You Need More Manure in Your Life

Readings for the day (3rd Sunday in Lent – Sunday, February 28, 2016):

Isaiah 55:1-9

Psalm 63:1-8

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Luke 13:1-9

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

The Gospel reading today starts off with bad things happening to people, including a tower falling and killing 18 people.  And people are wondering what sin they committed that caused God to give them that kind of punishment.  Really no different than today.  People still think this way.  But Jesus says that we all are sinners and as a sinner we are called to repentance (which is part of our Lenten discipline).  No sin is greater than another.  Every sin hurts our relationship with God and requires repentance (which is turning from our sinful and evil ways); it means we have to change.  This means that we need to strive to correct that which is wrong in the relationship.  And then Jesus gives us a parable.

In this parable there are three characters, the man (the owner of the fig tree), the gardener (the one caring for the fig tree), and the fig tree.  Now when we look at this parable, let’s start off by saying that we are the man, Jesus is the gardener, and the fig tree is all of those people and things that we give up on?  Maybe that fig tree is that alcoholic family member that you just write off and say there’s no hope for him?  Or that neighbor who seems nice, but say there’s something just not right with her.  We even talk about how if this church burned to the ground, no one would want to rebuild it.  Are you one who is quick to give up or do you fight?  Many times it is easier to say no or give up than it is to say yes and work for something.  We look for the easy way out.  Why take the steps when the elevator is right there?  Hollywood shows our young adults and youth that at the first sign of trouble in your relationship it is fine to just end it – divorce your spouse instead of trying to work on it.  Give up rather than work on it.

So we sound like this man who had a fig tree who tells the gardener to cut it down because it isn’t bearing and fruit.  It’s useless, pointless, a waste of time.  Oh that’ll never work.  We’ve never done it that way before.  No one is going to donate money to that.  Why waste your time on that?  Have you heard those phrases before in our church and in the community?  I have!  In certain areas of our lives we can be extremely patient and understanding with, such as our parents, our spouse, our children, our closest friends.  But when it comes to community things or the church, our attitude can shift to being less patient, less understanding, and quicker to see the glass as half-full or nearly empty.  A church that is seeing fewer and fewer fruit on the tree.  Have you given up on your church?  Have you given up on God?  If you had, Harvest Homecoming and Farm 4 Waverly, which is the second most attended service behind Christmas Eve would have never happened at Waverly.  You pushed back against the man with the fig tree and like the gardener said, leave it alone and let me dig around it and spread manure around it to see if it will bear more fruit.  Well that is exactly what is needed in your life and in the life of our congregation, manure.  That’s right, you can always use a little more manure in your life, to keep your faith life fertilized, growing, and bearing fruit for God’s kingdom.

Now do you know anyone who has any manure that we can use?  Thankfully God doesn’t use the same manure that you spread out on your fields.  This spiritual manure comes from Jesus.  Let’s flip the parable around a little bit.  Instead of us being the man with the fig tree, let’s say that is our Heavenly Father, the gardener is Jesus, and we are the fig tree.  Now when the owner of the fig tree comes and sees that the fig tree is bearing no fruit for His kingdom, what does He say?  Oh yes, He says, “Cut it down!”  That would be God’s wrath coming down on you and me, the fig tree who is bearing no fruit for God.  But thankfully Jesus, as the gardener, dives in to save us by pleading with the man to not chop it down, but to fertilize the tree for one more year to see if it bears fruit.  This is what Jesus has done for you.  Jesus has stepped in, shielding God’s wrath from you saying, “Don’t cut it down.  Let me care for this one.  I’ll dig around it (cultivating your life) and spreading manure to fertilize your life.”  Even though you have screwed up and made mistakes, you aren’t perfect.  You do give up on people.  You do give up on causes and sometimes even the church.  You don’t always bear fruit for God’s kingdom.  I don’t always bear fruit for God’s kingdom.  And when we do, we often do a lousy job of it.

But Jesus isn’t done with us.  He is continually cultivating our lives and spreading that manure in our lives to strengthen and grow our faith in Him.  Just as we put fertilizer in our fields and gardens to help the plants grow and produce a greater harvest, God also uses fertilizer to strengthen us in order to produce a greater harvest for His kingdom.  Now, God’s fertilizer comes in a variety of forms: from various Bible studies, to many devotion books.  There are so many ways in which you can grow and deepen your faith in Jesus.

