“God is Not Done with You Yet” 09/08/2019

Sermon for Sunday, 09/08/2019
Texts: Jeremiah 18:1-11; Luke 14:25-33
Theme: “God is Not Done with You Yet”

Since the birth of the Christian church in the First century, the church has been the voice of God, calling sinful men and women, boys and girls to the gracious and redeeming love of God, our Creator. The church has also been God’s agent of transformation of human society, though not without its own errors at time.
But amid these, the church has had its fair share of challenges, mainly persecution that threatened its existence, yet God has kept it alive. But in our age, the church faces a new challenge that poses even greater threat to its survival. The most common fault that we Christians are quick to find is the secular culture. But in his writings, Martin Thielen disagrees.
This prolific author and UMC pastor writes, “The biggest threat to the Christian faith in America is not secularism. Rather, the biggest threat to vibrant faith is nominal Christianity. He writes, “Shallow and noncommittal faith does not breed vital congregations.” For him, this is what is killing the church.
Not only did I find some truth in Martin’s words, but as I studied this text, I discovered that this was exactly what Jesus tried to guide his early followers against.
In our gospel reading, Jesus had just left a wedding banquet that we preached about last week, and a great crowd followed him. But he was not impressed by the huge number. Jesus wanted something more out of his followers, even if it could be found in just a few people. Jesus wants not just followers but committed followers; he wants quality faith in him, not just quantity in number. A small congregation like us can be just as faithful as a large one or even more. Committed faith in Christ on the part of each of us, is all it takes.
In as much as Christ welcomes everyone, he wants to us to first sit and consider what it means to be his followers, because following him demands sacrifice. That is what he means to take up our cross. Christ calls us to prioritize his cause above our families and love ones at times. This is what it means to hate our family and love ones. It is not laterally hating but putting him above all other relationships and priorities we may have.
In the gospel today, Jesus makes it clear that we, his followers need to be “all in,” or it’s not worth the effort. He tells the crowd, just as the builder sits and calculates the cost of a building project before he starts, anyone who decides to follow him must consider what it means to his disciple before beginning the journey with him.
I think I have told this story about a seventh-grade girl in Texas, who ran on the junior-high track team at her school. Due to bad weather an important Saturday track meet got postponed to the next Saturday, a day on which this girl had already committed herself to be on a church mission trip. She went to her track coach and told him about the conflict. He told her, “Your teammates are counting on you, and you cannot let them down. You are either here for the meet, or you turn in your uniform.” After many tears and deliberation, she went to the coach and handed him her uniform and walked away. That evening she explained to her decision to her parents. She said, “This is about God. And God is more important than sports.” I am not sure how many of us would agree with this little girl, let alone follow her examples, but this is exactly what Jesus Christ calls us to do. Putting him above every other priority we have.
But quite frankly, not all of us are at this point. In fact, none of us is a finished product on our journey with God. We are all work in progress. But the good news is, God is not Done with us yet. God is still shaping, molding and refashioning us into the kinds of vessels he wants us to be. Just as the potter shapes the clay into a vessel, and if the vessel is ruined in the process, he would set to refashion it into a new vessel that seems right to him, God Almighty is the master potter, and you and I are the clay that God is molding, shaping and refashioning into the vessel he wants us to be. Our role is to yield to the master potter. The clay must be at the complete disposal of the potter.
That is why the first verse of our hymn of preparation reads:
Thou are the potter, I am the clay
Mold me and make me after thy will.
While I am waiting, yielded and still.
An unyielded clay is difficult or even impossible to mold and shape. This means that a believer who is unwilling to surrender to Christ is difficult and even impossible to grow into what God wants him or her to be. And what drives our willingness to yield is our desire and quest to become or do something for God.
The Psalmist David says, “One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life (Psalm 27:4).
The Apostle Paul say, “I want to know Christ–yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death (Philippians 3:10).
In the same manner, St. Francis prayed, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, where there is hatred, let me sow love….”

Transformation in our lives begins with our desire or quest to be something better, be it a better athlete, or a better student, or a better spouse, or a better employee, or a more committed follower of Christ. But this is not possible when you feel that we are just fine, or I am just okay. Such attitude shuts the door for growth and transformation not just in our spiritual life, but any other area of life.

As we leave from here this morning, remember, you are still a work in progress. God is not done with you yet. He wants to mold you into his vessel of peace, vessel of love, vessel of mercy, vessel of justice, vessel of service. He can do this thru his Word, through his worship, and even through some life experience, and sometimes a painful one too.

It is my prayer that you will yield to God, the master potter, so that He may mold and shape us into the kind of followers and congregation He wants us to be.

God bless you.

“Loosed from Bondage” 08/25/19

Sermon for Sunday, 08/25/2019
Text: Luke 13:10-17
Theme: “Loosed from Bondage”

