This sermon can be watched or listened to at www.templebaptistchurch.ca!
What do you do when your family and you are in a mess? Sometimes we just try to ignore it and pretend like nothing is wrong. We call that living indenial. Sometimes we just come to a place of acceptance. We just think, well that is the way creepy Uncle Harry is or Aunt Allie has a drinking problem, but she is still pretty functional. Other times we become so fragmented that we just try to avoid the problem and put distance between us and them. But then we forget that we carry our DNA with us and whether by nurture or nature, sin does not evaporate. Family traits seem to be stowaways in our baggage when we run away from our family problems. What do you do when your family and you are in a mess?
Let me tell you what Nehemiah did. Nehemiah lived over 2500 years ago. As we learned the last couple of Sundays as we began studying the Book of Nehemiah, God wants to restore our lives and give us a hope and not just us, but our church and our city. It will still take lots of prayerful work and overcoming opposition, but God is faithful. Why study Nehemiah when it happened in a different time and place? Well, this book is the third in our Build series of studying Haggai, Ezra, Nehemiah and Zechariah during The Master’s Plan 4.0 – the name we have given the recreation of our property. The Master’s Plan 4.0 is intended to not only build a church, but also rebuild a city with the Gospel. We hope that what happened in Nehemiah’s day where the people built their relationship with God and discovered Him in new ways in rebuilding the city of Jerusalem will also happen here in Cambridge and the Waterloo region. The call from Nehemiah is to restore the foundations of the walls that God once used to protect us. Such restoring and rebuilding often leads to revival and reform, which is something our church is seeking God for.
Now if revival has not been on your mind lately and you have just been keeping your head down and doing your work, you are in a similar situation to Nehemiah. Nehemiah had just been serving in his job with excellence and integrity but his compassion meter for God’s people was low. Until it happened! What happened was that Nehemiah got a report from his brother about how the rest of their Jewish brethren were doing in Jerusalem and Nehemiah 1:3 tells us they were in great trouble and shame. So verse 4 tells what Nehemiah did. In our vernacular, Nehemiah became a hot mess! He mourned, fasted and prayed about the crisis. If you were here last Sunday, I challenged you to not panic but pray in crisis and to mourn and fast over your family troubles. How did that go? Did you see God do anything? If not, let’s find out how we should pray when our family is in a mess from Nehemiah 1:5-11. Read Nehemiah 1:5-11!
Let’s summarize this passage with first an axiom and then a sentence. The axiom or trust statement is this: Powerful people go to the most powerful God acknowledging their sin and powerlessness.Now some of you might think immediately that this is not very helpful because you don’t feel very powerful. You aren’t rich enough, you aren’t smart enough, you haven’t lived here long enough or you aren’t well-connected enough to be considered powerful. If that is you, start with the last word of the statement and reverse engineer. By acknowledging your powerlessness to God, you find power! That is the irony. When we are weak, then we are strong! (c.f. 2 Corinthians 12:10)
And it is out of seeking power from God, not people, not possessions and not through popularity that we find His help. Here is the life-changing sentence that will transform my life and yours if we embrace it: When your family and you are in a mess, take your sin to God and confess…
… how great and awesome God is and His love for you (v. 5)
… how much you and your family have sinned (v. 6-8)
… how God is the only one powerful to restore you and make you successful (v. 9-11)
I want to break each of those down for you by tying them to the text and prayer of Nehemiah. Let’s start in verse 5, “And I said, ‘O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love Him and keep His commandments.” This is peculiar coming from Nehemiah. Why? Because as verse 11 states, “Now I was cupbearer to the king.” Nehemiah as cupbearer to the king meant that he was the most trusted person in the kingdom because every morsel of food and every drop of drink first passed by the lips of Nehemiah before it went through the king’s lips. Ancient kings were targets for assassination by poisoning so the cupbearer was the last line of defense from this form of assassination. The food may have made it past the kitchen, but not past the cupbearer. Therfore, cupbearers were implicitly trusted by their kings and queens and they had access to the throne unlike most others. And so it would make sense that Nehemiah’s first appeal should have been to King Artaxerxes, but it wasn’t. My friends, is our first appeal to those we know who are powerful or do we go to God, the most powerful?God loves it when we do end runs around the powerful and go directly to the top – to Him! Do that end run today and seek God with your mess and problem(s).
This is what Nehemiah did with his family and nation’s mess. This cupbearer may have been “empty-handed when approaching the King of kings, but he was not uninvited.”And yet, did Nehemiah start with his request? No, Nehemiah confessed how great and awesome God is and God’s love for Nehemiah and his family. Now, some may say that Nehemiah was buttering up God or using the same tactic he often used in approaching King Artaxerxes, but God cannot be buttered up. He knows our hearts. The act of adoration and praise by Nehemiah was sincere. My friends, this is one of the things I learned from prayer coaching this summer from Dr. Daniel Henderson. We are to have worship-based prayers. The Lord’s Prayer starts with declarations about God, His Kingdom and His Will before it ever asks for daily bread. Think about it! Do you like it when people acknowledge who you are and how they love you before they ask you to do something for them? I’m sure the first thing you don’t want to hear out of your friend, spouse’s or child lips is, “Could you please do this for me?” without saying “hi” first. People don’t like to be treated as slaves and neither does God. He wants to be acknowledged first. And notice what Nehemiah acknowledges about God. He is the God of heaven! He is transcendent. He rises above the problems of earth. I need to constantly remind myself when I am thinking of my problems here on earth that I have a God and Father not just in heaven, but also ofheaven. The location of God helps us to remember He sees everything and is over everything by being in heaven but being of heaven means that God is good. Heaven is a place of ultimate good with God as its source. You see, it isn’t just God’s location that is helpful, but His labours are also worthy to be praised. God’s labours come out of His character because the works that He does are great and awesome. Now remember Nehemiah is declaring that God is great and awesome despite His family being in great trouble and shame. Nehemiah does not do as many do in similar situations. Nehemiah does not blame God for His family’s or nations’ troubles. In fact, Nehemiah focuses on how God had kept His promise and allowed the Jews to survive and return to the land of Palestine. This is why Nehemiah goes on to say in verse 5 who keeps His covenant and steadfast love. God’s location, labours and His love are the focus of Nehemiah. Did you know today that God loves you and me too with such steadfast love? But Nehemiah is not done with His declarations. The end of the verse states, “who keeps His covenant and steadfast love with those who love Him and keep His commandments.” God’s commands keep us close to His love if we keep them. So we could say that God’s location, labours, loveand His lawsall make Him worthy to be praised.
So before you bring your family’s problem to God, bring your praise to God. Not to try to manipulate Him or butter Him up, but because by doing so, you will be overwhelmed with how much bigger He is than your problem – even creepy Uncle Harry. I truly believe and am trying to lead our church to have such a big vision of God that He and His grace overwhelm our sin through Jesus Christ.
In fact, by having a vision of God’s character, it will often lead to confession of sin because we soon realize that we are standing before a holy God. This is the next step to do when your family is in a mess, take your sin to God and confess how much you have sinned. This is what we read in verses 6-8, “6 let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, to hear the prayer of Your servant that I now pray before You day and night for the people of Israel Your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against You. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. 7 We have acted very corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that You commanded Your servant Moses. 8 Remember the word that you commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples.” Now, let me explain because sometimes we can think God is aloof and not listening. God is not distracted like me when I have lots to think about. When Nehemiah asks for God to be attentive, it is more for Nehemiah’s sake than to wake God up. Nehemiah is asking for priority sequence. Why? Because Nehemiah has been praying for sometime. We don’t know how long for sure, but verse 4 says he prayed for days and verse 6 says Nehemiah prayed day and night. I believe God doesn’t answer immediately for many reasons including Him knowing the big picture and is multi-tasking many outcomes, but sometimes He is righteously enjoying the focus and attention we are giving Him in those times of desperation. In other words, when God seems inattentive, He may be the most attentive because we are paying attention to Him.This does not mean that God is needy for attention, but instead He wants to deal with all the stuff that has hindered our intimacy with Him.
