Knowing Christ Changes Everything

Sermon for Sunday, 04/07/2019
Text: Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12: 1-8
Theme: “Knowing Christ Changes Everything”

Have you ever discovered or received something which you thought at the time was the best among the rest? I am talking about something which you felt was so important that you resolved to do everything to maintain and protect it no matter what. This certainly cannot be the latest version of your mobile phone or the model of your vehicle. I am talking about something that you felt defined who you are and was part of your identity. But after a while, you discovered another version, and only then did you realize that what you had always considered the best, and pride yourself of, was nothing but an inferior vision of the actual one.
Sometimes it is easy to get wrapped up in things, not only the tangible things that we can see and touch, but also the intangibles, such as reputation, fame, and achievements, so much so that they get to define who we are. This is the issue that Paul is dealing with in this passage. And thank God he did, or else you and I would have had no place in the family of Christ.
The Great Commission, or the mission to take the good news of Jesus Christ to the whole world was handed to his disciples, who were all Jews, but for some reason, many could not imagine God’s message of salvation crossing their boundaries and extending to others.
In their mind, any none Jew (Gentile) who wanted to have a place with “their God” first had to become a Jew. This was done through assimilation into the Jewish culture. Paramount among them was to go through circumcision and straight obedience to the Laws of Moses. This was the practice in Judaism, a demand the early apostles brought over to the church.
The Jewish teachers of this doctrine contended that faith in Christ was not enough. They demanded the Gentile Christians to exert efforts and labor for the salvation. “You must obey the laws,” they claimed. The Jews were saying in effect, we have what it takes to be a part of God’s people, and until you be like us, strive for merit it like us, God has not place for you.
This teaching undermined the whole good news of Jesus Christ. For the good news is, whosoever will, let him come. Come and eat without price. There is no precondition in terms of work. It says, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shall be saved. This is the good news open to everyone, even the one death roll.
Therefore, the apostle Paul, the propagator of the gospel to the gentles had to refute this dangerous teaching in very harsh words because it threatened the very survival of the early church. It meant the gospel would have never reached us.
He told them, if there is a need to boast, I have every reason to boast. Look at my identity and credentials. I am no alien, but a typical Jew, circumcised on the eighth day after birth, according to the Law (Lev. 12,2,3). I am not a proselyte, but an original Jew, from tribe of Benjamin, the tribe that produced the first king of Israel. I am a Hebrew of Hebrews; concerning the law that you are boasting about, I rose to the level of a pharisee; concerning zeal, I persecuted the church in my effort to destroy it; concerning righteousness, I was blameless.
Paul says with all those Jewish credentials, he had been seeking a righteousness of his own. But they just could not get him across until he found the righteousness that is found in Christ. This is the righteousness that we have when we meet Christ, and it changes everything; It makes all the difference.
Sometimes we become like Saul, seeking meaning and purpose in the wrong things and at the wrong places. Most of our life, we are running and seeking, adding up, thinking if I just added that one, I will be happier; I will be saver, or be better. But David says, without God, it is like chasing the wind.
No amount of good work is good enough; only the good work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Therefore, Paul’s says he considers all his previous Jewish credentials rubbish and inferior to the righteousness found in Christ.
This is the good news that has welcome us into the familyhood of God. But when we come to know Christ, it changes everything. Like Paul, it challenges us to rethink our values; it shapes our priorities and redefines our identity.
God’s grace that saves us is entirely free. We don’t merit it; we don’t deserve it; we did not earn it, but once we receive it, our transformation journey begins.
That is why Paul says his desire is to know Christ more and the power of his resurrection. Every Christian should have the desire to do and be better. Like Paul, no Christian should desire to just be the same way. God has called us to a higher caller. We should not allow the world to set standards for us. Our standard should be guided by what God says. It is not a one-day thing; it’s a journey.
Referring to his journey, Paul tells us, “I am not saying that I have obtained, or I have already arrived, but the one thing I do, is forgetting the things that lie behind and straining forward to what lies ahead. My eyes are set on the goal and I am not turning back.” This is the Christian journey. Moving forward on our journey.
I hope we can discover what Paul discovered. It’s a discovery that we are who are not necessarily because of what we have acquired or attained, but by grace, the free gift of God. Any Christian who understands and applies this will live a grateful and happy life each day, knowing that you are who you are not because of what you have to your credit, but because of God’s grace.
When you are privileged to rise up from your bed in the morning, you would say, thank you God, because is not an entitlement. None of us earned the right to be alive this morning. No amount of money can sustain our breadth for a second if God chooses to withdraw.
Like Paul, may we live each day with a grateful heart, knowing that we are who we are, not because of our credentials, but the grace of God. And this makes all the difference and changes everything.
God bless you.

Our God Comes to Us | Sunday, December 2, 2018

Sermon for Sunday, 12/02/2018

Text: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Luke 21:25-36

Theme: “Our God Comes to Us”

For most Liberian families, the fathers are the sole breadwinners. This is mostly true for the generation of our parents, partly true for my generation and no longer true for our children’s. These fathers leave home early morning for work and are expected to return in the evening with the money for the day’s meal or the next day’s. The reason is that many workers don’t earn enough to take them from one monthly pay check to another. So, papa must find other means each day.   

A father who can afford extras usually brings home a plastic bag containing sweets, biscuits, bread, etc, for the family, especially the kids. So, papa coming home is a big deal for the family.  There is a symbolic but meaningful Liberian colloquial that expresses it in these words, “Papa nah come.” That is to say, “Daddy has come.”

As the evening hours pass, every child is on the look out for papa, and the kid who is first to see him approaching rans to meet him with the shout, “Papa nah come,” thus calling the attention of the rest of the family members, and all the other kids will follow with the same refrain.  This happens because papa’s coming home means something. It gives hope to a waiting and some cases, a hungry family.

