Can You Trust the Bible

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Most all of us, when it comes to Bible study, we have a habit of looking at scripture with a non-critical eye.  We wait for it to reveal itself to us.

When reading a passage in the New Testament that doesn’t make sense, we assume “we” are the problem.  That somehow, we’re not be smart enough to uncover what it’s talking about.  Certainly, that’s the case when reading the parables of Jesus.  Most of us try to find the hidden meaning.  But when the text makes no sense, we’ll skip it and read on to something more understandable.

Who is guilty of reading the Bible like this?  I was!  That 100% described me to a “T.”  But, if we give up when we read the Bible how can we explain it to non-Christians.  Especially those non-Christians or ex-Christians that want to use the Bible as a weapon against Christianity.  If you have a conversation with an Atheist or skeptic, they’ll attack the Bible faster than you can say YHWH!  Here is how that conversation might go:

Atheist – “Ha-chooo”  Me – “God Bless You!”

Atheist – “I don’t believe God exists!”   Me – “I do.”

Atheist – “Why?     Me – “Because the Bible says he does.”

Atheist “Ha, the Bible is a book written by humans, why would you believe it”  Me – “Because, it’s inspired by God

Atheist – “You do know it’s documented to have over 400,000 errors.   Me – “No there’s not!”

Atheist – “There are hundreds of contradictions in the New Testament alone.”  Me – “No there’s not!”

Atheist – “And there are scores of historical, geographical and scientific errors also.”  Me – “What?”

Atheist – “Why would you trust your Bible?”

Me, thinking to myself – “Wow – can this be true?”

Me, aloud – “I think I have someplace else to be.”

To be disciple of Christ we better be ready to get uncomfortable.   Part of being uncomfortable is encountering things we don’t want to hear.  In my conversation with that atheist, was I ready for his barrage of rebuttals?  NO! And in the end, who got converted?  I started off by affirming the existence of God and ended up wondering if that was even true.

Here is where today’s discussion may get uncomfortable – the Atheist was right.  The Bible does have thousands of errors.  The Bible does have many apparent contradictions.  It also does have what looks like geographic, historical, and scientific problems.  I see some of you squirming.

Yes, all of the atheist claims are true – if you play by their rules!

I entered that battle with no armor and against an enemy I was not prepared to meet.  But I should have been.  The guiding scripture for Christian apologetics – explaining our Faith – is    1 Peter 3:15. It says, “… you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.”

This morning I want to do two things.  The first is to convince you that, yes, you can trust the Bible.  To help me in this fight I am going to use something I learned by watcng YouTube.  Yes, YouTube.  I love YouTube.  You can learn so many things there.  Whoa, I wonder if there is a video to explain how my screen door springy thing works?  I need to check.  Now, let’s rerun that scene:

Atheist – “Ha-chooo”  Me – “God Bless You!”

Atheist – “I don’t believe God exists!”   Me – “I do.”

Atheist – “Why?   Me – “There are many reasons, but I trust in God’s word.”

Atheist – “Ha, the Bible is a book written by humans, why would you believe it?”

Me – “I choose to believe the Bible, because it is a reliable collection of historical documents, written by eye witnesses during the lifetime of other eye witnesses.  They report supernatural events that took place in fulfillment of specific prophesies and claim that their writings are divine rather than human in origin”[1]

Atheist – “Umm”

Me – “Let’s have a cup of coffee and I’ll explain what I mean.”

What was the difference in that street battle – how did I engage with the atheist?  I did as Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:14 “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist.  I was ready for the fight.  I had the “belt of truth.” Trust me, it’s a battle out there.  You must be ready.

But, let me make something perfectly clear.  Those are not my words.  They’re from Dr. Vodie Bauchman and I found it on YouTube.  I could have found a good argument by Billy Graham, or Tim Keller, or NT Wright, or anyone else I that inspires me.  Use the tools you have.  Do the research.   I just happen to think Vodie is a Black Belt Christian apologist.  It’s up to you to learn your own way of defending your faith.  Now, let me repeat what I said.

“I choose to believe the Bible, because it is a reliable collection of historical documents, written by eye witnesses during the lifetime of other eye witnesses.  They report supernatural events that took place in fulfillment of specific prophesies and claim that their writings are divine rather than human in origin.”

And what do I say when we get to the coffee shop?  Or if the atheist pushes back on me. Maybe something like this:

“The Bible is not a single book.  It consists of sixty-six separate manuscripts, written by over 40 authors from various walks of life:  Kings, fisherman, doctors, historians, tax collectors, who wrote in three languages, Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic, on three continents, Asia, Africa, and Europe. This all happened over a period of 1500 years.

Who has heard of Plato?  He lived less than 500 years before Christ.  Around the same time the second temple was being resettled and became a city.   Plato is said to have written hundreds of books and speeches.  Today in university scholars, and even casual readers, read the famous works of Plato.  How many originals do you think exist?  None!  Nada! Not one.  But we read his writings word for word and not a single person that I know has ever questioned if it is authentic.  It was reconstructed from copies of copies.  It was also influenced by his protégée Socrates.  How can we trust Plato when we read his Discourse?   Because there have been so many copies that it can be pieced together!  This is also how we know the Bible is authentic!

The New Testament alone has been preserved in more manuscripts than any other ancient work.  We have found over 5,800 complete or fragmented Greek manuscripts, 10,000 Latin manuscripts and 9,300 manuscripts in various other ancient languages including Syriac, Slavic, Gothic, Ethiopic, Coptic and Armenian. [2]  Many of the oldest copies were written within a few decades of the originals that were lost.

And, do you know over 25,000 archeological explorations have been made that confirm Biblical names, places, customs and events.[3]  For example, when Atheist claim that the Great Flood never happened, but the Hebrews, Mesopotamians, Egyptians, and Greeks all report a flood in primordial times. A tablet with a list of Sumerian kings was discovered from 2100 BC, and it divides their rule of kings into two categories: those who ruled before a great flood and those who ruled after it.[4]

Nelson Glueck, a renowned Jewish archaeologist said. “It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference.” [5]

Let’s go back to what the Atheist said. Does the Bible actually have errors created during the two-thousand years of scribal copying and translations?  Of course! Would you believe copies of any ancient document to be authentic if there were not some human errors?

Bart Ehrman is a very popular New Testament scholar and is used by the Atheist to support their arguments.  He said in his book, Misquoting Jesus—The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, that the bible manuscripts “differ from one another in so many places that we don’t even know how many differences there are.”  In other words, there are too many errors to count.  But wait, here is what he said when asked if the Bible could be true:

“the essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.”

There you go, one of the world’s preeminent biblical authorities, the agnostic champion for atheist, says that all this discussion about biblical errors is nothing but noise!

Before we move onto to the question of, can we trust the Bible as the word of God, let me show you a just a few examples of what atheist and non-believers use will use as “evidence.” Let’s look at one that is going to really surprise and maybe disappoint some of you.  How nice of me, right?  Please turn in your Bible to John verses 7:52-8:11. This story is formally known as the “Pericope Adulterae”.  It’s more commonly known as the story of the woman caught in adultery.  This is where Jesus famously said, “Let anyone who is without sin cast the first stone.”

Here’s the problem.  This story was not in the original Gospel of John.  In fact, it doesn’t make its way into John until somewhere between 400-500 later.  John did not write it.  Somehow this story was added into someone’s manuscript, that was then copied and recopied, then copied into the Latin Vulgate that spread to all the modern Bibles.  Fortunately, when we read our Bibles, we are given a warning when something like this happens.  My NIV Bible sets the story in italics and has a special note regarding the verses. Yet atheist will argue over what is already flagged as a discrepancy.  But, we have to know about the errors too, right?

Here is how I respond to this issue.  Here we have a wonderful moral story, that many of us have quoted, but wasn’t an authentic verse in John’s Gospel.  How does this make you feel?  Actually, it should make you feel very good.  Somehow a great morale story, not originally part of the Bible, mysteriously appears in a later version.  It may have been said by Jesus and recorded in an earlier source John did not know about.  I’d propose that perhaps God put something into the Bible he wanted us to hear!  After all, those words were breathed to someone.

Where does this leave us?  I think the best is to look at all the words in the Bible like pieces of a jig-saw puzzle.  Let’s make the Bible stories into a really big puzzle, 5000 pieces.  Now pretend you built that puzzle and when you finished you discovered a100 pieces left over.  What?  Wait, is the Bible is same?  You have not lost anything from the originals?  No.  We just happen to have more words and stories than the first authors delivered.

Let me give you two more examples – and I need to be quick.  Turn to the last chapter in Mark – Chapter 16.  Go to verse 9.  How many of you have a special note about verses 9-20?  It seems that this section was not in the original version of Mark.   Scholars think it was added just decades after Mark was written.  So, this could be part of the original.  But we have no originals, so we don’t know!  They are extra pieces for the puzzle.

Lastly, let me show you and example of what is called biblical contradiction that is an Atheist favorite argument.  They choose this one because it’s obvious and confusing.  Or is it?

Turn to the first Chapter in Matthew.  In Verse 1 we can see the Genealogy of Christ. The list includes 42 names from Abraham and ending with Joseph, Mary and Jesus.

Now turn to Luke 3:23. If we look at this genealogy with a critical eye we can see that it is very different from Matthew.  This lineage runs from Joseph and goes to Adam.   What’s more troubling is that Joseph is said to be the son of Heli.  In Matthew, he’s the son of Jacob.  How can this be.  Believe me, the atheist love calling this a contradiction.

This is also one of my favorite “gotchas!”  There really isn’t any contradiction at all. Matthew writes his Gospel with a focus on the Jewish line including Jewish laws for parental lineage.  He even leaves out three kings that were banned from the lineage for being so wicked.  The Gospel of Luke is concerned with tracing Jesus all the way to Adam.  Luke does this by following Mary’s family line all the way up.

But what about Joseph having two fathers?  Simple.  Mary’s father Heli had two daughters, Mary and her sister.  Therefore, in Jewish law when Joseph married Mary, he became Heli’s son legally.  Just like Jesus was the son of Joseph legally. Because, we all know he was actually the son of whom?  …  The Son of God!

Frankly, I find it almost a shame that we need these discussions about contradictions, and spelling errors.  But non-believing people are eager to engage with Christians. They will not relent on the topic of contradictions or “bad science.”  To counter their arguments, you must have authority, and “you must [have] Christ as Lord of your life. [so when] someone asks [why you’re a believer, you’re] ready to explain it.”

But when it comes to the bible I refer you to the words of Charles Spurgeon~ “The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. All you have to do is let the lion loose, and the lion will defend itself.”

Our job as disciple of Christ is to be prepared to defend our faith and to let the Bible run loose like lions! And Jesus said –  For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.

Guess what folks – that is our job to accomplish the unaccomplished.  Strap on your Belt of the Truth and defend your faith.

[1]   Voddie Baucham, “Why I Choose to Believe the Bible,”

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_manuscript – source cited verbatim.

[3] The Big Book of Bible Answers: A Guide to Understanding the Most Challenging Questions. By Ron Rhodes

[4] http://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends-asia/sumerian-king-list-still-puzzles-historians-after-more-century-research-001287

[5] Nelson Glueck, Rivers in the Desert: History of Negev. Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia, 1969, P. 176. Cited by Rabbi Glenn Harris, http://www.gospeloutreach.net/bible.html

Can You Defend Your Faith?

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I love to learn new vocabulary. Especially words that end in “phobia!”

Kine-morto-phobia – This has been growing very rapidly the last few years.   Any guesses – it’s a fear of zombies, where the person is petrified by the sight of zombies and scared that they might turn into a zombie.

(Hold on – You’ll understand the why I mention this in in a moment!)

Being a Christian is hard dedicated work.  Especially in this period of time that Social scientists have labeled “Post-Modernism.”  Simply put, it means we live in a time of individualism, where our society demands individual needs more than community, and less dependence upon God, if at all.

