Down the Road, Paul and the Storm

Have you ever been in a really great storm?  I mean a doozy of a storm?  Do you remember when Juan swept through in
September 03?  I woke up in the middle of
the night when the power went out, it actually flickered and the printer cycled
on and off and woke me up.  I remember
hearing the wind and rain and looking out the window into the pitch black night
and thinking “What a waste of a good storm, I can’t see it.”  We had friends at the time who were single
and silly and they got in their jeep and spent the night chasing the hurricane
around the city, they went down to the waterfront in Bedford and Halifax and at
Point Pleasant Park and they told us later what a hoot it had been.
As most of you know before I
went into the ministry I spent a couple of years at sea with my dad on salvage
tugs as well as a commercial fishing boat and during that time we spent more
than a few day at sea in storms.  I
always found it interesting to see the point in the storm that I would go from
being sick to being scared.  In the
scripture that was read earlier we saw that point arrive in Acts 27:20 The terrible storm raged for many days,
blotting out the sun and the stars, until at last all hope was gone.
A little bit of the back story here.  Paul had been arrested in Jerusalem for
preaching the gospel and then is sent to Caesarea to present his case before
King Agrippa, and we looked at that story last week.  Now Paul has requested the opportunity to
appeal his case before Caesar in Rome. 
Let’s pull down one of our trusty maps here.  Here is Jerusalem, and here is Caesarea where
their voyage begins.  And here is Rome
where they were heading, and obviously this would be the quickest way, but Luke
tells us that there were supposed to make several stops along the way,
apparently they were travelling on what would be called a costal freighter
today.
So their first stop was in Sidon and from there they head
out and encounter the first of a number of storms, and so they decide to stay
north of Cyprus and land at a port by the name of Myra.  From there they are transferred to an
Egyptian ship that is heading to Rome. 
Back at sea they encounter another storm and end up at a harbour named
Fair Haven.  And it is at that point we
read this account Acts 27:9-10 We had lost a lot
of time. The weather was becoming dangerous for sea travel because it was so
late in the fall, and Paul spoke to the ship’s officers about it. “Men,” he
said, “I believe there is trouble ahead if we go on—shipwreck, loss of cargo,
and danger to our lives as well.”
But what did Paul know? 
He wasn’t a sailor, so the captain decided to sail further up the coast
to a more sheltered harbour by the name of Phoenix.  And mixing metaphors that’s when the wheels
came off the wagon and where we came into the story. 
Now most of us will never be in a storm at sea, at least you
want to hope you won’t it really isn’t a lot of fun, people get hurt, equipment
gets damaged and sometimes you throw-up on yourself, not that I would know
about the last one personally it’s just something I read in a book.  Sometimes it looks something like this. .
.  (storm video)
But every one of us here without exception will face storms
in our lives.  They might be storms in
your relationships.  Perhaps with a
spouse or parents or children.  It might
be a financial storm, or it might be a storm as it relates to your health, and
there are some of you here today who are in the midst of that particular storm
even as I speak. 
And I am familiar with some of your storms, we have talked,
you have asked for advice or prayer and I know what you are going though.  But there are others here today who are good
at hiding the difficulties in their lives. 
It might be the way you were brought up or a matter of pride I don’t
know, but right now the wind is blowing and the seas are threatening to capsize
you and you are terrified. 
So. . . what can we learn from this story?  Let’s begin with the storm itself.  Acts 27:13-14 When a light wind
began blowing from the south, the sailors thought they could make it. So they
pulled up anchor and sailed close to the shore of Crete. But the weather
changed abruptly, and a wind of typhoon strength (called a “northeaster”) burst
across the island and blew us out to sea. 
And so the first thing we discover is The Suddenness Of The Storm 
In the spring of 1978 we were fishing on the Rali II off the northern
coast of PEI when we lost our engine, it was a beautiful day and so we notified
the Coast Guard that we were without power, they asked if we needed a salvage
craft and our skipper, my uncle said “No, that’s alright, we will get our sister
ship, the Nadine to tow us back to port.” 
The best laid plans of mice and men. 
Kind of reminds me of the scripture we just looked at Acts 27:13-14 When a light wind began blowing from the
south, the sailors thought they could make it. . . But the weather changed
abruptly, and a wind of typhoon strength (called a “northeaster”) burst across
the island and blew us out to sea.  And
sure enough before it was over people got hurt, equipment got damaged and the
only reason I didn’t throw up was I was terrified.  When we finally got back to our home port
people asked “What were you thinking?” 
Well we certainly weren’t thinking we’d end up in the middle of a storm.
One of my rules of boating is “It is better to be on shore
wishing you were at sea than to be at sea wishing you were on shore.”
But really isn’t that how most storms arrive? Without
notice?  You think everything is hunky-dory
and then the weather changes abruptly.   Your boss invites you into his office and lets
you know the company is expanding your employment opportunities, the police arrive
at your door in the middle of the night or the doctor says “perhaps you should
sit down.”
In football there is a two minute warning sounded letting
the teams know that there are two minutes left in the half.  Wouldn’t it be great if life gave us a
warning to let us know that a storm is approaching?  Two minute warning, unemployment ahead, heads
up a tragedy is just around the corner. 
But life isn’t like that.
And while it may not be a comfort, understand that you are
not alone, Luke and Paul weren’t the only two aboard the vessel and theirs
wasn’t the only vessel at sea that night. 
It might seem that we are all alone walking through territory that no
one has ever walked before but others have been there before.
Acts 27:15-16 The sailors couldn’t turn the ship
into the wind, so they gave up and let it run before the gale.  Following the suddenness of the storm
was the The Frustration of the Storm 
In a perfect world the sailors would have turned their
vessel into the wind, so even if they weren’t making much headway they at least
had a semblance of control over their ship. 
