Saul and Paul

Every saint has a past, every
sinner has a future.  Those words
were penned over a hundred years ago by the Irish playwright Oscar Wilde but they could very well have been written
about a young man named Saul who came to a pivotal point in his life where he
would have to choose to live in the past or to live in the future.
This is week two of our Down the Road series. This summer we
are travelling with Paul on his journey from an obscure reference in a tragedy
involving the first Christian martyr to his becoming one if not the most
influential voice in Christianity.  Paul
wrote the majority of the New Testament and developed and shaped the theology
that would make Christianity distinct among world religions.   And over the next ten weeks or so our
preaching team will be your tour guides along the road travelled by Paul and
his companions.  I think W. Russell Maltby might have been thinking of Paul
when he wrote “Jesus promised His disciples three
things: that they would be entirely fearless, absurdly happy, and that they
would get into trouble.”
Last week we looked at the
death of Stephen, one of the leaders in the early church.  Stephen had been appointed by the apostles to
assist them in their ministry duties within the rapidly expanding church in
Jerusalem and we are told in Acts 6:8 Stephen,
a man full of God’s grace and power, performed amazing miracles and signs among
the people.
And it was because of these
miracles and signs that Stephen came to the attention of the religious
authorities and he was brought before the High Priests under the false charges
that he had blasphemed against Moses and God. 
And it was while he was being questioned by the high priests that
Stephen preaches the longest sermon recorded in the book of Acts.  Which was really to be expected, after all
they gave a preacher the floor to speak. 
I’m not sure this is what they were expecting though.  Stephen had been brought to them charged with
blasphemy.  And then the High Priest asks
a fairly simply question, we find it in Acts 7:1 Then
the high priest asked Stephen, “Are these accusations true?”
Now that sounds like it could
be answered in only one of two ways a) “yes they are” or b) “no they
aren’t”.  Instead Stephen reaches back to
the Old Testament and begins with the story of Abraham.  But ultimately his message had the same
recurring theme that all the sermons in the first part of the book of acts had.  “God sent his son, you killed him, say you’re
sorry.” And the account of Stephen’s message concludes with these words, Acts
7:57-58
Then they put their hands over their ears
and began shouting. They rushed at him and dragged him out of the city and
began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet
of a young man named Saul.  Let me
reiterate, if I ever preach a sermon that you really disagree with, just tell
me.
But what links last week to
this week are those words at the end of this section His accusers took off
their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul.  And then the story concludes with the
first verse of the next chapter where we read, Acts 8:1 Saul
was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen
. . . This is the same Saul that David read about earlier in the
message, the Saul who came face to face with Jesus on the Road to
Damascus. 
But, then there is nothing
more written about Saul in that chapter, instead we read how Philip went to
Samaria and preached the gospel and we read about the conversion of the
Ethiopian eunuch and how when they came to a source of water Philip baptized
the man.  And then chapter 8 concludes
with these words Acts 8:40 Meanwhile,
Philip found himself farther north at the town of Azotus. He preached the Good
News there and in every town along the way until he came to Caesarea.
Sounds like Philip is doing an
awesome job spreading the gospel, maybe he will be the one who will see
Christianity taken beyond the borders of Israel?  But no, the next time we read about Philip is
in Acts 21:8 The next day we went on to Caesarea and
stayed at the home of Philip the Evangelist, one of the seven men who had been
chosen to distribute food.  Looks
like Philip got as far as Caesarea and settled down. 
And chapter 9 begins with these
words that were read for us earlier Acts 9:1 Meanwhile,
Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers.
So what do we learn?  The first thing is that Saul Had A Past When most people think of Saul they think of Paul, the man who
wrote most of the New Testament, the man commonly referred to as Saint
Paul.  But the story of Paul is not
complete unless we also know the story of Saul. 
And that is the truth with most of us. 
That our future is in some ways shaped by our past, that our story isn’t
complete without the early chapters.
Before I was Denn the Christ
follower, I was Denny and I wasn’t a Christ follower. I would like to tell you
that I consciously changed my name to reflect a new beginning in my life, and
while it might be a good story it’s not the true story.  I stopped going by Denny because I felt it
was a little boy’s name. 
But who I am today is partially
shaped by who I was on September 1 1979, even though on September 2 1979 I was
born again and made a new creation,
Don’t know what Paul had
against Christians, but it coloured and shaped who he was.  We are told that he was uttering threats with
every breath he took.  What could
possibly have caused that much hatred? 
Traditionally we are told that Paul and Jesus had never met, outside of
their meeting at his conversion.  There
is no mention of Paul in any of the Gospels and at no point in his writings
does Paul specifically refer to a 
conversation that he had with Christ. 
But listen to the account of
the Last Supper, a scripture that we read almost every time we take
communion.   In 1 Corinthians 11:23 For
I pass on to you what I received from the Lord himself. On the night when he
was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread . . .   
And there are those who would tell
us that Paul simply received this in some form of revelation from Jesus, maybe
a dream or a vision.  But what it says is
this 1 Corinthians 11:23 For I pass on to you
what I received from the Lord himself.  Doesn’t
say how he received it.  Hmmmmmmm.
Later in his story, Paul tells
us that he received some of his training as a Pharisee in Jerusalem, he was
close to the same age of Jesus, and he belonged to the religious groups that
brought charges against Jesus. So I wonder, now understand that this is just
speculation, Denn’s mind doing what Denn’s mind does. 
I wonder if the many stories
that Luke told, in his Gospel, of Jesus meeting and debating with the Pharisees
came from a young eye witness named Saul?  Or maybe one of the many stories that are
recorded where Jesus speaks with an unnamed “expert in religious law”, if the
person Jesus was talking to might have been named Saul.   Just
wondering.
I wonder if Saul may have met
Jesus during his ministry years and rejected his invitation to follow him?  And if that is indeed the case it might account
for the hatred that Saul had for those who had met and accepted the claims of
Christ. 
The bitterness that he must
have felt when he saw the grace in the lives of those who had chosen to follow
Christ, the same grace that he had rejected. 
And so to justify his earlier decision to reject Christ he demonized
those who had accepted Christ.  Just
wondering.
You see, we often define Paul’s
greatest sins as his persecution of the early believers, but his greatest sin
was ignoring the grace of God.
Earlier this month we spent
three weeks looking at the story of the Prodigal son, and we often think that
what broke the father’s heart was how the younger son was behaving.  That may have been a factor, but what broke
the father’s heart was that his son had rejected him.  The kid could have been a church going
business man living in a big house with a wife and 2.3 kids and still have broken
his father’s heart by rejecting him. 
And so we see Paul, who in the
eyes of his peers was probably a great guy, a good man, a religious man, a man
who sincerely believed that what he was doing the right thing, but he was still
a man who was separated from God.
Twenty five years ago next
month my lay assistant at Truro Wesleyan was visiting an elderly man in the
hospital and had the opportunity to lead the gentlemen into a relationship with
Christ before he passed away.  I was
asked to do the funeral and I discovered that this man was considered by all
who had met him to be a good man, a good husband, a good father a good
friend.  But for over seventy years he
had rejected the claim of God on his life. 
And the bible tells us that being good is not enough, that we can’t
“earn” a spot in heaven, regardless of how good and sincere we are.  That’s why 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. Heaven is not a reward for being a good person. 
The message I preached at that
man’s funeral came from this scripture that was read for us earlier.  And the title of my message was “A Good Man
Made Better”.   
But it doesn’t matter what sins
were in Saul’s past.  What matters is
that Paul wasn’t always Paul the Saint. 
That Paul was a man with a past, who if he didn’t actually kill
Christians, wanted to kill Christians and watched as Christians were
killed. 
Every
Christian has a past.  I don’t know what
all lurks in your yesterday but understand you are not alone.  And as far as I can tell the only sin that
can’t be forgiven by God is the sin of rejecting the forgiveness of God. 
Maybe it was his own conversion
that Paul had in mind when he wrote 2 Corinthians 5:17 This
means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life
is gone; a new life has begun!
Which leads us to our second
point Paul Had a future.    Who you were doesn’t have to
dictate who you will be.  Saul rejected
the claims of Christ and did everything he could to destroy the early
church.  And then he goes on to become
the single greatest force in the shaping of Christianity. 
Changed lives are the greatest
miracle of God’s grace.  The old Hymn
says “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, I once was
lost but now I’m found was blind but now I see.” 
Jesus never leaves a person the
way he found them.  Instead he forgives
the past and presents them with a limitless future.  Through the years I have met scores of people
who were radically changed when they turned their lives over to Jesus.  Abusive husbands and wives who have become
loving partners, rebellious teens who have become friends with their
parents.  People who have struggled with
addictions who have been able to put those demons aside.  When they accepted the forgiveness and grace
that God had to offer they became a new person, their old life was gone and a
new life began.   
And not everyone could accept
the change that happened in Paul’s life, there were people who never completely
trusted Paul, they would always see him through glasses that had been coloured
by his past.  There are people in my life
who when they think of me, if they think of me, will think of things that I did
or said before I met Jesus.  For better
or for worse that is how I will always be defined and identified in their
minds.
But regardless of what some
people might have thought of Paul, God had a plan for his life.  If we skip down in the story God calls a man
by the name of Ananias, his job? To minister to this man named Saul who was now
in Damascus.  Listen to Ananias’ response
Acts 9:13 “But Lord,” exclaimed Ananias, “I’ve
heard many people talk about the terrible things this man has done to the
believers in Jerusalem!”   Ananias
knew about Saul’s past but listen as God reveals Saul’s future.  Acts 9:15 But
the Lord said, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the
Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel.”
And that’s exactly what Saul
did.  For the next thirty years he would
travel across the known world, preaching the gospel and starting churches.
It was Saul, who we know as
Paul who would take the church far beyond Jerusalem and Israel, and nobody
least of Saul would have ever expected that. 
It was Paul who wrote most of the New Testament including some of your
favorite verses.  Philippians
4:13
For I can do everything through Christ,
who gives me strength. And Romans 8:38 And
I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death
nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our
worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s
love. And do you remember when 1 Corinthians 13 the “Love Chapter” of
the bible was read at your wedding, those were Paul’s words.
Every person who comes to
Christ for forgiveness and accepts the grace of God receives a blank sheet in
return, a blank sheet that represents their future.  God took Saul, a man who was full of
bitterness and hatred against all things Christian and used him to change the
world. 
In spite of your past, what is
it that God could do through you?
But there had to be something between Saul’s
past and Paul’s future.  Which brings us
to the third point, which if we had of kept reading in Acts chapter 9 we would
have read this Acts 9:19-20 Afterward he ate some food and regained
his strength. Saul in Damascus and Jerusalem Saul stayed with the believers in
Damascus for a few days. And immediately he began preaching about Jesus in the
synagogues, saying, “He is indeed the Son of God!”
Paul Chose the Future Over the Past You understand that God did a
lot of things to get Saul’s attention but the decision to follow Jesus could
only be made by Saul himself.
God will not force anyone to
follow him, he woos us, he invites us to follow him but ultimately we have to
make the decision.  And that decision will
forever colour who we are. 
The decision that Saul had made
to not follow Christ made him the man he was, the man who we was hell bent on
destroying Christianity.  And the
decision that Saul made to follow Christ made him the man he would become, the
man who was heaven bound spreading Christianity across Asia and into Europe.
I come back to this time after
time, we are who we are because of choices we have made.  Good choices or bad choices, they each shape
us.
Paul understood that when he
wrote in Romans 6:16 Don’t you realize that
you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin,
which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous
living.

