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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Truth About Tithing...

The Truth As Far As I Can Tell…

Luke 11:42 - “What sorrow awaits you Pharisees! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore justice and the love of God. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. 

Jesus talked about money a lot.  He talked about money more than He did Heaven and Hell combined.  11 out of 39 of Jesus’ parables talk about money.  1 out of every 7 verses in the Gospel of Luke refer to money.  Apparently, Jesus knew money was a very important aspect of our spiritual lives.  The way we manage our money is a symptom of our spiritual health.

In Luke 11:42, Jesus scolds the Pharisees for ignoring justice and the love of God, but he affirms their practice of tithing.  Jesus recognized the Biblical standard of giving.  A person should give a tithe, which is 10% of their income (see Gen. 28:22; Lev. 27:30, 32). 

Today, 9 out of 10 people that go to church do not tithe.  Some people say they tithe (meaning they give money to the church), but they don’t really give 10% of their income.  The median household income in America is a little over $50,000 a year.  So in order to tithe, the average person would need to give about $5,000 a year to the church (or about $100 per week).  Most people do not; therefore, they do not tithe.  They give an offering, but not a tithe.

Some argue that they don’t have to give money because they give their time instead.  That’s twisting what the Bible says, but I’ll play along to make a point.  If you want to give 10% of your time, you would need to volunteer at the church for 16 hours and 48 minutes each week.  If you’d like to do that, I can put you to work! 
            There are other arguments people make to excuse not giving as much as the Bible instructs, but all this misses a bigger point.  Jesus doesn’t want what you have.  Jesus wants you!  Jesus doesn’t want just 10% of your income or your time.  Jesus wants your whole heart.  And if you surrender your heart to Him, you will surrender everything else.  You will stop asking questions like, “How much time, money, obedience, do I have to give?”  You will have an attitude that honors justice and the love of God.  You will ask, “How much can I give?  How much can I honestly justify keeping for myself?”  For where your heart is, there your treasure will be also. (Mt. 6:21)

            People who join as members of Pleasant Grove UMC make a promise to support the church with their prayers, their presence, their gifts, their service, and their witnesses.  It is not one or the other.  It’s all of the above.  Think how much good the church could do if every Christian started tithing?  Think of the wonderful children and youth programs we would have.  Think of the amazing music and worship services we could provide.  Think of how many needy people we could serve and how many lives we could change.  Think of the difference we could make if we all simply stepped up and gave a full tithe.

Here’s the thing though.  It wouldn’t just help the church.  It would help you.  Our selfish attitudes (about sin, money, gratitude, giving, etc.) only change through practice.  Giving a tithe is like spiritual push ups.  It builds your faith muscles.  Why don’t you start building yours today?  I’m no expert and certainly don’t claim to know everything, but I believe in God’s Word and I trust in His Grace.  And that’s the Truth as far as I can tell… 

God loves you and so do I!

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Great Commission - Part 1

Part 1 – “Go!”
Matthew 28:18-20

Introduction
            Everybody needs a purpose.  With no purpose, you have no direction and no motivation.  A person's health often declines drastically in the months just after they retire.  Researchers believe this is largely due to the retiree losing their since of purpose.  A study by the Harvard School of Public Health showed that recent retirees were 40% more likely to have a heart attack or stroke than those who were still working.[i]
Perhaps this is because while people are working, they have a stronger identity and more driving them.  When people retire, they often feel adrift, become depressed or inactive.  It is not that retirement is unhealthy, it’s just that retirees need to find a new purpose to give them direction and motivation.
            We all need a purpose.  The Good News is God gives us a noble purpose that transcends our jobs, our age, our gender, and everything else about us.  Our purpose, our mission, is called the Great Commission.  Today we begin a new sermon series on the Great Commission.   It was given directly by Jesus after he rose from the grave, just before he ascended to Heaven to sit on his throne at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  Let’s look at the Great Commission as it was passed on to us in the Gospel of Matthew 28:18-20. 

