Daniel 3:16

Daniel 3:16
To do what is
right or to do what is smart. 
Have you ever
been faced with a situation where those seem to be your only two options? 
You know what’s
right, you know what God requires of you and yet that doesn’t seem to be the
wisest course of action.  Maybe it’s a
matter of doing the right thing, or not doing the wrong thing.
And while you
know what you should do, at the same time you are doing a quick cost analyst in
your head.  If I do this, what will it
cost me in terms of friends, or money or job security?  Should I speak up or remain silent on an
issue?  If you are like me I’m sure
that’s you’ve discovered that sometimes silence is golden, sometimes it’s just
plain yellow.
And that
question to do what was right or to do what was smart was the question at the
heart of today’s 3:16.
For those of
you who haven’t been with us this summer we have been preaching from a variety
of Chapter 3 verse 16s since June.  We of
course started with the obligatory John 3:16 and then we moved to the oft
quoted 2 Timothy 3:16, and we’ve been in the book of Acts, Joshua and
Ephesians.  
Because this is
a family Sunday and we have many of our children with us in the service I rummaged
around in the tickle trunk and discovered that we actually had a flannel graph
set for one of our 3:16, which also happens to be one of my favourite Old
Testament stories.
This morning we
are looking at Daniel 3:16  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego
replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need
to defend ourselves before you.  And
we are going to start by telling you the story:
Three young men
who were only doing what they thought was right and now they were to pay the
ultimate price. Because they had disobeyed a royal decree they were to be put
to death, and not just any death they were to suffer a nasty death. 
To many, they
had made the right choice, but I’m not sure anyone thought they picked the
smart choice.
I mean if you
had to be sentenced to death this wasn’t the one you’d want to pick.  They were to be thrown into an immense
furnace used for firing pottery and apparently the occasional execution. Not a
situation that anyone would want to be presented with, but here they were.  And I’m sure at that point they thought of
those great words of Yogi
Berra’s “The Future ain’t what it used to be.”
Our story this
morning happened after Babylon had conquered Israel and the Babylonian King a
man by the name of Nebuchadnezzar had ordered that a the most promising young
captives from Jerusalem were to be brought to the palace as his personal slaves. 
And the story
is about three of those young men whose names were, Shadrach, Meshach, and
Abednego.  I know of one person who used
to call them Your Shack, My Shack and Little bungalow and I had a professor at
Bible College who was in the habit of referring to them as Shake the Bed, Make
the Bed and in the Bed you Go.  But their
names, at least the names you would know them by were Shadrach, Meshach, and
Abednego. Those however were not the names they were born with.  Those names were Hananiah, Mishael, and
Azariah,
But part of the
slavery process was to erase who they had been, so their birth names were taken
away and they were given Babylonian names, so that’s when they became Shadrach,
Meshach, and Abednego.  That of course
wasn’t confined to customs 3000 years ago, how many of you remember the scene
from the Roots mini Series when Kunta Kinta was told that his name was Toby?
For three years
they were taught and trained in the court of the king and at the end of that
period Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were the honour students and
were appointed as advisers in the King’s Court.
But that was
then and this was now.  If we fast
forward ahead three years we discover that King Nebuchadnezzar has come down
with a bad case of deity envy, that is he wanted to be God. And if’n you’re God
then you should be worshipped and that’s where we come into the story. 
So, Nebuchadnezzar
had a huge idol created and erected. 
When the royal musicians played everyone was to bow down and worship the
statue, everyone, even exiled Jews. If we had background music here it would
change to a minor key signifying that something bad was about to happen.
Now if you grew
up in church and Sunday School then you probably already know the story. 
Shadrach,
Meshach, and Abednego may have been favourites of the king but right now they weren’t
making him very happy. 
You see when
everyone else bowed, they didn’t.  Must
have had something to do with the entire Deuteronomy 5:7-9 You know where it says, Deuteronomy
5:7-9
Do not worship any other
gods besides me.  Do not make idols of any kind, whether in the shape of birds or animals
or fish. You must never worship or bow down to them.
However
Nebuchadnezzar considered himself a fair King and thinking that perhaps his
star pupils had misunderstood the command, perhaps it was the entire second
language thing, he gave them another chance. 
If Nebuchadnezzar had of been an English speaker trying to convey his
message to someone who spoke another language he probably would have simply
repeated the initial command, only slower and louder. You know what they say to
be multilingual means you speak many languages, to be bilingual means you speak
two languages and to be monolingual means you speak English.
Where were
we?  Oh yeah, bow down or be tossed in
the furnace.  And maybe you know the
story, and maybe you don’t. 
This morning I
want to look at the response of  Shadrach,
Meshach, and Abednego to the challenge they faced.  Obey God or do what seemed like the smart and
practical thing. So where were we?  Oh
yeah, King Nebuchadnezzar had this huge stature built and commanded everyone to
bow down and worship it when the music played. 
But instead of
doing that we read the story in Daniel 3:16-18 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not
need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace,
the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power,
Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, Your Majesty can be sure that we will
never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”
A common theme
through this series seems to be that as Christ followers we are required to
believe. In John 3:16 We talked about how we need to believe that God sent his
Son, In 2 Timothy 3:16 it was how we need to believe the scriptures came from
God.  In Acts 3:16 the crippled man had
to believe that he had been healed.  In
Joshua 3:16 the priest had to believe that the Jordan River would dry up when
they stepped into it carrying the Ark of the Covenant.   And last week’s message from Ephesians 3:16
talked about prayer, which of course is wrapped up in our belief.
So what was it
that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were called to believe?  
They absolutely
believed that they were doing the right thing and that because of that they
were committed to their course of action. 
And this wasn’t a mamby pamby “Yes I believe I’m doing the right thing”
type of faith, they were willing to put everything on the line. 
Talk is cheap,
it’s easy to say that you’ll always do the right thing.  But what happens when doing the right thing
cost you something?  What happens when
taking a stand cost you acceptance with your friends or your family. 
We talk about
someday having a bigger worship centre, but what happens when your commitment
to seeing a new church built cost you money and time.  What happens when your commitment to truth and
integrity cost you advancement in your career. 
What happens when you are standing in front of the blazing furnace and
you are told “Bow or Burn”?
We discover
where there belief began when we read today’s 3:16, Daniel 3:16 O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need
to defend ourselves before you.   So we begin by
discovering that They Believed in God’s Purpose They knew they were doing what they
had to do and because of that they didn’t need to say anything.  They didn’t have to convince themselves and
they knew they couldn’t convince the king so why waste their breath. What were
they supposed to say?  It wasn’t that
they weren’t guilty of what they were being accused of, they were.  I remember getting pulled over for speeding
in Australia, a very isolated incident let me assure you. And when the officer
approached me he asked if I had a reason for speeding.  A reason for speeding, the only thing I could
think of was that it was a beautiful evening, I had the roof down and it seemed
appropriate to be driving that fast. So I looked him in the eyes and said “no
sir.”  Sometimes there’s no need to say
anything.
They weren’t
the only ones in the bible who took that approach,  Matthew 27:12-14 But when the leading priests and other leaders made their accusations
against him, Jesus remained silent. “Don’t you hear their many charges against
you?” Pilate demanded. But Jesus said nothing, much to the governor’s great
surprise.
Jesus didn’t
have to convince himself and he knew that he wouldn’t convince Pilate or the
leaders. 
There are times
in your life that you have said what you’ve had to say, you’ve taken your stand
