Today’s lesson brought to you by the letter H –

  Today’s lesson is sponsored by the letter H.   H as in Hosanna?  Home? Health? Heaven? Happy? My grandson would add Hudson!  

In the church calendar this Sunday is the celebration of Palm Sunday.  Loud Hosannas rang out from the joyful crowds welcoming our Lord into Jerusalem.  The Gospel of John records, (12) … the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. (13)  They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the King of Israel!” (John 12:12-13 (NIV)   Yes today’s lesson is sponsored by the letter H but not the word Hosanna!  There is another H word, maybe even two, that came to mind as I looked at the events of that week in our Lord’s life.

No treachery is worse than betrayal by a family member or closely trusted friend. Julius Caesar knew such treachery. Among the conspirators who assassinated the Roman leader on March 15, 44 B.C. was Marcus Junius Brutus. Caesar not only trusted Brutus, he had favoured him as a son.

“According to Roman historians, Caesar first resisted the onslaught of the assassins. But when he saw Brutus among them with his dagger drawn, Caesar ceased to struggle and, pulling the top part of his robe over his face, asked the famous question, “You too, Brutus?” (Today in the Word August 13, 1992).

Many years ago, when I pastored in Pincher Creek we put on an inter-church pageant of sorts.  I got the dubious role of Judas Iscariot.  Lynda even made me a pouch for my 30 pieces of silver!  When it came time for the kiss it really sank in how low can a friend go!

We tend to think of Judas as an unbeliever and a traitor, and thus we place him in a category all by itself, rather than to see Judas as a man not all that different from you or me, which is exactly where the discomfort comes from.

Judas was a man who seemed to be a genuine follower of Jesus, a close trusted friend.  He was a man who had experienced and had been a channel of God’s power displayed.  He was very much like the other disciples, he did not stand out from them, nor was he ever suspected by them.  He even seems to have been somewhat of a leader among those disciples.  They trusted him as a friend trusts a friend.

Judas’ downfall came from a flaw evident earlier in his life, in a secret sin kept within.  He was a man who seems to have loved money too much and Jesus too little.  He was a man who heard Jesus’ teachings first hand, but failed to obey them.   His failure was progressive, taking place over 3 years, and — by means of a sequence of decisions.

Judas was not forced to sin by Satan, but was surely tempted and assisted in his fall.  He was made vulnerable to Satan’s involvement by his sin of greed.  Satan got a “death grip” on Judas by means of his fleshly desires and their dominion in his life.  He did not choose to follow Satan, but he did choose to follow his own desires.  And while it is clear to the reader that Judas became possessed by Satan, we do not know that Judas was ever consciously aware of this.

To put it differently, Judas made choices which resulted in his possession by Satan, but we are never told that he actively sought to be possessed.

From Judas’ twisted point of view his sin was not all that bad.  In fact, he thought what he was doing would help Jesus to claim His throne that very week. And those loud Hosannas, that jubilant entrance into Jerusalem gave Judas the gumption to do what he did.   For Judas the ends would justify the means, or so he thought.

Remember this infamous villain of Passion Week was just a person like you and me!  He was not born a betrayer, but he became one, by a progression of increasingly wrong or sinful choices.

So what was it about that Triumphal entry that gave Judas the gumption to betray his closest friend?

It was an event that would fully proclaim to all the leaders and people of Jerusalem that their Messiah had come. An event that was orchestrated and carried out by Christ himself in fulfilment of Old Testament prophesies.

Here’s another H word.

To us anyway.  Jesus is and was the HERO of that passion filled week.  To the common person Jesus was a “prophet from Nazareth”.  A man who had done many wondrous things.  As the procession began the people gathered around, some out of curiosity no doubt, wanting to perhaps see a new mighty work, or to gaze upon this man who raised Lazarus from the dead.  Such a hero had to be seen if opportunity arose.  And the scriptures record that all of Jerusalem was stirred by this brief appearance of the Messiah.

As I read before, some got so caught up in the excitement that they “took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! “ “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  “Blessed is the King of Israel!”” “Hosanna to the Son of David”…”Hosanna in the highest!”.  

Had the Spirit of God brought to their remembrance what the prophet David had written a thousand years before?  Ps.118:25  “O LORD, save us; O LORD, grant us success.  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. From the house of the LORD we bless you”.

It seems that the people began shouting cheers for their HERO, and their Saviour.  They were fed up with the Roman occupation and they wanted the promised deliverer, the one whom Zechariah had also prophesied would come.  “See your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey”.  But they wanted him on their terms not on His.  They wanted Him to wipe out their earthly oppressors.  And yes, Christ truly was their Messiah, even his mode of transportation proved that.  The disciples had found that donkey just as Jesus had foretold.  They even had to speak the words Jesus had forewarned them so that the owners didn’t object.  And in fulfilment of the prophets Christ rode before them.

So they proclaimed Him their king…loud Hosannas to ‘the king of the Jews’.  But in their Hearts, it was only if he ruled on their terms!  Hearts! -yes there is another H-word.

We too, at times approach God in this fashion.  We may even utter praises and platitudes of servanthood but when it comes right down to it, Jesus is only our Messiah, our Lord, when it suits us.  The rest of the time he is that historical ‘prophet of Nazareth’ who lived years ago.  Who is Jesus in your Heart? (pause)

The owner of a photographic studio tells the story of a college boy who came in with a framed picture of his girlfriend.  He wanted the picture duplicated.  In removing the photograph from the frame, the studio owner noticed the touching inscription on the back, written by the girlfriend:

“My dearest Tommy: I love you with all my heart.  I love you more and more each day.  I will love you for ever and ever.  I am yours for all eternity.”  It was signed “Dianne” and contained a P.S.  “If we should ever break up, I want this picture back”.

The very next Friday the same people who shouted Hosanna could be found shouting, “Crucify Him!”. Hypocrisy, don’t you agree?

Well how did the disciples react to all these events?  Did they take them to Heart?

Some of the disciples were sent ahead for the donkey as I’ve already mentioned.  Can you imagine their reaction when they went into Bethphage and there was the donkey just as Jesus had said it would be?  And wouldn’t your jaw drop and hit the ground when the challenge came and the answer accepted just as you had been told?

Of course, it happened that way.  They knew it would– they had walked with the Lord and saw all the miracles and healing and other wonders.  So they brought the donkey back to the Lord and they placed their cloaks over it as a saddle.

And then the Scriptures recorded that they stood silently as the rest of parade went on.  HAH!  Hudson would say, that word has two h’s!

They began excitedly telling how all those mighty works had come to pass and they praised God loudly for all they had seen Jesus do.  They hailed him as God’s king and chanted that the effect of His coming was “peace in Heaven” (as Luke records) and glory in the Highest” Praises befitting only the King of Kings –God Himself. (Luke 19:38)

We too are called to give praise to God for what he has done in our lives and to bear witness to what he is doing in the lives of people around us.  The disciple’s reaction was to lead the people of Jerusalem in worship of the King.  Like them we are to proclaim Jesus Christ the Messiah and get all excited about our faith.  But more often then not, we are quietly telling nobody of the greatest thing that ever happened in our lives. Go-figure!

Now, lets look at the reaction of the Pharisees.  The scriptures tell that they too were present in all this hoopla.  But they didn’t join in.  Instead we’re told that they got in a HUFF, they were ‘indignant’.  They stubbornly refused to believe that this man riding on a donkey was the King of Kings.  They told him to rebuke his disciples!  Tell them to stop praising you as king. (cf. John 12:19)

I love Jesus’ comeback to their Huff —He answered them, even if everybody were to stop — the rocks would continue the chorus of praise!

Exasperated, they cried out in another HUFF that “the whole world had gone after Jesus” (John 12:19).  Of course, they didn’t realize that the interest of the crowd was to be a quickly passing thing.  It was Hypocrisy!   They were a fickle bunch who weren’t worshipping Christ.  Sure, they shouted loud Hosannas but in their Hearts this Hero was worse than a thief.

Only a remnant, a chosen few would be true worshippers, believing in Him as God.

Sometimes, we’re even like those Pharisees, aren’t we?  We tell people that if they aren’t worshipping God the way we believe they should, well they shouldn’t worship him at all.  This has been a major stumbling block of the faith since it began.  Long before Palm Sunday.  In fact, it started way back in Genesis with Cain and Able.  Really! Cain murdered Able over his style of worship.  

But on that Palm Sunday, the people worshipped with shouts of praise, perhaps even with hands raised and they certainly were waving palm branches.  They even gave Christ the red-carpet treatment with the cloaks off their backs.

So what was the Hero’s reaction?  At first it appears that Jesus is elated with the response — but it isn’t long lasting.  Christ knew that the “people worshipped him with their lips but their hearts were far from him” (cf. Mark 7:6)   And as he drew near Jerusalem, he wept for them.

They had missed the golden opportunity.  If the people had only received Him as the Messiah, it would have meant peace for them.  But they didn’t recognise that He was the source of peace.  Now it was too late.  They had already determined what they would do with the Son of God.

Remember, those who had been shouting Hosanna on Sunday were by Friday Shouting Crucify Him!   They rejected Him and their Hearts were blinded.  And our Savior looked on and lamented for Jerusalem.

A.W. Griffith Thomas has said, “Let us sit at Christ’s feet until we learn the secret of His tears, and beholding the sins and sorrows of city and countryside, weep over them too”.  Do we weep over the sins of our city, our province and our nation?  When injustice and immorality are condoned by the masses are we moved to our knees in prayer? When we see people rejecting Christ are we moved to tears, knowing that they have taken another step closer to hell?

With tears in His eyes, Christ foretold in detail of the coming destruction of Jerusalem.  “Not one stone “would be left “upon another” (Matthew 24:2).  And in a few years’ history records that Jerusalem was destroyed, just as Christ had said it would be, as he wept for the lost.  He had visited the city with an offer of salvation.  But the people only wanted Him on their terms.

We often celebrate Palm Sunday as a day of worshipping the King.  And rightly so!  It is good to worship our Messiah!  But let’s not forget the anguish that Christ experienced as he saw before Him a nation who rejected salvation and brought upon themselves destruction. The prophecies were fulfilled that had long awaited the Messiah.

Even today, many call themselves Christians but like the people on that Palm Sunday they do so on their own terms.  Christ is the Messiah, The King of Kings. And the Lord of Lords. But He is the Messiah only for those who come to Him on His terms. For those hypocrites, Jesus laid down His life.  It’s Palm Sunday but Good Friday is coming!  Are you ready?

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Mark 2:1-12 In A Word Forgiven!

In a book called, “Will Daylight Come”, a story is told about “a little boy that was visiting his grandparents and was given his first slingshot. He practiced in the woods, but he could never hit his target.

As he came back to Grandma’s back yard, he spied her pet duck. On an impulse he took aim and let fly. The stone hit, and the duck fell dead.

The boy panicked. Desperately he hid the dead duck in the woodpile, only to look up and see his sister watching. Sally had seen it all, but she said nothing.

After lunch that day, Grandma said, “Sally, let’s wash the dishes.” But Sally said, “Johnny told me he wanted to help in the kitchen today. Didn’t you, Johnny?” And she whispered to him, “Remember the duck!

So Johnny did the dishes.

Later Grandpa asked if the children wanted to go fishing, Grandma said, “I’m sorry, but I need Sally to help make supper.” Sally smiled and said, “That’s all taken care of. Johnny wants to do it.” Again she whispered, “Remember the duck.”

Johnny stayed while Sally went fishing.

After several days of Johnny doing both his chores and Sally’s, finally he couldn’t stand it. He confessed to Grandma that he’d killed the duck.

“I know, Johnny,” she said, giving him a hug. “I was standing at the window and saw the whole thing. Because I love you, I forgave you. I wondered how long you would let Sally make a slave of you” (Richard Hoefler, Will Daylight Come’) Bible.org.

Slide2“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1 (NIV)

I suspect God looks at times in bewilderment at His chosen ones.  “For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son that who so ever believes in Him should have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).  Yet even as we begin to grasp the wonderful sacrifice that procured this magnificent promise we still at times act as if Jesus Christ isn’t enough!  We act as though His power over sin and death can’t alleviate our guilt and remorse and those issues of life that get us down.   We think there’s got to be more! And we allow Satan to push us around as though we have a secret that must be kept hidden at all costs.

Today’s passage clearly announced more about two thousand years ago that God’s love had broken the chains of sin and guilt to stamp upon our hearts one word that changes everything: Forgiven.

Let’s look at this remarkable part of HIStory and see some amazing faith in action.

If you have a Bible or app with you, turn with me to Mark 2:1-12.
1  A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2  So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3  Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. 4  Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. 5  When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6  Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7  “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8  Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? 9  Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 10  But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” He said to the paralytic, 11  “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 12  He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (Mark 2:1-12 (NIV). 

Slide4They had never seen anything like this before!  Truer words had never been spoken!   Jesus would later say to them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, “‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!'” Mark 4:11-12 (NIV)

In this portion of HIStory Mark lays out for us the first time that Jesus announces His purpose directly to both saint and sinner alike.  And this without the usual caveat “don’t tell this to anyone”.  This amazing event took place in Capernaum the Prophet’s backyard, in the land of Galilee.  The very place where Jesus would later announce that He received no honor serving there.  And eventually in tears he warned the people that they were headed for God’s wrath because they had not embraced the many miracles done in their midst and turned to God in repentance.  Capernaum! “… you people of Capernaum, will you be honored in heaven? No, you will go down to the place of the dead. For if the miracles I did for you had been done in wicked Sodom, it would still be here today” (Matthew 11:23-24:NLT).

As we parted in chapter one you’ll remember that Jesus had to avoid public places because the news that a healer had come had spread and people were so excited to see how he did it.  Jesus knew that would happen and tried to persuade the leprous man to not tell anyone but that was like telling a child to leave the chocolates alone that were left open on the living room table.  Somehow those chocolates seem to persuade the child not to listen to parental authority even if it was for their own good.

So Jesus had to take some time and tour the region, healing the sick and casting out demons in other places before returning home to Capernaum.  And everywhere He went the crowds came out of nowhere.

As Mark begins this chapter saying, “a few days later”, we need to understand that few days is measured not after the healing of the leprous man but rather after what came after those lonely places.

And it would seem from Luke’s account that all that ministry caught the attention of the Scribes and religious leaders as the news spread so far and wide.

Slide5Luke 5:17 (NIV) tells us, 17  One day as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem, were sitting there.”

Sure got their attention!  They too were there to watch the magic show and try to figure out how he did that.  Jesus on the other hand was there to preach the word and make disciples.   Do you know what a disciple is?  The word simply means students.  Jesus was teaching His students in the “word” and by example.

Slide6He preached the Word!  What “word” you may be wondering since the Bible was not yet complete? Here the word used means preaching the Good News.  But Jesus wasn’t just having a conversation with the boys.  He was preaching about the mission God had sent Him to fulfill.  He was in fact writing the Bible on their hearts and before the eyes of those who would write the Gospels.  Including the part where those four guys caring a fifth man on a mat interrupted the show.

Mark states clearly that Jesus popularity had grown significantly by this point.  In fact, so many people wanted to see the miracle worker that the house he had been staying in couldn’t hold them all.  It was standing room only!

Say, what’s wrong with this picture?  Is it Biblically correct?

Slide7The verse clearly says, there was no room even outside the house, people were standing in the street peering through the doors and windows waiting to see Jesus.  We encountered the same thing when I was preaching over in Kenya.  I would look out the windows and see eyes looking in at us.

The congestion that day caused the men to become creative.  And the men who wanted a miracle in their friend’s life had to find another way to get to Jesus with him.

Imagine for a moment the scene Mark has painted here.  These men must climb the stairs that lead to the roof carrying their paraplegic friend with them.  Often stairs were on the outside rather than inside in those days.  But it could have been a roughhewn ladder that they crawled up to get to the roof.  The point is it took effort to get to the roof.  Once there, they gaze through the skylight and see Jesus preaching below.  Scratch that!  There were no skylights back then!   But there soon would be!

