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.

 

 

Praying for Canada

It was his custom to start his day with prayer and Scripture reading. And that morning was no exception; he felt that before he attended to the business of his country that first, he must attend to the business of his soul.  And as he read from God’s word his heart and eyes were drawn to Psalm 72:8  May he reign from sea to sea, and from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth. Actually, he was reading from the King James Version and so the words he read were Psalm 72:8  He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.

The thirty-three Fathers of Confederation had gathered in Charlottetown to discuss and draft the terms of the British North America Act, there were many suggestions on what to call this new “United Canada.”

The leading suggestion at that point was John A. McDonald’s preference “The Kingdom of Canada”.

That morning Samuel Leonard Tilley, who by the way was from Saint John, had read from the Bible and became so convinced that Canada should be a nation under God, that when he came down to the conference session, he presented his suggestion based upon his morning Bible reading, and that was the “Dominion of Canada.” The other Fathers readily agreed and accepted his inspired concept.

If we look around our fair nation today on her 151st birthday it because painfully obvious that God no longer has dominion over this country.  What would it take to change a country?  You ever wonder that?  Listen to what God tells us in his word.

2 Chronicles 7:14  Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.

That promise was for Israel originally, but it is for all those who are called by God’s name.

But how are we to pray, is it as simple as adding a line to our bedtime prayers, “And God bless our country?”

The 1908 version of Oh Canada written by Robert Stanley Weir

actually ended with a prayer.  This is the last verse:

Ruler Supreme, Who hearest humble prayer,

Hold our dominion within Thy loving care.

Help us to find, O God, in Thee

A lasting, rich reward,

As waiting for the Better Day,

We ever stand on guard.

 

And for those of you with your knickers in a knot over the most recent change to O’ Canada, here is the first verse from 1908:

O Canada! Our home and native land!

True patriot love thou dost in us command.

We see thee rising fair, dear land,

The True North, strong and free;

And stand on guard, O Canada,

We stand on guard for thee.

 

The early church was defined by prayer, over and over again we read how they prayed, why they prayed when they prayed.  And because of that prayer, they were able to change not just a country but eventually the face of the entire world.

 

In Acts 4 the church faces its first major crisis.  The two major leaders of the church, Peter and John have been thrown into Jail for preaching the gospel; they are released after being ordered not to preach again.  Although they didn’t quite promise to follow the order instead they asked a question, a question which we should each memorize and ask on a regular basis and it was found in Acts 4:19  But Peter and John replied, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him?

 

As soon as our two heroes are released they high tail it back to the other believers and called a prayer meeting.  The scripture that was read this morning was an account of that prayer meeting.  This morning we are going to take a look at how the early church became a movement through prayer, and eventually went on to change the world.

Acts 4:24  When they heard the report, all the believers lifted their voices together in prayer to God:

 

1) They Were Agreed in Prayer

 

The key word here, of course, is the word “Together”  When they started to pray they had obviously thought back to that incredibly powerful promise that Jesus had made to them in Matthew 18:19  “I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you.

 

Now John & Peter must have figured that if two was good then a whole bunch must be better so they rushed back to the entire group and said: “Hey guys and girls this is something that we really need to pray about, and we need to all be on the same page.”

 

It is critical that Cornerstone is not only a church that prays but that we are a church that prays with unity.  You think how confusing it must be for God when some churches pray.  Like group “A” is praying for one thing and group “B” is praying for something that is diametrically opposed to group “A”.  Meanwhile, group “C” in the back is praying for something that has absolutely nothing at all to do with the situation.

 

One of the major criteria if a church is going to go somewhere is that they will need to go there together.  In reality, a church is like a bunch of people who get together and charter a plane.  If the people in the front want to go to Vancouver but the people in the back want to go to Dublin and the people over the wings want to go to Orlando who does the pilot listen to?

 

The people who yell the loudest?  The people who pay the most?  The people who plead the most earnestly?  It’s only when all the passengers get together and decide on a common destination that the plane can take off.

 

I am convinced that one of the major reasons that churches don’t grow is that they can’t figure out what they want God to do.  If we are to succeed and become everything that God wants us to become then we are going to need some common goals and some common dreams, and we are going to have to pray together, and not just physically.

 

In the years ahead we need to make sure that whatever we do as a congregation, members and adherents, young and old, newcomers and old timers that we have a God-given goal and that we all pull together in that direction.  We could take a lesson from the mule who has learned that you can’t pull and kick at the same time.  And we will need to pray in that direction as well.  A powerful church will pray together.

 

Acts 4:24  When they heard the report, all the believers lifted their voices together in prayer to God: “O Sovereign Lord, Creator of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—

Not only did the church pray together but 2) They Prayed under the sovereignty of God

 

Regardless of how precise our goals are, regardless of how well-honed the focus of the church is, regardless of how carefully we have defined our purpose if they are not God’s goals, if it isn’t God’s focus, if it isn’t God’s purpose that we’re serving then we are going to be way out in left field.  The biggest mistake that we will make as a church will be to follow the temptation to “Do it ourselves”.

 

I’m sure that there was someone in that early church who said: “Let’s just get together and present a petition to the Sanhedrin and they’ll leave us alone.”

 

It doesn’t matter if we think God can’t or won’t answer our prayers both are blasphemous because through them we limit the power of God.  These believers started by stating right up front “You are God and you can do anything.”  Do you believe that this morning?  Can you say that in your life and in the life of the church? “I believe that God can do anything?”

 

When Martin Luther stood before one of the Papal Delegations who came to him they asked: “Where will you be when all of your supporters desert you?”  His reply, “Where I’ve always been, in the hands of the sovereign God.”  Don’t use God as a last resort but instead realize that he is all that you can really depend on.

So, not only does a powerful church pray with one voice but it also recognizes the sovereignty and power of almighty God.

Acts 4:24-25  When they heard the report, all the believers lifted their voices together in prayer to God: “O Sovereign Lord, Creator of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—  you spoke long ago by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, your servant, saying, ‘Why were the nations so angry? Why did they waste their time with futile plans?

 

The early church knew enough not to just stand on experience but 3) They Relied on the Word of God.

 

Experiences differ.  Yours may or may not be the same as mine.  The neat thing about Christianity is that Christ approaches each one of us as individuals and deals with us as individuals and so our experiences with Christ will be as distinct and individual as we are.  But as different as our experiences might be the word of God is unchanging.  Don’t forget what the Prophet Malachi wrote in Malachi 3:6  “I am the LORD, and I do not change.”

 

That is echoed by King David in Psalm 110:4  The LORD has taken an oath and will not break his vow:

 

Our directions need to be guided by Biblical precedent.  And our prayers have to recognize the validity of the scriptures for today July 1st 2018

 

This is not simply an antiquated volume of cute stories and witty sayings.  This is the living breathing word of God.  And it is absolutely worthless to you if you never open it.

 

If I was to ask how many of you had read your Bible more then twice this past week there would be a few embarrassed Christians in this congregation.  The worst part is that some of those would be quote-unquote “Mature Christians” and if quoted Hezekiah 3:21 I wonder how many of you would realize that the book of Hezekiah only exists in my imagination?

 

If you are a Christian, then you need to get into this book.  I don’t care how you do it, but you need to read and feed on the word of God.

 

You need to get a Bible that you’re comfortable with and read it.  And a Bible that you’re comfortable with is one that you can easily read.  Read it, mark in it, devour it.

 

A lot of people are using “Bible Apps” on their phones and many of those apps allow you to listen to the bible being read.  So, you can listen to it in your car, or when you are at the gym or going for a walk or run.

 

But find out what works for you and do whatever you have to do and feed on the word of God.  It’s only as you know the word of God that you can find out what he wants from you because you can be assured that God won’t want anything from you or for you, from this church or for this church that is contrary to His word.

 

So a Powerful Church in bold prayer prays with one voice, under the sovereignty of God relying on the truth of the word of God.

 

Acts 4:29  And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word.

 

4) They Offered Specific Requests.

 

These people knew what they wanted and they weren’t afraid to verbalize it.  They didn’t beat around the bush with maybes, ifs and perhaps.  Instead, they stated what they wanted.

 

I like the fact that they did it differently then I would have done it.  My prayer would have been “Now, Lord, consider their threats and shut them up.” I might have embellished it a bit more, “May their vocal cords dry up and their tongues fall out”  but you get the picture.  But that wasn’t the approach that the early church took.  They didn’t ask that the mountain be removed instead they asked for the courage to climb the mountain.

 

We need to step out in faith and claim the promises of God and one of those is that we serve a prayer answering God.

 

We deny the power of prayer not because we don’t believe it but because we don’t practice it I love the story of a small town in Kentucky whose only distinction was that they had two churches and one distillery, which was owned by an avowed atheist.

 

It seems that one night the people from the two churches called a special prayer meeting and spent the night praying that the distillery would close down.  Well, you can guess the rest of the story shortly after midnight a storm blew in, lightning struck the distillery and it burnt to the ground.

 

Well, the churches were elated; the atheist wasn’t and imagine how he felt when his insurance company informed him they couldn’t pay the claim because it was “an act of God”.  The outcome of the story is that the owner took the two churches to court to sue them for damages, which they claimed they weren’t responsible for.

 

The presiding judge supposedly said, and I quote “This is the most perplexing case I have ever sat on because on one hand, I have an atheist who claims to believe in the power of prayer and on the other hand I have two churches that deny it”

Is it true?  Probably not, but it’s funny.

Let’s not be afraid to ask for specific things and when we receive them let’s not be afraid to give credit where credit is due.

 

A Powerful Church that prayed with one voice, under the sovereignty of God, relying on the truth of the word and offered specific requests.

 

Acts 4:31  After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness.

 

5) They Witnessed the Supernatural Power of God

 

When was the last time you gathered in prayer and the building you were meeting in started to shake?  “Well Pastor, God used signs and wonders in a different way in the New Testament Church then he does today”

 

OK, but what do you do with scriptures like Malachi 3:6  “I am the LORD, and I do not change.”?

 

Is the absence of the visible supernatural in our churches today because God has stopped doing that kind of thing or because we have stopped expecting that Kind of thing?  Now I’m not suggesting for one moment that we need to have our building shake when we pray, I’m not even sure that our insurance company covers that, but I am suggesting that when we pray we pray for results.

 

Do you remember what they prayed for in Acts 4:29 And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word.  Now, do you remember the last part of Acts 4:31  After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness.

 

The miracle wasn’t the building shaking the miracle was that they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.  We don’t get results because we don’t pray as we should.

 

If we want to see Cornerstone fulfil all the great things that God has in store for us then we not only need to be praying as individuals but corporately, that is as a group, we need to be praying together for our church and for our pastoral staff.

 

We need to pray with one voice, under the sovereignty of God, relying on the truth of his word with specific requests expecting a supernatural response.  And 220 in the afternoon is a great time to do that.

