“A Worm Such As I”

Preached by Rev. Ed Brouwer at The Gathering Place,
Pulpit Series Volume 17 Issue 38 9/30/2007

As I sat in my office on Thursday getting things ready for Sunday, I found myself fluctuating between a spirit of despair and a spirit of hopefulness.

As I try to follow the path God seems to be laying out for me, I feel that spirit of hopefulness and yet also a spirit of heaviness at the weight of the call.

I spent some time in John’s gospel where Jesus tried to help His disciples understand what was ahead. It was a bit dark because it was about death and dying. Not only Jesus’ death, but about our own need to die in order to find life. It is a powerful passage about the principle at work in our life and our faith journeys.

In the gospel of John, we are being prepared for glory by the teaching and actions of Jesus in the upper room as He demonstrated radical servant-hood by washing the disciples’ feet.

Earlier on, Jesus shared a parable about wheat, and the seeds that are buried in the ground so that it would bring much fruit. The significance of this parable for understanding Jesus’ death lies in the contrast between remaining as just a single grain of wheat and bearing fruit.

Except the seed die… Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian and martyr during the 2nd World War, put it very starkly: “When Christ calls a man (or woman), Christ bids him (or her) come and die.”

For him the call was literal. He was imprisoned for participating in a plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler and was executed just days before the end of the war. He understood the cost of discipleship and the cost of following Christ in a way most of us will never glimpse. He wrote about costly grace and the cost of following Christ in a way that disturbs and discomforts all of us in the modern day church.

But what does it mean for us to die in order to live? To lose our life in order to find it, to hate our life in order to keep it? It means to “let go” or “give up.”

An unconditional and totally humble surrender to God, a total acceptance of ourselves and of our situation as willed by God.
It means the renunciation of all the deluded images of ourselves and all the exaggerated estimates of our own capacities.

Friends, we each have to strip away the false ego, the false me, to discover who I really am. It has been said that the false ego is less visible than an ant’s footprint on a black stone in a dark night.

It’s about giving up control, about letting go of our own wills, our ambitions, our own desire to control our situations and the people around us, our relationships, our lives, the timing of when and how transitions happen. It’s about letting God be at work deep within us.

It’s a lifelong work of dying to ourselves and discovering the deep joy of freedom and new life as we do so, struggle by struggle, moment by moment, not always successfully but always in God’s grace.

I believe that the only way to even begin to understand how to do this letting go, is by living it out and working it out in community with those around us. We learn how to die to ourselves and live for Christ as we learn how to put ourselves second and the community first. This is the opposite of what comes naturally and is in many ways a battle within us.

It takes time for a heart to make this passage from egoism to love. It takes time and much purification and many deaths which bring new resurrections. To love, we must die continually to our own ideas, our own susceptibilities and our own comfort.

The path of love is woven with sacrifice.

And it all starts with baby steps, little steps taken one at a time.
Making the time to listen to God and ourselves and sit with God in prayer, with open hands and open hearts. At the same time, holding all that we have, lightly and loosely and allowing God to come to us in love and say, “That’s a lot you have in your hands. Here, let me take this one thing from you, so you can be more free in yourself, or, let me entrust this one thing into your care and your life, so you can live a deeper, more fulfilled life.”