Times are changing, but the difficulty of being a Christian is not new.  We’ve just gotten spoiled.  We live in a country founded upon Judeo-Christian ethics.  Those ethics, the notion of a Christian morality, that stuff does not fit well in Post-Modernism.  In today’s world, only the individual can decide what is morally right for themselves.  As a society are slowly regressing to a time similar to when Christians were persecuted.  Some say it is already here.

How did it happen?  Unfortunately, we got blindsided and didn’t see it coming. But we were warned!  If there is one theme that is consistent in scripture is that being a Christian is hard.  Jesus said it best when he sent out his disciples:

16 “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. (Matthew 10:16)

It is reported that right now in China, Christians are being sent to reeducation camps.  In North Korea they are put into concentration camps.  In Egypt, Coptic Christians are being slaughtered.  In Syria and Sudan, Christians are targeted for extermination.  In these countries it takes a lot of faith to be a Christian?  But, even in France, a catholic priest had his throat slit in his church near Normandy.  Just yesterday, the North Carolina Pastor imprisoned in Turkey was formally charged on a terrorism related charges called “Christianization.”  The persecution is spreading.

“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves”

 

Here in the United States I have not heard stories of Christian killings, but we all know Christian’s are under attack.  I know that many people, perhaps some of you here, who avoid saying Merry Christmas at work.  Some avoid saying “God Bless you” to a stranger.  Christianity is under attack and if you haven’t heard the news, we are losing the battle.

In a world that is becoming less, and less Christ centered, it takes a lot of Faith to declare your love for Christ.  “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves”

How did this happen?  In our country, we’ve gotten lazy and too comfortable in our Christian faith.  But, Faith is not about being comfortable – it’s about publicly pronouncing Christ as redeemer.

Sometimes wonder if folks come to church to feel safe in numbers rather than recharge their faith.   Even the name Sanctuary has morphed from meaning a “Holy place” to a “safe haven.”    Hasn’t it!

But, what do we do here, in our “sanctuary,” that prepares us for battle out there?  Once we exit the doors are we prepared to be uncomfortable?  Are we battle ready if attacked?

Let me take a moment to make you all a bit uncomfortable.  My personal belief is that church is not a place to be comfortable.  Its where we learn and strengthen our Faith in Christ.  So, let me ask you some questions that are being asked.

How do we know Jesus was really raised from the dead?  There are no other books from that time that discuss it except Christian books.  Even the Jews say it did not happen.  Why should I believe in Christ?

The Egyptians have a mythical god named Horus. He was born on December 25th, to the virgin Isis-Meri. He healed the sick and walked on water. He was crucified, buried for 3 days, and resurrected. Isn’t Jesus a copycat story of an earlier Egyptian myth?

The bible has thousands of errors and contradictions – if it was truly God inspired why would it have so many mistakes?

The oldest known copy of the bible was written in 350AD.  Why should I believe a book written so long after this Jesus guy died?

Why do Christians hate scientist?  Why should I believe any religion that killed Galileo just for proving the earth rotated around the sun?

Everyone knows the earth is billions of years old, but Christians think it all started six thousand years ago.  Why don’t Christians believe in the proven science of Darwin’s theory of evolution?

If God loves all his creations, then why does he only promise heaven to those that hear about Jesus?  I can’t love a God that discriminates.

If God is so all powerful, all knowledgeable, and everywhere at the same time, why does he allow evil to exit?  Why would you worship a God that would let children suffer and let other innocents die?

Uncomfortable yet?  And I was being nice.  These kinds of questions are being asked both maliciously by atheist, and sincerely by confused non-Christians.  Do you have answers for them?  Who here could have knocked away each of those questions.  And those were softballs.  Paul warns us we will be attacked with flaming arrows of evil.

1 Peter 3:15 tells us we are to sanctify Christ and to Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you;”

Are you ready?  More importantly, how secure is your own faith?  Do you have these same questions?  Do you wonder about the obvious mistakes in the Bible?  And yes, there are thousands of errors – most are scribal.

Being a Christian is hard – Our faith can waiver if we don’t understand everything that is tugging at our beliefs.  The Apostle Paul understood this problem first hand.  He explains how to manage it in his letter to the Ephesians.  In fact, this letter equips all of us to be God’s people in the world.  If you read Ephesians, and learn to live as it instructs us, your Faith will not waiver.

Yet, even Paul closes out his letter by advising the Christians in Ephesus to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:1—11)

Who here have a set of armor?  How many have a belt of truth or a breastplate of righteousness.  Is your shield of faith strong enough to defend flaming arrows?  When I was a kid one of my playmates had a toy roman helmet with a red plume.  I was so jealous of him.  Paul tells us we all need a helmet of salvation and sword of the spirit.  I used to cut my sword out of cardboard and cover it with aluminum foil.  It looked cool, but not as cool as that helmet.

Paul says we all need armor, so we can defend our faith.  But defend it from what?

Let’s take a moment to look at part of his letter to see how Paul explains our predicament.  Turn to Ephesians 2:1-10 and follow along with me.

2 You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient.

There is a popular show on TV called the Walking Dead.  The premise is that some disease has hit the world and people are turning into zombies.  Once dead the people walk around in packs looking for other people to bite – and then they become zombies.  In the show there are more zombies than there are living people.   This is similar to the world Paul is describing.  But here’s the catch.  Everyone in the world is a Zombies and only Christians are the ones living.   Everyone is in a trance state, wandering the world, following some dark need to satisfy the flesh.

In verse 2 Paul described this dark force as “the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient.”  He is talking about Satan and his evil forces feasting on those who sin.  “Sin” is the disease that made us zombies, and we are all born with the Original Sin.  Therefore, we were all born to hear the dark forces of evil.

Paul continues: 3 All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.

Those who refuse the gift of Grace from God, continue to live in sin.  They are lured by “passions of our flesh.”  And we were by nature children of wrath.

Let me ask this question.  When our kids are being horrible, perhaps beyond horrible, maybe into drugs or legal problems, do we get mad at them?  You bet we do, and we try to move them away from whatever is corrupting them.  Our wrath is based in their predicament and their decisions – but we still love them. Paul says God is the same.

4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved

 Even when we were nothing but Walking Dead Zombies, God sent his Son to lift the curse of sin from us – and if we believe in him we are Born Again into the light of Christ.  If we don’t, then we will continue to live under the wrath of God.

We heard this same message in John’s Gospel.  36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath. (John 3:36).

Grace is free, Faith is not!  Faith takes Knowledge, Assurance, and Trust!  We develop our Faith and then spend our lives preserving and strengthening our love for Christ.

Our salvation starts with our Faith! Our Faith becomes our shield.  What happens if our Faith waivers or is weak?  The flaming arrows of evil will strike us.  Yet, Paul says that because of Grace we are both saved… 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

God lifts us up to be with the Son through the Holy Spirit.  And what is our reward for our unwavering Faith?  We receive have immeasurable riches of God’s kindness.  How much is immeasurable?  Never ending.   I saw somewhere a Lotto scratcher that pays the winner $1000 dollars a day for life.  I’d rather have immeasurable kindness from God!

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast.

This is a warning.  We cannot let Pride, a Sin, detract from our Faith.  In 2 Corinthians Paul even talks about his thorn in the side he received to prevent him from boasting.

Finally, in this last verse is very important to understand Paul’s intention.

10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

 Paul wrote, “created in Christ Jesus for good works.”  This is to be our life – our calling – our purpose in life.  What is the meaning of life?  To do Good Works for God!

But be careful.  When read in Greek, the translation here does not mean “Work” as in we have to prove ourselves to get into heaven.  Instead it means, we are to become like a beautiful poem, or a melodic symphony.  Everything we do should have a beauty about it that adds to the beauty of the world.  Later in Chapter 3 of this letter, Paul describes our individual callings that we are to obey so that we all are creators of “Good Work” for God’s plan.  Each of us an instrument in the orchestra that is making celestial music.

In these ten verses, Paul has described for us the world we live in and how we’re supposed to exist in such a dark place.  This age of Post-Modernism is nothing more that the spotlight being shined upon the Walking Dead.  Yet, this is what the world has always been.

Sadly, less people are leaving the dark side to join Christ.   And, there are those that who have spent their entire lives as Christians, but doubt has lowered their shield and let flaming arrows of evil penetrate their faith.  The famous author Flannery O’Conner famously called these people Christ haunted! Their faith has been shaken.

Someone asked them, “Why does God let evil exist?”  And they were not prepared to explain the consequence of Free Will and original sin.

Maybe someone asked them, “why are their different lineages of Christ found in Matthew and in Luke?”  But they didn’t know that one lineage is of Joseph and the other is of Mary.

These lifelong Christians may sanctify Christ in their heart, but they fail to “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you;

I will say it again, being a Christian is hard.  Defending you Faith is not.  That’s not to say it doesn’t take effort.

You must know why you believe what your asking others to believe.

Before you can make disciples of Christ, you have to be a disciple of Christ fully adorned in the Armor of God.

When you leave the door today you are no longer in a “safe space.”  You are entering the world of the Walking Dead where everyone not saved is controlled by the dark forces in the world.  As Paul says, they crave the things of the flesh.  Money, Power, Success, Sex, Greed, Glory.

As Christians, our job is to spread the Good News and make those in darkness understand that God’s Grace extends to them too.  But remember the more successful you are, the more Satan will conspire to first stop you, and then consume you.

Is your faith safe?

Jesus warned his disciples: “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves”

And Paul tells us to “Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”

Ask yourselves, Are you ready to defend your faith?

 

 

Shh! God’s Talking.

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Most people say they would like to hear God talking.

Who wouldn’t right.  Some of you are old enough to remember that TV commercial by EF Hutton the stock brokerage house.  Two ladies are in a noisy restaurant and one person says to the other person, “My broker is EF Hutton and he says…”  Suddenly, then the entire room gets quiet and everyone is straining to hear what the lady is going to say next.  Remember that commercial?  Their slogan was – “When EF Hutton talks, People listen.”

What if you were in a noisy place talking to a friend and you said, “I was just talking to God and he said…”  Would the whole room suddenly get so quiet you could hear a pin drop?  Everyone leaning over and straining to hear what God had to say?  I don’t think so.  Sadly, many people don’t seem to care nor believe what God might have to say.

1 Corinthians 2:14 tells us why.  14 “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness…” 

Paul told us that, we as Christians, have the Spirit and that’s our hotline to God.   If you want to hear God – simply listen to the Spirit inside you.  That’s all there is to it.

Jesus even said it himself, “…I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever 17 the Spirit of truth… he lives with you and will be in you.” – John 14:16-17

Isn’t that reassuring.  Christ says that through the Holy Spirit he is right inside each of us.

But what else is that scripture revealing to us?  I think it means that if we don’t hear God, then either we aren’t listening or it’s so noisy we can’t hear the Holy Spirit talking.

Many people have that problem?  They try real hard to hear God.  They pick up that hotline but all they hear is static?  Or maybe the line sounds dead.  Their thinking, God’s not home, or that he’s not talking to them?  Or, maybe you that there’s no such thing as hearing God?  Maybe they consider it foolishness.

Today I’d like talk about how to hear God.  I didn’t say talk to God – I suspect most of you have that down pretty good. My question is, do you know how to listen – to God?   Do you give God his turn in the conversation?  Are you stuck in monologue, instead of a dialogue?

Let’s get one big question out of the way, Does God really talk to us?  After all, what’s the point in listening for him if there’s nothing to hear.   Well I’m happy to report that, besides my own personal experience, there is overwhelming evidence that God does indeed talk to us and it’s well documented.  Here’s some of the evidence:

Psalm 32:8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.”  God will teach and counsel us.  To do that he must talk to us.

