Are You Loving One Another?

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Rate yourself on a scale of 1-10 on how well you love one another.

1____________________________________ 10! 10 is that you are a very loving person and people tell you this all the time. 1 is that your own mother has a hard time loving you. Loving one another is one of the easiest teachings to say and memorize, but one of the hardest to do. Now if you are here today for the first time, I suspect that you expect that as followers of Jesus Christ we are loving toward one another. You may not have heard much about Jesus, but you have probably heard that He promoted that we are to love one another. So how are you doing with that? Are you loving the people around you? Could there be some room for improvement? How would your new college roommate rate you? What score would your spouse give you? How about your siblings? Your parents? Frankly, if you get a low score at school, work or out in the community, you have some issues because those are the areas where we are most concerned about our reputation. Out in the public eye, people usually see the best version of us. We can appear pretty loving and kind.

I gave myself a score of 6. I know how I can be fairly loving to people in our church and community, but then sometimes fail miserably at home with loving my family. I also know that I don’t always respond in love when I have poured myself into a task, project or somebody’s life and then at the moment that they should be most grateful, they tear a strip off you. I can easily want revenge by giving the cold shoulder or gossiping about them or giving up on the relationship. I am loving only a little bit more than half of the time.

This is why this message is so important. Some of you are on the verge of being so unloving that you could do irreparable damage to your relationships. This is why, in part, our church has been studying through the Gospel of John since Easter in order to understand our new identity in light of who Jesus is. Our Leadership Team took time out of our busy schedule last week to seek the Lord in prayer and to discuss the future. We also tried to do some self-evaluation. We see God changing us to be more like His Son Jesus in so many ways and are so thankful for His work. We have moved past a lot of our traditions and barriers to ministry and instead have more of a care for our community just like the BBQ we put on for Centennial Public School this past week. We have embraced grace, but hopefully not at the expense of truth. We have a discipleship pathway that is our measuring stick for effectiveness rather than just numbers. In other words, we care more about whether you are reading God’s Word, praying every day and sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ than how many people come here on a Sunday. These are all good things that God has done in our midst over the past 5 years.

God is growing us, but the area that we think we can continue to grow in is our love for one another. Love is the mark of a Christian. This is our new identity – our love for one another. Jesus teaches His disciples that their love for one another will set them apart. It still does. Our love for one another is compelling. In fact, our memory verse for the month of September is John 13:34, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” But here is the thing: Jesus gives this command not at the beginning of His ministry! He doesn’t proclaim it on top of the mountain with thousands listening like He did at the beginning of public ministry but instead in the darkly lit room on the night that He was betrayed. Jesus started out His ministry in Matthew 5:44 telling His followers to “love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them,” but the night before He died He is more focused on how His disciples should aim their love at one another. He was so concerned that He spent the last day before His death taking the form of slave and washing His disciples’ feet including the one who betrayed Him. After practicing what He was going to preach before He preached it (which is always a good strategy for preachers), Jesus finally got to some final words. Let’s read about those words in John 13:21-38! Read John 13:21-38!

If I had to say in a sentence in summing up this passage and what it means to love one another, I would put it like this: To love like Jesus is to love those who betray, misunderstand, deny and leave you. We read in this passage Jesus was betrayed by Judas, misunderstood by all the disciples, denied by Peter and left by all but John at the Cross. Jesus knows how hard it is to love one another. He can relate to any hurtful relationship you have had. You may have been betrayed, misunderstood, denied or abandoned, even by followers of Christ, but Jesus commands us to still love one another. No other club or religion teaches such love. But this doesn’t mean it is easy to apply. That is why D.A. Carson says, “The new command to love one another is simple enough for a toddler to memorize and appreciate, but profound enough that the most mature believer is repeatedly embarrassed at how poorly they comprehend it and put it into practice.”[1]

Maybe part of the reason why we have a hard time loving one another is some misunderstandings about what it means to love. I’m focusing today more on the application under the banner to love like Jesus is to love those who betray, misunderstand, deny and leave you. I will try to correct 4 misunderstandings about love. Here they are:

  • Love comes naturally – There are many people who think that love comes naturally and easily. That it is in our nature to love. However, this is not true. We are naturally selfish. Most of our days are spent looking after our own wants and needs. Even when we are acting loving, it often masks our selfish desires to be well thought of or for people to do what we want. This is why Jesus actually has to make the call to love one another a commandment and not just a good idea. Did you notice that Jesus says loving one another is a command in verse 34? This means that if you call yourself a Christian and you choose not to love other Christians, then you are disobeying Christ. You are in fact not loving Christ when you neglect to love one another. This does not mean that obedience equals love. You can obey without love. Judas did! “Sold out to Satan though he was, Judas had no recourse but to obey the word of Jesus”[2] and so Judas left the upper room when Jesus told him to. You can do the right thing without having the right heart – one full of love. Which raises the question what does it mean to love somebody? I heard somebody tell me long ago that love is doing what is best for the other person even at your expense. That type of love doesn’t come naturally. It comes supernaturally. It comes from God. The writer of the Gospel of John also wrote another letter in 1 John 4:7, “Beloved, let us love another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” Love doesn’t come from within ourselves, but from God. Some of you have been trying to will yourself to love that difficult person in your life and it really isn’t working. Love comes from God. Ask God to give you His love for that other person. There is a second misunderstanding about love…
  • Love doesn’t have favourites – This sounds really good, but actually undermines love and is unChristlike. What do I mean? First, notice that Jesus had a favourite. We know that He loved all His followers, even Judas. However, one of Jesus’ followers had a greater place in His heart. Verse 23 identifies the man, “There was reclining on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.” Richard Lenski observes, “The hearts of most were near to Jesus, yet young John’s was nearer.”[3] John, the writer of this Gospel, was Jesus’ favourite disciple. John was like a son to Jesus who broke through the usual invisible barrier of personal space and hung on Jesus. You see, to love is to have favourites. I liken this to how a marriage works. Lori and I love each other in a way that we don’t love others. We became exclusive so that we could become inclusive. In fact, out of our love we bore four children, but I am not just talking about sexual love, now that I have grossed out my children. Our love for each other has helped us to love people in more profound ways. We have been able together to care for our neighbours in ways that I certainly couldn’t have done alone. We have been able to counsel people together. We have become more loving and inclusive of others because we have been exclusive. And so, I want to address an issue that almost every church and school and team is accused of – cliques. Temple has cliques. We have seasoned singles here at Temple who shortly after this service will gather together at some local restaurant. That is a good thing and I’m sure they would invite you to come along if you wanted to come. We have groups of young adults who go and have a nice home-cooked meal after the second service. We have groups that know more about the inner workings of the church than others – we call them leaders (Staff, Deacons, Elders). We have even intentionally created small groups of people who meet together weekly to discuss God’s Word and pray. We believe these groups rather than becoming insulated cliques actually help people love others outside their groups. For example, someone might be having a hard time at work and then they go to their EPIC small group where they are reminded of Christ’s words and love and they are emboldened to go back to work with a new love for their co-workers. And then we have hundreds of cliques called families. The problem is when we are friendship sufficient and don’t care about those outside the group. This leads to people feeling that they are left out. This is where we can grow as a church. But the problem is in being exclusive. We need exclusivity because we don’t have the time to be equally loving to all. In being a friend to all, you will be a friend to none. In fact, if you don’t have a group that you can appropriately be more intimate and loving with, you won’t be very good at sharing that love with others. Jesus had a clique – 12 disciples and we should be thankful that He did because out of the Twelve, He formed the church and you and I have Christ’s love. Their love for one another attracted many people to Christ (Acts 2:46-47) And eventually those Twelve were scattered to the four ends of the earth to spread the love of Christ. We must do the same, but it all starts by forming into groups! I challenge you to join a small group. (Talk to Pastor Aaron or write your name in the info card in front of you and take it to the Welcome Centre afterwards.) Love is a two-way street: invite others into your groups and strive to become a part of a group. I saw that beauty of exclusive love, of having favourites, two weeks ago when a small group at the end of the service formed a circle and prayed for Dale Bowyer as his father lay dying. Their love for one another reminds me of another misunderstanding…
  • You must feel like loving others – Many think that you must feel like loving the other person. Again, loving others is a choice to do what is best for the other person. There are many times that you don’t feel like loving the other person, but you still do what is best for them. At that moment, you may be loving them more than if you did when you felt like it. Jesus did! Verse 21 makes it clear, “When Jesus had said this, He became troubled in spirit and testified and said, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, that one of you will betray Me.” Jesus was troubled in spirit and yet He taught and loved people to death – His own death. Peter in the story promised to love Jesus until the death. Peter says in verse 37 that he would lay down his life for Jesus, but “sadly, good intentions in a secure room after good food are far less attractive in a darkened garden with a hostile mob.”[4] Feeling like you are loving may not be loving at all. Maybe you came here today with a grudge for something somebody did to you? You don’t feel like loving the other person at all. May I not only remind you that Jesus commands you to love, but that He loved you even when He didn’t feel like it. After supper, He went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray and to ask God to give Him another way to redeem you than the cruel Cross, yet Christ still went through with it. Ask God to help you love when you don’t feel like it! He will! And yet this does not mean you turn a blind eye to sin, which is the fourth misunderstanding …
  • Love means ignoring the truth – Notice that when Jesus was asked about who would betray Him, He revealed who it was. In fact, He could have just have kept the whole betrayal bottled up. Instead in verse 21, He unloads the burden and tells the truth of one who was going to betray Him. Love means telling the truth. Now some of you may still have a nagging question and question the truthfulness of Jesus’ statement: how is this new when the command to love your neighbor as yourself was written around 1500 years earlier by Moses in Leviticus 19:18? “The new command is not ‘new’ because nothing like it had never been said before. Its newness is bound up not only with the new standard (‘As I have loved you’), but also with the new order it both mandates and exemplifies.”[5] Those five little words elevate loving others so much. We must love as Jesus loved. And to love like Jesus is to love those who betray, misunderstand, deny and leave you and this includes telling the truth. Telling the truth in love may be the most loving thing you can do.

Now that we have corrected some of these misunderstandings it is time to put love into action. You need to pray and ask Jesus what you can do that would be best for the other person even if and when they betray, misunderstand, deny or leave you. But loving like Jesus is not just a grit-your-teeth kind of love and be kind to others because that is what we nice Canadians do. No! As Max Lucado reminds us, “If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If He had a wallet, your photo would be in it … face it, friend. He’s crazy about you.” How can we move to that type of love for others? Where instead of driving yourself crazy over those who betray, misunderstand, deny and abandon you, what if you had a crazy love for them? Crazy in comparison to the world’s response to those who betray, misunderstand, deny and abandon you. Their response is to ignore or shout or attack or seek revenge. No Jesus calls and empowers us to love. And not some sick way, like the pretty girl who sticks with the total loser who abuses her because she gave way too much of herself to him. The only way is to ask God to give you a love for one another!

