Stepping up to the Plate

24th Sunday in Pentecost
Scripture: St. Luke 19:1-10

Little did I know how true that would be a month after I wrote this message… The Cubs stepping up to the plate and after 70 years winning the pennant!

As we look at the story of Zacchaeus once again, I want you to see him stepping up to the plate. He wanted to see this traveling prophet, but was a small man, with a small body thus he climbed up into a sycamore tree. He paid no attention to the crowd who tried to quiet him down, saying “you are a sinner, He will have nothing to do with you”As Jesus walked by, he looked up in that sycamore tree telling Zacchaeus “you come down, for I’m going to your house today”.

I can see that little man almost jumping off the tree limb, and coming to rest at Jesus’ feet. Can you?
He stated if I have cheated anyone, I will repay them 4 times what I stole from them.That is one more time than the Jewish law commanded a person to do to make amends. Jesus tells him, “today salvation has come to you and your house and you are truly a son of Abraham”.

How often have you or I been sitting in a pew and we blindly step up to the plate after the spirit of god moved within our lives and we get involved with something special at his prompting?

It’s like a little 4 year old standing at the shore of water in the gulf, seeing the water coming in, fearful of the waves, and we are afraid to get in the water. After much coaxing, the child gets their toes in the water. Each time the waves come in, she puts her foot in a little deeper in the water. After a few minutes, she is knee high in the water, running to and fro playing and having fun.

Because of the fear of the unknown, we all have doubts and reservations in our discipleship duties to the Lord and his church. We fail to trust Him.

We are like the servant whose master gave him one talent to make more, and he was afraid he might lose it, thus he buried it in the ground. When the master confronted him with what he had done, he said “I know you are a hard man in business and I was afraid of what might happen if I lost your talent.”
How often are we like the 4 year old afraid of the water or the unproductive servant burying the talent?

Andrew seeing Jesus the prophet stepped up to the plate, calling Peter to come and see the prophet. Peter stepped up and became a mighty, mighty voice for Christ. He was a man with many faults and yet Jesus said “you are the rock and I will build my church on you.”

Dr. Billy Graham was a plain, simple man, full of faith. He stepped up to the plate and has become a great missionary encouraging thousand all because he was not afraid to step up to the plate.
If each one of us would step up to the plate, allowing the Lord to use our humble efforts, can you envision what might happen in our world today, a world that is crying for love? Regardless of the simple gifts most of us think we have, when we step up to the plate, allowing the Lord to use us, we will have blessings in abundance and his promise He will walk each step with us.

Lord, help each one of us make new disciples in your precious name and divine love.

Let us pray.

Too Young, Too Old

Here's a picture of some of our family. From left to right we have Rene (daughter), me, Sylvia Lori (daughter), Judy (wife), Jeremy (grandson), and Lee (son-in-law). Lori was visiting us before moving to South Carolina, Jeremy was visiting for the weekend, and my son Randy also visited us for about a week. We celebrated Jeremy's birthday early since so many of us were together for the weekend. No matter what life throws at me and Judy, we are blessed that all our children know the Lord. 

This week we had a special guest who helped with the preaching. She's my daughter Lori, who also goes by Sylvia. Her in-person speech was phenomenal. Lori gave us a good set of stories and good historical information about the Bible that proves that each of us can answer the Lord's call, from the young Samuel in the temple to the public figures who would qualify for the senior discount today. She shared with us her prepared notes, which aren't nearly the same, but there's still a lot of wisdom in them. Her message is both encouraging and convicting.

21st Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture: 1 Samuel 3; 1 Samuel 16:20-23

There's a list of things we're too old for.

There's a list of things we're too old for. Mini skirts, long hair, snowboarding, driving, riding a bike, skating.

Have you ever said someone or yourself was too old or too young?

Often people think people are too young or old to serve our Lord. It's as if each congregation has a magic age to be old enough. But when it comes to being too old, we tend to self-impose our own restrictions. We "retire" from service.

