We All Need Grace

And here we are at the end of Moments of
Grace. Over the past seven weeks we have seen how Grace has been experienced
and expressed throughout the Bible and we’ve looked at Grace displayed in an
unlikely person, in an unlikely place, at an unlikely time and two weeks ago we
saw how Jesus displayed grace at the table when he invited his 12 closest
friends to celebrate with him at the last supper even knowing that those who
were there would betray him, deny him and doubt him. 

And then we looked at Grace in an Awkward
Situation, when even after Peter had denied him three times Jesus didn’t give
him what he deserved, he didn’t deny Peter, instead he embraced him and forgave
him. 

And last week we watched as the thief on
the cross stepped over the line of salvation with his dying breath.   And all he had to do was the same thing each
one of us has to do, accept the gift of grace, a gift that was summed up in 2 Corinthians 5:21 For God
made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could
be made right with God through Christ.  And
that is the Scandal of Grace

And through all of Paul’s preaching on Grace he seems to anticipate
the response from some folks in the church because he asks the question in Romans 6:1 Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God
can show us more and more of his wonderful grace?

This seemed to be an ongoing discussion in the church at Rome
because Paul had addressed it earlier in Romans 3:7-8
“But,” someone might still argue, “how can God condemn me as a sinner if my
dishonesty highlights his truthfulness and brings him more glory?” And some
people even slander us by claiming that we say, “The more we sin, the better it
is!” Those who say such things deserve to be condemned.

It is a twisted logic that leads us to the
rationale that our sinful behaviour actually becomes a public service by
introducing more of God’s grace into the world. 
And so Paul asks the question: Romans 6:1 Well
then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his
wonderful grace?  And then he
answers it in the very next verse by stating Romans 6:2
Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?

This type of argument and debate was common
in the era that Paul was writing and was referred in Latin as: Reductio ad Absurdum 
And the definition of that term is: The process of refuting an argument
on the grounds that absurd – and patently untenable consequences would ensue
from accepting the item at issue. In other words reducing it to the
absurd. 

For example, sometimes someone will say
something that just doesn’t make sense or is unlikely to happen.  “If I won the lottery, all my money problems
would be over.”  And I will respond one
of two ways, both of which fall into the class of Reductio
ad Absurdum.  So I will either say
“And if wishes were horses beggars would ride.” Or I will respond “And if my
grandmother had wheels she’d be a wagon.”

So taking it to the extreme, if we do
continue to sin it is an opportunity for God to demonstrate his grace over and
over again, however we are told that God hates sin and the ultimate consequence
of sin is spiritual death and so while it provides the opportunity for grace it
ultimately leads to our destruction. 

But what is this grace of which Paul speaks
and which others would use as a licence to continue in their sinful
behaviour?   Well we have defined it
before as God’s unmerited love.  That is
love that we don’t deserve and that we can’t earn.  It is spelled out 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.

  

You’ve heard me define it time and time again by saying Justice is
getting what we deserve, Mercy is getting less than we deserve and Grace is
getting something that we don’t deserve.

For example, if a certain cleric was stopped by the local
constabulary for speeding, remember this is just an example, justice would be
getting a speeding ticket for doing 73 in a 50. 
However if the office said that instead of issuing him a speeding ticket
he would simply issue him a ticket for failing to obey a traffic sign which
would mean the fine would be over a hundred dollars less and there would be no
loss of points and the imaginary cleric would not lose his licence for a week,
that would be mercy. 

However if the officer had of said, “Hey don’t worry about it and
I’m on my way to Tim Horton’s, follow me and I’ll buy you a coffee.”  That would have been Grace.   In the story the fictional cleric would have
been shown mercy.

For those who like numbers in the New
Living Translation the word Grace is used 88 times in bible, only 5 times in
the Old Testament and 83 times in the New Testament.  Of the 83 times the word grace is used in the
New Testament 13 of those instances are in the book of Romans.  And the word Grace is not used in any of the
four Gospels.   

It is easy to define grace but that doesn’t
always bring us any closer to understanding it. So let’s look at Grace in
action.

His Name was Joseph and he began his life with a silver spoon in his mouth.  His father was Jacob, Abraham’s Grandson, who
had become a wealthy land owner and farmer and Joseph was his favourite
son.  From the time he was just a child
it was evident that he was favoured, and perhaps a little bit spoiled, or
actually perhaps a lot bit spoiled, actually there was no perhaps about it, he
was daddy’s favourite and Daddy wasn’t afraid to show him or his other children
how he felt about Joseph. 

I don’t know what the final straw was,
maybe it was the beautiful coat that his father bought him, or maybe it was
when he had the dreams about his brothers bowing down to him and worshipping
him.  Maybe it was when the rest of his
brothers had to tend the sheep out in the field and Joseph stayed at home.  Or maybe it was just that opportunity
presented itself.  Joseph had gone out to
the fields to check up on his brothers for his father, and the brothers saw
their opportunity.  They threw Joseph
into a dried up well and then to add insult to injury they sold him into
slavery.

From favourite son to slave and the story
doesn’t end there.  Joseph was taken to Egypt and was
sold to a man named Potiphar.  If we
follow the story along we discover that Joseph was able to gain the trust of
his master and eventually became manager of everything that Potiphar owned, but
when he refused to give in to the advances of his master’s wife she framed him
for rape and he ended up in prison.

From favourite son to slave, from trusted
servant to prisoner, you really know the path to downward mobility don’t you
Joseph?  And to be fair, Joseph’s
problems began because he wasn’t very gracious. 
Well it’s pretty obvious that if anyone needed God’s grace it would be Joseph.  But he’s not alone.  Some
Need God’s Grace Because of Their Attitudes
you know, the way we speak to
people and treat people.

If Joseph started from the top and worked
his way down Moses started from the
bottom and worked his way up.  The people
of Israel had become slaves to the people of Egypt and when the pharaoh began
to feel threatened by the growing number of Israelites in his country the Bible
says he decided to make their slavery even more bitter, kind of the old “I’ll
give you something to cry about”.  When
the harsh working conditions didn’t break their spirits he issued an order to
the midwives to kill the baby boys of Israel as soon as they were
born.  When the midwives refused the
Pharaoh ordered all the newborn boys to be thrown into the Nile River.  And it was into this climate that Moses was
born.

His mother hid him for three months and
when it became apparent that she could hide him no more he was put into a
floating basket and placed in the reeds at the edge of the Nile in hopes that
someone would find him and take pity on him.

And don’t you just love it when a plan
comes together?  Because that’s exactly
what happened and the story gets better because he wasn’t found by just anyone
he was found by the daughter of the Pharaoh. 
Who promptly feel in love with this beautiful little baby boy. And the
story gets better and better, Moses was adopted into the royal household and
enjoyed all the perks and privileges of growing up the adopted son of the most
powerful man in the country.

What an opportunity to help his people, to
make a difference in his world, to impact society.  There was so much that he could do, but did
he?  No. 
As a matter of fact we find no indication that Moses even acknowledged
his roots until he was forty years old and on that one occasion he saw an
Egyptian beating an Israelite and he killed the Egyptian and buried his body in
the sand.  Nasty temper Moses, obviously
you never read anything by James Barrie because
he said “Temper is a weapon that we hold by the
blade.”

Moses, what were you thinking, you had the
power the prestige and the position to make a difference in your world and you
blew it.  Obviously you weren’t thinking
were you? You ever feel like Moses?  You
had it all and then you blew it, and all because you couldn’t control your
temper.  Some Need God’s Grace Because of Their Temper, we say and do things
in the heat of the moment and hurt those around us.

Some called him King, others said he was a
man after God’s own heart, she called him honey. David was Israel’s
greatest King.  He had taken the Jews
from being nothing more than a collection of Nomadic tribes to being one of the
most powerful nations in the known world. 
It was under David’s leadership and direction that Israel reached
the high point
of her history.  Economically,
politically and spiritual Israel
was at its peak. And David was riding high on the crest of popular opinion.

Now I don’t know if David got bored or if
he was going through a midlife crisis thing or what happened but one day when
his troops had all gone off to war, David stayed home.  And you know what they say, “Idle hands are
the devil’s hands.”  Well David should
have kept busy doing what he was supposed to be doing.

The bible tells us that one afternoon that
David has just gotten up from taking a nap, a nap, must be nice to be king.  And as he’s strolling along the roof top of
the palace he notices that one of his neighbours is taking a bath in the buff
in the backyard. Well this lady was not hard to look at all and David sent
someone to find out who she was.  The
answer came back that she was Bathsheba and that she was the wife of one of
David’s soldiers, a man named Uriah.  

David didn’t waste any time, he had
Bathsheba brought to his home, I don’t know what he was thinking, perhaps he
didn’t know what he was thinking, perhaps he wasn’t thinking.  Maybe it was all innocent and he wanted to
compliment her on her beauty, or maybe warn her that when she bathed in the
buff in the backyard that it wasn’t nearly as private as she thought it was.  Or maybe he knew all along where this would
lead.  It was Scottish Writer Margaret Oliphant who so wisely pointed out “Temptations come, as a general rule, when they are sought.” 

Well it may have started out innocent but
it didn’t end innocent, I think David must have been a fan of Robert A.
Heinlein who wrote “Always yield to temptation, you never know when it will
pass your way again.” The bible says they slept together and if that is all they
did there wouldn’t have been a problem, but the next time David sees Bathsheba
she had some news for him, she said something like “Hi Daddy.”  David, David, David.  What have you done?  Well we know what he did, but why did he do
it.

Well David begins to think, and scheme
after all he didn’t get to be King for nothing. 
And he sends for Uriah thinking that Bathsheba could seduce her husband,
although he had been away from home for a while so there probably wouldn’t need
to be a lot of seduction, and Uriah would think the child was his, he must not
have been real good with math.

But that isn’t the way it happened.  Uriah refused to go home; he said his fellow
soldiers were out defending the country it wouldn’t be right for him to be spending
the night with his wife.  Oh drat, it’s
on to plan “B” then so David invited Uriah to dinner, proceeded to get him
drunk and then sent him home, but still Uriah refused.  Well if you can’t blame hubby then get rid of
hubby, and that’s what David did, he had Uriah’s commander send him deep into
enemy territory and Uriah was killed.

So let’s see, David, you slept with another
man’s wife, and then you had her husband murdered.  Hope she was worth it.  David you were thinking with your hormones
and not your head.  And if you were to
get what you deserved under the law of your kingdom and your God you would be
killed, you are in serious need of God’s grace. 

 Some
Need God’s Grace Because of Their Actions. 
How many of us have done what we knew we shouldn’t be doing?  Because we going to enjoy it for the here and
now regardless of how it might affect our future or the future of those we
love.

It was a great gig, and if he played his
cards right someday he would take the place of his boss.  But then it was over.

His name was John Mark and the first part of his career is summed up in eight
verses in the book of Acts.  The story
begins in Acts 13:5  There, in the town of Salamis, they went to the Jewish
synagogues and preached the word of God. John Mark went with them as their
assistant.   And pretty much
finishes in Acts 13:13  Paul and his companions then left Paphos by ship for
Pamphylia, landing at the port town of Perga. There John Mark left them and
returned to Jerusalem.

