Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Hope in the Trouble

With our Children's Program & Play happening on this 4th Sunday of Advent, the message this week will be given on Christmas Eve.

Nobody knows the trouble I've seen.

Luke 1:26-38

New International Version (NIV)

The Birth of Jesus Foretold

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Trouble makes for a dark world. 

All through Advent we have had this header in our bulletins.
A black box with a single candle lit. Our lives can be like this at times.
Things can be bleak and dark with little or no light to show us the way. 

This Advent season has been about finding your light.
Jesus is the light. We want Jesus in our hearts and lives so we don't get lost in a dark world.
Trouble is...lights can be snuffed out. Light bulbs burn out. Electricity can go out. Fuses can bust. The many things we look to for help and guidance can end up being so unreliable. The very things we look to for power and support can break down and leave us in a state of shock. 

So, where can we look for hope? I plead the case that it's right in front of our noses. 
 We've talked a lot about it this Advent season. It might be good is we took a long look at the word. 
 Upon opening Merriam-Webster and talking that look we see the word used two different way.
As a noun and as a verb. The noun should be obvious. It's something we can hang on to. Something possessive. Something definite.

Full Definition of HOPE

1 archaic :  trust, reliance
2 a :  desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment <came in hopes of seeing you>; also :  expectation of fulfillment or success <no hope of a cure>
   b :  someone or something on which hopes are centered <our only hope for victory>
   c :  something hoped for 
I would venture a guess that most of us are familiar with the notion of hope.  There are certain things we want in life. Enough money to make it. Good health and a good report from the doctor. People to get along around the table this holiday. An avoidance of trouble. Most everything we list that we are hoping for could most likely go under that heading. If we could only avoid that problems coming our way. I think of the words to an old country song...

Trouble is
dark and cold and lonely
Trouble is
this big, half empty bed
Trouble is
there no one around to hold me
She's not here. Trouble is...

from the 1999 album "Tattoos & Scars" - Montgomery Gentry
Songwriters HOWELL/GAY
Published by Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Peermusic Publishing, BMG RIGHTS MANAGEMENT US, LLC

Here's the intersection of trouble and hope. 
The cross roads at times might lead you to believe that there is no turn lane. You feel as if you can't get off the troubled road, even if you wanted to. It makes me think of the intersection of High and Broad in downtown Columbus. There are only certain times of the day when you are actually allowed to turn. Most of the day you need to simply keep traveling straight. Even if you wanted to get off the crazy, troubled road you're on, there is no choice. If the sign says you can't turn right now, then you can't turn right now. What is it about trouble that keeps us locked in our lane while feeling there is no ability to escape? We should probably look at that word, too.

Full Definition of TROUBLE

transitive verb
1 a :  to agitate mentally or spiritually :  worry, disturb
   b (1) archaic :  mistreat, oppress (2) :  to produce physical disorder in :  afflict <troubled by a cold>
   c :  to put to exertion or inconvenience <I'm sorry to trouble you>
2:  to put into confused motion <the wind troubled the sea>
intransitive verb
1:  to become mentally agitated :  worry <refused to trouble over trifles>
2:  to make an effort :  be at pains <did not trouble to come>
It was interesting to see that both words - hope and trouble - both come in noun and verb forms.
They can be possessive. Something definite. Something to lay your hands upon. A thing. A person. But they are both used in an action form. Trouble is something that we do. And, it's something that we have.

Full Definition of TROUBLE

1:  the quality or state of being troubled especially mentally
2:  public unrest or disturbance <there's trouble brewing downtown>
3:  an instance of trouble <used to disguise her frustrations and despair by making light of her troublesCurrent Biography>
4:  a state or condition of distress, annoyance, or difficulty <in trouble with the law> <heading for trouble> <got into financial trouble>: as
   a :  a condition of physical distress or ill health :  ailment <back trouble> <heart trouble>
   b :  a condition of mechanical malfunction <engine trouble>
   c :  a condition of doing something badly or only with great difficulty <has trouble reading> <has trouble breathing>
   d :  pregnancy out of wedlock <got a girl in trouble>
5:  an effort made :  pains <took the trouble to do it right>
6 a :  a cause of distress, annoyance, or inconvenience <don't mean to be any trouble> <what's the trouble?>
   b :  a negative feature :  drawback <the trouble with you is you're too honest> <the main trouble with electronic systems is the overreliance on them — John Perham>
   c :  the unhappy or sad fact <the trouble is, I need the money>
Pregnancy out of wedlock...that's an actual line of definition for trouble? 
Wow. Now, we might have some idea of why the scripture says that Mary was greatly troubled when the angel came and announced with the words, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” I have spoken with many about the opening words to the letter of James. 

James 1:2

New International Version (NIV)

Trials and Temptations

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds,

Oh hey! I'm just jumping up and down. YEAH!! Here comes trouble!
I don't see Mary doing this when the angel speaks to her. She is greatly troubled. You probably would be too. The whole idea of raising a child can be a difficult matter. Especially if you didn't plan for it. Especially if an angel just appears out of nowhere. Especially if the idea of God wanting to speak to you comes off as a omnibus, formidable presentation. Jewish people know their history. They know where they come from. Their existence has not exactly been one of great honor and privilege. There were a few good years. There were a few good kings. There was also bondage to a foreign country and exclusion from their homeland. When God spoke, it seemed, bad things happened. Prophets died. Countries rose up. People were carried off. In their present situation, these people called Romans are on top of them. Their country, their homeland, is not their own. So, pardon the young maiden if she doesn't come off as joyous and gleeful. 

Life will do that to us. We are entrenched in the idea that there is no turn lane. Or, that the road ahead is just going to be bad and that's all you can do about it. You just call it bad and deal with it. Be miserable. I used to know a guy at the Nazarene church up in Shelby, a Dr Curren I think his name was. Every Sunday morning he'd meet you coming in the sanctuary. "How you doing today?" Ok I'm ok. How are you? "I'm mirrable." If it was your first time hearing that word, you'd say - What's that? "Oh, that's about half way between miserable and terrible." And, that's what he'd tell you every Sunday. Right there in God's house. Yippee. Life is terrible and I'm going to tell everyone. 

Hope. It's something we long after.
But, all too often we long for it and have no idea how to put the word in actual motion.
Remember I said earlier it was a noun and a verb. Hadn't showed you the verb form yet.

