Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Cookie Ministry 2/22/2018

"For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.  Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality;  he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness." Romans 12:4-8

I would hazard to guess that in most congregations, there is at least on sister who is known for her cooking in general and her baking specifically.  Growing up, I remember seeing these ladies always bringing baked goods to potlucks, home visits, and yes, a set aside for the preacher.  Lo and behold, once I became the minister of a congregation, one of these angels popped up and always seems to show up at just the right time with baked goods.  In my case, her name is Melanie and my favorite of hers is carrot cake cup cakes.

So that this does not appear as self serving as it might, let me also share with you that she blesses others as well.  We have some great cooks in the congregation but everyone looks for whatever Melanie has prepared.  Further, it is not unusual for her to bake dozens of cookies, wrap them with love in cellophane and hand them out just before service or class at random.  So many of us look forward to these times.  More, Melanie and her husband, Reiders, spend a significant amount of their time visiting those who are confined to their homes, hospital beds or convalescent facilities.  They notify the leadership and other members of statuses and updates and encourage us all to be an encouragement to others.  I can assure you that they are an encouragement and a comfort to all whom they visit.

Beloved, these thought lead me to sharing with you that we all have at least two things as it relates to our Christianity.  Each of us has been blessed with a gift from the Holy Spirit and each of us has been given a responsibility to use it in service to and support of the body (of believers).  Galatians 6:10 famously says, "So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith."  It is up to each of us to discover our gift and to put it to work.  If you are not sure of what your gift is, first pray and ask God and then take an inventory of your life.  Are there things at which you seem to excel?  Are there things that you find yourself doing frequently and doing well?  Are you known for having certain abilities?  It is likely your gift can be found this way.  Now ask yourself if you are using it for the Lord.

We recently had to share with our congregation that one of our daughters has been diagnosed with Leukemia (for which we solicit your prayers).  I am grateful to God that so many responded with their well wishes, prayers and offers to assist in any way they could.  Among them was Melanie, who quietly and lovingly showed up at our home with two dozen of some of the best tasting, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate chip cookies this preacher has ever had.  Considering both her gift and her readiness to use it, I thought to myself, "That is quite a cookie ministry she has there."

Building God's family,


Thursday, February 15, 2018

Allowing Withdrawal 2/15/2018

"As a result of this many of his disciples withdrew and were not walking with him anymore."  John 6:66

We are all familiar with the fact that Jesus miraculously fed over 5000 attendees of one of his speaking events, with a few small fishes and loaves, so abundantly that there were twelve baskets of leftovers.  After this, Jesus went off to pray by himself while his apostles crossed the Sea of Galilee in a boat.  Jesus famously joined them by walking out to them on the water (a whole other post).  The next day, finding that the Lord and his apostles were no longer there, the crowd got in boats and pursued them until they found them.

At this point, Jesus began to say to the gathered multitude, things that were very difficult to digest.  For instance, he informed them that he was the bread of life come down from heaven, that he was sent by God and that he, in fact was the very son of God.  As it might be imagined, this did not sit well with the Jewish people who had very strict ideas about God and the Messiah. To them, Jesus did not fit their expectations and therefore could not have been who he claimed.  He further pressed his point, thus exasperating them even more, by saying that the bread was his flesh and that, "...unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves.  he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life,  and I will raise him up on the last day.  For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink." John 6:53-55  Of course those statement sent the people into quite the uproar and many left, refusing to follow him any longer.

Have you ever wondered why people you may have known as some of Christ's most devoted and ardent followers, would suddenly leave him?  We have all known folks in our various congregations who suddenly stopped coming.  In so doing, personal relationships that you may have enjoyed end up being severed as well.  Often times, the reasons why are a mystery.  We can see from this passage, however, that this is by no means new.  There were many who ceased following Jesus whom they saw, knew and benefitted from, in person!

Of course, every situation is different, but consider the following: though speaking the truth, Jesus chose to put things in such hard to hear terms quite intentionally.  You see, when the crowd caught up with him, he said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs but because you ate of the loaves and were filled," John 6:26.  This was a scathing indictment!  Here he was, the son of God, come to earth to be a sacrifice for the sins of mankind and all they were thinking about were their stomachs!

Beloved, sometimes we just have to let people go.  God gave each and every individual free will to choose what they will do, where they will go and whom they will follow.  There are many times people will choose the Lord, or even us for that matter, for the purposes of expediency.  They will be where they are and do what they do because it suits them in that moment.  The reality, however, is that a relationship with God is not a momentary thing.  Christianity is not a seasonal pursuit.  True faith is not a casual endeavor.  Those who do not give themselves wholly to them and for the right reasons, quickly make other choices when things become challenging or their felt needs are no longer met.