In Nehemiah’s case, Nehemiah confesses the sins of his family and people Israel. Nehemiah looks both in the mirror and out the window and sees sin inside and outside of himself. Unlike “Ezra who stood outside the circle of sinners in Ezra 9-10, Nehemiah included himself in the circle.” This is important because “Nehemiah was probably a eunuch”since they didn’t let fertile men around the king’s harem, not only to avoid temptation, but to sleep with the king’s wives or concubines was a power play as demonstrated when Absalom slept with his father David’s concubines. This meant that since Nehemiah was a eunuch, his prayers would be more about past and present than future. It also meant that confession is for both the single and married. What a good lesson for us! Before we move forward with our family, we need to deal with our family of the past. I have taken years of study and now convinced that there is such a thing as generational sin. It is first displayed in the life of the Patriarchs, where Abraham and then Isaac lied about their wives being their sisters because the men were fearful of their enemies. Their bent towards lying where nurture or nature was also passed down to Jacob, whose name means deceiver. Jacob deceived his father Isaac to obtain his blessing. But generational sin is not just described, but also prescribed in the 10 Commandments in Exodus 20:5-6, “You shall not bow down to idols or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love Me and keep My commandments.”Notice that same phrase at the end of the verse that Nehemiah echoed to start his prayer. God loves to shower His love on those who love Him, but idol-chasing is hatred toward God and it often has generational consequences like dispositions we have toward alcoholism if our parents or grandparents were alcoholics. You might not think that is fair to the following generations, but the word “To be ‘unfaithful’ is to act treacherously.”I don’t believe though that these generational sins have to be the final word, a nail in your coffin causing your destruction. They are meant to turn you back to the Lord. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God. Some of you are more prone to the sins of your fathers and mothers than others, but we all sin! I’ll say that again, we all sin. Whether we pick our own poison or it was picked for us, we all sin but if we confess our sins and our family’s sin, God’s grace is available to us all. Nehemiah, the second in the kingdom, confessed his sin just as much as his troubled family. Each is responsible to confess their own sins. The Bible does not teach there is a purgatory that we can pray on behalf of our dead loved ones to grant them forgiveness. Hebrews 9:27teaches, “it is appointed for man to die once and after that comes judgment.”Each person must repent of their own sin. But there is what theologians call “identificational repentance” that is evidenced in Nehemiah 1 and Ezra 9:6-7. This is what the conservative government tried to do a few years when they sought forgiveness from the Aboriginal peoples for breaking past treaties. There is something powerful when a leader or representative of a family seeks forgiveness for their people. That happened here when a man, after serving time in prison, who abused some children associated with our church wrote a letter to seek corporate forgiveness from us a church for his deception. He needed to seek forgiveness from the individuals as well but it was a massive step forward when we granted and sought corporate forgiveness. As I talked to some of our leaders, they sensed we should seek forgiveness for complacency, lack of confronting truth, celebrity culture, self-importance, sacred cows, prayerlessness, idolatry, a lack of patience with the broken & fallen and a lack of evangelism. So let me pray for us, “God of Heaven, gracious, merciful and abounding in love, we come to You through the name and shed blood of Jesus Christ, and seek forgiveness for complacency, lack of confronting truth, celebrity culture, self-importance, sacred cows, prayerlessness, idolatry and a lack of evangelism.” If you agree, please say, “Amen!”
And today if you need to seek God’s forgiveness for your family, please pray this prayer out loud, “Lord Jesus Christ of Nazareth, I state your full nameas the current representative of my family, assume responsibility for the sins of my ancestors and humbly repent for their disobedience in the name of Jesus Christ, who paid for their sins as well as mine. I confess the following sins of my ancestors: pray aloud all the sins that the Holy Spirit brings to mind.I renounce, reject and disown all the sins of my ancestors and repent of their beliefs, actions and unrighteous behaviour. I ask You break all “curses” my family may be under and we will no longer live under their authority because we belong to Jesus Christ. I no longer want anything to do with these family sins. I ask You Holy Spirit, to close and seal all doors that have been opened to me and my offspring from now till Jesus returns. Seal them with the true blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen”Wow! This is a major day of freedom for your family and explains why some of you sensed a lot of spiritual warfare this week.
Now we can go forward and confess how God is the only one powerful to restore you and make you successful (v. 9-11). We must remember as one scholar says, “The Lord of history makes the decisions, not Artaxerxes.”I believe that seeking the omnipotent God empowers us to go to human powers. Maybe it is that boss or teacher or leader that you know God has been telling you to talk to and you have not out of fear? God is renewing your confidence in Him and giving your courage. Pray and go to them! Why? Because Jesus did this for you and me! He acknowledged God for His location, labours, love and laws. In fact, He did so by taking action and obeying God’s laws perfectly and 100% of the time. He confessed sins on behalf of others. Remember on the Cross what Jesus said about His executioners, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)And Jesus knew where true power came from. Remember what Jesus said to Pilate in John 19:11, “You would have no authority over Me at all unless it had been given you from above.”
This is why when our family is in a mess, take your sin to God and confess … confess Jesus can clean up your family and give you success today!
This sermon can be watched or listened to at www.templebaptistchurch.ca!
What do you do when you hear about a crisis? Panic or Pray? Think about when you last faced a crisis, something disturbing, a frightening experience. It could have been an accident. It could be a devastating report about some people you really care about. I got one of those calls this past Tuesday. Lori, Noah, Luke and I had been to the outstanding Christian movie Overcomer (which as an aside I highly recommend you attend). After the movie, we needed to stop by the Wal-mart pharmacy to pick up something for our daughter. So I ran into the store to pick it up. Meanwhile, our youngest son realized that he needed some school supplies and so Lori took the opportunity to go in with him to get the supplies. They stopped by the pharmacy to see me. The prescription was taking longer than expected so Lori decided to go back to the car so that we didn’t leave our thirteen year old son Noah alone for long. She and Luke went out and soon my phone rang. It was Lori. Apparently, while we were gone a man parked next to our van had waited until Lori and Luke had left to go into the store and then saw that the door was unlocked. Not knowing that Noah was in the van, he yanked open the driver’s door of the van and started looking for valuables. Noah totally surprised him when he said, “Hey!” The man ran away and eventually his girlfriend got out of their car and followed him. By the time Lori got out there, Noah was pretty shook up, but he gave a detailed description of the guy and what he had done and where he went. Both he and my daughter don’t miss a thing. Lori called me and I told her to call 911. She did and I paid for my daughter’s prescription and ran out of the store. I was on a mission. If somebody was going to brazenly try to rob us and hurt my son, I was going to catch the guys. Lori was still on the phone with 911 when I got out to the parking lot. The bad guy’s car was still parked next to ours so they were not going anywhere. I asked where they went and I ran part way across the parking lot and I spotted two individuals. The woman came over apologetic, but the bad guy took off. Finally, the police came. I have to say that I panicked first before I prayed. And my prayer was one only of seeking justice and that God would let the bad guy be caught. What do you do when you hear about a crisis?
Let me tell you what Nehemiah did. Nehemiah lived over 2500 years ago. As we learned last Sunday as we began studying the Book of Nehemiah, God wants to restore our lives and give us a hope and not just us, but our church and our city. It will still take lots of prayerful work and overcoming opposition, but God is faithful. Why study Nehemiah when it happened in a different time and place? Well, this book is the third in our Build series of studying Haggai, Ezra, Nehemiah and Zechariah during The Master’s Plan 4.0 – the name we have given the recreation of our property. The Master’s Plan 4.0 is intended to not only build a church, but also rebuild a city with the Gospel. We hope that what happened in Nehemiah’s day where the people built their relationship with God and discovered Him in new ways in rebuilding the city of Jerusalem will also happen here in Cambridge and the Waterloo region. The call from Nehemiah is to restore the foundations of the walls that God once used to protect us. Such restoring and rebuilding often leads to revival and reform – a much needed message for today! Don’t you agree?
Now if revival has not been on your mind lately and you have just been keeping your head down and doing your work, you are in a similar situation to Nehemiah. Nehemiah had just been serving in his job with excellence and integrity but his compassion meter for God’s people was low. Until it happened! Let’s read what happened next in Nehemiah 1:1-4! Read Nehemiah 1:1-4!
This week I really want to focus on verse 4 and Nehemiah’s response to a crisis and bad report, “As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” Those words that stimulated Nehemiah’s weeping and mourning are found in verse 3. The Jewish remnant was in great trouble and shame and the walls of Jerusalem and its gates destroyed. The aim of today’s sermon is for God to break our hearts too. I am asking the question, what would make you and I weep and mourn?From the text, I see three things that stimulated mourning in Nehemiah’s life and caused him to give the right response – prayer! There are three, but not limited to causes for mourning we can have: The first is when your family is in trouble and shame; when your place of worship is broken, and when your protective barriers are destroyed. In other words and in our context, family troubles, broken worship and lack of safety should cause us to mourn.So do any of those bother you? Have they been bothering you lately?
Let me unpack those further. I’ll start with the people first because compassion for our family should come first. Sadly, too often we show a lot more empathy for others than our family. I have found that we don’t give the same grace to those who share our last name as we do with our friends, classmates and roommates. When our family is hurting, we often tend to just tell them to be tougher. You know when your kid stubs his toe or gets a scrape we just say, “Did you put some ice on it?” Or go get a Band-aid, you’ll be fine. Many of you know our family is a baseball family and so we often hear at games when a batter is narrowly missed by the pitch, his teammates yell, “We got ice!” There is no compassion. However, if a kid gets hurt at church on a canoe trip, “Oh no! Are you okay?” Let me get you something for that!” Is this just me?
Sometimes we are just too close to notice the hurts, shame and trouble that our families and loved ones are in. Other times we are like Nehemiah and we have lost track of our relatives and people. Nehemiah, as we learn in verse 1, was in Susa and the trouble that his relatives were living in shame in Jerusalem. Susa was 1400 kilometres from Jerusalem. That is about from here to New Brunswick. That is a long ways away but I use that example because I have relatives in New Brunswick. Maybe you find yourself today having lost touch with distant family? Could I challenge you today? Would you pray for your distant relatives who are in trouble and shame?They might even be successful in the world’s eyes, but they are in trouble and shame because they have not been restored to God and are not worshipping Him.
In the case of Nehemiah’s relatives, they were in shame because they were former slaves who returned from exile and had little power. They were trying to re-establish their homeland but they were a conquered people. They were the losers and what often happens is those living in the majority do not like to see a displaced people returning to a land that once belonged to them. They are a major threat. This has happened throughout history including in our country when Aboriginal peoples have reclaimed the land, but probably the most well-known was what happened in the same country thousands of years later when in 1948 the State of Israel was established and this led to an immediate war with the Arabs who occupied the land. The Jews in Nehemiah’s day were discriminated against, were few in number and though they had the backing of the Persian military power, it was not like today when a few flybys by military jets would back their opponents off. Susa was months away by foot, especially for a military campaign. Now listen up Bible students because this is important. What was happening in Nehemiah’s day has continued for thousands of years until 1948. There were different powers such as Rome in Jesus’ day, but the Jews experienced shame and oppression starting with their exile to Babylon in 586 BC and never really recovered until about 70 years ago. I am not making a political statement, just a historical one to make the point that we must pray for our distant relatives now. Your prayer now may stop generations of shame and trouble.Pray right now for these people with this simple prayer:Rescue, Lord, name a troubled and or unsaved relative.
