Help My Doubt

Faith seeking reason- Mark 9:24

November 2009 Pastor’s Ponderings

I want you guys to know how thankful I am for your friendships and help.

First of all, you can’t imagine what it feels like to live off of the free will tithes and offerings of fellow brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. You guys pay my bills every month! I live in a house that is paid off because of you. Well, maybe the mortgage was paid before some of you joined our church. I know it was long before I got here. What a blessing.

Not only that but many of you volunteer to do work for our church that helps me a lot. You sacrifice personal time to come to board meetings, cabinet meetings, worship and small groups. Some of you even volunteer to preach, teach and lead in public worship! There have been several times when I felt like you deserved my weekly paycheck more than I did. I love you guys.

 

There are many reasons, of course, that pastors are paid and lay “ministers” are not but none of the reasons include, “the pastor is worth more”. I am called to be a full-time shepherd but, “in fact, God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be (1Cor.12:18)”.

All of you are gifted workers. Many of you are good friends. Sometimes I take you for granted, just as I do my wife and children, but this month I am remembering to be thankful. Some of you are family by blood. Some by faith. I trust and pray that our family will continue to grow as we continue in godly help and friendship.

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October 27, 2009 Posted by | Ponderings | Leave a comment

Great Expectations (8): Conclusion

Jesus uses 3 illustrations here to communicate the same idea. We can easily understand how much better it is to set our hearts on the things of (a) heaven which will last forever instead of the riches of earth which usually don’t even last a lifetime. We can also understand the logic (b) of serving one master. However, the middle illustration, of the (c) eye, is a little harder to understand.

The bible teacher I read said that there was an old Jewish saying about “an evil eye” which was different from the one we are familiar with today. It does not mean that your mother or teacher looks at you with a squinting scowl on her face in order to get you to straighten up. Instead, it means something more like the “wandering eye” we are familiar with today.

For example, when I was in college I was sitting in the lunch hall with, Christine, a friend from class. She was looking at me and talking to me but I was looking at all the people who were coming in for lunch. In fact, I was checking out all the girls who were coming in for lunch. Well, Christine noticed that I was not looking at her or paying attention and she said, “You have a wandering eye”. She was right and I was being rude. You might even argue that I was being unfaithful to my girlfriend, Anissa, back home.

Jesus said, “If your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness (Mt.6:23).” When we fix our eyes on bad things they can get us into a lot of trouble. On the other hand, if we fix our eyes on good things they can get us into a lot of blessing.

As a positive example, my district leader, Pastor Rock, taught a thrilling lesson about worship in his church by using Sherry’s dog as an illustration. When they are at home with the dog, it follows Sherry around every where she goes. When she sits on the couch it is in her lap. When she goes into another room it follows at her heals. Even when she goes to the bathroom the dog sits eagerly outside the door and waits for her to come out. In fact, if Sherry leaves the house the dog will become extremely anxious and stare obsessively out the window until she returns. When they went to church Rock asked Sherry to put the dog on a leash and bring it in during the sermon. Rock took the dog from Sherry, on its leash and walked up to the podium. The dog, however, stared at Sherry as she walked to the back of the church and sat down. The dog never took its eyes off of Sherry. Rock talked for a little while about worshipping God and everyone could see how anxious the dog was to get off the leash and run back to her master. At last, Rock did let the dog off the leash and, as expected, the dog raced immediately to the back of the church and onto the lap of her master. The dog desperately wanted to be with her master and, when they were finally together, she was a very happy dog!

Jesus said, “22“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light (Mt.6:22)”. Fixing our eyes on the things of earth will not satisfy the human heart, but fixing our eyes on the eternal God will fulfill our deepest desires forever!

October 27, 2009 Posted by | Sermons | Leave a comment

Great Expectations (7): Spiritual Spending (part 2)

This past week was a big week for me. Caleb and I spent the night in Wellsville for his 12th birthday and one of the things we did was attend Isaac’s Youth Center hosted by Youth For Christ. It had an exciting (1) building for teens with three xbox stations, a skate board workshop, indoor skateboard park out back, pool tables, foseball tables, a café and Christian rock music playing in the back ground. The adults I talked with told me how it had taken 20 years to get to that point and that many of the teens had helped to donate and build. I was also impressed with their (2) programming. They offered both Jr./Sr. High discipleship groups after the center closed during the week. Again, the adults I talked with told about how some of their teens had grown up into adult Christians and I met one who had come back to help as a leader not a student.