In Luke 14:25-35, Jesus states that we cannot be His disciple unless: Christ is above all else in our lives We forsake ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him We forsake our material possessions
Whether self-denial, self-abandonment, self-sacrifice, or dying to self, One sure thing is the concept of self abandonment in Scripture. It is directly opposed to what the world promotes: self-fulfillment, self-esteem, self-worth, rights. Unfortunately, we the church of Jesus Christ have too often been influenced by the world’s self-esteem philosophy.
I am reminded of this when I notice that some hymns have been changed to make them less harsh. Take for example the hymn, At the Cross. When Isaac Watts penned those words in1885, he wrote, “Would He devote that sacred head, For such a worm as I?” The newer hymnals say, “For such a sinner as I? or such a one as I.”
Isaac Watts wrote the word “worm” because He understood his place before a Holy God.
What does is mean to forsake ourselves? Among other things it is, “the readiness to lay down my fixed notions, my objections and ‘what if’s’ or ‘but what about’s,’ my certainties about the rightness of what I have always done or thought or said. This must include my decisions: I will be meek. I will not sulk, I will not retaliate, I will not carry a grudge.”
One of the most precious gifts God has given believers is the sweet fellowship we should have with one another.
We are to be real with one another, holding each other accountable, sharing hurts and joys, giving grace to one another. However, many Christians lack these vital relationships with one another. Some Christians seem to have the attitude of: I’m not a bad person, I don’t kill, steal, or commit adultery.
But do we hold grudges? Do we feel resentful? Is bitterness eating us up? These indicate blatant disobedience to God. Is it any wonder we hate to risk “being real” when there is a possibility of messing up and having a Christian brother and sister never speak to us again?
The fact is that we are human. We don’t always use the best judgment. We don’t always present things in ways that are understood. But we must give grace to one another, forgive and restore relationships. If we cannot do this, the world will scoff, rightly so, at our hypocrisy.
“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.” Colossians 3:12-14
Forgiveness is the unconditional laying down of the self. I Corinthians 6
This includes the desire for vindication, keeping accounts of evil, the right to an apology and bringing every thought under obedience to Christ. II Corinthians 10:5
Has some one wronged you? If he asks for forgiveness, forgive. If he doesn’t, forgive in a private transaction with God. Pray for him. Confess your anger, hatred, desire for revenge or self-pity.
“Bless the one who hurt you”. Ask for grace to treat him as if nothing has ever come between you and stand with Christ for him. Psalm 119:78
Wow, that’s a tall order! But to do anything less, is being disobedient to Christ and will only lead to our own misery and stagnation. Our obedience will not only benefit us, it will also benefit those who have hurt us. We need to give grace to one another.
None of us are perfect. We will have misunderstandings, we will have failures, we will mess up. But incredibly God can use all of that to help us grow, if we respond to them in a proper way. “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” Proverbs 27:17
In forsaking myself, I must also die to my emotions and feelings. That is not to deny they exist, they are God-given, but we must resist the temptation to be ruled by them.
I am reminded of a story that Corrie ten Boom related. Years after she was out of Nazi concentration camps, she was speaking to a large group. Afterward, a man came up to her, reached out for her hand, and asked her to forgive him. She recognized him as one of the guards in the concentration camp where she and her family had been sent because they had hidden Jews in their home – where her sister had died. Corrie confessed that the last thing she wanted to do was grasp that man’s hand. She felt contempt and bitterness. But this Godly woman also knew Jesus’ command to forgive, not if we feel like it, not when we are ready, but to forgive, period. Corrie ten Boom reached out in faith and took that former Nazi guard’s hand. With that act of obedience, the freedom came.
I am trying to put into practice the Biblical steps of reacting obediently when someone has hurt or misunderstood me. It is never easy, but it is right and it is freeing. I have no misconceptions about myself, I am a worm indeed. I know what I am without a Savior.
Praise God this worm has been redeemed by the Grace of God!

"Watch Your Mouth"

Preached by Rev. Ed Brouwer at The Gathering Place,
Pulpit Series Volume 17 Issue 36 9/16/2007

