Category Archives: Spirituality

Let There Be No Strife Between Us

Text:  Genesis 13:8-9, NLT

8 Finally Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not allow this conflict to come between us or our herdsmen. After all, we are close relatives! 9 The whole countryside is open to you. Take your choice of any section of the land you want, and we will separate. If you want the land to the left, then I’ll take the land on the right. If you prefer the land on the right, then I’ll go to the left.” Genesis 13:8-9 (NLT)

Introduction

During his 10-year prison stay, Craig wrote to his family members on many occasions, declaring his repentance and asking for forgiveness – but no one answered. Because he was a minister and a leader in his community, his highly publicized trial had left a bitter taste in the mouth of his family. Upon his release, he continued to write, but no one in his family would communicate with him, even though he had been out of prison for more than two years.

 

Move 1

Abraham had taken Lot his nephew with him to the land that God had shown him.  Lot had been with Abram through famine and prosperity.  As relatives, they had endured much together.  Both of them had been prospered by God and all between the family seemed well.

Nonetheless, because of their prosperity both of them could not live on the same piece of property.  Abraham and Lot loved each other and got along well, but their employees were engaged in continuous conflicts over use of land, water, and resources.  This tension caused Abraham and Lot as close relatives to begin to withdraw from each other.  This conflict interfered with the special relationship they had always enjoyed.  Lord, have mercy!

Now let me add here that these conflicts had become so contentious they had become violent and Abraham knew that the situation had to change.  I’m so glad that somebody in the family, especially the one who has God on their side knows when to act.  Abraham did not sit idly by and watch the devil destroy his relationship with Lot and the rest of his family.  Abraham acted and moved to resolve the issue.

Abraham said again, “Let’s not allow this conflict to come between us or our herdsmen.  After all, we’re close relatives!”  I wonder if there’s anybody here among this assembly of family and friends who have allowed strife to come between you and your relatives to the point that you no longer fellowship one with the other.  I wonder if there’s anyone here who no longer attends the family reunion or no longer goes to visit a relative because of strife.  Well, if you’re in the building I stop by to tell you, God says, “Let no strife come between you because God is able to bless each of you.”  Hallelujah!

Abraham makes the first move; Abraham decides to give Lot the option to choose whatever land he wants as long as they continue to remain close as relatives.  Lot reveals his heart when he chose “the fertile plains of the Jordan Valley in the direction of Zoar.”  He made his decision because “the whole area was well watered.”  Water was like gold in the world economy today.  The one who controls the water controls the economy.  And it’s just like the situation in Israel and Palestine today; the one who controls the water controls the land.  Lord, have mercy!

Israel and Palestine have been feuding for generations because Israel insists on controlling the major water routes.  I wonder if there is anyone here this afternoon who is controlling things in your family and because of your control others in your family have been held back, held up, and kicked back.  I wonder is there anybody here who knows somebody in your family that won’t share the blessings God has given your family because they control that blessing.  I wonder if there is anyone here this afternoon who believes that you can stop your family member’s blessings because mother or father left you in charge of the property and the money.  Lord, have mercy!

I stop by to tell you this afternoon, you better be a blessing, because when you become a blessing to your family, God will do exceedingly abundantly above all things.  Can I get a witness here?  Anybody here every had the bless you in spite of…..in spite of what your relatives did to you…..in spite of what they said about you…..can I get a witness here?  Hallelujah!

 

Move 2

Well, let me move on.  I got to tell you three things about this text that demonstrates how friends and family should relate to one another.  Hallelujah!

First, families and friends should stick together.  You have heard it said, “Blood runs thicker than water.”  That means that when you are related to somebody you’re family.  You will not allow anyone or anything to come between you and family.  God called Abram out from his Father and Mother’s house.  God did not call Lot; but since Lot was Abraham’s nephew and Lot wanted to go with Uncle Abram, Abram allowed him to go with him.  Abram became responsible for Lot’s welfare and ensured that Lot had the same opportunities to be blessed that Abram had.  Lord, have mercy!

Abram did not try to keep Lot from the blessings that God blessed him with.  Abram shared all that God had blessed him with, with his nephew Lot.  And Lot became a wealthy and mighty man.  Hallelujah!  Abram knew that families should stick together and bless one another.  Can I get a witness here?

Not only should families stick together but families should settle any differences that come between them.  Notice carefully that it was the older family member that made the first gesture to settle the dispute.  Abram went to his nephew and made an offer of compromise so that the family could remain stable.

Somebody here this afternoon knows that you have been entrusted by your fore parents to watch over the family and to take care of your younger siblings, but you are acting stubborn and stuck up.  I stop by to tell you that as a child of God, you ought to make the first move.  You ought to give that younger person in the family the opportunity to blessed even if it looks like you might lose something.  Lord, have mercy!

Third, and finally, families should sacrifice for one another.  Abram had to sacrifice so that Lot could be blessed and move on with his life.  But the mnute Abram acted like his Father in Heaven, his Father in Heaven showed up to bless his socks off.  Lord, have mercy!

God said to Abram, “14 After Lot had gone, the Lord said to Abram, “Look as far as you can see in every direction—north and south, east and west. 15 I am giving all this land, as far as you can see, to you and your descendants[a] as a permanent possession. 16 And I will give you so many descendants that, like the dust of the earth, they cannot be counted! 17 Go and walk through the land in every direction, for I am giving it to you.”

The devil told Abram he was stupid; the devil told Abram you crazy; the devil told Abram if I were you I wouldn’t give Lot anything.  You the one with the blessing on your life; just run Lot away and keep what God has given you.  God never promised Lot anything anyway.

But I’m so glad that Abram looked at the devil and told the devil, “You just don’t know who you’re dealing with.  For I serve a God who is able to take care of me.  I’m the head of this household; I’m in charge of my father’s brother’s son.  And because he’s family, I’m going to resolve this issue.”  Devil, get thee behind me.  I will let no strife come between Lot and me.  Devil, my family is more important than my pride; my family is more important than houses and lands; my family is more important than silver and gold.  Hallelujah!

