Turning Point

(Acts 2:1-4; John 14:15-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:7-14) – J G White
11 am, Pentecost Sunday, May 20, 2018 – UBC Digby

A major turning point comes in the scripture story of Pentecost Sunday.  What Carol read and the choir sang is the fulfilment of all those words Jesus had spoken.  The Holy Spirit appeared; Christianity was born! What a turning point.

Are we at a turning point? Is this a defining moment for us?  Some of you in this congregation may feel it is. And it may well be, for good reasons.

Did you read the leaflet last week called OASIS 2018: TURNING POINT?  We are part of a family of about 450 Baptist Churches in Atlantic Canada.  And as this whole group meets in August (we call it Oasis) we will catch a vision of where we see we are. Baptist or not, this may be true for you.  The pamphlet says:

We are at a Turning Point.
This is a defining moment in our history as a family of churches.  The choices we make now will have ripple effects for generations to come.
A Turning Point is an opportunity to make a change that will impact the future.  Will we make the right choice?  The right choice is not always the easy or pain-free choice.
We have an opportunity to reshape our future now.  We believe in a great future for the church in Atlantic Canada and the part that the CBAC will play.
Oasis 2018 will focus on what is required of us as a family of churches if we’re going to make a difference joining God in our neighbourhoods.
CBAC staff will be the main speakers at Oasis 2018.  They will help us zero in on our three priorities where we must focus our resources and energy.
By 2025 we’ll see:

  • 300 Mission Edge Churches
  • 65 New Congregations
  • 75 emerging Pastor Leaders (total of 150 pastor leaders)

We believe that we’ll see a God-dream of 3000 Baptisms in one year by 2025.  What an exciting dream! We need 3000 people praying for this. Will you join us?

This lays out the emphasis of our leadership in Atlantic Canada now.  For other hints, just look at the seminars being offering at the gathering in August.  These tell you what we believe in doing.
The Worn Path: moving your church to hospitality
Belonging Precedes Believing
Refugee Ministry: a global way to join God in your nieghbourhood
Fresh expressions for the Mission Edge Church
Being Real: mission edge and the smaller church
Joining God in Our Neighbourhoods & Networks
All this is responding to the present crisis in local churches.  It is about us at the grass-roots. About us.

So, right here, close to home… have you thought that our [your] church is “on the downhill slide?”  This may well be true. I don’t say this because our offerings to the end of April were $2,200 less than we budgeted.  I don’t say this because our expenditures were $8,000 more than our income so far. I say we may be ‘on the downhill slide’ because of other warning signs.  Christian leaders say things like this:

11 Signs Your Church Is Going Extinct (not all eleven…)

  1. Decline has made you cautious
  2. Your affection for the past is greater than your excitement for the future
  3. You mostly listen to the voices of the current members
  4. Your conflict is about the wrong things
  5. Any growth you have is transfer growth

That’s from Carey Nieuwhof of Orillia, ON.

Another expert says: When a church is dying, these are [some of] the common responses.

  • Blame society: It is the world’s fault that the church is not growing.  
  • Seek to save/raise money to help keep the church open.  Bills must be paid. Buildings must be maintained. Establish an endowment fund.
  • Make the members/leaders feel guilty.  Obviously it is someone’s fault.

That’s from Stephen McMullin of St. John / ADC.  These are the warning signs of ill health in the fellowship of believers, in whatever town or city.

This morning we celebrate the Spirit with us in our lives. We heard from Jesus, in his long talk with the twelve disciple, before He was to leave them.  Since He would soon die, and within a month leave them, they were promised they would not be alone. God the Spirit would be with them all.  Do ya suppose God is with us still?

In His first phrase about the Spirit, Jesus said the Spirit of Truth would be with them forever.  Secondly, Jesus says the Advocate will teach and remind them of everything. Thirdly, the Comforter will tell about Jesus, once Jesus is gone.  Fourthly, the Helper will set the record straight about what is wrong in our world, what is right, and how it gets sorted out. And Fifthly, Jesus said the Spirit of Truth will share what comes from God.  Speak what He hears.

We are not lacking Jesus, two thousand years after His lifetime here.  Jesus died, then came back to life, and then left this earthly life, yes.  But God is still with us, Emmanuel. In Spirit. As a wise old pastor, John Bartol, says: the Holy Spirit is like another Jesus.  One with us here, always.  

I am excited here when I see you being stirred up, stirred up to do good.  Stirred up by the Spirit? Yes.