In similar vein, Advent is the time when we believers are waiting and watching out for the arrival of big papa (God).  But God does not always come to us in favorable times. At times He comes in challenging times, and like many Liberian families, his coming brings hope.

We see this in the scriptures read this morning. Jeremiah describes the coming of Christ to give hope to a hopeless nation.  God spoke these through the prophets at the time when the people had been conquered by Babylon, and Jerusalem burned down. They had been dragged into exile and lost their freedom as a nation.  It is during such troubling times that God promised to raise up the messiah from David’s lineage who would rule with justice and righteousness. These were words of hope to a devastated people. This is the first Advent.

The New Testament text, for its part, describes events that can make the bravest soul run for cover. The passage is a whole drum roll of disaster. Seas surge. Planet shake. The earth groans and threatens to come undone. The world Jesus describes of his second coming is full of tarrying events, but it is not unlike our world today. Wars? We have got them! Mass shooting even in schools and worship places? We are experiencing them!  Wide fire disasters that take the lives of hundreds and leave thousands homeless? We get them even here. People being uprooted from home who are escaping violence? We see the images. Holding all politics constant, these are human beings like us who have no home to spend this Christmas because of the drag related violence they flee, and many may not make it to their designated home of refuge during this season.

Those words of Jesus in our text are describing that the end is near, but it always feels like the near end for someone.  It may be that person who was laid off just recently week, or that friend or relative who has been diagnosed with cancer, or multiple sclerosis; I am talking about that person who has just lost a love one or experienced a devastating divorce and facing their first Christmas alone.

As I wrote this sermon and thought about these real-life painful experiences that  bring people to the end of their rope even during this time, the words of one of my good American friends this week reminded me that I too am a human who is not spared or immune.   In his words to me, he wrote;

“Both my wife and myself are so sorry that family separation is happening to you, especially at this Season of Love and Healing initiated by the Birth of Our Savior. We simply cannot imagine why or how the Immigration Authorities cannot see that you are a stable and employed person and should easily have your family immigrate here. This should not be happening! You will have our prayers for a quick re-uniting of your entire family…….May God BLESS you, your wife Eva and your entire family.”

We are very grateful to him and many of you who share similar kind sentiment, and we appreciate those concerns. As human beings, we face situations beyond our control at times.   Things that hurt us and those dear to us. Things that get us terrified and send us for cover. But it is precisely at these moments that our God shows up. It is at these moments that our God comes to us.

At these desperate times, Jesus invites us to stand tall, to lift our heads and strain our eyes toward the horizon, our God promises to come to us.  This is the Hope of Advent.

In the midst of my painful family separation at this festive season, I have hope that one day, the Lord who has led me on my journey in this nation during these years, will re-unite us.

I don’t know what you are dealing with during this season. But whatever it is; be it the lose of a family and friend, a fearful diagnosis, or the illness of a love one or family, or financial issues, we want you to remember, that amidst all these, our God promises to come. Imagine the hope and the possibilities that Christ brings even now.

He may not come to us today as he will one day, -riding on the clouds with all his power and glory on full display. But by his Spirit, he still promises to come. And he comes to us even now. This is the good news for us today, that our world will not end tomorrow, because our God Comes to us, and is with us even now.

God bless you.

God’s Provision for our Everyday Need | November 25, 2018

Sermon for Sunday, 11/25/2018

Text: Matthew 6:25-33

Theme: “God’s Provision for Our Everyday Need”

Ralph Phelps tells a story of the clock which had a nervous breakdown. This new clock was ticking away on the shelf two ticks to the second as any good, self-respecting clock would tick when it began to think about how many times it was going to have to tick. “Two ticks to the second means 120 second to a minute,” it mused. “That’s 7200 ticks per hour, 172,800 ticks per day, 1,209,600 ticks per week for 52 weeks, and a total of 62,899,200 per year.” Horrors! Straightway, the clock had a nervous breakdown.

Like this clock, and more often than not, the things that worry us are not things we are faced with now, but things we imagine we may face tomorrow. We worry about the things that may happen to us, and the truth is, we may never face most of the things we worry about.  

That is why Jesus gives us the injunction: “Therefore do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, what you will wear. Everything here is a   future tense. What you will………. We often worry about situations in the future.

Unlike our society, obtaining these physical needs was a major challenge for the folks of Jesus’s day. Their life expectancy was around forty. They never had the freedom that we have today. Obtaining their physical needs like food and clothing was a major struggle So, Jesus told them, not to worry about food and clothing.  

Thank God that many of us in the US don’t have to worry about food and clothes. We have more than enough; that is why we must be thankful and care for those who don’t have. But in spite of having abundance, we too worry about some things; for no one is immune to worry.

In his article, Why Worrying Does More Harm Than Good, Psychologist Jim Taylor writes, “Worry is a natural part of the human condition.”

We all experience worry, because to be honest, we live in a world of real and present danger to our wellbeing and livelihoods, and we want to be concerned about those things and take reasonable precautions against illness, injuries and accidents, etc.   

Therefore, these words of Jesus are not a call to a carefree or careless living. We must take those reasonable steps to keep us and our family safe. If you want, you may call this healthy concerns or healthy worry.

But Jim goes on, “when our life becomes preoccupied with perceived threats that are credible unlikely” and may I add, things that we don’t have control over, the author continues, “this can make us miserable and sucks the joy out of our lives.”

This is where the meaning of the old English word, “wrygan” (strangle) from which we have worry, comes true.  Worry strangles the joy out of our lives.

