Monday, November 20, 2017

Winners and Losers

Are there winners and losers in the Kingdom of God? I think society today is too wrapped up in competition, there has to be a winner and a loser. The most watched TV shows have a "loser" who gets kicked off weekly, elections are watched and treated like football games, and don't get me started on the stories of parents getting into fights at their children's sporting events. What are we teaching our youth?

I coach soccer and fastpitch softball through the parks and rec department where I live, the kids that play are playing for fun. It's not like little league, there are no winners or losers, the score is not kept and no records are kept. Some parents say that is ridiculous, since our kids live in the "real world" which is based on competition, when in all actuality most of our jobs or careers are based on cooperation. But, if competition is truly what makes the world go round, and I am to work with the youth, then part of my role is to paint them a picture of not what the world is today, but as it could be. A world where love and community are the focus, not competition, not self-sufficiency, or independence.

 Philippians 2:3-4 says, Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility, count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Our competitive nature prepares us for a world of winners and losers. "To the victor goes the spoils", I believe is the quote. We understand the ways of competition as if it were hard wired into our brains. And, since it is the winners who write the history books, little is made of this part of our lives. So how do we teach our youth humility and compassion?

 If you want to know the truth, it is not natural for us to care about other people. Humanity is born greedy and self-centered, and our youth are not any different. We need to see that the real problem here is in the heart. If we simply try to change their behavior, we are not helping them get closer to Jesus.

I see Philippians 2:3-4 used a lot in teaching our youth about humility and compassion, but I think maybe verses 1 and 2 should also be used , which explains, If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like minded, having the same love, being one with spirit and purpose.

Paul is saying that if your encouragement is in Christ, then you can put others first. If you have comfort in Jesus' love, then you can care more about your neighbor. If we want our youth to put competition aside and care about others, we have got to be aware of what fills their lives. We need to show our youth Jesus is real, and when that happens, their hearts will naturally overflow to those in need. So, are there winners and losers in God's Kingdom? What do yo think?

Friday, November 10, 2017

Waiting on Jesus

                                                               Matthew 25: 1-13

Jesus will come again to completely establish His Kingdom. But, Jesus comes into our lives today in many ways. He comes into our lives in answered prayers, in a peace that passes understanding, in unconditional forgiveness, and a love that overflows.

Waiting for Jesus' return is difficult for us, but lets also recognize that there are opportunities to experience and show others Jesus' presence today. Every time we work towards justice in this world, we testify to the presence of Jesus. Every time we bear each others burdens, we testify to the presence of Jesus. Every time we advocate for the poor, or reach out to the friendless, or work to make this world a better place, we testify to the presence of Jesus in our lives.

Waiting and preparing can be hard to sustain, we can grow weary in our work, frustrated by the lack of outcomes we see, or distracted by that thousand and one other obligations that fill each of our lives. long story short, we must admit that on any given day, we may discover that we are a foolish bridesmaid. So lets reclaim the church as a place where we can find help in our waiting, all kinds of waiting, and support as we try to live our Christian lives. I find it very impactful, that when first century Thessalonians found their waiting intolerable, Paul gave them these words, "Therefore encourage one another."

The Book of Revelation tells the story of the apocalypse. At the end of that book the final words are, Amen, come Lord Jesus. Make these words part of your everyday as we live out the lives of disciples of Jesus Christ waiting for His coming presence.

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Greatest Discovery of All

If you could pick one discovery as the greatest discovery ever what would it be? There have been a lot of discoveries over the years that have changed people's lives. How about Anesthesia, or the light bulb? There is the theory of relativity, or maybe Penicillin, even the discovery of DNA could be your choice. I know some out there would say that chocolate was probably the greatest discovery. But, I don't think these discoveries, as great as they are, even come close to the greatest discovery of all.

The discovery I am talking about happened on the very first Easter Morning. The two Marys, Mary Magdalene, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, got up early one morning and went to the tomb. At the tomb they witness an earthquake, an angel coming down from heaven and removing the rock to the tomb. The angel tells them that Jesus has been raised and told to tell the disciples that He would meet them in Galilee. Then, they see the resurrected Jesus Christ, they grab hold of Him and then they worship Him. Their discovery of Jesus being raised from the dead changed the world.

