Sunday, August 16, 2015

What Will I Have to Do? Story of the Book #7

What Do I have to Do? – Gospels

During the four years that I was in Bible College I had several opportunities to have Dr. Bill Burbury as my Professor, and in some of his classes Dr. Burbury offered what he called “Mark by Contract.”  When you went to your first class Dr. Burbury would give you a list of requirements for the course.  If you wanted to pass the course then you did certain things and you would be guaranteed to make a certain mark.  And if all you wanted to do was to pass the course then you could plan your semester from there and at the end of the semester you would have a “D”. 

You would have passed the course, just. Of course that only worked if you were planning on graduating with a degree than that was pretty much worthless because in order for your course to count toward ordination you were required to have at least a “C”.

So if you wanted to do more then simply pass the class then you started adding more requirements.  If you wanted a C then you did all that was required of you to get a D and you added some more work and if you did all those things then you got a C.  If you were even more industrious then you could add to the C requirements and get a B and add to the B requirements and get an A. 

You understand the concept of “Mark by Contract” now?  And so during the first week of each term ever student was able to choose the mark which they wanted to earn. 

Most of those students choose an A or a B, however by term end many had only done the work required for a D or a C.  Interestingly enough most students marks didn’t change, there wasn’t a dramatic change in mark percentages. 

The A students continued to be A students, the B students B students.  Etc, etc.  Nothing really dramatic happened.  In the vast majority of cases nobody took the opportunity to move up to the next level.  I will confess that I remained a B student.  My mark really didn’t change, I did enough work to get the mark I had always gotten and that was it.

Dr. Burbury once confronted me as my faculty advisor and asked me why I was content with a B or a 3.0 average when I was capable of A of 4.0 work.  You know I thought about if for a minute or so and then I answered saying “You know Dr. Burbury, “As” and “4s” are sharp and harsh while “Bs” and “3s” are soft and rounded.”  Bill just shook his head.  Which meant my strategy had worked, if you can't dazzle them then baffle them.

You see often what we achieve in life is determined not nearly as much by our smarts as it is by as it is by our dedication and devotion.

Whatever the advantages or disadvantages of the contract method of marking were the main thing is you always knew what was expected of you.  When you started the class you could ask “What do I have to do to pass this course or ace this course?” and you would receive an answer.

We are all born with a desire to be at one with our Creator, our God and we try throughout our lives to come to the place that we are supposed to be at. 

And while we may never actually verbalize the question in our hearts we are all asking the same question that was asked of Jesus in Mark 10:17  As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

He was asking: How do I get to heaven?  What do I have to do to get a passing grade?

Well, we’ve made it through the Old Testament and here we are in the New Testament.  Over the past six weeks I’ve had the opportunity to guide you through the Pentateuch, the Historical Books and the books of Poetry and Wisdom. 

While I was away on vacation Stefan preached on the story of Daniel from the Major Prophets and then Deborah preached on Jonah from the Minor Prophets.  And so here we are, in the New Testament.

This week we are looking at the first four books of the New Testament, books which most folks refer to as the Gospels.  The Gospels contain four books, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  And the authors are named, traditionally it has been held that Mark was recording Peter’s account of the life of Christ.  The scholars tell us that these books were written between 50 and 70 AD with the earliest account being the Gospel of Mark.

Sometimes you will hear people talk about the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Phillip or the Gospel of Mary.   The book and movie The Da Vinci Code made a big deal out of these Gospels and how they were supposedly suppressed by the Vatican.  The reality is that they were written between two and three hundred years after the death of Christ and are not historical accounts. 

But there have been times that I’ve met Christians who are all excited about this gospel or that gospel that reveals more about Jesus.  Here is a warning from 2,000 years ago that Paul gave in 2 Corinthians 11:3-4  But I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent.  You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed.

And so here was the question I had to answer, out of all the Jesus stories in the four gospels where would I land?  And if I had of asked two dozen people which one of the stories I should preach on from the Gospels I would have had two dozen answers. 

