I Believe in Jesus Christ!

March 31, 2013

Charlestown United Methodist Church

Eastertide

Easter Day

I Believe in Jesus Christ!

Acts 10:34-43

I believe in Jesus Christ! Why? Because many secular, historian writers from 30 – 90 A.D., especially Josephus, wrote about a man who was crucified and came back to life. All of them could not have been in a conspiracy to fool the people.

I believe in Jesus Christ! Why? Because the Bible tells me about Jesus and the Bible is the inspired word of God. Besides, over and over again archeology has proven the facts in the Bible to be true.

I believe in the Risen Christ! Why? Because hundreds of eyewitnesses saw Jesus, not only before his crucifixion, but after his resurrection. They can’t all be wrong about such an extraordinary event. You see, people would not have remembered Jesus at all if it were not for his resurrection. How many people come back from the dead to show themselves before hundreds?

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15 the following: 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. [1] People saw the resurrection story unfold before their very eyes and as of Paul’s writing, many of those witnesses were still alive.

Michael Green wrote the truth when he said, “Christianity does not hold the resurrection to be one among many tenets of belief. Without faith in the resurrection, there would be no Christianity at all. The Jesus Movement would have fizzled out like a damp firecracker, if [Jesus] had not conquered death.”

Martin Luther, the great church reformer once wrote that “the gospel does not explain the resurrection. The resurrection explains why we have the gospels.” And it is the gospel that Peter is proclaiming in our scripture lesson today. Peter never let a chance pass him by to give a good sermon about the gospel of Jesus Christ. And his sermon to Cornelius and his household was no exception.

In our scripture today, Peter talks about the message of the gospel. He talks about the Messiah of the gospel. And lastly, he talks about the ministers of the gospel. More about this in a moment, but first would you pray with me?

PRAYER

It is on this day, this wonderful Easter Day, that we proclaim the good news of the Risen Savior. If you are a believer then you should be shouting for joy, because it means an eternity for your spiritual life. You will have the blessing of being in the presence and worshiping the almighty and powerful God for an eternity.

William Sangster, the great Methodist leader who helped guide Londoners through the horrors of the World War II bombings, fell ill to a disease that progressively paralyzed his body, and eventually his vocal cords. On the Easter just before he died, he managed to scribble this short note to his daughter: “How terrible to wake up on Easter and have no voice to shout, ‘He is Risen!’ But far worse,” he wrote, “to have a voice and not want to shout.”

Staying in the household of the Roman centurion Cornelius, Peter has a voice and tells the good news of the gospel. I believe in Jesus Christ! I believe in the Risen Savior!

As our scripture opens, Peter has just come to a revolutionary realization through a vision he had earlier in Chapter 10 on his way to Cornelius’ house that swept away the prejudice and indoctrination of generations of Judaism. Verse 34: I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men [and women] from every nation who fear him and do what is right.

In his vision, God had told Peter that what he creates is good. Therefore, not only Jews but all men and women, all Gentiles, all people like Cornelius and his household, could be saved through the price Jesus paid on the cross. God makes no distinction among nations or among people. All can be saved.

That phrase, God “accepts men and women from every nation who fear him and do what is right,” reminds us, too, that God goes ahead of us to prepare the way for the Gospel. Like Cornelius, there are no doubt an untold number of people around the globe or even in this church and community who are not far from the Kingdom.

These people love and fear God and sincerely do what is right in God’s eyes. Like Cornelius, they are lacking the final step of the way to God, which is the fullness of eternal life through Jesus Christ. They are near to the Kingdom; they just need to meet the King! They need to hear about Christ and come into a living relationship with him.

God, through the work of the Holy Spirit had been working on Cornelius’ heart to bring him to Jesus Christ even before Peter arrived. Even though Cornelius was a Gentile and a member of the military, the beginning of Chapter 10 tells us something about Cornelius. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. Cornelius and his family were ready to hear Peter talk about the message of the gospel.

Verses 36-37: Peter says, you know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached…

Look what Peter says to Cornelius. “You know the message.” Peter assumes that Cornelius and his family and friends already know something of the good news that Jesus preached. Jesus’ death and resurrection had only been a few years before.

Cornelius, who was living in Caesarea, only 65 miles from Jerusalem, had surely heard the stories of Jesus’ life and death. He heard them from some of the soldiers present at the crucifixion in Jerusalem during that fateful Passover week and that glorious resurrection Sunday.

As Peter continues his sermon, he talks about the Messiah of the gospel. Verses 38, 39 and 43: How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen….All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.

Peter is pointing out that what Jesus did was by the Holy Spirit who empowered him to free people from satanic possession. Note the connection between the devil and sickness: Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil.

This is a short summary statement, and we cannot build a whole doctrine on it, but clearly Peter thinks that behind most disease and sicknesses is the devil. God is not the one who sends sickness! God will use all things and turn them around for good. Jesus came to heal and to make whole and to destroy the works of the devil. Jesus came to break Satan’s stronghold and power over us and give us renewed hope and a new life.

Now comes the most concise account of the gospel story in the New Testament. Peter knows it. He witnessed it. He tells it. They killed Jesus. God raised him from the dead on the third day. God caused Jesus to be seen. Whoever believes in Jesus will be forgiven and saved. This is about as crisp an account of the gospel story that anyone could give.

Folks, the gospel story isn’t hard to tell. Peter lays it out for you right here. Peter makes it quite plain that God is the one who sent Israel and the entire world this message of salvation by Jesus Christ.

