Walking as He Walked

How many people here walk? 
We all walk, sometimes we walk short distances, sometimes we walk long
distance but for the most part we all walk. 
It really isn’t rocket surgery. 
All you have to do is put one foot in front of the other.  And in case you have problems with that I
googled the word “Walking” and came up with 253,000,000 hits, knock yourself
out. One of the things that I tell people about the our church is “It’s close
enough to our home that I could walk, I don’t but I could”
In the scripture that Lisa read
this morning was the phrase 1 John 2:6 Those who say they live in God should live their lives as
Jesus did.

Now listen to how the NIV says it 1 John 2:6 Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus walked.  It’s one of those situations where the
New Living Translation is a little clearer but the New International Version
fits better with my message, so this morning we are looking at the topic
walking as he walked.

This particular passage is found in
the book of 1 John which is the 23rd book of the New Testament and
was written by John.  Which John? The
same John who wrote the Gospel  of John
and that is John the Apostle.  For once
and evermore this book was not written by John the Baptist it was written by
John the Apostle. 

It was written to the believers in the
area of Ephesus, which is in what we know as Turkey, to encourage and
strengthen them.  And as a part of his
letter he tells the believers to walk as Jesus walked.

But what exactly does that mean?  Does it mean to literally walk as Jesus
walked?  And if so what would that look
like?  People used to say that  I walked like the Great A&W Root Bear,
they don’t say that now but only because they don’t show the commercials any
more.  When we discovered that my Great
Great Grand-Mother was first Nations I decided that my traditional name would
be “Walks like Bear.” So if you walked like me you’d all walk like the Great A
& W Root bear.

And sometimes that is a problem.  You see it when folks decide to model themselves
and their Christian walk after “someone”, whether it be a high profile
Christian celebrity, a local pastor or just another Christian.  Things can go awry and you can end up with a
pretty silly walk.  (Ministry of Silly
Walks video)  There are some Christians
out there whose walk is not only silly it’s embarrassing, because they are
using the wrong example. 

And so John doesn’t tell people to
walk like him, or Paul or Peter instead we are told to walk like Jesus.  And we can probably safely assume that John
was not telling us to physically walk in the same manner as Jesus did, even if
we knew how Jesus walked.  Instead it is
a metaphor for Jesus’ life style how he lived in relation to God and how he
lived in relation to other people.  And
so we aren’t just supposed to listen to the words of Christ, we also need to look
at how he lived.  In other words it’s not
enough to hear Jesus talk the talk we need to also see how he walks the walk
and make sure as well that there are no inconsistencies with him also walking
the talk and talking the walk you still with me?

Sometimes it’s easy to say one thing
but living it isn’t always as easy

So, the question is this; if we walk
as Jesus walked where is it going to take us? 
Well I guess the answer is that it’s going to take us the same place it
took Jesus.  I’m sure you all heard the
joke about the young fellow who wanted to borrow the car and his dad said “you
can have the car when you get a haircut” to which the son replied “But Jesus had
long hair”  “Yes” said his father “and he
walked everywhere he went.” 

In 1896 a Youth Leader by the name of
Charles Sheldon wrote a story as a lesson for his youth group which he read to
his group as he wrote it, a chapter each week. Eventually it became the book
“In His Steps”.  The premise of the book
was that the people of The First Church of Raymond decided they would ask the
question “What would Jesus do” before they made any major decisions in their
lives.  The book chronicles the change
and impact that was made in their lives, work, church and town as a result of
their decision.  A few years ago the
message of the book had a bit of comeback and we saw the letters WWJD displayed
on clothes, bracelets and bumper stickers.

The reality is that we are
called to simply do it not to simply say it. 
Benjamin Franklin wrote “Well done, is better than well said.” And Jesus’
closest friend wrote in 1 Peter 2:21 For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering,
just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his
steps.

 So let’s see where Jesus’ steps led him and
consequently where our steps should lead us. 
Now it’s easy to put our own spin on what we think Jesus would do, how
he would walk and where his steps would lead. 
Often you will hear someone defending a view that is contrary to what
scripture teaches and uses the “Well I think that’s what Jesus would do or want
me to do.”  Seriously?

You have to wonder if they have
ever read Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:21? You know where it says:   Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone
who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those
who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.

 Because we can’t
simply look deep inside of ourselves for answers like that we need to go to the
record, in this case that is the Gospel accounts.  And Jesus never condoned sin in fact he said
“Go and sin no more.”  So let’s take a look
at where Jesus’ walk led him.

His Steps Led Him to
God
.  I know that Jesus was God, I
hope that you know that Jesus was God, however when he was on earth he had set
limitations on himself physically and spiritually.  Even though he had created the body he
occupied it was still a physically body and so he needed food and drink to
sustain it and he needed rest to refresh it. 
Jesus did not come to earth as some kind of super human demi-god, he
came as a man with all of the temptations and limitations that men have and all
of the needs that men experience.
And part of what he needed to
sustain him was spiritual refreshment.  He
needed to spend time with God, for a couple of reasons.  First of all he needed the strength that only
God the father could provide.  Think
about the spiritual drain that was upon Jesus every day.  He was casting out demons, healing crippled
people, teaching crowds of people and trying to deal with the criticism that
came his way.  And he needed to tap into
the source in order to have something to give. 
If you fill a bucket with water, no matter how big the bucket is, and
you poke a hole in the bottom of the bucket to let the water escape, if you do
not continue to fill the bucket eventually it will be empty.  And Jesus knew that, he knew that he needed to
be refilling his spiritual bucket, so to speak. 
And that’s why we read scriptures like  Luke 6:12 One day soon afterward Jesus went up on a mountain to pray,
and he prayed to God all night.
 And Mark 1:35 Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out
to an isolated place to pray.

You see unlike most of us, Jesus didn’t think he could do
it alone, he knew that if he was going to make it through each day then he
needed the spiritual strength that he could only receive from the Father.

He also knew that if he was going to stay in the centre of
God’s will that he would have to remain in communication with God.  We live in a connected world, with phones and
text, twitter, facebook, linked’n Skype and facetime.  But we still have to make a conscious choice
to communicate with people.   If you never communicated with your boss how
would you know what they expected of you? If you never spoke to your spouse how
would you know when you were supposed to take the garbage out?

In the same way if we are going to walk in the steps of
Jesus they need to lead us to the Father and for the same reason as Jesus.  For our spiritual renewal, strength and
guidance.  And prayer is not just a good
idea, it is an expected part of the Christian experience.  If you are going to have a productive
Christian life it will be anchored in prayer. 
You can’t do it on your own and all you will prove by trying to is that
you can’t do it on your own. 

And there is nothing magical and mystical about
prayer.  Sometimes I hear well
intentioned believers say “I just can’t pray.” 
Why is that?  Is it because you
can’t talk?  After all prayer is simply
talking to God, telling Him you love Him, thanking Him for what He’s done for
you.  It’s simply conversing with him
about your daily life the way you would talk to a friend. 

