Psalm 107:1-9,43 Revival

What is the one thing that both the church and society need today?

The answer can be summed up in one word-revival. Not only will a revival bring us and society back to God, it will also allow us to remember what God has done for his people in the past, what he is doing for them now, and what he will do for them in the future.

The message of Psalm 107 conveys what God has done for his children and how lovingly he has dealt with them. God withholds punishment (which is deserved) and gives mercy and grace, which are not deserved. The psalm gives thanks for God’s enduring, steadfast love. He is willing to forgive his people even when they are unfaithful.

The psalm begins with a call to praise, followed by a warning to confess our sins. The psalm is concerned with the entire community giving thanks, but individual members of the community also give thanks. Specifically, they gave thanks to God for saving them from slavery in Egypt and guiding them to the Promised Land. The wanderers in verses 4 to 9 also represent those lost in a desert of loneliness, routine futility and affluence that never satisfies. They, like the Israelites, search without hope and without help, unable to find their way home until they return to God.  It nudges us to move from our comfortable lives to imagine the hearts and lives of refugees, wayfarers, pilgrims and others who are coming to the cross from all over the world. They were in bondage and are now free. Since we were also bound by sin, we will naturally have compassion with these pilgrims.

Like the people of Israel, we wander in spiritual darkness and are rebellious, fearful and wicked. We are easily distracted by the world, and this is understandable. The world is so attractive to us that it overwhelms us to the point where we neglect our relationship with God. In the end we are humbled by the consequences of our disobedience. We turn back to God who forgives us, but then we become complacent and find ourselves back in darkness. This is a never-ending cycle. In spite of this, God’s love is steadfast. He never turns us away when we return to him.

Today, we and the church need to return to God. We need revival. Many churches, including my own, have seen a decline in membership and attendance. Society needs to pray to God that he will restore the church so that it can evangelize the people. Society needs to pray that God will pour out his Holy Spirit with a message of repentance and godliness. Society needs restoration and freedom from bondage. God was faithful to his people in the past, he is faithful to his people today, and he will be faithful to his people in the future. His faithfulness opens a gateway to repentance and revival.

There is a spiritual thirst in the world today. Both the world and the church need revival. They need to heed the words of the old song, “That Old Time Religion”:

 Give me that old time religion

 give me that old time religion

 Give me that old time religion

 It’s good enough for me

 Makes me love everybody

 Makes me love everybody

 Makes me love everybody

 It’s good enough for me

 It has saved our fathers

 It has saved our fathers

 It has saved our fathers

 And it’s good enough for me

 It was good for the prophet Daniel

 It was good for the prophet Daniel

 It was good for the prophet Daniel

 And it’s good enough for me

 Give me that old time religion

 give me that old time religion

 Give me that old time religion

 It’s good enough for me

 It was good for Hebrew children

 it was good for Hebrew children

 It was good for Hebrew children

 And it’s good enough for me

Revival can only begin when we claim God’s mercy. It will restore a proper vision of who God is, his goodness, his moral perfection and his mercy. If we trust that he is merciful, we will experience his mercy.

Adversity often forces us to admit our need for God. For example, the Israelites were wanderers in the desert with no home. They suffered from spiritual and physical hunger as well as physical and spiritual thirst. In their time of need, they returned to God. They had no illusions of grandeur or superiority. In contrast, sometimes the church lives under the illusions of power, money, traditions and rituals. God often uses adversity to bring us back to him. He wants us to rely on him instead of relying on ourselves. He wants the longing in our souls to drive us to him. He wants to satisfy our spiritual hunger and thirst. He wants to give us hope for the present and the future. He wants to give us vision and direction. When we approach our situations with gratitude, it takes our focus off of our problems and puts it onto God.

Adversity often leaves scars, and all of us have them. We have received these scars in one of two ways: because of what has been done to us by others and because of what we have done to ourselves. These scars are nothing to be ashamed of if we are Christians. They are an invitation to share Christ’s healing power with the world, just like the psalmist showed the scars of the Israelites. If we are not ashamed of our scars, people will recognize Jesus, especially when we tell our stories of emotional, physical, spiritual and relational healing. If we are true children of God, we will say so publicly and not be ashamed of it. We will gladly tell everyone about God’s unfailing love, how he changed our lives and how he can change their lives.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN; Worthy Publishing; 2013, pp. 777-778)
  2. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package.
  3. Williams, D. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 14: Psalms 73-150 (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1989, pp. 276-277)
  4. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  5. Lucado, M.: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson; 2010; pp. 810-812)
  6. Sharon Janes, “The Power of Your Story.” Retrieved from www.girlfriendsingod.com
  7. Rick Boxx, “A Walk of Gratitude.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  8. Scott Schauf, “Commentary on Psalm 107:1-3,23-32.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2490
  9. Lisa Nichols Hickman, “ON Scripture: Immigration: Journey to a New Life.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
  10. Houston, David: “Old Time Religion.” Retrieved from http://www.metrolyrics.com/old-time-religion-lyrics-david-houston.html
  11. Craig Condon, “Memories, Faith and Forgiveness.” Retrieved from the author’s personal library

Revelation 7:9-17 A Look into our Heavenly Home

Have you ever wondered what it will be like in heaven?

Revelation 7:9-17 is a priceless picture of the blessed dead. It has comforted many people in the face of suffering and death. Some ministers believe that the multitude in this reading consists of those who have been saved during the Great Tribulation. They argue that these people are the harvest of the 144,000 Jewish witnesses. The ones who will be saved during the Great Tribulation will not be individuals who had a chance to be saved during their lifetimes. They will be those who heard and received the gospel message for the first time during the seven year period and who were martyred for their faith. The tribulation will be a time of unexpected affliction and unprecedented grace.

The church is seated below the throne, but this group is standing and wearing robes that have been washed in the blood of the Lamb of God. Their outer garments are worn with dignity, beauty and distinction. Palms were a part of the celebration of the Feast of the Tabernacles. The Jewish people sat on booths and waved palm branches to recall the joy of God’s complete deliverance from slavery in Egypt.

The practice of falling before the throne in worship is customary for the multitudes in heaven.  By saying “Amen!” the angels agree with the praise of the multitudes and then add their own anthem of praise.

In God’s temple, the way to the presence of God is open to everyone, as opposed to the Old Testament temple. In that temple, God resided in the section called the Holy of Holies. The only other person who could enter the Holy of Holies was the high priest, and even then he could only enter on the Jewish Day of Atonement. The Holy of Holies was separated from the rest of the temple by a curtain. This was the same curtain that was torn in two when Jesus died on the cross. When Jesus died, he torn down the barrier between us and God. People could have direct access to God through Jesus Christ.

God’s son is a lamb and a shepherd. The statement “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” is very exact. The tears are not just wiped away, they are wiped completely from the eyes so that nothing is left but joy and abundant life in Christ. What a comforting and hopeful statement! It provides hope not only for those in heaven but for those who suffer and mourn here on earth. No matter how hard things are for us here on earth, we can be comforted by Christ’s love for us.

This passage leads to a discussion of heaven. It’s like window shopping. In this passage we are looking through a window and are seeing a small picture of what heaven will be like. We see a group of people who are no longer tainted by our evil, sin-filled world. People of every race, colour, creed and religion are together and can understand each other. There are no divisions or groups. They do not suffer from fear, want, hunger or hurt any more. God will guard and protect them just like he guards and protects us.

Scripture teaches us that there is a personal, once only resurrection to eternal life. Believers have the sure knowledge that death is not the end but the beginning in a new life in heaven. The only answer to death and its power in this world is Jesus. He died and rose again to defeat the power that sin and death have over us. He has promised that all who believe in him, trust him, and put their confidence in him will have eternal life.

This scene is impressive. A huge crowd of people has gathered before the throne of God. Angels and other heavenly creatures are also in the crowd. The people in the crowd are wearing robes that have been washed in Christ’s blood. In other words, Christ gave his life for them and for us.  There is power in the death of Christ to do what no one else can do. The white robes do not make anyone pure. They represent the purity and personal holiness that comes only from the death and resurrection of Christ. In the Book of Revelation, white is a symbol of holiness.

John has given us a glimpse of heaven. We see that the healing that will go on in heaven is broader than that of our own personal lives and the lives of our loved ones. Heaven is a place where all of life’s injustices of this world will be made right, where the lowly will be lifted up and the mighty will be brought low. It is a place where God’s vision of a community of justice, peace, and equality will finally hold sway.

As wars rage on and as diseases and disasters continue to exist and as the global economy continues to struggle, we may know more than we think about the “great ordeals” and blood-stained robes that John identifies. Amid all of this chaos, there is hope. When war, famine and disease have done their worst, salvation belongs to the God above and not to worldly Gods.

