Monthly Archives: July 2016

A Question of Priorities

38 Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. 40 But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. 41 And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: 42 But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her. (Luke 10:38-42)

 

Introduction

The scripture says “And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard his Word.”  In other words, Mary and Martha had been listening to Jesus; however, Martha got distracted by the cares of this life.  Martha and Mary had both been listening to Jesus.

Martha heard the word of Jesus, fell in love with Jesus, and wanted to do something for Jesus in order to demonstrate her love. She was inspired by Jesus to impact issues of injustice, poverty, mass incarceration, racial disparity, and hunger. She wanted to serve Jesus in the world and set about being busy with many issues.  She was engaged in ministry on behalf of Jesus, and left her ministry to Jesus.  She left worship for work!  Lord, have mercy!

 

Move 1

Like Martha, the church is busy about many things in this world.  We have fallen in love with Jesus, we have been inspired by Jesus, and we seek to impact the world by doing ministry on behalf of Jesus.  We as a church are engaged in ministry on behalf of Jesus, and have left her ministry to Jesus.  Sororities, fraternities, clubs, civic groups, families and other organized organizations have been inspired by the gospel to work on behalf of the kingdom of God.  Many of these activities are both necessary and relevant if the church is to bear witness of Christ in the world.  Let me cite a few of our concerns.

First, Voter Registration and Voter Education.  Church and Civic leaders are promoting voter education in every city, town, and parish.  Unmarried women, people of color, and young voters are playing a crucial role in America.  Increasing voter participation will be a challenge. The Rising American Electorate—and particularly millennials—are showing less enthusiasm about the election than many other voter groups. That’s one of the findings of a new poll conducted in nine battleground states by our sister organization, the Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund.[1]  Will we be open to diversity or shut down our borders? Over the next four years, will it become harder or easier to vote, get health care or a college education, and earn paid sick days and wages that support families? Will we be a nation where the will of the majority prevails or a country that works only for the wealthy and the powerfully-connected?[2]  Yet the work continues because the deficits are huge:  over four-out-of-ten Rising American Electorate members are still not registered to vote. And churches are playing a major role in this effort.

Second, Black Lives Matter.  These are our children, founders from among members of the LGBT-Q community notwithstanding; they are being arrested, investigated, and threatened by the powers that be.  For them the Black Lives matter movement is everything.  Black Lives Matter originated in response to police brutality and injustice in America that had seemingly no response from the Black Bourgeoisie and Church Leaders to such racial disparity.  They are protesting, agitating, and insisting that real, tangible change comes in America.  Its cry is no justice, no peace; and not just justice for straight people but all people.  Just recently, I received this correspondence:

 

Dear Earl,

I just started a petition titled “Take the Pledge: Join the Movement for Black Lives”  Here’s what it says:  Guided by love, we continue to stand together for justice, human dignity and our shared goal of ending all forms of state violence against Black people. We organize, occupy, demonstrate, march and chant for a new future: A future we can be proud of. We stand on the shoulders of our ancestors, who fought for their freedom and ours. Like them, we want a world where our lives matter.

We want an end to the war being waged on Black people, in all its forms. Some people fear change, and that’s ok. Many will attempt to halt our progress. That is not ok. Some will continue their attempts to undermine us, but we will remain undeterred.

For far too long, our unjust deaths have meant business as usual in this country. No more.

Our work remains undone until our lives are free of violence. That is the future we imagine.

Until that day comes:
We pledge togetherness— we will not allow ourselves to be divided.
We pledge to allow our thinking and actions to be guided by love.
We pledge to bring courage and power into our communities, and stop their flow out.
We pledge not to be controlled by fear, but instead by our dreams.

Join us, and pledge to do the same: Stand with the Movement for Black Lives.

– The Movement for Black Lives

 

This is important work; necessary work; and this new generation has taken up the gauntlet.  And the church would do well to help lead in this effort.  However, this is Sunday morning.  Are the concerns for black lives more urgent than our concern for worship of Jesus Christ?

Third, Eradication of Poverty and Hunger.  In 2013, the median household income for residents of Grambling was $19,657 compared to $31,912 for the entire Lincoln Parish and $44,164 for the State of Louisiana.  In plain English, over 2,000 of our residents are poor.  63.7% of Grambling residents have income below the national poverty level and of those the 18-24 year olds suffer most.  Grambling has got to do something to increase median wages and job opportunities in this city or they will be subsumed by Ruston in a few years.  Poverty creates choices from which irrational decisions are made; choices between food and medicine, education and shelter that those who do not live among the working poor never have to make.  Hunger is a major issue in this city and in this State.

