A Whale of a Storm

It seemed that whenever Dad and I swapped stories about the time we spent together at sea we always wound up talking about storms.

 

We’d talk about how rough it got, how long it lasted, how sick Denn was.

 

I began making trips with Dad on the tugs when I was fourteen, when I was fifteen I got summer work as a deckhand on the tugs and then I joined dad on the herring seiner when I graduated from High School and so we had been on more than just a few storms together.  And the reason we ended up talking about the storms is that the storms were what made the times a sea memorable.

 

There were a lot more beautiful days then there were stormy days, but the beautiful days were all alike.  It was Tolstoy who wrote “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  And nice days at sea are all alike, but every storm was stormy in its own way.

 

And some of the storms were dangerous and some were scary, and all included me throwing up at some point.

 

But even knowing that there would be storms, my father spent most of his life at sea.  Both as a child and as an adult.  And if you had of asked him why he choose a life at sea, even with the possibility of storms and the potential danger in those storms I think he would have just looked at you blankly, not understanding the question.

 

After all, for Captain Burton Guptill, there was no other life than a life at sea.  He would have embraced the words of Vincent Van Gogh who wrote, “The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore.”

 

When we think of storms, most of us can think of a weather storm that was memorable for us.  Maybe Juan or White Juan if you’ve been in Halifax for any length of time.

 

I remember the Ground Hog Day gale of 1976, I was in grade 10 when that storm went through Saint John.

 

In 1978 while I was fishing with Dad we lost our engines and spent a night in a crazy storm in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  Probably wouldn’t have been all that memorable if we had of had our engines, but we didn’t.

 

But there are other storms that we remember that don’t have anything to do with the weather.  Financial storms, relationship storms, health storms.

 

When I was a young teenager my father decided to make a career change and go back to sea, so he quit his job and went to navigational school.  There were some financial storms in the Guptill household during those years.   And we’ve often told stories about those storms as well.

 

Disease, divorce and death are all storms that have affected people at Cornerstone, and as long as we are on the journey called life there will be storms.  Some of those storms you might see coming, others seem to come out of nowhere.

 

For the next three weeks I am going to be looking at “Weathering the Storms of Life”.

 

Because here is the reality, every one of us will face storms.  As long as we are on this journey called life, storms will come.

 

I remember a poster from my teen years that said, “A ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”  But there is no harbour in life where you will be safe from storms.

 

Sometimes we think that we are in a safe harbour and then a phone call, a knock at the door or a routine doctor’s appointment shatters that illusion.

 

But, with that being said, there are things you can do to make sure that you survive and maybe even thrive in the midst of the storm.

 

Today’s story comes from the Old Testament, a very familiar passage of scripture, the story of Jonah and the whale, or the great fish.  Take your pick, and while the story of Jonah and whatever ocean-going creature swallowed him is a great story, we’re not going that far into the tale.

 

Jonah 1:1-2  The LORD gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai:  “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.”

 

So, let’s begin with The Back Story  The story begins with this man name Jonah being called to leave his life in the Northern Kingdom of Israel to go and preach in the city of Nineveh, which was located in what was then called Assyria and now is called Iraq.

 

 

We don’t know a lot about Jonah.  And much of what we do know comes from one obscure reference in the book of 2 Kings where we read, 2 Kings 14:25  Jeroboam II recovered the territories of Israel between Lebo-Hamath and the Dead Sea, just as the LORD, the God of Israel, had promised through Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath-Hepher.

 

So, we know his father was Amittai and we know that he was from Gath-Hepher, which no longer exists but archeologists tell us was located just a few kilometers from Nazareth where Jesus grew up.

 

And in the book of Matthew Jesus refers to Jonah as a prophet.  So, I would suspect that having the Son of God call you a prophet is probably all the qualifications you need to be considered a prophet.

 

So, this man of God is called by God to deliver a message from God, to the people of Nineveh.   The problem was that Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria and Assyria and Israel were bitter enemies.

 

And God is calling his servant to go and preach in the very heart of enemy territory.

 

Remember, Nineveh was in what is now called Iraq.  If we pull down one of our trusty maps.  Here is where Jonah was and here is where Jonah is called to go.  A distance of about 800 km, not an easy trip, even if Jonah wanted to go, which apparently, he didn’t.

 

 

As far as Jonah was concerned going to Nineveh was a terrible idea and it just wasn’t going to happen, so if we keep reading we discover that our hero makes a chose that will colour the rest of the story and dramatically change his future.  And make for a really cool Bible story.

 

Jonah decides that instead of being obedient to God’s calling on his life that he will simply run, never a good idea.

 

Let’s pick up the story in Jonah 1:3  But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the LORD. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the LORD by sailing to Tarshish.

 

Years ago, when I was reading this in the NKJV I made an interesting discovery, in that translation it said that Jonah went down to Joppa, and then went down to the ship and then down into the lowermost parts of the ship.  And I thought, “wow, isn’t that true, the path away from God always leads ever downward.”  Or maybe that’s just me being a typical preacher and reading too much into it.

 

You’ll remember that Nineveh was 500 miles to the west of Gath-Hepher, well Tarshish was as far as you could possibly go in the opposite direction.  Let’s pull up our map again and we discover that the experts tell us that Tarshish was located here in what we call Spain.  And for most of the people of that time, that was the end of the world.

 

So, you get the picture, God calls Jonah to go and preach to people he has no interest in preaching to.  And so his first reaction is to run as fast and as far as he can possibly run from God.  God says go east, he goes west.

