Thursday, December 31, 2015


Christmas Like Us (Luke 2:1-20) (12/24/15)


One of our favorite Christmas passages.  Have you ever wondered where Luke, a gentile who probably grew up in Asia Minor got the details of this story?  After all, Matthew a disciple, focuses on Joseph.  Mark doesn’t have Christmas story at all.  John has these soaring words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  Only Luke has the birth narrative and we love to hear it.  But where did he get the details of the story?

Luke wasn’t an eye witness.  But then only Joseph, Mary and maybe the Shepherds were.

The disciples weren’t there.

Paul, who wrote most of the books in the New Testament wasn’t there.  Actually, did you know that Luke wrote more verses in the New Testament than any other author, more verses, but where did he get this story?  Where?

Or is the story made up of whole cloth to give mystique to a man named Jesus?  Let me quickly say, without equivocation, that I believe these stories are true and I hope before we finish tonight that you will believe them too.

But have you ever wondered, wondered where these stories came from?

Luke tells us that he set out to write an “orderly account” of the story of Christ.  My hunch is that Luke was a bit of an historian, maybe even a compulsive historian, and probably interested in these kind of things from a young age.

Last Christmas Eve, I stood here in costume as Elias, a 70 year old shepherd who told of a man named Luke who had come out to the hillside to ask if anyone had been around 60 years earlier when a special baby was born.  My hunch is that Luke sought out and asked as many eye-witnesses as he could find.

So if Luke had included in the back of his book, author’s acknowledgements or faithfully footnoted all of his sources, who would they be?

I think part of it can be found right in the narrative, verse 19, “But Mary treasured all of these words and pondered them in her heart.”  Who but Mary could tell these things?  In the story of Jesus in the Temple at 12, also in Luke, it concludes with “His mother treasured all these things in her heart.”  Who but Mary could tell these things?

Mary, who on this first Christmas night might have been 13, or 14 or 15.  Let’s say 15 for round numbers, would have been 45 when her baby boy was crucified.

Certain things are seared into our memories aren’t they?  Great joy and great tragedy.  There are some synapses that are never broken.

Our boys were born 50 odd years ago.  You want to know the details?  Details, we have treasured those things in our hearts.

You want to know came to visit?  When Rosemary was in labor with our Jeff, my aunt, she could be known now as Rosemary’s Elizabeth, came to sit with her in labor.  We treasure those things in our hearts.  The details are seared there forever.

And the journey?  We didn’t have a flight into Egypt, but when Jeff was a week old, a week old, we did begin a trip from South Dakota to Michigan in a car in July with no air conditioning.  We were on our way to what was to be our first job out of college.

Now, Rosemary got to sit on one of those foam rubber donuts.  Mary, Mary, I don’t imagine they had such a thing for donkeys, but I’ll bet it was necessary.  Baby Jesus, probably didn’t have a problem on the journey.  Mary another story, a story seared in her memory.

We remember these things.  We treasure these things and ponder them in our hearts.  Mary could have told you all of them.  And I think she did through Luke.

Now, let’s think about the Christmas 30 ad., the first Christmas, the first birthday anniversary that Mary experienced after the cross, after she had lost her baby boy. Our children are always our babies aren’t they?

O, for Mary there had been excitement that year, the Resurrection, Pentecost, the stirrings of the early church, but when we go through those anniversaries the first year of grief, the memories are excruciating.  Excruciating, a word we get from the cross. You treasure and you ponder every detail of the life of the one you lost.  And on birthdays your remember the birth.

Mary would have remembered every detail of the trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem; of the edict to register in the home town, David’s town, David’s city.  Of arriving and finding even the houses of even Joseph’s relatives full, no guest rooms, even the inadequate traveler’s inn full.  Probably finding a cave in the hills on the outskirts of town that was being used as a stable.  On that first Christmas of grief, she would have remembered the details.