Proverbs 3:6 “in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.  Pay attention when he’s talking, and he will keep you safe.”   There’s an Old Testament tip for you –  Pay attention.

And Jesus tells us – My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.John 10:27.

Jesus is talking about us.  We are his sheep.  We listen to his voice and follow him.

Don’t we?  Sadly, many Christians never hear God.

Maybe in the past they heard the Lord, but now it seems he’s no longer speaking to them.  They might be working really hard on their relationship with God, but all they hear is silence  That silence can be disheartening, frightening, confusing and even agonizing.  I know first-hand what it’s like to be waiting on God for answers, and hear nothing? I did it for decades!  At one point, I even decided that maybe there really isn’t a God.  Eventually, through some hard work I learned how to have conversations with God.  And it turned out to be rather simple – for me anyway.

What is it we are taught to do if you catch on fire?  What’s that little saying we use to remind us of what to do?  Who knows it?  “Stop, Drop and Roll. Right!”

Well here is what I learned to do if I want hear God.   Stop, Be Quiet, and Listen!

Here is step-one to hearing God.  You need to STOP Talking. If you’re worried God’s not listening, STOP – because he is.  STOP chasing God.   He’s right beside you.

When I was as little kid and out shopping with my mom I used to play a game that aggravated her.  When she was looking at dresses and shirts and such on the large racks I would hide down inside the clothing racks.  I could see her feet, but she couldn’t see me.  I would scramble from rack to rack right behind her.  When she realized she’d lost sight of me she’d start calling my name.  Sometimes, I could tell she was getting a bit frantic and called my name with an urgency.  I would giggle and scamper under the clothing racks to follow her feet.   Eventually, my mother would stop calling out and would instead listen.  When she got quiet she could hear me giggling deep inside the clothing rack.  I never left her side – but she was so busy looking for me and calling out for me that she couldn’t hear me.  I think too often that is what we do when we pray.  We are trying to have a conversation with God, but we do all the talking! We keep waiting for answers but are not really listening.

When I first started to pray as an adult I never shut up.  I prayed for this and prayed for that.  I got good at asking and asking and asking. And when I didn’t see results I’d ask it differently.  “Ok God, here’s the deal… if you’ll just grant me this I will ….”  Anyone here do that?  Try bargaining with God?  It doesn’t work to well does it?

Here’s how I finally learned the second part of this lesson.  I literally took a college class on the how to pray.  I’m strange like that – I like formal training.  I figured I must have been praying “wrong.”   In that class, we learned eight maybe ten different ways to pray.  And they were all great.  I would practice these different styles in 30 to 45-minute sessions.  But guess what – regardless of the style, I did not hear God talking.  Finally, I think the Holy Spirit either got fed up with me, or felt sorry for me, because during this one prayer session, as I was going through my “technique,” I heard the Holy Spirit say, “Maybe you should just stop talking!”  And I did.  You should see my journal entry for that day!  God started talking and I was writing down everything as fast as he was telling me.  I didn’t think he was ever going to finish.  That when I realized that having a conversation with God has many parts.

 

Stop Talking was step one.  “Be Quiet” was step two.    But I don’t mean just closing your mouth – being quiet.  Being quiet is much more difficult that not talking.  Being quiet means, you have to shut out all the clutter in your head.

In the Old Testament, we hear the story of Elijah looking for God in the Wind and could not find him.  Then in the Earthquake, and then in the fire.  He looked for God and could not find him even though he knew he was close by.  Finally, after the fire stopped – and everything got real quiet, and Elijah was no longer looking for the lord, there came a gentle whisper.  (1 King 19:13) When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

How many times has God tried to answer you and you didn’t hear it because he speaks in a whisper and your making too much noise.  Perhaps, your mind’s to distracted or there’s too much noise and confusion going on in your life.  And, I’m not just talking just about loud external noises.  I’m talking about the noises in your head.

Here are a few examples of the noise I mean?  How about when your pride steps in and says I can do this on my own – I don’t need God’s help – and your head fills with confusion.

Or maybe you have bitterness inside and your holding onto a grudge or resentment towards someone.  That can be a loud clanging in your head, and heart.

Or maybe, you’re physically hurting and it’s making you close your mind to everything except the anger getting louder and louder.

These are the sounds I’m talking about.  We have to turn off, not only your own voice, but also all that clutter in your head.  It’s not easy.  But it only takes hearing God once and you’re changed forever.

The first step?  Stop Talking.  The second step?  Be Quiet.  Remember not talking is not the same thing as being quiet.

Lastly, is step-three, we need to listen for his voice.  Now, I hope you all don’t think this is a crazy segue but, I’m going to talk about goats for a minute.  Several years we bought three goats. We named them Nanny, Billy, and Randy.  When we got them home we would try and call them, but they would never come.  The dogs would come, the donkeys would come, even our chickens.  But, the goats wouldn’t.  Eventually we learned a trick – that if we shook a box of corn flakes – they would come running.  They knew what that sound represented – something that they loved.  Corn Flakes were a voice of love to them.  And soon after, we could call out and they would come running to see if we had corn flakes.

It’s the same way with God.   When he calls to us we may not know it’s God speaking because we don’t know the sound of his voice.  And if we don’t know his voice, we don’t know to go towards it.  That he’s waiting there with love – and Corn Flakes.

God is always trying to get our attention – sadly many people don’t recognize his voice.  We need to learn to listen for God when he’s talking.  His reply to us may be audible, or visual, or emotional.  It may be in a kindness we observe, or an unexpected presence that gladdens our heart.  It could be the cry of a baby.  God speaks to us with a voice that we each learn to recognize.  But first we have to Stop Talking, Be Quiet, and listen.

From the book of Samuel, we read how Samuel heard God calling his name, “Samuel, Samuel.” He was confused, he thought it was Eli calling him.  Samuel didn’t know God’s voice.  We’re the same.  We too need to learn to listen for God, to recognize his voice when he is speaking to us.  I bet almost everyone here can answer their home phone and know in an instant who is calling by the sound of that person’s voice.  Hearing God is no different.  Just like that person on the phone, you need to build a relationship with him, you need to get used to hearing his voice.  In Psalm 46:10 – He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;

Stop, Be Quiet, and Listen.

Let me conclude this morning with one last ingredient.  There is one more thing to do if you want to build that relationship with God.  And this for me was the hardest.  We must obey God when he speaks to us.

God speaks to those that he knows are going to listen and do what he tells them to do.  Psalm 119:33 “Just tell me what to do and I will do it, Lord. As long as I live I’ll wholeheartedly obey.” 

We’ve been told from the very beginning that God wants us to pray to him with our needs and desires.  He wants us to make big plans!  He is standing ready to answer all of them.  “Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.” (Proverbs 16:3).  It’s when you obey, that God knows, that you know, you are listening!

God talks to willing minds.  How do you make your mind willing and learn to listen to God?  Stop.  Be quiet.  Listen.  And obey!

Amen

 

Eternal Life – It’s not what you might think.

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Who would like to live forever?  But what if you had to live forever in this same shell of a body?  Then probably not so much, right?  But, most Christians don’t really worry about this because they’re convinced that once they finish up this life they’re GOING to have an “Eternal Life.”

For God so loved the world…

Most all of us have heard this scripture, 16 “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.”  What verse is that?  John 3:16 right!

This is a beautiful message. Jesus repeated that to all that had ears to hear.   It’s a message we can easily tune into.  I see that verse plastered all over the place.  Tim Tebow had it under his eyes when he played a national championship football game.  Do you know that during that game 94 million people Googled John 3:16?   That message really resonates with people.

Now, here is how most people interpret that verse.  Something like this – “I believe Christ died for my sins, therefore I will live forever.  And on my day of deliverance I will be with the lord in Heaven forever for an “eternal life”  That sound about right?

Most believe that is what John 3:16 is telling us.  16 “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.  I’ve looked real hard and I don’t see in this verse where it says we’re going to live forever?  Maybe people got confused by the verse just before that one. 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.

But, I don’t see anything there about living for eternity.  Let’s go all the way down to the bottom of John 3 and see if it’s there. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.”

Nope, not there either.  Wait, I know what you’re thinking.  David, you darn fool.  It says right there “eternal life.”   Really?  Is that what it says, or is that what you have heard?

The mistake people make when reading this scripture is that somehow, they conclude that “eternal life” means that you live forever?  The reality is, everyone has lives forever.  You either go up, or you go down – for eternity.  Adolf Hitler is living an eternal existence.  It’s just that his zip code starts with 666.

This is where we make the mistake – the phrase about “Eternal life” is not about the duration of our life, it’s about quality of life.  In the original biblical text eternal is referring to the time needed to accomplish the purposes of God.  However long that may be.

The Greek translation for “Eternal Life” is “aeōnios zoé ” (ai-ō-ne-ōs + zoé).  The word for “eternal” here is aeōnios and translates to something like “age lasting.” You have probably heard the root word “Eon’s.”  When we think of Eons, we don’t think of it as forever, it’s more like “that dogs been gone for eons.” A duration of time.

And the word for life is “zoé.”  In this context it does not mean life in the biological – coming into existence context.  It’s more like, “the way we should go through life” “our demeanor,” the way of life.  Zoé is the vigor or vitality of life in truth.

Eternal life means quality of life, not a duration.  Does that make sense for you? The larger point here is, Jesus’ is telling us to live through him in abundance.  In fact, in most places where you find the phrase “Eternal Life” you can substitute “abundant life.”

In John 17:3 we find a definition provided by Christ.  This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. 

This would read: “This is an abundant life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”

As Christians, when we are reborn in New Birth through our faith in Christ alone, Sola Fide.  WE don’t have to do anything for it – it is a gift given by Christ on the Cross – and we are to have a life of abundance.

In John 10:10 Jesus says,  The thief  [that would be the devil] comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”  This gift of “abundance” is not something to save for the future.  It’s for now!  To have “Eternal Life” is to know Christ in your life and to live today as the Holy Spirit guides you.  To live with an abundance of life here in Gods Kingdom here on Earth.

Let me ask you this one simple question.  What is the difference between a Christian and a Non-Christian?   The one physical – and I will call it physical – difference?  Here’s a hint.  Remember that Jesus, the man from Galilee did not have the Holy Spirit until he was baptized by John and the dove descended.  When Jesus received the Holy Spirit – THAT is when he began his mission to return all of us in flesh back to God the Father.

A Christian literally has something non-Christians do not.  The Holy Spirit!  We have the escape from death card!  And all we need to do to get one is to believe that Christ is our savior!  You see. That my friends, is the secret to knowing your living in the Kingdom of God right now. God expects us to be living our lives on Earth – just as they do in Heaven.   Isn’t that how Jesus taught us to pray!  “On Earth as it is in Heaven!”  God expects us to be learning right now the appropriate behavior for life in Heaven.  We are supposed to be using this “eternal life” stuff to prepare us for Heaven.

Right here you might be saying, “OK, I get the abundance part, but how can we know how they live in Heaven?” That’s easy.  Jesus told us when he created the 11th Commandment.  Who knows the 11th Commandment?  Turn to John 13:34-35 – it is right there in red letters.

John 13:34 “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so also you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”

The eleventh commandment!  “you must love one another.”  Jesus is telling us that the language of Heaven is Love.  Christ came down and took human form to show us what love looks like. Why?  Because that is the language we need to learn to speak.  That is the language that reflect God’s image back upon him.  That is the language of our true character.  That is the language of how we are to treat one another and all creation.  We must learn the language of Heaven before we arrive.

Back in the late 1990’s I moved to Brussels Belgium to work.  I rented an apartment and had to go to the government office and get my electricity turned on.  Here’s the problem, I didn’t speak French very well.  Me no parlez-vous that francais.

