Sunday, February 26, 2012

Giving as Worship

On Sunday morning, I preached on the taboo topic in church:  Money.  Though stewardship involves all of our life as worship, money tells who really is the object of our worship.  We can cloak it in any form we want and try to justify our lifestyle, but our bank account knows whether we truly worship God as our first priority.  The wallet never lies.  Does God get the first 10% or do we give Him the leftovers?  Have we become fixated on 10% or do we give above that amount?  Do we systematically give or just shuffle through the wallet on Sunday mornings?  Do we have a budget with God at the top or live by whatever is in the bank account?  Tough questions, but good questions to ask.  With the economic downturn we have experienced, Christians should be the least impacted of everyone.  We shouldn't get caught up in debt by buying things of credit we cannot afford.  We should never look at the monthly payment, but whether this is God's will for us.

I say all of that to let you know how God works in the lives of humble givers.  After the sermon, we collected the offering as a way to express our worship to God.  I don't know who gave what, but the counters left a note on my desk which had been placed in the offering plate.  A dollar was folded into a note which read:  "I'm sorry I have 0 income".  Wow!  This was not done to justify nor was it given for show.  It was given by someone who wanted to worship God with his/her offering, but had little to give.  So if someone had dropped $1 million in the plate, which would have been more valuable to God?  If both were given as worship, they would both be of the same value.  However, when we give with nothing left, we are truly trusting God for His provision.  I was humbled to read that note and touched deeply.  I am fortunate to have a job and to choose whether I will honor God with a minimum of a tenth.  This person doesn't even have that option.  The greatest sermon on Sunday was not preached by me but by this generous giver.  May we all have that kind of an attitude.

As you begin this week and this new month of work, will you seek to honor God first?  Will you choose to worship Him with that which is most precious....our money?  May you joyously choose to honor the God who loves you and gave His only son for you.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

It's Just a Passing Fancy

A few weeks ago, the cultural phenomenon known as The Super Bowl took place, pitting the New York Giants against the New England Patriots.  This year, I decided to perform an experiment by not watching any of the game and seeing how long I could avoid hearing who who and by what score.  My plan was to utilize this information to discuss how quick we are to talk about football, but how infrequently we talk about Jesus.  We have become football zealots and Jesus pacifists.  However, my experiment yielded some unexpected results.

First of all, you need to know that I am a sportsaholic in recovery.  Sports (Watching and participating) have always been a huge part of my life.  As I have gotten older, I have realized that too much of my time was wasted watching sports and so I have greatly cut down on sports viewing.  So not watching the Super Bowl wasn't as big a deal was it would have been twenty years ago.  I find watching sports on TV becomes rather boring and is a last resort if I can't find something else to do.  Our church had our Sunday evening ministries, which quite a few people missed to they could watch THE game.  So I easily avoided finding out about the Super Bowl.  Monday morning was going to be the challenge because I was going to work out at the gym as usual.  The eliptical machines on which I often work out on faced a bank of televisions with several on sports channels or on the news.  For the most part, I was able to avoid seeing any images about the Super Bowl, but now came the big challenge:  Getting in and out of the locker room without hearing about the game.  Amazingly, I was able to get in, shower and change, then get out without learning about the game.  Here is where things got interesting:  That was the only time I have come close to hearing about the game.  I was amazed when I went to the gym the next day how little the topic of the Super Bowl was discussed.  I have heard no conversations about it and have only had a few people try to tell me what happened.  I have a fairly good idea of who won the game, but no idea what the score was.  I am confident that I will keep that information out of my life until next years' BIG game. 

What does this have to do with anything of consequence?  Great question.  You see, I was stunned at how quickly our culture went from one big deal to the next.  Two days after the Super Bowl, people were talking about the Miami Heat.  Then they started talking about Linsanity.  Then they talked about Whitney Houston.  Tomorrow, it will be the next big thing.  I began to wonder, how often do we get sucked into things that are supposed to be important, but really are not.  Our culture goes from the latest fad to the latest fad.  It's not cool to wear platform shoes, bell bottoms, silk shirts unbuttoned half-way down the chest and dance to disco.  Fads come and go in our culture.  Yet if we are stuck in culture, we feel pressured to keep up with the latest.  So our kids have to have the latest toys or the latest fashion.  We have to have the newest technology which will change our lives. 

