Thursday, November 15, 2012

Your Treasure

Mark 12:38-44
New International Version (NIV)

38 As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.

One Sunday a pastor told the congregation that the church needed some extra money and asked the people to prayerfully consider giving a little extra in the offering plate. He said that whoever gave the most would be able to pick out three hymns. After the offering plates were passed, the pastor glanced down and noticed that someone had placed a $1,000 bill in the offering. He was so excited that he immediately shared his joy with his congregation and said he'd like to personally thank the person who placed the money in the plate. A very quiet, elderly, saintly lady all the way in the back shyly raised her hand. The pastor asked her to come to the front. Slowly she made her way to the pastor. He told her how wonderful it was that she gave so much and in thanksgiving asked her to pick out three hymns. Her eyes brightened as she looked over the congregation, pointed to the three handsomest men in the building and said, "I'll take him and him and him!"

We are in our Stewardship month and today’s New Testament scripture has been used by preachers for thousands of years in order to have their congregation give more to the church. Sometimes preachers abuse this scripture and tell their congregation to give everything.
I once knew a girl who literally gave everything to the church. Her pastor had used this verse in his sermon and she had her weekly paycheck with her and signed it over to the church. Except she had no savings or any funds to draw upon and so she had no food for the rest of the week and was late on her phone bill. She mentioned it to the pastor and all he said was that God would reward her for her sacrifice.

Now in this scripture, Jesus was not telling us to give everything that we have to the church, but was showing the disciples one of the key aspects of giving. When you give, it should mean something to you.

There are three other key aspects of giving that God gave us in the New Testament:

1) In Matthew 6: 2-3 Jesus tells us to give quietly and humbly:
So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,” Some people love to get recognition for a gift. In the TV show “The Big Bang theory” The character Sheldon Cooper has to get recognition for a gift. When one is given he has to get an equally valued gift to give back.  And when he gives a more expensive gift, he makes sure to make a spectacle about it. Have you ever met people like that? But God wants us to humbly and quietly give. To give as He leads you, which leads to the next key aspect of giving

2) give cheerfully; Saint Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 9:7
 that, “let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.” God wants you to think about what you give and what He is calling you to. He wants you to be a cheerful giver. You have often heard the phrase, it is better to give than to receive?  Sometimes when you give, you feel good. It feels good to give. In a recent research study, UCLA life scientists find that giving support offers health benefits -- to the giver.
"Giving to others has benefits," said UCLA psychology graduate student Tristen Inagaki, the lead author of the study, who has been awarded National Science Foundation and Jacob K. Javits fellowships. "We even saw substantially more activity in these reward brain regions when the women were giving support. It reduces stress levels and promotes good health. So it actually feels good to give.

Finally, 3) Ephesians 5:9 and 20 tells us, “ Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” We are to be thankful in everything we do, and when we give it should be with a thankful spirit. God has given us so much, giving is a way of saying thanks to God. Throughout the Old Testament the saints worshipped God by giving to Him the first fruits of the ground and cattle. Thanksgiving is giving thanks to God for another year of life with family and friends, thanking him for the year of answered prayer, of comfort when afflicted by illness or grief.

But through it all giving thanks to God for His Providence. He knows everything and sometimes we get upset at life or how things are going, we know that all things work out for good to those who love God. God knows our footprints both behind and before us and He goes with us in the valleys and leads us to the mountaintops of life.

Two men were shipwrecked near an island. When they landed ashore, one of them began screaming and yelling, “We’re going to die! We’re going to die! There’s no food! No water! We’re going to die!” The second man leaned calmly against a palm tree. When the first man saw how calm his friend was, he went crazy and shouted, “Don’t you understand?! We’re going to die!!” Undisturbed, the second man replied, “You don’t understand, I make $100,000 a week.” Dumbfounded, the first man looked at him and asked, “What difference does that make?!? We’re on an island with no food and no water! We’re going to DIE!!!” The second man answered, “You just don’t get it. I make $100,000 a week and I tithe ten percent on that $100,000 a week. Wherever I am, my pastor will be sure to find me!”

That man was thankful for giving!

