Archive for July, 2017


Dare Not to Compare

Storyteller-Series-Week2

Matthew, chapter 18, verse 1; “At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?’” Matthew, chapter 19, verse 27; “Then Peter said in reply, ‘See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?’”

Comparison is such a hard thing to deal with, but I think we all have faced it at some point in our lives. We try to compete with our neighbors to see who can have the best lawn, the most fruitful garden, the best car (or truck!), or maybe the best kids.

It used to be called, “keeping up with the Jones’.” Advertisers have a keen way of influencing us to purchase their products. It’s kind of like the reasoning I always gave my parents when I wanted something; “Everyone at school has one, why can’t I have it.” Or; “Everyone else is doing it!” My mom’s response was always the same as many of yours; “If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you do it?” I guess it would depend on the bridge…

Today, the stakes have been raised. It’s not just those that live next to us, or even those that live down the street or in our community that we have to try and keep up with. With the invention of social media, we now have people all over the world that we are attempting to be like.

Do you ever scroll through the endless pile of notifications and pictures, posts and selfies, and wonder to yourself, how can anyone be that perfect? A post lists off all the things this person has accomplished that day and it seems like it should be a week’s worth of stuff. This person is now off on their 10 vacation of the year, and its only July. This one just bought a new car, this one’s moving into a new house, this one is getting married and has just had the most amazing proposal, and it was caught on video which is being shared.

We look at the endless amount of posts and pictures of perfect lives. There’s but one problem. None of those lives are perfect. Social media is like the photoshop of real life. We take the best parts of our lives, polish them up, and post them for the world to see. The everyday stuff, the boring, monotonous tasks, and all the other things we don’t want people to see; that never shows up on Facebook. Only the best, only the things we want out there make it.

How do the rest of us compete with that? How do we compare? Sure, we have moments that our lives look like that, but they are few and far between. We can’t keep up with what we see. Comparison or competition within the Kingdom of God is not a good thing.

The disciples were trying to figure out who was the best, who was the greatest, who was going to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand side. They were also worried about all the time, money, and effort they have given toward this Kingdom, where was that going to leave them? Were they going to be rewarded for all their labor?

Then Jesus tells this well-known parable, workers in the vineyard. In this story, we find a landowner, a vineyard owner, who needs to have his grapes harvested. He goes to town and hires a group of workers and agrees to pay them a day’s worth of wages. But the work was too much for this first group, so the owner goes back and hires more workers, throughout the day. Finally, at the end of the day, the owner pays all the workers, beginning with those who only worked one hour. To the first worker’s surprise, they received a day’s wage! That must mean that they were going to receive more, after all, they worker far longer than the others did. But the owner pays them just what they agreed upon, a day’s wage.

They were upset. How could the owner pay everyone the same amount? They certainly didn’t work the same number of hours. But in God’s Kingdom, all are equal. God is generous with his gifts. He wants to offer the same gift of salvation to everyone, regardless of when they make the decision to follow Christ. God wants us to be grateful for the gift he has given to us. We should not be comparing ourselves to anyone else. In this world, it is incredibly difficult, but in God’s Kingdom, there is no need for comparisons!

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Shadows

letter-boardI was recently reflecting on a sign that I saw inside Beth Eden UMC, my home church. This was one of those signs that you could change what it said by adding or subtracting little white letters that stuck to a corrugated background. You can make announcements with this, give directions, even give little humorous sayings for people to read and laugh at. This particular one had names listed, along with a few directions to things within the church like the office location.

What really struck me was not the names that were listed within the sign, but something that I could see behind the names. Because this sign was placed in the sun for many years, the black background faded to a charcoal gray, except in a few places. These places were where other names had been listed. You see, this sign tells everyone who walks in the front door of the church, who the pastor is, who the secretary is, the choir director, and the rest of the staff. But behind those names, I could see the shadows of those who have served there before.

This reminded me of all those who have had an impact on the life of that church. It reminded me of all the things that a particular congregation had on each other as well as the community that surrounded them. It reminded me of all of those people who God called to be a part of something bigger than themselves, to help each other, to proclaim the Kingdom of God. And how each and every person within that community of believers impacted my life.

You see, just because someone isn’t “in” your life at this moment, does not mean that they are not still a part of who you are. Each person we talk to, become friends with, or serve with, is a part of our lives, never to be forgotten. That also means that you are a part of many other peoples lives. What you say and do makes a difference to the world around you, even if it is just that grade school child who you mentor for a couple of months. It all adds up. It adds up to a life of love, a life of grace, and a life in which God calls us to make a difference.

So go, have that conversation, help that person out, give that hug, and love unconditionally so that the love of God can be witnessed in your life.

God bless you Beth Eden and all who have entered and will continue to enter your doors!

