Where to We Begin?

Are you ready for Christmas? If you have finished your Christmas shopping raise your hands. If you’re only half finished. If you haven’t even begun. The stores are a mad house, aren’t they? People running here and there. Buying this and that. Traffic everywhere. Those huge parking lots that are always half empty are full.

How about the decorating? Everyone who has their tree raise your hands. Is it decorated? Who isn’t even going to bother with one? How many people have mailed their Christmas card? How many people have already wrapped their presents?

There is so much to do to get ready for Christmas. It is such a huge task. Where do you start? The tree, the gifts, the parties, the cards! Mark the Gospel writer, faced a similar dilemma. He had a huge task before him. God had inspired him to write the story of Jesus’ life.

Where do you begin to tell of Jesus’s story? There were the miracles, the teachings, the sayings, and the selfless acts of love. Matthew and Luke started with Jesus’ lineage and birth. John went all the way back before creation. But Mark began with John the Baptist.

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Mark the Gospel writer, faced a similar dilemma. He had a huge task before him. God had inspired him to write the story of Jesus’ life.

John was a voice in the wilderness crying, “Get ready for the King is coming.” He told the people to straighten out their lives so Christ could enter their hearts. People came from all over to hear him and responded.

Prostitutes, thieves, tax collectors and many others confessed their sins. They repented and vowed to turn from their wicked ways. John said, “I have baptized you with water. But the one who comes after me is so much greater. He will baptize you with the fire and Holy Spirit.”

We should begin where Mark begins his Gospel. By hearing a voice in the wilderness of Christmas lights, mall traffic, and rushing shoppers. A voice that cries, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”

John the Baptist calls us to prepare our hearts for Christ’s arrival. We should confess our sins and repent by turning from our sinful habits. We should straighten out our lives and get right with God.

If you have never repented of your sin, now is the time. If you have never asked Jesus into your heart, do it now. Just say, “Jesus I am a sinner, come into my heart and be my Lord.” You will be ready to celebrate Jesus’ birth. You will be ready to celebrate when he comes again.

You may have asked Jesus in your heart years ago. But God always has a new depth of mercy and grace for us to experience in Christ. Ask Jesus to open up new spiritual depths in your life. Dedicate yourself to serve Christ. Get ready to experience God’s love in new ways.

At this time of the year, we all have an opportunity to feel closer to God. Do you want to feel closer to God? Do you want to know the real Joy of Christmas? The Joy of Christmas is not found in the hustle and bustle of material preparations. It is the Joy of knowing that God has sent a Savior. That your Savior has come and is coming again.

Get your hearts in order. Admit your need for forgiveness and your need for a Savior. Confess and repent. Then you will be ready to celebrate. Your hearts will be ready. And he will cover you and fill you with his holy presence. And Christ’s spirit will live in you.

Come to Christ. Repent and confess. Ask God to show you a new depth of his mercy. The malls and stores are full of people preparing for Christmas. The churches should be crowded with joyful people.

If you have never given your life to Christ, do that now. Christmas will catch you unprepared and you miss its real Joy! If you’re Christian, then seek to know Christ in a deeper way in this Christmas season.

John had baptized the people and said, “I have baptized you with water but the one who comes after me will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” I am sure most of the people whom John baptized were moved. Many had just been freed from sins and they felt the peace of love.

If you make Jesus a priority in your Christmas preparations he will do more. He will fill your soul with his love and peace. You will know the Joy of Christmas in a way you have never known it before.

“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” He will come and fill your hearts with his love and joy. Shalom and Amen! 

Scripture: Mark 1:1-8

 

Let’s Do Something!

Jesus healed the sick, loved the unloved, ate with sinners and told them of God’s holiness. He brought good news and freedom to the poor and oppressed. And he died to bring forgiveness to the sinners of the world.

A Thankful Heart!

One day, Jesus was traveling along the border between Samaria and Galilee. We know the Jews and the Samaritans didn’t get along. From the Jewish view the Samaritans had forgotten their heritage. Their ancestors had stopped worshipping in Jerusalem and started worshipping in the mountains of the northern kingdom.

Their ancestors had stopped following the lines of David and had separated and formed their own country. They didn’t like being looked down on by the Jews. They had done the best trying to stay true to their faith.

So, this was a tricky country to go through. In this border 10 lepers came and stood off at a distance shouted, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Leprosy in that day was worse than a death sentence. Any number of skin diseases could be classified as leprosy.

Some were serious and others so irritating. Lepers were required to stay away from people and announce their presence at a distance. And people could not come in contact with them. So, they apparently had heard of Jesus and thought he could heal them.

Sometimes Jesus would really touch the untouchables of his day to heal them. But he said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” A leper could be confirmed “cured” if the priests inspected him and found no sign of leprosy. Then he could go through a cleansing ritual and return to his family and community.

It must have been a moment of shock and joy! They were cured! They could return to their families and community. So, they ran to the priests, but one turned back to Jesus and thank him. And he was a Samaritan. Now ten lepers were a mixture of Jews and Samaritans.

Their common trouble brought them together to help one another. When Jesus saw the man he said, “Weren’t there nine of you but only this Samaritan gave thanks. “Go, your faith has made you well.”

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Thanksgiving is about a diverse inclusive group of people gathering together out of a spirit of true thankfulness.

What was this man thinking? Think about it. The man who healed you said, ”Go to the priests.” And the healing happened on the way to the priests. What if going in the other direction to return to Jesus undid the healing? Go see the priests first, then you can find Jesus to thank him.

What was this Samaritan thinking? He was stunned by thankfulness that he did not think it through. He just ran to fall at Jesus’ feet and thank him. True thanksgiving springs up from within us. It makes us to praise God. It drives us to fall at Jesus’ feet and give thanks.

That is what Thanksgiving is all about. It is about a diverse inclusive group of people, different in many ways, gathering together out of a spirit of true thankfulness. The Puritans had suffered greatly in the New World. Many of them had died. But the Native Americans had shown them how to farm this new land. They were able to grow enough food over the next winter.

These Native American were different. They looked different, talked different, dressed different, and even worshipped different. I am sure the Native Americans were concerned at first. Here these noisy, smelly, oddly dressed people show up and begin clearing their hunting grounds. But they saw their difficulty and reached out to this group of religious refugees and helped them.

They gave thanks. They both faced a long New England winter and the harvest had provided for their needs. They might have questioned if they thanked the same God. They both gave thanks and feasted. So, the gratitude overflowed their hearts.

Are we thankful? Like the lepers we have been cleansed. Jesus has redeemed us and brought us into a relationship with God through him. And we can know true community and love.

Like the Pilgrims and Native Americans, God has provided for our needs. There is plenty of food and medicine to go around in this world. Most of us will probably eat too much this Thursday. So, we have grace and peace and love and community.

Are you thankful? If you are thankful and you know it - clap “your hands.” If you are thankful and you know it - praise the lord “Amen.” If you are thankful - then your face will surely show it. If you are truly thankful - then your heart will overflow with gratitude. My hope and prayer that all of you will experience that joy of gratitude this Thanksgiving. Shalom and Amen!

Scripture: Luke 17:11-19

 

Go Buy Some Oil Now! 

Can I borrow a cup of sugar? No one borrows a cup of sugar any more. But there are times we need to borrow something. Circumstances change sometimes, and we need to borrow a car or a TV or a telephone.

I remember the years Sione was still in seminary. We were living in an apartment. We didn’t have a cable TV. Well the Broncos game was on a cable channel. When Sione wanted to watch the game, he went to our next-door neighbor, who was also a seminary student and who had cable. So, he borrowed his living room for an afternoon to watch the game on his TV.

But there are some things you just can’t borrow because they can’t be exchanged from one person to another. You can’t borrow love. That is something which has to come from one’s own heart. You can’t borrow a good relationship. That is something you have to develop on your own. And you can’t borrow faith. No matter what the circumstances and no matter how much others would like to loan you these things they just cannot be loaned from one person to another.

Jesus’ disciples asked him, “When will we know that the end of the world is coming?” Jesus’ response goes on for two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel. About half way through Jesus tells a parable about borrowing. There was a girl who had asked 10 of her friends to be bridesmaids for her wedding. Five of these bridesmaids were wise and five were foolish. The five wise ones knew that the groom was coming from a long way and could arrive at any time of the day or night. So, they brought enough oil to see them through to the time when the groom would come.

