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Showing posts with label Giving. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Giving. Show all posts

Monday, October 30, 2023

Are You Acting Like a Hypocrite?

I think it’s obvious to everyone who knows us, that my family loves dressing up for Halloween.  Although, if I’m being totally transparent, after so many years of doing it—and with the expectation every year that we must have a great costume because it’s expected—the pressure of having a great costume is a bit stressful every year.  And with 2 kids now grown and out of the house, and Abigail being a full-fledged teenager who may or may not want to be part of the family tradition, some of the joy we had in the past has gone out of


Still, we do love to dress up.  The hardest part is coming up with an idea—something that’s new and different, that we haven’t seen overdone, but also something people will recognize.  And something that’s doable (because we like to make our own costumes as much as possible.

Once we find the right idea, we may even research the characters a little bit to understand them.
A few years ago when we dressed up as Popeye and Olive Oil, we spent several evenings together watching old cartoons of Popeye. And I got curious:  why did Popeye love spinach so much? I found out the original cartoon’s creator wanted to encourage kids to eat healthier.  So, he made spinach the miraculous source of Popeye's super-stregnth. It worked. Some data shows kids consumption of spinach increased by as ⅓ at the cartoon’s most popular period.

Of course, we all know the characters we dress up as during Halloween are just make-believe. No matter how much we delve into it, when we take off the masks we become ourselves again.
Halloween is just pretend.

But what we do during Halloween—pretending to be someone else for the night—is a great example of a mystery of human behavior Jesus warned about often.  Jesus warned His followers not to be like the hypocrites. 

You know what a hypocrite is.  It’s become a churchy word.  Sometimes we use it in the church and sometimes people outside the church like to call people who go to church hypocrites.  In Jesus day, hypocrite was a Greek word that came from the Greek culture.  In Greece, people loved to watch plays in the theater.  And the actors in the play were known as hypocrites.

The actors in the plays would put on costumes or masks and pretend to be character from Greek mythology.  And then the actors would act out the great mythological stories of Greece.  Hypocrites pretended to be other people in order to tell the story.  That’s fine if you are an actor in a play (or if you’re dressing up for Halloween), but we shouldn’t be like hypocrites in real life. 

This is a theme Jesus touches on again and again throughout the 6th chapter of Matthew in His Sermon on the Mount.  Today, we read Matthew 6:1-4.

Matthew 6:1-4
“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.

When You Give...
The people of Jesus’ day, as do Christians today, inherently knew that righteous people do good deeds—including giving charity to people in need.  Throughout the Old Testament, God instructed people to give to help people in need. 

And it’s important to point out, Jesus assumed His followers would give to the needy.  Jesus didn’t say, “If you give to the needy…”  He said, “When you give to the needy…”

Tooting Your Own Horn
Important and wealthy people of Jesus day—both Romans and Jews in Israel—made big displays of when they gave money to the poor.  Roman officials would often erect monuments to commemorate their giving.  One Roman official I learned about recently had a record of all the money he had given and all good deeds he had done carved onto a wall in the city where he governed.  The record of his “righteousness” is still preserved in ancient ruins to this day.

Sometimes, wealthy religious leaders in Israel would stand on a street corner and have trumpets blown to get everyone’s attention while they handed our charity to the poor.  Everyone in the neighborhood would hear the trumpets and know that person was a righteous and generous person.

But Jesus said, “Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven.”  It feels good to be admired by others.  And a fact of life in our modern world is:  Sometimes you do have to toot your own horn.  In order to succeed as a business or and individual, you have to "market" yourself.

If you’ve ever made a resume in order to get a job, if you’ve ever gone to a job interview, you know you have to show your potential employer that you are worthy of the position.  You may be competing against other candidates and you have to show your next boss that you’re the best choice for the job.  So you sort of have to "toot your own horn" in some sense in some situations.  There's nothing wrong with that.  And Jesus also said, "Let your good deeds shine forth before people so they will glorify your Father in Heaven." (See Matthew 5:16).  

