Hide And Seek

19 05 2010

Imagine playing hide and seek and no one came to find you. Life can feel that way at times – and after a while maybe we forget that we are hiding, maybe we even forget the reason that we went to hide in the first place.

Or maybe the reason that we are hiding is still very real to us – fear.  Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of loss.  But whatever those fears that keep you hiding, God is waiting patiently for you to come out.  He has not forgotten you and he cares that you are hiding.

When kids play hide and seek they curl up with their knees to their chest and huddle with arms over their knees and heads down – if they can’t see, then maybe others won’t see them.  If that’s you, look up and you will see the light of God’s love at your feet, lighting the way to Him and leading you out.  You don’t have to hide.

Advertisements




Looking For Jesus

15 12 2009

Scripture: Matthew 2:1-7

Can you imagine the voyage?  There was a journey that started far away and long ago.  Some astrologers were studying the sky, when a new star came into being.  To astrologers this could only have one meaning – a king was born.  With their insight and understanding, and consulting charts and books, they discovered that with the time of year and based on the location of the star in the sky they came to the conclusion that this star heralded the birth of the new king of the Jews.

Some kings had astrologers that worked alongside their magicians and diviners to help the king to make decisions.  Some kings would only consult these people when he was unsure of what to do.  Other kings wouldn’t make any big decision before consulting them first.

Perhaps these Magi – these wise men – were sent from a foreign kingdom with these gifts for the new king of the Jews.  Perhaps they were kings such as the song suggests, but that is unlikely.  They might have even been Zoroastrians – a group with a few still remaining – that were like astrological priests – a group unto themselves, motivated by great signs in the heavens to bring their gifts to this new great king.

So they came to the land of the Jews and to the seat of supposed Jewish royalty to the palace of King Herod.  It was a natural choice – usually the next king that is born is the son of the present king.  They arrive at the palace all set to present their gifts to Herod’s son, only to discover that there is no new king born recently in the palace.  I am sure that the Magi must’ve been puzzled.  But having a competing king born of a different family was almost as typical in that day and age.

Perhaps up to this point Herod felt fairly secure in his position.  He had wormed his way into the good graces of Rome.  The Romans wanted to make him a prelate, or a governor of Jerusalem and Judea, but he managed to convince them to give him the title of king of the Jews.  Herod was a man who loved power and prestige – there was nothing more important to him.  We know this by his reaction to any who threatened his reign.  He killed his wife and two sons.  When the Magi arrived at Herod’s palace, he must’ve been shocked when he heard the news about the birth of a new king of the Jews – his jaw must’ve hit the floor.

I don’t know if you’ve seen a character in the movies that is totally shocked, angry and paranoid by something that they’ve just been told and they try to hide it.  It often comes out really strong and then they try to reel in their emotions.

“WHAT!?!?!?!” I mean…what – good news…I hadn’t heard…that’s fascinating news…”

And although the wolfish rage only flashed across his face for a moment, if you could see his face and look closely enough, perhaps you would see embers of hatred smouldering in his eyes.

So the wise men figure out that their first guess was incorrect – the king they were looking for was not born in the palace to the present king.  They realized that they would have to go elsewhere to worship this new king.  They had read the signs – no baby of the right age there, the king’s less than positive reaction…they are wise men after all and adept at reading signs. (smile)

Perhaps you’ve seen the bumper sticker or the sign on some churches – Wise Men still seek him.  I would say that holds true for wise women too.  But I am going to take it one step further and suggest that most people seek Jesus.  But why?  Why would most people seek Jesus?

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that we all are born to worship something or someone – it seems like it is built into the very DNA of human beings.  We show this by praising things – favourite movies, works of art, sports teams, vehicles or other toys.

As well as having a built in desire to worship, I believe that we also have a built in desire to search out the one to worship.  Some of us get sidetracked along the way, and wind up worshipping someone else or something else.  When we do, that thing takes the priority of a place that only God should have.  And if it does, the joy that was planted in our hearts when we first heard about Jesus, will fade.  Jesus came to bring us joy – we need to stay focused on our journey towards Jesus – keep our hearts fixed on seeking him.

And for those who would deny looking for Jesus, or don’t seem to be looking for him, I still believe that they are drawn to him – I believe that the whole world is drawn to him in one way or another.  When God sent his Son into this world as a gift to all of mankind, there was something about him that wouldn’t allow people to ignore him.  With Jesus there is no null effect – there’s something about him that forces people to consider him, think about him and try to develop a response to him.

Well, let me ask you a question this morning – are you seeking Jesus?  And if so, why are you looking for Jesus?  It’s a question with two different answers when it comes to the wise men vs Herod.  Some, like Herod look for Jesus to attempt to root him out – to get rid of him.  Those people are motivated by hatred of Jesus to seek to get rid of any and all instances of him.  These are people that don’t want to have to concede that Jesus should be the real king of their lives because that would mean that they would have to step down to give up that throne for him.

That throne of their lives means the world to them – they would give anything to keep it and to keep anyone else from having it.  But living that way will never allow you to have real lasting joy and contentment.  You can have joy that will last only for a little while, but to have joy that lasts, that throne needs to be given up to Jesus.

By joy I don’t mean a frivolous, silly type of joy.  Instead we need the kind of joy that will sustain us through our darkest times – and only Jesus can do that.  By giving him the place of honour and the recognition of that honour, we can have a true and lasting joy.