In a 1996 Disney award winning film, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” based on the 1831 novel of the same name, the author Victor Hugo uses an interesting literary technique in the story to allow the reader to see the basic decency and humanity of Quasimodo, the hunchback bell-ringer of Notre Dame, whom the crowd sees only as a monstrous freak, in his struggle to gain acceptance in society, This story, in its essence, is in part, a one of tragedy and in part, hope.
In a similar manner, we have before us this morning a story of tragedy to hope, bondage to liberation, from oppression to freedom. It’s also a story in which Jesus teaches us that human beings matter more than animals, systems, & institutions.
It is no surprise that this healing act of Jesus, which does not claim the attention of the other gospel writers, does not escape Luke’s. For it is Luke who records the mission statement of Jesus, which states: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the broken hearted, proclaim freedom for the captives, and recovery of sight for the blind; to set the oppressed free. (Luke 4:18).
In this text, an oppressed woman is set freed by Jesus. The woman is not mentioned by name, but her condition is described. She had been crippled for eighteen years, Luke writes. The nature of her deformity was such that she was bent over and was unable to stand straight.
For eighteen years, she was able to look only down or just slightly ahead, but never forward without difficulty. For eighteen long years, this woman had to strain to see the sun, the sky, and the stars. For eighteen years, her world had been one of turning from side to side to see what we who stand upright can see with just a glance.
It is said that a spirit was responsible for her deformity. This is an indication that she was being overtaken by a power greater than her own. It was a power from which she could not break loose. She could not liberate herself. It was something of which she was powerless.
Like this woman, there are many things that hold us in bondage of which we are powerless to break loose on our own. Our brothers and sisters in AA program acknowledge this. Perhaps you are not in an AA program, but addiction may be bending you over, or perhaps yours is uncontrollable anger, or the spirit of unforgiveness from which you just can’t break loose, or perhaps yours is the feeling of guilt from something you did that remains a deep secret hidden in your closet. Though your husband or wife or boss, or friend may not know about it, the deep-seated guilt continues to hunt you. Or perhaps yours was a sexual molestation or abuse you perpetrated or suffered in early children, and the pain remains deeply buried on the inside.
I may not know exactly what yours is, but like the woman in this story, the Jesus who said to her “woman, you are loosed from your bondage,” the one who knows all of our hidden pains, is calling you out today, because he wants to have you loosed and set you free from your bondage.
Christ cares for us so much that he would not allow anything, not even the law of the Sabbath to stand in the way of liberating us from anything that holds us down. There should be no system or law that hinders people from being who God intends them to be.
You see church, the Jewish religious leaders had made a concession in the Sabbath law, that the owner of the cattle was allowed to take them to the water to drink on the Sabbath, provided the cattle carry no load. But here was the leader of the synagogue chastising this poor woman, a child of God, for being loosed from bondage by Jesus on the Sabbath.
That’s why our Lord confronted the religious leaders: “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the manger, and leads it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?” He was saying, “if you can be so concerned about the wellbeing of animals, what more about a human being?”
Church, if the focus of our ministries here is not for the good of human beings, but just to keep this place beautiful, keep the lights on, making sure that our computers function well, internet service is efficient, and the roof does not leak, then we miss the point. All of these are for the maintenance of the institution, to enhance our service to God through our service to humanity. For this is the purpose of the church.
The way we see others who are less fortunate than us, the physically challenged, the poor, the homeless, the alcoholic, speaks volumes to God. Regardless of their conditions, they too are vital part of the human community. Jesus told his audience, “She too is a daughter of Abraham.”
The concern of Christ expressed for this woman, is expressed for each of us every day. Just how he liberated this woman from her bondage, and she walked out of that synagogue with her head held up high, self-esteemed restored, and joy rekindled, Jesus is inviting you right now to be loosed from whatever that holds you down.
I don’t know what yours may be, but Christ is willing to set you loose from that bondage; be it a spirit of depression, or anger, or guilt, addiction, or unforgiveness, or unbelief, or doubt, or fear, or whatever it is. Christ is willing to set you loosed. All we need to do is to come into Christ’s healing presence, as this woman did.
May we continue to abide in the healing presence of Jesus Christ, to experience his liberation.
God bless you.

” We Have No Excuse!” 08/18/19

Sermon for Sunday, 08/18/2019
Text: Isaiah 5:1-7
Theme” We Have No Excuse!”

