Alive!

“My son was dead, but now he is alive.”  You might know the words from the father in the story of the Prodigal Son, but they were spoken more recently.   This storey began on May 6th when 82 year old Frank J. Kerrigan received the call that every parent dreads, even at 82.  The call was from the County Riverside County Sheriff’s Department requesting that he contact the Orange County Coroner.
It was the coroner’s office that told Mr. Kerrigan that his 57 year old homeless son had been found dead in an alley, and they assured Kerrigan that he didn’t have to id his son, that he had already been identified with fingerprints.
6 days later Frank Jr. was laid to rest next to his mother.  The family had spent $20,000.00 on what was described as a “Beautiful ceremony”. 
And then on May 23 Frank Sr. received a call telling him his son was alive, a mistake had been made in the identification.
Carole Meikle, Frank Jr.’s sister, summed it up when she said “We lived through our worst fear, he was dead on the sidewalk. We buried him. Those feelings don’t go away.”
Every one of us will die, that’s life.  But Jesus offers us a promise of eternal life, with no mistakes.


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

Summer of Love, Intro

The year was 1967, I had just
turned seven years old, Canada was celebrating its centennial   and two events happened that would mark and
define the United States for years to come.
 The first one took place mostly along the East
Coast of the US and was referred to as “The Long hot summer of 1967” and it
referred to the 159 race riots that erupted across the United States that
summer.  It was not a proud summer for
the US.
On the other coast the city of
San Francisco was bracing itself for an onslaught of “Hippies”.  College and High school students had been
streaming into the Haight-Ashbury district since spring break and the local
authorities determined to stop the influx just brought more attention to the
event.
By the time the summer was
done over 100,000 so called hippies had converged on the city. 
A number of groups and
organizations in the community responded to the perceived crisis by forming the
“Council of the Summer of Love”, which of course gave the summer it’s
name. 
The council coordinated efforts
of community groups and churches to assist with free clinics, housing, food,
sanitation and concerts.
Who were these hippies?  Well sometimes they were called flower
children but they were really an eclectic group.  Made up mostly of folks in their mid-teens to
mid-twenties who had avowed to not trust anyone over thirty.  Most were suspicious of the government,
rejected consumeristic lifestyles and opposed the Vietnam war. A few were
interested in politics; others were more concerned with art, music and poetry
while others embraced various world religions. It really was a mixed bag.
But it was also from this
group that we saw the “Jesus Movement” of the late sixties take root and people
lives are still being impacted by the churches that were formed out of that
movement.
And wrap your head around the
fact that the youngest of those counter culture hippies are now in their mid to
late sixties and early seventies and some have grandkids who are over thirty.
It was at the summer of Love
that Timothy Leary first used the phrase, “Turn on, tune in, drop
out” and the song “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your
Hair)”, written by John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas, became the
unofficial anthem of the summer.
I said all that to say that we
are calling this Summer at Cornerstone the “Summer of Love” and for the next 10
weeks we will be focusing on 1 Corinthians 13, which is often referred to as
the “Love Chapter” of the bible.  We read
a portion of the chapter earlier but now we are going to read all 13 verses
together. 
1 Corinthians 13:1-13  If I could speak all the languages of earth
and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a
clanging cymbal.  If I had the gift of
prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all
knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love
others, I would be nothing.  If I gave
everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about
it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.  Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous
or boastful or proud  or rude. It does
not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being
wronged.  It does not rejoice about
injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.  Love never gives up, never loses faith, is
always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.  Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages
and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever!  Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete,
and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture!  But when full understanding comes, these
partial things will become useless.  When
I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up,
I put away childish things.  Now we see
things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with
perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will
know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.  Three things will last forever—faith, hope,
and love—and the greatest of these is love.
And that’s where we are going
to park for the Summer of Love.
Really though, 1 Corinthians
13 can’t be taken completely in isolation. 
It is part of an entire letter that was written by the apostle Paul to
the Christ Followers who made up the church in Corinth, which was a city in
Greece. 
In the first eleven chapters
of the letter Paul has been dealing with all kinds of moral and theological
issues that had arisen in the church. 
Whenever I hear people say, “I wish the church could be more like the
New Testament Church!”  I wonder if they
have actually read the New Testament. 
Then in Chapter twelve Paul
seems to turn a page as he talks about the gifts of the Spirit. There is the
gift of speaking in unknown languages, the gift of prophecy, the gift of
wisdom, the gift of healing and a bunch of others.  And people get excited about those types of
gifts. 
But listen to the closing
words of 1 Corinthians 12 1 Corinthians 12:31 
. . . But now let me show you a way of life that is best of all.   In the NIV it says 1 Corinthians 12:31 . . .
And now I will show you the most excellent way.
A better way of life than the
Corinthian Christians were presently living, a way more excellent than the
promise of the spiritual gifts.
So the first thing that Paul
tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:1  If I
could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I
would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
So Paul begins with the
premise that Christianity is Words, but not Just Words  The temptation here is to negate the value of
words, but that isn’t the intent.  Words
are an important part of how Christianity began.  Remember Jesus went preaching and teaching.    Crowds gathered to hear him speak words.
The church spread throughout
the known world as people like Paul preached the word and taught about
Christianity.  Remember for the most part
this was an oral culture.  Even when
words were written down, they were written down to be read out loud.
St. Francis of Assis is often
quoted as having said “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use
words.”  It’s kind of quotable, and
inspirational but he didn’t say that, we don’t know who did but there is no
evidence at all that Francis did. 
But it’s kind of a pithy and
is used to show that deeds are more important than words and that you don’t
even have to use words to convey the gospel of Christ.  What it has become is a good excuse for not
talking about your faith.
If you can preach the gospel
without using words that would make you better than John Wesley or Augustine or
for that matter Jesus.  They all used
words to preach the gospel.
Paul wrote in Romans
10:13-14  For “Everyone who calls on the
name of the LORD will be saved.”  But how
can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they
believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about
him unless someone tells them?
So Paul is not trying to
diminish the power of our words.  Whether
they be the eloquently spoken words of men. 
Those words that are crafted and polished to have maximum effect.   Or even if they are the words of heaven, and
there has been debate over whether the language of Angels referred to the
miraculous gift of tongues or the actual language that the angels speak.  We don’t know.  And if someone tells you that they know for
sure what Paul meant, they’re bluffing.
What Paul was telling the
church was that words without love are empty, regardless of how eloquent and
pretty they are.  It’s easy to speak,
it’s more difficult to speak in love. 
I love the story about the
hotheaded woman who once told John Wesley, “My talent is to speak my
mind.” To which Mr. Wesley replied, “Woman, God wouldn’t care a bit
if you would bury that talent.”