It’s ironic that the ultimate search for Jesus will leave every one of us on our knees.  We can either choose to be on our knees, offering our love, our gratitude and our gifts, like the Wise Men did; or we can be brought to our knees by submission when Jesus returns, and all those who opposed him will be humbled into submission by being in the presence of the great king.  I would rather do so out of my own choice with love and joy, than out of fear and judgement.

Speaking of that kind of joy reminds me of a story that was shared with me.  It was about a boy who had heart troubles.  The doctor had run some tests, but they were inconclusive – the only way to be sure of things was surgery – open things up and have a look.  He wanted to explain to the boy what would happen the next day so he invited him in to his office.

“Tomorrow morning,” the surgeon began,”I’ll open up your heart…”

“…you’ll find Jesus there,” the boyinterrupted.

The surgeon looked up, annoyed “I’ll cut your heart open,” he continued, to see how much damage has been done…”

“…but when you open up my heart, you’ll find Jesus in there.” said the boy.

The surgeon looked to the parents, who Sat quietly. “When I see how much damage has been done, I’ll sew your heart and chest back up, and I’ll planwhat to do next.”

“But you’ll find Jesus in my heart.  The Bible says He lives there.  The hymns all say He lives there.  You’ll
find Him in my heart.”

The surgeon had had enough. “I’ll tell you what I’ll find in your heart.  I’ll find damaged muscle, low blood supply, and weakened vessels.  And I’ll find out if I can make you well.”

“You’ll find Jesus there too. He lives there.”

The surgeon left.

The surgeon sat in his office, recording his notes from the surgery, “…damaged aorta, damaged pulmonary vein, widespread muscle degeneration.  No hope for transplant, no hope for cure. Therapy:painkillers and bed rest. Prognosis: here he paused, “death within one year.”

He stopped the recorder, but there was more to be said.  “Why?” he asked aloud.  “Why did You do this? You’ve put him here; You’ve put him in this pain; and You’ve cursed him to an early death. Why?”

The Lord answered and said, “The boy, My lamb, was not meant for your flock for long, for he is a part of My flock, and will forever be.  Here, in My flock, he will feel no pain, and will be comforted as you cannot imagine.

His parents will one day join him here, and they will know peace, and my flock will continue to grow..”

The sur geon’s tears were hot, but his anger was hotter… “You created that boy, and You created that heart.  He’ll be dead in months.  Why?”

The Lord answered, “The boy, My lamb, shall return to My flock, for He has done his duty: I did not put My lamb with your flock to lose him, but to retrieve another lost lamb…”

The surgeon wept…

The surgeon sat beside the boy’s bed; the boy’s parents sat across from him. The boy awoke and whispered, “Did you cut open my heart?”

“Yes,” said the surgeon.

“What did you find?” asked the boy.

“I found Jesus there,” said the surgeon.

Sometimes even forget that they are looking for Jesus, but through our example of faith and trust in Christ, we can help return them to that search and help them find Jesus.  That boy knew the joy that Jesus brings.  It is a joy that brings with it hope, peace and love.  In your journey of faith, may you find that kind of joy.





Redeeming Love

10 12 2009

One of the most amazing stories of personal redemption that I have heard of happened last Sunday in the final moments of the Grey Cup football game.  Perhaps you heard what happened – for those who haven’t, let me paint you a picture.

Imagine you are Damon Duval, the kicker for the Montreal Alouettes.  It is the final game of the season – the most important game of the season, and football fans across the country are watching your every move. The Saskatchewan Roughriders are ahead by one point, but here you have the opportunity to win the game and become the hero.  All the pressure has mounted up on your shoulders as the entire game has come down to this one, make-or-break kick.  The adrenaline is raging through your veins and you kick with all your might.

Only to watch it miss.  And you think it’s all over.

Imagine the disappointment, shame and humiliation you would feel.  Here, in the game of all games, you have not only let yourself down, you’ve let your coach down, you’ve let your team down, and you’ve let all your fans down.

At that moment it’s hard – maybe even impossible – to look them in the eye and say you’re sorry – the humiliation is just too intense.  The feeling of failure is too much and all you want do is run away and hide.  You would give anything to relive that moment and do it right the second time, but life isn’t like that – we seldom get second chances.

Sometimes moments in life can feel like that.  Even in this time of year, even in the Christmas season.  For some, especially in this Christmas season.  After all, during the Christmas season, there is a pressure for perfect performance – to find the perfect gifts; to make the perfect desserts, or meal; to have a perfectly decorated home; to have a picture perfect Christmas.  And when things go wrong, it causes feelings of frustration, disappointment and shame.

Maybe you had a moment of crisis had nothing to do with Christmas at all – some totally unrelated event that still seemed like the end of the world to you.  Everyone was looking to you, the pressure was on – but then at the moment when it counted the most, you completely blew it and let everyone down.

Or perhaps you made a promise to someone and didn’t follow through on it – you could have, but for whatever reason, you didn’t.  When you are on the guilty end – when you are the one that broke the promise, it can be so hard to turn back to the ones that we’ve hurt or offended.  It’s easier to just avoid them, to give up on that game.

We might try to tell ourselves that in time we will try to fix things, but not when it’s new and fresh.  The problem is that as time goes by and more water goes under the bridge, it feels harder and harder to turn back.  If something in your life feels like you’ve failed that make-or-break moment, and shame and discouragement haunt you, I have good news for you – the game isn’t over.  Perhaps that’s a bad analogy – I am not saying that our lives are just a game.  The hurts we feel and cause are real, but sometimes people feel like there is no way that they can go back and make it right.  If that’s what you are struggling with this morning, then here’s the great news.  There’s another chance.