John Mark just quit and walked away, and we
don’t know why, although there has been all kinds of speculation through the
years.  What we do know is that it caused
a huge rift not only in the relationship between John Mark and Paul but
eventually between Paul and Barnabas. 

If we pick up the story in Acts 15:36-40  After some time Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back
and visit each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see
how the new believers are doing.”  Barnabas agreed and wanted to take
along John Mark.  But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had
deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work.
 Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John
Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus.  Paul chose Silas, and as he left,
the believers entrusted him to the Lord’s gracious care.

Wow. 
I wonder how John Mark felt? He was young and he blew it, and now it was
coming back to bite him.  He was rejected
by his mentor and basically declared untrustworthy and unreliable.

Some
Need God’s Grace Because of Their Quitting. 
One day they are on board and the next day
and they quite and just walk away.  

Have you ever
felt like you had blown it in your Christian walk?  Have there been times that your behaviour has
been less then admirable?  Perhaps like
Joseph you just can’t seem to get it right, and you know that God must be angry
at you or you wouldn’t have such rotten luck. 
But the story hasn’t been finished yet. 
Joseph eventually became the second most powerful man in Egypt and
because of his position he was able to save his entire family during a famine
that affected entire Eastern Mediterranean.  He summed up his life in a conversation that
he had with his brothers in Genesis 50:20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He
brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.

Maybe like
Moses you have a temper that needs to be brought under control, and let there
be no doubt about it, if you have a problem with your temper it will need to be
brought under control.  But Moses story
didn’t end with him on the lamb, instead God brought him back to Egypt to
deliver the people of Israel
from slavery to freedom.  That was where
the original Passover celebration came from. 
  When the writer of the book of
Hebrews was listing all the heroes of faith in the bible he gives Moses five
verses, more space than anyone else on the list.  This is only part of it Hebrews 11:27 It was by
faith that Moses left the land of Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger. He kept
right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible.

Have you struggled
with moral failure like David?  Figure
that you’ve blown it and there is no hope for you?  Don’t know if you can fall much further than
David fell, and yet in Psalm 51 we read David’s prayer of repentance Psalm 51:1-2 Have mercy on
me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion,
blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my
sin.

And?  Well in 2 Samuel 12:13 David is
talking to Nathan the Preacher who confronted him with his sin, and this is a
part of that conversation:  2 Samuel 12:13 Then
David confessed to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” Nathan replied,
“Yes, but the LORD has forgiven you, and you won’t die for this sin.

The story wasn’t over.  In the
New Testament Jesus is referred to as the Son of David on at least 15
occasions.

Do you ever feel like Mark?  But that wasn’t the end of John Mark’s
story.  God hadn’t given up on him and
neither had Paul apparently.   Eventually
his name would be shortened to just plain old Mark and we read in Paul’s second
letter to Timothy 2 Timothy 4:11  Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you when you
come, for he will be helpful to me in my ministry.   And then Paul writes in Colossians 4:10  Aristarchus,
who is in prison with me, sends you his greetings, and so does Mark, Barnabas’s
cousin. As you were instructed before, make Mark welcome if he comes your way.

Grace has such a wonderful way of giving
second chances.  Do you ever feel like
Mark?  In your life, or your behaviour or
your words have you quit when you know you should have gone on?  And you can’t believe that you will be
trusted with anything ever again. 

And then you are given a brand new future
and yes, this is the same Mark who wrote the second gospel words  that have been read by billions of people
over thousands of years. 

And maybe you
have nothing in common with Joseph, Moses, David or Mark but here is the
reality:  We All Need God’s Grace Because We Are People

Each of us is
far from God, and according to his word justice for us would be to be separated
for eternity from God and goodness, and light and love, and compassion.  In our tradition that is called hell.  Mercy for us would be annihilation, to simply
cease to exist at death.  But instead God
offers Grace, the thing we don’t deserve, eternal life in his presence. 

Why did Jesus
come?  It was the tax collector Matthew
who recalled a prophecy from the Old Testament that speaks of the coming
messiah, the one we call Jesus Matthew 12:20-21 He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering
candle. Finally he will cause justice to be victorious. And his name will be
the hope of all the world.”

It was that great American Philosopher
Yogi Berra who said “The game isn’t over until it’s
over.”  If you feel like you’ve
failed in your Christian walk Jesus isn’t going to crush you or put out your
flame, even if that is what you deserve, he is there to pick you up.  

Which is why Bob Goff, Author of “Love
Does” wrote this great definition of Grace 
“Grace
is a painting God’s still completing over our torn canvases.”

Listen to the promise of the Bible, this
is for you this morning, I don’t know where you are on your spiritual journey but
this promise is for you. 

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.

What the Hell?

Long before I knew about God’s grace I knew
about Gods’ wrath.  Long before I had
encountered a loving God I knew about the fires of hell.

Some of those images came from culture and some
came from art.  All in all I think I
prefer Larson to Michelangelo, but I’m that kind of guy.

Some of the images that I had of hell were
from Jack Chick tracts, anybody remember the chick tracks with their images of
hell fire and demons laughing at those sentenced to an eternity of
torment. 

It just dawned on me the other day, who was
leaving those tracks at our place?  They
weren’t something that my parents would have been bringing home, so my only
conclusion was that well intentioned relatives were leaving them behind in the
hopes of scaring the hell out of the Guptill kids. 

The year I graduated from High School there
were a couple of different things that happened that had a profound influence
on me and my eventual decision to become a Christ follower.  The first of course was my best friend’s
decision to follow Christ and his commitment to sharing that decision with
me.  But I often tell people the other
two things were watching live performances of Jesus Christ Super Star and
Godspell.  Whatever your feelings might
be about the Rock Opera and Musical they presented the story of Jesus a way
that a nineteen-year-old could relate. 
And it was in a live production of Godspell that I first heard the story
of Lazarus and the rich man.  (Show clip
from Godspell).  And it made sense to me,
the good guy went to the good place and the bad guy went to the bad place. 

By the way, it was the love that my best
friend had for me that brought me to the decision to accept the forgiveness and
grace of God and not the fear of hell.  I
was loved into heaven, not scared out of hell.

But how many of us have every been asked,
or have ever asked: What kind of God could or would send people to hell. 

And some, because they can’t accept the
concept of eternal punishment simply reject it. 
If in their minds a loving god would be incapable of sending people to
hell, then he doesn’t.  And this belief
that everyone will be saved is called Universalism, and it was first promoted
about 200 years after the death of Christ by an early church leader by the name
of Origen, whose beliefs and teachings were later declared as heretical.  And for the next 1600 years very few major
theologians argued that everyone would be saved, but that began to change in
the 1800’s with the New Thought movement, which eventually spawned the
Universalist Church and movement.

And we have seen it in the past number of
years with preachers like Rob Bell, who wrote “Love Wins”,  who have stayed clear of the term
universalism but lean very strongly toward the belief that eventually
everybody, either in this life or the next will come to a saving knowledge of
Christ.

So their belief is that there is a hell,
and it is a place of torment but it’s not forever, you only stay there until
you accept the grace of God that continues to be extended to you.  Almost spiritual waterboarding.  They are almost suggesting that eventually
God will be able to either nag or torture you into heaven.  But how do we reconcile that with our belief
in free will?

Preacher A.W.
Tozer wrote “The vague and tenuous hope that
God is too kind to punish the ungodly has become a deadly opiate for the
consciences of millions.”

But the reality is, very few people who
believe in the hereafter actually believe that everybody should go to heaven
and nobody should go to hell, but they want to be the one who picks. 

And not many folks would try to argue
Hitler or Stalin or litterbugs out of hell, but what about the really nice
family down the street that do a lot of volunteer work and keep their lawn up
and recycle their trash but just don’t have time for God or church?  Or the nice Jewish or Hindu teacher that was
so special to you in grade 7, or the billions of people through the years who never
had a chance to hear the gospel?

How could God send people like that to hell,
especially if hell is everything that we understand it to be?

And so we end up being like Mark
Twain who said “I don’t like to commit
myself about heaven and hell – you see, I have friends in both places.”

This
is week 4 of our “Skeletons in God’s Closet” series. 

The term “A Skeleton in your Closet”, means
that there is something in your life that you have hidden away that could
damage your reputation.  And it could be
something immoral or illegal or maybe just something that you did in your
misspent youth that you would find embarrassing if it came out today.

And that isn’t always fair, as anyone who
has ever experienced something coming back to haunt them could testify to.  I am certainly not the person now that I was
in when I was a teenager.  And there are
certainly things I said and did back then that I wouldn’t necessarily want made
public today.   In retrospect I’m not
even sure that my brain was functioning in any meaningful way during those
years, so I’m not sure that to judge the today Denn based on the behaviour of
the 1977 Denn would be fair or accurate.

But I would suspect that I’m alone in that
respect and that none of you have any bones in your closest and that each of
your pasts is spotless and honourable.

And so as we root around in God’s closet
for some of the more troublesome stories in the bible there are those who think
we should just leave the door to the closet closed.  But we really can’t do that because just
because we don’t open it doesn’t mean it won’t get opened.

And so in week one I spoke about why we
need to open the closet door.  And we
need to do it so we can better understand the story.  Unless you read all the story, you can’t
understand all the story.  We can’t just
choose our favourite parts of the bible and declare that we are people of the
book.  Doesn’t work that way, because
when we do that we end up with our story not Gods.

And it’s only when we truly know God’s
story that we can truly know God.  And
until we know God we won’t know who and what we are supposed to be as
people. 

And so we left that message embracing the
words of  George
Bernard Shaw who said. “If you can’t get rid
of the skeleton in your closet, you’d best teach it to dance.”

In week 2 Rob McDowell did a wonderful job
tackling a difficult subject.  He looked
at the Israelite conquest of Canaan, and what some folks would consider a
genocide, and you can find that message along with all of our messages on our
website.   

Last week I dug into the New Testament and
spent some time with the story of Ananias and Sapphira who were a couple in the
early church.   The highlights of their
story was that they had sold a piece of property and then gave the money to the
church.  And that is all well and good,
the problem was they said they were giving it all when in reality they only
gave a portion.  When confronted with the
fact that they had lied to God they dropped dead.  Bizarre, so we played around in that
particular closet last week.

Today we are going to crack a closet door
that opens in both the Old and New Testament, and that is the doctrine of
hell.  

In our tradition, as in many other
traditions when we talk about the alternative to heaven we call it hell.  Which is one of several different names used
in the Bible to describe the final destination of the unrighteous.  The term Sheol in the Old Testament or Hades
in the New Testament are used interchangeably and literally mean the place of
Departed Souls. 

In some instances, the term is used to
simply mean the grave or death, and in other instances it refers to an actual
place, what we call hell.

