Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Practical Examples

New Testament Reading: Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, "I will never leave you or forsake you." So we can say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?" Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Gospel Reading: Luke 14:1, 7-14
On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable.
"When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more and than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, 'Give this person your place,' and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher'; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.
For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." He said also to the one who had invited him, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

Message:                                                  “Practical Examples”                              by Tom Williams
My mother used to say, “Everyone is a good example of something … even if it is a good example of a bad example.” My father died when I was about four years old, so my mother was my main example for the early part of my life. Mom dropped out before high school, when her mother became too ill to handle all the duties of a household of nine children. And yet she was one of the most intelligent people I have ever known. It was her example of reading … devouring everything that she could … that got me hooked on books. Word games and puzzles were a big part of our lives. From her I also inherited a sardonic way at looking at life.
She was also a good example of a bad example in some ways also. She had a very negative attitude and tended to focus on and relish the bad news of the day. And … uh .. er … my first cigarettes were also stolen from her. She paid the price for the smokes by having to live with emphysema in later years.
She wasn’t my only example of how to live. My brother (seventeen years older) was a bully and abusive to his family. He was the bad example that I swore to not duplicate with my own family. Over the years many people have been good examples for me. I will be eternally grateful to a man named Ernie for being an excellent example of a Christian man. There are others of course. Some have passed over to their reward. Dick was an example of true humility to me. He was so obviously led by the Lord and yet he shied from taking any credit for what he did. Lester was a man who loved the Lord deeply and loved to talk about him. Elmer radiated such love that it was infectious. There are others here, still living, that I would embarrass if I mentioned their names that have been examples of devotion and service to me.
We need these good examples in our lives because the world is full of the other kind of example. We live in a world surrounded by examples of hate, lust, betrayal and greed. We are bombarded by enticements to live lives that are abhorrent to God and counter to the teachings of Christ and the saints of old. The airwaves and internet carry photos, videos and words that would make the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorra blush. This is the world that we live in and it is hard to escape its influence.
To combat the negative influences in life, there are those that follow a religious teaching that separates them from the secular world. And maybe for some that is the path they need to follow.
But I see in Christ the example of going boldly into that worldly world and taking the Kingdom of God with him. That idea was not widely accepted in his day … nor is it in ours. Mostly the righteous in that day and this abstain from associating with “That type of People”. However, Jesus would go where the need was greatest. In that day, he went to where the sick were and healed them. He went to where the outcasts were and invited them in. He went where the downtrodden were and gave them hope. He went where the sinners were and forgave them.
I can imagine him in our world today going into a pool hall, grabbing a queue, striking up a conversation with someone and then telling a parable that would reveal their life to them in way that they had never seen. He would be on Facebook and his comments would be conversation starters and thought starters that would lead others to discovering God for themselves. You see, he was IN the world in every sense of the term and yet wherever he went, the Kingdom of God was there also.
In today’s gospel reading Luke records that Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath. This is a contrast to the time that Jesus went to the house of Levi, a tax collector and had a meal with Levi and his tax collector friends and other sinners. This upset the Pharisees to no end and they asked his disciples why their master would do such a thing. Jesus heard this and said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
It is amazing that one of the leaders of the Pharisees would even invite Jesus to his home. It could be that he was truly interested in what Jesus had to say (there were some who followed is teachings) or possibly this was seen as a chance to ‘ambush’ Jesus while surrounded by the religious leaders. If that was the plan, it was a tactical mistake on their part. Over and over in the gospels we see Jesus at conflict with the Pharisees. He berates them for leading the people of God astray by teaching custom and human precepts as if they were the Word of God. He accuses them of being so bound by the law that they were hindering the Spirit of God. He sees that they are counting out the tiniest seeds of spice and making sure that one tenth is dedicated to God. He points out that this is not the kind of giving that God wants. He sees them making public spectacles of themselves with their prayers and tells them that they should go into a secret closed and pray to God in secret. Here, in today’s gospel reading, he tells them, “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous." That is the kind of giving that God truly blesses. While he is at the banquet he gives an object lesson about how we should live our lives. Not seeking glory among and from men, but seeking to be about God’s work and being glorified by God.
In his letter to the Hebrews, Paul echoes that by saying, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.:
Do Good: 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.
Share what you have: Perhaps you think that you don’t have enough to share, perhaps it is just a small lunch of fish and bread. You get the idea, share what you have and God can work a miracle with it. Our resources are limited but his are limitless. There is no limit to what can be accomplished when we give to God. He is the infinite multiplier.
` Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. Help those less fortunate. If God has given you a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, share the excess; that is the reason it was given to you. Your cup will only hold so much don’t let the overflow go to waste.
Whoa! It is beginning to sound like a Stewardship moment.
But we are talking about sharing the love of God which is much more than giving of our wealth and possessions. Paul says, “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Or in the words of Jesus, “For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me. I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me.”
Paul even says, “Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.” This teaching goes beyond simply visiting those in prison or putting a Band-Aid on the tortured. It means fully imagine yourself in their shoes. Now image, what is the one thing that you need most? That is what you need to provide for the imprisoned and tortured.
Next, Paul has some simple advice about marriage: “Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.” That is pretty blunt and straightforward. Marriage is a sacred vow made before and including God. Honor and protect the marriage in all ways. Think of those who have shown you what a Christian marriage is and how it operates in this degenerate world. I will warn you, don’t look for perfection, but look for a marriage that is built on a strong Christian faith. That is the kind of marriage that endures.
“Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, "I will never leave you or forsake you."” The biggest secret here is to be less concerned about the accumulation of wealth and more interested in the way to best use what you have. By all means, be content with what we have … but let us not be lazy about it. The master always expects an increase on what he gave us. Remember the parable of the three slaves who were given talents by the master before he went on a journey. Two returned the talent with an increase and were called “good” and given responsibility over more. The one who returned only what the master had given was called “wicked” and stripped of what he had. “Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” is the way John Wesley put it.
Paul writes that if we live our lives this way … if we follow the example that Christ has shown us … “We can say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?" That is another way of saying, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Do not misinterpret that to mean, “If God is for us everything will just wonderful from now on.” Not in this broken world. We will still face the trials and tribulations of life. However, God will not forsake us. He will be with us. We have a hope that goes beyond this world and this life. It is in these darker times that we truly need those good examples to follow.
Paul says, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” Look to your personal heroes for guidance. What did they do when times were tough? How did they get out of the pit, or through the fire or through the flood both real and symbolic? Look to Christ as the perfect example and do your best, with God’s help, to measure to that yardstick because, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
“Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.” God loves to hear our praises. I love it when my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren tell me that they love me. So does God! Let your love shine. And be an example of the Love of God to those around you.
Charles Wesley, who wrote this poem that became the hymn, “Jesus, Lord, We Look to Thee” and summed it up really well in a very few lines of verse.  “Make us of one heart and mind, gentle, courteous, and kind, lowly, meek, in thought and word, altogether like our Lord.  Let us for each other care, each the other’s burden bear, to thy church the pattern give, show how true believers live.”

