June 26, 2012

Step Up: Onesimus Philemon

Years and years ago when I used to play golf I discovered a tool that allowed me to improved my golf score overnight. I was able to go from scoring 110+ to scoring in the 80’s every game. For those of you who don’t know golf, that is good. The lower the score the better.

The tool I discovered is called a mulligan. It is really easy to use. When you hit the ball and it goes badly...you simply say, “I’m taking a mulligan.” Then you drop a ball and try again as though the first hit never happened. If you use that tool enough times you can keep hitting the ball until you get something you like and your score magically gets better.

It is like taking a do over as a kid. You miss the ball...you yell out, “do over,” and the other kids have to let you do it again as though the first attempt never happened. You get a second chance.

We all like having a second chance.

Recently Charlie Sheen had a very public meltdown. He bragged about promiscuity, adultery, heavy drug use, and the fact that he was the best thing on T.V. He made sure to point out that his program Two and a Half Men couldn’t make it without him...so they decided to fire him and find out. Then just a few months later an advertisement for Charlie’s new show came out...

Everybody needs a 24th chance.

We all want a second chance, but as adults we don’t get to stop the game and yell, “Do over!” We have our own collection of sayings though...“Nobody’s perfect!” “Just give me one more try.” “I’ll never do it again.” Or, to lower Charlie Sheen’s standard, “Everybody deserves a second chance.”

We can agree with the Apostle Paul, Romans 7:15, “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.” And so we in our lives we say, “I just need a mulligan...a do over...a second chance.”

Have you ever found yourself on the other side of a bad decision...wishing you could have a second chance? Wishing you could go back and undo what you have done? Hoping to get a second chance?

This morning we are continuing our message series titled Step Up with a man named Onesimus. While there is a whole book written about him, he is only mentioned a few times. Onesimus is the perfect example of someone who gets a 2nd chance and uses it to its fullest. So let’s take a look at him.

This morning I will just have you open your Bibles to the book of Philemon. It is in the New Testament. We are not going to read the whole thing, but we will point out things along the way.

In the Book of Philemon, Paul is writing to a member of the church in Colossea named Philemon. Most likely, Philemon is the elder of the church because it meets his home. He is also a disciple and convert of the Apostle Paul. In Philemon 1:19 Paul reminds him, “...not to mention that you owe me your very self.” Meaning that due to Paul’s preaching and teaching Philemon converted to the Christian faith.

Philemon is man known for his love for God and for his concern for the mission of the Church. We come back to a descriptor that has cropped up several times over the past few weeks. Philemon is a disciple of Jesus. Paul says, Philemon 1:5-7, “I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.”

But what may give some people pause is that Philemon is a slave owner. How can a person be a slave owner AND a disciple of Jesus Christ? So let’s talk for just a minute about slavery in the Bible. When the Bible speaks of slavery is have several things in mind...none of which should be confused with slavery as found in Britain and America during the 19th and 20th century.

The most common form of slavery is that of a contracted employee. A person would become indebted to another person whom they could not pay. So they would “sell” themselves to someone to work for a certain amount of time to pay off their debt. Slave regularly had their own families, their own homes and properties, their own fields...they might even have slaves of their own. They most often work as managers of the slave owners property and business. The slave owner could sell them to someone else, but the amount was the debt was simply transferred. The alternative to slavery was imprisonment.

A very similar modern example of this is the National Football League. When a football team drafts and signs a player that player is now in essence owned by that football team. They have a life of their own; their own home. They can own businesses and have employees. They cannot, however, decide to play for another team. They are bound to the team who holds their contract. But the team can at any time decide to trade a player to another team and, for the most part, not get permission from that player before they are traded.

There was a time in our history where people used passages like Philemon and others in the Bible to support the abusive slavery of Africans, but it was based on misunderstanding and misuse of the biblical text. We are talking about two different forms of slavery. One based on kidnapping, subjugation, abuse, and suppression. The other a form of contracted employee bound to someone in order to pay a debt.

If you don’t think you are in a form of contracted slavery to someone simply stop paying your credit card bill, or stop making your car or house payment. You will see how much your debt has made someone else your master in a very similar form of slavery as that spoken of in the Bible.

So, Onesimus is in debt to Philemon. He sells himself as a slave to pay off his debt. But while in Philemon’s service...Onesimus steals something and flees to Rome. Now, whether he likes it or not, Onesimus is in deep trouble. He has broken a contract to pay off his debt and he is guilty of theft.

So Onesimus runs. Rather than face the consequences of his actions, he runs as far as he can run hoping to escape Philemon.

We are a lot like Onesimus aren’t we? There are times when we would rather run away than face our own problems or deal with what it takes to bring a real solution.

Each year 50% of marriages end in divorce as men and women run away from the hard work of making a marriage last. Many expected it to be a life of feeling like they were in love. Or they simply stopped working on their marriage somewhere along the way...so they run away from the marriage and turn from the vows they made before God. Rather than put in the effort of saving the marriage they simply leave.

Statistics say that 1 in 4 children are growing up without their fathers. Men are abandoning their responsibility to their children, but many more are running away by hiding at their work or in their man caves or anywhere else but with their children. There are approximately 4,000 women a day who abort their unborn children.

We run away from relationships and tough conversations because we just don’t want to have them. We don’t want to confront. We don’t want to tell our parents or in-laws or children or colleagues they have overstepped their bounds. So, we just avoid the situation and the discussion because we want to keep the peace, but that isn’t really keeping the peace that is running away.

We make excuses and run away by blaming other people. It wasn’t my fault. If you only knew my situation you would understand and give me a pass. The great biblical example is the passing of the blame found in Adam and Eve...in King Saul and in so many others who were unwilling to own up to their sins and mistakes.

Many run away by relying on some form of self-medication. Rather than physically run away or adequately dealing with the issues we turn to alcohol or drugs or prescription pills to make it all go away. In the US alone more than 7 million people are misusing prescription medications to run away.