When we, as a church, talk about our future in Ulysses, I think we all dream about something like that. It’s not just about teens having fun but people of all ages (i.e. children, youth, men and women) spending time together doing things that, little-by-little, end up creating life-long disciples of Jesus Christ.

When we talk about “Great Expectations”, that is what God’s expectations are. When we talk about “Spiritual Spending”, we are simply highlighting that discipleship includes every area of our lives- even money. If God is going to be successful in Ulysses then He needs to have success in our check books.

For example, 1Timothy 6:8 says,

But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that (1Tim.6:8).

Paul was a mature missionary who was writing this letter to a young missionary. This sounds like the mature statement of a mature missionary. Paul had enjoyed living with plenty of money and he had learned to be content when living without. He traveled to many places by boat and foot, had gone without food and sleep and knew exactly what he was talking about when he said, “if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that”. Paul said it and that was exactly what he meant.

I don’t know about you but I have a lot to learn before I can say that. I am neither a missionary nor mature. I have not gone without food or traveled by faith such as Paul. I believe I can be content if I only have food and clothing but I have not experienced it much. For example, when I read this testimony of a modern-day missionary in India I was shocked (“Revolution In World Missions ©2004”, by K.P. Yohannan):

“Americans are more than just unaware of their affluence- they almost seem to despise it at times (p.39)…Economist Robert Heilbroner describes the luxuries a typical American family would have to surrender if they lived among the 1 billion hungry people in the Two-Thirds World:

We begin by invading the house of our imaginary American family to strip it of its furniture. Everything goes: beds, chairs, tables, television sets, lamps. We will leave the family with a few old blankets, a kitchen table, a wooden chair. Along with the bureaus go the clothes. Each member of the family may keep in his wardrobe his oldest suit or dress, a shirt or blouse. We will permit a pair of shoes for the head of the family, but none ffor the wife or children.

We move to the kitchen. The appliances have already been taken out, so we turn to the cupboards…The box of matches stay, a small bag of flour, some sugar and salt. A few moldy potatoes, already in the garbage can, must be rescued, for they will provide much of tonight’s meal. We will leave a handful of onions and a dish of dried beans. All the rest we take away: the meat, the fresh vegetables, the canned goods, the crackers, the candy.

Now we have stripped the house: the bathroom has been dismantled, the running water shut off, the electric wires taken out. Next we take away the house. The family can move to the tool shed….Communications must go next. No more newspaper, magazines, books- not that they are missed, since we must take away our family’s literacy as well. Instead, in our shantytown we will allow one radio…

Now government services must go next.. No more postmen, no more firemen. There is a school, but it is three miles away and consists of two classrooms…There are, of course, no hospitals or doctors nearby. The nearest clinic is ten miles away and is tended by a midwife. It can be reached by bicycle, provided the family has a bicycle, which is unlikely…

Finally, money. We will allow our family a cash hoard of five dollars. This will prevent our breadwinner from experiencing the tragedy of an Iranian peasant who went blind because he could not raise the $3.94 which he mistakenly thought he needed to receive admission to a hospital where he could have been cured.

This is an accurate description of the lifestyle and world from which I came. From the moment I touched foot on American soil, I walked in an unbelieving daze (p.41)”.

Personally, I do believe that, “if I have food and clothing, I will be content with that”, but I have not experienced that kind of contentment- yet. The Wellsville Youth for Christ team is planning a trip to Haiti next summer and I would like to take some of our teens along. My hope is that I might be able to lead a few trips to help our missionaries, Jack & Jeanne Munos or our Child Care Ministries in Haiti. With God’s help I’m sure that will help me and out youth and church to learn contentment.

October 19, 2009 Posted by | Sermons | Leave a comment

Jewish Communism

I was talking with a liberal Christian friend this week who got me stirred up. He likes to do that. He said, “The New Testament was basically written by Jewish Communists”. Of course, my mind immediately thinks of China and Russia who are allowed to steal family homes and land and businesses if they want to because everything belongs to “the state”. I thought that he might be implying that it is more “Christian” to force everyone to live in the same style house with the same salary for work and same health insurance and everything else.

