Author Archives: Carol

Extravagant Generosity Notes – Oct. 7, 2018

In 1789, British physician Michael Underwood was the first to describe a disease that was, what he called ‘debilitating to the lower extremities’. The first medical report on this disease was written by Dr Jakob Heine. And the first long-term study was done by Dr Karl Oscar Medin in 1890 and the disease became known as the Heine-Medin Disease.

The first major outbreak of Heine-Medin Disease happened in America in 1894 in Vermont, with 132 cases. Finally, in 1908, after studying this mystery disease, 2 physicians identified the virus and the disease got its official name, Polio.  

By the 1940’s and 1950’s, Polio cases were on the rise in the U.S. Then in 1952, the polio epidemic hit its high point. People were panicked, especially when it became know that our president, Franklin D. Roosevelt had it.

Three years later in 1955, Dr. Jonas Salk became a national hero when he developed the first safe and effective polio vaccine with the support of the March of Dimes. There is no known cure for Polio; the best we can do is prevent it with a vaccine. Since then, we have found that Polio is transmitted through contaminated water and food or contact with an infected person. Polio destroys nerve cells in the spinal cord, causing muscle wasting or weakness.

There are folks in our congregation who had it as a child and they are still dealing with the long term effects. I have seen what it can do because my father had it as a child. Many of us never had to worry about polio, thanks to Jonas Salk.

But here is what I want you to remember, Jonas Salk was set to be a billionaire from his discovery of the vaccine for polio. He refused to patent his invention and forfeited all that money – in order to save as many lives as possible.

The Polio vaccine was and I believe still is, one of the cheapest and easiest vaccines to get – because of Salk’s extravagant generosity and great compassion for the sick. In 1994, the United States was officially declared polio free.

Jonas Salk was a faithful Jew, who believed in a loving God. While he was far from perfect, he knew what it meant to give from the heart.

The truth is, money can be a blessing or a curse. It is a blessing if we use it well – and a curse on others, if we do not. generosity is the virtue of giving good things to others freely, lovingly and abundantly.

In Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth, just before his closing remarks, in Chapter 16:1-3 he wrote these words, “Now, about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come ‘no collections will have to be made’. Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve – and send them with ‘your gift’ to Jerusalem.”

Jesus encouraged his followers to give and it was a vital part of Paul’s ministry. The collection was in part a symbolic effort meant to demonstrate unity among the different churches – but it also addressed a genuine need in the Jerusalem community.

The Jewish Christians in Jerusalem were being severely persecuted and they suffered from a drought that limited their sources of food. Paul believed the offering would help bridge the differences between the Jews and non-Jews and create a stronger spiritual body of believers.

Paul got this trait honestly, you see, Jesus had an awful lot to say about money. 16 of his 38 parables are about money. In fact, Jesus talked more about money ‘than both faith and prayer combined’! It is clear that money and giving were deeply spiritual matters to Jesus.

Matthew 6:24 reads, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one – and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Don’t get me wrong, money it is a great tool. That is, until it divides us from God and one another. Money can create class differences and be used to insolate us from the world around us. That is why the Bible often reminds us ‘to look at and help the poor, orphans and widows’. We are called to ‘See all the People’. (That is our United Methodist slogan this year)

It appears, after the Corinthians wavered in their devotion to Paul – that they also slacked off in their giving. So in this later letter, Paul is re-visiting the issue.

In 2 Corinthians 8:1-5 Paul writes, “And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know ‘about the grace that God has given’ the Macedonian churches. In the midst of ‘a very severe trial’, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.  For I testify, that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.”

Now, you must understand, these Macedonian Christians were dirt poor. Their land had been decimated by ongoing wars. They were also being persecuted by others – and dealing with the same famine that was hurting Jerusalem.

These Churches in Macedonia were most likely the churches at Thessalonica, Philippi and Berea. Yet when Paul asked them to give, they gave above and beyond, exhibiting great joy in being able to do so. Paul writes, “On their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing.”

It reminds me of Exodus 36, when Moses wanted to build a sanctuary. He took free-will offerings ‘morning after morning’ to build the building and this is what happened. Verses 6-7 reads, “Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: “No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.” And so the people were restrained from bringing more, because what they already had was ‘more than enough’ to do all the work.”

Moses had to say, “Stop giving.” They wanted, so badly to honor God and to create a safe sanctuary, that they were overjoyed in giving.

Now, back to Paul’s letter to the Corinthian Church; the key words, at least for me, come at the end of verse 5, “They gave themselves ‘first of all to the Lord’, and then by the will of God also to us.”

People need a reason to give. We love to give to programs and projects where we get to see the results and feel good about it. That is why the United States is the most generous nation on earth. Both religious and non-religious people see the logic in that.

Over the last 50 years, overall giving has begun to shift. Fewer people give ‘just because it is a learned and expected value’. Many givers now, expect something in return. They expect a letter of thanks, a special gift in the mail or a visit from the school, business or pastor. Anonymous giving is fading away, or at least less accepted.

I get that and I am ok with it. Like I said, people need a reason to give. Here is why the churches in Macedonia gave, ‘because they were so grateful for being introduced to Jesus, they just wanted to be a part of the bigger mission’. They wanted more people to be helped and to hear the Good News.

First, they gave their Hearts to God – and then the idea of giving-back overwhelmed them to give joyfully. I think about that a lot, to be honest. I also love giving to projects. But in the grander scheme of things, everything here fades away. It is a short term satisfaction.