Maybe by five years later, 35 ad, she was sharing the stories.  She was living in Jerusalem with John, Jesus youngest disciple, and she saw James her other son and leader of the fledgling church frequently.  Maybe they gathered with Mary on Jesus’ birthday and these things that she treasured and pondered in her heart she shared with them.  It was important to them, because the impact of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus had been incubating in them and they were coming to comprehend who this Jesus really was.  Every detail of his birth, his life, his death, his resurrection, his ascension, his Spirit among them was important.  Mary was the well spring of those stories.

It was in this timeframe that the creeds of the early church were being developed, even hymns to be sung in worship and in the understanding and comprehension of who Jesus was.  One such hymn written then and written down much later by Paul goes like this:
Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
    and gave him the name
    that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
    every knee should bend,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
    that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

One of the first creeds, first hymns, first Christmas carols (and being born in human likeness) of the church.

By ad 45 the precursors of the Gospels were coming together.  But even then, if you wanted to know the stories, you went to Mary.  It was during this time that that along with Jews came new Christians (there weren’t any old Christians) from all over the known world to the festivals, Passover, Pentecost, others to Jerusalem.  And do you suppose that it might have been during this time that a young, new convert named Luke, a person driven to know and write down the story, came to Jerusalem and found about Mary and talked to her?  Mary would have been 60 about that time.  Catholic tradition would have her living about three more years.  But what if Luke came to Jerusalem in 45 ad and being a compulsive historian that he was, found her and talked to her.  Wouldn’t you have liked to have been there when that took place?


He might have asked, “What do you remember most Mary?”

She would have told all of the details, of the angel, of Elizabeth, of the journey, of the shepherds.  But of the infant narrative, I think she would have told most vividly of the visit to the Temple, of the prophet Simeon who would say to her, “and a sword will pierce your soul, too.”

Or how she understood the humanity of Jesus as he entered his ministry and how one time went to try to stop him, fearing him to be in danger.

But of course she might tell of the amazing things that Jesus came to do.  She might tell of time she went to her niece’s wedding in Cana.  What a shock it had been to her.

Jesus was also there with his disciples. There were so many guests and the wine gave out.  O how the bride and groom would be embarrassed.  She would say, I simply said to my son, “They have no wine.”  He said, “Woman, what would you have me do?”  He said, “My hour has not yet come.”  And then I turned and told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you to do.”  I was amazed, everyone was.  He turned water into wine, and his disciples believed in him.  I was coming to understand him.

And there so many things.  On my trips to Capernaum, I heard the story of him healing Peter’s mother-in-law, of casting the spirits from Mary Magdalene, of the feeding of the people on the hillside.

But it was on each birthday anniversary, Christmas, that family and friends would gather around Mary, and I’ll bet just as we do she told the story once again, of the angel Gabriel and her amazement, of her hurried trip to see her cousin Elizabeth, of the joy the two felt, of how during that time she created those words, “My soul magnifies the Lord.”  About the goodness of Joseph.  Of course she would tell to how wonderful a father that Joseph was to Jesus during his short life, God rest his soul.  But then she would tell of the painful and stressful journey to Bethlehem and being so alone during the delivery of the baby.  But then the joy!  Of course the visit of the shepherds too and how they told her that the sky had been filled with angels singing “Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace and good will to those he favors.”  And the flight into Egypt.  All of this would be told as they gathered to celebrate the very human birthday of Jesus, who would become known as the Christ, the Messiah.

So, what would I like you to come away with?  I want you to believe this story.  No, I want you to not only believe it, but to internalize it.  And not only internalize it, but let it change your life.

This is the story of God becoming like us.  Not visiting us.  Not coming near to us.  But of becoming like us.  Being born in human likeness, and finding himself in human form…  Becoming one of us.

Formed in his mother’s womb just as we were.  As a baby, just as each one of us were.  Held to the warmth of our mother’s breast as each of us were.

He grew to adulthood, just as we did.  He experienced the pain of life as we have.  He grieved at loss as we have.  He eked out a living by the work of his hands as we do.

He was rejected by those he thought loved him as some of us have..

Yet He had told them, there is no greater love than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  And he did.

