Category Archives: Sermon Notes – 2018

Aim High Notes – Oct. 28, 2018

In February of 1836, a small rag-tag army of volunteer soldiers took refuge in ‘The Mission San Antonio de Valero’. This group of farmers, Texas settlers, frontiersmen, and restless patriots were also made up of men from nearly every state in the Union and 13 foreign countries.

Nearly all of the volunteers had signed up for a 3-month assignment. About a fifth of them were sick and worse yet, they only had one doctor, Amos Pollard and he had already exhausted his supply of medicine. A few of the volunteers ran off – but a few small groups came to join them.

Because they were such a mixed group of men, arguments frequently broke out among them. They disagreed about ‘the right approach’ to battle and life. Historians believe there were about 187 made-shift soldiers, a few women, a few Mexicans and a few slaves in the fort. They called the old abandon Mission, “The Alamo”. 

Outnumbered and overwhelmed by the Mexican Army led by General Santa Anna, the men of the Alamo dug in for battle. While there were suggestions that the men ‘could abandon the Fort or surrender’, word came that Santa Anna wanted every last soldier killed to make a statement.

The Alamo was never designed to withstand the onslaught of an army, only the attack of local native tribes. In fact, it was in disrepair and was expected to be torn down.

Those inside the Alamo were expecting reinforcements and had seriously underestimated the army coming against them. General Santa Anna’s army was ‘supposedly made of mostly new recruits’, not familiar with battle. These 1,500 soldiers went on to attack the Alamo for 13 days.

The final assault took place on March 6th, when 1,000 seasoned soldiers arrived to assist Santa Anna in the battle. After repelling 2 attacks, the Texans were unable to stop the 3rd wave of soldiers. Within 4 hours, almost all the soldiers inside were killed. Only about 5 that were injured or sick surrendered and Santa Anna had them executed. A few women and slaves were spared.

While all 187 Texans died, about 600 Mexican soldiers were killed or injured, an unimaginable feat. Lost in the battle were William Barrett Travis, James Bowie and Davy Crockett. Before the final battle took place, William Barrett Travis penned, probably the most famous letter in Texas history. In it he wrote,

“To the people of Texas and all Americans in the world, fellow citizens and compatriots, I am besieged by a thousand or more of the enemy under Santa Anna. I have sustained a continual bombardment and cannon fire for over 24 hours, but I have not lost a man.

“The enemy has demanded surrender at its discretion. Otherwise, the fort will be put to the sword. I have answered that demand with a cannon shot. And the flag still waves proudly over the north wall. I shall never surrender or retreat. “I call upon you, in the name of liberty and patriotism and everything dear to the American character, to come to my aid with all dispatch. If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself ‘for as long as possible, die like a soldier who never forgets what is due his honor and that of his country’. Victory or death.”

Historians say that the men inside ‘The Alamo’ survived as long as they did ‘because they put aside their differences and stood as on fighting force’. They had ‘no idea what was coming’ but they decided to take their stand together. And even though they died, their decision and their bravery have been a rallying cry for generations.

In a way, as Paul was closing his 2nd letter to the Corinthians, he was also issuing his cry for victory over defeat. Paul could see beyond all the divisions in the church – to a place of unity, peace and strength. He writes in Chapter 13:5-9,

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test.”   Skipping forward, a little, he writes, “For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. We are glad whenever we are weak – but you are strong; and our prayer is for your perfection.”

Then in Verse 11 he writes, “Finally brothers, Farewell! (some versions say goodbye or rejoice) Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of peace be with you.”

Paul was acknowledging that the Corinthian church was divided; theologically, spiritually, and relationally. They were different people with different agendas. Yet he was longing for restoration. Jesus said in Mark 3:25, that ‘If a house is divided against itself that house cannot stand’.

So first, Paul asked each person to test themselves to see if they are in Christ Jesus. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ Jesus, they are a new creation.”   We cannot do things that go against our nature, – but when we are in Christ, we can repent and change course.

