Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Call of Jesus ~ How? Why? What will be our response?

Too often I think we read this story of Jesus calling his first disciples and we don’t think it applies to us in any significant way because either it is too radical and so not applicable to our lives (after all the fishermen dropped everything to follow Jesus and we just can’t do that – can we?), or we see this story as just the unique way that Jesus called his first disciples, that original core group that would not only walked with Jesus in this world but would also begin the movement that would change the world. Either way, we often read this story and disregard it because we just don’t see how it applies to our lives today, but what if it does? While it’s true that this is a radical story of how Jesus called the first 4 disciples who would form the inner circle of the core group that would change the world, there are also principles we find here that can apply to our lives today and I believe they are principles we can’t ignore. I believe Jesus is calling each and every person in this world to follow him. The Bible tells us that God not only loves everyone but that Jesus wants everyone to know him and to trust him and to follow him and so today Jesus is calling all of us to follow him and this story shows us how he calls us, why he calls us and what our response should be.

The first thing we should notice about this story is that Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James and John while they were casting their net into the sea and the reason they were casting their nets into the sea, no surprise here, was because they were fishermen. I always laugh when I read that line and wonder to myself, why did Matthew feel the need to add that explanation? I mean, why else would these men be casting their nets into the sea? I’m not sure fishing was much of a pastime in those days, I don’t think life allowed for pastimes and hobbies in Jesus day because people had to work so hard just to survive. There wasn’t a lot of leisure time so if men were casting a net into the sea everyone would have known that it was because they were fishermen, so why does Matthew feel the need to add that particular explanation? Maybe it is to let people know that Jesus called these men while they were working. He called them on the job, in the middle of their day, right in the middle of their ordinary lives.

God calls us to follow him right in the middle of our lives, right in the middle of our day, even as we are working. The call of Jesus doesn’t always come on the mountain top when we are on a spiritual retreat, many times Jesus calls us as we are loading the dishwasher after supper, or driving our children to soccer and band practice, and at work. God doesn’t just call us when we are still and quiet and waiting for him in times of worship, he calls us in any moment and maybe in every moment of our lives. God may be calling us in this moment of worship, but God might also call us as we are watching the Steelers play tonight, God might call us as we are driving to work tomorrow morning or getting ready for bed tonight.

Just as Jesus approached these fishermen while they were working, so Jesus comes to us in the ordinariness of our lives and to me this is a good thing because it means that God accepts us for who we are in this moment and God is willing to use us today with all our good and not so good qualities. Notice that Jesus doesn’t tell these fishermen to go and get themselves ready to follow him, they don’t have to clean up their act or clean up their lives or even put on clean clothes – they just have to be willing to go. If you are thinking God can’t use someone like you for his purpose and for his kingdom, you are wrong. God can, and I believe that God wants to use all of us for his purpose and if that is true then God is just waiting for you and for me to hear his call to follow him. So I invite you in the ordinary moments of this day and this week to look for Jesus coming to you and listen for God’s call to follow him.

So Jesus calls us in the ordinariness of life to follow him, but why? Why does God call us? Why did Jesus call these 4 men? I’ll tell you why, because God saw in them potential. While the world saw fishermen – Jesus saw fishers of men and women, and today God sees more potential in us than we can possibly imagine and God wants to use that potential, God wants to use us to be part of something big, bigger than us, bigger than our jobs, our families and even our lives – God wants us to not only be part of his kingdom he wants us to use us to build his kingdom.

Did you notice that twice in the passage it says that Jesus saw them? Look at Matthew 4:18 and 4:21. Jesus saw them, but what exactly did Jesus see? Did he just see fishermen? Did he just see brothers hard at work? I don’t think so, I think Jesus saw all their strengths and skills and potential. I think Jesus saw men of passion, purpose, and power and because of their potential he called them to be part of something that would change all of human history.

I think when God looks at us he doesn’t see what the world sees; I don’t think God sees simple moms and dads. I don’t think Jesus sees teachers, nurses, accountants, researchers or PS employees, I think what Jesus sees is potential. And when God looks at his church he sees all that is needed to change the world; I believe when God looks at this church he sees all that is needed to change our community, our county, our state and nation and world. Right here today is all that God needs if we would simply follow Jesus.

