Tag Archives: the Message

Shouldn’t giving thanks be simple?

given on Sunday, November 10, 2013

Scripture:  I Chronicles 16:7-36 as found in The Message

The last few days have been spectacular with the temperatures, the blue skies, and mild November temperatures.  It is easy to forget how hot we were a few months ago or how tired we were of the dark rainy days.  Did you remember to thank God for such wonderful days?

         Giving thanks should be an automatic response, but we have a tendency to overlook this simple gesture.  In an odd way, giving thanks is similar to being able to accept a compliment.  It is sometimes awkward.  We do not always know how to say thank you just like we do not know how to accept a compliment.

In the psalm we read from I Chronicles 16, David provides the guidelines for giving thanks.  According to the Life Application Bible’s study notes, there are four elements in this psalm that tell us how to give thanks.  The words may be simple, but consider these elements:

  1. Remember what God has done
  2. Tell others about it
  3. Show God’s glory to others, and
  4. Offer gifts of self, time and resources.

By including each of these four elements in our thanks, we can practice giving thanksgiving until it becomes a natural part of who we are.

Giving thanks to God, just like offering our gratitude to others for a service or for a gift, should be an automatic reaction.  We need to focus on giving thanks as part of the discipline of living a Christian life.  The psalm demonstrates how giving thanks can be done.  Look back over the verses 8-13, (this time from the Message):

Thank God! Call out his Name!
Tell the whole world who he is and what he’s done!
Sing to him! Play songs for him!
Broadcast all his wonders!
Revel in his holy Name,
God-seekers, be jubilant!
Study God and his strength,
seek his presence day and night;
Remember all the wonders he performed,
the miracles and judgments that came out of his mouth.
Seed of Israel his servant!
Children of Jacob, his first choice
!

These verses tell us how to sing, play songs, and tell all about all the wonders God has provided us, his children.

The segment of the psalm clearly identifies who God is:

He is God, our God;
wherever you go you come on his judgments and decisions.
He keeps his commitments across thousands
of generations, the covenant he commanded,
The same one he made with Abraham,
the very one he swore to Isaac;
He posted it in big block letters to Jacob,
this eternal covenant with Israel:
“I give you the land of Canaan,
this is your inheritance;
Even though you’re not much to look at,
a few straggling strangers.”

David leaves no doubt who he is thanking.  He is making sure that everybody knows that God is the source of all that he has received.  Do you see how this matches the elements of thanksgivings?

Remember that thanks need to include what God has done for you.  Create a list, look around and acknowledge what God has done for you—is it the weather like we have seen these past few days?  Or is it the family you have?  Is it the home you live in?  Is it the job we have?  It is our health?  The list can be very lengthy, but what we have is valued in part by our acknowledgement that God has a role in it.

Giving thanks even to our family and our friends is part of our life, too.  The reasons may be simple like getting help cleaning house or mowing the yard.  The power of a simple thank you lifts up those you are appreciate, so why isn’t giving thanks to God just as important?

In the psalm, David remembers or credits God for what he has done for him personally, but he also tells others.  We do that, too, especially when we gather with our Christian friends for worship.  It makes it easy when Christians join together to give thanks, but should we not give thanks in the presence of those who may not know God, too?

By sharing what we are thankful for, and sharing how we thank God for being a part of our lives, we also need to point out the glory of God himself.  Remember:  what we do, we do for the glory of God.  If we give thanks, we do that for that glory of God, too.  Giving thanks to others for what they do for us, too, is showing that we appreciate what others do for the glory of God, also.

Giving thanks is a practice that improves our Christian lifestyle, it keeps us focused on God as the center of our lives whether it be in relationships, in what we have, in how we get things, and how we perceive our lives—lives which are a joy.

Shouldn’t giving thanks be simple?  The last element of thanks is to offer gifts such as yourself, your time, and/or your resources.  This is true whenever we give thanks to someone for what they have done for us, so should it not be the same for giving God thanks?

Look back at the verses in I Chronicles as the psalm continues to share thanks:

         Sing to God, everyone and everything!
Get out his salvation news every day!
Publish his glory among the godless nations,
his wonders to all races and religions.
And why? Because God is great—well worth praising!
No god or goddess comes close in honor.
All the popular gods are stuff and nonsense,
but God made the cosmos!
Splendor and majesty flow out of him,
strength and joy fill his place.