This coming Sunday we will celebrate All Saints Day. It is a day to remember those who have died-those who have been made clean by the blood of Christ and are now celebrating with the crowd gathered around the throne of God. That thought gives us comfort. It’s hard to be sad for them when they are in a place where there is no more suffering, sorrow or pain. The only sadness is for those of us who aren’t there yet, but at the same time we have hope that when we die we will join them in front of that great white throne. This gives us something to look forward to. On that day, we will get a complete picture of heaven instead of the glimpses we get in the Bible. We will go back to the one who created us-Jesus.

Our souls, which were once condemned to spend eternity in hell, have been given new value. Jesus paid the price with his life so that we could be washed from our sins. The old self is gone and we become new people. Because of Christ’s death and resurrection, we can be assured that nothing in our past and nothing anyone else says or does can change the value God has given us. We have become priceless to God. God wants us to come to the knowledge of the truth of hope, help and eternal life in Jesus.

Today you might be reminded of your loved ones who have died. Today is a day to remember them with thanks for what they have meant to you. Today is a day to praise God for their faith and the peace they are now experiencing. We can be assured that the Lord who walks with us each and every day of our lives is the same Lord who will be waiting for us in heaven.

  Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Nashville, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
  2. Pastor Vince Gerhardy, “A Glimpse of Heaven.” Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  3. Pastor Vince Gerhardy, “A Great Crowd.” Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  4. The Rev. Dr. Nora Tubbs Tisdale, “Glimpsing Heaven in Thin Places.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
  5. Pastor Ken Klaus, “A New Value.” Retrieved from www.lhm.org
  6. Palmer, E.F. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 35: 1,2&3 John/Revelation (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.: 1982)
  7. Austin B. Tucker, “White Robes and Palm Branches.” Retrieved from www.preaching.com
  8. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch10 Bible software package.
  9. Pastor Gregory Seltz, “Today is the Day for God’s Grace for All.” Retrieved from www.lhm.org
  10. The Rev. Marshall A. Jolly, “The Saints beside You.” Retrieved from www.episcopaldigitalnetwork.com

Matthew 22:33-46 Loving God, Loving Others and Loving Ourselves

Olivia shifted uncomfortably in the pew. The pastor had just told the story of the Good Samaritan, reminding Olivia that Jesus wanted her to be a good neighbor too. She knew this, of course, but why was it so hard sometimes?

“Jesus loves you,” the pastor continued. “He loves you so much He died for you even though you were a sinner. He also died for those who don’t know Him yet. That’s why Jesus tells us to love our enemies–so they can see the love He has shown us.”

After church, Olivia’s mom asked her why she was so squirmy during the sermon. Olivia hesitated, but finally told her what was bothering her. “My friend Samantha is spreading lies about the new girl, Yusra. Yusra wears a head scarf to school because she is Muslim, and I heard Samantha telling everyone sitting around us on the carpet during Library that Yusra must be bald or she wouldn’t be wearing a head scarf every day.”

“What did you say?” asked Mom.

“Nothing! Everyone giggled, but I thought it was mean. And Yusra looked so sad. Should I have said something to Samantha? How can I be a good neighbor to both Samantha and Yusra?”

“Let’s pray about it,” said Mom. They bowed their heads.

The next day, Samantha approached Olivia on the playground. She looked mischievous. “Next time we have Library, I’m going to pull Yusra’s scarf off her head,” Samantha said. “It will be funny! Besides, on the news, Muslims are enemies, right? Will you help me?”

The bell rang. Olivia felt rooted to the asphalt. What was she going to do? All she could think about was how Jesus said to love your enemies. Was Yusra even her enemy? Yusra had always been kind to her. Besides, Jesus loved and died for Yusra too, even if Yusra didn’t know it yet.

Olivia shook her head. “Jesus says to love your neighbor, and Yusra is our neighbor at school. I’m not going to treat her like an enemy.” Olivia ran ahead and joined Yusra in line.

“Yusra, will you go with me to the library? I’m sorry about what Samantha said last week, and I want to talk to the librarian and make sure it never happens again.”

Why do we love legalism and rules? The desire to have clear boundaries, and a concern for decency and order to guide communities is both necessary and prudent. That’s why the Jews had 613 rules to follow. The Pharisees loved the rules for rules’ sake, and it led to self-love and their belief in their importance. In contrast, loving God leads to love for others. If we love God we will love Him and serve Him. We will also love people and do all we can to help them. We will serve God by serving people.

In Matthew 22:33-46, the Pharisees again tried to trap Jesus in a controversy, with one of them asking a question that apparently was being hotly debated in their own circles. The Jews divided the Old Testament Law into greater and smaller commandments. They had not determined which commandment was of the greatest importance. Some thought it was the law respecting sacrifices. Others thought it was the law respecting circumcision. Still others thought it was the laws pertaining to worship and purifying.

Jesus summarized the Ten Commandments into the two Great Commandments-love God and love people. We are to love God with all of our power, more than all other things and beings. This is the first commandment in terms of importance, dignity, excellence, extent, and duration. It is in loving our neighbour that we express our participation in love of God. To love is to open our lives intimately to that of another. To open our lives to God means to open our hearts to Him. This is similar to the Golden Rule.  It prompts us to measure our love for others by what we wish for ourselves. Love for God and love for everyone made in His image are the backbone of everything God says to us. The phrase “heart, soul and mind,” represents the whole person, not separate categories of human experience. Love for God must naturally lead to love for those who are made in His image. These two interconnected laws-love for God and love for people-summarize all of the Ten Commandments.

When we love God, all of our other loves are rightly ordered. Loving God turns us toward our neighbours and their physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. It also turns us toward the non-human world, so beloved by God. Loving our neighbour brings beauty to God’s experience of the world. In a very real way, we love the Creator by loving the creatures.

A few years ago, Billy Graham answered a letter in his daily newspaper column from someone who was upset that churches and charities don’t pay a cent in taxes. The writer was upset that he had to “pay until it hurts”. In his reply, Dr. Graham said that if all the food banks, homeless shelters, hospitals, community centers, addiction rehabilitation centres and other organizations were forced to close, millions of lives would be hurt. If they did close, governmental agencies would be forced to fill the gap-at enormous cost to taxpayers. He closed his reply with the following words:

“No system is perfect, but I urge you not to turn a blind eye to the good done by the vast number of churches and other organizations who are sincerely seeking to serve others. Christians take seriously Jesus’ command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’”

Too many people approach God, Christianity and the Church in the same way the Pharisees approached Jesus. They come with their own agendas, standards, expectations and ideas of right and wrong. They try to judge God, Christianity and the Church according to the criteria and standards of today’s culture. How well do the traditional teachings of the church measure up to the contemporary canons of political correctness and inclusivity?

The religious leaders had to see the Messiah not only as a person, but as God somehow present in a person. Only then could they accept Him as the one who could forgive sins and explain the truth about the law. Until they received this new understanding, they would never really accept Jesus as the Messiah because He would be too different from their expectations. Once we have acknowledged Jesus’ divine nature, we can accept His claims-especially the one about love being the fulfillment of the law.

A lot has changed since Jesus’ time. He didn’t address heart transplants, nuclear warfare, global warming, in vitro fertilization, or the Internet. Instead, He left us a teaching that throughout the centuries would guide us in addressing these issues and many more as they arise. He calls each of us to have God as the center of our thoughts, feelings and actions. The way we know that we are living Jesus’ commandment of total dedication to God, who is unseen, is to make that love visible by loving our neighbour as we love ourselves. In addition, we are to give that love as a gift and not as a burden.

If Jesus gave us a clear set of lots of laws and rules to live by, we might be able to claim that there are some areas of life not covered by one command or another. Instead, we have his dual-natured great commandments. Nothing falls outside their guiding lights because we are reminded that the heart of the gospel and our lives in God’s reign require us to love God with all our being and our neighbour as ourselves.

But what if loving our neighbour means that we need to listen to the world and be engaged with it? There was a time when neighbours helped each other out by having building bees where neighbours came together to build barns or houses. Other times they came together to help each other with the harvest or to care for sick neighbours or elderly parents. Those are examples of loving people as God loved us. The way God knows that we love Him is by how we treat people. Whenever we demonstrate kindness, patience or gentleness, we see the Lord’s love at work through us, especially when the other person has been unkind and doesn’t deserve such pleasant treatment. Our relationships with others demand priority over things that won’t last or won’t matter in a few years. If we love God and love people, we will naturally obey the rest of the Commandments. That’s only natural. After all, the two Great Commandments are an example of the Golden Rule.