and now all you can do is see how it shakes down.  When Martin Luther took a stand against the Catholic Church 500 years
ago he was called in front of the powers that be and was offered the chance to
recant, which means to change his mind. 
Much like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were given a second chance,
and Luther said “Here
I stand; I can do no other. God help me.”
Let’s keep
reading, Daniel 3:17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace,
the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power,
Your Majesty. Their faith in
their action was grounded in the fact that They
Believed in God’s Protection
.   Maybe
they were thinking back to the stories of how God had delivered his people time
after time when they were faithful.  Of
Noah and Moses, of Abraham and David and a host of others.  Perhaps they remember the words of the Psalms
where David wrote Psalm 55:16-18 But I will call on God,
and the Lord will rescue me.
Morning,
noon, and night I plead aloud in my distress, and the Lord hears my voice.
He
rescues me and keeps me safe from the battle waged against me, even though many
still oppose me.
When Peter was
in prison and the Roman authorities were going to separate his head from his
shoulders God stepped in.  When Paul was
aboard a ship that was threatening to sink, God intervened.   We all have experienced or know someone who
has experienced the direct intervention of God. 
God will protect and keep us. 
Jesus told the apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane,  Matthew 26:53 Don’t you realize that I
could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send
them instantly?
Sigmund
Freud said “I cannot think of any
need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.”  And I can’t think of any need in our relationship with Christ as the
need for our heavenly father’s protection. 
We need to realize that God cares about us and we need to be able to say
with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego the God whom we serve is able to save us.
And as powerful
as their faith was in what they were doing and as strong as their faith was in
God’s protecting hand I think that the most incredible and powerful statement
is yet to come.  We can stand and say “I
believe that I’m doing what is right and I believe that God will take care of
me.”  But how many of us have the faith
to echo those words with these, Daniel 3:18 But even if he doesn’t,
Your Majesty can be sure that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold
statue you have set up.”  You see ultimately They Believed in God’s Plan  God will save us, but if he doesn’t then we
will still obey him.  God does protect
his people, but we all know even if we don’t understand it, that sometimes that
doesn’t save us physically, if that was the case there’d be no martyrs. 
Listen to what
Peter had to say in 1 Peter 3:12-14 “The eyes of the Lord
watch over those who do right, and his ears are open to their prayers.
But
the Lord turns his face against those who do evil.”
Now,
who will want to harm you if you are eager to do good?
We like hearing
that but Peter’s not through because he says But even there it is again But even 
if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So
don’t be afraid and don’t worry.
One of my
favourite sections of the bible is found in Hebrews 11, it is the faith hall of
fame. We read about heroes of the Old Testament, people like Noah and Abraham,
Isaac and Jacob, Moses and Joshua. 
Listen to what the bible says about these servants of God, Hebrews 11:32-35 Well, how much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount
the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and
all the prophets. By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice,
and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions,
quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their
weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole
armies to flight. Women received their loved ones back again from death.
That’s the list
I want to be in.  The list of the
winners, the victors they trusted God and God came through.  God is good. 
But let’s keep reading the same author, the same book, the same chapter,
carrying on from the same verse  Hebrews 11:35-39  But others trusted God and were
tortured, preferring to die rather than turn from God and be free. They placed
their hope in the resurrection to a better life. Some were mocked, and their
backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in dungeons. Some died by
stoning, and some were sawed in half; others were killed with the sword. Some
went about in skins of sheep and goats, hungry and oppressed and mistreated.
They were too good for this world. They wandered over deserts and mountains,
hiding in caves and holes in the ground.
All
of these people we have mentioned received God’s approval because of their
faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised.
If I had my
druthers I’d druther be in the first group. 
But we don’t always get our druthers, do we?  And the people in the second group were
serving the same God as the people in the first group.  And we are told by those in the know that
there have been more Martyrs in the last hundred years then there were in the
nineteen hundred years before that.  And
God hasn’t tumbled off his throne, he’s still a good God and a merciful God and
we have to believe that ultimately he knows exactly what he’s doing. 
 Over fifty years ago five young missionaries
flew to South America to reach a tribe that had never heard the name of
Jesus.  One of those missionaries, a
young man by the name of Jim Elliot made this
statement “He
is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.” 
It wasn’t very long after he made that statement that he and his
companions were killed by the very people he went to reach.  People around the world reacted in shock to
the news of the slaughter.  How could God
allow that? And yet Jim Elliot’s wife Elizabeth eventually saw that entire
tribe come to know Jesus.  Elliot
couldn’t have kept his life even if he had of lived to be a hundred.  And yet how many people will live for eternity
because of Jim Elliot’s sacrifice?
And as the guys
stood staring into the flames of the furnace they said “God will deliver
us, but if he doesn’t, tough we still won’t bow.”  Can you believe in the goodness of God no
matter what?
Let’s go back
to the story.  Shadrach, Meshach, and
Abednego’s response was not what the king was expecting to hear and he was
furious.  He commanded that the three be
tossed into the furnace and they were. 
From the
description given of the furnace it would appear that it was commonly used for
executions, that is was constructed in such a way that the accused were tossed
in through an opening in the top.  In
this case the fire was burning so hot and so furious that it actually killed
the soldiers who were escorting the three men. 
And so the story ends.  They took
a stand for God and they lost.  Good was
defeated and evil was victorious, but was it?
Keep listening
to the words of Daniel,    Daniel 3:24-26 But suddenly, as he was watching, Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in amazement
and exclaimed to his advisers, “Didn’t we tie up three men and throw them into
the furnace?”
“Yes,”
they said, “we did indeed, Your Majesty.”
“Look!”
Nebuchadnezzar shouted. “I see four men, unbound, walking around in the fire.
They aren’t even hurt by the flames! And the fourth looks like a divine being!”
Then
Nebuchadnezzar came as close as he could to the door of the flaming furnace and
shouted: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come
out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stepped out of the fire.
And finally Their Belief was Proven  God was there, he had a plan and it entailed
keeping those three young men alive. 
They were to go on and play an integral part of the Government of
Babylon during the time the people of Israel were in exile and a measly little
thing like a blazing furnace wasn’t going to stand in God’s way.  Who was the fourth man?  There have been different theories, some have
said it was an angel, others Jesus.  The
truth is we don’t know, but we do know that he was there for a purpose. Imagine
being thrown into an execution furnace, what would your first reaction be?  Mine would be to scream.  “Ahhh I’m burning” and then you realize
against all odds that you were fine, what would your reaction be?  Mine would be to scream.  “Ahhh I’m not burning.” Whoever or whatever
the fourth person was I think he was there to bring comfort and reassuring to
the guys.  
Because whether
we burn in the trials or whether we don’t burn in the trials God’s promise is
that he will be there for us.  Hebrews 13:5 God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never forsake you.”   That’s the promise folks.  God will never fail you or forsake you.  Do you believe that this morning?  Perhaps you are standing at the door of your
own furnace, my prayer for you today is that you have the faith to not only
believe that God will do what is good but also to believe that whatever God
chooses to do will be good.  I hope and
pray that the prayer of your heart will be, “But even if”