Matthew 28:18-20
18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Context
            The Great Commission is not an option; it is a command given to Jesus' disciples.  In the beginning, it was to the 12 original disciples (minus Judas who betrayed Jesus and committed suicide).  But the command was not just to the twelve, it is to all who call themselves “disciples”—anyone who has decided to follow Jesus.  If you have decided to follow Jesus, you are a disciple and this Great Commission is for you.
            Jesus said, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.  Therefore…”  In other words, we had better pay attention and heed his command because it has the authority of the Son of God, the Lord of all Heaven and Earth, behind it.  The Great Commission is a command that transcends all other missions we have in life.  It is the Christian’s ultimate objective.  When God gives an order, it transcends all commands given by those of lesser authority.  John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, said it this way: “You have one business on earth—to save souls.”
            That doesn’t mean we drop all our other responsibilities in order to carry out this one Great Commission.  The Great Commission can be carried out—actually it should be carried out—as we go about all our other duties.  The Great Commission ought to permeate everything we do.  Let’s look a little closer at what the Great Commission says by breaking it into parts.  We will look at the first part today.  It is simple.  Just one word.  “Go!” 

Lost in Translation
Some things are easily lost in translation.  The Chevy Nova was one of the top selling cars for General Motors in the 1960s and 70s.  I used to catch a ride to high school with my best friend in his brother’s 1974 Chevy Nova SS.  It was a fast, fun car to ride in.  But legend has it, the Nova did not sell well in Spanish speaking countries because “No Va” in Spanish means “No Go!”  Who wants to buy a car that “won’t go”?
            We have a similar problem when we read the Great Commission in English.  The first word we read is “go.”  It could lead us to think the main point of the Great Commission is to go,  but that’s not it at all.  The issue is the Gospel of Matthew was originally written in Greek.  The Greek language does not phrase sentences the same way we do in English. 
            A literal translation of the Great Commission from Greek to English would say something like:  “Make disciples when you go…”  In other words, the main point is to make disciples.  It is assumed that you will go.  And when you go, wherever you go, and in whatever you do, you should seek to make disciples.
            The Great Commission should permeate every action of your life.  You should make disciples when you go home to your family.  You should make disciples when you go to work to make a living.  You should make disciples when you go next door to your neighbor’s house.  You should make disciples when you travel to a faraway land you’ve never been to before.  You should make disciples when you become a parent and start raising kids.  You should make disciples if you decide to remain single or not have any kids.  You should make disciples next Sunday when you go to work on a project for Be the Church.  You should make disciples whenever and wherever you go and whatever you do.  It is the main point—the Great Commission.  But I like the word go.  It reminds us to be active.  We’ve got to step on the gas and get busy. 
Listen to what James 2:14 says, “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?”
            Sometimes we in the church get so caught up in being “spiritual” (studying our Bibles, praying, etc) that we forget to go and make disciples.  We become so spiritually-minded that we are of no earthly good.
            In thinking about James 2:14, listen to what our music minister, David Crawford, wrote this week.  He said:
“I believe there is a similarity between faith and prayer in this instance.  Prayer is important, and is a power given to us that enables us to ask for things we do not have the ability to achieve on our own with the resources God has given us.  But there are times when action other than prayer is necessary to show God’s love, and do His will.  Sometimes it is being God’s hands and feet that may be the answer to the prayer of those unable to help themselves.  Yes, you should pray, but don’t forget to do.  Faith without works….prayer without deeds….we should all strive to Refuse to have one without the other.” 

Closing
            Are you willing to obey the Great Commission from Jesus Christ?  Are you willing to make disciples whenever and wherever you go in whatever you do?  Will you refuse to “sit around and wait for someone else to do what God has called [you] to do [yourself]”?[ii]  I hope so.  Because what the world desperately needs is Christians who are willing to go make disciples of all nations.




[i] http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/is-retirement-good-for-health-or-bad-for-it-201212105625
[ii] Josh Wilson – Song, “I Refuse”

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Greatest Commandment

Matthew 22:34-40

Introduction
The Ten Commandments are the overarching, guiding principles God gave us to live a godly life and live in peace and harmony with others.  They also show us how we fall short and desperately need God’s grace and forgiveness.  In addition to the ten general commandments, there were 613 laws in the Old Testament that Jews were to follow.  (If you’re interested, you can read a list of them at  http://www.jewfaq.org/613.htm.  How would you like to try and memorize 613 laws instead of just ten commandments?)
As you can imagine, people wanted to know what the most important commandment was.  You might want to know too.  Well, someone asked Jesus about the greatest commandment and he gave a simple answer.  Let’s look at his answer. 