 

And if we want to see our Country truly be the Dominion of Canada then we need to heed God’s promise when he told us in 2 Chronicles 7:14 Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.

 

On this, Canada’s 151st birthday are you praying for our Country?  Are you praying for our leaders?  Paul reminded Timothy of this truth in 1 Timothy 2:1-6  I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them.  Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.  This is good and pleases God our Saviour,  who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.  For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus.  He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time.

 

Too often when we think of praying for the Government and our rulers we are like the characters in Fiddler on the Roof, when someone asked the Rabbi: if there was a proper blessing for the czar

 

And the Rabbi responds with these words:

 

“A blessing for the czar?  Of course!  May God bless and keep the czar… far away from us!”

 

Do you know why we pray for our leaders?  It’s not so they will do what we think they should do, the Roman government still persecuted Christians even after Paul wrote these words.  Listen again to what Paul tells Timothy 1 Timothy 2:1-2  I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them.  Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.

 

And you’re thinking the answer is: so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.

 

But Paul doesn’t stop there, he goes on to say,

 

Perhaps that could be read, 1 Timothy 2:3-4  This is good and pleases God our Saviour,  who wants Justin to be saved and to understand the truth.

 

God wants everyone to be saved.  I wonder what would happen if every Christian in Canada was praying for the Prime Minister’s wisdom and salvation?  What if we believed the promise that God’s word will not return void.  That promise is found in the book of Isaiah, in the NLT it reads this way.  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.

 

You may or may not know that shortly after the death of Justin’s younger brother he was invited to attend an Alpha course, and he did, all twelve weeks.  What if the church in Canada prayed that God’s word that was spoken into Justin’s life would bear fruit?

 

What if we prayed that the supreme court justices would be introduced to Jesus, do you think that would help them make decisions that honoured God and his word?

 

What if we prayed that everyday Christians would represent Jesus well in their daily lives.

 

What if those of us who are called by his name humbled ourselves and prayed and sought God’s face?  Do you think that God would keep his promise and would restore our land?  If instead of whining and complaining about the government policies that we don’t like or don’t agree with if we prayed for our leaders, I wonder what would happen?

 

I can almost guarantee you this if we don’t humble ourselves, seek God’s face and pray then Canada will never be the land that God wants it to be.

 

 

 

Promise of a Return

It was March 21st, 1942 standing in the Terowie Train Station in South Australia, following his retreat from the Philippines that General Douglas MacArthur promised the people of the Philippines “I came out of Bataan and I shall return”.

 

And he did.  Two and a half years later, after wading ashore on the Island of Leyte, MacArthur made a radio broadcast announcing, “People of the Philippines, I have returned!”

 

In the 1984 movie the Terminator, the main Character was rebuffed at a Police station as he looked for Sarah Connor and the Terminator said, “I’ll be back”, and he was.  Just moments later he drove a car through the front doors of the very same police station.  As a matter fact the terminator made that promise again in 1991 and in 2003 and 2009 and 2015.

 

This is week five of our Pinky Swear:  The Promises of Jesus series.  And through the month of June we’ve been looking at various promises Jesus made in the gospels to those who followed him.

 

And so, over the past four weeks, we’ve looked at Jesus’ promise of rest, his Promise of the Holy Spirit, His promise of inner peace and last week at his promise of a relationship with God the Father.  A Father who loves us, affirms us and will protect us.

 

Depending on the translation of the bible that you are using the heading for the scripture that was read earlier could be “The Coming of the Son of Man” or “Jesus foretells the Future” or “Signs of the End of the Age”.  And it is in the chapter that we read Jesus’ promise in Matthew 24:30-31  Jesus said “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.  And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”

 

This, of course, is Jesus’ promise of his return.  Now at this point, you are probably expecting me to break out the charts and the timetables that will pinpoint all of the appropriate events and happenings with an appropriate guess as to when it may happen.

 

And there was a time that I would have done that.    Oh, did I have charts and timetables.

 

But the older I get, I don’t know if I become smarter or simply more aware of my ignorance.  Or maybe it’s just that I don’t want to be identified with the chart and timetable people.   So, we aren’t going there.

 

Through the years I’ve come to understand the truth of the statement that William Barclay made about the study of the end times when he said

 

“The result is that it . . . has sometimes become the playground of religious eccentrics, who use it to map out celestial time-tables of what is to come or find in it evidence for their own eccentricities.”

 

So, let’s start this morning with what we Don’t Know

 

Matthew 24:36  Jesus said “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.”

 

We Don’t know when Jesus Will Return

 

There is a natural curiosity as to when Jesus is coming back.  For the past two thousand years, Christians have been wondering, and the apostles themselves wondered that same thing.

 

In the book of Mark Jesus had been talking about the end times and the apostles demanded an answer to the question in Mark 13:4  “Tell us, when will all this happen? What sign will show us that these things are about to be fulfilled?”

 

And in verse 32 of the same chapter Jesus answers them by saying, “It’s none of your business” well actually that isn’t exactly what he said, but it’s close because he says  Mark 13:32  “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.

 

But that reply hasn’t kept men and women from playing neat little mathematical games with Biblical prophecies over the past two thousand years in an effort to figure out some kind of time frame for the last days.  Through the years many sincere men have sought by various formulas and mathematical techniques, primarily using the prophecies of Daniel and the Revelation to arrive at; if not the day and hour of Christ’s arrival then at least the month and year.

 

500, April 6 – 793, January 1 – 1000, January 1 – 2000, February 20 – 1524, October 22 – 1844, August 7 – 1847, September 28 – 2015 are just some of the various dates that have been suggested for the return of Christ.

 

Scientist Isaac Newton predicted it would happen in 2000, as did Timothy Dwight a one-time president of Yale University.

 

The Jehovah’s Witnesses predicted that Christ would return in 1914, Hebert W Armstrong of The World Wide Church of God predicated 1935, 1943, 1972 & 1975.

 

Even John Wesley took a crack at it, predicting that Jesus would return on or around 1836.  Wesley based his prediction on the account of Revelation 12.  Here’s what he wrote in his commentary on Revelation 12:,    “. . . And comparing the prophecy and history together, they seem to begin and end nearly thus:

 

  1. The non chronos extends from about 800 to 1836
  2. The 1260 days of the woman from 847-1524
  3. The little time 947-1836
  4. The time, time and half 1058-1836 “

I guess they would all agree with Maxwell Smart when he said, “Missed it by that much.”

 

But the truth of the matter is that neither Isaac Newton nor John Wesley knew when Christ would return and neither does anyone else.

 

Seven different times in the New Testament it says that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.  And how does a thief come?  Well if he is a good thief then he comes very, very quietly.  Now realize that the return of Christ is not what is referred to as the rapture which is the when Christ calls the church to be with him.   And we aren’t going down that rabbit trail today.

 

Eschatology or the study of the end times is like golf, it’s fun it gives you something to do but in the long run, you end up arriving at the same place you left from.  And just like anything else it can become an obsession and prevent us from doing what we were put here to do and that is to win people to Jesus Christ.

 

But one thing is certain and that is that Christ will return. It may not have been in 70 or 1836 or 1941 or 2000 but Christ will return.  And when He does, He will be more pleased with the Christian who led one person into a relationship with God than with the person who spent all his time debating and writing books about the end times.

 

I am a countdown person, probably a character flaw.  When I was a kid I counted down to my birthdays and to Christmas.  I counted down to our wedding date, I counted down to my various graduations, each year I count down to our vacation.  I just do, and I would suspect that I’m not alone.

 

And that was why Jesus didn’t want the apostle or us to have a date.

 

Which is why he is very clear when he told the apostles in  Mark 13:32-33  “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.  And since you don’t know when that time will come, be on guard! Stay alert!

What part of “No one” don’t some people understand?

Jesus knew if we had a date that we would do the countdown thing, and people would be saying “I have lots of time”.

 

Jesus made it very plain that the timing of the His return is neither our responsibility nor our business, and personally, I think that we border on blasphemy when we try to wrestle that information from God.

 

We look very much like Adam and Eve who ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil so that they could know everything God knew.

 

So while we don’t know when the return of Christ will happen there are some things we do know.

 

Let’s start with Jesus statement in Mark 8:38  If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

 

We Know that Jesus Promised That He Would Return

 

Biblical scholars tell us that the book of Mark was the first Gospel account put into writing.  And according to Papias, who was one of the early Christian writers and a man who had known some of the apostles personally, Mark had acted as a scribe for Peter.

 

Now taking that into account if we look into the book of Mark we see Christ making three direct statements referring to the end times.

 

The first reference was the one I read from Mark 8:38, the second was two days later, after Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem  Mark 13:1  As Jesus was leaving the Temple that day, one of his disciples said, “Teacher, look at these magnificent buildings! Look at the impressive stones in the walls.”

 

Boy, it wasn’t hard to tell these guys were CFA’s, that’s Come From Away if you didn’t know.  Talk about a bunch of hicks, Gawking around and staring.  You can almost hear them, “Golly look at them buildings, ain’t got nothing like that in Galilee.”

 

Can’t say that I blame them I have done a lot of travelling but remember that I grew up in New Brunswick and to me, a big city was Saint John, it had a hotel with 8 stories and two elevators.

 

So for a few minutes the apostles stood in awe as they looked at the massive temple building in front of them, and then Jesus told them in the next verse Mark 13:2  Jesus replied, “Yes, look at these great buildings. But they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!”

 

Now the disciples didn’t say anything right off but when Peter, Andrew, James and John were on the Mount of Olives they asked Jesus when this would take place.

 

And in reply, Jesus gave them a three-part answer.  The first part is given in Mark 13:5-13 when Jesus spoke of the tribulation that the Apostles would personally go through.

 

The second part is found in verses 14-23 and Jesus told them about the tribulation that Jerusalem would go through.  And in 70 AD Jerusalem was totally destroyed by the Romans.  One contemporary source claimed that a man could plough from one corner of Jerusalem to the other without hitting a rock.

 

And then In Mark 13:26-27  Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great power and glory.  And he will send out his angels to gather his chosen ones from all over the world—from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven.

 

There can be no mistaking what Jesus was talking about.  He was saying that there would come a time that he would return, and all of mankind would see him coming.  Which 2000 years ago sounded miraculous that they entire world would see him, but now it’s just everyday technology.

 

Now then the third instance that Mark records Christ speaking about his return was in Mark 14:61-62  When Jesus was on trial before the high priest, let’s listen in

 

Mark 14:61-62  But Jesus was silent and made no reply. Then the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”

 

Listen to the response of Christ  Jesus said, “I AM. And you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.”  Jesus couldn’t have made his message any plainer.

