How do you want to be remembered?


 

Repentance

Repentance

“So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ.  When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”

How do you want to be remembered?  We have to accept that death is a part of this life.  Not to be feared, but to be a celebration of this life and the life to come.  From a jail cell, Paul wrote, “For you have died and your life is hid with Christ in God.”  The person you were before coming to faith is gone and you have been born again.  When that happen, life changes.

Lives that burned for the things of this world are transformed into selfless lives of service.  Things are seen for what they are.  They have functional value and it’s nice to have nice things, but not at the expense of being able to do for others or finding your self-worth in them.

We don’t remember people for what the took — we remember people for what they gave.  How do you want to be remembered?

 

Pastor Shawn, Seymour UMC

Author of Incomplete

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Authority.


 

God can do a lot with Little Judges 6:14

God can do a lot with Little Judges 6:14

 

I mentioned last week that we are near the end of Christ’s life in the book of Matthew.  He had made his triumphal return to the city of Jerusalem for the last time.  He had been hailed as a king, “Hosanna, Hosanna, in the highest!”

His relationship with the high priests, those that studied and were experts on religious custom and the law was contentious prior to his arrival in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover, a time of celebration for the Jewish people.

The people hailed him as a king when he entered the city.  Then Christ had the audacity to go to the temple and drive out those who were selling animals to be sacrificed in the temple.  Jewish people traveled from great distance to celebrate, worship and offer a sacrifice to their God.

Those that did the commerce in the temple took a little for themselves.  Let us exploit these travelers, these pilgrims.  Christ kept reversing the norm and upsetting those that took advantage of others. 

In today’s scripture, Christ enters the temple again, the very same place where he had just run those trying to make a profit.  He was teaching and preaching.

Those religions leaders I spoke of have had enough of him.  They approach him and ask, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

Why do you keep upsetting us, why are we the butt of these riddles you speak of, why do you keep exposing us?  That is what I think is going through their minds.  What gives you the right, who do you think you are?

To their defense not many people knew Christ’s true identity.  He didn’t flaunt it around, instead he kept it a secret oftentimes. 

Knowing that they were out to get him Christ responded to their question with a question, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things.  Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?”

Where did John the Baptist get his authority?  It was granted to him by our God of course.  He was called to be the voice out in the wilderness, paving the way for his cousin, Jesus the Messiah.  John the Baptist was wildly popular and had disciples of his own.

After discussing this among themselves, the chief priests, elders and scribes respond, “If we say, ‘from heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘why then did you not believe him?’  But if we say, ‘of human origin, we are afraid of the crowd for all regard John as a prophet.” 

“We don’t know.”  That was their answer, we don’t know.  Christ answered them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

Discovering who Christ truly is should be central to our lives.  We should want the answer to the question that was posed…..Oh that’s easy, Christ is God’s son, he’s part of the trinity that many don’t fully understand, there is your answer.

That is a correct, but dangerously superficial answer.  The Christian journey is a life-long adventure into finding the truth in our own lives.  That search for truth always points us in the direction of our God. 

You know, I read this week’s scripture early this week and I was sure that I was going to struggle with it.  So I read it again and I was still sure I was going to labor with this reading from Matthew because the meaning within it wasn’t obvious to me.

I would like to think I can read scripture and know pretty quick what direction I’m going to go with it.  That wasn’t the case with this in spite of the fact that my bible titles this encounter, “The Authority of Jesus Questioned.”

It was questioned during his lifetime.  It is questioned now.  Does God exist, can you see the work of his hand in this world, can you see the work of his people? 

I like to think that I stick to the scripture, but I got to thinking about authority when I was struggling with this scripture. 

Authority.  Was it important to respect and obey your parents growing up?  Of course it was, we didn’t always do it, but they are our parents and they are an authority figure.

Did, or are, you supposed to listen to your teachers?  Your coaches?  To those in law enforcement, your doctor, your attorney, your parole officer – if you have one and maybe even your pastor….Why……

Because each is an authority figure and each has power and influence and hopefully they know what they are doing.  Our God is the ultimate authority figure, to whom we will have to give an account of our deeds someday.

Authority figures give us advise, they look out for our best interest and they tell us what to do and that is where things don’t go so good.  How many of you like to be told what to do?  How many of you didn’t do something because someone told you to do it?

All of us have probably done that.  We like to have options, make our own choices, I don’t like being ordered to do something.  It seems like we live in a time where authority figures are questioned, judged and blamed.

