field of mustard, mustard seed, humble, humility, noble cedar, cedar trees, evergreen, faith, growth, branch, uprooted, chopped down, defeated

“A noble cedar or a humble mustard seed?”

A few months ago I threw some avocado seeds into my compost bin, and now I’ve discovered I have a beautiful avocado seedling growing in my compost.  I’ve very happy about that – but all I did was throw it away! I was expecting to make compost, but now I am very pleased that I need to ask Alexis to locate a great place to plant an avocado tree.  And we all know how big an avocado tree can get.  So, I’m not sure where that avocado tree will get planted, but I am pretty sure that it will produce some great avocados!Read More »

Sermon: Abundance of Grace

How many of you are awake this morning?  I’m looking for a show of hands here…

How many of you were awake while Betsy read the 7 verses from Romans 5: 12-17?  English Standard Version.  It seems amazing that the entire message of the Bible, from Genesis to the end,  is found here, all summed up neatly in seven verses.

If you all understood it, I don’t need to give you this sermon, and we can go straight to the offertory (we’ll skip the prayers) and then head downstairs to the coffee break.  How does that sound?

How many of you think you don’t need to hear this sermon?

How many of you think you can stay awake until I finish the sermon?

We’ll see how you all go with that, shall we?  …

This morning I’m going to take you on an intellectual (read: scientific journal mumbo jumbo), winding maze through one of the toughest texts that I’ve ever had to prepare for.

I am going to try to give you an explanation that you can hopefully understand…  although I am going to rely a bit on my high-school science as it relates to DNA sequencing in the human body and a very basic knowledge of NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming).

I want to start with the idea of the “Original Sin” and the effect of that “Original Sin” on mankind and how that is passed down from generation to generation.  Verse 12 of Romans 5 starts with

“just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men”

We’ve all been taught that Adam had everything he needed to live eternally, but that because of his sin in the garden of Eden, life becomes finite instead of infinite – death enters the world.

And I want to add to that mix the verse from Exodus 34:7 (ESV) that says:

Keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

And I’ve wondered to myself how that might be possible on a molecular and physical level – can science explain what the Bible says happened to Adam because of sin and to all mankind, through the passing of the sin from generation to generation?  How does Adam’s bad nature get down to me all these millennia later? Well, some say, it’s like pollution or poison poured into a river. If a company dumps hundreds of liters of mercury into a river, then no matter how far downstream you go, you still get mercury poisoning.

Now – today I’m not going to give you a definition of sin – or even discuss what Adam’s sin was – trying to become like God, transgressing the Commandment God gave him, or whether sin is simply missing the mark of the most perfect version of yourself that God created you to be (like the archer that fails to hit the target).

What I want to look at is the effect that sin has upon us, as a human race, and then briefly touch about the gift of Abundance of Grace that we are promised in Romans 5: 17.

Our bodies have 3 billion genetic building blocks, or base pairs, that make us who we are. And we are somewhere between 99.5 to 99.9% similar to the person next to us.  A printed version of your entire genetic code would occupy some 262,000 pages! Of those pages, only some 500 would be unique to you. So how much of that do you think you inherited from 20 generations back?  How similar does that make you to the person sitting behind you?

And it seems that in 2017, scientists are getting closer to having the answers as they study the effects of stress and life-styles on our DNA codes and sequencing.  And now it seems that there is a reason for this, on 2 levels: epigenetics and the shortening of our telomeres (the protective casing at the end of a strand of DNA).   The field of epigenetics refers to the science that studies how the development, functioning and evolution of biological systems are influenced by forces operating outside the DNA sequence, including intracellular, environmental and energetic influences (and by energetic, I also mean the emotional forces that affect our bodies organs, such as when we get angry, are upset, or stressed and tired, especially for long periods of time).

Since the 1970s, researchers had known that the tightly wound spools of DNA inside each cell’s nucleus require something extra to tell them exactly which genes to transcribe, whether for a heart cell, a liver cell or a brain cell.

One such extra element is the methyl group, a common structural component of organic molecules. The methyl group works like a placeholder in a cookbook, attaching to the DNA within each cell to select only those recipes —  genes — necessary for that particular cell’s proteins. Because methyl groups are attached to the genes, residing beside but separate from the double-helix DNA code.  Originally these changes were believed to occur only during fetal development. But it has already been shown that DNA can be added to in adulthood, setting off a cascade of cellular changes resulting in cancer, diabetes or other illnesses.  Not only that, but epigenetic change could be passed down from parent to child, one generation after the next (hence you find the reference in the Bible that the sins of the fathers are passed down to the son to the third and fourth generations). A study from Randy Jirtle of Duke University showed that when female mice are fed a diet rich in methyl groups, the fur pigment of subsequent offspring is permanently altered. Just by playing with the diet, they could alter the colour of the fur of the mice.  Now, what if emotions, such as guilt, could play a similar role?

The medical field has already shown that stress has this particular effect.  Telomeres are a protective casing at the end of a strand of DNA. Each time a cell divides, it loses a bit of its telomeres. An enzyme called telomerase can replenish it, but chronic stress and cortisol exposure decrease your supply. When the telomere is too diminished, the cell often dies or becomes pro-inflammatory. This sets the aging process in motion, along with associated health risks.