The five foolish ones did not. They worried over their hair and their dresses and who they were going to dance with at the reception. But they didn’t think about the oil for their lamps. So, they didn’t bring enough.

It just happened that the groom was delayed. They all slept and at midnight the call came that the groom was at the gate of town and he would be there any minute. The foolish bridesmaids realized their lamps were running out so they turned to the wise ones and said, “Can we borrow a cup of oil?” The wise ones said, “If we loan you some, then we will both run out.” You had better run to the store and buy some before the groom gets here. So, they ran to get some and the groom arrived. By the time they got back the doors were closed and they were left out.

So, why couldn’t someone who was not in the wedding party go and get the oil for them? Why couldn’t they get into the party after the door had been closed? In the parables a wedding is a symbol of the coming of the Kingdom or the second coming. The groom is Jesus and the bride is the church. The bridesmaids here represent the individual believers who are waiting for Jesus to return and be finally untied with the church.

So, the oil is more than just oil. You see oil is what makes the flame burn in a lamp. Without oil there is no light to shine in the darkness. The oil represents faith, or the Holy Spirit, or a vital relationship with God. Whichever it is, it is that thing in a believer that makes the light of God shine in their lives through dark times. We don’t know when dark times are coming. We all need to have a strong faith relationship with God.

The problem is many Christians don’t develop a deep faith. They maintain a shallow supply of faith just enough to see them through the everyday troubles. Then a disaster strikes. Someone dies or an illness shocks them. When that happens, it is too late to develop faith. In the midst of a crisis it is the time we try to learn how to depend on God.

And you can’t borrow soul oil. You can get help from a Christian friend, but you can’t borrow their faith. A vital relationship with God is something you have to develop on your own. So, go buy some oil today! Start making daily conversations with God a part of your life. Study God’s word and deepen your faith. Humble yourself in service to others so that you can participate in God’s love.

Seek justice and love mercy and question your cherished assumptions so you can grow. You never know when darkness will come. If you want to be able to shine some light in the darkness of your life, get to know Jesus while it is still light. Then you will recognize Jesus when the darkness comes. Shalom and Amen!

Scripture: Matthew 25:1-13

Jesus is the Reformer!

John Wesley believed that Salvation is a gift from God. It is not something we achieve on our own. John realized that he was trying to make himself righteous and worthy of God’s love. While at a prayer service with Moravians, his heart was “strangely warmed.” He realized that God loved him and that was a gift of grace.

John rose at 4:00 am to study, pray, and preached to the crowds and helped the needy. He did them out of a love and thankfulness to God. He did not do it in as an attempt to save himself.

He taught people that being a Christian was not about being in church occasionally, but living the Christian life on a daily basis. He taught people to read their Bibles. He preached to the people and sent them out to preach in the streets and the fields. And in the end, he founded a new branch in the Protestant church: the Methodists.

In our Gospel lesson, the religious leaders and bodies of Jesus’ day had grown corrupt. The Scribes, Pharisees, and the religious leaders used religion for their own gain. They read and taught the Scriptures, but they violated the spirit of the law by their actions. Instead of helping people to live righteously, they placed burdens upon them. Instead of using their positions to teach others, they used them to gain benefit for themselves.

Jesus called attention to their hypocrisy. Jesus told his followers to listen to what the religious leaders had to say. After all they were following in the footsteps of Moses. But they should not follow the example of the religious leaders. They are to practice what they preach.

Jesus’ followers live by a different standard. The religious leaders lived by the standard that says that being looked up to by others is what is important. A standard which says you should look out for number 1 - be the king of the hill. But Jesus said, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves shall be exalted.”

It seems to me that the church has the same problems way back in Jesus’ day and today. People in positions of leadership allow the power they have to go to their heads. They seek the praise of people instead of trying to be servants of God. They accept bribes of cash for religious. They allow the comfort of their positions to calm them into laziness. It is all about using positions of power for their own benefits.

That still happens in the church today. People seek positions of leadership today in churches for reasons of personal gain sometimes. Perhaps they seek them for reasons of sincere faith. When they are in those positions they become corrupted. Instead of seeking to use their office to serve God - they seek to serve themselves.

I’m not talking just for bishops and denominational presidents and senior pastors of large congregations. Sometimes people want positions in the church so that they can be looked up to.

“Lay Leader” or “Chair” of this or that committee or “Sunday School Teacher” or any positions can be meaning either service or privilege. As Christians - don’t we all at times fall into the trap of exalting ourselves.

We like people admitting we are “Good Christians.” We can fall into that trap. We build sanctuaries to worship God in or is it to show off how nice our church is? We built steeples to hold up the cross for all to see or is it to say we have the tallest steeple in town? Or perhaps we do the right thing for the right reason initially, but then we puff out our chests and say “Look what I have done.”

Maybe the reformation began 2000 years ago when Jesus said “the first shall be last” and “those who humble themselves shall be exalted.” Maybe the reformation did not begin on a piece of paper nailed to a church door by Martin Luther, but in the hearts of believers. Maybe “Reformation Sunday” should not be about the history of the Protestant church. Maybe it is really about people like Luther and Wesley and you and me having our hearts strangely warmed by the love and grace of God.

When I thought about writing this sermon, I said I should end with where the church needs reforming today. I thought I would outline my 95 theses and nail them to the front door of the church. But I only have one thesis for reforming the church today and I didn’t even write it.

Jesus said, “whoever exalts themselves will be humbled, and whoever humbles themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12) That is where all reformation needs to begin. It begins in the hearts of believers who humble themselves to serve God and their neighbor. Would you care to start a reformation today? Then start here. (heart.) Shalom and Amen!

Scripture: Matthew 23:1-12

You Are Blessed!

Jesus gathered his disciples and began going around preaching that the Kingdom of Heaven is just around the corner. People came out to see and hear Jesus. So, Jesus got up and spoke to the people.

He said, “God blesses the poor in spirit.” The Kingdom belongs to them. God blesses those who are concerned about the state of the world. God will bless them. God blesses the gentle. They will receive all they have not demanded. God blesses those who deeply want to please God. God will satisfy them.

God blesses those who care for others. God will take care of them. God blesses those hearts are focused on God. They will know God! God blesses those who build bridges. They are doing God’s work. God blesses those who face troubles for doing right. They belong to God.

God blesses you when people talk bad about you, and undermine you, and punish you unjustly because of me. Don’t feel bad, but be glad when that happens. God will reward you. You’re in good company.

Jesus is speaking to the people who believe in him. He has been telling them that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. He is telling them what impact the Kingdom will have on them. They will be blessed!

Blessed by whom? By God! Because the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. God blesses those who are poor in spirit, and merciful and etc.

Those who are poor have no money or power to trust in, so they trust in God. Like the widow who put her trust in God. So, the “Poor in Spirit” are those who have put their full trust in God and not in Earthly things.

Blessed are those who mourn. This mourning could be for the state of the world. It may not be just for our own hurts but for injuries and pain experienced by others. Blessed are the meek. “Meek” does not mean they don’t stand up for themselves. It means that they are gentle.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” These are the people who truly seek to know God. “Blessed are the merciful.” God is merciful and these are those who seek to show mercy to others.

“Blessed are the pure in heart.” Those who are single-mindedly focused on God and the Kingdom. “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Those who try to bring people together instead of tearing them apart.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for honesty.” At times the coming of the reign of God in people’s lives leads to persecution. God blesses those who suffer such.

Because all good people are blessed. Then comes the last blessing. It sounds like an extension of the blessing, blessed are the persecuted. But it is different, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you.” It is not just unnamed people out there somewhere, but those looking into Jesus’ eyes are blessed.

Have you ever put your whole trust in God like someone who has no hope? You are blessed. Have you ever been concerned for the state of our society or the world? You are blessed. Have you ever put someone else’s needs before your own? You are blessed. Have you ever yearned to have a closer walk with Jesus? You are blessed.

Have you ever tried to show God’s forgiveness to others? You are blessed. Have you ever tried to live for God and God alone? You are blessed. Have you ever tried to bring people together? You are blessed. Have you ever been called names, mocked at or ignored because of your faith? You are blessed. The kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Jesus is here with us. And all who serve him are blessed.

