Monday, December 12, 2011

Touching Base! Part 151

A Gift in a Box
Part 1 - The Gift of the Magi

Guest posting by Eric Prost

(This article can also we found on our website
at under the tab called "Blog")

This Touching Base is a useful tool for small group discussion, personal reflection or in a one-on-one conversation. We believe that if the Sunday teaching is discussed outside of the morning services, it will be an opportunity to go deeper and build healthy community because God's Word needs to be discussed in community.

In this December series, “A Gift in a Box”, we’re examining some of the blessings that flow from the true Christmas gift, Jesus Christ.

In his famous short story, The Gift of the Magi, American author O. Henry (1862-1910) tells a conventional Christmas story but then concludes with a twist, a surprise ending. In the sermon and the accompanying TB, we’ll look at the famous story of the Magi in Matthew’s gospel, not drawing surprise or unexpected conclusions, but hopefully glorifying God by seeing it afresh.

Read Matthew 2:1-12.

The Magi gave the baby Jesus gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Their gift to us is to show us how to respond as obedient, subject, surrendered servants to our Master.

A lot of traditions surround the Magi, or wise men, who came from the east bearing gifts: some traditions name them (Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar)... other traditions make them magicians or assume there were 3 (or 8 or 12)... many believe they were Persian scholars or priests who travelled west to Jerusalem until the story begins in Matthew chapter 2.

What is clear from the Biblical account is that nothing in the story is easy. The Magi from the east probably travelled 1200 miles, which may have taken up to a year by camel. When they arrived, they weren’t sure where to go. When they ask the king (Herod), he is disturbed by their arrival and their questions. Everyone is upset. No one is happy or too curious. Even the priests and local wise men are not impressed. They know from ancient scripture, which they quote, that the Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem, and they point the way for the Magi… but don’t bother to go along.

Then the magi are tricked by Herod (almost) into divulging the whereabouts of the baby King so that Herod can murder Him. They then give their best gifts away. Finally, the visitors who travelled so far and should have been held in some esteem, sneak away out the back door, never to be heard of again.

Nothing about the account was easy… except for one thing, in verses 10 and 11:
“When they saw the star, they were overjoyed […] and they bowed down and worshipped him”.
In the KJV and English Standard versions it reads, “and fell down….” and in J.N. Darby’s translation, “and falling down did him homage”.

To be overjoyed, and then to be subject to Christ, to worship him, to do obeisance, to surrender – face down – seems to have been easy and spontaneous.

Now read Romans 6:16-22.

The Magi take us back to our Christian Beginnings, to the basics. We often hear of the great truths about being co-heirs with Christ or about being children of God or about being Christ’s bride. But first, we must be his slaves and he our Master.

We can be one of two things: we can be slaves to sin resulting in death, or we can be slaves to God and righteousness leading to holiness. Either way, we are slaves (a stronger word than “servants” and probably a true translation).

As John Stott puts it,
“Conversion is an act of self-surrender; self-surrender leads inevitably to slavery; and slavery demands a total, radical, exclusive obedience. So, once we have offered ourselves to him as his slaves, we are permanently and unconditionally at his disposal”.
This may not be easy. We can look to the Magi as they spontaneously fell before him as an example, but it can be hard to do.

Finally, it’s important to realize who the Master is.

God isn’t asking us to be enslaved without knowing something about the Master.

He demands holiness, yet is meek and lowly of heart and says his yoke is easy and his burden light (Matthew 11:29). The Magi offered the gift of myrrh, which can foreshadow when the same spice was later used to prepare Christ’s body for burial by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea (John 19). The Magi asked where they could find the “king of the Jews,” the same title later fixed to his cross. We are to be slaves to a Master who sacrificed himself.

John Henry Newman (1801-1890) wrote that “Never had a soul true happiness but in conformity to God, in obedience to His will”. He emphasizes how we were bought for a price and now belong to God and live in a relationship of obedience. Therefore, Christians should “come, not seeking a sign, but determined to go on seeking Him, honoring Him, serving Him, trusting Him, whether they see light, or feel comfort, or discern their growth, or no” (emphasis mine).

