Sermons UP and II Corinthians

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The sermons on the website are working again.  We should have the most recent sermons up in a couple of days.

Starting on April 17 we will begin a series on II Corinthians.  This series will be different from the sermon series of the past because half of the series will be posted here.

As we work through II Corinthians, I will preach on a passage and then blog on the next passage.  In this way we will work through the whole book.

Here is a little background on the Corinthian church, to whom the letter is addressed.  (The information comes from either my course notes from Dr. Jeff Weima at Calvin Seminary, or from An Introduction to the New Testament by  D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo.)

The Greek city of Corinth was destroyed in 146 BC.  The Romans rebuilt it under Julius Caesar around 30 BC.  By the time Paul visits Corinth around AD 50, the city is a well established Roman city and the capital city of the province of Achaia.  As a Roman city it was a site for emperor worship in addition to the worship of other gods.  The temples in Corinth were known for their cult prostitutes, which probably explains why the prohibition against eating food sacrificed to idols is coupled with the prohibition against sexual immorality.

Corinth is also a port city, making it a very busy city with many opportunities to gain wealth and climb the social ladder.  For this reason it attracted the ambitious from all over the empire.

In some respects Corinth reminds me of Toronto.  Toronto too is a booming port city.  Like Corinth, Toronto attracts ambitious people from all over the world who are looking to climb the social ladder.  Along with the influx of people comes a wide range of religious expressions.   Toronto also is a capital city for the province of Ontario, meaning that like Corinth it is a center of political as well as economic power.   These similarities will make it easier to cross the historical divide between ancient Corinth and our experiences today.

The Corinthian church was probably made up of about 30 to 40 people.  The majority of the church was lower class.  The culture of social ambition and pagan worship inevitably made it into the church itself, requiring Paul to point to the humiliation of the cross as the antidote to selfish ambition.  The Corinthian church was deeply conflicted over a variety of issues.  In 2 Corinthians, Paul reminds them that he has been given a ministry of reconciliation. And in reading 2 Corinthians we will see how Paul keeps referring back to the cross and back to Jesus as a means to overcoming conflict and achieving reconciliation.

Let us see what the Lord will teach us.

 

About Those Women

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A Good Friday Meditation, Matt 27:55-56

“Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.” (NIV 1984)

Watching from a distance. Many women were watching from a distance. That is what this day is about. It is a time to join these women, women who had followed Jesus from Galilee. They don’t have the power to stop what is happening. They cannot remove Jesus from the cross. They cared for his needs. Matthew says. But they cannot provide care now.

Instead they watch from a distance. They see. They see the ridicule and humiliation. They see the brave men, the disciples flee. They see honest men get whipped up into a murderous crowd. They see men in leadership betray their calling, and pass judgment on the innocent. They see the suffering of Jesus, they see the darkness that comes over the land.

As someone put it, they see the time when the strength of men failed. Matthew tells us that Mary Magdalene was there, as was Mary the mother of James. The mother of James and John, sons of Zebeddee, she was there too.

Several years ago, her sons jumped out of their boat and followed Jesus. He said they would be “fishers of men.” She always warned them about being so impulsive. But, what could she do? She followed too. Someone had to make sure the clothes got washed and the food got prepared. She followed, probably on foot, some 100 miles from Galilee to Jerusalem.

Surely, at some point she must have come to believe herself. The care for her sons that probably motivated her trip must have turned into a genuine care for Jesus and then a reverence. She couldn’t leave him now. She would get as close as she dared, bearing witness, as women have done for generation upon generation… From Sarah who was the first witness to the promised son Isaac to Rahab the first witness to God’s conquering army in Jericho, to Mary the Mother of God, the first witness of the Messiah. Ignore the testimony of these women at your peril. They saw what even the great men of their generation did not see. They were there.

How many times has the true testimony of a woman been ignored? How many times has she been told that she was telling a lie, that she was being hysterical, that she was only out to discredit the man? How many times has she suffered twice? Once when she bore witness and second when she is not believed?