What do we think of Christ? Is He our best friend? Whoever He has made us to be, wherever He places us, we are to lead like Jesus with a heart devoted to loving God and others. Love for God requires daily commitment and frequent renewal. Our relationship with God is both vertical and horizontal. It reaches up to God by the work of Jesus and reaches out to others through the Holy Spirit. It calls for nothing less than all we have and all we are.

Our convictions are a good thing, but they have to be prioritized and focused on what is really important. We can have convictions without letting them override our Biblical duties to love others and seek unity. If we prioritize our convictions, we will remember that our main conviction is to love God and love people.

As we become more dependent on Christ, the process of submitting our thoughts to Him will become more and more natural and joy-filled. As this happens, God will take us to new depths of intimacy with Him. We have a God who first and foremost wants our love. He doesn’t want our fear, our penitence or our piety. We have a God who wants every one of His children to also feel loved by us-not punished, not chastised, not judged, but loved.

When we become Christians, God’s truth should be utmost in our thoughts as we love Him with all of our mind. One way of measuring that is how often Scripture is cycling through our thoughts and leads us to praise and adoration of God. When we love God with our whole being, there won’t be any room for anything or anyone to supersede Him. As our lives flow from our love for Him, there is no limit to the awesome things He will do.

It’s easy to love ourselves, but it’s hard to love others. Loving others as we love ourselves doesn’t teach self-love. It teaches us to extend to others the same kind of personal consideration that we already and naturally give to ourselves. So how can we love ourselves? There are five steps:

  1. Focus on God’s love for us.
  2. Believe what He says about us.
  3. Confess all bitterness and ingratitude.
  4. Thank God for the way He made us.
  5. Yield ourselves to His Lordship.

If we don’t love ourselves in a healthy way, we won’t be able to love others in the way we should. People see us the way we see ourselves. If we stop focusing on our flaws and start loving ourselves in healthy ways and be proud of who God made us to be, then as we send out these difficult messages, it will bring new opportunities, new relationships, and new levels of God’s favour.

Every Sunday we proclaim these two Great Commandments, but in almost every church if there is space for us to leave gaps between us, we make full use of it. We often gather, go through the service and then disappear as quickly as possible, speaking to as few people as we can as we rush to get home.

So how can we grow in our love for God? There are four ways:

  1. By allowing God’s love for us to move us.
  2. By asking God to help us grow in love.
  3. By praying and growing in love when He answers.
  4. By keeping His Word.

Authentic and healthy self-love gives us energy for the long haul. If we don’t love ourselves-that is, if we don’t feel at home in our own skin and affirm our very existence in our own uniqueness-our behaviours will often be motivated by the need to be loved rather than bringing joy to ourselves and others.

At times we hold back from God, wanting to believe God will in fact be there for us but not really knowing for sure. It feels safer to preserve our autonomy, to handle things ourselves as best we can, to maintain our sense of control over our lives, to love God cautiously and from a distance. This is the God who has promised never to leave us or forsake us. This is the God from whose love nothing can ever separate us. This is the God who urges us to cast all our cares on Him because He cares for us. Those who dare to leap into God’s arms will find him to be a safe refuge, a stronghold in time of trouble. The invitation we have from Jesus in these great commandments asks for nothing less than a whole-hearted response to the God who has reached out to us in love.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New Kings James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; p. 1322)
  2. “Being a Good Neighbour at School.” Retrieved from info@keysforkids.org
  3. Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament. Part of Wordsearch 12 Bible software package.
  4. Augsburger, M.S. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 24: Matthew (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982; p. 18)
  5. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  6. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN; Thomas Nelson; 2006)
  7. Allister Begg, “‘til Now…” Retrieved from newsletter@truthforlife.org
  8. “With All Your Heart.” Retrieved form support@leadlikejesus.com
  9. Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions, 30th Sunday (A).” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  10. Ron Moore, “Vertical and Horizontal.” Retrieved from Crosswak@crosswlakmail.com
  11. Margaret Manning Shull, “The Spirit and the Letter.” Retrieved from slice@sliceoninfinity.org
  12. Richard Innes, “Love God…Love People.” Retrieved from www.actsweb.org
  13. “What’s Really Important in Life?” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  14. Michael Youssef, Ph.D., “With All Your Mind.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  15. Dr. David Jeremiah, “Mind Reader.” Retrieved from TurningPoint@davidjeremiah.org
  16. “Love Yourself? Part 2.” Retrieved from www.forthright.net
  17. Dr. Jeff Schreve, “When you Don’t Like Yourself.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  18. Pastor Dick Woodward, “Where is God?” Retrieved from crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  19. Brother David Vryhof, “Loving God-Totally.” Retrieved from www.ssje.org
  20. Christine Caine, “How’s Your Heart?” Retrieved from no-reply@christinecaine.com
  21. Joel Osteen, “Love Yourself.” Retrieved from devotional@goto.joelosteen.com
  22. T.M. Moore, “The Great Commandments.” Retrieved from noreply@ailbe.org
  23. Bruce Epperly, “The Adventurous Lectionary-The Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost-October 25, 2020.” Retrieved form www.patheos.com
  24. Debie Thomas, “The Greatest Commandments.” Retrieved from www.journetwithjesus.net
  25. “The Lord Said to My Lord.” Retrieved from https://livinghurch.org
  26. Craig Condon, “The Greatest Commandment of All.” Part of the author’s sermon library.

Luke 12:32-40 Treasures in Heaven

All of us are stewards.

Does that seem strange to you? Well, it shouldn’t. All of us have responsibilities over one corner or another of God’s household. Just as we have to look after our own households, we also have to look after the part of God’s household that he has given us to look after.

The task may seem to be difficult or even impossible, but we do not have to be afraid. Jesus assures us that we will overcome, not by drawing on our limited resources or by force but by relying on our Father’s generosity to his flock. It isn’t over until he says it’s over. Life’s hardships and tragedies are a reason to sit tight and wait for his return. They are not an excuse for us to bail out. Life’s trials do not matter if we are faithful to Christ. The kingdom is ours. Stress will be a distant memory. Worry will turn to rest.

“Treasure” refers to a place where one keeps valuables, such as a vault. Jesus urged his disciples to cling to their love for God and his kingdom above all. Everything else they should hold loosely. The giving of alms to the poor generates treasures in heaven, so it makes no sense to limit almsgiving to that which is of little value.

Humanity looks for solutions but wealth, prestige, glamour, sexuality, substance abuse and rebellion are not solutions. All of them have failed miserably. Sometimes we hold on to our possessions because we are afraid of what will happen when we get rid of them, including our money. Given the current worldwide economic situation, this concern is understandable. In addition, people have accumulated earthly possessions in the hope that they would provide security, when they need to lay up treasures in heaven instead. We need to let go of the lives we fearfully protect and hold on to before we can receive our heavenly treasures. If we centre our lives on our possessions, then our lives will revolve around protecting and keeping them. This obsession could get to the point where we will live in constant fear that they will be taken from us. As we accumulate stuff we find that we have to keep our doors locked or install alarm systems or join groups such as Neighbourhood Watch.

This does not mean that we have to give up all of our possessions. In fact, we need some of our possessions in order to live both now and in the future. The key is getting rid of possessions that we don’t need. We can do what early believers did and sell some possessions and give the proceeds to the poor. We can also donate these possessions to the poor or to stores that serve the poor such as Value Village or the Salvation Army Thrift Store or local church yard sales.

If we look at our belongings and decide that there are some things we can never part with or if it’s something God told us to give away and we can’t give it away, then we do not own that item. It owns us. We are possessed by our possessions. They become idols for us, and the Bible says in Ezekiel 20:7, “Get rid of every idol.” To put it another way, in a recent newspaper column Billy Graham answered a question about how much debt is too much. In his reply, he asked:

“What place do things have in your life? Have your possessions become so important to you that they possess you, rather than you possessing them? Are you more concerned about impressing others than living wisely? Most of all, have things taken the place God should have in your lives?”

We don’t need to be afraid of possessions. If they come, we can use them to do God’s work in our world. We can go to the other extreme by giving away so many of our possessions to the poor that it causes hardship for us. There is a time for extravagant gesture as well as a time for practical concerns. There is a time to do things such as fixing the roof, painting walls or feeding the poor, but there is also a time to celebrate. If we feel that we can’t have things or if we feel that we must have them, we are letting the things of the world rule our lives. We must go through life as stewards of everything God gives us.  We need to heed these words from the hymn, “We Plow the Fields and Scatter:”

We thank thee, then, O Father,
For all things bright and good,
The seed time and the harvest,
Our life, our health, our food:
No gifts have we to offer
For all thy love imparts,
But that which thou desirest,
Our humble, thankful hearts.