It is easy to argue over who is in charge and who has the final word. Paul is explaining, if Christ is not the head, then we are not a church or a faith community.

Second, Paul is calling the church to ‘a place of truth’. God’s word provides the way forward. While His road is narrow, “the truth will set us free”, we read in John 8:32.

Third, Paul says, “Our prayer is for your perfection” and later he writes, ‘aim for perfection’. Perfect here means that they will be fully mature and harmony will be restored. In Greek, perfection refers to being one or in agreement. It also refers to being mature.

To be perfect does not mean we will no longer sin or make mistakes. God never commanded us to do the impossible. As the Corinthian Church turned on Paul he was disappointed, sure. Yet Paul choose to love them anyway. In a fallen world, we cannot expect that everything will always go smoothly.

As followers of Jesus, we must accept the fact that people will let us down, yet we can choose to respond in a Godly way. We can choose forgiveness, understanding, caring and hope for better days ahead. After everything that has happened to Paul and the Church at Corinth, listen to Paul’s words… At the beginning of the 2nd letter Chapter 2:4 he writes,

 “For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you – but to let you know the depth of my love for you.”

And Paul ends his letter with words of unity, peace and with a blessing. Notice, he still calls the members at Corinth ‘his brothers’. He writes in chapter 4, verse 19, “May God meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

While the church at Corinth was acting hostile, immature, cliquish and dysfunctional; Paul was working to foster cooperation, clarification and continuity. Like a conductor, he was trying to get all of the musicians on the same page.

Author and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar said, “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.”

Matt Emmons is an American Olympic rifle shooter. He has competed in the 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympics and won a gold, a silver, and a bronze medal. During the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Matt had the gold medal in sight. He was one shot away from claiming victory in the 2004 Olympic 50-meter three-position rifle event. He didn’t even need a bull’s-eye to win. His final shot merely needed to be on the target.

He usually shot a 8.1 or higher, more than enough for a gold medal. But in an extremely rare mistake, Matt got nervous and fired at the wrong target, they call it cross-firing. Standing in lane two, he fired at the target in lane three. While it was a great shot but at the wrong target – he still received a zero score. Instead of a medal, Emmons ended up in eighth place. It doesn’t matter how accurate you are – if you are aiming at the wrong goal.

Paul said, if you want to hit the target, aim for perfection. We do that he said by being of one mind and living in peace. Now, I want to break those two down, although they are related.

What does it mean to be of one mind? It essentially means we are in sync, that our focus comes from one source, the Father in heaven. Jesus said in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.”

In 1 Corinthians 12:25 Paul writes, “There should be no division in the body. If one suffers, we all suffer, if one rejoices, we all rejoice.” It means we are linked undeniably at the heart and soul level.

Finally, Ephesians 4:4-6 reads, “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

Jesus prayed for this oneness, this unity in John 17:20-21. He prayed, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray, also, for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

Peace means shalom. Shalom is what Paul was writing about to the Philippians in Chapter 4, verse 7, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Shalom is harmony, wholeness, tranquility and a sense of being made complete.

Diversity is good. We do not need any cookie-cutter Christians here. We don’t all like the same foods, enjoy the same music, like the same styles – or reflect the same tastes – and that is ok. We all bring our unique gifts to the table. But ‘to be in harmony with God’, to be united in mind and to be coordinated in our tasks, we have to be free from those things that bind us and instead focus on love, peace and the promises of God in Christ Jesus. If we don’t, things can get ugly fast.

Collin Raye sang ‘Not that Different’ and it reached number 3 on the charts, I think the words are very deep. Listen,

“She said, we’re much too different,

We’re from two separate worlds
and he admitted she was partly right,

but in his heart’s defense he told her

What they had in common was ‘strong enough’ to bond them for life
 
He said look behind your own soul, and the person that you’ll see,

just might remind you of me

I laugh, – I love, – I hope, – I try

I hurt, – I need, – I fear, – I cry

And ‘I know you’ do the same things, too
So we’re ‘really not that different’, me and you.

