Thursday, December 29, 2011
Sunday, December 18, 2011
Guest Sermon Series
Rev Robert D. Shofner, Jr.
St. John's UCC Boonville
Merry Christmas! Now that is finally here, let’s look back over the past few weeks. Think about it ... did the thought of Christmas ... and all the parties, and shopping, and cooking, and wrapping up presents, and setting up the decorations ... and everything else that just had to get done ... did the thought of Christmas make us feel humbug-ish ... or humdrum-ish ... or humbled?
The way we answer that has a lot to do about we feel about the different gifts that are a part of Christmas. When we focus on the gifts we have to give, a lot of times we feel pretty humbug-ish. (All that time and money and the kids went through their presents in 12 seconds flat!) When we focus on the gifts we hoped to receive from other people, then maybe we're going to feel pretty humdrum-ish. (We opened them up and thought, "Is that all there is?") But when we focus on the gifts that God has given to us ... because there really is a reason to the season ... when we focus on God's great gifts to us, then we can truly feel humbled. There's a humbling awe that God could love us that much.
The good news is that no one gives us greater presents than God. In fact, it says in James 1:17, "Every good action and every perfect gift is from God. These good gifts come down from the Creator of the sun, moon, and stars, who does not change like their shifting shadows." God gives perfect gifts. Ever receive a gift and we open it up and say, "Wow! This is perfect!"? The Bible says all of God's gifts are like that. And He just keeps on giving. Romans 8:32, "He did not spare his own Son but gave him for us all. So with Jesus, God will surely give us all things." The sacrificial and generous giving that God has shown us when He gave His only Son for us ... the Bible says God wants to show us that same giving each and every day.
Now, should we have to sum up God's giving nature, His ability to give and give what no one else can ... we can sum that up with one word, "grace." In fact, the word "grace" and the word "gift" or "give" in the New Testament are the same words. God's gift to us is grace, and God's grace to us is His gift. And there's no better gift than God's grace. John 1:14, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." This is what Christmas is all about! What a perfect gift. And when we open it up, some of the most awesome things happen in our life. So this morning we're going to look at God's great gift in our lives.
Number one - we are lavished with grace. That's one thing we really want to understand. The Bible says we are lavished with grace! And that means we can make the choice to live abundantly. To live abundantly. Ephesians 1:8, " ... the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding." We probably don't experience that too often. The idea of something just being poured out on us, more than we can ever fully understand. It's a quintuple scoop cone of gourmet ice cream, okay? That's being lavished ... it's more than we can imagine, or eat. But with God's grace, we can never get too much of it. When something is lavished on us it means we're given something more than what we could ever dream of, but what we've always wanted. And God's says, "I want to give my grace, that gift of myself, to you." In abundance.
Now, oftentimes when somebody offers us a gift unbelievably large, we're unbelieving about it. The offer of a big gift can really make us doubt. Got a card for my birthday that said, "For your birthday I decided to get you a million dollars." I knew I wasn't going to open it up and find a check for a million dollars ... darn it all! But God has this lavish gift of grace ready to pour out on us, and we think, "Could that really be for me?" Yes, it is. Yes, it is! And when we finally accept God's gift, it changes the way we look at life. That's the real gift this year, a different way of looking at life, based on the grace that God has given us.
We can live life fearfully, we can live it selfishly, or we can live it abundantly. We can look at the world around us and what we don't have, and live our lives fearfully. Pulling in, living in fear of what we might lose. We can listen to the desires of our heart and mind and begin to live selfishly. Or we can focus on God's gift, and discover the joy of living abundantly. No longer pulling back because of our fear, or overreaching wildly to fulfill every desire, but abundant life. It's a new way of living!
John 10:10, Jesus said, "The thief's purpose is to steal, kill and destroy. My purpose is to give life in all its fullness." We don't want to live fearfully or selfishly. Jesus came so that we could live abundantly.
