Message Meme: Praying Together

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Last week we considered Jesus’ instruction to pray privately. He was concerned with the potential people possess to try to impress others with with their praying prowess, or maybe even their fear to pray in front of others for fear of judgement.

While many take that instruction and use it to denounce corporate prayer, a cursory read of the Bible would prove something quite different.

Jesus, when asked by his disciples to teach them to pray, gives them what we refer to as the Lord’s Prayer. And the prayer is an instruction to them in the plural: when all y’all pray, pray this way…Our Father.

The prayer is not a self-centered crowd cry of, “Mine, mine, mine, mine.”

After Jesus’ resurrection, when the ragtag group of believers was stuck together in the Upper Room, they filled their time with prayer. Acts 1:14 tells us they “joined together constantly in prayer.”

Praying alone solidifies our relationship with God. Praying together strengthens and grows us for our mission and ministry to the world.

We’re in this…together.

Hopefully Devoted: Rewards

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Rewards.

We all want them. But do we want the right ones, from the right people?

Jesus has been asked by his disciples for lessons on prayer. There is a bit of irony in their request. The Jewish people prayed…a lot!

But what were they missing? What was Jesus directing them to see?

Jesus calls them to remember what they already know: the commandments. The first commandment addresses their need to put God first…and only.

If the prayers of the people are intended to impress others with the level or depth of their spirituality, then they are not directing their prayers to the Great I Am. Are the ones they are trying to impress going to be able to answer their prayers, meet their needs?

What reward is there in that kind of praying? If we wow others with the wordiness and theological prowess of our prayers, then we have received the reward we sought: we made an impression.

But our needs remain unmet.

Jesus tells them about making sure their relationship with God is first, and when they do the rewards: what they need will come.

Now that’s a reward system I can support!

 

 

Message Meme: Content or Covet

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Contentment…satisfaction. These are the opposites of what leads us to coveting—being consumed with desiring what others have, not being happy or satisfied with ours.

We live in a world that celebrates striving over thriving. Work hard. Play harder. Have the best and the newest. We are no longer fulfilled by merely keeping up with the Jones, we have to exceed them at every turn, and who cares if the get trampled?

God does.

Back in the garden, the serpent spoke to Eve’s innate desire for more: eat from the forbidden tree and you’ll be as wise as God. To get ahead you can’t trust that God has your best at heart. She coveted what God had.

Dissatisfaction played a role in the murder of Able, and the birth rite theft of Esau. And who can forget how coveting his neighbor’s wife was nearly the demise of David.

The Apostle Paul’s comment to young Timothy must have been a jolt, even back then: “A godly life brings huge profits to people who are content with what they have (1 Timothy 6:6, God’s World Translation).”

I wonder what those profits might be?

 

Sermon Seeds: Build Them Up

My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ (Colossians 2:2, NIV).

Way back when I first began my journey in ministry I felt led to this verse in Colossians. Without consciously deciding, I made it the purpose statement for my life: encouraged in heart and united in love, so that the folks I am connected to will be moved to deeper (complete) understanding of the mystery of God, Jesus the Christ.

My life has been spent encouraging others, and working toward unity.

Truth be told: it can be pretty exhausting. Some days I feel like a cheerleader who never gets to rest. And who isn’t always appreciated. I’m sure if you’ve ever been to a sporting event you’ve been trying to carry on a conversation while those responsible for morale and keeping you focused on the game keep yelling louder and louder to try and engage you. They can be enormously annoying.

And don’t get me started on the up-hill battle for unity these days. Everyone has an opinion, and it’s the only one that matters. People would rather be right than in relationship.

Being right. Even if it means putting someone down. Even if that process involves untruth. Even if it means trashing their character.  Even if.

Jesus knew this. The Pharisees and leaders of the day had to be right. And Jesus stood between them and control. So they trumped up false charges. Had people lie about what Jesus did and said. They forced people to break the ninth commandment by paying them to perjur themselves.

And he died, a horrible, cruel death.

They didn’t realize then…and we forget today:

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Prayer thoughts: God help to be more concerned about building each other up. Help us build bridges that result in better relationships and deeper understanding of who you are and how you want us to be. Amen.

Sermon Seeds: Stealing from God

 

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We live in a world that blesses, condones, and encourages stealing…but condemns the thief.

Many are drowning in debt because they keep taking and taking, buying and buying, what they can never afford.

Even our language betrays our behavior: we “borrow” from Peter to pay Paul. We’ve done our best to minimize the sting, even glamorizing the sin: we pirate, we embezzle, we reappropriate.

And that’s just what we do with money.

But I want us to consider two stories from the Bible that we might not immediately link to stealing—and how they might relate to us.

In Mark’s gospel, chapter 5, we find the story of a woman who had been ill for a dozen years. No one in that day was able to bring her relief and because her ailment deemed her unclean (and therefore medically and socially isolated) she was doubly desperate to find relief.

