Do You Need CPR for the Soul?

Muriel Harris Celebration

Muriel Harris (April 22, 1941 – April 4, 2019)

Thank you for coming today to show your love and support. It is a bittersweet day.  We acknowledge what the Bible calls the final enemy – death and we lament over our loss of an amazing woman. If we don’t take time to mourn, we fail to fully honour a person’s life.Your presence here today honours Muriel and the family. And yet we are not just grieving, we can find hope through Jesus Christ.

Muriel Augustina Harris (nee Holmes) went home to be with her Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ on Thursday, April 4, 2019, just shy of her 78th birthday. She loved to call this her “sunset.” Her “sunrise” or the day she was born was April 22, 1941, on the island of Jamaica in the parish of St. Thomas, Mount Lebanous District to her parents who predeceased her Roslyn and Sidney Holmes. She was the oldest of 3 siblings and went to Trinity Ville Public and also Rollington Town Public School in Kingston, Jamaica. She accepted the Lord Jesus as her Saviour on March 15, 1957 at the First Born Church of God, Spring Piece District in Jamaica. She migrated to England on October 19, 1960 and worshipped at Coventry New Testament Church of God, under the leadership of Rev. Issachar Lewinson. She was a well-organized person and worked at the General Electric Company as well as at Gulson Road General Hospital in Coventry. She married John on August 29, 1964 and they were married for an amazing 54 years of marriage. And John tells me that he had to propose by formal letter. I asked John what the secret to their exemplary marriage was and he said, “Put God in front.” That is good advice for the married and unmarried alike, don’t you think?

John and Muriel had four children: Rosalie, Joan, Andrea (Mack) and John (Jenn). Apparently, Muriel ruled with an iron fist, but her children knew that Muriel still loved them despite her strict discipline. She was fun and full of energy and always there for you. You see, I once heard that “parents need to have discipline, discipleship and delight for all stages of their kids’ development. If you have discipleship and delight without discipline, you will turn your kids into rebels. If you have discipline and discipleship without delight you will turn your kids into performers. And if you have discipline and delight without discipleship, you have kids who are anxious because they never know whether they will come home to a parent who is to be feared or to have fun with.”[1]Muriel displayed all three well: discipline, discipleship and delight for her kids. The kids knew the rules. Right? She made them very clear! She discipled kids and taught them the Books of the Bible at an early age.  And Muriel delighted in her kids. The kids said she was overly caring. As many of you know, after having a heart attack, she was in a medically-induced coma for a number of day. When she came out of the coma, she wasn’t concerned about herself but asked her children questions like, “Is there gas in the car? Have you eaten?” She was a good cook and tried to stuff you with food including “peas,” which I have since learned may have the label kidney beans on the can, but the proper name is peas. We might have some peas and rice at the reception. And she had a garden, which her grandchildren feasted in after they washed the vegetables.  Muriel made sure they washed the vegetables first. You see, Muriel was the proud grandmother of Steven, Shawn, Kaysie, Avery, Phillip and step-granddaughter McKenzie. I loved what Steven said when I asked him what made his grandmother so special, “Grandma was always happy to see me. She usually hugged me and made me spaghetti.” Who here had her spaghetti? She will be fondly remembered by many family members in Canada, England, Jamaica and the US. Her hospitality will be missed by everyone, including her church family and friends. She was a prayer-warrior and always had a word of encouragement for others.

Our deepest sympathy and prayers on behalf of Temple Baptist Church go out to the family. Muriel had such a deep respect and fear of the Lord that she asked for her casket not to be in our sanctuary. She wanted this celebration to be about life and about the Author of Life, Jesus Christ. In her instructions, she said, “There should be no new age dancing or drums at my funeral, but dancing in the spirit is okay.” Now you know where the drums went. I will let you determine what dancing in the spirit is because we Baptists don’t know how to dance. Nevertheless, we sure loved Muriel. Muriel will be remembered as a prayer warrior, who was faithful at our Senior’s Prayer meetings. Prayer is the engine of our church and Muriel brought high-octane fuel to the engine. I would like to remind you Rosalie, Joan, Andrea and John of her prayer that she wrote out to you in her funeral wishes, “I hope my children will live peaceable when I am gone home to be with my Jesus. Remember to take good care of dad. I love you all. God bless you all.”

In the short time I have, I want to talk to you about CPR. You see, Muriel’s son John saved her life when she had a heart attack and this gave her extra days to live and speak into her family’s life. That was an amazing gift, John and thank you for your quick action. I recently took a First Aid course and learned CPR, but I am not qualified to teach CPR. Instead, I want to talk to you about a better CPR – a CPR that I received that has saved my life. This is a spiritual CPR and does not stand for Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation, but for Confess, Pray, and Revive. Some of you may not realize that you need this CPR – Confess your sins, Pray in faith to receive Christ, and Revive others with the Good News about Jesus. Most heart attack victims don’t realize they are in danger of a heart attack. Their arteries start to clog until without warning they have a cardio event. Today is a cardio event. We are all confronted with our own mortality – our hearts hurt. We see the consequences of sin today – death. Our failing bodies are a reminder that we human beings disobeyed God starting with the first human beings Adam and Eve and it resulted in death. This disobedience started in the heart. Look at Jeremiah 17:9-10, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways and according to the fruit of his doings.” As Jesus explained in Mark 7:21-23, “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: all these things come from within and defile the man.” And we are all defiled. Anybody claiming to be perfect here today? We have all been tainted by sin. Romans 3:23 declares, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Does this make sense? Our heart is damaged. It has been clogged with stuff that we think is good for us and has been slowly killing us. Things like a drive for success or control or a desire for more things can block out what is truly life-giving.

But there is Good News today! Jesus most loved disciple declared in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We just need to confess our sins! In fact, if we confess our sins, praying in faith, we will receive Christ and a new heart. Romans 10:9 promises, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth that the Lord Jesus and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” So we confess our sins and confess our Saviour. This trust in Jesus carries it the guarantee of salvation. We actually get a new heart. I love God’s promise in Ezekiel 36:26, “A new heart also will I give you and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh and I will give you a heart of flesh.”

Why does this CPR – Confess, Pray and Revive – give you a heart transplant? Because Jesus came to earth to live a perfect life and to die on a Cross to kill death. To make a great exchange – His life for ours; His heart for ours! Jesus was the greatest organ donor to ever live. I think Muriel’s grandson Steve said it best when describing his grandmother to me, “She was like Jesus with grace and forgiveness.” You are right Steve because she had Jesus’ heart in her. That is why Muriel was so loving.

But how could Muriel have Jesus’ heart? He died so long ago. Actually, Jesus rose from the grave! Three days after Jesus died, He rose from the grave. He predicted this as we read in John 11:25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die. Believest thou this?” Do you believe this? I do! Muriel did! And because of Jesus rising from the grave, we will get a new body like His resurrected body someday and live in the new heavens and new earth. That promise was what was read by Vernice from 1 Corinthians 15:50-58!

And now Jesus prays for us, which is why Muriel prayed so hard for us. Hebrews 7:25 declares, “Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them.” Harris family and Temple family, we have lost a prayer warrior and we need to step up and take her place to start praying for this family. Leave no man, woman or child behind and pray for Muriel’s children, grandchildren and everybody else here. And yet, it is Jesus who is ultimately praying for us.

I told you I took First Aid. As a First Aider, we are supposed to identify ourselves and ask for consent to see if something is wrong. My question for you today is will you perform CPR? Will you Confess your sin, Pray in faith to receive Christ and Revive others with the Good News of Jesus Christ? Maybe today you have found yourselves in coma like state. You are in shock of Muriel’s death. Jesus can revive you and give you time to speak words that will be life-giving to you and others. Receive Him as Lord and Saviour today.

 

Song– I’ll Meet You in the Morning

 

Invitation to the Reception – After the service, please join the family for the burial at New Hope Cemetery. There will be a prayer by Pastor Lucas Green of the Evangelical Church of God. I want to thank all you came today and for those participating, especially the cousins who led us in worship. Before we head to the cemetery, I do need to explain something. At graveside services, my Caribbean brothers and sisters know how to say goodbye. Funerals are very hard, aren’t they? Nowadays, people want to distance themselves from death. We struggle to show sympathy, especially when we post videos on social media of people doing embarrassing things or hurting themselves and we instead make fun of them.[2]We are losing a sense of sympathy. Fewer and fewer people are having funerals and as my funeral director friends tell me this is increasing the grief counseling and protracting the grief process. But my Jamaican friends, take what is evil – death and bring good out of it. At the graveside service, there will be a big pile of dirt and there will be shovels. And each one in attendance at the service will grab a shovel and put some dirt on the casket until we fully bury sister Muriel’s remains so her body can be at rest awaiting the sure resurrection that Jesus has guaranteed with His own resurrection. We will sing hymns. In fact, you are going to have to help this poor pastor sing great praises to God, but I do know Muriel wants us to start with When the Roll is Called Up Yonder. Now the first time, I went to one of these graveside services for a Caribbean sister, I thought it was great that each person participated and grabbed a shovel. It was so communal and so cathartic, but what I didn’t realize was where this tradition came from until Mark Adams told me. On the islands, the casket is fully buried to protect from grave robbers. In fact, it is my understanding that sometimes rocks will be thrown on the caskets to dent the caskets so they cannot be used again by grave robbers. Today, I declare to you that there is a righteous grave robber, who robbed His Son Jesus Christ from the grave and has given Him new life so we can have new life like Muriel is experiencing now. You don’t want to miss this burial and more importantly a life with Christ.