And as we celebrate Thanksgiving here in our Fellowship today, Let us give thanks. Thanks to God for the big things, the small things and the everyday in between. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Of Men and Angels

Hebrews 1:1-4
1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. 4 So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.
Hebrews 2:5-12
5 It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. 6 But there is a place where someone has testified:

“What is mankind that you are mindful of them,
a son of man that you care for him?
7 You made them a littlelower than the angels;
you crowned them with glory and honor
8 and put everything under their feet.”

In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. 9 But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists,should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.12 He says,

“I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the assembly I will sing your praises.”

Nobody knows who wrote the book of Hebrew, from where we get our New Testament reading today. Some say it was Paul, because, well the wording and theology sounds very much like Paul. Others say it was Appollus one of Paul’s followers who was very knowledgeable. But the true writer is lost to history. So it might be the only letter given to us that is included in the New Testament that was not written by an Apostle. But like all the letters written by the Apostles it addresses issues that have arose in the churches at the time of its writing and I think the reason why this letter is included even though it was possibly not written by an apostle is that the issues faced by these churches and individuals 2 thousand years ago are the same issues faced by us today.

One of the main themes in the beginning of the book of Hebrews is angels.

I heard that a few weeks ago of an odd circumstance. It seems that God was looking down at Earth and saw all of the evil that was going on.  He decided to send an angel down to Earth to check it out.  So he called one of His best angels and sent the angel to Earth for a time.  When she returned she told God, yes it is bad on Earth, 95% is bad and 5% is good.
Well, he thought for a moment and said, maybe I had better send down a second angel to get another point of view.  So God called another angel and sent her to Earth for a time too. When the angel returned she went to God and told him yes, the Earth was in decline, 95% was bad and 5% was good.
God said this was not good. So He decided to email the 5% that were good and He wanted to encourage them, give them a little something to help them keep going.
Do you know what that email said?
Ah, so you didn't get one either?

What are angels? There is a lot of confusion on just what they are. Literally the word angel means messenger. An angel is a messenger of God. Also Hebrews 1;14 tells us “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?”,  and in the Old and New Testament we see taking on bodily form as humans. Hebrews 13:2 tells us “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” . So angels are messengers of God that are spirits in essence that can take bodily form. For the purpose of delivering God’s message or doing God’s work in the lives of His children. Well it seems that during the writing of Hebrews people were confused about Angels. They saw them as many do today as superior and powerful beings. And some people began to worship angels. We even see that today, angels are very popular and there are many people who pray to angels.

The author of Hebrews wanted to emphasis that angels are created beings, not to be worshipped. Our New Testament reading today tells us:
The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven.  This shows that the Son is far greater than the angels, just as the name God gave him is greater than their names… And furthermore, it is not angels who will control the future world we are talking about. For in one place the Scriptures say,
“What are mere mortals that you should think about them,
    or a son of man that you should care for him?
Yet you made them only a little lower than the angels
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
 You gave them authority over all things.”
Now when it says “all things,” it means nothing is left out. But we have not yet seen all things put under their authority. What we do see is Jesus, who was given a position “a little lower than the angels”; and because he suffered death for us, he is now “crowned with glory and honor.” Yes, by God’s grace, Jesus tasted death for everyone. God, for whom and through whom everything was made, chose to bring many children into glory. And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation. So now Jesus and the ones he makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters. For he said to God,
“I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters.
    I will praise you among your assembled people.”

Angels are powerful beings. They are heavenly beings that manifest themselves to guide and protect the people of God. But they are creatures. God is to be worshiped, and Jesus as God is to be worshiped  Angels are created beings. They are more powerful than man, and although Jesus was made a man He still is God manifest in the flesh. Angels help the Lord, but they are just His messengers.

The writer of Hebrews tells us that we are to worship and pray to God alone. Part of the result of Jesus’ death for us is that we now have direct access to the throne of God. We do not need someone to go before God for us. As again the writer of Hebrews in chapter 4 verse 16 tells us, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Today and through the week, remember that God loves you and He wants to hear directly from you. You can go directly to Him with all your problems, all your worries and cares. Because He truly cares about you and what you are going through, and He wants to help. He want to help rescue you or help give you purpose to the trials of life.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Big Man on Campus

Scripture of the day: Mark 9:30-37
30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?”34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.