At least three of you – who are seniors – are interested in making some good things happen for seniors. Let’s get together and make things happen.

A group of you are serving and training to help with our children on Sundays. We’re off to a good start.

A couple of you are planning to start a new small group in the fall for care and sharing and support of one another.  

A few of you are keen to learn – to learn basics about the Bible, to learn prayer; or to find ways to have deep conversations and be well fed.  

A group of you are getting on board to help our newcomer friends from Syria bring some of their family members here.  

And a number of you are thinking creatively about how we finance what we do together here.

It is not just our Baptist Convention, CBAC, that is prompting us to be a mission station based in downtown Digby.  God the Spirit is in our moves, our motives, our minds, our melting hearts.

A turning point can come when we feel a crisis coming on, and turn to God.  When we wait together for the Spirit to fill and fulfill.

And at the turning point, we can join in, and become one of the 300 ‘Mission Edge’ Baptist Churches.  A local group that knows we are here and we are together to make a difference among the people of Digby County, and beyond.  A group that can consider changes and make hard choices for the sake of our good work with God. A group that joins the 3000 people praying over the next six years for 3000 people to come to faith in Christ.  

We are at a turning point.  Will we turn?


Things She Told Me

(Proverbs 8:1-11; 1 John 5:9-13) – J G White
11 am, Sunday, May 13, 2018 – UBC Digby

Good, better, best
Never let it rest,
Until the good is better
And the better is best!     Barbara Baptiste Opheim

Mother’s Day may be a good time to consider the wisdom women in our lives have offered us.  Back at the turn of the millenium, I bought a book called ‘Sayings From Wise People,’ complied by Hattie Dyck, a former Bureau Chief for the Chronicle- Herald.  Here is a sampling of that wisdom…

Anything well dreaded is already half done.
Janice Franklin
Many times we don’t know what we don’t know.
Pam Harrison
What you think about, you bring about.
Dalene Allen
Don’t swim with your fin out of the water.
Dr. Lorna Butler
She’s a little big feeling. (= she’s stuck up)
Peggy Andrews
If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.
Gloria Kelly
Too much sunshine makes a desert.
Barbara Holland
She’s about as much fun as a bent nail.
Peggy MacLeod

Wisdom, ah, wisdom.  Long have we sought thee.  In Proverbs 8 (and other places in scripture) Wisdom is personified as a woman. We see her, calling out on the streets of town to those who do not know her.
Does not wisdom call,
   and does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights, beside the way,
   at the crossroads she takes her stand
Wisdom, she has been with us forever.  In verses 22, 29 and 30 she declares:
The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
   the first of his acts of long ago.
…when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
    then I was beside him, like a master worker…

But we people, we are not always in touch with Lady Wisdom.  Someone once said ‘common sense is so rare it gets mistaken for genius!’

Wisdom is all about how to live life, right?  According to the Alban Institute, the primary question unchurched people are asking is “How can my life work better?”  Dennis Bickers asks, Is the church helping them answer that question, or is it trying to answer questions people aren’t asking?  (Bickers, The Healthy Small Church, 2005, p. 116)

I find what matters to people is this very thing.  How can my life work better? A man in his forties comes to me seeking counsel, wondering if what he is doing is the right approach with a personal problem.  A woman in her thirties contacts me, wondering out loud what she can possibly do about a troubling family situation. A friend in her forties meets with me to express her frustration with the people she volunteers with in her community, wondering what to do with the negative attitudes.  

What can I do?  How can my life work better?

Wisdom for our lives comes to us from many sources.  Not just from a local pastor or counsellor. All of life is our teacher. Even every person.

Today, I can reflect on things she told me, my mother.  Sometimes with her words, mostly with her life and her own way of doing things.
‘Take part in church.’  Not so much by her words, by by example and action.
‘Read.  Read what interests you.’  Again, this is by Joan’s example.
One thing I do remember her speaking, from time to time, “Look under things.”  

The simplest lessons from childhood take on profound meaning as life goes on.  But not every bit of advice is excellent, not all is wisdom.

Sometimes we get alarmed at what we are told.  Or we misunderstand the signs, and over-react. The folk tale of Henny Penny comes to mind.  An acorn falls on her head, and she sounds the alarm all over that the sky is falling, the world is ending!