If you are unable to attend the burial, you are welcome to some light refreshments in our Family Centre, down the hall from the Worship Centre. The official reception will begin at approximately 2:30 PM once the family returns. I would encourage you in the weeks and months ahead to put in your calendars a time when you can write to the family words of encouragement. Let’s pray for the food and family.

[1]Adam and Kristen Flynt, “More Than a Date Night: Having a Healthy Ministry Marriage” (2019 Exponential Conference, Orlando, Florida, March 2, 2019).

[2]Source: https://www.crossway.org/articles/why-your-childs-misbehavior-shouldnt-be-your-next-social-media-post/?utm_source=Crossway+Marketing&utm_campaign=ac160d8c22-20190321+-+General+-+Parenting+with+Words&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_0275bcaa4b-ac160d8c22-296093617. Accessed March 22, 2019.

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Rebuild with God’s Prosperity

This sermon can be watched or listened to at www.templebaptistchurch.ca!

Finish the statement, “Live long and prosper!” Now just because Spock on Star Trek said it, is it true? That is our starting place here at Temple. We are pursuing the truth because Jesus declared Himself to be Truth (John 14:6). Are we to live long and prosper? And maybe an even more important question is, what is prosperity?When you hear that word, have you been influenced to think of prosperity in only economic terms or is prosperity broader? Is there such a thing as body prosperity where your body is functioning how God made it to heal itself and that you can use it as an instrument to bless God and others without disqualifying yourself for the prize (1 Cor. 9:27)? Is there such a thing as relational prosperity? I am not talking about just how many followers, likes and “friends” you have on social media, but do you have life-giving and soul-replenishing relationships or do you suffer from relational poverty? Is there such a thing as ecclesiastical or church prosperity? Again this is not just about attendance figures and being revenue positive, but about having a scorecard of changed lives through the Holy Spirit resulting in multiplying disciples and churches. Is there such a thing as intellectual and creative prosperity? That your mind is not always distracted by data and technology, but that you have time to meditate, pray and plan. Maybe this includes writing or making some artistic expression? Our Beauty Will Save the World Night on April 21 is an effort to get a glimpse of your intellectual and creativity prosperity that brings glory to God. Is there such a thing as spiritual prosperity where you are growing in Christ-like character? I say this all because I don’t want you to settle for just economic prosperity. Economic prosperity may be a help or a hindrance to your life or both. As the Bible teaches, is money a master to you or is it a servant to do good for others (Matthew 6:24)?

Today, we are going to learn about true prosperity. I hope we can redeem a prosperity gospel today that has sullied the church, which promises giving to God will produce a cash back bonus. God wants to give us so much more than wealth and health. He wants to give us wisdom. Let’s turn in our Bibles to Ezra 6:13-15 to discover what true prosperity is. As you turn to our Scripture passage today, you need to know that the Jews at the time probably didn’t feel very prosperous. They had just been in Babylon for 70 years of exile because they were unfaithful and cheated on God. God will never settle for being second best in your life. This why He will put His children in a sort of exile or to use a modern day parenting strategy, God will put you in a “timeout” to see your need for Him. The Jews were in a 70 year timeout, but were released to go back to the land of Palestine. However, it was a far cry from the days when they first entered the Promised Land – a land flowing with milk and honey. The land had been pillaged over the centuries. They were in hostile territory as the Persians were their overlords. And their attempts to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem were being thwarted by numerous government officials both in Judah and back at the Persian capital. Nevertheless, as we read in chapter 6, they finally got word of their site plan approval and building permit. The Persian King Darius commanded Tattaenai, the governor of the Persian province west of the Euphrates River, that Tattenai must allow the Jews to restart the construction of Jerusalem Temple. This was what we studied last week in Ezra 6:6-12 and learned that God’s protection and provision should stimulate our prayers for our detractors. Darius had given Tattenai essentially a restraining order to stay away from God’s people the Jews, but also made Tattenai the Inventory and Transportation Manager to ensure the Jews received the supplies needed for the construction of the temple. You recall last week we learned that “Tattenai’s name means ‘to teach’ in the Zoroastrian scriptures or ‘to give’ in Hebrew.”[1]He was a guy who went by the book, but then had to keep the books or better yet, he had to keep theBook. And amazingly as we will read, Tattanai and his assistant Shethar-bozenai did keep this decree with all diligence. Read Ezra 6:13-15!

Did you notice as I read this passage that it just wasn’t the reconstruction project that prospered but God’s Word prospered? Ezra 6:14 records, “And the elders of the Jews built and prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo.” Let’s go back to our original question: what is prosperity? The Bible defines prosperity as knowing and doing the will and work of God. This is seen the first time the Jews entered the Promised Land and they faced much fear and opposition. Look what God told Joshua the leader of Israel at the time in Joshua 1:8, “The Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous and then you will have good success.”(As an aside, our women are studying the Book of Joshua on Tuesday mornings and I encourage you ladies who are available to join.) So from both the Joshua 1:8 and the Ezra 6:14 passages we discover that true prosperity is knowing and doing the will and work of God. The Bible speaks to this in so much of our lives. This past Wednesday I was asked to pray at the University of Guelph Business School supper. As I sought the Lord as to what to pray, I was reminded that the Word of God talks a lot about business and economics with such topics as stewardship, servant leadership, debt, and fair wages. This is why we must build and prosper by listening to the Word and decrees of God – it speaks into our lives.If you want to prosper, obey God’s prophecies!  Now some of you may think that prophecies are predictions of the future, but prophecies are just as much or more about forth-telling the truth as future-telling.

And since Ezra 6:14 declares the elders of the Jews built and prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo, it should make us look at what those prophesies were. Now, these prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah may not be canonical prophecies or ones that were specifically in their inspired books we have in our Bibles, but I think we could build a case that they are prophecies from these canonical books that prospered the people. In fact, as I read Haggai and Zechariah, which I encourage you to do, I found the following prophecies and principles we still need to follow. In other words, if you want to prosper, obey God’s prophecies by prioritizing God with your resources (Haggai 1:5-8), by praying to God (Zech. 1:17), by relying on God’s Spirit and grace (Zech. 4:6-7) and by speaking the truth (Zech. 8:16). I’ll say those again: if you want to prosper, obey God’s prophecies by: 1) prioritizing God (Haggai 1:5-8); 2) praying to God (Zech. 1:17); 3) relying totally on God (Zech. 4:6-7) and 4) speaking the truth (Zech. 8:16).To make it even simpler: true prosperity is about priorities, prayer, dependence and honesty.

Let me show where I got each of these from Haggai and Zechariah. First, prosperity comes from obeying God’s prophecies of prioritizing Him. Haggai prophecies in Haggai 1:5-6, “Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. You have sown much and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.”That doesn’t sound like prosperity but the opposite. Maybe some of you can identify with this type of scarcity, where you are always putting more in than you are getting out? Where the law of diminishing returns is taking full effect. You are putting more into a relationship than you receive. We call that parenting. Or maybe you are putting more into working out and have nothing to show for it – the man or woman in the mirror looks the same. I think about how I can be on the elliptical machine for 20 minutes and barely burn enough calories to cover two Timbits©. Many of us are not living a life of addition or even multiplication, but subtraction. Here is the solution: put God first. Haggai 1:7-8records God’s Word to the returned Jews as well as for us, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the LORD.”I know some of you are putting God first with your resources – your time, talent, treasure and thinking. However, there are a lot of you that are not prioritizing your resources to God. This is not intended to make you feel guilty but to call you to prosperity. You will prosper if you put God first with your resources.

There is a second prophecy in the books of Haggai and Zechariah that will result in prosperity and that is prayer. This is clearly identifiable in Zechariah 1:16-17, “Therefore, thus says the Lord, I have returned to Jerusalem with mercy; My house shall be built in it, declares the LORD of hosts and the measuring line shall be stretched out over Jerusalem. Cry out again, thus says the LORD of hosts: My cities shall again overflow with prosperity and the LORD will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem.”Notice how God is showing up with mercy and His house will be built on mercy. I love that thought. God comes here not to mete out punishment but to not give us what we deserve. Our sins are debts that requirement payment. But God shows up in mercy. It reinforces our mission here that we are on mission with Jesus to turn broken people into whole people who multiply Christ-followers. Broken people need mercy. 4.0 is about mercy. This is also the connection with the first prophecy of priorities. None of us could say that we prioritize God all the time. I certainly don’t. Our priority is usually ourselves. This causes us to sin. But listen to this Good News: we can receive mercy in our time of need. It is right here. God commands us to cry out to Him again for mercy. We come to God in prayer. Crying out to God is the most basic form of prayer. We learn it when we are just young when we cry, “Help, Daddy!” May those words always be on the forefront of our lips! We are never too old to stop saying, “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15) Are you praying? Are you asking for mercy?You will prosper if you pray. Start by coming to our “Who’s Your One?” prayer meeting this Wednesday. If you don’t like to pray, maybe that is one of the reasons why you aren’t prospering? Get back to prayer! There is mercy in prayer!

UnknownAnd this leads us to the third prophecy in the books of Haggai and Zechariah that will result in prosperity – dependence. We must prioritize God and pray to Him, but we must also rely totally on Him as well. Check out one of the most famous verses in Zechariah and in the Bible in Zechariah 4:6-7, “Then he said to me, ‘This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the LORD of hosts. Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘grace, grace to it.’”Notice how prosperity doesn’t come from our own strength and power, but by God’s Spirit and grace. The shouts of grace at the end of the verse should be our own worship and war cry. Grace is the other side of the coin of mercy. Grace is getting what we don’t deserve while mercy is not getting what we deserve. We need both grace and mercy to have prosperity. And prosperity comes from knowing we are utterly dependent upon God. I love the precursor of Jesus’ promise that if you have enough faith, you can move mountains (Matthew 17:20). The obstacles in Zerubbabel’s way were going to be flattened by God’s Spirit and grace. Tattanai became the first Flat Stanley – the cut-out doll that travels with children and becomes the hero of a school report. Shethar-bozenai became like a toy we had growing up called Gumby. Gumby was flat and mouldable. Shethar- bozenai had to bend to the decree of God. Prosperity comes when we prioritize God, pray to God and become dependent upon God. God’s Spirit and grace can flatten that obstacle in your way, but first you must come and lay yourself down in humble dependence upon Him.