What Jesus is saying in Matthew chapter 6 is:  don’t pretend you’re someone you’re not.  Don’t pretend to be righteous and holy like the religious leaders on the street corners blowing horns so every one will look at them and think, “Now there is a truly godly, righteous person.  You know God them!  Look how good they are!”

You see the Pharisee and Sadducees, the religious leaders in Israel where Jesus lived, were hypocrites.  They pretended to be righteous.  They did such a good job of acting, they fooled everyone.  People believed they were truly holy and righteous.  They looked good on the outside, but they were rotten and evil on the inside.  They cared more about what people thought of them than what God thought.  Their charitable giving was done to win people’s favor.  This helped them stay in power and protected their positions of authority and their income.

In fact, when the Son of God, Jesus, came to the religious leaders of Israel, they rejected Him.  They didn’t care about God.  They didn’t care about the people. They only cared about themselves.

What was worse, not only did they lie to the people and make them believe they were holy, they also lied to themselves and believed their own lie.  They believed they were holy and God must love them more than anyone else.  They were so blind the didn't recognize when the Son of God Himself came to them.  They crucified Jesus.

Don’t Lie to Yourself
We have to be very careful, because we want to believe we are good people who are holy.  We want to believe we deserve God’s blessings.  We should know better, because if we look inside our hearts, we can easily see we are often selfish and petty and sinful.  Even so, we want to believe we deserve some kind of divine reward because we’re so good.

When we believe our own lies, when we believe we are good, we are blinded to our desperate need of God’s salvation and merciful grace.  Jesus wants us to do good and give to the needy to glorify God, but Jesus doesn’t want these habits to be a way we lie to ourselves and others.

Be very careful, because when you make a big show of doing good or giving to the needy, you could become like an actor (a hypocrite) who is putting on a show, pretending to be good.  Impurity in your heart can sneak in and poison you’re motives to where you don’t even care about the person you’re helping.  You’re just show off for others to see—wearing a mask, pretending to be someone you’re not.

Protecting Yourself From Yourself
Since we are prone to believe our own lies that we are good and deserve God’s favor and people should look up to us, we need a way to protect ourselves from ourselves.  First of all, realize you are not good.  Realize you are sinner who desperately needs God’s grace.  You don’t deserve anything from God.  Every good blessing you have received is a gift given by God in spite of your sin.

Second, give anonymously sometimes.  Now, I’m not saying you always have to give anonymously.  It’s ok to get a receipt of your charitable giving.  It's even ok to get take credit for which you're eligible. But don’t make a habit of making a big show of your giving.  Make sure your giving for the right reasons—to help the needy, to show compassion, and to glorify God, not in order to show how awesome you are.  Do it for the glory of God and to help people in need.  And I challenge you to at least sometimes (maybe even often) to give absolutely anonymously.  As Jesus said, “don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.   

Monday, August 14, 2023

What is Consecration?

Probably one of the best known verses of Scripture in the whole Bible—memorized by people all over the world—is John 3:16. Say it with me.

John 3:16 (NIV)
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Jesus Himself, the one and only Son of God, spoke these beautiful words that summarize His mission.  If there was one verse that could sum up the whole story of the Bible, John 3:16 would probably do it best.  But most don’t know the full historical context of this verse.  It is grounded in the whole story of Scripture, going all the way back through Genesis.

In the wild and disturbing story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22, God commands Abraham to sacrifice his one and only son, Isaac, on Mount Mariah.  Then, as Abraham’s knife is poised to slaughter his son, God stops Abraham and provides a ram to take Isaac’s place. 

In Exodus, we find the Israelites living in slavery in Egypt.  God sends Moses to deliver them, but Pharaoh refuses to let them go.  So God sends 10 plagues to torture the Egyptians and convince them to let God’s people go.  The was blood and frogs and gnats and flies.  All of Egypt’s livestock died.  Then there was boils, hail, locusts, and darkness.  And do you remember the last plague?  It was the most terrible of all…  Every firstborn son not sheltered in a home marked by the blood of a Passover lamb died in a single night.  Every male offspring, from the livestock to the servants and all the way up to Pharoah’s own son, died in that single night.  It was a costly sacrifice brought on by the hard hearted, stubborn Pharoah who would not submit to the God of Israel and let the Israelites go free.