His Steps Led Him to the
Redeemed  
Christ spent three years in
the company of like minded people.  These
were men and women who were seeking to know God better, seeking to know his
will and seeking to do his will. 
While we don’t know all of what happened during those three
years the majority of what we do know revolved around Jesus’ interaction with his
12 apostles and various other disciples. 
They shared a common belief system and similar moral guidelines, they
had common goals in life.  They were
together to learn from Jesus and also to encourage one another. 
Jesus didn’t allow himself to be influenced by ungodly
people, that wasn’t where he spent the majority of his social and recreational
time, it wasn’t where he received his affirmation.  His closest friends, the people he shared his
dreams and aspirations with, the people he laughed with and cried with, those
people were people committed to following God.
As you read through the Gospels
you see Jesus teaching large crowds, but then it says he left the crowd and
joined his disciples in a house, on a beach, sitting on a hill.  They ate together, they walked together, they
spent quality time together just talking and laughing.   Jesus knew that he couldn’t and shouldn’t
remove himself from the world, after all; the world is why he came, remember John 3:16 “For God loved
the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who
believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
 But he knew that he
couldn’t get the refreshment and affirmation he needed from the world, and you
are thinking but point one was about the time he spent with God.  Yes but he also knew that there were times
that he needed more then God. 
Do I hear the collective gasps from the congregation? Is
that the sound of villagers gathering wood to burn the heretic at the stake?  Oh stop it.  There’s a story told about the little boy who
woke up in the middle of the thunder and lightening storm and came into his
parent’s bedroom wanting to spend the night with them.  His mother said “Let me pray that God will be
with you in your room.” To which he replied, “Yes but I want God with skin on
him.”  And now you are thinking cute
story Denn but how could Jesus or anyone else for that matter need more then
God, that’s why we used to sing the song “He is all I need, all I need”  and “All I need is Jesus.”
Let’s go back, way back, back to the beginning, which is
probably a pretty good place to go back to. 
God has created man, placed him in a beautiful garden in a perfect world
and had fellowship with him.  God and man
communed together.  That’s cool isn’t
it?  Isn’t that the dream of most Christ
followers, to be able to sit and have a chin wag face to face with God?
Then listen to what God says in
Genesis 2:18 Then
the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a
helper who is just right for him.”

 Did you catch
that?  It is not good for man to be
alone.  Now I would think that man wasn’t
alone, he was with God.  But obviously
God knew that there were some things that he couldn’t do for Adam.  We need each other, God knew that and that is
why he created each of us and that’s why Jesus steps led him to like minded
people.

And if we look into the book of
Acts to see what the early church and first Christ-followers looked like we
discover they spent a lot of time together. 
Verses like 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—   would
indicate that they not only worshipped together but spent time together outside
of worship.

If we are to walk as Jesus walked then we need to be
spending time with other believers, and not just on Sunday Morning sharing a
cup of coffee and a cookie at the back. 
That’s not fellowship that’s hello-ship. 
Harvey McKay the Author of “Dig your well before you are Thirsty” a
business book about Networking says that we all should have at least one person
we can call at three o’clock
in the morning.  You know someone who
could drive you to the hospital, hold your hand in a tragedy or post your bail
if needed. I hope the person you would call would be in this church.   By the
way if someone from Cornerstone should call you at that time for help you’d
better help.

And you get to know people by spending time with them, at
the hello-ship time after the service, by joining a small group, by attending
social events, the pool party isn’t just about swimming and the Super Bowl
Party isn’t just about Football.   or just by inviting them to your place for a
BBQ or an evening of games.

But just because Jesus spent most of his time walking with
saints didn’t mean he ignored sinners. 
As a matter of fact you might remember that one of the charges laid
against Jesus was that he was a friend of sinners.  Imagine.

His Steps Led Him to
the Unredeemed.  
If some believers never hang around with believers others err by
never hanging around unbelievers. 
Remember that is what you once were and statistically speaking the only
reason you became a Christian was because a Christian befriended you and
invited you to church.

Before the apostles fit into the category of Christ followers
they fit into this category.  Jesus met
them where they were at and built relationships with them which lead to the
ultimate relationship.

He was criticized because of it
and his response is found in Luke 19:10 For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”

 So think about it,
if the one we claim to follow was concerned about those who didn’t know him
shouldn’t  those of us who follow him be
concerned about those who don’t know him? 
One would think.

I’m not contradicting the last point, you shouldn’t be
spending all your time with the un-redeemed but you shouldn’t be ignoring
them.  They are people who need to hear
that Jesus loves them and that Jesus cares about them.  And we are told that normally happens one on
one.  That people come to know the Lord
and come to church because someone invites them to.

But here is a scary statement from Thom Rainer in his book “The
Unchurched Next Door”, “Are Christians inviting non-Christians to church? The
heartbreaking answer is no.  Only 21 percent of active churchgoers invite anyone to church
in the course of a year. But only 2 percent of church members invited an
unchurched person to church.”

Jesus, God, left heaven and came to this earth and his
steps led him to those who didn’t know him, so they could know him.  They were so important to him, they meaning
you, that he died on a cross for them, meaning you.  So what are we willing to do for them.

Who are those folks in your life who need an invite to
church, not because they don’t attend this church but because they don’t attend
any church.

Who among your friends and family don’t know Jesus, and
just need an invitation to meet him?  I
hope that you have folks that you are praying for, who you will eventually
invite to church for something.  And maybe
you are afraid to invite them because you are afraid they won’t come or will be
offended. 

More research Rainer’s book tells us that: 82 Percent of the unchurched are at least
“somewhat likely” to attend church if they are invited. 
Perhaps we need to pause here to
allow that to sink in, maybe we need to restate it 82 Percent of the unchurched are at least “somewhat likely” to attend
church if they are invited.
Think about it 8 out of 10 of your friends and co-workers
would be at least somewhat likely to attend church if you invited them.  So what is an invitation? For many of the
unchurched it would simply mean being asked. 
For others it included the offer to meet them at the front door to show
them around. But in either case it goes back to a simple premise of: invite
them and they will come.
And finally His Steps Led Him to the Cross.  Jesus didn’t just come to earth to hang
out with people, eventually he had to hang on a cross for people.  He was doing what had to be done.  He wasn’t doing what was easy or convenient
he was simply doing what was right.  And
if we walk in his steps there will come a time that every one of us will have
to decide between doing what is easy and doing what is right.  What will you do?  Here’s a suggestion from Jesus  Luke 9:23 Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my
follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and
follow me.
And only you will know what
cross is it that he will want you to carry as you follow him. 

