Getting what we don’t deserve


It really seemed as if he had gotten away with it.  For almost forty years Clarence Moore had lived as a free man after escaping from a North Carolina prison where he was serving an eleven year sentence for larceny. But last week the sixty-six year old fugitive voluntarily turned himself in.  It seems that while Moore wasn’t that great of a criminal, he was put in prison several times but he was pretty good at escaping. His third & last escape happened in 1976.
Was it a change in heart, a sudden desire to do the right thing that caused Moore to surrender to the authorities in Kentucky where he had lived for the past six years under an assumed name?  Nothing so noble.
The reason he finally gave up his life as a fugitive was based on economics and for the free medical care in prison.  Mr. Moore had suffered a stroke that left him partly paralyzed and was unable to obtain adequate medical care without a valid social security number.  He’s hoping North Carolina will welcome back its prodigal son.
And that is what grace is for the Christian; the point that we recognized our need for help and surrendered ourselves in order to receive what we can’t obtain on our own. 

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

The Generosity Principle

This is our last week of money
month and for the past four weeks we have been parked in the generosity spot.  Each year we take the month of April to
explore the theology of money, giving and generosity.  Not only within the church but in our lives
in general.  This idea is that if we have
a particular time to address these concepts they won’t get missed and they
won’t come across scolding or begging as so often happens when money is
addressed in church during crisis times.   
And while some folks feel that the topic of money should be
avoided in church the bible doesn’t shy away from the topic and neither did
Jesus.  As a matter of fact Jesus tells
us in Matthew 6:21  Wherever your treasure is, there
the desires of your heart will also be.

And while most of us know the words we often get them mixed up and quote
it as where your heart is there your treasure will be.  But Jesus knew how people function and while
our money will often follow our hearts, you only need to look at where a person
is investing today to know where there priorities are today. 
And there are reasons why money needs to be addressed at the
local level.  We don’t like to admit it
but the church needs the giving of someone to exist.  Some churches exist because of denominational
subsidies, but somebody somewhere is giving so that can happen.  Other churches depend on their endowment
funds, but that means that someone gave in the past so they could exist
today.  And while Cornerstone was
dependent on outside giving early in our life as a church today we exist
because of the generosity of people who make Cornerstone their church home. There
is no outside source of income for Cornerstone, no magic pot that we can dip
into.   The practical side is that in order for
Cornerstone to exist there are bills that need to be paid.  Mortgage payments, utilities, salaries etc.
And as the church changes those change and often expand.  So while we were meeting in the Lion’s Den in
Bedford we didn’t have to pay a mortgage but many of you wouldn’t have been
reached from that venue.  And while Denn
was the only pastor on staff the salary line in the budget was less, but pastoring
a church of 50 and pastoring a church of 300 requires more time and effort than
one person can provide.  This is the last
Sunday in April which means that today we will end with an opportunity for each
person who makes Cornerstone their church home the opportunity to fill in the
estimate of giving card at the end of the service and we use those figures to
go ahead with our budget for the new church year.  In a very real way each person who responds,
or doesn’t respond is telling us what type of church they want Cornerstone to
be.   
But it’s not just about the practical side, it is about the
discipleship side as well. Throughout the bible money is used as a spiritual
barometer, because ultimately it says something about our relationship with God
because it pulls back the curtains to reveal what it is that is the most important
thing in our lives. 
And in that case giving isn’t about the church’s need to
receive as much as it is about the believer’s need to give, because our
treatment of money is often a reflection of the importance we place on our
relationship with God.  What sacrifices
are made to support his work?  And what
in life do we value higher than Him?  And
maybe you don’t think that’s a fair question but each of us will spend what we
have somewhere. 
And here is the truth of the matter, told by the master of
the truth himself, Luke 16:13  Jesus said “No one can
serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be
devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
Last week we looked very
briefly at portion of the scripture that was read for us this morning 2 Corinthians 9:10 For God
is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same
way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest
of generosity in you.
We just kind of mentioned it as
a part of my last point and I mentioned at the time that we would be coming
back this week to unpack that chapter. 
And here we are.
 On Easter Sunday I spoke about the generosity
of Easter and we looked at what God gave and what we received as a result of
the resurrection.  The next Sunday was
our 20th Anniversary and I spoke about the birth of a Generous
Church, how Cornerstone was birthed out of the Generosity of others, our
district, our denomination, local churches and individuals who believed in our
vision.  It was in that message that we
first visited the generosity of the Corinthian Church and how they set an
example for the church in Macedonia.  And
I spoke about your generosity that has allowed CWC to exist and reach people
and impact lives not only in our community but around the world.
Last week I spoke about Generosity in the Book and flitted a
bit between the Old and New Testaments as we learned that Generosity Isn’t Just Giving, you can give and not be generous.  Generosity isn’t
an Amount it is a Principle,
If generosity was simply an amount then generosity
would look the same for me as it does for Bill Gates.  And then finally we discovered that Generosity Always Comes with a
Blessing. 
And some people bristle at
the thought that there might be a reward connected to our generosity, but the
bible speaks of it over and over again.
So let’s go back to the
scripture that was read for us earlier and Paul begins with these words, 2 Corinthians 9:6  Remember
this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one
who plants generously will get a generous crop. 
So the first thing we learn here is that Nobody Loses by Being Generous.  The
challenge for most of us when it comes to giving is the question; “If I give
that amount how will I  __________?”  And you can fill in the blank.  If I give the panhandler on the corner my
change, who will I afford my coffee later? 
If I sponsor a child through compassion how will I afford to upgrade my
internet?  If I tithe my income how will
I survive on what I have left?  And while
the blanks would have been filled in differently 2000 years ago the questions
were the same. 
When we were in the midst of
the capital campaign to build our building we had a family leave, actually had
a couple of families leave but that is story for a different time.  When I asked this one particular family what
the problem was I was told that we were being irresponsible and that there
might be people who would lose their homes or wouldn’t be able to feed their
children if they were that generous. 
But that was never the intent
and I truly believe that if we are simply obedient to what God is asking us to
give that we can never out give God.  The
secret is not in the amount the secret is in the obedience.   
To answer the objections that
were probably on the hearts if not the lips of those early Christians Paul uses
the analogy of the farmer and the seed. 
In that culture most people would know how things were grown and so Paul
compares our giving to seeds.  Plant a
few seeds get a small crop, plant generously and reap a generous crop.
But you have to believe.  If you don’t believe that the crop is in the
seed you will never plant it. 
If you don’t believe that God
will reward your generosity then you will never be generous.
But trust me when I tell you  nobody is a loser by being generous It was Anne Frank who wrote in her diaries while hiding
from the Nazis “No one has ever become poor by
giving.”  And Christian Bovée wrote “Examples
are few of men ruined by giving.”
The next thing we discover is
found in 2 Corinthians 9:7  You must each decide in your heart how much to give.
And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person
who gives cheerfully.”

