Friday, November 17, 2017

Give Thanks!

Read Psalm 100

For those who have come most Sundays for 2017, you realize that most of my messages are about discipleship; therefore, a great majority of them come with some degree of challenge.

Salvation and eternal life are a gift.  Hallelujah! 

Discipleship is another matter, to which we should also shout hallelujah!  Following Jesus takes work—that’s not the best word.  Following Jesus takes life.

But following Jesus is often a challenge.  Today, I will present to you what may be the biggest challenge of a disciple.  What?


Once again, the pastor has lost it.  I feel good when I am thankful.  Thanksgiving is good stuff.  When I am thankful, my problems seem less significant.

I agree with all of the above.  I do feel better when I am thankful.  Thanksgiving is good stuff.  My problems do not rule my life when I am thankful.

So why are we not thankful all of the time?

It’s hard to be thankful when you have a flat, don’t have a spare, and it’s raining and cold.

It’s hard to be thankful when you have to choose between paying the gas or the electric bill.

It’s hard to be thankful when the officials can’t get a single call right.

It’s hard to be thankful with cancer or after a car wreck or when everyone is criticizing you at every turn.

It’s hard to be thankful when the phone won’t stop ringing, supper is burning, and you don’t know how to turn the smoke alarm off.

It’s hard to be thankful when you are out of money, out of smokes, and out of people to blame for everything.

OK, I’m just writing lyrics for country and western songs now. 

How can we be thankful in all circumstances?  Some stuff just gets you.  You don’t forget to pray, but beginning your prayer by giving thanks is difficult.  Lord, I need healing or relief or a job or just someone to talk with or you finish the list.

It’s hard to thank God when our hearts hurt, our wallet is empty, and when nothing seems to be going our way.  How can I thank God when my world seems to be falling apart?

Give thanks to him because he is good.  That doesn’t change.  Your employment status can change.  Your grades in school might change.  Your tire might even get changed, but knowing that God is good.  That doesn’t change.

Let’s give thanks to God because he is good.

How about we give thanks to God because his love endures forever?  Even when my world is a mess, God loves me no less.

It is important that this thought be chiseled in our hearts and our minds.  God’s love endures forever.  He loves you with an everlasting love.  His love never ends.

Love never fails.

Even when my world is a mess, God loves me no less.

But in the middle of my mess, it seems like God has forgotten me.  Is he still there?

He is.  His faithfulness continues through all generations.  Unlike the transactional things of this world, his faithfulness does not expire.  Here are some things you won’t hear God say:

I’m sorry sir, the warranty on your salvation has expired.

That’s not covered as you have exceeded the recommended mileage on compassion. 

That forgiveness coupon was only good for last week.

Your login has failed three times.  You are now locked out.

His faithfulness continues through all generations!

In the middle of your worst day, remember:  God is good.  His love is forever.  His faithfulness doesn’t stop because of your mess or because the world is still upside down.  It continues, but before we continue, let’s answer a question.

Do you believe God’s holy word?  Do you believe in God’s love and faithfulness?  It influences our attitude towards thanksgiving.

Some of you may have noted that I started with the last verse first in Psalm 100.  That’s because the why of what we are called to do in the other verses is explained.  In many ways, it is the why of thanksgiving.

OK, I will do my best to be thankful, even in my mess, even in this topsy-turvy world.  What do I need to do?

Let’s start with 3 verbs:  Shout, worship, and come.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.

We live in Oklahoma and we see these things.  Green pastures, wildflowers, wheat harvest, sunrise and sunset like nowhere else, snow that glistens on the ground or the same 1 inch of snow that just blows back and forth all day long. 

The world in its own way shouts for joy to the Lord.  If you have even happened upon a field of Black-eyed Susans interspersed among the Indian Blanket Flowers that work around the sage and cactus plants; you have been witness to a part of the earth shouting for joy to the Lord.

Why are humans the only ones who just say, “Yeah, OK, thanks?”

Shout for joy to the Lord all the earth!

But my life is a mess.  We went through that.  God is good.  His love is forever.  His faithfulness doesn’t stop because of your mess, it goes on and on.

So, am I to shout for joy to the Lord in the middle of my mess?  The answer is yes.

But we don’t stop there.  We worship the Lord with gladness.