 

Move 3 (Conclusion)

You remember Craig; let me finish the story about Craig and his family.  Just after his release from prison, Craig returned to his community and formed a ministry that provided homes for the community’s homeless. Now, Craig was in the news again. Two years had gone by, and Craig had served faithfully without receiving any pay.

One night, as Albert watched the evening news, he saw a newscaster at a ceremony where, to his amazement, his brother Craig was being awarded the key to the city for the good work his ministry was doing in the community. Suddenly, Albert felt convicted, and he saw his brother’s life in a different light. He decided that he would pay his brother a visit.

Craig looked thinner than Albert remembered. He looked tired and withdrawn – no doubt the effects of a 10-year prison term. Albert stood in the busy storefront office and embraced his brother awkwardly. Then he said, “Craig, I apologize for not seeking you out sooner. I’m sorry I let your past mistakes keep me away. I wanted to be the first one in the family to welcome you back. We all got together, and we want to bless your ministry with a $1,000 contribution.”

Both men let their tears run freely. After Albert made that first move, love was victorious. A wave of reconciliation swept through their family.  Lord, have mercy!

Well,  because you and I were walking along the road of life when all of a sudden we came to a deep cavern in the road.  The engineers had left on a thin, spider web that stretched from one side of the cavern to the other.  The spider web was the only way over to the other side.  You and I had a spider web’s chance of making it over the cavern to the other side.  Lord, have mercy!

The cavern was the sin and iniquity that Adam bequeathed to us as human beings.  The spider web was our attempts to love one another and to do good in the earth.  We found ourselves unable to do good because whenever we tried to do good, evil was always present.  Lord, have mercy!  Can I get a witness here!

Many times that spider web had been broken by strife and offense between brother and sister, father and mother, relatives and friends.  Many times we had been walking across the cavern on the spider web only to get suspended over the cavern and find ourselves falling into the ravine.  We had no way to ensure the spider web would hold.  We were without hope and without God in the world.  Lord, have mercy!

But I hear a voice crying down through the ages, “Prepare me a body, Lo I come in the volume of the book it is written of me to do thy will, O God.”  And I heard the angels singing, “Glory to God in the highest peace on earth good will toward men.  For unto you is born this day a Savior who is Christ the Lord!”  yes, he did.

He came not as an overseer or a judge; but he came as our kinsman redeemer and our Elder brother.  He came to settle the strife between us and God.  He came to sacrifice his life for our death.  For we were doomed to die and spend eternity in hell.  But Jesus came that we might have life and that more abundantly.  Yes, he came to make sure that you and me could make into the promised land.  Anybody here glad about what Jesus came to do.  Anybody here can bear witness that Jesus paid it all.  Anybody here knows that if it had not been the Lord on your side, you never would have made it.

I’m so glad that Jesus came.  I’m so glad that my elder brother made a way for me.  Are you glad this afternoon about what God did through Jesus Christ.  Well if you show enough glad, you ought to commit this afternoon to let no strife come between you and your family and friends.

You ought to tell the devil, because God is able, I’m able.  I’m going to forgive and bless my friends and I’m going to bless my family.  I’ll let nothing separate me from the responsibility to to love my friends and family.  I’m going to settle the issue today; I’m going to let go and let God right now!  Hallelujah!

Paul said it like this “All we like sheep have gone astray, each unto his own way;  and God has laid upon Jesus the iniquity of us all.”  Lord, have mercy!  Beloved, God reconciles people and all things to Himself through the sacrificial blood of Jesus. God’s plan to reconcile us to Himself reminds us that reconciliation requires that someone make the first move.

 

Faith to Forgive

Text:  Luke 17:5-6

5The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”  6He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.

Introduction

The disciples when confronted with the necessity to forgive in a way that would transform their lives, said to Jesus, “Lord, Increase our faith.”  When God challenges us to do a new thing we often find ourselves believing that the faith we have is incapable of achieving the goals God has set for us.  Nonetheless, God continuously challenges us to reach higher, dig deeper, and go further than we think we can.  It would be unfair of God to ask, if God did not know that we could achieve what God calls us to do. [Let me interject right here that when God asks you to accomplish a goal, he has already calculated his involvement in its completion.]  Lord, have mercy!

Mustard seeds are the small round seeds of various mustard plants. The seeds are typically about 1 or 2 mm in diameter, larger than many plants such as poppy, columbine, potulaca and dandelion while relatively small compared to many others such as pumpkin, watermelon, apples, pine-cone or coconuts. Mustard seeds may be colored from yellowish white to black.

Mulberry trees are famous fruit treats tracing back to ancient civilizations.     The most impressive aspect of the mulberry tree is that is can grow up to ten feet each year.   White mulberries can reach 80 feet, and can also be pyramidal or weeping in form. Red mulberry trees may reach up to 70 feet. The black mulberry is much shorter, reaching only 30 feet, and unless trained tends to grow as a multi-stemmed shrub. The three species differ greatly in longevity.  It is unusual for a red mulberry tree to survive more than 75 years, while a black mulberry may produce fruit for hundreds of years.  In other words, a mulberry tree has deep roots and is not easily moved by humans or destroyed by disaster.

When outwardly compared to a mustard seed, the mulberry tree is much more formidable and awe inspiring.  The mulberry tree relies on its vast network of roots for survival whereas the mustard seed relies on God’s grace to grow.  One is not germinated while the other is fully grown and producing fruit.

Jesus insists that “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.”  What an awesome depiction of faith.  If you start where you are, doing the will of God, before you know it, the faith you have will develop in such a way that you will be able to do things you thought impossible.  Jesus says develop your faith by using your faith.  You don’t get more faith by asking; you get more faith by doing.  Lord, have mercy!

 

Move 1

One day the great Michelangelo attracted a crowd of spectators as he worked. One child in particular was fascinated by the sight of chips flying and the sound of mallet on chisel. The master was shaping a large block of white marble. Unable to contain her curiosity, the little girl inquired, “What are you making?” He replied, “There is an angel in there and I must set it free.”
Every Christian begins his/her relationship with Christ with a measure of faith.  This passage introduces us to a clear path to setting this measure of faith free. The faith God put in you is enough for you to enjoy all that God has in store for your life.  Faith does not move your mountains, the God behind your faith moves the mountains.  Faith does not set you free; the God behind your faith sets you free!

