Month: November, 2016

“The Skeptic Joseph”

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

In today’s world we are taught to approach most things with a little skepticism. The used car salesman says the car works like new and were a little skeptical. The ad says if you take this pill your hair will grow back and we are skeptical. Your children say they’ve done everything you’ve asked them to do and……well, you get the picture.

So I ask you, is it good to be skeptical? Sometimes it’s good, isn’t it? When you receive an e-mail from somebody claiming to be the deposed prince of Botswana and he has a load of cash for you to put in safe keeping for him guaranteeing you a large reward….all he needs is your bank account number and your social security number. At that moment it’s very good to be skeptical. There is no way we should give that person anything, let alone our precious identity. That person has no other objective but to steal what is yours.

But what about those moments when you hear something that seems to good to be true? Let’s say a couple of months ago you put your name in some box somewhere offering the person a new car if their name is picked. Suddenly you get a phone call to tell you you’re the winner. Would you be a little skeptical at first? I know I would.

Every year around Christmas time, we hear the story of the miracle of Jesus’ birth, and there are certain things concerning that birth that are hard to believe. Should we be skeptical?

The bible tells us the birth of Christ was planned before the dawn of time – do you really believe that? God’s Word proclaims that this little helpless baby in a manger was actually God, who had come down in the flesh – do you believe it? It’s pretty extreme to think that God would do such a thing as to lower himself that way. And then there is Mary claiming her birth is from God and that she is really still a virgin. If you were Joseph, would you have believed that? Here is your fiancée coming back from a trip with a little bulge in her midsection and she says it’s all from God, He’s actually the Father, and not to worry. Ya, OK Mary… I believe you.

Joseph learned to believe in the impossible and if you’re not ready to believe in the impossible then you are not ready for Christmas. The Christmas story and the true meaning behind it are both filled with amazing claims and seemingly impossible promises – things that seem to good to be true. Are you ready to believe the impossible?

Tonight were going to focus on the first of our characters of the Christmas story, Joseph. And look at the birth of Christ from his point of view.

We’re going to see how Joseph came to believe the impossible and was blessed for it. We’re also going to see how we can receive those same blessings as we believe the amazing claims and seemingly impossible promises of God.

Let’s look at the life of Joseph. Joseph was a carpenter who lived in the very small town of Nazareth.

He was engaged to be married to a young lady named Mary. Now in that culture, an engagement meant that they were legally bound to be wed. You still had to go through the ceremony before you started living together, but once you were engaged, that was it. Legally you were hitched.

But something strange happened as we all know. His fiancée started to act different. She seemed very nervous and even excited and then one day she takes off to visit relatives and stays for 6 months. The bible tells us that Mary had gone off to visit her cousin Elizabeth who we will talk about next week. Elizabeth is much older and pregnant with John the Baptist. Mary returns and there is that bump. Now Joseph is understandably concerned and probably expects that this was more than a trip to see her cousins.

So Mary tells him the whole story, about the angel that visited her, how God the Holy Spirit had caused her to become pregnant,  how this child was going to be a boy and how they were suppose to name him Jesus. Oh, ya, and He’s also going to be the promised Messiah. The baby is due in three months. Put yourself in Joseph’s place. How would you react?

Well, the bible also tells us that he reacted like most of us thought he would. He didn’t believe her. She leaves for six months, comes back pregnant, and now she’s going to give birth to the Messiah. He wasn’t buying it. Joseph was a righteous man, a godly man, but come on. Who would believe such a tale?

So Joseph plans to get rid of her. Now he had every right to bring her to court and make a public example of her. The laws of that time would have even permitted him to stone her to death. But he went about to divorce her quietly because of the kind of person he was and because he wanted no more harm to come to Mary. He probably thought the loss of her mind was enough punishment.

So, would you have believed Mary? Or would you have been skeptical? Think of what he was being asked to believe. A virgin birth? The Holy Spirit causing her to conceive? This child was going to be the Messiah? Surely Mary has lost her mind or was, at least, relying on the gullibility of Joseph.

And so Joseph resisted. He couldn’t get himself to believe the impossible. But then one night an angel appears from God in a dream and says to him, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her IS from the Holy Spirit.” In other words, Mary is telling the truth. She really wasn’t with another man after all. God the Holy Spirit was the Father. And then the angel said, “She will give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus.” Jesus would be the baby’s name which means, “the Lord saves.”

The angel says he should name him this because he is going to save his people from their sins. This little baby, born three months from now, will save the world from sin – seems too good to be true doesn’t it.

Matthew adds something really interesting to the story. This whole idea of the virgin birth, and that son being the Son of God – that’s not a new idea. That was something that was actually foretold hundreds of years before by the prophet Isaiah. Matthew tells us, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet. In our first lesson we heard the word’s of Isaiah when he wrote, “the virgin will be with Child, and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means, God with us.”