At this moment, when the sky is dark, at this moment, when Jesus gives up his spirit, God imparts a special grace to these women. They are given the chance to watch from a distance. It is as though God says to these women, I believe you. I will entrust you with the memory of this event. You will witness it. You, faithful women, will be the first to see the redemption of the world. You, who have been mistrusted, who have not been heard, who have not been believed for generations, you whose testimony is not valid in the court, you will be trusted with the most important message the world has ever received. You will be the example for the church itself, which is called to follow Jesus, and bears witness to the Crucified Messiah.

For God makes it his habit to choose what the world thinks foolish to shame the wise, and God chose what the world thinks weak to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, what is regarded as nothing, to set aside what is regarded as something, . He puts his King on a Cross, and has the women tell the tale, so the lowly and the despised may set aside those who thought they were something. The boasts of men are undone by the Crucified King who was regarded as nothing and the boasts of men are silenced by the lowly testimony of the despised women.

The women just witnessed the Son of God, willingly take on the punishment for sin and willingly lay down his life for the very friends who abandoned him. They just witnessed Jesus give up his spirit. They witnessed his death, the death that tramples death by death. They just watched the death unleashed by Eve and Adam’s sin get conquered by the death of Eve’s greater son.

Their names appear here, at the end of the account of the crucifixion of Jesus. It is as though Matthew is giving his footnote. All that he reports about the soldiers mocking, the crowd mocking, the words of Jesus on the cross, the dramatic moment when Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? The final moment when Jesus gave up his spirit.. the unexpected exclamation of the centurion “Surely he was the Son of God!”

All this is the testimony of these women, the testimony of those thought foolish and weak, the testimony given to shame the wise and the strong. Let us join them from a distance today. Let us see what they saw. Experience what they experienced. Let us remember and believe.

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As countless women are not believed and as countless women keep silent because they fear they will not be believed… These women have been justified, declared not-guilty, declared to be truth tellers by the cross and resurrection to which they alone bore witness, first hand.

Online Sermons and other thoughts

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I thought I should note here that we are actively working to get the online sermons up and working again.  In the meantime, everyone is always welcome to come and listen to a sermon in real time and in real life at our church on Sunday morning at 10:00am.

4561 Langstaff Rd
Woodbridge ON L4L 2B2

 

 

On Revival

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I grew up in Southern Ohio.  In that place Revival was a planned event.  Revival was scheduled.  The big name speaker would come from out of town.  The band would be assembled.  The church would be open on Friday night and Saturday night. Emotions would fly, and, yes, people would have their lives changed… at least for a little while.

The speaker would leave town.  The tent would come down.  Church would return to its normal Sunday morning routine.  And eventually, some of the people who were all excited would start to miss Sunday services and then not really come back at all.

“I backslid!” someone told me.  And he had.  The revival was over, and after a couple of weeks of transformation….he returned to the hard living, hard drinking ways of how he used to be.  Someone might say, “You need another Revival!”

But he was too smart for that.  “I can’t go back, I’ve backslid.”  There was nothing left for him but booze and damnation.  The Revivalist preacher probably quoted from Hebrews: For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened…and have tasted the good word of God, if they should fall away, to renew them again unto repentance.

If only the Revivalist preacher had kept going. He would have read this:  But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you…

But the preacher didn’t.  The revival was over, and the backslider didn’t think there was any grace left for him.

I remembered this event after listening to Rev. Tim Keller speak about revival.  And Keller challenged many of the assumptions that I had about it. Here are a couple of my assumptions.

1. While Revival services were happening around us.  I never attended.  I was a Reformed Christian after all, committed to infant baptism and the assurance of faith.  I didn’t need to go down to the altar for a big turn around moment.  Revivals were not for me.