But there is one more prophecy of Haggai and Zechariah that leads to true prosperity and this one is aimed not at God, but others. We must be truthful with one another. Check out Zechariah 8:16-17, “These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace; do not devise evil in your hearts against one another and love no false oath, for all these things I hate declares the Lord.”We must speak the truth to one another. This sermon has been an attempt to do just that – to speak the truth in love. I want you to prosper.

Remember again that prosperity is knowing and doing the will and work of God. You know and do the will and work of God as your prioritize Him, pray to Him, and become dependent upon God as well as speak the truth to one another. And if you do, you will complete the work God has for you. Notice the last part of Ezra 6:14 and the result of prosperity, “They finished their building by decree of the God of Israel and by decree of Cyrus and Darius and Artaxerxes king of Persia.” They finished. So many don’t finish. They start so strong and yet, pride or power or lust or greed causes their downfall. Well, how did the Jews finish? What was their secret? It is found in following God’s decrees. I draw your attention particularly to how God’s decree comes before Cyrus’ and the rest of the Persian kings.[2]God’s decree trumps all human decrees. Human decrees are moved along by God’s decrees. And this spanned over a period of decades as I show you this chart of Persian kings.

KINGS OF BABYLON & PERSIA[3]                DATES OF REIGN     BIBLICAL REF.

Nebuchadnezzar[4] 605-562 B.C. Dan. 1-4
Nabodinus 556-539 B.C.
Co-regent Belshazzar[5] 550-539 B.C. Dan. 5-8
Cyrus II (Cyrus the Great)[6] 539-530 B.C. Is. 45:1; Dan. 10-12
Darius the Mede[7] 538-536 B.C. Dan. 5:30-6:28
Cambyses II 530-522 B.C.
Bardiya 522-522 B.C.
Darius I (Darius Hystaspes or the Great) 522-486 B.C. Dan. 9, Ezra 6
Xerxes I (Ahaseurus) 485-464 B.C. Ezra 4:6; Esther; Dan. 9:1
Artaxerxes I (Artaxerxes Longimonus) 464-423 B.C. Ezra 4:7; Neh. 2
Xerxes II 423 (45 days)B.C.
Darius II* (Darius Nothus) 423-404 B.C. Neh. 12:22
Artaxerxes II 404-358 B.C.
Artaxexes III 358-338 B.C.
Artaxerxes IV (Arses) 338-336 B.C.
Darius III (Darius Codomanus) 336-330 B.C.
Artaxerxes V[8] 330-329 B.C.

The kings highlighted in red are most likely the ones mentioned in Ezra 6:14. The chronology may not be the emphasis, but the order of importance especially since the work was “finished in the last month of 516 A.D,”[9]which was before King Artaxerxes reigned. So what is happening here? Is this a mistake in the Bible? No, remember Ezra was a historian writing about 65 years later in 450 A.D and reflecting how God used all these kings to complete His work. As Bible scholar Charles Fensham explains, “Artaxerxes I could have been added because the author gave a list of Persian kings who were special instruments in the hand of God to favour the Jews.”[10]The point is that God uses even those who seem to stop or stand in our way to make us prosper if we will get back to putting His decrees first in our life. God will finish the work.

Which gives us one more reminder: prosperity is not always apparent.Lots of people who look good, wear nice clothes, drive nice cars and have beautiful homes are not prospering. Prosperity is simply knowing and doing the will and work of God. Was this not true of Jesus? He did the will and work of God and yet He at times had no place to lay his head at night, He was hungry and thirsty, He was abandoned by His friends, He was stripped naked and He was crucified. He even completed the work God had for Him when He cried on the Cross, “It is finished!” (John 19:30) Amazingly no one ever prospered like Jesus. What did Jesus get by knowing and doing the will and work of God?He got us! He saved us. He got you and I for all eternity.

My friends, can you imagine if we started to prioritize God, pray to God constantly, live in utter dependence upon God and to speak the truth to one another in love? Our families would prosper. Our church would prosper. Our city would prosper. And our country would prosper. And not just for a lifetime, but for all eternity. Spock’s motto would come true, “Live long and prosper.” You can only do that through Jesus Christ.

[1]Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tattenai. Accessed March 31, 2019.

[2]Fensham, 92.

[3]Adapted from ESV Study Bible(Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 1587 & 813.

[4]The most well-known Babylonian king who exiled the Jews to Babylon in 586 B.C. His pride led to his insanity and losing his kingdom until he repented and was restored.

[5]Belshazzar was Nebuchadnezzar’s son and is known for being the king when God’s “hand” wrote on the wall after using the gold vessels from the Temple in Jerusalem and worshipping them.

[6]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.

[7]Darius was appointed viceroy over Babylon by his nephew Cyrus II and was most famous for being tricked and throwing his friend Daniel into the Lion’s Den.

[8]Last of the Achaemenid kings and was defeated by Alexander the Great.

[9]Derek Kidner, Ezra & Nehemiah – An Introduction & Commentary – Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries(Downer’s Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1979), 59.

[10]F. Charles Fensham, The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah – NICOT(Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1982), 92.


Trading Up

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Shirley Ann Cameron (April 23, 1936 – March 20, 2019)

 

 

Shirley Cameron knew what she wanted. Her family described that she was always dressed to the nines and took care of her clothes. She had a good taste in clothes and shoes, but she wasn’t materialistic. Shirley also had a good taste in sandwiches from Tim Horton’s as she loved the roast beef sandwich and would ask the workers at Tim Horton’s if they still had those sandwiches. She was generous and knew how to share, maybe because she was from a family of 12. Or maybe this was because her parents were farmers? Not surprisingly, she was a hard worker and even walked miles to work in 4 inch shoes. I think Shirley got her generosity from God as she came to faith in Christ at an early age. Her parents were strong Christians and this translated into Shirley being a woman who evangelized and prayed, especially prayers of protection for her family when they travelled. On this April Fool’s Day, we need to recall what Psalm 53:1 warns, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”Shirley was no fool. She believed in God and trusted in Him to save her. This is the message I want to focus on. It was the greatest trade of her life and it can be for you as well.

Where is Mikaila? I heard a story about you and how your Gramma gave you her high end Camry. I’m sure you were thankful, but despite the fact that we are in a Toyota Town, Camrys aren’t usually the premiere choice of car for young people. Nevertheless, Mikaila took this free gift and was able to later on trade it for a smaller and sportier Corolla. In a sense, this is what has happened to Shirley. In fact, trading up is what Christianity is all about. I want to take just a few minutes to show you how we trade our sin for salvation, our sorrow for joy and our bodies for new ones.

Let’s start with our sin or all the wrongs we have committed against God. Sin means to miss the mark. Anybody here perfect? Me neither! So why talk about such a dirty word as sin on a day like this? It is because of sin that we are here. You see, Romans 6:23 declares, “For the wages of sin is death.” This payout actually began with the first human beings. Genesis 2:8-9 records, “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there He put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” It was this second tree that has caused all the pain in life. You see, God told Adam and Eve that they could eat from any tree in the Garden, except one. God often gets a bad rap that He is all about the rules. But God is not. “When God says don’t, He means don’t hurt yourself.”[1]God is actually about relationships. He is very generous and is actually the source of Shirley’s generosity.

The one rule God gave was not to eat from the knowledge of good and evil. Why? Because we can’t handle such knowledge! Once Adam and Eve ate from this tree, they would be confused what is good and what is bad. It explains why we call things bad when they are good and call other things good when they are bad for us and others. I’ll give you an example from my own life. I think that eating lots of sweets is good. Those squares look so good at funeral receptions. But are they good? They taste good but too many are bad for my body.  My false assumptions show that I am prone to call what is good bad and to call what is bad good. How about you?

Let’s go back to the first Garden. As the story goes, the great villain Satan comes and tempts Eve and she eats from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. She gave some fruit to Adam and he also ate. God then shows up that night and Adam and Eve are hiding. They were trying to cover up their sin and shame. As BrenéBrown in her book Dare to Leadexplains, “Shame is universal and one of the most primitive human emotions that we experience … and almost always leads to unethical behavior. The only people who don’t experience shame are those who lack the capacity for empathy and human connection. Shame is a fear of disconnection and is the intensely painful feeling or experience that we are flawed and therefore, unworthy of love, belonging, connection.”[2]Did you catch that word “disconnection”? Shame results in disconnection and distance. We see this in our first parents and it has been handed down to all of us. God promised Adam and Eve that they would die if they broke His one rule and so God kept His promise because He is faithful and just. He banished Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. But there is grace! As my friend Jon Thompson has said, “God removed Adam and Eve from the garden so they could not eat from the tree of life and be eternally lost along with the rest of the human race!”[3]So instead of giving ultimate punishment, God showed grace and just gave consequences. Like any good parent who lets children suffer consequences, the consequences are meant to teach us our need to obey. The worst of those consequences are what we are facing today – physical death!

