Monday, September 25, 2017

What is fair?

                                                                 Matthew 20:1-16

   The actions of the landowner in this parable are actually a story about God's Grace. I think we all understand that the money paid to the workers was not connected to the amount of work they had done that day. The money they received that day was an example of the landowner's (God) grace. 

   The workers who worked all day complained that they should be paid more, and that it wasn't fair for the landowner to pay those who only worked part of the day. But, the landowner tells them that he paid them exactly what he had promised, and then asks them, shouldn't I be able to do whatever I want with what is mine? 

   There it is right there, the graceful truth. Everything belongs to God, none of us can lay a claim to any of it, God will give His Grace to anyone He wants, and in any amount. Grace is just that, grace. It has no strings attached, grace is an expression of God's love.

   We can find out a lot about ourselves by the actions of the workers. How often do we find ourselves envious of the blessings that God gives to another person? Why do they get that great vacation? We work harder than they do, we deserve that vacation more. It is one of the hardest things for us to say the words "It couldn't have happened to nicer people." But, we know it could have, it could have happened to us.Our me first attitudes and our envy towards others destroys our ability to be thankful and live in gratitude. Instead, we are like the first workers in this parable, grumbling that we weren't paid enough or complaining that life isn't fair.

   It drives me nuts when you are waiting in line to take an exit off the freeway, and someone comes up and jumps in front of you at the last second. If they are in the back, or last, they need to stay last, they need to respect those of us who were first. But this is not what it is like in God's Kingdom, Jesus says the last will be first, and the first will be last. Clearly this is what's happening in this parable, the workers who were hired last were paid first.

   If you look throughout scripture, God chooses the least and the last and lifts them up. God chose a murderer, Moses, to lead His people out of Egypt and into the promised land. God chose a small, skinny kid, named David to be the King of Israel, and a teenage girl, from the backwater town of Nazareth, to be the mother of God. He chose a lowly carpenter to be the adoptive father of Jesus Christ. None of these people were great by earthly standards, but they were still chosen by God. 

   The Christians who persevered and endured, who came first, had to deal with the failures of Christians who were still recipients of God's Grace. We need to be ready for the time when God will lift up the last and the least. We might want to pay less attention to this world's champions, and pay more attention to the ones this world calls also-rans.

   It is pretty humbling when this parable uncovers how big of a role envy plays in our lives. But, it is also thrilling to be reminded of the vastness of God's Grace. Grace that we have experienced, as well as those we least expect have experienced. Maybe we should be less worried about the fairness of this world, and realize that we need to just be thankful for whatever God's Love and Grace pours into our lives, and the lives of others......Amen
   
   













Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Let the Children Come

People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them. Mark 10:13-16.

 Here Jesus is making a remarkable statement, He says that unless people receive the Kingdom of God as a little child would, they won't go to Heaven. Jesus isn't saying that an adult can't be saved, He is simply saying that if we don't humble ourselves as little children do, we will die with the pride that blinds us.

 In Mathew 18:3-4 Jesus clarifies this when he says “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

This is where we can really see what Jesus meant when he talked about being as a little child. Jesus meant that we need to humble ourselves before God. The sinful world is saturated with worldly pride, and stubbornness. Children don't know a lot about receiving the Kingdom of God, they aren't very concerned about death, resurrection, and eternal life. Children don't really worry themselves with these kinds of things.

 This is what Jesus is trying to tell us, we do not need to fear. We have His promise that we will not be alone, that He is waiting for us when this life ends, that our new life in God's Kingdom will be wonderful and joyful. To receive God's Kingdom as we would as little children, we need to remember how to play, how to find joy in everything we do, how to be goofy and silly, just remember how to have fun.

 Jesus tells us to trust, to relax in His arms, knowing that He will take care of us and all of our needs. Jesus tells us to play and have fun, to find delight and joy in ourselves and all of His creation. When we find these, we receive the Kingdom of God. So today, go to the park and feed the ducks, sit on your front porch and blow bubbles into the wind, join your children on the play ground,or help them to gather a bouquet of dandelions. Whatever it is you do, be a little child and receive God's Kingdom......Amen

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Community

   God did not make us to live alone. He created us to live in a community. A community is very powerful, being together means having the ability to succeed together for God's Kingdom. But what happens when the community suffers? After all, we are human.

   Developing a community is hard thing to do, it involves risk taking, it involves letting yourself be vulnerable to other people. By nature, all of us are selfish, and filled with pride, that is who we are. It doesn't make it right, it means we need to learn to overcome it.

   The sad truth is that people are going to hurt us, and we are going to hurt other people. That is a reality, someone is going to accidentally or intentionally hurt your feelings. It starts when we are children, kids making fun of other kids. then as teenagers/adults, we start to make prejudgments of others. Can you believe what she is wearing? Well, I heard that he...., I can't believe they came to church dressed like that, How can they live like that? We can go on and on.