It’s not my child’s fault, the fault lies with the teacher, with the coach, the principal or whoever it was that tried to provide something that looked like discipline. 

We desperately need authority in our lives.  We depend on it.  We need leaders within our church, our school our community that have the courage to step up and lead in spite of the insults hurled at them.

We depend on authority, we need it, we have to have it.  We depend and are reliant on Christ’s authority.  If Christ is not God’s son, if he did not die on a cross and was resurrected three days later we are all wasting our time.  You should have slept in this morning and you certainly should not be paying me to preach to you.

We would be random people living random lives that made little sense.  I would rather believe that I am wonderfully made than I descended from an ape or caveman. 

We need to respect and honor our God’s authority, we need to listen for his voice, for his guidance and direction.  Once we hear it, once we make time to listen for it.  He has a calling for each of us.

Doesn’t mean it is to be a minister, a missionary or a monk or a nun.  We have to take the courage to answer that call, to submit to that authority. 

I think that is what authority is.  We minded our parents, for the most part hopefully, and submitted to what they wanted us to do because they had our best interest in mind in trying to teach us and mold us into hard-working, law-abiding citizens.

Teachers, coaches, family and friends have played the same role in our lives.  It is no different with our God.  

He has looked after and cared for us when we turned our back on him.  We’ve had to endure and suffer and we didn’t like it, it was awful.  But did it make us better?  Did it allow us to be grateful and feel blessed for all that we did have? 

The authority of our God, in three persons, is absolute and pure.  The bible is God’s word, his letter to each of us, it is how he reveals himself in the written word.  It has authority.  Let us honor our God who works tirelessly to bring us closer to him. 

Pastor Shawn, Seymour UMC

Author of Incomplete

http://www.incompletedevotional.com

The kingdom of heaven……


This week the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner, an owner of an estate, head of a household, who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 

Before I continue, in Christ’s parables we are invited into the story to find ourselves a part of it.  With the hope that we can apply the lesson to our own lives.

The landowner, a person of means goes into town to find people to work on his land.  He goes out around 6 am and makes an agreement with those he finds there to work for the usual daily wage, a Roman denarius. 

The landowner went to the marketplace again at 9 am and saw others standing idle in the marketplace and said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.”  And so they went.

Before I continue through this parable, does anyone know or suspect who the landowner is……..The landowner is Christ.  The marketplace is the world.  And the vineyard is……………….Christ’s church.  Any guess who the idle laborers are? 

I was an idle laborer for many years.  An idle laborer seems contradictory.  It could be used to describe many of us at some point in our life, it but for a short season.

As a landowner seeks out laborers to work on his land, Christ is seeking, calling and employing laborers to be about the work of his church.  It is important for us to be about the work of the church.

Yes, we know Pastor.  I don’t know much about much, but I believe that once we become complacent, once the status quo is acceptable as a church, the church begins to die.  That is an important reason it is important to be about the work of the church.

The landowner had gone out early in the morning, again at nine, he goes out again at noon and three and finds more laborers to employ.  He goes out at the eleventh hour, or around 5 pm and found others standing around and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?”

What have you been doing here, nothing?  They said, “Because no one has hired us.”  No one has put us to work, no one has invited us to the vineyard to work, or invited us to church to be part of a community.

So, here are all these laborers.  Some have been working all day under the hot sun since early in the morning.  Some started at noon and some just showed up.  And now we’ve arrived at the end of the work day.

It was a common practice and an expectation of those that you employed that they were paid at the end of the day in biblical times. 

So, it is quitting time.  A hard day’s work for some, an hour of work for others…..I’ve talked about how Christ reversed the expectations of what people expected.

In this parable the landowner said to his foreman, “Call the laborers and given them their pay, beginning with the last and giving to the first.”

This parable has been very straight forward so far, but here is where it gets tricky.  Those that had started working last came forward and they were paid the usually daily wage, a Roman denarius.  

What a generous guy this man is.  If he paid a day’s wage for working for an hour, just think he will pay those that have worked since early this morning, since 9 am and since noon.  Am I right?  If I had been there since 6-7 am I would be thinking, YES.  Today is going to be a good day.  I’m eating steak tonight.

Guess how much the all the workers got paid regardless of how long they worked……….the same amount.  One Roman denarius.  One day’s wage.

And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner saying, “These last worked only one hour and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.”

I would be right there with them.  This is a bunch of crap.  I’ve been working all day, I deserve more.  I worked harder, I worked more.  Have you ever noticed how sometimes you or someone you work with or someone you know thinks they are entitled to more?

