The Price of Fall


Angela and I were marvelling at the autumn colours last week as we drove along the highway. The woods were a kaleidoscope of colours, no two the same. It wasn’t hard to imagine Jack Frost painting each leaf individually.
One of the many things we missed during our time in Australia were the fall colours. As beautiful and gorgeous and wonderful (have I used enough adjectives yet?) as the weather was in Australia, and it was beautiful and gorgeous and wonderful, their trees didn’t change in the fall. To be truthful, I don’t think I ever truly appreciated the various hues that paint our forests until they weren’t there to see. That’s a sad reality of life as well—you don’t realize the good you have until you don’t have it anymore.

As much as I enjoy the fall scenery I don’t appreciate what it takes to make the leaves change—chilly fall mornings leave me cold, so to speak. That’s human nature though isn’t it? We never seem to want to pay the price, no matter how small. The great thing about the beauty of Heaven is that the price has already been paid, and all we have to do is claim it. Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.  

Grace at an unlikely Time

There’s a
new Prime Minister in Canada and when you woke up Tuesday morning you were
either ecstatic or disappointed, but however you feel about the new Prime
Minister the Bible tells us that we have an obligation as Christians to pray
for Prime Minister Trudeau and may I suggest for Mrs. Trudeau and their
children as well.
And if
you could deliver a message to the Prime Minister what would it be?  I have already contacted our member of
parliament and asked him to relay my message to his boss. And maybe some day I
will have the opportunity to let him know in person.
This is
week three of our Moments of Grace series. 
In week one we introduced the entire concept of Grace and how Paul
developed a theology of Grace based on the evidence of Grace in the Bible and his
own experience of Grace. In week two we saw how grace took Rahab from the
brothel to a place in the genealogy of the Messiah.  That would be Jesus.   But not only does Grace appear in the most
unlikely places it also appears at the most unlikely times.
3000
years ago God decided to confront the King of Israel over some problems that he
had with him.  The king’s name was Ahab
and this is what the Bible had to say about him
1 Kings 16:30-33  But Ahab son of Omri did what was evil in the LORD’s sight, even more than any of the
kings before him.  And as though it were not enough to follow the example
of Jeroboam, he married Jezebel, the daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians,
and he began to bow down in worship of Baal.  First Ahab built a temple
and an altar for Baal in Samaria.  Then he set up an Asherah pole. He did
more to provoke the anger of the LORD,
the God of Israel, than any of the other kings of Israel before him.
Now
that’s saying something because there had been some pretty awful kings before
Ahab.
So whom
did God use?  The prophet with the
biggest following in Israel?  Some sharp,
well spoken, well dressed, high profile guy who was known and respected in all
the right circles?  Of course not, that’s
what we’d do.
 Instead God reaches down to a little town
Tishbe in Gilead and pulls out a prophet named Elijah.  Kind
And in
reading through the Bible we discover that Elijah was just a human as we
are.  Nothing special he was just regular
people. 
The only real description we have of him comes in 2 Kings 1:8  They
replied, “He was a hairy man, and he wore a leather belt around his waist.”
Now I
don’t know about you but when I was growing up anyone who had all kinds of hair
and wore leather belts was called a hippie. 
Elijah is
seen by some as an Old Testament John the Baptist, but I suppose to put it into
proper perspective, John the Baptist was a New Testament Elijah.  The last mention we have of Elijah in the Old
Testament is in 2 Kings 2:11  As they were walking along and talking, suddenly a
chariot of fire appeared, drawn by horses of fire. It drove between the two
men, separating them, and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven.
That’s kind of neat. 
The next time Elijah is seen is in the New Testament when Jesus went up
to a mountain top with Peter, James and John in Matthew
17:3
 Suddenly, Moses and Elijah
appeared and began talking with Jesus.
And maybe you are thinking “Denn that was like 900 years
later, that’s impossible.”   For us, yes,
for God, well you know what the Angel Gabriel told Mary in Luke 1:37  For
nothing is impossible with God.”
That’s a little back ground,
the entire story is found in 1 Kings and happened during the time that Israel
was ruled by the wicked king Ahab and his equally wicked queen, Jezebel.  It was Jezebel who introduced Baal worship
throughout the kingdom and immorality ran rampant.  It was during those dark days that Elijah
stood out as a beacon of righteousness in a sea of degradation.  His speech was characterized by boldness and
his ministry was marked with miraculous deeds. 
It was Elijah who challenged the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal
and then prayed down fire and then rain. 
And if the story stopped
there none of us would be able to relate to Elijah and yet we are reminded by
the brother of Jesus in James 5:17 Elijah was as human as we
are.  And so we have to conclude
that the type of experiences that we have that he would share and that we would
share his experiences as well. 
Elijah is a prime example of
Herbert
Freudenberger’s contention that “Burnout is the let-down that comes between crisis
or directly after ‘Mission Accomplished’.”
Elijah was a successful,
high achiever type “A” personality.  He
had spent a pile of emotional, spiritual and physical energy in the show down
at Mount Carmel and as a result he saw the people of Israel turn away from
their idol worship and turn back to God. 
He then prayed for an end to a three-year drought and it rained.  When that prayer was answered he ran 30 kms
from Carmel to Jezreel and at that point he was certain that Queen Jezebel
would fall on her knees and repent.  
Instead she threatened to have him killed.  He was expecting more success instead he was
rejected and threatened and his joy turned to fear.  1 Kings 19:3 Elijah was afraid and fled
for his life.
Existing on a physical and
emotional high, he was caught off guard. 
Emotionally and spiritually he was depending on his own strength and
when that failed he ran instead of prayed.
The entire story climaxes in
1 Kings where we read this 1 Kings 19:4 Then he
went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a
solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he
said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already
died.”
Sounds like Elijah may have
been at the same place as Poet John Keats when he wrote “I am in that temper that if I were
under water I would scarcely kick to come to the top.”
In Elijah’s case we see
several feelings that are associated with burn out and depression.
1 Kings 19:10 Elijah replied, “I have
zealously served the LORD God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with
you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the
only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”
Feelings
of Self-Centredness. 
Elijah came to
the place where he felt that everything depended on him.  He thought he was indispensable and felt that
if he didn’t do it then it wouldn’t get done. 
“Oh Lord, it’s just you and me and nobody else understands the
situation.  But that’s ok Lord, because I
have broad shoulders, just pile a little more on.”
This line of reasoning is
common among pastors who refuse to delegate because they don’t think anyone
else can do as good of a job.  I knew a
pastor who had gone thirteen years and never missed a Sunday in his pulpit.  Why?  Because he didn’t think that was anyone else
who could do as good of a job. 
The problem is that it
doesn’t take long to go from “I don’t need anyone but God” to “God can’t do it
without me” to “I can do it all by myself.” 
And we expect that from toddlers but not from grown-ups. 
Listen to the words of Paul
in Romans 12:3 Because of the privilege and authority God has
given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you
really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by
the faith God has given us. 
Getting back to the story 1 Kings
19:10
Elijah replied, “I have zealously
served the LORD God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their
covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your
prophets.
2) General
Feelings of Resentment
To put that in perspective in the verse before God had
asked Elijah where he was and Elijah goes off on this tirade that has nothing
to do with the question that had been asked. 
That’s so typical, when we can’t or don’t want to answer a particular
question we act like it was never asked.
I remember there was a
difficult question asked on a systematic theology exam I was writing in college
and a friend of mine wrote.  “I don’t
know the answer to this question but I do know who the twelve apostles were.” 
And he listed them, nice try
but no marks because while he may have answered a question correctly it wasn’t
the question that had been asked.
The question that God asks
had nothing to do with the children of Israel. 
And yet that is where Elijah started. 
I would hazard a guess that there were a lot of unresolved hostilities