When I got to the office, I was waiting in line nervously and watched as a young lady was processing applications.  Next to her was a big burly Germanic looking dude.  He was obviously training the new girl.  When it was finally my turn the first thing I did was to apologize for my bad French. I said “Je ne parlez pas Francais tres bien.”  I don’t speak French very well.

The big dude looked up and shouted at me – “Why?”  It was obvious he was trying to impress the young girl.  He started pointing at me, “In our country you can choose three languages, French, German or Flemish.  We give you three choices and you can’t speak none?”

Well, I was in a pickle.  This guy was between me and having lights on my apartment.  In typical David fashion I responded.  “Can I tell you a joke?”  He said “Ya!”  I said, “If you can speak three languages that’s called trilingual!” He said, “Ya.”  I then said, “If you can speak two language you’re bilingual.”  He said “Ya!”  Is said what is it called when you can only speak on language?”  He wrinkled his face and shook his head.  I said, “American!”  He busted our laughing, Ya, Ya, Ya!   And I managed to get my electricity turned on.

Here’s the moral of that story.  Who was I to go to another country and expect to live there and not know the language.  If we plan on taking up residence in Heaven someday it would behoove us all to learn the language we need to speak before arrival.   The eleventh commandment “Love one another. As I have loved you, so also you must love one another.”  You may not have any other chance but now to learn the language.  St. Peter may not like dumb American jokes.

I know most of us are very loving and we try to obey all the commandments.  But here we are, living in the Kingdom of God, with this abundance of life given to us, and we might not speak the language very well.  God was nice enough to turn on our electricity, but he expects us to become fluent in the “language of love,” ASAP!

What is the best way to learn a language.  By immersion.  Right – jump right in.  We need to learn the language of love, so we are fluent before we get to Heaven.  Perhaps we can find an immersion program right here in our community.  The trick is finding the right teachers.

Each year Tim Tebow promotes the Night to Shine event?  This is an event for “people of special needs.”  It is literally a Prom and every person was named King or Queen of the Prom.  My wife was a volunteer last year and told me that every person at the event was permanently affected by the love that was present.  It was a big ol’ barn overflowing with love and compassion for those in need.

But here is the immersion part I was talking about – the love was returned to the volunteers by more than ten-times what they each gave.  How ironic is it that, those who we call “of special needs” were the teachers?  When it came to Love – the volunteers were not nearly as fluent!

Those at that event had an immersion course in the language of love.  Jesus told Nicodemus “Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen” (John 3:11).  Everyone at that event is still testifying to what they saw and felt.  Those that attended have harnessed those emotions, and the love for God that was inside that barn, and have taken it outside the barn door into the community.

That was just one event.  How many other persons of need could we find that will teach you the next lesson of love?   John 5:24: “Very Truly I tell you anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.”  Jesus does not say “will have,” but uses the present tense. “has eternal life.”  The quality of our lives will change forever!

Who wants to live forever?  Who cares?  I want Eternal Life?  You can choose to go one of two ways.  But the Lord Jesus Christ said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). 

And here is the kicker – you don’t get eternal life when you die – you get it right now. If you do not have a relationship with Christ – or maybe it is not where it should be.  This morning – this exact moment – is a good time to let Christ be fully present in your heart, soul and mind. The only way to the Father is through the Son.  Let him in!

Amen

Giving Faith a Tune Up

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How do you know if your Faith is real?  When you find your Faith being tested, and it will be tested, does it start to slip away?   And if your Faith begins to fade what happens to your confidence in your belief systems?  And if you start to wonder if your beliefs are somehow corrupted – what does that do for your trust in everything; God, family, the world in general.

Indeed, when we begin to waver in our Faith, it can become a very slippery slope to living an existence outside our relationship with God.

How many here have ever climbed into your car only to discover it wouldn’t start?  Probably everyone at least once.  I lived most of my life with clunker cars – so I had to learn how to diagnose the problem and try to fix it.   Some become experts in car repair– and I suspect it was mostly all trial and error!

Up until a few weeks ago, I had an old Ford Tractor.  It was a 1952 Ford 8n.  Great tractor, but sometimes I had problems getting it started.   I would turn the key and absolutely nothing happened – no noise, nothing.  I learned that meant the problem was likely electrical.  A disconnected wire or something.  Other times, I turned the key and it made a faint whirring sound, grrrun, grrrun, grrrun.  That was often because my battery didn’t have enough juice.  So, I jumped it or put the battery on a charger.   Then, at other times, that old tractor would start right up, but after a few minutes, it would die on me.  Well, this turned out to be a problem with the engine not getting enough fuel.  When I cleaned out my fuel filter, I was up and running.

Diagnosing problems with our Faith is very much like getting my old tractor back up and running.  We need to do some troubleshooting to trace the issues.

What I’d like to propose now is sort of a dummies guide for diagnosing problems in our Faith.  I’m going to assume that not everyone understands what constitutes our Faith, and one needs to know what Faith “is,” to diagnose any problems.

But first, let me tell you what Faith is not.  When someone says they “Believe in God” that is not the same as having “Faith.” One can “believe” something but still not act upon it.  If I choose to believe that the sun will rise tomorrow, that requires no action on my part – I just wait for it to happen.  But for me to believe that the Son of God rose – that takes Faith!  Belief is not the same as Faith.

What about “acceptance.”  If I say I have accepted Christ as my savior, isn’t that the same as Faith?  No, millions of people, maybe hundreds of millions around the world, have accepted Christ as their savior. But they lack Faith!  When Billy Graham had his many gospel crusades, it’s estimated that 215 million people heard him live and that 2.2 million people responded to the invitations to become a Christian.[1]  But get this next part:

“In a 1990 interview with PBS, Billy Graham himself stated his belief that only about 25% of those who come forward at one of his events actually became Christians. In recent years, studies have shown that only 6% of people who “come forward” at an evangelistic crusade are any different in their beliefs or behavior one year later.”

Wow – and that was with Billy Graham as the witness for Christ![2]

Belief is not Faith, and Acceptance is not Faith.

What if I say I “Trust” in the Lord.  Isn’t that the same as Faith?  Nope, all it means is that I trust that God is responsible for everything that happens.  In fact, I can get quite cynical and start blaming God when things to go as I planned. I am observing what happens, and assigning God as the source of my consequences, but not really accepting the outcome.

Belief is not Faith. Acceptance is not Faith.  Trust is not Faith.  By now you must be wondering, okay then, what is Faith?

Faith is when Belief, Acceptance, and Trust all come together as one resident process to transform us.  You see, Faith requires a belief based in knowledge.  Faith requires an Acceptance of Christ thorough an emotional assurance of his presence, and lastly, Faith requires a Trust such that you put yourself entirely into the “custody” of Christ.

As Christians, having Faith is not something we do blindly – it is something we become.  Unfortunately, the word Faith as used in the bible has been corrupted by secularist. We are mocked as being irrational because we have “Blind Faith.”  But that is not what the Bible means when it discusses Faith.  There is nothing Blind about “Faith in Christ,.”

When the Apostle Paul describes “pistis Christou” (Romans 3:22, Galatians 2:16), his meaning doesn’t require an abandoning of reason.  In fact, it needs a reason!  Once we develop this biblical “Faith in Christ” it becomes centering and transformative.

Paul describes how “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” (Romans 6:6)

And as followers of Christ, we know that we must exist through our “Faith in Christ.”

This is what Jesus was talking about in John’s Gospel when he said: “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me.” (John 15:5)

Without Faith in Christ, we cannot do anything.  Without living in Faith our beliefs systems crumble, our assurance in our values rattle, and our trust in humanity begins to sink like stones in the water.

But what should we do when we have a crisis of Faith?  When we are having a crisis in our Faith what do we do to restore it?  That brings us back full circle to my antique tractor.  How do I get my Faith, like my tractor, to start and keep it running?

Just like the tractor, we need to look at the individual parts that make it run.  Let’s start with the part of Faith that comes from Belief based in Knowledge – it’s a lot like the wiring in a vehicle.

If we think about the wiring as the circuitry the tractor needs to operate, that’s like our core body of knowledge that we carry within us that shapes our beliefs.  Don’t we even use that expression – “That’s how we are wired?”  Are religious beliefs are wired according to the wiring diagrams found in our biblical texts.  If your Faith doesn’t turn on – look to how your wiring is affecting your beliefs.

Has your confidence in the bible been hijacked?  Or maybe you’ve been walking on eggshells about this whole thing around the Bible as “inerrant,” the Bible as “infallible.”  Perhaps you read what seems to be contradictions in scripture.  Or, maybe you choose to believe part of the Bible and ignore other parts – that’s some crossed wires right there.  If one lacks confidence in the bible – the electrical circuit needed to guide Faith – they might be headed for a meltdown.

How does one fix that?  Easy, we need to find the shorts.  We need to find the faults in the wiring.  That is why we need Bible Study and Sunday School, and even more critical is the need to read our Bibles on a regular basis.  This is a time when we learn to navigate those difficult passages.  The reality is when a person reads the bible long enough and often enough – they discover new interpretations all the time.  Once the short circuits are fixed, and our wiring back in order, we are ready to operate our Faith at peak performance.  We get back to “firing on all cylinders” as a mechanic might say!

By the way, if you are overwhelmed by the Bible (as most of us can be), let me tell a little secret.  God gives us knowledge as we are ready to accept and digest it.  Many people do not realize that, as Methodist, we are not taught that the bible is inerrant?  We do not have a doctrine of infallibility.  It would never have occurred to John Wesley because it was never really considered.  Instead, Article IV of our Doctrinal Standards and General Rules, with the wording from the Evangelical United Brethren Church, says this:  “We believe the Holy Bible, Old, and New Testaments, reveals the Word of God so far as it is necessary for our salvation.” 

Our doctrine says don’t sweat it.  God will lead you.  He will help us organize the wiring- harness.  If you are having a crisis of Faith and you can’t even get started – check your wiring.  Just open the Bible, and God will work with you to reveal all that is necessary for your salvation.

Now, what if your Faith is like my Tractor when it is trying to turn over, and it goes, grrrun grrrun, grrrun.  You’re not getting a spark.  Your Faith is a bit run down.  Faith runs on emotion.  It is our spark, our enthusiasm.   This sounds just like my tractor battery.  You see, we might have proper wiring, but if our battery is almost dead – we can get going.   In Hebrews 11:1 we read: “Now Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”   That conviction is a spark that ignites the fuel of our Faith.    If we want assurance, we need a spark.

When I was folks about their conversion story,  I often hear about a spark or light that shined.  Now, some people don’t have a big conversion story – they just felt a spark of the Holy Spirit working through them.  This is very common.  Most people do not realize that John Wesley was a Christian for twenty-two years before he felt his spark of assurance.  He tells of how he felt his heart strangely warmed (at Aldersgate).  That sounds like a glow plug in a diesel engine that finally ignite.  His internal fuel combusted, and he was granted the assurance he wanted.  We even sing a hymn called Blessed Assurance – it talks about how we are confident that Christ is within us.  We need assurance to sustain our Faith.

How do we create that spark?  Easy, let’s look at my old tractor – when my battery is weak, I put it on a charger.  I harness the power of other sources to reenergize it.  That is what the Christian community – your larger church family is for.  This is also why John Wesley insisted that the Methodist Church deploy small groups.  It is in these small groups we are held accountable and encouraged in our Faith.  We keep one another’s batteries charged up.

Isn’t that another expression we use at times when we are invigorated by a revival or a good sermon – “I got my battery charged?”

Finally, let’s look at what happens to us when our Faith begins to waiver because things are just not turning out how we expected.  Maybe the trust meter is declining.  This happens when we encounter hypocrisy in our own church.  Or when we are forced to witness awful things done in the name of Jesus.  I won’t even discuss the latest Priest scandal because it is so tragic for those abused children.  We all have our own stories, and experiences, maybe even right here in this church.   Our Faith in one another can erode when we start to lose trust in our community and our family.  Or maybe we merely just think God has abandoned us.  We wonder, where is God?

