Sermon: King’s Reliance on the King

“Let us turn our hearts today to Martin Luther King.” -James Taylor. That is exactly what we do and we discover that King continually preached on Biblical themes throughout the his public ministry. Maybe he wasn’t being political at all, but biblical.

Article: Pardon me?

I came across a true but odd story about pardons….

In 1829 two men, George Wilson and James Porter, robbed a United States mail carrier. Both were subsequently captured and tried in a court of law. In May 1830 both men were found guilty of six charges, including robbery of the mail “and putting the life of the driver in jeopardy.” Both Wilson and Porter received their sentences: Execution by hanging, to be carried out on July 2.

 Porter was executed on schedule, but Wilson was not. Influential friends pleaded for mercy to the President of the United States, Andrew Jackson, on his behalf. President Jackson issued a formal pardon, dropping all charges. Wilson would have to serve only a prison term of 20 years for his other crimes. Incredibly, George Wilson refused the pardon!

 An official report stated Wilson chose to “waive and decline any advantage or protection which might be supposed to arise from the pardon….” Wilson also stated he “…had nothing to say, and did not wish in any manner to avail himself in order to avoid sentence….”

 This was such an unusual response because no one had ever refused a pardon before. Great legal minds did not know if you could refuse a pardon. So, this case went to court, all the way to the Supreme Court.

 The U.S. Supreme Court determined, “The court cannot give the prisoner the benefit of the pardon, unless he claims the benefit of it…. It is a grant to him: it is his property; and he may accept it or not as he pleases.”

 Chief Justice John Marshall wrote, “A pardon is an act of grace, proceeding from the power entrusted with the execution of the laws…. (But) delivery is not completed without acceptance. It may then be rejected by the person to whom it is tendered, and…we have no power in a court to force it on him.”

Can you imagine not accepting a pardon if you were in George Wilson’s shoes? I certainly can’t! If someone wanted to pardon me to save me from the death penalty, I would gladly accept it, even if I was as guilty as George Wilson (and knew it).

Spiritually speaking, many don’t see themselves guilty of anything. We play the comparison game instead.  You know, “I’m not as bad as that person over there.” Even Jesus tells us a story about this very thing in the parable of “The Pharisee and the Tax Collector” found in Luke 18:9-14.  In this story, the Pharisee prays this prayer, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.”

 God doesn’t play the comparison game and neither should we. Instead we should acknowledge our own culpability in the things that fall short of what God wants for us. When we do that, God is ready to pardon us in that very moment! When we point to someone else as being worse than us, what we are really doing is saying, “See, I am a good person” even though we are not.

The great evangelist Dwight L Moody (1837-1899) who founded “The Moody Bible Institute” in Chicago talks about pardons this way…

“Humans give pardons out for good character or good behavior; but God gives out pardons to people who do not have any charac­ter. God offers a pardon to every sinner on earth if they will take it. God says, I do not care who he (or she) is or what he (or she) is like. They may be the greatest unrestrained person that ever walked the streets, or the greatest user of foul language who ever lived, or thief, or tramp. Christ com­missioned His disciples to preach the Gospel to every creature.”

That “Gospel” is a “pardon for sin and a peace that endureth” to quote an old hymn.

As for me, I am guilty. I seek God’s pardon and peace. I know I am not that good, but I am forgiven.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

 

 

Sermon: The Hunt for (Red) Epiphany

I finally found the perfect Epiphany movie. The Hunt for the Red October. Why? Well, you have to listen in and find out. Yes, this is still about the wise men and King Herod. The story is still being played out today.

Article: Are you Listening?

I am sure all of us at one time or another have used headphones to listen to music or watch a tv show or even a movie. I use my headphones to listen to audiobooks when I am at the gym. (I use the Bluetooth when I am in my car.)

Using headphones insures that you are not bugging anyone else when you want to listen to something. However, if someone says something to you (while you are wearing headphones)… you can’t hear them.

Has this ever happened to you? First you say, “What?” Then you say, “Hold on.” You pause your music and take your headphones out of your ears and say, “What did you say?” That’s the downside of wearing headphones. You can’t hear anything that is going on around you.

The other day I discovered something amazing. I walked into a store called “Brookstone.” If you are not familiar with them, they sell a lot of unique and eclectic products. I wasn’t shopping, I was just wasting before going to dinner with the family. As I walked in with our son Max, the manager greeted us and immediately said, “Have you tried these amazing headphones?”

Of course I haven’t tried their amazing headphones because I use ordinary headphones. What made them so amazing is that they are “bone conduction” headphones. Instead of putting them in your ears, you place them next to your ears. Bone conduction technology allows you to hear sound through the vibration of the bones of your face (jaw bones and cheek bones). This means that the sound waves are bypassing the outer and middle ear (where the eardrum is located) and directly stimulating the inner ear (hearing organ).

So, I tried them on and listened to music through my jaw/cheekbones AND I could carry on a conversation with the people around me because my ears were not blocked by anything. Needless to say, I was amazed and now I want a pair!

At this point, you may be wondering to yourself why on earth am I talking about headphones?!?

Often in our lives we get so caught up in our routines and the things we are doing that we miss the things that God is doing around us and in our lives. It is like we have headphones in our ears all the time. Saturday is the day of Epiphany. It is the day we are reminded that God breaks through into our lives to be reminded that God is with us! For the wise men (magi), they saw a star that wasn’t supposed to be in the sky and they followed it to find the baby Jesus. Instead of looking down, they looked up!

