Monday, December 28, 2015

New Year's Resolution: To Be About Your Father's Business

                               Sermon preached Dec. 27th 2015, Redeemer Lutheran Church
                                                             
                                                                Luke 2: 41-52


      When I am starting to study for a sermon, I read the passage from a few different bibles. I usually start with the King James Version, mostly because I come away with more questions than when I went in. So, when I went to the KJV this time, one of the questions that Jesus asks Mary and Joseph just popped right out to me, and I knew immediately what I was going to preach about. It is the only bible that I have seen that asks the question this way. Didn't you know I must be about My Father's business? So, for this one simple question, I am going to preach from the KJV. 

      So, here we are. 2 days after Christmas and we are already starting to think about the New Year. And, as we think about the New Year, we tend to make New Year's resolutions. Have you made yours? I know I have a few. When I was preparing this sermon, I decided to find out where this tradition came from. I found the most popular theory is that it came from Babylon, and that it was usually a farmer resolving to return some farm equipment he had borrowed from the month before. 

      Today, our resolutions are things that sound good, but most of the time we don't keep up with, like losing weight and/or exercising more, or maybe even spending more time with your family. So, if you have already made your resolutions, I hope you have room for one more.

      This morning, I am going to talk about a 12 year old boy. And, this 12 year old boy is going to teach us a New Year's resolution that we all should keep. He would be a 7th grader in today's world, and in our Gospel lesson for today this 7th grader speaks to us. And, the lesson he will teach us is the best New Year's Resolution we could make for 2016. So, let's go see what that resolution could be. 

      Our Gospel lesson today describes Mary and Joseph as a faithful family. Every year they travel to Jerusalem for the Passover, and as a 12 year old boy, Jesus goes with them. They spend a week there, as was the custom. And, after the feast was over, everyone packed up and headed home, back to Nazareth. Well, atleast they thought everyone. Now remember, back then the only mode of transportation was walking. people would travel together in large groups, it was safer.

      So, there are Mary and Joseph traveling with friends, family, and fellow Jews. The adults would walk in groups, and the children would travel in their own separate groups, so they could play and to other things to keep from annoying their parents. After that first day of travel Mary and Joseph set up camp, and then they go to find Jesus. They search all the other groups and camps, but they couldn't find Him. He was gone without a trace, Jesus was missing. Now, if you are a child who has been left at a rest stop, at a mall, or maybe a restaurant, you are now in good company.

      If you are a parent though, and you can't find your child, you would probably start to panic. So Mary and Joseph, who were very upset, headed back to Jerusalem to look for Jesus. I am sure there were all kinds of bad things racing through their minds, But, we are told that they finally find Him in the temple. He was sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions. We are told in Vs. 47 that everyone who heard Him was amazed at His understanding and His answers.

      Just then, Mary works her way through the crowd and she actually scolds Jesus. Son, why have you treated us this way? Your father and I have been searching for you. But Jesus, the 12 year old 7th grader doesn't respond with Ahh, I'm sorry mom, or even I am the Son of God, you can't speak to me like that. Instead, He teaches them a lesson, they didn't expect to learn. In Vs. 49 He says, Why were you searching for me? Didn't you know I must be about My Father's business?

      Mary and Joseph didn't understand what Jesus was saying to them. What does it mean that I must be about My Father's business? I think that even at the age of 12, Jesus knew He was not just the son of Mary, He also knew He was the Son of God. He knew that his purpose in life was not just to be a good son and grow up, He knew He was on this earth for a greater purpose. He had a divine mission to fulfill, to be the Savior of all mankind. And, part of that mission was spending time in God's word, filling Himself with the words and promises of God that are found in scripture. That was His Father's business. It was very important that He came up missing from the group returning to Nazareth.

      Ultimately this 12 year old boy would become the greatest teacher anyone has ever known, carrying out His Father's business. But, even more importantly, Jesus would someday be about His Father's business by dying on the cross. That was His ultimate mission in life. He was still a good son to His parents, the bible tells us that Jesus went home and obeyed His mother and father. But, He had a greater mission, a more important mission, a divine mission. To be about His Father's business, to be the savior of the world.

      So now, let me ask you this. Do you realize that you have a divine mission in this life? I think some of us forget that we are not just here to work, pay bills, raise kids, work more, and pay more bills. That is not why God has placed us on this planet. We are put here, brothers and sisters, to be about our Father's business.

      I think there are 5 words that sum up God's business pretty well. The first is why we are here today. To HEAR the word of God, God wants to be a big part of our lives. As we hear the word of God, it includes the CONFESSING of our sins. Then, because Jesus was about His Father's business, it also includes that we RECEIVE the forgiveness of sins. As that happens you become filled with the Holy Spirit and you CHANGE for the better, which makes you into a person who GLORIFIES God. That my friends is God's business. To HEAR, CONFESS, RECEIVE, CHANGE, and GLORIFY. That is why we are here, to be about our Father's business.

      Has that been at the top of your list in 2015, to be about your Father's business? I know there are times when it hasn't for me. Those excuses creep in, I'm to busy, or I have to many things going on. Is God's business a priority for you, or is it put aside if you have something else going on? That is why it was so important that Jesus came up missing. Are you willing to come up missing, because you are busy going about your Father's business?

      This morning, a 12 year old 7th grader shows us a New Year's resolution. That is to make God's word, our Heavenly Father's business, top priority in 2016. It all starts with confessing our sins to God. Please don't hesitate to do that, we must look back over 2015 and confess all of our sins to God. Confess all the times we let our Father's business go, so we could pursue earthly things. So confess, and then receive that forgiveness for all of our sins. Remember, Jesus already paid for our sins on the cross, they have been washed away by His blood. we are completely forgiven, so receive Christ's forgiveness and let the Holy Spirit change you for the better. Making you into a person who makes God's word a top priority in your life. Then we will become someone who glorifies God.