Our lesson today is from James 3:1-12. No one escapes the challenge of James today.
Not many of you should presume to be teachers my brothers because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check. When we put bits in the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example, although they are so large and driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder, wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire and as itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil full of deadly poison. With the tongue, we praise our Lord and father and with it we curse man who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth comes praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and saltwater flow from the same spring? My brothers can a fig tree bear olives or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
Watch your mouth, preacher. Lord, what an awful thing to be standing here and say something that would cause the church to divert off of the path or would cause trouble or strife.
Let's say that I had a package for you today.
But, before you open the package I will describe the contents and then after I describe the contents you can then determine whether or not you would want to open it.
This is what is in the package:
It has the power of life and death. It gets out of control very easily. It causes things around us to get out of control. It's linked to hell itself. It creates many problems.
What's in this package cannot be tamed, it can be contained. It's evil by nature.
It can deliver death-dealing poison. It can seem peaceful and sweet one moment, but bitter and harmful the next moment.
If I were to give you that package and told you all the things that were in it, would you open it? I think most of us wouldn't.
And yet, every one of those descriptions James uses to teach about the powerful and deadly nature of our tongue, of what we say, of how we speak.
Now I want you to consider this next question carefully and honestly. Do you think that you could go 24 hours, just one day, without saying any unkind words to or about anybody?
If you can't say yes to this question, then may have a problem. If a person can’t go 24 hours without a cigarette, we’d say they were addicted to nicotine, if they can't go 24 hours without a drink of alcohol, we’d say they are addicted to alcohol. So if we can't go 24 hours without speaking an unkind word to or about anybody, we have lost control of the power of our speech.
Think about it for a minute. In your own experience, unless you or someone that you dearly love has been subjected to terrible physical violence, the chances are the worse pains that you have ever suffered have come from cruel words, anger, sarcasm, public / private humiliation, hurtful nicknames, betrayal of secrets, rumors and malicious gossip.
The golden rule ought to apply as much to what we say as to what we do unto others.
Parent or child we are all guilty of saying hurtful things. One of my grandchildren said, “I hate you!” when being disciplined. A few minutes later they were saying, I love you. They were too young to know… but what about us parents. Are we saying things that encourage or discourage, build up or tear down?
According to James a mature Christian is one who is growing (it is a process), in the ability to control what they say.
To emphasize the tongue’s power James uses 3 analogies. First, he talks about a bridle in the mouth of a horse, a rudder to a large ship and the analogy of a spark to a forest fire.
The first thing he says is that the tongue wields great power and so it ought to be controlled.
Many times we irresponsibly use words because we think that the damage inflicted is less than hitting someone. However, the scripture in the Old Testament refers to words as arrows.
You may wonder, why an arrow?
Because if a person takes a sword out of the sheath and goes to kill somebody and the person begs for mercy, it can be returned. But an arrow, once shot, can't be returned.
Those words are weapons.
They are powerful.
They can wound and kill and Jesus said, "You have heard it said to you, that you shall not commit murder, but I say to you that if you say to your brother, you fool. You are libel to hell fire."
Jesus taught that we will be judged for every word we speak.
James describes the damage that the tongue can inflict by using the illustration of a forest fire, ignited by a tiny spark.
I see the tongue like an unattended campfire in a forest. The forest is beautiful and peaceful. Just like many of us appear from day to day. But let the winds of irritation blow on that campfire and it throws off sparks igniting near by fuels. Have you ever heard the terms, "walking on eggshells” or “fighting words?"
Do you know what I am talking about?
James then says that no one can tame the tongue. This again shows how much we need God’s help in this area.

The Psalmist said it well, "Set a guard O Lord over my lips, a sentry at the door of my mouth."
James also describes the tongue as being poisonous.
Words can inject an evil or an unhealthy substance into the life of another person. James says, "in one moment we can be blessing and praising God, and in the next moment we can be cursing."
We have two natures. Again, showing our need to seek the Lord’s strength and wisdom in this area.
It has been well said, "Nobody ever gossips about other peoples secret virtues."
"Don't pass on a bad report." It just doesn't help anybody.
In Leviticus 19, two verses before love your neighbor as yourself is verse 16 You shall not go about as a tale bearer among your people. Malicious falsehood destroys people.
You see a penitent thief can return money, but a malicious slanderer can never, ever undo damage. Which is why it is often referred to as character assassination. We actually kill people when we pass along that which is not true.
Let's end on a positive note and listen to the apostle Paul as he speaks about the power of words.
Just listen to this carefully. Don’t let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs that it may benefit those who listen.

“Do Something About It”

Preached by Rev. Ed Brouwer at The Gathering Place,
Pulpit Series Volume 17 Issue 37 9/23/2007

They hear your words but they will not do them. Ezekiel 33:31
But be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. James 1:22

The prophet Ezekiel ministered in an evil time. God called him to speak to a generation that sort of listened to his messages. The people said he had a pleasant voice and were quick to tell others about his preaching, however, they did nothing about his messages.

Ezekiel was not the only man of God whose sermons fell on unresponsive ears. God warned Isaiah that his message would blink eyes and shut ears and harden hearts.

James warns against the same evil. Unfortunately, we don’t quote the whole verse. We say, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only”, and there we stop. But it reads further, “deceiving yourselves”.