Hold your holy horses, preacher.  I will shout some thanksgiving, but you can’t expect me to be happy about it.  You can’t really expect me to worship the Lord in gladness.  God knows my deal and it’s just not good for me right now.

I will make my offering and sing my songs and even stay awake for the sermon, but I am not going to be happy about it.

God wants us to know that our happiness is not rooted in our circumstances.  Our joy is in him.  Remember Paul’s counsel to rejoice in the Lords always.  He said it twice—again I say rejoice.

Rejoice in our circumstances?  No.  Our joy is in the Lord, so we worship him with gladness.  That manifests itself in joyful songs.

Come before him with joyful songs!  We don’t come singing a dirge.  What do I mean?

OK preacher, you are pushing the limits.  I will shout for joy and worship with gladness, but I am not getting all happy about singing.  That’s just not my style. 

Let me pick the next song.  We will sing, Were you there when they crucified my Lord…  Tremble, tremble

You may not be jumping up and down during our worship songs, but your heart needs to be full of joy and that joy is to be transferred to you lips.  We are called to make a joyful sound. 

We don’t have to be music majors.  When people who know music start talking sharps and flats, I’m thinking tires again.  Something sharp penetrated your tire and now you have a flat.  You don’t have to have the best pitch or even sing in the right key for your song to be joyful.

If you don’t believe me, swing by the men’s Bible study on Wednesday night.  We often open with a song or two and those songs may or may not follow the music in the books.  But we offer them to God with joy in our hearts that comes out through out lips.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.

I am going to give you a word that you might not associate with this part of the psalm:  Truth.

Here is the truth that we need to remember.  Humankind did not love God, at least most of it was rebelling against him.  Judgment was what we deserved.  We were convicted in our sin and sentenced to death.

Jesus paid the price for us.  David didn’t understand all of this when he wrote this psalm, but it speaks so clearly to us today. 

While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

We were dead in our sin.  Now we are alive in Christ.

How can we come before God in our worship without thanksgiving and praise?  Being a Christian and not coming before our God with thanksgiving and praise is wholly inconsistent with who we are.

We were dead in our sins and now we are alive in Christ.  How can that alone not bring forth thanksgiving from every heart and how can thanksgiving not come forth from every mouth?

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.

Duh!  Sorry for the highly theological terms.

This is sort of like when I am talking with a Christian tourist, someone who knows some of the Bible but doesn’t really want this whole discipleship thing, and they say, “The Bible doesn’t say you have to go to church.”

I get to answer, It’ says, “Don’t stop!”  It’s one of those ever so obvious things.  Don’t stop gathering together.  Duh!  How could the answer be anything else?

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.

We were dead.  Now we live.  Praise the Lord.  Thank you Jesus!

Some of you are clued in to the fact that I skipped the third verse.  I did.  The pastor has lost it now.  He started with the last verse, then went to the top, but skipped a verse.  What’s up with that?

That third verse begins with a unique verb—know.  There is a continuum of definitions that go with this word.  They on one end begin with awareness and perception and go to the other end to being fully convinced especially in matters of truth.  Archaic definitions involved intimacy.

This third verse involves being fully convinced.

Know that the Lord is God.  It is he who made us, and we are his we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

He is God.  He made us.  We are his.  This is an unmistakable relationship.  This is an undisputed relationship.  This is complete ownership.

We are his.

The psalmist adds the metaphor of being the sheep of his pasture.  Our trust is completely in him.  Our safety is completely in him. 

God is not an intellectual concept for us.

He is not one option among many life choices for us.

He is not available only as a last resort for us—though many Christians still need a little work there.

He is God!  We don’t think he is God.  He is God and we are his.  This is the most primal, the most basic, the most intimate relationship that we have.  It is the most natural relationship that we have.  This is foundational to who we are.

He is God and we are his.  There is no debate or equivocation. 

Know that the Lord is God.  It is he who made us, and we are his we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

There you have Psalm 100, even though we didn’t look at it sequentially.  This is a psalm, a song, for all of God’s people.

I have a whole bunch of songs that I like, but only a few that just grab me, take me, do the things that only music can do to you. 

I enjoy Heart of Worship, Blessed be the Name, Sweet Home Alabama (sometimes changing the words and making Alabama into Oklahoma) even though it doesn’t fit the rest of the lyrics.  Hotel California is always unique.  And yes, I can head bang with the best of them on Stairway to Heaven, but they don’t’ really just take me. 