28-29 Shout Bravo! to God, families of the peoples,
in awe of the Glory, in awe of the Strength: Bravo!
Shout Bravo! to his famous Name,
lift high an offering and enter his presence!
Stand resplendent in his robes of holiness!

Giving thanks does not take a lot of money, not even a great deal of effort in many cases.  But giving thanks is one more means of living a God-centered life.  Giving thanks demonstrates to others how much we value them, just like we value God.  There is no definite way to share thanks, but David certainly gave us a model in this psalm.  He also wrote many more psalms which clearly show how to give thanks—just open up the prayer book Psalms and read through the ones there.  Or, look again at the final few verses in I Chronicles 16: 34-36:

Give thanks to God—he is good
and his love never quits.
Say, “Save us, Savior God,
round us up and get us out of these godless places,
So we can give thanks to your holy Name,
and bask in your life of praise.”
Blessed be God, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting.

Then everybody said, “Yes! Amen!” and “Praise God!”

Closing prayer:

Lord,

Thank you for such delightful November days.

We are reminded how you created this earth

filled with all the flora and fauna to meet our needs.

We are so fortunate that you continue to love us

and to forgive us when we fail to thank you.

Let us look forward to opportunities to share

with others the good news of your grace.

Let us demonstrate your unconditional love

so others, too, may say thank you God,

for such a rich and rewarding life.  –Amen

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

Am I a goat or a sheep?

given on Sunday, September 15, 2013

         Have you seen the TV ad with the ‘Quadricorn’ or the unicorn with four horns rather than one?  Well, what about the one where the centaur is trying to get into the club, but the gatekeeper lets in the Quadricorn and a goat?  This may seem like an odd opening, but consider that ad for a few moments.

What if that ad was representative of the process to get into Heaven?  The images and the process seem funny to us while watching tv, but put that into the context of the scripture from Matthew 25.

Just close your eyes and re-watch that commercial for a few moments.  The ‘Quadricorn’ is presented with an aura of perfection, ready for heaven, no pretense, just a calm sense that all is good.  No one questions him, he has fulfilled his earthly years according to God’s plan and is being rewarded.

Then comes the Centaur.  He is just standing there at the gate, prancing around in all his personal glory.  He is a show off, flexing his ‘pects’, jutting out his chest and questioning the gatekeeper’s decisions.  He thinks his handsome looks will get him in.  And, then as though it was the final ‘slap in the face’ the gatekeeper lets in a goat.

Less than 60 seconds of video plays out the proverb quite nicely.  Too bad it is an ad for a casino rather than a mini-God message to the viewers.

Trying to keep continuity with last week’s question of why should we, as Christians, emphasize the concept of serving, I found the next question in the evening devotions from The Message’s Solo.  The text this week went into the book of Daniel.  I was trying to keep my focus on the connection to today’s service, when Friday night’s devotion, day #163, came from Daniel 12:1-3.

1-2 “‘That’s when Michael, the great angel-prince, champion of your people, will step in. It will be a time of trouble, the worst trouble the world has ever seen. But your people will be saved from the trouble, every last one found written in the Book. Many who have been long dead and buried will wake up, some to eternal life, others to eternal shame.  (the MSG)

“‘Men and women who have lived wisely and well will shine brilliantly, like the cloudless, star-strewn night skies. And those who put others on the right path to life will glow like stars forever.

Those words triggered the parable from Matthew answering the concerns as to how will one know whether they have “earned” a spot in heaven.

Sometimes it seems like we have become a society so focused on “earning” our worth, establishing value on the tangible, and reaching measurable goals that we miss God’s message.  Jesus uses a metaphor that is familiar to a rural community of his times—the goats and the sheep.  When reading the supporting analysis, one discovers another cultural piece that adds more to the understanding of the parable.

Since I have never been around sheep and certainly was never an ancient shepherd, I did not know that goats and sheep were herded together in the open fields.  The reference to separating the goats from the sheep was not a reference to good and to bad, but actually a reference from separating the two breeds in order to sheer the sheep.  For years I have thought that the goats were the “scum” of the two while the sheep were the “good” animals.

With that little hint into understanding the context of Jesus’ story, I find myself taking an even more generous view of being selected or not into heaven.  Then I look at those few lines that are repeated twice—once in a positive manner, and the second in a negative twist.