     God's business, it is possible to be a family man and have God's business as your top priority. In fact, it will probably make you a better family man. It is possible to be involved in projects, or work, or sports, it's possible to do all kinds of things, and still have God's business as top priority. At times, you may have to put something off, sacrifice something, or come up missing for something, but that's OK, put God's business first in 2016 and the rest will fall into place.

      Someone once said that a bible that is falling apart, usually belongs to someone who is not. God's business, God's word, here is where we find Christ born on Christmas, for the sole purpose of taking away our sins. Here, we see Him dying on the cross, in order to save our soul. Here, He rises from the dead, promising us eternal life. Here, Christ blesses us,' fills us with joy and peace, and the kind of love that only God can give. That, is God's business.........Amen

     

     
      

      

      

Monday, November 30, 2015

Let the Children Come to Me

      I heard a joke the other day about 2 children complaining about their parents. It goes something like this, 1 child said parents teach you how to walk, then they teach you how to talk, and the other child said, yeah and as soon as you learn they tell you to sit down and shut up.......

      That joke got me thinking about how the disciples treated the children in the Book of Mark chptr. 10:13-16. Mark tells us that parents were bringing their children to Jesus for blessings, but for some reason the disciples were trying keep the children away from Jesus. I am not sure why they would try to keep the children away from Jesus, because it was a custom for Jewish rabbis to bless the children. In that blessing was a hope filled with health, joy, and peace. For whatever reason the disciples had for trying to keep the children from Jesus, Mark tells us that Jesus thought differently.

      Over the centuries, right up to today, it seems that some Christians take on that same attitude as the disciples. They don't think children belong in worship, they don't look at children as important members of God's Kingdom. But, I think it would be wise of us to listen to children. They hear things that we no longer hear, and have priorities that we lost somewhere. I heard a story of a teacher who would listen to the children in his class, and tip his cap to them everyday, because he said, they are the future in our midst. One of those children in his class was a boy named Martin Luther.

      The custom in many churches is to send the children away from the sanctuary. A lot of children think that church is a place where the adults tell you to be quiet as they send you away. I wonder what Jesus would do. Perhaps He would go out there with them. The truth is that we don't listen to children, we assume that they need to listen to us. The last time we were out for dinner I heard a father at another table tell his little son, " I don't care what you want, you need to listen to me." Children spend a lot of time sitting while adult voices talk at them, and then we are to busy or tired to listen to them. We ignore them in restaurants and serve the adults first. We hang pictures high up on the walls like everyone is tall. We ask children what they want to be when they grow up as though they are nothing as they are now.

      Jesus said "Let the little children come to me." Worship is richer and livelier with them there. There is no need to make it seem less complex for the sake of children, the church seems to stress the importance of understanding, but all understanding is not intellectual, all learning is not verbal. Children worshipping with adults who worship with deep and solemn respect before the presence of God learn lessons that they will remember for the rest of their lives.

      Jesus said the Kingdom of God must be received "like a child."It is true that in 1 Corinthians 13:11 Paul said that he gave up his childish ways when he grew up. But, childishness is not what Jesus is referring to. Childish is people thinking the world is centered around them, that if they cry long enough  that they will get what they want. But, when Jesus asks us to be childlike, He is talking about that open, trusting responsive part of us which laughs and cries, and is willing to risk.

      Listen to the children, not just the ones who are young in years. There is a child inside all of us, no matter how old we are, that needs to be listened to. Who knows, when we adults start listening more to the child inside of us, we may learn to be more joyful, less weighed down with worries. Maybe more able to enjoy the wonder, and beauty of life. The child in us can show us the gift that life is, and to share that gift with others. The child in us can reveal the grace of God all around us.

      As adults we can have a huge influence on children and take our roles as mentors seriously. We can make the church the most welcoming place we can for children. what children learn about church in their younger years will stay with them for the rest of their lives. So, like Jesus maybe we can be as inclusive of children as He was, valuing them as precious members of God's Kingdom, because they model for us the awesome Grace of God.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

"Those People"

      This is probably going to piss some people off, and they will probably get mad at me and ignore me and walk away when they see me. But, I think it needs to be said. I have heard too many times people who attend my church refer to the homeless and poor who attend our community supper as "Those People". As in we don't want "those people" in our church. "Those people" are dirty and smelly and that doesn't look very inviting to new people coming into the church. Even though Jesus clearly tells us throughout the New Testament that that is one of the most important commandments in the bible.  "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'  "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." If you are not sure who your neighbor is, the parable about the good samaritan is a good place to start (Luke 10:25-37).

       If you have heard my first sermon or read my blog, you would know that I was for most of my life one of "Those People". I was shunned by the church my whole life, told that I was no good, and I would never amount to anything. After being told that so many times you begin to believe it and just give up. Instead we should be sharing God's love, letting them know that God does love them, that someone in this messed up world cares for them as a brother or sister in Christ. Knowing that someone cares, knowing that God loves them, that they are children of God can do miracles. I know first hand, because if it wasn't for a certain pastor, on a Christmas eve 8 years ago, I would not be a Christian today, I would not be writing this blog, or even trying to share God's love to as many people as I can. I wouldn't be a Stephens Minister, or a mentor at my daughter's school, or mentoring homeless and fatherless children. This all happened because that one pastor told me that Jesus loves me, that He was born in that manger and died on that cross for me. If you would have told someone I know, family or friend, that one day God would put me up in front of people and use me to share His promise of love, they would have laughed in your face. 