Now, let's look at how to turn this into more than just "positive thinking" rhetoric. Let's look at how to do this ... how to live abundantly. There's a principle we want to understand. There's no such thing as abundant living without abundant supply. Just won't work. For instance, should I say, "Go ahead and spend as much as you want at the mall today," ... you'd think I was crazy, or just got a new credit card! ... because you know there's not an inexhaustible supply behind all that spending. The ability to live an abundant life comes from the abundant grace of God. When we realize how abundantly He has supplied His grace to us, we can live an abundant life, because His grace supply never runs out! 2 Peter 1:2 (NIV), "Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord." It comes from knowing Him and who He is. We're lavished with grace ... so go ahead, live abundantly.
Number 2 - we're saved by grace, so live eternally. Live eternally. Ephesians 2:8, "I mean that you have been saved by grace through believing. You did not save yourselves; it was a gift from God." We've been saved by God's grace, so we can live eternally. What's that mean ... "saved"? It means three things ... it means to be forgiven, to be fulfilled, and to be set free. And God doesn't save us for a few moments or days or weeks. The salvation He gives to us is eternal. We were headed for certain death and separation from Him for eternity, and because of His great love for us, He came to us and forgave us, fulfilled us, and set us free ... for eternity. That's a great gift!
How do we begin to enjoy that gift? Notice this principle. For a gift to be enjoyed, it must be received. Pretty simple. For us to enjoy a gift, we want to first receive it. And for some of us, this Christmas will be the best ever, because we'll receive the best gift ever. God's gift of eternal life. Just ask Him for it.
When we do start enjoying His great gift? Many people think we only get to enjoy it after we die. That's just not true. 1 Timothy 6:12 says, "Hold tightly to the eternal life that God has given you ..." Notice the words "has given." Not "will give you someday," but "has given" you right now. It says to hold tightly to it ... enjoy it ... live it right now … celebrate our new life!
In my first church, working as a student pastor, there was this little guy who cornered me during Coffee Hour, and he said, "Bob, Bob, Bob! Are you coming to my birthday party?" I didn't have anything lined up for the afternoon, so I said, "Sure, I don't have any plans for today. What time is it?" He said, "No, no, no. It's not today. It's in 5 months, 3 weeks, and 2 days." "Okay, let me write that down. I'll be there. Thanks for telling me." The next Sunday, during Coffee Hour, "Bob, Bob, Bob! Are you coming to my birthday party?" "Yes, I am. In 5 months, 2 weeks, and 2 days. I'm going. Let me erase the pencil, and write it in pen. It's a for sure." The next Sunday, during Coffee Hour, "Bob, Bob, Bob! Are you coming to my birthday party?" Well, I knew this was going to happen. I brought a birthday hat and a party horn. I whipped them out of my briefcase and said, "Look! I'm ready! I can't wait!"
Then I asked his mom, "Hey, what's the deal? I've never seen anything like this. I've never seen anybody this excited over celebrating a birthday." And she told me something I'll never forget. She said, "Mark is a foster child. And Mark has never, ever had a birthday party."
And I think of Mark when I look around and see Christians who don't celebrate. Friends, we've got reasons to celebrate. We want to quit acting like spiritual foster children, and claim the heritage we have in God and celebrate our inheritance of eternal life.
Question. Can knowing what's in our future change the way we feel and act today? Of course it can! Let's suppose you haven't had a job in 6 months, and the unemployment insurance is running out. But just last week you sat down and signed a contract to start a new job the first of the year. Now, do you think you'd wait until January to celebrate the new job? No way! It's party time, right now! And the fact that we know we have an eternity secure in God changes the way we feel and act today. Or, at least it should! The fact that we have eternal life ... does that mean we have to wait to get there to celebrate it? No way! We want to celebrate it today, and every day, right now. It changes the way we look at life.
Here's something we can do to help reinforce this point. Take a 3x5 card, and on one side of it, write the word "today" and on the other side write the word "eternity." Put it in your purse or wallet or pocket ... and any time you face a worry or a problem, take out the card. First, look at the side that says "today." Think about that problem and how terrible it is in the light of today. Really make yourself miserable! Have fun with it, okay? Then after you've done that for five or ten minutes, turn the card over, and think about that problem you're facing in the light of eternity, and see how it changes your attitude. The truth is, when we look at a lot of our worries even in the light of next week it would change our attitude. And when we begin to look at them in the light of eternity ... what a difference it makes! Live eternally.