Let’s go back to the field – into the mind of Duval…

As your mind starts to process the calamity of what has happened and what it will mean for the future – wondering how many fans will forever remember this failure, whether you will even have a career next season, something amazing happens – out of nowhere comes a second chance.

It wasn’t because of anything you did – it was completely unmerited by you.  It was not because the referees or anyone else felt badly for you.  Not that you would have tried, but no amount of begging would have changed this situation, but suddenly a whistle blows, and an opportunity for redemption is before you.  Not only just a shot at redemption, but it has been made easier as well.  You are determined to do better this time.  With focus and renewed optimism, you line up the kick, hold your breath for a second, then let it go and let fly with a beautiful, kick right through the goal posts.

Disappointment gives way to ecstatic joy!  The shame disappears as your teammates surround you with hugs – and pats on the butt – what is with that anyways? And you are swept up in the celebratory enthusiasm of everyone around you.  You’ve just won the game!

“Going into the (first kick), I just sped up a little too much and I thank the man upstairs that I got a second chance,” said Duval. “If we lost this game, I would have put this on me. But to come out in the second half and knock this thing through – I can’t even explain the feeling right now.”

One of the promises our world needs to hear is the promise of a better day, or of a second chance.  A second chance is not always something that is easy to come by in this world.  People can be sceptical, suspicious and cynical in the way that they treat one another.  When people are looking for a second chance it is often because they are often in need of redemption.

Redemption is a rare thing that seems hard to find.  It involves risk and the possibility of further hurt and more failure – for the one who needs the second chance and also for those who were let down by the previous failure or failures.  But in this Christmas season, we need to remember that Jesus came to earth to offer redemption for those who are lost in the depths of misery and despair.

If we are the one that has had that moment of crisis, then let me encourage you this morning – the game’s not over.  It’s not too late to turn back and ask for that shot at redemption.  But before you do, take some time to ask God to help you have the courage to follow through.

And for the rest of us, we have a present that we can give.  If we have been hurt, if we have been the victim of someone else’s failure, then through the strength and grace of God’s spirit in us we can – and we should – offer redemption for those who need it so badly.  It involves risk, it may not even work out like we hope, but for those who desperately need this second chance it could bring new life to those who desperately need it.





Fear Factor

30 09 2009

Have you ever seen the show Fear Factor?  It was a reality show that was really popular a few years ago, hosted by Joe Rogan.  In this show the contestants would go through 3 challenges, facing fears in which the contestants are eliminated one by one until only one is left.

Some of the challenges are based on eating things that we would normally eat – truly disgusting things.  Other challenges are based on endurance, skill at challenges or simple bravery.  The contestants in the game were competing to win a grand prize of $50,000.

Fear is something that usually takes place in our mind.  Sometimes fear can be irrational.  Many people have phobias – some of the strangest things.  – I have an irrational fear of depths – I look at a picture taken under water and I find it disturbing.  I have a fear of night swimming because I can’t see what’s in the water.  It really freaks me out. The few times that Beth has talked me into going have made it slightly less terrifying, but I still don’t feel comfortable doing it.  That underlying fear unsettles me and keeps me from enjoying something that is one of my favourite things to do in the daytime.

Having a fear of something is called a phobia.  Here’s a list of some phobias – some fears that were listed as unusual, funny or weird – my apologies if you have one of these fears.

• Aerophobia- Fear of swallowing air
• Anablephobia- Fear of looking up
• Arithmophobia- Fear of numbers
• Barophobia- Fear of gravity
• Basophobia- Fear of walking
• Cathisophobia- Fear of sitting
• Catoptrophobia- Fear of mirrors
• Chionophobia- Fear of snow
• Chronophobia- Fear of time
• Chronomentrophobia- Fear of clocks
• Cibophobia- Fear of food
• Dendrophobia- Fear of trees
• Eleutherophobia- Fear of freedom
• Geliophobia- Fear of laughter
• Geniophobia- Fear of chins
• Genuphobia- Fear of knees
• Geumaphobia- Fear of taste
• Heliophobia- Fear of the sun
• Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia- Fear of long words
• Homichlophobia- Fear of fog
• Ideophobia- Fear of ideas
• Kainophobia- Fear of anything new
• Kathisophobia- Fear of sitting down
• Lachanophobia- Fear of vegetables
• Linonophobia- Fear of string
• Logophobia- Fear of words
• Melophobia- Fear of music
• Metrophobia- Fear of poetry
• Ommetaphobia- Fear of eyes
• Ophthalmophobia- Fear of opening one’s eyes
• Panophobia- Fear of everything
• Papyrophobia- Fear of paper
• Photophobia- Fear of light
• Phronemophobia- Fear of thinking
• Sitophobia- Fear of food
• Sophophobia- Fear of learning
• Stasibasiphobia- Fear of walking

Most fear is a healthy thing – it keeps us alive.  Fears spring up to help protect us from dangerous things – either doing them or being hurt by them and is usually a rational thing.  Sometimes fear comes simply from perceived danger and there is really nothing to be scared of.  Some of the phobias we just looked at seemed like crazy things to be scared of, but often there’s a reason behind the fears.

The fear of God is a complex thing.  On one hand, fearing God seems like a very rational thing.  Think about the power of God and how mighty he is.  He created the universe, created everything in it, has the power of life and death and can do anything.  Added to that He is holy and perfect – he hates sin and evil.  The Scriptures also give us many examples of God punishing people for sin, so it can be easy to think that this is his entire nature.