When General David Petraeus was The head of all international forces in Afghanistan he was involved in a 2010 think tank in the UK over the he did a question and answer session.  He was given a slightly over the top introduction from the director of the agency and in response General Peraeus gave the press a story on importance.

He said, “This was about 20 years ago when I was the aide to the Army Chief of Staff in the Pentagon and Colin Powell was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
One of my fellow aides overheard the joint chiefs killing time before they were waiting for the arrival of a foreign dignitary. And the topic of conversation turned to examples of true importance. And what it really meant to be truly important.
And after a bit of banter, one of the chiefs offered what seemed to be quite a good opinion on this.
In my view, he said, true importance is a meeting with the President of the United States in the Oval Office, during which the President asks all of the other attendees to leave so that he can do a 'one on one' just with you.
"All the chiefs nodded at that.
But then another chief chimed in. 'Actually chiefs, he asserted, 'true importance is a 'one on one' meeting with the President in the Oval Office during which the President is so intent on what you are saying that he doesn't even answer the hotline when it rings'.
Well that had all the heads nodding in agreement. Until General Powell , a man who had, of course, as the National Security Adviser,  spent quite a bit of time in the Oval Office, settled the question once and for all.
"Chiefs," he said authoritatively, "true importance is a personal meeting with the President in the Oval Office, during which when the hotline rings, the President answers the phone, holds it out and says - Here Colin, it's for you".

Today in our new testament Scripture lesson, we see that the disciples had an argument with each other as to who was the most important disciple.  Our scripture says,
They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?”But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

You know we sometimes have a slightly glorified view of the disciples of Jesus, and it is times like this when they show their human flaws that I find encouraging. They were real people just like us with real concerns, real emotions, real lives and real flaws.

When a large group of people come together, often some people try to stand out. They try to show dominance, they try to take on themselves the role of the leader of the group. If you have been in any large group of people trying to do anything you know what I mean. Some people just love being the king of the hill.  For some it is a craving of power, or a need to find approval from others so they take the reigns. Some do it out of the need to get things done or to bring order out of chaos. But more than not many seek to be the big man on campus out of pride and power seeking. People like that often think highly of themselves.

A young preacher had just delivered in his own estimation, the best sermon of his young life. At the conclusion of the sermon, the worshipers filed out of the sanctuary to greet the minister. As one of them left, he shook the minister's hand, thanked him for the sermon and said, "Thanks for the message, Reverend. You know, you must be smarter than Einstein." Beaming with pride, the minister said, "Why, thank you, brother!"

As the week went by, the minister began to think about the man's compliment. The more he thought, the more he became baffled as to why anyone would deem him smarter than Einstein. So he decided to ask the man the following Sunday.

The next Sunday he asked the parishioner if he remembered the previous Sunday's comment about the sermon. The parishioner replied that he did. The minister asked: "Exactly what did you mean that I must be smarter than Einstein?"

The man replied, "Well, Reverend, they say that Einstein was so smart that only ten people in the entire world could understand him. But Reverend, no one can understand you."

Jesus in our reading today tells us about what it takes to be a real Christian leader. He tells us that if anyone in the kingdom wants to be first , he must be last, the servant of all.  Like always Jesus throws our preconceived notions upside down. Instead of pride, a Christian leader is to be humble. Instead of puffing himself up and being the center of attention, you should put the spotlight on others. Instead of seeking compliments, you should be giving them.  As a Christian we are not to be concerned about our rank, our status, our pride. We are called to serve. To serve Christ is to serve others. There is no seeking of status or glory in the kingdom.

And that brings us to Jesus and the children. Some people wonder about this passage, by bringing in the children and taking them in his arms, does it mean that we are to be like children? Some people question this, it seems a bit out of place in this context.  Jesus made a dramatic gesture by embracing a child to show his disciples who really is the greatest in the kingdom of God.  What can a little child possibly teach us about greatness? Children in the ancient world had no rights, position, or privileges of their own.  They were socially at the "bottom of the rung" and at the service of their parents, much like the household staff and domestic servants. What is the significance of Jesus' gesture?  Jesus elevated a little child in the presence of his disciples by placing the child in a privileged position of honor.  It is customary, even today, to seat the guest of honor at the right side of the host. Who is the greatest in God's kingdom?  The one who is humble and lowly of heart — who instead of asserting their rights willingly empty themselves of pride and self-seeking glory by taking the lowly position of a servant or child.

