Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Touching Base! Part 192

All Time Is Not Equal

(You can find a recording of this sermon here.)

This Touching Base is a useful tool for small group discussion, personal reflection or in a one-on-one conversation. We believe that if the Sunday teaching is discussed outside of the morning services, it will be an opportunity to go deeper and build healthy community because God's Word needs to be discussed in community.

Here is an interesting exercise: take a piece of paper and draw a horizontal time line. Write on the left, birth, and at the end of the line, today. Now take a highlighter and mark on that line representing time, the most important dates, perhaps a season in your life.
  • What were those dates or seasons that stand out most?
  • How did what happen back then shape you?
  • Was it positive or negative?
  • Who were the people in that memory?

By looking at your timeline you would no doubt agree with me that all time is not equal. There are seasons, dates that hold greater weight, and influence in our lives than others. Christmas reminds us that all time is not equal. Two thousand years ago there lived a man, the God Man, whose words, deeds and identity shape us and influence us still today. There is no other time period in all of human history that has so dramatically impacted how the rest of history would unfold:

“Jesus’ impact was greater 100 years after his death than during his life; it was greater still after five hundred years; after a thousand years his legacy laid the foundation for much of Europe; after two thousand years he has more followers in more places than ever. […] His influence has swept over history like the tail of a comet, bringing his inspiration to influence art, science, government, medicine, and education; he has taught humans about dignity, compassion, forgiveness, and hope.” John Ortberg, Who Is This Man (p.11-12).

What is interesting is that this time without equal, is not only looked back upon, but was looked forward to. Check out Luke 24:25-27, Matt 1:22,23,1 Peter 1:10-12. It’s like a centerpiece on a table, wherever you sit at the table you can see the centerpiece and its centrality to the table arrangement. Likewise, wherever you are in history, whether looking forward or back, this time is central, highlighted and of great influence.

Read Hebrews 1:1-4. Note the phrase, “in these last days he has spoken to us through his Son”.
  • What are the words of Jesus that have deeply shaped you?
  • How have those words made you to be a completely different person than if you had ignored them and allowed other words to shape you?
  • What current challenges are you facing that are really the result of heeding the words of Jesus?
  • What do you find are the hardest words of Jesus to heed?

Another great exercise is to take a Bible where the words of Jesus are in red letters. Read through and see what words of Christ you find most challenging. On Sunday I gave several examples.

Take some time and pray for each other. As we allow His life to shape us, and the Holy Spirit to control us, we need each other to remain strong, faithful and aligned.

All time is not equal. The life of Christ, His death and resurrection are the centerpiece to all of human history. His words are to shape us, for He may have come as a baby, but He is no longer our baby but our King, the Head of the Church, the First and the Last, Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God. As Paul said of Him (1 Tim 3:16), “Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.”

On Sunday we took some time to demonstrate how the words of Jesus shape us by updating people on the Bethel House Ministry. This ministry is a tangible example of how Jesus shapes us today. As a church, we are shaped by the life of Christ and thus feel compelled to preach good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and to release the oppressed. The following is a bit about this all -important ministry at Bethel:

Bethel House is a ministry of Bethel Church that provides safe, supportive, transitional housing for men recovering from alcohol and/or drug addiction. Having successfully completed an 8–12 week live-in treatment program at Salvation Army Harbour Light in Kingston, Ontario, men wishing to remain in Kingston have the option of moving into one of two houses located next to the church at 318 and 324 Johnson Street and corporately called “Bethel House.”

This is because, unfortunately, even those who have successfully completed a recovery program are often forced back into old lifestyle patterns because of a lack of safe, affordable, transitional housing - when leaving a treatment or recovery program, many people actually require an additional stabilizing step in their recovery process before fully transitioning back into the community. This is normally a period of 8-12 months. Thus, this ministry has grown out of a desperate need in our community which has been documented in numerous poverty, healthcare and social service studies over the last few years.

During the summers of 2006 and 2007, both houses owned by Bethel Church were renovated as the congregation supported a decision to move from student housing to a more ministry-focused need in our community. Many people from Bethel Church, the greater community and the staff at Harbour Light assisted in this major undertaking, and continue to support this ministry today through prayer, practical donations such as bedding, clothing for our men, televisions, furniture, food (muffins and cookies are always appreciated) and even fund-raisers and financial gifts. Financial gifts have been used for tutoring our guys returning to school, special needs relevant to individual residents and matters related to the ongoing operations and maintenance of the houses.