Number three, we are molded by grace ... and so live responsibly. Some of us may be thinking, "Great! Don't talk to me about responsibilities! I'm overwhelmed by responsibilities!" Maybe you're a single parent. Maybe you're struggling to hold down two jobs ... or keep a business going. Ever feel like ... "I'm just trying to do what's right!"
Reminds me of the story about the Kindergarten teacher who loved to help her little students get all bundled up to go out into the snow and cold at the end of the school day. One day she sat down in front of one of her students, pulled out a pair of boots ... the kind with laces all the way up! ... and started to diligently lace up the boots ... about a ten minute job, struggling with this squirmy little girl. She finally got them all laced up ... the little girl hopped to her feet and announced to the teacher, "These aren't my boots." So the teacher unlaced them and pulled them off and put them back in the closet. Then her little student looks up at her and says, "Those are my big sister's boots, but my Mommy makes me wear them!" Ever feel like that? Just trying to do the right thing?
Want some new energy for that worn-out life? Look at Ephesians 2:10 (NIV), "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." We are created, molded by God's grace in Christ Jesus, to do good works. But sometimes we just get so tired. That's because we're doing everything on our own. We want to learn to relax and let God's grace mold us to live responsibly. We want to learn to quit trying so hard and start trusting in God's grace.
1 Corinthians 15:10 (NIV), "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them - yet not I, but the grace of God that was within me." Paul found a new energy working within him. God's grace. And God's grace is meant to be the creating, energizing, directing influence of our lives. We don't want to be self-made men and women ... we want to be grace-molded persons.
How do we motivate ourselves to get things done? Well, we can use guilt ... or grace. Under guilt, responsibilities seem like terrible burdens. Yet under grace, responsibilities seem like wonderful opportunities. It's the difference between, "I have to do that to get God to love me." and "I want to do that because God loves me!" And grace is a much better motivator than guilt, because it won't wear us out!
2 Corinthians 9:8 (NIV), "And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work."
God's grace abounds ... and that means we live in a new kind of way ... responsibly. There's a principle here that we want to notice. The key to living responsibly is living responsively. Got that? The key to living responsibly is living responsively. Hebrews 10:24 says, "In response to all he has done for us, let us outdo each other in being helpful and kind to each other and in doing good ..."
God will never love us any more or any less than He loves us right now. And so what we do in life isn't to get Him to love us, because He does love us, but what we do in life is simply in response for the love, the grace, He already has for us.
How important is this grace, this gift, from God? Our last verse this morning, which also happens to be the last verse in the Bible. Revelation 22:21 (NIV), "The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people. Amen." It ends with grace. What a great gift!
Christmas reminds us that we are lavished with grace ... so we want to live abundantly. We are saved by grace, so we want to live eternally. And we are molded by grace, so we can live responsibly. God's grace. What a great gift!
Heavenly Father, thank You for the greatest Christmas gift we could ever imagine, Your lavish grace. Help us to receive it, that we may live abundantly, eternally, and responsibly.
And the people said, “Amen.
Friday, December 16, 2011
It is really hard to believe this is the December Newsletter. My how the months have flown by. As I take time to look back, it has been such a thrill to see all that God has done. During 2011 so many people surrendered their lives to Christ. One that is such a joy to me and Trish is our twelve year old son, Joseph. While in Fresno, TX doing the singing in a revival service, he gave his life to Christ. What a thrill. God has blessed us so abundantly.
We just completed 9 days of Christmas In the Smokies and what an awesome time we had. Such tremendous blessings from all the artist, the great Christian Comedians, as well as the comedy skits. The chapel services were so great. Each service was so anointed. Every person who came out received a blessing and was a blessing. It was such a joyous time to see artist praying with others and sharing their testimonies with people. The spirit of the lord was there.