The real reason I tithe ‘and give above that to the church’ is this; I want to see lives transformed for Jesus Christ. If every penny I gave saved just one person and sent them on the road to heaven, it would be worth it for me. The truth is, I want to see more people in heaven, not less. I want to see more folks reading the Bible, serving and praying.

In 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 Paul writes, “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided ‘in your heart to give’, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

Comedian, singer and actor Bob Hope once remarked, “If you haven’t got any charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble.” 

Many years ago, a hospital visitor saw Mother Teresa tending to the sores of a leprosy patient, and said, “I’d never do that for a million dollars!” Mother Teresa answered, “Neither would I. But I do it for Jesus for nothing.”

Later she said, “Let us more and more insist on raising funds of love, of kindness, of understanding, of peace. Money will come if we seek first the Kingdom of God the rest will be given.”

To give like that and to give like the Macedonian Churches requires us to shift our thinking and have a different mindset. They trusted Paul and his disciples to do God’s work; to help the needy and spread the gospel.

Their greatest gift was that they gave themselves first to God. They trusted him above all else, knowing that with God in charge, like Romans 8:28 reminds us, “And we know that ‘in all things’ God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

If you are still not sure, try tithing and remember Psalm 34:8, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who trusts in him.

Back in 1731, John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church decided to maintain his standard of living ‘at the same level’ and give away everything above that threshold.

Later John Wesley became known for his saying: “What should rise is not the Christian’s standard of living, but his standard of giving.”

I want to end with this true story; in early December of 2014, one of the red kettles that the Salvation Army set up in Boston over the holidays got a surprise. A widow had deposited a $1,850 engagement ring and wedding band along with a note.

The note read (according to the newspapers):

“I’ve dropped my wedding ring in your Red Kettle knowing that the money from its sale will buy toys for needy children. In all seasons, my husband was a giver. I especially remember his joy in giving at Christmastime, especially to those in need.

“To honor his memory, I donate this ring. I’m hoping there’s someone out there who made lots of money this year and will buy the ring for 10 times its worth. After all, there’s no price on love or the sentimental value of this ring. But money will help the kids. May everyone have a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!”

The donation inspired another Massachusetts widower to donate $21,000 to the Salvation Army in hopes that the ring set could be returned to the original owner. But a Boston newspaper reported that the owner did not come forward.

And why would she? It would take away her joy of giving. You see, it was never about the money; it was a matter of heart. That is why we give.

Your assignment is…Examine your heart and find your reason for giving.

Is it for God’s Kingdom? Do you give joyfully? Pray about it and follow God’s calling.

You will be blessed if you do.

 Amen

Good Grief Notes – Sept. 30, 2018 

Charles Schultz first created and used Charlie Brown in his comic strip called “Li’l Folks” on May 30, 1948. In that first comic strip, a bully has just buried a boy (Charlie Brown) in a sandbox. When another person asks if the boy has seen Charlie Brown, he replies, “Nope, haven’t seen him”.

Charlie Brown was a failure, filled with anxieties and often depressed. He was considered a loser, melancholy, neurotic and a complainer. He is a kid who appears to be losing his hair. Some editors suggested that no one would like a cartoon that was so depressing.

Schultz disagreed. He argued everyone can relate to having feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt and feeling out of place. Charles Shultz understood Charlie Brown and his motivation well, because he created the character in his own image.

In 1950, Schultz was hired by United Features Syndication but they first wanted to change the name to Peanuts. Schultz hated the name but wanted the job. Peanuts would become a sensation, printed for 50 years with 17,897 original comic strips. 

Schultz also did something few comic strip writers do, he brought his faith into his comics. More than 560 of his comic strips contain religious, spiritual or theological references.

Charlie Brown is a meek, gentle, innocent, kind-hearted and shy character but he is far from being a loser. He is optimistic, passionate, courageous, and he ‘manages his baseball team’. While he seems to have continual bad luck, he just keeps trying. In fact, he often inspires others. Charlie Brown hit a ‘game winning home run’ for his baseball team, beat another boy in a game of marbles and occasionally won a race.

But, like Jesus himself, Charlie Brown is a man of sorrows. He was known as a blockhead – and – for his most famous saying, “Good Grief!” He utters these words when something unbelievable or shocking seems to happen on a re-occurring basis. Like when he gets his kite caught in a tree or when Lucy pulls the football away from him.

Good grief, a popular saying in the 1950’s, is probably an altered translation from Good Lord or Good Heavens. In many ways it was laughable, because everyone knows that there is nothing good about grief, right, or is there?

We know the background for Paul’s letters to the church at Corinth. Paul had established the church and then left. In his absence, other leaders and lay persons began to argue, gossip and allow or ignore bad behavior. When Paul finally gets word, it breaks his heart. And so he wrote, we think, 4 letters to the church.

Although we only have 2 letters, Paul seems to be replying to questions and comments in other letters that are missing. Many believe this 2nd letter, is actually the 4th in a series; one where we can see how everything finally works out.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 7:4, “I have great confidence in you; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.”

He continues in verses 5-7-9, “For when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within. 

“But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever.” Notice, you can see a u-turn here. Attitudes and behaviors have changed. Hearts have turned back to God, to Titus and to Paul.

“Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— yet ‘now I am happy’, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended – and so were not harmed in any way by us.”