Maybe we need to look up more often to see what God is up to in the world. If our ears are only listening to the things we are tuned in to, we might miss the whisper of God murmuring echoes of love and mercy.  As we begin 2018, let us be looking and listening for God and not just the busyness of our lives.

Happy New Year and God bless you,
Pr. Ben

 

 

Sermon: Hope Will Carry Us Through

As we close out 2017 and enter 2018, what is the thing that will help us move forward? Hope. We hear about two people who had hope that carried them through. If they had hope against the odds, we can too.

Article: Fundamentalism

The fundamentalist Christian movement began in the 1920’s as a hedge against modernism. This movement is characterized by a strict belief in the literal interpretation of scripture. Often the modernism that is rejected among fundamentalist relates to science (e.g. evolutionary theory and the age of the universe), music that is not specifically Christian and a negative response to anyone who doesn’t conform to their rigid interpretation of who is acceptable to God. (It is interesting to note that this is often reflected in a rejection of anyone who doesn’t look like or act like “them.”)

People are free to believe what they want, even if I don’t agree with them. However, the fruit of Christian fundamentalism is often exclusionary, self-righteous and at worst borders on the heresy of Pelagianism. Pelagianism has come to be identified with the view (whether taught by the British monk Pelagius or not) that human beings can earn salvation by their own efforts.

When any Christian is convinced that they have things figured out and have God figured out for that matter, self-righteousness often follows. When a person or group of people are convinced that they are truly God’s chosen there has to be a group of people who are not chosen. Unfortunately, judging and throwing stones often follows. It is really hard to share God’s love when we are judging and hating whole categories of people.

Every Christmas we hear the story from Luke about the angels announcing the birth of a Savior. They tell the shepherds that they bring “good news of great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”

 I take the word of the angels very seriously. The message of God’s love (good news) is for everyone. There are no pre-requisites for wanting to hear the good news of God’s love. If someone wants to hear about the love of Jesus, nothing more is needed! That is good news indeed!

What about change? Doesn’t the good news change people? Absolutely it does! But change doesn’t mean conforming to look like or behave like everyone else. However, God is in the transformation business. God wants to transform our hearts into containers of love. God cares less about what we look like and who we hang out with as he does about the amount of love we have for Christ and for others.

The Christian walk is not about behavior. It is about love. When we reduce our faith to a way of acting versus a way of loving, we have lost sight of what God intends for us. Moralism (behavior based activity) does not require God. There are many moral people who don’t believe in God. What makes us different is that Christians are forgiven only to sin again. Christians understand that we will never achieve perfection and it is unrealistic to expect change from others when we can’t fully enact change in our own lives. Instead, we love others as Christ has loved us. Meaning we love others in spite of their mistakes as others do the same for us.

As we step into 2018, let us resolve to love more, judge less and abundantly welcome others into the fellowship of sinners who crave God’s tender mercy.

Happy New Year!

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Sermon: Christmas 2017: Peace on Earth

Can we believe what the angels say to the shepherds about peace. Warning, it may not say what you think it says. Also, there is a bonus track from our band of Pr. Ben’s favorite Christmas song. Merry Christmas!

Article: Attitudes and Expectations

What kind of Christmas will you have?

Some of us might say, “It is too soon to tell.” Or “I will let you know on the 26th.” We don’t know what will happen on Christmas so we have no way of knowing what kind of Christmas we will have… or do we?

Yes, there are many things that are outside of our control including catastrophic events that could ruin anyone’s day. Outside of an incident like this (God forbid) there is one factor that plays a significant role in the kind of day you will have, including Christmas.

Your attitude plays a significant if not a primary role in any situation that you will face. Tied in to our attitude is our expectations.

I read an article by Debra Rickwood is a professor of psychology at the University of Canberra and head of research at Headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation recently. Here is a small portion of that article…

“There is a wealth of scientific evidence that helps us to understand the impact of expectations – from those attributed to a lucky charm, a pill or a positive mindset. Expectations influence how we think and behave, and how others behave towards us – all of which helps determine what happens in our lives.”

Now I don’t believe in lucky charms or placebo effect pills but I certainly believe that the expectations and attitudes we bring to any situation will play a big part in how you feel while you are going through it.

For example, if I bring negative expectations and a bad attitude with me to church, guess what? My experience will most likely be negative. Or if I am invited to a party that I don’t really want to go to and I act like I don’t want to be there, I am not going to have a good time.

Obviously, the same applies to Christmas. If you bring an openness and joy to Christmas, you will most likely have a blessed day.

I am reminded of a proverb written by King Solomon.

A cheerful (joyful) heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. Proverbs 17:22

 Even King Solomon knew that attitude matters 3000 years ago.

We have reason to be joyful which has nothing to do with the amount of money in our bank account, the size of our family, who we are spending Christmas with or how many presents we will receive. No, our joy comes from God. Joy in the fact that God loves us so much that he sent himself to us so that we could see for ourselves what God is really like. We can have joy because God has promised to always be with us (especially on our worst days).

I look forward to Christmas Eve. I am expectant that our worship will be full of joy and that our hearts will be warmed because Christ will be with us and we will be together.

If you are traveling this Christmas, pack your heart with joy and share with everyone you meet and spend time with.

Merry Christmas,
Pr. Ben

 

 

 

 

Sermon: Holiday to-do List: Be the Light

When I was a kid my parents would drive us around and look at Christmas lights. As we re-make our holiday to list, let us resolve to do more than look at the lights, but to be the light in a dark world.