Monday, December 4, 2017

We must remain humble in our service

                                               


      The Spirit leads Jesus into the desert where He is tempted. Satan tempts Jesus to settle a little identity crisis in an easy way, by acting out His divine nature, and to leave His humanness behind. Jesus' options come down to this, He could use His Godly powers or He could remain in His human form. Keeping his human form was a tough, but necessary decision for Jesus to make, if he was to fulfill His role as the Messiah. These were not easy temptations for Him. Lucky for us we are human and have no choice in the matter. So, we don't have to deal with these terrible temptations.

      Except.......We do. It has been that way since the very beginning of creation. We all know the story of Adam and Eve, and the serpent, and that darn fruit. You know, the only kind of fruit that God told them not to eat. How did the serpent get them to eat that fruit? He promised them that if they eat the fruit they will be just like God. Even though we would die if we fell from a high building, even though we can't turn stones to bread, and even though we can't control the empires of the world, we continue to be tempted to play God.

      The problem isn't that the things we try to do as God are bad, like feeding people, or maybe stopping oppressive forces. The problem comes in when we are playing God, then we are not worshiping the true God. If we speak as if we are God, then we are not listening to the voice of God. I recently heard a story about a man, who was very popular in the marriage ministry, was getting divorced. When he told everybody about it he referred to a story about a shoemaker who was so busy that his wife went without shoes. He said that he has been that shoemaker, so intent on being a god, that he forgot about following God with his wife. That is another problem with playing God, it not only distances you from God, it also distances you from other people. We place ourselves above them in ways that prevent true equality that we long for in the Kingdom of God.

      It is very easy to find these public examples of people giving into temptation, but what about us? Surely, as humble Christian folk, we know better then to try and play God. Don't we? We don't pick our stance on an issue and then go pray and search scripture for confirmation that we are right. We don't go on crusades for our cause, not paying attention to the destruction we leave in our wake. We don't get so busy with all of our good works that we forget to even talk to the One that has called us to do good. Well, maybe every now and then.

The brownies you can hide, but that forbidden fruit dangles out there in the open, all of the time. Being human is such a rough deal sometimes. We let our egos get in the way, even when we are doing something as seemingly selfless has helping the poor. Are we serving God, or playing God? Sometimes it is a difficult distinction to make, but I think the way we treat the people around us can give us a good clue. When we remain humble in our own humanity as we look to serve God, we can recognize and respect that same humanity in the people around us.  

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Givingthanks.......


   I am going to tell you a story from the bible, It comes from Luke Chapter 17: 11-19. This story introduces us to 10 mystery men, I say this because we don't know a lot about these men. They might come form totally different backgrounds, be of different ages, and for all we know they might not like each other very much. But, they have one thing in common, one experience that brings them all together. They had lived pretty regular, boring lives up until something happened, leprosy.

   In those days they were outcasts and made to leave the city, and somehow they ended up banding together. So, here they are together along a lonely, remote border between Samaria and Galilee with no hope for a cure. One day, hope appears. They have heard stories about Him, they have heard that He can do miraculous things. He has made the lame walk, given the blind sight, He has made the mute shout for joy, and unplugged the ears of the deaf. If He could do all of those things, maybe He could heal them. They cry out to Jesus, Master, Have mercy on us. He hears them, and sees their situation. Jesus simply tells them to go and show themselves to the priests, and there is only one reason Jesus would tell them to do this. They are the ones who declared them unclean and banished them and are the only ones who can declare them clean and allow them to return to their lives.

    As they are running to the priests they see themselves being healed. Nine of them keep running to the priests to get their gift of new life. One of them stops dead in his tracks and returns to Jesus, praises God in a loud voice, falls to his knees at Jesus' feet, and gives Him thanks and praise. It's very surprising to me that only one of the ten returned to do this, but even more surprising is the last thing we know about these men. The nine that didn't return were Jews, considered to be part of the people with a covenant with God. The one that returned to give Jesus praise was a Samaritan, supposedly cut off from God's covenant. The fact that Jesus was a Jew makes it even more surprising that a Samaritan would return and give thanks and praise.

   It is important to realize there was a difference in healing that day. The nine who kept going and never returned were looking for a physical healing, and Jesus gave them that. But, while their disease may have been healed, they still have to face the wages of sin someday. The healing they sought will only last for a relatively short time. The Samaritan who returned, yes he has the healing that the other nine had, but he also realized that Jesus had a lot more to give.

   Jesus can give the kind of healing that will last for eternity. That is why the Samaritan returned to give thanks and praise, and that is why Jesus said rise and go, your faith has made you well. The Samaritan knows he doesn't deserve any of this because of who he is, but this is because of who Jesus is. So, in this week after Thanksgiving, it's appropriate to really look at what took place on that small border near Samaria and Galilee. And as we do, we realize that the truth be told, we have a lot of similarities with the lepers in this story.

   As you have your Thanksgiving leftovers, remember Who it is that gives you everything, remember that you were once an outsider from God. Jesus Christ has lived, died, and risen again, and once again has given you some pretty amazing gifts, so that you are no longer a stranger, but a redeemed child of God. Yes indeed, in the words of the 107th Psalm, we rejoice to say, give thanks to the Lord for He is good, His love endures forever...... AMEN
    

 

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.