2. Revivals tended to be short lived with many casualties in their wake.  My friend was one such casualty.  With no Christian brothers and sisters to pick him up, with no one to disciple him, with no one to encourage him to confess again when he yielded to temptation, he was lost as soon as he was found.  Revivals do not seem like a good outreach and discipleship plan.

But, Keller says, we should not give up on the concept of revival.  We should strive to understand it properly.

  1. A Revival cannot be planned because it is a work of the Holy Spirit.  Revival happens.
  2. Revival happens first among the faithful before it spreads to the nominal and then ultimately to those who have not heard the Good News.  As Keller says, “Sleeping Christians wake up, Nominal Christians get converted, and new believers are added.”
  3. Because Revival happens among believers first, they become ready to receive those, like my friend, who come into the faith.
  4. Revival begins with a rediscovery of the Gospel and with prayer.
  5. You can watch the whole thing here: http://thegospelcoalition.org/resources/entry/a_biblical_theology_of_revival

I believe that revival of this kind is possible at anytime and anywhere. For this kind of revival would welcome the backslider, along with all others, into the kind of relationship with God that does transform lives, not just temporarily, but forever. I am on the look out for signs that such a revival is coming.

Over the past month I have had two individuals suggest new songs for us to sing at church on Sundays.

The first one is Awake My Soul, by Chris Tomlin.  The second one is Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God by Getty and Townsend.

Both songs are prayers which express a desire for the Spirit of God to give new life and to awaken the soul.  Here is a sample:

Breathe new life into my willing soul
Let the presence of the risen Lord
Come renew my heart and make me whole…

and

Awake awake awake my soul
God resurrect these bones
From death to life for You alone
Awake my soul…

These sound like the songs of a people anticipating revival. I take this as a sign.

Christmas Message

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There is a painting by Gari Melchers entitled The Nativity.  Joseph is seated leaning forward.  His large carpenter hands are folded together.  His elbows are resting on his thighs.  He looks down with tired eyes at the baby in front of him.  Now, finally, all things are still.

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Mary is next to Joseph, sitting on the floor with her head leaning on Joseph’s side. Her legs are straight out in front of her. She is quietly gazing at the new born.

 

Both are completely exhausted and wondering what  it all could mean.

 

The child’s head glows brightly.  And the light coming from the manger reflects off of Mary’s clothing and her face.  The light also reflects off Joseph’s hands, his clothes and his brow.

 

The door to the room is open, but no light comes in from outside.  The only light in the picture radiates out from the baby.  The light shines in the darkness.  The light of the world has been born. The painting invites us to take a moment, to sit and to look.

 

For we too are exhausted, we too are tired.  But here, in that lower room, where the animals were kept, lies the light that no darkness can overcome.  We are drawn in, so that the light of the world will reflect off of our clothing and off of our faces.  In this moment, the light of the world puts no demands on us, no obligations, no duties.  The light shines without us needing to do anything at all.

 

Hear these words of grace.  The light shines without us needing to do anything at all.  Just be… Just be… The time has come, Luke puts it in 2:6.  The time has come and Jesus has been born.  The light of the world has come into the world.

 

And that light comes on its own schedule.  When we read Luke’s gospel we notice that there are different ways to account for time.  There is, of course, the time measured in months.  So Luke tells us that the Angel Gabriel comes to Mary in the sixth month.  This is probably August, since the Roman calendar had 10 months, not 12.

 

In the beginning of Luke 2, we read that Caesar Augustus issued a decree for a census.  This, Luke tells us, was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.  So we can account for time according to the reigns of rulers and governors and the great events they bring about, like moving a vast number of people to their homes to register.

 

But Luke gently hints at a third way to account for time, Luke says, “the time came.”  Or the time was fulfilled.  The word used here is indefinite, imprecise.  It is the kind of time or schedule that is unknown to us.  Pregnancy is like that.  In her book “Holy Listening” Margaret Guenther, notes that pregnancy is a sign to us that there are other times besides the hour by hour, day by day, month by month time that we live in.  Some pregnancies are short.  Some run longer than expected.  While we say nine months.  We all know that the baby comes when the baby is ready.