 

Move 2

Jesus outlined three simple ways to release your faith. Three small steps to develop your faith.

First, forgiving those who repent.  Christians live knowing that people will offend us.  It is inevitable that somebody is going to offend you.  Saints, you do not prepare to retaliate, Jesus says you prepare to forgive.  Only through forgiveness can those who offend us receive God’s grace.  Jesus says in Luke 17:3-4, “3Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.  4And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.”

 

Dr. F.B. Meyer tells of a meeting of a church which was seeking a revival. During the meeting an elder got up and said to the minister, “I don’t think there is going to be a revival here as long as Brother Jones and I don’t speak to each other.” He went across to Jones and said, “Brother, you and I haven’t spoken to each other in five years. Let’s bury the hatchet. Here’s my hand.” Shortly afterwards another elder got up and said, “Minister, I think there will be no revival here while I say nice things about you to your face and am disloyal to you behind your back. I want you to forgive me.” Soon others were on their feet settling old scores. Then says Meyer, God began to visit them. The meeting was crowded and a revival broke out that swept over the whole district.  There was time for confession and an offer of forgiveness and healing. There could be no forgiveness without repentance and confession; no healing without recognizing the disease.

 

Second, believing God can change those who repent.  Faith is acting on what we believe about God.  Jesus does not ask us to look to our faith to forgive others.  Jesus reminds us that how big or small our faith is does not determine the outcome.  God is able to take those whose offense was huge and transform that person into a servant of his.  God has a way of turning people around when you do what he commands you to do.  In other words, God develops your faith as you exercise your faith.

 

In Luke 17:5-6 the disciples look at their limitations rather than God’s abilities.  It reads, “5And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith.  6And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.”

 

We have to believe in God’s ability to respond to the faith he has given us and act on that faith.  Years ago, two young men with a long history of delinquency and crime robbed a YMCA on the lower east side of Manhattan. On their way out of the building, they saw a young man at a telephone switchboard. They were frightened and assumed that he was calling the police. They seized him and beat him savagely with brass knuckles and a black jack. Thinking him to be dead, they hid him behind a radiator near the swimming pool and escaped.

 

Later that evening Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim the English Channel, was walking by the pool. She slipped in the young man’s blood, screamed and then found Donald Tippet’s body. He was rushed to the hospital where he lingered for days between life and death. Eventually he lived but one eye was so badly damaged it could not be saved.

 

Meanwhile the two young men were apprehended and brought to trial. Their past records assured that they would both get long sentences. However Donald Tippet did an amazing thing. He requested that the judge allow the two young men to be paroled to his charge. He wanted to give the boys a chance to change.

 

One of the boys blew his opportunity. He committed another crime, was caught and sent to jail. The other boy, however, was responsive to Tippet’s kindness. He went to college and eventually to medical school. He became one of our nation’s leading surgeons – an eye surgeon.

When Everett Palmer wrote of Donald Tippet’s amazing story of forgiveness and this surgeon’s accomplishments, he added, “I wonder if he ever performed one of those delicate eye operations without thinking of that night in the YMCA.”

 

Third and finally, Seeing forgiveness as our Christian duty.  Listen to verses 7-10 again.  “7But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat?  8And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink?  9Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not.  10So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.”

 

This parable gives us two types of responses to offense. The first one appears when the disciples come to Jesus and ask him to increase their faith. They give evidence of a church that believes it is their faith that makes the difference in someone’s life. They value church membership and fellowship more than evangelism and outreach.  This church is a little bit like the tavern called “Cheers” where everybody’s knows your name, and everybody’s glad you came, and everyone’s problems are all the same.

 

And this church likes it that way! There is a sense of community, a sense of belonging and caring, and we value it deeply. The prayer in this church is “God, give us greater faith, and greater blessings, and greater fellowship with our friends.”  But God don’t ask us to forgive others as you have forgiven us!  Don’t move us out of our comfort zone.  If you want us to do this, God you have to provide us something that we don’t have because we’re not prepared to do this.  Lord, have mercy!

 

The second response is dutiful forgiveness.  What Jesus tells the disciples is that forgiveness is hard work.  He uses the imagery of a slave serving his master. The servant has no right to demand anything of the master nor to expect to do anything but serve the master.

 

It’s not a comfortable image for Christian people, and perhaps that’s why this is not one of our most loved parables. We don’t like to think of ourselves as “worthless slaves;” we prefer to see ourselves as “special lambs.” But we cannot ignore the obvious expectation of Jesus in this parable; Jesus calls Christians to pack a lunch pail, put on a hardhat, and spend themselves by serving others.

 

Not just exhaust themselves in service, but do so without any recognition.  It is amazing that in the church today, people have to be recognized in order to serve the Lord.  Either pay me, applaud me, give me an award, or make me important.  Servant leadership has taken a back seat to selfless service.

 

Jesus admonishes us not to look for better treatment from those we forgive, nor to look for God to shout our names from his throne.  Jesus admonishes us to consider the act of forgiveness routine and to do so habitually simply because of what God has done for us.  How many do you know that want forgive someone unless that person caters to their every whim or demand?  How many people do you know that put requirements on their forgiveness?

 

Conclusion

I’m glad that God says if you forgive, I can use you to move mountains in people’s lives.  People want somebody to forgive them and to understand them.  People want someone who will offer them the unconditional love of God.  People have made so many mistakes, done so many wrong things in their lives, that when they come to church, they need somebody who will forgive them and offer them God’s grace and mercy to start again.

 

God wants somebody who will forgive the person who offends them.  God wants somebody who will allow him to change that person, and God wants somebody who will do so without any thought to compensation or reward.  Forgiveness given in this fashion can be the one avenue that God can use to transform a sinner’s life.  Forgiveness offered as a pardon for sins and offenses paves the way for “the goodness of God to cause a sinner to repent.