 

So let’s keep reading Jonah 1:4  But the LORD hurled a powerful wind over the sea, causing a violent storm that threatened to break the ship apart.

 

 

If we started with the “Back Story” now we in The Storm Story  These men had probably sailed in storms before but the force of this storm was so great that it threatened to destroy their ship.

 

While they don’t have the traditional Hurricane or Cyclones in the Mediterranean Sea, because of their relatively dry climate they do have a rare cousin called Mediterranean hurricanes or Medicanes.  And perhaps that’s what this ship and her crew encountered.

 

The storm grew to the point that the crew started throwing their cargo overboard and when the storm hadn’t let up they started to look for the cause of the storm.

 

I love the fact that while the sailors are freaking out, throwing cargo overboard and fearing for their very lives, Jonah is down below, asleep.  As my mother always said, “know nothing, fear nothing.”

 

They wake Jonah up and tell him to start praying to whatever god he worshipped, they were trying to cover all their bases.

 

Did you know that sailors are really superstitious?

 

It was always considered bad luck for a woman to be aboard a ship, sorry ladies.  And you never whistled while you were on a ship because you might whistle up a storm.  And a shark following your vessel was seen as bad luck while dolphins hanging around were seen as good luck.  It was considered bad luck to rename a boat, and if you had to the best was to have a de-naming ceremony first.

 

This ceremony consists of writing the current boat name on a piece of paper, folding the paper and placing it in a wooden box then burning the box. After, scoop up the ashes and throw them into the sea. After you did all that, then you could rename the boat.   Something else you learned at Cornerstone, that’s value added.

 

And if we pick up the story in Jonah 1:7  Then the crew cast lots to see which of them had offended the gods and caused the terrible storm. When they did this, the lots identified Jonah as the culprit.  Oops.

 

Well maybe you know the rest of the story, the crew demands to know what Jonah had done to cause the storm, and he’s like “Nothing really, just running from God.”  And they were obviously a lot smarter than Jonah for they said: “why?”  And then the follow-up question was “What do we need to do to make the storm stop?”

 

And Jonah said, “It’s simple, just throw me overboard.”  That seemed a little drastic and so they kept trying to get to shore, but the storm got worse and worse.  Finally, they spiritualize the decision.  They prayed about it, Jonah 1:14  Then they cried out to the LORD, Jonah’s God. “O LORD,” they pleaded, “don’t make us die for this man’s sin. And don’t hold us responsible for his death. O LORD, you have sent this storm upon him for your own good reasons.”

 

Then they threw him overboard.   And if you grew up in Sunday school then you know that a giant fish or whale came along swallowed Jonah, he spent three days in the belly of the creature and then he was thrown up on a beach.  Where he immediately made his way to Nineveh to preach. And the people repented and turned to God, which made Jonah cranky, but that’s a different story for a different time.

 

And seriously, don’t get hung up on the whale and how that could be possible.  It isn’t.  It’s why it’s called a miracle.

 

Adam Clarke wrote, “It may be asked, “How could Jonah either pray or breathe in the stomach of the fish?” Very easily, if God so willed it. And let the reader keep this constantly in view; the whole is a miracle, from Jonah’s being swallowed by the fish until he was cast ashore by the same animal.”

 

Now back to the story and the “so what?”  It’s kind of a cool story but what do we learn from it.?  Lessons from the Story

 

1) Not Every Storm Is Our Fault.  The first reaction of the sailors was that they had done something wrong, that somehow, they had displeased one of the plethoras of gods they served.

 

Often times when we experience storms in our lives our reaction is “Why me?” and we wonder if there was something that we had done wrong or something that we didn’t do.

 

Why did my spouse cheat?  Why did I get cancer?  Why did my business fail?

 

But in the case of the sailors, they had done nothing wrong.

 

Sometimes I wonder if we are being a little narcissistic when we put the blame on ourselves.  Somehow thinking that the entire universe revolves around us.  And the question, “why me?” implies at least to a certain degree, “Why didn’t this happen to somebody else?”

 

In the case of this story, the blame lay completely with Jonah.  Which leads us to our next thought, and that is:

 

 

2) Every Action Has Consequences for Others. 

 

If there is one theme I seem to come back to over and over again it is, we are where we are because of the choices we have made.  Jonah wound up in a storm because of the choices he made.  Jonah got thrown overboard because of choices he made.   Jonah got swallowed by a whale because of choices he made.  We understand that there will be consequences for us because of the choices we make.

 

But, too often we think that we are indeed an island entire of itself; we don’t want to acknowledge that we are in fact a piece of the continent and a part of the main.

 

But, if you were paying attention in school you’d remember Newton’s third law which tells us that “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”.  Seriously, I wasn’t paying attention in school and I remember Newton’s third law.

 

And often our choices, our actions not only have consequences for us, but for others.

 

And so, because Jonah was disobedient he put the lives of the sailors at risk.

 

When a marriage dissolves the fallout extends to children and grandchildren, parents and friends.

 

When God speaks to you about giving and you brace your feet and hold onto your money and say “Mine”, which kind of makes you sound like a two-year-old, there are people who might never be reached because the resources aren’t there.

 

Bad business decisions affect not only the owner of the business but his employees, customers and suppliers as well.

 

Someone commits a crime and ends up in prison and his family pays the price as well.

 

Before you don’t do the thing that God is asking you to do or do do the thing that God is telling you not to do, you need to ask yourself: “Who else will this affect and how?”