In the New Testament there is a word that
is used by Jesus almost exclusively for hell and that is the Greek word Gehenna
which is a form of the Hebrew phrase that means “The Valley of Hinnom” which
was a valley Southwest of Jerusalem.  Now
I know that’s not very nice to refer to a specific area as Hell, but sometimes
that is the reality.

Earlier this year Eric and Lisa Slauenwhite
and their family visited hell, and posted pictures on Facebook.  Here is the sign welcoming them to hell, here
is a warning sign about what not to do while in hell and here is a photo of
their youngest child in hell.

Of course in this case Hell was in the
Cayman Islands in the Caribbean and bears no actual resemblance to the hell
that we are talking about today.

But you have to understand the history of
Gehenna.  It was in this valley that the
Canaanites worshiped Baal and the god Molech, they did this by sacrificing
their children in a fire that burned continuously.  In the book of 2 Kings 23:10 we discover that
King Josiah put an end to this worship and “defiled” the valley so it would be
unfit for even pagan worship.

There are some who would tell us that by
the time of Jesus this area was used as the garbage dump for Jerusalem, into it
was thrown all of the filth and garbage of the city, including the dead bodies
of animals and executed criminals. To consume all of this, fires burned
constantly.  Everybody knew what it was
like and when the wind blew from that direction, everybody in the city
understood its awfulness.  To the people
Jesus spoke to there could be no worse fate then spending eternity in
Gehenna.  And so Jesus said “do you want
to know what hell is like?  All you have
to do is look at Gehenna. The garbage, dead bodies the fire and the smell, now
multiply that by eternity and that’s what the unrighteous have to look forward
to” And so hell could be described as God’s “Cosmic garbage dump.”  Everything that is unfit for heaven is thrown
there. 

Sometimes because of the symbolic nature of
the description of hell people question whether it will consist of actual
fire. 

But the bible remains consistent with it
descriptions of hell, speaking of darkness while at the same time using fire as
a description.  Even Jesus referred to
hell as a place of torment we read in Matthew
13:49-50
 Jesus said “That is the way it will be at the
end of the world. The angels will come and separate the wicked people from the
righteous,  throwing the wicked into the
fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  And that is only one of the
numerous instances where Jesus warns people of the dangers of hell. 

Don’t deceive yourself, the reality will be
worse then any description that a person could conjure up, and it will last
forever, and ever and ever.  It’s worse
then can be described and longer then can be imagined.

And sometimes it’s easy to just say “Ok, I
believe in hell” but not actually understand the why of hell.  As Aristotle said
“Knowledge of the fact differs from knowledge of the reason for the fact.”

So this morning we are not going to try and
prove the existence of hell, the bible speaks for itself on that issue, and
nobody who accepts the bible can deny that it warns of a place of eternal
damnation for those who reject God.  So
we aren’t looking for the facts as much as the reason for the fact.

And so we have this story that Jesus told
of Lazarus and the Rich Man, which some would claim is a parable while others
would say was the story of actual people. 
And to be truthful no other parable actually uses a person’s name.  And in it we see two destinations.  One apparently for the righteous and one for
the unrighteous. 

Often we think of Hell as a punishment for
a life misspent.  You do bad things and
you go to hell, you do good things you go to heaven.  But we know that you can’t earn your way into
heaven.  The bible is very clear on that
point, 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. 

So if heaven isn’t a reward for the good
things we’ve done, how can hell be a punishment for the bad things we’ve done?  After all it would appear that we are all
destined for hell and the only thing that stands in our way is the grace of
God. 

And while the scriptures do speak of hell
in terms of punishment it really isn’t a punishment the sense of “You did this
and as a result you will go to hell”.  It
is more in the sense that you behaved that way because of a choice you made and
as a result of that choice you won’t be with God when you die, instead you will
go to hell.

When Jesus was beginning his ministry John
the Baptist introduced him with this words John
3:34-36
 For he is sent by God. He
speaks God’s words, for God gives him the Spirit without limit.  The
Father loves his Son and has put everything into his hands.  And anyone
who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son
will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment.”

The thing we need to get our head around it
the fact that Hell Is Not a Punishment For Our
Actions it is a Consequence Of Our Choice

When we choose to not to make room in our
life for God we are saying “I don’t want to be counted as one of God’s
children.”  And God simply honours that request
in the next life as well as this life. 

You can be a nice person, a good person, a
moral person and still choose to not align yourself with God and not accept the
grace that he offers.  We all know people
like that, they either have no time for God or feel that they have no need for
God.  But they can still be nice people,
they have just chosen for whatever reason to have nothing to do with God.

Hell in it’s simplest definition is a place without
God, and being without God is being without light or love or goodness. 

If we see hell only
as a punishment, then we view salvation simply as an escape from punishment a
fire escape from hell so to speak.  Anthropologist
Margaret Mead wrote “It is an open question whether
any behavior based on fear of eternal punishment can be regarded as ethical or
should be regarded as merely cowardly.”


Jesus tell us in Matthew 6:24  “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.  But the statement
isn’t only about money, it is about our priorities in life and when we choice
to serve other things before God we are making a decision that will echo for
eternity.    

Which leads us to the next point, the question that
people ask is “How can a loving God send people to hell?”  But we have to realize that  Hell Is Not A Place You Are Sent It Is
A Place You Choose To Go

When we choose to not accept the grace that is
extended by Christ then we have chosen to reject Christ and his
righteousness. 

Presbyterian preacher J Vernon McGee wrote “Don’t
say that a loving God sends people to hell. Say that there is a holy God, and
when you do not meet His standard you cannot go into His heaven where He is.”
  The bible is very clear about two
things 1) we will never be good enough to get to heaven on our own.  2) All we have to do is ask, that is the
grace that we talked about back in the fall, the unmerited favour of God.  But you have to choose to accept it.

Some folks feel like they have no choice,
author Heywood Broun writes, “Hell is paved with great granite blocks hewn from the hearts
of those who said, ‘I can do no other.’”


But the reality is that there is always a choice.  In dealing with temptation we are promised in
1 Corinthians 10:13  The temptations in
your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He
will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are
tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.

God isn’t up there rubbing his hands with
glee over the fact that people are going to hell, instead he is heart
broken.  Peter reminds us 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.  God’s desire
is that everyone will make the right choice, but that doesn’t mean they
will.  My desire is for each of you to
make the right choice, that doesn’t mean you will. 

The big question that is asked about Hell
is What About the People Who Have Never
Heard the Gospel? 
I truly believe that
no one will go to hell without the opportunity to not go to hell.

But I find it inconceivable, and the word does mean what I
think it means, that the same God who would willing sacrifice his Son for the
world, remember 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.  Would allow that same
world to go to hell simply based on geography.

It doesn’t say for God loved the tiny strip
of the Middle East where Jesus was born so much, and it doesn’t say for God
loved the area where the gospel was spread so much, or God loved Europe and the
America’s so much, but only after they were evangelized. 

And no I don’t know
how that works, out, I don’t know how the grace of Christ is presented even to
those who have never heard, but I have to believe it is. 

We often hear of the
God shaped void in each of us, that is yearning to be filled, and stories of
missionaries who meet obscure tribes that all ready have an innate
understanding of the gospel, of Muslim who testify of dreaming of Jesus. 

Let’s go back to the
scripture from Peter’s letter again, but let’s pick it up in verse 8 2 Peter 3:8-9  But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A
day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day.
 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.

Have you ever had to
wait for something?  Maybe news about a
job, or a report from the Doctor, or a tea kettle to boil?  And it seems to take forever?  Sometimes when we are looking at verse eight
we focus on the second part, how a thousand years is like a day.  But I wonder if we need to see God’s heart as
he waits for people to accept his grace and realize that while he waits every
day seems like a thousand years. 

Einstein is said to have summed up his theory
of relativity by saying Sitting with a pretty
girl for an hour seems but a minute; sitting on a hot stove for a minute seems
an hour.

How God whispers into
the soul of those who have never heard we may never know, but knowing the love
that God has for all the world we have to assume that he’s not going to allow
people to go to hell without giving them an opportunity, somehow to experience
his grace.

And that is no way
relieves us of our responsibility to evangelize.  Because evangelism is about our obedience.  We have been commanded to go into all the
world, and we believe that Jesus doesn’t just provides an escape from hell
tomorrow but also makes this world a better place today.    

Penn Jillette is a
comedian, a magician and an atheist. 
Penn is in no way a friend of God. 
A few years ago after a show a fan presented Penn with a New Testament
and this was the reaction of the atheist to hearing the good news.  (Video Clip)

Missed it, by that much.

I was talking to a friend the other day when the topic of the terrorist attacks in Burkina Faso came up & she mentioned that I had been there in the past and wanted to know how I felt about what had happened.  And the conversation got me thinking, I was supposed to be leading a teaching team to West Africa the first couple of weeks in January but we had cancelled back in October for a couple of different reason.  So I checked our itinerary and there it was, on January 16th the team was supposed to arrive in Ouagadougou in preparation to preach in local churches on the Sunday.  And while I assume that we would have been staying at our usual place, which was less than 7 kilometres from where the attack happened, it’s hard to say where we would have been that evening.


I’m never sure if things like that are providential or fortuitous because I’m not convinced that God loves our team more than he loves those who were in Ouagadougou that day let alone the Canadians who perished in the bombings.


But I am thankful that we weren’t there that day and will credit God with having kept us out of harm’s way. Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Dying to Give

It’s one of those bizarre stories in the
Bible that make you scratch your head and say: 
Huhh?  And it’s one of those
stories that people sometimes ask me about, it really seems more fitting in the
Old Testament than as one of the first stories about the early church in the
New Testament. 

This is week three of our Skeletons in
God’s Closet series.  We are looking at
some of the stories in the bible that sometimes cause people to question the
character of God.  In week one I looked
at the reasons we need to open closet door. 
For some they would just as soon not have to explain or look deeper than
they have to, perhaps afraid of what they might see, or afraid that it might
challenge how they view God.

So that first week we looked the fact that
we need to open the closet door in order to better understand the story, in
order to better understand God and to better understand ourselves.   Too often we cherry pick from the bible
picking the stories we like and ignoring the ones we don’t like or don’t understand,
and that leads us to developing a caricature of God instead of seeing his true
Character.  And until we understand God
we can never understand what he wants us to be as we follow him.  And perhaps we need to heed George Bernard Shaw’s advice because he said. “If you can’t get rid of the skeleton in your closet,
you’d best teach it to dance.”

Last week Rob McDowell looked at one of the
most problematic stories in the bible and it involves when the Israelites
entered into and conquered the promised land after their Exodus from
Egypt.  And Rob told us that we Need
to Understand the Backstory, God is seeking Justice not
Genocide,
Realize that God punishes sin and offers grace
to sinners, The Solution to War is The Cross. 
If you missed the
service last week you should check out the message on our website.  It was excellent.

And now we are going to jump into the New
Testament and a story from the early church that sometimes confuses
people. 

The church is seeing astronomical growth,
thousands of people are coming to the faith and with that come practical
problems and practical solutions.  The
apostles are working full time to administer and teach this growing group of
people, which means they are no longer fishing, farming and doing whatever else
it was they did for a living prior to this. 
And so there is now a need for providing for the leaders monetarily so
they could provide for the needs of their families. 