The truth is, we really aren’t that different. We all want joy, love, mercy, forgiveness, peace and honesty. We all want to be accepted and cared for. And all of us ‘in Christ’ have a common goal. Truth be told, we are better together.

The church should be a place to heal broken relationships. It should be a place where we are renewed, day by day. It is a place where we come to get our ‘spiritual batteries re-charged’ before we carry the message of hope back to a broken world. So let’s aim for the harmony that God promises and gives. And let’s aim to be perfect in love.

Paul began his First letter to the Corinthians with this request, “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another – so that there may be no divisions among you – and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.”

(1 Corinthians 1:10)

His final letter ends the same way. So let’s aim higher. Make Jesus and his word ‘first and foremost in your minds’, so that we will all be of one mind in Christ.

Your assignment is…to really see others, ‘as not all that different than yourself’. Then, as Jesus said, ‘Love your neighbors as yourself’. If we accomplish that, we will move the Kingdom of God forward in leaps and bounds.

Amen

 

 

Thorns Notes – Oct. 21, 2018

On July of 2016, Sandra Maria Anderson published her first book called “Lessons from the Thorns: His Grace is Sufficient”. It is the true story of an African American girl who ran away from an abusive family-life. It chronicles her personal struggles and the burdens she carried ‘that went on to poison her life’.

It was only through her faith in Jesus Christ that she was able to face her past. Going through her painful experiences, Sandra calls ‘thorns’, she regained her mental health and overall well-being. It is a story about courage, breaking the silence that binds, learning to forgive – and finally finding peace and her voice.

She explains, While she was weak, God was strong because his grace is sufficient.” The content of the book, at times, can be hard to read but the story of God’s redeeming love is evident.

Life is hard but God is good.

That theme runs all through Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. Paul, like Jesus, is a man who knew trouble and sorrows. In 2 Corinthians Chapter 11:23-27, Paul explains,

  “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received ‘from the Jews’ the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked. I spent ‘a night and a day’ in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea – and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled – and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst – and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.”

Paul says, let no one take me for a fool. But, if I am a fool, let me be a fool for Christ. (1 Corinthians 4:10) Paul explains, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness”. (2 Corinthians 11:30)

What Paul is doing is turning the argument ‘that he is weak’ and flipping it on its head. Some of his critics have argued that he is a poor speaker and his theology is off. Paul explains, if my weaknesses have allowed me to change the world for Jesus, then I hold my weaknesses up with high-esteem.

In fact, Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 12:7, “To keep me from becoming conceited, because of these ‘surpassing great revelations’, I was given ‘a thorn in my flesh’, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.”

Paul does not use this expression, a thorn in the flesh, without good reason. Not only is it very descriptive term, it is also one that can be ‘real in terms of physical pain’ – but also used metaphorically. But let’s begin with ‘the thorn’ first.

A thorn is defined as a stiff, sharp-pointed, straight or curved spine on the body of a plant or tree.

Very early cultures believed that thorns had supernatural powers and that they could be used to inflict pain or curses on your enemies.

The Greek word that Paul is using for thorn is actually translated ‘stake’. One definition of a thorn, that I like, goes like this, “A thorn is a little thing, and yet can be quite painful, even ongoing, to the point of being crippling and debilitating. Its frustrating and can be humiliating.

A thorn is a sharp thing, which pricks, pierces, irritates, lacerates, festers, and is a major inconvenience – yet is not fatal.” 

 Rev. Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Thorns are often a secret thing, not very apparent to anyone but the sufferer.”  

While Paul’s thorn goes unnamed here, many people have offered suggestions. Luther and Calvin thought that Paul’s thorn was a temptation that he was unable to overcome. Others have suggested that it was related to Paul’s lack of humility; he was too prideful.

