Good morning Kingsville Baptist.
This is the last time I will stand here as your pastor. I am usually pretty good at controlling my emotions, and I am counting on that this morning!
It has been a difficult season for us to say good-bye to this community we have served with for the past 16 years. But while we can’t enjoy our customary reception with cake after church, please know that we do appreciate everyone who has reached out to us with calls, cards and electronic notes over the past few weeks. And I am glad that we are at least able to gather in the ways that we do. Your attendance and continued prayers are appreciated.
Please make sure that you continue to reach out to those in the congregation who you are missing through these times of separation, as well as those who you know are alone, lonely and in need of encouragement.
Psalm 1 New International Version
1 Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
6 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction
We gather together this morning to praise You and to listen for Your voice. I pray in particular that when we leave this place, we will be reassured in our faith and strengthened in our relationship with You.
May we ponder the Good News of Jesus Christ, who came to us to give us a pathway back to forgiveness, and back to God. And may the generosity and grace of that truth never cease to overwhelm us.
You are the one who loved us first. Help us to respond by loving You back, and loving others.
In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
Today's Message: God IS Truth
I thought quite a bit about what to preach on my last Sunday here in Kingsville. I want to say everything, but more, I want to say the most important things. So, a couple of weeks ago I thought about the very first sermon I preached from this pulpit. I wasn’t yet your pastor at the time, but a candidate subject to a vote. It’s kind of like running for public office.
It was, as far as I can remember, July 11, 2004. I had met a couple of times with the pulpit committee and they asked me to preach for the call. The whole family had come to Kingsville from Fenelon Falls to be here – a 5-hour car ride. There had been a reception under a tent at the Wharram’s home the day before.
That Saturday night, we stayed at the Adam’s Motel; four of us in one room. David was 13 and JamieLynn 10, and both of them came down with the stomach flu that night before my big morning. Tracey did her best to let me get some sleep, but as I said, we were all in one hotel room so that wasn’t an easy task.
The next morning, we made it to church and asked if there was someplace open where we could buy some ginger ale or Gravol. Wayne Wharram was the unfortunate one who made the mistake of asking how we were doing. We told him! I think the kids were still a bit pale, and he was enlisted to get some supplies for us.
Well, we made it through that morning. The congregation voted and just like that, I was called as pastor of this church. Sixteen years later, here we are again. My kids have grown up and moved away so it was only the 2 of us at the Adam’s Motel last night. While no one was sick this time, it still feels like we have gone full circle!
And so, it is only fitting that I go to the very same passage I preached from that summer Sunday morning in 2004; a passage that described the Jesus I intended to tell you about for the next 16 years.
John 1:14-18 New International Version
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.
It was important to me that you knew what you were getting if you chose me as your pastor. Not someone who preaches predictably line by line, but one who looks to interpret the passage as a whole; not a fire and brimstone ‘yeller’ but one who desperately wants you to know the love of God.
I am not the same man I was 16 years ago. Back then I had colour in my hair, and I had hair; a few pounds lighter and didn’t need a cane to walk. The years do take a toll!
While the passage hasn’t changed, and Jesus hasn’t changed; my hope is that you have changed; that you know Jesus a little bit better today than you did in 2004.
The main point of my message when I preached for the call was that Jesus is both grace and truth. Not one more than the other; not one or the other; both. To follow Jesus you need to know that He loved you first – enough to die for you; and that you need to know the real Jesus, because there are many ways people get Him wrong.
I hope I have done that for you. I hope you received the message that God loves you, and that you need a relationship with the real thing. Both of those are critical; miss one and you totally miss Jesus.
Moving fast forward to today, the foundation of that message doesn’t change. Jesus will always be full of grace and full of truth. But there is an insight that has become more and more clear to me as the years go by.
Grace IS Truth
Romans 6:14 tells us that “We are not under the law, but under grace.” And so, grace is about more than God’s love. It is God’s gift; God’s good news; God’s gospel. When God first revealed Himself to Abraham, He showed Himself as a friend who promised to bless Abraham’s family and make it a great nation someday. For the next 400 years, God revealed Himself primarily through that growing family.
After becoming slaves in Egypt, it was finally time for God to keep the promise He had made centuries before to Father Abraham; and so, He revealed Himself to the new Nation of Israel through Moses and the Law. These laws guided the people and integrated God into every aspect of their lives; work, family, religion, government, even hygiene. In order to know God, you had to know His law. You could say at that time that Law was Truth; revealing to you what is real; laying out the pathway to salvation.