Joseph needed this visit from the angel. Joseph wasn’t about to loose his skepticism without it. The angel came with a proclamation from God and Joseph believed. He did what the angel told him to do. He married Mary right away. A few months later Mary gives birth to a beautiful baby boy in a lowly stable and Joseph is now a step-father in charge of the Messiahs well being. Must have been mind blowing.

Joseph was someone who came to believe the seemingly impossible. To this day, everyone remembers Joseph during the Christmas season. We look at the stable scenes and we see Joseph kneeling or looking over Mary shoulder at the baby Jesus and we are reminded of someone who came to believe in the promises of God.

Every Christmas we are put into the position to believe in the seemingly impossible and the amazing promise. We are called to believe when God says, because of my Son born on Christmas, I will forgive you all the sins you have ever committed. That’s an amazing promise.

“I promise you”, says God, “that the moment you die, I’m going to claim your soul and bring you home with me in heaven.” Do you believe? “I promise you,” says God, “this is my body, this is my blood, and these were given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of all of your sins.” How can that be? It seems impossible.

But that’s Christianity, isn’t it? The essence of Christianity is believing in the seemingly impossible. As Christians we believe in the virgin birth. As God’s children we know that this little babe in a manger was God Himself. We believe that this baby grew up to suffer and die for us so we could be free from sin. That’s Christianity, believing in the seemingly impossible.

So, do you believe in the impossible? Are you ready for Christmas? If you struggle sometimes, if you’re a little skeptical at times, don’t worry – you’re not alone. God probably isn’t going to send an angel to set you straight. Instead God sends you His Word, and His Sacrament. These are God’s angels for you today. This is how God gives to you the same thing he gave to Joseph. And that is faith – the ability to trust in the seemingly impossible promises of Christmas.

May God continue to be with you this season and may he give you the same heart he gave to Joseph – a heart that believes things that seem to good to be true, and yet, they are. Then you will be ready for Christmas. Then you will ready to welcome the Christ child, God’s gift to you as it was to Joseph. Amen.

Bible Study: Joseph and Mary

 

What would be your reaction, given the same story Mary gave Joseph? What emotions would be there?

What were Mary’s options being pregnant and carrying a baby not her husband’s? What does this tell you of her trust in Joseph?

Do you believe the world is more skeptical now then it was in the days of Joseph? How has this affected Christianity?

What is hard to believe about Christianity for some?

What does it mean to truly trust someone? What are the signs?

What does God say about trust? Psalm 13:5, 31:14-15; 37:5-6, 40:4, 56:3-4; Proverbs 3:5-8; Isaiah 26:3-4; Mark 11:24; Romans 10:9

What is necessary for trust to happen?

Do you believe Mary was skeptical at first? Why or why not? Luke 1:34

What qualities do you suppose God was looking for that were found in Mary?

We tend to think this miracle given to Mary and Joseph was an honor. In what ways was it challenging for each of them individually?

What qualities do you suppose God was looking for that were found in Joseph? Hebrews 11:6

What would Jesus have learned as the son of a carpenter? What experiences would this have exposed him to?

What does it tell you about Joseph that he was willing to quietly divorce Mary? Matthew 1:19-20

What risk was Joseph taking by marrying the pregnant Virgin Mary?

In what ways are Mary and Joseph’s relationship like every marriage relationship? How was it different?

Why, do you suppose, we weren’t given more information in Scripture about Joseph, especially in the understanding of the role the husband played in families at the time? Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

As men, what can we learn from Joseph? As women, what can you learn from Mary?

“The King of Kings”

 

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

As we prepare for the Advent season, I thought it only fitting to focus on the reason for the season, the coming of Jesus Christ, the King above all kings.

This title, “King of kings,” is used six times in Scripture. In 1 Timothy 6:15, this title is applied to God the Father…

“He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.”

In Revelation 17:14 and 19:16, it refers to Jesus Christ (Christ meaning “the anointed king)…

“They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings…”

“On His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.”

The King who has absolute power and dominion over all creation. The one who will, one day, come again to judge the world and establish His earthly kingdom. Rich in infinite sovereignty and great in infinite mercy.

The one with all power and might who chose to come into the earth… as a lowly child. Think about that for a second. The Lord of all creation, coming to be a Savior in all humility and dependency. Who, though He had all things, loved us enough to take on the ugliness of all mankind so that we might find peace and freedom from sin and death. Now, that is the mark of a true King of kings. That is who we celebrate today and who we should glorify every day with every waking moment.

The title King of kings is a victorious title. In its meaning is a claim of ownership and dominion. Everyone is to be in submission to Him because He is King Jesus and Lord of lords!

