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The Wonder of a Name

Bulletin-Image-wk2Last week we began a new worship series called “The Wonder of Christmas” as we focused on different areas of wonder in our lives. We looked at the wonder of a star and how we could see that wonder in our lives as we looked for signs that lead us back to God. This week we turn our attention to names. More specifically, the name of Jesus, Emmanuel, Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, Lord, King of Kings. There is power in that name, there is healing in that name, there is salvation in that name, there is wonder in that name.

Whether it’s given to us at birth, or one that we pick up along the road of life, our names have a meaning. Our names tell others about us. The name of Jesus is no different. So, how did Mary and Joseph find the name? They didn’t have the internet to search, or countless baby name books to reference, so how did they? Well, the name was chosen for them. What is interesting is that the birth of Jesus is mentioned in only two of the four gospels, Matthew and Luke. And while they differ on much of the story, there is one thing that they share in common; the naming of Jesus. Could this show just how important the name is? If so, what is the meaning behind the name Jesus?

Jesus means ‘one who saves.’ So, if Jesus is the one who saves, we must need saving. It is certainly written in the gospel of John that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, that if we believe in him we would have eternal life. We would be saved. But saved from what? What is our problem?

I guess we could see that we could be saved from an ignorance of God. But if that were the only reason, Jesus could have just been a teacher. We could see that we need saving from our brokenness. But if that was it, Jesus would just need to be a healer. If we needed saving from only our relationships, Jesus would only need to be a counselor. Or if it was just lifting us out of poverty, Jesus could have been a financial advisor.

But we must see that our problem runs much deeper than just these things. We need saving from all of these things, and even more. We need a savior who can save us from the root of all these things, sin. We need someone to search us out and save us from ourselves.

Jesus is the one who saves, just as his name reflects. Matthew 1:21 tells us that his name will be Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. My sins, your sins, we are all saved from those sins when we call on his name, the powerful name of Jesus, and ask for forgiveness. And this forgiveness is not limited to just a few people, this is open to all who believe. Regardless of cultural or socio-economic status, race, age, or orientation, all are welcomed. This is for you, it’s for me, it’s for your neighbors, and it’s even for your enemies. It is for all of us. Jesus is the one who saves, and he saves us all!

What’s more, is that when we decide to believe and follow Jesus, we are given a new name. Sure, we still have our first names, but we are called by a new name also, Christian. There is wonder in that name. It’s a powerful name, one that you should be proud of, one that you should proclaim by what you say and do. It’s a name that you don’t want to lose.

There’s a story about Mark Cuban, one of the sharks on Shark Tank as well as the owner of the Dallas Mavericks. Around the year 2000, he offered a Chicago sports radio host, David Kaplan, $50,000 to legally change his name to Dallas Maverick. Kaplan declined the offer, but Mark wasn’t done. Mark Cuban raised the stakes by offering him $100,000 and another $100,000 to his favorite charity if he would change his name for one year. Kaplan thought about it, and even after many emails from listeners who said he would be stupid if he didn’t take the offer and change his name, he stood his ground and declined once again. Kaplan said, “I’d be saying I’d do anything for money, and that bothers me. My name is my birthright. I’d like to preserve my integrity and credibility.”

When we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we gain this new name of Christian and it is our birthright. We have a responsibility to live every day in a way that brings honor to that name. For me, that name is not for sale. That name is not a bargaining chip. That name is not something to take lightly. The name Christian has power. The name Christian has integrity. The name Christian has honesty, love, compassion, and so many other characteristics that go along with it. I am a Christian, and I wear that name boldly.

Remember, that this is a time to feel once again, the wonder of Christmas. We are reminded that once we believe, anything is possible. Today we believe in the wonder of a name, Jesus Christ.


