Monthly Archives: May 2014

Possessions and Treasures—Where is Your Heart?

Most of us have visited a junkyard, or its modern equivalent of an antique and collectibles store?   Or perhaps you’ve gone to an estate auction.   All the above have the same impact on me when I visit them.   Everywhere I look there is “stuff” that people have worked and saved to buy.   All around me are what were once a person’s possessions—-“stuff” that they lived for and were proud of and had meaning for them.    Now they are fit only for a dump or the shelf of a store or to be auctioned to the highest bidder who is looking for a bargain!   They are an apt illustration that placing our hopes and dreams on material possessions will eventually lead us nowhere but to the junkyard.   Materialism has only junk value!!

Jesus taught that God defines “riches” differently than we do.   Our riches, in God’s eye, are NOT our possessions.   Our riches, in God’s eyes are our treasures—-and there is a big difference!

Think about these differences:

  • We possess a job—-We treasure the family that job supports.
  • We possess a house—-We treasure our home.
  • We possess a bank account—We treasure friendship and love that money cannot buy.
  • We possess a car—-We treasure the freedom that car gives us to go and come as we wish.
  • We possess a wardrobe—-We treasure the life and health that allows us to wear that wardrobe.
  • We possess an appointment book—-We treasure our time.

Jesus told a story about this.  It’s often referred to as the Parable of the Rich Fool.  

The Rich Fool doesn’t seem foolish at first.   He is presented as a good farmer and shrewd businessman whose land produced abundantly.   With wealth pouring in much faster than he could use it, he faced a problem.   “What should I do?” he thought  to himself, “for I have no place to store my crops.”   His solution was  this:   He decided to pull down his barns and build bigger ones, so that he could store all of his grain and his goods.   Then he said to his soul:  “Hey, soul!  You are doing all right!    Go ahead, relax, eat, drink, be merry.”    Then comes the surprise:   Death!!   That was something the rich man didn’t factor into his business plan.  And God said  to him, “You fool!   This very night your life is being demanded of you.   And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?

The rich man’s efforts on earth have been terribly misdirected.   He has been storing up treasures for himself, instead of becoming rich toward God by giving some of those riches to the poor and the hungry.   He was a victim ofgreed need“, which is a virus that gives us an “obsession for possession” and can infect any one of us whether we have a lot of money or not.

Jesus taught something very different in the Sermon on the Mount:   “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break through and steal; 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.”   (Matthew 6:19-21)

How important are your possessions to you?   What do you treasure?   We can each answer that question for ourselves by looking at two things:  (1)   Our Calendar; and (2) our checkbook.    They will answer the following three questions about what you treasure:

  1. How do I spend my time?
  2. For what do I spend my money?
  3. What is my basis for making decisions on time and money!

Are you happy with your answers?

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If you can read this….thank a teacher!

My adult Sunday School class talked about teachers last Sunday.   Since it was graduation time, teachers were on our mind and our Sunday School teacher asked us to think of and name a teacher that made a difference in our lives and the difference that teacher made.    Everyone could think of one and shared their name and what the difference was that teacher made in their life—and we are talking about middle age and elderly people that compose the class.   The class then listed a long list of the characteristics of a good teacher.     Some of the traits of remembered teachers we listed Sunday were:   Caring, Strict, loved learning, high expectations for their students, and many more I can’t remember. Teachers are special people and should be recognized as such!   Teachers are people who throw themselves on top of students to protect them during a tornado in Moore, Oklahoma.   These are the people who shielded their students from harm during shootings at their schools.

Most of us take teachers for granted, although they are the largest group of college educated professionals in our society.   They are tasked with the very difficult job of socializing the young and making sure that each student has the necessary tools  to be successful in our society.   As public school teachers, they have to take whoever the parents send them and therefore deal with a large measure of diversity of preparation for learning in their students as well as racial and cultural diversity.   Teachers  have to deal with language differences, with lack of social skills of their students, with psychological and emotional difficulties caused by dysfunctional families; with poverty and homelessness of some of their students; and most importantly  with a society that discounts the importance of the teacher’s work both in terms of monetary reward and respect.  What teacher has not heard the old saw:    “Those who can’t do, teach.    And those who can’t teach, teach others to teach?”   The state legislators regularly “diss” teachers in an attempt to defend their lack of funding for schools.   They keep saying teachers must be held accountable—-but the question is when are the legislators going to be held accountable for supporting teachers and education?

