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January 28, 2020

What I Read Today;

Exodus 21-22; Psalm 28; Matthew 28; 1 Corinthians 12

How can we work with people in the church to develop their spiritual gifts?  People are so stressed and stretched these days that it seems harder and harder to find ways to help people develop into disciples of Christ.

God has given each of us talents.  He’s endowed all of us with abilities that can be used for his kingdom.

Yet when asked, most people will respond, “no, I don’t have anything to offer.”

But nothing could be further from the truth.

From the young person in grade school to the person nearing 100, we all have gifts that we can bring to God’s church.

So often, we look at the Pastor or our teachers and think that those are the only spiritual gifts that are available to us. While those are important, maybe we need to look at our talents differently.

The church needs people who can cook and clean, budget, organize, plan, nurture, mentor, greet, usher, count money, visit the sick, help the poor, and so much more.

I know a person I went to high school with who raises funds each year to stuff backpacks with school supplies and gives them to needy children.

I know of a men’s group that gets together to make handicapped accessible ramps for those who need them and can’t afford them.

Last summer, the youth group at a large church here in town went out and cleaned and painted homes for needy families.

The list goes on and on.

What can we do in the name of Jesus?  How do our skills fit into his kingdom?  Is there a need in our community that we could help fill?

We all need to pray that God will lead us and direct us to use our skills and abilities so that we can live out a life of thanksgiving to our savior!

January 27, 2020

What I Read Today;

Exodus 19-20; Psalm 27; Matthew 27; 1 Corinthians 11

The opening verse of Psalm 27 reads:

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” NRSV

I think back over my life, and I realize that God has always been with me.  God never left me when I ran from him, he has led me to situations where I could serve him, he has kept me from falling away, and he has loved me in spite of my shortcomings.

If we took a moment to think about all the grace and mercy that God has given to each one of us and really took it to heart, how would that affect our lives?

Would we spend more time thinking about God?

Could we focus more on serving God?

How would it make us more thankful for the gifts we have received?

Maybe we would take the time to talk to our friends and neighbors about what God has done for us?

I’m resolving this week to focus more on God and all the blessings he’s given me!

Will you join me?

January 26, 2020

What I Read Today;

Exodus 17-18; Psalm 26; Matthew 26; 1 Corinthians 10

How much do you love Jesus?

The woman in our story, later identified as Mary Magdalene, walks out into a room fool of men and begins pouring expensive oil over Jesus.  In Johns Gospel, she wiped his feet with her own hair.

Women were supposed to be in the background at the time Jesus lived.  What audacity the women showed.    How dare she, the men howled!

But she couldn’t stop herself.  Jesus was here, and she knew that she had to do something.  So she picked up the expensive oil, walked right into the middle of the room, and honored her Lord by wiping his feet with her hair and cleaning his body.  She ignored the crowd of complaining men.

She focused her efforts on honoring Jesus.

Where is your focus?  Do you focus on what you can get out of Church?  Are you one of those who worry and fret about the perfection of the worship service?  Do you lose your focus when someone is talking behind you or children are fussing around you?

Mary shows us what the pure heart of worship is.  She focused only on Jesus.  She didn’t let the naysayers discourage her.  Mary gave her heart to the only one who really mattered.

Critics will always be there.  Keep your focus on honoring Jesus!

January 25, 2020

What I Read Today;

Exodus 15-16; Psalm 25; Matthew 25; 1 Corinthians 9

There is a common misconception about faith.  It is the misconception that faith is only personnel.  Many don’t discuss their faith with others because of this misconception. It’s not about having to prove you have faith.  It’s about living your faith.

Does your faith show itself through acts of love and compassion? Does your faith manifest itself in your willingness to serve others?

How does your faith affect your life?  Does it change your life?

This is the question that Jesus is pointing out in Matthew 25 vs. 31-46 in the parable of the sheep and goats.

God wants our lives to be reflections of the glory of Jesus Christ. Each of us living in a way that pleases God.

God knows that while we live on this earth, we will never be perfect reflections of Jesus.  But he expects us to continue to strive to live a life worthy of the name of Jesus.

January 24, 2020

What I Read Today;

Exodus 13-14; Psalm 24; Matthew 24; 1 Corinthians 8

Things are sure getting interesting, aren’t they?

Over the past 30 years, we’ve lived through an onslaught of events around the world. Many people have used these events to point to the coming of Jesus Christ.