All good gifts around us
Are sent from heaven above,
Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord
For all his love.

Being good stewards is one of the things we should be doing while we wait for Christ to return. We must not use the Lord’s delay in returning as an excuse not to do anything. We have to do the things we would do if Christ returned today. When Christ returns he will serve his faithful servants who are prepared for his return, just like he served the disciples by washing their feet. If we have kept God first in our lives, he will sustain us. He will give us what we need. He won’t give us everything we want when we want it. In fact, he might not give us what we want at all. His choice will depend on the nature of our wants and whether or not they fit in with his plan for our lives.

The way we use the gifts God gives us is evidence of our stewardship. It will show if we are faithful servants with God’s interests in mind or if we have forgotten who we belong to and neglected tending what God has given us. If we obey God and make his priorities our priorities, we will receive incredible blessings, and these blessings are part of our heavenly treasure. For example, some of you might know that I post all of my sermons online. To date they have been seen over 200,000 times, and I have received many positive comments.

A few years ago I received an email from a Lutheran minister in North Carolina. I know it’s a legitimate email because I received a telephone call from him shortly after I received his email. Since parts of the email tie in with my message, I’d like to share them with you.

Hello Craig —

I want to let you know how much I appreciate the sermons you post on your website — they are

wonderful. Thank you SO MUCH for sharing.

I am a Lutheran pastor here in North Carolina, USA and I am always looking for good sermon resource material. Do you mind if I do some “begging, borrowing, and stealing” from what you offer? I will be honest with you in stating that I am not the most original writer when it comes to sermon preparation.  If only I could do a fraction of what you have done and continue to do!

Well, Craig, I hope I am making some sense out of all my ramblings…but wanted you to know how I feel…where I am coming from in writing to you…and TRULY asking for your permission to make use of the materials you provide — it is some of the best I have ever seen and it should be shared with many of God’s people, through the personality of various preachers.  I personally believe that our gracious God speaks to us through Holy Scripture and he can also speak to us through what others have said and written —and, dear friend, He certainly speaks to me through you — and for that I am most grateful.

Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter and may you continue to be blessed with the ABUNDANCE of our Lord’s MARVELOUS love.

 In Christ, Ed Harper

People who help others find themselves caring about the people they help. Also, they will enjoy the meaningful life that results from meeting those needs. God wants us to enjoy and share the abundant life that comes from fellowship with others and a right relationship with God. In a 2016 edition of The Canadian Disciple newsletter, Rev. Dr. Jen Garbin, Regional Minister for The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Canada wrote the following:

“We are not called on to walk alone or only in one way…but we are to encounter each other, share our stories, learn from one another, challenge one another, celebrate together and support each other’s work.”

We must be ready at all times for Christ’s return, because he could return at any time. No one knows when Christ will return. Neither the Bible nor history contain secret messages that, when decoded, reveal the date. Until that day, his followers must actively wait and willingly work. Jesus has given us a mission. We are to take the Good News to the world. We need to be always alert and engaged in this mission. This include using our possessions. The caring Christian community is called to be less anxious about its own welfare and more concerned about those in need. Doing so reflects our heart. Our heart reflects what we value the most.

Throughout Scripture the heart represents the centre of our being, our desires and our reason. Our hearts will be where our treasure is. Those who are greedy and anxious about stuff put their emphasis on worldly goods. Those who trust in God’s provision invest their hearts in heaven. When Chris returns, we will have to give an account of how we looked after everything he has given us. Our hearts will affect how we look after things. Where are your hearts right now? Where do you want them to be in eternity?

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN; Worthy Publishing; 2013, pp. 1412)
  2. “We Plow the Fields and Scatter.” Retrieved from http://www.hymnary.org/text/we_plow_the_fields_and_scatter
  3. Pastor Rick Warren, “Don Just Get Rid of Your Stuff. Sell It!” Retrieved from connect@newsletter.purposedriven.com
  4. The Rev. Dr. Jen Garbin, “Forks.” Published in the July 21, 2016 edition of The Canadian Disciple and retrieved from www.canadadisciples.org
  5. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package.
  6. Larsen, B. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 26: Luke (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc., 1983; pp. 212-215)
  7. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006)
  8. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles, 2005)
  9. Lucado, M.: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson; 2010; pp. 1421-1422)
  10. Bayless Conley, “The Secret to God’s Provision.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  11. Paris Renae, “Hard Things.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  12. Richard Neil Donovan, “Exegesis for Luke 13:32-40.” Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
  13. Mark Sargent, UMC, “On Stuff.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
  14. Swindoll, Charles R.: Swindoll’s New Testament Insights on Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, pp. 332-339)
  15. Richard Mansel, “Contentment is Never Found in Things.” Retrieved from www.forthright.netg/2016/07/26/contentment-3/
  16. Billy Graham, “How Much Debt is Too Much?” Retrieved from http://www.arcamax.com/healthandspirit/religion/billygraham/s-1848539?print&ezine=202
  17. Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions, 19th Sunday -C- August 7, 2016.” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  18. Heather Lear, “Evangelectionary for Sunday, August 7th, 2016.” Retrieved from http://www.evangelismconnections.org/evangelectionary-for-sunday-august-7-2016/

Matthew 22:34-46 The Greatest Commandment of All

A few years ago, Billy Graham answered a letter in his daily newspaper column from someone who was upset that churches and charities don’t pay a cent in taxes. The writer was upset that he had to “pay until it hurts”. In his reply, Dr. Graham said that if all the food banks, homeless shelters, hospitals, community centers, addiction rehabilitation centres and other organizations were forced to close, millions of lives would be hurt. If they did close, governmental agencies would be forced to fill the gap-at enormous cost to taxpayers. He closed his reply with the following words:

No system is perfect, but I urge you not to turn a blind eye to the good done by the vast number of churches and other organizations who are sincerely seeking to serve others. Christians take seriously Jesus’ command: “Love your neighbour as yourself”.

When Jesus was asked which Commandment was the most important, it was a loaded question. The Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus, but Jesus turned the trap on them. All of the commandments were equal because they were created by God. Jesus used the opportunity to point out that all of the laws that the Pharisees came up with to make certain that the Jews kept the Commandments were not necessary. All of their laws, and all of the Commandments, were summarized by the two Great Commandments that Jesus gave us and the Pharisees: “Love God, and love people”. Both commandments are related and are of equal importance. They are the basics of Christianity.

The employees of nursing homes are a good example of the fact that loving others comes from the knowledge that each person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. They treat the residents with the dignity and respect that the residents deserve. They show their love by doing their jobs to the best of their ability, and by doing so; they show the love they have for the residents. They try to help their neighbours, and by doing so, they are doing what God wants them to do. This love involves denying themselves for the good of others. People don’t care how much we know, until they know how much we care.

But what if loving our neighbour means that we need to listen to the world and be engaged with it? There was a time when neighbours helped each other out by having building bees where neighbours came together to build barns or houses. Other times they came together to help each other with the harvest or to care for sick neighbours or elderly parents. Those are examples of loving people as God loved us. The way God knows that we love him is by how we treat people. Whenever we demonstrate kindness, patience or gentleness, we see the Lord’s love at work through us, especially when the other person has been unkind and doesn’t deserve such pleasant treatment. Our relationships with others demand priority over things that won’t last or won’t matter in a few years. If we love God and love people, we will naturally obey the rest of the Commandments. That’s only natural. After all, the two Great Commandments are an example of the Golden Rule.

It is our faith that God loves us that makes us able to love ourselves and therefore be grateful for the gift of ourselves. This awareness of life as a gift is what we mean by loving God. When we love ourselves, we are grateful to God, and this gratitude sets us free to love other people. When we truly love people, we value them as gifts of God.

Jesus’ teaching isn’t about how we feel about God and neighbour, but what we will do. We are to love God with all our lives, including our work. Doing so restricts our activity to the straight and narrow path that God has created for us to walk on. It is the basis of our obedience to God. It shows that our love for God is number one in our lives. Love for God and love for all of those who are made in his image form the backbone of everything God says to us in his word. In the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 13:10, “Love is the fulfillment of the law”.