The Wonder of a Star

Bulletin-Image-wk1One of my favorite memories from Christmas time as a kid, was getting the catalog in the mail. You know, the big one. The Sears Catalog. My brothers and I would take turns with different colored crayons, circling the toys we wanted for Christmas that year. It was similar to that scene in the Christmas classic “A Christmas Story” when Ralphie spots the Red Rider BB Gun in the store’s window. Eyes were filled with wonder as the possibilities swirled in his head about what he would do with that toy gun.

There’s something magical about watching children experience the wonder at Christmas. With all the demands and distractions of the season, we often wish we could recapture some of that ‘wonder’ for ourselves.

Today I am thinking about a familiar story of the three kings, who are traveling from the east, following a star. These kings noticed the star in the sky and realizing that this fit with prophecies of the Messiah, they began to follow it. The stars were they’re GPS of the day and they were getting close. As they arrived in Jerusalem, they figured that the current king would know all about the birth of the new king, so they stopped by the castle to get directions from Herod. What a confusing scene this must have been, as they asked a current king about a possible successor, one that was not related. Herod didn’t know, so he called together his council who proceeded to tell him about the prophecies and where Jesus was to be born.

With ulterior motives, Herod sent the kings of to Bethlehem to find the child and report back to him. The kings continued on and after finding the child, they offered their gifts to Jesus. They bowed down and worshiped him, leaving with their hearts full of the joy, comfort, and peace that God gives. They left with the wonder of what they had just witnessed. They left with the wonder of the possibilities this child would bring. They left with the wonder brought from following a star.

The kings experienced this wonder because they had eyes to see, because they had courage to follow, and because they had humility to worship. The star was there for all to see. The kings saw the star, Herod saw the star, the shepherds saw the star, the whole world saw the star. The difference came when you began to notice who had eyes to truly see the star and what it meant to the world. The kings saw the star and recognized that it was a sign from God that would lead them closer to what they truly desired. It was a sign that would lead them to God.

The three kings knew that there was more to this life, more in this world, more than just wealth and prestige, and they longed for it. They searched for it. They followed a star for it. Herod strived for more of what he already had. He wanted more money, more influence, more power, and he would stop at nothing to get it. This blinded him to the true message of the star, the true wonder of the star.

Do we know that there is more? Do we long for something different and more meaningful than wealth, prestige, and power? Are we able to see the wonder of the star, the sign that will lead us to God? Do you have eyes to see?

For the kings, the star was a sign, a sign to lead them to God. We may not have a star leading us right now, but our lives are full of signs that point us to God. What in your life is pointing you towards God? Will you be like Herod who ignored the signs and remained too proud to get off his throne to approach God? Or will you be like the three kings who had eyes to see, the courage to follow, and the humility to worship Jesus for who he is?

The wonder of a star welcomes us to this journey. Like the wondrous star that guided the kings to the Christ child, God has placed signs in our lives, all meant to lead us to God. Do we have the eyes to see them? Do we have the openness to feel the wonder of this season?

This is a time to feel once again, the wonder of Christmas. We are reminded that once we believe, anything is possible.

Collateral Beauty

Collateral Beauty Sermon SlideThis past Sunday, I shared a message based on concepts from the movie ‘Collateral Beauty.’ This movie has many characters, including Howard, a successful businessman. Everything is going great until his family is struck by a tragedy, he loses his daughter to cancer. This sends his world out of control and he doesn’t know how to handle anything, retreating into his own little world. His business partners know the end is coming for the business that they and Howard built, but he won’t sign off on the sale of the company. They must find a way to prove that he is incapable of making decisions, so they can proceed with the sale, securing all of their futures. They hire actors to play Howard’s three abstractions of love, time, and death, unaware of their own issues with these themes. Here’s where connections begin to come to light. We are all connected. I don’t want to give away the ending of the movie, because I recommend it to everyone.

So, we begin with these three abstractions. Time, Love, and Death. Howard’s premise is that we are all connected with these. I am reminded that he could very well be talking about the church. We all seem to have this desire to be loved, a feeling that we always need more time, and a fear of death. At least at some point in our lives, these have held our attention. They may not right now, and I hope that’s the case for at least one of these.