“In cities across America, many low-income neighborhoods are also food deserts, areas that lack well-stocked and large grocery stores where people can find healthy food, and use food stamps, officially known as SNAP benefits, to purchase items.  On May 13, the Los Angeles City Council approved a plan that will require all of the city’s farmer’s markets to accept food stamps. The move means low-income families will have an easier time finding fresh vegetables and fruits that are often grown locally.”[3]

Yet the battle continues across the country.  “It’s already begun happening. In 2016, 500,000 to 1 million recipients will be officially cut from the “food stamp” rolls. Some reports say it could be more than 1 million recipients.  Before the end of the year, reports say, Tennessee will have eliminated 150,000; Florida will cut 300,000 recipients; North Carolina will chop 110,000 from the rolls. More than 40 states will see changes in the program.

It will happen because this year – with foolhardy confidence in the dubious proposition that the economy has substantially improved – the federal policies overseeing the program reverted back to guidelines established under President Bill Clinton’s 1996 welfare reform package.

These guidelines restrict adults without children to food assistance for three months. Adults without young children who want to receive nutritional assistance beyond three months must find full-time jobs, or perform 20 hours a week of volunteer work (also known as “workfare”).”[4]

These issues and others cause Christians to get up early, stay up late, and work countless hours to bring justice and equity in the land.  Christians are busy about many things; hallelujah!  And Christians are quite successful in making a difference in the world in these issues among many others.  Satan’s kingdom is coming down.  Satan’s work against the people of God is being destroyed.  Yes, the government has made concessions; hunger is being dealt with; marches and protest abound throughout the land.  We are winning these earthly battles.  Our voice is being heard; our work for Christ moves forward.  However, as important as that is, Jesus says, “Rejoice not in your success.”  Don’t swell with pride when you are victorious. Hallelujah!

I hear Jesus in Luke 10: 17-20 advising his disciples to not get excited about the gains they are experiencing dealing with issues in the world.  Let me read it for you again, “17 The seventy came back triumphant. “Master, even the demons danced to your tune!”  18-20 Jesus said, “I know. I saw Satan fall, a bolt of lightning out of the sky. See what I’ve given you? Safe passage as you walk on snakes and scorpions, and protection from every assault of the Enemy. No one can put a hand on you. All the same, the great triumph is not in your authority over evil, but in God’s authority over you and presence with you. Not what you do for God but what God does for you—that’s the agenda for rejoicing.”

So then, work is important, success is assured, but that is not our highest priority.  The Westminster Catechism points us in the right direction.  It asks, “What is the chief aim of man?”  And answers with these words, “Man’s chief aim is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”  Mary points us in that direction.

 

Move 2

Mary did not get up with Martha; Mary continued to listen to Jesus.  Her relationship with Jesus was more important than the many things with which Martha had become engaged.  She wanted Jesus to get Mary to help her.  But Jesus without denouncing Martha’s work, gave preference to Mary’s desire.  Martha did ministry on behalf of Jesus; Mary did ministry to Jesus!

Mary knew that when you’re in the presence Jesus; it’s not time to work; it’s time to worship.  Worship is designed to get us to spend time with ministering to Jesus.  Put the rest of the world on hold because Worship can’t be divided.  You can’t worship and be mentally engaged in many other things.  God wants your undivided attention in worship.  Was it not Jesus who said in Matthew 11:28-30, “28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Mary chose to worship Jesus; Mary chose to sit at his feet.  Mary chose to give God praise for her Lord Jesus.  Yes, I wonder this morning did you come to worship or did you come to work.  Did you come to worship Him?  He is worthy of your praise.

Mary had worked with Martha on many issues during the week.  But when she came to worship, when the presence of Jesus was in the house, when a word from the Lord was going forth, she sat down and rested.  Mary, can you see her, sitting in worship just listening to the Word of God speak.  Can you see her being refreshed, renewed, and revived?  Beloved, I don’t know what you came to do, but I came to worship, I came to hear a word from the Lord.  I came to lay down heavy burdens and let the presence of Jesus fill me with God’s power and God’s Love.  I wonder this morning is there anybody here that came to worship the Lord!  You’ve been working all week long, handling the issues of life, but this morning, right now, do you just want to sit at the feet of Jesus and worship Him.  Do you just want the presence of God to be upon you and in you?  Hallelujah!