This is critical as we enter into Communion. Some Christian traditions extend this Lord’s Supper to a full meal and call it a love feast. I think we can call it a love feast too and it isn’t dependent on the type or amount of food. It is a love feast because we remember Jesus loved us. He even dined with people who betrayed Him, who misunderstood Him, who denied Him in front of a little slave girl and who abandoned Him so that the only disciple left when He was crucified was the one He loved as His favourite. This love feast requires that we love each other. I wonder if some of you have a grudge that has prevented you from loving others. As John Ortberg has said, “A grudge is like a baby, it has to be nursed if it’s going to survive.” It is time to get rid of that “grudge baby” and be born of God who will fill you with His love. “Judas shows how close a person can come to salvation and yet be lost forever.”[6] He was filled with Satan! Christ was filled with love! Only Jesus can help you truly score a 10 and love one another.

[1] D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 484.

[2] Carson, 475.

[3] R.C.H. Lenski, Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel (Columbus: The Lutheran Book Concern, 1942), 944.

[4] Carson, 486.

[5] Carson, 484.

[6] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary – Volume 1 (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1989), 348.


Finding Your True Love

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lof_bannerI love you and want to explain why I feel this series entitled Love on Fire is so important. How many of you were misinformed about sex at school? I bet many, if not all of us heard things about sex that were incorrect. I heard things that were so outlandish and went into marriage with a few wrong perceptions. Thankfully my parents lovingly taught me the truth about sex and my wife has been patient and gracious with me. I say this because many in our province are upset about the new sex education curriculum that will be taught in public schools this year. We fear that the misinformation you heard on the playground or locker room is now going to be taught in the classroom. As I have talked to parents and teachers both inside and outside the church, I have come to understand their concerns. On the one hand, I have had parents tell me that they don’t want to teach their kids about sex and are glad somebody else is going to do it, especially if it means protecting their children from pedophiles by using the proper anatomical terms. On the other hand, some parents believe it is their responsibility to teach their children about sex. I line up with the parents who believe it is our responsibility to teach our children about sex. Sex is more than biology. It is about sharing your entire being with somebody and therefore it has always had to deal with values. This is why the church must speak up. In fact, could part of the problem in our culture be that we as a church have been afraid to talk about this subject? Or maybe we have lost our moral high ground? Apparently, “nearly 400 pastors resigned recently when the affair promoting website Ashley Madison was hacked and their clients were exposed.”[1] Maybe we have some skeletons in our closet that we don’t want our kids to know about it or we feel like hypocrites? Our own church has been rocked by impurity in the past. Some of you are nervous right now and I am going to ask that you pray for me and all of us in a few minutes that we handle this subject with boldness, wisdom and sensitivity. I don’t want to embarrass any of you or myself. My goal is to teach on the subject because the church is “the pillar and support of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15) This is why we need to discuss God’s view of sex in our homes and in our small groups.

Our world is very confused about sexuality and gender. In a Fifty Shades of Gray world, there is black and white. And so some of you think, “Here it comes! The railing against sexual immorality and deviancy.” What I want to uphold is the value of purity, but emphasize the positive principles that are black and white. The first principle is that God made male and female equal to reflect His image, but He made them with distinct differences and roles. (Genesis 1:27-28) GOD MADE ONLY MALE AND FEMALE! There are only X and Y chromosomes! Eric Metaxas says, “Men and women are not interchangeable.”[2] They are to love each other and see that love multiplied through children. Men are to be protectors and providers for their families and women are to be nurturers for their families. The second principle is that God created sex to be amazingly good between a husband and wife! (Genesis 2:18-25) GOD MADE SEX GOOD! “Sex is like superglue for humans”[3] – a bond between two people; two hearts, two souls, two bodies! To borrow an illustration from Barbara Wilson, I am going to have my oldest children come up here. Kids, I doubt you will hear this in school. One with a pink heart and another with a blue heart. When two people have sex, they are glued or stapled together. If they break up (tear apart the hearts), there are parts that stick with one another. You are not just sharing your body with another person, but your soul. Sex touches two souls, which is why we desire it so much. In the Old Testament the word for sexual relations is “yada.” It means “to know intimately!” It is even used in Daniel 11:32 “to know (‘yada’) God.” Randy Alcorn says, “To know one’s marriage partner in the act of sex is likened to developing intimacy with God.”[4] As Billy Graham said 60 years ago and which is still true today, “Nowhere does the Bible teach that sex in itself is a sin.”[5] Sex is good and beautiful in its context.

Sex is like fire. The key verse and theme for our series comes from Song of Solomon 8:6, “For love is as strong as death, jealousy is as severe as Sheol; its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord.” Sexual love is God’s fire! As Tommy Nelson asks, “Fire is inviting and comforting in a fireplace, destructive outside of it. It will burn the house down! Inside of marriage, sex is wonderful and warm, outside you get burned.”[6] Sex outside of marriage may feel pleasurable, but it isn’t protected. This is why sex and marriage is holy and sacred! But sex, like everything, is tainted by sin. No wonder, “when one illicit sexual relationship ends and another begins, the couple progresses rapidly to sexual intimacy in order to recreate the bonding they’ve come to expect.”[7] Sex can become recreational – we are trying to re-create that bond that was meant for one person – your true love!  This leads us to the third principle,everyone is sexual and everyone is broken.”[8] “Some of us are more shattered than others, but all of us are broken.”[9] All of us have seen or done something impure. Maybe many things! Our views of sex are broken if we think sex is dirty and to be avoided or if we think sex is a way to get what we want. In other words, those of you married and not having sex, there is something broken. And those of you using sex as a weapon or as a way of trying to feel love and acceptance are broken. Our church is on a mission with Jesus to turn broken people into whole people who multiply Christ-followers. And so the fourth principle is that the sexually broken can find healing through Jesus Christ! No matter what you have done or seen, Jesus is offering you grace and the opportunity to find true love!

But some of you here today who are single think this message isn’t for you and wondered if you should skip out on church. You lost your love or haven’t found it! This series is also for you. You can experience an intimacy that someday we will all experience. In the new heaven and new earth, we will experience what sex was always intended to do without the need for physical union. Sex was created to combine the image of God in both the male and the female. It was meant to re-create the deep and engaging relational intimacy that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit have always had. You need unity and distinction to have such intimacy, which is why God is one in three persons and husband and wife are one in two persons. “WE WERE MADE FOR UNION, WE ARE MADE TO LOVE!”[10]

Randy Alcorn recalls, “A single woman who told him she would feel great loss if she went to Heaven never having had a great romance. But our romance with Christ will far exceed any earthly romance. No romance is perfect, and many end in disappointment. Our romance with Christ will never disappoint.”[11] Let’s pray right now that God would teach us and our children how to rightly relate sexually in a fallen and broken world. Pray for our society to find purity in Christ so that they shall see God! (Matthew 5:8)

 And so let me tell you what I think is the best love story ever told. It is better than Romeo and Juliet. It is better than Casablanca or Wuthering Heights or Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility. It is God’s love story. God devotes a whole book to married love in the Song of Solomon. Let’s read Song of Solomon 1 and many of you will be shocked that such a book and story exists in the Bible! ‘The Church Council of Constantinople in 550 AD famously outlawed the literal reading of the Song of Songs altogether.”[12] Many have tried to tone down the explicit language of this book by allegorizing it. But it’s not an allegory because God doesn’t talk about His love for us in an erotic way. Pagan religions and cults try to sexualize love between deity and humanity! But the Song of Solomon also isn’t Christian pornography! Instead, it will tastefully stir your heart in profound ways and show you how relevant the Bible is to your life! “It is the best of the biblical songs. It not only sanctifies sexual intimacy, but also sanctifies frank speech about sexual intimacy.”[13] Following the principles in this book could save you, your family and our culture! Read Song of Songs 1!

How do you find true love? Look for character, affection and community approval. Let me tell you the story of the Song of Solomon. If you know anything about Solomon, you probably have heard that he had over 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). So this raises an immediate question. How can a man with a 1000 women in his life have much to teach us about love? He knows very well what he had and what he lost as he states in Ecclesiastes 9:9, “Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life.” Every Biblical author failed at some point in their lives and often wrote from the point of regret, so we can learn much from Solomon as he writes this song in his old age around 3000 years ago.

Now you need to know there are lots of flashbacks in this story in much the same way a couple would retell the story of their relationship. The first four verses of chapter one describe the couple after they are married. Notice that it is the woman who is the aggressor and you will find that the woman talks the most in the book. Now that’s a surprise! But both husband and wife talk a lot and they talk and fight about their love life and they talk about it publicly. The Bible has a kiss and tell policy. Check out 1:2! The wife wants her husband to “kiss me with the kisses of his mouth.” One of the greatest lessons you can teach and model to your kids about sex is to be affectionate with each other. There are some things reserved for the bedroom, but when mom and dad kiss in front of their kids, it reassures them of their parent’s love, even if they say they are grossed out. Our kids, especially our younger boys, actually run to us and try to get between us when Lori and I kiss. They say they are breaking us up, but I think it is because they want to find shelter in our love.

But notice that it wasn’t her husband’s appearance that first drew the affection of the wife. His looks and smell (“your anointing oils are fragrant”) might have got him noticed, but it was his character that was ultimately attractive. He didn’t seduce her with wine as verse 2 makes clear, but in verse 3 she declares, “your name is like purified or poured out oil.” That is a weird statement! How can you pour a person’s name out? In the Bible and even today, your name represents your character. Let me give you some names and you tell me their character: Hitler – murderer; Mother Theresa – compassionate; Donald Trump – “You’re fired!” A name flows out to others. What was the name of the husband? Solomon! Solomon’s name comes from the word “shalom,” which means peace, wholeness and a total flourishing in every area of life. Solomon’s other name was Jedidiah, which means “beloved of the Lord.” (2 Samuel 12:24-25) So this woman had met a man whose name meant peace and beloved of the Lord. If you are single, what type of name and character are you looking for in a spouse? Don’t compromise on character! Women, especially because you are taking on your husband’s name. I love the statement on this poster portrayed of a beautiful bride saying, “I’d give up my name for love.”

This is why you should look for character, affection, but also community approval when seeking your true love. Notice how this song involves others in their love story. Verse 4 describes the community’s approval of their relationship, “We will exult and rejoice in you; we will extol your love more than wine; rightly do they love you.” Too many times, people think that finding Mr. or Mrs. Right is something you do on your own. Instead, you should lean on family, friends and co-workers who have your best interest at heart to see if they approve of the guy or girl. They are the people who are going to have to deal with the consequences if it doesn’t work out.

