The Greatest Gift

Read Mark 12:38-44

October 31 is Reformation Day. What does this mean? This is the day Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the front door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This is the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

Reformation.

Every 500 years, or so, the Church goes through a process of “reforming” to bring itself back to the essential core truths of the Christian faith. When Luther nailed the Theses, he was giving 95 reasons why and where the Catholic Church had gone wrong in her teaching and way of life in the world.

Every so often God raises up a people to lead the way to bring His Church back to Jesus Christ. It is amazing how far, and how fast, God’s people can veer off His path. Many want to place sole blame on the clergy and leaders, but the reality is we all (lay people included) need to be reminded, and led, back to Jesus. IF we don’t we’ll impose our fallen humanity on the Church and the Church will be shaped more like the culture rather than the surrounding culture being shaped by the teaching of the Church.

At this point, we should all say, “OUCH!” Why? Because it is up to us to stay close to the teachings of Jesus through his life, the scriptures, the early church, early church fathers, the Holy Spirit today. The time of reformation is to remind God’s people the Church is not about them. The Church is about Him…it’s all about Jesus…It’s Jesus’ church.

This is also a time to remember we don’t “go to church,” WE ARE THE CHURCH.

So when we read a passage like what we have today, It’s important to make sure we are interpreting it correctly.

Jesus is being harsh with the religious people, the leadership, for how they are acting and imposing undo rules and standard among the people. This was actually creating a hardship on the people. In other words, the people were being bled dry.

Jesus noticed the leaders were not held to the same standards as everyone else. The leaders (we can also think of world leaders not just church leaders) liked to dress up and reserve the best seats and positions of honor for themselves.

Because of this, those people will have already have their reward (earthly riches) here on earth. Jesus even goes on to say they will receive severe, harsh punishment for how they treated others, especially the poor. “Those of you familiar with Dante’s The Inferno will recall the hellish punishment Dante imagined would come to hypocrites: for all eternity they would wear the most gorgeous of flowing robes, looking ever-so-lovely on the outside.  But those robes would be lined with lead, making the very act of standing up straight an abiding agony.  Such would indeed be a fit punishment for those who spent their lives harboring ugliness and selfishness on the inside even as they exuded nothing but superior piety on the outside.

This brings us to our first question we need to ask ourselves…

What standards have been placed on leadership? You? Have you placed on others? Can you live up to the standards?

It’s always important to be able to walk the talk. Leadership, really anyone, should never ask of anyone anything they are not willing to do themselves. Unfortunately, we still live in a dog eat dog world so we still live with the mentality it is okay to do whatever needs to be done. In other words, the ends justify the means.

But Jesus is constantly asking us to look at things differently. He is calling us to reform and reshape our minds and lives, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is asking his people to pay attention to what’s really going on. Don’t just take other people’s words for what’s being done. Actually take time to look beyond outward appearances and learn the motives.

When the reformation started, Martin Luther was simply trying to bring the Church back to her roots. He did not intend to begin a new denomination, the Lutheran Church. Luther took time to study and pay attention to the theology and the people and the leaders. After many days of prayer, of fasting, of study, the Spirit spoke to, and through, Luther to post the Theses (complaints) against the Church.

Much of this had to do with “payments” the people were required to make. (Notice the similarities to the widow in this passage. History is circular unless someone comes along and points our errors and makes changes.)

It was easy for the rich to make the payments. But what about the poor? What about those who cannot live on their own? Remember the words of James, in his letter, “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:26-27 NIV)

We should always be asking what God is calling the church to do, that no one else can do, and continue to join God in the work he is doing in this world.

When the poor, the working poor, the destitute, the least/last/lost, come through our doors, let’s continue to make them feel welcome. No matter how much they can give or contribute.

This brings us to our next question…

What do you pay attention to when people give? 

In other words, is there any part of you that feels like someone should give more? Do we ever feel like people are giving too much?

Look at the passage again. Jesus pays attention to the crowd and hones in on this widow. Widows were supposed to be taken care of by the community. They needed help because they did not have a husband to care for and provide for them (that’s how their society was set up). 

So when Jesus saw her put in the coins, think about how Jesus would have sounded. How would he have felt? Jesus could have spoken in a soft, sad, voice because the widow gave all she had to live on. She would not have been able to buy even a piece of bread.

Jesus commends her, yet also knows the toll this contribution will have on the livelihood of the widow. There is a big hint Jesus doesn’t like what’s going on. Notice he doesn’t stop her. He observes. Jesus then makes an observation about giving that is still important to us today.

He commends the widow on her obedience to giving.

Our final question today is…

Do you live a life of obedience to God? Know God will provide your every need? Can you be cheerfully obedient?

It’s always easy to give when we have enough. But when we are struggling financially, what is the first thing to go? Giving. And not just giving to the Church, but giving in the community. We’ll take back our time even because we need more time to make ends meat, etc. 

But this is a time for a spiritual gut check. How obedient, and willing to give to God, when it creates a hardship on you? Now, I am not calling us to give and leave nothing for us. I am asking us to pay attention to what it is we really trust in.

