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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I See Dead People

We spent our vacation hanging out with dead people.  Not literally, but with a 30-day free trial from Ancestry.ca, it sure seemed that way.  People have asked if I have discovered any surprises, and the entire story of my ancestry has been a surprise.  It wove its way from Edinburgh Castle, through the Salem Witch trials and the Revolutionary War.

The story of my family is the story of generals, traitors, hermits and single moms.  I discovered that my fourth great-grandfather, as a ten-year-old, was left as surety with the first nation people in Maine for 18 months in the 1700s while his father negotiated a treaty.  I can only imagine the conversation, “Seriously Mark, I will just leave you here if you say another word.”

It was fascinating.  And in many instances, it was the story of people who took a stand, for right or for wrong they stood for what they believed in and did what they thought was right.  And for the most part that was admirable, although I’m not sure how my Grandfather Mark felt about it.

And while the story of my family is fascinating, 39 years ago I became the adopted son of the King of the Universe, and that is even cooler.

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

A Gem of a Story

I have a confession to make and I hope you don’t think less of me after I’m done; That’s right I love country music.  I love listening to the new artists like Zack Brown, Carrie Underwood and Kenny Chesney and I love listening to the outlaws from the seventies like Willie and Waylon and Merle Haggard and I even love listening to people like Mel Tillis and Buck Owens, George Jones and Dolly Parton.

And my parents are to blame, it’s the only thing I blame them for, and that’s because I grew up on Country music.  My folks listened to Country and Western and until I received a portable record player as a gift when I was eleven or twelve I listened to what they listened to, bizarre concept isn’t it?

There were no iPods, no mp3 players, no Discmans, no Walkmans, no boom boxes.  And if you wanted to hear music on your phone you had to have someone on the other end hold the receiver up to the radio.

And so, for my formative years, if there was a record on the hi-fi, we had hi-fi back then and they were furniture.  So, if there was a record on the hi-fi there was a pretty good chance that it was Johnny Cash or Farron Young, Patsy Cline or Jim Reeves

Now when I became a teenager my listening became a little more colourful, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd and Deep Purple.  Did the Kiss thing and Alice Cooper, Trooper and BTO, but deep down hidden in the secret place of my heart was this love for country music.  When I was in high school the radio station in Saint John CHSJ played country for two hours in the afternoon between 2 and 4 and my best friend hated driving home with me because you know the rule, my car, my radio.

Now all that being said a few years ago I was watching a biography on Jim Reeves.  Reeves was a major player in the country music scene in the 1960s until he was killed in a plane crash in July of 1964.    My folks had a couple of his records so he is what I would call classic country.    And in the biography, I was watching the comment was made about the problems he had being accepted into the country music scene because he used horns and violins.  Violins not fiddles but violins in his music.  And that just wasn’t country.

The funny thing is that some of the country music celebrities who were remembering Reeves as such an innovator and saying what an impact he had had on the genre were some of the old guys that I have heard dumping all over new country.

And that isn’t unique in Country music, listen to the old rockers talk about the new music, listen to the old actors talk about the new breed of actors, or for that matter listen to older Christians talk about what they think of the church today, of the music, the way people don’t dress up today to come to church and after they get there they drink coffee in the sanctuary.

This is the seventh week of our Summer Preaching series, “Stories told by Jesus” and since the middle of July, our preaching has focused on some of the parables or stories that Jesus told.

And we’ve travelled the roads of Palestine together as Jesus described the Kingdom of Heaven to those who followed him using everyday events to illustrate these eternal truths.   A farmer spreading seed in a field, men picking grapes in a vineyard, a man looking for a lost sheep, two brothers being asked to help their father.

 

And through it all we have watched as Jesus wove the story of a Kingdom as it was planted, was cared for and flourished and eventually having an impact locally and globally.

The parable we are looking at this morning doesn’t reveal more clues about the Kingdom of Heaven, instead, this tells us about the person who has embraced what Jesus has already taught about the Kingdom of Heaven.

Matthew 13 contains a total of eight parables, and after he tells the seventh story Jesus ties the entire package together with a bow when he says in Matthew 13:51 Do you understand all these things?” “Yes,” they said, “we do.”