      I know first hand what it's like to have to ask for help. I know first hand what it's like to have to stand in line at some food bank. I know how demeaning it is to not be able to care for yourself. I know what it's like to go to school with last years fashions. I know what it's like when "Christian" people stand up and tell you that "We don't want you here", because your not worthy. Well guess what. Neither are they. But God gives it to everyone freely, no matter who you are. That is the message we as Christians need to be sharing. So, when you are talking about "those people," I take that as you are talking directly to me. And, If you don't want them in "your" church that means you don't want me in "your" church. But, I know Whose church it really is. Praise be to God.....

Thursday, October 29, 2015

23rd Psalm

      This post is from a funeral I did this last summer. I wasn't going to share it , but I thought maybe it might help someone else who has lost a loved one. If you do not know the 23rd Psalm, I encourage you to find a bible and read it. And, even if you do know it, pick up your bible and read it, so it is fresh in your mind and heart.

      For centuries, the 23rd Psalm has been one of the most treasured passages in all of Holy Scripture. It is among the most familiar, so much so that even people who aren't religious or very knowledgeable about scripture recognize these words. They are among the most comforting, often being quoted in times of trouble or distress, and almost always being read when we gather in our sanctuary for a funeral. There are 3 images from this Psalm that stick out to me that I would like to share with to you today.

      The first image comes from the verse, Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. It would be so wonderful if God would simply promise to us that we would never go through difficult times. But we do go through these terrible difficulties, and the bible tells us there will be difficult times in our lives, and Psalm 23 voices such a warning. It does not say God will keep you from danger, but rather describes that there will come times when we feel like we are walking through a dark and dangerous valley, a valley of the shadow of death. But, what the Word of God does make clear is that as we move through such times, God is with us.

      I will fear no evil, for thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. God is frequently described in the bible as being like a shepherd who cares for, and tends to a flock if sheep. The rod is used by a shepherd to ward off evil and to direct sheep as they walk. The staff with it's large crook at the end serves to support the sheep's body when it crosses a dangerous chasm. The Lord protects, guides, and supports us. He does not send us through the dark valley with a cheerful promise to meet us on the other side. He goes with us every step of the way.

      The second thing that sticks out to me is this. Thou preparest a table for me in the presence of mine enemies. I once saw  a story on the History Channel about a battle from WW 1. It was a story of an American who had enlisted in the British army, and was fighting in the war a long time before most Americans. He was fighting on a stretch of land for days, and they and the Germans were at a stalemate as the battle continued into Christmas day. The fighting stopped, and all was quiet. Late in the morning German officers under a white flag moved towards the British lines and conferred with British officers. The 2 armies pooled food together for a great Christmas meal. The soldiers from each side ate together and sang some songs together that had different words, but had common tunes. If you know anything about this period of time, you know that there was great hatred between these nations, but there they were eating together in the presence of an enemy. Later, the American soldier had said that he had glimpsed a time in the future when all of them would be together in Heaven, and all of the Earthly conflicts will be no more.

      The 3rd and final image that I would like to lift up today is this. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the House of the Lord forever. The end of our journey through this earthly life is to be with God forever. In baptism we are made members of God's household, and our destiny is made secure through faith. Sometimes the journey is filled with joy, and sometimes it is very sad and lonely. Yet the promise that God has already given us, eternal life with Him, sustains us in our journey, and gives substance to our hope.

      The goodness and mercy that follow us are not something we achieve by ourselves, they are given to us by the sheer grace of God. Were it not for God's forgiveness our sins and mistakes would quickly disqualify us for eternal life. But with God, there is goodness and mercy, supremely evident in His Son Jesus Christ. Our life on Earth and our life with God forever, are the product of His Grace.

      This is something all of us will do well to remember as we look now to the days ahead. The grief we feel, and all the the emotions that go with that grief can tempt us to unbelief, irrational behavior, and deep and dark sadness. But, the goodness and mercy of God will follow us all the days of our life, giving us broad latitude to work through our grief and sorrow, for it is not God's will that anyone living or dead be separated from Him forever.

      We have gathered here today, not only to grieve the death of a loved one, but to also thank God for his life among us, and for his eternal life with God.

      We have gathered, not only to mourn over how different life will be without him, but to also give thanks to God for how full life was when he was with us.

      We have gathered, not only to consider the shortness and uncertainty of life on Earth, but to also give thanks to God for His gift of eternal life in Heaven...... Amen


   

   
   
   

Monday, October 12, 2015

Clarence

      I was playing around on the internet and I came across this story. for some reason I read it and when I was finished I said to myself,"There is a lesson here." So here it is, I am not sure who wrote it, but the lesson in it is very cool. I will maybe even use it in Sunday School class. 

      Clarence was very particular, it started as a fledgling right out of the nest. You see, he was born with this very radiant white bib, which he probably wouldn't have noticed if the large snowy owl, who kept her eyes on the young birds, hadn't said to his mother, "Oh My !! What a beautiful Bib !!. You will have some trouble keeping that clean with a young chick like that. He will soon get into mischief and it won't be white for long." From that day clarence vowed to never get into mischief so he could keep his bib beautiful and white. He wanted to be the only Tree Creeper to stay as white as the Snowy Owl. 

      Clarence became an exceptionally good bird and was often taunted by his brothers and sisters for being so self-righteous. It was quite difficult for Clarence, since unlike owls, Tree Creepers instinctively creep around trees, whether they want to or not. Owls simply perch on convenient branches, turning their necks at extremely odd angles in order to survey the world around them. Making it much easier to keep their snowy white feathers clean. But, the creepers are much closer to the bark of the trees, hanging on with their tiny claws and pecking madly with their tiny beaks, which means their white bib is closer to the ruff and dirty tree bark. 