Thanks be to God, AMEN

Bibliography

  1. Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NASV
  2. Exegesis for Matthew 22:34-46. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
  3. Matthew Barnett, “Purpose Summed Up”. Retrieved from www.christianity.com/moi/2001/004/july/5.5.html
  4. Mary Southerland, “And I Love Me”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  5. MacArthur, John: MacArthur Study Bible NASB (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers: 2006, 2008)
  6. The Rev. Dr. Billy Graham, “Why Don’t Churches Pay Their Fair Share of Taxes?” Retrieved from www.arcamax.com
  7. Greg Laurie, “The First and Greatest Commandment”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  8. Les Lamborn, “A Lover of God”. Retrieved from www.rbc.org
  9. Pastor Bob Coy, “Prioritize People”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  10. Les Lamborn, “Two Rules to Live By”. Retrieved from www.rbc.org
  11. Charles F. Stanley, “How Can We Love Like Jesus Commands?” Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  12. The Very Rev. Dr. Jane Shaw, “Love and Listening”. Retrieved from www.journeywithjesus.net
  13. Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions: 30th Sunday (A)”. Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  14. Timothy Gardner, O.P., “The Third Commandment”. Retrieved from www.torch.op.org/preaching_sermon_item.php?sermon=5648

Matthew 22:34-40 What’s the Greatest Rule of All?

Hello boys and girls!

Do you have a lot of rules that you have to obey? Where are these rules?

Why do you think it’s so important to have lots of rules? Why do you think it’s important to obey them?

Boys and girls, rules are very important because they keep us from hurting ourselves. Rules are also important because they help us to do the right thing. What happens when we don’t follow rules?

What are some of the rules you have to follow? Out of all of the rules you have to follow, what do you think is the most important one to obey?

Jesus was asked that same question once. The Pharisees asked him which of the Ten Commandments was the greatest. Now the Pharisees were the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. They were so concerned that their followers obeyed the Ten Commandments that they came up with 613 do’s and don’ts for the people.

Jesus said that the two most important rules for us to follow as Christians are to love God and love people. If we follow these two Great Commandments we will naturally obey the rest of the Commandments…and we won’t need a long list of things we can and can’t do.

Let us bow our heads for a moment of prayer. Dear God, thank you for your love. Help us to love you and to love others as you have loved us. In Jesus’ name we pray, AMEN

Bibliography

  1. “Loving God, Loving Each Other.” Retrieved from http://sermons4kids.com
  2. “Broken Rules.” Retrieved from www.cbhministries.org

1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 How to Spread the Good News of the Gospel

When we spread the good news of the Gospel, we can expect to face opposition. The apostle Paul was no exception. He boldly preached the Gospel to the Thessalonians in spite of suffering and mistreatment. First Thessalonians 2:1-8 is a model for all Christians to follow, especially when they are called to spread the Good News of the Gospel. In particular, we are to pay attention to the example Paul set for us. His bold preaching was direct and to the point. He did not use words that would please his audience. He did not resort to manipulation. He did not try to “tickle the ears” of his listeners. He did not try to use his ministry for financial gain. Unlike some preachers. Paul was honest, and honesty is refreshingly simple. No ulterior motives or hidden meanings. No need to manipulate people. No matter how much opposition he encountered, he never took his eyes off of his calling to bring people to Jesus.

If we want to build the Christian community, we must proclaim the Gospel boldly. In the words of Dr. Michael Youssef, who is the president of Leading the Way Ministries, we must “passionately proclaim uncompromising truth.” We must be fearless when we speak out against things such as social injustice, lax morals or the abuse of power within the Christian community.

Paul was entrusted by God to speak not to please man, but to please God. Paul was entrusted with the Gospel, just like God entrusts all of his people with the Gospel. The Gospel has been safeguarded throughout the nations. It is the responsibility of each generation to safeguard the Gospel for generations to come.

Paul and his fellow missionaries could have made demands as apostles. In particular, they could have asked to be paid for their preaching, but they didn’t. Paul made his living as a tentmaker everywhere he went to preach. This supported the claim that the motives of Paul and his colleagues were pure. Lay ministers such as me do not get paid for leading worship services unless they take services in a parish other than their home parish. [The love of God speaks to the insecurity and the need that is at the centre of greed and as we focus on God’s gift of grace, and we remember that in Jesus we have been given abundant, eternal life, there becomes less and less we have to have, less and less we want.

The Christian church does have some ministers with large egos who have to put their pictures on all their books, parade their degrees after their names, or have the best parking places and the nicest offices. They are no better than the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. True preachers can’t separate their preaching from their daily lives. They must literally “practice what they preach.” If only all preachers-indeed, if only all Christians-served one another as Paul served his fellow Christians. He served his fellow Christians in the following ways:

  1. He served with boldness, truth and honesty, seeking to please God and not men.
  2. He served without flattery, covetousness, or seeking glory from men.
  3. He served with labour night and day, seeking to be devout, just, and blameless.
  4. He served with the gentleness and affection of a nursing mother and the guidance and encouragement of a caring father.

Paul was an effective witness because of what he did. He lived out his faith in his relationship with God. The only way we can be effective witnesses is to live our faith in our relationship with God and with each other.

Those of us who provide spiritual leadership have to provide tender loving care to our flocks. We have to provide the spiritual nourishment that people need just like a mother cherishes and nurses her children.

Those of us who preach the Gospel must have courage. Courage is often associated with bravery, but courage can take many different forms. Courage is related to confidence, but in this case confidence is less about being right than it is about being comfortable. It means remaining non-defensive when we are challenged, to listen respectfully to others recognizing that God may be speaking to us through them. While we must have the courage to share the Gospel, we must also be vulnerable. We must share what we know and how we strive to live what we know and how we have failed and doubted along our Christian journey.

Evangelism must always be focused on leading people to Christ because it is a matter of their spiritual life and death. Evangelism must be done with a sense of urgency. We must not allow our daily routines to distract us from our Christian duty. We must preach the truth boldly without using tricks or manipulation. We must please God regardless of whether or not there is any growth in the number of Christian followers.

Paul was successful because he, like most good ministers, took the time to cultivate relationships with people. He cared for them by getting involved in their lives. As the old saying goes, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. He shared himself with them by getting involved in their lives.

Paul was bold and direct in his preaching, but he was also a warm and gentle man. That is why he used the image of a nursing mother in 1 Thessalonians 2:7. Paul and his colleagues were eager to give themselves to others just like a mother gives herself to her family-and just like Christ gave himself for us. Paul also got involved emotionally in their lives. He loved the people he met, and he treated them as people of value. When we love others, we must also treat them as people of value instead of a means to an end. When we talk to others, we must talk about our affections, and that includes the gestures of love and kindness such as hugs, handshakes (like those we use when we pass the peace).

We must lead lives that are stirring enough to start a movement for God. We must have a burning desire to change the world. That must be our passion in life. We must serve others with the tender loving care that Jesus showed. We must encourage each other in our spiritual journey. Even when things look dark and dismal in our broken, human world, God will prevail. God will triumph over evil. God is at work in the world, and he will work through people of faith. God can’t be limited. Even God’s enemies are used by God to do his work in the world.

God also works through the church. We are his agents of change. We are entrusted with the Good News of unconditional love, never-ending grace and ultimate peace. This means that there is something for each and every one of us to do. There are lots of things we can do in the church such as teaching Sunday school, volunteering with a church group or serving on a committee, church council or parish council, or even serving as a lay minister. There are things we can do in our everyday lives such as being godly parents or children or community members.

We are to be focused on the mission. The only way we can accomplish this mission is to live our lives with integrity. Living a life of integrity means genuinely caring for the people and churches we serve. We must have a passion to make God look good each and every day.

The late Dr. Haddon Robinson, who wass regarded as one of the leading teachers of the art of preaching, once told the story of a writer for a newspaper in Toronto who undertook an investigation into the ethical practices of auto repair shops in his city. He took a spark‑plug wire off of his engine, making the car run unevenly. He took the car in to different shops and asked them to fix it. Time after time people sold him unnecessary repairs or charged him for repairs that were not done.

Finally, he went to a small garage. A fellow named Fred came out, popped open the hood, and said, “Let me listen to that thing.” After a few seconds, he told the reporter, “I think I know what’s wrong.” He reached down and grabbed the wire, announcing, “Your spark‑plug wire came off.” And he put it back on.

The reporter asked, “What do I owe you?”

“I’m not going to charge you anything,” Fred replied. “I didn’t have to fix anything; I just reattached the wire.”

The writer then told Fred what he was doing and that he had been charged all kinds of money by mechanics looking at that same wire. He asked Fred, “Why didn’t you charge me anything?” Fred said, “Are you sure you want to know? I happen to be a Christian and believe that everything we do should be done to glorify God. I’m not a preacher and I’m not a missionary, but I am a mechanic and so I do it honestly. I do it skillfully and I do it to the glory of God.”

