Terms and Conditions: In the Beginning

Until 1991 I don’t think I ever heard the words “Terms and Conditions”, at least not together, and then I installed my first software package and I had to “Click here”.

 

And over the past 27 years, I’ve probably clicked on a million Terms and Conditions boxes, I just made up that number.  And you probably have as well.

 

So, what are terms and conditions?  Well, here is the definition that we will be using over the next several weeks: 

Terms and Conditions: are rules by which one must agree to abide in order to use a service.

 

And the service might be software that you are installing, or a website you are visiting, or content you are downloading.

 

But regardless of what the service might be,  there are rules that you’re expected to follow if you avail yourself of that service.

 

But have you ever stopped and read the Terms and Conditions that you are agreeing to?  Probably not, after all not only are they daunting but they are quite voluminous as well.  That means long.

 

When you clicked to agree to your iTunes account you were saying that you had read the 19,972 words of the contract and that you agreed with them.  The iTunes terms and conditions are longer than Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

 

But that pales in contrast to what you agreed to if you are a PayPal user.  The PayPal terms and conditions, that you said you read and agreed to, are 36,275 words long, that’s the equivalent of 10 of my sermons and longer than Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

 

But those who wrote the PayPal terms must not have read Hamlet and if they did they must have missed the line from Polonius when he says, “Since brevity is the soul of wit / And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief…”

 

This summer, as I was about to click and agree to a new set of Terms and Conditions I realized that it’s not just with software, iPhones and websites where we are required to play by the rules.  The Bible is full of examples of terms and conditions.

 

This morning we are starting at the beginning, which is usually a good place to start.  The scripture that was read for us earlier today, lays out the Terms and Conditions that God laid down for the first couple in the Garden of Eden.

 

Let’s pick up the story in Genesis 2:15  The LORD God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it.

 

Remember the definition we started with, Terms and Conditions: are rules by which one must agree to abide in order to use a service.

 

So let’s start with The Service

What was the expected here?  Well, if you know the story, God had created the first man and first woman, Adam and Eve.  And they were placed into a perfect world to live and to have fellowship with God.  God placed them in a perfect world and it would appear that in that perfect world God had provided everything the couple needed.

 

They lived in a beautiful garden in fellowship with their creator. We don’t know exactly where the Garden of Eden is or was, although some have tried to guess

 

First of all the Garden was situated in an area called Eden, so the Garden was not all of Eden, It was just a part of Eden.

 

The garden we are told was filled with trees and not just any trees we are told they were beautiful, and they produced delicious fruit, which tells us that God wasn’t just concerned with the practical but also with the aesthetics.

 

And if we pull down a map here, we are also told that the Garden was watered by a river that eventually became four rivers, today we know about the Pishon and the Tigris and the Euphrates, we don’t know where the Gihon may have flowed but with the other three we can guess that Eden may have been about here.

 

 

However, with the changes that would have happened to the geography after the great flood, we really don’t know.  We’re not even a hundred percent sure what the climate was like,  but considering we are told in Genesis 2:25  Now the man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame. We have to assume that it wasn’t Nova Scotia weather.

 

As a matter of fact, we have a photo of what many people feel is the entrance to paradise. (show pic of Grand Manan)

 

And after God had created them he had given them pretty explicit instructions of what he wanted them to do he said in Genesis 1:28 we read Genesis 1:28  Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. . .”

 

Which considering they were running around the Garden naked that probably wasn’t that much of a stretch.

 

 

But there was more to the story,  God also told them what they weren’t supposed to do Genesis 2:16-17  But the LORD God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—  except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.”

 

These were  The Terms and Conditions

 

So, they are supposed to make babies and fill the earth, but they aren’t supposed to eat the fruit from just one tree out of all the trees in the garden.  Good work if you can find it. I mean that seems like a pretty good gig to me.  The only condition is that they couldn’t eat the fruit from one tree.

 

32 words, that was it.  Not 32,000 words, not 3,200 words, not even 320 words.  Just 32 words.

 

And you know what came next, right?

 

The Violation

 

Everything is going good and the devil crashes the party.  Adam and Eve are in the process of doing what they supposed to do and not doing what they weren’t supposed to do.

 

And Satan arrives and says “Yo kids, what’s happening?” And they say “Not much we’re just hanging around the garden working at making babies and not eating from that tree.”

 

And Satan says “Excuse me if I’m being nosy but how come you aren’t eating from that tree? That’s a great tree, as a matter of fact, it’s probably got the best fruit of any tree in the garden.”

 

“Well,” says Eve, “God told us not to eat from that tree because he said we would die if we did.” “That’s a crock” replies Satan, “The only reason He won’t let you eat from it is because it’s the best fruit in the garden and he knows that if you eat from it you’ll be just like him.  Besides a loving God wouldn’t let you die just because you ate one little tiny piece of fruit, go ahead, Bon Appetit.”

 

You know the story, Eve took the fruit took a big bite and said, “This is delicious Adam, you should really try it.”  And he did.

 

And those two bites signalled the end of the world as they knew it.  Their innocence was shattered, and mankind was steered unto the path of sin.

 

I read once that the trouble wasn’t the apple in the tree it was the pair on the ground.  And yes, I know that it doesn’t say apple anywhere in the bible and the climate wasn’t cold enough to grow apples, enough already.  It was just a joke.

 

So where were we in the story?

 

Oh yes, Eve has been tempted by the devil to disobey God and she, in turn, tempts Adam and it is literally the bite that changes the world.

 

With that bite, their eyes were indeed opened and they were overcome with shame and tried to cover their nakedness.  Up to that point, there had been no shame, no sense of right and wrong.  I don’t know if there was any magical power in the tree of knowledge of Good and evil or if it was the simple act of disobedience that made them realize the difference between doing what they should do and what they shouldn’t do.

 

Regardless of what caused it to happen their innocence was no more because of The Violation

 

The directions that God gave were very simple, don’t eat from that tree, you see that tree over there?  Don’t eat from it, get it?  And I’m sure that they nodded and said, “Got it.”

 

It wasn’t rocket science; there was no ambiguity about the command.  “Did he mean we shouldn’t eat from it on Saturday or we shouldn’t eat from it on Sunday?”  “Did he mean we shouldn’t eat from it at all or that we could eat from it as long as we didn’t eat from it to excess?” or “Maybe he meant that we could eat the fruit that was rated ‘g” but not the fruit that was rated ‘AA’ or ‘R’ and we’d have to exercise our own judgment on the fruit that was rated ‘PG 14’.”

 

God has given us a book that tells us what he wants us to do as well as what he doesn’t want us to do.  In its simplest form, it is the Ten Commandments but there is more than that.

 

Throughout the book you discover verses like Galatians 5:19-21  When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures,  idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarrelling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division,  envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

 

It’s not like God has a whole list of unwritten rules that he is expecting us to follow listen to what Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:16-17  All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.  God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.

 

And so regardless of what some people want you to think there are things that are right and things that are wrong in this life.

 

The Result

 

When Satan showed up and began his temptation he asked Eve “Did God really say you must not eat any of the fruit in the garden?” and listen to what Eve said “Of course we may eat it, it’s only the fruit from the tree at the centre of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God says we must not eat it,”

 

It would appear that she had a pretty firm grip on what they weren’t supposed to do,  now notice what else she adds “or even touch it or we will die.”   God hadn’t commanded them not to touch it, he just told them not to eat the fruit.  For that matter, they could have cut the tree down chopped it up and used it for firewood and been done with temptation.

 

In our lives how much of the wrong that we do is done in ignorance?  How often can we honestly say, “I didn’t know that was wrong.”? “You mean I shouldn’t have cheated on my wife, stole from my employer and lied to my parents.” “Who would have thought that was wrong?”  Duh.  You.

 

Parents, did you ever have a situation where one of your children did something they knew was wrong and then they hid from you? Because they knew that they had done wrong.  I’m not sure if they thought they could hide forever or just until you got over being mad.  That’s what happened with Adam and Eve.

 

God came looking for them and they hid, broke fellowship with God.  Up to this point Adam and Eve enjoyed being in the presence of God but all of a sudden, his Holiness revealed their disobedience.

 

But why did they hide?  Because they were afraid.  But afraid of what?  Genesis 3:9-10  Then the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”  He replied, “I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid. I was afraid because I was naked.”

 

Was it being physically naked that made Adam afraid, it would appear so because the first thing they did was to cover themselves.  But these two had been walking around buck naked since day one and it hadn’t bothered them, why now?  I think that Adam and Eve were overcome with shame and they covered themselves physically because they couldn’t cover themselves spiritually.

 

Have you ever noticed that little kids have no qualms about running around starkers?

 

Indeed, they seem to enjoy it.  But there comes a time when their innocence disappears, and they feel compelled to cover up.  You say that’s cultural Denn, well to a certain degree yes.  But even in cultures in much warmer climates where in the past they wore considerably less than would be considered acceptable by western standards most still wore something.

 

As a believer have you ever been ashamed to be in the presence of God because of disobedience in your life?  Maybe during your own quiet time, or during a worship service or maybe during communion.

 

Adam and Eve knew that what they did was wrong, and it caused a tear in their relationship.

 

Even though they did what was wrong, and they knew it was wrong they refused to accept responsibility for what they had done.

 

Let’s go back to the story, Genesis 3:11-12  “Who told you that you were naked?” the LORD God asked. “Have you eaten from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat?”  The man replied, “It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit, and I ate it.”

 

Boy does that sound familiar. How often when confronted with doing something they shouldn’t be doing have you heard your kids say in response “Yes but.”?

 

As a matter of fact, how often when confronted with doing something that you shouldn’t be doing have you heard yourself say “Yes but.”?

 

Adam was frantically looking for a way out.  It was Ashleigh Brilliant who said, “If you can smile when things go wrong, you have someone in mind to blame.”

 

And Adam and Eve seemed to embrace that because they started by Blaming Each Other

 

Lady Nancy Astor said, “In passing, also, I would like to say that the first time Adam had a chance he laid the blame on a woman.”

 

But it wasn’t so much Eve that Adam blamed, let’s go back to Genesis 3:11-12  “Who told you that you were naked?” the LORD God asked. “Have you eaten from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat?”  The man replied, “It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit, and I ate it.”

 

It wasn’t just “The woman”, it was “The woman you gave me.”  Adam was blaming God.

 

And what was Eve’s response to Adam’s charge?  Genesis 3:13  Then the LORD God asked the woman, “What have you done?” “The serpent deceived me,” she replied. “That’s why I ate it.”

 

She blamed the devil.

 

It was the classic “The Devil made me do it.” Defence and the poor Devil didn’t have a leg to stand on.

 

Yes, the Devil will tempt us to do wrong, yes he wants you to fail as a Christian.  But you don’t have to.

 

One of the greatest promises in the Bible is found in 1 Corinthians 10:13  The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.

 

 

The bible never says that we won’t be tempted, but it does say we don’t have to give in to temptation.  There isn’t anything that you will be tempted to do that somebody else hasn’t already been tempted to do and yes some did give in to that temptation, but many didn’t.

 

All Adam and Eve had to do was whistle and God would have been there and turfed the Devil out on his ear.  But no they were enjoying the conversation.

 

And you know and I know that when we are being tempted, that if we actually stopped and prayed about the situation things would probably go in a different direction, but then again maybe that’s what we are afraid of.

 

It was Margaret Oliphant who said, “Temptations come, as a general rule, when they are sought.”