In Ephesians 4:15 Paul talks
about speaking the truth in love, and that is the challenge, to not just speak
the truth, that’s the easy part, but to speak the truth in love.
Just take a minute and think
about what you are going to say, because after you say it, after you speak
those words, your words will rule over you. 
As long as those words remain unspoken, you rule over them.
Benjamin Franklin once wrote
“If you think little of a person, you ought to say as little as you
think.”  That sounds safe, goes right
along with what Andy Rooney said  “Always
keep your words soft and sweet, just in case you have to eat them.”
What Paul was saying was that
without love there is no harmony in your words, there is only discord and
noise, kind of like gongs and cymbals. 
And boy after those words are
spoken they are so hard for you to take back and so hard for others to forget.
Kind loving words don’t cost
much, but they are so valuable.  And for
the preacher the warning is there as well, we hear about the preachers who
preached “Hell Fire and Brimstone”  but
is that a preaching that is grounded in 1 Corinthians 13? 
William Barclay warns
preachers that “The preaching which is all threat and no love may terrify but
it will not save.”
Nowhere in the bible are we
told that we are to scare the Hell out of people, but we are told that we are
to show them the love that God has for them. 
But it wasn’t just the misuse
of words that Paul was concerned with, he continues on in 1 Corinthians saying
1 Corinthians 13:2  If I had the gift of
prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all
knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love
others, I would be nothing.  So, next we
are told that Christianity is Knowledge, but not Just Knowledge 
Through the years, I have met
some folks who seem to almost exalt in the fact that they aren’t all that
knowledgeable about their faith.   They
seem to feel that they have a purer relationship with Jesus because it’s not
cluttered up with theology and stuff like that. 
They talk about having a simple faith.
You don’t have to read very
far in the New Testament to see the value that Paul and others place on
knowledge.  Paul’s prayer for the
Christians in Philippi was recorded in Philippians 1:9  I pray that your love will overflow more and
more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding.
And Peter encourages the early
church with these words:  2 Peter
1:5  In view of all this, make every
effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous
provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge . . .
Peter and Paul weren’t telling
people that they needed to read every new Christian best seller that came out
and to immerse themselves in every new Christian fad that showed up.  But they were telling people that they had to
know the how’s and the why’s of their salvation.  That they needed to know what the bible says
and what the bible doesn’t say.
Theodore Roosevelt once
wrote  “A thorough knowledge of the Bible
is worth more than a college education.” 
That falls in the category of All “Generalizations are wrong.”  But I will say that as a Christian a
knowledge of the bible of what you believe and why you believe, is essential to
your faith. 
And that happens when you read
the bible and discuss it with other Christians. And if you don’t have a bible,
just mention it to the staff and we will get you a bible.
But in light of all of that,
if you have knowledge but no love, you might as well be as dumb as a stump for
all that it matters.
You know what I mean, you’ve
seen people who have to be right.  They
won’t have a discussion, they won’t hear other views.  And they alienate themselves from others and
even when they are right it doesn’t matter because nobody cares. 
Confession time, I have people
in my life that when they start I just check out, it wouldn’t matter if they
were telling me the secrets of the ages because I can’t have a discussion with
them.  It’s their way their views and
their truth and they won’t listen to anything else. 
And when you use your
knowledge or your debating skills to win the point without regards to how you
leave the other person feeling, you’re a bully. 
And nobody likes bullies.
Earlier in his letter Paul
warned the Corinthians:  1 Corinthians
8:1-3  . . . But while knowledge makes us
feel important, it is love that strengthens the church.  Anyone who claims to know all the answers
doesn’t really know very much.  But the
person who loves God is the one whom God recognizes.
Paul’s first two statements
make sense, the third one is a little confusing.   1 Corinthians 13:3  If I gave everything I have to the poor and
even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I
would have gained nothing. So it is here that we discover that Christianity is
Action, but not Just Action 
There are times I think that
we get stuck in Ephesians 2:9  Salvation
is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about
it.  And we are so afraid that we might
boast about the good things we do that we just don’t do any good things.
And we aren’t saved by our
good works, but paradoxically we are saved to do good works.  
You don’t have to look very
far into Jesus’ words to see him commanding us to respond to the needs of
others.  Not just think about it, but to
do it.  James, the brother of Jesus,
writes in his letter James 2:14-16  What
good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show
it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?  Suppose you see a brother or sister who has
no food or clothing,  and you say,
“Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that
person any food or clothing. What good does that do?
By the way, that is a
rhetorical question, James wasn’t really looking for an aswer.
And Paul isn’t telling us to
not give to the poor not to do good deeds. 
He just saying do it out of love not simply out of obligation.
Deepak Chopra wrote “Love
without action is meaningless. Action without love is irrelevant.”  And yes I know Chopra is  a new age guy.
And those good works done
without love will still benefit the recipient. 
If they were hungry and you gave them food without love, their hunger
would still be satisfied.  If they were
thirsty and you gave them a drink, their thirst would still be slacked.  If they were cold and you gave them clothes
out of a feeling of obligation they’d still be warm.
It would be you who missed
out. 
Love is the magic
ingredient.  J Vernon McGee was a
Presbyterian preacher and he summed it up this like this, “Look at it this way:
Write down a string of zeros — eloquence alone is zero, prophecy alone is
zero, knowledge alone is zero, faith alone is zero, sacrifice alone is zero,
martyrdom alone is zero. Six zeros still add up to nothing. But you put the
numeral 1 to the left of that string of zeros, and every zero amounts to
something. And, friend, love is the thing that needs to be added to every gift
of the Spirit. Without love your gift is worthless.”
So over the next couple of
months, “The Summer of Love” we will not be describing love, we will be
painting a picture of love.
Have you ever tried to
describe something that is indescribable? 
I cannot adequately describe the Great Pyramid, even after having
climbed it and gone into it.  But I could
show you a picture.  What describes Egypt
more than a picture of a man and his minion on a camel in front of the pyramids
of Giza? 
How would you describe a
platypus?
I’ve seen a platypus and I’d
be hard pressed to describe it.  Well,
it’s a mammal, that lives it the water it’s got a bill like a duck and tail
like a beaver.  It’s furry but it’s got
webbed feet, and it doesn’t give birth it lays eggs, oh and the mother nurse
her young.
There is no way that you could
describe a Platypus to a person who had never seen it before that would
accurately portray it.  But you could
show them a picture.
And it’s the same way with
love.  And when we look at the picture
that Paul paints for us of love, it is hard to believe that it was painted 2000
years ago, because it is as fresh as tomorrow.
And it would do well to learn
from the painting because the bible tells us in 1 John 3:18  “Let’s not merely say that we love each
other; let us show the truth by our actions.”
We often think of love as an
emotion and so we fall into love and we fall out of love. We experience love at
first sight.  When it comes to love most
of us would agree with Woody Allen when he said 
“I was nauseous and tingly all over. I was either in love or I had
smallpox.” 
But if love is simply an
emotion than love couldn’t be something that God would command of us. 
You can’t be commanded to feel
something.  Love is something you
do.  It may produce emotions, but first
and foremost is an action. 
And we are commanded to
love.  John 13:34  So now I am giving you a new commandment:
Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. 
And then Jesus spells out the
consequence of obeying that commandment: John 13: 35   Your love for one another will prove to the
world that you are my disciples.”

