Tolerance is a Two Way Street


It was recently announced that Trinity Western University in British Columbia intends to offer a law degree in 2016.  And at least two provincial bar associations, including Nova Scotia, have voted to not allow students graduating from Trinity to be members of their associations. 
The reason?  Trinity is Canada’s largest Christian liberal arts college and part of its community covenant, requires all staff and students to abstain from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.”  Members of the Gay rights communities assert that  this covenant discriminates against Homosexuals.  Technically it would also discriminate against heterosexuals in common law relationships but apparently they don’t have a strong lobby group. 
Trinity Western’s president, Bob Kuhn suggested the vote “can’t help but have a chilling effect on the freedom with which Christians, especially evangelical Christians, feel a part of the society.”
Trinity is not discriminating against a group of people, they are simply requiring that their student’s refrain from certain activities as long as they are students of the University.
However, the reaction demonstrates how lacking in tolerance are those who speak so loudly for tolerance.   They are saying “We require you to be tolerant of us, but we have no interest in extending tolerance to your beliefs.”
Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

A Final Gift

When our daughter,  Deborah,  was preparing to depart for Odessa in Ukraine in
2008 she had to sign a form stating how she wished to have her remains disposed
of if anything happened to her while she was overseas.  Pretty heavy stuff for a twenty-one year
old.  But practical. 
But what do you do
with your body if you are far from home when you die? 
When we were living in
Australia I remember telling Angela that is anything happened to me to have my
body cremated and to bring it home in the video camera case to avoid shipping
charges.  Video cameras were much larger
then. 
We don’t like to talk
about things like that.  When I was
pastoring in Truro I had a great idea, we made “funeral information” forms
available.  It covered all the things
that would need to be taken care of when a person died.  Did they want to be buried or cremated, did
they have a preference for who performed the service, what songs were to be
sung, favourite scripture passages.  I
thought it was a great idea, we would keep them on file in the office and when
they were needed  it would save the
family a lot of grief.  We handed out 150
and got 4 back.  It’s almost as if by
talking about it we will make it happen but it’s going to happen whether you
fill out the silly form or  not. 
My parents have told
me that everything has been arranged in regards to their funerals, all I have
to do is open the envelope.  We have
talked to our children about our funeral arrangements, Angela wants cake and
balloons. 
Last week was Easter
and we focused on the death of Christ and on his resurrection, and we often
talk about Jesus being laid in the tomb and then the tomb being found empty,
but have you ever stopped and thought about the tomb that Jesus was laid in.
Funeral arrangements
are never easy but they are more difficult when the death is sudden and
unexpected.  I wonder at what point it
dawned on Mary that something was going to have to be done with the body of her
son when he was taken down from the cross. 
Remember Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem but his home was in Nazareth
which was over a hundred kilometres away in a time when there were no trains or
planes or hearses for that matter to move the body from point “a” to point “b” 
We’ve all seen photos
of the sculpture by Michelangelo with Mary holding the body of her son, there
was a similar scene in the Passion of the Christ.  I wonder what was going through her mind at
that point?  If she was wondering what
was going to happen to her son when she let go?
Actually the scriptures tell us that by that time there was already a
solution and as often happen that solution was provided by an individual who
made a conscious decision to help.  We
read the account earlier but to refresh your memory.  Luke 23:50-52 Now there was a
good and righteous man named Joseph. He was a member of the Jewish high
council, but he had not agreed with the decision and actions of the other
religious leaders. He was from the town of Arimathea in Judea, and he was
waiting for the Kingdom of God to come. He went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’
body.
We don’t know a lot about this man called
Joseph.  We know from this account that
he was from the town of Arimathea, which was a suburb North West of Jerusalem.
We know that he was wealthy, and from reading Mark 15:43 . . ,Joseph
was an honored member of the high council, and he was waiting for the Kingdom
of God to come.   We know that he was part of the Sanhedrin and he that was Kingdom
minded.  Matthew tells us in Matthew 27:57-58 As evening approached, Joseph, a rich man from Arimathea who
had become a follower of Jesus, went to
Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. And Pilate issued an order to release it to
him. Here we discover that Joseph was rich and when we
read John 19:38 Afterward Joseph of Arimathea, who had been a secret disciple
of Jesus (because he feared the Jewish leaders), asked Pilate for permission to
take down Jesus’ body.   We discover that up to that point Joseph had been a secret disciple,
whatever that was. It’s interesting to see how each of the four authors view
Joseph from a different perspective.   And
then we can add to all we know for sure details from that tradition and legend.
Tradition tells us that Joseph was Mary’s
uncle and was a tin merchant.  Because of
his business legend says that had travelled to the mining community of Cornwall
England which was renowned for its tin. As a matter of fact some legends even
say that he took his Great Nephew Jesus to Cornwall when he was still a
child.    And that’s why William Blake’s poem
says:  And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon England’s mountains green: And was the holy Lamb of God, On England’s
pleasant pastures seen!
Legend continues to say that because of
that connection and history that Joseph was later recruited by the apostles to
take the gospel to England and that on the journey he took the cup that Jesus
had used at the last supper, which of course began the legend of the Holy
Grail. And the legend tells us that he founded the first British church at
Glastonbury where he planted his staff which miraculously flowered into a
tree.  The tree is called the Glastonbury
Thorn, whose offshoots may still be seen today, flowering every Christmas. (A
sprig or cutting is sent to Buckingham Palace every year from this tree),  But all of that is just legend.  But what is it that we actually learn from
this story?
1) Joseph
Saw a Need. 
  Actually Joseph saw two needs in this
story.  The first was a spiritual
need.   You will recall from the accounts
we read that although Joseph was a believer he was not a Christ Follower in the
public sense.  In his heart and in his
head he knew and accepted the claims of Jesus but nobody else knew about his
decision.  The scriptures said he was a
secret disciple which I would kind of think is an oxymoron.   Being a disciple means being a follower and
I would think at some point you would have to make a public declaration.  As Joshua was leading the people of Israel
into the Promised Land he issued them with this challenge.  Joshua 24:15 “But if you refuse
to serve the Lord, then choose
today whom you will serve . . . But as for me and my family, we will serve the
Lord.” 
Story is told about a small town that had
an awesome fisherman, during fishing season he always caught piles of fish,
even when they weren’t biting for anyone else he would arrive back in town with
all kinds of fish.  Well the game warden
got curious about how he was doing it so one day he invited himself along to go
fishing with Buddy.  Well they got in the
middle of the lake and the fellow opens up the tackle box, pulls out a stick of
dynamite lights it and tosses it into the water, boom.  Fish float to the surface and the warden
freaks out, starts screaming about the law and how big the fine would be and
even possible jail time.  Well, buddy
looks at the warden, reaches back into the tackle box pulls out another stick
of dynamite lights it and hands it to the warden and says: “you gonna talk or
you gonna fish?”
Well there comes a time that we have to
make a decision when it comes to following Jesus and it shouldn’t be put off,
Jesus was pretty clear when he said Matthew 10:32-33 “Everyone who
acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my
Father in heaven. But everyone who
denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven.
But it was more than simply a spiritual
need that Joseph saw there was a practical need as well and that was; what were
they to do with Jesus’ body? 
We are told that three things could have
happened.  1)  The Romans were notorious for simply leaving
the body of executed criminals on the cross as an example for others.  Birds of prey would feed upon them and