There were also needs of those within the
community of faith.  The widows, orphans
and others had needs that had to be met. 
And the church responded.  We read
in Acts 4:32 All the believers were of one heart and mind, and they felt
that what they owned was not their own; they shared everything they had.   And then if we skip down a little
further it says Acts
4:34-35
There was no poverty among them,
because people who owned land or houses sold them and brought the money to the
apostles to give to others in need.  Now
we don’t know if the Apostles had preached on giving or money, don’t know if
they passed the plate or had an offering box. 
We don’t know anything other then the people were generous and the needs
were met.  And then was even an example
given, Acts
4:36-37
For instance, there was Joseph, the
one the apostles nicknamed Barnabas . . . He sold a field he owned and brought
the money to the apostles for those in need.

Cool.  And if that was all she wrote we would marvel
at the generosity and unselfish nature of the early church and that’s how many
people view the early church.  But the
story continues and gets a little confusing.

There was a couple in the
early church by the name of Ananias and Sapphira and they were obviously
impressed with what Barnabas did and so they attempted to replicate his actions.  They sold some property they had and brought
a portion of the money to the apostles for the church.  So far so good.  But that wasn’t all the story, we don’t know
how much they sold their property for, let’s say it was one of the lots behind
us in Kingswood North, in which case they sold their land for $100,000.00. 

I’m sure they were looking
at the money and thinking, “This is a lot of money, the church probably doesn’t
need it all”.  And so Ananias brought
part of the proceeds to the church, let’s say it was half, or $50,000.00  A pretty good chunk of change.  And I’m sure it could have been used for a
lot of good.  The problem came because
when Ananias came to the disciples he said, “Hey guys, I sold my property down
on Gatehouse Run and got fifty grand for it, and here it is, aren’t I a great
guy?”

Whoa, fifty grand is pretty
awesome gift, there was no problem with that aspect of what he did. 

But listen to what
happened, the story was read earlier.   Acts 5:3-4 Then Peter
said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart? You lied to the Holy Spirit,
and you kept some of the money for yourself. The property was yours to sell or
not sell, as you wished. And after selling it, the money was yours to give
away. How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t lying to us but to God.”

 I don’t know how Peter figured this out, maybe
he had seen the MLS listing and knew what Ananias was asking for the property,
maybe he knew the guy who bought it or maybe, God told him.  We don’t know, but we read what happened.  Acts 5:5 As soon as
Ananias heard these words, he fell to the floor and died. Everyone who heard
about it was terrified.  I
guess.  And they bundled him up and took
him out and buried him. 

Guess that shows how tight
they were in the early church, what is it they say “Your
friends will help you move, your best friend will help you move bodies.”

Three hours later his wife
arrived, and Peter asked her if what they had given was what the property had
sold for and she confirmed that it was and he told her what had happened to her
husband and she dropped dead and they buried her as well.  And I love the power of understatement
because the entire story is summed up in Acts 5:11 Great fear
gripped the entire church and all others who heard what had happened.

And so it’s easy to see this as a skeleton in God’s closet.  After all here was this church couple who
sold their property and when they only give a half of it to the church instead
of all of it, then it appears that an angry and greedy god strikes them
dead.  And when someone brings it up then
we shrug and say “I don’t know” or if we are real spiritual we say “God works
in mysterious ways.” 

But perhaps instead of pushing the door shut and ignoring the bones maybe
it’s time we dusted this one off and taught it to dance.

Now a couple of thoughts
here, don’t you love how the word of God doesn’t cover up the tough
situations?  If I was writing the Bible,
I think I’d skip that part.  Think about
it, it showed that the early church wasn’t nearly as perfect as we sometimes
think it was and the entire thing about them dying, like who wants people to
know about that?  That’s not the best PR,
“Hey come to our church and drop dead.” 

It is said that Oliver Cromwell
the British politician from the 1700’s was disfigured by facial warts and at
one point was commissioning a portrait of himself and told the artist, “I desire you would use all your skill to paint my picture
truly like me … warts and everything.”

And the word of God paints the picture of
the early church with warts and everything. 

The other thing is, do I think God struck
these people dead?  No, William Barclay summed it up when he wrote, “This story shows two things about the early church, the
expectancy of men’s minds and the extraordinary respect in which the apostles
were held.  It was in that atmosphere
that the rebuke of Peter acted as it did.” 
In other words, Barclay is suggesting that both Ananias and Sapphira
died of guilty consciences and the fear of God. 
The mere suggestion that they had in fact lied to the Holy Spirit
literally scared them to death.

It all began when they started talking
about money in church isn’t that always the way?  And the story may be about a lot of things
but the truth is that is isn’t about money, at least not much.  And this morning we aren’t going to talk
about money, at least not much.  If you
are new at Cornerstone I really only preach about giving in April during our stewardship
emphasis time, so if you were hoping I’d be speaking about giving today you are
out of luck and you’ll have to come back in a couple of months.

So if the story here isn’t about money what
is it about?  Well first of all 1) It’s About Pride.  There are all kinds of reasons for
serving God and for giving to God and most are honourable but some aren’t.   But there is never a right reason for
doing the wrong thing.

If we go back to the end of chapter four we
see the example had been set by another guy who sold a field that he had and
gave the money to the church.   We are
told that his name was Joseph but the apostles had given him a nick name and
that was Barnabas.  When we think of the
name Barnabas we think Barnabas or maybe Barney, but in the original language
Barnabas meant “Son of Encouragement.” 

And Barnabas keeps showing up in the story
of the early church and he keeps living up to his nickname, he is always coming
along side of people, whether it be Paul, or Timothy or John Mark with just the
right word at just the right time. 
Whenever someone seemed a little blue or a little discouraged, the
encourager shows up.  It was Henry Ford who said. “The ability to encourage others
is one of life’s finest assets.”    

And so it was Barnabas who saw a need in
the church and sold a field he had and gave them the money.  Probably didn’t make a big deal out of it,
didn’t expect any accolades, just doing what he had always done, encouraged
people.  In this case he happened to use
money.  And I’m sure people started to
talk about what a great guy Barnabas was. 
And it was at that point that Ananias got thinking, “Boy it would sure
be nice if people talked about me that way, maybe if I sold my property and
gave the church the money people would talk about what a great guy I am and how
much I do for God.”  Maybe he was like Louis XIV who once stated “Has
God forgotten all I have done for Him.” 

Two gifts, one given for the right reason
and one given for the wrong reason.  And
at this point Ananias was still safe, pride might not be a great characteristic
but it is part of being human.  T.S. Eliot said “Most of the
trouble in the world is caused by people wanting to be important.”  And I guess in a way Ananias got his
way, he wanted people to know about him and talk about him, and they have been
for the last two thousand years.  My Dad used to tell me, “Everyone
is good for something even if it’s being a bad example.”

But it wasn’t just about pride Acts 5:2 He brought part of the money to the apostles, . . .  2)
It’s About Greed 
I don’t know what
happened at this point.  Maybe he didn’t
know how much the property would bring, or maybe when he had the money in his
hand he got thinking about the new chariot he saw in the showroom window earlier,
or the Mediterranean cruise that Sapphira had been wanting to go on. 

Whatever it was somewhere between the
thought “If I sold some property and gave the money to the church” and actually
selling the property and giving the money to the church something changed.  And instead of it being “giving the money to
the church” it became “giving some of the money to the church and keeping the
rest for myself.” 

Often we hear people quote Jesus in saying
“Money is the root of all evil”  but it
wasn’t Jesus who said that it was Paul and what he said was 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.  So
I guess in a way it’s about money, but there are all types of greed.

We can be greedy for stuff, we can be
greedy for recognition and we can be greedy for acceptance.  Psychologist and author Erich Fromm said “Greed is a
bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need
without ever reaching satisfaction.”

But you know he was probably still safe,
when he brought the gift to the church Peter commented Acts 5:4 The
property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished. And after selling it,
the money was also yours to give away.

But let’s go back to the story Acts 5:2 He brought part of the money to the apostles, claiming it
was the full amount. With his wife’s consent, he kept the rest.  3)
It’s About Honesty  
So Ananias
struggled with pride?  I have and if you
were honest you probably have to.  And he
was a little greedy.  You ever suffer
from a little greed? I mean maybe just once. Want a bigger paycheque, a larger house,
a nicer car, better clothes? Maybe just once. 
It happens, am I right?  “Well
yeah sure, but Pastor that’s not greed, that’s just ambition.”  Fine we’ll leave it at that.

Let’s go back to the story, he sells his
property decides to keep some of the money, so far so good.  And he brings the money to the church and
says, “Hey guys I sold my property just like Barnabas and here’s all the
money.  Aren’t I great?”

And then listen to Peter’s response, we
heard part of it earlier.  Acts 5:4 The property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished.
And after selling it, the money was also yours to give away. How could you do a
thing like this? You weren’t lying to us but to God!”

― They say that honesty pays but obviously
not enough to suit Ananias.  I wonder if
Ananias had even stopped to think about the fact that he was lying to God?  I’m sure that he had already worked through
the process of the apostles never knowing how much he had gotten and how much
he had given.  But had he stopped to work
through the fact that God knew?  I’m sure
that he had at least read Numbers 32:23 But if you
fail to keep your word, then you will have sinned against the Lord, and you may be sure that your sin
will find you out.

This goes back to the premise that we have
gone over again and again through the years.  You ready, you might want to write this down
because it’s deep.  Here we go “You will
get caught.”

Understand that you cannot lie to God.  You can’t lie to Him about your giving, you
can’t lie to him about your behaviour and you can’t lie to him about your
motivation. 

You think it’s a secret, because your
spouse doesn’t know the truth and your friends don’t know the truth and Denn
doesn’t know the truth.  But the reality
was spelled out almost three thousand years ago when David wrote in Psalm 44:21 God would surely have known it, for he knows the secrets of
every heart.  God knows the truth.

If you lie to God than chances are you
probably won’t drop dead, but what will it do to your spirit, to your
conscience and to your relationship with God?   

It was Friedrich
Nietzsche who said, “I’m not upset that you
lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”

Jesus promised in John 8:31-32 “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the
truth will set you free.” 

So here are the questions:  Do you know the truth? Are you living the
truth?  Has the truth set you free? 

It can if you want it to and if you are
honest, honest with your self and honest with God. 

Do You See What I See?

Last Thursday, I had a late afternoon appointment with my eye specialist and as part of the process he dilated my eyes.  Not the first time I’ve had my eyes dilated but I never had them dilated so late in the day before. 

After supper Angela and I drove our son back into the city, or I should say that Angela drove and I just went for the ride because my eyes still weren’t focusing.  And as we drove I marvelled at the streetlights.  Every light was a kaleidoscope with a large blue halo surrounding it, and their colour depended on whether they were LED or sodium vapour.  Regardless of their colour each was incredibly beautiful in their own way.