Matthew 22:34-40
34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again. 35 One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”

37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” 
In addition to the 613 laws of the Old Testament, were the admonishments of all the Old Testament prophets and the teachings of countless rabbis.  Jesus said all the laws and the prophets are based on these two simple commandments—“Love God and love you neighbor.”  And really, if you follow these rules, you will fulfill every law and commandment listed in the Bible.  
St. Augustine, one of the early leaders of the church, once said: “Love, and do what you will.”[i]  The point is that if you love, you will do only good—to God and to others.  If you truly love God, you would not do anything to disrespect God, injure God, or harm your relationship with Him.  If you love people, again you will do only good for them.  Augustine said a bad person can do all sorts of things we associate with good—they can prophecy, they can go to church, they can take communion, they can even be called “Christians”—but, he says: “…to have love and be a bad person is impossible. Love is the unique gift, the fountain that is yours alone. The Spirit of God exhorts you to drink from it, and in so doing to drink from himself.” [i]

Love God with All…
Jesus said, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind…”  In other words:  Love God with all everything you’ve got.  Most of us want to pick and choose what we devote to the Lord.  “I will come to church on Sunday—I will give God my time—but don’t ask me to do a service project in the community.”  Can you imagine what good could be done in our communities if Christians would rise up and truly Love God with all their community service?
Or we say, “I will pray for the church and for people, but don’t ask me to give 10% of my income to the church.”  Do you realize how much good goes undone throughout our nation because churches are in a financial stranglehold?  The tithe is not brought into the house of God and all our anemic churches can do is weakly limp around making the best of too little funding. I look at our own church and dream of the amazing things we could do in this community if every member of our church truly gave a tithe.  But instead, I look at the financial reports and realize that 9 out of 10 people sitting in this congregation each Sunday is cheating the church by not giving a proper tithe.
Or we say, “I will give God my money, but don’t ask me to witness—I don’t feel comfortable telling others what Jesus has done in my life.” 
Jesus didn’t say, love the Lord your God with one thing and not the other.  No, he said love the Lord your God with ALL—with everything in all areas of your life.  I’m so glad Jesus didn’t love us the way we love him.  Jesus gave us everything.  It was his complete, unconditional, sacrificial love that redeemed us on the cross.  And it calls for our complete, unconditional, sacrificial love for God in return.
            There are two more points I want to make this morning and then we will celebrate Holy Communion.  First of all… 

You can’t love God without loving your neighbor…
            1 John 4:20 says, “If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?”  God did not send Jesus to the world for just a few select people.  God love the whole world and sent Jesus to save the whole world—everyone.  And if God loves everyone, we—for the sake of our love for God—ought to love whomever He loves.  Do you love God?  Good.  This is how you show love for God:  by loving your neighbor.  (And your neighbor is not just the people who live in your neighborhood.  Your neighbor is every human being on the planet, because God love them all—including people who don’t speak your language, people who do bad things, people who live on the other side of the planet, people who practice a different religion.)  If you love God, then love your neighbor.  You can’t love God without loving your neighbor, and… 

You Can’t Love your neighbor without loving God…
            Have you ever tried loving people?  It’s exhausting!  People are rude.  They’re ungrateful.  They take advantage of you.  They disappoint you.  They’ll attack you.  They’ll “love” you when you have something they want and forget about you when you don’t.  And even the kindest, most patient, generous people in the world will soon burn themselves completely out trying to love people unconditionally the way God loves us.  And here’s why:  You can’t do it.  You only have a finite amount of love in you.  You’re cup only has so much love in it and once you pour it all out, you won’t have any more to give.
            That’s why you can’t love your neighbor without loving God.  You see, you need an eternal source of love.  When you Love God, you are plugged in to the well of Living Water that never runs dry.  It’s a love that can die on the cross on Friday and rise from the grave on Sunday.  Any human who wants to love people unconditionally has to be plugged into the God who is the eternal source of unconditional love.  You have to be filled with God’s love before you can love others properly.  And you’ve got to keep filling up or you won’t have any love worth sharing with your neighbors. 

Be Filled With His Love

            So today, I invite you to come to the well.  Jesus is here.  He wants to fill you with his love so you can go pour yourself out.  He wants you to love God with all that you have and all that you are so you can go love the world the way He does—the way He loves you.  And if you will live this great commandment—to love God and love your neighbor—you will fulfill everything written in the Scriptures.  But you can’t do it without God’s help.  So let us pray for God to fill us with His love as we share this Blessed Sacrament.

"Father, God in Heaven, come fill us with Your love this day.  Forgive us for the ways we have been selfish and even the ways we have tried to love others with our own inadequate means.  Help us instead to love You with all that we have and all that we are so that we can love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  I ask this in the name of Your precious son, Jesus.  Amen."
 


[i] Augustine’s Love Sermon - https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/study/module/augustine/