 

And John records in His gospel the conversation where Jesus is telling the apostles that the time had come for him to leave, and we pick up the story in John 13:36 Simon Peter asked, “Lord, where are you going?” And Jesus replied, “You can’t go with me now, but you will follow me later.”

But then in the next chapter, only five verses later we read  John 14:3 When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.

 

And following the resurrection when Jesus meets the apostles on the beach at the sea of Tiberius.  And it’s here that Jesus asks Peter if he loved him, gave him instructions for leading his church and then gave Peter a little peek at how his life would end.  In response in John 21:21 Peter asks Christ “Hey what about my old buddy John?”  and in John 21:22 Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me.”

Jesus said “when I return” not “If I return”.

But Jesus saying he was coming again isn’t the end of the story, if we continue to read in the New Testament we discover passages like  Hebrews 9:27-28  And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment,  so also Christ died once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him.

And not only did Jesus promise that he would return, We Know that The Early Church Believed That Jesus Would Return

 

Through the writing of the New Testament, the church is instructed on the second coming of Christ and corrected some errors on how they viewed the second coming.

 

John wrote in 1 John 3:2 Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is.  Not if he appears, but when he appears.  John was there on multiple instances when Jesus promised to return and time hadn’t dimmed that hope, John was evidently pretty certain that Jesus was coming again.

 

And it was the same with Peter.

 

In his second letter, he is dealing with those who claimed that Jesus’ promise of coming again wasn’t a reality.  We pick it up in 2 Peter 3:3-4  Most importantly, I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires.  They will say, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.”  That sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it?  “Sure, Jesus is coming again, the church has been saying that for 2000 years.”

 

And Peter describes the power of God in the next three verses and then writes, 2 Peter 3:8-9  But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day.  The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.

 

I often hear believers say they can’t wait until Jesus returns, and while that may be valid, understand he may be waiting until your spouse, child or parent makes a decision to follow Him.

 

There are people who just this past week accepted Christ’s offer of grace and forgiveness.   What if Jesus had returned eight days ago?

 

And yet Peter goes on to warn the church that eventually Christ will return   2 Peter 3:10  But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment.

 

And as C.S Lewis’s wrote in relation to the return of Christ “When the Author walks on the stage the play is over!”

 

When Paul wrote to the Christians in Thessalonica he said that people all over the world talked about the faith of the believers there, part of that is recorded in   1 Thessalonians 1:10  And they speak of how you are looking forward to the coming of God’s Son from heaven—Jesus, whom God raised from the dead. He is the one who has rescued us from the terrors of the coming judgment.

 

And then later in the letter he writes,  1 Thessalonians 4:13-14  And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.  Again, not if Jesus returns, but when Jesus returns.  There was a certainty about the belief that Jesus was coming again.

 

 

I don’t know where everybody in this room is spiritually.  I hope that everybody here Is ready for the promise of Jesus’ return to be fulfilled.  But I would suspect that not everybody is.  But you can be.

 

2 Corinthians 6:2  For God says, “At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.” Indeed, the “right time” is now. Today is the day of salvation.

And it’s as easy as asking him.

The Promise of the Father

In an effort to be environmentally aware, this Father’s Day I’ve decided to embrace the ethos of Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.

Most of you know that my Dad passed away a couple of weeks ago, and many of you are aware that I conducted Dad’s funeral and preached at it.

As I was working on my message I thought “this would be a great message for Father’s Day”, because that’s the way preachers think.

This is week four of “Pinkie Swear-The Promises of Jesus” series here at Cornerstone.  And over the past three weeks, we looked at some of the promises that Jesus made to his followers in the gospels.

So, in week one there was the promise of rest, not a rest from our daily work, but a spiritual rest and emotional rest.  By the way, that promise is not an excuse for not serving in the local church.

Week two we looked at The Promise of a Helper.  And it was here we saw Jesus preparing for his death and resurrection, which wouldn’t signify the end of the story simply the closing of one chapter and the opening of a new chapter.  And with that new chapter came the promise of the Holy Spirit, along with his presence and power.

Last week we spent some time with Jesus’ elusive promise of peace and how it comes when we know there is a God and we know how much God cares for us.

Today we are taking a look at a promise of a promise.  In the scripture that was read for us earlier, Jesus is teaching those who chose to follow him to trust him in regard to the needs of their lives.

It’s here we read that great promise that Jesus made in Luke 12:31 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need.

Which is not a promise of having everything we want but everything we need.  And that happens when our priorities are in line with God’s priorities.  But that isn’t the promise I want to look at today, instead, we are looking at the next verse.

Listen carefully to the next words of Jesus, Luke 12:32  “So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.”   It gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.

Which seems like a great verse for Father’s Day.

The problem is that in order for this to work we need to have a decent view of our father.  If your concept of a father is someone who is abusive or distant then this isn’t the best illustrative device. Dads don’t always get the greatest press, and for obvious reasons, you only have to watch the news or read the paper to realize that some fathers aren’t the nicest people around.

When we were in Australia we met a Christian singer by the name of Peter Shirley and he sang a song called “WOULD YOU REALLY MIND”:

“When I was just a child, I didn’t understand

Why my father left my mother with the waving of a hand.

He told me it was best this way, but I couldn’t figure why.

The solution to the problem made my mother cry.

 

Lord I find it hard to call you father,

My memories aren’t real fond of the father that I had,

LORD I find it hard to call you father, but would you really mind,

Would you really mind if I just called you friend.

 

I know this may be selfish, I know this may be wrong.

But I’m not sure my father loves me, I haven’t seen him for so long.

Lord you’re so much more to me than the father that I knew,

I know that you won’t leave me; your love will see me through.

 

Lord help me to understand, and ease this pain inside.

And help me to forgive, my father’s human side.

Unite us with your spirit, though in flesh we’re torn apart.

And take away this bitterness that’s wrapped around my heart.”

 

Over and over again Jesus refers to God as his “Father” and tells us that God is our “Father”.   And we need to understand that what Jesus meant when he referred to father isn’t necessarily the same association that some people make now when they think of their father.  He’s saying light you’re thinking dark, he’s thinking protective you’re thinking abusive.

You see, when you’ve been physically or sexually abused by your father when he drank the family’s food away, or constantly berated you and told you that you were no good.  When the memory of your father, makes you angry or brings tears to your eyes then it’s going to be really difficult for you to feel good about a God who is called father.

 

You may not even feel like you could pray to someone called father.  You might share Philip Stanhope’s, feelings when he said: “As fathers commonly go, it is seldom a misfortune to be fatherless; and considering the general run of sons, as seldom a misfortune to be childless.”

The problem with our language is that we define it by our own experiences.  We can both be talking English, using the same words but thinking totally different things.

If we are talking about cars and the subject turns to Oldsmobiles I would immediately think of my favourite car which was a 1971 Cutlass Supreme convertible that I owned when I was eighteen.

But if your experience with General Motors products in general and Oldsmobile’s, in particular, has been bad, like perhaps you owned a 1982 Firenza then you would be thinking entirely different thoughts then I would.  And for good reasons.

And so the only way that we can know what Jesus meant when he used the phrase the Father is to look at other times that he used the term father and what it says about his concept of a father because remember he’s talking about his view of his father not our view of our earthly father.

 

John 5:20 For the Father loves the Son . . .

 

And so When Jesus Described His Father, He Described a Father Who Loved Him

 

Jesus didn’t have to wonder if his father loved him, it wasn’t a maybe or an if statement, he knew it, it was fact not theory.

 

If you look through the parables, the stories Jesus told, you find that the Father is always the good guy.  He’s the one who takes the prodigal son back, he’s the one who gives his children the very best, he’s the one who defends his children.

In other words, whenever Jesus uses a father as an illustrative device it is in a positive sense.  Unlike television where dad is usually the idiot on the show.

You may not know where you stand with your earthly father either because he hasn’t verbalized his love for us or because his actions negate his words, but that won’t be a problem with your heavenly father.

I have heard adults tell me that they cannot remember their father ever saying, “I love you.”

My sister and I never had to wonder if our Father loved us he verbalized it all the time and the last words dad spoke to me were “I love you”

Jesus tells us in 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.

I know the world is a big place and sometimes when we think of God’s love divided 7 billion ways it doesn’t seem like we get a very big slice of the pie, but reality is that God’s love doesn’t divide like a pizza, not only does every believer get the same size piece but each piece is the same size as the sum of the total.

In other words, God’s love divided by 7 billion remains God’s love, not 1/7,000,000,000 of God’s love.  Jesus reminds us of his Father’s love for us as believers in John 16:27 for the Father himself loves you dearly because you love me and believe that I came from God.

What type of love is it that God has for us?  Listen to what Jesus best friend John said, 1 John 3:1 See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!   We are his children, he is our parent, and not just any parent he is a perfect parent, a parent who loves us.

So, what do you think?  Think you could embrace a Father who loved you enough to make the ultimate sacrifice for you?

The first time we see the relationship between Jesus and his heavenly father is in Matthew 3:17 and it happened at the beginning of Jesus public ministry, right after John had baptized Jesus, he comes up from the Jordan river Matthew 3:17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”

And so When Jesus Described His Father, He Described a Father Who Affirmed Him

Jesus concept of a father was someone who bragged on his kids.

After I preached Dad’s funeral I had a number of people tell me, “Your father would be so proud of you.”  I knew Dad was proud of me long before I preached his funeral.  Maybe that’s not something that you can identify with but it’s the reality of God our father.

Time and time again Jesus spoke about the worth that God has attributed to us, as his children.

Jesus had no doubt that his Father was in his corner and never had to wonder what his father thought of him.  John 6:27 For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval.”

Maybe your earthly father has never told you he thought you were doing a great job, maybe he never said that he was proud of you, but upon your Heavenly Father’s lips are the words “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

So, what do you think?  Think you could embrace a Father who affirmed you and thought you were the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Matthew 26:53 Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly?

I love this particular portion of the Bible.  Jesus is being arrested and Peter pulls out a sword and cuts off the ear of one of the guys in the mob.  Now personally I think Peter is maligned here because I really don’t think that Peter was actually trying to cut off the guy’s ear.

He was trying to cut off the guy’s head and just had a rotten aim, and Jesus tells Peter to put the sword away and then he makes that statement. In other translations, it says “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”  A legion was a military term which actually referred to a large unit of infantry numbering up to 6,000 men.

All Jesus had to do was say “sic em” and 72,000 angels with attitude would have been all over those guys, like down on a duck.

And so When Jesus Described His Father, He Described a Father Who Would Protect Him

It was Sigmund Freud said “I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.”

Jesus knew that his Father was in his corner, that all he had to do was say the word and his father would be there for him.  Not only that but Jesus knew that His Father who is really our Father would be there for us as well listen to his prayer in the book of John 17:11 Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world, but I am coming to you. Holy Father, you have given me your name; now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are.