And we have to assume they had caught what he had taught. Jesus’ intent was to make the things of God clear, Christianity was not one of the mystery cults shrouded in questions and hidden behind riddles.  And Jesus seemed to make that assumption that they did indeed understand because he moves ahead saying, Matthew 13:52 Then he added, “Every teacher of religious law who becomes a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a homeowner who brings from his storeroom new gems of truth as well as old.”

It is easy to dismiss this as simply referring to teachers and preachers.  The various translations say “Teachers of religious law” or “Teachers of the Law” or “Scribes”,  and that is always part of the issue, understanding the exact meaning of something written to a different culture in a different time.

For example, if I was telling you about a person who worked on a ship and I referred to him as a stoker, you might know what I meant, that they were part of the engine room crew.  But would you actually know what a stoker did?  The term is still used sometimes but it is totally irrelevant.  Because the term originally referred to the crew member who shovelled coal into the coal-fired steam engines of ships from a 150 years ago.

And so, if we go back to the original language, do I bore you when I do this?  If we go back to the original language, the word that Jesus actually used in the Greek is Grammateus,  gram-mat-yooce  and it meant either Scribe or Town Clerk, now we can probably safely assume that Jesus didn’t say Matthew 13:52 Then he added, “Every town clerk who becomes a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a homeowner who brings from his storeroom new gems of truth as well as old.”

 

So that leaves us with the definition of Scribe, but what was a scribe?  Well, originally the scribes were the people who copied the texts of the Old Testament.  When you stop and think of it that makes sense, there were no printing presses, so everything was written out by hand, it was very time consuming and very exacting, and it was checked and double checked to make sure that nothing was altered.

Eventually, when people had questions about the scriptures they went to the “Scribes” for their answers.  By the time of the New Testament, the word scribe had kind of morphed into meaning: learned teachers and authoritative leaders.  They were primarily drawn from the priests and Levites, but there were also common people who were called scribes.

Remember in the Christmas story when the wise men appeared before King Herod and he wanted to know where the Christ Child would be born we read this account in Matthew 2:4 NKJV And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

So that being said, Jesus was simply preparing his followers for a role that they would assume, and each one of us as a Christ follower fills this role, people are learning about Jesus from our words and from our actions, that’s kind of scary, isn’t it?

And so, before you can instruct you have to be instructed before your lips can speak knowledge your head must contain knowledge.

I remember a conversation I had with a barber who led a church in his home, and I have no problem with people that do that.  However, in our discussion we happened upon the topic of the length of hair that was appropriate on a man, don’t know why the topic came up but it did.  And he told me, “Well Jesus had long hair”.

And I was intrigued because I tried to use that argument with my father when I was a teen to no avail.  The closest I got to success with that was when I reminded Dad, “Jesus had long hair” to which he responded, “Yes and he walked everywhere he went.”

So, I asked the barber, “How do you know Jesus had long hair?”  to which the man, who taught people the Bible in his home responded, “Because he was a Nazarite and they weren’t allowed to cut their hair.”

Now the man was half right, Nazarites weren’t allowed to cut their hair,  Numbers 6:2 & 5 “If any of the people, either men or women, take the special vow of a Nazirite, setting themselves apart to the LORD in a special way, “They must never cut their hair throughout the time of their vow, for they are holy and set apart to the LORD. Until the time of their vow has been fulfilled, they must let their hair grow long.

The problem is that as far as we know Jesus wasn’t a Nazarite, he was a Nazarene and the reason he was a Nazarene had nothing to do with a vow he took he was because he came from the town of Nazareth.  And this man was teaching people about Jesus.

So, let’s go back to our scripture, Matthew 13:52 Then he added, “Every teacher of religious law who becomes a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a homeowner who brings from his storeroom new gems of truth as well as old.”   The message is a paraphrase of the Bible by Eugene Peterson, and I love the way Peterson writes this Matthew 13:52 (the Message) He said, “Then you see how every student well-trained in God’s kingdom is like the owner of a general store who can put his hands on anything you need, old or new, exactly when you need it.”

So, what can we learn from this parable?