This mighty king would come with one purpose, to set His people free from the slavery they were under. He would come to free them from oppression and weakness, to give them a new life and a new hope.

If we surrender our fight against this King and allow Him to rule over us, we will be enriched beyond our greatest imaginings, in ways that surpass the physical and last for all eternity.

At the time Isaiah wrote His letter, God’s people were in dire straits. They had few dreams of a coming Savior because all they could experience was defeat and darkness. Because of the ways they had fallen from God, the kingdom was now divided, Israel to the North and Judah to the south.

Alliances had to be made with foreign kings who did not worship the one true God. At the time of Isaiah, the Northern kingdom of Israel had already been exiled to Assyria and life became, for them, hard and oppressive. They were a defeated nation in the midst of punishment for not following the orders of the King of all kings. It was God Himself, using Assyria to do His will so that His people might come to understand the importance and gravity of their sins.

Then, the cycle to escape their sins was much like it is today. Under God’s judgement they had the gift of repentance and God’s grace towards forgiveness. But they were a hard-headed people, much like we are today. They didn’t seem to get it.

So, out of love, God punished them, but not without giving them hope in something greater. By His overwhelming grace, God would give them an opportunity to continue in His grace once and for all until the very end of time. This is the message God the Father gave to His prophet Isaiah.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.  You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil.

For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian….

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

God would send their precious Messiah to rescue them. He would send their long-awaited Christ to reign over them in power and strength. God, through Isaiah, is describing a great king. One day their burdens would end and God would make all things right. Because of these words they expected a great earthly king like David, but what we all received was much greater than he. What we would receive was much more than any earthly kingdom could provide. We would be blessed with the very Son of God Himself.

Imagine what these words would have meant to people walking in the darkness of despair. To be told their darkness would soon be greeted with a great light. Could this be the Light of the world? We have the fortune to know that yes, He is our light. He alone shines the way to everlasting hope. “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.” Born to be King of kings and Lord of lords.

I would guess that many in Isaiah’s audience weren’t very godly people. They had long since depended on other gods. God’s made by the hands of man. After all, these were people who had fallen so far from God that they now faced exile by the hand of God Himself. They were walking in darkness like so many today who still don’t get it. The shadow of death was looking over them and they could do nothing about it on their own.

And now Isaiah is talking about a great light in the darkness, a child of hope and promise, a future for their people that would be led by a great King. A Wonderful Counselor, A mighty God, an Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. This had to sound pretty good. If they would only believe it.

And of course, Isaiah wasn’t just talking about any random counselor. He certainly wasn’t talking about their hand-made gods. This was no normal father or prince. This was the Counselor of counselors, the God of gods, the Father of fathers, the Prince of princes, the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

A couple of chapters earlier, Isaiah had prophesied that a virgin would give birth and that His name would be called Immanuel, which means “God with us.” This child would be called, “The Mighty God and the everlasting Father.”

Of course, this came true as fortold in Luke 1 when an angel appeared to Mary and told her that she was to be the mother of the Messiah:

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called The Son of God.”

Jesus Christ would take on flesh and dwell among us in all humility and vulnerability. Why is this important? Why should it matter to me that Jesus was and is God? Because this Son would be God’s answer to His promise of salvation as first promised to those who walked in darkness in the days of Isaiah.

The repeated message of scripture is this. No one gains heaven because of their good deeds. You can’t give enough time, money, housing, clothing or even blood to poor people in an attempt for heavenly favor enough to give you entrance. You could never be nice enough or caring enough or even holy enough to get a pass. Only this young babe in a manger could provide this. Only the King of kings Himself can save you.

And, of course, this is because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. The wages of sin is everlasting death and there is nothing we can do to change our sinful nature. We can’t shake it off or do enough to clean it off. We can’t nice it away or pray ourselves clean. Only Christ the King can do that. Only He has the ability to turn sinfulness into forgiveness.

But it’s even greater than that. Colossians 1:15-17 tell us:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.”

All this in the form of a small child in a manger. The creator of all, the one who holds all things together by the power in His hand, has come to us in humbleness to save us because we could not save ourselves.

There is a story of the wife of a pastor who decided to feed her two boys leftovers. She gave her 6 year old the remaining portion of some tortellini she had enjoyed earlier. Apparently it was good enough that the 8 year old wanted some too. That’s when the argument started.

The dad tried to reason with his boys saying, “Jeremy, what would Jesus do in a situation like this? thinking his older son Jeremy would say “He’d share.” Instead Jeremy looked up and said, “Oh, dad…He’d just make some more!”

Apparently Jeremy was well aware of the power of the King of kings. He believed that Jesus was able to do whatever He needed to do to supply us with the things we needed. What came so natural to Jeremy is often lost on us older folks who should know better. Too often we question just how much God can do. We bring Him down to our level to make Him easier to cope with. Jeremy knew better.