in Elijah’s life. 
In Matthew 5:21-26 Jesus explains
the dangers resentments and lack of forgiveness pose to our spiritual
lives. 
I don’t know how many times
I have sat across from someone for counselling and it all comes bubbling out,
the hate and bitterness over some hurt or slight, either real or imaginary that
is literally eating them up from the inside. 
And what they don’t realize is that they are still allowing those people
to hurt them. 
1 Kings 19:10 Elijah replied, “I have zealously
served the LORD God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their
covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your
prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”   
3) Feelings
of Paranoia   
It’s not a great
distance from “No one appreciates me” to “Everyone is out to get me.” 
It was Henry Kissinger
who said “Even a paranoid can have enemies.” 
And there was no doubt that there were those who were opposed to
Elijah, but he  took one threat against
him and turned it into the entire nation being out to get him. 
In Elijah’s mind Jezebel’s
lone threat had become a national conspiracy against him, seeking his
assassination. 
 4) Feelings
of Self Pity 
Did you catch the
whining here?  If there is one particular
emotion which supersedes all others in burnout and depression it is self-pity,
“Oh poor me, I have it so bad.” 
Most people know the story
of Helen
Keller, who lost her sight and hearing as a small child, lots to feel
sorry about listen to her words: “Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to
it, we can never do anything wise in this world.”
Elijah was so caught up in
Elijah that he couldn’t see anything or anyone else. 
And if people don’t agree
with you about how bad things are then you start to detach yourself from others
because at least you understand how bad things are for you.
1 Kings 19:4 . . . He sat down under a
solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he
said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already
died.”
5) Specific
Feelings of Resentment  
Sometimes it’s
resentment against our spouse or parents, or friends.  In Elijah’s case it was resentment against
God. 
When Elijah asked God to
take away his life he was in effect saying “I am not satisfied with what you
are doing in my life and it’s your fault.” 
And so from the depths of despair we begin blaming God for where we
are. 
Now instead of it being my
problem or the result of the way “They”, whoever they were, acted now it is
God’s fault.  E
lijah demonstrates his dissatisfaction
and lack of trust concerning God’s control in his life.   And Elijah may have felt like he was
abandoned by God, but that wasn’t the case. 
Let’s see what we can find
in Elijah’s story.  Elijah has come to
the lowest point in his life and he wants out. 
He is showing classic symptoms for burnout and depression, so how does
God deal with that? 
The simple answer was he
dealt with Elijah with Grace.  He didn’t
turn his back on him and he didn’t declare him ungrateful and forgetful.  And he didn’t treat Elijah justly, giving him
what he deserved.  “Oh yeah, if that’s
how you feel, then that’s how it will be.” 
Instead we read,
1 Kings 19:5-6 Then he lay down and slept
under the broom tree. But as he was sleeping, an angel touched him and told
him, “Get up and eat!” He looked around and there beside his head was some
bread baked on hot stones and a jar of water! So he ate and drank and lay down
again.
1) God
Met Elijah’s Physical Needs. 
Even though
depression is a psychological condition some of its behaviour results in
physiological problems.  
Loss of appetite can become
a vicious circle with the lack of proper nutrition resulting in a lack of
energy and general apathy which causes a loss of appetite which results in a
lack of proper nutrition which. . .  Well
you get the picture. 
Difficulties in sleeping
result in listlessness and once again the resulting apathy contributes to the
ever deepening despondency and the downward spiral into depression.
God didn’t tell Elijah to go
to the altar and get right with him, he didn’t tell him he needed to pray more
or read the scripture.  Instead God
provided the two things that Elijah needed the most. 
Good food, proper
nutrition.  Did you catch that not just
food but good food, proper food.  You
ever notice what you tend to eat when you get into deep blue funk?  That’s right, chocolate ice-cream, with
peanut butter, chocolate chips and chocolate sauce.  Or so I’ve heard. 
And then God provided Elijah
with a deep restful sleep.  You ever
notice how much better life looks after a good night’s sleep?
1 Kings 19:11-12 “Go out and stand before me
on the mountain,” the LORD told him. And as Elijah stood there, the LORD passed
by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that
the rocks were torn loose, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind
there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the
earthquake there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the
fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper.
2) God
Met Elijah’s Spiritual Needs.  
Elijah needed to
know that God was still on his throne and that things were as they should
be.  In demonstrating his power God was
showing Elijah that he was still in control of the situation.  In doing this he took the responsibility off
of Elijah’s shoulders and assumed it himself.
In demonstrating his control
over events he allowed Elijah to release some of the burden.  God set the tone for the conversation.  Elijah needed to be back in touch with God
and God set the stage for that. 
3) God
Met Elijah’s Emotional Needs. 
God prompted
Elijah to get rid of his intense feelings.  
During the communication God allowed Elijah an opportunity to air his
grievances.
There are a lot of people
out there who are literally walking time bombs. 
They have crammed resentment, hurt, bitterness and disappointments into
their souls.  And because they are afraid
it’s sinful to express those emotions they’ve kept them under pressure and some
day it will explode and hurt a lot of people.
To get rid of those negative
feelings you can’t continue to suppress them and bury them and hide them.  Instead they need to be expressed, not in a
hurtful way but in a constructive healing manner. 
It is only when we expose
those problems, that we can begin to see those problems realistically. It’s
only when we begin to see those problems in the light of day that we can begin
to deal with them and get rid of them.
And it’s not always a one
off process, in the account of Elijah God had to prompt Elijah three times to
open up.  It may be with a professional,
or it might be with a friend who is just willing to listen. 
4) God
Met Elijah’s Practical Needs
Only after the physical issues had been dealt with and
after Elijah had purged himself of his resentments did God give him new things
to do.
A person who is climbing out
of the pit shouldn’t be immediately put back into the same circumstances that
had put him there in the first place. 
But they do need something
to do to take their minds off the almighty “ME” they also need those tasks to
help rebuild their self-respect and self-esteem.  We were created to be productive, to create
and to do, we weren’t created to lay around and do nothing and so one of the
needs that has to be filled in our lives is the knowledge that we are doing
something. 
5) God
Met Elijah’s Social Needs 
As the final step
toward Elijah’s recovery God provided him with something everybody on the face
of this earth needs and that is a true friend. 
From that point on Elisha became Elijah’s friend, fellow worker and confident. 
Do you remember what God
said after he created Man?  Genesis
2:18
Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. .
.”
In 1988 when we had finished
our building project in Truro I went into a slump, yeah that is a good word a
slump.  For several months I literally
hid in my office, I didn’t want to see anyone or talk to anyone.  A major part of my putting my ministry back
together can be attributed to a student we hired that summer.
And for a year and a half I
poured my life into John.  For the first
four months we spent all our time together, he lived at our house and I
invested myself into his training and in return he became a friend and
confident. 
Elijah felt like he was
alone, now that wasn’t reflected in reality,  the Bible tells us there were seven thousand
other Israelites who refused to worship Baal. 
On the other hand Elijah had
been very much alone, but only because like so many sufferers of burnout and
depression he had brought about his own loneliness by abandoning other people.
Everybody needs a friend.
Now this wasn’t a do it
yourself psychoanalysis course.  Burnout
and depression are serious business. 
But God doesn’t want us to
live in that particular emotional desert. 
God has a great plan for your life, don’t let depression and burnout rob
you of that plan. 
God’s Grace is as real in
the valley’s as it is on the mountain top, remember from last week Grace is “The
free and unmerited favour of God as manifested in the salvation of sinners and
the bestowing of blessings.”
And as Bob Goff defined
it as “Grace
is a painting God’s still completing over our torn canvases.”  That day in the cave, God was painting
on Elijah’s torn canvas and He wants to complete the painting of your life,
regardless of how torn the canvas is. 
But he won’t paint without an invitation. 