And yet we entrust the most important people in our lives to teachers every day —-our children!!   We trust that they will be safe.   That they will learn what they need to learn.   And our trust is almost always well-placed.    Sure—there are a few teachers who are lacking—-as there are lawyers, doctors, etc.

The  Wichita Eagle on Monday, May 19,  had an article about a church that is  establishing a “free teacher resource center” so that teachers can obtain the many things that they are now buying for their students and their classrooms using their own money.    It is estimated that teachers spend from $500 to $1500 dollars a year buying things to enrich their classrooms and to meet the needs of their students—for example, such everyday needs  as pencils and paper for students whose families  are unable to furnish what is needed.   This should not be, but it shows the character of teachers in reaching into their own pockets to meet their students needs even though they may be stretching to pay their own bills.    Thank God that a church in Wichita has seen this need and is trying to help out the way Christians are supposed to reach out to others.

State legislators recently gave teachers a slap in the face when they got rid of “tenure”—-one of the protections good teachers have from administrators who have axes to grind or are incompetent and threatened by good teachers.   Legislators  also are trying to change teacher pensions—not to improve them but to make them riskier and cheaper.    The word we have here to describe our state legislators is CHEAP.   They are getting so much more worth than they are paying for already, that any further moves may be more than good teachers will  be willing to bear..      We will then lose our good teachers if the present attacks continue.   Now our legislators, in all their supposed wisdom, are saying anyone can teach that has a college degree.   I hope none of your young children are exposed to someone who tries to teach them to read without knowing how to do so!    Teaching is a skill as well as an art.  Learning doesn’t just happen unless it is fostered by those who know what it is and how to inspire learning.  Teachers spend a lot of time developing that skill and art.   

During my 35 plus years as an educator I received exactly one letter thanking me for what I did for a student.     So—-how many graduates this May have  bothered to thank a teacher for the achievements they have made?    How many of you can think of a teacher that had a great impact for good on your life?    A teacher who helped you become the success you are today.    Have you thanked them?   Why not?

Why Church?……

Everywhere we turn these days we hear the words:   “I’m very spiritual, but not religious.”   this is a polite way of saying:   “I don’t go to church because it does nothing for me, for me, for me, FOR ME!”

This shows a fallacy that Americans have about what “church” is and should be.   To most of us in the U.S. we think of church as a place to go to be entertained.   We “church shop” just like we “entertainment shop.”    Which church has the best preacher—-one that we really like?   Which church has the best music?   Which church has a service that “speaks to me”?   which church offers the best programs for both adults and youth and children?   which church is the friendliest?    Which church has the most comfortable seats?    Which church offers the best hospitality—coffee and donuts, etc.?

Looks pretty shallow when we put it that way, doesn’t it?   Also, it looks very true if we are to be honest enough to admit it!

As long as we are ruled by “FOR ME” then those are the bases for our choice of church or no church.

How many of us look for churches that will help us spiritually transform ourselves?

Paul wrote to the Roman churches:   “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good, and acceptable, and perfect.”   Rom. 12:2

TRANSFORMATION!   That is the reason for going to church.   It just doesn’t take place outside a body of believers who are striving to make God the center and driving force of their lives.    To be spiritually transformed  is to place God at the center and make God the driving force of your life, rather than yourself being that center.

A family of believers who are striving to make God the center and driving force of their church rather than the needs of their institution is the church we should be seeking.   A transformed church is a transforming church.

All the shallow questions asked at the beginning of this post contribute nothing to what we really need to search for in a church!  What we need to search for are fellow-travelers along the Way of Jesus that will help us deepen our relationship to God.    That will lead us to true worship of the God who created us and who loves us and has called us to be his children.    Amen.

 

A Mother’s Love….

There is a common answer given by most people who have performed an heroic, life-threatening deed in order to save another human being.   In response to the inevitable question by a TV report asking “What did you feel when you were doing that?” the answer is usually “I really felt nothing.”

