Sunday, September 30- Sailing

     In 1987, Burt Reynolds made a movie called The End. The movie centers around Reynolds’ character, who is dying. He decides at one point in the movie that he is going to end it all- commit suicide. So he decides to swim out into the ocean as far as he can. He will then be too exhausted to swim back and will drown. End of story. When he gets out there, however, he changes his mind. As he hangs there, treading water, he looks up to heaven and shouts out, “I want to live!” He then begins to try, against all odds, to swim back to shore, but it’s a long way. As he swims, he talks to God. He promises to obey the 10 Commandments. As he begins to recite them…he realizes that he doesn’t even know them! So…he promises to learn them! He then shouts out, “God, if I get out of this, I’ll give you 80% of everything I have!” He continues to swim, and as he gets closer to the shore, the number drops! 70%, 60%, 50%…all the way down until he says, “God, if you help me get to the shore, I’ll give you 10%!” Then, completely exhausted, he makes it to dry land! As he crawls out onto the beach, he says, “Well, God, just forget what I said…I can handle it from here!”
     Today, we continue our current 7-part series called The Giving Tree, based on the book by Shel Silverstein. The Giving Tree is a story of the relationship between a boy and …a tree. The book asks 2 questions: 1. what does it mean to love unconditionally? 2. Can we truly give all we have without expecting anything in return? And there IS a strong connection between love and giving.
Deuteronomy 15:10- Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.
     So far in the story, we’ve learned that a tree loved a little boy. Every day the boy would come, gather leaves, make crowns and play king of the forest. He would climb and swing from her branches, eat her apples and play hide and seek. Time went by, the boy grew older and the tree was often alone. Then one day, the boy showed up and the tree said, “Climb, swing, eat apples, play and be happy.” But the boy felt he was too big for that- he wanted money. So the tree gave the boy all her apples to sell. And the boy went away for a long time and the tree was sad. One day the boy came back, said he was too busy with a wife and children and that he wanted a house. The tree told him to cut off her branches and build his house- then he’d be happy. He did, and the tree was happy. But the boy stayed away for a long time. Let’s look at today’s reading:
  And when he came back, the tree was so happy she could hardly speak. “Come, Boy”, she whispered, “Come and play”. “I’m too old and sad to play”, said the boy. “I want a boat that will take me away from here. Can you give me a boat?”
     “Cut down my trunk and make a boat”, said the tree. “Then you can sail away… and be happy”.
     And so the boy cut down her trunk and made a boat and sailed away.
     And the tree was happy…but not really.
     The minister was worried- he had to ask the congregation for more money to cover repairs to the church building. It just so happened that the regular organist was sick and they had a “sub” that day. The preacher went up to the sub before the service started and said, “, “I need you to think of something to play after I make my announcement about our finances. I don’t care what- just pick something appropriate.” Toward the end of the service…the moment had come. “Brothers and Sisters, we have a problem. The roof repairs are going to cost twice what we expected- we need $4,000 extra. Anybody who can pledge $100 more toward the roof repair, please stand.” And at that moment…the substitute organist started playing “The National Anthem”…and THAT’S how the substitute organist became the regular organist!
     The Bible says that God wants us to give because it shows that we recognize Him as the Lord of our lives. When we give, we simply offer back a small portion of the abundance He has already given us. It’s easy to think, “If I do things for others, I will run short for myself.” But Proverbs 28:27 says, “He who gives to the poor will lack nothing”. Giving, at its heart, is an expression of thankfulness and praise to God. We need to think in terms of God’s resources, not ours.
Matthew 25:34-45- Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
     So Jesus says that what we did for “the least of these”, we did for Him. Sounds great…but who exactly is “the least”? It’s the poor, the homeless, the fringe,. It’s “anyone who is different from me”. It’s anyone who has ever been ignored or overlooked. But wait just a minute- have you ever been ignored or overlooked? Of course you have; we ALL have. So in the end, WE are the least.
