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He Shakes The Foundations

He shakes the foundations.

“He makes the mountains of Lebanon jump like calves and makes Mount Hermon leap like a young bull”.

Ps 29:6 GNB

A few hundred years ago a man called Copernicus came out with the strange idea that the earth went round the sun. His thoughts shook the world of human ideas and challenged many previously-held beliefs. It had always been assumed that the earth was flat like a table and that it rested on foundations.
Mount Hermon is a high mountain which can be seen from most parts of northern Israel since it dominates the skyline. Mount Lebanon is close by. Before the Israelites came to the land the locals had regarded it as the abode of their gods. So violent was the storm that it seemed that God was even shaking it to its foundation as he played with it, making it jump and run like frisky young calves. The poet rejoices at God’s might in thus expressing his total superiority over other lesser gods. Whilst marvelling at what we would call the strength of nature, he revels in the thought of God’s all-dominant supremacy.
We understand much more about the working of the universe now. But the occurrence of earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and droughts brings home to us the unpredictable character of some aspects of nature, and our dependence on God. We do not worship nature but we do worship the God who created it and recognize our frailty when the earth is shaken to its foundations by some terrifying upheaval. Such an event also reminds us how normally dependable this world is that God has created. Storms come and go but God maintains a reliable system so that we can plan, use and manage it for our benefit and to his glory.

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Made To Soar

Made To Soar

When I visit the zoo, I skip the eagles’ cage. I can’t stand the pain of seeing those majestic birds sit there on their perches day after day, their burnished brown wings draped over them like an ill-fitting old coat. They were created for the heights, to dance among the clouds, not to be prisoners in a cage. Those birds were made to fly.
Many people who profess that they are Christ’s men and women are like those caged eagles. They are made to live as free citizens of heaven, but they are imprisoned by their own sin. Their condition must break God’s heart. He knows what they could become, but they have put themselves in a cage. And the irony is that it is a cage with open doors.
The apostle Paul said that we who have put our trust in Christ have died with Him to the sin that confined us in our old life. And we are now alive in Him. We are not the person we used to be. Therefore, we must stop facing life as we used to face it.
Think long about those truths. Remind yourself of them often. Through Christ, you have been set free! You were never meant to be imprisoned in a cage. Confess your sin and trust God anew. You were made to soar.
Lord, I thank You for salvation,
For Your mercy, full and free;
Take my all in consecration,
Glorify Yourself in me. —Codner, Elizabeth
Christ is the open door out of the cage of sin.

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Never Too Old

Never Too Old

Look at what some people have accomplished despite advancing age. When Grandma Moses was 100, she was still painting. George Bernard Shaw wrote a play at 94. Arthur Rubinstein gave a great recital at Carnegie Hall when he was 89. And at 82, Winston Churchill wrote A History of the English-Speaking Peoples.
The Bible tells of many godly people who didn’t let the advancing years stop them—Caleb and Moses, for instance. At 85, Caleb (one of the men who had spied out the land of Canaan) entered the Promised Land and drove out the Anakites (Josh. 14:6-15). And Moses continued to lead the people of Israel faithfully until he was 120 (Deut. 34:5-7). The secret of their success was faith in God and an attitude of steadfastness until God called them home.
There are many people who have lived far beyond the 70 years mentioned in Psalm 90:10. They are still bearing “fruit in old age” (Ps. 92:14) by encouraging others and using their energy in God’s service. Others, however, far younger, have decided to coast home.
As long as we have strength, we need to dedicate ourselves to the Lord’s service. Then, no matter what our age, we can “rejoice and be glad.”
Growing old but not retiring,
Lord, the battle still is on;
I’ll go on without relenting
Till the final victory’s won. —Anon.
To stay youthful, stay useful.

A Regular Roach Letter?