Generosity is a Journey Not a Destination



When the staff was at the Gathering back in January there
were dozens of breakout sessions, far too many for everyone to get to all of
them or even to all of the ones that we wanted to get to.  One I did get to, and not just because they
were offering a free breakfast, was the Generous Church seminar.  And one of the concepts they introduced me to
was what they called the “Ladder of Generosity”.  Which I though was incredibly original until
I got home and googled the term and found all kinds of Ladders of Generosity
online.  The ladder we are using today
was created by Jason but the concept originated with The Generous Church.  But all of the models begin with the same
premise and that is that Generosity is a ladder not an elevator. 
A few weeks ago I preached on Zacchaeus the tax collector
who as soon as he made the commitment to follow Jesus gave half of what he had
away to the poor.  And we like to think
that we automatically become generous givers with our conversion.  But if you are anything like me, one of the
last things to get converted is your wallet.
So most of us start here on the ladder, on the bottom
rung.  We begin as Non-Givers because that is really our natural state.  In most cases even as children we need to be
taught to share.  Or as one wit said “When
it comes to giving, most people will stop at nothing.”  But that isn’t the way it should be.  If nobody gave what a dreary and selfish
world it would be.  Sometimes somebody
will tell me “Well you know Pastor, charity begins at home”, and I think “wow,
it doesn’t get out much does it.”
But nobody should stay there it’s not healthy to the soul to
never give.   We are told that the reason
the Dead Sea is the Dead Sea because it continually receives and never gives.
And so the next rung is here and we’ve entitled it “Selfish Giving” this is when you give
to be recognized.  You gotta put
something in the plate.  Jesus told a
story about two men, one was a tax collector who called out to God in
repentance seeking grace, the other man was a Pharisee, that was like a Jewish
priest of sorts and he stood on the street corner and prayed out loud, for all
to hear, Luke 18:12  I fast twice a week, and I give you
a tenth of my income. Seriously? 
But you know when the plate was passed when I was a new believer, and
confession time, when the plate is passed and I’m visiting in another church,
there’s a little voice inside that’s saying “what will people think if I don’t
put something in the plate?”  That is
selfish giving.  But it is a start. 
The next rung is Emotional Giving, or guilt induced
giving.  This is when you benefit
emotionally from the gift, you feel good because you give or it eases your
guilt to give, you know when you are walking down the mall having spent a
bundle on your families Christmas gifts and you see someone ringing a bell next
to a Salvation Army kettle and you dig in your pocket for change.  Or you are coming out of the store and the
hockey, cheer, ringette teams are there asking for donations. 
Sometime it even
happens in church, we have an artist here and receive an offering for them and
you either feel like you ought to, after all they sang for you or you really
enjoyed it so you give for that reason. 
The next type of
giving is what we have called Charity on
our ladder.  And this is when we give to do
good things.  There are all kinds of
organizations who benefit from this type of giving.  Christmas Daddies every year raises all kinds
of money from people who want to do good. 
And that’s awesome.  We can never
overestimate the amount of good that is done through charity.  And the giver benefits as well because they
feel good about what they did. 
Stephen King, the
author, was addressing University graduates at their commencement in 2001 and
he was speaking about generosity and he told them this:  “Giving isn’t
about the receiver or the gift but the giver. It’s for the giver. One doesn’t
open one’s wallet to improve the world, although it’s nice when that happens;
one does it to improve one’s self. I give because it’s the only concrete way I
have of saying that I’m glad to be alive and that I can earn my daily bread
doing what I love.”   Again,
this type of giving does a pile of good, but it’s still just part way up the
ladder.  At that commencement King told about a local homeless shelter in their town
and he committed that day to give $20,000.00 to the shelter and challenged
others to match it.  A gesture that was
surely appreciated by the shelter, but it was just charity to King who is worth
close to a half a billion dollars and made in excess of $17,000,000.00 last
year. 
Stephen King wasn’t
always a giver, he told the graduates that day, “I
got a painful but extremely valuable look at life’s simple backstage truths, We
come in naked and broke. We may be dressed when we go out, but we’re just as broke.”  The day he was talking about was the
day he was run over while out for a walk and almost died in a ditch.   Hopefully that’s not what it takes for most
of us to become givers.
The next rung on the ladder is Safe Giving  Here you give
because you know that Christians ought to give and you are afraid of what will
happen if you don’t give. Sometimes you’ll even bargain with God.  God if you promise that this won’t hurt me
financially I’ll give.  Or we figure out
what we can give without it really affecting our quality of life and that’s
what we give. 
We see an example of this in an Old Testament story found
involving Abraham’s Grand-Son Jacob, it’s found in Genesis
28:20-22
 Then Jacob made this vow: “If
God will indeed be with me and protect me on this journey, and if he will
provide me with food and clothing,  and if I return safely to my father’s
home, then the LORD will certainly
be my God.  And this memorial pillar I have set up will become a place for
worshiping God, and I will present to God a tenth of everything he gives me.”  God if you will keep me healthy so I
can work, and if I can still keep my standard of living, and not have to drive
a smaller car or downsize my house.  And
if at the end of the year I don’t have to pay too many taxes, I will give to
you.
But if you are a Christ follower you don’t have to bargain
with him, he’s already told us in Matthew 6:31-33  “So don’t worry about these
things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’
 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers,
but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.  Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously,
and he will give you everything you need.
The next rung on the ladder is Percentage Giving.   Sometimes in the church you will hear people
speak of the “Tithe” and tithe simply means 10% .  For some that is the pinnacle of giving.  And they see it as a level that the super
spiritual give at.  Or the level of
giving for people who are really well off. 
And I’ve heard people tell me, “Well Pastor when I make X amount that’s
when I’ll tithe.”  But that is always a
moving target and it’s always slightly more than they are making now. 
Others tell us that tithing is an Old Testament concept and
that as Christians we aren’t under law but under grace so Christians aren’t
required to tithe.  My response to that
is what about stealing?  That’s an Old
Testament requirement as well, so are we exempt from that?  Would it be alright if I stole your car? And
they assure me that Thou Shalt not steal still applies today.  While the question is asked in Malachi 3:8  “Should people cheat God? Yet you
have cheated me! “But you ask, ‘What do you mean? When did we ever cheat you?’
“You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me.”   And it would be awesome if everyone
who considers themselves a Christian tithed.
  I read recently that the
combined income of everyone in the US who considered themselves a committed
Christian and attended church at least twice a month is approximately 2.5
Trillion dollars.  That means that on
their own that group could be admitted to the G-7.  And you think of the impact those believers
could have on the world if they tithed.
And the temptation would be to say “well then every
Christian should tithe and things would be cool.”  But it’s not about the percentage, you can
give God 10% of your money and none of your heart. 
Which leads us to Romans
12:1
 And so, dear brothers and sisters,
I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you.
Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This
is truly the way to worship him.
This rung is Sacrificial
Giving
This is where you ask God, “From all that you have given me
and entrusted me with, how much will you allow me to give back?”  Being at this rung on the ladder doesn’t make
you a super Christian, from this position you don’t have a higher view of
yourself but instead you have a higher view of God. It’s when you get to this
position that you understand that what you have was given to you for a purpose
and you use it for that purpose.  And
that is why Jesus promised in  Matthew 25:29 To those who
use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an
abundance.
And that brings us to the top rung that is simply called Kingdom Giving.  This is when our mind set is very simply
a kingdom mindset.  Everything we earn
and everything we are is God’s.  John
Wesley grew up in abject poverty, his father was an Anglican preacher in an
extremely poor parish, at one point Wesley watched as his father was taken to
debtor’s prison. But it wasn’t like that for Wesley, because of his prolific
writing and speaking he became very wealthy.  
History tells us that in a time when a single man could live comfortably
on 30 pounds a year Wesley was earning 1400 pounds a year.   But he had made a commitment to live on 28
pounds a year and he gave the rest away, he wasn’t afraid to make money but he
didn’t want to keep money.  Wesley became known for his saying, “What should rise is not the Christian’s standard of
living, but his standard of giving.” And
in his later years he wrote, “[When I die] if
I leave behind me ten pounds…you and all mankind [may] bear witness against
me, that I have lived and died a thief and a robber.”
So am I saying that we should all give like Wesley?  I most certainly am, and that is that you
will be obedient to what God is asking you to give, because anything less is
being disobedient. 
Let’s go back to our scripture 2
Corinthians 9:8
 And God will generously provide all you need. Then
you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with
others.
But take heart because the last thing we need to understand
is Generous Giving isn’t Giving It’s
Giving Back. 
You will only become
generous when you realize that all you have comes from God.   Let me pray for you.

A Sense of Entitlement?


Sometimes we hear folks describe the youth of today as having a “sense of entitlement”, but that really isn’t anything new.  I’m sure Adam and Eve had that discussion about their children and Socrates must have had that in mind over two thousand years ago when he wrote “Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households.”
But the some of the men and women in the Upper Chamber who have been in the news lately have added a whole new dimension to the term a “sense of entitlement”. The highlight was when Senator Nancy Ruth complained about a breakfast served on a flight saying “Well those breakfasts are pretty awful. If you want ice-cold Camembert with broken crackers, have it.”  The last time I had breakfast on a flight I paid $7.50 for a warmed up breakfast sandwich. 
And while we aren’t responsible for the way the Duffys, Wallins and Ruths view what they have in life, we are responsible for our response to what we have.  So in moving ahead with our lives, let’s view where we are spiritually and economically with a sense of gratitude and not a sense of entitlement and figure out how we can share what we have, both spiritually and economically, with those who have less. 

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

The Generosity of the Book

This is week two or three of Money Month at Cornerstone,
depending on how you count.  Two weeks
ago we at least gave a nod to the fact that this is the month that we deal with
Money at Cornerstone when I preached on A Generous Easter, and then last week
was our 20th Anniversary and I preached on The Birth of a Generous
Church and talked about the Generosity that allowed this church to exist, the
generous support that we received 20 years ago when we started our church,
support from our denomination, our district and from individuals around the
district and how that birthed a church that has displayed generosity for the
past 20 years. 

