Archive for October, 2018

Extravagant-Generosity---heart-of-usWithin The United Methodist Church, we take vows as members to offer our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness to the church. I found it interesting that within the story of the good Samaritan, we find these vows lived out. Hear me out on this.

The Samaritan offered his prayers. Now, I know this isn’t expressed in the story in plain words, but hear what Jesus says in verse 33; “But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.” Some translations say that “he had compassion.” I don’t know about you, but when I am filled with compassion for someone who is hurting, oppressed, or in bad situations, the first thing I do is offer prayers for them. Which is why I am certain that the Samaritan, upon first seeing this person on the road, prayed for them. Who knows, maybe it was the prayer that led him to help this person. I could imagine the Samaritan praying the God would help, heal, and protect this person. And then God speaks, calls out to him, and asks him to help. To be the hands and feet of Jesus to a complete stranger. The Samaritan prayed for this person.

The Samaritan offered his presence to the man on the side of the road. He didn’t walk down the other side of the road, as the others did. But walked up to him and bandaged his wounds. The Samaritan was present and real to the one who was hurting. He was present in his bandaging, he was present in placing the man on his own animal, and was present on the journey to the inn. But he was even more present in something else. Verse 35 starts; “The next day he took out two Denari.” The Samaritan’s presence was not limited to his bandaging and journey. He stayed the night with him. How many times has someone stayed with you for an extended period of time because you were hurting? How many times would you have liked someone to stay with you? The ministry of presence is so important, and the Samaritan practiced it fully. The Samaritan offered his presence.

The Samaritan offered his gifts. How many times can we say that picked up a stranger on the side of the road and not only cared for their wounds, but then put them in our car and drove them to the nearest Best Western and put them up for the night? Maybe someone has a story like this, but I would venture to say that not many of you do. But the Samaritan didn’t stop there. He knew that he had other business to attend to, but knew he couldn’t just leave this person out in the cold, so he told the innkeeper to keep him there, and that when he came back by in a few days, he would pay the innkeeper whatever else they spent to care for him. The Samaritan gave the innkeeper a blank check! Spend whatever you need to heal this man, and whatever it is, I will repay you. Spare no expense! That’s extravagance! The Samaritan offered his gifts.

The Samaritan offered his service. He didn’t have to stop that day. He could have rode by on the other side of the street, but he didn’t. He could have just said that he would pray for the man, but he didn’t. He could have just offered him some cash to get him to the next town, but he didn’t. He pulled out his first aid kit and got to work. I’m not sure if this Samaritan traveled with bandages and ointment. I don’t know if he was a doctor. He could have been tearing his own clothes to create bandages? We will never know, but we do know that he stopped, cleaned the man’s wounds, and bandaged them up. The Samaritan served this stranger. A stranger that could have been from a different country, a different race, a different anything. This stranger, by the way, is Jesus’ definition of our neighbor because this story is an answer to a lawyer’s question of ‘who is my neighbor?’ Regardless, the Samaritan offered his service.

The Samaritan offered his witness. This witness was expressed to the injured man through the love and devotion in his heart as he cared for the stranger; as he spared no expense to heal him and give him rest. That is a powerful witness. But it was also expressed to the innkeeper, as he showed up at the doorstep with someone who probably didn’t look like him and was pretty beaten up. Regardless, he paid for the room and stayed the night with him to make sure he was on the path of healing. Then is the offering of more money when he returned, the blank check that he gave the innkeeper. Can you image the witness and testimony that was offered? The Samaritan offered his witness.

Where are you offering your prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness today?

Extravagant GenerosityGod is generous. God is loving. God is caring. God is creator, sustainer, and redeemer of all things. God desires to bless us, beyond our imaginations. God wants us to be filled with all of our needs.

We find this throughout scripture. God loves and cares for the Israelites so much so, that God gives Moses the wisdom and courage to declare to Pharaoh, that he should let God’s people go free. Then, to encourage Pharaoh’s decision, he performs all kinds of signs and wonders. While they are wandering in the desert, God provides not only guidance, but also water from a rock and food in the form of Manna that appeared every morning. All the people’s needs were taken care of.

Throughout the Old Testament, there are names for God, each with a different meaning or attribute of God. Jehovah Shammah is ‘the Lord is there.’ Jehovah Shalom is ‘the Lord is peace.’ Jehovah Rapha is ‘the Lord that heals.’ But the one I want to focus on today is Jehovah Jireh, ‘the Lord will provide.’

Jehovah Jireh, the Lord provided for all of those I just mentioned, and even for so many more. Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Solomon, Jeremiah, even Adam and Eve were provided for. But we can even see that blind Bartimaeus, the woman at the well, Jairus’ daughter, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were also provided what they needed.

God provides. Where has God provided for you? Where has God shown you how much he cares by supplying you with just what you needed at a certain time. Strength, courage, wisdom, finances, comfort or peace? When was it?