Your Choice


I was part of democracy in action this week. Not only did I vote but I also worked on Election Day as the Central Poll Supervisor, which isn’t nearly as important as it sounds.
Pretty good gig, all in all, I was paid by Elections Canada to welcome people to Cornerstone.  During those twelve hours I was able to make several observations about people as they voted.
Some people were visibly excited to have the privilege to vote while others it seemed were simply voting out of obligation, they felt they had to. There were those who were hardly behind the screen long enough to mark their ballots while others were obviously deep in thought or asleep.
What they all had in common was they had each been offered a gift, the right to vote, and they had accepted it.
Many others were offered the same gift and turned it down, for any number of reasons. Perhaps some thought they were too busy, others left it too long and ran out of time, some were disinterested and still others viewed the entire process with disdain. Bottom line: some people chose to vote and other chose not to vote, but it was their choice. Kind of reminds me of salvation. Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.  

Grace in an Unlikely Place

If you are like most people, then your family tree probably has
some folks in it that you’d rather not talk about. Not just the nuts and saps
that collect in most trees but people that when you are drawing your family
tree you are tempted to use the white out. 
We just don’t like to talk about the horse thieves, crooks and
politicians that we find there. 

But as Thomas fuller said, “He that has no fools, knaves nor beggars in his family
must have been begot by a flash of lightning.” 
And in many cases families will often try to sanitize their past,
except for Aussies who seem quite proud of the criminal heritage of their
country, if your ancestors arrived in Australia in chains that’s something to
brag about. 

And sometime in February when we are buried in snow up to our
noses and it’s a thousand below zero I want you to think about the fact that
people settled Canada willing but they had to be sent to Australia as prisoners. 
This is our second week of Moments of Grace and you’ll
remember from last week that the Oxford English Dictionary: defines grace as “The free and unmerited favour of
God as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowing of blessings.” 
At Cornerstone I often say: Justice is getting what you
deserve.  Mercy is getting less than what
you deserve.  Grace is getting what you
don’t deserve. 
Bob
Goff, Author of “Love Does” tweeting a while ago this great definition of
Grace  “Grace is a painting God’s still
completing over our torn canvases.”
This week we find grace in a most unlikely place . . . a
brothel.  Not many stories in the Bible
start in a house of ill repute, as a matter of fact I can only think of one other. 
We read the original story earlier but it is summed up in one
verse in Hebrews 11, a chapter in the bible that is often called “The Faith Hall
of Fame,”  and there is a lot that was
left unsaid in the Hebrews account that could lead to some wild speculations.
So here is the verse from  Hebrews 11:31 It was by faith that Rahab
the prostitute was not destroyed with the people in her city who refused to
obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.   Nod Nod, wink wink. 
Friendly welcome indeed. 
And that is why a text out
of context is a pretext.  You see the
original readers of Hebrews 11 would know exactly what was meant by “a friendly
welcome”  while the rest of you just
think you know.  And as a boss of mine
used to say “The only thing you get from jumping to conclusions are sore feet.”
And to be fair Rahab may
have given the spies a “friendly welcome”, nod, nod, wink wink, but that wasn’t
what she was being commended for in Hebrews 11. 
So let’s go back to the beginning and find out the rest of the story.
You know the history here.  Moses has led the Hebrews in the greatest
escape every chronicled.  You can read
about it in the book called Exodus, not the Leon Uris novel but the second book
of the Bible. 
Now what should have been a fairly
straight forward trip across the desert turns into a 40-year epic because of
the disobedience and unbelief of the Hebrew people. 
Now however, the promise is about
to be fulfilled.  The Promised Land lies
just within their grasp, the people have left the desert, now they have to
cross the Jordan and get past the city of Jericho. 
And so we read in  Joshua 2:1 Then Joshua secretly sent out two spies from the Israelite camp at
Acacia Grove. He instructed them, “Scout out the land on the other side of the
Jordan River, especially around Jericho.” So the two men set out and came to
the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there that night.  
The guys don’t seem all that
focused on their trip, the two men set out and immediately end up at the house
of a prostitute. 
But to be fair a brothel would be
a place where people would be used to strange men showing up at all hours.  So let’s give them the benefit of the doubt
and say that there were strategic reasons for ending up at Rahab’s place. 
However, word had somehow gotten
out to the King of Jericho, who I would suspect was King like Mike Savage is
King of Halifax, that spies had entered the land.  And he immediately sends his men to Rahab’s
place.  
Must have been one of those “If I
was a spy where would I go first?” questions and the answer was “Oh yeah,
Rahab’s, she has that discount that she gives to spies.”
So the King’s men show up at the brothel
but Rahab tells them, “Oh those spies, yeah they were here but they left
earlier, they are heading out of town but if you hurry you can catch them.”    The king’s men obviously believed her
because they get a posse together and head out of town after the guys.
But, it’s here the plot
thickens.  You see the guys hadn’t
actually left, Rahab had hidden them on the roof of her place and it was there
they spent the night.   Obviously this
was the friendly welcome that is alluded to in the book of Hebrews.
As a reward for her saving
the spies they agree to spare her and her family when the Hebrews eventually
overthrow the city on their way into the promised land.  And that is a whole other story that is mentioned
in the previous verse in Hebrews 11.
A story that you probably
remember from Sunday School.  And it if
you don’t the recap is in Hebrews 11:30 It was by faith that the
people of Israel marched around Jericho for seven days, and the walls came crashing
down.
When the battle breaks out, Rahab
hangs a scarlet cord from the window of her home and she and her family are
spared in the battle.
So what is it that we learn from
the story?  Hebrews 11:31 It was by faith that Rahab
the prostitute was not destroyed with the people in her city who refused to
obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.  
Rahab Had a Past It was
interesting as I was preparing this message how hard some commentators worked
at cleaning up Rahab’s past.
Adam Clarke writes “the word which we translate harlot, should be
rendered innkeeper or tavern keeper, as there is no proper evidence that the
person in question was such a woman as our translation represents her. As to
her having been a harlot before and converted afterwards, it is a figment of an
idle fancy”.
So I thought “maybe
they just called her a hooker to spice up the story, it already had mystery and
intrigue, all it needed was a hint of sex.” 
So I went back to the original languages to see if that was actually the
case.  
In the book of
Hebrews the Greek word that is used is πόρνη Porne, and that word does not mean
innkeeper or even tavern keeper.  It is
only ever used for a prostitute. 
And it is no
different in the original story in the book of Joshua, the Hebrew word used
there is זָנָה‎ zānâ, and again there is no ambiguity there at all.  One meaning and one meaning only.  
Today she might have
been called a “Sex Worker” but no one would have mistaken her for the manager
at the Holiday Inn.
Technically if
someone said they were a hooker it might mean that they made rugs, but probably
not. 
John Wesley used a
great phrase to describe Rahab, “Formerly one not of the
fairest character.” 