Saturday, August 10, 2013

How Far Can We Trust God?


Scripture Reading: Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old--and Sarah herself was barren--because he considered him faithful who had promised.
Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, "as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore." All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

Gospel Reading: Luke 12:32-40
"Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
"Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. "But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."

“How Far Can We Trust God?”

     The typical church stewardship campaign starts sometime in October. So, when you return to your home church you will probably start to hear pleas to increase your giving and some of them may use this week’s gospel reading as a starting point because it speaks about where you keep your treasure.

      I don’t ask that you give your tithes and offering here so don’t get the idea that I’m trying to get into your pockets.  I do, however, encourage you to support your home church financially or a faith-based charity.  Giving is one of the ways that we express our faith in God. But it is not all about "giving to the local church budget." This type of giving is about a life that flows with giving, always, everywhere, and always ready to give more.

     This week, we hear blessings found in lives that, through faith, accept God’s promises.  This week’s gospel reading begins with a word of comfort to those who have heard the warning about desiring more. "Don’t be afraid, little flock. Your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom!"

     Letting go of desiring more and endless acquisition can be fearful. Those who advocate or are supported by that ideology will offer dire warnings about your fate if you leave it. We live in a consumer based society, after all. We are constantly bombarded with the idea that we have to have the newest whatzit. After all it will make us smarter, better looking and highly attractive to the opposite sex.

     No fear, Jesus said. No fear. Letting go, selling your possessions and giving alms, keeping a purse as a temporary storage bin for resources almost immediately flowing out to others—these are the ways of the kingdom of God. When your spread your treasure to all who need it more, you show your heart is fixed on the kingdom of God.

