“Promises”

“Promises”
A Message on Hebrews 6:13-20
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Dec. 31, 2017
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Hebrews 6:13-20 (NRSV)

13 When God made a promise to Abraham, because he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “I will surely bless you and multiply you.” 15 And thus Abraham, having patiently endured, obtained the promise. 16 Human beings, of course, swear by someone greater than themselves, and an oath given as confirmation puts an end to all dispute. 17 In the same way, when God desired to show even more clearly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it by an oath, 18 so that through two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible that God would prove false, we who have taken refuge might be strongly encouraged to seize the hope set before us. 19 We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.

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Raise your hand if you’ve ever made a “pinky promise.” You know, that kind of promise that is beyond just a promise. It’s much more serious, much bigger than just a promise. It’s a pinky promise.

It’s a way of saying that no matter what happens, the promise will not be broken. It’s like a legal contract, except that it isn’t legal, of course. But making a pinky promise, instead of just a regular promise, indicates the seriousness in which both parties take the commitment to uphold both ends of the promise.

Okay, so all of us who have made pinky promises, how many ever broken one? Come on now, tell the truth and shame the devil. I think all of us have, at one time or another.

I did a little research into the pinky promise and found something that is… Well… Uncomfortable to me. I found out that the idea actually originated in Japan. In that culture and at that time it meant that if one of the parties broke the promise the punishment would be to cut off the pinky finger of the offender.

So, now knowing this, please raise your hand if you’ve broken a pinky promise and our ushers will come by… No, don’t worry, we’re not going to start cutting off pinkie fingers.

As human beings isn’t it interesting the lengths we will go to in declaring a promise that we say we won’t break, but we end up doing anyway? In addition to the pinky promise when I was growing up we would also say something like,

“Cross my heart and hope to die,
Stick a thousands needles in my eye…”

When you think about it, that’s pretty serious stuff, especially for kids!

Ironically the reason we go to such extreme lengths to validate promises is that we’re really not very good at keeping them.

It could be argued that it all started in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. God tells them, “Hey, you have access to everything here and can eat anything except for this one tree.” I can just hear Adam or Eve turn their head quickly and say, “Which tree?”

And of course that is exactly the tree they eat from.

Throughout the Bible we find again and again covenants made between God and humans, and in every instance it is the humans that break the promise made. God never breaks the promise. Not one time. But humans? Well, that’s a different story.

There is a cycle that occurs in the Old Testament. Here’s how it goes. God says to obey his words and laws and worship only him and the people will have things go their way and everything will be great. And the people say, “Sure, we promise to do that.” And then it isn’t long before they are breaking that promise as they worship foreign gods, and ignore the laws. Well then the consequences of those actions start taking place and God allows foreign forces to come in and take over and kill a bunch of people and sending the survivors off to exile. Then, after they’ve lost everything and are desperate, they call out to God to deliver them, and God has compassion on them and does so. And then the cycle repeats itself.

I think breaking promises is just part of the sinful nature of humans. Sometimes greed wins out, or lust for power, or some desire that puts one’s needs above others.

Most of you know I was sick the past couple of weeks. (Boy, was I sick.) I got on Netflix and watch 10 episodes in a row of World War II in Color. As part of that program I was fascinated at how Hitler signed a pact with Russia about how he promised he wouldn’t attack Russia and they would split up the land between the two countries.

Hitler starts taking over all these countries around Germany and is having great success. But then after just two years he breaks that agreement with Russia and goes to war against them, all because he wanted more land than what the agreement gave him. Of course the Russians didn’t take to kindly to that and fought back, forcing Germany to fight wars on two fronts, and then three as Hitler came to the aid of Mussolini in Northern Africa and Italy.

And what really boggles my mind is how many millions of people, not just soldiers but civilians as well, died as a result. Russian losses alone are estimated at 20,000,000 people. That’s not a typo. Twenty million people.

Breaking a promise can have consequences. Tax time is coming up. When we sign at the bottom of our tax returns we are promising that the information we have given on the forms is accurate and true. If we knowingly break that promise, if we give information that isn’t true, and the IRS figures it out, then there are consequences we will have to deal with.

While humans are bad about not keeping promises we can take comfort as Christians in knowing that God always keeps his promises.

I think that’s what the writer of Hebrews is telling us in the scripture we read today.

Listen to The Message paraphrase: “When God made his promise to Abraham, he backed it to the hilt, putting his own reputation on the line. He said, “I promise that I’ll bless you with everything I have—bless and bless and bless!” Abraham stuck it out and got everything that had been promised to him.”

Remember the story of Abraham? God said “Trust me and leave everything behind and go to a foreign land and I will bless you.” And Abraham does. Now it’s not a trouble-free journey, but God keeps his end of the promise.

The writer of Hebrews continues: “When people make promises, they guarantee them by appeal to some authority above them so that if there is any question that they’ll make good on the promise, the authority will back them up. When God wanted to guarantee his promises, he gave his word, a rock-solid guarantee—God can’t break his word. And because his word cannot change, the promise is likewise unchangeable.”

We still appeal to higher authority when we make promises. Another program I watched a lot of when I was sick was “Cops.” (Yes, I know I need to work on my program selections…) When I watch those episodes I am fascinated by the promises people make to convince the officers of their innocence. “I swear to God those drugs aren’t mine.” I swear to God I didn’t (do whatever they are accused of, even though it’s all on videotape). “I swear to God I haven’t been drinking.”

And even when the evidence is overwhelming against them they still promise using God’s name they are innocent.

The writer of Hebrews continues: “We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go. It’s an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God where Jesus, running on ahead of us, has taken up his permanent post as high priest for us, in the order of Melchizedek.”

Now we need to know the significance of that name “Melchizedek.” If we go back to the 14th chapter of Genesis we find kings and nations at war with each other. Abram (who is later renamed Abraham) has a nephew named Lot who lived in Sodom, and the city is overrun and captured. Lot is marched off into captivity but word gets back to Abram. So he talks about 300 men and goes and attacks the army and frees Lot and other captives and gets back all the possessions the army had taken.

The kings of the area are glad of Abram’s success. One of the kings is named Melchizedek, who is King of Salem. He is also the high priest, which is the top of the Jewish religious life of the day. There is no human higher than him in religious terms. And King Melchizedek comes and blesses Abram.

“And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. He blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” (Exodus 14:18-20)

Now Abram goes on to become Abraham, one of the holiest figures of the Old Testament. Melchizedek as the priest is the one who intercedes for the people before God. Later on with Moses when the tabernacle is created it is the high priest, and the high priest only, who can go into the “Holiest of Holies” in the Tabernacle where the Ark of the Covenant was and where it was believed that God resided on earth.

So the writer of Hebrews is telling us that Jesus Christ is our high priest, the one who intercedes before God on our behalf. Jesus stands before God representing us.

Jesus’ blood overcomes the sins of all of our broken promises.

Now just because that is the case doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make promises or try to keep them. Just because our sins are forgiven doesn’t give us license to go and sin all we want to.

No. But it should make us more aware of the promises we make to God and do everything we can to keep those.

We make a promise, a covenant oath, when we are baptized and becomes members of the body of Christ. We publicly proclaim that we promise to follow Christ, that our words and out actions will fulfill the great commandment to love God and love others.

Back in 1755 John Wesley led a group of believers in a renewal service at what was known as the “French Church” at Spitalfield in London. The service was designed for those in attendance to remember the covenant, or promise, they made when they made the decision to become a Christian.

As part of that service the people recited a prayer. Now there is some debate as to who should be credited with the prayer. Wesley credited it to and English Puritan named Richard Alleine, but other scholars believe that it was also influenced by the German Pietist movement.

Anyway, I think it’s a great prayer. You will find it printed in your bulletin and I hope that you will clip it out and put it somewhere prominent so that you can recite it every day.

We are going to stand and say it now, on New Year’s Eve, as a reminder of the promises we made to God:

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.

Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.

I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.

And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified i
n heaven.
Amen.

So my challenge to you this week, as we turn the page on the calendar and begin a new year, is for us to remember our promises to God. God is always faithful and always keeps his promises. Let us do our best to keep ours as well.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Because of Bethlehem: “God Has A Face”

Sermon Series on Because of Bethlehem: “God Has A Face”
A Message on Hebrews 4:14-16

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Dec. 10, 2017
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Hebrews 4:14-16 (NRSV)

 

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

 

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In his book, Because of Bethlehem: Love is Born, Hope is Here, Max Lucado tells the true story of a man named George Harley who moved with his wife to Africa in 1926 to become medical missionaries among the Mano tribe in Liberia. After arriving he became frustrated because the people he was trying to reach with the gospel message were not responsive. George had a burning passion for Jesus Christ and just couldn’t understand why the people he was living among weren’t interested in it.

 

George constructed a clinic and a chapel. The clinic was full and he treated thousands of people, but no one came to the chapel. Not a single person.

 

While in Africa George and his wife had a son. They named him Robert but called him Bobby. He was the apple of their eye.

 

Then when Robert was five he became ill. His dad, George, being a doctor, tried everything he knew of to try to cure his son, but nothing worked. In just a short period of time Robert got worse and then died.

 

Heartbroken, George went to his workshop and built a coffin. When it was finished, he placed Bobby’s body inside, nailed the lid shut, and then hoisted it on his shoulder and began carrying it toward a clearing where he planned to dig a grave for his son.

 

While he was on the way an older man of the tribe in the village came up to him and asked him what he was doing. George explained what had happened and what he was doing. The elderly man offered to help George carry the coffin, and the two of them carried it to the cleaning.

 

George later told a friend:

 

So the old man took one end of the coffin and I took the other. Eventually we came to the clearing in the forest. We dug a grave there and laid Bobby in it. But when we had covered up the grave, I just couldn’t stand it any longer . . . I fell down on my knees in the dirt and began to sob uncontrollably. My beloved son was dead, and there I was in the middle of an African jungle 8,000 miles from home and relatives. I felt so all alone. But when I started crying, the old man cocked his head in stunned amazement. He squatted down beside me and looked at me so intently. For a long time, he sat there listening to me cry. Then suddenly, he leaped to his feet and went running back up the trail through the jungle, screaming, again and again, at the top of his voice, “White man, white man—he cries like one of us.”

 

Max wrote about what happened next. “That evening as Harley and his wife grieved in their cottage, there was a knock at the door. Harley opened it. There stood the chief and almost every man, woman, and child in the village. They were back again the next Sunday and filled the chapel to overflowing. They wanted to hear about Jesus. Everything changed when the villagers saw the tears of the missionary. Everything changes when we see the face of God.”

 

Christmas is when we see the face of God. It celebrates the birth of Jesus, an ordinary yet extraordinary baby, born not in a palace of royalty, but the humbleness of a a stable.

