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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Tithe

Introduction
Let’s start off with a few trivia questions:
  • Which of the following topics did Jesus teach about more often?  Was it:  Heaven, Hell, Money, or Prayer?  The answer is Money!
  • How many of Jesus parables talked about money?  Is it:  1, 4, 7, or 11?  The answer is 11!
  • How many verses in the Gospel of Luke refer to money?  Is it 1 out of 7, 1 out of 10, 1 out of 20, or 1 out of 30?  The answer is 1 out of 7! 
Jesus talked about money a lot.  Apparently, Jesus knew money was a very important aspect of our spiritual lives.  Just like your blood pressure is a symptom of your physical health, the way you manage your money is a symptom of your spiritual health.  The subject of this message is what Jesus said about tithing.

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.

Explain the Passage
In Luke 11:42, Jesus scolds the Pharisees for ignoring justice and the love of God, but he affirms their practice of tithing.  The obvious point of the passage is the most important thing in life is to love God and live the right way.  The Pharisees were famous for acting all righteous and following all the rules, but they didn’t really love God or people.  Jesus reminds them (and us) that doing all the right things doesn’t matter if you ignore justice and don’t love God.  We should do good because we love God.
At the same time, Jesus affirmed the Biblical standard of giving.  A person should give a tithe, which is the first 10% of their income (see Gen. 28:22; Lev. 27:30, 32).  In fact, if a person truly loves God and wants to do the right thing, he or she will tithe.  Notice what Jesus said, “You should tithe…” 
Now, I want to take a moment to clear up some misunderstandings in the church.  A concerned member of our church asked me a few weeks ago, “Pastor, I don’t think people in the church really understand the word tithe.  I hear them calling their offerings their tithe, but it’s not their tithe unless it is 10% of their income.”  That is correct.
Some people say they tithe (meaning they give money to the church), but they don’t really give 10% of their income.  They are giving an offering not a tithe.  If you are calling your offerings your “tithe,” you are using the wrong word—unless it is 10% if your income.  So let’s look at some examples, because I want everyone to understand this and use the right word.
The way you calculate a tithe is by taking your income and multiplying it times 0.10.  The answer is your tithe (or how much you should give according to the biblical standard).  See the picture below:

Now, let’s look at a few more real life examples.  The median household income in America is a little over $50,000 a year.  In other words, the average household (combing together what the husband, wife, and anyone else that lives in the house make) is about $50,000 per year.  How much would the tithe be?  $50,000 X 0.10 = $5,000.  So in order to tithe, the average household would need to give about $5,000 a year to the church (or about $100 per week).  Most people in the U.S. do not; therefore, they do not tithe.  They give an offering, but not a tithe.  

Let’s do another example:  My son, Gavin, just got a job as a lifeguard.  He’s only 18 so he doesn’t get paid much—only $10/hour.  Suppose he works 20 hours a week.  That means he will only make about $200/week.  How much would Gavin need to give in order to honestly call it a tithe?  $200 X 0.10 = $20/week (or $1,040 per year).

One more example:  Suppose you are retired and living on social security payments.  I looked up the typical social security payment.  I don’t know if this is accurate, but it’s what Google said so we’ll use it as an example.  Your social security income is $733/month.  How much should you give in order to call it a tithe?  $733 X 0.10 = $73.30 (or about $880 per year).

So, let’s be clear and let’s use the right word.  If you do not give 10% of your income in your offerings, you are not giving a tithe.  You are giving an offering.  Call it an offering or call it a tithe (if it’s 10%), but call it what it is.  Don’t call an apple an orange.

People commonly ask the question, “Do you calculate the tithe before or after taxes?”  In other words, should I use my gross income to calculate my tithe (which would be more) or should I calculate the tithe after they take out taxes (which would be less)?  I say—it’s up to you.  If you are not currently tithing, my advice would be to start tithing your income after the government takes out their taxes.  Then, over time, perhaps you can grow to tithing your full income before taxes are taken out.  I can tell you this:  I have never known a faithful Christian to regret the practice of tithing.  It is hard to start, but once the practice is established, people find joy in it, are glad to give, and often wish to give even more.
Today, the sad truth is that 9 out of 10 people that go to church in America do not tithe at all (on either their before or after tax income).  The average Christian in America only gives about 2% of their income.  It is no wonder that the church struggles to do the ministry God calls us to do.  We don’t have the resources we need.  I am thankful for everything my church has, but the truth is, we could double our ministry budget and do so much more if all our church members tithed.
The saddest truth of all is what this lack of tithing tells us about the spiritual health of Christians in America.  Remember, how you handle your money (and how you give to the church) is a symptom of your spiritual health just like your blood pressure or temperature is a symptom of your physical health.  Therefore, we see that 9 out of 10 Christians in this country are spiritually sick.  It is no wonder our communities are slipping morally.  Church goers are more committed to worldly values than Christian values.  Why should we be surprised to find those outside the Church do not exhibit Christian values.  We need a revival of true Christian commitment.  Otherwise our churches, our communities, and even our nation are going to continue to suffer the symptoms of spiritual illness and apathy.