So this Christmas we fall down, overjoyed, before a baby, and then rise, changed, surrendered, ever to be at his disposal.

Questions: In Romans 6: 19, does it seem like Paul is apologizing for the stark comparison of Christ-followers to slaves? Do you ever lose sight of some aspect of your position as a Christ-follower? Do you ever ignore being a slave or a bride or a son/daughter or a conqueror or a disciple or an evangelist?


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Sunday, December 4, 2011

Touching Base! Part 146 (Re-Post)

Guest posting by Meredith MacKenzie

(This article can also we found on our website
at under the tab called "Blog")

This Touching Base is a useful tool for small group discussion, personal reflection or in a one-on-one conversation. We believe that if the Sunday teaching is discussed outside of the morning services, it will be an opportunity to go deeper and build healthy community because God's Word needs to be discussed in community.

People often call prostitution the “oldest profession” and hold very negative opinions of those involved in its practice. And while many persons are involved in prostitution (men, women, children, transgendered) most of the comments in this Touching Base will refer to women. My purpose is to provide some background information on sex work in Canada, what our current legal climate is, as well as suggestions for a way forward and why, as Christ followers, we should care. As you read the following facts, you will come to realize that most people are involved in sex work as a profession of last resort.

Research has shown us that most women involved in prostitution are sexual abuse survivors. A study that interviewed 854 women currently or recently involved in prostitution showed that, of the 100 respondents from Vancouver’s downtown east side[1]:
  • 54% were younger than 18 at age of entry
  • 86% experienced homelessness (current or past)
  • 73% were beaten or hit by a caregiver as a child
  • 84% were sexually abused as children
Furthermore, while in prostitution:
  • 67% were threatened with a weapon
  • 91% were physically assaulted
  • 76% were raped
  • 95% used drugs
  • 47% used alcohol
When asked “What do you need?” these same women reported:
  • 95%, to leave prostitution
  • 66%, a home or a safe place
  • 67%, job training
  • 82%, drug/alcohol treatment
  • 41%, health care
  • 41%, peer support
  • 58%, individual counselling
  • 49%, self defense training
  • 33%, legal assistance
  • 32%, legalize prostitution
  • 12%, child care
  • 4%, physical protection from pimp
A Toronto study found that 90% of women wanted to escape prostitution but could not[2]. In Nevada 81% of women in LEGAL brothels stated they “urgently want to escape prostitution.”[3] It should be noted, however, that there is a small and vocal minority of sex workers who say they choose prostitution as a viable job option.

More Canadian data shows us that 70-80% of those involved in the Canadian sex industry began as children. 80-95% are fleeing from sexual abuse that usually began in their homes[4].

Further marginalization occurs within our current legal system as well. A Vancouver study concluded that, in the past, police have largely overlooked men who buy sex from children. From 1988 to 1994, the study stated that only six charges were laid against people who bought sex from children. In the same period, however, 354 juveniles were charged for selling sex[5].

There are many factors that influence involvement in prostitution. They can include sexual abuse history, drug dependency, trafficking, emotional and financial duress, lack of supportive family structures, poverty, limited education and a real or perceived lack of choices.

Current debate in Canada is being waged in the courts regarding legalization, decriminalization and abolition:
  • “Legalization” refers to amending the Criminal Code so that the industry of prostitution is entirely legal and regulated like other industries;
  • “Decriminalization” aims to repeal certain parts of the Criminal Code, allowing for prostitution to be considered in the same manner as other occupations;
  • The “abolitionist” argues that prostitution is not, and cannot be, a safe, legal form of work for anyone. They seek to decriminalize the actions of the prostitute and criminalize the purchasers and purveyors.
Sweden has adopted a policy based on gender equality - they argue that normalizing or legalizing prostitution is equivalent to tolerating violent behaviour and disrespect to women. Thus, they have instituted harsh penalties for johns (the men who pay for prostitutes) and have provided funding for the provision of supports for prostitutes (aftercare programming, counselling, rehabilitation, etc.).