And yet, what is the greatest fertilizer that Jesus uses on us?  His forgiveness and His grace.  Resources used to deepen your faith and grow your devotion to God is certainly a good practice to get into and continue (even beyond Lent), but without God’s forgiveness you will still amount to nothing more than the fig tree in this parable that is bearing no fruit.  Without forgiveness no relationship can move forward.  Without forgiveness no relationship will bear any sort of fruit.  That’s the reason why the most important fertilizer that God uses on us is His forgiveness that is only found in the saving work of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins.  But without repentance, this forgiveness is like receiving Holy Communion without first confessing your sins.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls this Cheap Grace.

Because of Jesus, you are forgiven, and as someone who is forgiven you no longer have to dwell on those sins that have been forgiven.  You have been freed to no longer give up on something because it is something that’s never been done before.  You are free to bear fruit for God’s kingdom.  And that is exactly the reason why you have received His forgiveness anyway, so that you can live with God and faithfully serve Him by bearing fruit for God’s kingdom.  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

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Open My Hands, Lord

Readings for the day (Lenten Eve – Wednesday, February 24, 2016):

Psalm 139:1-10

Mark 6:1-6

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

Last week we focused on what our eyes see, or more so don’t see.  We often only see what we want to see, and we don’t always view people or situations the way God sees them.

This week we are focusing on our hands.  Look at your hands, think of all the things that your hands did today.  You got yourself out of bed and showered (well most of you).  You used your hands to get dressed and brushed your teeth.  Your hands were used to drive your car and do whatever work you had today, typing the keys on the keyboard, using that No. 2 pencil to take a test, texting people on your phone, writing some checks, making food for supper tonight.  Your hands even helped put food in your mouth so you didn’t look like an animal eating supper just a little bit ago.  Your hands have done a lot of things today no wonder your hands look so tired.

But you know, your hands also touched someone else’s, gave a hug, gave food to someone who was hungry, cleaned up someone else’s mess (like changing a dirty diaper).  Our hands do a lot of things to benefit ourselves, but they are also used to benefit others.  They can also hurt others, by not only hitting, but also in what we say through writing or typing.  We can hurt others in what we say through text messages or posting on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites.  We can choose to not lend a helping hand.  Did your hands help hold a door open for someone today?  Or pick something up that someone else dropped.

You see, those hands of yours have the capability of doing some pretty amazing things, but they also have the capability of doing some pretty terrible things.  And it isn’t our hands that choose what to do, you choose.  You choose whether those hands of yours are going to help or hurt, create or destroy.

Jesus, a carpenter, used his hands to not only build things out of wood, but to build up God’s kingdom.  He did this by healing the sick, forgiving the broken, and giving new life to the dead.  This is the mission that God now calls His church to be and do: to care for those who are sick and in need of assistance, to not accuse but forgive those who have broken our trust and hindered our relationship with one another, and to bring new life and hope to those who are living without any hope for the future.  Christ’s mission is our mission as the body of Christ.  We are called to live out that Gospel message by reaching out to those in need of hope and inviting them to hear this message of hope; hope in a new and restored life that only Jesus can bring.  And the only way that we can do that is by going out and telling them.  This cannot be accomplished by just sitting here waiting for them to come to us.  That model doesn’t work anymore.

And now I bet you’re looking at your hands thinking my hands are too young to carry out Christ’s mission in the world, my hands are too old to carry out Christ’s mission in the world, or my hands are too busy to carry out Christ’s mission in the world.  Excuses, we all have them (including me), but all an excuse is, is striving to justify wrong behavior.  Jesus could have said that because of their unbelief in Nazareth he was going to give up and go home to finish his work as a carpenter, retire, and enjoy the nice pension a carpenter gets (I’ve heard it is almost as good as a farmer’s pension).

Thankfully Jesus stuck to His mission at hand and didn’t let excuses get in the way of Him doing what He came to do.  As the Psalmist says, God knows who you are.  He knows when you sit down and when you rise up.  He sees your actions and knows your thoughts.  No matter where you go, God is with you and promises to always be with you.  God lays His hand on you and says you are mine, no matter what.  God’s love for you will never change; even when you make your bed in the grave, God promises that even there He will be with you.  There is nothing that your hands can do to separate God’s love for you in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

Look at your hands again, what could God use your hands for in building up His kingdom?  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

Fear or Faith?