 

 

3) Don’t Make Major Decisions When You Are in The Midst of a Storm.

 

I’m not sure that the only solution to the storm was Jonah being chucked over the side.

 

Jonah probably thought that being thrown overboard was the best solution at the time, but I wonder.

 

I wonder what would have happened If Jonah had of simply prayed a prayer of repentance?  I mean other than us losing a really great bible story.

 

Be careful about making big decisions in storms.  I remember quitting the night we were in the storm in the Gulf of St. Lawrence without an engine.  I was sick and scared, we were trying to get a line to another ship and I told Dad, “If we get out of this alive, I quit.”  And the next day when we got back to port I had my suitcase packed.   I had decided to embrace the advice of Admiral Nelson who was reported to have said: “A sure cure for seasickness is to sit under a tree.”

 

Dad convinced me to stay, told me that there would be more days without storms then with storms, and really what would life be worth if you couldn’t go to sea? and besides that, he asked how would I get from Paspébiac, Quebec to Saint John New Brunswick if I quit?

 

It was Robert H. Schuller who wrote,  “Never cut a tree down in the wintertime. Never make a negative decision in the low time. Never make your most important decisions when you are in your worst moods. Wait. Be patient. The storm will pass. The spring will come.

 

Which brings us to the next lesson learned, Jonah 1:15-16  Then the sailors picked Jonah up and threw him into the raging sea, and the storm stopped at once!  The sailors were awestruck by the LORD’s great power, and they offered him a sacrifice and vowed to serve him.

 

4) No Storm Lasts forever  It sometimes feels like we’ve been battling the storm forever, but the reality is that no storm lasts forever.

 

King David wrote in Psalm 30:5… .Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.

 

Every night has a dawn, every mountain has a peak and every storm has an end

 

It was Iyanla Vanzant who wrote,  “No storm can last forever. It will never rain 365 days consecutively. Keep in mind that trouble comes to pass, not to stay. Don’t worry! No storm, not even the one in your life, can last forever.”

 

Don’t quit, you don’t know how close you might be to the end.  And when we are facing the storm it seems like the storm will go on forever, because it is right in our face.

 

But every storm runs out of rain, the wind eventually dies down.

 

For the sailors, the storm was over when Jonah went overboard.  But for Jonah the storm, not the physical storm, but hey he was swallowed by a fish where he spent three days and then he was thrown up on a beach, that has to qualify as a storm, that lasted for a few more days.

 

Let’s pick the story up there, Jonah 3:1-3  Then the LORD spoke to Jonah a second time:  “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh, and deliver the message I have given you.”  This time Jonah obeyed the LORD’s command and went to Nineveh, a city so large that it took three days to see it all.

 

Which brings us to the next thing we learn from this story,  5) The Remedy for Disobedience Is Obedience

 

You don’t become a Christian because of how you live, and what you do. The promise is found in  Ephesians 2:8-9  God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.  Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.

 

But, when you become a Christian, a Christ follower you are expected to obey the one you are following.

 

Jonah didn’t just apologize to God for not being obedient, he became obedient.

 

We keep coming back to the words of Christ when he told his followers in John 14:15  “If you love me, obey my commandments.

 

I don’t know where you might be today, but if you are in a storm I hope some of what we’ve learned has been helpful.

 

Hold on, hold tight and be obedient to God’s direction in your life today.  You can’t be obedient for someone else, but you will always be expected to be personally obedient.

 

 

Here is a scripture to hang onto when you find yourself in the middle of a storm.

 

Proverbs 10:25  When the storms of life come, the wicked are whirled away, but the godly have a lasting foundation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Look. . . A Squirrel

Last week I killed a squirrel.

Well, not intentionally. I mean, what type of squirrel killing monster do you take me for?

I was driving down Hammonds Plains Road and Mr. Squirrel was making an ill-advised attempt at crossing the busy road.  When he ran in front of my car, with a nut in his mouth, my first thought was “I’m glad I’m not driving the Smart Car” (that was a joke).  My second thought was “I hope I straddle the little fellow.”

No such luck, I heard the thump and when I looked in the rear-view mirror I saw the nut finish the journey, sans squirrel.

And at the moment I reflected on the fragility of life and not just for squirrels. Now I am no expert on the thought life of squirrels, but I would suspect that the little rodent wasn’t contemplating his imminent demise.

Life is fragile, for squirrels and for people, and I don’t think it’s healthy or helpful to obsess over our deaths.  After all, Jesus said: “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?”

But on the other hand, I know it is wise to keep short accounts and make sure our souls are prepared for the possibility of the unseen cars in life.

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

The Story of a Pearl

He had it all, at least on the surface.  A good business, a fine family, status in the community.  He had everything it would appear, but not quite enough.  Some men craved after gold or silver or jewels, not this man.  Those things were all so cold and inanimate, forged and moulded deep inside an unfeeling earth.

 

Instead, he sought after pearls.  Those beautiful gems which began their existence as a simple irritant, a piece of grit or sand buried deep in the mantle of an oyster.  And then a miracle, slowly ever so slowly the oyster began to secrete nacre, the very substance that made up its shell.  One layer was added to the grit, and then another and another until finally, a lowly piece of sand had become one of the world’s most beautiful gems.

 

 

Pearls, they were almost a gift from God, well almost, they still had to be paid for.  And then one day he found it, the most incredible pearl he had ever laid his eyes on.  Everything about it was perfect, the size, the shape, the colour, everything was perfect.

