Donate to Support

Support the church that supports this blog. Donate at - Click the donate button in the upper righthand corner.
Showing posts with label Faithfulness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Faithfulness. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Faithful - The Truth As Far As I Can Tell...

Luke 16:10 – If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.

We are called to be faithful.  Faithfulness is the concept of unfailingly remaining loyal to someone or  Christians—those who put their faith in Jesus Christ and follow him as their Lord—promise to be faithful to Christ.  At my church (Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church), we formalize our commitment with vows.  We promise to:
something, and putting that loyalty into consistent practice regardless of extenuating circumstances.
·       Renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of our sin,
·       Accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves,
·       And confess Jesus Christ as our Savior, put our whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as our Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races.

Our promise is to serve Christ as Lord, in union with the church.  So we ask people to become members of our church congregation who promise to faithfully participate in its ministries by their prayers, their presence, their gifts, their service, and their witness.  Prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness seem like little things, but they are the building blocks of a vibrant spiritual life.  We hinder our spiritual life when we neglect any of them.  Furthermore, we harm our fellow church members when we are not faithful.  Are you faithful to Christ?  Are you a faithful member of a church?  Ask yourself:
·       Am I faithful in prayer? Do I pray daily?  Do I pray often throughout the day?
·       Am I faithfully present at church?  Do I attend Sunday worship weekly, missing no more than five Sundays a year?  Do I participate in a Bible study, a Sunday school, a small group, or a prayer group?  Am I present regularly at special events like Trunk or Treat or the Easter Egg Hunt?
·       Am I a faithful giver to my church?  Am I committed to give 10% of my income to the church?  If not, how much will I give and how might I begin to work toward the goal of one day giving a full tithe?  If I already give 10%, how might I go further and be even more generous?
·       Am I faithful to serve in my church?  Do I volunteer regularly (as a teacher, or choir member, or help with cleanup, or changing the church sign, or serving Wednesday night suppers, or helping with youth, or something else)?
·       Am I a faithful witness for Jesus Christ?  Do I try to live a life of integrity that represents Jesus well?  Do I tell people how important my faith is to me and what Jesus is doing in my life? How many people have I invited to church this year?

Faithfulness is vital to the Christian life.  If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones.  But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.  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!

Monday, October 1, 2018

The Fruit of the Spirit - Faithfulness

Everyone who believes in Jesus Christ has the Holy Spirit of God living inside them. 
The Holy Spirit is a powerful force.  It is the very power of God that was with God and was God creating the universe filled with trillions upon trillions of stars and planets and galaxies—so much that it would take you 27.4 billion years to travel from one side of it to the other if you could travel at the speed of light.

And when you have faith in Christ, the power of God’s Spirit takes up residence in your soul and begins to work His creative power in your life.  However, our powerful God is not a monster or a tyrant.  He will not force change upon you—even though He knows it’s for your own good.  He only grows change within you as you cooperate with His love and nurture the spiritual fruit He wishes to give you.  Like a garden—when tended and nurtured—the Fruit of the Spirit grows steadily within you until you reap a bountiful harvest.  The Apostle Paul wrote:

Galatians 5:22-23
22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

I want to talk to you about faithfulness today.  According to Wikipedia:  “Faithfulness is the concept of unfailingly remaining loyal to someone or something, and putting that loyalty into consistent practice regardless of extenuating circumstances.  It may be exhibited by a husband or wife who, in a sexually exclusive marriage, does not engage in sexual relationships outside of the marriage.”  However, when we speak of faithfulness—as a fruit of the Holy Spirit—we are speaking of faithfulness in a relationship that is even higher than that of marriage.  We are primarily focused on faithfulness to God through Jesus Christ.  Our faithfulness to God leads us also to be faithful in all our other relationships, because doing so is an expression of our faithfulness to the Highest Power.

Before we were ever faithful, God was faithful to us.  He created us with the purpose of sharing His love—of living a life in loving relationship with God and each other.  Boy have we messed that one up.  The history of humanity has been a continual history of turning our backs on God and each other.  Yet God has been faithful to us, even when we have been totally unfaithful to Him.  Ultimately, God sent His own Son, Jesus Christ, in love to reconcile us to Him.  Yet we were unfaithful and murdered the Son of God on a cross.  Yet still, God didn’t turn His back on us.  Christ rose on the third day and continues to offer God’s love and forgiveness to all who repent of their sin, turn to God, and trust in Christ.  Through faith we have eternal life—but we have something even greater; we have a living, loving relationship with the God of the universe who is always faithful and challenges us to be faithful.