Slide8 The roof that was thick often with with tar and gravel over top of tiles.  Now imagine for a moment that you are downstairs as the roof suddenly starts opening up.  Dust and debris falling all around you!  It had to be a show stopper right?  But these men were determined to see Jesus and get help for their friend!  So they dug and then they took away enough tiles to lower this man and his mat through the hole.  What a sight to behold!

Jesus looking up, getting dust in his eyes as he sees that man slowly being lowered down, smiles just a hint.  He looks upon the four friends as they sheepishly grin hoping but not yet knowing if their plan would work or backfire royally.

It created the perfect teaching opportunity for Jesus.  Everyone’s attention is fixed upon this man and his friends.  They look back at the master and then at the paralytic, then back to the master.  What’s he going to do?  What will he say?  Will he yell at the man?  Maybe scold his friends for making such a disturbance, and interrupting his preaching?

Jesus instead speaks softly and tenderly, 5 …”Son, your sins are forgiven.” Mark 2:5 (NIV). 

Slide9Our first question, naturally would be, what sins was he forgiving?  Was it a sin to crash the party?  Well I suspect the owner of the house might feel like it was.  After all someone is going to have to clean up that mess and fix his roof.   But that’s not at all how the Scribes took what Jesus said.

Inside they maybe thought, “ah ha…we got him this time!  He’s a blasphemer”.  And they had the full weight of the law on their side!  It clearly said no one, not even the Messiah could forgive sins.  No one but God could do that.  So if this Jesus was just a man, then they were right in their thinking.  Blasphemer!

But tell me, if you were in their place, wouldn’t you be surprised if Jesus said exactly what was on your mind?

Slide10That’s what he did!  Mark says, 8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things?  9  Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’?” Mark 2:8-9 (NIV)

Ok so they could chalk that up to a lucky guess on his part.  Maybe He was reading their body language.  But the passage is very clear once again.  It wasn’t body language or lucky guesses!   Jesus actually knew what they were thinking.  He wasn’t guessing!  He knew it.

So don’t you deceive yourself into thinking you can have personal thoughts that no one will ever know!   Jesus knows what is in the heart of Mankind!  After all He created us.

Slide11This question, “which is easier” (9), was used to draw what they were thinking and bring it to a proper conclusion.  While it was true that only God can forgive sins, their stinking thinking concluded that Jesus was faking being God.  Jesus in essence said, you’ve got it half right boys!  Only God can do that miracle on the inside and to prove it I will do the other seemingly impossible feat, this man will not only get up and start to walk in front of your very eyes but he’s going to walk right out of here on his own two feet!

That way they would know 10 …that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….”.   And with that statement Jesus took all the guess work out of this lesson for them.  He announced that He had the authority to do what only God can do!  Which makes Him Who?  ?  ?  Either a deranged lunatic, a very clever charlatan or God come in the flesh.

Then, “He said to the paralytic, 11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”  It was an order not a request.  The LORD had spoken.  It is strongly worded in the Greek.  And this is emphasized by the immediate response from the paralytic.

Slide1212 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” Mark 2:12 (NIV). 

There was no denying it.  Someone who can make a paralytic walk on command was no lunatic, and even the best magic of the day couldn’t take some random paralytic person lowered from the ceiling and have him walk out in front of everyone.   There were no smoke and mirrors there.  So that leaves only one option, the man truly was Whom he claimed to be.  GOD!

The Scribes and the nay-sayers jaws must of hit the floor.  The believers including His disciples were totally amazed.  But had they actually understood what Jesus had said and done that day?

What do you think?   Had they understood?

We actually know they didn’t understand yet.  Not even Jesus own disciples understood the claim Jesus made that day.   It wouldn’t be long before His disciples would agree with Peter, “You are the Christ the Son of the Living God” (Matt. 16:16).  But for that moment in time they were still know and follow Jesus Christ.  Becoming His disciples by becoming students of the Master.

And so are you and I.  When Jesus said go make disciples of all nations…he told us to teach them everything that Jesus had commanded of us so that they could in turn make disciples who will make disciples.  And one of the first things that Jesus wants His disciples to know is in a word: Forgiven.    Every disciple gets to hear those tender words from our Master: “My child your sins are forgiven!”(5)

For Jesus has “all authority in heaven and on earth” (cf Matthew 28:19) ALL  AUTHORITY not just some! ALL Authority to forgive sins.  The Bible says, “He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 (NIV).   This was and is and will always be the Gospel message.  My son / daughter your sins are forgiven!

Jesus is truly enough!

 



1. How do you feel about people who make outrageous claims?
2. Do you know someone who was paralyzed? What were some issues they faced?

Read Mark 2:1-12 in several versions preferably.
1. Where was Jesus when this event took place? (Mark 2:1; Mat. 9:1; Luke 5:17; Mark 7:24 at Home?)
2. What does it mean to preach in verse 2? (Mark 1:4; 6:34; Mat 5:1-2; Luke 8:1,11; Acts 8:25; Acts 16:6; * Rom. 10:8-11;* 2 Tim. 4:2-3)
3. What do verses 3-4 tell us about the individuals mentioned and their character?
4. How and why did Jesus heal the paralytic man? (Mark 2:5,10-12; Psalm 32:1-5; 103:2-3; Isaiah 38:17; Acts 11:23; Col 3:12-14; Mark 5:34)
5. What does blasphemy mean? (Mark 2:6-8; Psalm 74:18; Lev. 24:11-16; Rom. 2:23-24; * Mat. 12:31)
6. How did Jesus know what they were thinking? (Mark 2:6-8; 8:17; Psalm 33:13-15; 139:11-12; 147:5; Prov. 15:3; Isaiah 40:14; 46:10; Jer. 17:10; Heb. 4:13; 1 John 3:20)
7. Which is it easier for us to do—forgive others or care for them when they’re sick?
7. Which is it easier: forgiving or caring for the person when they’re sick?
8. What connection is there between faith and God’s working ? (Mat. 9:22 ; Luke 8:48 ; John 5:14 ; Acts 14:9 ; Eph. 2:8-9 ; 1 Cor. 11:30 ; James 2:18-22; 5:15 )
9. What is one paralysis in your life that you want Jesus to heal you from?
10. How can you follow the example of the paralytic’s friends and go out of your way to help a believer who is in need?

Week 2 – Matthew 2:1-12 Wise Worship Time

Today’s Story is found in Matthew 2:1-12

Often times even in our preaching and teaching schedule we sort of celebrate the event of Epiphany during Advent yet it actually comes in the official church calendar on the 6th of January.  

What is Epiphany?  Is it as Merriam Websters defines “an appearance or manifestation especially of a divine being“? (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/epiphany) .   Or could be suddenly knowing the truth that set you free?  What Epiphanies do we find in our story today?  And why is it that we celebrate Epiphany on Jan. 6th?  

To see all of today’s questions, click here.

 To answer the date question you may need to know more of HIStoryLast week we looked at Adam and Eve’s story from Gen. 3.  Our forbears were shown much grace in the garden by God when they were banished for their own good because God foresaw that if they ate from the tree of life the consequences of their sin would be eternal. 

Think about that for a moment.  What if the worst thing you had ever done was replayed for you for all eternity!  And there was no dying to escape it, no way to erase it, you just had to live with the ever increasing effects of it.  How would that change your life?

But God showed great mercy by having our forbears ejected from His presence until their sin could be atoned for.  (Genesis 3:22-24 (NIV))  Have you thought of it that way?  As divine mercy?  

And we saw last week that God promised that Satan would not prevail even as God banished him to slither for the rest of eternity.  Because through HIS Son, Jesus Christ, the payment for Adam’s sin would crush the head of the snake and clear the way for a return to the Garden for all who accept His gift of salvation.

That return would not be without some necessary sanctification and cleansing that had so corrupted everything sin touched.  People were not immediately perfected inwardly and outwardly.   We would still live in a world that reaps the effects of Adam’s sin until the final consummation that awaits Christ’s return.  

Until then as the Apostle Paul said, we would have to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling”, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13 (NIV).   God would change us from the inside out in time. 

Paul openly confessed that he struggled daily with dying to the old nature and being renewed by the power of Spirit and God’s Word as he fought the good fight.  It would be a messy process but in the end he knew that Christ would be victorious in His life. 

You might be wondering what this has to do with Epiphany? 

To see all of today’s questions, click here.

Slide2

Well, like Paul all who are a part of the church have two natures that constantly battle within and that effect the world around us.  Rest assured the old or “sin nature” (cf. Gal. 5:17) is going to ultimately lose the battle but in the mean time we still suffer from both the consequences of Adam’s sin and our own sin especially when our pride refuses to give in.   And that sin and its consequences is not reserved for just those who are new to the faith.  It reaches even the highest levels of leadership.  

We see this throughout HIStory.  From the birth of the church onward when and where sin was allowed to reign the church of God fractured and split again and again. And Epiphany or at least the celebration of it on Jan. 6 or not is evidence that somewhere along the way pride won out. 

Some say it was back in the 15th century when the Gregorian calendar was adopted by more than half of Christendom. And the rest stayed on the Julian calendar because it was the main calendar at the time of our Lord’s birth as they saw it.  

The difference between the two calendars and why some adopted one over the other is written in the annals of history and there are plenty of interesting stories about it on the internet.   But one thing that has in some ways spanned the divide is this Holy Day called Epiphany.  This may be because the Eastern Orthodox Church decided not to adopt the Gregorian calendar when Pope Gregory made it the official calendar of the world nor did later on in 1930 when the last holdout countries in Europe made the switch.   

So to this day Epiphany is 12 days after our Christmas and it is still celebrated as a day off in many countries throughout the world.  It is celebrated in remembrance of the day a supernatural manifestation of God led the wise men from the east to bring gifts for the Christ Child.  Christians in our part of the world would call it Orthodox Christmas Eve.   But that’s not quite the way the Orthodox see it.

Yes it is filled with gift giving and in some ways actually makes more sense than the western tradition of Christmas Eve. with the coming of Santa from that aspect.  Though one could easily argue that the wise men brought their gifts to Jesus not to each other. So gift giving on the basis of their arrival is still a bit skewed either way.  Nevertheless the tradition of giving out gifts on Epiphany makes more sense than trying to weave a story that requires a fictional being traveling the world giving gifts to children who are not on the naughty list.  Just saying…

Regardless of when you celebrate the wise men’s arrival one thing remains.  HIStory tells of the actual event that happened and is worthy of repeating.   And that story is found in Matthew 2:1-12; if you have your Bible turn with me there.

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”  When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.  When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born.  “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:  “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'” 

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared.  He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”  After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.  On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.  And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route” (Matthew 2:1-12 (NIV).

 

To see all of today’s questions, click here.


Are you a truth teller? Does it really matter how we tell this wise  story? Or what elements we include?  What would you say are the necessary truths to be told about HIStory in this story?  How do you know they are true?

Well I suppose you can never go wrong with just reading HIS Word verbatim.  At least then you know you are telling HIStory.  But what about all the other traditions that have arose about Epiphany?  What do we know for sure?

We went to a great play just before Christmas where the Wise Men showed up.  And then there was Jonas who acted as the “Three Kings’ during our Youth Christmas presentation.  That was cute.   But was it HIStory or a made up story?  And does that really matter? 

What do we know from HIStory about this special event?

We know from both Biblical and extra biblical sources like Josephus that their arrival was when Herod was King of Judea.  It is widely accepted that King Herod was ruler until 4bc when he died suddenly.  That date actually comes from Josephus who tells us that Herod died around a lunar eclipse and astronomers know of only 3 that fit the timelines presented in the Scriptures. 

Scientists who study such things say there was one March 13, 4bc, very late in the evening and no others until two occurred in 1 B.C.  One was on Dec. 29th, 1BC. 

But we also know from historical documents that a major census had been taken between May and September in 4bc.  No census is recorded near the other dates.  So when we read in Luke, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  And everyone went to his own town to register” (Lk. 2:1-2).   We have evidence that these events actually happened and can with a reasonable degree of certainty say sometime between 4BC and 1BC, the census, which brought Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem took place.

Slide6We also know from John the Baptist’s ministry, which according to the historical references in the Scriptures began when he was 30 years old, that the date must have been between 4bc and 1ad.  If his ministry began in the year AD26 we can back track the date about 30 years give or take six months to arrive at Jesus birth. 

From Luke’s account it was the fifteenth year of Roman ruler Tiberius.  Historically that tells us that John was born in the year 5bc. 

Slide7And of course we know that Elizabeth his mother was six months pregnant when Mary already pregnant with Jesus had come to visit her.  So, from the historical and biblical evidence we know that Jesus was born before 4bc and likely around the year 5bc. 

What difference does all this make?  Well, if Jesus Christ is who He claims to be and not just a mythical figure created by deranged minds, then His life can be traceable historically.  And it is! 

For example, Matthew writes in verse 1, “behold, there came three kings riding on camels from the east to Jerusalem” (Mat. 2:1).
 IS that what you read in your Bibles

Slide8This is actually the Christmas card version of the wise men’s arrival which tells us that there are three men from the east, who are kings and who had the names, Caspar, Balshazar, and Malceare. 

“”We Three Kings”, also known as “We Three Kings of Orient Are” or “The Quest of the Magi”, is a Christmas carol that was written by John Henry Hopkins, Jr., in 1857. At the time of composing the carol, Hopkins served as the rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and he wrote the carol for a Christmas pageant in New York City. It remains one of the most popular and most frequently sung Christmas carols today.[1]”  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We_Three_Kings)

Slide9Funny how we can easily lay aside HIStory for their stories.  Isn’t it?  Is this how Biblical illiteracy begins?    You know, blur the truth just enough to create either doubt or an alternate reality.  Keep telling that version of the story until the truth is lost in fiction. 

The Biblical account makes no mention of three Kings!  Never mind the rest of that.  It simply doesn’t say.  But what does HIStory tell us?

In verse one we have well known and hated King Herod the ruthless ruler of Judea.  This is a literary device written to help us pinpoint the timing of the event accurately in HIStory. 

Then Matthew sets out to answer details like, Who came, Where were they from, Why did they come. 

Slide10The innumerable wise men were actually Gentiles from the East who apparently had been studying the stars according to verse two.  Some scholars say they were “astrologers or astronomers… the word magi was used of Medes, and Persians and other gentiles who were “teachers, priests, physicians, astrologers, seers, interpreters of dreams, augers, soothsayers, sorcerers etc.”(Strongs). 

These were the Gentile Brainiac’s of Christ’s time.   This gives us two very important details.  1. Gentiles, even very educated pagans, can search and find the Messiah to worship Him.  2. It doesn’t happen without God’s help.  God guides them to find Jesus.  He uses all things at His disposal to guide and direct people who truly want to know.  Too much education need not be a bearer to the Gospel.  But we know that places of higher education today often hinder faith by imposing alternate stories as facts.      

These wise men had not only studied the stars but they also knew some of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming Messiah. 

They asked Herod, “Where is he that is born the King of the Jews? We saw His star…and have come to worship Him.”(2) 

It would seem that they knew the prophecy of Balaam found in Numbers 24:17 which reads, “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel…”

Next we find out that this news has an unsettling effect on a man whose selfish ambition and jealousy is notorious.  As I said before Herod murdered his own sons when they grew old enough to be a perceived threat to his kingdom.  He was not interested in any competition — especially from a baby that could rouse the attention of a caravan of strangers from the east.  

But Herod was shrewd as a snake.  Matthew tells us that Herod called together all the chief priests and scribes and demanded that they tell him where this Christ child was to be born. 

These priests and scribes had no need to pull out the dusty scrolls and carefully search them.  They had lived under this man’s tyranny long enough that they were, like the rest of Israel, waiting for the Messiah to come and put an end to it.

Their answer was on the tips of their tongues. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:  “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.”(6)  

It was common knowledge that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem.  We know this from the people’s reaction to Jesus later in his life.

In John 7:40ff we read, “On hearing Jesus words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.” Others said, “He is the Christ.” Still others asked, “How can the Christ come from Galilee?  Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David’s family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?”  That scripture they mentioned is Micah (5:2).