It is not here suggested that we do not make appeals.  After all, it was Jesus who also said that we should leave the 99 to go after the missing 1.  That said, Jesus simply revealed the difference between the wheat and the chaff, the true believers and the dubious, and allowed them to pursue endeavors that were evidently more important to them.  Let us consider these things.

Building God's family,


Thursday, February 8, 2018

Bottom of the Barrel Prayers 2/8/2018

"Pray without ceasing." 1 Thessalonians 5:17

One of my favorite stories in the bible can be found in Judges 10.  Essentially, the people of God had a habit of adopting the traits, behaviors, beliefs and religious practices of their pagan neighbors.  This is characterized by the following: "And the children of Israel did evil again [emphasis mine] in the sight of the Lord, and served Baalim, and Ashtaroth, and the gods of Syria, and the gods of Zidon, and the gods of Moab...thus they forsook the Lord and did not serve Him," Judges 10:6.  The result of such faithlessness was that they were turned over to the crushing and brutal hands of their enemies.  Whenever this happened, they cried out to God for salvation and relief, promising to quit their wicked ways and to never be idolaters again, if only He would help them.

On this particular occasion, God had a rather unexpected answer for them.  He said, "You have forsaken me and served other gods; therefore I will no longer deliver you.  Go and cry out to the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress," Judges 10:13-14.

I'm reminded of this story because it is not unusual for me to receive calls from friends, acquaintances and church members, soliciting prayer.  In a recent particular case, however, the call came from someone dear to me.  I know this person to be a believer but also know them to be inactive in the faith and in their relationship with God.  They are experiencing a season of need, uncertainty, discomfort and distress.  Inevitably, a pleading to God for relief has begun and yours truly has been engaged.

Beloved, it is always a mistake to treat God as if he is an alarm, an axe or a fire hose behind glass to be broken in case of an emergency.  Our relationship with God is designed to be as that of a Father and his children.  In this relationship, we are to be constantly engaged, in constant communication and in constant proximity, in spirit if not physically.  When the trips, falls, bruises, other accidents or even disobediences of life occur, it is in our best interest for us to have well worn paths of access to Him from whom we seek our help.  How much more readily available is that assistance when we are close than if we are distant and disconnected?

None of this is to say that God will not rescue even the dilettante among us.  "The sons of Israel said to the Lord, 'We have sinned, do to us whatever seems good to You; only please deliver us this day.'  So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord; and He could bear the misery of Israel no longer [emphasis mine]", Judges 10:15-16.  The encouragement herein is to not have a prayer life that consists of last minute, emergency or bottom of the barrel prayers but one that is indicative of a close, warm personal relationship with the Father.  Then, you will have gained the experience to know that whatever His answer may be, it will be for the ultimate good.

Building God's family,


Thursday, February 1, 2018

A Waste of Talent 2/1/2018

"And the one who had also received one talent came up and said, 'Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed.  And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground.  See, you have what is yours.'"  Matthew 25:24-25

In the parable of the talents, Jesus imparts the story of a man who entrusts his servants with varying sums of money, ostensibly to grow, while he goes away on a journey.  When the man returns, two of his servants doubled that which they had been entrusted.  The kind master complimented and rewarded them both with promotions and greater resources to manage.  One of them, however, buried the funds in the ground so as not to risk losing them.  Upon returning to his master exactly that which was entrusted to him, he was not happy.

The larger context of this story is that we Christians must be prepared for the Lord's return.  More specifically, here, that we are not to neglect the use of the skills, abilities and gifts he has provided in the pursuit of producing desired outcomes.  In other words, Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, has made an investment in us and he expects a return on that investment.

Beloved, we are too often like the scared servant who essentially does nothing with what he has been given.  Make no mistake, all children of God are the recipient of spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4-11).  These gifts are to be used for the common good, which is to say that they are not so much for ourselves as they are for others.  When we fail to use our ability to teach, comfort, provide financial resources, do manual labor, provide expertise in our field of work or study or any other skill with which are blessed, we are in effect, burying the "talent."  In no uncertain terms, this is failure.

As much as when a farmer plants his or her crops with the expectation of a yield, Jesus expects for us to produce fruit.  Failure to do so can result in the withdrawing of that which sustains us and our removal in favor of another that will produce (Luke 13:6-9).  Be it far from us that we should ever waste the talent that has been given us.  We have been saved by the blood, invested by our Savior and commanded by our Master.  Let us use what has been given in his service for the benefit of others.  After all, every Christian is the result of the work done by a faithful servant.

Building God's family,


Sunday, January 28, 2018

Your Little 1/28/2018

“There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?”  John 6:9

There is a very famous passage of Scripture in which Jesus feeds more than 5000 people.  To be sure, much has been written and preached about this event, and rightly so.  There are lessons about Jesus' love, compassion and deity.  There are lessons about his apostles' lack of understanding and faith.  There are even lessons about a crowd who largely missed the significance and point of the whole exercise.  Little is said, however, about a young boy and his lunch.