 

 

He had to have it, it had to be his.  And so he sold everything that he had so that he could purchase this one exquisite pearl.

Was he happy? We don’t know, but this little story was told by Jesus in Matthew 13:45-46  “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls.  When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!

 

The fact that Jesus used a pearl as an illustration for the kingdom of God might be lost on us in 2018 but it was an illustration that would have struck home with the men and women who made up Christ’s world.

 

We are in week last of our “Stories told by Jesus” series.  And this summer we’ve followed Jesus as he’s told stories of fields and gems, sheep and brothers, wheat and bread.

 

And we are ending where we started, in Matthew 13:44-46.    In our first message, we looked at the man who accidentally found a treasure in the field he was working in.  This week we are looking at a man who was very deliberate in his quest for treasure.

 

There was no doubt about what the man was looking for, Jesus said he was on the lookout for choice pearls.

 

2000 years ago pearls were valued not only for their monetary worth but also for their aesthetic qualities.  Pearls were sought after for their beauty and because of that many of the people who bought and collected pearls did so just to have them, not as an investment, not as something to be bought and sold.  Instead, they were seen as something to be held and admired.

 

And the beauty and worth of Pearls is very subjective, there is no uniform grading system like there is for diamonds and other gems.

 

And so, for a few moments this morning I want to look at this merchant who was so intent on having a pearl, like no other pearl that he had ever seen, that he was willing to give everything he had in order to obtain it.

 

1) He Was Dissatisfied With What Was

 

Often times we think of dissatisfaction as a negative, we see someone who grumbles about everything they have, about everything that happens to them and we think, this person is dissatisfied with life.

 

But think about it, every discovery, every advancement, every achievement that humanity has made has been because someone was dissatisfied with the status quo.

 

Because Thomas Edison was dissatisfied with reading by candle light we have electric lights.

 

Because Alexander was tired of Mrs. Bell yelling at him to come home, we have telephones.  Because John Wesley was dissatisfied with the Anglican church’s attitudes toward the poor we have the Wesleyan church.  If it weren’t for dissatisfaction we’d still be living under trees, dressing in fig leaves and eating cold food.

 

It must have been dissatisfaction that drove people to try cooking their meat.  “What, sushi again?”

 

goalie?

 

The hero of our story was not a shopkeeper, the Greek word would indicate that he was a wholesaler, a trader on a large scale.  It was probably dissatisfaction that took him from selling fruit door to door, to owning his own stall, to trading in goods from all over the world and now he was seeking the perfect pearl.  Perhaps he was seeking the largest pearl in the world, a record that now stands at 34 kilos.

 

And that is the Puerto Princesa pearl, found in the Philipines, which is a

 

 

Or perhaps he was looking for a pearl that was simply perfect.  We don’t know how he defined the perfect pearl, but we do know that he was dissatisfied with whatever other pearls he had.

 

Each one of us has to push on in our lives.  It’s not enough to merely exist.  If we are going to please God we need to continue to grow and stretch in our personal walk with him, in our spiritual life and life in general.

 

You say “But preacher, remember Paul said in Philippians 4:11  Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. “

 

And that’s true, but it was also Paul who in 1 Corinthians, 2 Timothy, and Hebrews 12 called our Christian life a race.  And if you are going to race effectively then you won’t be content to come in last.  If that was the idea that Paul was trying to convey then he would have called our Christian walk a stroll through the park.

 

 

But it’s not just a personal thing, our church needs to be dissatisfied with where they are at any given time.  It’s not enough to be able to say, “look at us we’ve grown from thirty to a three hundred.”  “look at our band”  “look at our church”.

 

I think, no let me rephrase that, I know that we need to understand the validity of Amos 6:1  NIV Woe to you who are complacent in Zion. . .

 

To a certain degree, we need to be dissatisfied with Cornerstone.  Dissatisfied with the number of people who come to know Jesus Christ as a result of our ministry, dissatisfied with the number of lives we touch, dissatisfied with what we are doing for God today.  And we need to seek to do more.

 

And that is partly why we’ve invited the Maximizing Impact team to come to Cornerstone this fall.

 

Because it is easy to become complacent in Zion.

 

When we get complacent with our ministry, when we become complacent we won’t simply stop growing we will stop impacting our community for Christ.  When we look around and say “This is all we need”, then we’ll never need more.

 

 

2) He Dreamed of What Could Be not only was the merchant dissatisfied with what he, had he dreamed of what he could have.

 

It has been said that if we never build castles in the air that we will never build anything on the ground.

 

Edison had to dream of electric lights before he could invent electric lights, in fact, Edison had a goal to invent one major invention every six months and one minor one ever ten days.  When he died he held 1092 U.S. patents and over 2000 foreign patents.

 

Alexander Graham Bell had to dream of the telephone before he could invent the telephone, Gretzky had to dream of the goal that would break Gordie Howe’s record before he actually shot the puck and scored the goal.  And somewhere out there, there is a kid dreaming of breaking Gretzky’s record.

 

How many times had Bannister broken the four-minute mile in his dreams before he actually did it?  How many nights did that merchant sit pouring over his collection of pearls dreaming of that one perfect pearl that would be worth as much as all his treasures combined?  Could he see that pearl?  Could he almost reach out and touch it?

 

And don’t confuse dreamincould’ve and should’ve” game is neither healthy nor productive.