Slide14Herod wasn’t going to take any chances.  In a cunning and conniving manner he asked the Wise Men to return to him after they found the Christ child so he too could pay Him a visit.  Of course, if he had been honest with the wise men, they would know his murderous intentions and not tell him where Jesus is.  Instead he uses the same tactics that the snake did in the Garden of Eden.  Deliberate but delicate deception.  

God of course knew of Herod’s intentions and later warned the wise men after they found Jesus to go home in a different direction (cf. Mat. 2:12). 

No matter how hard the evil tries, God can always find a way to foil Satan’s best-laid plans. 

So the wise men leave Herod’s court and God supernaturally shines a great light to lead these wise men to Christ.  It’s an Epiphany – a divine or supernatural event. 

Some scholars over the centuries have tried to make this light a scientific phenomenon.  They say things like Halley’s Comet was over that part of the World at that precise moment. Or there was a convergence of several heavenly bodies that made it look like an extra bright star.  

We know now that Halley’s wasn’t and can prove that scientifically.  And yes God could have rearranged the stars and planets that night  which would still have made this an Epiphany.  A divine or supernatural event!

But since the Scriptures say that this star went before them and stopped over the place where the young child was.  Seems unlikely that it was a normal star or comet from that description.  And verse 10 says they were overjoyed with the sign in the sky!  Surprised or delighted might be another good description for their reaction.  God had lead these Gentiles to the King of the Jews! 

Looking at events in that part of the world today clearly makes this a miracle.

Epiphany – it was clearly a supernatural event.  Just like the cloud that guided the people of Moses day, and the pillar of fire that guided them at night through the dessert, the star of Bethlehem had some unusual characteristics as well.  (cf. Exodus 13:21-22)

It had led them to a house—not a manger but according to (Mat 2:11) the house where Mary and Jesus were staying.  Sebastiano Ricci clearly read his Bible before painting this picture! 

Slide17This is closer to HIStory than much of the 21st century Christmas card art.    Though to be fair the clothing seems closer to 16th century and I don’t remember seeing cherubim in Matthew’s account.  So there was some artist license taken.  But Ricci clearly depicts the house rather than the manger.  A child rather than an infant. 

The same verse says that when “they saw the child with his mother Mary, they bowed down and worshiped him(Mat. 2:11).   These gentile wise men had come all this way to worship the King? 

Slide11

Think about that for a moment.  How far would you go to worship Jesus?  To what extent does your worship of Jesus show the devotion and persistence of those wise men?

Now notice too it doesn’t say they worshipped them nor does it say they worshipped Mary.  But they worshipped the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and presented “Him with their gifts.” 

What was the first gift the wise men presented in this passage?  Was it Gold, Myrrh, Frankincense?

Was it not their gift of knowledge and their sacrifice of time?  We focus in on the materialistic or tangible gifts and they are important but long before those gifts are presented these wise men had already begun giving.  In their diligent studying of the stars and their willingness to travel from afar they sacrificed something of greatest value in search of the Messiah.  Time.

The greatest gift we give whether to God or our fellow man is our time.  It is the one gift that you will certainly run out of no matter how rich you are on this side of heaven.  Once spent it’s gone.

Slide18In fact all the other gifts are but reflections of that precious commodity are they not? 

 Yet sometimes bring the leftovers to the Lord.  Leftover time when everything else we want to do is finished, then, if there’s time, we’ll serve the Lord.  Leftover money when all our desires have been met, then if there is anything left — well that is for the Lord.  Leftover energy — when our day has run its course — if we’re not too tired maybe we’ll pray together and read the Bible. 

But the wise men left everything to find Christ and brought Him choice gifts…their finest treasures, the labors of their life.  Gifts fit and acceptable for the King of Kings!

Know the true story, HIS story.


 

  1. What if the worst thing you had ever done was replayed for you for all eternity!  And there was no dying to escape it, no way to erase it, you just had to live with the ever increasing consequences of it?  How would that make you feel and act? 
  2. What great act of mercy did God do in Gen. 3:22-24(NIV)?
  3. Did you remember to observe Epiphany on January 6th?
  4. What is Epiphany?  Or should we ask what is an Epiphany?
  5. Are you a truth teller? Does it really matter how we tell this wise story? Or what elements we include? 
  6. What would you say are the necessary truths to be told about HIStory in this story?  How do you know they are true?
  7. Who are the main characters in Matthew 2:1-12(NIV)
  8. Are there 3 kings mentioned in this passage? (Mat. 2:1,3(NIV))
  9. What or who are Magi? (Mat. 2:1,8(NIV))
  10. When did this visit occur? During who’s reign?  (Mat 2:1; Luke 2:1-2(NIV))
  11. Why was a power ruler worried? (Mat. 2:1,3-6(NIV))
  12. Why was Jesus born in Bethlehem?  (Mat. 2:6,8; John 7:40-43; Micah 5:2(NIV))
  13. How were the Magi led to Jesus? (Mat. 2:9-10(NIV))
  14. Where did the Magi find Jesus? (Mat. 2:11(NIV))
  15. What did they do when they found Jesus? (Mat. 2:11(NIV)) 
  16. Where did they go after they found Jesus? (Mat. 2:8,12, 16 (NIV))
  17. What Epiphany(ies) happened in Matthew 2:1-12 (NIV)?
  18. What did Herod do when the Magi didn’t return?  (Mat. 2:16(NIV))
  19. How old was Jesus when these events took place? (Mat. 2:1, 16; Luke 1:26,56; Luke 2:1,2 (NIV)) How do we know?
  20. What was the first gift of the Magi to Jesus?  What ought to be our gift to Jesus?

Lord, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12) 

Join us on Whatsapp and share your thoughts and answers. 

My Friend Rudy

Let’s pause for moment and pray.  Would you pray along with me the Lord’s Prayer?  I’m sure most of you know it but if not you can listen to your neighbor or read it from the wall.Rudy1

 “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.  Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, Amen”

(Matt. 6:9-13 KJV).

My friend Rudy knew this prayer well and intellectually could recite it at will.  He likely learned it a very young age as many in his generation spoke it as a daily prayer in school.  Long gone are those days.  But Rudy, especially in these last years, as he prayed, you could tell it was no longer just words memorized in his youth but that he was growing in a relationship with the Father to whom he spoke.  Rudy was on a lifelong journey to get to know his heavenly Father.

At our weekly Bible studies Rudy occasionally brought forth questions that showed that he struggled on this journey.   He wasn’t afraid to admit it nor was he unwilling to raise a question when something didn’t sit quite right with him.  And we would go down side roads through the Word looking for the answers.

But there was one question, that was really bugging him, that finally came to a head last summer.  He often heard people talking about encountering God or hearing God’s voice and as he put it, he was pretty sure he hadn’t experienced God in these ways.  This bugged him so much that one night he and Laura came over and what he said to me nearly knocked me off my chair.  “Pastor I’m not sure that I have Jesus in my heart!”

How could this be I questioned?  How is it possible that a man who has dedicated thousands of hours to Gleaners, who led our church quite often in the hymns we sang, who has prayed the Lord’s Prayer and took communion among us, how is it possible for Rudy to feel as though the Lord was not with him?

I thought to myself, “Was he just baiting me?”  Or was he facing a crisis of faith?  There was no doubt in my mind that Rudy was a man of God!  Not a perfect saint but just the real deal.  And yet here he was asking me to lead him in the sinner’s prayer.

It was like he knew his name was called up yonder and so he needed some assurance and directions before answering the call.

I of course reminded him that the Bible says, “…everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13).   And we talked about how he had done that.  How he had been baptized and had gone to church for a long time now.  Certainly in the 13 plus years that I’ve known him, Rudy walked as a believer walks, again not sinlessly perfect just real.

For a trucker he had a pretty clean vocabulary.  In fact I couldn’t remember a time when I ever heard him swear.  He was genuinely interested in helping people come to faith in Christ and enjoyed his ministry with the Gracemen singing his heart out for Jesus.  His passion for Gleaners and for his church and his love for his family, especially his bride of more than 60 years showed he was committed to Christian ideals.

I can’t remember if he brought it up or I was just reminded later of what Jesus words in Matthew chapter 7, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

It seemed as though Rudy felt like he had missed something along the way and was in danger of missing heaven’s narrow gate on the journey home.   But I did remind Rudy of what the rest of what that passage says.

Rudy2

 

Yes Rudy struggled with the same things that every Christian struggles with.  The passions of the flesh, the pride of life, doing things that caused rifts in his earthly relationships but frankly I reminded him, that those very things that we call sin are exactly why Christ died on the cross for us. 

The Bible says, “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.  … God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.  And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation.  For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son.  So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.” (Rom. 5:8).  

I reminded Rudy that the Bible says “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1John 1:9).     And I asked Rudy if he had repented of his sins and called upon the name of the Lord to be saved?  He said something to the effect of, “that’s exactly the point, he’s not sure that he has”.  And then he asked if I would help him do exactly that. 

So there in my living room, with his bride of more than 60 years by his side I led this man of God in the sinner’s prayer and I prayed and asked God to reveal to Rudy just how visibly active He has been in Rudy’s life. 

Folks sometimes we don’t recognise God’s still voice or experience the hand of providence in our lives the same way others do.   But I can say for sure that Rudy was a Christian long before he prayed that prayer in my living room.  As Jesus told us in that passage of Matthew that I read to you, you can recognize His disciples by His fruit in their lives.

Rudy3Now in our valley we harvest much fruit.  But I’ve noticed something that kind of startled me to begin with and still does bug me a bit.  When I’m out picking for my friend Graeme the fruit that goes into the bin must be without blemish and of the highest quality or he goes behind me and pulls it from the bin and chucks it on the ground.  “Those are culls”, he says. “Not fit for market.” 

But God isn’t like Graeme in that regard.  He doesn’t look for perfect specimens plucking only the finest fruit and tossing all the others aside as worthless.  ‘Cause if he did, not one of us would make that cut.  We’d all be culled. 

Like Rudy we all have fallen short of mark.  But my friend Rudy learned something that assured him he was chosen of God, holy and acceptable in God’s sight.  Rudy learned that God’s perfect Son enabled all who call upon His name to be chosen and kept by the Master as his very own.   

I suppose that’s why Rudy was as passionate about Gleaners as he was.  He recognized that together with thousands of volunteers he could be part of God’s plan to feed millions in Christ’s name.  Rudy found that God can use what man rejects for the glory of His Kingdom if only we are willing to be used. And he worked hard for Gleaners.  Much harder than a man his age ought to at times.  But he loved what he did and knew it was worthwhile.  Love and generosity, the giving of one’s time, for the glory of God and to help the needy, these are fruit of the Spirit, the real evidence of Christ within.  Even if others don’t see it.

The Bible says of Jesus, “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isiah 53:3-6).

As Rudy’s health failed I think one thing that really bugged him a lot was not being able to serve the Lord as he once had.  He couldn’t sing, he couldn’t drive… in his eyes he was becoming useless to all around him. 

Rudy wanted to give God his all but he realized that the journey this side of heaven was coming to an end.  So he wrestled and fought the good fight as best he could not losing his faith but he sure was grappling with such great loss.  Looking back I can see he was grieving that loss much like we are grieving his loss today.

At times he got pretty down but then he was so blessed by how all his family came together and showed their love to him and support for he and Laura.  I remember one day, after a surprising visit by a family member, Rudy phoned me up from his hospital bed with in tears in his voice as he realized that God had done a mighty miracle for him, a real answer to prayers.  He was so excited about it that when I saw him two days later, he again cried and we prayed to his Heavenly Father and gave thanks for such a tender and timely mercy. 

It was so hard to watch my friend fade away losing over 50 pounds and unable to hardly speak.  But he and I knew this would not be the end of the story.   Jesus had already made that very clear to him through God’s Holy Word. 

Though we don’t understand the reasons God does what He does, we must accept by faith that God has a divine purpose beyond our understanding for all things.  And most of all, we must never forget that He knows the tears we have shed… for God himself put on flesh and walked amongst us. 

Jesus knows the grief in our hearts because He experienced it in ways we fail to comprehend.  He had friends and relatives who dearly enjoyed his company.  He had to look down from the cross at His mother who with tears streaming from her eyes gazed up upon her beloved Son as he was breathing His last.  Jesus knows those strong emotions, that we call grief, that often come in waves when someone we love is taken away.

We see this so clearly in the book of John 11th chapter.

There we find that a friend of Jesus, named Lazarus, had died and had been in the tomb four days by the time Jesus arrived. When Jesus found two disciples, the sisters of Lazarus, overwhelmed with grief and his reaction was not a stoic disconnected high priest. 

He tenderly reminded one of the sisters, “Your brother will rise again.”  And Martha “answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”  Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this? 

“Yes, Lord,” she told him…” (John 11:23-25).

Martha understood that death is not the end.  And so she called her sister Mary and they walked to tomb of Lazarus with Jesus at their side.  The mourners were wailing and the sisters continued weeping, as they grieved the loss of their brother. 

As they got closer to the tomb, John 11:35 records the shortest verse in the Bible, just two words, “Jesus wept”

Did you know it’s only the shortest verse in our English translations?  In the original language there is no punctuation, the thought of that short sentence began with, “When Jesus saw Mary weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.”    John was telling us that Jesus felt their pain, he knows what it means for us to lose a loved one.  For when:  “Jesus wept.  Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” John 11:33-36 (NIV).   They saw a man hurting just as they were.    

Jesus is the God of compassion.  His tears were genuine expressions of the sorrow he felt.  He entered into their sorrow and began to carry their burden.

And Jesus is moved by your sorrow today, He loves you even as He loved them! And He wants you to know His compassion for you.  He is walking with you through this deep loss you’re facing, and if you’ll let Him he’ll carry you when grief threatens to overwhelm you. 

Grief and loss are unavoidable in this life but understand this, Jesus has overcome this life and His Word declares Rudy has too. 

rudy4

In the same book of the Bible, Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going. (John 14:2-3).

Rudy knew the way, and now so do you.  I know it is Rudy’s desire to see every one of his family and friends reuniting at our Father’s house. And the way is clear.

The Bible says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved” (Roman 10:9-10).

Rudy fought the fight of faith, battling with all the doubts and questions that each of us face, hurting deeply at times but through Jesus he won the victory!  This trucker truly found his way to his Father’s house and now what once grieved him has been swallowed up by inexpressible joy and peace. 

To Powerpoint or Not to Powerpoint

Lately a fellow minister and friend of mine here in Penticton, and I,  have been debating the merits of using visuals during the sermon time.  It is becoming more and more common in this day of multimedia to have video clips and PowerPoints as a regular part of the sermon time.

My friend was pretty sure that it is better if there is very little visuals, maybe even better if there is none rather than too much.    While I can heartily agree that too much of anything is likely not good I think that having none at all is detrimental to getting the message across to the most people.  So I wrote him the following in response to a conversation that we had this morning.  I present it here as a starter for conversation among churches who struggle with this issue.  I also present my conclusions which admittedly are bias in favor of visuals.

===============================================
I was just thinking about our ongoing conversation regarding the use of PowerPoints or visuals in sermons. And while I would agree that too much information on the screen at one time can create overload on the short term memory I think the overwhelming evidence supports that audio only is the least effective method of communication for long term retention.

There are numerous scientific studies and articles on the web that show:
“We retain approximately 10 percent of what we see; 30 to 40 percent of what we see and hear; and 90 percent of what we see, hear, and do. We all have the capability to learn via all three styles, but are usually dominate in one.”
https://www.nhi.fhwa.dot.gov/downloads/freebies/172/PR%20Pre-course%20Reading%20Assignment.pdf

However most of the percentages seem debatable and that 90% figure above seems unlikely.