It is believed that Paul wrote a blistering, condemning letter where he ‘really took the Corinthians to task’. Apparently, he named their sins and told them ‘that they needed to repent’. It seems, that after he sent the letter, he regretted it, not wanting to hurt them; and then Paul waiting anxiously for their reply.

Then in this letter, we see Paul’s joy because the people at Corinth not only got the message – but they took it to heart. In response, they comforted Titus, Paul’s young apprentice, and expressed a longing for Paul and deep sorrow.

Paul continues writing in 2 Corinthians 7:10-11, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: What earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, – what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.”

Now, what I want to do is unpack this a little. Paul talks about there being ‘Good Grief’ in Godly sorrow verses Worldly sorrow. Sorrow is defined as a deep, lasting sadness or disappointment. Something feels irreparably broken and we hurt because of it.

Grief is defined as an intense emotional suffering or anguish caused by loss, disaster, or misfortune. We grieve lost relationships and lost opportunities. Grief can lead to depression or feelings of worthlessness.

Worldly sorrow leaves us feeling helpless, hopeless, abandon and torn, to the point where we can never be made whole again. Worldly sorrow leads to a deep sense of grief and abandonment. All is futile and there is no desire to move forward. It is debilitating. We are humiliated and in fear of punishment.

On the other hand, Godly Sorrow leads us to regret. Regret is the sense that you should have done something differently. And in connection to God, regret leads us to ‘repentance and to change’. So in God, there is hope and a future. We can get beyond this moment or this time and leave our regrets behind.

We see this displayed many times in the Bible; in the lives of Nehemiah, Mordecai, Micah, Job and King David. And a wonderful example of this comes from the book of Jonah.

You might recall, God wanted to send Jonah to Nineveh to warn them that he was going to destroy their city. Of course, Jonah bulked and ran away because he hated the Ninevites. But after being swallowed by a huge fish, Jonah changed his mind.

When Jonah arrived in Nineveh, he began proclaiming that God was going to destroy the Ninevites with glee and great passion.  But what we see next is an act of Godly sorrow. Even though Jonah was preaching destruction with no hope of relief, the Ninevites took this threat seriously.

They could have laughed it off and even went on sinning and partying until the end, but they did not. Jonah 3:5-6 reads, “The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took of his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust.”

In fact, the king didn’t stop there, he issued a decree that no man or animal should eat or drink. Then they covered even the animals in sackcloth and ashes. Finally, he declared in Jonah 3:8-9, “Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent – and with compassion – turn from his fierce anger, so that we will not perish.”

Now, while Today we don’t put on sackcloth and ashes when we are filled with sorrow or in deep grief; I think we have some similar reactions, at least I know I have. Have you ever wept bitterly? Have you ever thrown yourself on the ground in sorrow?

If you ever want to see a real good example of that, watch a child. Their emotions come pouring out. In truth, when we hurt the heart of God, we sometimes do the same thing. It tears us deep down in our souls and it must come out. That is when we throw ourselves at the foot of the cross.

God heard the wailing, the sadness, the pain of the Ninevites and he forgave them and decided not to destroy Nineveh. And when that happened, Jonah should have been pleased, like Paul, but he was not. He longed for destruction. In some ways, he was farther from the heart of God then the Ninevites.

We know what it means to be sorry when we are caught doing something we shouldn’t do. But being sorry isn’t enough. Author, songwriter and Pastor Steven Furtick writes, “Jesus didn’t die so we’d be sorry. He died and then was resurrected – so we’d be changed.”

The change comes when we recognize our sin causes God and others great pain. Then, not only do we regret it – but we repent of it. We turn away and go God’s way. God’s way leads to healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation. But to get there, there is often unwanted pain, suffering, sorrow and regret. Good Grief! Paul understood this and never wanted to hurt anyone, but sometimes a little ‘or a lot of hurt’, can turn folks lives around.

Someone once wrote, “To feel guilt is no tragedy, to feel no guilt is.”

I want to end with this true story. Read about Clyde Thompson online,

Clyde Vernon Thompson was born in Guymon, Oklahoma on October 5, 1910. He was the son of a Preacher. At one point in his youth, the family moved to Texas. At the age of 17, Clyde and several other boys went on a hunting trip. During the trip, two brothers picked a fight with Clyde. In the scuffle, Clyde and the other boys shot them and left them in the woods.

In a short time, all the boys were picked up and questioned. Clyde did not want to see the other boys suffer, so he signed a confession taking full responsibility for the murders. Clyde refused to speak at the trial and he was sentenced to die in the electric chair.

Over the years, Clyde Thompson was involved in 2 more killings and sat in jail waiting execution. Although he moved to several different prisons, he always got into trouble. At one point, the guards nicknamed him, “The Meanest Man in Texas”.

Eventually, Clyde asked for a Bible. After reading it, his heart changed and he accepted the Lord. Over time, he became a prison chaplain. He was eventually released by the Governor and continued in prison ministry.

He eventually married Miss Julia Perryman, a handicapped woman who wrote to Clyde in prison. He spent the rest of his life in service to the Lord doing prison ministry.

Clyde went from being considered ‘the meanest man in Texas’, to one of the most beloved by many who knew him. He believed he survived, he said, by God’s Grace. But I also believe, once he met Jesus, he went through a period of Godly sorrow that turned his regret into repentance and that finally gave him peace.