The worth of a life

What is a life worth?  Are some lives worth more than others?   Human decency would say that all lives are worth the same, and society in general and the media in particular would declare that any other view is racist. However, the truth is that we apparently place more or less value on lives depending on where they are.

Over the past few years we have seen the media coverage and outpouring of sympathy and support when there is a terrorist attack or mass shooting in the States or Europe.  Facebook profiles take on the various hues of national flags or rainbows, and when they don’t, the absence is neither noticed or commented on. 
This past weekend ISSIS targeted a square in Kabul, Afghanistan.   Thousands of the Shia Hazara minority had gathered to protest the fact that powerlines were bypassing their communities when two suicide bombers set off explosives.  80 dead, over 230 injured, and the silence of the world was deafening. 

There were no Facebook tributes, nobody changed their profiles, no national leaders stood to voice their support for the victims or their contempt for the villains. 

Sometimes we need to remember that the Bible says: For God so loved the world. . . not just parts of the world.

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

How Fast is Too Fast?

–>

Absolutely insane.  Last week a gentleman I know took me for a drive in his Ferrari, and it was absolutely insane.  I have never been in a car that would go from zero to crazy so quick.  I wasn’t sure if I was thrilled or terrified. 

Officially the car will go from zero to a 100 km/h in under 3 seconds, but unofficially it seemed a lot quicker than that.  We were driving on a back road and while I have driven faster I’m not sure that I have ever got to faster that quick. 

I won’t lie, the drive was a hoot and afterwards, when my pulse slowed down I realized how much like life the experience had been.

While being able to drive at speeds that are impractical and illegal may have a certain appeal, it is still illegal and impractical.  



Sometimes it seems that we are pursuing life and all of its pursuits at much higher speeds than is practical or safe.  And while the experience might be exhilarating at the time we have to ask ourselves, is it wise?  The Bible reminds us that Jesus often slowed down to step into the presence of the Father, and no doubt there is a lesson there for all  of us.  Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Joshua 3:16