eventually they would decay and fall off the cross to be picked at by
animals.  Some scholars even thought the
reason Golgotha was called the Place of the Skull had nothing to do with the
shape of the hill and everything to do with the skeletal remains left lying
about. 
2) That didn’t apply if the person who was
executed was Jewish.  We read in Deuteronomy 21:22-23 “If someone has committed a crime worthy of death and is
executed and hung on a tree, the
body must not remain hanging from the tree overnight. You must bury the body
that same day, for anyone who is hung is cursed in the sight of God. In this
way, you will prevent the defilement of the land the Lord your God is giving you as your special possession.  The Jewish
authorities felt that applied as well to those crucified and so the bodies had
to be taken down before sunset.  That is
why the thieves on either side of Jesus had their legs broken, to speed up
their deaths.  But it was already
determined that Jesus was already dead. 
But if there was nobody to claim the body than it was simply disposed of
in the garbage dump. 
3) A relative or family member could claim
the body. 
So from a practical point of view something
had to be done for Jesus burial, his body wasn’t just going to bury itself.
Being a Christ follower doesn’t just
involve a spiritual need it also involves a practical need.  From the very beginning of Christianity
believers have gathered together in local churches and those churches have had
needs that were met through those who followed Christ.  It’s not up to the world to meet the needs or
the church, or the government and the early church didn’t do it through fund
raising and bean suppers and bingo. 
In the case of Cornerstone we have a
mortgage, power and heat bills, maintenance, snow plowing and salary
costs.  And as the church grows some of
those costs will increase. 
And that brings us to the second
point.  2) Joseph Made a Decision.  Joseph
filled the first need by publicly declaring himself a disciple of Christ.  Have you publicly declared your allegiance to
Christ? 
Part of doing that is when you choose to obey his command and be
baptized as a believer.  The purpose of
baptism was not to get wet it was to make a public declaration of a personal
decision to follow Christ. 
And understand there is no example given in
the New Testament of people waiting for a significant period of time after
becoming a Christ follower to be baptized. 
If you have chosen to follow Jesus and you have never been baptized then
we need to talk.   
Matthew 27:57-58 As evening
approached, Joseph, a rich man from Arimathea who had become a follower of
Jesus, went to Pilate and
asked for Jesus’ body. And Pilate issued an order to release it to him.   I don’t know how
many people were there that day who could have done something, but Joseph
didn’t wait for them to do something he did it.   He went to Pilate and asked for Jesus
body.  He didn’t hope that someone else
would do it, he didn’t assume one of the apostles or Jesus family would take
care of it, he did what had to be done. 
In too many cases “Everyone thought someone
would do it and in the end no one ending up doing it.” 
There is no magic pot
that we dip into at Cornerstone to meet the financial needs that we have as a
congregation.  If we are going to
minister to this community, if we are going to provide a place for you and your
family to worship, if we are going to be able to continue to teach your
children and be there for weddings and funerals, than those needs will have to
be met by those who call Cornerstone their church home.
And we do it a little
differently than most churches do it, we allow you to determine what type of
church you want to have.  At the end of
today’s service we will ask each of you to make a commitment as to what you
will give on a weekly basis for the next church year.  We do it by giving each of you a commitment
card to fill our and return, and my personal promise to you is that I won’t
embarrass you or put you in an awkward situation. 
But the bottom line is
that my pay cheque, the mortgage payment, which by the
way is $6,500.00 a month, the heat, the lights and everything else right down
to the toilet paper is paid for by people who love Jesus and love Cornerstone.
And every person who is connected with this
church will have to decide how much they are willing to invest in what we
do.  Because you will spend your money
somewhere.  And you will choose what
investments you make, and Jesus said it would be litmus test of who we are, in Matthew 6:21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart
will also be.  And you will make a
decision about Cornerstone when you fill the card out and make a
commitment.  And you will make a decision
about Cornerstone if you choose to not fill the card out and make a
commitment 
3) Joseph Made a Sacrifice  Understand that
this wasn’t some nebulous theoretical decision that Joseph made.  When he publically identified himself with
Jesus it wasn’t the popular thing to do, those who had followed Jesus for three
years were hiding in the shadow and for good reason.  Jesus had been crucified for being a traitor
to the Roman Empire and to his religion. 
And Joseph was basically saying “I’m with him”. 
When you take a stand today to seriously
follow Jesus, not just call yourself a Christian because you aren’t a Muslim or
a Hindu or a Jew, than there will be consequences.  You will have to make decisions that may not
be popular with your friends or your family; you may have to make choices that
are at odds with your employment.   I don’t know the price that you will be called
to pay but there will be a price.
But it wasn’t just a personal cost that
Joseph had to pay, there was also a practical cost. 
Luke 23:52-53 Joseph went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body.   Then he took the body down from the cross
and wrapped it in a long sheet of linen cloth and laid it in a new tomb that
had been carved out of rock.
So you understand that this wasn’t just a
loan this was a gift.  It wasn’t like
giving someone a book to read and then getting it back, or letting someone use
your car for the afternoon.  When Joseph
put Jesus body in the tomb then Joseph no longer had the tomb.  He was going to have to go out and buy
himself another tomb.  Don’t know what
the tomb had cost, but it had cost something and people weren’t lining up offering
their tomb.
Ultimately if Cornerstone is your church
home and you want all the benefits that come from having a church home it will
cost you something.  Or at least it
should cost you something.  Otherwise you
are parking on someone else’s quarter.  It
would be like going to McDonalds and picking up a tray of food that someone
else had paid for and eating it.
And I have heard people say through the
years, “But pastor I tithe elsewhere.” 
That would be like eating at McDonalds and paying at Burger King.
And please don’t think that those who give
to Cornerstone give without making a sacrifice.  Sometimes we think “Well they can afford it
more than I can.”    Every dollar that someone gives to
Cornerstone could have been spent somewhere else, and yet someone made a
sacrifice to give it here and not spend it elsewhere. 
Now sometimes we get the impression that
God wants it all and He doesn’t care what happens to us or our families.  That isn’t the plan, God doesn’t ask for 100%
of our finances or 90 or 50 or 40 or 25. 
In the scriptures it speaks of God’s people returning 1/10 of our income
to God.  Note I said returning because
the assumption is that all that we have comes from God.  And so we have scriptures like Malachi 3:10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be
enough food in my Temple.
If you do,” says the Lord of
Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a
blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to
the test!
God doesn’t want us to lose our homes, he isn’t interested in us not
feeding our children or defaulting on our taxes, that’s what the 90 % is for.  And speaking of taxes, I did mine the other
day and before I put in my donations from Cornerstone the government wanted me
to send them a whole bunch of money, but after I put in my donations the
government sent me a whole bunch of money, I like that better.
And tithing isn’t something that kicks in when you are an adult.  We have children and teens at Cornerstone who
tithe their babysitting money and their allowance and it is easier to be
obedient with a lot when you have already been obedient with a little. 
J.D. Rockefeller Sr. One
of the richest men in the world in his day said “If
I had not tithed the first dollar I made I would not have tithed the first
million dollars I made.  Tell your
readers to train the children to tithe, and they will grow up to be faithful
stewards of the lord.”
I came across a neat saying that kind of sums
up this point, You should give according to your income, lest
God make your income according to your giving. 
So here’s a question, could you live on 10 times
what you give to the church each week? 
What type of house would you live in? 
What type of car would you drive, what would you eat?