As children of God and believers in Christ, we are called to servanthood. What does that mean for us today?

We can be a servant today by:
By accepting others differences and opinions in love and acceptance…no matter what they are…instead of judging others and condemning them.
By looking beyond the things that separate us as people in the 21st century and look instead for our commonality. Be it politics, social class, upbringing or race.
And lastly by cherishing people over things, or words, or ideas.
Simply put, it is putting others first, and trying to humbly help whenever you can.

We are called to serve God and to serve God we must be servants to one another.

Today you are called to serve.  Let us be servants then, one to another.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Words of Hope, Words of Hate

James 3:1-12

3 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

I have a riddle for you:
This has been one of the most powerful forces in this world in which we live it can either bring life or death.
It can either bring harmony or chaos into relationships.
It can either bring peace or war.
It is one of the most feared and praised forces in the world. 
What is it?
The Tongue
The tongue produces words and words can inspire, they can lift the lowly soul to believe in oneself and believe in God. It can raise self esteem, give hope and assurance. Words can be filled with love and assurance, peace and wisdom.
But it can also bring harm, hurt or disgrace.  It can be filled with hate and foolishness, pride and evil.
One of the worst thing about the tongue is that sometimes it can be unintentionally loose. We all are guilty at one time or another of speaking before we think things through.
Two pastors died at the same time and met Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates. St. Peter said, "I'd like to get you guys in now, but our computer is down. You'll have to go back to Earth for about a week, but you can't go back as priests. So what else would you like to be?"
The first pastor says, "I've always wanted to be an eagle, soaring above the Rocky Mountains."
"So be it," says St. Peter, and off flies the first pastor.
The second pastor mulls this over for a moment and asks, "Will any of this week 'count', St. Peter?"
"No, I told you the computer's down. There's no way we can keep track of what you're doing."
"In that case," says the second pastor, "I've always wanted to be a stud."
"So be it," says St. Peter, and the second pastor disappears.
A week goes by, the computer is fixed, and the Lord tells St. Peter to recall the two pastors. "Will you have any trouble locating them?" He asks.
"The first one should be easy," says St. Peter. "He's somewhere over the Rockies, flying with the eagles. But the second one could prove to be more difficult."
"Why?" asked the Lord.
"He's on a snow tire, somewhere in North Dakota."

The truth is everyone of your words matter, they influence someone either negatively or positively. How many times have you heard someone say, “I wish I would never have said that!”

 Our text in James today addresses the issue of the uncontrolled words of the tongue.
Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind,  but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.  Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”
James addresses the issue of the uncontrolled words of the tongue.
We see this dilemma of words everyday in our lives. We hear people say things throughout our days and our responses and perceptions are formed. We listen to the radio and the power of words influence us, we listen to CD’s or tapes and the power of words are at work, we watch TV and the power of words are trying to influence us.

Just think of all the political ads we have had to endure over the last few months because of the election. We know that words influence others or the political campaigns would not spend millions of dollars to put them on the air. We had to endure candidates ripping on the others so they could influence you to vote for them. 

Words have power. Words affect lives, hearts and influence others.
James is telling us we should be careful how we use our tongue. Basically he is telling us to think before we speak. This is a major Biblical teaching.
The book of Proverbs has numerous sayings telling us to think before we speak.
   In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, But he who restrains his lips is wise.  Proverbs 10:19
The heart of the righteous studies how to answer, But the mouth of the wicked pours forth evil.   Proverbs 15:28
Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace.  Proverbs 17:28
A fool vents all his feelings, But a wise man holds them back.  Proverbs 29:11
Jesus also warns us in Matthew 12:36-37
“But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they
   will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your
   words you will be justified, and by your words you will be

Today as we leave this sanctuary, remember you wield a weapon as powerful as any weapon in our 21st century arsenal.  When speaking to and about others your words mean something. Not just what they are saying, but what they are meaning and what effect they have on others.
Words can break apart a decade’s long relationship, and words can mend them again. Words can cut deeper than any sharp edged knife. Bullets can pierce the hear, but words can pierce the soul.
Remember, we all have opinions and ideas, but some if spoken can hurt. Let us take time to be wise by taking time to think before we speak.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.