Christmas is the story of the incarnation.  Of God becoming flesh, being born in human likeness.  As Andy Stanley says, “God in a bod.”  The incarnation.

Believe it, internalize it, let it change your life.


There was a time in my life when I believed in God, but didn’t think he had much to do with me.

Twenty-five years ago, our son Curt had confronted me about this.  A few weeks later he climbed in his car and headed back to college.  He had left a note for us.  In it he had scolded his mother for some of her vices, but he said to me, “I’m really worried about you Dad, because you don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”

I took it to heart.  I thought about it.  I worked on it.  It took a few weeks, a few months actually.  Suddenly it clicked into place, it all made sense.

God exists.  It takes a lot more faith not to believe than to believe.

And it makes sense that if God created this universe that he would want to reconcile it to himself.

And it made sense that he would do so by becoming like us; and do so by the greatest act of love one can do another, giving up his life for them.

And it makes sense that if he would do that for me, that he is a very personal God indeed.

The Incarnation.

It wasn’t that God visited us, or came near to us.  It was that he became like us, just like us.  He became one of us.

Mary knew that as she carried him.  Mary knew that as she gave birth to him.  Mary knew that as she heard Simeon tell her that a sword would pierce her soul too.  Mary knew that as she stood at the foot of the cross and saw her son agonize in his humanity, agonize in his human passion, agonize in his human sacrifice, demonstrating the greatest love that only one human can do for another.  Something only an incarnate God can do.

It is love that came down at Christmas.

A very personal kind of love came down at Christmas.

An incarnate love came down at Christmas.

A kind of love that will change us, not just tonight or tomorrow but for a lifetime.

Merry Christmas!  “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which is for all people.  For unto is born this night in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord,” the incarnate Jesus.  Merry Christmas!  “And this will be sign for you, that you will find the babe wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger,” the incarnate Jesus.  Merry Christmas!  “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, the sky was filled with angels, singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, good will to all,” good will to you.  Merry Christmas!  The Incarnate Christ is born!  Amen.


Sermon Summary from Dec 6, “Joseph of Bethlehem”

We began the series with Mary in Nazareth.  Mary, betrothed in an arrangement with Joseph of Bethlehem.  Poor, humble Mary, a fifth class water carrier in a Podunk, no-count village.  Mary, who more than likely lived in a home that was a cave.  The story of Mary and Nazareth tells us much about the nature of God and whom he favors. 

Today, our topic is Joseph.  Joseph who has no lines in the Bible.  At least Bethlehem has a Christmas carol named for it.  What can we learn about Joseph that will help us better understand Christmas, Jesus, God, ourselves?  And Bethlehem?

Ancient Bethlehem, in existence as Ephrathah when Abraham entered Canaan 1800 years before the birth of Christ.   It was Ephrathah that the Rachel died giving birth to the last born Benjamin and was buried in Ephrathah.  It was Bethlehem that was the central location of the book of Ruth, faithful widowed daughter-in-law of Naomi who became the great grandmother of David, the shepherd king thus making Bethlehem the city of David.  “Out of you of Bethlehem of Ephrathah...out of you shall come forth for me one who is to rule Israel.” (Micah 5:2)

That brings us to Joseph, in the line and lineage of David.  Joseph as Matthew puts it, “the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus is born, who is to be called the Messiah.” (Christ in Greek.) 

This gets us ready for the Christmas story.  Mary was in Nazareth.  The engagement was arranged.  Although we assume they were both there, there is no reason to believe that Joseph was not in his own town of Bethlehem 80 miles to the south. Somehow he finds that Mary is pregnant and being a righteous, fair man, decides to put her away quietly; but an angel comes to him in a dream and tells him, ““Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Mt 1:20-21)

Joseph, you’ll play the Dad and name him.  And Joseph did.  He became a great father. Jesus became a carpenter like Jesus, made sure of his spiritual training, and from the stories Jesus told (Calling his heavenly father “Abba,” talking of a father who had two sons who was merciful and forgiving, teaching us the pray, “Our Father…”)  He had a great relationship with his father.