Heaven is for Real




I wonder how Johnny Depp is feeling after his latest movie was left in the dust by a movie about a Wesleyan Pastor and his family?  “Heaven is for Real” opened in theatres this week in third place, which I think was a surprise to many. 

And people have asked me what I think about the story, which is the account of Pastor Todd Burpo and how he, along with his family and his church, deal with his three year old son’s vision of heaven. 

I’ve read the book and  have seen the movie and enjoyed them both.  Did I agree with everything, nope, but I often default to: In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.  

In the end, will “Heaven is for Real” damage the Kingdom or hinder the gospel?  It’s doubtful.  Will it bring people closer to Jesus?  Probably some and maybe others will meet Jesus because of a little boy’s story of what he saw when he was really sick. 

There are a lot of things in the book that are difficult to explain without a supernatural source and my theology doesn’t permit the dark one that type of power over an innocent child whose godly parents and their church family are covering him in prayer.


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


God Why Don’t You Do Something

Matthew
27:46
At about three o’clock, Jesus called
out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My
God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
How many times have we asked ourselves the same question
that Jesus asked as he hung dying on the cross? 
“God, why have you abandoned your son? 
God why don’t you do something?” 
Surely if we had of been standing by watching as this man of
peace, as the Son of God was humiliated in a sham of a trial, as he was
scourged and beaten in front of a jeering crowd, as slowly the soldiers of
Caesar stripped away the last remaining pieces of his human dignity.  Surely we would have asked ourselves and
those who stood nearby, “Why doesn’t God do something?  How can God allow this to happen?”
And as they took this battered and bleeding Nazarene
Carpenter and laid him against the roughly hewn cross, drove home those great
dull spikes through his hands and feet and then stood the cross upright with
the son of God suspended on it like a broken discarded marionette and dropped
it into the hole prepared, jarring all of his body weight down unto those
bleeding wounds in his hands.  And there
he was left, hanging between heaven and earth.
Surely as we watched this travesty of justice, surely the
rage welling up inside would compel us to demand of the Almighty, “God why
don’t you do something, don’t just let him die like some common criminal.”
Surely that question must have been on the lips of John,
Mary, Martha and others who loved Jesus as they stood and watched, repulsed by
what was happening but unable to turn away and unable to comprehend the
injustice of what they were witnessing. 
If you have ever watched the Passion of the Christ, then I’m
sure you are familiar with the feelings of helplessness and frustration that
seemed to overwhelm me when I first watched the movie.  How could God have allowed that to
happen. 
And so his friends watched, totally helpless, unable to do
anything for the one who had done so much for them.
We don’t ask in unbelief, instead it is as believers that we
find our voice and demand “How? How could You allow your Son to die in such a
horrible way?”  It is only because we
have so much faith in the power and justice of God that we find it so
remarkable and difficult to believe that he chose to not to exercise that
power.
The first thing we need to note is that God Could Have Done Something.    Christ acknowledged that when they came to
arrest him in the garden.  The group that
the High Priest sent to arrest Jesus was more like a lynch mob then a
posse.  You can just imagine the group
standing in the flickering, smoky light of the oil torches.  Unveiled hostility showing on their faces as
they reach to seize the one who had displeased their masters. 
And when the crowd attempted to grab Christ, Peter the
brave, Peter the impulsive, Peter the insane drew a single sword and took a
swipe and cut off the ear of one of the High Priest’s servants.  Now all I can say is that it was lucky for
the servant that Peter was a fisherman and not a swordsman, because I don’t
think for a minute that Peter wanted to separate the guys ear from his head as
much as he wanted to separate his head from his shoulders.  You can almost hear Peter now, “I’ll hold
them off boss you make a run for it.”
But Pete had misread the
situation.  He thought that Christ was
helpless when that was far from the truth. 
Jesus set the record straight in Matthew
26:53
Don’t you realize that I could ask my
Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly?
In the New King James Version
it gets a little more specific.  Matthew 26:53 Or do you
think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more
than twelve legions of angels?
Now what Jesus was saying was “Peter if I wanted I could
have a legion of angels, and you could have a legion of angels and John could
have a legion of angels and Thaddeus could have a legion of angels and the
other eight guys could have a legion of angels each to command.
And we’re not talking those cute little sissy angels people
seem to be worshiping today.  No we are
talking big mean angels, angels with attitude, angels who could level the
entire city of Jerusalem with no problem at all.
When we think of a legion we think of a place where old
soldiers go to play darts, but this was a different type of legion. The legion
that is spoken of here was the largest single unit in the Roman army and was
comprised of six thousand men.  Now I
would suspect that seventy two thousand angels with a hate on could have done a
pile of damage, even Christ conceded that.
On Calvary when you heard
them taunting Jesus wouldn’t you have prayed with all your might, “Yes God,
bring him down, teach them a lesson God, please God, don’t let him die like
this.  Send the angels and mop the floor
with this bunch.”
Now I know that some would object and say “Preacher God
doesn’t work that way!” Oh yes he can and you can’t deny it.  God works exactly that way and the history of
the Bible confirms it.  Time after time
God has directly intervened in the affairs of mortals, what else do you call
the parting of the Red Sea and the collapse of the walls of Jericho? 
God not only made the Sun but he made it stand still for Joshua.  Who do you think closed the lion’s mouth for
Daniel in the lions den, or made the fiery furnace bearable for Shadrach,
Meshach and Abednego?  Who sent the fish
to swallow Jonah and the star to guide the Magi? 
The truth of the matter is that God does answer prayer and
often does it in miraculous ways.  If he
didn’t then why bother to pray at all? 
If God didn’t care and if God didn’t act then why waste our breath
asking him? 
You see,  the truth of
the matter is that God could do something because He had done it before
throughout the course of history.
Could God have stepped in and averted this tragedy, in a way
that was consistent with His saving grace throughout scripture?  Jesus must have believed he could or why
would he have cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  “Dad, why aren’t you doing something.”
And so it is because we believe that we aren’t afraid to
ask, “God why don’t you do something?”
Second when we stand before the cross and ask why doesn’t
God do something? The answer comes back, God
Was Doing Something.
We have to remember that the crucifixion didn’t happen in a
vacuum.  Instead it took place in a very
specific moral and spiritual setting.  We
have to realize that the cross was set at the pinnacle of more than two
thousand years of revealed history. 
And for the past thousand years God’s prophets had been pointing
to a Messiah.  And if the people of God
had of been true to their religion and to the word of God then they would have
welcomed and enthroned Jesus as their messiah, but instead they crucified Him.
We shouldn’t blame God because he did not step in to
intervene to save the Jews from the most colossal blunder in their
history.  Let’s face the facts; it was
their fault, not God’s.  In the same way
that we can’t blame God when he doesn’t intervene to save the human race from
the blunders that imperil their very existence.
God has done something, he has shown us the way that we
should walk and the laws that we must obey. 
One of my favourite stories is about a man who lived in a town that was
flooded and as the water got up to the front step a fellow shows up in a canoe
and offers him a lift.  “No thank you”
says the first man “God will provide.” 
Well when the water got to the second floor another Good Samaritan
arrived, this time in a speed boat with an offer to rescue the man, to which he
gave the same response, “No thank you, God will provide.”  Finally the water reached the roof where the
man perched precariously on the peak. A helicopter passing overhead dropped a
ladder to the man but he still insisted that he would trust God.
Well you know what happened, the water continued to rise and
the man drowned.  When he got to heaven
he was furious, stalked up to God and demanded “what happened, I thought you
were going to provide.”  “Hey” God said
“I sent two boats and a helicopter, what more do you want?”
Even today God is saying to us
as He said to His people through the prophet Jeremiah: Jeremiah 6:16 This is what
the LORD says: “Stop at the crossroads and look around. Ask for the old, godly
way, and walk in it. Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls.

 But the response today is the same as
it was 2500 years ago, But you reply, ‘No, that’s not
the road we want!’  Proving the
reality of Proverbs 14:12 There is a path before each person that seems right, but it
ends in death.

God had done something, He spent well over a thousand years preparing the
way for His Son but the people chose their own way and nailed the Son of God to
a cross. 

And today we need to understand
that God has done something.  He has
broken into human history and come to us and said, John
14:6
“I am the way, the truth, and the
life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
Jesus is standing at the cross
roads and pointing us in the direction we should go and still people choose to
ignore both Christ and His message.  And
that shouldn’t surprise us, Jesus said in Matthew
7:13-14
“You can enter God’s Kingdom only
through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for
the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the
road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.

When we demand of God, “Why don’t you do something?” we are ignoring the
fact that he was doing something and He was ignored and denied just as he is
treated today.

Thirdly as we stand at the foot of the cross and demand to know why God
doesn’t do something we discover that God
is Doing Something. 
We have come to
the place that we realize that the cross was not some tragic mistake, God
wasn’t pacing the floor of heaven saying, “Well I guess we totally blew it on
that one didn’t we?”  The cross was part
of the plan, but to be frank I don’t think it was plan A.  I think God’s perfect plan was for his
people, the people of Israel
to accept Christ as their Messiah two thousand years ago, but man in his
sinfulness thwarted that plan. 

You say that you don’t believe
that man can stand in the way of God’s will. 
Read your bible, from day one God’s plan was that man would exist with
him in complete harmony and fellowship but that plan was destroyed when man
choose  to step out of the will of God and
to reject and disobey God’s commands.  2 Peter 3:9 The Lord isn’t
really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being
patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants
everyone to repent.
Other translations say that He
is not willing that any should perish. 
God’s will and God’s desire is that we should all go to heaven but some
choose not to accept the salvation offered by Christ and they die and go to
hell, out of the will of the Father.
And the truth is found in Romans 5:8 But God showed
his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still
sinners.   2000 years ago God was
looking down the tunnel of time and saw a young fisherman who needed his grace,
and he was taking the steps even then for Denn Guptill’s salvation.

So while I don’t believe that the crucifixion was in Plan A it was still
within the will of God as He allowed His Son to die on Calvary as a sin
offering for the world.  God’s will and
His love for mankind were being worked out even in this the darkest chapter of
the history of men, when they tried to kill the son of God.