Today you have the opportunity to start over.  To say “I can’t change my past but I can
change my future.”  Are you willing to
let go of your past?  Are you willing to
define your future by your actions today? 
And it’s tough, if it was easy everybody would be doing it but just as
Jesus believed that the Saul could make the right choice he believes that you
can make the right choice.

 The bigger question though is: do you
believe that you can make the right choice?

  





Hello? Hello?



The phone rang last Monday morning at 1:20!  1:20!  You know that if you get a telephone call at that hour it can’t be good news. Nobody calls you at twenty after one in the morning just to say hello or to tell you that you’ve won the lottery. (I can assure you the lottery call would definitely be a wrong number at our house). We have had people call at that hour to say G’day but that was because they were confused about the time difference.
It is amazing how many thoughts can go through your mind between the time the phone first rings and when you finally pick it up.  Within seconds, you have considered every possible tragedy that might have necessitated someone calling you at that horrendous hour, because you know in your heart of hearts that it just has to be bad news.  In our case whoever was calling hung up after I answered the phone and the caller ID just said “unknown number”.
I wonder if our prayer lives are reflective of early morning phone calls, they only happen when there’s a problem?  God wants us to bring Him our troubles, but I’m pretty sure He wants to hear the good news as well. Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Saul and Stephen Down the Road

It would appear that he had everything
going for him. He was one of the leaders of the early church. He was a person
of influence and integrity and he had the respect and honour of his colleagues
and peers.  Think about it, how would you
like to be described as “a person full of faith and the Holy Spirit?”  That’s how this man was described.
It would appear that he had
everything going for him.  There was just
one small problem.  He was dead. He had
been murdered, cut down in his prime, killed by the very things that made him
who he was, his integrity and his Godliness.
His name was Stephen and he was
first introduced to us in the book of Acts as the early church faced one of its
first challenges.  The story begins in
Acts chapter 6, with the church going through unprecedented growth.  Literally thousands of new believers were
being added to the church and the apostles were struggling with how to handle
the influx.  Miracles are happening,
people are getting saved, society is being influenced and then we read Acts 6:1
But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent.
Boy you gotta hate that.  So what were the grumblings about? Obviously
in such a spiritual group, who lived so close to the resurrection and the Day
of Pentecost it must have been something that involved spiritual issues, maybe
arguments over doctrine or theology. 
Nope nothing so grand and compelling, if we continue to read we
discover:  The Greek-speaking believers
complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were
being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food.
Remember at this point Christ
followers considered themselves Jews and as such they felt an obligation to
taking care of their own, especially the widows in the group.  In a society that was as male oriented as
Palestine and most of the world was 2000 years ago a woman’s existence really
depended on her husband.  He was the
bread winner and the shelter provider and in many cases his wife didn’t have the
ability or opportunity to provide for herself and so if she lost her husband
her community had to step up to the plate to support her.  And the early church embraced that, in James
1:27 Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for
orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.

The problem was while the church at this stage was
comprised of Jews, they weren’t all the same Jews.  Hundreds of years previous the country of
Israel had been conquered by Assyria and Babylon and as part of that many of
their people were taken captive.  During
that time they were assimilated into the culture of their captors and
eventually lost their original language. 
Fast forward a few hundred years and the Greeks under Alexander the
Great captured most of the known world. 
Instead of taking people captive the Greeks took their culture captive
by simply insisting that they take on the Grecian culture and language and so Greek
became the common language of the area. However the Jews in Palestine resisted
and while most of them spoke Greek they still considered Hebrew their primary
language and anyone who didn’t speak Hebrew was considered less of a Jew. 

Still with me?  You
see, the Jews who returned to Israel at various times had lost their Hebrew and
simply spoke the language of the market place and there was the problem.

While that shouldn’t have mattered in a perfect world it
seemed to matter in an imperfect world. 
The result was that the widows who spoke Greek complained that they
weren’t receiving the same care as the widows who spoke Hebrew, kind of
Star-Belly Sneetches and Sneetches without. Now we don’t know for sure that
there was any actual discrimination but there was the presumption. 