 

If you are here this morning and you stand in need of forgiveness, be bid you come.  If you have offense against someone and would like to repent before God, we bid you come.  If you want God to forgive you and to allow you his grace to begin again, we bid you come.  Jesus died for your sins and he stands ready to forgive you!  Will you come today?

How did you treat the poor?

Text:  Luke 16:19-31

19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: 20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, 21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; 23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. 25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. 26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. 27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: 28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. 29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. 30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. 31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

 

Introduction

In 2014, Louisiana was ranked 49th among states in terms of their poverty population.  Overall, 19% of Louisianians live in poverty which means they make $23,834 or less for a family with four. The Income Inequality Ratio is 18.3% and ranks Louisiana as 47th in the Nation.  This refers to the ratio of the share of income going to the top 20 percent of households and the share of income going to the bottom 20 percent of households in 2014.  Despite these statistics, Louisiana had an overall unemployment rate of 6.4% which means that imbedded in this Capitalistic democracy are built in mechanisms designed to keep the rich richer and the poor poorer.[1]

Additonally, Louisiana has the fourth highest rate of school-aged children living in poverty among the 50 United States and Washington, D.C., according to 2013 data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Only Mississippi, Washington, D.C., and New Mexico, respectively, have higher rates of poverty among children ages 5-17.[2]

The national average rate of school-aged children in poverty is 21 percent, but just 10 out of Louisiana’s 64 parishes have a lower rate than that. In Louisiana, 27 percent of school-aged children are in poverty, or 212,904 potential students.[3]

Knowing this how can the church refuse to support scholarships and programs designed to help our children graduate high school and college.  I believe its because they have so interwined the American Way with Scripture until their religion is so heavenly minded it is no earthly good.

And so this parable provides relevant lessons for us this morning. This parable helps us answer the questions:  How can a society rich in resources and opportunities still have persons languishing in poverty and despair?  In response perhaps one should look at the tension found in the word of God which states you reap what you sow and “He that lendeth to the poor, lendeth unto God.”  (Now might I add that the word “lendeth” could also be read as “He that leans toward the poor with aid and assistance in that which is needed, leans toward the heart of God.”  It is not a loan to the poor person per se, but an act done on behalf of God.  An act rewarded by God, not this world system.)   This tension exists because of the world system, known and taught in American schools and lived out by shrewd business habits with prooftexting and excuses for all the ills contained within this system.   In other words, interpreting the Scripture through a capitalistic, free market mindset automatically lends itself to error.  Lord, have mercy!

 

Move 1

 

James, the Moderator of the Jewish-Christian Church warned: “5 Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? 6 But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? 7 Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called? 8 If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: 9 But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.”[4]

And so let us consider the lessons of this parable in the context of our subject for this morning.

First, you can’t help the poor if you can’t see the poor.  Luke 16:19-20 reads, 19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: 20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, 21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.” And when I say “see” I’m talking about with the human eyes and with the understanding of their plight in your mind which compels you to act with favor toward them.

Note that this rich man never saw this man Lazarus.  This rich man lived in a worldly reality.  Lazarus represents a condition more than he does a person; he is poor; his represents poverty that often befalls a child of God.  But the rich man represents how this world’s systems rewards those who hustle, grind, and keep their minds on their paper.  And you can get so high in this world’s system until those in poverty become invisible and irrelevant.

Lazarus “was laid” outside his home each day which simply means that Lazarus became the rich man’s responsibility.  All the rich man had to do was acknowledge him, view him as a child of God and help him.  He was laid at his gate, right in front of him but this rich man had his windows tinted, rolled up, and hit the gas without even looking both ways else he would have seen Lazarus.  He was so busy being busy, he did not acknowledge the condition of Lazarus.  Some of us are so busy being busy, until we have no time to stop and see the plight of those right in front of us.  We do what I call drive by shootings without the gun; we see poverty, roll up our windows in fear and keep on driving.  And I say to you slow down and see your community, slow down and see your neighbor who is languishing in poverty.

Note also that the demon of poverty does not come alone; it brings sickness, mental illness, and despair. Poverty causes people to live a horrible life; watching those who have been blessed in the midst of a wicked society live as if they do not exist is a painful reality experienced by the poor.  Luke depicts Lazarus’ plight like this:  “21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.” Can you see this man?  Are your eyes open to the plight of the poor among you?  But in this world system, How quick we are to defund indigent care programs, refuse to open clothing and food pantry ministries and refuse to aid the homeless.  Lord, have mercy!

Note also that this man’s name, Lazarus means, “God helps.”  So from his very name we see that this man though at the rich man’s home is not dependent on the rich man for help.  Though he is living out his condition of poverty, he is not depicted as having this rich man as his only source.  His name suggests he is leaning and depending on God for his sustenance.  He’s at this rich man’s door, but he’s looking unto the hills from whence cometh his help; his hope is in the Lord, God Almighty.  Lord, have mercy!  But let me move on……

Second, you can’t help the poor if you don’t believe that poverty is an unavoidable reality.  I suggest this morning that when Jesus said, “The poor you have with you always,” Jesus was in fact letting us know that poverty is an unavoidable human condition.  This world system creates gaps between the rich and the middle class and the rich and the poor.  This gap is unavoidable in a capitalistic free market society and if you’re going to see the poor with the right attitude you must subscribe to this premise, “the poor you have with you always.”

If you believe that people are poor due to a lack of education, a lack of being reared in the proper environment, or because they have been lazy, shiftless, and slothful then you will not be able to accept poverty as an unavoidable reality. If you can’t see how people can be poor in a society rich in resources and opportunities, you will not be able to accept poverty as an unavoidable reality.  Lord, have mercy!

Let me say emphatically with Jesus, Lewis Temple, the poor you will have with you always.  And that poverty will remain in some sectors of the population despite our best efforts to eradicate it.  That does not mean we should not fight this world system that produces poverty, we should.  What it means is that we should not lose hope as we fight this demonic condition when things do not change as readily as we suppose.