The truth is this. Jesus is the anointed one of God. It was declared by God at his baptism. Jesus is the Messiah. He was sent by God and it is by him and only him that you and I are saved from a spiritual death removed from the presence of God. Remember John, Chapter 3: Whoever believes in [Jesus] shall not perish but have eternal life. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.[2]

Each year, Easter brings up life-and-death concerns. Many people are skeptical about Jesus’ death and resurrection. But if we cannot believe this, then all of Christianity falls apart.

A Canadian scientist said, “I have only two questions to ask: One, has anyone ever defeated death? And two, did he make a way for me to do it also?” The answer to both questions comes in one statement: “Because I live, you shall live also.” You see, on Easter, we celebrate the Great Reversal, the triumph of life over death. Resurrection answers crucifixion. Life answers loss.

Resurrection is “going on through death and beyond death to a new existence that death cannot touch.” When we place our trust in Jesus, we enter a new world in which death is defeated. As Christians we must live and die by this truth.

Peter talks about the message of the gospel. Peter talks about the Messiah of the gospel. And lastly, Peter talks about the ministers of the gospel. Verses 39-42: We are witnesses of everything [Jesus] did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen – by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.

The first ministers of the gospel were not only the disciples but all those to whom Jesus appeared. I read you that at the beginning of this message from 1 Corinthians. There was no conspiracy. For you see, all the apostles except John were executed for their faith. Their story about Jesus’ life and death and resurrection held firm. Not one of them ever said, “Wait, it is all a fraud, I’ll tell you the truth. Just don’t kill me.” It never happened.

These witnesses gave their lives for the truth of the gospel. If you really look at the story, the only thing that changed a group of frightened and broken disciples into a world defying and world changing force was the actual resurrection of Jesus Christ. Nothing else would be strong enough to do it. It is their testimony that changed the world. It took them from hiding behind closed doors afraid of persecution to challenging the same authorities that crucified Jesus. They believed in Jesus Christ. Therefore, I believe in Jesus Christ!

Brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus is the peace of God, the power of God, the presence of God, and the pardon of God. He will judge the living and the dead.

Jesus was resurrected in time and space by the supernatural power of God. By conquering death, Jesus proved he was who he claimed to be. This is the major reason why we should believe the Christian view over Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, or any of the other “isms.”

A pastor was talking to a youth group about the high cost of dying. “People today waste thousands of dollars on coffins and monuments,” he said. “Jesus was so unconcerned by his death that he had to use a borrowed tomb.”

But leave it to one of our youth to get to the bottom line and put things in perspective. A teenager raised her hand and said, “But Jesus only needed it for three days.”

Jesus is the peace of God, the power of God, the presence of God, and the pardon of God. Like Cornelius, being born again by faith in the risen Christ means we stop trying to live our lives without God, and begin putting our faith and trust in Jesus. As a Christian, our goal each day should be to become more like Jesus in our attitude, our behavior, and in how we treat others. As we grow in this relationship with Jesus, he will fill more and more of our lives! I believe in Jesus Christ! I pray you do too!

Let us shout about the Risen Savior. Christ the Lord is Risen today! May we all be like Peter and talk about the message of the gospel. Talk about the Messiah of the gospel. But most importantly be a minister of the gospel. Amen!


 

[1] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 1 Co 15:3–8.

[2] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Jn 3:18.

What Is Truth?

March 17, 2013

Wayland Community Church

Lenten Service – Sunday Evening

Fifth Sunday in Lent

What Is Truth?

John 18:29-40

Last week, Pastor Tim taught us through the story of Peter’s denial of Jesus, that lies can have great consequences on our life. How often do we sometimes deny our Christian faith even in white lies? How many times do we flog and crucify our Savior over again through our denial of God’s truths that convict us. Pastor Tim talked about lies in the course of our Christian journey. Tonight, we will talk about truth.

You see, truth is sometimes what we want it to be. That is our problem as a human race. We many times think our truth is just as valid as your truth or your truth or your truth. But many times our truth is not always what we mean.

For example, the other day I found the book, “The Men’s Thesaurus.” Here are some treasures I found. Remember, truth is not always what we mean. When a man says, “It’s a guy thing,” what he really means is “There is no rational thought pattern connected with this and you have no chance at all of making it logical.” Or when a man says, “Can I help with dinner,” what he really means is “Why isn’t dinner already on the table?”

Or when a man says, “Take a break, honey, you are working too hard,” what he really means is “I can’t hear the game over the vacuum cleaner.” Or when a man says, “I’m not lost, I know exactly where we are,” what he really means is “No one will ever see us alive again.” And finally, when a man says, “Uh huh, sure honey,” or “Yes, dear,” that means absolutely nothing, it’s a conditioned response. We don’t always say what we mean.

So much of our lives are lived around relative truth. Relative truth is the theory that something may be true for one person, but not for all people. Or, it may be true at one time, but not at another.

I have been in educational courses before where we were basically told, “No one is really wrong, and everyone is right, and the important thing is that we have unity and all get along.” What was being described, if it had actually been lived out, would not have been unity, but chaos.

If you and I live in a world where no one is really wrong and everyone is right, then the sniper out on the east coast is as right as the police who are pursuing him. If everyone is right, and no one is wrong, then the morals of the serial rapist on a college campus are on equal par with the ethics of Mother Teresa, who selflessly and sacrificially ministered to the lepers of Calcutta. At some point in our belief system, there has to be some absolute truths on which we can depend.

