Message for Sunday Evening 21 Sept 2014

“God is Great, God is Good”
Psalm 78

“God is great, God is good.” That was probably the first prayer I ever learned. I know it was the first prayer I ever taught my children. And it is a prayer that seems to stick with children. While I was in college at USC I attended Washington St. UMC in Columbia. I remember one Sunday C.J. Lupo was doing a children’s sermon. The children were all sitting on the floor around him and, he gave them a little lesson. I forget the lesson but when he finished he said, “Now let’s say a prayer.” And before he could get another word out a little girl blurted out: “God is great! God is good! Let us thank Him for our food. By His hands we all are fed. Give us Lord our daily bread.”

We find that story amusing. It seems so out of place to say grace or return thanks during a worship service. That poor little silly girl didn’t know it was neither the time nor the place for a blessing. Or was it? That little girl had been taught well to give thanks to God. She had learned that God is great and God is good and we should give thanks for the gifts God gives us like our daily bread. By spontaneously giving thanks she was expressing her love and gratitude and heartfelt faith in God.

That little girl had already learned a lesson that many adults have yet to learn. We talk about God giving his only begotten son Jesus to die for our sins on the cross. That’s a great gift of a good God. And how do we thank God for it? Many times we thank God by forgetting to make Jesus a part of our lives beyond worship and Sunday School. Sometimes we, all of us, return thanks by being disobedient to the will of God.

People in Bible times were no different than us. They know that God is great and God is good. They may not have been taught that prayer but like us they had experienced the amazing Grace of God. Like us they had heard the testimony of God’s greatness. They had even seen God’s mighty works. The Psalmist who wrote Psalm 78 know of God’s greatness and God’s goodness. The Psalmist wrote about how the children of Israel had seen the miracles of God wrought in Egypt. How God had brought the plagues upon the Egyptians. And how God had preserved the Israelites from those plagues. The Psalmist also tells how God delivered them through the Red Sea from the hands of the Egyptians. They had seen the cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night. They knew God was great because of those miracles.

They also knew that God was good. God had been good enough to hear their cry in slavery and deliver them from bondage in Egypt. God could have left them there in slavery. But instead God chose to agree them. And God had given them good gifts. He gave them bread from heaven to nourish their bodies. And water form a rack to refresh them.

But they didn’t give thanks for their food! Instead they grumbled. They complained that they would thirst to death in the wilderness. They persisted and said that they wanted some meat to eat. Instead of giving thanks they rebelled against their savior. In the words of the psalmist: “They did not keep God’s covenant, but refused to walk according to his law. They forgot what He had done, and the miracles that he had shown them.”

So what did God do? Well, God is great! What would any great self-respecting deity do in such a circumstance? Such a deity would rain down fire and brimstone on the children of Israel until every one of them was destroyed. Such a god would cause the earth to open up and swallow them whole. Such a great deity would erase the name of Israel from the pages of history. Their fate would be worse than that of Sodom and their destruction greater than that of Gomorrah.

But God is also good. God could have destroyed them. God could have left them in the desert to die of hunger and thirst. Instead God continued to feed them and save them. Instead of destroying them God made them prosper and grow. Instead of wiping their name from the pages of history, God made them a great people who still exist and are spoken of long after the Amorites and Pezzorites have ceased to exist.

This is the mercy of God. Despite the untruthfulness of the people of Israel and their rebellion, God continued to bless them. This is an example and proof of the kind of God we worship and serve. We serve a God who gives us all that we need. And even when we fail to give God the glory for those gifts God is still merciful and giving. God’s goodness was greater than their badness.

People haven’t changed much since then. God has given us such great gifts. We live in a country of riches. Even the poor in our country have it better then some people in other countries. America throws away more food each day that is needed to feed the hungry in our country. We are also blessed with freedoms that people in other parts of the world have to risk their lives to win.

And as Christians we have been blessed with gifts that are even greater than that. The greatest of these gifts is Jesus Christ our Lord, who came and died for our sins. We have also been granted forgiveness, which is a gift we could never have bought on our own. As the church we have been given the holy presence of God’s spirit to sustain and guide us. And we have been given the testimony of the Bible and the witness of church tradition to reveal God’s will to us.