I’m as guilty as anyone.  There are times when we covet what God gives to others, blind to all that he has done for us.  I’m easily as bad as anyone here today when it comes to coveting.  I want a nicer house, a fancier car, a bigger bank account and everything else I want and I want it right now. 

If I see someone’s existence as more comfortable or easier I want it.  They don’t deserve it, I do.  God, why can’t I have it?  I completely dismiss all that I have been given.  We have all worked hard in our lives, but there is little to nothing of what we’ve accomplished or have that can’t be traced back to something we were given.

Given from our parents, grandparents, family, friends, teachers, coaches, mentors and most importantly our God.  Education level, intelligence, income, good health, safe places to grow up in – those are all things granted to us by the grace of God…..

I am usually first to take credit for what I’ve accomplished.  See, I am selfish.  I bet I’m not the only here today that is.  It is part of our human condition.  We have to fight our human needs, our compulsions, our want to do whatever we want whenever we want.

One of the best lessons we can learn in this life is to learn to sacrifice for others.  To be content and grateful for all that we have and all that we are. 

Not all of us are called to be saints, but we are called to help those in need.  We are called to make a difference in our own, small corner of the world wherever that may be.  To be pioneers in social justice.

This landowner, the owner of the estate was hearing from his disgruntled employees on how unfairly he had compensated them, even though they all had agreed to work for the daily wage.  He answered them, “Friend, I have not been unfair.  Did you not agree with me to work for the usual daily wage?”

“Take what belongs to you and go, I choose to give to this last the same as I have given to you.  Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?  Or are you envious because I am generous?  So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

We are called to live lives of service.  The reward for every man, woman and child who has faith in Christ, faith in the God that we serve, will receive the same eternal reward. 

So let us not be idle workers in the marketplace.  Let us not sit by in this world in our sin wasting precious time.  Let us be called by our God into service in his church.  And let us not covet what others have.

Heart of GOD

Heart of GOD

Shawn LaRue, Pastor in Seymour, Iowa

Author of Incomplete

 

Forgiveness….


Word of God

Word of God

The parable of the unforgiving servant.  This parable is pretty straight forward and applicable to today’s world.  Like the servant in today’s scripture we are to forgive as we have been forgiven.  All day, every day.

Forgiveness, the amazing power that forgiveness possesses, it frees both the offender and the offended.  It breaks the shackles and chains of resentment, grudges and bitterness.  With such tremendous power, forgiveness should be our number one option, our go to when needed, right?

It doesn’t seem to work that way does it?  When we are injured, our feelings get hurt or some event brings to light those things that we are insecure about – are we quick to forgive…..or are we quick to retaliate?

You’ve heard me tell you I’m a hypocrite before right?  When reading scripture or preparing a sermon I often times get exposed for my own behavior, for my own sin, for my unwillingness at times to forgive.

Sometimes we like to own those offenses, they become a badge of honor to tell others about and plot revenge.  Do you know what such and such did to me?  Can you believe that? 

I’ll tell you something I don’t get mad, I get even.  Ever had that phrase go through your mind and off your lips?  In our broken, human form revenge, retaliation, emotion and anger move us toward retribution.

But why would we want to hang onto such ugliness?  An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.  Those looking for scripture to support their case for revenge often cite that passage.

The message that Christ brought almost always turns human motive and cultural norms and expectations 180 degrees.  Completely reverses what was to be expected.

You must be last in order to be first, those that are humble will be exalted.  This passage is no different.  The disciple Peter approaches Christ and asks him this question, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive?  As many as seven times?

Seven times seems like enough doesn’t it?  Seven slams, seven sarcastic remarks, seven times you make me mad, seven times you injure me verbally, physically, emotionally or spiritually and I will forgive.  But the eighth time, you’re mine.

I don’t know where Peter got that number, but it caused me to think and reflect.  If you get beyond those that you live with, spouse, children, family and close friends.  If someone made you mad seven times how much time would you be spending with them?

Probably not a whole lot.  I would be avoiding them as much as possible.  I have a lot of work to do on this forgiveness thing.

Christ responds to Peter’s question of is seven times enough to forgive, “Not seven times, but 77 times.”  I read another translation that said 70 times 7.  Are you kidding, at least 77 and as many as 490 times?

As much as them seems to be I look at those married couples that have been together for decades, some for half a century or longer.  Do you think that forgiveness has been part of their story?