Now if you have no clue what I’m talking about when I say “Money
Month” it’s just the way we do things at Cornerstone.  Instead of having the pastor preach on money
when things are tight, and then it comes off as desperation, we take the month
of April each year to teach the theology of giving, how we make our money and
how we use our money.   Why April?  Because it’s the end of the church year and
we prepare out new budget in May for the new Church year.
And next week at the end of the
service step up cards will be distributed that look like this only smaller, and
we will hand out cards that look like this, only much smaller and we will allow
the folks who call Cornerstone home to respond and provide an estimate of what
they believe they will be able to give in the upcoming year.  In affect you get to have a say in the budget
and say “This is the type of church I would like to have this year.”
I think I handle the mechanics
of it well; we try not to embarrass anyone or put anyone on the spot. If you
don’t want to participate that is fine, although we encourage everyone to take
part.   And we don’t come knocking on
your door if you aren’t able to give what you thought you’d be able to, we hope
you will after all we have based our budget on those figures.  And we provide you with updates throughout
the year about where we are in relation to what was committed and where you are
personally in relation to your commitment. 
But that is then and this is now. 
So let’s go back to the scripture that was read for us
earlier.  1 Timothy was a letter written
by Paul to a young preacher named Timothy. 
Unlike letters like 1 and 2 Corinthians or Romans, this letter wasn’t
written to a church congregation to be read aloud to the group.  Instead it was written to an individual, we
are reading someone else’s mail here. 
This would be like you reading a letter that HC Wilson had sent to me
regarding my ministry.
And in the last part of this particular letter Paul
addresses the topic of money. And he includes warnings and instructions about
how money is earned and how it is spent. And part of that instructions is one
of the most misquoted scriptures in the New Testament.  It’s one of those quotes that creep up from
time to time like “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”  Which isn’t in the bible at all but was a
part of a sermon preached by John Wesley in
1791 when he said “Slovenliness is no part of
religion. Cleanliness is indeed next to Godliness.” 
But how often have you heard
someone say “Money is the root of all evil.”? 
And then they will usually attribute the words to Jesus.  But the quote isn’t “Money is the root of all
evil”, It is “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”  And it wasn’t Jesus who said it, it was Paul
who wrote it.  The reference is actually 1 Timothy 6:10 “For the love of money is the root of all
kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true
faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.”
One thing that I discovered
years ago is that Paul never addressed things in his letters that weren’t an
issue.   Letters were expensive to
produce and hard to deliver so they really weren’t the place to discuss topics
that weren’t of interest. 
Sometimes we get the idea that
talking about money and generosity is somehow of less worth than other topics
that could be broached from the pulpit, if we had a pulpit from which to broach
topics.  But finances and money are addressed
throughout the Bible, and when people give generously they are commended and
when they withheld the blessings they have been given they were
criticized. 
This morning I want to take
some time to look at Generosity throughout the Book.
It really begins at the
beginning of the book because creation was the greatest gift ever given to us
by God.  Genesis
1:31
Then God looked over all he had made, and
he saw that it was very good! And evening passed and morning came, marking the
sixth day. And if we keep reading we discover in the next chapter, Genesis 2:8-9 Then the LORD God planted a garden in
Eden in the east, and there he placed the man he had made. The LORD God made
all sorts of trees grow up from the ground—trees that were beautiful and that
produced delicious fruit. In the middle of the garden he placed the tree of
life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  So if you had been reading the creation
account, God creates this incredible earth, with all that is in it and then he
creates humans and gives humanity all he had created, and the first couple turn
their back on the gift when they rebelled against God and his perfect
will. 
And the story continues and in
the story we discover, Generosity Isn’t
Just Giving
And we don’t have to go very
far into the story of Adam and Eve to see generosity displayed.  It involved their two oldest sons, Cain and
Abel, and let’s not go down the road of who did they marry.  We don’t know, it would only be speculation.  But most folks know the story of Cain and
Abel, even if they don’t know that it came from the Bible they can tell you
that Cain killed his younger brother. 
And ever for sibling rivalry
that is kind of extreme.  The story is
told that a Sunday School class was looking at the Ten Commandments and they
had just finished “Honour your parents” and the teacher asked the class if
there was a commandment that was specific to their brothers and sisters?  One little boy put up his hand and answered
“Thou shalt not kill?”  But apparently
Cain wasn’t in that class.
And the relationship between
siblings is one of the most complicated and intense relationships that there
is.  In most cases there is no
relationship that will last longer than the relationship you have with your
siblings. They usually outlive your parents and they were around long before
your spouse.  But they can come with an incredible
amount of baggage.  But that is a sermon
for another day. 
And we don’t know what Cain and
Abel’s relationship had been like when they were younger but let’s pick up the
story in Genesis 4:1-5 Now Adam had sexual relations with his
wife, Eve, and she became pregnant. When she gave birth to Cain, she said,
“With the LORD’s help, I have produced a man!” Later she gave birth to his
brother and named him Abel. When they grew up, Abel became a shepherd, while
Cain cultivated the ground. When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented
some of his crops as a gift to the LORD. Abel also brought a gift—the best of
the firstborn lambs from his flock. The LORD accepted Abel and his gift, but he
did not accept Cain and his gift. This made Cain very angry, and he looked
dejected.   In the book of Hebrews
it says that Abel’s gift was more acceptable to God, but what made it more
acceptable. 
Now personally I would prefer a
lamb burger over a salad, but that is just me. 
The answer is found in the original account when we are told in Genesis 4:3-4 When it was time for the harvest, Cain
presented some of his crops as a gift to the LORD. Abel also brought a gift—the
best of the firstborn lambs from his flock. 
Did you catch it, Cain brought some, Abel brought the best. 
Sometimes when we give to God
we are tempted to ask “How little can I get by with?”  That’s what Cain did, he looked around and
said “I ought to give some of my crop to God.” 
When I first became a believer that was kind of where I was at. I was in
College and didn’t have a lot, and there was always somewhere to spend what I
had.  And so when I gave to God it more
of a tip than anything.  A few dollars
here and a few dollars there.   But
somewhere along the line I discovered that generosity was a lot more about what
I kept rather than what I gave.  And when
it doesn’t cost us anything are we really being generous?
I have a friend who would say at dinner, have some more I’m
just going to throw it out.  It was Sir Henry Taylor who wrote “He who gives what he would as
readily throw away, gives without generosity; for the essence of generosity is
in self-sacrifice.”

