Category Archives: Sermon Notes – 2018

True Generosity – July 8, 2018

One Sunday, a pastor asked, “Is there anybody in the congregation who wants a prayer for their shortcomings?” “Yes,” cried out a man in the front pew. “I’m a spend-aholic. I throw money around like it is growing on trees! I desperately need to stop it and save.”

“Very well,” said the minister, “We will say a prayer for our brother — just as soon as the collection plates have been passed.”

There are thousands of jokes about ‘faith and money’. Maybe that is why people believe that, “All the church cares about is money.” Today, I hope to break that myth.

Many have spoken about the church and money but they often use a misguided or incorrect set of assumptions. Because there are so many passages of scripture that deal with money, some will twist the words of God to manipulate others or use any excuse not to give.

Where you are in your spiritual walk is very important to how you understand giving. If you have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, your mind set will be far different than others who have not.

To understand what God wants us to do, we must be seeking the mind of Christ. He told us that the truth would set us free. (John 8:32) What we believe about giving is ‘not rooted in any one man’s agenda’ but in the principles that God has laid out for us in the Bible.

The beloved preacher and theologian Martin Luther has been credited with saying, “Every man needs two conversions; the first of the heart and the second of his pocketbook.”

Jesus said in Matthew 6:33 “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all things will be adde3d unto you.” So we must seek our answers not by our own motives but by God’s.

To do that, we begin with John 3:16-17. Here we find three important principles, related to God’s generosity…

“For God so loved the world that he gave his ‘one and only Son’, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

The First principle we see is … God gave – out of love.  “For God ‘so loved’ the world…”

We do not give to get back, to fulfill a duty or to try and earn God’s love. There is no joy in that kind of giving. Giving is a response of gratitude – to God’s grace and mercy. Our gift to God is not a bribe – but a debt of gratitude. It is not an obligation — as much as a dedication. We are not doing God a favor – when we give to the church, instead we are honoring God for his amazing love and trusting Him. And he blesses us — so we can bless others.

Our offerings should be a gift of love, not a requirement. Giving is not (as some would have us believe) just an obligation; instead, it is an opportunity ‘to get God in your life’.

The ‘I earned it and I can do what I want with it’ attitude is more about control – than gratitude or love. God gave because God loved. He did not require anything or put limits on his love.

The secret of giving is, understanding our capacity and need to love. That’s the first principle.

The Second principle is this, God gave His best.  “For God so love the world ‘that He gave His one and only Son’…”

We call that the first-fruits or the best portion. We also call it the tithe. Abram (before he was called Abraham) gave a tithe in the bible because he had returned a victor in battle and wanted to honor God.

Scripture says (in Genesis 14:20) “Abram gave a tenth of everything” to honor God, before he took any for himself or gave to others, he gave the best and the first portion to God. Later in Leviticus 27:30, Moses made the tithe the law of the land.

And I think God makes himself perfectly clear in Malachi 3:8, when he says that we should Tithe – because if we don’t, we are robbing him. God wants us to understand ‘he is the owner and we are just stewards or caretakers’. We are called to use our money, as he would use it. Greed is a sin and god calls it theft.

Incidentally, that also goes back to Genesis chapter 4:7, when Abel honored God – with the first and the best and Cain did not. God reminded Cain, “Sin (or greed) is crouching at your door but you must master it.” We are called to take responsibility and give God our best. That includes our actions as well as our money. That is the second principle.

The Third principle is this, God gives according to our needs. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him ‘shall not perish but have eternal life.’ 

God not only wants to redeem us from our sin but also wants to relieve all our unnecessary suffering. His plan is that we all use what we have to ‘better the conditions for everyone’.

In Deuteronomy 15:4, God tells us that his plan is ‘that there should be no poor among us’. Over and over in scripture we are told to attend to the widows, orphans and people in need. God, he reminds us, has provided enough for all, if we are not greedy and share.

Proverbs 22:9 reads, “The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.” As the Holy Spirit begins to work in our lives’, we begin to think less about ourselves and more about others. We begin to see others in need and ask ourselves, “If I don’t do something, who will?”

Generosity touches others and changes us ‘when we move from a clenched fist – to an open heart’. Dave Ramsey puts it like this, “If you take your money, and close your fist around it, that money is not going to get away. On the other hand, you cannot receive more money in that hand either, it’s closed up tight. When you freely give with an open hand, your hand is already open – and is ready to both give and receive new blessings.”