The Apostles realized that they
were getting more and more things on their plate and were unable to do
everything well so they appointed seven men to help out, it’s interesting to
note that all seven had Greek names not Hebrew names.  One of these men was Stephen.  And this is what the scriptures say about
him, Acts 6:5 . . . and they chose the following: Stephen (a man full of faith
and the Holy Spirit. . .
and then later Acts 6:8 Stephen,
a man full of God’s grace and power, performed amazing miracles and signs among
the people.
And so at that point it would
appear that he had everything going for him, a sterling character and a
leadership position in a dynamic growing church but then the wheels came off
the wagon.  Stephen had been telling people
about Jesus and the change that had happened in his life and he was accused of
blasphemy and dragged before the council of high priests where he was asked to
defend himself, which he did.  He
preached the longest sermon recorded in the book of Acts and took the high
priests on a whirlwind tour of the Old Testament.  He seemed to be on a roll and when you are
learning to preach they always tell you to end strong and that may have been
Stephen’s mistake.  Acts 7:51-53 “You
stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you
forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you!
Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute! They even killed the ones who
predicted the coming of the Righteous One—the Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered.
You deliberately disobeyed God’s law, even though you received it from the
hands of angels.”
Ouch, William Barclay the
Author of the Daily Study Bible stated, “A speech like that could only have one
end; Stephen courted death and death came.”  
And the story continues Acts 7:57-58 Then they put their hands over
their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him and dragged him out of the
city and began to stone him.

And Stephen went from being one of the churches first
leaders to becoming the churches’ first martyr. 
You understand that this was not a trial and execution, the high priest
had no power to execute anyone, that is why they insisted that Pilate issue the
order for the death of Christ.  This was
a lynch mob, pure and simple.

So what do we learn from this story?

1) Bad Stuff Can Happen to Good
People   This is the dark secret that
some churches don’t want you to know. Let’s try that again in case you missed
it the first time; “Bad Stuff Can Happen to Good People!”   According
to the theology of some groups Stephen should have had everything that he
wanted.  After all he was a committed Christ
follower, a man of prayer who loved Jesus. So Stephen should have only
experienced the very best that this life had to offer, he should have been healthy,
wealthy and wise, lived to a ripe old age and died peacefully in his sleep.
He should have claimed the
victory and he would have had it.  There’s
only one problem with that theology, it’s wrong.   And it has caused feelings of guilt and
discouragement in the lives of believers.
I truly believe that becoming a
Christian, a serious Christian sold out to God and committed to serving him
will often cause a person’s lot in life to improve.  You notice that I said often and not always,
and that’s because I am convinced that all generalizations are wrong.
Godly men and women who have
faithfully served God have suffered. 
Have suffered at the hands of others and have suffered at the hands of
fate they have suffered at the hands of illness and financial reversal.  And in many cases it’s not their fault, there
is no hidden sin in their lives, there is no lack of faith they still love God
and pray to him but listen up people they suffer because. . . you ready? Stuff
happens.  And that’s why God never promises
that we won’t go through trouble but he does promise that we won’t go through
it alone.    Deuteronomy 31:6 So be strong and courageous!
Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the LORD your God will
personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.”
And in the New Testament we
read Hebrews 13:5 For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never
abandon you.”

And scattered in between a half a dozen times the thought
is repeated.  Read it with me.  Hebrews 13:5 For God has said, “I will never
fail you. I will never abandon you.”

I wish I could stand up here
and wave a magic wand and put some kind of protective dome over you that would
keep you from all trouble and illness and heartache, but I can’t.  And if I stood up here and promised that all
you had to do was believe in God and be faithful and live a holy life and you’d
never have any troubles I would be lying to you.  Jesus said 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.

Not if you are mocked and persecuted but when you are
mocked and persecuted. 

2) Good Things Can Come of Bad
Things  There are a couple of verses in
the story of the stoning of Stephen that we would be negligent if we didn’t
look at. There is one of those bizarre little details recorded in Acts 7:58 and
dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their
coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul.
Interesting, only two people
are named in this account.  We don’t know
the names of the witness who lied about Stephen, the names of the high priests
aren’t recorded.  We know Stephen’s name
and we know the name of the young man who watched over the cloaks of those who
stoned Stephen, a young man by the name of Saul.  The last verse of chapter 7 records the death
of Stephen, it says Acts 7:60 He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge
them with this sin!” And with that, he died.
And if we skip down to the
first line of chapter 8 we read Acts 8:1 Saul was one of the witnesses, and he
agreed completely with the killing of Stephen.
There’s Saul again.  You may or may not be aware that the young
man who watched over the coats that day would later come face to face with
Jesus Christ and become a Christ follower. 
You might not know him as Saul but you would know him by the Greek
version of his name which was Paul.  He
wrote the majority of the New Testament and spread the gospel across Asia and
into Europe.  Augustine said “The church
owes Paul to the prayer of Stephen.”  This
was the same Paul who wrote 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.

I wonder if when Paul was writing those words if he was
thinking back to the day that he witnessed what the grace of God could do in
the life and death of a young believer named Stephen.  It was John Wesley who said The world can say
what it likes about us Methodist, but they have to admit: we die well.  I don’t believe for a minute that God set
Stephen up to die so that Paul would become a Christian, but He used it.  Perhaps he gave young Saul a nudge toward
that particular event on that day and the Holy Spirit reminded him about what
happened from time to time.

Seven years ago I sat with 30
pastors from the Wesleyan Church in Sierra Leone and they shared the horrors of
what happened during the ten year civil war. 
I tell people that I have not looked into the face of evil but I have
looked into the face of those who have. 
They had their buildings burnt, they were terrorized and forced to live
in the jungles surrounding their villages and towns.  They would gather together wherever they
could to worship during that time.  And
when the war was over and they returned to their villages and their churches
they discovered that the church had grown and become stronger during the
war.  Bizarre.  By the way I am planning a return trip to
Sierra Leone and will be taking a medical team along for the trip. 
If you are interested in going or
helping us go please talk to me.  This
commercial break was brought to you by Sierra Leone 2015. 
So to reiterate, Bad things
happen to Good People and Good Things Can Come of Bad Things. 
3)  That Doesn’t Always Make it Easy  I’m not sure if Stephen was married, if he
had kids, if his folks were still alive, but I’m pretty confident there were
those he left behind who missed him. 
I’m not sure that if they had of
known the final outcome if they would have voted in favour of the stoning.  Let’s see we will lose our loved one and in
exchange a man who didn’t have the guts to step in and help Stephen will get saved.
. . hmmmm.
One of the Pastor’s we spoke to in Sierra Leone was a lady
named Bindy and she lost a child during the war because they could not get
medical care.  Not sure if she was
convinced that it was worth it.
Bad things can happen to good
people, and good things can come of bad things, but that doesn’t make it any
easier.  And you telling people that it
should probably doesn’t help.  Illness,
tragedy, death, financial problem still hurt when we are going through them,
but the promise of God is still there Hebrews 13:5 For God has said, “I will
never fail you. I will never abandon you.”
4) We Won’t Always Know The End
Result.  Stephen died not knowing what
would happen with the church he had embraced. 
He knew he had been faithful and he died with the peace of knowing he
had done the right thing, even if it had cost him his life.  He knew the church was spreading through
Jerusalem and having an incredible impact in that area but he probably never
envisioned a movement that would affect more than Israel.  But let’s listen to how the next chapter
opens  Acts 8:1 Saul was one of the
witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen.  A great wave of persecution began that day,
sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the
apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria.
Up to that point the church was
confined to Palestine, if the apostles had even given thought of the last words
they heard Jesus speak they weren’t doing anything about it.  Remember what Jesus had told them Acts 1:8 But
you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my
witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea,
in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”   But they didn’t, they were stuck in
Jerusalem. 
Now remember the last part of Acts
8:1 . . .A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in
Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the
regions of Judea and Samaria.

It took Stephen’s death to move the church out of their
comfort zone and to begin doing what they were supposed to do.   In a very real sense we are here today
because Stephen was stoned two thousand years ago.  When you get to heaven be sure to thank him.

I don’t know what you are going through in your life right
now, maybe you’re on a mountain top or maybe you are in the valley or perhaps
you are somewhere in between.  But
remember Hebrews 13:5 For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never
abandon you.”

And you might be thinking, sure but what’s with all the
suit cases and trunks?