Think about this with me, walking along the beach Jesus saw 4 men who really only knew one thing – fishing, they knew about tides and water temperature and the best times of the day and year to catch fish. They knew about nets and boats and bait and that was it, they were fishermen because that was what they were good at and that was all they knew in that moment, but when Jesus looked into their hearts and souls he knew they possessed all that would be needed to start a movement that would the hearts and lives of people. Now think about the people who are gathered here this morning. Together we know more than just fishing. The combined talent and skills and resources of this gathering is far greater than what these 4 men possessed and so when God looks at us today I think he sees even greater potential than what he saw in those 4 fishermen, which means that God sees us having the potential to change people’s hearts and lives which in time can transform our world. When I think about this, it overwhelms me, and it excites me because I want to be part of something big, I want to be part of ushering in God’s kingdom and I want God to use me to my full potential to help do that.

If you also want to be part of something big, something bigger than yourself and honestly something bigger than this world but are feeling like you either have nothing to offer or that you are not living up to your full potential, then take heart because Jesus sees you. Jesus sees our potential, he sees our strengths and gifts and the unique way God has formed us and if we want to be fully used by God – God will use us. Jesus knows what we were created for and what we learn from Matthew here is that Jesus will call us to reach that full potential as we follow him. That’s what Jesus did with Simon, Andrew, James & John, he saw their potential and when others had given up on them or thought all they would ever amount to in this world was being a decent fisherman, Jesus called them to reach a greater potential by following him.

Jesus calls us in the ordinary moments of life because he sees our God given potential to be part of building His kingdom and I believe that more than anything Jesus wants us to reach that potential and be part of a spirit led movement that will change the world. Whether it is working to share with people the good news of God’s grace and helping people place their faith and trust in Jesus Christ, or working for justice in places in this world that only know oppression and persecution, or helping to meet the physical needs of people around the world, God wants us to be part of a world-wide movement that will bring hope and healing and faith and freedom to everyone - all that is left is for us to respond.

When we look at the response of Peter, Andrew, James and John, we have to admit that their response is radical. 4:20 – Immediately they left their nets and followed Jesus. 4:22, Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Jesus. I have to be honest and tell you that I don’t have any explanation for how they did this? How does someone immediately leave behind their business, their job and all the financial support and security that brings? How do you leave behind a family that needs you and is counting on you to provide? I don’t know, it is a radical step here, but let’s also put it in it’s full context. While they did immediately drop their nets and follow Jesus, we know that their fishing business did fold because there were times when these men returned to fishing, so the boats didn’t get sold that day, and the nets weren’t thrown into the trash, but these men did make an immediate decision to turn from all the significance, success and security that could be found in their business to find something greater in Jesus and that really is the question we have wrestle with. Are we willing to turn away from the significance, success and security that we find in our jobs, homes, families and finances to follow Jesus? And what will it look like for us to follow Jesus?

Dropping our nets and following Jesus may not mean leaving our job today or any day, God may simply want us to live for him at our jobs. Following Jesus can’t mean that we leave our families behind to fend for themselves, we have a responsibility to our families, but following Jesus might mean helping turn our families to God and together living life a new way. I am not sure we can know today what following Jesus is going to look like in its totality, but we can make the decision today to follow him and then allow Jesus to show us what this will mean. But just that step is a radical step of faith because agreeing to follow Jesus and signing up to be part of something larger than ourselves will bring changes to our lives in the days and weeks and years to come. We will change and life will change when we follow Jesus.

Because change is a part of following Jesus, following Jesus is radical and there is no way around it. Living for God in this world is radical because it calls us to drop our nets. We have to let go of all those things in this world that bring us security so that we can trust God more. So maybe one of the first steps in following Jesus is to identify the nets that we have to drop? What are things in our lives that we might need to let go of and get rid of in order to really follow Jesus? I can’t answer that for you, I have a hard enough time answering that for me, but here’s what I want to encourage us to do, can we take this call to follow Jesus seriously and begin to identify the nets in our live that we need to drop, and can we ask God to show us how to let them go, and then can we ask God to give us the courage and strength to do it.

Next Steps:
Think Ordinary – think of three ordinary moments during this coming week when God might appear and call you to follow him. While God may not pick those particular moments, identifying them might prepare you for the moments when God does appear.

Dream Big – If I could be part of a world-wide Spirit-led movement, what would it be? If I could make a difference in this world, what would it be? Dream Big and look for the hidden potential we possess to help make that dream become a reality.
Think about this for us at Faith Church as well.