We all long to be loved. We want to feel the affection of another. As we think of God as being love, and through this love, God not only created everything and said that it was good, that he loved it; but when it began to fall apart with the entrance of sin into the world, he spared no expense to redeem it. For God so LOVED the world, that he sent his only Son.

Howard asks that question in the opening, “What is your why?” Why do we do the things we do? Why do we get out of bed every morning? Why do we go to work? Why do we reach out to our neighbors? What is our why? What is your why? ‘Love’ in the movie tells us that she is the only why. Love is why we get up, why we go to work, why we help others, why we are who we are. Love is why. Jesus said the greatest command is to love your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself. Love is the only why, everything begins there.

According to the character who plays ‘time,’ love is the creation of all good things and death is complete destruction, but time is the terrain in-between. He says that time is a gift and that it is abundant. I wonder how many of you feel just the opposite at times. Is time always a gift? Is time always abundant? We all have that one friend, the one who is not controlled by time, ever. You know, the one who is always five to ten minutes late to everything. Time is not always abundant. I know there are many times I feel like there needs to be more time.

For those going through tragedies, like Howard in this film, time becomes a prison sentence. It might feel like there is an overabundance of Time available, but you don’t want to live in it. You don’t want the gift of that time, because it’s not enjoyable, it actually hurts.

In Ecclesiastes, we hear that there is a time for everything, and that includes more than just the good times. This also includes time for mourning, healing, tearing down, even weeping. Time is for all of those things. Time is for you, wherever you are today.

Howard’s view of death is where I disagree with him. His view, from the advertising world, is that we all fear death. And while some of that may be true, we are called to something different. Paul tells the church in Philippi, that to live is Christ and to die is gain. Paul was clearly not afraid of dying, in fact, I think he was looking forward to it, he desired to go and be with Jesus. But he also knew of the good that God would bring from his life.

So, what is death? Why do we fear it so much? Or do we fear it? Clearly, after hearing of what awaits us upon our death, being in the presence of God, we should not fear it. Death is a natural thing and as far as I know, no human has been able to avoid it yet. So, I guess we are all connected by death as well. But I love what the character of death says in this movie. She says, “nothing is ever really dead if you look at it right.”

Love, time, and death. Three abstractions which connect us all. The abundance of them or the absence of them, bring celebrations as well as heartache. How we approach them, either brings us together, or tears us apart. We are all connected by more than just these three things. And there is beauty in that.

Thanksgiving Eve, Ready?

give-thanks1st Thessalonians 5:16-18 tells us “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” It’s Thanksgiving eve and whether you are preparing a large meal for family, or just going to a community dinner with some friends, we always seem to reflect on what we are thankful for. But I want you to think about something a little different today.

Does God ask us to give thanks in our good times, when we realize just how much God has blessed us? Does God ask us to give thanks when we get married, have our first child, go on vacation, get a new job, or maybe even retire from our job? Does God ask us to give thanks for his gift of Jesus Christ, whom he sent to die in our place, for our sins? Yes, yes, all of this! Give thanks!

But that’s not it. That’s not all, there’s more. God wants us to give thanks in all things. Paul writes this letter, telling us that we should give thanks in all circumstances, not just the good things, not just the things we consider blessings. God wants us to give thanks even in the messy things, even when we don’t feel like we should. Have you ever heard the poem “Thankful for Dirty Dishes?” It goes like this.

Thank you for dirty dishes;

They have a tale to tell.

While others may go hungry,

We’re eating very well.

With home, health, and happiness,

I shouldn’t want to fuss;

By the stack of evidence,

God’s been very good to us.

We should be thankful for those good things, but also for all the ordinary things. I’m thankful for annoying relatives, for needy brothers and sisters, and for that aunt who always wanted to pinch my cheeks and talk to me like a baby, even if I was thirteen.