So family troubles should make you weep, mourn, fast and pray, but so should broken worship. In Nehemiah’s case, he was devastated to hear that “the wall of Jerusalem was broken” as verse 3 describes. This wall was pretty important because “After a 140 years Jerusalem and its inhabitants, the Jews, were still easy game for any enemy who wanted to attack them.”“Jerusalem was not only disarmed but on its own.”And this very much threatened the worship in Jerusalem, which was designated as holy and a place where God’s glory was supposed to rest. This is why the Psalmist in Psalm 122 declares in verse 2-9, “Jerusalem—built as a citythat is bound firmly together,4 to which the tribes go up,the tribes of the Lord,as was decreed for Israel,to give thanks to the name of the Lord. 5 There thrones for judgment were set,the thrones of the house of David.6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!“May they be secure who love you!7 Peace be within your wallsand security within your towers! 8 For my brothers and companions’ sakeI will say, “Peace be within you!”9 For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,I will seek your good. I believe we should still pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
Now let me apply how we should be restored by mourning over broken worship. I’ll start by asking: are there threats to your worship of God?And I’m not trying to launch a grenade and start a worship war over the songs and artistic expressions you prefer. We try to sing one another’s songs to God here so that in submitting to one another we show our love and worship of God. But this is not about hymns and worship songs. I want you to think bigger than that. In fact, as much as we should pray that we continue to have religious freedom to worship God in gatherings like we are today, that is not your biggest threat to worshipping God. And I am not talking about church buildings themselves since we can worship anywhere. However, it is sad to see beautiful churches and cathedrals decay and be destroyed. Think about how multitudes of people stood crying as Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris burned earlier this year. But decaying and destroyed church buildings are not the greatest threat to worship. My biggest threat and your biggest threat to worship are idols. Idols being not so much wood or stone statues as much as anything that we seek comfort and satisfaction from other than God. This is our greatest threat and leads to broken worship. We will worship something no matter what. Every one of you is worshipping either God or a lesser god right now. And unless we have some guardrails that direct us to God, we will miss having God as the centre of our worship. If we are off even by a few degrees from straight north to God, we will worship created things rather than the Creator. The walls and gates direct and lead us to God. What is really neat is that now the walls and gates are not so much stone and metal but Jesus Himself. Jesus eliminated all the obstacles of tradition and man-made rules that kept people from worshipping God and entering the Holy of Holies. The only gate of worship to God is Jesus Himself in John 10:7-9, “7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.”Jesus is offering us passageway to God and to make our worship holy and whole – not broken down with idols.
Crises are opportunities for God to work. Recall Jesus’ declaration in Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” We can start to pray for our family troubles and broken worship but we also need to pray for continued safety. You see in Nehemiah 1:3, we discover it wasn’t just the walls that were broken but the gates were destroyed. It should bother us that so many of God’s commands are ignored and rejected. God’s Word cannot be destroyed but will last forever, but we should weep, mourn and fast that the commands of God’s Word be restored in the hearts and minds of people. People are hurting themselves through sexual immorality, greed, pride, prayerlessness, disregard for parents, loving themselves only and whatever else is coming to mind. Shout them out! Today is the call for us to weep and cry out to God that people would return to the safety of the gate of Jesus Christ. He is the only one who can give us eternal safety that goes beyond physical safety.
Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision, once prayed, “God, break my heart with the things that breaks Yours.” It is even a line in the song we sing, “Hosanna.” As we head into the Communion Table, may we be reminded that we come as people who were in shame and troubled and yet our Brother Jesus prayed for us. He was far off, but prayed and then came to rescue us. May we also be reminded that Jesus healed our broken worship by becoming the gate that was destroyed by our sin and yet restored to His rightful place through His resurrection. He is no longer on the Cross and we don’t need a crucifix to remind us. As C.S. Lewis said, “I need Christ, not something that resembles Him, just like I want to see my deceased wife again, not just something that resembles her. A really good picture might be in the end a snare, a horror and an obstacle.”This bread and juice only give us a taste for more of Christ. Christ has risen from the grave and now I can worship Him anywhere, any time. And may we be reminded that Jesus is our continued safety. We can run back to Him constantly. He is not just in one place on earth, He has transcended and gave us His Spirit. As we enter into this time of passing out bread first and then the cup, may we mourn over sin, confess it and receive God’s grace and forgiveness. Mourn over your troubled family, broken worship and lack of safety, but find hope in all through Jesus Christ.The crisis you are facing should not cause you to panic but pray – pray to the Only One who can truly help!
This sermon can be watched or listened to at www.templebaptistchurch.ca!
Is this going to be the year? Are you dreading going back to school or work? The summer may not have been all that you hoped for but you know it only gets busier from here. And I am guessing that some of you are not looking forward to the future. Maybe you have had a rough summer or a rough decade. You have a lot of anxiety about the future because you have had quite a few difficulties with work, school or neighbourhood in the past. May I remind you as much as there is hard work and land mines that we have to avoid and that sometimes blow up in our face, God has a good future for us. This may be the year!
This is exactly what the Bible teaches and specifically the Book of Nehemiah. God wants to restore our lives and give us a hope and not just us, but our church and our city. It will still take lots of prayerful work and overcoming opposition, but God is faithful. Why study Nehemiah when it happened in a different time and place? Well, this book is the third in our Build series of studying Haggai, Ezra, Nehemiah and Zechariah during the Master’s Plan 4.0 – the name we have given the recreation of our property. The Master’s Plan 4.0 is intended to not only build a church, but also rebuild a city with the Gospel. We hope that what happened in Nehemiah’s day where the people built their relationship with God and discovered Him in new ways in rebuilding the city of Jerusalem will also happen here in Cambridge and the Waterloo region. The call from Nehemiah is to restore the foundations of the walls that God once used to protect us. Such restoring and rebuilding often leads to revival and reform – a much needed message for today! Don’t you agree?
The theme of the book is to restore the foundations that God once used to protect us and to put us in the position of revival if God so chooses. God not only wants to restore the protective barriers in our lives but actually rebuild our community. As we will discover, we will find a beautiful “balance between zealous human effort and planning with divine empowering.”
The Book of Nehemiah was written in 425 B.C. and was one of the last books written before the 400 years of silence when Christ was born. Nehemiah might have felt like he got left behind. You see, the Jews had been in exile from 586 B.C. for cheating on God. God had promised in Jeremiah 29:10, “For thus says the Lord: ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you My promise and bring you back to this place.”And God did fulfill His promise as we learned through studying the books of Haggai and Ezra. There were multiple waves of exiles that returned the Promised Land, but Nehemiah was in none of them. In fact, Nehemiah maybe had felt forgotten, which is why he himself had forgotten about God’s promise and forgotten his homeland. I believe Nehemiah just kept his head down and did the work before him. And then it happened …
What happened? Let’s read and dive deep into what happened in Nehemiah 1:1-3 and be pricked in our hearts that this is the year God wants us to make our greatest contribution to building a church and rebuilding a city by restoring God’s protective barriers! Even our Catholic friends in the Waterloo School Board seem to have the same plan! (pic) Read Nehemiah 1:1-3!
So what happened? Nehemiah got a bad report! Anybody get a bad report lately? Nehemiah was living in the Persian capital of Susa – a place of commerce and influence. He was living in relative comfort. In fact, “Nehemiah’s name means ‘the Lord comforts.’How do we know that Nehemiah was living in comfort? We need to read the end of the chapter in verse 11, “Now I was cupbearer to the king.” Those are powerful words – literally words displaying power. You see, you might think being a cupbearer was like being a really good waiter or bartender. I’m the kind of customer that probably annoys waiters and waitresses because I ask them what is good on the menu. I trust them to bring me something that is good because I know they want me to have a good experience due to their tips being on the line, even though I put them in the awkward position of having to discover what my likes are. Servers at restaurants are in trusted positions, not only with the taste, but also with the safe-handling of your food. However, cupbearers went way beyond good waiters or bartenders. If you were selected to be a cupbearer, you were not just a server on steroids. No, to be a cupbearer actually meant the king considered you the most trustworthy person in the kingdom. Cupbearers tasted everything before it touched the king’s lips. It sounds like a great gig getting all those royal delicacies, but it was more than just being a foodie. You see, ancient kings were always in danger of being assassinated. And so cupbearers would ensure that their drinks were not spiked and their food not laced with poison. This meant that the cupbearer had a high risk and high reward job. They had a dangerous job. The cupbearer might die defending his king by eating the king’s food and drinking the king’s drink first.
And yet we know that Nehemiah had been doing a good job. How do we know this? 1) He is still alive; and 2) His king has reigned a long time. Notice how Nehemiah says in verse 1 that “in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year. This meant that it was between “mid-November and mid-December of 446 B.C.” How can we be certain of the year? Because it was the twentieth year! The twentieth year of what? The reign of King Artaxerxes I or King Artaxerxes Longimonus as he was sometimes called. Just to get your historical bearing on the dynasty of the Persian Kings, here is this chart I created for reference throughout our Build Series.