Faithfulness in Uncertainty
God calls us to remain faithful even when we don’t understand.  Faith, almost by definition, implies a degree of uncertainty.  We sometimes use expressions like "taking a leap of faith" to describe faithful obedience.  We even use a simple exercise to demonstrate faith—a trust fall—where you close your eyes and fall backwards into the arms of a colleague you trust (it can be an unnerving experience).  Faith implies that we don’t have all the answers, that sometimes we are walking through life in the dark and cannot see the way, but we are trusting in God’s faithfulness to get us through.  Even when we hurt, even when losses come that are too deep to fathom, even when we don’t understand and just want to give up, faithfulness means we just keep trusting God and walking through the darkness towards His voice.

We don’t have all the answers, but we do have some; we have enough to get started and we will get enough as we walk to continue walking the road of faith.  There are many who read the Bible and lament, "I don’t understand it."  It is true that there are many things in God’s Word that are very hard to understand.  However, there are also many things we read that are very clear and it’s not the things I don’t understand about the Christian life that disturb me most.  I am far more disturbed by the things I do understand.  For then I feel the Holy Spirit convicting me:  “Will you be faithful?  Will you obey?  Will you do what you know you should do?"

The Faithfulness of a Church Member
In the United Methodist Church, we try to spell out the ways we promise to be faithful to God when someone decides to become a member of the church.  Many feel church membership is no longer important.  "Why should I join as a member of a church?" They say, "Isn't that like joining a club?  It sounds so exclusive!"  And our culture reflects this devaluing of church membership more and more.  It mirrors the general aversion to commitment that runs throughout our society.  People ask some of the same kinds of questions about marriage.  "Why should I get married?"  They ask.  And for all practical purposes, it seems they have a point.  In our times, an unmarried couple can do just about everything a married couple can.  They can fall in love, live together, have sex, have and raise children together.  So many ask, why should they bother with marriage?  I would argue marriage is essential.  Here's why.  Through marriage, a man and a woman stand before God and witnesses and promise to love each other for better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer, until death.  And until you make those promises to each other, the relationship can only go so far.  Until your partner knows that you are all in, 100%, completely committed to the very end, your relationship cannot go to the deepest levels.

And much the same is true of church membership.  You can attend a church and never become a member.  For most practical purposes, you will look and act just like a member.  You can attend, worship, sing in the choir, volunteer, and even serve in some official positions.  However, your relationship with God and the other members of the church can only go so far until you fully commit.  Until you stand before God and the whole church and promise to be 100%, all in, sold out to the mission of the church, you can only go so deep.  And so, I encourage everyone who really wants to go to the deeper levels in their spiritual journey to prayerfully consider joining a church as a member.

The very first step to becoming a member of my church Pleasant Grove United Methodist church) is to become a Christian.  You cannot be a member of our Church unless you are a Christian—meaning you have repented of your sins and placed your whole faith Jesus Christ, the Son of God, for your salvation.  So we ask potential church members some questions in front of the whole church to help them profess their faith in Christ.  We ask:
  • Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?
  • Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?
  • Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?  

Local Church Membership
Having become a member of God’s “Holy Catholic” Church (that is the universal church that is made up of all believers in Christ from all places and in all times), now one makes a commitment to be faithful to a local congregation of the church.  So we ask potential members a few more questions about how they will be faithful to the local congregation.  We ask:  "As members of this congregation, will you faithfully participate in its ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness?"

Are you faithful to pray?  I recommend everyone should pray five times a day.  Say a prayer to start your day when you wake up and a prayer before you go to sleep.  That's two prayers.  Add to this a prayer to bless your food before every meal (which for most is three times a day) and you have five prayers.  But don't stop at just five prayers.  Live a live of prayer.  Throughout your day, say a breath prayer whenever you think about it (a breath prayer is a short prayer you can say in one breath).  So as you are sitting in traffic, aggravated by the person in front of you for going too slow, breathe out, "Lord Jesus help me to be patient."  As you pass an accident on the side of the road, pray, "Father, please help that person who is hurt."  When someone asks you to pray for their mother who is having surgery on Tuesday, right then as they are asking in your own mind pray "Holy Spirit, take care of their mother this Tuesday during her surgery."  In this way, you can be more faithful to pray.