I like the story of Daniel and how the King decreed that no one could pray to anyone but him for thirty days.  When Daniel refused to stop praying three times a day to YHWH, the King was forced to put him in the lion’s den.  Now, if I was Daniel, I might have felt compelled to think – what is going on here?  I pray morning, noon, and night.  I worship God with all my Heart, Soul, Strength and Mind and look where I end up.  I’m served up as Dinner.

But Daniel did not let this clog up his fuel lines of Trust.  He kept right on praying, and God sent an Angel to close the mouths of the Lions.  Daniel 6:23 says that “The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.”  

Daniel never stopped Trusting in God.  To keep our Faith fully intact we also must sustain our Trust.  How do we do that?  Just like in my old tractor, we find out what is clogging the fuel lines.  What is blocking our ability to have a conversation with God and to discern his plans?

Does anyone here know why a fuel filter gets clogged up?  Because there is junk that gets into the fuel.   How does Junk get into our lives that block us from communicating with God?  It’s easy because we are swimming in junk.  The secular world is flooding our world with garbage through all forms of media.  Movies, music, culture, and even education.  Our children are the most vulnerable – and social media is corrupting civil discourse.

The only defense we have, to keep our fuel lines unblocked, is to avoid the junk as best as we can.  Limit our exposure to negative influences.  We can also put a little hi-test into our tanks!  Let’s feed on good sources of Christian music, and culture, and conversation.  But even more than that, go right to the source for your fill-ups.

Go to God in prayer as often as you can.  Let him fill your tank with his gift of Grace.

I started this conversation by asking the question – how do you know if your Faith is real?  The answer is simple – you don’t unless you run a diagnostic:

  • Check that your wiring is free of short circuits – avoid crossing your wires of scripture. And remember, you only need the wire harness that’s fitted for you.  God will let you know what is sufficient for your salvation.
  • Make sure your battery stays charged. When your running low – don’t avoid others – get around them.  Let them recharge that spark of emotions – that Blessed assurance of the Holy Spirit.
  • And finally, make sure your fuel lines are not clogged by all the garbage in the world. We are not designed to run on ethanol – we need Hi-Test right from the source of God through prayer.

The Apostle Paul was clear when he told us “For in [the Good News] the righteousness of God is revealed through Faith for Faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by Faith.” (Romans 1:17)  We cannot live – if we don’t fully understand that Faith in Christ – is not Blind.  It needs Knowledge, Assurance, and Trust.  And it’s on us to us to keep our Faith tuned up and running at full capacity.  Just as Jesus said, this is the only way we can live.

 “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.  (John 3:16)

Amen

[1] https://factsandtrends.net/2018/02/21/billy-grahams-life-ministry-by-the-numbers/

[2] https://redeeminggod.com/crusade-evangelism-effective/

 

When Jesus Says Go

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Lo I am With You Always – Hanna Varghese

I was recently amused to hear a story about a former pastor of this church, from back when it was a three-point charge.  It seems when he first came aboard he felt the need to race from church to church to church, because of the close starting times.  After a few speeding tickets, one church decided to change their starting time to allow the pastor more time to get to where he needed to be.

That seems unfair for the police to do that.  A pastor was trying to do God’s work and even he had to obey the speed limit. But that is life, right?  We follow the rules.  I get exasperated at times by these limitations.

How many of you have the same problem – do the limits on life seem to always get in the way at times!  Think about it.  Eighteen to vote, but twenty-one to drink.  Only $200 out of an off-brand ATM. Even limits on how many questions one can miss on a driver’s license exam….   Maybe that is a good one.  Most of these limits seem arbitrary, but some are not.  There are also limits to things we cannot see – like the physics of cell phone signal, or the available internet speed in the mountains, grrr.   There is even a limit to how physics in our daily lives like waiting for a pot to boil – or if you are making moonshine, how hot the mash can get before the alcohol begin to leach off… Anyone know?  173 degrees.  Yes, I know.

We are all subject to these seen and unseen rules.  But, when we look to the Bible we discover that God thought limits were an excellent way to regulate all his creations.   “Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God” (Exodus 20:8).  How many of us break the Sabbath weekly?

“Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.”  (Genesis 6:3).  Yet, modern science thinks they are close to having us to live forever.  No thanks, I’m not sure I’d want to live more than 120 years – but that’s me.

And then get this, from the Book of Job we learn, “… God fixed the weight of the wind and measured out the waters, … He set a limit for the rain and a path for the thunderbolt, (Job 28:25-26).  I think God wins that one!  We humans haven’t mastered that yet!

From birth to death we learn to exist within our limitations.  How many remember Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry when he famously said this line – “A man has to know his limitations!”

However, I do have good news.  This morning I want to discuss the few times God removes our limitations.  Where God says – do not stop.  The one time when God officially gave us the freedom of excess.  We find this at the very end of the Gospel of Matthew:

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

I know many of you likely have this scripture memorized.  For those that are new to the bible, this is the clarion call for our Christian duty.  As Methodist, this scripture is practically our Missions statement – We have been told to go and make disciples of Christ to transform the world.

Unfortunately, I think too often when people read what this scripture, what is called the Great Commission, they can get caught up in the what we are supposed to do and seldom slow down to see “the how” that Jesus was telling us.

We’re lucky when we read this passage because Jesus did not encode it as a parable.  Christ means what he says.  He is informing the disciples that he has all the authority of Heaven and Earth – I am commanding you to demonstrate to others what it means to be my disciples.  For those that follow you, I want you to Baptize them so that the Holy Spirit will come into them.  AND THEN I want you to continue to teach them how to obey all the things that I taught you.  I want you to do this for all Ethnos (all Nations) – that means, all cultures of all people everywhere.  Not just the Jews. And do not worry, for I am Emmanuel – God is with you!

How many of you remember your Baptism?  If you were older like I was, you were probably full of energy.  I was radiating, and I know I had a stupid perma grin on my face for weeks.   Unfortunately, my church did not have a discipleship program – or else I fell through the cracks.  After a year or so after I came to know Christ, I began to have doubts.  I became hesitant to move forward. Instead, I focused on all the ways the church members were not obeying the Bible.  I froze.

Yet, today, when I go back and read this passage I am filled with relief because I know that I was no different from some of those first disciples – that doubted.

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.

Over the years I’ve read this passage many times – and when I got to the words “some doubted” I always dismissed it.  I guess I figured, gee, too bad for whoever doubted; maybe they learned the hard way.

Before I move forward this morning, I want to explain the full translation of the Greek word – διστάζω (distazō).  This word translated as “Doubted!”  But it doesn’t mean what how we use it today.  Right now, my baseball team is doing poorly.  I’m starting to doubt they will make the playoffs.  That means I am beginning to believe they will not.

That is not what it means in the original Greek.  Instead, distazō means to doubt – but it’s a different kind of doubt.  It’s more like to waver, or to hesitate.  These are synonyms.

For Matthew, having doubt was not the same as modern usage of the word as to disbelieve something.  You see, to have disbelief is to fully form a thought.  You are mostly sure about what you do not believe.   Distazō describes a doubt that means a hesitation or wavering. It’s that gap of time we use to form our thoughts.

Our present translation of doubt is not what Matthew intended.  If he wanted to insinuate that some disciples did not know who Jesus was, he would likely have used the word agnōstos – Unknown or forgotten.  But nothing in this passage suggests they did not recognize Christ – they just didn’t know what to think about Christ what they saw him.  They hesitated, they waivered.

How many of you have ever seen the videos of a service member returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan?  If you watch them, you will often see the spouse or children being suddenly surprised.  Usually, they will freeze in place, put their hands to their face, start to scream and THEN run to the person.  I tear up every time I watch those videos.  Anyone else?

When you watch you will notice that some of the family members run straight away to the veteran, yet others freeze first –they hesitate.  Once they realize what is happening they rush towards them.  When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.”

Now, let me ask you all a difficult question. What do you think their reaction would be for someone if they previously thought their loved one was dead?  Do you think they might stand there a bit longer and wonder how can this be true?  Wouldn’t they waver before running, hesitate longer, and maybe wonder what they are seeing.

I think Matthew was describing the same thing about the disciples when they first saw Jesus reincarnated.   What is happening? What does this mean?  Can this be true? What do I do next?

You see, some were just like us.  They were conditioned to hesitate because we live with limitations.  Most of us are just like them.  We hesitate, we waiver, we doubt.

I will give you an example to make my point.  And clearly, this example does not fit many of you.  But here you go.  Christ gave us all a command to make disciples.  How are you doing?  Do you GO!  Or do you hesitate?  Do you look for opportunities to be a personal witness for Christ – or do you waver.

Maybe you’re worried that the person is going to be rude or not respond nicely.  Maybe you don’t know what to say.  Maybe you think it’s not the right time or place.

In short – to use Matthew’s definition – do you hesitate, do you waver, do you doubt?

Personally, I am very thankful for verse 17 of the Great Commission.  I don’t feel alone anymore when I doubt or wonder what I’m supposed to do.  Hesitation is a mechanism we use to stall until we have everything sorted out.

We need time to practice what we might say.  Then we wonder, will they like our church.  But guess what – It’s ok.  And that’s not me saying that.

The author of Jude’s epistle –the one some think was Jesus’ half-brother, says that other Christians are to “have mercy on those who doubt.”  – to those who hesitate and waver!

That is because having doubt is often a sign of discernment in our faith.  We are trying to work it all out.  This is especially common for those in their 20’s and 30’s.  It takes time to discover that some of those other earthy “truths” we believe just might be wrong.

Let me repeat what I said before – Doubt is not disbelief.  Some authors call doubt “a bridge from our faith to perfect faith.”[1]   When we have doubts, we need to remember to challenge the truth of our doubts…  think about that one.  We must challenge the truth or validity of our doubts.

Every week I stand up here and say, “Being a Christian is hard!”  I’m purposeful with that declaration because having doubts is part of the difficulty.  The primary reason for doubt is that we live in a world of limitations.  Right?  Scientist thinks we can live longer than 120 years and most of you don’t think the Sabbath is important.  But when I look in my bible I suspect there is a reason it is number four and is ninety-eight words long.  The ones we all try to keep, not to kill, commit adultery, or steal are only four or five words long.  And come later than keeping the Sabbath.  We hesitate and waver on if God means what he says.

Maybe it’s because we are bounded by our reality.  I mean, how can God possibly love us that much?  We don’t experience that much love from anyone or anything else in our lives.  How can God’s capacity for unbounded love for us be real?  How is that much love even possible?

We hesitate when we read verses that talk about that much love.   With all the other limitations on our lives, how we supposed to comprehend how God’s unlimited love working through us, and for us, and even in spite of us.  It’s mind-blowing.

It is especially hard when life is not going the way WE planned it to go.  When we have ailments or maladies or a death in the family – or even our own terminal diagnosis.   We begin to doubt!  We waver in our faith.  We hesitate in our love for Christ.  Not all of us – but most of us!

We are limited by not knowing the big picture. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the revealed things belong to our children and to us forever…”  (Deuteronomy 29:29a)

Christ revealed many things to us.  He told us about the lifting of limitations upon us. That because he has ALL authority –we as his disciples can freely baptize and teach new disciples.

Because he sends us to ALL nations – all cultures – we know our mission field is everywhere. It is boundless.

Because he wants us to teach ALL the things that He has given to us – we know our lesson plan is forever full of new wisdom and hope for others in His glory

Because he promised to be with us always, ALL WAYS, so we know that we are not alone.   His presence and promises has no limitations

“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” (Matthew 7:7).  He is always right there – no limitations!

There were disciples of Christ who wondered, just like we do, what does it mean to follow him.  They hesitated, they wavered, they doubted.  They were not perfect even in the presence of Christ.  And we are a long way from being perfect.