Martha and Mary show that if you’re going to be effective as a minister working on behalf of Jesus, then you have to make sure you spend time with the man Jesus Christ.  You have to do more than save our sons, register to vote, fight against injustice, you also have to worship.  And I stop by to tell somebody this morning that worship sets the atmosphere for victory in the world.  Worship gives you the power you need to defeat the enemy.  Worship ensures that your well does not run dry; work, eternal work issues forth from worship.

 

Move 3 (Celebration)

Worship was an integral part of the work we did during the Civil Rights Movement.  The night before each major march, the marchers would meet in a church for worship.  They would sing the songs of Zion that expressed their faith and trust in God.  Then some deacon would begin to pray a prayer of faith, and finally Dr. King, Dr. Abernathy, or Dr. Jackson would preach the unadulterated word of God.  Can you see them there, gathered together singing and giving praise to God.  Lord, have mercy!

It was from these settings that prophecy would flow.  Dr. King would be so enamored with Jesus until he could hear God say, “I might not get there with you; but we as a people will get to the promised land.”  The people would shout because spending time in worship was so inspirational.  Worship made the work worth doing; worship made the work successful.  And look where the Lord has brought us!  Hallelujah!

I’m reminded of another story and I’ll close with this one.

Peter and John were doing ministry on behalf of Jesus.  Their enemies, members of the Sanhedrin called them into question about their methods.  They had just seen Jesus heal a man lame from birth.  The entire town was celebrating the move of God.  This miracle caused people to give God glory and Peter and John gave the Sanhedrin Counsel the message that it was in the Name of Jesus that they had done this miracle.  The Sanhedrin became furious, threatened Peter and John with imprisonment, beatings and worse if they did not stop telling the world about Jesus and his resurrection.

When the Sanhedrin released them, they went back to the church and began to pray.  And the Bible says, “While they were praying, the place where they were meeting trembled and shook. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak God’s Word with fearless confidence. The whole congregation of believers was united as one—one heart, one mind! . . . The apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of the Master Jesus, and grace was on all of them.” (Acts 4:31-33)

Mary reminds us that worship is our highest work.  Because in worship, miracles happen, prophecy flows forth, and God is glorified among us.  When we worship chains are broken.  When we worship, power to fight is granted. When we worship, we receive a word from the Lord.   When we worship we release the power of heaven to make the difference in our work!   Is there anybody here, ready to worship?  Hallelujah!

When we come to church, we come to worship Jesus Christ.  We come to thank God for what God has done through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.  We come to glorify God and enjoy him together.  Praise the Lord somebody!

[1] Why we need fireworks at the voting booth this year.  (2016). Retrieved from http://www.voterparticipation.org/need-fireworks-voting-booth-year/

[2] Ibid.

[3] Equal Voice News.  (2016).  A Food Desert Win: L.A. Farmers Markets to Take Food Stamps.  Retrieved from http://www.equalvoiceforfamilies.org/a-food-desert-win-l-a-farmers-markets-to-take-food-stamps/

[4] Darryl Lorenzo Wellington (2016).  Why good jobs are needed in the food stamp debate.  Retrieved from http://www.equalvoiceforfamilies.org/why-good-jobs-are-needed-in-the-food-stamp-debate/

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How Determined Are You to Fulfill the Will of God for Your Life?

Luke 9:51-62, MSG Bible

51-54 When it came close to the time for his Ascension, he gathered up his courage and steeled himself for the journey to Jerusalem. He sent messengers on ahead. They came to a Samaritan village to make arrangements for his hospitality. But when the Samaritans learned that his destination was Jerusalem, they refused hospitality. When the disciples James and John learned of it, they said, “Master, do you want us to call a bolt of lightning down out of the sky and incinerate them?”  55-56 Jesus turned on them: “Of course not!” And they traveled on to another village. 57 On the road someone asked if he could go along. “I’ll go with you, wherever,” he said. 58 Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.” Jesus said to another, “Follow me.” 59 He said, “Certainly, but first excuse me for a couple of days, please. I have to make arrangements for my father’s funeral.” 60 Jesus refused. “First things first. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent: Announce God’s kingdom!” 61 Then another said, “I’m ready to follow you, Master, but first excuse me while I get things straightened out at home.” 62 Jesus said, “No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day.”

 

Introduction

Monty Roberts’ father as a horse trainer was moving from stable to stable, from ranch to ranch, training horses. Thus, the Monty‘s school career was constantly interrupted. One day, when he was a senior, teacher asked him to write about what he wanted to be when he grew up. He did not hesitate a minute and wrote seven-page paper about his aim to be an owner of a horse ranch, he wrote many details and drew a location of buildings and stables and even a detailed house plan.