God had not forsaken Jesus in his hour of greatest need.  God was there, suffering with His Son on Golgotha.  That
Good Friday morning 2000 years ago God was doing something, something decisive
and conclusive.  He was making His
ultimate response to human sin.  It was
there at the place of the skull that God carried the burden of the world’s sin
and it was not only a burden of love but also a burden of judgement. 

Justice says that if there is a right and wrong then there needs to be a
reward for doing right and a penalty for doing wrong.  And each one of us has done wrong, each one
of us has in some way failed the God who created us and who loves us.  We are reminded over and over again in God’s
word that we have missed the mark.  And
if it was just God’s justice that had to be fulfilled we would be
punished.  But the story of the
crucifixion isn’t about justice, it’s about grace.

The story is told in John 3:16 For God so loved
the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him
should not perish but have everlasting life.

It’s not about getting what we deserve, it’s about us getting what we don’t
deserve, forgiveness, salvation and absolution.

We see only a small portion of the whole picture if we see the cross as
simply the martyrdom of one man.  But the
reality is that it was here at Golgotha that
the greatest battle in the universe was being waged.  The scene of the last decisive struggle against
all the forces of evil that crucified Christ and that threatened our very
existence.

Evil was judged at Calvary and from that
point on evil had no future in God’s world. 
Evil is still our enemy but it is a defeated enemy.

Finally when we stand in the shadow of the cross demanding why God doesn’t
do something, the answer comes back God
Did Do Something. 
Had the story
ended when Jesus was laid in the tomb, if the closing of the grave had been the
closing of the book, then Christianity would have had the same beginnings as
the rest of the great religions of the world, a charismatic leader, a small
group of devoted followers and a shrine located over the leaders grave.

And the truth of the matter was that on that Good Friday when Nicodemus and
Joseph of Arimathea took down the body of Jesus of Nazareth and laid it in a
borrowed grave, that at that point then Christianity was no different then
Buddhism or Islam or Hinduism or any other ism. 

And at that point when they took the body of Jesus of Nazareth and laid it
in the ground, at that point Christ had been right, His Father had forsaken him
and when he needed God the most God had turned his back on his only son.  For all intensive purposes as we look at the
empty cross for three days we would have to ask ourselves, “God, why didn’t you
do something?” 

But God did do something, because today is not Friday, today is Sunday.  Today is the third day, today is the day that
we celebrate Resurrection Sunday.

Because when the women went to Jesus’ tomb on Sunday morning, they went with
heavy hearts to prepare the body of their friend. And each one of them was
struggling with the question “God why didn’t you do something?”  And He answered them with the empty tomb.

 Jesus Christ the Son of God, the Lord
of Lords, the King of Kings did what no other man had ever done before and what
no other man has done since.  He rose
from the dead to die no more.  You see in
answer to our demands God says “Look at the empty tomb and then you will know
that it was all for you.”

      

Just as the Serpent was Lifted Up, Good Friday 2014

Just as the
Serpent was lifted up
The first
time he had met Jesus it was in the dark, and there was just him and the
master. 
We see him at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and then we hear him speak
in defence of Jesus halfway through the story and then we don’t see him again
until the day that Jesus died on the cross. 
His name was Nicodemus and we are told that he was one of two men who
came to claim the body of Jesus from the cross.
And now the crowd that had demanded the death of Jesus had faded into the
night and once again Nicodemus meets Jesus in the dark. 
And as Nicodemus and Joseph took Jesus body from the cross, not an easy
task seeing it had been nailed there, I wonder if Nicodemus’ mind drifted back
to the first time he had met the young preacher from Galilee. 
It had
been early in Jesus’ ministry and Nicodemus wasn’t even sure that he wanted to
be associated with this radical young preacher, so he met him after dark.  It is a very familiar story that has very
familiar scriptures attached it it.  It
was there that Jesus told Nicodemus John 3:3 Jesus
replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the
Kingdom of God.”   And probably
the most memorized portion of scripture ever is found in that account, 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 I’m pretty sure those weren’t the words that Jesus had spoken that
night that came back to Nicodemus as he took the battered body of Jesus down
from the cross where he had died so violently. 
Instead
I would think that at that point that Nicodemus was probably thinking of a
fairly cryptic thing that Jesus had said at their first meeting and that was
when Jesus told him,  John 3:14-15 And as Moses lifted up
the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted
up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.   And perhaps it was at that moment that
Nicodemus had an aha moment.
Now Nicodemus had an advantage
over us and that is he probably knew exactly what Jesus was talking about when
he mentioned the bronze snake on the pole, where most of would have been
saying, the bronze what on the who? 
It’s a fairly obscure story for
us, but it would have been familiar to Nicodemus who John tells us was a
religious leader.  The story is told in
the book of Numbers which gives us an account of the Exodus of the people of
Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land. 
And so very close to the
beginning of Jesus ministry he compares himself and his sacrificial death to a
brief interlude in the 40 year journey of Moses and the people of Israel that
had happened 1500 years before. 
And not in a clear and concise
way, instead in a way that would only make sense after the fact.  And so a couple of years after Jesus made the
statement it suddenly becomes clear to Nicodemus what Jesus was talking about.
 John 3:14-15 And
as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of
Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal
life.   
And is so often the case, first
we need the back story. In this case the back story takes only five verses in
the book of Numbers.   The Israelites
have been free from Egypt for two years, but they have yet to come to the place
that they would settle, instead they have been wandering through the desert,
eating manna and quail and defending themselves against the nomadic tribes that
lived in the area. 
And we are told that the people
began to speak out against God and Moses, grumbling and complaining about their
situation.  Which seems pretty
typical.  But then the story takes a
bizarre twist and we read in Numbers 21:6 So
the LORD sent poisonous snakes among the people, and many were bitten and died.
  That’ll learn em.  I hate snakes, Remember this (Video from Indiana
Jones)  I’m sure Moses was thinking, “Why
did it have to be snakes?”
And we pick up the story again
in Numbers 21:7-9 Then the people came to
Moses and cried out, “We have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against
you. Pray that the LORD will take away the snakes.” So Moses prayed for the
people. Then the LORD told him, “Make a replica of a poisonous snake and attach
it to a pole. All who are bitten will live if they simply look at it!” So Moses
made a snake out of bronze and attached it to a pole. Then anyone who was bitten
by a snake could look at the bronze snake and be healed!
So people complain, God sends
snakes to bite people, people repent snakes disappear.  But for those who have already been bitten
God tells Moses to create a replica of a poisonous snake, put it on a pole and
anyone who looked at the snake would be healed. 
Weird.
One commentator wrote, Among the Jews,
the brazen serpent was considered a type of the resurrection—through it the
dying lived; another commentator said The
healing power lay not in the brazen serpent; it was only a symbol to turn their
thoughts to God; and when they did that they were healed.
And so it was at the beginning
of Jesus’ ministry, when he is defining who he is and what he will do to a
religious leader named Nicodemus that Jesus reaches back to this obscure story
and compares himself to a bronze snake on a pole. 
So the question is if Jesus had
to be lifted up like the bronze snake was lifted up, why was the bronze snake
lifted up?
It Was Because Man’s Rebellion  The
reason that the people of Israel had to deal with poisonous snakes was because
of their rebellion.  God delivered them
out of Egypt from slavery, during their travels their clothes and their sandals
never wore out, he provided them with food that all they had to do was bend
over and pick it up, and they whined and complained and cursed God.  And they were punished.  And this wasn’t the first time that God
punished the people for their rebellion, they knew the consequences of their actions
and yet they willfully rebelled against God.
But the story doesn’t stop with
the Israelites in the desert.  Throughout
the history of man we find man rebelling against God’s will for his life, each
of us every day find ways to do what we want to do even if it is in direct
violation of God’s will for our lives.  We
are walking proof of Proverbs 14:12 There
is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.
The Bible
tells us over and over again that all have sinned, that none can measure up to the
God standard.  That God sent direction in
his word and it was ignored, he sent prophets and they were at the best ignored
and often times killed. 
1500 years before
the birth of Christ the people of Israel were punished with snakes, I hate
snakes. 
But that was
a here and now punishment, the there and then punishment, has always been an
eternal separation from God.  Not just a
separation from God but a separation from all that is good, a separation from
love, a separation from light a separation from hope.  For ever.
And because
the people of Israel could not combat the snakes or the effects of the snakes
on their own there needed to be a different solution.
In the same
way, because mankind has found it next to impossible to bridge the gap that
exisist between us and God there needed to be a different solution.
The Solution Came from God.  If you know the story as it is told in the book of
Numbers, the people recognized that they were suffering the consequences of
their actions.  It was because of their
rebellion that they were being punished. 
And they begged Moses to intercede on their behalf and he did. 
And the
solution came in two parts, the snakes disappeared, which is good, but there
was also provision for those who had already been bitten.  And it was a little strange. 
Moses was
told to make a bronze replica of a snake and put it on a pole and those who
wanted to be healed needed to look at the snake.  It was that simple.  And by looking at the snake they were
acknowledging that it was God who was providing the solution.
And I would
suspect, knowing people, that there were those who would not look at the
snake.  Maybe they didn’t want to
acknowledge their need.  Maybe they were
telling themselves that eventually they would be all right, that others might
die of the poison but they wouldn’t.  
Or maybe
they figured that they knew the answer, that if they just did all the right
things that they’d be all right.
Of maybe it
was a pride issue, maybe they’d rather die than acknowledge that they needed
God.
But the bottom
line was that those who looked at the snake were healed, and those who didn’t
look at the snake weren’t healed and they died. 
It didn’t matter how much they denied their need to look at the snake,
it didn’t matter whether they thought they should have to look at the snake or
not,  all that mattered was that they
looked at the snake.
And there
was no power in the bronze snake, the power was in acknowledging that God had
the power to heal them, and it was only through his Grace that he was extending
that power to his people. 
When Jesus
told Nicodemus that he would need to be lifted up he was talking about the
death that he would suffer.  But the same
as the power of the healing was not in the snake, the power of God’s Grace was
not in the crucifixion of Christ. 
If Jesus had
of simply been crucified on a cross and that was the end of the story it would
make no difference in our eternity.  But
the story didn’t end there, but it was were the last chapter would begin.
There is all
kinds of theology wrapped up in the atoning death of Jesus.  How he paid a price that he didn’t owe,
because we owed a price that we couldn’t pay.
It wasn’t just a man who was
crucified that day; it was the Son of God. 
And he died to pay the price of our sinfulness, and to pay the price of
our rebellion.  The story is summed up by
the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for
our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
In the same way that the people
of Israel were powerless against the power of the poisonous snakes, we are
powerless against the consequences of our sinful actions and attitudes. 
We can deny that we are sinners,
but deep inside we know that we are.  We
can maintain that we can fix it ourselves, but deep inside we feel the
frustration of knowing that we can’t.  
When our two year old grand-daughter Payson gets to the point that she
finally acknowledges that she can’t do whatever it is she is trying to do, and
she wants to do everything herself, she comes to me and looks up just says
“help”.
You see Jesus didn’t just tell
Nicodemus John 3:14-15 And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the
wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,  Verse 14 ends with a comma, not
a period.  Jesus continues by saying so
that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. And that is
it.  It’s nothing that you can do on your
own, and it’s everything he did for you. 
We are told in 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.
 And that leads us to the next point
which is It’s Our Choice  Moses could not force the people to look
at the snake, even though I’m sure he wished he could make that decision for
them, he couldn’t.
He could create the snake, and
seriously if you have to make a “something” in a hurry a snake is a pretty good
choice.   Give me some play dough and
three seconds and I can make you a snake. 
He could be obedient and put the snake on the stick and lift it up, he
could tell the people that if they wanted to be healed they had to look at the
snake on the stick.  But he could not
look at the snake for them. 
And maybe there were people
that he really liked, who were suffering the consequences of their rebellion
against God but they refused to look at the snake, and while it would have
broken Moses heart there was nothing he could do to force them to accept the
gift of healing that was being offered to them.
When Jesus finished telling
Nicodemus why he would have to be lifted up and how those who believed would be
saved he finishes with the verse that sums up the whole Gospel.  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.” 