After some clarification I began to realize that he was talking about Acts 4, where we read that all the believers shared everything they owned and no one claimed their possessions as their own. The “Jewish Communism” that he was talking about was a voluntary ‘communalism’ such as we have seen expressed in the old Catholic Convents where religious people shared a garden, lived in dorms and baked bread for a living. Terry was suggesting that communism was a more ‘Christian’ expression of economics than our current American capitalist ‘free-market’ economy is.

I think we can all agree that there are some huge problems with our American economy today. I think we can also agree that most people are not using their money the way God wants them to. How does God want us to handle our money?

Read Proverbs 27:23-27.

Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds (Pr.27:23).

Larry Burkett, a Christian financial counselor, used verse 23 to point out how important it is to live on a family budget. After studying this myself I agree that “careful attention” is an important conclusion from this proverb. As a Christian, if we are not aware of how much we are spending on food, gas, charity, tithe, savings, etc. then we are living foolishly.

At the same time I would like to point out something else about this proverb. God had provided Solomon with great wealth, power and prosperity. We think of him as being old fashioned but his economy would have included large urban cities, small & large businesses, international trade and foreign investments. Even though King Solomon had so much personal and national wealth, he wrote words of wisdom about the value of farming and gardening! The point is that many financial investments, such as politics and money market funds (v.24), are created by man and very fragile. It is better, God says, to invest in renewable resources (v.25) and products which meet our basic needs (v.26-27).

For example, in the New Testament (Luke 19:8), we see that Jesus praised Zacchaeus for using his money in a godly way. He promised to sell ½ of his possessions to share with the poor and also to pay back those he had cheated with 400%! Certainly this is a good example of using money to produce spiritual fruit for God. Zacchaeus decreased his net worth but he increased riches in heaven!

Remember what my friend said about “Jewish Communism” being more Christian than “American Capitalism”? One article I read (G.K. Chesterton) suggested that Christians should (a) live in cheaper homes, buy cheaper cars, wear cheaper clothing and (b) use their extra money to help their community start and maintain more small farms. Poor people could be helped by learning to farm and/or sharing a (c) community garden.  If that is “Christian communism” then count me in!

October 12, 2009 Posted by | Sermons | Leave a comment

Great Expectations (6): Spiritual Spending

Read Luke 19:11-27.

The first thing I would like to do is offer to you my version of this parable if Jesus had spoken it to us in our generation:

“Once upon a time there was a famous Pennsylvania State Senator who left the state and traveled from the east coast to the west coast on a campaign to become President of the United States. Before he left his office in Pennsylvania he called together 10 of his aides. To each of them he gave $8,000 and said, ‘I want to see what you can do with this money until I return’.”

However, there were some wealthy foreign-exchange students attending Penn State University who did not like him and followed him from coast to coast opposing him. Nevertheless, he did become President and then he returned home to Pennsylvania.

Once he arrived he called for his aides, who had received $8,000 each, to see how much they had earned.

The first aide came and said, “Your honor, your money has increased from $8,000 to $80,000”. “Great work!” the President replied.  “Because I can trust you with $8,000, I will now trust you as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations.

The second aide came in and said, “Your honor, your money has increased from $8,000 to $40,000”. Again, the President replied, “Good job. You will be my Director of Homeland Security”.

Then one of the other aides came in and said, “Your honor, here is the $8,000 that you gave me. I kept it safely hidden in a sock under my mattress. To tell the truth, I kept it hidden because you intimidate me. I know that you are a very demanding man, even taking money that is not yours and harvesting crops you did not plant.”

The President replied, “Well, I am going to judge you by your very own words- you lazy liar! So, you say that you ‘knew’ that I was a demanding man, right?! Wouldn’t someone who thinks their boss is a ‘demanding man’ at least put his money in the local bank, so that when I came back, I could my $8,000 with a tiny ¼% interest?”

Then the President spoke to the others who were listening and said, “Take his $8,000 away and give it to the one who has $80,000.” “But sir,” they replied, “he already has a truck load of money. How fair is that?”

The President answered them by saying, “I am fair! Whoever does well with what I give them will get even more; but whoever does nothing will loose everything.”

“But what’s even worse”, the President said, “are those who were invited to become citizens but, instead, opposed me when I went away to become President. Since they don’t want me, cancel their Visas, and send them back where they came from- forever!”

Before we talk about money we must understand that the money in this parable is symbolic. This is not, primarily, a teaching about money. This is a parable about waiting.

While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once (Lk.19:11).

The main point about this parable is that Jesus was going away and he expected his servants to do something while he was gone.