Again, the third principle is that we are blessed ‘when we give to those who are in need’. And the Bible says in Acts 20:35 that, “It is more blessed to give than receive.”

Some scientists believe that generosity is a built in human trait. Dr. Jordan Grafman, chief of the Cognitive Neuroscience Center at the National Institutes of Health reported, “It appears, if we give from the heart…it satisfies our brain. It definitely shows that we’re going to get more pleasure, if we are giving – then when we are simply receiving.”

Over the centuries spiritual and moral thinkers have advised ways of living that lead to greater happiness, over the course of a lifetime. The goal of a good life, they agreed, is a deep happiness consistent with simplicity, integrity, and a profound generosity. Satisfaction comes, they say, from seeking a higher purpose than ourselves.

Jesus, I think, said it more simply when he told this parable…A poor widow puts two small copper coins into the offering box, and Jesus told the disciples she put in more than everyone else! What? Did we miss something here? Indeed, they did miss something — something that the widow understood.

It’s not the amount that we give to God that matters most — it’s what the amount represents. In other words, a little offering means very little sacrifice – and very little love. It is the gift that comes from the heart, completely and un-compromised – that gets God’s attention. It isn’t what we give – but why we give.

If our motives are pure, God knows it. 2 Corinthians 9:7 reads, “God loves a cheerful (or joyful) giver.” So what we see is … God is not after your money – but after your heart. Let me repeat that. God is not after your money – but after your heart.

Another clear example comes from Matthew 23:23. It reads, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a 10th of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”

The Pharisees were devoted to giving a tenth of everything but they were doing it for the wrong reasons. Obviously this influenced Paul, as he reminds us later in 1 Corinthians 13:3, “If I give all my possessions to the poor and surrender my body – but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” There ‘must be’ a greater vision that directs our use of money.

Alexander the Great burned his plunder so it didn’t weigh down his army. How we use money says more about our choices and principles than it says about money in general.

It is no wonder Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

When we become Members of a United Methodist Church, we are asked to support the church in 5 ways: by our prayers, presence, gifts (which includes our tithes and offerings), service and witness. 

  1. The tithe is just the beginning of our giving; it is 10%. That is considered ‘the base of our giving’ or the lowest level which should be given to the church. Our other offerings go above and beyond that. 2nd mile giving goes to youth and missions; above the original 10%. And 3rd mile giving goes for emergencies or agencies outside the church. I don’t deduct what I give to those other organizations from my tithe to the church. That only hurts my church. I choose to give because my heart has been touched and my response is to help. No one can decide how to do that’except me’ and I base it on my relationship with God.
  2. Contrary to popular belief, you can tithe at any giving level; we all live on fixed incomes, I know, I have done it.

If we all gave 10%, the church would have enough income to support all its ministries and we could do so much more! Also, because the tithe is the base of giving, if I am able, I can choose to give 11% or higher. Some folks do!

What you give and why you give is between you and the Lord. But you cannot hide your motives from God, he knows. Love is sacrificial.

I have never seen a bumper sticker on a Christian’s car that said “I Love My 401k,” – never been in a kitchen where the refrigerator proudly displayed photographs of the family’s finest silver or the wife’s mink coat – and never had a parishioner take me in the living room, get all misty-eyed and say with love,”Have I ever shown you these pictures of my bank statements?”

We know love because because God first loved us. (1 John 4:19) We offer our best – because God offered his best, his Son. And we give because God first gave to us.

Your assignment this week is …to examine your motives for giving to the church – and make sure they are in-line with Christ’s teaching. God gave ‘to teach us how to give’, in all ways.

If you are currently tithing, thank you. Examine other ways in with you give. If you are not currently tithing, give tithing a try for three months. Most people find that they are blessed by giving. It is just one way’that we can help bring God’s kingdom a little closer’. And thank you for your faithfulness.

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” Malachi 3:10

Amen

Walk on Water – July 1, 2018

Frank Lloyd Wright was an american architect, who believed in designing structures which were in harmony with humanity and its environment, a philosophy he called ‘organic architecture’.

During the early 1900’s, Japan approached several famous architects and asked them to design an earthquake proof building in Tokyo called “The Imperial Hotel”. Most believed that it could not be done. But Wright decided to take on the project.

On September 1, 1923, Tokyo had the greatest earthquake in its history. There were fires all over the city, and 140,000 people died. Shortly afterward, Wright got a telegram from Japan. The Imperial Hotel was completely undamaged. Frank Lloyd Wright had done what many thought was impossible; he designed an earthquake proof building!