God loves us so much that he sent his one and only Son.  God loves us so much that he allowed his one
and only Son to be crucified for us.  And
he did everything he could do but he will not take away our free will.  He won’t force us to believe. 

Here is the reality, on that
Good Friday Jesus didn’t wind up on a cross because of the Romans or because of
the Jewish religious leaders.  He was on
the cross because it was the only solution for our sinfulness.  

A Swing of Emotions


TALK ABOUT A SWING in emotions! I have been working on two separate messages this week, one for Good Friday and one for Easter Sunday: a messageof despair and a messageof hope, a message of defeat and a messageof victory, a message about the depths that man can fall and a message about the heights to which God can lift us. Two messages both need to be preached but truthfully I prefer Easter Sunday messages to Good Friday messages. I know that without the crucifixion we couldnt have the resurrection, but still we killed Him!

He offered us life and we killed him. He came in love and we destroyed Him with hatred. Good Friday? For who? Jesus? They nailed him to a cross. For humanity? We showed how depraved we really can be. Good Friday? I think not. Black Friday? Maybe. Bad Friday? For sure. Without Sunday, Friday is a blot on the history of humanity.

Sunday changes all of that and turns despair to joy, defeat to victory. We may not have been there on Friday, but we are just as guilty. We may not have been there on Sunday, but we are just as forgiven.