Well today was the beginning of our summer series, which
seems fitting because yesterday summer arrived and today is the first full day
of summer. 

We often focus on the Gospels and over the past few summers
we have very specifically focused on the words of Christ and the directions of
Christ.  But if the story had of ended
with the Gospels, even with the resurrection and the empty tomb it is doubtful
that it would have impacted the world the way it has.   

Sometimes you will hear people talking about how amazing it
is that a movement that began with a group of uneducated fisherman in a small
town in a small country in the Middle East could impact that world the way that
Christianity did.

But the reality is that if the movement had of stayed in
the hands of a group of uneducated fisherman it would have remained in the
small country in the Middle East. 

While the gospel story may have started with Jesus calling
Peter and Andrew, James and John to put down their nets, that wasn’t how it was
spread.  It was spread when a classically
educated man by the name of Saul of Tarsus met Jesus and became the Apostle
Paul.

And so this summer we are going to take a trip “Down the
Road” and we will join Paul and his various companions as they plant churches,
preach the Gospel and get into trouble. 
We will follow Paul as he leaves the Middle East and travels to what is
now modern day Turkey and then we’ll join him as he ventures even further and
lands in what we now call Europe and we will finish our story in a prison cell
as Paul writes letters to encourage the baby churches he had left behind. 

And through the journey we will be reminded with Paul of
the truth of Hebrews 13:5 For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will
never abandon you.”  Do you believe
that?  Can you claim it as your own
promise today?

Say What?



I didn’t know whether to be flattered or offended. Last week I received an e-mail from a preacher asking for my forgiveness.  And I wasn’t sure that he had done anything to me that I could forgive him for.
Apparently, he had preached some of my messages and had passed them off as his own, or it might be more accurate to say is that he tried to pass them off as his own because he got caught.  As I understand it, part of what was required of him by his elders was that he contact me and ask my forgiveness.  The problem is that I don’t think he wronged me. 
Many of my sermons are posted online for preachers to use.  I assume they will use them as a resource in preparing their own messages, but I’ve been wrong before.  I truly believe that there is no limit to the good that can be done if you don’t care who gets the credit. (I stole that quote)
The problem of course wasn’t that he was preaching messages that I wrote, the problem was he wanted people to believe that he had written the messages himself so he was guilty of lying to his church and would need to seek forgiveness from them, not me.  Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