Good bye Winter



So, by my figuring, spring must be just around the corner.  No really, we’ve had more winter, this winter, then we had last winter and winter has only been here for a week.  So by the time we had this much winter last winter, winter was almost over and spring was almost here.  You still with me?  So put away your snow blowers and pull out your lawnmowers.  If only it worked that way.
In case you don’t know me that well, I really dislike winter; loathe might be a better word and so I look forward to spring with great longing, it’s less than 12 weeks away.
I remember when I looked for the return of Christ with that type of longing and I wonder when and why that changed.  This time of year we celebrate the first coming of Christ and as believers we are told that He will return and even though it might not be tomorrow, it might be.  Are you looking forward to His return?  Or would it put a crimp in your plans?
So this Christmas, as we look back at what His first coming meant, perhaps it would be wise to look ahead and consider what His return will mean for you.    Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Christmas: a Line in Time Defining Life

It was almost as if someone
had dragged a stick though the sand drawing a line that said that was then and
this is now.  There has never been an
event in the history of man that has so defined human history as the birth of
Jesus. 
And it began when God interrupted
the life of a young lady named Mary.  And
now all she could think about was how different the line had made her life.
As she made her way along the road she wondered about the
sense of it all.  Although she had agreed
she still couldn’t understand why.  She
lived in a poor country that was occupied by a foreign army, violence was never
far away and often during the night you would hear soldiers entering the home
of neighbours looking for the patriots they had called terrorists.  Even as she made the trip with her husband
she was shocked with the conditions that lay outside the small village they
called home.  The poverty she saw on her
travels was an eye opener for a young woman who had never wanted for food. Her
family was not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination but her hard working
father had always provided the food and shelter the family needed.
Occasionally she would see lepers in the distance, scorned
by society and pushed far away from those they loved, and there were the beggars
who lined the busier sections of road, men and women who couldn’t see or
couldn’t walk, dependent on the kindness or pity of strangers just to survive.
On their journey she even saw a crucifixion, she had heard
about the horrors of the executions the Romans performed, but to see those
victims left hanging on the primitive crosses was horrible. So much despair and
sadness could anything ever change the way her world was. She wished that there
was something she could do to make a difference.
It wasn’t that many months ago that her life had been
simple, engaged to be married, she dreamt of the life that lay ahead of her,
and this wasn’t it.  An angel had
appeared to her one night with a story that she couldn’t believe.  She was told that she would have a child, a
son.  And she knew that wasn’t to be,
after all she had never been with a man, had not even held the hand of her
fiancé because it just wasn’t done.  And
now she was being told that she would be a mother. 
The messenger explained that it would be a miracle, that the
Father of her child would be God himself and the child would be the Son of God,
in fact God himself. What could she do?  She
knew that she was a virgin and if she became pregnant then what the angel had
said must be true, she believed him, but would anyone believe her?  How could she explain this to her parents,
her friends? What would she say to the man she was engaged to?  “Hi Joseph, guess what? I’m pregnant, but
don’t worry I’ve been faithful, God’s the Father.” Joseph might just be a
carpenter but he certainly wasn’t a stupid carpenter.
Why did God choose her? 
Ss a matter of fact why did God have to do this? Come as a child to this
cruel and hostile world.  I’m sure that
question would surface time and time again as she raised this child she would
call Jesus.
The question is still valid 2000 years later, people still
ask: Why did he come?  Why bother drawing
a line in time?  What difference does it
make?  We know that the line that was
drawn redefined Mary and Joseph’s lives, but how does that same line that was
drawn two thousand years ago define lives today?
Well there are those who would tell
you 1) The Line Defines an Eternal Life
For some folks that is what it is all about. 
The burning question for them is the same as it was for the man who came
to Jesus in Luke 18:18 Once a religious leader asked Jesus this question: “Good
Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”   And that answer to that is given in by
Jesus himself in John 3:16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and
only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal
life.
Throughout history humans have sought to reconcile
themselves with God and they haven’t been able to do it.  I don’t have to go through the plan of
salvation here, you already know it.  You
understand that we really don’t deserve to go to heaven and that in our own
power and through our own efforts there isn’t anything we can do that will make
us worthy of eternal life.
And so into the picture steps Jesus Christ, God himself and
he offered himself up as a sacrifice, paying a debt that he didn’t owe because
we owed a debt we couldn’t pay. 
Jesus came to do what we couldn’t do, and that is to obtain
eternal life for ourselves. 
You understand at this point in history, December 15th
2013 that everything that has to be done for you to go to heaven has already
been done.  All that is missing is for
your acceptance of that fact. And so your salvation depends wholly on you
because God has already done his part. And all he’s asking of you at this point
is for you to respond.
And so most of us, probably not all of us, but most of us
have accepted that gift, the gift of eternal life.  But it’s not the only reason he came.  But as important as eternal life is that’s
not all the line of Christmas defines. 
2) The Line Defines An Abundant Life 
You see, Jesus didn’t just come so we could have eternal life.  If the only reason we get saved is to gain
eternity then the day we embraced that salvation we would go to heaven.  Think how much easier that would be, saved
would mean safe.  Once we accepted Christ
as our Saviour all of our troubles would be over.  One minute we’d be on earth with all of its
problems and all of its pain and the next minute we’d be in heaven with no pain
no sorrow and no loss.  But that wasn’t
the plan.  Jesus didn’t just come and
live and die so we could live in heaven he came so we could live on earth, part
of the promise is revealed in John 10:10 when Jesus told his disciples John 10:10 Jesus said “The thief’s purpose is to
steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying
life.”   Maybe you know it better
from some of the old translations where it says,  John 10:10 Jesus said I have come that they may
have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. (NKJV) And
that promise is as real today as it was when Jesus made it 2000 years ago. And
it wasn’t just a promise for those listening to his words that day; it was a
promise for every person who has ever called upon his name.
The
word that is used for abundantly here literally means full to the point of
overflowing.   That’s the life that Jesus
wants us to have, a life full of living.   Life is meant to be lived to the full, to be
enjoyed and to make an impact.  It was Helen Keller who said “Life
is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”
And the
life that Jesus offers will make a difference not only to us but to those
around us.  When Jesus was searching for
similes to describe what our lives were to be like he said that we would be the
salt of the earth and the light of the world. 
Both are elements that change their environment.  Once you’ve added salt to something you know
there is salt in it.  And if you’ve ever
been on a sodium reduced diet you know how bland food can be without salt.  Jesus left us here to flavour the world to
make a difference with our lives.
And
throughout history Christians have done exactly that.  I’m not saying that all the positive
contributions made to society in the past 2000 years have been made by
Christians but a good majority of them have. 
We hear people talk about the crusades and abuses that have happened in
the name of Christ but very seldom do we hear society as a whole acknowledge
the contributions that the church has made. 
It was the church who established hospitals, and orphanages, it was the