Since the Swedish laws criminalizing the demand side of prostitution were implemented in 2000, trafficking in humans has almost completely stopped (down to about 400-600 women per year). Finland, whose prostitution laws are similar to Canada’s, registers 10,000-15,000 trafficked women per year, and yet is half the size of its neighbour Sweden. Stockholm, Sweden also saw the number of johns reduced by 80% and street prostitution was reduced by 66%. [6]

Now let’s contrast this with the situation in the Netherlands, which adopted a policy to legalize brothels and address prostitution from an employment/labour law position. They believed that the new laws would protect women from violence and eliminate organized crime’s involvement in prostitution. Unfortunately, since legalizing prostitution in 2000, 66% of Amsterdam’s legal brothels have been closed down due to the government’s inability to control organized crime. The number of children in prostitution has increased by more than 300%. One state in Australia also legalized prostitution (Victoria) and saw increases in child prostitution.[7]

The links between prostitution and human trafficking are undeniable, since prostitution is the destination point for most trafficked persons. By the mid 1990’s, 75% of women in legal German prostitution were from other countries (most had been trafficked from Eastern Europe).[8]

So prostitution is only and ever a violent exploitation of vulnerable individuals.[9] It is an issue of gender equality and involves the sexual exploitation, violent oppression and abuse of society’s most vulnerable children, women and men. The Bible is full of reasons why we should care about the issues in prostitution. After all, God has charged us with the responsibility to act justly, love mercy and to walk humbly with Him (Micah 6:8). We are also told in Matthew 23:39 to love our neighbours as ourselves, and Isaiah 1:17 tells us to “say no to wrong, learn to do good, work for justice, help the down and out, stand up for the homeless, go to bat for the defenseless.”

Are there any barriers you can identify that prevent you from engaging in this issue…?
… personally?
… culturally?
… structurally (politically)?
… as the Church?

Where can we go from here?
  • Consider your own attitudes about prostitution and challenge cultural attitudes by raising awareness on how the purchase of sex involves exploitation (see the NCAP website below).
  • Lobby for appropriate policy changes to protect those at risk (see Evangelical Fellowship Link).
  • Provide a safe place of welcome, acceptance, friendship, healing and restoration (i.e. true Christian Community) where lives can be transformed.
Meredith MacKenzie

If interested in joining or starting a small group contact us at

[1] “Prostitution and Trafficking in Nine Countries: An Update on Violence and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” Farley, M., Cotton,A., Lynne, J., Zumbeck, S., Spiwak, F., Reyes, M.E., Alvarez, D., Sezgin, U. Journal of Traumatic Practice 2 (3/4): 33-74, 2003.

[2] Elizabeth Fry Society of Toronto, 1987

[3] Prostitution and Trafficking in Nevada: Making the Connection. ISBN: 0615162053, Melissa Farley, 2007

[4] Kimberly Daum, "Sexually Exploitated Children in Canada: The Law is Not on Their Side," Opinion/Essays, 17 October 1996

[5] “Vancouver: Predator and Pedophile Paradise”, a study by John Turvey, executive director of Downtown Eastside Youth Activities Society; Mark Clayton, "To Curb Vancouver’s Big Trade in Child Sex, Police Nab ‘Johns’," Christian Science Monitor, 1997

[6] “Selling Ourselves: Prostitution in Canada Where are we Headed? A comparison of the Swedish and the Dutch Models, and the Correlation Between Prostitution and Human Trafficking.” The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. April 2010

[7] Myths and Facts about Trafficking for Legal and Illegal Prostitution. Farley, M., March 2009.

[8] "Trafficking of Women to the European Union: Characteristic, Trends and Policy Issues," European Conference on Trafficking in Women, June 1996, IOM, 7 May 1996, Elizabeth Fry Society of Toronto, 1987

[9] Selling Ourselves
See also Prostitution of Indigenous Women: Sex Inequality and the Colonization of Canada's First Nations Women. Lynne, J., Farley, M. 2008.

Touching Base! Part 150

Wherever you are, someone’s been there.
Part 6 - Nehemiah

(This article can also we found on our website
at under the tab called "Blog")

This Touching Base is a useful tool for small group discussion, personal reflection or in a one-on-one conversation. We believe that if the Sunday teaching is discussed outside of the morning services, it will be an opportunity to go deeper and build healthy community because God's Word needs to be discussed in community.

