“Christmas: Star and Scepter”

SERMON BY THE REVEREND AMOS MCCARTHY

FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT

DECEMBER 4, 2018

Title: Christmas: Star and Scepter

 

Text: “There shall come a star out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17).

 

Scripture Reading: Matthew 2:1-12; Numbers 24:12-17

 

What blessings did Christ’s coming bring to the world? What blessings does he offer to our hearts now? A point of relevance is found in this story: In 1988, Anissa Ayala was sixteen years old and diagnosed with a rare form of Leukemia. The doctors said that if she did not receive a bone marrow transplant after chemotherapy and radiation treatment she would die. Neither her parents nor her brother was a match, and they could not find a donor elsewhere. Her parents, both in their forties, conceived another child and hoped that its bone marrow would be compatible with Anissa’s.

To their great delight it was determined that this new baby was a compatible donor, and when Marissa Ayala was fourteen months-old they took some of her marrow and gave it Anissa. Anissa made a full recovery from the Leukemia and both sisters lead healthy lives today. In a very real sense Marissa saved her sister’s life. She says, “Without me being a perfect match for my sister, she would not be here.”

Jesus was born into this world for the express purpose of saving us. He is the one and only Saviour that can save all those who put their trust in Him. Christmas marks the day we celebrate His birth, and without Him we would not have salvation.

The answer from this text is a star and scepter, guidance and security, revelation and sovereignty.  What blessing do we need more today than light amid our darkness and power amid our weakness? What light can compare with the light of Bethlehem’s star, and what power can compare with the power of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords?  The message of our text is carried in two figures, the star and the scepter.

The blessings of Christ’s coming is set forth by a star. Considering two distinct Scriptures together, our text (Numbers 2:4:17 and Matthew 2:1-2, you have prophecy and fulfillment, both symbol and fact.  “There shall come a star out of Jacob.” That is prophecy. “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him” (Matt. 2:1-2).  This is in fulfillment of prophecy. It shows Jesus Christ as the giver of light. Jesus Christ is compared more than once in Scripture to a sun (Malachi 4:2; Luke 1:78). It is quite easy to see why Jesus is compared to a star. What did that star symbolize?

The first thing that star symbolize is that star was and is a beacon of hope, an announcement of hope’s fulfillment. Jeremiah spoke of “the hope of Israel” (Jeremiah 14:8, 17:13).The hope of Israel was a stock phrase in Jesus’ day used to refer to the coming Messiah.  Paul, imprisoned in Rome, used it in the past tense, “that for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain” (Acts 28:20). That star over Bethlehem said, “Look! Hope is fulfilled! The Christ has been born! He is here! See his star!

That star was and is a symbol of revelation and light.  The prophet Isaiah said, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined” (Isaiah 9:2). After the birth of John the Baptist, his father, Zacharias, steeped in the messianic prophecies and led by the Holy Spirit, spoke of the visitation of “the day spring from on high, to give light to them that sit in darkness” (Luke 1:78-79.  In the first verses of his gospel, John says, “In him was life: and the life was the light of men. And the shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not” ( John 1:4-5). The tragedy of the darkness that has settled down in our day is that it is so unncessary. The light has come. The light shines.

That star was and is a fixed point by which to steer, a faithful standard to guide us on our way to eternal life. Before instruments, charts, and radar, it was the stars that guided ships into the harbor.  The stars were fixed, stable, unvarying. This is the message of Bethlehem’s star:God is faithful.

That star was and is the only anchor for our faith.  If we are living in a stormy time when darkness often settles upon us, we know that above the darkness that stars of God’s love are shining, holding the world together.  Christmas brings hope, light, guidance, and faith.

The blessing of Christ coming is also set forth by a scepter.

An oriental monarch was always provided with a scepter that he carried as a symbol of his authority.  If, as a king sat upon the throne, one of his subjects came and bowed down before him, the touch of the king’s scepter was a signal to arise.  A scepter in the hand of a king meant authority and rule, majesty and power.