If we think about other mythologies also knew that people had their failings and their images of their father-gods have pervaded our thinking.  And so imagine God to be some Zeus-like character sitting on his throne, just waiting for us to step out of line so he can throw a thunderbolt down to wipe us off the map.

Lots of people are scared of God.

But is it possible that fearing God could mean more than just being scared of Him, or perhaps there is more to it than that alone?  What is the fear factor when it comes to God?

In Old Testament times, God gave a special chosen people – the Israelites – his law.  This was to let them know how he wanted his people to live.  No longer would there be any questions as to whether they were going against God, it was all down in black and white – they knew if they were breaking the law.

So now His people had the rules, but the ultimate problem of our nature was still not fixed by doing this.  The law was powerless to change the sinful disposition – the sinful nature –  of humanity.  If just letting us know what God wanted was sufficient then there would be no need for sacrifices, because people would know what to do and no longer do it.

Unfortunately that sin nature is still there and so people didn’t always do what God wanted.  So they would have sacrifices to atone for their sins – kind of like a way of apologizing – it also was a replacement for the death that they deserved. It seems like there was still a lot to fear when it came to God.

This world is full of sin and evil.  And we have sin in us too – it’s in our very nature as people.  Let me restate that – our instinct and our very nature is to do things that are against God.  So our first thought – before we come to know God – is to sin.  Sometimes sin can get us down – we can focus on our failures and shortcomings and it’s depressing.  We feel like continual failures and to hear that it’s common in people only depresses us more, wondering if there’s any hope at all for mankind.

It doesn’t help us that our spirits condemn us.  If we have a sin that we are struggling with and we fall into it again it can be frustrating and make us feel like – well, losers.  We need to be aware that it’s not just our spirit that is bringing us down.  We have an adversary – an enemy – that likes to see us wrapped up in depths of misery.  If he can’t get us to not notice our sin, then he would rather that we be all wrapped up in it and depressed about it.

Satan’s name literally means accuser.  He throws our sins up in our face to make us feel like failures.  He stands before God and accuses us of our sins.  He likes to remind us of our failings and make us feel unworthy of being in the presence of God.  He uses any opportunity to try to drive a wedge between us and God.

And if it were not for God’s spirit living in us, it would be well worth being depressed about.  But then we read Scripture like this from Romans that tells us that there is hope.

…there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…

No condemnation?  How could God not condemn us?  Should we not be expecting his full wrath for our sin?  Should we not be ready to duck for the lightning bolts?  Is it possible that we no longer need to cower in fear? How could that be?

And the apostle Paul goes on to give us the reason:

…the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death…

As John put it …perfect love casts out fear…

13We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. 16And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 17In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

19We love because he first loved us.

It’s all because of love.  The love God has for us – He sent His son not only to die on the cross, but also to make it so that we can abide in God – we can live in Him.  We no longer have to fear judgement or condemnation from God because Jesus has already taken all of that upon himself.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  We will still have to give an accounting for the lives that we’ve lived on the day of judgement.  But instead of having to stand there facing an angry God full of wrath, we will face our Father who loves us.  And that should be the inspiration that drives us to give our very best for Him each and every day – love, not fear.

And so as Christians we can live victorious lives – we can be like the winner of Fear Factor, because as Joe would tell the winner each week…

“Evidently fear is not a factor for you.”





Treasure That Lasts

15 09 2009

Last week we began a fresh look at the Apostles Creed.  The Creed was instrumental for the early church since they didn’t have the Bible as we do today – it wasn’t compiled together yet.  And even if it had of been, literacy was not as commonplace as it is today.  So they had this statement of faith that they recited and taught one another to help them articulate their faith and also to help guard against heresy – ideas that were not in line with true Christianity.

Let’s read it together this morning again –

I believe in God, the Father almighty,creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

born of the Virgin Mary,

suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died, and was buried;

he descended to the dead.

On the third day he rose again;

he ascended into heaven,

he is seated at the right hand of the Father,

and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic Church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and the life everlasting.

Amen.

Our Rally Day theme today ties in to our Vacation Bible Theme of The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything.  Although the Pirates from that were fun and not very scary, more traditional Pirates seem to focus most of their energy on treasure – finding it, stealing it, hoarding it and burying it – then going out and finding more.

The only problem with riches, or treasure, is that it will eventually be gone.  Pirates always have to watch out for other pirates who want to dig up their treasure and steal it for themselves.  Or as Jesus said:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

Last week we looked into what it means to say that we believe in the first part of this creed – this statement of faith.  This morning I want to touch on those items in the last part.  Although not all these treasures are in heaven, I believe that this part of the creed hi-lights several valuable gems that are well worth treasuring.

Today we will just be taking a brief overview of the rest of this creed – later we will look into them on a much deeper level.  But for this morning, let’s take a look at each of these treasures and what it means to say that we believe in them.  Here they are again:

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic Church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and the life everlasting.

Amen.

I believe in the Holy Spirit.  The third person of the Trinity.  So we have said we believe in the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps these might be the appropriate questions that come to mind…

Now, we are Baptists – are we allowed to do that?  Are you sure that isn’t something only for the Pentecostals?  If I say I believe in the Holy Spirit, does that mean that I will start speaking in strange languages and doing other weird things?  What does it mean?  And what does the Holy Spirit do?