A Day to Remember
It was a day to remember forever.  God does not take death lightly--even the death of those who would be called His enemies.  Jesus said Our Heavenly Father knows and cares if even a single sparrow dies.  How much more when the entire nation of Egypt—every family—loses their first born sons.  It’s devastating.  But that was the cost of that nation’s sin and the cost of Israel’s freedom.

So God wanted His people in Israel to remember that day forever.  He gave them a special way to remember and honor God for saving them. We read about it in Exodus 13:1-5

Exodus 13:1-5
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Dedicate to me every firstborn among the Israelites. The first offspring to be born, of both humans and animals, belongs to me.”

So Moses said to the people, “This is a day to remember forever—the day you left Egypt, the place of your slavery. Today the Lord has brought you out by the power of his mighty hand. (Remember, eat no food containing yeast.) On this day in early spring, in the month of Abib, you have been set free. You must celebrate this event in this month each year after the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Hivites, and Jebusites. (He swore to your ancestors that he would give you this land—a land flowing with milk and honey.)

This passage is the institution of the Passover Feast.  These instructions were given to the Israelites over 3,000 years ago and they have been celebrated by the Hebrew people every year since then as a way to honor God and thank Him for delivering them from slavery in Egypt.  It was a costly deliverance—the death of every Egyptian first born son.  In recognition, the Hebrew people were to eat a special Passover meal and dedicate back to God the first-born male of every Israelite family—both humans and animals.

The Pagan cultures all around Israel were known to practice human sacrifice.  Whereas God stopped Abraham and would not allow Abraham to actually sacrifice his son, Isaac, other non-Israelite people often did sacrifice their first-born sons (as well as other children).  Child/human sacrifice is one of the reasons the Bible says God drove other nations out of the Promised Land and gave it to the Israelites instead.  Those other nations sacrificed their children, thinking it would please and manipulate their gods into helping them.  But the one true God of the Bible abhors human sacrifice. He forbids anyone to do it.  And if you think how people made these evil sacrifice thinking they could manipulate their gods with them, you get an even deeper sense of how evil they are.  They do not trust God and think they should and can perform some type of magic to control their gods.  But the one true God is sovereign and we cannot and should not try to control Him--especially by taking the life of a child or any other person.

So God didn’t ask the Israelites to actually place their children on the Temple altar and sacrifice them.  Rather, God instructed them to “dedicate” or consecrate them to God.  Since God had purchased the Israelites at the cost of every first born son of Egypt, now the Israelites honored God by consecrating to Him their firstborn sons.

Consecrate is a special word for a special action.  To consecrate means to make or declare something sacred—dedicated formally to a religious or divine purpose.

When something is consecrated, it is dedicated for a holy purpose.  For instance, our altar is consecrated for use in religious services in our church.  It would be out of place to use this altar for just any old purpose.  Right?  We wouldn’t take it home and use it as a breakfast table in our house.  That would be disrespectful and sacrilegious.  That’s not what it was made for; it has been dedicated to be used for Christian worship services.  The only meal we place upon this table is a sacred meal—Holy Communion—dedicated to remember Jesus.  That is what it means to consecrate something.  It is to set it apart for God’s divine purpsoses.

We are here today on Consecration Sunday.  It is a day set aside to consecrate ourselves and our gifts to God for the coming year.  I have asked each of you to complete a Stewardship Survey and to indicate how you will serve God with your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness.  You have had time to prayerfully consider what you will dedicate to the Lord.  We have not required you to dedicate any certain amount.  I’ve instructed you over the last several weeks about the biblical standards, but what you choose to give is a matter of prayer between you and God.  And today you have a chance to consecrate what you have chosen to give. 