Are you faithfully presence at church?  We need to be together with other Christians for worship, study, fellowship, and service.  This is best done in a local congregation.  Do you attend church weekly.  My own practice and what I encourage everyone to adopt is to miss no more than five Sundays of worship per year.  Does that seem excessive?  I don't think it is.  Last week I was talking with a South Korean pastor who explained that Christians in Korea have church 7 days a week.  On work days, thousands of Christians come in to the sanctuary as early as 5:00 AM for an hour long prayer service before they go to work.  It's no wonder that a great revival is taking place in South Korea, home of the largest Christian church in the world--Yoido Full Gospel Church--with 480,000 members.

Are you faithful in your giving?  The biblical standard is to offer 10% of your income God through the local church.  So if you earn $30,000 per year, you would give $3,000 to the church each year.  The church in America struggles to do all the good God calls us to do because we simply don't have the funding we need.  That problem would be instantly solved if every Christian would simply be faithful to give the tithe.  Maybe you are willing to jump straight into tithing.  But could you grow more faithful in your giving?  If you are only giving 1% right now, could you be more faithful to give 2-3%?  make it a goal to grow a little bit every year until you reach 10%.  And if you are already giving 10%, don't just sit back and fold your arms and say, "I've given all I need to give."  What was Jesus' standard for giving?  He said give it all.  Remember, he said if some ask you to carry their back for a mile, go an extra mile with them.  If someone demands your coat, give them your shirt also.  That sounds a lot like 100% giving to me.  Now, what you give is between you and God.  And no one at my church--me or anyone else--is going down the list checking to see who gives what or ranking people by their giving status.  That's between you and God and our church is all about grace.  Jesus doesn't want your money.  He wants your heart.  For where your heart is, there your treasure will be also.  I just want to encourage you to be faithful in your giving.

Are you faithful to serve.  Some people think, "Well I give a lot of money so I don't have to serve."  Members who join Pleasant Grove UMC promise to do both.  It's not either or; it's both and.  Faithful members give and serve.  So remember the words of Galatians 6:9, "So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up."

Are you a faithful witness?  A witness is simply someone who tells what Jesus has done for them.  A witness invites others to come and see what Jesus is doing in there church.  Are you a faithful witness?  How many people have you talked to about Jesus?  How many have you invited to church this year?  If you haven't invited anyone, what does that say about the faithfulness of your witness?

Repentance and Call to Faithfulness
If we are honest, we all see how we have fallen short in many of the areas in which we promise to be faithful.  It breaks my own heart to think of the ways I fall short and fail God who has been so faithful to me.  In particular, I struggle in the area of faithful prayer.  Don't get me wrong, I pray all the time, because I am a pastor.  I pray several times during the Sunday worship service.  I pray to open Bible studies, Sunday school classes, in prayer meetings, and with those who are sick or in the hospital.  Where I struggle is in praying when I am not operating as a pastor.  I think it's because I pray so much on other occasions.  I just get tired.  However, I have asked the Holy Spirit to help me be more faithful in this area of my life and I'm working on it.

How about you?  Can you be honest with yourself and God?  Can you confess where you have not been as faithful as you should?  Do you faithfully renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?  Do you faithfully accept the freedom and power God gives you every day to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves ?  Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and serve him as your Lord? Are you faithful pray, be present at church, to give, serve, and be faithful witness?

Perhaps God is calling you repent today.  Maybe you need to commit your life to Christ and becoming a Christian for the very first time.  Maybe you need to find a local church where you can join and become a faithful member.  Maybe you need to admit that you have not been faithful to the membership promises you’ve already made.

Even when we are unfaithful, God is still faithful.  In 1 John 1:9 it says, “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”  Perhaps today, you would like to pray the following confession to God and ask the Holy Spirit to help you be more faithful.

Prayer of Confession
"Most merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done, and by what I have left undone. I have not loved you with my whole heart; I have not loved my neighbors as myself. I am truly sorry and I humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on me and forgive me; that I may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your name. Amen."

And now, I offer this prayer on your behalf:
Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive all your sins through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen you in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in eternal life. Amen.