 

How often in our lives do we seek to blame our behaviour and our failures on others?  “It was because of my parents or my teachers or my friends. They led me astray.”

 

Or “God, if you hadn’t made me this way.” Or “God if you hadn’t brought that person into my life.”

 

Motivational speaker Dr. Robert Anthony claims “When you blame others, you give up your power to change.”

 

And so, you don’t need to change if it was someone else’s fault that you sinned.

 

Very seldom do you hear someone say, “I sinned, it was my choice, nobody forced me tempted me or enticed me, I did it because I wanted to.”

 

The Consequences

 

I’m not sure what would happen if you didn’t live up to the terms and conditions of PayPal, I do know that technically they can take your music away if you don’t live up to the terms and conditions of iTunes.

 

In this case, the relationship between God and man was severed.   God had asked them to not do one thing and trusted them to not do it, and they did it.

 

But you know the story could have had a different ending.

 

If we went back to Genesis 3:11-12  “Who told you that you were naked?” the LORD God asked. “Have you eaten from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat?”  The man replied, “It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit, and I ate it.”

 

“Yes,” Adam admitted, and then if instead of trying to shift the blame I wonder what would have happened if he had of said, “I was wrong and we are so sorry, next time we will call out to you and we’ll resist temptation.”

 

Do you think God would have forgiven Adam and Eve?  I do.  And while that might be a hypothetical question what happens when we sin isn’t, the word of God promises us in 1 John 1:8-9  If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth.  But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.

 

So where are you at?  Let’s see if we have all of the story straight.  In the beginning, God created Man and Woman and they lived in fellowship with him and when sin came into the world it separated us from God.  And it continues to separate us from God.  Romans 3:23  For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. And ever since that first sin we have tried to bridge the gap with our own efforts, with religion, giving, good deeds but they are never enough.  The consequences for Adam and Eve was spiritual death, and that holds true today, Romans 6:23  For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

The gap can only be bridged with the cross of Christ, and that’s why we are told 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.

 

So, where are you?

 

If you’ve never experienced that forgiveness if you are still on the other side of the separation, then today would be a great time to move across.  It’s as simple as asking, here’s a suggested prayer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Storms of Life 4

Dad told me that once as a teen he was with his father on their fishing boat when the weather turned nasty.  Dad was whining and complaining about how rough it was and how he wished that they had of stayed home instead of going fishing.

 

And his father told him, “you wouldn’t want to be ashore in a storm like this, it’s much safer out here if you were ashore a tree could fall on you.”

 

And the reality was my Grandfather probably wouldn’t have headed out in the Bay of Fundy in a small fishing boat if he knew that rough weather was coming, on the other hand, they were already there.  To turn around would be to lose valuable time and spend valuable money on fuel when they were already where they had to be.  And so they safely weathered the storm without a tree falling on them.

 

This is week four of our “Weathering the Storms of Life” series.  Over the past three weeks, we’ve focused on storms that happened at sea.

 

In week one we looked at the Old Testament story of Jonah and the storm that he found himself in when he was disobedient to God.

 

And you’ll remember that we learned five things from that story.

 

1) Not Every Storm Is Our Fault

2) Every Action Has Consequences for Others.

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

4) No Storm Lasts forever

5) The Remedy for Disobedience Is Obedience.

 

Two weeks ago we looked at the time that Jesus calmed the storm that he was in the with the disciples on the Sea of Galilee.  And from that story we learned:

 

1) Sometimes Obedience Leads Us into Storms

2) Jesus Is Always With Us In The Storm

3) The Storm Teaches Us About Ourselves

4) The Storm Teaches Us About Jesus

5) It’s Easy to Nap When You Know Who’s in Control.

 

Last week we looked at the story of Paul’s voyage to Rome and the multiple storms he encountered.  And there were five lessons there as well:

 

1) Sometimes a Storm is just a Storm

2) Storms Don’t Always Come Alone

3) If There’s Something You Can Do, Do It

4)The Consequences of the storm Can Outlast the Storm

5) Never Forget, God is There

 

But not all storms happen at sea; I happen to think the cool ones do.

 

This week the storm story is a story of a story.  We are going back to the Parables of Jesus, the stories that Jesus told to illustrate the Kingdom of God.  Matthew and Luke both record this story, and we are going to settle into Matthew’s account.

 

Matthew 7:24 & 26  “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. . . But anyone who hears my teaching and ignores it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand.

 

So let’s start with The Back Story  Jesus begins by telling the story of two men, because one man wouldn’t have been enough and three men would have just confused the issue.

 

And the two men had some things in common, they both heard the teaching of Jesus, they both embarked on a project, they both made choices, and they both encountered a storm.

 

In the story, the project they embarked on was the task of building a house, which of course was an analogy for the life that each one of us creates for ourselves.

 

 

And although we didn’t actually “Build” them, we designed both of them, and we were on site every day, checking progress and bringing the contractors home-made chocolate chip cookies.  It’s incredible how far home-made cookies go.

 

And over the past thirty years I have been involved in 3 church building projects, and in each of those I was involved in the design, I was on site every day and I took part in the building project.  Swinging a hammer, lugging stuff and painting.    I love building.

 

And I have discovered that in each of those cases you need to be careful about what’s happening while the building is under construction because you will pay later for any shortcuts that were taken during the building process.

 

And trust me when I say that nobody will care more about how your house is constructed then you will.

 

 

And so, the two men, both build their homes.  One chose to build on bedrock; the second man built his house on sand.  The commentators tell us that this would have been a story that would have had people nodding.  It made complete sense in their culture, time and geography.

 

Barclay writes in his Daily Study Bible, “There was many a gully which in summer was a pleasant sandy hollow, but was in winter a raging torrent of rushing water. A man might be looking for a house; he might find a pleasantly sheltered sandy hollow; and he might think this a very suitable place. But, if he was a short-sighted man, he might well have built his house in the dried-up bed of a river, and, when the winter came, his house would disintegrate.”

 

Ultimately both men made decisions, decisions that would dramatically affect the quality of their lives later.

 

And Jesus explains very clearly what he was trying to say:  He didn’t beat around the bush or try to sugar coat his words.  Let’s listen to his words again.    Matthew 7:24 & 26  Jesus said, “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, But anyone who hears my teaching and ignores it is foolish.”

the same as wise and foolish.

 

Because it’s easier for a wise person to gain knowledge than for a smart person to gain judgment.

 

And we’ve all met people who are incredibly smart but dumb as dirt when it comes to making practical decisions about life.

 

So, one of these men, the wise man, hears the teachings of Jesus and chooses to make those teachings the foundation of his life, even though it’s not necessarily the easy choice or even the popular choice.

 

The second man heard the same message but made a different decision about what he would do with that message.  He chose to ignore the message.

We don’t know what the philosophy was that he built his life on, but we do know what it wasn’t.  It wasn’t the teaching of Christ.

 

In this parable Jesus first of all, demands that people listen to his message and then he demands that people do something with what they heard.   Knowledge only becomes relevant when translated into action.

 

When I first went to work with Dad on the tugs, he gave me a big lecture about doing as I was told and not questioning him or anyone else, that it expected that as soon as they told me to jump that I’d be in the air asking how high?

 

And as I looked at him with that 15-year-old, “I know everything” look, he explained that if we were towing something and the cable or rope broke, and someone yelled “Get down!” and I didn’t I might get my head cut off.  That made sense, even to a 15-year-old who knew everything.

 

And the same way you don’t build a house overnight, you don’t build your life overnight.

 

Stephen Covey wrote, “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”

 

So let’s continue with our story: Matthew 7:24-27  “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock.  Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock.  But anyone who hears my teaching and ignores it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand.  When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”

 

Which of course is The Storm Story

 

Presumably, the houses weren’t built in the midst of the storms, but the storms eventually came.  And it seems that they came from all directions.  The story tells us that the rain didn’t just come, it came in torrents.  And the heavy rains caused the floodwaters to rise, and the wind was beating against the house.

 

Last week I spoke about how there are times that one storm seems to follow right on the heels of a previous storm.

 

But even within the same storm, there are various elements to the storms.

 

You get sick, and then you can’t work so you can’t pay your bills, and you lose your car.  Not multiple storms, but elements of the same storm.

 

In the story that Jesus told the storms are identical, torrential rains, flood waters and wind.  But it is in the end result that we see the difference.

 

At the end of the day, one house is

 

So, what are some of the  Lessons from the Story

 

1) Storms will Come  Regardless of how nice the weather is when you are building your house, you can be assured that at some point storms will come.

 

So, If you are building a house in Canada, you ought to prepare for snow and if you a building a house in Florida ought to prepare for hurricanes.

 

But sometimes we get hurricanes in Canada, and there have been times they’ve gotten snow in Florida.

 

There may not be a storm today, but storms will come.   Your life may seem peachy right now, but the chances are that at some place in your future a storm will come.

 

 

My first pastoral family was Jack and Charlene Mackenzie, or as we all called them “Pastor and Mrs.” And they have been the Godliest people I have ever met, an incredible example of faith and personal holiness.  If faithfulness exempted us from storms, then life should have been cloud free for the Pastor and the Mrs.

 

Lou Gehrig’s diseaseDisease.

 

Jesus reminds us in  Matthew 5:45  For He (God)  gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and He sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.

 

But with that in mind, listen to the promise that Jesus made to his followers in John 16:33  “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

 

 

Or as Shannon Alder reminds us, “There is always a storm. There is always rain. Some experience it. Some live through it. And others are made from it.”

 

And remember the wisdom of Bee Stanton from last week: “A wise old mariner perhaps once said ‘Never grumble of how the winds they howl, tis one of the few things in life you cannot change.”

 

Which leads us to the next thing we learn,  The Best Time to Prepare for a Storm is Before the Storm  Kind of like the old guy who never fixed his roof because when it was sunny, it wasn’t leaking and when it was raining it was too wet to work on the roof.

 

The time to prepare for the storm is when the sun is out.  The best time to build a house and to build a life is when the storm isn’t raging around you.

 

Sometimes we get the warning, “a storm is coming get ready. ” But often times we miss the warnings, or we underestimate the power of the storm.  And it’s at those times that we discover how prepared we are.

 

When Angela and I first started dating, we took a group from the bible college out on Dad’s pleasure boat for the day.  It started as a really nice day, but the time we were done our three-hour cruise the wind had really blown up.

 

Dad had a new window that he was planning on installing in the boat, and he had it laying on the deck in front of the cabin.  I didn’t notice it until a gust of wind picked it up and blew it overboard.  Probably should have secured it before the wind came up.

 

The middle of a hurricane isn’t when you should be putting your patio furniture away, and the middle of the snowstorm isn’t when you should be discovering that you forgot to put gas in the snow blower.  Not that I know anything about that.

 

But I do know for a fact that sea sick medicine is a lot more effective if you take it before you get sick.

 

Your Foundation is Important in the Storm  We’ve all seen pictures of icebergs.  In 1981 I had a great summer job on the Irving Cedar which took me to the magnetic North Pole, and we got to see Icebergs on our way there.  And there were a few days that it got stormy and we were bouncing around, and they were just floating placidly along, it was so cool.    And that was because so much of the berg was beneath the surface.

 

Luke’s account of this parable is a little different than Matthews.  Luke 6:48-49  It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against the house, it stands firm because it is well built.  But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.”

 

Jesus told another parable where he compared our Christian experience to plants and explained how the plants that had developed deep strong roots were more likely to survive than plants with shallow roots.