But apparently they had left the decision too late and now if they
attempted to turn the vessel into the wind it would breach and roll over.
And so they did the only thing they could, they held on for
the ride.
I think one of the things we struggle with the most in the
storms that engulf us is the frustration of helplessness.  A few years ago I was at a conference in
Moncton and the hotel we were staying in had a waterslide, so I decided that
since I had paid for the waterslide I ought to use the waterslide.  First time I had been on a waterslide in
fifteen years and the thing that struck me as I careened down the tube was the
feeling of helplessness, of being out of control.   I knew
how it had started and I suspected how it would end but right then I had no
control over what was happening at that particular time.   You know what I’m talking about, you are in a
storm right now and you know how it had started and you suspect how it will end
but right now you have no control over what is happening. 

Soren
Kierkegaard the Danish Philosopher summed it up when he said “I feel as if
I were a piece in a game of chess when my opponent says of it, “That piece
cannot be moved.””

In a perfect world if we had of responded sooner we may have
been in a better position, but “would of, could of, should have, won’t change
the reality of the situation. 
Most if not all of us want to be in control of our lives,
even if we aren’t moving very fast we want to be able to say with William Ernest
Henley “It matters not how straight the gate, How charged with punishments the
scroll, I am the captain of my fate, I am the master of my soul.”

But often in the storms of life control is wrestled out of our hands and all we
can do is let it run before the gale. We can’t go back and undo it or redo it,
all we can do is hold on and pray.

But that isn’t to say there wasn’t anything they could
do.  They had come to the realization
that they had no control over the storm but there were things they could do to
increase the odds of coming out of the storm in one piece.
Acts 27:17-19 Then the sailors bound ropes
around the hull of the ship to strengthen it. They were afraid of being driven
across to the sandbars of Syrtis off the African coast, so they lowered the sea
anchor to slow the ship and were driven before the wind. The next day, as
gale-force winds continued to batter the ship, the crew began throwing the
cargo overboard. The following day they even took some of the ship’s gear and
threw it overboard.
Dealing with the Storm The sailors knew there wasn’t anything they
could do about the storm, there was no way they could magically transport
themselves to safety.  So they did what
they could to make their vessel safer and increase the odds in their favour.  The first thing they did was is found in our
story:  Acts 27:17-19 Then the sailors bound ropes
around the hull of the ship to strengthen it.  They knew the only thing between
themselves and certain death was their ship and so they made every effort to
make sure their ship remained intact.  
When the storms of life threaten to swamp you realize that part
of what keeps you safe are the relationships with in your life.  And most importantly your relationship with
God.  Sometimes when the storm gets dark
we find it hard to seek God, but that is when we need Him the most. Sometimes
we feel like David did when he wrote Psalm 77:1-2 I cry out to God;
yes, I shout. Oh, that God would listen to me! When I was in deep trouble, I
searched for the Lord. All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward
heaven, but my soul was not comforted.  Have
you ever felt like that?  Maybe it’s gone
deeper, it did for David, Psalm 77:7-9 Has the Lord
rejected me forever? Will he never again be kind to me? Is his unfailing love
gone forever? Have his promises permanently failed? Has God forgotten to be
gracious? Has he slammed the door on his compassion?
Have you been there? 
In the darkest days of your storm have you wondered if you have been
abandoned?  Maybe you just need to follow
through as David did Psalm 77:11-14 But then I recall
all you have done, O Lord; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago. They
are constantly in my thoughts. I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works.
O God, your ways are holy. Is there any god as mighty as you? You are the God
of great wonders! You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations.  Stop and remember what God has done,
he didn’t abandon you in the past and he won’t abandon you now.  We need to remember Psalm
50:15
Then call on me when you are in trouble, and I will rescue you, and
you will give me glory.
The secret and the promise are found in Isaiah
43:2
When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go
through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the
fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.
The word of God doesn’t say you won’t go through deep
waters, or go through rivers of difficulty or walk through the fires of
oppression, we are people we live on earth that is life.  Which may not be all that comforting but God
is saying he is still on the throne and he is still in control.
And let’s not forget our relationship with those who care
for us most.  Too often during those
times you feel like you are all alone and that there is nobody there for
you.  But too often that is because we
have put up walls of self-pity and pride. 
We have said either with our words or our attitude “I don’t need your
help or I don’t want your help.”  But at
some point you will have to acknowledge that you can’t do it yourself.  Surround yourself with people who can be
there for you.  Heed the words of Solomon
from Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 Two people are
better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls,
the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real
trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm.
But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and
defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better,
for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.
Author George M. Adams tells us “Fortify yourself with a flock of
friends! You can select them at random, write to one, dine with one, visit one,
or take your problems to one. There is always at least one who will understand,
inspire, and give you the lift you may need at the time.”
I remind people to make sure there is at least one person
they could call at three o’clock in the morning to post bail for them.  Surround yourself with friends and family who
can help you hold it together. 
Aristotle reminds us “In poverty and other misfortunes
of life, true friends are a sure refuge.” 
But as much as they might want to help they will only be able to
if you let them.
The next thing they did
was Acts 27:17-19 Then
the sailors bound ropes around the hull of the ship to strengthen it. They were afraid of being driven
across to the sandbars of Syrtis off the African coast, so they lowered the sea
anchor to slow the ship and were driven before the wind.