Two days later he received his paper back with letter „F“ on the front page. After class he came to teacher and asked: „Why did I receive an F?“. The teacher responded: „This dreams is so unrealistic for a boy like you, who has no money, no resources and who comes from itinerant family. There is no possibility that you will reach your great goals one day.“ Then the teacher offered to rewrite the paper with more realistic attitude.

The boy went home and asked his father, how he should act. The father answered: „This decision is very important for you. So you have to make up your own mind on this“.

After several days the boy brought the same paper to his teacher. No changes were made. He said: „Keep the F and I will keep my dream“.

Now Monty Roberts owns 4,000-square-foot house in the middle of 200-acre horse ranch and he still has that school paper, which now is framed over the fireplace.[1]

Sir Thomas Buxton, remarked, “The longer I live, the more I am certain that the great difference between the great and the insignificant, is energy—invincible determination—a purpose once fixed, and then death or victory.”[2]  Lewis temple the fulfillment of your purpose must outweigh critique!  I’m going to say that again, “The fulfillment of your purpose must outweigh critique.”  Selah

Move 1

Jesus demonstrates that one’s inner circle, one’s priorities, and one’s determination must be linked to one’s commitment to fulfilling the call of God in your life.  Jesus affirms that “when the demand of God presses upon us, it must take priority over all that belongs to good sense, good citizenship, and good family relationships and customs.  In other words, if we are to obey God, the kingdom of God, God’s method of doing things has to have first priority in our life.  No other loyalty can surpass that of our loyalty to God and his kingdom.  Lord, have mercy!

He has set his sights on his destiny; Jesus is headed to Jerusalem and Jesus will not be deterred by his inner circle, other people’s priorities, nor the customs and traditions of family.  He is determined to arrive at this destination on time and therefore, he realigns all his concentration, determination and focus toward Jerusalem.

The text teaches us that along the way to your destiny in Christ, rejection, misunderstanding, and other people’s priorities will try to sidetrack you, but you must stay focused.  First, in Luke 9:51-56 we find these words, “ When it came close to the time for his Ascension, he gathered up his courage and steeled himself for the journey to Jerusalem. He sent messengers on ahead. They came to a Samaritan village to make arrangements for his hospitality. But when the Samaritans learned that his destination was Jerusalem, they refused hospitality. When the disciples James and John learned of it, they said, “Master, do you want us to call a bolt of lightning down out of the sky and incinerate them?”  Jesus turned on them: “Of course not!” And they traveled on to another village.”

First, rejection by those who have their own selfish agenda appears.  The Samaritans refuse to host Jesus because Jesus is not going to stay in Samaria.  He’s just passing through on his way to Jerusalem.  They, the Samaritans do not wish to go to all that trouble to welcome Jesus into the city knowing he’s not going to be there any length of time.  They feel that Jesus is disrespecting them by refusing to spend time with them and meeting their needs.  Hospitality was a big deal in Jesus’ day and remains so up to the present time.

His inner circle is alarmed at their rejection and volunteer to use their faith, their authority to punish the Samaritans.  After all, when Elijah was taken up, Elisha saw fire come from heaven in the form of a chariot of fire pulled by fire-breathing horses.  Inimical to that incident since they know Jesus will be departing soon, since they know his death is imminent and they will be left behind they want to show the Samaritans that they too have power in the kingdom.  But Jesus harshly rebukes them for having that kind of spirit and denies them the right to use God’s power for selfish ends.  In other words, this is not the time for them to show off their power.  They have already argued in Luke 9:46 about who would be greatest among them.  They simply misunderstand His purpose and His ministry even at this late stage of his ministry.  Lord, have mercy!

Secondly, in Luke 9:57-61, we see other people’s misunderstanding of what it takes to follow Jesus get in the way of following the plan of God when God calls.  Here the text again, “On the road someone asked if he could go along. “I’ll go with you, wherever,” he said. 58 Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.” Look at the seriousness of with which Jesus handles each request for delay in doing what God demands.  This person is full of grit and determination but Jesus confronts him about the harshness of the journey.  Jesus challenges him to make sure he’s ready because following Jesus is no easy task.  He was excited, but Jesus was realistic and cautious about his motives and his commitment.  How many of us have declared we’re going to fulfill some purpose, only to fall by the wayside because the journey got hard?  Let me ask you, what is the source of your motivation?  Is it internal or external?  Do you need outside motivation or are you self-motivated, driven by passion for the thing God has called you to do?  That is the question you must answer because beloved, the road to success is paved with pitfalls, traps, rejections, and downright hatred.  Are you willing to endure until you do that for which God has called you?