As middle class of this developed county, many of us don’t have to worry about food and clothing, but we have other objects of worry.

A list drawn from the book, Inside the Broken Heart, and other sources, we tend to worry about things like:

  • Financial Security (Will I have Enough money to live on when I am retired?)
  • Who can I trust my money with?
  • Health (What will happen if I get sick? When we are ill, “am I going to die?)”
  • The Future, when a spouse is ill: (What will life be without my spouse?)
  • Will my children be there to love and support me as I age?
  • Perfectionism (If I make mistake, I will be a failure)
  • Social comparison (People may think that I am a failure or loser)
  • Insecurity (People are coming after us).

The issues of college admission, sports recruitment, physical appearance, bullying, dating, and many others, can cause anxiety and worry for young people.

So, when Jesus calls us not to worry, he teaches us some reasons why we shouldn’t.

  • In verse 25, Jesus points out that that God gives us life, and surely

we can trust God for all the necessary things that support this life.

  • In verse 27, Jesus points us that worry is useless because it does not change

anything about our situation. So, it’s meaningless to worry. It just hurts us.

  • From verse 28-30, Jesus states that if God can care for the created

things, which are less important, we can trust that God will care for us who are his image bearers.

  • In verse 32, Jesus tells us that worry should not be for people of faith like

you and me.  People without faith in God have no one to turn to and nothing to hope on in times of adversity. But you and I have God to turn to and hold onto.

  • Finally, in verse (34), which was not read by the way, Jesus tells us that  

worry can be defeated if we live one day at a time. Lord give us this day our daily bread, we say each week.  Indeed, God can Provide our Everyday Need.

Therefore, let’s not be like the clock which was not worried about the two ticks at present but the many ticks it would have to make in a day, a week and year. This would cause us a nervous breakdown, as it did the clock.

Let’s be concerned with the ticks now, doing the best we can and trusting God with the future. God wants us to do our best about the future and trust the rest with him. Let’s not worry about tomorrow.

This will save us from the unnecessary anxiety and stress we experience when we worry.  It will make us to live in peace and joy with a heart full of gratitude to God for each day, trusting that God can Provide Our Everyday Need.  

God bless you.

Witnessing to Christ’s Love | November 18, 2018

Sermon for Sunday, 11/18/2018

Part VI of Series: The Disciple’s Path

Texts:  John 1:43-51

Theme: “Witnessing to Christ’s Love”

Good news is difficult to keep. When we watch a movie, read a good book, or

make a wonderful trip, we just can’t wait to tell a friend.  We want to share the

story, and by doing so, we witness to the awesome experience we

have had and invite others into that experience.  

 

This is how we Christians ought to be.  We are people who have experienced the saving grace of God through Christ and are experiencing his love each day. Each day our lives are being transformed by God the Holy Spirit. This is an awesome experience worth sharing. We must invite others into this wonderful experience that we have found in Christ, and bear witness of this love to those who are missing out on it.

Bearing witness, which is sharing the love of Jesus Christ with others, so that they too may become his disciples is a theme that runs through the gospel of John.  We see the at the very inception of the book. Chapter 1:6-7 reads,

“There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness,

in order to bear witness of the light, that through him all might believe. This was

John’s mission. It’s our mission as well.

In our gospel reading (John 1:43-51), Jesus is recruiting his disciples and finds

the young man Philip to whom Jesus extends the simple invitation, “Follow Me.”

When Philip finds his friend Nathaniel, he just could not keep the good news.  

“We have found Him of whom Moses in the law and the prophets wrote-

Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph,” To Philip, this was a news too good to keep.

It’s like saying to Nathaniel come and meet this Jesus, whom I have found.

 

As followers of Christ, our ministry is to invite others to Jesus. We are to bear

witness to the love of Christ to others, just as we too have experienced.

 As Godet said, “One lighted torch serves to light another.” Each of us must show

another person the way that leads to life through Christ.

Nathaniel’s response to his friend Philip was “Can anything good come

Nazareth?” This is not the kind of response you would expect from a friend being

invited to something thought of as good. Nathaniel’s reaction was to declare that

Nazareth was not the kind of place anything good would come from. Some people

kind of think of the church like that. But Philip was wise. He did not argue. He

said simply, “Come and see.” Philip was saying, come and experience him for

yourself. And when Nathaniel experienced Jesus, his attitude changed. His words

became, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel.”

 

The ministry of witnessing to the love of Christ is assigned to us by Christ himself.

In John 15:27, Jesus tells the disciples, “You shall be my witnesses because you

have been with me from the beginning.” You and I are called to witness to the

love of Christ. But if we are to carry out this ministry, we must employ the

wisdom of Philip. It is not about putting up the smartest argument. William

Barclay writes, “Not very many people have been argued into Christianity. Often,

our arguments do more harm than good.”

So, instead of putting up the most clever argument, we use Philip’s simple response; “come and see.” We can also learn from the Samaritan Woman at

the well, who after encountering Jesus, ran back to the village, inviting

everyone to Christ, “Come and see the man who has told me everything that have

done.”

John 4:39a says, “Many of the Samaritans from that village committed

themselves to Jesus because of the woman’s witness,” And in verse 42, they told

the woman, “Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves

have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the

world.”

Church, when we witness to the love of Christ by inviting others, God through the Holy Spirit will do the rest. It is God who touches people’s hearts to follow him.

 We must learn to be an invitational church, but in today’s world, no one will

follow a person whom she doesn’t know. This is where building relationship,

especially with new people is key.  Every time a new family moves into our

neighborhood let’s reach out and develop relationship with them. As we

get more acquainted, it becomes likely for them to respond to our invitation.