We like to run away because it is easier than actually dealing with the situation or accepting the consequences of our actions, or doing the hard work of making things right. But Onesimus was on a crash course with a life change. When he ran away from Philemon he had no idea he would run into Paul in Rome, and that meeting would change the course of his life forever.
While in Rome, Onesimus runs into Paul...and in the process converts to Christianity.

Paul makes a great play on words. Philemon 1:11 says, “Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.” The name Onesimus means useful, but he was never useful to Philemon. He owed him so much money that he had to sell himself into slavery. He stole from Philemon who was willing to have him work off his debt rather than imprison Onesimus. He was insubordinate and looking for an escape. He wanted out. His name meant useful, but he was useless to Philemon in his previous state.

But now...he is useful. Often there are things in our past making us feel useless and worthless and unneeded. I have come to realize that everyone feels inadequate in some way. I have met world-wise people who say, “I am not that smart.” I have met accomplished people who just can’t feel worthwhile no matter how much they accomplish.

You begin to analyze and question the tone and the words because you can’t take someone at the face value of their words. This or that decision by a leader feels like it is against you. You begin to ascribe wrong motives to people without even speaking to them.

Somewhere along the way something caused us to feel useless and inferior. Teasing at the hands of classmates causes us to feel rejected because we were different. A parent offer praise only when we accomplish something or they constantly compare us to our siblings. Your exhusband or exwife abandoned you just like everyone else.

Our sin can make us feel useless...millions of people refuse to walk in the doors of the church because they feel their sin disqualifies them; that somehow they have to become better before they can come to God. For those who make it through the door, we can be plagued for years with feelings of inadequacy about God’s love and forgiveness.

But here is Onesimus...a thief, a runaway...and Paul can say, “Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.” And then in Philemon 1:12 say, “I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you.”

The power of Paul’s message, the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that it takes us from useless to useful. The Gospel changed Onesimus’ character to its very foundations. Onesimus is now truly useful.

So now, Paul is send Onesimus back. When we accept the work of God in our lives...we have to stop running. And often, we have to go back and repair some of the things we have damaged along the way. For Onesimus it means returning to Philemon to accept the consequences of his actions.

So Paul writes a letter of recommendation to Philemon hoping to sway him into a merciful, forgiving response. As the leader of the Church and therefore subordinate to Paul, Philemon 1:8-9 says, “I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love.” Paul’s appeal is also not willing to assume any proper action on Philemon’s part, Philemon 1:14 says, “I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary.”

So Paul offers another view, Philemon 1:15-16, “Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever—no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.” While neither Paul nor God condone what Onesimus has done...God is able to redeem the situation. There is a big difference between God causing something to happen and God being able to bring good out of it. There is a big difference between God causing the death of someone, and God allowing someone’s death to reunite a family, bring someone to salvation, or challenge a family to move forward. Paul is not condoning the action, just reminding Philemon that something far greater has come of this than just a runaway slave.

He is also not asking that Onesimus be forgiven his debt, but he knows the Gospel of Jesus Christ has changed Onesimus at the core of his being. Because when a person really understands the Gospel and allows its message to work at the core of our being...we really grasp what Jesus is trying to do...we are changed deep down at the roots of our character by our encounter with Him.

Paul is not condoning Onesimus’ actions. Onesimus has sinned. Paul is simply asking for mercy. Paul believes so strongly in the change that has taken place in Onesimus that he puts his own reputation and bank account on the line. Paul writes in Philemon 1:17-19, “So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self.”

The power of the Gospel is that it charges our wrongdoing to someone else’s account. Paul was willing to take on the debt and offense of Onesimus. But even greater than that, Jesus willing took on the debt and offense that was ours. What should have been my punishment has been laid on Jesus. The punishment for the sins I have committed against God are not held against me because Jesus took that punishment upon himself on the cross. It was charged to His account.

It is important here to point something out. While forgiveness is readily given...sometimes we have to face the consequences of our sinful actions. Onesimus received God’s forgiveness. He was accepted and loved...but he still had to return to make things right with Philemon.

So often we want God’s forgiveness to take away the consequences of our actions...the consequences of our sin.

Time and again I have counseled with people who say, “Why do I have to struggle with this?” And while you try to say it politely...sometimes it is because they made decision to not live obediently. Many marriages end in divorce because one person failed to heed the warning signs...His anger...her self-absorbtion...his roaming eye...more often than not how they are when you date them is how they are when you marry them. This happens to women so very often, and it is because I think women want a project. “I can change him!” My wife, and probably all the wives in here, will tell you you are fighting a losing battle...he isn’t going to change.

Sometimes we suffer the consequence with our health. If we spend our entire lives living as we please, eating what we want, drinking what we want...we can’t be surprised when our health suffers.

If we spend our money without reservation, fail to save and invest, accumulate debt through credit cards...we can’t be surprised when financial troubles rip us apart and cause ulcers from our worry.

Forgiveness does not mean the release of the consequences. We still have to face up to what we have done in some very practical ways. For Onesimus it meant returning to Philemon. But Paul knows something else. He writes, Philemon 1:21, I am “Confident of your obedience...knowing that you will do even more than I ask.” Paul knows that our God is a God of Second Chances, and that Philemon, as a disciple of Jesus Christ, believes in second chances too.

Every one of us is offered the opportunity for a second chance. In the Christian faith we call it salvation, new birth, regeneration, being Born Again...but it all really means that we are given a second chance with God.

Our sin separates us from God, but we are offered a second chance when we turn to Him in faith. We do this by accepting the salvation offered by His son Jesus Christ, and becoming a disciple or follower of Jesus. Remember what a disciple is? A disciple is someone who wants to have the character and competencies of Jesus Christ. That means we want to act like Jesus acted morally and do what Jesus did in the world around us.

Onesimus was a changed man. Paul knew it. We are not completely sure what happened to Onesimus. The general assumption is that Philemon took Paul’s advice and, at the very least, welcomed Onesimus back; otherwise the Book of Philemon would not have been included in the New Testament.