So we have landed in the Gospel of Mark because those in the know tell us that this was the earliest Gospel that we have, and that it is actually Peter’s account of the life of Christ, and Peter would seem to be a pretty good source, seeing he was there from the beginning.  And so we begin with these words.  Mark 1:1 This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.

Just as students would come to Dr. Burbury and say “what do I have to do to pass this course?” the man that we read about this morning comes to Jesus and says “what do I have to do to pass the course, what do I have to do in order to get into heaven?” 

Christianity is very much a contract class, where the requirements are spelled out for us.

Have you ever worked for someone who had unverbalized expectations of what they expected of you?  They knew what they expected but they had never actually conveyed it to you, until they asked why you hadn’t done what they thought you should have done but had never actually mentioned that they wanted you to do it. 

Maybe it wasn’t an employer, maybe it was a spouse or a child or a friend.  That happens at times, people assume that we should know certain things.

And yet God lays out what is expected of each of us in this book.  On judgement day Jesus won’t be saying “Oh, I thought you knew that?”

The first thing that we need to discuss are the entrance requirement.  Different courses at College had different entrance requirement.  For example I needed to have Intro to Psychology before I could take Pastoral Counselling, and Pastoral Counselling before I could take Family and Marital Counselling.

You couldn’t enter into a contract in a course of study until you were first in the course.  It wouldn’t matter if you did all the work perfectly and on time if you weren’t actually registered in the class, it would be a waste of time. 

In the same way it’ really silly to live an A+ Christian life if you aren’t actually a Christian. 

So how do you get into Christianity?  Well it’s sort of like preaching to the choir, but in case there’s someone who’s not sure the Apostle Peter does a great job of summing it up in Acts 3:19 Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away.   It’s that simple, turn away from your sins, that’s called repentance, ask for forgiveness and turn to God.  That’s the entrance requirements, you are now a Christian. Simple enough?

Well got this far and I was stumped, I mean I should now talk about how we can be an “A”, “B” “C”, “D” or “F” Christian.  And we all know the “A” Christians and we could name the “B” Christians.  Most of us know the “D” Christians, they are the people who have pretty well dropped out of the race but not quite.  They are still registered in the course but they are skipping class. 

Kind of what happened in the spring of the year when I was in high school, not that I was personally acquainted with skipping, I read about it in a book.  And if we are feeling really carnal we can even name the F Christians, they’ve just given up all together. 

And so we all know the “A”, “B”, “D”, and “F”.  They are easy to spot and we lift them up or run them down depending on their grade and the degree of our carnality.

Neither of which we should be doing by the way.  Now I had no problem with those people, they had all made their choices.  They were either very dedicated to the Lord, dedicated or they were just looking for a fire escape from Hell.

They had decided exactly what type of Christian they were going to be and that’s what they were doing, and they were willing to live with their choice.  I said before that I was a “B” student through high school and College, with a little more work and a little more effort I could have been an “A” student but I would have had to give up some things that I wasn’t willing to give up. Not bad things just things. 

I’ve had two assistant Pastors through the years who graduated from College with 4.0 averages and were both admitted to honour societies.  Angela has always claimed that I lived my academic life vicariously through those two, and I won’t name names, just pick your favourite assistant pastor and assume that is who I was talking about. 

Now most of the “D” and “F” students (you ever wonder what happened to “E”? Inquiring minds want to know, what type of education system goes A, B, C, D, F? Like 1, 2, 3, 4, 6.) That was what was technically known as an aside.

So, where was I, oh yeah, most of the “D” and “F” students that I knew in High School and College were there by their own choice. 

And I know that is a generalization, and I know that all generalizations are wrong.  I understand that there are people out there with genuine learning disabilities but not this bunch.  Their marks bothered their teachers, their parents, the educational system, as a matter of fact it bothered everybody except the person it should have bothered.  The student.