Monday, June 11, 2018

When You Are Afraid, God is With You

             The Book of Daniel follows the stories of Jews from Judea who were taken into captivity in Babylon.  For centuries, God had warned the Jews to turn away from the sin and be faithful to God, but they would not.  Finally, their time ran out and the had to face the consequences of their sin.  The Babylonian army attacked their Judean homeland, captured the capital of Jerusalem, and burned their holy temple to the ground.  Any Judeans who were not killed in battle were exiled to Babylon.  The best and brightest Judeans were forced to serve the Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar.  The Babylonians changed their captives names, made them speak Babylonian, and tried to make them forget the Judean heritage.  It was an awful predicament to be in.
            The Judean's suffering was caused by their own bad behavior.  However, God did not forget or abandon them.  He was still with His people, even when everything around them changed.  He was with them when they needed help.  He was with them when they were afraid.  And today, the same is true for all of us.  God is with us even when things changes.  God is with us when we need help.  And today I want to focus on the truth that God is with us when you are afraid.  A good verse to memorize that reminds us of God's presence when we are afraid is Isaiah 41:10, "Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you.  I will hold you up with my victorious right hand."
            Today, I want to share a fascinating story of three Jews who were trying to get along in Babylon who were forced to take a stand for what they believed in--even at the risk of their lives.  Let's look at the story and I will make some comments as we go through.

Daniel 3:1-6
1King Nebuchadnezzar made a gold statue ninety feet tall and nine feet wide and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. Then he sent messages to the high officers, officials, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates, and all the provincial officials to come to the dedication of the statue he had set up. So all these officials came and stood before the statue King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

Then a herald shouted out, “People of all races and nations and languages, listen to the king’s command! When you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, and other musical instruments, bow to the ground to worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s gold statue. Anyone who refuses to obey will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”

The Dilemma
            There are times in all our lives when we face a dilemma—will we do what we know is right or will we bow to the pressure of those around us to do something we know is wrong?  There is usually a cost involved.  It may not be life threatening, but there may be a social cost.  If you don't go along, you may lose friends or influence.  Sometimes, you may become socially ostrisized for doing the right thing.  Or maybe it may be a risk to your career.  You might not get the raise or the promotion.  You could lose your job because you refuse to go along with something you know is not right.  It could negatively affect you financially.  What will you do when you are faced with the dilemma and you have to chose right or wrong?
            As for me, I know this.  This world is not my home.  I am a Christian, a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven.  I live here in this world as an alien in a foreign land—like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who were exiles in Babylon.  I try to get along in this world the best I can.  I serve the people around me—whether they are Christian or not.  I try to show them God’s love and even introduce them to Jesus.  I want them to become a citizen of Heaven too, because I know this kingdom will one day pass away.  However, the Kingdom of Heaven will last forever.
           I try to get along with every--even those with whom I don't agree.  However, there are some things I cannot do.  I will not call anything right that I know is wrong.  I will not call anything wrong that I know is right.  I will do my very best to obey my Lord and live how I believe He wants me to live.  And I base my understanding of His will on His Holy Word in the Bible, the voice of His Holy Spirit in my heart, and the traditions of His Holy Church through the centuries.  These criteria are a firm foundation we can trust.  They have stood the test of time and do not change according to the whims of culture.  They have guided Christians like Peter, Paul, Luke, John, Matthew, Martin Luther, John Wesley, and Billy Graham.  They guide me.  What guides you?

Daniel 3:7-15
So at the sound of the musical instruments, all the people, whatever their race or nation or language, bowed to the ground and worshiped the gold statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

But some of the astrologers went to the king and informed on the Jews. They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “Long live the king! 10 You issued a decree requiring all the people to bow down and worship the gold statue when they hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, and other musical instruments. 11 That decree also states that those who refuse to obey must be thrown into a blazing furnace. 12 But there are some Jews—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—whom you have put in charge of the province of Babylon. They pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They refuse to serve your gods and do not worship the gold statue you have set up.”

13 Then Nebuchadnezzar flew into a rage and ordered that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought before him. When they were brought in, 14 Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you refuse to serve my gods or to worship the gold statue I have set up?

15 I will give you one more chance to bow down and worship the statue I have made when you hear the sound of the musical instruments. But if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. And then what god will be able to rescue you from my power?”

The Ultimatum
            And there it is—the ultimatum.  "Bow down and violate your conscience and do what you know isn't right or be thrown into the fire and burned to death."  Usually, our dilemmas aren’t so life or death, but there is as cost.  There is often a social cost, a cost to your career, or a financial risk that tempts you to cave in.  If you will just go along and bow down, everything will be alright, but your conscience tells you it is not right.  What will you do when you are faced with the ultimatum?
            Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew what God commanded.  Bowing to the idols and breaking God's commands is what got the Jews into captivity in the first place.  For God had commanded in the Ten Commandments:  "Do not worship any god accept the Lord" and "Do not make idols of any kind."  They knew what to do, even though it was going to be incredibly frightening and dangerous.