Now we all know that old wives tale that tells a young pregnant woman not to cry during the pregnancy because her child will bear the effects of it through their entire life – but now science is beginning to understand that the negative effects of stress begin before conception.  A baby’s intrauterine environment is shaped by a mom’s pre-existing physical health. There have also been several studies looking at maternal health and telomeres in offspring: the higher a mom’s prenatal anxiety, the shorter the baby’s telomere length (i.e. the shorter the life span).

According to the new insights of behavioral epigenetics, traumatic experiences in our past, or in our recent ancestors’ past, leave molecular scars adhering to our DNA. Jews whose great-grandparents were chased from their Russian shtetls; a child whose grandparents lived through the ravages of a Revolution; young immigrants whose parents survived massacres; anyone who grew up with alcoholic or abusive parents — all carry with them more than just memories.

So what on earth does any of all this scientific mumbo jumbo have to do with the “Original Sin”, and Paul’s discussion of the original Adam and the posterior Adam (Jesus)?

Well, for starters – it explains how our genetic make up is affected by our habits, our environment, our diet, our stress, and even the stress and anxiety of being ashamed, berating ourselves, or failing to accept God’s forgiveness of our sins.  It explains how any resentment, bitterness or anger that we carry towards another person, when we fail to forgive, affects us to the most innermost of our being as David describes in the Psalms.

1. Your beliefs influence your behavior.  

One of the most basic ways that beliefs can shape reality is through their influence on behavior—no quantum physics or molecular genetics knowledge required.  Beliefs about your basic character—who you are as a person on a fundamental level—can be especially powerful. Research suggests that while guilt (feeling that you did a bad thing) can motivate self-improvement, shame (such as that felt by Adam & Eve in the garden), tends to create a self-fulfilling prophecy, reducing hope and undermining efforts to change, leaving you stuck in the rut of the very behavior you are ashamed of.

And your behavior will directly impact you with respect to your habits, whether they are good habits, or bad habits.

2. Your feelings directly affect your DNA:   

“When we have negative emotions such as anger, anxiety and dislike or hate, or think negative thoughts such as ‘I hate my job,’ ‘I don’t like so and so’ or ‘Who does he think he is?’, we experience stress and our energy reserves are redirected,” and I’m not talking about a positive redirecting. Part of our energy reserves, which otherwise would be put to work maintaining, repairing and regenerating our complex biological systems, which you probably know as your “body”, are used to confront the stresses these negative thoughts and feelings create, leaving your body unattended.

On another level, science is now beginning to understand that humans have multiple brains: the one you know in your head, your heart brain (which generates much of your energy field), and your gut brain.  So, when you are feeling heavy-hearted, what effect is this physically having on your DNA and body – how is it affecting the helix structure of your DNA strands?  When you are in a gut-wrenching panic or suffering constant anxiety, what effect is this having on the nutrients that are getting to your cells and DNA on a molecular level?

3. You may choose, or not, to accept the abundance of God’s grace:   

The entire Bible is about the transformation of man… having been made perfect, having become imperfect, and having reached perfection once more in the person of Jesus Christ.  Having loved perfectly: God and others – fulfilling the 2 greatest laws of the Bible:  To Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind & strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself.  And how Jesus came to make the way for us to become perfect also in Him, breaking the curses so that they are no longer passed down to future generations, allowing us to re-write the code and become truly transformed, by the renewing of our mind (which will, of course, affect our bodies and even down to our DNA).

There is only one question:  are you willing to allow God’s grace to truly sweep through your life and transform you: To practice abiding in His presence on a daily basis until you reach a level of peace that transcends all human understanding, guarding your heart and mind in His love? 

Let’s pray.

 

Sources and further reading:

Sermon: the Helper

Lectionary Genesis 2:18-24

A HELPER WHO IS “JUST RIGHT”

You’ve all heard the 10 reasons why God created, Eve, right?

  1. God worried that Adam would always be lost in the garden because He knew men would never ask for directions.
  2. God knew that Adam would one day need someone to hand him the TV remote because men don’t want to see what is on TV; they want to see WHAT ELSE is on TV.
  3. God knew that Adam would never2. buy a new fig leaf when the seat wore out and therefore would need Eve to get one for him.
  4. God knew that Adam would never make a doctor’s appointment for himself.
  5. God knew that Adam would never remember which night was garbage night.
  6. God knew that if the world was to be populated there would have to someone to bear children because men would never be able to handle the pain of childbirth.
  7. As Keeper of the Garden Adam would never remember where he put his tools.
  8. The Scripture account of creation indicates that Adam needed someone to blame his troubles on when God caught him hiding in the garden.
  9. As the Bible says, “It is not good for man to be alone”, he only ends up getting himself in trouble.
    And the NUMBER ONE reason…
  10. When God finished the creation of Adam he stepped back, scratched his head and said, “I can do better than that.”