Abel didn’t give what he didn’t want or what he was going to throw away,
what he gave cost him something.  When he
gave God the best of his flock, he no longer had the best of his flock himself.
Last week we looked at the
birth of a generous church and how the giving of the Corinthian church was an
example for the Macedonian church, listen to what Paul tells us about the
church in Macedonia, 2 Corinthians 8:2-4 They
are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also
filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity. For I can
testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they
did it of their own free will. They begged us again and again for the privilege
of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem.   They weren’t just giving, they were
being generous.  Their abundant joy
overflowed with great generosity, they gave not only what they could afford but
far more, and they did it of their own free will. 
Because you know as well as I
do that you can give without being generous. 
When I’m coming out of the store and the cheerleaders, hockey players,
girl guides, boy scouts, fill in the blank have their table or booth set up and
I dig in my pocket for change because too many people know who I am for me not
to give, but I’m not being generous. 
Which leads us to the next
point:  Generosity isn’t an Amount it
is a Principle
It would be so easy if there was a set amount.  Like on PBS, where you can be a silver
contributor if you give so much or a gold contributor if you give more than the
silver, or a Platinum giver or diamond giver. 
So we could give out a form that says “Give this much and you will be
generous.”  But that’s not the way it
works.
Back in the Old Testament the
people of Israel worshipped in a tent, they called it a tabernacle, but it was
just a tent, a really big, really ornate tent, but still a tent.  And King David, the same  David who took on Goliath the giant and wrote
the 23rd Psalm, had a dream of building a permanent home where the
people could worship God.  That dream
eventually became  a reality when David’s
son Solomon built the temple.  But listen
to David’s commitment:  1 Chronicles 29:3-5 “And now, because of my devotion to the
Temple of my God, I am giving all of my own private treasures of gold and
silver to help in the construction. This is in addition to the building
materials I have already collected for his holy Temple. I am donating more than
112 tons of gold from Ophir and 262 tons of refined silver to be used for
overlaying the walls of the buildings and for the other gold and silver work to
be done by the craftsmen. Now then, who will follow my example and give
offerings to the LORD today?”
And other’s followed David’s
example, but they didn’t give what David gave. 
Listen as the story continues  1 Chronicles 29:6 Then the family leaders, the leaders of
the tribes of Israel, the generals and captains of the army, and the king’s
administrative officers all gave willingly.   And if we kept reading we would read
how much they gave. And they truly had captured the principle of not equal
giving but equal sacrifice. 
There is a great story told in
two of the gospels, this is Luke’s account. 
Luke 21:1-4 While Jesus was in the Temple, he watched
the rich people dropping their gifts in the collection box. Then a poor widow
came by and dropped in two small coins. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said,
“this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them. For they have given
a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she
has.”   The rich people were
simply giving out of obligation, but the widow was giving out of
generosity.   They both gave, that wasn’t the issue, it was
how they gave.  
The youth group used to do a
major food drive on Halloween night called Harvest for the Hungry and through
the years they literally collected a ton of food.  But I always marvelled at some of the stuff
that came in and you know that people where just cleaning out their kitchen
cupboards.  What we do now is our monthly
collection of soup and milk for the food bank, and it is intentional giving
that cost something.  Not a lot, but
people have to go to the store and buy soup or milk and bring it to the
church. 
Do you remember the story where
Jesus feed the five thousand?  Thousands
of folks had come out to hear Jesus preach and at the end of the day he asks
his disciples how they could feed the crowd. 
Nobody seems to have a good answer until Andrew arrives with an unlikely
solution John 6:8-9 Then Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke
up. “There’s a young boy here with five barley loaves and two fish. But what
good is that with this huge crowd?”    Now
we would have to assume that in a crowd that size the boy wasn’t the only
person with food, but he was the one who offered it.  And it was all he had.  And you really can’t fault the others, they
were hungry and when they looked at the crowd they knew that what they had
wouldn’t make a difference.  But the boy
didn’t see the crowd, he just knew that Jesus was looking for food and he had
food to offer. 
And you know what happened, from
that one boy’s generosity Jesus fed the crowd and had leftovers besides.  Barclay suggests a different type of miracle
when he writes William Barclay stated “It may be that this is a miracle in which the presence of
Jesus turned a crowd of selfish men and women into a fellowship of sharers.”  But that wasn’t how the gospel writers
saw it, they saw Jesus doing the impossible with the improbable. 
I wonder what God can do with
our generosity?  Last week at our
anniversary service I spoke about what has been done through your generosity
and our partnerships with Ronald McDonald House, World Hope, Samaritan Purse, Compassion
and Global Partners.  Imagine the people
who could be touched, the lives that could be changed and the futures that
could be impacted through the generosity of God’s people.  Because he can still do the impossible with
the improbable. 
Generosity
Always Comes with a Blessing   
And most of us don’t have a problem with that.  In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells people
over and over again that if they do certain things they will be blessed.   But even if we accept that God wants to
bless us we get a little nebulous about what those blessings might be and we
get a little squirmy if we keep reading in Psalm 112 and stumble onto verse
three that says this about those who fear God and delight in obeying his
commands, Psalm 112:3 They themselves will be wealthy, and their good deeds will
last forever.  Most of us really
aren’t comfortable with that statement any more than we are with scriptures
like Proverbs 10:22 The blessing of the LORD makes a person rich, and he adds no
sorrow with it. We don’t want to equate God’s blessing with money but
apparently Solomon didn’t have that problem.
But apparently the Bible didn’t
have a problem with equating God’s blessing at least in some way with material
blessings.  In Malachi 3:10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so
there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the LORD of Heaven’s
Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing
so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!”
If you bring all the tithes then God will open the windows of heaven for
you and will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have all the room to take
it in. 
And Jesus tells us in Luke 11:28 Jesus replied, “But even more
blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice.” Did
you catch that?  We aren’t just blessed;
we are more blessed when we are obedient to the word of God.
Now understand that we aren’t
obedient so we will be blessed, but when we are obedient we are blessed.  We don’t give so we will be blessed, but when
we give God’s word tells us that we will be blessed.  And again, let me reiterate, being blessed is
about your life, not your cheque book. 
It is about God’s presence in your life
And according to the
bible, God’s word, when we are faithful and give with pure motives some of
those blessings are financial.  You may
want to ignore it or try to rationalize it as spiritual blessings but that
isn’t and wasn’t the context that those verses were written in.   Listen to what Paul told the
church in Corinth 2 Corinthians 9:10 For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then
bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and
then produce a great harvest of generosity in you.   We are going to
unpack that a little more next week but you see the principle here, that when
you demonstrate your faithfulness with what God has given you then he gives you
more so that you can be even more generous. 
Or as Jesus said Matthew 25:29 To those who
use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an
abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be
taken away. 

Cruise of a Lifetime


I don’t know if the plan had been for it to be a three hour cruise but it turned into a 66 day nightmare. Louis Jordan had set sail for a few days of fishing but what was supposed to be a routine trip on his 35 foot sailboat named “Angel” turned into anything but. 
When the inexperienced sailor got caught unaware by heavy seas, his boat capsized, breaking her mast, ruining the on-board communication equipment and leaving Jordan with a broken shoulder.  That was in January and it was the last that anyone heard from Angel or it’s crew.  Last week “Angel” was spotted 200 miles off the coast of North Carolina by a German container ship with Louis Jordan sitting on its overturned hull.

In interviews, the survivor spoke of drinking rainwater and eating fish he attracted from under his boat with seaweed and then caught in a dip net.  But ultimately he credits his survival to his faith and the Bible that he kept on board.  Jordan told one reporter “’Every day I was like, ‘Please God, send me some rain, send me some water.’” 

And the refreshing thing is that it appeared that God and Louis were on speaking terms long before the storm.  Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

