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The Culture of the Kingdom

When Heather & I were first married, we had to opportunity to travel to Australia to volunteer at a Christian camp near Sydney. We spent about 4 months there and it was a very unique experience. Of course, we experienced all stereo-typical Australian things – we saw kangaroos and koalas and wallabies, found didgeridoos and boomerangs in the local tourist shops, we took in a show at the Sydney Opera House and – all the classic Australian things. We even started to pick up an Australian accent. We saw and experienced all the things that you’d expect to see and experience in Australia.

However, we also experienced a lot of things we weren’t expecting. Despite the fact that Canada and Australia have a lot of similarities – the same basic language, roots in the British Commonwealth, all that stuff – we were surprised to find just how different the Australian culture was from ours. We really did experience a certain amount of culture shock. Let me give you just a couple examples.

Now this first example was compounded by the fact that Heather & I were both brought up in very sheltered, conservative homes, but we found the Australian culture to be very liberal and sometimes  even abrasive. For example, it was very common for good Christian leaders to use language that we would never use. What we would consider crude or even swear words were quite common place. As timid, polite Canadians, it was a bit shocking to hear the abrasive stuff that came out of their mouths. So that was a bit of a culture shock.

The other example would be that even the camp itself was run very different from the camps we were used to. One of the weirdest things I remember was that the counsellor or cabin leader didn’t actually sleep in the room with the kids – (at Camp Little Red, the counsellor sleeps in the tent with the kids of course), but in Australia, we slept in a room down the hall, leaving the 8-10 kids alone in their room. It sure seemed like a wrong way of doing things, but that what they did. The counsellors would get all their kids into their rooms and then all the staff would gather and hangout at the party room for a couple hours before bed while the kids did who-knows what alone in their rooms.

They just did a lot of things very differently than how we would do them.

And I know that many of you have probably experienced that too, as you’ve traveled to different parts of the world. Different cultures simply do a lot of things differently. It can seem backwards or even wrong to us – but it’s normal and proper to them. And certainly, if you’ve ever made a big move to live among a different culture, you know that it can be difficult to adopt that new culture because our old culture is just so ingrained in us.

And I think many Christians experience that as well. There can be an element of culture shock when we are introduced to the kingdom of God and sometimes it can be very difficult to adopt this new culture.

You see, the Bible teaches that when we accept Christ as our Saviour – we are also accepting him as our King. And having a new king means becoming part of a new kingdom. This idea is conveyed throughout the New Testament, but Paul talks this specifically in Colossians chapter 1…. He writes in verse 11:

May you be filled with joy, 12 always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light. 13 For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, 14 who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins. Colossians 1:11b-14

So in other words, Pauls says that since we have put our trust in Jesus as our Saviour and king, we have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of his dear Son – the kingdom of light –  the kingdom of God.

Now of course, we aren’t physical transported to another place – we still live in the world, but we’ve become subjects of another kingdom. In fact, in Philippians 3:20, Paul says…

“But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives.” Philippians 3:20

As citizens of heaven, we have a new King – we have a new set of laws. A new set of rights and responsibilities. A new set of cultural expectations.

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A Reminder of Hope

Now some of you will already know this about me – but for some of you, today I want to share with you a little bit about my life that you may not have known before.

You wouldn’t guess it by the state of my backyard right now – but I’m actually a bit of a gardener. When Heather & I were first married – I actually spent a few months working at the Meadowbrook Greenhouses just west of town and it was somewhere around that time that I took an online landscape design course. I learned how to survey a yard and then how to plan and design a beautiful garden space. I put that to use at our home in Mirror.

This was the plan that Heather & I came up with for our yard. It’s kinda hard to make out everything from this map – but for those who have know us for a while and have been to our house in Mirror before, you might be able to recognize some of the elements.

I’ve actually got a couple before and after pictures to give you an idea of how it all came together.

When we started working on the sidewalk, people thought it was pretty strange to put a fire pit in the middle of the sidewalk…. But no, it wasn’t a firepit. It was for a tree.

I’ll tell you, it was a lot of work, but it’s pretty cool to see the transformation from a barren wasteland to a beautiful, productive garden. I think that’s probably why I love gardening and landscaping. I love to see that transformation. I love to see things grow and flourish and be beautiful and productive.

And that’s probably why I love pastoring too. It’s the same idea, just in a different realm. I love to see God transform people’s lives – helping them to grow and to flourish and be productive!

And I bring all this up today because earlier this week, I received in the mail my annual catalogue for T & T Seeds. This is probably my favourite thing to get in the mail – especially in the dead of winter. When everything is cold and frozen – there is nothing green anywhere – it’s all brown or covered in snow and ice. Summer has been long forgotten and there seems to be no sign of life anywhere. You start wondering if winter will ever end.

And then, in the mail, comes this beacon of hope! The seed catalogue! It brings us the promise that winter will not last forever – spring is coming. Soon the ice and snow will melt – new leaves will sprout on the trees, the little seeds that we buy and bury in the ground will soon push through the dirt and grow into flowers and vegetables. New life is just around the corner. There is hope.

And in a lot of ways, Christmas is a lot like that seed catalogue. Christmas is a reminder of hope.