Identify Nets – What are the things that hold me back from those Big Dreams? What are the things that hold me back from really following Jesus? What are the nets I don’t want to let go of? Don’t worry about dropping the nets, there will be time for that, simply identify the nets and begin to pray for God to show us what life without the nets will look like.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Gifts to Share with Others ~ Head, Heart and Hands

During the past several weeks we have been talking about the gifts we receive from God and last week we talked about the gifts we need to give to God, but giving gifts to God always requires us to do one more thing and that is to share God’s gifts with others. God’s gifts were never given to us to be kept for ourselves, they were given to be shared and that is what we see reflected in the great commandment from Jesus. When asked what the greatest commandment was in all of the law, Jesus answered, to love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, but Jesus does not stop there, he goes on and says, and the second is like it (we are going to link these 2 together), love your neighbor as yourself. So in response to God’s gift of life and love he calls us to not only love him in return but to share that love with others.

As we think about sharing God’s gifts with others, let’s look at the structure of this great commandment. Jesus calls us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength which I think means we need to find ways to love others with our all heart, soul, mind and strength. Using this framework, the gifts we give to others need to come from our heart and our head (our minds) and our hands (our strength). Let’s start at the top and talk about what kind of gifts we need to share from our head. For me this simply means we need to share with others our understanding of who God is and all that God has done for us.

The Bible is full of commands for us to share our faith with others. In fact, when God first called Abraham he was to be a blessing to the nations. Abraham was to share his understanding of God and his relationship with God with all the nations of the world. When Jesus called his disciples to follow him he told them they were going to be fishers of men, which meant they are going to bring others to Jesus and share with them who Jesus was and what he could do for them. The great commission Jesus gave was to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matt. 28:19-20)

So we are to share with the world the teaching of Jesus and then in 2 Timothy 4:2 it says we are to preach the word and to be prepared in all seasons to teach, correct, rebuke and encourage with all patience and careful instruction. And in 2 Corinthians 2:14 it says, through us God will spread everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. So we have been called to share what we know about God with others.

If we have any understanding of God and his love and grace and power and how he works in our lives, then we need to be willing to share this knowledge. Too many times we think it is only the job of the teachers and preachers to share this kind of truth, but this is gift we all need to share. We are all called to make disciples and we are all called to be part of the aroma of Christ which is the knowledge of God. Now while some people might be called specifically to teach and preach and to do this as their vocation in life, we have all been given a mind and we have all been given some understanding about God that we need to share with others. One of the reasons we all need to be willing to share the gift of our faith is because many of the teachers and preachers of the world may never have the opportunity to speak to the people you know. Each of you interact in a circle of people that I as a preacher may never meet and you know people that the Sunday school teachers of this church will never meet, but these people know you and you may be the one God is calling to share with them the truth of his love and grace.

Someone once said that you may be the only Bible some people will ever read and while we often think about this in terms of how we live and what we do, it is also true for what we say. Your words about God may be the only time someone hears about the love of Jesus. We don’t live in a world where people hear about Jesus very often, many people won’t tune into religious TV or radio, and just take a look around today, many people in our own community don’t attend worship and fewer attend Sunday School and many people today don’t even own a bible and so you may be the only Bible that someone reads.

I have to be honest and tell you that I was caught off guard the other day with the reality that many people don’t have a bible. A woman stopped by the office to talk and I encouraged her to spend some time reading different parts of the Bible and while she grew up in the church and thought of herself as a follower of Jesus, she finally shared with me that she didn’t own a Bible. We made sure she left with one and let me say today that if you don’t own a Bible, if you don’t have one in your home and you are wanting one to read, please take the one in the pew in front of you, or stop by the welcome table and we will make sure you have one. We can’t be the only Bible people will read if we aren’t first reading the Bible. It’s important for us to really understand our faith because our words may be the only truth about God that someone hears and so we need to be willing and ready to share the gift of life and love and faith with others. As Paul said, we need to be prepared at all times to share what we know about God.

There are the gifts of our head that need to be shared and there are gifts from our heart. Love one another, Jesus said. He also said, Love others, love your neighbor, love your enemy, love your brothers and sisters, just love. We need to share the gift of our heart with others but to share this gift we first have to see people the way God does. We will never really love others until we first see in them the value and worth that God sees in them. So sharing the gift of our hearts begins by simply seeing people around us s children of God who have been created in the image of God and who are deeply and eternally loved by God.

It has become too easy for us today to devalue people. When we see people who don’t look like us or act like us it becomes easy to think negatively about them. When we see people who have made poor choices, or are making poor choices today it is easy to want to give up on them or assume they are beyond God’s reach and God’s love – but they are not. Every person is valued by God, every person is loved by God and if we are going to really love them the way God wants us to then we need to start seeing them the way God does.

