Thursday, August 25, 2016

Undeservingly Accepted and Invited





“If she can’t control her children, she shouldn’t bring them!”
“They need to be doing what those of us who give the most offering request. We’re the ones who pay the bills and keep the place open.”
“[(S)he] has no right to be [teaching, preaching, sitting in that pew].”
“We shouldn’t be doing his funeral. He never even bothered to show up most of time!”

As I was reading thru the texts for this Sunday, my mind immediately went to these things I’ve heard people say. I found myself thinking about the contempt I’ve seen and heard from others that even the undeserving – the criminals and the adulterers and the poor and the non-churchgoers – are forgiven and supposed to be welcome within the church of Christ. I found myself dwelling on how many times I have felt the hurt and pain of this discrimination – whether it was myself in the position of feeling unwelcome, or the witnessing of others being made to feel unwelcome.

And throughout my thoughts, I kept feeling this tug on my thoughts. I kept feeling this tug at my heart and soul. It finally dawned on me that God was trying to get my attention. God was trying to give me a little kick in the pants. God was trying to tell me I was thinking about this all wrong.

In my thoughts of how these people with “power” were putting people down, I was also thinking about how they are the ones who do not deserve to be here. They are the ones who just don’t get it. They are the people who need Christ the most. I found myself thinking of the joy I would feel if I saw them knocked down a position or two – told to move to a lower place at the wedding banquet. I found myself thinking how wonderful it would be to start a new physical church where those of us “lowly and undeserving” would have a truly Christian place to worship.

I was putting myself on a pedestal, believing myself to be better than those in power. I was seating myself in a higher place at that table. I was being one of the proud and haughty. And more importantly, I was focusing on the absolute wrong point of the Gospel. Or, at the very least, I was not placing my focus where God wanted it.

It is true that we should be a welcoming place. We are to accept the poor and lowly as well as those with money and power. Anger about the mistreatment of anyone, especially within the Church, is understandable. But again, this should not be our focus. Our focus should be on God.

The truth is, not one of us is deserving of the love God pours out for us. Not one of us has the ability to pay God back for the blessings he has bestowed on us. God invites all of us to the table – not one higher than another – knowing that not one of us has the ability to repay him. Christ died for each of us – for the forgiveness of all our sins – and not a single one of us can repay him for that.

The most any of us can do is to follow his example – invite the poor to the table. Eat and drink with even the lowliest. Give of ourselves in every way we can to those who need our gifts the most. No, this will not make us more deserving of a seat at that table. It will not raise us up in better standing before God. It will not place us in a position of power before God.

Every one of us has the ability (and often use that ability) to look at what others are doing as wrong. We all have that ability to turn things inward and look to ourselves to speak for God. What we should be doing instead is looking to God in everything, praying for the strength to be the meek and humble people he wants us to be. With every person we meet – whether friend or enemy, one of power or poverty – we should be accepting and loving and compassionate, striving for that unconditional acceptance, love and compassion God has for us. We should be praying for guidance in how we can use our blessings to bless each person, regardless of their status. We should recognize that we ourselves are not deserving of God’s blessings – we ourselves are not deserving of a place at Christ’s table – at yet we are given those things.

We should not look at others as being undeserving, but rather should look at what God has given us personally despite our own undeserving nature, and be thankful and praise him for these gifts. It is out of our humility and thankfulness that we find the strength and ability through God to accept others and share in our blessings.



Sunday, August 14, 2016

Building Each Other Up




Some people are just such horrible sinners. It’s really easy to look upon some people and think about how lost they are. How they need Christ in their life. It’s so easy to tell this to our neighbors, friends, pastor, or, in rare cases, even the “sinners” themselves.

Even when we look upon the members of our own Church congregations, we find it easy wonder “What right do they have to be here?”… “How dare they step foot in the house of God when just last night they were sinning?”… “How can they even think they can teach, preach, or do anything of service for this church. Who are they trying to fool?”

Or we take the more “Christian-like” approach, and say “I know I’m a sinner… but I’m not as bad as that person.”