34-36 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

Such simple acts of mercy, in fact so simple we may not even realize we are doing them, especially if we do look at the world through God’s eyes.  With this filter, I see that the gate to Heaven is standing wide open for so many more than I might have imagined before.

But repetition in story telling is good.  The same verses are used to turn the story around and look at it through a more negative filter:

41-43 “Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—

Because.  And he repeats the same criteria only this time he wants the listeners to think about when they did NOT provide for a need of another.

Struggling how to emphasize all the ways that we can serve continues to be a difficult task.  Reading over this parable once more, as familiar as it is to us, I find new meaning.  First, the story is not really about the quality of the livestock breeds, it is about looking at life through God’s eyes and acting to needs that you see.

How do we serve is our next challenge.  It is easy to meet those small needs once and a while when they present themselves to you.  You know, like when someone asks for a drink.  You can see someone whose house has burned down and has lost everything.  You can pray when you hear ambulances, fire trucks and police cars wailing their sirens.  What about the needs of all the people all around the world that do not come face to face with us?

This is a challenge because we know that we cannot possibly do all that needs to be done, but as a group we can make a difference.  Putting together the school packs for kids right here in Missouri is one way to serve in our own state.  But, what else can we do?

The UMCOR services are used in all the disasters that hit in the United States and abroad.  The fact that there is an arm of our church already in place to send out supplies to those with immediate needs is another reason to provide for their services.  Cash donations are always accepted and can be done on line.  But, did you know that some go down to the headquarters outside of New Orleans area and help right there putting together the buckets, the various packages, boxes, and shipments?  Have you ever considered going to help?

The “Imagine No Malaria” campaign is a huge operation.  The emphasis has been to provide a $10.00 mosquito net for each individual and that has proven to be successful.  The deaths have been cut in half over the past few years.  The campaign now shifts to continued prevention but adds in education and treatment.  The campaign is so successful that now other organizations have joined in—The Gates Foundation and the UN are the two most discussed.

You have heard all this before, and I know the concern is not for the far-reaching corners of the earth as much as it is for right here in our community!  The question remains the same, though, are we doing all that we can do for all that we can in all the ways that we can.

I continue to support the focus on the community, and each church has to define the boundaries of that local or immediate community.  There needs to be a goal written and posted in order to keep the focus on the church’s ministry.  A plan needs to be developed so the funds and resources are channeled efficiently.  And the members need to team together in order to reach the goal.

How can I personally add to our ministry?  I was knitting another ruffle scarf and I started asking myself how can I encourage the churches to step up their ministry efforts.  What I have done in the past has not been very successful, so what more can I do?

Then, right there in my hands, an idea sprang up.  The ruffle yarn has the same structure as nets.  The cost of the yarn is about $5.00, I love making them and have made so many that I have lost count.  Why not make the scarves and then offer them in return for a donation to “Imagine No Malaria”?  Think about it, the yarn is there, the work fills a personal need, and the return could be a huge benefit to the campaign.  I have decided that my need to knit and the love I have for the yarns—color and textures—could provide for a new need.

The challenge to you is what can you do?  So many of you do such a wide range of things, I am sure you have something you do that you love so much, you just want to do it over and over and over.  Is there a way to shift it ever so easily into a way to serve?

Another example that I witness is the holiday bashes that Earlene and Diana enjoy putting on.  This is another example of how doing something you love can meet a need in the immediate community in which you live.  The Holy Ghost Party for Halloween is coming up, and the enthusiasm for decorating and providing is contagious.  I love it.

We have this wonderful facility right in the middle of a community filled with poverty, with children, with little healthy entertainment, so why not host a party!  Why not engage in a healthy, safe Halloween event for anybody who wants to come?  I know celebrating Halloween is uncomfortable for me, but when I see the delight in the kiddos faces, the joy in the adults serving, and the fun that results from the efforts, I can push aside my own discomfort and join in.

Each time we decide to act in the best interest of the community in which we live and serve, we are serving as God’s hands and legs.  We see someone who is thirsty, and we give them a drink.  We see someone hungry, and we give them food.  We see someone who needs clothing, and we find a way to clothe them.  The pattern is already part of our lives, now we just need to find ways to continue the plan to reach the goal.