Revelation is really a message of hope given to the church in the midst of persecution. As the early church was being persecuted, Revelation gave them hope. As Christians were being taken off to prison, or killed for practicing their faith - Revelation told them to stand firm because in the end good would prevail.

This is a message of hope in the midst of troubles. A message of hope no matter how bad things happened - God was with them.

We celebrate “All Saints Day.” The word “saint” means anyone who has been saved. If you have given your life to Christ then you are saved and you are a saint. The Kingdom of Heaven is closer than it has ever been. You are blessed! Shalom and Amen!

 

Scripture: Matthew 5:1-12

 

Give to God What Belongs To God!

Jesus taught his disciple to beware of the Pharisees. Their blindness led others astray. Instead of serving God, they served themselves. Instead of helping the needy, they fed off of orphans and widows.

So, the Pharisees decided to test Jesus. They came to him pretending to ask a sincere question of faith. “Should we pay taxes to the Romans?” The question was real. The Romans were unjust and their government enslaved people. Should God’s people support such a government?

Jesus saw right through their question was a trap. No matter what he did they would get him. If he said they should not pay taxes, they would go to the Romans and have him arrested for treason. If he said they should pay taxes, they could use that against him. They could say he did not have enough faith in God. He was more than a tax collector in religious clothing.

Jesus turned the question back on them. “Show me the coin used to pay the tax.” It was a Roman coin with the name and image of the emperor on it. So, Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to him, and give to God the things that are God’s.”

Everyone repeat after me: “Give to God - the things that are God’s.” The religious leaders were not giving God what belongs to God. They were serving themselves.

“Then what is due to God?” God is due one tenth of our income. In other words, we should tithe a tenth of the money we make to the church. That tenth or tithe belongs to God. Give to God the tithe that is God’s!

Give to God the things that are God’s. Did you know the Pharisees tithed? In fact, they were probably the best tithers among God’s people. Jesus said they even tithed mint and dill and cumin. (Matthew 23:23).

The Pharisees were good tithers. Jesus told them they still needed to give to God the things that are God’s. Jesus was not talking about tithing.

You should tithe, but ultimately this passage is not about something as meaningless as money. Coins and taxes are involved in the story, but in the end Jesus is talking about much more than money. If we are to give to God things that are God’s, we would give everything to God. I am not talking about money! I am talking about giving our entire lives to God.

Everybody take a deep breath with me: In… and out. God gave you that breath. Every single breath you take is a gift from God. Every breath we take is due to God. We should use every breath to serve God. We all woke up this morning, right? God gave us this day. If we give to God the things that are God’s, then this day should be devoted to serving God. When you wake up tomorrow, that day will be a gift from God and it should be given to God too.

Jesus says we should give to God the things that are God’s. Everything we do should be done for God. Our entire lives should be offered to God. Every breath and moment should be given to God. This is not about giving a tenth of your income to God. It is giving you entire life!

Stewardship is not about money. It is about giving your life to Christ. How much you pledge to the church next year will not change your standing before God. I don’t care if everybody in the church pledges to tithe or not. It would be nice though. What would really make me happy is if everyone in this church vowed to give to God every day and every breath to serve God. I assume that if we all did give ourselves totally to God, it would have an outcome on many things, including our offerings.

Christian stewardship is about recognizing everything we have is from God. We are called to use everything we have to serve God; our time and talents. Some churches ask congregants to turn in an estimate of the money they will give to the church and church will use those figures to create a budget for next year. That doesn’t matter. That is just a data. It is important how much money you give, but who you serve each day.

Jesus said “give to God the things that are God’s.” We have to give ourselves to God. Have you given your life to Christ? Have you pledged to live your life by Jesus’ example and with God’s help? If you haven’t, then forget about pledging or tithing or any of that stuff. That is not important for you. If you haven’t dedicated your life to following Christ, to living by his example, then do that today! If you have given your life to Christ, then dedicate everything you have to God’s service. Shalom and Amen!

God is So Good!

“God is great, God is good.” That is probably the first prayer that children have learned. It is a prayer that seems to stick with children. I remember one Sunday, Sione was doing a children’s sermon. The children were all sitting on the floor around him and, he gave them a little lesson. When he finished he said, ”Let’s say a prayer.” Before he said the prayer, a little girl blurted out: “God is great! God is good! Let us thank Him for our food. By His hands we all are fed. Give us Lord our daily bread.”

We find that story funny. It seems so out of place to say grace or return thanks during a worship service. That poor little girl didn’t know it wasn’t the time nor the place for a blessing. Or was it? That little girl had been taught well to give thanks to God. She had learned that God is so good and we should give thanks to God for the gifts. By giving thanks, she was expressing her love and gratitude and heartfelt faith in God.

That little girl had already learned a lesson that many adults haven’t learned. God gave his only Son Jesus to die for our sins on the cross. That’s a great gift of a good God. How do we thank God for it? Many times, we forget to make Jesus a part of our lives beyond worship. Sometimes we return thanks by being disobedient to the will of God.

People in Bible times were no different than us. They know that God is so good. They like us they had experienced the amazing Grace of God. Like us they had heard the testimony of God’s goodness. They had even seen God’s mighty works. The Psalmist who wrote Psalm 78 know of God’s greatness and God’s goodness.

The Psalmist wrote about how the children of Israel had seen the miracles of God in Egypt. How God had brought the plagues upon the Egyptians. And how God had preserved the Israelites from those plagues. The Psalmist also tells how God delivered them through the Red Sea from the hands of the Egyptians. They had seen the cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night. They knew God was great because of those miracles.

They also knew that God was good. God had been so good enough to hear their cry in slavery and deliver them from bondage in Egypt. God could have left them there in slavery. Instead God chose to agree them. God had given them good gifts. He gave them bread from heaven to nourish their bodies. And water form rock to refresh them.

They didn’t give thanks for their food! Instead they complained. They complained that they would thirst to death in the wilderness. They said they wanted some meat to eat. Instead of giving thanks they rebelled against God.  Psalmist said, “They did not keep God’s covenant, but refused to walk according to his law. They forgot what He had done, and the miracles that he had shown them.”

So, what did God do? Well, God is good! God could have destroyed them. God could have left them in the desert to die of hunger and thirst. Instead God continued to feed them and save them. Instead of destroying them God made them prosper and grow. Instead of wiping their name from the pages of history, God made them a great people who still exist.

This is the mercy of God. Despite the untruthfulness of the people of Israel and their rebellion, God continued to bless them. This is a proof of the kind of God we worship and serve. We serve a God who gives us all that we need. Even when we fail to give God the glory for those gifts, God is still merciful and giving. God’s goodness was greater than their badness.

People haven’t changed much since then. God has given us great gifts. We live in a country of riches. Even the poor in our country have it better than some people in other countries. America throws away more food each day that is needed to feed the hunger. We are so blessed with freedoms not people in other parts of the world.

As Christians, we have been blessed with gifts that are even greater. The greatest of these gifts is Jesus, who came and died for our sins. We have been granted with the gift of forgiveness. We have been given the holy presence of God’s Spirit to sustain and guide us. We have been given the testimony of the Bible and the witness to reveal God’s will to us.

Like the Israelites we have forgotten what God has done for us. We fail to confess God as Lord over everything. I know a woman who inherit a house from her husband. She said the house was Jesus’ house and he just let her live there. People thought she was crazy, but she was right. All we have, even our breath, is a gift from God and we should thank God.

So, what does God do? Does God choose to destroy us and leave us to our own sin? No, excuse my English, but God is “gooder” than that. And thank God! We don't deserve the gifts we unthankfully receive. But that is how good God is!

That little girl was right! “God is great! God is good! Let us thank God for our food. By his hands we shall be fed. Give us Lord our daily bread.” Shalom and Amen.

Scripture: Psalm 78

Agree to Disagree! 

Once upon time, there were two pastors in a small town. The town had only two churches one on one end of town, and one on the other. One was Methodist and the other Presbyterian. The two pastors often argued over predestination and free will. The Presbyterian argued that God predestined everything because God was all-powerful and all knowing. The Methodist pastor always argued that God was also all loving and had given each of us a free will to make decision.