I’m thankful for all these messy things because life doesn’t always have to look like the perfection that we used to see all the time in sitcoms, magazines, and now see on social media. Life is messy, there’s no getting around that. And we deceive ourselves when we believe that our life can be that way. I mean really, think about it, do you know anyone who has that perfect life, the perfect family, the perfect house, or even the perfect Thanksgiving Day celebration?

Sure, we all try and there have been years that I’m sure you were disappointed when things didn’t turn out just the way you wanted them. The turkey was dry, the kids were too noisy, someone forgot the corn in the microwave, or the hostess that year forgot to take the neck out of the turkey before cramming all that stuffing into the bird.

Life is not lived in that perfect, utopian world. It is lived out in our everyday lives, and those lives are messy. So why don’t we thank God for the messy things in our lives. So, sometimes it is good to give God thanks for those messy things, those ordinary things, those difficult things. God wants us to give thanks in everything, and that means the messy things. Giving messy thanks!

If you were to give God some messy thanks, what would it be? Remember that God wants you to give thanks in everything, because we need to see that Romans 8:28 is correct in telling us that all things work for the good for those who love God. Where have you seen this good, where have you witnessed God’s power to transform things for the good, where have you witnessed messy thanks?

Seeds of Peace

Seeds-of-PeaceThis week, we celebrated Veteran’s Day. This is a day that we celebrate and remember the sacrifices that many women and men endured for this country. The freedoms we have come at a cost, and sometimes an ultimate cost as those in service lay their lives down for those they will not ever meet. Although many of them seem to have a strong façade, there are many things that they have endured which has had an impact on their lives. Many can tell you of times they have felt afraid, hearing shots ring out, and feeling the fear of what was to come.

The horrors that they have witnessed, the nightmares that don’t seem to go away, the stories that they don’t like to tell. These all have an impact on their lives. My grandfather served in World War II and was part of the army who fought in Italy. He was involved in some intense fighting, but would not talk about those times. I can only imagine what he witnessed during those times. John 15:13 says; “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down their life for their friends.” This is lived out in each and every soldier who faces battle, who put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of others.

I am reminded of a man named Desmond Doss. Desmond was a medic in the army during World War II. He was a conscientious objector, because he didn’t want to pick up a gun, even though he would be on the front lines of battle, performing medical procedures. Through his courageous actions, Desmond was sowing seeds of peace, even in the midst of war. There was a movie produced about his service called “Hacksaw Ridge.” In this film, there is a turning point for Desmond as he discerns the calling he has to this service. Following this moment, Desmond begins carrying his fellow soldiers out of the battle zone and lowering them down the cliff to safety. After delivering another soldier to safety, he would climb back up the cliff to search for another one. Each time he would pray that God would help him save one more.

Desmond Doss saved between 50-100 men from certain death that day, all without a weapon of war. Seeds of peace, sown for the glory of God. He gave a powerful witness to all who saw him running across that battlefield looking for the wounded, all those he saved from certain death, all those whose lives were changed because their loved ones came back from the war.

The world faces many atrocities from evil that runs rampant. On July 28, 1914, war broke out in Europe. One of the most devastating military events this world has ever seen. All coming from the need of power. It is said that once in charge, a man named Ludendorff, wanted to lead the German forces all over the world and conquer everyone. He wanted all the power, and nothing but complete victory was acceptable. So he continued to push, well past the point that he should have retreated. He allowed his arrogance to cloud the reality of what was happening around him.

An eventual agreement would be reached, an armistice. But even while the political leaders were discussing this peace, the fighting waged on. In fact, allowing over a half million people to die during the negotiation period. 2000 on the day the armistice was signed. This agreement all but destroyed Germany, the harsh terms annihilated Germany’s military force. Had this agreement come earlier, maybe the seeds planted, would have been those of peace. As it was, this agreement which brought peace to the war to end all wars, planted seeds of humiliation, anger, and resentment, not peace. This was a flawed peace, it was a seed planted that would soon grow into something far worse.