It ain’t so, as we know. But panic is a common human response.  And in our present culture of fear, we unknowingly get trained to over react.  Social media these days are filled with warnings. If we believed them all we might hide in a room forever!
Cancer-linked glyphosate found in Cheerios, Doritos, Oreos, and More
If you see this black stuff in the grass, burn it!!!  It is tick eggs!
Doctors Warn: If you use aluminium foil, stop it right now and this is the reason why

It takes some wisdom to sort out what is good advice and what is ‘fake news.’  What is wisdom and what is not.  Perhaps it comes down to the source.  Where is a particular bit of guidance coming from?  

In our faith tradition we have God’s wisdom come to us in many ways.  We have, of course, words of wisdom in our sacred scripture.

We have life in this world that instructs us.  Proverbs 8 poetically speaks of all the world operating with wisdom, and so from creation we learn.

And we have the wisest of people to guide us, from the rulers who rule to the prophets who proclaim the way ahead, to our own mothers and fathers and friends.  

It want to transition to Jesus now, since we heard Bible words about Him also today.  I found my transition Friday evening at the Wolfville Baptist Church. There, one of two massive, stained-glass windows has Jesus as King.  He wears a crown, holds a sovereign’s orb in his hand – a jeweled ball with a cross on it – and is He worshipped by angels and saints. And on a scroll is written this scripture above Jesus’ head: ‘By Me Kings Reign.’  That’s from Proverbs 8: verse 15. The words of Woman Wisdom, ‘By me kings reign.’

By wisdom rulers govern; by Christ they rule well.  The feminine Divine image of Wisdom is brought together with the Messiah, Christ.  

In Christ is our life.  The eternal kind of life, eternal quality of life.  As 1st John 5 puts it, Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts.  And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  Whoever has the Son has life. (1 Jn 5:10a, 11, 12a)  

The Wisdom Woman of Proverbs 8 also says this.  “Whoever finds me finds life and obtains favour from the LORD.”  Vs. 35.

We worship and serve because we have life from God.  We seek and pray because we want to know how to have this eternal life, that lives in us here and now.  In contemporary form we heard ‘Amazing Grace’ again this morning. Grace is always about something bigger than us being given to us.  Life, life at its best, is what is given, in Wisdom, in Christ, in God.

The final verse I read from this New Testament letter says, I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.   Now, the author was not writing to dead people.  He was writing to the living. He did not say he wrote so they may know they will have eternal life, in the future.  He wrote so that they may know that they have eternal life, in their present.  

With all this in view we consider our role as evangelists, those who share something good with others.  Sundar Singh simplified evangelism this way: ‘sharing the Gospel is simply one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.’ A word in 1 John that we use for this is testimony.  Like testimony in a court of law, in day to day life we simply tell what we know, what we have seen and experienced.  

The model used so successfully in the first century is the model that is most appropriate for the small church today.  In healthy small churches people are brought to faith in Christ by being brought into the family of faith. Although it does not reach large numbers of people at one time, it’s very effective. (Dennis Bickers, The Healthy Small Church, 2005, p. 117)  Christian Faith gets born and grows in relationships.  It happens with the people we know because they know us.  They know you, they know me, and they find that amazing grace, they find God.

Wisdom does call out in the streets, to you, to me.  This is testimony about God, Christ, eternal life now.  

The things she tells us, true Wisdom, will not lead us astray.

Unvitriolic Victory

(Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-6) – J G White
11 am, Sunday, May 6, 2018 – UBC Digby

I wandered into the woods.  It was a beautiful spring day.  Along a lake, I followed an ATV trail, as the birds were singing on every tree.  On a 24 hour silent retreat, I walked along up to a little cabin with the lovely name on it, Last Resort.  The door was unlocked.  A guest book on the table inside invited me to sign and leave a comment.  I did. Then I looked back and read other messages.

Among the happy entries by various people – some of them the owners, presumably – there were a few violent sentences.  Punctuated with the F-word, they screamed at those who had come along before and made a mess of things.

And then there were the comments five years ago by a DNR person checking in, who found the place to be in a mess, and declared that too much firewood was being cut on that crown land – the lease to have the cabin there would be cancelled!

Harsh talk is common in this life. Sometimes far too common.  The harshest criticism and most hateful, angriest words we call vitriolic.  A word that harkens back to sulfuric acid, actually.  Acidic, nasty words.