Instead of thinking about this in broad terms, let me ask you this question, who is it that you struggle with today? Who do you think negatively about? Who are you unhappy with? To put it bluntly, who do you just not like right now? Maybe it’s a boss, maybe it’s a friend who has hurt you or a child or parent that has disappointed you or a spouse that you feel far from – can you picture them, can you name them? Now, what will it take for you to love them? Maybe God needs you to simply start praying for them. Maybe God needs you to start praying for you, maybe our prayers need to be for our eyes to be opened so that we see others the way God does. In Romans 12:3 it says, do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. Maybe if we look more humbly at ourselves we will see more value and worth in others.

Once we begin to see people the way God does, we will be more loving toward them. When we see the value and worth in people we will be more open to praying for them and listening to them, and listening is one way we can show people we love them.. Our world moves so fast today that maybe the greatest gift of love we can share will be to simply take the time to listen to someone. The author and church leader Dave Gibbons has said for us to effectively carry Jesus’ gospel to various places around the globe - listening is required. In order for us to know what people need from God, we need to first listen to them. When someone is unhappy, when someone is in need, will we not try to solve their problems on our own but take some time to listen? And then before we jump into action, will we pray? Listening and prayer are gifts from the heart.

So we need to share gifts from our head and heart, but we also need to share the gift of our hands and this means serving those around us. Jesus is clear that if we see someone in need we should reach out to help them. Jesus calls us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give water to the thirsty and visit those who are sick and in prison. The personal gift of Jesus hands was seen when he was willing to wash the feet of his disciples. It is clear that we need to care for those around us and those in need around the world and the truth is that there is no limit to the ways we can do this. From giving money, to giving items needed for the food bank or the winter coat bank, or giving our time to help in one of the many missions and ministry in our community, or going on a mission trip in our own country or on the other side of the world, there is no limit to how we can help people with our hands. What encourages me is that so many of you do this. Faith Church is an active church where people are willing to use their hands to help those in need. We are willing to get involved in meeting people’s needs and while I think we do this well, my question is how do we go deeper and farther?

For example, we have an amazing ministry with the Christmas Dinner, and we are feeding those who are hungry but there are some people on Christmas day who are hungry for more than food, what they need is love and to know that someone cares about them and is willing to listen to them and walk with them in life. What many need is to know that God has not forgotten them and that Jesus forgives them and gives them the full measure of love and life. So how do we work to meet the deeper needs of those around us and how do we take our service farther? Are we willing to see the extreme hunger that exists in places around the world where there are no food banks or soup kitchens or Christmas dinners? Are we willing to help feed people in places where starvation and death are a daily reality? We can’t be content to just do what we are doing – God is calling us to go deeper with people and work to see and then meet their spiritual and emotional needs, and God is calling us to creatively and courageously serve the needs of people in more places around the world.

For us to see how and where God wants us to serve we need to go back to the gifts of our heart and head. We need to ask God to help us see people the way God sees them. We need to take the time to listen and pray and then we need to use our minds to think about how God wants us to meet the physical, spiritual or emotional needs we see. What becomes clear here is that the service we provide with our hands has to flow from a heart and mind that are connected to God. We need to be able to see the deep needs of people, we need to take the time to listen and pray and then our words and actions need to flow from the heart. The head, heart and hands are all connected and we need to use them all to share God’s gifts with others.

Again, if you want to take some practical next steps in sharing the gifts of your head, heart and hands, then look over the next steps you will find in the bulletin.

Head – Ask God to help you be willing to share his love in words not just deeds. Ask God to show you one person this week that you can share your faith with, or one person you can invite to worship. Before you share – pray for this person. If you don’t feel like you are prepared to share your faith – get prepared! Some good books to read include: Basic Christianity by John Stott, and The case for Christ and the Case for faith by Lee Strobel all found in the church library.

Heart - Ask God to show you the value and worth of all those around us. What one person that you struggle with do you need to start praying for? Pray for humility. Take the time to listen to those around you.

Hands – What needs to you see around you that you can meet? How can you give more to help feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, give water to the thirsty? What specific gift of your hands is God asking you to give this week?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Gifts to Give to God

For the last several weeks we have been talking about the gifts that God has given us. God has freely given us the gift of his word, the gift of being able to worship Him and find in his presence the hope and joy we need in life. We have been given the gift of purpose, the gift of God’s Holy Spirit and of course the gift of Jesus. God has also given us the gift of life and the gift of this new year which we need to make the most of. Life is precious and no matter how many years we are given, life is short and we can’t waste a single moment of it. So we have been looking at all the gifts God has given us but today we need to get think about the gifts we need to give to God and to show us how to give and what to give we are going to reflect on the gifts the Wisemen gave to Jesus.