   As we learn to live more like Christ we can change the world for His purpose, we can be the community He created us to be. In Gal. 5:22-24 it says but when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, He will produce this kind of fruit in us, love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. Here, there is no conflict with the law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to His cross and crucified them there. (NLT)

   So how do we develop these loving relationships? I am so very glad you asked. In loving relationships there must always be patience. In 1 Timothy 1:16 it says, But that is why God had mercy on me, so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of His great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they too, can believe in Him and have eternal life. (NLT)  Patience is the ability to take a great deal of punishment without losing your temper, without becoming irritated or angry, or taking retribution. We must learn to use self control, and not to make snap judgments.

   In loving relationships there must also be kindness. Kindness is that state of being that has the character of loving affection, sympathy, friendliness, patience, gentleness, and goodness. Kindness is shown through the way a person speaks, or acts. It is more like a decision than an emotional feeling and act. Prov. 25: 21-23 says, If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat, if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you. As a north wind brings rain, so a sly tongue brings angry looks. (NLT)

   In loving relationships there must be gentleness, we must be sensitive to others. In Col 3:13 it says, You must make allowance for each other's faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. (NLT) forgiveness is me giving up the right to hurt you because you hurt me. It doesn't mean we become doormats, but it means we are honest but gentle, stern but kind.

    Most conflict can and will be resolved with honest, but gentle communication. we need to be careful of taking on the attitude of anger, malice, or gossip because we don't want to be like the world anymore. We must be different because we are followers of Jesus Christ. When we opened the door and asked Christ into our hearts we made the decision to not live as we used to, but to follow and learn to be more like Christ.

   Patience,  kindness, and gentleness helps to bring unity to a community, and will develop loving relationships that will last........ Amen

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Show Your Faith, Take Up The Cross For Jesus

                                     Matthew 16:21-28


   Jesus knew why He had come, to take up His cross, and follow the will of God. It was absolutely essential for Him to go to Jerusalem, to unjustly suffer and die on the cross at the hands of wicked, hateful men, and on the third day be raised again. By doing so, He took our sins, my and yours, off of our shoulders, and through this awesome forgiveness, restored our relationship with God.

   You see, just as Jesus did for us, He call us to take up our cross and follow Him. Sometimes though, I think we misunderstand what our cross is. Our cross is not something that all people have in common, Christians and non-Christians. Illness, disease, struggles in relationships, or job difficulties are not necessarily crosses because all humans have these in common. I think our crosses are something that Jesus puts in front of us because we are His disciples. Caring for the lonely and forgotten, giving a hug to the untouchable, loving the unlovable, to help above your tithe to help meet an unforeseen ministry challenge, or any other way that God is calling you to take up your cross and follow Christ.

   Finally, in Matthew 16:27 Jesus says, The Son of Man is going to come in His Father's glory with His angels, and then He will reward each person according to what he has done. Now we know that He does not promise eternal life because of what we do, but from what is in our hearts. How willingly we take up our cross to follow Him demonstrates the faith in our hearts and our loving response for all that He has done for us. It is faith which He promises to reward with His gift of eternal life.

    Show others the faith you have in Jesus Christ, show them the compassion that He has shown to you, take up your cross and follow Jesus....Amen



   

Friday, August 25, 2017

Matthew

  Today as I was reading my bible, I started thinking about Matthew. Now Matthew, not unlike myself, was probably not the person most of us would recruit for a ministry. Neither I or Matthew would have met the expectations of what a good disciple of Christ would look like in a ministry setting.

  Matthew was not at all liked because he collected taxes for the Romans. I was not a tax collector, but as a drug addict, and dealer, I shared Matthew's moral values. Everybody at that time knew the moral behavior of tax collectors for the Roman Empire was one that most people would not want to imitate because they had their hand in every part of the daily life.

   Matthew was a tax collector in Capernaum, a small fishing village. When the fisherman returned with their daily catch, Matthew would be there, ready to tax their catch. He also would tax them for the number of nets they had on the boats. Of course, Matthew would tax them more than what he gave to Rome so he had money in his own pockets. It wasn't hard to see why he was hated, and didn't even come close to the approval of the Pharisee who were watching when Jesus walked up to Matthew and said follow me.

   So when Matthew gave up his life and left with Jesus, and was seen in the presence of other sinners, the Pharisee naturally asked the disciples, why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners? This is not how proper followers of the law behave, the Pharisees did not like anything less than the perfection that they thought they personified. You see, even their name set them apart, the name Pharisee literally means "The Separated Ones." Scripture tells us that the Pharisees separated themselves from the common folk, the tax collectors and sinners. They separated themselves from anyone not like them.