Mark 4:30-32 – He also said: “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs.”
A man discovered a roach in his food while he was travelling on a dinner flight. He was so angry that he wrote a letter of protest to the president of the company. The president wrote back and said,
We’ve had the airplane fumigated. We stripped out all the seats and the upholstery. We took disciplinary action against the stewardess who served you. We are considering terminating her employment. It is highly probably that this aircraft will not be returned to service. I assure you that this will never happen again and we trust you will continue to fly with us.
The protester was impressed by the letter until he noticed the president’s hand written memo to the secretary, which was stuck to the back of the letter. It read, “Reply with a regular roach letter.”
I just received the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s response to my impassioned letter regarding cancelling the television program, Meeting Place, Canadians at Worship. I was feeling pretty good about the fact that the letter promised my concern had been noted, that it would go into their Audience Reaction Report and would be read by many of the Big Brass, including Perrin Beatty.
Well, you and I know what I really received was a ‘regular roach letter’, but does that mean I should stop writing about my concerns regarding programming, about gambling, about violence in the family, about landmines, about …? No, I will keep writing, because as a Christian I believe even the smallest effort can make a difference, something like the kingdom growing out of insignificant seed.

A Talent To Bury

Romans 14:19 – Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may build up another.
A minister once preached a sermon about Jesus’ parable of the three men who were given five, two and one talents of silver to trade with until the master returned. The man with one talent was reprimanded because he buried his talent. After the sermon, a man came to the minister and bemoaned the fact that there was nothing he could really do well at all. Then he brightened up, as he realized his one talent. “Yes,” he said, “there is one thing I can do well. I am good at criticism.” The minister was hard-pressed to think what to say about such a dubious talent, but he replied slowly, “Well, I would suggest that you should do with that talent what the man with the one talent in the parable did.”Yes, most often, our critical comments ought to be buried. Only very rarely does a remark offered in criticism really build up the person it is offered to. Most people are all too aware of their failings and inadequacies, and to have one more weakness pointed out critically is just one more blow to an already very fragile self-image. How many times have you been reduced to tears, or to several hours or days of depression by five seconds of critical comment? Think of that the next time you are tempted to use your talent of criticism. Ask yourself, “What would Jesus say?”
Prayer: O Lord, it is always easier to tear down than to build up, easier to destroy than create. Help us, by Your grace, to take the hard road, and compliment the good, rather than criticize the bad. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Decisive Action

“Levi got up and followed him”.
Mk 2:14 GNB

Some people find it easy to make decisions. They quickly sum up their options and decide and do something. Others like to chew it over, perhaps take counsel from friends or advisers, “sleep on it” for a while and then come back and decide. Some dither around and never really decide. Then life just moves on and the decision gets put off indefinitely – probably permanently.

Levi (which was probably an alternative name for Matthew) appears to have made an instant decision and went with Jesus. It is quite possible that he knew Jesus, had heard about him, or even knew some of the other disciples who lived in the area. Then, when Jesus came and called him, he got up and went. He left his occupation behind him, his steady income, and security, and just went. As a tax-collector he had worked for the occupying Roman authority and such people were despised by their fellow Jews.

When Jesus calls us to follow him, it usually means leaving behind something – beliefs, doubts, habits, cherished hobbies or sports, and for some, in extreme circumstances it involves leaving some family ties. But the crucial element in the decision, whether it is instant or comes after mulling it over, is that it is what lies ahead with Christ that makes the decision so compelling, not what gets left behind.

So look at the future to which Christ calls you, not at the past that has been your life till now. A future with Christ bears no comparison with the past without him. When you decide to follow him he becomes your Lord and Master and your permanent companion. In this life and the next.

Jesus Meek & Mild?

