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?

AMEN.

If I Live and Nothin’ Happens…

(Philippians 1:21-30; John 14:8-14) J G White
Sunday, Sept 24, 2017, UBC Digby

Ralph is a wise and kind man.  In early retirement he returned to live in his hometown, small town Nova Scotia.  And though he’d had a career away in northern Ontario, Ralph still had all the old-fashioned language he had grown up with in his hometown in the 1940s.  All the sayings of the old-timers.  “Fill yer boots.” “A word to the wise is sufficient.”  “If I live and nothin’ happens…”

No wonder Ralph talked about what he planned for the spring of the year with the preface, “if I live and nothing happens.”  When he was still a little gaffer, an older brother was on a school field trip along the seashore, when a rockfall came down and killed him and another boy.  A few years later, Ralph’s older sister and her husband, and another family member, were in a car that went off the bridge in town and into the tide.  The three adults drowned; Ralph’s baby nephew was saved.  And Ralph himself was almost killed in a serious vehicle accident up on Ontario that ended his working career early.  No wonder he made all his plans in terms of “if I live and nothing happens.”

Ralph’s frequent phrase came to mind as I pondered those famous words of the apostle Paul, “For me, to live is Christ; to die is gain.”  Missionary Paul was aware that death could come at any time.

We know life is fragile… ‘handle with prayer!’
Maureen Potter suddenly gone.  A friend of Sharon and mine, Rev. Clarence Bungay suddenly gone last week.  Constable Frank Deschenes killed suddenly.
Disasters in Mexico, the Caribbean, Florida, etc.  
So, if I live and nothing happens… what will I do?
If I live after something happens… what will I do?

“To live is Christ, to die is Gain.”  There is no third option.  No living without serving God because you are hurt or disabled or almost destroyed.

That was Paul’s experience.  Here he was, writing a letter from his prison cell.  We can’t even tell for sure what prison he was in.  But he writes this letter to the Church in the town of Philippi; it’s his most joyful, happy letter of all!  

Yet, he is ready to be dead. It’s possible.  He is also ready to be alive and do more.  This letter, in and of itself, has been inspiring people for almost the past 2000 years.

I think it was the Moravian Christians who had this symbol:  An Ox between a plow and an ax: ready for either – to work or to die.  Such was Paul’s life. Such is any believer’s life, with Christ, in Christ.  

If you live to suffer through another day, what is your calling?  What will you do?
If you survive this week, or next month, or until next year, what will you do?

It is said there are things worse than death.  And it is what we do when life is rotten that can be truly beautiful.  People go on to live for Christ after physical disability or after disaster comes along.  After emotional trauma makes it so that life is never quite the same again.  After they have been hurt by the Church, by God’s own people.  After they have failed or done terrible things.  
After such things… what is your calling?  Your mission from God?  Your purpose?

Sadly, many people do not find that “to live is Christ.”  To live is just pointless, and what has happened makes them useless to Jesus now.  So they feel.  Many believe their life is wrecked when it comes to being on God’s team.
But in God’s world, this need not be true.  

I wonder about a pastor friend who left ministry last year because he was finally caught in a long-term affair with a church member.  He may be going back into ministry, in another province.  
I wonder about a brilliant retired friend who did time a couple years ago for an abusive moment with his little grand-daughter.  His isolation now is extreme.
I wonder about people like Truena Raymond, with her delightful sense of humour that still shines through, and Christian faith, despite the ravages of dementia to her memory and thinking.
I wonder about many people.  
God isn’t finished with them yet.

The late Henry Nouwen, Catholic pastor and author, is known as a wounded healer.  That’s the title of one of his books, The Wounded Healer.  In it, he tells this story from the Talmud, that classic collection of Jewish wisdom.

Rabbi Yoshua ben Levi came upon Elijah the prophet while he was standing at the entrance of Rabbi Simeron ben Yohai’s cave… He asked Elijah, “When will the Messiah come?”
Elijah replied, “Go and ask him yourself.”
“Where is he?”
“Sitting at the gates of the city.”
“How shall I know him?”
“He is sitting among the poor covered with wounds. The others unbind all their wounds at the same time and then bind them up again. But he unbinds one at a time and binds it up again, saying to himself, ‘Perhaps I shall needed: if so I must always be ready so as not to delay for a moment.’”

Nouwen concludes: The Messiah, the story tells us, is sitting among the poor, unbinding his wounds only one at a time, always prepared for the moment when he might be needed. So it is too, with ministers. [Since it is their task to make visible the first vestiges of liberation for others, they must bind their own wounds carefully, in anticipation of the moment when they will be needed.]