Third, if you are not generous toward the poor right before you, then you won’t help those far away.  In other words, if you pass by a poor person on the street right outside your home, you won’t travel distant lands on mission fields to help them either.  Don’t you get tired of hearing folks talk about going to Africa or India to help the poor, when they won’t give to the Salvation Army, the Church, at home?  Isn’t it irrating to hear people talk out of both sides of their mouths.  They say their care for the poor, but refuse to implement a food bank program or provide assistance to the Christian Community Action on the local level.  Lord, have mercy!

 

Move 2

Jesus says to us in this parable that if you don’t open your eyes to the needs right in your neighborhood, if you don’t believe that life produces poverty, if you don’t help those in front of you, you will have to give an account for that kind of unrealistic stewardship.

Luke 16:22-26 reads, “22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; 23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. 25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. 26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.”

Beloved, stewardship demands that we look at this world system as juxtaposed to the kingdodm of God.  Despite the actions of the rich man, those who live in the kingdom of God should operate from a totally different perspective.  We should live with heaven in our view and even more importantly than that, we should live our lives based on the Word of God.

A man was driving his car, when he saw an old lady, stranded on the side of the road. He saw that she needed help. So he stopped his Pontiac near her Mercedes and got out.

He smiled, while he was approaching her, still she was worried, as nobody had stopped for hours. Moreover, he did not look safe, as his appearance was so poor and shabby. He could see, how frightened she was, so he tried to calm her: „ I‘m here to help you, don‘t worry. My name is Bryan Anderson“.

The tire was flat, so he had to crawl under the car. While changing the tire, he got dirty and his hands were hurt. When the job was done, she asked how much she owed him for his help. Bryan smiled. He said: „If you really want to pay me back, the next time you see someone, who needs help, give that person the needed assistance. And think of me“.

At the same evening, the lady stopped by a small cafe. That place looked dingy. Then she saw a waitress, nearly eight months pregnant, wiping her wet hair with a towel. The waitress had a sweet friendly smile, although she had spent on her feet the whole day.

The lady wondered how someone, who has so little, can be so kind and giving to a stranger. Then she remembered Bryan. The lady had finished her meal and paid with a hundred dollar bill. The waitress went to get change and when she came back, the lady was gone. She left a note on the napkin: „You don‘t own me anything. Somebody once helped me, just like now I‘m helping you. If you really want to pay me back, do not let this chain of love end with you“. The waitress found four more one hundred bills under the napkin.

That night the waitress came home earlier. She was thinking about the lady and the money she left. She was wondering, how the lady could know, how much she and her husband needed it, especially now, when the baby will soon arrive. She knew that her husband worried about that, so she was glad to tell him good news. Then she kissed him and whispered „Now everything will be all right. I love you, Bryan Anderson“[5].  That is a dynamic picture of what happens when we accept the fact that we are living in exile, that this world is not our home and its systems are not our systems.

 

Conclusion

Finally, Luke says we should govern our lives based on the revealed, written Word of God. Luke writes in 16:27-31, ” 27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: 28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. 29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. 30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. 31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”

Beloved, I know how easy it is to get caught up in this American system of success and fame, yet let me urge you to judge America by the standard of God’s Word.  If a person has not helped the poor before they are elected to office, don’t expect them to help after they’ve been elected.

In the kingdom of God, riches do not come from a capitalistic free-market system but true riches come from having a heart for the things of God.  I urge you today, to consider your attitude toward the poor and stop operating as an American and begin to act as a child existing in the kingdom of God.  Do it now because one day, you will give an account of your stewardeship.  And I ask will you be like this rich man or will you be generous in your stewardship as a Christian ought.

I trust that you, will continue to support those who mission is eradicating poverty right here and right now.  Praise the Lord!

 

[1] https://talkpoverty.org/state-year-report/louisiana-2015-report/

[2] http://www.nola.com/news/baton-rouge/index.ssf/2014/12/poverty_education_louisiana_ce.html

[3] Ibid.

[4] James 2:5-9, KJV.

[5] http://www.inspirationalstories.eu/stories/inspirational-stories-about-helping-others/

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/

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.

The God Manifested in Jesus Cares About You!

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” 4 “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.  Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. [John 2:1-11]

 

Introduction/Anti-Thesis

Tony Kriz asks in his book Aloof, “What are we to do with a God who hides?  He is not alone.  Throughout the ages, men have debated whether God is concerned about his creation.  For example, Deist believe God has left us to our own devices.

Deism is a religion where it is generally believed that God is not (wholly or in part) involved in the affairs of human history.  They do believe that God created the world and everything in it.  They do believe that there is one God, though they reject the trinity.  However, for the most part, the Deists do not believe that God is involved with our lives.  God created the world and basically gave it all that it needed to run itself.  All, to the Deists, is governed by nature and natural laws.  All we can know about God could be found in nature.  They reject the Bible, revelations, and the like because those are man-made things invented through the superstition.

In any case the Deists believe that God is not concerned (though at various levels) with human history.  Therefore, we are all headed towards whatever fate has for us and whatever our greed and superstition may take us.

This general idea about God’s relation to His creation is widespread, though not as popular as it was in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  As a matter of fact, some of the founding fathers of the United States of America were deists.  Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Paine were Deists.[1]

There may be Gods who are unconcerned, aloof, and distant about human affairs but that God is not the God of Jesus Christ.  That God is not the God that we serve.  Can I get a witness?

 

Transition/Thesis

The Bible tells us otherwise in regards to the views of the Deists.  The Bible reveals to us that God is very much involved with the affairs of the human race.  [2]

Foundational to the Christian faith is the belief that the  God manifested in Jesus  is actively involved with His creation?  From Genesis to Revelation, God is revealed as a God that cares about his creation.  In fact at no time does God abandon us; God is always intervening in human affairs, not because he is indifferent but because God cares about our lives here in the earth and because God wants us to have the very best quality of life we can muster.  Lord, have mercy!