 

Do we dream of what Cornerstone can be? Do we dream of how God can use us to impact our world?  How big are your dreams for our church?  Cornerstone will become what our dreams allow it to become!  God gave Moses a dream of the promised land, God gave David a dream of a temple, God gave Paul a dream of reaching the Gentiles.  What dream has God given you?

 

“But preacher we pay you to dream”, I agree, I think one of the most important parts of my job is to dream.  And I do it, I see where we can be, what we can do.  But you have to dream as well, you need to catch the vision of tomorrow, not just the memories of yesterday.  Thomas Jefferson said, “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.”

 

I’ve said it before, the past makes a great classroom but a rotten living room.

 

As you think of where you can go, and what you can do.  As we dream together of the impact Cornerstone can make,  I challenge you with the last words of D.L. Moody to his sons, “If God be your partner then plan big.”

 

 

3) He Was Dedicated to His Dream the merchant wasn’t content to simply dream about the pearls, he went looking for them.  The Greek word means to seek with desire, not simply glancing about but diligently seeking to find something.  It was his life, his world.

 

Just as the athlete lives for the race or the game this man lived to find pearls.  He worked for a living,  but work wasn’t his life it simply made it possible to follow his dreams, to find his pearls.

 

Every one of us needs to find that dream, and if we are Christians then it had better be God’s dream for our life or it will be a dead end dream.  And once we have that dream then we will need to pursue it with every bit of energy that we can muster.

 

If we are going to see our dreams fulfilled then we need to set them as a priority.

 

And if we are serious about seeing our dreams become a reality we will be able to see it in what we are willing to pay, in time, in effort and in resources.

 

If Cornerstone is going to be the church that God wants it to be then it will need to be a priority in our lives.  Now I know that Cornerstone will not and should not be the number one priority in everyone’s life, that needs to be God.  And the number two priority in our lives will really need to be family.  But somewhere at the top of the list of the priorities of our life will have to be the local church.

 

That may seem hard for you to grasp, but remember that God anointed the local church as his vehicle of change in this world and he expects his people to support the church.

 

We need to be committed to the dream of seeing Cornerstone be as much as God would have it to be.  And I believe that God has great things in store for this church and these people.   Bigger things then most of us could possibly conceive.

 

Edison worked for 13 months on the filament for his electric light and had over 14,000 failures behind him before he was successful.  How many times do we try before we quit?  Do we have the dedication necessary to do great things for God?

 

 

4) He Was Determined to Make His Dream A Reality not only was the merchant dedicated to that dream but he was willing to do whatever had to be done to see that dream fulfilled.  In his case it meant financial sacrifice, the scriptures tell us that he sold everything that he owned in order to buy that pearl.  Nothing worth anything comes for nothing.

 

Did You hear that?   Nothing Worth Anything Comes For Nothing.

 

Everything in your life worth anything at all will cost you something.  Your marriage, your children, your job, your dreams, your church, your faith.  Each of those things will require a sacrifice on your behalf.  Some of those things cost money, a financial sacrifice, others require a sacrifice of time and commitment.

 

But just as the merchant was willing to give his all, we need to determine just what we are going to give our all for.  Jesus tells us that the thing worth dying for is the kingdom of God in our life, salvation and doing the will of God.

 

The story is told of Frederick Charrington who was born into the Charrington Brewery Family in 1850.  When Charrington was 19 he has a life-altering encounter with God.

 

About a year after he had become a Christ follower he was walking along the street outside of a pub when he saw a woman, along with her children, trying to convince a man who had obviously been drinking to leave the establishment and to give her money for food for their children.

 

Suddenly the man turned and knocked the woman to the ground.  Charrington rushed over to help and as he did he saw the name of his families company over the door of the pub.  And Charrington said afterwards that with that one blow the man didn’t just knock out his wife but knocked him clear out of business.  Frederick Charrington walked away from a fortune of over 1 million pounds and committed the rest of his life to caring for the poor whose lives had been affected by alcohol.

 

What do we give to God?  Roger Bannister was up every morning running when his friends were sleeping, he put hours and days and weeks and months of work into his goal of breaking the four-minute mile.

 

What have we sacrificed for God?

 

We see men and women literally surrendering the pleasures of this life to excel at sports, or business, or the arts.  What would happen to the cause of Christ if we were willing to do that for the kingdom of God?

 

Where would we be spiritually If reading our bibles, belonging to a life group and making Sunday morning worship were priorities in our lives?

 

I’ve heard some of the guys the early Tuesday morning guys life group comment on how valuable is to them, but it’s not easy being here at 6 a.m.

 

As Cornerstone moves ahead it will require more sacrifices on each of our behalfs.

 

If this church is going to be what God wants it to be it will cost something.  It will cost the status quo, you may like the church just the way it is, but as we grow we will change, just as a child changes as they grow.

 

It will cost our time, time to teach, time to serve, time for the praise team to practice.

 

It will cost feelings because some people don’t like growing churches, especially if the church they attend isn’t growing and they will say things like “at Cornerstone, they compromise the message” or “they are only concerned about numbers” or “they are only providing entertainment”

 

It will cost our pride as during our change and growth we sometimes take paths that you don’t agree with or don’t like.

 

And those times will arise, but unless those areas are in direct contradiction to the word of God, we expect you to be big enough to not grumble and complain and pout.  We will always try to listen to different points of view but we won’t be able to make everyone happy all the time.

 

And yes it will cost money.   This month we upgraded our children’s sign-in procedures to help do a better job of protecting our kids. That cost money.  We reconfigured some of our rooms to better teach your children, that cost money.

 

When we help send our teens to rallies, it cost money.