But the law has its’ limitations, and the law can be cold, and the law breaks down. It must be added to, clarified, amended and interpreted to fit the changing times. Inevitably, when the law is truth, you are almost forced to take your eyes off of God because you need both of them focussed on keeping the rules; making it easy to miss the forest for the trees.
Think about when you first read the driver’s handbook; before you ever got behind the steering wheel of a car. There was so much to learn, so much to remember, so much that had to become second nature because you don’t always have time to think about your reactions. When you start driving, you can be easily overwhelmed, especially the first time you turn left at a busy city intersection. With the law, that feeling never goes away, because there are always new ways to fall short; always more things that need your attention; always more sources of anxiety.
Then Jesus came. The baby born in that Bethlehem stable. God in the flesh who would reveal His Heavenly Father to the world with a clarity the law could never match.
Jesus would grow up, become a man, and then an itinerant Rabbi-Preacher whose words were like no one who came before or since. Jesus would preach that while the law could point you toward God, it could never point you close enough. In the Sermon on the Mount of Matthew 5, Jesus over and over again told of how the law fell short of God’s glory. It wasn’t enough to not kill someone – you were just as guilty if you hated them or called them names; not enough to love your friends and family who are good to you – you had to love your enemies too, even those who put you down; not even enough to refrain from adultery – because just looking at someone with lust in your heart made you guilty – even if no one knew but you! Clearly, Jesus was concerned about sin, but He was even more concerned about why we sin; about the condition of our hearts.
Jesus didn’t come to set aside the law; Jesus came to show us that actually, the Law didn’t go far enough. He came to tell us that we had zero chance of obeying all of it.
Until one day, when Jesus was being tested by the religious leaders who felt threatened by Him, He revealed what the fulfilment of God’s law might look like:
Matthew 22:36-40 New International Version
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
This is what the law is all about. This is the truth! Love God and people perfectly. That’s all! No more and no less. If you want to determine whether something is sin, love is always the test to apply. This new way would no longer be a test of devotion, but a model to aspire to. It was the heart of God revealed to us so we can imitate Him. As Paul says in Ephesians 2:4-10:
Ephesians 2:4-10 New International Version
4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
We are saved by grace – God’s gift to us; through faith – our response to that gift.
And so, as we put this all together, we can see that it isn’t just that Jesus came to show us what grace and truth look like, He also showed us that grace IS the truth. Elsewhere in the New Testament, 1 John 4:8 tells us the very same thing in the simplest of statements:
God is love. 1 John 4:8
If we are followers of God and disciples of Jesus, then we will imitate our master, and we too will become love!
That IS good news! That is the gospel! Those who follow Jesus are becoming love!
Where are you in this process of becoming love? Where am I? I think it is safe to say we are not anywhere near the end of it, and we will never be finished. Loving God and loving people is our life’s work, our purpose, our privilege! It is the truth!
So, I hope more than anything else that I have made the gospel of Jesus Christ more clear to you. God has given Himself fully to you. All you need to do is give yourself to Him, and if you do that with honesty and integrity, you too will be changed and made new! You too will begin to become love!
Romans 12:2 New International Version
2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
I wanted to finish with that often-quoted verse. I hope you are almost tired of hearing it. I hope you are so tired of hearing it that you find yourself repeating it in your sleep! Because Romans 12:2 tells us what God wants for us. He wants us to choose Him, to be changed, and to know His mind. God wants to transform our lives!
My prayer this morning is that we would all answer your challenge to stop trying to find meaning and purpose in the things of this world, the things that are perishable, the things that may be good, but are not the best. Instead, I pray we will find our lives in You!
We confess that our capacity to love is insufficient. That our selfishness and sin get in the way of the very thing we need most. We confess that often we can become satisfied with a small piece of You, even when Your desire is to give us the whole portion; to give us all of Yourself.
I pray for our church today. I give thanks for the love and friendship and grace we have received from this body of believers. And I pray that as First Baptist Kingsville moves forward into their future, this congregation will continue to seek to live in the grace and truth You showed us so perfectly through Your son, Jesus.
May we all continue to take one step closer to You; and when we have completed that step, to take another.
In Jesus’ name, amen.
Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
To Him be glory both now and forever. Amen