When the Wisemen saw the star that appeared in the sky when Jesus was born they knew it meant that a king had been born. Now certainly other kings had been born during these men’s lifetime and yet no star appeared at their birth, so this star tells them that this king is different. Because of the star, they knew this king had more authority and power than any other king and because of who he was – they were going to make a journey to find him. One of the things I like about their journey to give gifts to this new king is that that they made the journey themselves. These Wisemen didn’t send their assistants with the gifts and they didn’t send them by Fed Ex, or whatever kind of courier service they used in those days, they went themselves. They took their gifts to Jesus themselves and they show us that when it comes to giving gifts to God we need to make them personal.

Faith is a personal thing – we aren’t Christians because our parents are or our children are we are Christians because we have made a decision to follow Jesus and the beginning of the year is a good time to reflect on our own personal walk with God. Are we allowing God to guide us? Are we using not the light of a star, but the light of God’s word to lead us in life, and are we giving the gifts to God that we need to be giving? The Wisemen made a personal journey to find the new king and they personally gave their gifts to Jesus, can we make the same journey and humbly enter into the presence of God and give him the gift or our hands and the gift of our hearts and the gift of our lives?

The Wisemen gave 3 different and unique gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Many people have joked that these may not have been the most practical gifts for a baby, or for a couple who now has the responsibility of raising a child (well, maybe the gold is practical, but frankincense and myrrh – maybe not so much), but the gifts were definitely appropriate for a king and they are also symbolic of the kind of gifts we need to give God today.

Gold is certainly symbolic of wealth and royalty which makes it fit for a king, but it is also a symbol of authority and power. When we give gold to king, part of what we are saying is that we give them authority and power in our lives and that is one of the gifts we need to give God. We need to give God the authority in our lives that he longs for. While God loves us and longs to be a father and friend, God is also GOD and He alone knows what is best for us and God longs for us to surrender ourselves to him so he can accomplish his will and purpose in our lives. When we are willing to give our gold to God, literally give him our wealth, we are saying that we are willing to surrender ourselves to God and that we trust him to do what he wants in our lives.

That is the symbolic statement we make each week when we give God our offering. We are literally offering our gold to God, but it’s not that God wants the gold – God doesn’t need it – all the gold in this world already belongs to him, what God is longing for is the statement we make when we give him our gold. God wants to know that we are willing to trust him and that we are willing to submit to him all that we have and all that we are – he wants that authority in our lives. Now when it comes to giving our gold to God, the Bible states clearly that the offering God looks for is a tithe – or 10%. Now if giving God 10% seems like too much, think of it this way, God says to us, look – keep 90 % of all you have and just give me a tenth as a sign of your faith and trust in me. Think about that – God allows us to keep 90% of all we have – that’s more gracious and generous than our own government! God is gracious, but God is also jealous and he wants to know that we trust him and that we are willing to follow him no matter what, so are we willing to give him that 10%.

I would encourage you to take this gift to God seriously. Giving an offering to God has nothing to do with giving to the church – it is a statement to God that we trust him and are willing to submit ourselves to him. Anyone can say I trust God, but not everyone is willing to put their words into action. As we begin this new year I encourage you to put actions to your words – give life to your faith and give your gold to God as a sign of giving God the authority and power he wants in your life. God can never prove he is trustworthy and faithful if we aren’t willing to give him what he calls for. While this is one very clear gift we can give, let’s be honest, it is not an easy gift to give and the economy today and our own fears about the future make it difficult for us to give – but I invite you to allow God to be faithful in your lives and give your gold to God and allow God to open the storehouse of heaven and give to you in return.

As we think about giving this particular gift to God, I want to share something with you. This past week, David Carter’s sister shared with us about the work of some missionaries around the world and one of the statements they made caused me to become unsettled. They said that the most unreached areas in our world, in other words, the areas of our world where people don’t have the opportunity to hear about Jesus are also the poorest areas on the planet. The areas where there are the most Christians and the most churches are also the richest areas in the world. As I thought about this I had to ask myself, would God be pleased with how we are spending His gold? How can there be so much need in the world when so much of the world’s wealth is held by the followers of Jesus? Can I say that again, how can there be so much physical need in this world, the need for food, water, shelter, medicine, how can there be so much need in this world when most of the world’s wealth is held by Christians or people in strong Christian areas? If we would all begin to give God more of our gold then God could begin to move those resources to the people in need. We at Faith Church are hoping to enter into a relationship with some of the poorest people in Africa and if we will commit to this relationship with God’s people in Sierra Leone it will allow God to move His gold to his people who are in need. And as we commit to give to those in need, we show that we trust God to meet our needs and the more we trust God – the more God proves he is trustworthy.