   Now we must ask ourselves why did Jesus eat with those sinners, and why did He associate with social outcasts? Jesus Himself provides the answer, Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meanings of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners. And, the facts are, that we are all sinners. St. Paul's letter to the Romans says all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God. (Romans 3:23) Paul did not say just the tax collectors sinned, or the thieves and murderers sinned, or even the adulterers have sinned, He said all have sinned, and that means everyone.

   Unfortunately for the Pharisees, they couldn't understand that nobody, including themselves, could be made right before God through their own doings. They were so caught up in all the things they did for God that they believed God was indebted to them. as a result they were so wrapped up in themselves that they had no time, or place, or purpose for a person such as Matthew. But that is not how Jesus viewed things, because Jesus walked right up to Matthew and said follow me, and Matthew got up and followed Him.

   That my friends is the same call that Jesus gives to you and me. And if anyone should ever ask you how God has called you? You can tell them that God has called me, a poor sinner, to be His disciple in His creation. You see, the good news is not that Jesus came to call the righteous, but the sinner. Jesus did not come to heal the healthy, but to cure the sick. And the sickness that covers us all is our sin that only Jesus Christ Himself can cure through His mercy and forgiveness.



Thursday, August 10, 2017

Are We Sinking Or Swimming?

                                          Matthew 14: 22-23

                     Are We Sinking Or Swimming?

   Are you drowning in doubt? Or are you walking on water in faith?
   So, we pick up this week with Jesus sending the disciples out in a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee, after He had just fed the 5000, promising to meet them on the other side. That’s when things go bad, when they are a considerable distance from land a storm blows in bashing waves against the boat, the disciples see what they think is a ghost walking on water and they cry out in fear, but Jesus says to them Take courage, It is I, don’t be afraid. So Peter says, Lord if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water and Jesus said come. Peter gets out of the boat and walks on the water, but once he notices the waves and the wind, he takes his focus off of Jesus, and begins to sink into the sea of doubt, a doubt of his own making.
   Friends, what are the things in life that bash us with the storms of doubt while it feels like God is miles away on the shore? Just like Peter, we hear what God has to say, but then Satan puts that little spark of doubt into our minds. It tells us that God’s word is not good enough, that His track record with His people isn’t good enough and we start to drown in our own sea of doubt. Whether you are the disciples in a boat or a person in a pew, the cold waves of doubt are always threatening to pull you down.
   You know, we hear God’s promise that the righteous are not forsaken; neither will their children beg bread. But the economy remains uncertain at best, and that doubt creeps in. We look at our big beautiful church, and the newness has worn off, but that mortgage remains, and that doubt creeps in. We hear God tell us that His word will never return empty, but will always accomplish His purpose, but we wonder whether or not the empty pews or chairs will fill up. We hear God’s promise that nothing can ever separate us from the Love of Christ, but then we look at our rocky marriages, and that doubt creeps in. We hear God’s promise that we can do all things through him, but then our sins or addictions hold us down even though we know in our heads that Jesus forgives the sins of the world, but in our hearts we feel the icy wind of a guilty conscious, and then that doubt creeps in. 
   Are we sinking or swimming in life? Is our faith barely treading water? There is only one thing we can say, the same words that Peter cried out. Lord Save Me!!!! Lord, save me from drowning in the Sea of Doubt. Lord save me from focusing on my own issues, Lord save me from my sinful self. Save us He does !! In vs. 31-33 it says, Immediately Jesus reached out His hand and caught him. You of little faith He said, why do you doubt? And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying truly you are the Son of God.
    You see, at first Peter’s faith was strong at the site of Jesus; maybe some would call it reckless faith. Peter pushed aside what he knew of wind and waves, and he asked Jesus for permission to walk to Him on the water. Jesus says come and Peter walks on water, but then that doubt creeped in. But, in that instant of faith, Peter walked on water. That is how faith works, regardless of what the mind, heart, or the body experiences, faith holds God to His promise. When everything seems impossible, faith hears God’s promise and says absolutely possible. 
   God doesn’t promise us that we will walk on water on demand, but think of the things He does promise us, through a little water and a few words, God put the devil to flight and creates faith in children that aren’t old enough to say mommy. He makes you a promise with the bread and wine, you receive the Body and Blood of Jesus for forgiveness. Our God tells us that while we were sinners, Christ died for our sins. Jesus tells us that He will go before us and prepare a place for us so that He can come back and get us. Hold on to these promise and not only will you be walking on water, but you will walk through the gates of heaven. 
   You say, OK Mike all good and well, but that wind and those waves look scary. So, tell God something he doesn't already know. It’s because of that scary wind and waves that God made His promises in the first place. And those promises are always powerful, they sent Moses to save the Israelites, and the Israelites to the Promised Land. His promises brought Peter out of a boat and onto the water. His promises brought faith to your heart and hope to your future. God’s promises have built a church, and those same promises will fill it as God sees fit. All of this my friends, you can count on….