For example, when I was younger my parents finally decided to let us kids try to stay home alone while they went out together. They weren’t sure they could trust us but they let us stay home as long as we agreed to do the (a) dishes, do our homework and be nice to each other. My sister quickly volunteered to be the local newspaper reporter because she took out a spiral notebook and began to write down everything we 3 boys did. On one occasion we put roller skates on and rode through the house. I remember fighting with my sister in my parent’s bed room, on skates, over a broom. We did (b) not do our homework or the dishes or been nice to each other. Obviously, we betrayed our parent’s trust.

We need to always remember that we have a Heavenly Father who has given us permission to live freely in our homes but he expects us to follow His rules.  Specifically, what God expects us to do is use the power of the Holy Spirit in us to produce spiritual “fruit”. One type of fruit (a) includes, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and self-control (Galatians 5:22)”. God expects, that when he returns, he will find us more loving, more joyful, more peaceful, more patient, more kind and more self-controlled”. Another type of fruit is (b) disciples. Jesus said, “go and make disciples of all nations (Mt.28:19)”. So when God returns, he expects to find that we will be able to show him that some of our children, siblings, parents, friends, co-workers and neighbors have also become disciples of Jesus. If we have then we will be rewarded; if we have not then we will loose our reward.

October 12, 2009 Posted by | Sermons | Leave a comment

Great Expectations- Dealing With Debt 2

I was planning to come out and preach a hard sermon against debt today. Then I read Luke 16 and the parable of “The Shrewed Manager”. We need to remember that when we read the Bible we often read it with our own ideas about what God means or what we want Him to say. Pastors and regular Christians alike need to be careful check our hearts when we read to see if we are really listening and willing for God to change our minds about what we believe. I encourage you to listen with “a spirit of repentance” so that you might hear God’s voice and not sit comfortably “on your own understanding” as well.

All these curses will come upon you. They will pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed, because you did not obey the LORD your God and observe the commands and decrees he gave you (Dt.28:45).

This is the verse which describes the message I wanted to preach today. Clearly (a), God described a relationship with His people in which they would be cursed with debt and poverty if they did not obey Him. God’s (b) desire was for His people to lend money to others and not to borrow. God wanted them to be the “head” and foreigners to be the “tail (v.44)” but God could only bless them if they “joyfully served Him with their prosperity (v.46)”.

For example, After reviewing much of this material for today’s message I remembered what God had also told (a) Moses about canceling debts every 7 years (Dt.15). God said that there should be no poor people among them but it was good for them to loan money to each other (without interest) and, if the debt was not paid off after 7 years to cancel the rest of it. Think about the (b) “Good Samaritan” who paid for the injured man’s hotel room for the night. Think about the money we are raising to put in a new (c) parking lot. God wants His children to live financially independent lives because only Christians with money can give money to charity!

However, I also have to admit that debt is not always God’s curse.

Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions (Lk.16:1).

Let’s note, first of all, that the “bad guy” in this parable is the lender (a) not the debtor. There were 2 debtors in this parable who owed a huge amount of oil and wheat but Jesus did not criticize them for being in debt. Instead, Jesus chose to criticize the manager (b) who was being “wasteful (v.1)” with his boss’s possessions. Of course, the point Jesus was trying to make was that the Jewish Pharisees were “in love with money (v.14)” and tried to “justify themselves in the eyes of men (v.15)”. In both the parable before and after this one Jesus similarly criticizes those who have money and waste it on selfish living. Therefore, I say again, being in debt is a bummer but the love of money is much worse in God’s eyes!

When it comes to debt and finances I have found that God is much more flexible and forgiving than I am. For example, there are some very good Christian financial counselors who already know this. One workbook I have for premarital counseling, called (a), “Before You Say ‘I do’”, has a chapter on money and advises that young couples take all their credit cards out and cut them up but keep one just for emergencies. Even (b) Larry Burkett, who is very conservative with money, says that it is normal, and okay, to draft a family budget and allow 5% of household income (in addition to home and car) for debt. God is much more flexible and forgiving than I am.

How about you?

1. Did you think it was normal for Christians to live in debt up to their necks? No, it’s not!

2. Did you think it was better to get out of debt than to be generous to the needy? It’s not.

Let’s do both according to God’s will and get out of debt in order to give more generously to those who are in need.

October 5, 2009 Posted by | Sermons | Leave a comment