But here is the Good News! Romans 6:23 goes on to say, “For the wages of sin was death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” How does this work? Look at your programs and what 1 Peter 3:18 declares, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.” Let me break that down. Jesus was righteous, meaning good. In fact, He was the only perfect person to ever live. And yet, people hated Him because He was perfect and because He was God’s Son. And they hated Him because He declared in John 14:6, “I amthe way, the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father but through Me.” That sounds arrogant unless it is true and then it is the most loving statement. Jesus was essentially saying that He had the cure for cancer of the soul and it would be selfish to keep it to Himself. Jesus didn’t keep that truth to Himself, yet almost nobody believed Him. And so they killed Jesus. He died on a Cross – a Roman execution instrument. But we can trade our sin for salvation if we believe in Jesus. It is actually more personal than that, we trade our sin for a Saviour

Now, some of you might be saying, why believe in a dead man. Here is the most outrageous statement you will ever hear, “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?” It is outrageous unless it is true. Why we can trade our sin for salvation and our sorrows for joy and our bodies for new ones is because Jesus rose from the grave.  Three days after He died, God raised His Son Jesus from the dead. Jesus promised that He would be crucified and then raised three days later and He is the only one to ever make such a promise and if He can pull that off, then I think He is worth giving your life and my life to. There is more evidence for Jesus’ resurrection than any other recorded historical event. It changed history and our calendars. And because Jesus rose from the grave He has promised that if we believe in Him, we too will be resurrected someday when He comes back and we will be given new bodies in a new heavens and new earth. Shirley believed this. Do you? Shirley has traded in her broken down body for a new one she will get with Jesus. Will you? God wanted to make a trade. Romans 8:32 declares, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” Do you think that is a fair trade? You for Jesus? Sure, you have a no-trade waiver. God won’t force you to come to His team. But will you waive your no-trade waiver and join God’s team? Shirley did and she never regretted it and now she is on God’s roll. Let’s sing that day when God’s roll and roster will be posted.

[1]I heard this first from James MacDonald.

[2] Brené Brown, Dare to Lead (New York: Random House, 2018), 125.

[3]Jon Thompson, Convergence (Ajax: C4 Church, 2018), 163.


Rebuild with God’s Protection and Provision

This sermon can be watched or listened to at www.templebaptistchurch.ca!

William H. Seward is probably not a name many of you have heard of. He grew up in New York State, the son of a doctor and successful businessman. But it wasn’t until his coming of age trip to Georgia as a young man did he understand his calling in life. He hated injustice and after seeing the ill-treatment of slaves, William became an ardent abolitionist. He studied law and met a judge who gave him both his daughter in marriage and the opportunity to become a junior partner in a law firm. William’s breakout case that brought him national attention was his defence of a 23-year-old black man who slaughtered the family of Seward’s neighbours but was clearly insane. There were threats on Seward’s life for defending a black man, especially in those days when blacks were considered property but Seward stood tall in the face of adversity. He was a man of conviction. Seward went on to become a state senator, then the Governor of New York, then a U.S. Senator and in 1860 he became the leading candidate for the Republican nomination of President of the United States. That is until another man won over the people. That man’s name was who? I’ll give you a hint – his face appears on the U.S. penny! He was assassinated by an actor John Wilkes Booth. That’s right – Abraham Lincoln! Seward and Lincoln fought bitterly in the campaign and Seward often belittled Lincoln. In the end, Lincoln unexpectedly won the nomination and Seward was left bitter due to his unfulfilled ambition.

This reminds me of another governor. His name was Tattenai and probably many of you have not heard about him. Let’s read about him in Ezra 6:6-12. To give you some context before I read Ezra 6, Tattenai was the governor of the massive province west of the Euphrates River during the reign of King Darius and the Persian Empire. Tattenai governed much of what we know as the Middle East today including Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Israel. “Tattenai’s name means ‘to teach’ in the Zoroastrian scriptures or ‘to give’ in Hebrew.”[1]It appears he yearned for things to be done by the book. Ever met anybody like that? A legalist? Ever seen one in the mirror? I do! Whether driven by personal ambition like Seward millennia later or because he was truly concerned for his king’s and empire’s well-being, Tattenai vehemently opposed some rebels who threatened the peace and economic stability of the region because they wanted to rebuild a place of worship. So we read in Ezra 5:6-17 that Tattenai and his colleague Shethar-bozenai wrote a letter to King Darius notifying him that these rebels, known as the Jews, were rebuilding their temple despite orders not to. As one Bible scholar writes, “In spite of his accusation Tattenai wanted to be fair to the Jews and gave their justification of their act in full detail to the Persian King.”[2]Let’s read the response of King Darius and discover how God’s protection and provision should stimulate our prayers for our detractors. Read Ezra 6:6-12!

Today’s message is rather simple:God’s protection and provision should stimulate our prayers for our detractors.This passage is what is known as a comedy, not because it mirrors a late night show on TV, but because of the ironic twist. Tattenai and his assistant Shethar-bozenai oppose God’s people at first and then end up assisting God’s people. It reminds us that your greatest foe can become your friend by the power of God. Let’s walk through the passage and discover how God’s protection and provision should stimulate our prayers for our detractors. We first of all see God’s protection! Look at verse 6, “Now therefore, Tattenai, governor of the province beyond the River, Shethar-bozenai and your associates the governors who are in the province Beyond the River, keep away.” That was an explicit warning from the hand of the king. Just so it could not be misunderstood, King Darius restates his edict in verse 7 and adds permission for the work to continue, “Leave this work on the house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews rebuild this house of God on its site.” God was now putting up a wall; a fortress around the work on His temple. Sure, there had been some work stoppages in the past. Last week, when we studied Ezra 6:1-5, we learned sometimes when there is a delay physically, God has a message for us and is working in us spiritually. But God will always protect His work. Do you believe that? Has God not protected us time and time again here when we were threatened? Despite past internal conflict, exoduses, economic and legal hardships, this Temple has continued and the work will go forward. God protects us! My dad has remarked that he has never seen a church like ours in all his years that has been so protected. I wouldn’t arrogantly say that we are bullet-proof, but God has given us His Kevlar vest to take the bullets and still live. God can do this in your life. Maybe you are facing great threats? God can protect you if you run to Him for shelter. I love Proverbs 18:10, which has been turned into a worship song, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous run into it and are saved.” God will protect us!

But God will not only protect us, He will provide for us! Look at verses 8-9, “Moreover, I make a decree regarding what you shall do for these elders of the Jews for the rebuilding of this house of God. The cost is to be paid to these men in full and without delay from the royal revenue, the tribute of the province from Beyond the River. And whatever is needed – bulls, rams, or sheep for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine or oil, as the priests at Jerusalem require – let that be given to them day by day without fail.” Did you catch that second word in verse 9 “whatever”? Can you say “blank check baby”? God will protect you and provide for you as long as you are continuing the work of God. Whatever is needed, God will supply. Does this not remind us of what the Apostle Paul said in Philippians 4:19while he was in prison,And my God shall supply all your needs, according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus? Does God lack what we need? Is He ever not liquid? Does He get asset rich and cash poor? No! God will make available to you what you need when you make yourself available to Him. This is not a prosperity gospel I am advocating today like you may see on TV by a preacher asking for a new private jet. I am talking about God providing for your needs. Wants are a total different story. God will give you what you want for two reasons: 1) Your want aligns with His wants for you (Psalm 37:4); and 2)Your want creates a leanness in your soul that will drive you back to Him so that Heis all you want. (Psalm 106:14-15) I love how the King James Version renders these two verses, “But they (the Israelites) lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert. And He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul.”This would be akin to a parent letting a kid have too much candy in one sitting that it makes them sick of candy. I am not advocating this as a parenting strategy, but it fits with the saying, “You can have too much of a good thing” (or bad thing). Maybe God has given you so much and spoiled you so rotten so that you would have only a taste for Him? Maybe you are going through withdrawals because you have been addicted to something that is causing the leanness of your soul? I am praying that our addictions to food, porn, social media, video games and you fill in the blank would make us sick to our stomachs and that we would return to God in our country.

245px-Carcharhinus_longimanus_1I know it is so tough to let go of that thing you love that is killing you, but remember God will protect and provide for you. It may seem dangerous, but I think when you and I are in these spots, we are like pilot fish. Those are the fish that follow sharks around. “Pilot fish follow sharks because other fish which might eat the pilot fish will not come near a shark. In return, sharks do not eat pilot fish because pilot fish eat the shark’s parasites.”[3]The pilot fish is both protected and provided for by the shark. And yet, the pilot fish also benefits the shark. It is a symbiotic relationship.

And this reminds me of what we are to do with God’s protection and provision. It isn’t just for ourselves, but to benefit others. Remember, God’s protection and provision should stimulate our prayers for our detractors. This is so evident in verse 10 where we discover the impetus for King Darius’ benevolence, “that they may offer pleasing sacrifices to the God of heaven and pray for the life of the king and his sons.” God’s provision and protection should incite intercession. My brothers and sisters in Christ, one of the great opportunities we have as we apply for the site plan approval and building permits from the City of Cambridge is to remember to pray for our Mayor, City Council, and city workers. This should be a priority in our prayers. Why? Because the Apostle Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:1-2, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”Let’s be honest, if I were to give a quiz this morning on the names of our MPs, MPPs and City Council, many of us could not list all of our represents in federal, provincial and municipal government. So this is why we put their names on our Prayer Prompter every week! Let’s make them a priority to pray for during 4.0 and beyond. Let’s make them a priority to pray for during our “Who’s Your One?” prayer campaign, which begins this Wednesday at 6:30 PM right here in the Worship Centre. Think about the lost including those in government. Have any of you ever lost your children maybe in a store or at an event? How did you feel? Was there a sense of panic? Did you continue with your shopping or having fun? No, you dropped everything to find that lost child! Well, as Pastor Dave Claytonof Ethnos Church in Nashville, Tennessee reminded our Staff at the Exponential Conference, “God has many kids who are lost in your city.”Some of those kids are AWOL. And I love what Billy Graham’s wife, Ruth Bell Graham, who said when her own son Franklin was on the run from God, “AWOL kids may reject our arguments but they can’t fight our prayers.” Incidentally, Franklin has returned to God and has taken over as the leading evangelist in his father’s ministry now that Billy is in heaven. We need to pray for God’s AWOL kids in our city and country. And we need to pray for God’s kids that He has not adopted yet. We need to create search and rescue teams to go find God’s lost kids. He knows where they are, so ask Him! Let’s pray for the king and his sons and every other person who at one time was opposed to us and stopped God’s work. God can change things and He uses our prayers to do it. As Pastor R.G. Leeonce quipped, “Our prayers make us omnipotent.”How? Because we are seeking the Omnipotent One, the Lord God! God’s protection and provision should stimulate our prayers for our detractors.