Despite their differences, they were friends and decided to exchange pulpits. So, on one Sunday morning the Methodist pastor left on horseback from his church to go preach at the Presbyterian Church. The Presbyterian pastor also left on horseback from his church to go to the Methodist Church. So, they met up in the middle of town.

They greeted one another. But the Presbyterian pastor said, “I want you to know it was predestined from the foundations of the world that I preach in your church today and you preach in mine.” The Methodist pastor just said, “O yeah” and turned around and went back.

Wherever two or more Christians are gathered - there will be a difference of opinion. We Christians have our disagreements from time to time. We have differences in theology or practice. One group feels things should be done one way - and another group feels they should be done another way. Sometimes it makes for good-natured humor. Sometimes it creates fighting and hurt feelings and divisions in the body of Christ.

John Wesley said, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” So, disagreement within the body of Christ is necessary. Where we are if Martin Luther had not stood up against the corruption in the Roman Catholic Church of his day? And where we are if John Wesley had not stood up against the apathy of the Anglican Church of his day.

Tension between Christians is usual as we grow and try to remain faithful. But it need not rip us apart. There are some truths that we need to stick to, and there are some we can let go. But in all - we must live love.

When Paul was still around - there were no Christian denominations. There was one church. But there were still disagreements. The diversity in the early church was misunderstandings and disagreements. Some of the early Christians were raised Jewish. They were taught never to associate with Gentiles for fear of unclean. They were raised to keep the Sabbath holy and set apart and not to eat certain thing.

Some of the early Christians had grown up worshipping the Greek and Roman gods. They had grown up treating all days the same and eating whatever they wanted. They had an issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols. In the ancient Gentile world, if you go to the meat shop, chances are the meat there had been sacrificed to idol. The Gentiles believe the god of idol entered the sacrifice and all who ate it. Good Jew didn’t agree with it.

So, there were disagreements with the early Christians about eating meat and which meat could be eaten and what days were more holy than others. Should the Gentile Christians keep the Sabbath or other Jewish holidays and should the Jewish Christians look down on the Gentiles if they didn’t? Should the Gentiles stop eating bacon for breakfast or should the Jews just lighten up? Should Christians stop eating all meat sacrificed to idols or should they do whatever they wanted?

Paul addresses this matter very simple - love. He says if someone who is weaker in the faith and has quirks about eating meat comes, then welcome them. Don’t make it your mission to convert him to your way of seeing the issue. He is obviously trying to serve God by abstaining from meat. And don’t let those who abstain look down on those who are not dedicated to making that sacrifice.

The same is true concerning keeping certain days holy like Sabbath. What matters is - that we are living for Christ. Paul advises the Romans not to argue and fight about those things. What is important is - that they love one another and try to serve the Lord. Agree to disagree!

Paul tells us not to fight. There is a balancing act going on here. There are certain things that are essential: “Love God and love your neighbor.” “Jesus is the Son of God who died for the sins of the world.”

But other things are not essential. Does our church have candles and stained-glass windows? Do we speak in tongues in our church or shout “Amen”? Do we sprinkle or immerse when doing baptism?

It is obvious that some of these things are not things that we should debate on. We should approach it just as Wesley did. “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” And agree to disagree!

I know growing up in the Methodist Church I heard that over and over again. “It doesn’t matter what church we go to - just that we know the Lord.” Does that mean that we just ignore things that are wrong in other churches or our own? Do we just ignore - while other churches refuse to recognize that women are important part of the church? Do we just ignore - while churches condemn certain groups of people? Or when they are supporting lifestyles that are hurtful and sinful?

How do we deal with other Christians whose attitudes are so different from ours? Is it right to ignore them even though we believe they are hurting themselves and others? Of course not! We have a duty to tell them what we believe is right. But we must do so in love.

Paul knew what he was talking about. For essential things, he stood his ground and proclaimed the Gospel even though it got him beaten and stoned and eventually killed. But he always did it in love. Let us love one another and not judge one another. Shalom and Amen!

Scripture: Romans 14:1-12

Place Your Trust On Jesus! 

We all know about Joseph’s story. Joseph was loved by his parents. He was favored by God. But his brothers hated him. They hated him because God had given him gifts they didn’t have. They hated him because he was the baby and their Father had given him a fancy colorful coat.

Even though Joseph was favored by God - his life was not easy. His mother died in childbirth while his baby brother was being born. God had favored him with a gift of having and interpreting dreams. But his visions of the future just separated him from his brothers.

Finally, his brother’s anger against him boiled over. They decided to kill him. But later they changed plan and simply sold Joseph into slavery.

So, Joseph was a slave in a strange land. But God was with Joseph even in slavery. God blessed his work. Everything he did prospered. Soon he rose to be in charge of all the affairs of Pharaoh’s house.

And Joseph remained faithful to God. Once Pharaoh’s wife tried to seduce him, he resisted. She made it look like he had tried to take advantage of her. And Pharaoh had thrown him in jail.

But God was there even in jail. In jail, he won the trust of the jail keeper and soon he was in a position of authority within the jail. While in jail, he met Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker. They had some strange dreams and Joseph used his God given ability to interpret them. According to Joseph’s interpretations one was set free and the other was executed.

At the palace, Pharaoh was having some disturbing dreams himself. In these dreams seven fat cows came out of the Nile and then seven thin cows. Then the thin cows ate the fat cows. These dreams so disturbed Pharaoh that he called all his magicians to interpret the dreams. But, they could not interpret it. Then Pharaoh’s cupbearer remembered Joseph and told Pharaoh about him.

When Joseph was brought to Pharaoh, Joseph interpreted the dream. God was warning Pharaoh that there would be seven fat years of plenty and seven lean years of famine. So, for the next seven years of plenty Pharaoh should buy grain and then sell it during the years of famine. Pharaoh was so happy and he put Joseph in charge of this project.

It just happened that when the famine hit Egypt. It also hit Canaan where Joseph’s family was living. So, Israel sent his 10 oldest sons, the ones who had sold Joseph into slavery, to Egypt to buy grain. Now they had no way of knowing that Joseph was in charge of the grain they wanted to buy. In fact, when they appeared before him they didn’t recognize him. Joseph played a game of cat and mouse with them for a while.

Finally, when he could stand it no longer he revealed himself to them. What did he say to his long-lost brothers who had sold him into slavery? Did he rebuke them for their crimes against him? He was the Pharaoh’s right-hand man. He could have ordered them tortured.

Instead he threw his arms around their necks and wept for joy at seeing them again. What did he say about his situation? Did he blame his brothers for his slavery and imprisonment? Did he say, “If it weren’t for my brains and good looks I would still be a slave?” No, he said, “Don’t be upset and don’t be angry with yourselves that you sold me here. Actually, God sent me before you to save lives.” (Gen. 45:5)

Joseph had looked back and seen that this was God’s plan to place him in Pharaoh’s court so that his family and many others would be saved in that time of famine. God didn’t sell Joseph into slavery and God didn’t have Joseph thrown in jail.

Those were the acts of sinful people. God despised those evil acts. God despises all acts of evil. God was there with Joseph in the pit, in slavery, and in jail. And God manipulated all those circumstances to put Joseph where the Almighty’s plan said he should be.

The story of Joseph’s life is a story that is true to life. But its most important truth is in its message. “God cares for those who place their trust on high.”

It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are, God will be faithful to you. No matter what the situation is in your life, God is at work in it. If you have placed your trust in Jesus, then you shall be saved. Not just from the fires of hell, but from everything that isn’t a part of God’s plan for you.

Friends, you will still have troubles. You may find yourself in a pit, or in bondage, or imprisoned, just as Joseph did. But know this: God is there with you using those circumstances for your best good. Joseph placed his trust in God, and God saved him. And God will preserve you as well. Shalom and Amen!

Scripture: Genesis 45:1-15

“Keep Sowing The Seeds!” 

One day, Jesus was teaching to a huge crowd. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, farmers, labors, men and women, young and old. They had seen this before. A huge crowd but many drifted away after the excitement was over. They couldn’t figure out who would fall away and who would join.

As he left the barn, some seeds landed on the path. And the birds had a feast.