 

And how do you make sure that you have a strong foundation in your Christian life?  Start by reading your Bible.  Paul reminded the early Christians in Ephesus of this truth when he wrote, Ephesians 2:20  Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself.

 

And the way you build on the foundation of the apostles and prophets is to read them.  And if you don’t have a bible to read, let one of the staff know, and we will get you one in a modern translation.

 

But it’s not just reading your bible, make prayer a habit, join a small group and make regular worship a part of the routine for you and your family.

 

 

The time to be preparing your foundation isn’t when you just found out you are ill, or unemployed or there are problems with your kids, the time is now.

 

It has often been said, “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.” Nobody knows who said it, but nobody argues with the truth of the statement.

 

You should have started laying the foundation of your faith a long time ago, but if you didn’t then start today.

 

The Results of the Storm Will Differ for Each of Us

 

Everybody goes through a storm differently.  Before we moved to where we are now, we lived further into Kingswood.  And our house was down in a sheltered area, and I remember the night that Hurricane Juan went through.   The power had gone off in the middle of the night, and it was still off when we got up in the morning.

 

I remember looking out the window and thinking, “Well that was much ado about nothing.”  And then our son came home from working in Bedford and told us about how much damage there had been in town.

 

Both men went through the same storm, one man’s house stood, and the second man’s house fell.  In their case if was because of poor planning and poor preparation.

 

But understand that every storm is different, and so are the people who experience the storm.  Their life experiences, the faith background the foundation they have established and all of those things will dictate how we weather the storms.

 

Don’t try to project on others how you think the storm should affect them. You can be there for them, but you aren’t them.

 

And finally, and most important, God is With Us in the Storm.  Maybe You are wondering where it said that in the story.   Remember how the story began, Matthew 7:24  Jesus said: “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock.”

 

And in Jesus teachings, he reminds us how much God loves us and cares for us and how he will always be there for us.

 

The prophet writes in  Nahum 1:7  The LORD is good, a strong refuge when trouble comes. He is close to those who trust in him.

 

If you’ve never accepted the forgiveness and grace of Jesus, those promises are just a prayer away.

 

And here is the promise from the past three messages:   Proverbs 10:25  When the storms of life come, the wicked are whirled away, but the godly have a lasting foundation.

 

And a new promise for today from the book of Romans, Romans 8:35-39  Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?  (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”)  No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.  And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.  No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

 

Benediction:

Numbers 6:24-26  ‘May the LORD bless you and protect you.  May the LORD smile on you and be gracious to you.  May the LORD show you his favour and give you his peace.’

Storms of Life 3

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that it seemed that whenever Dad and I were chatting that our conversations often drifted to storms that we had been in together when we were at sea.  And the reason, of course, is that the storms are more memorable than the nice days at sea, not necessarily more pleasant, just more memorable.

And it seemed that whenever the talk turned to storms that inevitably there was one storm in particular that Dad would bring up.

The year I was in grade 12 Dad worked for Atlantic Towing in Saint John on a salvage tugboat.  And he worked 2 weeks on and 2 weeks off.  Often times during his two weeks off Dad would freelance for other companies as skipper.  Sometimes he would work on the Pilot boat, running pilots out to ships coming into the harbour.  Other times he worked for a company that was dredging Saint John Harbour.  And sometimes he worked for a company that owned a retired RCMP patrol boat by the name of the Burin.  The Burin was 48-foot-long and a little over 20 years old, if she had of been a horse you’d say that she been ridden hard and put away wet.

And now the Burin’s sole function in life was transporting crew members back and forth to ships that were anchored outside the harbour.

Well, one winter night a storm had settled into the Bay of Fundy and Dad was on call for the Burin.  I was in my room doing homework, not that can’t be right, I was in my room reading and Dad came in and told me that he had gotten me some work as a deckhand on the Burin.  Which was kind of funny, because I didn’t know I was looking for work as a deckhand on the Burin.

 

The storm had escalated to the point that they had shut down the Harbour, nothing was going out or coming in.  Unfortunately, there was a ship anchored off the city that had allowed a number of their crew to go ashore before the storm had gotten worse.  Now the ship had to sail and the company that owned the Burin had accepted the job to get the crew members out to the ship.

 

The problem was, that they had a skipper, but their regular deckhand refused to go out in the storm, and Dad said that wouldn’t be a problem, he had a deckhand.  And he assured me that I wouldn’t have to worry about being sick, that I’d be too scared to be sick he was wrong.  I was sick and scared.

 

It was the most terrifying night of my life.  We finally got out to the ship and then we had to get the crew back on board, which meant they had dropped a rope ladder over the side, Dad would bring the Burin alongside, in these enormous waves, I’m not sure how big they were so I’ll make up a number, they were a thousand foot.   I would help the crew member get in position, we would go up on a wave, they’d grab the ladder and we’d disappear from under them and every time you just prayed they could hang on.

 

And it seemed that every time we’d talk about being at sea Dad would bring up the night on the Burin and how scared and sick I was, and then he’d laugh.  And I’d remind him that I had never gotten paid for that night and he’d laugh again.

 

This is week 3 of our “Weathering the Storms of Life” series.  On the first week, we looked at the story of Jonah and the storm he found himself in.

 

And you’ll remember that we learned five things from that story

 

1) Not Every Storm Is Our Fault
2) Every Action Has Consequences for Others.

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

4) No Storm Lasts forever

5) The Remedy for Disobedience Is Obedience.

 

Last week we looked at the time that Jesus calmed the storm that he was in the with the disciples on the Sea of Galilee.  And from that story we learned:

 

1) Sometimes Obedience Leads Us into Storms

2) Jesus Is Always With Us In The Storm
3) The Storm Teaches Us About Ourselves
4) The Storm Teaches Us About Jesus

5) It’s Easy to Nap When You Know Who’s in Control.

 

And again, if you missed those messages the manuscripts and videos are available on the church website.

 

This week’s story comes from the book of Acts in the New Testament.

 

So let’s start with The Back Story the story begins when Paul after having returned to Jerusalem to meet with Jesus’ brother James and the other leaders of the baby church is arrested.  Paul had been worshipping at the temple and after he was recognized by some of the Jewish leaders a near riot breaks out.

 

You’ll remember that Paul had been a high-profile Jewish leader who was intent on destroying the early church before his conversion.  But now that he was a Jesus follower his old compatriots weren’t amused to see him back in Jerusalem.

 

A Roman officer ordered Paul to be arrested and we pick up the story in Acts 21:37-38  As Paul was about to be taken inside, he said to the commander, “May I have a word with you?” “Do you know Greek?” the commander asked, surprised.  “Aren’t you the Egyptian who led a rebellion some time ago and took 4,000 members of the Assassins out into the desert?”

 

Talk about a case of mistaken identity.  Paul tells the commander who he is and asks the commander for permission to address the crowd, which was granted.  And Paul proceeds to tell the mob the story of his conversion and urges them to embrace the claims of Christ and repent.  Well, that goes over like Denn trying to pole vault.

 

The commander orders Paul to be whipped so he will confess, they hadn’t invented waterboarding yet.  But before the whipping commences Paul plays his trump card.  Which has nothing to do with the President and is simply a term indicating the winning card in a card game.

 

We pick up the story in Acts 22:25  When they tied Paul down to lash him, Paul said to the officer standing there, “Is it legal for you to whip a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been tried?”   Oops.  A bit of a blunder.

 

And the next two chapters are filled with intrigue and deception, the Jewish leaders conspire to kill Paul, the Roman commander hears of the plot and transports Paul to the city of Caesarea to stand trial before the Roman Governor, a man named Felix, who left Paul in prison for two years.

Finally, Felix is replaced as governor by Festus who agrees to hear Paul’s case.

 

The Jewish religious leaders demand that Paul be returned to Jerusalem to stand trial before the high priests, all the while planning on ambushing him and killing him on the way Jerusalem.

 

So, you still with me?  Governor Festus asks Paul if he’s willing to stand trial in Jerusalem and we read Paul’s response in Acts 25:10-11  But Paul replied, “No! This is the official Roman court, so I ought to be tried right here. You know very well I am not guilty of harming the Jews.  If I have done something worthy of death, I don’t refuse to die. But if I am innocent, no one has a right to turn me over to these men to kill me. I appeal to Caesar!”

 

Which was Paul’s right as a Roman Citizen.  And at that point everything stopped, kind of like if you are arrested and are being questioned, once you ask for a lawyer, the questioning should stop.

 

So if we keep reading we discover, Acts 25:12  Festus conferred with his advisers and then replied, “Very well! You have appealed to Caesar, and to Caesar you will go!”

 

There is a whole other story that follows where Paul ends up stating his case and sharing his testimony with the Governor and King Agrippa, who like King Herod before him was just a puppet king under the Romans.

 

But ultimately we arrive at Acts 27:1  When the time came, we set sail for Italy. Paul and several other prisoners were placed in the custody of a Roman officer named Julius, a captain of the Imperial Regiment.

 

And this is where we discover The Storm Story

 

And then things go to pieces.  Listen to some of the descriptions over the next forty verses.  Acts 27:4  Putting out to sea from there, we encountered strong headwinds that made it difficult to keep the ship on course, so we sailed north of Cyprus between the island and the mainland.

 

Acts 27:7  We had several days of slow sailing, and after great difficulty we finally neared Cnidus. But the wind was against us, so we sailed across to Crete and along the sheltered coast of the island, past the cape of Salmone.

 

Acts 27:9  We had lost a lot of time. The weather was becoming dangerous for sea travel because it was so late in the fall, and Paul spoke to the ship’s officers about it.

 

Acts 27:14  But the weather changed abruptly, and a wind of typhoon strength (called a “northeaster”) caught the ship and blew it out to sea.

 

Acts 27:27  About midnight on the fourteenth night of the storm, as we were being driven across the Sea of Adria, the sailors sensed land was near.

 

And then finally,  Acts 27:41  But they hit a shoal and ran the ship aground too soon. The bow of the ship stuck fast, while the stern was repeatedly smashed by the force of the waves and began to break apart.

 

I think I may have been on that trip or one like it, where a shipwreck would have been a welcome development.

 

And that leads us to,  Lessons from the Story

 

Sometimes a Storm is just a Storm 

 

You will remember that in the story of Jonah it was Jonah’s disobedience that caused the storm.  God said “Go”, Jonah said “No”.  God wanted Jonah to go East, Jonah went west.  And as a result of his disobedience, he wound up in the middle of a storm.  And we discovered that some storms are caused by our disobedience.

 

But last week we discovered that the Apostles were obedient to what Jesus asked them to do, he told them to get into the boat, he told them to set sail.  And they did exactly what they had been asked to do, and they wound up in a storm.

 

To be truthful I find the first example a lot easier to understand than the second example.

 

In the case of Paul, we don’t see God telling him to set sail nor forbidding him to set sail.  It was a decision that Paul made, and as a result of that decision he found himself in the midst of a storm.

 

Sometimes we are the cause of our storms, you smoke and get lung cancer, you cheat on your spouse or neglect your spouse and your marriage dissolves, you do something illegal and you go to jail.

 

But, I was at a funeral earlier in the month for a lady who had never smoked, and she died of lung cancer.  I’ve sat across from people who were completely blindsided when their spouse walked out on them.  And believe it or not, I’ve met innocent people who were charged with crimes.

 

We are on a journey in this life and it’s not always a safe journey.  Sorry.

 

I would say that Paul was in the storm because of a decision he made.  He chose to appeal to Caesar and because of that choice he was put on the ship and ended up in the storm.