Even at the end of his life, when Jesus was dying on the cross, listen to his dying words; Luke 23:46  Then Jesus shouted, “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!” And with those words, he breathed his last.

Jesus knew that even when things were toughest, that his father was there for him.

So, what do you think?  Do you think you could embrace a father who was in your corner always ready to protect you?

But there is a reciprocity here as well.  Like all relationships, this relationship between believers and God is a two-way street.

In the book of Matthew Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is, and his reply is found in Matthew 22:37-38  Jesus replied, “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.

 When Jesus Described His Father, He Described a Father Who Deserves our Love  You might recall from our last series that there is no commandment in the Bible to love our fathers or mothers for that matter.  We are told to respect them and to honour them, but we are never told that we need to love them.

But we are told that we are to love God, our Heavenly Father.

And the how of that love is given to us in Jesus’ words in John 14:31  Jesus said: “but I will do what the Father requires of me, so that the world will know that I love the Father.”  How would the world know that Jesus loved his father?  Because he obeyed his father.

When Jesus Described His Father, He Described a Father Who Deserves our Obedience

 Through my many years in the ministry, I’ve heard people profess their love for God but there was nothing in their lives that evidenced it.  And I know that there’s a least one person here today who is thinking “Don’t be judgemental Denn”.   Don’t raise your hand if you’re that person.

But the bible tells us over and over again that if we have a relationship with God it will be evidenced in our lives.  That we will get together with his children for worship, that we will give to God’s work, that we will do some things and not do other things.

John reminds us in  1 John 5:3  Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome.  Seriously, it’s not like he’s asking you to cut off your right arm.  Remember God’s commandments were put in place for our benefit, spiritually, emotionally and physically.

 When we think of God the Father our minds often go to the opening phrase of the Lord’s Prayer.  In the New Living Translation it reads, Matthew 6:9  Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy.  But most of us are more familiar with the words from the King James Version Matthew 6:9  After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.

But however, you say it, it is a reminder that When Jesus Described His Father, He Described a Father Who Deserves our Honour

 Now in order to periodically show you my grasp of the original language I tell you things like the Greek for the word hallowed or Holy is Hagia-zesthia, and it comes from the adjective Hagios which is translated holy but literally means, different or set apart.

And so, the people that Jesus was talking to at the time understood exactly what he was saying to them the temple was different than other buildings, the Sabbath is different than other days, the Altar is different then ordinary things and the Priest is different from other men.

 

What this scripture is saying then is this “Let God’s name be treated different than all other names, let God’s name be given a position which is absolutely unique.”

 

God’s name is not to be taken lightly, it’s not to be used without thought.  It’s not an exclamation nor is it an oath.  it is the name of the creator of the universe, and it’s the name of your saviour.

 

And so, we need to remember that God’s name is Father, but only to those who have accepted the offer of His adoption.  I have friends who adopted a young man in his early twenties, he had been brought up in foster homes most of his life including their home during his teens.

One day he mentioned how he had no family, no roots and so the couple decided to correct the situation and so they offered to adopt him with full benefits, he would use their name and would have all of the rights and privileges of their natural children right up to sharing the estate when they die.  They made that offer and it was valid but the only way it became reality was when John accepted it.  Without his consent and acceptance, it was worthless.

God had made the offer, it’s summed up in the book of John 1:12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:

How do you do that?  How do you receive Him?  You just tell him that’s what you want to do.

We going to close in prayer and while I’m praying I’m going to pray a prayer of salvation, and if you have never asked Jesus Christ to forgive your sins and accept you as a part of his family I’d encourage you to do that today.

 

The Promise of Peace

Do you remember praying as a child?  Do you remember the words that you prayed?  Let’s try it together: “Now I lay me down to sleep I pray the Lord my soul to keep, if I should die before I wake I pray the Lord my soul to take.”   In retrospect a little creepy, but still.

 

Actually, the prayer that my Dad taught me was “Now I lay me down to sleep with a bag of candy at my feet, if I should die before I wake you’ll know I died of a bellyache.”

 

But what if when you laid down to sleep you knew that would be the last time you would ever lay down to sleep?  What if when you closed your eyes you knew it would be the last time you would close your eyes to sleep?

 

What if you knew when you went to bed tonight that tomorrow night you would be history, that you would never again hold the ones you loved, that you would never again be held by the ones who loved you.  That you would never see another sunset, never hear another bird sing, never live another day.  How would you sleep?

 

I’ve read that often they put a suicide watch on prisoners in the states who have been sentenced to death.  Probably don’t want the prisoner to cheat the state out of all their fun.  I mean do they really use an alcohol swab to sterilize the site for the lethal injection?

 

Do you think you’d be able to sleep knowing that you only had one day left?  I’m not sure if I would be able to or if my mind would be racing with regrets and what if’s.  Wondering if I had said good byes and thank you to all the right people.  Asking myself if I had left a mark and whether or not I’d be remembered.

 

That was the situation that Peter was in, King Herod had ordered the execution of James who was the brother of John, maybe you remember James as one of the sons of Thunder, or Zebedee’s boy, or one of the original group that Jesus called to be his disciples.  It really doesn’t matter what does matter is that he was executed by King Herod.  Now perhaps you’re thinking “I remember King Herod he was the king that ordered all the baby boys in Bethlehem killed when Jesus was born.”

 

Well, you’re partially right, that was King Herod, but it wasn’t this King Herod.  Then you’re thinking “Well then, it must have been the King Herod that had John the Baptist killed”, well again you are partially right, it was King Herod but not this King Herod.

 

This is, in fact, King Herod Agrippa and after he saw how much killing James pleased the Jewish leaders he thought, “Great, all I have to do to become popular is kill Christians.”

 

Think about it, Justin Trudeau and Stephen McNeil have to reduce taxes to be popular, but Herod he just had to kill preachers.  And so, he figured “if killing James made me popular think how popular I would be if I killed Peter”, and so he had Peter arrested and thrown into Jail.

 

Now it was the Jewish celebration of Passover and Herod couldn’t very well execute Peter during the holidays, so he decides that as soon as Passover is done, then he will separate Peter’s head from the rest of his body.  And so here Peter is, in prison, waiting to stand trial with execution being a very, very real possibility.

 

As a matter of fact, it was virtually the only probable outcome of the trial.  It’s the night before the trial, the church has called a prayer meeting and they are all up praying.  I don’t know if they were praying for Peter’s release or if they were praying for Peter to have the courage and strength to face his imminent demise.

 

We don’t know, but what we do know is that they were praying.  And Peter you’d think that Peter would either be wide awake worrying or that he would be wide-awake praying.

 

But that was not the case, instead of being wide awake for anything Peter was sound asleep.  Chained between two Roman soldiers,  this boy wasn’t just napping he was out like a light, dead to the world so to speak.

 

And suddenly a great light filled the prison cell and standing there was an angel, and Peter didn’t even wake up.  Boy you gotta hate that, this angel had this great entrance, poof, a great light fills the cell and there stands this great big strapping angel shinning in all his glory and Peter doesn’t wake up, at all.  Having lost all of the impact of a dramatic entrance the angel pokes Peter and says, “Hey come on wake up we’re out of here.” Or something like that.

 

The thing that amazes me isn’t the great rescue with the angel, that’s a God thing,  God can do those things, He’s God.  What amazes me about the story is that Peter is fast asleep.

 

This is the same Peter who had hacked off the guys ear in the garden of Gethsemane, this is the same Peter who avowed that he would never let Jesus down and then denied he knew him three times, and this is the same Peter who saw Jesus walking on the water and jumped out of the boat and joined him.

 

We all know rash, impulsive Peter, we’re not so familiar with calm, cool and collected Peter.

 

But that is the story told in Acts 12.

 

Everything we knew about Peter is turned inside out and upside down when we see him sleeping between these two Roman soldiers the night before his execution.  What happened?  What changed in Peter’s life that had changed Peter?

 

This is week three of our “Pinky Swear: The Promises of Jesus” series.  And through the month of June, we are focusing on some of the promises that were given to those who followed Jesus through the gospels.

 

And we have to believe that if Jesus made those promises to those who followed him 2000 years ago that those same promises are still valid for those who follow Jesus today.   That would be you.

 

So, in week one we discovered Jesus promising rest to a weary world.  Not a rest from physical labour or daily work, life goes on, but a spiritual rest and emotional rest.  A rest from always trying to be good enough and that rest only comes from his grace that says, “You are loved, and you are special, and I’ve already paid the price for you.”

 

Then last week we looked at the Promise of a helper, and how Jesus promised us that we would never be alone, that we would always have the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  And ultimately, we said that we don’t need more of the Holy Spirit, but instead, we need to allow the Holy Spirit to have more of us.

 

And that is where we come in here.  In the scripture that was read earlier we discover this promise that Jesus made to those who follow him.  And this is a continuation of the scripture that was read last week when Jesus promised the apostles the gift of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

 

You see this promise doesn’t stand alone it is only because we have the Holy Spirit in our lives that Jesus could make the promise that we find in John 14:27  Jesus said “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

 

And Peter was in the group that heard those words, the promise was for him, but we don’t immediately see peace as a characteristic of Peter’s life.  It was John F. Kennedy who said: “Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures.”

 

And we don’t see that inner peace in Peter’s life until he experiences the Holy Spirit in his life, and that doesn’t happen until Acts chapter 2.  And it is there that we see how the Holy Spirit filled Peter and how Peter was never the same again.

 

The result of the Holy Spirit on Peter’s life can be summed up with the words of  Galatians 5:22-23  But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

 

And we could personalize it by saying, Galatians 5:22-23  But the Holy Spirit produced this kind of fruit in Peter’s life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control.

 

So, when Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit, he became a very different Peter then he had been before.  And one of those differences we see in his life was this peace that he had, a peace of mind and heart.  That was evidenced by the fact that he wasn’t troubled or afraid to face the morning.  Whatever the morning might bring.

 

So, what is this peace?  Good question, peace can be defined several different ways.  One wit defined it as “Peace is that brief glorious moment in history when everybody stands around reloading.”

 

Or as Jerry Pournelle, once wrote, “Peace is the ideal we deduce from the fact that there have been interludes between wars.”

 

But, the New Testament concept of peace is not defined as the absence of war or even an absence of interpersonal conflict in our lives.

 

Peace in the New Testament is a tranquillity of heart which derives from the all-pervading knowledge that we are in the hands of God.

 

The Apostle Paul would write to the church in Philippi saying, Philippians 4:7  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

 

You might be more familiar with the NKJV where it reads, Philippians 4:7 NKJV and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

 

 

It was in response to this promise that Helen Keller said: “I do not want the peace which passes understanding, I want the understanding which brings peace.”

 

And it would appear that Peter had discovered an understanding which brought him peace.