In a moment, I will ask each of you to come forward and lay your survey upon the altar.  What you lay upon the altar, you consecrate to God.  It is set apart as holy for the Lord.  Therefore, it should only be used for His glory.  You shouldn’t take it back to use however you please.  It is for God.

John 3:16
But now we come back to John 3:16—that verse we love so much because it makes God’s Word in the Bible so simple.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Who is it who gave?  It is God.

What did He give?  Jesus, His one and only son.

Who did God give Jesus for?  For the whole world.  That includes you and me.

Why did God give us Jesus? 
So that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Just like the Israelites in Exodus, we have been delivered from slavery.
But our slavery wasn’t to a Pharoah in Egypt.  Our slavery was to sin and death.
Our sin separates us from God and corrupts our whole world.  We are spiritually dead.
But, praise God, through Jesus we can be delivered from our slavery.
When we repent of our sin and trust Jesus to save, He does and we have freedom and eternal life.

Won’t you repent and turn to Jesus today?  Ask Jesus to forgive you.  Trust Him to save you.
Dedicate your life to serve Him as Lord.  Please join me in the Wesley Covenant Prayer as a way to consecrate ourselves to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Closing – Wesley Covenant Prayer
“I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.”

Monday, August 7, 2023

The Faithful Servant

I’m very proud of all my children.  They’re all responsible, dependable, trustworthy, and mature. Abigail has followed right along in the footsteps of her older siblings.  Now that she is 16 and can drive herself wherever she needs to go—to work, to school—I had no fear that we could trust her to take care of herself while Kelly and I were out of town last week.  She stayed home by herself and I wasn’t worried she would get into trouble, or be unsafe, or throw a wild party while we were gone.  She could be trusted to do good, to be safe, and also to take care of the house and all our pets while we were gone.

Isn’t it nice to have someone you can trust?  Isn’t it nice to be able to trust your children? Or, if you ask someone to to house sit for you while you are out of town, isn’t it nice to know you have someone there you can trust watching over everything--your pets, your plants.

But what if you hired a house sitter and paid them a good wage to take care of your home and then you came back and found your place was trashed because the house sitter threw a big party and tore up the place.  And on top of it all, you dog starved to death because of the sitter’s neglect. How would that make you feel?  What would you do?

Well, that brings us to the Scripture for today’s message – Jesus’ Parable of the Faithful Servant.

Luke 12:42-46
“A faithful, sensible servant is one to whom the master can give the responsibility of managing his other household servants and feeding them. 43 If the master returns and finds that the servant has done a good job, there will be a reward. 44 I tell you the truth, the master will put that servant in charge of all he owns. 45 But what if the servant thinks, ‘My master won’t be back for a while,’ and he begins beating the other servants, partying, and getting drunk? 46 The master will return unannounced and unexpected, and he will cut the servant in pieces and banish him with the unfaithful.

The Parable
Jesus was a masterful storyteller.  He taught important spiritual lessons with parables.  The characters and situations in His parables symbolize spiritual truths.  Let explain this parable.

The Master in the story represents Jesus, the Lord of all creation.  The Master is gone away on a trip just as Jesus has gone to be in Heaven.  While the Master (Jesus) is away, He has left the servant in charge of the entire household.  So, we are in this story with Jesus.  Who are is servant?  You are the servant in the story.  You have been left in charge of a household while Jesus is away from earth, in Heaven.

The Household represents those things for which you are responsible in this life.  What is that?   Your time. Your talent. Your money.  Your relationships.  Your witness and all of the things under your care.

Now, we usually assume we own our time, our talent, our money, etc. and we can choose to do with them whatever we please.  But Jesus uses this parable to say:  You are the Master’s servant.  You are Jesus' servant.  And household doesn’t belong to the servant.  All these things you “own” aren’t really yours.  The servant is in charge while the Master is away, but it’s not the servant’s household.  It all still belongs to the Master.