Full Definition of HOPE

intransitive verb
1:  to cherish a desire with anticipation <hopes for a promotion>
2 archaic :  trust
transitive verb
1:  to desire with expectation of obtainment
2:  to expect with confidence :  trust 

Notice how detailed and strung out the definition on trouble is and how simplistic the definition of hope is. If it's intransitive, then it's something you can do on your own. What is it you cherish? What is it you desire? What are you anticipating? What are you putting your trust in? Is it something that is worth your trust? Is it something you can actually see coming to fruition?

Mary knows in her heart that if an angel came and told it to her, then most likely, this is going to happen. We don't always get the billboard sign moments. Many times we get the feeling or the wisdom that something will happen. Soon, she will be with Joseph. It will take him some time to come around. He will have his own vision. Then it will be transitive. The two of them together will hope for what the Lord has promised. Do you have someone to lean on? Do you have the hand of someone who can hope with you? When we hope, we expect with confidence. I have a hard time being confident on my own. But, I can do it with someone else in which to depend on. 

We have gathered here tonight and I hope that it is not with the same hum drum of ritual in mind. Do you want a better world; a world without trouble? If I could ask you what you really want this year and then pray with you, and hope with you, would that be the first step toward a better world? If I could sing a song with you, would that bring hope? Would it keep our hearts in tune as we look towards a moment when we are all forgiven and free? Maybe a song like this would do it for us.

"Better Days"

And you ask me what I want this year
And I try to make this kind and clear
Just a chance that maybe we'll find better days
Cause I don't need boxes wrapped in strings
And designer love and empty things
Just a chance that maybe we'll find better days

So take these words
And sing out loud
Cause everyone is forgiven now
Cause tonight's the night the world begins again

I need someplace simple where we could live
And something only you can give
And thats faith and trust and peace while we're alive
And the one poor child who saved this world
And there's 10 million more who probably could
If we all just stopped and said a prayer for them

So take these words
And sing out loud
Cause everyone is forgiven now
Cause tonight's the night the world begins again

I wish everyone was loved tonight
And somehow stop this endless fight
Just a chance that maybe we'll find better days

So take these words
And sing out loud
Cause everyone is forgiven now
Cause tonight's the night the world begins again
Cause tonight's the night the world begins again

As we come and partake in communion tonight, we do so in remembrance of the One who makes forgiveness and new beginnings possible.

As we take a candle, we take hope into our hands. We sing of His birth. We sing of His truth, His love. We cover ourselves with faith. We lift up the light and we do not forget. 

Nobody knows the trouble we've seen.
But, hope is possible. And, we rejoice at the view point from here.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Finding Your Light

Don't miss what's right in front of you.

In the dark. All alone. Feeling like there is no way out and no where to go.

The feelings associated with this moment can be applied to many ranges of emotion and social situations. Have you ever felt alone? Felt like you were in the dark? Have you ever lacked the ability to know which direction you should go?

Of all the situations that could fit into these parameters the moment of being bullied is what comes to mind at this moment. Have you ever been bullied? Threatened? Spoken to harshly or tried to be controlled by another person's words or emotions? What does that do to your own emotions? How do feel when someone says things to you in this manner, or even physically harms you to get their point across?

By the time these words in the Gospel of John are penned around 90 A.D. the persecution phase of Christianity is well under way. The Romans would have come in around 70 A.D. and level Jerusalem. Many Jews were either killed or dragged away into some kind of slavery or servitude. 20 years after, the Apostle John is said to have his vision we call the Book of Revelation. Around that same time the words to this gospel are penned. Most likely, they are a rendering of teacher to student/scribe. The wording in much of this gospel suggests that John, "the disciple whom Jesus loved", is recalling the stories and messages on top of what has already been shared in the Synoptics. Matthew, Mark, and Luke were penned during a more peaceful time. John doesn't have that luxury. His words are written down after the hardship has begun, in a time when it's not popular to be a follower of the One True God. Listen to words in that context.

John 1:6-8

New International Version (NIV)
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

John the Apostle is writing about John the Baptist. In the midst of a time when it is not popular to be one who follows, the Apostle writes about one who follows any way. The Romans were not the first to badger and jostle with one's faith. The Baptist has chosen to follow God is a recluse way. He is not standing in the temple courtyard, donned in fine clothes or serving feasts from gold plates. Here stands a man who is off in the exact opposite direction. Wearing sackcloth. Covered in camel's hair. What must the people think? Boy, there's a matter that we could grovel about for awhile. What. People. Think. My stomach just turns at the thought of what people think sometimes. History is written by those outside of the realm of knowing and feeling. The words we read are penned by someone who wants to remember John the baptist as fearless and courageous. But, we know our own emotions, and if John is human like you and I, then I would venture to guess he is not completely confident in what he is doing.

Listen to the rest of our scripture today and see if the subject of bullying might fit into the context you see.

John 1:19-28

New International Version (NIV)

John the Baptist Denies Being the Messiah

19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders[a] in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”
21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.”
22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”[b]
24 Now the Pharisees who had been sent 25 questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
26 “I baptize with[c] water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”
28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

It's not just anybody who comes to do the questioning. It's the "priests and Levites". These are people who have been sworn to teach the law and uphold it. When someone goes against the grain of religious thought and life, they are the first to speak up and question what is going on. Religious practice is done at the temple. The way of life they know revolves around the temple mount in Jerusalem. Why then has this man decided to wander around the desolate places, far outside the city, and baptize people in the Jordan River? Looking at it through the eyes of the religious leaders does not give permission to their actions, but at least some understanding to their thoughts. Who is this guy? Why is he standing out here, so far from the Temple? Why is he dressed like this? Baptizing in this fashion is not something we would normally practice. Nothing wrong with it. But, there's just something not right about this guy. 

I personally know the misunderstanding that ensues from those in the wondering state. I decided early on that I wanted to be when I grew up. Entering Jr High school I knew how important this subject of Jesus was to me. Those two years of 7th & 8th grade were truly formational to my faith. Baptized in 7th grade, I then decided in 8th grade what direction I wanted to go in life. I was going to be a pastor someday. I had direction, but I had no light. It's kind of hard to go when you cannot see where you are going. I grew up around church. Other than 2-3 years of doing my own thing after high school the church life is all I have known. It was not until I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Saviour around 1992 that light really came on. I compare the years prior that as being in the dark with a tiny flashlight and the batteries are dying. A person really can't see much in that frame. As we approached June of 1992, the light came on. Jesus came in and everything I felt or thought had been confirmed. I was called to ministry. I was supposed to go to college. Standing behind a pulpit is what I was supposed to do with my life. All it took was allowing Jesus to come in and turn the light on.