In addition to being invitational, the next way we can witness to God’s love is by

sharing Christ’s love with others in practical ways, especially those outside of

the church circle. In his book, The Conspiracy of Kindness, Steve Sjogren writes,

 

“God is seeking to enter the hearts of every person on this planet, but He

faces a significant obstacle. The problem has never been a message; we

have that straight, for the most part. Nor the problem the lack of audience;

plenty of people need to hear the good news. His problem is the reluctant

army He calls the Church.” He continues, “God is looking for people who

are willing to participate in acts of love and kindness to those outside of

their present circle.” Are you willing to be one of those people God is

seeking?

 

The author adds, “God is looking for people who believe that a humble demonstration of love plants a seed of eternity in the hearts of others that may blossom into faith in Christ.

 

I have always asked, what if we open our thanksgiving dinner to those outside the church who may be far from family and friends. We will be saying to them, “come on in; we are your family and friends. That would be heart touching to some folks.  

 

I think there is no shortage of words about God’s love that people have heard. But people want to see and experience God’s love in practical ways. This is a very powerful means of witnessing to Christ love to the community around us.

 

Using Steve words, may I conclude, “When people see the love of God in action, a hot button is touched deep inside them. They feel God’s presence and see that he is real.” May we become the vessels through which Christ is experienced by all.

God bless you.

The Disciple’s Path | November 11, 2018

Sermon for Sunday, 11/11/2018

Part V-Sermon Series: The Disciple’s Path

 

Text: Psalm 50:7-15; Luke 12:13-21

Theme: “A Generous Life”

 

We just sand one of our old hymns, which is often used as the offertory for many  United Methodist Churches. Let’s take a closer look at the first verse:

 

We give Thee but thine own

Whate’er the gift be;

 all that we have is thine alone,

a trust, O Lord, from three.

The biblical teaching that everything (we have) belongs to God is the starting place for a keen understanding of the Christian life of generosity.  Many scriptures testify to this. In Psalm 50 God said to the Hebrews, “all the animals are mine. If I were ever to get hungry, do you think I will ask you? All creation and its bounty are mine.”

Psalm 24, adds, “The earth is the Lord’s and all its fullness. The world and those who live therein. For He has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.”

These passages teach that God is the owner of everything, including you and me.  This is the basis upon which thankfulness and giving back to God rest. When we begin living out this biblical truth, it shapes our attitude toward our possessions, and influence our response toward God and our fellow human beings.

Here in lies the error of the man described as, “The Rich Fool” in Luke 12.  This man used the first-personal pronoun “I” seven times in this short passage.  I know what I will do. I have no room to store my crops. I will do this…. I will pull down my barns, I will store all my crops, I will say to my soul. Soul, you have many goods laid up for you for many years; take life with ease, eat, drink and make merry.

                                                                                                                                                This man’s problem was not in his producing more. The first of the three simple rules John Wesley gave the early Methodists regarding the use of money, is “gain all you can.” So, there is nothing wrong with working hard and earning as much as you can, as long you don’t do it to the detriment of another.  

I also believe there was nothing wrong with this man’s saving for his rainy says. For Wesley’s second rule states, “save all you can.” So, there is nothing wrong with saving for your retirement, your children’s education, vocation, recreation, etc. But when Wesley wrote this rule, he was not encouraging hoarding and amassing processions like the case of this man. He was guiding Methodists against wasteful spending. But this guy was trapped by his possession. Let’s be mindful.

The last of Wesley’s three rules was, “give all you can.” This is where this rich man screwed up. For he saw life’s purpose in a very narrow lens.  It was all about himself. Sometimes it is easy fall into the trap of the “me, myself and I” culture. But we must always remember that the goal of the disciple’s path is to “Love God with our whole being and to love our neighbors as ourselves” Life for the Christian is not just about self. It is also about God and neighbors. This is why giving to the work of God’s kingdom here on earth and sharing with others are so paramount.

Billy Graham says, “there is a direct connection between a Christian’s faith our finances.” How we share with God and others flows from our spiritual condition. When we understand and accept that generosity does not begin with what we give to God, but what God has given to us, giving becomes a joy and not a duty, or   burden. Giving then becomes our grateful response for what God has done for us. We give cheerfully “for God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7). We become generous to God and others because God has been generous to us.

This man failed to realize that not only his possession, the very breathe and life that he had was God’s gift.  Life is a gift. The doctors may help to patch us up to prolong life, but ultimately, it’s God’s. Therefor Proverbs 3:9-10, says, “Honor the LORD with your processions, and with the first fruits of all your increase. So, your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine.”

Not only does the Bible teach us to give in gratitude to God, but  to do so proportionally. Deut. 16:17, says, everyone shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD thy God which he has given him. The goal of proportional giving for the Christian is 10% of his income or tithing. Remember, I said the goal but not the limit that a follower of Christ can give to God’s redemptive and transforming mission in our world. There are people who include their church in their will.

 

Giving is one of our spiritual disciplines, and like every other spiritual discipline, we don’t reach this point overnight, and we all are not at the same point on this journey. So, each day you and I must take a step of faith on this journey.

 

In his book, Journey to the Center of Faith, Richard Chew writes, “sometimes the best decision to make is to take that step of faith when it would be easier to play it safe and live in your comfort zone.”

 

As we return home today, I urge each of us to look around and see how much God has blessed us with, and ask ourselves what percent of our income we have committed in gratitude to God for his work here on earth, through our congregation?  The response does not belong to me, or any human being, but to the very God who has blessed each of us so bountifully.

 

As I close, let me leave you with these words of Eugene Peterson, “Each gift you give is an invitation and provides a means to participate in the work of Jesus…We are being invited into a working relationship in the operations of the Trinity.