Joshua 3:16
He was the first of
the twelve. Slowly he walked along; his pace governed by the other eleven. The
load on his shoulder was a burden but wasn’t nearly as heavy as his thoughts.
His feet moved as if they were on auto pilot and his eyes remained fixed on the
river in the distance. The dark brown waters swirled angrily as they raced
toward the waiting sea. The harvest floods had caused the river to overflow
it’s banks and the water had a cold and dangerous look about it.
And still he walked.
His eyes never leaving the raging torrents ahead. He would never question his
commander verbally but his mind was filled with whys and how’s.
He wished that he
could just stop and think it over but it was apparent that was no longer an
option. And besides if he did stop what would the other eleven think? What
would his family think after all everybody knew what an honour it had been to
be chosen as one of the twelve. Actually it seemed like a pretty dubious honour
to him.
And still he
walked.   Maybe it was all a joke, after
all the boss couldn’t seriously expect the twelve of them to just walk into the
river, he didn’t even know how to swim. That was it, at any time his commander
would holler “hey guys come back it was just a test” but the only sound to
break the still air was the tramp of the twenty-four feet closing in on the
river. All he could think was “nobody even told us where the rocks are.”
And still he walked,
and then they were on the edge of the racing maelstrom, the dark cold water
just inches from their feet. The time was gone to hesitate even if he wanted
to. The choice was no longer his because as the eleven others plunged ahead his
foot began its descent into the racing River Jordan and his mind went back to
the events that had led them here.
Here we are in week
four of our 3:16 series, though the summer we are looking at some of the
various Chapter 3 verse 16s that are found in the bible.  So far we’ve been in the book of John, Acts
and the 2nd letter that Paul wrote to Timothy.  This week we are moving back to the Old
Testament to a story told as the people of Israel prepare to claim the promise
given to them by God over forty years before. 
They are preparing to enter the promised Land. 
I would suspect that
most of us know the broad strokes of the story, if only from Hollywood. Most
recently of course was “Exodus: Gods and Kings”, before that Disney gave us
“The Prince of Egypt”, In 1995 Ben Kingsley starred in the made for TV movie
“Moses” and the most famous one of all would be “The Ten Commandments.”
And well none of them
really get it right they do lay the foundation for the story of the
Exodus.  400 years after Joseph and his
extended family settle in Egypt at the invitation of the Pharaoh the tide of
popular opinion has turned against their descendants and the people of Israel
are now slaves. 
God calls a man named
Moses, who confronts the Pharaoh and says “Let my people go”. You’ve seen the
movie so you know the story, plagues, release, Red Sea, Pillar of Fire by
Night, Column of Smoke by Day, Mount Sanai, Golden Calf, Ten Commandments Mana
and quail to eat, water from rocks and lots of grumbling. 
And after they arrive
at the Promised Land the naysayers have their way and the people spend another
40 years wandering in the desert before they finally prepare to enter into the
land that was promised them.
And now a new leader,
a man named Joshua, is about to lead them across the Jordan River and into the
Promised Land. And the only barrier that now stands in their way is the river
and we read in   Joshua 3:16  the water above that point began
backing up a great distance away at a town called Adam, which is near Zarethan.
And the water below that point flowed on to the Dead Sea until the riverbed was
dry. Then all the people crossed over near the town of Jericho.
But like all the 3:16s
Joshua 3:16 doesn’t and can’t stand by itself, it’s only a part of the story.
In this case the story had begun forty years
before, but realistically we only need to go back to the previous day where we
read.
Joshua
3:5
Then
Joshua told the people, “Purify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do great
wonders among you.”
This must have been
the highlight of Joshua’s career. When he and Caleb had brought back the report
of Canaan forty years before he had felt the surge of victory, had felt the
excitement course though his veins only to have it shattered by the disbelief of
his people.
Forty years previous,
the people of Israel had stood ready to enter the Promised Land and when Joshua
and Caleb cast the vision for what God had for them on the other side of the
Jordan the people braced their feet and refused to go, that might have been a
bit of an understatement, we read their response in Numbers 14:10 
But the whole community began to talk about stoning Joshua and
Caleb.    Not necessarily a resounding endorsement of their
leadership.
This time it was
Joshua and not Moses who sent out the spies and when they brought back a
favourable report he gathers all of his people around him for a gigantic pep
rally and he tells them to purify themselves, which simply meant that they were
to surrender their wills to God, and with that commandment comes the
promise.  
“Purify
yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do great wonders among you.” Maybe in hindsight Joshua might have realized that it
might have been more aptly phrased “God will do great wonders through you”
And now, four long
decades after their initial refusal God has finally given Joshua and Israel the
green light, and this time as the vision is cast we read Joshua 1:16  They answered Joshua, “We will do
whatever you command us, and we will go wherever you send us.
This was a defining
moment in the life of Israel.  God is not
only promising the Israelites “Purify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do
great wonders among you.” the reverse is there as well if not stated at least implied,
“do not purify yourselves and the Lord will not do great wonders among
you.” 
We need only to read
the Old Testament to realize that God kept his promise because there is no
other people in the world who have seen the hand of God in their history like
the Jews.
Probably if you had
of talked to the average Israelite at this point they would have told you it
was time for a rest, time to kick back and enjoy life for a while.  After all they had spent 40 years wandering
through the wilderness, 40 years of eating quail and manna, and they were so
tired of mana.  It was manna this and
manna that.  Manna loaf and manna
burgers, roast, boiled, poached manna and then for dessert it was manana cream
pie. 
And nobody wanted
them for neighbours, they were “Those people” so it was forty years of desert
skirmishes.
And now the Jordan
River stands between them and the promise. 
And it wouldn’t be the only barrier they would face.   In the next three thousand years the
Israelites would have their work cut out for them, claiming a homeland, keeping
a homeland and finally reclaiming a homeland and each step was a step of faith.
In Hebrews 11:1 we are told that Hebrews 11:1  Faith is the
confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance
about things we cannot see.
And it was that type
of faith that led the children of Israel into the promised land. A land only
seen in its possibilities by Joshua and Caleb. And it was the vision of these
two men that kept the promise alive year after year. And it was faith that
allowed the children of Israel to claim Canaan.
And as long as their
faith was alive they were blessed and when their faith became little so did
their blessings. After all it is spelled out fairly plainly in Hebrews 11:6  And it is impossible to please God
without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and
that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.
Paul didn’t write,
“It is hard to please God Without faith” he wrote “It is impossible to please
God without faith”
The Israelites’ very
ticket into the Promised Land was the ticket of faith. In Joshua chapter three
we read the account of the instructions that God gave to Joshua. How the twelve
priest had to carry the Ark of the Covenant down to the river Jordan which was
overflowing it’s banks with the freshet. In verse thirteen we read   Joshua 3:13  The priests will carry the Ark of the
LORD, the Lord of all the earth. As soon as their feet touch the water, the
flow of water will be cut off upstream, and the river will stand up like a
wall.”
Now I can just
imagine the conversation that Joshua must have had with his commanders “Hey
Joshua have you got a plan for tomorrow?” “I sure do, twelve men are going to
take the ark and they are going to carry it down to the water and then they are
going to step into the water and the Jordan’s gonna dry up, got it?” “uh Joshua
have you got another plan?”
God could have led
the Israelites to a shallow spot in the river, or he could have instructed the
Israelites to build a raft. God could have divided the Jordan before the
Israelites actually got there and nobody would have had to get their feet wet.
But the fact of the matter was that this incident had to happen for two
reasons.
The first was to test
their faith, they had to answer the question: 
do we really believe that this is the direction that God wants us to go
and do we really believe that he can provide the way?
It was Martin Luther King, Jr. who
said  “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t
see the whole staircase.”  
In this case faith was taking the first step, even while the river was
still raging. 