So far I have told you the principles of God’s view of sex: 1) God made only male and female! 2) God made sex good! 3) Everyone is sexual and broken! 4) You find healing through Christ! I have also told you how to find true love: Look for character, affection and community approval. But what I haven’t told you is the love story. You see this couple described in the Song of Solomon met when she was working in a vineyard. Verse 5 says, “I am very dark, but lovely, O daughters of Jerusalem, like the tents of Kedar, like the curtains of Solomon.” Why is she dark? She was suntanned. Unlike today, a tan was frowned upon in that culture. We find out in verses 6-7 that she got the tan because her brothers forced her to take care of the vineyards and she was not able to take care of her own body (“vineyard”). Two lessons that we can immediately apply to our lives: 1) Everyone has imperfections. God emphasizes that we must look past those imperfections. Beauty is often not recognized because we have a certain ideal or fantasy in our minds. Lori thought she would marry a linebacker type dude. Instead, she got a tall lanky kid who charmed her with humility. Look past imperfections for character. 2) A submissive and servant heart is the most attractive feature. The young woman “saw herself for romance before her family did. She wanted to be at home taking care of her skin, but she still submitted and did hard work.”[14]  Young people, look for a submissive and servant heart. Parents, cultivate submission and service through praise of your children.

But it wasn’t just the young woman who needed to be submissive and a servant. The young man did too. Where did the young couple meet? In a vineyard, when as a young shepherd he brought in his flocks. The vineyard she worked in was Solomon’s as described by the definite article “the vineyard.” (c.f. 8:11) The young man she meets was a shepherd as verse 7 records, “Tell me, you whom my soul loves, where you pasture your flock, where you make it lie at noon; for why should I be like one who veils herself besides the flocks of your companions?” She checks out his workplace and knows his temptations – the veiled women, the prostitutes. This is why we need to follow Joseph Dillow’s advice and ask ourselves before marrying anybody, “Can I learn to live with his or her lifestyle and vocation? If he’s a salesman, you will spend nights alone while he is on the road. If you want your wife at home, but she works at the bank, can you come to some sort of agreement? If he is training to be a pastor, can you embrace living in a “fishbowl”? If he wants to be a missionary, are you willing to go where God calls him?”[15] Get to know your future mate’s aspirations and temptations before you fall in love!

In this story though as much as she tried, she didn’t know what she was getting herself into. You see she fell in love with a shepherd boy, not realizing he was the heir to the throne of Israel. This is why this story is often misinterpreted and some scholars think the young woman is trying to escape the king’s chambers in verse 4 and get back to her first love. That is impossible! A king would never share his wife with one of his subjects and if she had committed adultery she would have been executed (Leviticus 20:10). Instead, the young country girl fell in love with Solomon who was a king disguised as a shepherd. Both my father and I believe David sent his young son Solomon to learn how to be shepherd and to get him away from the dangers of the palace where his jealous and murderous brothers lived. We don’t find this explicitly told in Scripture, but we know that Israel’s king had to have a shepherd’s heart (Psalm 78:72) and Solomon seemed to have gained that shepherd’s heart when he asked God for wisdom to guide God’s people (1 Kings 3:6-9). So both young people met because they submitted to their family and their reward was finding true love.

And this is the story behind the story. You see, there was another king who left the palace and became a shepherd. His character and name was attractive! It poured out like oil! In fact, He poured himself fully out for His beloved. He actually died for her! He was appropriately affectionate and never asked His beloved to compromise her standards by being impure.  He led her to purity! He also had the approval of both God and man. The shepherd-king is the Good Shepherd and the King of Kings – Jesus Christ! He came to win our hearts, the Church, with His love. And so all the passion, tenderness and protection that is created by God’s fire of sexual love point us back to Christ. Have you found your true love? Whether you are young or old, single or married, your true love, your soul-mate is Jesus Christ! He is coming for you to sweep you off your feet! 

[2] Eric Metaxas, Tweet @ericmetaxas, September 16, 2015.

[3] Barbara Wilson, The Invisible Bond (Sisters: Multnomah Publishers, 2006), 9.

[4] Randy Alcorn, Restoring Sexual Sanity (Fort Lauderdale: Coral Ridge Ministries, 2000), 120.

[5] Billy Graham, “God’s View of Sex” (Decision Magazine, September 2015), 20.

[6] Tommy Nelson, “The Song of Solomon Classic” Video Series, Session # 2, 1995.

[7] Wilson, 33.

[8] Deb Hirsch, “Redeeming Sex” (2015 Exponential Conference Workshop, April 29, 2015).

[9] Brandon Cox, “When the Church is Crazy About Broken People” (Outreach Magazine, September 13, 2015).

[10] Dennis F. Kinlaw, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Song of Songs Vol. 5 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 1208.

[11] Randy Alcorn, Heaven (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Publishers, 2004), 353.

[12] Iain Provan, The NIV Application Commentary on Ecclesiastes/Song of Songs (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 238.

[13] Provan, 279.

[14] Michael V. Fox, The Song of Songs and the Ancient Egyptian Love Songs (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1985), 100.

[15] Joseph Dillow, Solomon on Sex (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1977), 18.

What Do You Do When God Changes the Rules?

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Is it ever okay to change the rules and if so, when? Have you ever watched a group of kids play a game? You see how it immediately flushes out those of us who see the world in “black and white” terms and those of us who see things in shades of gray. Usually one dominate kid puts them self in charge of laying out the rules of the game. And then the game begins and things go along fine until the more competitive kids in the group find the game is not going so well for them. And then the rules begin to change… “No, wasn’t out of bounds. It’s over here!” Then another pipes up, “No, wait! Did I say 3 tries, I meant you get 4 tries before you’re out!” And then there are kids, who would score very high Cs or Ds on the DISC personality profile, who protest loudly. “That IS NOT the rule!” And then the fight breaks out! So do you think it is ever okay to change the rules? Is it okay to change it in the middle of the game? I tend to be one who likes to know the rules. I want to know what expectations people have on me. Just tell me where the lines are so I can colour inside of them. It brings a sense of control, doesn’t it?

But over these past few years, I have come to embrace grace. Grace is never at the expense of truth. Instead, it emphasizes the need for truth. Think about it! If you don’t know the truth, then you won’t appreciate grace. You won’t understand when you have done wrong and as we know from what Jesus said about the truth, “The truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) The truth is the first step towards freedom and reconciliation when you discover the truth and your failure to live up to it completely. Such a discovery leads to the road to grace. This understanding has helped me to embrace grace. I’m still a recovering legalist. Can anybody relate? You want to live only by the rules. However, rules do change and if you don’t change with them, you might find yourself paying the price.

I experienced this phenomenon recently. When I first moved to Cambridge, I got a $25 ticket plus $1 handling fee for parking on the road overnight. I found this law perplexing because the other places I had lived in North America allowed me to park on the street overnight during the summertime. Now I hate to lose money, so I have decided to submit to the by-laws of Cambridge. Even last week, we had some guests visiting us and so I made sure that they didn’t park on the street. I ended up parking on the apron of my driveway making sure that my bumpers were not over the grass because I know you can’t park on the boulevard. I thought that I would be fine because I have parked like this before and my neighbours park like this all the time and don’t get ticketed. What do you think happened when I got up in the morning? I had a ticket for another $25 plus $1 handling online convenience fee on my windshield. I noticed my neighbours cars were also ticketed. Upon investigation I found out that City Council had changed the rules on July 14. You are now allowed to park on the streets overnight until November 30.

Is it ever okay to change the rules and if so when? I have come to learn that relationships change the rules! You see in the case of my parking ticket, one of my neighbours had come around the homes on our street and asked us to sign a petition that would permit him to park on the street. He needed 51% of homeowners on our street to sign it. This helped change the rules and now we can park on the street, but not on the boulevard unless posted otherwise. It would have been nice for the City to inform us of these changes, but the rules changed because enough neighbours banded together to change the rules, so that we could all benefit. Relationships change the rules to benefit everybody!

If you think about this, relationships or more specifically, love changes the rules! This has practical implications. For example, my children have a bedtime – 8:30 pm for the boys and 9:30 pm for Jessie. However, this week I wanted to take Jessie out for a daddy daughter date to the movies. The only movie time I could make was 9:50 pm, which was well past her bedtime. However, because of my love for her and our relationship, we changed the rules. No matter how much of a rule-keeper you are, I’m guessing that you have changed the rules for the sake of love. Maybe you have eaten something when you were on a diet because you didn’t want to offend somebody who offered you that scrumptious dessert? Maybe you have sped in your car to get to a loved one in a crisis? Maybe you made a rule for yourself that you would not go out with a certain person, but then you fell in love and changed your rule? God is the same way. God changes the rules for the sake of love. But unlike the City who doesn’t inform us of changing the rules (no, I’m not bitter), God lets us know when He is changing the rules. In fact, what are God’s two top rules? 1) love the Lord God with all of your heart, mind and soul and strength and 2) love your neighbour as yourself. (Matthew 22:37-40) You see, love changes the rules; love is the rule!

One of the best examples of this truth is found in Acts 10:1-23! It is a story of guy who followed Jesus for awhile, then denied knowing Him, and finally started to follow Him again. Who am I talking about? Peter! Peter’s story speaks so powerfully to our lives for two reasons. First, God changing the rules for Peter opened up the door for you and me to be saved. You see, if Peter hadn’t paved the way and brought the Good news to non-Jews, then you and I as non-Jews or Gentiles would not have heard the Gospel. Second, when God changed the rule for Peter, He also changed Peter. Here is a profound truth that I heard Pastor Dom Russo teach, “Evangelism creates a convert of both the evangelist and the evangelized.”[1] My hope is that every one of us will be converted to Christ and His ways today! Maybe God will change your heart by changing the rules to call you to love others in an ever-increasing way! Let’s find out more through the story in Acts 10:1-23! Read Acts 10:1-23!

To understand this passage, listen to this summary by Pastor John Stott, “The principal subject of this chapter is not so much the conversion of Cornelius as the conversion of Peter.”[2] Peter’s conversion, as all conversions are, was actually a process. It started when Peter stayed with a tanner as we read in Acts 10:6! Tanners worked with dead animals, so the tanner would have been considered unclean according to Leviticus 11:1-8,The Lord spoke again to Moses and to Aaron, saying to them, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, These are the creatures which you may eat from all the animals that are on the earth. Whatever divides a hoof, thus making split hoofs, and chews the cud, among the animals, that you may eat. Nevertheless, you are not to eat of these, among those which chew the cud, or among those which divide the hoof: the camel, for though it chews cud, it does not divide the hoof, it is unclean to you. Like, the shaphan (rock badger), for though it chews the cud, it does not divide the hoof, it is unclean to you; and the pig, for though it divides the hoof, thus making a split hoof, it does not chew the cud, it is unclean to you. You shall not eat of their flesh nor touch their carcasses; they are unclean.” Peter was staying with this tanner so Peter was taking a step away from the rules and moving towards relationships. Peter’s state of mind was changing. Maybe your state of mind is changing as well? Maybe God is changing your state of mind by recognizing the great love of Jesus on the Cross and that we need to embrace grace to receive grace?

But some of you might still be stuck on why the Israelites could not eat the flesh of certain animals or even touch them. I think there are two reasons – protection and purity. Let’s talk about protection first. Where did the Jews receive these commands? In the wilderness! In the desert! Forbidding the touching of dead bodies in an arid climate where there was little or no water to wash your hands and get rid of the germs makes sense. The dietary rules were good health rules that protected the Israelites from many of the diseases that certain kinds of undercooked meat carry or from meats that were just plain unhealthy to eat. For example, the Israelites were to stay away from eating pork. As much as I love bacon, it isn’t very healthy!