Right Place, Wrong time

I rolled over and looked at the clock, in ten minutes my alarm would go off, so I decided to get an early start.  My Sundays usually begin at 4:34 a.m. but it hardly seemed worthwhile to go back to sleep for ten minutes, so I got up.
As I headed for the bathroom to get ready for the day my mind went to my message, and it went blank.   I couldn’t remember what I was supposed to be preaching on.  And then I remembered, and my next thought was “I just preached that, yesterday.”  It was then I realized that it was Monday, not 10 minutes before my alarm was supposed to go off but 2 hours before my alarm was supposed to go off.
Sometimes we can be at the right place at the wrong time, or sometimes the right time and the wrong place. 
The trick is to be in the right place at the right time, which means to be where God wants you to be when He wants you to be there.   And you won’t know the where and the when unless you’re in communication with God.  Are you talking to Him?  That’s called prayer.  Are you listening to Him? That happens by reading His word. 

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

The Silent Minion

The problem was, growing up in
a trailer in New Brunswick there weren’t a lot of folks around who needed
butlers.
And my favourite butler has
been “Alfred Thaddeus Crane Pennyworth” 
you know him, he was Batman’s butler. 
And my favourite Alfred has been played by Michael Cane, but the actor
who played him in the most movies is Michael Gough who played the role of Alfred
for three different Batmans.  Michael
Keaton, Val Kilmer and George Clooney.
And butlers are supposed to be
like children, seen and not heard.  They
are simply a part of the background. 
They open doors, press clothes and present visitor.  And while they seem relatively unimportant
the world of their masters would fall apart without the ever-present butler.
And every once in a while they
are good to blame, you know “The butler did it!”  Whatever it was. 
This is week 7 of our
“Minions: Playing Second Fiddle for God” series.    And you will recall that when Leonard
Bernstein was asked what the most difficult instrument to play was, , he
replied without hesitation: “The second fiddle. I can get plenty of first violinists,
but to find someone who can play the second fiddle with enthusiasm – that’s a
problem; and if we have no second fiddle, we have no harmony.”
This morning we are going to
step back into the New Testament and into probably the most familiar story of
the bible, the Christmas story. 
Being Father’s Day I thought
it would be good to take a look the man God entrust his son to.  Jesus’ earthly father.
He’s always the forgotten one
at Christmas.  Oh, we remember the Christ
child, how could we forget him, even in the shopping malls they sing about the
birth of Christ and his name is even included in the very word Christmas.  Without Christ, there would be no Christmas
and so he’s remembered. 
And his mother, you remember
“Round yon Virgin.”  After all the virgin
birth was pretty spectacular, wasn’t an everyday occurrence.  And we are still talking about it.  And to give Mary her due it took a lot of
faith to trust God for the miracle that he had promised. 
We even remember the bit
players in the drama, we talk about the shepherds and the Wiseman, we cast them
in the Christmas pageants and talk about how lucky they were to be a part of
the first advent. 
The innkeeper even gets a
speaking role in the play and he’s basically the villain of the piece.  Who’s forgotten?  Joseph, you know Mary’s husband, the man who
would raise Jesus the Son of God as Jesus the Son of Joseph.
We don’t know a whole lot
about Joseph, we know that he was a carpenter, that he lived in Nazareth and
that his family was originally from Bethlehem. 
We know that his father’s name was Jacob and that he was a descendant of
David. 
We know that it was Joseph
that the Angels came to in a dream to warn about King Herod looking for Jesus,
and he took his family to Egypt.
We know that when Jesus was 12
years old that Joseph took him to Jerusalem for the Passover feast and we know
that Joseph taught Jesus his trade.  But
then we don’t hear anymore from or about Joseph after that.
And it seems that everybody
had a voice in the gospel account of the first Christmas everybody except for
Joseph.  We hear from Mary and Gabriel,
Elizabeth and Zechariah, the shepherds and the Magi.  We even hear from Herod, and he was the bad
guy. But not a peep from Joseph.  He’s as
silent as the best of butlers. 
We presume that because at his
crucifixion Jesus asked John to care for his mother that Joseph died before
Christ was crucified. 
In Mark 6:3 Jesus is
identified as Mary’s son and his brothers are named but there is no mention of
Joseph so it’s not that much of a stretch to presume that Joseph died before
Christ began his ministry.  And we know
that within the community, that Joseph was considered to be the Father of
Christ.
You know the story; Joseph was
engaged to a young girl from Nazareth named Mary.  Historically and culturally we can almost
assume that they had been engaged from childhood, although we don’t know that,
but you know what happens when you assume? 
Yeah sometimes you’re right. 
And so, we don’t know how long
they had been engaged but we do know that they had entered into the last stage
of their engagement, which was known as the Betrothal.  Now Betrothal was much more serious than our
engagement.  It lasted for about a year
and was a legally binding contract, which could only be broken by death or by
divorce. 
I’m sure that the couple was
doing all the things that couples do to get ready for weddings.  You know the bride is rushing hither thither
and yon, and she keeps asking the groom, “So what do you think honey? Is this
right? Should we do that?  What about
flowers and the reception?
And Joseph being the good
groom is nodding and smiling and saying “Whatever you think dear.” 
And I don’t know exactly how