Germany plummeted into political turmoil, into a revolution. The seeds of humiliation brought an ugliness and strong hatred into this world as Adolf Hitler saw 1918 as a turning point in his life. The way this war ended, sowed seeds of the next greater war. What seeds are we planting today? Do we continue to repeat history with our actions? Do we plant more seeds of hatred, or are we looking to plant those seeds of peace?

There are times I wonder, as we hear about the birth of ISIS and other radicalized groups. Were the actions of many during Desert Storm or other conflicts, seeds of humiliation or hatred planted? How do we change the course? How do we bring a different view into this world?

As we remember this 100th anniversary of the Armistice to end World War 1, and we hear the bells peal of the victory celebration, I ask you to reflect on not only what happened only a few decades after the Armistice was signed, but of what true peace can bring. I also ask you to think of how you can sow seeds of peace in your own life, reaching out to others.

Is This Heaven?

field_of_dreams3What is heaven? Where is heaven? What does heaven look like? What will it be like?

I think it would look a lot like a passage from Mark chapter 12 where a scribe asks Jesus a question about the commandments of God. “What is the greatest commandment?” Jesus tells him, it is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And then, you should love your neighbor as yourself. Two simple, profound, yet incredibly difficult commands to live out. But what if we did?

What if we actually lived out these commands to the fullest. What if we loved God with all that we had? And what if we loved our neighbor as ourselves? What would this world look like? It would look like heaven.

I will guarantee you this, however, it will not look like the world we have witnessed over the past few months. Over these past few months, we have been living in a place so far removed from heaven as we hear about all the hate filled messages. Whether it’s politician’s divisive language within the political ads, the rhetoric that is shared throughout social media which is just multiplying the anger and disgust, or the horrific scenes we are confronted with in the news, we are surrounded by anything but the love of God and our neighbor.

We hear about violence in places of worship, in schools, or even everyday public places. We hear from politicians who are looking for our support, bashing their opponents instead of telling us about themselves and the good they would like to bring to their communities. We hear from people who want to tear people down because of race, gender, orientation, or religious belief. We hear about far too many who have been abused by those in power over them.

The hate must stop. The violence must stop. The abuse must stop. When do we as human beings, stand up and finally and unequivocally say enough is enough! When do we take hold of that line we repeat every Sunday; “Thy Kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven?”

The answer is staring us right in the face. Jesus is calling us today to hear, once again, the greatest commands. Love God, love your neighbor. It’s that simple. When we do that, heaven comes down. The kingdom comes near. We will then see glimpses of heaven right before our eyes. We will see parts of the kingdom being played out for all to see. But we need to play a part in it. We need to be full participants in this kingdom building.

Brothers and sisters, this is wholly possible. With God’s help, we are able to accomplish anything. We can bring the kingdom near by how we act and how we treat those around us. Love conquers all things. Love triumphs over hate. Love hopes all things, endures all things, and believes all things. Love never ends. This is how we bring the kingdom near. Love.

So, if you’re are still thinking that heaven, or the kingdom of God, is something that we wait and hope for after we die, let me tell you something. The kingdom is already, and not yet. Did you catch that? The kingdom is already, and not yet.

The kingdom of God will be coming when the world is recreated. Revelation tells us that the new city will come down and that God is making all things new. The first heaven and first earth had passed away and the new heaven and new earth had come. This is the recreation, when heaven meets earth and all is one. This is the heaven that we talk about so much, even what we imply when we talk about that heavenly feast, when we all join together for the meal. We will celebrate a foretaste of that here this morning.

But the kingdom is also already. Jesus’ message through much of his teaching was that the kingdom was at hand. Wherever Jesus went, he brought the kingdom with him. Wherever people participated in those two commands of loving God and loving their neighbors, the kingdom was at hand. Jesus began his ministry by saying; “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” A proclamation which sets everything into motion.

So, when I hear that quote from Field of Dreams, “Is this heaven?” I am challenged to think, is this really heaven? Could this be heaven? And better yet, am I doing things to help bring heaven here, today? Are you?

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.