Let us each think about what we can do.  Let us look at what we already do and make sure it connects to God’s commandment.  Let’s look for new ways to meet needs that remain unmet.  Let’s make sure that we join in with others to enhance their efforts whether right here in our community or whether it is through a conference outreach.

In a few weeks, the School Packs will be delivered to the Festival of Sharing event in Sedalia.  We have the year to add to Heartland South’s efforts for Imagine No Malaria campaign.  And we have our community events.  We are not living our Christian beliefs if we do not work to serve one another in love.

Each and every one of us whether alone or in a household, must live the Christian life we say we believe.  There is no time to lose, especially when we look at the world around us and see so many un-Christian behaviors challenging each one of us.

Yes, these are words of challenge, but they are words Jesus used, too.  Remember those key verses from Matthew 25:

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’

Closing prayer

Dear God Almighty,

We hear the cries of pain or want,

We see the horrors of refugees .

We witness meanness daily.

And we cry out, shake our heads,

moaning about what has gone wrong.

Each time we hear Jesus’ parable

we do a self-evaluation,

unfortunately we misjudge our efforts

and the needs continue to mount.

Guide us to look deep into our own hearts

to honestly see the world through your eyes.

Guide us to find the means to serve

in an effort to meet the needs as best we can.

Ease our own conscious as we learn to serve

and take mini-steps serving others near and far.

-Amen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

What do you mean Holy Ghost? Who is the Holy Spirit?

given on Sunday, July 8, 2012

If a tree falls in the forest, does it make noise?  This is just one of those questions people ask in fun; but also this is a question to ponder and to argue with deep-seeded thinkers.  Questions like this are used in schools to develop higher order thinking skills, to create inquisitive minds, or to stimulate a conversation.  The same type of questions creates long, evenings of debate at social gatherings.

Abstract ideas easily frustrate a person who lives in a concrete world and struggles to understand non-materialistic concepts.  Is it any wonder when someone mentions the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit that debates spring up around it, too?  Even the name creates confusion—Holy Ghost to some while others comfortably use Holy Spirit.  How does one explain this third element of the triune?

The answers to these questions are particularly difficult in a society that is more materialistic, more secular, and more skeptical than it was 100, 200, or even 400 years ago.  Americans celebrated another 4th of July this week, but the society we live in today is vastly different than in 1776.

As Christians, we need to be able to put into words exactly what Christianity is, what the triune God is, and what the Holy Spirit/Ghost is.  Skeptics demand physical proof as clear evidence of Christianity, yet faith is an abstract concept itself.  The evidence is in the outcomes of living a Christian life.  The evidence is in the relationships of Christians to their family, their friends, their co-workers, and their enemies.  The evidence is an intangible quality that draws others to them.

The Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit, synonyms or interchangeable names, is visible in the relationships as well as in the actions of Christians.  The Holy Ghost is God’s presence within us; it is the tool that we use to act.  Holy Ghost is a tangible being that is proven over and over by the acts of Christians everywhere.

Evidence:  the outpouring of people racing to Joplin, the firefighters working around the clock right now trying to control forest fires, the neighbors pouring out to locate missing children, neighbors, aging seniors or complete strangers, the first responders to accidents, the sole individual who hears the cry of a lost child in a store.  The list of Christians who respond is evidence of the Holy Ghost in action.  It is the tool that we use to do the seemingly impossible as well as the simplest action of a hug.

Remember that looking at the world through God’s eyes allows us to apply that simple law of loving one another whether we know someone personally or whether someone is a complete stranger.  The Holy Spirit exists to provide us the ability, the resources, and the action to serve.  God’s dream of a world of humans who live harmoniously in his garden is our dream, too.

Back to the questions, though:  What is the Holy Ghost?  Who is the Holy Spirit?  Why do we need the Holy Ghost?  As Christians, we know that with the Holy Spirit, we can continue to demonstrate God’s love.  We can do whatever we can for all those we can in as many ways as we can—if we allow the Holy Ghost to work through us.

The Apostles and the earliest disciples had a man, Jesus Christ, to teach them how to live out the New Covenant.  God provided a concrete means of teaching the earliest believers how to live under the New Covenant, under one simple law rather than the volumes of law the Israelites created.  When the society surrounding the first converts felt challenged, the physical being of God was destroyed—Jesus was crucified.