church that reached out to the outcasts of society with shelters for lepers and
the poor.  It was the church that started
schools and universities. 
Every
Christmas it seems that you will hear a complaint from someone about their
children are asked to take part in Operation Christmas Child, in a school or
daycare, because it was a Christian organization that was blatantly sponsoring
the program.  Duhh.  Of course it was a Christian organization
nobody else does that type of thing. When was the last time you saw Muslim or
Buddhist organizations raising funds to help children around the world? 
Where
would the hungry of the world be without groups like World Vision, World Hope,
Compassion International and Samaritan’s Purse? Dead! Because for all of the
criticism of the church we are making a difference. Or at least we should be.
The
second thing that Christ told believers that they ought to be is light.  And light is provided for two reasons 1) for
illumination and 2) for direction.  The
life that we are living is supposed to illuminate this world and point people
to Jesus. And if we are being light then we will annoy some people because the
dark doesn’t look to bad until a little light disturbs it. And have you noticed
just how little light it takes to chase away the darkness?  A single candle can destroy the darkness in
the darkest room.
And
Christ came that we could live a life that makes a difference.  But there’s still a third thing that is
defined by the line of Christmas.  Now
some folks have experienced the first two and they are content, they aren’t
really interested in going any further. 
I think that’s because they know what’s down that road, and they’d just
as soon not go there.
3) The Line Defines a
Holy Life
Now up to this point everyone has been with me because those are
nice things.  Everyone one wants to have
eternal life and most of us like the concept of making a difference in the
world around us but how many of us want to live a Holy Life?  As a matter of fact what images come to mind
when I use the word holy, do you immediately think of Mother Theresa or John
Wesley or one of the writers of the Gospels?
When I say holy do “you” come
to mind? You should because we are called to live a holy life listen to 2 Timothy 1:9 For God
saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we
deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to
show us his grace through Christ Jesus.
And in Colossians  3:12
Paul writes Colossians 3:12 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must
clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and
patience.
But what does it mean to be holy?  The Wesleyan Church,
which we are a part of, has historically and traditionally been called a
holiness church, but does that mean anything? 
When I tell you that you are supposed to be “holy people” do you cringe
or bristle? Do you wonder how you can live an abundant life and at the same
time live a holy life? Does your definition of holiness automatically eliminate
any enjoyment you might get out of life, does it mean you can’t have any
fun?   Some people think you can tell who
is holy by the dour look on their face. To them holiness means that you look
like you’ve been sucking sour lemons. 
But is that what leading a holy life is about?  Does it mean that we dress in dark clothes,
and never smile?
When I pastored the Wesleyan Church
in Truro I was
fresh out of Bible
College and one of my
best friends in the church was a man in his late sixties, which seemed quite
old then but doesn’t seem all that old now. And Don would ask me “When are you
going to preach about not going to movies or dances or playing cards?” Is that
what leading a holy life is about? What we don’t do?
One day as Jesus was teaching a
religious leader came to him and asked what the greatest commandment was in
Jesus opinion. Jesus’ reply is given in Mark 12:30 And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all
your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’
You see
holiness isn’t about rules it’s about relationship, our relationship with
God.  Are there things in your life that
stand in the way of your relationship with God? 
Chuck Colson in his book Loving God makes
this statement “Holiness is the everyday
business of every Christian. It evidences itself in the decisions we make and
the things we do, hour by hour, day by day.” 
Or simply put, holiness is wholeness, the whole of Christ in the
whole of your life.  But how do we know
what decisions to make, what things to do? Well we do have the book. And the
short answer is to ask ourselves: would what I’m doing honour God?
When I became a Christian my Dad
offered me a couple of pieces of advice, one of them was this, “All kinds of people will have all kinds of suggestions for
what you can do and can’t do as a Christian.  Here’s a simple guideline, ask yourself: would
I do this with Jesus?”
Have you ever been watching a television program or a
video and one of your kids walked in and you felt a little bit ashamed or
embarrassed by what you were watching?
Have you ever done anything that if I happened along you
wouldn’t want your pastor to see what it was that you were doing? Would you
mind if I happened by and joined you watching whatever it is you are watching?  What if Jesus called and said he was coming to
your house for a couple of days?  Would
you have to scurry about checking to see what magazines were on the coffee
table, what videos were next to the television? If he asked to use your
computer and internet to go on line to check his email would you worry that
he’d look in your history folder?   Would
he appreciate the joke that you told the other day, you know that funny
slightly off colour story your friends laughed at?
There was a time not that long ago, that the church
frowned on people going to movies, and then we kind of relented because after
all what was wrong with being able to go to a G or PG movie. Probably nothing,
but that isn’t what we limit ourselves to is it.  I know I’ve gone from preaching to meddling,
oh well.
I’m not positive it was Billy
Graham but I think it was Billy Graham who said “I
watch programs on television now that I wouldn’t have dreamed of watching 20
years ago.”  And I would suspect
that Billy is not alone.  Here’s a
helpful hint, if you are wondering whether or not a movie or a video is fit to
watch go online, Focus on the Family has a great website that tells you about
the content of movies, music and videos. 
So before you catch that movie everyone is talking about go to www.pluggedin.ca  and check out their movie reviews, there’s
even an app for that.  You won’t always
agree with them but you will go see the movies knowing what you are going to
see. 
And if you still want to go see a movie filled with vulgarities
and debauchery, well then that’s your choice. And some people say, “Well if I’m
going to relate to the unchurched I have to know what they are watching.” Stop
it.  There is a term in computer usage
that is GIGO, Garbage in, Garbage out.
I’m preaching to Denn right now because all too often I
find myself justifying what I’m watching on television or a movie I’m at, and I
know that deep down in my heart that I wouldn’t watch it with Jesus and I know
it’s wrong.  I read once that the last
part of your body that got saved was your right foot, which of course was in
reference to our driving habits.  I think
the last thing that gets saved in our house is the remote control for our TVs
and PVR.  When something comes on that
you ought not be watching, change the channel, or if it’s on a disc hit the
button that says stop eject.
You might be saying “Denn,
Holiness is not externals, let’s not become legalists” I’m not talking about
become legalists I’m talking about pleasing God. Because we never want to lose
sight of Hebrews 12:14 Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a
holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord.
Socrates wasn’t a preacher
but he hit the nail on the head when he said “It is
not living that is important, but living rightly”And no, it’s not easy
to lead a holy life, if it was everybody would be doing it.  But it is what God is looking for his
children to do. And a holy life style isn’t cultivated by what you don’t do
it’s cultivated by what you do.  It’s as
you spend more time with God in prayer, and spend more time reading his word
that you know what pleases him and what doesn’t, as you become more like Christ
you won’t have to ask yourself “what would Jesus do?” because you’ll just know.
So where are you at? 
I hope everyone here has stepped over the line that defines their eternal
life.  But that isn’t enough, when Jesus is
offering you an abundant life and make a difference in the world around you.
And finally don’t forget to go a little further and embrace a holy life a life
that glorifies and brings pleasure to God.