But there is a story about an Early Church Father named Ignatius who, 50 years later, was being taken to Rome for his execution. Ignatius was the Bishop of Antioch; which meant he pastored a church and oversaw the other churches in the city. On his way to Rome he stopped in Ephesus, just a few miles from Colossea where Philemon and Onesimus lived. A few members of the local church came out to care for the aged Ignatius lead by their Bishop...Onesimus.

There is no definitive evidence that these are one and the same man, but I like to believe that Onesimus used the second chance he received to make a difference for the Kingdom of God. It wasn’t just a way of escape from punishment, Onesimus saw it as an opportunity to change the world and expand the Kingdom of God. Later he would be martyred for his faith having lived a life worthy of death because of his work for the Kingdom.

What can you do with your second chance? We have the opportunity to make a difference in Huber Heights by firmly establishing a community of believers here that serves and loves like no other. When people think of church in the Huber Heights area, I want them to think of us because we have served and loved our way into their lives. They know that God loves and cares for them because we love and care for them.

Are you willing to step up to make this happen in our community?

June 18, 2012

Step Up: Tabitha Acts 9:36-43

Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear --
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.'

The central theme of "Ozymandias" is that all leaders, no matter how powerful, inevitably decline and their empires crumble. Most of the powerful men and kingdoms of history no longer exist or are simply ruins in the sand.

Many in our culture chase after life in much the same way as the fabled king Ozymandias. We build and create and accomplish many things believing we will be remembered as great and powerful because of them.

Dictators and world leaders conquer lands and erect statues.
Athletes break records and work to become amazing physical specimens.
Politicians and the wealthy have buildings dedicated in their name.
Authors, artists, and musicians create works hoping to be remembered for a masterpiece.
Businessmen build large companies
Even pastors seek to build large churches and ministries.

We all want to be remembered. We want the memory of our existence to continue beyond our lifetime. We have children and hope to be remembered...fondly...by them. We hope our work makes a difference in the world around us. We want our friends to be better people because they have friended us. There is this drive to do and accomplish and to make meaning out of our lives.

But like Ozymandias...we too will eventually become part of history and be forgotten.

The Bible reminds us of this in Psalm 103:15-16, “The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.”

However, it would be foolish to think what we do doesn’t matter...that because we will not be remembered for eternity that disqualifies or minimizes all we do in the years we have been given. Each generation has to stand on the shoulders of the generation before it. It means what we do matters even if we are not remembered. Often, though, what we see as valuable and eternally significant is not the same thing as what God sees as valuable and eternally significant.

We live in a world that values wealth, power, prestige, fame, respect...but when we take an honest look at the Bible we see God valuing something very different.

This morning we continue our series entitled Step Up by looking at a woman who received the very unfortunate Greek name of Dorcas. Of course her family had no idea that 2,000 years later this would be a playground taunt of American children. Good thing she was also known as Tabitha...which I will use so my inner 7th grader can avoid chuckling the whole time.

Both names Tabitha in Aramaic and Dorcas in Greek mean “Gazelle.”

During this time people weren’t given names just to be different. It was meant to provide meaning, and to define their destiny. We try to find a name that is unique and different and sets our child apart from the other 3,000 kids with the same name. But for Tabitha, her name was meaningful...and spoke of her destiny.

The dorcas species of gazelle stands just slightly over 2 feet tall. It speaks of smallness. But how appropriate that we have this woman, a disciple of Jesus, who is unrecognized by the rich and powerful, but well respected and loved by the weak, the lowly, and the rejected of her time...those who in every social category of her time were small too.

Let’s take a deeper look at Tabitha’s life...

Acts 9:36-43
36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. 37 About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. 38 Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!”

39 Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.

40 Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. 41 He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. 42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. 43 Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.

If find it interesting that the writer Luke, like he did just a few verses prior with Ananias whom we looked at last week, points out that Tabitha is a disciple. It is as though that one word was meant to portray all that needed to be said about the person’s character. Tabitha was an apprentice of Jesus Christ. She wanted be like Jesus and do the things that Jesus did...so, for her, that meant loving the people whom Jesus loves and serving them...and we see that Jesus had a preference for the poor, the downtrodden, the beaten up, and the forgotten.

When Jesus announced the beginning of His earthly ministry, he used the words of God through Isaiah the Prophet, Luke 4:18-19,

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

A cursory reading of His ministry shows that Jesus spent time with the outcasts, the sinners, the prostitutes, the unclean, the lepers...all those whom the good and decent in society would avoid.

But this concern was not new to the God of Scripture. The Old Testament prophets time and again chastise the people of God because they use their wealth to satisfy their desires rather than to care for the poor and the hurting.

In his final sermon to the children of God, Moses reminds them that the poor and the defenseless will be among them, and they are to care for them because that is what God desires...

Deuteronomy 15:7 says, “If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them.”
Deuteronomy 10:17-19 says, “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.”
The fatherless and the widow and the immigrant...these are people who generally lived in poverty and were refused dignity and cheated and mistreated because they had no recourse. Verse after verse in the Old Testament rings this bell of God’s concern for the poor and the rejected, and for those who have no rights.

And Tabitha as a disciple of Jesus understood this. She was known for her good deeds and acts of kindness for the poor and the widows. When Peter arrived in Joppa, Acts 9:39 says, “All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.”

We in the church believe the Bible is the Word of God. We believe it is our guide for faith and salvation and living a life that honors Gods...so why is it that so many in our churches have allowed the wealth of our nation and the overly politicized culture to dictate our beliefs in regards to the poor?

God’s Word calls us to have a preference for the poor...to protect those who can’t protect themselves...to stand up for those who are defenseless...to care for those who are hurting and broken...and to do this not just when they are Christians like me or have the same belief structures as I do or when they won’t take advantage of my kindness again or when they speak American like I do...No, we are called to have a compassionate concern for those despised by the rest of society.

Our lives...our faith...our walk with God...our church must be characterized by this passion of our Lord Jesus. It isn’t our call to just be Christians and do Christian stuff and sing Christian songs...we are called to make a difference in the world around us by our concern for those who are rejected and despised and mistreated.

What we are essentially talking about is putting the command “Love your neighbor as yourself” into practice on behalf of the poor and broken. And let’s be honest, Love has to be both practical and personal. Tabitha isn’t just concerned in an intellectual way about those who are hurting. She doesn’t just drop a check in the offering plate. We return to Acts 9:39, “All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.”

Tabitha made clothes for these women. She knew them and loved them. Poor people were not just a good idea to her...they were her friends.

Every third Saturday of the month we give groceries to those who are having it tough financially. They are poor and downtrodden; broken and rejected. But more than that...many of them are my friends. When I served at the Dayton Vineyard Kitchen the men and women who came in for breakfast were not just poor people...they were my friends.

One of my theological heroes and fathers is John Wesley. I grew up in two denominations that are rooted in his teaching and theological influence. His ministry took place during the Industrial Revolution. Factories were being built, people fled the rural areas for the cities to find jobs, sickness and death and pestilence were rampant. One of things I am most profoundly impacted by is his concern for and defense of the poor.

Wesley understood that concern for the poor has to be practical. Love without action is not love. Love makes action necessary. If I love then I act on behalf of the one I love...so he defended and worked on behalf of the poor in practical ways...

Wesley created an employment agency to help find jobs...he created a loan service to help them acquire tools and equipment...He petitioned public authorities about inadequate wages, insufficient economic safety nets, and the contamination of water, air, and soil...He was one of the first to speak out against slavery...He established free health care and free schools for poor children...He committed himself to literacy and education as a long-term solutions to fighting poverty. The list goes on and on.

Wesley also understood that concern for the poor has to be personal. It can’t be done from a distance. Once when writing to a wealthy woman who was sending him money, but not to getting involved personally with the poor, Wesley wrote, “I am sorry that you should be content with lower degrees of usefulness and holiness than you are called to." He and the early Methodists created poorhouses and widow homes where they kept sleeping rooms so they could be with those they were serving.

As disciples of Jesus Christ, like Tabitha, we are called to love the poor and the hurting and the forgotten, and to love them in practical, personal ways.

The longer I have been following Jesus and working in the church...the more I believe that our spiritual growth depends on our ability to serve those around us. Our world is filled with hurting, lonely, broken people...They are all around us...and they need us to serve them as much as we need to serve them.

Time after time people leave a church or struggle to grow in their faith, and when you look their lives you see they never connected with a small group, they never served a ministry in the church, they never went on a mission trip, they never served the poor...and if the abysmal statistics about Christians spending time in prayer and reading their Bible are true...it is no wonder people struggle to grow in their faith.

It damages our spiritual growth when we are not involved in serving and caring for the poor and the broken in practical and personal ways. We need to serve as much as people need to be served because it transforms our spiritual lives.

So what does it look like for us to make concern for the poor and broken a part of our spiritual growth?

1. Start serving where you are. Serve those closest to you and then work out from there. Begin looking for practical ways to serve those around you...to do an act of kindness that you wouldn’t normally do...

It begins with your spouse and your children...then your co-workers...then you try something a little riskier and you do one of our servant evangelism outreaches or join us for Food for Huber...or you buy someone’s meal in the line at McDonald’s...then there are mission trips and inner-city missions and soup kitchens.

Just get involved and go from there. So often we get caught up in not being able to do something great we forget how great it is to do something small.

2. Use what you have. Mother Teresa said, “Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work...If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”

You have abilities and resources that this world needs...that God’s Kingdom is calling you to put into service for Him.

3. Develop a generous outlook. It takes hard work to become generous to those around us. To live with an open hand that doesn’t resent those who would use and abuse us for our kindness and to freely give what we have freely received from God’s hand. The way to become more generous is to be more generous. To give and keep giving. To see it all as God’s anyway and to return to him all of it and more.

4. Live sacrificially. Serving the poor takes a commitment in time, in finances, and in our psyche. If we want to support God’s church and support His mission in our world and care for the broken and hurting...it means carving out space in our finances. Not spending all that we make on ourselves. Living more frugally so we don’t have all the bills.

We have to carve out time in our schedules...we live in an overbooked and overactive culture rushing from one thing to another.

We have to carve out time in our psyche because it really does cost us emotional real estate to care for the hurting and the broken. There is a saying among Vineyard pastors...Hurt people hurt people. There is a time and place for appropriate boundaries, but developing genuine friendships and relationships cost us emotionally.

I really like Tabitha. In fact, I love the serving aspect of the Kingdom of God. Harold Kushner, American rabbi says, “When you carry out acts of kindness you get a wonderful feeling inside. It is as though something inside your body responds and says, ‘Yes, this is how I ought to feel.’”

These inner feelings remind us that we are taking part in something that God fully supports! Our acts of kindness are a practical expression of God’s command to “love our neighbor as ourselves,” but they are deeper than that. Serving the poor and broken is a reflection of God’s concern for those who are hurting. We get to be part of something very dear to God’s heart. If we want to do something that matters...If we want to really do something that leaves lasting results in our world...we will work to care for the broken, the hurting, the downtrodden, and the forgotten. One of the statements we live by around here is, “Small things done with great love will change the world.”

We want to change the world...because that is what God has called us to do.

This week, I want to challenge you on two levels.
First, do an act of kindness apart from the church for someone you do not know. Care cards on the back table.

Second, look at your life...you time, your finances and develop a plan to get involved and make kindness and generosity a bigger part of your life. What can you cut out to give yourself more time to serve others? What can you not purchase and use the money to help someone who is hurting?

Our small acts of kindness can change the world.

June 11, 2012

Step Up: Ananias Acts 9:10-19

Our society is obsessed with safety...but it also enjoys fear. News programs love to use fear. If we are having a mild winter, and suddenly get a 2 inch snowfall...they call it Snowpacalypse 2011. I really need one of those echo effects right there.

If we don’t have enough people killed in our own city to report on they report some from another city just to remind us how dangerous things are. They believe that people will not watch the news unless they create enough fear to get them to watch.

A few years ago I took a friend backpacking in southern Ohio. After you hike a few hours in, thing get eerily quiet because you no longer hear the noise from the road and other man-made stuff. My friend, with a tinge of dawning fear, asked, “Are there any bears here?”

“Well, not really. We are close to Kentucky so there is the possibility, but it isn’t likely,” I said.

“What happens if we run into a bear.”

“Don’t worry, I can run really fast,” I told him.

“You can’t outrun a bear!”

“I only have to outrun you.”

This is the basis for a very common joke many of us have heard, but he walked into so I took the easy lob and knocked it out of the park.

But many people when they to the outdoors fear bears. But bears attack only 2 people per year average. Just to give you some perspective 15 people a year die from dog attacks and 90 people a year are killed by lightening.

We fear a lot of things that will never really hurt us.

You have all heard of the poisoned Halloween candy...which has never happened at the hand of a stranger...there have been a few reported incidents of tampered candy, but it was confirmed that it happened at the hand of a family member.

So out of fear, we try to make ourselves safer and more secure. We wear helmets, padding for sports, and improve our equipment, but even then that doesn’t seem to work. In fact, research indicates the more safety equipment we include the more danger we face.

The Peltzman Effect postulates safety equipment makes people feel safer so they engage is riskier behavior. This is something economists call “risk compensation.” Bicyclists ride faster, feel less fear, and take more risks when they have helmets on. Children crash into more obstacles and run the obstacle course faster when they wear padded equipment.# Football players, with better helmets, face shields, and better padding, simply run faster and hit harder.

But risk compensation isn’t just about riskier behavior because of better safety equipment. It also says our behavior becomes more cautious depending on our perception of danger. The more danger we perceive to be present, the more cautious we become.

So fear is cyclical. We fear so we create safety devices to help us. These safety devices help us feel safer so our behaviour becomes less guarded even reckless and injuries continue to happen. As bad things continue to happen we become more fearful. The cycle never ends.

We are in a series titled Step Up, and over the past few weeks we have looked at some people in the Bible who stepped up in obedience to God even though they weren’t all that well known. Many of them have only had a sentence or two written about them, and most haven’t even been named. But they prove there is no such thing as a small act of obedience in the Kingdom of God.

When God asks us to step up, though, there can be a tremendous amount of fear. It is crippling enough when the cycle of fear takes root in our lives, but when it happens in our spiritual lives it can have devastating consequences.

Fear settles in when God asks us to speak up about our faith to the person struggling with their own. What if i say the wrong thing? What if they think badly of me?

Fear settles in for the student whose friends decide to engage in reckless or sinful behavior and they fear losing those friendships...being made fun of...becoming and outsider.

Fear settles in for the person whose boss insinuates the need for something unethical, and we know what God would have us do.

Fear settles in for those who want to stay away from the dangerous places only to discover that sometimes God leads us directly into those places and situations.

This morning we are looking at Acts 9. Usually when people approach this passage they focus on the conversion of Saul. It is a wonderful story. Saul. the persecutor of the church, is knock off his horse, hears the voice of Jesus say, “Why are you persecuting me?”, and becomes a follower of Jesus!

But right in the middle of this story is a man who stepped up...despite all the fears he faced...and obeyed God in the midst of situation with many perceived dangers.

Acts 9:10-19
10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord,” he answered.

11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

Ananias rightfully has a lot to fear...

He has to approach Saul who has been terrorizing Jesus followers. Just a few chapters earlier in Acts 7 it tells how Saul stood by approving and directing the execution of the early church leader Stephen. Acts 8 begins by telling us that persecution breaks out against the church driving Christians to flee the city. Now, Saul is coming to Damascus with letters from the Jewish leaders allowing him to arrest and extradite any who follow Jesus.

So when God tells Ananias to go speak to Saul, Ananias is rightfully fearful.

Acts 9:13-14 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

Not only does he have to approach Saul the persecutor...but he has to approach Saul with an unpleasant message. Acts 9:15-16 says, “But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

That is enough to create fear in anyone. Approach someone who has been persecuting the church, and has come to the city to arrest and extradite all those who follow Jesus. Then give him the message that he will suffer many things in the name of Christ. Ananias has every right to be afraid.

Obedience in the Face of Fear Affects Those Around Us

This command from God does not just affect Ananias. Being obedient means exposing himself, his family, even his church community to danger. Saul could gain information leading him to arrest everyone. But then again our obedience to God’s will never JUST affects us. Despite our American/Western ideal of independence and self-reliance...our obedience affects not just us, but also our family, friends, and community.

A young couple decides to have sex outside of marriage and gets pregnant...it affects them, their future plans, the child, their families. Deciding to keep the child has ramifications to each person involved...as does a decision to terminate the pregnancy. It is never just a personal decision that only affects me.

Take a big scale example of sin affecting many lies. When a pastor fails morally...his life is ruined, but also his family is destroyed...his church is hurt and often split...the community now views the Christian faith with smug indifference at ANOTHER failure.

Take something that may not be considered sinful per se, but has spiritual ramifications...church attendance and participation. When someone takes the stance that they are fine spiritually and personally without the church or with sporadic or non-engaged attendance...they fail to recognize the interconnected way God has set things up. Church is a community where we serve others, use our spirituals gifts to benefit others and receive benefit from other people’s use of spiritual gifts, and we learn to love each other warts and all. Our interaction or lack of interaction has lasting affects on our spiritual lives and the spiritual lives of those around us. Attempting to be a Christian without meaningfully engaging in a church is like trying to be married without a spouse or parenting without children.

Our obedience and disobedience to God’s will has lasting affects on those around us both positive in terms of pushing the Kingdom of God forward or negative in terms of hindering it.  Ananias knew this, and counted obedience to God as far more important than the consequences.

So this begs the question: How was Ananias able to obey in the face of such fear? And how can we be obedient to the voice of God in the face of all the fears that come against us?

Obedience in the Face of Fear Starts with Following.

Acts 9:10 says, “In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias.”

Ananias is a disciple. He is a man who has committed himself to taking on the moral character and competencies of Jesus Christ. He is an apprentice of Jesus. He wants to act like Jesus acts and do the things that Jesus would do.

That is the core definition of what it means to be a Christian. We come to a point in our exploration of Jesus where we want to apprentice ourselves to Him. We want to act like Jesus and we want to do the things that Jesus would do. So many times we have reduce salvation down to a contract where I say a pray and He lets me into heaven. No, Jesus call us to be and to make disciples.

So as a follower of Jesus...Ananias, like us, had to look to Jesus for the way to respond in the face of fear.

Take Philippians 2:5-8,
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death —
        even death on a cross!

And how did Jesus face the fear of death on a cross?

Matthew 26:39, “Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

No one said it would be easy. No one even said it would turn out roses either. But as disciples we follow a leader who faced his fear in faithful obedience to God because God had proven himself faithful...We move forward in faith because God has proven himself faithful over and over again.

Faith is not blindly stepping out hoping for someone to catch you. Faith is believing someone will do what they said because they have a track record of doing what they said.

Have you heard about the Team Building exercise called the Trust Fall. You stand on a platform about 6 feet up and fall backward into the arms of your teammates? I don’t like the idea of that thing. I don’t believe they are able to catch me. They have never caught me before. They never look strong enough...besides, they might be Michigan fans!

Luckily, that isn’t how faith works for us. We move forward looking back at God’s track record of bring good out of bad. A track record of faithfully caring for those who trust in Him.

Obedience in the Face of Fears comes with Hearing the Voice of God.

“The Lord called to him in a vision, ‘Ananias!’” A little bit later it says, “The Lord told him...”

When we sense a leading or have a thought...when we are faced with a ministry opportunity or a decision...we look for God’s guidance. I think most of want to be obedient...we just want to be sure we are hearing God’s voice. But God never seems write stuff in the sky.

God always give us enough to go on, but never so much that we are beyond a shadow of a doubt. And even when we have an impression or believe we have heard God’s voice...we have to realize this could be God’s voice...this could be Satan’s voice...this could be my own internal voice.

And sometimes our fear of getting it wrong keeps us from getting obedience right.

So How do we know we are hearing the voice of God?
Tim Keller says (paraphrased), “The Bible doesn’t tell us how to know God’s will for our lives. It tells us the character of a person who is able to discern God’s will.”

That is the secret. Ananias was a disciple. He had followed. He had learned to listen to God’s voice so that when the Vision came he was able to discern that this was really God speaking. And there is something very overcoming when we know that God is really speaking.

When Lori and I moved to Dayton, we left a lot of things behind. We both had good jobs, a house, and friends. When we loaded our truck to come to Dayton neither of us had a job, we were still trying to find a place to live, and while we were from here we hadn’t lived here in over 12 years. It was frightening. It didn’t go smoothly. But we were able to overcome the fear and go with it because we knew God had set this up and had something in mind.

Learning to hear God’s voice requires 3 very important things.

Spend time in God’s Word...Scripture. You can’t know God’s voice if you haven’t spent time in reading God’s Word. In reading Scripture we get used to hearing the patterns of God’s speech and seeing how God works. If we don’t spend time in Scripture we can’t know if the prompting is true to God’s character or not.

Spend time in God’s Presence...Prayer, worship, and The Holy Spirit. Scripture is certainly a part of this section too, but in prayer we learn to sit and listen for God, in worship we learn to trust Him, and through the Holy Spirit we learn to recognize God’s movement. The Holy Spirit is at work...He is God at work in us and in our world. He speaks to us in our thoughts, through insights or words of knowledge, sometimes through dreams and visions. It may sound weird, but when we learn to slow down and listen, we can sense the the movement and hear the voice of God in our lives.

Barb is starting a Small Group this Tuesday Morning at 10am at McDonald’s that will address both spending time in Scripture and Using that Scripture to guide our personal prayers...and in that hearing the voice and leading of the Holy Spirit.

Spend time with God’s people...Godly counsel, the confirmation of others, receiving guidance and encouragement through the spiritual gifting of others. These are an essential part of receiving guidance. God regularly works through others to accomplish His will.

Obedience in the Face of Fear takes Courage.

Acts 9:17 says, “Then Ananias went to the house and entered it.”

Ultimately, like Ananias, we just have to do it. We have to jump in, fear and all, and be obedient. God isn’t going to do the hard part for us. He gives us grace to enable obedience, but ultimately we are responsible for doing what we are told.

When we are faced with difficult choices the goal is not freedom from fear...the goal is courage in the face of all the fears.

Nelson Mandela said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Friday night I attended a fellowship gathering for Vineyard pastors in our area. We met at an old Catholic church that was purchased by Vineyard Central in Cincinnati in 1995. The building is a hard to describe how it is both rundown and cool in a grungy sort of way. But even more interesting is the church. Most of them are couples with children who left promising careers and other opportunities to move into this rundown, inner-city neighborhood to make a difference for the Kingdom of God.

What act of courageous obedience might God be calling you to step up to?

Our obedience to God has an impact for good or ill on the world around us for the Kingdom of God...and it takes courage in the face of fear to see great things happen for God’s Kingdom.

June 4, 2012

Step Up: The Widow's Mite Mark 12:41-44

In March of this year, the MegaMillions Jackpot reached a $640 million dollar payout. That is a lot of money, and people responded in droves. The odds of winning were one in 175 million, but people in New York alone spent $1.6 million in a 24 hour period for a chance to win.

One man interviewed by a local paper said, “The Lottery and games of chance are a stupidity tax and the more we all buy into this, the less rational we are as a society," then he stepped forward and bought his lottery ticket.

Most people realize they are not going to win, so the lottery is a chance to dream big. The Huffington Post quotes Sean Flaherty, a video game tester in New York City, "I knew when I bought the ticket, I wouldn't win. But I did it anyhow. The whole notion of `what if' still has some currency with me."

For $1, for just a little, people bought a few minutes of hope.

I read post after post on Facebook from those playing, many for the first time.  They certainly bought into the idea of buying hope for buck. They repeatedly mentioned how they and their spouse spent the evening dreaming of ways to spend the money and all the good things they could do.

“I would buy a new house, a car, quite my job, travel!”

Many were charitable...

“I would take care of my family!”
“I would donate to my church or a charitable organization.”
“I could help all kinds of people if I could just win that money!”

There is so much good this money could do...if I could only win it!

But this is a little misleading. You see winning the lottery just like gaining fame or wealth by any other means doesn’t build character. According to a study by Michael Begin and Darl Lepage,
“[Winning large amounts of money] reveals character and magnifies all of the good and weak traits the winner lives by.” 
What they mean is when someone wins money they don’t instantly become a more generous, loving, caring person...They are the same hot mess they were before, only now they have a couple million dollars in the bank.

The best indicator of how we would spend the millions if we were to win is to look at the current levels of generosity and compassion exhibited in our spending habits.

Those who are generous with their money before they win...will be generous with their money after they win. Those unwilling to help a struggling neighbor out now...will not help them out when they actually have money. Those who help family out now will be generous when they win. Those who give generously to their church, to charitable organizations, to help the needy before they win...will help. How generous and giving we are now...with little the money we have now...is the real indicator of how we would respond later.

This morning we are continuing our message series titled Step Up. We are looking at ordinary men and women...men and women who may not even have their name mentioned in the Bible...but their faithful obedience to God extended the Kingdom. These people demonstrate there is no such thing as a small act of obedience.

Today we are looking at the story of a woman simply known as a widow, but her example of extravagant giving to God caused even Jesus to stop and take notice.

So many times the church talks about generosity and giving of money just before they ask for more. That should not be, and will not be the case today. But we should talk about money, wealth, and the accumulation of possessions because it has a profound impact on our spiritual lives.

Jesus talked about money more than He talked about heaven and hell combined. One-third of his parables were about money and wealth. 1 out of 7 verses in the Gospel of Luke is about money and wealth. The only thing Jesus talked about more than our relationship with our money and wealth was the Kingdom of God. And He did this because He knew the powerful spiritual impact money has on our lives.

 Mark 12:41-44
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
This unnamed widow, a woman looked down upon by all around her, gives us an example to follow...in the words of Jesus, “she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” In the culture she lived, widows were looked down on. They depended on the generosity of their children to take them in, and when that failed they resorted to begging or prostitution.

And Mark puts this story in direct tension with one right before it. The Teachers of the Law who were supposed to represent God instead liked “to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers...”

So as Jesus observed this widow’s actions, he was blown away because He saw in her a heart surrendered to God. The Gospel is a call to give EVERYTHING to God. We don’t get to hold on to anything. We surrender it all to Him. She “put in everything...”

For too long, the American church has preached two conversions. There is the one we make where we say a sinners prayer and get our passport to heaven. Then there is this other one where we really get serious and start putting into practice all that stuff we find in the Bible. The problem is that getting into heaven, not going to hell, all that sounds pretty good. But that obeying stuff...that call to grow in the character and competencies of Jesus Christ...that stuff is hard...and sounds too much like work...so most people stop after the first one.

The reality is Jesus never gives us a two-stage option. Jesus’ call to Peter, James, John, and Andrew was to drop their nets, leave their old lives behind them, and follow Him. Jesus’ call Matthew was to step out from behind his tax collectors table, leave it all behind him, and follow Him. Jesus’ call to us is to leave the old way of life behind us, and follow Him. His call is for us to have a heart committed in absolute trust and surrender to God.

So how do we surrender and trust in God? There are several ways:

1. We look at what it means to be a god.
What I mean by this is that we understand, at least generally, what it means for a being to be God. It means He understands everything. He knows everything. He can do whatever He wants. If there is a god, He is the ultimate reality, and that alone should make him deserving of our trust.

2. We look at our God as revealed in Scripture.
Throughout Scripture, we see a God that is intimately involved in His people’s lives. And not just involved, but actively working on their behalf. He is a faithful, loving, present God who, though not working in my way and with my timeline, works to the good of those who love Him. That certainly leads us to place trust in Him.

3. We look at God’s track record in our lives.
Time after time after time God has proven himself faithful and worthy of our trust just by the events in our own lives. I can look back to a particularly bad patch in my life. Money was tight. Bills were not getting paid. But each time, God provided for our needs in an unseen way. A check at just the right time. Someone giving me money at church. God proves himself faithful if we just look at his track record in our lives.

This widow saw God’s goodness. It certainly couldn’t be measured in finances because she only had two small coins to give; less than a penny in today’s currency. But in the midst of it all she lived in complete trust and surrender to God. It was something Jesus didn’t see in the lives of the Teachers of the Law and those who were giving large sums of money.

Which leads us to something else...A surrendered heart leads to sacrificial living.

As followers of Jesus, our lives are to be marked by a spirit of generosity and giving that meets this widow’s example...a tough call to be sure, but it is not one we can meet out of duty. We cannot be obedient to it out of guilt. It can only come through a surrendering of our heart to God.

The Teachers of the Law and the wealthy were dropping in large sums of money. They had enough in reserve that giving to the Temple was not that difficult. But when we read this story we have to be careful to understand something...they were meeting the biblical requirements set out in Scripture.

Let me repeat that...they were fulfilling all that was required by the Bible. They were obedient to the letter of Scripture, and yet Jesus is saying they are missing the mark. What they gave, though it met the biblical requirements, was falling short of what was required.
Did you know it is possible to obey every word in the Bible and still be disobedient to God?
How confusing is that? God sets out these laws...and yet when we meet them...it still isn’t enough? I am doing exactly what I’m told. I am obeying every law set out for me to obey.  That seems a little bit like bait and switch.

What Jesus understood is you can never transform a heart with a set of rules and laws. Laws can set out an expectation of what someone should do. They can help us see when someone has broken a law. But laws, even Laws given directly from God, are not enough to change a heart. Laws can only mandate behavior, and even then you cannot create enough laws to cover all the bases. That is why there are always loopholes.

This is why the debate between works and grace often misses the point. It isn’t about working our way into salvation...It also isn’t about simply receiving a grace that permissively allows anything because God always forgives. What God desires is a people who obey Him not out of compliance to a set of laws, but out of a heart transformed by His love and grace.

Legalistic religion misses the mark because they focus on meeting the standard. Permissive religion misses the mark because in the name of grace they fail to meet His standard. God’s desire is found in Jeremiah 31:33, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.”

That is what really changes the discussion about works and grace and forgiveness and obedience...All we do should come from a heart surrendered to God that results in obedience.

Let me give you an example. Lori and I have our 18th wedding anniversary coming up in a few weeks. I know...I don’t look old enough to have an 18th wedding anniversary. I was 8 when I got married. Imagine with me though, that I went out and purchased a box of candy, a card, and bouquet of roses to give her. And when I gave them to her I said, “Here are your gifts. I’m giving them to you because this is what expected of a husband on an anniversary.”

We all know that in that moment I would need to have police and medics on standby, Crossroads Vineyard would be looking for a new pastor, and Brianna would be mourning the loss of her father. The goal is not to just meet outward criteria and expectations for an anniversary gift. No, out of a heart so in love with her I willingly give all that is expected and more.

That’s what happens when we fall in love with Jesus. It isn’t about obeying a set of laws. Out of a heart of love for God and all He has done we meet the expectations and more. No one has to tell us to love our neighbor, to worship God, to read our Bible and spend time with Him, to meet regularly with His people, to serve others, to give to support His ministry, to not covet, kill, or hate...we are not obeying a set of laws and expectations as proof that we love him or to earn our salvation...we are obeying them because we do so out of love for Him; out of a surrendered heart.

I got an email yesterday from someone describing how God was challenging them to make a change in what they watch on television. They ended the story with, “I heard the small voice; "What about that show you watch?" I knew right away what He meant. I won't tell you what, because that's not the point. The point is that I love this Person so much that I want to please Him with the choices I make.”

This widow didn’t give to support God’s Temple because she had to...because it was expected of her...She had two coins. She could have kept one for herself. Giving one of those coins would have been 50% which goes well beyond expectation. It was from a surrendered heart she gave both coins; everything she had.

We shouldn’t give and serve and push forward the vision here at Crossroads Vineyard Church and in our personal lives because of expectation...we do so because we believe in what God is doing through our church and want to be part of expanding His Kingdom in Huber Heights!

There is one last principle for us to see...our little with God’s much can change the world.

In the practical world of church finances, it is a reality that if we are to accomplish the vision God has laid out for us as a church, we need people to give financially and to give of their time and their abilities.

It is also a reality that by withholding our time, our abilities, our financial support for the ministry things can be hindered and slowed...just like sin and disobedience hinders God’s work in our personal lives so disobedience can hinder what God wants to do in and through our church. God’s ultimate purposes will never be completely stopped, but our disobedience can disqualify us from being a part of what God wants to do in our world.

So in a very human way, it is easy to want the large financial gifts, but that is not how God’s economy work. When we give sacrificially out of a surrendered heart then God adds his much to our little and changes the world.

Let me return to the lottery for a moment. For the March MegaMillions lottery Americans spent $1.5 Billion on a chance to win $640 million. If there was a way to convince people to pool this money they could...feed 238,000 households for a year...fill the gas tanks of 685,000 people for a year...pay rent for over 104,000 families for a year...or give someone a $50,000 a year job for 30,000 years. Most of it was spent $1 and $2 at a time...but could have changed our world.

So when we give out of a surrendered heart...God can change the world.

When we step up and give of our time to serve others, God does some great things to change people’s heart and lives. One of the sayings I live by is, “Small things done with great love can change the world.”

If you don’t believe me, you haven’t been to one of our outreaches. It is amazing to see the change come over someone who receives groceries, or gets their coffee paid for, or receives quarters at a laundromat, or gets candy during our reverse trick-or-treating, or gets a popsicle on a hot day, or receives prayer in a place where prayers are not normally prayed...the list could go on and on. Just simple, practical acts of kindness can open the door to someone’s heart and allow God break in with His grace.

A few months ago, Carrie took her children with her and chased people down in the Kroger’s parking lot to give them $5 gift cards. That so impacted one woman that she told her mother all about the lady in the parking lot giving her card that she wasn’t sure if it was good or not. Her mother was so surprised she told all her friends that came over for dinner that night. A couple weeks later, I’m buying coffee for people at The Heights, and the mother is my waitress. God uses our small acts of Kindness to change the world around us and pull it a little further into the Kingdom.

It is so easy to discount the little we can do, but this widow’s “little” was all she had to live on, and she gave it. Imagine what a difference our life would make if instead of giving what was expected, instead of focusing on the smallness of the gift we could give, we simply surrendered our heart and gave out of love all we had to God.

It really starts with that. It starts now. Giving what we can. Being generous and loving and caring and giving now. We have to stop fooling ourselves that we will give or get involved when we things get better, when we have more time, when we have more resources, when we have more whatever... God asks us to step up now...but not out of guilt or legal expectation...the first step is surrendering our hearts completely to Him, and then working out from there.

This is not out of guilt. Not expectation. It is strange, but it doesn’t work that way. That is why I never want to guilt trip people into giving. I don’t want to beg and plead on behalf of a church for money.

The ultimate goal is to help lead us deeper in our discipleship to God...to lead us closer to Jesus...and that is never accomplished with guilt and begging. Our goal is to develop a church where people are taking their next step closer to God resulting in a fully surrendered heart and then giving of their time, talents, and treasure for God...and I believe that if we are willing...God wants to change our lives, our homes, our neighborhoods, and our world through us.