      Clarence was so determined to keep is bib white and beautiful, that he decided to never creep around the trunks of the trees. Instead, he would flutter gently up to the branches and perch on them like the snowy owl. But, try as he would, again and again Clarence would catch himself clinging to the tree trunks doing what creepers do. He didn't know why he acted in this way, and he didn't want to act in such a way, but he couldn't help himself. 

      Clarence became a very unhappy tree creeper. He wanted so much to do what he thought was right, but he couldn't. He became very dejected and sad, and after awhile, he hardly went out at all. When the snowy owl next came to visit, poor little Clarence tried to hide. He was so ashamed of himself. But the owl spotted him and hooted. Clarence cringed, knowing what the owl would say. But to his surprise he heard the owl admiring his radiant white breast. 

      "It can't be," Clarence said to his mother. "I must be filthy after all that creeping around trees. My white bib is surely dirty and grimy by now." But his mother just laughed, "You're a tree creeper silly! No one can change that. And you can't go against your own nature. The trees don't make you dirty, they protect you and enable you to feed and keep strong. And the healthier you are, the whiter your bib will remain. That's the way God made you, He made you into a beautiful tree creeper. So it is now time to put those silly ideas behind you, and thank God for the way you are. So Clarence did just that. He gave up trying to change himself and instead, put himself into God's hands. And soon he discovered that not only did he always have a beautiful white bib, but he was also a very happy creeper......

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Inclusive Love of God



      If someone asked what I was passionate about, I am sure most people would say the Seahawks. I definitely couldn't say they were wrong. I would hope some would say my faith or my family also, but there is something else I am passionate about. That passion I am talking about is sharing the Inclusive Love of God to the world by doing for others....

      On Sunday Oct. 4th I will be participating in God's work our hands, I am actually a co-leader on one of the projects. My hope is that this will go beyond just one day and inspire us a Christians to add this to our faith journey, and I want to share with you why I volunteered for this project.

      I was born poor and didn't grow up in the best of neighborhoods to say the least. As a child and into my teens there were plenty of opportunities for the church or Christians to reach out and help us, not just my family, but also others in the community. Instead of sharing the Inclusive Love of God, they built an exclusive community and shunned us and kept us on the outside.  

      When I became a Christian I realized that that is not how it is supposed to be. God Loves every person in this world whether they know it or not, and we need to share that love starting in our own communities, and then spreading it out to the world. 

      There are plenty of verses in the bible that tell us we need to do for others, but these 2 are a couple of my favorites. Matthew 5:16 says, Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in Heaven. Matthew 25:40 says, Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

      My brothers and sisters, not only do we need  to get out and serve others, but as Christians and the Body of Christ we should want to serve others and share the inclusive love of God.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Sermon I preached on Sunday July 12, 2015 on Mark 6:14-29

      I have to start by admitting to you that I had a very difficult time with this passage. I have spent weeks staring at it, praying about it, and what seemed like endless hours of research. I was looking for that point of brilliance that would dazzle and amaze you, once more showing my preaching skills, once more being the "Golden Boy." But, up until Friday night I drew a blank. I had nothing, nada, zip. So I started reading the passage over and over again each time getting a new thought, and then writing them down. This is what came out.

      To me anyway, this passage is pretty straight forward. Mark's intention of placing this story where he did seems to be pretty clear. It is sandwiched between 2 stories of discipleship. On one side you have the story of Jesus sending out the disciples 2 X 2 to share His ministry, and on the other side is their return from that ministry, and in between is the story of John's beheading. It's an obvious connection from this story to that of discipleship. A lot of my research went in that direction, reminding us that the Christian call is maybe a call to suffer, or maybe it is a call to face death, standing up to the evil powers of the world and not back down as they scream horrible threats at us. I thought that would be my sermon to preach. It would be easy to write. Add a couple of quotes, a sad story, talk about the bible, and voila a sermon. But, God won't let me go there, He won't let me take the easy way out.

      So then I thought about writing my sermon to assign blame. I could place the blame on Herod and his family. Then I could expand by placing blame on the power structures, exposing the powers that be, another easy sermon to write. Establish the wickedness of Herod and his family and friends, present some contemporary examples of this form of wickedness, place some blame, and voila, a sermon. But, God won't let me go there either.

      It is true, most everyone in this story seems easy to blame, there seems to be plenty to go around. So, why can't I blame these people? Why can't I hold these ugly acts against them? Because blaming limits my ability to hear the whole story. When I place blame it allows me to feel a sense of superiority. Then the temptation is too great to avoid finding contemporaries so I can continue the blame game. It's the liberals who are to blame, or it's the conservatives, or the homosexuals, or the heterosexuals, or the rich, or the poor, or the addicts, or it's the kids today. You can fill in the blank, there is always someone to blame. It's safer to blame, it's easier to blame, it hurts less to blame. When I blame, I don't have to see myself in the story, when I blame, I give up my power to change.

      But, there is another direction to go, the more dangerous of the choices, the road less traveled. So, I have danced around it long enough. It's time to head down that road less traveled. It's time to go where God was telling me to go, to face the ugly truth, it's time to face why this passage was so hard for me.

      When I read from the bible I try to identify with the people in the story. I figure out which one is closer to who I am, and it helps me to understand what is being said. In this story I want to so badly identify with John the Baptist. Mark's gospel begins with John, Chapter 1, verse 1. It is clear to me that in Mark's mind, John is critically linked with the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ. The gospel writers portray John in 2 roles, that of a prophet and, as a forerunner. The prophetic part of John is of one who came out of the desert to proclaim the coming of the kingdom of Heaven, and issue the call to repentance. He wore a camels hair cloak and a leather belt. He ate locust and wild honey. The second role, a forerunner was a military term that was used to describe soldiers who would run ahead of the army to either announce or prepare for it's arrival. John announces and prepares for the Kingdom of God by announcing and preparing for the one who is to come after him, who was to be more powerful than John. He also scouts the territory, because the resistance that John receives, Jesus will receive.