The Birth of a Generous Church

I’ve always been intrigued with the Corinthian Church.  A church with problems, you don’t have to
read very far through the letters addressed to the church to discover that they
struggled with “issues”.  Theological
issues, moral issues, behavioural issues. 
But in my experience that is the reality of the church.  I mean as long as the church is made up of
people.    In my 33 years in the ministry, the three
churches that I have served as lead pastor have all experienced theological
issues, moral issues and behavioural issues to one degree or another.  The perfect church will never exist as long
as it’s made up of imperfect people. 
But for all of their struggles
listen to how Paul addresses them in his first letter:  1
Corinthians 1:2-3
I am writing to
God’s church in Corinth, to you who have been called by God to be his own holy
people. He made you holy by means of Christ Jesus, just as he did for all
people everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and
ours. May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.
But what has intrigued me more
than anything about the church in Corinth was their generosity.  Listen what Paul wrote to this group.  In 2 Corinthians 8:10 Last
year you were the first who wanted to give, and you were the first to begin
doing it.  That’s pretty
impressive.  They were the first who
wanted to give, but not only did they want to give they were the first to begin
doing it.
So here we are, on the Sunday that celebrates twenty years
of worshipping together as a church. 
That means that for 1040 Sundays, actually 1039, because we had to
cancel church on November 7th 2004,  there have been folks who have gathered
together under the banner of either Bedford Community Church or Cornerstone
Wesleyan Church to worship and serve Jesus Christ.
But along with that this is our first week of Stewardship
Emphasis month, or as it is now commonly known at Cornerstone “Money Month”. 
For those who are new to Cornerstone or are a guest today a
little background. 
Thirteen years ago
we started dealing with the topic of money differently than we did for the
first seven years we existed.  For the
first seven we treated money the way most churches do.  We prepared a budget each year, which
actually is probably more responsible than a lot of churches, but the budget
really wasn’t based on reality.  It was
more of a wish list than a budget.
And then I would
preach on money whenever money became an issue. 
Which unfortunately probably came across as scolding or begging.   In 2002 the leadership team decided that
wasn’t working and so we moved in a different direction.  Each year in the month of April I focus on
the theology of giving at Cornerstone and so in April, I preach on money, how
we make it and how we use it.  And then
at the end of April we ask those who make Cornerstone their church home to make
a commitment of what they intend to give weekly for the next 12 months and that
is what we base our budget on.  In a very
real sense the people of Cornerstone determine what type of church they would
like to have. 
As many of you know the preaching schedule at Cornerstone is
in the planning stages months before we actually get to preach a particular
message.  So now we are planning for our
summer series, I’ve been at least thinking about Christmas and have scrawled
down thoughts for next Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  We don’t always nail it the way we planned
but at least we are thinking about it. 
So back in the fall it dawned on me that I would have to combine Money
Month with Easter Sunday and our Anniversary Service this year. 
Now my first thought was that I would have to reduce Money
Month to two weeks, and while that may have made some of you happy I realized
that it really didn’t serve the purpose that we had put in place 13 years ago,
sorry. 
So last Sunday I preached on “A Generous Easter” and it was
as I pondered where I would go on our 20th birthday that I realized
that Cornerstone is a generous church that was birthed out of the generosity of
other churches and that we aren’t alone in that.  Every church that exists and has ever existed
was once a brand new church. 
The Beginning of the
Church
Last summer, summer is a season when there is no snow on the ground
the rivers and lakes are liquid and children frolic on green grass, just in
case you were wondering.  Last summer the
staff preached a series called “Down the Road” and we followed the journey of
Paul from his conversion to his death. 
And you will recall that Paul was one of the Jewish religious elite who
persecuted the church before he met Jesus. 
And in the early days of his ministry his target audience were those who
shared his Jewish faith.  Those were the
ones he had the most in common with.  But
then something happened. 
Paul was in the middle of what
is commonly called “The First Missionary Journey” and ends up in the city of
Antioch which is in modern day Turkey. 
This is not the city of Antioch that is mentioned earlier in the book of
Act where the believers were first called Christians, that was in Syria.  Apparently Antioch was a lot like
Springfield.
And as was Paul’s tradition he
goes to the Synagogue and starts preaching to the Jewish folks who have
gathered for the Sabbath.   But listen to
what happens the next week:    Acts 13:44-49 The following week almost the entire city
turned out to hear them preach the word of the Lord. But when some of the Jews
saw the crowds, they were jealous; so they slandered Paul and argued against
whatever he said. Then Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and declared, “It was
necessary that we first preach the word of God to you Jews. But since you have
rejected it and judged yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we will offer it to
the Gentiles. For the Lord gave us this command when he said, ‘I have made you
a light to the Gentiles, to bring salvation to the farthest corners of the
earth.’” When the Gentiles heard this, they were very glad and thanked the Lord
for his message; and all who were chosen for eternal life became believers. So
the Lord’s message spread throughout that region.   
This is a major paradigm
shift.  If that hadn’t happened we
probably wouldn’t be here today.  Up to
this point the gospel was being preached only to the Jews, a few gentiles
heard, but for the most part if you weren’t Jewish you weren’t invited to the party.  You might even recall that Peter was accused
of associating with Gentiles when he preached in Antioch in Syria, and was
reprimanded for it.
But now we see Paul casting a
vision for a church that would embrace those who were outside the church. 
For Cornerstone that dream
began in November of 1992 in Brisbane Australia when I attended a conference about
“Building a church for the Unchurched”.   The conference was put on by Willow Creek
Church and the key note speaker for the week was the Lead Pastor from Willow
Creek, Bill Hybels.  And God spoke to my
heart about pastoring a church that would reach the pre-churched the unchurched
and the de-churched.
In Paul’s case his proclamation
is a shift in focus, to reach folks who previously had been largely ignored by
the church, and the decision wasn’t without controversy.  If you keep reading in the book of Acts you
discover that Paul has to return to Jerusalem to defend his decision and his vision
for the future in front of the church leadership.  And the result was that they put their
support behind Paul and Barnabas and they head out on the journey that will
ultimately introduce Christianity to Europe. 
But without the leadership of
the church putting their support behind Paul it would never have happened. 
It was in January and February
of 1994 that Angela and I were in discussion with Ray Barnwell the District
Superintendent of the Atlantic District about returning from Australia.  And Ray asked if we would be interested in
planting a new church on the district. 
And I cast my vision for a church that would be innovative and different
from other churches, a church that would be designed to reach the unchurched,
the pre-churched and the de-churched.
And the dream that would become
Cornerstone moved closer to reality.  But
it could never have happened without the generosity of people who would never
attend the new church and in some cases people who we would never meet.  The denomination gave us a $10,000 US grant
for equipment and signs for our new church and the Atlantic District committed
$30,000 for our first year, $15,000 for our second year and $7,500 for our
third year. 
And during the first nine
months that we were in Bedford I travelled every weekend to Wesleyan churches
across NS and NB casting a vision for this new church to people who would never
feel comfortable attending the church we were dreaming of, but they embraced
the vision and committed to give and pray for a church they would never attend.
And it was the dollars and
prayers of those folks, their generosity that allowed us to see our church born
and survive during those early years when the offerings would hardly cover the
rent we were paying for our office and worship space.
The Birth of the
Church
The church in Corinth wasn’t the first church to be birthed in
Europe, but it would be one of the most influential in many ways.  Corinth was a Roman Colony and the capital of
that province, it was a key commercial centre and major sea port and it was
also described as “A key centre for pagan worship” and Paul would spend 18
months here establishing the church. 
But he wasn’t alone. 
If you read down through the account you see several folks named who
were instrumental in making the dream a reality.  A couple by the name of Aquila and Priscilla who let Paul live with
them while the church was in its infant stage, and they helped provide him work
as a tent maker so he could support himself and the baby church.  There was a man named Titius Justus, who was
a gentile who also opened his home to Paul and the church.  We are told that Crispus was the leader of
the synagogue and he became a believer.
And then Silas and
Timothy arrived as ministry partners to help establish the church. 
The week before we
launched we knew for sure that we had about a dozen people who had committed to
be a part of our new church and another dozen who were half way in and another
two dozen beyond that who had told us, “Let us know when you get a church
started.”  And so on our first Sunday we
had 99 but many of them were visitors.  And
some who were in that first service are here today, either in this service or
the other one.  And that morning one of