There is Junk and there are Gems Each one of us is a mixture of our past and our present.  We all come to where we are via different routes and through that process, we collect stuff.  Stuff that is a result of what we have done and what people have done to us, but inevitably it has been the result of the choices we made.

We’ve been through this before but before we can take control of our future we need to accept responsibility for our past.  Notice that I didn’t say take the blame simply the responsibility.  Every choice we make and have made in our life has shaped and will shape who we are.  The choice you made when you were a child to pay attention in school or slack off, to hang out with good kids or bad kids, the decision of which university to go to, what job you would accept, who you would date and who you would marry, whether you would be a spender or a saver.  We are who we are because of the choices we have made.

Teens this is one of the most important things you will hear me say so listen up, the choices you make in your life right now will dictate who you will be in the future, so choose carefully.

And as a result of our choices, our life is like the junk drawer in your kitchen.  How many of you have a junk drawer?  Sure it’s the place where you put stuff that you aren’t sure where to put it.  And once in while you go through the drawer and discover stuff that has value and stuff that is junk.

So, each of us today has junk in our lives and gems in our lives.

We Need to Ditch the Junk.  Jesus doesn’t say this but it is certainly implied.  If it is the gems that are brought out and used than implicitly what aren’t gems aren’t used.  Not everything in your past is gems.  Each one of us has in our life junk, hurts, habits and hang-ups.  The result of what others have done to us and what we have done to others.

If we have been hurt by someone we need to forgive them and get on with life.

I spoke about this three weeks ago, remember forgiveness is not an emotion it is an action, it is not something you feel it is something you do.  And there is nothing in the bible that would indicate that someone has to ask for your forgiveness in order for you to forgive them.  And in a lot of cases, they don’t even know they hurt you, and you grumble and stew about it.

Remember how Jesus taught us to pray Matthew 6:12 and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. And at the end of the Lord’s prayer Jesus adds this warning, Matthew 6:14-15 “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

And if you are the one to blame then you need to go to the other person and make it right.  Matthew 5:23-24 “So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.”

And maybe the junk in your life has nothing to do with other people, maybe it is habits that you have that you can’t seem to get control over or mistakes and choices from your past that you can’t seem to forgive yourself for.  Understand that as a Christ follower when you asked Christ to forgive you he forgave you.

King David had that figured out when he prayed in Psalm 51:7 Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.   And if God, the creator of the Universe, master of all things, holy and spotless and pure can forgive you, what makes you think you are so special you can’t forgive yourself?

And it’s not just the past you need to examine; if you are a Christ follower the one you are following has certain expectations about how you behave and how you speak today.  Jesus reminds us in John 14:15 “If you love me, obey my commandments.”

That’s one of those verses that shouldn’t need a whole lot of explanation, there isn’t a whole lot of wiggle room there.  John 14:15 “If you love me, obey my commandments.”  If we take time to examine our lives today, are there behaviours that you know don’t belong in the life of a Christ follower?  Habits and attitudes that you need to ditch if you are truly going to be obedient to Christ?

And it is the same in the church, just because it worked yesterday doesn’t mean it will work today.  And some things that were gems yesterday are junk today.  The bus ministry that churches used incredibly well in the 1970’s would never work today.  Imagine if you will going door to door in Kingswood to let people know that on Sunday a used school bus driven by a stranger would be by to pick up their children to take them to a church they had never attended.  But it worked back then.   Churches used to hold special meetings twice a year and fill their churches every night for a week.  Of course, there was little or no tv, kids weren’t involved in a dozen different things through the week and the special meetings were the biggest show in town.

A number of years ago I heard a Baptist preacher by the name of Ed Stetzer say “We sacrifice our children for our traditions.”  Let’s be careful that the things that we value from the church of yesterday don’t become idols that we are worshipping today instead of Christ.

But that being said let’s go back to the original scripture again Matthew 13:52 Then he added, “Every teacher of religious law who becomes a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a homeowner who brings from his storeroom new gems of truth as well as old.”