For example, a stranger who helped pull three children from a burning car answered the question about how he felt with the words:   “I didn’t even think about it.  It was happening so fast, and I knew I just had to get them out of there.”   Another example is the mother who lifted a tree that had pinned her son’s leg:   “I didn’t even feel how heavy it was—-until I put it down.”

You see, when love, care, and compassion for another take over completely, it is expressed in actions, not feelings.   Love is action!  Genuine love always leaps before it looks!    

That is exactly the love we celebrate on Mother’s Day this coming weekend—love in action.   Love is the force behind all the meals Mom prepares and prepared for us;  love is behind the chauffered trips to soccer, baseball, ballet, piano lesson, etc.   Love is behind all of those good-night books read to sleepy children by a tired mom at the end of a long day; love is behind all the walks and talks—-and all the other things that Mom’s do today and did in the past.    Our mothers may have not told us they loved us very often, but we knew from their actions as we look back on them how much they did love and care for us and still do if we are blessed enough to still have them with us.

So—on Mother’s Day try to do something that shows how much you love and appreciate your mother.   Don’t just tell her we love her, but DO SOMETHING TO SHOW YOUR LOVE.!

Shortly before Jesus’ death he gave his disciples a new commandment  (See John 13:31-35)     He told them to “show your love”.   He said “Love one another as I have loved you.”   He said, “By your love for each other they will know you are my disciples.”   And the love Jesus recommended was action oriented.   Jesus showed people his care for them by healing, teaching, and showing them his compassion—not just talking about it!  

How do we measure up to this commandment of love—-by our actions—not our words.   

Let me give you an example from my own life.   One Christmas, not too long after our daughter Lisa was married, my wife (now deceased) and I received a frame letter from her.   It says, in part…

“THANK YOU….

for staying together.   there are so few children today who have two parents.   Through your commitment to each other in good times and bad times you have taught me that love does not give up and it does not leave.   I saw modeled in you that love is a choice, not always a feeling.

thank you for lots of hugs and love.   You taught me that showing affection is a good thing and that I should never be embarrassed to say “I love you”.   Your affection shown to one another assured me that all was well in the world…

Thank you, Mom and Dad, for patiently persevering and loving me unconditionally even when I was the most stubborn and difficult to be around.   The love, sacrifice, and commitment you have shown me has not gone unnoticed.

You have laid a foundation in my life of security, confidence and love that has enabled me to love and be loved.   I am seeing the value of this foundation in my marriage and also in my most important relationship with God….”

This framed letter is one of my most important possessions.  It shows how love for each other influences those around us, including our children.

ARE WE DOING THIS?   Not always!   As this story indicates:

The story is told about a Los Angeles police officer who pulled a driver over to the side of the freeway and asked for his license and registration.

“What’s wrong officer?” the driver asked, “I didn’t go through any red lights, and I certainly wasn’t speeding.”

“No you weren’t speeding or breaking any laws, the officer said:   “but I saw you flashing the one-fingered salute as you swerved around the lady who was driving too slow in the center lane, and I further observed your flushed and angry face as you shouted unprintable things at the driver of the Hummer who cut you off, and I saw how you pounded your steering wheel when the freeway traffic ground to a halt.”

“Is that a crime, officer?”

“No, but when I saw the “JESUS LOVES YOU AND SO DO I” bumper sticker on your car, I figured, “This car has go to be stolen!”

LOVE IS LESS WHAT YOU SAY AND FEEL THAN IT IS WHAT YOU DO!   Amen.

The Kingdom of God….on Earth

Most of us think of the Kingdom of God as something happening  in the future.   That was not how Jesus proclaimed it.   He said it was near.   That it was happening now—breaking into the world during his ministry.   The proclamation of the Kingdom of God  was Jesus’ message to the world.  The Kingdom of God as Jesus proclaimed it was not “when we all get to heaven” or “pie in the sky bye-and-bye.   Jesus saw it as “breaking in on earth—-it was now!  He taught his disciples to pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.    The Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed was a new way of living—a very different way of living.    Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God set the business of living in this world in the conventional way on its head.   For example:

  • Blessed are the poor“-—not the rich as conventional wisdom holds.
  • Blessed are the meek“—not the powerful.  The meek will inherit the earth instead of the conventional expectation that the powerful and rich will do so and pass it endlessly on to their heirs.
  • Blessed are the peacemakers—they, and not the army generals, will be called children of God.
  • You have heard ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth’, but I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer.   If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.” 