      This story of John's death is the only story in Mark that is not about Jesus, or maybe it is.  Mark is saying that John's ministry points out the beginning of the story of Jesus Christ, John's death signals the beginning of the death of Jesus. John was a man with a mission, a man with convictions, a man who did the right thing regardless of the consequences, and a man that makes no sense to me at all. And yet, I want to identify with John, the honorable one, the one with convictions, the one who does the right thing regardless of the consequences, a man who trusted God so much that he risked his life and lost it. I want to identify with John so much, but I can't. But I do find that I identify Herod. The one without honor, the one who changes his convictions to whatever pleases him, the one who is more concerned with his own image. Herod is a man who makes much more sense to me. He is the man I am closer to if I am to be honest with myself.

      I have identified with shady people in the bible before, but they were people who eventually changed their ways. They were people who usually ended up having convictions, who did the right thing eventually. They were people whose biggest inability is one of not understanding what was happening around them. Herod, his biggest liability is is own sense of power. It is his sense of self importance, his misguided attempt to be revered, to look good, to be the "Golden Boy".

      When Herod heard about Jesus, He said it as John the Baptist raised again, but I don't think this is necessarily a resurrection confession made by Herod. To me the statement seems to be maybe more of an exasperation statement. Man, when is this all going to end? It's John the Baptist all over again, when is this going to end? Herod had John arrested because he challenged the validity of his marriage to Herodias. A popular figure that used scripture in public to declare the illegitimacy of the family was a serious political threat. This arrangement also allowed Herod to protect John from his wife, because Mark tells us that Herod loved to hear John preach.

      So then, Herod has this party. It was his way to show off in front of all the important people, the military leaders, and the first families of Galilee, and all of his supporters and potential supporters. Then, his stepdaughter danced and Herod was so pleased that he promised her anything, even half of his kingdom, which he really didn't have. Herod made empty promises in front of important friends and supporters. So she took the opportunity given and coxed by her mother, asked for John the Baptist's head on a platter. Herod not wanting to lose face in front of all these important people had to concede. The man who was allegedly protecting John conceded. And John, the honorable one, the man with convictions, the one who did the right thing, and took the road less traveled, died.

      As I mentioned earlier I try to relate to the people of the bible. From Moses to Judas, I know in me there is the possibility of being either one. So, I believe that the bible should be used to point the finger myself and not others, seeing myself as I truly am, and reminding myself of who I am capable of being if I am not careful. When I am not careful, I behave like Herod. I don't think Herod was an evil man, I think he was just doing the best he could do with what he had. He was just trying to hold on with what he had left. I think Herod became Herod by default and not decision. I believe that if I had the power that Herod had, my palace would be filled with all the severed heads of those who stepped on my toes, because on my best day I am no better than Herod.

      So then, the question comes up, who among us is better than Herod? Who among us has not twisted events, facts, or details to suit our own purposes? Who among us has not placed more value on our own image than on human need? Who among us has not given into the easier of 2 choices, doing the wrong thing simply because it was the easy way, because the right thing was just simply to terrifying? Who among us has not given into our own pride, or fear, or our own sense of superiority? Who among us would not have cut John's head off if we were in that same position?

      So maybe this is a sermon on the cost of discipleship after all. Only the cost is not where we end up, but of seeing who we really are. Or maybe it is a sermon about blame, only we find that we are all equally to blame. We are all equally to blame when it comes to abuses of power, when it comes  to suffering, when it comes to death, when it comes to the deaths of the honorable ones. The ones who do the right thing. No one get's out without owning up to a piece of the responsibility. Maybe it is a sermon about both of these things, but if you and I Identify with Herod, then maybe, just maybe this is a sermon on grace.

       Grace is a word that is often used, but seldom pondered. It is a word that some use in very limited terms. It is a word that we sometimes use to justify our actions. But, grace is not an abstract concept. It is not a means that allows me to justify my actions. Grace is the only thing that allows me to get up one more time. It is the only thing that allows me to face my past, a past that is filled with severed heads and bogus promises, a past of which I am very seldom proud. Grace reminds me that even though I am, on my best day, just like Herod, I am somehow a part of God's activity in this world, even though I have severed a lot of heads. This story is about the good news of Jesus Christ, and that good news is that maybe, just maybe, through the Grace of God, I may make it through the day without adding another head to my collection. You know, for someone who had nothing to say, I have been saying it for a long time. So now, how do I end this sermon? How do I end this long nothing to say? How do I present grace in such a way that it can stand up to the person I know I am?How can a little word stand up to a giant past?

      The thing about life is that so much of it is trial and error. Some of us have made so many mistakes that we are afraid to try. We have made so many errors that we don't feel worthy to try. Yet, when God calls us, He does not call us as the people we will become, He calls us as the people we are. And I can guarantee that there is not one person here whom God is not calling. On one occasion, when I was doing some research, I found the Heidelberg Catechism, and in that I found these words that have echoed in my head since I read them. The question is asked, what is your only comfort in life and in death? and the answer is, That I belong, body and soul, in life and in death, not to myself, but to my Faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who at the cost of His own blood has fully paid for my sins.