Seriously, there is so much debate now about the correct interpretation that we should give of the Creation story, and especially of the role and relationship between man and woman.  The Church is supposed to be shaped and guided by the Word of God, and yet it is clearly evident that our cultural norms and expectations have guided our interpretation of the Bible, and even come into play with respect to the translation of the Bible.

There is no question that gender issues have been shaped by our culture. In a patriarchal culture, the Church accepted and used passages of the Bible to justify male superiority and female servitude.As cultural views shifted, we have looked back at the translations and words used, and searched for a new understanding of the Bible – but we should ask ourselves, are we simply looking to once again “be right”, as opposed to being guided by the Word of God?  Are we simply now looking to justify a feminist or egalitarian perspective of the creation story that is acceptable in today’s society?  Or are we looking for the Bible to present to us an actual Biblical response to the question of “what is a Godly relationship between a man and woman?”

This morning, I would like to explore the verses of Genesis 2: 18 to 24, and  provide some insight regarding translation and meaning.  But this is merely one of many possible understandings and meanings that can be found, and I would venture to say only scratches the surface of a possibility of interpretations.  But there are lessons here for us!  While God created man & woman equally in His image, there is  no doubt that we are different – the same way that the males and females of all species are equal but different.

In Genesis 1 we find a chronological view of Creation – from day 1 in which God creates time, through to day 7 in which God rests.  On day 6, God is particularly busy, creating all creatures that habitat on land.  Great and small, he creates them, and when God is done, he declares that “it is good”. After this God – Elohim – the multiple nature of God, decides to create man in his image. God says:

“Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.”

And so, man is created, both male and female. In order to avoid confusion, I’m going to use the term “mankind” to refer to humans, and man to refer to the male gender.  To emphasize the godlike nature of mankind, God gives mankind dominion over the earth, and asks Adam to name all of the animals.

The creation story in Genesis 1 is repeated in Genesis 2, but told from a different perspective, demonstrating different facets of God’s character.  And so, in Genesis 2, we rewind a little, and are given more details regarding the creation of mankind, and in particular the differentiation of men and women.

Most versions of the Bible have simply translated verse 18 “It is no good for the human to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” or “a helper that is just right for him”. And because it was culturally acceptable and appropriate to define “helper” as an assistant or as subordinate to the man, the woman was interpreted as having a role of serving: somehow intended to be responsible for catering to the needs and demands of her husband.  Because if woman is the helper, man is the boss, right?   Even Paul says that the man is the head…

But much has been written about the translation of this section, especially regarding the original term “ezer” having been user rather than “azar”.  “Ezer”, with an e does not mean the same as “azar”. Azar does mean helper or servant, but ezer has a different meaning completely.

The word EZER is used in the Old Testament some 21 times, 2 in the context of Eve (women made in creation), 3 times in relation to man’s help and 16 in relation to God.  And the 3 times it’s used in relation to man’s help, it is referencing that help did not arrive such as that help which only God can provide.

So let’s see what other words and terms ARE used throughout the Old Testament that might have been used to describe women as servants or assistants, that would have clearly established woman’s role as being subservient to that of man:

  • The best word for helper or assistant in Hebrew is Azar – and it is used 82 times in the Old Testament, in contexts of helping, assisting or giving aid.  So, if God had wanted to say helper, he could simply have used this word, azar, instead of ezer, right?
  • And if we wanted to specify that woman was a servant-helper, a better word would have been ebed.  In fact, the word ebed is used over a thousand times in the Old Testament.  But that’s not what it says in Genesis 2.
  • Or then there’s the word sharath, which means high-ranking assistant, like Elisha was to Elijah, or like Joshua was to Moses.  But Genesis 2 doesn’t use sharath.

So, what does ezer mean, then?  Ezer is help from God: not only from a superior, but a miraculous help.  Divine intervention.

Before you go off thinking that women are witches and we really fly on broom sticks, let’s get into the translation issues a bit more closely.  Ezer means that God is the help.  Ezer conveys that it is never a servant, helper or assistant.

So, how does this help us?  Well, possibly because if we realise that this was Divine assistance, we will realise that maybe we’ve always been misunderstanding this verse.  It never was intended to say that the woman was the helper! In fact, it should not be ascribed to any human at all.  So, if she isn’t the helper, what did God make?  What does Genesis 2:18 refer to?

Let’s look quickly at the other word that rises in this verse – “suitable” or “right” or “companion”.  The word in Hebrew is kenegdo. Kenegdo arises from 2 words:  Neged refers to a mirror image or reflection, and ke refers to “himself” or “likeness”.  So, God has said he will make a likeness of his mirror image or reflection.  So, woman was supposed to be a mirror-image of man.

Going back in the verses in chapter 2 of Genesis we see what the story of the creation of Eve starts out with the only time God says about creation – “this ins’t good”.  And what isn’t good?  It’t not good that man is alone.  Man is incomplete – because unlike all of the creatures that he has just named, male and female, Adam is alone.

And so God says, I will help man by making his mirror likeness, a reflection of himself.  The solution for man’s loneliness is woman, made to reflect him. God did not create woman to be man’s servant, or assistant or subservient to him. He didn’t make Adam “the boss”.  But rather, God makes them one – flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone.  Equal and together. In harmony and communion.