 

May the Almighty God continue to bless and give us a heart to be generous disciples of his.

 

God bless you.

 

The Disciple’s Path | November 4, 2018

Sermon for Sunday, 11/04/2018

Part IV Sermon Series: The Disciple’s Path

 

Texts: I Corinthians 12:12-27; John 13:12-17

Theme: “A Life of Service”

We shall continue our series today, despite the week interruption, but for good reasons too.  So, in addition to: Prayer and scriptural meditation, and our presence in worship and small groups, service to God and to others is the next characteristics of the disciple’s path. It is at the heart of the Christian life.

Jesus was not hesitant say this. In Mark 10:45, he says, “For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a random. Taking it a step further in our gospel text (John 13), Jesus not only demonstrates his love through service to his disciples in a very tangible way, but he also instructed them, including us today, to do likewise.  John 13 is often read on Holy Thursday about the Last Supper, but this is not our focus today. Our focus is on the Christian life of service.

Accordingly, this is the last time that Jesus ate with his disciples before his death. That is why we call this meal the Last Supper. As they ate, Jesus decides to drive home his vital lesson of the Christian life of service. He left the Table, took the towel, poured water in the basin, knelt and began to wash the disciples’ feet. Peter resisted, because that was not the role of the leader.  It was the role of the lowest servant or even the slave of the family to wash the feet of others, especially guests of the family who had walked for hours or days in the desert. But Jesus insisted on washing their feet and he did.

After he was done, Jesus asked them, “Do you know what I have done to you? He said, “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right; for that is what I am. So, if I your Lord and teacher has washed your feet, you ought to do it to one another. Verse 15, reads, “For I have given you an example that you should follow as I have done to you.”   

A Christian is a follower the example of Christ. Jesus put aside his Lordship, his honor and his deity, knelt and washed the dusty feet, and says we should follow his example, for this is what it means to be his disciple. Ministry is messy.

When we understand and accept this truth, we will be willing to do things in the name of Christ, that we won’t necessarily do. For Christ calls us to humbly provide such service in this name.

And many days, I see that right here in this church. I see your fathers, grandfathers, mothers and grandmothers, and children leave home early in the morning, come to put your hands in the flower, making pasties or doing the dishes after a large funeral or serving people at the table or collecting the dirty dishes, or even collecting dirty of the highway. That’s what it means to be a disciple of Christ.

In the Corinthian text, Paul highlights the collectiveness and the individuality of the congregation.  The analogy Paul uses is the function of the human body. The body is one, but it has different parts, and each part has an essential role for the wholeness and effective function of the body.

We see this in our daily life. When a single part of our body hurts; let say an ear, it affects the entire body. And we must go to see a doctor for treatment, so that not only that ear, but the whole body feels well again. That’s how important each person is in the life of the church of Christ. Considering the congregation, there are several different services that need to be provided.  As much as ushering is important to the life of the church, we all cannot be ushers, or choir, or Sunday school teachers, or lectors, but some of us need to be attendants in the nursery.

This is because not all have the same gifts, or the same interest or passion.  Some of us are passionate about going out and serving our seniors at the nursing homes, while others are passionate about serving in missions. What are you passionate about in the church? There can be no bystander.

Every ministry we provide in the church is important. They help to deepen our faith and influence our actions. But beyond that, they are intended to serve a purpose, and that purpose is to reach out in our community and share the love of Christ.  One important means by which we share God’s love is service. Service through deeds of kindness is a very powerful way to reach people with God’s love. It is becoming a powerful means of evangelism (spreading and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with others).

Steve Sjogren shares a practical and powerful example of this in his book, Conspiracy of Kindness.

He writes, Joe and Jared pulled into the free car wash that our church was holding as part of our outreach into the community on that Saturday morning.

 “How much?” Joe asked as he neared the line of buckets, sponges and hoses. “It’s free,” I told him. “No strings attached.” “Really!” Joe exclaimed. He seemed intrigued with the idea of getting something for nothing. “But why are you doing this?” “We just want to show you God’s love in a practical way.” Joe’s heart. The look on his face was incredible. “Wait a minute!” he practically shouted. “Are you guys Christians?” “Yeah., we are Christians,” I replied. Let’s leave the story here.

But I want you to imagine loading our rakes and bags into pickup trucks and going out to rake the leaves in people’s yard free on a Fall Saturday or showing up at the middle school on a Friday to park the Miner Packs free. Imagine that!

Steve states, “Free service in the Christ offers a picture of the grace of God, a priceless gift that can never be repaid.” And this is the powerful message we covey as a church when we share the free gift of God’s love in this way. God is looking up to you and me to go out and make disciples by sharing his love.

James A. Harnish states in these words, “I am confident that the almighty is fully capable of saving, redeeming and setting right everything that has gone wrong in this world by God’s owns power. I’m sure that God’s kingdom could come, and God’s will could be done on earth sorely by God’s own power. But God chooses to bring that kingdom to reality through the gifts and energies of ordinary folks such as you and me.” Are you willing? And are you ready?

Church, God calls us to reach out into our neighborhoods, and make disciples by proclaiming his love. And we can do that through our free acts of service to a needy world.

As I close, let me borrow Steve’s words as my conclusion. “It seems people don’t necessarily remember what they are told of God’s love, but they never forget what they have experienced of God’s love.

This is the life of service that marks the disciple’s path. May you continue on it.

God bless you

Prayer and Scriptural Meditation | October 7, 2018

Sermon for Sunday, 10/07/2018

Text: Psalm 119: 97-106; Luke 11:1-4

Theme: “Prayer and Scriptural Meditation”

Today, we continue our series, “The Disciple’s Path, “starting with the first two spiritual disciplines: Prayer and scriptural meditation. Imagine being in a committed relationship where you rarely talk and spend time with the one you claim to love.  Such relationship runs the risk of being dysfunctional. It’s the same with our relationship with God.