When I was in high school, yes, in the last millennia, the Stone’s song Angie would do it for me.  Of course it was the perfect song for a 16-17-year-old kid who was always in love with somebody for at least 2 weeks.  It doesn’t ring my bell so much anymore.

Revelation Song owns me.  I just have to let the song have its way.

Psalm 100 is like that with me.  Much like the 23rd psalm, it just goes beyond the words and speaks to your heart and your entire being.

If it doesn’t do the same for you, well, you have issues.

It is different in another way.  It is not a first-person psalm as many of David’s were.  Psalm 100 speaks—sings—for all of us.  It is a song, a psalm that we are to lift up to God together.

Psalm 100 is a psalm for all of us.  The congregation memorized this a few years ago.  It is on our list of verses to memorize next year as well.  It’s been a few years and we have some folks who were not with us then or not old enough then.  So next year, we will memorize it.

For now, let’s close with it in unison.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

If the premise is false...

There is a foundational axiom in logic and argument that if the premise is false, everything thereafter might be proven true.

The one who declares there is no God claims that everything has always existed.  They must take this statement on faith (not a word popular among those who call foul at the word Creator) for their god, science, cannot prove what they claim.

The one who professes in faith that there is a God rejoices when science reveals the divinity of each aspect of creation.

The one who claims that everything “just is” leads a bleak life without real purpose.  They “just are.”

The who knows in his heart that God is not only real, but good, and in his most fundamental form is love, knows life.

The one who will not acknowledge God, feels compelled to convince everyone else of their well-constructed argument and logic which defies both because they cannot prove their premise.

The one who proclaims a loving God by faith, does not argue but invites others to know what they cannot know without the illumination of God’s own Spirit.

We who know the truth through faith are called to liberate those who are blind and enslaved in the wickedness of the world.

Speak the truth in love.  Deliver the gospel of peace.  Pray for the Holy Spirit to lift the blindness of the unbeliever.

We do not argue with those who are blind and foolish.  They will only think themselves wise.
Have pity on those who think that life is only what they can calculate.  Have mercy on those timid souls that will not take a step towards real—abundant—life in faith.

Pray for those who are lost in their own arguments.

Pray for those who do not know purpose, real God-given purpose.

One day everyone will declare that Jesus Christ is Lord and it will be to the glory of God.  The blindness will be lifted and there will be nothing left to say, except JESUS IS LORD!

We who have eyes to see have hearts like that of our Lord and desire none to perish.  We continue to invite people to know the truth.  Tell them of a God who is Love.  Then tell them how much he loves us in the story of Jesus Christ.

Let’s take our good news to the streets!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Rich Young Ruler

Let’s examine this pericope.  It has many interesting points.

First, this rich man comes to Jesus and then falls on his knees.  He is at least outwardly showing respect here.  Some translations say he knelt.  In either case, these are signs of reverence.

Signs of reverence continue when he addresses Jesus as “Good Teacher.”  Before Jesus responds to this salutation, the man presents his question.

What must I do to inherit eternal life?

This is an interesting combination of words.  What must I do to inherit?  Inheritance is something passed on by nature of something already in existence.  Many Jews thought that because they came from Abraham they would inherit whatever God had in store for them.

Normally, if you say what must I do, the second part of the question would be to earn whatever it is that might be in store for me.

This is interesting but probably not unusual.  The Hebrew people knew the law and when they did not follow it, there were prescribed sacrifices to be made.  It was very transactional in many ways.

Jesus countered asking, “Why do you call me good?  There is only One who is good and that’s God.”

Jesus proceeded with part of the answer to the man’s question without further explanation, but we ask: Did this rich man know to whom he was speaking? Did he know that talking to Jesus is the same as talking to God?
Was he just being polite?

In either case, Jesus proceeds with his answer, which is basically abide by commandments 5-9. 

The man replied, “Been there, done that, got the tee shirt!”

Had we read this account in Matthew’s gospel, the rich man would have asked, “What else?  Anything else?  I want to be perfect.  Have I covered all of my bases?”

In Mark’s account, Jesus proceeds by saying, “There is one more thing.”