Mark 10:13-22
Jesus meek and mild. The scene seems to have been invented for children’s Bible’s. It’s a beautiful scene. People are bringing children to Jesus to be blessed. And Jesus takes them up in his arms and blesses them and says, “Suffer the little children to come unto me for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”
As a child I remember the pictures of this scene that I saw in Sunday School books and children’s Bibles and even stained glass windows. And I remembered hearing the words of Jesus and being liberated by them. The Kingdom of heaven belonged to me! Church was not just a thing for grown ups, kids like me were a part of it too! I was a part of the church. I was a part of the kingdom because Jesus said so.
But these words would never have been spoken if Jesus had not stood up to his disciples. You remember the whole story was that the disciples were keeping the people from bringing their children to Jesus. “Don’t worry the master with you babies. He has lepers and paralytic to heal. He’s too busy for you.” So Jesus just patted the disciples on the back and walked away – NO! Mark tell us that Jesus was “indignant” and was probably not using a soft tone of voice when he said, “Let the little children come to me for the kingdom belongs to them too. In fact if you don’t accept it like a child you’ll never enter it.”
Jesus stood up to his disciples to set thing straight. He was assertive. As you know the East Wing Sunday School Class began a class on Christian Assertiveness this week. Richard loaned me is copy of the book they will be using and I read it. I felt it was an important enough topic to address in a sermon. You see Jesus, our Lord and example, was assertive when he needed to be.
Some people think that because Jesus loved everyone infinitely that he wanted to please everyone. That’s simply not true. Jesus loved everyone but sometimes love demanded that he say or do things that made them uncomfortable. Jesus stood up for righteousness and even for his own needs for food and rest.
The story of the rich young man is a good example of this. This rich young man came to Jesus and said, “Good teacher what must I do to have eternal life.” Instead of patting him on the back Jesus confronts him: “Why do you call me good?” After the man says that he has kept the commandments Mark tells us that Jesus loved him. But he still doesn’t pat the man on the back. He confronts the man again with a demand that makes him question what is really most important in his life. He says, “Sell everything, give the money to the poor, then follow me.”
Jesus was assertive with this young man. Not because he didn’t care about his feelings. Jesus loved the man. He was assertive because he loved him. And because Jesus loved him, he couldn’t lie to him to keep from hurting his feelings. So Jesus boldly, in love, told him what he needed to do.
The book Speak Up! Christian Assertiveness defines Christian Assertiveness as: “a skill of expressing one’s feelings, thoughts, and preferences in ways that take into account one’s own rights and feelings and also the rights and feelings of others. It has as its goals clear communication, the equitable resolution of conflicts, and increased intimacy between people.”(p. 15) Assertiveness is a communications skill. You will not learn it overnight or merely by listening to a sermon or reading a book. I hope this sermon will help people think about it and that the book the class will use will help them begin to develop it. As any skill it is something that needs to be practiced and needs to be honed and worked on.
Assertiveness is not aggressiveness. The words sound the same but they are different. Assertiveness is about expressing one’s self in a way that takes into consideration other people’s feelings. Aggression on the other hand just seeks to hurt others.
Jesus is an example of this. He didn’t seek to hurt the disciples or the young man. But he told it to them like it was. He didn’t just pat them on the back and tell them what good people they were. He forcefully told them what they needed to hear, in love.
Christian Assertiveness is most important for two people: ourselves and others. Did you know that it’s not unchristian to stand up for ones own needs? Some people think that because we are called to sacrifice, we should not express our own needs. We are called to sacrifice, but we are not called to be holy doormats. Christian sacrifice is not sacrifice for the sake of hurting oneself, it is sacrifice for the kingdom.
Even Jesus, the inventor of Christian sacrifice who died on a cross, stood up for his needs. Just read the Bible. Often times, as the crowds were coming to Jesus, he would go off alone to pray. These were people in need of healing and guidance. But Jesus was human, so he just said stop sometimes and went to commune with his Father and recharge his batteries.
But it’s not just our needs that we should stand up for. We should also stand up for our feelings. Christians are called to live in community with each other. If we are going to live as a community of faith we need to know one another’s feelings. We need to know each others feeling and preferences so that we can serve one another as Jesus called us to. It’s not a matter of my preferences over and above yours but how can we best respect everyone’s feelings.
I also said that Christian assertiveness is important for others. We are called to speak up for those in need. Where would we be if Jesus had not stood up for the children? Children throughout the ages would not have experienced the liberation I did as a child when I learned that the Kingdom was for me too. And where would we be if Paul and Peter and the other apostles had not stood up for the Gospel? Where would we be if the early Christian martyrs had not stood up to the Romans?
If you don’t believe that Christians are called to be assertive, just read the prophets of the Old Testament. It was assertive of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to stand up to King Nebuchadnezzar and say, “We will not worship your golden idol.” The prophets were always standing up for the needs of the poor and orphans and the down trodden. And as God’s people we are called to stand up for them too.
It’s our responsibility as Christians to be assertive in proclaiming the word of God. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, is an example of this. When the church leaders told John Wesley he couldn’t preach his message of salvation in their churches, he went out into the streets and the fields and proclaimed it to any who would listen. And when he saw the evil of slavery he preached against it even though it sometimes started riots. He was assertive with the word of God.
Christian Assertiveness: it’s all about standing up for something. It is not about demanding our own way, but faithfully expressing our thoughts and feelings. It is about standing up for the needs of other and our own needs. It is important to maintaining a community as well as our witness to the world.
And of course Jesus is our example. He stood up to others. Not because he didn’t care about their feeling. Jesus was assertive precisely because he did care. He called his disciples to task and he often confronted the religious leaders for their unfaithfulness.
Yes, Jesus was meek and mild and he was gentle. But he could also be assertive when he needed to be. And we should seek to follow his example.