When I was in the Air Force, stationed in Germany, I remember that many were claiming Christ was coming during the first Gulf War.  Some even proclaimed that Armageddon had begun.

Then there was the year 2000 prophecies.  I remember watching one televangelist proclaim that God worked in two thousand year increments.  2000 years from Adam to the flood, 2000 years from the flood to Abraham, 2000 years from Abraham to David, 2000 years from David to Jesus and now 2000 years to the second coming.  Yep, he had it timed perfectly.

9/11 brought a whole new breed of doomsdayer’s.    Osama Bin Laden was the new anti-christ, Shia terrorists were his army, and Christ was coming soon.

Then there was the second war in Iraq.  Prophecy “experts” ran wild with that one once again.

Now the confrontation with Iran that appears to be brewing has started things over again.

In Matthew 24, Jesus tells us that times like these will come and go.  At a time appointed by God, that only God the Father knows, Jesus will come back.  I realize that it’s fun to theorize the second coming of Christ.  I also understand that you can sell a ton of books by claiming you know the details.  The overarching message that Jesus leaves us with is as follows:

  1. Don’t be fooled
    • There are a ton of people out there who want to make money off of Jesus’ return.  They love to pawn themselves off as experts on the subject of prophecy.  They puff out their chests and tell us things that are just vague enough to slip out of when things don’t happen the way they predicted.  I remember the turn of the century that individuals were claiming that Christ was coming. These individuals were able to convince people to sell their homes and all their possessions. They then convinced them to give that money to the church. On New Year’s Eve, they were all praying for Jesus’ return.  Do you think they ever got their money back?
  2. Keep watch
    • It’s Ok to pay attention and wonder.  Keeping watch is not in itself a bad thing.  However, it shouldn’t consume your every waking moment.  You shouldn’t lose sleep over it.  You should look forward to it.  The thought of Jesus coming back should bring a smile to your face.
    • Looking forward to Jesus’ return is not only OK; it’s what we should be doing.  But I don’t think Jesus wanted our lives to be consumed with anxiety about his return.
  3. Stay Faithful
    • This one is critical.  If we truly believe that Christ is coming soon, then we need to get off our rear ends and reach out to people with the Gospel.  We need to tell people that God loves them!  Our goal must be to reach as many people with the love of Jesus Christ as is humanly possible.  Honestly, the Church has one mission.  That mission is to spread the message of hope, forgiveness, and grace to a lost and hurting world.  If we focus on doing our job, then the rest will take care of itself.
  4. Jesus Words will never pass away!
    • Finally, God’s word will never cease.  His message of hope will never change.  His mercy will live forever!

We have no idea when Jesus will return.  So let’s get to work!

January 23, 2020

What I Read Today;

Exodus 11-12; Psalm 23; Matthew 23; 1 Corinthians 7

Jesus goes after the most powerful religious leaders in Israel.  He pulls out condemnation that will leave a gaping hole in the two groups.  Jesus does not hold back.  The Scribes and Pharisees were arrogant, self-righteous, and did more harm than good.  As a group, these men would put law after law on the backs of ordinary people.

Both groups of men would then declare that they had kept the whole law but the others had not.  Jesus knew that the Pharisees showed no mercy to sinful people.  They were only interested in those who strictly followed the law.

Yet in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had told them that they too were missing the mark.

Jesus taught that following the law was more than the outward appearance of following the law.  No, following the law was introspective as well.

It was understanding that following the letter of the law had to be followed by following the intent of the law.

More importantly, the law was never intended to be used to build ourselves up at the expense of someone else.  No, the law was to be used as a mirror for our souls.  A mirror that would show us our need for Jesus.  But the Pharisees and Scribes missed the intent at every step.

I went to a church once where the Pastor would gather the Board of Elders and discuss individuals who attended the Church.  He was fixated on the private lives of his Church members.  If he suspected that someone was “living in sin” he would demand the Elder responsible for that person’s family go and investigate the situation.  Every time some strand of Gossip would surround someone, rather than doing what the Bible commands and putting a match to the Gossip, he would spring into action and demand we investigate.

He wanted us to become the “Church Police.”  What was even sadder was that he encouraged an environment of Gossip.  People started acting like they were in grade school running to the teacher tattling.

There was a woman who attended a church where I ran the youth programs.  Her children stopped coming to the Youth Group I ran.  She disappeared from the church altogether. When her three kids had stopped coming to the Youth Group for some time, I went to see the woman.  I told her that I was worried about her kids and wanted to know what I could do to help.  She then told me the reason she stopped coming to church.