They lowered the sea anchor to slow the ship.  They knew they couldn’t control where they
were going but they could do what they had to slow it down and regain some
control.  Sea anchors are usually like
canvas bags that you toss overboard and they increase the drag of the ship,
they won’t stop you but they will slow you down.  And if you don’t have the right thing than
you need to use the next best thing.  The
night we lost our engines off of PEI on the Rali II we had been mid water
trawling, and that meant we pulled a large net behind our vessel that was held
open by large metal wings, that were called doors, and we dropped those
overboard on cables to increase our drag so we wouldn’t be blown ashore. 
When the storms of life come upon us it is a good time to
slow down and re-evaluate our lives. God’s word tells us: Psalm
46:10
“Be still, and know that I am God!”  Sometimes we
are moving so fast that we miss the lessons that God has for us.  Get into God’s word, find time for church,
take time to pray, cast out those sea anchors that you need to slow down your
life.  Take time to think and re-evaluate
where you are.
During that time we can see what course corrections there
might need to be made when the time presents itself. 
Acts 27:18-19 The next day, as gale-force winds
continued to batter the ship, the crew began throwing the cargo overboard. The
following day they even took some of the ship’s gear and threw it overboard.
Then the crew began to lighten the ship by throwing the
cargo overboard.  They had to decide what
was important, right at that point in time and what was peripheral.  It might have been important at one time and
it might be important again at another time, but right then at that particular
point in time it was a hindrance and it had to go.
There may have been others who would have disagreed with
them, to some people the cargo may have seemed important.  Like the people who owned the cargo, but they
weren’t there and at that point in time it wasn’t their decision to make.
Another story, my family used to own a 42 foot cape
islander, named the Narcosis, that had been converted to a pleasure boat that
they used on the Saint John River system. 
Angela and I honeymooned on the Narcosis.  On our first day we sailed into a little cove
and dropped anchor so we could enjoy the sunshine.  Who would have known that there would have been
that much tide 50 kms from the Bay of Fundy? 
When we went to continue our journey we discovered we were
aground.  And we spent most of that night
aground waiting for high tide to arrive at 4:30 or so in the morning.  As we approached high tide we put the anchor,
the propane tanks and anything else we could in the dingy to lighten our
load.  When we were afloat again we
pulled the dingy back alongside and loaded stuff back aboard.
When you are facing storms in your life there may be things
that have to be ditched, at least for the time being.  If you are between jobs and struggling
financially you may have to re-examine your budget and see where you can trim
fat, do you need cable, high-speed internet, two cars?  Is it essential to eat out as often as you
did, maybe this year it isn’t essential that you belong to the gym and that your
kids play hockey.  Those things may have
been important at one time and they might be important again, but right
now?  Perhaps not so much. 
Are you struggling with health issues?  Then maybe your focus needs to be getting
better and that may mean curtailing some of your volunteer activities or not doing
some of those things that “Others” think you should do. 
Are there problems with your marriage?  Than you probably need to focus on that for
the time being, it should be a primary responsibility.  Other relationships may need to be put on
hold for the time being, other activities may have to become secondary. 
Word of caution here, make sure that what you are offloading
is peripheral; this wouldn’t be a good time to ditch church or your scripture
reading or your time with God.   I’m
assuming that they didn’t throw stuff like their food and water over board or
the sails they would need later.
Here is the addendum to this message.  You may not be in a storm yourself but you
probably know someone who is going through a storm.  This scripture gives us an example of what to
say and what not to say. 
Acts 27:21 No one had eaten for a long time.
Finally, Paul called the crew together and said, “Men, you should have listened
to me in the first place and not left Crete. You would have avoided all this
damage and loss.  Paul should have
been slapped.  Nobody needs to hear “I
told you so” when they are going through the storm, they might need to hear it
later but they don’t need to hear it right then. 
But he does redeem
himself in the next verse Acts 27:22 But take courage! None of you will
lose your lives, even though the ship will go down.  Be an encourager; let them know that
you are there and that you care.
I don’t know what storm
you may be going through right now, but I would like to pray for you. 

Behind My Self


I was walking down the hall at the hospital the other day when I suddenly realized that I was following myself.  And I was intrigued. I have been beside myself on different occasions but I had never been behind myself.  Now understand, I wasn’t actually following myself, but it seemed that way.  The guy I was following looked like me from behind, the same style of clothes, my size, the same distinguished hair colour (that means grey), he even walked like me.  Well, we got to an intersection and he turned in the opposite direction to where I was planning on going, but I followed him, after all, I had to know, what if it was me?  What a relief when we got to the elevator and he turned and I was looking in the face of a stranger.
I wonder what people think when they look at my walk.  Not my physical walk but the walk that is my life, how I act and react to what comes my way.
I hope that the world never looks at Denn and thinks, “Wow, he walks just like us”.  Because if we consider ourselves to be Christ followers then we are supposed to walk like He walked, not like the world walks. Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Down the Road, Paul and Agrippa

You
eat what you kill!  That was what I was
told when I started selling for Saint John Toyota in 1985.  Angela and I had spent most of the previous
year in upstate New York on staff at a Wesleyan church and that didn’t work out
the way we anticipated and so we had returned to Saint John and eventually I
ended up selling Toyotas.  I never liked
saying I sold cars, it’s because people think less of you, but when you say you
sold Toyotas it’s like you’ve done a service to humanity, and really it wasn’t
a bad gig and I was always driving a brand new car.
If
there was one down side it was the salary, there wasn’t one, there was no base,
no minimum, it was completely commission, or as I was told “You eat what you
kill”.                            
And
so one day my Sales manager asked me if I had sold anything that morning to
which I responded “I almost sold a Camry.” 
To which he responded, “Well then, I will almost pay you on
Friday.” 