Prayer is a means through which we maintain a healthy relationship with God. Prayer is simply talking and listening to God. Through prayer, we open ourselves and share our joys, fears, challenges with God and listen to Him.  

Remember that the goal of our path as disciples is to love God with our whole being, and love others as ourselves. But it is difficult to love God in such way without being in constant communication with him. Jesus knew this very well.  That is why he prayed to God His Father many times in scripture.

Our gospel text this morning is a response to the request of one of the disciples who had observed Jesus praying.  He requested, “Lord, teach us how to pray as John taught his disciple. The response to Jesus to this unnamed disciple led to what we called the “Lord’s prayer,” but the lesson of this gospel passage goes beyond the significance of the Lord’s Prayer.

The fact that only one of the twelve disciples was interested in prayer tells us that prayer is a challenge to believers.   According to a finding of Pew Research, 54 percent of Christians of mainline denominations like ours, seldom/never pray, and 23 percent of those who try to do so, don’t know how to pray. This is sad because our chances for spiritual growth on this path are slim if we are reluctant, or do not know how to communicate with the God we are to love unreservedly.   

Like any human relationship, this affects our relationship with God.  If we are to love God, we must make time to communicate with Him. We must develop interest and master the spiritual disciple of prayer. Prayer is an essential spiritual discipline for our spiritual growth. That is why John Wesley wrote, “You may as well expect a child to grow without food as a soul without private prayer.”

  Paul instructs us to “pray with ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:7).  The Greek word for “without ceasing” does not mean nonstop. It means constantly recurring. Prayer should be a daily habit for us.  It is not healthy to be a prayerless Christian.

Contrary to what many Christians think, prayer is not just lifting up our shopping list of requests and asking God to do something about them.   In fact, asking God to do something for us is just one of the elements of prayer. So, let’s look at the various elements of prayer by considering the acronym ACTS.

  1. Adoration, C-Confession, T-Thanksgiving, S-Supplication

Adoration: Prayer does not begin with who we are or what we want from God, but who God is and what He wants for us.  In adoration, we remind ourselves of who God is. We acknowledge God’s character This is where we begin our prayer.

Confession:  Author J. H. Harnish, writes, “confession is the way we face the hard truth of our brokenness and clear the deck of all the stuff that clutters our souls and gets into the way of a vibrant relationship with God.” Unconfessed sin hinders our prayer. Psalm says, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” Proverbs 28: 13 adds, “He that covers his sins shall not prosper: but whosoever confesses and forsakes them shall have mercy.”

Thanksgiving: This is our joyful response to the way God is at work in our lives and the world around us. So, in prayer we just don’t ask, but we thank God for what He’s already doing. Ps. 107, says, “O give thanks to the Lord for He is good.

Supplication: This is when we ask God humbly and earnestly.  We draw the very real concerns of our lives and our world into the presence of God and invite God to be at work in them through us. Another name for supplication is intercession.  It is bringing the needs of others before God.

Let’s look at these various elements in the Lord’s Prayer.

The next spiritual discipline that is closely linked to prayer is reading and meditation on the Scriptures. John Wesley referred to himself as a “man of one Book,” and he challenged us, his followers to do the same. Therefore, the Bible is the primary source of our teachings and beliefs in the UMC.

When it comes to the purpose of scripture, Paul teaches that: “The Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our mistakes and correcting them, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are shaped for the tasks God has for us. (2nd Timothy 3:16-17; Message Bible).

In the Psalm read today, the author tells how he loved and meditate upon God’s Word. He stressed that the scripture as a means of guidance, kept from evil path by being a lamp to onto his feet.

Psalm 1 describes the one who meditates on God’s Word as a tree planted by the streams of waters, which yields fruits in all seasons, and his leaves never go dry, because he is nourished.

We live in a very busy world today which tells us that slowing down to spend time with God is not necessary. But we must resist such temptation, because prayer and scripture are the nonnegotiable essentials of our faith journey as disciples. Without them, we go out of steam along our path. They are the practices intended to transform our lives to become faithful disciples who would love God unreservedly and love those around us. s

But this does not happen overnight. It takes intentional practices and discipline. That’s why they are called Spiritual Disciples.   Our spiritual growth and maturity doesn’t not necessarily match our age, or length of years of church membership. We must take the necessary steps to grow. And the good news is, you don’t have to do this alone. The ministries of the church are intended to help you on your path.  There are resources as well as small groups available to help you grow. Take advantage of them.

May God our creator, Jesus Christ our Redeemer and the Holy Spirit, our Sustainer help us on our journey.

God bless you.

“A Living Faith” Sunday, 09,09,2018

Sermon for Sunday, 09,09,2018

Text: James 2:1-17
Theme: “A Living Faith”