Last week we learned that God favored the humble and lowly and this week that He selected maybe the humblest (a laborer, a working class man) of the descendents of David to guide his Son into manhood, to become part of our story, to prepare us for Christmas.

Saturday, December 5, 2015


Sermon Summary from Nov 29, “Journey to Nazareth”

When I grew up, Christmas was a big deal. The baby Jesus was a big deal.  Mary, not so much.  We were Protestants after all.  I didn’t know much about Mary. The Advent series is about the who of Mary and Joseph, the where of Nazareth and Bethlehem, and about what they can teach us about God, Jesus, Christmas and about ourselves.  Today we start “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth.” (Luke 1:26)

Yet Sepphoris was an elegant, bustling, luxurious town of thirty thousand (yep, big) less than four miles away, the capital of Herod Antipas’ region.  Why not to the rich and famous?  Nazareth was a no-count Podunk of 300 (at most).  Josephus called Sepphoris the “Ornament of Galilee.”  Nazareth wasn’t on most maps. 

Most of the homes in Nazareth were caves carved out of the hillside.  More that likely, Mary laid her head down at night in a cave in a hillside.  A humble village.  Like all villages, it had a well from a spring that still flows today.  If you visit, you can drink from the spring that Mary and later Jesus would draw from.  In fact, some modern depictions have the “annunciation” taking place on the way to the well.

It was to Nazareth, not Sepphoris that the angel came.  And it was to Mary.  Continuing: “to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.  And the virgin’s name was Mary.” (Lk 1:27)  Luke tells us that God sent his messenger not to a princess in Sepphoris but to a poor maiden in Nazareth.  Not to a woman but a girl, not to a palace but a Podunk, not to a city but a cave.  And yet the angel says, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you.”  He continued, “And behold, you shall conceive… and bear a son and you shall name him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David…”

Here’s what we hear: Jesus, Son of God.  He will save us.  He will restore the throne of David, forever.  Here’s was Mary hears: “You shall conceive.”  How can this be?!?

And here’s the amazing thing, Mary never had a doubt.  “Behold, I am a servant of the Lord.  Let it be me according to your word.” 

So what do we learn, from Nazareth, from Mary?  The nature of God is to favor the lowly and the humble.  If we want to get our hearts in tune with God’s, that’s what we need to focus on this Advent.  Second, God chose Mary, not for the easy task, but for the difficult.  We are called to transform the world.  God chooses us for the difficult.  We need to be ready.  If we are to tune our hearts to God's this Advent, it is to favor the humble, the oppressed, the marginalized and be ready to say "yes" to the difficult. 
I often have played the clip of Charlie Brown and Linus and the Christmas tree for the children at Christmas focusing on Linus telling us "that's what Christmas was all about, Charlie Brown."  Yet, in watching one more time, Charlie catches the very Spirit of God by selecting the scrawny tree, overlooking the Sepphoris, ornamented tree and choosing instead the Podunk, Nazareth tree.  Let us not miss that either, for that too is what Christmas is all about.  Amen.


Sermon Summary from Nov 22, “David: King(dom) Forever”

We finish a four-part series on King David leading to Advent.  Today, Kingdom Forever.  The prophet Nathan (prophets speak for God) told David “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.” (2 Samuel 7:16)

Later, Isaiah would point to a “shoot shall come out from the stump of Jessie (David’s Father)” (Isaiah 11:1).  Jewish scholars would see this as pointing toward the Messiah; and Christian Scholars would later see it as pointing to Jesus as the ideal King. Listen to Paul in one of his early sermons: “God made David their king.  In [God’s] testimony about him he said, “I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out my wishes.” Of this man’s posterity God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised. (Acts 13:22b-23)

Handel’s transcendent music “Messiah” in quoting “Revelation” has it right: “King of kings and Lord of lords; and he shall reign forever and ever.”  And we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”

God has covenanted with us to be our God.  We are to be his people.  What does it mean to be a person after God’s own heart?  How do we become those who carry out his wishes? If we pray “Thy kingdom come…” how is it that we are to live? Here’s the real question: “What is required of us?”