“The psychologist Jerome Bruner of New York University has described studies that show that people only remember 10% of what they hear and 20% of what they read, but about 80 percent of what they see and do. Training materials used by the federal government cite studies indicating that the retention of information three days after a meeting or other event is six times greater when information is presented by visual and oral means than when the information is presented by the spoken word alone. The same materials also cite studies by educational researchers suggesting that 83% of human learning occurs visually.”
http://www.hp.com/large/ipg/assets/bus-solutions/power-of-visual-communication.pdf

No matter what numbers you want to put in there, people learn significantly better when both visual and auditory methods are combined.
Especially cross culturally. Anecdotally, I found this to be true in Africa on my last two trips. I used a banner for all meetings that visually represented the main point I was trying to get across. They remembered and still comment on that banner and the acrostic I used.

machewa

 

But when I was teaching at a rural Bible College the students who don’t have regular access to PowerPoint especially made comment on the things I had illustrated for them using that media.

(This is anecdotal evidence of course, and I admit it. But I realized once again that people, even those who are keenly interested in what you have to say, miss parts of the message by other distractions which can even include how you moved your hands. Which oddly enough I had to explain at one point had nothing to do with the sermon. Apparently I made a gesture that meant something completely different in their culture. I didn’t even think I had moved my hand to my face. But I may have been swatting a fly. 🙂

Anyway some of the “scientific” stats quoted seem to be less than scientifically traceable as this article shows:

http://www.cisco.com/web/strategy/docs/education/Multimodal-Learning-Through-Media.pdf

But regardless even this study still showed that using more than one form of getting the point across is always best.

You mentioned that one of your teachers taught that limited use of visuals (powerpoints etc) is best.  But this doesn’t seem to be backed by scientific studies, even those that I’ve already mentioned.  And those articles had plenty of sources to back them up.   This teaching seems to be a new bias that is also anecdotal in nature and growing over the internet. As the following article shows from Columbia indicates:

“Visuals
Don’t turn your lectures into PowerPoint shows. Visuals can reinforce essential points. But visuals can also be deadly. This is especially true of PowerPoint. So beware PowerPoint’s perils: 1. PowerPoint is inflexible. 2. PowerPoint is a crutch. 3. PowerPoint is boring. 4. PowerPoint distracts listeners. Why should they listen to you when they can read your slides? Follow the Zen of PowerPoint: 1. Less is more. Use PowerPoint slides only when necessary: • Turn off the projector at appropriate times. • Don’t use too many slides. • Avoid complete sentences” http://www.columbia.edu/cu/tat/pdfs/lectures.pdf

I would agree somewhat with what that author was trying to get across however their personal bias came through loud and much stronger than the scientific data seems to support.

My personal thoughts on the matter:
Like a good audio illustration a good graphic can grab attention and help focus it on the main point. For those who are primarily visual learners (83% the one study showed) the visuals you use may be the main message they receive on a Sunday. If you leave it out what ought they do? I know they should be listening to you 🙂 But they are watching your lips move, if they are close enough, your visual expressions, that scratch of the head, and wiggle of your feet.

The fly that buzzed you mid-sentence took out that sentence. The person who just got up to go to the bathroom removed a paragraph for them and when they returned it gobbled up another. Acute visual learners are always looking for stimuli and if you don’t provide it they will likely find it somewhere in the building. The point is that some content of sermon related stimuli is better than none for most people.
I have found as well that having the Scriptures I’m going through as a significant portion of the visual actually keeps even audio learners from drifting too far. Though when they do drift they usually come back and see that you are still on topic even if they are not.

Some Pastors think that they should have the people open their Bibles to the passages, as they are going along, to reinforce the message. I think that can be both good and potentially a huge distraction like having too much information on a powerpoint. People drift on the passage, maybe see a cross reference and turn there and by the time they realize they are no longer listening they’ve missed most of what you said after turn to such and such a passage.

Sword drill is important but maybe it should be practiced at the mid-week study rather than Sunday morning unless you purposely announce the verse reference 3 times and wait long enough for most people to turn there. Why 3 times, you may be wondering? Well I’ve noticed that many people by the time they reach for their Bibles have forgotten part of the reference before they can open it. The second time you have mentioned it by the time they have found the book they have forgotten some of the verse address. So by the third time most are likely with you. The keeners may keep up, the rest will need to catch up.
Anyway I’m sure you know all this and have experienced it. I just want to encourage you to keep those fine PowerPoints going and hone that skill or have someone who is a visual artist come along side of you to illustrate your points. In the long run it can be beneficial for the majority of the people in your congregation. And when you begin to broadcast live and have videos on demand it will make it worthwhile to have more than just an audio podcast. Realize that the people who are choosing to watch your sermons are typically visual learners. Otherwise they can just download your audio podcast and listen to them.

Not sure if that clarifies what we were talking about and looking forward to the next discussion on this.

Blessings!
Blake

PS.   Here’s an example of a Powerpoint from last week’s sermon so you can see how much I think the average person in my congregation can absorb before getting lost. http://1drv.ms/1Ep5NEb

Here’s one where I purposely used too much information to overwhelm the visual learner thinking it might help them listen to what I was saying.  It apparently worked somewhat from the comments I received.  So sometimes even too much can work.  But I wouldn’t recommend it all the same.  In this course I was teaching on the vast possibilities of using the internet for evangelism and outreach to form Biblical Community.  http://1drv.ms/1BgJIbi   I was told that some of the audio learners would get lost but I did it anyway and likely lost some of their attention.  Live and learn…

Small Churches G.t.G.t.God too! Acts 18:7-17

Ah it’s that time of year again.  Time for us to reflect on what God has done through the ministries of Grace.  A time of thanksgiving and a time for prayerful planning for the coming year.  What is it that God would have us do in 2015?

Slide1

One of the blessings of being a small church is that everyone has a role to play.  Unlike the mega church where only a small percentage are actually involved in ministry within the church, a small church welcomes you to join in and be a part of what Christ is doing and pretty well doesn’t take no for an answer.  Experience is optional…on the job training is unavoidable. 

Trusting in the Lord…absolute necessity!   But everyone is needed to fulfill what it is that God has wired them to do if the small church is going to remain a viable contributor to the greater community.

I confess, sometimes I’ve looked at our small church with eyes that see only that we cannot do what larger churches can…mostly because we don’t have the resources.  Pragmatically this is true but who said we are required to do what they do? 

The problem with this sort of thinking is that it is absolutely unbiblical and that’s only the start.  We can do as much as God would have us do so long as our focus remains on Him.  So it is unbiblical to say that because we are small in number we cannot do as God would have us do. 

Unless of course you want to talk about the twelve spies who Moses sent to check out the Promised Land.  The key word there is Promised Land.  Seems they also suffered from being overwhelmed by the task at times.  They saw the immense size of the people and ten of the spies concluded the job was too big for them!

Numbers chapter 13 records the details of their exploratory trip ending with these historic words.

Slide2

 “We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). {And everyone knows how big those guys are!  They stood over 7 feet tall some say as large as 9 feet.  So to say their problem was Giant! Is only stating the truth.  And those spies came and reported what they felt, }  We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them” (Numbers 13:33).  

Scared by the size of the task and the opposition they may face they came back and told everyone who would listen that Israel was too small to do what God was calling them to do. 

And I confess that I too have looked at our vision and purpose through those same sort of eyes at times and felt overwhelmed. 

Determined to fix this problem I looked at the things that big churches can do and thought we should do the same things.  Kids clubs, Alpha, multiple small groups, outreach campaigns, soup kitchens, conferences, movie nights, anything the big guys did I thought we should try to do…clearly on a smaller scale. 

I was even encouraged by speakers at our MB Conferences that if we just did those things that the big churches do soon we would grow to be just like they are.  I call that a sort of ‘fake it to you make it’ approach to growth!  I’m absolutely sure they thought they were helping.  So don’t think I’m accusing them of anything but maybe coming across with the attitude that small church is somehow wrong or broken. 

Jesus Christ said, I will build my church and the gates of hell will not overcome her” (Mt. 16:18). 

Slide3

 

There is something incredibly important about that statement.  First, it’s His church.  Just like it was God’s Promised Land that those spies checked out.  God gave it to them.   Second, “Jesus promised to build it!”  And it sure seems that He has built an awful lot of small churches to me.  All over the world!

Grace is His church!  Jesus will build His church in the heart of Penticton with or without us.

In fact the Bible clearly says, “unless the Lord builds the house the labourers build in vain” (Psalm 127:1).

Slide4

The truth is sometimes “numerical growth strategies” are done for vanity reasons.  And as we’ve seen in this city from several “quick growing churches” …what rose fast comes down even faster at times bringing much hurt and mistrust rather than glory to God.  

In my time alone in Penticton I’ve seen well more than 700 potential saints scattered when fast growing churches imploded.  Many of those people have never darken the doors of a church since. And if we thought it was hard before to help people to come to know and follow Jesus, you just try with some of those remnants of Abundant Life… It’s heart breaking to say in the least. 

But as I’ve mentioned several times before,  having large numbers in church on Sunday is not an indication of growth potential nor even a healthy church.   And it is simply not the norm for Christ’s church.   Over 85% of Christ’s church is distributed as small churches throughout the world.   Churches from 3-350 people!  If you can believe the stats out there, over one Billion people chose to worship in small churches!  The majority of those churches are under 100 people strong, some say as high as 80% of them.  And it’s been that way from the very beginning of Christendom.

Apparently what I was trying so hard at times to fix is something that wasn’t and isn’t broken.  Small Church is here to stay now and until the end of the age!  PTL!

{By the way the only thing I have against the big church is when they insist that small church is something to be fixed.   Otherwise it’s great being a part of a healthy big Church!   I’ve been there too!   The large scale professional style worship was awe inspiring! The many small groups that formed it were mostly wonderful.  Made you almost feel like you were a part of a small church… }

Slide5

Perhaps it is time to realize and accept that Grace is as Christ planned and built it to be.  A small church in the heart of Penticton reaching out to our community and throughout the whole world in Jesus name and to give the glory to God.  We are growing in love with Jesus and for one another… Fulfilling the vision of being

“… a place where, the abandoned, the neglected, and the marginalized find “He who sticks closer than a brother” and know the love of God is truly welcoming them into God’s Kingdom”

Continuing  to do what our purpose states:

“We exist to help people know and follow Jesus Christ.”

Now that’s real church growth!

And look at what God was able to accomplish through this small healthy church in the heart of Penticton during 2014! 

 

{The video shows that working together, using the resources we have, has built unity and strong community at Grace.  And we’ve seen God use this to plant several churches, with thousands claiming to know and follow Christ  through Grace sponsored missions in Kenya.  As well as  hundreds who have downloaded the 4 spiritual laws and Getting to Know Jesus from our website.   And still thousands more who have used other resources from our Websites during 2014, presumably to grow and know and follow Jesus.

In Penticton  we’ve been able to feed the poor, counsel and mourn with those in need,  mentor youth, and even bless students heading for college.  Some of our seniors even help produce food (millions of meals), and quilts that bring the warmth of Christ.   While others of Grace are living out their faith volunteering throughout the community.

Through our live services, Sunday mornings,  our shut ins and those who can’t make it to church, join us and  “feel like they are a part” (online viewer).  Hundreds of others view part or all of our youtube and other online podcasts each week.

All this to the glory of God and His Kingdom and none for our own numerical growth or personal glory.   We simply put it out there to Give the Glory to God and hope to help people to know and follow Jesus. }

Slide7

All the Glory goes to Him because frankly we are like grasshoppers when it comes to what only He can do!  We are but a small part of His incredibly large whole, called “The Church”!  And that is true regardless of whether you are a part of a mega church or where two or three are gathered in His name!  

So what is the main thing that Christ would want to instill for us as we look at the year ahead?  I may be wrong…you know I have been on more than one occasion but I think the main thing is still the main thing.  GtGtGod  Give the Glory to God in all that we do and keep trusting Him to direct our paths.   

This is what Christ told the church at Ephesus as preserved in the book of Revelations: “Do not forsake your first love” (cf. 2:4).  His name is Jesus.  “And keep doing what you did when you first loved Jesus (cf. 2:4).  If you do, you will keep growing even if there are less butts in chairs on Sunday mornings. 

Jesus said, “…when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself” (Jn. 12:32).   For thus saith the Lord!  “I will build my church” (Mt. 16:18).  

And He invites those who call themselves a part of Grace in the heart of Penticton, to be co-labourers with Him as the chief builder.  Just as He has done throughout the world and down through the ages as we’ll see in our Bible lesson this morning. 

God who is the head of this church is able to do exceedingly abundantly above what we are able to conceive and wants to do exactly that with us if only we would join with Him in what lays ahead.  Jesus bids us come, but grants us leave should we not choose to follow Him at this time or in this way.

 It has always been that way.  Last week we saw from our study in Acts that God took Paul down some lonely and even depressing roads at times.  When Paul saw the door close on sharing Christ in Athens, is was a difficult time for him.  So as he left that city, and went to Corinth where Paul resorted to the trade he had learned in order to make ends meet. 

He didn’t come on strong there like he had in Thessalonica and other places as we’ve seen in Acts.  According to the commentators Paul was weary of the road he was on.  The physical beatings from Philippi may have had a part in this but the outright rejection he faced in Athens seemed to have slowed down this super Apostle a bit.

He was slowed down…but not out!  Paul worked with his hands night and day shifts and still he spoke in the synagogue whenever he could. He reasoned with fellow Jews trying to persuade them that Jesus was the Christ that they were looking for as found in the Scriptures.  But even in that synagogue Paul ran into opposition that eventually caused him to take his leave.   So let’s pick up the narrative where we left off in verse Acts 18:7-17 (New International Version).

 “Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God.  Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized.  One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.  For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” 

So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.  While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him into court.  “This man,” they charged, “is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.”  Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to the Jews, “If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you.  But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law–settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things.”  So he had them ejected from the court.  Then they all turned on Sosthenes the synagogue ruler and beat him in front of the court. But Gallio showed no concern whatever.” Acts 18:7-17 (NIV).

Slide9

The Jews in that synagogue wanted to squash that little sect of a faith called “the Way” …Christianity as we know it today.  And they became like a big foot hovering over Paul with abusive behavior. 

But our God is so faithful, AMEN?  No sooner does Paul leave the synagogue full of unbelievers and he’s right back teaching people to know and follow Jesus big time.   What encouragement that must have been for this weary disciple of Christ.  And get this it was right next door!  Right next door to the synagogue!

Sometimes we can be very close to where God is at work and not even know it.  We can be doing the right things and saying the right words, which I can assure you Paul was doing in the synagogue, but even with much effort there was no growth.  The people were not ready to hear and respond to Christ through the gospel.  In fact they were getting belligerent about it. 

Slide10

So Paul said, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles” (Acts 18:6 (NIV).   It sounds like he was furious with them but really it was just a statement of fact as I explained last lesson.

So out one door and into the next for Paul.  And literally it was next door to the synagogue. 

Slide11

This was the home of Titius a worshipper of God.  (Remember that title just means that he had not been circumcised.  Other than that he was following the ways of the Jews.  We know this because “Crispus, the synagogue ruler” could be found at his house.  And a synagogue ruler would likely not have been in the house of a gentile fellowshipping unless that man was a God fearer.  So Titius was a God fearer much like Lydia.   And this God fearer decided that Paul’s message deserved a place to be told. So the first church of Corinth was birthed in his living room right next door to the synagogue.  It was a small church but not without some influence because of those good people who entered therein. 

People like “Crispus, the synagogue ruler and his entire household” who when they heard Christ’s message from Paul “believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized” (7).   

Christ had once again built His church.  That little house church began to grow. People got saved, were baptized and grew to know and follow Jesus. 

You would think that would embolden or at least encourage the weary apostle wouldn’t you?   Yet those beatings and the rejection that came with them had left a mark.  I think that’s why Paul later teaches about the fiery darts of the enemy and the necessity of a shield of faith firmly in place (cf. Eph. 6:16). In our own strength we can only put up with so much before we shrink back. 

Slide12

Jesus knew this was happening in Paul so: “One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.  For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.”(9-10).   It was very good news indeed!  So encouraging for Paul.  And not just the part of “no one is going to attack and harm you”.  Though I am sure that must have been a relief.    But the real encouragement for Paul must have been the fact that his Master cared enough to notice and chose to show Paul in a very tangible way just how much he cared. 