Now it’s easy to cast stones and wonder how this woman could sell her body like
this, or perhaps wonder what men did to cause her to become a prostitute.  Some will scorn her and others will pity her
but the reality is we don’t know why she was what she was.  She obviously had a story that had brought
her to this place in her life.  And
without knowing the story it isn’t fair to judge her past.
Every once in a while you read a story about someone whose
past has come back to haunt them.  During
the Federal election it seemed that each of the three major parties had to
struggle with actions and comments that had been in some candidates past.  They probably thought they were safe, not. .
.
Even now 70 years after the end of the war you will hear of a
war criminal from World War Two who has been discovered living in Canada or the
States.  Their past comes back to haunt
them. 
Every one of us has a past. 
I would suspect that there isn’t a person here who would want all of
their past revealed.  I know that for the
most part your past is spotless that you never did anything that you are
ashamed of.  Because you are really nice
people, but I would suspect that if tomorrow you got up and someone had left a
note on your door that said “I know what you have done.”  Your mind would immediately jump to some
incident and wonder how it is they knew and whether they would tell others
about it. 
Maybe it was something you did as a child, or maybe something
you did while your brain took a nap during your teen years.  Perhaps it was just a moment of indiscretion,
but it is there and even though nobody else or very few people know about it,
you do.
I have come to the
conclusion that nobody should be judged by the worst moment in their lives
It’s easy to cast stones but
listen to what Jesus said in  Matthew 7:3
“And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not
consider the plank in your own eye?”   And in the book
of John when the crowd had gathered around the woman caught in adultery so
eager to judge her, Jesus told them John 8:7 . . .”He
who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”
Two mistakes that we make about our past, one is to forget
about it.  The ex-smoker who has little
or no sympathy for those who still smoke. 
They have forgotten the cravings and desires that went along with
nicotine and say stupid things like “Why don’t you just quit.”  Forgetting the 247 times they tried to quit
before they got it right.
The adult who forgets what it was like to be a teen, all the
pressures and all the things waiting to be discovered and tried, for right or
for wrong. 
And they forget how they behaved as a teen, for right or for
wrong.  We want our teens to emulate the
good things we did when we were their age but are terrified they will discover
the real stupid things we did.  A friend
of mine calls it “Boomer Guilt.” 
The second mistake we make about our past is not forgetting
it.  We dwell in it, can’t get over it
and can’t forgive ourselves for the mistakes that were made.    We
spend our lives saying “If only” and “If I had my life to live again.”  
Thomas
H. Raddall who said “Don’t brood on the past, but don’t forget it either.”
Everything that happened up to a minute ago is part of your
past, you can’t change it or undo it, you simply need to accept that it
happened and learn from it. 
And so Rahab stood at the intersection of her life, her past
behind her and her future ahead of her. 
She had to decide what part of her past she was going to embrace and
what part she was going to reject. 
Because not only was part of her past made up of Rahab the hooker, part
of her past was made up of Rahab the virgin. 
There was a time in her life that she wasn’t what she had
become.  Sometimes when we look backward
we are overcome with shame, but that wasn’t always the way it was and isn’t the
way it has to stay.
Rahab had a Choice So, the King of Jericho heard that spies had arrived in his city and
he made the logical leap that they were at Rahab’s home.  His men arrive and demand that Rahab
surrender the spies. 
And it was at the point in time
that Rahab had to make a decision.  Will she do what is easy or will she do
what is right?
 And even in that
there were issues.
As a citizen of Jericho what was
right was different than what was right for the two Hebrew spies. 
Contrary to what some people will
tell you not every issue is black and white, right or wrong.  And there are issues that will divide people
and one side will think you did a great job and will put up monuments in your
honour while the other side will stand in line to spit on that very same
monument. 
To the Hebrews Rahab was a hero,
to the people of Jericho she was a traitor and worse. 
There are a number of us here at
Cornerstone who hail from Saint John New Brunswick.  And Saint John proudly proclaims that it is
Canada’s Loyalist City.  But those people
who proclaimed their loyalty to the crown in the 1700’s during the American
Revolution certainly weren’t considered to be loyalists by their neighbours, but
they were willing to give up their lands and their lives in order to stand by
their loyalty. 
When you think about it Benedict
Arnold may have been considered a traitor by the revolutionaries in the US but
to the British he was a hero.   
And so Rahab hides the spies and
then lies to the authorities before sending them on a wild goose chase. 
Why? 
I’m sure as the spies lay on her
rooftop hidden under piles of flax that they wondered the same thing and as
they heard her footsteps approach they probably wondered if she was alone, if
she had changed her mind and what their future would be like or even if they
would have a future.
But it wasn’t the fact that Rahab
had defied the King’s men that got her mentioned in the book of Hebrews, it was
why she defied the King’s men that got her mentioned in the book of
Hebrews. 
After she has sent the authorities
away she goes up on the rooftop to let the spies know they are in the clear and
she tells them why she has saved them. 
Her explanation begins in Joshua 2:9 Rahab said to the men: “I know that
the LORD has given you the land, …” And finishes in Joshua 2:11 “. . .  for the LORD
your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.”
She came to a place that she
was willing to leave her past behind her and claim and believe the promises of
God.  
No matter what your past may
hold your future stretches out before you and God invites you to step into it with
him.  At the end of the book of Joshua as
the people of Israel prepare to finally settle into the land that God promised
them Joshua issues this challenge to the people.  Joshua 24:15 But if you refuse to serve
the LORD, then choose today whom you will serve. . . . But as for me and my
family, we will serve the LORD.”
By the time that
challenge was issued we know that Rahab had already aligned herself with the
Hebrews and was probably part of the crowd that heard those words. 
Choose today what
you will serve, will you continue to serve the past or are you ready to step
through the door into the incredible future God has for you through His grace?  It’s your choice. 
Years ago my mother
introduced me to a book called “Seeds of Greatness” and the author Denis Waitley wrote “Losers live in the past. Winners learn from the past and enjoy working in
the present toward the future.”
Rahab had a future So the
Israelites capture the city, you know the story how they marched around the
city for six days and on the seventh day they blew their horns and shouted and
brought the walls of the city down.  And
how Rahab hung a scarlet cord from her window and was spared along with her
family. 
By the way some people believe that the scarlet cord was the
beginning of the “red light” tradition. 
And the story could have ended there, alls well that ends
well.  Joshua and the people of Israel
could have settled the promise land and Rahab could have gone back to . . . providing
a friendly welcome for people.
But that isn’t how the story
ends.  The story continues in Joshua 6:25
So Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute and her relatives who were
with her in the house, because she had hidden the spies Joshua sent to Jericho.
And she lives among the Israelites to this day.
And then we hear nothing
about Rahab for the next thousand years, nothing zip, nada.  And then she reappears out of nowhere. 
And it is in the most
unlikely place, the genealogy of Jesus!  Matthew
1:5-6
Salmon was the father of Boaz (whose mother was Rahab). Boaz was the
father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth). Obed was the father of Jesse. Jesse was
the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon (whose mother was
Bathsheba, the widow of Uriah).
Did you catch that?  Rahab the prostitute was the Grandmother of
King David, the greatest king who ever ruled over Israel and ultimately at the
very end of that list was Joseph. 
You know, Joseph who married the Virgin
Mary and who raised Jesus as his own son.  
You understand? No Rahab, no Boaz.  Boaz was the man who married the widow Ruth,
there’s an entire book in the Bible written about that love story. 
No Rahab, no David to fight Goliath, no David to bring the
Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, no David to plan the Temple that Solomon
would build, no David no 23rd Psalm. 
And you understand that without a Rahab there would have been
no Joseph to believe in Mary, no Joseph to raise Jesus in a loving and caring
home.
And while Rahab doesn’t appear in Mary’s family tree her son
does, so no Rahab no Mary to carry the Son of God
And it all began in a
brothel with a woman that good respectable people had given up on long
before.  But Rahab hadn’t given up on
Rahab and neither had God. 
Rahab saw beyond the present
reality and could see her preferred future and she made a choice that would
affect an entire nation.  When she not
only came to the point that she knew Joshua 2:11 “. . .  for the LORD your God, He is God in
heaven above and on earth beneath.”  But when she
acted on that belief doing what was right instead of doing what was easy. 
It’s easy to say “I believe
in God” Well, good for you, people have been saying that for thousands of years
and to quote James the brother of Jesus, James 2:19 You say you
have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the
demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.   James goes on to say James 2:20 How
foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?
And then as an example of
that statement he tells the story of Abraham, and then we read James 2:25 Rahab the
prostitute is another example. She was shown to be right with God by her
actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different
road.  She didn’t just believe God,
she was willing to put that belief into action.
And so the Grace of God reached down into a most unlikely place,
and provided a most unlikely recipient with a new life and a great future, he
was painting a beautiful picture on  the torn
canvas of her life.
And what God did for Rahab he can do for you.
What is it that God could do with you if you made the choice
to not only believe that he is God but to believe that he has great things for
you to do? 
I would suspect that you all believe in God, otherwise you
would be at the out picking apples today, but what can you believe that God can
do with you and through you?  And are you
willing to take that next step? Are you willing to ember God’s grace?