Preacher Kent Crockett once said, “Repentance means we love our Savior more than our sin.”

God is love and only love can break a person and rebuild him or her back up again. That is what the Love of Jesus does for us. I pray you understand that, even if it causes you some temporary pain and suffering.

Your assignment is…to live with no regrets. God has a pardon for you, but you must open up and share everything with him. If you have found God’s peace through Jesus, share it with others.

Because In Christ, even ‘the Charlie Browns in life’ come out as winners.

                                                                                            And all God’s People said, Amen

 

 

 

Peace Be With You – Sept. 23, 2018

New York Police Officers Steven McDonald and his partner Sergeant Peter King were making their usual rounds on the afternoon of July 12, 1986. They entered Central Park and came across a cluster of teens acting suspicious. The officers had been told by dispatch to be on the lookout for some teens who were stealing bikes and grabbing purses.

When the teenagers noticed the police approaching, they cut and ran. The two officers split up and caught up with the teens a short distance away. The officers began to question the boys. They asked them their names, where they lived – and what they were up to.

Officer Steven McDonald noticed ‘what looked like a gun bulge on the youngest member of the group’s leg and he bent down to take a look’. Just then, one of the older teens pulled out a gun and shot McDonald three times; in the forehead, in the throat and a third shattered his spine.

The last thing McDonald heard was his partner calling for backup on his police radio, then he passed out. When he woke up, McDonald explained, “It didn’t take long to realize how fast I went from being an active police officer to an incapacitated crime victim. I woke up paralyzed from the neck down, but I was alive.”

This could have been the end of the story – but it wasn’t. You see, Steven McDonald was a Christian. It was clear that his life ‘had radically changed’ and so he prayed to God ‘that the person he was, angry and bitter’, might be changed into something new. And with the birth of his son Conor, his heart did change.

Steven and his assailant, whose name was Shav-od Jones, could not have been more different. Steven was white; Shav-od was black. Steven came from a middle-class suburb of Long Island; Shav-od from a Harlem housing project.

Knowing that his attacker had just altered the course of both of their lives, Steven felt ‘an uncanny connection to him’. And that is when he began ‘trying to see things through the eyes of the teen who shot him’.

Steven McDonald wrote in his book “Why Forgive?”, these words, “I was a badge to that kid, a uniform representing the government. I was the system that let landlords charge rent for squalid apartments in broken-down tenements; I was the city agency that fixed up poor neighborhoods – and drove the residents out,…whether they were law-abiding solid citizens, or pushers and criminals; I was the Irish cop who showed up at a domestic dispute – and left without doing anything…

          “To Shavod Jones, I was the enemy. He didn’t see me as a person, as a man with loved ones, as a husband and father-to-be. He’d bought into all the stereotypes of his community: the police are racist, they’ll turn violent, so arm yourself against them. And I couldn’t blame him. Society, his family, and the social agencies responsible for him,…had failed him ‘way before he had met me’ in Central Park.”

Shortly after his son’s, Conor’s birth, McDonald and his wife held a press conference. People wanted to know what he was thinking and how he was doing. That’s when his wife, Patti Ann, told everyone that he had forgiven the young man ‘who tried to kill him’ and wanted to seek reconciliation, at some point.

In his book, McDonald writes, “I forgave Shav-od because I believe the only thing worse than receiving a bullet in my spine -would have been to nurture revenge in my heart. Such an attitude would have extended my injury to my soul, hurting my wife, son, and others even more.     

“It’s bad enough that the physical effects are permanent, but at least I can choose to prevent ‘spiritual injury’. Again, I have my ups and downs.

“Some days, when I am not feeling very well, I can get angry.

Other times, I get depressed… But I have come to realize that anger is a wasted emotion…”

Steven McDonald and Shav-od Jones exchanged letters, but over-time the letters stopped. Apparently Shav-od Jones could not forgive himself. After just 9 years in prison, the young man was released. And before the two could meet, Jones was killed in a motorcycle crash.

Steven always believed he did the right thing, forgiving the young teen. He explained, “Something like that festers inside you and it destroys you from the inside out. I didn’t want that, I wanted my life back.” In the end, he got it. Steven was a sought after speaker in schools – and around the world. Most importantly, he had the peace of Christ in his life. He died in 2017.

As we come to Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians, we actually come to ‘the heart of his message’ that transcends both of his letters. As you may recall, Paul is writing letters, we call them epistles, to help overcome troubles in the church at Corinth.

One of the major undercurrents in both letters, was that the Corinthians were questioning Paul’s leadership. And this was a major issue of hurt and frustration for Paul. He had founded the church at Corinth and now, it seemed, not only were they questioning him, – but they were also criticizing and dismissing him.

Divisions and in-fighting were threatening to destroy the church, from the bottom – to the very top. And the only way to stop it was to re-introduce the message of Jesus Christ to the people at Corinth. They seemed to forget that the message of the cross ‘was about grace, mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation and peace’.

In an interview, Philip Yancey explained, “Christian faith is… basically about love and being loved – and reconciliation. These things are so important, they’re foundational – and they can transform individuals, families.”   And I would add, churches.

‘To reconcile’ is defined as causing a cease in hostilities, or to harmonize or settle a dispute, to restore communication and a relationship – and finally; to repair and make good again.

The interesting thing about the word reconciliation in Greek is that it was not a religious term. Rather, it was a term, like ambassadors, taken from the ‘world of politics’. Both words related to ‘dealing with and overcoming disputes’ to bring an end to conflict.