Some of the seeds fell on the rocky soil. They grew but didn’t have much root. When the sun got hot and there wasn’t much rain they wilted.

Some fell in thorny plants. And they grew and choked them.

Finally, he got to the field and the seeds landed in good soil. They had deep roots and lots of water. So, the harvest was plentiful.

The disciples were tax collectors and fishermen, they understand the Parable. They knew the seeds fell on the path and eaten by birds. Plants would die of weeds or no water. But they didn’t understand how the seeds like the Kingdom of God. They didn’t understand the parable’s spiritually.

So, Jesus explained the parable. The soils represent different ways that people receive Good News. The Good News is God loved us and gave his Son to die for our sins. But people react differently. The seeds represent the Message of the Gospel. And the message is God loved us!

There are two levels to apply this message to our lives. The first is the cosmic level. On the cosmic level God is the sower! God sows the seeds everywhere. God sends the Good News to everyone no matter who they are and where they are. And Jesus preached the Good News for all to hear.

The Pharisees and Sadducees heard, but they had hardened hearts like a well-worn path. And the master of lies told them that Jesus was a blasphemer, a Sabbath breaker, and not even the Messiah.

Jesus called Judas to be his follower. He followed, but when times get tough, he felt away and betrayed Jesus. His roots were not deep enough. His own greed and self-love got in their way. Jesus offered the Kingdom to a rich young ruler who was begging for it. He didn’t get it because he cared more for his wealth than God.

Like weeds the cares of this world choked out the Gospel. Jesus called tax collectors like Matthew and Zacchaeus. They were traitors but they became loyal to Jesus. Their deeds produced plentiful harvest.

God sows the seed everywhere no matter what the soil looks like. After all - some of us were pretty rocky soil. But God is still calling you and me to be growers of love. And God keeps sowing the seeds!

God keeps throwing seeds at soil that hasn’t produced before. Some of us have let our relationship with Jesus wither because of our business or concerns. But God is gracious and keeps giving us his love. And the roots of his love overcome the obstacles in our lives.

The second level is the earthly level. So, you and I are the sowers! Jesus has given us some seeds and told us to spread. Some people would think we should only spread it in good soil. That would seem logical.

But God tells us to spread his love everywhere, even where the potential of growth is not great. I remember volunteering at a church Soup Kitchen one time. There were some hard people who came in each day. We graciously gave them soup and sandwiches. Most were impolite and thankless. Some were even rude.

One day a woman came. She said she had eaten there when she had no food. Her situation was better now but she had no money to give us. So, she gave us what she had; she sang. Her beautiful voice echoed in that hall. God’s love sown in her heart had brought forth a harvest of gratitude.

Some said, “You’re wasting your time on those people.” But God knows better. God tells us to spread the seed of God’s love everywhere. Sometimes it will be stolen or it will die. But we should not worry about the outcomes! We should be faithful to Jesus and his love!

One day, God looked down from heaven and saw the emptiness of humanity. God decided to sow some love. God sent the angels to proclaim the word that God was loving and steadfast, but many people refused to believe them. God sent the prophets and many choked them out. Then God sent his Son, and he spread his arms out on a cross and said, “God loves you this much.” Many mocked him and killed him, but a few believed! So, that message of love grew in their hearts and they spread it to others.

Jesus died for all people. Not just for Christians. Jesus died so that anyone could enter the Kingdom of God. Anyone means anyone! Not just the ones who wealthy. Not just the ones who are nice and polite to everyone. Not just the ones who are active at church. Not just the ones who looks like us, but everyone. Jesus died for everyone - even you and me!

Spread the seed of God’s love to everyone! Don’t say, “They’re not church people. Or we shouldn’t help them because they will never come to our church. Or they’re different from us!”

Spread God’s love to everyone without prejudice! The harvest may not be impressive, or it may be! Either way the Lord of the harvest will be proud of you. Shalom and Amen!

Scripture: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Jesus Will Set You Free!   

Jesus will make you free! When you’re in the midst of slavery, freedom seems like an impossible dream. But Jesus tells us that the means of our liberation is at hand. We don’t have to be slaves anymore. We can be freed from our oppression. Do you want to be made free?

You might think, “We are Americans and we are free. We declared independence from Britain on July 4th, 1776. For 241 years we have been living as free country. For over two centuries we have been having the freedoms of speech, assembly, religion, the press and others. So, freedom is very much a part of who we are as a nation.”

Well, that is exactly what the people said to Jesus in our lesson today. They were celebrating the Exodus. God had led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. And the Israelites had been free from that slavery for over 1,300 years. They were remembering how God led the Israelites through the desert and to the Promised Land. They were celebrating the manna that God gave from heaven and the water from the rock. They were camping out in booths and having BBQ and setting off fireworks.

Actually, they were lighting torches to symbolize the pillar of fire. Fireworks had not been invented yet. But they were feasting on roasted meat, just pork meat I think.

In this celebration, Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” You can understand their confusion. Hadn’t God already set them free? How could this truth set them free - again?

Jesus was not talking about freedom from the Egyptians or the Persians or the Greeks or the Romans or the British. Ooops! I am getting a little ahead of myself again. Jesus was talking about freedom from sin.

Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” A slave has no permanent place in the household. A slave can be sold or sent away at any time. But if the heir sets the slave free - then the slave is truly free. Jesus came as the Truth of God in the flesh to set them free if they will only believe.

The problem is that people don’t really know they are slaves. We Americans, like the disciples back then, actually think we are free. We have the freedom to live: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press. We also have the freedom to abandon our responsibilities to our children and family.

We are free to have premarital and extramarital relations. We are free to use drugs or engage in other addictive or dangerous behavior. We are free to ignore the needy and think only of ourselves. We are free to consume as much of the energy and material wealth as we are capable of - and then to throw away anything we don’t like.

Is that freedom? A lot of Americans think it is! But it is slavery! It is enslavement to sin. It is imprisonment in ones’ own desires and selfishness.

You can see why it is so hard to tell people that they can be free. But Jesus came so that people could be free from those things. They could be free to know God and have a loving relationship with him. They could be free to know and love their neighbor. They could be free to do wonderful things in their life to give of themselves to transform other people’s lives.

You can be free! The means of our liberation is at hand. That means of liberation is the Truth of God. And Jesus Christ is that Truth in the flesh. Jesus is here today to make you free!

Declare your independence from sin and death. Put yourself on a personal constitution of love for God and neighbor. Cast of the chains of oppression of sin of selfishness. Pledge your allegiance to Jesus and you can truly and finally be free! That is not a decision that someone else can make for you, you have to make this declaration of freedom for yourself.

It is my hope that most of you have already pledged your allegiance to Jesus. He died to make you truly free. He gave his body to be broken and his blood to be shed so you can have freedom! If you have been set free and live free. Leave behind the things that enslaved you. Go forth to glorify God in your life and to bring that truth to others.

Start at the altar today. Come for prayer and communion. This bread and this grape juice symbolize the sacrifice that sets you free. It embodies the Truth of God. And Jesus will make you free! Shalom and Amen! 

Scripture: John 8:31-36

Are You a Disciple?     

Are you a disciple, or just a Christian? Some say, “Aren’t all Christians disciples?” Matthew description of a disciple makes me wonder. A Christian is anyone who has accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior. But most Christians don’t live up to the qualities of discipleship.

Does that mean that if we don’t live up to these standards we’re not saved? No, that would be a salvation determined on our works. The Bible is clear that salvation is by grace through faith. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

But there are a lot of people who have truly put their faith in Jesus as their Savior do not live up to these standards of discipleship. It isn’t that they are not saved. They got saved and stopped! They accepted Jesus but never grow and follow Jesus to be a disciple.

Jesus said, “Surely you must be born again to see the kingdom of heaven.” When each of us gave our lives to Jesus we were born again by God coming into our lives, washing away our sin, and giving us eternal life. We know newborns need constant attention. You have to change them and feed them and comfort them all the time.

But as they grow up they begin to be able to take care of themselves. They wash and dress and feed themselves. As they become older they begin to be able to take some of the responsibility of caring for others. Well, some of us never grew up! We were born again and then we never got beyond infancy. We always want people to serve us. We are not willing to serve others. We are Christians because we accepted Christ, but we are not disciples because we do not follow Jesus in service.