 Still others say it relates to Paul’s physical condition. Since Paul said he had a thorn “In the flesh”, this seems likely. They suggest that Paul stuttered, had tinnitus (ringing in the ear), was living with some dreaded disease like Malaria, was crippled by constant persecution and torture – or had acute eye problems.

 That last suggestion seems ‘the most likely’ and is even supported, in part, by scripture. In his letter to the Galatians Chapter 4:13-15 Paul writes, 

As you know, ‘it was because of an illness’ that I first preached the gospel to you, and even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. Where, then, is your blessing of me now? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me.”

Paul began preaching the gospel after he saw Jesus on his way to Damascus and lost his sight. While he regained it, after he was healed by Ananias, it appears to be an ongoing problem for him.

Paul typically dictated his letters. But in his letter to the Galatians, he ends with these words, “See what large letters I use – as I write to you with my own hand!” Clearly, this was a special occasion. It also is a clear indication he had eye issues.

Paul said ‘this thorn in his flesh, this messenger of Satan’ was sent to torment him. Other translations use the words buffet, or to cuff or bind him into submission. Whatever Paul’s thorn was, it was something he desperately wanted to get rid of. He writes in 2 Corinthians 12:8, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.”

The Greek word to describe pleading infers ‘a deep or desperate sense of longing’. Paul had literally been down on his knees begging and crying out to the Lord to remove this thorn, this curse of the flesh.

And true to form, in the Bible, thorns are seen as a curse and a consequence of the fall of mankind. Max Lucado writes in his book, ‘He Chose the Nails’,

“Throughout Scripture thorns symbolize, not sin, but the consequence of sin.  Remember Eden? After Adam and Eve sinned, God cursed the land: So I will put a curse on the ground…The ground will produce thorns and weeds for you, and you will eat the plants of the field” (Genesis 3:17-18).  Brambles on the earth, he writes, – are the product of sin in the heart.

“Rebellion results in thorns. Proverbs 22:5 reads, ‘Evil people’s lives are like paths covered with thorns and traps’. Jesus even compared the lives of evil people to a thorn bush. In speaking of false prophets, he said, “You will know these people by what they do. Grapes don’t come from thorn bushes, and figs don’t come from thorny weeds” (Matt. 7:16).

“The fruit of sin is thorns–spiny, prickly, cutting thorns.” Lucado ends like this, “I emphasize the “point” of the thorns to suggest a point you may have never considered: if the fruit of sin ‘is thorns’, isn’t the thorny crown on Christ’s brow a picture of the fruit of our sin that pierced his heart?”

Jesus had to live with the ‘thorns’ of life and so do we. Yet Paul pleaded with God until he got his answer. Finally, God said to Paul, in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10,

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” ‘Therefore,’ Paul writes, ‘I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, – so that Christ’s power may rest on me.’ In fact, Paul goes on to say that he ‘delights in weakness, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, he writes, then I am strong.”

Like Jesus, Paul was ‘pierced for a purpose’. Without the thorns in life, he and we are prone to forget that God’s grace is sufficient for us. We want to rely on our own mind, strength and ways. But God’s ways are not our ways. And sometimes we must simply submit.

Eventually, Paul saw his thorn as ‘the strangest gift’ he had ever received. It was a challenge and it kept him humble, awake and alert. Actually, a hedge of thorns can be ‘a hedge of protection’.

If you remember the Uncle Remus stories, Br’er Rabbit wanted to be thrown into the thorns or briar patch. He knew it would be a place of protection for him – – but to Br’er Fox or Br’er Bear it would be a barrier.

One Seminary professor wrote, “Look at the rose. There is beauty and danger. Always stop and smell the roses – but be careful if you touch. For often, where there is beauty – there is danger. God designed the rose’s thorns for its protection. Without the thorns, it may not last very long. In the end, our thorns may just give us endurance we did not know we had.”

Ovid, a Roman Poet wrote, “The sharp thorn often produces delicate roses.”