Since Artaxerxes had been reigning for twenty years, it would be safe to say that Nehemiah had seniority and served in upper management for many years. You see, you don’t change cupbearers too often. It is too risky! Nehemiah was not a neophyte in the king’s service. So in summary, Nehemiah is an exiled Jew living in comfort in the Persian palace. What is the problem with that? It would appear that Nehemiah had forgotten God’s promise of returning to the Promised Land and Nehemiah had forgotten his people. My friends, pause there. There is a lesson for all of us. We can be faithfully serving in our jobs and forget God’s people. We can climb to the highest ranks in our respective careers and forget God’s promises, not because we are doing anything wrong, but because of our passivity. In fact, we might be like Nehemiah and doing our jobs with integrity and excellence for a long time and yet, still not be making our greatest contribution, which is to God’s kingdom, not Artaxerxes’ kingdom or you fill in the blank with the name of your company or school. Integrity is not enough! Excellence is not enough! We must remember God’s promises and people!
How do I know this? Verses 2-3 gives us a clue, “that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, ‘The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are destroyed by fire.” There is a lot to unpack in these two verses. It could be that Nehemiah sent his brother to Jerusalem to get news of the situation there, but I think that is unlikely. Why? Because most likely the walls were broken down and the gates destroyed by fire “not by Nebuchadnezzar but when a bid to rebuild the walls to King Artaxerxes and promptly crushed by force and power as Ezra 4:23 reports.” This is the same King Artaxerxes who Nehemiah was serving as cupbearer. Now it could be that this just happened and Nehemiah sends his brother to give him current updates, but most likely the Jerusalem walls being broken down and its gates destroyed by fire were up to fifteen years earlier in Artaxerxes’ reign. This meant that Nehemiah either didn’t know or care about it at the time. It certainly would be hard to believe Nehemiah didn’t know about his Jewish’ brothers and sister in the Promised Land having their work stopped. It would have been such a contrast as Susa’s walls were strong and yet Jerusalem’s walls were broken. “After a 140 years Jerusalem and its inhabitants, the Jews, were still easy game for any enemy who wanted to attack them.”“Jerusalem was not only disarmed but on its own.”Why did Nehemiah not feel this compassion? The text doesn’t tell us, but as we will find out in the coming days, Lord willing, the needle on Nehemiah’s compassion meter for God’s people rises. So here is the application, there might have been things going on under your nose or even things you knew about that didn’t bother you enough to take action, but now God wants you to rise up and take action. It was like the woman my mom and sister and I stopped to help who was being chased by her boyfriend on a back northern road when we were picking up my daughter from camp. In years past, I may have just kept driving, but I know now more about domestic violence and that the authorities need to be called sooner, which is why I dialled 911.
Nehemiah too had an increased amount of compassion for God’s people. One of the takeaways today is that this school year or new work year, ask God to increase your compassion for people, especially His people.Maybe you have not been an early adopter and cared much at the Master’s Plan 4.0, today is a new day. It is time to help build a church and rebuild a city. We are trying to create a community centre here. The people are the church, not the building or property. 1 Corinthians 3:16makes this very clear, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”I would rather you take that guilt and move forward with Christ and His work. Is this going to be the year when you go from a solid worker or student to a sold out one for Christ?
I am looking out at many Nehemiah who are persons of integrity, excellence and trustworthiness. Bravo, and yet many of you are not contributing to God with your potential. How are you going to use your power and influence for helping people and for the cause of Christ? What new action does God want you to take for His kingdom?
My friends, is this the year that the barriers are restored, a church built and a city rebuilt upon Christ’s foundation? Our motivation should only be Christ. You see, like Nehemiah, Jesus was the most trusted person in God’s Kingdom. And yet, He left the throne room and went to Jerusalem as well. Not to rebuild it, but to drink the poison that was intended for us. Jesus drank the cup of our sin so that we could be saved and a New Jerusalem could be built where our great trouble and shame would be no more. It is Jesus who has both exemplified and enables us to make our greatest contribution to God’s kingdom in building a church and rebuilding a city.
Though the Achaemenid dynasty began in 705 B.C., the Persian Empire did not begin until Cyrus II or Cyrus the Great as he was called conquered the Babylonians. Cyrus was half-Persian and half-Median.
This sermon can be watched or listened to at www.templebaptistchurch.ca!
Who here has been persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ? Maybe you were excluded from conversations at school or work because a group of peers or co-workers wanted to slander, gossip or swear? Maybe you weren’t invited to parties because they knew as a Christian you would not approve of the drinking, drugs and carousing that would go on? I know I missed a lot of invitations to parties in my life because I was known as a Christian. My big hope was that they didn’t think I was too good for them because I’m not. However, being labelled a Christian did help me to miss out on being placed in tempting or compromising situations.
Missing a few unmemorable parties is one thing, losing your job or being overlooked for it in the first place is another. Many Christians around the world have experienced such discrimination. Worse, some Christians have been disowned by their family, imprisoned, beaten, maimed or even killed for their faith. Barbara Kay in an article in the National Post on May 7, 2019 reports “the findings of an Italian study that a Christian is killed for his or her faith every six minutes.”Let that sink in! By the time I am done preaching this morning, 5 or 6 of our brothers or sisters in Christ will have already been martyred and gone to see Jesus.Such persecution is only increasing. A 2016 Pew Research report found that Christians were targeted in 144 countries, up from 125 in 2015 and Open Doors reports that within these past five years the number of countries classified as demonstrating “extreme persecution went from one (North Korea) to eleven (mostly in Africa).” This explains why when I applied for lower life insurance I was denied because I have travelled to Africa.
There are so many ways Christians are persecuted around the world – refusal for church construction, burial rights, limited access to education and employment, church vandalism, anti-Christian bigotry in school textbooks, harassment on state-sponsored media, imprisonment, church bombings (lest we forget the church bombing in Sri Lanka this past Easter Sunday where 259 Christians were killed), pogroms (violent riots) and genocide. And persecution is not just an international problem across the seas. We support a church plant in Montreal that was refused the ability to rent property to hold services so they had to meet in the lobby of a doctor’s office for the first few years of their existence.
Persecution has always been a description for a Christian. To be a Christian is to be a little Christ – and to be a little Christ is to suffer.“One of the most famous of all the martyrs was Polycarp, the aged bishop of Smyrna in the second century. The mob dragged him to the tribunal of the Roman magistrate. He was given the inevitable choice – sacrifice to the godhead of Caesar or die. ‘Eighty and six years,’ came the immortal reply, ‘have I served Christ and He has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?’ So they brought him to the stake and he prayed his last prayer: ‘O Lord God Almighty, the Father of Thy well-beloved and ever-blessed Son, by whom we have received the knowledge of Thee … I thank Thee that Thou has graciously thought me worthy of this day and of this hour.”
Now none of you have gone to the stake yet for Christ, but let’s see those hands for those who have been persecuted because maybe you didn’t realize that you have suffered for Christ. You have felt that ever-increasing hostility towards you because you belong to Christ. Can you freely practice your faith at work or school like other religions can? No! We are mildly persecuted here in Canada. And if you are persecuted, I am looking at some of the most blessed people on the planet. Why? Because Jesus says in Matthew 5:10-12, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” This is the last of what are called the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are 8 blessings Jesus gave to kick off the Sermon on the Mount. These blessings are not something that we can do, but are something that God gives us to make us “divinely happy.” They are the values of Christ’s kingdom! They characterize the subjects and co-heirs of King Jesus. When Jesus sat down to preach and teach the Sermon on the Mount, the King was holding court and addressing His subjects. As we heard the first week that Jesus offers riches beyond compare to those who declare spiritual bankruptcy – “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”(Matthew 5:3). Then six weeks ago we learned from Matthew 5:4 that mourning now and turning to Jesus for hope will mean we don’t mourn later – “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”Then five weeks ago Pastor Dan taught on Matthew 5:5, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Four Sundays ago we focused on the next Beatitude from Matthew 5:6 and learned that if we hunger for holiness from Jesus we will be happy. Then three weeks ago Pastor Dan reminded us from Matthew 5:7 that “Blessed are those who are merciful for they shall receive mercy.” A couple of Sundays ago, we learned that seeing God requires a pure heart and then learned that peacemaking is another of God’s family values. So being poor in spirit, mourning, meekness, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, being merciful, pure in heart and being a peacemaker are all values in God’s family and Christ’s kingdom. Ironically, “The peacemaker is not always welcome.”The poor in spirit, those who mourn, are meek, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart and the peacemakers often get persecuted. If you were here last Sunday, I predicted that you would have opportunities to make peace and that some of you would also suffer for it. Was that true? If so, Jesus calls you blessed and today I hope to put a smile on your face that you can’t wipe off. Suffering for Jesus is better than your first kiss.
Why? Because great is your reward in heaven. Jesus doesn’t tell us what the reward is, but I think recognition by Him alone would be great, let alone the special white robe that is mentioned inRevelation 6:9-11, “9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before You will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.”Some people count dollars and attendance, God seems to count martyrs!I was keenly aware of this when I went to Moody Bible Institute. On the back wall at the chapel were listed all the Moody Alumni who were martyred for their faith. This wall now includes Bonnie Witherall, who I went to school with, and who went to Lebanon where she started an orphanage and one morning a Muslim terrorist knocked on her door and shot her in the face instantly killing her. Bonnie lived out Matthew 5:10-12, which William Barclay calls “the bliss of the blood-stained way.”
Can I confess to you that I sometimes wonder if I am fully following Jesus because I am not persecuted enough? 2 Timothy 3:12 declares, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” As one scholar writes, “The vital Christian is sure to meet with some form of opposition or persecution.” I am certainly not at an apostolic level of persecution. Not even close! I am way too comfortable. However, I am not trying to do any persecution shaming on you today. Only God and you can answer whether you are living on the edge of boldness that Christ has called you to. Maybe it would alleviate some of the guilt to know that listed in the midst of the Apostle Paul’s persecutions found in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 including imprisonments, beatings, being shipwrecked, being stoned 3 times, being robbed, hungry, thirsty and in danger from false brothers, Paul also mentions a lack of sleep? If you have lost sleep praying for people, especially the lost, then that counts too, which is why the least we can do is sign up for 15 minutes to pray for the election coming up. Our governments are increasingly hostile towards the things of God. We need to pray before we ever protest.