Readings for the day (2nd Sunday in Lent – Sunday, February 21, 2016):

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

Psalm 27

Philippians 3:17–4:1

Luke 13:31-35

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

In the Gospel reading this morning, some Pharisees are trying to derail Jesus and His mission by trying to make Him fearful of Herod.  They tell Jesus that Herod wants to kill Him!  And Jesus would have every right to take this as a credible threat as Herod has already beheaded John the Baptist.  So Jesus knows what Herod is capable of doing.

What fears do you have?  Are you fearful of what the stock market is going to do in the near future?  Are you fearful of who is going to be our next president?  Are you fearful of the way the world is going with the violence and hatred, the disagreements and injustice?  We’re afraid of the future, aren’t we?  What will it hold?  Will my incoming source still be in tact?  Will my church remain open?

There are so many influences that surround us that try to make us fearful.  We get convinced to buy things because the salesperson tells us that our family won’t be safe without their product (which is sometimes true, but not always).  We purchase insurance because that’s a smart thing to do, and yet we make coverage decisions based on the fear of what could happen.  We are told to fear for our own safety and the safety of our loved ones and to take the necessary precautions in order to ensure their safety and ours.

What about in the church?  We look at the attendance numbers and the amount of funerals we have had already this year, and get fearful of the future.  We look at our budget and worry how much longer can we sustain this?  Fear is an interesting thing, because it can either be fully real or completely fabricated, and made up by ourselves or by someone else.  And regardless, fear can make us lose focus and make irrational decisions.

This reminds me of the movie Luther.  This 2003 movie I show to our confirmation students as a way to better understand what led Martin Luther to nail his 95 theses to the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg and understand the reformation movement of the 1500s.  In this movie there is a scene that shows this young single mother who has a physically disabled daughter who has to get carried on her mother’s shoulders in order to get anywhere.  During this time period, the Catholic Church was selling indulgences.  An indulgence was a piece of paper that one could buy to free themselves or a loved one from the punishments of their sins.  And during the time period of Martin Luther, the Catholic Church was selling indulgence with the proceeds going to fund the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.  In the movie, when the indulgences sales team arrived in Wittenberg, they used fear and scare tactics to get, among others, this poor woman to use the little bit of money that she had to buy an indulgence for her daughter – to ensure her safety for all of eternity.  Of course the sale of indulgences was something that Martin Luther was strongly opposed to.

So, like in the movie, fear can make us respond irrationally; we impulse buy and make rash decisions because we let our emotions get the best of us.  This is what the Pharisees are trying to do with Jesus.  They are trying to stir up so much fear in Himself that He loses sight of His mission at hand.  This world tries to do the same thing to us – it tells us that we can’t be a church without more people.  We can’t be successful unless we have a packed sanctuary again like it used to be.  We can’t carry out Jesus’ mission in the world and in our community because we don’t have enough people (plus what are people going to say about us – you know they might just think we are Christians or something).

And yet, even though you and I live in fear of something every day, there is hope.  Thankfully Jesus did not succumb to the fear tactics of the Pharisees and He did stay the course.  He tells the Pharisees, “Go and tell that fox for me that I’m casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.”  He wanted Herod to know that He would be keeping His focus on the cross outside of Jerusalem, the one on which He would hang from for the redemption and salvation of this fearful world.

What makes this story even better is the image that Jesus uses to describe how He protects His own whom He saved through the sacrifice He made on the cross.  Jesus describes Himself as a mother hen who gathers her chicks under her wings.  With Christ at the center of everything that you do in your life and with Him at the center of everything that we do in the life of our church, we can trust that by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, we need not fear for we have protection through the wings of Christ.

Do you let fear dictate how you live your life?  Or do you put faith and trust in God’s ability to save you, protect you, and lead you?  The same goes for our church!  Fear not, for Jesus went to the cross, died and rose again in order to destroy the power of death and fear.  All so that you may have life abundantly with God and praise Him saying, “Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.”  We will say this same phrase again in four weeks when on Palm Sunday we wave our palm branches and celebrate the arrival of the Messiah to save us from our sin and everything that causes us fear and anguish in this life.  Praise the Lord, for Jesus has come to gather us together and provide protection and comfort for all who call on the name of the Lord.  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

Open My Eyes, Lord

Readings for the day (Lenten Eve – Wednesday, February 17, 2016):

Isaiah 42:5-9

Acts 26:4-18

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

Tonight we begin our Lenten series focusing on what our eyes see, what our hands do, what our ears hear, what our hearts feel, and what we do in our lives all for the sake of the Gospel.  Tonight we will focus on what our eyes see, or maybe more so don’t see for the sake of the Gospel.