For the Sake of Argument...
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 every week.  If you’d like to do that, I can put you to work! 
Others argue, "Tithing was in the Old Testament.  Jesus did away with tithing."  Well, no, as we see in Luke 11:42, Jesus affirmed tithing.  And if you want to follow that line of reasoning, then you will find that Jesus actually goes much further than the tithe.  Jesus taught we should go the extra mile--which means giving more than the minimum tithe.  Ultimate, Jesus requires that you give everything--just as he gave everything for you.  That means giving 100%, not just 10%.
            There are other arguments people make to excuse not giving as much as the Bible instructs, because we want to cling to our money.  Oh how we love our money (or we love the lifestyle that requires so much of our money so we can't afford to tithe)!
            All this misses the larger issue.  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 justify keeping for myself?”  For where your heart is, there your treasure will be also. (Matthew 6:21) 
People who are wholeheartedly committed to Jesus, who are His true disciples—the way He calls every one of us to be—say, “Lord, all I have is yours.  Here, take my house.  Take my car.  Take my family.  Take my career.  Take it all, Lord.  It’s all yours anyway.”  True Christians sing the great hymn of the church, making the words their sincere prayer to God:

Take my life and let it be
consecrated, Lord, to thee.
Take my moments and my days;
let them flow in endless praise.

Take my hands and let them move
at the impulse of thy love.
Take my feet and let them be
swift and beautiful for thee.

Take my voice and let me sing
always, only, for my King.
Take my lips and let them be
filled with messages from thee.

Take my silver and my gold;
not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect and use
every power as thou shalt choose.

Take my will and make it thine;
it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart it is thine own;
it shall be thy royal throne.

Take my love; my Lord, I pour
at thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself, and I will be
ever, only, all for thee.

Conclusion
            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 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.
            However, there is much more at stake than what tithing does for the church.  The fact is, we are spiritually sick.  We need healing in our soul.  Jesus forgives our sin, and he offers healing.  Healing.  Forgiveness comes with a word, but healing comes through treatment.  As when a doctor gives you medicine to take and says, “Stop smoking” and “you must do these exercises three times a week in order to rebuild your strength after a surgery,” healing for your soul comes through the daily practice of obedience to Jesus.  One of the treatments Jesus give us is to be generous.  He says, "You should tithe..."
            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?

Reflection

Take some time to:
  1. Calculate the tithe for your weekly, monthly, or annual income
  2. Reflect on how God might want you to begin the practice of tithing,
  3. Consider that Jesus deserves more than just your money.  He deserve your all.

Monday, August 22, 2016

A Loan from God

Introduction
            Well, my son, Gavin, started his classes at the University of Alabama Huntsville this week.  He said he likes his classes so far.  I'm so proud of him.  He's such a diligent student.  He earned a scholarship to pay all of his tuition.  However, it still cost somewhere between $12,000-15,000 a year for room and board and books and other expenses.  So, to encourage Gavin to take responsibility for his own life, we said we would pay roughly half of that expense and he could pay the other half.  Unfortunately, we had to get a "parent loan" to help pay the extra expense.  We are still paying our own student loans back from our college days!  By the time we get Gavin through college, we will have Grace in college; and when she finishes, there will be Abigail.  So I joked and told my wife, "We are going to be in a nursing home one day and still paying back our student loans and our kids.  And none of them is going to come visit us!"
            Well, this leads us into the topic of this blog which was inspired by a John Wesley sermon from 1768 called "The Good Steward."  In it, Wesley contrasted the difference between someone who is a debtor (who received a loan) and someone who is a steward (who is hired to manage another's affairs).

Luke 16:1-2
1Jesus told this story to his disciples: “There was a certain rich man who had a manager handling his affairs. One day a report came that the manager was wasting his employer’s money. So the employer called him in and said, ‘What’s this I hear about you? Get your report in order, because you are going to be fired.’

Sermon Theme
            Someone who has a loan can do whatever they like with the money, so long as they pay the money back by the time it is due.  Someone who is a financial manager cannot do whatever they like with the money.  They are required to use the money exactly the way the Employer who hired them directs.  A Christian is one whose debts have been forgiven.  We are not debtors.  Oh how fortunate!  For we could never repay the debt we owe to God.  Romans 3:23 says, "For all have sinned and fallen short of the glorious standard of God."  And Romans 6:23 says, "For the consequences of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."  Thankfully, our debt is paid by the blood of Jesus Christ when we place our faith in him!
            Jesus doesn't call his followers debtors.  One of the most frequent ways Jesus describes his followers is the term “steward.”  We don’t use the term steward as much these days.  Perhaps a more appropriate term for us would be “financial manager,” except that we manage far more than just finances in our Christian life.  So let’s use the term manager, as in the scripture I just read—Luke 16:1, “There was a certain rich man who had a manager handling his affairs…”