How
often do we use the word Almost?  I tell
people, “I run almost every day, almost Monday, almost Tuesday. . .”  Which means in reality that I never run.  The Oxford Dictionary defines almost this way; Almost: adverb Not quite; very nearly:  Remember this (Get Smart Clip). 
Almost means that you missed it, it might have only been by this much
but you still missed it.
When
I was a kid, when somebody said “I almost did this” or “I almost did that” the
proper response was, “Almost only counts in horseshoes.”  Did you ever say that?  Did you know why almost only counted in
horseshoes? Because in Horseshoes if you are close you still get some
points. 
That
is one of the facts of life: almost doesn’t cut it, as a matter of fact “Almost
only counts in horseshoes.” 
We’ve been following
Paul on his journeys and as we continue down the road Paul has been arrested
for preaching the Gospel, again.  This
time the Roman Consulate Festus decides to hand over the responsibility of Paul
to King Agrippa, who wasn’t really a king at all he was actually Herod Agrippa
the second, who ruled over a small part of Palestine at the grace of the Romans
with his sister Bernice, who was the sister in law of Festus. The story is told
in the book of Acts in chapter 26 Paul states
his case, he starts with his early life and then how he persecuted the
Christians, and then he told of his conversion, in short he gave his testimony.
Paul has laid everything out and used all his ammunition, and then he closes
with these words in Acts 26:27 King Agrippa,
do you believe the prophets? I know you do—” 
Paul has become the
master fisherman. He has baited his hook, he has cast his line and now he has a
nibble, he can see Agrippa taking the bait, easy, easy, and gotcha.  He gives the line a jerk to set the hook. You
know it’s at this point that most of us fail in being fishers of men. We
testify, we witness and get folks interested and then we don’t set the hook and
they eat the goodies and swim away. But not Paul, Paul takes the time to set
the hook. Paul was used to success, and I’m sure that he was ready for Agrippa
to say, “I believe Paul, I believe”. 
But instead we read
in Acts 26:28 Agrippa interrupted him. “Do you think you can persuade me
to become a Christian so quickly?” 
You
might be more familiar with this translation Acts 26:28
NKJV Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian” Almost
Paul, but not quite. Paul must have been flabbergasted, discouraged, disgusted.
And when I get discouraged I think of Paul, he blew it, he wasn’t a hundred
percent. 
Why?
Who knows, maybe he wasn’t convincing enough, perhaps he had turned Agrippa off
in some way or perhaps Agrippa wasn’t paying attention maybe his mind was
wandering and was thinking of something else. We don’t know why Agrippa was
only “Almost persuaded”.  Paul had done
everything right but it didn’t seem enough.
I
love the ministry, it’s my life, and to a certain degree I have been training
for the ministry since I was sixteen years old.   During the summers I spent working on salvage
tugs and oil tankers but during my high school years I began selling and I
continued to sell into my time at college. I sold dress clothes, blue jeans,
vacuum cleaners, wood stoves, bicycles, cars, trucks, travel trailers and
advertising. From the time that I was sixteen years old I made my living
convincing people that they needed what I had to offer.
And
really, ministry is sales. No that’s not sacrilege. I have something other
people don’t have but need. My job very simply is to convince them that they
need Jesus Christ. Every once in a while someone will ask me if I can do
something about the weather to which I reply “Sorry I’m in sales not
management.”
Now
I am not one of those people who can sell everything to everybody I will never
be able to sell refrigerators to the Inuit, I worked hard at my selling and I
used all of the tools of my trade. I made sure that I was properly groomed, and
well dressed, I discovered how to address people and set them at ease, and I
learned everything about my product and I learned how to set the hook. I
discovered early that it was no good spending time selling a product and then
never actually asking the customer if they actually wanted to buy it or not.
And
so Paul is ready to set the hook, He says “King Agrippa, do you believe?” and
Agrippa says “You know Paul, you almost persuaded me”.  Not good enough Agrippa, almost found is still
lost, almost saved is still doomed.
I’m
sure that Paul wanted to say, “Agrippa, almost only counts in horseshoes.” But
Paul wasn’t alone and neither was Agrippa. 
In
Second Peter 2:5, Peter refers to Noah as a “Preacher of righteousness”   Now you would think, at least I would, and
that if this fellow was a good enough preacher to get mentioned in the Bible as
a preacher of righteousness that he must have been pretty persuasive. Wrong,
out of all the people on earth he only persuaded seven people to join him on
the ark.


Noah
Didn’t Persuade Everyone
Only
eight people all up were willing to forsake sin for God, while the rest forsook
God for sin, why? Because they were more concerned with the temporal then with
the eternal. That’s the way most of us are. The concept of delayed
gratification is lost on us, we want what we want and we want it now. We just
can’t see much further then tomorrow. That’s why so many people don’t look at
resale value when they buy cars, that’s down the road. That’s why the government
makes CPP contributions mandatory and why we have the old age pension. That’s
why people don’t make up wills or funeral arrangements, they can’t imagine that
this will end.
The people
of Noah’s day were having a ball, they were saying, “Eat drink and be merry for
tomorrow you may die” today our philosophy is “eat drink and be merry for you
ain’t never gonna die. The people of Noah’s day didn’t want to hear that things
were coming to an end any more than people today want to hear that.
Hebrews 11:25 speaks of the “Fleeting
pleasures of sin.”  God doesn’t
try to tell us that sin isn’t fun, but he does say that the fun doesn’t last.
I’m sure that if Noah’s neighbours had of realized how close the reality of
judgment was they would have changed their ways.