End Thinkism. . . Part 2


It happens to all of us, we read something online that we really enjoy, a post, a news story or just a picture that brightens our day.  And then we read the comments that people post.  What is it with people?  I understand that not everyone will agree with everything.  But do folks really need to be so hateful.  And it’s just as bad for church and ministry posts.  It’s almost as if we need to belittle the ideas of others in order to justify the truth of ours.  And that is . . .thinkism. 
Author James Grippando says that while it’s no longer acceptable to hate or pass judgement on someone because of their gender or race, too many people will say hateful, judgmental things about someone based on their ideas or their thoughts.  Very few folks want to be thought of as a sexist or a racist but many apparently have no qualms about being thinkists.

And being a thinkist may have been fine when folks were speaking to a limited audience.  (No, it probably wasn’t ok then either, but at least the hate was compartmentalized.)  However, today when you post online you are exposing the world to your thinkism.    So again I say:  It’s time to end thinkism.  Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.  

A Line in Time Yes and No

It was almost as if someone
had dragged a stick though the sand drawing a line that said this was then and
this is now.  There has never been an
event in the history of man that has so defined human history as the birth of
Jesus. 
That single solitary event
has shaped the world like no other event. 
It has shaped how the world is viewed and how people are viewed.    This month, in most countries in the world,
literally billions of people will gather to celebrate, to various degrees, the
symbolic birth date of a child who was born to an unknown couple in an obscure
village over 2000 years ago. 
His birth shaped and molded
the culture of countries that were unknown to the people of Bethlehem 2000
years ago.   Canada and the US are what
they are today because a baby was born in a stable two millennium ago.   Even
most of those who deny the existence of the Jesus will in some way take the
time to commemorate his birth on December 25th, even if it’s only by
taking a day off work and eating turkey.  You don’t see Atheists jumping up and down
demanding to not have Christmas day off. 
And if they offer to work because they don’t “Believe” in Christmas they
gladly accept the time and a half they will be paid for working on the Christmas
they don’t believe in. 
When we use phrases like “the
prodigal son” “turn the other cheek” and “The blind leading the blind” we are
quoting the one who was born that day two thousand years ago.  When we espouse values like “Do unto others” and
speak of the “Golden Rule” we are sharing the teaching of the Christ Child.  And as I have said before every time we write
the date, even without adding the AD, Anno Domini, we are saying this happened
this number of years since Jesus was born. 
And that line in time wasn’t
just drawn at any time, it was drawn at just the right time, Paul writes in Galatians 4:4 But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a
woman, subject to the law.  The
right time?  There are all kinds of
reasons why the time that Jesus was born was the right time. 
God could have chosen any
time in the scope of history for his Son to come to earth and for the church to
be birth, and he chose a specific spot on the time line of history.
 
According to historians
there was no better time for the church to flourish than the two hundred year
juncture of history known as The Pax Romana, the Roman Peach.  New Testament Scholar and Historian E. J. Goodspeed
notes: “This was the pax Romana. The provincial under Roman sway found himself in
a position to conduct his business, provide for his family, send his letters,
and make his journeys in security, thanks to the strong hand of Rome.”
The Roman Peace had spread
across the known world, providing one of the few windows of opportunities for
the land and sea to be travelled safely without the threat of warring factions.
For the first time roadways connected points across the known world. 
But it went beyond simple
transportation and incorporated communication as well.  Instead of having to learn a multitude of
languages and dialects it was only necessary to know one.  Greek was the common language, a reminder of
Alexander’s conquests, allowing the written word to be sent to encourage and
correct the growing churches in diverse cultures.   
It was not a coincidence
that the Creator chose this point in time to interrupt history it was no
accident that Christianity came when it did. The birth of Christ didn’t happen
on a whim.
Last
week we looked at the line that was created for Mary and Joseph, how when they
accepted the challenge that was given them regarding the birth of Jesus that
their lives changed radically.  And it
was a choice, God wouldn’t have forced them to say yes to what was being
proposed, last Sunday after the service someone pondered if perhaps there was
another “Mary” in the wings in case the first one said “no”.  But Mary didn’t say no, instead in complete
trust and in spite of all the obstacles she would face we read the words of
Mary in Luke 1:38 Mary
responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come
true.”
And it was almost as if
someone had dragged a stick though the sand drawing a line that said this was
then and this is now. 
At the heart
of this story we discover humanity divided into two groups, and those two
groups exist today and each one of us belongs to one of those two groups.  Don’t you love it when something can be
reduced to the very basics?  There are
not a hundred choices from which we have to choose, not fifty or even twenty or
ten.  Just two.
And so the
first group we become acquainted with Those
who said “No” To Jesus. 
I suppose
there is an honour of sorts to be the first person to reject Christ.
The innkeeper
is really the first villain in the story. 
I mean what type of person would turn away a pregnant lady who was as
the King James Version puts it was “Great with Child”? That’s the polite way of
saying that Mary was a big as a house.
We often
think of the Inn with a big no vacancy sign flashing in the window, but it
wasn’t that there wasn’t room in the inn, that isn’t what the scripture says.  Listen again to Luke’s account, Luke
2:6-7
And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She
gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth
and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.
Did you catch
that?  The bible doesn’t tell us that
there was no lodging available, what it does tell us is that there wasn’t any
lodging available in the inn for them, and there is a difference
If we take
that to its logical conclusion the assumption is that while there wasn’t lodging
for them there was lodging for others.
Perhaps the
innkeeper was keeping the room in case he received a better offer, maybe he
knew that as more and more people arrived in Bethlehem for the census that any
vacant rooms would become a commodity. 
You think how pricey even the most modest of rooms become when there is
a special event in town, in just a couple of months the price of a room in
Sochi Russia will skyrocket when the Olympics arrive.  And so perhaps the Innkeeper was just hedging
his bets, it wasn’t a personal decision, just an economic one.
And it wasn’t
that they were asking for the room for nothing. 
Again we often mix up tradition with actual facts.  We have been conditioned from years of
Christmas specials and Christmas cards to perceive the home that Christ was
born into was one of poverty, and that probably wasn’t the case.
Joseph wasn’t
poor, he was a carpenter, a tradesman, he wouldn’t have been wealthy but I’m
sure that he wouldn’t have been considered destitute in that day and age.  I’m sure that when Joseph gathered up Mary
and headed for Bethlehem he probably came prepared they weren’t looking for
charity.  But perhaps greed on the innkeeper’s
part meant that the room was priced well out of their reach.
And as
unfortunate as they may have been at least it would have simply been a business
decision in contrast to the other option.
Maybe he just
didn’t want their type there, maybe he has something again people from
Nazareth.  “Sorry we don’t have room for
you people.”
 Were they “You peoples”?  Apparently for some folks they were. Do you
remember the story found in the first chapter of John’s gospel when the
apostles were first gathering around Jesus? 
The story is found in John 1:45 – 46. 
We actually referenced it last week as well,  John 1:45-46 Philip
went to look for Nathanael and told him, “We have found the very person Moses
and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from
Nazareth.” “Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
So perhaps
the innkeeper just didn’t like folks from Nazareth.  You might be wondering how he knew where they
were from.  There is a hint found a life
time later when Jesus has been arrested, you might recall that Peter is warming
himself outside of where Jesus was being questioned and he finds himself being
accused of being one of Christ’s followers. 
A charge he denies, and then we read this Matthew
26:73
A little later some of the other bystanders came over to Peter and said,
“You must be one of them; we can tell by your Galilean accent.”
Peter was
from the same area as Joseph and Mary and ultimately Jesus.  Never actually think of Jesus having an
accent do we?  From the movies we assume
that if Jesus had an accent it was either British or American.  That was what we technically refer to in
preaching as a tangent.
Or maybe they
just didn’t want a lady who was obviously about to go into labour in one of
their rooms, there was the entire “plenty of hot water and clean sheets” thing,
the potential for a mess and not to mention all the screaming that might
disturb other guests, transitional labour is nothing to laugh at.  And Mary couldn’t even yell at Joseph, “You
will never touch me again”.
We don’t know
why there was no room for them in the inn but we do know is that the innkeeper
would not be the last person to reject Christ. 
And today when Jesus is rejected it’s just like at the inn it’s not
because there is no room in the person’s life instead there is no room for Christ
in their life.
There’s room
for all kinds of things, career, family, habits, ambition and maybe even
religion but not for Jesus.
And sometimes
it’s because a person really doesn’t want to pay the cost, and sometimes they
are hoping a better offer will come along and sometimes they are just playing a
long shot that they can live like hell and still make it into heaven.
And there are others who don’t simply say no and turn their back on
Christ but are vehemently opposed to all he teaches and all he stands for. 
The first Christmas that person was represented by King Herod,
who wasn’t really a King but was kind of a puppet Governor whom the Romans let
rule over a small portion of Palestine. 
But it was his portion of Palestine and he was insanely suspicious, with
the emphasis on the insane part of that statement, suspicious of those he
thought were a threat to his rule. 
History tells us that he had his wife, mother in law and two sons
murdered because he thought they were trying to oust him, and maybe they were
but it was Caesar himself who commented “It is safer to be Herod’s pig than his son.”  Which
was a lot more poetic in the Greek where the word for Pig was Hus and for Son
was Huios.  And so when he heard of the
birth of the one who would be the Messiah he asked the Magi to let him know
where he could find the child. 
Instead after being warned in a dream they skipped Jerusalem on the way
home, and the horror of the Christmas story is
revealed in where we read Matthew 2:16 Herod
was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him.