    Aesop, he of fables fame, said, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” So often we pray to God, asking Him to touch people, to do this or that for them. Asking HIM to do the heavy lifting. But perhaps, what if, perhaps WE are God’s hands. Perhaps WE are to reach people FOR God. Maybe we should pray “God use ME to touch others”. Anything you do for others, you are REALLY doing it for God.
     And did you notice how surprised the righteous were about what Jesus said? And their surprise proves that good works don’t win salvation. We don’t show love to gain entrance to heaven. We show love because we were 1st loved. We offer others simple acts of kindness, with no big pomp and circumstance. God blesses us so that we might be a blessing to others.
     We’ve all been given something that we can share with others. Your giving supports God’s work in the world- we are blessed when we give to God.  We need to think in terms of God’s resources, not ours.
     Jerry and Muriel Caven owned a restaurant chain, 2 banks, a ranch, a farm and several other pieces of real estate. And at the tender age of 59, it was time to enjoy retirement. They moved to a nice house on a lake to enjoy the quiet life. But God had other plans. He led them to put both their money and their time overseas. They spent the rest of their lives pouring their hearts, souls AND wallets into the least and the lost of India. What changed their attitudes? Jerry said, “We realized that we were giving away God’s money, to do God’s work. And when we un
derstood that, we got a peace and a joy that we never had when we thought it was our money!” And what was the biggest result of their giving? They no longer held their things too close to their hearts. They realized they could let them go. They realized that things won’t last…but people will. We need to think in terms of God’s resources, not ours.
     Giving to God is sometimes thought of as paying our dues, fulfilling our obligation. But what is the proper way to think about giving? It is an act of worship, an expression of gratitude. We are merely stewards, so we should keep a loose grip on our stuff. Why? Because when we give, we are NOT placing our offering in the ushers hands, we are NOT giving it to the church and certainly not to the pastor. When we give, we are giving…to God. We need to think in terms of God’s resources, not ours.
Matthew 6:3-4- But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
     Do you remember 1980’s singer Christopher Cross? He had the mega-hit “Sailing”- the easy listening anthem for a generation. The person in the song, like the boy in our book, thinks that sailing will solve everything. The lyrics include- “It’s not far down to paradise, at least it’s not for me…Not far to never-never land. Fantasy- it gets the best of me when I’m sailing.” A common church fantasy is “someone else will support God’s vision here”. Fantasies are great, but in the end, we are called to move beyond fantasy and live…and serve…in the here and now. We need to think in terms of God’s resources, not ours.
Peanut Moment
     One night, a cobbler slept in the back of his shop in the tiny European village. And as he slept, he dreamt that Jesus would visit him. When he got up, he swept, dusted and got ready. He then waited with great anticipation. As he waited, he saw an old man pass by the window who had no shoes, so he brought the man in and gave him a pair of shoes. Later, as he waited, there was a knock at the door. It was a little old lady who was hungry. He brought her in and fed her. She left, and still the Master was not there. The day passed slowly. Later, there was another knock on the door- “Surely this is the Master!” But it was a little boy who was lost. The cobbler helped him find his way home. As soon as that was done, he rushed back…and found the shop undisturbed- no Master, He looked to heaven and said, “Why, Lord? Did You forget?” And as he sat there in the soft stillness, he heard a still, small voice, “Lift up your heart, cobbler. I’ve kept My word. 3 times I came to your door- an old man with no shoes, a hungry old lady and a lost little boy.” Jesus came to the cobbler just as He comes to us- as those who need help, who are hurting, who are hungry, who are lost. We need to think in terms of God’s resources, not ours.
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- Dancing With the (Hometown) Stars