Those years in Jr High school were rough though. I didn't really know or understand who Jesus was. I believed, but I didn't know what I believed. However, that did not stop Mr Big Mouth here from telling everyone, especially those I was playing 8th grade football with, what I was going to be someday. That did not go over well. I can remember one day before school started...  We were to stay down on the first floor of this ancient three story building. I was putting stuff into a locker and had my head down as I was in a squatting position in front of a locker. Someone came up from behind and kick me squarely in the rear, sending my head into the locker and both collarbones right into the metal of the locker itself. Needless to say, that hurt. Drop kick punted right into a locker. Kids can be cruel. Adolescent kids are probably the most susceptible to not taking the time to understand or listen to where another person is coming from. In doing so, we damage other people. We hurt them emotionally. We scar them physically. And, we cheapen the human experience. In the framework of Jr High and Middle School, kids start turning to what they can find to ease the pain. Drugs. Peer pressure. I tend to believe that bullying is the real response of an insecure person who is simply finding a way to stand on top of the pile of adolescent humanity so as not to get picked on themselves. The bully is just as insecure as the one taking the punishment. Both people are searching for light. 

Both of our Johns are searching for light. Something they can hang on to. Something that brings hope. That's all we really want. Something that will show us the way and tell us it's all ok. We need to know where we are going. In the face of ridicule and bullying, The Baptist knows where to stand. He knows he is not the light. He simply points to the One who is. If you have been in the midst of a situation involves poking & prodding, and uneasy place of ridicule and strife, the best thing you can do is find your light. We need something we can lean on and depend on. We need words to deliver. Finding your light involves finding the words to say in a situation that might otherwise leave us speechless. And, if words cannot be used, let our actions point the way.

We walk in the light as He is in the light.
Peter would state that....

1 Peter 2:23-25

New International Version (NIV)
23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,”[a] but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Jesus would state that He is the light that is coming into the world.
Then he would turn to his followers and say that they are the light of the world. A city sitting on a hill cannot be hidden. It gives off light and people know where to find their hope and peace. 

How can we be light to a darkened world?
How can we give hope and peace to others?

We have to find our light first.
The shining forth can only take place when the light is the center of our lives.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Hope of Preparing

Straight paths begin as crooked roads.

Preparations don't just all of the sudden become as they are.
Everything has a beginning. Even preparations. Especially preparations.
Preparations are the beginnings of something that will come to pass.
Whenever we are going to have guests over to the house it is never something that we just throw together at the last second. My wife plans it out. Sometimes weeks ahead, so that she can plan the meal. The shopping list she sends me to the store with will include items that she might not plan to use for another 2 weeks. Sometimes it drives me a little batty that we are planning that far ahead. I am the spontaneous personality in our relationship. She tends to schedule everything out. But, then I find that even when i think I'm being spontaneous there was much preparation, in my head, that went into the moment of springing the idea upon my unsuspecting love. It's only 'spontaneous" because I hadn't shared any of the preparations with her.

Life tends to be like that for us humans. Spontaneous. Sometimes we have it all planned out. We get to see things happening and we are pleased with the flow of events, even if they are bitter, because we were anticipating their approach. We could prepare for them. We know we can handle what's coming at us. Then there are those moments that come up and slap you up side the face. The spontaneous in life always has a way of spoiling our fun. We want to be prepared and ready for everything. Sometimes there is no way to prepare for the moment. It comes at us. We endure it. We get through it. And, as hard as it may be, we need to move on from it. We are not asked to linger in the wake. We need to learn for our experiences and move along.

What can scripture teach us about preparing?
It is in this time of the year that we hear these words most often. Let us look at them now.

Mark 1:1-8

New International Version (NIV)

John the Baptist Prepares the Way

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah,[a] the Son of God,[b] as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way”[c]
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’”[d]
And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with[e] water, but he will baptize you with[f] the Holy Spirit.”

John the Baptist is a whole load of spontaneousness rolled up in preparation.
He is only spontaneous to those who weren't ready to see a guy walking around wrapped up in sackcloth and camel hair. God had been planning this moment for some time. In reference to Jesus, the disciple & apostle John would say that "he came to those who were his own, and his own did not receive him". No, the people were not ready for this moment. To them it was completely spontaneous. This guy shows up walking around in the desert, baptizing people in the Jordan, yelling something about repentance, and all the while disturbing the nice plan that was going on in everyone's minds. The people probably had preparations in place. Their daily grind. Their work. Their families. Their own problems to maintain and solve. Now this. In a "stop what you're doing moment" they are cautioned to drop everything and come respond to a call of preparation. Something great is coming. Something people had forgotten about. In all the prep work of life the message that salvation is near got lost in the shuffle. 

What is so great about preparation any way? How does preparation bring hope?
Ask anyone. The OCD person who has to have everything just so, or the person who is ok with things being sprung on them, and you'll find the prep work is not something anybody cherishes. Just ask my wife. She has to have everything just so-so. She likes to have all in place and ready to go. It's not really a joyous process. Not for her. Not for anybody in the house. Getting ready for guests or getting ready for something at school, it's a hard thing to ask someone to be joyous and happy through this time. Peace is fleeting. It is in moments like this that we need peace as we go through it. We can't wait to get through the moment and out the other end so that we can find peace. Some moments are not meant to be traveled so quickly. 

The story is told of a young man who approached the foreman of a logging crew and asked for a job. “That depends,” replied the foreman. “Let’s see you fell this tree.”The young man stepped forward, and skilfully felled a great tree. Impressed, the foreman exclaimed, “You can start Monday.” Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday rolled by — and Thursday afternoon the foreman approached the young man and said, “You can pick up your pay check on the way out today.” Startled, the young man replied, “I thought you paid on Friday.” “Normally we do,” said the foreman. “But we’re letting you go today because you’ve fallen behind. Our daily felling charts show that you’ve dropped from first place on Monday to last place today.” “But I’m a hard worker,” the young man objected. “I arrive first, leave last, and even have worked through my coffee breaks!” The foreman, sensing the young man’s integrity, thought for a minute and then asked, “Have you been sharpening your axe?” The young man replied, “No sir, I’ve been working too hard to take time for that!” Our lives are like that. We sometimes get so busy that we don’t take time to “sharpen the axe.” In today’s world, it seems that everyone is busier than ever, but less happy than ever. Why is that? Could it be that we have forgotten how to stay sharp?