Daniel 3:16-18
16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. 18 But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”

Powerful Faith in a Sovereign God
            Verse 18 is an incredible statement of faith in the Sovereign Lord.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew God could save them.  He had the power.  But they also recognized His sovereignty and said they would do the right thing even if God didn't save them. 
            God is sovereign.  What does it mean to be sovereign?  It means He alone has the right to chose how He will act.  No one can tell Him what to do.  He doesn't have to save us.  You aren't rewarded for doing the right thing.  You do the right thing because it is right, not because it gets you something you want.  God is sovereign Lord.  He deserves your faithfulness and nothing less.
            As a child, I was taught that good always triumphs over evil.  As an adult, I know better know.  I have seen that good does not always triumph.  Sometimes, evil triumphs over good in this life and in this world.  But I am not discouraged, because I know this world is not our home.  This life is not all there is.  Even if God does not set right the wrongs in this world in this life, I know He will in the next.  For in the end, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess the Jesus Christ is Lord!
            In the mean time, what good does it do to save this life and lose eternity?  What good does it do to gain power and influence and money and possessions in this life if you lose your very soul?  God is able and will set the balance of justice right in the next life.  Live by faith.

Daniel 3:19-25
19 Nebuchadnezzar was so furious with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face became distorted with rage. He commanded that the furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual. 20 Then he ordered some of the strongest men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. 21 So they tied them up and threw them into the furnace, fully dressed in their pants, turbans, robes, and other garments. 22 And because the king, in his anger, had demanded such a hot fire in the furnace, the flames killed the soldiers as they threw the three men in. 23 So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, securely tied, fell into the roaring flames.

24 But suddenly, Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in amazement and exclaimed to his advisers, “Didn’t we tie up three men and throw them into the furnace?”

“Yes, Your Majesty, we certainly did,” they replied.

25 “Look!” Nebuchadnezzar shouted. “I see four men, unbound, walking around in the fire unharmed! And the fourth looks like a god!”

When You Are Afraid, God Is With You
            God was with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the flames!  Three men were thrown in, but four were in the furnace walking around.  Some say the fourth man was the pre0incarnate Jesus, others say it was the Holy Spirit, but it was God in some present form right there with the three men in the flames.  And this is an important truth for us all to know when we are facing deep troubles.
            When you are afraid, God is with you—literally.  You are not walking around in the flames alone.  God is with you.  He is not somewhere far off in Heaven or the other side of the world merely thinking about you.  No.  God is right there wit you.  When you are waiting to go into surgery, God is at your side.  When you are struggling through months of physical rehabilitation, God is with you.  When you are dealing with a rebellious child, God is right their with you.  When you are grieving because you've lost your spouse, the person you loved most in the world and you don't know how to go on, God is their holding you.  When you've lost your job, your car broke down, your house is on fire, your daughter gets divorced, or whatever, God is not far away.  No.  He is with you--walking with you, holding you, and sometimes carrying you (or dragging you!).
            We know the extend of God's commitment to be with us in the midst of our struggles.  For God came and was born as the man, Jesus, as a baby in a manger.  He grew up in a poor, everyday, family.  He dealt with many of the same struggles we face.  He was tempted (but never sinned).  He stood firm on the Word of God.  He showed God's incredible power, love, and mercy.  He was tortured and crucified for our sins.  He died on the cross and rose on the third day.  He even descended into Hell to preach to the lost who were there.  Nothing can stop Him from being with any person who calls out for His help.  As Isaiah 43:1b-3a - “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.  When you go through deep waters,  I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

Daniel 3:26-30
26 Then Nebuchadnezzar came as close as he could to the door of the flaming furnace and shouted: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!”

So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stepped out of the fire. 27 Then the high officers, officials, governors, and advisers crowded around them and saw that the fire had not touched them. Not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched. They didn’t even smell of smoke!

28 Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent his angel to rescue his servants who trusted in him. They defied the king’s command and were willing to die rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. 29 Therefore, I make this decree: If any people, whatever their race or nation or language, speak a word against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they will be torn limb from limb, and their houses will be turned into heaps of rubble. There is no other god who can rescue like this!”

30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to even higher positions in the province of Babylon.