I’m not going to sit here and say that because I write sermons, because I sometimes preach and teach the Word of God, that I am less of a sinner than others. Or that I even think that. Even pastors – if they are honest – would not claim to be less of a sinner, or more saintly, than anyone within or outside the church they serve.

The truth is, we’re all equally sinners. We’re all equally saints. God does not differentiate one sin as more or less sinful. God does not hold anyone in higher favor or saintliness because of their good deeds. While our human minds tend to see these differences – God does not.

And those who do preach and teach, do not do so of their own accord. They do not do so because they feel they have the right to do so. They do so because they are led by God – by the Holy Spirit – to speak Truth. To spread the Gospel of Christ. To share the truth of God’s endless grace, mercy and forgiveness. To equip others in understanding this truth, and in sharing this truth.

This is what each of us are to do. In Ephesians chapter 4, we’re told: 11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

God has given each of us a gift. We’ve all been blessed with the Holy Spirit, to speak God’s Truth to one another – both in and outside the Church. To both believers and non-believers. When Paul speaks of equipping the saints for the work of ministry – he’s speaking of equipping each of us, as we are both saint and sinner. We’re to use our gifts, through the guidance of the Spirit, to equip others in using their gifts, to build up the body of Christ.

When we sit in church, speaking or thinking ill of others – when we make those comments whether to ourselves or to others, about how some people do not have the right to be in the church, or do not have the right to preach or teach - we are not doing what God asks of us. We are not building up the church of Christ. We are not equipping each other for the work of ministry.  In verse 29, we’re told “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.”  This is also repeated in 1 Thessalonians 5:11: “Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing. How are we building one another up and giving grace when we choose to see others as less worthy?

The truth is, it is true – if you go by the sins I have committed in my life, and probably even today, I have no right to preach. If you go by the sins you have committed, you have no right to preach. Even our pastors, preachers, teachers, lay persons, have no right. No human does. Except for the simple fact that God gives us that right – that responsibility – and the faith and ability to do so. And he gives that to each of us. He wants that from each of us. He does not want us putting each other down, and talking badly about one another. He wants us building each other up. He wants us equipping one another for ministry, for unity in Christ.

When we cut each other down – even if we do not do so specifically to the other person – we are still tearing that person down. We are saying that we do not have faith in God’s choice to use that person. We are not building that person up as we are told to do.

So let us “31 Put away from [us] all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven [us].



1 Thessalonians 5:11 ESV
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

1 Corinthians 14:26 ESV
What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.

Romans 14:19 ESV
So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

Ephesians 4:29 ESV
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

Proverbs 27:17 ESV
Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

God Called - If You Have an Issue with Him, Take it to Him


Four years ago, I started going to church. I switched my membership over to a church that I felt was spiritually healthy for me and my family. It didn’t take long before I was teaching Sunday School and helping with the youth group and volunteering in whatever way I was able. Eventually I was designing and maintaining the website. And a year ago, was blessed with the opportunity to preach a couple times.

Outside the church, I found a wonderful set of women who took me in and we started a Bible study. I had a blog of my own sermons on various topics. I started doing morning and nighttime prayer, and prayed throughout the day.

God became my life… my passion.

Of course, I’m no saint. I never have been and never will be. At least, not fully. A big part of me is still a sinner. I am human.

I drink too much. I smoke. I swear. I wear clothes that aren’t exactly modest. I speak my mind a little too bluntly at times. I have a short temper. I’ve hurt my husband and children and friends and family more times than I can ever count.

I’ve recently found out that there are some who don’t feel I should be teaching or preaching because of my faults. Because I’m broken. Because I’m a sinful human being. And to be completely honest, I can’t argue with them. I’m not good enough to be teaching or preaching. I am broken. I am incredibly sinful. What gives me the right to stand up in front of people and tell people about God and his love? What gives me the right to stand amongst a bunch of children and tell them about God and his love?

I can’t explain it. I really can’t ask others to explain or accept it. But there is a saying that says “God doesn’t call the qualified… He qualifies the called.” Or, another version: “God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called.” I didn’t ask to be a teacher in the church. I didn’t ask to be able to write about God. And I definitely didn’t ask to stand up in church and preach about God. I was led there. I was called to do that.