Audrey Hepburn put it best, though: “For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.” 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

God's Favorites?

James 2:1-17 NIV

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?
If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,”you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,”also said, “You shall not murder.”If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.
12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

     Farmer Joe decided his injuries from the accident were serious enough to take the trucking company (responsible for the accident) to court. In court, the trucking company's fancy lawyer was questioning farmer Joe. 

    "Didn't you say, at the scene of the accident, 'I'm fine?," questioned the lawyer.
      Farmer Joe responded, "Well I'll tell you what happened. I had just loaded my favorite mule Bessie into the......."
      "I didn't ask for any details," the lawyer interrupted, "just answer the question. Did you not say, at the scene of the accident, 'I'm fine!'"
      Farmer Joe said, "Well I had just got Bessie into the trailer and I was driving down the road..."
      The lawyer interrupted again and said, "Judge, I am trying to establish the fact that, at the scene of the accident, this man told the Highway Patrolman on the scene that he was just fine. Now several weeks after the accident he is trying to sue my client. I believe he is a fraud. Please tell him to simply answer the question."
      By this time the Judge was fairly interested in Farmer Joe's answer and said to the lawyer, "I'd like to hear what he has to say about his favorite mule Bessie."
      Joe thanked the Judge and proceeded, "Well as I was saying, I had just loaded Bessie, my favorite mule, into the trailer and was driving her down the highway when this huge semi-truck and trailer ran the stop sign and smacked my truck right in the side. I was thrown into one ditch and Bessie was thrown into the other. I was hurting real bad and didn't want to move. However, I could hear ole Bessie moaning and groaning. I knew she was in terrible shape just by her groans.
      Shortly after the accident a Highway Patrolman came on the scene. He could hear Bessie moaning and groaning so he went over to her. After he looked at her he took out his gun and shot her between the eyes. Then the Patrolman came across the road with his gun in his hand and looked at me. He said, "Your mule was in such bad shape I had to shoot her. How are you feeling?"

Well Farmer Joe’s favorite Mule didn’t fare so good.

 It’s funny, we all tend to play favorites at times don’t we?

Although some would deny it, most parents with multiple children always have a favorite. It may be the first, or the baby of the family, or one of your children with special talents. And while the parents deny it, boy the siblings know what is going on. It is like Tommy Smothers of the Smothers brother’s old standard line, “Mom always liked you best”.

And sometimes we as humans play favorites when it comes to other people. Studies have shown that people react differently to people depending upon how they look. Whether they are beautiful or handsome; have nice teeth or hair, dressed well or not. Recently a television show even did a man on the street test about the color of a girls dress. The same girl would wear a multicolored dress or a red dress and ask for help. When she wore the red dress, most men were more friendly and forthcoming with help.  People play favorites when it comes to appearances. And not only that, people with power or fame often get favoritism too, don’t they. Sometimes they get chances at the best seats in restraints without reservations, or free stuff. All because of power, money or fame.

Today’s New Testament Scripture talks about this type of preferential treatment and God’s view on favoritism. James 2:1-10 says in the New International Version,
“My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,”  have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?  But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?
If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”

You see in many churches during the time of James writing of this letter gave preference to the rich over the poor. And James writes the churches to correct this mistake. James tells us that playing favorites with the rich over the poor is a sin.

It is human nature to show preferential treatment. But it is not God’s nature.  When you meet someone who is obviously poor, do you treat them any differently? Or do you feel uncomfortable?

What would you do if this morning as you came to church you saw Johnny Depp sitting on the steps waiting for the church doors to open? Or your other favorite movie star. Stop a moment and think. What would you say? How would you act? How would you treat him? Would you be careful to welcome him and show him to a seat?

Now What would you do if this morning as you came to church you saw a disheveled homeless person who hasn’t changed his clothes in days sitting on the steps waiting for the church doors to open? Stop a moment and think. What would you say? How would you act? How would you treat this person?