Practical Application
            Let me give you some practical wisdom from Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego's story that you can use is your life starting right now.  First of all, build your faith in Christ – now. The time to build trust is not when you’re about to be thrown in the furnace!  God will hear you at anytime you call, but you're going to need all the help you can get.  How much comfort and wisdom and courage and strength will you miss out on if you wait until the last minute to cry out for help. In the moment of distress, you will already have your hands full dealing with trouble.  Now, now is the time--while you are clear-headed and can plan ahead--to build the faith you will need to face the problems that lie ahead (and problems lie ahead for everyone.  We all will face them at some point.).  So build your spiritual muscles know so you will have the resource readily available when you need it.
            Second, know your core values.  When I was a child, there was a country song the went: “You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything…”  Now that makes a lot of sense to me.  Do you know what's really important to you?  Do you know what you'd be willing to die for?  You need to know that so you can stand firm if ever your core values are challenged.  On what do you base your core values?  As for me, I know am a citizen of Heaven.  My faith and what I believe is built on the Word of God in the Bible, the voice of the Holy Spirit in my heart, and the tradition of the Holy Catholic Church.  These have guided God's people for thousands of years and they are a firm foundation that will not fail.  One what do you base your core values?
            Third, stand firm in your convictions.  Ask the Lord to give you strength and courage to stand for what you know is right.  Your stand is a great witness to the power, sovereignty, and glory of God.  It is could be the greatest testimony you every give (or your greatest shame if you fail).
            And finally, always remember: When you are afraid, God is with you.  God is especially there with us whenever we stand for what is truly right.  We see this in Daniel and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  We see it in the New Testament through the lives of the disciples and martyrs like Stephen.  We've seen it throughout history.  When we are afraid because we're trying to do the right thing, God is truly with us.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Silly Love Songs 1 - Steadfast & Unchanging

We all want to feel loved.  And we want to love others.  That’s the way God made us to be.  From the very beginning in Genesis, there was love.  God created us in love and for love.  God created people as male and female, and designed us to yearn for love—between people and between people and God.  And in the beginning, the love we had in our hearts was perfect.
            But then sin entered our hearts and the world and messed everything up.  Now, so often, love is misunderstood.  Love is the subject of so many songs because it is a central yearning in our hearts, but we rarely really understand the love we sing about.  And our misunderstandings about love lead suffering, and hurt, and pain at the deepest levels.  Love is sometimes a tool to use and abuse one another.  It can even become an idol; it is an idol to so many (for an idol is anything we look to for fulfillment in ways that only God can fulfill us).
Love comes in many forms.  Obviously, there is the love between a man and a woman, a husband and wife.  But there is also the love between a parent and a child, the love of family, the love between friends, and even the love for our pets.  All love has its roots in God’s love of us.  So to get back to wholesome, healthy love—in all kinds of relationships—we must look to the love of God as our model.
Maybe silly love songs appeal to us because they tap into a primal hunger and express the way we often feel when we “fall in love.”  God designed us to feel a strong, unexplainable attraction when we meet someone who might be “the one.”  Our feelings can be so strong, they can even over-ride our reason and drive us to step outside out comfort zone to connect with someone and forge an incredibly strong bond that will hopefully survive the inevitable wear and tear life will bring our way.  Love songs capture the way we feel.  We sing:

“Ain’t no mountain high enough!  Ain’t no valley low enough!  Ain’t no river wide enough!  To keep me from getin’ to you baby.”  ("Ain't No Mountain High Enough" by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell)

Boy that sounds good, and it’s the way we feel.  But, actually, there are mountains, rivers, and other obstacles that can keep us from getting to our baby.  The only One who can sing those lyrics truthfully is God.  There is nothing that can keep God from getting to us.  He has overcome every obstacle to be with you—even conquering sin, death, and the grave by dying on the cross.  Bon Jovi sang, “I’d die for you! I’d cry for you! If it came right down to me and you!  You know it’s true!  Baby I’d die for you!”  How many boyfriends and husbands have promised that?  How many have actually done it?  Friends, Jesus Christ did it for you.
So as we go through this series of 3 sermons together, I invite you to think about all your
favorites love songs and really think about the lyrics.  Are they inspiring?  Are they silly?  Are they even practical (from a human perspective)?  More important, look to God and consider the amazing love He has for you.  Divine love is greater than the love any human can express.  What is the nature of God’s love for you?
            To begin our journey, let's look at one of the famous love stories in our Bible—the story Jacob and Rachel (and it also includes the sad story of Leah).  The full story is encompasses all of Genesis 29 & 30 and continues on for several more chapters.  Let em just share the key verse and then I'll summarize the story.  Genesis 29:20 – "So Jacob worked seven years to pay for Rachel. But his love for her was so strong that it seemed to him but a few days. "

