Thursday, April 26, 2018

The heart of the giver

If you’re like me when you hear the word giving you may think of:

Money
Time
Commitment
Budgets
Sacrifice

And especially in our current economy you may worry about how much you should give and whether we can make our budgets, whether it be at home or at church. And while it may be tempting to focus our thoughts on the quantity of our giving I think it may be more important to focus our thoughts on the quality of our giving.

What I mean by that is that I believe the heart of the giver is more important to God than the gift of the giver. There is a well known verse in 1 Corinthians chapter 13 that refers to giving and the heart of the giver that sometimes we overlook: 1 Cor 13:3

“If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing”

God is more concerned with relationship then he is with budgets and balance sheets. He is more concerned about the quantity of love in our hearts then the number of dollars in our collection plate.

In the words of Jesus himself in Matthew 5:23

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother, then come and offer your gift.”

Again we see, the heart of the giver is more important to God than the gift of the giver. That doesn’t mean that the gift we are giving is unimportant, because we do have budgets both at home and in the church, that require commitment, sacrifice, time and money. But as we give lets make sure that, first of all, our hearts are filled with love, and if we do that, I’m convinced that God will bless both the giver and the gift.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Some consequences of sin

Sin has consequences. But one of the most devastating effects of sin is something that we can’t necessarily see with our eyes. It’s something that occurs on the inside of us, in our hearts. It may display outward symptoms just like a fever is a symptom of an inward infection. But the real problem is not on the outside, its on the inside. The devastating effects of sin which I’m talking about are guilt and fear. 

Guilt and fear manifested itself almost immediately after sin entered the world. It caused Adam and Eve to cover themselves and to hide from the presence of God. And it is still the same today. Guilt and fear still causes us to try to cover up our sin and to avoid being in the presence of God. It may manifest itself outwardly by us no longer praying or ceasing to meet with other Christians. The barrier that sin places between us and God is the result of our own actions. 

The world we live in offers an almost infinite number of ways for numbing the effects of guilt and fear. But the world in its wisdom has no answer for its removal. We are powerless, there is nothing that we can give to God to pay back for our disobedience, there is nothing we can say to God that will erase our actions, so we do what Adam and Eve did, we try our best to cover up our sin and we avoid being in His presence.

But God seeks us out, even though we may try to hide. He tells us he knows of our sin, even though we try to cover it up. He offers us a path back to him; even though we go astray. Listen to these verses from Hebrews 10:19-24: 

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

The blood of Jesus renews our confidence to stand in the presence of God. The blood of Jesus cleanses our hearts and frees us from our guilty conscience. What we were powerless to do God accomplished by sending his Son into the world. The writer of Hebrews states that we have an advocate before God who understands our weaknesses and exchanges are guilt and fear for grace and confidence. He says: (Hebrews 4:14-16): 

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Thoughts before taking communion

Jesus told a parable of 2 men. In some ways these 2 men were very much alike. They both believed in God, they were both men of prayer, and one day they both went to the temple. But at the end of that day, after they had left the temple, one man was right with God, the other wasn’t. One man left the temple justified by God, the other left the temple in the same state that he arrived. 

The parable that Jesus told can be found in Luke chapter 18 verses 9-14.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

When we gather around the Lord’s table to take communion it is a time to examine ourselves. It is a time that we should seek to be justified by God, not to justify ourselves to God. It’s a time for honest reflection. But honesty comes with a price and it is a price that some people are unwilling to pay. 

Honesty means that we are willing for the light of God to shine into our lives exposing every wayward and misaligned thought and attitude of the heart. And the price that we must be willing to pay for that light to shine in our hearts is our pride. We must let go of any self-righteous hope that deceives us into believing that somehow we can be good enough, or even worse yet, are already good enough to stand justified in the presence of God based on our own works.

Letting the light of God shine into our hearts is a humbling experience. And when the light shines the brightest into the darkest areas of our lives it leaves us like the tax collector, standing at a distance, with our head down, uttering the only words that we have to offer, “God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

As we gather around the Lord’s table, it Should be a time of honest reflection, but it is also Should be a time of remembrance. Remembering that God hears our pleas for mercy. Remembering it is God who lifts our heads, draws us close into his presence, and justifies us through the death, burial and resurrection of His son. 
So through reflection, we come to the Lord’s table humbled. Through remembrance, we leave the Lord’s table renewed in our confidence that we have been cleansed of our sins. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The pain of insults

None of us likes to be insulted because insults hurt. In some ways insults are like knives. Some knives are dull and won’t cut much, but others are so sharp that just brushing a finger against the blade will draw blood. Likewise, there are different types of insults, some that don’t bother us, but then there are others that cut deep. So what is it that makes some insults easy to bear and some insults hurt so bad that we carry their scars around our entire lives? I believe the answer to that question centers on one word; love. The degree to which an insult can inflict pain is directly related to the depth of our love. If someone we barely know, or a total stranger, says we are pathetic or worthless, it may hurt, but we might pass it off as a comment from someone that doesn’t really know us. But, if someone we love, whom we have known for a long time, says we are pathetic or worthless it cuts right to our heart and hurts as much as any pain we can experience in life. Insults are a form of rejection. It’s the use of words to inflict pain and injury and if you have ever been insulted by someone you truly love you know they are wounds that are slow to heal and hard to forgive.