As I prepared for this message I kept thinking how I hoped this TB and message would challenge people to worship Christ more fully and engage the heart of the worshipper more deeply with the wonder and beauty of Christ. I hope that by reading and or discussing this TB, that both will happen.

On Sunday we concluded our Wherever you are, someone’s been there series. The final character we briefly looked at was Nehemiah, a cupbearer for King Artaxerxes of the Persian Empire. One of Nehemiah’s dilemmas was that rubble was his trouble. The walls of Jerusalem had been burned and destroyed, so the city and its inhabitants, commerce and culture were vulnerable to outside enemies. However, there was something else of huge importance that formed the centerpiece of Jewish life. It was the Jewell of Jerusalem and, no doubt, its survival (along with the people) was a major concern to Nehemiah. That jewel was the temple.

A temple:
- Was a political, social, cultural and spiritual center
- People travelled from afar to offer sacrifice, engage in various festivals

But here is the problem: temples are like our bodies- they wear out. Like the walls of Jerusalem, they eventually crumble. You see, the temple in Nehemiah’s day had been rebuilt years earlier on the foundations of a previous temple.

Temple #1- Solomon
  • Built 480 years after the Exodus- Many thousands of labourers and skilled artisans were employed in the work
  • It was destroyed (2 Chron. 36:18-21)
  • It lay in ruins for 70 years
  • Rubble was its trouble
Temple #2- Zerubbabel
  • Built by the 50,000 returning exiles (2 Chron. 36:23 and Ezra 2 - Note Cyrus is now King and the Persian empire has taken over the Babylonian empire)
  • Built on the footprint of the old temple
  • The name of the guy who was in charge – Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah
  • But for Zerubbabel, rubble was his trouble too
Temple #3- Herod the Great- sad, mad and dangerous
  • He restored a dilapidated temple that Nehemiah’s walls had tried to protect
  • Apparently his logo was on every block
  • Twice the size of Solomon’s
  • The area could hold up to 250,000 people.
  • Greatest building project of its time, built on 35 acres of land
  • But Herod’s temple became rubble as well: Within forty years after our Lord’s crucifixion, Roman legions took the city of Jerusalem by storm, and in spite of Titus’ efforts to preserve the temple, his soldiers set fire to it in several places, and utterly destroyed it (A.D. 70 – just had Jesus had predicted). It was never rebuilt.

A visitor in Herod’s temple brings us to our hope, our celebration of Christmas. Read John 2:18-22 (you may want to read the whole context). What did Jesus claim?

Big Idea: The work of man last only a lifetime (if that) but the plans of God last forever.

Jesus represents a hope that does not disappoint, a foundation that does not crumble, a structure that will not collapse, the centerpiece of our lives that will not be stolen, plundered and carried off.

Let’s take the remaining part of this TB to spell out why Jesus is a better temple.

A. The partnership between man and God is different in the “building” of this temple.

Earthly temple - For example, in the case of the building of Solomon’s temple, God partnered with Solomon. Remember Solomon’s words recalling what God told David - “Your son (Solomon) whom I will put on the throne in your place will build the temple for my Name.” (1 Kings 5:5)

Jesus - the temple - there is a partnership but a little different. Home Depot was not needed - no hard hats, nail bags, work boots. Check out Matt 1:18-20. Any observations about this partnership?

Do you know anyone who rejects Christ because they reject the teaching of the virgin birth? Virgin birth, meaning “conceived of God in Mary’s womb minus an earthly father”. This kind of partnership troubles some. We understand partnership when we read about God inspiring Solomon to build a temple and then Solomon using his resources to put it into play. But this kind of partnership is harder to understand. But a virgin birth reminds us that our salvation is from God and that Jesus was sinless (Luke 1:35 - “called holy”: He did not inherit a sinful nature) - thus it was a once and for all sacrifice. We will see this in just a minute.

B. The material/substance is different

Earthly temple - What do we know about temples? Rubble was their trouble – their destiny! They had a starting point and an ending point.

Jesus the temple - read John 1:1-18 and make your observations on the substance difference. There are at least 7 passages in the NT that point to Christ’s deity. Rubble was not Jesus’ trouble.