As I oohed and aahed I realized that neither Stephen or Angela seemed aware of the display.  And when I asked what they saw they described ordinary street lights. Their undilated eyes were missing it. 

Sometimes when we dream of what God can do, others are unable to see the dream, no matter how eloquently we try to describe it, they just don’t get it. We describe the extraordinary and they simply see the ordinary, but that should never be a reason to give up on the dreams that God has given us. Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

A Lot of Zeros

1.3 billion dollars, that’s a one and a three followed by eight zeros.  That’s the projected jackpot in the US Lottery Powerball this week.  And there will be people who will play this week who didn’t play last week because apparently last weeks’ jackpot of just under a billion dollars wasn’t large enough, but 1.3 billion, now you are talking some serious cash.

Here’s a question, how many billions of dollars had to be lost, probably by people who couldn’t afford to lose it, in order to have a jackpot that large? Billions of dollars that could have been spent or saved instead of gambled away.

I’ve heard state run lotteries defined as: a tax on those who are bad at math.  But the reality is that they are a tax on dreams.  The dreams of those who see it as their only escape from their present financial situation. 

A third of those who buy lottery tickets do it for fun, they can afford to throw the price of a ticket away, but for the other two thirds it is a form of financial planning.

The reality is, that for a majority of the world’s population, just living in the US or Canada would feel like winning the lottery.    Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

A Peek inside the Closet

Skeletons in God’s Closet, intro

They are lurking in of our closets, things that we wished we
had never done, words we wished we had never spoken.  Families have them, churches have them and
individuals have them.  Because we all make
mistakes.  We all have skeletons in our
closets.  Some are scarier than others
but they are there. 

Skeletons in Closets are defined by IdiomReference.com
this way “To say that someone has skeletons in their closet means
that they have done something in the past that they don’t want other people
knowing about. It does not necessarily mean that what they did was illegal or
immoral, but it could. In general, it is something that would hurt their
reputation. It refers to murdering someone and storing their dead body /
skeletons in your closet.”

The term became a reality for a number of
federal candidates in the election in the fall when the hopes of a seat in
parliament became dashed because something from their past came back to haunt
them.  And we sometimes read stories
where someone’s past has caught up with them, perhaps a criminal or a war
criminal who have quietly lived their lives, sometimes for decades when the
authorities arrive one day to knock on their door and make them accountable for
their past.  And usually all of their
neighbours are shocked.

A number of years ago I was in a meeting
with HC Wilson our district Superintendent and a couple of gentlemen from the
denomination and they told the story of the President of one of our
universities.  Not Kingswood one of the
ones in the States.  This happened back
in the early eighties.  The president had
a very successful nine-year term at the university, he was a sought after
speaker and was considered a forerunner for one of the General Superintendent
positions in the Wesleyan Church.  And he
had an impressive resume, he had been a B-52 bomber pilot during the Korean
war, he had earned his master’s degree from a prestigious seminary and held an earned
doctorate and then one day someone opened the closet door.  He had been in the Air Force, but was a
mechanic, he had attended the seminary, but only for awhile and had never actually
graduated and he had printed the diploma for his PhD himself.  Oops. 

And sometimes the skeleton is never seen by
anyone other than ourselves, we get reflecting on the past and suddenly a boney
hand slips around the closet door and we think, “Did I really say that?  Did I really do that?”    And
then we jam the closet door shut again and hope and pray nobody else opens it.

There is a story told by Mark
Twain, it’s often time attributed to others as an actual event.  But Twain was just being Twain and it was
just satire but it makes a great story, Twain wrote “I once sent a dozen of my friends a telegram saying
‘flee at once – all is discovered.’ They all left town immediately.”

When someone says that their life is an open book there is a
pretty good chance that they’ve omitted a chapter or two to make for better
reading. 

This summer I read an article about a book called “Skeleton’s
in God’s Closet” and I thought that will preach. The book by Joshua Butler is
about some of the issues that we will crack the door on over the next five
weeks and is not to be confused with A Skeleton in God’s Closet which is a
novel along the lines of the DaVinci Code that was written by Paul L. Maier.

How often have you heard people ask questions about the
bible, if God is a loving God why is there war? Or if God is a loving God why
are there starving children? Or if God really loves me than how come my
________ had to die of cancer? 

And we’ve been here before, don’t blame God for those things,
they belong at the feet of mankind.  War
is caused by man’s greed, and if we invested the billions of dollars into
medical research that is spent on military spending that is no limit to the
cures and innovations that we may have discovered. 

As long as millions of tons of food is thrown out every year
we don’t have a food shortage problem we have a food distribution problem. So
many if not most of the problems that God is blamed for could be solved by man
if it wasn’t for sin. 

But that isn’t what we are talking about, instead it goes
back to the questions if God is a loving God why were so many people killed in
the Old Testament? Or how can a loving God send people to hell?  Or what about when Jephthah sacrificed his
daughter to God?  And is there a good
explanation for the story of Ananias and Sapphira who
died because they didn’t give enough to the church? 

And those things aren’t hidden, the great thing about God and
his word is that you don’t have to dig real deep to find things that make us go
Hmmmm?.  The bible and the story of God
really is an open book.  To go back to Mark Twain he once said “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t
understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”

And to be truthful, those are the parts of
the bible that bother me as well.  And we
have a couple of different options on how we deal with the parts of the bible
that we have problems with. 

There are some people who would ask us why
we need to open that door at all? After all isn’t it better to let sleeping
dogs lie?  And so they would recommend
that we stuff the bones back in the closet, jam the door shut and ignore
them.  A family we knew owned a home in
Saint John that was built in the late 1800s, a number of years back they were
having electrical work done and one of the workers found a bone inside a wall
cavity.  So they did what any reasonable
person would do, they told the worker to put the bone back in the wall and
patch the hole.  Their rationale was that
they didn’t want the hassle that would result if the authorities’ were called,
and besides maybe it was from an animal.

Jut like the scripture that we started with
they are content to say Job 11:7 “Can
you solve the mysteries of God? Can you discover everything about the Almighty?
 And answer is:
no, so they don’t want to start down that path.

But that doesn’t solve anything, because
eventually some well intentioned or not so well intentioned friend or family
member points out the skeletons in the heavenly closet and we have no answers.  Or the other option is that we can deal with
them and try to understand them, maybe we need to heed George
Bernard Shaw’s advice because he said. “If
you can’t get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you’d best teach it to
dance.”

And Tyler Perry reminds
us “Everybody’s got skeletons in the closets. Every
once in a while, you’ve got to open up the closet and the let the skeletons
breathe. Half the time, the very thing you think is gonna destroy you or ruin
you is the very thing that nobody cares about. My advice to people with
skeletons is to dust them off every now and then– as long as your closet’s
aint full of them. It’s not good to have more than two or three.”


Over the next few weeks we are going to
crack open the door on the closet and see what peeks out at us.   And we are going to begin by looking at why
we need to do that, why we can’t just leave the door shut and let the bones continue
to collect dust. 

1) We Need to Do It So We
Can Understand the Story 

Last year Angela discovered Downton Abbey,
and she watched the first five seasons. 
And I didn’t.  But every once in a
while if she had it on and I was there I would glance up from my book and try
to figure out the story line.  And
normally I couldn’t.  I did figure out
that the gentry were terribly spoiled and I was kind of surprised there wasn’t
a revolution, complete with guillotines, but that’s just me.   

But Angela knows the story line and all the characters and
whose done what with who and when. And it just frustrated her when I would ask
questions or make observations that had nothing to do with the story.  And she was right, if I had of watched it
from the beginning I would have known what was going on.

Most of you know that I am a prolific fiction reader, I try
to read at least 500 pages a week, and many of the novels I read are series and
they have the same characters and while you can jump in with most any
particular novel you really don’t know all the story unless you’ve read the
ones that preceded that. 

Most people realize that you won’t understand the last
chapter of Lord of the Rings unless you’ve read the entire story, or watched all
the movie.  Unless you’re like Denn and
slept through the movie, in which case it doesn’t count.

And that’s what too many people do with God’s story, pick a
chapter here and a verse there and then proudly proclaim that they are a person
of the book.  But in reality they are a
person of their book not God’s.

And what happens when we just see some parts of a story?  (Show Scary Mary Video)  Those clips of course come from one of my
favourite movies, but really don’t tell the story of Mary Poppins, do they?  And that’s what we are so often guilty of doing
with God’s story, a snippet here and one there and tack it all together and
call it complete.

Paul told Timothy in 2
Timothy 3:16
 All Scripture is
inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize
what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to
do what is right.  He didn’t say
some scripture is useful, but all scripture is useful.

And if you just cherry pick the sections of
the scripture that you read than you won’t know all the story let alone
understand all the story.

In the book of Joshua we discover that
Moses has passed away and God is instructing Joshua on leading the people of
Israel forward into the promised land and this is part of what Joshua is told Joshua 1:8  Study
this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will
be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed
in all you do.  Joshua isn’t just
told to read the book, he is told to study the book and to mediate on it both
day and night.  Why?  So he would know the story. 

And the problem is that most of us are
sadly ignorant of the story.  We know our
favourite parts but really don’t have a clue about the rest.    And so we settle into our favourite parts
of the bible like a familiar recliner and don’t move.  

The story begins in Genesis when God created the heavens and
the earth and it ends in Revelation with a new heaven and a new earth.  But the story is everything in between. And
while we might have favourite parts of the story, you can’t just ignore the
rest of the story and pretend it doesn’t exist. 

I’m not a big fan of jigsaw puzzles but some people are, and
they know that the puzzle isn’t complete until all the pieces are in place, and
the story of God is not complete unless we use all the pieces, even pieces we
may not understand or that we may not like.

But it’s not just about understanding the story.

Paul wrote to a group of early believers, and in the letter
that we call the book of Colossians, this was the advice he gave them, Colossians
1:10
 Then the way you live will always honour
and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All
the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.

When did Paul say the Colossian Christians
would grow? When they learned to know God better and better.  So the second reason we can’t leave the
closet alone is that We Need to Do It So
We Can Understand God
.   Too often
folks take their favorite attributes of God and instead of having an image of
God they have a caricature of God.  You
know what a caricature is right?  It’s
like a cartoon drawing of a real person. 

But unlike a photograph it doesn’t try to
be completely accurate, instead it will exaggerate some features, and diminish
others.  In a good caricature you should
still be able to tell who the person is, but it’s not a true likeness.  Angela and I are renewing our passports and no
matter how good a caricature that we provided them they would insist on having
a photograph. 

And because I’m a fan of
politics I am a fan of political cartoons and they make good use of
caricatures.  And some are really good,
they nail not only the physical features of the person but often their
character as well.  So here is a recent
caricature of Donald Trump and President Obama. 

Here is a caricature of our
present Prime Minister and his father. 
Now I never felt that the cartoonists did a really good job of Stephen
Harper.  And part of the problem is that
Mr. Harper is pretty ordinary looking. 
And so they emphasized things like his nose, but I never really thought
Stephen Harper had a big nose.