And British novelist Anne Bronte wrote, “But he that dares not grasp the thorn – should never crave the rose.”

We all have been stuck by some kind of thorns in our lives. What has been your personal challenge? Maybe, like Paul, it is a thorn in your flesh. Do you have a physical challenge that never seems to go away – but you have learned to bare it?

Maybe it is just something that gets under your skin and eats away at you; worry, fear, anxiety, stress, anger, regret or a past that will not go away. It might be a thorn in your side, we might call that a pain in your neck; a person, a frustration or a situation that annoys you.

If you have ever had a thorn, you know you can’t ignore it. It seems to constantly nag you saying, “I’m here and I’m not going away until you do something about me.” It is always there, until it works itself out or until you take it out.

(My own story of having a thorn in my foot)

We don’t choose to have thorns, they just come along, but we can choose how to live with them. The disciples wanted thrones and crowns, but Jesus promised them thorns and a cross,—His and theirs. They wanted honor and power, but instead, they would received suffering, torture and martyrdom.       And we are also called to carry our own cross.

One of the greatest images of Calvary is the crown of thorns. Christ took upon our sin – and turned it around, our failure –became his success. And we need to learn from him and others.

Paul’s weakness, like our weakness can become the place of God’s power.

Joni Erickson Tada, in 1967, dove into ‘shallow water’ and broke her neck. Within seconds, she became a quadriplegic. Joni went through a time of depression, suffering and a period where she wanted to end her life.

In occupational therapy, Joni learned to paint and draw with a brush between her teeth, and began selling her artwork. She also began writing this way, but later changed to voice recognition software. She has written over forty books, recorded several musical albums, starred in an auto-biographical movie of her life, and is an advocate for people with disabilities.

Along the way, she made peace with God and came to believe what scripture says in Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good ‘to those who love God’, who have been called according to His purpose.” In the end, God took Joni’s thorn and turned it into a rose.

It is in our weakness, God’s divine power finds its strength. When we are weak in ourselves, then we are strong in the grace of God. The challenge is, owning our thorns. And instead of praying, “Lord, take away all my thorns and suffering, ask instead, ‘Lord, make me an instrument of peace and of grace to others’.”

Our weaknesses, our thorns, give us our testimony. Your struggles give you a voice of hope ‘that others need to hear’. When we walk along side others with similar stories, we both find God’s strength to go on.

Your challenge this week is – to identify your thorn. Is God using it to redirect and refocus you? Can you learn to see it as possitive? How can the grace of God, help you overcome your personal challenges? And how can you us it to encourage another? Ponder this and find God’s mercy and grace to grow through the pains of life.

Amen

 

“What Were You Thinking?” – Oct. 14, 2018  

In 1948, ‘The Candid Microphone’a popular radio program hosted by Allen Funt came to the television screen. When it returned in 1949, it had a new name ‘Candid Camera’. Many TV critics called it the funniest half-hour on TV. It may have been the first ever reality TV show.

The premise was that the host would ‘set up practical jokes or ask awkward questions to real people’ to see what they would do or say. Then at some point, Allen Funt would reveal the whole scam by saying, “Smile, you’re on Candid Camera”.

The show continued to grow through the 1950’s and was in it’s golden age in the 1960’s. It was very funny and a great show for families to watch together. There was no inappropriate language or questionable material. The original show continued until May of 2004, in one form or another – although the show changed after Allen Funt had a stroke in 1993.

Of course, it spawned many similar shows like America’s funniest Home Videos, Punk’d and Betty White’s ‘Off Their Rockers’. Back in 2002, another variation of the show aired called, “What Were You Thinking?” It was similar to another ‘popular show on MTV’ that exploited people’s foolish and bad behavior.

Episodes of “What Were You Thinking?” showing people picking up snakes and getting bit, playing with fire and getting burned – and people trying to fly off high roofs with make-shift wings, only to fall and break bones. It was cancelled due to low ratings. The title became a punch-line for the TV show asking , “What Were They Thinking?”

In a way, ‘this was similar – to the question that Paul was addressing’ in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians. As you might recall, after Paul set up the church in Corinth and left to set up other churches, false preachers and teachers came in. They not only questioned Paul’s teaching but ridiculed him as well.

I am sure it broke Paul’s heart to see the leaders and others at the church turn on him so quickly and easily. In 2 Corinthians Chapter 10, Paul is defending his ministry and his approach to the faith. He begins with these words, “By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you – I Paul, who am ‘timid’ when face to face with you; but ‘bold’ when away! I beg you, that when I come – ‘I may not be as bold’ as I expect to be ‘toward some people – who think that we live by the standards of this world’.”

Only Paul could consider himself ‘timid’. He was feared by many and known to persecute Christians. In other words, he is saying, ‘I beg you to get a handle on this, so I do not have to loss my temper when I return’.

Then Paul continues, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, ‘they have divine power’ to demolish strongholds. We demolish ‘arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God’, – and we ‘take captive every thought’ to make it obedient to Christ.”

This idea of a ‘spiritual warfare’ that goes on ‘inside of us’ is not new, we find it all throughout the Bible. In Genesis 4:6-7 God is talking to a bitter Cain,

‘Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”’

Proverbs 23:7 in the NKJV reads, “For as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”

Finally, Ephesians 6:12 reads, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, – but against the rulers, against the authorities,  against the powers of this dark world – and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” 

So while the world rages around us, – the real battle is for the heart and mind; it is the battle within that really matters. There are many good books on this topic. An old classic by Donald Grey Barnhart is called “The Invisible War”. Joyce Meyer has a good book called “Battlefield of the Mind”, Andy Stanley has a great book called, “It Came From Within” and there is a popular fiction series called, “This Present Darkness” by Frank Peretti that details spiritual warfare well.

Paul said, ‘while in war, soldiers battle for land, wealth and to destroy strongholds’; but we, instead, work to tear down senseless arguments and misguided thinking. These are ‘our barriers, our walls’ – that must come down.

Over and Over again, the Bible reminds us that we must recognize that we have; troubled minds, blinded minds, deprived minds, corrupt and sinful minds. And to get beyond them, we must accept Jesus as Lord and Savior and have ‘the mind of Christ our Lord’.

We are called to ‘be on our guard’ to protect our hearts and minds. You see, in their day, they believed that the deepest, most honest beliefs originated in the hearts of mankind. And if the heart was bad, Jeremiah 17:9 tells us, evil things will come forth in our lives.

Paul explains, if you are looking only on the surface of things, many bad arguments make sense. But when put in the light of God’s word, these arguments fall flat. If we trust in scripture, it will build us up, not tear us down. Those arguments, that come from the world divides us, wounds us, and can destroy us.

Proverbs 15:14 reads, “The discerning heart seeks knowledge, but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly.” But I like the New Living Testament version which reads, “A wise person is hungry for knowledge, while the fool feeds on trash.”

Have you ever heard of the old computer cliché, ‘Garbage in, garbage out’? It literally means, if you put in insufficient or bad data into your computer, the results will be skewed or worthless. The same could be said about ‘what we believe and allow in our minds’.

People too often jump to the wrong conclusions before they get all the facts. Paul believed this ‘was the case’ with the Corinthians. They believed every negative thing they heard about him and the ministry of the church, without cross checking the facts. And in the end, Paul was saying to them, “What were you thinking?”

Paul said that we are to ‘take every thought captive’. In Greek, captive is describes as ‘to control, conquer, or to bring into submission. Then, we are to make our thoughts obedient to Christ.

In many ways, he is referring to our out of control emotions, they often lead us to say or do things that we should not say or do.

We should not worry, allow fear, resentment or anger to misguide us. We should not ruminate or mull over words that will cause hard feelings. In fact, we should not believe everything we think – or think about everything without clarification. The last thing we need is to ‘get trapped inside our own minds with negative thoughts’.

Now, just to be clear, Paul is not talking about ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’ here. He is not saying we just ‘have to think happy thoughts’. Peter Pan tells us, if we just think happy thoughts, we can fly. A similar lesson comes from Prosperity Gospel Preachers.     Today, we have another name for that, Scientology, the power of the mind.

No, Paul is not teaching psychology here, he is talking about right thinking. It is less about ‘visualizing a perfect ending’ – and more about purifying our thinking. In 2 Peter 3:1, Peter writes, “Dear friends, this is ‘now’ my second letter to you. I have written both of them, as reminders, to stimulate you to wholesome thinking.”  What he is saying is ‘not magical thinking’- but reasonable thinking, so that we may see clearly and abandon the wrong point of view.

For instance, if we believe we are worth nothing, we are failing to see ourselves through God’s eyes. He thinks we are very valuable and wonderfully made, we are told so in Psalm 139. That is ‘not so much positive thinking’ – as right thinking.

When life is tough, we cannot wish it away – but with the help of The Holy Spirit we can change our minds. When we trust in God, God can bring ‘a sense of calm into the storms of life’. Notice, God doesn’t necessarily change the situation, – but he can change our minds, to find peace. He brings a sense of hope – that only he can bring.

Neuroscientists believe we have somewhere between 20,000 and 70,000 thoughts a day. Many are negative, some are repeated – and some are positive. If we are driven by our thoughts and emotions, we can do great harm to others and ourselves. Instead of focusing on all of the negative things in life, – scripture calls us to focus on the truths of God.

When it comes to our thought life, we must replace ugly thoughts with Godly ones. If we focus on God, we change our thoughts and our world in a positive way. Paul writes to the church at Philippi, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, -whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Truth is first. Think of those things that God said are reliable and trustworthy. Next, think about what is noble, honorable or what is worthy of reverence. Third, think of what is right, which means in God’s eyes, not ours. 4th. Think of whatever is pure or holy. Fifth, think of those things that are lovely or showing love towards God and others. The sixth and final thing is, think of those things that are admirable; which means worthy of study and contemplation.

If anything is excellent or praiseworthy, those are the things we should think about.

If we are to be grounded and thinking wholesome thoughts, we must be grounded in God’s word. One anonymous writer wrote, “Our thoughts make us. They are the silent builders on the temple of character we are rearing. They give color and form to the whole building.”

Put another way, Psalm 127:1 reads, “Unless the LORD builds the house, the builder’s labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain.” So, if it is our thoughts that make us who we are, I pray we make way for Jesus – and allow his thoughts to make us into all we can and should be.

In the end, Paul is not arguing that human reasoning is bad. God gave us minds to use. He is just trying to guide us towards thinking in Godly ways – not worldly ways. Many people have been sidelined by dwelling on temptations, deceptions and lies instead of God’s truth.

One anonymous Pastor explained, “Holding onto negative thoughts is like drinking rat poison. Look at how it poisoned the mind of Judas. Instead of hope, he held onto pride, greed, criticism, gossip and hatred; and in the end it destroyed him. Don’t let the same thing happen to you.” 

Someone once said, “Let the mind of the Master, be the master of your mind.”

Romans 12:2 reads, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world,  but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve ‘what God’s will is’—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Finally, when we change our mind, – our thoughts and actions must follow. Sometimes we must confess and give up wrongful thinking. Other times, we must change our way of life ‘to avoid doing and thinking the wrong things’.

1 Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” Some things I no longer want in my mind.

Be careful ‘where you allow your mind to wonder’ – because there is an ongoing spiritual battle for your heart, mind and soul.

Your assignment is…Take some time this week to think about the things you allow into your mind. What things are of God – and what things are of the world? It is hard to change our bad habits but when we do, doing the right things gets easier.

Amen.

 

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