 

Seeing the face of God is a big deal. A really big deal. If we go back and look in the Old Testament we find just how significant it is.

 

In the 33rd chapter of Exodus, we find God preparing the Hebrew people to enter the Holy Land. God has been speaking to Moses not only on Mt. Sinai where he gives him the 10 Commandments (twice!) but also in what is called the Tent of Meeting, a tent set up outside the camp where a pillar of cloud would appear at the entrance after Moses entered.

 

So God is giving Moses instructions. Moses asks God to go with the people, and God assures him that he will. Then we read of this exchange between Moses and God:

 

Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” And he [God] said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” And the Lord continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.” (Exodus 33:18-23)

 

Did you catch that? “…you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.”

 

God’s glory, God’s presence, is so holy, so powerful, that seeing God’s face would push humans beyond the ability to witness it and live. You’ve heard of people seeing things that are so shocking that they pass out, right? Can you imagine seeing something that is so powerful that it kills you?

 

And yet…

 

In a stable in Bethlehem, with no earthly fanfare, God’s face is seen for the first time. It comes to us as a baby boy. God puts on flesh and a face. God comes and dwells among us. The baby is Immanuel, God-with-us.

 

I think part of the challenge at for us as Christians living in the 21st century is in trying wrap our minds around what Christmas is really about, what the true meaning of Christmas is about.

 

We say it’s about the birth of Jesus, and that is right. But I think we miss the significance of that event.

 

Christmas has become so commercialized that the world seduces us into believing that it’s all about the giving and receiving of presents, that it’s about the decorations and parties and meals. In these respects Christmas takes on a life of its own, a personality of its own, one that is much, much different than God coming to earth in Bethlehem. And not only coming to earth, but doing so in such a humble way.

 

Let me show you something I ran across this past week. It’s a nativity scene that you can purchase. It sells for $109.99 on Amazon but hey, it qualifies for Amazon Prime free two day shipping.

 

It’s called the “Hipster Nativity Scene.”  Here, I’ll show you some close up photos of it. (Show photos.)

 

Set in our day today, it shows Joseph, with a man-bun, taking a selfie with Mary, who is holding a Starbucks coffee in one hand and holding up a peace sign with the other, while also showing “duck lips” for the photo. There are solar panels on top of the stable. The shepherd has an iphone or IPad with ear buds in his ears as he Snapchats news of the savior’s birth. The sheep is wearing a Christmas sweater and the cow has a sign saying “100% Organic” while eating “gluten-free feed.” The three wise men are on Segways holding boxes that say “Amazon Prime.”

 

I find this both funny and sad. It is funny in that it points out so many of stereotypes present in our society today. But it is sad in that it shows just how far from the true meaning of Christmas we have come. What’s possibly even worse is that it represents the theology of so many Christians today.

 

God has a face. God comes to earth. God walks among us, talks to us, teaches us, heals us, and offers us things that the world cannot give us. God gives us purpose and meaning for our lives. God gives us an example to follow in our interactions with others. God gives us hope when we think there is none. God offers us eternal life that defeats death and transcends time.

 

I think part of the problem with our perception of Jesus’ birth is that it has been cleaned up too much. Our society has removed the realism of it by making it an event where everything is perfect.

 

For example, one of the traditional Christmas Hymns is “Away in a Manger.” The lyrics of one of the verses says,

 

“The cattle are lowing
The poor Baby wakes
But little Lord Jesus
No crying He makes

 

I am convinced that the writer of those lyrics went a little too far with the editorial license. When newborn babies wake up they cry. It’s what they do. They cry if they are hungry. They cry if they need a diaper change. They cry if they are gassy. It’s the way they communicate.

 

If Jesus was fully human when he was born, and I am convinced that he was, then there shouldn’t be lyrics in Christmas songs about how he doesn’t cry.

 

Here’s another example: “The Little Drummer Boy.” Now y’all know that I’m a drummer and I like drums, but this song makes no sense. The little drummer boy shows up to see baby Jesus and, because he is poor and has nothing to give the child, volunteers to play his drum for the baby. The lyrics say that “Mary nodded,” giving approval and permission for him to play.

 

Anyone who has ever had a newborn baby knows that song is a lie. When Pam had our girls, Sarah and Emily, the thought never entered my mind to play drums for them. I’m pretty sure if a kid showed up at our house wanting to play the drum for either of our newborn babies I’m pretty sure that Pam would have told him… well, I can’t really say that in this setting, but suffice it to say she would NOT have nodded yes.

 

The scripture we read today from Hebrews is not one we normally associate with Adent or even Christmas. But I think it is important and that it really does sum up accurately what the birth of Jesus Christ means.

 

Listen again to verse 15: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.”

 

I think at the birth of Jesus we have focused too much on the divinity of Jesus instead of his humanness.

 

Jesus was born like all human babies. God came to earth not with a giant flash and special effects. He came to earth through the painful cries of a mother in labor. Andrew Peterson wrote a beautiful song titled “Labor of Love.” Here are some of the lyrics:

 

It was not a silent night
There was blood on the ground
You could hear a woman cry
In the alleyway that night
On the streets of David’s town


And the stable was not clean
And the cobblestones were cold
And little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
Had no mother’s hand to hold.


It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love.

 

Jesus cried. Jesus spit up. Jesus needed his diaper changed. Jesus was just as human as any other baby.

 

Jesus was/is fully human and fully God. It wasn’t 50/50. It is 100/100. And while this isn’t humanly possible it certainly possible for God.

 

Remember verse 15 we read today? “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.”

 

Jesus’ humanness, his being fully human, means that he knows everything we go through. He knows about the temptations we face because he faced them as well. He was tested just as we are tested every day. The difference is that he didn’t sin. We do.

 

And because he didn’t sin, because he was perfect, it makes it even more amazing that he was willing to go to the cross to bear the sins of those of us who aren’t perfect.

 

So God does have a face. His name is Jesus. And because he came to earth and went to the cross, we have joy at Christmas because it leads to Easter.

 

So my challenge to you this week is to remember that God has a face. As we celebrate and shop and decorate may we never take our eyes of the fact that God has a face, the face of a baby born in Bethlehem. That is the real reason for the season. (And you can’t take a selfie with that.)

 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Run With the Horses: “The Potter”

Sermon Series on Run With the Horses: “The Potter”
A Message on Jeremiah 18:1-4

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Nov. 19, 2017
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Jeremiah 18:1-4 (NRSV)

 

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4 The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.

 

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When I was a kid I wasn’t very good at art. After a lot of hard work I finally could color within the lines, but that was about it. Even my stick figures looked bad.

 

My brother, Dalen, on the other hand, could draw anything. I’m talking like fine art stuff.

 

The only thing I felt even halfway skilled at (but still short of what I would consider competent) was sculpting with clay, or more often, Play-Doh. Now I was still light years from being able to sculpt like my brother, but when it came to art my sculpting was the best of my worst.

 

The trouble was that there was only one thing I could make: a dinosaur. Yep. That’s it. I couldn’t do a cow or a horse or dog or any animal that one could actually see, but I could do a dinosaur. A brontosaurus, to be exact.

 

I wondered if I could still do it, so this past week I went down to our Methodist Readiness School and asked to borrow some Play-Doh. I discovered that they make their own Play-Doh (which saves a lot of money) and they loaned me some. This is what it looks like. (Show picture.)

 

So I went back to my office and tried to made a dinosaur like I did when I was a kid. I discovered that my Play-Doh dinosaur making skills have not improved with time.

 

This is what I came up with. (Show picture.) Now I had to hurry and take this photo because the neck on my dinosaur wasn’t strong enough to hold up its head, and after just a few seconds the head drooped all the way to the table. It made the dinosaur look sad, like this. (Show picture.)

 

Pretty bad, huh? So I decided to just start all over. So I squished it down (Show picture) and started over. The second time around I got this. (Show photo of actual dinosaur display.)

 

No, not really. The second one would have looked just as bad as my first one. Now if my brother Dalen had done it, it would have looked like this. But mine didn’t.

 

My lack of skill in sculpting means that I am in awe with those who can actually do it, including potters.

 

Have you ever watched a potter at work? Someone who makes pottery sits at a wheel that spins around and by taking clay and placing it on the wheel they use their fingers and hands to form and shape the clay into what they want, maybe a bowl or a vase or a cup.

 

To me is mesmerizing. I love watching them do their work. They take what looks like mud, and when they are through and the pieced is hardened in the kiln then what results is really beautiful.

 

In the scripture we read from Jeremiah today we find Jeremiah being instructed by God to go down to watch the potter at work. He does, and while there he saw that the piece the potter was working on didn’t turn out right. Something went wrong with it. So the potter, instead of just throwing the clay away, he smashed it down and started working on it again.

 

The whole point of this was for God to show Jeremiah what was going to happen to the Hebrew people.

 

As we talked about last week the Hebrew people had drifted far away from following God. They still went through some of the motions of being the people of God such as going to Temple, but at the same time they led decadent lifestyles and worshipped other Gods, even to the point of sacrificing their own children.

 

Jeremiah and other prophets tried to convince them to change their evil ways, to turn from their sins and to follow the one true God.

 

After Jeremiah sees the potter with the messed up piece that is reworked into something else he tells Jeremiah this: “Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”

 

Later on in verse 11 God tells Jeremiah to say to the people, “Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.”

 

Now there is rich symbolism in the metaphor of the potter.

 

First, let’s look at the raw product the potter uses. It’s clay. Mud. Earth. Dirt.

 

Marshall, Texas became somewhat famous for the pottery made there. There is still a Marshall Pottery company. And just outside of town is a creek named “Potter Creek” because that is where much of the clay came from to make the pottery.

 

Now referring to God’s people as clay has some very deep historical roots. If we go back to the second chapter of Genesis we find God creating humans. He takes dirt from the ground and breathes life into it to create man, whose name is Adam. Now the name Adam comes from the Hebrew word adamah, which means earth.

As humans we have a close connection to the earth. My dad, a lifelong gardener, has always said that there is something spiritual about getting our hands in the dirt. And I must say that of all the farmers I have met in my life (and I have met a lot of them) I have never run across one who was an atheist.

 

We are connected to the earth. Even at funerals we say, “This body we commit to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

 

So there is great symbolism in the clay that the potter uses.

 

There is also symbolism in the creative process. God is the great creator, who made not only heaven and earth and all of creation but humans as well. The Bible tells us that we are created in God’s image, and God is very creative!

 

I believe that God is creativity and that he works through painters, sculptors, photographers, musicians, dancers, and writers. But I also believe God is the greatest creator, especially when I see something like all the millions of stars in a clear winter night sky or a beautiful sunrise or sunset, or taste a fresh peach or plum, or smell homemade bread cooking, or feel the hug of a family member or friend, or hear a mockingbird performing a repertoire of bird songs it has heard and learned to mimic.

 

I also believe that the potter and clay metaphor works well for reminding us of our purpose on earth.

 

There are some misconceptions about life. We often tell our children, “You can be anything you want to be when you grow up.” That simply is not true.

 

As you can tell from my photos a little while ago I could not be a sculptor. It wouldn’t have mattered how hard I worked or studied or tried I would not have been successful as a sculptor. And that’s because God didn’t give me that talent or the ability to learn that talent.

 

Parker Palmer wrote a book years ago titled, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. In it he says, “Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice ‘out there’ calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice ‘in here’ calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God. [Parker J. Palmer. Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation (Kindle Locations 124-127). Kindle Edition.]

 

Now we can fight that. Because we have free will we can choose to try to be almost anything. But it is doubtful if we will be successful (using the Biblical definition) or find contentment doing it.

 

In other words, God the potter wants to make us into a cup, but we keep trying to be a bowl.

 

When you ask high school students what careers they want to have when the get older many of them will reply, “I don’t know, and I don’t really care as long as I can make a lot of money.”

 

If money is our main criteria in deciding a career then I predict and unhappy career. It’s not that there aren’t jobs and professions that pay well or that making money is a bad thing, but if it is your main motivational factor in choosing a career then the odds increase dramatically that unhappiness is on the horizon. There are a lot of wealthy yet unhappy people in the world.

 

As followers of Christ we should understand that God has a role for each of us to play in building his kingdom on earth. In the first scripture reading today from 2 Timothy 2:20-21 we heard Paul’s words: “In a large house there are utensils not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for special use, some for ordinary. All who cleanse themselves of the things I have mentioned will become special utensils, dedicated and useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work.”

 

Now if we did what the Hebrew people did at the time of Jeremiah we may fight that and seek to do only what we want to do.

 

We create problems when we want to be the potter, not the clay. We want to make ourselves into vessels that we want to be, that the world tells us we ought to be.

 

The trouble is that we are not the potter, we are the clay. We should seek God’s will and be willing to be shaped and formed to the vessels he needs us to be for the work of his kingdom.

 

Now here’s another important aspect of pottery making that I think applies to our spiritual life. When the potter works and shapes the clay on the wheel, it is friction that brings it to shape.

 

The potter will often dip his/her hands in water to keep them moist and thus reduce friction, but the molding and shaping of the item takes place through physical friction. The clay is pulled up and out to take form. And once it takes form it has to go through the fire of the kiln before it can be useful.

 

Likewise in our spiritual lives it is during the tough times that we are molded and formed. When things are great we tend to forget about God. When times are tough we turn to God. I don’t believe God causes bad things to happen, but I believe he allows us to go through them to strengthen our faith. Years down the road we may be able to help someone else going through a similar situation, or be able to be compassionate and understanding toward someone else. We can be God’s vessels of grace and comfort for someone in need.

 

And going through the fire, going through those extremely difficult situations, can strengthen our faith and harden us against the things that draw us away from God.

 

Another thing I think Jeremiah’s description of the potter can teach us is that our God is the God of second chances.

 

When we make mistakes, when we mess up, God can renew us and make us into something better.

 

When the potter is working with the clay on the wheel and something happens and it doesn’t turn out like it’s supposed to, the potter and take the clay and start all over.

 

In a similar way God does the same with us. When we try to control our lives and form ourselves into what our own image is, and we fail, God can take what is left and form them into something completely different and something new. It may take some pulling and tugging, but if God is the potter and we are the clay we can become something better than we can imagine.

 

We can claim that promise because of Jesus Christ. Through his death and resurrection on the cross we are offered forgiveness of our sins and reconciliation with God. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

 

As Christians, as followers and disciples of Jesus Christ, we are a new creation. We are renewed every day.

 

So my challenge to you this week is this: every time you use some type of pottery this week, whether it’s a coffee cup or a plate or a vase or whatever, remember Jeremiah at the potter’s house.

 

Remember that we come from the earth and will return to the earth. Therefore, let’s make every day count. Let us seek to do Kingdom things, not selfish, self-centered things.

 

Remember that God is the potter and we are the clay. He has a purpose for our life and as faithful followers of Jesus Christ we are to discern and fulfill that purpose.

 

Let God mold you and make you into the vessel he wants you to be. It may not be comfortable as he tugs and pulls and shapes you, but it will be worth it. Don’t try to mold yourself. Let God do it. He’s much better at it anyway!

 

And if you ever need someone to sculpt you a dinosaur out of Play-doh… I’ll call my brother.

 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Run With the Horses: “Don’t Believe the Lies”

Sermon Series on Run With the Horses: “Don’t Believe the Lies”
A Message on Jeremiah 7:1-4

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Nov. 19, 2017
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Jeremiah 7:1-4 (NRSV)

 

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah, you that enter these gates to worship the Lord. 3 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place. 4 Do not trust in these deceptive words: “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.”

 

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There once was a minister (not United Methodist) that told his congregation one Sunday, “Next week I plan to preach about the sin of lying. To help you understand my sermon, I want you all to read Mark 17.”

The next Sunday, when it came time for the sermon, he asked the congregation members who had read the 17th chapter of Mark to raise their hands. Almost every hand went up. The minister smiled and said, “I see. Well, there are only sixteen chapters in the Gospel of Mark. So, I will now proceed with my sermon on the sin of lying.” [Source: http://www.beliefnet.com/followingjesus/features/top-christian-jokes.aspx?p=4#d1Fsqx5immyXamUf.99]

 

Today we’re going to talk about lying, but not so much about telling lies but in terms of believing lies.

 

Now you may be saying to yourself, “Well, I don’t need to hear this. I don’t believe lies.” Well now just hold on a minute. Because I think all of us do to some extent or another.

 

In the scripture we read today from Jeremiah we find God instructing Jeremiah to go stand at the gate at the temple and tell the folks going by, the ones heading to the temple, to not believe the lies that “This is the temple of the Lord. This is the temple of the Lord. This is the temple of the Lord.”

 

We need some background to help us understand what is going on. The Jewish people of the time were worshipping God in words only. And just because you say it doesn’t mean it’s true, right?

 

The Jewish society at the time wasn’t very serious about leading righteous and holy lives. Things had been good during that time. There was plenty of food, the economy was booming, things were good. And as is often the case, when things are good people forget about God.

 

That’s what had happened. Manasseh was the king when Jeremiah was very young, and as a leader he was bad. Real bad.

 

Here’s how Eugene Peterson describes him in his book, Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at Its Best: “Manasseh was the worst king the Hebrews ever had. He was a thoroughly bad man presiding over a totally corrupt government. He reigned in Jerusalem for fifty-five years, a dark and evil half century. He encouraged a pagan worship that involved whole communities in sexual orgies. He installed cult prostitutes at shrines throughout the countryside. He imported wizards and sorcerers who enslaved the people in superstitions and manipulated them with their magic. The man could not do enough evil. There seemed to be no end to his barbarous cruelties. His capacity for inventing new forms of evil seemed bottomless. His appetite for the sordid was insatiable. One day he placed his son on the altar in some black and terrible ritual of witchcraft and burned him as an offering (2 Kings 21).”

 

That’s bad. You can read all about it in the 21st chapter of 2 Kings.

 

The temple, the holy place of the Jewish people, the place they believed that the Holy God resided on earth, was not immune to such depravity.

 

Again, Peterson describes it: “The great Solomonic temple in Jerusalem, resplendent in its holy simplicity, empty of any form of god so that the invisible God could be attended to in worship, swarmed with magicians and prostitutes. Idols shaped as beasts and monsters defiled the holy place. Lust and greed were deified. Murders were commonplace. Manasseh dragged the people into a mire far more stinking than anything the world had yet seen.”

 

Wow. So Manasseh was NOT a good king. But eventually he got old and died. As often was the case back then his son became King. Amon was his name. The people were watching to see if Amon was going to be different from his dad, but he wasn’t. He did the same evil things.

 

Well some of the people got upset about it and decided to act. Amon was king only two years before he was killed in a coup. After that, his son, Josiah, was named king, even though he was only 8 years old at the time.

 

But a strange thing happened. Josiah tried to do the right thing. Now there were people who opposed him, for sure, but as king he worked real hard to lead the people back to the only real God.

 

The first place he started was the temple. He kicked out all the pagan things and people and in the process, the priest found an old scroll over in a dusty corner. The scroll was what we know as the book of Deuteronomy, which talked about how to worship God as well as having instructions for moral living.

 

So Josiah, the good king, imposed more reforms based on the writing of the scrolls.

 

This is where Jeremiah comes in. Jeremiah received his calling when Josiah was king. And Jeremiah started helping in the reforms and we have several of his sermons in the book of Jeremiah that encourage people to turn from their evil ways and follow the true God.

 

The reforms happened, but the trouble was that for a lot of folks it was only skin deep. They created the impression on the surface that they were worshipping the true God, but the reality was that their hearts weren’t changed. They still surreptitiously worshipped the pagan gods and continued to do the evil things.

 

And yet on the sabbath they would come to the Temple, singing “The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!”

 

That’s where we find Jeremiah in the scripture we read today. Basically, Jeremiah tells them, “YOU LIE!”

 

They lie because they believe the lies that others are telling. They are believing the lies.

 

There are a lot of parallels between that time and the present day.

 

One is that we are followers of God on the surface only. We create a facade that we are followers of Jesus Christ, but deep down we not only sin but we like sinning. Our faith doesn’t go very deep. We don’t want the commitment that comes from being a true follower of Jesus Christ. It’s just too hard, to challenging, and moves us out of our comfort zones. And we want to be comfortable.

 

Another way I think society today is like the Hebrew people at the time of Jeremiah, we too listen to and believe the lies.

 

Here are some of the lies that I think we believe today.

 

“It’s all about me. I should put myself at the top of my priority list.”

 

“Greed is good.”

 

“The busier you are, the more important you are.”

 

“Work is more important than family.”

 

“Your self worth is based on how many people follow you on social media.”

 

“Image is everything.”

 

“You have to drink alcohol if your want to be cool.”

 

“You should look just like the model on this magazine cover/in this movie.”

 

“There’s nothing wrong with premarital sex.”

 

“Truth is relative.”

 

“Religion isn’t important.”

 

Get the idea? We are bombarded with lies everyday and too often we believe them. And if we are really honest with ourselves, we believe so many of them because we want to believe them.

 

We want to believe the lies. We don’t want to believe Jesus.

 

Jesus tells us to leave the 99 sheep to go look for the one that is lost.

 

Jesus tells us that in order to be the greatest you must be a servant to all.

 

Jesus tells us that as we do to the least in our society we do to him.

 

Jesus tells us that where our treasure is there our heart will be also.

 

Jesus tells us to love our enemies, to turn the other cheek, to forgive those who wrong us, to give to everyone who begs of us, to love others as ourselves, to love God with all that we are and have, and that through death comes resurrection.

 

Those aren’t lies. Those are truths. They’re hard. They’re difficult. But they are truths.

 

As Christians, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to be Jeremiahs in today’s world. We are called to call out the lies, to proclaim the truth, not just in the words we say but in the way we live as well.

 

It’s not easy. It’s not pleasant sometimes. And everything we do and say needs to be done in love. But that is what we are called to do.

 

So my challenge to you this week is to be a Jeremiah. Don’t believe the lies. Instead tell and show others the truth. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.

 

Now for next week be sure and read the 17th chapter of Mark.

 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity: “Generosity”

Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity: “Generosity”
A Message on Acts 20:32-35

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
October 15, 2017
By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

Acts 20:32-35

 

32 And now I commend you to God and to the message of his grace, a message that is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified. 33 I coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothing. 34 You know for yourselves that I worked with my own hands to support myself and my companions. 35 In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

 

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Once there was a little boy who attended church with his mother. She gave the boy a dollar bill and instructed him to put it in the offering plate when it came by. Later on in the service the plate came down the aisle and stopped in front of the boy. He was holding the dollar over the plate but the mom could tell that he didn’t want to let go of it. She leaned over to him and said, “Drop that dollar bill. It’s tainted.” The boy reluctantly obeyed and dropped the dollar in the plate.

 

Later the boy asked his mom, “Why was that money tainted? Did you mean it was dirty?”

 

“No,” the mother replied. “I said that because that dollar ‘taint yours and it ‘taint mine, it’s God’s.”

 

Today is commitment Sunday, where we are asked to turn in our pledge cards with an estimate of our giving for the coming year so that we can prepare a budget for the coming year.

 

When it comes to giving to the church we are sometimes like that little boy: we are reluctant to let go of the dollars. We forget to remind ourselves that our money really “‘taint” ours anyway, but God’s.

 

We are concluding our sermon series on Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity, written by Adam Hamilton, and today we’re going to look at the subject of generosity.

 

In the scripture from Acts that we read today we find Paul talking to the elders in the city of Ephesus. He is saying his goodbyes to them because he knows that he will never see them again. And as part of his parting speech he gives them some advice: financially support those who are unable to support themselves, the weak in their society.

 

And then he quotes Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than receive.”

 

Now some critics of the Bible will point out that none of the gospels in the Bible quote Jesus as saying that. But we have to remember that the gospel writers didn’t write down every single word that Jesus said, so it is very likely that Jesus did say that but that the gospel writers just failed to write it down. Nonetheless, Paul says Jesus said it, and that’s good enough for me.

 

It really is more blessed to give than receive, isn’t it? Don’t we feel good when we give someone a gift that they appreciate. Sure, it’s great to get gifts, too, but if you really want to warm your heart give someone to someone else.

 

Adam Hamilton points out in his book an experience he had when he and his family celebrated his birthday by going camping in the Teton mountains near Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The had arrived at their destination and went into the town of Jackson Hole. He gave each of his daughters $20 to spend and emphasized to them that was all they were going to receive and to spend it wisely.

 

Well it wasn’t long until one of his daughters, Rebecca, found a baseball cap she really liked. She asked her dad what he thought of it, and he said he liked it but tried to talk her into postponing the purchase until they looked in some other shops because she might find something she liked better. She said she didn’t care, that she wanted that cap and that she wouldn’t want anything else.

 

So she bought the cap. They finished their shopping, took a walk around a lake, and then sat down on a picnic bench to watch the sunset. It was at that moment that Rebecca took out the cap she had bought, gave it to her dad, and said, “Daddy, I bought this for you. I love you. Happy birthday.”

 

Rebecca had taken the money that her father had given her and used it not on herself, but to buy her dad a present.

 

That, folks, is generosity.

 

Let me give you another example, one that I know personally. Pat Morchat and her husband Art are friends of ours who live up near Kilgore. We attended church at St. Luke’s in Kilgore together before I went into the ministry.

 

Pat is always a joy. She taught art at the high school (she is retired now) and is quite the artist herself. She has a great sense of humor and is very charming.

 

This past year another member of that church, Wilbur Yates, had some serious health problems. His kidneys weren’t working properly and he became a candidate for a transplant.

 

Pat had heard of Wilbur’s situation during a couple of church services last fall and felt that she needed to do something, but she didn’t. After the second mention she turned to her husband Art and told him, “I KNOW I’m a match for him.” But still she was hesitant to do anything about it

 

After a few weeks the Christmas movies started playing, telling of the life of Jesus Christ. Pat found it very difficult to watch them. This is what she wrote in a letter:

 

“I told Art to turn them off, especially when ‘The Passion’ was played. I remember crying as I watched Jesus being tortured and beaten and just so horribly abused. I asked myself then, crying so hard, if God let this happen to his Son for us, how could I not give a kidney to another child of God who needed help.”

 

Pat started the donor process a few weeks later. It took until June of this year for it to be finalized.

 

Pat was a match. And so the day of surgery was set, and on Wednesday, July 5 of this year the doctors took one of Pat’s perfectly healthy kidneys and surgically implanted it into Wilbur. And it worked.

 

Her friends celebrated by having a “going away” party for her kidney,  complete with a “Hello Kidney” cake and cans of kidney beans.

 

Now I don’t know how much human anatomy you may know but the kidneys are deep in the middle of our bodies. There’s no easy way for doctors to get there. As a result, recovery is painful and takes quite a while.

 

And yet this woman was willing to go through all of that just to give someone else the possibility of leading a normal life. That, friends, is generosity.

 

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, knew about generosity. John made quite a bit of money in his day, often from the sales of his books. (One of his best sellers was Primitive Physic, a guide containing home remedies for physical ailments.)

 

And John gave almost all of it away. Not 10 percent, but almost all of it.

 

In his sermon on “The Use of Money,” he asks Christians to remember that God “placed you here not as a proprietor, but a steward.”

Wesley was very frugal. He didn’t believe in having a bunch of fancy furniture. He offered suggestions of how much meat to have a day, about six ounces if I remember correctly. (That’s per day, not per meal!) Simple meats, vegetables, and fruits were his preference for meals, and only water to drink.

 

When he’s talking about clothing, he doesn’t mean a trip to the mall with the charge card. He believed in plain, simple clothing, and later in his life even expressed regrets that he didn’t come up with a dress code for Methodists.

 

Some of you may not know this but Wesley believed it was healthy to take cold baths. Yep. Cold baths. He said it was for health reasons, and that may be true, but I believe that’s only part of the story. I think he took cold baths because by doing so it saved on the purchase of coal, which was burned to heat the water. And by saving money on coal, he had more he could give to the poor. Which he did.

 

The Bible is very clear that we are to generous. Listen to these words from 2 Corinthians: “The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written,
‘He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.’
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us…” (2 Corinthians 9:6-11)

 

In Proverbs we read, “Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor.” (Proverbs 22:9)

In our culture we have a problem with possessions. We want them, and when we get them we hang on tightly to them. They are ours. We become like a two-year-old with a toy, gripping it tightly and screaming, “MINE!”

 

We forget that we are only passing through this world. We’re renters in this world. We can’t take it with us.

 

We are reminded of who the ultimate owner really is in this scripture from the Old Testament: “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants.” (Leviticus 25:23)

Here are some other scriptures about generosity: “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” (Luke 12:48)

“…give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Luke 6:38)

Even outside the Bible we can find some good theology about generosity. There is even a bumper sticker that says, “Tithe if you love Jesus. Anyone can honk.”

When it comes to giving to God it often feels like we are swimming against the strong current of or society. Society wants us to focus on the “me,” while God wants us to focus on “Thee.” We think about being generous, but then we come up with excuses as to why we can’t just now. And what God gets are then whatever we might have left over, and usually that’s not very much if any at all.

 

In his book Adam Hamilton uses an illustration created by David Slagle, pastor of Veritas Church in Decatur, Georgia, that is a great way to look at this phenomenon.

 

Let’s imagine that God has given us ten apples, which represent our wealth or income. God tells us that nine of these apples are ours to enjoy. We are to use some to care for ourselves and for our families, some to save for retirement, and some to give away to others. But the tenth apple is holy to God. Giving this apple to God first, before we consume the other nine apples, is a way for us to express praise, love, obedience, faithfulness, worship, and devotion to God. This also serves to supply the resources for God’s purposes to be accomplished in the world through God’s church.

 

Slagle then notes that our lifestyles are such that, for many of us, nine apples are not enough anymore. We think, How can I pay the bills and have all the stuff I want with just nine apples? So we decide the Lord will not mind if we take just a little bit of his apple. After all, there’s that trip we want to take, and it’s really important. So we take a bite out of God’s apple—the one that is holy to God and meant to be used for God’s purposes. The Lord will understand, we think. Then Christmas comes and we don’t have enough money for all the presents we want to buy, so we take another bite out of God’s apple. One day a medical emergency catches us by surprise. Because we didn’t set aside money in an emergency fund, we must take another bite from God’s apple. Buying a new car, eating out, spending on this or that—each expense takes a bite out of the apple that belongs to God. Soon all that is left is the core. So we give the core to God and say, “Here’s your portion, Lord.” God receives not our first fruits or our best gifts, but our leftovers.

 

What we give to God should not be leftovers. When we think of God’s generosity toward us, that Jesus Christ, his only son, died on the cross as atonement for our sins and to give us eternity in heaven, then God deserves the best we have to give.

 

God looks at our offerings differently than we do. For God they “are not financial transactions or business deals. Your offerings are a way of saying, ‘God, I’m returning to you a portion of what I have and what I’ve earned to say thank you and I love you. I hope you’ll use this somehow to make a difference in the world.’”

In just a moment we are going to come down to the altar and turn in our pledge cards and ministry menus. My challenge to you this week is to prayerfully search your heart and soul before you place your envelope in the basket. Pledge what God leads you to pledge.

 

God wants you to give “as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

 

Sarah Hugghins, our financial secretary, will probably kill me for this, but I don’t want you to pledge anything that God is not guiding you to give. If you don’t believe Paul’s words that it is more blessed to give than receive then turn in a pledge sheet with $0 written on it. And I’m serious.

 

I am also confident that won’t be the case. Let us be generous givers, and let us receive a blessing for giving.

 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity: “Contentment”

Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity: “Contentment”
A Message on Philippians 4:11-13

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
October 15, 2017
By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

Philippians 4:11-13

 

11 Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.


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Years ago when Pam and I were newlyweds we used to go camping. We had a tent and we would go find a state park and camp. It was fun and we enjoyed it.

 

One of the things that amazed me when we got back home from tent camping was how LARGE our house seemed! It was AWESOME! And we had running water… in more than one place! And bathrooms that we didn’t have to walk down a path to! That was great as well! And we had AIR CONDITIONING! Oh man, that was awesome! And a refrigerator instead of an ice chest! How cool was that!

 

I always felt a little guilty during those moments of realization because I knew that most of the time I just took those things for granted. For a few weeks afterward I was very content with our house. But as time passed that feeling of contentment went away, replaced by a desire to have something different than what we had.

 

Contentment. It’s not a characteristic held in esteem by our society. It is overwhelmed by a society that emphases mass consumption of items, a society that tells us our self worth is determined by how many of the latest and greatest “things” we own. We become rats in the rat race, wearing ourselves out and going into debt both financially and spiritually as we compete with others in the never ending pursuit of the ever elusive cheese.

 

In the scripture we read today from Paul’s letter to the church members at Philippi we find the Apostle talking about contentment.  He writes, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty.”

 

If we go back and study the life of Paul this statement increases in significance. We have to remember that Paul was a Pharisee, one of the top people in Jewish society. They were the not only the religious leaders of the day but also the top civil authorities. Now the Romans had military control of the Holy Land but they allowed the Jewish form of government pretty much alone to keep the population under control. As long as the taxes to Caesar kept coming in and there was no uprising, things were good.

 

Paul, being a Pharisee, would have lived in the nicest of houses in the best neighborhood. He would have had the finest clothing to wear, feasted on plenty of the best food, and would be held in such esteem that when he walked down the street people would get out of the way to make a path for him. He was SOMEbody.

 

So he knew what life was like at the top of the social ladder. And it was good!

 

But then he had the “Road to Damascus” experience where Jesus got ahold of him. He went from persecuting the followers of Christ to being one of the leaders of the movement. He gave up everything, literally, in becoming a follower of Jesus Christ.

 

He went from the top of the social ladder to the bottom. He went hungry. He was beat up numerous times, thrown in prison and put in chains, and even stoned so severely that the people doing the stoning thought he was dead!

 

So when he says he knows what it is to have little, and knows what it is to have plenty, he knows what he’s talking about because he has experienced both extremes. And he says he has learned how to be content regardless of the situation.

 

Now I don’t know about you, the I think it would be hard to be content when you are physically beaten up and then locked into shackles in a prison without committing a crime. But Paul was. He found contentment.

 

So what is it about human nature that keeps us from being content?

 

I think it’s just part of our sinful nature. The last of the 10 Commandments talks about a cousin of discontent: coveting. Coveting is seeing something that belongs to someone else and wanting it for yourself. The commandment tells us, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

 

But it’s so easy to covet, isn’t it? I know I’m guilty of it. I’ll see a nice, 4-wheel drive pickup and think, “Oh man, I’d like to have that! That would be awesome for carrying my kayak to the lake to go fishing in!”

 

Or a bass boat. Yeah, a nice bass boat, I dunno, maybe say something like a 2018 Skeeter FX 21 foot bass boat with a Yamaha V MAX SHO® VF25O engine with a foot throttle and pro trim as well as tilt hydraulic steering, dual power poles, and a Minn Kota® Fortrex 112 Trolling Motor, and with a Lowrance Carbon 12 Touch-Graph fish finder in the dash as well as a Lowrance Carbon 9 Touch Graph at the bow! Arg, arg, arg…

 

It’s easy to get caught up in that, isn’t it? I think part of the reason is that the world of advertising plays on our emotions to try to get us to purchase things. We participate in the “If only…” game. “If only we had a bigger house.” “If only I looked like ______ (fill in the blank with a movie star or celebrity. By the way, I want to look like J.J. Watt. Just sayin…) my spouse would love me more.” You get the idea.

 

The “If only…” game is the opposite of contentment. You can’t play the game and be content. It’s one or the other.

 

In Luke 12:15 Jesus says, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (ESV)

 

In his book, Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity, Adam Hamilton points out four keys to cultivating contentment based on the scripture we read today.

 

The first is this: “Four Words to Repeat: ‘It Could Be Worse.” I’m reminded of a scene from the movie “Young Frankenstein” where things are going wrong for Dr. Frankenstein (“That’s Fronk-en-steen”) and Igor (“That’s Eye-gore”). Dr. Frankenstein makes a comment on how bad things are. Igor responds with, “It could be worse.” Dr. Frankenstein replies, “How in the world could it be worse,” to which Igor says, “It could be raining.” And of course, immediately after saying those words, it begins to rain.

 

I Timothy 6:6-8 says, “Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.”

 

Food and clothing. Paul is talking about the bare basics. And notice he doesn’t say shelter. Paul suggests that if you only have the basics of physical needs you have enough to be content. And he doesn’t mean designer clothes and gourmet meals, but simple clothes and food, the bottom layer on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

 

“It could be worse.” No matter how bad you think things are for you, there is always someone else that have things worse. The fact that all of us can walk to the sink and get a drink of clean water means that we can do what 783 million people–basically one in every nine people–cannot do because they don’t have access to safe drinking water. (Source: The Water Project)

 

Keeping things in perspective and being aware of those who do not have what we take for granted everyday can help us not only to be content, but to use what we have to improve the lives of others.

 

The second is to ask yourself, “For how long will this make me happy?” How many of you have bought something, thinking it will make you happy, only to realize after a period of time that it doesn’t. I think a good example of this is when we buy little children expensive toys for their birthday or Christmas, and they end up playing with the box it came in more than the toy. Today’s newest smartphone (by the way, Apple is coming out with the iPhone X which costs $1,000) is usually replaced by a newer better model every six months to a year. “Things” don’t make us happy. “Things” CAN’T make us happy.

 

In Matthew 6:20-21 Jesus says, “…but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust  consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” We are to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness…” (Matthew 6:33)

 

Our treasure should be in heaven, not in “things.”

 

The third is an important one: Develop a grateful heart. This is something that is absolutely essential in order to have contentment. Over in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 Paul writes that we are to “give thanks in all circumstances.” This is easier said than done, but an integral part of contentment.

 

If we are truly thankful for all the things we DO have, we find that we don’t focus on things we DON’T have.

 

In the fall of 1942 World War I pilot and ace Eddie Rickenbacker was sent on a mission to inspect the air force facilities in the Pacific and deliver a secret message to Lt. Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Their plane became lost over the Pacific and they had to ditch. The seven men floated in the ocean in three life rafts, dehydrated and starving. Then on the eighth day, about an hour after they had held a prayer meeting in the raft, something really weird happened. Mysteriously a seagull flew down and landed on Eddie’s head. He quickly reached up and grabbed the gull. It was quickly dispatched and the starving and thirsty men ate it and used parts of it for bait to catch fish, which they also ate. They were lost at sea for 24 days before they were rescued. One of their group perished during the ordeal.

Rickenbacker said that after that experience he never again took a glass of water for granted. He was thankful and grateful for drinking water the rest of his life. And, according to some web sites, once a week he would walk down to the beach with a bucket of shrimp and toss them one by one to the seagulls. He had a grateful heart not only to God, but also to seagulls, especially the one that sacrificed its life so he and the others could live.

 

Gratitude leads to contentment.

 

The fourth key to cultivating contentment is what Hamilton refers to as “Where does your soul find true satisfaction?”

 

Blaise Paschal, a theologian and mathematician that lived in the 17th century, described humans as having a God-shaped hole in our souls. We have a yearning to fill that hole and we try to fill it with worldly things, only to find that it doesn’t work. Only in God can we find what our souls long for.

 

Saint Augustine once said, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.”

 

Psalm 42:1-2 reads, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”

 

There are many things we try to substitute for God: work, hobbies, money, possessions, alcohol, sex, drugs, the Internet, sports, etc. But they all fall short.

 

When the first priority in our life is God and when we lead active spiritual lives, practicing spiritual disciplines that produce spiritual fruit, we find contentment. We fill that God-shaped hole.

 

Just as Pam and I found contentment in things like running water and air conditioning after tent camping, most people in this world can be divided into two “tents.” One is con-TENT-ment, and the other is “discon-TENT-ment.”

 

Those who live in “discon-TENT-ment” seek to find meaning and significance in the things of the world.

 

Those who live in “con-TENT-ment” know that “life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” They look to God as the source of all things in life, they give thanks for the things they do have and fight against coveting things they don’t have. They have a Biblical perspective about money and are generous in giving the first fruits, not the leftovers.

 

So my challenge to you today is to examine which tent you live in. Are you in the tent of “discon-TENT-ment” and seek after worldly things, or are you in the tent of “con-TENT-ment” looking to God as the top of their priority list and seeking treasures in heaven?

 

I don’t think Jesus willingly went to the cross and died for our sins so that we could seek after worldly things. I know what tent he would want us to live in.

 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity: “Treasure”

Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity: “Treasure”
A Message on Luke 12:22-34

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
October 8, 2017
By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

Luke 12:22-34

 

22 He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. 30 For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the  kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.


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As a kid growing up I didn’t watch much television. One of the reasons was for for a several year period the TV we had didn’t work and we just didn’t get if fixed. I don’t remember what we did for entertainment during those years but it must have not been too bad because all six of us kids survived.

 

When we did have a television that worked it was sketchy what we could pick up. Delta County is not located real close to a metropolitan area where the tv signals originate. We had to have a tall antenna and a “booster” and even then we could pick up three and maybe four channels. (No satellite tv back in those days, young folks. And no remote controls, either. You had to get up and walk to the tv to change the channel or the volume… or the tint.)

 

One of the shows we could get from time to time and that we watched some was “Let’s Make a Deal” with Monty Hall. The concept was simple, the audience dressed in crazy costumes and then were selected as contestants. Then they would be offered something of value and then would be given the chance to trade in that item for something behind one of three big closed doors without being able to see what was behind each one.

 

It might be a nice trip, or it might be a car, or it might be something worthless, which was called a “zonk.”

 

I remember on one episode someone decided to trade what they had for what was behind a curtain that they had picked. After much fanfare when the curtain was opened there was a donkey wearing a straw hat (with holes cut out for its ears) standing there. The music of the show played that “Woh, Woh, Woh” song and the people were so upset and sad because they won the donkey instead of a car or a trip or something more valuable.

 

Now as a kid I thought a donkey was a great prize! We had cows, we had horses, and we even had a pig for a while (before it ended up in the freezer) but we didn’t have a donkey, especially one with a straw hat! That would be awesome to have!

 

I couldn’t understand why the people weren’t thrilled to have a donkey! Why, having a donkey is a much better prize than a stupid trip to somewhere or even a car, right? Especially a donkey that would wear a hat!

 

For me and my brothers, a donkey was a treasure. A trip or car, not so much.

 

Treasure is in the eye of the beholder, right?

 

Today as we continue through the book Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity by Adam Hamilton, we’re going to talk about treasure.

 

The author of the Gospel of Luke talks about treasure in the scripture we read today. In it Luke quotes Jesus as telling his followers not to spend time and energy worrying about the things of this world, but to instead focus on things of heaven. If we will focus on the things of heaven then God will make sure to take care of the earthly things we need. Our “treasure” should be the things of heaven, not the things of this world.

 

It’s a simple concept but one that is hard to live out. I think part of the struggle comes because our society tries to brainwash us into believing that our value as human beings comes from us being consumers and collectors of “things.”

 

Adam Hamilton talks about this in the second chapter of his book. “What is your life about? Why do you exist? Do you exist simply to consume as much as you can and get as much pleasure as you can while you are here on this earth, or do you have a higher purpose? How do you understand your life purpose—your vision or mission or calling?”

 

We all have a purpose in this world. When we prayerfully discern that purpose we find that it has little to nothing to do with following the ways of the world, but instead true meaning and purpose can only be found in God.

 

Here’s how Hamilton puts it. “We were created to care for God’s creation. We were created to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We were created to care for our families and those in need. We were created to glorify God, to seek justice, and to do mercy. To be a Christian is to follow Jesus Christ and to seek to do his will in our lives. It is to say,’Here I am, all of me! I’m yours. Put me to work, help me serve, use me to accomplish your work.’

 

Hamilton gives an example of this in his book. He talks about a 19-year-old man named Johnny who worked in a grocery store. Johnny also has Down Syndrome.

 

One day a motivational speaker came and spoke to the grocery store employees about how what they did was more than just providing people with groceries. She told them that every person they came into contact with at the store was “an opportunity to bless someone, to live out a higher calling or mission.”

 

Johnny took those words to heart. Each night he would get in the Internet and look for inspirational sayings. He would pick one, copy it many times on a page, and then would print out that page and then cut the paper in strips, each with the saying. He would make 300 of them each night.

 

Then the next day at the grocery store he would place one of those slips of paper in the bag of a customer as he bagged their groceries. Then he would tell them, “I put a saying in your bag. I hope it helps you have a good day. Thanks for coming here.”

 

After a while the management started noticing something. The line at the register where Johnny sacked groceries was longer than the other lines. Sometimes other registers would be wide open with no customers and yet there would be a line at Johnny’s register. The management could come on the PA system and announce that there was no waiting on register so-and-so but people wouldn’t move. They wanted Johnny’s line. They treasured his slips of paper and his interacting with them.

 

Hamilton sums it up this way: “Each of us is called to be a blessing to others. We have a life purpose that is greater than our own self-interests, and how we spend our God-given resources reflects our understanding and commitment to this life purpose or mission.”

 

Here’s how The Message paraphrases Luke 12:26-32, “What I’m trying to do here is get you to relax, not be so preoccupied with getting so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Don’t be afraid of missing out. You’re my dearest friends! The Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself.”

 

Now we can say, “Yeah, that’s a great idea. I’m going to do that.” But the probabilities are very high that if you don’t have a plan it won’t happen.

 

Hamilton offers a simple six-step plan designed to change our focus from the treasures of the world to the treasures of heaven. They are six key financial principles. Here they are:

 

  1. Pay your tithes and offering first. Now no, I’m not going to be like some of those televangelists that tell you if you give money to the church you God will bless you with a new car or a bigger house. Hamilton is not saying that, either. He is point out that if God really is the top priority in our lives then we should move or tithes and offering to the top of the list of where our money goes. Tithing and offering shouldn’t be given from whatever is “left over” at the end of the month, but the top item on the “to be paid” list.
  2. Create a budget and track your expenses. Back in the “old days” this took quite a bit of effort to reconcile the checkbook, go through receipts, and calculate what you spent on what. But guess what? Technology today makes it extremely easy to budget. My brother told me about a free software called “Mint” that connects with your bank account electronically and makes it a breeze to not only reconcile your accounts, but also it tracks your spending for you. You can even set it up to send you text and email notifications if you are getting close to going over you budget in a certain category. And when tax time rolls around it’s great at collecting all your expenses you can count as deductions. (Note: I am not a paid spokesperson for Mint, but I do use their product. I’m sure there are others out there that can do the same thing.)
  3. Simplify your lifestyle (Live below your means). This should be a no-brainer but unfortunately the seductiveness of the world can lead us down a path to where before we realize it we are spending more than we earn. We can’t financially support God’s work in this world if we spend more than we earn.
  4. Establish an emergency fund. Hamilton borrowed this (and many of these financial concepts) from Dave Ramsey, who has been extremely successful in introducing people to the financial practices of our grandparents and great grandparents that they learned during the tough times of the depression. (All of you here are much too young to remember the Great Depression, I am sure.) Ramsey says to start an emergency fund that is separate from your checking and savings accounts. Begin with $1,000 (or build up to it) and then keep adding to it until you have three months’ worth of income. Then leave it alone. Only spend it on emergencies. (A vacation trip to Hawaii is not an emergency, by the way.)
  5. Pay off credit cards, use cash/debit cards for purchases, and use credit wisely. Yes, it seem like this is an overwhelming task, depending on how much you owe, but you can do it, and the quicker the better. Hamilton points out in the first chapter of his book that most credit cards require only a minimum payment of 2 percent of the balance. If you think you can pay off the balance by making the minimum payments you are mistaken. He give the example that if you have a credit card balance of $9,000 and if the card requires a 2 percent minimum payment and charges 18 percent interest, that if you don’t add any other charges to that card and make the minimum payments it will take you 240 years to pay it off. Quit using the card, make double or triple the minimum payments, and put any extra money you have toward paying off that credit card debt.
  6. Practice long-term savings and investing habits. Hamilton points out that we should have three types of savings: 1. Emergency savings (see above), 2. Savings for wants and goals; and 3. Retirement savings. He says that saving money is the number-one wise money management principle everyone should practice. He also cautions against saving as a way of “hoarding” money. Don’t become a lover of money and turn into an Ebenezer Scrooge.

 

As we talked about last week, money itself is neither good nor bad. It is our attitude about money that we must be cautious about. Jesus talks about treasure in the scripture we read today from Luke and tells us that our where our treasure is that our hearts will be there as well.

 

Where is your treasure? Where is your heart?

 

As Christians, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are to remember the sacrifice Jesus Christ made on the cross. Because Jesus, who was/is fully human and fully divine, willingly allowed himself to be beaten and crucified, we are offered the greatest treasure ever: forgiveness of our sins and reconciliation with God. Through our faith we accept this treasure offered to us by God and thus receive the promise of eternal life in a place that is perfect.

 

What a great treasure. How much more valuable is salvation than anything this world can offer?

 

My challenge to you this week is to ask yourself daily where your treasure is? Is it with things of heaven, or with things of earth? Practice these six financial principles in your life that Adam Hamilton recommends, not out of greed but so that you can financially support the things of heaven.

 

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

 

And if you’re on a game show and you win a donkey wearing a hat, and you don’t want it, let me know.

 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity: “Stress”

Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity: “Stress”
A Message on 1 Timothy 6:2b-12
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
October 1, 2017
By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com


1 Timothy 6:2b-12

 

Teach and urge these duties. 3 Whoever teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that is in accordance with godliness, 4 is conceited, understanding nothing, and has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words. From these come envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, 5 and wrangling among those who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. 6 Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; 7 for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; 8 but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. 9 But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.
11 But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.


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On July 19, 1986, Pam and I got married at Calvary United Methodist Church in Paris, Texas.   We both lived in apartments and one of the first things we did after we got married was buy a house. It was a nice, simple house but was great for us.

 

But when you buy a house you need appliances, too. So after we closed on our house we bought a refrigerator… and a washer and dryer. Because you have to have those, right?

 

Add to those purchases the fact that two days before we got married the crankshaft broke on Pam’s Pontiac T-1000 car her dad had bought her. So what did we do? We went and bought a new car. And the car I was driving wasn’t paid for yet, so that meant two car payments.

 

Of course we had to have insurance on all those things that we had bought.

 

It didn’t seem like very much when we were buying those things on credit. A payment here, a payment there, sure, we could do that. Right?

 

But then all the bills started rolling in. Oh. My. I can still remember those days. We were deeply in debt, and even though we tried real hard it seemed like we never made any progress. We were stressed. Very stressed.

 

Eventually we did get out of debt, but it wasn’t easy. But we learned some good life lessons that we continue to remember and apply even today.

 

Buying things and being in debt is what many people consider to be the “American Way.” But is it?

 

Every now and then Pam will be watching HGTV and those television shows like “House Hunters”  where people interested in buying a house look at several properties and before choosing one to buy.

 

In our house those shows are known as “interactive TV” because we interact with the show. The way that happens is that we find ourselves screaming at the TV screen things like, “ARE YOU CRAZY?” Or “WHY YOU SPOILED ROTTEN LITTLE…” well, I better not finish that sentence. But it frustrates us to the point of vocal outcry when the couple is looking at a spectacularly beautiful house but then they complain about the color of the countertops or some other nit-picky thing.

 

We are also are dumbfounded that so many very young couples (I’m talking 20s and 30s) have budgets in the upper hundreds of thousands of dollars or even millions! For many it will be their first house, and it’s a mansion!

 

Newlyweds are now buying houses bigger and nicer (and more expensive) than their parents and grandparents!

 

We live in an instant gratification society. What used to take couples decades to save and pay for they now have as soon as they get married.

 

I often wonder aloud how they afford to do it. And often the answer I hear back is: “credit.”

 

Credit is big in our culture. Here are some stats I looked up on the Internet:

 

The average credit card debt per family in 2016 per family was $8,377, which is a 6 percent increase over 2015. Americans owe more than $1 trillion in credit card debt.

 

According to debt.com the average interest rates on credit cards nationally was 15.59%, and credit cards for bad credit scores was 23.04%

 

“Payday” and “Title” loans have an annual percentage rate of 300% to 700%! [Source: http://www.texasfairlending.org/resources/faqs/]

 

All of this causes stress, particularly financial stress.

 

How did we get here? How did we get to this point?

 

For many people in our country the “American Dream” has become the “American Nightmare.”

 

Adam Hamilton, in the first chapter of his book, credits two “illnesses” that affects us both socially and spiritually.

 

The first he calls “Affluenza.” which he defines as “the constant need for more and bigger and better stuff.” He points out that the size of the average American home went from about 1,660 square feet in 1973 to 2,400 square feet in 2004. He also points out that Americans today use an estimated 1.9 billion (with a “b”) square feet of self storage space for all our “stuff” that doesn’t fit in our homes.

 

The second illness he labels as “Credit-itis.”  He defines this illness as “the opportunity to buy now and pay later, and it feeds on our desire for instant gratification.” The spread of this “illness” is exhibited in Americans borrowing more for longer periods while at the same time saving less.

 

Both these illnesses are symptoms of a deeper, spiritual problem, according to Hamilton. Instead of desiring God, we desire possessions. Instead of finding security in God, we find it in amassing wealth. Instead of loving people, we compete with them in our efforts to “get ahead.” Instead of being generous and sharing with those in need we selfishly hoard our resources for ourselves.

 

All of this is sin.

 

Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:24 that we can’t love money and God both. Each is exclusive to the other, “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matthew 6:24)

 

Jesus also says in the parable of the seeds (or soils), “As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” (Luke 8:14)

 

Musician Toby Mac has a song in which the chorus is based on Mark 8:36, “I don’t want to gain the whole world but lose my soul.”

 

And then Paul writes to Timothy what we read in verse 10 today: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”

 

Here’s how Eugene Peterson paraphrases it in The Message: “Lust for money brings trouble and nothing but trouble. Going down that path, some lose their footing in the faith completely and live to regret it bitterly ever after.”

 

So what is the solution?

 

Adam Hamilton says it requires two things.

 

The first is a change of heart. If you think about it, everything that motivates us comes from the heart. Now physiologically speaking we know this isn’t so, but emotionally and spiritually it is. Our hearts undergo a change when we accept Christ as our savior, but over time the worldly things, such as the love of money, tug at our hearts and try to reverse that change.

 

The way to keep that from happening is to remember every morning of that change. Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning…”

 

Hamilton suggests getting on our knees every morning and praying something like this: “Lord, help me to be the person you want me to be today. Take away the desires that shouldn’t be there and help me be single-minded in my focus and pursuit of you.”

 

Besides a change of heart Hamilton says we must allow Christ to work in us. He points out that when we seek God’s kingdom and seek to do his will then Christ works in us. We experience a sense of a higher calling, one of simplicity and faithfulness and generosity. We rearrange our priorities so that we can make a difference with our time and talents and resources.

 

When we pursue good financial practices, we free ourselves from debt which then enables us to be in mission to the world.

 

So here’s my challenge to you this week, which is what Adam Hamilton suggests:

 

With the help of God we can:

 

  1. Simplify our lives and silence the voices constantly telling us we need more
  2. Live counter-culturally by living below, not above, our means
  3. Build into our budgets the money to buy with cash instead of credit
  4. Build into our budgets what we need to be able to live generously and faithfully

 

In the words of the Apostle Paul, “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”

 

Let us live with Enough. Let us discover joy through simplicity and generosity.

 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

Book of James: “The Power of Prayer”

Sermon Series on the Book of James: “The Power of Prayer”
A Message on James 5:13-20
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Sept. 24, 2017
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com


James 5:13-20

13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.

19 My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, 20 you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

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Today we’re going to talk about prayer and more specifically explore what James has to say about prayer.

 

There are a lot of misconceptions about prayer.

 

I used to say there is no wrong way to pray. But then a friend pointed out a country song by the group known as Jaron and the Long Road to Love and I realized that there IS a wrong way to pray. Here are some of the lyrics:

 

I haven’t been to church since I don’t remember when
Things were going great ’til they fell apart again
So I listened to the preacher as he told me what to do
He said you can’t go hating others who have done wrong to you
Sometimes we get angry, but we must not condemn
Let the good Lord do His job and you just pray for them

I pray your brakes go out running down a hill
I pray a flowerpot falls from a window sill and knocks you in the head like I’d like to
I pray your birthday comes and nobody calls
I pray you’re flying high when your engine stalls
I pray all your dreams never come true
Just know wherever you are honey, I pray for you

Just to be clear, now, that’s not praying, that’s cursing. “A pox upon you!” If you pray for something bad to happen to someone, we need to talk. Seriously. We need to.

 

So, now that we learned how NOT to pray, let’s look at some of the other misconceptions about prayer. One of them is that you have to use fancy theological language in order for God to hear your prayer.

 

Not so. Prayer is conversing with God. It can be aloud or silent, with a group or all by yourself. And you don’t need to use a bunch of polysyllabic theological words or a generous use of “thees” or “thous” (although that is fine if you want to).

 

In the 6th chapter of Matthew Jesus says, “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:7-8)

 

Just pray to God from your heart. Oh, and It’s okay to be angry, it’s okay to be mad, it’s okay to scream if you need to. God’s big enough. He can take it.

 

Another misconception is about what I call the “name it and claim it” prayers. In Mark 11:24 we read “ So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

 

Unfortunately that verse has been absconded by those who want to use it for material gain. We are probably all aware that there are certain pastors, especially some television preachers, who urge to you name what you want (notice I didn’t say “need”) and claim it in the name of Jesus and poof, you will get it.

 

How many remember this song from Janice Joplin?

 

“Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
So Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?”

 

Yeah. Uh, no. (By the way, I think Janis sang this as a satire, poking fun at the prosperity gospel way back when.)

 

Another misconception is that God doesn’t answer prayers. I believe that he does, but often it is not in the way or the timing that we are wanting. Here’s an example. Say there is a baseball game and the score is tied in the bottom of the ninth inning and the bases are loaded. The pitcher is praying, “Lord, just let me strike him out.” And the batter is praying, “Lord, just let me hit the ball.” Which prayer is God going to answer? Will he answer the person who is “holier?” Maybe, but maybe not. We have to remember Isaiah 55:9, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

 

I am convinced that not only does God hear every prayer but that he answers every one, too. Sometimes the answer may be “yes.” Other times it might be “no.” (We usually don’t like that one.) Or he may answer “Not yet.” (We don’t like that one very much either, do we?) Just because God answers in a way that we don’t want him to doesn’t mean he isn’t answering our prayers.

 

Another reason many people don’t pray more, one that I hear quite often, is “Well I just don’t know what to pray for.” When are in crisis we often turn to God as our last hope. We don’t pray much (or any at all) prior to the crisis, but when everything else fails then we turn to God.

 

We even use our prayers to try to barter with God. “Dear God, if you will just get me out of this I promise I will ___________.” There’s even the story about the man that’s stranded by himself in a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean. He cries out to God, “If you will save me then I will tithe 50 percent of my income, gross, not net!” After a while he sees an island and starts trying to paddle toward it using his hands. “God, if you will just get me to that island, I swear I will tithe 35 percent of everything I make.” After the boat beaches he says, “Thank you, God, and I intend to tithe 20 percent every Sunday.”

 

If the amount of time we spend in prayer is proportional only to how deep our crisis is, then there is a problem.

 

The scriptures give us a solution to those times when we don’t know how or what to pray for. We find it in Paul’s writings to the followers of Christ in Rome. “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)

 

In the scripture we read in James today he talks about the power of prayer. In verses 13-18 he mentions prayer seven times. He tell us that if someone is suffering they should pray. He says that those who are sick should call the elders of the church and have them pray over them and anoint them with oil, saying that “the prayer of faith will save the sick.” He then tells the early church member that they are to pray for each other after confessing their sins to one another.

 

He then writes this sentence: “The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”

 

Now I want to pause here and examine this sentence a little closer. Notice that he does NOT say simply, “Prayer is powerful and effective.” No. He specifically says, “The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”

 

So, who are the righteous? What does it mean to be righteous?

 

One way of thinking about righteousness is that of “right-living.” In the Old Testament it was mainly considered following all the religious laws. That meant not only the 10 Commandments but all of the 600 or so other laws as well.

 

In the New Testament things are a little different. The way I read it, and this is just my opinion of it, Jesus fulfills the law and by taking our place on the cross makes us righteous, something we couldn’t do on our own because of sin. So righteousness is more about the heart than in following a bunch of laws about clean and unclean.

 

Now that doesn’t mean that we can purposely go on sinning and say, “It’s okay. Jesus makes me righteous.” Uh, no.

 

To live a righteous life means to make God and following Jesus your number one priority. It means thinking of others before your own. It means making your decisions based on kingdom priorities, not worldly priorities.

 

So, if James says that the “prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective,” then does that also mean that the prayers of those who aren’t righteous are less powerful or less effective.

 

Hmmmm. Good question. Welcome to the deep end of the theological pool.

 

On the one hand it appears that is the case. But there is danger in that approach because of works/righteousness, the belief that we earn special favors from God–or even our salvation–by things that we do. It’s a slippery slope that can lead to us believing, “Well, my prayers are more important to God because I am righteousness than those poor sinning heathens’ prayers.”

 

If we get to thinking like that we need to read Jesus parable of the Publican and the Tax Collector found in the 18th chapter of Luke:

 

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:10-14)

 

Ouch!

 

I think it boils down to a matter of the heart.

 

Let me give you an example.

 

Our Bishop, Rev. Scott J. Jones, spoke at “The Gathering” at Lakeview this past week. This is an event for all the pastors in the Texas Annual Conference . Afterwards he met with a group of us preachers from “County Seat” churches (I know Jacksonville isn’t the county seat of Cherokee County but we were invited anyway, probably because we are the largest United Methodist Church in the county).

 

With the County Seat pastors he talked to us about 20 components of an evangelistically effective congregation.

 

One of the top items he talked about to was “create and sustain a spiritual culture.” Integral to this is prayer.

 

He pointed out that as churches, and as clergy, we don’t do enough praying. And when we pray we need to be careful not to pray “God bless what I’m doing,” but instead pray “God show me where I can bless you.”

 

He said that one of the reasons churches don’t grow is because the people of the church don’t pray for growth.

 

He told us about an experience he had early in his ministry when he was serving a small town church. He made it a point to visit the members who were in nursing homes once a month. He had a schedule he followed and on a particular day of the month he visited those members in nursing homes.

 

Well he was visiting with Miss Smith (not her real name, of course), and elderly woman who had been a very active member of the church. She told him that she was frustrated because her health prevented her from serving in the church like she used to. She asked him, “Is there something I can do?”

 

He replied, “Sure, you can pray.”

 

She got excited. “Sure, I can do that. What do you want me to pray for?”

 

Well he hadn’t really expected that so he just said the first thing that came to his mind. “Pray for our church to get new members.”

 

“Okay,” she replied. “I’ll do that!”

 

Well the weeks went by and he got distracted by the other demands of being a pastor, but on his scheduled monthly day he once again visited Miss Smith. As soon as he walked in the room she said to him excitedly, “Did it work?”

 

Well, he had forgotten all about it, so he asked, “Did what work?”

 

“Did you get any new members? I’ve been praying all month that our church would get new members.”

 

And then he realized and it hit him. Hard. “Well, come to think of it, yes, as a matter of fact, we had two families that joined two Sundays ago.”

 

The prayer of the righteousness is powerful and effective.

 

Here’s my challenge for you today, although it’s not just for a week, but a month. And it is going to require you to do some homework.

 

If you look in your bulletin you will see a note card. At the top of that card you’ll see the word “Prayer” with the numerals 1, 2, and 3 under it. Take that card out and get a pen or pencil to write with.

 

Here’s what we’re going to do. We are going to pray for new members. We are going to do like that elderly lady in that nursing home in Prosper, Texas that the future bishop visited.

 

I want each of you to write down three names of people you know in our community who are unchurched or who don’t go to church. Not a relative that lives in another state, but someone you know in our community who is unchurched. Don’t write down the name of a person who goes to another church. (Although according to Mike Slaughter, the pastor of Ginghamsburg UMC in Ohio, who also spoke at the preachers’ meeting, if a person claims they are a member of a church but hasn’t set foot in it in 5 years, they are unchurched.)

 

Write down three names of unchurched individuals. Now hang on to those cards. We are NOT going to take them up, but instead I want you to take them with you. I want you to tape them to your bathroom mirror, or put them on the dash of your car (not obstructing your view, of course), or on your dining table, or on your refrigerator. Place it somewhere you will see it every day, and maybe even several times a day.

 

Now I want you to pray for those three people every day or even several times a day. Pray that they come to realize they need a relationship with Jesus Christ. Pray that they will take that first step and attend church, whether it’s our church (which would be nice, of course) or even another church or another denomination. (This is kingdom work we are doing, not playing favorites.) Pray that they may come to understand the great love that God has for us, that his son, Jesus Christ, sacrificed himself on the cross so that our sins could be forgiven and that we could be reconciled with God, something we simply cannot do ourselves.

 

I want you to make a commitment to do this for a month. Pray daily for those three people. Pray fervently. Not with lots of big fancy words, but from the heart with sincerity. And at the same time draw closer to God. Read the Bible or a devotional before or after you pray. Seek to become righteous.

 

By the way, this is the Bishop’s idea, not mine. But I think it’s a great one. Let us see for ourselves the power of prayer.

 

“The prayer of the righteous are powerful and effective.” Let us name THAT and claim THAT.

 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

Book of James: “Loving Money”

Sermon Series on the Book of James: “Loving Money”
A Message on James 5:1-6

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Sept.10, 2017
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

James 5:1-6

 

Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. 2 Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. 4 Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5 You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.

 

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Today we’re continuing our sermon series through the book of James by exploring attitudes about money.

 

I know, I know, your eyes are probably rolling back in your head and you’re thinking, “Oh man, we should have stayed at home today…”

 

Look, I get it. When it comes to money us pastors are just as uncomfortable about the topic as you are, and maybe more.

 

We can stand up here and preach about what the scriptures say about money. We can tell you how 1 Timothy 6:10 says that the love of money is the root of all evil. We can tell you that loving money makes it an idol and that idol worship is one of God’s big “no-nos” in the 10 Commandments.

 

But then come stewardship time we ask you to to pledge money to fund the church.

 

Money is a difficult subject theologically. It seems like it always has been. But just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean we don’t need to talk about it.

 

James writes about it because it was a problem in the first century. We have to remember that what we call the “book” of James is actually an epistle, a letter, written by the brother of Jesus to the churches in existence at the time. James is encouraging the early Christians to mature in their faith, to avoid the hypocrisy of their actions conflicting with their beliefs, and to focus on the things of heaven instead of the things of the earth.

 

Now it is important to differentiate between money itself and the love of money. As I have said before, money is neither good or bad. Money is inert. It has no ability to do anything on its own. Money can be used for bad, and it can be used for good, but by itself it is neither evil or holy.

 

It’s the “love of money” where we get into trouble. It’s our attitudes about money, not money itself, that can create difficulties.

 

Here are a couple of photos of something that happened yesterday. The youth of our church, as well as several adults, gave up their time on a Saturday to wash cars at the Christus Mother Francis hospital here in town yesterday. They didn’t do it to raise money so they could go to Six Flags, and they didn’t do it even to raise money for the youth program or for camp scholarships. They did it to raise money to send to the people whose homes and churches were flooded by Hurricane Harvey. Between washing cars and donations for free concessions (donated by our own Allen Ross, by the way), they raised more than $500 in about four hours.

 

They had the right attitude about money. They knew that money can be used for good, and they raised it to help those in need. They didn’t do it for themselves. They did it to help others.

 

We have seen that a lot the past few weeks, and it has been refreshing.

 

I have quite a few pastor friends in the areas affected by the flooding and even in the areas affected by the winds of the hurricane as it came ashore. They have been working unbelievably hard to help those affected, even when their own parsonages or houses were flooded. They are truly heroes, although they would never tell you that themselves.

 

In the midst of trying to coordinate relief efforts and literally tons of supplies coming into the area, they also have been trying to deal with things that frustrate their efforts.

 

This is Beth Tatum. She is a friend of mine from seminary. She is the pastor at First United Methodist Church down in Sinton, Texas, located west of Rockport and north of Corpus Christi. Her community took quite a wallop from Harvey and she was, and still is, on the front line of relief efforts happening there.

 

Here is a photo she took in Woodsboro, a small town just northeast of Sinton, and which she posted on Facebook. Here is what she wrote to go along with the photo:

 

“Donations just dumped in the Square in Woodsboro. Friends, please stop sending stuff of any sort to the Coastal Bend of Texas. We appreciate your generosity but it’s creating mountains of stuff that will eventually go to waste and cost us to dispose of.”

 

Another article I read by Angelia Griffin (I don’t know her, but another friend shared her post) who talked about the problems with people sending the wrong things to the flooded areas. Here is part of what she wrote:

 

“So here’s where I get to say the really hard thing. Some of the items you are sending are the wrong donations. Just hear me out. I sorted and bagged (and bagged and bagged) hoards of ‘ugly’ Christmas sweaters…heavy winter coats…lingerie…stained undergarments…prom dresses…

“I know your hearts are in the right place and you are rightfully imagining that we have lost everything because many have, but frankly these things do not help us in our current situation. In fact, they hinder our efforts more than a little bit.” [Source: https://angeliagriffin.wordpress.com/2017/08/31/the-wrong-donations-some-tough-words-on-disaster-relief/]

 

Let’s think about that list she provided. Christmas sweaters (even forgetting the “ugly” part). Heavy winter coats. (For the Gulf Coast, where they may get a day and a half of winter a year.) Lingerie. Stained undergarments. Prom dresses.

 

I think this is an example of where attitude matters. Angelia is very diplomatic and points out over and over how people’s hearts are in the right place in spite of what they send, but I really struggle with that. Is a person’s heart in the right place if they are sending stained undergarments to flood victims? Let us just speak the truth that they are just finding a way of getting rid of their junk while at the same time making themselves feel good thinking they are helping people out.

 

I think the apostle James may have been facing a somewhat similar situation when he wrote his letter. Instead of a natural disaster, however, it was people who called themselves Christians but who used the power of money over their fellow humans. Listen to The Message paraphrase of verses 4-6:

 

“All the workers you’ve exploited and cheated cry out for judgment. The groans of the workers you used and abused are a roar in the ears of the Master Avenger. You’ve looted the earth and lived it up. But all you’ll have to show for it is a fatter than usual corpse. In fact, what you’ve done is condemn and murder perfectly good persons, who stand there and take it.”

 

James is talking about how those with money use their wealth to have power over others. They have cheated and exploited people for monetary gain, which gives them more power, and the cycle repeats itself.

 

It was a very serious problem in Biblical times. Here are a few scriptures that address it:

 

“The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.” (Proverbs 22:7)

 

“Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but those who are kind to the needy honor him.” (Proverbs 14:31)

 

“Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice; who makes his neighbors work for nothing, and does not give them their wages…” (Jeremiah 22:13)

 

“If you take your neighbor’s coat as security, give it back before nightfall; it may be your neighbor’s only covering—what else does the person have to sleep in?” (Exodus 22:26, The Message)

 

“You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns. You shall pay them their wages daily before sunset, because they are poor and their livelihood depends on them; otherwise they might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt.”  (Deuteronomy 24:14-15)

 

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:9)

 

Do you see the point? It’s not money, it’s the power money gives people over other people that is the issue. And the scriptures make it very clear where God stands on the issue.

 

On January 1, 2013, my wife Pam’s mom and dad lost pretty much everything as a wildfire swept across their land, burning their house to the ground. They escaped with their vehicles, Pam’s mom’s wedding rings, and some medicines. Everything else burned to the ground.

 

The next day they went into the town of Eastland where a Red Cross office had been set up. The Red Cross gave them a pre-loaded credit card with several hundred dollars on it. I can remember going with them to Walmart and helping them buy clothes, shoes, food, and essentials that we take for granted everyday.

 

If they had been given bags of used clothes that included some of the things the people in Houston received (Stained undergarments? Really?) instead of helping it would have added insult to injury. It would not have helped them. It would have helped them at all.

 

I used to be envious of very wealthy people, even to the point of coveting their wealth. (And you know what God thinks about coveting, right?) But the deeper I go into the scriptures and the further I go on my spiritual journey the less I think that. Instead of being envious of them, now I pray for them. And no, I don’t pray that they will give me some of that wealth so that I, too, can be wealthy. I pray for them because I know that wealth can easily develop into an spiritually unhealthy love of money. I pray they can keep a good heart and mind when it comes to money, and that they may discern the best use of it.

 

I keep remembering Luke 12:48 which says “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.”

 

I find it somewhat ironic that there is a heavy responsibility that comes with wealth. You can be like J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans who has raised $30 million for the victims of the Houston flooding, or you can be an Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickins’ A Christmas Carol who is so greedy he takes the coins off his dead partner’s eyes as he says, “Tuppence is tuppence.”

 

Oh, and if you are thinking that this doesn’t involve you because you aren’t wealthy, think again. By the standards of many places in this world every person in here is wealthy. The average annual wage in Ethiopia is $660. That’s annually, not monthly. Monthly it is about $55. In Madagascar it’s even worse, with annual wages averaging $400 per year, or $33 per month. [https://www.worlddata.info/average-income.php]

 

And we can’t forget the story of the Widow’s mite from the gospels of both Mark and Luke.

 

James reminds us that it’s not about money, what counts are our attitudes are about money and where our hearts are in regards to love of money.

 

Jesus didn’t die just for those who are wealthy. Jesus didn’t shed his blood on the cruel cross at Calvary for only those who had money. He also didn’t shed it exclusively for the poor, either. Love is more powerful than money, big time, and he proved that on the cross.

 

So, my challenge for you this week, is to remember James’ words cautioning us about loving money. Let us remember that it is about attitude and heart more than how big your bank account is. Let us be cautious of using donations as ways of getting rid of our “trash” in order for us to feel good about ourselves. Let us be aware of how as humans we use money as power, especially when we use that power to oppress others.

 

Let us be more like the youth of our church, and J.J. Watt, and less like Ebenezer Scrooge.

 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.