Most of us, from an early age dream of doing something ‘bigger than life’, especially children. We want to leave a legacy.

In the movie “Big Fish”, Ewan McGregor stars as Ed Bloom. He is a boy on the verge of growing into manhood. He was always small and considered himself insignificant but as he studies, his mind and his imagination begin to grow.

He reads that the common goldfish, if kept in a small bowl will not get any bigger. But if allowed more room, it can double, triple or quadruple in size. That is when Ed realizes that maybe he was made for bigger and greater things. He contemplated; a giant man can’t have an ordinary-sized life. And at that point he decided not to settle for less but to live to his full potential.

Simon/Peter hadsimilar dreams and desires. We know that he was a man of great faith. Our Bible tells us that he was one of the first disciples called by Jesus. When Jesus saw Peter and his brother Andrew, he called out, “Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Without a twinge of doubt, Peter followed. (Matthew 4:19-20)

Peter witnessed Jesus perform miracles, healings, calm a storm, raise a sick girl from the dead, and listened to his teachings and parables. During all of this, his faith blossomed and grew. In Matthew chapter 14, Peter and the disciples witness how Jesus feeds more than 5000 people.

Then Jesus sent his disciples out ahead of him to cross the Sea of Galilee on a boat – while he went to a mountain to rest and pray.

When the disciples get about half-way across, (about 3 and a half miles – it tells us in the gospel of John) the winds pick up and a storm began thrashing the boat. So they started rowing faster and harder but they cannot seem to get ahead.

During the 4th watch, which is around 4 or 5 am, Jesus came walking out to them on the water. We are not sure who sees him first but I can imagine the reaction. Shock! Is that a ghost? Fisherman, we know, were prone to believe in myths and legends.

Jesus called out, “Take courage, It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Immediately, they recognized his voice. But what comes next is what puzzles me. Knowing that Jesus can calm storms, I would be most likely to call out, “Jesus, rebuke the wind and ease the storm, please!” But not good old Peter. Instead he says, “Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.

WHAT WAS HE THINKING??

I don’t know about you – but I’ve tested this theory many times and I have never been able to stand or walk on water.. Where did this crazy idea come from? What was Peter thinking? That question ‘wouldn’t have even crossed my mind’. Honestly, would you have asked it?

But Peter had such great faith, he was confident that Jesus was the Messiah. In Matthew Chapter 16:13-19, Jesus aksed Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Christ (the Messiah), the son of the living God.”

Peter trusts in him so much, that he asks Jesus for permission to go to him on the water. “Come,” Jesus says. And just like the first time Jesus calls to him, Peter goes. He gets out of the boat and begins walking to his master. It is just as if he is walking on dry land!

How many steps did he take? We will never know. But don’t miss this…he walked on water…at least for a few moments.

But the wind and the noise from the storm get his attention and he looked away. It is then, that he starts to sink. His first words here are important. He could have cried, “Help!” but he didn’t. Instead he calls out, “Lord, save me!” Even in his moment of weakness, he knew that Jesus could save him. Scripture says, immediately Jesus reached out and caught him.

Then Jesus said to him, as he is pulling Peter up, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Then , get this, they walked back on the water and got into the boat. You see, Peter was never af4raid to take action – but he was afraid that he couldn’t finish the task. This made a permanent impression on Peter.

For the rest of his life he would say, “all you need is faith alone”. Because he believed works just come naturally to us – but they do not. What came naturally to Peter – can be quite foreign to the rest of us.

What we learn is that Peter had great confidence in Jesus – but very little in himself. Jesus never rebuked him for getting out of the boat, he simply asked him – why did he look away. Why did he let the world take his eyes from what Jesus had planned?

‘What is it that you desire or let distract you from the will of God?’ We all have something that tempts us and distracts us – it makes us want to look away. In all of us, there are seeds of doublt just waiting to grow.

Scripture is careful to remind us in Jude 1:22, “Be merciful to those who doubt.” Because no matter how much faith you have, you will always have some doubts. it is part of the human experience.

The more focused we are on Jesus, the less we will have long periods of doubt or sin. Our confidence is not in flesh and blood – but in the power of Christ to overcome evil and death.

A child of God – is one who trusts in God’s Word. We have faith beyond what we can see or know. (2 Corinthians 5:7) So that when we doubt – or when we sin, we will not remain in that state.

