the founder of Maximum Impact was pastoring Skyline Wesleyan Church in San
Diego he  was asked  “Are you praying that your people will get
the gift of tongues?”  “No” he replied, “I’m praying they’ll learn to control the one
they’ve got now.”
I don’t
know how many times I’ve had to apologize for something stupid, hurtful or
hateful that was said by someone who professed to be a believer. 
Earlier we looked at the acts
of the sinful nature as defined in Galatians. 
Did you notice how many of these, for example hostility, quarrelling,
jealousy, anger, divisions and envy are manifested through speech?  That is they are all actions which are
expressed, enlarged or revealed
through our words.  And it’s the same
thing with the Fruit of the Holy Spirit : love, joy,
peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and
times than not  they are also expressed
in verbally.  And so it’s not just how
you walk but how you talk that will determine the credibility of your
so on a day to day basis you are judged not just on your actions but on your
words, and on your tone of
voice.  And you’re not just judged by the
person you are talking to you are judged by everyone within earshot.  Does your speech betray spiritual flaws, or does your speech reveal spiritual strength?
been said that we need to apply a threefold test to what we say, 1) is it true, 2) is it kind, and 3) is it necessary.  It would probably help a lot. If we can’t say
anything nice, then don’t say anything
at all. 

Let’s go back to In Philippians 4:8
Paul proposes some guidelines for what we think, Philippians
4:8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on
what is true, and honourable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable.
Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

I don’t think it would do any injustice to the scriptures to
read that portion of scripture this way Philippians 4:8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Speak
only about what is true, and honourable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and
admirable. Speak about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
if we speak on those eight things then we won’t have time to be malicious and
nasty and hurtful. 
let’s commit ourselves to being careful to not lay obstacles in the path of
those who need Jesus.  To realize that
our behaviour, our words and our lives will either draw people to Jesus or will
push them away. 
And so our responsibility is to
not only invite people to share what we have but also to make it something that
they want to share. That is why Paul advised Titus in Titus 2:10 Make the teaching about God
our Savior attractive in every way.