Have you ever had the experience of investing your precious time, energy and even your hard-earned resources into something that turned out to be a disappointment? Perhaps it was a failed marriage for which you did everything that a good and loving husband or wife could do, but the result was not what you expected in return; or it may have been a child to whom you showed love and did everything a good parent would do, but at the end, he or she turned out rebellious, slammed the door in your face, and walked away; or perhaps it was a business venture that yielded nothing profitable; or your relationship with a sibling whom you love, but all you got in response was a nagging behavior. In one form or the other, I guess we all have had such experience and the feelings of disappointment or even betrayal that comes with it.
This was God’s experience with Israel and Judah and by extension, you and me at times. In the words of our text, the prophet Isaiah is portraying God’s relationship with His people. The prophet employs the imageries of the gardener and the vineyard. God is the gardener, who plants his vineyard, the people of Israel and Judah. The gardener and the vineyard are recurring imageries in the OT, symbolizing God and the Hebrews.
In the prophet’s message, God, the gardener planted his vineyard of choice vines in a fertile soil; he dug and cleared the stones from around and built a wine press. The gardener had done everything right; the land was fertile; the work was proper and thorough; he also did everything to protect the plant and help it grow, so that it would bear sweet grapes for the nourishment of many. But to His disappointment, the vineyard (his people) yielded wild and bitter grapes.
In verse 4, God is wondering! He is asking himself, “What more was there for me to do, that I have not done?” I consider this a rhetorical question, because the gardener had done everything right. God had chosen the forefathers of the Hebrew people; He led them out of slavery, crossed them through the Red Sea, defeated mighty armies before them, and gave them a land flowing with milk and honey, that they did not labor for. Now, he was asking, where did I go wrong?
In my experience as a pastor for more than fifteen years now, I have had to console grieving family members who blamed themselves because in their mind, if they had just done one more thing, or just cared a little more, or done something differently, or made the right decision, or said the right word, their parent, or spouse, or family would not have died No! In most cases, you did everything right, but that beloved family of yours, was called from labor to rest, an experience that awaits each of us.
The lesson of this text is the contrast between God’s loving providence and the ingratitude of human response. Despite God’s matchless love for Israel, they did not produce the kind of fruits God expected of them. The fruits that God expected was a just society.
We see that in verse 7, which reads, “For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting: he expected justice but saw bloodshed; righteousness but heard cry! “
Like Israel and Judah in biblical times, we are God’s vineyard today. God has planted us, nurtured us; fertilized us, watered us, and done everything. Most of all, He give up His only Son, Jesus, to die for us. Now God expects Good Fruits of us: Fruits of worship, service, loving, giving, sharing, etc. And there is no reason why we shouldn’t. For God has blessed us beyond measure. We have no excuse.
He has given us life; freedom to worship Him unlike other parts of the world; He’s given us the opportunity to create a conducive worship place. He has given us the means to support his work. And now, he is looking up to us to bear, not just any fruits, but good fruits, and we have absolutely no excuse.
Let me share that as an African clergy, I have worshipped with congregations under the large cotton trees, because there was no building. I have worshipped in churches without walls. It was just sticks, like poles, holding up the roof made from wide leaves, and when the wind came, it blew the dust upon us, yet we were there worshipping God; I have seen parishioners on a rainy Sunday, put their church clothes in a plastic bag, walk in the rain for an hour or more, arrive at the church soaking wet, go into a room in the town, take off their wet clothes, wear their church clothes, and come in the edifice to worship.
But here we are church. God has given us nearly everything it takes to live a wonderful life. We have this beautiful and commodious church building to gather weekly; he has given us the material blessings to support his work; he has given us the education and skills to serve. And He’s now looking up to us to bear fruits. We have no excuse.
I am sure as God’s looks down into our church this morning, He is asking the same question, “What have I left undone for these people?” What more did I have to do, that I did not do for them? Where have I failed them? I don’t know about you, but I would answer. Lord, nowhere have you failed me. You redeemed my life from the pit of death and have preserved me and my family today. This is nothing that I can lay any claim to, but because of your goodness.
I would say to him, Lord, you have given us everything it takes to serve you. We Christians in this nation have no excuse. We the members of Mitchell have no excuse. Please, Lord, nourish us more; add more nutrients to us.
As you leave from here this morning, remember, God is asking you. “What is it that I have failed to do for you? This question comes out of God’s desire for us to serve Him more faithfully, worship Him more regularly, and give more adequately to His ministry.
God bless you.

“Enlarge Your Space” 08/04/19

Sermon for Sunday, 08/04/2019
Text: Luke 12:13-21
Theme: “Enlarge Your Space”

One subject most of us pastors shy away from is the issue of money and wealth, but it might surprise you to know that Jesus talks about money and possessions in the Bible more than he talks about subjects like faith and prayer. For example, sixteen of his thirty-eight parables in Gospel are about money and possessions and how we ought to handle them. The gospel reading this morning is just one of those teachings.
It seems Jesus is teaching, when someone in the crowd said, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” The text does not say which subject Jesus was teaching on, but whatever it was, this is what the man’s mind was preoccupied with. He wanted his fair share of the family estate. But Jesus refused to get in the middle of a family dispute, because such matters can be dicey at times. But out of that request came the opportunity for Jesus to lay down, what we, his followers’ attitude should be towards money and possession.
Jesus’ response to the man was, “who made me a judge over you? Then he warned the crowd and all of us. “Watch and guide yourself against the spirit which is always wanting more; for even if a man has an abundance, his life does not come from his possession. Our lives are not defined by how much we own, even when you own a lot.” There is no doubt that money and possession/wealth can enhance the quality of life, but they don’t define the essence of life. This also means that the essence of life of those who don’t have much, or the poor and needy, is not diminished by their lack.
Jesus then told this familiar parable about a man whose farm produced an abundance of crops. The man said himself, “what will I do? I have no space to store all my crops. Here is what I will do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I will store all my grains and my goods. And I will say to myself, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for you for many years. Relax, eat and drink. “
In this parable, Jesus refers to this man as a rich fool. And let me stress that Christ did not denigrate him because of his wealth. It is not ungodly to be rich, if we labor honestly and obtain our wealth. And there is no indication in this passage that this man’s wealth was ill-gotten. He must have been an honest and hard-working man, just like most, if not all of us. This was his American dream.
But even the reward of our honest labor can be mishandled to God’s displeasure. This man failed to realize that every good and perfect gift comes from the LORD. God is the giver of abundance. In Deut. 8:18, Moses tells the Israelites, “But you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth.”
Through Moses’ words, we are reminded that God blesses us with abundance so we can remember him and invest in his kingdom. Well, some of us may say “But I am not wealthy. I am just getting-by. To this, let me quote Warren Wiersebe, an American biblical commentator, who writes, “measured by the living standard of the rest of the world, most believers in America are indeed wealthy people.” And this is something I can attest to.
An important lesson of this text is that each of us ought to acknowledge God’s blessing for all He has given us. We should not be like this man who failed to do so. In all that he said, there is no mention of God, nor his neighbors nor his community. His only concern was to create enough space for his goods. Life was just about himself.
The fact that you are here this morning indicates that you have space for God, but how much is that space? How narrow or large is our space for God, compared to the space we have and continue to create for the things God has given us. How much of our time, service or resources do we commit to the One who has given us everything? This is a question for me as well as a question for you. Maybe, and just maybe, if we take up a little time to soberly reflect on it, we might realize that our space for God is very small, and we might see the need to enlarge our space for Him, by serving just a little more, or worshipping him just a little more, or giving just a little more. God may be calling you to enlarge your space for him.
The final point I want to make is that this man felt so secured in his possessions and wealth. We hear this in words, “And I will say to myself, soul, you have ample goods laid up for you for many years. Relax, eat drink and be merry.” This guy feels so assured by his many stuff that he even determines how long he is going to live: many years.
This is serious temptation for us in this society as well. Sometimes we come too much to rely on our many possessions and overlook the fact that our lives are ultimately dependent on the will of God. Each day you and I walk and drive with some degree of unpredictability and vulnerability. We see that right in this text.
While this man was making all those elaborate plans without God, that very night, God said to him, give me back my life. This is a reminder that life is not just about us. It’s not just about our pleasure and enjoyment as this man thought; we must create space for the giver of our very life and all the accompanying blessings we receive from Him.
Therefore, as we enlarge our space for other things, let’s enlarge our space for God. This goes hand in hand with enlarging our space for our neighbors: the needy the poor, the homeless, etc.
May we invest in God’s Kingdom, through our service to Him and humanity; for this is the only eternal investment we can make.
God bless you.