And then there were those words that every evangelist loves to hear.  “I have many people in this city” (10). 

Slide13

Who has?   Who is it talking in verse 10?   Is it not the same person who said “I will build my church”?   Yes it was Jesus.  And Jesus had a job for Paul to do.  He was to “keep on speaking, do not be silent” that’s what Christ said. 

When we get weary, and trust me every Christian faces those times to some degree.  When we get weary our natural tendency is to take the path of least resistance.  Say nothing…do nothing.  

I’m sure you have been there too!  You’ve shared the gospel… been rejected… and after a while you just stop sharing the good news.  But Jesus wants us to lean on Him in those times and not withdraw or keep silent. 

Just as He told Paul, “I am with you”(10)  Jesus has told all of us the He is with us “even until the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20).    And as far as I can tell we haven’t reached the end yet.  So we too can rest upon His promise. 

Slide14

Does that mean that it will be smooth sailing until the sunsets? 

No just one look at what happens as Paul settles into teaching the Corinthians to follow everything that Christ commands ought to dispel that myth.

Slide15

Luke tells us that Paul stayed an unusually long time for his normal pattern of missionary work.   He stayed for one and half years, teaching and preaching the good news from God’s Holy Word.  And then his boat hit some real stormy waters once again. 

The storm arose right next door!  I suspect they were getting pretty agitated as they saw more and more people coming and going through Titius’s doors.  And so the Jews unitedly attacked Paul and dragged him out to the bema seat.   That would be the designated chair that the proconsul sat upon in order to hear and decide matters of justice. 

Luke also gives us another one of those history hooks here so we know that this actually could be traced back in time.  He says, While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him into court” (Acts 18:12 (NIV).   The history books tell us that Gallio became proconsul on July 1, 51ad.  And he didn’t have that position long so we know it was between 51-52ad that these events took place.

So the Jews thinking that the Proconsul would side with a vocal group like theirs brought Paul before the court.

 “This man,” they charged, “is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.” Acts 18:13

 But before Paul could open his mouth in defense the case was summarily dismissed.  

Slide16

Gallio decided that it was a matter of two different factions within the Jewish faith and therefore not a matter he needed to rule on.  And that actually set precedence. 

 Whereas in Athens the court said they would not accept what Paul had to say as something that was relevant to a known religion Gallio now basically legitimized Paul’s message and his followers under Roman law. 

This was a huge victory for the Christian sect of Judaism and an unbearable defeat for the Jews of the Corinthian Synagogue.   And as promised by Jesus, Paul was not harmed in the process.  Though someone else sure was!

See it down at the bottom of the screen?  Verse 17

Slide16

Sometimes God uses a two by four to bring people to Himself.  Just look at Sosthenes the synagogue ruler.  He started a riot that dragged Paul to court expecting him to be ousted from Corinth, but after receiving a good beating, he too surrendered his life to Jesus.  How cool is that?  Not the beating!  The fact that Christ reconciled Sosthenes to Himself.  Sosthenes went from an enemy to friend and co-labourer with Paul.

Slide17

The book of Corinthians finds him with Paul in Ephesus as he was writing that letter.  There we read, “Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,” 1 Corinthians 1:1 (NIV) He went from hatred of Paul to brother and probably Paul’s amanuensis.  Talk about true repentance, eh?

And the small church they started continued to grow, and that church went out from there and planted other small churches both in Corinth and beyond as they out grew their space.  And those too grew in the love of God…for a while that is.  The letters we call the book of Corinthians detail some of the ways they went sideways for a bit and clearly needed more correction from the Apostles teaching.   People everywhere need help to know and follow Jesus, it doesn’t come naturally.  

Growth is not simply about the number of butts in seats at church. In fact I would say that Christ is more interested in our personal inner growth than butts in seats.  Our character, our love for one another, our perseverance under trial, generosity and the fruit of the Spirit these are real measurements of church growth.  

So this year we will continue to pray for the Lord of the Harvest to send forth labourers to build His church.  And in childlike expectancy we can wait to see how this will effect Grace in the Heart of Penticton. 

As we wait God says, “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.  For I am with you…” (9-10) “Even ‘til the end of the age!” (Mt. 28:20).

 

Blessings!

Pastor Blake

One Messy Christmas – 2014

Season’s Greetings and welcome to Grace in the Heart of Penticton.  You going to let me get away with that? Let me try that again…Merry Christmas!  We at Grace are all about Jesus Christ…no matter what time of year it may be.  But especially at Christmas.  So if you haven’t done so yet and even if you have, turn to your neighbor on each side and wish them a Merry Christmas.

As I was planning this evening’s service I was feeling a bit nostalgic.  You ever get that way?  Remembering Christmas past?  Maybe the ghost of Christmas past came visiting you in the middle of the night?  I hope not for the same reasons that it visited old Scrooge.  But regardless if you are human the likelihood is that you will take that trip down memory lane and stop at a few places long enough to tug on your heart strings or have a good laugh and maybe even smile a bit.

In tonight’s service along with the live performances of Christmas Present that we are blessed to have I’ve done some of my multimedia memory searches and found a few clips of Christmas Eve and Grace Past.  In some of the clips you’ll be invited to sing along with those who lead a Christmas Eve portion in the past tens years or so.  If the word’s appear on the screen sing heartily…if they don’t then take the trip down memory lane with me and see if you can guess why I might of included that particular clip.

By the way…I had more than 15 hours divided into 2-3 minute segments to go through.  Needless to say there were far more clips than time would allow for this evening.

Our first clip takes us back to 2007 where Don and Walter opened the service with a duet of O Come O Come Emmanuel.

One year I was permitted to sing along with these two amazing singers. A Goerzen on the left another on my right… I had stereo Goerzens to sing with.  What an amazing treat that was for me.

Walter & Don Goerzen – O Come O Come Emanual

Scripture – Mt. 1:18-25 (Mike Alcock)

I’ll never forget this next performance, Beth Young & my daughter Lorna wanted to be a part of the Christmas Eve service and sung their hearts out for Jesus!  And they did so A-Capella.   I think there were two fathers beaming in the audience that night.   It is an amazing thing to watch your children step out in faith and grow in Jesus isn’t it Scott?  What a blessing! 

Beth Young & Lorna Mugwe – Christmas Eve. 2007

 

Scripture – Luke 1:57-80 (Harold Goerzen)

I ccouldn’t help but put this next clip in.  It is so cute.  It’s what we love about children at Christmas, their child like faith.  Anna Young was very young but still very willing and excited to play a part in the Discoveryland Christmas Pageant in 2006.  Here she is singing her own rendition of Away in a Manger.  If you look hard you’ll see some other familiar faces around her.  Children of Grace who are out impacting their world for Christ but also who grew in their faith and knowledge of him through the opportunities they were given right here. 

Anna Young – Away in a Manger  Christmas Eve. 2006

Christmas Eve. In 2003 was a musical extravaganza at Grace.  The Dycks played piano and violin and the Gracemen accompanied by Irene Goerzen took center stage.  They lead us in both traditional hymns and sang for us special arrangements like the next clip I have for you.   This clip is actually two in one and I invite you to sing along with Go Tell it on the Mountain during the second clip.   

Scripture Reader: Luke 2: 8-39 Pastor Peter Harris

Though Simeon was  an old man by their standards and had seen a lot of messy things in his lifetime he still held out to the hope he had in meeting Christ.  And God kept him in his waiting!  His eyes saw the essence of his faith and his longing was fulfilled.  God is good!

For some here this year brings the added pull of losing someone very dear to them.  The first Christmas after is generally the hardest in that regard but each year thereafter the heart strings tug pretty dearly.  In fact for some people the grief overwhelms them to the point that they are unable to celebrate Christmas because it’s so messy for them.

If you are having one of those blue messy Christmases this year you are in good company.   And if celebrating is not possible at this time it’s ok to let the emotions flow here.   We understand grief and loss and share a common hope for the future.

This next clip is from last year when Beth and Emily chose a song for Christmas Eve… it was somewhat prophetic in nature.  It was a beautiful song that speaks to the reality that Christmas isn’t just the season of joy and gladness that we often make it out to be.  It’s complicated and really messy at times. But even in the mess of Christmas, Christ is here.

This next clip is part one of my message for Christmas Eve 2014 entitled  ‘One Messy Christmas’.

After part one I used a video clip in the service from the skitguys with permission.  The link is below to it.

He Came To Get Messy – Skitguys

I  would recommend viewing the above clip before continuing on to Part two of my Christmas Eve Message.

I have just one more stroll down memory lane to leave you with this Christmas even and then we will end as we traditionally do. This year we’ll ask Chad to come lead us in Silent Night and that will be followed by Gail praying for us and of course those wonderful goodie bags that Joanne loves to give out to the kids and those who still have a little child left in them.

Back in 2004 Susan Martens told us the story of how Silent Night came to be.  

 

Psalm 149 A New Song of Salvation

The hills are alive with the sound of music! This is from the highest point on Salt Spring Island.  The views were fantastic and awe inspiring.  You couldn’t help but praise the Lord there.  Isaiah the prophet wrote, “Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise from the ends of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it, you islands, and all who live in them” Isaiah 42:10.

I had no problems following that command on the day I took this picture and a few hundred more like them.  With the amazing beauty around the islands it wasn’t hard at all to commune with God!  I can see why so many hippies live on it.  You can’t help but be inspired there.

Our Psalm for this morning is Psalm 149.  Now to be perfectly honest I like the first 51/2 verses of this Psalm and have no problems with what they tell us as believers.  There are many good points as we’ll see going through them.  But what follows those verses until the latter half of verse 9 is very difficult for me to understand.  It just doesn’t seem to fit the tone that the Psalmist sets off with.  And it seems I’m not alone in that struggle.  In fact it seems that every Christian commentary I read either ignored what follows verse 5 altogether or focused in on some technical detail concerning the instrumentation or implements contained within them.

But let’s give it a go shall we?  Let’s begin with the first 5 verses.

 “Praise the LORD. Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of the saints.  Let Israel rejoice in their Maker; let the people of Zion be glad in their King.  Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with tambourine and harp.  For the LORD takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with salvation.  Let the saints rejoice in this honor and sing for joy on their beds.”  Psalm 149:1-5 (NIV)

Like I said these words are not a hard swallow for the average believer.  Although there are a few things that need clarification for you and me as Christians even in those five verses.

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The psalmist begins the same as he has for the last few Psalms preceding this one.

Praise the Lord” – ‘Hallelujah’!

The best views from the mountain top were actually beyond the fenced in area.  Though the path was narrow and steep and the drop off deadly.  The view was panoramic and unobscured so it was compelling.  There was no turning back for me I had to see what lay ahead on the trail.

For the Psalmist this was another call to praise as the procession was going up to Mt. Zion.  The pilgrims are pictured as enjoying the fellowship each step of the journey…though to be sure some of those steps were not easy nor enjoyable.  There was much danger on their path.  The faint hearted might have been tempted to turn around if it wasn’t  for the encouragement they received along the way.  Yet clearly by the time they began this Psalm the end was in sight.  Victory was most assured.  Soon they will be at Mt. Zion in the presence of the Lord.

So now the Psalmist calls for a new song.  “Sing to the LORD a new song”.  Why new?  Why not those wonderful old hymns of yesteryear?   Why not a psalm from the first half of the psalter?  Or a praise ditty that has withstood the riggers of time?  Why a new song I found myself asking of this Psalmist.

This wasn’t  the first time the Psalmist has called for a new song.  A quick flip through the Psalms and we find,

 “Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy”  (Psalm 33:3).  It was a response to the deliverance that had come from the Lord.  A song worthy to be sung because of the latest victory according to the latter half of Psalm 33.

In Psalm 40 we read, “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD” (Psalm 40:3).  Again the song was new because of what God had done anew.  It was a testimony of the new level of relationship that David felt.

In Psalm 96 we read: “Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth” (Psalm 96:1).   And you only have to go to verse two to see why the Psalmist is calling out for people to sing.  “Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day” (Psalm 96:2).  Are you beginning to see a pattern here?  Seems to me that every time there is a call for a new song it is because of a recognition of God’s salvation and deliverance afresh.

Again in Psalm 98:1 we read: “Sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him” (Psalm 98:1).   When has He done those marvelous things?   Surely one could say that with the Lord there wasn’t  ever a time when what He did wasn’t marvelous.  Yet here again the Psalmist is calling for the congregation to join him in a new song. Why?

Because, “The LORD has made known His salvation; He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations”

Psalm 98:2 (NASB).   Once again the Lord has reached out and delivers the Psalmist and the people of God and so once again it is time for a new song.

In Psalm 144 we read,  “I will sing a new song to you, O God; on the ten-stringed lyre I will make music to you…” Psalm 144:9 (NIV)  In verse 7 of that psalm David cries out to the Lord for deliverance from his enemies.  In fact the whole of Psalm 144 could be considered a prayer of salvation.  But not in our usual sense of the word.  We think that a prayer of salvation is simply asking Jesus into one’s heart.  Sort of a one-time life insurance policy.  But clearly from David’s and the other Psalm writers, salvation was required in an on-going way.  And by verse 9 of Psalm 144 David said that when God answers this current prayer for deliverance his response will be to “sing a new song to you, O God” (9) complete with instrumental accompaniment.

It seems the new song is in keeping with salvation.  But salvation is not something that happened to you it is something that is happening to you.  You are being delivered and restored daily as you walk with the Lord.

Isn’t  that awesome?  Every day the Christian receives opportunities for more salvation to happen in their life.  Every day in a real sense we should be praising the Lord for the salvation of that day.  Then and only then does it become a new song.

What is your new song today?  How has God recently saved you?

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“The steadfast law of the Lord never ceases his mercies never come to an end…they are new every morning…great is thy faithfulness oh Lord.”   How is His faithfulness new for you today?

Maybe it is some old bad habit that threatened to flare up again today but the Spirit of God saved you!  You had strength to say no!  David says we ought to sing that new song “in the assembly of the saints!”  To remind one another of God’s redeeming love when we come together.

In verse 2 we read, “Let Israel rejoice in their Maker; let the people of Zion be glad in their King.”   Some say that only Christians are truly Israel these days. Though I’m sure the Jewish people world-wide might have a different take on that.

Yet the Psalmist seems to include more than the Jewish people as he calls for this new song.  “Let the people of Zion be glad in their King”.

 Who are the people of Zion?  And who is this King that they are to be glad of?

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The people of Zion are those who live in or have come to know Jerusalem as their special city.  But Zion had less than noble beginnings.

Biblically,  Mt. Zion was a Jebusite   fortress that was considered unconquerable.  We read in 2 Samuel that David, “The king and his men marched to Jerusalem to attack the Jebusites,  who lived there. The Jebusites said to David, “You will not get in here; even the blind and the lame can ward you off.”  They thought, “David cannot get in here.”  Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion, the City of David” (2 Samuel 5:6-7 (NIV).

Their arrogance was their undoing.  Somehow David knew that there was only one way to conquer that city.  It was one of those God moments I’m sure.  He realized that blind and lame could go in through the water shafts and so he did just that.  The rest is history.

But David did not proudly pronounce himself the unstoppable conqueror nor even give himself the well-deserved pat on the back.

“…David knew that the LORD had established him as king over Israel and had exalted his kingdom for the sake of his people Israel” 2 Samuel 5:12.  So that fortress known as Mt. Zion became the city of David and of course is now synonymous with Jerusalem.  God had delivered it into David’s hands.  It was a day of salvation!  And you can be sure that David sang a new song that day!

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Zion theology throughout the bible speaks of the special Kingdom where the everlasting King will reign.  David was the first but God promised that he would not be the last.   We read in Rev.21:2, “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” Revelation 21:2 (NIV).    All those who are Zionists can look forward to spending an eternity worshiping the King whose throne will be centered in Jerusalem.

So this Psalm calls upon all who would worship the everlasting King to bring a new song.  And to do so with whatever instruments they may have. Including their bodies!  Dancing and singing, banging loudly on tambourines!  What a sight!  What a sound!