 

As we continue to develop our partnership with the work in Sierra Leone, it will cost time, effort and money.

 

As the church continues to grow, eventually we will outgrow this building and the time will come to expand and build again, and guess what?  That will cost money.

 

I love the cartoon where the man is coming out of church and says to the pastor “Well preacher I’m really glad that you don’t know where the money’s coming from, for a moment I was afraid that you wanted us to give it.”

 

God provides for his work through the giving of his people.  And often he provides for us so we can provide for the needs of the church.

 

What Cornerstone can do is limited only by our dreams and our determination and dedication to those dreams

 

5) I struggled with the last point; I thought I had it figured out that in the end He Was Delighted.  But if he was delighted he was only delighted for a short while and then he would have been looking again for that pearl that was just a little bit nicer than the one he had.  That is our humanity.  And in each area of our life, satisfaction leads to complacency that will ultimately lead to stagnation.

 

In our spiritual life, we need to be walking closer and closer to God.  There is no such thing as arriving until we arrive in heaven.  Remember 1 John 1:7  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

 

 

So what is the answer, well the man was delighted but he never lost his dream of the perfect pearl.

 

At Cornerstone if we continue to seek God’s will, if we continue to do what God wants us to do, and we continue to do it to the very best of our ability we will continue to grow.  We have said before that we will never bow down to the idol of church growth, that we will never chase our tails trying this program and that program.

 

But we will seek to present the gospel in a positive way, that we will seek to provide the very best worship environment that we are capable of, and that we will love another with the love of Christ.  And if we do that we will grow.  When our goals are met, then we need to dream some more and set some more goals.  And those dreams and those goals need to come from God and God alone.

 

 

 

 

 

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Amazing Grace

It is a story of Grace.

Last week Angela and I were sorting through some boxes that had been in storage since we moved into our present home, in 2004.  Upon opening a box of books packed by our daughter I discovered a library book I thought I’d returned in 2003.  When I saw the book I distinctly remember the conversation I’d had with the Liberian fifteen years ago, assuring her that I had indeed returned the book and it must have been lost in the system.  Not!

Today I returned the book.

Had I received “justice”, getting what I deserve, the .25 a day fine would have equalled $1368.75.  I was hoping for “mercy”, getting less than I deserved, maybe a fine equal to the price of the book.  Instead, they extended “grace” to me and I got what I didn’t deserve.

They were pleased, told me there was no longer a record of the book in their system and assured me there would be no fine to pay.  They were just happy to have their book back.

And while it was just a book it is a great example of how God’s grace works in our lives, and in the same way, it all begins when we acknowledge that we need that grace.

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

 

A Story of Change

For seven of the eight parables that Jesus began with the line “The Kingdom of Heaven, or the Kingdom of God is like. . .”  he used everyday events that were happening around those he was teaching, outside, but in one instance he took them out of the fields and vineyards, away from the sea and marketplace and returned them to the place they had grown up, their homes and specifically to the kitchen and a task that they had watched countless times throughout their lives.

Matthew 13:33 Jesus also used this illustration: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.”

We are now in week eight of our summer series “Stories told by Jesus” and we’ve looked at treasure and sheep,  wheat and weeds.

We’ve talked about faith, salvation, dreams and forgiveness.  But in all of the stories, Jesus looked to the “every day” to explain the eternal.

And now Jesus uses an illustration that would have familiar to everyone who had ever watched their mothers or wives make bread.

And that would have been an almost daily occurrence.  Bread is one of those things that we tend to take for granted in 2018, and we have so much of it and so many different varieties.  We have bagels and pita, tortilla’s muffins, rolls and baguettes, white bread, whole wheat bread, multi-grain bread, raisin bread.

But two thousand years ago, in Palestine, they would just have had bread.  And the bread would have been made daily.

Remember in the Lord’s Prayer, right after Jesus taught us to pray that his will would be done on earth, do you remember what he taught us to pray.   Matthew 6:11 Give us today the food we need.  But do you remember the way you memorized the Lord’s prayer?  Sure you do Matthew 6:11 Give us this day our daily bread.   And in the original language, the word used is very simply, “bread”.

But the Kingdom of Heaven isn’t like bread; it is like the ingredient that makes the bread rise.  In the New Living Translation, it is translated as Yeast but in the King James Version, it is translated as Leaven.  The reason is that yeast as we know it is a fairly recent innovation, commercial yeast has only been available for less than 200 years.  And long before we were able to go to a store and buy yeast in an envelope or a bottle people have been eating bread that was not flat.

And it was this rising agent, this leaven that Jesus uses to describe the Kingdom of Heaven, in the New King James Version it reads this way:   Matthew 13:33 Another parable He spoke to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.”

Culturally we are told that bread was a staple in the time of Jesus, it was a very important part of their everyday diet.  2000 years ago, they didn’t have the luxury of grocery stores and restaurants.  Food was prepared at home and if you were going to be away from home your food was sent with you.

And bread was an essential part of that when Jesus fed the five thousand with the little boy’s lunch it was fish and some bread.  When Jesus instituted the Last Supper, he used bread as a symbol for his body.

In the book of Acts when Paul was being shipped to Rome to stand trial and the ship they were on ran aground they ate before they abandoned ship, and what did they eat?  Acts 27:35-36 Then he took some bread, gave thanks to God before them all, and broke off a piece and ate it. Then everyone was encouraged and began to eat—

Remember when Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness he had gone 40 days without food and the Devil appears and says Matthew 4:3 During that time the devil came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.”