I think that it would have to be.  The inability to forgive leads to bitterness.  Is it enjoyable to be around someone that is bitter?  Our existence was not made to be heavy and burdensome with the weight of every slight one has ever encountered.

Our existence is meant to be light and joyful, full of compassion with hearts willing to forgive.  The granting of forgiveness is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength.  It can be done in person or in prayer.

After telling Peter how many times he would have to forgive he speaks the parable of the unforgiving servant.  “The kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.  One that owed 10,000 talents was brought to him.” 

A talent is a measurement of weight, it is approximately 130 pounds of what was probably a precious metal or something of value.  10,000 talents is equal to 1.3 million pounds of gold, silver or some other valuable commodity.  1.3 million pounds.

It was more than a lifetime of debt, a debt that could not be repaid.  The servant that owed this amount was well aware that he couldn’t pay it and when the king ordered that he, his wife and children and all their possession be sold to pay it, he begged for patience, he begged for forgiveness.

And what did the king that was owed this extraordinary amount of money do?  He forgave it.  Just like that….You know the bible is rich with symbolism, who do you think that the king in this scripture is?

……It is the God we serve, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  The kingdom of heaven is like a king that paid the ransom for those who could not pay it.  Who sent his son to die in their place.  A king that opened the treasure chest of grace and shared it with all and it pleased him to do so.

The servant fell in front of the king and begged not to be sold into slavery.  The kind of slavery that carrying grudges and resentments bring.  The king said that I forgive you of everything, all of it.

As the parable continues the servant that had been forgiven of a mountain of debt, whose family had been spared from being split up and sold into slavery, turns to another servant who owes him a fraction of the debt that he just had cancelled and seizes him by the throat and demands payment.

This servant got down on his hands and knees and pleads for more time, pleads for forgiveness.  The man that had been forgiven of so much refused to forgive a far smaller debt and had him thrown into prison until he could pay the debt he owed.

Very ironic that given the blessing, the good fortune that was extended that he couldn’t extend even a fraction to someone else.  Any guesses on who the unforgiving servant is in this parable…….

I’m afraid that it has been each one of us at some point in our life.  I know it has been me, I suspect it has been you.  It has been anyone that has withheld forgiveness in spite of how much they have been forgiven.

We have all been hurt, injured, slighted, talked about, gossiped about or made fun of at some point in our life.  We have to let those things go, we can’t control what other people do, we can only control our response to such things.

Word got back to the king of what had taken place.  The servant that had been forgiven of a lifetime of debt was summoned to appear before him.  “You wicked slave!” he says, “I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.  Should you not have mercy on your fellow man, as I had mercy on you?”

In his anger the king handed over the unforgiving servant to be tortured until he could pay his entire debt.  Christ would end the parable with this word of warning, “So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

An unwillingness to forgive not only haunts us in this life, but in the one to come.  Hard hearts, hearts of those whose lives are painfully difficult have to be soften by coming to faith, by knowing the healing power of our God.

We are called to set the example, to live lives full of grace, mercy and compassion to be an example, to witness to those that are distant from God.  To show a willingness to forgive as our Father in heaven has forgiven us.

 

Pastor Shawn LaRue, Seymour UMC
Author of Incomplete

Who do people say that I am?


Does GOD Exist?

Does GOD Exist?

“Who do people say that I am?” asked Christ.  Who do you say that I am?  A sharp, pointed question that might leave some struggling to answer.  Have we, have you, have I, thought about the answer to that question?

After yet another exchange with the leaders of the church, Christ has some quiet time with his disciples away from the crowds, scribes and Pharisees.  It was time for discussion with his disciples.

It is not uncommon to wonder what others think of you, even if you are the Son of God.  “Who do you say that I am?”  Maybe this question was borne out of curiosity on the part of Christ or maybe it was something of a test for his disciples.

Who do you say the Son of Man is?  Christ often referred to himself as the Son of Man.  Christ referring to himself as the Son of Man confirms his divinity and his human nature. 

When I pose the question to you about who Christ is and who is he to you, what kind of response would I get?  Maybe an objective, textbook-like answer free of emotion or attachment.  Jesus is the Son of God, Savior, Lord, teacher, rabbi, to name a few.

Should our answer as Christians be far more personal and connected?  I think that it should be.  This man they call Christ that existed on the same plane and form as God took on flesh to live in this world of selfishness, violence and pain.

He came to this world not as a military leader or educated, learned part of the church hierarchy, but as a suffering servant.  He could have had everything, but he chose to possess nothing.