 

Remember I told you that he had the opportunity to speak to Festus and King Agrippa?  When he was done we pick up this conversation between the two politicians:  Acts 26:32  And Agrippa said to Festus, “He could have been set free if he hadn’t appealed to Caesar.”

 

That would have been handy to know beforehand.

 

Storms Don’t Always Come Alone  I’m sure that by the time they were in the midst of the third storm they must have been thinking, “surely this has to end”.  They must have felt like Mr. Murphy was sailing with them.

And we talked about that a couple of weeks ago, that every storm has an end, but sometimes there is another storm right behind the first one.

 

Do you remember the Old Testament story of Job?  All of his livestock is stolen, his house is destroyed, his children are killed and then he ends up with boils all over his body.  One storm after another.

 

On 24 November 1992, The Queen gave a speech to mark the 40th anniversary of her Coronation. She began her speech with these words,   “1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure. In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an ‘Annus Horribilis’.”   Which if you don’t speak Latin is translated “A horrible year.”

 

That year three of the Queen’s children separated from their spouses, the media seemed to take particular pleasure in picking at the Royal family and Windsor Castle caught fire and was extensively damaged.  And any year that one of your castles catches on fire has to be a horrible year.

 

Eventually, Job’s storms ended and for the Queen 1992 ended on December 31st.  For Paul and the crew of the ship they storm finally blew itself out, and your storm will end too.

 

If There’s Something You Can Do, Do It.  If you read through the story you see the ship’s crew taking shelter close to shore, they ran ropes under the hull to hold the ship together,  they tried to lighten the ship by throwing cargo overboard, they set sea anchors and when they got close to shore they dropped four anchors to slow down their drift onto the rocks.

 

They did everything they could humanly do.

 

I know it’s an old joke but the story is told about the man in the flood and as the water got up to his front door a canoe came by and the guy in it said “Hop in I’ll give you a lift”, to which the first man replied, “no thanks the Lord will save me.”  Well eventually the water got to the second floor and a man in a speedboat came by and the fellow in it said, “Hop in I’ll give you a lift”, to which the first man replied, “no thanks the Lord will save me.”

 

Well you know how the story went, the water go roof high and a helicopter arrived offering the man a lift to safety but still, he declined, saying, “no thanks the Lord will save me.”  And then the man fell off the rood and drowned.  When the man got to heaven he demanded of God, “How come you didn’t save me?” And God answered, “Hey I sent two boats and a helicopter.”

 

God is an awesome God and God is a miracle-performing God, but God also gave us a brain to use.  If you have a toothache go to the dentist.  If you are feeling sick, see a doctor.  Take care of your car, your house, your health and your marriage.

 

I know a lady who stopped wearing her glasses because she was convinced that God would heal her vision, then she got headaches from not wearing her glasses.  Maybe God had already healed her vision by providing glasses.

 

 

The next thing we learn is The Consequences of the storm Can Outlast the Storm    When the storm was over, Paul and Luke and the others were on a beach, just not the beach they were heading for.  Let’s pick up the story in Acts 27:42 – 28:2  The soldiers wanted to kill the prisoners to make sure they didn’t swim ashore and escape.  But the commanding officer wanted to spare Paul, so he didn’t let them carry out their plan. Then he ordered all who could swim to jump overboard first and make for land.  The others held onto planks or debris from the broken ship. So everyone escaped safely to shore. Once we were safe on shore, we learned that we were on the island of Malta.  The people of the island were very kind to us. It was cold and rainy, so they built a fire on the shore to welcome us.

 

In the first two stories we looked, we saw storms that suddenly stopped.

 

The winds stopped blowing, the sea becomes calm.  But even in that, there were consequences.  I’m sure that some of the sailors who threw Jonah overboard lived with that decision for the rest of their lives.  They didn’t know how the story ended.  As far as they knew they had killed a man.  And even when the storm ended for the sailors it continued for Jonah.

 

In the second storm, well after the winds had calmed down the storm would shape how the apostles viewed themselves and Jesus.

 

When a storm leaves you without a spouse or a child, you’re never the same.   Sometimes a business failure allows you to change directions.  Because Paul and Luke ended up on the Island of Malta they were able to share the gospel with people who wouldn’t have heard it otherwise.

 

Recently I bought a print from our very own Bee Stanton that says, “A wise old mariner perhaps once said ‘Never grumble of how the winds they howl, tis one of the few things in life you cannot change.”

 

Which goes along with Bryant H. McGill who wrote: “When the storm rips you to pieces, you get to decide how to put yourself back together again.”

 

You will decide if you will simply go through the storm or if you will grow through it.  You will let the storm make you better or bitter.

 

And finally, Never Forget, God is There In the middle of the storm Paul took time to pray and took the opportunity to thank God.

 

The promise of God is that he will be with you, period.  In the good weather and in the storms.

 

In the storm claim Isaiah 43:2 as your own promise Isaiah 43:2 When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.

 

And it was because of Paul’s confidence in God’s presence and God’s promises that he was able to encourage the rest of the crew and passengers.  You don’t know who might be watching how you respond to the storm.

 

So a couple of thoughts to finish up, Hunter S Thompson asked the question,  “So we shall let the reader answer this question for himself: who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lived or he who has stayed securely on shore and merely existed?”

 

And here is the promise from the past two messages:   Proverbs 10:25  When the storms of life come, the wicked are whirled away, but the godly have a lasting foundation.

 

 

Benediction:

Numbers 6:24-26  ‘May the LORD bless you and protect you.  May the LORD smile on you and be gracious to you.  May the LORD show you his favour and give you his peace.’

Asleep in the Storm

It started out kind of petty and ended up being kind of funny.

It was 1978 and I was fishing with my Dad out of the Gaspe Coast of Quebec. The boat hadn’t been converted to a seiner yet so we were still configured as a midwater trawler.

Dad was chief mate; his twin was captain and there were 7 others of us who made up the crew.

It really was a motley group that Dad and Clint had recruited, most of us had no fishing experience but what we lacked in experience we made up for in ignorance.  It was pretty sad to start, we were all “learning the ropes” so to speak.

And the Twins took it with a fair amount of grace and patience.

Except when it came to John.  John was our cook, he wasn’t a bad cook, but he annoyed the life out of Dad.  John had never been to sea before and he embraced the experience with an exuberance that drove Dad nuts.  John couldn’t mop the floor he had to swab the decks, it wasn’t enough for him to answer Dad or Clint in the affirmative he had to say “aye, aye skipper”.   His nickname soon became “Salty Dog”.

So, we were in North Sydney, and the forecast was calling for a bit of a blow, a captain on another boat mentioned that there’d be no fishing for a couple of days because of the weather.

 

The problem was that Dad and Clint had spent too long on the salvage tugs where weather wasn’t an issue.  Clint decided to prove a point and show the rest of the fleet that you could midwater trawl in rough weather.

 

And Dad saw an opportunity in the storm, they would introduce Salty Dog to a Nor-Easter and he’d quit.

 

Well, it was quite the night.  We worked on deck in water up to our waist and we caught fish, Clint proved a point, you could fish in a storm.  It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t fun but it was doable.

 

But the highlight of the trip was on our way back to port.  We were pitching and rolling and I was sick, that was just to be expected.  Dad and Clint were in the wheelhouse when they noticed that out on the bow, with one foot up on the rail, looking out across the waves and smoking his pipe was . . . “Salty Dog.”

 

The boat was laid up that summer to be converted to a seiner and John wasn’t invited back but he proved that he loved a good storm.

 

This is week two of our Weathering the Storms of Life series.  Last week I looked at the story of Jonah and the storm he found himself in.  And from that story we discovered five lessons about storms.

 

1) Not Every Storm Is Our Fault
2) Every Action Has Consequences for Others.

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

4) No Storm Lasts forever

5) The Remedy for Disobedience Is Obedience.

 

And if you weren’t here last week and want to hear those points fleshed out there is always the video or podcast, both are available on the website.

 

Today we are jumping to a Jesus story that is told in all three of the Synoptic Gospels, the Synoptic Gospels are Matthew, Mark and Luke.  And they are called that because they contain many of the same stories.

 

So, let’s begin with the Back Story:  The story begins with Jesus on a beach on the Sea of Galilee.  Jesus is teaching the crowds and as they press in against him he commandeers a boat to use as a floating pulpit.  I love it.

 

Jesus had begun his ministry preaching in the synagogue the way it had been done for hundreds of years, but as his ministry expanded so did his methods.  He realized that if he was going to reach everyone he was called to reach it wouldn’t happen in the synagogue, because some people just weren’t going to come to the synagogue.

 

That same discovery was made by John Wesley 1700 years after Jesus made it.

 

George Whitefield a contemporary and friend of Wesley’s was preaching to the miners, as many as twenty thousand of them at a time, in the open air; and he was seeing hundreds of converts.

 

And so, Whitfield sent for John Wesley to join him. But, Wesley responded by writing, “I love a commodious room, a soft cushion, a handsome pulpit.”

 

He was almost offended by the concept of open-air preaching.

 

Wesley would later write, “I could scarcely reconcile myself at first to this strange way—having been all my life (till very lately) so tenacious of every point relating to decency and order, that I should have thought the saving of souls almost a sin if it had not been done in a church.”

But Wesley came to the conclusion if he was going to reach the unchurched he would have to go to them.  And he scandalized the Anglican Church, and was criticized for his actions.

 

I’m pretty sure that there were those who thought what Jesus was doing was a little unorthodox and criticized him for preaching and teaching outside of the synagogue.

 

Through the day Jesus continued to teach, to the crowd that had gathered and then later in the day he took time to meet with the twelve, for some more in-depth teaching.

 

If you are only relying on the teaching that happens on Sunday morning, the preaching to the crowd, for your spiritual food you will find it difficult to be properly nourished.

 

We have all kinds of opportunities for you to go deeper in the word with various Life groups that are offered at Cornerstone.

 

Nothing is more frustrating for a pastor then when someone tells them they are leaving the church because they aren’t being fed.  It’s like telling the cook that the meals don’t satisfy.

 

I don’t know about other pastors, but when I hear that I want to lay hands on them. . . and pray for them, “O Lord teach them to eat.”  But that was a tangent, no charge for that, it was free.

 

So Jesus spends the day teaching and we arrive at Mark 4:35-36  As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.”  So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed).

 

I would suspect that because the writer says they took Jesus in “The” boat and not just “a” boat that it was probably the same boat that he had preached from earlier in the day.  And we know that on at least one other occasion when Jesus preached from a boat that it was the boat that belonged to Peter.

 

And this leads us to the, Storm Story   So Jesus has been teaching all day and he was probably emotionally spent.   When I started preaching I was amazed at how much preaching takes out of you, and it doesn’t take nearly as much out of me as time spent with people.

 

The thing most people don’t understand is that I’m a bit of an introvert, I know that’s hard to believe, but I am.  And being in crowds of people and interacting with people drains me.  It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s just that it drains me of emotional energy.

 

And we discover in the story that Jesus used this as an opportunity to get some sleep.   Ahhhh, the joys of sleeping on a boat.   I remember afternoons when we were heading out to or in from the fishing grounds of flaking out on the net in the sunshine and ending up dead to the world.

 

And it seems this what happened here.  The guys are doing the sailing and Jesus is sleeping in the stern and we pick up the story in Mark 4:37  But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.