“A Child of the Loving God” 07/28/19

Sermon for Sunday, 07/28/2019
Text: Luke 11:1-13
Theme: “A Child of the Loving God”

During my years here, I have had the opportunity to listen to the stories of some of you, and from those stories, I can say for sure that many of you have been blessed with loving and caring fathers, which is important in the life of every kid. Similarly, in this passage, Jesus gives us an image of the ideal father who loves and cares for you and me. This Father is God Almighty.

In the gospel passage today, the disciples had observed Jesus pray.; after he was done, one of told him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” In response, Jesus gave them a template for what we called, “The Lord’s Prayer.” He said to them, when you pray…. Notice that he did not say “if you pray, but when you pray.” There is an expectation that we, the followers of Christ ought to pray.

Matthew’s longer version of “The Lord’s Prayer” which we recited, begins with “Our Father.” This shows that there is an intimate relationship between us and God. Jesus said, God is our Father. Like every relationship, our relationship to God is not a one-dimensional relationship. If God is our Father, then we all are God’s children. The next dimension of the relationship connects us to each other. If we are all God’s children, then who are we to each other? We are brothers and sisters?

This relationship transcends all the classifications and labels we give to one another that divide us. It’s a relationship that transcends color, race, nationality, geography, social and economic class, etc. We are all God’s children. You are a child of the loving God, and I am as well. The difference in the pigment of our skin and the way we speak, doesn’t make any one of us more important than the other. Contrary to what the society has made us to believe, our intrinsic worth as human beings is not contingent upon the external factors that society has constructed.

I think the sooner we get to realize this, and live it, the better it will be for us, for our communities, our nations and our world. By this, we might stop the discrimination and hatred, the labelling, the stereotyping, and fighting and live together as brothers and sisters. And I think we as Christians must take the lead in this. We must show our communities what it means to have our Fatherhood in the one loving and caring God. For we are all brothers and sisters in the Lord.

Because the pattern of the Lord’s Prayer is not my focus today, we will move on to verse 5, where Jesus tells a story which shows that God, our Father, is loving and caring. As I studied this passage, I thought of the last place I and my family lived before leaving the country. Because we were among the very few who owned a vehicle in the community and coupled with the fact that I am a minister, there were knocks and desperate calls at our windows some nights. These were neighbors seeking assistance to drive them and a critically ill family or a woman in labor pain to the hospital. No matter how sleepy or tired I was, I had to get up and provide this assistance.

It is the same with the man in this story whose door is being knocked by a friend who had just received guests. This man has a need. He wanted his friend to lend him three loaves of bread to take care of his guests, but his friend said to him, “do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything, but his friend will not stop knocking.

For us in this culture, we may be in sympathy with the man in door and may even frown on the one seeking assistance for being unreasonable, but that’s not the case in that culture. For them, it is this tired and reluctant neighbor who is acting selfish; for them, hospitality is a sacred obligation, and the fellow seeking assistance is doing everything to live up to that.

One of the strange things I noticed when I owned my first vehicle in the US after the first few years, was the other seats were still new. Only the driver’s seat showed indication of being used. That was because no one else was riding with me. This was strange because that’s not possible in my country. If I left home alone in the vehicle, it is not possible to drive from here to Marquette, for instance, without giving someone else a ride. There are always people along the road, calling or waving their hands, as a sign of asking for a ride.

Jesus concludes this aspect of the story, that even though this tired and reluctant friend will not get up to give his friend what he needs, but because the man in need is persistent, the one indoor will eventually get up, and give what he asks.

The lesson in this story, according to Jesus, is that if this tired and reluctant man could get up and give this man what he asked, what more about our loving Father? Jesus says, therefore, ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened unto you. But the issue sometimes is we lack perseverance, especially we in this age who have been conditioned to instant response. God is not like the smartphone keypad, that as soon we give it a command, we get an instant result.

Jesus then asks, “is there anyone among you who if your son asks you for fish, that you will give him snake? or if he asks for egg, you will give a scorpion? He said if you broken dads can care for their kids, how much greater must be God’s capacity to love and care for us.

This morning, Jesus reminds us that God is our Father. This title reveals God’s character of love and care for us his children. It also teaches us that we are all children of the same Father, despite our different looks, languages, and locations.