John Wesley describes God’s Perfecting Grace as a life “habitually filled with the love of God and neighbor” and as “having the mind of Christ and walking as he walked.”[2]  Wow, that is a high but glorious bar to reach!

Maybe there are some of you here that are close to perfection –I know that I have a lifetime more of work to even get close.

In the meantime, Christ has lifted our limitations and has commanded us all to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

I hope all of you will TRY to do this always without hesitation, without waver, and without a doubt.  Many of us will falter because we are sinners.  But HE promised, surely, to be with us always, to the very end.

It is in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we give thanks and praise for this message today, and courage to make disciples of Christ to transform the world!

Amen

 

[1] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/7-ways-to-deal-with-doubt/

[2] http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/distinctive-wesleyan-emphases1

Worshipping Unknown Gods

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How many of you would call yourself religious?  I I would suspect that many of you might think everybody should be religious?  This world would be a much better place if everyone would just get more religion.  Right?  I hear many people say that.

Here’s my question.  What do you mean by being religious?    Most of us use the term and assume it means to follow Christianity.  In fact, some folks agree and use that definition to call us a bunch of religious nuts.   I looked up the term “religious” in the Urban Dictionary – Have you ever heard of the Urban Dictionary?  It is an excellent source to see how the mainstream secular society defines things.

They define religions as Completing an action without really thinking it through. Just like how religious people ignore reality to follow a faith.  Ouch, see what I mean.  This morning when we read Paul’s sermon on Mars.   He is talking to all of us that say we are religious!

For those that would like to follow along, I will be reading from the Acts of the Apostles in Chapter 17.  Before we start, let me ask this, how many of you would like to have traveled with Paul?  Interesting. Have you ever read the book of Acts?  I’m not so sure I would have.  In this reading today, we are going to jump to verse 16.  Because in verse 1 to 16 you’ll discover that Paul didn’t randomly wind up in Athens – but he was chased out Thessalonica and then barely escaped Berea.

His companions, Simon and Timothy, were probably exhausted and said – hey Paul, here’s a great idea, why don’t you go on ahead to Athens – we’ll catch up with you.  So that’s Paul did.  He went on ahead to a place he’d never been.

Do any of you travel much?  How about outside about your area code?  What do you all do when you go to a new city.  Do you go sightseeing? Maybe check out the local museums or attractions?  When I was younger, I would travel just to go to amusements parks.  Like Six-Flags in Atlanta or Disney World.

Anyone know where the word amusement came from?  To “muse” is the root word and means to think about something.  Put the letter “a” in front of muse, “amuse,” and it means to not think.  Someone that amuses us allows us to “not think,” like a comedian or funny TV show.  The next time you go to Disney remember they are there to amuse you, so you don’t think about the price of those tickets – right?

Well – this is what Paul did – he went sightseeing, but he wasn’t much amused.  It’s said that the city of Athens at his time had 10,0000 people and over 30,000 gods they worshipped.  It’s said it was easier to find a god than a person.  In Paul’s time, Athens was the home of all Western Europe’s learning and philosophy.

This was a place where people went to muse – to think!  All the important muse’ were from Athens.  Plato, Aristotle, Socrates.  Certainly, this was a place that an important thinker like Paul wanted to visit.

Let’s begin in Verse 16 where Paul’s is wandering the streets waiting for Simon and Timothy to arrive.  Acts 17:16 “While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.  

Right away we learn that this trip was not what Paul was hoping.  It says he was greatly distressed?   The translation for distressed does not do this verse justice but think I know what it means.

I have often traveled to places where I was overwhelmed by the debauchery I witnessed.  Places like San Francisco and people walking around naked.  Or in New York in the 90’s with all the porn movie houses right in Times Square.  You see, when you come from a small town like I did and are suddenly in the middle of something like that, you become distressed!

As Luke says. Paul was distressed!  So, Paul went next to find people he would be comfortable with – at the Synagogue.  Acts 17:17-18 So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. “A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.

We read here that Paul decided to preach the Good News to a group of people that had no clue what he was talking about.  Paul tried to reason with the Epicureans and the Stoics. Who were these people?   These were the same people that we have all around us today.

The Epicureans were what we now call secularist and atheist.  They didn’t believe in any one God.  They thought life should only be for their personal desires   Having a god would get in the way.  Some of you may have heard their famous mantra – “Eat, Drink, and be Merry. For tomorrow we die.”  Sadly, they live for nothing but pleasure.

The other group was the Stoics, and they were Pantheist.  They believed God is everywhere in all things.   “Nature is sacred, trees are my temples and forests are my cathedrals.”[1]  They are like the original hippies in this country.  Peace man – Far out.  Groovy!  Ok, confession time, who here at one time said “Groovy”  or “Far out?”

I’m not sure if Paul impressed this audience or made them mad because the scripture next says they TOOK him to the innermost part of the city – to the Aeropagus.  This was a vast marketplace where food and trade were sold.  It was also where you found the legal courts, the theatres, the heralds, the debate societies; everything was here.

Acts 17:19-21  “Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?  I read this as both hostile and curious!

20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)”

Remember earlier, Paul was teaching the Gospel … we are all born sinners that Christ died on the cross for our sins,, and now all we must do is be faithful to him to have eternal life.  Now, suddenly Paul is standing in front of people who had no idea about this new God, let alone his son Jesus.   He was likely wondering how he could explain Christ if they don’t know how the story begins?  The story of creation and sin.  The story of Genesis 1-11.  I think Paul decided to change his tactics.  He chose to use their culture to explain.

Acts 17:22-23 “Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.”

What just happened?  Paul decides not to tell the Good News. In fact – he is going to give them some bad news!  For those that worship many idols, he was about to explain  that they were all obsolete.  It is the “Unknown God” that deserves all the attention!

Acts 17:22-29 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he gives everyone life and breath and everything else.

So right here Paul tells them that there is only one God.  One God that makes all other creations.

26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. Hmm, this sounds like a story from the Tower of Babel.  More Genesis.

The Greeks hearing Paul tell about this one God had never heard such a story.  They believed the man was created from the soil and when they died, the returned to the earth.  Sound familiar?  Who in our culture says we just rot and decay when we die? But now it gets exciting because Paul presses in on them…

27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.

Paul is telling them – you all have 30,00 idols.  You have no clue who to worship.  But you all do know how it feels to worship blindly, not knowing which god to praise… You are like a blind person stumbling in the dark.   But the real God is standing right next to you “unknown.”  But it gets even better!

28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

See what Paul did right there.  He tapped into the local culture and quoted their poets to make his point.

29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, just like your poets claim, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill.”

Just imagine all the mouths open and jaws hitting the floor.  But Paul doesn’t care –he comes next delivers a final warning they need to hear…

Acts 17:30  “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.  

What does repent mean? Repent – To change how you think, to take another path, to look at life differently.

31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

Paul is telling them – look you better pay attention because the time is coming soon when you will be judged by this “unknown god.”  If you want proof – let me tell you more about his Son that rose from the dead!

32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.”   33 At that, Paul left the Council.  34 Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.”

Wow – that sure did not turn out like most Theologians and missiologist expected.  Did Paul preach the Gospel?  Did he tell the Aeropagus the Good News?   No – he didn’t.  Did he mention the Cross?  No!  Did he say Christ was the Son of God? No!  Did he mention salvation on the cross?  No!  Did he even pronounce the name Christ or Jesus – No!

Paul did what we all have to learn to do.  He adapted to the culture.  He didn’t race in with Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, when they don’t even know the Father!  How could this audience possibly understand the story of Christ when their god was Loki, or Ra, or Thor who was busy up there making thunderclouds.   No – Paul knew that he had to dial back his testimony to what little they could understand!

But Paul did tell them the truth about their idols.  Didn’t he! Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill was his lesson to the Athenians that they cannot be saved by worshiping random idols.  That the “Unknown God” was the only one true God – and he was getting ready to come back with a vengeance!

I’ve heard many pastors who preach on this scripture say it was Paul’s best Sermon.  I’m not so sure.  I think it was Paul just teaching us how to improvise and witness in a culture that does not know God.

Acts 17:30  “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.”

I sincerely believe that every moment we spend with idols that distract us from God is time spent in ignorance.  I will close with last words from Jesus speaking in his Sermon on the Mount.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” 24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. (Matthew 6:21-23)

Perhaps we all need to take a survey of the idols in our lives, and our family’s lives.  We all have idols competing for our time.  The question is, do they serve us? Do they make our lives safer and allow us more time to worship the true God?

Or do we serve them?  These are the questions we should all ask God to help us discern.  Are these idols moving us away from our opportunity to be entirely with Jesus Christ?

Remember him? The one that came to in the flesh was beaten and tortured and died so that we may have eternal life.  Should we find the time to believe in him!

Amen

 

[1] Mikhail Gorbachev

Humility Through Grace

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Who all remembers these lyrics:

“Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble
When you’re perfect in every way
I can’t wait to look in the mirror
Cause I get better looking each day.”

That was by Mac Davis back in the eighties… He was quite the superstar. He sold lots of records, played in large clubs, and even had a TV show. Anyone remember his show? I loved it as a kid. I think it came on right after Hew-Haw, but I could be wrong.

Anyway, he tells the story about one time the owner of a club put him up in a hotel and in a huge hotel room called the “star suite.” And said he woke up at 8 am that first morning and realized he was all alone. He was on top of the world but all alone! That morning he wrote the song to poke fun at himself and his loneliness. You see, back in the early eighties humility was still considered a virtue. Today, we live in a world where an individual is measured not by their virtue, but their identity.

We are living in what is called a Post-Modern society. This is a bit confusing to describe, but the most significant change has been in the definition of morality. The Bible is less likely to be looked upon as the source of morality. For many, it has become just another book that sits on the shelf. Right next to the Harry Potter and the Self Help and Diet paperbacks.

Morality is now defined by. However it best fits into a communal consensus. More importantly, morality is now hostage to one’s personal identity. In the past our identity was measured by the goodness we could do. Even the Mafia opened inner-city food banks. They were criminals but still understood the importance of a morale core somewhere deep inside them.

In today’s world, one does not need morality to have an identity. You see, the post-modern culture has completely changed how we obtain our identity. We are now living in a culture that is redefining God. Our Government has separated all function away from God. This is formally called secularism. The absence of God!

The broader secular world has immersed us in a new mantra – that each of us needs to be our own genuine selves. We’ve been indoctrinated into believing that if we work hard enough, work long enough hours, make enough money, put our kids in the best schools, climb that ladder of success then we can finally stand tall and say “look at me.” “This is who I am.”

In this secular age, identity is defined by what we’ve accomplished. Not who we are! If you see a man in a nice suit or in luxury car you’re likely to think to yourself – that person is successful. But if you see a homeless dude coming out from under a bridge, few of us would call that person a success. What was the difference between them? It was how they looked at us! See, we are all guilty of this redefining individual worth.

In the secular age, this measure of success is used to form an identity. Today, success is the yardstick by which a post-modern culture allows you to define your own identity. Society is teaching our children that “’only they” can decide what is right for themselves.

Let me borrow an illustration from the pastor Tim Keller. How many here have seen the movie Frozen? I have granddaughters, so it’s mandatory. I’m highly entertained by Disney movies, but it’s no secret that the Disney message is intended to condition children to the current culture. Let me read a few words from the song Elsa sings:

I don’t care, what they’re going to say (this is pride)
It’s time to see what I can do. To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me, I’m free! (this is moral relativism)

If you have seen the movie, you likely left feeling it had a great message, that love sacrifices self for the good of another. And that message is a good one – it almost follows Jesus’ teaching. But the song I just quoted, (Let it Go), is nowhere close to the same lesson as Christ taught. And, it was the biggest hit of the movie.

To show you my point – we can read  blogs on the internet to see what girls thought this song meant. And most understood it exactly how I feared – one said.