Absolute truth says that what is true for one person is true for all persons, times, and places. Absolute truth is discovered, as in the Bible, not invented. Absolute truth is the same across different cultures. Absolute truth is unchanging; it is the same across time. Absolute truth is true despite the beliefs of a person or how sincere they are. Absolute truth is grounded in a source that is personal, unchanging, and sovereign over all creation. In our scripture story today, Pilate comes face to face with truth. More about that in a moment, but first, would you pray with me?

PRAYER

As we move into our scripture story today, Jesus has been arrested and taken to Annas, the father-in-law of the high priest, for questioning. After Annas was through with him, Caiaphas, the high priest, questioned him. It was while Jesus was being questioned that Peter, his disciple, denied knowing him. Once Caiaphas was through with him, Jesus was led in the early morning hours to the palace of the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.

The Jews wanted Jesus dead, something they could not carry out under Roman law. Pilate was only trying to follow proper legal procedure when he asked the question, “What charges are you bringing against this man?” When the Jewish leaders knew they had no specifics that would stand up in a court of law, they called Jesus a criminal and a revolutionary. They wanted Pilate to do their dirty work for them. Only Pilate, a Roman authority, could invoke the death penalty for a non-Roman citizen, crucifixion. But Pilate was reluctant.

Then comes the one on one encounter with Jesus as Pilate asks, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus answer is interesting. “Is that your own idea or did others talk to you about me?” Jesus’ answer was not what Pilate expected. Jesus is probing Pilate’s conscience, calling on him to think this through for himself. In other words, Jesus is asking, “Are you just parroting what others have said or are you sincerely asking the question?”

How Pilate answered that question, would determine if Jesus would reply from a political perspective as a revolutionary or from a spiritual perspective as the Messiah of a kingdom not of this world. Jesus chooses the latter. “My kingdom is not of this world. I came into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” And then comes the rhetorical question to which Pilate did not really want an answer, “What is truth?”

Truth was standing right in front of Pilate and Pilate did not recognize him. When we do not want to see the truth, it is impossible to recognize it, even when it is staring us in the face. And so this begs the question, “What is truth?”

First, truth is a person. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” Jesus Christ was the revealed truth of God which came to us in the form of a person. Truth finds its source in God who is personal and moral. God did not send the world abstract ideas, he sent us a person. Jesus did not say that he came to tell us the truth, or show us the way; he said he was the truth. Being one with God, Jesus is the embodiment of truth and we began to understand that as he lived and taught among us during his time on earth.

Second, truth is real. Truth is tangible. It is not subjective or something that is decided by majority opinion. Rev. Rodney Buchanan, a retire Methodist Pastor once wrote that “water is wet, rocks are hard, and grass is green. We could take a vote and agree that rocks are wet, water is dry, and grass is red, but that would not change the nature of rocks, water, and grass. Truth is not only real, it is knowable.” The Bible says that, “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). So we can know the truth, and when we know it, it brings freedom into our lives.

It is important to know that truth is real, because without it we cannot live in the real world. If truth is not real then the world is not real, and we find ourselves living in a world of illusion where we delude ourselves and each other.

Abraham Lincoln had a favorite riddle he used to put to his colleagues. It went like this: “If a man were to call the tail of a dog a leg, how many legs would the dog have?” “Five,” was the usual reply.

“Wrong,” Lincoln would say with a homely smile. “The dog still has four legs. Calling the tail a leg doesn’t make it one.”  How many times do we delude ourselves or do the media create an illusion by repeating something over and over again as if it were the truth? Just because we say it’s so, doesn’t make it real or the truth.

Buchanan continues, “We have a real God who sent a real Savior, into a real world, to save real sinners, from real sin, that they might experience real forgiveness, in order to live real life, and inherit a real heaven. No other religion except Christianity makes exactly these same claims. That is why one religion is right and the others are wrong. They cannot all be right, because they contradict each other. If there is a real God, he wants us to know the real truth. If he wants us to know the real truth, he must have provided a way for us to know the truth.” And he did. He gave us a book. He came in person.

Third, truth is eternal. Truth is as absolute as God himself. Truth did not originate in man. Truth originates in God. Truth existed before the world began. It is transcendent and unchangeable. God does not just tell us truth or reveal truth, but God is truth. God is love. God is holy. God is righteous. An understanding of all these things comes with an understanding of God.

So why is it then that people have so much trouble understanding the truth? In 2 Corinthians 4: 3 – 6, Paul explains it with these words: 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age [this word “god” has a small “g.” Paul is speaking of Satan] has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. [1]

Satan has blinded the minds of people who do not want to know the truth, in order to keep them from seeing and understanding truth. Pilate was blinded to the truth. Remember what Jesus said about the devil, “there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).

But as Paul says, for those who seek the truth, God shines his light in the darkness and gives them the ability to see and understand the truth. But you have to want to know. You have to believe there is truth. You have to ask before you are answered, seek before you find, and knock before the door is opened. Herschel Hobbs, writing in his book My Favorite Illustrations, said this: “Persons often speak of defending truth. Well and good, but truth is not so weak that it cannot defend itself. What is needed most is to declare the truth in love. If let loose in the arena of ideas, truth will defend itself. Truth is of God; falsehood is of Satan.

And lastly, truth is transforming if obeyed. First Peter 1:22 says this, 22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. [2] Results don’t just come from hearing truth. They come from obeying the truth. Pilate was hearing truth from Jesus. In fact, he was standing face to face with Truth incarnate. Yet Pilate was making the wrong decisions.

“Now that you have purified yourselves…” How? “…by obeying the truth.” Truth is an essential element in the solution to the problems we face in life. When we have a problem we want God to fix, he normally does it through a process that involves truth. God brings truth to bear on the problem, and as we walk in that truth, we enter into liberty and victory in that area of our lives. God operates in the realm of truth and he teaches us that we have to operate in that realm ourselves.