But what about those who still oppose us? God will take care of them! Look what Ezra 6:11-12 declare, “Also I make a decree that if anyone altars this edict, a beam shall be pulled out of his house, and he shall be impaled on it and his house shall be made a dunghill. May the God who has caused His name to dwell there overthrow any king or people who shall put a hand to alter this, or to destroy this house of God that is in Jerusalem. I Darius make a decree; let it be done with all diligence.” The Persians and their Zoroastrian religion were infamous for impaling bodies and letting the scavenger birds eat them to the bone. And in this case, God was using this heinous practice as part of His own justice. As Derek Kidner explains, “This was poetic justice intended in making a man’s own house his instrument of execution for tampering with the house of God.”[4]And God was taking care of any future king that would tamper with this temple as verse 12 was “a curse formula.”[5]God’s Word came true through this formula and decree of Darius as this temple, “lasted 585 years until it was destroyed by the Roman Caesar Titus in AD 70”[6]as Jesus predicted in Matthew 24:1-2.

You see, this decree of Darius actually points to Jesus. In contrast to the prophesy of any man who would try to violate Darius’ decree and would be impaled by a timber of his own house, Jesus was hung on a tree because He was building the house of God. Not a physical building, but a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:4-8). Jesus’ death and resurrection enabled us to continue on this work of God with all dilgence. And it continues with us praying and proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. In fact, Jesus Himself now “lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25) Jesus prays for His former detractors. God wants to make the Tattenai’s of this world become providers and protectors of His ever-increasing house and family of God. Can you imagine filling the stage with their balloons as they come to faith in Christ? So will you join Jesus in praying for them?

God wants our adversaries to become our assistants. Remember William Seward. Well, Abraham Lincoln had the audacity and genius to make William Seward part of his cabinet and his Secretary of State. As historian Doris Kearns Goodwin tells, “Seward was slowly but inevitably coming to appreciate Lincoln’s remarkable abilities. He told his wife, ‘It is due to the President to say, that his magnanimity is almost superhuman. His confidence and sympathy increase every day. Executive skill and vigour are rare qualities. The President is the best for us; but he needs constant and assiduous cooperation.’ Though the New Yorker would continue to debate numerous issues with Lincoln in the years ahead, exactly as Lincoln had hoped and needed him to do, Seward would become his most faithful ally in his cabinet. He committed himself ‘to his chief, not only with reserve, but with a sincere and devoted personal attachment.’ Seward’s mortification at not having received his party’s nomination in 1860 never fully abated, but he no longer felt compelled to belittle Lincoln to ease his pain. He settled into his position as Secretary of State and helped avert a war between England and France and after Lincoln was assassinated remained as the Secretary of State under Andrew Johnson including helping purchase the State of Alaska from Russia.”[7]Looking to the future, that acquisition helped keep the Cold War cold rather than hot and a full scale World War III. I dare say, this world would be a lot different without William Seward.

My friends, if we will start to pray for our detractors they may become attracted to Jesus and become our greatest allies.This will change the world and more important all eternity. In the meantime, God will protect and provide for us so we can pray and praise God. Jesus is the Cornerstone that will build a house of prayer here. Let’s join Him!

[1]Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tattenai. Accessed March 31, 2019.

[2]F. Charles Fensham, The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah – NICOT(Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1982), 83.

[3]Source: https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilot_fish. Accessed March 31, 2019.

[4]Derek Kidner, Ezra & Nehemiah – An Introduction & Commentary – Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries(Downer’s Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1979), 57.

[5]Fensham, 91.

[6]Fensham, 93.

[7]Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals(New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005), 364-365.


The Local Church as Mission Agent and Agency

This sermon/lecture was given at Heritage Seminary Chapel in Cambridge, Ontario on March 21, 2019!

Is God a single parent?Now lest you think I am a heretic, I am speaking metaphorically. I’ll ask again with a further explanation, can one become God’s adopted child without belonging to Christ’s Bride, the Church? As the Early Church Father, Cyprian, declared, “He cannot have God for His Father who does not have the Church for his Mother.”[1]To use another metaphor, many believe that they can be friends of Jesus and not care very much for His Bride, the Church. However, no husband can be a friend with a person who despises his most beloved. If you say you like me, but you are pretty upset with my wife because you have had her in one of your classes and you don’t like her American gregariousness, we can’t be friends. She can Greek me at home, now that she has had Dr. Baxter’s classes, but you don’t like a woman Greeking you and you criticize her without me taking up an offense for her. This is especially true of Jesus who “loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Nevertheless, there is a general dislike of the Church in society today and even among many ‘believers.’ Some treat Jesus as if He is divorced or at least separated from the Church. Many today think they can love Jesus and not His Bride and its tangible expression on earth – the local church! As Henri Nouwen explains, “When we say, “I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,’ we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too.”

So this has left a vacuum that has been replaced by what has been labeled the parachurch. The ministry “beside” (para) the church! The parachurch ministry does much of the specialized work. Sometimes in covert ways by using non-Christian names that the local church used to do and should continue to do. In some ways, the local church has outsourced its missional work. In other ways, the parachurch has determined to be independent operators. The problem is that lifelong discipleship can only occur in the local church. We can all agree that the church in North America has declined. CBC just reported that in the next decade, there will be “9000 Church closings.”[2]That is one-third of all church buildings in Canada will close their doors! It makes me question, is a vocational ministry pathway going to go the way of the dinosaur? I recall my aptitude test in high school said I should become a wildlife biologist because of my introversion and love for the outdoors. I looked into it and it was projected that once I had finished in graduate work in zoology, there would be few jobs available in that field, so I steered clear of the debt and disappointment. Is this the same for local church ministry that jobs will be scarce in the future? Should I direct my children who want to be missionaries and pastors to be at least bi-vocational? To go to university to have a back-up job rather than pursue ministry full-time? I believe absolutely not! We are not wasting our time in our training efforts here at Heritage to serve the church locally and globally! Why? Because Jesus promised that the gates of Hades would not prevail against His Church in Matthew 16:18!  The church is a forward-advancing, kingdom-expanding agent of God.

So how do we fix the decline of church in North America?I believe focusing on multiplying disciples and churches through applying Ephesians 4:11-16 is the solution to the problem. I believe the solution is to re-establish the local church as mission agent and agency. I’ll say this again: we need to re-establish the local church as mission agent and agency.

Now, how could this be a problem at Heritage? Dr. Reed often reminds us that Heritage exists to “lift up the local church.” So can I ask you two questions from someone who is an insider and outsider? Someone who is an employee of Heritage, is a local church partner and one of your biggest cheerleaders? I am very pro Heritage and have sent a lot of my Staff and leaders here to further their training and education. My first question is: How many of you have been discipled?In other words, how many of you have been intentionally discipled by another disciple either individually or in a group? Does this not evidence the problem? Many of the best disciplers are out there on campuses and communities, not in the local church. The second question is:How many of you are members of a local church?I know TEDS at one time required their professors to be members of the EFCA. Who else will hold you accountable than the local church? My hope today is that God will grow your love for the local church. This is a call to live out the Book of Ephesians. My sermon is meant to be provocative and overstated. I am purposely trying to be prophetic while keeping my pastoral earnestness. A provocative professor and a protective pastor! Though I am not trying to discombobulate you without also bringing us back to a solid doctrine of ecclesiology. I teach preaching and church revitalization here at Heritage but this topic is what I wrote my doctoral thesis on and I feel pressed by the Holy Spirit to share it with you. Ephesians 4:11-16 teaches that all five leadership gifts are needed to equip the saints to do the work of ministry to unify and mature the church.Or I could state it in the negative, without all five leadership gifts listed in Ephesians 4:11 the church will not be unified or mature. Apostolic, Prophetic, Evangelistic, Shepherds and Teachers are all needed to equip the church for unity and maturity.

I believe the crisis we face is caused by the fact that the local church has lost its primary missional leaders. These are the people I find most intellectually and missionally stimulating. I long for their fellowship and collaboration in the local church. Those giving leadership to the parachurch are often the APEs who are meant to equip the local church. What I mean by the APEs are the Apostolic, Prophetic and Evangelistic leaders. Alan Hirsch has helped shape this belief in me. Now, when I mean Apostolic, I mean small “a” apostolic. I don’t believe in apostolic succession or that we should call ourselves “apostles” today. What I mean is having leaders who have an apostolic gifting and are sent to break new ground for Christ’s kingdom. Think church planters, missionaries, and denominational leaders! Dr. Jon Thompson, pastor of C4 Church in Ajax and adjunct professor at Tyndale Seminary, describes an apostolic leader as, “A person usually recognized by a local church and released to a new pioneer work.”[3]Another writer defines an apostolic leader as, “one sent, commissioned, and therefore is not affixed to a particular location or church. Such an apostle operates in a trans-local manner, but does not operate independently.”[4]This trans-local ministry may describe some of the faculty and students here that have an itinerant ministry. Thank you for your sacrifice and service to us churches. We need you and you need us so I encourage you to ask your local church to pray for you. Every time Dr. Baxter goes to preach at another church, he is put on our Prayer Chain. He goes with our blessing and support! His itinerant ministry is local church based and that is what I am pleading for today. We need apostolic leaders for God to plant new churches.