My guess is that the rich man thought that Jesus would hit him up for an offering or maybe ask him to host him and his disciples for a meal.  I am sure that in that instant between “one thing more” and what Jesus said, the man’s mind was moving through a dozen possibilities.

What Jesus said next was not one of them.

“Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

There are 5 or 6 verbs and 1 promise in this statement.  Go, sell, give, come, and follow are the verbs common to most translations.  The King James and New King James add pick up your cross understood from earlier in the gospel. 

The promise was that, “You will have treasure in heaven.”

Somehow, I don’t think the treasure in heaven registered high on the rich man’s index of things that were important to him.  He had plenty now and this man Jesus—whom he had called good—had asked him to give up all that he had; and he had a lot.

The encounter ended with the man going away sad.  He went away sad.

Paul Harvey, where were you?  We want the rest of the story.  What happened with this man?

Do you remember the Parable of the Rich Fool?  The guy was going to build bigger barns, kick back and enjoy life, eat, drink, and be merry.  Jesus said, “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

The rich fool life model said, “My life does consist in the abundance of my possessions.”

In today’s parable, the man went away sad because he had great possessions.  He was a rich man and Jesus told him he needed to divest himself of his wealth.

I thought Jesus was a cool guy, but this is just mean.  It’s just mean to ask this man to give up all of his stuff and comfort.  C’mon, he told Jesus that he followed all the commandments he mentioned ever since he was a youth.
That should count for something.

I like Mark’s version of this account.  There is a sentence here that the other two synoptics don’t include.  Verse 21 states that Jesus looked at him and loved him, and then told him to go sell all his stuff.

He looked at him and loved him.

This rich man wanted someone to scratch his itching ears, but Jesus looked at him and loved him instead.

Last week, we covered the cost of being a disciple.  I hope that you left knowing that we cannot love anyone or anything more than Jesus.  I don’t think that we must literally hate our mother and father or brother and sister.  Had Jesus said our teenage kids, that might have been literal, but his message was that you may have no other gods before or beside the one true God that we know through his Son, Jesus.

We cannot be a disciple of Jesus and have other gods interfering with what is our primary relationship.

No other gods!

In his conversation with the rich man, Jesus had not mentioned the first three commandments (or the last), but surely this was where the man fell short.

He checked the box in most of the Thou shalt nots, but missed the boat on those which defined what his relationship should be with the one true God.
This man had other gods in this life and he loved them more than the one true God.  Jesus loved him by telling him to get rid of his false gods.

We don’t really know if he had a coveting problem or not.  He probably didn’t covet what anyone else had because he had three of them already.

The rich man went away sad.  Paul Harvey, where are you?

The dynamic of the story now turns to the disciples.  Imagine Jesus turning from the rich man who is walking away to his disciples and saying, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

This hit the disciples squarely in the face.  They didn’t see this coming.  So Jesus did what he did so often, he made an analogy.

It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God. 

Some commentaries mention a mountain pass name the Eye of the Needle because the passing there is difficult, but I think this time Jesus is literal.  It is easier for a camel—and if you have never seen a camel, they are huge creatures—to pass through the very small opening on a needle than for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God.

I think that he purposely is describing something that is not difficult; it is impossible.  I think he wants to dispel any thoughts that the type A, high dominance personality types would say, “I can make that work.”

So now we come to it.  You can’t be rich and go to heaven.   You have to be poor.  That’s the ticket. 

Some are waiting for the ha ha line that follows, but there isn’t one.  A rich man is not getting into heaven, at least on his own.

The disciples are wondering where they fit into this rich and poor equation.  Jesus had called them and they left their homes and businesses.  Jesus did not go to Skid Row to recruit his disciples, so Jesus tells them that having or not having money isn’t really what it is all about.

Having money as your god is a big problem.

Wanting money and riches as your god is a big problem.

Loving your stuff more than your God makes your stuff into your god and that’s a problem.

It’s not really the money or the stuff that is the problem, it’s that all of your treasure is here on earth.

So, I should just stay poor?

Yes!  You should just stay poor!  Yes!

Unless, you want real riches.  Unless, you want treasure in heaven.  Unless you want to understand what true abundance is.

It’s not the money.  It is our relationship with our money.

It’s not the stuff.  It is our relationship with our stuff.

It’s not the comfort.  It’s our relationship with comfort.