As Baptists we don’t often speak about the Holy Spirit – especially about some aspects of what he does in regards to special spiritual gifts, but the Holy Spirit is an invaluable treasure given to us, because He serves several direct functions in our lives.

He:

  • Renews us – he sanctifies us – it is the ongoing work of the Spirit to make us holy – it starts when we ask Him into our hearts and it continues on for the rest of our lives
  • Convicts us – it is Him living in us that tells our hearts when we have sin in us that needs to be dealt with
  • Empowers us – with spiritual gifts – each believer that has his Spirit in them is given at least one spiritual gift.
  • Speaks to us – He instructs us, guiding us in how to live as Christians,  he helps us to interpret Scriptures and He is the voice of prophecy – when God’s voice is heard through a person, it is the Spirit of God speaking through Him.
  • Leads us – if we are careful to listen to Him, He will also guide us – think of stories like Phillip and the Ethopian treasurer.  It was the Spirit of God that had guided him there at that time.
  • Seals us – His presence in our lives is like a royal “seal” that guarantees that we are His.  The Holy Spirit being in us is a sign from God that we belong to Him and will one day be with Him in paradise.

I believe in the holy catholic church.  Catholic????  What about the holy Baptist church? That was the kind of question that I had the first time that I read The Apostles Creed.  Why would it matter that it was the catholic church?  I know that this is an old creed and that the Roman Catholic church is the oldest denomination but I thought we left them behind with the beginning of the Protestant movement.

Catholic is different than Roman Catholic.  Catholic simply means universal, or worldwide.  It’s a way of saying that we believe in the Christian church all over the world.  But, if you take a good look at what you said, it’s not:

“I believe in the Baptist church that meets in small towns and has a nice mix of traditional and modern music that has a service that’s only an hour long where people sit in proper pews, and…”

I think you get the point.  When we say that we believe in the holy catholic chuch, it means that we need to be supportive of all other churches around the world follow Scripture, despite what differences they may have about how they worship or where.

I believe in the communion of saints.  Communion is about being together, but it is also about sharing something deeply meaningful with those you have gathered with.   Communion is essentially fellowship together – it is about being with other people who also love God.  We call the Lord’s Supper communion because it is a time when we are all close together in the presence of God.

It’s great to spend time with friends, but it’s when you can sit down with a friend that also loves God that things go to a much deeper and more meaningful level.  That’s why church is so important.  It’s not about me and coming to hear me speak.  It’s about sharing a close bond, and being reminded that there are others who feel the same way you do.

The treasure of the church is found in the people who gather there and their diversity.  It’s like a pile of all sorts of different gems and jewels – different sizes, different colours and different shapes but all of them are beautiful and valuable.

That’s why we are reminded in the letter to the Hebrews:

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:25)

I believe in the forgiveness of sins.  It’s kind of amazing that this is left to here.  Quite simply, if there is no forgiveness of sins, then we are left in them.  It certainly is one of the very basic things of our faith.  Can you imagine what life would be like if God didn’t forgive our sins?  Frightening thought.  And that would make me wonder what the whole point of everything would be – why go to church then at all?  Just to make yourself feel bad?

And yet some people in this world haven’t yet heard that message.  And it’s tough for us to forgive other people when they keep messing up.  It’s understandable that we might think that God would not forgive us when he knows that we are only going to mess up again at some point.  That’s the beautiful part of God’s grace.  Someone once said that God is the only one who knows everything about you and loves you anyway.

Even after God wiped out nearly all of mankind in the flood, he still had no illusions that Noah and his family would be perfect.  He said:

“Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. (Genesis 8:21)

If God’s forgiveness to us is not a treasure beyond measure than I don’t know what is.  I could have all the riches in the world, but without God’s forgiveness it would be nothing more than a guilty weight.  But God’s not like that and John reminds us in his first letter:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

I believe in the resurrection of the body.  For better or for worse we carry some of who we are into the hereafter.  Our bodies will not be the same as they are now – not to worry.  But unlike some people might be tempted to believe, we will have real bodies.  They will be improved and renewed.  I certainly don’t know how we will be the same and how we will be different.  But I know that we will be more than just ethereal, ghost-like creatures floating through eternity.  It will be way better than that!

There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another…  So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable… (1 Corinthians 15: 40, 42)

We know these things because Scripture tells us.  But we also know because of Jesus’ behaviour when he came back from the dead.  He ate fish to prove that he was a real person.  He told Thomas to stick his fingers in the holes in his hands and to touch his side.  He was willing to prove that he was really there.  And it wasn’t just a few people he appeared to either – he appeared to more than 500 people!

I believe in the life everlasting.  Eternal life starts now.  We don’t have to wait until we die to really live.  So the new body is something that we look forward to as these ones wear out.  But let me say it again.  Eternal life is not something that just starts when we die – our new life begins when we identify with Jesus.

Amen





This I Believe!

8 09 2009

This morning we read The Apostles Creed and I want to ask aloud questions that may be going through your head today.  What does that mean to us?  What’s the importance of that reading?  Does it have a bearing on us?  And what is a creed – did the Apostles really write that thing?

Well, to begin, a creed or creedal statement is a way of summarizing basic doctrine, basic beliefs.  And the reason that we read that together is that once in a while it is good for us to come back to these early statements of faith and think them through.

I suppose you could just as easily pick up a Bible and say:

“This is what I believe.”

But how well do you know the entire contents?  And how well could any of us articulate all that the Bible has to say?