It is human nature to judge people by their looks, or fame or power.
And to be honest, we all do it one time or another.
It is human nature to judge people by their looks, or fame or power.
But it isn’t God’s nature
God doesn’t show favoritism.
God impartially loves everyone the same. No matter who or what they are.
Today and throughout this week, let’s try to do the same.
Because God loves you, no matter who you are, what you have done in the past, or what you are going through now.
We who have received such great love, should we not likewise share it without partiality?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Good and Bad Religion

James 1:17-27
New International Version (NIV)

"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."
A man was walking across a bridge one day, and he saw a another man standing on the edge, about to jump off.
So he ran over and said, “Stop! Don’t do it!”
“Why shouldn’t I?”
“Well, there’s so much to live for!”
“Like what?”
“Well, are you religious or atheist?”
“Me too! What are you? Christian, Jewish, Buddhist? What?”
“Me too! Catholic or Protestant?”
“Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?”
“Wow! Me too! Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?”
Baptist Church of God!”
“Me too! Original Baptist Church of God or Reformed Baptist Church of God?”
“Reformed Baptist Church of God!”
“No way! Me too! Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915?”
“Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915!”
The man said, “Die, heretic scum!” and pushed him off.

It may be exaggerated and funny but to many that is the how they view denominational differences within the Christian church.  Instead of unity with a common reliance upon Christ many often nit pick the minor differences among the churches of Christ. What a shame.

For in God’s eyes there is no distinction among denominations within the Christian church. God doesn’t play politics or make creeds, He just looks at the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. And as our New Testament reading of today, God does make a distinction between “Religion”.
 “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror;  for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.  But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.
 If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless.  Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

Today as in the times of the Apostle James there are a lot of people who give God lip service. There are a lot of people who speak of God, speak of their faith, speak of their church, but do nothing when they see people suffering around them. They offer no help, no comfort and no mercy.

But God wants us to put our words into deeds. He wants our faith to lead to action. Not just by helping financially, but by offering ourselves as instruments of God’s grace.

It is easy to give money, or food or clothing and never ever interact personally with the people who you seek to help. And God blesses this, but when you actually give time to meet and serve the needy your eyes are opened. You see what your faith in action can really do. You get to experience God’s joy as you see what how your actions change lives.

But some miss out entirely. They don’t give, they don’t share, they do not even care. And although they might look like good people on the outside on the inside they are empty. And they do not understand that faith in action not only transforms the lives of those on the receiving end, it mightily transforms those who help and give as well.

So today as we come before the Lord and honor His sacrifice, thank him for our salvation and join Him in communion, let’s dwell upon our heart. James tells us “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.Simply put, that is helping others who are in need anyway you can. By giving not just finances; But by being there for a friend with a broken heart, to lend an ear to someone who needs to vent, by making the lonely feel accepted and loved.
Even just by giving someone a simple hug.

How is your religion today?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Walking Carefully

Three guys are convicted of a very serious crime, and they're all sentenced to twenty years in solitary confinement. They're each allowed one thing to bring into the cell with them.

The first guy asks for a big stack of books. The second guy asks for his wife. And the third guy asks for two hundred cartons of cigarettes.

At the end of the twenty years, they open up the first guy's cell. He comes out and says, "I studied so hard. I'm so bright now, I could be a lawyer. It was terrific."

They open up the second guy's door. He comes out with his wife, and they've got five new kids. He says. "It was the greatest thing of my life. My wife and I have never been so close. I have a beautiful new family. I love it."

They open up the third guy's door, and he's slapping at his pockets, going "Anybody got a match?"
It looks like the third guy does not possess a sense of attention to detail.

You know sometimes when we are going about in life, we tend to gloss over some details at one time or another. Sometimes we forget the little things in light of the big ones coming at us over the hill.
But as the adage goes, the devil is in the details. Sometimes when we neglect or forget the little things, they get big and sometimes overwhelming.

Today in our New Testament scripture The Apostle Paul is telling us about paying attention to the details of our Christian life.
Be very careful, then, how you live —not as unwise but as wise,  making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.  Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
 In the verses just before it the St. Paul writes to the Ephesian church,
Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.  It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.” 