Second, God wanted His people to be pure. However, they proved time and time that the people could not keep the rules in their own strength. God had to show them that only He was pure enough to keep the rules. This is why God sent His own Son Jesus Christ who lived a pure, perfect and sinless life to pay the price for others who were breaking the rules.

And because God so loved the whole world, He wanted to pay the price for the sins of not only the Jews, but also Gentiles. God changed the rules to benefit everybody! This is what we see so beautifully demonstrated in the story of Cornelius’ conversion. Cornelius had the difficult job of being a leader in an army that oppressed people. However, he navigated the temptations of being in power by seeking to be a follower – not of others like so many people pleasers do, but of God. Cornelius was a God-follower who despite all the pressures of leadership prayed continually. Acts 10:2 describes Cornelius as “a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms (gifts to the poor) to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually.” This was a leader who followed God in the marketplace and in his home. It demonstrates that you can be beloved despite representing a hateful organization. God took notice of Cornelius’ life, I think especially his prayers! Acts 10:4 records the reason for a vision he received from God as told by an angel, “Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God.” Cornelius cared about people and thus, God cared about Cornelius. It shows in his prayers. Prayer is a continual conversation with God. Prayer is highly relational and this is why God often speaks to those devoted to prayer! Conversion is preceded by conversation with God! And giving to the poor is relational. It is often an act of grace because you give not expecting anything in return. This is why two of our values at Temple here are to make prayer always our first step and to demonstrate a heart for the poor and sick both locally and globally. Both prayer and giving to the poor are an effort to love God and others.

However, following God, praying to Him and caring for the poor aren’t good enough. Maybe you think that you are a devout person? The question for you is do you know Christ? Cornelius didn’t know Christ and therefore He couldn’t go to heaven except through Jesus. For Jesus said in John 14:6, “no one comes to the Father except through me.” Every person has this problem. No matter how nice, kind, moral, giving, friendly, loving, devout, spiritual or religious you are, you need to trust in Jesus alone for your salvation. This is what we call the Gospel of Jesus Christ! “The difference between Cornelius and many religious people today is this: he knew that his religious devotion was not sufficient to save him.”[3] Do you? How good is good enough? You need to let Jesus save you, for he was the only fully good person ever to live and to make you good with God.

But usually there is something in the way not just for the hearer, but the proclaimer of the Gospel. I think we need to start with the proclaimer, with you who claim to be a follower of Christ! Romans 10:14-15,How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring Good News of Good Things!” This verse is aimed at us who claim to be followers and witnesses of Jesus Christ. I am wondering how many people are in our community are still heading to hell because we are fearful of telling them about Jesus. Let me explain! People are going to hell because of their sin, but they are often stuck in a spiritual holding pattern because of us! It could be our fear that they might reject us! They will … at first! It could be our fear of not knowing what to say… just tell them how Jesus changed your life! It could be our fear of being labeled as fanatics… I would rather be classified as a Jesus fan before men rather than Jesus telling me before God the Father that He never knew me because I didn’t acknowledge Him before men. (Matthew 10:32-33) A week ago we had our baseball team over for a BBQ. It came to suppertime and I quickly said to the team and their families that our family has the habit of giving thanks to God for our meals and would they join me in prayer. It was a little awkward. I thanked God for each of them in our lives and prayed that they would know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. It was risky but I think the reward both for them and myself is worth it. Love overcomes fear! I love that team and God’s love helped me overcome my fear.

But I’m worried there is one other fear that you may have that I believe is a wrong assumption. You think that you can’t hang out with non-Christians because they will infect you with sin. The verse from 2 Corinthians 6:17, “Come out and be ye separate” has been twisted by the devil to keep us away from “sinners.” Let’s change this thinking now. Jesus was classified as a friend of what? A Friend of Sinners! (Matthew 11:19) If we follow Jesus, we better have some friends that are “sinners.” Furthermore, Jesus taught that sin comes from inside us, not from without. Jesus taught in Mark 7:18-20, “Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach and is eliminated? (Thus he declared all foods clean.) That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man.” It other words, it is impossible to get away from sinners. We only need to look in the mirror! Sin is a cancer before it is contagious!

Peter forgot this truth taught by Jesus! He was letting food get in the way of a God-fearer finding Jesus. It usually is something so basic to life like food, cleanliness, or money that is that obstacle we put in the way of people coming to faith in Christ. I feel convicted how many times I have done this in my life. Have you thought how people aren’t coming to faith in Christ, not because of their wickedness or indifference or their idols of distractions as much as we put a barrier between them and us as witnesses of Christ. It would be like me getting up to preach and putting this wall between you and me. (Ben and ? come up with sheet that acts as barrier between me and the congregation.) But Jesus wants the walls to come down! This is why Jesus gave Peter a vision with all types of animals on a large sheet coming down from heaven, with the command for Peter to “arise, kill and eat.” (Acts 10:13) (This is a verse I have tried to obey as a hunter!) Peter though went back to his old tactic of telling Jesus “no” with a tone of piety. He remarks in verse 14, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.”

Jesus shows grace once again to Peter which opens up the door of grace to the world. “The voice from heaven comes to him a second time, ‘What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.’” (Acts 10:15) Peter was still confused. It is hard to change when you have thought only one way your whole life. Listen to me! You are not going to always understand what God has called you to do and the people you are called to go to, but you need to trust and obey! Peter did. The messengers that Cornelius sent showed up and Peter listens to the Spirit and goes with them. We will find out the rest of the story next week, but you need to know that Jesus converted both Peter and Cornelius. He wants to convert you too!

He does so because He changed the rules! The rule was that God’s wrath would be placed on us, but then Jesus died on the Cross paying the price for our sins despite his perfect innocence. Love changed the rules and thus changed you and me. Will you now be changed by His love?

Major League Baseball recently changed the rules. They have now expanded instant replay beyond home run reviews because the umpires were missing too many game changing decisions on home runs and other plays. One of motivators for this change was when umpire Jim Joyce called the runner safe what appeared to be the last out of a perfect game by Detroit Tiger Armando Galarraga. Rules fail, but love never does! Love changes the rules to benefit everybody. And this Jesus changed the rules to benefit everybody, including you and me, by offering us grace. Receive and go share His love and grace this week.

[1] Dom Ruso, “The Early Church and Leading in a Post-Christian World,” FEBCentral Pastors Under 40 Lecture (Cambridge: May 29, 2014).

[2] John R.W. Stott, The Message of Acts (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1990), 186.

[3] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary – Volume 1 (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1989), 445.

How to Become a Lover from a Hater

This sermon can be watched or listened to at!

Have you ever gotten angry based on a wrong assumption? Maybe you haven’t got all the facts straight and you start expressing frustration over something you believed to be true but was actually false. I call this false frustration. You become frustrated over false assumptions. I wonder how many conflicts we get in with our spouses, our family members, our classmates, our co-workers and even friends based on false assumptions. One of those conflicts in my life was just recently when we were visiting the Creation Museum in Kentucky. I encourage you to check this museum out. I think it gives a good explanation about Noah’s ark and the dinosaurs and counters a lot of the naturalistic thinking out there. However, in the midst of this beautiful place that was teaching so much truth, I found myself falsely frustrated. What happened was that one of my sons wanted to go to a workshop and I said that he could go to the workshop. You know when you agree to something and you are only halfway paying attention because your mind is on something else. Ever done that? Well, that’s what I did. The workshop was after lunch and my son was all excited when he reminded me it was time to go to the workshop. I didn’t recall making the promise of the workshop and then another child who remembers everything said that I did make such a promise. This made me mad because I felt like was being accused of being a liar. An argument ensued and then we had to have a family meeting and reconcile things, all because I was frustrated based a wrong assumption. Have you ever gotten angry based on a wrong assumption? It not only leads to conflicts with each other but also with Jesus. And having a wrong assumption about Jesus can have dire consequences.

There is a story in the Bible about a man who made a false assumption that ended up hurting a lot of people and also hurt himself. Let’s read about this man in Acts 9:1-9 and see how the grace of Jesus Christ turned this man from a hater into a lover and it resulted in the mission of Jesus and His Church taking great leaps forward! I believe the grace of Jesus Christ can turn your hatred into love, your false frustration into advancement in Christ’s mission! Read Acts 9:1-9!

In order to understand more about this man named Saul, we need to go back and see the first time Saul was introduced to us in the story that Luke is writing in the Book of Acts. In Acts 6:8-7:60; there is the story of another man named Stephen. Stephen was very bold in proclaiming his faith in Jesus Christ. If you want to know the whole story you should read Acts 6 and 7. But I can summarize by telling you that Stephen started preaching in powerful ways about Jesus Christ and then some men rose up against him and stirred people up. They actually arrested Stephen and brought him before a religious tribunal and accused him of not proclaiming truth. Unlike me who was offended by being called a liar, Stephen calmly answers their accusations by explaining how he knows and believes their shared history. He follows their rules as found in Scripture. However, Stephen explains all the laws and stories from the past were fulfilled in Jesus Christ. He tells them that they have actually mistreated and killed the Hope they were supposed to be looking for. This missed their Messiah.

The religious leaders did not take kindly to Stephen’s speech and became very angry with Stephen. Acts 7:54 says, “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at them.” Then something peculiar happened as described in Acts 7:55-56, “But being full of the Holy Spirit, Stephen gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’” Jesus showed up! What happens next? Did the religious leaders repent of their hatred toward God’s Son? No! They let the hatred in their hearts lead to murder all under the guise of protecting the purity of their doctrine. Verses 57-58 reports, “They cried out with a loud voice and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. When they had driven him out the city, they began stoning him; and witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul.”

Now this is really important because it evidences that Saul was there when Jesus showed up the first time. In other words, when we read in Acts 9 about Saul’s vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus, this was not the first encounter Saul had with Jesus. He witnessed Stephen’s vision of Jesus, but rejected it. Saul even testifies to this truth later on in Acts 22:20 as he was most likely a member of the Sanhedrin. Saul recalls, “And when the blood of Your witness Stephen was being shed, I also was standing by approving, and watching out for the coats of those who were slaying him.” Paul wasn’t just doing a coat check for the killers. Acts 8:1 declares, “Saul was in hearty agreement with those putting Stephen to death.” This should encourage you with those people who are so vehemently against following Jesus. People might reject Jesus the first time you introduce them to Him, but Jesus is so full of grace. He gives Saul a second chance. I think Jesus will with those you are witnessing to, even if they attack you and the Church. And I think Jesus will give those listening a second chance even if they have a hate on for Jesus and His Church.