Slow Down


I saw a sign in a Doctor’s office once that had a profound effect on how I view life, and how I approach it in most cases.  The sign said, and I quote, “Don’t take life too seriously, because you’ll never get out of it alive!”  Deep?  Profound?  Have you stopped and smelled the roses today?  Have you slowed down a little bit from the rush to just enjoy life?  Too busy?  Too much to do?  You’d better do your best to enjoy life ‘cause you aren’t going to get out of it alive.
“You don’t understand how busy I am, Denn!”  No, I probably don’t but I do know that we often allow the urgent to take precedence over the important. 

There are some things that are universally important, or at least should be, and so we need to ask, “Are you spending enough time with your family?  With your God?  With yourself?”  and for that last one, I don’t mean working, I mean enjoying your own company, reflecting on who you are and how you can be better as a person

Why not take a little time today and find a rose to smell, a sunset to watch or a pond to dip your feet in!  Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Moments of Grace, Intro

For most of us, sometime over the next two
days we will celebrate the Feast of the Dead Bird, better known by many as
Thanksgiving Dinner.  And as a part of
that tradition at some point before we actually begin to consume food someone
will ask “Uncle Bob would you return thanks?” or “Aunt Martha would you say
Grace?” 
And for many folks that is what Grace means, giving thanks, or
perhaps asking for forgiveness.  Now
technically what Grace means as defined by the~Oxford English Dictionary: is “The
free and unmerited favour of god as manifested in the salvation of sinners and
the bestowing of blessings.”  Which is
definitely something to be thankful for.
This is week one of “Moments of Grace”, and for the next seven weeks
we will be following the thread of Grace through the bible. 
Grace is one of those concepts that even though it isn’t mentioned a
lot by name in the Old Testament it is evidenced through the story. 
The word grace isn’t used at all in the Gospels but the life and
ministry of Christ is a picture of Grace. 
The word and theology of Grace really comes to life in the New
Testament.    From the book of Acts through to the
Revelation every author speaks of grace. 
And because Paul wrote most of those letters he tells us more about
grace than anybody else.
Paul more than any other author and preacher in the scriptures reiterates
over and over again the fact that Grace is an integral part of our salvation. 
The scripture that was read earlier probably more than any other
reference nails that concept, and it’s a favourite for many people and that is Ephesians
2:8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for
this; it is a gift from God.
So, let’s begin this morning with the fact
that Paul Preached a Theology of Grace  For
most people if they ever think of Grace at all it was the same way that I
viewed Grace before I met Jesus.  Grace
was either the name of the lady who lived down the road from us, or was what we
said before we ate at my grandmother’s house. 
Neither of which was relevant to me. 
But Grace is more than a girl’s name and it’s more than the obligatory
prayer whispered before a meal when you have the pastor over for supper. 
For some it is completely wrapped up in the
song, “Amazing Grace how great thou art, that saved a wretch like me, I once
was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” 
And many of you know the story, how the
writer of the song was John Newton who in the early part of his life was an
outspoken atheist, libertine, and slave trader.
He had run away to sea when he was 11, had
become captain of his own vessel by the time he was 20 and became a Christ
Follower at the age of 23 after riding out a storm at sea, I’ve been in storms
like that when I was going to sea. 
Newton later was ordained an Anglican
priest and became an important voice in England against the slave trade.  It was during that that time that he wrote
280 hymns, but the only one we remember is the autobiographical Amazing Grace.
Not only is Amazing Grace the most loved
song in the Christian Church but Amazing Grace is indeed the defining doctrine
of the Christian Church. 
For too many people when they think of God
and judgement they think of either Justice or Mercy.  “All I want is justice” they’ll say, or “I’ll
ask God for mercy”.  But in Christianity
our eternal destiny doesn’t rest on either justice or mercy. 
 I
come back to it over and over again, Justice is getting what you deserve.  Mercy is getting less than what you
deserve.  Grace is getting what you don’t
deserve. 
The bible is clear, the fate of those who
are not reconciled with God is eternal separation from God and from all that is
good.  There will be no light, no love,
no God and no goodness.  If we were to
get what we deserve, that would be the fate for each of us. 
The bible tells that no one of us can span
the gulf between our sinful nature and a holy God on our own.  So to get justice, to get what we deserve
would be hell, and that really isn’t what you want. 
“Well then” they say “I will just ask God
for mercy.”  And that would be to get
less than you deserve.  And so instead of
an eternity being separated from God you would just cease to exist.  There would be annihilation, here today and
gone tomorrow.  
We would simply be no more.  But what about the Hitlers and the Stalins,
what about those who intentionally hurt people, what about those who spit their
gum on the ground and then you step on it and track it into your car where it
gets stuck in your carpet? But I regress.
“Oh” you say, “there should be justice for
the truly evil and for gum spitters, but for the rest of humanity, they should
get mercy.”  But who gets to make the
decision about how bad or how good you have to be?  Which of you has never lied, never hated or never
stolen?
But the bible offers us more than justice
with it’s requisite hell fire and judgement, and it offers us more than simply
an eternity of nothingness.   
What Paul tells us over and over again is
that there is so much more available for us and that truth is revealed in Acts
15:11  We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved
grace of the Lord Jesus.”  Not because of
how good we are or how pretty we are or how smart we are. 
You’ve heard it before but it bears
repeating, Mark Twain said “Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you
would stay out and your dog would go in.”
To recap, the penalty for rejecting God is
eternal separation from the God we reject, but within the process of
reconnecting with God we need to acknowledge that we are separated from
Him. 
But a just God won’t simply say “No
problem.”  There is still a price to be
paid for our sinful behaviour, and  what
Paul is telling us in Ephesians 2:8-9  God saved you by his grace when you
believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.
 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us
can boast about it.  
Salvation isn’t a reward it is a gift. The
gift that is given to us is the fact that Jesus died on the cross so that the
penalty for our sin would be paid.  But
like other gifts the gift of salvation needs to be accepted and acknowledged
before it can do you any good. 
For example, here I have a gift bag.  And in this bag are a plethora of gifts, well
maybe not a plethora of gifts but many gifts. 
Well maybe not many gifts but some gifts, there is a banana, a signed
copy of the Penn of Denn, a chocolate bar and a Tim Horton’s Gift card that will
buy you not one but two small coffees. 
Who would like it?  And it was
that easy, but until I handed _____ the bag and they received it the gift was
worthless to them. 
So what brought Paul to this place? 
Well his Theology of Grace was Based on the Story of Grace I had
mentioned earlier that grace really seems to come alive the New Testament, in
particular from the book of Acts on.  But
that doesn’t mean that grace is non-existent in the Old Testament and the
Gospels.
In the book of Genesis, the story is told of the very first couple
that God created, and many of you know the story, but bear with me for those
who don’t.  When God created this couple
they were placed in a perfect world where they were able to live in fellowship
with God. 
And they could do anything they wanted to, except one thing.  God pointed to a single tree in the garden
and said, “Don’t eat from this tree.” 
And I understand the confusion, why? 
Why did there have to be a tree with forbidden fruit?  Why did there have to be one thing that
people couldn’t do? 
I’ve always felt that there had to be a choice.  There had to be an opportunity for people to
choose to align themselves with God, that they didn’t just do it because there
was no other option. 
And we can second guess the story and say “Well I wouldn’t have done
it that way” or “That didn’t seem fair”. 
But seriously, it was just a tree with fruit that they weren’t allowed
to eat. 
They could do anything else and everything else.  But by choosing to do the one thing that they
weren’t allowed to do they rebelled against God. They chose the path they would
walk and the path that humanity would walk, a path of rebellion, a path that
led away from God.
And God could have started over. 