Synthesis/Main Points

At the beginning of Epiphany, we have emphasized that God prepared the world to worship Jesus.  God did that in the name he gave Jesus and in the way that the heavens proclaimed his name and the way that the gentiles approached him to worship him.  God prophesized that his name would be called Emmanuel, meaning God with us.  In other words, the epiphany says that God is manifested among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth now known as the Christ after his resurrection and ascension back into heaven.  Jesus the name says “will be great because he will save his people from their sins.”   It is a name that God gave to demonstrate the powerlessness of the devil to triumph over the plan of God for his people and Jesus overcome the devil once and for all on Calvary.  Lord, have mercy!

You will remember that John presents Jesus as God’s Word made flesh, dwelling among us; as being able to be touched, felt, and handled like any other human being.  John says “And we beheld his glory full of grace and truth.”  Jesus is the man that contains the Godhead bodily, the creator of the universe, offered as a ransom for sin in the earth.  Jesus is the one who opened up possibilities for humanity to grow and excel in the earth.  Jesus is the way, the truth and the life that affords those who accept him a way to live the abundant life.

And our text this morning shows the first sign that the God we worship in Jesus, cares.  This text proves without doubt that the mundane affairs of our lives are important to God.  The God manifested in Jesus is concerned not just about our sorrows, but about every facet of our lives. This includes but is not limited to instances of joy such as a wedding, the birth of a child, the party to celebrate a promotion, the cruise to relax and enjoy family and friends, all are equally important to our God manifested in Jesus of Nazareth, now known as Jesus the Christ.  Hallelujah!

That ought to cause you joy to know that God is not aloof, somewhere in the universe unconcerned about your life, but that God as manifested in Jesus is a very present help in time of trouble.  And I don’t know about you but that is music to my ears.  I need to know that God cares, and more specifically God cares for me.

Move 1

This text illustrates four points that I would like to highlight this morning.  Let me give them to you now and elaborate on each of them in due course.  First, the God manifested in Jesus cares about those things that are important to you.  Second, the God manifested in Jesus when you bring your cares to him, will work on your behalf.  Jesus has a solution to every dilemma you face in life. Third, the God manifested in Jesus offers you his very best solution. And finally, the God manifested in Jesus does all that he does to bring glory to his heavenly father, your God and my God.  Amen?

First, the God manifested in Jesus cares about those things that are important to you.  Here is the situation as outlined in verses 1-4, “On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

A wedding is going on.  Guests are enjoying themselves and as the custom is, wine is served at the wedding.  However, as the reception progresses Mary is informed that the wine is about consumed and more will be needed otherwise the groom and the bride will be embarrassed.  Mary is concerned; it is important to her that the wedding party is not embarrassed.

Everyone is having a good time and such humiliation will scar the wedding day for the couple.  And so Mary, knowing that Jesus cares, brings this problem to him.  Jesus not understanding that these types of things are important to God, asks, “Woman, why do you involve me?”  Yet the God manifested in Jesus speaks to Jesus and helps Jesus know that God does indeed care about whether this couple has a beautiful wedding celebration.

Many are the things that we discount God about.  Many are the things we don’t take to Jesus because we don’t believe God cares about them.  However, our text illustrates that what is important to you is important to God.  Never should you be ashamed to bring your cares to Jesus despite how trivial or human they might seem.  The God manifested in Jesus cares about those things that are important to you.  Hallelujah!

Second, the God manifested in Jesus when you bring your cares to him, will work on your behalf.  Listen, I want you to understand this as well:  Jesus has a solution to every dilemma you face in good times and in sullen times.  Listen to what happened in John 2:6-8, “Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

What Jesus did to address this problem was both natural and supernatural.  Jesus used the natural resources available to him to work a miracle for this couple.  The God in Jesus uses those things that are available to us to bless us.  You remember Elijah the prophet asked the widow, “What do you have in your house?”  Well, Jesus saw the water pots as a source of supply rather than as a source of waste.  The water in those posts were used to wash the feet of the guests, but Jesus took what was unclean, made it clean and transformed it into a blessing.

What are you withholding from Jesus because you think it’s not clean enough or appropriate enough to offer Jesus?  Let me tell you this morning that the God manifested in Jesus will work with what you have, not what you don’t have.  Hallelujah!

But let me move on.  Third, the God manifested in Jesus only offers you his very best.  Listen to the response to what the God in Jesus had done.  John 2:8b-10 reads, “They did so,  and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside  and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

Two keys exist in this solution.  First, they did what Jesus asked them to do.  Second, God intervened supernaturally to resolve their problem.  Beloved, when you do what Jesus asks; when you obey Jesus; miracles happen.  And miracles happen that far surpass anything that you could ever ask or think.  Jesus did not give them common wine; Jesus gave them the best wine.  Why?  Because the God manifested in Jesus only offers the very best to his children.  God wants you to have the very best and you need to understand that.  Beloved, God cares about you and wants the best for you.  Can you receive that this morning?  Say this with me: “My God is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that I could ever ask or think.”  Hallelujah!

Finally, the God manifested in Jesus does all that he does to bring glory to his heavenly Father, your God and my God.   John 2:11 says, “What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”

Listen, the God manifested in Jesus desires for you to worship him.  God desires for you to experience his glory (his power, his presence, his provision, his protection, and his love). When God takes interests in your life, he does so that the world might have a testimony of his goodness and his love.  And that’s why throughout the world men and women have exclaimed God’s goodness; God’s willingness to work in human affairs.  Just as God saved the day at this wedding, God wants you to bring your situations to him today.

Don’t save God for the big things in your life.  Don’t wait on a tragedy to pray and seek the God manifested in Jesus.  Rather, invite God to participate in all the activities of your life that are important to you.  The God manifested in Jesus wants you to be successful in everything you do.

Move 2 (Conclusion)

Epiphany is the sudden realization of something; it’s an unction; it’s a feeling.  When these people saw what Jesus was able to do, even at the wedding, it pointed to God his heavenly Father.  They began to believe what the prophet has spoken: “A virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall call his name Emmanuel, meaning God with us.”  They believed that his name would be called Jesus, “because he would save his people from their sins.”