They are each called to be the wounded healer, the ones who must not only look after their own wounds, but at the same time be prepared to heal the wounds of others. They are both wounded ministers and healing ministers. (pp. 87-88)

Some of our wounds are from things that hit us from outside, and some wounds are self-inflicted.  It is we, all the saints, who have the work of the ministry.  It is wonderful Good News from our Messiah that each and every one of us can be a wounded healer.  

Paul, of old, was definitely a suffering man.  He wrote at the start of his letter, Philippians,
I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ. (1:12-13)  

In the middle of great limitations and dangers, Paul was continuing to do what he could.  And though here, he seems to be talking about suffering unjustly for what he has done for Jesus, we also have hints of Paul’s other struggles.  In Romans chapter 7 he exclaims:  I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (7:15, 24)

He found his answer in Christ Jesus.  And Paul went on to do great things for God.  We also have the work of Jesus to do.  As we are.

We heard from Jesus, in John 14, today.  I see at least three big ideas here: If you see Me, you see the Father.
You will do greater works than mine.
Ask for anything, and I will do it.
Jesus saying to His people: ‘You will do greater things than what you have seen Me do.’  Really?  Wow!

Let me end with a striking word picture by Max Lucado, talking of “holiness in a bathrobe.”

When your world touches God’s world, the result is a holy moment. When God’s high hope kisses your hurt, that moment is holy. And I’d like to talk to you about the holiest moment of your life.

No, not your birth. Not your wedding. Not the birth of a child. I’m talking about the holiest moment of your life.  These other moments are special. They sparkle with reverence.  But compared to this moment, they are about as holy a burp. I’m talking about the sacred hour. No, not your baptism… [Not your first Communion or your first confession or even your first date.  I know those moments are precious and certainly sacrosanct, but I’ve a different moment in mind.]

It happened this morning. Right after you awoke. Right in your house. Did you miss it? Let me recreate the scene.

The alarm rings… You’ve already hit the sleeper button three times; hit again and you’ll be late. The hour has come. Daybreak has broken. So, with, a groan and a grunt, you throw back the covers and kick a warm foot out into a cold world.

[You stand. At that moment, everything that will hurt during the course of the day hurts. It’s as if the little person in your brain that’s in charge of pain needs to test the circuits before you make it to the bathroom.]

With the grace of a pregnant elephant, you step toward bathroom. You wish there is some way to turn on the light slowly, but there isn’t. So you slap on the spotlight, blink as your eyes adjust, and step up to the bathroom sink.

You are approaching the sacred.  The holiest moment of your life is about to occur. (Get ready. Here it comes. The holy moment is nigh.)

Look in the mirror. Behold the holy one. Don’t turn away. The image of perfection is looking back at you. The holy moment has arrived.

I know what you are thinking. You call that “holy”? You call that “perfect”? You don’t know what I took like at [8:00] A.M.

No, but I can guess.  Hair matted.  Pajamas or nightgown wrinkled. Chunks of sleep stuck in the corners of your eyes. Belly bulging, dried-out lips, pudgy eyes. Breath that could stain a wall. A face that could scare a dog.

“Anything but holy,” you say. [“Give me an hour and I’ll look holy. Give me some coffee, some makeup.”]

But there’s where you’re wrong. You see, what makes the morning moment so holy is its honesty. What makes the morning mirror hallowed is that you are seeing exactly who God sees.
And who God loves.
Just you.

“He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy,” [scripture says.] (Hebrews 10:14)

Now I realize that there’s a sense in which we’re imperfect, says Lucado. We still err. We still stumble. We still do exactly what we don’t want to do. And that part of us is, according to the verse, “being made holy.”

But when it comes to our position before God, we’re perfect. When he sees each of us, he sees one who has been made perfect through the One who is perfect-Jesus Christ.

Go ahead and get dressed. Go ahead and put on the rings, shave the whiskers, comb the hair, and cover the moles. Do it for yourself. Do it for the sake of your image. Do it keep your job. Do it for the benefit of those who have to sit beside you. But don’t do it for God.

[God] has already seen you as you really are. And in [God’s] book, you are perfect. (Lucado, In the Eye of the Storm, 1991, pp. 229-233)

If you live and nothin’ happens, may your life be Christ, in, with and for Christ.  If you live after something happens, may you still be beautiful for God.