And yet, some churches do exactly that.  They refuse to be constrained by any creedal statements, finding that it would be too restrictive.  As Baptists we have a proud history of not letting anyone else define what we believe – our local congregation is free to interpret Scripture as they feel led by the Spirit without interference by any other group or body – known as the autonomy of the local church.

Ironically, the Convention – now known as the Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec – have come up with an entire booklet designed to help express who we are as Baptists and what makes us distinct from other denominations as well as what we believe overall – the materials are marked as Resources for Faith.

The Apostle’s Creed is possibly the oldest creed in the Christian faith.  There are actually several creeds of faith and they are designed to sum up the main points of our doctrine.  Part of the reason that it was written was to help the early church and keep heresy from growing up amongst them.  Remember that in the point in history, literacy wasn’t nearly as common as it is today.  Added to that was the challenge that they also didn’t even have the Bible like we do today.  Back then it was still a series of letters and small scrolls that were shared and copied.

And so they came up with this creed – this statement of faith – to help believers know what their beliefs were about.

But it starts off with 2 very challenging words, if we stop to think about it:

“I believe…”

My question to you this morning is simply this:

Do we?  Do we really?

Because if we do that should affect how we live.  It should affect how we behave.  It should affect how we treat others.  And it should affect how we expect others to treat us.

In the passage read to us from Acts today, from the best of my knowledge, this was the first Christian soap-box speech.

It was the day of Pentecost and people had come from all over to gather for a feast in Jerusalem.  And Peter gives them a run-down – gives a summary of the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus – it’s like a piece taken right out of the statement of faith.  More likely the other way around – the creed was based on passages such as this in addition to the gospels themselves.

To answer the other question that I brought up, it’s not likely that this was written by the Apostles, it was written too late in history.  It likely received this name because this was agreed amongst the churches that this was what the apostles taught.

So let’s take a look again at The Apostles Creed and think about what we have said we believe in this morning.

  1. I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

I think we need reminders of the majesty and sovereignty of God sometimes.  We remember that God loves us and it’s wonderful to feel wrapped in that love but we need to also remember the awesome power that he wields.

C.S. Lewis uses the image of a lion to represent Jesus in Chronicles of Narnia.  In this scene, Lucy and Peter, two of the children are learning about this King of Narnia from a couple of beavers who have taken them in.

“Is – is he a man?” asked Lucy. “Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the king of the wood and son of the great Emperor-beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion-the Lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh!” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he- quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” “That you will dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy. “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

“I’m longing to see him,” said Peter, “even if I do feel frightened when it comes to the point.”

But God is not only just some big, powerful being.  He isn’t like the father gods of many false religions.  Think of Zeus or Odin and the image they have is big, powerful, father like – and scary.  They use their ultimate power to keep everyone else in line, throwing thunderbolts at whoever won’t do their bidding.

God isn’t like that – or if he seems that way at times, that’s not all of who he is.  He didn’t just create mankind then sit back at watch to see what would happen, chucking a bolt when the mood strikes him.

When we say that we believe in him, that means that we don’t need to worry about whatever any strange ideas people may come up with to try to dismiss the notion that God is real.  Whether it’s evolutionists with loud voices and strong arguments, or those who would deny God for other reasons or even try to make God into what they want him to be.  When we say this part we affirm God for who he really is. He cares intimately about each and every one of the people that he has created.

And so he sent his son – his only son.

  1. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,

He came as Lord – he was there at the foundation of the world – and he came to be our Master as well.  He deserves to be our Master simply by who he is.  The creed carries on to give a some clear concise facts about who Jesus was.

  1. who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
  2. born of the Virgin Mary,

God used his Spirit to have his son conceived in a special way – this was no ordinary conception, this was God’s direct intervention.  And yet, although Jesus was God’s son, he was born in a normal way – this shows that he was truly human, as well as truly divine.  His birth was not lost in some vague obscurity though – he was born to a specific person in history, with roots that could be traced.

He came with a special plan and an ultimate purpose.

  1. suffered under Pontius Pilate,
  2. was crucified, died, and was buried;
  3. he descended to the dead.

This statement not only shows what happened to Jesus, but it also places the event in history by naming the ruling governor at the time that it happened.  It states not only that we believe these things happened but how they happened with details of suffering at the hand of Pilate, being crucified – a uniquely Roman way of doing things; that he died – not merely appeared to have died like some false religions say; that he was buried and that he went down to the place of the dead referring to it as “the sign of Jonah” – that he would spend 3 days and nights in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:40)

  1. On the third day he rose again;
  2. he ascended into heaven,
  3. he is seated at the right hand of the Father,

The creed also states that he didn’t stay there, but that he came back to life, and went where he said he would go, and where Stephen – the first Christian martyr, saw him –at the right hand of God.  This statement of faith is not just something we hope for – it is based on eyewitness accounts from the earliest followers of Christ.

  1. and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

Jesus will not stay there forever, but has promised that he will return one day.  And when he does, every single person will be called on to account for the life that they have lived.  Those who are alive at the time, and those who have “fallen asleep” – meaning died.

If we say that we believe in Jesus Christ, then we need to be accepting the whole package.  It’s not a case of only taking the parts you like.  What’s the point in saying that he was a wise teacher and a great man, but not believing in his deity?  Jesus claimed to be God – he was either a liar, a lunatic, or he was the Son of God.  If you believe, if you really take to heart this creed, then he is your Lord.  What does that mean to you?  How should you live knowing that?