I’ve said all of that to say this, The “A”, “B”, “D” and “F” Christians are content to be where they are, and besides it wasn’t them I have problems with.  It was the “C” Christian, you know the average Christian.  Out of necessity there will be more average Christians after all in school the “C’s” should outnumber the “As”, “Bs”, “Ds” and “Fs”.  Isn’t that what average means?

We all want to be normal but none of us wants to be average, interesting.  But in some areas of life we have to be average, think about it if we were all above average then that would be average. 

And most times being average doesn’t hurt.  Collins dictionary defines average as “The mean value or quantity of a number of values or quantities.”  However I prefer John Maxwell’s definition he said that “Average is the best of the worst and the worst of the best.”

Maxwell once preached a message on being a success and after the message a lady came up and demanded to know what was being wrong with being average.  Maxwell responded with this statement.  “If you’re not a Christian, nothing is wrong with being average.  If you are a Christian then you must not be content until you develop the potential which God has given you to its fullest extent. In so doing you will bring glory to God and be lifted above average.”

You won’t be better looking or more intelligent because you have become a Christian, I mean look around, look at me.  But when you become a Christian your attitude toward life should change, and your consecration in service, your love for others and your love and service to God should all become above average.

The question remains then, what does an average Christian do?  Well to be truthful, not much.  They don’t pray much, they don’t give much, they don’t study God’s word much, they don’t love much and they really aren’t all that dedicated. 

The average Christian has the entrance requirements down pat, but they haven’t gone much beyond that, they are like the people being written to in Hebrews 6:1 So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God.

Most of us have the basics down pat, but have we gone on to become mature in our understanding? 

God is not a God of mediocrity.  God demands the very best of us.  Was the sacrifice an average lamb?  Was the temple an average building?  Is Heaven just an average place?   No, so how do we rise above being average? 

1) To be Above Average Will Require More Effort.  

When those around you quit, then it’s time for you to grit your teeth and try harder.  Success in any endeavour but particularly in the spiritual realm is achieved and maintained by those who keep trying. 

Today you may not be what you want to be, hope to be, dream of being but the one key to achieving your dream is a determination to not quit. 

Eleven years ago when we started talking about the building there were a number of people who were really excited about being a part of the dream, until they realized what it would cost, and they walked away. 

Your mother ever give you poems when you were growing up?  My mom was forever giving me poems that she thought might help me at some point. 

And those were the days before the Facebook and email, you had to type stuff out and then and photocopy it and deliver it. It took some effort back then to share things.

One she gave me is probably familiar to some of you: 
Two frogs fell into a can of cream.
or so I've heard it told;
The sides of the can were shiny and steep,
The cream was deep and cold.
“O, what's the use?” croaked No. 1.
“Tis fate; no help's around.
Goodbye, my friends! Goodbye sad world!”
And weeping still, he drowned.
But Number 2, of sterner stuff,
Dog paddled in surprise,
The while he wiped his creamy face, 
And dried his creamy eyes.
“I'll swim awhile at least,” he said –
Or so I've heard he said;
“It really wouldn't help the world,
If one more frog were dead.”
An hour or two he kicked and swam.
Not once he stopped to mutter.
But kicked and swam and swam and kicked.
Then hopped out via butter.

It was Emerson who said “A Man is a hero not because he is braver then anyone else, but because he is brave ten minutes longer.”  And it is that type of commitment that makes us more then average.

You see being a Christian isn’t a destination it is a journey.  We begin our Christian walk and sometimes we want immediate results. 

We say we are going to study the bible and we turn to Matthew 1:1 and we begin to read Matthew 1:1-2  This is a record of the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah, a descendant of David and of Abraham:  Abraham was the father of Isaac. Isaac was the father of Jacob. Jacob was the father of Judah and his brothers. . .   And on it goes, name after name for 16 verses.

And we throw up our hands and say I don’t understand this and walk away.