the songs we sang was “We Are a People of Power” and I truly believed that.
And by the end of
the first month we had about forty folks who were committed to being a part of
our new church.
When we started
Cornerstone I couldn’t have done it by myself. 
Angela was my ministry partner and she led worship and then left to lead
children’s ministry.  There was always
one song that we had to sing with a cassette, we called it the band in the
box.  And our kids did whatever had to be
done, Steve played drums and Deborah did whatever we asked her to, played bass,
ran PowerPoint, helped in nursery and children’s church and youth.  And that continues to be the reality at
Cornerstone.  For the pastoral staff every
week is bring your kid to work week, ministry families are the first here on
Sunday and often the last to leave on Sunday. 
Marilyn’s boys have taught in the children’s ministry, have helped in
youth and done sound, played in the band and become puppeteers, because they
were needed. 
And here is a
teaching moment, today when a pastor works at a job outside the church as well
as pastoring we refer to them as bi-vocational but for many years they were
referred to as Tentmakers, which was a reference to what Paul did to support
himself in the early years of the Corinthian Church.  Every pastor at Cornerstone, without
exception has been part-time or bi-vocational at some point.  And that continues because although Stefan
will be coming on full time in July he has been on staff as a volunteer since
July.
And so for those
first ten years that Cornerstone existed it was the generosity of the small
group that called Bedford Community their church home that made it possible for
the church to exist.   Some were like Aquila and Priscilla and
sacrificially gave of their finances. 
There were a number of years that Cornerstone had the highest per capita
giving of any Wesleyan Church in the Maritimes, we just needed more
capita.    And it was because of that giving that
Cornerstone was able to be a missions giving church even during the lean
years.  Before we had our first service
we started supporting our first overseas missionary, and that couldn’t have
happened without people who were committed financially to the work. 
But it wasn’t just a
dollars that people gave.  Some were like
Justus, the gentile in Corinth, who had no exposure to church before he started
attending church.  Folks who started attending
and were introduced to Jesus and things changed for them.  Financially they had never thought about
giving to a church before and the five dollars a week that they started with
seemed like a stretch but pretty soon they were giving sacrificially to make it
happen, and helping to set up and tear down every Sunday and running the sound
system and hosting small groups.  And
then it wasn’t just their money they were giving, it was their lives.
And there was
Crispus, the leader of the synagogue. 
This new work in Corinth wasn’t like worship in the synagogue, and now
he wasn’t the leader anymore and things were different. What he generously
offered, along with his finances were his preferences.
I think about
conversations that I had throughout the years with folks who came to our church
and then left because they felt that their needs weren’t being met.  And I would smile and nod, because there
wasn’t much else you could do.  As they
said they wanted to attend someplace with the music they preferred, or a church
with a longer service, or that we only had six children in the children’s
program and they wanted a larger program for their kids, or a bigger youth
group for their teens or we didn’t have more midweek programs. 
But what allowed us
to become the church that we have become were the families that put their
preferences on the back burner because they believed in the vision of what we
were trying to do, to create a church that unchurched people would enjoy coming
to and would meet Jesus and accept him as saviour and Lord.    And
like Crispus they sacrificed their preferences for the vision.  And their kids were part of the small Jr.
Church program and their teens were part of the little youth group, and they
didn’t always get to sing the music they preferred. 
And that attitude of
generosity flourished when we came to the point that we realized that if we
were going to see our vision become a reality then we would have to have a
church building of our own.  And we’ve
told this story before, when we made the decision to build there were around
fifty people attending Cornerstone on an average Sunday and we embarked on a
capital campaign that would determine the future of our Church.  And from that group we raised commitments of
over $358,000.00, to be paid over a three year period.
And people gave up
vacations, and new cars and sacrificed everyday things to make that a
reality.  And there were large gifts and
there were small gifts from single moms and high school students, because the
theme was “Not Equal Giving but Equal Sacrifice”  And you could add to that the $10,000.00 the
denomination gave us for our first building and how that was matched by the
district.  And while we didn’t have an official
anthem as we moved ahead, I don’t know how many times that year we sang “All
Things are Possible”
The Transition of the
Church
The church in Corinth had a transition when Paul left after 18
months, it was a different church than it had been under his leadership.  For Cornerstone that transition happened that
Sunday almost ten years ago when we opened the doors to this new building.  And in many ways we became a different church
than we had been.  But the thing that
remained the same was the generosity. 
In Paul’s second letter to the
Corinthian church listen to what he tells them: 
2 Corinthians 9:2 For I know how eager you are to help, and
I have been boasting to the churches in Macedonia that you in Greece were ready
to send an offering a year ago. In fact, it was your enthusiasm that stirred up
many of the Macedonian believers to begin giving.   It was the generosity of the believers
in Corinth that set an example for the believers in Macedonia, which is modern
day Turkey. 
And since we have moved into
this building the folks who have come and embraced the vision and the dream of
Cornerstone have continued to be a generous people.  And when people criticize churches that want
to grow and are growing they don’t understand that a church of 300 can do so
much more than a church of 50 or even a hundred.
And the generosity that
continues to bubble up at Cornerstone has affected people in our communities
and communities around the world.   The
financial generosity that has continued to allow us to have this building.  The 358,000 dollars that was raised by the
small group was seed money, but the monthly mortgage on our new building was
more than our total giving the month before we moved in.  Someone asked shortly after we moved in how
much our mortgage was and I replied “$283.00” and they said “that’s not bad” to
which I added “per day”.   And yet
because of your generosity we have never missed a mortgage payment, or a power
payment or a payday.    
But it’s not simply a matter of
you giving to keep the building open, that’s like the church that had service
so they could take an offering so they could stay open another week to have
service to take an offering. 
Your generosity has reached
well beyond this building.  Because of
your generosity families at Ronald McDonald House can come home from being with
their sick kids at the IWK and have a hot meal. 
And because of your generosity there are hundreds of people across
Halifax who have had soup in their cupboards for their lunch or supper.  And because of your generosity through the
years hundreds of children in developing countries have had gifts to celebrate
Christmas with.  And because of your
generosity there is a safe place in Odessa in Ukraine for homeless teens to go,
and because of your generosity wells have been drilled to provide fresh water
in Sierra Leone and the Congo, and they have been instrumental in the fight
against Ebola.  There are people that you
will never meet who are alive today because of gifts you made to the well
projects. 
And there are children who have
been sponsored in Ghana and Peru and around the world who will have a better
future because of your generosity
There are pastors teaching and
preaching in villages in Sierra Leone and Ghana who were trained because your
generosity allowed me the time to take teams of teachers to West Africa and you
helped support my trips financially.  And
there will be people in heaven who came to know Jesus in a bush church in
Africa because of your giving. 
And there are still people who
stay even though we don’t sing the music they like, and even though Denn wears
jeans to preach and they aren’t entirely comfortable at Cornerstone but they
have sacrificed their preferences to be part of a church with a vision to
provide a comfortable place for people who don’t go to church to go to
church. 
And as we move into the future
if we are going to impact the lives that we need to impact, if we are to
introduce more and more families to Jesus, if we are going to see more
marriages salvaged and more teens kept out of potentially dangerous situations
because of a change in their focus and priorities it will be because you
continue to be generous, with your time, with your preferences and with your
money.   
I wish I could recognize every
person who has made Cornerstone a reality through their generosity, but you
will have to be satisfied with my heartfelt thank you.  I had mentioned earlier about those who were
here for the first service, but there is someone here, other than members of my
family, who has been here from the very beginning.  And there is only one of them.  And that is Karen Wickwire.  She was part of the small group that met in
our living room  on Basinview drive, she
was here for the first service and she has faithfully served and given at
Cornerstone for the past 20 years, and not just as a church member but as a
friend.  We haven’t always agreed on
everything but she has always supported my ministry and vision for this church.  When the church struggled and I struggled as
the pastor it was notes of encouragement from Karen that I kept on my bulletin
board that kept me going.  And there were
the meals that Karen took Angela and me out for, and times that I was working
outside the church and pastoring that Karen provide us with a few days away at
White Point.  And so while we could never
adequately express our appreciation to Karen we have a gift of roses for her
and Angela and I are going to take her out to Supper as a gift from
Cornerstone. 