“Are you a Disciple or just a Christian?” We have to know what a disciple is. Jesus said, “A disciple is not above the teacher.” A disciple is a student who learns at the feet of a teacher. The students of course learn from the teacher and don’t try to tell the teacher what is right.

Many Christians try to turn it the other way around. They tell Jesus how things should be - instead of listening to him. They are always finding ways to use the Bible to justify all kinds of sinful practices. They quote Bible verses in justification of everything from living in sin to racism.

Jesus is God, but he chose to become like us so that he could make us more like him. He stooped to our weakness and reached down to us. He even took on the role of a slave and washed his disciples’ dirty feet.

The problem today is that people aren’t willing to serve. We live in a culture - people want to be served but they won’t serve others. Most people come to church with the attitude, “What can I get out of it?” Instead of “What can I give to it?” But Jesus set a different example: he had every right to be served, chose to serve.

The first characteristic of a disciple is that they are servants. The second is that they don’t fear persecution. Jesus said, “Have no fear of them.” Because they can only hurt your body, but God can preserve your soul into eternal life. God cares for us much and will take care of us.

God has numbered the hairs on our heads. He takes notice when a sparrow falls. How much more will he notice and respond when we are in danger? Jesus closes, “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.”

In the early church, many people denied Jesus for they were afraid of the Romans. There were some who did not fear those who could burn the body but who could not touch the soul. In 2nd century, Polycarp was arrested and they threatened him with death unless he cursed Jesus. He replied, “I have served him 86 years, and he never did me any wrong. How can I curse my King who saved me?”

We have chances every day to either confess or deny Jesus. In the way we live, we do one or the other. Do we speak up for the helpless, or do we keep silent when they are beaten? Do we read the Bible and pray daily, or do we neglect time with Jesus? Do we love and serve neighbor and enemy or do we neglect the former and despise the latter? We don’t have persecutor saying curse Jesus or die, but many of us curse Jesus daily through negligence of his will. Jesus said, “Whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.”

Are you a disciple or just a Christian? Have you ever grown beyond your infancy in Jesus or are you still in a cradle? You could be 100 and still be an infant spiritually.

Does your life live up to the standards set by Jesus? Do you seek to serve, or to be served? Do you consider your opinion more than you considers Jesus’? Do you boldly proclaim Christ, or are you afraid to admit to your friends that you are a Christian? Are you willing to offend your neighbors or family to stand up for what is right?

If you are just a Christian, then I encourage you to become a disciple. Take up your cross and follow Jesus. It is not easy and you will fall, but rely on Jesus to help you grow. Take time to read his Word and to talk to him in prayer and he will guide you. Shalom and Amen!

Scripture: Matthew 10:24-39

Go and Make Disciples!    

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” These are Jesus’ final words before he ascended to heaven. They are known as the “Great Commission.” It is the summary of the church mission.

Making disciples was not optional for Jesus. He didn’t suggest that we spread the good news of the Gospel. He commanded. He clearly said, “This is your job. Go do it!”

At this point I could spend the next 10 or 15 minutes talking about fulfilling the Great Commission. But I don’t think that will help. The problem is that people don’t know how to spread the Good News.

People compare fulfilling the great commission with the Bible really evangelism that has turned so many away from the Gospel. Or maybe they don’t realize the power they have been given to fulfill the commission. They think, “I can’t do anything. I’m not Jesus.”

I know I’m not Jesus. But I don’t have to be! Jesus said, “All authority has been given to me. Go therefore...” We do not go out to make disciples based on our own abilities or authority. We go forth with the authority of Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords. The Bible says that out of the mouths of babes God prefects praise. Like babes - it is God’s power not our ability that makes us effective.

Right before the commission to make disciples, Jesus gives authority, then he says, “I am with you always to the end of the age.” So, he does not send us out alone. He sent the Holy Spirit to be the presence of God to go with us.

I remember helping the youth at my husband church.  One time the youth were leading the service. They said they wanted to do the whole service themselves. They didn’t want any adults in the pulpit that Sunday. Before the service, I had a prayer with them and I said, “You know you won’t be up there all by yourselves.”

They all got this “Aw, but Miss” look on their faces and then I said, “Jesus will be with you.” If Olympia Tukutau had to get up here each Sunday by herself, we would all be in trouble. I couldn’t do it. The only reason I could ever get in front of a group and preach is because I know Jesus is with me until the end of the age.

The Bible said that with a word - God created the heaven and the earth. As Christians, we believe that Jesus is one with the Father and was there participating in the creation of the universe. So, the same power that created the stars is with us as we practice the great commission.

When we tell people that “Christ is the light” of the world - the same power that said, “Let there be light” is with us. When we tell people that “God is Love,” the same one who died and rose for our salvation is with us. That is the authority we have been given to make disciples.

But how do we do it? Do we have to preach on the street corner? If God calls us to go preach on the street corner, then we should. But even if we do we shouldn’t let that keep us from witnessing to our neighbors and family.

Doing the “religious” thing, preaching in the street corner, is not a replacement for doing the faithful thing, witnessing to our children and neighbors. If we are not loving our family and neighbors - then the reality of our preaching in the street corner will be called into question.

We also need to learn to witness. We need to practice telling people what God has done in our lives. One way of preparing is by memorizing scripture; especially verses that have meant a lot to you. Another way is to pray for guidance on how to witness. Finally, we need to be awake and look for opportunities to share that witness.

The witness of our lives is also very important too. Words are important but they are empty if they are not words that come out of the way we live our lives. It has been said that actions speak more loudly than words. And that is true: we need to walk the walk to talk the talk.

Jesus said, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” It is the great commission in our lives! Do we seek to make disciples for Jesus Christ? Or do we act as if making disciples is optional?

Jesus commanded that we make disciples. You don’t need to be a Jesus Christ or a pastor to do it. The same power that spoke the heavens into existence is with you.

Go, therefore, with the power of God and the Love of Christ. Go and show people in your lives the goodness and greatness of God. Tell them with your lips of the way God has taken care of you. And know that he is with you until the end of the age. Shalom and Amen!

Scriptures: Matthew 28:16-20, Genesis 1:1-2:4a

You Will Never Be Alone!  

Have you ever been all alone?  Being alone and being all alone are different.  Sometimes I will come to church when I have some time alone. I will either be in the sanctuary or my office. I can pray and talk to God during that time alone.

We all need times of aloneness.  We need times to be alone with God.  Even Jesus would go away from the crowds to spend time alone with God.  So, aloneness in that sense - is good for us.

But that is not being all alone.  Being all alone is being separated from others, isolated, and lonely.  You can be alone in a crowd.  That is what I mean by being all alone.  Have you ever been all alone?

Jesus knew what it meant to be all alone.  Not too long after he said these words like, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he was nailed to a cross.  In that moment, he took our sins and knew what it meant to be separated from God.  In that moment, he experienced true aloneness.

But Jesus promised that his disciples would never be all alone!  He tells his disciples that he will not leave them “orphaned.”  He will send another “companion” to be with them.  Jesus will make sure that there is someone to stand with them.  Someone to guide and comfort and teach them.

Jesus fulfilled part of this promise after the resurrection.  They were not orphaned - all alone.  He appeared to his disciples for 40 days.  For 40 days, he counseled them and opened their eyes.  Then Jesus fulfilled this promise when he sent the Holy Spirit.  

Ten days after he ascended to the Father, on the day of Pentecost, he sent the Holy Spirit.  Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus and the Father are made present in our lives.  Through them, we are never alone whether in a crowd or when no one else is around.

But all this talk of being alone and not being alone is framed by statements about keeping Jesus’ commands.  Verses 15 & 16 say, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  I will ask the Father, and he will send another Counselor, who will be with you forever.” 

Then verse 21 says, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them loves me.  Whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” 

Loving God and keeping his commandments are all moved together.  You really can’t do one without doing the other.  If you truly love God you will want to do his will.  You can’t sincerely try to do his will without first loving God.  Loving God and knowing his presence are all moved together.  God is present in our love and in our actions that live out that love.