Steward/Manager
            First, let’s consider all the ways we are stewards (or managers) for God.  Again I must restate that we are managing far more than money.  And we are not at liberty to use the things God gives us to manage however we want.  We must use it all only the way God wants us to use it.  For to use it in any other way would be a crime against God.  So take seriously what God has given you to manage.
            God has entrusted you with a soul.  Your soul is an immortal spirit made in the image of God.  It encompasses your understanding, imagination, creativity, memory, and your will.  And from your soul spring such things as love and hate, joy and sorrow, your desires—including the desire to do good or evil—and your hopes and fears.  Now again, we are only managers of these.  God entrusts them to us to use—not so we can use them however we please, but—according to the express orders He has given us. (Of course, you will find that you are truly happiest when you use all these according to God’s will.)
            God gave us a mind.  So, we are to use our imagination and creativity, our understanding, our memory, our will all for the glory of God.  We are also to dedicate our emotions to God; we are to love what He loves and hate what He hates.  We are to rejoice and grieve, hope and fear, desire and shun all according to God’s holy purposes. Even our thoughts are not our own.  We cannot use them however we like.  No.  Even our mind is accountable to God.
            God has entrusted you with a body.  You are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14).  God gave you all your sense—sight, hearing, taste, etc.—not to use however you want, but these are on loan to be used specifically in ways God authorizes.  In the same way, God gave you the ability to speak.  He did so, not that you should speak whatever you like, but that you should speak His praises and use your voice to lead others to Christ.  God gave you hands and feet, not that you should go wherever and do whatever you pleased, but that you should work hard and faithfully to build God’s Kingdom.  For Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples…"
            God also gives us worldly goods:  food to eat, clothing to wear, a place to call home, and all the necessary conveniences of life.  In addition to all these, God puts money in our pockets, which can be such a powerful tool for God’s Kingdom if we are wise and faithful managers.
            Beyond all these, there is still more God entrust to us—strength, energy, health, time, our personality, our talents, our education, our reputation…  And perhaps the greatest of all that God entrust to us is His grace.  God saved us by His grace through Jesus Christ who paid the price for our sins.  What are we to do with this grace God extends to us? Are we to waste it?  Are we to go on sinning however we want because God has forgiven us anyway?  Absolutely not!  We are to use His grace responsibly, living our lives wholeheartedly for Him and offer the same grace to others.
            And I won’t neglect today specifically to point out that children are entrusted to us by God.  Regardless of whether they are our biological children, or adopted into our family, or even part of our church family, these kids are entrusted to us by God.  We are to care for them and do the very best we  can to nurture their faith in Jesus Christ.
            So of all these—the soul, the body, worldly goods, money, our children, and everything else—we are only managers.

Giving an Account
            We are not appointed as managers forever.  Our term in this role has a limit.  There is coming a time when we will no longer have any right to or authority over these things.  We will have to return them to the Lord.  Furthermore, we will have to explain to God how we used everything He gave us in this life.
            The time is not as far off as you think.  This life is so short.  Time goes by very fast.  One day, we are holding a baby in our arms; the next, we send them off to college; then, we find we are old and gray and only have a few years left to live.  (And this is only if we are fortunate, for many are not so fortunate and find their life cut off when they are still young or only in the middle of life—by cancer or an automobile accident or by some other tragedy that cuts life short.)  We never know how much time we really have, but we know it is always too short.  
            The time is fast approaching when we will have to stand before the Lord who entrusted all these things to our management and we will have to account—whether we used them the way we wanted or did we follow the Master’s instruction for their use?  God’s Word tells us in Hebrews 9:27, “…people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment…”  
            What will you say when the Lord of all creation asks you:  “How did you use the soul I imparted to you?  Did you—to the best of your ability—use your understanding to know yourself and to know Me?  Did you apply it to understand My attributes, My nature, My will for you and the world?"
            God will inquire, “Did you use your memory to store up knowledge that would make you a better servant for the Kingdom?  Did you memorize My Word that you might know wisdom, truth, power, and mercy?”
            And God will ask, “Did you give your will totally over to Me?  Was it wholeheartedly swallowed up in My will so that you pray honestly in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven?”
            He will inquire, “Did you love what I love?  Hate what I hate? Desire what I desire?  Did you dedicate your thoughts to what is “…true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable…”?” (Philippians 4:8)
            What will you reply when the God looks at you and asks:  “How did you use the body I entrusted to you?  Did you use your tongue to glorify Me? Were you a witness for My Son, Jesus?  Did you speak life into the people around you?  Or did you use your tongue for idle talk, useless conversation, gossip, slander, and maliciousness?"  And He will ask, “What did you do with the gifts of sight and hearing I gave you?  Did you use the gift of taste only to indulge yourself or to build up your body and make it strong to serve Me?  How did you use your hands and feet to serve?  Were you the hands and feet of Christ?”
            What will you say when the Master looks over your life and asks, “How did you use the worldly goods I put into your hands?  Did you use the food gave you only for selfish pleasure, or to guard your health and care for the body I gave you?  Did you use the clothing I gave you to satisfy pride and vanity or to glorify Me?  What about your home?  Was it used in a manner worthy of My glory?”
            And the Lord of all the universe will pierce you with His fiery eyes and ask, “How did you use the money I gave you?  Did you invest this money for My Kingdom?  Did you employ it to do good on the earth?  Did you spend this money to help those in need?  Did you follow my instructions and tithe to the church?  Or did you cheat Me and keep My money for yourself?  Did you embezzle the funds and use them for your own selfish purposes?  What did you do with My money?”
            There is coming a time—very soon—when you will have to give an account.  God will ask you, “Have you been a wise and faithful manager?  Or have you been lying, deceitful, and dishonest?”  How will you respond when you stand before The One who sees into your very soul and knows everything about you, The One from whom you can hide absolutely nothing and make no excuses?