Moments like those transpiring in Ferguson, MO still are rocking our headlines. How do you prepare for the events that taken place in this suburb of St Louis? Life comes at us with the news and decisions that we might not agree with. People stood on the lawn out front of the court house for days waiting. What was going through the minds of the people? There were preparations being made. People were already saying in their hearts that if the decisions went this way or that they would respond this way or that. The rioting that ensued might seem spontaneous to some, because they weren't prepared for it. Some might not have thought in their minds that people could do such things. So did prepare though. The police were out front, waiting, watching. They anticipated that some were going to respond in a harsh manner.

There's hope spreading around Ferguson, Missouri, with many in the community refusing to let the demonstrations and violence of earlier in the week affect their holiday weekend. They're channeling protests over the Michael Brown case into positive energy, reports CBS News correspondent Mark Strasssmann. Cathy Daniels is known as "Mama Cat." The 51 year-old Navy wife was up at 1 a.m. Thanksgiving morning to cook dinner for her large, extended family -- the hundreds of Ferguson protesters she adopted as her own two months ago. "This is a labor of love for real," Daniels said. "Food is a strengthener, so when I can feed my family and they're strong, we are going to be ready for the fight." She normally cooks for them on Sundays. But this dinner was special for two reasons -- Thanksgiving, and the first "family" meal since Ferguson erupted earlier that week. "Our souls are bruised but it's not broken. And it's not a black thing. It's not a white thing. It's not Hispanic, Asian. It's all of us together," she said.

Preparations involve more than one. When my wife has plans mounting up on her shoulders I will admit that I used to get a bit huffy. I used to blame her for getting all bent out of shape. It was all her fault. She didn't have a great attitude about it all, I would entreat.  Well, how was I handling it? What kind of attitude was I bringing to the party? What my wife needed was some support. A hug. Someone to mop the floor or fold a basket of laundry. Something to help take the weight off her shoulders for a bit. How we respond to the trouble is our lives has everything to do with preparation. Because, this isn't the only time we are going to be faced with trouble. It will find it's way into our lives again. And, how we responded to it last time will most certainly have an influence on how we respond to it the next time trouble rears it's ugly head.

A girl named Mary suddenly had an angel appear and tell her she was going to have a baby.
How Mary responded to the message prepared her for what lie ahead. Her family would not understand. After the child was born, a priest at the temple would tell her that the child was destined to cause the rising and falling of many in Israel. And, a sword would pierce her own soul too. She watched the boy grow up. She saw him wander away as a young boy and get lost in the temple for a day. All the searching, the looking, the wondering, it must have tried her heart. Then, the day her son left home to fulfill the work God had set before him. Messages come back about him wandering through Israel. People being healed. People finding hope. People not happy with him. People wanting to harm him or even kill him. All of it was preparation. Finally she would see her son in the most awful of places. Hanging on a cross. The words John the Baptist had spoke. The message she had been given from the earliest moments of her baby's birth, now converge on the hill called Calvary. How would she respond? Was she prepared to face the trouble that lie ahead?

There is hope in preparation.
A hope that comes to us in our darkest moments and carries us to a place of peace.
We light a candle to remind us that the light is still on. One stands for hope. Another means peace. If we are in those dark moments of life, we look for the light and we find it. Because we have trained ourselves that even when life seems spontaneous, God has been making plans all along. He is walking beside of us. He is there to carry us. We can expect it. We long for it.

And God does not disappoint.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Hope of Watching

What are you waiting for?

It's a time of expectation. A time of wondering and watching.
We often talk about Jesus and his birth. That is what we are here to celebrate and remember at this time of the year. It would be helpful to note that Jesus' birth has already happened, though. Advent is a time of looking forward. If we are expecting something to come or to happen, and Jesus' birth has already happened, then what are we waiting and watching for?

This year for Advent I'm paying attention to the lectionary scriptures.
On this first Sunday of the Advent season the scripture comes to us from the Gospel of Mark.
And, it's not a happy-shiny piece.

Mark 13:24-37

New International Version (NIV)
24 “But in those days, following that distress,
“‘the sun will be darkened,
    and the moon will not give its light;
25 the stars will fall from the sky,
    and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’[a]
26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.
28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it[b] is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

The Day and Hour Unknown

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert[c]! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”

 Pain. Sorrow. Heartache.
Are these the things we have to look forward too?

The famous notion is that "things are going to get worse before they get better".
As I read through the passage for today the first thing that comes to mind is Ferguson and situations similar to it. When travesty comes to the forefront of your life and unexplainable events rock your world the natural response can be to react in inexplicable ways. Things certainly got worse before they got better in Ferguson. (Not that anything has gotten "better" yet.) I cannot imagine living in the midst of an environment where people think it's ok to just do whatever you want and act however you want to act just because somebody else didn't get the outcome they wanted in life. That's important to note. All the people doing the looting and rioting...the court decision had nothing to actually do with any one of them. Sometimes people will use any opportunity to simply be ridiculous. The man who is going away in our scripture seems to have some idea as to the unpredictability of human beings in this world. Anything can happen. He puts his servants in charge before he goes and tell them to keep watch. But, what are they watching for?

The events in Ferguson makes me think of another timely word. Apocalypse.
We are familiar with the word because of the grand scale that any Hollywood movie uses on/with the subject. In religious circles, we use the word to speak of the final destruction of the earth, especially those events laid out for us to read in a book like Revelation. The word is also used in a more general sense to speak of an event involving destruction or damage on an awesome or catastrophic scale. During this time of the year we tend to think of a sweet little baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. But, there were moments of catastrophic proportion in those fleeting moments of the Savior's birth. King Herod had issues with the birth of "The King" happening in nearby Bethlehem. Somewhere in those first couple of years, but after the moment when Jesus and his family go to Egypt, soldiers are sent to Bethlehem to kill every first born child under the age of two years. A hateful sign from the current king that the throne would not be shared or given away to any one else.