Now I’m not
advocating that you need to give up your fun and games, and live a dull,
boring, humdrum, ho-hum, monotonous life in order to get to heaven. Even Zig
Zigler couldn’t’ sell salvation with a line like that. Jesus didn’t say “I have
come to take the fun out of life” and Jesus didn’t say “I have come to make
life unbearable” and Jesus didn’t say “I have come that life may be a drag”
what Jesus said was recorded in John 10:10 The thief’s
purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and
satisfying life.
Who
is them? Them is you? They were those who had responded to the claims of the
Gospel. Millions of people have discovered an important fact, and that is that
Christianity does not take the enjoyment out of life. Jesus Christ’s primary
motivation is not to make life miserable but to make life full and rewarding.
If
you don’t think that you can have fun as a Christian I would wager that is
because you are receiving your “Fun” from external sources. Drugs, alcohol, or
premarital or extra marital sexual activity. In other words you aren’t
receiving your gratification from within or from friends you are dependent on
external stimuli.
But
things do end, and eventually the rain started, and Noah and his family went
into the ark. And those on the outside, yelled out things like “Noah, you
almost convinced us to repent.” And Noah leaned over the rail and said, “Almost
only counts in horseshoes.”
But
wait, Noah and Paul you’re not alone. Genesis 19 records the destruction of
Sodom and Gomorrah. Sin and immorality abounded in those two cities and God
told Abraham that he was going to destroy the cities. Abraham began
negotiating, “If I can find, 50, 45,40, 20, 10 righteous men will you spare the
city” and God said “sure” or something like that. But in the end only four
people were saved, Lot, his wife and their two daughters. Lot tried to convince
his future son-in-laws, in Genesis 19:14 So Lot rushed
out to tell his daughters’ fiancés, “Quick, get out of the city! The Lord is
about to destroy it.” But the young men thought he was only joking.
Lot
Didn’t Persuade Everyone
Lot’s
future son-in-laws didn’t take the claims of God serious. They thought it was a
game; unfortunately too many people have that attitude today. Religion is one
big game show. And so society asks us “Do you believe door number one, door
number two or door number three? And whatever beliefs you pick you win as long
as you live that belief sincerely.”  It
doesn’t matter if it is Christianity or Islam, or Mormonism, or Hinduism, or
J.W.ism, they are all seen in the same light. Wrong, It’s just that people
refuse to take the words of Jesus Christ seriously, he said and I quote from John 14:6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the
life. No one can come to the Father except through me.
 You say, “No preacher that isn’t right, what
he really meant was that if you are a good person then he won’t punish you.”
wrong, he meant what he said, and what he said was “I am the way and the truth
and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.   The only door to heaven is called
Christianity and all others doors lead to hell.
God
wasn’t joking when he said that the wages of sin are death, and when the fire
and brimstone rained down on Sodom Lot’s son in laws must have cast their
voices heavenward and said, “Lot almost persuaded us” And when lot looked down
on the charred remains of those 2 great cities he said “Almost only counts in
horseshoes”
Paul, Noah and Lot you’re not alone
Luke 18:18 Once a religious leader asked Jesus this question: “Good
Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” 
Jesus
responded by saying, “That’s a good question, I’m glad you asked, keep all the
commandments” and the ruler said, “been there, done that” and so Jesus says in Luke 18:22 So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him,
“You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
And
then in the next verse we see the man’s response:  Luke 18:23 But when
he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.
Jesus Didn’t
Persuade Everyone
Now
let’s get one thing straight, money is not the important thing here, the
important thing is the attitude. Money, an unsaved boyfriend or girlfriend, a
job, a hobby a habit, what is the thing in your life that is more important than
Jesus.
With
me, look I would have come to the Lord three months sooner than I did if it
hadn’t been for a female. She was something else. When I was with her I felt
like a million dollars. She had a gorgeous shape, all the curves were in the
right places and she drew stares where ever we were. If I left her for five
minutes when I came back there was a crowd around her. I’d only been serious
with her for six months, but I had first laid eyes on her two years before and
it was love at first sight. Every nickel I earned’ was spent on her and I knew
deep down in my heart that when I accepted Jesus as Lord that I’d have to give
her up.
Right
then she was my life and I fought a battle for three long months knowing it was
her or God. And on the night that I turned my heart over to the Lord he told me
“if you are going to serve me 100% then she has to go.” and I knew what I had
to do and the next day I did it, I put a for sale sign on her. Oh did I fail to
mention that “she” was a 1971 Cutlass Supreme convertible. She was fire engine
red, with white top and leather interior power windows and a 350 rocket engine
with four barrel carby and, and, and.
Maybe
you aren’t foolish enough to let something as dumb as a car stand in the way of
your salvation, maybe it’s your career or your friends, or you money or your
pride. Jesus is looking for all of you. The rich young ruler thought he had it
in the bag, it wasn’t until Jesus spoke that he understood, “He didn’t have the
riches, the riches had him”.  Who or what
is standing in your way. What is it in your life that is more important than Jesus? 
The
rich young ruler wanted to follow Jesus, that wasn’t the problem. The problem
was that he wasn’t ready to give it all up. Salvation is free but it aint
cheap, it will cost you all that you have and all that you are. The rich young
ruler knew that there were things in his life that would hold him back. It
would save a lot of time, if some people were at least honest enough with God,
and with themselves to do what the rich your ruler did. And that was to say,
“Jesus you almost persuaded me to follow you”, and then he walked away.
And Jesus must have been broken hearted as he thought, “Almost only counts in
horseshoes.”
Paul
you are not alone.