 

Pregnancy hints at the fact that God’s time is not our time.  Luke doesn’t tell us if Mary was overdue, or if Jesus was premature.  He only tells us that the time came.  Other great events were shaping up around Mary and Joseph.  They had to travel to Bethlehem.  They had to discover that there was no room for them.  They needed to arrive in the place the Lord had chosen to be born.  Then the time would come, in Bethlehem.  The city of David, the place where the prophet said the messiah would be born.

 

This schedule of events probably didn’t make any sense to Mary and Joseph.  Mary was probably checking off the days.  Relieved that Joseph decided to stay with her after all.  Joseph probably got wind of the news of the census and did a little math himself and realized, Uh oh… we are going to have to travel right around the due date.

 

But all the while there was this other time,  God’s timing, weaving through the events of history and through the edicts of kings to ensure that the right people were in the right place, when it was time for the baby to be born.

 

And this is still true today.  There is another time, God’s timing, that is operating along in our lives.  God’s timing cannot be measured, but there will be moments when that timing is fulfilled.  There will be moments when God will put us right in the right place at the right time and we will see his glory.

 

We too may have to wander.  We too are under authority of governors and leaders.  We too may have to go when it is inconvenient and difficult.  So we remember Mary and Joseph.  Perhaps, God is at work through all that is going on, to ensure that we are where we need to be.  So that when the light does shine in the darkness, we will see the Glory of the Lord.

 

They placed the light of the world in manger, a cattle trough.  There was not a palace, nor a temple, nor silk blankets for this king.  The glory of the Lord chose to shine in an out of the way place.  The goods and glory of this world didn’t matter.  Nothing would have been good enough anyway.  He chose the out of the way place, so that out of the way people would find him.  The angels told the shepherds, while kings rested in their palaces.

 

Think about these things as you imagine that baby in the manger today.  Light shines out from him to you.  No longer do you need to stumble around in the darkness.  He will light your path and guide you.  There is no being too early and no being too late.  We catch a glimpse of the Glory of the Lord when the time is fulfilled.  Lay down your anxieties at the manger.  He cares not how you look, or where you come from. The glory of the world matters not to the one who fashioned the stars.  He shines in the out of the way places, so that out of the way people might catch a glimpse of him.

 

He took on flesh, because the body, our physical bodies, have been formed and fashioned by his hand.  Don’t miss the point. Christianity is spiritual and intellectual, but Christianity beats with a living heart of flesh.  It is deeply physical.  It is about the God who is clothed in light, choosing to then be clothed in flesh and swaddled with cloth.

In flesh he will know both suffering and pain.  With this flesh he will die the death that destroys the power of death.  And then, he will carry this flesh, his body scared and marked, tanned by the sun, and wrinkled by the wind, once dead but now alive, up into the throne room of heaven, as a continual reminder of the physical cost of love itself.

 

For we worship the God who made his dwelling among us.  We worship the God who reveals himself, not as an idea, or an abstract concept, but as a flesh and blood child, who can cry and laugh, smile and weep.  Others may speak of God, but we know that he walked this earth and that anywhere we stand, might very well be holy ground.

 

The painter knows this, as he captures with physical paint what words fail to portray.  “She gave birth to a son, wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for him in the inn.”

 

Merry Christmas

Causes of Community Catastrophe

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There are many changes at work in the broader culture relating to how we communicate with one another.  As we adapt to these massive changes, it is helpful to keep in mind the factors that can threaten a community.

The first is a Culture of Criticism.  Individuals will not step forward to complete the tasks at hand, or initiate a new program in a culture where others are waiting around to criticize.  Criticism though is calmed by Charity.  Charity is the old translation of the Greek word agape, or love.  When I was a student studying philosophy, we would speak about what we called “the principle of charity” a principle we would keep in mind when we criticized the work of others. According to the principle of Charity, criticism is done best, when the person wanting to offer a criticism, tries to understand as best they can the position they intend to criticize.   So you wonder why was this done this way?  And how is the other person thinking about this?