Read these words describing the sufferings of Jesus found in Matthew chapter 27:37-44.

Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Two robbers were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, "You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!" 


In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. "He saved others," they said, "but he can't save himself! He's the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, 'I am the Son of God.' "In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him. 

When we remember the sufferings of Jesus we often focus on the physical pain of the cross and overlook the pain of Jesus being mocked and insulted. The degree to which an insult can inflict pain is directly related to the depth of love, and the depth of Jesus’ love was being demonstrated by his very presence on the cross. Each insult must have inflicted pain that reached deep into his heart because he was being rejected by his own creation, which he dearly loved. If you have ever been insulted by someone you care about, someone you love, you understand that pain. But maybe that very pain can serve as a reminder to you of how much you are loved, because Jesus willingly bore the pain of being mocked and insulted. And not only was he willing to bear the pain of insult but at the cross he freely forgave.

Reflect on these words from 1 Peter 2:22-24:

"He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth." When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Thoughts on being Thankful

One day a group of people came to Jesus.  They all shared something in common.  
They were desperate.
They were despised and rejected.
They were hopeless and they came to Jesus in search of hope.
There were 10 of them to be exact and the disease they all shared was leprosy.  They came to Jesus for healing and he instructed them to show themselves to the Priests, and an amazing thing happened on their way, they were cleansed.  They came to Jesus in search of hope and they found it. They came to Jesus unclean and they were healed. They came to Jesus broken and Jesus made them whole.
But an even more amazing thing happened after they were healed. Nine out of the ten men failed to return to Jesus to give him the only thing they had to offer in return for their lives being restored, a simple thank you. What happened?
Did they forget how desperate their lives were?
Did they not realize who the source of their healing was?
Did they take this gift of healing for granted?
Or were they just ungrateful?
It’s hard to imagine any good reason for them to fail to return to Jesus with a simple Thank you.
Let’s update the story a bit.
One day a group of people (me and you) came to Jesus and we all had the same thing in common.
We were desperate.
We were living apart from God because of our sin.
We were hopeless and we came to Jesus in search of hope.


We came to Jesus for healing and an amazing thing happened to us. We were cleansed. We were healed. We came to Jesus in search of hope and we found it.  We came to Jesus broken and he has made us whole.
I think there are several questions that are always waiting to be answered:
Will we remember how desperate our lives were?
Will we remember the source of our healing?
Will we realize how great a gift we have been given?
Will we approach God and offer to Him the only words we have in return for our lives being redeemed. 
A simple Thank you.

Friday, November 17, 2017

It is hard to forgive

Have you ever wondered WHY it is so hard to forgive others when they sin against us? Giving forgiveness is not an easy thing. Peter expresses this sentiment when he asks Jesus a question in Matthew 18:21:


“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times!”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

The very nature of Peter’s question implies that giving forgiveness is not an easy thing. For Peter it was so hard that he wanted to know if there were limits to the forgiveness that he had to extend. But WHY is it so hard to forgive? Jesus gives us some insight to that question in the parable he tells immediately after Peter’s question.

He says, "Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. 
"The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. 
"But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denari. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded. 
"His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' 
"But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. 
"Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 
"This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."

In this parable Jesus is giving us some insight as to WHY it is so hard to forgive others. When someone sins against us they are creating a debt. Jesus compares that debt to being owed money, which is something we can easily understand. But in most cases the debt incurred through sin deals with more than just money. 

Let me give an example, say someone tells a hurtful lie about you to others. By telling that lie they are creating a debt, they owe you something and it may be more than just an apology. You see, by saying something hurtful they may be robbing you of your reputation, or that lie might cause you pain, it may steal your joy or hurt your relationship with others. When someone sins against you they have taken something from you that in many cases they can’t pay back. There is nothing they can do to erase those hurtful thoughts they have put in others minds, they can’t go back and remove the pain they have caused, they can’t make everything right. And when they ask you for forgiveness they are asking you to remove that debt, a debt that in most cases they have no way to pay back. Forgiving is not an easy thing to do.

Jesus’ parable ultimately tells us that the measure of forgiveness we receive from God is related to the measure of forgiveness we extend to others. How can we come before God begging and pleading for mercy while at the same moment turning a deaf ear to those around us who are desperately seeking our compassion.