The Hope of the Father. The Rest of the Story Part 3

Well here we are, week three of
our look at the Prodigal Son and the rest of the story. And all three of our
weeks have their beginning in Luke 15:11 To
illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons.”
In week one we looked at the younger son, the “Prodigal
Son”.  We always picture him as a young
man, in his late teens or early twenties but there is no evidence of that.  All we know is that he was younger than his
brother.  My father is the younger son,
and he is 76. 
And we began with him because really the story is about him
and the choices he made. You will recall that he asked his father to divide the
family estate between himself and his older brother.  And the story tells us that the Father did
exactly that, and the younger brother took his share and wasted it on wild
living, reckless living, prodigal living, depending on the translation you use. 
But he chose to live that way, nobody put a gun to his head
and forced him to spend all his money in wild living it was a choice he made,
I’m sure he could identify with Oscar Wilde who
said, “I can resist everything except temptation.”
And you know the story, eventually a famine came upon the
land and the young man had spent all of his money.  And it is remarkable how quickly fair weather
friends disappear when the fair weather ends. 
And this brother ends up, we
are told, tending pigs.  Pigs!  For a Jew of that day, there would be no
other job that signified the bottom of the barrel like tending pigs.  In the Old Testament we are told in Leviticus
11:7-8
The pig has evenly split hooves but does
not chew the cud, so it is unclean. You may not eat the meat of these animals
or even touch their carcasses. They are ceremonially unclean for you. And
I would suspect that the law had a very practical purpose, it was for the
people’s protection.  It would have been
very difficult for pork to be cooked to a safe temperature.  And here he was taking care of pigs.  And the bible tells us that the son “Came to
his senses”.  And he realized that even
the hired hands back home were treated better then he was.
And so in the same way that he
chose to leave home, he chose to return home. 
But much to his surprise he was greeted not as a servant but as a son.  And his father threw a party for his son to
celebrate his return home. 
But not everyone was happy, in
particular his older brother. 
In week one we looked at why
the younger brother needed to be celebrated. 
That he was willing to acknowledge that he had done wrong, that he was
willing to return to his father that he was willing to own up to his mistakes.
Those are the steps that still
lead each one of us home to the father.
Last week we looked at the
Morning after the Party.  And part of
that was celebrating the faithfulness of the older son.  You know the one who took care of his parents
and got up every day and went to work doing the things that needed to be
done. 
And we talked about how the
same God who can deliver us from sin can give us the strength that will keep us
from sin, how he will and does answer the prayer, “Lead me not into
temptation.”
And I mentioned how it somehow
seems easier to celebrate the person who beats an addiction then to celebrate
the person who never took the first drink or smoked their first cigarette.   It was Mark
Twain who said “It is easier to stay out
than get out.”
And that seemed like a fitting
message to deliver on the day we were celebrating our High School
Graduates.  “It
is easier to stay out than get out.”
And both of those messages
dealt with choices, good choices and bad choices but choices never the
less.  And it is a reminder that kids can
be raised in the same home by the same parents and still choose to take very
different paths in life. 
And for all their differences in their attitudes and the
choices that they made the one thing that the two sons had in common was their
father.  And so today, on Father’s day it
is quite fitting to look at the father. 
So let’s start at the beginning
because that is usually the best place to start.  Jesus has been telling his followers how much
God loves lost people and after he tells a story about a man finding his lost
sheep and a woman finding her lost coin and then we read.  Luke 15:11-12 To
illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons.
The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you
die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.
He
Hoped for the Best for his Children 
I’m
not sure what the father’s first reaction was when he heard his son’s request,
but he decided that this might be a good thing for his sons.  Maybe it was time that they took control of
their own destiny.  And that is something
we often long for; it’s part of growing up. 
I grew up in a home full of poetry, my dad
loves poetry and was often reciting bits and pieces of poems, many of them
nonsensical, like: I never saw a Purple Cow, I
never hope to see one; But I can tell you, anyhow, I’d rather see than be
one.  Or Last
night I saw upon the stairs, A little man who wasn’t there, He wasn’t there
again today, Oh how I wish he’d go away
But the one that seemed to resonate most with
Dad was a poem called Invictus by William Ernest Henley and part of it says:
It matters not how
strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.
That is the desire for most of us, to be the
master of our fate and the captain of our souls.  And while as parents we know that and we
experienced it ourselves there is this desire for many of us to hold on as long
as we can before we let go.  But
eventually we need to let go.  And it’s
not easy, ever.  I googled “Letting your
children go” and I got 40,300 hits.
Malcolm
Forbes reminds us “Let your children go if
you want to keep them.”  You
understand that you can’t hold unto them forever?  That was never the plan.  Way back in the book of Genesis we are told Genesis
2:24
This explains why a man leaves his father
and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. And
then Jesus reiterates it in Matthew 19:5 And
Jesus said, ‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined
to his wife, and the two are united into one.’   And remember this wasn’t after he
graduated from high school and then did his undergraduate work, got a master’s
degree and got settle in a career.  I
would imagine that this wasn’t long after he became a teen and started tending
his own field.
And we can and should do everything we can to prepare our kids and ourselves
for that day.  But finally you have to
take your hands off and hope for the best. 
How many of you as a kid ever rode your bike
with no hands?  Do you remember the
feeling?  You would take them off a
little bit and put them right back on and then take them further back and wait
a little longer before you put them back on the handlebars. 
And eventually you got to the place that you
could take them off, but you still hoped for the best.
We don’t know what happened
before the story began but we would suspect that he had brought his boys up
right, that he had taught them spiritual values and prayed for them.  He did what he could, remember Solomon’s
advice in  Proverbs 22:6 Direct
your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave
it.
He did what he could do.  But there were things he couldn’t do, he
couldn’t make the choices.  And we want
to do that for our kids, mine are grown up and I still want to do that.  A few years ago Great Big Sea had a song out
called Captain Kidd.  Listen to the
words.   My
father taught me well, To shun the gates of hell, But against him I rebelled as
I sailed, He shoved a bible in my hand But I left it in the sand.
And so he took his hands off and hoped for the
best.  And one of the boys settled in,
joined the family business and acted responsibly.  The other not so much.  And I’m sure that there were times the father
wished that he could turn back the clock? Or flip over the hour glass or
whatever he would have used.
There were probably times that he wondered
what would have happened if he had of waited a little longer, perhaps his
younger son would have matured.  Perhaps
he thought about what would have happened if he had of put conditions on how
the money was spent. Or if he of just simply said “You’ll have to wait until I
die”
He probably knew his son’s character, but he
was willing to take a chance and hope for the best. 
Luke 15:20 “So
he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his
father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son,
embraced him, and kissed him.
He Believed
for the Best for his Children 
I
wonder how many days he had waited and watched for his son’s return?  This was a time without Skype or face time,
no email or telephones.  So he probably
didn’t know for sure where his son was or what he was doing. 
For the matter he didn’t know if his son was
dead or alive.  But there was a belief
deep in his heart that someday his son would return and when that happened he
wanted to be ready. 
And so he prayed and he waited.  But more than that, he prayed believing.  He had prepared for the day that his son
would come home. 
He had his robe waiting, he had his ring
waiting and a new pair of sandals waiting. 
I wonder if the calf had been fattened for this particular moment, if
there was always a calf ready for the celebration.  And how many calves had become full grown
cows through the time the father had waited for his son to return? 
When we pray for our kid’s
salvation do we pray believing? Or do we pray hoping?  You might remember a story in the book of
Acts.  It’s in Acts chapter 12, King
Herod has had James the brother of John executed and now he was Peter arrested
and thrown into prison to await his execution. 
And the church comes together to pray for their leader.  We are told in Acts 12:12 that they had
gathered in the home of John Mark’s mother Mary, specifically to pray for
Peter.
Well if you know the story
Peter is miraculously delivered from prison and shows up at Mary’s house, listen
to the response of those praying for his deliverance.  Acts 12:12-15 When
he realized this, he went to the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where
many were gathered for prayer. He knocked at the door in the gate, and a
servant girl named Rhoda came to open it. When she recognized Peter’s voice,
she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the door, she ran back inside and
told everyone, “Peter is standing at the door!” “You’re out of your mind!” they
said. When she insisted, they decided, “It must be his angel.”
They were hoping he would be
delivered but didn’t actually believe it would happen. 
The father knew that one day
his son would return and he was ready. 
We don’t know how long he had watched and how long he waited but when
his son returned he was ready.  I wonder
what would have happened if the day before he decided that it was never going
to happen and he gave away the robe, the ring and the sandals and released the
fattened calf?
If your prodigal child showed up in church
today would you be surprised?
Let’s go on with the story.
Luke 15:28 “The
older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him
. . .   
He Worked
for the Best for his Children 
So we
know the story, younger brother asks for his inheritance and the father divides
his estate between the two boys.  The
younger brother heads for the big city and over a period of time blows his
inheritance on cigarettes and whisky and wild wild women, or the like.  A famine comes across the land and he is now
broke and friendless ends up working for a pig farmer where he comes to his
senses and returns home where he is welcomed back with open arms and a
celebration.  But not by everyone.
The older brother, the faithful brother gets
his nose out of joint and gets a pout on. 
Now the father could have said “well boys will be boys, they’ll get over
it.”  But he knew how important this was
and he wasn’t leaving this one to chance, Cain and Abel didn’t get over it. 
He knew that this was a relationship that
needed to be mended.  They would live
together and work together.  And sibling
relationships are complicated.  Love the
story of the Sunday School teacher who was teaching her class the Ten
Commandments and after talking about honour your mother and your father asked
the kids if there were any commandments that applied to the children’s brothers
and sisters.  To which one little guy
responded “do not kill”. 
I would suspect that until you move out and
get married there isn’t anyone that you spend as much time with as your
siblings.  You play with them, you fight
with them, you go to school with them, you even might share a room with them. 
And in most cases it will be the relationship
that last longer than any other.  I was
talking to a gentleman the other day who was in a dispute with his brothers and
sisters over the division of their mother’s estate.  And lifelong relationships are in danger
because of stuff.
And I’ve seen that happen over and over again.
And this is a tangent but make sure you have a
will and make sure that your kids know what’s in it.  And don’t make promises or allude to promises
that you don’t intend to keep.  In our
case we are going to make it simple, we are going to spend it all before we
die.
There are times that we can’t just hope and
believe for our kids, sometimes we need to intervene.  And the father knew he couldn’t force the
older brother to like his younger brother, but he could show him the truth of
the relationship. 
So listen to the conversation
that the Father has with his eldest.  Luke
15:28-30
“The older brother was angry and wouldn’t
go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, ‘All these years
I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to.
And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my
friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on
prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’
Now listen to the father’s
response in the next two verses.  Luke
15:31-32
“His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son,
you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to
celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life!
He was lost, but now he is found!’”
Did you catch what I missed for
years?  When the older brother is airing
his complaints he makes this statement.  Yet
when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes .
. .This son of yours, your son did this. 
But listen to the father’s response, For your brother was
dead and has come back to life!  He
not just my son, he’s your brother.  The
brother you played with, the brother that you shared a room with, the brother
that you fought with and fought for.
It probably wasn’t an easy
conversation for the father to have, but because he wanted the very best for
his sons he was willing to have it.
Sometimes we hope for the best
for our kids and we pray and believe for the best for our kids, but do we
actually take the time and do the work? 
Have you ever talked to your
kids about their spiritual needs?  Have
you ever asked them the hard questions about their eternity or do you hope
Pastor Marilyn and her crew will do it on Sunday in Jr. Church, or Pastor Ben
will do it Wednesday nights at youth group or I will do it on Sunday Morning?
So we are we today, on this
Father’s Day 2014?  And really this isn’t
just for fathers it for parents and it’s not just for parents it for any one of
you who has a loved one or friend who doesn’t have a relationship with
Jesus. 
Do you pray in expectation that
one day they will cross over the line to begin a relationship with Jesus?  And have you invited them to. 

It was twenty years ago today. . .


It was twenty years ago today. . ., and you might be thinking. . . that ” Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play….. but that’s just showing your age.  It was twenty years ago today that the Guptills arrived back in Canada with the dream of a new church that would impact a community and make a Kingdom difference.  A church that would reach the pre-churched, the de-churched and the un-churched.   And a lot has happened since then, much of it unplanned and so here we are.
Cornerstone has seen a lot of changes since the day that it existed only in my dreams.  We worshipped in movie theatres, schools, retirement homes, conference rooms and parks before we finally settled into our own building.   The music has changed, the overhead projector made room for PowerPoint and suits gave way to jeans but the dream isn’t over. 