But
there were others who were persuaded. Peter, Andrew, James, John, Bartholomew,
Matthew and the rest of the 12. Zacchaeus was persuaded and so was Nicodemus,
and Joseph of Aramiathia, and the woman at the well, and Simon the Pharisees,
and the Paralytic at Peter’s house, the lone leper, the Prostitute who washed
Jesus feet, the centurion at the cross, Saul of Tarsus, Cornelius, Priscilla,
Eunice, Jude, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Moody, Graham, Mansvelt, Kneebone,
Wickwire, Slauenwhite and the list goes on and on and on.
In
Hebrews chapter 12 Paul writes Hebrews 12:1 Therefore,
since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith,
let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so
easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before
us. 
That
crowd represents the millions upon millions of people who have done more then
“almost believe”.  That crowd of
witnesses is all of those who have gone on before you who were persuaded. The
twelve were persuaded, the 120 were persuaded, the 3000 were persuaded, the
multitudes were persuaded.
You
say “Denn you almost persuade me to become a Christian” almost isn’t good
enough, almost finishing the race means that you didn’t make it. Almost in
means that you are still out, almost healed means that you are still sick, and
almost saved means that you are still lost.
Denn
Won’t Persuade Everyone
Almost
doesn’t make it down here and almost won’t make it on judgement day. When
Agrippa died and stood at the pearly gates, and said “Paul almost persuaded me
to become a Christian” St. Peter would have said, “Sorry Agrippa, Almost only
counts in horseshoes.”
The
big difference is that horseshoes is only a game, and if you blow it then you
play another game.   Life and salvation
are no game, there is no second chance. When it’s done, it done. That great
American Philosopher Yogi Berra said “It aint over til it’s over” and that’s
true, but remember Yogi , when it’s over it’s over. Paul said it best when he
stated in the book of Hebrews 9:27 And just as each
person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment,
Almost
persuaded isn’t good enough, it won’t help you follow Jesus in this life and it
won’t get you to heaven in the next life. Why was Agrippa only “almost persuaded”  ?I don’t know. It wasn’t Paul’s fault, he did
everything he could and it wasn’t God’s fault. Why is it that some who sit
under my ministry are only “almost persuaded?” I don’t know, it’s not my fault,
it’s not God’s fault. Jesus lost some, Paul lost some, Noah lost some, Lot lost
some and Denn Guptill will lose some but I don’t want to. Are you almost
persuaded?

Why?


How do you react in the face of tragedy when life doesn’t seem fair?  The folks on Grand Manan Island have had more than their share of tragedy over the past couple of months.  Since June there have been six tragic deaths on the island.  Now I understand that most deaths are tragic for someone, but each of these deaths were preventable in some way,shape or form.  A tree cutting accident, a car accident, an aborted landing, a suicide and a man was killed when his RV rolled over him.  Six deaths in a population of less than 2,50o.  Imagine if there had been 900 accidental deaths in Halifax in the same period of time. The Ebola outbreak would have to kill over 15,000 people in Sierra Leone to feel the same affect.  
And the tragedy affects most of the population. I am one generation removed from Grand Manan and I knew two of those folks, at least peripherally and was related to another one, at least peripherally.
And there are no easy answers.  At times suchas these we have to trust that God is still on his throne.  And while we might not be able to offer answers to those left behind, we can offer our love and support. Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Joy, More than a Girl’s Name

It wasn’t exactly the end to a
perfect day.  Paul, Luke and a colleague
by the name of Silas have been travelling throughout the Roman Empire starting
new churches and introducing people to Christ. 
Everything seemed to be going well and then the wheels came off the
wagon.  Figuratively speaking of course,
I don’t think they actually had a wagon.
They started in Jerusalem and
they’ve been through  Antioch,
Pamphylia,, Syria, Cilica, Derbe, Lystra, 
and Galatia and have finally ended up in the town of Philippi.  One day as they were on their way to the
synagogue a demon possessed girl started to follow them shouting at the top of
her voice, “These men are servants of the Most High
God, and they have come to tell you how to be saved.”
Well at first the guys tried to
ignore her, I mean really there are probably better people to have announcing
your ministry then a demon possessed person. 
As a matter of fact you might recall in the gospels on a couple of different
occasions people who were demon possessed starting proclaiming that Jesus was
the messiah and he commanded them to stop. 
Well she continued to follow them and continued announcing them where
ever they went,  after a couple of days
of hoping the girl would go away of her own accord Paul decides to take things
into his own hands and he turns around and commands the demons to release the
girl, which they do.  I don’t know why he
waited so long, but if I ever find out I’ll let you know, OK?
Now the story should have ended there, the girl was no
longer demon possessed, the guys were no longer being bugged by a demon
possessed girl, definitely a win, win situation.  But no, that wasn’t the case.  You see the demon possessed girl just
happened to be a slave, which wasn’t all that unusual, but what made her stand
out amongst other demon possessed slave girls is that she was owned by several
men who would hire her out to tell peoples fortunes, kind of the original
psychic  network.  So when the demon was cast out she no longer
told fortunes which made her worthless to her masters. You would have thought
she’d have seen that coming.  Well they
weren’t all that impressed with their financial reversals and so they grabbed
Paul and Silas and dragged them before the authorities.
They couldn’t very well tell the authorities what had really
happened and why they were really upset, people are supposed to be happy when a
demon is cast out of someone and so rather than appear shallow and cruel they
used a different tact.  They started by
making an accusation that was sure to stir the hearts of those in charge,
“These Jews.”  Kind of gives you pause to
wonder when you realize the early church had to put up with anti-Semitic
racism, as a matter of fact normally it was the Jews who were complaining that
the Christians were perverting the faith, why the change?  Well if we pull a map up here we discover
that the town of Philippi was located here in modern day Greece.  This was the first foray of the church out of
Asia and into Europe and these early Christians were identified as Jews. Which
was pretty close to the truth. 