The Story of Jacob & Rachel
            There was a man named Jacob who had a twin brother named Esau.  Jacob was his mother's favorite, but Esau was his father's.  Jacob was a manipulator and a schemer.  With his mother's help, Jacob cheated his brother out of his inheritance and his father's blessing.  Esau was so mad, he vowed to kill Jacob.  So, Jacob fled from home to his uncle's house in a far away village.  
            When he arrived, Jacob noticed a beautiful woman tending a flock of sheep.  Her name was Rachel.  Jacob was so smitten with Rachel, he was like Joe Cocker singing, "You are so beatiful to me!  Can't you see!  You're everything I hoped for!  You're everything I need!"
            Now ladies, I want you to notice something.  Rachel had been tending a flock of sheep all day.  I'm sure she was sweaty and tired and didn't feel attractive at all.  Yet Jacob thought she was hot stuff!  You see, that's how God designed us.  We were designed to find you attractive.  And sometimes, even when you feel you're in your least attractive state, you might be most attractive to us.  
            Well, for Jacob, it was love at first sight.  Is that even a real thing--"love at first sight"?  Well, I believe there's such a thing as attraction at first sight.  But attraction is not the same as love.  Love is a much deeper virtue than attraction.  It's not something that happens to you by accident or because of the chemicals and hormones that run through you viens.  It may be that you are immediately attracted to someone and then that leads you to develop a relationship with them that becomes deep over time and leads to to love.  But love at first sight is an overstatement that really misuses the term love (at least in the sense we are talking about in this blog).
            At any rate, Jacob was immediately attracted to Rachel and wanted her.  The Bible says she had a beautiful figure and a lovely face and Jacob wanted her.  When the opportunity presented itself, Jacob promised to work for Rachel's father, Laben, seven years in order that he might marry Rachel.  He would do anything for Rachel.  He was like Percy Sledge or Michael Bolton singing, "When a man loves a woman!"
            Anyway, Jacob worked seven years for Laben and then said, “Now give me my wife so I can sleep with her.”  (Not exactly the most romantic thing to say, but at least he was honest!)  But then Jacob, the schemer and trickster, had one pulled over on him.  Instead of bring Rachel to marry Jacob, Laben dressed her older sister, Leah, up and brought her!  And I guess she had on a pretty heavy dress and veil and was covered from head to toe and Jacob couldn't really see her and so Jacob married Leah instead of Rachel!  Now, I can understand how he might not have been able to tell at the wedding ceremony, but you know what usually happens after the wedding and it doesn't usually involve as many clothes.  And somehow, Jacob still didn't realize it wasn't Rachel in the bed with him until morning.  I guess love really is blind!  (Or else he was just really, really drunk.)
            Well, Jacobs is pretty upset with Laben, as you can imagine, and Laben makes up some cockamany story about having to marry off his oldest daughter before the younger one.  But Laben says he will give Rachel on credit if Jacob works another 7 years for him.  And since Jacob wants Rachel so bad, he agrees.  I guess he might of been like Lionel Richie singing, "Your once, twice, three times a lady!"  (Well maybe not three times, but definitely twice!)  Jacob sort of got a 2 for one special on wives that year.