Then there are prophetic leaders who call people to holiness and truth. Think Ravi Zacharias or Paul Tripp! And Evangelistic leaders go and win the lost. They are the “combines” of church agricultural implements. They are the harvesters. Think Billy Graham! These APEs need to be put back in the zoo called the local church.

This was not the case before the Protestant Reformation where the Roman Catholic Church had both a missional and attractional arm. The APEs belonged to and served out of the local church. What were they called? Monastic orders labeled sodalities by missiologists and local parishes labeled modalities. They worked together!

But here is our problem in Protestant Churches. Think about the typical life cycle of the local church. The church grows because you have apostolic, prophetic and evangelistic leaders that plant a church, but then they leave for the parachurch because they are frustrated or the church is frustrated with them. Then the church is often left being led by implementers and refiners who care for and feed the church. It happens when churches start to say we need to go deeper in the Word of God and not just hear evangelistic sermons. This just leaves us pastors and teachers at the mantle of leaders. Many pastors are chaplains caring for and feeding the flock, but not leading the flock. We need APEs to join the Shepherds in growing the church. To use a business analogy, the manufacturing side needs to work with the sales people and vice-versa. This improves and promotes the product. Our product is disciples! We need all five leadership gifts in the local church to makes disciples.

I am going to pause here for a second and deal with the text and objections in your mind. First, some of you have dispensational leanings or roots and say that apostles were foundational and since the foundation has been built, we no longer need APs. I empathize with you. You might quote to me Ephesians 2:19-21, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” The problem with this argument is context, grammar and practicality.  The verbs in Ephesians 2:19-21 are in the present tense, not the past tense. The church is continuing to be built upon Christ. That started with the big “A” apostles and big “P” prophets but it continues and is an argument from silence to say otherwise. Where do we find in Scripture that it says these gifts have ceased? They were evident beyond the Apostles in the next generation of believers such as the prophet Agabus in Acts 11:27-28, and the apostles Adronicus and Junia in Romans 16:7. Look again at Ephesians 4, we would all agree that the call to unity preceding verse 11 is not just past tense, but is needed for today. Then in 4:11, the word “edoken” modifies ALL the phrases that proceed it in the verse. And practically, none of us would say that there are no longer evangelists in the world today, even though Billy Graham just recently went home to be with the Lord. So why are we cherry picking against the apostles and prophets?

Another question is that some will say that there are not five gifts listed in verse 11, but 4 with pastor/teacher being one gift, especially since 1 Timothy 3 requires elders being able to teach. I understand the Granville-Sharpe rule of grammar and am fine with you making that one gift. My point again is calling the APEs back into the local church.

Sohow could we re-establish the local church as a mission agent and agency at least domestically?Globally we have some anti-terrorism laws that forbid Canadian churches to be like the Macedonians in New Testament times and give directly to an international church. We still need agencies for global work. But how do we start here in Canada?

  • Require Leaders to be Disciplers – We need to require our leaders to be multipliers of multipliers. If you are going to an established church as a pastor, pray and ask the Holy Spirit to lead you to men to disciple. In our church, we have found it most helpful to go through Greg Ogden’s Discipleship Essentials.
  • Create Small Groups as Leadership Incubators– Small groups are the best place to reproduce leaders. I know the College Students have their small groups called Paracleo groups. How about you seminarians? Are you involved in a small group?
  • Create a Discipleship Pathway – This was one of my first priorities when I arrived at Temple. How did we do it? We studied the Scriptures and tried to figure out what is the irreducible minimum of discipleship competencies. In other words, what does a fully mature and reproducing disciple look like and then reverse engineer that maturity process. This is how we came up with our discipleship pathway at Temple.

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  • Actively seek Missionaries – At the time of my doctoral research, only 1 in 8 churches sent out missionaries.[5]I know that some missiologists think we should stop sending Western missionaries overseas and support only indigenous missions but I do not think it is “either or” but “both and.” At Temple, we started to pray, identify, train and send missionaries. A big part of that was having mission’s internships to ensure local church orientation. For example, when we interned a Heritage grad Christina Mayer in missions, she came in the first day wanting to know where her desk would be. We lovingly told her that her office was the community and her goal was to reach her neighbourhood for Christ! We would help her, but this would be good practice when she went to the Czech Republic where there wouldn’t be a desk for her either.
  • Identify Your Church’s Mission’s Priorities – Our church has identified our mission’s priorities as evangelism, life-long discipleship and church planting. This narrow focus means having the hard conversations of telling some that we will bless their efforts, but not support them at partner levels.
  • Make your Missionaries your Staff and your Staff your Missionaries – Who sends the missionary? God? The Church? The Mission Agency? A Combination of the aforementioned? Or are we self-sent?This last one is one of the major holy discontents I had and was the impetus for this study. I was bothered that missionary applications circumvented the local church or a pastoral reference was needed halfway through the process. To use a sports analogy, this would be like somebody recruiting your player to play a game for another team and then asking their coach if the player was ready. I also was shocked to find out that mission organizations and missionaries were not engaged with the local church, particularly campus ministries. Instead, Acts 13:1-3 should be our guide of how to send missionaries. Paul and Barnabas were already serving in the local church when they were selected by the Holy Spirit for their first mission’s trip. At Temple, we consider our missionaries as extensions of our staff, which is why we want them to have a local church orientation first. The big question for us is: would you want this potential missionary as your Pastor/Elder or Deacon?Do you they meet the qualifications of an elder? Are they a disciple-maker? If not, they should stay home and grow in these things in a local church. This means that we support Christina at over 85% of her needs so that when she returns to Canada on home assignment, she can find rest and serve in her home church. Our missionaries when home attend Staff Meetings and Staff socials. This raises accountability. Ideally, like-minded churches, in a small geographical area could support one another’s missionaries and thus save much energy and ministry dollars.Likewise, we want our staff to be APEs and missionaries. This means that we have intentionally hired workers from mission’s agencies. In order to identify APEs, take the APEST Test at http://www.theforgottenways.org/what-is-apest.aspx.
  • Develop a Going and Gathering Strategy– At Temple, along with our Love Hespeler partners, we have tried to identify specific missional efforts (e.g. adopting a local public school) and attractional efforts (e.g. Trunk or Treat, Christmas Musicals).
  • Commit to training the APEs with a local church orientation. The polemic to my thesis is Sam Metcalf’s Beyond the Local Church, but I am unconvinced of his arguments. I also should mention that I wrote this sermon before I received the email last Friday from Dr. Barker announcing Heritage’s enhanced mission statement, “The mission of Heritage Theological Seminary is to equip people for biblically and theologically grounded leadership and ministry to serve the mission of Christ and his church through their involvement in evangelical churches, denominations, mission agencies, and parachurch ministries.” I sense the Lord wanted to still preach the sermon as is. My sermon is not meant to throw a grenade at you, especially since there has been so much goodwill established between Heritage and Temple. I am just pastoring a recovering church that believes with all my heart that the local church has to be part of the discipleship equation. I am deeply disturbed that if we don’t have the amazing missional leaders like you in the local church committed to pressing and proding us church leaders to go to the lost with the gospel, the Canadian church will continue to decline. And we will all suffer for that!

 

Before I give you some practical questions to reflect on and discuss over lunch, may I remind you that Christ was the only one who was an apostle (John 20:21), a prophet (John 4:19; Luke 7:16; Mark 6:4), an evangelist (Mark 1:14-15), a shepherd (John 10:11) and a teacher (Mark 10:17). Christ had all the gifts. Now as the Body of Christ, He has given us these gifts. If we make room and use them all in the local church, the church will become unified and grow to full maturity like the church in Canada has never seen before. For this I am utterly convinced – Jesus died for a unified, not a divided church! God has a daughter-in-law married to His Son Jesus and we need to do everything we can to unify and mature that marriage through the Holy Spirit. Get the APEs back in the church!

 

BREAK OFF INTO DISCUSSION GROUPS

  1. As the Early Church Father Cyprian declared, “He cannot have God for His Father who does not have the Church for his Mother.” What do you think about this statement? Do you think it is true? Why or why not?
  2. Why can discipleship not be separated from the local church?
  3. Does your church employ attractional, missional or both and in what ways?

Which of these strategies are predominate and why?

  1. Does your church have a discipleship strategy? Is your preset strategy of discipleship effective? Why or why not?
  2. According to Ephesians 4:11-12, the gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are all needed for building up the Church. Do you see all of these being exercised in your local church? If so, how? If not, why not?
  3. Where is your church on the life cycle chart?
  4. How can the gifts of apostles, prophets and evangelists be better expressed in your local church and community?

What is your cyclical going and gathering strategy?

[1]Cyprian, Epistle to Iubanius (#73), in J. Campos, Obras de San Cipriano, BAC, 1964), 688-89.

[2]Source: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/losing-churches-canada-1.5046812. Accessed March 11, 2019.

[3]Jon Thompson, Convergence(Ajax: C4 Church, 2018), 135.

