Thursday, January 31- Hallway Facelift

     I will admit right up front- I am easily amused! It simply doesn’t take much to keep me entertained. So it should not be too hard to imagine that I have been very excited about…new tile in the hallway!
     Here’s the deal- the Education Wing of my church is one long hallway with rooms on both sides that begins in the lobby by the church office and ends at a door to the outside world. The floor of the hallway was a BEAUTIFUL carpet. (Sadly, there is no such thing as a Sarcasm Font, or I would have used it there!) It was probably an attractive and perfectly serviceable carpet when it was installed, but it’s been a while since Ronald Reagan was in office! In other words, over the years of wear and tear, the carpet has grown…well…ugly and worn! (Just sayin’!)
      The good thing is that our Trustees Committee already had a plan in place to replace that carpet with tile when my family got here the 1st of July. Well, the installers walked in the building bright and early this past Monday! And they went RIGHT to work! They ripped the old carpet out, scraped up the padding (which had CLEARLY seen better days!) and prepped the floor. By the end of the first day, they had put the first coat
of…that stuff that smooths out the floor…and had gone home to let it dry. 
     Day Two saw them return and put down coat #2 of…that stuff. When I went home for lunch (living next door to the church, I do that often!), they had not laid a single tile yet. BUT, when I got BACK from lunch, they had half the hallway done! By the end of the day, they had the lion’s share completed. Yesterday, they finished up the edges, installed the molding and cleaned everything up. By lunch yesterday, they were gone. And the hallway looked GREAT! 
     It is amazing how something that took less than three days and really wasn’t that big of a deal can have such a powerful impact on the overall look of something. Sometimes, a simple change can have a profound effect on the whole. And that is JUST as true of our faith development as it is for re-tiling the hallway! We tend to think that we have to make massive, wholesale changes in our lives to be the people God calls us to be. And sometimes…that’s true. And because it’s sometimes true, we tend to get discouraged and feel that being THAT person is simply too far out of our reach, too hard.
     But often, we don’t need to change EVERYTHING…just SOMETHING. Often, we are close to being on the right path- we just need to make a tweak here or there. Often, we don’t have to completely scrap who we are, we just need to take the next step. And that seems a LOT more possible, doesn’t it? You are NOT that far from who God wants you to be. Take the step. Make the commitment. Get out of the boat. God WILL bless your efforts, in ways you can’t imagine!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
 Tomorrow- I Want to Be a Meteorologist!

Wednesday, January 30- Bad Girls of the Bible: Sapphira

    (Wednesdays are Bible Study Day here at Stick With Jesus. Today, we continue our current study, Bad Girls of the Bible, based on the writings of Liz Curtis Higgs.)

Generous to a Fault- Sapphira

• “To fear God is a good and proper attitude”- do you agree? What does it mean to fear God?
Holiness and sovereignty demand respect

• I have heard it said that, instead of “In God we trust” on our money it should say “In THIS god we trust”.
     The reality is that people worship money.

• D.L. Moody said- “Trust in yourself and you are doomed to disappointment; trust in money and you may have it taken from you; but trust in God, and you are never to be confounded in time or eternity.”

Read Acts 4:32-37 “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. 33With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. 34There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. 36Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), 37sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.”

We know ALMOST nothing about Sapphira or her husband Ananias. Sapphira means “beautiful” or “pleasant” (a precious stone of deep blue- the sapphire) Ananias means “Jehovah is gracious”. God certainly had been gracious to them, but were they beautiful or pleasant? We will soon find out that the first century Christian Church was not a perfect community…and neither are we!

Read Acts 5:1-2 Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.”

Read Acts 5:3-4  3Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.”

• How does Peter know?
Peter, with divine discernment, attributes the scheme to the devil and calls it lying to God. Peter said, “You have not lied to men, but to God”. He explained they were under no obligation to sell their property. Even after they sold it, they were under no obligation to give all the money to the church. But they WERE obligated to be honest.

Read Acts 5:5-6 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.”

     So far, Luke has told us about the things the disciples were doing after Jesus’ ascension. So far, the narrative has been about the power of the Holy Spirit in the disciple’s lives and about the phenomenal growth of the early Christian Church.
     In the midst of that, the story of Ananias and Sapphira doesn’t seem to fit. Why does Luke interrupt everything with this depressing story? It is not an interruption in the flow of the book but instead an integral part of the narrative. Hypocrisy can be a destructive force in the Christian community. If the Devil can’t destroy the church from without, then he’ll try from within. How can the disproportion between the crime and the punishment in this story be justified? Is phony spirituality as contagious as genuine spirituality?

Read Acts 5:7-8 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?” “Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”

    She came in looking for her husband 3 hours later, oblivious to what happened. Peter gave her an opportunity to be honest, but she chose to perpetuate the information Ananias had given. Did they lie to anybody? Or is it that she did and he didn’t?
     Ananias and Sapphira wanted more than acceptance; they wanted acclaim. They wanted to be more than members; they wanted to be prominent members. They wanted praise. They saw the acclaim and attention others were getting and longed for it, and that’s where their troubles began.