She hears of this miracle working man. She didn’t care about the talk about him possibly being the long-awaited Messiah—she just wanted to stop hurting and stop being alone. So she decided to find him, follow him, and to sneak into the crowd and steal her miracle.

She can’t go to him. She can’t even be in the crowd. Her plan: slip in and slip out. No one ever needs to know

Jesus knew the instant her fingers touched the very edge of his robe.  And she was caught in the act of stealing from Jesus.

But instead of calling the law keepers, he met eyes with this woman and assured her it was her faith that made her well.

When he looks at her, he doesn’t call her a theif, he calls her daughter. He identifies her as family—as his own.

Why do we, like this woman, try to steal what God wants to give us? Why would we rather be thieves instead of children?

The other story can be found in Matthew 21. Jesus is angry in this story, angry and violent. Here we see Jesus on the attack, clearing the money changers out of the temple.

Have you heard the old saying: give them an inch and they’ll take a mile? That’s what had been slowly happening in the temple. Initially, there was provision made for those who traveled great distances to purchase their items for sacrifice in the outer courts. Over time, and with the growth of business, the questionably proiftable business had spilled over into the area where there was to be prayer, not buying, selling, and price gouging.

It was sanctioned theifery. It was big business. And those who were profiting had the power in a place where the power—and the glory—was supposed to be God’s.

And Jesus decided to do something about it—and he didn’t just upset the apple cart. He infuriated those who had come to depend on their ill-gotten gain to support their cushy lifestyle.

He ticked off the wrong people and it played a major role in getting him killed.

What can we learn from these two stories: we have to stop stealing. Because when you peel back all the layers: when we steal…we are stealing from God.

Most of us learned the Shepherd’s Psalm as children, Psalm 23. Perhaps we need to remind ourselves how it begins: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

What does that mean? The Lord (God, the creator of the universe) is my provider and keeper. He has it all. And he provides for my every need. I HAVE everything in Him that I will ever need.

Okay, one more story image. Remember the younger son, often referred to as the Prodigal? In essence he “steals” his inheritance, runs away, and because he’s not mature enough to know how to handle instant wealth, he squanders it—and ends up destitute in a pigpen. (You can read the story in Luke 15)

Coming to his senses, he realizes how foolish he had been and decides it was so bad back on the farm, so he heads home.

When he gets there, Dad is so happy to see him, he throws a party to welcome him home. Even though the lad had in essence wished his father dead—Dad kept loving and providing.

That’s how God works.

How much easier our lives would be if we could just come to him with our needs instead of trying to find ways of meeting them on our own.

Prayer Thoughts: Father God. Forgive me for trying to take what isn’t mine. Forgive me for not trusting that you who are not bound by time, who can see the beginning and the end (and I will admit that’s a tough one to wrap my puny brain around), not only know what I need, but when I need it—and you want to give it to me. Give me the courage to get out of the mess, the pigpen, I’ve made and help me put my life back in order. Thanks.

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Message Meme: Don’t Take It

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Have you ever stolen something?

I’ve always hated that question. Mostly because I have to own up—yes, I have.

I took penny candy from the Fast Food Market in grade school.

Last week I even took a pen from the office where I was taking a class the other day.

I took a few extra minutes on my break a couple of jobs back.

I took five extra miles per hour on my way to the meeting I’m at.

I robbed someone of a blessing by declining their kind offer of assistance.

I robbed God of his glory by not giving him the credit due, or sharing his love.

I don’t think I’m in this boat alone. We could probably all own up to taking what isn’t ours. That’s what makes this commandment so important.

But why are we so prone to take what isn’t ours? More on that in Friday’s Sermon Seeds.

Prayer thoughts: Father God, this rule is hard. And the reasons we take are only symptoms of a greater heart issue. Help us to trust that you really do give us what we need so we can turn from this insatiable consuming greed—thinking we need more than we do. I want to be done with that apple. I want to bask in your lavish love and ample provision. Now, and always. Amen.

Sermon Seeds: Adulterous Generation

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At one point in Jesus’ ministry, the Pharisees and Sadducess (recognized religious leaders of the day), demanded that he give them a sign to prove his authority.

“A wicked and adulterous generation demands a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Then He left them and went away (Matthew 16:4, Berean Study Bible).”

Adulterous.

Aldultery we think we understand. But what about adulterous?

Understanding this word better will help us understand why this commandment is so important to God, and why Jesus spoke about it on more than one occasion.

I went to the Thessaurus to find words that might help us. Consider these: illicit, fast and loose, immoral, cheating, two-timing, moon-lighting.

What about antonyms or the opposite: chaste and pure. To those I would add loyal and committed.

Isn’t it interesting that when God begins this section of rules and commands, he starts by demanding a pure and chaste relationship with himself?