Another word for servant is steward.  Steward is where we get the ward, stewardship.  A steward is one who manages something important on behalf of a master.  We are all stewards of that which Jesus has entrusted to us and how we manage is our stewardship.  And that’s the way we should think about everything in our life.  How can I use my house to serve Jesus?  How can I use my car to serve Jesus?  How can I use my employment to serve the Lord?  How can I use my money to serve God?  How can I use my whole life and everything in it to serve Jesus, the Master (because these things don’t really belong to me)?

The Master (Jesus) left you in charge of some important things until He returns.  Jesus is coming back one day.  He promised He would.  And we don’t know when He’s coming, but He’ll come back when you least expect it.

Eternal Reward
Jesus says if the Master finds a servant has been faithful in His absence, that servant will get a reward.  The Master will put that servant in charge of everything He owns.  Now think of that.  The things we enjoy on earth are all temporary.  They wear out on earth and we can’t take them with us when we die.  But if we are faithful with the things God gives us in this life, He will out us in charge of everything He owns in Eternity.  Think of all Jesus owns…

Cut to Pieces and Banished
Now Jesus, who we usually see as kind and gently and merciful (because He is) also give a stern warning in His parable.  He warns what will happen to an unfaithful servant.  Verse 46, “He will cut the servant in pieces and banish him with the unfaithful.”  Notice it says, he will cut the servant in pieces and banish him with the unfaithful.
How do you banish someone who has already been cut to pieces?  Apparently, when the Master returns, the rewards and punishments will be eternal.  So you can be cut into pieces and then suffer the pain and terror of that in eternal banishment.

That sound awful!  But if you think back to how you would feel if you hired someone to take care of your house while you were out of town and they neglected it and killed you pets and destroyed your home with a wild party, you may understand the anger of the Master.  And we’re not talking about a mere house.  We are talking about a world and people’s lives. 

Before Jesus left His disciples, He shared a special meal with them.  In this sacred meal, He showed them what He was doing for them and He told them to share this meal regularly to remember Him.

As we share this sacred meal of Holy Communion, remember Jesus.  Remember that He is Lord and you are His servant.  He has left you in charge of some things.  What are you doing them?

Take some time today to pray over the things Jesus has left in your care.  Think about all the resources He has given you:  your time, your talent, your money, your witness.  How are you using all the things God has given you for His glory?

Monday, July 31, 2023

Altar Your Life

Review and Introduction
Last Sunday, I shared about the Sermon on the Amount—about the amount we are supposed to offer to the church.  We talked about the tithe—the biblical standard of offering 10% of your income God through the church.  But we also learned that God doesn’t want your money; He wants your heart—all of you.  And the like the widow who gave all she had, we are called to give all we are and all we have to the Lord.  If you missed that sermon, I encourage you to go back and read the post from blog from last week after your read this one.  

Today, I want to talk about the altar, because the altar is the place we bring the gifts we offer to the Lord and how we approach the altar can alter your life (and even your eternity).  Have you ever stopped to consider what the altar really is?  Have you ever considered how placing our gifts upon the altar effects your life?

An altar is a raised area or table in a house of worship where people can honor God with offerings.  It is prominent in the Bible as "God's table," a sacred place for sacrifices and gifts offered up to God.[i]  Some times altars were very simple structures—a pile of rocks stacked to make a raised platform upon which a sacrifice could be burned.  Other times, altars were elaborate and ornate carves works of masonry art.  Whether crude or elaborate, the most important thing is these altars were specifically dedicated to the worship of God.  They were places of sacrifice, where gifts were offered to God.  These altars were a place to commune with God.

If you’ve ever been to a cook out and smelled the mouth-watering aroma of meat cooking over a fiery grill, you can imagine how it might smell to make a sacrifice to God on an altar.  The altar was a place where food was cooked and God came to enjoy a meal with His people.  

Eating with others is an intimate experience.  it seems so simple we take it for granted, but then you ask yourself, "Can trust this person to feed me?  Will their food be clean and safe?  Will the meat be cooed properly." Maybe you like you meet well done or very rare.  Will the person you eat with cook it right?  Will they be sanitary?  SO there is a great deal of trust involved with eating with others and the altar is the table where humanity and the Divine sit down to a meal together.