Believe me, I have questioned God a lot more than anyone else ever could. I have flat out told Him that I have no business teaching or preaching. But well, God kind of has his own agenda. For some inexplicable reason, I am part of that agenda.

When I heard that people were complaining about me teaching and preaching, I decided to quit. I told the pastor I would not teach anymore. I told him I was done with the church. I was incredibly hurt and angry. I felt as if God had abandoned me. To be completely honest, I am still hurt and angry and am definitely questioning God.

But several times yesterday, my husband asked me if I was sure I wanted to quit teaching. If I was sure I wanted to be done. This is a man who does not go to church very often, and sometimes gets a little jealous of how much of my time gets tied up in church things. And yet there he was questioning my decision. As I lay awake last night, and again this morning, praying about and contemplating the whole situation, I realized that he was right to question me – he recognized the importance of what I was called to do, and recognized that it wasn’t something I could just let go of. I realized that God was there with me and he would not let me give up. He has a purpose for me.

So to everyone who says that I have no right to be teaching or preaching… to everyone who feels that I am just too much of a sinner to tell about God and his love…. You’ll have to take your complaints up with God. He’s the one who called on me. He’s the one who is using me. I am just his servant.

And, to those who do feel the need to talk bad about me… I forgive you, and God forgives you. May God bless each of you as he has blessed me.  

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Lost Son(s)

"Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car."

I have always loved that quote. Most people consider it a motto for those who are "spiritual but not religious." Or, as some prefer to call them, the "nones." The "nones" does include those who do not believe in God or a higher power, but the majority of them do believe. The majority of them simply do not believe in organized religion, and do not affiliate with an organized religion. They do not attend Church services. They do not see an importance in showing up weekly in a Church building, and often instead see those who do to be hypocrites.

And this perceived hypocrisy is the point of this quote - just because someone shows up every Sunday and sits in a pew does not make them better than those believers who stay home.

I heard a sermon a couple days ago which focused on these non-Church goers. In this sermon, the pastor basically said that these people are not part of God's Church, and that they do not have faith. But, he went on to say how there is still hope for these "nones" - that God is still waiting and willing to welcome them if and when they're ready.

This is, at best, poor theology. I'd go so far as to say it is the precise hypocrisy the "nones" are trying to avoid. How can any of us say that we are all part of God's Church, but then claim that this truth is only applicable to those who park their butts in the pews every Sunday?

Allow me to change up that opening quote just a little...

"A car which is not in the garage is still a car, just as a child of God not in the physical Church building is still a child of God."

Don't get me wrong - I do believe that the physical church building does have significant importance. I do park my butt in that pew nearly every Sunday (as well as any other chance I get). But this is not what makes me a Christian. it is not what makes any of us Christian. God hasn't welcomed me into his loving arms because I show up to service. It has nothing to do with me at all, and everything to do with God.

These "nones" are no more lost and in need of saving than you or I... and are no less found and saved than you or I.

---

In our Gospel lesson for the 4th Sunday in Lent (Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32), we're told the story of the lost son. On the surface, I can understand how some may see this prodigal son as one who has left the church... and upon returning home, is welcomed back with God's open arms, forgiven, and therefore saved. I can see how this story can be used to support what this pastor was preaching a couple days ago. And yet many seem to miss a vital part of the story.

Yes, the prodigal son leaves home and squanders the money and does come back. And yes, he is greeted warmly with a huge party and lavish gifts. All is forgiven him. But what of the other son?

The elder son had stayed with his father, and had worked. And yet upon hearing of the younger son's return, and the partying that ensued because of his return, he grew angry and refused to join the celebration. He was lost as well. In believing he was better and more worthy of gifts and celebration, he was just as much a sinner as his brother.

And yet we see that with both sons - the one who left, then came back and said "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you" was forgiven; and the one who grew resentful and angry and never said "Father, I have sinned", but instead rebuked his father, was also forgiven and shown compassion. 

I do not believe the point of this parable has anything to do with anyone leaving the church, or not attending Church. The point is quite simply that we are all sinners. We all get lost from time to time. 

And yet our God is ever-loving, and ever-forgiving, and ever-present in our lives. His blessings are for all of us, and he lavishes us with these blessings constantly.

---


Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Regret vs Repentance


 The concepts of regret and repentance have been on my mind quite a bit lately. Perhaps this is because I have a bad habit of sinning, and a bad habit of hurting those I love. Perhaps it's because it is the season of Lent. Perhaps it's because I just preached a little on repentance a couple days ago. Regardless of the reason, these two words have been bouncing around in my head, and I feel a need to explain these two concepts as I see them, and as I believe we should all see them...

Regret vs Repentance (definitions according to me)

 Regret: When I think of regret, I think of actions (or inactions) that we wish we could change - Actions we would change if we were able to jump in a time machine and do so. Regret is filled with shame and guilt that eats away at us. It is a "worldly sorrow."

Repentance: Repentance is not just being sorry about something. It isn't a shame or guilt that eats away at us. It is a "Godly sorrow" that leads us to know we have screwed up, and leads us to want to change our hearts and minds.

Remorse: I have added this word simply because most of what I've been reading about this topic have the subject of "remorse vs repentance", or lump remorse in with repentance. To me, remorse is being sorry for your actions... it is feeling guilty. Both regret and repentance can have a degree a remorse attached, which makes this term related to both "worldly sorrow" and "Godly sorrow" depending on the reason attached and what affect it has on our lives.  


For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:10)


Worldly sorrow vs. Godly sorrow

 Worldly sorrow is that guilt and shame we feel - but it is often not a guilt or shame or remorse over our actions, but rather over getting caught or the fear that we could have gotten caught. It is when we beat ourselves up repeatedly for our actions. It is when we know we did something wrong, and so we try to hide it. This worldly sorrow doesn't cause change within us; and instead we find ourselves either standing still in our own misery or repeating the same mistakes over and over again - both of which compound the guilt and shame.

Godly sorrow on the other hand is feeling sorry for our actions, but moves us to change. It moves us to bring our sins to Christ... to the cross. It's knowing we sinned, but instead of hiding that sin, we confess it to God and ask forgiveness. It is changing our hearts and minds - asking God for help in changing our hearts and minds - and letting God forgive us and put us back on the correct path towards him.



Standing still in sin vs Moving forward in hope

As I stated earlier, regret brings a desire with it to go back in time and erase the sin that happened. It makes us want to hide the sin, or pretend it didn't happen. We put all our focus on wishing it hadn't happened, or that we hadn't got caught; or on trying to make it so we don't get caught. We put all our focus on the guilt and shame we feel. We let it eat away at us.

A biblical example of regret and worldly sorrow is Judas Iscariot. While Matthew 27 does say that Judas repented, that repentance didn't come until he saw that Jesus was condemned. That points more towards a remorse born of regret rather than true repentance. And we see that he did feel this guilt and shame to the point he hanged himself. We see that his guilt and shame did not turn him to Christ, but rather away from him.

Instead of getting caught up in regret and wallowing in our guilt and shame, we need to be moving forward. We need to allow our sins to change our hearts and turn us back to Christ and the Cross. This cannot happen if we're trying to hide our sin, or if we're pretending it did not happen. This cannot happen if we were to go back in time and change that sin so that it never occurred. Besides the fact that we simply cannot change our actions, even just regretting a sin to the point of focusing on wishing it hadn't happened keeps us standing still. It keeps us from moving forward.

Instead, we should have a Godly sorrow for what happened. Yes, we will feel guilt and remorse for our actions, but this pain should not exist indefinitely. This pain should lead us to the Cross - to Christ. It should bring about a change within us.

A biblical example of this Godly sorrow can be seen in Peter. At the end of Matthew, Chapter 26, Peter realizes that he has indeed denied Jesus three times, and he runs off and weeps. This remorse is true and leads Peter back to Christ. It can be assumed that Peter's actions do bring about repentance from him, and forgiveness for him, as we see later after Jesus has risen, the young man in the tomb specifies to the two Marys that they are to tell the disciples and Peter that he is coming to see them. We see Peter teaching and preaching about Christ. We see him moving forward in Christ.

And this is what we need to do. We need to accept the sin happened, confess that sin to God, asking his forgiveness, and then move forward in hope and love. Move forward in Christ.