Christ could have chosen more educated, sophisticated men to lead, that might have been easier.  He could have stopped the beating, torture and crucifixion that he endured.  He chose to follow his father’s will, out of obedience, not out of weakness.  There is nothing weak about Christ or being a Christian.

When you speak about your family do you speak in stiff, unemotional tones or do you talk about my parents, my children, my spouse.  I have referred to my kids as my wife’s kids when they do something that I’m not pleased with.

When you speak of your father do you say, “My biological father conceived three children with my biological mother?”  I don’t know anyone that talks like that.  It is personal, my dad, my mother, my grandparents, my children.

The relationship that each of us has with our God should be deep and meaningful as well.  My God, My Savior, My Creator.

Christ asked his disciples this question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but other say Elijah and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 

Some say John the Baptist, Christ’s cousin, the man with the strange appearance, the voice crying out in the wilderness, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

Others say Elijah, the prophet who upstaged 450 pagan prophets at Mt Carmel.  Still others say you are Jeremiah.  A prophet who was given the task of preaching to people that didn’t listen to him.  History refers to Jeremiah as the weeping prophet.

 The disciples had answered the question of who and what others thought Christ was.  Now come this sharp, abrupt question, “But who do you say that I am?” 

The pointed words, questions and parables that came from the Son of God.  Had the time he had invested in them made an impact?  Had they seen enough to erase any doubt they may have had?

The brash, outspoken disciple, Peter, fires back, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”….and there it is .  You are the Son of the living God.  A God that is alive, who works in this world to bring life to his people.

Peter did not say you are the Son of the cold and distant God.  He did not say you are the son of the God that we’re not sure about anymore. 

Christ is the God that took on flesh.  He is the God that desires to have a relationship with those he created, to those that he loved enough to give them the freedom of how to live their lives. 

The God we serve is a God that heals, reveals, that brings life, eternal life to his people.  After Simon Peter had answered, Christ said to him, “Blessed are you son of Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, it is from my Father in heaven.”

It was not mere mortal that had told Peter of Christ’s true identity, it was a revelation, a truth spoken to Peter from God.  How blessed Peter must have felt.  Not only does he live during Christ’s lifetime, he is one of his very disciples.  Of that chosen few God has revealed this most precious of truths.

Whether he realized it or not, Peter had attested to the truth, that Christ is the son of the living God.  Truth is an interesting thing.  Many search for it, but not everyone finds it.  We are called to search for the truth in our own lives.

The truth is that Christ is the son of the living God.  That much is truth.  But we are called to continue to seek him, to seek our God, to seek the truth in our own lives.  As I mentioned earlier, the relationship each of us has with our God should be personal.

It is not as easy as leaving here today saying, the preacher said that Christ is the son of God.  That is truth and now I’ll be on my way.  We are called into a deeper relationship with Christ and with one another.

On this truth, on this revelation, Christ said that he will build his church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.  On this truth that Peter attested to Christ built his church and in spite of all the violence, hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, shootings, terrorist acts, darkness, selfishness and need for convenience in this world, nothing, including the gates of hell will prevail against it.  Nothing.

Who do you say that Christ is?  Is it a question that you have given much thought to?  The Son of the Living God.  Can you see his work in your life, in others and in your church? 

Christ would continue, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”  Then he sternly warned them not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

We know that Christ’s ministry was a fairly short, it lasted about three years.  He will give the keys to his church, the keys of the kingdom of heaven to his disciples to spread the good news.

It would be the acts of the disciples and apostles that would spread the gospel after Christ’s death and resurrection.  It is our responsibility to do the same today.  We have been granted the keys to the kingdom of heaven.

To be the church, to be on the front lines of our community.  Helping those in need, assisting the poor and engaging people of all ages.  My hope for each of you here today is that you would draw closer in your relationship to the Son of Gog.

That your search for truth would begin and would continue.  That the revelation of truth that was granted to Peter would be granted to you as well. I hope that if the question is posed to you, “Who is Christ to you?” 

That you would answer with conviction, with passion, with the knowledge of blessings too numerous to mention in your life that has come from the God we serve.  Will you join me in prayer?  Good and gracious God, this world needs people that know you, your son and the truth that was revealed in today’s scripture.  In spite of the pain in this world, there is much that is good.  We have seen examples of neighbor helping neighbor, stranger helping stranger.  Continue to reveal yourself and your Son to us.  Draw us into a deeper relationship.  Make this church a shelter, a safe place and a place where your spirit is always present and everyone is always welcome.  Amen.

Pastor Shawn LaRue

Author of Incomplete