Hearing and not doing, we delude ourselves.

Jesus constantly warned against doing nothing about it.
· Everyone that hears these sayings of mine and does not do them, is like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.
· If you know these things, happy are you if you do them.
· You are my friends if you do what I command you.
· Why do you call me Lord, Lord and don't do the things I say?
· Consider, to him that knows the good he ought to do and fails to do it, it is sin.

We are not much different than those in Ezekiel's day. We listen to preachers, invite others to hear them, congratulate them with that very doubtful compliment, "I enjoyed your sermon", but we do nothing about it. Let it never be forgotten that, although we may do nothing about the Word we hear, the Word will do something to us. Truth heard and not acted upon is a dangerous thing.

Sadly our response to the Word is like the way James Bond 007 orders his martinis - stirred but not shaken.

We have had our ears tickled and our emotions thrilled, but as with any stimulant the doses have to be increased and after awhile there is little if any effect.

An alarm clock that very nearly blows us out of bed on the first morning may eventually fail to arouse us. Something like that happens to those who hear and take no action on it.

The person who habitually hears the Word of God and does nothing about it is the greatest of fools, for he fools himself.

We have evolved into a generation of spectators. We sit by the thousands at sporting events, we sit by the hundreds at movies or concerts. We sit for hours watching television programs. Then on Sunday once again we sit as spectators before whom the minister is expected to perform. Many have no intention of doing anything about the sermon. Spectators, not participants.

It is very easy to hear the Word and do nothing about it. Preaching can be heard at church, on the radio or TV, even on the internet. Have sermons become so commonplace that we take the truth for granted?

God forbid that we should go out of our churches merely comparing one minister to another; like listeners in Ezekiel's day, complimenting the messenger without conforming to the message. Enjoying it when God meant to prick our consciences. The task of the preacher is "to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable".

Consider that in the book of Ephesians alone, there are over 30 things to put on or put off.Ephesians 4 and 5
Put away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor.
Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.
Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands giving to those in need.
Let no corrupt communication come out of your mouth, speak only edifying words.
Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you.
Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.

It is too often the case that the person who shouts "amen" through I Corinthians 15, (resurrection chapter), shuts their mouth as tightly as their pocketbook on I Corinthians 16 (collection chapter).

It is not the Word hidden in the head, but in the heart that keeps us from sin.
You can have a head full of Scripture and a heart full of sin!

Understand…..you can backslide with a Bible under your arm
We are certainly not suffering from a lack of sermons.
Maybe we have too many sermons.

There is enough of the Word of God stored in the heads of Christians, that if it were obeyed, we’d set Canada on fire. But hearing it isn’t enough! Something has to be done about the Word.

It is true, gloriously true, that God's Word will not return to Him void. Ezekiel was assured that although the people would not heed his message, they would know that a prophet had been among them.

The preacher may well have a responsibility to preach the Word, but his hearers have a responsibility to heed it.

There is another verse about the Word not profiting Israel long ago, "not being mixed with faith in them that heard it." We may have faith, but is it OBEDIENT faith? By faith Abraham OBEYED.

Are you obedient to the truth you know?
Let me ask you a few pointed questions from the book of James.
Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
Have you done anything about that lately?
You do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
Have your prayers been unanswered because of sin?
Let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.
Have you done anything about your tongue or temper?
Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and he will lift you up.
Have you been proud? We are too often preoccupied with saving face!
Speak not evil one of another, brethren. Confess your faults one to another, pray one for another, so you may be healed.
Are you critical? Is there someone to whom you owe an apology?

These are but a few verses. Consider what would happen if the Church did something about one little book, the book of James! God help us to do something about it, lest we hear God's words and do them not, deceiving ourselves.

Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. John 13:17

"Unchurched - Unreachable?"

Preached by Rev. Ed Brouwer at The Gathering Place,
Pulpit Series Volume 17 Issue 35 9/02/2007

Unchurched Ray and Debra are a lot like many other Canadians. Fighting traffic, paying rent or mortgages, desperately trying to scratch out a living in today’s uncertain economy. They are "nice" people but they probably haven’t been to a church for a few years, except to attend weddings and funerals. They are the unchurched. As Christians, we are expected, sometime, somehow, somewhere to share our faith with people like Ray and Debra.