Third and finally, family traditions and customs try to take the place of God’s destiny in your life.  In the text Jesus sees one with potential and interviews him for the job of following him to Jerusalem.  Jesus says to Him , “You come follow men.”  And before the words can drop from his lips, excuses start rolling out.  This young man places his family traditions above the call of God.  In Luke 9:59, the young man says, Certainly, but first excuse me for a couple of days, please. I have to make arrangements for my father’s funeral.”  For Jesus this is unacceptable.  Nothing can take the place of God’s call, not even family traditions and customs. Jesus adamantly replied to this young man, “First things first. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent: Announce God’s kingdom!”  In other words, make God’s call your priority, not the issues of this life.  Hallelujah!

Right after that another young man comes up ready but not ready to follow Jesus. In Luke 9:61-62, the conversation goes like this, “I’m ready to follow you, Master, but first excuse me while I get things straightened out at home.” 62 Jesus said, “No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day.”  Can you sense the frustration of Jesus with these young men making excuses for not answering the call of God.  Even now Jesus is reminding them that procrastination is the killer of destiny.  Procrastination will put you behind; stay focused Jesus admonishes them.  Don’t let anything prevent you from fulfilling the will of God for your life. Beloved, whatever you do, don’t put off for tomorrow what you can do today!  Do what God has called you to do and begin Now.  Jesus is calling for some Now Disciples.

If you’re going to fulfill the plan of God for your life, you too must walk the rode of misunderstanding and rejection.  Listen, “In Jewish tradition this obligation, the obligation to bury one’s father was so sacred as to override any other obligations of the Old Testament Law.”[3]  But not to Jesus.  Here again, man’s adherence to customs and traditions posed a problem for those desiring to follow Jesus.  What about in your life?  Is it family reunion or holy communion?  Is it being faithful at your post or participating in some family ritual and abandoning your post?  What will it take for you to put God on hold so you can fulfill some family tradition or desire?  Lord, have mercy!

Move 2 (Conclusion)

Jesus had one mission; stated in Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”  Once found, the cost of redemption, the cost of their salvation would be death on cross.  Jesus would have to shed his blood in Jerusalem.  Jesus would have to give his life a ransom for our sins and Jesus would not be delayed, deterred, or detracted.  Neither rejection nor misunderstanding.  Neither excuses nor human traditions would keep him from his destiny.  Jesus set his face like flint and headed toward Jerusalem and it is on this journey to Jerusalem that attempts were made to hold him up from fulfilling his purpose.

Satan’s strategy is often delay not denial.  If Satan can get you to procrastinate perhaps you won’t fulfill your calling.  Jesus was having none of that; he would not allow rejection, misunderstanding or other people’s priorities to prevent him from fulfilling the will of God for his life.  And what about you?  On this Sunday Morning, I want you to vow that you will fulfill the will of God for your life and you will begin Now to do so.  No more excuses; it’s time to make real the promises of God for your life.  Beloved, nothing should be more important to you than reaching your destiny in God.  Can I get a witness, here?

Jesus stands as a light in darkness.  He stands as the ultimate example of one who once he made a decision would let nothing keep him from following his mind.  Hebrews 10:23, 35-36 encourages us by saying, “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) and 35 Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward. 36 For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.”

Jesus urges us to stay focused; Jesus urges us to run our race.  Sing with the saints of old, “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.”

Therefore, run saints of God.  Grab hold of the thing that has gotten hold of you and run.  Don’t procrastinate, run.  Don’t get overwhelmed by life’s demands, run.  Don’t let family traditions stop you, run.  Don’t let the hardness of the journey stop you run.  Run, when folks love you, run.  Run, when they reject you, run.  Run, when they want you to wait, run.  Run toward the calling of God for you your life.  And when you do, God will smile on you. God will be with you.  God will sustain you.

[1] I will tell you a story of my friend Monty Roberts. (2016) Retrieved from http://www.inspirationalstories.eu/stories/success-stories/inspirational-stories-about-determination/

[2] Deermination Quote. (2016).  Retrieved from http://www.values.com/determination

[3] Nolland, J. (1993). Word biblical commentary:  Luke 9:21-18:34. Hubbard, D., Barker, G. Editors.  P.544. Dallas, TX: Word Books.