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I don’t know about you but I get tired of the debate in Christian circles about noisy instruments in worship.  What do you think, it was a quiet event that day?   …let me just say this,  the amount of trumpets and or air moving instruments blowing combined with drums, tambourines and other stringed instruments mentioned throughout the Psalms must have been plenty loud enough all on their own.  But wait….you add perhaps a million people singing a new song and that would have been loud!  Very loud! In the best sort of way!   What a party!

And the reason for this new song celebration?

Verse 4 says, “For the LORD takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with?”….yup you guessed it…“salvation”.   They were called to celebrate God’s fresh deliverance.

God is always doing that it seems.  But sometimes we don’t notice or perhaps simply take it for granted.

For example those who were born into Christian households have much to be thankful for but often when they give testimony they have little to say.  Whereas those who were delivered from a life on streets may be able to point to a short history with God’s salvation but not see how He was directing their path even on the street.

So it is good that we keep even shorter records.  What has God saved you from or out of today?  Sing to Him a new song of praise in the assembly of the saints.

The Psalmist writes, “Let the saints rejoice in this honor and sing for joy on their beds” Psalm 149:5 (NIV).   When you wake up and when you retire for the night are wonderful times to praise the Lord.  If you can’t think of what to praise Him for …how about this…  You woke up this morning!  Or God helped you make it through another day!  Don’t take that for granted.

We in Canada have much to be thankful for.  We have a justice system that for the main part works and is impartial.  It’s not perfect but God can use it to bring justice and restore righteousness.  PTL?

I think in a small part that is what verses 6-9a are getting at.  There we read:  “May the praise of God be in their mouths and a double-edged sword in their hands, to inflict vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples, to bind their kings with fetters, their nobles with shackles of iron, to carry out the sentence written against them” Psalm 149:6-9 (NIV).

In the book of Nehemiah we read how Israel rebuilt the walls with a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other.  The people were constantly concerned that their enemies would come and kill them while they rebuilt Jerusalem.  The priests stood watch in key places and when they saw something suspicious they would blow a horn and the people stopped their building and gathered together to defend themselves.

We don’t live with that kind of pressure here in Canada.  There are plenty of places where our Christian brothers and sisters are being attacked, burned out and even murdered while the local government officials, whose job it is to protect and serve, turn a blind eye.  But this is not the case in Canada or even the USA and many parts of Europe.  For hundreds of years the rule of justice founded on Biblical principles has been upheld.

Again I would have to say not perfectly but at least it has provided a measure of security for the peoples.

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When good people do nothing evil reigns it just does.   Though we are a church that seeks non-violent solutions to the evil around us our present world is not following those rules and principles yet.  The Psalmist was perhaps looking to the day I spoke of early, found in Revelations when the New Jerusalem will be perfectly just.   But that day has not come yet.  And in the meantime Paul wrote in Romans, “… if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:4).

God has given the power of the sword to the state to bring justice, and when they actually do they are acting as His vessels of vengeance and wrath.

The Psalmist said that it is the job of God’s people …no not simply the job… “This is the glory of all the saints” (9b).   They are given this glorious responsibility.  Who but those who have relationship with their maker are qualified to balance justice with mercy?  To bring even heads of state and those in positions of power and authority back in line with God’s precepts?  Yet we sometimes think that this should be the job of the non-believer.

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What restraint can they possible have?  A code of ethics?  Laws of the land that change at a politician’s whim?

Saints need to be in the positions of power and authority to help bring true justice.  So I applaud my brothers and sisters who are in the RCMP or have placed themselves in harm’s way by being in the military especially when they are following God’s decrees while “working for the man”.

It’s not easy so I’ve been told  and to a small degree experienced.  But it is necessary until the second coming of Christ.  Without the faithful our societies would collapse in chaos!  PTL?

Yes there is a new song for you to sing today.  The song of the redeemed who have been protected and saved by God’s agents of vengeance.

You see salvation is an ongoing process.  And it is a multifaceted daily event in the believer’s life.  Some of the things we take for granted…the police who guard our properties and uphold justice.  The Firefighters who sit and wait hours on end but respond when pandemonium breaks loose. The medical system that is used by God to restore health when disease threatens to rob our peace.

So again I ask you and will leave this question for you to wrestle with all week long.  What has God saved you from today?  Sing a new song of praise to him on your bed tonight as you begin to know His salvation.

 

Questioning Christianity – Finding Peace

Claire Schmid: was not afraid to question matters of faith as she lived out her life.  She embraced beauty and lived a full life.

 

Dianne – Saturation of Assurance

As I thought and prayed about what to say on this day many emotions overwhelmed me.  I was of course very sad…even mad for while…that Dianne was so quickly taken from  Tony and  his family.  Dianne was a fine Christian lady.  Not a perfect one but an authentic Christian woman.  One who leaves a huge hole in many hearts.

Why did it have to happen the way that it did I questioned out load to the Lord?  I suspect many of you here today joined in that question too.

I’m afraid I didn’t come up with a single good reason to give you.  I have no amazing insight for the “why question” to offer you this morning.  I firmly believe that in time you will understand but for now I can say with certainty this question poses no relief, gives no comfort, and has no hope.  From what I knew of Dianne, I know she was not worried about that question as she took her final breath.  In fact she was so saturated with assurance that she was ready to go home the moment the call came from the Lord.

So where did she get such assurance from?

Perhaps it was from reading and knowing and trusting in God’s Holy Word?  I suspect that was a major factor for sure but her assurance was deeper than simply knowing words from a book.

Several verses flooded my thoughts as I drove home from Camrose on the Monday before this family gathering.  Words that usually bring me some assurance yet in that sad and madden state of mind I found little comfort in them throughout the day.  Through the night as I wrestled with god over their meaning I began to feel that peace that rises above the uncertainties of life.

Allow me a few minutes to share with you the verses that I grappled with and the understanding I received.  Perhaps they can begin to fill the assurance voids that your heart needs in this time of turmoil and grief.

The first verse that came to mind was this one from Psalm 121:1-2 (NLT).

“I look up to the mountains—does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!”

It was a beautiful day with blue sky and white glistening snow as we drove home on Monday.  When we got to Field, BC, I gazed into the town where I saw this small church sticking out like a beacon.  So I immediately turned into town and went to find it and it was then that this scripture went through my mind and I saw the picture therein before I actually took it. “I look up to the mountains—does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!” Psalm 121:1-2 (NLT).

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Where does my help come from?

This was a Psalm of David that he wrote a little later in life.  He knew very well that help doesn’t come from stones or even beautiful scenery.   He learned that lesson as he wallowed at times in grief and despair.  He was a man that journeyed in the dark valley that you may find yourself in today but clearly David didn’t stay there for the rest of his days on earth.  Yet it was in those valleys that he became saturated in assurance.

One of those darker moments came when his infant son was as the Bible tells it, “sick unto death”.  David, the most powerful man in the kingdom, saw his son dying and dawned sack cloth and ashes and began fasting and praying that his son would live.  His heart was painfully burdened.  But when the news came that his son died something happened that caught David’s household by surprise.  David immediately got up and washed and went to eat.

“His servants asked him, “Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!”  He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.’  But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” 2 Samuel 12:21-23 (NIV)

David’s time in prayer and fasting had brought him to the point of saturation of assurance.  He knew that God could have healed his son and yet when that was not the outcome David reached the point of accepting God’s sovereignty,  not understanding it mind you…but accepting it.  He grieved and yet he was assured.  He knew that he could not bring his son back from the dead but was assured that this parting was temporary.  David said, “I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”(23).  Though the pain of separation was tremendous David’s assurance from God, that this was not the end, enabled him to carry on with his life and the purposes for it that laid ahead.

As I thought about that I struggled deep within with the “ya bits”.  You ever have those?  “ya buts?” Those nagging comparison questions that want to argue the obvious.   Mine, for this passage, was: “Ya but, David’s son was so young.  He hadn’t spent a lifetime with him as Tony, and the rest of you have with Dianne.  Surely it is not the same!  Your grief comes from more than 42 years of loving relationship with her, his from days.  Clearly your grief is so much more profound.  Can you possibly be over it in a day?   A week?  A month?  How long will it take?

I have an answer for that…it won’t satisfy your longing to feel normal again…the answer is:  As long as it takes.  And just when you think it is over…another wave of grief will come again and remind you, each one a little less intense than the previous.  You will never be completely over the loss of someone you love.  But you will in time accept it and live again.

Love so deep leaves holes so big,  I wouldn’t presume to tell you how long it should take to feel like getting on with life as “normal”.  Whatever that is. But know this  for David it seems shorter than it likely was.

I was also reminded of Mary and Martha’s journey.  They were friends of Jesus whose brother had gotten sick.  Theirs, like yours was a lifelong relationship shortened by sudden illness.

They sent word for Jesus to come at once to heal their dear brother for he too was “sick unto death”.  If Jesus didn’t come at once it would be too late.  The time was short indeed.  And before Jesus arrived, Lazarus died; his body was already in the tomb for four days.  The mourners had  gathered to weep and wail.  His sisters dawned the clothes of grief.  It was an emotionally distraught time.  And when Jesus got there, the Bible tells us that, he too wept.  His heart was overwhelmed for his friends, he knew their pain and the hopelessness that grief can bring.  But God had other plans in store for them for that day.

As Jesus was talking to Martha, “Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”  Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”  Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies;  and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:23-26 (NIV)

Martha thought Jesus meant about the same as David meant when he said I will go to him he will not return to me”.  It had been four days in the tomb already!  One day…sometime in the future…there will be a resurrection.   Perhaps on that day Martha would be with Lazarus again.  Just like on that day David will be with his son again.

Dianne knew this passage well.  She knew what would come next for Martha and Mary.  Knew that Jesus would awaken the dead man and call him out of the grave.

We as Christians know that God can and sometimes still does raise people from the dead reuniting them, at least temporarily with their loved ones.  But you and I know that will not be the case with Dianne.  She is not coming back temporarily from the grave.  I do not want to provide you with false hope for today.  And even Jesus really didn’t mean for the temporary resurrection of Lazarus to be the promise that people cling to as they read through this passage of scripture.

Jesus wasn’t so interested in the temporary but rather He wanted to saturate us with assurance.  When He called Lazarus from the dead for Mary and Martha, it was to prove once and for all that He was sovereign…even over death.  He was and still is the resurrection and the life.

Jesus proved that physically, albeit temporarily, that day with Lazarus who of course died physically once again and like the rest of us had to await the full resurrection to come.  Yet in doing so Jesus showed us the marvelous truth that David clung to with his son.  There is indeed a resurrection from the dead, a real resurrection that awaits us who belong to Christ.  It wasn’t just hallow words that we have no proof of. Lazarus really, physically, rose from the dead that day.   And we shall rise again and so shall those whom we loved and who had fallen asleep in Christ be united with us.  It will be as real as it was for Mary, Martha and Lazarus the day he walked out of the tomb.

This I believe was the saturation of assurance that Dianne held to.  She knew that the parting would be painful for all who loved her but she also knew that the pain would be temporary because of what Jesus did.  Dianne knew it wasn’t just words on a page because she knew Jesus just like Mary and Martha knew him, as a loving friend and more so as her own Savior.

Dianne had such assurance that she told her family that she didn’t want to have a sad funeral service but rather that her ashes be scattered in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Her life proved her relationship and her faith in Christ has so saturated her with assurance that she saw no need for a funeral.

Dianne knew well the words that apostle Paul wrote, “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.  We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.  According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15 (NIV)

Dianne knew these words well but more than that she knew this same Jesus who would unite her with those whom she loved that had gone before her.  And she now awaits those who are temporarily separated from her as they complete what God has given them to do on earth.

That’s why Dianne didn’t want this day to be about the “grief of men with no hope”(13).  She knows that her family has this same eternal hope and knows that this same Jesus will saturate them with that assurance.

Those who have not this assurance feel finality in her death.  It is that hopeless feeling that they will never see her again.  Whereas, Tony, Chris and Joanne, Daniel and Nathan, and the rest of your family who know Jesus already have that same assurance.

So as you sit around the tables today and grieve please remember that this is truly temporary.  Though Dianne cannot come back to you, you will indeed be united again on the resurrection day.  Swap some stories of how you enjoyed your time with her.  Shed some tears, its ok, when we lose someone we love it’s bound to happen more than once.  We’ll miss them but we know that this parting is for a short time at least for those who are believers in Christ.  We have the same assurance that David, Martha and Mary, Lazarus and even Dianne shared.  So as the memories leak out, let the tears flow and know also that joy comes in the morning.

Remember too, that when your assurance reaches saturation Dianne would want you to continue to do whatever is was that brings you great joy in service Jesus.

 

Blessings!

Pastor Blake

virtual community

Is virtual Community Biblical?   A Pastoral Perspective    
Rev. Blake Wagner

1)    How God has lead this particular pastor to form virtual biblical communities.

2)    The growing need for online biblical communities

(video clip- shortened version)  

 Website Evangelism Videos  

3)    Some pragmatic implications of Grace’s live online community.

a)    Identifying the needs and seeking to meet them.

b)    Moving from concept to reality within major budget constraints.

4)    Functioning as a growing online community.

a)    Measuring usefulness both locally and online.

b)    Reaching beyond local community, seeing souls saved.

c)    Revitalizing and reenergizing the local community.

5)    Technical resources to foster live online community.

a)    Free and almost free software resources to help get you going.

i)     Bigbluebutton

ii)    Red5

iii)   Website and Bandwidth considerations.

b)    Example set up for low budget streaming.

   i)     Where to stream.

(1)  Youtube.com for non-profits.

(2)  Livestream.com

(3) TrustCasting.com

(4) Mediaserve.com

c) Broadcasting Equipment and Bandwidth Constraints.

(i) Computer, camera, and audio needs.

Broadcasting Equipment.   I recommend you use an i5-i7 3.0ghz or better,  quad core or better, Windows or Mac computer with a minimum of 8gb ram and 1 Terabyte hard drive.  A full-size desktop tower with expansion slots is preferred over  a notebook.  Yes you can go cheaper and slower on the CPU but the hassle isn’t worth it in the long run.

Two monitors help but one will do.  HD USB camera, 2 would be better.  IP Cameras are even better but may require more expensive software to integrate.  Old camcorders with firewire on tripods are what we use.  These take a separate interface that is also USB.  Each usb camera needs a separate USB bus card in the computer.

I should also mention, that you’ll need a separate computer for Propresenter or Powerpoint for the in house projection.  Encoding is cpu intensive so don’t bother trying to do it all on one computer.

The audio out from the in house mixer to the computer input is the source of the stream’s audio, and you want the highest possible quality there.  People will keep watching as long as they can hear clearly what is going on even if the lips are out of sync at times.

(ii) Internet Service Provider and web hosting.

You’ll need an Internet connection capable of sufficient upload bandwidth.  If you are sending a stream of 700Kbps you’ll want an internet connection of 2Mbps upload.  Use a wired Ethernet connection to the internet router rather than wireless.  And separate the in church WiFi from the wired Ethernet with a second router then move all other traffic to the second router so the stream remains solid.

d) Live Broadcasting Software

(1) Wirecast – (free and paid versions)
(2) Adobe Flash Media Live Encoder – (free)
(3) Procaster – and Mobile app.

e) CCLI Podcasting License and limitations.

B.E.G.I.N. in Penticton

Have you noticed that not everyone chooses to enter a church building? The truth is here in Canada the vast majority of Canadians do not regularly attend church. It is sad but true. Yet we believe that everyone needs an opportunity to get to know and follow Jesus Christ. So if people will not come in where the fellowship is friendly and warm we must B.E.G.I.N. where they are. Bring Every Gentile Intimate News in Penticton and beyond that Jesus loves them and we do too.

We can do this in a number of practical ways. And we at Grace try to. But sometimes we need help to reach folks that are on the edge and in need of a special touch of grace.
Pastor Peter Harris is a friend of Grace that we at Grace have supported for many years. We have at times come along side of him as he meets in open spaces sharing a warm meal and the intimate news of God’s love. But did you ever wonder what he does in a typical week?
Today Pastor Peter gave us a look into the past couple of weeks in his life. Listen in as he shares how God moved him to come along side of people hurting in Penticton and beyond and how Christ’s mercy flows through willing vessels.