Why? Because Jesus gave one of the greatest haters of the church a second chance. Saul even says of himself in his letter to the church at Philippi that “as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church.” (Philippians 3:5-6) This is why Luke writes in Acts 9:1-2, “Now Saul still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” Obviously, the high priest disregarded the respected Gamaliel’s advice to leave the disciples alone from Acts 5:38-39. In fact, according to Acts 22:3, Saul considered Gameliel one of his teachers. But both the high priest and Saul weren’t listening to wise counsel. (I just want to reiterate you to that before there is ever a radical conversion experience, the Holy Spirit has usually been whispering to and working on a person’s heart with repeated calls.) But we have hard hearts and put up barriers often through laws and rules. In Saul’s case, he was the police of the Pharisees. He was the hatchet man of the “holy men!” He wanted to wipe the church off the face of the earth. You’ve met people like that. I know people like that. There is still hope for haters!

I know I have told some of you this story, but it just so profoundly affected our family’s life that I must tell it again. Lori’s grandfather on her mother’s side was one of the most hardened men I have ever known. He was abusive, a womanizer, a brawler and a mean drunk, which is one of the reasons why we stay away from alcohol because alcoholism runs in Lori’s family. Lori’s grandpa hated God. We are not sure why. Usually, there is a wound by God or God’s people that causes such hatred. Despite a terrible home life, Lori’s mother came to faith in Christ along with her brother and mother. Lori’s grandpa hated that they left him on Sunday mornings to go to church. He would get so mad that he would go out to their vehicle, open up the hood and rip out wires so that they could not go to church. He would take their Bibles and throw against the wall and say, “See there is no God. If there was, He would strike me dead.” Lori’s grandpa shook his fist at God time and time again. You know what God did? I think Lori’s grandpa thought God played dirty because all of Grandpa Hood’s extended relatives and friends started to come to faith in Jesus. God surrounded Ross Hood with Christians who showed Ross kindness after kindness. Nevertheless, Grandpa Hood would continue to get in the ring with God.

When he was 86 years old and in a nursing home, a local pastor at Lori’s mom’s request visited him every Wednesday. Lori’s mother was also a constant and faithful caregiver. As Grandpa Hood, lay dying from cancer, Lori’s mother asked him whether he was ready to see Jesus. He said, “Yes!” Lori’s mom doubted his sincerity. The local pastor came in Grandpa’s room at that time, and Lori’s mom expressed that she really wanted her dad to know Jesus. The pastor said, “Diane, didn’t you know that six months ago Ross gave his life to Christ?” Grandpa Hood’s nurse happened to also be in his room and chirped up and said, “Oh yes, Diane your dad is not the same man he was when he first came here!” And when Ross Hood, once a hardened angry old man, died early the next morning, he was ushered into the arms of Jesus as a saint forgiven and clean!

There is a hymn written by Walter Bright, which is also sung by the Gaither Quartet called, “Yes, I Know.” The first line says, “Come, ye sinners, lost and lonely, Jesus’ blood can set you free; 
For He saved the worst among you, When He saved a wretch like me. 
And I know, yes, I know, Jesus’ blood can make the vilest sinner clean, 
And I know, yes, I know, Jesus’ blood can make the vilest sinner clean.” That is true for everybody to their last breath.

Saul would have said a loud and hearty, “Amen!” He saw himself as the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). But not while he was persecuting the church! Evangelist Ajith Fernando says, “The last thing Saul ever intended to do was become a Christian.”[1] Maybe that describes you here today or listening on the Internet? You have vowed that you will not follow Christ. Jesus is coming after you! He loves you. He might not strike you with lightning, but He is coming to you. In Saul’s case, Christ struck him with blindness and declared, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Oh beloved, the persecution and hardship you face for following Jesus is not truly aimed at you. It is aimed at our Lord and Saviour! Please remember this and take comfort. To persecute a Christian is to persecute Christ!

I find Saul’s question back to Jesus interesting. Verse 5 records Saul’s question, “Who are You, Lord?” Saul recognizes the voice as the Lord, but doesn’t know Christ. That could be you today. You believe in the Lord, but you don’t know Jesus. You can today. Jesus wants you to know Him. This is what Jesus did for Saul. Jesus replied to Saul, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” (Acts 9:5-6) The significance of Jesus words may be lost on us unless we remember the words of God Almighty in the burning bush when asked by Moses his name. God answered, “I am who I am.” This was a theophany! As a zealous Jew, this would have been the ultimate dream come true – God Himself shows up to speak face to face to you. However, the dream for Saul became a nightmare. He had believed a lie. He thought Jesus was the enemy, when Jesus was the one he had been searching for his whole life.

Saul’s companions were also silenced, unlike those in the Sanhedrin who covered their ears and shouted in a loud voice when Jesus showed up the first time to Stephen in Saul’s presence (Acts 7:57). Acts 9:7 records, “The men who travelled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one.” They missed Jesus! That happens. You might have an encounter with Jesus, but others will not embrace what you have experienced.

Nevertheless, the men help Saul. He could not see and they brought him by the hand into Damascus. Saul was helpless. Ever felt helpless? I know my mom has since breaking her wrist last week. Now she has to have my dad do her hair and make up. And my dad is no Paul Mitchell, the famous hair stylist. See, being helpless is God’s way of humbling us. Warren Wiersbe makes this insight, “The men led Saul into the city, for the angry bull had now become a docile lamb.”[2] This helpless lamb wouldn’t eat for three days! He demonstrated his profound repentance. He was being transformed from a hater to a lover. His false frustration was becoming humble honesty about who Jesus really was – his Lord and Saviour!

My friends, maybe you came here today falsely frustrated. You have been making false assumptions about others and about Jesus. Your false assumptions include requiring others to be like you. They have to believe as you do. They have to behave like you do. Or your false assumption is you expected Jesus to make your dreams come true. Maybe to give you money or a spouse or behaving children or perfect health? I had one of my dreams dashed yesterday – to win a provincial baseball championship with my son! And yet, let’s get perspective: Jesus did something for you – the ultimate something for you. He died on a Cross for you and wants to restore His relationship with you. He wants to have Communion with you.

As we head into remembering the Lord’s Supper through Communion, it is time to let go of false frustrations and embrace humble honesty before Jesus Christ. It is time to surrender your life to Christ. To get rid of the anger and malice! To go and ask forgiveness of others! I am going to do something that I haven’t done before but I feel pressed by the Lord to do so. If you need to right now get right with somebody, I am going to give you a minute or two to do so. To ask their forgiveness for your wrong assumptions! Then you can come to Jesus as the Lord’s Prayer instructs and ask, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

But maybe that person is not here today. Maybe you feel helpless to make things right with them? Today I want you to take the first step by asking God to show you where you have been wrong in this relationship and seek forgiveness from God. And if this person has hurt you I want you to ask God for the strength to truly forgive them before God. You need to finally, once and for all, release them from the stranglehold of what you think is your righteous anger. Don’t harbor the offense any longer. If they have truly wronged you then Christ himself has taken up that offense for you. Do you remember what Jesus said to the angry, murderous Saul? “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting ME?” Jesus ultimately wants the salvation and restoration of that person who has hurt you! Shouldn’t you?

Today is a day when Jesus transforms you from a hater to a lover. Only He can do that because instead of hating His enemies, He loved them to change. He changed Saul! He changed Grandpa Hood! He changed Jon Stairs and He will change you!

[1] Ajith Fernando, The NIV Application Commentary on Acts (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 302.

[2] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary Volume 1 (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1989), 439.

Are You Dating the Church?

This sermon can be watched or listened to at!

If they were passing out marks and grades for dating in High School, I would have gotten an “F.” Can anybody relate? In fact, those first few years in high school, I couldn’t have cared less about girls. I was like my boys who are totally grossed out whenever they see couples kissing on TV. My focus was on athletics. But at age 17, I started dating a girl and it lasted two months. She dumped me after going to see the movie “Robin Hood.” Her reason? She asked me, “Why I couldn’t be more like Kevin Costner?” I thought, I don’t want to wear tights. Actually, she was looking for me to be her hero and I was pretty immature. I know I didn’t measure up to Robin Hood. As we have learned these last couple of weeks, there is only one hero; all others are pseudo-saviours. I hope you are not placing your trust in a lesser hero than Jesus! You will ultimately be disappointed.

I know was! I was disappointed when I tried to find my self-worth in a girl. The wound of being dumped was significant and the timing was terrible – just before exams week. I flunked all my exams. My dad actually cleared his schedule and took me pickerel fishing up north to recover. The heartbreak I experienced, along with watching so many other heartbreaks, is why I am so big on dating with the goal of marriage. The game of dating is dangerous. Lori and I are passionate about teaching young people to guard their heart. Proverbs 4:23 warns, “Above all else, guard your heart for it is the well-spring of life.” Guarding your heart will also guard your body.

Guarding your heart though does not mean sealing off your heart. That is the problem when you are wounded by somebody you love and trust. You promise yourself to not get close again. To never give yourself fully to a person. I saw this in my life. After losing in the dating game, I realized I had no business dating because I was years away from marrying anybody, so I closed myself off. As I entered college, I thought that I would just be friends with girls. Then I met these three blondes; two of them twins. For that year, I got a huge ego boost from hanging around some lovely Christian girls. But then it happened. I started liking one of them. I don’t think guys and girls can become significant friends without romantic feelings getting involved on at least one person’s part. This is why there is a danger in having on-line discussions with people of the opposite sex that you are not married to. Eventually an attachment grows towards that person and your heart will be drawn in. We need to treat each other with the utmost purity. (1 Timothy 5:1-2)

In my case, I felt like I needed to be honest with this girl about my feelings. I recall looking her in the eyes and asking her blessing to inquire of her parents about the possibility of our dating towards marriage. She kindly told me that she did not have the same feelings for me. Wound # 2!

It was not long after that, that a dark-haired beauty from Kansas entered my story. And it just so happened that she had a roommate who informed me that this Kansas girl liked me. I was still carrying a flame for the blonde and so I thought it would be better to have a discussion with the girl from Kansas that I was not ready to pursue a relationship at this time. You know what she did. She didn’t cry! She didn’t spew at me. She later wrote me a letter thanking me for my honesty and left it at. She didn’t ask if we could still be friends. This unsettled me. It didn’t take me long to figure out that the girl God had planned for me was right in front of me. God had been writing His Big Story and part of that story introduced me to my future wife Lori so we could be about extending His Kingdom together.