I chose today's scripture because we have extremes of too young and too old in Samuel and Eli's story. Samuel came to the temple to serve God when he was weaned. That would have been between 1 1/2 and 5 years old. Each year his mother brought him a new tunic as he had outgrown his previous one. Eli was almost blind when Samuel came to the temple and his eyes continued to fail. Samuel waited on Eli at a young age. Eli was a high priest and he continued in that position until his death. Eli had two very old sons — not good sons — named Hophni and Phineas. They did evil in God's eyes. They made sacrifices and did other things they shouldn't have. Eli had rebuked his sons, but they didn't listen and Eli overlooked that.

God called Samuel. Samuel. Samuel. Samuel ran to Eli 3 times when he heard the voice. Then Eli realized it was God calling Samuel. The 4th time, God revealed to Samuel Hophni and Phineas' fate. Samuel had to tell Eli. Samuel later lead the people and served as the high priest who annointed Saul and David when David was just a lad.

David went into Saul's service playing the harp to soothe the spirit that raged against Saul. (Today they think Saul was bipolar.) As a youth David slew Goliath. He served Saul faithfully to Saul's death. David was king 40 years.

David's son Solomon was a young man when he assumed the throne and asked for wisdom. Solomon was faithful in his younger years, but as an old man he turned away from God. Of the kings of Israel, the ones who weren't bad started at a young age. Joash, who ruled from age 7 to 47, repaired the temple that was let to fall apart from neglect. He took up offerings from repairs. Josiah, who ruled from age 8-39, found the Book of Law during repairs and renewed the covenant.

Solomon was a young man. So were Jeremiah (whose father was a priest) and John the Baptist when  they started. Jeremiah 1:5 says, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations."

Noah was over 500 when he had sons. Abraham had Isaac after he had turned 100.

Samuel served God all of his life. Eli died in service as a high priest. Stephen and other Christian martyrs were killed in brutal ways. We really have it easy today. The apostle John died of old age natural causes, although some say he did so after having escaped exile in Patmos and unsuccessfully being boiled in oil. Philip was tortured and crucified. Paul was beheaded. Peter was crucified upside down. Bartholomew/Nathaniel was flayed and martyred. James was killed by the sword. Thomas was pierced by the spear. Andrew was hanged and burned.

Unlike a lot of the Biblical people I have talked about who served until their death, others may have served cogently for a time and then drifted away or walked away like many Christians seem to do. God wants our hearts and our service for all our lives and into eternity. The Israelites had three big problems.
  1. Their hearts wandered, desiring things they didn't have (coveting).
  2. They grumbled when they didn't get them.
  3. They turned away from God and sought other ways to obtain what they wanted.
Are we any different?

We are called to serve, not grumble. Yes, there may come a point when you are unable to do what you do for God now, but have you prepared someone to take your place at that job or will they have to assume your position not knowing what needs to be done? Mentor someone today and say you have done this long enough to answer any questions. Also, ask God where and how He wants you to serve next.

Service to God is given from our hearts out of thanksgiving for what God did for us. He sent His Son. Jesus willingly came, served, died, and rose again so we could have forgiveness of sins.

I know Dad and many aging pastors serving because God called them, but where are their Samuels who can step into their places? If you feel God calling you for anything, GO. Christians don't retire; they just move up. Are you moving up? Do you feel God calling you? Maybe you need to rededicate your heart and your life. Maybe you have been negative or a grumbler and need to confess. You're never too young or too old. The altar's always open. Humble yourself before God. Say I'll serve for life and then move up.

At the end of the service, we stood up and came together as Lori led us in a round of prayer. May we feel God's call and love and reach out to our neighbors with it. Amen!


20th Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture: St Luke 17:5-10
If we have the faith the size of a mustard seed, we could say to the mulberry tree be uprooted and planted in the sea and it would obey us. I think we sometimes hear Jesus’ comments as rebuke that if we only had a little bit more faith we could fix our broken relationships, be healed of cancer, find a job and had all the money we think we need we would be happy. We think our painful situations in our lives are because we are a failure or unworthy.