And the second reason
was even more important. When the twelve tribes of Israel followed the priests
and the Ark of the Covenant to the edge of the Jordan, and when they stood
there with their hearts in their throats waiting for the priests to step into
the muddy swirling water they were proving their willingness to obey God, no
matter what.
Had the Israelites
stopped at that point, if they had of devised some other scheme to cross the
Jordan I am convinced that today we would view Israel as just another ancient,
dead civilization.
Once again we see
that God never entrusts us with a lot until he tests us with a little.
And it worked, let’s
go back to this week’s 3:16. 
 Joshua 3:16  the water above that
point began backing up a great distance away at a town called Adam, which is
near Zarethan. And the water below that point flowed on to the Dead Sea until
the riverbed was dry. Then all the people crossed over near the town of
Jericho.
Sometimes we are led
to believe that all we need is a vision and faith and everything will be all
right, but in the case of the people of Israel there was a raging river
standing between them and what God had for them, and then there was the city of
Jericho and then. . .
And really it all
came down to the faith of that one guy, 
the guy in the lead, if he had of stopped everybody would have had to
stop as well.  The destiny of a nation
rested in the hands of one man. 
So the question is,
What did he know?  Why was he willing to
step into a raging river?  And maybe you
are wondering, “So what?  What does
crossing a river 3000 years ago have to do with me today?”  Well the reality is that  if we are following God there will be times
as individuals and as a church that we will find rivers of doubt, controversy
and conflict that will need to be crossed.
I think that first of
all He Knew the Provisions of the Past.  For forty years the people of Israel had
wandered in the wilderness.  Never
settling, never establishing a country, always at odds with their environment
and their neighbours.  And yet during
that 40 years they saw God’s hand at work over and over again.
God provided them
with food in a desert where they had no land to farm and if they had land the
wilderness was so inhospitable no crops would grow.  And for forty years they ate.  They wandered in a land without rivers and
lakes and yet for forty years they didn’t go without water. 
And the man in the
lead had seen it all, he had tasted the manna, had feasted on quail, had drank
water that miraculously sprang from rocks, I guess that would make it a spring.
He had seen God’s
hand as the Israelites defending their families against hostile forces.  And as a child he had witnessed the entire countries
escape from Egypt, he had walked on the floor of the Red Sea and had followed
the pillar of fire at night and the column of smoke during the day. 
And so he believed
that if God was faithful then, then God would be faithful now. 
As a church, when we
face obstacles we only have to look to the past and how God provided over and
over again.  When people shook their
heads and said Cornerstone would never survive, God had other plans.
When a group
averaging fifty, which included the kids, felt that God was calling them to
purchase land and build a permanent facility to call their church home, people
shook their heads and said it would never happen, but God had other plans. 
And each of you has
seen God at work in your lives and the lives of your families,    
And we have to
believe that if God was faithful then, then God will be faithful now.
But he didn’t just
know about the past, He Knew the Promise
of the Future 
For forty years he had
heard Joshua and Caleb talk about what was on the other side of the river.  For forty years he dreamed of the day that he
would have land of his own, for forty years he dreamed of a land that flowed
with milk and honey.
He knew that their
destiny wasn’t the wilderness but was the promised land.  There were those who would have settled for a
life in the desert, but he knew that God’s promises were much greater than the
wilderness. 
There were those who
would claim that the vision was Joshua’s vision but this man knew that it was
God’s vision and that Joshua was simply the messenger.  He knew that Joshua had seen the promised
land, that Joshua had tasted the fruit of the promised land, and that nobody
had sacrificed more for the vision then Joshua had.
There are times in
our lives that we can get distracted from the vision.  What is it that God wants you to do with your
life?  What is your vision for your
career? For your children?   For your education?  For your spiritual life?  Are you being true to the vision? 
Sometimes it’s easy
to settle for less than what God wants for us, to settle into complacency in
the wilderness and to miss the Promised Land that God has for us.  But that is to settle for less than God’s
very best.  And God’s very best might
just be across the river.
As a church the
temptation is there to stray from the vision that we were founded on.  And sometimes it seems it’s for honourable
reasons, someone has a great idea, it doesn’t necessarily match the initial
vision but the person is pretty pervasive. 
And they convince us that it seems the right thing to do and we make a
course correction here and a course correction there and pretty soon we aren’t
heading in the direction that God pointed us when we began. 
But ultimately we
need to ask is this what God wants us to do? 
How does it fit in with the vision?
Because those
carrying the Ark believed in Joshua and believe in the vision they weren’t
going to let a river stand in their way.
The vision for
Cornerstone has always been that we would be a church that would reach the
pre-churched, the de-churched and the un-churched.  And that has coloured the programs we offer
and what our Sunday morning worship experience looks like.  
And that means that
we won’t always look like other churches and we won’t always do things like
other churches.  And sometimes it means
we have to cross rivers to get to where God is leading us.
And ultimately He Knew His Faith Would be Honoured  I’ve said before that all faith requires
is that you believe.    You can’t demonstrate faith without belief
and you can’t demonstrate belief without action.
It wasn’t enough for
the first man in the group to proclaim “I believe that God can stop the river
so we can cross”, unless he was willing to take that first step and actually
step into the river.
There were those who
believed in the vision of Cornerstone 22 years ago when there was no
Cornerstone, and they showed up and there are some who are in this service
today.  There were others who said they
believed but they never showed up for the first  service.
There were those who
said they believed we could have a building of our own and when the time came
they committed their time and their money to make it a reality.  There were others who said they believed that
we could have a building of our own but when the time came to step into the
river and make the sacrifices necessary, they turned and walked away.
Any time God calls
you to do something he first calls you to believe, and then he calls you to
step out in faith.
What is it that God
is whispering in your ear today, what vision does he have for you for tomorrow,
what river is he calling you to cross? 
Only you can answer that and only you can take the first step.