Conclusion
            Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  Romans 6:23, “The consequences of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  We have all fallen short of being wise and faithful managers.  However, the Good News is we can be forgiven through Jesus Christ.  Here’s what we all need to do:  1) Accept and confess that we have sinned.  2)  Repent of our sins (in other words, turn away from our sinful behavior and start obeying God.  3)  Let Jesus be our Lord and Savior—follow Him wholeheartedly from this day forward.
            How you use your time, talent, and treasure reveals what’s truly in your heart.  Won't you turn to God today, confess tour sins, repent, and commit to follow Jesus from this day forward.  Thus, you may come to the Day of judgment and stand before the Lord and hear him say,"Well done my good and faithful servant."

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Burn Like a Fire

Romans 12:9-13
Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. 11 Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. 12 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. 13 When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

Introduction
            The key verse for this blog is verse 11 - "Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically."
            Have you ever tried to describe people as an object or image?  It can tell you a lot about what you think about their personality.  For instance, if I were to describe Sherry Dickson, I would say she is like a refreshing spring.  She’s caring, calm, quiet, peaceful--just like a refreshing spring.  Sallie Thomas is like a playful puppy.  She’s playful, fun, and gregarious.  
            I describe myself like a lump of coal.  I am pretty boring on the surface and can even seem cold.  But if you can ever get me to catch fire, I burn hot and for a long time.  I'm like that Rolling Stones song:  “If you start me up!  If you start me, up I’ll never stop!”
            And what gets me started?  What lights my fire?  What gets me burning is my passion for the Lord’s Church.  There’s a fire in my bones!  It burns hot within me.  If I try to sit idle, if I try to stay silent, I can’t.  My passion for the Lord bubbles up within me and burst forth like billowing steam from a locomotive.  It propels me to be active and serve the Lord. 
            No matter the obstacle—whether it be climbing a mountain of difficulty or a tunneling through the fear of uncertainty or crossing a bridge over raging adversity—this holy train is gonna keep on chuggin’!  The hardest part for me is looking out the windows and seeing all the people standing idle by as I pass them.  And I want to cry out, “Get on board!  Little children, get on board!  Little children, there’s room for many a more!”
            And so my prayer has been since before I became a minister—in truth, I believe it’s the largest part of my purpose in life and why God called me to be a minister—is my burning desire to see everyone get on board the heavenly train that’s bound for Glory!
            I wrote this in my payer journal.  It’s an entry from July 12, 1999: 
“Father, I want Your people across the whole world to be revitalized.  I want to see lost souls saved and I want to see saved souls filled with holy passion.  Lord come, make us more like Jesus.  I want You to be so close to us that our bodies tremble ans shake.  I want You to be so near that we can see, hear, smell, and taste You.  I want the world to be dumbfounded by Your awesome presence.  No more skepticism.  Nor more dismissal.  No more doubt.  I want everone to see You are real and You are Lord and You are awesome.  Lord, pour out Your Spirit on Your people.  Amen.”
            You see, this was my prayer 17 years ago and it’s been my heart’s desire and prayer ever since then.  I want whole hearts broken and I want broken hearts made whole again.

Whole Hearts Broken
            In America, we are complacent.  We are satisfied, content, and unconcerned.  But we are satisfied and content with the wrong things—worldly things—and we are unconcerned that our complacency and love of the world is sending us barreling down the tracks to destruction.  Our society is eroding.  Our families are weakening.  People are abandoning the church in favor of worldly pursuits.  Our culture has even gone so far as to abandon common sense and redefined the natural order of gender—something that is so basic, so common sense, even animals understand it.  And yet, now it is widely accepted that a man can marry a man or a woman can marry a woman.  Who knows what absurd combinations the depraved human mind in America will be coming up with in the years ahead!
            And we—most of us—are just fine with that.  Let us make our money.  Let us have peace.  Let us continue to feel good about ourselves and our lavish lifestyles and our leisure pursuits.  Don't make us feel uncomfortable about sin.  Don’t trouble us with stories about misfortune and injustice in other countries.  Don’t worry us with concerns about suffering in our own neighborhoods.  Let us go on without any guilt about how our complacency actually makes us responsible for the destruction of our nation.
            And I say, “No!  I will not let you off the hook!  I will not let you go on wearing your blinders so you can’t see your disinterest is leading you to destruction while you drag others with you."  My prayer is that God would turn your world upside down until you see the way you are living and thinking and acting are all wrong—that you’ve put your hope in the wrong things and your passion in life has been misplaced.  My prayer is that God will break your heart.  I pray God will torment you until you surrender it all to Him and let Him fill you with His holy passion—so that your heart becomes like Jesus’, so you will hurt for the hurting and be broken-hearted for the lost, and you will feel a fire in your bones that compels you to give your all for the Kingdom of God!”  I want to see whole hearts broken!  Do you understand what I mean?