Sometimes I wrestle with how much emphasis we put on Christmas. You know, the Bible never actually tells us to celebrate Christmas – there’s no mention in the Bible of the early church celebrating Jesus’ birth. In fact, in my Bible there is only about 4 pages out of about 1200 pages of Scripture that talk about the birth of Jesus. That’s only 0.3 percent of the Bible that talks about Christmas. And yet, we often take the entire month of December (1/12th of the year) to talk about it. Why is that? Well, I think it’s because Christmas is like that seed catalogue – it offers us a beacon of hope. It reminds us that God always keeps His promises. God is in the midst – even right now – of redeeming and restoring his Creation back to the way He intended it. 

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Christians and Politics – A Biblical Look at the Relationship between Church & Government

Well, I have preached probably a few hundred sermons over the last ten years, but I’ve never spoken on this particular topic that I am going to speak about this morning. In fact, this topic had never even appeared on my radar until the latter part of this past year.

And not that the Bible is silent on this issue. As I’ve been preparing for this, it’s actually been surprising for me to see just how much the Bible has to say about it. So over the last several months, God has been helping me wrap my head around about all this – and I believe He is leading me to share some of what I’ve been learning with you. And so this morning I’m going to wade into the issue of church and politics.

Let me start by saying that pastoring this church has been very stretching for me. It has taken me way out of my comfort zone and has caused me to think about and to address issues that I never imagined that I would have to deal with. And of course, politics has been one of those issues. Part of that comes from the particular make-up of those in our church, part of that has to do with the relationship that we’ve developed with our town as we’ve tried to share the love of Christ with our community, and part of that has to do simply with the times in which we live.

And maybe this is just my experience, but I’ve found that more and more I’ve needed to wrestle with the question of: What are our responsibilities as a church, what are our responsibilities as individuals – as followers of Jesus Christ when it comes to the issue of politics and government?

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Samson’s Disregard

Well, today we’re going start looking at our final unlikely hero in the book of Judges. Now of course, we haven’t gone through each and every judge nor have we haven’t examined all the details in every story that we have looked at. But I think we’ve drawn out several important lessons from these stories and we’re going to try to do that one more time today. The character that we want to look at today is probably the most famous of all the judges. Today we’re going to start looking at the life of Samson.

Now the Bible gives us more information about Samson than any of the other judges we’ve looked at. Just to give you a comparison, a couple of Judges that we didn’t look at in this study – Tola and Jair – both have only two verse each about their lives – but Samson has four entire chapters.

So there must be something important for us to learn from the life of Samson. Which is almost surprising considering what a wreck his life was. Most of us remember Samson for his great strength – how he killed a lion with this bare hands – or how He tore the city gates right off their hinges – or how he killed a 1000 Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey. These are the acts that made Samson famous – but what do we know about his character? What kind of a person was He? What was his relationship with God like? What was his relationship with others like? You see, these are the kind of issues that determine whether someone is truly a hero or just some big strong guy…

So that’s where I want to focus our attention this morning – not so much on his super strength and his fantastic exploits, but rather on his character. Because, we can’t all become burly, muscular weight-lifting champions – but we can all become men & women of heroic character.

Samson’s story begins in Judges chapter 13 and it begins much like all the other stories of the judges… it says…

Again the Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord handed them over to the Philistines, who oppressed them for forty years. Judges 13:1

If you’ve been with us for the past few weeks, this is no surprise. Pretty much every story has begun with “Again the Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight – so the Lord handed them over to…. so and so.” And in this case, it was the Philistines. But this is where this story begins to develop differently. Normally, we’d jump right into meeting the hero. But this time we start by meeting the hero’s parents. Look at verse 2.

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The Invitation of Prayer

When I first decided that we would go through a sermon series on the spiritual disciplines, I had in mind a series of about six messages. One on the Bible, one on prayer, one on fasting, one one worship, and a couple other ones in there as well…. But it certainly seems that God had something more in mind.

As it is, this is now message #8 and we’ve really only talked so far primarily about the Bible and about prayer – just two of the many healthy habits that we want to look at. But I think it’s been good! At least, it has been for me anyway. Particularly when it comes to prayer. Prayer has never been something that I’ve felt has been one of my strong points. Of course, as Christians we know that prayer is important – and so I’ve certainly tried to integrate prayer into my personal life and my family’s life and our church life, but honestly, it’s never been something I just naturally do. I really have to make that effort.

And I think a big part of my struggle has come become of how I understood the purpose of prayer. I mentioned in last week’s message – why do we pray when God already knows what we need and has promised to provide it? Can’t we just trust Him? When you think about it that way, it almost seems like praying for three hours each day like Martin Luther is almost a lack of faith! Why must you pray so much – can’t you just trust God? And so for much of my life, I’ve convinced myself that I have more of an ‘attitude of prayer’. Maybe I don’t always put words to my prayers, but I have this attitude of just trusting God.

And it’s great to have that kind of trust in God, but I think that still misses the point of prayer! So these last few weeks have been really good for me as I’ve dug into the whole question of why do we pray? What’s the purpose of prayer?

And I know that I haven’t fully answered those questions yet in these messages, but I hope that as I’ve been sharing what I’ve been learning, I hope that God’s been stirring up a desire in you to learn more about the why and how of prayer in your own life.

So this morning, I want to share with you yet another aspect of prayer for you to think about this week. And for me, this is really what has helped me understand why God invites us to pray.

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