Labels

–> I was reading an article on Cross Cultural Church Planting awhile back and came across a statement that read, “America has the second largest African American population next to Nigeria.” Now my first question was; how many African Americans do they have in Nigeria? It’s interesting how our language changes and we accept statements as correct even though they obviously aren’t.   
Not that the term African American is wrong, anymore than Irish Canadian or French Canadian would be wrong.  However to make that term inclusive to mean anyone of African descent seems to be a little condescending.  Sometimes we need to swallow our intense desire for political correctness and use the proper term.   

Often at Cornerstone we refer to those who don’t know Christ as pre-Christians, perhaps that’s why we don’t feel an urgency to reach them.  After all, how bad can it be just being a pre-Christian?  Perhaps it time to readjust our focus and realize that because they are pre-Christians they aren’t Christians, and because they aren’t Christians the Bible says they are lost, and because they are lost they will spend their eternity separated from a God they never knew. And maybe knowing that will break our hearts. 


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

3:16 Acts

Acts 3:16
It was a day, just a day like any other day.   His brothers had gotten him out of bed and
gotten him dressed.  And on their way to
work they carried him to his usual spot at the temple gate.  It was just a day, the sky wasn’t any bluer,
the birds didn’t sing any louder, the sun didn’t shine any brighter, it was
just a day.  Just a day, like any other
day.  And yet before it was finished it
would be unlike any other day in his life. 
It was just a day. 
And as he lay with his shrivelled twisted legs extended in front of him
he thought of all the days he had laid in front of the temple gate and how
those days stretched out like an endless horizon before him.   
It was just a day. 
And he looked down at the useless limbs stretched out on the blanket in
front of him.  They were his, but they
weren’t even a part of him, he had never felt them, never moved them.  Never ran as a  boy, never walked as a man. And today was
just a day, no better and no worse than all the other days that had made up the
life of this poor crippled beggar.  But
without his knowledge and without his consent today would become the day he
would never forget.  And today would take
him from  being a beggar destined for an
obscure life and obscure death, and would propel him into  immortality. 
Who was he?  We don’t know.  The scriptures reveal nothing about his life
up to this day, and nothing about his life after this day. 
But today, this day, this ordinary day would  be written about by a doctor and read about
by millions upon millions of people all over 
the world.    The man and the day
are written about in Acts chapter 3:16 .
This is week two of our 3:16 series, last week we
started with the 3:16 that people are most familiar with, John 3:16 and for the
next ten weeks we are going to be bouncing around the Old and New Testament
looking at various 3:16s throughout the Bible. 
In this case it involves the first healing attributed to the early
church.  Peter and John have gone to the
temple for prayer and outside of the gates they meet and heal a man who we are
told was lame from birth. 
Well, the healing attracted a crowd and Peter sees a
great opportunity to preach and the sermon has the same theme as the one he
preached on the day of Pentecost.  God
sent his Son, You killed him, say you’re sorry.   And for proof he offers up these words: Acts
3:16
 “Through faith in the name of Jesus,
this man was healed—and you know how crippled he was before. Faith in Jesus’
name has healed him before your very eyes.”
The people who Acts 3:16 was originally addressed to
witnessed what happened that day, and that’s where we are going this morning. 
What a day.  A
day that would never be forgotten.  The
story starts with these words;  Acts
3:1-2
 Peter and John went to the Temple one
afternoon to take part in the three o’clock prayer service.  As they
approached the Temple, a man lame from birth was being carried in.
The first thing we discover is that  1) -This
Man Had a Problem.
Here was a man with a problem, he was a cripple.  This wasn’t a subject open to
discussion.  It wasn’t debatable, it
wasn’t abstract or iffy, instead it was definite.   A man lame from
birth. 
It wasn’t his fault that he was lame. Sometimes our
misfortunes have only one person to blame and that is us.  We smoke and die of lung cancer, hey don’t
stand there shaking your fist at God demanding “how could you do this to
me.” you’re paddling your own canoe. 
You abuse alcohol and get cirrhosis of the liver or drive your family
away, your fault. Commit adultery and your spouse leaves you, don’t blame
everyone else ok. 
But sometimes it isn’t.  I have a good friend how never had a drink
and has been fighting for his life since his liver betrayed him.  I’ve met folks who were good spouses, maybe
not perfect spouses but good spouses and they were betrayed by their
partners.  And as far as we know it
wasn’t this man’s fault that he was a cripple. 
And as far as we know it wasn’t the fault of anyone
else either.  Sometimes there are others
who are responsible for our problems.  
We know for instance that children who are born to people who smoke or
drink, or take drugs during their pregnancy are more apt to have problems then
other babies.  Sometimes physical abuse
will occur, or an accident will happen for which someone else is to blame.
All we know is that this was a man who wasn’t
physically whole.  He wasn’t everything
that physical man is supposed to be, he was a cripple he couldn’t walk.  In today’s climate where everything has to be
said in the politically correct way we would say that he was “physically
disadvantaged”  or “physically
challenged”.  I have a friend who is
bald and he says that he is “folliclely challenged” does that mean
that someone who is short is “vertically challenged”. 
Now here is a shock: 
We all have problems.   And
sometimes there are those in our lives who try to minimize what we are going
through,  we are told to build a bridge
and get over it. 
Robert
Fulghum who wrote “All I Really
Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”  minimizes
our problems with these words,    “If you break your neck, if you have nothing
to eat, if your house is on fire, then you got a problem. Everything else is
inconvenience.” 
Others would remind us that
problems are simply learning opportunities, Self-help, success guru Anthony Robbins writes “Every
problem is a gift – without problems we would not grow.”  And we are told by Lee Iacocca “We are continually faced by great opportunities
brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems.”
But when your problem is staring you in the face it
doesn’t seem like an inconvenience, an opportunity or a gift, sometimes it
seems insurmountable.
It might not be a physical problem, or maybe it is.    Or maybe it is an emotional problem, or