 

Those in the know tell us that the Sea of Galilee  (which wasn’t a sea, it was just a big lake) is notorious for its storms.  They can literally come out of nowhere, one writer said: “It is not unusual to see terrible squalls hurl themselves, even when the sky is perfectly clear, upon these waters which are ordinarily so calm.”  It was because of the shape of the hills around Galilee and the ravines which funnelled the winds from the hills down to the water.

 

So, it wasn’t like they sailed knowing that a storm was coming, and they had no weather channel to check.

 

And I don’t know this for sure, but I’m suspecting that the boat was pretty close to its maximum capacity.  I’ve seen pictures of what the fishing boats were like in the sea of Galilee, and they weren’t designed for 13 men.  Even if each guy only weighed 150 pounds you had pretty close to a ton of people on board. Not a figurative ton, a literal ton.

 

So the boat would have been sitting low in the water to start with, probably responding sluggishly because of the extra weight, a little tippy because the centre of gravity was thrown out of kilter.  You can almost hear Peter yelling that the guys to sit down and stay still.

 

And as the wind increased the waves began to break over the gunnels the boat began filling with water, and not only that but Jesus was asleep.  Mark 4:38  Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”

 

Note, they didn’t ask Jesus to help, instead, they make an accusation “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”

 

Because of their circumstances, the disciples formed a very unflattering opinion of Jesus.  They accused him of not caring about them.  How often have we said in the midst of the storm, “Where are You, God?”  “Why have you allowed this to happen?”  or “You must not care”.

 

And even though they didn’t actually ask Jesus to do anything in the next verse we read,  Mark 4:39-41  When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the water, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm.  Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”  The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!”

 

One minute it was storming, the next minute, nothing.  As we’d say on Grand Manan it was flat calm.  And that isn’t the way it’s supposed to happen.  The wind doesn’t simply stop and if it did the sea doesn’t magically become calm but it did.

 

That was so impossible that it scared the disciples more than the storm did.

 

So, what do we learn from this story?  These are the  Lessons from the Story

 

Sometimes Obedience Leads Us into Storms  Last week Jonah ended up in a storm because he was disobedient.  God said go, Jonah said no.   God wanted him to go east, instead, he went west.

 

But here, the disciples were following Jesus’ direction, they couldn’t have been more obedient.

 

In 1952 Jim Elliot followed God’s direction and calling to go to Ecuador as a missionary, and in 1956 it was there he was killed by the very people he went to minister to.  He was 29 years old and left behind a wife and a year-old daughter.  Really?

 

 

On December 11, 1889, Rev and Mrs. Henry Johnson became the first Wesleyan Missionaries when they sailed for Sierra Leone with their toddler song Irvin.  Rev Johnson wrote out his commitment with these words. “The Lord being my helper, I do this day consecrate to the Lord and lay upon His altar, not to be mine any longer, only as the Lord wills it, my wife, my home, my child, my position, my papers, my church, my friends, my reputation, my relatives, my plans of life, my convictions of right, my political opinions, my reform ideas, my health, my mind, my body, my pride, my ambitions, my all. The Lord take me and cleanse me and make me wholly thine through the blood of Jesus.”

 

When I first visited Sierra Leone, I visited the plot of land where the first Wesleyan Missionaries were buried and stood at the grave of Irvin he died in Sierra Leone when he was 5 years, 4 months and 4 days.  That must have been a storm for his parents.  Really?

 

We don’t and won’t always know why obedience sometimes leads us into storms, but sometimes it does.   You do what you God is asking you to do and yet.

 

And that leads us to the next lesson, which is:  Jesus Is Always With Us In The Storm   The disciples must have forgotten about Jesus, and when they remembered that he was there, they were afraid that he had forgotten about them.

 

If you are a Christ follower his promise is not that hard times won’t come, but that he will always be with you.   The promise was made to the people of Israel in Deuteronomy 31:6  So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the LORD your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.”   And reiterated for those who follow Christ in Hebrews 13:5  . . . For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.”

 

And after Jesus had been crucified, died and rose from the dead he made this promise to his followers.  Matthew 28:20  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.”

 

It seemed in the midst of the storm that the disciples were all alone, but they weren’t.

 

It was Franklin Graham who wrote: “No matter what storm you face, you need to know God loves you. He has not abandoned you.”

 

You may not “feel” his presence, but that doesn’t negate his promise that he will never leave you nor forsake you and he will be with you always even to the end of the age.  In the sunny weather and in the storms.

 

 

The Storm Teaches Us About Ourselves   The apostles learned some things that day about themselves and about Jesus that they would never have discovered on a sunny day on the beach.

 

Willa Cather reminds us “There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.”

 

This storm gave the apostles a better insight into themselves and into the power of Jesus.  It was here they discovered their lack of faith.  It’s one thing to say that you believe that Jesus can keep you in the storm when you are not in a storm, it’s another thing to say you believe that Jesus can keep you in the midst of the storm you are in.

 

When the apostles questioned the compassion of Christ:  Don’t you care that we are going to drown?  They were discovering what they believed and didn’t believe about Jesus.

 

And it was in the midst of the storm that they learned that Jesus most certainly did care.

 

But they also learned that Jesus equated their fear with faithlessness.  Listen to his words in Mark 4:40  Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

 

They thought they were afraid of the storm, but the reality is that they were afraid because they didn’t trust Jesus to keep his promise.  Remember what he told them at the very beginning of the story:  Mark 4:35  As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.”

 

The started the journey with him, but they didn’t believe him when he said they’d finish the journey with him.

 

It is in the storms that you will discover just how much you trust God, just how much you believe his promises.

 

The Storm Teaches Us About Jesus

And not only did they make discoveries about who they were, but they also made discoveries about who Jesus was.

 

It was as a result of the storm that the apostles ask their very first question about Christ’s divine nature:  Mark 4:41  The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!”

 

You see storms give us deeper insight into who God really is and what he can really do.

 

I was talking to a man the other day who has been going through storms, he has been a Christian since he was a teen, but he told me that his relationship with Christ had never been an intimate relationship until he needed to lean on Christ during this particular storm.

 

He said that he wished that things had of turned out different, but his relationship with Christ is deeper and more intimate than it had ever been and for that he is thankful.

 

It was Holocaust survivor Corrie Ten Boom who wrote,  “

 

And that trust extends upward.  Jesus told the crowds who followed him,   John 12:44  . . . “If you trust me, you are trusting not only me, but also God who sent me.  And conversely, if you don’t trust Jesus then you don’t trust God.

 

The next thing we learn we discover in Mark 4:38  Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. . .

 

And it’s here we learn It’s Easy to Nap When You Know Who’s in Control 

 

Everybody else was panicking because they could only see the storm, but Jesus knew the storm had no power over him.

 

When I was sailing with Dad when I had a chance to sleep, I slept.  I never fretted over whether or not we would make it safely home because I trusted Dad.  There were times I couldn’t sleep because I couldn’t stay in the bunk, but that’s a story for another time.

 

King Davide wrote in Psalm 91:1-2  Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  This I declare about the LORD: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him.

 

Remember Jesus associated the apostles fear with lack of faith?  So trusting in Jesus is simply replacing our fear with faith.

 

And maybe you think that there are no storms in your future,  1500 years ago Augustine  wrote these words:

When you have to listen to abuse, that means you are being buffeted by the wind. When your anger is roused, you are being tossed by the waves… Rouse him, then; remember him, let him

Last week we ended with the promise from Proverbs 10:25  When the storms of life come, the wicked are whirled away, but the godly have a lasting foundation.

 

If you’ve ever been to a funeral that I have performed, then you’ve heard the promise found in

Psalm 121:1-8   I look up to the mountains— does my help come from there?  My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth!  He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber.  Indeed, he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps.  The LORD himself watches over you! The LORD stands beside you as your protective shade.  The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night.  The LORD keeps you from all harm and watches over your life.  The LORD keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.

 

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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.

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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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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A Story of Weeds

If I could grow flowers like I grow weeds we would have the most awesome gardens in Kingswood.

I’ve kind of given up on weed control.   I’m through, I quit, I’ve thrown in the towel, they’ve won.

Ever since the municipality and then the province banned chemical weed control it’s been a losing battle.  I’ve tried all the organic solution and I have come to the conclusion that “Organic” is the scientific term for “Doesn’t work”

And I understand the hazards associated with “Weed and Feed” and the like, but our lawns sure were prettier back in the day.

Now if it’s green and it grows I just mow it and call it a lawn.

This is week four of our “Stories told by Jesus” series and we’ve been looking at some of the Parables, which is just a fancy term for stories, that Jesus told in the Gospels.

And so, over the first three weeks of this series we have seen how Jesus looked across the countryside looking for everyday events to illustrate the eternal nature of His Kingdom, a man working in a field, workers being hired to work in a vineyard and a farmer sowing seed and eventually gaining a harvest

Through the pictures he has drawn, his followers have seen the Kingdom planted and begin to grow and mature, having an impact on individuals and society as a whole.  And there has been no hint of problems, everybody having a wonderful time.

And sometimes that’s what we expect of church and life, just a meandering ride down a gently flowing river.  When I was a teenager we lived on the Hammond River, just outside of Saint John New Brunswick, and sometimes in the summer we would cart our big inner tubes upstream and drift down the river, just lying back in the sunshine.

But that isn’t life and it certainly isn’t the reality of God’s Kingdom, as long as there are people involved and as long as there are forces out there that oppose the kingdom of God.  Through these parables, Jesus was explaining what the Kingdom is really like not simply reinforcing how we would like to see the Kingdom.

And so Jesus looks out across a wheat field gently swaying in the afternoon breeze and says look, Matthew 13:24-26  Here is another story Jesus told: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field.  But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away.  When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew.

In another one of Jesus’ parables he talks about a farmer sowing seed and how some of the seed fell on the pathway and didn’t take root, and other seed fell on shallow soil and wasn’t able to survive and other seed feel into thorn bushes and was choked out, and finally how some seed landed in fertile soil and produced a flourishing crop.

In that parable, Jesus was illustrating how his words and teaching would be received by the world, how it would not be productive in everyone’s life.  And we understand that and we see it happen, but we kind of hope that when the seed finally begins to grow and reproduce that is the happy ending to the story, and everyone lived happily ever after.

But here we see the reality, the crop has been planted, the seed has taken root, the wheat begins to grow and then those tending the fields notice a problem, they discover that not all the plants are the same.  That the majority of the plants are indeed the wheat that was planted but in amongst the good wheat are plants that look like wheat at first glance but upon closer examination are something completely different.

In the NLT we read Matthew 13:25  But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away.

But that doesn’t really say it all, because we aren’t really an agricultural society we don’t get the true meaning of Christ’s words.  When we think of weeds we think of dandelions and thistles and other nasties that invade our lawns.  And they are a nuisance and aren’t ascetically pleasing but not much beyond that.

In the King James Version, the verse reads this way Matthew 13:25 But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. Which means even less because nobody here really knows what a “tare” is.   But if we were to go back into the original language the word that the NLT translates Weed and the KJV translates Tare is actually the Greek word zizanion (dziz-an’-ee-on) but you probably already knew that.  And this story is the only place that this word is used in the Bible.  And it doesn’t just mean weed it refers to a very specific type of weed.

Those is the know tell us the weed that is spoken of here was what is known today as Bearded Darnel, or false wheat and that when darnel is starting to grow that it looks like wheat, here is a picture.  But the grain of the darnel was slightly poisonous.  William Barclay describes it this way “It causes dizziness and sickness and is narcotic in its effects, and even a small amount has a bitter and unpleasant taste. In the end it was usually separated by hand.”

