Saturday, March 30, 2013

How Much Do I Matter to God?

Continuing his series, "When Jesus Comes to Dinner", Rick Warren opens by talking about how "dinner with sinners" is what got Jesus into trouble.  Examples of how Jesus did this was Jesus' having had dinner with prostitutes and with corrupt officials.  He invites a bunch of rednecks.  These people were illiterate and rough.  Jesus was not someone who recruited the well educated.
"In my life I've received a lot of criticism because of some of the friends I have chosen." Rick ponders.  He goes on to explain that he has had an evangelical outreach to liberals, gays, atheists etc. and he has gotten lash backs because of this.
Jesus was the one who said the physically well do not need doctors.  Jesus came for the broken and lost.  He came for the insecure.  The truth, though, is that everyone is insecure.  One of the deepest needs we have is to feel secure and to feel significant.  We evaluate ourselves consciously or unconsciously according to the world's values, but we should find out value in what God thinks.  The world, in general looks at four things when evaluating us.

1) Appearance - Hollywood says if our appearance is not great, we are not and vice versa.
2) Affluence - What do we own?  If we have a lot of things, we feel we are worth a lot. 
3) Achievement - If I get a lot of things done, I feel good about myself. 
4) Approval - How well am I liked?  If many like me, then I am valuable. But when criticized, we will be devastated. 

We tend to base what we think about ourselves upon what the most important people to us think about us.  That is why we need to make the most important person in our lives Jesus.  Our beauty fades.  Our possessions come and go. No matter what success we have, there are many more successful than us.  People will betray us.  But when we finally look at our lives through the eyes of Jesus, it evens the playing field.

In Luke 19:1-10, we read the story of Zacchaeus;
"Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.  When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.  All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”  But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”  Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

One thing to note here is that, of the four criteria we talk about regarding how the world values us, Zacchaeus was lacking in three!.  The bible tells us that he was short.  In fact, he was one of the shortest in the city.  Secondly, he wasn't liked by anybody because he was working for the Romans as a tax collector and tax collectors were seen as betrayers.  They were lackeys.  They got rich by being dishonest.  Their value was the equivalent of being murderers.  Thirdly, not only was Zacchaeus short and not liked, but he didn't like himself or his life.  Yet, it was on this day that Jesus selected him. 

In this story, we can see four ways that Jesus demonstrates how He feels about us. 

1)  No matter how small I feel, Jesus notices me.  No self respecting businessman would run or climb a Sycamore tree and this is exactly what Zacchaeus does.  When Jesus gets to the tree, He stops and looks up.  We might feel that we are out on a limb in our lives or we might feel like we are isolated in a hole, but Jesus knows where we are.  God has known where we are all of our lives.  He knows about all of our good, our bad, our hurts, our successes and He has not forgotten us. 

Luke 12:6-7 says, "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows."  God's greatest expression of love to us is His attention to us because it says, "You matter to me."

2) No matter who ignores me, Jesus notices me.  He doesn't just know us as 1 in 6 billion.  Jesus knows us intimately.  Jesus not only knew Zacchaeus, but He called him by name.   God knows us better than we know ourselves.  He knows why we are going through what we are going through.  Do you know what the word "Zacchaeus" means?  It meant "Pure one".  Jesus looks at him and calls him by his potential as He does us!  He affirms us.  He calls us by what He knows we can be.  He is like the excellent parent who doesn't treat us the way we deserve, but the way we could be.  God made each of us uniquely.  He has our picture in his wallet.

3) No matter what I've done, Jesus wants me.  Jesus invited himself to the home of the most disliked man in the city.  We all have done things we are ashamed of.  We're human.  We're selfish.  But Jesus is more interested in changing us than condemning us.   If you want to be like Jesus Christ, then don't condemn others. Remember the story of the prodigal son?  He took his inheritance, spent it all and then came home.  But his father took him back immediately because he loved the son.

Jesus likes us the way we are, but He loves us too much to let us stay the way we are.  Rick talks about the time that he went to a maximum security prison to speak to the inmates.  To get everyone's attention, he took out a $50 bill and asked who wanted it.  6,000 hands went up.  He then crumpled the $50 bill, threw it on the ground, stepped on it, spit on it, tore it and crushed.  After each action, he kept asking who still wanted the bill and each time, 6,000 hands went up.  Rick then explains that this ruined $50 bill is what each of them had had happened to them.  "You've been spit on and crushed."  But Jesus sees us and recognizes the true value that is still in us. 

Revelation 3:20: Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

4) No matter what anyone says about me, Jesus affirms me.  In the face of criticism from the religious people, He says "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

So, if we believe that Jesus feels this way about us, how are we to respond?  Well, look how Zacchaeus responded in verse 6, "So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly."  Our only logical reaction is to receive Him.  He wants what's best for us!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Is There Anything Wrong With Wealth?

In Victory Atlanta's "Godconomy" series, Johnson Bowie delivers his "Joyful Generosity" sermon.  There are two economies for the Christian.  There is the way God treats money in His economy and then there is the world's economy.  Jesus says that at the end of the day we have to choose between these economies because we can't serve both God and money.  As Christians, we want to do things God's way, right?

Johnson has had many opportunities to travel worldwide to places like Haiti, Belgium and Peru and he has an acute awareness of problems we have in America or "First World Problems" which he calls "FWPs".  These FWPs are things that we regard as a problems but the rest of the world considers them laughable. Delivering his description these FWPs, Johnson mimics Jeff Foxworthy's "You might be a redneck if...", but substitutes it with "You might have a FWP if..."   We might have an FWP if you are frustrated because the thermostat is set to high in the winter; if the Imac and Iphone runs out of batteries at the same time;  If you are upset with your barista because she put to much sugar in your latte;  If you are frustrated with your spotty coverage of 4G phones or if you are upset because you can't fit your phone in your skinny jeans!!

The majority of what we consider are problems really aren't true problems.  The majority of people listening to his message aren't worried about where their kids are going to sleep or what they are going to eat.  In our world in the U.S. there is a natural drift away from God's way of thinking, but when you see the dirt floors and sheet metal roofs of poorer countries, you get perspective.  When you see the kid who works for $30  a month and this is what you spend on coffee, it adds perspective.  Three billion people in the world live on less than $2 a day.  Half of them live on less than $1 a day.  A quarter of the people alive have no electricity.  If you make more than $25,000 per year, you are in the top 10% in the world.

Last year, Johnson was watching the Wall Street protesters and he was thinking as he saw signs that said "We are the 99%" that, to the rest of the world, they were mostly all in the top 10% in the world!!  If you earn $1000 over the summer as a teen, you've just earned more than most of the globe earns in a year.  It doesn't feel this way though because we are in the wealthiest country in the world.  Even our homeless live better than half the world!  We have money.  By the world's standards, we are rich.  So, what does God have to say about this and about us and about the wealthy and about the poor and about our struggles etc.?  I Timothy 6:17 says:

"Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money.  Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and always being generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life."

Sometimes we get detached from our world and we just give to others who can do the work themselves or on our behalf. But God tells us to get our own hands dirty.  You cannot buy your way into heaven.  The price has already been paid by Jesus.  His forgiveness and our faith gets us in.  As Christians, our generosity is a good foundation.  If we know that we were once building our own kingdom before we were Christians, but now we build up His kingdom, we have the foundation for heaven.  It is good.

Generosity, though, can have conflicting meanings.  Many think, "I tithe and then I keep the rest for myself."  The other side or extreme of generosity is to give everything we have away.  The reality is that neither one of these beliefs works.  Tithing is NOT generosity; it is obedience.  The other extreme is a commitment to poverty; how miserable!  We should find Joyful Generosity somewhere in the middle.

The Coronado Bridge in San Diego has as many people jump off of it as does the Brooklyn bridge.  Why?  Because money doesn't solve our problem!  It is our response to money that can determine what is going on in our hearts.  Can you say you are a generous person?  Jesus' radical generosity serves as the model for all of us to be generous right?  If we are fully committed disciples of Christ, this is true.  II Corinthians 8:9 says;

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor so that you through His poverty might become rich....

Jesus did not die so that Christians could drive Ferraris.  Eternal life is the true riches for us.  Jesus became temporarily poor so that we could become eternally rich.

"I am so glad that Jesus didn't give 10%";  that He didn't show up, skimp on us and just tithe His blood.  He gave it all.  He poured His life out. Laws of the Old Testament told us what to do but they don't address what Jesus' New Testament deals with, the heart.

It's interesting in the Bible, how Jesus talks to different people about the kingdom of heaven and to some, He tells to give 10%, yet to others He tells to sell everything and follow Him.  Why would He do this?  It seems it sends conflicting messages to Christians.  Well, How much would you have to sell before you were giving your whole heart to God?  The heart of Jesus is to pour it all out!  For God so loved the world that He gave and we love God, so we give.

God delights in our enjoyment of his gifts.  So God says, give it all away and then He says enjoy what you have at the same time!  As a father, Johnson has never given his kids presents and then expected them to give stuff away.  In the same way God delights when we delight in His blessings.  God's not upset when we are wearing nice clothes or driving two cars.  He's a good dad.  In fact, He's the perfect dad.  To Him, it's just not about giving 10%...

"If a man begins to doubt whether he may use linen for his sheets, shirts, handkerchiefs and napkins, he will afterward be uncertain also about hemp... For he will turn over in his mind whether he can eat without napkins or go without handkerchief.  If any man should consider daintier food unlawful, in the end, he will not be at peace before God, when he eats either black bread or common food, while it occurs to him that he could sustain his body on even coarser food.  If he boggles at sweet wine, he will not with clear conscience drink even flat wine, and finally he will not dare touch water if sweeter and cleaner than other water."  John Calvin

Where, then, does it stop when someone is urged to give it all away?   There will always more.  If your family has more spoons in the house than people, should you get rid of your extra spoons?  We must first learn to delight in what God has given us.

If you see a person with a nice car and you are critical of what he is driving because it is so nice, keep in mind that what you are driving is much nicer than what the guy with the moped is driving!  See, it is hard to enjoy what God has given you when you are judgmental of others.  God is a really really good dad and He gives us what we need for our hearts.  All we have to do is honor Him.

Wealth can be a very good thing.  A lot of people can mess up when they love money.  Money is not evil but the LOVE of money is... Proverbs 6:6-8 says, "Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!  It has no commander, nor overseer nor ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest."  God says this is a good way to live life!

Johnson's grandfather had a good deal of wealth and he loved Jesus.  He gave generously to the church and to people.  Johnson is still blown away by the number of people who come to him and tell him how his grandfather so greatly blessed them.

Having wealth increases your ability to be generous.  Do you know why?  BECAUSE YOU HAVE MONEY!  If you are in debt, how do you help someone out?  by co-signing?  The good Samaritan had money.  Members of the early church in Acts had money!  They were gifted to give riches and they had the revelation that their wealth was not just for them.  One of the best ways to be generous is to open up a separate account to be given away. Why is it that we trust God with eternity but don't trust him with tomorrow?

Our wealth becomes an issue when we care more about our tomorrow than someone else's today.  

The bible says being in debt is like being the tail and not the head.  How much time have you spent looking at a dog's tail?  It's not a good place to be.  When we get into debt, we "go turtle" and focus more on paying off debt.  As a church, Victory Atlanta has had experiences of strategically taking on debt to dig wells, feed the hungry and to fight the slave trade.  So they manage their funds strategically and find the room to be generous too.

A few weeks ago, Johnson was working on a sermon and his father in law dashed into the room and told him that there had been an accident.  They dashed out and sped down the street to the scene where Johnson's SUV was smashed up and the airbag had been deployed.  His wife was in the front seat and he jumped out, ran to the passenger side and hugged his wife asking if she was okay.  Was his car more important at that point?  NO.  It was an important time that gave perspective of what is important.  

In the book of John, Mary is at the feet of Jesus.  She opens up a very expensive bottle of perfume (worth a year's wages) and pours it on Jesus' feet.   This seems like a one-time, random incident until you look at what happened in the previous chapter.  In John 11, Mary was weeping with with her sister Martha because their brother Lazarus had died and was buried in a tomb.  Jesus appears and raises Lazarus from the dead.  Fast forward to Mary and the perfume.  Now you understand why she is basically pouring her life savings on His feet.

It helps if we can understand that whatever we don't get here, we will get in heaven.  Let's say you never got to take your trip to the Alps.  What is the new version of the Alps going to be in heaven?

The heroes of the faith knew that this world was not permanent.  They were looking forward to the New Jerusalem.  They were looking forward to a new world.  They wanted less here so other could get there!  We can save up and work towards things, but we need to keep in mind that one day we will close our eyes here and open them in heaven.

When we join our hearts with Jesus with the understanding of what we can do, what our purpose is here and what heaven is like, we enter the world of Joyful Generosity.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Five Questions to Find Your Spiritual Gifts

"So yesterday, I'm at home laying on my couch and I see snow falling.  For those of you who are northern transplants, you have to understand that snow in the south might as well be cocaine falling.  There are people who are not in church because of snow.  It becomes Snowmageddon. "

This is the second week of the series, "Don't Waste Your Life", Perry Noble of wants to offer 5 questions that will change your life.  Most people don't intend on wasting their life.  They get distracted.  Alot of people know what they should be doing but they just don't follow through. 

To give an example, Perry talks about taking his daughter out to Chik-Fil-A for a date.  First, he was going to take her to the zoo, then to the Mall of Georgia.  His daughter, Karis, also wanted to ride the escalator while the two were there.  Perry was fine with that.  On his way out, his wife Lacretia asked him to pick up something while he was at the mall.  Of course Perry got nevous because he seems to always mess these kinds of things up.  Lacretia asked him to go into Bed Bath and Beyond., a place that already freaks him out.  "I'm not anti-Bed Bath and Beyond.  I just don't get it."   So, his task was to get one of those things that plug into the wall and hold a scented insert.  "None of you guiys know what I am talking about."  When they got to the store, Perry asked his daughter to find what mommy wanted.  Immediately, Karis went right to the area and knew what to get.  As he was leaving though, a store helper stopped him.  saying if he bought another refreshener, he would save mmoney because it was 2 for $15 but 3 for $20.  after a little back and forth, Perry, said, "you know what, I am going to just do what my wife asked me to do."  Walking out, Perry thought to himself that this is what happens a lot of times in life.  We know what we should be doing and then we get distracted. 

There are a couple of competing ideas in life.  One is a lie from the pit of hell.  Perry calls it the "Great American Lie".  Here is the lie; If you believe in yourself and try really hard you can do anything you want and be anything you want.  "That's the biggest pile of crap in the universe!  WE know that's not true!!  We know that because we watch American Idol."  So many people have failed because they have spent way too much time believing in themselves.  What if someone wants to be an american idol and can't even sing?  Perry wanted to play professional football, but that wasn't going to happen.

God made us on purpose to make a difference.  He custom designed us.  We are fearfully and wonderfully made.   Maybe your parents said you were unplanned but God has never called you an accident.  He made you on purpose for a purpose so you could make a difference in this world. 

Last week in Matthew 25, Jesus told a parable about a man going on a journey who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them.  To one, he gave five bags of gold.  To another two bags and to another one bag.  The man with five bags turned it into five more.  The man with two bags turned it into another two, but the man with one bag buried it!! 

In the Bible, it says that all of us have at least one spiritual gift.  One of the coolest things about being a christian is that Jesus wants to bless us right off the bat.  He wants us to focus on our gifts and blessings and not be distracted!  God does not take from us good things.  It is the miserable things in our life He wants out, NOT the good things!  To help us wrap our minds around what our spiritual gifts are, Perry decides to give us 5 guiding questions. 

1) What do I enjoy?   When Perry first was considering being a follower of Christ, he started hearing what the pastor was saying.  The pastor wasn't preaching a sermon about keep him from going to hell, but rather it was a prayer to let Jesus control his life.  See, Perry knew a lot of Christians that just weren't happy at all.  Waiting tables, Perry noticed that on Sunday people would show up after attending services and they would be some of the meanest people he's ever met.  They all looked constipated.  "Have you ever seen that person?  No Joy!!"  Perry didn't want to be that person.  From the time he was 0-12, Perry says he had a "drug problem". "I was drug to church every Sunday".  But when his mom died, he wasn't drug anymore.  But then he was skeptical and didn't want to be unable to party and then have to go on mission trips.  But what finally transitioned his thinking was Perry was reading in the Bible and saw John 10:10;

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full. 

It hit perry that Jesus Christ wanted him to be filled with joy.  THE BEST EVIDENCE OF CHRIST IS OUR JOY.  Perry says he has joy in what he does because he loves his job.

2) What do I do well?  For those who say they do nothing well, they might as well give God the finger and call him a liar.  He knows who you are and what you do well.  Some people are organizers.  They love to order things and GOD NEEDS THESE PEOPLE for His Purposes.  Some have the spiritual gift of mercy.  They love to shepherd people, cry with people, hear their problems and help them.  Some people are creative and write poetry, music and webcode.  "Did you know that some of the first people filled with the Spirit of God were filled to be creative?"  We all have gifts...

1 Peter 4:10:  Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace and its various forms. 

Everyone has a specific gift for this purpose.  Both of the previous questions have to be anwered together because some people enjoy what they don't do well.  But on the flip side, some people are really good at something they don't enjoy. 

3) What bothers you?  I'm not talking about people who don't use their turn signal or men that wear Capri pants,.  "Some of them might get mad, get in their Prius, drive home and eat some hummus and write a poem.  I don't care.  I don't fear the men that wear Capris.  I'm afraid of the guys who wear Wranglers."  Anyway, when you look at the world, what bothers you.?  One time, Perry was watching Popeye.  It bothered Perry because it never made him want to eat spinach.  Besides, Popeye's girlfriend Olive Oyle was ugly and Popeye was always getting beat up!  But remember what Popeye would always say before he ate his spinach?   "That's all I can stand.  I can't standst no more!" 

When you find your misery, you'll find your ministry.  What bothers you? 

In the book of Nehemiah, the walls of Jerusalem had been torn down and Nehemiah was bothered about this.  He fell, wept, fasted and prayed.  By the end of the book, he and his men rebuilt the walls of Jeruselem.  "What about Mother Theresa?"  When she went ot Calcutta, India, she was so bothered by the poverty that she moved there and dedicated her life.  One day, she was washing the feet of a leper and someone said, "I would not do that for a million dollars" and Mother Theresa responded with, "Neither would I".  Christian Kain was in a Greek airport and saw all the missing girls moved in to the sex trade, so she started the A21 campaign.  Perry started his church when he was botherd by churches where he felt he couldn't bring friends to any other one.  Perry makes the point that whatever botheres  you, you cannot delegate that burden to other people in the church.  You have to act on what God has put on your heart. 

4)  What opportunities are in front of you right now?  If we are not faithful with what we have now, we will not move forward to other areas.  When Perry found Jeuss, he found it natural to just talk to peole.  Perry asked what he could do in the church and the pastor directed him to the 6th grade classes.  He volunteered all week with the kids making crafts and stuff as he was directed.  One day, the class leader said she didn't have a lesson and she asked him if he would put something together.  So, his first sermon was to seven 6th graders giving his testimony! It was the worst sermon in the history of the world, but after he was finished, four kids out of the seven gave their lives to Christ.  It really meant a lot to him and helped him realize what his gift was.  The pastor got wind of this and asked Perry to speak at a mission trip he was going to on.  He ended up speaking in the basement of a youth rally.  That night, someone was playing guitar and Perry followed.  After he preached, eight more people gave their lives!!   From here on out, Perry just preached where he was called to preach.  He stopped giving God his plans and just gave Him his hands. 

5) Who?  None of the other questions matter until you ask this question.  Matt 25:19-25 tells us what happens to the servants when their master returns.  The master comes back to the servants and asks what the servants have done with his money.  They each show their accomplishments.  To the first two servants, he says "Well done good and faithful servants, but to the last servant, buried his lot, the master responds by throwing the man out.  All three declared God as their master, but only two demonstrated that He was their master.  Who are you going to live for?  1 Corinthians 5 says;

Do you not know that wrongdoers do not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be decieved.  Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolators nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slandereres nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were, but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the spirit of God. 

Don't worry about where you were or  of what you are afraid.  Embrace what God promises for you and what He has for you.  Trust that.  Greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world.  He can use you to make a difference!