God had told them that “If you eat from that tree you will die.”  And justice would demand that they got
exactly what they deserved, they knew the consequences of their actions and
well trite it’s true; don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time. 
And yet from creation God extended His grace to humanity and reached
out and invited them back into fellowship. 
Throughout the Old Testament we see how God’s people would blow it
and how God would reach out and invite them back into fellowship.
The bible doesn’t try to white wash the behaviour of it’s heroes, so
we watch as Noah got drunk, as Abraham lied, Jacob schemed and David committed
adultery.  And God could have said “I’ve
had enough, I’m starting over.”  But he
didn’t.
And when the nation of Israel rebelled and walked away from God and his
ways, when they chose to worship other gods and idols and as a result ended up
being taken captive by the Babylonians and then the Assyrians listen to what
God’s prophet wrote in Ezra 9:8  “But now we have been given a brief
moment of grace, for  the LORD our God
has allowed a few of us to survive as a remnant. He has given us security in
this holy place. Our God has brightened our eyes and granted us some relief
from our slavery.”
Even after they had chosen to consciously
walk away from God, God didn’t walk away from them.
And Paul knew the stories of grace, he had
been raised in the Jewish faith and as an adult he had become an expert of
Jewish law and a protector of all that was Jewish. 
And he knew that God would send the Messiah
for Israel, but he wasn’t expecting the Messiah who would come.
Like most Jews Paul thought that God’s
grace would run out and that ultimately the Messiah would come as a conqueror
and that what God couldn’t accomplish through grace he would accomplish through
force. 
What he wasn’t ready for was the reality of
John 3:16  Jesus said “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.” 
Somehow Paul had missed the prophecy in Zechariah
9:9  Rejoice, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O people of
Jerusalem! Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious,
yet he is humble, riding on a donkey— riding on a donkey’s colt. And while Paul
might have missed it but others didn’t. 
Because in explaining what happened on the day that we refer to as Palm
Sunday both John and Matthew point back to the prophecy of Zechariah.
We all know that Paul is not mentioned by
name in the Gospels listen to his account of the Last Supper, a scripture that
we read almost every time we take communion.  
In 1 Corinthians 11:23 For I (Paul) pass on to you what I received from
the Lord himself. . .    
And there are
those who would tell us that Paul simply received this in some form of
revelation from Jesus, maybe a dream or a vision.  But what it says is this 1 Corinthians 11:23 For
I pass on to you what I received from the Lord himself.  Doesn’t say how he received it.  Hmmmmmmm.
In his story,
Paul tells us that he received some of his training as a Pharisee in Jerusalem,
he was close to the same age of Jesus, and he belonged to the religious groups
that brought charges against Jesus. So I wonder. Now understand that this is
just speculation, Denn’s mind doing what Denn’s mind does. 
I wonder if
the many stories that Luke told, in his Gospel, of Jesus meeting and debating
with the Pharisees came from a young eye witness named Paul? 
Or maybe one
of the many stories that are recorded where Jesus speaks with an unnamed
“expert in religious law”, if the person Jesus was talking to might have been Paul.   Just wondering.
When you read the writings of Paul it’s not
much of a stretch to believe that he had watched and witnessed the ministry of
Christ. 
That Paul had heard Jesus as he told people
to turn the other cheek, to walk the extra mile and to give their enemies the
shirt off their back.
To see the grace that was evidenced in the
life and death of Christ. 
I wonder if Paul might have been part of
the crowd that had gathered around the cross to witness the death of Jesus and
heard those incredible words of grace uttered by Jesus as he hung dying on the
cross of Rome Luke 23:34  Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they
don’t know what they are doing.”
We don’t know why Paul rejected Jesus while
Jesus was alive, but later Paul would write in Romans 5:8  But God showed
his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still
sinners. 
It was almost as if Paul was thinking,
“While I stood at the foot of the cross, mocking Jesus, even then He loved me.”
Because even though Paul rejected Jesus,
Jesus never rejected Paul. 
If you know Paul’s story you know after the
death and resurrection of Christ Paul became a critic and enemy of the
church.  That he was there when a preacher
named Stephen was stoned to death for proclaiming the gospel.  One of the few descriptions we have of
Stephen describes him this way, Acts 6:8  Stephen, a man full of God’s
grace and power, performed amazing miracles and signs among the people.  A man full of God’s grace. 
Not only was Paul there for the death of
Stephen we read in Acts 8:1  Saul (Paul) was one of the witnesses, and he
agreed completely with the killing of Stephen.  
Paul would have heard the dying words of Stephen recorded in Acts
7:59-60  As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my
spirit.”  He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with
this sin!” And with that, he died.
 A
man full of God’s grace. 
And ultimately those stories of Grace Resulted
in a Testimony of Grace 
Saul rejected
the claims of Christ and did everything he could to destroy the early
church.  And then he goes on to become
the single greatest force in the shaping of Christianity. 
Changed lives
are the greatest miracle of God’s grace. 
The old Hymn says “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch
like me, I once was lost but now I’m found was blind but now I see.” 
Jesus never
leaves a person the way he found them. 
Instead he forgives their past and presents them with a limitless
future.
 Through the years I have met scores of people
who were radically changed when they turned their lives over to Jesus. 
Abusive
husbands and wives who have become loving partners, rebellious teens who have
become friends with their parents. 
People who have struggled with addictions who have been able to put
those demons aside.  
When they
accepted the forgiveness and grace that God had to offer they became a new
person, their old lives were gone and new lives began.   
And not
everyone could accept the change that happened in Paul’s life, there were
people who never completely trusted Paul, they would always see him through
glasses that had been coloured by his past. 
There are people in my life who when they think of me, if they think of
me, will think of things that I did or said before I met Jesus.  For better or for worse that is how I will
always be defined and identified in their minds.
But regardless
of what some people might have thought of Paul, God had a plan for his
life. 
If we skip
down in the story God calls a man by the name of Ananias, his job? To minister
to this man named Saul who was now in Damascus. 
Listen to Ananias’ response Acts 9:13 “But Lord,” exclaimed Ananias,
“I’ve heard many people talk about the terrible things this man has done to the
believers in Jerusalem!”   Ananias knew
about Saul’s past but listen as God reveals Saul’s future.  Acts 9:15 But the Lord said, “Go, for Saul is
my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well
as to the people of Israel.”
And that’s
exactly what Saul did.  For the next
thirty years he would travel across the known world, preaching the gospel and
starting churches and sharing God’s grace.
A hundred
years ago Irish playwright Oscar Wilde wrote “Every saint has a past, every
sinner has a future.”    And that summed
up the life of Paul, a man who was an enemy of Christ and the Church, and God
reached down and wrapped him up in his grace.
I don’t know
what might be in your past, but I do know that God has a brand new future for
you all wrapped up in his grace.  “The
free and unmerited favour of god as manifested in the salvation of sinners and
the bestowing of blessings.” 
And it was because Paul had seen the power
of Grace in his life and the life of others that he knew what people could be
like he Warns Us About the Error of Grace The error of grace?  Yep, it is easy to take God’s forgiveness for
granted and that is why Paul wrote these words to the early church in Romans
6:1-2  Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more
and more of his wonderful grace?  Of course not! Since we have died to
sin, how can we continue to live in it?  He
was reminding them that Grace is not a game.
The warning
was reiterated by Jesus’ brother Jude in Jude 1:4  I say this because some
ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s
marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives. The condemnation of such
people was recorded long ago, for they have denied our only Master and Lord,
Jesus Christ.
Every one of us needs the promise of Grace
in our lives, we can’t do it on our own. 
It is a gift, worth so much more than we could ever imagine or ever earn
on our own but it is also a gift to be treasured and not abused.