Broken Hearts Made Whole
            I don’t mean that I want our world to be full of broken-hearted people.  The truth is, our world is already full of broken hearted people—half of them don’t even realize they are broken.  I want God to make us all whole again.  If God is going to make you whole, you first have to realize you are broken.
            There are many people in our world who already know they are broken—or at least they have a good suspicion.  You don’t have to tell most addicts that they are broken.  They know.  They are bitterly aware that they’re out of control—that their addiction is killing them and hurting others.  Most addicts—whether they are addicted to drugs or alcohol—are racked with guilt over their actions and beyond frustrated that they can’t change their behavior.  And there are all kinds of addiction—addiction to things (buying, materialism), addiction to pornography, food addictions ( what I thin is the leading cause of heart disease), workaholics…  We are all addicts in one common way.  We are addicted to sin.  That’s the whole point of Christianity—to rehabilitate sinners and help us break the chain of our sinful lives.
            Others know they are broken too.  They feel the shame of their sin.  They recognize they are lost.  They know they need something, Someone to save them.  They know there must be something more to this world.  “For God has planted eternity in our hearts so that we are restless until we find rest in Him.”  And for those who are unable to drug themselves and numb the God-ache in their heart, they realize something is missing.  They are broken-hearted.
            Jesus commanded his followers, “Go, therefore, into all the world and make disciples…”  Are you a follower of Jesus?  Are you a Christian?  Then Jesus’ words are for you.  He told you to go and make disciples.  He didn’t say:  go and enjoy your family, go to the ball game, go indulge your worldly desires.  He said, “Go and make disciples…”  So why don’t you obey the Lord?  Pray that the Lord would make your heart more like his—that you would be filled with his holy passion for the least, the last, and the lost.
            Are you broken-hearted today?  Then I want you to find new hope in Christ.  Jesus is here to bind up your broken heart and make it whole again.

Conclusion
            Some of you here today have been complacent.  You’ve been drifting through life pretty content with the way things are.  But today, I’ve lit a fire in your bones.  I’ve unleashed the fire of the Holy Spirit upon you.  Maybe it’s only started as faint flicker, but that fire is gonna grow in you like it grew in me.  I’m here to tell you, it won’t go away.  It won’t leave you alone.  You may try to ignore it, but the holy fire of God is going to burn up in your bones until you can’t stand it anymore and you have to do something about it.  Whether it takes a few days or a few years, it’s gonna torment you until you give in and answer the Lord’s call on your life.  I recommend you answer it know.  Why put off the inevitable and put yourself through more and more discomfort?  Surrender.  Get your heart right with God today.
            Some here today are broken-hearted.  You’ve failed.  You’ve fallen.  You’ve sinned.  Perhaps today you realize you’ve not been following Jesus like you should.  Today, the Lord compels me to pray for you, to offer you the Lord's pardon and peace.  Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are weary and carry heaven burdens and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you.  For my burden is light and I will give you rest.”
            Would you turn to the Lord today?  Would you receive His grace and peace?  But you say, “I don’t know how!  I don’t know how!”  It’s simple.  Close your eyes.  Bow your head.  Ask Jesus to forgive you.  Ask him to take control of your life.  Give him control.  Let him lead you.  Trust Jesus.  He can make a way when there seems to be know way.  It's time to get on board with where Jesus wants to take you.

Monday, August 8, 2016

I Surrender

Galatians 2:20 (NIV)
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Introduction
            I have a question I want you to ask yourself this morning.  Have you surrendered to Jesus?  Furthermore, have you truly surrendered it all?
            The life of a Christian is one of surrender.  Not surrender to the world, not giving in to worldly temptations or selling out, but wholehearted surrender to God through Jesus Christ.  Everyone who begins the journey of the Christian life begins with surrender.  In the words of the baptismal vows printed in our hymnal, we promise to:
  • Renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of our sin
  • To resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves
  • And to confess Jesus as our Savior, put our whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as our Lord, in union with the Church… 
We begin with surrender, but we must continue to surrender daily as Jesus reveals more and more areas of our life that need to come under His authority.  This process of sanctification (or purification) takes time and the Lord is patient, but Jesus expects us to continue along the path.  We mustn’t become complacent.  We must press on until every area of our heart is solely under the authority of Christ.

Unconditional Surrender
            I once read a helpful devotion by Robert Munger that compared the Christian life to inviting Jesus as a guest in your home.  I want share it with you today, because it helped me.[i]  Perhaps it will help you to surrender more fully to Christ.

My Heart Christ's Home, by Robert Boyd Munger
One evening I invited Jesus Christ into my heart. What an entrance He made! It was not a
spectacular, emotional thing, but very real. It was at the very center of my life. He came into the darkness of my heart and turned on the light. He built a fire in the cold hearth and banished the chill. He started music where there had been stillness, and He filled the emptiness with His own loving, wonderful fellowship. I have never regretted opening the door to Christ and I never will - not into eternity!