But what does it all mean? There’s the farmer and the enemy, the wheat and the weeds, people wanting to tear up the wheat and others saying, “wait not yet”.  Kind of confusing in a parable sort of way, but unlike most of the other parables Jesus took the time to explain this parable a little more.  Apparently, he wanted to make sure that they understood the ramifications of this one, it was important, and he didn’t want any confusion.

And if it was that important to those who first heard it then it should be that important to us, so if you have your Bibles turn with me to Matthew 13:37-43  Jesus replied, “The Son of Man is the farmer who plants the good seed.  The field is the world, and the good seed represents the people of the Kingdom. The weeds are the people who belong to the evil one.  The enemy who planted the weeds among the wheat is the devil. The harvest is the end of the world, and the harvesters are the angels.  “Just as the weeds are sorted out and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the world.  The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will remove from his Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.  And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!

 

So, let’s take a look at the explanation.

First of all, There Is One Field.   Jesus tells us the “The field is the world”.  And there is only one world, sometimes you will hear the media talk about the first world, or the third world or people will try to define various parts of the planet as the “Christian world” or the “Muslim world”. But there is only one world and that is a world that Jesus came to live in, to preach to and to die for.

We all know John 3:16  “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”   Jesus didn’t come simply to reach a specific people group while offering no hope for the rest of humanity.  His sacrifice wasn’t simply for one slice of the population he came for the world.

And he expects his people to take his message of hope and grace to the entire world.  The last command of Christ to his apostles if found in Matthew 28:19  Jesus said: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

 And for two thousand years, Christ followers have been doing that.  Within a generation of the resurrection of Jesus, his message had been spread across the Middle East, into Asia and Europe and down to Africa.  Before the first apostles died there were believers worshipping in India, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Italy and beyond.  They had reached the world as they knew it.

It was Wesley who said, “The world is my parish.”  But he was simply following the command of Jesus and the example of those who went before him.  And it is why when the European nations started to colonize the “New Worlds” that they had “Discovered”, which is kind of like Newton discovering gravity, did things just float around before he made that discovery?

Sorry, a little bit of a tangent, when the New World was opened up the church was there with the message.  Was it because they wanted to eradicate the culture of the aboriginal people?  No, it was because they wanted to share the grace of Christ with them.  They truly believed the words that Matthew quoted in relation to the coming of Christ, Matthew 4:16  the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. And for those who lived in the land where death casts its shadow, a light has shined.”

And that is why Cornerstone is actively ministering to people in Haiti and Ghana and Ukraine and Japan.  It’s why Pastor Deborah is planning a vision trip to Sierra Leone to see how we can develop a partnership with our work there because we are still obeying his command to spread the word of his grace to all people.

Christ came for the whole world, not just our little corner of it and there are people of the Kingdom all over the world.  The message is alive in them.  If they are doing their part, then we shouldn’t be asking “Well what about those who don’t know about Jesus?”  Wherever there is a Christ Follower then people should know about the Christ they are following.

So, There Is One Field.

And There Are Two Sowers.  In the parable, Jesus tells us that the farmer spread good seed and then his enemy came and spread bad seed.  And then in the explanation of the parable, Jesus tells us first in Matthew 13:37  Jesus replied, “The Son of Man is the farmer who plants the good seed.”

And most people would like the explanation to end with that statement.  Most people that we know have no problem believing in Jesus, even if they never develop a personal relationship with him they have nice warm, fuzzy thoughts about him, the baby Jesus in the manger, Jesus feeding hungry people, Jesus holding a lamb.  But Jesus continues in the story to tell us Matthew 13:39  The enemy who planted the weeds among the wheat is the devil.

A number of years ago I was in a conversation with a minster from a more liberal denomination who was talking about his time in Newfoundland and he said, “You know they still believe in the Devil there?”  Surveys show time and time again that the vast majority of North Americans believe there is a God, there are very few atheists in North America, they might live like there is no God, but they believe there is one.

On the other hand, the number of people who believe that there is an actual Devil is considerably fewer.  But Jesus had no doubts about the existence of Satan, nor does the bible.

Kind of like the two little boys who were talking about the Devil and one little guy said, “I figure in the end he just like Santa Claus, it will turn out to be your dad in a red suit.”

Jesus’ best friend, while he was on this earth, wrote in 1 Peter 5:8  Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.

Did you catch that, “Your great enemy”?  The Devil isn’t just some impersonal force, he is not just the personification of evil he is real and he is the enemy of those who serve God and he whispers in people’s ears, “there has to be more than one way”, “It doesn’t matter who you worship as long as you are sincere”, “You’re really not all that bad” and “A loving God wouldn’t send people to hell.”  And all the time he is sowing seeds, seeds that take root.

Which leads us to the next point.

Matthew 13:38  The field is the world, and the good seed represents the people of the Kingdom. The weeds are the people who belong to the evil one.

There Are Two Crops  There was the wheat and there were the weeds.  And remember they looked very much alike but they were different very different, one was good, and one was bad.  And again, most people don’t want to hear that there is such a clear delineation, they don’t want to see that line drawn that clearly in the sand.  Most folks, outside the church and inside the church would like to see the line fuzzier, they would like to think there are those who serve God and then there are those who are at various places and levels and almost serve God and only kind of serve the Devil, or don’t serve God but don’t serve the Devil, they serve. . . well, they are not sure who they serve.

But Jesus didn’t say there were 12 different crops, or 7 different crops not even 3 different crops, there were two.  One represented those who chose to serve God, those who belong to the Kingdom and there were those who chose not to serve God who don’t belong to the Kingdom, they belong to the Devil.  It goes back to the Bob Dylan song that says “You gotta serve somebody, it might be the devil, or it might be the Lord but you got to serve somebody.”

And Paul gives us this insight in Ephesians 2:2  You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God.

Two thoughts here 1. If we are Christ followers, before we were Christ followers we were obeying the Devil but now we are obeying Christ.  2. If we are not Christ followers we are still obeying the Devil.

As much as we’d like to think that people who are good, nice, sincere people but don’t have a relationship with Jesus are going to be kind of ok, that isn’t what the word of God says.  Jesus tells us in John 14:6  Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”

Because if we could get to heaven by being good, nice, sincere people than there would have been no reason for Christ to come and for Christ to die and for Christ to be raised from the dead, and instead of John 3:3  Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”

Jesus would have said John 3:3 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are good, nice, sincere people, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”

So we have one field, two sowers, two crops and then Jesus tells us in Matthew 13:30  Let both grow together until the harvest.

There is One Harvest

Remember when the servants discovered that the weeds had been sowed they wanted to rip them up but the farmer told them to wait.  Matthew 13:29  “‘No,’ he replied, ‘you’ll uproot the wheat if you do.”

We need to protect our relationship with Christ, that’s important.  And throughout the New Testament, we see that we need to protect the local church from false teachers and false teachings, that’s important but from this parable, it would seem that Kingdom of Heaven is capable of taking care of itself.  That in the end, it’s not our mandate to try and dig up the weeds too soon.

That’s why the Inquisition was so wrong they were trying to tear up the weeds.  And that is why the witch trials were so wrong they were trying to tear up the weeds, and we just aren’t qualified to make that decision and what ends up happening is we burn people at the stake just because they weigh the same as a duck.

Any time we try to legislate morality or head down the path of our own private Jihad (holy war) against some particular behaviour in the world we end up doing more damage than good.  I read one day that if God hates the same people that you hate then you can be pretty sure you’ve created God in your own image.  In the end, we need to let God sort it out.

It was Samuel Johnson who wrote, “God Himself, sir, does not propose to judge a man until his life is over. Why should you and I?”

So, Jesus tells us that the weeds will be separated from the wheat at the appropriate time, and when is the appropriate time?  Matthew 13:39 The harvest is the end of the world, . . .

And there is no reason to get into great theological debates about when that is going to happen because it is enough to know that it is going to happen.

It’s going to happen corporately, that is the world as we know it has a best before date and we don’t know what that date is but someday this is all going to end.  But personally, there will be an “End of the World” for each of us individually.  That is that our existence in this world will end, and this is what the word of God tells us in Hebrews 9:27  . . . each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment,

Every one of us shares that in common, we are all going to die, that is the end of our world and we are all going to be judged.  But that leaves us with the end of the parable, Matthew 13:30  Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to put the wheat in the barn.’”

There are Two Futures  There used to be a time that the church preached that there was a Heaven to be gained and a hell to be shunned but then somewhere we decided that we didn’t like the concept of hell and stopped preaching about it, but that didn’t make it any less real, it just meant that we were shirking our responsibility. In Jesus’ explanation of this parable, this is how he spells it out.  Matthew 13:41-43  The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will remove from his Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.  And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!

When we tell people that Cornerstone exists to help depopulate hell we believe it.  We believe that there will be people in heaven who would have been in hell if this church didn’t exist to tell people there is a heaven to be gained and a hell to be shunned.

Will hell be fire and brimstone, and demons with pointy tales poking people with their pitchforks? I don’t know.  What I do know is that when it will be a separation from God and from love and from light and from all that is good and all that is pure.

I want to finish with one of my favourite stories and I know you’ve all heard it before but bear with me.  The story is told that when Calvin Coolidge was Vice-President of the United States he was chairing a congressional meeting that was becoming very heated.  During the meeting, one Congressman stood up and told another, “Sir you can go straight to hell”.  Well, the victim was understandably upset and looked to the Vice President for support and saw that he was reading a book.  “Mr Coolidge” cried the victim “Did you hear what he told me to do?” “Yes” replied the Vice-President, “But I checked the rulebook and you don’t have to go.”

Well, friends, I have checked the rule book and you don’t have to go.  The word of God promises us in James 4:7  So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

So, where you at?  When the harvest comes, and it will come, what will be your destination?

The Story of a Seed

It was the end of August in 1979. I was a 19-year-old fisherman on the herring seiner Rali 2 out of Paspébiac, Quebec. Don’t ask why a crew from Saint John and Grand Manan were crewing a seiner from Quebec, it’s a long story.

We had spent the summer in the Bay of Fundy and that season was over, so we had returned to Quebec to fish in the Gaspe before heading to Newfoundland for the fall.

The herring had been running and we were excited about our prospects when we received word that the department of fisheries had cut the quota in that area for a week. That seemed to be the story of the summer, if we had market we had no fish, if we had fish we had no market if we had both the DFO stepped in and we had no quota.

We were told the restrictions would be lifted in a week or so and we decided to go home for that week.

On Sunday, September 2nd, my best friend invited me to attend church with him, actually pestered me, nagged me cajoled me would be more accurate, but whatever.

And so that Sunday evening I found myself at First Wesleyan Church in Saint John New Brunswick. The second time I had been in a church service in 7 years.

The pastor, Jack McKenzie, was on vacation and a student from Bethany Bible College, Bob Coulotte was filling in for him.

I don’t recall what Bob preached on that night, but at the end of the service, I found myself committing my life to Christ and feeling a call to full-time ministry.

And it was completely unexpected. When I told people that I had become a Christian and that I was going to Bible college, they looked at me like I had said I had become a Martian.

There was no context, I wasn’t a churchgoer, I had expressed no interest in spiritual things, I wasn’t seeking God.

At nineteen if I was anything I was a hedonist.

Which is defined in the Collins English Dictionary as: Hedonist: Someone who believes that having pleasure is the most important thing in life.