And yet, I want to clarify that we Christians are not sadomasochistic and enjoy pain. Rejoicing and being glad is not delighting in the suffering, it is delighting in our Suffering Saviour! The grammar in Matthew 5:10 helps instruct us. The word for persecution is in “the passive perfect and may be regarded as permissive – ‘who have allowed themselves to be persecuted,’” as Richard Lenski explains. So we as Christians should not pursue being persecuted, but we shouldn’t try to fight it either.I love our Christian brothers’ and sisters’ perspective as described in Nik Ripken’s book The Insanity of God, “The security police regularly harass a believer who owns the property where a house church meets. The police say, ‘You have got to stop these meetings! If you do not stop these meetings, we will confiscate your house, and we will throw you out into the street.’ Then the property owner will probably respond, ‘Do you want my house? Do you want my farm? Well, if you do, then you need to talk to Jesus because I gave this property to Him.’ The security police will not know what to make of that answer. So they will say, ‘We don’t have any way to get to Jesus, but we can certainly get to you! When we take your property, you and your family will have nowhere to live!’ And the house church believers will declare, ‘Then we will be free to trust God for shelter as well as for our daily bread.’ ‘If you keep this up, we will beat you!’ the persecutors will tell them. ‘Then we will be free to trust Jesus for healing,’ the believers will respond. ‘And then we will put you in prison!’ the police will threaten. By now, the believers’ response is almost predictable: ‘Then we will be free to preach the good news of Jesus to the captives, to set them free. We will be free to plant churches in prison that we couldn’t do otherwise.’ ‘If you try to do that, we will kill you!’ the frustrated authorities will vow. And with utter consistency, the house church believers will reply, ‘Then we will be free to go to heaven and be with Jesus forever.’”I love it! Lord, if we could have that same perspective. This has been the attitude of the greatest saints in history, ““A man came to Tertullian, a second century African Christian, with a problem – his business interests had been conflicting with his loyalty to Jesus Christ. He told of the problem. He ended by saying, ‘What can I do? I must live.’ ‘Must you?’ asked Tertullian.”Is our goal to live and be comfortable here on this earth? For the follower of Jesus, living in this fallen world is the closest we will ever get to hell so it should have an ever decreasing hold on us. Persecution is for a drop in the bucket of eternity.
So here are three questions and actions from the text on how you can be blessed by being persecuted: 1) Are you persecuted for Jesus and His righteousness?Both verse 10 and verse 11 make it clear the reason why we are to be persecuted – “righteousness” in verse 10 and “on my account” in verse 11. Listen to what Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones said, “So often one has known Christian people who are suffering mild persecution entirely because of their own folly, because of something either in themselves or in what they are doing. But the promise does not apply to such people.”This is exactly what 1 Peter 4:14-16 declares, “14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” Self-inflicted suffering is not suffering for the Saviour!Only suffering for standing up for good and the truth directly related to Jesus causes blessing and inheritance in heaven. You inherit heaven through Jesus if you are spiritually bankrupt (v. 3) and beat up for good!
The second question and action is: 2) Are you engaging with the culture enough to be hated and yet loving them still?“To be identified with Jesus and the kingdom is to be in ‘the way of righteousness.’”Jesus taught through this Beatitude that His followers, subject and family “suffer because of their character.”We can’t retaliate! Jesus goes on to expand this in verse 39 to turn the other cheek. “Christian love means that I treat you the very way God treats me.”Think about it! When we rejected God, which we all have done because we are all sinners, God didn’t retaliate but gave us His Son to die for us and rise from the dead so that we could transition to a son. This goes back to verse 9 about becoming a peacemaker. Jesus- style peacemakers die to make peace. Will you? Or at least, are you willing?I love the perspective of the Christian President Abraham Lincoln, “Toward the end of the Civil War, reparations were being discussed in the White House. Abraham Lincoln was told by one of his advisors who favoured punishing the South, ‘Mr. President, you’re supposed to destroy your enemies, not make friends of them.’ Mr. Lincoln replied, ‘Am I not destroying an enemy when I make a friend of him?”Time and time again down through the centuries to the present day, we have seen persecutors turn into preachers of the Gospel because the witness of suffering believers is so compelling. The most powerful was an Indian Pastor and wife who were kidnapped and taken out into the jungle where pastor was forced to watch his wife be assaulted. Weeks later, the pastor and wife wanted to reach their persecutors and so they found who they were and were they lived. They went to their persecutors’ home and invited them to tea. The men surrendered their lives to Christ and are now pastors. Only the gospel changes people like that. This is why just asking God to help us become a better witness for Him, means we are asking to be better martyrs since it comes from the same root word! Engage with the culture to be hated but love them still.
So are you being persecuted for Jesus and His righteousness and are you holy enough to live different that you are engaging the culture enough to be hated and yet loving them still; and 3) Are you preparing to persevere through persecution? One writer has said, “Persecution is a roadway to a larger usefulness.”Therefore, are you becoming more useful for God? Here is how you can prepare to persevere: a) Memorize Scriptureso that if your Bible is taken out of your hand, it is still in your mind and heart.; b) Learn how to pray nowso that you bless your enemies; and c) Belong to a small groupwhen the church has to go underground;Join a weekly small group by talking to Pastor Jason today!d) Share the gospelnow so you win some and be used to rejection; and e) Rejoice and be gladfor your reward in heaven is just around the corner.
My friends, other religions teach that one gains heaven by self-imposed suffering like Buddhism or by causing the suffering of others like an Islamic suicide bomber. Christianity teaches that though we don’t pursue suffering, suffering brings about happiness and heaven. Why? Because our Founder Jesus Christ experienced the greatest persecution for us. May we be considered worthy to suffer for Him!
CONCLUSION: The late pastor Warren Wiersbe told the story, “On March 11, 1830, a little British girl was doing her lessons with her tutor, and the lesson that day had to do with the royal family. As she studied the genealogical chart in the book, she became aware of the astounding fact that she was next in line for the throne! At first she wept, and then she looked at her tutor and said, ‘I will be good.’ The fact that little Victoria would one day be queen motivated her to live on a higher level; and the fact that you and I are already kings should motivate us not to retaliate.”BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO ARE PERSECUTED FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS’ SAKE, FOR THEIRS IS THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN!
This sermon can be watched or listened to at www.templebaptistchurch.ca!
What are your family’s values?Having written out values at very least gives some direction. Of course, living out those values is a whole other story, but communicating values is often a good first step. I want to say though that writing out values is not just for families but for single folk as well. No matter your age or marital status, you are all making decisions based on your values. Shout out a few values you have!
Would you like to know what the family values are in the Stairs’ household? 1) Jesus First; 2) Keep Your Word & God’s Word; 3) Pray Hard, Work Hard, Play Hard; 4) Forgive Quickly; 5) You always win when you care; 6) Stairs don’t quit! We tried at one time to be more concise with using the single words Jesus, truth, diligence, reconciliation, compassion and perseverance, but we think the phrases are more memorable. We repeat these values to each other such as we when we want to give up on a job or assignment, we say “Stairs don’t quit!” You can use your family values for evaluation and creating conversations. At first glance, probably the fifth value of showing more compassion is the one we need to work on the most. I am finding that one of the positive outcomes from my Dad’s death is that has created more empathy for those hurting and grieving. Did you know that God has values for His family? Do you know what they are?
God’s family values are not limited to but include what are called the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are 8 blessings Jesus gave to kick off the Sermon on the Mount. These blessings are not something that we can do, but are something that God gives us to make us “divinely happy.”They are the values of Christ’s kingdom! They characterize the subjects and co-heirs of King Jesus. When Jesus sat down to preach and teach the Sermon on the Mount, the King was holding court and addressing His subjects. As we heard the first week that Jesus offers riches beyond compare to those who declare spiritual bankruptcy – “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”(Matthew 5:3). Then four weeks ago we learned from Matthew 5:4 that mourning now and turning to Jesus for hope will mean we don’t mourn later – “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”Then four weeks ago Pastor Dan taught on Matthew 5:5, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Three Sundays ago we focused on the next Beatitude from Matthew 5:6 and learned that if we hunger for holiness from Jesus we will be happy. Then two weeks ago Pastor Dan reminded us from Matthew 5:7 that “Blessed are those who are merciful for they shall receive mercy.” Last Sunday night, we learned that seeing God requires a pure heart! And today we are going to learn that peacemaking is another of God’s family values. So being poor in spirit, mourning, meekness, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, being merciful, pure in heart and being a peacemaker are all values in God’s family. However, it is this last one – peacemaking – that may distinguish us most of all as God’s children. Let’s read what Jesus says in Matthew 5:9! Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God!