You might say, “It’s impossible.” But the King of kings says “All things are possible. You might say, “I’m just too tired.” But the King of kings says, “Come unto me and I will give you rest.” You might say, “I Can’t go on anymore.” But the King of kings says: “My grace is sufficient for you.” You might say, “I can’t do it.” But the King of kings says, “You can do all things through Me who gives you strength.”

Jesus our King has always been and always will be. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. John 5:24 says:

I say to you, he who hears my Word and believes in Him who sent me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgement, but has passed from death to life.”

The King of kings welcomes you to His kingdom. Once you’ve given up the battle against Him, once you have believed in His name, repented of your sins and have been washed clean in the waters of Baptism, you will receive a new life. Once you have done all this you will have a claim on heaven and from that day forward, you will fall under the protection and guidance of the King of kings who says: “I will never leave you or forsake you.”

It’s not just my job to tell you this good news. It’s all out jobs. The Kingdom is meant for all people and the King of kings would have that all would be saved. As servants to the King then, let’s do the King’s bidding. There is plenty of room at the banquet. May He reign forever in your life. Amen!

Bible Study: Christ the King

 

What positive and negative images does ‘King’ conjure up for you?

When you think of Christ as King, what comes to mind? How is He unlike earthly kings?

Where is His kingdom? Luke 17:20-21; John 18:36

Then is Christ’s kingdom simply a spiritual concept, a powerful but abstract ideal? Matthew 19:23,28; Acts 1:6

When did Jesus become king? Matthew 2:1-2, 27:11; Luke 1:31-33

Who does He reign over? John 1:47-49

Who is Israel? Romans 2:28-29; Galatians 6:14-16; Philippians 3:2-3; Colossians 1:13, 2:9-12

What does it mean to be King of kings and Lord of lords? 1 Timothy 6:13-16; Revelation 17:14, 19:11-16

Where was the kingship of Jesus foretold? Isaiah 7:14; Micah 5:2

When will His kingdom come? Acts 1:6-7; Matthew 12:28, 13:18-23, 21:43 (16:28, 20:20-23, 26:29)

Is there any simple way to understand this puzzling doctrine of the kingdom?

What does repentance do for us in as far as our admittance into the kingdom? What does sin do? Matthew 5:3-10, 6:10

Jesus’ kingship is but one of His three offices. What are the other two? 1Deuteronomy 18:15; John 8:28, 12:49; Luke 13:33; Acts 3:22-23;  2– Hebrews 6:19-20, 9:11

How many other titles of Jesus can you think of? Why is there so many?

Can you think of a title or metaphor for Jesus which isn’t in the Bible, but which might be if the Bible were being written today?

In Samuel chapter 8, why do you think the people wanted an earthly king? Who’s leadership were they rejecting?

Is this why many still reject the kingship of Jesus today?

What qualities does the psalmist in Psalm 72 pray that the King will have? Does Jesus fit this description?

Read John 18:33-19:16. Why is it important to know if Pilate’s question is his own or something the Jewish leaders have prompted him to ask (verses 33-34)? How do Jesus and Pilate each demonstrate their power and authority in these verses?

The Good Steward

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

If there is anything we learned from this past election, it was not to take anything for granted. Article after article expressed the shock in most everyone’s minds at the results. Just hours before, most were saying it was going to be a landslide for the Democratic nominee. Prominent media were giving almost no chance to the Republican nominee, some saying he had about a 2% chance of winning. But win he did, and now we have a new leader.

It was said that what the media and the pollsters were missing was those lost in the shuffle. They didn’t understand the groundswell of people coming together for change. They couldn’t see the people who were worried about the direction this nation seemed to be taking. They didn’t comprehend the stress that people were under, especially financially.

Meanwhile, those who hoped for a different result are in mourning. The rhetoric has already begun, complete with one excuse after another as to why things happened the way they did. “How will we go on” they exclaim. “What will I tell our children?”

 

Throughout our marriage, Cheryl and I have experienced our ups and downs as any relationship experiences. We have had roadblocks as high as the wall Trump wants to build and we have had victories that change lives. We mourn for the difficulties but we rejoice in the victories.

The greatest thing we have learned in our 33 years together, however, is that life will go on. Even our greatest challenges turned out to be nothing more than temporary disruptions.

We all live with disruptions in our life, but we get through them. This election is a disruption for many but, tomorrow the sun will rise again and we will carry on as we have always done. This will be a disruption to many, but they too will overcome it.

Yes, life is full of disruptions. Somebody cuts in line at the movie theater and we get annoyed, but it is merely a temporary disruption. We have a flat tire on the way to an important meeting, we experience momentary madness but even this is only a disruption. The company we have worked for all our life goes into bankruptcy and we lose our pension. Yes, even this is nothing more than a disruption because our life will still go on. It might have to go on differently, but the vast majority will endure.