The claim of Christianity isn’t that Jesus was a good man but the God-Man, God in the flesh. We don’t worship a good man because that will always disappoint. We worship the God-Man!

C. The beauty is different

Earthly temple - Check out what the disciples said about Herod’s temple in Mark 13:1.

Jesus the temple - What kind of beauty does Jesus display? Read the article by Phillip Yancey at the end of this article for discussion.

What kind of beauty?
- His beauty was not in his physicality but in his nature, character and his work - God in flesh

The Beauty of Christ can be seen in,

- His Nature - Colossians 1:19 “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Him...”

Thus -
• No corruption was found on his lips- as was found on some of the priests who had served in temples past
• No greed was found in his heart- as was found at the commercialized gates of Herod’s temple
• No grave holding his decomposed remains- as other temples- rubble was their destiny
- His Character - "Character is supreme in life, hence Jesus stood supreme in the supreme thing - so supreme that, when we think of the ideal, we do not add virtue to virtue, but think of Jesus Christ, so that the standard of human life is no longer a code but a character." E. Stanley Jones

- His Work - Luke 4:18,19
Does the beauty of Christ (nature, character and work) breathe life into your faith and shape your faith?

Beauty does make a difference - I remember when we lived in Jakarta the pollution was so heavy you couldn’t see the blue sky. It could get you down - day after day in the smog, traffic and noise. But then the rainy season would come and wash out the air and when the rain stopped, the sky would be a rich blue and you could actually see the mountain range around Jakarta. It was almost like you could just walk to them. It made living in Jakarta for those few clear sky days feel so different because of beauty. When we understand the real beauty of Christ, how will it affect our relationship with Him, and with His Church the Bride?

D. The work is better

Earthly temple- in all three temples, blood was spilled time and time again. Check out 2 Chron. 7- read to v.5.
Imagine the Passover in Jesus’ day when Jews would pilgrim from afar and sacrifice at the temple in Jerusalem. Remember this temple could hold thousands and thousands of people.

Jesus- the temple - Read Hebrews 9 and 10 - just sections - what do you note? Note how the earthly temple was always pointing to a better day and a better way. Jesus is the temple and priest and the sacrifice - once for all. Three in one!

I think many still live in the “OT temple” mindset. When they come to God they feel they need to have something in hand. Probably not a bull, goat, pigeon or lamb but how about works, works and more works? But the NT makes it pretty clear that when we come to this temple, the sacrifice has been paid-. Thus we can come in faith, worship and adoration. See Rev. 5:12-14 and Philippians 2:6-11, Matthew 28:16,17 (personally I love the Matthew text because it illustrates the tension we often can live with or work through).

This Christmas season we celebrate a temple that cannot be destroyed! Rubble is not Jesus’ trouble! He is to be the centerpiece of our lives, in which we put all else into perspective. May it be so!

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“We know nothing about Jesus' shape or stature or eye color, and thus, as a writer, I could not begin where I normally begin in reporting on a person—by describing what he looked like. The first semi realistic portraits of Jesus did not come until the fifth century, and these were pure speculation; until then, the Greeks had portrayed him as a young, beardless figure resembling the god Apollo.

I once showed to a class several dozen art slides portraying Jesus in a variety of forms—African, Korean, Chinese—and then asked the class to describe what they thought Jesus looked like. Virtually everyone suggested he was tall (unlikely for a first-century Jew), most said handsome, and no one said overweight. I showed a BBC film on the life of Christ that featured a fat actor in the title role, and some in the class found it offensive. We prefer a tall, handsome, and above all, slender Jesus.

One tradition dating back to the second century suggested Jesus was a hunchback, and in the Middle Ages, Christians widely believed that Jesus had suffered from leprosy. Most Christians today would find such notions repulsive and perhaps heretical.

Yet in all the Bible I can find only one physical description of sorts, a prophecy written hundreds of years before Christ's birth. Here is Isaiah's portrayal, in the midst of a passage that the New Testament applies to the life of Jesus:
Just as there were many who were appalled at him—his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness… . He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Evidently our glamorized representations of Jesus say more about us than about him.”