Back when Cornerstone was
young and struggling and couldn’t really afford a pastor I worked as a writer
for several magazine and one of my favourite gigs was a satirical column that I
wrote for Atlantic Boating News called “Aboat Time”  but because my bread and butter were more
serious articles my editor didn’t want my name on “Aboat Time”  so a compromise was caricature that I had
drawn for the magazine.  But I was never
really happy with it, because it emphasized features that weren’t necessarily
my favourite features.

And so what happens when we
exaggerate some features of God and ignore others is that we create a
caricature of God.  Not a true image. And
so we define God by some but not all of his characteristics.

As Christians, if we were asked to define
God we would define him as a Loving God after all we are told in 1
John 4:8
 But anyone who does not love does not
know God, for God is love.   And a forgiving God because
the prophet wrote in Isaiah 55:7  Let
the wicked change their ways and banish the very thought of doing wrong. Let
them turn to the LORD that he may
have mercy on them. Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.

And we all celebrate the
fact that God is a God of Grace.  And
God’s grace is mentioned more times in the bible than we can count, actually
it’s a 159 times, if you are counting. 

And God is described in the
bible as all of those things, but there are other descriptions of God as
well.  And so what happens when we read
about God’s anger?  Or the fact that God
is a jealous God?  What happens when
those descriptions don’t match up with the image of God that we’ve
constructed?  Do we push the closet door
shut and try to ignore what we’ve discovered? 
Or do we try to get a true picture of God?  Why would God be angry? What would it take to
make God angry?  Why does he call himself
a jealous God?

And it is critical that we
know who God is .  Jesus’s words are
recorded in John’s Gospel, when he is praying to His Father, John 17:3  Jesus prayed “And
this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus
Christ, the one you sent to earth.”

Because if we only know God by the
caricature we have of Him, then we may not recognize him when we actually meet
him.  We read God’s instruction in Psalm
46:10
 “Be still, and know that I am God! I
will be honoured by every nation. I will be honoured throughout the
world.”  

What we are afraid of is
that if we open the door of the closet and take a look that God might not be
the God we think he is.  In Joshua Butler’s book “The Skeleton’s in God’s
Closet” Butler says this, “The irony of our
dilemma?  If we open the closet door, we
might not like what we find out about God. 
If we leave it closed, we might not like what we find out about
ourselves.”

Ephesians
5:1
 Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his
dear children.  And
so the third reason we need to open the closet door is We Need to do it So We Can Understand Ourselves 

Until we know God we can’t know ourselves, or at least
we can’t know what we are supposed to be.

Socrates is
often quoted as saying “Know thyself.”  But for the Christian the truth is
found in 1 Chronicles where we read King David’s dying words to his son
Solomon,  1
Chronicles 28:9
 “And Solomon, my son,
learn to know the God of your ancestors intimately. Worship and serve him with
your whole heart and a willing mind. For the LORD
sees every heart and knows every plan and thought. If you seek him, you will
find him. But if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.”  Learn to know your God
intimately.  Your relationship with God
shouldn’t just be a casual friendship, and you won’t know Him intimately until
you know His entire story.

At the beginning of the story we read Genesis
1:26
 Then God said, “Let us make human
beings in our image, to be like ourselves. They will reign over the fish in the
sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth,
and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”   But if we have never
discovered the true image of God how can we be true to that image, or are we
willing to allow ourselves to become a caricature of the image of God?

And the Christian who never judges, never
condemns, always loves, regardless of the situation is as much a caricature as
the Christian who is always judging, always condemning and never loving.  Because neither of them truly reflect the
true nature and image of God.

And just because we don’t open the closet door, that doesn’t mean it will
stay closed.  It will be opened by
someone and if you don’t know or understand the why behind what some will
gleefully call skeletons in the God’s Closet, then your faith will be shaken.

And so over the next few weeks we are going to peek inside and see what we
discover.  Do we have all the
answers?  Nope.

But hopefully these messages will allow you
to see God more clearly and that after you open the closet door and that you
will understand God and will truly be able to say with David  Psalm
136:1
 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good! His faithful love
endures forever.

No Worries

The other day, I sat with a lady who is receiving palliative care, and she cheered me up.  It’s not often that happens, but during the entire time there I didn’t hear a discouraging word from her, no complaints, no regrets.


Bev has spent her life loving Jesus and serving His church as a pastor’s wife and now that she has been told that her time on this earth is limited it seems that she’s looking forward to being in the presence of the One she has loved and served for so long.

Not that she’s without concerns. Her son said that after she had planned her funeral service she has been quite adamant that they make sure there are enough sandwiches and sweets at the reception that will follow her funeral.


Every one of us will die, but we won’t all face death like Bev, who simply sees death as a doorman and not as one to be feared.


The choice that Bev made many years ago to follow Jesus allow her to face her impending death with peace today. 


I trust that if you haven’t yet embraced the grace of God that you will soon, so at the end of your life your biggest concern is that nobody will leave the reception hungry.  Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Gilligan’s Island and the Seven Deadly Sins

That’s right, Gilligan’s Island and the
Seven Deadly sins.  Seems like a bit of a
stretch but I thought it would be a fun study for the depths of winter and it
starts next Sunday night at 6:30.

And for many people the one thing that this
fifty-year-old sitcom and a list of sins that was first compiled over 1700
years ago have in common is their lack of relevance to today’s world.   

To make sure we are all on the same page,
because I would suspect that there are folks here who have never watched
Gilligan’s Island and have no idea what the seven deadly sins are, we’ll start
with a brief history of each. 

The first episode of Gilligan’s Island
aired in 1964, but the filming began in 1963, for the record I was three.  The opening scene was actually filmed on Nov
26th 1963 and as the SS Minnow sailed out of the harbour you can
just notice the flag flying at half mast. 
It was just 4 days after JFK had been assassinated and all flags in the
US were at half mast. 

If you don’t know the plot, the SS Minnow
is skippered by Skipper and his first Mate Gilligan and they leave Honolulu on
a three-hour tour with five passengers. 
Millionaire Thurston Howell III, his wife Lovey, the Professor and Movie
Star Ginger Grant and Farm Girl Mary Ann Summers.   When the Minnow hits an unexpected storm they
end up on a deserted island and the show basically chronicles their attempts to
escape. 

The show aired for three years until it was
unexpectedly cancelled in 1967 leaving the castaway’s stranded on the island.  I never watched it when it was originally
aired, we were living in Germany most of that time, but watched the reruns
faithfully after school when I was older.

Is there any one here older than 45 who has
never seen Gilligan’s Island?

Well, now that we have that done, let’s
jump to the seven deadly sins.   In case
you need to have your memory jogged the original list of seven deadly sins
include: Pride, Envy, Anger, Sloth,
Greed, Gluttony and Lust.
 

A few years ago the Vatican newspaper added
seven modern social sins.  These “social”
sins were given as follows: Environmental pollution, Genetic manipulation,
Accumulating excessive wealth, Inflicting poverty, Drug trafficking and
consumption, Morally debatable experiments and the Violation of fundamental
rights of human nature.  

Now without getting picky
the last list makes me feel kind of morally superior, which would of course be
a violation of the number one sin on the original list, the sin of pride.  I just don’t struggle with the new ones.  I mean every once in awhile I might get a
craving to do a little genetic manipulation but on the broad scope of things I
can usually keep that under control.

Not sure that I necessarily
agree with their selection of new “Sins” or even in their decision to modify
the list, but it’s kind of refreshing in an era where some churches are
modifying the list down and redefining some behaviour as not sinful. 

But in relation to original
7 sins, I don’t think there is any one of us who has not at one point or
another struggled with those very things. 
I mean before I became a Christ Follower I didn’t see that list as a
list of sins nearly as much as a set of goals.   

A little background on the Seven Deadly
Sins.  This list is not a biblical list,
that is not to say that the various sins are mentioned or listed in the bible,
but they are never all combined together as one list in the bible.  The closest you might come is Proverbs 6:16-19 There are six things the Lord hates— no, seven things he detests:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that kill the innocent, a heart that plots
evil, feet that race to do wrong, a false witness who pours out lies, a person
who sows discord in a family. The

The Seven Deadly sins were originally eight
and were defined by a monk by the name of Evagrius Ponticus in the fourth
century.  In that list sloth wasn’t found
but both Sorrow and Discouragement were listed. 
It was Pope Gregory the Great who formalized the list in the 6th
century and it came into popular and common usage after it’s inclusion in
Dante’s Divine Comedy in the thirteen hundreds. 

It seems that through common usage the list
has become accepted as a part of the Catholic Church.  Sometimes they are referred to as Cardinal
Sins and are not to be confused with mortal sins.  To be a mortal sin in the Catholic church
there are three conditions that must be met: 
1. It must be of a grave matter; 2. It must be
committed with full knowledge that it is a mortal sin; 3. It must be committed
with full consent.

And the Catholic Church can also provide a
list of what a Mortal sin is:  Abortion,

Anger, Adultery, Amending the words of the
Holy Bible, Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, (Eternal sin) Carousing, Cowardice,
fraud, Dissensions, Disrespect towards parents, Drunkenness, Enmities, Envy, Factions,
Faithless, lying,

Fornication, Greed, Receiving Holy
Communion while in a state of mortal sin, Idolatry, Impurity, Jealousy, Licentiousness,
Love and practice falsehoods, Male prostitution, Murder, Quarrelling, Sodomy, Sorcery,
Strife, Theft

Wow, I think the only think
they left out was parking in a handicap spot. 
There that fixed it.

It is easy to point a finger at what we
perceive to be “Sin” but the act really is simply a manifestation of sinful
thoughts and attitudes, that doesn’t excuse the action. 

But where does that leave us?  After all the big seven have inspired movies,
books, art and apparently this message. 
But if we focus on the “Seven Deadly Sins” the temptation is “Well I
don’t do any of those things so I must be alright” So this morning we are going
to look at “Sin”.

The very first question has to be:  What
Is Sin?
  In the Maritimes Sin is a
euphemism for bad luck, you know some one says “Bob’s car wouldn’t start the
other day and he was late for work and got in trouble with the boss.” And the
other person says “Isn’t that a sin.”  No
actually it isn’t a sin,  bad luck maybe,
perhaps bad planning but it’s not a sin. 
Sometimes it does work, “Did you hear, Bob’s wife left him for another
man.”  “isn’t that a sin.”  Yes actually it is.  Sometimes you hear someone say “That’s ugly
as sin.” 

I wanted to find out what ugly as sin was
as so I goggled it and got this! (a picture of crocs)

Collins dictionary defines sin as “the breaking of
religious or moral law, especially through a wilful act.” 

While the Old Testament never formally
defines sin the concept is “anything contrary to the known will of God”.   The word used throughout the New Testament
literally means “to miss the mark.”  that
is certainly testified to in Romans 3:23 For everyone
has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 

And James tells us in James 4:17 Remember,
it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.  And I don’t think we’d do injustice to
James’ thought if we said James 4:17 Remember, it is sin to know what you ought not do and then do
it.