My friend and mentor Laurel Buckingham used to cast a vision for the day when the most disinterested person in Moncton wouldn’t be able to ignore the presence of Moncton Wesleyan Church.  
And I continue to dream of how Cornerstone can continue to impact the community, make a Kingdom difference and reach the pre-churched, the de-churched and the un-churched.  And we won’t be ignored.  Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

The Morning After the Night Before The Rest of the Story, Part 2

You have all felt the feeling or have
heard of someone who has.  “The dreaded
morning after the night before.”  You
hadn’t intended on staying at the party that long, you knew that you had to get
up the next morning and yet there it was. 
As some people say, “It is what it is.” 
The year I graduated from High School, I
was still a year from becoming a Christ follower and I spent part of that year
with my Dad on a commercial fishing boat.  I was the youngest member of the crew and I
wanted to run with the big boys.  And
there were nights when we were in port that we got back to the boat a little
late and my father had little or no sympathy for our shenanigans and in the
morning he would arrive in our rooms and announce, “Gentlemen if you are going
to dance you are going to have to pay the fiddler!”  And it seemed the later we had stayed out the
night before, the more work he had for us the morning after, or maybe it was
just my imagination.  Maybe you’ve been
there, or maybe you can only imagine.
In the scripture that was read this
morning we heard events that led up to a party, a party that most of us are
familiar with, it is the story that Jesus told of the prodigal son. 
Last week we looked at the story, and it
begins with these words. Luke 15:11-12 To illustrate the point further, Jesus
told them this story: “A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, ‘I
want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to
divide his wealth between his sons. 
There were two sons in the story, two
because three would have been too many and one would have been too few. 
Last Sunday we focused on the younger
son, the one we know as the Prodigal Son. 
How he asked his father to divide his estate. 
Tradition tells us that the estate would
have been divided with the older son getting the bigger half, in this case he
would have received 2/3 and the younger brother would have received 1/3. 
Which would be fair if you were the
older son but maybe wouldn’t seem so fair if you were the younger son.  But of course that goes back to “It is what
it is” as well.
Of course along with the 2/3 that the
older brother would receive he would also be responsible for his parent’s well-being
as they got older.  The younger son on
the other hand would get his 1/3 with no strings attached.  
I don’t know if the older son wanted his
share up front or not, but he got it, and with it he got the responsibility of
dealing with Ma and Pa.  Now what the
sons received was not necessarily just money, although that was a good part of
it.  But the most important thing that
the sons received was control over their destiny.  Up to that point they were still under Dad’s
control but with their inheritance they obtained their freedom.
The father was saying, “I love you my
son, enough that I’m ready to let go”
Now we can draw a parallel here with the
gift of free will that we are given by God.  God is saying, “My child I love you, I love
you so much that I never want to be separated from you, and I would never hurt
you, and there are times I wish I could keep you from sinning.  But I loved you so much that I gave you your
freedom, even if you use it to be separated from me.” 
This man loved his son more than words
could express and even though he probably had an inkling of what might lay
ahead for his youngest he loved him enough to give him the freedom to choose
his own path. 
This is of course an analogy for the
free will that our heavenly Father gives us, the freedom to make good choices
or the freedom to make bad choices.  But
it is a freedom and they are our choices. 
Well I’m sure you know the story and if you don’t you can probably guess
what happens next: Jesus continues the story in Luke 15:13 “A few days later this younger son packed all his
belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in
wild living. 

The younger son chose to leave home and he chose
how he would spend his money and if you are familiar with the parable you know
that there came a time that after he had spent all his money he had to take a
job tending pigs to survive.  And that’s
where we pick up the story in Luke 15:17-19 When he
finally came to his senses, he said to himself, “At home even the hired
servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go
home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and
I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired
servant.” 

And that’s
exactly what he did. He chose to go home, where his father greeted him with
open arms threw him a party, told the servants to get him the finest outfit to
wear and a new pair of shoes and presented him a ring to wear, probably the
family crest.  And a good time was had by
all, not.  Luke 15:25-28 Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned
home, he heard music and dancing in the house, and he asked one of the servants
what was going on. ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has
killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’ “The
older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in.
This is where
it gets interesting because normally at this point in the message the Pastor is
all excited about the kid returning home and expects everyone else to be excited
and starts talking about what a jerk the older brother was.  We hear about the need for forgiveness and
the need for grace and how the older brother was harbouring bitterness in his
heart and probably had served his father out of a sense of obligation and
without love.  And the story often
digresses and we feel sorry for the younger brother and really start to dislike
the older brother.
Can I make a
confession here?  Sure I can, I wouldn’t
have gone to the stupid party either.  I
know that probably makes me petty and spiteful but I don’t care, one of my
childhood heroes used to say “I ‘yams whats I ams, and dats all that I ‘yams”
Christ told
the story to illustrate how God loves lost people and the concept of
repentance, grace and forgiveness.  We
get that.  We understand that the
Prodigal is the definition of the antihero. 
Dictionary.com
defines
him this way
an·ti·he·ro [an-tee-heer-oh,
an-tahy-] noun, plural an·ti·he·roes.
a protagonist who lacks the
attributes that make a heroic figure, as nobility of mind and spirit, a life or
attitude marked by action or purpose, and the like.
But the hero
of the story is the guy who didn’t forsake his parents, the guy who fulfilled
his obligations and got up every morning and did the job that he was supposed
to do.  There was no wild living, no
partying, nothing to be sorry for. 
My daughter
used to get frustrated when she would go to the Encounter Weekend at Kingswood
University each fall and they would always have some student speak to the group
of high school students, telling them how bad they had been with Cigarettes and
whiskey and wild wild women, and how God reached down and touched them and
brought them to Bible College.  And
Deborah would ask, “What about us good kids? 
It’s like we have less of a story.” 
And she is
right and her first year at Bible College she did as only Deborah can do and
positioned herself so she got to tell her story at Booster.  How the same God who was able to deliver
people from their mistakes and habits was also able to keep people from making
those mistakes. That when we pray “lead us not into temptation” that we can
expect that God will answer that prayer. 
And let’s not
forget when we celebrate the alcoholic who finally quits drinking that we
should be celebrating the person who never starts as well.  That it’s wonderful when someone gives up
smoking but let’s not forget the person who never took a puff to start. 
And while
sometimes the church wants to hold up the person who has been rescued from a
life of sexual misfortune we forget that the heroes are those who can walk the
wedding aisle wearing white and not feel guilty.
So yeah, the
older brother might have been a smuck but I don’t blame him. 
So you know
the story, the father gets a fancy robe for the kid, a new pair of shoes puts a
ring on his finger and throws him a party, ya-hoo.  And while Jesus finishes the story with the
celebration that’s not where the story ends.
There Was a Price to be Paid
Fast forward
a few hours later, the sun is just peeking up over the horizon, kid brother is
enjoying sleeping in a real bed in who knows how long without a pig cuddled up
to him and suddenly there is a pounding at his bedroom door.  “Go away” he hollers.  “Can’t go away” comes the reply “It’s time to
go to work.” “Work?” Says the kid, “it’s still dark out, normally I’m just
getting to bed.”
Now if the
guy on the other side of the door had of been my daddy he would have said “If
you are going to dance then you gotta pay the fiddler.”  But the guy on the other side of the door
wasn’t my daddy he was the older brother.
You
understand the story right?  Back at the
beginning of the story that we read the father divided his wealth between his
two sons.  The younger son got his third
and he blew it.  The older brother got
his 2/3.  So have you done the math?  Dad has 3/3, Older brother gets 2/3 that
leaves 1/3 then younger brother gets 1/3 which leaves Daddy with Zip, nothing,
nada.  He had given his sons all he had
and his oldest son was given the responsibility of taking care of his parents.
Get the
picture, daddy gave his younger son a beautiful robe, the older brother owned
the closet.  The Prodigal son got a ring,
the faithful son owned the jewellery box. 
Yep, baby brother got the fattened calf the rest of the herd belonged to
. . . you got it.
Not trying to
demean the saving power of God.  I was a
prodigal, I spoke at Kingswood when I was there and told how God had reached
down and pulled me out of the miry clay and delivered me from cigarettes and
whiskey and wild wild women.  I truly
believe that when I came and repented of my sins and became a Christ follower
that there was a celebration in heaven.
And my sin
was forgiven but it had left its mark.   I
craved cigarettes for years after I quit, don’t think I wished I had never
smoked my first one.  If you never take
the first drink you will never have a problem with an alcohol addiction and
probably with any other drug.  For years
we were taught that Marijuana was the gateway drug, the drug that opened the
door to harder drugs.  New research is
telling us that it not pot it booze.  And
that often that first drink comes from the parents stash, just saying.
Remember it was
Mark
Twain who said  “It is easier
to stay out than get out.”
I could never
give my bride the same gift she gave me, and it made for awkward question and
answer times when my kids were teenagers. 
Yes there is forgiveness and yes we become a new creation, but in some
cases you can’t unring the bell. 
If you lived
a hard life there will be physical, emotional and spiritual consequences.  There are times you might wish you could turn
back the clock and live your life over but you can’t.
There Were Things to Be Done The prodigal was no longer a Lone Ranger, only looking out for
himself.  Now he was part of a family
with all that entailed.  In the prodigal’s
case there was work that had to be done around the farm.  Everyday things that being a part of the
family involved.  Chores that had to be
done, things that needed to be taken care of. 
Maybe big
things like taking care of the herds and minor things like putting his dirty
dishes in the dishwasher and helping out around the house.  There are responsibilities that come with
being a part of the family.  But there
was also family time, together time. Having dinner with the family and the
laughter and joy that come from shared experiences.
The kid didn’t just come
home and pretend that he was still on his own, and that wasn’t a bad
thing.  When he came home he was just
looking for a job Luke
15:17-19
When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home
even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of
hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against
both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please
take me on as a hired servant.””    And
he was accepted back, not as a servant, but as the son he was. 
When we ask Christ to
forgive us and accept His direction in our lives he gives us the greatest gift
of all, a gift that can’t be earned and isn’t deserved, it’s spelled out in John 1:12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the
right to become children of God. 
But that morning when the
sons went to work they did different things. 
Older brother had been doing this for years, he knew what he had to do
and he did it.  Younger brother was
starting from scratch there were things that needed to be learned or
re-learned, relationships that had to be built or re-built.  They were both sons but they were at different
rungs on the ladder, at different stages in their lives.
The analogy for our
becoming Christ Followers is to become born again or to become children.  And just like there are stages in a child’s
growth and progress there are stages in a new believer’s growth and
progress.  In Hebrews 6:1-2 there is a
warning that is addressed to mature believers but in that warning comes
direction for new believers.  Hebrews 6:1-2 So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ
again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding.
Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of
repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God. You don’t need further
instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the
dead, and eternal judgment.
So those of us who have
been on the way and in the way for years, we don’t have to be relearning the
basics of Christianity over and over again. 
Sometimes I wonder how many people are in programs like Alpha just need
to grow up.  So for some of us it’s time
to grow up, to learn to feed ourselves and do the work of the Kingdom.  Two mistakes that we so often make is
expecting too much from our new believers and too little from those who have
been around for a while.