Christ is also reminding us that if we dads, with all our shortcomings can show love and give our kids good things, God our Heavenly Father has better things in store for us because He loves and cares about us.

May we continue to rely on this loving God as our eternal Father.
God bless you.

“Let Nothing Hold You Back” 07/21/19

Sermon for Sunday, 07/21/2019
Texts: Luke 10:38-42
Theme: “Let Nothing Hold You Back”

I want to begin with the story of Jeremy, a gifted entrepreneur who is just starting to achieve recognition for the work his creative company is offering. The phone is ringing with offers of more work than their company could handle, and they have even received a few awards for their work. Despite the external accolades, Jeremy couldn’t understand why he feels so broken on the inside. He realizes that if he does not get some time away to reflect on what is really going on, to listen to God, and to get a handle on his motivation and behavior, he may soon ruin everything he’s worked for so hard, due to bad decision making that is disconnected from discerning God’s presence and activity in his life. Does this sound familiar in our present age?
The story of Jeremy mirrors a common problem that many of us face today- a problem of priority that Luke presents in his gospel which was just read. On his journey to Jerusalem, Jesus enters a village and he is invited into a home by Martha, apparently, the older of two sisters. Martha then goes to the kitchen and begins to prepare meal, and by doing so, she assumes the customary role of a woman in her culture. Her aim is to provide hospitality to her guests, as many of us would do today.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with Martha’s effort to provide hospitality; for the Bible is replete with passages, urging us to be hospitable to strangers. One of them is Hebrews 13:2, which states, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unaware.” But the problem is when we allow showing hospitality, or anything for that matter; regardless of how important it is, to hold us back from Christ. This was Martha’s problem.
While Martha is busy in the kitchen, her sister Mary on the other hand takes a radicle stance. She “sits at the feet of Jesus,” and is drawing from the fountains of life, as she listens to him. The phrase to “sit at the feet” of someone, in Jewish understanding, was to make yourself a student or disciple of that person, a role reserved for only men. Paul sat at the feet of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3) Hence, Mary takes the place of a disciple of Christ, and he does not deter her.
For Martha, this was too much to bear. She comes with her fuss, not only to Mary but also to Jesus with a strong accusation: “Lord, don’t you care, that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?” This was an insinuation that Jesus was insensitive to her unfair treatment. Therefore “tell her then to come and help me,” she concludes.
Now let me say this. In his criticism of Martha, he was not putting down the place of women and lifting Mary because she was in the role of a male, nor was he downplaying service to him in preference for personal piety. For a person who comes to church regularly and provides no service is missing out on an important aspect of his Christian life, and vice versa. But Jesus’ criticism of Martha is bordered on two words: worry and distraction. In verse, 40, Jesus told her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted about many things.”
Jesus’s rebuke of Martha is a very important lesson for us even today, because worries and distractions are among the things that stand in our way or hold us back from being in the presence of the Lord and communing with him regularly. The verb rendered “distracted” in this text is, “to drawing away from or diverting something.” This is exactly what Martha did. Not only had she withdrawn from the Lord to prepare meal, but even worse is her attempt to draw Mary’s attention away from the Lord. We have a similar issue between husbands and wives today.
Once again, our service to the Lord is very important, but not at the expense of being in the Lord’s presence. In his exposition on this passage, Warren Wiersebe writes, “Certainly a meal was in order, but what we do with Christ is far more important than what we do for Christ.” It is not a matter of either or; there must be a balance, a balance that is shaped by our personal experience with Christ.
Wiersebe writes, “Few things are damaging to the Christian life as trying to work for Christ without taking out time to commune with Christ.” Perhaps in all our busyness, we have been ignoring the Lord.
Martha’s problem was not that she had too much work, but she allowed her work to hold her back from the Lord. If there is any generation of people which has ever faced this challenge most, it is us today. For there are so many things that are pulling us away, and holding us back from the Lord, to the extent that to commune with God is dropping down our priority order.
Whatever your priorities are; be it your family, your kid’s sports, your entertainment, your vacationing, your school, your work, or even your service to the Lord right here in this church, they are all very important; it will be improper or even insensitive for me to ask you to downplay any them, but what I urge you not to do is to allow them to pull you away and hold you back from Christ.
It is very important to “spend time at the feet” of Jesus every single day, letting him share his Word with us. For it is our keen understanding of who Jesus is and what he has done for us, that shape our priorities in terms of our desire to worship, our giving to the Lord’s ministry and even our service to him.
It is my prayer that we will have the heart of Mary, to yearn for the presence of Christ every day and every week as we gather to praise and worship Him.
May we be like Mary, who did not allow anything, not even the cultural norm of her time to hold her back. And with that, may we have the hands of Martha to serve.
God bless you.

“Springs of Living Water” 07/14/19

Sermon for Sunday, 07/14/2019
Texts: John 4:7-30,39-41
Theme: “Springs of Living Water”

In the last fifteen years or so, a new word has emerged in the church cycle, especially in some of the new churches. That word is “seekers.” The word refers to people who are on the search for something. It is believed that these people are hungry and thirsty for something to give them meaning and purpose in life. It is believed that Jesus is the missing link in the lives of these people, and they need him to fill the emptiness in their lives.
In our gospel story, John teaches us that all human beings have deep seated thirst that only God can quench. He gives us a portrait of our Lord, tired, weary and thirsty from his long journey. Remember, Jesus is God’s only begotten, yet, in his humanity, he is subject to the weariness of life, an indication that none of us is immune to the thirstiness, of our soul. Everyone experiences this deep-seated hunger, and thirst for something that money cannot purchase.
Many of us who live in the Third World where there is huge poverty, sometimes think if we had good food to eat, a nice house to sleep and a car to drive, life will not be a roller coaster. But my learning experience in this affluent society has thought me that we have been wrong. All human beings, no matter what they have or don’t have, do experience deep-seated need, and do face issues as well.
The woman, referred to in this text, just as “a Samaritan woman” is no exception. From the study of this passage, this is a woman for whom things were not going well. Like seekers in our time searching and trying different things to find purpose and meaning, this woman had tried five marriages, none of which had worked for her. Five husbands have come and gone, probably used and abused her, leaving her weary, tired and still thirsty for true fulfillment.

