Archive for November, 2016

Living in God’s Economy

sermon-slide-wk1Bah, humbug! Scrooge’s famous line which is repeated in almost every story that is based on this classic tale. But what can we say about Scrooge? He’s an old man, well in his years. He’s greedy. He trying to acquire all the money he can, by all the ways he can. Scrooge is stingy. He doesn’t want to give any of his money to help the poor and less fortunate, in fact, when approached by a couple gentlemen looking for funds, Scrooge’s thought is that it would be better if they died. That would help the overpopulation, according to him. Scrooge was angry, “you keep Christmas your way and I’ll keep it mine” is one of the lines from the book. He didn’t want it joyful, he wanted to remain alone and angry. Most people knew that as they would keep their distance, even carolers would sing extremely quietly when he would walk by, making sure they didn’t disturb him.

Scrooge did however have one love in his life, money. His world revolved around it. How to get it, how to get more of it, and how to keep it. Scrooge may have been knowledgeable of the scriptures, because he certainly takes Galatians 6:7 to the extreme. “…for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”

Most of his life was lived on this basis of reaping what you sow. If anyone would have originated the phrase, “pull yourself by your bootstraps,” Scrooge could have been the one. It was all about him, all about helping himself. But you see, he also forced that upon the world around him. He thought everyone could do the same if they just set their mind to it. If they would focus their attention, they could accomplish anything, as long as they didn’t get in his way. Scrooge felt that life is all about how you control your own destiny. I remember one of the movie versions of this story, “Scrooged,” with Bill Murray. He is talking with his girlfriend. She is helping at a homeless shelter and he can’t understand why she can’t just leave so they can go on a date. He tells her, “Scrap ‘em off Claire, if you want to save someone. Save yourself.”

So if Scrooge knew about scripture, he would have cut this passage right out of his Bible; Matthew 20:1-16. This is the story about the workers in the vineyard. Jesus starts this story by saying that the Kingdom of God is like. This story in a view into God’s economy, into how God desires life to be.

The master hires workers in the morning at agrees to pay them a day’s wage. Then, throughout the day, he hires more workers. At the third hour, the sixth hour, even the eleventh hour he hires them and tells them that he will pay them “what is right.” When it came time to pay all of his workers for the day, he gave them all the same amount that he promised the first workers. I could only image if Scrooge were a young man and one of those first workers. “How can you do this? They didn’t work as long as I, they didn’t accomplish as much as I; you can’t pay them the same as me. I deserve more. I sowed more, therefore I should reap more!”

But God’s economy is not our economy. We live in a world that values some of the things that Scrooge values. We live in a society that tells us that we need to save ourselves. If we want a “better life,” than we need to go out and get it. Take what is rightfully ours. “All I want is what I have coming to me, all I want is my fair share.” Thank you very much Sally Brown.

Thankfully, we are given a glimpse into God’s economy with this story. With God, it doesn’t matter when you begin working for the Kingdom, sowing seeds of the gospel. All that matters is that you begin. 1st hour, 3rd hour, 6th hour, or even the 11th hour, you will be welcomed home as an adopted son or daughter into God’s Kingdom. If you need proof of this, just remember the thief on the cross next to Jesus. “Remember me when you come into your kingdom” Jesus tells him, in this man’s 11th hour, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” That is good news and this is all through the grace of God, not by anything we do. It’s pictured in this story of the workers because it didn’t matter how much work they accomplished, they all received the same amount.

That’s the thing about God’s grace. It’s an amazing gift when it is offered to you, but when it is granted to someone you don’t think deserves it, it’s the toughest pill to swallow. That is how grace works. It doesn’t matter how much we do or don’t do, or who we think deserves it or doesn’t, God’s grace covers all; regardless of how we feel about it.

Giving Thanks

givethanksThanksgiving week, one of those special times when people gather together to celebrate with food and friendship, maybe even a little football. I think back on thanksgiving from years past and all the memories they have produced. Growing up, I remember going to my grandma’s house for the day’s celebration which was always filled with great food, a lot of talking, and a lot of snoring as a football game would be playing in the background. As I grew up, I realized just how much was truly going on during those times.

As a family, we wouldn’t get together that often during the year and many times, relatives from out of state would return just for this holiday. No one was in a hurry, no one ran out of the house to get to the “black Friday” special sales. Time was important, conversations were important, our lives together were important.