This morning I want to explain further what Jesus meant and didn’t mean with this Beatitude. Then I will try to appeal to you that being a peacemaker may be the greatest role and purpose you have on earth. Finally, I want to make some applications and teach you how to become a peacemaker. Please though, don’t misunderstand. I certainly can’t better the words of Jesus. Only explain them. Here is how I might summarize Jesus’ words for explanation, inspiration and correction. Making peace is the path of happiness and heaven!This phrase may be understood out of context or without the acknowledgment that it is pregnant with the source of peace. What do I mean? Let’s start with the goal in mind and reverse engineer it. I could have started this morning by asking you who here wants to be called a child of God. Think about it! You become a child of God today and have God as your Heavenly Father. He will love and provide for you forever. You will experience His protection forever. And you will inherit heaven and live with God forever. Doesn’t becoming a child of God sound like the best? Isn’t that what Jesus promised? Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God. And how could Jesus make such a promise? It is because He istheSon of God. Jesus is the original Son of God. This is what the Bible repeatedly declares! The most famous verse in the Bible is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” It is also what Paul meant when he wrote in Colossians 1:15, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” Being the only Son of God and firstborn of all creation does not mean that God the Son was created as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons believe. It means that He is first and pre-eminent. It has to do with His position, not His pedigree. And because the eternal Son Jesus is first, He is the most valuable person in the universe and the beginning of other sons and daughters. This is important when it comes to understanding adoption.
Like today, adoption has always been an intentional, legal and costly endeavour. No parent ever says to the adoption agent, pick whichever kid you want or the kid who puts up his or her hand first. No, parents choose their children. God does the same with us. Ephesians 1:4-5should cause you spirits to soar, “In love, he(God) predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ.”God intentionally chose you and adopted you as His child. Everybody else might reject you, but God the Father hasn’t! And He made His choice binding. He has changed your legal status. If you are God’s child, then you are co-heirs with Christ and all others of God’s children (Romans 8:17). Everything that belongs to Christ also belongs to you. Now, this is utterly amazing because I know very few siblings that put their siblings before themselves. However, Jesus did! This is why we worship our Big Brother Jesus! You see, adoptions are not just intentional, legal but also costly. Adoptions cost thousands of dollars, except in the case of my sister whose adoption only cost $15 because the adoption lawyer owed my dad a big favour. If you have adopted, you understand the great cost. The great cost of our adoption was the death of our older brother Jesus. And as has already been established, His life was worth all of our lives put together. He was the perfect Son of God. And He died for you and me to pay the price of the adoption fee. Look again, in love God predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ.
Now if you are new to the faith that actually might be troubling because since God gave up His perfect, first and best Son for our adoption, it begs the question that many earthly adopted children struggle with, will He get rid of us? In other words, what kind of father is God? Aloof, abusive or accepting. My friends, God is loving and just. This is in part why Jesus rose from the grave so that we would get to live with our Big Brother happily for all eternity. On a human level, I know my kids feel like something is missing when their big brother is not there. You see, families are meant to stick together and Jesus is the glue of the family. He had to rise from the dead! That is extremely good news for us today.
One more thing though about adoption: though the parents choose the child first, older children get a choice in the matter as well. This is true for God’s adoptive children. Though He choose us first, we still have the choice to become His child. John 1:12 teaches, “But to all who did receive Him(Christ), who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” None of this is a detour, but background to establish this amazing truth: The Son of God made peace for us to become sons of God who make peace with others. This follows Ephesians 2:12-14, “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought hear by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” Jesus is our peace and if we are sons like Him then we will be peaceful and peacemakers like Him!As D.A. Carson suggests, “The heirs of the kingdom who are meek and poor in spirit, loving righteousness yet merciful, are especially equipped for peacemaking because they reflect the king, the Prince of Peace’s character.”So to close out the explanation of my statement making peace is the pathway to happiness and heaven, it is because God made peace with us through Jesus Christ so we could happily spend eternity with Him in the new heaven and new earth. One of our Heavenly Father’s role is to make peace. To make peace is to be like Him! It is true of our Heavenly Father and should be of us to break-up fights and create peace. You can do this at work, home, on the sports field or wherever you go. Your source of peace is your Heavenly Father and your reputation should be linked back to Him.
And I think we could all agree with Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “The great need of the world today is for a number of peacemakers.”But peacemaking is not the same as peacekeeping. “Peace loving is different than peace-making. The peace which the Bible calls blessed does not come from the evasion of issues; it comes from facing them, dealing with them and conquering them.”Peacekeeping often leads to a delayed and worse war. Time does not heal all wounds. Often avoiding the issue just leads to a stockpile of ammo and anger against another person. Therefore, “Jesus did not mean ‘peace at any price.’”He meant peace at the cost of great personal expense like He did, but not at the price of silence or avoidance. Instead, grace needs to be applied. Maybe this is one of the reasons why the Apostle Paul would write his greetings in this particular order, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 1:2)
Brothers and sisters, we are called by God’s grace to give His peace. “Hatred can never be conquered with hatred. Only love can conquer hatred.”“The only successful foe of evil is good.”We fight war under the banner of the Prince of Peace! This is what God the Son did. He conquered evil through peace. You see, there was a time when the sons of God were not peacemakers. Genesis 6:1-5 describes the sons of God at the beginning of human history, “When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. 3 Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” 4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. 5 The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” This passage is somewhat controversial in interpreting who the sons of God and Nephilim were and whether they were angels or humans. I lean towards them being fallen angels, though I wouldn’t start a denomination over it. Here is what is not controversial and what we can all agree – the sons of God were evil and not peaceful. Jesus in his inaugural speech as the King of Kings holding court redeems what happened in the beginning of human history after the Fall and now makes the sons of God peaceful and holy. So let’s go with our Big Brother Jesus and make war on fighting.
How? Here some ways to become a peacemaker: 1) Have peace with God yourself!You can’t give peace if you don’t have it yourself. As Clovis Chappell once remarked, “To be at war with God is to have civil war within your own soul. Recall Isaiah 48:22, ‘There is no peace,’ says the LORD, ‘for the wicked.’”Do you have peace with God through Jesus Christ? You can’t be a peacemaker until you receive God’s peace. Notice I didn’t say that you are to make peace with God like Lieutenant Dan did in the movie Forest Gump. God has made an offer of peace with you, you just have to accept His terms of peace, which is believe in and follow His Son.
After having peace with God yourself, the second way to become a peacemaker is 2) Prayerfully pursue peace.Romans 14:19 makes this clear, “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” This pursuit of peace starts with no longer being a war-monger ourselves, but living out James 4:1-3 through the power of the Holy Spirit, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”Too often we make war by wanting to be served rather than serve. We come home with a lot of expectations placed on others. Instead, if on the way home, we asked God to provide for our needs but more importantly, to fill us so we can build up others, I think our homes would become more peaceful. You can try this on the way to work as well. In summary, talk to our Heavenly Dad about bringing peace to your home, school, sports field and workplace.
So believe in the Prince of Peace, Jesus and have peace with God, then prayerfully pursue peace and finally the third way to becoming a peacemaker is to 3) Hold your peace. This is kind an older way of saying “know when to speak,”and it is especially used at weddings. This is not avoiding the issue, but just having discernment about when and how to bring up the issue. I call this a “pause for peace.” That moment when you send a volley of accusations and harsh words or hold your peace. Your tongue needs a ceasefire. This is why social media is so deadly in our exchanges and debates. There are not enough ceasefires or ability to see whether you are really hurting the other person. I have found private and personal confrontations go a lot better than text or messenger. Could we covenant together to make our conversations in person rather than digital? Anything sensitive should be by phone or better yet, in person.
All of this it to say, maybe our family should change or add one more family value to reflect our Heavenly Father’s family value? Make peace! We can because of what Jesus promised, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” (John 14:27) Father, Son and Holy Spirit give and make peace so we can be on the path to happiness and heaven! In a day when DNA testing is revealing our criminal relatives, making peace reveals we belong to God as His children.
Here is an excerpt from my sermon on Genesis 6 preached on February 14, 2016 at Temple Baptist Church: Who are the sons of God? Scholars think the three possibilities are that they were kings, descendants of Seth or fallen angels, but not rock monsters as portrayed in the latest Hollywood version of the movie Noah. No matter your view, the point is that sin corrupts the best of us. I believe the sons of God were fallen angels, which is why I called them rats that feed on our sin. Some argue that spirit beings do not marry or can’t reproduce according to Jesus in Matthew 22:29-30. However, in Matthew 22 Jesus was describing the future new heavens and new earth where there will not be marriage or sex. Jesus was not describing the past about fallen angels. In fact, in the past we find wicked men pursuing holy angels to have sex with them at Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19. Angels, as spirit beings, have physical forms that we can see and touch when they appear to us. The Spirit gravitates to the flesh and can form flesh. One of our core doctrines emphasizes that a spirit conceived a child. Don’t we believe that the Holy Spirit miraculously and spiritually conceived Jesus in the Virgin Mary? Absolutely! Spirits, both clean and unclean, don’t have the power of God, but they have lots of power. Three other verses that shed light on who these “sons of God” were are found in Job, Jude and 2 Peter. In Job 2:1 we see the term in reference to angels including Satan, “Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord.”Then there is Jude and 2 Peter who both were probably influenced by the Book of 1 Enoch, which describes in great detail the episode found in Genesis 6. Jude 6 might be referring to these fallen angels leaving their haunts and having sex with daughters of men, “And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day.” Spirit beings desire and manifest themselves physically appearing as humans. They left their abode to seduce humans. Fallen angels are particularly interested in sex. Derek Kidner explains, “The craving of demons for a body, evident in the Gospels, offers at least some parallel to this hunger for sexual experience.”And this is why I think the kingdom of darkness attacks us sexually through seduction. Demons want us to believe we are alone and need illicit sex or porn to feel desired and loved. The rats love to feed on our garbage.
This sermon can be watched or listened to at www.templebaptistchurch.ca!
Who wants to see God?Not a blaze, but a gaze of glory! I’m guessing some of you have some follow-up questions like when? Would you like to see God tonight? I would like to see God tonight. I would love for Jesus to come back tonight. Are you ready to see God?If not, you can get ready tonight and you don’t even have to go home to pack.