So along with the junk that we need to ditch  We Need to Save the Gems Sometimes we are like the old time Country singers who thought Jim Reeves had no place in country music because he used horns and violins.  And those folks need to be reminded of the truth of Philippians 3:13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead.  We can’t live in yesterday and we can’t saw sawdust, yesterday has been here and it is gone.

But there is another temptation and that is to think that only the new is worth anything and anything older than last week has no value.   While there are things that we need to move past when we become Christ followers that is not to say that there is a line that is drawn in the sand and everything on the new side is good and everything on the old side is bad.

The apostles were all Jews, raised and steeped in the Jewish faith and Jesus was telling them to remember the things they had been taught about God and his commandments and to incorporate them into their new lives.

Jesus never commanded us to forget all we knew before we met him, instead we are to see that knowledge and experience in a new light and use it to serve him.  Everyone one of us brings something to the table when we choose to follow Jesus.  Our gifts, our talents and our experiences, and they are incredibly valuable if they are used right.

Again, be wary of those who counsel people in their church to cut all ties with their past.  There are gems to be saved.

And there are Gems from the church’s past that need to be saved and used.  Just because it was used yesterday doesn’t mean it can’t be used today.  And the church has 2000 years of history and knowledge to draw on.  How many people either read the Da Vinci Code or saw the movie?  Sure, it was touted as being this new discovery that would threaten the church and why hadn’t we been told anything about these things before?

You ever watch or read legal thrillers when a lawyer objects to a line of questioning and says “That question has already been asked and answered.”  Well, all of the questions raised in the Da Vinci code have been asked and answered over the past two thousand years.

The one thing I remember from my grade ten history class was   the statement that my teacher made on our first day when he said: “Those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it.”    I thought it was original with Mr Seeley but he was referring to what is sometimes known as “Santayana’s Law of Repeating Consequences.”  Which came from Spanish Poet George Santayana’s statement  “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Later I came to understand the truth of Friedrich Hegel’s statement “The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.”

So my challenge to you this week is to look for the gems in your life, the gems from yesterday and the gems from today and gather them together to be used for the Kingdom today and tomorrow, it was Hubert Humphrey who said “Our greatest songs are still unsung, our greatest days are ahead of us.”

 

A Denn by Any Other Name

Twenty-Four years ago I added an “n” to my name. It was a whim, but I’ve never regretted it.

Fifteen years before that I had removed the same “n” along with a “y” when I went from being Denny to being Den. And for fifteen years I had people correct my name, helpfully changing it from Den to Don or Dan and then I would have to explain that it was neither, that is was Den.  And when they looked at me quizzically I would say “you know, the place where a bear lives.”  (Which is what my Great Grandmother told me.)

And I finally figured out a solution, someone had asked me what Den was short for and I told them, Dennison. To which they asked “then why doesn’t it have two “n”s?  Good question.  So, I added an “n” to my name.

The first time I officially used the new spelling was for my new library card which arrived in the mail the next week, addressed to Dean Guptill.  And again, I discovered that people see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear.

But regardless of how I spell my name, I can always be assured that God knows who I am.    Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

A Tragedy

This is it, this year celebrates the 50th anniversary of one of the most important cultural icons of my youth.  It was a life-changing discovery for me, one that defined my teens years.

It wasn’t the founding of “intel” or Pierre Trudeau becoming Prime Minister of Canada.  It was the introduction of “Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.”

That’s right, the Big Mac has just turned fifty and it hasn’t changed in the five decades since it joined the McDonald’s menu.

But the disturbing news is that in one recent study it was discovered that only one out of five millennials has tried the Big Mac.

Think about it, 80 % of those in our community under the age of 30 have never tasted a Big Mac.

Do you know there are people in our community who have never been inside a church and they have never tasted God’s grace? And that is a tragedy.

If by some bizarre choice you have never experienced McDonald’s fries your loss is temporal although you might get to try them in heaven. But if you’ve never experienced Christ’s forgiveness your loss will be forever. And forever is a long time, especially without a Big Mac and Fries.

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

A Story of Forgiveness

Do you like scary stories?  I have never really been into scary movies, although I went to a couple as a teenager just to prove a point.  And if you have to ask what that point is then you’ve never been a teenaged boy.