she broke the news to him, but at some point in all of the wedding arrangements
she must have done a “I’m so excited about this, and what with Rachel coming
for the wedding, and Martha, and Elizabeth, did I tell you that Elizabeth was
pregnant?  I did?  
That is such a neat thing, you
know I’m pregnant too, maybe the boys will play together when they grow up, do
you think we ought to have fish at the reception as well as the beef?”
And Joseph does a “whoa, what
did you say?” and Mary would respond and say “Do you think we ought to have
fish at the reception as well as beef, you know in case there are vegetarians
there?”   “No not that, the other part.”
“Oh, you mean about Rachel
coming down, didn’t I tell you?”
Seriously I don’t know how
Mary did it, how do you tell your fiancé that you’re pregnant and it had
nothing to do with him.  Maybe she read
him the Christmas story out of Luke. 
However she did it though it
must have left him completely stunned. How could she possibly have betrayed
him, and then expected him to believe that entire line about her still being a
virgin? 
The father was the Holy
Spirit, right, like what turnip wagon did she think he fell off of?
And the conversation must have
ended with Joseph feeling betrayed and Mary feeling hurt because he didn’t
believe her and doubting her integrity. 
But what could he do, he had
trusted her, he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her, but for her to go
and . . . it just wasn’t right. 
So what was he to do?  Well there were a couple of options, he could
have her stoned to death, according to the law that was the punishment for
adultery and during the betrothal period it would be considered adultery. 
The other option of course was
to simply break off the engagement, but remember that by this time it could
only be done with a formal divorce. 
The Bible tells us that Joseph
was a just man, and so he decided to simply go through with a quiet divorce so
Mary wouldn’t be disgraced publicly and get on with his life.  But life is never that simple, is it? 
That night as he tumbled into
a trouble sleep, something remarkable happened. 
An Angel appeared to Joseph, I wonder if Joe’s first thought was “I knew
I should have skipped the chilli and ice cream before I went to bed.” 
Well the angel had a message
and the message was “trust her, Joseph, trust her.”  The angel explained how the child that Mary
was carrying was indeed the Son of God and that Joseph needed to go ahead with
the wedding.
It’s kind of interesting what
happened here.  Perhaps you’ve never
noticed it, or if you have then perhaps it didn’t bother you.  So, after the angel has clued Joseph in we
read in  Matthew 1:24 When Joseph woke
up, he did what the angel of the Lord commanded. He brought Mary home to be his
wife, 
You say, “Ok, what’s the
problem?”  Well no problem really but In
Luke Chapter 2 we are told how Joseph had to go to Bethlehem to take part in
the Census listen to what it says in Luke 2:5 
He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.
Kind of beat that one around
for a while, Matthew says Joseph took Mary home as his wife, but Luke calls
Mary, Joseph’s fiancée. 
I wonder, and I realize that
I’m speculating but I wonder if Mary had to live with Joseph and his family
until the wedding because her parents wouldn’t let her stay when they found out
she was pregnant?   
I wonder if the wedding was
perceived to be a shotgun wedding, what type of wedding would it have been,
they didn’t have shotguns back then? 
I remember a friend calling me
years ago and telling me that him and his girlfriend were getting married and
it was going to be a formal wedding, that her father had painted the shotgun
white. 
We really don’t know much
other than they were married and the scriptures tell us that she remained a
virgin until Jesus was born.  The
children she had after Jesus,  belonged
to Joseph. 
If you know the Christmas
story you know that the Roman authorities called for a census and that everyone
had to return to the town of origin and for Joseph that meant Bethlehem. 
Let’s pull down our map, a
couple of land marks.  Sea of Galilee is
here the Dead Sea is here and here is Nazareth and from there  Joseph needs to  take his pregnant wife, probably by donkey
110 km to Bethlehem where the child would be born. 
Not the type of trip
recommended for someone who was 9 months pregnant.  When Angela was 8 1/2 months pregnant we
moved back from New York, but she got to drive a brand-new Plymouth, my dad
would say she would have better off with a donkey but he’s a Ford man.
So that’s the story, but what
do we learn about Joseph?
Let’s go back to the story:
The angel appears to Mary to let her know that even though she is a virgin that
she is going to give birth to the son of God. 
She tells Joseph who is a
little skeptical and he decides to call off the engagement, which would seem to
be an appropriate response.
That night as he sleeps he’s
visited by an angel who tells him that Mary is telling the truth and we read
Joseph’s response in Matthew 1:24  When
Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his
wife.
So the first thing we discover
about Joseph was that Joseph Trusted God 
We are looking at the story from this end and there are still people who
call the virgin birth into question. 
I mean there are so called
Christians and even so called Christian Churches that say the virgin birth
didn’t really happen, that it isn’t really important that we believe it. 
What a crock, I don’t know if
that’s a correct theological term or not, but if you can’t believe that Jesus
was born of a virgin what can you believe about Him?  But they say, “that’s impossible!” 
Of course it’s impossible,
that’s the entire point.  If you’re going
to believe that Jesus was divine then you’d better believe that he had a divine
beginning. 
But there are people today,
who even though they have the gospel account, even though they can read that
Jesus lived died and rose from the dead, can’t believe that he was born of a