Often, we Christians are referred to as people of faith, and our organizations and institutions are called faith-based institutions. Have you ever wondered why? The obvious reason is that we are people of faith in God; we put our faith in a God who is not seen. Through faith in God and His Word, we believe in this God of creation and redemption.
By classification, faith is an abstract word. It is our conviction about God and his word, and it is at the very foundation of our relationship with God. Without faith in God, you and I would rather find something else to do on Sunday morning.
Paul makes it very clear in Hebrew 11:6, that, “without faith it is impossible to please Him. He goes on, “For he that comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”
When we put our faith in God, and accept his saving grace, God saves us. Hence, Paul writes, 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
But faith in the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ is not just an abstract conviction. It has a tangible fruit. Faith in God shapes who we are and influences what we do. This is the lesson James is teaching us this morning.
James says faith without work is dead. Sometimes this message seems to be in tension with Paul’s position that we are saved by grace, through faith, and not by works, but it is not. In the 10th verse of Ephesians 2, that I quoted earlier, Paul adds, 10 “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, so that we should walk in them.”
Though work does not save us, but when we get saved by grace through faith, our work becomes a testimony of our salvation.
If our faith in God does not show good deeds, James says then our faith is dead. But we want to have a Living Faith; not a dead one. But our faith is not a living one unless its evidence is seen, and impact felt. A living faith is not based on the claim we make, but the good works we do.
Of the many things that could be listed as good work, James emphasizes the treatment of our fellow human beings. His teaching stresses that we all have the same intrinsic worth. Favoritism, based on whatever reasons, should have no place in the church.
In our context, especially now in life of America, the principle would apply to issues of race, immigrants, struggling Americans, etc. We are challenged as Christians to treat with respect, the poor, the minority, and the disadvantage, whether it is the student sitting next to you in class, or the homeless person walking down the street. We should treat them the same way we will like to be treated. This would amount to the demonstration of a living faith.
The second point James makes as a Living faith is how we respond to the needs of the needy. He says what good would our faith be if a brother or sister is naked or lacks food and we don’t help him or her, but tells him to go in peace, and keep warm, and we do nothing to help supply their bodily need? This would be a demonstration of dead faith, according to this biblical passage. s If a
As Paul says, we Christians are saved not by, but for good works.
Each of us here this morning has an opportunity to demonstrate a living faith through our work. For we have several opportunities with in and out of the church to do just that. Right now, we are providing lunch every Monday for our brothers and sisters at the warming center in Marquette. And we are thankful to all of those involved. Keep Kids Warm, a mission project to provide warm clothing for needy kids of our community during Winter, is coming up very soon.
The text makes clear that a living faith is not just something personal, or solitary; it’s not something between just you and God. It is a conviction about God that influences your life. John Wesley puts it this way: “The gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social; no holiness but social holiness.”
Today, we live at a time when people care less about what we profess or believe. But they will care when they see and experience the love of God through us.
So, the question is not whether we have faith or not. It is whether we have a living faith that is seen though what we do. When we demonstrate a living faith, there is bigger picture. That is, people see God at work through what we do.
It is my prayer that we will allow our faith to influence us in ways that become testimonies of God’s presence in our community.
God bless you.

The Heart That is Right with God” Sunday, 09/02/2018

Sermon for Sunday, 09/02/2018

Texts: James 1:17-24; Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23
Theme: The Heart That is Right with God”

A recent poll shows that seven percent of Americans claim to be Spiritual but not religious. By this, they claim that they acknowledge the existence of a divine being, but they do not associate with any formally organized religious community or participate in any religious ceremonies or rituals. While I remain unconvinced that this is right a path worth taking by anyone who calls himself/ herself a Christian, I fully understand that sometimes religion can be abused, and made harmful to people, instead of becoming a community of love of God and those around us as we are commissioned to do.
As we see in the gospel reading of Mark, Jesus is having some differences of opinion with the Pharisees and some of the scribes, who were among the main religious leaders of the time. The Pharisees and scribes were upset because some of Jesus’ disciples did not observe the Jewish hand-washing ritual before eating. To these religious leaders, this was a serious religious offense that Jesus had allowed his disciples to commit.
Let me stress that this washing of hands had nothing to do with personal hygiene. They were part of the traditions the scribes and Pharisees had given to the people as part of the law. “Why do your disciples not live according to the traditions of the elders, but eat with defiled hand?” They protested!
Frankly, we all carryout some traditions because we are not the first generations of our family and Christian ancestries. There are those who have come and gone before us, and some of their practices, writings, hymns, prayers are still important to us today. They are part of our rich heritage.
But for the Jews at the time, something much more was at stake. Whenever the Jews practiced these washings, they declared that they were “special and other people were “unclean or defiled” This was never God’s intention for the Jewish religion and any true religion for that matter.
In his response, Jesus quoted Isaiah, “This people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far away from me, teaching human precepts as doctrines. You abandon the commandments of God and hold to human tradition.” Then Jesus taught the crowd, “it is not what you swallow that pollutes your life; it is what you put out that pollutes: lusts, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, mean look, arrogance, deceptive dealings, foolishness- all of these are vomit from the heart. There are the sources of your pollution.
For ancient people, the heart was believed to be the center of decision, intentions, and the will. In this context, the heart is the source of everything we do; good or bad. So, having the Right Heart puts a person on the right path. The point Jesus is making is that the right heart breeds the right attitudes and behaviors, and vise versa. It can be a source of wickedness, as well as good.
Every evil that a person does is first conceived in the heart before it’s put into action. That is why Jeremiah (17:9) says, “The human heart is deceitful of all things. It is incurable. No one can understand it.”
But it can also be a source of good. Proverbs (3:3-4) states, “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck;
write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name
in the sight of God and man. No wonder why we are told in Proverbs 4:23, that “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
I am sure we now understand Jesus’s description of the religious leaders as people who worshipped God with their lips, but their hearts were far from him. That’s not what God wants us to be. God wants our hearts to be close to Him. I am talking about hearts that honor God. Hearts that are influenced by God’s words and live in obedience to them as James says in his text.
The heart that is Right with God is the source of transformation. Paul cautions us not to be conformed to this world but to be transformed through the renewing of our mind (heart in the same context-Romans 12:2)
True worship flows from the heart that is Right with God. David says, “I will give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with all my heart. And I will glory Your Name forever (Psalm 86:12). This is the kind of heart that knows it is not the center of worship, but God is. The opposite is to worship God with only our lips, (on the surface) according to Jesus in this text. And this is not what God wants of us.
Next, the heart that is Right with God is not full of hate, but overflows with joy, love, kindness, grace, kindness, to even people who may be considered undeserving.
The behavior criticized by Jesus in this text sometimes shows itself in many different forms among Christians. Sometimes the church becomes so overly concerned with process and procedures which are just intended to be the vehicles through which we do ministry, that we lose sight of our missions and ministry God has called us to.
My plead to you this morning is not to allow anything, not even me as your pastor to stand in the way of your service to God. Know that like everyone else, I too am a sinner saved by grace and serving in response to God’s grace upon my life. Don’t allow the trivial things to set you off as the Pharisees and scribe did.
Rather, each day we should be asking God to fill our heart. For if we don’t avail our hearts to God to fill it, something else will. They could be rage, anger, arrogance, resentment, covetousness, jealousness, envy, etc, and that’s the last thing we want.
As I close, it’s my fervent prayer that you and I will serve God with a heart that is right with Him. May our hearts be filled with praise and adoration to the Lord, and may God fill our hearts with His Spirit.
God bless you.