And when Carrie’s hand came out of the grave at the end of the original movie, well let me tell you. . . I didn’t sleep for a week.

I used to enjoy horror novels, from authors like John Saul, Graham Masterton and Stephen King, but even they have lost their appeal over the years.  Although I will usually try to plug my way through one Stephen King epic on vacation.   I keep meaning to re-read “The Stand” and maybe this year I will.  Now if I want a good supernatural thrill I tend to drift to Dean Koontz, a good Catholic boy he knows how to keep it clean.

 

But Jesus tells one of the scariest stories that I’ve ever heard, and Ben read it for you earlier.

This is week five of our “Stories told by Jesus” series.  Through the summer we’ve been looking at some of the stories, or parables that Jesus told.   And so far, it seems that most of them have had a bit of an agricultural feel.  There was the man working in the field who found the treasure, the owner of the vineyard who hired the workers.  The story of the seed that was planted and flourished and last week we looked at the parable of the weeds that were sown in the wheat by the farmer’s enemy.

This week we are going in a very different direction.  This is one of those occasions where Jesus was asked a question and he responds by telling a story.   The parable of the Good Samaritan is another example of this.

 

It begins with a question that was asked by Peter, a question that could have been asked by any one of us.     Matthew 18:21  Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

And that is a valid question, as a matter of fact, it’s a question that if you haven’t asked out loud you have asked it in your heart.  “how many times must I be hurt?” “How can I ever let it go?” “How can I ever trust them again?”  “How often should I forgive someone who sins against me?”  And I think Peter was being generous with the offer of forgiving someone multiple times for the same offence.

Most people struggle with this concept.  This isn’t simply forgiving someone who has hurt you multiple times.   This is forgiving someone whom you have already forgiven and forgiven and forgiven.

And they keep doing “it”, whatever “it” is over and over again.

I don’t know if Peter had someone or something specific in mind, if he was asking for a “friend” or if it was just hypothetical.  But he was probably blown away by Jesus reply because I certainly would have been.  Because instead of commending Peter on the grace that he was willing to show, we read in the very next verse:  Matthew 18:22  “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!

You can almost hear Peter’s mind at work, “Seventy times seven?  Why that’s almost five hundred times, that’s insane.”

And so Jesus does what Jesus does so well, he tells a story, a really scary story.

Matthew 18:23-25  “Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him.  In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars.  He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.

The story begins simply as A Story of Justice To us this seems a little excessive, but the servant was simply getting what he deserved, within the social context of the day.

Today we find it so easy to judge history based on what we know is right today. My Daddy called that “20-20 hindsight”

But the story wasn’t told in Halifax in 2018, it was told in Israel 2000 years ago and if you owed a debt that you couldn’t pay then you and yours belonged to your creditors.  It was just that simple.

And in this story, there was no way the man could pay the debt.  None at all.

Now remember this is a story, Jesus is prone to exaggerate in his stories, that’s fine.  He is trying to make a point.  So, while the NLT says the man owed millions of dollars that doesn’t even begin to do Jesus’ words justice.

The figure that Jesus used when he told the story was 10,000 talents.  A talent was a measure of silver.  And 10,000 talents was 375 tons of silver.

I checked the other day and silver was worth $21.68 Canadian an ounce, and there are 32,000 ounces in a ton, so, knot, knot carry the two, two is five and five is seven. That means that in today’s currency a ton of silver would be worth about $693,760.00.  And the man owed 375 tons of silver.  So, in round numbers, he owed a little over 260 million dollars.

And he could not pay.  And so, his master was going to have him and his family and everything he owned sold to pay the debt.  Which wouldn’t have covered even a tiny fraction of it.

 

Jesus was illustrating the divide between God and man.  This is the reality of Romans 3:23  For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.

We’ve done this before, let’s use my nifty iPulpit as an illustrative device.

If down here are the really nasty people, the Hitlers and the Stalins and people who spit their gum on the sidewalk and park in handicap spaces without a permit.

And up here at the top are the really good nice godly people.  People like Billy Graham and Mother Theresa and you.  And the rest of us are somewhere in between then God and His holiness are where the sun is.  And there is no way we can bridge that gap.