Saturday, September 29- Don’t Like the Weather…Just Wait!

This time of year is fascinating. You walk down the street and you see people in coats and jeans. But you also see folks in windbreakers and khakis. And you see others in jeans and a t-shirts. Then there are the people in shorts and sweatshirts. And finally you see those in shorts, tank tops and flip-flops! Imagine how confused someone who was air-dropped in town would be, looking around at all that!
I don’t know what the weather is like where you are, but it is pretty…interesting here in Northwest Central Illinois. It’s been high 30’s to mid-40’s in the morning and yet rising to mid 70’s to low 80’s by mid afternoon. My younger son tries a different approach to clothing nearly every morning- sweatshirt, no sweatshirt, shorts, pants, long sleeves, short sleeves, whatever.
And this ever-changing weather brings out the personalities of each of us. I played drums at an outdoor concert about 2 weeks ago. There was a variety of long sleeves, jackets, jeans, etc. And I came in…ready?…shorts and a t-shirt! The rest of the band was shocked! “Aren’t you cold? You should be freezing!” But I must tell you…it felt great! Wear shorts at late into the season as possible! And it must be genetic- last year, my older son observed what he dubbed “No Pants November”! (No, he didn’t run around in his underwear! But he DID run around in shorts all month!)

     By now you might b e saying to yourself, “Well, it’s finally happened. The preacher has gone right ’round the bend. He’s spent an entire blog post…talking about the weather!” Yes, I have. BUT…there IS method to my madness. And here it is- if you don’t like the weather in this neck of the woods…just wait- it’ll change. That’s the way life is- it changes. What WAS yesterday is often NOT tomorrow. And yet SO many people in the world, so many people in the Church, live as if Nothing. Ever. Changes. While everything around them is on fast-forward, they try SO hard to keep everything status quo. And it just doesn’t happen!
The weather changes. The economy changes. The calendar changes. Life…changes. And we HAVE to change with it. There IS no “standing still” in life- we are always either moving forward or sliding backward. Period. So…which one are you doing? Are you moving forward…or sliding backward? “I’m actually ‘resting’ right now, pastor. Not moving forward OR backward.” And to that I politely say, “Horse hockey!”
We may not LIKE to change…but we HAVE to. But the upside to that is this- when we DO change…good things happen! We learn new things. We try new things. We stretch and grow in ways we never imagined. And THAT is when life gets REALLY good!
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- Sailing

Friday, September 28- The Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything is 42.

     Author Douglas Adams wrote a book called The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. He followed it up with The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Life, the Universe and Everything and So Long and Thanks For All the Fish. (He called the last book “the 4th in the trilogy!) If you like British humor, if you “get” it, you would love this comic science fiction series. If you DON’T “get” it…then these are the dumbest pieces of literature ever to grace the shelves of your local library! (By the way, I LIKE British humor and love these books!)

     In the series, a group of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings demand to learn the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything from the supercomputer, Deep Thought, specially built for this purpose. It takes Deep Thought 7½ million years to compute and check the answer, which turns out to be 42. Sadly, the Ultimate Question itself is unknown.

When asked to produce The Ultimate Question, the computer says that it cannot; however, it can help to design an even more powerful computer, the Earth, that can.After eight million years, the process is ruined completely five minutes before completion when the Earth is destroyed to make way for a new Hyperspace Bypass. The beings running the machine decide not to go through the whole process again and settle for the out-of-thin-air suggestion “How many roads must a man walk down?” from Bob Dylan’s song “Blowin’ in the Wind”!

     Many theories have been proposed as to why Adams chose 42, including the fact that 42 is 101010 in binary code, the fact that light refracts off water by 42 degrees to create a rainbow, the fact that light requires 10-42 seconds to cross the diameter of a proton. Adams rejected them all. On November 3, 1993, he said, “The answer to this is very simple. It was a joke. It had to be a number, an ordinary, smallish number, and I chose that one. Binary representations, base thirteen, Tibetan monks are all complete nonsense. I sat at my desk, stared into the garden and thought ’42 will do’. I typed it out. End of story.”

     Regardless of WHY Adams chose 42, I am fairly certain that is NOT the answer to life, the universe and everything! But what is? While I wouldn’t profess to know that, I DO wonder about it. And I wonder if, at the end of the day, whey all other options have been exhausted, the answer to life, the universe and everything is love. That’s it- love. Sound too simple to be possible? Perhaps. But if you read the Bible, if you believe in God, if you accept what Jesus says in the New Testament, then love is a fairly good answer. Jesus is asked which of the 10 Commandments is the great- they are trying to trick Him. But He replies by making up one…really two…that encapsulate the original 10. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.” 

     That’s it? That’s it! Think about it- if we all actually DID that, if we all loved God with everything we had and loved each other like we do ourselves…imagine what the world would be like! It would be…well…heaven on earth! So, I hate to disagree with one of my favorite authors but the answer to life, the universe and everything is NOT 42…it’s LOVE!

    Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- Don’t Like the Weather? Just Wait!