Kingdom Views

Storyteller-Series-Week1Jesus is the master storyteller. Many of his teaching came in the form pf parables which were similar to riddles. These would have been relevant to those he was teaching, but we may find them puzzling. So over the next few weeks I will look at some of the parables of Jesus and talk about some of the reasons these were taught and why they still have meaning for us today.

Let’s take a look at a short parable about a small seed. Jesus says the Kingdom of God will be like a mustard seed. (Matthew 13:31-32) Obviously, he is talking about big time growth, about exponential growth, and about growth that makes a difference. This parable speaks about small things making a huge impact. The kingdom will begin small, but it will grow and it will flourish. This is the surface meaning of this story, but there is more than meets the eye.

You see, Jesus tells these stories, the parables, and uses many things which the people in those days would understand. Unfortunately, we don’t live in those days so some of what Jesus is talking about can easily go over our head. We need to know the context. We need to know more about the time in which they all lived, how they lived, what was important, and certainly why Jesus would name some things and not others. So, if we are to truly dive into these stories, we need to know more about what is said in them. We need to look at the nouns, verbs, adjectives, and other grammar things that are mentioned, because they are important to knowing all that Jesus was teaching.

Jesus tells the people that the kingdom is like something that will grow into a tree, and this is good. That’s what they want to hear. They can easily see the Kingdom of God in reference to a majestic, strong tree. But what is it that will turn into the tree, what kind of tree would it be? Our answer, the mustard tree! Have you heard of a mustard tree? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Why did Jesus name this plant? Why didn’t he say that the kingdom is like an acorn that when it grows, turns into a mighty oak tree? Large enough to be seen from miles around, strong and solid. Why didn’t he say that it was like those little helicopter seeds that would grow into a majestic maple, full of shade for all to enjoy? But he doesn’t, he says that it is like the smallest of seeds, the mustard seed which grows into a tree! But it’s not a tree. It’s a plant, more like a weed. Regardless, Jesus mentions a mustard plant, why.

First, the mustard seed is not the smallest of seeds. It is small, tiny in fact, but it’s not the smallest. It’s also not a tree and as we have said before, the people Jesus was speaking to would have wanted to hear a story about a tree, that’s what they wanted. Mustard is a field plant. It’s something that you would grow away from your treasured garden. Mustard is not something that you would desire for your nice flower beds, your vegetable garden. You want it outside the fenced in area. In fact, rabbis would not allow mustard to be planted in gardens. Why?

Well, mustard is like some other plants that we know. It’s like nettles, thistles, creeping Charlie, and so many others that will just take over once it has begun growing. It’s hard to kill, it just keeps coming back. Just when you think you have it eliminated, it comes back, it rises from the dead. Wait….

But there’s something else you should know about mustard and it’s uses in Jesus’ day. While it has many uses, one of the main purposes was that mustard was a healing agent. Mustard was known to help with burns, muscle aches, tooth aches, scorpion stings, and many others. Can you begin to see why Jesus uses the analogy of mustard in this story?

Jesus comes to bring the kingdom near, but it’s not like the imperial tree, the strong and powerful warrior which everyone is looking for. Jesus is bringing the kingdom near, but it will be through something like a mustard plant which is not desired by the people, but when it takes root, it will overtake everything else.

Although people try to kill it, it keeps coming back, even rises from the dead. Mustard will provide healing, and it will not be found in the garden, but in the outlying areas, those areas of need. Can you see why Jesus would use mustard?

This kingdom will be found in the least, the lost, the broken. This kingdom will not be like the one they were thinking. It will be backwards to what they were hoping for. This kingdom will have a king who is meek and humble, who will come into town riding a donkey. This king will give his life for those who follow him. He will die on a cross to show his people how much he loves them.

Can you see why Jesus would use mustard? Amen.

Generous-Living-Series-Part-2I recently purchased a t-shirt that I love. On the front is simply says; “Dear naps, I’m sorry I hated you as a kid, signed me.”

Many of us can relate to this I’m sure. You know, kindergarten, it was time to go to your cubby and pull out that rolled up rug and lay it down so that you could take a nap. I hated that time. Do you know how much more I could do if I didn’t lose 30 minutes to something as useless as sleep? When I was a kid, I didn’t stop. It seemed like I was busy all the time. I didn’t want to take naps. Nowadays, I find that if I slow down, relax a bit, that I will get very sleepy and a nap sounds really good. But, if I stay active, keep on the move, I don’t get that way.

Luke 19:13 tells us what we need to do in order to not get tired. It says this; “calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’” We are called to engage in business until Christ returns. We are to be busy, working for God until he returns. We need to be doing the work of kingdom building, working at all that God has called us to.