My philosophy was when I got too old for wine women and song, I’d give up singing.
Although if you asked me, I probably wouldn’t have defined myself as a hedonist because as Mason Cooley once said “The philosophy of hedonism means little to lovers of pleasure. They have no inclination to read philosophy, or to write it.”

So, while I may not have identified as a hedonist, I was a hedonist.

But regardless of my philosophy of life, most people who knew me would say that my life took a 180-degree turn that night, and it was completely unexpected.

This is week three of our “Stories” series here at Cornerstone. And for the next couple of months as a staff, we are focusing on Stories told by Jesus. His parables. And Jesus really was a master storyteller.

I began two weeks ago telling the story of a found treasure, last week Deborah told the story of the workers in the vineyard and this week’s story was summed up in the scripture that was read earlier. It is sometimes known as “The Parable of the Growing Seed”.

It is the story of a small seed that was sown, flourished, and eventually bore a harvest. But for the man who sowed the seed, the process remained a mystery.

Jesus told his listeners in Mark 4:27 Night and day, while he (the farmer) is asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. Sounds like a mystery to me.

But the farmer had been doing it for years even if he didn’t completely understand how it happened, he knew it happened.

But was it really a mystery?

So let’s start with Mark 4:26 Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground.”

The first thing that needs to be noted is that The Ground was Prepared

I know that it doesn’t say that the ground was prepared, but it does say that the man was a farmer.

I’m not a farmer and I’m not a gardener, but any stretch of the imagination, I would be the person who would simply go out and spread seed on soil that hadn’t been prepared and then wonder why it didn’t grow.

On the other hand, Angela loves to garden, and I love Angela so there have been times that I have been called on to prepare the soil for her to plant her seeds in.

And you prepare the soil by removing any rocks, and breaking the soil up and tearing out the weeds and mixing in the fertilizer and eventually the soil is ready to plant in.

The hero of our story probably pulled the rocks out by hand and tilled the ground with a hoe and mixed in manure from his animals. Perhaps if he was a successful farmer with a lot of land he may have used a donkey or an ox to pull a plough to prepare the soil.

But regardless of the how we have to assume that since he was a farmer that he took the time to prepare the soil.

He understood that in order for the seed to grow there would need to be work done before the seeds were planted. And if you weren’t around for the preparation of the soil you might watch the farmer sowing his seed and not realize the work that had already gone into the process.

Very seldom do you hear about a person who had never heard the gospel suddenly embracing the claims of Christ.

The night that I was became a Christ Follower was only the second time I had been in a church service in 7 years. And both of those times were under duress.

But, I remember my parents having bedtime prayers with me when I was little, I remember as a child going to Sunday School at the Salvation Army when we were living in Germany and at the Baptist church when we were living outside of Fredericton.

I remember going to Vacation Bible School when we were vacationing on Grand Manan in the summer. I think my parents saw it as free childcare, but regardless of their motives, I was there. At the Wesleyan VBS, the Baptist VBS and the Pentecostal VBS.

When I was in my early teens a neighbour invited me to attend Christian Service brigade at Rothesay Baptist Church, I think I was their project that year.

And while those events didn’t seem to make a major difference in my life, the soil was being prepared.

Solomon tells us in Proverbs 22:6 Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.

Sometimes we wonder “Why?” when we don’t see immediate fruit, but the soil is being prepared. In the parable, the chances of the seed germinating and growing would have been drastically reduced if the farmer hadn’t taken the time to prepare the soil in advance.

And the chance of a person coming to faith is exponentially increased if the soil was prepared when they were young. Don’t give up on that person you love. To paraphrase Solomon, “Do your best when they are young and pray for the best when they are older.”

But it wasn’t enough that the farmer had prepared the soil.

Mark 4:26 Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground.”

The second thing we discover here was The Seed Was Sown

If the farmer had of prepared the soil but never planted anything, all of his work would have been in vain. The purpose of preparing the soil was to plant the seed.

Different times through the Gospels Jesus used “Seeds” as an illustrative device. And the seed represents an invitation to accept the grace of Jesus, an invitation to join the Kingdom of God.

And there are different ways to plant a seed. We had our lawn over seeded this spring and they spread the seed willy nilly with a broadcast spreader. But when Angela planted her carrots and beans this spring she planted each seed individually.

But regardless of how the seeds are planted they need to be planted.

I have heard people say they are just going to live their lives for Jesus, let their light shine and let God take care of the rest. But there is no seed being sown. You live your life for Jesus and let your light shine and people will just think you are a really nice person.

I mentioned that the night I became a Christian that I don’t remember what the preacher said, and I don’t. Except for a sermon illustration he used, I remember that, and that has been a valuable lesson for me as a preacher. Sermon illustrations are important, they might be the only thing a person remembers of the sermon.

But the seed was sown by my best friend who had become a believer the year before. And Reg shared the gospel with me several times without success. I brushed him off and told him maybe later, said I’d think about it. But I really wasn’t all that interested.

But he didn’t quit.

God’s word promises us in Isaiah 55:11 It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.

And Reg believed that he believed that if he kept sowing seeds some of it would take.

There is a great story told about John Wesley’s mother Susanna. She and her husband Samuel had 19 children, 10 of who lived. A small family, Susanna was actually the 25th of 25 children.

And she home schooled all ten of her children. Boys and girls learned to read and write, as well as mathematics, Greek and Latin and an appreciation for the classics. She didn’t think a child should have lessons until they turned five, but the day after their fifth birthday lessons began. Beginning with learning their alphabet, which she expected them to learn on the first day. And 8 of her children did that, she considered the other two kind of slow.

The story is that her husband had the curiosity to sit by one day and count while she repeated the same lesson to one child over and over ” I wonder at your patience” he said, “you have told that child twenty times that same thing.”

“Yes” she answered, “If I had satisfied myself by mentioning it only nineteen times, I should
have lost all my labour. It was the twentieth time that crowned it.”

If Reg had of quit telling me about Jesus after the first or third or fifth time I wonder what would have happened? But he was faithful and that night when he invited me to church, once again, instead of coming up with an excuse I accepted. And that night Bob preached and extended an invitation to come forward to accept to Christ and I didn’t go forward. And the service finished, and people were leaving, and Reg looked at me and asked, “Do you want to go forward and talk to God about becoming a Christian?” And I said “Yes”.

What if he hadn’t asked? What if he just thought, “Well he had the chance, and he didn’t take it, maybe next time.”

The soil had been prepared and the seed had been sown.

But there more to the story of the seed than simply the preparation of the soil and the sowing of the seed.

Let’s go back to the story, Mark 4:26-28 Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, while he’s asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. The earth produces the crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally, the grain ripens.”

It’s here we discover that Stuff Happened

Between the sowing and the reaping stuff happened, in this case, it was good stuff.

The sun shined just the right amount, it rained just the right amount and the seed grew and boll weevils or locust didn’t come along and eat the tender shoots.

Our first summer out of Bible College we took a position in Up State New York, close to the Quebec and Ontario border. The town was surrounded by farms. That summer it seemed to rain a little bit each night and the sun shone every day and all the farmers and gardeners had bumper crops. We know because we were given more zucchini then I’d ever seen before in my entire life.

For a crop to grow it needs sunshine and it needs rain.

Sometimes we get bummed out over rain. Last year I got to visit a land where it never rained, where the sun always shined, and the skies were not cloudy all day. Here’s a picture. Yep, that’s called the desert.

If the farmer had of prepared the soil and planted the seed and that summer had turned into a drought or the wettest summer they had ever seen there might have been no harvest.

And the farmer had no control over either one of those things.

The ground can be prepared, and the seed can be sown but sometimes there still doesn’t seem to be any results.

During the year before I became a Christ follower, there were things that were happening that I didn’t know about, and probably wouldn’t have appreciated if I did know about them. I was on a number of prayer lists at Bethany Bible College and at Saint John First I had become a regular prayer request.

And the change I saw evidenced in the life of my best friend that year was helping the seed to grow. I remember going to Sussex one night to visit Reg at the college. And on my way home I stopped at my favourite Auntie, who was a believer. And I told her “I don’t understand it, I have a good job, a nice car, everything I can ask for and I’m miserable. Reg can’t even afford to pay attention and he’s happy”

And she said, “Maybe you need what he has.” To which I replied, “No, pretty sure that’s not it.”

And that year I didn’t run into any Christians who acted like jerks. And God worked in my heart.

I’ve mentioned before that was the year I was introduced to both “Jesus Christ Super Star” and “God Spell” and they presented Jesus to me in a way that spoke to me. And I know there are all kinds of theological problems with Super Star and God Spell. But I didn’t know that in 1979, all I knew what that they showed me a Jesus that I kind of liked. And the mystery is that the seed that was sown by my best friend was watered and nurtured by all kinds of different things.

The farmer didn’t understand all the things that made the seed grow, he knew that he couldn’t control everything, like the sun and the rain.

But there were things he could control. He could pull weeds, he could work at keeping critters from eating the plants. If need be he might have even been able to water his plants if there wasn’t enough rain.

When we’ve shared the gospel with people, we can never completely understand what happens in their hearts. We don’t know their history and the baggage they might carry. But we can do our part to not be jerks and to show them the love of Christ. And let God do his part.

Mark 4:29 “And as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle, for the harvest time has come.”

And finally, There was a Harvest

At the end of the day, the farmer harvested what he had sown. And it wasn’t a one to one process, instead, that one seed produced a plant that had many seeds.

When I was teaching “Strategies for Church Planting” at Kingswood I would ask my students what an apple seed was supposed to produce. And they would say apples. Well no, an apple seed doesn’t produce an apple, it produces an apple tree which in turn produces an apple orchard.

There is a warning that Paul gives to the Galatian church that is also a promise. Galatians 6:7 Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. The warning, of course, is that bad behaviour and bad choices result in bad consequences. But the promise, of course, is that You will always harvest what you plant.

Gertrude Stein once wrote, “A vegetable garden, in the beginning, looks so promising and then after all little by little it grows nothing but vegetables, nothing, nothing but vegetables.”

The kingdom of God exists because the ground was prepared, seeds were planted and eventually, believers were the harvest. But not just a believer. Remember the fruit of the apple seed isn’t an apple it’s an apple tree and eventually an apple orchard.

The fruit of the seed that Reg Thomas planted wasn’t a Christian, it was 38 years of ministry. It was each person I have led to the Lord either personally or through my preaching, and each person they have led to the Lord.

There are people here who are the fruit of that seed that Reg began to sow a year before I made a commitment.

And maybe you are sitting there thinking, “So what? What does that have to do with me?”

Well, Jesus told those who followed him 2000 years ago, Luke 6:43-44 “A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs never grow on thornbushes, nor grapes on bramble bushes. And today, July 22, 2018 trees are still identified by their fruit, and part of the fruit is seeds.

Each one of you will plant seeds of some kind, and while you might not have control over what happens once you’ve sown the seed, you will choose what type of seed you are going to sow.

And after you sow the seed it’s simple, love God, love others and don’t be a Jerk.

God speaking through the prophet Hosea tells us in Hosea 10:12 I said, “Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of love.”

And so let me leave you with the words of Paul to the Corinthians 2 Corinthians 9:6 Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop.

Free PowerPoint may be available for this message, contact me at denn@cornerstonehfx.ca

The Story of a Treasure

It is a serendipitous story, which is a story about serendipity.

Serendipity, isn’t that a great word?  It is probably one of my favourite words.

In 2004 it was included in a list of the ten hardest English words to translate.