virgin.  Think about poor Joseph. 
The girl he planned on
spending his entire life with tells him “I’m going to be a mom, but you’re not
going to be a dad.”  What do you
say? 
I can’t say with a hundred
percent certainty, but I would suspect that I’d be close to 99.99 % certain
that nobody in here would have believed Mary’s story.  And if you would, I have a lovely bridge I’m
trying to sell, goes between Dartmouth and Halifax.
Mary would always know that
she was a virgin.  She knew exactly what
she had done, and what she hadn’t done, she wasn’t naïve, when Gabriel told her
that she would have a son she responded in Luke 1:34  Mary asked the angel, “But how can this
happen? I am a virgin.”
But Joseph, all he had to rely
on was the word of Mary, and the word of an angel.  And it would appear that the message from the
angel was the turning point.
I’m sure that Joseph must have
thought, “I don’t understand it, I can’t explain it, I’m not even sure that I’m
happy about it, but if it’s of God then count me in.” 
Think about it, Mary wasn’t
the only one that had to put up with the whispers and snickers about her
situation.  Joseph was the one who would
have gotten the blame. 
“What a heel couldn’t even
wait ‘til they were married.”
The women would have looked
down their noses at him, and the guy’s would have joked about him.  And what would Joseph have said, “Look it’s
not like that at all, she’s still a virgin the child is the Holy Spirit’s.”
And you can just imagine the
guys “Sure the Holy Spirit got Mary pregnant, nod nod, wink wink, now Joseph
thinks he’s God.”
And yet as far as we know once
Joseph was visited by the angel he never doubted the parentage of Jesus. 
Let’s go back to the scripture
that was read for us earlier, Luke 3:21-23 
One day when the crowds were being baptized, Jesus himself was baptized.
As he was praying, the heavens opened, 
and the Holy Spirit, in bodily form, descended on him like a dove. And a
voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great
joy.”  Jesus was about thirty years old
when he began his public ministry. Jesus was known as the son of Joseph.
So not only did Joseph trust
God but God Trusted Joseph Think about it, just for a minute, put yourself in
God’s place. 
You’re going to come to the
earth as a helpless child, you are going to be raised and fed and nurtured by
two humans, just plain ordinary peoples. 
Who are you going to trust to do the job?
I’ve been a parent for almost
thirty three years and I’m not sure that I would trust me with the
responsibility.  It was Samuel Butler the
English writer who wrote “Parents are the last people on earth who should have
children.”
One of the first indication of
the type of man Joseph was is found in Matthew 1:19  Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did
not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement
quietly.
He could have had her killed,
it was certainly an option as laid down in the Old Testament, probably wouldn’t
have been the first time it happened, and probably wouldn’t have been the
last. 
Even if it doesn’t happen
today the temptation is there, Loretta Lynn made this statement “My attitude
toward men who mess around is simple: If you find ’em, kill ’em.” There are
those here whom I would suspect would subscribe to that theory as well.
He could have done that, but
he didn’t.  He also could have made a
public spectacle out of Mary, he could have told everyone that he knew that she
had slept around on him, could have dragged her into the middle of town,
humiliated her and demanded that the engagement be called off.  
No instead he decided to break
the engagement quietly and the thing that is most telling about his character
are the words”He did not want to disgrace her publicly.”
Joseph also brought his son up
in a Godly home.  There’s an interesting
note in Luke 2:41  Every year Jesus’
parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival.
It was the desire of every
devout Jew to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem, but it wasn’t always easy, so
most people didn’t make the trip. 
But we are told that Mary and
Joseph made the trip not just the years that it was convenient, but every
year. 
If we were to pull up the map
again, here is Nazareth, where Jesus lived with his parents, and here is
Jerusalem, which is right next door to Bethlehem, so a distance of about 110
kms that’s further then from here to Truro. 
And there wasn’t just Mary,
Joseph and Jesus.  We are told in the
scriptures that there were at least two brothers and at least two sisters, and
they didn’t have a minivan to go in, they were on foot. 
Most of us would find it
inconvenient if we had to drive to Truro for a Christmas Eve service, but
Joseph felt that it was important that he celebrate Passover in Jerusalem with
his family, every year. 
Jesus’ life as a child is pretty
much a mystery to us except for the story about the Passover celebration in
Jerusalem, but we are told this in Luke 2:52 
Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and all the
people.  That’s a pretty good report.
And Joseph had to take at
least some of the credit.  Jesus may have
been the son of God but it was Joseph who raised him.
And maybe Jesus would have
said with Michael Jordon “My heroes are and were my parents. I can’t see having
anyone else as my heroes.” 
Over the past seven weeks
we’ve looked at those who didn’t get to play a lead role in the story of
God.  And the reality is, most of us
won’t get to play the lead either.  But
the story wouldn’t have been complete without the supporting actors and
actresses.
I watched the Minion movie
again the other day and in the introduction the Minions were between masters,
and as they simply existed the narrator said “They felt empty inside, without a
master they served no purpose.” 
From the beginning, we were
designed to be in fellowship with God, and when that is missing we are like the
minions, we feel empty inside, without a purpose. 
The Master is waiting for
you.   