The second gift we hear about is frankincense. Frankincense is a spice that was burned as an incense during the worship of God in the temple and while it may not seem like a practical gift for a baby, it reflects the Wisemen being willing to worship this new born king. Again, because the birth of this king was announced by a star in the sky, they knew he was unique and powerful and was worthy of their worship, and certainly Jesus is. This king, Jesus, was God in the flesh and as God he deserves our worship and praise and one of the gifts God desires from us is our worship and praise. It’s funny if you think about it, but worship is really a gift that we give back to God. God gives us the gift of worship because it is God who makes it possible for us to worship Him in the first place. God opens the door to his presence, but God doesn’t force us to enter, we come in of our own free will and when we do, when we give our thanks and praise to God we give him the love and adoration that God desires. As our creator, but more importantly as our father, God wants our love. Maybe there is no gift more meaningful then the gift or our hearts given to God in worship. In Psalm 51:16-18 it says, You (God) have no delight in sacrifice, if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

We can worship God together like this, but God would also love our worship everyday. A simple prayer, a simple thank you, just taking a moment to appreciate the life we have and the gifts God has given us is really what God wants. A few years ago we talked about taking a moment in every hour to just think about God – that’s worship and nothing would make God happier than a world of people who took time everyday to turn their hearts and their attention to him in gratitude and love.

And then the last gift given to Jesus was myrrh. Myrrh was a spice that was used when they would wrap the dead for burial and it was also made into oil for anointing the sick. Myrrh came to symbolize suffering and sacrifice for others and again this may seem like a strange gift for a baby, but an appropriate gift for this king. Not only did myrrh foreshadow the suffering and death of Jesus, but it reminds us that we are called to suffer and sacrifice for him. Jesus said if any one wants to come after me let them deny themselves, take up a cross and follow me. So another gift God desires is a life that is willing to be completely given to him. Are we willing to sacrifice what we have and what we do and who we are for the sake of Christ and the sake of Christ’s kingdom? Are we willing to sacrifice our time, our money, our energy, our reputation and our will to serve God?

Again, thinking about some of the missionary stories I heard this week, I had to confess that at times I am pretty weak in my own sacrifice for God and the kingdom of God. When I hear of people who have left the comfort of jobs, the ease of retirement and the joy of family to go and serve the poorest of the poor in our world in the name of Jesus, I am humbled and reminded that there is so much more I could give if I really trusted God, and that is what it often comes down to, a lack of faith and trust. Either I don’t give more because I am greedy and don’t want to, or I don’t trust God to provide for me, or I don’t really believe that God knows what is best for me, and yet, how silly is that. God is the one who created me, God is the one who formed in my inward being, and God is the one who knows me better than I know myself and if I would give the way he calls me to give, worship the way he calls me to worship and sacrifice the way he calls me to sacrifice, if I gave these 3 gifts to God – I would find more fullness and power in life than I could possibly imagine.

Sometimes when it comes to giving gifts to God we fell like we have nothing to give at all. Many times we feel like we are just an empty box with nothing of value to offer the One who created us – but we have more than we know and we already possess all that God really wants and that is a heart and life willing to give what we have. So I invite you to open your heart and life and give gifts to God that will touch God’s heart and change your own. Give gifts that will allow God to prove his faithfulness to you and at the same time bring forth his kingdom in this world.

Again this week you will find some next steps in the bulletin. There are 3 of them and they reflect the 3 gifts of the Wisemen.

• Can we give just 1% more of gold to God? Whatever we are giving to God today can we give 1% more as a sign that we trust God and want God to show his faithfulness to us?

• Can we spend some intentional time in worship everyday this week? I have included 7 psalms that can help us worship God as we read them and live them out. (95-101)

• Can we give up something this week and begin to learn how to sacrifice and give more of ourselves to God and others? As we give up something - can we give that time or money to God so that his kingdom can come and his people around the world experience more of the fullness of life?