      You see? That is the good news brothers and sisters, we do not belong ourselves, we belong to Jesus Christ. The Christian promise is not that we will be free from pain, fear, pride, violence, or abuse, the Christian promise is that whether we receive  pain or cause it, whether we find ourselves in the position of John the Baptist or of Herod Antipas, we belong to Jesus Christ......... Amen
   
     



   

   

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

What are your Giants

      I was listening to the radio the other day, and Casting Crowns "voice of Truth" came on. It got me thinking about who or what are the giants in my life. What or who are the giants in your life? Giants like stress, pains, persecutions, problems or pressures. We all have to face these in our daily lives, anything that distracts us from God is a giant. You see, these things in our lives can distract us from God, and those Giants must be defeated and removed as distractions. 1 Samuel gives us a story of David and Goliath, and I want you to see that there is more to this story than a boy defeating a giant. This is an example of great struggle taking place in the lives of God's people today, right now. And God's people need to defeat and remove those giants in our lives.

      I believe when David saw Goliath and heard him shout his taunts, that David said to himself that this giant must be slain. I also believe that David knew that this would not be easy. Goliath was defiant and arrogant against God and His people, his voice echoed off the walls as he shouted down in the valley. Satan was making more noise than perhaps he ever had, and people who claimed to be God's children were cowering and running away. But, David knew that Goliath had to be confronted. David knew that this would be a major task, but he also knew that Goliath would not go away. He knew that someway, somehow Goliath had to be defeated.

      So let me give you this to think about. What are the "Giants" in your life? Is it something that happened in the past? Are you having marital or financial problems? How about resentment towards someone you feel wronged you, and these things are making it difficult to lead a Christian life, or maybe keeping you from becoming a Christian and giving your life to God. Guess what you have to do? Put your trust in God, and with His help face your giants. David's faith was not in his ability, or his armor. He understood that it was all from the power of God. David's faith and confidence rested with the God that brought him through the past. This is where the victory was won, because David knew his God was bigger and stronger than Goliath. When you are facing giants in your life, put your trust and faith in the God who can do all things. Don't look at it from an earthly view, look at it from a Heavenly view. God is bigger than any giant you will face in your life.

      It makes no difference what giants you are facing, you can defeat any of them that come your way. Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world. When David defeated Goliath, others were blessed. Other people are watching how you face your giants, and when you allow God to give you the power to defeat your giants, they will be encouraged and blessed.

      God is greater than your giants. Amen.............
   

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Compassion

                                                                 Matthew 14:13-21
                            https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+14:13-21

      A man named Peter Ustinov once said, "charity is more common than compassion. Charity is tax deductible, compassion is time consuming".

      Today, I am going to talk about compassion. Godly, Christ like compassion. Compassion in the midst of our own wants, our own needs, and our own limitations. Compassion shown to others, because compassion has been shown to us. Compassion because Jesus looked for the broken and poor, He dealt with them with compassion, and then left them for us to care for.

      All four of the gospels tell this story, each with a different amount of details, some with much conversation, and some with little. But anytime something is mentioned more than once, to me that says it has special significance. 3 times means you better sit up and take notice. But 4 times? You had better engrave it into your soul. And that my friends are what we are here to do today. To make the word of God a living part of us.

      So, Matthew's account, where we are today, is pretty straight forward. Easy to understand and digest. Matthew addresses this miracle from the simple standpoint that Jesus saw the needs of the people and He met those needs in a way that only He could. Yet, He didn't do it alone. He used His disciples, just as He does today.

      I think one of the biggest statements made in this story is found in verse 14, When He went ashore He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them, and healed their sick. Let me talk about the word compassion for a moment. It is translated from the greek word splanchnizomai, which means yearning with the bowels. Have you ever been so deeply moved with sympathy or empathy for someone that your stomach ached? Then you have a feeling of the depth of Jesus' pity was for the people that followed Him.

      Compassion is that internal yearning, that deep sense of empathy or sympathy, and concern for people who have great needs, which affects us physically because of it's intensity. It is such a deep emotion that it can't easily be shut down or ignored. We simply cannot walk away from people in great pain, desperate need, or deep poverty. Jesus had splanchnizomai on the people, and so He dealt with it. We are to have that kind of compassion for people and deal with it just as Jesus would if He were standing there in our place.

      Imagine being tired, hungry, and emotionally over worked. Then you look out and see some poor person with such a great need that they are just a pitiful sight. You can tell by looking at them that their problem is not a quick fix, it's going to take some effort. That's when most people would turn and making nimble practiced justifications for not responding to the need they see. But, Jesus completely disregards His own needs and focuses on the needs of those He came to save and to serve. No matter how tired or needful Jesus was, He always gave to others first. This is the kingdom principle that must be a part of the walk of faith of believers today. If a person is a true Christian, then they are by definition a disciple of Christ.

      In verse 15 it says, when in the evening, the disciples came to Him and said,, this place is desolate and the hour is already late. So send the crowds away, that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves. So, what do the disciples see? they see the need of the people, and they see their own limitations. They see the world through the eyes of the flesh. What they don't see is Jesus as they should have. They don't see their circumstances through the eyes of the master of all of creation sitting in their midst. This is the Jesus whos has healed thousands, driven out demons, given sight to the blind, made the deaf here, and raised the dead. How is it that they couldn't see Him as the one who could feed several thousand people? They couldn't see it because they were focused on themselves. Sure, they saw the people and their needs, but their focus was on themselves. Isn't this like us in our own lives? We see the needs of others , look immediately at the resources we don't have, and we fail to respond to the need before us. Do we believe that we arm the hands, feet, arms, mouth, body, wallet, ride, smile, kind word, gentle touch, shelter, provider, etc. etc. of Jesus Christ? Then how should we respond when we see need?