Christians are human and make mistakes just like everyone else, but Jesus uses us to accomplish great things. Christians have started universities and hospitals, Christians were the first ones to start caring for the sick and the dying, even at the risk of their own lives. We have taken the gospel to the four corners of this world, and with that gospel we brought along modern medicine and education. He uses faith based communities to reach out to the poor and homeless right here in our own country. The world has been changed by people whose lives have been changed because of the discovery of that empty tomb and the discovery of Jesus' resurrection, that He conquered death.

Modern medicine by itself, can't take away that guilt or shame that wells up inside us as we struggle with that dark side of our lives. The gospel of Jesus, that there is a God who loves us, unconditionally, and that He forgives us, completely breaks the chain that sets us free from our shame and guilt. Science and technology can't answer those burning questions like who am I, or why am I here? But, through Jesus Christ we can realize that we are children of God, created as special and unique people who are given different abilities so that we can serve God by serving others. It is Jesus Christ who takes us away from our self-centered, selfish lives and calls us to live beyond ourselves. We realize there is more to life then power and prestige, there is an overcoming power of love, people who have been loved, loving others. That is why the discovery of the empty tomb is the greatest discovery of all........

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Mustard Seed Sized Faith

                                                                Luke 17:5-6
                                                                Acts 2:42-47

    I think there are many times when we are intimidated by our faith. The church's mission is to make new disciples in Christ for the transformation of the world, and we are the church. But, I know a lot of times we think to ourselves, How can I do this by myself, I am not very good at sharing my faith with others. What if people reject me, what can I offer, I am a sinner too, or do I even have enough faith to take on this task?

    Our call as Christians and the strong belief we have can seem overwhelming at times. I am just one person, what can I do? In Luke 17, the apostles are feeling the same way. When they were faced with what looked like an impossible task, they cried out to Jesus, "Increase our faith!" I know many of you have said the same thing, I know I have. And, I don't think there is anything wrong with that.

    When thinking about the call of discipleship, the apostles thought that they didn't have enough faith to accomplish the task ahead. So Jesus tells them, "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this Mulberry tree, be uprooted and planted in the sea, and it will obey you." Wait a minute, what ????

    If you held a mustard seed in your hand, you might not be able to see it. It is probably one of the most smallest seeds in existence. And sometimes, just like that mustard seed, we have problems seeing the faith that we have. When the going gets tough, or we are called to tell someone about Jesus, we have a rough time finding the faith to do it. But Jesus is telling us that the faith we need is already inside of us. All we have to do is to tap into it.

    Just look and see what happened to the apostles after the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost. That scared group of followers became empowered to stand up and proclaim with boldness, clarity, and conviction, "Let all of Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." "And when the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said, what shall we do?" The answer, "Repent and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the Holy Spirit." We are told that "Those who accepted this message were baptized, and about 3000 were added to their number that day."

    So, do you think the disciples would have ever imagined that this was possible? Days before, they had locked themselves behind closed doors in fear of the people who became their brothers and sisters in Christ. And yet they let their belief and trust in God to use their mustard seed sized faith to save the people. They were ordinary people, just like you and I, but they were also the church, just like you and I.

    Right away the people dedicated themselves to the apostle's teachings, to their fellowship, their breaking of bread and prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and signs were done. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their goods and possessions, they gave to anyone in need. They broke bread together in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of the people, and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. And all they had was a mustard seed sized faith.

     You know, you feel it or see it. When we as a church, live our lives like this, we find that we have a little more spring in our step, sometimes to our own amazement or surprise. There might even be a new attractiveness to us, a new energy we have found as we celebrate God's generosity, by being generous ourselves. And that attractiveness is what draws other people in.

    This takes faith, and it must be done in the community of the church. We can't do it alone, we must do it together, that is God's plan. This is who and what we were made to be. So when the apostles said Lord, we are not strong enough, please increase our faith. Jesus responds by basically saying that you already have the faith required for what I am asking. All that you need is faith no bigger than a mustard seed.

    You See? What Jesus is saying is that we as the church, have enough faith to change the world for Him. Jesus tells us that, "It's half the size of a grain of rice, yet it grows into a bush so large that birds come and make nests in it." Meaning that other people come and find their home in the church which is built on faith, a faith that calls us forth and shapes who we are.

    We then become the body of Christ on this earth. We are empowered to continue Christ's ministry, which is what we are called to do. All it takes is trusting God to be God, all we need is God and each other, and all we have to do is just do it. We need to stop wringing our hands and act on that faith which lives in each of us. Jesus has given us the faith we need to accomplish these things for God's kingdom.