When Jeremiah said, “And a Scepter shall rise out of Israel,” he was saying a king shall come out of Israel.  And so say all prophets. Christmas is “good tidings of great joy” (Luke 2:10). What are the “good tidings”?

First, they say the king has been born.  When the strange visitors appeared in Jerusalem to ask, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?”  Herod was troubled for fear of a possible rival. Being unable to answer, he called together the chief priest and scribes of the people. They cited an ancient prophecy, chapter and verse, “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Mic. 5:2).  Bethlehem. Bethlehem was a small town but it was famous and powerful. The name Bethlehem means “House of bread.” It was in Bethlehem that Jacob buried Rachel (Genesis 48:7). It was in Bethlehem that Ruth had lived when she married Boaz. Bethlehem was the home and the city of David (1 Samuel 16:1), and it was for the water of the well of Bethlehem David longed when he was hunted a fugitive upon the hills(2 Samuels 23:14-14).  The importance of Bethlehem is that being the city of David, it was from the line of David God was to send a great deliverer of his people as we find above in Mic. 5:2. This little city was to be the birthplace of Jesus, and it was so. The king has been born. A scepter has indeed risen out of Israel.

William Barclay explains how the traveller H. V. Morton visited the church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.There was a great wall with a door so low, one had to stoop to enter it. Beneath the high altar of the church is a cave.  In the floor in the cave is a star with a Latin inscription:’Here Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary.’

When the Lord of Glory came to this earth, he was born in a cave where animals were sheltered. The cave in the Church of the Nativity may be that same cave, or it may not be. That we may never know for certain.  But there is something beautiful in the symbolism that the church where the cave is has a door so low that all must stoop to enter. It is supremely fitting that people should approach the infant Jesus upon their knees. Indeed a Savior is born.

But again, the news of Christmas is that a government has been established, not will be, but has been.  The first truth of life is this: God rules! His sovereignty remains. All authority, in heaven and on earth has been committed unto the Lord and King who was born that day (Matt. 28:18).  A government has been established. “Of the increase of his government…there shall be no end” (Isaiah 9:7). Thank God the rule of this world is in his hands and not in the hands of mere humans.

And last, the news of Christmas is that the consummation of his kingdom is coming.  The king has been born? Yes, long since. His government has been established. All authority and rule is his, even now.  But there are still those who rebel against his rule, and it will not always be so. A time will come when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that he is King (Philippians 2:10-11).  That time is coming.

The coming of Jesus was foretold in the Old Testament almost four hundred and fourteen times.  These messianic prophecies came to pass. It tells about the blessings Christ coming brings to the world. The coming of Christ as a blessing to the world is set forth by a star and a scepter.  It signifies hope and light. It signifies guidance and security. It is a blessing of faith. In this dark world of ours, which is fill with sin and hate, who knows what to do? Who knows which way to turn?  It is too much for humans, but not for God. As we prepare for the coming of our Lord, let us know that Jesus Christ is the reason for this season. God bless you.

    

“The Stewardship of Gratitude”

SERMON BY THE REVEREND AMOS MCCARTHY

LAST SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

NOVEMBER 25, 2018

 

Title: “The Stewardship of Gratitude”

Text: “What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits unto me? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord.  I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence all of his people.” Psalms 116:12-14

 

Scripture Reading: Psalms 116:1-19

 

This psalms is written against the background of a man who had experienced a severe sickness or some other situation of danger.  Having been delivered, he then gave thanksgiving for what the Lord had done and made promises of what he would do in gratitude for his deliverance. The question of the verse is a very proper one: the Lord has rendered so much mercy to us that we ought to look about us, and look within us, and see what can be done by us to manifest our gratitude. We ought not only to do what is plainly before us, but also with holy ingenuity to search out various ways by which we may render fresh praises unto our God. His benefits are so many that we cannot number them, and our ways of acknowledging his bestowments ought to be varied and numerous in proportion. Each person should have his own peculiar mode of expressing gratitude. The Lord sends each one a special benefit, let each one enquire, “What shall I render? What form of service would be most becoming in me?”