A foot in both camps

How convenient would that be, go out your front door and you are in the United States, go out your back door and you are in Canada?  Maybe not as convenient as you might think.  
In 1782 the house was built to straddle the border between Vermont and Quebec, it’s owner, a merchant, thought it was a great idea that he could sell to both sides of the border from his home.
Brian DuMoulin inherited the house more than forty years ago and now in his 70’s, he is seeking to sell.   The 7,000-square-foot house has been split into five apartments, and while there has been plenty of interest, nobody it seems is willing to shell out the $109,000.00 asking price.
Part of the issue might be that the home is a bit of a fixer upper. Remember, it was built almost 250 years ago.  But the biggest challenge is its location.  Ever since the heightened security concerns after 9/11, it’s no longer as easy as simply stepping out your door into the country of your choice. 
2,000 years ago, Jesus warned us of the perils of trying to serve 2 masters.  And those who try to keep a foot in the world while trying to serve Christ have discovered that His words still ring true today.
Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Mighty Minions

Moose come in herds, sheep come in flocks, Bats come in cauldrons and Minions come in bunches.  I just made the minion part up.

We know that sometimes Minions come alone, like Tonto, Bernado, he was Zorro’s minion, and Igor.

But sometimes Minions come in bunches.  Robin Hood had his Merry Men and Snow White had her Seven Dwarfs and Gru had his minions.

This is week six of our “Minions: Playing second fiddle for God” series and you’ll remember how the Oxford dictionary defines a Minion as “A follower or underling of a powerful person, especially a servile or unimportant one.”

Over the past five weeks we’ve been looking at those who didn’t get to play the lead role in the story of God and the impact that they ultimately made in that story.

Today we go back to the Old Testament to look at a bunch of minions.

It was a time of reflection for David; 2 Samuel Chapter 23 begins by telling us these were the last words that David spoke.  Now whether or not they were literally the last words that David spoke, or the last words of importance that David spoke, or the last recorded words David spoke, we don’t know.

I’m working on my dying words.   I will motion to those who have gathered to say their final good byes to me to come closer and then I will say, “I want you to know, I hid the three million dollars in the . .  .”  I know the timing is going to have to be spot on, but really life is all about the timing.

We just know that these were pretty important words, spoken by David, the King of Israel.  And after he has spoken these words, which revealed the covenant between those who would follow him and God, David, begins to reflect on where he’s been, the struggles that brought him to this point and the people who helped him to achieve everything he had achieved.

And that brings us to the scripture that was read this morning, which contains the story of the Mighty Men of David.

And so, in this reflection of the people who made David what he was,  he begins by naming three. Jashobeam, Eleazar and Shammah.  Three different men, from three different backgrounds with one common goal.  And that was to serve the one who was their leader, because every minion has to have a leader.

Their stories are stories of incredible bravery and military prowess.  To start with we are told that Jashobeam killed eight hundred men with his spear.

Eight hundred men with a spear, now these weren’t unarmed men, we aren’t talking about Jashobeam in the same way that people talked about Lt. William Caley during the Vietnam War.

This was war and Jashobeam was involved in a battle against other armed men.  As my grandmother would have said “He must have been some awful mighty good.”  We don’t have the details only the highlights.

Eleazar was the next on the list and we are told that he stood alongside David in a battle with the Philistines and fought until he could no longer lift his sword.  Of course, Eleazar had probably learned how to be tough at a very early age considering how he was identified in the bible as “Eleazar the son of Dodai, in some translations it’s the son of Dodo.”  And you thought you got picked on in school.

And then there was Shammah, who is credited with defending a field of legumes against the Philistines, man there must have been whole different set of priorities back then, I would have said, “Hey guys you can have the legumes, and the Brussel sprout field as well.

But those aren’t the exploits that I want to deal with this morning.  They were just introductory remarks, for the writer of 2 Samuel and for me.

The real story starts around vs. 13.  Let me tell you about it.  The story happened many years before 2 Samuel was written; as a matter of fact it happened when King David was still just plain old Dave.

If you remember your bible stories you’ll recall how David the Shepherd boy had saved the day when the Giant Goliath challenged the army of Israel to battle.  Nobody was willing to take the giant on but David stepped forward and defeated the Philistine giant with his slingshot.  You do remember, that don’t you?