How else do we engage? Well, if we look to our passage from 1 Peter, verse 10, we see that we are to use our specific gifts, our spiritual gifts. What are your gifts? Do you know? How do you plan on using them if you don’t even know what they are?

We are each given different gifts that we are to use to the glory of God and my gifts are not your gifts, just like your gifts are not my gifts. The world would be a pretty boring place if we all had the same gifts, we need diversity. We can’t all be the hands of Jesus, if so, we wouldn’t get anywhere because no one would be the feet of Jesus. We’d bump into things if no one was the eyes of Jesus.

It takes all of us, using our individual gifts to make this work. I don’t want to use certain gifts that aren’t mine. I don’t have the gift of hospitality, but I know people who are. Why would I waste time trying to do something that is clearly in the wheelhouse of others? It just doesn’t make sense. Use your gifts, not everyone else’s.

Finally, we need to give all our gifts to God. Whether it’s using a spiritual gift or giving the firstfruits of our labor, they need to be given joyfully to glorify God. We hear Jesus talking many times about money and about giving. We find passages throughout the bible that speaks to tithing ten percent. In fact, we find a passage in Malachi where God is asking to be tested. Remember, Jesus in his temptations told the devil that you should not put the Lord your God to the test, but here is an instance where God says “no, test me in this.”

Malachi 3:10 says; “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of Hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” Test God in this. Strive to give, strive to tithe, strive to increase just a little as you witness to God’s power in your life. See what God can do. Wait and watch for the windows of heaven to be opened up, and blessing after blessing is poured out over you.

So, we are given gifts, not to hide and bury, but to use. We are told to engage in business, God’s business until he returns. So here are the three ways we are called to engage;

  1. Stay busy, take risks, and remain active.
  2. Utilize the spiritual gifts that are given to us.
  3. Offer our gifts back to the glory of God, testing him in this.

The questions I would like to leave you with today are:

How is God speaking to you this today? What is God asking you to do today?

Or maybe, God is asking you to get up, get busy, and offer your gifts, financially and spiritually back to your community.

Generous-Living-Series-Part-1There is a parable that Jesus taught about three men who received some money before their master went on a long trip. The master happens to have some business in a faraway place, he has to leave but he doesn’t want to leave his workers without anything, so he decides to give them some money. A few talents to be exact.

Now you must know that a talent is not a gifted ability, although we certainly can read that into this story today. It is a weight of measure for fine metal, gold, silver, or copper. The most common used for currency in those days would have been silver. So a talent of silver would be worth about a years wages for a laborer, no small amounts here as the first worker was given 5 talents.

If we translated that into today’s terms, this first worker would have been given 200 – 400 thousand dollars. The master was living generously as he lavished this money on his workers. Notice though, that each worker received some gift. They were not the same gifts, but they each received. If we see that the master is referencing God, we can see how God blesses each of us with certain gifts, each to our ability. We have been given different gifts, all to build up the body of Christ and they are lavished on us. They are given abundantly.

But this story is not about the gifts that are given. That part only sets up the main points. It’s what we do with our gifts, that’s what important. What we do with our gifts will determine our ability to be faithful. So, what does it mean to be faithful? How does this story guide us in being faithful?

If we are to be faithful, as the first two in the story, we need to be obedient, trusting, active, and risk-taking. You see, we have two differences here, the first two workers and then the last one. The first two were given 5 and 2 talents accordingly. They both went out and invested, whether it was in a market of some kind, a trade, or working with sheep, we don’t know. What we do know, is that they were profitable at it.

Many of you know about sports and the long hours of practice that is required. Practice is needed to get better at playing. But if you stop for a while, take a season off, it takes quite a bit to get back to where you were. God has given us this gift, but if we don’t continue to use it, we seem to lose it. But also, when we practice anything, more is added. Just as in our Christian life. The more we practice and do the things that God asks of us, more gets added to it. Just as in the talents from our story.

But what about that third worker? What is really so wrong with burying the money so that you don’t lose it. That way when the master returns, you can show that you were a good steward and retained his money. After all, you didn’t lose it, right?

Wrong! Here is where God is asking us to take risks. He wants us to use our gifts, not bury them or hide them away. They are gifts to show, gifts to use, gifts to bless others.

So, we can see that by burying our talent, our gifts, we are saying that we want things to stay the same. Change is not welcome here. Let’s keep things the way they are, the way they have always been. We’ve always done it that way.

God has words for that kind of thinking. “Take the talent from them, take the gift from them, take the blessing from them, and give it to the others. Give it to those who are doing, those who are trying something new, those who are taking risks with their own gifts.”

We are to be doers off the Word, not just studiers of the Word. Certainly, that is an important part, but we are called to action too.

How are we at doing the work of Jesus Christ? Where are we called to take a risk? What new thing is God asking you to do today? Don’t bury your talent.