[4]J. Rodman Williams, Renewal Theology (Vol. III) (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 170-171.

[5]Ted Telford, Today’s All-Star Mission Churches(Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2001), 93.


Rebuild with the Community’s Blessing

This sermon can be watched or listened to at www.templebaptistchurch.ca!

What approval are you waiting for? Maybe you are waiting for your acceptance letter into the school or a program of your choosing? Maybe you are waiting for your parents to say “yes” to your request? Maybe you are waiting to get into a new living situation; be it an apartment, new home or long-term care facility? Maybe you are waiting for a loan to be approved from the bank? Maybe you are waiting to hear back from the government for approval to go ahead with a project? This last question is what our church has been waiting on. This past Wednesday, we called the church to fast and pray as the City of Cambridge evaluated our application for our new site plan. Praise the Lord we got word that we need to make only some minor adjustments such as reconfiguring the side storage, adding sidewalks to go all the way to the city sidewalks, parking lights and water service for the sprinkler system. Our architect and Build Team will make the adjustments and then submit the changes to the City. Hopefully this will mean only minor delays! Thank you so much for your prayers and please keep praying.

Today, we are going to find hope from another group of God’s people who were waiting for approval. Let’s continue our study of Ezra in Ezra 6:1-5 and see how God is restoring His people spiritually as they rebuild His Temple. It will remind us that God is still working while we wait for Him. Read Ezra 6:1-5!

To recap, the Jews had been in exile for 70 years in Babylon because they were disobedient and cheating on God. But God promised that He would bring them back to the Promised Land of Israel. This miracle came true as God’s Word always comes true. After fixing up their homes, they started work on the altar of the Lord so that they could re-establish worship. Then they started rebuilding the temple, but they faced wave after wave of opposition. Their opponents even appealed to King Artaxerxes by threatening that the king would lose revenue and worse, control of this outlying province in the Medo-Persian Empire if the work on the temple in Jerusalem continued. They reminded the king that the Jews were a rebellious lot of people, which was true. So King Artaxerxes caused a government shutdown and halted the work on the temple. But just because the Persian King shut the project down didn’t mean that the work didn’t continue. We read in Ezra 5:2, “Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua son of Jozadak arose and began to rebuild the house of God that is in Jerusalem, and the prophets of God were with them, supporting them.” Ezra 5:5 also records that the work continued because, “The eye of their God was on the elders of the Jews.” What an encouragement! There was a holy defiance and a humble dependence on God as we read the rest of Ezra 5. I believe God still has His eyes on the elders and prophetic leaders of our day as we have a holy defiance to worldly schemes and yet a humble dependence upon God. The elders and prophets mentioned in Ezra were Haggai and Zechariah and their messages not only encouraged the people of God in that day, but also in our day. These books are part of the Biblical canon and point us to Christ’s work of redemption on the Cross as well as His future second coming to earth. This is a great reminder that sometimes when there is a delay physically, God has a message for us and is working in us spiritually. Maybe He wants us to pray more? Maybe He wants us to share the news of God’s Work here? Maybe God wants to speak something to us as we have encountered this minor delay from the City regarding recreating our property here at 400 Holiday Inn Drive? I don’t know all of the messages God has for us individually or corporately, but I do know He loves to talk to us. For His sheep hear His voice (John 10:3). Our God wants to talk to us today! He wants to talk to you! Are you listening?

Here is the message for us today:God’s deliverance comes from a distance away! You might be waiting on God and maybe you have been waiting for sometime for His approval, but I assure you today that God is working and your waiting is not being wasted. I know this because of what JesusHimself declared in John 5:27 (NIV), “My Father is always at His work to this very day and I too am working.” And this was also true in the days of the Jewish returning exiles. Let’s unpack Ezra 6:1-5 further. Verse 1 records, “Then King Darius issued a decree and search was made in Babylonia, in the house of the archives where the documents were stored.” Notice that there was a new king. King Artaxerxes had passed on. What a reminder that just because one leader is standing in your way, God’s Word still stands and can be fulfilled through a new leader. Psalm 75:6-7 declares, “For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up, but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another.” Or as Daniel said close to this time period in Daniel 2:21 (NLT), “He (the Lord) controls the course of world events; He removes kings and sets up other kings.”So make your appeal to God. He can remove the obstacle, even powerful people, in your way. His deliverance comes from a distance away.

Slide09We see this most clearly in Ezra 6:2-4, “In Ecbatana in the fortress, which is in the province of Media, a scroll was found and there was written in it as follows: ‘Memorandum – In the first year of King Cyrus, Cyrus the king issued a decree: ‘Concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, let the temple, the place where sacrifices are offered, be rebuilt and let its foundations be retained, its height being 60 cubits and its width 60 cubits; with three layers of huge stones and one layer of timbers. And let the cost be paid from the royal treasury.” This is significant because the Ecbatana fortress was remote. It “stands in the modern city Hamadan, Iran and was the capital of Media and subsequently the summer residence of the Achaemenian kings.”[1] You can see where Ecbatana was on the map. What is important to understand is it was remote and it was the summer capital. It was like the Muskoka of our province and it explains why this decree could be lost. Anybody ever forgot something at the summer cottage and then not find it until you go back again? This is similar to what happened with the scroll with Cyrus’ decree in it.

You see, this was a decree from King Cyrus that was protected and hidden. Cyrus was a Persian King and we know from Daniel 6:8 and 15 that “the laws of the Medes and Persians could not be broken” even by the one decreeing it. There were no loopholes. This is why Daniel had to spend a night with some hungry lions in their den while the king spent a sleepless night with regret and frustration that he could do nothing to save his friend and most trusted advisor from not only the lion’s teeth, but also his own decree. And yet, there was a Deliverer from a distance away who came very near that night. That next morning, the king had the stone over the den rolled away and found Daniel without a scratch on him. Daniel declared to the king, “My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before Him; and also before you, O king, I have done no harm.” (Daniel 6:22) The point being that God’s decrees are sovereign over any governmental leader’s decrees and God’s deliverance comes from a distance away. God’s Word became Cyrus’ word and it had to be followed.

Do you realize that God can use governmental leaders, His servants as Romans 13:4 calls them, to continue His work? This does not necessarily mean that the governmental official is a believer in God or that their motives are pure. It may be self-serving and God-serving at the same time. You may have an authority figure in your life such as a parent, a boss, or a teacher who is telling you to do something you don’t like and it actually could be something God wants for you. As Derek Kidner explains regarding Cyrus’ decree, “The decree was prompted by the desire to win the goodwill and intercessions of whatever ‘deities’ Cyrus ‘repatriated.’”[2] Cyrus was probably giving approval to gain favour with his subjects and possibly their “gods.” He didn’t realize that there was only one God and though he couldn’t gain favour from Him by trying to manipulate Him, God was going to use Cyrus. God used Cyrus to be very specific in his guidelines, which aligned with God’s previous requirements for the size of His temple. This is an amazing fulfillment of God’s Word and evidences His sovereignty over history. Bible Scholar Charles Fensham remarks, “We should expect a temple on the same scale as the one of Solomon. Even the measures of the temple are given to ensure that the cost of the building are staying within limits.”[3] So the lesson is that even though God provides deliverance from a distance and is sovereign over all governmental authorities, we should still submit to them. We need to follow the rules by these authorities because they are for our protection as long as they do not violate God’s Word. In other words, we rebuild with the community’s blessing.

And this also means we must still pay our taxes. Notice that the king said the cost of the Temple’s rebuild would come from the royal treasury. Well, where did the royal treasury come from? From taxes! This is what Derek Kidner explains, “There could be no better use of public money; besides the charge on the royal revenue could be collected in the province concerned as Darius did not fail to point out. The burden would not be felt at the capital.”[4]And it alleviates the original concern of the critics in Ezra 4:13, “Now it be known to the king that if this city is rebuilt and the walls finished, they will not pay tribute, custom or toll, and the royal revenue will be impaired.” The Jews would contribute through taxation to the rebuilding of the temple, but others would too. This reminds me of one fantastic story I heard about a church in West Lafayette, Indiana called Faith Layette Church. They were growing and providing much biblical counselling to their community. They also found out the city had need of more community centres. So because they had a relationship with the city, they were approached by the city and given millions of dollars without strings attached to help build community centres and run community programs without losing their gospel focus. Another example closer to home is Hughson Street Baptist Church in Hamilton that is using their new building for low-income families with 42 units of affordable housing as part of their building. In a sense, we are trying to do something similar with the Master’s Plan 4.0 and make this about reaching our community. I love what our Elder Steve Limmer remarked in last Wednesday’s Next Chapter class, “When we built the building we now sit in, we built it for ourselves – the people already in the church. We built a school and we built a sanctuary. But not this time. Now we are building this for others in our community. We are building it for the people who are not yet in the church.” Amen! And this is why we need to you to start praying, sharing the Gospel and inviting people to church. Who’s your one?

You see, unlike in Ecbatana, we are not trying to be a fortress where God’s decrees are lost and hidden.We are not trying to be a fortress filled with angry people; known for what we are against rather than what we are for. Instead,we want this to be a place where the community can go to with their problems.This is why we reach out to the schools. Remember, we are on mission with Jesus to turn broken people into whole people who multiply Christ-followers. This should be a place of redemption – where things are bought back. In a sense, this is what King Darius decreed for the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem in Ezra 6:5, “Also let the gold and silver utensils of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took from the temple in Jerusalem and brought to Babylon, be returned and brought to their places in the temple in Jerusalem; and you shall put them in the house of God.” The things that were lost were found. In fact, Nebuchadnezzar took these worship utensils from Solomon’s first temple and actually protected them. As we learned in past studies and sermons, the Jews through the years kept selling off their objects of worship and giving away portions of Solomon’s Temple. So God used a pagan king to take the worship instruments away so that they could be protected until they could be properly valued and used by the returning Jews. God was so serious about protecting His worship that when King Belshazzar decided to use the sacred golden from Solomon’s Temple as dinner ware at his party, God wrote on the wall and took Belshazzar off the throne that very night. We read about this in Daniel 5.