 

What was it that Peter understood that brought this peace?  Well, this peace came in a part because Peter Understood That God Is There.     Have you seen the bumper sticker that says, Know God, Know Peace.  No God, No Peace.  It’s the truth without an acknowledgement that there is a God you will not have peace.

 

That’s why it’s called the peace of God or God’s peace in the Bible.  If there were no other certainties in Peter’s Life there was the certainty that God was real.

 

If we are to find peace in our life the first step is acknowledging that there is a God.  The Bible says in Psalm 14:1 Only fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”

 

Abraham Lincoln echoed that when he said  “I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon the earth and be an atheist, but I cannot conceive how he could look up into the heaven and say there is no God.”

 

And so, Peter knew that there was a God, he knew that whatever happened tomorrow that a higher power was in control, even if he was executed he knew that was not the end.  He would not share the epitaph of the Atheist which said, “Here lies the Atheist, all dressed up and no place to go.”

 

Not only did Peter know that God is there but Peter Understood That God Is Aware

 

It was not enough that Peter knew that God existed, but Peter knew that God knew that Peter Existed.

 

Or as Paul reminded the early church in Galatians 4:9  So now that you know God (or should I say, now that God knows you). . . And so we need to take our belief to the next level, not only believing in God but also believing that God knows what’s going on in our lives.

 

Jesus made an incredible statement concerning this remarkable attribute of God’s in

Matthew 10:29  What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.

 

God didn’t create this world and then turn his back on it, he is aware what is going on, we aren’t alone.

 

God rejoices when he sees good and love and beauty. It breaks his heart when he sees war, and hatred and what we’ve done to this world.  And he knows you, and he knows everything about you.  It was that knowledge that caused David to write in Psalm 139:1  O LORD, you have examined my heart and know everything about me.

 

 

So, Peter knew that God existed, and Peter knew that God knew that Peter Existed, but more than that Peter Understood That God Cares

 

Of the three this is probably the most important thing that Peter knew.  It’s not enough that there is a God out there if he’s not aware of what’s going on in my life.

 

And it’s not enough that there’s a God out there whose aware of what’s happening in my life if he doesn’t care about what is happening in my life.   Earlier we read Matthew 10:29-31  What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.

But Jesus didn’t end there, he went on to say   And the very hairs on your head are all numbered.  So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.

 

When Peter closed his eyes that night in the prison cell chained between those two guards he knew that if nobody else in the universe cared about what happened to Peter, that God cared about what happened to Peter.

 

Peter knew that ultimately, he mattered to God and that ultimately God was in control.  Maybe it was this experience that later caused Peter to write in the Letter of 1 Peter 5:7  Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.

 

Peter knew that there was absolutely nothing he could do to change his situation, nothing at all.  So why worry about it?

 

Science fiction writer Larry Eisenberg summed it up when he said “For peace of mind, we need to resign as general manager of the universe.”

 

If we are going to have peace in our life it will only be when we realize that God not only knows what’s best for us but that he wants what’s best for us.  And not only do we need to realize that, we need to believe it and more than simply believing it we need to act upon it.

 

How many of our troubles could we have avoided if we had believed that God had our best at heart all along?

Too often we try to second-guess God.  We decide that even though God is God, and even though he is the creator and ruler of the universe that he’s not nearly as smart as we are.  That we know what is best for us, and if that doesn’t agree with what God says then that’s because God doesn’t really want the best for us, all he wants to do is to ruin our fun.

 

And so, we do the things we want to do, and then when it flies all to pieces and when we have to pay the fiddler, so to speak, we wonder what went wrong.  And sometimes in retrospect, we say “Wow, if only I had done what God wanted me to do.”

 

It’s easy to believe that God will do what is good, it’s more difficult to believe that whatever God does is good.

 

I’ve told this story before, A lady whose son had leukaemia was talking to another lady and the second woman said, “Maybe God will be good and heal your son.”  To which the first lady responded, “God will be good whether he heals my son or not.”

 

Can we believe in the goodness of God even in the difficult times?  Even at times that we know that’s not how we wanted things to go or things to end.

 

God does care, and God sees a much bigger picture then we do.  God cared enough about Peter that he sent an Angel to deliver him, but did that mean that he cared less about James when he allowed him to be executed?

 

No, I can’t explain it, and I don’t understand it, but even though James was killed and that caused his family pain and grief, God is still good.

 

And Peter understood that.  The book of Romans hadn’t been written at this point in history but the premise of  Romans 8:28 was still real  Romans 8:28  And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

 

Peter knew that Peter could do nothing, and God could do everything, so why worry?

 

Paul gives us some advice in  Philippians 4:6-7  Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

 

So, maybe Peter had prayed, told God what he needed, thanked him for all he had done and was experiencing the peace that is more wonderful than the human mind can understand.  Or maybe Peter had discovered the truth of what Clive James would write 2000 years later “Stop worrying — nobody gets out of this world alive.”

 

A story is told by Bishop William Quayle, he said that one night all the worries and concerns of his parish seemed to catch up with him and as he paced back and forth that God spoke to him and said “Quayle, you go to bed; I’ll stay up the rest of the night.”  Well two thousand years ago God told Peter, “Peter, you go to bed; I’ll stay up the rest of the night.”

 

And that’s what he’s telling you, “Go to Bed, I’ll stay up the rest of the night.”  Because listen again to God’s promise for you, today June 10, 2018,   John 14:27  Jesus said “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

The Promise of a Helper

It wouldn’t be long, and he knew it.  For three years he had taught throughout Israel, for three years he had healed the sick and fed the hungry. For three years he pointed people to the Kingdom of God, but the time was coming, it wouldn’t be long now, and he knew it.  The end was in sight, it was time for the chapter to close on his earthly ministry.  But how would he explain it to his friends? How would he explain that he was leaving?  Would they feel deserted, betrayed?  Would they be able to see that there was a much bigger plan a much longer story then they could presently see?

 

Our scripture this morning was John chapter 14.  It was just hours before the arrest of Christ, the group had eaten what we call “the Last Supper”, had posed for the group photo, you know what Peter said at the end of the Last Supper?  “Hey everyone, you need to be on this side of the table if you want to be in the picture.”

 

That was free, and now Jesus was explaining the events that were about to happen.  Trying I’m sure to ease their fears, to let them know that whatever happened that he was still in control and that it was all part of the plan.   I’m not sure that he was all that successful.

 

Most of all he wanted them to know that he wasn’t leaving them alone.  Really isn’t that a fear that we all have?  The fear of being deserted, being left to our own devices.  Lord Byron made this statement concerning growing old: “What is the worst of woes that wait on age? What stamps the wrinkle deeper on the brow? To view each loved one blotted from life’s page, And be alone on earth, as I am now.”

 

And so, it was almost an “I have bad news and I have good news statement.”  Jesus told them that the time had come that he had been telling them about when he would have to die, but in the same breath he assured them “You Are Not Alone”

 

This is our second week of our “Pinkie Swear: The Promises of Jesus” and last week we began with Jesus’ promise to give us rest.  This wasn’t a rest from physical labour or the daily work of life. Instead, it was a spiritual rest and an emotional rest.

 

The passage read this morning was Jesus’ promise to his disciples that he would not leave them alone and that same promise if for us today.  The promise that even though he wouldn’t be here in a physical form that the Holy Spirit would be here to give us the guidance and comfort that we need in our day to day life as Christ Followers.

 

A number of years ago we received a newsletter from friends of ours who are

bible

translators in an unnamed Asian country.  We could tell you where they are at but because of security concerns if we told you then we’d have to kill you.

 

In the letter, our friends who we will call Rick and Sue, mainly because that’s their names, spoke about the difficulty they had in translating the book of Acts because in that particular dialect there was no word for Holy Spirit and the concept seemed to be beyond translation.

 

Which raises the question “How can you translate a book without a term for the main character?”   The story of John Reid would have been simply another western if he hadn’t been named. . . the Lone Ranger.

 

And so the translators looked into the original Greek along with similar languages in the region and they tried, “God’s Good Wind” “God’s Breath” or “God’s Good Spirit.”  But none of those worked, people thought they were talking about a great sailing day or just thought the concept of God’s breath as being bizarre.  The people had no general term for “Spirit” they had terms for specific bad or evil spirits but nothing for a good or benevolent spirit.  They tried using a more generic word, but people understood that as meaning “to have a good attitude.”

 

After a lot of work and prayer they came up with the phrase “God’s Perfect Spirit” and it worked.  Sue said that suddenly the Holy Spirit wasn’t an attitude or force but a person, a part of the Trinity.

 

Now most of us don’t have a problem with the term the Holy Spirit.  But do we really understand who He is and what He does?  In the scripture that was read for us earlier, Jesus is telling the disciples that his time on earth is coming to an end, and it is there that we receive the promise of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Now, to be honest, the majority of us have a grip on God the Father, we know that he is our Creator.  And we’ve

have

no problem with God the Son, we know that Jesus is our Saviour.  But for too many of us, the concept of the Holy Spirit is a little fuzzy, a little vague.   What or who was it that Jesus was promising?

 

Hopefully this morning we can add some clarity to the promise.

The first thing I want to look at this morning is: The Promise of the Holy Spirit  Throughout the gospels and into the book of Acts we see Jesus promising the disciples that they won’t be left alone.  Often we think that the Holy Spirit was a last minute thought by Christ, “Oh by the way.  I’m leaving, but don’t be upset, tell you what I’ll leave the Holy Spirit for you.” But that isn’t the case at all.  The Holy Spirit isn’t an afterthought he was part of the original plan.  Early in Christ’s ministry right after Jesus taught the disciples the Lord’s Prayer he makes this comment

Luke 11:13  So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”

 

As a matter of fact before Jesus began his earthly ministry  he was announced by his cousin John who said Matthew 3:11  “I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

And so it should have come as no surprise when hours before his arrest Jesus told his apostles in

John 14:15-17  “If you love me, obey my commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you.  He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know

him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.”

 

The Person of the Holy Spirit.    The theologian A. W. Tozer wrote this in his book The Counsellor “Spell this out in capital letters: THE HOLY SPIRIT IS A PERSON.  He is not enthusiasm. He is not courage.  He is not energy.  He is not the personification of all good qualities, like Jack Frost is the personification of cold weather.  Actually, the Holy Spirit is not the personification of anything.  He is a Person, the same as you are a person, but not material substance. He has individuality. He is one being and not another. He has will and intelligence.  He has hearing. He has knowledge and sympathy and ability to love and see and think. He can hear, speak, desire, grieve and rejoice. He is a Person.”

 

If we were to do a pop quiz right now and ask you who or what is the Holy Spirit I wonder what we would get for answers?  “The Third Person of the Trinity” “The Comforter” “The Counsellor” “Guide” “Teacher”.  How about this: He is God.