This, of course, is the first step in making the heart Christ's home. He has said, "Behold I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me." (Revelation 3:20). If you are interested in making your life an abode of the living God, let me encourage you to invite Christ into your heart and He will surely come.

After Christ entered my heart and in the joy of this new relationship I said to Him, "Lord, I want this heart of mine to be Yours. I want to have You settle down here and be perfectly at home.  Everything I have belongs to You. Let me show You around and introduce you to the various features of the home that you may be more comfortable and that we may have fuller fellowship together."  He was very glad to come, of course, and happier still to be given a place in the heart.

The Study
The first room was the stud - the library. Let us all it the study of the mind. Now in my home this room of the mind is a very small room with very thick walls. But it is an important room. In a sense, it is the control room of the house. He entered with me and looked around at the books in the bookcase, the magazines upon the table, the pictures on the walls. As I followed His gaze I became uncomfortable. Strangely enough, I had not felt badly about this before, but now that He was there looking at these things I was embarrassed. There were some books were there that His eyes were too pure to behold. There was a lot of trash and literature on the table that a Christian had no business reading, and as for the pictures on the walls - the imaginations and thoughts of the mind - these were shameful.

I turned to Him and said, "Master, I know that this room needs a radical alteration. Will You help me make it what it ought to be? - to bring every thought into captivity to you?"

"Surely!" He said. "Gladly will I help you. First of all, take all the things that you are reading and looking at which are not helpful, pure, good and true, and throw them out! Now put on the empty shelves the books of the Bible. Fill the library with Scriptures and meditate on then day and night.  As for the pictures on the walls, you will have difficulty controlling these images, but here is an aid" He gave me a full-size portrait of Himself. "Hang this centrally," He said, "on the wall of the mind."

I did, and I have discovered through the years that when my thoughts are centered upon Christ Himself, His purity and power cause impure thoughts to back away. So He has helped me to bring my thoughts into captivity.

May I suggest to you if you have difficulty with this little room of the mind, that you bring Christ in there. Pack it full with the Word of God, meditate upon it and keep before it the immediate presence of the Lord Jesus.

The Dining Room
From the study we went into the dining room, the room of appetites and desires. Now this was a very large room. I spent a good deal of time in the dining room and much effort in satisfying my wants.

I said to Him, "This is a favorite room. I am quite sure You will be pleased with what we serve."  He seated Himself at the table with me and asked, "What is on the menu for dinner?"

"Well," I said, "my favorite dishes: money, academic degrees and stocks, with newspaper articles of fame and fortune as side dishes." These were the things I liked - worldly fare. I suppose there was nothing radically wrong in any particular item, but it was not the food that should satisfy the life of a real Christian. When the food was placed before Him, He said nothing about it. However, I observed that He did not eat it, and I said to Him, somewhat disturbed, "Master, don't You care for this food? What is the trouble?"

He answered, "I have meat to eat that you do not know of. My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me." He looked at me again and said, "If you want food that really satisfies you, seek the will of the Father, not your own pleasures, not your own desires, and not your own satisfaction. Seek to please Me and that food will satisfy you." And there at the table He gave me a taste of doing God's will. What a flavor! There is no food like it in all the world. It alone satisfies. Everything else is dissatisfying in the end.

Now if Christ is in your heart, and I trust He is, what kind of food are you serving Him and what kind of food are you eating yourself? Are you living for the lust of the flesh and the pride of life - selfishly? Or are you choosing God's will for your meat and drink?

The Living Room
We walked next into the living room. This room was rather intimate and comfortable. I liked it. It had a fireplace, overstuffed chairs, a sofa, and a quiet atmosphere.  

He also seemed pleased with it. He said, "This is indeed a delightful room. Let us come here often. It is secluded and quiet, and we can fellowship together."

Well, naturally as a young Christian I was thrilled. I couldn't think of anything I would rather do than have a few minutes with Christ in intimate  companionship.

He promised, "I will be here early every morning. Meet me here, and we will start the day together."

So morning after morning, I would come downstairs to the living room and He would take a book of the Bible from the bookcase. He would open it and then we would read together. He would tell me of its riches and unfold to me its truths. He would make my heart warm as He revealed His love and His grace He had toward me. These were wonderful hours together. In fact, we called the living room the "withdrawing room." It was a period when we had our quiet time together.

But, little by little, under the pressure of many responsibilities, this time began to be shortened.  Why, I'm don't know, but I thought I was just too busy to spend time with Christ. This was not intentional, you understand; it just happened that way. Finally, not only was the time shortened, but I began to miss a day now and then. It was examination time at the university. Then it was some other urgent emergency. I would miss it two days in a row and often more.

I remember one morning when I was in a hurry, rushing downstairs, eager to be on my way.  As I passed the living room, the door was open. Looking in, I saw a fire in the fireplace and Jesus was sitting there. Suddenly in dismay I thought to myself, "He was my guest. I invited Him into my heart! He has come as Lord of my home. And yet here I am neglecting Him."