To me it means to walk away from a society (that’s self-preservation) which judges people and expects everyone to be perfect (that’s moral relativism), it means follow your own path and to live your life by how you want to live and not to worry about what other people think of you and your life choices (that’s Pride with arrogance. And it’s wrong in so many ways – Our Life choices affect more than just ourselves.)

In the secular world, your personal identity is critical and pride the most essential attribute. Humility doesn’t mean temper pride – it merely means be kind to other people and try not to be arrogant. Pride is good!

Let’s pause for a moment now and think about how most of us were raised. I want to turn now to what that dusty book on the shelf says about identity, humility, and Pride. The entire gospel it seems discusses the danger of Pride. Christ talks about pride more than any other topic.

In Luke 14:8-10 Jesus teaches us that “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place.

And from Ephesians 2:8-9, the Apostle Paul says this about humility and pride:  8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast.

Do you all see the contrast here as to how scripture says we, as Christians, come by our identity? In the secular world, one cannot be both Bold and Humble. It’s impossible to have a character that fits both. The Bold secular’s fake humility!

As Christians, we don’t work for an identity. Christ gives it to us freely! Through the means of Grace, our character comes from God – not by how hard we work. We are given a new status, our new selves, renewed in the spirit of our minds. THEN we get to work.

But here, at this point in my conversation with each of you, let me ask you all a question. How many here are genuinely humble? How many of us will truly descend into places where the people who need help exist?

How many of us say we are willing to march in a protest for some social justice cause, maybe get arrested, but we don’t because we don’t want to stir up trouble. How many of us are willing to forgo our material comforts, like air conditioning, and good food, to be with those that are without? I am going to tell you about some people that walk among us today who will.

We have an entire generation of young adults – those that were born between 1984 and the year 2000. They are often called the Millennials. There are thousands of jokes about millennials. They all still live at home with their parents, they don’t want to work, they need their naps each day. They will cry if you hurt their feelings. Does this sound about right? We joke about the snowflakes. Here are some more.

They were told if they finish college there will be a job waiting. They think the founders of this country were privileged slaveholders. They believe Native Americans were targeted and wiped out by white colonial expansion, and that Christopher Columbus is responsible for Genocide. They do not believe in American exceptionalism.

When people hear that list of attributes, some have little respect for this cohort of whiney snot-nosed kids. After all, someone must work hard, keep us all safe, keep the economic engine running. Right. We have our Pride. And who are they to minimize all the right things we have done. Look at what all we have done! USA! USA! USA!

That right there – is pride talking. I have a lot of pride in my country, but sometimes our Pride makes us unable to have a conversation with that generation. Ego trumps humility! In fact, some of you here would probably just as soon that those people not come inside this church. Well, don’t worry. They won’t. Few have an affiliation with any church. And that is by their choice, not ours!

This morning I want to talk about some things you may not know about this demographic of young people. I was guilty of telling the jokes and dismissing the most important growing generation. Until I started to talk to them. And then – I began to listen.

Social-scientist have taken to calling them the New Copernicans. For those that do not remember who Copernicus was – he was Polish scientist that went against the church and said – No the universe does not revolve around the earth. You see, like Martin Luther, Copernicus was at the same time trying to tell the Catholic Church – you have it all wrong! The New Copernican’s are telling today’s churches, you and I, that we are not doing it right. But before we judge this cohort let me tell you a bit about their history: This list is from David Seel’s book The New Copernicans, Millennials and the Survival of the Church. I also added a few.

  • They were born at the same time as the first personal computer (1981)
  • MTV started in the mid-80’s. Cable television became our babysitters (Mine)
  • Hooking-up became acceptable and had no moral implications – 1990’s
  • The World Trade Center was attacked in 2001
  • Iraq War was fought, and no WMD’s were found, though they were promised.
  • Facebook launched in 2004
  • Wall Street Collapsed in 2007
  • The first Black President elected in 2008
  • Black Lives Matter movement started 2013
  • Wikileaks exposed massive government breaches of personal privacy
  • Same-sex marriage legalized in 2015.
  • The Methodist Church is in chaos – 2016

These social events shaped the mindset of these new Copernicans. Do you realize this generation has never lived in an America free of crony capitalism – instead they grew up during of the longest periods of economic recession. Most had soccer moms who were anxious wrecks and became helicopter parents to protect them. To them, the entire world was unsafe.

They look at the older generation and blame them for all the things that have gone wrong. Are they wrong? They see what they inherited and are not happy. For these New Copernicans – they do not see the Church as solutions to the problems. The church was supposed to be about emulating Christ – feeding the poor and tending to the sick. But they did not see that happening. So, guess what? They left. They turned their back on our false promises.

But here is the good news. These New Copernicans did not become Atheist. Most social scientists say they self-identify as “religious none’s” – because they do not know what to believe. They are highly spiritual, and most will drift off and try various a New Age spiritual journeys. They are going to go and find another way to rectify what they see as injustice all around the world. Since we didn’t do it. They will!

They also do not believe a traditional job day is essential to happiness. Instead, they find pleasure in social justice causes and helping others – sounds like the missionaries we send out around the world.

They are more likely to recycle and repurpose material-goods – just like so many of our elders did during the depression. They do not believe they need to own a car if public transportation is available because burning fossil fuel is harmful to the environment. And, unlike the millions of homeowners of the great housing bubble of the 1990’s, most won’t buy a house if they cannot be responsible and pay for it. Wow!

They are not worried about being comfortable – they’d rather spend more time looking for how they can transform the world into a better place.

Wait – isn’t that exactly like what our Methodist mission is? To transform the world by making disciples of Christ? They are doing what Christ said to do without even knowing about Christ!

From Luke 10 we read – 3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4 Do not take a purse or bag or sandals, and do not greet anyone on the road.

Who are the lambs and who are the wolves?  This sounds like those millennials who aren’t worried about a regular job. Instead, they volunteer in shelters.

5 “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ 6 If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. 7 Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. 8 “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. 9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’

Sounds like a millennial moving from cause to cause. Protest to protest. They will gladly accept your charity – because they plan to stay as long as they are needed for the fight! They fight for what they think is unjust. Even though we may not.

10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you.

Almost every week we hear about these children of God in the streets! You don’t have to be on their side – but you have to admit they are doing something!

Do I believe that everything they are doing is right and wise? No way. Do I think that they don’t fully grasp some of the more complex problems in the world that we also need to be mindful of? Yes.

You know what else I know? That generation is not planning on coming into our church. Why should they? Is there an example here that they can follow?

I’d say yes – but how do they know?  Have they stood next to us as we feed and clothe the homeless?  Have they been beside us as we climb under the bridges looking for those that are sick and crippled?  Have they been to the jail when we went in there and happened to visit their brother or sister?

Did they find us at the Library this Friday at 6:30 because we are concerned about Opioids in the town?

If they are not seeing us out there – why would they want to come and see us in here?

All of our local churches need to rethink what is right outside our doors, in our community, waiting for us to show we care. Those churches that value this generation are growing. We ignore them at our own peril.

In closing, I will remind you what Jesus told his disciples –

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ (Matthew 25:34-36)

God gave us his Son, who died on the cross so that we could be free from our sin of pride. So that we could be living examples of what he did to transform the world.

And he said – do this in remembrance of me.

Let us all do what we can to honor his call – to live for the Glory of our God, his Father.

Amen

Is the Church Dying

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Pleasant Hill AME

Good Morning

I recently heard about three Pastors that took the day off and went fishing.  As they were sitting in the boat, one Pastor said to the others, “You know, we don’t have anyone else to talk to, I think it would be good if we confessed to one another to unburden our souls.  We should confide with each other our struggle with sin.”

“Okay,” said the others. “but, you go first!”

So, the first Pastor said, “I have a terrible gambling problem.  I sneak off to Vegas sometimes and gamble church money.”

“O my, said the second.”  He paused and then continued “Well, I am a terrible cheater.  I cheat on my taxes and other finances and even misuse church money at times.”

“Oh my, said the third pastor.”  Then he got quiet.  The first pastor tells him it is his turn, but he waves him off and says, “Oh, you two don’t want to hear my sin.”

“You must!” declared the other two.

“Well, okay,” said the third as he started to grin.  “I am a terrible gossip, and I cannot wait to get off this boat!”

Wow – one Pastor that Gambles, one that Cheats, and another that’s a big Gossip – Good thing it’s only a joke, Right?!  But actually – we do hear about this from time to time, don’t we?  Those that are supposed to be exemplar Christians and community leaders that have public scandals. Indeed, we are all broken people!  Amen?

Let me tell you a true tale about a Pastor that demonstrated poor judgment.  Some of you may already know this story.  This fellow is what I would call a Super Christian.  This man was an ordained minister and was called by those that knew him “a fanatic.”  In fact, he every morning at 5am and he and about ten other men would gather for a daily ritual.  They would all pray, and then they would literally go through a list of twenty-two questions. They did this every day.  They would ask themselves things like:

Can I be trusted?

Does the Bible live in me?

Do I disobey God in anything?

Is Christ real to me?

This group was very serious and highly devout.   I am not saying there is anything wrong with this, I’m only trying to demonstrate how serious he was in his Christian practice.

Eventually, this minister he got appointed to a church in Savannah, Georgia.  As part of his charge, he would travel to some of the outlying towns.  But, because he was such a fanatic and demanded extremely rigid rules be followed, he was literally run out of several towns, (one time he was shot at).

Then something troubling happened; the minister fell in love with a woman in his congregation.  Unfortunately for him, she was already engaged.  He tried to be cautious, but it was evident to everyone that they were becoming an item.  This went on for quite a while, and he even tried to persuade her to dump the fiancé and marry him.  Remember now, this is the head minister of a large church in a large town.  Eventually, the fiancé got fed up and drug the woman off to another state at getting married.  When they came back to town, you know what that minster did?  He ostracized her in church and called her a bad Christian.  His mocking got so bad that the husband took him to court for defamation and abuse of church authority.   He was found guilty by the court.  But instead of sticking around he fled the country.

Wow – that’s quite the story.  Does it sound like someone who was living through the Faith of Christ – even though he’d asked himself that question every day?  Does anyone recognize the story I just told?  Well, the year that the minister skipped the country was 1737, and he went from Georgia back to England.  His name was John Wesley, and his “Holy Club” was known for being so methodical in their religious fervor – that they were called the Methodists!

By the time John Wesley returned to England he was beaten down and embarrassed.  It would be another year before he famously has his real conversion and says, ‘I felt my heart strangely warm.”   You see, John Wesley didn’t come to truly know Christ until long after he began his journey.

What about us?  Are we really Christians?  Do we bear the marks and carry the cross?  Jesus told his disciples – “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.” (Matthew 10:38).  What does this mean?  Many might be surprised to learn that many people do not really understand how to be a Christian.  They think they know.  They try to show that they know.  But they don’t know.

Sometimes it’s simply because they have not been exposed to someone that truly loves Christ.  When you meet someone that loves God with all their Heart, Mind, Strength and Soul – you know it.  And if you’re wise– you learn to let some of that rub off on you as well.  I’ve been doing some visiting with members of this congregation – and I met some people that truly carry Christ in their heart.  I like being near those folks.

When we look at the church the problem of folks not knowing how to be good Christians is not a new one. The Apostle Paul had a similar problem.  He was in a Roman prison far away from the churches he had established.  He wrote a letter to the Ephesians who were having an identity crisis.  Evidently, there were other evangelists teaching his new flock a message opposite to his and misrepresenting Jesus’s redemption and sacrifice.  Many of those new converts, were confused and being ridiculed by others – even family members.

Paul’s network of churches was in chaos, and people were confused about how they should act, and behave, and worship.  When we think about our modern age, this story sounds familiar?  Isn’t this what we’re observing in our own communities and all over the country.  People are confused about Christ or being ridiculed by others for what they believe.  We are being ushered into what is commonly known as the age of Post-Modernism.  This is a time in our history when secularists are teaching that everyone should be free to believe whatever they want to believe.  That only the individual can know the real truth that is right for them.  It’s all very sad.  Our society is unraveling. And it’s mostly happening with the young.