Take these next steps in your faith and give these gifts to God.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Gift of Time

I’ve been realizing recently that the most precious commodity we have isn’t gold or oil it is our time. Whether our lives span 8 years, 28 years or 88 years, all of us get just a certain number of days and at least in this world we don’t get a single minute more. God has given us this gift of time and so it’s important to ask ourselves how we will use this precious commodity. As we look ahead into a new year the question we all have to ask ourselves is what will we do with this gift of time? How will we spend our time? How will we invest our time so that we are living the way God wants us to live?

It’s interesting to think that this was the very same question that Jesus asked himself. Jesus knew that in this world he would only have a certain number of days so he also had to spend his gift of time wisely. If we look at the beginning of Jesus ministry we find him doing several different things. He is preaching about the kingdom of God, he is calling people to follow him in living lives of faith, and he is casting out demons, healing those who are sick and performing miracles. Now it is the miraculous power people see in Jesus that draws the crowds. While some people might be coming to hear what Jesus has to say, most are coming to see a miracle or to experience healing. Look at Mark 1:32-33.

The whole city has gathered outside the door looking for Jesus to simply be a healer, but Jesus is inside asking himself, how am I going to spend the gift of time that my father has given me? What is my life going to be about? What is my ministry going to be about? How am I going to spend my time? Aren’t these the same questions we ask ourselves at the beginning of this New Year? How are we going to spend the gift of time God has given us? How are we going to spend the remaining 523,620 minutes of 2011? What is my life going to be about this year? How do I use and invest this God given gift of time?

To help him find some answers to these questions, Jesus went off to pray. Look at Mark 1:35. Now there was a reason Jesus got up early to pray, it was the only way he could get away from the crowds. Remember the entire town was camped outside on the doorstep, but very early in the morning it was still dark so Jesus could slip away unnoticed, and when Jesus goes off to pray I believe he is asking God how to use the gift of time that God had given him.

Now Jesus going off to pray tells us two important things, first it tells us that prayer is an important and valuable way to spend our time. Jesus had a limited amount of time on this earth and because he took some of that time to pray he shows us that maybe prayer needs to be our first priority and not our last resort. So many times when we face uncertainties, challenges or questions in life we spend lots of time thinking about what to do, we spend time asking people for their input and gathering information but maybe what we should be doing is asking God for help and direction. Too often I think we pray when we don’t know what else to do instead of seeing prayer as the foundation on which we build everything else. Prayer is a good use of our time and so I hope that we will spend significant time in prayer everyday of this New Year. Can we start everyday with prayer asking God to give guidance and direction to our steps and words and actions.

The other important thing to remember about prayer is that it is something we can all do. We don’t need special training to pray, we don’t need to buy any special tools or resources to pray, we just need a heart and mind that is looking toward God. The fact is that we don’t even need words to pray, look at Romans 8:26-27. When we don’t know how to pray or what to pray for, when we don’t have the words - the spirit of God intercedes for us and prays according to God’s will – so we don’t need the right words we simply need the right heart which is a heart surrendered and looking to God. I think as a church and community right now we don’t have a lot of words to use in prayer for those who are hurting, but isn’t it good to know that our sighs, or our silence, or our tears can be offered to God as prayers. We need to just keep praying.

So prayer is always a good use of our time and it should be a priority for us in the New Year, but prayer is also good because it helps give us the guidance and direction we need for the rest of life. Jesus went off to pray because he was at a cross-road in his life. Jesus had to decide how he was going to spend the limited amount of time he had on earth. Was he going to be a miracle worker and simply heal people? That would be a good thing to do, but was it the right thing? Was Jesus supposed to spend his time calling people to follow him? Was he supposed to set up a kind of school for disciples and focus on leadership development and instruct his followers on what to do and how to live once he was gone? Again, that would be a good thing to do, but was it the right thing? Or was Jesus going to be a preacher and proclaim the good news that God had come close to the people and that God loved them more than they could imagine and that this love was there for them to draw upon to help change their lives and give them the gift of eternal life? How was Jesus going to spend his time? The answer to that question didn’t come from a poll of what the people who followed Jesus wanted, and it didn’t come from a focus group of disciples, it came from the heart of God in prayer and if we really want to know how to best use the gift of time God has given us then we need to hear from the heart of God in times of prayer.