 

Often times when we think of the Holy Spirit we think of him as the third person of the trinity.  Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Why is that?  Why do we define him in that way?  To many people, the trinity is ranked Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The Father being the most important, then Jesus, then somewhere on down the line we place the Holy Spirit.  Why is that?  When asking people they will often say, “Because that’s how the bible lists them.”  Does it?  Well, it does in Matthew 28:19.   When Jesus is giving his last instructions to the apostles he says Matthew 28:19  Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

But it’s interesting to note that this is the only place in the bible where the

trinity

is listed in that particular order, in other places God is listed as Father, Holy Spirit and Son, and sometimes as Holy Spirit, Son and Father or Son, Holy Spirit, Father

as a matter of fact, there are six different ways that you could list the three members of the

trinity and all six ways are used in the Bible.

 

Others think that the Holy Spirit is the third person in the Trinity because he isn’t mentioned until the day of Pentecost.  Yet if we go back to the very beginning in Genesis 1:2 Which of course is the initial account of creation we read Genesis 1:1-2  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

 

In Psalm 51 King David is pouring out his heart in repentance over his affair with Bathsheba and listen to his prayer in verse eleven: Psalm 51:11  Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.

It was the Holy Spirit who was present at the conception of Christ   Luke 1:35  The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.

It was the Holy Spirit who was present at the Baptism of Christ.  Luke 3:21-22  One day when the crowds were being baptized, Jesus himself was baptized. As he was praying, the heavens opened,  and the Holy Spirit, in bodily form, descended on him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.”

 

The Holy Spirit is not some created being or force that “poof” magically appeared on the day of Pentecost. He always was because he is God.  Nor is He some third string player waiting until late in the game to make his appearance.  He has been active through the entire realm of history from day one until the present.  He is God.

 

The Presence of the Holy Spirit  Maybe the question you’re asking today is “So what”, what does that have to do with me.  Everything.  When Jesus made the promise to the disciples that the Holy Spirit would be a presence in their lives the promise wasn’t limited to those twelve.  It is as real today as it was then and as real for you as it was for them.  The Holy Spirit is not an option in the Christian life, it’s not like getting power windows and air conditioning in your new car to make it more comfortable.

Instead we need to understand that He is the engine, he is what makes it go, he is the power of our Christian experience.  Jesus said The Holy Spirit is the very centre of our Christian life and you cannot live an obedient, productive, fruitful Christian life without the Holy Spirit’s presence.

 

So what is it the Holy Spirit does?  What is it you need him to do?  A lot can learned just by looking at the word that Jesus used to describe the Holy Spirit.   In John 16:7 Jesus says  John 16:7  But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you.

The word that I want to look at for a minute is Advocate in the New Living Translation, in the King James version the word is translated comforter, in the New King James version it’s helper Parakletos, and it can mean a variety of things, it can mean an intercessor, consoler, advocate, comforter or it can mean counsellor.  But however they choose to translate the word it means someone who comes alongside to help you.

And whichever of those definitions you use, it’s good.  Who wouldn’t want an intercessor in their life or a

consoler or an advocate or for that matter a counsellor?

 

What does He want to do for you? The Holy Spirit didn’t just come to hang around and confuse people, so let’s take a look at The Purpose  of the Holy Spirit  Why has the Spirit come?  Why did Jesus think it was so important for the apostles to wait for the Holy Spirit?  How did the Spirit’s presence affect the church then and what effect should He have on the church now? And not just the church collectively but the Christ Followers who make up the church.   Let’s let the book answer: Acts 1:8  “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.”

The Holy Spirit Gives Us Power

Power, what an incredible concept, power.  For everyone who thinks that they don’t have what it takes to live the life that Christ expects of them let me tell you this: You’re right, you don’t.  But cheer up because the Holy Spirit has buckets of what it takes and he wants you to have it.  This is one of my favourite scriptures; I love the very concept of the promise that when the Holy Spirit has control of our life you will receive power.  Not you might receive power or you may receive power or there’s a chance you will receive power, but you will receive power.  And not just a little bit of power, but wonderful, incredible, dynamic world changing power.

 

The power you need to conquer bad habits, the power you need to start good habits, the power you need to tell others about Jesus, the power you need to be everything that God wants you to be.  He doesn’t expect you to do it alone, as a matter of fact he doesn’t want you to do it alone, he wants to help you to do whatever it is you have to do.

Do you realize that you have the infinite power of almighty God in your life? That is his promise to you today.  He’s saying:  Let me come into your life and you will have power.  But it’s not just a matter of power.

Romans 5:5  And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves

us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

The Holy Spirit Gives Us Love

Christianity places a high premium on love, after all Christianity itself is rooted in love,  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.”

And in John 13:35 Christ said Christianity would be defined and identified by Love John 13:35  “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

 

Probably the one commandment that is given the most page space in the New Testament is to Love One Another.  And as long as the church is made up of people that is going to be tough, especially when you use the definition of love that is given in the New Testament,

1 Corinthians 13:4-7  Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.  It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.  Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. You cannot love people in the church like that in your own power.  Because there is always going to be some Jerk that you just can’t get along with, and God still expects you to love me.  And even though you can’t do it on your own the Holy Spirit can fill your heart with love.  Is it any wonder that the first characteristic mentioned in the fruit of the spirit is Love.

1 Corinthians 12:4  There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all.

The Holy Spirit Gives Us Gifts

Now I don’t know if this will come as a shock to you or not but if you are a Christian then the Holy Spirit has a gift for you, and he also has a reason why he gives it to you. If we continue along in 1 Corinthians 12:7  A spiritual gift is given to each of us . . .

and then it tells us why. . . so we can help each other.

Some of those gifts are Prophecy, teaching, evangelism, discernment, healing, hospitality, speaking in unknown languages, interpreting unknown languages.  And each Christian is given at least one spiritual gift, why?  As a means of helping the entire church.  If you have never taken a spiritual gift test you should, you might be amazed at what your gifts are.

We all love gifts, so we should be excited to find the gifts that the Spirit has for us.

Galatians 5:22-23 Is a familiar passage for most of us. Paul has described what a person’s life is like when they are controlled by sin and then he goes on to tell what it should be like when it is controlled by the Holy Spirit.  Galatians 5:22-23  But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!   The Holy Spirit Gives Us Character

Notice that the word fruit is singular, these aren’t several different characteristics that we can pick and

choose from, if your life is controlled by the Holy Spirit then this is how you will live.  The converse is also true if this isn’t how you are living then the Holy Spirit isn’t controlling your life.  It’s not rocket science.

So what’s the bottom line?  Romans 8:6  So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.

Through my thirty-seven years of ministry, time and time again I’ve heard Christians either pray or make the statement “I want more of the Holy Spirit.”  The Holy Spirit is God he’s not a collection of pieces.  You can’t have more of him or less of him.

It’s like being pregnant you either is or you ain’t there’s no in between.  And it’s not that we don’t have enough of the Holy Spirit, it’s that the Holy Spirit doesn’t have enough of us.

The Promise of Rest

Sometimes you hear people talk about how hard they work and how tired they are.  But in 2018 in North America, I’m not sure that we have that completely in perspective.  And I understand that there are different types of work and different types of tired.

 

I was in a meeting with a group of ministers one day and one of them said that pastoring a church was really hard work.   And then, he said, and I quote “Pastoring a church is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

 

And I snickered, I didn’t mean to, it just came out.  And he turned and glared at me and demanded: “Don’t you think pastoring is really hard work?”  And I asked him, “Have you ever really worked for a living?”

 

I wasn’t trying to be funny.  The summer I was fourteen I worked for a farmer, haying.  Have you ever hayed?  I spent my days in the sun pitched 60 lb bales of hay unto to a moving wagon.

 

The year between high school and college I spent fishing on 132-foot herring seiner, have you ever seen 200 tons of fish at one time?  Have you ever spent a night getting 200 tons of herring from the Atlantic Ocean into your holds and then spent the next day getting the 200 tons of fish out of your holds into the fish plant, and then get a few hours’ sleep and start all over again?

 

Nope, pastoring is not the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

 

And maybe it’s because I love what I do, most of the time.    Years ago, I read the phrase, “Do what you’ll love, and you’ll never work another day in your life.”  And while it’s well-meaning, there are still days that I’m exhausted at the end of the day just from dealing with people and their problems and administrative stuff.

 

Thirty years ago, I was speaking to the students at Kingswood University in Sussex NB, which is one of the schools where Wesleyan pastors are trained.  And the day before I had performed a funeral at our church, not a particularly hard funeral but still it was for a man who I respected and liked, and his family was grieving.

 

And I told the students at Kingswood that day that in the ministry they would spend 15% of their time doing what they loved and 15% doing what they hated and the other 70% would be just doing stuff that needed to be done.  I’ve had pastors tell me that they were attending Kingswood at the time and how they’ve always remembered that.

 

I never have the heart to tell them that like most statistics, that one was made up.

 

But most of us will spend our lives working.  And it is a necessity, regardless of whether you are a subsistence farmer in West Africa or a Software Engineer in Nova Scotia, or a stay at home mom, work is work.

 

And it’s not always fun and it’s not always rewarding.  I remember telling someone once when they were complaining about their job, “That’s why they call it work and not play.”

 

There was a time, not that long ago in our country and in our culture that work wasn’t something that you needed to find fulfilment in, it was what you did to earn a living and it was what you did to take care of your family, it was work.

 

And there is a lot that has been said about work, Thomas A. Edison said: “There is no substitute for hard work.”  Or maybe it was Nikola Tesla who said that.

 

Stephen King wrote, “Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”

 

And it was Alex Rodriguez who observed: “Enjoy your sweat because hard work doesn’t guarantee success, but without it you don’t have a chance.”

 

But we don’t have to rely on motivational books for those sentiments, the bible talks about work in various places.

 

It goes clear back to creation when we are told that it was “work” for God to create everything.   Genesis 2:1-2  So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed.  On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work.

 

The book of Proverbs speaks extensively about the benefits of hard work, here are some samples, Proverbs 12:24  Work hard and become a leader; be lazy and become a slave. , Proverbs 14:23  Work brings profit, but mere talk leads to poverty!  And Proverbs 21:25  Despite their desires, the lazy will come to ruin, for their hands refuse to work.

 

And the author of Ecclesiastes wrote  Ecclesiastes 2:18-23  I came to hate all my hard work here on earth, for I must leave to others everything I have earned.  And who can tell whether my successors will be wise or foolish? Yet they will control everything I have gained by my skill and hard work under the sun. How meaningless!  So I gave up in despair, questioning the value of all my hard work in this world.  Some people work wisely with knowledge and skill, then must leave the fruit of their efforts to someone who hasn’t worked for it. This, too, is meaningless, a great tragedy.  So what do people get in this life for all their hard work and anxiety?  Their days of labour are filled with pain and grief; even at night their minds cannot rest. It is all meaningless.