God’s Big Story is partially a love story. Marriage is one of God’s great pictures of His love for His people. Now, some of you might be saying, “what Big Story?” Today I want you to understand that God is writing His Big Story and you are in it! Have you discovered where you are in the Story of the universe?  Are you convinced of the Creator? Do you believe that there is an Ultimate Author and Writer of the Story of the Universe? Do you believe the truth? Do you believe in the Creator God of the Bible? That was the introduction to God’s Big Story – Creation. Then a few weeks ago we started chapter one of the story that focused on rebellion at the Fall. We learned that human beings rebelled against God and have continued to try to fix their sin problem with their own self-improvement program called religion. Have you admitted the truth, recognized your sin and realize that your own attempts to get right with God will end in frustration? Religion will eventually kill you! And this is why our Hero, Jesus, came to rescue us from death. We call this salvation! However, He does so in a peculiar way. Jesus will let His friends die as we saw with his friend Lazarus. The reason is so that they can experience His resurrection. You have been rescued from eternal death so that you can tell others about it. We call this proclamation. And our first proclamation of Christ should be our baptism! To recap God’s Big Story in one word for each chapter – CREATION then REBELLION then SALVATION then PROCLAMATION. And now we are going to learn about the next chapter in God’s Big Story – DEDICATION. We want you to join the Rescued – To Join the Way! We believe it is time to stop dating the church and be a part of the great marriage of Christ and His Bride – the Church! Maybe you didn’t know Christ is married? Not to Mary Magdalene as Dan Brown asserts in The Da Vinci Code, but to the Church. We can read about Christ’s marriage to the Church in Ephesians 5:23-32! Read Ephesians 5:23-32

All love stories point to the Greatest Love Story! Our Hero Jesus Christ comes and rescues the damsel in distress (the Church, made up of you and me) from the villain, the Devil! John Eldredge in his book Wild at Heart reminds us, “There is a beauty to rescue. Most men want the maiden without any sort of cost to themselves. They want all the joys of the beauty without the woes of the battle.” They want to be friends with benefits! But Christ is so much different. He was willing to pay the ultimate price to rescue the damsel in distress. He laid down His life for Her, the Church, for you and me. He then rose from the dead so that we could be reunited with Him for all eternity! This is how we become a part of God’s Big story. As Herman Ridderbos stated, “The early church did not create the story; the story created the early church.” It also explains why the Church is not the lead actor; the star of the show. Sometimes we forget that as a church and we try to promote ourselves. Our Western weddings add to the problem. They portray the bride as the center of attention. This is not the case in the Bible. The Bridegroom is the One we are all waiting for. Jesus tells a story in Matthew 25:1-13 about 10 virgins who were to have their lamps ready to meet the bridegroom. No one would know the exact time of his coming, which is why the virgins needed to be ready when they heard the shout, “The Bridegroom cometh!” Only half of the virgins were ready for the Bridegroom when He came. Are you ready for the Bridegroom to come back?

In order to be ready, you need to be full of committed love to Christ and His Church. Some of you might be thinking, especially those listening outside of the Church, “I love Jesus, but the Church is messed up and hurt me.” Listen to what 1 John 4:20 warns, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” It is very clear from Scripture that we must love both Christ and His Church to demonstrate our rescue and salvation. Mark Dever puts it in stronger words, “If you are not a member of the church, you regularly attend, you may well be going to hell.” Think about it! Do you want to spend eternity with Christ AND His Bride? Even on a human level we understand this. If you told me that you liked me but not my wife, do you think we could be friends? No! Jesus is saying the same thing. Ephesians 5:23 makes this clear, “For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is also the head of the church, He Himself being the Saviour of the body.” You can’t love the Head without also loving the Body! No one loves just a head, but the whole person! 

But what about how the Church has hurt me? Listen! My biggest wounds have come at the hands of those in the church. I have been abused by the church. How about you? And yet, I have hurt others. We do this to each other. We were abused by the villain, the Devil and we then hurt others. But this is why Christ came and is sanctifying the Church! Ephesians 5:25-26, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.” Jesus literally took off our dirty old clothes and cleanses us through baptism and His Word. The Bible calls this sanctification. Sanctification means to make holy – to change a person to be like Christ. Just like an old married couple who starts to look like each other, they finish each other’s sentences and each knows what the other is thinking, the Church will become like Christ. That happens as you listen to Christ through prayer and reading your Bible each day and do so with other believers. As the Church matures, she changes! The pimply faced, gangly 13-14 year old girl is going to blossom into a full-figured, drop-dead gorgeous bride. John Stott writes, “On earth she is often in rags and tatters, stained and ugly, despised and persecuted. But one day she will be seen for what she is, nothing less than the Bride of Christ, ‘free from spots, wrinkles, or any other disfigurement,’ holy and without blemish, beautiful and glorious. It is to this constructive end that Christ has been working and is continuing to work. The bride does not make herself presentable, it is the Bridegroom who labours to beautify her in order to present her to Himself.” It is a relationship totally based on grace. Our role is to listen and follow Christ! Christ will lead you as you submit to His leadership (v. 24). You will no longer be aimless. But it will require that you give up your bachelor or bachelorette ways where you think you can do your own thing all time. Marriage is intended by God to destroy selfishness and create oneness.

The goal is to treat your spouse like you would treat yourself. Ephesians 5:28-29 tells as much, “So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves His own wife loves himself; for no ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church.” Sadly, we don’t treat the Church with utmost care, love and compassion just as we sometimes don’t treat spouses in our own marriages. Listen to this old edition of The Saturday Evening Post and the description of “The Seven Stages of the Married Cold”:

Stage 1 – Sugar dumpling, I’m really worried about my baby girl. That’s a bad

sniffle and there’s no telling about these things with all the ‘strep’ that’s going around. I’m going to put you in the hospital for a general check-up and good rest. I know the food’s terrible, but I’m going to bring you dinner every night from “Rosini’s.” I’ve got it all arranged with the floor supervisor.

Stage 2 – Listen, darling, I don’t like the sound of that cough. I’m going to call Doc Miller to rush over here. Now you go to bed like a good girl just for papa.

Stage 3 – Maybe you’d better lie down, honey. Nothing like a little rest when you feel lousy. I’ll bring you something. Have you got any canned soup?

Stage 4 – Now look, dear, be sensible. After you’ve fed the kids and gotten the dishes done and the floor mopped, you’d better lie down.

Stage 5 – Why don’t you take a couple of aspirin?

Stage 6 – If you’d just gargle something instead of sitting around barking like a seal all evening…

Stage 7 – Would you stop coughing on me? Are you trying to give me pneumonia?

To my shame, I have never treated Lori at Stage 1 or 2 when she gets sick. I forget my wedding vows – to have and to hold in sickness and in health.


In contrast, being committed to your spouse means loving them at their worst. And isn’t this what Christ has done for us – loved us at our worst. He is calling you to do the same. Church membership is less about privilege and more about responsibility. Responsibility changes us in three ways: 1) We will love what Christ loves – His Bride. Christ loves the world, but especially loves His people in the same way that as a pastor I care for a lot of women in this church, but my love is solely focused on Lori. Being committed to the church will also change us in that: 2) We will become holy and blameless because Christ is here. (v. 27) The Church is made up of people who have Christ’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit. Christ then uses these Spirit-filled people to encourage, exhort, correct and care for us. (v. 28) In a word, church membership changes us through accountability. And being committed to the church changes us in that 3) We will start to experience now what will be fully realized in heaven. My best day on earth is to see somebody come to faith in Christ, and get baptized, just like we saw last week and then they grow in their faith by being part of the church. It is a taste of heaven to see people from different backgrounds being united in following Jesus! Verse 27 promises that someday Jesus will “present to Himself the church in all her glory.” That is going to happen at the ultimate wedding ceremony

. Revelation 19:7-8 describes the scene, “Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready. It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.”

So are you going to be a part of that ceremony? You have to stop dating the Church and be a part of it now. How? By dedicating your life to Christ and His Church! There is a trend my pastor friends are noticing that there are a number of people who are starting to attend church only once every 3 weeks. Lots of extracurricular activities are getting in the way.  Today, is attempt to stop that trend. Our hope is that the Spirit of God works so powerfully here each Sunday that you won’t want to miss our gathering together. That will require dedication. We are going to have that dedication, the wedding rehearsal for the ultimate ceremony right now. I even wore my marrying suit today for the occasion. Will you take the Church…

to have and to hold – Will you participate and serve using your giftedness? (1 Peter 4:10) As Thom Rainer says in his book I Am a Church Member, “You always ask first what you can do for the church. Then you will have discovered the joy of being last.”

for richer for poorer – Will you give of your resources? (2 Corinthians 9:7) When you get married, it costs money as you care for your spouse. The church is no different. We give because Christ gave to us.

for better for worse, in sickness and in health. – Will you stay during the good and bad times? (Galatians 6:2) Many people leave the church, when it gets tough. I don’t find anywhere in the Scriptures permission to leave the church when it gets tough. Actually I find just the opposite. Stay, especially if you are mature, and help right the ship. As one married nearly 18 years, I realize that there are hard times, but if you will persevere there can be good times around the corner. I think Temple, you who have stayed, are seeing God’s faithfulness to your faithfulness. He is changing you!

… to love and to cherish. (John 13:34) Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” Do you cherish each other? Will you pray for one another?

to honour and obey (Romans 12:10) We promise to defer to one another. We put others first!

… till death do us be united together forever (Hebrew 10:24-25) And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds not forsaking our assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

If you are willing to commit to Christ and His Church, please take the Welcome Card in the pews in front of you and indicate that you want to become a member. Then turn those into me or one of our Elders as you are leaving. Our requirement is that you have trusted in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour, have been baptized and agree with our Statement of Faith.

Friends, Christ is pursuing you. He isn’t looking for a Valentine’s date but to be married for all eternity. You will see your King of glory coming for you.

Now that we have had the rehearsal for the ultimate ceremony, it is time to eat. The Lord’s Supper is a foretaste of the wedding supper of the Lamb. It is a way of remembering Christ’s rescue until He returns (1 Cor. 11:26). Until the Bridegroom comes to take His Bride away to live with Him for all eternity

Is God a Lover or Hater?

This sermon can be watched or listened to at!

What do you hate? Some of you might be thinking in your mind, “Jon, I don’t hate anyone. I’m a Christian.” Hatred is what the world does but we are to be about peace and love here in the church. I’m not sure that is being honest and authentic or even Biblical. I know many of us have been taught that you are not supposed to hate anybody or anything. Maybe the word “hate” was banned from your house. Even my children questioned whether we are to hate thing when I taught them about this message ahead of time. The problem is we do! We do hate! All of us hate some things. I hate ironing my clothes. I’m very proud of the fact that I made it through three years of college without ironing anything. You just have to be ready at the minute the dryer is done so that you can take out your clothes before they wrinkle. That is a little tip for you college and university students. I also hate doing home repairs and do-it-yourself projects. Now I just came back from the Act Like Men conference and I hope that I can still be considered manly when I say that Home Depot is not my favourite place to hang out. When I try to make a repair at home, it never works smoothly for me and I have many frustrating complications. This has been stressful for my wife and me since my father and father-in-law are so handy around the house. What do you hate? Hate is not the opposite of love. Fear is the opposite of love. Perfect love drives out fear as 1 John 4:18 declares. The only way to overcome fear is through love. I’m afraid of heights. However, if one of my kids climbed up in a tree and couldn’t get down, my fear of heights would be overcome by my love for my children and my desire to rescue them.