Has the church in America bought into this?  Don't we in the church chase fads too?  Our church has to have the latest gimmick to keep us engaged:  The latest media, a rocking praise band, preachers who can  help cure all of our ills, bang up web sites, parking at the front for visitors(Oops, I mean, "guests), casual wear and the list goes on and on.  It almost seems that the church has chosen style over substance.  We have gotten sucked into this fad mentality of trying to keep up with the latest and hippest church.  So instead of focusing on making disciples, we are focused on the appearance of our churches.  What would happen on Sunday if the electricity went off during our worship service?  What would happen if the pastor got sick and could find no replacement?  What would happen if there were no musical instruments?  What would church look like in America this Sunday if we sought to emulate the first century church? 

The book of Acts paints a rather dull picture of the Church in Acts 2:42.  This kind of a church would never attract the crowds and would bore most of our children, young adults and adults.  It says that the Church "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to pray".  What a lame worship service.  Where is the power point/Media Shout?  Where is the praise band?  Where are the latest videos to engage us?  Where are the great speakers who can lift us up to Heaven?  It simply looks like the church gathered to study about Jesus, pray, and eat together.  Man, how in the world can we advertise that successfully?  But if we read the next verse, it says, "Everyone was filled with awe and many wonderful and miraculous signs were done".  When was the last time the church in America was filled with awe at what God had done?  We are often in awe of the video presentations our AV teams put together or in awe of how great the band sounds today or in awe of how everything in the service was so perfectly timed.  It's almost like we are in awe of what we can do that we miss letting God do what He can do.  Perhaps that is why the church in America is impotent.  We are trusting in people (even Godly people) rather than trusting God.  We show up on Sunday to be entertained rather than meet the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe.

If you follow Jesus, can I urge you to take the lesson from the Super Bowl:  Don't get sucked into the latest fad (Even the latest church fad), but draw near to God.  Do something boring like start your day in humble prayer and devoted study of the Word.  Let that encounter change and rearrange the order of your day.  Look to Christ throughout the day and seek to honor Him in all you do.  The Church is not called to entertain those who are lost, our purpose is to be Christ's agent of transformation of lives into radical followers of Jesus.  Perhaps if the Church did that, Americans would look to Jesus for answers rather than investing so much time, effort, money and energy into fads that just don't last.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Life Well Lived

On Tuesday afternoon, I received the news that Myrtle Simmons had passed away.  It was bittersweet news because even though she is with the Lord and no longer in pain, she will be missed.  Parkinson's robbed Myrtle of the ability to be involved in church for the past few years.  This disease took away her physical ability to care for herself in the way she wanted.  She was bed-ridden without the ability to move much of her body.  She was often tired and had very little strength with almost constant pain.  BUT in the midst of that, she never lost her Faith.  She prayed for her family, friends and church family, even when she was in pain.  She never gave up on God, but continued to try to witness for Him through this difficult period.  I wonder how many of us face much less pressure and pain, but are overwhelmed by our circumstances?  She was a testimony to perseverance and determination.  She would much rather have been with the Lord than wracked by Parkinson's, but as lost as she were alive, she praised the Lord.  I found her Faith so refreshing and encouraging, even as my heart was broken to see her in the condition in which she was in.

We often forget when someone has suffered as Myrtle did later in life that this person wasn't always this way.  She was young, vibrant, energetic and able to run circles around others.  She would tell me stories of growing up in Jamaica in deep poverty and yet still sharing with others.  As a girl, she would often look out for other children younger than her and share what little she had with them.  Just a few years ago, she was busy caring for her husband and then dealing with the grief of his death.  In all of this, Myrtle had Faith in Christ.  Faith isn't something that is miraculously bestowed on us in moments of deep hardship.  No, it is developed over the years as we struggle to trust God during trying times.  We go to the gym to work out our bodies and keep them strong.  The gym of Faith is trials, difficulties or overwhelming obstacles.  As we trust God in these, they build Faith muscles which will reveal themselves when needed the most.  A life well lived is a life which honors Jesus, even in the most trying of times.