We talk about the Holy Spirit and feeling Jesus in our hearts.  We sing, “I walk with him and talk with him…”  The Bible is telling us that Christ is made present to us in our love for one another.  That is why church is so important.  Not the building but the community.  We love one another in Jesus name and we live out God’s love together in our worship and ministry.  And Christ is present in that.

I would say that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a Father who took his son fishing.  They would make a habit of going fishing together.  It was there special time together.  It was the time that they talked and shared things.  Yeah after years they did this.  Even when the son had grown and moved away they would make special plans to go fishing together.

Then the Father died, and the son kept on going fishing.  And in those times of fishing he would remember his father and things that they shared.  He would feel the love and presence of his father once again.

When we do the thing that Jesus taught us he becomes a part of us.  It is like that son.  His father was no longer physically present but was there in his memory and in his heart when he did the things that they shared.  When we do these things, Jesus taught us he is present there in our hearts.

You see why it is not an “If ... then” thing.  The point is not that “if” we do this “then” he is present.  It is more a “both ... and.”  In the doing - Jesus is there.  In the loving of others Jesus is present.  That is why activities like Backpacks for Kids and Habitat for Humanity are so popular.  When we practice love, Jesus is made present to us in special way.

That is what we do every first Sunday.  When we break bread, and share a cup, we experience the presence of Jesus.  It is like the son who feels his father’s presence when he goes fishing, but it is more.  The analogy with the father and son fishing trips breaks down at this point.  Because the son’s father is not truly present, just the son’s memory of the father moved by the sights, sounds, and smells of fishing.

But Jesus is truly present with us through the Holy Spirit.  When we share Holy Communion, or act according to Jesus’ teaching - Jesus is there.  He is in our hearts and souls; but not just as a memory as with the man and son in the story.  Jesus is really present by the Holy Spirit.  Jesus has promised that we will never be alone.  Shalom and Amen!

Scripture: John 14:15-21

Mother’s Love! 

Have you seen how people are extremely loyal to their mothers? I have seen this in the Super Bowl, Hula Bowl, World series, and the final four. It is near the end of the game. One team is ahead enough that the celebration has begun. The camera begins focusing the sidelines of the winning team. And I hear them or I just read their lips saying, “Hi Mom!”

This tells us something. Think about it. Why is it always Mom? Why not a wife or a father? Why not that high school coach who taught them the basic skills? It is always Mom. People are extremely loyal to their mothers, because a mother’s love is so great. Even the physically strongest men in our society display their loyalty to their mothers for all to see.

Consider what mothers go through. First there is child birth. Now that men are in the delivery room - more and more we are beginning to respect what women go through. And once the child is born, most of the work of child raising - falls on the mothers.

A mother gives and gives and gives asking nothing in return. No matter what happens they still love. A person can commit an unspeakable crime and everyone will abandon that person. But their mother won’t. When everybody else fled in fear, Mary, the mother of Jesus was one of the few at the foot of the cross.

Mother’s love is unconditional and exceptional. It is a degree of love that is only fully expressed by the love of a mother. It is the kind of love that persists no matter what happen. Mother will give her life to save her child. People respond to that great love with an extreme loyalty.

Jesus taught us to call God “Father,” but God’s love is much like a motherlove. The Bible is full of examples of God’s “motherlove.” God is constantly feeding and nurturing his children. God is the one who gave us life, who breathed us into existence, just as our mothers birthed us into this world. And God is constantly giving for our benefit.

God cares for us as Good Shepherd. God provides for our every need. God takes us to green pastures and leads us beside still waters. And God protects us from all trials and troubles of this world.

Like a mother, God prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies. When others would flee, God remains steadfast. Just like a mother who stands by her child while others ridicule, mock and even crucify him. God is providing for our worldly needs by preparing a table for us.

God’s love is greater than any love a human can produce. “Mother love” is only a comparison that helps us understand God’s love. It helps us understand how loving and giving God’s love is. The most unconditional example of human love is a Mother’s love.

Jesus is the main example of God’s “Motherlove.” Jesus died for us. The basic expression of love is to give one’s life for another. (John 15:13) We see that expressed when a mother risks her life to save her child. Likewise, Jesus gave himself to suffer and die on the cross for us. Like a mother, Jesus was unselfishly giving his life so that his children could live.

The amazing thing is Jesus died for us even though we rejected him. God still loves us even though we spat upon him. One might think that God of the universe would crush people for treating him so badly. But God’s love does not depend on us loving him back. We reject God, and God hurts, but like a mother’s love - God’s love and mercy is unceasing.

When the Jews killed Jesus, God sent them the good news of the resurrection that they might repent and live. That is love. God could have condemned them once they killed Jesus. But instead God still promised them hope and new life. God continued to love them even though they rejected and mistreated Jesus. God loves us even though we do the same.

The problem is that most people don’t know this aspect of God’s love. They mistakenly think God is revengeful or mean. God is righteous, and God seeks justice. But it is more like the punishment that a loving mother gives a child. Its purpose is to keep the child safe. A mother punishes a child for playing with matches not to be mean but so that the child doesn’t burn herself.

God is loving and forgiving. Mother always love her child no matter how evil they get. God always love us no matter what we do. God loves us even though we reject him and hurt him. Even though we crucify him daily with our sin, he still loves us. He sent us the good news of that love. 

Love God and love your mother. God gave us life. God loves us. Let us love back by giving our whole lives to God.  Shalom and Amen!

Scriptures: John 10:11-18

Living the Abundant Life!  

Jesus says, “I am the gate, I am the good shepherd, I come that you may have life and have it abundantly.”  He presents himself as good shepherd who lay down his life for the sheep.  And he died for them.

John tells us the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  But Jesus came and comes so that we may have life and enjoy living abundantly.

People say the abundant life goes with hosting a big party with drinks.  You can’t find abundant living in a can or a bottle.  You can’t find abundant life in a pill or a drug.  Abundant living is only found in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

John says the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  Through the devil’s hunger for money and drugs; he steals, kills, and destroys people.  But God’s grace is full of love and mercy.  Jesus says, “I come that you may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Living the abundant life is service to God and to others.  A lot of people don’t want to serve nobody.  They won’t do anything for anybody but themselves.  If we serve Christ, we want to serve others.  Serving others, we learn how to live abundant life.

Abundant living is a total surrender to Christ.  A lifetime promise to serve Christ.  If you are in good health and wealth, a good family and a fancy home, but never experience the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, you are not living!  I hate to say that some of us today are not really living!  We are like dead dried bones in the valley.  So, anything dead ought to be buried.  And I’m so afraid that some people need to be buried today.

Abundant living does not exist until we have fully committed ourselves to Christ.  Our commitment must oppose temptation, and everything that opposed the Word of God.

I’m not talking about just paying lip service.  A lot of people say they will live and surely die for God.  But when it comes time to face the challenges of this life, when it comes time to be fully committed, they are nowhere to be found!  They either have to commit to the world, or commit to God.  There is no in-between. 

Some people in some churches are misleading people into thinking that they are the church of God, but they are lukewarm that God doesn’t have any part in it. 

Some churches have too many halfhearted people.  These people think they are getting away with their lack of commitment to God.  But the Bible says that halfhearted Christians are lukewarm.  No man can serve two masters.  He has to hate the one and love the other.  It is sad to say there are too many people who think they are right with God, but they are lukewarm and they don’t even know it.

When you accept Christ as your Lord and Savior, you are just beginning to really live the abundant life.  You have eternal life now while you live on this earth.  And Heaven is your destination!  You can have abundant life and eternal life here with Heaven waiting for you.

Abundant living grows in church participation.  Church participation is more than just attending.  God doesn’t need part time Christians.  Church participation means faithful service to the church.  It means fellowship.  It means being involved in the programs of the church.  Many people will say they belong to such-and-such church, even though they don’t go to church in years.

When you are full of God and the things of God, you have a new walk, you have a new talk, you act different, you live a different life, you think differently.  Look back ten years ago.  Where were you?  If you still live in the same way of living, you better change.  It is not good for you, and it is not good for others and for the church.

Abundant living means living a life according to God’s Word.  We can’t follow God unless we are going his way.  You can’t follow someone who is going the opposite way of where you are going.  It is not possible!  We must be going in the same direction in order to follow someone.  When we are going in the same direction, we are involved in the same things, and we see things in the same way.