The story is told of how gratitude prompted an old man to visit an old broken pier on the eastern seacoast of Florida. Every Friday night, until his death in 1973, he would return, walking slowly and slightly stooped with a large bucket of shrimp. The sea gulls would flock to this old man, and he would feed them from his bucket. Many years before, in October, 1942, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker was on a mission in a B-17 to deliver an important message to General Douglas MacArthur in New Guinea. But there was an unexpected detour which would hurl Captain Eddie into the most harrowing adventure of his life. Somewhere over the South Pacific the Flying Fortress became lost beyond the reach of radio. Fuel ran dangerously low, so the men ditched their plane in the ocean. For nearly a month Captain Eddie and his companions would fight the water, and the weather, and the scorching sun. They spent many sleepless nights recoiling as giant sharks rammed their rafts.

But of all their enemies at sea, one proved most formidable: starvation. Eight days out, their rations were long gone or destroyed by the salt water. It would take a miracle to sustain them. And a miracle occurred. After prayers and hymns, something landed on Eddie’s head. He knew that it was a seagull. He didn’t know how he knew, he just knew. Everyone else knew too. No one said a word, but peering out from under his hat brim without moving his head, he could see the expression on the faces. They were staring at that gull.

The gull meant food if they could catch it. And the rest, as they say, is history. Captain Eddie caught the gull. It sustained the survivor as food and bait to fish. The survivors were sustained and their hopes renewed because a lone sea gull, uncharacteristically hundreds of miles from land, offered itself as a sacrifice. You know that Captain Eddie made it.

And now from the story we know that he never forgot. Because every Friday evening, about sunset, on a lonely stretch along the eastern Florida seacoast everyone saw Eddie walking. His bucket filled with shrimp was to feed the gulls, to remember that one which, on a day long past, gave itself without a struggle…like manna in the wilderness.

This shows that gratitude takes on three forms: a feeling in the heart, an expression in words, and a giving in return. This tells us that for the benefits God gives us, we are stewards of gratitude to God. An “attitude of gratitude” shows that one is a mature person.  Ingratitude has been called the “thiefest of sins.” On this Sunday morning after Thanksgiving, let us reflect on the many goodness of God and examine our hearts to see the quantity and quality of our gratitude. Let us look at what the psalmist said he would do in appreciation for all that the Lord had done for him.

To fully understand this psalms in our quest to consider the things we want to render to God, we must first determined the benefits God has bestowed upon us. As one reads the psalm, one would see in verse 2 how God gives us a inclined ear.  God wants to hear from us. He is interested in what we have to say: our hearts, our needs, our struggles. The psalmist in Psalms 40:1 says, “I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry.” It is beneficial that God wants to hear our needs and concerns.  When God hears our cries, He answers with deliverance. The thief on the cross said simply, ‘Lord remember me…’ and the Lord answered, ‘This day thou shalt be with me in paradise.’

The benefits of the Lord is bountiful treatment. God didn’t just promised us life, but he promised that life would be abundant and full. It is the quality of life that is important to us, isn’t it? A mere existence is one thing, but a life that is full and rewarding comes from God.  Paul makes this clear in Philippians 4:19, “But my God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in Glory by Christ Jesus. Through Jesus, God gives us the benefit of freedom from bondage. “What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me?”

 One thing we as Christians can render to the Lord is to take the cup of salvation.  Verse 13 of this psalm urges us to receive His salvation. Acts 4:12 reminds us, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under the heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”  Salvation is a free gift. It is up to us individually to receive it or reject it.

Until we have seen ourselves as sinners and have received Jesus Christ as personal Savior, we begin at not beginning and toward no conclusion in developing our lives. Taking up the cup of salvation means one must first and foremost trust Jesus as Savior and developing a personal relationship with Him. Trusting Christ as Savior and becoming a Christian does not mean that we will automatically have all of the answers to life’s questions immediately, but it does mean that we will have a working basis whereby we, with the help of our Savior, can resolve the problems. Until people do become Christians, however, they simply do not have the inner working of the Holy Spirit to give them strength for the difficulties of life.