People in the early Gospel story and all the way back into the Old Testament account were living in a sense of "advent". They were looking forward to a time when a "savior" would come and rescue them, set them free, from the rule of the Roman government lording over their heads. But, that waiting was not without it's trials and test to their faith. This period of time between the Old and New testament accounts is known as time of the Maccabees. This Jewish family would stand up for themselves and their country in the face of that Roman power seeking to over rule the Hebrew people. War ensued. The time of holiday known as Hanukkah is celebrated by the Jewish people still to this day. A candle staff with eight holders is used to remember the days of fighting the Maccabees did with the Romans. Oil was used to keep those candles lit. And, the oil did not run out. Finally, the Romans give up, thinking the Maccabees and the Jews are a pest not worth their time or their resources to overthrow at the current moment. The persistence and perseverance of a few seems to reflect the servants Jesus refers to in the Mark passage. Watching. Waiting. Protecting. Keeping the days against the evil that seeks to tear the house down.

I saw news footage on Friday of a man in Ferguson who took a stand against the rioters. Some people out on the interstate decided they would set up a roadblock because they did not like the decision that the courts gave on the matter of the police officer's shooting & killing a young black man. The man in question got out of his car and decided to confront those making a line across the road, not letting anybody drive through. This man had a job to get to and a family to support. Instead of just allowing people to make decisions for others and causing the people around them to suffer, this one man decided enough was enough. He got into faces and forced people to move. The police force showed up soon after and cleaned up the scene and got traffic flowing again. But, I was moved by this one man who felt the need to stand up against the flow. The courage to stand up against the atrocities of our world comes from a place not natural to ourselves. Atrocity sometimes begets atrocity. It multiplies and adds to the level of wickedness in the original or previous situation. The only way to combat it is to be ever watchful and assert the necessary influence to said situation so as to defuse the power of obscenity and violation, stopping it in it's tracks. 

Advent is a time of watching. The people who were looking for a savior were watching.
They kept their eyes open and saw the signs. They were aware that something great was happening in their midst. Jesus tells his followers that one day he will return. He also tells them to watch the signs. The signs will be impossible to miss. War. Famine. Rumors of war. Neighbor taking up sword against neighbor. Senseless acts of violence that leaves one wondering where the good in the world really is. Natural disasters they leave us in awe and sadness at the unfeeling power of nature itself. Advent and apocalypse are unlikely kin that need each other in order to make sense. Take it literally or figuratively and the viewpoint is still the same. Have you seen the sun go out and the moon not shining? Have you witnessed the stars falling or the heavenly bodies being shaken? People in Ferguson have, watching stores being looted and their town tore up by rioting. People in New Orleans have when a hurricane blew their city down and buried it in water. People in New York have, when two planes flew into a pair of towers, bringing rubble and cement raining down upon unlikely bystanders.Travesty comes when we least expect it. 

Watching does not afford us the luxury of avoiding the trouble that lie ahead. 
What watching does do is prepare us for what is coming toward us.

Wouldn't it be nice to have a device or a person who could tell you what was coming and get you ready for any hurt or cut or scrape? Well, it doesn't quite work like that. Again, we aren't going to magically avoid any of this and we don't have some protection policy in place to cure us from all the hurts of the world. This is all to say, we are going through the hurts and pains and the agony. Through it. Not around it. Or under or over it. We are going to walk right through it. I've had this conversation with my boy since he was old enough to walk.He doesn't look where he's going. He walks right into things that are on the floor. Dog toys. Shoes. A clothes basket. The child has narrowly missed hitting his head several times on the edge of a table or scraping himself on another object lying on the floor. Aren't we all guilty of not watching? We are mesmerized by what's on the TV screen. We think what's going on behind us is more important than looking where we are going. "Whoever put his hand to plow and looks back..." I wonder if those doing the protesting in Ferguson are looking where they are going. Do they realize they are about trip over even harder times and cause their town to slip into an economic and socialistic downfall. Fox News reporter Charlie LeDuff was live at the release of the news that the grand jury had acquitted the police officer in Ferguson. Many people saw what was coming. Rioting might happen. LeDuff was not concerned so much with 'getting the story' as much as he wanted to caution those waiting outside on the courthouse lawn. "I was present in Detroit when the riots happened there. I lived through it. We never recovered. We were never the same." 

The truth about watching where we are going is this - we have a chance to respond and react as we walk over and through the travesties. If we're not watching where we are going, then we walk right into it and get hurt or lost in what's going on. The servants in the house have been entrusted with the care of the homestead until the master returns. What are we doing with what we have here? Churches go through their own "Ferguson" at times. We riot because we don't like decisions that are being made. We get concerned with getting what we want out of the situation. We don't care about other people's feelings and what others have worked so hard to achieve, long before we were ever on the scene. All we seem to care about is the here and now. Give me what I want the way I want it. We walk head long into the travesty and become part of the problem, not the solution. If we had truly been watching, we would have entered the fray cautiously, tentatively. Instead we enter with a fist full of hate and a mind full of revenge. We do not enter as servants looking to care for the creation. We enter as thieves looking to get what we can for ourselves. 

What we are looking for is a way to solve the hurts of the world around us.
What we are looking for is a savior who will return, and in doing so, will lead us to greener pastures and brighter tomorrows. In watching, we increase our faith. And, we believe the day will come.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Thanksgiving Benefits

Thornville Community
Thanksgiving Service

We're going to raise some funds!

Ours scripture this evening uses some interesting wording that I think we should consider...

2 Corinthians 4:15-16

New International Version (NIV)
15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

We all want them. 
We want to go to a job where we know that our needs will be met and our wants covered.  
We want to make enough money to give us the car we want and while having enough to put food on the table and still, just maybe, be able to take that vacation we so desperately need. We want health care. We want a co-pay we can handle and coverage so that if anything happens to go wrong with our bodies we can make sure the doctor gets paid and our ills and woes are taken care of so we can get back on our feet. 

We all want them. But, do we realize what we are really asking for?
Maybe a closer look at the word would do us some "benefit".

Full Definition of BENEFIT

1 archaic :  an act of kindness :  benefaction
2 a :  something that promotes well-being :  advantage
   b :  useful aid :  help
3 a :  financial help in time of sickness, old age, or unemployment
   b :  a payment or service provided for under an annuity, pension plan, or insurance policy
   c :  a service (as health insurance) or right (as to take vacation time) provided by an employer in addition to wages or salary
4:  an entertainment or social event to raise funds for a person or cause 
Hey, right off the top comes a line that could create a whole sermon to itself. A benefit can be "an act of kindness". That's right up God's alley. Paul writes in our scripture tonight that grace is reaching out. Through God's grace, people are being drawn closer to God. This is a moment that brings thanksgiving. God is to be praised. God comes first in our lives.

But, this time of year is not one that comes without trials and hurt and pain. 
Paul would state that we are not to lose heart. But it is so easy to do so. Recently, I have done several funerals for people in this area. This time of year is one where we have been raised to practice the belief that our family should come together and be together during these special moments of Thanksgiving. There are meals to be eaten. Football games to be watched. Shopping to be done. Presents to be opened. Our family is supposed to be with us in these times. But, how do we cope when we no longer have that special someone there to be with us anymore? 

This time of year can be a painful moment and Paul seems to reflect that integral thought. "though outwardly we are wasting away..." Life here is temporary. It doesn't last forever. Some of our blessings don't last forever either. A benefit is also thought of as time of financial help for those in a time of sickness, or old age, or unemployment. Yes, people get sick. One moment we are in our prime, The next we are struggling with the dreaded indecency called cancer. One moment we are working our job, providing for our family. The next, we find ourselves with a pink slip and long line at the unemployment office. If you've been there, you know the heartache and the heart break. How will you make it? How will you provide for those you love? Where will the next meal come from?

The American dream tells us we need a big house, with a wife, two kids, two cars, two dogs, a piece of land, maybe in the country, a few acres of land. So many of the things we get in this world cause us so much grief later on. Kids who don't listen. A mortgage that seems to have no end. Vehicles that break down and need to be fixed. A house that seem to always need something redone or remodeled. The things we consider benefits can seem to be burdens. This life is not without it's trials and temptations. We want more. We need more. We find things we think we can't go without. 

Until we realize...
Benefits are really temporary. Thanksgiving is what lasts forever.
Maybe we've had it all wrong. If we want things that don't break down, things that have lasting significance, moment that have no end, maybe we've been looking in the wrong place. The moment we accept that this world is temporary and that things here don't last forever is the moment when we turn to find a place where things do last forever. We look inward and we realize that there is something eternal. A soul. A spirit. Beyond the fragile frame of existence on this human plane we find that there is something worth seeking. God, in his grace, has been drawing us toward it all along. 

A benefit is also thought of as a service or a right provided by an employer in addition to employment. We so easily think we are entitled to certain things. We deserve certain blessings. Jesus would say, "Store up your blessings in heaven", "Forget about yourself, think of others first", "Deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow me" Paul would reflect those sentiments in his words. "Therefore, don't lose heart" Yes, this world is temporary. Outwardly, we are wasting away. People will get sick. People might lose their jobs. People might not have enough to eat. But, this world is not where we are staying. This world is not our home. Yet, while we are here, while we exist on this plane of life, we can have peace, and be peace for and to others. Though we are wasting away outwardly, inwardly we are being renewed. By showing kindness to someone, we renew ourselves inwardly. By putting a plate of food in front of someone, we make it possible to believe and have hope. This is how the world will know that we are Jesus' disciples, if we love one another. Loving one another transforms us. It gives us hope to carry on.

On Facebook just today, I see a friend who posts about her dad, who passed away a year ago. "Happy first birthday in heaven, dad" When our focus goes outward instead of inward, dwelling on any earthly pain or hurt, we find peace. We become peace for others to find. We live in the benefit of thanksgiving. We find the ultimate place for our souls to dwell. A place called grace.

I told you at the outset that we were going to raise some funds. It wasn't fundraiser you thought it was going to be. I have no check to lay in your hand. The benefits I speak of cannot be cashed in for that trip to DisneyWorld. There's only one place these benefits make sense. 

This pension plan ends at the throne of the One with ultimate policy.

The Thanksgiving of the Tithe

Just try and out-give God. 

One of the best examples of giving that was dropped into my life was a man named Jay Hawes,

I really wish you could have met him. I remember him as a happy, go-lucky guy.
Heart of gold. Passion-filled. Heart on fire for God. Preaching was not his gift. Some of those early sermons were rough. (Maybe all of us preachers go through that.) One major area he was gifted in was finance. When he came to the Shelby Church of the Nazarene in 1992 one of the first things he did was help organize the budget. As with any church, there can be financial issues about where money should go and how things get paid. He straightened all of that out and got a good plan in motion that allowed the church to start thinking about the future. He had a good head on his shoulders. Jay had spent several years working for UPS. I heard many a story about being "brown blood". (You've probably noted those brown uniforms they wear.) The job was not easy. Jay always seemed to take the hard tasks in life and interject them with his brand of fun and laughter. I'm a better person today for having known him.

Jay and his family came to the Shelby area from up around Cleveland. He grew up and spent his early years between Ashtabula and Cleveland. It was during those UPS years that he got this idea about trying to "out-give God". I don't recall exactly how it happened. Jay was a guy who set his mind on a thing and got that thing done. At one point, he had it mapped out where he was going to be a millionaire by the time he was 40. He knew what to do and how much to put away every week so that by the time his 40th birthday got here, the work would be done. But, then God called him into ministry and he had to leave the UPS job behind. During those years while attending Cleveland First church, he got this idea about trying to give back something every time he noticed that God had blessed him with something. At first the notion started with a purely monetary push. He saw some money coming to him and recognized that God was blessing him. So, he would try to turn it around and give back. This started an endeavor that would almost break the happy, go-lucky guy.

On this Sunday, we have all gathered to note that we are thankful. What are we thankful for?
Lets take a look at our scripture for the days and see if there any lead ins for us to think about.

Malachi 3:10

New International Version (NIV)
10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.

Now, remember our context. In many cases there wasn't money. We think we know what poverty is? Go without anything but the food you are able to grow with your own blood, sweat and tears and you'll get the idea. There are some right here in Perry County, OH who are still living without running water or a  working bathroom. The Israelites have been in such a place in their time. You either lived in the luxury of the king with the upper crust of society or you lived in poverty. There wasn't a middle class to speak of in those days. And, still, they were required to tithe of what they had. The "whole tithe" in actuality was food. Grain and vegetables and perishable items were here in large quantities. God commands that it all be brought into the storehouse. The idea is that if the people will do as they are told, then God will do as God has said. Blessings will abound. 

If we widen our scope and see more of what the prophet is presenting to the people we will see that the message of thankfulness goes further than we could imagine. The message comes in the form of a challenge.

Breaking Covenant by Withholding Tithes

“I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.
“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’
“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.
“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’
“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. 11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. 12 “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.