You try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, walk down their pathway for a while.

Then the principle of Charity takes things a step further and asks, How can I improve, or can I improve the position I am criticizing?

Now what happens?  If you are able to prove to the other person that you completely understand them, you earn respect.  And with that respect comes an openness to receive the criticism with Charity.  And this is because the Criticism was given in Charity.

So if you feel the urge to criticize, whether in person or in secret, take a moment to walk in the other person’s shoes, wonder why they did what they did and offer your thoughts with Charity.

Number 2.  A culture of criticism, if allowed to linger too long, spawns a cancer of complacency.  If I know that my ideas and my labour for the church will be criticized, I will eventually close my mouth and stop my labor.  I become complacent.  I stop offering my time and talents to the community.  Why should I help again, after I was criticized before?  Unlike most cancers, this cancer is contagious.  As different individuals step back from full involvement in the community, others follow suit.  Soon, it becomes difficult to find volunteers.  And those who do volunteer find themselves overwhelmed by the work.

But take heart, there is Chemotherapy for complacency.  And that comes through connection and invitation.  Start small, seek out someone you don’t normally speak to and start a conversation.  Encourage someone who is down.  Support the weak.  Compliment rather than criticize.  Now, Chemotherapy, many people have told me is an uncomfortable process.  Chemotherapy for complacency is no different.  It involves changing one’s priorities and putting the needs of the Church community ahead of other considerations.

Number 3.  If left unchecked, the culture of criticism and resulting cancer of complacency creates a crisis of commitment.  Everyone else has something else that they need to do.  As result, the lonely are not visited, those interested in the faith are not given opportunities to learn, the young are not properly instructed, and the spiritual needs of those around us go unattended.  This crisis of commitment is catastrophic for Christian community.

So what do we do?

We begin with a renewed Commitment to Christ and to the Church Community.  I put it this way because our first commitment is always to Christ and secondly to his body as it is found in the local church.  So I encourage you over this Christmas season, to renew your commitment to Christ, to remind yourselves of the promises you made at profession of faith.  A promise first and foremost to “Love the Lord.”   And secondly to review your commitment to the local church.  Where is God calling you to serve?  How is God calling you to serve?

For I remain convinced that God’s will for his Church to be salt and light, remains God’s will for his church.  God is pouring out his blessings on us, he is filling us with his wisdom, and he is opening our hearts to people from all over the world.  God is forming us into a community here, a community where Jesus is the center, and where grace and mercy flows.  Do not be discouraged, the task to be faithful is being made more difficult in these trying times. Do not be discouraged.  Remember that Jesus has overcome the world.  Rest in that comforting hope.

For where there is charity in the face of criticism

And Chemotherapy of connection to treat the cancer of complacency

And renewed Commitment to Christ in the midst of challenges to community

There we find the elusive Christian community we seek.

 

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The Blue Dragon

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Here is the link to the article in wired about the blue dragon:

Absurd Creature of the Week: This Crazy-Looking Sea Slug Has an Ingenious Secret Weapon

The blue dragon incorporates the stinging cells of the man of war into its own body and gains the ability to sting others.  This as we said in the message, is something like us. We are stung by others and we incorporate that sting into ourselves ready to sting the next unsuspecting person to come our way.

Peter in I Peter 3:9 tells us that Christians should not return evil for evil or insult for insult.  When we are stung, we should not sting someone else.  But how can we do that?  Only by hope in Jesus who takes the stings and sin into himself and buries them in the grave.  The sins committed against us and the sins we committed are removed.  We are set free from the cycle and able now to respond to evil with blessing.

The sermon can be heard here.  (in a few days when it is online)

picture taken by SYLKE ROHRLACH/FLICKR