If we are the master of our money and stuff and comfort zone and God alone is our Master: bring on the money.  We can handle it.

We will put it to work.  It will not change our relationship with God.

But, and this is a big but, we must affirm our love for God more when we have money.    Why?

Have you ever heard the saying Money talks?

The phrase is generally used to denote influence, but I have a different connotation.  Money actually talks.  It says:

Love me.  Love me.  Love me more than your God.

We are master of our money, but our money wants to be our mistress not our servant.

Money is not evil, but it finds the weakness in the human heart if that heart is not given fully to God.

Jesus laid it out for his disciples.  If you want to get to God on your own or you want this life to be the sum of your stuff, you will miss out on real living.

You can’t get there from here!

But with God—giving yourselves fully to seeking his kingdom and his righteousness—you can accomplish anything that you have been purposed to do.

With God all things are possible!

The disciples were wondering where they fit into the grand scheme of things.  Jesus told them and he tells us, whatever you have given up because you are his disciple, you will be given back many times over. 
We come to a familiar place.  It often comes up when we discuss tithes and offerings, but it is applicable to discipleship in all forms.

You can’t out give God!

He is God and he doesn’t play fair and you are just going to have to deal with it. If you get into a giving contest with God you are going to lose.  He is the Creator of gifts and blessings and abundance and you just can’t out give God.  It’s fun to try but he will give back so much more to you that you will never catch up in this giving game.

This is more than money and stuff and comfort zones and worldly relationships.  It is everything.  Everything that you give up for him will come back to you many times over.

So, should I sell all that I own and give the proceeds to the poor?

If the things that you own are your gods or are in the way of your relationship with God, yes.

If you are already the master of your money and things and Jesus is truly Lord in your life, this pericope is not a call to universal poverty.

How do I know for sure?  Try an inventory or inspection.

Of what?

Your schedule, your bank statement, your comfort zone, and your stuff and answer, “Who is master in this relationship?”  If you are master over those things and can live with or without them as you follow Jesus, then stay the course.

If you are not the master.  If some of these things have come between you and your God—the one true God—then it might be time to divest yourself of some false gods.

This scripture closes with what we might call the great reversal.  Many who are first will be last and many who are last will be first.

Are we the ultimate consumer in this life or are we the ultimate disciple?

Do we exalt ourselves or do we remain humble even if we have great wealth?

Is it all about me or all about God?

Imagine being in a lineup—not a football or baseball lineup—but the ones where the eyewitness tries to pick you out of 4 or 5 other people.  You might be a little nervous.  You are number 3 in this lineup.  The others sort of resemble you.  You have watched Law and Order and you sort of know how this goes.  There is someone on the other side of the glass in front of you.  You can’t see them, but they can see you.

The voice comes through the speaker: “Number 3 step forward.”

OMG!  You were just a little nervous before, but now...  OMG!

Everyone else in the room is asked to leave.  This can’t be good.  You start thinking, “Don’t I get a phone call or something?”

Then your mind goes crazy.  “I’m a regular person.  I don’t have a lawyer.  I feel like I am on that game show where you need to phone a friend, but I don’t even know what the question is.”

The room is empty except for you, that is, until three or four neatly dressed people come in.  They start reading to you:

·         You have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions.
·         Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law.
·         You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future.
·         If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you before any questioning if you wish.
·         If you decide to answer questions now without an attorney present, you will still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to an attorney.
·         Knowing and understanding your rights as I have explained them to you, are you willing to answer my questions without an attorney present?

Hold on!  I don’t even know why I am here?  What am I charged with?

Someone calmly says, “Oh, I thought that you knew.  You are charged with following Jesus as his disciple and you are being held over for arraignment.”

Somebody turned you into the hotline because you do not worship the god of money or stuff or hate or ambivalence. 

I have used the query several times, “If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you.”

I’ll change the syntax just a little.  “If you were accused of putting God first in your life and following Jesus, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

Today, I stand before you and have to say, “I see a lot of convicts and future convicts.”

Neither your money nor you stuff is your god.  I charge you today, to keep it that way.  Keep God first in all things.  Consider less what it costs to follow Jesus and more what a blessing it is.

If God calls you to give up something, give something to someone in need, or triples your paycheck; consider it all gain.  Do what he asks with joy in your heart.  He knows what you need to be complete.

You won’t go away sad.