The Two needy persons meet at Jacob’s water well, a common source temporary filling, and one (Jesus) asks the other (the Samaritan woman) to give him a drink. By doing so, Jesus is going beyond the boundaries and walls of generational hatred and extending an invitation to this lady for something inexhaustible, imperishable and fulfilling. This is the same invitation Jesus extends to you, me and everyone, when he says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke and learn of me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matt 11:28).
As the woman tried to hold on to all the walls of separation between Jews and Samaritans, Jesus tells her, “if you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, then you would have asked him and he would give you living water.”
This term “living water” is a biblical imagery that refers to God’s provision that quenches our thirsty soul. That is why Jesus told the woman, “whosoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whosoever drinks of the water that I give, shall never thirst.” For Jesus Christ is the Spring of Living Water; only He is the source of true meaning and purpose in life.
Sometimes our materialistic driven culture tries to put us under the illusion that it holds the key to true fulfillment, meaning and purpose in life. God gives us the material world to have and enjoy, but it cannot and should not take God’s place.
Therefore, in her conversation with Jesus, the Samaritan woman slowly moved from a seeker, to a finder, from emptiness to being full, from thirstiness to fullness, from unbelief to belief, and from an outcast to a great evangelist of her village.
Even as Christians, there are times we feel that inner thirst, and hunger for something deeper than what we can obtain with our cash from the grocery store and shopping mall. Sometimes our inner soul is restless, and we yearn for something that none of our stuff can give. It is to this that Jesus invites us, when he says, “And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost. (Revelations 22:17)”
But one very important point I want to make this morning is that Jesus is not a reservoir. A water that has no place to flow can be stagnant and become a breeding ground for diseases like malaria. Jesus is the Spring of living water, and living water is a moving water. It flows from one place to another; from person to another. It cannot be hoarded. It must be passed on.
Therefore, having drunk from the Spring of living water, the woman abandoned her bucket and ran back to the village, testifying and inviting everyone to come to the Springs of living that had quenched her thirst. She became an evangelist to her village, sharing with her community the living water that had filled her till overflowing.
T. Niles, a great Sri Lankan evangelist once defined evangelism as, “a beggar showing another beggar where to find bread.” As a church, we are a community of thirsty people who have discovered a fresh water supply. Like the woman in this story, we must share it so that lives can be transformed.
The text tells us that many Samaritans in the village believed because of the woman’s testimonies.” and there was a great revival in that town. Imagine if this woman had not gone back to share her experience with Christ with her community! It is likely that they would not have experienced Christ.
Following her conversion, Sara Miles wrote in her spiritual memoir, “My new vocation didn’t turn out to be as simple as going to church on Sundays, folding my hands in the pews and declaring myself “saved.” No! We must share the good news of Christ, the Spring of Living Water, through our words, and deeds. This is my plea to you this morning.
How? Let’s begin with our vision statement: Invite!
God bless you.

“Freedom in Christ” 07/07/19

Sermon for Sunday, 07,07,2019
Text: Galatians 5:1,13-25; John 8:31-36
Theme” “Freedom in Christ”

I find it very appropriate this morning to speak about Freedom, because we have just celebrated the two hundred and forty-third anniversary of our freedom as a nation and people. But freedom is not free. It comes with a cost, even for this great nation.
Kelly Strong confirms this in her poem entitled, “Freedom is Not Free. The last two sections state:
I thought of all the children, I thought about a graveyard
Of the mothers and the wives, at the bottom of the sea
Of fathers, sons and husbands Of unmarked graves in Arlington.
With interrupted lives. No, Freedom isn’t free!!