The next day in the newspaper was a headline that read, “Christian Mechanic, Honest to the Glory of God.”

Regardless of what we do for God, we must not tone down his message. Even when our message is challenged, we must not back down. We are to be good shepherds, servant leaders whose job description includes leading others to God. God empowers us as leaders and as followers to build up, to influence and to persuade others. We build and strengthen our community of believers so that we may reach out to serve.

 Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
  2. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 10 Bible software package.
  3. Demarest, G. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 32: 1,2 Thessalonians/1,2 Timothy/Titus (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1984)
  4. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, NASV (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2006)
  5. Lucado, M.: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2010)
  6. Dennis Fisher, “Tender Loving Care.” Retrieved from www.rbc.org
  7. Charles R. Swindoll, “Absolute Honesty.” Retrieved from www.insightforliving.ca
  8. T.M. Moore, “Look at Me.” Retrieved from www.colsoncenter.org
  9. Holly Hearon, “Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
  10. Richard Ascough, “Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
  11. Dr. Philip W. McLarty, “Sermons We See.” Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  12. King Duncan, “A Victory for the Angels.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  13. Mary S. Lautensleger, “Leaders Worthy of Imitation.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  14. King Duncan, “Living to Please God.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  15. Richard Brand, “The Cloak.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  16. King Duncan, “What Would Bill Do (New)?” Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  17. Preaching Magazine (Nashville, TN: Salem Publishing, July/August 2014, p. 48)

Matthew 22:15-22 Give to God What Belongs to God

Has anyone ever asked you a question that there just wasn’t any way to answer it without getting yourself into trouble? That’s what we call a loaded question. A loaded question is one that is worded so that a person cannot answer it without appearing to be guilty.

Here are a couple of examples of loaded questions:

• Have you quit cheating at cards? If you answer, “Yes” you are admitting that you used to cheat. If you answer, “No” you are admitting that you still cheat.

• Do you still pick on your little brother? That is like the other question. You are either going to admit that you used to pick on your brother or that you still pick on him.

Sometimes a loaded question is asked to try to trick a person into saying something that will get them into trouble. Matthew 22:15-22 is a good example of that situation.

Jesus was gaining great popularity among the Israelites. This was very upsetting to the Pharisees. They thought He was a threat to their authority. They tried everything they could think of to make Jesus look bad and yet Jesus had more and more followers every day. So, a group of Pharisees met and came up with a plot to trick Jesus into saying something that would discredit Jesus among his followers.

 The people in Jesus’ day were required to pay taxes to the Roman government. That was not popular with the people. The plan was to go to Jesus and ask him his opinion about paying the taxes. So, they sent their disciples, with a few of Herod’s followers mixed in and asked him, “Teacher, we know how honest you are. You teach the way of God truthfully. Now tell us what you think about this: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” They were actually trying to trick Jesus, because they knew if he said, “Yes,” the people would be angry. But if he said, “No,” he would get into trouble with the Roman authorities.

Jesus saw right through their plan and He did a wise thing. He asked them for a coin, then He said, “Whose picture is on this coin?”

They answered, “It is Caesar.” Caesar was the Roman ruler and all taxes had to be paid to him.

Jesus then said to them, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”

But what about God? Jesus also said, “Give to God what belongs to God.” The Bible says that we were created by God and that we were created in the image of God. If we are created by God, and we were created in His image, we must belong to Him. That means we must give ourselves to Him!

The Pharisees wanted Him to say something like God is more important than the emperor, religion is more important than the empire. They wanted Him to put these two spheres of authority in competition and declare a winner so that the other side can be mad. For Jesus, God and the emperor are so far apart that this competition is meaningless. We can give to governments the things that belong to them not because God has nothing to do with them, but because God’s authority doesn’t need governments to work.

The Herodians were Jews who supported King Herod’s dynasty and therefore tolerated their Roman overlords better than the common people in Israel did. Although they were on the opposite side of the political and religious spectrum, they joined forces with the Pharisees because both groups saw Jesus as a threat. They chose the question about paying taxes to Caesar because they believed that no matter how Jesus answered, He would alienate either the Jewish listeners, who hated the tax, or the Romans, who supported the tax.

While their question was clever, Jesus recognized their wickedness and hypocrisy. He knew that they were not looking for the truth but were merely seeking a means to destroy Him. The word “render” means “to give back”-implying that believers are responsible to respect and obey governments as well as God. All governments are in power by the authority of God and should be obeyed unless their edicts contradict the Word of God.

Jesus’ comparison of our responsibilities to God with our responsibilities to governments centres on the nature of power and allegiance. Government power is coercive and temporal. It can dominate our lives, but it is only temporary. It deserves appropriate respect in the political and government sphere, but it is limited and part of God’s larger world.

With His proclamation, Jesus acknowledges that God’s law allows what is printed on our currency to be given back to the government, but Jesus also insists that it be done in the ultimately more important context of giving what is imprinted with God’s image back to Him. We were created in God’s image, and Jesus calls on us to return to God all that we are and all that we have been given. We can give the government what it is owed in taxes, but that is the extent of what we owe to it. On the other hand, there is no limit on what is due to God since everyone and everything belongs to God.

The problem is that we don’t live as if this is true. We make giving to the government and to everyone else a priority, and God gets the leftovers. So, like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, we stand accused by His words. Despite what we say, our actions declare we are not really interested in hearing about God, let alone living that way. So in the face of Jesus’ instructions and invitation, we can go away, confused, and confounded, like Jesus’ accusers, or we can turn, confess our sins and ask to be forgiven.

Our first loyalty is to God. We do not give taxes. We pay them. How does knowing what belongs to God’s determine our response to the government when our government does something that goes against God’s will? God is always more than our church and our government. Our loyalty to our governments is limited and relative. Jesus is not suggesting that there are two kingdoms, the sacred and the secular. There is only one kingdom, to which our governments are ultimately accountable.

The government has stamped images on our currency, but God has stamped his image on our hearts. We must obey our government in its earthly realm but the things that are God’s do not belong to the government and should be given only to God. Human governments are legitimate according to God’s good purposes. If they need taxes to fulfill their calling, we must be prepared to pay them. Just as we are to give to governments what belongs to them, we must give to God what is His, especially our love and obedience.

The coin bears the emperor’s image. It only has value because it is valuable to him. Those who bear the image of God-even those who have been beaten down and robbed of their dignity-possess value that is inherent and can never be diminished. We may live in an occupied land, but Jesus has set us free. One day, when all of the kingdoms and empires of the world fall and every currency has dropped to zero, God will still be God, and we will still be God’s children.

Most of us don’t want to pay taxes, but we want to have money and use it as we wish. We also want to use roads, have the military defend us and enjoy many other benefits of the government, and then turn around and curse those who sponge off the government. We rightly curse the government when it makes wrong or unethical decisions.

We can’t separate our secular and religious lives. God’s presence and actions are not confined to these narrow categories. God wants total allegiance from us because, as the apostle Paul wrote, we have been freely chosen by God to live lives of “faith and love.”

We may feel that we have to choose between the kingdoms of the world and God’s kingdom, but Jesus tells us that we can live in both kingdoms if we let our faith interact with the world. In this way we live in society as good citizens and neighbours, and we fulfill our role in our chosen field. In all we do, and in every interaction with others, we allow God’s reign to be expressed in the world through us.

By calling attention to the different obligations we have, Jesus reminds us of the differences that exist for us as citizens of the state and citizens of heaven. Jesus carefully suggests that we owe the state exactly what is demanded of us. By contrasting this with his statement to give to God what is God’s, Jesus exposed the irony of the Pharisees’ and Herodians’ religious activities. They were more concerned with their own power than they were with honouring God.

In spite of the differences between then and now, we still live in a world where different entities constantly make competing demands on our loyalties. What part of our us-our gifts, our resources, our time and our energy-do we give over and to whom? For example:

  1. Do we stop to help elderly or handicapped people in the grocery store, or do we quickly move on because we are in a hurry?
  2. Do we agree to sit on another board or do we put our energies more directly into the congregations we are called to serve and is the former actually a way of doing the latter or not?
  3. Do we ignore the abuse other people are going through?
  4. Do we show up for community meetings to speak out either for or against a particular issue even though we may be ridiculed or do we just not go at all because we don’t believe our voices won’t make a difference?
  5. Do we practice recycling or do we throw our plastic and paper in with the rest of the trash because we can’t be bothered or we’re pressed for time or it seems like it is just too much effort?
  6. Do we take the time to call our local, provincial or federal representatives and advocate for a just budget that includes proper spending to fight issues such as poverty or the lack of affordable housing, or do we make the excuse that we are too busy and assume that someone else will do it?