Recently, I got to have the most intimate conversation I’ve ever had with my mother. It concerned her readiness for her earthly death.

I needed to have this conversation even more than my mother I think, because I really didn’t know where she stood. In the end, she was the same faithful mother I always knew I had.

She said she had no fear of death but that she didn’t like having to leave. She loves her family and she loves her life. She treasures each and every experience. Despite some very real challenges, life has been good to her. But she didn’t fear death. To her, it is simply a disruption she will endure to everlasting life.

If we’re honest with ourselves, most of the situations we find ourselves in, good and bad, are merely temporary disruptions in life. We become anxious over them for a time, especially those one’s we have little or no control over, but we move on, often to even greater things.

You and I are called to be good stewards of all that God gives us. We are called to give Him our very lives, let alone our tithes and offerings. To some this is a great disruption. They only see the difficulties this will cause them. But others see opportunity.

God issued a challenge to His people through the prophet Malachi. It was this: “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” (Malachi 3:10)

Just as with our past presidential election, we should not take this opportunity lightly. Many take for granted that their lives will be filled with financial struggle, so much so that they choose not to support their church with their tithes and offerings. They take for granted that a $100 donation means a $100 less for them to pay their bills with. They see the struggle but they forget the promise.

When Cheryl and I went to seminary, we were faced with a very great challenge. We were in a new city with no jobs and the house we thought was sold, wasn’t. This was devastating to us and I confess, we thought very seriously about holding back all our tithes. After all, our church was huge, other people could pick up the slack.

But then we thought of our own godly responsibilities. How much were we going to trust God to be good to His promise to provide. How much faith did we have in God Himself? In that sobering moment we made one of the hardest commitments we have ever had to make. We chose to tithe our normal percentage, even though we had no idea how we were going to make it work. All I can say about that experience is that God is most certainly good to his promises. He provided in ways we had no right to even think about. Every month our rent was paid and every night there was food on the table. Our problems were only temporary disruptions.

The truth is, God’s promise in Malachi is so strong that He asks you to test Him on it. It’s all right to test God if He asks you to by the way. His promise was filled with so much spiritual power that God issues a challenge to us to have faith in the promise.

We are all called to be good stewards of our time, talents and treasures, yet, so often, we back away from the challenge. We don’t trust God to be good to His Word. We take for granted that life will be even harder if we give more. So what do we do? We hold back. Therefore tithing takes a back seat as we place all our trust in worldly solutions all-the-while forsaking the promise we have been given.

Is tithing an important part of your Christian walk? I certainly hope so. But, to be truthful, it’s only the beginning of what God is asking of you. Your tithe is just a marker in a greater journey, for we are told in Scripture to bring those tithes and offerings before the Lord. What moves you to greater things? What incentive do you need to convince you to take a greater journey then you have before? Is it the possibility of riches? Of fame? Of acceptance? What leads you to move forward in faith? To be willing to trust in God above all things? To be good stewards of your time, talents and treasures in a godly pleasing way? Does it work to bring out the pledge commitment cards? Is it to have some big stewardship campaign once a year? Is that what it takes to move you? Those things work for some, but, by and large, they do little to motivate most.

When I think of stewardship it brings to mind a story about a small Lutheran Church located in a farming community. The Pastor would call on every member of the congregation as a part of the annual stewardship campaign. The next home that he was going to visit was that of farmer Brown. Now, Mr. Brown was known in the community to be very frugal with his finances, if you know what I mean. The Pastor asked farmer Brown, “If you inherited two million dollars would you give $200,000 to the church”? “Pastor, I would surely give at least 1/10th to the Church” he replied. “Now, farmer Brown if you had ten tractors, would you donate one to the church for a fund raiser”? “If I had ten tractors, I would gladly give one to the church”. “Now, farmer Brown if you had ten pigs….” “Now Just a minute Pastor, …..You know darn well I’ve got ten pigs”!

What farmer Brown was willing to do was as many of us do. He was willing to give of his excess. But when it came to His first fruits, he wasn’t so willing. So what is expected of us? Is God satisfied with your excess?

We have but to go to the beginning of scripture and the story of Cain and Able. In this story, both brothers sacrificed to the Lord. The difference in their tithe was that Able gave of the best of his herd, of his first fruits while Cain did not. As a result, God favored Able’s gift and had no regard for Cain’s. It seems unfair, because, after all, Cain did give.

But, you see, God is not looking at what we give, rather, He’s looking at how we give it. Do you just give Almighty God whatever you might have left over, or do you give of your first fruits? Do you give willingly with joy or do you grumble? Do you give with eager anticipation for the journey in faith your taking or are you resigned to the fact that its little more than just another bill you’ve been guilted into giving? Scripture tells us that God loves a cheerful giver.