 

Have you ever felt like that?  Well, he goes on to finish his thoughts with these words, Ecclesiastes 2:24  So I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work. Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God.   Even work is from the hand of God.

 

And in the New Testament that high work ethic continues to shine through with Paul’s words in  2 Thessalonians 3:10-12  Even while we were with you, we gave you this command: “Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.”  Yet we hear that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and meddling in other people’s business.  We command such people and urge them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and work to earn their own living.

 

This is week one of our new spring series, “Pinky Swear, the Promises of Jesus” and over the next five weeks we will be looking at some of the promises that Jesus made in the Gospels, to those who followed him.  Because 2000 years later those promises are still valid for those who follow Jesus.

 

This week we are going into the book of Matthew, the passage was read for you earlier, where Jesus made this promise:  Matthew 11:28-30  Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

 

 

So let’s begin with who Jesus was addressing this promise to, we read in  Matthew 11:28  Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

 

So let’s begin with The Who of the Promise

 

I would suspect that everybody in the crowd that day thought he was talking directly to them, it was a hard life,  Because, 2000 years ago in Israel for most people life was a day to day existence.  If you didn’t grow it, catch it or prepare it today, you wouldn’t eat it tomorrow.

 

Add that to the constant strain of living in an occupied country where you could be called upon at any time to do the will of the empire and you begin to understand what Jesus was saying when he spoke of those who were weary and carried heavy burdens.

 

And many of you who heard those words today figured that Jesus was talking directly to you, with work and family and church and community, it seems like you never stop.  You know what it means to be weary and heavy burdened.

 

So, this is a promise that has universal appeal.  So let’s keep going, Matthew 11:28  Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

 

So, more than simply an opportunity for people to identify themselves as needing rest, here is The What of the Promise

 

It is here that we have Jesus’ promise to his followers that they would have rest.  And if we take that as Jesus promising a rest from daily work, a rest from the labours of life, then we are probably going to be disappointed.

 

Because I would suspect that for those who originally heard these words, that the next morning the crops still needed to be tended, the goats still needed to be milked, the fishing nets still had to be cast and drawn back in, the babies still needed to be changed, the house still needed to be cleaned and meals still needed to be prepared.

 

And so, as I looked at this I realized that the rest that Jesus was promising wasn’t a rest from physical labour or from the general work of life.

 

Jesus was talking to those who carried a spiritual burden.  The people of Israel were desperately trying to be good, desperately trying to find and please God.

 

The law was laid down in the Old Testament and it governed every area of their lives, it told them what they could do and what they couldn’t do.  Their lives were made up of a constant barrage of “Do this” “Don’t do that”.

 

And added to that were all the interpretations that religion had added to the law.  It wasn’t enough to not work on the Sabbath, but work had to be defined.  You could carry this much, but to carry more was a sin, you could walk this far but to walk further was a sin.  And that carried across into every aspect of their lives.

 

Every action of their lives was defined and quantified by the law and by every minutia that defined the law.

 

And the people of the day never knew if they were being good enough to make it or not.  They were constantly striving, reaching, praying and giving, hoping that whatever cosmic scales were being used to measure their goodness would tilt in their favour.

 

Jesus was speaking to that very thing in  Matthew 23:1-4  Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples,  “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses.  So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach.  They crush people with impossible religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.”

 

 

And along with the spiritual burden came an emotional burden.  The feeling that you were never good enough, the fear that you weren’t going to measure up and somehow you were going to miss the mark.

 

And those are burdens that people still carry today.  If you’ve been doing the devotional guide for praying for the Muslim World, you have discovered how many of their groups still rely on talismans and fear curses.

 

Luckily, we’re not like that, knock on wood.

 

Today, people might not be measuring themselves by the Old Testament law, but there is still a scale in most people’s lives that they are constantly weighing their behaviour on to see if they are good enough.

 

Good enough for God, good enough for their spouse, good enough for their children, good enough for their parents, good enough for their bosses.  And Jesus is saying “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens”

 

And we are constantly asking ourselves Do I pray enough? Read my bible enough? Earn enough? Spend enough time with my kids? Spend enough time with my spouse?  And still have the time I need for myself?   And Jesus is saying “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens”

 

And to you who are carrying those burdens, Jesus is offering rest. 2000 years ago Jesus was telling people, “I’m here to help, I’m here to ease your burden.”  And he’s telling us the same thing today.

 

But what does that mean?  Does it mean that he will eradicate all of the things that are burdening us?

 

The rest that Jesus promises isn’t based on the premise that the burdens will go away, there will always be a family commitment, work commitment, community commitments and church commitments.  The word that he uses for rest suggests renewal and refreshment.  It’s when he gives us a chance to breathe, a drink of cold water.  He didn’t promise that we would never be weary ever again, instead he is offering us a chance at renewal and refreshment on the journey.

 

Listen again to his promise,  Matthew 11:29-30  Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

 

And it is here that we discover The How of the Promise

 

Last week we looked at the admonition to not be unequally yoked together with those who don’t believe as you believe.  And I mentioned that to be yoked was an agricultural concept, that unless you have been to a historic village like Sherbrooke village or Kings Landing you’ve probably never seen Oxen yoked together.

 

And yokes aren’t a whole lot different now than there were 2000 years ago.

 

In Jesus day, they were made out of wood, just as they are now.   And the very best yokes were custom made for individual animals and were adjusted so it wouldn’t hurt the animal and would spread the load to make it more efficient.  They were shaped just right to fit just right.  And we are told that when a yoke fit an animal well that it was an “easy fit”.

 

Do you ever think about what Jesus did for a living?   You say, “That’s easy Denn, he was a carpenter.”  And as a carpenter, we think of him making chairs and tables, crafting doors and maybe building houses.

 

But a big job for carpenters 2000 years ago was building farm equipment, making tools and shaping yokes.   I wonder if there was a carpenter shop in Nazareth that had a sign that read “Jesus’ Carpenter Shop:  My Yokes are Easy”?

 

And so, Jesus’ invitation is twofold, if you are burdened he invites you to come.   And then he says that he wants to help you with your burden.  He says, “I have a new custom-made yoke for you to help you with your life.”

 

It is a yoke of grace that he offers.  Remember 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.

 

Someone once said that religion is spelt “Do” but Christianity is spelt “Done”.  And so, we can rest spiritually knowing the price was paid, that we don’t have to constantly be doing this or not doing that to assure our relationship with God.

 

There is the rest of knowing it has been done, the price has been paid.  The Apostle John was part of the group that heard Jesus’ words that day and he would later write.  1 John 5:13  I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life.

 

Not so you can “hope” that you have eternal life, but so that you may “know” you have eternal life.

 

We find rest in the assurance of our salvation.

 

But there is more because Jesus says Matthew 11:29-30  Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

 

Not only does he offer us a yoke designed just for us to help us with the burdens of life but he says, “Let me teach you”.  And he teaches us about forgiveness, and trust and faith.  And he tells us that we aren’t alone.

 

He doesn’t say the burden will go away, but he does say he wants to help carry the burden.

 

Let’s have a volunteer come up.   Here, hold this bag, pretty light isn’t it.  Let’s add some stuff.  How about family responsibilities (Start adding rocks to the bag) that’s like your spouse and your kids, oh yeah don’t forget your aged parents and your weird Uncle on your mother’s side, and let’s not forget work, and church and your hobbies, and concerns for retirement, and your bills and any medical concerns you might have.

 

And Jesus doesn’t say that he will take those burdens away, but he does say he will share the load. (take the handle of the bag and take some of the strain)

 

And when you are part of God’s family there are others to share the load with you.  That’s why we are told in Galatians 6:2-3  Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.  If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.

 

You might remember the hit song the Hollys’ had in the late 60s entitled “He’s ain’t heavy, he’s my brother”.  Supposedly it originally came from a story told by a preacher in late 1800s about a man seeing a little girl struggling as she carried a little boy in her arms.

 

The man said, “you must be tired carrying that heavy load” to which she replied, “No, he’s not heavy; he’s my brother.”  Which reinforces the truth that a burden which is given in love and carried in love is always lighter than one carried out of obligation.

I don’t know where you are today or what burdens you may be carrying, but Jesus has a yoke that he has made just for you, he wants to help, and he wants his family to help.

 

If you aren’t a Christ follower then Jesus is saying “come” if you are a Christian but you are struggling with your walk, he says “come”.  If you are carrying a burden of guilt he says “come”, if you are carrying a burden of resentment he says “come”.  If you are carrying the burden of “doubt”, he says come.

 

When Only One Believes

“Love and Marriage, Love and Marriage, goes together like a horse and carriage”, at least that’s what the song says.  You know as well as I do that isn’t always the reality.  Sometimes the horse doesn’t want to pull the carriage, and sometimes the carriage doesn’t want to be pulled.

 

For the last seven weeks, we’ve been focusing on love and marriage.  We’ve looked at what makes a biblical marriage, sex God’s wedding gift, the language of love, leading your children to Christ, had some tips for loving our kids and last week we looked at honouring our parents.

 

We are tying up this week and going in a little different direction.

 

In the scripture that was read earlier, Paul is giving some direction to folks who were married to spouses who didn’t believe as they believed.   This appears to have been an issue for the past 2000 years.

 

An example is given in Acts sixteen, it is here that Timothy is introduced into the New Testament narrative.   Timothy was a protegee of Paul who would eventually go on to pastor the church in Ephesus and two of the New Testament books are letters that were written by Paul to Timothy.

 

And when Luke is introducing Timothy into the story he makes this observation.  Acts 16:1  Paul went first to Derbe and then to Lystra, where there was a young disciple named Timothy. His mother was a Jewish believer, but his father was a Greek.

 

Did you catch that?  His mother was a Jewish believer, but his father was a Greek.

 

It’s not that Luke had anything against Greeks, you see it wasn’t what Luke said about Timothy’s father it was what was left unsaid.

 

He was a Greek, not a Greek believer just a Greek.  And so, we have a household where one spouse is a Christ follower and one isn’t and the challenges that are posed in such situations can never be fully understood unless you are in that situation.

 

And ever since I stepped behind my first pulpit in January of 1981 there have been people in my congregations who have dealt with that issue on a daily basis.  It wasn’t some abstract reality it was life for them.   Sometimes it has been a believing husband and an unbelieving wife, but more often it is a believing wife and a husband who either doesn’t believe or isn’t as passionate about his personal faith.

 

So, what happens when one partner in a marriage believes and follows Christ and the other one doesn’t?  Or is it even an issue?

 

Let’s start with   2 Corinthians 6:14 Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers.  Or as it’s said in the NKJV  2 Corinthians 6:14 NKJV Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?