If you would like to attend in 2012, the dates are Nov. 26, 27 and 28 or Nov. 29, 30 and Dec. 1 or Dec. 3, 4 and 5. It will be held at the Main Stay Suites in Pigeon Forge, TN. The early bird gets the worm. Contact me soon for a great deal. We still have rooms available on the Caymen Island and Cozmuel, MX cruise, Mar. 5 - 10. sign up at www.sonshinepromotions.com
I am so excited to announce the release of my new project “Heart Collector.” This is an absolute wonderful project of songs from the Heart. Songs such as Man In The Mirror, I’ve Got My Foot On The Rock, JESUS, I Love You Son, Friends In High Places, Jesus Was A Country Man, One Drink and many more. The best writers, Shane Roark, James Elliott, Tom Burress, Becky Allen, Jason Todd Herod. You can get your copy in time for Christmas at www.ronbrewermusic.com
Thank you all for your love and support. Continue to call and request Tear Off the Roof. There are still a few dates available for 2012 so hurry and call. May we all continue to pray for lost souls and one another and for our nation.
Merry Christmas from our family to yours,
Ron, Trish and Joseph
Monday, December 12, 2011
Friday, December 9, 2011
Things not going like you’d desire? Well, take this advise: “don’t throw away your confidence; it will soon be appropriately rewarded” (ancient first century writing from a book called Hebrews).
I wonder if we realize that a lot of what we do and say tells others about our confidence level. I can readily think of ten tips on how to increase your confidence level starting right now:
Tip #1: Don’t get down on yourself ! – The more you talk about your perceived inadequacies, the more likely you will become bound by them.
Tip #2: Celebrate being you! – You are special, one of a kind, unique, and you have strengths as well as weaknesses.
Tip #3: Get more decisive! – Start saying yes or no and leave maybe out of any answer. Make up your mind on things and stick with the decision. Just do it.
Tip #4: Remove the words “I can’t” from your vocabulary! Yes you can!
Tip #5: Get a handle on procrastination! – Constructive forward movement gets your energy flowing and makes it easier to continue. So make a move, even a small movement, and keep building your movements into bigger movements.
Tip #6: List your positive points! - Take a pad and pen and write down your positive characteristics and skills. Review them and ask yourself how you can apply one or two of them today.
Tip #7: Volunteer for some group or ministry for two hours a week through the end of this month! – New responsibilities freely given will challenge your life and positively impact others.
Tip #8: Be a dream maker! – Picture yourself doing what you would love to be doing if money was no obstacle. Tell four people about this adventure.
Tip #9: Set some S.M.A.R.T. goals! – To be accomplished, goals must be (at least) specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. List a few steps necessary to reach two of your goals. Take a step forward today and do one of those steps.
Tip #10: Get into the action! – Act confident, dress confident, look the part, speak distinctly, shake hands with confidence, and walk with confidence. Feel confident!
Stan Parker – The A.I.M. Group: Coaching, Speakers Group, Corporate and Church Turnaround Projects. Contact: email@example.com.
Thursday, November 24, 2011
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Americans today face economic challenges, but we have nothing to complain about.
We Americans are a blessed people, but we are also spoiled. I know I am. I can get flustered over the stupidest things—like when my cellphone doesn’t get a good signal, when a flight is delayed or when my computer takes too long to load a website. Most people in the world don’t have iPhones, can’t afford air travel and don’t have computers. My impatience reveals my ungrateful spirit.
So how can we avoid this virus of selfish immaturity? Thankfulness is the antidote. It melts our pride and crushes our sense of entitlement. It reminds us that everything we have comes from God, and that His mercy is the only reason we are blessed.
"Be thankful instead! God calls us to live above negativity. When we give thanks in all things, God gives us a supernatural attitude adjustment.”
As you celebrate Thanksgiving Day, I pray you will invite the Holy Spirit to convict you of any whining. Here’s a list of 10 blessings that many people in the world don’t have. Go over this list and then see if you still have anything to gripe about.