From that point David went on to become King Saul’s most effective officer, leading the king’s army into several victories.  After a time though Saul started to get jealous of David’s success and began to feel threatened and so he decided to kill David.   Well David wasn’t amused and not wanting to be killed he headed for the hills.

The thing that put David in a difficult spot though was his integrity.  You see he knew that Saul had been anointed of God, and even though Saul had wandered away from his calling David wouldn’t harm him.

Saul was King, David wasn’t, at that point David was just Saul’s minion, and so even though Saul was trying to separate David’s head from his shoulders David refused to retaliate.

Instead he continued to fight against the King’s enemies at the same time as he was trying to avoid being killed by the king.

Kind of confusing, isn’t it?  Well, David has surrounded himself with what many people would have called losers, as a matter of fact listen to how the Bible refers to them  1 Samuel 22:1-2  So David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. Soon his brothers and all his other relatives joined him there.  Then others began coming—men who were in trouble or in debt or who were just discontented—until David was the captain of about 400 men.

And so, some scholars tell us that Adullam Cave became a kind of headquarters for David and his warriors.  It provided them with a location that was semi-secure from King Saul and his forces and still allowed them to wage guerrilla warfare against the invading Philistines.  Let’s pull down a map here.  Some familiar spots, the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea, Bethlehem and here is Adullam.

And at one point in the story, David and his soldiers are holed up in Adullam, Saul is looking to destroy them, the Philistines are presently in a superior position as a matter of fact we are told that they had actually set up camp here in the Rephaim Valley and from that point had taken over the town of Bethlehem.

Now we all know what Bethlehem is famous for right?  “O little town of Bethlehem”, it was the birthplace of Jesus, but long before that happened it had been the birthplace of David.  And as he stands on the hill overlooking his hometown David starts to get a little wistful.

That ever happen to you, things get tough and you start thinking about how much better things used to be.  Maybe in another time or another place, and you begin to think “what if we” or “if only” or “I miss”.  That stuff never happens, does it?  Sure it does, it’s called “nostalgia” and if we were honest most of us would agree with Lou Reed when he wrote  “I don’t like nostalgia unless it’s mine.”

Well, we may like not the nostalgia of others, but we all like our own, which made David normal.  And in the middle of his daydreaming he says “Boy, I’d sure like to have a drink from that well just outside the gate at Bethlehem, the water was so good from that well, it was sweet and cold, and it was really great water.”

Now I don’t know if what David really wanted then was a drink of water or just to escape to the past.  The water from the well outside the gates of Bethlehem was probably no different than the water anywhere else in Palestine.  It is doubtful if it was colder, sweeter or clearer. But as George Ball said “Nostalgia is a seductive liar.”

As a matter of fact, if the water had of been that great then I’m sure that it would have been mentioned somewhere else in the Bible but it wasn’t.  So presumably it was just an ordinary well producing ordinary water.  The only difference is what it represented to David.

David wasn’t necessarily thinking of water as he was thinking of a simpler time, a more secure time.  A time that he wasn’t on the run from the King, a time when he wasn’t fighting for his life on two different fronts.

The type of water that David was craving is called nostalgia.

But never the less, these three guys heard David.  And they immediately start thinking and scheming.  You can almost hear them, “you know, David is a great leader.”  “Yeah, he sure is”  “and he doesn’t ask for much” “nope, he sure doesn’t” “you know we ought to go down to Bethlehem and get him a glass of water.”  “Are you nuts? The reason we are living in a cave is because the bad guys are in Bethlehem, we could be killed.”

I’m not sure of all the details of the conversation all I know is what is written in the Bible and it tells us in 2 Samuel 23:16  So the Three broke through the Philistine lines, drew some water from the well by the gate in Bethlehem, and brought it back to David. But he refused to drink it. Instead, he poured it out as an offering to the LORD.

I don’t know how they did what they did, but they did.  And they brought the water back to their friend and said, “Hey boss, look what we got you, some water from the well outside the gate of Bethlehem.”

He must have been floored.  What were they thinking?  I’m sure that his first response must have been “Are you nuts? The reason we are living in a cave is because the bad guys are in Bethlehem, you could’ve been killed.”

And then he says “It would be wrong for me to drink something this valuable, instead I’m presenting it to God as a sacrifice”, and he poured it out.  By the way, that is what a sacrifice is; when you give up something you’d really rather keep.

Neat Story huh?  But what does it teach us today, June 11th, 2017?

Well, first of all it tells us: When We Try to Do Something Great It Will Always Involve a Risk.

I can only imagine the risk those three guys took to get that jug of water.  They had to sneak through enemy troops, approach the main gate of an occupied city, lower a bucket silently into the well.  And then, then they had to do it all over again, this time carrying a jug of water.  Doesn’t sound like a walk in the park.  Then again if it was easy everyone would have been doing it.

Can I ask you a question?  Sure I can, after all I’m up here and I have the mic, right? When was the last time you took a risk? Any risk, outside of driving in the city? When was the last time you took a business risk? When was the last time you took a personal risk? When was the last time you took a spiritual risk?

You probably used to do it a lot more when you were younger didn’t you?, It seems like the older we get the more comfortable the cave seems and the more dangerous the road to Bethlehem looks. But life is about taking risks; it shouldn’t be about playing it safe.

After all the secret isn’t who gets the most years in their life but who gets the most life in their years.

Maybe Charles Lindbergh said it best when he made this statement, “I decided that if I could fly for ten years before I was killed in a crash, it would be a worthwhile trade for an ordinary lifetime . . . Who valued life more highly, the aviators who spent it on the art they loved, or the misers who doled it out like pennies through their antlike days?”

The reality is that you will never discover how far you can possibly go without taking a risk.