 

It’s here we have The Warning   This is the go-to verse when we are warning our kids about dating non-believers, which is sometimes called missionary dating or evangelistic dating.  You know the concept of “Maybe they don’t believe right now but if it’s really love they will come to believe”

 

But the prophet Amos kind of summed it up when he asked the question,   Amos 3:3  Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?   Which of course was a rhetorical question and the answer is obviously “no”.

 

Now to be fair, 2 Corinthians 6:14 isn’t specifically about marriage, although it’s often treated as if it is.

 

While “don’t team up with those who are unbelievers” might make more sense in 2018, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers.”  Is a more accurate translation.

 

This is, of course, is an agricultural reference, which we don’t get, but 2000 years ago or even today, in an agricultural society those who yoked animals together would understand.

 

There’s even a reference in the Old Testament law that says Deuteronomy 22:10 NIV Do not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together.

 

And it was a practical law, donkeys and oxen were different in strength and temperament and so it was a recipe for disaster to expect them to work as a team.

 

This scripture doesn’t specifically have to do with marriage as much as it does relationships, such as business partnerships or political alliances,  but really our marriages are probably the greatest relationship in our lives and this scripture warns about the conflicts that this will bring.

 

Later in the chapter, there are some guidelines for a woman to remarry if she is widowed and it says, 1 Corinthians 7:39 A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. If her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but only if he loves the Lord.

 

So, I would suspect that if Paul’s preference for those who were widowed to marry within the faith that probably crosses over to everyone.  And there are some very practical reasons for that.

 

Again, it’s easy to think that Paul is just meddling, but is he?  Is this just an area where the church is being a bit of a control freak or are there valid reasons for Christians to be married to Christians and not to be quote-unquote “Unequally Yoked” with unbelievers?

 

Which leads us back to,  2 Corinthians 6:14 Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness?

And it’s here we see The Challenge

 

Like the donkey and the ox who are unequalled matched in strength and temperament, there are definitive differences in how believers and unbelievers view things and what their life priorities are.

 

For example, in every marriage it seems that there are financial challenges and considerations, where will money get spent?

 

But in a mixed faith marriage it gets messier, the unsaved partner sees money being given to the church as a waste and you don’t even want to get started on how the believer views money spent on vices such as smoking, drinking or gambling.

 

There are social considerations.  Who will their friends be and how will they spend their social time.  And there are moral decisions.  What should or shouldn’t be watched, listened to or read, what should they do or not do?  What happens on a nice weekend is it church or the beach?

 

If the non-believer comes to church it’s often with a pout if they don’t come to church the believer feels out of place with all the families and couples.

 

What was it the song said, “One is the loneliest number of all.”

 

2000 years ago, they probably weren’t fighting about whether the kids should be in church or hockey, baseball, soccer, scouts, sparks or band but I’m sure there were similar cultural concerns back then.

 

Would the kids be in church and youth group or will he be at the chariot races and practising for the Olympics?

 

I warn Christian teens about the challenges that they will face if they marry someone who doesn’t share their faith and I tell them “if you don’t believe me, I can give you the names of a hundred people who have been there.”

 

And then I tell them the easiest way to not marry a non-believer is to not date a non-believer.  And they tell me not to worry they have everything under control.  Sure.

 

By the way if you are in that situation, that as a believer you married someone who wasn’t then you were probably warned, and you probably thought “Oh they’ll change, and it will all work out.”

 

I can sympathize with your situation, but understand you put yourself in it.  Not wanting to sound unfeeling but. . . you got what you got.

 

I remember reading an article in our denominational magazine years ago and the woman writing was speaking about that very thing.  She had gone to church and left her husband home watching sports and on her way, she was grousing to God about how unfair it was.  And she wrote that God asked her “how has he (meaning her husband) changed since you got married?”  “And that is the problem” she responded, “he hasn’t.” And then she realized, that was the answer.  She hadn’t exactly bought a pig in a poke.

 

When I counsel couples getting married I remind them if they can’t live with that person the way they are for the rest of their life they have no right to marry them expecting them to change.

 

And up to this point, this probably hasn’t been super helpful.

 

A number of years ago we owned a speedboat that we kept at Beulah camp on the Saint John River.  And one summer as I was putting the boat into the river for the first time, I carefully backed the trailer down into the river, released the lock on the winch and pushed the boat off the trailer into the deep water.  Where it immediately began filling with water, because I had forgotten to put the plug back in place in the stern.

 

I immediately winched it back on the trailer ran around jumped into the Suzuki and pulled it up on the beach and watched as the water poured out of the stern.  At that point, a friend walked over, looked everything over and said: “You should have put the plug in first.”

 

Not helpful.  I already knew what the problem was,  now I was trying to remedy it.

 

With that being said, Acts 16:1 still reads this way Acts 16:1  Paul went first to Derbe and then to Lystra, where there was a young disciple named Timothy. His mother was a Jewish believer, but his father was a Greek.

 

And so here is The Reality

 

Even with the warnings, even understanding the challenges it still happens, there are still marriages where one partner believes, and one doesn’t.

 

It was a reality for Timothy’s parents and it’s been a reality with some people in every church I’ve pastored.  One person believes and walks with Christ and the other doesn’t.

 

Sometimes it because of a life transformation after the marriage happened.  Neither partner is serving the Lord and then either the husband or wife become a believer.  That’s probably how it happened with Timothy’s folks.

 

And that’s often awkward, because with that decision to follow Jesus, things change.  Priorities change, morals change, people change.  The nonbeliever finds themselves married to a very different person then they had stood at the altar with.  It’s tough.

 

Sometimes it happens when both partners were originally serving God and then one decided to walk away from God.  And with that decision, things change.  Priorities change, morals change, people change.  The believer finds themselves married to a very different person then they had stood at the altar with.  It’s tough.

 

And sometimes . . . a Christian marries a non-Christian.  They had the best of intentions.  They knew that through the power of prayer and their stellar witnessing that the one they loved would see the light and become a Christian.  And then they didn’t.

 

You see they didn’t take into account free will.  God won’t make your husband or wife a Christian just because you are praying he will.  God didn’t take away your free will and he’s not going to take away their free will.  That doesn’t mean you stop praying, but maybe your prayers need to change.  From “Make my Spouse a believer” to “Help make me the witness I need to be.”

 

You see that is the problem with missionary dating, it doesn’t always work out the way you anticipate and then you have to live with the consequences.

 

So, what is the answer?  Well, let’s start by saying that if you are a believer and your spouse isn’t don’t start thinking how much easier life would be if you were married to so and so who is a believer, cause you’re not.

 

Don’t go down the “Obviously I married the wrong person and God will understand if we get a divorce” road.  Don’t even go there, because there is never a good reason for doing the wrong thing.

 

Paul seemed fairly clear when he wrote 1 Corinthians 7:12-13  Now, I will speak to the rest of you, though I do not have a direct command from the Lord. If a Christian man has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to continue living with him, he must not leave her.  And if a Christian woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to continue living with her, she must not leave him.

 

But don’t give up, I know all kinds of couples where the believer was faithful in their relationship to Christ and in their marriage and their partner saw in them a faith they wanted as well.  It’s just not easy and it’s not always fast, or least not fast enough.  Let’s keep reading the scripture that we started with,

 

1 Corinthians 7:14-15  For the Christian wife brings holiness to her marriage, and the Christian husband brings holiness to his marriage. Otherwise, your children would not be holy, but now they are holy.  (But if the husband or wife who isn’t a believer insists on leaving, let them go. In such cases the Christian husband or wife is no longer bound to the other, for God has called you to live in peace.)

 

Here are Some Answers

 

There are a couple of thoughts here.  The first is that your marriage is better because you are a Christian.  Paul reminds his readers that they bring God’s holiness into the marriage.   He’s telling those whose spouse is at best apathetic toward the things of God and maybe even openly hostile that that darkness can never defeat light that the smallest flame will always chase away the darkness.

 

William Barclay writes this “He (Paul) has the lovely thought that the unbelieving partner is consecrated by the believer. They two have become one flesh and the wonder is that in such a case it is not the taint of heathenism but the grace of Christianity which wins the victory.”  Barclay goes on to say “A child born into a Christian home, even into a home where only one of the partners is a Christian, is born into the family of Christ. In a partnership between a believer and an unbeliever, it is not so much that the believer is brought into contact with the realm of sin, as that the unbeliever is brought into contact with the realm of grace.”

 

This in no way negates the concept of free will, your spouse and your children still ultimately need to make the decision for themselves, but you have given them a boost.

 

What if your spouse needed to live with a Christian for 12 years for it to make a difference in their life and you decided to call it quits at 11 years?

 

You are called to live your marriage vows out the same as you are called to live your life out.

 

That’s spelled out in Hebrews 12:14  Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord.   Work at living in peace with your spouse, and sometimes it takes work, and work at living a holy life.   And living at peace means that you aren’t nattering at them about not going to church.

 

And if the non-believer insists on leaving the marriage, Paul says you are no longer bound to them.

 

But don’t play games with that.  Paul Simon sang there are 50 ways to leave your lover and I would suspect there are 50 ways to make your lover leave you.  Don’t try to justify that type of behaviour, God knows.

 

King Solomon was reminded of that very thing when he was told in 1 Chronicles 28:9  “For the LORD sees every heart and knows every plan and thought.”   So don’t think that if you cause your unbelieving spouse to leave because of unreasonable or unChristlike behaviour that you will be the innocent party.

 

But Paul’s words don’t end there he goes on to write,  1 Corinthians 7:16  Don’t you wives realize that your husbands might be saved because of you? And don’t you husbands realize that your wives might be saved because of you?

 

And so, Paul leaves them with A hope 

 

 

I wish I could tell you that if you are faithful to God and your Christian convictions that your spouse and your children will become Christ followers.  But I can’t, but to echo the words of Paul don’t you know that your spouse might be saved because of you?

 

Her name was Eunice and she was a Jewish believer and her husband was a Greek.  We don’t know what happened to Eunice’s husband, but we do know that her son, Timothy, went on to become a pastor and is still remembered today.

 

There was another lady whose name was Monica, she was a devoted Christian who was married to a nonbeliever.  Her husband had a nasty temper and we are told that he cheated on her through their marriage, but she prayed for him and their children and lived her Christian faith in front of them.

 

And it was only on his deathbed that her husband Patricius gave his heart to God.  We are told that all three of her children became Christians, but you would only be familiar with one of them.

 

He broke his mother’s heart when he rejected her faith as a young man, but when he was 32 he embraced the claims of Christ.  You might recognize his name, it was Augustine.

 

You will never know the impact that your life will have on the life of your spouse and the lives of your children.

 

Don’t you know they might be saved because of you?  You can’t make them believe and you will never be held accountable for their behaviour, only yours.

 

Two things to remember.  Remember how much you loved them when you married them, and remember how you believed that one day they would believe.