Taking up the cup of salvation is what we should render to the Lord for the benefits He bestowed upon us.  Paul taught in Romans 2:4 that it is the “goodness of God that leads to repentance.” When one of America’s greatest scientist was on his death, someone said, “What are your speculations now?” He replied, “Speculations? I have no speculations.” Quoting 2 Timothy 1:12 he said, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have commanded unto him against that day.”  “What shall I render unto the Lord?”

In verse 14, the psalmist does not go into detail concerning the vows he had made.  Perhaps he had prayed in his crisis and promised that if God would deliver him, he would change his way of life in certain areas.  In all probability he had agreed with God that he was deficient in his bringing of sacrifices to the altar.

The story is told of a seminary president. He had been a successful pastor, told the seminarians at a chapel service of a professional man who was at the point of suicide because he had lost most of his investments. The preacher sensed the man’s need and said, “There’s only one hope for you. You have majored on the material, and now the material is gone, you have nothing left personally by way of resources.  If you want deliverance, get down on your knees with me and promise God that if God will give you strength for a comeback, you will dedicate a tithe to him of all that he gives you.” The man did it. His entire life was changed. His family life straightened up and his medical practice was good or better than ever. When we get right with God on matter of our finances, amazing miracles can take place in other areas of life.  When we make vows, we must keep them or we will be worse off than ever before. Jacob vow a vow at Bethel, but as far as we know, Jacob stayed twenty years in Haran working for Laban and seemingly ignored those vows. Stewardship is an important part of living. In fact, for the Christian, next to accepting Jesus Christ as personal Savior, it is probably the most important element of our life.

As the psalmist thought about his great deliverance, he probably realized that his life had been lengthened in order that he might fulfill God’s purposes for him. We are on earth to realize and fulfill the purpose for which God keeps us here on earth.  This why Paul made it clear in Philippians 1:21, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

Throughout the psalms, the writer recognizes the relationship between himself and God.  Because of this, he has been given certain benefits by God and is therefore obligated to render certain services to God.  This relationship is so important that God is not yet ready for him to pass on to the other world. The psalmist here has become God’s servant, but he is also God’s friend. God being our friend calls us to be effective in our service to Him.  

The underlying theme of this psalm is that gratitude should characterize our lives before God. The private and personal blessings we enjoy, the blessings of immunity, safety, freedom, and integrity, deserves the thanksgiving of a whole life.  Gratitude is a touch of beauty. Gratitude enhances our character. The recurring theme in the book of Deuteronomy is “Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God which brought thee forth” (Deut. 8:11,14). Church, gratitude is found in the hearts of a person that take the time to count up past blessings.  The spirit of gratitude leads one to give one’s best to God in all areas of living. God bless you.

“The Church: The People of God”

SERMON BY THE REVEREND AMOS MCCARTHY

26TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

NOVEMBER 18, 2018

Title: “The Church: The People of God”

Text: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9 RSV).

 

Scripture Reading: 1 Peter 2:1-12.

Gary Wilburn, the pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles told a story about a German pastor. “In 1636, amid the darkness of the Thirty Years’ War, a German pastor, Martin Rinkart, is said to have buried five thousand of his parishioners in one year, an average of fifteen a day. His parish was ravaged by war, death, and economic disaster. In the heart of that darkness, with the cries of fear outside his window, he sat down and wrote this table grace for his children: “Now thank we all our God. With heart and hands and voices; Who wondrous things had done. In whom His world rejoices.Who, from our mother’s arms Hath led us on our way. With countless gift of love. And still is ours today.”

This is the story of a man who knew thanksgiving comes from the love of God, not from outward circumstances.  Thanksgiving comes from the fact that God loves us. Because God loves us, he chose us a his church, his own people. Our thanks and gratitude goes to God. So let us learn together about how chosen we are as a church, and God’s people.