But like the Israelites we have forgotten what God has done for us. Like them we fail to acknowledge God as Lord over everything God has given us. I knew a woman who inherited a house from her husband. She used to say the house was Jesus’ house and that he just let her live there. People thought she was crazy, but she was right. All we have, even our breath, is a gift from God and we should thank God that he lets us use it. We know the saving power of Jesus in our lives but like Peter we act like we do not even know who Jesus is. We have been given a land flowing with milk and honey and yet we don’t show any appreciation for its wealth or beauty. All we care about is what minerals we can extract from it and what waste we can dump in it.

So what does God do? What would you do if you were in God’s shoes and you were faced with an unthankful people like the Israelites? Does God just give up and say, “forget you, you unthankful people.” Does God choose to destroy us and leave us to our own sin?

No, excuse my English, but God is “gooder” than that. And thank God! We don’t deserve the gifts we unthankfully receive. But that is the nature of God’s mercy.

That little girl was right! God is great! God is good! Let us thank God for our food. By his hands we shall be fed. Give us Lord our daily bread. Amen

Beware Of Smooth Talkers

BEWARE OF SMOOTH TALKERS

“Do not let anyone deceive you with foolish words; it is because of these very things that God’s anger will come upon those who do not obey him. So have nothing at all to do with such people”. 
Eph 5:6, 7 GNB 

The area of religion is a minefield of beliefs, wonky ideas, half-truths, superstitions, slogans and bits of wisdom. It is a case of “Some say this, and some say that and some say they don’t know”. And there is always someone ready to teach a mixture of truth and falsehood and to lead uninformed people into doubt and uncertainty. 

There were plenty of those people around in Paul’s day. One group said that everything that was physical matter was evil. Since the human body was physical matter it was totally evil and there was therefore nothing you could do about it. So you could indulge the sins of the flesh to your heart’s content. Only your spirit counted. There was another group, this time of Christians. They said that since God forgave your sins you could sin as much as you liked. When you sinned it gave God the opportunity to exercise his grace. So the more you sinned, the more God’s grace worked. They said, “Let us sin that grace may abound”. Both of these teachings were deceptive and popular. Any teaching that says, “Have a good time, indulge yourself” will always be popular! 

Today the “smooth talkers” are saying, “Enjoy yourself. Don’t be old-fashioned. Anyway, everyone’s doing it”. Instead, remember what the kingdom of God is all about and the high standards of holiness God expects of you. The people of old had no New Testament to guide them. You do. Hear what it says and live it out. 

Lord, help me to watch out for the smooth talkers

You Become Your Environment

You Become Your Environment

“Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.'” – 1 Corinthians 15:33

The last line of George Orwell’s Animal Farm is a stunner, “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

There are so many temptations we encounter as we strive to lead a life of integrity. One of the greatest influences we have for determining the way we live our lives is the group of people we choose to surround ourselves with. The fact is, we tend to become like the environment we live in.

As you spend time with people, you may adopt their styles, values, and their decision-making processes. If you associate with unethical people, you may find yourself progressively struggling with ethical decisions. If you surround yourself with men and women of Godly character, you will find the ethical path much easier to navigate. You probably know this and apply it to the people you befriend, but don’t stop there. Join companies, workgroups, and social groups that are made up of people with integrity. And, if you own your own business, only hire people with solid character. Include your suppliers, your advertising agency, and your accounting firm on that list. Surround yourself with people of integrity and you will find it easier to follow the guidelines that God has set for us in His Word.

Message for Sunday Morning 21 Sept 2014

“What is a Christian’s Salary?”
Matthew 20:1-16

One day as Jesus was teaching a Rich young ruler came seeking the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus told him to sell all he owned and give it to the poor. Then he would have treasures in heaven. But this was too much to ask. So the rich young man walked away sad.

This incident got the disciples thinking. They had left their families. They had dropped their nets and careers to follow Jesus. They had done what this rich young ruler couldn’t. They got feeling rather good about themselves.

In fact they got feeling a little too good. They not only thought themselves good but they thought themselves better than others. And Peter, the one with the big mouth, started shooting it off. I can just see him with his chest buffed up putting his arm around Jesus and saying, “Well, we left everything to follow you. I just wonder what will we get in return.”