1. Got clean water? The next time you uncap a bottle of water or grab a drink from the tap, remember that one in eight people in the world (that’s 884 million people) lack access to clean water supplies. Millions of women around the world spend several hours a day collecting water. When you take a five-minute shower, you use more water than a typical person in a developing country uses in a whole day.
2. Do you have a bathroom? About 40 percent of the world's population (2.6 billion people) do not have toilets. Lack of sanitation facilities spreads disease and is a major reason why more than 2 million people die annually of diarrhea.
3. How’s your electricity? The power in my house might be interrupted briefly three times a year because of Florida storms. But 1.6 billion people—a· quarter of humanity—live without any electricity. And, because of unreliable infrastructure, at least 2 billion people on earth don’t have any light at night.
4. Got a roof over your head? One billion people live in slums. That's almost one-sixth of the world’s population. Of this total, 640 million children live without adequate shelter; they live in cardboard boxes, tin-roofed shacks, one-room mud huts or filthy, crowded tenements. It’s been estimated that 1.4 billion people will live in slums by 2020. Meanwhile here in the United States, between 2.3 to 2.5 million people are classified as homeless.
5. Is there food on your table? In the United States we are battling an obesity epidemic. Yet according to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. Approximately 790 million people in the developing world are chronically undernourished, and almost 28 percent of all children in developing countries are estimated to be underweight or stunted.
6. Got a stove? In developing countries, some 2.5 billion people use fuelwood, charcoal or animal dung to meet their energy needs for cooking. In sub-Saharan Africa, more than 80 percent of the population depends on these crude, traditional means for cooking, as do over half of the populations of India and China. The really sad part: Indoor air pollution resulting from the use of solid fuels claims the lives of 1.5 million people each year, more than half of them below the age of 5.
7. Got regular income? You may have had to take a pay cut during the recession. But keep in mind that at least 80 percent of humanity lives on less than $10 a day. The world's average income is about $7,000 a year. Still, only about 19 percent of the world's population lives in countries with per capita incomes at least this high.
8. Did you go to school? Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names. Enrollment data shows that about 72 million children of primary school age in the developing world were not in school in 2005 (and 57 percent of them were girls).
9. Are you generally healthy? Americans face illness like people in other nations—and more than 12 million Americans are battling cancer in any given year. But many of us have access to health care. In the developing world, more than 2.2 million children die each year because they are not immunized. An estimated 40 million people in developing countries are living with HIV/AIDS. Every year there are 350–500 million cases of malaria, with 1 million fatalities, mostly in Africa.
10. Are you free to worship God? More than 400 Christians die for their faith every day around the world, and most of these believers suffer in Islamic countries—although the top hot spot for Christian persecution, according to Open Doors International, is the atheist regime of North Korea.
What will you be grateful for this Thanksgiving? In these tough economic times you may feel the urge to complain. Be thankful instead! God calls us to live above this negativity. When we give thanks in all things, God gives us a supernatural attitude adjustment. When we thank God for all He has given us, acknowledging that we don’t deserve His goodness, our grumbling melts into gratitude and our impatience turns to praise.
Monday, November 14, 2011
Guest Sermon Series
Rev. Robert D. Shofner, Jr.
St. John's UCC Boonville
Over the past few weeks, we’ve spent time together imagining what this world would look like if God really did bring “up there down here.” And we looked at ways we can start working together to help bring that about, remembering that God is close than we think.
Today is what is known as “Christ the King” Sunday. This Sunday tries to focus our worship on the cosmic character of Christ’s reign over the world. It is a celebration of the kingdom of God.
In the 13th chapter of Matthew, our Lord gives us some very powerful descriptions of what the kingdom of God is really like. He tells us about a man who, plowing in a rented field one day, uncovered a tremendous treasure. He quickly covered it up and gathered everything that he possessed and sold it, so that he could buy that field where the treasure was. Jesus said that the kingdom of God is so wonderful, so attractive, so inspiring, that those who discover it give up everything else to keep it.