Sunday, 08/26/2018 Part IV of Series: A Grace-Full Life

Sermon for Sunday, 08/26/2018
Part IV of Series: A Grace-Full Life (from the womb to the Tomb)
Text: Romans 8:37-39

Theme: God’s Never Ending (Glorifying) Grace
During World War II, a passenger ship set sail from Great Britain headed for port in New York City. The Captain of the ship being afraid of enemy vessels, sought the advice and guidance of the British Admiral. The Admiral calmly assured the captain that no matter what happens, he should be sure to sail his ship straight ahead. “Do not take any detours — sail the ship straight ahead — continue on-ward, heading straight towards the intended mark,” he said.
After several days of sailing across the Atlantic Ocean which was undeniably filled with submarines and enemy vessels of all kinds, the Captain spotted an enemy destroyer off his forward bow. Nervously he grasped the handset and called for assistance. The calm voice replied, “Keep on straight, do not detour, just sail the ship straight ahead. Everything will be just fine. Just keep on going – straight ahead.”
After a couple more days the ship pulled safely into the great harbor of New York City. Shortly after docking the great British battleship “Man-of-War” pulled into port behind the passenger vessel. The Captain realized that while he did not see the British Battleship, she was there, standing by ready to come to his defense should it prove necessary.
Like that passenger vessel, you and I have been surrounded by God’s gracious love from the day we set sail in this life till the day we depart this world. But God does not even abandon us after this life. In the words of Paul in our text this morning, “nothing in the whole creation, not even death can separate from the love of God.” God’s love for us is Never-Ending.
In the song, “In Christ Alone,” we will sing “From life’s first cry, till final birth, Jesus commends my destiny.” God’s All-Reaching or Prevenient Grace is made available before we are aware (Romans 5:8). This is followed by God’s All-Saving or justifying grace which redeems us from sin and give us new life when we say Yes to Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). Since then, you and I have been on our faith journey under God’s Character-Shaping or God’s sanctifying grace (Ephesians 3:14-19).
Church, even though God’s Character-shaping grace is shaping and empowering us to take a step each day toward perfection, we never reach this goal in this life because we live in the presence of temptation and sin. Sometimes we slip and fall but God’s sanctifying grace picks us up and keep us going towards the goal of being like Christ. We aren’t there yet, but we keep striving toward our final state of perfection.
Paul could not have it said better in these words, “I am not saying that I have made it. But I am well on my way reaching out for Christ, who has wondrously reached out for me. Friends don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.” (Philippians 3:11-14; Message Bible).
Our goal, like every disciple is to be like our Master Jesus Christ. But it cannot be fully attained in this life, but the next, and God’s gracious love at work at that stage is God’s Never-Ending or Glorifying gracious love. It is the grace that completes our journey.
In the words of John Murry, “Glorification is the final phase of the application of redemption. It is that which brings to completion the process which begins in effectual calling. Indeed, it is the completion of the whole process of redemption.”
Each day, you and I are empowered to love, and to serve as Christ did. We are to be his hands, feet, and voice until we lay down this life, and begins the next, under God’s Never-Ending Love in our glorified state. This brings our journey to completion when we shall be like Christ.
In 1 John 3:2, we read: Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
This is our final state of salvation. Not only will we see Christ, but the Bible says we shall be like him. There is nothing that is greater than this.
In Jude (24) we read, “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy
This is the scope of God’s grace for us. From birth, to the end of this life, and beyond. God’s grace takes us through and presents us faultless before God’s throne. This gives us hope and security. Among many other things, it does two things to us:
1. It motivates us to live well. That is to love God and serve Him with all of what we are; to be the hands, and feet and voice of Christ and to make a difference in our community and beyond as Christ did.
For Paul says in 1 Cor. 2: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of anyone the things which God has in store for those who love Him.
2. The second thing it does for us is that it prepares us to die well.
In his wonderful book, Dying Well, Ira Byock, MD, He writes, “Over the years I have learned that the actual range of human experience of dying is broad. I have seen tremendous suffering, but I have also witnessed people who in their dying experienced a sense of wellness and peace that can only be called blissful. This what the Christian hope does for us, Church!
Christians should face death with peace and bliss, because we are not abandoned after this life. Our destiny is established by God. With this hope we must able to join the Apostle Paul in our final days, and say,
7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing (2nd Timothy 4:7-8).
May the God, whose All-Searching grace surrounded us when we did not even know him, and whose All-Saving or justifying grace saved us freely, and who is currently shaping us into what we shall be through his Never-Ending or Glorifying Grace, be with you each day
God bless you.