Over the years, our guys’ stories of struggle and success have encouraged many of us in our own challenges and faith walk, as they have helped us to better understand the world of mental health and addictions. And your ongoing support and engagement of our guys lightens their step each day.

So far, this ministry has seen approximately 70 men pass through our doors in the last five years, the majority of whom have successfully reintegrated back into the community either in Kingston or elsewhere.

Bethel House would not be possible without the ongoing prayer and financial support of our church and community. The Bethel House Committee, comprised of leadership from both Bethel Church and the Salvation Army Harbour Light Program, covets your prayers for us as we meet regularly to pray and plan for this ministry. As well, we encourage you to become involved in this ministry, first and foremost, by reaching out to our men and encouraging them in their recovery journey. You will find, as we have found, that the blessing of knowing ‘our guys’ is mutual.

If you are interested in knowing more about the Bethel House Ministry or how you can be a part of this work, please feel free to contact Sandy Sheahan (Ministry Chair) at 613 540-0518 or sheahan@queensu.ca

Sandy Sheahan (on behalf of the Bethel House Ministry Team)

Mark Kotchapaw

If interested in joining or starting a small group contact bethelcommunitygroups@gmail.com

Monday, December 10, 2012

Touching Base! Part 191

Jeremiah was a bullfrog? - Part 9
The Mute Stones Speak

Guest posting by Eric Prost

(You can find a recording of this sermon here.)

This Touching Base is a useful tool for small group discussion, personal reflection or in a one-on-one conversation. We believe that if the Sunday teaching is discussed outside of the morning services, it will be an opportunity to go deeper and build healthy community because God's Word needs to be discussed in community.

Read Jeremiah 23:5-6 and 33:12-16; Lamentations 2:8; Luke 19:37-40.

If the walls in your house could talk, what would they say? What if your walls could gossip? What is said when it’s just your family at home? How do you spend your time when you’re home alone?

What if the walls in the Oval Office could talk? Would they recite statistics and reasoned arguments? Would they praise the chief executives who have sat behind that desk? Or would they lament the dead in wars executed from that room or weep for the injustices of rich and poor?

If the stones in the White House or the parliament buildings are anything like stones in the Bible, they would show strong emotions. They wouldn’t reason with you; they would be passionate with loud emotion even when – especially when - no one else was joining in. They would always be accurate to the occasion. Offensive maybe, but accurate: If a lament were suitable, they would weep; if praise, they would shout it out immediately.

In this week’s sermon and this accompanying Touching Base, we’re going to come back to stones.

The Big Idea is this: Lamentation and Praise go together in God’s good news for human beings – the Gospel – and God’s good news is, after all, what Christmas is about.

This is the last Touching Base in our series on the Prophet, and the Book of, Jeremiah. Pastor Mark has posed hard questions over the last couple of months. What are your idols? What verses or passages of scripture do you “burn” by outright rejecting them or explaining them away? Are you willing to wear a plaid jacket from Costco in order to be countercultural? Jeremiah was imprisoned, put in stocks, and lowered into a mucky pit because he was countercultural.

So we’re wrapping up this series on the Second Sunday of Advent with the church decorated for Christmas and we’re talking about a weeping prophet. How does this work?

Weeping and Lamenting

I read through the Book of Jeremiah again during this sermon series. It’s not an easy read. God tells Jeremiah to say a lot of things. Many of the things are, not surprisingly, hard for the wicked to hear. Jeremiah is ignored, imprisoned, tortured. He is the weeping prophet: he weeps for Jerusalem, he weeps for the people left behind, he weeps for the people exiled, he weeps for himself and how he does just what God wants him to and is then abused for it.

Jeremiah must have cringed whenever he heard the Lord say, “Go and proclaim…go and proclaim,” over and over again.

Why did God need a prophet at all, one who persisted for 52 chapters “proclaiming” to the people?

God needed a prophet because he is gracious and merciful and longsuffering. He continually engaged his people and their leaders with instruction and love and second and third and fourth chances. And even when they reaped the punishment of exile, he still guided and took care of them.

How did God feel? Listen to the stones. Stones don’t often speak in the Bible, but when they do, they obey their Creator. They are pure emotion, straight-up intense emotion. It is as if the oldest and most primordial of God’s creation, the part that has been around the longest with the Creator, gives out the most apt but primitive of utterances. Not sophisticated, but right on.

See if you can find other examples of audible stones in the Bible.