maybe it is a relational problem, you are estranged from somebody you love. Or
maybe it is a financial problem and there is more month then there is
paycheque. 
But we all have problems, and just because they aren’t
displayed outside the temple gate doesn’t make them any less real.  And in most cases our problems are as
individual as we are.   But there is a
problem that we all share. 
We are all born with a spiritual problem, and that is
we are born with a streak of rebellion that leads us far from God.  That is why Paul tells us in Romans 3:23  For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious
standard. 
None of us are
born worthy to enter into the presence of God. 
We are born with a bent toward sin, with a streak of rebellion.  We try to achieve goodness, but we can’t
quite reach it on our own. Every culture has a set  of mores to be followed.  Every group of men on this planet have sought
to justify themselves and have devised some means to appease their God or Gods
and yet the prophet says 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.  That’s a
problem.
In themselves our righteous acts are really neat, they
are wonderful, beautiful, marvellous things. 
And if we compare them to the works of others they may very well look
like the very finest of linens.  And yet
when we hold them up to the righteousness of God, then they are just dirty
pieces of cloth.  They can’t stand the
comparison.  And that’s not just your
righteousness, it’s Billy Graham’s, and Mother Theresa’s and John             Wesley’s and every other person who
ever lived.  We aren’t spiritually whole;
we are spiritual cripples.  Or to be
politically correct we are “sin disadvantaged” or “righteously
challenged.”
Acts 3:1-2  Peter
and John went to the Temple one afternoon to take part in the three o’clock
prayer service.  As they approached the
Temple, a man lame from birth was being carried in. Each day he was put beside
the Temple gate, the one called the Beautiful Gate, so he could beg from the
people going into the Temple.
2) He
Thought He knew What He Needed
This man didn’t fool himself, he knew he was lame.
He’d come to grips with that a long time ago. 
And it was a rough time to be handicapped.  There was no social security or Medicare.
It was a time and an age when physical prowess and the
quest for perfection abounded.  The Romans
had their gladiatorial contest and the Greeks had their Olympic games.  And there was no sympathy and no place for
those who weren’t quite as perfect  as
they should be. 
Not every age or culture takes care of the less
fortunate as is common today in our western society.  Only in Canada do we take those who are too
old to work and unable to make a meaningful contribution to society and appoint
them to the senate. 
This man knew that he had limited potential, he knew
that all the dreams and all the hopes and all the aspirations in the world
could not make his dead legs function. 
He was honest in his evaluation; his friends were taking him out to
beg.  He wasn’t going for a walk, or to
tap dance or play basketball.  He had
accepted the facts.
If he was going to survive it would be by
begging.   And he sought out one of the
most profitable spots, the main door to the temple.  The devout Jews came here at 9 am, noon and 3
pm.  People coming to worship God, and he
was trying to make them feel guilty.  There’s
a lot to be said for guilt.  How many
Salvation Army kettles do you see set up just outside the liquor stores at
Christmas time.
We will never get to heaven on our own. Never, never,
never.  We’ll never be that good, we’ll
never do enough good, we’ll never, ever, ever deserve heaven on our own.   And it is only when we are able to admit
that, that Jesus Christ will be any good to us. 
The Halifax Infirmary is a really neat 
place, it’s full of people who are sick, or at least think they
are.  It’s like the guy who called the
doctor and said, “I’m calling about my uncle Fred”
and the doctor said, “I  keep
telling you, your uncle only thinks he’s sick”  “oh but it’s worse now” replied the
man, “now he thinks he’s dead.” 
People go to the hospital for one of two reasons, 1)
to get better, or 2) to ease their suffering. 
That’s it.  Other than that there
is no good reason to be in a hospital. 
The food might not be bad but it ain’t great.  And the beds don’t look very comfortable, and
the company is downright depressing.    
But if you are sick it is an ideal place. Mark 2:17  When Jesus
heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I
have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know
they are sinners.”
If you’re not sick then you don’t need a doctor, and
if you’re not lost then you don’t need to be found
I hate to admit to being lost.  I’d drive around in circle all days before I’d
swallow my pride and stop someone and tell them I’m lost.  And until you are ready to admit to the
fact  that you need Jesus Christ he can’t
help you.
Acts 3:4-6  Peter and John looked at him intently, and
Peter said, “Look at us!”  The lame man looked at them eagerly, expecting
some money.  But Peter said, “I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But
I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and
walk!”
3) What
He Was Offered Was Better Than What He Wanted
Now, the beggar
thought he knew what he needed, he needed a handout.  And he thought that was what he was going to
get.   
He asked for
alms and Peter said “look at us”.  Now when I was in sales I knew when I had a
sale.  There were things that were said
or done that told me “you got this one in the bag.”  “This is a nice suit does it come in
blue?”  “Boy I really like this
car can I get a cassette deck put in?” 
I sold cars a really long time ago. 
“Look
at us” they said.  And
that was a good sign, why? Think about it what do you do when you see a  bum on the street panhandling?  Or you go to 
the mall  and someone is standing
there with a box for the minor hockey and you have no change?   You look the other way don’t you?  The lame man looked at them
eagerly, expecting some money.  When  we approach God in prayer we have to approach
expecting an answer.  Matthew 7:7-10  “Keep on asking, and
you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on
knocking, and the door will be opened to you. 
For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone
who knocks, the door will be opened. 
“You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them
a stone instead?  Or if they ask for a
fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not!
Most of us are pushovers for our kids, we like to give
things to them when we can. And when we come to God in prayer and ask that our
sins be forgiven we have to expect him to forgive them.  Not hope but expect.  Christ will forgive us and save us and give
us eternal life but we have to ask. We need to approach him.  The beggar never would have gotten anywhere
if he hadn’t asked.  Christ has to be
approached with a positive attitude.  The
beggar probably didn’t say “you probably don’t want to give me anything do
you?”
Acts 3:7  Then Peter took the lame man by the right
hand and helped him up.
4) All
He Had to Do Was Believe
 