How often do we have feelings just like the reasons I just referred to? Yet I don’t think that is what Jesus is saying here. I think He is telling us that we have what we need. It doesn’t take a 40 gallon vat of faith to repent and be forgiven for the sins of our life.

Notice He is speaking in a plural sense. We are all connected to Him with the faith we already have, and we are connected to one another by that same faith. Our faith may be personal but it should not be private. We aren’t given even a mustard seed of faith only for ourselves, but to be connected with the little bit of faith that countless others have. If we connect our faith with one another our 40 gallon vat will overflow a hundred, a thousand or a million times over.

Life without faith is like a stick trap used to catch small animals. Jesus is saying it is impossible to construct a world without temptation by ourselves. Only all the faith bits that come together can change the world of sin and death. Our text tells us that we can not put any claims on God with our little bit of faith, only by joining together can Christ’s kingdom on earth become a reality. When we have done our very best, we are only doing our duty in serving the Lord.

Recall these words from a great hymn:
“Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far to small
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.”

While it maybe impossible to satisfy the claim of God’s love, every lover knows that nothing he or she can do could sanctify that claim for Gods gift of eternal life. May we use the faith we have been given, joining together with countless others to share our little bits of faith with all others.

Let us pray.

The Rich Man and Lazarus

19th Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture St Luke 16:19-31
There was a rich man who dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted in luxury everyday. Purple, the color of the robe, was for the high priest and were very costly.The word used for feasting, is a word that is used for a glutton, and he feasted in exotic foods everyday.

In doing so, he did not practice the 4th commandment:“6 days you shall labor, but the 7th day is a Sabbath, a day of rest. It is a day of praising the Lord”Not only did he not obey the Sabbath, but he did not let his servants do it either.

Now in a country where the common people were fortunate if they ate meat once in an entire week, we see this rich man's actions as a figure of self indulgence and selfishness in addition to gluttony. At that time, people did not have silverware, knifes, forks, spoons, or napkins. Food was eaten using one's fingers, which were cleaned off with huge pieces of bread that were then thrown on the floor. It was that bread that Lazarus was waiting for. The rich man is a picture of wealth and luxury.

The second man was named Lazarus. It is strange that only Lazarus is given a name. Lazarus means “God is my helper.” Lazarus is pictured as a beggar covered with ulcerated sores all over his body. He was so helpless that he could not even ward off the street dogs, unclean animals that pestered him constantly. Lazarus is the picture of helplessness and object poverty. Such is the scene in this world that abruptly changes to the next world. There Lazarus is in glory and the rich man is in torment.

What was the sin of the rich man? He had not ordered Lazarus off his property, nor sought even to remove him from his gate, and he had no objections to Lazarus eating from his floor around his table.Nor did he kick him each time he passed by him. He accepted Lazarus as part of the landscape. He thought it was a perfectly natural event that Lazarus should lie in his pain, hungry while he wallowed in his luxury.

Someone once said, “It is not what the rich man did that got him into hell, only that as he looked at Lazarus he did not see a suffering human who was in need of medical care and food. He did nothing to help him.”

As he looked up from the fires of hell, seeing Lazarus in the arms of Abraham, he pleaded with Abraham to send Lazarus to his warn his brothers. Abraham refused, saying, “During your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.” Yet the rich man pleaded to send Lazarus to his father’s house to warn his brothers. Abraham said they had Moses and the prophets, and if they wouldn’t listen to them, they will listen to no one. The rich man continues to plead to Abraham that if someone from the dead speaks to them they will respond. Once again Abraham replied that neither will they believe or be convinced if someone were to rise from the dead.

The challenge for all of us, not only the rich, is to see the needs of others regardless of what situation and respond according to our God given abilities. Jesus made a strong statement regarding wealth and possessions. Wealth and possession demand our loyalty and they can replace the Lord in our lives.

In this life Lazarus laid in the street outside the home of the rich man. When he awoke from death, he was in the arms of Abraham in heaven. The rich man lived in luxury and when he awoke from death, he was in eternal torment in the fires of hell.