Herod
sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years
old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first
appearance.  Some people wonder why genocide
like this wouldn’t be mentioned in history. 
Well, remember that at the time Bethlehem probably had a population of
no more than 2000, less than half the population of Kingswood.  So we are probably talking the death of 25 or
30 children tops.  In a time when murder
and unrighteousness was so wide spread the only people who would have been
outraged at this tragedy would have been the families. 

And so there are those who aren’t content to say “no” to Jesus but
they are evangelistic in their desire that nobody else will say “yes” either.
But along
with those who said no to Jesus there were also Those who said “Yes” To Jesus
When we read the Christmas story we
often focus on the fact that there was no room in the inn, however there was
room in the stable.  And the stable did
belong to somebody, and that somebody allowed Mary and Joseph to move in,
perhaps just for the night, maybe longer. 
We don’t know how long they stayed in the stable.  Long enough for Jesus to be born, long enough
for the shepherds to visit, but apparently they moved out before the Magi got
there because Matthew tells us in his account that the Magi visited the child
in a house.   
You gotta
figure that at some point a woman became involved.  “You put her where?”  “Well you march yourself right out there and
invite them in while I get the spare room ready.”
A couple of
things, the offer of the stable would have been commendable if that was all
they had. Seriously, if whoever owned it said “I don’t have room anywhere else
but there is the stable.” And they went out and prepared it and cleaned it up
and made Mary and Joseph comfortable. 
But it would
have been a different kettle of fish if they had something better and all they
offered was the stable.  That would have
been a completely different story and it would have had to do with motives. 
Christ
explains the same principle in a very familiar story found in the gospel of
Mark, perhaps you are familiar with the story, Jesus is standing at the back of
the temple next to the offering box and a widow drops in two small coins and we
pick up the story in Mark
12:43-44
Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I tell you the
truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making
contributions. For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she
is, has given everything she had to live on.”
It’s the same
in our lives the same gift can be given and for one person it is a sacrifice
and for another it is just a bauble.  When
we were preparing to build this building the theme of our capital campaign was
“Not equal giving but equal sacrifice” and that is still what we are called to
do today.
Regardless of
why Jesus and his family ended up in the stable it did serve a couple of
purposes.  And again it is wise to
remember Romans 8:28
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those
who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
If you
remember the story, the first people invited to come to Jesus were the
shepherds and we have to assume that they would have felt a lot more
comfortable and felt a lot more welcome coming to a stable than coming into an
inn or a private home.
“Mort, there
are a bunch of shepherds at the door; they say they’re here to see the baby.”  And I’m sure that whoever said that would
have sounded like Howard’s Mother.  And
not only that but how inconsiderate would it have been for God to have brought
a bunch of shepherds into someone’s house with all of the mess and
inconvenience that would have involved.
The shepherds
were apparently an important part of the Christmas story, and God made it easy
for them to take part.
I think the story
of the first Christmas is all about the fact that Jesus is accessible to all
people.  There is something about his
humble birth that says, He is there for all of us. 
Often, not
always but often, those born to a privileged life never understand those who
are less fortunate than they are, even if their fortune was an accident of
birth.  We all remember Marie Antoinette’s comment when she was told that
the peasants were upset because they had no bread, “If
they have no bread than let them eat cake.” 
Actually if
you go a little deeper you discover that when that comment was first reported
Marie Antoinette was 10 years old and living in Austria, and while we don’t
know for sure who said it historians feel that is was probably Maria Therese of
Spain the wife of King Louise XIV of France. 
That was free, just another one of those educational services that Cornerstone
provides.
And so Christ
began his life not at the top of the economic and social ladder but at the
bottom.
But it wasn’t only the shepherds who came to worship Jesus that first
Christmas, The Magi Showed up as
well. 
Matthew 2:1-11 Records the story of the wise men, and we really don’t
know much about them at all, but we do know that their belief cost them
something.  We don’t know where they came
from, how long they had been travelling, how many there were or where they went
afterwards.  They glide into the story,
present their gifts and then just as quietly they disappear.
If we listen to tradition we can learn all
about them, their numbers were three, they were kings, and tradition even knows
their names, their ages and what they looked like.  And if we were to choose to pay the fee we
could even see their bones in the shrine behind the high altar in the Cathedral
in Cologne Germany.  But of course those are just traditions.
However little that we know of the wise men
we do know that they came from a great distance bearing their gifts of
love.  They brought Gold, frankincense
and myrrh, but greater than any of those gifts was the fact that they brought
themselves.
It is
interesting to note and perhaps to ponder on that Christ began his life born in
a stable that belonged to someone else and ended his life buried in a tomb that
belonged to someone else. 
Let’s end
this morning with a quote from William Barclay who wrote “That there was
no room in the inn was symbolic of what was to happen to Jesus. The only place
where there was room for him was on a cross. He sought an entry to the
over-crowded hearts of men; he could not find it; and still his search–and his
rejection–go on.” 
And so this
Christmas the question is the same as it was on that first Christmas morning
over 2000 years ago:  Will you make room
for Jesus?  Will your answer be “Yes” or
“No”?  Where will you stand in relation
to that line that was drawn 2000 year ago?