The end result was ‘to bring a peace-treaty or a way to co-exist and move forward’.

Paul literally took in this idea and bonded it to God. Then, he transformed the idea of simply learning to co-exist with God ‘into a full healing with peace and transformation’. In other words, God repaired our wrong through the death of Jesus – and made our relationship good again.

Romans 5:7-8, 10-11 reads, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, – though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  

“For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, – how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God ‘through our Lord Jesus Christ’, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

Paul takes this a step further in 2 Corinthians 2:19 when he said, “that God reconciled the world to himself in Christ.” What he is implying is that God repaired our broken relationships with him, with others – and with the physical world.

You may recall in Genesis 3, that the sin in the garden damaged the relationship between God and mankind, as well as between Adam and Eve – but also, verse 17 tells us,

“Cursed is the ground because of you.”

All of creation was damaged by the fall – – and yet, ‘all was repaired’ through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Literally, when we are ‘in Christ’, the power of reconciliation is able to work ‘in and through us’ –least we never forget, — this is something we cannot do alone. Only ‘in Jesus’, can we find real peace. It comes in our transformation of heart.

The Bible is filled with stories of mercy, grace, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. Just read Joseph’s story in Genesis 37-45 about how Joseph forgives his brothers. Or read the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32. How a father runs to embrace his son. Both could bring tears to your eyes.

But my favorite is the story of Jacob and Esau in Genesis 25-33. From before these two boys were born, ‘a rival began’ in the womb. Genesis 25:26 tells us that Esau was born first – but Jacob followed quickly holding onto Esau’s heel.

They were as different as night and day, yet they had one thing in common, they both wanted the love and blessing of their father Isaac. Along the way, Jacob tricked Esau out of his birthright, – and later he stole his brother’s blessing from his father.

When Esau found out, he threatened to hunt down and kill his brother. So Jacob ran away to start a new life elsewhere. When he was older, Jacob has a dream that God wanted him to reconcile with Esau. Jacob was terrified, he was unsure if his brother was still holding a grudge.

It is funny how time, distance and maturity can change a heart.  But I also have to believe that God was also working on the two men.

So when Esau and Jacob finally met, Jacob approached humbly, bowing 7 times, and Genesis 33:4 reads,

“Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.”  

It is a wonderful story that shows grace, mercy, risk, sacrifice, vulnerability, humility, love and forgiveness.

The sad part is, – it ends as the 2 brothers go their own way.  They bury the hatchet and they learn to co-exist. But we have no idea if they got together after that encounter.

The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus offers us so much more. Not only are we reconciled with God – but also one another. In ways were we can sometimes put the past behind us and live in peace together.

The truth is…that the work of reconciliation is not a cake walk. It will often be messy. Hearts have been hardened. Feelings have been hurt. Emotions are on edge. Wounds may still be festering. While forgiveness is required of us, God forgave us, so we must forgive others, sometimes reconciling may never come to pass.

Sometimes it cannot happen because reconciliation takes two people ‘willing to make things right again’. One thing is certain, it will not happen without Jesus and much prayer. But Jesus wants us to repair broken relationships and to have a real sense of peace in this life.

Shalom means peace; the peace that passes all understanding. In other words, God’s peace. Paul writes in Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

That should be our goal; to make amends, seek and give forgiveness – and to work toward ‘good solid relationships in every area of our lives’.

Finally, Paul writes, in 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 that God is calling us all ‘to the ministry of reconciliation’ – and to be ‘Christ’s ambassadors of reconciliation and peace’ to the world.

Paul was hoping to end the disagreements in the Church at Corinth, by turning the hearts of the people back to God, through the life and work of Jesus. He was hoping that the conflicts would end and that they would be reconciled with God, him, and to one another.

Then in 5:15-19 we see, when we are ‘in Christ’ there are three

‘no longers’ mentioned that we must take seriously.

1) It says, when we are in Christ, no longer do we live for ourselves but we live for Christ and others.

2) No longer do we regard other people from a worldly point of view.

3) And finally, when a person is in Christ, we no longer count their sins against them. They are new creations.

Author, Professor and Pastor Paul David Tripp wrote,

“The church is not a theological classroom. It is a conversion, confession, repentance, reconciliation, forgiveness and sanctification center; ‘where flawed people place their faith in Christ’, gather to know and love him better, – and learn to love others as he designed.” 

The problem is, Neil T. Anderson, author of ‘Victory Over Darkness’ and ‘Restoring Broken Relationships’ writes ‘that most people who come to Christianity’ ‘want to add Christ to their lives and to not subtract anything’.

He writes, “If you are not willing to sacrifice something of your time or self , then don’t consider the ministry of reconciliation.” It requires that we commit ourselves to God and the betterment of one another. He continues, “Although each of us pays a price, none of us has to pay the price Jesus did, but He did it with joy – and so can we.” Never forget, Jesus said, all who follow me must carry their cross.

Someone once said, “As long as there is conflict and separation  between us and God or others, no one can completely be at peace.” We are called to be peacemakers and ambassadors for Christ. We are called to share his ‘Good News’. That means we begin with Christ and work at grace, mercy, forgiveness, justice, humility, and love.

Imagine what our church, our community and our world might be like – if we all lived in God’s Shalom. Today more than ever, we could use a healthy dose of the peace of Christ.