Poor, Unloved Leah
            Now we usually focus on Jacob and Rachel in the story, but what about poor, unloved Leah?  The Bible describes Leah as being kind of plain--says she didn't have the same sparkle in her eye.  I don't know if that meant she was just sort of plain or what.  But how do you think Leah must have felt to be made to feel ugly by her own father.  What kind of poor relationship did Rachel and her father have they he didn't even think she would ever be able to get a husband on her own--that Laben would have to trick some man into marrying her?  That's got to hurt.  Every woman wants to feel loved and special--and that all starts with their father.  But Rachel's father apparently never told her, or made her feel special or loved.  
            And perhaps Leah sees that this shame of a marriage with Jacob is her one chance.  Mayne Jacob will love her and make her feel worthwhile.  And even though she's not as "pretty" as Rachel, Leah is able to bear children while Rachel remained barren.  Leah and Rachel competed for Jacob's love; Rachel had the beauty and Jacob's attention, but Leah was ding everything she could to get him to look at her and love her instead.  Maybe Leah was sort of like Taylor Swift singing, “She wears shorts skirts. I wear t-shirts. She’s cheer captain and I’m on the bleachers. Dreaming bout the day you will wake up and find that what you’re| looking for has been here the whole time. If you could see that I’m the one who understand you; been here all the time so why can’t you see, you belong with me.” (“You Belong to Me” by Taylor Swift)
            Here's the thing, Leah had a huge void in her life--probably there from childhood by the way her father treated her.  And Leah tried to fill the void of love in her life with Jacob.  And she thought bearing him children would do the trick, but it never worked.  You can see this playing out through the children she bore and what she said at each birth.  Leah bore three children trying to earn Jacob’s love.  The first was Reuban and Leah said, “The Lord has noticed my misery, and now my husband will love me.”  But it didn't work. Leah still wasn't satisfied.  So she bore a second son and named him Simeon saying, “The Lord heard that I was unloved and has given me another son.”  Still not satisfied, Leah had a third son and named him Levi saying, “Surely this time my husband will feel affection for me, since I have given him three sons!”
            Unfortunately, Jacob never woke up and loved Leah--at least not in the way she wanted in order to fill the void deep in her soul. So finally, Leah stopped looking for Jacob to complete her.  I think she finally realized only God could do that.  I think it because of what she said when she gave birth to her fourth child.  This time she named him Judah and said, “Now I will praise the Lord!” And then she stopped having children.
            God is the only one who can truly make us whole.  No man, no woman, can do that for you.  And you cannot really be satisfied with your mate if you are expecting them to be god for you.  Only God can be God.  It is the love of God that we all need in our lives.  And when we have it, we don't need our spouse or anyone else to fill the deep longing within our soul.  Then we are free to have truly healthy human relationships with everything in proper perspective.

God’s Love is Steadfast & Unchanging
            Jacob’s love caused him to worked 14 years for Rachel, but God’s love is so steadfast and unchanging He’s worked since the beginning of creation to win your love. God, in Jesus Christ, went all the way to the cross for you. And God isn’t going to give up searching for you and inviting you to receive His love and love Him back. Like singer Rick Astly, He’s “Never gonna give you up. Never gonna let you down. Never gonna run around and desert you. Never gonna make you cry. Never gonna say goodbye. Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you.” (“Never Gonn Give You Up”)
God’s Love is Emotional, but more…
            Love is more than how the other person makes us feel. Love is what we do for others.  The emotions may drive us initially, but what happens when the emotions wear off? We have to make a choice to stay committed.  Captain and Tennille sang:
“Love, Love will keep us together. 
Think of me babe, whenever 
some sweet-talking girl comes along, singing her song
Don't mess around, you've just got to be strong, just stop
'Cause I really love you, stop
I'll be thinking of you
Look in my heart and let love keep us together”

The song was “Love Will Keep Us Together.” Unfortunately, love didn’t keep Captain and Tennille together. They divorced on January 16, 2014.
            Love is more than a song or a feeling. Love is a choice we make. It’s a deliberate act, a willful decision to give selflessly for another. Feelings of love will come and go and come back again, but love never ends. 
            There are days we are so in love with our kids. We just want to be with them and hug them and care for them and do for them.  Then, there are days we just want to strangle them to death and start over with a new lot! (Not really, but you get my point!) We choose to love our kids even when we don’t feel like it.  The same is true of our spouse (or our friends or our family—any form of real love).
            God’s steadfast and unchanging love is the perfect model for how we are to love.  It doesn’t depend on whether we deserve it or even try to love Him back.  Romans 5:8 say, “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” A sinner is someone who has completely turned their back on God. So in other words, when God was dead to us, He still lived for us and loved us enough to die for us.

            There is a love song I bet you’ve heard from childhood.  Maybe we dismiss it now it without even really thinking about the meaning, because we've heard it so many times.  But today, really consider the words.  And think about what Jesus is saying to you.  What do you want to say to Him?

Jesus Loves Me

Jesus loves me! This I know,
For the Bible tells me so;
Little ones to Him belong;
They are weak, but He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.

Jesus loves me! This I know,
As He loved so long ago,
Taking children on His knee,
Saying, “Let them come to Me.”

Jesus loves me still today,
Walking with me on my way,
Wanting as a friend to give
Light and love to all who live.

Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.

Jesus loves me! He who died
Heaven’s gate to open wide;
He will wash away my sin,
Let His little child come in.

Jesus loves me! He will stay
Close beside me all the way;
Thou hast bled and died for me,
I will henceforth live for Thee.

Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.