Vote, you must!


Well, have you made up your mind yet?  You’ve had eleven weeks to decide but I’d be willing to wager that you had your mind made up long before then.  As a matter of fact I would suspect that there hasn’t been much done or said over the past eleven weeks that has had much of an impact on the decision that you had already made, but then again maybe I’m wrong, it’s happened before.
I’m talking about the federal election of course.  You did remember the election right?  I mean, how could you miss all the signs, ads and television commercials?  So, after listening to all the hype and all the promises you now have to intelligently cast a ballot.  A daunting task to say the least, but it must be done! 
There are those who would say that it doesn’t matter that because no matter who you vote for because a politician will still get in.  But as a believer you have a responsibility and an obligation: the responsibility is to vote because when you give up your right to vote you give up your right to complain.  The obligation is to pray for your leaders, whether you voted for them or not.

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

The Pain of Growth

The Pain of Growth
You ever have growing pains? 
If you didn’t you probably know someone who did, maybe your own kids.   You know when you were around 8 or 9 you’d
wake up with your legs aching. 
Growing pains are kind of a generic diagnosis that covers a
variety of aches and pains when you are that age.  And it’s not actually bone pain, you know
from the bones growing it’s actually a muscular pain. 
This is interesting, one source wrote  “One symptom that
doctors find most helpful in making a diagnosis of growing pains is how a child
responds to touch while in pain. Kids who have pain from a serious medical
cause don’t like to be handled because movement can make the pain worse. But
those with growing pains respond differently — they feel better when they’re
held, massaged, and cuddled.”
The scripture that was read this morning detailed some of
growing pains that that the early church went through.
This is week 3 of our series on church growth.  In week one Stefan looked at “Why We Grow”
and highlighted three reasons, 1) Because Jesus Commands it 2) Because the
Bible Illustrates it 3) Because Reality Demands it. 
Last week I looked at “How We Grow” and we focused on how the
church and the pastor need to be prepared in order for growth to happen 
In both weeks we looked at the incredible rate of growth that
happened in the church in those first few months.  Literally thousands of people were coming to
know Jesus, were being baptized and living in community. 
Sometimes you will hear people wish that their church was
more like the New Testament Church or you’ll hear the pastor of a brand new
church say that their church is going to be a New Testament Church.  But in the midst of all of the celebration of
new life and church growth we stumble across the scripture that was read for us
earlier, in particular Acts 6:1 But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were
rumblings of discontent.
Rumblings of discontent? 
In the New Testament Church?  That
doesn’t seem right at all, I mean this is just months after the Holy Spirit had
come and the church had been born. 
Rumblings of discontent?
And the reason for the discontent, the reason the church
changed and didn’t remain the church that was described in Acts 2 wasn’t
because of sin, or pride or the devil. 
It was because of people.  People
who saw things from different perspectives, people who had different life
experiences, not better or worse life experiences, just different. 
Even if there had never been another person added to the
group the people themselves would have changed and that would have changed the
church.
We all change, that’s a given.  As we grow most of us will change.   My
world view, my church view and my political views have all changed through the
years.  Some would say they have evolved;
others would say they have de-evolved but regardless they have changed.
When Cornerstone was in its infancy a gentleman by the name
of Marlin Mull told me that there are two types of people in every church, “The
goers and the whoaers”.  And I’ve met
both types, you know what he meant, those who when you talked about new things
and changes they were willing to say “let’s go”. Today we call them early
adopters.
And there are others’ and they brace their feet and say
“Whoa, not on my watch”. 
And the goers and the whoaers were there two thousand years
ago as well.  There were those who
celebrated the growth of the church and those who grumbled about how things had
changed. 
I love the story about the old guy who was being interviewed
and he was asked “In your hundred and two years you’ve must have seen a lot of
changes?” to which he replied, “Yep, and I was against them all.”
For the rest of our time this morning we’re going to look at
Church Growing Pains.
Let’s be honest with each other and acknowledge that this
church cannot and will not grow without there being some pain. 
Through the years I have talked to pastors from growing
churches and it doesn’t matter if their church was a city church or a country
church they all had the same tale. 
Now in the beginning everyone was gung ho for growth, I mean
who wouldn’t be?  How could you be
against church growth?  That would be
wrong on so many levels.  But as the
church began to grow some people began to hesitate and baulk and some even left
the church to find one they would be more comfortable in. 
And the pastors all agreed that those who were opposed
weren’t bad people in most cases they were good people even godly people but
people who weren’t willing to pay the price. 
So it’s probably not fair to talk about church growth without
acknowledging that when you grow often there are growing pains.
And maybe you are thinking “Well maybe we shouldn’t grow
then.”   Every once in a while I’ll be
speaking to a senior and they will look at me and say with all sincerity “Don’t
get old!”  And my reply is “I have a
cousin who didn’t get old, it’s not working out so well for him.”
If the church is to survive and thrive it will need to
grow.  The other option is that it will
die.
So what happened in the early church to cause the rumblings?  They were experiencing pain.  But what type of pain?
1) There Was Pain Involved
in Change
.  Everything changes.  And growing churches change.  You can’t deny that.  It’s easy to look at Cornerstone and see a
static picture but it wasn’t always like it is today.
Twenty- one years ago we had 7 adults involved in a Sunday
Night Bible Study, that was Bedford Community Church.  Five of the seven are still actively involved
in our church today.
Eleven years ago we had changed our name to Cornerstone
Wesleyan Church and we were averaging 45 in our Sunday Morning Service.
10 years ago on this Sunday there were 37 of us who joined
together to worship at the Lebrun centre in Bedford.  15 of those 37 are still a part of
Cornerstone.  About six weeks after that
Sunday we changed again when we moved into our new building and then things
really began to changes. 
Within six months we were averaging 135 in our services.  Last year we averaged 295 in our two morning
service and afternoon service, and each Sunday we have people from around the
world worshipping with us live online. 
Things change.
Through the years some people have moved to other communities
and others have moved on to other churches, and other people have joined us,
and with every new person the church changes. 
A church of 7 is radically different than a church of 45
which is completely different than a church of 135, which is different than a
church of 295.  As we grow we realize
that it is a fact of life that the church will change and it won’t be like it
was before. 
Twenty years ago we were meeting in our living room at 184
Basinview Drive, since then we have met in a community centre then a movie
theatre and then back to the community centre, and at times when we got bumped
out of our rented facilities we worshipped at the Berkeley in Bedford, at
Basinview School, in a conference room in Sackville and at Fish Hatchery Park
under a tree. 
Eight years ago we had one service on Sunday mornings and we
had lots of room, now we have two services on Sunday morning and there are
times it is crowded.  Things change.
And you can only imagine how the early church felt, after the
resurrection there had been 120 who had gathered in the upper room then we read
in Acts 2:41 Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to
the church that day—about 3,000 in all.  That
was a change, and they hardly had time to catch their breath and we read in Acts 4:4 But many
of the people who heard their message believed it, so the number of believers
now totaled about 5,000 men, not counting women and children.  Things change. 
Every new person, every new family will change the
personality of Cornerstone.  Think about
it we are not the same church we were before you arrived to make your
contribution.  It becomes like a recipe
that is changed by each additional ingredient. 
As some of you know, the Smart car is no more, long story but
it has been replaced with a Toyota Corolla. 
And because I was looking for basic transportation with decent mileage I
just bought the CE, which is Toyota speak for base model. 
The only option it has is A/C because I couldn’t get one
without A/C, I tried.  But if you added cruise
control, a nicer interior, heated seats and a back up camera to the the CE you
would now have a Corolla LE.  Add
navigation, a sun roof, push button start and satellite radio and you have the
technology edition.
They are all Corollas but every time you add something you
make it different.
And so the early church began to experience change and with
the change came some growing pains.  And
understand that as we grow then there will be changes, not necessarily bad
changes or for that matter even good changes. 
Just changes because change has to happen. 
Harold Wilson, former Prime Minister of
England said “He who rejects change is the
architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the
cemetery.”
And Robert J. Kriegel
author of “If it Ain’t broke Break It” reminds us “The only people who enjoy change are babies with
wet diapers and busy cashiers.”
And so the growing church will experience the pain of change.
2) There Was Pain involved
in Sacrifice
When you start reading about the early church you discover
that almost all of the descriptions talked about their giving habits. 
Contrary to popular opinion church growth doesn’t just
happen.  It requires sacrifice.  Sometimes lots of sacrifices.
One thing that people don’t like talking about in church is
money, but the truth is that churches can’t function without money.  The money has to come from somewhere and the
Scriptures are quite clear that the “somewhere” are the people of God.  There is a lot of difference between the
financial commitment needed to maintain a church and the financial commitment
needed to grow a church.
Before we moved into our building we were able to maintain
our church paying $500.00 a month rent for the community centre and some office
space, that’s pays the mortgage for two days now.
Ten years ago we had Denn part time, and Jason was very part
time and still a student, and Angela was leading the children’s and women’s
ministry as a volunteer. 
Things change, Now I’m full time and so are Stefan and
Marilyn. Mike is paid as part time but he’s always here and Deborah and Mike
White aren’t paid at all but they serve as Missions Pastor and Pastoral Care.    