So what does God feel? The stones (and God) lament. Lamentations 2:8: “He made the ramparts and walls lament.” The 2nd chapter of Lamentations is discussing God’s anger and what he has done; yet here the ramparts – the obedient stones – are lamenting. Matthew 23: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” Here are the stones of Jerusalem weeping and lamenting with God at what is happening.

So the Book of Jeremiah is about a lot of warnings and a lot of consequences for sin and a lot of judgment. And then Jeremiah writes a book specifically about lament to go with it.

So is there any consolation, any hope? What else can the stones say?

Praise and Worship

Jeremiah is a book of prophecy in the sense that it’s about a prophet to whom God gives a message of warning. But Jeremiah also has the honour of foretelling the messiah’s advent (chs 23 & 33): The days are coming when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch…This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Saviour…in the villages around Jerusalem…flocks will again pass under the hand of the ones who counts them”.

Find other OT prophets who anticipated Christ’s Advent.

The expression “being saved” has vanished from our Christian vocabularies, but it is quite Biblical. What better place to stand than to be safe, to be saved? God calls Jesus a “saviour” throughout scripture. “He will save his people from their sins.” The Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas, “What must I do to be saved?” – “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” “If you will confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). The people of Israel and Judah would be saved from the Babylonians, they would be saved from judgment, and, best of all, they would be saved from their sins.

Luke 2:8-14. “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord…Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peach, good will toward men’”.

Read Luke 19:37-40.

“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Let’s talk more about stones. “…the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

“Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

“I tell you, he replied, “if they keep quiet, the very stones will cry out.”

Picture this. It’s the night Jesus was born. The shepherds are watching their flock. Suddenly a great company of angels appears, praising God. What if someone had then shouted at the glowing sky, “Stop it!” What if they’d shouted at the baby Jesus, “Rebuke those angels, Baby Jesus, shut them up!”

It’s absurd, blasphemous.

“Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

“Oh no, if they keep quiet, these very stones would immediately cry out!”

Here’s God’s primitive creation speaking because it cannot keep quiet. This isn’t judgment but triumph. They shout, not in lament, but in praise.

Let’s mix the verses in Jeremiah and Luke together. “Today, in the town of David, a Righteous Branch sprouting from David’s line has been born to you. He is the Messiah, the Lord, Our Righteous Saviour.”

The stones lament because God must be judge. But he has provided a way of escape with Advent. And when he triumphs over sin, when sinners repent, when he is acknowledged as King, the stones cry out in praise and worship.

We live in a city built on, and built of, limestone. This Advent season, don’t leave it up to the stones to praise their Creator. God values your repentance and your praise far more.

Eric Prost
If interested in joining or starting a small group contact bethelcommunitygroups@gmail.com

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Touching Base! Part 190

Jeremiah was a bullfrog? - Part 8
Idolatry's Appeal

(You can find a recording of this sermon here.)

This Touching Base is a useful tool for small group discussion, personal reflection or in a one-on-one conversation. We believe that if the Sunday teaching is discussed outside of the morning services, it will be an opportunity to go deeper and build healthy community because God's Word needs to be discussed in community.

This morning is part 2 in addressing the issue of idolatry found in Jeremiah. You can download last week’s TB by going to our website (www.bethelkingston.com).

The key text again this Sunday was Jeremiah 2:13, and the question we asked was, “Why would the people of Israel and Judah make this trade? Why would they trade in the Spring of Living Water for broken cisterns?” Our big idea answers the question. If you are discussing this TB in a small group take some time to consider several answers to this question. Here is the one we focused in on.

Big Idea
: Idolatry appeals to our desires. In other words there is an aspect of idolatry that feels good. Like eating ice cream on a hot day.

Note in our text that this is a picture of work, labour, sweat, effort, cost, and energy. What do you think they believed as they intentionally moved away from God and embraced idols? No doubt they are thinking “This will satisfy my thirst”. They are not doing this to keep busy, or to fill the time - this effort is a thirst-quenching exercise!
What are the “thirsts” that idolatry will tell us it can satisfy?
For some help on this see the following.
Control: You know you have a control idol if your greatest nightmare is uncertainty.
Approval: You know you have an approval idol if your greatest nightmare is rejection.
Comfort: You know you have a comfort idol if your greatest nightmare is stress or demands.
Power: You know you have a power idol if your greatest nightmare is humiliation or embarrassment.
(Resource: Justin Buzzard – http://www.preachingtoday.com)

Read Jer. 2:23-25 and note the sensuality of this, the indulgence of an appetite. Whatever we inhale lines up with something in our hearts, something we “need”, something we want, something we crave. Note the addictive nature of idolatry in v.25.
Consequently it can be very hard to part with, or in the case of a good thing, to put it in its proper place. It can be like taking a cookie out of the hand of the cookie monster. Desires can make us addicts.
Someone might say, “But doesn’t God want to give me the desires of my heart?” Yes, but only when God is in charge, shaping our desires and showing us how to legitimately fulfill those desires. God doesn’t write blank cheques.
Take some time to discuss this and see what Jeremiah says about this in Jeremiah 10:23.