Receiving Messages

Psalm 28:6-7 – Blessed be the Lord, because He has heard the voice of my supplications! The Lord is my strength and my shield; My heart trusted in Him and I am helped; Therefore my heart greatly rejoices, and with my song I will praise Him.
We ask for and receive messages in varied and unusual ways and places. I “received a message” one day a few years back as I grabbed my husband’s Rotarian magazine to read in the “loo”. There I read the story of Seth Lippard in Pennsylvania and it is this:

In 1994 his wife of 42 years died after 13 months of fighting ovarian cancer. During her illness he was exposed to several hospitals and nursing homes and discovered that there was very little in the way of spiritual comfort except for an occasional chaplain or minister.
He prayed about the situation and asked the Holy Spirit to direct the paths his life would take. In his own words, “God has answered my prayer in marvellous ways.” First, he became a Hospice volunteer; next he converted two sacred records he had made in the 1970’s to a 90 minute cassette tape for free distribution to anyone confronted with a serious illness or confinement in nursing homes.
It piqued my interest, as I too, am a Hospice volunteer and, although we do not bring religion into our work, I had found that if requested, there was a lack of availability of the good old hymns, especially where the elderly are concerned, and so I wrote to him. He asks only $2.00 per tape to cover the cost of the tape, postage and handling. That was something I could certainly do, and as he had no one in Canada, he calls me his “missionette”. So far I have given away over 30 tapes to nursing homes, our hospital, a home for the mentally challenged and to some friends who were experiencing rough times and grieving. This is my contribution to Seth’s wonderful effort and would welcome the opportunity to send tapes to those who would like them, or, if anyone else would also like to be a “missionette” or “missioner”, I can send Seth’s address.
Perhaps your life has taken an unexpected turn recently. Pray that the Holy Spirit will direct your paths, and you, too, will be amazed at God’s marvellous answer.

Become a Christian

“As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alpheus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me,’ Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him”.
Mk 2:14 NIV

One of the principles that many business people follow when trying to run an effective enterprise is the “KISS principle”. It means “Keep it simple, stupid”. It’s very wise, too. Many things become complicated because we lose sight of the basic, simple and glaringly obvious aspects of an event, idea or process.

Becoming a Christian is one of those things. Some people get confused about it because it seems to be the same as joining the church as a member. Others miss the point because of some intellectual issue such as whether evolution or creation is right, or how can there be such a thing as the trinity? For others it seems to be the same as running around doing a lot of good for charity, the poor or the handicapped. Mark’s story of Jesus coming to Levi puts the central thing central. For Mark it was so simple and so easy and so obvious. To become a Christian means to say “Yes” to Jesus. Yes, just that. Nothing more, nothing less.

To say “Yes” to Jesus means recognizing that he is a person who wants to know you and to have you as his friend. It’s got nothing to do with being an important person in the church, knowing what the creeds say or mean, or understanding all the strange stories in the Bible. It means saying to Jesus, “Yes I will be your friend, and I want you to be mine. I’ll follow you, starting from today, and I’ll order my life and affairs in a way that you will approve”. Say that, now, today.

Things That Go Bump In The Night

Isaiah 26:3-4 – Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace – in peace because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for in the Lord God you have an everlasting rock.
Years ago now while a student studying at Knox College, I shared a message What Fear do you Fear? and in it I was asking folk if they were afraid of things that go bump in the night – and at this precise moment three massive bangs reverberated through the sanctuary and half the people present jumped out of their seats in fear.
The bangs, by the way, were produced by this delightful gentleman who joined us every Sunday for worship but lived very much in a world of his own. He had been asleep in the front pew and sent his leg crashing down on the pew three times as sort of a way to wake himself up.
No, I’m not kidding!
Things are never going to stop going bump in the night but our reaction to them can change as we grow in the knowledge and love of our Lord.
“You gain strength, experience and confidence by every experience where you really stop to look fear in the face… You must do the thing you cannot do.” (Eleanor Roosevelt)
Prayer: Faithful friend, free us from the fears that follow us through the nights and through the days until we rest in you in perfect peace. Amen.