We all know that, or at least I hope we all know that.  And the consequences of that sin is found in Romans 6:23  For the wages of sin is death, . . .  Paul isn’t talking about a physical death, he’s talking about a spiritual death, the death that happens to our soul when we are separated from God and all that is good for ever.

In our theology, we call that separation Hell.  You might be thinking that you don’t believe in hell, that doesn’t change the reality of hell, it won’t make it one degree cooler or one day shorter.

So much like justice for the servant was to be sold into slavery, justice for us is to be separated from God for eternity.

 

But luckily for the servant and for us, the story doesn’t end there.

And so, the story continues: Matthew 18:26 But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’

So, the master was seeking justice and the servant wanted it to be A Story of Mercy

When the servant realized the consequences of his actions and all of our actions have consequences, he asked for the opportunity to try and repay what he owed.

And we already showed there was no way the servant was ever going to be able to pay even a portion of what he owed.   If he was able to repay his debt at $100,000.00 a year it would take him 2,600 years to pay it off.

What often happens at whatever point we become aware of God and aware of our sinful nature, we try and fix it.  We try to become better, we try to be more religious, we try and pray more, we go to church more, try to read out bibles more and we try to be nicer.

And it doesn’t seem to work.  The Old Testament prophet reminds us in Isaiah 64:6  We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind.

In our best of intentions, we want to be better, we want to bridge that gap.  But like the amount the servant owed it is impossible.

And so the story continues, Matthew 18:27  Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.

Instead of justice or mercy, the master made it A Story of Grace 

 

We sing about grace and we talk about grace, but do we really understand the concept of Grace?  The Collins English Dictionary defines Grace as : “The free and unmerited favour of God shown towards man.”  Or simply put, Grace is getting what we don’t deserve.

The servant in the story did not deserve to have his debt forgiven, but it was.

We do not deserve to have our sins forgiven, but they are.

And up to this point, this has been a salvation message.  But that wasn’t what it was intended to be.  Because most of us here today have experienced the grace of God.  And if you haven’t you can.

This is where the story takes a very unexpected twist.

Matthew 18:28-30  “But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment.  “His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded.  But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.

What seemed fairly straightforward now becomes A Story With a Twist

If this was a horror movie, it’s here the music would change to a minor key.

You see what happens right? The servant has been forgiven, he has experienced grace in his life, but instead of that shaping who he was, it made no difference at all.

When Jesus told the story, he said that the fellow servant owed his colleague 100 Denarius, and a Denarius was a day’s wage.  So, the servant who had been forgiven 260 million dollars was owed the equivalent of four months’ salary.

Not a paltry amount by any stretch of the imagination, until you compared it to what the first servant had been forgiven.  It was over 17,000 times smaller.  It was like I owed you $15,000.00 and Gary owed me a small coffee from Tim’s.

This isn’t one of those stories that leaves us scratching our heads, the meaning is very plain.  We might choose to muddy the water with our opinions and our theology but the story itself is very plain.

The first servant was forgiven an unimaginable debt, a debt that he could never possibly repay on his own.  He was shown grace.

And when he had the chance to show grace to someone else, he blew it.  Not once, not twice but continually.

Immediately after he experiences grace, he goes and finds the servant who owed him money and demanded Justice.  And it gets worse, he then physically accosts the man, we are told that he grabbed the man by the throat.  And when the man begs him for more mercy and more time to pay he has him thrown into debtors’ prison.   He not only refuses to show the man grace, he won’t even show him mercy.

And maybe we could understand if this had of happened before the servant himself had been forgiven.  Four months’ salary was a considerable personal debt, but not after having 260 million dollars wiped off the books.

The servant demanded of others what he was unwilling to give to others.

And what happens?  Let’s keep reading.

Matthew 18:31-34  When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened.  Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me.  Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’  Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.

Now The Story Gets Scary

You understand that this is not a salvation message, the warning was not about the original debt that the man owed.  That had been forgiven.   This was about his attitude after his debt had been forgiven.

The first part of the message was an invitation to those here today who have never experienced God’s grace.  To know that regardless of the debt you owe to God, his grace is more than enough to cover it.  All you have to do is ask.