So, as a good shepherd then, how much am I to give you ask. Well, St. Paul tell us in 2 Corinthians 9:6-8:

“..Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”

Sounds to me like another promise. Of course, this doesn’t mean that if you give half your income you’ll get even more back. Anyone who gives with that attitude is not a cheerful giver. Rather, God asks for you to trust Him to provide in His way, which, as it turns out, is always the best way.

We are asked to give for many reasons but none greater than that it transforms us into the likeness of Christ. We have only to look at the reward we received because of the sacrifice He was willing to give. Our giving also follows God’s mandate to love your neighbor as you modal the relationship God has with us toward your neighbors.

This, of course, means tithing not just financially but also personally. When you ask someone to come to church with you, you are tithing your time. When you mentor a child, you tithe your talents. It doesn’t have to have a clearly religious connection. Likewise when you donate to a worthy cause, you tithe whether it’s a Christian cause or not. Anything that shows a Christ-like attitude is part of the tithing you give to God.

As Christians we are called to live by faith, the kind of faith that will move you to commit your resources for the betterment of others. We are then, in the same measure, to put our faith in God’s provision. By faith we trust that God will be good to His promise. What will it take for you to believe it?

So we are asked to give of our time, talents and treasures in faith and charity. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead and Christ will shine on you.”

It is time we stop standing in the shadows as Christians, tithe your time you sleepers and Christ will shine on you. Make good use of your time by using your time in a Christ-like manner in service and grace. You only have a certain amount of days on earth. Are you going to use them or abuse them? How will you manage your time? Will it be spent on pleasing you or will it be spent on pleasing the Master?

And we all have talents given by God to serve Him in His kingdom. Are you going to use yours making a kingdom difference? The Lord calls us and equips us for service and has given each a special ability to bring about godly change. Are you a singer? Then sing His praises. Are you a teacher? Than find people who have yet to know of Christ. Are you a prayer warrior? Than join others in weekly prayer. Are you an encourager? Than motivate others to walk in a Christ-like manner with love and patience.

Are you a mechanic, wood-worker, electrician? Are you good with numbers, a excellent organizer, or an astute businessman? Then finds way to advance the kingdom.

And finally we have all been given treasures in varying amounts. God asks you to trust Him in this also.

 

One day, we will all have the incredible pleasure to stand before our Savior. At that time you will have to give account as to what kind of steward we really were. What can you tell Him if that were to happen to you today?

Your God has given you all good things and He has even more to give. Yes, we are all struggling, but that should only encourage us to trust in God even more. He was willing to do what it took to further the Kingdom when He allowed His only Son to be sacrificed in our place. What sacrifice are you willing to give.

God has great plans for each and every one of you. Plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. If you seek Him you will find Him when you seek Him with all your heart. Trust Him in every aspect of your lives, especially those times that seem like you have to take a true risk to do it. Put your faith in Him and He will restore you. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bible Study: Stewardship

 

What is ownership? Psalm 24:1; Acts 4:24

What right does God have to claim ownership? 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

What should be your response to God’s ownership? Proverbs 3:5-6

What are the characteristics of “humankind”, as created by God? Genesis 1:26, 2:19

According to Genesis 2:15, what responsibility did God give to humankind? What does this have to do with our stewardship today?

Was the job of stewardship given to Adam before or after the fall into sin? Why is this significant?

What did humankind do to bring about separation between humanity and God? Be specific Genesis 3: 1-7

How did this act of rebellion affect the world? Romans 5:12

What, then, is to be our response to God and what does this have to do with stewardship? Proverbs 3:5-6; Romans 12:1-2

How does God deal with the faithful? Malachi 3:10; 2 Corinthians 5:17

Does this mean that the more we give the more we can expect in return? If so, why? If not, why not? 2 Corinthians 9:6-7

How does God deal with the unfaithful?

 So, what is a “Good Steward?” Proverbs 16:3; Colossians 3:23; 1 Timothy 6:17-19; Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 4:10

What does the Bible mean when it speaks of the Christian as a steward? 1 Matthew 28:19-20;  1 Corinthians 4:1-2

 Can God and money be served at the same time? Explain Matthew 6:24

 If you are motivated to earn because you want to give, how much earning is enough?

What is the hardest area in which to allow God complete control?

What are some inappropriate reasons to give?

Have you ever felt obligated or manipulated to give? Do these methods work? Why or why not?

What motivation works best to encourage good stewardship?