Spirit of Belonging

Pentecost Sunday,  May 15, 2016, 11 AM, UBC Digby

J G White (Romans 8:14-17; John 14:8-17, 25-27)

Years ago, writer Frederick Buechner said, the word spirit has come to mean something pale and shapeless, like an unmade bed.  School spirit, [the spirit of giving,] the Christmas spirit, the Spirit of ‘76, the Holy Spirit – each of these points to something you know is supposed to get you to your feet cheering…  (Wishful Thinking, 1972, p. 90)

“God is Spirit,” Jesus said, “and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.”  (John 4:24) This is the cheering we do on our feet, in the Spirit of God.

As we follow the calendar of the Church Year, after seven Sundays of Easter we come to today: Pentecost.  The celebration of a special arrival of the Holy Spirit, and the birth of the Christian Church.  

There are many things we could say about the Holy Spirit, who He is and what He is like.  Jesus made quite a few promises to his closest disciples about this Presence of God who would come to be with them, once He had left.  A few we heard again today were these:

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth

The Holy Spirit abides The Holy Spirit is forever

The Holy Spirit is given/sent

The Holy Spirit teaches The Holy Spirit reminds

This is how Jesus promised to be with His own into the future – into today.  As another Person of God.  This Divine Holy Spirit. We call Jesus, Emmanuel: God with us. And now that He has left, God is still with us. The Spirit has come.  

Our other scripture reading today takes us into the theme of how we find that we belong.  We belong in the universe.  We belong to God.  We belong .  And this Holy Spirit is The Spirit of Belonging.  

Peter Schazzero’s book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality lists these parts of being well on the inside as we walk with our Master. We gain a more biblical self-understanding:

I am worthy to assert  my God-given power in the world.

I am entitled to exist.  It is good that I exist.

I have my own identity from God that is distinct and unique.  

To know we belong to Christ, we are told that we have become Children of God.  With Jesus, you are a child of the King.  Look around: there are other children of God sitting around you here today!

It happened again this week.  On Wednesday, at the Valley Regional Hospital, a baby was born.  A nine pound boy.  His name is Blake Stevens… His mother is a youth pastor.  Now, she goes on maternity leave, and Sharon White takes over and fills in with that ministry.

So, Sharon and I went in yesterday and met Blake Stevens, three days old.  He slept for us while we were there, while we took turns holding him.  

Sharon asks, well, what so many ask.  Who do people say he looks like?  Mom, or Dad?  A grandparent maybe?  Already, family and friends want to see a resemblance.

If you are God’s… how do you resemble Him?  Even some pets seem to resemble their owners; have you come to resemble your Master, your Brother, Jesus?  We become like those we belong to, we have a common glow, a shared spirit, a family resemblance.  Because we belong.

We belong in Jesus’ family, for we were given Not a Spirit of Slavery, Not a Spirit of Fear.  To be forced into Christianity is not Christianity at all.  To be scared into the Kingdom is far from the best way to enter the gates.  Those who start their faith journey out of fear must grow from there and find their true belonging.  Years ago, many evangelicals did start turning to God out of fear: fear of evil and death and hell and various terrors.

A Baptist writer I appreciate a lot is Calvin Miller.  He has written quite a bit about cultivating the inner life.  But his beginnings were typical of the revival meetings of the mid twentieth century.

Young Calvin was at a revival meeting in the south.  At the end, he says they began to sing “Oh Why Not Tonight?”  It seemed an honest question unblemished by the adenoidal also harmony that always marked our singing of the invitation.  “Step forward to the altar, so you’ll never have to sept into hell,” shouted the buckskinned evangelist above the plaintive singing.  

The burden was immense, says Miller. I broke into tears.  Emotion burned like fire through the sawdust chips.  

Hell, dark as a gospel tent in a power outage, suddenly gaped like a black hole before me.  I stood weeping, naked, foolish, and undone.  I knew not when Christ would come!  Lucky for me they sang the invitation: “Oh, do not let the Word depart, and close thine eyes against the light, poor sinner harden not your heart, be saved, oh, tonight.”

I had no choice.  I must fly now to the arms of Jesus.  I did. Wonder of wonder, he did all the hymn said.  He snatched my feet from the [miry] clay and set me on the rock.  I changed categories.  I was saved. (Stories for the Christian Year, Collier Books, 1992, pp. 156-7)

The Spirit has moved in many ways in many a heart, and use many methods.  And there can be a sense of belonging among those with such experience as that of Calvin Miller’s.  But we discover, later, the Holy One gives us not a spirit of slavery or a spirit of fear.  We are blessed with A Spirit of Adoption.