Paul is telling us to be careful, go pay attention to the details in your moral life because not only will all be revealed before Christ at the end of time, but the little things sometimes leads to big things. When we compromise our consciousness, when we willfully do what we know is wrong in the little things it is easier to say yes to the bigger things that we know is wrong. And it is those big things, those big sins are the ones that can overwhelm us and ruin our lives.

When in college I worked at a super 8 motel. My friend and dorm mate worked there and he got me the job. It was the night shift, the first one night shift that I ever had. It was horrible. I was not used to staying up all night and with classes in the next morning, it was a disaster in the making. My boss the manager, would stop by in the night and look things over and check the register.  One morning he checked the drawer and it was $50 short. I was confused. I had only 1 guest that night and he used a credit card. But I was responsible and my boss told me that it was coming out of my pocket. It was very upsetting, back then that was two nights work. But when the same thing happened the next week, I began to wonder what was up. When my bosses boss, the owner found out, I was terminated. I was very very upset, I knew that the drawer had checked out when I came on shift and once again we only had a few guests. Within a month I came to find out what was really happening. It seems my manager boss had a gambling problem and he had been taking money from the drawers for months. It had finally caught up with him, and the owner caught him red handed on security camera. Although it had started with just a few dollars here and a few there by the end he was stealing almost a hundred dollars a week from the motel. He was arrested and it destroyed his life.

When we compromise in the little things, sometimes it makes it easier to compromise yourself when it comes to the big things. It is like the old illustration of the frog and boiling water. If you try to put a frog in boiling water, it will immediately jump out because it gets burned. But if you put a frog in water and then turn on the fire, the water’s temperature gradually increases and the frog does not notice. It just sits there until it boils to death. It’s the same with us. It is easy to compromise our conscious here and there, and before you know it you are in a mess. But you don’t notice until it is too late. The funny thing is you can always see it when other people give in to compromise and fall down the slippery slope, but it is hard to notice when it happens to you.

At the height of a political corruption trial, the prosecuting attorney attacked a witness. "Isn't it true," he bellowed, "that you accepted five thousand dollars to compromise this case?"
The witness stared out the window, as though he hadn't heard the question.
"Isn't it true that you accepted five thousand dollars to compromise this case?" the lawyer repeated.
The witness still did not respond.
Finally, the judge leaned over and said, "Sir, please answer the question."
"Oh," the startled witness said, "I thought he was talking to you.

This week take time to reflect, are you paying attention to the details of your moral life? Or are there some little things that you have let slip by.
Heed the word of St. Paul from out scripture today.
Be very careful, then, how you live —not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 
Let us pray.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Expect a Miracle!

An Amish boy and his mother were visiting a mall. They had never been off the farm before and they were amazed by almost everything they saw, but especially by two shiny, silver walls that could move apart and back together again. The boy asked his mother, "What is this, Mother?" The mother responded, "Son, I have never seen anything like this in my life, I don't know what it is."

While the boy and his mother were watching wide-eyed an elderly man in a wheel chair rolled up to the moving walls and pressed a button. The walls opened and the man rolled between them into a small room. The walls closed and the boy and his mother watched small circles of lights w/numbers above the walls light up. They continued to watch the circles light up in the reverse direction. The walls opened up again and a handsome and buff 24 year old man stepped out.

The mother said to his son, "Go get your Father.”

The Amish mother and boy thought they had witnesses a miracle, didn’t they?

In our New testament reading today we see Jesus performing one of the most famous miracles in the Bible, the feeding of the 5,000.  When Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been killed, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place near Bethsaida.
The crowds followed Jesus on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. Matthew, Mark and Luke report that As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a remote place, and it's already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food."
Jesus replied, "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat."
"We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish," they answered.
"Bring them here to me," he said.
Jesus directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Again in the other Gospels it specifies that Jesus hen he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. Notice too that the exact number fed is not given. They fed 5,000 men not counting the women and children. Some estimate that there must have been at least 10,000 people there. All fed by five loaves and two fish. Have you ever been at the Tulio arena when it is full? Imagine that doubled. All fed by five loaves and two fish.