I turned and went in. With downcast glance, I said, "Blessed Master, forgive me. Have You been here all these mornings?"

"Yes," He said, "I told you I would be here every morning to meet with you." Then I was even more ashamed. He had been faithful in spite of my faithfulness. I asked His forgiveness and He readily forgave me as He does when we are truly repentant.

"The trouble with you is this: you have been thinking of the quiet time, of the Bible study and prayer time, as a factor in your own spiritual progress, but you have forgotten that this hour means something to me also. Remember, I love you. I have redeemed you at great cost. I value your fellowship. Now," He said, "do not neglect this hour if only for my sake. Whatever else may be your desire, remember I want your fellowship!"

You know, the truth that Christ desires my companionship, that He loves me, wants me to be with Him, wants to be with me and waits for me, has done more to transform my quiet time with God than any other single fact. Don't let Christ wait alone in the living room of your heart, but every day find some time when, with your Bible and in prayer, you may be together with Him.

The Workroom
Before long, He asked, "Do you have a workroom in your home?" Down in the basement of the home of my heart I had a workbench and some equipment, but I was not doing much with it. Once in a while I would play around with a few little gadgets, but I wasn't producing anything substantial or worthwhile.

I led Him down there.

He looked over the workbench and what little talents and skills I had. He said, "This is quite well furnished. What are you producing with your life for the Kingdom of God?" He looked at one or two little toys that I had thrown together on the bench and held one up to me. "Are these little toys all that you are doing for others in your Christian life?"

"Well," I said, "Lord, that is the best I can do. I know it isn't much, and I really want to do more, but after all, I have no skill or strength to do more."

"Would you like to do better?" He asked.

"Certainly," I replied.

"All right. Let me have your hands. Now relax in me and let my Spirit work through you. I know that you are unskilled, clumsy and awkward, but the Holy Spirit is the Master-Worker, and if He controls your hands and your heart, He will work through you." And so, stepping around behind me and putting His great, strong hands over mine, controlling the tools with His skilled fingers He began to work through me.

There's much more that I must still learn and I am very far from satisfied with the product that is being turned out, but I do know that whatever has been produced for God has been through His strong hand and through the power of His Spirit in me.

Do not become discouraged because you cannot do much for God. Your ability is not the fundamental condition. It is He who is controlling your fingers and upon whom you are relying. Give your talents and gifts to God and He will do things with them that will surprise you.

The Rec Room
I remember the time He asked me about the playroom. I was hoping He would not ask about that.  There were certain associations and friendships, activities and amusements that I wanted to keep for myself. I did not think Christ would enjoy them or approve of them, so I evaded the question. But there came an evening when I was on my way out with some of my friends, and as I was about to cross the threshold, He stopped me with a glance and asked, "Are you going out?"

I replied, "Yes."

"Good," He said, "I would like to go with you."

"Oh," I answered rather awkwardly. "I don't think, Lord Jesus, that You would really want to go with us. Let's go out tomorrow night. Tomorrow night we will go to prayer meeting, but tonight I have another appointment."

He said. "That's alright. Only I thought that when I came into your home, we were going to do everything together, to be close companions. I just want you to know that I am willing to go with you."

"Well," I said, "we will go someplace together tomorrow night."

That evening I spent some miserable hours. I felt wretched. What kind of a friend was I to Jesus when I was deliberately leaving Him out of my associations, doing things and going places that I knew very well He would not enjoy? When I returned that evening, there was a light in His room, and I went up to talk it over with Him. I said, "Lord, I have learned my lesson. I can't have a good time without You. From now on we will do everything together."

Then we went down into the playroom of the house and He transformed it. He brought into life real joy, real happiness, real satisfaction, new friends, new excitement, new joys. Laughter and music have been ringing through the house ever since.

The Hall Closet
There is just one more matter that I might share with you. One day I found Him waiting for me at the door. An arresting look was in His eye. As I entered, He said to me, "There is a peculiar odor in the house. There is something dead around here. It's upstairs. I think it is in the hall closet." As soon as He said this, I knew what He was talking about. Yes, there was a small closet up there on the landing, just a few feet square, and in that closet, behind lock and key, I had one or two little personal things that I did not want anyone to know about and certainly I did not want Christ to see them. I knew they were dead and rotting things left over from the old life. And yet I loved them, and I wanted them so for myself that I was afraid to admit they were there.

Reluctantly, I went up with Him, and as we mounted the stairs the odor became stronger and stronger. He pointed at the door. "It's in there! Some dead thing!"

I was angry. That's the only way I can put it. I had given Him access to the library, the dining room, the living room, the workroom, the playroom, and now He was asking me about a little two-by-four closet. I said to myself, "This is too much. I am not going to give Him the key."

"Well," He said, reading my thoughts, "if you think I'm going to stay up here on the second floor with this odor, you are mistaken. I will take my bed out on the back porch. I'm certainly not going to put up with that." Then I saw Him start down the stairs.

When you have come to know and love Christ, the worst thing that can happen is to sense His fellowship retreating from you. I had to surrender. "I'll give You the key," I said sadly, "but You'll have to open the closet and clean it out. I haven't the strength to do it."