But, as with the fall in Eden, the moment we allow our self-interest to get in the way, we start to run into  relationship and control issues.  The moment we start to allow our egos to rule, we look at our differences, and then separation and domination begin to take hold, rather than unity and oneness.  Separation and domination was never part of God’s divine plan for men and women.

Lessons we can take away from Genesis 2 today:

  1. Companionship – It is not good that the man should be alone.  Human’s are social creatures – we need to connect with other people.  One of the most shattering emotions of which human beings are capable is that of loneliness – it consumes people: whether they be teenagers, struggling with acceptance, stay at home mothers or fathers who are thirsting for interactions, or the elderly who are feeling forgotten.  We need each other.  What are you actively doing to be part of the lives of those around you?  If you are a spouse, are you making sure that your other half doesn’t feel alone?
  2. Are you sharing the load and the burden?  Whether it be with your spouse, or a team member at work, or another volunteer in an organisation you have joined: is someone feeling that they have to do everything themselves and that they are not getting the support that they need?  What can you do to support that person?  What needs to change so that you become a team player?
  3. Are you taking care of your responsibilities?  In every team, each person has different functions and tasks: and your first priority should always be to have fulfilled your responsibilities first.  It’s  no good to be worried about what others aren’t getting done to the detriment of your own responsibilities.  You will always hear – finish  your own responsibilities before helping another – just like in an airplane you put on your own oxygen mask before helping someone else with theirs. AND FINALLY
  4. Acknowledge and rejoice in our individuality and differences.  They are not meant to separate us from each other – they are intended to complement each other.  Yes – women and men are different – women may be more emotional, or protective of our little ones – but that doesn’t mean the weaker sex! And some of us are black, white, yellow, pink or any other colour under the sun.  We come from different cultures and customs.  But these differences are to be enjoyed and celebrated, creating a diversity in our team work and fulfilling all of the needs.

Today I would invite all of you to explore how you were created to be “just right”, a Divine gift to help and connect with those around you.

Sermon: We all stumble

If you asked me to name my favourite book of the Bible, I would be hard-pressed to choose between Proverbs and James.  This could be because James seems to be so knowledgeable about Proverbs.  The book of James is quite short:  it has only five chapters and is known for its practical wisdom and common sense. At about 12 years of age, after having memorised the book of Philippians, I set out to memorise the book of James.  Practical wisdom for a teen – controlling your words!

Someone has said that great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, and small minds discuss people. The church that James is writing to was full of small-minded people who gossiped about each other and tore one another apart with their tongues. Throughout the letter, James is helping his readers learn to view their trials from God’s perspective and to resist temptation as they bridle their anger. They were in a church where their tongues were used to destroy each other, as they participated in fighting, slander and lying about one another.  Complaining and grumbling are mentioned in the Bible more than 100 times (compared to the 6 times that the sin of homosexuality is actually mentioned).  Guess which one has done greater damage to the Church, to groups and to growth?  We all stumble in many ways, most of us tripping over our tongue!

Our reading from James this morning is simply fascinating, with its similes and his presentation of the tongue as a restless evil, a spark (that can cause a forest fire), poisonous venom, or a spring of water.  A human tongue weighs about 3 ounces… if you weigh 140 pounds, that’s about 0.1% of your body weight.

This morning I want to present two opposing ideas: tearing things (or people) down versus creating or building the reality and relationships that you dream of having.  As well as presenting you with the Biblical angle, I’m going to steal some ideas from NLP (neuro-linguistic programming).  NLP explores the relationships between the way we think (N), communicate (L) and behave (P). Let me explain it to you this way:

Our words become thoughts, our thoughts become feelings, and our feelings become actions. If I see a negative world I will use negative words, creating negative thoughts, generating negative feelings, which will make me act me in a negative way, then I will see an even worse world, and have even worse thoughts, …  (Ruben Marcelos Lagos)

Who saw the rain storms this week as a blessing – filling up the Canal basin and feeding our water supplies?  Who saw the rain storms this week as floods and chaos?  Were the 2 families that lost everything an opportunity for this Church to participate in the community? Or a burden?

There are those who firmly believe that words are not just elements of speech or writing, because they can be used to affect how energy travels through space. When spoken out loud, words transform into vibrations, and as we know, vibrations can direct energy and how energy flows around us.

There is a whole science based on “Words that Change Minds”, how you can use positive words to impact your own life and also to influence others around you – to build them up.  What kind of words do you speak to yourself? Are they words of encouragement and self-esteem? Do your words reflect the fact that God created you in His image and that He loves you? If not, they should.

It will be your tongue that will shape your character. Do you know that Christian person that is always negative, complaining and grumbling?  They have nothing positive to say: their demeanor, or the way they carry themselves, reflects this. Please get this in your spirit, a person will eventually get what his or her mouth says.  Is it any wonder that the person that is always complaining and bitter about how life has treated them always seems to get the short end of the stick?  They never seem to get a lucky break?  Their words are creating their reality, as if they were speaking it into existence.