So after establishing that these guys weren’t like everyone
else they laid the charge, it was very specific, well thought through and
carefully laid down, they said “these guys are teaching people to do things
different then the way we’ve always done them.” 
That’s a pretty serious charge. 
After all it was Robert Kriegel who said “The
only people who like change are busy cashiers and babies with wet diapers.”
It’s amazing to see how quickly things start to happen.  The magistrates order Paul and Silas stripped
and beaten and then has them thrown in jail. 
And you thought you have had rough days. Being the dangerous felons that
they were the magistrates also order the jailer to make sure they didn’t
escape.  And so they were taken into the
inner dungeon, had their feet clamped in stocks and were left in the cold,
damp, dark cell.
So what are you going to do? 
You’ve been wrongly accused, you’ve been slandered, you’ve been flogged;
and now you’re locked up with the very dregs of society.  Well there is only one thing to do:
sing!  Well that may not be what you
would do, but it is what Paul and Silas did. 
It’s midnight in the
prison, they are sore from being beat, they are cold and wet from their cell
and they are praying and singing.  Now if
I was one of the other prisoners I think I’d be a little annoyed, we don’t know
what they were feeling but the bible says the other prisoners were
listening.  Like they had much choice
they were in jail. 
So, what would make them sing?   Maybe they were simply living out what William James advocated
when he said  “I don’t sing because I’m happy; I’m
happy because I sing.”
Or maybe it was deeper than
that, maybe they were actually singing because of some deeper reason.  When Paul was writing about what a life was
like that was controlled by the Holy Spirit he wrote this in Galatians 5:22-23 But the
Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience,
kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law
against these things!
We know as Christians that we are supposed to demonstrate
love and that is probably why love tops the list but joy is right behind it.
Biblical “Joy” is one of the most misunderstood
attributes of the fruit of the Spirit! Normally when we think of the concept of
“Joy” what do we think of? 
Having fun, laughing children, carefree sleep, a lack of problems, an
emotional high, no cares or worries.  And
while that may define “happiness” it doesn’t necessarily define joy.  At least not the type of joy that is spoken
of in Galatians 5.  
William Lyon Phelps wrote  “If happiness truly consisted in physical
ease and freedom from care, than the happiest individual would not be either
man or woman, it would be, I think, an American cow”
And even though Paul and Silas may not have been happy to be
in prison they were able to pray and sing. 
The neat thing is that the word that was used in the original language
for prayer wasn’t a prayer of supplication, which means it wasn’t an asking
prayer.  Paul and Silas weren’t praying
“Please get us out of this mess!”  Which
is what I would be praying if’n I was stripped, beaten locked in stocks and
thrown into the inner prison.  Instead
the meaning of the original word was a prayer of praise, or worship.  They weren’t crying for help they were
commenting on how good God was.  Perhaps
they were like Matthew Henry the Bible Scholar
from the 1700’s who once was accosted by thieves and relieved of his
wallet.  The story goes that he wrote
this in his diary concerning the entire incident,
“I thank
Thee first because I was never robbed before; second, because although they
took my purse they did not take my life; third, because although they took my
all, it was not much; and fourth because it was I who was robbed, and not I who
robbed.”
Now obviously this was to be a
life philosophy for Paul, listen to some of the comments he wrote concerning
joy: Romans 5:3 We
can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they
help us develop endurance.
And in   2 Corinthians
6:9-10
We are ignored, even though we are
well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been
beaten, but we have not been killed. Our hearts ache, but we always have joy.
We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we
have everything.
Doesn’t sound like a formula for joy and yet over and over
again Paul writes about Joy in the strangest circumstances. Why were Paul and
Silas able to Sing and Praise God while they were locked away in Prison?
They Knew They Mattered To
God 
To some people it may have
appeared that God had deserted them, but Paul and Silas knew where they were.  In a prison cell in Philippi?  No, they believed what was written in 1 Samuel 25:29 “Even when
you are chased by those who seek to kill you, your life is safe in the care of
the LORD your God, secure in his treasure pouch!
When you can get to the place
that you can wrap your head around the fact that you matter to the Master of
the universe, then you are on your path to joy. 
Jesus told his followers this in the book of Matthew
10:29-31
What is the price of two
sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground
without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all
numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock
of sparrows.
Joy is not in things, it is in us. 
He created the entire universe,
he is God, and yet he not only knows everything about you he loves anyways, as
a matter of fact he loved you enough that he made the ultimate sacrifice for
you, himself.  We all know 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 let’s not get caught up in
God sending someone other then himself, as a matter of fact listen to how John
described Christ in the beginning of the gospel of John in the very fist
chapter and very first verse John writes this John 1:1 In the beginning
the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Paul and Silas knew that they mattered to God.
They Knew They Were Playing To An Audience Of One  Paul and Silas realized that they hadn’t
pleased the owners of the slave girl and they also realized that that wasn’t
what they were called to do.  There is
nothing in this world that will steal your joy as quickly as trying to please
everyone.  You can’t do it.  Not even God can please everyone, and he’s
God. 
I
personally learnt this over twenty five years ago.   I was going through a real struggle with the
ministry in general and my ministry in particular, I almost left the pastorate
during that time but I read three things by three separate authors that all
said the same thing. Fred Smith, in his book Learning to Lead wrote “The
shepherd or pastor’s ultimate goal is not to please the sheep but to please God.”  Cecil Paul the Author of  Passages of a Pastor says that pastors
need to free themselves from and I quote “The Tyranny of Evaluation.”  Tim
Hansel
writing in his book, Until Further Notice Celebrate writes
that we need to realize that “we are playing to an audience of one”
About
that time Angela and I were pastoring the Wesleyan Church in Truro, we were
nudging the 200 mark in morning attendance, we had just finished a new church
building and were dealing with all the financial pressures that went with being
a quarter of a million dollars in debt, which seemed like a lot then but not
nearly as much now. 