At Pentecost, which was a traditional harvest celebration in the Jewish culture, the Holy Spirit baptized the Apostles and early disciples so that they were equipped to continue Jesus’ work.  The Holy Spirit replaces the second element of God, the human being Jesus Christ.  This third being may not be tangible, but is evidenced by the work of Christians then and now.

According to the Apologetics Study Bible article, “Who is the Holy Spirit?” by Dave Sterrett, there are five answers to that question:

  1. the Holy Spirit is fully God,
  2. the Holy Spirit is a person, not an impersonal force,
  3. the Holy Spirit is distinct from the Son and the Father
  4. the Holy Spirit indwells Christians; and
  5. we learn that God gives the Holy Spirit to anyone who believes in Jesus.

Wow!  Not just one answer, but five answers to the question of  “Who is the Holy Spirit?”  Sterrett also references Bible verses from both the Old and the New Testaments to demonstrate that the Holy Ghost has and continues to be part of the triune God.  The Holy Spirit is God.  The Holy Spirit is just as mysterious and complex as God because they are one in the same.

Beginning with just the second verse in Genesis, Sterrett points out the Holy Spirit was included:

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.  (the NIV)

He continues with references from Job and Psalms.  Even a review a concordance shows even more references to the Spirit.  Of course, one can expand the research by looking for additional terms:  Holy Spirit, Holy Ghost, Counselor, Friend, Tongues of Fire, Breath, Wind, and so on.

Looking at the references in John:14-16, I found the arguments for the Holy Spirit parallels those in Luke’s writings:

John 14:14-18:  15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[c] in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

John 14:25-26:  25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

John 15:26-27:  26 “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

John 16:5-15:  “Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt[g] in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; 10 in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.

The arguments are all there, in the Bible, so why the questions:  Who is the Holy Spirit?  What does the Holy Ghost mean?  How do we know there is a Holy Spirit?  What evidence is there that the Holy Ghost is a presence among us even today?

We may live in the 21st century, in a society filled with skeptics and non-believers, but the evidence exists all around us.  The Holy Spirit is present.  Take courage in this understanding and step out knowing you are equipped to do God’s work.

In Eugene Peterson’s The Message Remix:  Solo—an uncommon devotional, on day 246 he refers to Acts 4:24-31.

This excerpt primarily is a prayer that we can still use today.  In verse 23 he begins with the connection to the Old Testament, “By the Holy Spirit you spoke through the mouth of your servant and our father, David . . .” Then at the end of the prayer in verse 31, Luke describes the arrival of the Holy Spirit and how it equipped the Apostles and earliest disciples:

While they were praying, the place where they were meeting trembled and shook.  They were filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak God’s Words with fearless confidence.

Today we may not feel the church tremble and shake, but I know the Holy Spirit is present and working through us.  I know what fearless confidence is.

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

We know you have commissioned us

to continue making disciples of Christ,

to transform this world through the New Covenant.

We hesitate all too often thinking we cannot do it.

We fear that we do not have what it takes to do the work.

Thank you, too, for the gift of the Bible.

With these tools and prayer, we know that we can

Fulfill our callings with fearless confidence.  –Amen

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

The Big E(vangelism): What is the good news that we are to share?

given on Sunday, March 4, 2012:  the second in a series about evangelizing in the 21st century

Okay, last week we tackled what the word evangelism is and why it makes us so uncomfortable.  Evangelism is the good news that God so loved the world that he gave his only son, Jesus Christ, so that we could have eternal life, John 3:16.

That one verse serves as the foundation for almost all conversations concerning ‘the good news.’  Yet how in the world can the birth and death of one individual—man and God—be good news?  If we are to spread the good news, we need to know the good news in words that make sense to us and to others who are skeptical or non-believing.

Face it.  We have all heard the same platitudes repeated throughout our life.  Parents scold their kids that if they continue doing wrong they will not get to heaven.  Schoolteachers ominously tell us that we are being bad and that will lead us down the wrong path.  The older generation shakes their heads and says what is this world coming to.  Everybody seems to know what happens if evil wins, but nobody is able to give a concrete account of what happens next—next being after our bodies die here on earth.