Now I am sure that we could enter into all
kinds of legal definitions of sin at this point, is this sin?  How about this?  In it’s simplest definition sin is
disappointing God through our disobedience. 
That’s sin.

The second question then has to be: “Why Do We Sin?”   and that is a good question why do
people sin?  Well the most elementary
answer is “because”.  You see we sin
because that is the nature of the beast. 
Adam was created in the perfect image of God, but when he chose to disobey
God then sin entered the world and God’s image became distorted, not destroyed
simply distorted.  When I was in college
a friend of mine accidentally knocked a photograph of my sister onto the
floor.  In the fall the glass broke, and
while the image of Dianne was still there it was distorted because of the
cracks in the glass.  The same thing
happened at the dawn of time when the first man and first woman chose to
wilfully disobey God’s commandment the perfect image was distorted not
destroyed just distorted.  The legacy
that Adam and Eve have left us with is the legacy of sin.

I’ve mentioned it several times but it
bears repeating, nowhere is original sin more clearly defined then in
children.  Have you noticed that you
don’t have to teach children how to say no, won’t, don’t and other negative
words, but you have to teach them how to say please, thank you and you’re welcome.  Never had to teach a kid how to throw a
tantrum, how to cry how to rebel.  But
kids have to be taught how to be polite, and pleasant, how to obey.

It was through Adam and eve that sin
entered the world and it became their gift to us, along with the punishment for
disobeying God’s will Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin
is death . . .

When Paul gives us a list of specific moral
sins in Galatians 5 he begins by saying these are the acts of the sinful
nature.  The human nature.  But he tells us that they should not be the
actions of someone who is a child of God because he says quite plainly in Galatians 5:19-21 When you follow the desires of your sinful
nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful
pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of
anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties,
and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone
living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

Well then the third question is: if we sin
because we have to sin How Do We Not
Sin?
very frankly it’s impossible. 
You do not have the power to not sin. 
If you are a people and most of you look like you are a people, then for
the very reasons that we mentioned above you cannot not sin.  Even when we try our hardest to please God,
and do all the good things that we could possibly do the prophet Isaiah tells
us in Isaiah 64:6 We are all infected and impure with
sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags.
Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the
wind.

You see a dog isn’t’ a dog because he barks
he’s barks because he’s a dog, and you’re not a sinner because you sin, you sin
because you are sinner.

Well preacher that is really depressing,
first you tell us that we are all sinners then you tell us that because we are
all sinners we are all gonna die, and then you tell us that there isn’t a thing
that we can do about it, thanks bunches you made my day.  Even though it’s true that there is
absolutely no way that you can not sin, don’t forget that if you have been born
again there is a difference, or at least there ought to be, Paul tells us in Romans 7:5-6 When we were controlled by our old nature,
sinful desires were at work within us, and the law aroused these evil desires
that produced a harvest of sinful deeds, resulting in death. But now we have
been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its
power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the
law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit.

Paul talks about our sinful nature in the
past tense, something that used to be but isn’t now. He backs this up in Romans 8:4 when he says He did
this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us,
who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.

You see what we once were
and what we are now should be two different creatures completely, 2 Corinthians 5:17 This means that anyone who belongs to
Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has
begun!  Does that describe you,
has the old gone has the new come? 
Christ tells us in Matthew 6:24 “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.

You cannot serve both God and your sinful
nature, either you will hate the one and love the other or you will be devoted
to one and despise the other.  Romans 8:8 That’s why those who are still under the control
of their sinful nature can never please God.

But
How Do We Conquer The Sinful Nature?
  How do We get on top of it?  Galatians 5:24 Those
who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful
nature to his cross and crucified them there.

That statement concerning crucifying the
sinful nature indicates an act of the will. 
The main reason why Christians don’t crucify the sinful nature is that
they don’t want to.  They enjoy the sin
they are dabbling in.  We hate to admit
it but it’s the truth we sin because we want to sin.

Peter Marshall summed it up when he wrote,  “We are too Christian really to enjoy sinning, and too fond
of sinning really to enjoy Christianity. 
Most of us know perfectly well what we ought to do; our trouble is that
we do not want to do it.”

And while we can’t do it by
ourselves the answer is found in Philippians 4:13 For I
can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.

You see what we can’t do on our own, we can
do through Christ.  What you can’t do on
you own Christ can give you the power to do. 
And that is in all areas of your life. 
But the decision to obedience to God is a conscious decision.  It’s something that you decide to do.

Falling into sin isn’t fatal, staying in
sin is.  A lady asked an old fisherman
who was standing on a wharf, “if you fell in the water here would you
drown”  “naw” he said “falling in the
water doesn’t drown anybody, it’s the staying under that does the
drowning.”  Falling isn’t fatal but
staying down is. 

Remember the list of sins that Paul gives
us in Galatians 5:19-21?  Do you remember how it ends?  Galatians 5:21 Let me
tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not
inherit the Kingdom of God.

Paul is being very straight forward, if we
live in a sinful manner, that is continuing to sin we will not inherit the
kingdom of God.  No ifs, no ands, and no
buts.    And what it comes right down to
your choice, not mine, not your parents not your spouses, nobodies choice but
yours and yours alone.  You will choose
to serve God, or you will choose to serve your sinful nature.  But make no mistake about it, it will be your
choice. 

You will only commit sins that you are
willing to commit.  Do I see a few raised
eyebrows and detect some doubt among the faithful?  One of the greatest promises of the bible is 1 Corinthians 10:13 The temptations in your life are no
different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow
the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will
show you a way out so that you can endure.

God did not say that we wouldn’t be
tempted, even Christ was tempted.  But
God did say that you would never be tempted by something that you couldn’t
resist.  Our problem is that many of us
are like Augustine who prayed save me God but not yet.  We want to have our cake and to eat it
too.  We want to be Christians, we want
to go to heaven but we want to sin as well. 
We want everything that this life can give and everything the next life
can give.

But God doesn’t want anything less than
everything.  You can’t say this 95
percent of my life is God’s and this five percent is mine.  Doesn’t work that way, not at all.  You don’t plant a garden and then reserve a
corner of it for weeds.  Cause if you do
the little green monsters soon want it all. 
No man can serve two masters.  You
can’t serve God and self.  You can’t
serve God and sin.  You can’t serve God
and the devil.  Because you will either
love one and hate the other or devote yourself to one and despise the other.

If you play with fire you will get
burned.  And if you play with sin you
will get burned.  Remember sin will
always take you further then you want to go. 
Sin will always keep you longer then you want to stay and sin will
always cost you more then what you want to pay.

You will never be sin’s master it will
always be your master.

The Secret   Galatians 5:16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you
won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.

And how do you live by the spirit?  Well probably the first step is to admit that
you can’t do it alone.  As long as you
are trying to live a sinless life by yourself you will blow it can’t be
done.  If you were to go to an a. a.
meeting you would hear people get up and say 
“my name if Bob and I’m an alcoholic, or my name is Alice and I’m an
alcoholic.”  now they may not be
drinking, may not have taken a drink for twenty years but even as a sober
alcoholic they acknowledge that they have a problem with alcohol.  Maybe in church we need to stand up and say
“I’m Denn and I’m a sinner, or my name’s Stefan and I’m a sinner”, that doesn’t
mean that we have to continue to sin, but it does mean that we know who we are
and what we are.  And we can’t do
anything to change the fact that we are sinners.

But the apostle John tells
us in 1 John 2:1 My dear children, I am writing this to
you so that you will not sin.

Catchy isn’t it, I write this to you so you
will not sin.  John goes on to say if we
fall it’s not fatal when he says I am writing this to you so that you will not
sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who
pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly
righteous.

The bottom line is not following a book of
rules, or a list of do nots instead it is being obedient to God.  And he promises that he will give us all the
help we need in being obedient if we want it. 
But it is our choice. 

Because the bottom line is what Jesus said
in John 14:23-24 Jesus replied, “All who love me will
do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home
with each of them. Anyone who doesn’t love me will not obey me. And remember,
my words are not my own. What I am telling you is from the Father who sent me.

That’s right, Gilligan’s Island and the
Seven Deadly sins.  Seems like a bit of a
stretch but I thought it would be a fun study for the depths of winter and it
starts next Sunday night at 6:30.

And for many people the one thing that this
fifty-year-old sitcom and a list of sins that was first compiled over 1700
years ago have in common is their lack of relevance to today’s world.   

To make sure we are all on the same page,
because I would suspect that there are folks here who have never watched
Gilligan’s Island and have no idea what the seven deadly sins are, we’ll start
with a brief history of each. 

The first episode of Gilligan’s Island
aired in 1964, but the filming began in 1963, for the record I was three.  The opening scene was actually filmed on Nov
26th 1963 and as the SS Minnow sailed out of the harbour you can
just notice the flag flying at half mast. 
It was just 4 days after JFK had been assassinated and all flags in the
US were at half mast. 

If you don’t know the plot, the SS Minnow
is skippered by Skipper and his first Mate Gilligan and they leave Honolulu on
a three-hour tour with five passengers. 
Millionaire Thurston Howell III, his wife Lovey, the Professor and Movie
Star Ginger Grant and Farm Girl Mary Ann Summers.   When the Minnow hits an unexpected storm they
end up on a deserted island and the show basically chronicles their attempts to
escape. 

The show aired for three years until it was
unexpectedly cancelled in 1967 leaving the castaway’s stranded on the island.  I never watched it when it was originally
aired, we were living in Germany most of that time, but watched the reruns
faithfully after school when I was older.

Is there any one here older than 45 who has
never seen Gilligan’s Island?

Well, now that we have that done, let’s
jump to the seven deadly sins.   In case
you need to have your memory jogged the original list of seven deadly sins
include: Pride, Envy, Anger, Sloth,
Greed, Gluttony and Lust.
 

A few years ago the Vatican newspaper added
seven modern social sins.  These “social”
sins were given as follows: Environmental pollution, Genetic manipulation,
Accumulating excessive wealth, Inflicting poverty, Drug trafficking and
consumption, Morally debatable experiments and the Violation of fundamental
rights of human nature.  

Now without getting picky
the last list makes me feel kind of morally superior, which would of course be
a violation of the number one sin on the original list, the sin of pride.  I just don’t struggle with the new ones.  I mean every once in awhile I might get a
craving to do a little genetic manipulation but on the broad scope of things I
can usually keep that under control.

Not sure that I necessarily
agree with their selection of new “Sins” or even in their decision to modify
the list, but it’s kind of refreshing in an era where some churches are
modifying the list down and redefining some behaviour as not sinful. 

But in relation to original
7 sins, I don’t think there is any one of us who has not at one point or
another struggled with those very things. 
I mean before I became a Christ Follower I didn’t see that list as a
list of sins nearly as much as a set of goals.   