Luther had no idea what would happen when he posted the 95 Theses. He knew his career, as a monk was over. But he still did what mattered because he knew God would provide for his every need. God does the same for us. 

Why does all this matter?

The life of Christ is all about living in such a way the world knows how much you and I love God (and people) by how much we give and give back. It’s not about “keeping up appearances” with others, it is all about living a life of joy trusting that God will do what he will do and will provide what’s needed.

This week. Praise God for how He is working and moving in the world and in and through you. Praise God for the way He is providing for your every need. Find ways to serve (give time). Ask God if we are giving sacrificial (financially) so we trust in His provision and presence in our lives.

Finally, praise God every day for the gift of His love and guidance to bring us back to the core truths of the Christian faith. Praise God for reminding us who Jesus is because we all need to see and know who we are being recreated and reformed into.

God is providing for you. You and I are blessed so we can be a blessing to others. Know this and live this always. Why? Because the greatest gift we can give the world is a life of pure obedience to God through Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Good & Perfect Gifts

Hello church!

Sunday, in worship, we began a new five week worship series going through the book of James. I believe this letter will challenge and encourage us in our walk with Jesus Christ and help us live our lives more faithfully.

There is always more than can be said in a Sunday sermon. These devotionals during the week will hopefully help us keep the Scripture and the message in our minds. If we allow it to, the Scripture can go into our hearts so the word given to us by God is implanted on our hearts and we can be transformed people who work with God to transform the world.

This series is called “Transformers” since that is what the Spirit of God does in us and works through us and we step out in faith to transform the world with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Martin Luther called James, “an eptistle of straw” because the letter appeared to ficus more on being justified by works and not faith. John Wesley, on the other hand, saw James as central to the Christian life because he saw it was showing how we can live out our faith so that our works match the faith we have been given.

James 1:17-18 CEB “Every good gift, every perfect gift, comes from above. These gifts come down from the Father, the creator of the heavenly lights, in whose character there is no change at all. He chose to give us birth by his true word, and here is the result: we are like the first crop from the harvest of everything he created.”

What is it you first hear when you read these verses? A child will most likely think of a material gift, something tangible. What about adults? I think it depends on the mindset and the character of the person. I have begun to think differently about “good and perfect gifts” the older I get.

My baby girl had a birthday recently and my wife and I celebrated it. We had the opportunity to go to the zoo and go to her favorite restaurant. My girl did not want a lot of people there, she seemed to want a simple birthday party. She did say she wanted a surprise birthday party and my wife reminded her “we don’t plan our own surprise parties because then it wouldn’t be a surprise.” So, she wanted a small birthday just with some family, and that’s what she got. It was an incredible day!

It also makes me chuckle to think about the times we would be in the store and want to walk down the toy aisle. Since her birthday was coming up quickly, she would point to every toy she wanted. I don’t think there was anything down the aisle she didn’t want. But, she was expressing some material items that she would play with and would help make her doll and toys collections complete. She was looking for the “perfect gifts.”

What about us as adults? What would really constitute a “good and perfect gift” for us? Lately, I have begun to thank God at the end of each day for the challenges, the frustrations, the times I lost patience, the times I was caught being arrogant and not understanding, and many more moments like this throughout the day. Could these be considered “good and perfect gifts?” I think so.

Without opportunities for us to experience a less than desirable feelings and emotions throughout the day, we would lose the chance for character development so we can learn to live more humbly. Even though I thank God for these difficult moments from the day, it doesn’t mean that I realized what was going on in the moment. Self-reflection is a good practice we should do at the end of the day, not to make us feel bad for our actions or thoughts or emotions, but to take the time to look back and see how God was with us throughout the day.

We have been given the gift of life so we can make a difference in the world. God allows us to go through situations to work in us so we can become stronger in our emotions, stronger in our character and be transformed into the person He created us to be.

Am I saying that the bad things that happen are from God, or that God causes them to happen? Not at all. I am saying we can view life as a gift with opportunities to become more because the Spirit of God is alive and active within us. In verses 13 and fourteen, James writes:

“No one who is tested should say, “God is tempting me!” This is because God is not tempted by any form of evil, nor does he tempt anyone. Everyone is tempted by their own cravings; they are lured away and enticed by them.”

We do have the ability to choose how we will live our lives. Unfortunately, some people take that freedom of choosing and impose their will on another person. These circumstances, I believe, do not come from God. If you have gone through something that another person did to you without your consent or desire, there is a perfect gift that is available to all people – Jesus Christ.

His is the gift that keeps on giving. He has promised never to leave or forsake us. He is with you and is with you through everything you go through. There is a counselor, the Holy Spirit, who walks with us each day. This is a “good and perfect gift,” because God, the Creator of the universe is with you and I each and every day.

God has and continues to choose you. His devotion to you is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. We may not be able to “feel” God present, but He is there and He has not and will not leave you.

I pray the message of God’s good character and the gift of Jesus Christ sinks in to you to be transformed so we can work with Christ to transform the world. 

Will you take time to accept the gift that God gave us and allow this gift to transform you?

“Be who you say you are, yes!; but more importantly, allow God to work in you to transform you into the person He created.”