These and many more are descriptions Jesus gives  of the way life in the Kingdom of God would be different.     The Kingdom of God is what the world would be like if God ruled in everyone’s heart!

We have had many centuries of Christianity and we still seemed not to grasp Jesus’ proclamation.    Our “Christian” societies have not brought us close to the Kingdom of God—far from it.   Society hasn’t changed much since Jesus’ time.    Let’s compare the two eras—-Palestine during the time Jesus walked the hills of Nazareth and the U.S. today.   

Life in Palestine during Jesus earthly life….

  • was organized into political entities that included city officials, territorial governors, and heads of state—-all of whom drew their support from the high taxes levied on the peasants that made up 90% of the population.
  • was organized around the worship of many pagan  gods.
  • was designed to support the political and economic power of those who were rich and powerful and who lived by different rules and standards than the common people.   The rich and powerful included the high priests and the temple organization.
  • was a culture where about 10 percent or less held the wealth and the land  and the 90% were peasants getting by on a subsistance living or below—just enough to barely live on and survive so they could pay the bulk of their income and produce in taxes.   The two constant worries of the peasants were food and freedom from debt.   Without food they starved and if they were in debt they lost their land and livelihood to their creditors.  Note that Jesus recognized this in the prayer he taught his disciples—-“give us this day our daily bread and  forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”
  • A culture whose religious structure and leaders worked in concert with the political/governmental power of Rome to maintain their power and influence over the people.
  • It was a land where people were lost and perished every day.

Does it sound familiar.     Let’s look at our country today….

  • We are a country where the rich and powerful live by different rules and standards than the common people and where those with money and power have become status figures.   No one knows who Charles Middle Class Smith is, but they all know who Charles Koch is.
  • a country that has many pagan gods—we call them by different names such as—-   Money….Power…Pleasure…Comfort, etc.
  • A country where 10 % of the people have 60% of the total income, while  the other 40% of the income is divided among the remaining 90% of the population.
  • A country where people with no conscience kill and rob on a daily basis.   Where life is cheap.   A country whose children kill and maim their teachers and fellow classmates.   A country where multiple murders are committed in movie theaters and at marathons.   Everywhere we turn there is violence, in our streets, on our TV’s, causing us to live in fear of each other and carry guns to defend ourselves.
  • A country where the greed and gluttony of huge financial institutions eat up the savings of those most vulnerable who trusted them; and do so in order to enrich their wealthy stockholders who demand a profit at all costs.
  • a country where the wealth of a Beverly Hills exists in stark contrast to the filth and poverty of a Watts in the same city of Los Angeles.
  • A country where the lonely and the aged, the poor and the mentally challenged are neglected.   A country where children have no access to health care and not enough to eat.    A country where the homeless and the misfits of society remain largely unseen and uncared about.   Programs to help them, such as affordable health care and extension of Medicaid benefits are the first ones to be cut from government budgets or discarded for political reasons.    We reduce food stamps and aid for struggling families in order to reduce the federal deficit—-while huge corporations that contribute to the re-election of our legislators continue to receive tax breaks and other benefits as they feed at the public tax trough.
  • We are living in a place where children go to bed hungry, without health care, and are homeless even though both parents work—but for indecently low wages that can’t support their families—and we still support the politicians that have made the lives of the most vulnerable people even worse.
  • This is a country ruled more and more by men and women whose only aim is to do whatever is necessary (whether right or wrong does not matter) to stay in power.

We need a voice crying in the wilderness like that of John the Baptizer saying “Turn around, for there is a better way than this way of Greed and Suffering that you are walking—it is the way of Jesus and the Kingdom of God he proclaimed.

We need this voice because people are still wandering in this wilderness of today, having lost their  moral, emotional and economic way—-yearning for something better and not quite knowing what that something better is.   They are yearinng for a different way of living that leads to a society where all of God’s people are treated equally, fairly and lovingly.    Jesus proclaimed that Way long ago.   He lived the Way.   The Church as Jesus’ body needs to Show the Way today.   

It is the mission of our post-resurrection Christian Community to proclaim the Kingdom of God through what we do and who we are as God’s people.   We’ve messed up for centuries—-let’s strive to get it right!