We must become re-focused on Jesus and become confident in him alone. He is the God of second chances. But we must recognize out short-comings and repent. We must always turn back to Jesus.

Romans 10:17 tells us that faith comes by hearing, believing and living the words of Christ. But it is not faith and confidence in – our ability – but in God’s.

Several years after the terrible earthquake in China, a reporter interviewed Frank Lloyd Wright. One of the questions he was asked by the reporter was, “What made you so confident that you believed you could build an earthquake proof building when others believed it couldn’t be done?”

“God is the great mysterious motivator of what we call nature,” he said, “and it has often been said by philosophers, that nature is the will of God. And I prefer to say that nature is the only body of God that we shall ever see.”

In other words, God’s answers are all around – if we just open our eyes. God can be seen ‘in all that he has created’. Those who trust in God, who turn back to Him when they are far away, and who put their confidence in him alone — they are the most likely to do the impossible – like walking on water.

Your assignment is…make a list of your worries, hurts and doubts and then give them to Jesus. Then take courage and walk on!

Amen.

 

Your Daily Bread – June 24, 2018

One of the things I will never forget about growig up in Ft. Wayne is the bread factories. Whether we road bikes downtown or took the city bus, as soon as we got near the library, the smell of fresh baked bread just overwhelmed us.

Of course, it really depended on the direction of the wind but with two major bread factories downtown, Holsum Bread slightly north and Sunbeam bread just a little south, the smell would almost always waffle in and perk up our senses.

There is just something about the sweet, buttery, toasty mix of sheat and yeast that makes you stop and inhale deeply. In fact, studies have been done in France and also at the Univeristy oin Dublin about how the smell of fresh ‘baked bread’ affects us.

The aroma of fresh bread,they say, makes us happier and kinder to one another. 89% said the smell made them happier and also brought back good memories. While 77% who were observed; would help others more often in a place where the smell of fresh bread was thick in the air I remember a realtor telling us, if we wanted to sell our home faster, bake a loaf of bread before people come to do a walk through.

Famed author of “The Art of Eating”, M.F.K. Fisher wrote, “The smell of ‘good bread baking’ is indescribable in the way it evokes our ‘innocence and delight’ … Breadmaking is,” she continues, “one of those ‘almost hypnotic businesses’, like a dance from some ancient ceremony. It leaves you filled with one of the world’s sweetest smells … there is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of medication…; that will leave you ‘depleted of bad thoughts’ than this homely ceremony of making bread.”

While the NIV Bible mentions bread 271 times, in the original languages of the Bible, it is mentioned over 492 times. There are at least 7 words ‘referencing bread in Hebrew’ in the Old Testament and 3 Greek words in the New Testament.

In the Holy Lands back in Jesus’ day, it has been estimated that 3/4ths of the people survived entirely upon – either bread or items made from wheat or barely. Both of these are still used there today. Barley was typically used by poorer families, whereas wheat was eaten in wealthier homes.

Where ‘we’ eat 3 meals a day, they generally ate only two. For breakfast, they most likely ate bread, dried fruit, olives and cheese. That was their lightest meal. In the evening, they ate bread, vegetables, dried fish, fruit, butter or cheese and wine cut with water. They rarely ate ‘other meat’ unless it was during a festival or wedding.

It was customary for wives to make 3 loaves of bread each morning. One for each meal – and one extra, in case visitors stopped by. Bread in the home was prepared by kneading it in wooden bowls or troughs. Them it was pressed into thin cakes or oval loaves and baked. They used unleavened bread on special occasions, like Passover.

The word bread also was used figuratively in such expressions as ‘bread of sorrows”< “The bread of wickedness”, or “The bread of deceit”. In the Bible, if you wanted to invite someone over to eat dinner, you would usually say, “Join us for the breaking of the bread.”

In ancient cultures, it was believed that if two people ate from the same food, then they were both being nourished from the same source. In this way, they became ‘as one’ and were said to be in agreement with one another In the Old Testament, covenants were made by the sharing of bread. Peace was also established by disagreeing parties when they broke bread together. Bread could also be used as currency to pay debts or was often given in trade.

In the 1960’s it was common to hear people ask others for ‘bread’, which meant money. And you will probably hear others call ‘the partner who makes the most money in a marriage’, the breadwinner.