Others of you who know your Bibles understand that every time humans encountered the thrice-holy God, they fell as dead before Him. Remember what God told Moses in Exodus 33:19-23 after Moses asked to see God’s glory, “19 And God said, “I will make all My goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you My name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see My face, for man shall not see Me and live.” 21 And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by Me where you shall stand on the rock, 22 and while My glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with My hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.” And lest you think that this was just an Old Testament phenomenon, recall what the Apostle John, who hung out with Jesus for 3 years, what his response was to encountering Jesus in His glory. John upon seeing a vision of Jesus fell at Jesus’ feet as if dead. We read about this in Revelation 1:13-16, “13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of His head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 His feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and His voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In His right hand he held seven stars, from His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and His face was like the sun shining in full strength.”Seeing God produces what Theologian Rudolf Otto calls the Mysterium Tremendum. Otto describes the Mysterium Tremendum as “the feeling that comes sweeping like a gentle tide, pervading the mind with a tranquil mood of deepest worship … or it may burst in sudden eruption up from the depths of the soul with spasms and convulsions, or lead to the strangest excitements, to intoxicated frenzy, to transport, and to ecstasy. It has its wild and demonic forms and can sink to an almost grisly horror and shuddering. It has its crude, barbaric antecedents and early manifestations and again it may be developed into something beautiful and pure and glorious. It may become the hushed, trembling and speechless humility … Here we have a terror fraught with an inward shuddering such as not even the most menacing and overpowering created thing can instil.”On an earthly scale, this is how I felt one day when I was turkey hunting. I had gotten into my stand before dawn walking through the woods along a muddy trail. When I left my trail and walked back to my car, I noticed fresh bear tracks. It sent a shiver down my spine because I wanted to see a bear, but not that close. This describes how many of us feel. We want to see God, yet there is also a holy dread that comes over us. No wonder the hymn writer wrote, “Holy, Holy, Holy! Though the darkness hides thee, though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see.”And here is where many of us are stuck. You want to meet your Creator but you are afraid because you are still wracked with guilt and shame.
Tonight I am praying that God will move us from guilt to a place where we desire to see Him. Where we still have awe of Him but a greater longing for Him. How can this happen? How can seeing God in His Holiness produce happiness in us? Jesus is the answer. He makes such a promise in Matthew 5:8. To review, it is part of the Beatitudes, 8 blessings Jesus gave to kick off the Sermon on the Mount. These blessings are not something that we can do, but are something that God gives us to make us “divinely happy.”They are the values of Christ’s kingdom! They characterize the subjects and co-heirs of King Jesus. When Jesus sat down to preach and teach the Sermon on the Mount, the King was holding court and addressing His subjects. As we heard the first week that Jesus offers riches beyond compare to those who declare spiritual bankruptcy – “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”(Matthew 5:3). Then four weeks ago we learned from Matthew 5:4 that mourning now and turning to Jesus for hope will mean we don’t mourn later – “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”Then three weeks ago Pastor Dan taught on Matthew 5:5, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Two Sundays ago we focused on the next Beatitude from Matthew 5:6 and learned that if we hunger for holiness from Jesus we will be happy. Then Pastor Dan reminded us from Matthew 5:7 that “Blessed are those who are merciful for they shall be shown mercy.” Now tonight, we are going to learn how to see God! Read Matthew 5:8!
If you want to see God, Jesus makes it clear you have to have a pure heart. To summarize: You can see God happily if you have a pure heart!You no longer have to live in fear because perfect love, God’s perfect love, drives out fear. (1 John 4:18) My Dad who went to see Jesus two Sundays ago, didn’t have to fear seeing God. He saw God happily without guilt, shame or regret. And not because my dad was a good man but because of what Jesus did for him and you and me. Jesus died and took my dad’s punishment along with our punishment for our sins and Jesus created in my dad a clean heart (Psalm 51:10). Therefore, we should really say, You can see God happily if you have a pure heart through Jesus. A happy heart is a pure heart that only Jesus gives! Guilt, shame and regret are the clogged arteries that can cause us to have spiritual heart attacks. Jesus’ spiritual blood transfusion cleans us up and gives us a pure heart. (1 John 1:7; Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 9:14)
But this begs a question, what does it mean to be pure in heart?I believe it goes beyond just sincerity and earnestness or having no pretense, though having a pure heart includes those characteristics. Here is what the scholars say! Sinclair Ferguson explains, “To be pure in heart is to be uncompromisingly dedicated to Christ. Being pure in heart means letting nothing stand in the way of our vision of Christ.” D.A. Carson teaches, “The one who is singleminded is committed to the kingdom and its righteousness (6:33) will be pure. The pure in heart will see God – now with the eyes of faith and finally in the dazzling brilliance of the beatific vision in whose light no deceit can exist.”Warren Wiersbe adds that to be pure in heart is to have “no duplicity.”Richard Lenski taught, “To be ‘pure in heart’ means singleness of heart, honesty which has no hidden motive, no selfish intent, true and open in all things. The greatest joy of heaven will be a vision of God.”Donald Hagner corroborates that purity of heart means, “Singleness of heart”And if we focus just on the word ‘pure’ William Barclay clarifies, “The word ‘pure’ is unmixed, unadulterated and unalloyed.”Maybe this is where the term “heart of gold” got its foundation? We know Shakespeare used it in his play Henry V when the king disguised himself as a commoner to encourage his soldiers and to find out what his army thought of him. So on the night preceding battle where the English were surrounded and outnumbered by the French, Henry asked a man named Pistol about the king’s (his) character. Pistol replied, “The King’s bawcock (a fine fellow), a heart of gold.”We need such a heart of gold. To summarize this Beatitude to be pure in heart is to have an uncontaminated, locked down focus on God.This makes sense because logically if you have a laser focus on Jesus, you will see Him. Unlike Henry V, King Jesus is not hiding Himself. If you seek Him, you will find Him (Matthew 7:8). In fact, if you want to see Jesus you will guaranteed see Him! This is about the only time that the advice to follow your heart is a good one.
Why? Because our hearts aren’t pure and they don’t usually want to see Jesus! Isn’t this what Jesus taught later on in Matthew 15:19, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”It isn’t just lust and porn addictions that will keep us from seeing Jesus, but all sorts of impurities. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones taught, “One of the best definitions of purity is given in Psalm 86:11, ‘Unite my heart to fear thy name.” The problem is what Neil Young discovered in his 1972 song, “I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold, it’s these expressions I never give that keeps me searching for a heart of gold and I’m getting old.” You can keep searching and mining for a heart of gold and never find it because our hearts all fail us. I believe the physical realm often points to the spiritual realm. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the U.S. and second leading cause of death in Canada. Maybe our physical hearts mirror what causes our spiritual deaths? As Jeremiah 17:9declares, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick, who can understand it?”We all suffer from spiritual heart disease. Jesus is the cardiologist you need to fix your broken heart!
How? Jesus had a pure heart! This is why He never sinned. Out of His heart did not spew evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness or slander. Jesus’ heart only produced love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). But Jesus also suffered from a broken heart. He loved us
My friends, as we enter into Communion, we are actually trying to see God. And the only way to see God is to get a heart transplant. This is exactly what God promises and without having to be in line for a transplant. Check out Ezekiel 36:26-27, “And I will give you a new heart and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove your heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”If you want to see God work and more importantly, see God in the future, you must ask God for a transplant through His Son Jesus. Ask God to give you a new heart where you unclog the arteries through forgiveness. Then you can see God happily if you have a pure heart through Jesus. And the food that we are about to eat at the Lord’s Supper has God’s seal of approval from the Heavenly Heart Foundation. It represents Jesus’ body and blood. Get a new heart today, so your hearts beats in unison and in communion with God.
Source: https://writingexplained.org/idiom-dictionary/heart-of-gold. Accessed August 8, 2019.
If my dad was standing before you today, we would have started with an encouragement to please open your Bibles. I have heard him say this phrase my whole life. It communicated that God was the One speaking. Now many of you don’t have your Bibles with you today, but you can look this up on your smart phones or just follow along in the program. I want to focus on Dad’s favourite verse in the Bible, Romans 5:8, “But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” and then I will attempt to preach an expository sermon. In other words, the message of the text is the message of the talk. This is what Dad loved! He wrote his doctoral thesis on expository preaching. He would tell me, “Jonathan, you live and die in the pulpit.” So I have a classic western-style 3 point sermon to honour my father today, but not my earthly father, my Heavenly Father. This is for God’s glory and none other.
There are other ways to experience God’s glory such as being overwhelmed by His holiness, but that often leads to fear. It is actually God’s love that helps us to best experience His glory. John 1:14 illuminates this truth, “And the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Grace and truth are underpinned by love. My dad always taught me that if you really love somebody, you will tell them the truth and once they discover their wrongdoing, you offer them grace. Grace and truth are underpinned by love. So it is God’s love that we must acknowledge today. You see, God’s love is most demonstrated by giving us people. God loved us to give us my dad. That is my first point. 1) God’s love gave us my dad who was a good man. Dad was a good man! Many on social media have used the word great to describe my dad. But my dad would correct us, especially now that he has seen Jesus, and say, “Only God is great!” Here are some of the ways my dad was good. His life was a sermon. He practiced what he preached. Case in point, when talking to medical personnel who asked whether he was afraid to die, he replied, “I actually believe what I have been preaching for 50 years.”
I can’t recall ever questioning whether my dad would do the right thing or not – he was full of integrity. His integrity was demonstrated that he didn’t chase other women than my mom. And he chased her. He knew he wanted her, which is why he proposed to her on their second date and they got married six months later. He was decisive whether purchasing a home his first time in Florida, because he loved it so much, or finding the woman of his dreams. He was a one-woman man and he chased her. He would ask me my whole life, “Don’t you think your mother is beautiful.” And the answer is still a resounding yes!