The very first time an altar is mentioned in the Bible is Genesis 8:20. God saved Noah and his family and 2 of every kind of animal during a flood that destroyed every living thing on earth.  And they also took some extra sacrificial animals on the Ark.  After the flood waters receded, Noah and his family and all the animals with him came out of the ark. Noah built an altar and thanked God for saving them by sacrificing the special animals on the altar.  Can you imagine how precious was that sacrifice?  All the other animals in the world were killed in the flood.  These handful of animals were the only ones left and Noah sacrificed some of them in faith and to thank God.

Later in Genesis, Abraham built several altars to honor and worship God throughout the Promised Land God was giving him.  One very disturbing story involving Abraham and an altar has God commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac on top of Mount Moriah.  "Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you." (Genesis 22:2) Abraham travels to the mountain and builds an altar.  He ties up his son and lays him on top of the altar.  Just as Abraham’s knife is poised to sacrifice his son, God stops him and provides a ram to take Isaac’s place.  Abraham sacrifices the ram and Isaac lives.  It’s a strange story and we could say much about it, but for today it drives home the nature of sacrifice in a powerful way.  A sacrifice is something we feel deeply.  A true sacrifice is when we give God something that is precious to us—not our left overs that we no longer want or need.  A sacrifice costs us something important.  

Christians today are called to a special kind of sacrificial living.  Listen to Romans 12:1-2.

Romans 12:1-2
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

A New Sacrifice: Once and For All Time
In the New Testament, we are called to a new form of sacrifice.  Christians no longer practice animal sacrifice.  The blood of lambs and goats and bulls cannot sufficiently cleanse our sin.  These religious sacrifices from the Old Testament were only a temporary means to allow people to commune with God.  However, God had a better plan.  God would atone for the whole world’s sins with one perfectly holy sacrifice.

John 3:16 – "For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life."

And so Jesus came down from heaven and took the form of a human being.  He lived a sinless, perfect life.  Jesus is the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world.  And though Jesus was innocent, He willingly gave His life on the cross of calvary. 

Romans 5:6-8 says, “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”

Christ’s sacrifice washes away our sin forever—all our past sins and all our future sins too.  And now we have the incredible privilege of communing with God at all times.  Sin no longer separates us from God if we follow Christ as our Lord.

Our Altar
We have an altar in my church.  It’s right down in the center of our worship space, because the altar is the center of our identity.  It’s who we are as Christians—God’s people.  We only have a few important symbols we usually keep on our altar.  First there is the cross.  Isn't that interesting, because the altar was traditionally the place where people sacrificed something to God.  Yet on our Christian altar, we have a cross that shows how God sacrificed His Son for us.  Christ gave His life on the cross to atone for our sin.  Now there is nothing to separate us from God.  We can come and commune with God in perfect peace and harmony.

Then there are the candles on our alar to remind us that Jesus is the light of the world.  His Holy Spirit is with us as we worship--illuminating our lives so we can see clearly.  And when we follow Christ, we shine brightly like a city on a hill that shows everyone the way to go--follow Christ!

And there is a Bible on our altar--the Word of God--the teaches us the specifics about who God is and what Jesus has done and what we are to do.  Our faith is not just a feeling; it is also something we can know and understand intellectually and it is something that does not change according to the shifting sands of a fickly society.  We stand upon the Holy Word of God that thousands of people sacrifice--some even loosing their lives--so that God's Truth could be preserved and passed down through the ages to us today.  Never take for granted the sacrifices made so we can read the Holy Bible today.

Finally, there are offering plates on our altar.  These are where we place out tithes and gifts--the financial contributions to honor God and obey His Word and support the work of His Church.  The 10% we place in the offering is just a token, a symbolic gesture of a much greater gift--our heart.  Christ gave Himself for us. He didn’t just give part of Himself. He gave Himself completely. He died and was buried. And He rose that we might have new and eternal life.  We are called to give ourselves completely. Not our left overs. Not just 10%. We are called to give ourselves completely. We are to be a “living sacrifice” laid upon the altar of God.