Your assignment is, to read the story of Joseph in Genesis 37 or the story of Jacob and Esau beginning in Genesis 25. What can we learn from them about living in God’s peace? Then pray that God will make us truly be, ambassadors of reconciliation.

 

                                                          “And all God’s people said, Amen”

Gods Glory Displayed – Sept. 16, 2018

Night Shyamalan’s film ‘Unbreakable’ begins with a horrific train wreck. There were 132 passengers on board and only one survives the crash. David Dunn, played by Bruce Willis, not only survives the train wreck, but he walks away without a scratch. He wonders how he walked away unharmed from an accident, that no one should have survived.

Into Dunn’s life comes an eccentric comic book collector named Elijah, who seems equally intrigued by Dunn’s survival. Elijah has reason to be interested; he was born with a rare genetic disorder that leaves his bones especially brittle—so brittle, in fact, that he is known as Mr. Glass; played by Samuel L. Jackson.

David Dunn, on the other hand, has never broken a bone, never had stitches, never pulled a muscle; never been bruised; never had the flu – and has never even taken a sick day. Elijah tells David that he’s not like other people; he’s been given an extraordinary gift that he cannot keep to himself, but must be employed in the service and protection of others.

Although David still maintains that he is “an ordinary man”, clearly he is  more like a modern day superman. He’s literally unbreakable. While it makes for a great story, it’s been said that we are a lot more like Mr. Glass than David Dunn.

We’re fragile and susceptible to disease; accident, injury, violence, germs, age and natural disaster. We are, as Paul puts it, like jars of clay. But that is not the end of the story.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:6-7 reads, “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 

While it is true, that when Paul talks about our bodies being ‘jars of clay’, he means our lives are temporary, fragile and we are at times prone to sickness and sin, yet he does-not carry his analogy as far as the Greeks. They said our bodies (in essence many of our lives) are useless, insignificant, something to be quickly discarded and easily replaced. That is the way they treated slaves and the sick.

While we never want to confuse the vessel with the treasure; that does not mean the vessel is insignificant. In Genesis 2:7, we read, that we were created from the dirt and the clay of the ground. But God also declares that mankind is made in His image and likeness. And later, after seeing all he created God said, this is very good. 

That places a value on ‘every human being’; one that later Jesus was willing to give his life for. God would never create something worthless; that had no purpose. We are created, who we are, with our bodies — for a reason. In other words, our flaws don’t make us disposable.

A child born with downs syndrome ‘still has worth’. A homeless person should still be treated with dignity. It means understanding that everyone has something to contribute.

No one should be dehumanized or devalued. While we are alive, every one of us has ‘great potential’.

Think of the people that Jesus often connected with; a Samaritan, a prostitute, a murderer, – lepers, tax collectors, a womanizer, a drunk, cheats and scoundrels. These were folks that ‘many would ignored or despised’, yet they were world changers, despite their lives and  appearances. 

It was Jesus who said in John 8:12, “I Am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” We are barriers of the light of God’s grace. Tell me, who puts something of value into something completely useless? No one. The truth is, we are worth more than we know.

I don’t say this to give you a big head, I say this to counter all the other claims and excuses we use. Have you ever said, “God could never use me.” Or how about, “I have no gifts.” Maybe, “God could never forgive or love me?” In essence, you are saying God created trash – and he never does.

This was what Paul was battling in Corinth. Some leaders dismissed Paul ‘saying in so many words’, “Paul is a cracked pot. He doesn’t speak well, he is sickly, and his theology is wrong.”

They were dismissing Paul because they believed he was weak, insignificant and misguided. Paul’s answer was ‘that the true power is from God’, but God still chooses to use jars of clay, and he uses us for a reason.

Paul writes, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed,  but not in despair; – persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”

All of the sudden, those clay pots do not seem so fragile. In ancient times, sacred scrolls or valuable documents were rolled up and placed inside a jar of clay and then hidden ‘for safe keeping’. As you might recall, The Dead Sea Scrolls were kept in similar jars of clay.

Rev. A.T. Robertson wrote, “There have always been men in the world so clever that God could make no use of them. They could never do His work. They were so lost in admiration of their own.” And then he adds, “God’s work never depended on them and it doesn’t depend on them now.”

Instead, God uses the broken and the scarred, the ones pushed down but not willing to stay down. God uses the fighters and the fools. God uses the children and the sick. God sees value in all of them. They may be small vessels but they are adequate vessels for his purposes.

Like David standing up to Goliath, Esther standing up to the king, Elijah stood up to the priests of Baal, and Moses going up against the Pharaoh. They believed, what Philippians 4:13 said before it was written, “I can do all things through him who gives me strength.”

Unfortunately, there were people who saw Jesus in person, but they missed who he really was. Isaiah 53:2-3 describes Jesus like this, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.”

God’s glory was fully displayed in Jesus, but they were misguided by the packaging. Some Jews said in John 6:42, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose mother and father we know? How can he now say, I came down from heaven?”

This is a true story. On January 9th, 2007, Joshua Bell sold out Boston’s Symphony Hall. Seats were over $100 each. Joshua Bell plays a violin worth more than $3 million – and is considered one of the best musicians in the world.

Three days later he entered a metro-station in Washington, D.C. wearing casual clothing and a ball cap. He opened his case and played his violin for 45 minutes. Only six people stopped, twenty gave money (totaling $32), but no one recognized him. They thought he was just a bum playing for change.