I will leave the rest of this creed for next week because this brings us to a very appropriate place of reflection. As we prepare to share the Lord’s Supper we need to remember why we are here.

It’s not just a social time.  It’s not about getting together with others.  It’s about meeting with the God of creation – ALL creation – heaven and earth.  The entire universe.  And this isn’t something that we should be taking lightly.

It’s about remembering Jesus, who gave up his life so that we could even enter into the presence of God.  It’s about identifying with him in his completeness, as we put our own selfishness aside once more dying to ourselves so that we can live for him.





none so blind…

1 04 2009

 Scripture:  John 9: 1-12

 I love the disciples –the more I read about them and really try to put myself in their shoes, the more I see myself in them.  They are full of enthusiasm to be with Jesus.  They know that Jesus is something special and they are willing students – disciples that are doing their best to embrace what they are learning from their Master.

And so on this day, I wonder if the disciples were trying to show that they were starting to “get it”.  That the lessons that they had learned so far were not lost on them and they could now apply some of this learning.

As they walked along, they saw a beggar – a man that had been born blind.  They wanted to show that they knew that sin was the root of such problems and that sometimes children would suffer for the sins of their parents, other times people suffered for their own sin.   That was what it said in Scripture as God spoke from Mount Sinai that he punished children for the sin of their fathers “down to the third and fourth generations.”  (Exodus 20:5)

And so they asked the teacher who was to blame for this man’s condition – whether it was his sin or the sin of his parents.  I don’t know how the disciples figured that his condition could’ve been from the man’s own sin since he was born blind.  But in spite of their best effort to show that they were paying attentions to the lesson, Jesus points out that this case was an exception.  When Jesus responds that neither him nor his parents sinned, he is not saying that they were without sin, but that the blindness the fellow suffered wasn’t a punishment for the sin of either.  Instead this was an opportunity for the work of God to be carried out. 

Do we ever look at problems that way?  As an opportunity to see the hand God in our lives?  It’s not always easy for us to try to put a positive spin on it like that is it?  It is Biblical to believe that many health related problems are due to sin in our lives.  Remember all the times that Jesus healed people with the words “your sins are forgiven.”

But if there is no un-confessed sin in your life and the problem is still there, then perhaps the purpose of us having to suffer through it is to make us dependant on waiting for God to come along and help us.  And if there’s someone else we know with a problem, perhaps we should be looking to see if the difficulties they face give us an opportunity to do God’s work.

And so Jesus does what he came to do and makes a simple compound of mud made from dirt and his spit, applies it to the man’s eyes and tells him to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam.  Now some people might miss the point here I think by thinking that the Pool of Siloam had some mystical healing properties, and perhaps you could more rightly point out that even the spit of Jesus when used for healing could perform miraculous results.  But I think that the faith of the man was just as active a part in his healing as what Jesus put on his eyes.

He must’ve had faith to allow Jesus to put mud made of dirt and spit on his eyes – it doesn’t exactly sound like advanced medicine – and he must’ve had faith to follow the directions by going to the Pool of Siloam to wash his eyes.  This man had the faith to follow through with what Jesus told him to do.  Would we be willing to do the same even though we might not understand the reason for the instruction at the time?

I am a person who likes to know the “why” for doing things.  If it was me, I would be wanting to ask:

“Why the Pool of Siloam?  Is that a special water there?  And was that dirt significant?  Was the spit really necessary?” 

I usually like to have all of those kind of questions answered beforehand – with as much detail as possible.  But we don’t read anything like that from this fellow.  Jesus sent him and he went.  And like Jesus said of others who believed in him – his faith cured him. 

When he returned he was seen by local people and his neighbours and they began to discuss whether or not this was the guy that they knew that had been born blind.  You think that they would recognize this guy after him begging there for so many years.  Maybe the shock of seeing him wander around, obviously now being able to see, would be enough to cause some doubt in the minds of some.  And so he speaks up to confirm that he’s the one and he tells them of his simple and yet amazing story of healing.

But the story does not end there.  Those people then bring him to the Pharisees – a customary act to verify a healing. 

Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath.  Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”

Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”
      But others asked, “How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?” So they were divided.

Finally they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.”
      The man replied, “He is a prophet.” (John 9:14-17)

At this point the blind man did not know everything about Jesus – he figured that he was a prophet – a man of God who healed him.  But when he was brought to the Pharisees to recount his story, they were divided.  Some argued that only a man from God could give sight to the blind.  It was a specific sign of the Messiah, prophesied in Isaiah.  At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry he read those words in the synagogue:

 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
       my chosen one in whom I delight;
       I will put my Spirit on him
       and he will bring justice to the nations.

 He will not shout or cry out,
       or raise his voice in the streets.

 

 A bruised reed he will not break,
       and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
  “I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness;
       I will take hold of your hand.
       I will keep you and will make you
       to be a covenant for the people
       and a light for the Gentiles,

to open eyes that are blind,
       to free captives from prison
       and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness. (Isaiah 47:1-3a, 6-7)

And here Jesus was doing one of the very things that signified him as the Messiah, but some of the Pharisees were more concerned about someone breaking the Sabbath by “working” on it, than they were excited about the man getting his sight back.

This was not the first time either that they reacted this way about Jesus healing on the Sabbath.  On an earlier occasion he was eating at the house of a prominent Pharisee.  Other Pharisees were there watching his every move.  It was a Sabbath, and the Jewish leaders had developed a very short list of what would not be considered work on a Sabbath – and to work on the Sabbath was to break it.  Jesus knew their hearts, but he was more concerned about the need of a man that came before him suffering from a condition known as dropsy.