Is that the good news?  We have to live a good life here on earth to reach heaven after death?  The skeptics ask how do we know.  We have no concrete proof.  We have the promises of the Bible.  We have the teachings of the disciples and theologians who have used all the methods that Jesus demonstrated while he was living.  Yet, we do not seem to have the words that are needed to convince or to assure others just what the good news is.

Surprisingly, though, I think we do have the answers.  We just have never been able to confidently state exactly what the good news is.  The Apologetics’ Bible article, “If There is Such Good Evidence for God, then Why Don’t More People Believe?” convinces me that I should be able to define the good news in ways that people can understand.

The article uses the contemporary arguments against smoking as a metaphor for understanding the good news.  Scientists have researched the relationship between smoking and lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and even complications of pregnancy and are overwhelmingly convinced that smoking is directly related to these life-threatening conditions.

Researchers have tried to confirm the existence of Jesus throughout the last 2,000 plus years.  The evidence continues to prove that this man did exist.  The analysis of the scripture—Old and New Testaments—connects and reconnects with the secular evidence of historians, anthropologists, sociologists, and theologians.  The more in-depth I search for answers, the more solid my understanding of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

The article poses the question, “Why don’t more people believe?”  The next statement is “The basic cause of all unbelief is a sinful heart.”  The article continues:

One reason may be ignorance of the evidence.  This is why it is important for Christians to study the evidence and be prepared to present it in a logical, gracious way.  The Bible commands us to “always be ready to give a defense” (I Peter 3:15) as you “go . . . and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19)

Therefore, we must study the Bible in order to be comfortable in discussing it confidently with others why may not know it so well.  This is a lifelong process.

Yet the article continues:

. . . When told about the gospel, some people realize that a life given to Christ will result in sacrifice and serving others.  The idea that they have to give up their sin compels them to reject God no matter how good the evidence is.  Still others say they reject God because they’ve seen Christians act sinfully.  This amounts to using the sins of others to justify your own sins and unbelief.

These descriptors sound familiar to me.  Others have talked abou them before.  I have felt inadequate to address their disbelief.  And, I have also used the sins of others to justify my poor decisions.  Now I must focus on God and not fall from grace.

Here is the clencher in the article:

Belief is like a two-sided coin:  on one side the evidence; the other side is the will.  Just as some people continue to smoke despite the evidence, some refuse to believe in God even when they know the evidence.  Others remain skeptical, because they are steeped in a worldview that does not allow them to evaluate the evidence properly.

A two-sided coin:  you can believe or not.  As one who does believe, I think telling the good news, or evangelizing, is primarily living a God-centered life.  We live a life that models the behaviors that Jesus taught us.  We see this world through God’s eyes.   What better way to learn the concrete proof needed so unbelievers can see God in our lives!

The Beatitudes describe the behaviors that God asks from us.  The first scripture reference for today is Matthews 5:3-5:

3“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

4“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

5“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.  (the MSG)

These are the first verses of the beatitudes Jesus first shared in the Sermon on the Mount.  He outlines in the beatitudes the behaviors needed to reach the kingdom of heaven (which sound more familiar in the NIV translation):

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

These behaviors are concrete.   These are ideas that are real to us in the 21st century.  Still there is that phrase again:  kingdom of heaven.  What makes that term so impossible for us to explain in a comfortable manner that others can understand?

One issue is we do not understand the concept of kingdom.  Since the colonies separated from England, kingdom has become an archaic word, an outdated word.  We do not use the term kingdom to mean a specific, geographical location on this earth.  Kingdom is not a word we use in casual conversation and to connect it to heaven creates a whirlwind of images in our minds.

During ancient times, kingdom was a common reference to a region that was ruled by a specific family.  The size widely varied, but the ruling family gave the people the law of that kingdom.  Today our society is not subject to one ruling family; rather we are all involved through the democratic principles of this republic.