If you think I’m speaking about magic or something airy-fairy, let’s have a look at some verses from the Bible:SpeakLife

Proverbs 18:21 reminds us:

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.

Psalms 141:3

Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!

Proverbs 21:23

Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.

Matthew 15:11

It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.

 

Do you remember as a child, when you visited the doctor and he asked you to “stick out your tongue?”.  He seemed to be able to tell a great deal about our health by looking into our mouths. Spiritually, it’s about the same – what comes out of our mouths is usually an accurate index of the health of our hearts.  James explains this in chapter 3:  how is it that you are worshiping and praising God, and then using that very same mouth to cut someone else down?

In fact James again addresses this issue for those who consider themselves “religious”. In James 1:26, he says,

“If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are just fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.”

Jesus called out the Pharisees in Matthew 12:34-37:

You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.

In the Bible we find 4 principal areas of talking that God condemns: complaining (or grumbling), slander, gossip & lies.

Phillipians 2: 14

Do all things without grumbling or complaining

Proverbs 26, versus 20 to 28 focus entirely on our words and the power of the tongue, covering all  four of these areas: complaining, slander, gossip & lies.

Proverbs 10:19

When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.

 

But there is more to it than just that, there is also thinking before you speak and speaking a kind word, even when you have been attacked.

Proverbs 17.27

Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding

Proverbs 15:1

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

We have opportunities, constantly, to choose how we will respond.  Will we be the spark that starts a fire? The venom that poisons the relationship?  Or will our words be a healing balm?

General Robt. E. Lee was once asked what he thought of a fellow officer in the Confederate Army–an officer who had made some mean-spirited remarks about him. Lee thought for a moment, then rated him as being very satisfactory.

The person who asked the question seemed troubled. “But general, I guess you don’t know what he’s been saying about you.”

“Oh yes,” answered Lee. “I know. But I was asked my opinion of him, not his opinion of me.”

Each one of us has the power to stop gossip:

  1. We can stop listening to it, rather than participating.  Without an audience, it’s hard to gossip.
  2. We can stop the cycle, by dealing with the problem.  This is where tough love and the hard truth are sometimes the most difficult road to choose.  It’s so much easier to say “it’s not my problem”, rather than get involved and have the compassion and love to see it through.  People had being confronted.
  3. Start confronting those who spread gossip – calling it by its name.

For yourself, when you are speaking to someone, think before you speak, using this short Acronym:  THINK

  • T–Is it true?
  • H–Is it helpful?
  • I–Is it inspiring?
  • N–Is it necessary?
  • K–Is it kind?

Then, we should look at healing.  We have all, at one time or another, been hurt by malicious words.  But we don’t have to stay hurt, we have the power to heal.

Step 1 – Let it go: The longer you hold on to the cruel things that people say about you, it will begin to develop bitterness and resentment in your life. The best thing to do is let it go.

Step 2. Be gracious to those who say things you don’t like – Be gracious to those who speak bad about you. Give people the benefit of the doubt.

perception-reaction Maybe what the person said wasn’t meant the way you took it. Maybe the person was having an off day. Maybe there is turmoil in that person’s life that you do not know about. Remember this simple fact: Hurting people hurt people and are easily hurt by people. 9 out of 10 malicious gossips are people who are hurting so bad and so deeply that they have to hurt other to make themselves feel better. Let’s face it, Jesus has put up with an awful lot of things from us, we can be gracious to others.

Step 3. Be silent – If something that is being said about you and you do not need to respond, don’t. Sometimes remaining silent is the best thing that we can do.

Step 4. Keep your words sweet you may have to eat them – If you have to respond to a person who is either upsetting you or speaking bad about you, be kind and keep your words gentle. The words that you use carelessly may come back to haunt you.

Abraham Lincoln counselled us:

“It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

Words have incredible power in our lives. For one, they provide us with a vehicle for expressing and sharing our experiences with others. Most of us don’t realize, however, that the words you habitually choose also affect what you experience. You have the power to take control of your habitual vocabulary to change the quality of your life. Simply by changing your habitual vocabulary—the words you consistently use to describe the emotions of your life—you can instantly change how you think, feel and how you live.

This week I would challenge all of you to be mindful of the words you speak – choose to speak only positive and hopeful things about your job, your children, your spouse, your health, your future, anything and everything that effects your life. It may be difficult at first, but see what type of results you get.  As I said before, your tongue will reflect your true character. Your words will reveal the real you. (Do you like what you’re hearing? If you don’t like what you’re hearing, then you need to change the discourse). If you are into journalling, I would encourage you to start writing down what you heard yourself say – and how you will say it differently from now on.

Sermon: We all make mistakes sometime

Lectionary: 2 Samuel 11: 1-15

The story of David is not about a saint. He had many faults, numerous sins throughout his life. As John Walton writes,

“God has not given us the Bible with the intention that we put the heroes of the faith up on pedestals of awe and reverence. In contrast, we find that the characters portrayed in the text are shown to share many of the human weaknesses with which all of us struggle. … We cannot view them as superhuman. … Instead, their stories are in the Bible because God worked through their successes as well as their failures. … They are part of God’s story.”