Personally, for me, anyway pizza or a burger would have been more tempting, but Satan used the familiar, the every day for the temptation.

And so just as when Jesus directed their attention to the farmer in the field, or the mustard plant growing on the side of the road or the fishing net being cast into the sea Jesus uses the “every day” as a simile for the eternal, he draws from the secular to describe the sacred.

Matthew 13:33 Jesus also used this illustration: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.”

So, what is it that we learn from Yeast or Leaven?

Leaven Has a History  I had told you earlier that 2000 years ago they didn’t have yeast in packets and so you might be wondering where did this leaven come from?

Anyone here ever do the sourdough starter thing?  When I was a teenager we kept “Herman” in the fridge, Mom called it monster bread.  You fed it and periodically you would split it, make incredible bread and rolls with it, and keep feeding the remainder.

And it really is quite simple to make, the recipes are everywhere, you start with a tablespoon of water and a tablespoon of flour and mix them together in a container, in eight hours you add two tablespoons of water and two tablespoons of flour and you wait, and in eight hours you double it again, and you wait.  In a couple of days, it begins to bubble and roll, like something from a 1950 horror movie.

And that my friend is leaven.  You keep it in your fridge in a sealed container and use it to start your sourdough bread, biscuits or pancakes.  It is leaven.

It is one of the healthiest breads out there, especially if you have digestive problems.  If it is real sourdough, all that will be on the ingredient list is, flour, salt, water and sourdough starter, or the leaven.

2000 years ago, it was very similar, when the dough was prepared and had risen before the bread was baked, a piece was torn off and it was wrapped and put aside.  And it was that piece that was used in the flour for the next loaf that started the process again.  That was leaven.

In my research I discovered that there are bakeries that have been using the same leaven for generations, it is the secret to their bread.

And each loaf of bread has a history, just like each of us has a history.

Over the past month, Angela and I have been working on our genealogies.  And I have discovered that I am a mutt.  For Mother’s Day, I gave my mum a DNA kit and combined with my DNA results and our genealogy we’ve discovered a background that contains Estonian, Irish, Scottish, English, Sardinian and West African.  And I’ve found grandparents who were involved in the 1745 Jacobite rebellion, the American Revolution and the Salem Witch Trials.

The Kingdom of Heaven did not just suddenly appear.  Throughout the Gospels and the Book of Acts, the history of the Kingdom is constantly referenced, they talk about Moses and Abraham, about Isaac and Jacob, stories are told from the Old Testament.

When Peter was preaching at the Day of Pentecost he reminds the Jews of the history of the Kingdom.   Acts 3:13 For it is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God of all our ancestors—who has brought glory to his servant Jesus by doing this. This is the same Jesus whom you handed over and rejected before Pilate, despite Pilate’s decision to release him.

There is a great statement in Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.

There is a trick here, whenever you come across the word therefore in the bible you need to go back and see what it’s therefore.  In this case, we go back to the beginning of the previous chapter, which has been called the “Faith Hall of Fame” and it starts with these words.

Hebrews 11:1-2 Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.

And for the next 39 verses the author regales us with story after story of the faith of those who went before and in verse 39 he writes Hebrews 11:39 All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith. . .

Which of course leads us to Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.  So, who is the huge crowd of witnesses?  All those who have gone before us.

And we can add to that 2000 more years of history, we don’t stand alone we stand on the shoulders of believers and teachers, theologians and lovers of God.  Each generation tears off a little piece of their dough and adds it to the next generation to help them rise and to keep it right.

And that’s why I warn people to beware when all of sudden someone has a new revelation and they want you to ignore the history that we have.

They want you to ignore Augustine, and Calvin and Wesley and Tertullian and thousands of others who have studied and taught the scriptures over the past two millenniums.  But we have a history, and we can’t be separated from the history any more than you can separate bread from the leaven that made it rise.

And sometimes the media and the world want you to think that our history is something to be ashamed of, they trot out the crusade and the inquisition and residential schools and wag their fingers at us.  But they forget that the Crusades began because Christians and Jews were being killed by Muslims and thousands of men volunteered to leave their homes and families to go and defend people they had never met but shared a common faith with.

And yes, there were excesses and yes the Crusades did not end up being our finest moment but understand there is more to the story.  And really, nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition.

But our history includes the first hospitals, and the first schools for the blind and the deaf, the first orphanages, the fight to end child labour, and the end of Slavery in Christian cultures.  The women’s rights movement had its birth in a Wesleyan Church in New York.

We can’t forget our history and we have to understand that we have an obligation to pass on what we have.  And that’s why churches have to grow and reach people.  Unless we do that, we are not leaven, we are simply bread, we are prepared and baked and served and then we are gone.  And that is not the purpose of the Kingdom; it’s not only to provide a church for today it is to provide a church for tomorrow.

Leaven Has a Purpose The reason that leaven was added to the bread mixture was to make it rise, it wasn’t added to increase the flavour or change the colour.  They didn’t add leaven so there would be more fibre in the bread, they added leaven, so it would rise and become light and fluffy.

And if the leaven functioned the way it was supposed to that’s exactly what it did.  And because of that the bread tasted better and had a nicer texture and was easier to eat.

There are bakers in the sourdough industry who claim their starter not only causes their sourdough to rise but that it adds a distinct flavour to the dough, and that may be the case, but the primary function is to make the dough rise, the flavour it adds is a secondary benefit.