      In verse 16 it says, But Jesus said to them, they do not need to go away, you give them something to eat. In other words, take what you have and give it to those in need. Do it in faith and trust Me for the rest. Being concerned for people is just the start. Now do something for them. What was their response? They argue, can you believe it? They actually argue with Jesus. Who can argue with Jesus like that? I better be the first to raise my hand because I can. I argued with Him the whole time I was writing this sermon. But, He turned my heart around and got me to see that He was giving me an opportunity to live this message. So, I took it, and the blessing is wonderful all the way around. I can't even begin to tell you how many times , or how often I have felt a prompting from the Holy Spirit, and have discussed, argued, cajoled, minimized, justified, and rationalized not doing what was needed. There are always reasons not to, atleast I seem to always be able to find them. Maybe it's just me, but there are always this fear factor that makes me get to concerned about the response I am going to get from the gallery. But, I forget about the gallery that I am supposed to be playing to. Jesus Christ is the gallery I am supposed to play to, if you will, because He has given me the example to follow, and He is there cheering me on. Saying, They don't need to go away, you give them something to eat. Take from what you have, that I have given you, and give it to those that are in need of it.

      But, in Vs. 17-18 they said to Him, we only have 5 loaves and 2 fish, and He said bring them to me. You see? Right there, Jesus tells us that we bring Him what we have and allow Him to bless it and use it. When was the last time you took a look at what you have and prayed, Lord this is what I have and it is Yours to use as you desire to touch the life of someone else? This is not a prayer that immediately jumps to our lips when we see the need that someone else has. We, like the disciples try to figure things out in our own minds. We fall back on what we think we know, on what we are used to. Being a disciple of Jesus requires a radical shift in thinking, a drastic alteration of our view of the world and how it operates. If we truly believe that we are indwelt by Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, then when we are there, Jesus is there. How would Jesus respond?

      In Vs. 19-21 it says, Ordering the people to sit down on the grass, He took the 5 loaves and 2 fish, and looking up towards Heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds, and they ate and were satisfied. They picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. There were about 5000 men who ate, besides women and children. As the messiah promised to Israel, Jesus would provide for all of their needs. He was well aware that the sick and lame needed healing, He was even more aware that every man, woman, and child present that day needed the redemption that the promised Messiah really came to give. That is always the deepest need of every man.

      In this last portion of Matthew's account we see a pattern instituted that has been continuing on since that very day. Jesus gave to the disciples that which He blessed, and they in turn give it out to the people. This is the pattern for all those who minister for Jesus Christ. Not only do the miracles of Jesus testify as Him being the Messiah, they are His way of demonstrating the depth of His compassion fro those in need. He can provide for every need, and He will. Our focus is to be on His Kingdom and His righteousness. Jesus Christ requires that we care more about the health and well being of others than we care about our own. He will care for us, we are to care for others.

      Do you believe that this is what Jesus requires of us? Do you believe he really meant it. Do you belong to Him, or do you belong to you? Do you believe in Him, or do you believe in you? Do you see through the limited vision of the flesh or are you asking Him to open the eyes of your heart and let you see as He sees? Jesus promises that if we give, it will be given to you. Do we believe Him, or are we like the disciples and believe only what we have known, only what we see, or only what we can imagine? The message here is that all of us have an opportunity to give sacrificially to others, and we need to take that opportunity when it presents itself. It is time for everyone of us to step out of the box, step out of our comfort zone, step out of the church setting and really be Jesus Christ to this world. What do you have to lose? Nothing, it's all His anyway. We just have to live like we really believe that what we believe is really real.

      A man named Peter Ustinov once said, "Charity is more common than compassion. Charity is tax deductible. compassion is time consuming......Amen



     

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Death is not the end

   

       We all mourn in our own way, there is no set pattern. And we can mourn with the assurance of Jesus Christ, because He tells us, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." And, as a Stephens Minister, I want you to know that God is not immune to our emotions. As our Heavenly Father, God knows what His children are feeling, He felt it when Jesus died on the cross. And because He is all knowing, He already knows what we are thinking. It says in the bible that His Spirit witnesses to ours, which means He mourns our loss too. He knows what we are going through, experiencing the life, death, and resurrection of His Son. God has been through everything we are going through, or have gone through. He has been there. In the Old Testament we find scripture that tells us "The Eternal God is our dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms. (Deuteronomy 33:27). Also, from Psalm 34:18 it says, "The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power, whose understanding is beyond all measure. So I believe that God is right here mourning with us, and because of that we can be honest with what we  are feeling, and we can remember our loved ones as they were. We can take that  moment and turn to God, and allow Him to comfort us in there memory.

        I have heard it said somewhere that death may end our lives, but it can never end our relationships. So let our caring and, loving loved ones be a testimony in our lives. Family will remain family, Friends will remain friends. Death can't stop that. God sent His Son to make sure that those who put their faith and trust in Him, will no longer see death as an ending, but as a pit stop on the way to something far greater. When memories of our loved ones drop into our consciousness, you will have no choice but to smile at them, cherish those times, and share them with each other.

         So, when those times are at their toughest, I invite you to turn to Jesus, I know He understands. When He was preparing the disciples for His eventual departure, He told them, truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy (John 16:20-22). Our loved ones were truly a gift given for a short time. May we remember and be thankful for that gift.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Temptation

                                                                    Matthew 4:1-11


      As you have probably guessed from the reading, I am going to talk about temptation. We are all tempted, we can't help it. We all have things that are hard to walk away from. I am going to start with a little story that I think we can all appreciate, and I think it fits quite well with the scripture today.
There was this little boy named Bobby who desperately wanted a new bicycle. He set a plan to save all of his allowance until he had enough money for a brand new mountain bike. Each night during his prayers, Bobby would ask God for the strength to save is money. Kneeling beside his bed Bobby would pray, Dear Lord, please give me the strength to save all of my money, but just incase Lord could you please make the ice cream man not come tomorrow? That is a funny and cute joke, but really, temptation is no joke. Temptation is very much a reality in our lives. Temptation has no boundaries, we are all subjected to it. Greed, power, jealousy, prestige, the list goes on and on.