With all the confusion over the term “kingdom of heaven” one can certainly understand how skeptics and non-believers are not convinced that the “kingdom of heaven” or the “good news” exists.  After reading a few articles, reading the scriptures referenced, and stopping to reflect and talk to God, I think I have some concrete evidence of the kingdom of heaven:

  • a baby’s hand automatically wraps around your finger,
  • the robins sing when snow is still in the air (not the ground this year),
  • the bite of the summer’s first tomato off your very own vine,
  • the peepers first song on a spring evening,
  • the smell of honeysuckle wafting through the breeze,
  • the sight of a small calf trying to stand for the first time,
  • the excitement of completing a crossword puzzle,
  • receiving that first paycheck,
  • the sound of a child calling for mom or dad,
  • the toe-tapping sensation when the music comes on,
  • the thrill of wind racing past your face on a bike or in a convertible,
  • the tug on the line as a fish takes the bait,
  • the thrill when pushing off for a downhill run on the skis
  • the sunset or the sunrise across the ocean,
  • the smell of supper when you open the door after a long day,
  • the joy of blowing bubbles and watching them float upwards,
  •  and …………………………. fill in the blank.

 

We have the proof of the kingdom of heaven.  It is right here with us and provides us with that inner joy that defeats the evil that exists around us.  It places good as the priority in our lives.  We see the world through God’s eyes.

The Big E, evangelism, is the gospel, the good news, and we are to spread the good news.  How many times do we react to some tiny little thing that gives us joy—these are the times we experience the kingdom of heaven.  How often do others say that it certainly does not take much to make us happy—we are modeling Christian life in the kingdom of heaven?  How many times do our thoughts turn to prayer when we hear a siren—we are part of the kingdom of heaven?

Evangelism is easy.  All we have to do is to see God in our lives today.  All we have to do is model God’s teachings.  All we have to do is accept God’s grace and find the joy it brings into our hearts.  Is not that easy to do and to share with others?  The good news is good living even when surrounded with evil.

Share the good news and you will be evangelizing.  In the last verses of our scripture, Jesus again tells the disciples how to reach the kingdom of heaven:

. . .  19-20“Trivialize even the smallest item in God’s Law and you will only have trivialized yourself. But take it seriously, show the way for others, and you will find honor in the kingdom. Unless you do far better than the Pharisees in the matters of right living, you won’t know the first thing about entering the kingdom.   (the MSG)

Keep it simple, and you will know the kingdom of heaven.  Live it and others will soon know the kingdom of heaven, too.  The disciples did it, so can you.

Dear Loving Father,

Thank you for such a sparkling day filled with hope and promises.

Thank you for making our lives much easier than it was in ancient times.

Thank you for loving us so much that you sent your own Son to guide us.

As we begin a new week, help us to keep centered on You.

Remind us to look at the world and all that we do through your eyes.

Help us to use the Lenten season to re-evaluate our lives.

Help us to make the corrections in our lives

So others may see the kingdom of heaven in their lives, too.

–Amen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

The Big E: How well are we following Jesus’ commandment?

given Sunday, February 26, 2012

During LENT, let’s open our minds to the Big Evangelism through scripture, worship, prayer and discussion.  The bulletin and quotes will be from The Message translation.  Consider reading your favorite translation and study notes to compare the ideas being discussed.  This is the first of the Lenten series.

Ephesians 2:1-5  Paul’s letter explaining the nature and purpose of  the church

It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us!  (the Message)

Additional verses referenced in today’s sermon:

  • John 3:16  Apostle John writing to New and searching Christians
  • Matthew 28:19-20  The Greatest Commission
  • Matthew 22:37-40  The Greatest Commandment
  • Matthew 25:34-36  from the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats

Today is the first Sunday in the Lenten season, and during this Christian season tradition establishes these 40 days—excluding Sundays—as a time for deep, personal reflection.  Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent and marks the beginning of the process.

Methodists do not have any requirements for the season, but suggestions do include giving up something for Lent.  Over the past few years, I found that adding something for Lent is another way to add focus to the season of reflection and evaluation.  In fact, one possibility is to carry your personal Bible to church each Sunday.

With that suggestion, I challenge each of you to bring your favorite translation with you during the remaining Sundays.  The scriptures provided are from the Message, but each one of us has our favorite language to read.  We may have a version with study notes that help us to hear the message.  Just bring your own Bible each Sunday; and during the week, read as often as possible.

Now that the challenge is issued, it is time to begin working through the discussion of “The Big E,” which is a subject that can strike horror in one’s psyche.  Evangelism has evolved into one of the scariest words in church language, and it is one that causes many to run away from the church.  Why?  Just what is evangelism?

Go back to Jesus’ greatest commandment, Matthew 22:37-40:

37-40Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”  (The MSG)

The Greatest Commandment turns out to have two parts, really.  Love God, but then also love one another.