The church has a purpose as well and it’s spelt out in Matthew 28:19-20 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

The church’s purpose is to make disciples.  And sometimes people forget that.

They try and write grand vision statements about the church impacting their communities and making a difference.

And that is not the purpose of the church. Seriously it’s not, you might think it is, you might be wondering if our purpose is not to impact our community and make a difference than what is the use of CIA, Cornerstone in Action?

You might be wondering about Christ’s command for us to be salt and light.  About all the good that can be accomplished by the local church.  And we’ve heard that the local church is the hope of the world.

And those things are all wonderful, but they really aren’t the purpose of the church.  They are the purpose of the disciples that the church is supposed to make.

And when the church loses its focus and sets its eyes on doing other things, rather than making disciples, no matter how noble those other things might be they are the wrong things.

Don’t get me wrong I think that the people of Cornerstone are supposed to make a difference in the world.  And that happens because Cornerstone has made a difference in their lives.

The purpose of the church is to change society by changing people.   I love the change that we see in people when we are doing what we are supposed to be doing.

Paul writes to the believers in Corinth tell them 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.

Sounds like a bad bunch but listen to what Paul writes next, 1 Corinthians 6:11 Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

That is our task to see people changed, and then turn them loose to fulfil their purpose and that is to make an impact on the world.  Which leads us to our next point.

Leaven has an impact There is a great story in the book of Acts chapter 17.  Paul and his friends have arrived at Thessalonica and we read Acts 17:4 Some of the Jews who listened were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with many God-fearing Greek men and quite a few prominent women.

They were doing what the church is supposed to be doing, making disciples, but it wasn’t long before they were dragged before the authorities and I love the charges that were made against them.

 

In the NKJV it reads this way,  Acts 17:6 But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, “Those who have turned the world upside down have come here too.”

Those who have turned the world upside down.  Wow, I would say that the Kingdom of Heaven was at work in those believers that they were having an impact on their world. Wouldn’t it be great if people described the Christ Followers who make up Cornerstone as “These who have turned the world upside down”?

You see the Kingdom of Heaven is not Cornerstone Wesleyan Church, the Kingdom of Heaven is “You” and you are supposed to make a difference, you are to permeate the world.  It’s not enough that Christianity made a difference 2000 years ago, it’s not enough that Christianity made a difference 200 year ago or 20 years ago, we need to be making a difference today.

Acts 13:36 . . . for after David had done the will of God in his own generation, he died and was buried with his ancestors, and his body decayed.

It’s good that the church has a great history, that the Wesley and Calvin and Mother Theresa did the will of God in their own generation, but they have died, they were buried with their ancestors and they bodies have decayed and that was yesterday and this is today and we still need to be doing the will of God in our generation, still making an impact and still being leaven in our world.

William Barclay wrote in the Daily Study Bible, “The whole point of the parable lies in one thing–the transforming power of the leaven. Leaven changed the character of a whole baking. Unleavened bread is like a water biscuit, hard, dry, unappetizing and uninteresting; bread baked with leaven is soft and porous and spongy, tasty and good to eat. The introduction of the leaven causes a transformation in the dough, and the coming of the Kingdom causes a transformation in life.”

We aren’t just here to take up space, we have been left here to make a difference.  Last week we spoke about the impact the Kingdom of Heaven is supposed to have on individuals but now Christ reminds us that we are supposed to change our world as well.

Jesus left his followers here, so we can have an impact locally and globally.

And we are serving our purpose as Christ Followers when in his name we provide groceries for Ronald McDonald House and collect soup and milk for Feed Nova Scotia, and when we reach out locally through CIA.

And when we drill wells in Ghana, and train people in how to produce fresh water in natural disaster zones, with World Hope we are having an impact.  And when Pastor Deborah travels to Sierra Leone in October to investigate the potential for Cornerstone to partner with our work in Sierra Leone It’s to make an impact.

And there are all the things that you do that I don’t know about and don’t need to know about that are making an impact.

Leaven Needs Time to Work   This is probably the toughest thing for me, waiting.  I’m probably the only person here who struggles with patience, who wants things to happen right away.

The rest of you probably have buckets of patience, but not me, I’d be a terrible buzzard, I’d be like “Forget waiting let’s go kill something.”

But not everything happens right away, some things take time, and that’s tough for me, I want it to happen and I want it to happen now.

That’s why I hate golf because I want to be good at it, but I don’t want to practice.

When I was in college I started playing around with the guitar, but I wanted to be able to play it right away.  I didn’t want to learn to play a G chord, I wanted to learn how to play the Minuet in G.

But sometimes it takes time for leaven to work its way through the dough.  That was the toughest part about starting Cornerstone was how long it seemed to take to get going, it was like watching bread rise.  But if you interrupt bread making in the middle and say I can’t wait any longer and just put the bread in the oven it will be ruined.

In the summer of 2003, I’m not sure that many would have expressed much hope for this Church, we had been around for eight years and we just couldn’t seem to break through, and there were those who were actively lobbying for the church to be closed.  And at that point, there weren’t a lot of counter-arguments.

At a district board meeting around that time, the district superintendent was heard to comment, “I don’t know if we need to rescue Bedford from Denn or Denn from Bedford.”   But what would have happened if we had of pulled the plug back then?  Well, we would never have known what this church could have accomplished, never have seen the impact that would have been made.

Sometimes we get impatient with those we seek to have an impact on, we want to see the world change tomorrow, but it doesn’t always happen that way, any more than leaven works that way.

 

 

 

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