When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray he said, “This is how you should pray, ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven Give us our daily bread…”(Matthew 6:9-11)

Besides this reference to daily bread, the phrase is only used 2 other times in the Bible. In the Bible’s oldest book, Job 23:12 reads, “I have not departed from the commands of (God’s) lips, I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread.”

The other reference comes from Proverbs 30:8 which reads, “Give me neither poverty or riches; but give me only my daily bread.”

The words ‘daily bread’ appears in few documents outside the Bible. Around 400 AD, an accountant’s book was found and it recorded these words in Greek which apparently meant ‘enough for one day’. That is how people were paid back then, one day at a time.

While both of the scriptural passages are referring to food, Jesus was actually expanding on that idea. Abraham referred to God as, Jehovah-jireh; which meant “The God who provides”. God’s provisions were not only food – but also clothes, shelter, peace, patience, hope, guidance and truth.

As Martin Luther explained, “Our daily bread is everything necessary for the preservation of life; including food, a healthy body, a job,, a home, a wife and children.”

The 4th petition in the Lord’s Prayer begins with us — not me. Give us, our daily bread, it is communal. It is a shared meal and a shared blessing. It is not only asking for waht we need – it is also acknowledging ‘God as the source of all good things’. (James 1:17)

When Jesus was teaching his disciples, Luke 12 records these words, “I tell you, do not orry about your life what you will eat; or what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.” Later he ads, “For the Pagan World runs after all such things and your father knows ‘that you need them’. But seek his kingdom first, and these things will be given to you as well.”

A young woman brought a man home to meet her parents. After a discussion it was clear he had no job prospects or money. He just kept saying, “God will provide”. The father said to his wife, “The bad news is, he has no job and no prospects, but the good news is – he thinks I’m God.”

‘Our God’ is the one who provides – and with him, we lack nothing.

There are at least 169 verses in the Bible that refer to the ways in which God will provide our daily needs. Philippians 4:19 puts it simply, “And my God will meet all your needs – according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

And of course, Jesus took the idea of ‘Our Daily Bread’ to a whole new level – when he compared himself to the manna that was given by God ‘to Moses and the others’ in the wilderness.

After Moses led God’s people out of Egypt, the Israelites began to grumble about the lack of food and water. We pick up that story in Exodus 16:3-4. “The Israelites complained, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat – and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert ‘to starve this entire assembly to death’.

“Then, the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day – and gather just enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.”

If the Israelites tried to gather too much and hoard it, it would spoil overnight. And sadly, they did try. In a spiritual sense, God wanted them to understand that we must rely on him to provide what we will need ‘for each new day’. As followers, we must walk by faith, trusting that He will provide what we need for our daily sustenance, both physically and spiritually.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them – except in the form of bread.”

In their day, bread was life. Without it many would perish. It was ‘as important to them’ as the air we breathe.

In John Chapter 6, not long after Jesus feeds the 5,000 , the crowds caught up with him again. “Rabbi”, they asked, “When did you get here?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed – but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

Then they asked him, “What must we do ‘to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

Of course they press him for a sign, bringing up God’s miracle of providing Manna from heaven. Then Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is ‘the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world’.” “Sir”, they said, “always give us this bread.”

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Jesus is saying…I am all you need. And I will provide everything you need to live and to glorify me. Do you trust me?

He continued, “I tell you the truth, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life.

“Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which ‘anyone’ may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

Max Lucado writes, “After seeing all they have seen; healings, miracles and hearing his words, you would think these people would follow Jesus anywhere, but no. They, like us, don’t trust him for our daily bread. Somehow we still think or want to believe that we are in control of our lives.”

We often look down our noses at the rich young man who refused to give up everything and follow Jesus. (Mark 10) Yet few of us would have the nerve to do that.

Ron Sider writes in his book ‘Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger’ that “Most of the concerns that surround the average American are what will we eat – not whether we will eat.” God never intended for us to have our daily bread – and everyone else’s too.

Perhaps our lives would be a little less complicated if we would learn to live a little less comfortably and did not try to fill our every wish and desire instead of attending to our real needs. Maybe if we did that, others may be able to – simply live.

What if we truly believed ‘what Jesus told Satan in the wilderness’, “Man does not live by bread alone but on every word that comes from the month of God?” (Deut. 8:3 and Matt. 4:4) Would it chane the way we live?

Remember how Jesus taught us to pray, “Give US this day OUR daily bread.” Life is more than food. Life is more than the stuff we accumulate. Life is…Jesus Christ who is the bread of life. I pray you are filled with him, to the brim and overflowing.