You see she was humiliated by a rumor that had been spread by a teenage boy who had fallen out of friendship with her two sons.  As teenage friendships go, it was all in the normal process of growing up.  Now, normally these things are ignored by most.  However, the Pastor of the church had heard the rumors and ran with them.  It all came to a head when the minister in question began to go to every church committee he could and demand this sinful behavior be investigated.

In spite of his outrage, he never took the time to speak to the women in question. The woman was humiliated.

My co-leader of the youth group and I confronted the Pastor.  He attempted to justify himself.  In the end, he was forced to issue an apology to the woman and her family from the pulpit on a Sunday morning.  But things were never the same.

I left a few months later.

I have a question for you.  Do you look down on those who are living in sin?  Do you look away at those who’ve done horrible things?  Do you compare yourself to those people?  If you do you could be in danger of becoming what Jesus condemned.

In Matthew 23 vs. 23, Jesus calls us to be people of “Justice and Mercy and Faith.”  In the above story how different would things have been if the Pastor would have just walked away from the rumors or even defended the woman instead of joining in.  Instead of activating the Church Police, what would her response have been if the Pastor or someone else would have talked to her about the rumor and warned her of what was being said by the teenage boy?  Or how about confronting the teenage boy about spreading rumors?

In his large catechism, Martin Luther writes these words about the eighth commandment, “Knowing about a sin, does not involve the right to sit in judgment on it.  I am of course able to see and hear my neighbor sinning.  But I have no business reporting it all around town.  If I poke my nose in and judge and condemn,  then I fall into a worse sin than his, let your ear become a grave and shovel the dirt in on top of it and do not resurrect it until the day you are appointed judge and thus have the duty to administer punishment by virtue of your office.  Those are to be labeled scandalmongers who are not content with that they know but rush forward to pass sentence.” Martin Luther Large Catechism.

I think he does a good job of summarizing what Jesus is saying in Matthew 23.  The church’s job is to preach the word, disciple people and love people.  Rather than running for a TV camera, our Twitter or Facebook feeds,  every time people do something we object to, we should start showing the mercy and grace that God commands us to show!

 

January 22, 2020

What I Read Today;

Exodus 9-10; Psalm 22; Matthew 22; 1 Corinthians 6

Since the 1980s, it has become a tradition that the winner of major sports championships visits the White House.  For nearly 30 years, winners of the World Series, SuperBowl, NBA Championships, Stanley Cup, and NCAA champions would head to the White House for a time of celebration with the President.  For years it was considered a high honor.  Politics was left at the door.  It was a moment in time to celebrate great achievements.

Over the years, several athletes didn’t attend the visits for various reasons.  But usually, the majority of the team would attend.

However, as the 2000s have gone on, the number of athletes refusing to attend for political reasons has continued to grow until it reached a point where the Golden State Warriors Team declined to go.

In my lifetime, I have a horrible track record for picking a president.  If you want to know who’ll win, then choose the person I voted against.  You have a better chance of picking the winner that way.

But I have to admit that if I was invited to attend a meeting at the White House, I would likely go.     Each of the last four men who’ve been President have done things that bothered me a great deal. I have disagreed with some more than others.  But out of respect for the office and out of humility at the offer, I believe I would attend.  It’s an honor to be recognized by the President. And it doesn’t matter who the President is.

In Matthew 22, Jesus speaks of the parable of the Wedding Banquet.  A banquet that God himself has invited each one of us to attend.  He’s sent us a gold plated invitation.  He bought our clothing for the feast, paid for the food and drink, and paid our entry fee.  The only thing we have to do is show up.

Yet many won’t attend.

Some people won’t give up their lifestyles.  Others want to stay at home and watch TV.  Many are just indifferent.  Whatever the reason, they refuse to come and sit at the table of God and experience his blessings.

Jesus is showing us that evangelism won’t be easy.  He’s telling us that no matter how much we pray, no matter how hard we try, some people in our lives will turn away from God.  He’s warning us ahead of time that being a follower of Jesus means that sometimes we’re going to shed tears as we see people reject the love of a savior.

Jesus is telling us that it’s our job to tell the story of Jesus to as many people as we can.  It’s not our mission to convict.  That’s the job of the Holy Spirit.  We let the Spirit do its work and then let God do the job of judging.