Now, with all this happening we also can see that Christian church attendance is plummeting.  I guess that makes sense.  I mean, if I am the only person that can judge what is good for me then why do I need the church?  Who is God anyway?  Sadly, this false teaching and thinking are growing and growing.  And at the same time, Mainline Protestant churches are closing by the thousands.

A study done by the author Donald House says this about the United Methodist Church; “By 2030, an estimated 30 percent of the denomination’s churches — or about 10,000 congregations — will have closed.”[1]  What is going to happen to this church in the next twelve years?  Will it be part of that ten-thousand?  Why do you think people have stopped coming to church?  I really would like to blame it on all the negative influences from in a growing secular world.  But how is it these dark and often evil forces are growing so strong.  Why are the churches not strong enough to hold off Satan’s work?  What is happening behind our doors that are failing to stop the decline?

I’d like to read you a short piece by Dr. Richard Krejcir who has a Ph.D. in Theology from Fuller Seminary. This is from an article he wrote titled Why Churches Fail: (I have shortened some of the sentences for clarity).  He says:

I tracked over 1,000 churches for over 10 years. I looked for the marks that caused people to leave. I found the top four reasons why a churchgoer leaves their church.

  1. 1. The number one reason why people stop coming to any given church, (This church) was reported by over 91% people… The most significant factor or the main reason being conflict and gossip!
  2. The number two reason that people leave a church is hypocrisy and judgmental attitude and actions of people. Seventy-eight percent (78%) of people who left a church stated they experienced [other] church people being judgmental to them, the [witnessed] hypocrisy, especially by pastors and leadership, or [experienced] hurt by church members.
  3. The number three reason why people leave a church is that they wonder, “where do I fit in?” They experience a lack of hospitality and concern or care from the leadership or people in general. Sixty-six percent (66%) reported that if people do not feel they belong, they leave.
  4. The number four reason why people leave a church is the unwillingness to deal with sin. This creates strife and factions in a church for which sixty-two percent (62%) of people reported to be the reason they left… The unwillingness to resolve conflict… and not seeking Christ first and foremost cause[s] the majority of conflicts between the people in the church and the pastor.

Let me repeat these four reasons a Church fails:

  1. Conflict with others in the church and Gossip
  2. Others in the church being judgmental and hypocritical
  3. Lack of hospitality and not feeling welcome
  4. The church does not address Sin and lacks the leadership to avoid conflict

To be a bit blunter – let me ask a delicate question.  Considering the four reasons people quit church – why have people stopped coming here?  Why would someone not want to sit in one of these pews?  Our first instinct is probably to say that our congregation is getting older and some members have moved away.  That would be fair. But If that is the case, why are there two churches growing like crazy in this town with people driving in from all over.

I am not critical of anyone here.  I am only asking the hard questions that need to be asked – out loud.   Last year I reached out to some people that stopped coming to my home church over on the other side of Franklin.  Would you know, every reason I listed earlier was among their complaints?  Let me give you one example. My wife’s friend started coming to church, with her three kids – then she stopped.  She later told my wife that not one person had ever once greeted her.  And that included during the passing of the peace!  You know what’s sad – there were only about twenty people in attendance. For her, it was the lack of hospitality.  Another member told me she got tired of being rudely dismissed anytime she brought up an idea.  I know that lady, and I’m fairly certain she presented some new ways to grow the church, and the leaders of the church were intimidated.

Change is hard – but do you know what’s easy – always doing what we do because that’s how we always did it. Using your bulletin insert, I’d like you to ponder of the four reasons I stated for why people stop attending church.  Ask yourselves, are any of these factors affecting this church.  However, regardless of what you discover, the larger picture is that it’s time for all Christian churches get back to the basics. We cannot let secularism interpret Christ for us.

Remember, I told you earlier, this was the problem Apostle Paul had that he describes in his letter to the Ephesians.   Most Scholars believe this letter was intended for all the churches in the area surrounding Ephesus.  That Paul wanted his letter to the “Ephesians” to be a refresher on how to be good “Christians.”  Specifically, Paul expected them to use his letter as a handbook – so to speak. It’s a guide for Pastors and leaders every bit as much as it is for the laity.  I would encourage you all to read all of Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians.  It contains 2442 words.  That is about the same length as my sermon this morning.   In my big study bible at home the paragraphs in Ephesians from 4:17 – 6:9 is labeled – Instructions for Christian Living.   At least read Ephesians from 4:17 – 6:9. Then, ask yourselves – am I living as a Christian as defined by one of Christ’s chosen Apostles.  Are we living as believers of Christ first, then Methodist second!

Now then, with that background, I want to discuss how the Methodist Church is trying to deal with the rapid decline in membership.  They have put together a program that allows churches to decide if they want to survive, or if they want to gracefully close their doors.  Someone described it as a hospice for churches.  It is called the Church Legacy Program.  Some of you have heard about it.  In fact, this church has chosen to participate in the legacy program.  A team here has identified some great ways to grow this church’s vitality.

I am happy to report that this church made a choice to thrive and survive.  You all want a legacy of life for this historic congregation.  But, here comes the… caveat!  If you don’t take this program seriously – this church is not going to thrive.  I know there are members here that are very busy with deploying the Legacy Program.  Yet, every person in this room should be asking about the program.  More importantly, every single person that calls themselves a member or constituent of this church should be asking How Can I Help?

You may or may not be aware that all Leadership Council/ Ad-Council meetings are open to everyone.  Everyone in the community.  But only members in this church gets a vote on church business.  Those meetings should be so crowded that you need overflow seating.  Anyone that wants to see this church survive should be there.  Even if you don’t want to speak or maybe you don’t like getting involved in these things.  It’s your church!    In most of the churches, I have served there are always the same handful of folks that do most all the work.  Change must come from the inside!  We can no longer keep doing things like we always do.  There is room for all of us to help grow the church.  I was visiting one of the older members of the charge, and she asked – tell me how I can help – I can still talk on the phone.  God bless her!

Please, do not hear my words as condescending.  I am simply trying to reinforce that the survival of this church will come from within this congregation.  No one else is coming to rescue you.  I’m it!  My role is to make sure you have everything you need, including my enthusiasm, and sweat equity.  Ten-thousand beautiful churches, many just like this one, are going to close by 2030.  We can’t let this be one of them!

The Apostle Paul gave us a handbook for Christian living, and the Legacy Program gives us a plan for survival.  We need to bring those two things together.  All the programs in the world can’t save any church if the folks inside are struggling.

I have discussed a lot this morning.  In closing let me recap.  Being a Genuine Christian is hard.  Even John Wesley stumbled before he got started.  True church vitality begins inside our doors with those genuine Christian traits we learn and foster as they flow out the door into our community.

We will soon be celebrating a Homecoming.  During this week I’d like you to take time and visualize all those people who will show up; the former members, and the absent member, and all the guests.  What kind of homecoming will they be attending?  Are they be coming to a celebration, or is it a dress rehearsal for a wake?

I close today with the words of the Apostle Paul.

(Ephesians 4:1-6).  “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

I keep reminding you that being a good and faithful Christian is hard.  We are all broken people.  Our only job is to get a little less broken each day.  If we do that, this church is going to be okay!

Amen

 

 

[1] https://www.faithandleadership.com/legacy-ministries-dying-churches-give-congregations-way-end-well

On Memorial Day – Render Unto Caesar What is Caesar’s

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In the Gospel of Matthew 22:21 the words, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” are some of the most famous words in the bible.  But what does it mean?

Let’s go back and look at the situation.  A spy is trying to trap Jesus by asking him – “Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”  Let me ask you, is this a theological question?  Jesus is in the Temple teaching the Torah and he gets asked this very odd question.

Jesus knows they’re trying to trick him – and they ask a political question.  If Jesus answers, yes, that they should pay taxes, he would be a traitor to his people. If he said no, they should not pay the tax, he would be called a rebel and reported to the Roman authorities.   In fact, later in his trial before the Sanhedrin they accuse Jesus of telling people to not pay taxes to the emperor (Luke 23:2). But that is not true, is it.

But here is where I want to go with this story from Luke’s Gospel.  Many people look to this verse and suggest that Jesus is saying – there should be a separation between government and God.  Two forms of authority.  Many people think that Jesus is dividing life into two spheres, the secular and the sacred.  But if you think that’s what Jesus’ is teaching, you’re incorrect

The coin presented to Jesus is called a Tribute Penney (or Denarius) and it had a picture of Tiberius on the front and his mother as a goddess on the back.  The inscription says – Tiberius Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus. The inscription is clearly calling Caesar the Son of God.   But who is the real Son of God?  Not Caesar – Jesus!

When Jesus asks them “Whose image and inscription are on it?” The spies answer “Caesar.”  Jesus’ words here are very specific for a reason – Jesus knows whose likeness is on the coin.  Yet, notice he calls it an “Image.”  For those with ears to hear,  the image is of Caesar Tiberius – a man.  God’s image cannot be put on a coin and Caesar cannot be God.

He tells them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s.”  He is talking about Money, taxes, human stuff.  And “to God what is God’s.”  What does Jesus mean here?  What belongs to God?  Everything!  In this short sentence Jesus demonstrates that they cannot worship an Idol as Caesar represents, and God at the same time.   In legalese – see the Second Commandment.

What we learn is that Jesus is teaching us, there are not two spheres of authority – everything belongs to God.  Even Caesar and everything in his empire.

Jesus is not saying that we have a separation of the sacred and the secular.  But rather the role of the secular is subordinate to God to be administrators.  The secular is to manage the safety of our water, our food, the general welfare of our citizens.  To serve as the administrative stewards of all his creation.  More importantly, Jesus is teaching us that anyone who would idolize the government, government organizations, or Government power is violating which commandment?  The First, ” You shall have no other gods before me,” (Exodus 20:3).

For many of you – you might be scratching your head and thinking to yourselves, why in the world is David talking about this on Memorial Day.  My answer is, because we ARE celebrating Memorial Day.  What I am asking each of you to do for a moment is to stop and consider a simple question; How close are we to creating Idols of our patriotism?

Celebrating our flag and our nation in church is something I’ve done since I was a very young boy.  I am a disabled Military veteran – I love the flag and all it represents.  But there is nothing theological about it being in a house that worships God.  To make matters worse – The flag is placed to the right of the Pastor so that it is given a place of honor – even over the Christian flag.  And guess what – if you wanted to switch their places – you would be violating United States Code of law.  By choosing to display the flag you are also allowing the U.S. Government to tell you how your place of worship must be arranged.

Some of you are squirming in your seats now – some of you may be getting angry.  Because some of you think I said we should not be honoring the flag.  Let me be clear – all I said is there is nothing biblical or theological about the flag in the pulpit.  In other words, the presence of the flag is not endorsed by God.  I am not proposing that it should be removed.  The Methodist church has zero doctrine about the flag church.  None – because there is no theology.

This flag is here today because of tradition.  The Methodist Book of Discipline and John Wesley both tell us that when we cannot find support for our action in scripture, we are to look to reason, experience, and tradition.   When it comes to tradition we have to ask –  does this tradition serve as a witness of development and allow us to growth in faith?  In this example, does pledging to the flag in church bring us closer to God?

Now I want to tell you the real motivation for this crazy blog today.  To remind you that you should be questioning all your traditions.  That is why I challenged one of the sacred cows typically only found in the white, southern, Christian tradition.  You need to take an inventory of everything you do in God’s house to make sure they serve God’s mission.  Doing things because we always do it that way may not be glorifying God.  And that’s a question worth asking.

May the God Grace and the Lord Christ Jesus be with you.  Amen.