Your assignment is…take stock of your storehouses this week. Open your cupboards and your refrigerators and ask yourself, how much food do I really need on hand? Does it go bad before I eat it?

Ask yourself, ‘Is this the best use of God’s resources?’ Is there a soup kitchen that van benefit from our abundance? Then, take action, You will be glad you did.

Amen

A Father’s Crazy Love – June 17, 2018

During the 17th century, Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England, sentenced a soldier to be shot for his crimes. The execution was to take place at the ringing of the evening curfew bell, which was rung to keep down rebellion and crime.

However, the bell did not sound. Upon further inspection, they found that the soldier’s fiance had climbed into the belfry and lung to the great clapper of the bell to prevent it from striking. When she was summoned by Cromwell to account for her actions, she was unable to speak but she wept as she showed him her bruised and bleeding hands. Cromwell’s heart was touched and he said, “Your lover shall live because of your sacrifice. Curfew shall not ring tonight!”

That’s crazy love. Do you know what it takes ‘to climb inside a large bell and hang on’ while someone outside is trying to ring it? What does mind-blowing love look like? A dozen roses? A special anniversary? Paying off credit cards?

Animals sometimes show a remarkable ability to transcend and love in amazing and wonderful ways. In the movie Hachi, based on a true story, Hachi loves his master so much that when the master dies, the dog continues to go back to the train station where his master would arrive after taking trips abroad. Hacki sat waiting for his master outside that station for 9 long years.

The first time young people fall in love they are all in; it is like a really strong addiction.

A 5-year study on the effects of love was completed several age at the University of Technology in Sydney Australia. They wanted to see the ‘effects that passionate love has on the body’. They recorded a surge of body chemicals, like adrenaline, that increased the capacity to think clearly, caused an increase in body temperature, and in most people they saw ‘a calmness come over them when they were around the person they loved and adored’. There was ‘great joy’ and something they said ‘in the nervous system’ like ‘a good electrical charge’ that created a sense of overall well-being.

Our understanding of love is pretty limited. ‘We know it when we feel it’ and can study some of its impact. But love can be confusing and unexplained. It is remarkably complex. There are at least 4 different definitions of love in Modern Greek — and as many as 6 definitions in Ancient Greek. God’s love is more honest, and complete ‘than ours ever will be’.

John 3:16 reads, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

The Bible tells us in Lamentations 3:22 and Psalm 145:8 that God’s love and compassion never fail. And that God has this amazing, crazy love and he wants to lavish it on us. (1 John 3:1) We can only begin to understand God’s love through faith and trust.

His risk and sacrifice is so great, he gave all ‘before we knew him’ or ever thought we needed him (Romans 5:8 and 1 John 4:10)

Francis Chan writes in his book ‘Crazy Love’, that a love like that overwhelms us. And if we allow it to – it can define us and transform us. God’s love is so strong, if we give in it will consume us.

A love like that will cause us to fight our own natural desires, in order to please God. If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. Or if God had a computer or iphone, your picture would be on his screensaver!

We are self-centered, thinking more of ourselves- than others – or God. Sometimes we just want to do our own thing. A God so loving, seems … so demanding. What does he want and why doesn’t he just leave us alone!

Now if you are a parent, that response probably sounds familiar during the teenage years. It is risky and at times heartbreaking to love a rebellious teen. ‘It is a time when we are trying to guide and protect them’ and they are trying to break-free. But here is the thing, if you are a parent, “Do you ever stop loving your kids?” No!

We keep praying for them and reaching out to them – like the father in the story of the prodigal son. The dad was waiting and watching for his son. He was hoping and praying and available. And when his son finally came back home, the father ran out eagerly to embrace him. Then he threw a party and celebrated the day his son, who had said his father was dead to him, came back home.

Real love is represented by honesty, safety, caring, protection, guidance, and an outpouring of oneself. That is risky. ‘Real love’ is a father or mother teaching a child to ride a bike. We encourage, we run along side, we guide, we are proud – but we know – sooner or later, we have to let go. Sometimes it goes well. Sometimes the child sails off into the sunset. But other times they crash. And we hate it. But they have to – or they will never learn to go it alone.

Crazy Love is an ‘all or nothing adventure’. It is a love that consumes us, fills us and overflows. God is not satisfied if we just ‘fit him into our lives in small ways’. 