Today, when it comes to the glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ, ‘living in us’, many still miss it. They do not see his beauty and majesty, all they see is our rough packaging and they miss the message. They dismiss our worth.

As Christians, we want to do all we can to spread Christ’s glory in the world. In 2 Corinthians 4, the Apostle Paul addressed how difficult this can be. We may become discouraged and desire to quit, but we have good reasons to press on.

Paul understood what it meant to endure in all circumstances. Later, in 2 Corinthians 6:4-10 he describes all his hardships. “As servants of God, we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit – and in sincere love; in truthful speech and ‘in the power of God’; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand – and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, – yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; – beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”

Nathan Hale was an American soldier and spy for the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. He volunteered for an intelligence-gathering mission in New York City but was captured by the British and executed. His last words before being hanged by the British ‘as a spy’, on September 22, 1776, were, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”

I think Paul had a very similar attitude, his desire to advance the kingdom of God and shine God’s Glory, allowed him to withstand what many of us would never put up with. You see, God had chosen the right cracked pot.

Dr. Leon Wood taught ‘the book of Job’ at Grand Rapids Bible College. While this brilliant Old Testament scholar was ‘in his prime’ as an author and dean of a seminary, he contracted Lou Gehrig’s disease.

But as his body weakened, his faith and resolve strengthened. He continued to study, teach, and write. Some of his most significant books were written in the latter stages of his illness. The last seminary class he taught, met at his bedside. His spirit remained strong to the end. He was down but he was not destroyed.

Paul believed that God put his life-giving power in us, in these jars of clay because we were meant to be used, not admired. One pastor wrote, “The church was meant to be a working kitchen, where well-worn pots are filled again and again ‘to dispense their life-giving contents’ to a thirsty world.” I like that.

God created us well, but the fall started our slide down the hill toward death. Now we are clay pots that chip, crack and we are left with scars. But the Good news is, God still can use us – in whatever state we are in. We just can be filled with his light and used well.

Songwriter Leonard Cohen wrote about this in his song ‘Anthem’. The chorus goes,

“Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget ‘your perfect offering’,
There ‘is’ a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”

When we started, I was telling you the story of Unbreakable, about Mr. Glass (whose body breaks easily) and David Dunn who did not. I even explained that some say, we are more like Mr. Glass than David Dunn.

In truth, we are somewhere in the middle. Yes, we can be fragile – but for the right cause, for Jesus Christ, we can be hard as nails. We were made to be ‘barriers of God’s light and grace’. (Matt. 5:14-16) And we were made well to carry out that task. Trust in God, for we can be ‘strong and courageous’. We were not called to give up but to carry on. 

Your assignment is,…to get involved somewhere where you can shine the love of Christ on others. Do not give in or give up. Do not be satisfied with watching. Do not dismiss the power of God. Go and serve – and share your hope in Jesus Christ. Be barriers of light.

Amen

The Sweet Smell of Success – Sept. 9, 2018

I don’t mean to offend anyone, but…do you smell?  Now, before you start checking,… I mean, can you smell? Scientists tell us that 1 in ever 126 persons – has lost ‘all or most’ of their sense of smell. Anosmia is the name given to those who cannot smell.

Some people are born that way, others lose ‘smell and taste with age’ and non-Caucasians lose their sense of smell at a much higher rate than white folks. Finally, women have a better sense of smell than most men.

Scientists tell us that our sense of smell is our first and oldest sense. Every animal and simple cell creature has a fine sense of smell. Recent studies (2014) done at ‘The Rockefeller Center’ explain that humans have about 400 odor sensors in our brains, called olfactory receptor proteins.

They say that it is likely that ‘we can smell and distinguish’ at least one trillion distinct scents.

They also tell us ‘that just like fingerprints’, every person has their own distinct odor. Some odors attract us and others repel us. Scientists have studied our pheromones, odors that attract us to one another, for many ages. They also add them to perfumes and colognes.

Because our sense of smell is so well developed, the truth is, a little perfume is better than a lot. Even good smells in abundance can overwhelm and irritate us.

Mr. Bean is a British Sitcom created by Rowan Atkins.  In one episode, Mr. Bean has applied for and just received his ‘American Express Card’.  He is so proud of it, that he runs off to the department store ‘in hopes of making his first purchase’. As Mr. Bean looks for something to buy, he passes by the perfume counter and of course, every lady is trying on a new perfume. Before he gets by the counter, he is gagging and finally crawling on the floor to avoid all the sprays.

Because I have suffered with allergies and some asthma, my sense of smell has come and gone. As a result, when I can smell, my sense of smell is much stronger and better than others.

Things like molds, burning leaves, a skunk on the road, strong perfumes, deodorants and burnt food – can nearly send me over the edge.

Scientists say our most pleasant or pleasurable scents include; vanilla, oranges, lemon, cinnamon, spearmint, lavender, chocolate and cookies. And of course, smells are directly linked to memory. Do you remember the smells of your favorite foods? Do they bring a sense of comfort, peace and love?

Because women are designed by God to have a better sense of smell, scientists say that some can smell fear and disgust through someone’s sweat. They can instinctively react to an emotion from a child, without knowing why. They can literally smell sickness and trouble. Finally, scientists say that ‘a lack of smell can indicate sickness or disease’.