B.E.G.I.N. to GtGtG – Acts 13:1-12

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As I was fasting and praying the Lord said to me.  Set aside for me Friday Feb 28th, 2014.  Partner with Dr. Toews for an online workshop giving a case study on how Virtual Biblical Community has developed at Grace over these years.

Well it wasn’t quite like that …though come to think of it I was on a juice fast, and had been praying for Ron that day.  But the rest of it just morphed out of our Skype conversation.

Dr. Toews had been invited by ACTS to do two workshops.  Both of which he was more than qualified to lead.  Yet as he prayed about the seminars he was reminded of my involvement on the original In Service platform.  And he knew how we as a church have been doing church online for many years now.    And so the idea for a case study in one of the workshops was Ron’s idea.  Or was it the Holy Spirit’s.  Could it have been both? Was I being called out to a new phase in ministry?

Initially it seemed so.  But time and more prayer would have to determine that.  You see I’ve learned not to eagerly accept every request for my involvement over the years.  If I did I suspect I would be going to Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and other places in the world at the expense of Grace.  Just because someone calls and invites doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a call of God.  Though it quite well could be.

How does one decide?  If it feels good do it?  You know the North American mindset?  Or more specifically if it pays good do it?  Or if it’s not too much bother or if I have the time and want to then do it?  Are those considerations or enculturation?

Or perhaps we should make it very spiritual, wait upon the Lord to reveal it?  Of course the request came from out of nowhere.  Wasn’t that already the Lord speaking?   Private prayer and fasting may help one to better discern the call but to be perfectly honest, we can rationalize just about anything.  We can talk ourselves into or out of anything and chalk it up to “hearing or not hearing from God”.  So private prayer while critical must be only one of the determining factors.  The prayer of the community is also radically important in determining the Holy Spirit’s leading as we’ll see in our passage today.

Turn with me to Acts chapter 13:1-12. 

In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.  While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”  So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.  The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus.  When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper.  They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus,  who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God.  But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith.  Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said,  “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord?  Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable to see the light of the sun.” Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand.  When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.  Acts 13:1-12 (NIV)

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 God gifts every church with individuals that proclaim and teach His Word.  It’s part of the DNA of church life. Prophets, those who speak what God has said with His power and authority backing them.  And Teachers, those who can enable us to better understand what the Lord has said are just two of the gifts that God gave the folks at Antioch to help them discern His will.

Paul would later write: “It was God who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service…” (Ephesians 4:11-12 (NIV).  Seems that we all need some help learning our roles in His community.

The wording in this sentence in the Greek seems to indicate that some of the men were Prophets while others were teachers.  Since the word Prophet comes first in verse 1 …those who were named first were prophets.  At least that’s what the Greek commentary I read inferred.

Barnabas we know having run into him several times in Acts already.  Simeon called Black, that’s the literal meaning of the word “Niger”, is believed by several scholars to be the same Simeon who was forced to carry Our Lord’s cross on the road to Calvary.  That’s found in Mark 15:21.

If it is the same Simeon, then he was also from Cyrene, as was Lucius, the third man in our list.  He is only found here and in Romans 16:21.

Oregon an early church father linked Lucius with the Apostle Luke but there isn’t any supporting evidence to make that link.  All we know for sure about this Lucius is that he was from modern day Libya, in the coastal town of Cyrene.

On a side note…that particular area was known for their export of a medicinal herb called silphium, which was known in those days to cause abortions.   So even back then abortion was a profitable business that undoubtedly messed up plenty of people’s lives.

Slide9

The main thing we can learn from Luke’s description of Lucius is that he like Simeon were both from Africa and they somehow met up with Barnabas and then later on with Saul.  And all of these men were instrumental in bringing the Gospel to Antioch.

The next man on the list we seem to know even less about.  Apparently from Luke’s description he was involved in the highest levels of local government.   God seems to always have some Christians in political places throughout Church history.  Luke makes sure this is not lost by connecting Manaen with Herod the tetrarch.   We’re not sure if he was one of the teachers or the prophets but he was involved in the leadership at the Antioch church.

And the last person on the list was of course Saul.  He hasn’t yet had his name changed to Paul but that will happen shortly.  The fact that his name appears last both in this list of names and second in verse 2, according to some scholars has significance as well.

It seems that Barnabas was considered the Lead minister.  And perhaps rightly so for if you’ll remember, Barnabas fetched Saul from Tarsus back in chapter eleven, bringing him to Antioch to teach the new believers.  And of course Barnabas was the one who stood up for Saul when he came to Jerusalem after his Damascus road experience and he introduced Saul to the other Apostles. So we see in him that leadership potential.

Slide10

This was a momentous occasion for the church.  Up to this point the church was primarily reaching out to Jewish people and those who adhered to the Jewish faith. But as they were worshipping and praying, God nudged them to B.E.G.I.N.  Another one of those words for you this year!  Can we have two in one year?   G.t.G.t.G. is our underlying motive for the year but it seems we need to B.E.G.I.N. somewhere if we are to have something to G.t.G.t.G.  –  And sorry Scott B.E.G.I.N. doesn’t stand for Believe Everything God Is Now.  It is:

Bring Every Gentile Intimate News

Slide11

God said in Acts 1:8, “…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8 (NIV).    It would start with the men who stood watching as Jesus ascended to the Father.  But they were only the beginning of the great commission.  For that was Jesus desire and command for every believer everywhere.  Including you and me!  We too must B.E.G.I.N.   Bring Every Gentile Intimate News

Why intimate news?   You may ask?  Because it is all about relationship.  Each believer has an intimate relationship to share!  So intimate that no two can ever be exactly the same.  And yet we all have the same relationship in common.

The black man who carried the cross, ….imagine the intimate story he told about that walk with Jesus on the way to Calvary.  No one else had that witness!  But everyone who heard of the event would have known of the cross bearer.  Everyone …even you and me!

And Saul, who can forget his intimate witness of the risen Saviour that met him on the road to Damascus?

But now it was time to B.E.G.I.N.   T.I.M.E. to Bring Every Gentile Intimate News.

Slide13

So God, through the Holy Spirit, told them to set aside Barnabas and Saul for this very work.  And so they did!  Verse 3 tells us that, “after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off” (3).

I kind of like the way Dr. McGee teaches on part of that verse.  He asked a question, “What was it that was imparted to Saul and Barnabas by the laying on of hands?”  And I suspect he’s heard many answers to that.  But his answer was quite shocking at first.  He said, “They imparted germs from their dirty hands!”

Yup, there was no transference of the Holy Spirit from the prayers to Saul and Barnabas.  No lightning cruising through their veins out their hands into the new missionaries.

It was their way of saying we are together in this.  You are not alone on this journey!  Though we are staying here and carrying on the ministry in Antioch, we are connecting ourselves with your vision and are a part of your mission.   Like missionary Daniel Ehmaan told us last year, the command in the Greek “to go” was not to and individual but it is in the plural….the community was “to go and make disciples”(Mat. 28:19).

Every missionary needs that!  Every missionary needs people to connect with them, and pray for them.   It is both physical and spiritual, and yes more than germs from dirty hands.  But it’s also getting our hands dirty rather than spectating while others go and do the work of ministry.

Well, pumped up by the support they had received, assured that the Holy Spirit was indeed calling them to B.E.G.I.N.  Luke tells us that the two of them went down to Seleucia where no souls were recorded as being saved but they did find a boat to sail to Cyprus.  I suspect each step of the way they planted a few seeds for the Lord.  I know that is the case with missions today.  Someone always asks, “why are you here” or “where are you going”, or “what are you doing” and bam!  Another seed is planted for Jesus.  And we don’t always get to hear of the fruit of those chance meetings.

Actually they are not chance at all, they are “divine appointments”.  Every time we witness for Christ “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure(Phil 2:13).  All you need to do is trust and obey.  Make yourself available to the Lord.

Luke tells us that the first stop was Salamis at a Jewish synagogue.  Both Barnabas and Paul were full blooded Jews.  This would be the normal place to go for them.  But God wanted them to B.E.G.I.N.

Slide14

It seems from Luke’s observation that Barnabas and Saul had a stowaway with them named John according to verse 5.  He came as a helper.  Most scholars believe this was John Mark.  And just how he helped Saul and Barnabas remains speculation.  But he was there as they preached in the synagogues.

Somehow it never seems to take very long for trouble to show up when the Gospel is preached.  This trouble came in the person of Bar-Jesus.  With a name like that you’d think he be working for them not against them wouldn’t you?  Bar-Jesus simply means “son of Jesus”.  But this son was illegitimate to say in the least.

He was a sorcerer and a false prophet.  Which means he was demonically influenced.  And his influence reached the proconsul of the region whose name was Sergius Paulus.  Bar’s other name was Elymus case you missed that.  Elymus is the Greek word for sorcerer.  So Luke is just making sure you understand that this guy was satanically inspired.  And Satan doesn’t want the gospel to B.E.G.I.N.  The only intimate relationship he wants is enslavement of all God’s children.

So when the proconsul demands an audience with Barnabas and Saul, you can be sure that Bar-Jesus isn’t far behind.  In fact anytime someone is about to get saved, the devil works extra hard to disrupt the relationship.  But it is all smoke and mirrors!  Like a magicians box.  Those knifes look real but they will not hit their mark unless it Gives to God the Glory.

I said the proconsul demanded an audience with the evangelists as the wording here in our modern translations makes it sound somewhat optional.  It might have been optional on the proconsul’s end but not for those whom he invited.

Yet God is so gracious!  This intelligent man not only listened to the missionaries but heard the gospel and was beginning to believe their message.  Just then Bar-Jesus tried to oppose what they were saying and that’s when the excitement begins.

You see today we can look upon the Holy Scriptures and give you chapter and verse from God on many topics.  The Scriptures themselves are an authority.  We actually don’t need more authority than to say what’s in them.  For example, we know that the Scriptures say, “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13).    We have His Word on it!

But Saul couldn’t quote Romans or show the Proconsul from the book of Matthew.  Those hadn’t been written yet.  Therefore God gave Saul some extra authority to turn the tide and that seems to have changed his name to Paul in the process.

Bar-Jesus was likely thinking to that moment, ya well suck it up buttercup!  I’m mister big here!  And not at all expecting what was coming next.

 “Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord?”   

“Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable to see the light of the sun.” Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand” (Acts 13:9-11 (NIV).

Slide15

Our God is greater, Our God is stronger!  God you are higher than any other!  There wasn’t to be a shouting match that day.  God took the spiritually blind man and completed the job with physical blindness.  It would have been awesome to witness!  In point of fact you have witnessed this from the written record.  You know it happened!  But when it happens in front of you, and you see it with your own two eyes!

I suspect your reaction will be similar to the proconsul’s who was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.  He not only listened to the message but having seen the power of God s

Slide16

top the sorcerer in his tracks, gave this influential man all the proof he needed.  And Luke said it lead to salvation.  He believed!

The Proconsul went in that moment from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of Light!  His eyes went from blind to the gospel to seeing the truth.  He went from ignorant of who God is to beginning an intimate relationship!

True missionaries are not simply vocational graduates who studied about God and learned the technics of evangelism.  Though these things help immensely they are but tools in the field.  True missionaries are sent by God and their community, empowered by the Holy Spirit to Bring Every Gentile Intimate News.  News of eternal relationship with God through Jesus Christ our Lord.  If the calling is not borne out by the community of believers you are in, I would spend more time listening for God’s true calling before going anywhere.  But you can always choose to learn the lesson the hard way.

As the church partners with those who go they too are empowered to B.E.G.I.N. to Give to God the Glory.  Their partnership shares in the rewards of our Father who will say come the judgement day, “…’Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ Matthew 25:23 (NIV)

Discoveryland Christmas 2013

1st5

10 proven ways to make your marriage last 50 – 66 years or more!

Who said marriage is dead?  Today we exuberantly celebrated the institution of marriage!

10 couples who have been a part of Grace celebrated more than 585 years worth of marriage in total.  What was their secret?  How can you do it to?  Listen to the two clips below and find out how each couple managed more than 50 years and their marriages are still going strong!

But today was double special because it was the 66th anniversary of one of those couples, Len & Lillian Rempel. The church was packed out! And what we heard was inspiring to say in the least!  Each of these couples was asked what their secret was for longevity in marriage.   With most spanning more than 60 years in marriage …the couple with the least years having had 51 years to draw on for their wisdom … what they had to say may just help save your marriage!  And it will encourage even those with the strongest marriages to keep up the good fight.

In this first clip,  Walter & Irene, 60 years, Len & Lil, 66 years, Frank & Ruby, 63 years, Ben & Helen, 60 years, and Menno & Frieda, 60 years, tell what they believe is their secret to a great and long lasting marriage.

Below is the low rez small bandwidth version. (32mb)

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In this second clip,  John & Susan, 60 years, Rudy & Laura, 60 years, Barney & Sara, 53 years, Helmut & Katie, 51 years, and Bill & Betty, 52 years, tell what they believe is their secret to a great and long lasting marriage.

Below is the low rez small bandwidth version. (36.4mb)

Below is the Rempel extended family singing the medley of old hymns they grew up on.

 

Below is Pastor Blake’s message entitled:  True Intimacy Must Exist for marriage to last this long!

Again this is a low bandwidth version.

 

Below is Councillor- Garry Litke (Acting Mayor-Penticton City) Bringing thanks for the fine example these couples are to our community.

We’ve separated the files into smaller easier to digest portion for our overseas and low bandwidth crowd.  (OK so that’s only partly the reason these files aren’t in the usual place)

Pastor Gail did a marvellous job in preserving a pictorial history and we’ll use her footage rather than the full video footage as the Wirecast machine hiccuped after the fifth couple began and it wasn’t noticed (sorry for those who were actually watching live). The audio was captured on our livestream.com server even after the video quit so with Pastor Gail’s pictures and Pastor Blake’s Powerpoints you’ll still get a feel for the marvellous day we experienced as we celebrated the faithfulness of God and the fellowship of those whom He knit together ’til death do they part!

Enjoy and be blessed!

Where Mennonite meet, Mennonites usually eat and today was no exception!  Just look and see!

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This is the first five couples and the beginning of the service as recorded on our livestream server.

Keep on Speaking

Wow!  God is doing amazing things through this great BCMB Conference we belong to.  C2C the church planting movement told of all the new plants throughout BC and Canada and we met several of the Planters. How to summarize it…changed lives, healed people…Christ at work in new and exciting ways.  Check them out here:  http://www.c2cnetwork.ca/
Camps too all reported increase in campers and those knowing and beginning to follow Jesus.  The Pines showed us a video of before and after of the wind storm that totally change everything about the camp.  They were so grateful for all the support that continues to pour in. It was a heart wrenching time for Gene & his staff. Pray for strength to see them through this busy camping year.
Some changes too! We welcomed Rob Thiessen as conference Minister.  Rob is a Godly man who cares deeply for the Shepherds and the flock.  His passion for intimacy and prayer shaped the whole weekend.  We said goodbye to Marilyn Hiebert who was honored for her amazing ministry to the Conference over the past 12 years.  She retires in June and will clearly be missed.

Our Church Loved on us!
A blessed and refreshing time of rest followed the Conference at Harrison Hot Springs.

image

It is always a good thing to step back for a day or two and press in with God.  Intimacy takes T.I.M.E.

Phil Collins from Willow Park helped us with much humor and good teaching.  Times of prayer and repentance bringing us closer to the Father’s heart while worshiping and proclamations of the Word helped to focus, strengthen and heal weary pastors.
As I prepared for the next month of intensive ministry in Kenya this was just what I needed.

God is SO Good!

Mission Fest / PLN News

Hi Folks,
Pastor Blake & Lynda from Penticton, Canada on behalf of the PureLoveNow Krew in Kenya with some recent developments and news.