The question for our personal reflection is “How well are we following Jesus’ commandment?”  Stop and review what has happened over the past year.  Has there been a time when life got in the way of this command?  Has something hurt you causing you to focus on yourself rather than on others?  How many times have you recognized someone’s need and worked to meet that need?

These are tough questions and we are human.  So many times we walk right past someone in need—and we really do not see the need.  We pass right on by, caught up in our own thoughts.  The disciples wanted to understand how they were to know when they were following God’s laws.  The answer is found in Matthew 25, not just once, but repeated twice:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’   (the MSG)

The answer Jesus gave the disciples is the same answer he gives us today.  Look at those needs and then review whether or not you have served others in any of those ways.

This list is not complete, but it is a list that covers the basic needs of all humans:  food, shelter, and clothing, as well as healing for those who are sick or in prison.  Each of us surely can think of other times when we have identified a need and then worked to see that it is met.

How does the Big E fit into this discussion?  A definition of evangelism is needed.  Evangelism, according to the HarperCollins Bible Dictionary, is ”. . . proclaiming the good news about God’s Kingdom and about Jesus the Christ . . . “  Those words sound familiar, and they echo the Great Commission as recorded in Matthew 28:19-20:

Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.”  (the MSG)

The echo continues to be heard across the centuries and nothing has changed Jesus’ instructions since then.  During this Lent, we need to include or possibly conclude our reflection with the question How well have we shared the good news with others?”  The Great Commission is Evangelism.

A language search makes the connection much clearer.  Evangelism is the gospel.  The gospel is the good news.  The good news is found in John 3:16:  “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.  (the MSG)

The Big E should be the “Big Easy,” but in our harried, full, fast-paced lives we are frightened of evangelism as we think it is another job for us to do.  We see evangelism as imposing our views on someone else.  We see evangelism as a specific process to get others into church.  We do not know how we could possibly evangelize, as we do not have that talent.

These are reasons I know personally.  I did not get it.  I could not see how evangelism was something I could do.  I did not understand that evangelism as a process was simply living my faith openly.  Evangelism is easy; evangelism is Christian life.  What do we do to take fear out of that word—evangelism?

During the weeks of Lent, the Big E needs a makeover.  We need to conquer the fears that evangelism creates in our own minds and find ways to apply the gospel in our lives today.  Why the word evangelism did not even surface until the early to mid 1600s!  The word is certainly not as old as the faith, so surely we can tame it for our 21st century lives.

Evangelism can be studied and analyzed by theologians, but the simple fact is that evangelism needs to be as natural to us as breathing.  The question really becomes how do we share the love, the joy, and the peace that our faith provides us in all that we do in our earthly life.  How can we demonstrate to others the power of God when we just casually live with it?

First, review your own daily life.  Look at how your faith is woven into each and every little facet of the day.  As you prepare and eat a dinner, do you see God’s role in your life?  Is God in your life at work, whether in an office or out in the field?  When you look out at the birds, the sun, the thunderstorm, or the woods, do you see the wonder of God’s world?  In the doctor’s office, in a hospital, or even during a funeral, is God with you?

Second, think about the times you have been asked how you manage all that you do or have been through.  Don’t you say that you do it because of your faith?  Don’t you tell others that that is just life so you take it one day at a time—knowing that God is with you?  And, despite all that you are struggling to manage, when someone else is in trouble, don’t you put them first?  You are evangelizing.  You are living your faith.

As the Big E continues to loom over us, let’s continue with our personal reflection and a congregational discussion.  If living a Christian life is the good news, how can we share that with others?  Once you see the gospel in your life, now you will look outward seeing how to share it.  The final issue is defining the kingdom of heaven and then how to explain it to others.  This is our Lenten task.

Dear Loving Father,

Our lives are so full of family, work, and fun

     we are guilty of overlooking the Great Commission.

Forgive us for knowingly avoiding evangelizing.

Guide us through Lent as we review our own faith,

      as we struggle to understand our own good news.

Open our minds as we look at how our faith is evangelism

     and search for ways to openly share with others.

Teach us through the words of the Bible, the hymns,

      and the prayers how the Kingdom of Heaven

     was, is and will forever be available to all.

Thank you for this community of faith who join

     in worship, study and practice together.

Amen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion