Wednesday, January 28, 2009

“A Backwards Blessing – Blessed are the Poor”

Once, I heard a preacher share the following story: “The Reverend Doctor Baptist preacher was holding revival at a rural church. After three inspired sermons one of the senior saints of the congregation commented as she shook his hand on her way out: ‘Sir, when they told my we were having one of those professor types to preach our revival, I was not expecting to get much out of it. But may I say that for a PhD, you preach like a man with no education at all.’”

The people who heard Jesus preach often commented about his education or lack thereof. They asked, “How does this man know so much when he has never had formal instruction (John 7:15)?” Jesus’ detractors questioned his teaching: “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority (Matthew 21:23)?” To us, Jesus’ teaching is familiar, but in his own day, his teachings seemed bizarre, and even backwards.

“Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God….but woe unto you that are rich, for you have received your consolation (Luke 6:20, 24).” What a backwards blessing! How ridiculous Jesus sounded to everybody in earshot! In Matthew’s gospel, He says, “the poor in spirit,” but not here. Here, he simply says, “the poor.” He had to be crazy, his listeners thought! What could He possibly mean?

“Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” In other words, those who don’t have the burden of money idolatry find themselves far more in tune with the things of God. He also said, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will love the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon (Matthew 6:24).” Mammon was an ancient demon-god who was associated with riches. Jesus was saying that obsession over riches is equivalent to idolatry. So you are blessed if your financial situation allows you to be obsessed with God, rather than with money.

You may say, “Well, I’m not rolling in the dough! Jesus was blessing me!” Oh really? The United States is the wealthiest nation on the planet. The poorest Americans have more than the majority of people in the world. Jesus wasn’t blessing us. He was blessing the poor.

What blessing does Jesus have for us? No blessing, but a woe: “Woe unto you that are rich, for you have received your consolation.”

What, then, shall we do? How, then, shall we live? Learn to be content with what you have, rather than trying to accumulate more and more. Live simply, so that out of your abundance you can support causes that allow others in your community to simply live. Let your faith affect the way you treat the poor. Rather than treating them with gut-level contempt, give them the love of Christ. Freely give to support the poor of the world. Don’t let money be your god.

What a radical message Jesus had! Radical for then, and radical for now. Radical for His society, and radical for ours. Will you be brave enough to live His message?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Disciple Envy

This is a picture of my lovely wife Beth. Isn't she beautiful? She has an amazing blog. I love to read what she writes. If she weren't my wife, I'd still love to read what she writes, because she's witty and charming and sees things from a very different perspective than most people. I highly recommend that you check out her blog.

I have to admit that I'm a bit jealous, though. She has 80-something followers on her blog, and I have 6. She calls the people who follow her blog her "disciples," another example of her quirky humor. So I suppose I suffer from "disciple envy."

So here I am, shamelessly asking that if you like my blog--if you read it often, and if you have a blogger ID, go ahead and become a follower. That way I won't have to be quite so jealous of Beth. YES--YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN MY MARRIAGE! Become a follower today! Don't follow HER blog--she has enough disciples. Follow mine!!! You know you want to!

Firewood Warms You Three Times

Today at church we cut firewood for people in the area who burn it to heat their homes, and who needed a helping hand. This is a ministry that our church does each year, and I think it's fantastic! We had about 25 (give or take) people who joined in the wood cutting festivities today, and I think we got more out of it than the people who received free firewood.

The firewood is donated by a member of our church, an excavator who gets the wood when he clears land for people. The work is contributed by anybody who shows up on wood-cutting Saturdays. The two log splitters are lent to us by church members. Other members who have trucks deliver the wood to people's homes. All in all, it's a great group effort. It's amazing to see how much work can get done in a short amount of time, when you have a lot of people pitching in.

Tonight as I write this, my back is tired and achy. Not only did I cut wood with the group this morning, but I also cut wood this evening. It's a good kind of tired and achy, though. I know I accomplished something good today.

It has been said that firewood is the only fuel that warms you twice, once when you cut it and once when you burn it. But this firewood warms three times. It warms the body when it's cut. It warms the body when it's burned. But it warms the heart when it's given away.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

"Shut Up and Eat Your Manna!"

Last night, our family devotion was on Numbers 11:4-9, 31-34. I've posted it here below:

The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, "If only we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. 6 But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!"
7 The manna was like coriander seed and looked like resin. 8 The people went around gathering it, and then ground it in a handmill or crushed it in a mortar. They cooked it in a pot or made it into cakes. And it tasted like something made with olive oil. 9 When the dew settled on the camp at night, the manna also came down.
31 Now a wind went out from the LORD and drove quail in from the sea. It brought them [c] down all around the camp to about three feet [d] above the ground, as far as a day's walk in any direction. 32 All that day and night and all the next day the people went out and gathered quail. No one gathered less than ten homers. [e] Then they spread them out all around the camp. 33 But while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the LORD burned against the people, and he struck them with a severe plague. 34 Therefore the place was named Kibroth Hattaavah, [f] because there they buried the people who had craved other food.Immediately after out family devotion, which we always do after a sit-down family dinner at home, we got up and began clearing dishes. One of my children (whose name is here changed to protect his less-than-innocence) had the job of doing the dishes. Cedric's job is much easier than it was just a couple of weeks ago, because we recently got a dishwasher. Before we had the dishwasher, this chore was the most dreaded of all the rotated-through chores on the kids' chore chart. Now that we have a dishwasher, it's one of the easiest jobs. Just empty the clean dishes and load up the dirty ones. Pop in some soap and turn it on. What could be more simple?

But poor Cedric! He opened the dishwasher, which still had clean dishes that needed to be unloaded, and sighed a great big sigh! "There are puddles of water on top of the clean glasses!" he said. "I have to DRY them before putting them away!"

I wanted to say, "Shut up and eat your manna!" Instead, I explained how things are so much easier than they used to be, and that instead of complaining, he should be grateful that we have such a nice dishwasher to help us with our work.

Then I thought, "How often to I do the same thing as little Cedric here?" How often do we all complain about our blessings, because they aren't as super-awesome as we might have believed in our imaginations? Why, after all, didn't we get the kind of dishwasher that clears the table, loads itself, washes the dishes, dries them, and puts the clean dishes away? Why, after all, do we have to keep eating this boring old manna, instead of having all the delicacies of Egypt?

Lord forgive us! Make us content, and make us grateful!

Monday, January 12, 2009

“The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Morning”

I love Judith Viorst’s children’s book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. It seems nothing can go right for the little guy. He says, "I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there's gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day." For Alexander, things just keep going from bad to worse. Yesterday morning at church, I could really identify with him.

I preach the same sermon at both our 8:30 and 11:00 services. I use PowerPoint to project images and outlines behind me as I preach. Yesterday’s sermon was geared around the 11:00 child dedication service. As there was no child to dedicate in the 8:30 service, I had tweaked the sermon to make it more generally applicable to everyone. In my opinion, the sermon absolutely tanked! I told myself, “That’s the worst sermon you’ve ever preached in your life!”

Before Sunday school (at 9:45), the couple with the baby told me that they’d forgotten about the dedication, and hadn’t invited all the family members. I told them that it was fine, and we could reschedule the dedication for another Sunday.

But then I asked myself, “What do I do now? I have three choices: I can (a) re-preach the worst sermon of my life that no longer applies to a baby dedication, (b) re-preach a sermon from a previous church with no PowerPoint projection, or (c) scramble to come up with an original sermon during the Sunday school hour, that would also have no PowerPoint. What to do? What to do?”

I was still fretting over the prospect of a second terrible, horrible, no good, very bad worship service when Jesus walked through the door. Only, he didn’t look like Jesus. He looked like a little blonde beauty who still uses sippy cups and carries stuffed animals. Madison saw me, threw down the four or five toddler-things she was carrying in her tiny arms, and threw them open to give me a hug. I bent down, gathered her up, squeezed the boogers out of her, and received a touch from the Lord.

She didn’t say a word, and she didn’t have to. “I needed that hug today,” I told her, and she smiled, toddling off to Sunday school.

Well, I went back to my office, prayed with a some dear friends, tweaked the original sermon some more, and went out to preach a humdinger.

When you have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, how does God speak to you, to lift you out of it? Look for His touch in something as simple as a prayer or a child’s hug. He will lift you out of it, and give you a firm place to stand.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Merry Christmas...Still!

Merry Christmas to all!

"Merry Christmas?" you ask. "Isn't he a bit behind the times?"

Most certainly not--for two reasons.

1 - Today was another day to celebrate Christmas for my family and me. We went to Fredericksburg and celebrated Christmas with my dad, stepmom, and stepsister. Our Christmasing started on the 14th of December, with the church's children's Christmas program. I went caroling with a church group on the 18th. Then came a visit from my mom and stepdad on the 20th of December. On the 22nd, my wife's singing group sang carols at a local nursing home, and I was pleased to attend the show. We had a Christmas Eve service on the 24th, and my in-laws visited on Christmas day. The day after Christmas, we hosted a Christmas open house at the parsonage. Then we jaunted off for a weekend away in Red Oak, where we enjoyed a deacon ordination at my last church, along with the company of wonderful friends. So for us, Christmas has not been just one day, but an entire season that isn't yet over. I hope it's not over yet for you.

2 - Christmas actually isn't over. Remember, Christmas is a twelve-day event, with Christmad Day being only the first of the 12. The entire month prior to Christmas--what everybody refers to as the "Christmas Season" is actually Advent. In actuality, the Christmas season lasts until Epiphany, which is on January 6. Technically, none of us are supposed to take down our Christmas decorations until then. The problem is that all the retailers want us to forget about Christmas and start thinking about Valentine's Day right about now.

I think it's strange that before Christmas, people say "If I don't see you between now and the 25th, have a merry Christmas!" Yeah--as if they shouldn't have a merry Christmas if you do see them between now and then! We shouldn't make "Merry Christmas" a parting wish that's only good to say once--the last time you see a person before the holyday. We should make "Merry Christmas" a greeting for everybody throughout the entire season.

I also think it's strange that once the packages are unwrapped, we stop saying "Merry Christmas." As if the holiday's over at noon on the 25th! All of a sudden, we start saying "Happy New Year," forgetting that Christmas lasts well into the new year.

So on the 2nd of January, I wish you and yours a very merry Christmas! I hope it lasts!