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

A Palm or a Cloak

Electricity filled the
air as the people of Jerusalem pushed against one another to see the man that
everyone was talking about.  Some said he
was a god and others said he was a demon. 
Some claimed he performed miracles while others proclaimed him a fraud a
charlatan or worse.  For better or for
worse everyone had an opinion, even if they didn’t agree. 
We are all familiar
with the scene, the account from Luke’s Gospel was read for us earlier.  Sometimes we talk about Palm Sunday, in the
Bible it’s often referred to as “The Triumphant Entry”  But it was the beginning of the end of Jesus’
earthly ministry.  In one short week
Jesus would be dead and the crowds would be silent.
So you probably know
the story but let’s look at the high points. 
The background is laid down in the book of John.  In Chapter 11 of John you may remember that
Jesus had been called to the town of Bethany where his good friend Lazarus was
sick, before Jesus was able to get there Lazarus had died and so Jesus raised
him from the dead.  Jesus became the talk
of the town and the news eventually spread to Jerusalem where the Jewish High
Priest, a man named Caiaphas heard the news. 
Now you might think that the High Priest would be excited to hear that
Jesus, the one who claimed to be the Son of God and the Messiah had the power
to give life to the dead.  You know if
Caiaphas had been wondering if Jesus was truly who he claimed to be than this
might be the assurance he needed.  Help
him decide which horse to back, so to speak. 
But that was not the case.
 John 11:47-48 Then the
leading priests and Pharisees called the high council together. “What are we
going to do?” they asked each other. “This man certainly performs many
miraculous signs. If we allow him to go on like this, soon everyone will
believe in him. Then the Roman army will come and destroy both our Temple and
our nation.”  Kind of interesting where their priorities were
isn’t it?  There are churches and people
in churches that still feel that way today, they are more interested in
protecting their traditions than in reaching people.  But that is a topic for another time.
And so the story continues:  John
11:53-54 So from that time on, the Jewish leaders began to plot Jesus’ death.
As a result, Jesus stopped his public ministry among the people and left
Jerusalem. He went to a place near the wilderness, to the village of Ephraim,
and stayed there with his disciples.  Jesus had become a wanted man, perhaps it was a
reward that had been placed on his head that Judas collected, it was at that
point that Jesus must have decided that discretion was the better part of
valour and went to Ephraim, a small town outside of Jerusalem. 
There was a plan, a time and a place for the events to happen and while
Jerusalem was the place this obvious wasn’t the time yet.  Perhaps this was a time for Christ to reflect
on what was going to happen and to prepare himself emotionally and spiritually
for what would happen in the days ahead.  
Or maybe it was simply
a matter of a better time. The spiritual impact of Christ’s sacrifice happening
at Passover would have been exponential over just two weeks previous.  We don’t know.   As a matter of fact we don’t know anything
about the time he spent in Ephraim and it really is incidental to the story
other than a stopping point, because we read in John 12:1 Six days
before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of
Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead. 
So if we pull up our trusty
map here is Jerusalem and here is Ephraim and here is Bethany, and it was at
the home of Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha that Jesus crashed for the
night.  John 12:12 The next
day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city.
Let’s go back to the
scripture that was read earlier,  Luke 19:29-31 As he came to the towns of Bethphage and
Bethany on the Mount of Olives, he sent two disciples ahead. “Go into that
village over there,” he told them. “As you enter it, you will see a young
donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If
anyone asks, ‘Why are you untying that colt?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it.’ ”
Now we might be
tempted to add a whole range of mystical application here, that maybe this was
a miracle or a step of faith on Jesus behalf, you know, just do and it will
happen.  Chances are that Jesus knew the
man and had arranged in advance for the donkey to be there.  The words “The Lord needs it” were probably a
password so the man would know that he was giving the donkey to the right
people.  I mean he’d feel kind of silly
had the two disciples shown up and he had to tell them: “I gave the donkey to
two other guys who were here about an hour ago.” 
We know that Jesus had
friends in Bethany, remember that’s where Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived and so
it’s not that far of a reach to see that Jesus had already put steps in place
for his entrance to Jerusalem.  Which
would lead me to suspect that if it were alright for Jesus to do preparation
and not always wait until the last minute and then call on God in panic that
there might be a lesson there for us as well.
From this account we
are told that the young donkey had never been ridden before, that the colt
wasn’t even green broken. 
We had horses when I
was a kid and I’m not nearly as amazed by the fact there was a donkey waiting
there for Jesus as I am that he got on the back of an untrained animal that had
never been ridden before and stayed on. 
My experience with horses was been that they aren’t overly impressed the
first time a person climbs on their back. 
Another one of those miracle things. 
Now the entire
donkey and colt thing may not mean a whole lot to you and me but to the people
of Jerusalem it meant a great deal, and just in case they missed it Matthew
reaches back into the Old Testament and pulls out a reference from the prophet Zechariah 9:9 Rejoice, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O
people of Jerusalem! Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and
victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey— riding on a donkey’s colt.
It’s interesting that
while we see a donkey as kind of a second rate horse for the people of Israel
it was very symbolic because traditionally and culturally a donkey was what a
king rode when he came in peace.  Perhaps
a suitable mount for the Prince of Peace.
Jesus knew that the
religious leaders were out to get him and yet instead of slinking into the city
under the cover of darkness he rides triumphantly in a manner that is bound to
reveal him as Messiah.  William Barclay
who wrote the Daily Study Bible Commentaries made this statement “Jesus entered Jerusalem in a way that deliberately set
himself in the centre of the stage and deliberately riveted every eye upon
himself.  All through his last days there
is in his every action a kind of magnificent and sublime defiance; and here he
begins the last act with a flinging down of the gauntlet, a deliberate
challenge to the authorities to do their worst.”
If that is indeed what
he was trying to do he certainly succeeded. 
But what about the people in the crowd that day?  We know that less than a week later they
weren’t shouting hosanna, as a matter of fact some of the very people who
wanted to see him crowned on Palm Sunday wanted to see him crucified on Good
Friday. 
Now at this point you
might be thinking, cool,  Denn has
forgotten it’s Stewardship month and he’s not going to talk about giving.  Not a chance. 
This is week two of Money Month.  If you are visiting or new to Cornerstone
each year we take the month of April to teach the theology of giving.   Almost a dozen years ago I decided that
instead of simply preaching in response to any given financial crisis in the church
that I would take the time to teach those who call Cornerstone their church
home why giving is a proper response to the love and Grace of God.  You understand, God doesn’t need you to give
for His sake. God is God, the entire universe is his.  So if he doesn’t need us to give for his sake
than it must be that he wants us to give for our sake.   Our giving shapes our response to God. 

And there is a great example of that in this story.

You see as Jesus rode
into Jerusalem on that Sunday so many years ago people responded in a variety
of different ways to his presence and the responses were demonstrated in very
tangible ways.  As a matter of fact the
way they responded is the way people still respond to Jesus today.
Some Gave Nothing.  There
are a few different sub groups that we find here.  First there were those who were hostile to
the claims of Christ.  They were the ones
who tried to trap him, who called him a demon and accused him of blaspheming