However the implication is there for new believers that a foundation does have
to be laid.  You do need to learn about repenting
of evil deeds, and that means learning that some behaviour is unacceptable for
a Christ Follower.  You need to learn
about placing your faith in God and being baptized and you need to learn about
the fundamentals of the faith.

They
Were Both Honoured 
The problem with
the big brother wasn’t that he was spiteful or unforgiving it was just that he
was human.  For better or for worse the
burning question on our hearts is “What about me?” If you know the story he
comes home hears about the party and goes to his room to pout, exactly what I
would have done, but only after I found out if they had my favourite food, spiteful
yes, stupid no.
And so his father goes to his room and begged him to
come down and this is the brother’s response Luke 15:29-30 He replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved
for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all
that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends.
Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on
prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’
You know who was to blame
here right?  Yep, the old man.  If what his oldest son said was true, and we
have no reason to doubt it, then Dad fell down here by taking his son for
granted.  He probably thought his son
already knew how he felt and how appreciative he was, after all he had given
him the farm.  And as parents and spouses
and employers and teachers and as a church we can learn a valuable lesson from
that. 
But whether it was
verbalized or not he was honoured that way, he would have things that his
younger brother would never have.
And for those of you who
have “always” been Christians, you will have some things that those who come to
know Christ later will never have. 
Including making the trip without having to haul around a pile of
baggage with you. 
But his Father was
correct in his response as well Luke 15:31-32 “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have
always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this
happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost,
but now he is found!’”  There does
need to be a celebration of Grace when someone comes into the Kingdom.  It’s not a little thing it is an eternal
thing.  There were lost but now they are
found, there were dead and now they have come back to life.  Jesus said that the angels rejoice when one
sinner comes to repentance, and we should do the same.
And remember it’s not how
you start the race; ultimately it’s how you finish the race that counts.

Cheer Up Ye Saints of God, there’s nothing to Worry About, (Everyone on the Chorus)


It was a beautiful morning and as I walked toward my Smart Car I pushed the magic button that would retract the roof.  Really, what’s the sense of having a convertible roof that you can open with a button if you never open it with the button?  And as the roof began to open a horrible screeching sound started and my first thought was “Great, just what I need.” It had been that type of week….. I mean month. And then the noise stopped and I realized that my neighbour was using a pressure washer. 
And I immediately asked myself, “Why had I defaulted to the negative?”  I consider myself to have a fairly positive outlook as I’m the kid still digging for the pony. And yet I have discovered that lately I have been allowing my circumstances to dictate how I view life. And that’s not the person I want to be. 
And so I am choosing to embrace the positive, notice that I said choosing, because I believe, at least in my case, I have the ability to make that choice.
And really, it’s no harder to look for the positive in life rather than the negative.  So why not try it and let me know who it turns out.         Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

The Prodigal The Rest of the Story Part 1

What would be the worst job that you
could possibly imagine yourself in?  If
the bottom fell out of your world, and you had no safety net what would be on
the very bottom of the list of occupations? 
Perhaps the person in charge of Rob Ford’s Public image?
Now imagine if you will that
you had been born into a very wealthy and privileged family, never had to work
a day in your life, enjoyed everything that life had to offer and suddenly it
was all taken from you.  You had gone
from the top to the bottom in less time than it took to say it, and now you
were at the very bottom of the food chain. 
No job experience, unused to physical labor and hungry.  What would you be willing to do to keep from starving
to death?
Jesus tells the story in the
book or Luke and it begins with the scripture that was read earlier, Luke 15:11 To illustrate
the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons.”
Had to be two sons for the master story teller, one would
have been have been too few, three or more would complicate the story.  So there were two sons.  An older son to whom 2/3 of the family’s
estates would go to.  But as Peter Parker
was told, with great power comes great responsibility, and so he would be
expected to take care of Mom and Dad.
The younger son, would get the remaining
one third of the family fortune and he would be free to either hang around or
hit the road it would be up to him, he’d get his 1/3 either way.  A story that could have been told about you
or about me there was nothing special about these two kids they were just
people. 
Most of us know it as the story of the
Prodigal son, but it could have been called the Story of the Forgiving Father,
or the Story of the Unforgiving Brother.