Winston Churchill once said, “[People] occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened.” You and I need to encounter the truth. We need to obey the truth, and when we do, life transformation takes place.

I was standing in line at WalMart the other day, and a woman and her young son were ahead of me. The child was unhappy because he saw something he wanted and his mother was not allowing him to get it. His disappointment began to get louder, and she suddenly blurted out, “What can I tell you, Billie? Life sucks, and then you die.”

Imagine having that as a truth on which you operate your life! The kind of truths we tell ourselves and our children are molding us and the future generation. The truth is that God created a good world, and life is good, when we live it for God and base our lives on his Word.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what is truth? Truth is a person. Truth is real. Truth is eternal. Truth is transforming. When you really think about it, all truth is absolute. There really are no relative truths. If something is really true, then it is really true for everyone, everywhere, and for all time. All other so called relative truths are just a smoke screen of the evil one.

The absolute truth is this. 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.[3]


[1] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 2 Co 4:3–6.

[2] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 1 Pe 1:22–23.

[3] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Jn 3:16–17.

The Right Stuff – Part 2

March 17, 2013

Charlestown United Methodist Church

Lifestyle Stewardship

Fifth Sunday in Lent

The Right Stuff – Part 2

Matthew 26:6-13

Today is the last message in our Lifestyle Stewardship series, but our Capital Campaign for our new Community Life Center will continue for the next couple of months. This is an exciting time in the life of this church. There has not been a significant building campaign for Charlestown United Methodist Church in over sixty years. It is time to bring this building into the twenty-first century while still preserving the significance of this historical structure. Already, with just three gifts being made, we have $52,000 in pledges. This is a leap of faith for all of us. It is an intense time for the Building Committee and I am sure for you as well as we put our faith in God that his plan will come to fruition.

Someone once said that when you hang on to what you have, there is no room for you to receive more blessing. Wilson Johnson, the founder of Holiday Inn, tells this story, “When I was forty years old I worked in a sawmill. One morning the boss told me I was fired. Depressed and discouraged, I felt like world had caved in. When I told my wife what had happened, she asked me what I was going to do. I replied, ‘I’m going to mortgage our little home and go into the building business.’”

“My first venture was the construction of two small buildings. Within five years, I was a multimillionaire! At the time it happened, I didn’t understand why I was fired. Later, I saw that it was God’s unerring and wondrous plan to get me into the way of His choosing.”

Johnson continues, “I guess it’s always easier to see it that way when you’re on the other side. When God is prying your fingers away from something you think is very special, it can really hurt. It’s not that we don’t want to give everything to the Lord; it’s just that doing it is so hard. It’s frightening to let go.”

“After all, most of us don’t have much. If we let go of what little we have, how do we know we’ll survive. How can you afford to invite someone to dinner when you barely have enough to feed yourself? When you don’t have many friends, how can you risk losing the ones you have to offer friendship to someone they don’t like? How can you lift your voice in support of the one everyone is angry at? You might lose everything if you obey that much. But then we need to let go, don’t we.”

In our scripture story today, a woman with an alabaster jar lets go of something very precious to her. It was expensive and it was probably all she had. More about this is a moment, but first, would you pray with me?

PRAYER

Last week we talked about building our spiritual buildings, our bodies, with the right materials, materials that would last; not of wood, hay, and stubble, but of gold, silver, and precious stones. We need to build with things pleasing to God, the right stuff. The question was, “What does God look for in a gift.”

Now look at Christ’s assessment of the gift the woman, who is called Mary in another of the gospels, had to offer in our scripture story today. Jesus said, “This gift is so vital that wherever the gospel goes this story will be told.” That is high praise, isn’t it? Imagine, Jesus being so impressed with a gift that He praises it in such glowing terms. This is amazing. I want to offer this kind of gift. This must be the gold, silver, and precious stones of which Paul spoke. But, what about this woman’s gift so impressed Jesus? What was there about Mary’s gift that was so pleasing to Christ?

First, it was a proportional gift. Jesus says, “She did what she could.” See how simple it can be. She did what she could. We are all willing to do what we cannot do. I often hear people say, “I wish I had a million dollars to give to my church.” We can all be very generous with what we don’t have. We are responsible to God, however, for what we do have.

She did what she could. Don’t miss the power of those words. What is actually being said is that “she could not have done more.” “She did what she could” means “She did everything she could” and she couldn’t have done anymore!

If my gift is to be gold, silver and precious stones, then it must be a proportional gift. I cannot give as much as some of you. I can give more than some of you. Each of us is to give according to our measure of resources. We are not asking everyone to give the same amount to our building program. It would neither be realistic nor biblical for us to suggest “Everyone bring X number of dollars.”

No matter where we set the amount some of us would not be able to reach up to it. And, at the same time, many people would not be challenged by that amount. They can give much more and a lesser average amount would not represent their best. Each person must give a proportional gift that represents the best of what they can do.

The Bible teaches percentage giving which we call the tithe. But beyond the tithe the Bible teaches proportional giving. That means that we are to give according to our ability to give. Don’t let a percentage limit what you give. Jesus taught proportional giving. He said, “Unto whom much is given, much is required.” Mary did what she could. Those with greater resources must do what they can.

Second, Mary’s gift was a personal gift. Bible scholars have often debated about how Mary could have possessed an item of such value. The costly ointment was worth the equivalent of a laborer’s annual wage. What was your annual wage last year? That’s what Mary’s gift was worth in terms of dollars. That begs the question, “How could Mary have possessed anything of such value?” The only reasonable answer is that this alabaster box of precious ointment represented Mary’s dowry.