Dad was also a good man because he loved people, especially his family and the churches he served. I’ll start with his family.Lee Strobel reminds us, “A young person’s relationship with his father can greatly color his attitude toward God. Many well-known atheists through history – including Friedrich Nietzsche, David Hume, Bertrand Russell…Voltaire, H.G. Wells, Madalyn Murray O’Hair and others – have felt abandoned or deeply disappointed with their fathers, making it less likely they would want to know a heavenly Father.”Maybe that describes you today? Maybe my dad can be a substitute father for you today as he was to many throughout his lifetime?Dad wanted us to know his heavenly Father and knew the best way to do that was to love us. Dad loved because God loved him first and God is the source of all love. 1 John 4:19 teaches, “We love because He first loved us.” Dad’s love was evident because he always made time for us and he verbally expressed his love. The last words my dad spoke to me was last Friday night. I told him I loved him, he responded in a fading voice, “I love you too!” He would do anything for us! When fixing something he would say, “All things are possible!” He would just try to get his mind wrapped around the problem and then come up with a solution. As my kids would say when something needed repair in our house, “Papa will fix it!”
Maybe because he wasn’t allowed to play sports when he was young and his father was busy travelling the world advancing the cause of Christ, my dad made our family the priority. He would get up early to get into his study at the church to prepare sermons and then he would be home shortly after school let out for us kids. We would play catch and I would pitch 100 pitches to him every day. Not playing sports as a kid himself meant that he had fresh and youthful knees in his forties, when in contrast many of our knees are shot. I did manage to give him some bruises with my wild pitches so he ended up buying catcher’s equipment. He loved watching his kids and grandkids play sports, especially baseball. He only missed one game my entire life that I recall and that was because he had a wedding to officiate. He said, “If you come to my sermons, I’ll come to your games,” which meant at times we had to rush out of church to make it to a Sunday afternoon baseball game. Dad would take the heat for me playing on Sundays from Sunday sentinels who wanted to protect the Christian Sabbath, but my dad was determined to overcome legalism with love like His Saviour. He would be up in the stands and if I scored a goal in hockey or made a nice play in baseball, he would stand and yell, “That’s my boy!” One of the gifts from God was that the last baseball game he ever watched in person was a few weeks ago when his grandson hit a home run and picked off runners at first. He loved seeing runners being picked off. Dad loved all his grandchildren. He would be able to find common interests with each grandchild. He was really good at making connection with people who were different than him. He loved his daughter-in-law and son-in-law.
Maybe that is why he made such a good pastor despite being an introvert? His natural bent was to be a bit anti-social and would have loved to spend his days just hunting and fishing. God’s love changed him to truly love people. We would welcome people into our home that were different than us including those with developmental disabilities that my sister would bring home from work. Church was not work as much as it was worship. He loved church and would travel great distances to hear good preaching. He wasn’t a great singer, but loved to sing. You would hear him sing coming into the house or church. People loved his humour. For example, he wanted to compare his radiation tattoos with Joan Sutherland, a lady in our church who also had multiple myeloma.
Dad was also good with finances. He taught me about money! In fact, I am not aware of a pastor who was a better manager of his money. He was a good steward shown by being able to retire on a pastor’s salary at age 59 and he was generous with his money!
Dad, was also not afraid of what some might consider brighter lights. I chalk this up to the fact that he grew up in a home that always hosted pastors and missionaries as my grandparents were leaders in their Pentecostal denomination. Dad did not fear people, just God. Which is why he was so fiercely protective of the truth and wanted to know what the Bible said on a subject. He majored on the Bible. This emphasis on the Bible was a boon for the Kingdom of God coupled with his mind. He was the human Google before there was Google. You didn’t want to play Trivia Pursuit with him unless you like to lose. His love for history and truth coupled with a mind like a steel trap made him a great debater. If he didn’t get into a little mental or theological sparring every once in awhile, I think he felt like he was not truly living.
Dad went to some of the most conservative and most liberal schools in North America, but he stayed true to his convictions! He could sniff out both legalism and liberalism. He fought liberal creep, which always masquerades initially as being more loving and inclusive, when in reality it sacrifices truth. He knew his Bible better than most! He would rather be right than liked and you didn’t want to be on the wrong side of Biblical interpretation. He left the denomination his dad helped to start. Dad was respected, but not a big “L” leader in our movement. He gave up position and prowess when he left the tribe of his birth and after fighting liberalism in other denominations, vowed never to go to the mic floor of denominational meeting again or become a denominational leader. I believe he kept his vow! Dad was never into position and like His Lord who took on the form of a servant! Dad was not impressed with titles, just the truth! Henry Blackaby once wrote, “Successful spiritual leaders spend the final period of their lives celebrating and building upon the work God did in and through them. This is also a time for teaching the next generation. Leaders in this phase of their leadership have nothing to prove. Few achieve this level!”I think my dad did! Who here was trained by my dad in ministry in some way?
Despite not wanting to be a mover and shaker, when I took him into the hospital early on with his battle with cancer and we were alone in the ER. He had one of those lucid, almost prophetic moments when his voice became very strong. He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Jonathan, I need to tell you something. God’s hand is upon you! You need to be a pastor first and lead Temple to be a church that is committed to holiness – not legalism or license. You need to uphold that we are Baptists and we are faithful to the Word of God. Heritage is on your door step and you have an opportunity to lead the next generation of faithful gospel ministers who will preach, ‘Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit!’ (Acts 2:38) I am concerned that no one else will.” So here is my prayer: Would God give Temple a legion (10,000 strong) of the next generation of Phil Stairs’ to reach 1% of the world with the gospel proclaiming this message of the gospel repentance and baptism? No compromise! Just full of grace and truth! So much more could be said, but God’s love gave us my dad who was a good man.
However, despite God’s love, Dad was not good enough! This is my second point: despite God’s love, Dad was not good enough! My dad was consistent but not perfect. Lots of you know that and I don’t think this is the time to elevate his faults. I will only give you one example. Often when I was a kid and was disobedient and unkind in some way, he would use a guilt complex as his parenting leverage, “Well, you don’t want to disobey because you’ll miss me when I’m dead and gone.” My desire to reconcile was motivated by his death. He was right, I do miss him now he is dead and gone, but as I told him once, “I should have been in long-term therapy with your parenting techniques.” Dad agreed even until his last days. Last week, I told him, “You were the best father a son could have.” He replied, “I’m just a sinner saved by grace.” That is actually true of all of us. Recall what Romans 5:8 says, “But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners.”The cold, hard truth is that we are all sinners. We have all done wrong against God. None of us would dare to claim that we are perfect.
And this leads me to my last point, Dad trusted in the One who was good enough, will you?Romans 5:8 concludes with these eternity-changing words, “Christ died for us.” It is actually odd that my father embraced this truth. You see, my father never liked middle-men. He did his own real estate work, legal work and repair work on his home, all saving thousands of dollars. But he became convinced that he needed a middle-man between him and God and that is “one mediator between God and man Jesus Christ.” (1 Timothy 2:5) As my mom said to my sister and I as we shared sacred moments in caring for dad as he made his promotion to heaven, “Your dad believed that God wasn’t trying to keep people out of heaven. God’s gospel doesn’t give up on people.” Recall Dad wanted to hear laughter up in heaven from this service. The Bible doesn’t explicitly say we can hear things on earth while up in heaven. But we can be sure that Dad could hear laughter up in heaven. You see, Jesus promised that, “There will be great rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10) Repentance is for the religious and irreligious. There is an opportunity today for those who think you are too good to repent and there is an opportunity today for those who think you are too bad to repent.
My father led me to my Heavenly and Eternal Father through Jesus Christ as a young boy and I wanted to give you an opportunity for my dad’s favourite verse to lead to the Heavenly and Eternal Father. You see, it isn’t my dad who can fix our ultimate problem. There is a greater Papa who will fix it. “All things are possible through faith in Him.” (Mark 9:23) God the Father loves you so much and sent His Son Jesus to die for you and your sins. But that is not the best news. Look at what Jesus declares in John 11:25-26 in your bulletins, “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”This is the most important question you could ever answer. Life is pointless unless there is an afterlife. Think about this, especially you skeptics, it doesn’t make sense that we have consciousness and then we die and it doesn’t exist anymore. But our consciousness or better yet, our spirits do continue to exist. 2 Corinthians 5:6-7 declares, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” This is true only for the believer in Jesus Christ who is the only way, truth and life to the Father. Each of you must put your faith in Jesus alone to be good enough for you. You must believe Jesus rose from the dead for you. Jesus is alive and now has gone to prepare a place for us. The new heavens and new earth where we will have resurrected bodies with no more cancer or bad hearts, physically or spiritually. Death is just a shadow now. I loved how Pastor Donald Gray Barnhouse explained this to his kids. Listen up my family and church family! There was a Mack truck passing by that nearly hit the Barnhouse family when they were driving. The Mack truck’s shadow hit them, but it didn’t kill them. We too only walk in valley of the shadow of death. It is a little scary. You can’t see that well because it is dark. You think about what you are missing. For me I am thinking about all the knowledge and wisdom my dad had from majoring on the Bible and discovering truths he said he never heard others encounter, and now they seem lost. But then I thought of climbing up that mountain out of the valley of the shadow of death and that there will be full light in the new heavens and new earth and this won’t be lost. We will have all eternity to learn and love God and each other. It is because Jesus lives that we will rise again!