Must be an easier way


Just this past week a homeless man in Seattle was arrested for stealing… a high speed ferry. When the crew from a local tugboat company noticed early Sunday morning that the vessel seemed to be adrift, they boarded it to bring it back to the wharf, only to discover 33-year-old Samuel Kenneth McDonough onboard. According to police reports, McDonough had managed to get gain access to the locked terminal, snuck aboard the ferry, started it, and was planning on using it to make his way across the border to Victoria B.C.
If nothing else, you need to admire the man for his chutzpah. Surely there must be easier ways to get to Victoria from Seattle.
How often do make the trip to heaven more difficult than it has to be? Over and over again, the Bible talks about our salvation being a free gift. We can’t earn it and we certainly can’t steal it. And yet people are always trying to do it the hard way.
McDonough didn’t make it out of Seattle harbour on his own efforts, and none of us will make it very far on our own efforts, either. But the good news is that we don’t have to. Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.  

Christmas, A Line in Time for Mary and Joseph

A Line in Time Mary and Joseph
It was almost as if someone had dragged a stick though the
sand drawing a line that said this was then and this is now.  There has never been an event in the history
of man that has so defined human history as the birth of Jesus. 
That line has defined time, nations and history.   When we speak of any event in the course of
history in any nation we define it with the letter B.C. before the birth of
Christ, or A. D.  Anno Domini, or in
English In the Year of the Lord.
It wasn’t always that way, time was usually divided by who
the ruler was at the time.  Do you
remember the way our story starts?  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 the Lord.  33 years later Jesus was crucified 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 yet it was the humblest of beginnings.  There wasn’t one person who was there that
first Christmas that could have imagined the impact the event would have on the
world. Last spring I preached on the theme “Who is this Man?”  During that time we looked at how the world
has changed because of the birth of Christ. 
The difference in the way the poor are viewed, how education is viewed,
how the sick are viewed, even how we view each other.  Because 2000 years ago in a stable in a small
village a young lady gave birth.   And
nobody knew that this birth would create a line in time.
The main players that day were a young lady named Mary and
her husband Joseph, and long before the birth of Christ changed the world, it
changed their world.
And we know the story, we’ve
heard it told over and over again until the wonder has gone and it has become
as mundane as a Christmas card.  But it
was anything but ordinary.  Listen again
to how the story begins:  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.
Did you catch that “While she was still a virgin, she became
pregnant. . .”  That’s not the way it
normally happens, and in Luke’s account when the angel Gabriel visits Mary with
the news that she is going to have a son she makes this statement Luke 1:34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I
am a virgin.”  There was no
hesitation, she knew there was only one way to make a baby and she knew that
that hadn’t happened.  “Hold on guy,
there’s a small problem here and that is that I have never been with a man.”  She was saying that she was a virgin. 
And there are those out there who this time of year would
say that the virgin birth is impossible, and there are even preachers who would
say that the virgin birth isn’t important. 
But while it might be
impossible, and I don’t try to argue that, even the angel Gabriel didn’t argue
that point, he simply put it to rest in Luke 1:37 when he said Luke
1:37
For nothing is impossible with God.”
So while it is impossible, at
least in the natural scheme of things, it is of the utmost importance.  This is the human birth of God’s son, shouldn’t
it be special.  He was conceived outside
the laws of nature, not because the ordinary way was wrong but because it was
ordinary. 
It’s amazing how many people can accept the resurrection but
have problems with the virgin birth.  You
know, if you can accept the resurrection of Christ, you should be able to
accept the virgin birth of Christ. 
And ultimately if you don’t believe in the resurrection,
then it really doesn’t matter if you accept the virgin birth or not. After all
Paul wrote 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.  In other words if there was no
resurrection you are backing  the wrong
horse.
And if she wasn’t a virgin then who was Jesus father?  Joseph? 
I don’t think so, after all Joseph was a wee bit upset when he found out
that his fiancé was pregnant. And if it wasn’t Joseph, do you really think that
God would send his son to be born through immorality, conceived through adultery
and betrayal. 
You have to understand the entire Jewish tradition of
engagement; Mary and Joseph were in what was called the Betrothal period of
their relationship.  In that particular
culture most marriages were arranged by the families back when the participants
were only children.  The philosophy was
that marriage was far too serious of a endeavour to be left to the dictates of
the human heart.  And the last part of
the engagement was the Betrothal, and it lasted for one year and was absolutely
binding, the participants were considered husband and wife in all matters
except they didn’t live together and the marriage hadn’t been consummated.  The betrothal could only be broken through
the formal proceedings of divorce and then only if one of the parties had been
unfaithful.  Which is what Joseph planned
on doing in Matthew 1:19 Joseph, her fiancé, was a good
man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement
quietly.
Now that may seem a little harsh but at this point in Mary
and Joseph’s relationship Mary would have been legally committing
adultery.  The other option under Jewish
law was that he could have had her stoned. 
I’m sure that Joseph felt more than a little betrayed at this
point.  But he too was visited by an
Angel, and you thought your Christmas was busy. 
Listen to what happened in Matthew 1:20 As he
considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son
of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the
child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.
Just think about it, one day life was normal for Mary and
Joseph and then everything changed.  They
were happily planning a wedding and a life together, and then it was almost as
if someone had dragged a stick though the sand drawing a line that said; this
was then and this is now. 
So, how was that first Christmas a defining moment for Mary
and Joseph?  Besides the obvious, that
they had become parents.  And I think
most of us who are parents would agree that becoming parents is life changing,
especially when it wasn’t expected.  And
this definitely wasn’t expected.
So let’s go back to the beginning of the story: 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.
I think the first way that things Changed for Mary and Joseph
was that Christmas Changed Other’s
Perceptions of Them 
If you are
familiar with the story of Christmas you know that it begins not in Bethlehem but
over a hundred kms away in an obscure village called Nazareth.  And by obscure I mean it really wasn’t much.  Frank Zindler, editor of American Atheist
Magazine claims that  Nazareth didn’t exist
when Jesus was born, that evidence suggests that it was established 40 years
after the death of Jesus. 
Seriously?  I think that maybe the
editor of the American Atheist may have an agenda here.
Even if archeologists only discovered newspapers dated from
July 3, 74 it wouldn’t offer empirical proof that there weren’t earlier
newspapers that no longer existed.  If at
some future date archeologists study Hammonds Plains and only discover dated
material from the early 1800’s would that mean that Hammonds Plains didn’t
exist in 1789, or would it mean that they missed something? 
About a month ago the CTV News at Five did a week long
special called “A Road Less Travelled” and it looked at villages that had once
been thriving communities in the Maritimes that no longer exist.  Even some folks who live in proximity to the
ghost towns were unfamiliar with them.   
Nazareth is mentioned time and
time again in the New Testament and Jesus is referred to numerous times as
“Jesus of Nazareth”.   But it seems to have
been a small village, with little or nothing to call attention to itself, until
a young couple became parents to the one who would change the world.  Even Jesus’ contemporaries weren’t that
impressed with the community.  Let’s
eavesdrop in on a conversation recorded in the Gospel of John:  John 1:45-46 Philip