A little background on the Seven Deadly
Sins.  This list is not a biblical list,
that is not to say that the various sins are mentioned or listed in the bible,
but they are never all combined together as one list in the bible.  The closest you might come is Proverbs 6:16-19 There are six things the Lord hates— no, seven things he detests:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that kill the innocent, a heart that plots
evil, feet that race to do wrong, a false witness who pours out lies, a person
who sows discord in a family. The

The Seven Deadly sins were originally eight
and were defined by a monk by the name of Evagrius Ponticus in the fourth
century.  In that list sloth wasn’t found
but both Sorrow and Discouragement were listed. 
It was Pope Gregory the Great who formalized the list in the 6th
century and it came into popular and common usage after it’s inclusion in
Dante’s Divine Comedy in the thirteen hundreds. 

It seems that through common usage the list
has become accepted as a part of the Catholic Church.  Sometimes they are referred to as Cardinal
Sins and are not to be confused with mortal sins.  To be a mortal sin in the Catholic church
there are three conditions that must be met: 
1. It must be of a grave matter; 2. It must be
committed with full knowledge that it is a mortal sin; 3. It must be committed
with full consent.

And the Catholic Church can also provide a
list of what a Mortal sin is:  Abortion,

Anger, Adultery, Amending the words of the
Holy Bible, Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, (Eternal sin) Carousing, Cowardice,
fraud, Dissensions, Disrespect towards parents, Drunkenness, Enmities, Envy, Factions,
Faithless, lying,

Fornication, Greed, Receiving Holy
Communion while in a state of mortal sin, Idolatry, Impurity, Jealousy, Licentiousness,
Love and practice falsehoods, Male prostitution, Murder, Quarrelling, Sodomy, Sorcery,
Strife, Theft

Wow, I think the only think
they left out was parking in a handicap spot. 
There that fixed it.

It is easy to point a finger at what we
perceive to be “Sin” but the act really is simply a manifestation of sinful
thoughts and attitudes, that doesn’t excuse the action. 

But where does that leave us?  After all the big seven have inspired movies,
books, art and apparently this message. 
But if we focus on the “Seven Deadly Sins” the temptation is “Well I
don’t do any of those things so I must be alright” So this morning we are going
to look at “Sin”.

The very first question has to be:  What
Is Sin?
  In the Maritimes Sin is a
euphemism for bad luck, you know some one says “Bob’s car wouldn’t start the
other day and he was late for work and got in trouble with the boss.” And the
other person says “Isn’t that a sin.”  No
actually it isn’t a sin,  bad luck maybe,
perhaps bad planning but it’s not a sin. 
Sometimes it does work, “Did you hear, Bob’s wife left him for another
man.”  “isn’t that a sin.”  Yes actually it is.  Sometimes you hear someone say “That’s ugly
as sin.” 

I wanted to find out what ugly as sin was
as so I goggled it and got this! (a picture of crocs)

Collins dictionary defines sin as “the breaking of
religious or moral law, especially through a wilful act.” 

While the Old Testament never formally
defines sin the concept is “anything contrary to the known will of God”.   The word used throughout the New Testament
literally means “to miss the mark.”  that
is certainly testified to in Romans 3:23 For everyone
has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 

And James tells us in James 4:17 Remember,
it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.  And I don’t think we’d do injustice to
James’ thought if we said James 4:17 Remember, it is sin to know what you ought not do and then do
it.

Now I am sure that we could enter into all
kinds of legal definitions of sin at this point, is this sin?  How about this?  In it’s simplest definition sin is
disappointing God through our disobedience. 
That’s sin.

The second question then has to be: “Why Do We Sin?”   and that is a good question why do
people sin?  Well the most elementary
answer is “because”.  You see we sin
because that is the nature of the beast. 
Adam was created in the perfect image of God, but when he chose to disobey
God then sin entered the world and God’s image became distorted, not destroyed
simply distorted.  When I was in college
a friend of mine accidentally knocked a photograph of my sister onto the
floor.  In the fall the glass broke, and
while the image of Dianne was still there it was distorted because of the
cracks in the glass.  The same thing
happened at the dawn of time when the first man and first woman chose to
wilfully disobey God’s commandment the perfect image was distorted not
destroyed just distorted.  The legacy
that Adam and Eve have left us with is the legacy of sin.

I’ve mentioned it several times but it
bears repeating, nowhere is original sin more clearly defined then in
children.  Have you noticed that you
don’t have to teach children how to say no, won’t, don’t and other negative
words, but you have to teach them how to say please, thank you and you’re welcome.  Never had to teach a kid how to throw a
tantrum, how to cry how to rebel.  But
kids have to be taught how to be polite, and pleasant, how to obey.

It was through Adam and eve that sin
entered the world and it became their gift to us, along with the punishment for
disobeying God’s will Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin
is death . . .

When Paul gives us a list of specific moral
sins in Galatians 5 he begins by saying these are the acts of the sinful
nature.  The human nature.  But he tells us that they should not be the
actions of someone who is a child of God because he says quite plainly in Galatians 5:19-21 When you follow the desires of your sinful
nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful
pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of
anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties,
and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone
living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

Well then the third question is: if we sin
because we have to sin How Do We Not
Sin?
very frankly it’s impossible. 
You do not have the power to not sin. 
If you are a people and most of you look like you are a people, then for
the very reasons that we mentioned above you cannot not sin.  Even when we try our hardest to please God,
and do all the good things that we could possibly do the prophet Isaiah tells
us in Isaiah 64:6 We are all infected and impure with
sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags.
Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the
wind.

You see a dog isn’t’ a dog because he barks
he’s barks because he’s a dog, and you’re not a sinner because you sin, you sin
because you are sinner.

Well preacher that is really depressing,
first you tell us that we are all sinners then you tell us that because we are
all sinners we are all gonna die, and then you tell us that there isn’t a thing
that we can do about it, thanks bunches you made my day.  Even though it’s true that there is
absolutely no way that you can not sin, don’t forget that if you have been born
again there is a difference, or at least there ought to be, Paul tells us in Romans 7:5-6 When we were controlled by our old nature,
sinful desires were at work within us, and the law aroused these evil desires
that produced a harvest of sinful deeds, resulting in death. But now we have
been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its
power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the
law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit.

Paul talks about our sinful nature in the
past tense, something that used to be but isn’t now. He backs this up in Romans 8:4 when he says He did
this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us,
who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.

You see what we once were
and what we are now should be two different creatures completely, 2 Corinthians 5:17 This means that anyone who belongs to
Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has
begun!  Does that describe you,
has the old gone has the new come? 
Christ tells us in Matthew 6:24 “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.

You cannot serve both God and your sinful
nature, either you will hate the one and love the other or you will be devoted
to one and despise the other.  Romans 8:8 That’s why those who are still under the control
of their sinful nature can never please God.

But
How Do We Conquer The Sinful Nature?
  How do We get on top of it?  Galatians 5:24 Those
who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful
nature to his cross and crucified them there.

That statement concerning crucifying the
sinful nature indicates an act of the will. 
The main reason why Christians don’t crucify the sinful nature is that
they don’t want to.  They enjoy the sin
they are dabbling in.  We hate to admit
it but it’s the truth we sin because we want to sin.

Peter Marshall summed it up when he wrote,  “We are too Christian really to enjoy sinning, and too fond
of sinning really to enjoy Christianity. 
Most of us know perfectly well what we ought to do; our trouble is that
we do not want to do it.”

And while we can’t do it by
ourselves the answer is found in Philippians 4:13 For I
can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.

You see what we can’t do on our own, we can
do through Christ.  What you can’t do on
you own Christ can give you the power to do. 
And that is in all areas of your life. 
But the decision to obedience to God is a conscious decision.  It’s something that you decide to do.

Falling into sin isn’t fatal, staying in
sin is.  A lady asked an old fisherman
who was standing on a wharf, “if you fell in the water here would you
drown”  “naw” he said “falling in the
water doesn’t drown anybody, it’s the staying under that does the
drowning.”  Falling isn’t fatal but
staying down is. 

Remember the list of sins that Paul gives
us in Galatians 5:19-21?  Do you remember how it ends?  Galatians 5:21 Let me
tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not
inherit the Kingdom of God.

Paul is being very straight forward, if we
live in a sinful manner, that is continuing to sin we will not inherit the
kingdom of God.  No ifs, no ands, and no
buts.    And what it comes right down to
your choice, not mine, not your parents not your spouses, nobodies choice but
yours and yours alone.  You will choose
to serve God, or you will choose to serve your sinful nature.  But make no mistake about it, it will be your
choice. 

You will only commit sins that you are
willing to commit.  Do I see a few raised
eyebrows and detect some doubt among the faithful?  One of the greatest promises of the bible is 1 Corinthians 10:13 The temptations in your life are no
different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow
the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will
show you a way out so that you can endure.

God did not say that we wouldn’t be
tempted, even Christ was tempted.  But
God did say that you would never be tempted by something that you couldn’t
resist.  Our problem is that many of us
are like Augustine who prayed save me God but not yet.  We want to have our cake and to eat it
too.  We want to be Christians, we want
to go to heaven but we want to sin as well. 
We want everything that this life can give and everything the next life
can give.

But God doesn’t want anything less than
everything.  You can’t say this 95
percent of my life is God’s and this five percent is mine.  Doesn’t work that way, not at all.  You don’t plant a garden and then reserve a
corner of it for weeds.  Cause if you do
the little green monsters soon want it all. 
No man can serve two masters.  You
can’t serve God and self.  You can’t
serve God and sin.  You can’t serve God
and the devil.  Because you will either
love one and hate the other or devote yourself to one and despise the other.

If you play with fire you will get
burned.  And if you play with sin you
will get burned.  Remember sin will
always take you further then you want to go. 
Sin will always keep you longer then you want to stay and sin will
always cost you more then what you want to pay.

You will never be sin’s master it will
always be your master.

The Secret   Galatians 5:16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you
won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.

And how do you live by the spirit?  Well probably the first step is to admit that
you can’t do it alone.  As long as you
are trying to live a sinless life by yourself you will blow it can’t be
done.  If you were to go to an a. a.
meeting you would hear people get up and say 
“my name if Bob and I’m an alcoholic, or my name is Alice and I’m an
alcoholic.”  now they may not be
drinking, may not have taken a drink for twenty years but even as a sober
alcoholic they acknowledge that they have a problem with alcohol.  Maybe in church we need to stand up and say
“I’m Denn and I’m a sinner, or my name’s Stefan and I’m a sinner”, that doesn’t
mean that we have to continue to sin, but it does mean that we know who we are
and what we are.  And we can’t do
anything to change the fact that we are sinners.

But the apostle John tells
us in 1 John 2:1 My dear children, I am writing this to
you so that you will not sin.

Catchy isn’t it, I write this to you so you
will not sin.  John goes on to say if we
fall it’s not fatal when he says I am writing this to you so that you will not
sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who
pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly
righteous.

The bottom line is not following a book of
rules, or a list of do nots instead it is being obedient to God.  And he promises that he will give us all the
help we need in being obedient if we want it. 
But it is our choice. 

Because the bottom line is what Jesus said
in John 14:23-24 Jesus replied, “All who love me will
do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home
with each of them. Anyone who doesn’t love me will not obey me. And remember,
my words are not my own. What I am telling you is from the Father who sent me.