How does the way we use our resources reflect the truth that all of us have God’s image stamped on us? When we look at how we use our resources, what do we see? Are we using them to do God’s work in our world? Are we living in Him and for Him, or is He a very minimal part of our lives?

In what ways can our worship be more aligned to God’s values? The place of worship is to be kept wide open for the poor, the marginalized and the least to be welcomed in, but do we really include them? Do we make them feel welcome? Do we value the number of worshippers in pews over our impact on the local community? Do we measure the financial wealth of our churches rather than the level of sacrificial service we offer? Do we make decisions about the choices of music based on what is popular on the radio or on who wrote the music? Do we seek to be comforted and encouraged in our quest for worldly success, influence, and material objects rather than be challenged to give up these things for the sake of eternal values?

Jesus is not just talking about where to locate loyalty. He is suggesting that loyalty tends to be accompanied by hope. Our loyalties to things in our lives-whether political figures, teachers, spouses, or friends-are deeply intertwined with hope. We are loyal to a political party because we hope it can make certain changes. We are loyal to certain authoritative figures such as teachers because we hope we will learn something. We are loyal to friends because we hope, in part, that they will be loyal to us in return. We are loyal to spouses because we have hopes for companionship and future partnership. We are able to have hope not because of a blind naivete but because we have experienced something that makes that hope possible.

Jesus not only models the life of giving everything to God, but He also makes it possible for us to do the same. Because He trusted in God’s love and care, He willingly gave up all that He had and all that He was. He emptied Himself, humbled Himself, and became obedient to the point of death on the cross. Through the Holy Spirit, we have been forgiven and healed. We have been offered new life. By the dwelling of the Spirit within us, we have the power to live as Jesus did, to walk in God’s way. Like Jesus, we can trust in God’s love and care and freely give to God ourselves, our time and our possessions for use in the world that God loves and cares for.

If we are sincere in our desire to be Christ’s disciples, our answer to the question “Whose image is this?” should be Jesus Christ. All of us are made in God’s image. His image is carved into our very souls and in our very breath because we are created with the very breath of God. We are to give to God what is His, including our very lives.

Jesus calls on us to be engaged with everyone around us-to truly interact and become involved in the lives of people we know and meet, so that we may become part of their lives as a new community in Christ. This means risk. It will take time that we might not have. We will be vulnerable in our relationships. Will God be present in our lives? The answer is “yes’” along with much more good news than we can ever expect.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New Kings James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; pp. 1320-1321)
  2. “The Pharisees Plot Against Jesus.” Retrieved from www.Sermons4Kids.com
  3. The New Testament Commentary: Vol. 1-Matthew and Mark. Part of Wordsearch 12 Bible software package.
  4. Augsburger, M.S. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 24: Matthew (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982, p.18)
  5. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  6. Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions, 29th Sunday (A).” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  7. The Rev. David F. Sellery, “Gotcha.” Retrieved from frsellery@davidsellery.org
  8. Scott Peterson, “Matthew 22:15-22.” Retrieved from communic@luthersem.edu.
  9. The Rev. Dr. Ruth Hamilton, “Whose Coin Is It?” Retrieved from www.day1.org
  10. Erick J. Thompson, “Commentary on Matthew 22;15-22.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3450
  11. The Rev. Janet Hunt, “Giving to God the Things That Are (Already) God’s.” Retrieved from www.dancingwiththeword.com/giving-to-god-the-things-that-are-already-gods/
  12. Karoline Lewis, “Having Hope.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3361
  13. Bruce Epperly, “The Adventurous Lectionary, Pentecost 20, October 18, 2020.” Retrieved from https://www.patheos.com
  14. Sam Keves, “Nothing is Really Caesar’s.” Retrieved from https://livingchurch.org
  15. Rev. Taylor Meador Fuerst, “Rabbit Trick.” Retrieved from https://day1.or

Acts 27:27-44 How to Survive the Storms of Life

The story of Paul’s voyage to Rome, part of which we heard in Acts 27:27-44, with its trials and triumphs, is an example of the way of faith all through the story of human life. Its remarkable feature is the hard and narrow places which we find intermingled with God’s most extraordinary plans and providences. It’s full of examples of night and day experiences.

The word “night” is symbolic of the times when all seems dark and foreboding for us. Like the people of the ship, we pray, but that prayer is also our time to let down our anchors. What are our anchors? What keeps the ship of our lives off the rocks of life? Do we believe the words of the old hymn, “Will Your Anchor Hold?” Some of these anchors should be faith, surrender to God, hope and thanksgiving.

Because God promised that everyone would be saved, the sailors who were trying to save themselves were fleeing from the promise of their own protection. Paul recognized what they were doing, and the sailors’ plan was thwarted-for their own benefit. A belief that God has purpose (that He designs and has always designed to save some) will prompt the use of all proper means to secure it. Paul believed that God offers mercy. Paul believed that God would save the passengers and crew because Paul was part of God’s plan.

Men can be cruel even when experiencing God’s mercy. God’s goodness will not ease the natural anger and cruelty of those who delight in blood. Roman policy was that if a prisoner escaped, the man who guarded him would be killed. So rather than run the risk of any of the prisoners (Paul and others) escaping, the soldiers wanted to kill them before abandoning ship. But Julius, the centurion, ordered the soldiers not to touch the prisoners. Paul escaped yet another attempt on his life.

For Paul’s sake, the lives of all the prisoners were spared. A pious, God-fearing person can earn the favour of man. God often confers blessings on the wicked for the sake of their believing friends, relatives and neighbours. God can defend people in all dangers and can accomplish all His purposes. We are safe in His keeping. He has a plan that can fulfill all His purposes and protect His people from danger. God promised that everyone on board the ship would be saved, and they were saved. When we take God at His word, we will never go wrong.

Paul modeled not only a life of faith but a life of wisdom and gratitude. Life presents us with a splendid succession of opportunities-both good and bad-to put our faith in action. Often the best chances we have to share our faith result from involvement and caring in ordinary ways for the people we long to introduce to God.

Sometimes God will use the strangest of circumstances to do His greatest works. He used the storm, so He can use any event. Even when life’s voyages are stormy, there will be a time when these storms will be minor compared to what God was able to accomplish because of them.

The worst time to “jump ship” is when times are tough. If we make decisions when times are tough, it’s hard to make clear choices. Isn’t that when we often make life changing decisions, only to look back later, and discover we made the wrong one? We should be more like Jesus and Paul-men who did not turn and run in the face of crisis, offense or opportunity. The storms of life are opportunities to grow as people, believers and followers of Jesus. All we have to do is find them.

When we go through difficult times, what happens to us is not nearly as important as what happens in us. The passage from Acts teaches us three ways we shouldn’t respond:

  1. Don’t drift. The problem with coasting is that we’re heading downhill. Life is not a coast. Life is tough. When life is tough, we must not lose our ambition or our dream.
  2. Don’t discard. When times are tough, we tend to abandon values and relationships we would not let go of in better times. God can change situations and personalities. He can change us, but He won’t change us if we’re always abandoning ship!
  3. Don’t despair. Even in a storm, God is in control. He hasn’t left us. You may not feel Him, but if we feel far from Him, it’s because we have moved. God is with us in the storm, and He will help us through it. He uses the storms of life to test us to see if we will trust Him. Will we pass the test?

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, p. 1533)
  2. Ogilvie, L.J. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 28: Acts (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1983; pp. 341-347)
  3. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  4. Lucado, M.: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson; 2010)
  5. L.B. Cowman, “Streams in the Desert-August 22, 2016” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  6. Pastor David McGee, “Rough Waters.” Retrieved from www.crossthebridge.com
  7. Pastor Rick Warren, “How Difficulty Can Make You Better, Not Bitter.” Retrieved from connect@newsletter.purposedriven.com
  8. Dr. Harold Sala, “Anchors.” Retrieved from info@guidelines.org.

Matthew 22:1-14 Will You Accept the Invitation to God’s Party?

How many of you have ever given a party? Of course you have! We have all given a party at some time. Perhaps it was a birthday party, or a slumber party. Maybe you had a picnic or a costume party. No matter what kind of party you give, it is a lot of work to get ready for a party, isn’t it? First, you have to decide what kind of a party you are going to have. Then you have to go out and buy the decorations or make them yourself. You have to plan how to entertain your guests. Next you have to decide what you are going to serve and go to the store to buy refreshments. After you have made all the plans, you make a list of who you are going to invite and send out the invitations.