    The early church were doing these things, they were generous and committed. They were praising God by putting that faith into to action. They were enjoying the favor of the people, and God added to their numbers daily, those who were being saved. Of course they were, and of course He did. That is how it works, the Gospel hasn't changed. God's power hasn't weakened, and people still need to be saved. God has entrusted us with great faith, anything is possible. Are we ready to experience it first hand? All it takes is mustard seed sized faith. Amen.....

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

What is Faith?

What is faith? I bet, if you ask 5 different people you will get 5 different answers. Most skeptics would say that faith is believing in something without a lack of real evidence, or believing in something that you know in your heart isn't true.

If you go to the dictionary for the definition of faith it says, A belief and trust in and loyalty towards God; belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion; or firm belief in something that has no proof. I don't think any of these provide an absolute answer as to what faith really is.

I think faith is your belief, but also your relationship with God, I think they go hand in hand. Without that relationship there is no faith. Faith is probably the most essential part of Christian life, because without faith you can't have God. Hebrews 11: 6 states, "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek him."

 Hebrews 11:1 gives us this description of faith, "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." So the Bible tells us that the place that true faith comes from is God, for it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that noone can boast. (Ephesians 2 : 8-9)

Faith moves way beyond anything we can know, it is fiercely personal yet inevitably communal. Faith is giving control of the bus over to God, letting go of everything and holding on to someone that won't let go of you.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Even For You and Me

      Peter Replied, "Repent and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins." Act 2:38

      The words of hope from this passage are for you my friend. They are for you because no matter what your family, your neighbors, or your friends might be saying about your past mistakes, God is different. Instead of rubbing your nose in the dirt because of you your failures, God is willing to forgive you and take you in, or even take you back.

      The blood of God's Son, Jesus Christ, shed on Calvary's cross has already paid the complete price for all of your sins. Unbelievable to human mind, heart, and thinking, God has already prepared a gift of forgiveness for you. This gift comes at a great cost, but it's price has been paid for and wrapped up when the Father's only Son, our Savior, cried out from the cross: "It is finished!" (John 19:30) Jesus' resurrection on the third day tells us the Lord's great gift of Grace will always be there, always be alive. You can be sure that God is inviting you to receive this gift of perfect and total forgiveness.

      These words of the Gospel regarding the saving work of Christ were penned over 2000 years ago, and the passing of years has not changed their impact. These same words remain powerful  for the believing father now living in Africa, for the heart broken mother living behind the garbage can, or for the disillusioned teenager begging for money at the store. These words are even for you and me.

      Oh, unto all of you, to whom God has entrusted the proclamation of His Gospel, never forget, never forget, that the Gospel is the Power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes......(Romans 1:16)   Amen..........

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Step Out Into the Deep Water

  Picture in your head, if you will. Jesus is standing on the beach lakeside, and the crowd waiting to hear Him speak is pressing Him. Down on the water He sees two boats sitting empty because the men who owned them were washing their nets. Jesus gets into Simon Peter's boat and asks him to pull away from the beach.

  Now that He was away from the press of the crowd He could teach them. When Jesus finishes teaching them, He decides to use an incredible sermon illustration to extend His lesson. He tells Simon Peter to put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.(Luke 5:4)

   Jesus says, Put out in the deep water, not Let's stay here where it is shallow and safe. Could He be implying the real possibilities in life are where it is deep and risky? Is He inviting us to venture out, take a chance, be adventurous and active?

  So, even though Simon Peter fished all night and hadn't caught a thing, he sets out to the deep water with Jesus. I am sure most of you know the rest, they catch more fish than one boat almost two boats can handle. Why? because they were willing to follow Jesus' word and set out into the deep.

  Like this story, Jesus calls us to step out into the deep water. But, we are called by Him to be fishers of men. If we are going to do that we need to leave the shallows and venture out into the deep and dangerous waters of this world where real people are to be found.

   How? By sharing with someone what it's been like for you to be a follower of Christ, of being a part of a church family. There is no pressuring needed, just share what you have experienced. If they seem interested, then invite them to come see for themselves.

   I am sure talking about your faith makes you uncomfortable, you might get a little embarrassed, or like Simon Peter you think I tried that once and it didn't work. But all you have to do is do what Simon did that day and trust Jesus.

   In other words just be yourself, the honest, loving, accepting, non judgmental Christians we are supposed to be. Jesus calls us to step out of our comfort zones, to be adventurous, to simply trust in Him. We are called to witness and to service. Jesus still asks, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?