went to look for Nathanael and told him, “We have found the very person Moses
and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from
Nazareth.” “Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from
Nazareth?” “Come and see for yourself,” Philip replied.   Nazareth certainly hadn’t seemed to
make much of an impression on Nathanael. 
Now I’ve said all that to say
this, Mary and Joseph came from a small communities and there are no secrets in
small communities.  When the Angel came
to Mary he told her Luke 1:30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel
told her, “for you have found favour with God!”  Mary was probably known in the
community as a “Good Girl”.  And she was
engaged, not married but engaged to Joseph who is described in the bible as a
good man. 
And good people are annoying to
bad people because they are good.  And
because their goodness is a reminder of what others could be if they wanted
to. 
And then all of a sudden the
good girl was pregnant, and she was still engaged but not married.  And you can imagine how people’s opinions of
Mary and Joseph changed, and what was said about them behind their backs.  And even if they tried to explain who would
believe them? 
There will be times in your
life when doing the right thing and following God’s will for your life will
chang the perception people have of you. 
And Jesus knew that, he doesn’t sugar coat it, in fact he was pretty up
front about it.  In Matthew
5:11
“God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about
you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my
followers.”  Jesus didn’t say “. .
.If people lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because
you are my followers.”  He said  “. . .when people lie about you and say all
sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.” 
When you choose to follow the
one who was born on that first Christmas, people’s perceptions about you will
change.  And not always in a bad
way.  Even though popular opnion in
Nazareth may have cast Joseph in an unfavorable light for a while that opinion
ultimately changed.  For millions of
people, over the next two thousand years, Joseph the Carpenter would be thought
of as Saint Joseph and would have hospitals, universities and cities named
after him.  According to The National
Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, that’s a mouthful, the Spanish version of his
name, San Jose, is the most common place name in the world.   And Joseph’s wife would be known as Saint
Mary, the blessed Virgin and the Holy Mother and would cause countless debates
through the years.
And because we serve Jesus,
people will form opinions about us, sometime for the good and sometimes not.  And either way understand that your purpose
in life is not to conform to the opinions of others. 
Author Lawana Blackwell writes “Patterning
your life around other’s opinions is nothing more than slavery.”
Ultimately you need to remember
that you play to an audience of One.  And
that One is God.  You may not be able to
avoid the negative perceptions of others but you don’t have to accept them, you
don’t need to make them a reality. 
The second thing that happened
for Mary and Joseph was the first Christmas
Changed Their Perception of Themselves   
This often happens when the first child is born, suddenly Mary and
Joseph became Mommy and Daddy and they began thinking of themselves differently
than they had.  And that’s not
uncommon.  A part of you is a part of
them and the other way around.
But more than that was the
affirmation that Mary and Joseph received from God.  We need people to speak good into our lives,
people who will tell us that they believe in us and that we are awesome.  And often the people who have the most
influence with that are our parents and ourselves.  And you can’t control one but you can most
certainly control the other.   Self-talk can be incredibly helpful or
incredibly dangerous.  Depends on what we
are saying to ourselves. 
Sidney Madwed was spot on
when he wrote “Our subconscious minds have no sense of humor, play no jokes and cannot
tell the difference between reality and an imagined thought or image. What we
continually think about eventually will manifest in our lives.”
But what we tell ourselves
about ourselves is usually defined by what others tell us about ourselves.  It takes someone special who can rise above being
constantly put down and belittled.  You
can do it, but it is tough.  It’s a lot
easier when those you love speak encouragement into your life.
So you can imagine the positive
impact on Mary and Joseph’s life to hear the angel talk about how they had
found favour with God.  That’s pretty
special.  We are talking God, God who
spoke everything into being, God who created the universe, God who shaped and
molded us into what and who we are.  
But more than that, they had
been affirmed not just through words but through action, God not only spoke
into their lives declaring them righteous, but he said “I believe in you so
much I’m going to entrust my one and only son to you.
You understand that the same
God who spoke favour into the lives of Mary and Joseph speaks favour into our
lives every day.  He loves you so much he
sacrificed his one and only son for you. 
Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 1:4 We know,
dear brothers and sisters, that God loves you and has chosen you to be his own
people.   When I met with our
sponsored child in Peru Arianna’s Grandmother told me several times “Thank you
for choosing my granddaughter”. 
God chose you.  You aren’t a mistake or an accident or an
oops, you are a wonderful beautiful chosen one. 
Do you believe that?  Can you believe
that?  Galatians 4:5 God sent
him (Jesus) to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could
adopt us as his very own children.
When we realize just how much God loves us it will change the perception
we have of ourselves.  Think of the words
that are used in the bible to describe you, Chosen, Loved, Adopted, Redeemed,
favoured, special.  That’s what God
almighty thinks of you.
The third thing that happened
for Mary and Joseph was the first Christmas
Changed Their Priorities  
This is
the reality for most of us when we have children.  It changes how we socialize
and it changes how we budget, or at least it should.  Our purpose goes from being “Me” centred to
being “We” centred.
It’s amazing how things that
were so important before you become parents take a back seat after you become
parents, things like a full night’s sleep.
But it really had to go beyond
that, Mary didn’t find out she was pregnant by a pregnancy test she bought at
dollarama, an Angel came and told her. 
And then he outlined who the child was that she was carrying and what he
would accomplish, Listen again to the announcement of the angel in Luke
1:30-33
“Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor
with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him
Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The
Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over
Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
A very similar announcement came to Joseph,  Matthew 1:20-21 As he
considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son
of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the
child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and
you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Gabriel should have ended his
announcement by saying, “No pressure.” 
Kind of like someone handing you a package and saying “This contains an
ancient and incredibly valuable Ming Dynasty vase.  It is very fragile and worth well over a
million dollars.  Oh by the way, don’t
drop it.”
And so God entrusted his son to
this young couple to raise as their own. 
In a time when the childhood mortality rates would have been very high,
in a land occupied by a foreign army, ruled by ruthless men, they were to keep
Jesus safe and healthy.  And they were to
raise him in a Godly home to know and love his heavenly father, no
pressure.  Don’t drop it.
And they didn’t.  We don’t know a lot about Jesus’ childhood,
but we get a snippet in Luke 2:40 There the child grew up healthy
and strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favour was on him.

And then the next time we see them, they have their son at the Temple.  You see their responsibility with the son of
God is the same as our responsibility when we are given children.  They were to keep him safe and bring him up
in the ways of God

As a child of God our priorities
need to be different than they were before we became children of God.  The line drawn by Christmas should help
define who we are, children of God, chosen and adopted. 
Our priorities should no longer
be “me” centred but instead should be “we” centred, embracing God and what his
will is for our lives, being a part of God’s family and loving the world the
way that God loves the world. 
If Christmas hasn’t made a
difference in your life, it can.