     Jesus does not address the issue of income directly. Of course, we must have a source of income in order to become a source of outflow. The difference is how we approach the purpose of income. In the way of the world, the purpose of income is to have more resources for oneself. In the way of the kingdom of God, the purpose of improving income is to be able to share more resources with others.

     This principle is not completely foreign to the expectations of our world for some enterprises, at least. We expect charity organizations to give as much as they can to the causes for which they were founded. We expect "charities" to live by the "kingdom way." How are we doing living this way ourselves? (We all have room for improvement here!). And what are we doing to actively encourage one another to live primarily as "charities", not as entrepreneurs out for themselves, but as stewards of the gifts of others committed to, "Having, First, gained all you can, and, Secondly saved all you can, Then "give all you can.".

     That is a quote from the founder of Methodism, John Wesley in one of his sermons. Wiser, more thoughtful men than I have tackled this subject of faith through giving. The challenge at the end of his sermon is compelling. The language is outdated but the truth in it lives on.

“Brethren, can we be either wise or faithful stewards unless we thus manage our Lord's goods? We cannot, as not only the oracles of God, but our own conscience beareth witness. Then why should we delay? Why should we confer any longer with flesh and blood, or men of the world? Our kingdom, our wisdom is not of this world: Heathen custom is nothing to us. We follow no men any farther than they are followers of Christ.

Hear ye him. Yea, to-day, while it is called to-day, hear and obey his voice! At this hour, and from this hour, do his will: Fulfill his word, in this and in all things! I entreat you, in the name of the Lord Jesus, act up to the dignity of your calling!

No more sloth! Whatsoever your hand findeth to do, do it with your might!

No more waste! Cut off every expense which fashion, caprice, or flesh and blood demand!

No more covetousness! But employ whatever God has entrusted you with, in doing good, all possible good, in every possible kind and degree to the household of faith, to all men! This is no small part of "the wisdom of the just."

Give all ye have, as well as all ye are, a spiritual sacrifice to Him who withheld not from you his Son, his only Son:

So "laying up in store for yourselves a good foundation against the time to come, that ye may attain eternal life!"

     Unless we are faithfully living the "kingdom way" with our money and other resources, we will not be found "ready," because our focus is not on serving our master at all times, but primarily on serving ourselves.  If we keep trying to grow our nest-eggs as individuals, we’ll find we ultimately attract what we’re least prepared for: a thief in the night. Conversely, if we’re constantly about our mission as Christ’s servants, we’ll find he calls us to dine with him, and serves us when he comes to us again.

     In this week’s Hebrews reading, Abraham’s faith and that of "the ancestors" is presented as an undercurrent that directs and is directed by a series of actions over time toward the same direction, even when the ultimate destination is unknown or seems impossible to attain. It’s not a heroic, once-for-all decision. It’s an ongoing commitment seeking a homeland, as the writer puts it, day by day, year by year, as part of the very fabric of their lives.

      That means faith is something that happens in the world, in the real world of our actual lives. It also means that faith is not something that happens the way "the world" typically depicts it—as some rash, "heroic" decision that changes everything from that time forward. The faith of which the Bible speaks is fully in the world, but not of it.

        “He is no fool who gives what he can not keep to gain what he can not loose.”  I heard this quote and it seemed to fit well with the message for today.

        In the Biblical stories about stewards they are commonly slaves or servants that are given responsibility over a task or a piece of property.  Think of the three slaves who were given talents/money by their master before he left for a foreign country.  Two of the slaves put the money to work and earned additional income on it.  They were called ‘good’ and given rewards.  The one who only protected the money by burying it gave back to the master exactly what had been entrusted to him.  He was condemned by his master and the little that he had been given was taken away from him.

        It is important to remember that this is given as an example for us to follow.  We are to take what we are given by God and put it to use for His good.

        Okay, so then the question is, “What belongs to God and what belongs to us?”  Do you remember what was in your hands the day you were born? That’s right, nothing!  That is what you truly own in this world, nothing!

At our home church we often give a dedication prayer after the offering that says, “Of Thy own have we given Thee, O Lord.”  Now I want us to consider the truth of that statement?  How often do we realize that nothing on this earth is ours to keep?   How often do we realize that we are only tenants and not owners?  When do we admit to ourselves that we are only stewards of God’s world?

        I’m reminded of a story about the old-time farmer who sat down to eat and said this prayer, “Thank you Lord for this bread that I baked from flour that I ground from the seed I harvested from the wheat that  I grew in the field that  I planted on the land  I cleared of rocks with which I built the hearth to bake the bread.”  With his lips he may have said, “Thank You Lord.”  But in his heart he was feeling that he had done everything himself.