Deuteronomy 26:5-10 gives us a glimpse into the history of what we do during our thanksgiving celebrations. Let me explain. If we look at verses 5 through 10, we find a testimony and witness to all that God has done. But more than that, they are telling of all the good times and the bad times. When they were a very small nation, wandering in the desert, eventually being controlled and enslaved by the Egyptians. They speak of the mighty hand of God and his great deeds.

This is a story they would repeat so that future generation would know what they had gone through. This testimony helped those, who did not have to endure those things, empathize with those who did. It helped them remember where they came from, who they were, and whose they were. Telling the story year after year assured them that the heritage of their past would never be forgotten.

How many of you remember your family history? During family gatherings do you reminisce about your lives, your past relatives and their lives? Do you retell your family’s story? In a way, I see that this retelling of family stories is a way of giving thanks. We are recalling all that we have been through, good or bad, and in doing so, even if we don’t say those exact words, we are giving thanks. Thanks that we are where we are or that we are who we are.

As I grew older, thanksgiving became less about the football games that we would watch, less about the games that we would play, even less about the food we would eat or the naps we would take. Thanksgiving became more about the people we would see and the conversations we would have. We would catch up on what was going on in each other’s lives. Who got a new job or promotion, who was getting married, who was having a baby, who was retiring, and who was moving away. These were times of writing our story. All the events that were taking place in our lives were part of our family’s story and each holiday we would gather; we would write another chapter. We were remembering our history and thanking God through our remembrances. We were proclaiming the goodness of God in his plan for us. We were witnessing to the love, grace, and hope of our lives in our God.

The Israelites were doing just that. The stories were told and retold so that their history would not be forgotten. Celebrating our history is vital to our witness. It is a way that we testify to God’s good deeds to all of us. On thanksgiving, we celebrate and remember all that God has blessed us with. We celebrate a bountiful harvest, a loving family, friends, our church, and so much more.

So here we are today, preparing for a feast, preparing for gatherings, preparing to thank our God for all things. Let us retell our stories and in doing so, thank God for all of our blessings.

A Plea for Humanity…

earth in hands2The Kingdom of God is something that God desires for all of his children to live in. In this Kingdom we find God’s love for each of us. Here is also where we find love, mercy, grace, and peace. This is our hope, this is our dream, this should be our reality.

Now I don’t know about you, but over the past week, I can honestly say that I have never felt like we have been so far from God’s kingdom. If the kingdom is filled with love, peace, mercy, and grace, then we have found the back door to somewhere else. As a society, we have opened the wrong door and walked right in.

Social media is full of news stories, some true, some couldn’t be further from the truth. The problem? Many people can’t tell the difference. We have watched the news and have seen the protests which have turned violent. We have watched countless videos of people doing the most inhumane things. Where does that leave us?

I’ll tell you where it leaves me. I recently had a conversation with an friend of mine about how he has been treated, just because he is a Christian white male. He has been called a racist by some of his friends and even family. How can this be? How can we treat other human beings this way? This is unacceptable. This is not living into the kingdom of God.

But you know what else is not acceptable. People living in fear, regardless of what causes it. People should not have to live in fear for their future. They should not have to live wondering where their next meal will come from, if they will not be able to see a doctor, if their kids will grow up in a world with enough resources. Mostly, they should not live with hatred of any kind. Brothers and sisters, we are all God’s children. God’s grace covers all, all people, all nations, all races, all orientations, all people! That is something that I will not question, ever. God loves all people; therefore I need to strive to love all people.

Regardless of who you voted for, what you voted for, what fundamentals you voted for, we have a president elect. We as a nation have voted for someone to lead this great country for the next four years. And if we take lessons that I spoke of earlier, and God’s promises in scripture, we know that “God works all things for the good.” All things, not just some things, all things.

So if we follow these words, then God can use Donald Trump. To prove this point, all we need to do is look at history. God used a number of flawed individuals throughout scripture including Abraham and Sarah in their taking matters into their own hands, Jacob and his tricking Esau, Joseph’s brothers as they sold him into slavery, David in his adultery, and so many of the kings throughout the bible who led worship of other gods. If God can use these people, I’m sure that God can use Trump.

However, there is still something that we need to do. In a passage today from 2 Thessalonians 3, we find a warning about being idle. Here we find Paul warning the church about not working for the kingdom. Even worse, some were being busybodies. They were complaining, gossiping, spreading rumors and lies, even spreading partial truths which would stir up other people.

There is a warning in here for us. Instead of being part of the problem with all that is going on around us, instead of feeding into the system, we need to be a part of the change. We need to be a part of the healing. We need to testify to the love and mercy of God in our lives.