In the Acts reading, Paul is on trial by the Jews (so his peers) for abandoning his Jewish roots to be a Christian.  In his former days as Saul, he saw Christians as a threat to be eradicated.  He viewed them as trouble that needed to be done away with.  He even confesses that many times he voted in favor of the execution of many Christians.  But then his vision changed.  During his conversion on the road to Damascus, God changed his perspective, changed his vision of what being a follower of Jesus is all about.

And what is being a follower of Jesus all about anyway?  It’s not about having a large Sunday School, or a large attendance in worship.  It’s not about singing only your favorite hymns or keeping a padded checking account balance.  It’s not about arguing over the little things that in the end don’t matter much.  With having now seven deaths in the last six weeks, I wonder what our focus really is as a follower of Jesus.  Do we look at our low attendance numbers and say, “Oh well, at least I’m still coming.”  Or do we look at this reality and do something about it?  In the end it doesn’t matter which hymn we sang on a particular Sunday, or how the church is decorated, or how loud the children are during worship.  What matters most in the end is who you have put your faith in.  Being a follower of Jesus is first and foremost putting our trust in Jesus, and in Jesus alone; not Jesus and the checkbook, not Jesus and a drive for high attendance numbers, not Jesus and some flashy youth program – Jesus alone, which means believing that you are saved by the blood of Jesus that was poured out on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins.  That even though one day you will die (we got that reminder last Wednesday when those horrifying, but promising words of “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” was spoke to you).  Yet, even though we will die, Jesus promises us that we will live with God forever.

Now, I know I’ve said this before, and you already know this, but there are a lot of people in our communities who are not going to church.  Whether they are members that just don’t come or they are community members that never grew up in the church and so therefore don’t know much about Jesus or about being a Christian for that matter.  When you look at them, what do you see?  Do you see an upset former member that stopped coming to church because they didn’t like one of the former pastors?  Or do you see the non-church goers as unrighteous, good for nothings that can’t even get out of bed on a Sunday morning to come to church?  Right or wrong, what is your perspective of those individuals who are not coming to church?

What do you think Jesus’ perspective is of these individuals who are not coming to church?  I believe Jesus sees these people who are living in darkness looking for some light, looking for some hope, looking for a future.  And this is exactly what the church is called to be and to do.  We are not in the business of making money, nor are we in the business of making ourselves feel good or look good.  No, we are in the business of saving souls.  Plus at the end of the day, all of us will end up in the grave and all that will really matter is those of us who have put our faith in Jesus and those who have not put their faith in Jesus.

Like I said earlier, seven deaths in six weeks has influenced how I view my own life and the life of the church.  For me, what is most important is to prepare myself for death, and as your pastor, to prepare you for death.  Take for example the recent death that has rocked our country this week.  The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has brought about mourning and celebration, power struggles and disagreements.  Within minutes after his death was announced, sympathies were not offered to his family, rather both sides of the aisle were fighting for his seat on the bench.  This just validates my theory that so many people, even though who claim to be Christian, are much more focused on what happens in this life, than what will happen in the next.  If only we could see each other for who we really are, a child of God and that there are lots of God’s children wandering in Martin County that don’t know or who are choosing not to spend some time focusing on preparing themselves for death and the life that is to come.

This is where the church comes in; this is where we come in.  It is our job to see people for who they really are, a child of God who is living in darkness and cannot see the light of Christ.  It is our job to bring that light of Christ to them.  To do as Jesus told Paul, “to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”  Meaning, to spend all of eternity in paradise with God.  That’s our hope, isn’t it?  And why not share that hope with everyone?

This work does mean that we have to open our eyes to see what Jesus sees; not just focusing on what is most important to our selfish selves.  This means that we have to use our hands, our ears, our hearts, and our lives in following Jesus, making disciples for Jesus, and most importantly telling people that this is a life or death matter.  What is most important for you in your life?  For me, that is Jesus and having the hope that one day I will see my savior face to face.  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.