Two hundred years after David, the prophet Micah (prophets speak for God) summarized all of the law in a single verse: “He has told you O mortal, what is good: and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

To do justice (fairness): Jesus would teach us the Golden Rule, to do unto others as we would have them do to us.

To love kindness (or lovingkindness, a godly attribute of compassion, mercy and love): New Testament writers would tell us of the Royal Law, to love our neighbors as ourselves.

To walk humbly: To humbly submit to the king, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, to ask the question: “What would Jesus do?

I met a young grad student, Cissy, who dared ask the questions (I don’t think I could have), who in doing so treated the homeless (sometimes drunk and dangerous) with lovingkindness, who asked the question in face of war, “What was Jesus do?” and acted.  She actually entered Iraq through Jordan, announced her presence in the hopes that bombing would not begin.  As it turns out, she returned before the hostilities.  I disagreed with Cissy, but I admired her.  I’m not sure I could ask the questions.  How about you?  What is required of you? How do you respond to the Golden Rule, Royal Law, the question “What would Jesus do?”  Amen.


Sermon Summary from November 15, “Forgiven Like David”

Our Bible is brutally honest and we find solace in that.  We find the “Ideal” King David is flawed like us.  We are grateful that God does not deal with us according to our sins but “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our sins from us.” (Ps 103:12)

David’s story (and ours): What happens to us when we have no more lands to conquer, no more mountains to climb?  We lose purpose, mission, we begin to feel sorry for our selves, we begin to say “I deserve it.”  When we do so, look out!

In the spring, when kings go out to battle, David stayed in Jerusalem feeling sorry for himself.  “It happened late one afternoon” (2 Samuel 11:2).  David saw Bathsheba from the roof of his house and said, “I want that (lust); I deserve that (pride); I deserve that more than her husband (envy)” 

We know the story.  David calls for her and “he lay with her.”  By the way, what woman can so “no” to a king?  It was R-A-P-E.  She becomes pregnant.  Now the cover up.  David schemes to bring her husband, Uriah, back from the field to the comfort of home.  But Uriah, one of the most noble and honorable figures in the Bible, will not sleep with his wife while his men are in battle, in tents.  Now David becomes incensed (anger), and tells his commander to put Uriah in the front of the battle and when the fighting becomes fierce to withdraw the army from him so that he is struck down and killed.  Murder!

The prophet Nathan confronts David with the story of the rich man and the poor man’s little ewe lamb. (You can read about it in 2 Samuel 12).  David is angry at the rich man.  Nathan says, “You are the man!”  God reminds David of all that he had done for him and says if that had been too little he would have even done more (I can see greed and gluttony seeping in here too). 

David confesses.  Nathan, speaking for God, says “the Lord has put away his sin.”  But the consequence of sin remains.  Uriah is dead.  The baby will die.  Not only that, David is exposed, a public disgrace and his example of rape and murder and disrespect will tragically play out in his family.

Yes, David confesses and is forgiven.  But to see the anguish and contrition, we need to go to Psalm 51 (your exercise).

Our lesson? We many not be murderers or rapists, but we experience the very same starting points as David (pride, envy, anger, greed, sloth, gluttony, lust).  We need to confess, repent, turn around when we experience these seemingly minor sins before we fall off the precipice, begin the slippery slide.  Amen.


Sermon Summary from November 8, “Formed Like David”

There are parts of the Old Testament that I love.  Then there are those parts you can never tell at Children’s time.  There is incredible violence.  Even with our 20th and 21st century numbing, we don’t like to read it in our Holy Book.  It upsets our sensibilities.  We come to understand that life then was cheap.  We don’t like that.