What is the difference between tithing and offering? 2 Corinthians 8:1-5

 What usually stops a person from tithing? Be specific Luke 12:27-31

The Seven Deadly Sins: The Sin of Envy

Text: Matthew 20:1-16

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

How many of you have heard of the tooth fairy? I read a story not so long ago about a woman whose 2nd grader had collected a fair amount of money from the “tooth fairy.” Every time her daughter Rachel lost a tooth, they’d put it in a small envelope and put it under her daughter’s pillow, and behold, in the morning, the tooth was gone and in its place was $2. That was just great. Two dollars is a lot of money for a 2nd grader. At least it was until, one day Rachel visited a friend of hers. Her friend was telling how she had put her tooth under her pillow and found $10 the next morning. Rachel then asked her friend’s mother, ‘Mrs. Kraft, would you mind doing me a big favor? Would you please call my mom and tell her which tooth fairy you use?’”

Today we finish our series on the seven deadly sins by talking about the sin of envy. A source of unhappiness which, I’m sure, we have all experienced at one time or another. One source I read in my preparation for this sermon called it the most joyless of the Seven Deadly Sins. It caused the fall of God’s angels, it caused the fall of Adam and Eve, it led to the first murder when their son Cain envied his brother Able, it was the sin that caused Saul to want to murder David and the sin that led the Scribes and Pharisees to persecute Jesus. In short, it’s a sin that can only lead to despair.

Envy is a sin of sadness because it comes from a jealous heart not satisfied. We see the good in others, and instead of rejoicing for them we only see the lack of something in ourselves.

Some may say that there is a gray area with envy and that it is not always a sin. They’ll say that we can envy someone’s knowledge without knocking ourselves down for our lack of knowledge. We can envy someone’s faith in a way that can help us to increase our own faith. We can envy someone’s toy’s without having to have them to find our happiness. But I say there is a difference between admiration and envy. With envy comes discontentment and covetousness. It’s where admiration crosses the line into sin.

Envy is addressed by God in Scripture many times, none so clearly as when He gives us His 10 Commandments. Envy is the breaking of both commandment number 9 and 10, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house and you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his cattle, nor anything that is his.”

Our Gospel lesson gives what I feel is the most detailed description of envy in it’s parable of the laborers in the vineyard. The laborers who worked all day supposed that, at the end of the day, they would receive more money than those hired later in the day. When this turned out not to be true, they complained because of their envy over those who worked less but received the same pay. Upon this complaint the land owner says, “Are you envious because I am generous?

Envy has been described as distorted self-love, an enemy of charity and a passion of selfish sadness. It frequently gets confused with jealousy but, whereas jealousy is mostly seen in the want of worldly things one doesn’t possess that another does, envy goes much deeper, because an envious person mourns over someone else’s increase of something. It’s much more spiritual, yearning more for satisfaction than possession.

We often here of our God being a jealous God. We are His possession and He is jealous when we try to give ourselves to someone or something else. But God has nothing to envy in us. God has a right to our undivided faithfulness and trustful dependence, but He certainly doesn’t get envious out of any increase we might gain.

Jealousy is really best described as the beginning of envy. That thing right before the tipping point between want and need. Envy invades our very souls with a misleading emotion of right and wrong, fair and unfair. It turns want into selfish need. A need coming from a feeling of unfulfillment and greed. If we don’t have what we envy, we feel lesser somehow.

So we have admiration, that leads to jealousy that leads to envy and all the while the devil whispers his deceitful murmurs into our ears to help us along the path. We go from wishing to wanting to worship and the devil has won again.

If we’re being honest, this is another of those sins that hit a little too close to home for us. We’ve all been along that path from admiration to envy because our feelings are not always under our own control. But, we need not bow down to sin simply because it comes so easy for us. God has given us a reasoning mind and its only when those feelings overcome reason that we act in foolish and unholy ways. God has built into us a knowledge of right and wrong, it’s because we wanted to know the difference between good and evil that we are in this predicament in the first place. But God would never leave us defenseless.

To overcome these things, God has promised to be our strength. He has given us repentance and forgiveness to give us a new start. He has opened His heart and His hearing to us so that we might communicate our concerns one-to-one.

It’s important that we continually strive not to let our unholy feelings dominate our thinking, leading us to unholy action. And God understands that we cannot do it alone. That’s why He gave us His only Son, so that we might be assured in our greatest need, that he will be there with a willing heart to help us overcome the trials our lives of sin have caused us to live.

He knows our proud and selfish nature and, even more importantly, He knows how to lead us to overcome those sinful impulses.

We must also strive to undermine the sources of our envy. Our wants become irrational needs when we expose our sinful desires towards things God had no intention for us to have. We see someone who seems to have it all, but that doesn’t mean our fate is the same. Instead of striving for worldly things, the Holy Spirit guides us to strive for heavenly things. Instead of pinning your hopes and dreams on something we don’t have, Christ reminds you to be thankful for the things you’ve already been given. Worldly riches are temporary but heavenly riches are eternal.