"I know," He said. "I know you haven't. Just give me the key. Just authorize me to take care of that closet and I will." So with trembling fingers I passed the key to Him. He took it from my hand, walked over to the door, opened it, entered it, took out all the putrefying stuff that was rotting there, and threw it away. The He cleaned the closet and painted it, fixed it up, doing it all in a moment's time. Oh, what victory and release to have that dead thing out of my life!

Transferring the Title
Then a thought came to me. I said to myself, "I have been trying to keep this heart of mine clear for Christ. I start on one room and no sooner have I cleaned that then another room is dirty. I begin on the second room and the first room becomes dusty again. I am so tired and weary trying to maintain a clean heart and an obedient life. I am just not up to it!"

So I ventured a question: "Lord, is there any chance that You would take over the responsibility of the whole house and operate it for me and with me just as You did that closet? Would You take the responsibility to keep my heart what it ought to be and my life where it ought to be?"

I could see His face light up as He replied, "Certainly, that is what I came to do. You cannot be a victorious Christian in your own strength. That is impossible. Let me do it through you and for you. That is the way. But," He added slowly, "I am not owner of this house. I am just a guest. I have no authority to proceed, since the property is not mine."

I saw it in a minute and dropping to my knees, I said, "Lord, You have been a guest and I have been the host. From now on I am going to be the servant. You are going to be the owner and Master and Lord."

Running as fast as I could to the strongbox, I took out the title deed to the house describing its assets and liabilities, location and situation and condition. I eagerly signed it over to belong to Him alone for time and eternity. "Here," I said. "Here it is, all that I am and have forever. Now You run the house. I'll just remain with You as a servant and friend."

He took my life that day and I can give you my word, there is no better way to live the Christian life. He knows how to keep it in shape and deep peace settles down on the soul. May Christ settle down and be at home in your heart as Lord of all!

Conclusion
            Have you invited Jesus into your home—into your life?  Have you given him access to your mind and your desires?  Are you spending time with Jesus daily in prayer?  Are you working for the Lord—producing good fruit for the Kingdom of God in your life?  Is Jesus happy with your recreational life?  Do the ways you have fun honor him?  What secret things have you been hiding from Jesus?  Isn’t it time to come clean and let Jesus clean out your secret closet?  Have you surrendered it all to Jesus?  Why not raise up your white flag and surrender today?



[i] Adapted from “My Heart: Christ’s Home” by Robert Munger - https://www.usna.edu/Navigators/_files/documents/MHCH.pdf
Robert Boyd Munger (1911-2001) was a Presbyterian minister who wrote this timeless work in
1951.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Best Cup of Coffee I Ever Had...

The Truth As Far As I Can Tell…

Philippians 4:12 - I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.
            If you know me very well, you would know I don’t really like the taste of coffee that much.  I usually try to cover it up with way too much sugar and creamer or, even better, I put in about a ¼ cup of flavored coffemate.  True coffee connoisseurs are often appalled by my coffee habits and snark, “Hey, would like some coffee with that sugar?”
Keeping all this in mind, you will be surprised to learn about the best coffee I ever enjoyed.  You might guess it was some expensive gourmet blend from Starbucks or a hand roast blend out of the mountains of El Salvador made with a French press.  You would be wrong.  In fact, the best cup of coffee I ever had was a cheap Kirkland brand “Breakfast Blend” from Costco made on my Keurig at home.  Even more surprising, it was completely black with no sugar or cream added!
What made this cup of coffee so unique, you ask?  It came at the end of a special week-long diet where I hadn’t had anything to drink except water—no milk, no coffee, no coke or tea, nothing but water.  So by the end of the week, my taste buds were thrilled to encounter anything besides H2O.  All the flavors and nuances of the coffee sprang to life in my mouth and danced on my tongue as I marveled at the simple wonder of coffee like never before.  I experience true joy in something I normally take for granted.
We humans are so prone to take things for granted.  It’s part of our fallen nature.  We lose gratitude and when we do, we are actually less fulfilled.  The trick to being satisfied in life is not having more and more.  In a counterintuitive way, more stuff tends to make us less fulfilled.  No.  The secret to being more fulfilled is learning to be satisfied and grateful with what we have already.
Fasting is a spiritual exercise that can strengthen our gratitude and contentment.  Fasting has traditionally meant going without food.  However, fasting could also be going without coffee or drinking only water or giving up something else like TV or Facebook or watching the news for a set time.  Such self-denial can accomplish some very helpful traits.  It could help you stop taking simple blessings for granted and be more grateful.  On the other hand, you might find you do not miss what you gave up at all; in which case, you might be better off without it. 
True joy and contentment in life is not about having more and more, better and better.  Joy and contentment most often come when you simplify and learn to truly appreciate the blessings you have already.  With intentional spiritual practice, you could learn what the Apostle Paul discovered:  “…the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.”  Of course, I’m no expert and I certainly don’t claim to know everything, but that’s the Truth as far as I can tell…

Remember, God loves you and so do I!