We’re studying the life of David, chosen by God at the age of 10 or 12 to replace a failed King Saul.  Chosen so that God could form him for the task.  It will be twenty years before David sits on the throne.  In the meantime, he faces many trials.  He plays the harp for Saul and there are two instances where Saul wants to pin him to the wall with a spear.  That upsets our sensibilities too.  We had a book of Bible stories in our home when I grew up with a picture of Saul and his spear threatening David.  Abuse!  That’s not even the kind of book we can take to school for “show and tell” in this day and age.

How do you explain the violence in the Old Testament (or for the New Testament for that matter—how do you explain the slaughter of innocents?)?  One way we might explain it is that God worked with what he had.  Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel.  By the time of Noah, God was sorry he had made us.  But since God is God he gave us another chance.  Then there are terrible stories in Judges, stories we don’t even tell in Adult Sunday School.

After the Judges, the people demand a King.  Saul fails by choosing military expediency over obedience to God.  In the battle for the throne, Saul tries over and over again to kill David.  But David says, “God forbid that I should put forth my hand against the Lord’s anointed.”  In two stories, David has Saul dead to rights but he chooses “good” in order to strive to influence Saul.  He chooses good over evil.

David, formed by God.  There seems to be a significant transition that takes place in Biblical ethics in the story of David and Saul: It moves from an “eye for and eye” to “overcome evil with good.”  He strives to apply the Golden Rule a thousand years before Jesus and Paul would teach these ethical principles.

Too often we find “an eye for an eye” more satisfying that loving our enemies, praying for those who persecute us, applying the Golden Rule.  We need to live each day, looking ahead to whom we will meet, what circumstance we might encounter and striving to overcome evil with good, applying the Golden Rule.

Thursday, November 12, 2015


Sermon Summary from November 1, “Appearances” (1 Samuel 16)

Yesterday, I had an amazing conversation with a woman that had been homeless, a woman that I ordinarily would have shied away from. Why? Because of appearances. I came to find out that because of medical problems, now controlled with the right prescriptions, she had become homeless.  She was educated, a voracious reader, and worked as a computer technician.  He had no car by choice.  She had no television because it was a time sink.  She hadn’t been to church for 40 years until the United Methodist Church invited her in her homeless clothes to attend, and now she considers it her church and she never misses a Sunday.  Amazing conversation and I almost missed because of appearances that I shy away from.

But you know that we all seem to create appearances that define us and others shy away from.  Some wear big hats and buckles.  Others have tattoos.  Others have bikes and helmets.  High School kids gather in like kinds by appearances.  We’re in the process of selecting Presidential nominees and I’ll bet we’re doing it in part by appearances.  I wonder what kind of chance Abraham Lincoln would have with our current system?

Jesus is described in the Old Testament as a man of sorrows that others would hide their faces from.  He was born into poverty, a manual laborer, homeless during his ministry.  Would I have missed him?

Israel almost missed King David.  They had a King, Saul, right out of Hollywood central casting, the most handsome man in the land who stood head and shoulders above everyone else.  But Saul chose military expediency over God, and God rejected him.

God told Samuel (prophet and the final Judge of Israel) to go to home of Jesse and choose on of his sons.  Samuel thought surely God’s chosen was among Jesse’s older and more handsome sons; but Go told him “mortals judge by appearances, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  “...At the heart.”  David, the youngest, 10 or 12 years old was selected by God.

That’s what we need to do, need to train ourselves to do.  But to get to the heart, we need to enter into conversation, even with those that may look difference than we do.  Here’s our challenge, to find a person (in a safe environment) that we may never ordinarily talk with and engage them in conversation, maybe in the checkout line, maybe in the aisle.  Step out of our comfort zone.  Find ways to look at the heart.  We will all be enriched by it.


Sermon Summary from October 25, “A Life of Generosity”

There were times when Rosemary and I lived with no margin. We moved to Alexandria, VA, as new second lieutenants, high rent, low pay.  We made it through three weeks before we had to use silver dollars to buy the baby milk and charge our meals at the officers club.  Our move to Alabama and flight school a year later was very welcome .

We have a friend. a good man otherwise, who borrowed against the herd to buy expensive equipment then sold the herd to make the payments.  He went to jail!  It seems we can’t live without money and we can’t live with it.  We all have financial lives.  We live our financial lives each and every day.  No wonder the Bible and Jesus have much to say about it.  How is it that followers of Jesus should live their financial lives?

First, with an attitude of gratitude.  God created all of us and all that we have and give us dominion.  It is not ours.  We are stewards.  Be grateful.  Second, simplicity (I’m preaching to myself here).  Stuff costs money, requires maintenance, needs insurance, takes space, gets in the way, distracts us.  There are areas of our life that we should simplify because we should, and that leads to the next way of living: Live with margin.

John Wesley teaches us to “Make all you can so you can save all you can so you can give all you can.”  You cannot give, you cannot live a life of generosity without margin.

But why should we?  Because God is out to change the world!  We are called to be disciples so that we can transform the world.  What if every Christian tithed to a sound, efficient Christian charity?  What if?  We now give two to three percent.  We say let the government do it.  When was the last time the government ministered well?  When do they ever do anything with love? 

To change the world, we need to live a life of generosity, a transforming life of generosity.  And there are great charities in which are dollars are life changing and never go away: Habitat for Humanity returns payments to the fund for humanity to build more houses.  The money never goes away.  Micro-loans revolutionize lives and are used in perpetuity.  Safe water and throttling diseases like malaria are life changing.  Education, especially of girls in developing countries, may be the answer to peace.  God wants to change the world: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”

The best advice?  See where God is working in the world and join in!


Sermon Summary for October 18th (Mt 25:34-36; Gal 5:19-25)

We’re in a sermon series, “Foundations: Basic Practices of Following Jesus.” Today joining Jesus in ministry through a life of service.  We’re made that way: Divine Design. We’re on a life-long journey.  Journey would imply we don’t stay in the same place.  We start where we are, but we intentionally move, following Jesus in a life of worship, of hospitality, of opening ourselves to him, of obeying him, and joining in his ministry, a life of service.

Each of us are equipped with gifts.  Interesting thing about gifts—they are not for us.  They are for others.  They are of no value if we keep them to ourselves.  Spiritual gifts are for building up others, the body of Christ for service.  But for the body of Christ to be effective, it needs you, it needs your presence.  God is out to transform the world through the service of Jesus’ followers.  Your presence is required.

Last week Rosemary and I listened to an Andy Stanley sermon series “What Makes You Happy?”  The first was “No Thing.”  There is no thing that can make you happy.  Happiness always requires a “who or two.”  The second was “Sow Ing.”  We reap what we sow.  We need to sow with care to be happy.  The last was “Not Me.”  Selfishness, ego, narcissism can never make us happy.  He says, “You cannot acquire, consume or exercise your way to happiness.”  Happiness is about others.  That’s God’s divine design.

Andy cited medical surveys showing caring, teaching, protecting professions are the most satisfying, that volunteering reduces stress, depression, heart disease.  For teens there is less drug abuse, fewer unwanted pregnancies among volunteers even when the service was mandatory!  Why? We were designed that way.

In Galatians 5:19-25, Paul contrast the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit.  Works of the flesh are almost exclusively self-serving.  And when we strive to satisfy ourselves at the expense of others, we have a moral issue and we are being warned.

“By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  There is no law against such things.”  These are almost exclusively for others, and they result in mutual joy.  And there is no limit, there is no law.  You can love all you want, be kind all you want, be gentle all you want.  Just think if all the people exercised self-control for one month what a world it would be.  There is no law against them.

What makes us happy?  Offering ourselves to others.  Smiling more, scheduling time to be with others.  Finding ways to help.  Mel West has told us that our opportunity to serve come at the intersection of the lines where the need of others intersect our ability to meet those needs. 

How do we follow Jesus?  Join him in ministry? Live a life of service?  We simply ask in all circumstances, “What does love require of us?”  And then listen to the urging of the Spirit.  And love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control will be part of your life.  You were designed that way.  Amen.