against God.  Couldn’t really expect them
to give.  Maybe you fit into that
category, you are only here because it’s easier than listening to your spouse
or parents nag you about coming. Maybe you are kind of like the person that George Orwell described in Animal Farm when he wrote He was an embittered atheist (the sort of atheist who does
not so much disbelieve in God as personally dislike Him).

And then there were the uninterested. 
It wasn’t that they were negative to Christ they just didn’t care one
way or another; they saw a bunch of people and joined in to see what all the
commotion was about.  Kind of what P. T. Barnum
said “Nothing
draws a crowd like a crowd.”  

They stood on sidelines looking in, maybe they yelled the occasional Hosanna
so they didn’t look out of place but they hadn’t bought into the entire Jesus
thing. They were just there for the show and you couldn’t really expect them to
give either. 

But there were those
who were interested in what Jesus was saying, they were looking for him to make
a difference in their lives, perhaps to heal them or feed them or they truly
meant what they said when the called out Hosanna, which means “Lord save us.”  But they weren’t really looking to give
anything back.   
And there are people
just like that in our churches today, they want what the church can provide,
they want to have a service on Sunday morning that they enjoy and they want
their children to be taught about God is a safe clean environment and they want
a place and a person to perform weddings and funerals,  but they really want others to pay for
it.   When it comes to giving to the church some
people will stop at nothing. 
The reason we call the
Triumphant Entry “Palm Sunday” comes from John 12:12-13 The
next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the
city. A large crowd of Passover visitors took palm branches and went down the
road to meet him. They shouted, “Praise God! Blessings on the one who comes in
the name of the Lord! Hail to the
King of Israel!”  Some
Gave A Little:
It really is a
neat picture. And you’ve see it in paintings and drawings and movies.  Here comes Jesus riding on the donkey the
people waving palm branches and yelling Hosanna.   These were excited people; they saw something
in Jesus that they liked, maybe something they wanted to emulate.
It was an impressive
scene, some people are waving the palm branches and we are told in the other
Gospel accounts that some of the people laid the palm branches on the road to
form a carpet for Jesus to ride over. 
Kind of cool but
really, there was a little effort.  I
mean here there would be an effort in finding a palm branch.  In Israel you would just have to turn around
and rip one off a tree, and if they were anything like the palm trees we had on
our property in Australia you just have to stoop over and pick one up.  The real sacrifice didn’t come from the
people nearly as much as it did from the tree.
But is a gift a gift
if it doesn’t cost something? 
And it is the same
with the church.  There are those whose
giving to the church is little more than a tip of the hat.  Oh they might mouth the words and talk about
giving but it’s a twenty dollar bill dropped in the box every once in a while.   And to be frank the church cannot survive
with Palm Wavers.  Marilyn and I were
talking a while back and she reminded me of a statement that one of our
professors at Bible College made.   And I
am in no way trying to imply that Marilyn and I are in any way close to the
same age.  She obviously began college
very, very young.
But I digress.  Marilyn reminded me that Dr. Kanzelmar said
that the way to see if an idea was valid was to see if it could be transferred
to everyone in the church.  So obviously
giving twenty dollars a week per family isn’t valid, with twenty dollars a week
per family we would just barely be able to pay our mortgage.
So Cornerstone would
have a really nice building with no heat no power and no staff.  Is that the Church that you want?
And so church is like
everything else how much you value it is really indicated by how much you are
willing to pay for it.  Jesus tells us in
Matthew 6:21 Wherever your treasure is, there the
desires of your heart will also be.  Jesus was telling people “If you want to see
what is important to you, look to where you spend your money.”  I’ve said before if you want to see where
your priorities are than look into the two most important books in your
life.  Your chequebook and your date
book.  Where do you give your money and
where do you give your time.
Angela’s father told
me that once he was in Virginia on a Navy Ship years ago and went to a church
for service one Sunday and when it came time for the offering the preacher
admonished the people to give out of their means not their meanness.  What do you give out of? Your means or your meanness?
Mark 11:8 Many in the crowd spread
their garments on the road ahead of him . . .
Some Gave a Lot:  So
perhaps you are sitting there thinking “So what’s the big deal?  They laid their coats down.”  Well those in the know tell us that 2000
years ago in Palestine that the vast majority of people didn’t have a closet
full of coats or for that matter a few coats or even a couple of coats.  Instead we are told that most people would
have only owned one outer garment.
So there you are with
only the coat on your back and here comes Jesus, some are waving and chanting
and some are breaking off palm leaves and laying those down for Jesus to ride
on and you really want to demonstrate your love for the one they call the
Messiah.  Would you literally give him
the shirt off your back?  Apparently some
would. This is a garment that was used as outerwear during the day and a
blanket at night.  It was so important
that it was actually protected by Jewish law.
We are told in Deuteronomy 24:12-13 If your neighbor is poor and gives you his cloak as
security for a loan, do not keep the cloak overnight. Return the cloak to its
owner by sunset so he can stay warm through the night and bless you, and the Lord your God will count you as
righteous.
And there were some
there that day that were willing to allow a donkey to walk on their cloaks and
possibly do whatever else a donkey might do on their cloaks. Why? Out of their
love and devotion for Jesus.   And again Jesus said Matthew 6:21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart
will also be.  In a very real way they were willing to lay
down what was important to them to worship Christ. 
The bible gives us
clear direction on what God expects. 
It’s called a tithe and it means a tenth.  It is mentioned in Genesis, the first book of
the Bible.  It is mentioned in Malachi
the last book of the Old Testament and it is mentioned in Matthew in the New Testament
as well as in the book of Luke and Hebrews in the New Testament.  As a matter of fact those in the know tell us
that the Bible speaks more about money than it does about prayer and that Jesus
spoke more about our money, how we make it and how we spend it than he did
about heaven and hell combined.  Because
he knew how important the subject was.
And many of you give a
lot to God’s work at Cornerstone as a part of your worship.  And it cost you something, there are other
things that you could use that money for but you have chosen not to.  Thank you, you have laid your coat down for
Jesus to use. 
Romans 12:1 And so, dear brothers and
sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done
for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find
acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.  Some Gave Everything: There were many in the crowd that day who would
never set eyes on Jesus again, and those who never gave his words or their
encounter with Jesus a second thought. 
But there were those there that day that their encounter with Jesus was
a life changing event.
It defined who there were, it shaped how they lived and it may even have
determined how they would die.  And I
don’t just mean those who gave their lives in the persecution that accompanied
the early church, the martyrs.  I’ve said
before that I am sure that Jesus would agree:  “The problem isn’t getting people to die for
you it’s getting people to live for you.”
For many on that day Jesus was not just an abstract or an ideal he had
changed their lives and they were there to express their thanks and their
adoration to him, and that didn’t end on Palm Sunday. And so when we have
committed ourselves to him our giving isn’t an issue because all we are is his
and all we have is his.
This morning my challenge to you isn’t how much money are you prepared
to give to God it’s how much “You” are you prepared to give to God?  And remember in the end our commitment will
not be measured in our words nearly as much as it will be measured in our
actions.