We need to be the firewall that doesn’t allow anymore hate speech. When it pulls up in conversation, we should be the ones to question the bias of the statement. When it pops up on our Facebook walls, we need to be the ones to respond with love and peace, giving witness to that which we have already received from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

We should be out, being a positive influence in the world around us, calling out injustices when we see them. If we are to protest, we should do so peacefully. Anger, hatred, and violence have never gotten us anywhere but further behind.

What are we waiting for? When it comes to injustice, when it comes to helping those in need, what are we waiting for? I am calling you all to action. I am asking you to speak up when you see hatred, racism, bigotry, and oppression whenever you see them. We need to be the change; we need to be God’s missionaries. We need to testify to the love of God to a world that desperately needs it.

We love because God first loved us.

Moral Compass

compassI am honored to be able to share a weekly radio broadcast on WCCI 100.3fm out of Shannon, IL. On Wednesday mornings at 11:55, I share a “Chapel Time” message for the surrounding communities. This week I broke from my usual pattern of supplying a brief synopsis of the previous Sunday’s message. I thought I would share it here for all of you.

Today is Wednesday, November 9th, and although I am recording this on Tuesday, I can assume that we now know who our next president of the United States will be. This has been a campaign for the ages, and I don’t mean that it has been one that we should remember, because I hope that we can now put this election far, far, far behind us. I don’t remember in my years listening to campaign ads and debates, an election cycle that has been so spiteful, so angry, so hateful as this one has been.

It has been difficult to watch TV with my kids as we hear so many stories of what this person or this person has done in the past. The language has been like what we hear straight of reality TV, and unfortunately, it has been reality. But it shouldn’t be.

I would hope that with the election over, regardless of who has won and who has lost, that both candidates would come forward and offer the American people an apology. To say that they are sorry for the way they treated each other, for the way they spoke about each other, to the complete lack of respect that they showed not only their opponent, but also the American people.

If I look at this overall process and who the winners and losers are within this election, I think I can honestly say that the real losers here, are all of us. We have lost. Sure we have a new president who will begin serving this great nation soon, but I really believe that America has lost. Here’s what I think we lost over this past year.

We have lost some of the respect and admiration from the rest of the world. We have lost some of the respect we have for our governing agencies. We have lost some of the faith in our leaders. We have lost some of our hope in the future. And most of all, we have lost the way we should treat each other, because you see, now that we have seen as a country that we can treat people a certain way, it will be incredibly difficult to take a step back to the way we should respect each other.

It’s not impossible. By the grace of God, we can take that step, but instead of thinking it as a step back, we can take the step forward in grace and demonstrate the love, mercy, and forgiveness that this world needs. Let us be the agents of change by making the first move toward reconciliation.

Matthew 22:37-39; “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it; You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” I implore you, love one another, show mercy, offer forgiveness, and pray for our new leaders as they take up the daunting task of leading and guiding the United States of America.

God bless America!

Rise: A Look at Resurrection

invasion-part-3This past Sunday we finished our worship series, Invasion of the Dead. This week we focused on the heaven and the resurrection.

What is heaven? Where is heaven? Who is in, who is out? What do you really believe about the life after death? Is there a resurrection? Does this happen for everyone? Is it a spiritual resurrection or a bodily one? Revelation speaks of a new heaven and a new earth, what will that look like? So many questions, so many thoughts from many different people. Do you think about it? Maybe this is something that you don’t think of too often, then again, maybe you’re thinking about it more than you ever have.

I have heard many differing opinions on this topic, from a “pie in the sky” mentality to escapism, to the very honest “I don’t know.” Well, today I want to look at some of the traditional thoughts on heaven, the re-creation and new heaven, our resurrection, and what does this all mean for us here right now.

I grew up hearing about heaven, a real place where we go when we die. That our spirits leave this body upon death and go to heaven to be with God and all of the others who have died. We will be reunited with our family and friends. That we will spend eternity doing all those things that we love, like playing golf, fishing in pristine waters, and watching the Cubs win the world series every year! Oh wait, that’s me. Well, I’m sure you have a list of your own too.

I had also heard that heaven was a place where there is no violence, no hatred, no wars, no disunity; all things I would like to escape from here on earth. It’s a perfect place, surrounding us in love and peace. Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe it is a perfect place, filled with love, peace, unity, and the presence of our God. But if we look at these definitions or thoughts of heaven, we can see discord with scripture.