The altar is a place of sacrifice. Where we give our very best.  Where we give until it hurts—the definition of sacrifice.  The altar is where Abraham laid his son.  It's where God gave us His Son.  The altar is where we define our faith and identity.  As we offer our gifts to God upon this altar, we proclaim:  “This is whom I am.  It's how I put my money where my mouth is.”  The altar is where we dedicate our time saying:  “This is what I live for and what I’m willing to die for!”

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you.  Let them be a living and holy  sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable.  This is truly the way to worship him.

I invite you to find a church with an altar.  Go up and lay your hand on the corner of the altar and rededicate your life to be a living and holy sacrifice to God—the kind He will find acceptable.  Then spend some time in prayer and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you to be the living sacrifice God wants you to be.  


Monday, July 17, 2023

The Biggest Factor in Your Success or Failure

Today, I want to talk with you about something I believe is of utmost importance.  The subject of this blog is so important it determines the direction of your whole life and is probably the biggest contributing factor to your success or failure.

I want to talk with you about priorities.  A priority is value, goal, relationship, or cause of leading importance in your life.  It’s what you live for—what give focus to your life.  It’s a value that shapes how you live day to day, moment by moment—for better or worse.  A priority what has first claim on your time, energy, and resources.  And here’s the thing, a priority can either be consciously chosen or set by outside circumstances.  And whether you know it or not, your priorities determine what you achieve in life, your wins and losses, and even your eternal destiny.

I want to share a single verse to you from God’s Holy Word.  It spells out my number one priority.  It's what I live for and what I try to let direct everything I do.  This is why I became a minister.  It’s been the guiding force in how I have pastored every church I’ve served for the last 23 years.

Matthew 6:33

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

My Number One Priority
God is good.  I already knew God was calling me to be a minister before I finished college.  I did not go to college to be a pastor.  I was planning to be a textile engineer.  It was my plan.  But God had a different plan—a better plan. 

At first, I tried to ignore God’s plan.  My wife didn’t want to be married to a pastor and I didn’t want to give up a promising career in engineering either.  So God indulged me.  He allowed me to find a job do exactly what I thought I wanted to do.  My first job out of college was the director of quality assurance at a textile mill.  It's what I wanted to do, but I thought it would take me several years to work up to.  But I started in this role right out of college.  

The only catch was a one-hour commute to and from work every day.  It gave me a lot of time to think and pray.  And I soon found my 24-years-old self thinking:  Is this what my life is really going to be? I will get up everyday and go to work and help this company make the very best towels they can.  And I will come to the end of my life—however many years God gives me—and this is what it will all have been about. And it just felt deep down like something important was missing.  It felt meaningless.

So, I would work all day to make money for my family, and then come home and volunteer at church because that's what I really felt called to do; it felt like my real purpose and it gave meaning to my life.  But we all have the same 24 hours each day and I found working full-time and then volunteering at church and also being married and having a child was exhausting.  I was doing too many different things and not being effective or fulfilled at any of them.  And that’s when God’s Holy Spirit led me to Matthew 6:33.

It was as if God Himself were whispering Matthew 6:33 in my ear:  “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these other things will be given to you as well.”  And through a season of prayer and discernment, I realized I needed to reorder my priorities.

For me, Matthew 6:33 states my life’s purpose and my number one priority – Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.  From this priority, I began to reevaluate and reorder my life to make sure everything I do—as much can I help it—supports the top priority of my life.  The most dramatic effect was that I decided to leave my career in engineering and become a United Methodist pastor.  I officially answered God’s call to be a minister in 1999.  I was appointed as a student pastor in December of 2000 and it took me until 2008 to fully complete the process to become a fully ordained elder in 2008.  