Jesus went on to tell the tale of the merchant who dealt in precious jewels. All through his life he kept looking for that one, perfect, gem, valued above all others. Finally, he comes across a pearl, a perfect pearl, a pearl of great price. He is so excited that he sells his entire inventory … sells everything he possesses so he could buy that one pearl.
That, Jesus says, is the Kingdom of God.
The point is ….. Jesus told us that we are worried about too many things. We worry about what we’ll be having for lunch after church … will Mr. Gatti’s be too crowded and run out of barbeque chicken pizza? We worry about the quality of our tap water … and buy bottled water from somebody else’s tap and pay more for it than a gallon of gas. We worry about what we’re going to wear to that big party … and will someone notice our shirt came from WalMart? We worry about the stock market … will the endowment run out? Will we have enough to retire on? Will we be healthy, wealthy and wise?
Jesus says, “Enough worry! God knows what you need. Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness … and He’ll give you everything else.”
For those who’ve experienced just that … they know it’s true. Just ask the man who bought the field … ask the man who sold everything to buy that one pearl. Ask me! I’ve learned that God is completely faithful and true. I’ve learned that when I seek His kingdom and His righteousness He adds everything I need. I don’t need to worry about anything else. You don’t either. Everything that’s really needful …. anything that’s really worthwhile … God adds to our lives.
That’s a basic rearrangement of all our values, isn’t it? And that happens to us when we give ourselves completely to His kingdom … when we make it our first and top value. And we’ve said before, many times, that what we value determines the course of our life. What happens when we value God’s kingdom and righteousness above all else is that we discover, first hand, the love and grace of God. We come to know that there is not one thing you or I could do to ever make God stop loving us. And how do we respond to that certain knowledge? We love God.
Years ago, the United Church of Christ had a saying that was much better than the recent, “Never place a period where God has put a comma.” To me, that’s theological nonsense. No, years ago the UCC had a saying that was much more appropriate. It was, “To love is to care, to care is to do.” When we love, we care. And when we care, we serve.
There’s a story in the seventh chapter of Luke that makes this point. Our Lord is invited to dinner at the home of Simon, the Pharisee. Jesus rarely socialized with a Pharisee … but it was a free meal, so what the heck! Anyway, they had reclined around the low dinner table in the usual fashion, and as they were eating a woman, a prostitute actually, walked into the room. She came up behind Jesus and bent over His feet. She held those dirty, calloused feet in her hands and wept. She wept tears of remorse and shame. And her tears washed the dirt from His feet. She let loose her long hair and bent over His feet again and dried them with that hair. She brushed her hair back and tied it. She took a small bottle of perfume from under her sash. It was probably the same scent she would wear to entice her customers … and it wouldn’t have been cheap. She bent over His feet once again and began kissing them … kissing them as she poured that little bottle of perfume over the arch of His foot, spilling out between His toes.
Can we imagine the reaction of that stodgy, self-righteous Pharisee? He thought to himself, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner!” (Luke 7:39).
And Jesus, who knows our thoughts and hearts and minds, said to His host: “Simon, I have something to tell you.” Simon said: “Say on, Lord.” “Simon, a certain banker had two debtors, one owed him five hundred dollars and one owed him five thousand. One day, he called them in and told them that both debts were forgiven and forgotten. Now, I ask you, Simon, which one of these two men responded with more gratitude?”
Simon said: “I assume the one who was forgiven the greater debt.” Jesus said: “You have spoken correctly.”
He then said: “Look at this woman. She has sinned much, but she loves more. When I came into your house, Simon, you offered me no water to wash my feet, which is just common courtesy. You brought no ointment with which to anoint my hair, which, as a good host, you should have. You gave me no kiss of peace when I entered your house, as you should have. This poor woman has washed my feet, has anointed me, and has not stopped kissing my feet since she came.”
And He looked down at the woman at his feet and said to her, “You faith” – really, her love – “your faith has saved you. You are forgiven. Peace be with you.”
That’s the Gospel. The greater the knowledge of our sin, the more gratitude for the forgiveness of that sin, the more love for our Lord. How do we express that love? To love is to care … to care is to do.