In our great nation, the wealthiest in the world, 14.5 % of the population, 49 million people, struggle to put food on their tables. 15.9% of those 49 million are hungry children. (These statistics are from the Bread for the World organization.) I know we help in our community to help feed the hungry, yet I don’t think we really understand the scope of the hunger problem.

May our Lord shed new light on the needs of our neighbors, so that each of us might give just a little more to fight hunger in our community, our nation, and around the world.

Let us pray!

A Shrewd Manager

18 Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture: St. Luke 16:1-13

Luke enlightens us about a rich man and his shrewd manager. The rich man learned that his manager was skimming off some of the profits for himself. He called him in.

Here's something to think about: What is this I learned about your actions? I want an account of your actions and I give you two weeks to prepare for an audit.What is clear that neither the owner nor the steward are rosy in their actions with one another. Both are rascals!

We find in our world today such people. If only the Christians of today were as eager and genuine in their labors for the living Lord as they are in an attempt to obtain goodness and to gain riches for themselves. What a difference our actions would be in sharing the love of God to everyone.

A rabbi once said, “The rich help the poor in their world, but the poor help the rich for the world to come.”

Timothy 2:1-7 shares that the church prays for certain things for those in authority. She prays for a life that has tranquility and understanding. She likewise prays for a time of peace and freedom from war and human rebellion from God, as well as freedom from all things that disturb the peace of God’s realm. Yet she prays for so much more. She prays for a life that expresses goodness and reverence for all the children of God.

Gentleness is a great word that describes an attitude of mind, which respects mankind and honors god. This gentleness has a grace and divinity not sent by humans, but from the love of God for all of us. This is what you and I ought to covet, not the things of this world.

Here is our downfall, for we live in a heathen world that seems to override our understanding of gods desire for all of us. Gnostics produce their theories of 2 gods who are hostile toward one another.

God the Father created all of us. Jesus the Christ, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit are 3, not 2. God is our creator. Jesus is our mediator, the one between our sins and our salvation. The Holy Spirit is God's living presence in our lives.

The Jewish world once said it is the angels who are our mediators, but this is not the Jewish thought today, for mankind has a direct line to God, Jesus Christ His only Son and the gift of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us. Jesus is our envoy. He speaks for us and represents us before the Heavenly Father. Jesus is the key for eternal life in the fullness of the heavenly kingdom. It is through Jesus teachings and our personal confessions that we are given assurance of eternal life.

We cannot earn it. It is a gift from God through the spilled blood of Jesus, His Son, on the cross.

One final question for this sermon: Are you on an iceberg that is slowly melting from the eternal fire of death and damnation, or do we stand firm on the Solid Rock, Jesus the Christ, to manage our lives?

The Lost Sheep

17th Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture: St. Luke 15:1-10

There is no other scripture in the Bible that speaks of the love of the Lord and the depth of His love for the lost sheep.

We find in 1 Timothy 1:12-17 that we have been saved by our Lord to not only serve Him but to also seek the lost sheep of His Flock. Have you ever thought or considered that you have gifts and graces that the Lord has given to you that only you can use to call the lost sheep back into the flock of the redeemed? What special gift do you have to offer Him?

At the bus stop in front of the church sits an old man, waiting for his ride down to the library, where he will spend yet another day searching for a friend in the loneliness of the day.

In the corner of the coffee shop, perhaps a Starbucks, a single mother sips her non-fat mocha latte until closing time. She glances up every time the door opens for someone to come in, to see if hope has walked in and spotted her.

Hidden in a group of friends, walking the corridors of the mall, a teenager waits for this parents to call. It’s the call that will let him know that his parents really care for him.

You have 100 places to be and a million things to do, but are you willing to step up to the plate and search for these people, simply smile, and say “I love you and the Lord loves you.”?

Now we can begin to grasp the true message in the parable of the lost sheep as we sit comfortably, cuddly warm, and safe with the 99 who did not stray.

Do you identify with the old man sitting on the bench waiting on the bus? Did you know his wife of 50 years has recently died? All of his family is miles away. They never send cards or letters or call him on the phone. He longs for a relationship, even with a stranger. Will you respond to his need?