When we pray we walk away disappointed if God doesn’t immediately drop our wishes in our laps.  You don’t walk out of marriage at your first fight, you don’t quit school the first time you can’t solve a problem, and you don’t leave university simply because you don’t like studying. 
Well you don’t do those things if you want to succeed. And if you are going to succeed in your Christian life it will require effort.

Which is why Jesus told the man in the story Mark 10:21  Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  It wasn’t about money, it was about sacrifice.  What do you love more than God and are you willing to give it up?

2) To be Above Average Will Require More Faith .  The average Christian has just enough faith to die with but not enough to live with.  Oh that was good, I think I’ll say it again, “The average Christian has just enough faith to die with, but not enough to live with.”  

What I mean is that we believe that God can have an effect on our eternal life but we’re not really sure that he can do anything about the life we are living today.

But listen up, if your prayer life is going to be above average then your faith is going to have to be above average.  If you are going to get more out of the bible study your faith will have to be above average.  If you are going to give more than the average Christian then you will need above average faith.  Not just a little bit, but more than most. 

And bottom line is that if you want to please God, then you are going to have to have a little more faith, because Hebrews 11:6  And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.

It doesn’t say it’s tough to please God without faith or that it’s difficult to please God without faith, it says it’s impossible to please God without faith.  Faith is being able to see what isn’t there yet.  Back in the day when Cornerstone was just a dream, I could see the church we would become. 

Eleven years ago when the building was just a dream there were people who when they drove by this property didn’t see 5 acres of scrub and brush, they saw a facility where lives would be touched and eternities would be shaped. But that was yesterday, how about today?  Do you not only believe that God could perform miracles for this church do you believe that God will perform miracles for this church.

You are a Christian, by your decision to ask Christ for forgiveness and accepting Him as your saviour you have already demonstrated that you have enough faith to die a Christian, the question is do you have enough faith to live as a Christian? 

When Jesus asked the rich man to give up all that he had he was asking was whether or not the man believed that Jesus would take care of him.

3) To be Above Average Will Require More Love.  Most of us can love.  We love our mom, our dad, our brothers and sisters, we love our spouse and that special friend. 

But what about the shrew that’s always saying nasty things about you?  What about the Pastor when he’s a little bit critical or says something you don’t agree with.  What about the guy that cuts you off in traffic or the drunk on the corner.  How about Stephen Harper, Justin Trudeau or Thomas Mulclair?

Do you love enough to make a difference in somebodies life? More importantly do you love enough to make a difference in your life?  Do you love enough to sacrifice and give things up for the sake of others? 

When we ask you to help drill wells in Africa or a help with RMH or Souls Harbour we are asking you to give up things for the here and now in order to make a difference in the there and then. 

Jim Elliot was a missionary who was martyred for his faith almost sixty years ago, shortly before he died he wrote in his journal “A man is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” 

That all that Jesus was asking of the rich man, that he give up what he couldn’t keep to gain that which he couldn’t lose.  Jesus was asking the rich man to love others, to make John 13:35 a reality.  John 13:35  Jesus said Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

When the 19th century turned into the 20th century a sailing ship was discovered drifting in the Arctic Ocean amongst the icebergs, her crew had been dead for 13 years.  She was described by one writer as “A drifting sepulchre manned by a frozen crew.”  Without love that is all the church will become, a drifting sepulchre manned by a frozen crew.

If you were to compare hot and cold would the average be lukewarm?  So if your spiritual state is neither hot nor cold, just average it would be lukewarm?  I sure hope it’s not because listen to what Jesus said in Revelation 3:16 But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!

Ouch, let me close with two epitaphs for you to think about, the first was for a guide in the Swiss Alps who died in a fall, it simply read “He died climbing.” And the second was for an eighty five year old scientist that simply read “He died Learning” What will they put on your stone?

I love what the old lady said, “I ain’t what I oughta be, and I aint’ what I’m gonna be, but thank God I ain’t what I was.”

Will you be average or are you willing to be all that God wants you to be?  The choice is yours.

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