And so the story goes on, Luke 15:11-12 To illustrate
the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. The younger
son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So
his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.
Now as we mentioned before that 1/3 of
the family fortune, whether big or small would have been his when his father
died, but hey who wants to wait around for that?  And so he said, “Hey Dad, why can’t I have my
share now?”  We don’t know what the
Father’s initial reaction to his son’s demand was but we do know that eventually,
he divided his property between both sons, not simply the younger one. 
I don’t know if the older son wanted his
share up front or not, but he got it, and with it he got the responsibility of
dealing with Ma and Pa.  Now what the
sons received was not necessarily just money, although that was a good part of
it.  But the most important thing that
the sons received was control over their destiny.  Up to that point they were still under Dad’s
control but with their inheritance they obtained their freedom.
The father was saying, “I love you my
son, enough that I’m ready to let go”
Now we can draw a parallel here with the
gift of free will that we are given by God. 
God is saying, “My child I love you, I love you so much that I never
want to be separated from you, and I would never hurt you, and there are times
I wish I could keep you from sinning. 
But I loved you so much that I gave you your freedom, even if you use it
to be separated from me.” 
This man loved his son more than words
could express and even though he probably had an inkling of what might lay
ahead for his youngest he loved him enough to give him the freedom to choice
his own path.
Luke
15:13
“A few days later this younger son
packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all
his money in wild living.
1) He Chose to Leave
His father had given him control, and he stayed only long
enough to decide to leave.  So he
gathered up his choice and his free will and left home.  In the story Jesus tells us that the son left
for a distant land, but he didn’t have to he could have moved next door and the
story would have stayed pretty much the same. 
Jesus said that he wasted his money in wild living, but he didn’t have
to he could have invested it carefully and lived comfortably ever after.  But he didn’t
He chose to leave and he left.  Different translation use different words to
describe how he spent his money.  The
NKJV called it Prodigal, the KJ called it riotous, the TEV said it was reckless
and the NIV and CEV call it wild living. 
Now to be truthful we really don’t know what the kid did with his money,
“Prodigal Living?”  I didn’t even know
that prodigal was a word. 
But we can take a pretty good guess. In
the end, he blew his money.  Bought a new
Harley, got himself a condo in Miami Beach and threw a party, he got down and
funky.  I’m sure that he was having a
blast as a matter of fact if you could have caught his attention and asked
him:  “Excuse me Mr. Prodigal, what
exactly are you doing.”  I’m sure that he
would have said, “I’m enjoying myself.”  And
maybe then you could have responded with, “well perhaps you think you are
enjoying yourself but in reality you are miserable.”
You ever heard Christians use that line
of reasoning with pre-Christians?  Or
preachers take that track, “Oh sinners you might think you’re having fun, you
might think you have the world by the tail, you might think you’re having a
hoot, but you’re not kidding me, I know that you are really having a terrible
time.”  Uh-huh.  Right, if sin wasn’t fun it wouldn’t be a
temptation. 
Face it if sin were like root canal people
wouldn’t be lining up to get in the dental chair.  Here’s the reality though folks, sin may be
fun but it ain’t permanent.  Although the
price you pay may be.
Even the word of God acknowledges that in
Hebrews 11:25 when it talks about the
pleasures of sin that last for a short time. 
It doesn’t say that sin isn’t pleasurable, but it does say that it’s not
going to last forever.  And your ability
to play is directly proportional to your ability to pay.  Now I know the mind set of “Well I know when
it’s time to quit” and I’m going to have 
a little bit of fun now and then I’ll serve the Lord, I will sow my wild
oats and pray for crop failure.


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, “Sin will
always take you further then you want to go,
It will always keep you longer then you want to stay
And it will always cost you more then what you want to pay.”
But don’t get me wrong prodigal is not
simply a matter of a wild and crazy style of life, uh, huh.  He could have married the girl next door,
lived in a split level tent and drove a four door chariot and still not been
right.
When we decide to do what we
want to do at the expense of what God wants us to do we are in trouble.  And the time will come in every one of our
lives that we have to make that very decision and as that great American
philosopher Yogi Bearra said, “When you come to a fork in the road take it.”  God won’t simply let you coast.  You say, “But Denn, I haven’t made a choice
not to serve God”, maybe not but you haven’t made the decision to serve him
either, and you need to come to the place that Joshua did in Joshua 24:15 when he told the people of Israel 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.”
Now we can approach this from a different
angle.  Maybe the son did make a
conscience decision to remain with his father but after a while changed his
mind.  You know there were too many
rules, wanted to let his hair down, sow his wild oats.  He may very well have been a perfect son
while he was home, but now he is gone.
Now I know that people want to play games
with this one and say, “See that proves that if you are a Christian and you
backslide, or walk away from the Lord that you will come back.”  Nope the story said he did come back, not
that he had to come back.  We can get
into all kinds of arguments by saying “well what if he had died when he was
still in the foreign land?”  Well
personally I feel that he would have died a pauper and been buried in an
unknown grave because he had choose to leave the privileges of being his father’s
son far behind.  But not everyone
believes that way, and I’ve been wrong before.
But you do understand that he had blown it.  He had walked away from his relationship with
his father and he had blown it.  And he
was able to come back and he did come back and the moral of the story is that
you can come back too.  Luke 15:14 About the time
his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve.
Denn’s translation was, “He was broke” and remember what I
said earlier about your ability to play being directly proportional to your
ability to pay.  You got it!  When the money dried up so did his friends.  It wasn’t the famine that made his life
wrong, but it took the famine to show him that his life was wrong.
And you know as well as I do that you can
be surrounded by everything you ever wanted, craved and coveted and still be
empty.  You can have a beautiful family,
a wonderful job, everything the Jones have and more.  Be secure, confident and comfortable and
still be experiencing a famine in your life. 
Because those things only fill a temporal need.  The one big need we have is to be at one with
our maker.
There are all kinds of people out there
who look like they have the world by the tail, but they are out of step with
God.  There comes a time in our lives
when we look around at all we have accumulated and say “What does it all mean?” 
We can be prodigal and not even know
it.  We’ve developed a twisted sense of
what being out of the will of God is.  If
a woman cheats on her husband and lies about it then she’s out of the will of
God.  If a man is a wife beating drunkard
then he is out of the will of God.  Sure,
but so is the nice clean cut business person who only attends church to keep up
appearances.  You ok?
Because in the book of John 3:3 Jesus said, John
3:3
Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth,
unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
It has
nothing to do with what occupation you have, what church you go to or how you
vote, Unless a person chooses to begin a relationship with God, in effect
beginning a new life, experiencing a new birth, 
then they are choosing to remain separated from God.
But the story doesn’t end
there.  In Luke
15:16
The young man became so hungry that
even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him
anything.
He was broke, destitute, without hope and
without prospects.  He was so far down he
had to look up to see the bottom.  He
hired himself out as a pig keeper, now for you being a pig keeper might not be
bad, but remember where the story was taking place and how it was laid down in
the Old Testament that the pig was an unclean animal.
This boy was had broken every barrier and
now this was the final insult, to be a pig keeper.  Ouch that had to hurt.  You know a lot of us have been pig farmers,
and we’ve discovered that just because you’re down in the swill and dirt you’re
not alone.  People have been there before
and crawled out and so can you. 
Sometimes it isn’t even all that dirty, sometimes swill is served on
fancy china in a swank restaurant, you know what I mean.  Cause if you are supposed to be a child of
the King and you’re not then everything else is just swill.
Luke
15:17
“When he finally came to his senses,
he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare,
and here I am dying of hunger!
And then one day he woke up and
said, “Whoa Nellie, what am I doing?”   I’m sure that he knew it all along, but he
finally admitted it.  You ever been
there, you ever know what you should be doing, and what you shouldn’t be doing
and just refuse to acknowledge it?  But
in his case it took more than knowledge, it took action.  It wasn’t enough to simply acknowledge the
truth he needed to act upon it. And so if we continue to read in the story we
discover in Luke 15:18 I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned
against both heaven and you. . .
I would think that this would have been
tough.  Imagine having to go back, cap in
hand and admit that you had been wrong, ever had to do it?  It’s not the easiest job in the world to
do.  But he recognized that he blew it.
It’s only when you can get to the point
that you can finally admit that it is not your parents, and not society, and
not your spouse but you who are responsible for
where you are, that you can move on. 
Christ won’t come as your personal saviour until you take
personal responsibility for your sins. 
Luke 15:20 “So he returned home to his father.
. .” 
2) He Chose to Return
It’s not rocket science to figure this one out people, the
kid returned home.  It doesn’t matter
what your theological position is, the fact is that the prodigal son went home,
he didn’t stay in a far off land, he didn’t stay feeding pigs instead he went
back to his father’s house.
You have to make that first
step, if you have walked away from the Father, you have to walk back to the
Father, he’s not going to carry you kicking and screaming. I love the last part
of this verse because it says Luke 15:20 “So he
returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father
saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced
him, and kissed him.”
His father didn’t drag him home, but he
must have been watching and waiting for him to come back because when he was
still a long way off, his father saw him. 
He probably kept a porch light on and got up every morning thinking
perhaps today will be the day my son will come home.
If you’ve walked away from God
I want you to know that he’s left the porch light on for you.  And notice that the Son didn’t come back as a
second class citizen, the father didn’t give him a job with the workers in Luke 15:22-24 “But his father
said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on
him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we
have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was
dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the
party began.
The Father forgave his son, not just a
little bit but completely.  Because with
complete repentance comes complete forgiveness. 
So, where you at this morning?  Do you need to come home?  The Father still has a light on and there is
still a celebration waiting, listen to Jesus words in Luke 15:10 In the same
way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner
repents.”