Do you identify with the single woman sitting at Starbucks who longs for conversation?

Do you identify with the teenager, lost in the crowd?

Yes, I know we have hundreds of places to go and millions of things to do before the end of day, but can’t we let these things wait for an hour or two and allow the Lord to use us in making others aware that someone cares about them? We are the hands and heart of God in this vast world in which we live. Do you feel a sense of urgency to reach out and touch someone with the love of God today?

I sense that is why the Lord placed so many churches across this great land. Each and every one of us has something special, a gift, to carry the message of the Lord to the lost sheep. Once we find the lost sheep, let us offer them the most precious gift possible, the Lord Jesus Christ!

I didn’t grow up in an active church. I was lost and wandering in the wilderness of sin and spiritual death. Over many years, many offered me a glimpse of the presence of the Lord, but until I became open to feel the Lord’s presence in my life and His personal invitation to be His servant I was lost in the wilderness. Each time we offer the Lord’s love and blessings to someone, He rejoices. Have you felt those blessings in your life as you talk to friends and strangers sharing your personal journey with them?

If you sense the feeling of the Lord as part of the 99, that is wonderful. But it is nothing compared to the joy you will receive when you offer someone who is wandering in the wilderness of sin, the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.


A Devastation is Planned

16th Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture: Jeremiah 18:1-12
As we take up Jeremiah’s text today, we see that God is planning a devastation. The information we have is an excellent 3-point sermon.
1. The pottery shows the presence of God as the divine Potter. He may turn at any moment and change the circumstances of our lives if we repent from our evil ways.
2. The clay represents mankind being made as the potter has desired. He will remake mankind when we fall by the wayside. He created us in His own image, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply.”
Mankind is the clay, which is warped as we stray from His love and grace. Still, He is willing to remold us and make us able to walk in the fullness of His love and grace. I sense that mankind has strayed very far from God’s presence today. God desires to remold and make us as the potter did the clay when it was not perfectly formed.
Jeremiah’s mission was to call the stray ones back to the fold of God’s care.
We must repent of our sinful ways and return to our Lord, Jesus the Christ. No matter how far one has strayed, nor how far the depth of that straying, Father God has the power and the will to lift us up from the miry clay of our sinful acts.
In the story of the prodigal son, our Lord is the Father in the depth of the Father’s love for us. We all know the story, but have we really grasped the depth of God in the earthly father’s actions of love for his fallen son? There’s nothing that compares to the love of Christ the way the love of that father does. He yields the return of his fallen son, and when he sees him coming down the road (a sight no parent wishes to see their offsprings in), he doesn’t hesitate. Rather, he runs to meet him, throws his arms around his neck, and hugs him. I imagine there are tears of joy streaming down his face.
He calls one of his servants, saying, “Bring a robe for his body and a ring for his finger. Kill the fatted calf. We’re going to have a celebration.”
The scripture states, “There is more joy over one sinner who repents than for 99 who do not stray from the fold.” One of the greatest sins in the world today is that we do not celebrate the returning sinner coming home as the scripture tells us to.
Many of us in the fold think we are really good because we did not stray. We have completely lost sight of the depth of our own sinfulness before the Lord touched our own lives and made us whole in His loving grace. The Christian churches today are full of retired Christians. They believe they are right with God and that they have nothing more to do for the assurance of their spot in the kingdom of God in heaven.
They are equipped by the Lord, but they have strayed from the path of righteousness because there’s no retirement for the faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. We don’t sing out in our lives and our souls, “Savior, like a shepherd, take my hand and lead me that I may be a faithful worker in your vineyard today.”
The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.
Tomorrow we will celebrate Labor Day, thanking the Lord for all the joys and riches we have obtained with the different gifts God has equipped us with in labor. Still, when was the last day you prayed and asked the Lord to give you wisdom and strength to labor for His faithful kingdom? We pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
May we pray that the love and actions of our lives will be offered in God’s laboring, drawing others from the wilderness of sin and death that He has drawn us from. We should pray that they may glimpse the blessed love of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen!