Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The heart of the giver

If you’re like me when you hear the word giving you may think of:


And especially in our current economy you may worry about how much you should give and whether we can make our budgets, whether it be at home or at church. And while it may be tempting to focus our thoughts on the quantity of our giving I think it may be more important to focus our thoughts on the quality of our giving.

What I mean by that is that I believe the heart of the giver is more important to God than the gift of the giver. There is a well known verse in 1 Corinthians chapter 13 that refers to giving and the heart of the giver that sometimes we overlook: 1 Cor 13:3

“If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing”

God is more concerned with relationship then he is with budgets and balance sheets. He is more concerned about the quantity of love in our hearts then the number of dollars in our collection plate.

In the words of Jesus himself in Matthew 5:23

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother, then come and offer your gift.”

Again we see, the heart of the giver is more important to God than the gift of the giver. That doesn’t mean that the gift we are giving is unimportant, because we do have budgets both at home and in the church, that require commitment, sacrifice, time and money. But as we give lets make sure that, first of all, our hearts are filled with love, and if we do that, I’m convinced that God will bless both the giver and the gift.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

It is hard to forgive

Have you ever wondered WHY it is so hard to forgive others when they sin against us? Giving forgiveness is not an easy thing. Peter expresses this sentiment when he asks Jesus a question in Matthew 18:21:

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times!”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

The very nature of Peter’s question implies that giving forgiveness is not an easy thing. For Peter it was so hard that he wanted to know if there were limits to the forgiveness that he had to extend. But WHY is it so hard to forgive? Jesus gives us some insight to that question in the parable he tells immediately after Peter’s question.

He says, "Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
"The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
"But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denari. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded.
"His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.'
"But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.
"Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
"This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."

In this parable Jesus is giving us some insight as to WHY it is so hard to forgive others. When someone sins against us they are creating a debt. Jesus compares that debt to being owed money, which is something we can easily understand. But in most cases the debt incurred through sin deals with more than just money.

Let me give an example, say someone tells a hurtful lie about you to others. By telling that lie they are creating a debt, they owe you something and it may be more than just an apology. You see, by saying something hurtful they may be robbing you of your reputation, or that lie might cause you pain, it may steal your joy or hurt your relationship with others. When someone sins against you they have taken something from you that in many cases they can’t pay back. There is nothing they can do to erase those hurtful thoughts they have put in others minds, they can’t go back and remove the pain they have caused, they can’t make everything right. And when they ask you for forgiveness they are asking you to remove that debt, a debt that in most cases they have no way to pay back. Forgiving is not an easy thing to do.

Jesus’ parable ultimately tells us that the measure of forgiveness we receive from God is related to the measure of forgiveness we extend to others. How can we come before God begging and pleading for mercy while at the same moment turning a deaf ear to those around us who are desperately seeking our compassion.

Monday, April 12, 2010

God really is patient with me

One day Jesus was teaching in the temple and among those listening were some priests and Phaisees. And Jesus told a parable that offended them, so much so that they began looking for a way to arrest Jesus. You see, the parable Jesus told was about God’s judgement upon the priests and Pharisees and it angered them. But it is interesting when you look at the parable closely you will see that though it ends in judgement, the parable really illustrates God’s patience, persistence, and sacrificial love.

The parable is found in Matthew 21:33-41
The parable starts out with a landowner (God) who rents out a vineyard which he planted and built with his own hands. When harvest time came he sent servants to collect what belonged to him, his share of the fruit. But it says those living on the land:
Beat one
Killed another
And stoned a third

Note from vs. 41 that the landowner, from the very beginning, had the power to forcibly remove the tenants from the land but he chose not to. Instead he demonstrates patience and forbearance and sends even more servants than the first time. And we are told that the tenants treated these servants the same as the first group.
You would think that at this point the tenants have thoroughly demonstrated that they are wicked, greedy, and murderers and that the landowner (God) should just destroy them and wipe them off of his land. But no, his love and desire for them is overwhelming and he sends his son, hoping that they will respect and listen to him.
But the tenants take him outside the vineyard and kill him.
Now, it is somewhat easy to listen to this parable and pass our own judgement on those priests and Pharisees. From where we sit today it is pretty plain that God was reaching out to them over and over, even after they proved themselves to be sinners and it was they who rejected God.
But listen to these verses in Romans 5:6-8:

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possible dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Each one of us is a tenant in God’s vineyard. And each one of us has proven ourselves to be wicked, greedy, and murderers. Yet God in his patience, persistence, and sacrificial love has reached out to us through his son, who he sent into this world

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Thought

Have you ever thought about how many hours you have spent in your life-time sitting in a church worship service? Add to that the number of hours you may have spent in a Bible class, and reading your Bible, and praying. Then add to that all the hours you have spent in ministry or ministering to others. It’s probably a lot of hours, a large portion of your life.

What would you think if I told you that you’ve wasted your time, that all of those hours meant nothing… unless, at the core of your faith there is a belief in one important event.
That one event, that has special significance on Easter Sunday, is the resurrection of Jesus.
The apostle Paul said this one event was at the core of his preaching. In 1 Cor 15 he states:
"For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…."
Paul goes on to say to his listeners, some of which, doubted the resurrection.
"If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith …. and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins."
I want you to use your imagination for a minute. Pretend that your faith in Christ is like a house. Each little fact or bit of knowledge that you have about Jesus is like a brick, or a board, or a shingle. As you look at your house of faith imagine that the little bricks and boards and shingles are laid out in such a way that the most important are at the bottom and the least important are at the top. Now, using your imagination I want you to rip the roof off your house. Strip off all of those shingles that represent some of the least important facts you believe about Jesus, and those shingles are probably different for each one of us this morning.
Again, using your imagination, I want you to get a hammer and start knocking out the boards and bricks of the upper stories of your house. If you have been a Christian a while this may take a long time because your house may have many floors. You may even need a large sledge hammer, but I want you to keep knocking away all the support beams and load bearing walls that allow your house to stand.
Keep at it until all of those boards and bricks and shingles are just a pile of rubble. Now, haul all of that rubble away, so that all that is left is the foundation of where your house used to be.
Finally, I want you to look carefully at the foundation of your house. I want you to examine it and realize that it represents the most important thing that you believe and know about Christ. My hope is that as you look at your foundation, and I look at mine, we are united in what we see. The same thing Paul saw when he looked at his.
That Christ died for our sins
That he was buried
That he was raised on the third day