Fear is the opposite of love while hate is an aspect of love… the negative side of love. If love is tasting what is good, then hate is distasting what is bad. Hate is an outcome of protective love. Hate is the attitude or emotion evoked when what you value is threatened. So whether your hatred is good or bad is determined by whether you have good or bad values! If I hate that babies are killed through abortion, my hatred is driven by my value of life and seeing those babies as fellow human beings. If I hate the abortionist and act upon that hatred using violence against him or her, then I am valuing one human being over another. I am no better than the abortionist who is doing so just because the baby is smaller and more dependent than the mother. By the way, when did size and dependence determine a person’s worth? Use that argument the next time you talk to somebody about abortion and ask whether they are less valuable than a taller or bigger person. What God wants is for our love to be consistent! Romans 12:9 even states, “Let love be genuine (or without hypocrisy – NASB). Hate what is evil, cling to what is good.” (NIV)

As we start a new series through the book of Malachi, we are going to discover that we are second to one. God comes first! And it starts with prioritizing our values. This will require us to hate what is evil and cling to what is good. Why? Because God did! He always has the highest values. He hates what is evil and clings to what is good. As we read Malachi 1:1-5, we are going to find out that God is both a hater and a lover. This is going to shock some of you. But we need to read the Bible at face value. God hates! WE BETTER FIND OUT WHAT GOD HATES! In fact, Ecclesiastes 3:8 tell us, “there is a time to love and a time to hate.” We better know when it is time to love and when it is time to hate! Let me read Malachi 1:1-5, and give you some background to Malachi and then discover that your doubts of God’s love will be overcome by being confronted with what God hates. Read Malachi 1:1-5!

Before we can understand how God’s hatred for being second in your life should be the most loving motivator to overcome your indifference and doubts, we need to know about the Book of Malachi. Scholars believe Malachi was “written in 433 BC,”[1] “60-70 years after the completion of the Temple.”[2] This is important because the people had been back in the land for 100 years after spending 70 years in captivity in Babylon for idolatry. They were now expecting the Messiah to come. But He hadn’t come. Can you relate? We talked about Jesus’ promised return last week as we finished up our study of the Gospel of Mark. Yet we’re still waiting 2000 years later. What happens when God doesn’t meet your expectations? Often you become indifferent. You think, “Well, if God isn’t going to do this and then I guess I won’t take Him seriously.” You may not be in open rebellion but you have a closed heart towards God. You are apathetic. You begin to doubt God’s love. Maybe that is where you are in your relationship to God? You thought God would heal a loved one and He didn’t, at least from your perspective. You thought God was going to give you this wonderful life if you gave your life to him, got baptized and started to come to church but life seems to be unraveling. You don’t feel as close to God as you once did. Like the people in Malachi’s day who experienced “the captivity that had cured the people of their tendency to idolatry in one generation, but it had also infused some elements of evil into their character.”[3] Those elements included indifference about giving God their best. It included leadership that was self-focused. Also, a belief that their marriage vows didn’t have much of a shelf life. And a lack of obedience with their tithes. Doubting God’s love will eventually lead to becoming indifferent about God’s laws.

Do you see why I believe God wants us to wrestle with this book over the next few months? We started a year ago studying the Gospel of Mark so that we could experience a Fresh Start and gain a deeper understanding of Jesus’ powerful call to a new way. God has been doing amazing things in our midst, but maybe not as much as you hoped. You were hoping for changes to meet your expectations. I don’t think there is a ground swell of disillusionment in our midst but there is always the possible creep of cynicism. “God’s people felt that they had done their part for God, but He had not responded as He had promised.”[4] Maybe today you are doubting or questioning God’s love and work?

God is declaring His love again to a people who questioned it. Usually when somebody doubts our love, we react in one of three ways. 1) We try harder to prove our love by committing more acts of service or giving more gifts. Children of divorced parents know too well how that works. Or 2) we get mad and list all the ways we have proven our love in the past, which probably shows that our love wasn’t pure because “love doesn’t boast.” (1 Cor. 13:4) Or 3) we become indifferent and give up trying to love the person. In marriage, we just become roommates. At work, we meet only when necessary. In school, we walk down a different hallway. At church, we find a different ministry. God reacts in none of these ways to the people who doubted His love! Instead, He declares “an oracle to Israel through Malachi” (Malachi 1:1). Malachi means “my messenger.”[5] This was a message straight from the Lord. A “dabar” in the original Hebrew, which means a powerful word! The word oracle meant, “to bear a burden.”[6] God has something to unload and so He gets right to the point. “I have loved you,” says the LORD (Malachi 1:1). Many people read the Old Testament and think that God of the Old Testament doesn’t love. He is about vengeance whereas in the New Testament, God is a God of love. There could be nothing further from the truth. The God of the entire Bible “does not change” (Malachi 3:6) and He is both a hater and a lover!

And this is what is so radical about this message: Your doubts of God’s love will be overcome by being confronted with what God hates. God says the most peculiar thing. His response to the accusation of His people who He didn’t love them: “How have You loved us?” (Malachi 1:2) seems odd. Malachi 1:2-3 records, “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord, “Yet I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau.” This is such an important point in the Bible that it is recorded numerous times so that we keep being reminded of it. It stresses people out. One lady came to Charles Spurgeon after hearing that God loved Jacob and hated Esau and said, “Pastor, I have such a hard time believing God would hate Esau.” Spurgeon replied, “I have such a hard time believing God would love Jacob.” Jacob was deceiver so we know that God did not love Jacob because he was good and Esau was bad. No, It was God’s choice. This is what we find in Romans 9:13 when Paul explains election. Further insight in why God choose Jacob over Esau is discovered in Hebrews 12:4-17. Hebrews 12:15-17 warns, “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there is no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.” God was reminding His people back then and even you today that Esau despised his birthright. It was nothing to him. He was willing to sell it to his brother Jacob, the first Master Chef, whose recipe for red stew caused Esau to lose all sense of perspective. This is another reason not to like stew! The stew would taste good but in a few hours Esau would need to go back to the refrigerator. It seems foolish to trade the title for the temporary. But why would God hate Esau for that shortsightedness? What we don’t understand was that Esau wasn’t just foolish about passing up the double portion of the inheritance as the first-born brother. Esau was indifferent about the promise that went with the birthright and blessing. The promise and blessing to Abraham was that His “seed” would bless all nations (Genesis 12:2-3; 15:5; 22:17). This same promise and blessing was made to Isaac, Abraham’s son (Genesis 26:3). And it was to be passed on to Isaac’s offspring. Yet, Esau didn’t care. A little stew was more important to him. If I told you that I would give you all the land from Egypt to the Euphrates River, that you would be a part of family that would bless the entire world, and that you would have many descendants would you trade it for a can of chunky soup? No! But the most devastating thing, which spurned God’s hatred, was that Esau didn’t care about what the blessing would result in. Who was that seed God promised? His Son Jesus! And how would Jesus bless all the nations? By saving them! Esau did not know about Christ specifically, but it shows that Esau would trust in God’s original promise and covenant.

God’s original promise was for salvation. But Esau rejected God and God in turn rejected Esau. God promised an eternal inheritance, but instead Esau received “his mountains a desolation and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness.” (Malachi 1:3) “[7]This happened when King Nebuchadnezzar attacked Esau’s descendants in 587 BC.” The Edomites were to live like jackals. Jackals feed on scrapes, on leftovers. A theme that, Lord willing, we will come back to next week.

But notice that Esau’s descendants who were called the Edomites decided to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. They adopted that common attitude when hurt or slighted, “I’ll show you!” They said, “We have been beaten down, but we will return and build up the ruins.” (Malachi 1:4) But God doesn’t let them rebuild. The rest of Malachi 1:4 reads, “Thus says the LORD of hosts,They build, but I will tear down; and men will call them the wicked territory, and the people toward whom the Lord is indignant forever.” Why would God not let Edom rebuild? Does He have a hate on for Esau and his peeps? Doesn’t God like comeback stories?

Absolutely! But only when the comeback is about Him and done through faith and repentance. The Edomites never turn to God and ask for renewal and a comeback. Notice, they say, “we will return and build up the ruins.” God isn’t in the equation. Temple, listen up! We have been beaten down. Our attendance used to be more than double the size. We have lost whole generations. They have become indifferent to God and His ways. If we even take one step to trying to restore this church without repentance and acknowledging that it is God who “builds the house” (Psalm 127:1) then God will not bless us! We will be despised and be called wicked as the Edomites of old were by their neighbours. Temple’s turn around and your personal turn around of experiencing a new life, requires God alone to do the work. He did that at the Cross and your job, your only job is to trust Him to restore you.

God is so jealous for His name and being first in your life that He will hate anything and anybody that gets in your way. This is the covenant love of God, “the pervading theme of the book: God’s love for His people.”[8] God loves you so much that He hates anything or anybody that would get in your way of that relationship. Putting Himself first in your life to the point of hating things that would interfere with His salvation is the most loving thing He could do. Esau threatened God’s ultimate value. Esau threatened God’s plan of salvation through His Son Jesus. The Israelites in Malachi’s day were on the same trajectory of becoming indifferent about God’s plan of salvation. Are we indifferent about God’s salvation plan?

Do you see God as a jealous lover, hating anything or anybody, that would interfere with you experiencing His love for you? Notice the last verse! Verse 5! You’re in it! God says, “Your eyes will see this and you will say, ‘The Lord be magnified beyond the border of Israel.” God’s plan to bless all the nations of the earth included Him being magnified beyond the border of Israel – to you a Gentile.

When you doubt God’s love, remember His hatred for anything that would get in the way of saving you and being with Him for all eternity. Join Him in loving hatred of anything that interferes with Him being # 1 in your life, in your family, and in your community. This is going to require that some of you who are indifferent to repent and ask God to give you a renewed passion for Jesus and His Gospel. It may also require that give up that temporary thing that is coming before the eternal Jesus. Jesus is calling, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:26) We are second to One! Live who you are this week!

[1] Pieter A. Verhoeff, The Books of Haggai and Malachi NICOT (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987), 160.

[2] John L. Mackay, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi (Glasgow: Christian Focus, 2010), 323.

[3] Thomas Moore, Haggai and Malachi (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1960), 105.

[4] Mackay, 324.

[5] Paul N. Benware, Survey of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1993), 246.

[6] Verhoeff, 187.

[7] Walter Kaiser, Mastering the Old Testament – Micah-Malachi  (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1992), 442.

[8] Verhoeff, 206.

What is the Guiding Principle of Your Life?

This sermon can be watched or listened at!