You may remember that in the final chapters of John’s gospel we read of how our Lord Jesus, risen from the dead, made His way about the country-side, and His own disciples – Peter among them – had seen Him risen, glorified, victorious over death – and yet, did nothing about it! They simply went back to Galilee and took up their fishing. One night, just at dawn, after an entire night of fishing, they were coming into shore when they saw a man standing by a fire on the beach.
Peter recognized Him, threw on some clothes, leaped into the surf and waded up to greet his Lord. They sat down and ate breakfast together, and as they were eating, Jesus looked at Peter … Peter who three times – even though he had been warned, cautioned against it – three times had denied his Lord.
Jesus looked across the fire at Peter and spoke. He didn’t use the nickname which Peter loved because the Lord had given it to him – Peter, Petros, the Rock – instead He said, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter bowed his head in shame and said, “Yes, Lord, I love You.”
Jesus said, “Then feed my lambs.”
After a moment, Jesus said with more emphasis, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord, You know I love You!”
“Then tend my sheep.”
And then a third time – and I’m sure Peter, by that time, realized it must be three times, since his denial had been thrice.
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
“Lord, You know all things. You know the thoughts of men’s hearts. You know that I love You!”
“Then feed my sheep.”
That’s the job, little man. What are you doing here fishing? If you love, then you must do. You have a job.
In the 25th chapter of Matthew, Jesus is speaking about the end of times. He says;
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
"Then the King will say to those on his right, `Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
"Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
"The King will reply, `I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'
"Then he will say to those on his left, `Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'
"They also will answer, `Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'
"He will reply, `I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'
"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." (Matthew 25:31-46)
You and I know that there are many hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned, sick lambs of God around this world. How can we witness to them? How can we reach them all? The truth of the matter is, we can’t reach them all. But we can touch the lives of many.
This is where the Church of Jesus Christ, this is whereUnited Church of Christ gives each of us the opportunity to serve. The long arms of the Church can reach into every corner of the world and feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, minister to the sick, visit the imprisoned. And all that witnesses to our love for Christ. The money I give to this church helps me carry out the command given to Peter … and to all who love the Lord … “Feed my sheep. If you love me, then feed my sheep.”
On the other hand, if we don’t love Him, I could stand up here and preach stewardship until I’m blue in the face. I could point out the reasonableness of the whole thing, and it will run off us like water off the beard of a left-handed goat. It would mean nothing.
But when we love the Lord, as many of us do in gratitude for the love and forgiveness and grace He has given us, then we have the opportunity of showing that love through our good works … our stewardship … ministering to the lowliest and neediest of His children.
I, for myself, think of the words of that old hymn:
Where the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a tribute far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
Lord of all creation, the sacrifice You made for us is so amazing, so divine. When we think on how wretched we are without You, it brings us to our knees in gratitude and love. And because we love You, we care about your brothers and sisters. And because we care, we serve. May our service bring honor and glory unto You. For that is our purpose, to know You and bring honor to You.
And the people said, “Amen.”
Friday, November 11, 2011
These questions are ones I have often posed over the past few years to the teenage girls I have taught in my local church. I am convinced the reason many students (and adults, for that matter!) do not live consistently for Christ is that they do not think about the eternal impact their lives can have, and they do not think a single life can make much of a difference anyway.
For close to 15 years, I have watched students start their high school years so strong for Christ only to finish poorly, many even dropping out of church before they graduate high school. It breaks my heart as I watch my girls that once had a burning passion to impact their school for Christ get sidelined because worldly things took their focus off of the Lord. I remember one girl in particular that I led to the Lord when she was a freshman, had in Sunday School, and met with in a small discipleship group. She regularly brought lost friends to church. However, she started dating a boy her senior year who wasn't a Christian, and that one decision to date a non-Christian took her down a disastrous path. She stopped talking about her faith and attending church because she didn't want to alienate her new boyfriend.