Put yourself in his spot, every day of his adult life
this man had been carried to this spot to beg. 
Rain & shine, warm weather and cold weather.  He had had days when he had collected next to
nothing and other days when he had tripled his usual take.    He had taken physical and verbal abuse from
children and teenagers and adults.  He
had been ridiculed and slandered. 
But never had he ever heard anything like this.  He’d asked for a crumb and been offered a
banquet, had asked for a pittance and been offered his very life.  How should he react, what thoughts coursed
through his head?   “Tens of
thousands of people in Jerusalem and I get a fruitcake.” or maybe it was
“oh no if I can walk then I’ll have to get a job!”  what were his initial thoughts?  Had he heard tell of Peter, John, or Jesus of
Nazareth?  We will probably never
know.  But this we do know, he believed Peter. 
The scriptures say Then
Peter took the lame man by the right hand and helped him up.  Did you catch
that?  Peter  didn’t grab him under his arms and lift  him up instead he took him by the hand and
helped him  up.  Peter assisted the beggar to his feet, he
helped him get up.  And that means that the
man must have helped as well.   
He put his weight on his legs and felt the strength
course down his thighs.  He did something
he had never done before, he pushed himself to a sitting position and then got
to his feet.  And as his muscles began to
swell, and tingle with the unfamiliar tensions and movement he realized  that he was doing the impossible, he was
standing by himself.  And slowly the
realization dawned on him, this wasn’t a practical joke.  These men indeed had more to offer him then
silver and  gold.  For they had given him what nature had
deprived him of, they had given him his legs. 
But only through his belief did this happen, and only by believing the
words of this stranger was he standing.
Acts 3:7  Then Peter took the lame man by the right
hand and helped him up. And as he did, the man’s feet and ankles were instantly
healed and strengthened.
5)
He Received More Than He Asked For.
 
One minute half a man, the next minute whole.  One minute crippled the next minute
healed.  Just as his handicap had been
beyond dispute so was his healing. Not even the Sanhedrin and high priest could
doubt or  disbelieve what they and
witnessed.  How do you argue with
success?  Here was a man who had been
crippled by a cruel quirk of nature, and yet now he was whole, just as if his
handicap had never been.  The skin which
had hung loosely on useless muscles now clung to the well-defined shape of
thigh and calf muscles.  The legs that
had never moved now responded to every whim, 
the feet that had never felt now sensed the pebbles and dust that lay
beneath them.  Although we have a
spiritual handicap we can  be made
whole.  King David had committed
adultery, murder and treason and yet in Psalms 51:7 David
writes- Psalm 51:7  Purify
me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Paul says concerning sin in Romans 6:23  For the
wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ
Jesus our Lord.
 When you ask
for forgiveness your being is touched and you are made every bit as whole and
clean as Adam was before the fall.  It
doesn’t matter what the sin, Jesus Christ is 
able to make you whiter then snow. 
The violent murderer becomes like as innocent as a new born babe.  The foulest prostitute becomes as pure as a
virgin.   It was over thirty years ago Madonna
had her first hit song and  it said,
“Like a virgin, touched for the very first time.”  and although it had nothing to do with
salvation and forgiveness it could have.  
Because that’s what happens when Jesus comes into your life, Paul says
it best in  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!
Every sin, every evil thought, word, or deed, every
hurt, every scorn, shall be gone, it won’t even be history, because history is
recorded.  King David said it best in Psalm 103:12  He
(God)  has removed our sins as far from
us as the east is from the west.
Acts 3:8  He jumped up, stood on his feet, and began
to walk! Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with
them.
6) He
Was Full of Praise
  
I like this, nobody had to tell him to go to the
temple.  Nobody told him he should thank
God but he knew he had to.  His very
first act was one of praise and thanksgiving.   
He was on fire and he wanted to share it with everyone he met. 
He didn’t consider if it would offend them, he didn’t
wonder if it  would drive them away, he
wanted to tell them what happened in the name of Jesus.   I can just hear him now, “excuse me
sir, I don’t know you but a few minutes ago I was a  cripple, couldn’t walk, couldn’t even more my
toes, just laid there on the street and do you know what a man came up and
said, ‘silver and gold have I none but what I have  I give to you, in the name of Jesus Christ of
Nazareth walk.’  and guess what, well I
suppose you can see for yourself, that’s right I can walk.”  If he had of been like some Christians I know
his first reaction would have been, “Oh no, now I’ll have to buy shoes.”
It might not hurt you know if we got a little more
excited about our faith, after all if you were drowning and someone threw you a
rope you’d get excited.  And if you had
cancer and someone developed a cure you’d get excited.  And if your team won the Stanley cup, you’d
get excited.
Perhaps in the midst of our problems we need to pray
as David did in  Psalm 51:8  Oh,
give me back my joy again; you have broken me— now let me rejoice.

We are Winning!

Well, another survey is out, showing that Christianity is losing ground and that church attendance is down.  But, depending on your perspective, we aren’t losing, we’re winning.  When you stop and think about it, every person who isn’t a Christian hasn’t been lost from Christianity, they just haven’t been won to Christianity yet.  

The starting place for humanity isn’t a relationship with Christ, the starting place is being separated from God, so every person who begins that relationship is a win for our side.  Does that make sense?

By default, the other side doesn’t have to do anything except try to keep us, the church, from doing it’s job; they only win when we stop doing what we’ve been called to do.

But when you stop and think about it, our job is easy, because all we’ve been called to do is be obedient.  And Jesus said that if we love Him, our natural instinct will be to obey him and that has to involve introducing people to Him.   
Regardless of what the survey says, every day in Canada, there are people who cross the line and commit their lives to Christ and that is a win.   Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.