I don’t know about human adoption.  No one in my immediate family was adopted, actually.  I know there are varying degrees of a child feeling he or she belongs, when the child has been adopted into a family.  At best, the word ‘adopted’ stops being used, and the child is simply a child, and the parents are the parents.  So it is with God.  So it should be in God’s Church.  This is divine adoption.

Many of us have pet peeves.  You know, those things that others do and we find it annoying, we find fault with it, we find we have to complain about these things that keep happening.  Perhaps pet peeves tell more about the person that has them than the things we complain about.

One of my pet peeves: clubs/groups/churches not being welcoming.  There is a danger in a close-knit group that, well, it becomes such a family of everyone knowing everyone, that new people can’t break into it.  

I always think back to a club I joined for a while, years ago.  It was a nature club in a town, and at the meetings guest speakers would talk about birds, or plants, or insects, or some other animal, or the night sky, or geology… something in the natural environment.  

It is a big nature club.  And I would go to a meeting.

The people there, in the room, before the meeting started, would be talking with each other.  They all seemed to know one another and be very happy.  But they did not know me.  No one greeted me.  No one seemed interested.  No one welcomed me.  

It’s time for the meeting to start.  A man comes front and centre in the room, and says welcome to all.  He never tells what his name is, or what he is.  Perhaps he is the President of the Club.  I don’t know, but everyone else does, I guess, and probably knows him by name.

The fellow at the front says things like, “If you need to renew your membership dues, see Harold.”  Who is Harold?  What does he look like?  Is he in the room?  The club all knows who Harold is, but a newcomer like me sure doesn’t. I did not feel like I could belong.

Lots of clubs, with their monthly meetings, and churches that meet weekly, can act like this.  They know the routine, they all know one another; they don’t know how to act to welcome someone in.  A newcomer has to take a lot of initiative to get into such an ‘old boys club.’

The fellowship the Spirit of God creates is a real adoption.  The true and living Church of Jesus Christ is an adopting reality – and every single child has been adopted in.  Some of the local chapters of the Church in various villages have becomes so much family that they are practically closed to strangers – but what the Spirit works to do is welcome people in and make them know they belong.  

At the heart of this is what the Spirit does personally.

The Spirit bears witness with our spirit

This is personal, inner contact.  

Alfred Ackley’s 1933 hymn declares:

He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today!

…You ask me how I know He lives?

He lives within my heart.

To believe in God is, in the end, to know God personally.  To have our own experience with the Creator, the Saviour, the Spirit.  There is something quite deep, in the inner life of you and me, where the Spirit meets us.  We speak of our own heart, mind, soul, spirit.  It is there that we have times we know are with the heart of God, the mind of Christ, the Holy Spirit.  And the better we are in touch with our own inner life, the better we can be in fellowship with God.

I am very grateful for the time away a couple weeks ago for the pastor’s retreat.  The theme of this quiet time, for nine pastors, was Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.  The purpose was for us simply to spend time with our God.  In my time seeking to be with the Spirit, I wondered about how to make better use of my times alone.  I have time every week when I walk alone, hiking somewhere, seeing beautiful sights, observing the plants, the birds, and so forth.  But seldom am I consciously praying or am aware of God.  So I asked the Spirit for some ways – some blessings – to take with me whenever I go off somewhere quiet and lovely.  Some ways to be ready to meet the Master when I am out there.  Maybe I have been given a few hints.

Your personal experiences with God can be cultivated too.  The truly special holy moments are important, but day by day, week by week, it is so good to be seeking the Spirit, and be reminded of the One to whom we belong.

And so, we who are in Jesus are Heirs of God and Joint Heirs with Christ.  The Family of God – created by God – does not have the inheritance problems human families sometimes have.  You know, the sad squabbles over how people got treated, or favoured, or who inherited what in the will.  How many times have brothers and sisters fought and quit speaking to one another over some money someone thought was there to inherit, when in fact there was actually just about nothing.  

The riches of the heavenly kingdom, and God’s provision of grace for this lifetime and the next is inexhaustible.  We are not about to run out of grace, and the heavenly mansions are not about to get booked to capacity. Despite the beliefs of some sects thru the years that heaven has room for only 144,000 people, there will one day be ‘a great multitude which no one can count,’ crying out, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb.”  (Revelation 8:9&10)

We are, as we sang, joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod, for we’re part of the Family, the Family of God.  

And in this eternal family, like any family, we know the pains and the joys of the best pathway.  We share the experiences of Suffering and Glory with Jesus, the great Suffering Servant, now glorified.  May we always be filled with the Spirit as we look to Him.