God had plans for David, who was “at times an instrument and at times an obstacle”.  I like the fact that the Bible tells it like it is.  We read about these heroes, but not just the great things they have done.  We read about their failings, their wrongdoings, their dark sides.  And there are lessons for us to learn.

Today I want to talk about one of David’s better known mistakes – his affair with Bathsheba and then his attempt to cover it up, by having Uriah murdered.  Yes, of course there’s murder in the Bible – we find it with Cain killing Abel, with Moses killing an Egyptian before running off into the desert, and now we find David plotting a murder to hide that he got another man’s wife pregnant.

Here was a man God had anointed as a youth – the hero that had defeated the mighty Goliath.  General over Saul’s army, and of whom it was said “He is a man after God’s own heart.”  But yet not perfect.

Our Reading this morning starts with setting the context:

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.

Why, if kings of old went out to battle, was David at home?  Well, this battle was close enough to Jerusalem that David decided to stay home and have Joab report to him daily on the battle (it was only some 40 km away).  Maybe David was starting to feel his age, or nursing an injury or an illness.  Maybe he was over-confident because he felt that his trusted men had everything under control.  Or maybe he had become complacent, after so many victories.  For whatever reason, David left himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The first problem that David has is that he is idle – after waking up from his afternoon nap (which he probably needed), instead of getting back to work or focusing on affairs of the state, he wanders aimlessly around on the roof of the palace.  How do we stay out of trouble? One way is by keeping ourselves busy and occupied.  I spend a lot less time spending money, if I don’t walk idly through the mall!  “I’ll just go window shopping” she says.  Except then something catches our eye, and before long window shopping has turned into real shopping.

There is an old German proverb that says “Idleness is the beginning of all sin”, just like the  Russian proverb that states “Idleness is the mother of vice.”  The Irish say “Poverty waits at the gates of idleness.”, and I remember hearing as a kid “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”  Most cultures agree that idleness is not a good thing – it can get you into all sorts of problems.

We should be clear about what idleness is and what it isn’t.  Resting is not being idle!  Our bodies need rest – it’s vital for our health.  Resting for rejuvenation is not idleness!  Resting when we are sick and need to recover is just what the doctor ordered!  Idleness is that state of being where we are not occupied in meaningful things.  It’s slacking off or being lax, and when we have nothing better to do, we wind up in mischief.

Having a nap was not a bad thing… but there was no need for David to wander around aimlessly.  There was business to conduct, the country was at war.  Both rest and work are necessary, as well as having time for family, hobbies and other pursuits.  But there is a problem with idleness – which is why many of the youth programs today focus on getting our at risk youth into sport or other activities, so that they will not get engaged or caught up in gangs and crime.

And because of David’s idleness, he runs into temptation.  We all run into temptation, on a regular basis.  We walk past Gelarti or La Italiana in the mall, and the ice-cream calls out to us!  We can either choose to keep walking, or we can let our desire take over.   David’s on his rooftop and sees a beautiful woman bathing on the rooftop below.

An aside here. If you wonder about bathing up there in front of God and everybody with a higher vantage point, remember that the rooftops of houses in ancient Israel were flat and served as additional living and working space. The ancient Israelites also had water gathering and storage systems on their rooftops designed to trap dew and rainwater and carry it into cisterns through pipes. I doubt that any of us remember life before indoor plumbing, but these rooftop systems were the next best thing.  The water would also have been left out in the sun during the day, so that by evening it was warmed.

And so, David’s desire gets him in trouble: being tempted is not wrong.  But how David handles this temptation definitely gets him into a huge bind, where one lie leads to another!  Instead of letting it be, David inquires to find out who she is – and the response should have been enough to warn him to stay away.   She is a daughter of a powerful man (Eliam) and the wife of one of David’s mighty men (Uriah the Hittite).  She is also the granddaughter of one of David’s closest advisors.

But that didn’t stop him either.  He ignores all the warning signs.  And sends for her… ending up in bed together – committing adultery (which was punishable by stoning for both of them!).   David sins prior to even sleeping with Bathsheba, because Jesus said:

You have heard that it was said “You shall not commit adultery”.  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Instead of shutting down the temptation, David lets it run wild, until it takes over him.

And one thing leads to another… before you know it, we’ve moved from lust to adultery, to lies and manipulation, and when plan A doesn’t work (i.e. getting Uriah to come home from battle and sleep with his wife so he will think the child is his), then plan B fails (even getting him drunk on liquor doesn’t work), then David moves to plan C (having him killed in the line of duty).

David had been on solid ground – chosen by God.  But he got careless and he didn’t even know it.  Just like a sheep that sees a tempting mouthful of grass over there.  Then another one a little farther, and then another… and another.  Before you know it, he’s lost or in the sights of a predator looking for an easy meal.  With each successive lie, David takes another step closer to the edge… until he’s over the edge with murder. The snowball effect, it started so small.  But now, he’s tumbling down the rocks.  He’s crashed and burned.  And the last thing he hears is the devil singing in his ear “another one bites the dust”.