So, a few years ago, I started having my students write their own obituaries at the end of their freshman year in high school so they would think about how important the choices are that they make on a daily basis. Then, I spent time with them walking through some famous "obituaries" found in Hebrews 11. These testimonies left behind in Hebrews help believers today realize that the legacies of their lives can last generations. In this day, we need more Hebrews 11 type of Christians. The point is not that our names would be known but that we would live in such a way that Christ's name is known because of our lives.
The truth is, though, that it is not just high school students who need to examine their lives to see if they are building a legacy of faith. We all should be asking ourselves: If today was my last, would the legacy of my life be one that honored the Lord? Consider the "obituaries" of the people recorded in Hebrews 11:1-40:
1. They had a good reputation (vv. 2, 39). Both of these verses note that the people had a good reputation because of their faith. What is your reputation? Is it as someone who loves the Lord and cares for others? Or, do people know of you for less desirable reasons?
2. They were remembered by people who came after them (v. 4). One of the beauties of the Bible is that it records for us the lives of those who "though dead, still speak." Women in Scripture like Ruth, Esther, and Lydia and women in church history like Amy Carmichael, Ann Judson, and Elizabeth Elliott spur us on because of their example of faith. My grandmother and my pastor's wife were such women who, because of their lives, I am encouraged to live for Christ.
3. They were known as people who pleased God (v. 5). Someone who pleases God seeks to honor the Lord before any other. This is the type of girl who doesn't seek popularity at the cost of her convictions, who doesn't date boys who are unbelievers, and who seeks to honor God in the way she dresses and talks. She uses her time to deepen her relationship with God and makes daily time in God's Word a priority.
4. They had confidence in God (v. 10). When you are bombarded daily by the message of the world, it can be hard sometimes to trust that doing things God's way is best. However, when God says, "Do not have any other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3) or "be slow to anger" (James 1:19) or "honor your father and mother" (Ephesians 6:2) or adorn yourself "with proper clothing, modestly" (1 Timothy 2:9), do you have confidence and trust in His guidance for you?
5. God was not ashamed to be called their God (vv. 13-16). When one day in the future my family member sits down to consider my life and pen my obituary, this would be the one thing I want said of me -- that God was not ashamed to be called my God.
6. They resisted sin by keeping their eyes on God (vv. 24-27). The temptations to sin are ever present in your life and my life, but God has promised us in His Word that no temptation will be so great that a way out will not be provided (1 Corinthians 10:13). The challenge for us is to keep our eyes on Him in the midst of these temptations! One thing that has really helped me is memorizing Scripture for those sins I know I struggle with, and I have even put Scripture cards up in my car, on my TV, and in other places in my house to remind me. So, before I think of speeding in my car or getting angry at careless drivers, God's Word greets me from the dashboard. Before I think about watching anything on TV that is unwholesome or that may cause me to sin in my thought-life, God's Word beckons to me above the screen.
7. They were used by God in the midst of difficult circumstances (vv. 32-34). The phrase in this section that encourages me so much is that "their weakness was turned to strength." In high school and early in college, I was terrified of public speaking and had difficulty sharing my faith. Yet, I remember time after time how God opened doors for me to witness for Him -- to entire classes through assigned speeches, to my principal in his office because he had questions about a Christian club I was president of, and to teachers and classmates with whom I had built relationships. In each instance, when I trusted Him instead of giving into fear, I was able see Him do great things.
8. They withstood persecution and ridicule for their faith (vv. 35-37). Today, all around the world, brothers and sisters in Christ are persecuted and killed for their faith. I read an article recently about a group of 26 Christians who were murdered in Cairo, Egypt during a demonstration. I often ask myself if I would have the conviction and courage to stand in the face of such circumstances. Maybe a more appropriate question, though, is whether I have the courage and conviction to live for Christ in my own context?
So, I ask again, what would your obituary say if you died today? Consider the eight characteristics found in Hebrews 11 and ask yourself which of those could describe your life. May we all be remembered as Hebrews 11 Christians!
Candi Finch is a Ph.D. student and an adjunct professor in the Women's Studies Program at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. This column first appeared at BiblicalWoman.org, a blog of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Copyright (c) 2011 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net
Monday, November 7, 2011
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