Our relationship with him becomes the standard for our relationships with our mates and with others.

But we’re not naturally wired that way. One of my favorite hymns puts it this way: “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love. Here’s my heart, oh, take and seal it. Seal it for thy courts above (Come Thou Fount).”

We are prone to wander. We have wandering eyes and wavering commitment. We are tempted to move to whatever seems better than what we have—whether it’s a car, house, a job, or a mate.

We flirt with the new until our heart forgets the promises we made. Our reckless and riotous living is similar to the prodigal son described in Luke’s gospel. We don’t appreciate what we have, so we take what’s not ours…and the chasing and wandering lands us starving in a pig sty of our own making.

The solution? Return to the God who knows us best and loves us most. The God who specializes in restoring because he never stops loving.

And if you haven’t wandered yet? Keep your heart pure!

Just in case you think purity is impossible, God has a word—a promise—for you (and me!):

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Sermon Seeds: Harmony

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Last week’s commandment reminded us: It all starts at home. (Honor your parents.)

So this week we begin the journey out the door. And we need to remember: it all starts in the heart.

Our commandment is: don’t murder. The focus in the Old Testament seems narrow and we find Jesus much later attempting to broaden our understanding by telling us no one needs to die, no blood needs to be shed for a murder to take place—it all begins in the heart.

Our judgments of others, our attitudes towards others, matter. These are the seeds of our actions—and Jesus is pretty clear: they can lead us to be guilty of murder.

What’s the answer?

When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was he answered by summing up all of them: love God supremely (first four) and love your neighbor as yourself (last six).

How do we accomplish those commandments that focus on loving those around us, including the less than lovely or loveable? First, we have to get the ones about loving God supremely.

Starting with no lying, stealing, or murdering is like started to read a novel in the middle; or building the roof before you lay the foundation.

Not the best plan. Not God’s plan.

And once we’ve got the order down, let’s try to live in harmony. Not all our notes will be the same…but we can work together to make something beautiful.

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Message Meme: Valuing Life

This week’s message will address the sixth commandment: Don’t murder.

As has been my practice in this series, I began my study by asking why would this commandment be important as God? God gives his rules to protect and/or grow us.

So why no murder?

Keep in mind these commandments are God’s foundational principles for the Jews who have just left Egypt and look forward to entering the Promised Land. They are leaving a place where their only value was their ability to work. God wants them to know their true value: he created them; he created them in his image; and he created them for relationship.

Those truths leave no room for murder—the intentional taking of another life.

Put that on one side of the equation: disregard for the created and loved life of another and on the other Jesus’ words:

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Would you give your life for anyone?

Sermon Seeds: It Starts At Home

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The other day Asher and I went through the drive through at Burger King after school. This restaurant only uses their front window. The back window serves no real purpose—except for a glimpse into the inner workings.

As we waited in line, we watched a young man pealing and preparing onions. He didn’t appear to be enjoying the job. He grimaced as he pealed and sliced.

My heart went out to him. I’m not a fan of onion pealing, either.

But I love the image when it applies to understanding scripture. I relish the opportunities to pull back the outer (obvious) layers to discover the deeper meanings so I can come closer to the heart of God.

Looking at this text has pushed me to do that.

My online research seemed mired in studies that barely scraped the surface. The messages and commentary revealed a free-for-all of “Listen up, Kiddo, and do what your parents tell you.”

That can’t be the only reason.

Keep in mind these commands were given as God was seeking to develop the identity and community of his chosen people. The Spirit of the Law is God protecting and growing his people.

So God starts by making sure his people have laid the groundwork in their relationship: no other gods, no idols, carrying his name well, and resting in him. This fifth command is the transition from focus on their vertical relationship with him to the outer-workings of their relationships with others.

And it all begins at home.

The home is the place where we need to learn how to live and deal with others. Our relationship with our parents is a reflection of our relationship with God, and with authority in general.

The question that inevitably rises comes in the form of an objection or excuse: “But you don’t know how crumby my parents were.” “My dad left—I don’t have a father to honor.”  “My mom is just a drug abusing whore.”

I get it. My parents were alcoholics—albeit functioning, but complete with all the baggage that goes with. I grew up with the emotional uncertainty and the psychological scars.

In college, and later during my years of Clinical Pastoral Education, I came to realize God provided godly men and women who stood in the gap for me when my parents couldn’t. Some of them appeared as Girl Scout Leaders, or the parents of friends. Others were the spiritual leaders of Choirs and Folk Groups, and youth leaders at church.

And here, my friends, where the Church needs to perk up its ears—especially in our world today. Now, as much or more than ever, the church needs to lean in and live out the instruction to care for the widows and orphans. They are all around us and our responsibility is clear: we are family and we need accept the responsibility of getting this right.

May it never be said of the church: I have no spiritual fathers or mothers there.

There is no honor in that at all.