Francis Chan writes in his book ‘Crazy Love’ that he never really understood his father’s love. He writes, “My goal in my relationship with my father was ‘not to annoy him’, so I walked around the house trying not to do anything that might upset him.”

I have to admit, I have met many Christians who see ‘love’ in these terms. They see God as a judge and they worry about his laws. So instead of really loving God, we walk around on eggshells, trying to be unnoticed by God. We hope God will ‘only see us doing something right’ and ‘miss’ the rest.

God’s goal is not to punish us – but to love us. Yet sometimes ‘God does put us in our place’. That isn’t what he wants – but what is best for us. Like a parent who stops a child from touching a hot stove. If He didn’t. He would be considered abusive or unloving!

God, like any parent, has hopes and dreams for us. God created us with purpose. God’s love is well-balanced and has clear expectations and boundaries. God desires more good for us than we can imagine.

God is patient and he waits for us to come around. HE may hold back his blessings but His love will never cease. He is persistent and always watching over us. And he keeps on smiling at us – even while we sulk and complain.

God’s love is electric, like … 

  • It is like a new father coming home from work, who cannot wait to see his wife and baby.
  • It is like a mother baking a cake for her child’s first birthday.
  • It is like that proud day when a son or daughter graduates from school, and they hear a hearty, “That’s my boy!” or “That’s my girl!”

When it all works out according to plan, all the years, all the hopes, all the risk – and all the joy collide and overflow. That is how God must feel when a Christian gets up and sings the ‘heart of worship’ with all their heart, mind and soul. That must be how God feels ‘when all the prayers, fasting, time and commitment – help a new person give their heart to Jesus, for the first time’.

Or when the church really displays God’s love – and they go from being ‘nominal to phenomenal’. And that is what the church needs today. We desperately need more members who immerse themselves in Christ and become new creations. We need people who ‘fall in love with The Father’ and really experience his crazy love; a wonderful, overpowering love that transforms and transcends.

We need Christians who are willing to climb a bell tower and hold onto the clapper for the love of Jesus. Can you imagine how we could change the world ‘with that kind of Crazy Love’?

I want to leave you with this challenge: Two brothers got infected with God’s love. Together they wrote a book, it is called, “Do Hard Things”, it is by Alex & Brett Harris. Get a copy. Read it. It is a challenge we all should embrace.

What if we were all overcome b God’s Crazy Love and did Hard Things? What if we set an example of God’s transforming love and power for others – by having high expectations… Honestly, I get chills just thinking about it. Kind of crazy, wouldn’t you say?

But with God, anything is possible. Happy Father’s Day! Amen

Being Shrewd with Finances – June 10, 2018

In the Steven Spielberg movie “Catch me if you can”, Leonardo Dicaprio plays the real-life Frank Abagnale Junior, a young man who coned many. He was a check forger, imposter and took on 8 different identities, including: a cook, an owner of a grocery, a movie projectionist a teaching assistant, an airline pilot, a pediatrician, an attorney, and a United States Bureau of Prison’s agent.

He escaped from “police custody” twice (one from a taxing airline – and once from a US federal penitentiary). He served less than 5 years in prison before starting work for the federal government. He now owns a company that teaches the FBI and other police how to catch con men and other frauds, like himself.

In the end, we almost find ourselves cheering him on. We celebrate his ingenuity, his skill and his risk. In a way, ‘we wish’ we could get away with stealing 4 million dollars without getting arrested. But the reality is, most thieves are caught in the end. That is what happens to con men.

That is where our Bible passage in Luke fits in today. Luke 16 is often titled, ‘The Parable of the Shrewd Manager’. It says in chapter 15 that Jesus is speaking to; the Tax Collectors and Sinners, the Pharisees, the crowd and the disciples all at once. What does it mean to us today?

It is clear that the entire 16th chapter dealing with the use of money. Here is the story. There was a rich man who employed a manager to take care of his business. Then, someone complained to the boss saying, that this manager was squandering, wasting, or miss-using the owner’s possessions.

So the Boss called the man in and said, “What is this that I hear aout you? Show me your books and give an account of all your transactions. If there is ‘one error, you’re finished! I will not have an employee ‘who is a cheat’.” Knowing he is cauht, the manager said to himself, “What shall I do now? My boss will take away my job.”

So the unscrupulous manager found himself in a bad way. “I am not strong enough to dig – and I am too ashamed to beg”, he thought, “yet I have a plan – that just might save me.” And so, the manager calls the boss’ debtors in ‘one by one’ and slashes their bills, drastically discounting what they owe.