The last part of the message, the scary part, is for the rest of us.  This part of the story is for those of us who have been forgiven.

Jesus was very clear in his teaching, those who have experienced grace are expected to show grace.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught, Matthew 5:7  God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.   Who is shown mercy?  The merciful.

Later when Jesus is teaching the apostles to pray we learn what we now call the “Lord’s Prayer”.  And most of us could probably recite it by heart.  But do you ever stop and reflect on the part that says in Matthew 6:12  and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. ?

The story is told that the author Robert Louise Stevenson led his family in their daily devotions each evening.  And a part of the routine was praying the Lord’s Prayer together.

Well, one night in the middle of the prayer he just stopped and left the room.  Stevenson suffered from a variety of illnesses and so his wife went after him and asked if he was feeling all right, to which he responded, “I’m not fit to pray the Lord’s prayer today.”

Are there days when we aren’t fit to pray the words, forgive me my sins, as I have forgiven those who have sinned against me?

In the parable, when the servant refused to forgive the man who indebted to him, and his master found out we are told Matthew 18:34  Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.

Now obviously the man couldn’t repay his entire debt, we’ve already established that. And the reality is, that that debt had already been forgiven.  Remember from the story, Matthew 18:27  Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.  The debt had been forgiven, it was gone.

The debt that he now owed was what resulted from his lack of forgiveness.  And it was here that he needed to show forgiveness in order to gain forgiveness.

Our outflow of mercy to others always has to equal God’s inflow of mercy to us.

But the story doesn’t stop here.

Matthew 18:35  Jesus said “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”

It’s at this point that The Story Gets Scarier

I had mentioned how much the ending of the movie Carrie scared me, a big part of that was I thought the scary part was done.  Nope.

Jesus could have finished the parable at verse 34, and most people would have got it, but Jesus didn’t want most people to get it, he wanted everybody to get it.

Again, this parable is addressed to the forgiven, the saved, those who had tasted the grace of God.

And Jesus says Matthew 18:35 Jesus said “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.” In order to find out what Jesus’ Heavenly Father will do to us if we don’t forgive, we need to go back to the previous verse:  Matthew 18:34 “Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.”

Now, I don’t know where your theology is, but God isn’t going to unforgive you.  He’s not going to say, “Wow, you didn’t forgive that person, so remember all those things I said I forgave you for, I take it back, you are unforgiven.”

We have claimed the promise of Psalm 103:12  He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. And in Micah 7:19  Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean!

So, if God doesn’t unforgive us for our past sins what’s the big deal?  The big deal is that you are living in disobedience to God.  Every day that you let go by that you have not forgiven that grievance, whatever that grievance may have been, you are being disobedient to God.

How long can you as a Christian, live in disobedience to God without it affecting your spiritual life?  What is the debt that needs to be repaid?  The debt of unforgiveness.  I had a professor in Bible College who encouraged us to keep short accounts with God.  In other words, don’t continue to live in disobedience.

 

You understand that the prison of unforgiveness is built by those who refuse to forgive and the keys are held by the same person.

 

Catherine Ponder wrote, “When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free.”

 

And you understand that when you say, “I can never forgive them”, you are locking yourself into a cell of resentment and bitterness.  And the bizarre thing is that you hold the key, at any time you can unlock the door and free yourself.  If you choose to.

It was Lewis Smedes  who said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”

I had a conversation with a senior citizen once who recalled an incident that happened in elementary school.  I forget what the actual offence was, it was a slight of some kind.  And they said, “I can never forgive them for what they did to me.”  For well over seventy years that slight had been colouring their life and shaping their personality.

You don’t forgive for the benefit of the person who hurt you, and you don’t forgive for God’s benefit, you forgive for your benefit.   You forgive to set yourself free from resentment and bitterness.  You forgive to free up room in your spirit for love and compassion and Jesus.

And you forgive so God will forgive your unforgiveness.

Let me close with these words that Paul wrote to those who followed Jesus in the city of Ephesus because they are also meant for those who follow Jesus in the city of Halifax today.

Ephesians 4:30-32  And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.  Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behaviour.  Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.