Marriage to a Jewish maiden was of enormous importance and consequence. Jewish culture valued the marriage relationship, the home, and the family as life’s greatest treasures. The dowry was essential to marriage. Mary’s gift may very well have cost her the right to marry. This gift may very well have represented her dreams as far as husband, children, and family were concerned.

No wonder Jesus was impressed. Now we can understand the full import of the statement “she did what she could.” The value of her gift couldn’t be measured in dollars and cents. It could only be measured in terms of heart and soul and in terms of love and devotion. All our figuring and finagling to free up dollars and cents are reduced to wood, hay, and stubble when compared to the gold, silver, and precious stones of Mary’s great gift.

While we try to give in ways that cost us nothing, Mary’s gift cost her, not the rest of her life, but maybe the best of her life. While we try to find gifts that we will not miss, Mary’s gift was missed everyday for the rest of her life.

Mary’s gift was valuable not because of its dollar value but because of its personal value. It was a gift that mattered to her. If you and I are to give gifts of gold, silver, and precious stones then we must get beyond the dollars and cents. We must personalize our gifts. They must be from our hearts to a Heavenly Provider we love. We must get our noses out of our checkbooks and into our Bibles. We must talk to our CPA’s but also to God. We must become more concerned about how Christ will assess our gift than we are in the rise and fall of the stock market. Our gift must be a personal gift.

Third, Mary’s gift was a purposeful gift. In Matthew’s account of the story when the disciples begin to criticize Mary, led by Judas, the disciples demand to know “To what purpose is this waste?” Jesus made a very strange comment about Mary’s gift. He said something that the other’s present could not have fully appreciated. Matthew quotes it as “she has poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial.”

What appeared to the disciples as a waster without purpose, Jesus implied that there was a secret and significant purpose that was not yet apparent. The oil she poured on him was anointing for his burial. When we tell the Easter story we always tell about the women going to the tomb early on Sunday morning. Why were they going? They were going to anoint and prepare his body for the burial.

In the haste to get his body down from the cross and buried before the beginning of the Sabbath, his body had not been cleansed and properly anointed for burial. This was the job the women were going to do early that Easter morning. Did they do it? It was too late. He had risen. The only one to anoint his body was Mary. Hers was indeed a purposeful gift.

From before the foundation of the world God had a plan for the redemption of humankind. In the fullness of time Christ came and died for the sins of the world. He was buried and resurrected on the third day. But in that plan, God planned for an otherwise insignificant woman named Mary to pour out on Christ her most precious gift, oil that symbolically anointed him for burial. Her gift had a purpose.

Lastly, Mary’s gift was premeditated. This wonderful gift was not spontaneously given as a result of some surge of emotion. This was a gift that Mary had thought about and planned. How do I know that? Matthew’s account of this incident tells us that it occurred not in Mary’s home but in the home of Simon the Leper.

Mary had brought this alabaster box with her to Simon’s house. She planned this. She knew what it would mean with regard to marriage and family. She had counted the cost. Surely Mary had contemplated the criticism that would come to her. It was socially inappropriate for a woman to take center stage the way she did when she offered her gift. She knew that some might consider it grandstanding. Some might consider it an attempt to purchase some good work or miracle from Christ.

But Mary knew the truth. Jesus had returned life to her deceased brother, Lazarus. Mary loved Jesus. Mary wanted to give. She gave a personally costly gift that represented the very best of what she could offer. She had planned and premeditated her gift. With her spiritual insight and sensitivity maybe she knew in advance that her gift would play an important purpose in God’s plan. She would anoint the body of Jesus for burial when his disciples were still trying to talk him out of dying!

After last Sunday’s message, and after this message, we now know what God looks for in a gift. Now we know what Paul was referring to when he said we should build on the foundation of Jesus with gold, silver, and precious stones. Our building, our efforts, our service, our gifts must be like Mary’s.

Our gift must be proportional and represent a true measure of our ability to give. Our gift must be personal and represent something of true value to us. Our gift must be purposefully given to assist in the plan of God. Our gift must be premeditated, prayerfully and carefully considered. Brothers and Sisters in Christ, this is the right stuff! This is the plan of God. Now we need to join God in his plan. Praise be to God! Amen.

The Right Stuff – Part 1

March 10, 2013

Charlestown United Methodist Church

Lifestyle Stewardship

Fourth Sunday in Lent 

The Right Stuff – Part 1

1 Corinthians 3:10-15

Have you ever built a church? I mean have you ever assisted in the construction of a church building? It used to be a common community project. Church members would get together and work cooperatively and voluntarily to build their church. Everyone found a way to participate. Obviously, the experienced construction people supervised the project. Carpenters did the carpentry, brick masons did the brick work, electricians did the electrical work. Each skilled worker contributed what he or she could do.

Then there were people like me – people who have no skill. We were the “gophers” and we would “go for this” and “go for that.” Some cooked and served meals. Some unloaded supplies. Even the children participated. It was one big happy and harmonious spiritual family building for themselves a place of worship.

But, those days are gone and it is a grievous loss. Such projects taught much about how to work together. They presented such a practical picture of how to join together as a family to accomplish a great goal. We remember participating as a worthwhile member of a worthwhile group achieving a worthwhile objective.

Now all the work is done by the professionals in accordance with strict building codes. I am sure the buildings are much better now than in those olden days but they are not loved and appreciated as much. No longer can we bring our hammer and nails and work ourselves into the very structure of the building. The 2 X 4”s don’t carry our fingerprints on them. Our sweat didn’t fall into the mortar as we mixed it. Our fingers didn’t bleed onto the shingles as we placed them in alignment.