      Today in Matthew Chapter 4 we see that Jesus is tempted in the wilderness, immediately after being baptized Jesus is led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be alone and reflect , to ready Himself for the ministry that is to come. This is where Jesus would be tempted.

      The first temptation was to turn stone to bread. Jesus had just ended His fast of 40 days and nights. I am sure He was very hungry, but Jesus responded by saying, Man cannot live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. The 2nd temptation came upon the top of the temple. If He would leap from the temple the angels would catch Him. But, Jesus responded, do not put the Lord God to the test. The 3rd temptation came from on top of the highest mountain overlooking the world's kingdoms in all of their glory. The devil tempted Him with all the power to rule over those kingdoms if Jesus would just worship him. Jesus responded with saying away from me satan, for it is written worship the Lo0rd your God, and serve HIm only. You see, Jesus denied temptation, and so can we. But, it is easier to understand that before we are ever tempted, the thought of temptation begins in our hearts and minds.

      Martin Luther once responded to a question about how he handled temptation by saying, I too know something of temptation. But the difference is that when temptation comes knocking at the door of my heart, I always answer with "Go away, this place is occupied, go back to where you came from, for Christ is in here." Martin Luther knew who he was in Christ, he knew who his God was. He didn't just have the head knowledge, he also had the heart knowledge.

      Jesus knew who He was, God had just told everyone who He was when He was baptized. This is My Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased. Jesus went into the wilderness knowing that He was the Son of God. He knew who He was and who His God was. He had no doubts about Himself or doubts about the faithfulness of God. When we know who we are we can come out of our wilderness living in the promises of God. Because, just as Jesus is, we are the children of God, we are His beloved.

      Because the battle with temptation always begins in our hearts and then to our minds, it then leads to us making a choice. But, when we can understand who we are, like Martin Luther or Jesus, our hearts become filled with God's love and devotion. There are not any places where the seed of temptation can grow. And when there aren't any places for those seeds to grow, our choices between right and wrong are easier.

      When I was young I was overcome by the temptation of money and power, and I made a lot of wrong choices growing up. Those wrong choices lead us down a path of our own demise. Our souls are riddled with guilt, shame, and remorse. We have a hard time living with ourselves and it's in this time that our wrong choices start to grow. We begin to turn away from God onto a path of more self destruction. We feel bad about whom we are and believe that God can't love us any longer, that we let God down. This is a different kind of wilderness, this is the type of wilderness that can become a spiritual wasteland.

      The wilderness of temptation is hard work, I can imagine it being a sign at a mechanics shop. Come on in, let us shock, tire, break, and exhaust you, and I am sure Jesus was all of those. He was out there on a 40 day fast. Tired, dirty, and hungry. He was human, He suffered all the same things we do. But, there is good news. In the wilderness of temptation, we find Jesus, He meets us there. He is with us through all the pain and writhing of our temptation. Jesus is there to secure us, giving us strength and encouragement. We can come out victorious because we know Jesus is there with us. He reminds us that He is our refuge, our strong tower, and that He loves us. He is greater than any temptation. Jesus, who is God's grace poured out, is there to bring us out of temptation, victorious.

     




Thursday, February 12, 2015

Do You Practice What You Preach ?

                                                     Matthew 23:1-12 (NIV)

      1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and His disciples, 2 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you, but do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
      5 Everything they do is done for people to see, they make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long, 6 They love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats at the synagogues, 7 They love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called Rabbi by others.
      8 But, you are not to be called Rabbi, For you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth father, for you have one Father, and He is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves are exalted

      I have heard it said by atheists that Christians are hypocrites and don't practice what they preach. A hypocrite is a person who says they are one thing, and then they act totally different. They may act one way in certain company and then have opposite actions around different company. As Christians, it is very important that we follow Jesus' example on how we are to live our lives. The things we do and the words we speak should always reflect our faith no matter where we are or who we are with. We need to "walk the walk, not just talk the talk."

      In Matthew 23 Jesus tells the crowds and His disciples to do what the Pharisees tell you to do, but do not do what they do, because they do not practice what they teach. So He is saying that they, "talk the talk." but they don't "walk the walk." If you look at Matthew 5:14, Jesus tells us, You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hid. People should be attracted to the light of the words we speak and the way we live our lives. Others are watching us whether we like it or not. They see how we respond to the highs and lows of everyday life. Our children watch us and they copy what they see and hear. Do we want our children repeating our words and actions? Everyone we encounter in our daily lives, and those we don't even notice, are watching us. What kind of evidence do we show when we openly declare our faith? Do we respond differently than others who don't know Christ?

      So, how do we practice what we preach? One way is to be mindful and aware about the words we speak. You can tell a lot about people by the words they use, and you can tell a lot more by the words they use under stress, when they are angry, or threatened. James says to us that the tongue is dangerous, It can set a forest on fire. We can tame all kinds of animals, but we cannot tame the tongue. It is a world of evil among the parts of the body (James 3:3-6). Christians and non-Christians alike are listening to our words. Do our words bring calm and peace into a situation, or do they just add fuel to the fire? Our words and actions should match who we claim to be. If we declare that we are followers of Christ, then our words and actions should be a reflection of our relationship with Christ.

      We practice what we preach when our lives reflect the life of Christ. The way we act in church, and around other Christians should be the same way we act at home, at work, in the grocery store, or even waiting for a bus. My wife and I try to practice what you see is what you get. We act the same no matter where we are. When people see us, I hope they see a reflection of Christ. Do you try to live your life as a reflection of Christ? Do you practice what you preach?