There are parts of scripture that Christians (and others) find hard to deal with and understand. For instance, I find the violent stories and vitriolic words hard to take.  At last week’s Pastors’ Retreat, during our 24 hours of silence, one spiritual exercise was to reflect on quotations about God’s presence from the OT. Psalm 68:2 was one of them.

As smoke is driven away,
So drive them away;
As wax melts before the fire,
So let the wicked perish at the presence of God.

Psalm 68 is mostly about God dealing with one’s enemies.  I read the whole Psalm – fairly long, 35 verses. Including verses 22 & 23:  

The Lord said, “I will bring back from Bashan,
I will bring them back from the depths of the sea,
That your foot may crush them in blood,
And the tongues of your dogs
may have their portion from your enemies.”

Such violent poetry is a challenge for us to cope with and to appreciate. Especially if we grow to understand God in nonviolent ways.  Jesus as Prince of peace; Spirit of gentleness; Father filled with compassion. Jesus is the lens through whom we read the Bible.

1 John 5:4b say: “And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.” There is an element in Christian faith and belief and worship that is all about victory.  God wins victories, and God’s people get to enjoy those victories.  Sometimes we sing these verses: Faith is the victory, faith is the victory,
O glorious victory that overcomes the world.

About eighty-five years ago, Baptist Preacher Harry Emerson Fosdick, published a collection of his sermons, called: “The Secret of Victorious Living.”  

It is, in 1 John 5, faith that is victorious.  Not physical armies. Not correct thinking.  Not powerful authorities. Not being the best or the rightest or the worthiest.  The story of the victory of our faith is celebrated among us here today.  Jesus faced injustice, abuse, and execution by submitting to it. Not by fight- ing it. He didn’t fight fire with fire. He burned up.

One temptation, when we feel we are on the right side, the side of victory, is to be violent in our talk, even vitriolic, against others.  This happens as much in religion as in family or politics, or any part of life.

A number of decades ago, Psychologist Marshall Rosenberg coined the term, Nonviolent Communication, and spent his career developing ways to train people to speak in what he claimed were non-violent ways.   It is all about stating feelings and needs, and making clear requests of others. It is all about listening to others for their real feelings and needs.  Violent communication, on the other hand, makes judgments or comparisons, and denies one’s own responsibility.

Rosenberg gives this example about taking responsibility for your own actions. Once, during a discussion among parents and teachers on the dangers of language that implies absence of choice, a woman objected angrily, “But there are some things you have to do whether you like it or not!  And I see nothing wrong with telling my children that there are things they have to do, too.” Asked for an example of something she “had to do” she retorted, “That’s easy! When I leave here tonight, I have to go home and cook.  I hate cooking! I hate it with a passion, but I have been doing it every day for twenty years, even when I’ve been as sick as a dog, because it’s one of those things you just have to do.” I told her I was sad to hear her spending so much of her life doing something she hated, because she felt compelled to, and I just hoped that she might find happier possibilities by learning the language of NVC.  

I am pleased to report she was a fast learner.  At the end of the workshop, she actually went home and announced to her family that she no longer wanted to cook.  The opportunity for some feedback from her family came three weeks later when her two sons arrived at a workshop. I was curious to know how they had reacted to their mother’s announcement.  The elder son sighed, “Marshall, I just said to myself, ‘Thank God!’” Seeing my puzzled look, he explained, “I thought to myself, maybe finally she won’t be complaining at every meal!” (NVC, 2nd Ed., ‘03, pp.20-21)  

Sharon and I got introduced to Nonviolent Communication about eight years ago when a fellow from a nearby Baptist Church gave a two part training session in it at our Church.  We can explore these tools here, if some people are interested.

Our Model in all this is, of course, our Saviour.  In Him we find our inner Trainer in human relationships.  Healthy talk. Nonviolent Communication. Love. The violence and vitriol He faced was tremendous.  Remember the time, in his hometown, the crowd wanted to throw Jesus over a cliff – kill him! What does Luke 4:30 tell us?  He passed through the midst of them and went on his way.  Or one day when he taught in the Temple in Jerusalem.  The religious leaders were angry enough to kill him. John 8:59 tells us they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

And at the Table here we remember the time Jesus faced violence by going right through it to death itself.  

Jesus’ victory – and ours – is not vitriolic.  Not violent. Not angry. Not nasty in the face of opposition.  Not even with an air of superiority. With humility Christ submitted and died.  

Looking to Him, the Pioneer and Perfecter of our Faith, we shall have the same mind, humbling ourselves to victorious living.  Amen.