I Noah Guy. . .


We went and saw Noah last week.  I actually enjoyed the movie.  I went knowing that it had very little to do with the biblical telling of the story.  Someone once said that asking Hollywood to do the Bible is like asking a gangster to speak about honesty. 
There have been enough criticisms about the movie so we really don’t have to talk about where it failed.
But I was impressed with what the movie got right.  I had never really thought about how wicked the world must have been for God to feel his only option was to destroy His greatest creation, but the film captured the darkness of the day.  In a day and time when society doesn’t like to talk about sin, the movie doesn’t shirk away from the evilness of man. 
Sure there were flaws in the movie, but most believers have never moved on from the jolly zoo keeper in the children’s Bible story of Noah. And most of what I knew about Noah before I became a Christ follower, I learned from a song about unicorns.
When I left the theatre, I felt I had seen a movie about sin, redemption, judgment and mercy and at the end of the movie love wins.
Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Over the Top

Well here we are, for some of you it is your favorite month
of the year at Cornerstone, for others, not so much.  If you are new to Cornerstone or a guest
today a little background, each year at Cornerstone during the month of April
Denn preaches on Money.  Well to be exact
I preach on Stewardship, how we treat what God has given us.
But for most people they just see it as Money Month, when
Denn preaches on money.
And it wasn’t just an arbitrary or random decision on my
behalf, you know one day I was in my office wondering what I could possibly
preach on each April, and I suddenly thought “I know, I’ll preach on money each
April, that will draw a crowd.”
That wasn’t it at all. 
12 years ago we decided to take a different approach to dealing with
finances at Cornerstone.  Instead of
dealing with the crisis of finances, that is harping at you every time things
got tight financially in the church that instead we would teach the theology of
stewardship one month each year. 
Because our church year ends in April we decided that would
be a good month and so here we are.  And
so if you can handle four messages on stewardship then you get a free pass on
the preacher harping at you about money for the rest of the year.   As part of that process we adopted what we
call “Step-up Cornerstone”.  Each year,
at the end of April, we ask those who make Cornerstone their church home to
step out in faith and fill out an “estimate of giving” card.  And just like the name implies, we ask you to
estimate what you hope to give for the upcoming year.  We collect those cards at the end of that
service and we use that figure to plan our budget for the new church year. 
And there are benefits to that, both for the church and for
you.  For the church it gives us a responsible
way to plan our budget for the upcoming year. 
For the first twenty years of my ministry the churches that I led did
what most churches do.  Each year the
leadership would pull a budget out of the air. 
It was may have been based on the previous year’s budget with a small
increase for additional expenses, or perhaps department heads had submitted
their wish list for the upcoming year. 
Often it was done by committee but realistically it wasn’t
based on any knowledge of what the church income would be for that year.  Often time’s churches would talk about how
they were stepping out in faith.  But the
result was that the preacher would end up talking about money all the time
challenging people to step up and pay a budget that was not rooted in reality. 
In 2002 the leadership at
Cornerstone decided to take a different tact. 
I would speak on the biblical role of stewardship for a month each
year.  And it’s an important topic, and
it’s an important part of our spiritual lives. 
And at the end of the month we
allow the folks who call Cornerstone home to respond and provide an estimate of
what they believe they will be able to give in the upcoming year.  In affect you get to have a say in the budget
and say “This is the type of church I would like to have this year.”
I think I handle the mechanics
of it well; we try not to embarrass anyone or put anyone on the spot. If you
don’t want to participate that is fine, although we encourage everyone to take
part.   And we don’t come knocking on
your door if you aren’t able to give what you thought you’d be able to, we hope
you will after all we have based our budget on those figures.  And we provide you with updates throughout
the year about where we are in relation to what was committed and where you are
personally in relation to your commitment. 
Last year our theme was “A
Blessed Life” and we spoke about Who Gets Blessed, the Blessing of the First
Things, The Blessing of Faithfulness and the Blessing of the tenth.  And I don’t know how you felt about the series
but I really enjoyed it.
This year our theme is “Over
the Top” and that was my thought when I read a portion of the scripture that
was read for us this morning. 
Buried in Jesus’ teaching about
judging one another and forgiveness we find this statement Luke
6:38
Give, and you will receive. Your gift
will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more,
running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the
amount you get back.”   
That’s pretty cool.  I heard someone refer to it as “The Law of
Self-Administered Returns.”  Or “What you
give is what you get.”
It is found in the book of Luke
toward the end of a long section of Jesus’ teaching.  This is Luke’s telling of the Sermon on the
Mount, and while we are probably more familiar with Matthew’s account it is
only in Luke’s account that we find this verse. 
And there are some who make a
big deal about the differences that we find in different accounts of Jesus’
teachings, but seriously.  Every person
will leave here today with different impressions and memories of what I said,
some will remember one point in particular, others will remember something else
and others won’t remember a thing.   In
some cases it would be hard to believe that we were all listening to the same
message, but that doesn’t change the reality that they were. 
And so it was Luke who remembered and recorded this
particular snippet of Jesus’ message. 
And the temptation here is to pull it out of its context and examine it
in isolation.  Especially during “Money
Month”, let’s hear it again.  Luke
6:38
Give, and you will receive. Your gift
will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more,
running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the
amount you get back.”   
Dr. H.C. Wilson, our District Superintendent, spent a number
of years down south and he’d say.  “That
dog will hunt.”  And while it may server
our benefits to see this as only a financial statement it is so much more than
that.    Because Jesus never intended it
to be taken in isolation, there are other times in the Gospels that Jesus will
make a statement that stand’s by itself. 
But Luke 6:38 was part of a much larger discussion, and it needs to be
taken that way.  Because as one of my
College professors was fond of saying “A text out of context is a
pretext.” 
So if it’s not just about money then what’s it about?  It’s about the totality of Jesus’ teaching
here, and by extension it is about Jesus teaching as a whole.  Jesus it telling us that how we behave in all
areas of our lives are interconnected.
So in one sense it is a very practical teaching.  The way you treat others is the way they you
should expect to be treated.  In some
Eastern religions they use the term “karma” to describe this.  Do good things and good things will happen to
you, do bad things and bad things will happen to you.  But practically that is life.  Act like a jerk and in most cases people will
treat you like a jerk.  Be pleasant and
in most cases, not always but in most cases, people will respond in kind. 
I’ve talked about this before, a smile is contagious.  And it will often open many doors, being
pleasant to people very often pays dividends. 
That’s the practical side of
this.  We often speak of it in terms of
the Golden Rule, which is not contrary to popular belief “He who has the gold
makes the rules.”  Luke
6:31
Do to others as you would like them to do
to you.   A little caution here,
sometimes we think that this means that we should treat people the way we would
like to be treated.  For example, there
are times when there will be someone  in
one of our services who probably could be recognized from the platform.  Another preacher perhaps, or someone who
attended Cornerstone in the past and has moved away and is now back for a visit.  If I don’t acknowledge them, there inevitably
will be an extrovert who after the service ask me why I didn’t acknowledge
them.  Because as an extrovert they would
want to be acknowledged. 
On the other hand if I did
acknowledge them there is an introvert, who won’t say anything but will be
thinking, “I can’t believe that Denn singled that person out and put them on
the spot like that.”  Because as an
introvert they would never want to be pointed out in a crowd.  So really, what the golden rule is saying is
treat someone they way they want to be treated.
But that was a tangent, let’s
go back to our scripture, Luke 6:38 Give,
and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken
together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The
amount you give will determine the amount you get back.”  Actually let’s back up another verse to
Luke 6:37 “Do not judge others, and you will not be
judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive
others, and you will be forgiven.
First of all It Relates to Judging.  This is the favourite verse of people
whose behaviour is being questioned.  If
you happen to point out behaviour which doesn’t like up with the teachings fo
the New Testament you often hear, “Don’t judge me, the bible tells us not to
judge, you have no right to judge me!” 
The problem with that rationale is that it’s only a few verses away that
Jesus tells his followers how to tell whether a tree is a good tree or a bad
tree.  You judge them by the fruit they
produce.  And then he goes on to say the
same applies to people, that you can tell what type of person they are by their
behaviour. Correcting a person’s behaviour is often seen as being
judgmental.  But is it?
This is a caution about
judging, telling us that we will be judged by the same standards that we judge
others.  Remember Jesus asks “How you tell
a person that they have a speck of sawdust in their eye if you have a beam in
your eye?”  But he doesn’t tell us to not
tell the person about the speck in his eye, he just tells us to remove the beam
from our eye first. 
It’s not the correcting someone
that is wrong, it is the attitude that we do it in.  Let’s go back there again Luke
6:37
“Do not judge others, and you will not be
judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you.  Do you judge with a spirit of
correction or a spirit of condemnation? 
What’s the difference?  Well when
you judge to correct, that simply means you are pointing out their behaviour
for their own good.  You understand that
the bible says Proverbs 14:12 There
is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.  If you knew that a person was walking
along a path that had a dangerous end wouldn’t you feel a responsibility to
warn them?   
We should have the same moral
responsibility to warn people about eternal danger as we do of earthly dangers.
So, when we judge with a spirit of correction it happens with a certain sadness
over what happens if they continue their behaviour.   
When we judge someone with a
spirit of condemnation there is almost a sense of glee at their fate.  We are glad they got caught and pleased that
they will be punished.  And Jesus is
telling us that the way we judge others, will be the way we ourselves will be
judged by others.  Remember it was Wayne Dyer who wrote, 
“When you judge another, you do not define
them, you define yourself.”
A good idea it to never judge
someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes.  Because then you are a mile a way and you have
their shoes.  Just kidding.
We are told by Jesus brother in
James 5:19-20 My dear brothers and
sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back,
you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back will save that person from
death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins. Which leads us to
our next point, you see that verse 38 not only relates to Judgement  It
Relates to Forgiveness
So we are told that if we judge then we will be
judged, and the flip side of that is that if we forgive then we will be
forgiven. 
And not just
a little bit forgiven, we will be granted forgiveness that is pressed down,
shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap.  But if we don’t forgive, Jesus gives us all
kinds of warnings.  Over and over again
he ties our forgiveness into the forgiveness that we receive from God.
When Jesus teaches us to pray,
in the Lord’s prayer you remember that we pray saying:  Matthew 6:12 and
forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. And
in case we miss this, Jesus reminds us of what that means at the end of the Lord’s
prayer when he says Matthew 6:14-15 “If
you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you.
But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Jesus tells a story in the
gospel of Matthew about a servant who owed his master more than he could ever
possibly pay and the master forgave him his entire debt.  But on his way home the servant runs into
another man who owed him a paltry sum. 
And he immediately demanded that he be paid in full, and when that
doesn’t happen he has the man arrested and thrown into debtors prison. When the
master heard this he withdrew his forgiveness and demanded payment in
full.  When it didn’t happen the master
had the servant thrown into prison until he could pay off his debt, which we
have already been told would never happen. 
God offers us forgiveness for a
life of sinfulness, that is forgiveness that is over the top, and he asks us to
forgive those who have hurt us.  He says
if you give forgiveness you will get forgiveness, forgiveness that is pressed
down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your
lap.
And you are thinking this is an
awesome money month sermon, he hasn’t talked about money yet.
But we can’t ignore the fact
that when we read Luke 6:38 Give,
and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken
together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The
amount you give will determine the amount you get back.”  It
Relates to our Finances. 
Last year we learned that God
blesses his people when they return what rightfully belongs to God.  What is it that belongs to God?  Everything we have.  Why does God bless his people when they support
kingdom work?  It’s easy, if God’s work
is supported when God’s people return a portion of what God gives them then it
only makes sense for God to bless those who are faithful with what he has given
them.
Jesus tells us that in the
parable of the faithful servant when he says Matthew 25:23 “The
master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful
in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more
responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’”
 Solomon writes in  Proverbs 3:9-10 Honour
the LORD with your wealth and with the best part of everything you produce.
Then he will fill your barns with grain, and your vats will overflow with good
wine. Some have called that the law of resupply.
There is a really neat story
told in the Gospels.  You all remember
it, Jesus has been teaching all day and all of a sudden the day is gone and the
crowd is hungry.  Do you remember he
story?  The disciples go foraging for
food and all they can come up with is a kid who has five small loaves of bread,
really just rolls and 2 fish.  Jesus
blesses the little bit of food and feeds five thousand people with it.  But the really cool things is when he is done
we read in Mark 6:43 and
afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftover bread and fish. It
doesn’t say what they did with the left overs but it wouldn’t surprise me if he
gave them back to the kid.  “Thank you
for trusting me with your fish and rolls, here is your reward.”  But what would have happened if the boy had
of hid his tuna sandwiches and refused to share?  He would have had just enough for one meal.  Instead he had enough to feed his entire
family and more. 
And it appears that J. Paul Getty  agreed with that principle because he said “Money is like manure. You have to spread it around or it
smells.”

A Word of Grace

Lessons in grace often come from where you least expect them.  Many of you may have heard of the passing last week of Fred Phelps.  Phelps was the founder ofWestboro Baptist Church, which was known most for its virulent hateful signs proclaiming God’s hatred of the homosexual community and for the pickets at the funerals of American service personal.

Unfortunately many in the world used the brush of Fred Phelps and his followers to paint the entire church.

With Phelps’ death there were many who came very close to celebrating the end of his hate fueled crusade.

Then there were words of grace, not from the church but from George Takei, known by an entire generation as Hikaru Sulu, helmsman of the USS Enterprise.  More recently Takei has been known as a spokesman for the gay community.  On the news of Fred Phelps death Takei tweeted to his more than one million followers,  “Today, Mr. Phelps may have learned that God, in fact, hates no one. Vicious and hate-filled as he was, may his soul find the kind of peace through death that was so plainly elusive during his life.”

You may not agree with Takei’s life style but his words, at least in this case, are worth listening to.

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