Great men and women laid down their lives for the freedom we enjoy today. Similarly, and at a greater level, Jesus Christ laid down his life to break the shackles of shame, guilt and death from us and set us free. In Christ, we find our eternal freedom.
Therefore, the Bible says, “there is therefore no condemnation of those who are in Christ Jesus(Romans 8:1). But like every good thing, freedom can be under used and abused. This is what Paul is guarding against. In verse 1 of Galatians 5, Paul writes, “For freedom, Christ has set you free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”
Paul wrote these words to non-Jewish Christians, who were former pagans in the region of Galatia, current day Turkey. They were people who worshipped many different idols and lived under constant fear to appease the gods in order to avoid their wrath. But through Paul’s ministry, the Galatians turned from paganism to Christ. Amid their newly found faith, a problem developed. Some Christians from Jewish background came and said, look! Your journey to Christ is not yet complete. You must adhere to our Jewish laws, paramount among them was circumcision. In short, they were saying, faith in Christ alone is not enough. You must do something to be saved, and very sadly, these young Christians began to fall to this false teaching.
It is this wrong teaching that Paul is refuting in this passage. He says, “Christ has set you free. Therefore, stand firm, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” Christ set them free from the yoke of striving to appease their many idols, therefore they didn’t have to submit to the yoke of slavery to the Jewish laws.
As Christians, we have been set free from our past guilt, shame and death. We should not allow ourselves to be hunted or held down by them anymore, nor should we allow our lives to be recaptured by anything that held us captive. In our gospel, Jesus tells the Jews, “he who the son sets free, is free indeed.”
But like I said before, Paul feared that such a freedom could be exploited. So, he cautioned them and by extension, all of us, when he writes, “only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence. The online Webster dictionary defines Self-indulgence as “excessive or unrestrained gratification of one’s own appetites, desires or whims.
Today, we face this identical issue that Paul was guarding against. For some Christians, freedom through the grace of Jesus Christ means I have the right to do whatever or live whatever way I desire, and nothing, not even scripture should stand in my way. It is to this that Paul is saying no! Peter repeats a similar warning in 1 Peter 2:16, which says, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.”
Paul refers to this dominant quest for self-gratification in this passage as “the desire of the flesh.” Renowned Bible commentator, William Barclay calls it, “the lowest side of the human nature.” I want to call it, “the human cravings.” Paul warns us in verse, 16, “do not gratify the desire of the flesh.”
He then gives us a catalogue of, what he calls, “the works of the flesh: fornication, impurity, licentiousness/wantonness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, and carousing.
When we look keenly at the meaning of each of these words, which we don’t have the time to do, we will discover that nearly all of them are for the purpose of self-gratification. Fornication is sex without commitment to one another. Words like “hook-up culture, and one-night stands, explain it all. Idolatry: Is when material things take the place of God; Jealousy: the desire to have what someone else has; it’s a wrong desire for what is not ours. Envy: Grudges at the fact that another person has something good. It grieves at the good of others; etc.
Freedom in Christ is not a freedom for self-gratification, but a freedom, as Paul puts it, “to walk in the Spirit. Therefore, Paul urges us not to walk in the flesh, but to walk in the Spirit, because by contrast, the fruit of the Spirit are: love joy, gentleness, generosity, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness and self-control.
Against these things, Paul says, there is no law, because the Christian who walks in the Spirit will certainly fulfill the purpose of the law, not out of fear of punishment, but by his or her refinement through the work of the Holy Spirit. His or her character traits will show it. He or she will be loving, peaceful, generous, patient, kind, gentle, faithful, and self-controlled. This means that a Christian will be law abiding, not out of fear of punishment, but because he or she has been empowered by the Holy Spirit to live such as our normal way of life.
As you leave from here this morning, let’s remember that Christ has set you free.
Jesus said, “I have come to set free those who are oppressed.” Let nothing hold you back; let nothing stand in your way from living and experiencing the Spirit’s fruit of joy, peace and love.
May you return to your communities and workplaces, empowered to exhibit the Spirit’s fruit of kindness, generosity, patience, gentleness, faithfulness and self-controlled so that the world may have a taste of you, and know that you are a follower of Christ Jesus.
God bless you.

“A Spirit-Filled Life”

Sermon for Sunday, 06/23/2019
Texts: Ephesians 5:15-20; John 3:3-6
Theme: “A Spirit-Filled Life”

Let me begin with a quote by D. L. Moody, who writes, “You might as well try to see without eyes, hear without ears, or breathe without lungs, as to try to live the Christian life without the Holy Spirit.”
Moody is simply saying that just how it’s impossible to see without eyes, hear without ears, or breathe without lungs, it is equally impossible to live the Christian life without the Holy Spirit.
We get a clearer understanding of this when we look at the original Greek word from which we have the word “spirit” in the New Testament. That word is “pneuma,” which means “wind” or “breath.” So, the Holy Spirit is the breath of the Christian life; without Him, you and I will suffocate and eventually die spiritually.
No wonder why Jesus told Nicodemus, the leader of Pharisees, that “except you are born of water and the Spirit, you cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” It’s not by any magic formula or one’s religious, or social or economic status, but the new birth by the Holy Spirit. We experience this new birth when we accept Christ and are baptized. It’s called “regeneration” or “born again.” Thus, all baptized believers in Christ have the Holy Spirit.
But the Holy Spirit has a role to play or work to do in and through us. Imagine your fridge and cabinet are stocked with food, but if you don’t get up and prepare a meal to eat, you will go hungry or even stave.
That is why in our Ephesians text, (v 18, ), Paul urged the Christians in Ephesus and by extension all of us today, “to be filled with the Holy Spirit. He says, “do not be drunk with wine, but be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
One of the tests given to drivers suspected of DUI when they are pulled over, is to walk on a straight line, and quite often they can’t, because they are under the control or influence of alcohol. So, Paul warns us not to be under the influence of alcohol, but under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
The fact that Paul is instructing folks who are already Christians to be filled with the Holy Spirit means that we Christians are not always filled, or not always under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, the tense of the Greek word translated “filled” indicates a moment by moment, repeatable action. This means that a Spirit-filled Christian today, may not be spirit-filled next week or next month. It is not a permanent state that one acquires. It is something to be worked towards each day because one can be at different level at different times.
How then can we be Spirit-filled? I think it begins with our desire. In Matthew 5: 6, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.” Paul says in Philippians 3:10, “I want to know Christ–yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participate in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.”
Sorry to say but many times when we pray, our prayers are self-centered. We want God to only be our problem solver. “God, please do this and do that for me; please heal my friend or family; please give me a new job. It’s not bad to pray these prayers but it’s not healthy to prayer only them. Sometimes the object of our prayers needs to be something we want to be or do for God.
I am talking about prayers like: “Lord make me to know you more; I want to be close to you, and to experience your Spirit; make me your instrument; I want to dedicate myself to you Lord. Lord, give me strength to serve you.
This expression of desire must be followed by our action of self-surrender. Many things hold us back from self-surrender. They hold back our time, our resources, and our commitment. Sometimes the only thing we can give out to God so readily is that which causes us nothing.
But we are talking about a self-surrender which will result into emptying ourselves of some of the things that take up our energy so that we create room for the Holy Spirit to fill us. Paul says, “don’t you know that your body is the temple of the Lord and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
These two things: developing the desire expressed in prayer to God and self-surrender will bring God’s Spirit alive in us. Paul says, we will begin to sing hymns, spiritual songs and make melodies in our hearts. This filling will also be manifested in our gathering as a worship Community.
A Spirit-filled life is a life under the influence of the Holy Spirit, directing and leading us in the service of Christ. This influence creates the desire and thirst to serve, to be in the Lord’s presence at worship each week.
When we are Spirit-filled, there shall be no holding back. We will say like Jeremiah. “But if I say, “I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:9)
Finally, a Spirit-filled life will experience and enjoy the fruits of the Holy Spirit:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I am talking about the peace and joy that nothing in this world can give us.
May we open ourselves to be filled with God’s Spirit and experience the joy and peace that only the Holy Spirit can give us.
God bless you.