We must strive to detach our hearts from earthly things that enslave us, riches that are only for a moment, gratifications that are shallow, desires that only lead to greater desires. God the Father says through Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:9, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him.”

God has given us all good things in just the right measure here on earth. We should, therefore, have no reason to strive after other earthly things, especially in the knowledge of heavenly things yet to come where there will be no room for envy because each soul will be rejoicing in each other’s good fortune.

Again we come to opposites. If we are to overcome envy, it would have to come through our charity. Since ungodly envy is directly opposed to charity, which desires the good of one’s neighbor all-the-while rejoicing in one’s own prosperity, our remedy would come in striving through prayer and supplication to practice godly charity.

We are all members of one body, each designed by our creator with a purpose. As the members of the same body, therefore, the gain for others is really a gain for ourselves also. Again in 1st Corinthians, this time chapter 12:

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”

 

In Galatians 6 we are urged to bear another’s burdens. That is the very definition of charity. Envy only adds burdens by seeking to improve oneself at the expense of others. Redeemer, or anywhere else Christ is proclaimed, will benefit in its greatest measure if we focus, not on ourselves, but on the body as a whole. We heard in our Proverb for today, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones,”

 

There is one thing we already possess that should take care of any worldly envy we might be experiencing. Together, as believers, we already possess everlasting life. We have one thing that is more important than anything else and that is Christ. We have one thing that will sustain us more than any earthly riches or honor ever could and that is the love of the God. We have God and He is more than enough.

 

Contentment comes in recognizing the value of God’s sovereignty. He is the one who created us. He is the one who controls all things. He is the one who loved us enough to make our path to heaven unencumbered by sending His Son to clear away the ugliness of sin blocking our way.

He is the one tirelessly working things out for our good. We have God and He is more than enough.

That’s not to say, we have no part in it. It’s still up to us as to where our trust will go. We will still be free to hope in ungodly things. We will still be free to believe what we want to believe, assume what we want to assume and have faith in what we want to have faith in.

God will not force you to believe just as He won’t force you to give up your envy for worldly things. But He never stops searching for you. He never stops leading you. He never stops loving you. No matter how far you stray of the narrow path.

So start praying for those you envy. Rejoice in the good that others receive. Pray that God uses their good fortune for His glory as well as any good fortune greater or lesser that he might give us. We are told to pray for those who persecute us but I say, especially pray for those we have persecuted because of the evil envy within us.

Rejoice in the coming kingdom and in the riches you will receive there that go way beyond any earthly riches you could imagine. Rejoice in our Savior who gave all of Himself so that we could cleanse all of ourself. Rejoice in a changed heart, a renewed spirit and a mended heart.

Is envy a part of what defines you today? Do you feel incomplete because of something or someone you don’t have? Are you discontent with what God has given you? If so, I invite you to surrender that part of you that only brings sadness. Rejoice in the gifts you have already been given that will lead you to your greatest reward. Surrender your envy to Christ and find your fulfillment in Him. Amen

 

 

Bible Study: The Sin of Envy

 

Matthew 20:1-16

How would you define envy? How is it different than jealousy?

How is God’s jealousy different than envy? Exodus 20:5, 34:14; Deuteronomy 4:24; Psalm 79:5

What does the Bible have to say about envy? Job 5:2; Proverbs 3:31, 14:30, 23:17, 24:1,19; Ecclesiastes 9:3-6; Romans 1:18-25; Galatians 5:19-21

How does envy serve as a motivation for evil acts? Matthew 27:17-18; Acts 7:9, 13:44-45, 17:5; Philippians 1:15-17; 1 Timothy 6:3-5; Titus 3:3-4

How are we to deal with envy? Romans 12:15-16; 1 Corinthians 13:4; James 3:17-18; 1 Peter 2:1-3

These verses from Isaiah are commonly understood to refer to Satan. The serpent in Genesis 3 is Satan. What kind of temptation, what kind of attitude, is common to both stories? Genesis 3:1-5; Isaiah 14:12-14

How would you rate Eve’s life before sin? What does this teach us about envy and covetousness?

What relationship is there between coveting, selfishness, and envy?

After reading all this, what should we conclude about the sin of envy?

How does envy lead to destruction? Genesis 4:1-8; Psalm 37:1-3; Proverbs 6:34; James 3:14-16, James 4:1-3

Read James 3:14-16 again. Is there a difference between ambition and selfish ambition? Proverbs 13:4; 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12

Looking back at James 3:14-16, how is “disorder” the result of envy?

What does it mean to “be false to the truth” when it comes to envy?

Read James 4:1-3 again. Ask yourself the question that James asks. Is your answer the same as he suggests?

What can we say about the results of envy?

What does pride have to do with envy? James 4:6

What makes you jealous or envious?

What steps are you willing to take to be satisfied with what God has provided you?