I was
28 had an ulcer, and irritable colitis and I was lying awake at night trying to
deal with the church growth that I had coveted for so long.  A major part of that pressure was trying to
please a congregation that was becoming more and more diverse in nature.  And in the midst of that struggle that I was
feeling I realised that I had been called not to please the people of Truro
Wesleyan church but to please God and God alone.  It was at that point in April of 1989 that I
came to the place that I decided that I need to live my life before God and not
fall into the trap of people pleasing.  I
don’t know what it did for the people of Truro Wesleyan Church but I know what
it did for me, it set me free.  And that
philosophy followed me around the world to Brisbane Australia and back again to
Bedford.
I
love you people, I really do, and I would love to do everything in my power to
make all of you happy with my performance as the pastor of Cornerstone Wesleyan
Church.  But I can’t.  And if I try it will eventually kill me and
then Angela will be unhappy, wealthy but unhappy, I hope.  
And if pleasing everyone becomes
my goal then I will never feel joy because I will have to constantly live with
the fear of failing one of you, because I can’t please you all as much as I
would love to.  As
a matter of fact if you’ve ever looked at our core values number 7 says: 7) Cornerstone Wesleyan Church is
committed to the sanity of its staff, both paid and volunteer. We will never
sacrifice the physical, emotional or spiritual health of a staff member on the
altar of church growth.
I
don’t preach to please people, I preach to please God, and if I make people
happy when I preach then hey they got a bonus, but if they get offended well
that’s the way it’s gotta be.  And some
days it means that I’m not the most popular person being discussed around the
Sunday dinner table. But I’m going to be able to stand before God with a clear
conscience.  And I bet that’s what you
really want, a pastor who wants to please God, am I right? 
Now
where does that leave you?  Well pastors
aren’t the only ones who feel compelled to please people.  There are people who are constantly
evaluating you.  Your boss has
expectations of you as an employee, children expect certain things of you as a
parent, parents expect things and behaviour from you as their son or daughter,
as your pastor I expect certainty things from you as a part of Cornerstone, and
others expect things from you as a Christian. 
And if you are going to live your life trying to please everyone then
you are destined to live a joyless, self-destructive life.
You
need to realize that you are to get your ultimate strokes from God and that if
you faithfully please Him then the rest will come along because in pleasing God
you will become a conscientious employee, a loving spouse, a faithful friend
and a dedicated church member and you will be playing to an audience of one and
therefore responsible for pleasing only one. 
God!
They Knew The End Of The Story  Paul and Silas knew that the book wasn’t
finished, they knew that this was just a minor hiccup in their lives.  They knew that God was in control and
ultimately he wins. 
It may have appeared that God
had deserted them, but we have already seen that wasn’t true, they mattered to
God.  And they knew that no matter what
happened that God had a plan.  After all
it was 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.
So they knew they loved God, they knew they were called
according to his purpose for them, so everything was going to work together for
the good of them.  Even if they didn’t
understand how or why. 
God is no man’s debtor, but he
doesn’t settle all of his accounts on this side of eternity.  Paul had what might at first appears to be a
pretty fatalist outlook on life listen to what he says in Philippians 1:21 For to
me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.
But that’s not fatalistic that is a belief in a beautiful
heaven, where we will live forever and where we will be with the God we love
and who loves us, where we will dance on streets that are golden.  Perhaps they believed what John Wesley believed
when he said  “Until my work on this earth is done, I am immortal. But when my work
for Christ is done … I go to be with Jesus.” 
You say “but I don’t feel very joyful”.  I believe that joy is a conscience
decision.  It is something deliberate
that we decide “I will have joy.”  We all
know that when we are happy on the inside that it causes us to smile. But
social scientists have discovered something really neat, they have discovered
that if we smile that it makes us happy on the inside.  Try it, smile, you feeling better all ready.  And maybe you do need to heed the words of Williams
James,   “I don’t sing because I’m happy;
I’m happy because I sing.”
Through the years there were times that I would start to
feel down and overwhelmed and I would start to sing, not pretty for anyone but
me.  And the song that I would often sing
says “Cheer up ye saints of God there’s nothing to worry about, nothing to make
you feel afraid, nothing to make you doubt.
Angela recently told me that she thought I had made it up
and so to prove that I didn’t I give you this: 
Video
I’m not trying to put anyone on
a guilt trip about their emotions, I know that we go through seasons in our
life where being joyful is very difficult if not impossible.  But it will pass, honest.  Every night has a dawn, every storm has an
end, every mountain has a crest.  King
David struggled with depression throughout his life, just read the psalms, but
he also had a grip on this joy thing. 
Listen to what he wrote in Psalm 30:5 . . . Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with
the morning.
Let each one of us learn to laugh, learn to rejoice always
and remember when you’re laughing to learn to laugh at yourself, because as John Powell “Learn to laugh at yourself and you’ll
never ceased to be amused.” If your joy is based on circumstances
this morning then you need to give your life over to the Lord and let Him place
His joy within. 
And so I leave you with the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson “When
you were born you were crying and everyone else was smiling. Live your life so
at the end, you’re the one who is smiling and everyone else is crying.”
Blessing May your joys be as deep as the ocean, your
sorrows as light as its foam.