If Jesus lives inside us, we have little choice.

The apostle Paul shows us to be part of God’s plan. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation II Corinthians 5:17-19

God has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

Committed: (def) to give in trust or charge; consign. to entrust, esp. for safekeeping;

It is hard to think of a bigger incentive to share our faith with the unchurched. God has reconciled the world in Christ, But the task of proclaiming that reconciliation goes to us!
Paul gives our spiritual job description: We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.… II Corinthians 5:20

We are to yield to God, allowing him to make his appeal to this hurting world through us. He usually does that in the circle of influence He plants us in. It is a humbling assignment!
The skeptic may blow off your doctrine or argue your theology, but he/she cannot honestly ignore the fact that your life has been changed. You walking out your new life in Christ is a powerful undeniable life altering message!

The atheist may stop his ears to the words of a preacher or the pleadings of an evangelist, but he is somehow attracted to the human-interest story of how you found peace within. The good-news according to you, is one of the best ways to reach the lost. Friendship evangelism works long after the hit and run evangelists have gone.

Do you remember when you gave your heart to Christ? You were I am sure filled with enthusiasm and joy, wanting to share it with those close to you.

We are best able to influence those closest to us, mainly because we have more credibility than with complete strangers. Share your life enthusiastically, and consistently. The results are not up to you, but the presentation is! You may not win everyone you share with over to the Lord’s side, and that is ok. Remember, Jesus was crucified between two thieves. One responded, one didn’t. Even Paul, perhaps the greatest missionary in history, didn’t always convince the skeptics. When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, We want to hear you again on this subject Acts 17:32

Usually it is a bad personal experience that turns unchurched Ray and Debra off of Christianity. An abusive minister, a harsh legalistic stance, or worse yet, a conflict with someone in the church. Here is where your personal example comes into play.

Most people you share your faith with will want the gospel according to you. You don’t even need to know how to read and write to be an effective ambassador for Christ. It is how you live your Christian life as employees, neighbors and family members - those are your credentials. II Corinthians 3:3

People open up to people they know. Real-life events can bring great opportunities for Christian witness. As Peter wrote, Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have I Peter 3:15

The best evangelism is intimate, up-close and one-on-one. Perhaps Jane the receptionist will tearfully confide to you that her husband is leaving her for another woman. Or maybe Mark your neighbor leaning over the fence breaks the news that his father has prostate cancer. These are the real issues of life. They are opportunities to reflect Jesus. WWJHMD

Verbalize your feelings. Make your communication heart-to-heart as well as head-to-head. Tell others you will pray for them. In some situations, it may be appropriate to pray then and there, asking God for wisdom, healing, strength, faith or peace. You may want to share a favorite verse. You may share a personal experience but be careful not to “one-up” them.
As much as possible use the Word. There is healing in God’s Word. Scripture can calm people. Sometimes that’s all that people in crisis need.

· Be discerning. Go only as deep as the person wants you to go. Unchurched people are not really expecting you to be a theologian. Tell them in your own words what God has shown you.

· Be Christ-like. Be the kind of person people can respect and confide in. Be known for going the extra mile at work and elsewhere. You don’t have to be perfect, but you do have to be consistently open, honest and concerned.

· Be bold. Don’t be afraid to tell people: you’ll be praying for them. Offer to pray with them right then and there.

· Be Real. Don’t pretend to know what they are going through or feeling. Above all don’t treat people like some project - become their friend, become involved in their life.

· Follow up. This shows you really are interested. A card or a gift is a concrete way of letting people know you care. Our world is starving for spiritual connection. With God’s help we can be ambassadors of healing.

John 4:6-26 Jesus deals with the Samaritan women at Jacob’s well. His message “whosoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” The woman said, Sir, give me this water…
John 4:28-30 The woman then leaves her waterpot, runs into the city, inviting people to come, see a man, which told her all things that she ever did: is not this the Christ?... And many of the Samaritans of that city believed on him for the saying of the woman, which testified, He told me all that ever I did.
John 4:39-42 So when the Samaritans were come unto him, they besought him that he would tarry with them: and he abode there two days. And many more believed because of his own word; And said unto the woman, Now we believe, not because of your words: for we have heard [him] ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.