During this epiphany season, I invite you to get to know Jesus as God manifested in the flesh.  I invite you to stop looking for some abstract, ephemeral God and try Jesus.  Beloved, I offer you the best gift ever given, I offer you Jesus, God manifested in the flesh.  I offer him to you because the God manifested in Jesus cares about your life, all of your life.

And so we don’t worship some distant, unknown Architect of the Universe, some Unmoved Mover. Rather we worship the God manifested in Jesus. God has prepared the entire creation to worship Jesus. For this God cares; this God can be touched by each of us. Touched by faith in Jesus, touched by prayer and supplication. Hallelujah!

[1] Cunningham, W. R. (2006). God’s Involvement in our lives.  Retrieved from http://www.pursuingthetruth.org/sermons/files/godsinvolvement.htm

[2] ibid

 

Just to Worship Jesus!

After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.
Matthew 2:9-12

They didn’t  come for a blessing.  They didn’t come to be healed, saved, or delivered.   They didn’t come to ask for anything.  They just came to worship.  They came to be a blessing.  When they came they came to give honor to Jesus as Emmanuel, God with us incarnated in Jesus. 

They worshipped by kneeling in surrender to Jesus as Lord.  They worshipped  by giving offerings fit for the destiny of Jesus both in the earth and in glory.  They brought gold, the symbol of wealth in any kingdom.  They brought frankincense which represented prayer and worship.  They brought myrrh to represent the fact that Jesus would fulfill the will of God for his life and die on the cross. 

And when we come to church we should come to worship Jesus.  We were called to worship Jesus. And we should bring offerings that are in line with our calling in Christ.

Think on these things.  When you come to church, you should come just to worship Jesus.

Hope Is….

Hope Is the Belief That Anything Is Possible!

Put yourself in Mary’s shoes for a minute. You’re in your room late at night when an angel appears out of nowhere and tells you you’re going to get pregnant (without having sex) and that your son will reign like a king.

To say this is hard to believe would be an understatement. But after receiving this mind-blowing news, Mary does not question God’s fulfillment of His promises. Her only question is a practical one: “How will this be…since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34). Instead of getting caught up in questions like “Why me?” or “Are you sure?”, Mary’s response is, “OK. How’s this going to work?”

In this moment, Mary shows us what it means to live in hope. Living in hope is realizing that nothing is impossible with God. The same God who made a way for a virgin to give birth wants to do the impossible in our lives today. The wayward child who leaves you sleepless night after night is within God’s reach. The cancer that threatens a loved one’s life is not beyond God’s ability to heal.

Living in hope, Mary believed God and pursued the sign He gave her. For us, living in hope looks exactly the same—believing that nothing is impossible with God and doing what God has put on our hearts to do. We may not know how all the details will work out, but God always does what He says He’ll do.

Pray:

Jesus, give me the faith to believe that nothing is impossible and the courage to face what’s before me today. Even though I may not understand how this will all come together, I put my hope in You.

Reflect:

Is there a longing God placed on your heart that seems impossible to fulfill? How can you take a step today to put action to your faith?

(From Bible App Reading Plan “Hope Is”)

God Preparing the World to Worship Jesus!

Matthew 2:1-12

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men[a] from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose,[b] and we have come to worship him.”  King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,     are not least among the ruling cities[c] of Judah, for a ruler will come from you     who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’[d]

Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!” After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

 

Introduction

I learned in English Composition that the opening paragraph (the first couple of sentences) should give the topic of the essay. Upon careful outlining of these first two verses it is clear that Jesus is the subject worship is the verb and that Jews and Gentiles are the objects.  In other words, this story of the magi is about how God prepared the world to worship Jesus.  However, unless a person has an epiphany regarding Jesus, they will never come to worship Jesus, God’s only begotten son, who has been crowned both Lord and Christ.

 

Move 1

Matthew elucidates for his church, three ways God prepared the entire world to worship Jesus. Joseph as the representative of the lineage of David and the Jews are on board. He’s ready to worship Jesus. Now God turns his attention to the Gentiles and through prophecy and signs gets them on board to worship Jesus.

First, God preordained the worship of Jesus out of every nation. In other words, God prophesized that he would send Jesus to restore Israel and unite the gentile nations under his light. Listen to what the prophet Isaiah and Micah proclaim.

Isaiah 60, verses 1-6 reads, “Arise, Jerusalem! Let your light shine for all to see. For the glory of the Lord rises to shine on you. Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth, but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you. All nations will come to your light; mighty kings will come to see your radiance. “Look and see, for everyone is coming home! Your sons are coming from distant lands; your little daughters will be carried home.  Your eyes will shine, and your heart will thrill with joy, for merchants from around the world will come to you. They will bring you the wealth of many lands. Vast caravans of camels will converge on you, the camels of Midian and Ephah. The people of Sheba will bring gold and frankincense and will come worshiping the Lord.”

Micah gives the place for the entrance of Jesus into the world, the place where caravans of gentiles will come to worship Christ.  Micah 5:2-4 says, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf. The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies until the woman in labor gives birth. Then at last his fellow countrymen will return from exile to their own land. And he will stand to lead his flock with the Lord’s strength, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. Then his people will live there undisturbed, for he will be highly honored around the world.”

And Matthew provides the fulfillment of what God prophesized when he wrote in Matthew 1:18-23, 18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

This is indeed the culmination of advent. This is the coming of the great king Jesus who will save his people from their sins; who will have dwelling within his body the entire godhead. This god-man will be the answer to the demands of salvation for all who worship him. It says to us no matter where you reside, God is able. God is able to lift you up when you worship Jesus.

Second, God self-revealed himself in Jesus Christ to all humanity according to the scriptures. The church calls it an epiphany. What is an epiphany? An Epiphany describes a sudden and striking revelation.  Wikipedia defines “epiphany” as a feeling. The article says about epiphany, “Generally the term is used to describe a scientific breakthrough, religious, or philosophical discoveries (defined earlier as experiences of sudden and striking realization), but it can apply in any situation in which an enlightening realization allows a problem or situation to be understood from a new and deeper perspective.”[1]

The church celebrates Epiphany as the sudden realization of not just the wise men, but of all Disciples of Christ in every age, that Jesus is the physical manifestation of God.[2]  John had such an epiphany and wrote in John 1:1-1-3, “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him.”  But each of the apostles had this epiphany concerning Jesus and concluded with joy in John 1:14, “14 So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son [Jesus].”