Dallas Willard has said that the central condition of spiritual formation is removing yourself from the center.
But notice how idolatry wants to put ME at the center. ME and my desires. Again this becomes an issue of authority which we see all began back in the garden.

Think about this statement: “Idolatry’s goal is to put the unqualified in control of our lives.” The “unqualified” are our desires from within. How are our desires unqualified? What might be their blind spots, their shortcomings?

Maybe this is why Proverbs 14:12 says “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.”

Is it any wonder that Jeremiah says the cisterns are broken and cannot hold water? Listen to what one person says about sorrow and despair. I think this sums up leaky cisterns pretty well.

Sorrow is pain for which there are sources of consolation. Sorrow comes from losing one good thing among others, so that, if you experience a career reversal, you can find comfort in your family to get you through. Despair however, is inconsolable, because it comes from losing an ultimate thing. When you lose the ultimate source of your meaning or hope, there are no alternative sources to turn to. It breaks your spirit. (see Tim Keller – Counterfeit Gods, xiii).

Now read Jer. 9:23-24. Aren’t these great verses demonstrating why God is the Spring of Living Water?

The following are some ways to help you identify your idols. Remember that it is ultimately God the Holy Spirit that reveals the intentions and condition of our heart. Psalm 139 reminds us to allow God to search our hearts.

1. Look at your generational patterns. Note Jer. 2:5-“your forefathers”. What idols were “set up” in your family’s home? Have they been passed down?

2. Look at your culture. What is everyone worshiping? - note 2:13 “ My people” You just had to look around to see what the idols were in Judah. What do you see in our culture?

3. Look below the surface. Remember there are external idols, but the greater problem is the internal idols that allow the external idols to exist. See above regarding control, approval, comfort, power. If we don’t deal with the deeper idols it will be next to impossible to deal with the surface idols. Agree?

Here are some further examples of not so obvious idols:
    False beliefs
    “I don’t deserve God, this spring of living water. My past, my shame, my brokenness, my failures makes me more deserving of a broken leaky cistern.” Our false beliefs become idols because they end up having more authority over us than the truth.

    “many make even their enemies their god… when they are more troubled, disquieted, and perplexed at apprehensions of danger to their liberty, estates, and lives from men” than they are concerned about God’s displeasure.’ David Clarkson- 17th century English minister.

    One person said noise can become an idol. It serves to distract and keep one from hearing the voice of God in His Word or the voice of the Holy Spirit.
    4. Ask people close to you. (friends, family, team members, spouse) Why?

    Not only does idolatry exhale God from being the top priority, idolatry will often exhale other important things from being in the right priority. Idolatry does not just offend God it can offend those close to us. Just ask a spouse whose husband or wife works too much.

    5. Take the IQ test (“Idolatry Quotient”):
    • Where does my sense of security come from?
    • Where does my sense of identity come from?
    • What consumes my thoughts? What do I dream about?
    • How do I feel when…. Is taken away or if it was taken away from me?
    • How do I resemble the world?
    • What do I habitually think about to get joy and comfort in the privacy of my heart?
    • Where do I spend my money?
    Augustine said....
    “Do not love what is not to be loved, or fail to love what is to be loved, or have a greater love for what should be loved less, or an equal love for things that should be loved less or more, or a lesser love for things that should be loved equally.” Augustine (in D.K. Naugle, 51)

    Finally, I would say, do not be naive to the strategy of the enemy, 1 Peter 5:8. Idolatry is everywhere we look. If idolatry manifested itself through literal statues then every household in North America would be full. There would be no room for the people to even live in their homes.

    We need to realize that warfare is real and we are targets. I like what Alexander Solzhenitsyn said - he saw the corruption of the Soviet system, felt the pressure to surrender and conform but courageously resisted and said “let the lie come, but not through me.”

    Not through me oh Lord, not through me!


    If interested in joining or starting a small group contact bethelcommunitygroups@gmail.com