By staffing for growth we are acting instead of reacting.  Whatever the dollar costs are they will not
be found immediately with new growth.  It
takes about two years for giving to catch up with numerical growth.  If our growth is coming through conversions
it can take that long for people to accept the concept of tithing, and if we
are picking up transfer growth then might need that time to build loyalties and
trust. 

Now understand that doesn’t mean that you have to wait for
two years to start giving, you can jump in anytime. 
The same goes for time and service.  As the church grows there will be a lag
between getting people in and getting people to the place where they are
willing to serve.  During the transition
period it stretches our people as they have to teach more children, lead larger
youth groups, take on the responsibilities of more Life Groups and begin new
ministries to cater to all these “new people”.
One of the greatest sacrifices that will need to be made is
the giving up of preferences. As the church grows it sometimes grows away from
the area that we are comfortable in and yet unless those changes are clearly
wrong in light of the Scriptures we may have to surrender them in order to see
continued kingdom growth. 
Twenty-Five years ago I read “The
Moncton Wesleyan Church Manifesto”. I don’t know if they still use it
but I still quote it and part of it says, “We might
have our personal preferences about a big church or a small church, a formal
service or an informal service, a long service or a short service, gospel music
or liturgical music, fiery preaching or quiet preaching.  However, if those preference dictate which
church we attend and support, then we can never experience God’s greatest
blessings, because our motives are selfish.”
And so a Growing Church will experience the pain of
sacrifice.  The sacrifice of money, of
time of serving and most importantly of preferences.
3) There was Pain Involved
in Growing
Now when you think of it, this is a really obvious statement
and to a certain degree goes back to the idea of our church changing but it is
different. 
One of the major reasons why some churches are small is
because they like being small.  Whether
we are willing to admit it or not there are a lot of nice things about being a
small church.  Probably the most obvious
advantage of a small church is that you know everyone. 
You don’t have to guess at names or occupations, and everyone
knows you.  As the church gets bigger you
start to notice there are people that you can’t quite put a name to, and there
are people who don’t know who you are. 
When a church is small each person has a fair amount of
control over what goes on.  After all,
one vote in twenty has a lot more sway then one vote in two hundred.  There is an intimacy in a small worship
service that is difficult but not impossible to capture in a larger
service.  In a small church you usually
know what is going on at any given time. 
I was thinking about this the other day, 10 years ago I would
suspect that Angela and I had been in the home of every family that made up
Cornerstone and probably had had every family from Cornerstone in our home, at
least once.  Today that would be
impossible.
 In a small church you
have more of the pastor.  One pastor has
more time for each person in a group of forty-five then he does in a group of
two hundred and ninety five.  There are close
to 500 people who now call Cornerstone their church home.
There were probably those in the early church who remembered
when the Apostles knew everybody’s name and knew all the widows and were always
there to help them out, and probably wondered why it had to change. 
I am the chair of the Kingswood Ratepayers and one of the
things we are always struggling with is development and I have discovered that
for most people the community was just the right size the week they moved
in.  And at that point it should have
stopped growing.  In the same way most
folks think the church was the perfect size right after they started attending. 
And size is relative, Cornerstone Wesleyan is one of the
larger churches in the Maritimes, as sad as that may seem 75 % of churches have
a smaller Sunday Morning attendance then we do, but there are some here who
don’t want to lose our intimate feeling.  
The problem remains that if we stay the same size because it
appeals to us, then our decision is based on selfishness.  We cannot see people won to Jesus Christ and
discipled without this church growing. 
The only way we cannot grow is by not leading people into a
saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and so we would have to make a conscious
decision to exclude people from the Kingdom of God in an attempt to make sure
that our church remains comfortable for some people. 
But listen to the command, not the suggestion but the command
of Jesus in Matthew
28:19-20
“Therefore, go and make disciples
of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and
the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have
given you.”   He was telling them to grow the
church.
It is a rule of nature that everything in nature is either
growing, dying or dead.
Peter Pan never wanted to grow up and I think that as
children we are often content to remain children.  But that isn’t what God had in His plan when
he created us, even though childhood can be a blast.
We can’t be a Peter Pan Church.  God has some great things in store for us as
we grow and mature, but let’s not ignore that there will be growing pains as we
grow.
As we stand on the threshold of a new era lets step across it
with our eyes open, not ignoring the problems but realizing that our God is
bigger than any problem we will encounter. 
Can I count on you, no let’s change that it’s not my church
and it never has been, can God count on you to do what needs being done to
reach our community for Christ? 
Sure there will be problems and some pain but none of them so
big that they can stop the people of God. 
As we grow we need to remember the words of Benjamin
Franklin who said “There are no gains
without pains.”
And the promise from Joshua 1:9  This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be
afraid or discouraged. For the LORD
your God is with you wherever you go.”
Many things have changed about the church over the past two
thousand years but we still pause for the sacrament of communion to remember
what Jesus did for us. We are the church, the bride of Christ, part of the
Family of God and this morning we are going to take the time to remember what
that means for us today.

Chase the . . .


Thousands of people have been descending on the small Cape Breton village of Inverness, all seeking the chance to turn over a single card and win a fortune.  The game is Chase the Ace and it’s a fund raiser for the local legion.  You play by purchasing 5 tickets for 5 dollars and if one of your tickets is drawn you have the opportunity to turn over one of cards from a deck of cards in search of the ace of spades.  The secret is that each time someone turns over the wrong card it is removed from the deck, and this deck has been used for close to a year and the jackpot now stands at a million and half dollars with only five cards left.   
I’m sure that Inverness is a pretty town but that’s not why people have been flocking there, and if they really wanted to help the local legion they could put a cheque in the mail. The reason folks choose to play any lottery is “greed”.  And greed is birthed from covetousness, which is why God warns us over and over again about wanting what’s not ours.  Because from the very beginning it was wanting that which wasn’t theirs that led mankind away from God.  

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