All along the way, Matthew 6:33 has been my guiding priority—Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and He will take care of everything else.  And He has.  My life is not perfect.  My family is not either.  But, I have no regrets about answering God's call and no doubts that we aiming for the right target.  Sometimes we hit the bullseye and sometimes we miss.  But at least we’re pointing in the right direction.

What’s Are Your Priorities?
For the Christian—a person who follows Jesus Christ as Lord—His Kingdom should be our top priority.  But there are other priorities that guide our lives.  Some other priorities may be:  your family, your health, your career, your hobbies, making money, getting recognition, or many other things.

Most of us have more stuff competing for our attention than we know what to do with.  We rarely take time to evaluate our priorities.  We just let life happen.  Outside forces set priorities for us.  Your boss tells you what to do and you do it.  The company you work for has goals and you strive for them.  Marketing companies spend billions of dollars every year to tell us what we want so we’ll buy their stuff--and we buy it!  The social customs of our broken and fallen society shape what we think is important and we just accept it because, “Hey, it’s what everyone’s doing so it must be right.  Right?”

Often, we think our priorities are one thing, but our lives show they are something else.  Our actions don't match values.  So if we're honest, we realize it's we're lying to ourselves about what's most important.  

Here are some ways to determine what are your real priorities.

What do you think about?  What do you day dream about?  What do you plans for most?  What do you worry about?  These indicate your priorities because a priority is something you think about a lot.

How do you spend your money?  Taylor Swift was in the news a few months ago for the high price of her concert tickets.  Tickets were originally $49-$449, but because they sold out so fast, people started reselling them and the average resale cost was $1,605.  I don’t know if you would pay $1,000 to go to a concert or not, but what would you pay $1,000 for?  What would you pay $10,000 for?  The answer tells you a lot about what’s really important to you.  In fact, if you go through your bank statement for the last year and figure out what all you spent your money on, it will reveal a lot about your true priorities.  Jesus said in Matthew 6:21,  “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”  A priority is something you spend your money on.

How do you spend your time?  When I was in college, I had a lot more time than money.  That’s not to say I wasn’t busy.  It’s just that since money was scarce, time was something I had to give.  Now that I’m older and money is not as scarce, time seems much more valuable to me.  In fact, quite often I’d just assume pay a little extra for something if it could save me time, because time is more valuable to me now than money.  Does that make any sense?  Time valuable.  You can always make more money, but you can never make more time.  So is you are willing to invest your treasured time in something, it is a priority for you.  A priority is something you spend your time on.

Now I promised you at the beginning that this blog was of utmost importance.  That the subject of this message is so important it determines the direction of your whole life and is probably the biggest contributing factor to your success or failure.

If you feel like you just can win, you can’t succeed, no matter how hard you try, chances are you’re not focusing on your true priorities.  You want this , but you're doing that.  You need to either change your actions or change your priorities so they line up with each other.

If you feel unfulfilled, like your life has little meaning, like you’re just not making a difference, chances are there’s a problem in your priorities.  God has given us all a purpose and a reason for being.  God doesn’t make junk.  So if He made you, you’re here for a reason.  But if you’re living for something else—whether intentionally or unconsciously—you’re not going to feel very fulfilled.

But, there’s nothing more powerful than a person who knows their priorities and intentionally lives them out.  It’s like the difference between a soft glowing light bulb and a lazer cutting through metal.  A lazer is just light that’s extremely focused.

Most people just sort of wander through life with little or no direction or intention.  And they come to the end having made little difference or at least having less of an impact than they could have.  But if you figure out why you're here and you intentionally order your priorities to match your purpose, you will be like a lazer.  

Maybe you need to spend some time evaluating your priorities.  What do you think about? What do you spend your money on? What do you invest your time in?  Do these things line up with what you think are the priorities of your life?  

And what about what God thinks?  Are your priorities what you think God wants for you?  Do you think your priorities are more important and valuable than God’s?  He made you.  He designed you and gave you your abilities, quirks, and even your deep desires.  He did it on purpose.  So you can strive to fulfill His plan—a plan that fits you like a glove, or, you can chase your own selfish desires—which will always feel out of place somehow.