“The Holy Spirit and the Christian Life”

Sermon for Sunday, 06/16/2019
Text: Acts 2:36-42; John 14:15-17
Theme: “The Holy Spirit and the Christian Life”

Today is “Trinity Sunday” when we emphasize our one God, manifesting himself in three persons: Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. But the focus of today’s message is the Holy Spirit, the silent and the less talked about member of the Trinity.
God the Father is credited as the Creator of the Universe. We begin the historic Apostle with, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.” Genesis 1:1 confirms this belief, that “in the beginning, God Created the Heavens and the Earth.”
This same God showed himself in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son, and Second Person of the Trinity, who is credited with the work of redemption. Talking about himself, Jesus said, “ 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28).
But when we are saved by the redemptive work of Christ on the cross, we begin a lifelong journey that calls us to a life of transformation, and participation in God’s redemptive missions in our world. But these we cannot accomplish in our own strength. That is why Jesus told the disciples, “I will ask the Father and he will send you another Helper who will be with you forever. He is the Spirit of truth.”
The word “Helper” as used here, or “Comforter or Advocate” in our versions of the Bible is “paraclete” in Greek, meaning “the one who is called to walk alongside.” Therefore, the Holy Spirit is our companion who walks alongside us in this Christian life. He energizes, strengthens, renews, transforms and empowers us.
This bring us to the story of F. B. Meyer, the Great English preacher and Bible teacher who once had a firewood factory that employed prisoners. Meyer would give them good wages, a place to live and possible spiritual encouragement. In exchange, he expected them to render good employment, but they didn’t, and he lost money. Finally, he fired them all and purchased a circular saw powered by gas engine. In one hour, it turned out that more work was done than the combined efforts of all the men covered in the course of a whole day. One day Meyer had a little conversation with his saw. “How can you turn out so much work?” He asked! “Are you sharper than the saws my men were using? No! Is your blade shinier? No! What then? Better oil or lubrication against the wood?
The saw’s answer, could it speak, would have been, “I think there is a stronger driving power behind me. Something working through me with a new force. It is not I, but the power behind me.”
The Holy Spirit is the source of God’s power working in, through and behind us to live a transformed life and carryout God’s missions, but sorry to say that we have become so dependent on our own power, our energy, our intellect, and the institutional workings of our church to the extent that we leave almost no room for the working and influence of the Holy Spirit. No wonder why most of our mainline denominational churches are so cold and struggling for survival.
Church, there is no way we can be transformed Christians growing in the love of Christ and neighbors and be the hands and feet of Christ in our needy and broken world without the power of Holy Spirit. And when I say without, that does not mean he is not present, but giving him the space to work.
There are no preconditions to be a follower of Christ, other than to accept him as our Lord and Savior, but when we do so, we are called to live a transformed life.
Paul says “if anyone be in Christ; he is a new creation. Old things are passed away, behold all things becomes new.” This means a crack addict is welcome to Christ, as long he puts his trust in him and when he does, he must now begin to work at getting clean, but not in his strength alone, but with the aid of the Holy Spirit.
That’s why the Holy Spirit came to walk alongside us and be present with each of us. We know this though the words of the Apostle Peter that were read, “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your son, and they shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
This means that each of us here this morning and Christians everywhere who have repented of their sin, received Jesus Christ as their Savior and been baptized, have received Holy Spirit.
He is not a dove, or water, or fire, or wind. These are all symbols of the Holy Spirt. He is a person. That is why the Holy Spirit is not referred to as “it” but rather “he.” He is with you.
But the quest for concrete evidence in our age may make us to wonder, how do I know I have the Holy Spirit when I don’t see him?
The answer can be found in this story told about a little boy who was flying a kite on a windy day. The kite kept going higher and higher. Finally, it got so high that it was out of sight. A man passed by and saw the little boy holding onto the string, but he could not see the kite. He asked the little boy, “How do you even know you have a kite up there?” The boy replied, “Because I can feel it.”
We don’t see the Holy Spirit, but we can feel his presence. I feel His presence when I am alone; we feel his presence in our worship places, and even at our dinner table. He strengthens us, convicts us, renews and transforms us, and empowers us to be faithful servants of Christ.
May God who is Father, Son and the Holy Spirit abide with you always.
God bless you.