And so he asked them straight out:

“Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?”  But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him away.

Then he asked them, “If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?”  And they had nothing to say. (Luke 14:1-6)

The Jewish leaders were pretty unbelievable really.  They were so blinded by pride and obeying every little letter of the Mishna – the rules they added to the law – they were so full of their supposed self-righteousness that it became all they cared about.  But Jesus saw through their hypocrisy.  And as Jesus continued to heal people on the Sabbath and his popularity grew, he was seen as a threat to their authority.

When Jesus healed the blind man, this was when the tide had started to turn against Jesus and the Jewish leaders were poised to kick Jesus out of the synagogue.  When Jesus first began to teach, it was in the local Jewish synagogues, like the other Rabbi’s of the day.  But Jesus had spoken out against them often enough and now they were at the point where they no longer were willing to put up with him criticizing them.

I think at this point the Pharisees that opposed the healing starting grasping at straws – surely they should’ve recognized this fellow but part of them still does not want to believe it and so they send for his parents.  This man’s parents weren’t much help – they knew that to confess Jesus as Messiah would mean that they would be kicked out of the synagogue and they were more concerned about social standing than honouring Jesus.

Unlike those parents we need to remember that Jesus told us not to fear people, but rather only fear God.  He has the ultimate say and will be the one that we eventually have to give an accounting to for our lives – the decisions we’ve made and how we’ve stood up for the truth.

So instead of supporting Jesus and their son, they simply affirm that he was their son and he had been born blind, but that was all they could really say.  And so Pharisees bring the son back in again in an attempt to try to disprove what Jesus did that day. 

A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”

He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?”

Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses!  We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”

The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes.  We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind.  If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out. (John 9:24-34)

I have to admit that I like this fellow’s response.  At this point he obviously must be a little exasperated by the Jewish leaders.  They are stealing the joy out of his new experiences being able to see.  I can almost see the smirk on his face as he asks them why they want him to repeat the story- if they wanted to become disciples of Jesus too.  That was just one step too far.  Although as he was kicked out of the temple, I doubt that he had any regrets for that.   It’s hard to feel bad about being kicked out of a group that you wouldn’t want to be part of anyway.

The Pharisees claimed with pride to be disciples of Moses and yet Jesus had this to say to them one time about their lack of understanding with what they studied:

“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

“I do not accept praise from men, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts.  I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him.  How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?

“But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set.  If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.  But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” (John 5:39-47)

There is a saying that goes, “there are none so blind as those who will not see.”  Although the man Jesus healed had been physically unable to see, it was the Pharisees who were truly blind that day.  Although they claimed to be Moses’ disciples, they could not see that Jesus was the one that the Scriptures pointed to.  Although all the signs were there, the Pharisees had closed their minds to the possibility of Jesus being the Messiah.  They had closed their eyes to the truth. 

Jesus found the man after they threw him out and revealed himself to him as more than just a prophet, but as the very Son of God.  And this man responded by saying that he believed in him and by worshiping Jesus.  Then Jesus said:

“For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” (John 9:39)

And some Pharisees that were there realized that he was talking about them, so they said “We can see, can’t we?”  And because they were unwilling to openly admit their blindness, Jesus said that they were still guilty of sin.

Isaiah gave us three clear signs of the Messiah, but Jesus not only gave physical sight to the blind, he also healed those who were blind to the sin in their lives.  And those who were the captives that he came to set free were not only captive to self defeating sin, but also to sins of arrogance and lack of compassion.   And the dark dungeons that he came to set his people free from are not only those of despair and hopelessness, but also those of meaningless and empty tradition.  Jesus came to set us free from all of those things so that we can have a life that is full of meaning found in him as this man did on that day.  

Close your eyes for a moment. 

Now close your eyes tighter.  Cover your eyes and try to block out all the light.  Imagine what it would be like if this was all that you had ever seen…

Now uncover your face and open your eyes slowly and as you do, try to imagine what it would be like to be seeing for the first time in your life.  Look around you.  Look at the people sitting next to you.  Look at the colourful stained glass windows.  Think about the first time that you saw some of the most beautiful sights:  a gorgeous rainbow… a beautiful country scene…the lake after a storm…the smile of a child…some of your favourite things to look at…

When Jesus gave sight to this fellow, I wonder what he did after his encounter with the Jewish leaders and Pharisees – what impressed him the most.  Whether he found a quiet spot to watch a sunset, whether the stars that came out that night and the moon that shone, were so mesmerizing that he found himself staring up at them until they began to fade into the new day.  And when the sun’s first rays cut through the dawn how enraptured he was by the whole amazing scene.

While the night was passing as he reflected on the day’s events, I wonder whether he chuckled, reflecting on his bold and only thinly veiled insult to the leaders at the synagogue.

And as he marvelled at all he saw, no doubt he would also wonder at the marvel of meeting Jesus.   He received sight twice that day as his spiritual blindness was also removed.  The eyes of his heart were opened to the very Son of God.   This morning my challenge to you is that you would have the faith of this young man to do what God asks of you without hesitation.  That you would seek out any areas of blindness in your own life and ask God for healing.  And that you would live with a boldness that seeks to please God first and foremost in each and every day of your life. 

 

 

None So Blind…

   Scripture:  John 9: 1-12