Every noteworthy contribution every made to society has started out as a risk. Beginning with Adam and Eve deciding that maybe cooked meat might not be so bad and trying to figure out how to go about harnessing fire, right up to and including space travel and beyond.

Human progress entails risk taking. It’s easy to play it safe, but it’s not profitable.

These guys weren’t the only people in the bible to take a risk. Think about how different our bible would be if Abraham had said no when he was asked to leave everything he had to pursue the vision of a great nation.

 That’s a risk when you are told that you will be the father of a nation when you aren’t even the father of a child.

What would have happened if Noah had of decided to play it safe and not become a boat builder in his old age? And if David decided that tending sheep had a better future then fighting giants?

What if Daniel realized that it was safer to obey the king’s command then to pray? And if Mary had of told the angel that she really wasn’t interested in being a teen age mom because she didn’t want to take the risk?

What if Jesus had of come to the conclusion that there was a brighter future in being a carpenter then being a messiah? Or what if he hadn’t wanted to take the risk of coming to earth at all?

If the apostles had of decided that it was too risky to leave Jerusalem after the Holy Spirit had come, would we still be painting our bodies and living in trees?

If Columbus hadn’t taken a risk on the earth not being flat would England and Europe be very crowded now, and Australia, Canada and the States would still belong to their original owners.

If Henry Ford hadn’t taken a risk would we still be riding horses? If Edison hadn’t taken a risk would we still be reading by candles? If Graham Bell hadn’t taken a risk would we be living without the telephone?

The face of the earth and the scope of human history has been changed by those who were willing to take a risk. Now I know that we can’t all be Fords and Edison’s but every one of us has the ability to change our world.

Every one of us has the ability to leave a mark with our life, but only if we are willing to take a risk.

The second thing we discover from our story is When We Try to Do Something Great It Will Always Involve Commitment

Not only does doing great things require taking a risk, it requires a commitment to the task.  It’s not going to happen right away, and we are going to have to move out of our comfort zone if we are going to get it done.

Sometimes Christians remind me of the guy who wrote a note to his girlfriend and it said, “My love, for you I would climb the highest mountain, sail the deepest seas, or swim the widest rivers. PS If it’s raining on Saturday I won’t be over.”

Often, I hear believers define their priorities saying it’s “God, family, church etc. etc.”  When in reality God falls a lot further down the list then we are willing to admit.

What do I base that on?  The fact that our commitments are demonstrated by our actions and not by our words.

When these three men decided to show their love and loyalty for their leader they did it in a tangible way.  They didn’t go and say “Hey boss, we just wanted to let you know that we thought about going to the well outside Bethlehem to get you some water, we didn’t do that but we thought about doing it.”

Because regardless of what people say it’s not the thought that counts, it’s the doing that counts.  So, guys it’s not enough to tell your wife, “Hey babe I thought about taking the garbage out.” You have to actually take the garbage out.

You want to show me where your commitment is?  Then show me your chequebook and your calendar and I’ll tell you what it is that you are committed to based on where you spend your money and more importantly where you spend your time.

And the third thing that the story teaches us is:  When We Try to Do Something Great it Won’t Always Work Out the Way We Expect.

I wonder what the guys thought when David poured the water out?  I’m not sure that is what they expected him to do with it.  They probably thought, “Boy, if we’d known he was going to do that we would have got it out of the tap in the bathroom.”

Sometimes we have think we have it all figured out, and then it changes.  And we wonder why.  Solomon in all of his wisdom reminds us in  Proverbs 16:9  We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.

That doesn’t mean we don’t plan and dream and set goals, it simply means that when God steps in we allow him to change our plans.

Two weeks ago I spoke about John Mark.  When he agreed to travel with Paul on his first missionary journey he was trying to do something great for God, and then everything went south.

I’m pretty sure that Mark was disappointed, especially when Paul wouldn’t let him accompany him on his next journey.

But last week I travelled to Egypt and interacted with the Christians who are a result of that disappointment.

 Because Mark didn’t travel with Paul, he ended up in Egypt in 49, and that was the beginning of one of the oldest branches of Christianity.  

May I diverge for a minute to say that while in Alexandria I stood at the tomb of St. Mark, seriously at the tomb of the man who wrote the gospel of Mark and who in all probability walked and talked with Jesus.

I also stood on the platform of the Hanging Church where Christians have been worshipping for 1600 years and visited the Cavern Church where tradition says the Holy Family stayed when they were on their Egyptian exile.

And I worshipped with believers who  belong to a 2000 year old community of faith that is there because one minion’s plan didn’t work out, but God’s plan apparently did.

So, as God challenges you to greatness remember that it will require a risk, it will require a commitment and it will require a rigid commitment to flexibility.

Take up Your Cross

Most of you know that I spent last week in Egypt. Along with our ministry time, which was mostly scheduled in the evening, we did the touristy things during the day.
How could we go to Egypt and not visit the Great Pyramid? I had my picture taken with the Sphinx , rode a camel and visited the tomb of St. Mark, yes that Saint Mark. We stood in a church where Christians have worshipped for 1600 years and stopped at a cave where tradition says Jesus and his parents hid during their Egyptian exile.
But what impressed me the most wasn’t the sights but the faith of those who follow Christ.
90% of the population are Muslim and Christians are referred to as the “Others” and yet they still publically worship and declare their faith.
We preached in three cities where over 100 Christians have been killed since Psalm Sunday, simply for being Christians.
And the majority of Christians in Egypt choose to have a cross tattooed on their wrist, so there will be no mistake of Who holds their allegiance. They seem to believe the words of Jesus in Mark 10:33
And I wonder as we draw closer to being the “Others” in Canada, how many of us will choose to display the cross?
Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.