We can probably see in each of those instances, that God not only provides, but God is generous in his provisions. Sometimes it seems as if it just what we need, while other times it is extravagant, over the top. God is generous, God is Jehovah Jireh!

We even see this in the parable of the talents. The main focus of this parable is certainly the actions of the three servants in how they either invested, risked, or buried the money that was given to them. What I find interesting is what was given to each of the servants. They are given differing amounts by the master. One was given 5 talents, another was 2 talents, and finally 1 talent. So, what is a talent? Obviously, they are not talking about abilities or gifts, talents like music, leadership, sports, or hospitality. The talents they are talking about is in reference to money.

As I researched this, I found that a talent was actually a weight. They used this to weigh coins, gold, silver, and many other things. In that day, a talent would be equivalent to about 6000 days wages for the common day laborer. So, if we look at the weight and the amount of money a talent would be represented in today’s currency, it could be as much as one million dollars per talent. This is huge!

That means the story begins to take on some deeper meaning than a master giving a few servants a couple hundred dollars to keep track of while he was gone. This means the master is incredibly generous. 5 million dollars, 2 million dollars, and even the last worker got 1 million dollars. Can you imagine that?

We are led to believe that God is the master in this story, and the gifts he gives us are generous. They are more than generous. They’re over the top. God blesses us because he is Jehovah Jireh, the God who provides. God doesn’t give half-heartily. God doesn’t give small portions. God wants to bless us with over the top generosity. Family that we love, jobs that are fulfilling, a community that cares for others, and church families that watch over one another in love.

If we need any example of the extravagant gifts that God want to bless us with, all we have to do is look to the cross where he spent the life of his only Son, Jesus Christ. God spared no expense to save us, to bring us back into a relationship with him. That is love, that is hope, that is grace, and it is offered for all of us.

God is extravagant in his giving to us. God is prodigal is sparing no expense to redeem us. God is generous in all things.

What is our response? What do we offer in return?

You Are Called…

Ephesians 4:15-16 say2012-09-10_18-42-47_556s; “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

This passage is talking about each and every one of us. We are the body of Christ. We are his hands and feet, eyes and ears, mouth and heart. If one piece is missing, the whole body suffers. But when we stand together, using our individual God given gifts, we are stronger than anything and able to do the will of God in this world.

I am reminded of the giant Sequoia trees in California. These are some of the largest, most majestic trees found in the world. They can grow over 300 feet tall! What I didn’t know is that they have some of the shallowest root systems of trees. With a height of 300 feet, I would have thought they would have a much deeper root system, keeping them from falling over in the strong winds. What helps them, is that the root system they have is intertwined with all of the other trees. This strengthens their base and keeps them from being effected by the wind. But they need each other in order for this to happen. If they are left alone, they would topple over in the slightest breeze.

We too, need each other in order to accomplish God’s plan for this world. We are all part of that plan and we help in bringing the Kingdom here on earth. But we need everyone to stick together and work together, otherwise we would be like a big Sequoia getting blown over. We each have God given gifts that we can use and those are not the same as our family or neighbors. So how will you use your gifts? Do you know what they are?

There was a couple who didn’t have a lot of money, but they wanted to get in the Christmas spirit one year and thought they could afford a Christmas tree. They walked down to the town tree lot and proceeded to shop for a tree, but they quickly realized that they couldn’t afford one. All of the trees were way out of their budget. But then they notice a tree sitting off to the side that no one was interested in. When they stood it up, they saw that it really was only a half a tree. There were no branches or needles on one side. The salesman told them they could have it for a couple of dollars because “no one else was going to want it.”

They caught a glimpse of another tree close by and asked about that one too. It also had needles on only one side. The salesman said “sure, you can them both for five dollars.” The tree lot owner was walking in town a little later that night and passed by the couple’s house. He saw in the window, this beautiful tree, round, full, and lit up with lights. He had to know, did they go to another tree lot and find a different tree? So, he went to the door and knocked. The couple answered the door and told him that they didn’t get another tree. They assured him that this tree was in fact, the two trees they bought from him earlier. They brought them home and wired the trunks together. When put as one, you could only see one trunk, one tree, even though it was two.

We are like those trees. We are the body of Christ, woven together, complete with all of us using the gifts that we have been given. But if we try to go it alone, people will not see the full picture. They will not experience the risen Christ. We need to show this world what it means to live as Jesus did. We are called to use our gifts so that we can feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the poor, and free the oppressed.

God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called. You are called, and God is equipping you. Will you answer the call and participate in God’s kingdom?

Get Off My Mountain!

emmaus2This past weekend, I was blessed to be able to serve on a 72-hour retreat called a “Walk to Emmaus.” This has been called a crash course on Christianity as well as other images of learning about God and God’s unconditional love for each one of us. It is experienced through words and actions. This experience has had a major impact on my life, both my original retreat and those that have followed. Now, I must say that not everyone has the same reaction to this, but this is my response.