No, none of us would want to go back to the “good old days,” but today’s generation will never have some of the wonderful experiences and warm memories of building our church that many of us once cherished.

Our church is in a building program. It is being constructed by professionals who know what they are doing. Our church is also in a stewardship program to fund the construction. This is where every member can participate and where every member is needed. By giving of our financial resources we will be giving of ourselves so that when this building is finished and we move in, each and every one of us can know that we are part of it.

By giving significantly, substantially, and sacrificially we invest ourselves in it, we pour ourselves into it, and it becomes ours. We are building the church of God just as surely as if we hammered the nails and poured the cement. This is our chance to perform as the church families of old by becoming involved, participating fully, and cooperatively completing a worthwhile project that called on the best resources of each and every one of us.

The Bible talks about building programs. Well, maybe not the kind of building program we are in, but the Apostle Paul did talk about the construction of buildings. In fact, Paul teaches that each and every Christian is involved in his or her own personal building program. More about that in a moment, but first, would you pray with me?

PRAYER

Listen once again to our scripture this morning: 10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. [1]

Our text teaches that each of us is building our own house, a spiritual house. It is built with our gifts and service to God as we live out our lives day by day.

First, we are told that we can Trust the Foundation. The foundation has already been laid. That foundation is Jesus Christ. He is the foundation of our faith and it is rock solid. A Christian is a person who has expressed faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. A Christian is one who has trusted Christ as the foundation of his life here and hereafter, and Paul says, “Don’t worry about the foundation.”

Paul adds, however, that you need to be concerned about the type of building you are constructing on the foundation of Christ. The reason to be concerned, Paul explains, is that the building materials will be tried by fire. Paul says that there is coming a day when our gifts and services will be tested by fire. This, of course, is symbolic language but its meaning is clear. In the Book of Revelation, Judge Jesus Christ is presented as having eyes of fire. His eyes burn through all the secret motives and hidden agendas of our lives. He sees all and knows all. Nothing escapes his penetrating perception. He will review our gifts and our service with eyes of fire.

Paul says that the building materials of wood, hay, and stubble will be consumed under the penetrating power of Christ’s judgment. They will go up in a puff of smoke. They will be vaporized in an instant. The building materials of gold, silver, and precious stones, however, will be unfazed by the fire of Christ’s gaze. These high quality materials were formed and fashioned in fire and they will survive the fire trial and will last forever as shining symbols of work well done by Christians.

I think the Apostle Paul is serious. I think I am wise enough to recognize a clear word of warning when I see it and I think this qualifies. I am told that I can trust the foundation of Jesus Christ and for that I am extremely grateful. I can be confident in Christ. But I must be concerned about my life of service to Christ because it will be tried by fire to see what sort of material, what kind and quality of materials I used in my service to my Savior and Lord.

First, I need to trust the foundation. Second, I need to Test the Materials. I have some choices to make. I can choose wood, hay, stubble, gold, silver, or precious stones. But I have been warned. I know that my building materials will be subjected to trial by fire. I will have no excuse if my life of service and devotion goes up in a cloud of smoke.

What type of materials will survive the trial by fire? Paul suggests gold, silver, and precious stones but what do they symbolize? What is God looking for in my gift and service? What will survive the burning judgment of Christ? What kind of gift will be appreciated by God?

The CEO of Generis, the company that is helping with our capital campaign, said that once while he was traveling through rural Mississippi, he stopped to attend a church service. He says that he was unfamiliar with the church and the minister and did not know what to expect. The minister announced his text as 1 Corinthians 3, the text we have for today. He explained Paul’s comments about building with wood, hay, stubble, gold, silver, and precious stones. The CEO said that he had become familiar with the passage through the years and did not expect to hear anything new, but he was wrong.

Before concluding, the minister asked the question, “Where do you get wood, hay, and stubble?” No one answered. The minister asked the question again, “Where do you get wood, hay, and stubble?” What was he looking for? What was his point? The CEO said this was going right over his head.

Then the minister answered his own question. “You can find wood, hay, and stubble anywhere. You can find wood, hay, and stubble anywhere. You can pick them up here or there and anywhere. Wood, hay, and stubble surround us; they are everywhere. It takes no effort, It requires no work. You can pick this stuff up anywhere.”

Then the minister drove home his point. “Where do you get gold, silver, and precious stones? You don’t just find them lying around, do you? You have to look for them. You have to dig for them. It takes effort, determination, and real work to find gold, silver, and precious stones. They don’t come easily.”

That just about says it all, doesn’t it? If our gift comes easily it is probably not right. If we can just pick it up anywhere is is probably not right. The right gift, the gift that pleases and honors God, is the gift that comes with difficulty. Is your considered gift a gift that is proportional? Does it represent personal cost to you? Is it the part that God wants you to play in His great purpose for our church? Have you prayerfully planned your gift?

The Apostle Paul praised the gift that the Christians at Philippi gave to him. He wrote, “They gave, not as we expected, first of all they gave themselves.” These Christians became personally involved in their giving. Then Paul said, “in their great poverty they gave beyond their ability.”

I confess as a person who has focused a lot of the last twelve years of my adult life and ministry on matters of biblical stewardship that I cannot understand what Paul’s statement means. “They gave beyond their ability.” I would understand it if he had written “they spent beyond their ability,” but he wrote, “they gave beyond their ability.”

These Macedonian Christians somehow gave beyond their ability. I can only guess its meaning and here is my best guess. I think these Macedonian Christians desperately wanted to be personally and purposefully involved in the ministry of the Apostle Paul. Their desire to partner in Paul’s ministry was so great that even while they were afflicted in a season of sever poverty they resolved to find ways to give. They gave themselves wholeheartedly to the challenge to give. And they found ways to give.

“They gave beyond their ability.” I think it speaks not only of their determination to give, I think it speaks of their faith in God. They refused to accept their circumstances as the final word. They involved God in their giving. They had a thousand reasons why they could not have given but they refused the easy way out. Wood, hay, and stubble were not acceptable for these Christians. Even in their poverty and distress they were able to give gold, silver, and precious stones.

God has a plan for our church. God has a design that we are trying to discern and follow. We believe our current project is part of God’s plan for us as a people. We are asking every member to participate in God’s plan by giving. Your gift will be purposeful, that is, full of purpose. Your gift will matter and make a difference. Your gift can help us fulfill God’s plan.

You are strongly encouraged to participate in this effort. Pray about it but I think you will find that God’s plan for you is to participate in this effort. I say that because the Bible offers beautiful images of what it means to belong to the church, the body of Christ.

The Bible presents the church as the family of God. Every Christian is a member of the family of God. We are the children of God. God is our Father. Jesus is our joint heir. As children, we are all spiritual siblings. Our Heavenly Father has given us a project, a job to perform in His Name and for His Sake. It is a family project. You should participate if for no other reason than to participate fully as a member of the family.

Every family has its differences. We see it honestly addressed in Paul’s letters to the members of early churches. Jesus said “offences will come.” Human relationships, even in close families, are complicated and difficult. But, there comes a time when a real family sets aside all the differences. When a great need must be addressed, when an important challenge comes along, the members of the family set aside their opinions and differences and join together as one. The plan God has for us is greater than any differences we might have with one another. Our future is too important to be impeded by our past.

If our church body is to perform at its highest level, if we are to be successful in the challenge that faces us then as a body we must be at full strength. For many weeks now we have been working to bring this body to its full strength.

We have emphasized prayer and fellowship to build our body spiritually and relationally. We have provided an abundance of informative materials to ensure that mentally we are well equipped. We are teaching lessons on biblical stewardship. We are asking our church leaders to lead in this effort. We are doing everything we know how to do, not to coerce or pressure people, but to bring the body to a zenith of spiritual strength. We need your participation as we move forward. We will need your purposeful gift if we are to achieve God’s plan.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we must trust the foundation on which we are about to build. We are building on the rock of none other than Jesus Christ himself. It is on this rock that our gifts will be tested. May your gift be proportional, personal, and purposeful. May it be the right stuff.


[1] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 1 Co 3:10–15.

Why I Will Never Belong to a Church that Doesn’t Need Money

February 24, 2013

Charlestown United Methodist Church

Lifestyle Stewardship

Second Sunday in Lent

Why I Will Never Belong to a Church that

Doesn’t Need Money

Acts 20:32-35

Often during a stewardship emphasis like the one we are preparing for now, this statement usually flies around: “I wish my church wouldn’t talk about money so much!” I certainly understand that serious consideration of financial matters, whether in the church, in the office, or in the home, is usually attended with a measure of anxiety.

Many preachers think that teaching and preaching about money is unnecessary. As long as a church is healthy in worship, education, and evangelism, the money would take care of itself. But that is really not true. In fact, I think that I never want to belong to a church that doesn’t need or ask for my money. After hearing this story, I think you will feel the same way. Here is a personal story shared by the founder of Generis, the company we are using as our financial campaign consultants.

On July 23, 1970, my wife gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. We had already determined to name him “Lance.” For three years we had tried unsuccessfully to start a family so our joy was great with the arrival of what was to be our only biological child.

Lance’s birth occurred in the days before it became acceptable for the father to be present in the delivery room. I waited in the hallway just outside the delivery room. I will never forget that at precisely 4:13 p.m., I heard Lance’s first cry. The nurse emerged with a smile and said, “You have a baby boy.” To which, I proudly responded, “Yes, I know.” I had always known I would have a son.

I could hardly wait to get my new son out of the hospital and back home so I could get my hands on him. The wonderful glow of fatherhood was soon dimmed, however, when I was asked to visit the business office of the hospital. They wanted me to pay for Lance! In fact, it seemed to me that my wife and child would be held hostage until the hospital bill was settled.

I wrote the check paying the expense in full, freed my family, and we made our escape. That check turned out to be only the first of hundreds, perhaps thousands, I would write on Lance’s behalf. Children are expensive. There was formula and food to buy. Doctor visits and vaccinations assaulted my banking account. Diapers and toys took their toll. And clothes…just about the time you build a great wardrobe for the kid, he would grow a smidgen and you would have to start all over again.

As his age and size increased so did the expenses. Soon it was baseball gloves, Nike shoes, and uniforms. There were glasses for his eyes and braces for his teeth. And then, disaster struck. Lance became a teenager. Now it was cars and dates and name-brand clothes.

Lance had always and only wanted to be an architect. It seemed to me he would be in school until he was forty-two years old. And talk about expensive. Tuition, books, drawing tools and tables!

But of course, just like parents the world over, we were happy to be able to help him and we did all we could to support his growth and his dreams. We never even saw our financial sacrifices as sacrifices. We counted it joy to contribute to Lance’s future. Like all loving parents we wish we could have done more. We never saw it as an obligation; it was what we were there for.

And then, one day, Lance died.

One bright, sunny, and horrible Halloween Day we buried 21-year-old Lance in our church’s little country cemetery. That afternoon we walked away from his grave. Since that day I have never spent another nickel on Lance.

That’s how I learned it, the founder continues. Death is cheap! Death can be sustained without expense. The dead need no money! It is life that is costly. It is growth that is expensive.

Folks, that is why I will never join a church that doesn’t need money. There are churches that have no vision. They have no dreams. They make no plans. They set no goals and issue no challenges to their people. This is not the church I need. I need to be challenged. You need to be challenged. I want to be coached and coaxed and called to extend myself to do more and give more to the cause of Christ. And I know better than most people that a ministry that matters is a ministry that will be costly.

Some churches are concerned about surviving. We are not concerned about surviving. We are concerned about thriving. The church that focuses on thriving will require the significant and substantial financial gifts of its members. Remember this: Living Demands Giving. Would you pray with me?

PRAYER

True giving always involves a measure of dying. True giving involves a dying to self in some way or ways. Significant giving never occurs without personal cost. To say “yes” to God one must say “no” to self.

Some Christians never come to grips with the meaning of giving. Some think that giving is the way for the church to pay its bills and personnel. But Godly-giving was in place long before there was ever a church budget or a preacher or a priest. At its gut level, giving is giving oneself away. I take something of myself and give it to God. That’s why Jesus linked one’s treasure with one’s heart. They both represent the giver. They both symbolize life.

There is a sense, you see, in which your money is you. Let me explain. Every week you give forty, fifty, or sixty hours of your precious life to your employer or your company. In exchange for that measure of your life you receive a paycheck. That check is you in currency form. It is a portion of your time, energy, ability, skills, and intelligence. Whenever you spend that check, you spend yourself.

Take a look at your possessions. Part of you is in every purchase. Your person is in every possession. Your checkbook will show you where your life is going.

When we decide (and that’s the only way it ever happens), to give significantly and substantially, and sacrificially to God we must take from ourselves, rob ourselves, deny ourselves, die to ourselves. This should be no surprise to any of us. Jesus said to follow him we would have to deny ourselves, take up our cross (death), and follow him.

If the challenge to give makes us uncomfortable, if we squirm when the offering plate passes, it is not because we do not wish to give to God. It is because we do not want to deny ourselves. We want to give to God, but not if it means taking from ourselves. It is not the giving we dread; it is the giving up. It is not the saying “yes” to God that bothers us; it is the saying “no” to ourselves. Jesus told us that either God or mammon would have to be chosen over the other.

For a church to raise great sums of money for its life, its growth, its dreams requires great death throughout the membership. That’s why serious Christians struggle. There are many who will give at a casual, convenient level that allows them to feel they have participated. The challenge is not, however, to participate. The challenge is to give a gift of value to God. The temptation is to give a token gift. The test is to give a true gift. That demands a measure of death.

Every week I see, read, or hear people who die to themselves. I have read stories of teenagers who give prized possessions. Young couples who postpone buying homes. Middle age adults who forsake plans for lake cabins. People who postpone retirement and take second jobs. People who give family heirlooms and property. No one asked them to do so. God drew them to a place of denial and death.

It is not for us to judge their gift. How God deals in the lives of others is none of our business. It is obvious, however, they understood that giving means death. King David understood it, too. He said, “I will not offer to God that which costs me nothing.” Of the rich Jews, Jesus said, “They gave liberally but out of their abundance.” That is, they didn’t miss it. It didn’t touch them. But, the widow gave her living!

It is just the Easter message all over again. Out of death comes life. The seed dies and brings forth the harvest. Christ dies and is resurrected. Jesus taught that the only way to find life was to lose life. When we give up ourselves, when we die to ourselves, God’s miracle of life takes root and the result is always life, greater life, better life.

Do you see we have made a complete circle” It is the circle of life. It is the cycle of giving and receiving. Giving sustains and advances life and growth. But, the true gift requires some measure of denial and death to the giver. That death, however, is what triggers and generates new life and growth. God has instituted a perfect system but we must play our role. God has built life so that when giving occurs everyone wins. When you give our church wins. The kingdom of God wins. The lost world wins. Our community wins. The Savior wins. And you, the giver, win. We are often commanded in Scripture to give, but with every directive to give there is an attending promise that we will receive. Our giving brings life and blessings.

God built it into the universe. All of creation and life is caught up in a cycle of giving and receiving. Harmony exists as long as the balance of giving and receiving is honored. Whenever selfishness dams up the free flow of giving there always follows stagnation, shortages, needs, disaster, and death. This principle is true physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It is true in nature, in individuals and families. It is true in churches and countries. A sure road to stagnation and need is to let our inbred selfishness restrict the flow of our giving.

When Jesus said, “Deny yourself” he wasn’t trying to make your life difficult or impoverished. He was trying to enrich and bless you. Jesus promised, “Give, and it shall be given unto you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will men give into your lap. The cup you use to give to others is the cup that will be used to give to you.”

Giving means life. Your giving means life and future for Charlestown United Methodist Church. The dreams of our church, the new addition, can come to life but only through your giving.

Giving means death. Century after century the Jews, the people of God, selected the best animals from their flocks, brought them to the altar. They were killed and burned to ash on the altar. Every offering they made filled the air with the smell of death. If you would bring your best gift to God it too will involve death or personal denial.

But giving also means blessings. Give and your Father who desires to give you all His best will find ways to bless and benefit you. You do not lose by giving. It truly is “more blessed to give than to receive.”

Remember, death is cheap. But true living demands giving. As a worshiping community, let’s focus on thriving.