All this reminds me that God’s deliverance comes from a distance away. And this is still how God is working. You see, our own deliverance still comes from a distance away. Jesus Christ came from heaven when we were confounded and sin was reigning. When our opponents had stopped us. When we were surrounded by the kingdom of darkness. Jesus came as a new leader with a new decree that could not be changed. That decree was the offer of a new life that will last forever. And Jesus didn’t find a lost scroll, He found you and me who were lost. It is this Jesus was holy defiant to unrighteous rulers and yet humbly dependent upon God the Father and God the Spirit. And it was Jesus who doesn’t tax His people but used His own royal treasury so that we who were poor might become rich in His grace and build a new temple called the temple of God.

But the difference is that Jesus didn’t receive the community’s blessing, instead He blessed the community. He was actually killed by the community so that our community and every community around the world might find hope and approval by God again as we trust in Him. This is the greatest approval you have been waiting for – Jesus Christ’s approval as you trust in Him!

As I think about approvals, the two approvals most people seek are their parents and then the love of their lives. Children yearn to be told that their parents are proud of them and that they are special. And then all of us yearn to be told by somebody of the opposite sex they love them and want to spend the rest of their lives with them. I know I spent too much time as a young man looking for the approval of girls until one young woman from a distance away delivered me from that pursuit and gave me her approval. She came all the way from Kansas. How much greater Jesus who thinks you so special and so loved that He would come from Heaven to deliver you and continue on with His work of rebuilding His kingdom!

[1]Source: https://www.britannica.com/place/Ecbatana. Accessed March 21, 2019.

[2]Derek Kidner, Ezra & Nehemiah – An Introduction & Commentary – Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries(Downer’s Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1979), 56.

[3]Fensham, 87.

[4]Kidner, 56.


A Fruitful Woman

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Thelma Eloise Reid                                                               December 26, 1951 – March 9, 2019

 

Thelma Reid loved gardening. In fact, whole groups of people would visit just to see her award-winning garden. I think she got this love of gardening from our Lord. Did you know that God is a gardener?As the Creator, God made a garden and gave the first human beings, Adam and Eve, responsibility for cultivating a garden. Genesis 2:8-9 records, “And the Lord God planted a garden in the Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” It was this second tree that has caused all the pain in life. You see, God told Adam and Eve that they could eat from any tree in the Garden, except one. God often gets a bad rap that He is all about the rules. But God is not. “When God says don’t, He means don’t hurt yourself.”[1]God is actually about relationships. He is very generous and is actually the source of Thelma’s generosity.

The one rule God had was not to eat from the knowledge of good and evil. Why? Because we can’t handle such knowledge! Once Adam and Eve ate from this tree, they would be confused what is good and what is bad. It explains why we call things bad when they are good and call other things good when they are bad for us and others. I’ll give you an example that one of my Caribbean friends taught me. At graveside services, my Caribbean brothers and sisters know how to say goodbye. Funerals are very hard, aren’t they? Nowadays, people want to distance themselves from death. We struggle to show sympathy, especially when we post videos on social media of people doing embarrassing things or hurting themselves and we instead make fun of them.[2]We are losing a sense of sympathy. Fewer and fewer people are having funerals and as my funeral director friends tell me this is increasing the grief counseling and protracting the grief process. But my Jamaican friends, take what is evil – death and bring good out of it. At the graveside service, there will be a big pile of dirt and there will be shovels. And each one in attendance at the service will grab a shovel and put some dirt on the casket until we fully bury sister Thelma’s remains so her body can be at rest awaiting the sure resurrection that Jesus has guaranteed with His own resurrection. We will sing hymns. In fact, you are going to have to help this poor pastor sing great praises to God. Now the first time, I went to one of these graveside services for a Caribbean sister, I thought it was great that each person participated and grabbed a shovel. It was so communal and so cathartic, but what I didn’t realize was where this tradition came from until Mark Adams told me. On the islands, the casket is fully buried to protect from grave robbers. In fact, it is my understanding that sometimes rocks will be thrown on the caskets to dent the caskets so they cannot be used again by grave robbers. Can you imagine my white-privileged perspective seeing that for the first time? I would think, without knowing the reason why rocks were being thrown on a casket, that the deceased was despised, when in reality they were loved and protected? My false assumptions show that I am prone to call what is good bad and to call what is bad good. How about you?

Let’s go back to the first Garden. As the story goes, the great villain Satan comes and tempts Eve and she eats from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. She gave some fruit to Adam and he also ate. God then shows up that night and Adam and Eve are hiding. They were trying to cover up their sin and shame. As BrenéBrown in her book Dare to Leadexplains, “Shame is universal and one of the most primitive human emotions that we experience … and almost always leads to unethical behavior. The only people who don’t experience shame are those who lack the capacity for empathy and human connection. Shame is a fear of disconnection and is the intensely painful feeling or experience that we are flawed and therefore, unworthy of love, belong, connection.”[3]Did you catch that word “disconnection”? Shame results in disconnection and distance. We see this in our first parents and it has been handed down to all of us. God promised Adam and Eve that they would die if they broke His one rule and so God kept His promise because He is faithful and just. He banished Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. But there is grace! As my friend Jon Thompson has said, “God removed Adam and Eve from the garden so they could not eat from the tree of life and be eternally lost along with the rest of the human race!”[4]So instead of giving ultimate punishment, God showed grace and just gave consequences. Like any good parent who lets children suffer consequences, the consequences are meant to teach us our need to obey. The worst of those consequences are what we are facing today – physical death!

Now, some of you might immediately think that isn’t fair. The time doesn’t fit the crime. I was told that when some watched Thelma battle cancer when she had so much more to live for, they complained to her, “It isn’t fair!” Thelma’s reply was, “That will eat you up!” You see, just like in the Garden of Eden, you become what you eat. Think about this apple! (Take a bite of apple)When I have a bite, it becomes a part of me to the cellular level. Sin has come into our lives and bodies and has affected every part of us. We can become bitter and it will literally eat us up. Or we can become better, rather then bitter! But becoming better is not trying harder but trusting more. I loved what Thelma’s daughter said, “If we could have mom’s faith, we would be better off!” How true! And yet, there is Good News! You can have Thelma’s faith. You see, every story has a villain, but every story also has a hero. The hero in God’s Big Story is His own Son. Jesus Christ came to live better than Adam. He came to earth to empathize with us. To know that the struggle is real! You see, as BrenéBrown explains, “Empathy creates a hostile environment for shame.”[5]Part of why we experience grief and why Jesus Himself experienced grief when His friend Lazarus died was to create a hostile environment for shame. We are here today to fight the shame of death and to find hope. But I have even better news. Jesus didn’t just empathize with us. He came to earth and followed God completely and never sinned to show us a better way. He was the only one who was ever perfect. Anybody here perfect? Me neither! So we needed Jesus to come and live, but we also needed Jesus to die. To take our place! To reverse the curse of death!

How did that happen? Well, the ultimate bad day became the ultimate good day. In fact, we call it Good Friday, which we will celebrate in about a month. It was on a cross that Jesus ultimately demonstrated that He is “the way, the truth and the life” and the only way back to being connected to God in John 14:6. Jesus explained it this way in John 15:1-5, “I am the true vine and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away and every branch that does not bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Did you catch that last part? We can do nothing (at least that will last) unless we abide in Christ. Unless we have His life flowing through us daily, moment by moment!

What do I mean Christ’s life flowing through us? You may remind me that Jesus died. Oh, but there is more to the story. You see, Jesus didn’t just stay dead! He rose from the grave. God was the only righteous grave robber! He didn’t come to steal, kill and destroy, He came to give life and give it abundantly. What was the worst day became the best day. Humans thought it good to kill Jesus, when it was evil and bad. And yet, God redeemed it. He did so through Jesus rising from the grave. This is why you see Jesus’ declaration in John 11:25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live and everyone who lives and believers in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” Thelma believed this. Her daughters told me, “She was not afraid to die.” This was not just bravado; it was belief! It was belief in Jesus, the true vine – the only one who can connect you back to God. To take away your guilt and shame and to make you fruitful again! To give you eternal life so physical death is just a window to pass through to life forever with God. Do you believe this? Then abide in Christ. Let His words remain in you and act on them. Thelma did. And now she is gardening with Jesus. You see, the Bible ends with a garden in the midst of the great city of New Jerusalem. As Revelation 22:1-2 record Jesus’ most loved disciple John’s vision, “Then the angel showed me, the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” We will then be able to eat from the tree of life and not be eternally lost, but eternally saved. So today, will you be the fruit of Thelma’s life and more importantly, Jesus’ life? If you do, you have 10,000 reasons to sing!

[1]I heard this first from James MacDonald.

[2]Source: https://www.crossway.org/articles/why-your-childs-misbehavior-shouldnt-be-your-next-social-media-post/?utm_source=Crossway+Marketing&utm_campaign=ac160d8c22-20190321+-+General+-+Parenting+with+Words&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_0275bcaa4b-ac160d8c22-296093617. Accessed March 22, 2019.

[3] BrenéBrown, Dare to Lead (New York: Random House, 2018), 125.

[4]Jon Thompson, Convergence (Ajax: C4 Church, 2018), 163.

[5]Brown, 160.