Paul also had such an epiphany and wrote in Colossians 2:9 reads, “For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body.”  Paul received this revelation from his encounter with Jesus was on the Damascus road and subsequent revelations as he labored in the gospel.

Third, God protected his investment in Jesus. When God got ready for Jesus to enter this world; God did not allow evil to prevail. Herod was no match for God protected Jesus by unmasking the desires of Herod to the wise men and God kept Herod from preventing the Gentiles to worship. In one bold dream God cemented forever the worship of Jesus. He told the magi, don’t trust Herod; go back home another way. And try as he might, evil could not destroy the worship of Jesus.

 

Move 2

What makes some people see a star and immediately pack their bags and head across the dessert for Bethlehem looking for a savior? Why is it that some people can see the brightest light of all lights shining in the sky and be torn from their ordinary hum drum existence and be driven to go and look for something they truly believe is so important that it will change their lives—and change the world. And yet others will see the same star the same night, in the same way, and look up and say, “well, yes, that was nice, now let’s go back inside to catch the start of the third season of ‘Downton Abbey’”? The wise men (Magi) were hundreds of miles away, but they got it.[3]  These wise men teach us three very important lessons about the worship of Jesus.

First, Those who understand who Jesus is (those who have an epiphany) will travel the farthest to find him. Our text says in verses 1-2, “Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

Second, Those who understand who Jesus is (those who have an epiphany) will travel the farthest to worship him. Matthew 2:10-11 reads, “10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

These wise men had an epiphany; a sudden realization that the star meant the fulfillment of prophecy; that God had done what he said; the Messiah had been born and getting to him to worship was the right approach.  Only by coming to Jesus to worship could gratefulness be demonstrated by those who had this revelation.

Third, these wise men teach us how to worship Jesus.  They come to worship and they do not come empty-handed.  They bring gifts prophetically linked to the destiny of Jesus Christ. Their gifts are ordinary gifts one would offer to a king: gold has great value; frankincense is a perfume; and myrrh is a common anointing oil. The gifts have symbolic significance in light of the identity of the baby to whom they are given. Gold is a symbol of kingship on earth, it symbolizes the wealth of the nations, the prosperity that occurs in the lives of those who worship God and obey his commandments.

Frankincense (used for incense) is a symbol of deity, and is used in worship.  “Incense engages our senses in inescapable ways. The smoke we see rising from the burning incense is the physical representation of our prayers rising to God. The aroma we smell reminds us to live our lives as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.[4]

Myrrh (an embalming oil) is a symbol of death.[5] It was used in embalming (John 19:39 ), also as a perfume ( Esther 2:12 ; Psalms 45:8 ; Proverbs 7:17 ). It was a custom of the Jews to give those who were condemned to death by crucifixion “wine mingled with myrrh” to produce insensibility.[6]  It prefigures the sacrifice Jesus would make on the cross for the sins of the world.  He would not take the numbing myrrh to reduce his sensation of pain, but his devoted disciples would anoint his body with it as he lay in the tomb.  Hallelujah!

Move 3 (Conclusion)

Listen beloved, do you understand who Jesus is?   Have you come to worship him as Lord and Savior? How do we honor Christ as our ruler, revere him as the Son of God, and lament his identity as the crucified Messiah?[7]

Because when we get the revelation, like the wise men got it, we too will return to our homes another way.  Matthew 2:12, reads, “12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.”  The revelation of who Jesus is will not allow us to return back to our worlds the same way we came.  We will bypass evildoers; we will walk in the light of Christ and live by his commands.

When you have an epiphany an awareness that Jesus is the light of the world and the Savior, your Savior from darkness and sin, you too will take another route home, to work, and to play.  No longer will you be the same person you were before you encountered Jesus.  No longer will you come to worship empty-handed.  You just like the magi will bring gifts tied to the destiny of the church in the world.  And that destiny is to make disciples and help usher in the kingdom of God in the earth.  No longer will you be known for your frugalness; you will be known for your generosity because now you understand who Jesus is.  Your heart, your life, and your possessions will be given to Jesus because you understand who He is.  Hallelujah!

Beloved, you and I were made for worship; we were made to give praise and glory to God through Jesus Christ. Yet, we must be prepared by receiving the revelation of Jesus contained in the Word of God. You and I must have an epiphany. Strange things happen when you experience an epiphany of who Jesus is. Look at what happened to the wise men; when they understood who Jesus was, they were totally transformed and determined to worship him.

I dare say someone here this morning needs to see Jesus for who he really is.  Jesus is God’s Son and God desires for you and me to worship him.  Worship him as king of kings and lord of lords.  Worship him because he is God’s Shekinah glory.  Worship because he is your light and your salvation.  God has prepared the world to worship Jesus?

And if you don’t worship him now, you will.  For Philippians 2:9-11 reads, “Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  God has prepared the world to worship Jesus and he created you for the self-same thing.  Will you worship him today?  Will you do as these wise men, bow down and worship Christ?  He stands ready to receive you into his kingdom today.  Will you come?  The door to the kingdom is open for you.  Walk on in!  Walk on in!

References:

[1] Chesser, D. (2015). Notes on Matthew 2:1-12. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epiphany

[2] Chesser, D.  ibid.

[3] Duncan, S. (2015). Who were those guys?  Retrieved from http://homebynow.blogspot.com/2013/01/who-were-those-guys.html

[4] Kleinwechter, S. (2013). Incense in Episcopal Worship.  Retrieved from http://www.stmartininthefields.org/incense-in-episcopal-worship/

[5] McKenzie, A. ibid.

[6]Bible Study Tools (2015) “Myrrh” Easton’s Bible Dictionary.  Retrieved from http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/myrrh/

[7] McKenzie, A. (2013)  ibid.