What is the guiding principle that rules your life? Here are some common guiding principles as compiled by Yaakov Grossman[1]:

  1. I have free will and can choose to wage battle against my lower self and drives. I am responsible for my actions. There are no excuses, only eternal consequences. God is filming everything, and isn’t going to turn a blind eye. He expects the most from me.
  2. The only real failure in life is not trying. Don’t be afraid to take on new challenges and risks. I never know what good will come from my focused efforts, but I do know what will come from not trying. As Wayne Gretzky says, “You miss every shot you don’t take.”
  3. Am I nurturing my most important relationships? Be affirming, positive, giving to others.
  4. Am I taking care of myself: my health, my family, my neighbourhood and my world?
  5. This world is a corridor to the Next World. My life ― right here, right now ― is to create eternity by choosing wisely, to connect to God and become more and more like God. Get moving; this opportunity is quickly evaporating. Carpe Diem – Seize the day. Make the most of every opportunity. Control your own destiny.
  6. Choose life! Never give up!
  7.  It doesn’t matter what others think of me. My self-esteem comes from recognizing that I am a pure soul, loved by God, striving to do my best.
  8. If I’m not pushing myself beyond my comfort zone, I’m not really living. Life in this world is for growth and struggle. “To taste death is to live life.”[2]
  9. There are no accidents; everything happens for a reason and is somehow for my good.

10. The Golden Rule – Treat others as you would have them treat you. (Matthew 7:12) Or the Silver Rule – Do not treat others in a way that you wouldn’t want to be treated.

Do these life principles sound good to you? Have you tried them? Do you recite them to others? How have they worked out for you? Not great! They are adapted from a modern Jewish Rabbi, but let me tell you the guiding principle of another Jewish Rabbi named Jesus. One day a scribe, a religious leader whose job was to copy down the Law everyday, came to Jesus and wanted to know what the greatest commandment was! Think about that! Everyday going to work and your job is copy each letter of the Bible so that it is preserved. You would have to do it by hand because this was before computers. You would become very familiar with the Law and start to wonder, what do all the 613 laws in the Old Testament boil down to? You would have probably memorized them after awhile but you might want a Cole’s Note version, a summation. People maybe even ask you what the most important law is and so you find yourself with all the other religious leaders taking on this popular Jewish Rabbi. Jesus had demolished all their hard and tricky questions about divorce (Mark 10:1-12), authority (Mark 11:27-33), taxes (Mark 12:13-17), and the afterlife (Mark 12:18-27). So you boldly step up to the microphone and ask Jesus, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” It’s a good question. Maybe you have ulterior motives like not having to write out all the law anymore or finally being able to tell people the guiding principle of life so you can go on the speaking circuit? Nevertheless, Jesus answers your question. Let’s read the story in Mark 12:28-40! Read Mark 12:28-40!

Let me summarize this series of stories and Jesus interactions with scribes: Belonging to God’s Kingdom requires loving Him completely, loving others unselfishly and knowing Jesus as the King. Let’s unpack each of those requirements! First, loving God completely … with your whole being! Some people love God only partially! They love God with their heart. This is mentioned first. Why? The heart is “more than a pumping station. It is the command center of the body, where decisions are made and plans are hatched.”[3] Your heart drives your life. You ultimately make time for what you really want to do. Therefore, to love God with your heart affects the rest of life because we are driven by our desires.

But we are also to love God with our minds… our intelligence. Are you using your mind to think the best thoughts? You will only do so if you think and reflect on God. This is why it is important to engage your mind through reading and studying God and His world. This seems to be how the scribes and other religious leaders attempted to love God. They studied and studied God’s Word. But time and time again they missed loving God completely because if you don’t love God with your heart, you will treat God as a science project. Trying to dissect something kills it. Knowledge without love just puffs up.

But there is more than loving God with your heart and mind! We are also to love God with our souls, which is often our emotions and personality. Your feelings are supposed to be focused on God. Your happiness is derived from God. Your sadness and grief is comforted by God. Your indignation and righteous anger is sourced in God’s justice. I challenge you to read and pray the Psalms because they are the authentic and raw emotive love of God. Many are written by David who was a man after God’s own heart! One exercise that I learned from Dr. Jerry Falwell and has helped me at times is to read five Psalms a day. This will help you get through the entire book of Psalms in a month.

Now we are not just to love God with our hearts, our minds and our souls. We also need to love God with our strength – with our bodies and with our effort. Often we love God with only a few parts of our life. We might love God with our hearts by deciding to wake up everyday determined to follow Him but we fail to love Him with our strength, our actions. Or we might love God by studying everything we can. We Baptists probably emphasize loving God with our minds as most important because we strive to be students of His Word, the Bible. But how do we do at loving God with the other parts of our constitution? Maybe we might love God with our emotions? We come to church or go to a conference, seminar, or production to have an experience with God that fills us with joy, happiness, contentment and peace but we don’t study God’s Word for ourselves. Lastly, we may try to love God with all of our effort. This is why we serve Him without taking a break. We try to be involved in every ministry and yet we spend very little time in personal worship of Him. JESUS SAYS THAT WE ARE REQUIRED TO LOVE GOD WITH OUR WHOLE BEING, NOT JUST WITH ONLY OUR HEART, ONLY OUR MIND, ONLY OUR SOUL OR ONLY OUR BODY. Sounds overwhelming but if you think about our relationships, we require people to love us completely as well. If I told you that you could only have my mind but not my strength by only studying and never visiting you in the hospital, you would not feel loved. Or if I loved you only with my effort but not with my heart, then I might serve you but never communicate with my words of deep appreciation for you. You and I expect our loved ones to love us with their whole being.

But we fail. I can’t say it any different. You and I don’t love completely. Why? Two reasons. First, love comes from God. You can’t get it from anybody else. You can’t manufacture it. You can’t will yourself to love. The Apostle John writes in 1 John 1:7, “Beloved, let us love another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” This raises an immediate question. Are you telling me John that I don’t love my parents, my friends, my spouse, or my children without knowing God? YES! The word for “love” that both John uses and Jesus uses in Mark for love conveys unconditional love. If you think about it, we love our family only if they keep behaving a certain way. They need to love us back through their actions. Some of you understand and feel this right now because you are estranged from a wayward loved one. Past tense! I loved them when they listened to me. When they followed my advice. When they didn’t borrow my money. When they didn’t cause me grief.  In contrast, God’s love means love is a one way street – unconditional!

The reason why we don’t love completely is that the only way to love do so is for Jesus to love through us. Remember, love comes from God and who came from God? Jesus! He loved us rebels unconditionally by dying on a Cross in our place. Now in order for Jesus to love through us we must simply make room for Him. We have to surrender to Him as King. God’s love will flow through you when you recognize Jesus as your king!  As scholar Thomas Oden says, “The perfect love of God is learned only through the costly death of idolatries,”[4] when you no longer try to rule your life.  An idol is anything we look to for comfort and satisfaction instead of God. Jesus as a jealous lover will not share you with an idol. He loves you completely, with His heart, mind, soul and strength as first demonstrated on the Cross. Now He requires us to love Him completely. The really awesome part is that He knew you couldn’t do it yourself so He gave you His Spirit to do it through you.

How do you know if it is happening? It is demonstrated in how you love others unselfishly; especially the ones that don’t love you back. Jesus goes beyond the scribe’s question. The scribe asked what the greatest commandment was and Jesus not only gives him that answer but adds the second greatest commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31) Jesus is saying that loving God will overflow into loving your neighbour as yourself. All of us love ourselves. We don’t even have to think about it. None of us put on the bathroom mirror a sticky note “Love yourself today.” But some of you might be thinking “no I don’t” I’ve always struggled with low self-esteem. My therapist told me I need to work on loving myself!” And yet even a person with low self-esteem is focused on themself and their happiness. It is automatic to love ourselves. Jesus is essentially saying that loving others should come as naturally, or should I say supernaturally, as loving yourself. This is why Jesus actually expands on the Law that the scribe was used to writing down. Leviticus 19:18 states, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.” In the Old Testament, loving your neighbor was “restricted to ‘the sons of your own people.’”[5] But Jesus doesn’t put in that qualifier and in Luke’s account, Jesus follows with the parable of the Good Samaritan who showed love for a  neighbor that was NOT a son of his own people. David Garland aptly teaches, “One can never ask, ‘who is my neighbor?’ because the question implies that there is such a thing as a non-neighbor, whoever needs me is my neighbor.”[6] Unlike the scribes that Jesus mentions at the end of the chapter who were proud and concerned about their position, even “devouring widows’ houses” (Mark 12:40), Jesus was the ultimate Good Samaritan who, though despised for coming from another land, heaven, paid the price for the healing and rescue of those in the ditch of life. You and I were in the ditch of life and He came and picked us up when nobody else would or could.

It would appear that the scribe got more than he bargained for. He doesn’t know what to say so he says bravo to Jesus. Maybe it was like a tap out while still trying to save face? “The scribe said to Him, “Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that He is One, and there is no else besides Him and to love Him with all heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength and to love one’s neighbor as himself, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Mark 12:32-33) Jesus commends the scribe and says he is not far from the kingdom of God, but he was still out of the kingdom because it was about the heart, the understanding, the strength. The scribe never personalized his love for the King. You see, God’s love will only flow through you when you recognize Jesus as your king!

Why?  Love supersedes the law! The relationship drives the rules! In fact, love is the royal law in Christ’s kingdom. The scribe has moved away from sacrifices as his method of payment for his sins. He is close to the kingdom but is missing the final step. I hope you won’t miss the final step. The rest of the religious leaders did. They dared not ask Jesus any more questions (Mark 12:34). The debates at the Temple were over. Jesus had won!

But Jesus wasn’t done. He had one more question for them. Now this wasn’t a victory lap. Jesus wasn’t trying to become our intellectual hero. He wanted the scribe and others to come into the kingdom. So he asks, “How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? David Himself said by the Holy Spirit, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, ‘sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet. David himself calls Him ‘Lord’; so in what sense is He his Son?” (Mark 12:35-37) Jesus was inviting everybody, especially the scribe to see their Messiah as not only of “a son of David, but Lord.”[7] In other words, the Messiah was not just kingly but the King, the Lord! And then in doing so with the greatest command being established to love the Lord your God completely, Jesus was inviting the scribe to love Him completely as his King.

But in doing so, the scribe would have to get rid of his idol just like you and I do. The scribes’ idols were drawing attention to themselves and comparing themselves to others. This is why they wore long flowing robes. They positioned themselves so that people would be beholden to them. Even their long prayers had to be paid for. Not unlike the televangelists of our day. But unlike the scribes Jesus wore a robe of mockery for you and me. The soldiers at the Cross put a robe on Jesus because they thought he was a usurper – a fake king. But He wasn’t and yet He died naked on a Cross for our shame. The robe was cast off for the redemption of our souls. And instead of charging for prayers and devouring the weak, Jesus gave His prayer of forgiveness freely to us in our weakness. “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) Finally, finally a King and a Kingdom whose essence is love. You see God’s love will flow through you when you recognize Jesus as your king! Do you belong to that Kingdom? Are you going to love the King and those He loves as you love yourself?  You can only do this by letting His unfailing love flow through you. Let the love of God be your guiding principle of your life.

[1] Yaakov Grossman, “Your 10 Guiding Principles for Life.” Accessed September 12, 2013.

[2] I heard this motto from my friend Kirk Groombridge.

[3] David Garland, The NIV Application Commentary on Mark (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 483.

[4] Thomas Oden, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 172.

[5] William L. Lane, Commentary on the Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), 433.

[6] Garland, 485.

[7] Lane, 437.