Jesus acknowledged that they would be rewarded for their sacrifice, but he also realized that he needed to knock them down a notch or two. He needed to deflate their puffed up self righteous attitudes. So he told them a story. And that story might have gone something like this.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a factory owner. This factory owner was opening a new factory and needed some workers. So on Monday he went to the employment agency and found some. He offered to pay these workers R1,000 for a 40 hour work week and the workers gladly agreed. On Tuesday morning he went back to the employment agency and hired some more workers. On Wednesday morning he hired some more workers. Thursday and again on Friday he hired even more workers.

When quitting time came on Friday he told the foreman to pay the newest workers first and the ones hired on Monday last. When the people hired Friday morning looked at their pay checks they jumped and hollered. They were paid R1,000 for one day’s work. When the workers hired Monday saw this they started figuring that they would get paid a lot more because they had worked all week. In fact they were the ones that trained the new workers. But when they got their pay checks they were only R1,000.

The group hired on Monday chose a spokesperson to go and talk to the factory owner. They said, “Hey, look here, we worked five days for you and these greenhorns and dead beats who worked only one day got paid the same as we did. It isn’t fair that they should get the same pay we did.” The factory owner just said, “Friends, I am doing you no wrong. I paid you what we agreed to when you signed on here. Take your pay and go home. I am the one who calls the shots here and I can pay people whatever I want to. It’s my factory and if I want the first to be last and the last to be first, then so be it.”

Jesus is right. The kingdom of heaven is a lot like that. There are a lot of Christians who spend their whole lives serving the Lord. They make deep personal sacrifices to do God’s will. Like the disciples they give up the comforts of life to follow Jesus. For instance missionaries move far from their families and from civilization just because Jesus called them to.

And sometimes they begin to become self righteous about their sacrifices. They say to themselves, “Look what I have given up to serve the Lord.” Or, “Look what I have done to serve God’s kingdom.” And they begin to think they deserve more than others. They think themselves important and they look down on others who have given less time, or less money, or who studied the Bible less.

That is what the first disciples did. They said to Jesus, “Don’t we deserve more than those who have worked less by human standards.” I had a friend once who gave much time and energy to God. He led a number of people to Christ. And he was proud of “all the stars he would have in his crown.”

We have all done the same. Given ourselves pats on the back for acts of devotion and service. And said to ourselves, “How much better than others am I to have done this thing. To have read the Bible through, or taught that most difficult Sunday School Class, or given so much time to volunteer work, or being so spiritual, or giving up Monday night football to come to church! And like those first disciples of Christ we saunter up to Jesus and say, “I really deserve a special blessing for what I have done for you.”

Well I’ve got a news flash for all of Jesus’ followers. We all get the same pay in the end. The salary for being a Christian is eternal life. And it doesn’t matter when you signed on to the team, we all get paid the same. No one gets special treatment or extra bonuses in this operation. The person who spends their whole life sacrificing for the Lord gets the same pay as the one who comes to the Lord only late in life.

Oh, you will be paid back for all you have given up for the Lord many times over. Jesus told the disciples that they would receive many times over what they had given up in homes and families and friends and careers. You see Jesus knew that they would go to Heaven and there are many mansions in his father’s house. And In God’s family we are all brother and sister and mothers and fathers to one another. But everyone else gets the same wages. All who have given themselves to Christ will dwell with him in glory and there are no bad neighborhoods in Heaven.

The point is that as Christians we don’t earn our wages. We could never earn what God gives us. We could never pay God enough to reimburse him for our salvation. We can’t do anything great or wonderful enough to earn God’s grace and eternal life. Eternal life is a gift given to all who give their lives to Christ.

So why work for Christ and God’s kingdom if we are all paid the same. Shouldn’t we just sit down on the job and let someone else do all the work. Or maybe we should just wait until the last minute to sign on the work detail and then take a coffee break until we die? Then we can slip into the kingdom at the last minute without having to work for it.

If you really have thought that, then you missed the point of discipleship. Discipleship is not about earning our salvation. I hope I have already made it clear – that it can’t be done. Discipleship is about worshiping God. It is about giving thanks to God with the sweat of our brows.