Read Acts 5:9-11 Peter said to her, “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”  10At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.
     In the book Home Town Tales, Philip Gulley recalls many long childhood Sundays when he sat through boring church services- he envied his unchurched neighbors. One Sunday, he slipped out of church and went to the local candy story, where he spent his offering money on Tootsie Rolls. He returned to church just in time to hear a sermon about Ananias and Sapphira!
     What is this story about?
1. Some believe that this donation was not a free choice. If it were, Ananias and his wife would not have attempted to conceal their retention of some of their money, which they clearly wanted to do. Instead, they were forced into concealing their choice – and paying the ultimate price when this was discovered.
2. Others interpret this donation as a free choice. However, Ananias attempted to look pious in front of others while secretly hiding some of his wealth. This greed culminated in lying to the Holy Spirit in which he was killed for.
3. Others say it’s a retelling of the story of Achan found in Joshua 7.
• In both stories, an act of deceit interrupts the victorious progress of God’s people. In the story of Achan, after the Israelites won the battle of Jericho, Joshua ordered that ALL the city’s wealth was to be given to God. But, Achan…well…read for yourself.
Joshua 7:6, 10-12, 14-15, 19-21, 24- Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the LORD, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads.  10 The LORD said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? 11 Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. 12 That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction. 14 ” ‘In the morning, present yourselves tribe by tribe. The tribe that the LORD takes shall come forward clan by clan; the clan that the LORD takes shall come forward family by family; and the family that the LORD takes shall come forward man by man. 15 He who is caught with the devoted things shall be destroyed by fire, along with all that belongs to him. He has violated the covenant of the LORD and has done a disgraceful thing in Israel!’ ” 19 Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the LORD, the God of Israel, and give him the praise. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me.” 20 Achan replied, “It is true! I have sinned against the LORD, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: 21 When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.” 24 Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the robe, the gold wedge, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had, to the Valley of Achor. 25 Joshua said, “Why have you brought this trouble on us? The LORD will bring trouble on you today.” Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. 26 Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. Then the LORD turned from his fierce anger. Therefore that place has been called the Valley of Achor ever since.”

     What were they guilty of? Their sin wasn’t so much ethical as it was theological. Their sins included dishonesty, deceit, hypocrisy and pretense. They presented a false image of themselves. They implied a greater spirituality than they actually possessed. They let people think more highly of them than what was warranted. They were more interested in appearances than in reality. 
     Ananias and Sapphira weren’t so much misers- they were thieves. They wanted the credit and prestige for sacrificial generosity, without the inconvenience of it. Their motive was not to help the poor, but to build up their own egos. But why did they die? Did God do it? If so…why? If NOT…why? Was it the “disciplinary hand of God?” Why did He do it? He doesn’t act this way, does He? Can we accuse God of overreacting with undue harshness here?

     The preacher was having a conversation with a disgruntled church member. The man was angry about a decision the church had made. He said that, until the decision changed, he would withhold his offering. The preacher said, “I understand. Can I pray with you?” The man nodded, so the preacher started. “God, You know the church made a decision that this man disapproves of. He believes strongly that You no longer deserve his offerings. Until the church changes the decision, he intends to rob you of Your tithes and offerings…” The church member fell on his knees, pleading for the preacher to stop…he had changed his mind. He was trying to manipulate God so that he could get his way in the church. And that’s why Ananias and Sapphira died. I wonder- how could Sapphira have avoided the trap into which she fell?
     So, what do we learn from this story?
1. This was a “free-will” offering. The Bible doesn’t say we are REQUIRED to give any specific amount to the church. Ananias and Sapphira’s problems had nothing to do with HOW MUCH they gave, but that they tried to use money to manipulate the church…and God.
2. For every member who lives for earthly praise rather than heavenly glory, the effectiveness of the Church is diminished
3. It is more important to genuinely be what God wants us to be than to maintain the appearance of spirituality
4. We need to avoid falling into the trap of Ananias and Sapphira
5. We need to be cheerful givers
6. We need to trust God rather than our bottom line
7. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve and NOT getting what you DO deserve

     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- Hallway Facelift

Tuesday, January 29- Why Does Bad Weather ALWAYS Hit on Sunday?

     I looked at the forecast on Saturday, just to double-check and see what I was in for. The forecast was this- “freezing rain, starting tomorrow (Sunday) morning at 8AM and ending at noon.” And guess what? Worship services at my church start at? 8AM! And end? Just before noon! So OF COURSE it’s going to be freezing rain!
     And sure enough- at about 7:50AM, the sleet/freezing rain started. It covered the streets and sidewalks, making it treacherous to both walk and drive. And it had a profoundly negative impact on church attendance. And then, by noon, it had warmed enough that the freezing rain had turned to regular rain and the ice was starting to turn to slush. Oh well!
     I’m sure it’s just me…because I have a vested interest in the weather being good, and attendance being good, on Sundays…but it seems that, if the weather is going to be inclement – be it rain, snow, sleet, freezing rain, hail, locust, fireballs, whatever – it’s going to happen on Saturday night into Sunday morning. Then you have to make sure that snow removal is taken care of. You have to make sure that all of the sidewalks are “salted”. And then…a lot of people don’t come because they are concerned about the conditions! It is one of those things that drive pastors (at least THIS pastor!) crazy! (And for me, that is often a short drive!)
     But there IS an interesting phenomenon that occurs when the weather is bad on Sunday morning. While many don’t make it to church, the ones that DO make it come with a different attitude. There is a sort of “we’re all in this together” thing that seems to be prevalent on days like that. Now don’t get me wrong- my church has a perfectly great “we’re in this together” mentality EVERY Sunday (and all the days in between!), but there is just something…different…about those bad weather days. It’s like those who have braved the elements and sallied forth come with a sort of pioneer mentality. “We have this shared experience.” And when those things happen, well…it’s a pretty cool thing!
     So do I want bad weather on Sunday mornings? No! BUT…if it happens, I feel I need to make the best of it. And isn’t that the best approach to life in general? We don’t want bad things to happen, but they are going to anyway. Therefore, we might as well make the best of it. We might as well find the silver lining. It makes like SO much more enjoyable!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
 Tomorrow- Bad Girls of the Bible: Sapphira