Have you ever planned a party and sent out the invitations, but no one showed up? Oh, I hope not! If that happened, how do you think it would make you feel? Would you be angry? Would your feelings be hurt? What do you think you might do?

Jesus once told a story about a king who threw a party, but none of the people he invited showed up for his party. In Jesus’ story, the king was going to have a party for his son who was getting married. Since he was a king, and this was his only son, you can imagine that it was going to be quite a celebration and it was a tremendous honor to be invited!

All of the plans had been made, the food was prepared, the invitations had been sent. The day of the celebration came, but no one showed up! The king sent his servants to see where the people were and why they had not come to his celebration. The people all began to make excuses about how busy they were.

A wedding feast could go on for days with much food and merriment. An invitation from the king would be considered both an honour and a command, but the citizens of this country refused the invitation, even though the king had described the many pleasures of the feast.  In Jesus’ culture honour was highly prized and to publicly embarrass someone was a terrible affront. Some invited guests not only ignored or scorned the king’s invitation but also reacted violently against his messengers. This was the equivalent of a direct attack on the king, and he could not let this go by without a response. The king reacted as ancient rulers often did; he sent his troops to destroy the city of the murderers. To treat the king’s messengers with contempt was to treat the king himself with contempt. The king was very upset, so he told his servants to go out into the streets and invite everyone they saw to come to his son’s wedding celebration. They did exactly what the king told them to do and the Bible tells us that the wedding hall was filled with guests.

This parable refers to the rejection of the Jews and a calling of the Gentiles. In this parable, God is the king, the people who reject the invitation are the Jewish leaders, the wedding banquet is God’s salvation, and the good and the bad are the wheat and tares in the church. The Gospel was offered to the Jews but they rejected it because of their pride and wickedness. All the blessings of the Gospel were offered to the Gentiles, so they accepted it. The invitation to the wedding feast was given to everyone-both bad and good-because the original invitees had refused the invitation. This detail indicates that the Gentiles were now being offered salvation because the Jews had rejected the Gospel.

The king entered the banquet hall to meet the “guests”. Now they are no longer merely beggars, street people, foreigners, thieves, etc. They are honoured guests. Their conditions have been reversed. They did nothing to deserve it. They were invited to a feast that they could never dream they would get to attend. God’s grace echoes above the noise, the behaviour, the singing and laughing of the guests.

If God has invited people to the wedding banquet, they have already “earned” their spot in the kingdom of heaven. So why would people reject the invitation? Why would they give up salvation? Why would they pass up free food and drink? They either reject God and His message of mercy by killing the messengers, or they are busy with other things such as their jobs, their property, things they have built themselves, things they are using to define their worth in the world.

Even though the invitation to the celebration was broadcast indiscriminately, guests still had to meet certain conditions to participate in the feast, including wearing a wedding garment, which was probably given to the guests by the king himself. When the king found a man without such clothing, the man was summarily tied up and thrown out of the palace. We are given what we need once we accept the invitation to the wedding feast. Like the Cinderella story in which the fairy godmother gave her a gown so she could attend the ball, the apostle Paul says in Philippians 4:12-14,19-20, “My God will supply whatever you need in accord with God’s glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

God is the king. He is no pushover, and if we are the beneficiaries of His gracious invitation we must not become complacent like the first invitees. God has thrown the doors of the kingdom wide open, and he has extended the invitation to everyone. Once we come in, we have to meet His standards. We can’t go on acting like we are not at an extraordinary party. The new garments represent God’s grace, which we receive when we repent and accept Him as our Saviour. In this parable, the soiled garments represent our old, sinful lives. They represent our attempts to enter the kingdom without doing God’s will.

This part of the parable challenges us. How have we changed our lives in response to God’s invitation? Do we realize the gift we have received? What is our attitude towards other people who have received the same invitation? If all of us are guests, none of which have earned the invitation but have received it by grace, then how can we continue to separate and divide ourselves according to race, gender, birthplace, language, sexual orientation, newcomers and old timers, well-dressed and poor?

If we really believe what we hear from God’s Word and have taken it to heart, how can we fail to look around and celebrate God’s banquet with everyone who is around us? We must not judge their motives for coming, or how they are dressed, or how active they are in the church. Let’s celebrate with them the fact that we are all hearers of the Word. We will do our best to be doers of that Word too. God will decide who is wearing the proper garments. 

For the priests and the scribes, the message is that the call of the Gospel went out to the whole world, but to the Jewish people first. Relatively few accepted the Lord’s invitation to eternal life, so the invitation was extended to the Gentiles as well. To participate in the great feast of God, one must not only be invited, but also put on the king’s wedding clothes-namely, the righteousness of Christ, accepted by grace through faith. Those without such a garment, although called, reveal that they are not chosen.

We are to share the Gospel with anyone who will listen. We don’t know who will respond and who will not (because the most unlikely candidates often come to faith), so we are to preach the Good News of the Gospel to everyone. We are living in the day of grace. As the world descends deeper and deeper into darkness and sin, God is calling us to give out His invitation. Jesus tells us to preach the Gospel to everyone. He will give us the faith and courage to persevere, even in the face of opposition. We can pray that God will bring across our path the people He wants us to reach out to so they can be drawn to Jesus. God is not willing that anyone would perish. He wants everyone to come to repentance and the knowledge of Him.

The apathy and rejection of the people who were invited to the banquet offended the king. Similarly, people who reject God’s offer of salvation offend Him.  Like the king, God will eventually lose patience with those who reject Him. They will eventually bear the wrath of God’s judgment.

In order to attend the party, we have to know the host. Similarly, if we want to enter heaven, we have to know God and accept His gift of salvation. There are many people who profess to be Christians and who belong to the church but spurn the garment of righteousness by seeking to establish their own righteousness. They are afraid to admit their own spiritual poverty. They refuse to accept God’s righteousness and therefore they are guilty of a horrible sin against His goodness. We are the recipients of God’s grace and generosity. We are part of His kingdom not because of what we have done. We are honoured guests.

Jesus’ life put flesh and meaning on this parable. He sat with everyone, and everyone was welcomed into His kingdom, but they have to make a fitting response that indicates they realize what has been given them. In other words, we have to accept God’s offer of salvation. When we do, our deeds (as represented by the wedding garment) must match our beliefs.

Many are called, but few are chosen. The chosen ones are people who realize that just showing up is not enough. Mere submission to doctrine and dogma won’t stand the test of what it means to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. The chosen ones believe that God might very well stake a claim to their own humanity. They also realize that the time for bringing about the kingdom of Heaven is now-not later, not tomorrow, not someday, but now.

Through Christ’s death and resurrection, God has thrown heaven open to everyone who is willing to come. He will provide the food and the proper clothes. Anyone who is willing to trust Jesus’ invitation is guaranteed a seat at God’s table. We are worthy not because of who we are, but because of what Jesus has done for us.

We can’t really respond to God’s invitation unless we are willing to have our lives changed to become like Jesus. God’s grace does not imply approval of our injustice and lack of love. Instead, it challenges us to become as gracious toward others as God is toward us. Saying “yes” to God’s kingdom opens to us a wide variety of possibilities. Saying “no” closes the door to receiving God’s generosity. Failure to get ready for eternity is in plain sight. I can’t imagine why, but some people will turn down God’s invitation. You’ve been invited — I hope you will accept God’s invitation.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New Kings James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; pp. 1320-1321)
  2. “You Are Invited.” Retrieved from www.Sermons4Kids.com
  3. Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament. Part of Wordsearch 12 Bible software package.
  4. Augsberger, M.S> * Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 24: Matthew (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982; p. 18)
  5. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  6. Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions, 28th Sunday (A).” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  7. Jenifer Brownell, “God Has Already Chosen. Now It’s Your Turn.” Retrieved from dailydevotional@ucc.org
  8. A.W. Tozer, “Evangelism: Such a Short Time.” Retrieved from Biblegateway@e.biblegateway.com
  9. Gemma Gardner, “The Invitation.” Retrieved from info@seedsofthekingdom.net
  10. Erick J. Thompson, “Commentary on Matthew 22:1-14.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3443
  11. Karoline Lewis, “What Not to Wear.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4980
  12. Lance Pape, “Commentary on Matthew 22:1-14.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx/commentary_id=2204
  13. Bruce Epperly, “The Adventurous Lectionary-The nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost-October 11, 2020.” Retrieved from www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure
  14. Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions, 28th Sunday (A).” Retrieved from firstimpressions@lists.opsouth.org
  15. Dr. Kari Vo, “Worthy.” Retrieved from www.lhm.org/dailydevotionsprt.asp?date=20201008