Consider the fact that though virtually nothing is known about him, it can be surmised that he was relatively poor due to the contents of his meal but that he was prepared because he had it.  Though we do not know what his day or life consisted of, he showed up with food among thousands who either had none at all or an amount insufficient for their needs.

Consider also that he was wiling to share.  We know nothing about how the actual exchange took place, but it can be said with a high degree of confidence that Jesus would not take a child's lunch from him by force.  We can therefore surmise that the young man was willing to not just share, but to give all he had.

Finally, it was with this boy's lunch that Jesus indeed and in fact, fed the multitude.  Further, not only where the people filled but there was an abundance that was leftover. 

Beloved, as believers, we have confidence that the Lord can do all things.  We believe that miracles are available and do happen through the power of God.  We also believe that God is fully capable of performing these things with zero assistance from us.  That said, Jesus chose to work in partnership with the youngster.  He took what the boy was willing to share and miraculously multiplied it for the benefit of many.  It is important that we not miss this very important lesson because too often, we feel as if our little is not enough.  We often feel impotent in the face of so many needs and so much pain in the world.  At times we feel this so strongly that we fail to offer the resources, knowledge, skills and abilities we do have, shrug our shoulders and walk away.  Suppose a little boy with his lunch box refused to open it.

Let us be mindful that Jesus never asked us to save the universe.  What he asks of us is that we love others as he has loved us, that we treat others the way we would like to be treated, that with humility, we esteem others more than ourselves and that we lead lives that produce fruit.  Our circle of acquaintances and those with whom we come into contact is limited, but the power of Christ is not.  Let us bring our little and let Jesus do great things with it.

Building God's family,


Friday, January 19, 2018

Quality 1/19/2018

"Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father."  Colossians 3:17

Whether it is an extra measure of attentiveness when we are being served, an extra measure of thoroughness when we are having work performed or complete information given when we make inquiries, we all appreciate a job well done.  Likewise, it speaks well of us when we put our very best into all we do.

What prompts people to put there best foot forward and do all they can to accomplish the very most possible at any given opportunity?  To be sure, it depends on the person, the circumstance, the motivation, the importance and the ramifications.  Have you met, however, a person that can be counted upon to do their best at all times, regardless of the variables?  There is such an individual in our congregation by the name of Hien Nguyen.  He is a carpenter by trade, however, his experience in the construction industry has given him the ability to build or repair most anything in and around the home.  Many of the members have had work done by him and, due to the quality of his demeanor and his work, he stays very busy.

Beloved, as Christians, we must strive for quality in all that we think, say and do.  Contextually, we are advised to clothe ourselves with Godly qualities, bear with and forgive one another, love others, pursue peace, allow the message of Christ to fill us and pass it along to others.  It is added in 1 Peter 4:11, "If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God.  If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised."  Finally, "Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men," Colossians 3:23.

Let us consider what the quality of our thoughts, words, service and work would be like if we were performing them specifically for the Lord.  Though others may be the direct recipients, we are serving the Lord and bringing attention to our Heavenly Father.  Strive to be the best husband, wife, son, daughter, employee and Christian that you can be.  And do your very best in everything, for we are called upon by our Lord to be people of quality who serve a God of quality.

Building God's family,


Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Great Lover of our Souls 1/11/2018

"The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
    nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us." Psalms 103:8-12

It is interesting the impression we have of who and how God is.  Whether he is terrible and vengeful, always watching to catch us in the wrong, or loving and kind, willing to help in a time of need, often has to do with where we are in our lives at that moment.  Are we licking the wounds of consequence from our own actions or have we been doing pretty good in our walk for awhile now?

Beloved, make no mistake, our God is a God of love.  It was with his own loving hands that he created us out of the dust of the earth and blew his breath into us.  It was out of love that we were given mastery over creation, being equipped with everything needed for life.  Even when we fell, it was out of love that he advised that he would pick us up and return us to himself through yet another act of love, the sacrifice of his only begotten.

Just as there were consequences for our progenitors in the Garden for their sin, we should not expect anything less.  Along with being a God of love, he is also a God of righteousness and justice and these things must be observed as well.  They are, however, not inconsistent with one another.  When consequences come, we should not take it as a lack of God's love for us.  In fact, Proverbs 3:12 tells us that the Lord chastens those whom he loves just as a father chastens his son.  In other words, if you are being corrected, it is because of love.  The Lord has no desire to see you violate the commands set in place to protect and preserve you.  He, therefore, takes measures to get our attention.  Further, our chastisement should lead us to godly sorrow which should lead to repentance and repentance to salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10).

If we received due punishment for all of our sins, most miserable we would be.  Let us this and all days pursue lives that are pleasing and acceptable to the great lover of our souls.

Building God's family,