You know what serendipity means right?  Serendipity means an unplanned fortuitous discovery.  And if you didn’t know what serendipity meant then you just made a serendipitous discovery

Fleming’s accidental discovery of Penicillin is a great example of serendipity.

It sometimes happens to me when I am reading; I will be enjoying a novel, kind of zoned out, I read fiction for the same reason we watch TV, for entertainment, not enlightenment.  And then all of a sudden, I will come across the most incredible phrase or an idea for a message.  And that wasn’t what I was looking for.  It is serendipity.

And this is a serendipitous story.  The hero of the story is working in a field that he does not own, we don’t know if he was hired to do whatever he was doing or if he was helping someone out as a favour.  All we know is that in the process of doing something he unexpectedly found something and the something that he found was of greater value than the something he was doing or even of the field he was doing something in.

We are told that he immediately covered the treasure up, went and liquidated all of his assets and bought the field, and presumably the treasure as well.  I don’t know how he explained his sudden affinity for the field to the previous owner, but it is just a story.

This summer our preaching series is “Stores told by Jesus”.  And through the next couple of months, we are focusing on the Parables that Jesus told through the gospels.

A parable is simply a story with a meaning.   Kind of like a fable but parable sounds more spiritual.  Aesop told fables, Jesus told parables.  They could also be called allegories, but they aren’t they are called parables.

This particular parable is one of the eight times in the New Testament that Jesus begins a parable with the words “The Kingdom of Heaven” or “The Kingdom of God” is like a . . .

So, in this parable, Jesus begins to draw a picture which describes his Kingdom.  Matthew 13:44  “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field.”

And you might be smarter than me, and this might make perfect sense to you, but these thirty-six words make me ask a whole pile of questions.  What was the man doing in the field?  How did he find the treasure?  What type of treasure was it?  Was what he did entirely on the up and up?  What is actually buried on Oak Island?

Well, the last question didn’t come out of the scripture, but it had to do with treasure and the scripture made me think of the Oak Island Treasure.

I personally am torn between it being Captain Kidd’s treasure and the lost treasure of the Knights Templar.  But I regress.

The answer to most of those questions, including the Oak Island one is that we don’t know.  And it obviously wasn’t important, or Christ would have told us, it’s just a parable.  The important part of the story is that the man found something he wasn’t necessarily looking for and was willing to give all he had in order to obtain it.

Upon first reading and without putting it in a historical context it is easy to question the ethics of the man in the story.  He finds this treasure that doesn’t belong to him and he doesn’t tell the owner of the land about it, instead he reburies the treasure and negotiates the purchase of the land, which apparently would have been worth more if the treasure had of been figured into it.

So here is the question, who owned the treasure?  The simplest answer would be: Whoever hid the treasure in the first place.  But apparently, they were no longer in the equation, it couldn’t have been the landowner because he was willing to sell the land with the treasure still buried, so it can be assumed that he didn’t even know the treasure was there.

So, if the original owner was no longer present than the short answer is: whoever owned the land owned the treasure.  But here is the caveat, only if he knew about it.

Let’s put it in a modern setting.  Next Saturday as you are driving out of whatever estate you live in you notice a yard sale and so you stop and as you go through the treasures that the homeowner is selling you come across a really ugly painting that has $8.00 marked on it, you ask the person if that is the best they will do and they agree to drop their price to $5.00 and you purchase the painting.   Now if the painting had been done by Bob Smith it would be worth $5.00 and the seller would have received what he wanted, and all would be well with the universe.  But what if the painting was a Jackson Pollock and was worth $50,000,000.00?   The seller still got the $5.00 he wanted from the painting.

You ask, “But, shouldn’t he get some of the $50,000,000.00?”

 

I don’t know, what about the person he got the painting from? And perhaps the person that person got the painting from?  And what if it was a painting that Jackson Pollock had sold in 1948 for $5.00 because he wasn’t famous yet and sold it for the price of the canvas.  If you knew it was a Pollock would you have a moral obligation to tell the seller what you knew?  Or would you be within your rights to simply give him what he wanted for the painting?

Sources tell us that 2000 years ago it was very common for people to bury items of value.  There were no banks or investments companies as we know them, no safety deposit boxes and the area was constantly being conquered and re-conquered.  There had been the Assyrians, and the Babylonians, and the Greeks and now the Romans.  And so, if it appeared that the occupiers were going to take your valuables you might bury them, or if you were going on a trip and wanted to make sure that your valuables were safe while you were gone you would bury them.

Remember the story of the man who gave the money to his servants to invest?  Two of them did exactly that and saw the money increase but do you remember what the remaining servant did with the money he was given?

Sure you do, Matthew 25:18  But the servant who received the one bag of silver dug a hole in the ground and hid the master’s money.

The downside, of course, was if something happened to you and nobody else knew where you hid your money, oh well.

In the Daily Study Bible, William Barclay tells us “Jewish Rabbinic law was quite clear: “What finds belong to the finder, and what finds must one cause to be proclaimed? These finds belong to the finder–if a man finds scattered fruit, scattered money…these belong to the finder.” In point of fact this man had a prior right to what he had found.”   Or roughly translated “Finders Keepers.”

So if the man was ploughing or digging or whatever he was doing and found the treasure and the owner of the land did not know it was there than it belonged to the person who found it, that was the common law at the time, and we wouldn’t even have been having this discussion because everyone would have understood the concept.  When people heard the story, their reaction would have been “dude that is so cool, wish I found a treasure.”

I think it’s interesting that instead of just taking the treasure, which apparently he was entitled to do, that instead he purchased the land before he claimed the treasure.

And so as I worked on this message I was thinking about what the treasure was.  Was it God’s love?  Was it God’s Grace?  Was it Salvation?  The answer is: Yes.  Because the treasure is: The Kingdom of Heaven.  The question that Jesus is answering here is not: what is the treasure?  That is the answer, not the question.  The question is: what is the Kingdom of Heaven?  And the answer is Matthew 13:44  “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field.”

 And we all know what a treasure is right?  It’s a treasure.  It’s not ordinary and it’s not every day, it’s special and it’s valuable.  In this case, it was worth more than everything else the man owned.

The Treasure Was There For Whoever Found it the scripture doesn’t say that he was a special man, just that he was a man.  He didn’t find the treasure because he was special, he was special because he found the treasure.

I think it’s interesting that the man wasn’t even looking for treasure, he was just going about his life.   We talk about those who are on a spiritual quest, looking for answers and seeking a higher meaning. And that is wonderful because the word of God promises us in Hebrews 11:6  And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.

 

But it’s not always like that, most times God simply interrupts our lives, but too often we ignore him.

The night I met God, that wasn’t the plan, it wasn’t on my agenda, I wasn’t seeking God that day.  My day planner didn’t say: get up, putter around the house, go for a long drive with the roof down, have supper, go to church as a favour to a friend, become a Christ Follower and feel called to the ministry.”

I was just a fisherman home from the Gaspe for a few days; I wasn’t on a spiritual journey or on a quest, certainly wasn’t looking for a treasure.  And yet I found it, or maybe it found me. In this story, the Kingdom of God was hidden but it could be found, and it could be found by whoever was open to finding it.  We don’t know if others had come close or perhaps it had even been stumbled on before but those who found it either hadn’t recognized it for the treasure it was or perhaps they didn’t know what it was they had found.

What I love most about the Gospels is the calling of the individual apostles.  Some like Andrew came looking for Jesus, but for many of them, they were just ordinary people going about their ordinary lives when they discovered the Kingdom of Heaven.  They were fisherman and government employees and accountants and people trying to overthrow the government, in other words, they were just people.

Some of you already know the story eight years ago I received an envelope that had for a return address “The Protocol Office”.    It was an invitation to a reception being held in the presence of Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh.

It was an intimate affair, just Angela and 10,0000 other people, but that is beside the point.  It was a very classy invitation.  I later discovered that I was put on the list because I am considered to be a community leader.  Cool.  But that isn’t what I was trying for, I am just doing my job.

There is a great statement that closes the Bible, in Revelation 22:17 we read “Come.” Let anyone who hears this say, “Come.” Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life.  In the King James Version, it says whosoever will”.     The Kingdom of Heaven is not limited by our nationality, or our skin colour, or our gender, it is open to whosoever will.   The invitation 2000 years ago was Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life. And the invitation is there for you today.

You may never receive an invitation to a reception for the Queen of England, but the opportunity to meet the King of the Universe is extended to everybody, and that trumps the House of Windsor.

The Treasure was Free: It was not Cheap We understand that the Grace of God is free and it is there for whosoever will, but it is not cheap.  Several times in the Gospels Jesus is asked by people what they needed to do to follow him or to have eternal life and his answer was “Go sell all you have and give it away.” But that wasn’t a requirement of everyone.  How come?  Because it wasn’t about what they possessed it was about what possessed them. And the fact that Jesus didn’t require it from everyone only brings comfort to those he would require it from.

But it’s not our possessions that Jesus wants, it’s our loyalty.  He wants to be number 1 in our lives, not number 37 or 25 or 4 or even 2 he wants to be number 1. He wants to be the priority. Luke 16:13  “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

You may think you can serve two masters but there will come a time in your life that you will have to decide: where do my loyalties lie?  What is my priority in this situation?  Where will I give my time?  Where will I give my money?  One of the stories that I was talking about is found in Matthew 19:20-22  “I’ve obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied. “What else must I do?”  Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  But when the young man heard this, he went away very sad, for he had many possessions.

 

The young man discovered what he owned and what owned him.

Jim Elliot was a missionary who was working with Wycliffe  Bible Translators to bring the gospel to a remote South American tribe in the late 1950s, and he was killed in the process.   And just days before he was killed he wrote in his journal, “He is no fool – who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”  In a very real way, the hero of our story gave up what he could not keep to gain that which he could not lose.

Whatever the treasure was that the man discovered, it was worth everything the man had.  And that is the lesson that Jesus is teaching.  The Kingdom of Heaven is worth everything we have.  We might think we have it “all”, but “all” will pale in comparison to what God has to offer.  The offer of a past that is forgiven, and of a future that is assured.

Because the secret of the Kingdom is that in giving up you get more.  You say “But Denn, my family has to come first” or “My career is a priority” or, or, or.  But remember the words of Jesus when he said Matthew 6:33  Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

When the Kingdom is your priority and you live the way that Jesus wants you to live then you become a better parent and you become a better spouse and you become a better employee and you become a better employer and you become a better person and ultimately you gain what you were seeking all along.

And if there is a conflict between the Kingdom and what you want, it may appear that in the short term your way is the most advantageous, but it won’t prove that way in the long term.

You probably all remember the WWJD phase that the church went through.  What would Jesus do?  But that isn’t the question, because we aren’t Jesus.  The question is WWJHMD “What would Jesus Have Me Do?”  And it’s only when we are focused on his Kingdom that we are able to ask that and answer it.

Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6:21  Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.

So, if you have determined in your life that your treasure is the Kingdom of Heaven then your heart will follow.  But don’t expect everyone to see the value of the Kingdom, it was Wesley who said “The kingdom of God within us is a treasure indeed, but a treasure hid from the world”  and Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:18  The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.

Here is the confusing thing: Even though the man found the treasure The Treasure is Still There.  It wasn’t that the man didn’t find all the treasure, it is the mystery of faith that the same treasure that was found by Peter and James and Paul, the same treasure found by Augustine and Wesley and Calvin, the same treasure found by Mother Theresa and Billy Graham is still there for us today.  The Bible promises us in Hebrews 13:8  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

And God’s Kingdom is still waiting to be discovered by you.