This way, the boss ‘got some debt paid back’ and made a quick trn around ‘to cash in on the profits’. There is a good chance the manager did this by ‘simply cutting out his commission’. So in the end, everyone winds. Then, the boss commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.

Then Jesus ‘gave us all’ insight into this parable, “For ‘the people of this world’ are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind – than are ‘the people of light’. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings..”

“Whoever can be trusted with very little – can also be trusted with much, and ‘whoever is dishonest with very little’ will also be dishonest with much. “So, if you have, ‘not been trustworthy in handling earthly wealth’, who will trust you with true riches?”

In this passage, Jesus is recognizing 2 kinds of people; those he calls ‘people of this world’ and ‘people of the light’. People of the world are really good at what they do yet many people of the light still have a lot to learn. Sadly, Christians can be some of the most gullible, naive people around. Jesus told the disciples to be ‘as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves’ in Matthew 10:16. Yet, almost every week, in the news, we hear about Christian folks being scammed.

While money is ‘simply a tool’, we are called to use it and all of our resources well. IN the end, our earthly wealth means nothing to God. But how we condust our lives around money, what we do with it and what it reveals about our priorities and goals in life, matter immensely.

Luke tells us that money reveals character. It is used to build trust, it shows that we understand responsibility and reveals that ‘we take all that God gives us seriously’. Our motive is more important than ‘any quantity of money we accumulate’.

All that we have should be used to glorify God, that includes our use of money and every other resource available to us. Scripture explains in so many words, “Only a fool wastes what could be used for a greater purpose.” (Proverbs 17:16)

James chapter 5 reads, “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers ‘who mowed your fields are crying out against you’. The cries of the harvesters have also reached the ears of the Lord Almighty”.

Then, if the message is not clear enough, Luke 16 ends with the story of “The Rich Man and Lazarus”. The rich man lived in luxury, was dressed in purple and had fine linens. He lived life to the fullest, ate, drank and had every luxury. But outside, by his gate, laid a beggar named Lazarus. The rich man loathed him. He watched him rot by the gate and never gave him anything. He despised the man.

What is on trial here is our lack of compassion, our selfishness and our waste ‘at the expense of others’.

The Wall Street Journal ran this statement: “Money is an article ‘which may be used as a universal passport to everywhere’ except heaven, and as a universal provider of everything – except happiness.” Money can be a great tool or your downfall.

When we scan the Bible we find, that Jesus talked more about money than any other topic. Sixteen of the thirty-eight parables were concerned with how to handle money and possessions. In the Gospels, an amazing ‘1 out of 10 verses’ (288 in all) deal directly with the subject of money. The Bible offers 500 verses on prayer, less than 500 verses on faith, but more than 2,000 verses on money and possessions.

The reason is, Money like power can corrupt us quickly. And it can also be wasted, if we are careless. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism said, “Earn all you can, save all you can and give all you can.”

WEsley wrote, “As riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches.” He encouraged believers to take care of their basic needs and the needs of our families; buy food, clothes, housing, take are of your health and education, but never hoard money at the expense of causing suffering for others.

The New York Times had an article in July of 2015 called, “Your Spending Choices Often Reflect Your Values”. In the article, Carl Richards writes, “My top priorities are spending time with my family and serving in my community. In theory, every decision I make, every action I take, should be about meeting those priorities. But sometimes, my statements show I have made other things a priority.”

And Richards finishes this way, “We can flip the equation. We can put our values first and make spending decisions that better align with our true selves. And we can end up with statements that reflect a personal manifesto that we’re proud to call our own.” I think that is what Jesus was trying to say to us.

I want to end with this short story: A teacher of third graders asked her class, “What would you do with a million dollars?” One girl responded, “I would buy new clothes and lots of candy.” A little boy answered, “I would buy a train and a monkey.”

The the teacher asked, “Do you suppose that buying those thins would ‘really be the best use of your money?” “Gee”, said the boy, “You ask what I would do with a million dollars, not what I should do with it.” Even a third grader can get a little insight!

While we, on occasion root for the con man, a good con only gets us so far. And foolishness, the Bible says, only separates us from our hard earned money. (Proverbs 21:20) It takes wisdom and careful planning to take us back home again. So bank on Jesus and ‘use your money wisely’ to build eternal relationships and to point to heaven.

Your assignment is to take account of your fiances this week. Be wise, count the cost.

Amen