It’s hard to find someone else in the Bible who could break so many of the 10 Commandments at one sitting!  As far as I can see, David managed to at least break 4 in one go:

  • You shall not murder
  • You shall not commit adultery
  • You shall not steal
  • You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife

So, I want to quickly share with you some thoughts on how we can use this example from David’s life in our own:

#1: You’re dying in the present if you’re living in the past!   David had already defeated armies and nations: the Philistines, the Moabites, the Edomites and others.  And so, instead of taking his place against the Ammonites, he leans on the victories of the past, and doesn’t have a vision of the future.

#2: When we are out of the way of our duty, we put ourselves in the path of temptation.  David should have been out on the front lines, but instead makes the mistake of staying in Jerusalem where he takes on a moral defeat.  What are you supposed to be doing?  Have you got a clear path cut out ahead of you?  Or are you just drifting along waiting for live to happen for you?

#3:  We will also fall in that one are of our life where our passion is the strongest and our principles are the weakest.  There are certain temptations that one person will struggle with, while another person won’t.  I gave up smoking cold turkey, without thinking twice about it – because I had only smoked because of the social aspects of it.  It was no big deal to quit.  But I know of many others for whom drugs, alcohol or smoking are their Aquiles heel.  On the other hand, I had to continually safeguard myself against impulse spending.  I don’t need more things!

#4: What we don’t resist in the mind, will soon become manifested in our thoughts and actions.   One part of psychology looks at Neuro-Linguistic Programming, (NLP for short) a name that encompasses the three most influential components involved in producing human experience: neurology, language and programming. The neurological system regulates how our bodies function, language determines how we interface and communicate with other people and our programming determines the kinds of models of the world we create. Neuro-Linguistic Programming describes the fundamental dynamics between mind (neuro) and language (linguistic) and how their interplay affects our body and behavior (programming).  What we think about is what we will say and do. 

#5: The power of your example should always exceed the position of your authority.  No matter what position you have, you should always strive to set an example of excellence.  Set the standard of leadership, holding more authority from your example than from the power of the position.

I hope that this story of David helps you focus on what is truly important in your life and the example you are setting for those people that are watching you.

Sermon: Boasting in my Weakness

“Boasting in my Weakness” – Really?

LECTIONARY:

  • 2 Corinthians 12: 2-10

A teacher said to her students in class one day,

“Boys and girls, there is a wonderful example in the life of the ant. Every day the ant goes to work and works all day, a busy life. And in the end, what happens?

Little Johnny replies, “SOMEONE STEPS ON HIM.”

We live in an era in which life is a constant struggle. Everyone  wants to be healthy and strong; nobody likes to be sick, weak, depressed or worried. And yet, we face problems and tragedies; we struggle to live up to expectations – whether our own or those imposed by others.  We’re not quite who we think we should be. Just like Paul in his letter to the Corinthians.

Take a moment and put this in context: this letter to Corinthians was not written in a vacuum. When Paul wrote this letter (which by the way is his 4th letter, not the second), he didn’t pen in the chapter and verse designations. Those were added much later in history. So chapter 11 and chapter 12 are one continuous thought.  In chapter 11, Paul writes about the suffering he has endured because of the name of Jesus. He tells the Corinthians that he has been imprisoned for preaching the gospel; he has been whipped on several occasions; he had been beaten with rods. He tells them that on one occasion the Jews stoned him; and left him for dead. But he survived (probably with deep lacerations and broken bones.) Paul was shipwrecked three times, spending one night in the open seas. He experienced intense times of suffering and yet found strength.

It is apparent as you read this part of 2nd Corinthians, that some in the church in Corinth were questioning Paul’s authority as an apostle. “Not good enough.”  So in Chapter 11, Paul tells about all the things he could boast about, both good and bad, that make him an apostle. But in Chapter 12 the tone changes, because he is not living in the past.  Our past history and our past glories are all fine and well, but the real question is “who are you today?”.  Paul is writing this letter to the Corinthians when he is no longer in sparkling health and strength.  Who keeps singing “Glory Days” by Bruce Springsteen?

The church in Corinth has these “super apostles” or “big shots” that were criticising Paul. Paul responds, admitting that he was not a trained speaker, (2 Cor. 10:10), implying that the so-called super-apostles were trained speakers. One of their favorite criticisms of Paul seems to have been that he was not very impressive in presence or speech.  Paul warned the Corinthians against the pretense that knowledge can create. Toe to toe with these orators, Paul would fail. In many respects, his writing also lacked sophistication and talent.

And yet Paul says, he will boast about his weaknesses.  We feel unhappy and worried about our weaknesses, but somehow he has accepted his weakness in a positive way and so he is able to boast about it.  And he even accepts that he needs it long-term. In order to remain focused on God, rather than himself and his exploits, Paul has this “thorn in his side”. He prayed repeatedly and yet the thorn remained in his life. I don’t think that ‘three times’ means Paul said three prayers but that he spend three seasons in prayer pleading with God to remove this from his life.  And yet he has an unanswered prayer.