Happy Birthday



That year gas sold for 54.3 cents a litre, the five year mortgage rate was 10.6 % and the Canadian dollar was worth about 72 cents American.   Some might remember that was the year that the Maple Leaf Gardens were sold, the Paul Bernado trial began, Quebec narrowly decided to remain a part of Canada, the Canadiens traded Patrick Roy and Canadians got a new two dollar coin.  But I had to look all of those things up. What I remember from 1995 is that that was when Cornerstone was born.  And like most births there was much hoopla and predictions about the baby’s future, but as Yogi Berra said “It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future.”
The route Cornerstone took to get to where we are today is not what I had in mind on that sunny and warm spring day 20 years ago.  But in the journey, I have grown, the church has grown, lives have been touched and people have met Jesus and made Him Lord but most importantly God’s purposes have been served. 
And while I have no idea what may happen in the next twenty years I trust that I will grow, the church will grow, lives be will touched, people will meet Jesus and God’s purposes will be served. Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

A Generous Easter

We sometimes refer to the gift of Easter, and when some
folks think of Easter gifts they think of new clothes and chocolate.  And while those might be Easter gifts they
aren’t the gifts we are talking about today. 
And this message really started on Friday because there
couldn’t be a Sunday without a Friday. 
Easter Sunday couldn’t and wouldn’t exist without Good Friday.  Because every gift, at least every gift that
is truly a gift cost somebody something. 
It might be time, it might be money but there is a cost there.  And so before Jesus could be raised from the
dead he had to die, before we can accept the gift of salvation a debt has to be
paid, in order for a sacrifice to be acceptable there has to be a cost to the
person making the sacrifice.  Without a
cost it might be a nice gesture but it wouldn’t be a sacrifice.
And that was my Message two days ago, what Good Friday Cost,
and we looked at what it cost for the Father, the Son, Peter and the People of
Jerusalem. 
But that was Friday and today is Sunday. 
And this is not only Easter Sunday it’s also the first week
of Money Month at Cornerstone.  And that
always makes it a little awkward, so a little background as we go ahead. 
For the past thirteen years Cornerstone has treated
Stewardship differently than we did for the first seven years that we
existed.  For the first seven we treated
money the way most churches do.  We
prepared a budget each year, which actually is probably more responsible than a
lot of churches, but the budget really wasn’t based on reality.  It was more of a wish list than a budget.
And then I would preach on money whenever money became an
issue.  Which unfortunately probably came
across as scolding or begging.   In 2002 the
leadership team decided that wasn’t working and so we moved in a different
direction.  Each year in the month of
April I focus on the theology of giving at Cornerstone and so for three or four
or five weeks, depending on the April and Easter, I preach on money, how we
make it and how we use it.  And then at
the end of April we ask those who make Cornerstone their church home to make a
commitment of what they intend to give weekly for the next 12 months and that
is what we base our budget on.  In a very
real sense the people of Cornerstone determine what type of church they would
like to have. 
Normally when Easter falls in April we take a pass on
stewardship that week, but this year we have Easter on the first Sunday of
April and our Anniversary Service on the second Sunday.  So we will at least introduce the theme for
the next four weeks, and that is “A Generous Church”. 
We good?
Two days before, the world was dark as Pontius Pilate the
Roman Governor, who ruled Palestine at the direction of the emperor had Jesus
Christ the Son of God crucified.  And the
crime of Jesus?  He had displeased the
religious rulers of the day, he had threatened the status quo with his talk of
grace and forgiveness and how people could have a personal relationship with
God.
And when Jesus died on the cross the hopes and dreams of
those who followed him died as well.  For
three years they had followed him and held unto to every word he said, in him
they saw the promise of a better world. 
But on Friday their dreams died with Jesus.
But that was Friday and this is Sunday.  In the scripture that was read for us earlier
we read Mark’s account of what happened early on Sunday morning.  And the scholars tell us that Mark was
writing Peter’s account of what happened. 
If we go back to Friday you may recall that Jesus’ body was
taken down from the cross and laid in the tomb of Joseph at the end of the
day.  And because the end of Friday
signified the beginning of the Sabbath there was no time to take care of the
body of Jesus.  And so now we see three
woman returning to the tomb as soon as was practical to give their final gift
to their friend.    They were there to
wash his body and anoint it with the burial spices that custom dictated.  It is interesting to note that one of the
gospel accounts names some of the spices that were brought, and one of them was
myrrh.  You might recall the first time
we see myrrh mentioned in the gospel accounts was when the Magi presented their
gifts to the new born Christ.  And so it
seems that myrrh was destined to be both the first and last gift given to
Jesus. 
And so resurrection Sunday begins as a day of generosity,
the generosity of service when these woman got up early so they could be at the
tomb as soon as possible to take care of their friend’s remains.  The generosity of those who provided the
spices, we are told there was seventy five pounds in total.  And the generosity that allowed them to be
identified with one who had been declared a heretic and branded a traitor to
Rome. 
And so here they were, only to be greeted not by a tomb
sealed with a stone and guarded by Roman soldiers but by an open tomb with a
messenger from God. And the message?   “You
are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen
from the dead!”
And so on Friday we talked about what that day had cost, but
that was Friday and this is Sunday. 
Let’s go back to the scripture
that we started with two days ago and that was 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.   The key
word here is “Gave”.  Jesus was not taken
from the Father, the Son was not demanded of the Father.  The
Father Gave His Son
The bible is clear, we were each created to have a
relationship with our creator.  That was
the plan from the beginning and in the beginning mankind chose to reject that
relationship and that set the pattern
.  And sometimes we struggle with the why of
free will.  Wouldn’t be it be easier for
us if we were unable to sin, unable to choose to do that which was wrong?
It is the double edged sword of
free will, we all want to be able to choose to do as we wish, we just don’t
want to pay the consequences.  In the
case of rejecting God the consequences are plain, eternal separation from the
God we rejected. 
But how do we bridge the gulf
that exists between us and a perfect God? 
We can’t on our own and so the price was paid when God gave his
Son.  And I spoke about this on
Friday.  The Trinity and the nature of
God is and will remain a mystery to us until our eyes are opened on the other
side of eternity.  How can one God exist
as three persons?  How can there be a Son
who has always been?  If you can’t
understand it that’s alright, I’ve quoted Augustine
before who said “If you deny the Trinity, you lose
your soul; if you try to explain the Trinity, you lose your mind.” What
we need to understand is that what God gave was Himself.  The ultimate gift to redeem a people who had
rejected him.   
The next thing we need to
realize is that 2000 years ago The Son
Gave His Life
Sometimes when we think of Good Friday and all that happened
on that day we picture Jesus being dragged from the temple to Pilate and from
Pilate to Herod and back to Pilate again. 
Of Jesus being forced to carry his cross and losing his freedom and his
life at the whim of a fickle governor giving in to the vindictive and selfish
desires of the religious leaders.
But long before Jesus was
crucified and before Jesus was arrested in the garden, and before Judas was
bribed to betray him Jesus told his apostles in John
10:17
“The Father loves me because I sacrifice
my life so I may take it back again.”  Jesus
didn’t say his life would be taken from him, he said he would sacrifice his
life.  A sacrifice is not something that
is taken that is something that is given.
It was Gandhi
who said “The mice which helplessly find themselves
between the cats teeth acquire no merit from their enforced sacrifice.”
But for Jesus it was not an
enforced sacrifice, he was not like a mouse caught by a cat. 
Listen as Jesus continues  John
10:18 “
No one can take my life from me. I
sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want
to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” Did
you catch that?  Jesus said “I sacrifice
it voluntarily.  I lay it down.”  And ultimately he said that he would take it
up again.
Later on, John, one of Jesus’
closest friends, would reiterate this when he wrote to the early Christians 1 John 3:16 We know what real love is because Jesus
gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers
and sisters.   Jesus gave his life
for us. It wasn’t taken it was given. 
And maybe you are
thinking:  But when they came to arrest
him did he really have a choice?  When
they took him to the high priest who sent him to Pilate who turned him over to
be crucified.  How was that his
choice? 
When the
story is told of Jesus’ arrest you might remember that Peter grabbed a sword
and tried to fend off those who came to arrest Jesus, and in doing cut off one
guy’s ear, and we’ve talked about that before. 
That was a mistake, Peter never intended to cut off the guy’s ear, Peter
meant to cut off the guy’s head.  And
Jesus reaches over and picks up the ear and puts it back where it belonged,
which is kind of cool, would have been cooler if Peter had of cut off the guy’s
head and Jesus had of fixed that, just saying.  
But then Jesus tells Peter to put down his sword and he makes this
remarkable statement, Matthew 26:53 (Jesus said) “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once
put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”  This isn’t legions like we have
legions, what Jesus was referring to here was the largest unit in the Roman
army which at that time numbered around 6,000 men.   And so Jesus is saying that at his word, the
Father would send 72,000 of the biggest meanest angels the world had ever seen
and it would be game over. 
Right up to the end Jesus could
have put a stop to what was happening. 
He wasn’t a helpless puppet or pawn. 
He gave his life for us.   
And if
the story had of ended with that, with the Father Giving His Son and the Son
Giving His Life it would have made a good story, but that would have been
it.  Because that was Friday, and this is
Sunday.  You see the cost was paid on
Friday but the gifts were revealed on Sunday. 
Because on Friday Jesus’ body was laid in a tomb and all he had said and
all he had done was buried with him. 
Now
let’s go back to the scripture that was read for us earlier, the woman arrive
at the tomb expecting it to be sealed, but instead it is opened and we pick up
the story in Mark 16:5-6 When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a
white robe sitting on the right side. The women were shocked, but the angel
said, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was
crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Look, this is where they
laid his body.”
It was at that point that the
gift was revealed, because up to that point the Father had lost his Son and the
Son had lost his life.  The resurrection
is the proof of the gift.  And you might
be asking:  But how does that affect me? 
Well, because of the
resurrection Peter Was Given Forgiveness.  We told the story on Friday, how Peter
Jesus’ BFF had promised just hours before Jesus’ arrest that he would never
deny him that he would die for him.  And
how Jesus had never asked Peter to die for him, only to live for him, but in
the end Peter was unable to do either.  
After Jesus’s arrest Peter had
the opportunity three times to take a stand for Christ, three times he was
asked about his relationship with Jesus and three times he denied that he even
knew his friend.  And with his third
denial Peter turned and looked into the eyes of the one he had just
denied.  And we are told that with the
realization of what he had done Peter was crushed, how could Christ ever
forgive him?  How could he ever
acknowledge a relationship with Jesus ever again?   
But if we go back to the
scripture that had been read earlier we pick it up with the Angel’s words in Mark 16:7 “Now go and tell his disciples, including
Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there,
just as he told you before he died.”   He
didn’t just say “go and tell his disciples” instead he added “including
Peter”.  And when the disciples heard
that the grave was empty it was Peter who was first out of the gate to run to
the tomb to see for himself.
For all of us who have felt at
some time or another that we have blown our Christian witness, that through our
actions or through our words that have denied Christ.  And we wonder how we can ever look into his
eyes again he offers us the gift of forgiveness. 
You see the issue isn’t whether
or not Jesus can forgive us, the issue is whether or not we can forgive
ourselves.  Jesus was telling Peter that
not only did he forgive him he believed in him. 
And that there were greater days ahead.
Jesus was there to help Peter
back to his feet.  Last month I talked
about when Peter saw Jesus walking on the water and wanted to walk on the water
as well.  You know the story, Peter gets
out of the boat and as he starts to walk through the storm toward Jesus he
panics and begins to sink.  And how Jesus
reached out his hand and saved Peter.  Do
you remember that?  And I made the
comment in that message that Jesus took time to save the sinker before he
rebuked the doubter. 
There would come a time, John records
it in his gospel that Jesus would challenge Peter about whether or not he truly
loved him.  And three times Peter affirms
his love for Christ.  But before Jesus
asked Peter to affirm his love for him, he affirms his love for Peter.
And if you feel that you’ve
blown it, that you could never face Jesus again he wants you to know that when
he conquered death he conquered it for you. 
Last Sunday was Palm Sunday and
part of my message was how Jesus wept over Jerusalem.  He wept for those who would reject him, and
reject the truth of his message.  And it
wold appear that there was no future for the people of Jerusalem.  But listen to the promise that Jesus gives to
the Apostles before returning to the Father, 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.”
With the crucifixion Jerusalem
may have given up on Jesus but with the resurrection it become very evident
that Jesus hadn’t give up on Jerusalem. 
And so with the resurrection Jerusalem
was Given Hope for the Future
On Friday I said that when
Jesus wept over Jerusalem he was weeping over all those who rejected his
message and his truth.  But he didn’t
give up on Jerusalem and he hasn’t given up on those who reject his message
today.  Peter reminded the church 2000
years ago of that reality when he wrote in 2
Peter 3:9
The Lord isn’t really being slow about
his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He
does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.  
And we don’t have to read very
far into the book of Acts when we see the Holy Spirit empowering the apostles
and we see Peter, Peter who had denied Christ, now preaching and literally
thousands of people in Jerusalem coming to know Christ.  And the message that Peter preached to the
people of Jerusalem was simple.  “God
sent his Son, you killed him, now say you’re sorry.” 
And it was in Jerusalem that
the church was born, and the gift that Christ gave to the world was the gift of
the Church.  And Jesus had said this
about the church in Luke
6:47
I will show
you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then
follows it.  And from out of the
generosity of Easter the church was born and generosity has been the legacy of
the church for 2000 years. 
From the very beginning we see
the early church tending for the “least of these” and they followed the example
of Christ.  Jesus’ brother James remind
the early church 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.
And they got it.  And since the birth of the church we see
followers of Christ reaching out to widows and orphans, to the sick and the
despised.  History has recorded the
generosity of those who follow the risen Christ who have built hospitals and orphanages
who have ministered to the hungry and the displaced.  And today when there is a disaster it is
still Christian relief agencies funded by Christian churches that are in the
forefront.  And they are simply
responding to the generosity of Easter. 
How will you respond to the
gift of the resurrection?  Maybe like
Peter you need to realize that Christ has not given up on you even if you feel
that you gave up on Christ.  Or maybe you
are like the people of Jerusalem who turned their back on Christ while he was
on the Cross and rejected him but he hadn’t given up on Jerusalem and he hasn’t
given up on you either. 
Forty years ago Bill Gaither wrote
these lyrics Because He lives, I can face
tomorrow,
Because He lives, all fear is gone; Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living, Just because He lives!