You can’t buy your way into the kingdom. You can’t bribe your way into the kingdom. You can’t work your way into the kingdom. You can only accept the kingdom as a gift. So don’t expect to get paid more for your work and devotion and sacrifice. Simply do it out of gratitude for what Christ has done for you!

LIVING IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD ON EARTH

LIVING IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD ON EARTH

Joel 1:13-15; 2:1-2; Ps. 9; Luke 11:15-26

“But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20).
Jesus’ exorcisms were the signs that the kingdom of God has now come into the world in Jesus the Son of God made man for our salvation. He has power over Satan. He came to destroy his kingdom and free us from his power. In him the kingdom of God has come into the world, a kingdom of heavenly peace and light. He came so that we might walk in this light. Those who follow him do not walk in darkness but have the light of life that comes from him. “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). He came to bring peace on earth, and especially peace in our hearts, peace with God, and peace with ourselves. The source of this peace is Christ who redeems us from sin and Satan. He has power to cast out demons and to free those who believe in him from the darkness in which those who reject God and his laws live. He came to set up the kingdom of God on earth, a kingdom of heavenly peace, of splendor, of light. In him a great light has come down upon the earth from heaven.
Christ vanquished Satan on the cross and broke his power. Christ is the stronger man who overcomes the strong man Satan and divides the spoil. “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace; but when one stronger than he assails him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoil” (Luke 11:21-22). Christ vanquished Satan on the cross, and even during his ministry he said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). Since Christ is the victor over Satan, blessed were they who saw him with their own eyes. “Blessed are the eyes which see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Luke 10:23-24).
“Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, ‘The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, “See here!” or “See there!” For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you’” (Luke 17:20-21 NKJV). The kingdom of God is within us (entos hymōn, literally “inside of you”), in our heart, if we believe in Jesus. We can live in the light because of him. He forgives our sins and removes our guilt on the cross, suffering there our punishment for our sins for us, thus justifying us, making us righteous, and shining within us with his own righteousness.
Henceforth we are to walk in his light, in his peace, with this heavenly peace reigning in our heart, and this light shining within us. We are to live henceforth no longer for ourselves, but for him who died and rose for us (2 Cor. 5:15). So we renounce the delights of this world to find all our delight in him. This is to live in the kingdom of God on earth. It is to be forgiven for our sins, freed from our guilt, and living only for him with all the love of our heart. Those who live like this live in the kingdom of God on earth.

Knowing The Mind Of God

Knowing the Mind of God

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:13

Stephen Hawking, author of A Brief History of Time, may be the most brilliant man of the 20th century. Even Einstein would have a tough time beating him in an IQ test. As a physicist, Hawking has dedicated his life to searching for a single mathematical formula that would explain all the forces of the universe. This formula is referred to as the “unified theory” because it would unite all we know about the forces that define the universe. Hawking explains his pursuit by saying that discovering this unified theory would be “the ultimate triumph of human reason” because then we would “know the mind of God.”

Although Hawking might someday discover the unified theory, none of us will ever know the mind of God. A human truly coming to know the mind of God would be similar to teaching a canary to perform brain surgery. The bird has no comprehension of the subject, cannot be shown any procedure, and indeed, isn’t even aware of the existence of the concept of medicine.

The gap between the mind of God and the mind of man is so much greater than between a canary and a brain surgeon. Even if any of us do make a brilliant scientific discovery, we will have only scratched the surface of God’s knowledge. Knowing the mind of God? Through prayer and reading His Word, we can know Christ, who IS the mind of God. Get to know Him and you’ll know enough.

Abolishing Death

Abolishing Death

“…there shall no longer be any death… the first things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:4

The second coming of Jesus Christ is one of the central themes of Christianity and will be the culmination of history as we know it. Christ will establish His kingdom on earth, overcome the Antichrist and the forces of evil, and bring justice and peace. The great enemy of God and man will be abolished. As is written in the Word of God, “Then comes the end…He must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death.”

What a great day it will be for all of Jesus’ followers! Death will be abolished. There will be no more tears, no more grief, and no more separation from loved ones. When you say the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” you’re praying for Jesus to come again and establish His kingdom. To experience God’s will on earth as it is in heaven means no more death. Jesus is the first to conquer death. His followers will do the same.