We saw last week how the system of tithing was instituted by Moses during the second year of the Exodus. It has long been a tradition to give a tenth of what a person had back to the Lord. But, not all kept that covenant it seems. Instead of giving what they had, they withheld it and kept it for themselves. The Lord calls them out on it, too. Just like Jesus called the Pharisees and teachers of the law out in the Gospel accounts in Matthew and Luke.  Remember what Jesus said to them? They should tithe and they should also take care of those in need. The language here in Malachi sounds as if the tithe being brought into the storehouse is certainly not something to just sit on. God wants food in the house. People need to eat. If anyone was in need they could come to the king, to the those in leadership, and find what they needed. I find similarity from the language of this passage and the inspiration found in it at other points in scripture.

Matthew 25 - Here we see Jesus using a parable about sheep and goats. Jesus calls some of the people sheep that call upon others and meet their needs. Other he describes as goats who don't meet anybody's needs. "When did we see you blind, or poor, or in prison?" The people of Israel that Malachi is speaking to are said to ask
“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ See the blank stare? The blind glare, as if they don't know. They don't seem to think that they are doing anything wrong. The point is...we can't just do whatever we want to do, however we want to do it, and just expect God to put up with it. In fact, God will not just put up with it. God will point it out to us in uncomfortable ways. In this case, it's not just a poke and a prod, but with a challenge. C'mon, you all put everything you have into this and I'll bless you beyond your wildest dreams. The challenge is to simple do what is asked - tithe. Give back to God what is due to God. Not just the monetary note, but the thankfulness. There is a glad note of all that has been given to us in put God first. God bless us with all we have. And, the blessings don't stop there. Nor does God intend to stop blessing us. But, God must be first. Anything less than that is highway robbery. 

The other piece of scripture that came to mind was from Acts Chap 2 where the believers all put their belonging into a "community chest" and simply gave to others whatever they needed. The language in Malachi suggests that the blessing God wants to give the people will be so large that there won't be room enough to store it. And, why would you want to? Why would you store all this food and grain and animals? So we can sit here and look at it? If the blessings is so large that it can't be stored then you have to use it. Is there anybody in need? Let them take what they need. The scripture in Malachi suggests that the nations around them would look in on their situation and think of them as truly blessed, a "delightful land". When was the last time you thought of your church as a "delightful" place to be? Is there an attitude of giving that suggests that this a place where people can find love and an environment that will meet their needs?

There is thanksgiving in the tithe. The Apostle Paul would call for a cheerful giver. I knew such a man. Jay Hawes gave what he had and did it with a smile on his face. I recall him sharing his recollections about trying to out-give God. The scripture from Malachi was his inspiration. During his time attending at Cleveland First Church of the Nazarene, he got this idea that he could, in essence, out-give God. Every time he sensed he was being blessed in some way, he would turn it around and give back in some way. The whole idea significantly predated the "Pay It Forward" movement. There was a time when he noticed someone at church had slipped him some money to help pay for his schooling. He would turn that around and try to give the same amount of money back into the offering plate. But, it went further. Some one gave some food to his family in charity. He, in turn, either bought a gift card to a grocery store or bought some food himself and tried to give it to someone in need. The entire process was exhausting, Jay said. After weeks and months of trying to keep up, he realized he could not. The blessings were coming in at such a rapid rate that he couldn't stay on top of each and every one of them.

Or, maybe, the blessings had been there and now he was simply aware of what was going on. How many blessings slip by us without us actually realizing or considering where it came from? At this point, Jay was in full realization mode. And, the reality was staggering. Things he had prayed for were coming to be. A sick child in the family got well. How do you repay that? How does one turn that around and give back? Jay got creative. A visit to the hospital and the children's ward. A promotion on the job brought more income. His tithe at church went up a bit. Someone blessed him with tickets to a Cleveland Indians game. He couldn't make the game on that day, so he saw to it that a family who had never been to a game got the tickets instead. In the end, Jay would say that it nearly broke him. The sheer magnitude of trying to give back would be more than he could keep up with or have the income possible to spread around to every moment where he realized a blessing had come. 

But, it didn't stop him from trying. I think Jay Hawes really understood what the word thanksgiving actually meant. And, God continues to send his blessing long after Jay has left us. His life was snuffed out long before it was time. A tragic car accident would take his life a month after the attacks on the towers of 9/11. A couple years later, his wife Judy would succumb to cancer. Another life taken too soon. For three years while Jay was our pastor at the Shelby Church of the Nazarene, we became intimately acquainted with his kids, Jared, Jacob and Jaimee. Two ornery boys that were cut out of the same mold as their dad and a sweet redheaded girl who followed in her mama's steps. When the Hawes family left Shelby, they moved back up towards Cleveland. I recall Jared struggling with his faith a bit. Jacob never seemed to waver about his beliefs, but struggled with what he was called to do. Jaimee grew up before we knew it and found a young man named Sam who would become her husband. 

Jared would changed his name a bit a and go by "Jay" - a tribute to his father. Man, he even looks like his dad. Kinda freaky. Jared graduated seminary and is pastor at Faith Venture Church, a Nazarene congregation out in Colorado, of all places. Jacob has been working in ministry for several years. He is currently pastor at Hope Community, a campus ministry church of the Nazarenes connected to Toledo University. Jaimee and her husband Sam found their way to Virginia where Sam is lead worship pastor. I amazed at how well they all are doing. It is a harsh reality to lose your parents at such an early age. But, God has blessed all three of these kids mightily. I can't help but see it go all the way back to a moment when their dad, a "brown blood" UPS guy, realized that giving back to God was more important than focusing on himself. That blessings has continued to go on. The storehouse is way past being stocked. The blessings have over flowed to the point of three great kids and their own kids.

The attitude of giving finds it's home with thanksgiving and praise.
God comes first. The blessings will be impossible to miss.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Attitude of Giving

It's not why you do it. It's how you do it. 

Last week we opened the door on the subject of tithing and offerings.

As we did so we learned that there is little said or referred to about the subject prior to the Law of Moses. There are a few instances mentioned in Genesis, but nothing expository. Why Abraham felt the need to give a tenth. The reason it was important. There are some practices that we see in Genesis, such as building an altar and worship God, that aren't given much reason or meaning until we see Moses giving Law to the Israelites in Exodus and beyond. Tithing and offerings are another one of those subjects. We see people doing it, but we don't have much to go on.

As we get started this week, we will go to a not so familiar spot.
We'll get to the Law and what it has to say. Jesus spoke about tithing and offerings also. But, it was Paul speaking to Timothy near the end of the first letter the Apostle wrote to his student-son in the faith that will set the tone for us. Paul's letter was to Timothy, and is to us, a refresher course in all that one should believe and practice. It was to Timothy as a preacher and to us as Christians following the Savior. Lets see where it ties in with our giving.