The Cost of Good Friday

Sometimes we hear people refer to the gift of Easter, and on
Sunday we are going to reflect on the generosity that made Easter a reality for
us, and for the gifts that are extended to us because of the resurrection.  But that is Sunday and this is Friday. 
You see there couldn’t be a Sunday without a Friday.  Easter Sunday couldn’t and wouldn’t exist
without Good Friday.  Because every gift,
at least every gift that is truly a gift must cost somebody something.  It might be time, it might be money but there
is a cost there.  And so before Jesus
could be raised from the dead he had to die, before we can accept the gift of
salvation a debt has to be paid, in order for a sacrifice to be acceptable
there has to be a cost to the person making the sacrifice.  Without a cost it might be a nice gesture but
it wouldn’t be a sacrifice.
It was British playwright John
Osborne who said “The whole point of a
sacrifice is that you give up something you never really wanted in the first
place.”    But that isn’t really
sacrifice, And on the Friday of the Passover weekend, the concept of a
sacrifice would be understood. 
Jews from around the world would have gathered in Jerusalem
to worship God and offer sacrifices as a part of that worship.  And while we might not be able to get our
heads around the concept of animal sacrifice today, that was the norm two
thousand years ago.  And so on that
weekend there were lambs and pigeons that were brought to the temple and bought
at the temple for the express purpose of being offered to God as a sacrifice in
the temple.  And each of those animals
cost somebody something.  There were also
financial offerings that were given that weekend, and regardless of how much it
represented for the person who gave, that money could have been spent somewhere
else on something else. 
And so before we can get to Sunday and see the gifts that
were given we are going to settle in for a little bit on this Good Friday to
see what those gifts cost.
Three years before this chapter
of Jesus’ story would conclude, it began and the story was defined by probably
most memorized verse in the bible.  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.  Listen to
that again, 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.  For those
of us who are parents here is the question: who is there in the world that you
loved so much that you would willingly sacrifice one of your children for them?
And so the first point is the
most obvious point and that is Friday
Cost the Father His Son
The Trinity and the nature of God is and will
remain a mystery to us until our eyes are opened on the other side of
eternity.  How can one God exist as three
persons?  How can there be a Son who has always
been? 
I have always maintained that a
God that we could explain or understand would not be much of a God.  I don’t understand everything about my smart
car, I can’t explain how my computer works and don’t even get me started on my
lack of understanding of women. And that’s all right.   And yet we have the desire to be able to
understand and explain the greatest mystery of the universe. 
And we may not understand it
completely, but we can understand the relationship that exists between a parent
and a child, that we can understand. And as parents we can understand how we
feel when our child is bullied or hurt and for some of you, you can even
understand the pain of losing a child. 
And if you knew that your child
would suffer humiliation and physical pain and separation from you that would
be heart breaking.  Even if you knew that
in the end it would be all right, you wouldn’t want your child to go through
that. 
But that is what happened on
Good Friday, and God the Father’s heart must have been broken when he heard his
Son call out from the cross, Mark
15:34
Then at three o’clock Jesus called out
with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God,
my God, why have you abandoned me?”
 Can you imagine having your child think you
had turned your back on them in their time of greatest need?
But it wasn’t just the Father that paid a price on
Friday.  You see  Friday
Cost the Son His Life 
And I know
from our perspective we might be thinking “Yeah, but on Sunday he rose
again.”  True but on Friday Jesus
died.  And he didn’t just die peacefully
in his sleep or suddenly without notice. 
Sometimes in the case of a sudden death you will hear folks say “But
luckily they didn’t suffer.” 
The reality is that Christ did suffer.  He suffered emotionally as the religious
leaders and the political leaders lied about him and his executioners mocked
him. 
He suffered physically through the punishment that was
heaped upon him.  If you read through the
accounts from the four gospels, they spit on him, they beat him with their
fists, they slapped him, they whipped him, they jammed a crown made from large
thorns unto his head, they pulled his beard and then they nailed him to a
cross.  And he hung for hours under the
hot sun, listening to the crowd that had gathered mock him as he slowly and
painfully suffocated. 
And he knew it was going to
happen. Let’s read a conversation that Jesus had with the 12 in Matthew 20:17-19 As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he
took the twelve disciples aside privately and told them what was going to
happen to him. “Listen,” he said, “we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son
of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious
law. They will sentence him to die. Then they will hand him over to the Romans
to be mocked, flogged with a whip, and crucified. But on the third day he will
be raised from the dead.”
And just hours before in the
Garden of Gethsemane he had cried out to his Father, Luke
22:41-42
He (Jesus) walked away, about a stone’s
throw, and knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, please take this
cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”
And often we stop there, we talk about what Good Friday cost
the Father and what Good Friday cost the Son.  
But it went deeper than that. 
Friday Cost Peter His
Pride 
Peter, Peter, Peter.  Peter was Jesus closest friend, one of the
first of the 12.  It was Pete that Jesus
confined in, it was Peter who walked on the water with Jesus, it was Peter’s
Mother in Law who Jesus healed.  Peter
was there from the beginning and as the end of the story was drawing near, when
Jesus celebrated the Passover with the twelve it was Peter who vowed that he
would be there at the end.  That he would
never deny Christ and that he would willing give up his life in defence of his
best friend. 
But Jesus had never asked Peter to die for him, he had simply
asked Peter to live for him, and at the end of the day Peter did neither. 
If you don’t know the story Peter, has three opportunities
to acknowledge his relationship with Jesus. 
And three times Peter denies that he even knows who Jesus is.  And as Peter denies his best friend for the
third time he turns and looks into the eyes of that very friend.
And he saw everything that he had learned and everything he
had witnessed over the past three years washed away.  How could he ever be more than a fisherman
after what had happened?  How could he be
forgiven?  How could he ever speak the
name again of the one who he denied in his greatest time of need?
And so Peter was a very different man at the end of the
Friday than he was on Thursday when he pulled out a sword and attempted to take
on the entire group who had come to arrest Jesus. 
I’m sure the question was burning deep in Peter’s heart; What
must Jesus think of me?
And so on Friday Peter represents every one of us who has
ever failed in our Christian walk, who has ever denied Christ by our actions
and feels deep within our hearts that we can never face Jesus again. 
Friday Cost Jerusalem its Future  On Sunday I spoke about Jesus weeping over the
people of Jerusalem.  The incident is
recorded in Luke 19:41-44 But as they came closer to Jerusalem and
Jesus saw the city ahead, he began to weep. “How I wish today that you of all
people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is
hidden from your eyes. Before long your enemies will build ramparts against
your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. They will
crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not
leave a single stone in place, because you did not accept your opportunity for
salvation.”
The gospel tell us that one of the fears that sparked the
religious authorities to have Jesus arrested and killed was a fear of the
Romans. They were afraid of how the occupying army would view this popular
young preacher and how they might react.
Forty years later their worst fears were realized when the
Roman armies destroyed the city of Jerusalem.  And when Jesus prophesized about that event he
lays the blame at the feet of those who had rejected him.  And while that seems harsh it goes back to
what happens tomorrow reflects the choices we make today.  And on that Friday afternoon 2000 years ago
Jerusalem choose to reject the one who had come to bring peace.
History tells us when Titus the Roman General who led the
destruction of Jerusalem was offered the victor’s wreath he declined the honour
saying that he had simply served as an instrument for the wrath of God. 
So understand that Jerusalem
becomes an analogy for those who would reject Christ.  Jesus is not “a way” to God, Jesus is “The
Way” to God.  That is why he told his
followers in 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.”  Who can come to the Father by a route
other than Jesus?  According to Jesus no
one. 
And that broke Jesus’ heart, the
reality that the very ones who he gave his life for would reject the grace that
he had to offer.
 And so as we gather
to remember this morning we remember the cost of that Friday morning almost
2000 years ago, a morning that cost the Father his Son, cost the Son his Life,
cost Peter his Pride and cost those who rejected Jesus their future. 
And today is Friday, but Sunday is coming as we celebrate
not the cost of the crucifixion but the generous gifts of the Resurrection.

Happy Almost Birthday


Next week we will be celebrating the 20th Anniversary of our first public service.  But our first “non” public service was held 20 years ago this week. 
In order to be somewhat sure that everything would work on our grand opening, we had a “trial” service on April 2, 1995.  And so Stan Wickwire and I set up the chairs and sound system and we had our first service.  The band played, Ian and Sylvia sang, Angela taught Jr. Church, for both of our children, and I preached to the eight who had gathered to make sure that everything would work on our big day.  And it did. 
However, the reality is that absolutely nothing we did that day prepared me for what the next twenty years would bring.
In most cases that is like life. We can plan and prepare but ultimately we will live our lives one day at a time. It’s not original but it’s true: Life isn’t a dress rehearsal.  Which is why Jesus asked his followers the questions “Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And if worry can’t accomplish a little thing like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things?”  And those are rhetorical questions.  Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.