I loved to hear Myrtle's Jamaican accent, although I admit that this same accent made it hard for me to understand Myrtle.  As Parkinson's began to take a toll on her, it was even more difficult for me to understand her words.  The one thing I could always understand was her love for Jesus.  She continued to radiate Jesus through her eyes, even when her body refused to let her reflect Him.  In these darkest moments for her, the core of her being was about Jesus.  That is something we can't fake:  either Jesus is our reality or He isn't.  When the pressure comes, our heart will be revealed.

We will have the opportunity to remember and celebrate the wonderful life on Myrtle on Tuesday, February 21st at 8:45 AM.  Yet I would encourage each of you to examine your life to see if it is being lived for Jesus.  Is He the core of your being?  Is He what you desire most of all?  Is He the one you turn to when life provides a few bumps and tensions to build faith muscles?  May you be refreshed and energized to grow in your Faith today.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Choices, Choices, Choices

We live in a country where the Church appears to have superficial obedience to Christ.  We have partial obedience, like going to church each Sunday but then living like and talking like our co-workers/fellow students on Monday.  We can turn on the right words when we are around Church people and then fall back into a worldly mode without this hypocrisy even causing us consternation.

This morning in my quiet time, I was studying II Kings 19:5-13 and I was hit by the power of the choices we make on a daily basis.  Please take a moment to read that passage because it will help you better appreciate what I am trying to state in this Sip from the Well.  Historically speaking, Jerusalem is threatened by the Assyrians and Sennacherib.  He has threatened the city and tells them to surrender and not trust the lies of their own king, Hezekiah because their God won't rescue them.  King Hezekiah receives two messages concerning this predicament:  The first is from Isaiah the prophet who says that God will cause Sennacherib to fall back and then he will be killed.  So God will deliver.  Sennacherib gives another message saying that he is bringing God's judgement and they had better not fight but surrender.  Hezekiah is presented with two stark choices:  One he can control by bowing down to Sennacherib and paying him tribute.  Other countries have done this and survived.  But God's plan is to resist and God promises to deliver.  Hezekiah does not have the forces nor the ability to resist Assyria.  Which of these two would you choose?

Each day, we face choices which are just as obvious.  We can compromise with culture and work out some type of balance with that pressure and our faith.  However, we will go against what we know God would have for our lives.  Or we can be a radical rebel in our culture and live a life of holiness and commitment to Christ, knowing it will cost us friends, position and maybe even our jobs.  We think we can control the situation if we just compromise a little bit here and there.  Yet, we will never experience the power of God's deliverance if we take matters into our own hands.  So if we choose to wait on God's timing, we are left handing the entire controls over to God.  That is difficult for many of us.  So many who claim to be Christians have taken the path of compromise that their lives look no different than their friends and they experienced limited power of God at work in their lives.  So the Church looks quite similar to other organizations rather than a thriving, loving congregation of radical Christ-followers.

There are so many examples of this, but I will go back to Sunday's sermon.  Many of you mentioned how it challenged and encouraged you as we looked at facts about marriage.  In our culture, the prevalent preparation for marriage is cohabitation (Living together).  Couples think they can test to see if they are compatible and to see if they really can attempt marriage with each other.  This type of thinking is destroying the fabric of relationships in our country.  There is a huge number of children being born out of wedlock without the comfort of having a stable home life.  Studies show that cohabitating couples have more divorce, abuse and dissatisfaction in marriage.  Google studies on cohabitation and you will be shocked by what has been revealed about this psuedo-marriage.  Faced with such evidence, couples are living together MORE frequently now and even couples in the church has chosen this avenue.  Rather than follow God's path of waiting until marriage, couples have chosen a compromise with the world.  God's path is simple and gives the best opportunity for a loving couple to have a satisfying and life-long marriage, yet it takes more courage, strength and discipline.

This is just one choice we are faced with.  Most of our choices are simply, small choices during the day.  Will we compromise or obey the Lord?  Will we handle it ourselves or allow God to move in a wonderful way?  Have the courage to be like Hezekiah and wait on the Lord, saying "No" to the tremendous pressure to compromise.  May God give you the strength to be a radical follower of Jesus each day who will avoid compromise and live boldly for Jesus.  May this Sip refresh you as you follow Him.