For those who have experienced this retreat, you will know what I am talking about when I say that it was a mountaintop experience in an encounter with God’s love and grace. Maybe you’ve had one of those yourself. It might be a worship service, a concert, a family gathering, or maybe just some time alone with God. Either way, you are on the top of the mountain and everything is great. It is so good, that you don’t want to leave.

Jesus and some of the disciples had a similar experience during the Transfiguration, when Jesus was transformed before their eyes and they saw Elijah and Moses, only for a moment. They were on their own mountaintop, literally. It was so good that they didn’t want to come down, they wanted to stay up there where everything is good. Luke 9:33 tells us that Peter said, “Master, it is good for us to stay here. Let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” They wanted to live on the mountaintop. Wouldn’t we all want to stay there too?

But we need to come down, because it is not good for us to stay there. We can still have the feelings of being on top of the world, but we need to come back to our communities. We need to share with them our experiences. Whatever has been your experience on mountains, however you have been moved in your relationship with Jesus Christ, you need to come down and share it with others. Your testimony and witness is incredibly important to the building up of God’s Kingdom here on earth.

Chances are, you have heard testimony from others about certain experiences, and that has helped you make decisions to go to different retreats, conference, or worship services. And those experiences have formed you into who you are today. And this doesn’t have to be a 72-hour long retreat. It can be just telling people about a Sunday or Saturday worship service. Lives are changed when people share what God has done in their lives. This happens every day, many times outside of a normal church service.

One of my mountaintops was this past weekend, and although I know how Peter felt and wanted to stay there, I also knew that this experience has refueled me for ministry within my community. I needed to get home to my family and my church family to share all that had happened and how I was renewed by this experience. I needed to witness to this experience so that it doesn’t just stop with me. Others need to experience this for themselves.

God’s Agape love is for all of us. His unconditional love covers us all in grace. That is good news, and it is news that needs to be shared. And what better time to share it than coming down the mountain as we are as excited as we have ever been. Messages and testimonies are always more easily accepted when they are coming from a grateful and excited heart. So, while it is good to be on the mountain, and it’s good to go back whenever you can, it is also good to be right where God has placed you to be able to share this unconditional love with everyone.

Have you opened the gift?

gold_wrapped_giftI am reminded of a story once told about a carpenter’s shop. On this particular day, the tools decided to hold a meeting and of course the hammer was in control. He called the meeting to order with a couple of raps on the work bench. It didn’t take long for the animosity to begin as some of the tools decided that the hammer should leave the shop. They felt like the hammer was too forceful and hard on many of the other tools.

The hammer spoke up and said that if he was asked to go, then the screwdriver needed to go as well because it has to go around and around to accomplish anything. But then the screwdriver said that if it had to go, then the planer needed to go as well because the work completed by the planer was ever only surface level. There was never any depth to that work.

Of course, the planer then spoke up and claimed that the ruler also had to go because it always needed to be right and also measured everything and judging. Then the sandpaper’s work was brought into question and it was agreed that he had to go because it was always rubbing people the wrong way.

Just then, the carpenter walked in and began to pull wood out and then tool after tool was used to build this beautiful piece of furniture. After a long day of working, the carpenter left and the tools then gathered to admire the work accomplished. The saw spoke up and said that this piece of furniture was actually a pulpit from which the gospel message would be preached. The saw then said that all of the tools were used in the creation of this piece, that they all worked together, and that this could not have been completed if any tool was missing. They were all needed.

We spoke this past Sunday about spiritual gifts. 1st Corinthians chapter 12 tells us; “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.”

We have all been gifted with these spiritual gifts and we are all needed in this great plan of God’s to reach a world that needs to hear about Jesus Christ, but maybe even more, just needs to witness the people of God showing grace and mercy.

Too often, we think some gifts are more important than others and maybe that some are not even needed. But we hear over and over again in scripture that we are all needed and that we all have sacred worth in God’s eyes.

As the baseball playoffs begin, I can’t help but think about the team concept when reflecting on the church as the body of Christ. We probably think that a team can never win if they do not have a pitcher on the team, but what about a second basemen, or catcher, or even a third base coach? They are all needed to win and if any one part of the team is not playing the way they should, a loss is quick to follow. It also is obvious when position players play where they are not gifted. It is very rare to see someone who plays first base, to pitch. They know their gifts and talents and they use them in the right places.

So, no matter what position you play, or whatever gifts you have been given, use them to the glory of God. That is what is required of you. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. God has called you and gifted you in certain areas and that’s where God intends you to be. We are all a part of the body of Christ. Some are called to be a hand, some a foot, some and ear, and some yet an eye. Be the best part of the body that you can.