The Bible talks a lot about fragrances, aromas and how things smell. In the Old Testament, the Hebrews burned offerings to God – and it says God was pleased with the sweet aroma. Fragrant oils and perfumes were used – to anoint kings, leaders, prophets and preachers. And of course, ointments and spices were also used to prepare the dead.

There is also the burning of incense in heaven, according to Revelation chapter 8. The Bible tells us that God can smell our sin and we cannot cover it up with sweet smelling perfumes.

In our passage from Second Corinthians 2:14, Paul writes, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in a triumphal procession and through us, spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.”

In Paul’s day, when the Romans came back from a victory, they would have a triumphant processional. As they marched into town, the crowd would wave branches, throw flowers – and lay coats before them. And the parade had a very specific order to it.

 It began with older Roman leaders, senators and other government officials. Wealthy merchants and other influential leaders, who helped fund the military followed. Behind them, at a slight distance, came the trumpeters.

Next were the wagons carrying the spoils of war. These wagons were covered with gold, silver, vases, jewelry and other rare items that could easily be displayed. Flatbed trucks followed carrying statues and idols belonging to the conquered cities. Then, in cages and in chains, came all of the animals they had confiscated.

Then, priests and servants walked, carrying and swinging canisters filled with sweet smelling incenses, spices and perfumes to arouse the crowds. The wonderful smells would be everywhere. Following them were the captives in chains, – to show who they had conquered. They were driven by soldiers using whips.

Finally, last in line was the conquering hero on a white horse with his army, following close behind. The sweet smells and spices excited the Romans – but made the captives sick. To one group, the smells meant victory, but to the other, it was bitter defeat.

As Christians, we are to ‘share the aroma’ of Christ’s victory over sin and death. We are to ‘give off a sweet smell of victory, wherever we go’. But to those who are yet in sin, – we often smell not so good or even stinky.

Paul writes, “To the one; we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life.” As an illustration, if we put on too much perfume, aftershave and cologne, we turn people away. They see this ‘in how we act’, and it is like a pungent aroma.

If we are bold, arrogant, proud and condescending, we will naturally turn others off. Our fragrance is overpowering. The reason is, these lost people don’t even know that they are in trouble and they are often very offended when we tell them they are sinners and in danger.

Many times, when I put on a suit, people assume I am going to church, the hospital or a funeral. In fact, for some outside the faith, my suit scares them. When I walk up in a suit, they think something bad has happened. People tend to listen more often to me, when I am subtle and dressed more like them.

A lot of folks who are not in church are really turned off with religious stuff. They bulk at Christian bumper stickers, crosses and fish decals.

It’s kind of like our perfume is too strong for them. They wrinkle their noses and complain.

I think it is worse, when ‘we have’ those stickers that say, “In case of a rapture, this car will be unmanned” or “If you think it’s hot now,.. just wait until you get to hell’.

Matthew 7:16 says, “Others will know us – by our fruit.” The best fruit – has a very pleasing aroma that draws us to it. How many of you smell your fruit before you buy it? It isn’t hard to smell bad fruit, is it? Our fruit is our love, mercy, compassion, care and integrity. When we serve others and remain humble and kind, we give off a good scent; that is when we give of the scent of Christ.

In 2014, Phillip Yancey wrote a book called, “Vanishing Grace: whatever happened to the Good News?” In it, he talked about ‘the great divide’ between Christians and others. If we fight with others, instead of sharing our Good News, all others see and feel is our frustration and hatred.

A Chemist in France named Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, severally burned one of his hands in an explosion in his lab. The hand developed a serious infection – known as gas gangrene. He was in bad shape and the doctors told him he would certainly loss his hand.

Rene did not want that. Unsure what else to do, he began applying different oils, lotions and creams. Almost by accident, he found, that when he treated his hand with lavender, the hand healed. The word ‘Aromatherapy’ first appeared in a book he wrote about his findings, in 1937.

Now, I am not here to promote ‘aromatherapy’, although it is part of a holistic lifestyle for many. Instead, I do want to raise the question, “What kind of fragrance does our lifestyle and attitudes give off?”  Is it one of healing and kindness or anger and distance?

There was a factory in Northern France where lavender was produced to be used in perfumes. It may still be there. But the story goes, each evening, as the workers made their way home down the narrow streets, the village would be filled with the soft sweet aroma of lavender. It clung to the employees clothes while they worked. Some say that it was the nicest little town to live in and one of the safest. Do you suppose it had anything to do with the lavender?

I think that is how it should be with us as Christians. If we are to be the aroma of Christ, our lives and our fruit should be appealing and sweet. With grace, mercy, forgiveness, kindness, humility, caring and love, we emit a wonderful fragrance on behalf of the kingdom of God. Then, for those seeking life, purpose and peace, our sweet smell will be like coming home to God’s victory.

There is no need to lay it on to heavily. Just a little goes a long way. So,… how do you smell to others? Maybe you should ask a true friend, one who will give you an honest answer.

The world still needs the Good News and plenty of grace, maybe now more than ever. If we are ever going to do all that Jesus is calling us to do, we must have the smell of success.           

In other words, the aroma of Christ.

Mark Twain understood the aroma and love of Christ when he wrote, “Forgiveness is ‘the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it’.

Your assignment is,…to look up Ephesians 5:2, write it out and put it on your refrigerator or mirror, where you will see it often. It is a reminder that we are called to walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us. His life was a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God, given in our place. And now, we are called to be a fragrant offering to God and others.

May we truly live, like Christ. Amen