First off I want to welcome all the folks that we met at Mission Fest in Edmonton, Alberta and Global Citizen Kelowna, British Columbia.  You were an inspiration and a huge blessing for us!  So many of you spent time getting to know Lorna’s vision and what PureLoveNow is all about and you encouraged us to keep working on behalf of the next generation in Kenya.  Thank You from the whole PureLoveNow team.    You can’t possibly know how much it means to each member.  And they want you all to know that they pray that God will bless you abundantly for the encouragement you’ve shown. 

It was amazing to see the generosity of those at these two events.  In Kelowna we were approached by one man who is developing houses and buildings that can be shipped in containers anywhere in the world and put up with a minimal amount of effort and training in less than a week.   They are extremely light weight and very durable, (a 50 year guarantee!) completely water and mold resistant and so much more.  When he saw the Pure Life Center he spoke of how his organization could help with those structures and the cost would be significantly less than traditional building even in Kenya!  Since they only need assembly and even that takes very little time the whole compound could be put together in less than a month.  Even the shipping containers would be repurposed into support buildings.    Currently the units have been tested in places like Haiti after the earth quakes and other disaster areas.  We’ll be keeping in touch with him.

Both at Edmonton and Vancouver Mission Fests we were approached by an Architectural Firm from Calgary that offered to send a team of Architects to our site and develop the plans to Kenyan building codes and Canadian specifications.  This organization would send the whole team of Architects do so for the price of one ticket to Kenya and food and board while they are there.   What a Blessing!  All we need next is enough money to come in for the land.   http://purelovenow.org/build/

In Edmonton I met many folks but one couple blew me away with both their heart for mission and their immediate generosity.  They helped pay this month’s rent in Kitale!  It was like God knew we were short a bit on rent and they were his instruments of keeping a room over the heads of the staff in Kenya.
Speaking of staff check out http://purelovenow.org/contact-us/staff-2013/ .  Get to know the folks who are on the ground and please please please keep them in your prayers.  Some of the places they have to go are very dangerous…and some of the big momma’s and pimps are vengeful when the children leave their business of prostitution.

Someone asked me in Kelowna if we only help “Christian” kids off the streets.  I assured them that we don’t check their denominational ties or discriminate in any way as we are cleaning the filth off of those who have been abused sometimes 10 to 15 times a day for months on end.   They don’t have to say the sinner’s prayer to be treated with pure love.  We see all children and youth as those who were made in the image and likeness of God and help them to learn to trust that God wants more for them than the abuse that mankind has shown them.   On my last trip over I met a young Muslim at one of our weekly meetings who was so thankful for the safe place to be with peers and the support and encouragement from DJ, Jimmy and Lorna.  If memory serves me right, around the room was not only Kenyan but Indian, Ugandan and Sudanese kids.   And we never force anyone to leave or withhold pure love if they don’t accept “Christ as their Saviour”.   But we do teach from the Bible, principles of pure love, compassion and mercy with forgiveness as seen in the life of Jesus.

This month PureLoveNow Krew was invited to several schools in the Kitale area bringing a team of excited youth who danced and sang and energized audiences to receive the good news.  More than 2500 children learned about love that is pure and how to escape from becoming victims of sexual abuse and human trafficking.  Jimmy and Lorna and others of the team helped the children to know they were valuable in God’s sight and NOT objects to be abused.  The response to the good news was amazing and unfortunately tearful as well.   The Krew seldom, if ever, leave such an event without speaking to kids who have broken with taboo and spoken of their abusive relationships.   As a father, I cry every time I hear the stories Lorna relays.  She’s right!  Someone has to do something about this!  Is that someone you?

In February, another mission agency in Kenya approached Lorna to help a suicidal pregnant teenager.   Upon meeting the young lady Lorna found out that she was raped by an officer of the law about seven months ago.  She didn’t realize that she was pregnant at first and kept quiet about what had happened.  She felt ashamed.  Upon realizing her condition, she broke the news to her mother and step-father, who then got angry and abusive and threw the young lady out on the streets.  Her mother had little choice in the matter because she was next if she went against her husband.  Mom put what little money she had in the youth’s hands and sent her off to the big city with about enough for a day or two in a “beyond seedy” motel.  There are no social safety nets in Kenya.  This girl would have to turn to prostitution or die of starvation for jobs are few and far between. She knew no one…what would YOU do?
Despondent and quickly out on the streets this girl decided suicide was better than prostitution.  God miraculously directed her path to the other mission agency who immediately thought of Lorna for counselling. The two connected and now she is placed in a safe rental and has seen a doctor for the first time in the pregnancy.  But funds on hand don’t permit an ultrasound or hospital delivery to be done.   Lorna and the team chose to live on  less for the next few months so that this young girl can just live.  In a couple of months when the baby is born and she’s able PLN will help her find a job but until then she needs pureloveNOW.

A quick note From Lorna:
“In the past week we have had elections. We thank God that it has been peaceful in most areas including ours. We fear it may change in the next couple of days as they still haven’t announced the Presidential verdict. However they did announce the Governor and Senate. One of the losing Governor candidates was in town yesterday trying to start a riot, people were looting, but it was quickly shut down when police arrived. Please continue to also pray for our safety and for peace in the country.

On another note, we were recently approached by a woman for help. She is pretty ill and has not been working and the father died. The woman told us that the way she saw it her babies (two beautiful young ladies) would have to go into working at night in order to go to school. As we talked with her we realized this woman was serious that she would send the girls to work as prostitutes. Disgusted by the fact that mom had no choice in the matter we agreed to pay part of their school fees. We will be visiting and following up on the girls twice per month. The girls are in the equivalent of grade 10 and grade 12. We paid $60 for their school fees but they are still in need!”

You could help couldn’t you?  You could GO and help PureLoveNow in Kenya to show pure love to children and youth or help the Team with your talents. You could GIVE to extend pure love to the youth of Kenya on your behalf.   Or you could PRAY for those who do go and our team of Kenyan’s who live to show pure love.  Or perhaps you could arrange a fund-raiser and help others support PureLoveNow.   How will you help?   Please let us know soon.

This month Lorna and Jimmy and the Krew really need your financial support.   Their rent went up in Kitale and so has the cost of food and basics of life.  The extra cost of the young lady I spoke of is about $100/mo.   Their team fasts when they run out of supplies and would just as soon not have to ask but their mission is too critical not to ask.    Can you give up a cup of coffee a day and put the proceeds towards Purelove each month?  How about foregoing one dinner out and sent the money you would have spent their way?   It truly will make a difference in their life and the people they help. 

Blessings!   Pastor Blake & Lynda

T.I.M.E. for Faith to Survive

Rita Chretien

tells how True Intimacy Must Exit for faith to survive 49 days stranded on a barren Nevada road in the winter.

Her heart wrenching story speaks of new intimacy with the Almighty that kept her faith going strong.

Audio Only:

Download: RC-Grace

Video HD:

Download: RC-Grace-1

 

Christmas 2012 Immanel

My Friend Bill

SAFE IN THE ARMS OF JESUS

Pastor Peter shares about his friend Bill.
William Chester Hutton.
“Whispering Bill”
Born May 18,1958 Home to Jesus on Sept. 4, 2012
Sadly missed.

I am in the place where God shines through

For He and I are one, not two.

He wants me were I am.

I need not fret, nor will, nor plan.

If I will be relaxed and free,

He’ll carry out His plan through me.

Friends of Missions

On Sunday Sept. 30th Friends of Missions held their annual Golf Fundraiser. Tim & Bonnie, Arty and Carol put their hearts into making this an enjoyable day for all who came.  In this video Tim explains some of the antics that went into this “golfing” adventure.

 

We are so thankful for the generosity of all those who gave so much to make this an effective fundraiser.  Those who gave prizes as well as those who played and paid and then paid some more.  May God bless you all!

Gail took a few hundred pictures and then made this great video as a reminder of this awesome day.

See you for next year’s FOM fundraiser!

Happy Anniversary

Theodore (Ted) Walter

WALTER, THEODORE (TED) ROBERT: September 20, 1928 – June 15, 2012 Ted went to be with his Lord; he passed away peacefully on June15, 2012. Ted is survived by his wife of 61 years, Arlene, by his four children, Michael (Lynn), Philip, Tony (Dianne) and Celena (Darryn) as well as by nine grandchildren, April (Todd), Cara, Christine (Scott), Jo-Ann (Scott), Daniel (Jess), Nathan, Ross, Chad and Shane, and by ten great grandchildren, Tricia-Lynn, James, Jordan, Zach, Emily, Nick, Beth, Anna-Dawn, Andrew and Owen. Ted will be buried at Peachland cemetery on the morning of Friday, June 22nd, 2012 followed by a Celebration Service at Grace Mennonite Church at 74 Penticton Avenue, in Penticton at 12:30 PM. Arrangements in care of Everden Rust Funeral Services

My Grandpa

You May have known him as principal, pastor or teacher; sea-going cowboy, potato farmer or carpenter; baritone singer in a men’s quartet, star baseball pitcher or captain of the basketball team; devoted Missionary, MCC Volunteer or Great Grandpa; friend, Uncle or Brother; Father-in-law, Dad or Husband…
but I knew him as Grandpa.

And no matter what we all called him, I’m sure we all would describe him in somewhat the same way… he was very kind, generous and one of the most gentle men you could ever meet. As Scott Young stated, “he was the pillar of this family.” He was strong and dependable, like one of those magnificint old trees that have faithfully beared much fruit over its many years. With roots that go down deep, so that it is not easily moved or shaken. Providing cool shade and shelter for many in times of unbearable weather or in need of rest. And offering nurishment and strength to any who looked poor or hungry, or took the time to wait for its harvest. Jeremiah 17:7-8 describes my Grandpa well…It says, “But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in Him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

I would also describe Grandpa as patient and calm… unlesssss he was laughing at a joke…usually his own…because then you’d get to see the silly side come out & Grandpa LOVED to laugh and tell stories. My Dad told us of the time he had gotten caught skipping school AGAIN…while sneaking off to visit his beautiful girlfriend (my Mom). But Grandpa never lost his cool with him (…at least not in my mind). He calmly & quietly went outside and proceeded to remove all of the wheels off of Dad’s car & hide them!!

I imagine Grandpa was always on time for everything but never in a hurry. (Well Dad, that’s partially like you…never in a hurry)! He chose his words very carefully…to the point where you almost wanted to hurry him up & finish his sentences, but you KNEW his wisdom was worth the wait. Jo said it well, “Grandpa either spoke wit or wisdom.” My Grade 8, ex-army, Social Studies teacher didn’t have a chance of NOT becoming a pacifist that year after Grandpa’s teachings took root in me. Maybe that is why I asked Grandpa to stand up with me at 13 when I asked to be baptized. Or why most of us grandkids remember the farm as one of our favorite childhood memories.

I’ll never forget the time Grandma & Jo-Anne, Grandpa & Daniel, and Celena & I took the 3 canoes out across Gregoire Lake with plans to make it to the little island a few km out. Well,… Gregoire Lk was known for its sudden weather changes and our beautiful afternoon was soon changing into quite the storm. The wind and waves picked up and soon we could see Grandma and Grandpa’s canoes turning back. I later found out that Jo and Daniel never made it much past the beach, as Grandma and Grandpa kept paddling in circles. But because I had had some recent experience white water canoeing & considered myself somewhat of a “professional canoer,” and since Celena was crazy enough to believe that, we decided to forge on. We finally made it to the island, feeling very proud of ourselves & took our much needed break. Now I’m not sure if the weather had in fact gotten worse, or if I was just remembering all the cool stories dad use to tell us of his adventures out on this island & wanting some adventure of our own. But, either way, we decided we would camp there for the night…alone, with no shelter from the wild mosquitoes and huge black horseflys. But we had found LOTS of berries, so we would be just fine!! Right…? Well, you can imagine our disappointment when Grandpa showed up with a rented motor boat to rescue us and take us back to the farm. I couldn’t tell then, (no one could), but when I asked Grandpa a couple of weeks ago how he felt about having to rent that motor boat & pick us up, he admitted that he had been mad. I figure if him took him 25 years to tell me that, he couldn’t have been too mad.

Grandpa taught us to work hard, enjoy the outdoors, seek peace at all cost and love much. He and Grandma dedicated their lives to serving others and to ALWAYS put others needs before their own. They were an amazing team. Without Grandma’s encouragement and willingness to follow Grandpa to extreme places all around the globe, many lives would be very different today. Grandma’s gift of hospitality allowed Grandpa’s gift of “finding and befriending all those in need,” to work; and work well together. They truely exemplified the verse in Mark that says, “they are no longer two but one flesh.”

Grandpa’s faith in the LORD was not so much spoken about, that I remember, as it was lived. He doesn’t know it, but he gave me the most beautiful gift last Christmas… We had all come here to Grace Church for the Christmas Eve service; which seems to have become a family tradition for us…Christmas eve at Grace & then onto Scott & Jo’s for appy’s. Anyways, I went over and sat beside Grandpa, as I saw him sitting all alone. There was lots of special music that night and I kept thinking about those delicious appy’s waiting for me back at Jo’s. Then, someone got up with their guitar & prepared to lead us all in some old old hymns. Well you can imagine my excitement at this point. And then I heard it… It was like an angel singing in my ear. This tiny, frail, aging man beside me was effortlessly belting out with such passion and conviction, the words to “The Old Rugged Cross.” ~~~ I don’t remember if I ever got my appy’s that night, but I’ll never forget that sweet sweet voice. Mom describes her last visit with Grandpa in much the same way.

Before I knew that Grandpa’s health had started failing, I had begun a book study with a few friends and it was taking us on a journey through our past and having us record any key people and monumental events that have helped shape us up to this point. Well you can probably all guess by now who was one of the people at the top of my list. Grandpa was that constant, steady influence & rock that I now recognize God put in my life (and probably many of yours as well) to help us better understand and know who Jesus really is and how deep His love for us really goes. Because of this, my time reading scripture to Grandpa in the hospital a couple of weeks ago was without a doubt, a treasure worth far more to me than words could ever describe. Isn’t that just like God? He knew!! Here I was, reading to Grandpa, from the very same book upon which he taught me from for so many years. I guess we’ve come full circle hey Grandpa. I will miss you but I know Jesus must have been so excited to see you again!! Love you Grandpa. Xoxoxo Christine Harder

Penticton Christian School Drama 2010 at Grace

Penticton Christian School Drama @ Grace 2010 Clip 1



Penticton Christian School Drama @ Grace 2010 Clip 2

When Faith CC meets Grace MB it’s PLN

PureLoveNow is connected to both Faith Community Church in Kitale and Grace MB Church in Penticton through the founding couple.  The son of Faith Community Church Jimmy met the daughter of Grace MB Church Lorna and it was Pure Love!

Throughout our time in Kitale this year we interacted with PureLoveNow ministries at a number of events.

The focus of PureLoveNow can be seen on their website at http://purelovenow.org  Youth and young adults are the main foci but with several twists.  I encourage you to read all about it on their website.  God has blessed this couple with quite a vision for the next generation.

On this page you’ll find clips from various events that we had the opportunity to sow into the lives of young people in Kitale the message of L.I.F.E. and the hope of the Gospel of Christ.  As time permits I’ll add to this collection so visit more than once!

Clips 1-5 were from a  day long youth Bible Study and Praise time.  This was inside the house where we as a team stayed as the weather was liquid.  Pastor Blake shared the gospel through the story of the wilderbeast on the African plains…together they are strong but separated from the herd they become easy prey for lions and hyenas   Apart from Christ you can do nothing at all!

Here’s a snapshot of the various times that Grace interacted directly with PureLoveNow Youth Ministies.

In this clip Jimmy is leading in a praise time.

We had several opportunities to interact one on one and with the group as a whole.

As Grace Team we hosted the group feeding them bbq goat and chapitis…sumawiki…rice

After Ashley’s birthday cake Jimmy once again shared the gospel with the youth and then prayed and sent them on their way…after they cleaned the place up of course!

PureLoveNow – James Mugwe at Faith

What exactly is PureLoveNow?

Here’s Jimmy speaking about it to Faith Community Church one Sunday morning.

Jimmy at Faith Community Church (Longer Version)