A lot of people are put off by miracles like this. It is beyond their belief that God can actually interceded in man’s life in this way. Even some Biblical commentators have proposed that Jesus actually had an enormous amount of fish and loaves hidden behind some trees and preformed some sort of magic trick on the crowd.

But I like to believe in miracles. Christianity is after all a supernatural religion, isn’t it? Just look at the Apostle’s Creed. It is nothing but the belief in a supernatural world, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost; the one Holy universal Christian Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting.
If we really believe the Apostle’s Creed then we should have no problem with miracles like the feeding of the 5 thousand.  In fact I think we should expect to see miracles. Even today! Why not? Has God changed?
God is still on the throne and Jesus is on His right hand still bearing the scars of our redemption, is He not?

But you know if we do hear of someone who might have experienced a miracle, we tend to doubt it.  We have all heard of the person who had grilled a cheese sandwich and they see the face of Jesus on it and called it a miracle. And then we have either experienced or heard of con men who claim to have miraculous gifts only to fleece the flock of all their money.
It’s like the old story of when George Burns was having his weekly lunch with Jack Benny when he suggested a way to get a free lunch.

"You know what Jack, we've been coming here for so many years, this place must have made a fortune from us. Not only do we spend a lot of money, we bring in a lot of business!"
"You're probably right George."
"So how about, when the bill comes, you insist on paying it!"
"How does that get us a free lunch?" Jack asked
"Well, then I will insist on paying it. we get into a big fight and eventually you say "That is it! If you don't let me pay, I will never have lunch with you again." The restaurant will be so scared of losing out business, they'll have to give us the meal for free to shut us up!"

"I love it!"Jack said.
So, at the end of the meal, the waiter comes over with the bill and place it on the table. Jack, will a big grin on his face, takes out his wallet and says;
"I'M paying for the lunch today, George!"
"Thank's Jack, that is very nice of you."
We have seen so many cons or people who see miracles when there is none, we tend to doubt.

But God still is the same as in Biblical times, God still does miracles. God is still working and so are His angels. The magazine Guideposts is full of modern day miracles. I’d like to share one with you that happened this past winter:
The snow often fell hard and heavy during the winters I lived in Colorado. It was coming down like crazy one afternoon when my boss closed the office and sent us home. I hurried to my car. I had to stop at the sitter’s house to pick up my two baby boys.

I made it the sitter’s house without too much trouble. “Be careful,” she said, as I strapped Nick, six months old, and Jon, 22 months old, into the backseat of the car.

“You know I will,” I said.

But almost as soon as her house was out of sight, the wind picked up and the snow began to swirl. My wipers fought to keep the windshield clear. I was tempted to pull over, but didn’t dare. With the babies aboard, I couldn’t afford to get stuck.

I kept moving, going slower and slower, trying to peer through the blinding snow. Without any help from me, the car came to a stop. “Don’t worry,” I told the children. “Mommy’s just going out to take a look, to see where we are.”
I opened the door. The wind almost knocked me off my feet. I fought my way around to the front of the car. I’ve driven into a snowdrift, I realized.

I climbed back into the car. What to do? I was half a mile from home, on a little-traveled road, without a cell phone. No way could we sit and wait for help. The babies would freeze half to death. No way could I carry them home. I closed my eyes and silently prayed, Lord, please help us.

I heard tapping at my window and opened my eyes. A big man was standing outside, dressed in denim overalls and a green plaid shirt. “Do you need help?” he asked.

“I have to get my babies home,” I said.

“Good thing I have a truck,” he said. He hoofed back to his old, green pickup, tied one end of a yellow tow rope to my car and the other end to his truck. Then he climbed behind the wheel and started his engine.

He pulled us several streets, even turned down my block and parked right in front of our house! So nice of him to go out of his way, I thought. While he untied the rope, I checked on Nick and Jon. Both were fast asleep. I turned back to thank the man … but he was gone. I looked down the street. Not a tire track in the virgin snow.

It was then that it struck me—I never even told the man where I lived.
How could he have known?

God still works miracles today. Not all the time, and sometimes the miracles are subtle and have to be seen through the eyes of faith. But God is still working in the lives of His children. God answers prayer.

So, have faith. Expect a miracle. God is full of suprises.