  • How many times could we cite that we are thankful for our unanswered prayers?
  • How often do our prayers tend to focus on making life easier and softer and rarely are for the kind of difficulties that would challenge us and make us grow spiritually.

None of us wants to really be moved outside of our comfort zone, and so we react to life’s situation by rejecting the difficulty.  Paul, for all his abilities and mighty use by God, could not escape the fact that he was human, and thus inevitably susceptible to weakness.

Paul doesn’t like it.
He can’t change it.
And God won’t remove it.

Had Paul focused on the injustice of this torment in his life, he could have become a very bitter man, consumed by how unfair this harsh and excessive situation had become for him.  But Paul not only accepted his negative circumstances but he also expresses his joy and happiness over them.

  • What is your hurt story?
  • What behavior keeps you from where you need to be?

I hate looking weak or insufficient. I particularly loathe being wrong, especially when the mistake I’ve made has public ramifications. What will people think?  God forbid that someone realise how far behind I am at work, or that I get upset and short-tempered with my daughter when I’m tired, or that I can’t seem to get things right in my marriage, or that I don’t think quickly on my feet and always come up with the perfect rebuttal three days later!  I get frustrated by these deficiencies and perceived weaknesses – I’m inadequate and useless.  And so, since I don’t like to feel this way, I adopt a fake persona that I hope others will see (or that they will at least pretend to see, because I pretend to see the fake persona they put forward).

We live in a world where all the photos of models in magazines are Photo-shopped to perfection, where there’s a special model for hands, and another for backs and another for legs.  Where there are body doubles for actresses in Hollywood for those close-up shots or for the action or dance scenes – each one showing a perfection that perhaps the actress doesn’t actually have.

Boasting in weakness goes so against the way the world operates today. We don’t boast to our peers about our weaknesses or in a job interview. Typically, when we’re asked to focus on our weaknesses in an interview, we are trained to say – “Well, I would say that I’m stubborn, and I just don’t give up until I’ve finished the project that I’m working on to successful completion.”  or “I care too much about my work, and don’t have a good work-life balance.” – or whatever we think the perfect answer to the question is.

In our conversations with our friends, we don’t say, “Hey! Turns out I’m really bad at empathy and I’m totally self-centered. Isn’t that great?”

So, let’s each take a moment to reflect – what is your greatest weakness? What are you truly ashamed of?

  • I’m self-centered, frigid, insensitive and withdrawn;
  • I speak too loudly and sometimes have inappropriate social awareness;
  • I hate confrontation and so don’t deal with issues in a timely manner;
  • I don’t take criticism well;
  • I shut down and reject others;
  • I ride rough-shod over other people’s feelings in order to get what I want;
  • I can’t handle change and am stuck in a rut;
  • I take things personally;
  • I can’t say no and am always overloaded;
  • I’m condescending and treat others badly;
  • I have poor leadership skills;
  • I manipulate others;
  • I hold on to hurt feelings and dwell on them;
  • I overreact  …

Each one of us has something that we try to hide and pretend isn’t there. And if it’s a habit that we’re trying to break or a type of reaction that we know is wrong, whatever you do, don’t label it as “SIN”, so passé!  No one “sins” anymore… No one is a “sinner”.

Let me put it this way – the Bible says if you know what is right and you don’t do it, it’s sin – so, when you’re on that diet for your diabetes and you know you shouldn’t eat that chocolate bar and ice cream, that’s sin – not necessarily for someone else, but for you.  Because you know that it’s bad for you!  And yet you insist…

For how many of you, has ignoring and trying to hide this weakness, bad habit or character flaw actually worked?  As much as we may hate it, ignoring our weakness doesn’t make them go away. How many of you notice a character flaw in another person and say nothing, because you’re polite?  You see someone faking it and you go along with the charade, because you want them to go along with your charade?  They say there’s “nothing wrong” and you say “okay”, because it’s the easy way out.

If I took the time to actually ask, and they answered me honestly, I might have to do something about it!  I might then have to care for this person later, and ask how they are doing again… and then hear the truthful answer!  And it’s so much easier to just accept the “nothing wrong” and “okay” and carry on as if nothing had happened.

But that’s not who we are supposed to be!  We’re not supposed to be shallow and callous people, living on a surface, pretending that the weaknesses don’t exist.

When I don’t have enough love in my life, God reminds me that God is LOVE – it’s unlimited! I may be frigid and uncaring, but when I’m filled with God’s love there’s more than enough to go around!  I can be filled to overflowing – because God created me to be His vessel.  It doesn’t matter how much love I have, the question is “how much love does God have?”And so, it is when I can truly say “this is my weakness” that I allow God to shine through!  When I finally accept – “this is how I am”, I’m wonderfully and perfectly made, and God just wants to shine through all the cracks in my character, then I can truly boast in my weakness.

When I don’t have enough patience, God reminds me that He is PATIENCE – unlimited…

When I am filled with anger, God reminds me that He is goodness and kindness… unlimited…

I would invite all of you, during our coffee time after the service, to take a moment and share with someone your weakness, (yes, that one that you are SO ashamed of) and how God can shine through you, in spite of yourself!