It’s time for church people to quit walking with negative talks.  It’s time for church people to focus on Christ Vision and Mission.  It’s time for church people to move on with the risen Lord.  God wants people to enjoy life.  When we enjoy life with God, we live abundantly.

Jesus says, “I am the gate, I am the good shepherd, I come that you may have life and have it abundantly.”  Shalom and Amen!

Scripture: John 10:1-10

Seeing With God’s Eyes!

We see things differently.  Right?  We see something every day and then one day we see it in a whole new way.  Sometimes one person sees - it is ugly, then another person thinks it is beautiful.

When my boys were very little they used to come to my bedroom every Saturday morning.  One lie on my right and the other on my left.  They always tease me that I have a big belly.  We laughed and made jokes with each other.  One morning their father asked them if they understand they both came out of Mom’s stomach.  That’s why Mom’s stomach is little bigger.  She carried each of you for nine months in her stomach before you born.  Then the big stomach became a beautiful symbol of mother’s love.

We often judge by the outward appearance of things.  But God can see it all.  When God looks at a person, God sees not only their outward appearance but also their heart and soul.  An outward appearance can hide a terrible heart and a dead soul.  And no wonder Jesus called the Pharisees whited tombs full of dead men’s bones.  They were well painted on the outside, but inside they were all dead.  

In the same way, an ugly exterior can hide inner beauty to us.  The story about my big stomach fooled my boys.  But in reality, there was a beautiful love under my big stomach.  And only God can see this love.  God can see the beauty that is hidden to us by the surface of a person.  And only God can also see the ugliness that our exteriors hide.

God sees things as they really are.  God can see past the surface to the heart of a matter or a person.  God can see the past and the future.  And God’s vision is not clouded by a limited human view.

The problem is that our views are limited.  We can only see the past, and the way we see it - is based on what we were told about it.  Our vision doesn’t enter below the surface to the heart of matters or people.  We often judge a book by its cover.  When God tells us - otherwise we say, “But this is how I see it” and we fail to follow God’s direction.

God called Samuel to anoint a new king for Israel.  Samuel went as directed to Jesse’s family.  The oldest son is tall and strong and appears to be a good leader for the nation of Israel.  But God says, “No, it’s not him.  Do not look at his appearance ... for the Lord does not see as mortals see.  Mortals see the outside but God sees into the heart.”

Seven of Jesse’s sons were presented to Samuel.  None of them were fit with God’s eyes.  Samuel asked, “Are these all your sons?”  Jesse said, “I have little David who is keeping the sheep while we are here to worship.”  David was brought in.  He was a good-looking boy.  He is just a boy!

We all know David.  Later he killed Goliath with just a sling and his faith.  He grew up to be a great leader of Israel.  He was the greatest of the Kings.  So, God looked at David and saw the future King of Israel, a heart devoted to the Lord.

One day Jesus and his disciples came upon a blind man.  They saw he was blind.  Disciples had been taught the blind people was a punishment from God.  Their prejudice clouded their vision as they saw a man who had sinned or maybe it was his parents who sinned.

But Jesus saw more.  He saw a man of courage and strength.  He saw a man of faith and integrity.  So, Jesus healed the disciples’ blindness by giving the blind man sight.  Then it became clear what Jesus saw.  The Pharisees had the formerly blind man questioned and tried to scare and trick him.  But he remained steadfast and honest.  He bore witness to all that Jesus had healed him and given him his sight.  The disciples saw only a blind man.  Jesus saw a witness who only needed a testimony to give.

I am sure Jesus understood how the blind man felt.  After all many people, could not see Jesus for who he was.  Some looked at Jesus and saw someone who could be used to overthrow the Romans.  Others looked at Jesus and saw only a wonder worker who could feed them.  The Romans looked at Jesus and saw a troublemaker who looked nothing like a King.

The situation is the same today.  Some look at Jesus and they see a good moral teacher.  Other see at Jesus and say he is a religious leader.  Some see at Jesus and say he is a prophet of God.  But what do you see and say about Jesus?  What do you see and say when you look at your fellow human beings?  Do you see strangers, or children of God?

Most people judge by outward appearance.  But we are not most people.  We are Christians.  We are people of God who can see all.  Like my story about my boys, my big belly became a beautiful symbol of all mother’s love.  God sees through the outward appearances and sees the heart.  We need to pray that the power of the Holy Spirit would help us to see through the outside into the heart.  Shalom and Amen.

Scriptures: 1 Samuel 16:1-13, John 9:1-41

Jesus is the Reformer!

John Wesley believed that Salvation is a gift from God. It is not something we achieve on our own. John realized that he was trying to make himself righteous and worthy of God’s love. While at a prayer service with Moravians, his heart was “strangely warmed.” He realized that God loved him and that was a gift of grace.

John rose at 4:00 am to study, pray, and preached to the crowds and helped the needy. He did them out of a love and thankfulness to God. He did not do it in as an attempt to save himself.

He taught people that being a Christian was not about being in church occasionally, but living the Christian life on a daily basis. He taught people to read their Bibles. He preached to the people and sent them out to preach in the streets and the fields. And in the end, he founded a new branch in the Protestant church: the Methodists.

In our Gospel lesson, the religious leaders and bodies of Jesus’ day had grown corrupt. The Scribes, Pharisees, and the religious leaders used religion for their own gain. They read and taught the Scriptures, but they violated the spirit of the law by their actions. Instead of helping people to live righteously, they placed burdens upon them. Instead of using their positions to teach others, they used them to gain benefit for themselves.

Jesus called attention to their hypocrisy. Jesus told his followers to listen to what the religious leaders had to say. After all they were following in the footsteps of Moses. But they should not follow the example of the religious leaders. They are to practice what they preach.

Jesus’ followers live by a different standard. The religious leaders lived by the standard that says that being looked up to by others is what is important. A standard which says you should look out for number 1 - be the king of the hill. But Jesus said, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves shall be exalted.”

It seems to me that the church has the same problems way back in Jesus’ day and today. People in positions of leadership allow the power they have to go to their heads. They seek the praise of people instead of trying to be servants of God. They accept bribes of cash for religious. They allow the comfort of their positions to calm them into laziness. It is all about using positions of power for their own benefits.

That still happens in the church today. People seek positions of leadership today in churches for reasons of personal gain sometimes. Perhaps they seek them for reasons of sincere faith. When they are in those positions they become corrupted. Instead of seeking to use their office to serve God - they seek to serve themselves.

I’m not talking just for bishops and denominational presidents and senior pastors of large congregations. Sometimes people want positions in the church so that they can be looked up to.

“Lay Leader” or “Chair” of this or that committee or “Sunday School Teacher” or any positions can be meaning either service or privilege. As Christians - don’t we all at times fall into the trap of exalting ourselves.

We like people admitting we are “Good Christians.” We can fall into that trap. We build sanctuaries to worship God in or is it to show off how nice our church is? We built steeples to hold up the cross for all to see or is it to say we have the tallest steeple in town? Or perhaps we do the right thing for the right reason initially, but then we puff out our chests and say “Look what I have done.”

Maybe the reformation began 2000 years ago when Jesus said “the first shall be last” and “those who humble themselves shall be exalted.” Maybe the reformation did not begin on a piece of paper nailed to a church door by Martin Luther, but in the hearts of believers. Maybe “Reformation Sunday” should not be about the history of the Protestant church. Maybe it is really about people like Luther and Wesley and you and me having our hearts strangely warmed by the love and grace of God.

When I thought about writing this sermon, I said I should end with where the church needs reforming today. I thought I would outline my 95 theses and nail them to the front door of the church. But I only have one thesis for reforming the church today and I didn’t even write it.

Jesus said, “whoever exalts themselves will be humbled, and whoever humbles themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12) That is where all reformation needs to begin. It begins in the hearts of believers who humble themselves to serve God and their neighbor. Would you care to start a reformation today? Then start here. (heart.) Shalom and Amen!

Scripture: Matthew 23:1-12

Doubting Thomas!

Everyone calls Thomas “Doubting Thomas.”  But he had only doubted for a week.  He had a faithful life, and yet he gets nailed for his behavior in a week.  He started off doubting then he believed.