1 Timothy 6:17-19

New International Version (NIV)
17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

What we want to see this week is not the legal aspect of why we give, but the attitude behind what we give. Are putting something in the offering plate because we think we are required to do so? OR, are we doing it because we want to give back; because we realized that God is most important? I think we should find where in the law our subject is first mention and then move forward from there.

It was during the second year of the Exodus that we see Moses instituting the system of tithing. When the Tabernacle was constructed, this mobile temple system that was put together while the Israelites were in the desert, it was here that Moses shows them the need to give a tenth of what they had. And, what they had was not much. Mostly, what they had was some grain. many of them had animals and livestock. They are in the desert. Money was scarce. An agricultural system was next to impossible in this environment. What did they have? Moses shows them the need to give out what they did have.

Leviticus 27:30-33

New International Version (NIV)
30 “‘A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord. 31 Whoever would redeem any of their tithe must add a fifth of the value to it. 32 Every tithe of the herd and flock—every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd’s rod—will be holy to the Lord. 33 No one may pick out the good from the bad or make any substitution. If anyone does make a substitution, both the animal and its substitute become holy and cannot be redeemed.’”

Why is it that Moses seems to think they need to learn this idea of tithing? What is so important about this mode of worship that the Israelites need grasp? Well, now that this Tabernacle is put together and they have a place to worship God the people need to now how to worship God. The answer to our quandary today is not in the why, but in the how. Worship is something that is to be done. It is not something that we just show up for. It is something that we do. Maybe you came out here today. I thank you for coming to this building this morning. Can't really do any of this without some people here. Otherwise, it looks rather funny to see some guy wandering around a room talking to no one. Thank you for being here. Now that you're here, what are you going to do? Just sit there? That might be stranger than me talking to an empty room. Now I'm talking to a room full of people and nobody is responding. They are just sitting there looking forward. None of this makes any sense unless we are doing something.

Ah, but some people get it. At least that much. We are here to do something. SO, they do it. They stand when they are supposed to stand. They sing when they are supposed to sing. They drop an envelope in a plate as it passes them. They repeat a prayer they have heard for years and have memorized the words to. It is the how we are to worship that eludes many of us. Lets look back at the story of Cain and Abel for a moment. Like many of stories we see back here in early Genesis, there are details left out. Sometimes I think I'm watching a 90's sitcom or dramedy. We've all seen those shows where people in the script seem to intentionally leave out pieces of conversation that if they would have just said this or communicated that then they wouldn't have the problem they have. That's what Cain and Abel feels like. It is shared that both Cain and Abel are about to give offerings to God. But, for some reason unknown to us, God doesn't smile down on Cain's offering. God seems to be happy with Abel's offering. What is it about Abel's offering that God seems to like? We are left out in the cold here. That 90's sitcom leaves out the piece of dialogue we are wanting to hear. It will take a little more digging to figure out what we want to know. 

29 times the word "tithe" is mentioned in the Old Testament (in the NIV).
Tithing and offerings were an important part of the religious system for the Hebrews in the Old Testament. They were required to give of what they had in order to return a blessing to God. In many cases they did not have money, so they gave of their livestock. They gave of what grain they had. The point was to help israel to see that God comes first in all they do. Now, we could get very legalistic here and state that because many fo them did not give money, then we don't have to give money either. Context, context, context. We need to understand the importance of tithing what we have. In our world today, we do have money. Money is a near essential to living in today's world. We are rooted in the New Testament world of thought and life. In thinking more about this tithing issue, what would Jesus have said to his listeners about the subject?

Matthew 23:23

New International Version (NIV)
23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.

Luke 11:42

New International Version (NIV)
42 “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.

In the matter of tithing and offerings, the subject is often raised, who are we giving this stuff to? Well, the matter is brought to a head here in the Gospels as Jesus confronts the religious leaders on the matters of giving. The Old Testament offers little in the way of law explaining the importance of giving connected with the outpouring of charity. However, there are verses like this from Deuteronomy chaps 14 & 15 that go into detail about tithes.

Deuteronomy 14:28-29

New International Version (NIV)
28 At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, 29 so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.

AH! Sounds like a community dinner to me! last night we put on one of our finest Thanksgiving dinners.  It takes people giving and sacrificing much to pull off what we did last night. I am blessed to know the folks in this church and how they give and give to make things work like these dinners. Listen to further commandment from Deut 15.

Deuteronomy 15:7-8

New International Version (NIV)
If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need.

There is a connection here between giving what we have in tithing and offerings and the directive to be charitable and help the poor. This is what God is all about. Meeting people's needs. God comes first. Our notion, our desire, is to give to God out of what he has given us. With that idea and commandment in mind, we use what we have given to God to, in turn, bless people around us. We make this clear sign that the things we have are not our own. We didn't have possession of them in the first place. Some day we will leave this earth and not own anymore, anyway. So, while we are here, we give to God and give to others. Jesus was clear with the religious leaders he dealt with that they should, in fact, tithe. Yes. That was there spiritual responsibility. Also, they were not to neglect from the fact that they should take care of those in need around them. The two go hand in hand. 

2 Corinthians 9:6-15

New International Version (NIV)

Generosity Encouraged

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written:
“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
    their righteousness endures forever.”[a]
10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

Now, some folks don't like putting this Corinthians passage into the tithing discussion. The issue of tithing is very legal minded one with all the ramification of punishment and consequences.  I cannot help but see all of this as spiritual practice. That's what we are hear from, aren't we? This whole thing is spiritual and not legal. We have been set free from the law. Jesus came to free us from the burden of carrying the law everywhere we go. Instead he has written the law on our hearts. We know what we are to do and we can do it joyfully. "My joy I give unto you" Giving and tithing are not subjects that should cause us grief and harm. They are an opportunity to worship God and put God first in all we do. Can you give a tenth of what you have with a cheerful heart? I'll tell you's a whole lot easier to do that in a setting where you know ministry is being done and peoples needs are being met. Youy know where you offering is going. I am blessed to have a financial team in our church that keeps people up to date on what's coming in and going out and where it's all going. Some treasurers and financial sects I have worked with in the past are so tight lipped and keep the checkbook so 'close to home' that nobody gets to see what's going on. That's a recipe for disaster there.

We give to God freely. We give to bless God and to be a blessing to others.
There's still more to discuss next week. And, there another chance to give freely from what God has given to you.