Prayer can give us the direction we need in life but only if we will take the time to ask God and then listen for the answer, and the answer may not come as quickly for us as it did for Jesus. Jesus went off to pray and got an answer that first day, but remember Jesus was also the son of God. Jesus was God in the flesh so there was a special connection between the two of them simply because of who they were. Now here is what is amazing to me – we can have the same connection with God that Jesus had not because of who we are but because of the Holy Spirit that dwells in us. Look at Romans 8:11, the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead – the spirit of God – lives in us, so we can have that same relationship with God that Jesus had. We can hear God in prayer like Jesus did, but we have to be willing to take the time to develop our relationship with God. It may take us some time to put aside the noise of the world and the voices of our own heart and life so we can hear God, but we can do this. It may take us time to settle in to the presence of God and be able to feel the spirit of God working within us, it may take us time to be able to hear the voice of God in our own heart and life, but again, we can do this because the spirit of God is here, and the spirit of God dwells within us.

So if we want to know how to best use the gift of time God has given us, then prayer is the place to start. After Jesus spent time in prayer he told his disciples that the way he was going to spend his time on earth proclaiming the message. The message Jesus is talking about here is the one he proclaimed in Mark 1:15, the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news. What Jesus was going to spend his time doing was letting people know that God had come to near to them and because of that they could draw near to God. What we see here is that the most important thing for Jesus was to make sure that people knew that their lives could be different and that their eternal destinies could be different. The most important thing to Jesus wasn’t the physical health and strength of people in this world it was our eternal relationship with God and that relationship comes when we repent, when we turn away from our selves and our sin and the things of this world and trust in God. It’s not that Jesus didn’t care about people, he did. Jesus continued to heal people, but the priority of his life was proclaiming the message that everyone could experience a relationship with God.

For me, the challenging question becomes, how do I make this part of my life? How can I take the time God has given me and work in ways that make an eternal difference in my life, in the life of my family, in the life of the church and in the life of our community? While making a difference in this world is important we also have to ask ourselves how we are working to make an eternal difference. How are we using the finite number of days God has given us to make an eternal difference in our lives and in the lives of others?

One way we make an eternal difference in our own lives is to invest time developing a deeper relationship with Him. Are we taking time everyday to be in the presence of God, to hear his voice and understand his will? If not, how can we invest our time in that primary relationship? One way we can make an eternal difference in the life of someone else is to love them the way Christ has loved us, which is selflessly and sacrificially. If our love for one another reflects the love of Christ, that love will make an eternal difference, so how can we love our spouses and families in ways that reflect the love of Christ? How can we love our church and community in a way that will proclaim the message of God’s love and power? And how can we tell people with words of grace and truth that God is here for them and that God loves them and that this love can make a difference here and now and in the life to come?

The answer to these questions may not come until we are willing to take the time to pray – remember Jesus had to go off and pray about these things – and this is why we as a church are taking the time to pray and I hope that you will join us and pray for God to show us how as a church we can not just make a difference in our community, but make an eternal difference in the lives of people by sharing with them and showing them the love and power of God.

There is one more lesson for us to learn from Jesus as we think about using the gift of time God has given us. When the disciples come and find Jesus he tells them how he is going to use his time. There is something important that happens when we tell someone else how we are going to use our time. First of all, just voicing our intentions makes them seem more real to us, even being willing to write them down makes them more real and they suddenly become something that we have to deal with. I don’t know how many of you make New Year’s resolutions, but if you do, you know that we are more likely to follow through on them if we write them down and we are even more likely to follow through on them if we tell someone else what we are going to do. Naming our intentions helps make them clear to us and it motivates us to act on them. Jesus tells his disciples how he is going to spend his time and we need to find people to share with as well. Is there someone we can turn to and say, this is how God is asking me to spend my time this year and then are we willing to ask them, would you help hold me accountable?

God has given each of us a gift of time and once we have used it, we can’t go back and take it up again, it is a finite resource and so we need to make the most of it. Every day, every minute of every day is valuable and important and never to be lived again so are we making the most of this gift? Are we using it the way God would want us to? Are we making a difference in people’s lives, are we making an eternal difference in people’s lives? When it comes to using our time wisely, prayer is a good place to start – prayer is always a good place to start and in times of prayer, like Jesus, we need to ask God how we can make an eternal difference in the lives of others.

You’ll see that the next steps for this week call us to do just that. These aren’t just questions to ask ourselves, these are questions to ask God in prayer. So if you are willing to take 10 minutes a day to pray, ask God these questions…

What ONE thing can I do this year that will make a lasting, even eternal, difference in my life?

What ONE thing can I do this year that will make a lasting, even eternal, difference in the life of my family?

What ONE thing can I do this year that will make a lasting, even eternal, difference in the life of our community / world?

Who can I share these ideas with so I will be more likely to follow through on them?