So what does scripture say about heaven? In Revelation 21:1-4, one of the most quoted scriptures during funerals… “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”

“The first earth had passed away,” the re-creation of earth, heaven coming down to join earth. Luke 10:9; Jesus says “the kingdom of God has come near.” Heaven will come near, so near that it will join with the re-created earth at the end of history.

So as we look at these scripture passages, we see a new earth, a re-created earth that is no longer held in bondage, it is no longer corrupt. We see an earth that is not being pillaged with all of our damaging mining, polluted garbage dumps, or toxic air and water ways. We see a new earth that looks more like the original garden that God created. Heaven and earth, collide in the most beautiful way, to create this place of peace and unity, a place of love and worship. Heaven.

What does scripture say about our resurrection? I believe that verse 1st Corinthians 15:20 gives us some insight into a possible answer to this question. “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen dies.” Jesus is the first fruits of all who have died. So we can see that when we are resurrected, we will be like Jesus. Have you ever noticed that when Jesus appeared to Mary and other women after his resurrection, that they didn’t recognize him at first. It wasn’t until he began speaking that they recognized him. Could this be because he was raised to his new body, his resurrected body? The same body that we will receive upon our resurrection.

invasion-part-2There is a familiar phrase, “there is nothing sure in this life but death and taxes.” Although I don’t believe that this is an exclusive list, it certainly states that fact that everyone will have to deal with at least one of the two. Physical death is an inevitability. No matter how far medical science has progressed, we still have not figured out how to be immortal. So everyone will need to approach this at some point in their lives and with this death or loss in our lives, we need to grieve, we need to mourn our losses.

Psychologists have come up with a few different stages or patterns that follow this process of grief. However, most of them follow a basic structure and we can see it in four stages. Let’s quickly look at these so we can understand how we deal with loss.

The first stage is “numbing.” Maybe you can remember when you were in a grieving process and feeling the feeling of numbness. It doesn’t seem real, in fact, you question whether it really is real or not. We then come to the “yearning and searching” stage. Here is where some of the acting out our feelings is shown through anger, protests, crying, even bargaining with God. “If I could just have them back, maybe even for one day.” We know the loss has happened, but we are not yet ready to accept it.

Acceptance finally comes when we enter the “disorganization” stage. This could be one of the longest stages as we accept our loss and then begin to redefine what our lives could be like. Nothing seems to make sense, ordinary tasks are not so ordinary as they bring with them memories and difficulties doing the same thing by yourself that you once did with someone else. This can take months if not years to navigate.

But then, we finally reach the last stage, “reorganization.” We’ve traveled that bumpy road of disorganization as we struggled to find our new sense of self. We emerge on the other side with new patterns to our lives, with a redefined life. It is so true to say that life doesn’t get better as we are dealing with losses, but it does get different. Things are not the same, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. New patterns and redefined lives are proof that we are healing.

This is something that everyone does, just not in the same manner each and every time. Everyone grieves, but those who process this time in their lives through stages like those I mentioned, will heal. We must travel to the new normal. We never just “get over” grief, we can only reconcile with it. Let me tell you though, grief is not limited to human loss, it is not only experienced with death of a life. Grief can also come from the loss of a pet, loss of a marriage, loss of a friendship, or many other losses.

Where do you see yourself today? Do you find yourself in any of these stages of grief? Do you feel numb, lost, angry? Maybe you find yourself in acceptance and trying to redefine who you are, or maybe you are looking back at a stage in your life where you can now see all of those stages and how you progressed through them. Either way, I want you to see how God helps us through all of this.

There is a story on the book of John that talks about Lazarus. It is here that I would like to show you how God helps us through our most difficult times. Lazarus is dead, the family is mourning, and four days later, Jesus shows up. He sees Mary, Martha, and the rest of the family weeping and mourning and he was moved. In fact, scripture tells us that he was “deeply moved” and that his spirit was “greatly troubled.”

Then Jesus wept. Jesus, the Son of God, cried. Now, maybe he cried at the loss of Lazarus. But if we look closely, we find that Jesus cries, not when he learns about Lazarus’ death, but at the reaction of Mary, Martha, and the crowd that was with them. That speaks volumes about the heart of compassion of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It shows the heart and compassion of God. God weeps and mourns with us in our losses. The creator of everything, the almighty, the all-powerful, the all-knowing, walks our grief journeys with us. He doesn’t leave us when we need him the most, regardless of what we are experiencing, he is right there and even going through the pain with us. God cares so much for each and every one of us, that he mourns with us. I don’t know about you, but that is very comforting and reassuring to me that God cares that deeply for us, for each and every one of you. God loves you too much to leave you alone.