        Perhaps the farmer should have been praying, “Thank You, Lord for this bread. Thank you from the wisdom to make flour ground from seeds you created.  Thank you for the rich soil you provided, and for the sun and rain in their seasons that caused the wheat to grow.  Thank you for the strength to work the soil and build the hearth.  Thank you for the health to eat the bread full of the nutrients you placed there, O Lord.  Thank You for this time of rest and refreshment in which to enjoy this bread. Amen.”

        Jesus has a lot to say in his many parables about stewards and servants and slaves.  Some are bad stewards and they lose their jobs, possessions, and sometimes their lives.  Some are good stewards and they are rewarded and promoted and praised!.  There is a common beginning to all the stories of stewards: at the start, all of them are trusted to carry out the commands and wishes of the master.  By their actions their hearts are revealed to be either trustworthy or not.

        Invariably the trouble with the bad stewards is that they forget who the true owner is.  They begin to think that what they manage belongs to them.  That is a dangerous mindset.  “Mine, mine, mine!” cries the little child within us.

        The good steward is always shown as the one who obeys the master’s wishes.  But more than that, the good steward is one who begins to think like the master – to have the same heart as the master - and to anticipate what the master wants - without having to be told.  “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.”

        That brings me to my own story.

        I know that many people give financially to God’s work because they believe in God.  That is certainly not unusual.  However, my story about giving is a little different.  I believe in God because I gave. 

After years of disbelief, I had been asked bluntly and directly if I believed that Jesus died for me.  I didn’t. What I had heard growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness was that Jesus died in a failed attempt to set up his earthly kingdom. And in all of the other churches I attended over the years, I had never heard that He died for me. I’d heard that He died to save the world, not me. It was never made personal before.

I started attending church.  I listened to the preacher and the Sunday school teacher talk about the promises of God.  My emotions were stirred. It was obvious that these Christians had something that I didn’t.  I was drawn to it.

And yet my mind was cynical.  Certainly I was too smart to fall for this foolishness no matter how attractive it was!  What I needed was a thirty-day-money-back-guarantee.  I needed some way to ‘try out’ this God thing.

That’s when I came across Malachi 3:10 which says, “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.”

Really?  I could put God to the test?  Wow! Here was my guarantee. 
I took God’s challenge and started to tithe.  It was not an easy step for me.  I had precious little ‘spare’ money.  I thought it a good week when I still had money left before the next paycheck came.  But I quickly learned that God didn’t want my ‘spare’ money.  God wanted the ‘first fruits’.  He wanted His 10% off the top.

Okay, so this was His challenge.  If I was going to really put Him to the test, I had to follow his plan.  So I did.  I was so surprised to find money left at the end of the first month that I put it aside and didn’t spend it.  The next month I had more money left.

This did NOT MAKE SENSE!  And THAT was the big lesson that I learned: this God stuff does not make sense, because God’s wisdom is foolishness to men.

You see a good steward has that child-like faith that believes what God says, - He will do.  Being a good steward requires an attitude change and in the way we think about

‘our“ possessions.

I’ll admit that it has not always been easy and sometimes I have not proven to be as faithful as I want to be.  However, God has continued to be faithful to me.

Now here is a question for us: Why does God say bring our tithes that there may be food in my storehouse? Why does God want our tithes? Not for Himself, certainly, it all belongs to Him anyway!  It is because it is one way that God expresses His love for us, His children.  It gives us a chance to share, to be in partnership with the Almighty.

Here is that same question turned around. Why should we bring our tithes into God’s storehouse?

Once, I was given a publication entitled “Why We Give” and it says that, “Christians give through their churches for many reasons, including – but not limited to – the following:

        Because God first gave to us

        Because we love God

        Because it is what Christians do

        To make ministry and mission happen

Because, together, we can do what no one individual can do alone.

Remember, God does NOT need our money.  He does, however, want us to be good stewards and share in the joy of giving.  For giving is Godlike.  I encourage you to give a portion of your income and all of yourself to the service of the Lord.

How far can we trust God? All the way, with all we have, with all that we are. Like Abraham we consider him faithful who had promised. What God promises, God will do.   Amen

Not all content of this sermon is copyrighted by Thomas E Williams.  Portions were from other sources.