 

Our Savior, who was also a master carpenter, continues the process of building his church. The church is not a building, a structure made of brick, steel, stone, wood, or glass.  The church is not a place, a location, site, or address. The church that Jesus Christ is building is composed of people, living stones who are established in a spiritual temple so they can offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God. These people are born again believers who have received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, who have been baptized and have publicly proclaimed their faith in him as the One who died for their sins and conquered death and the grave.  These people are learning, studying, and listening people who are seeking to be his true disciples. They are worshiping people who bow before God in recognition of his supreme worth and their dependence on him for life and all things pertaining to their existence. The church Jesus is building is made of praying people who not only talk to God, but who listen when God speaks to them. They are a sharing people who give because they have received from God’s gracious hand.  They are also a serving people who follow the example of the ultimate Servant. They are a people who give thanks and show gratitude to God.

What does it means to be the church today? What is Jesus Christ trying to do in the world through the church that he organized and has perpetuated to this day?

We must understand who we are if we are to be all that God intends for us to be and to accomplish all that he has planned for us. The biblical writers spoke of the church in a variety of ways. In fact, the New Testament contains at least eighty different images to describe the nature, function, and ministry of the church.  If we survey these many varied images and functions of the church, we will be greatly aided in understanding what our Lord wants us to be.

One of the dominant New Testament figures of the church is “the people of God.”  Peter used this term to instruct and encourage the Lord’s disciples, who had been scattered abroad as a result of persecution and other factors. This morning we will look at his description of the church as the new Israel.  Peter speaks to the church as God spoke through Moses to the people of Israel when the covenant was established with them at the foot of Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:1-6).

In 1 Peter 2:9, it says, “You are a chosen race.” This is not a mere compliment.  It is a divine commission. On the day of Pentecost, God identified the 120 disciples who were gathered together in an upper room as the new Israel, the people through whom he would work to carry on his redemptive ministry in the world.

The sound of a rushing, mighty wind that came from heaven proclaimed the breath and life of God as abiding within this body of believers.  As God had taken the dust of the earth and breathed into man’s nostrils the breath of life and he became a living soul, so God was breathing his Spirit into these new disciples that they might become the living body Christ. The tongues of fire that lighted on the heads of the members of this infant church were the shekinah of the Old Testament, the glory of God’s presence on them.

In these miraculous events, God was announcing to the Jewish nation and to the Jewish exiles who had returned for the Feast of Pentecost that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the Messiah, the Son of God, the new chosen people through whom God would do his work.  God never limited his blessings to those who were Abraham’s successors by biological descent. Through believing in Jesus, even Gentiles could be God’s chosen people.

Jesus said to his disciples on one occasion, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whenever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you” (John 15:16).  Jesus had already declared, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples” (verse 8). God had called Abraham and later the nation of Israel to be his chosen people that they might be a fruitful missionary force in the world.  The nation of Israel failed to bring forth the fruit that our Lord desired, so he extended his call to all people. At this point in history, the church is his chosen people.

One becomes a member of the family of God not by biological descent but by a spiritual birth into the family of God through faith in Jesus Christ (Mark 3:34, 1 Peter 1:23)

You are “a royal priesthood.” This is also not a mere compliment, it is a divine commission.  Through Moses God had told the people of Israel, “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests” (Ex. 19:6).  A priest is a go-between. A priest is also a bridge builder. Looking at this passage, one would see that it does not teach an exclusive priestly clergy.  Instead, it proclaims the priesthood of every believer and the responsibility of every believer to help unbelievers come to know God as they come to know him in and through Jesus Christ.  As the people of God, we are to perform the function of a holy priesthood. We are to be instrument for bringing the message of God’s grace and love to a needy world. We are to be the kind of people through whom an unsaved world will be drawn to the Lord Jesus Christ because of the Holy Spirit’s ministry in our midst and through our efforts.  We have a responsibility to God and to the unbelieving world to be the meeting place where God can come into contact with them and where they can get acquainted with God.

You are “a holy nation.” This is not a mere compliment.  It is a divine command. To Israel God had said, “For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God; you shall therefore be holy, for I am Holy” (Leviticus 11:45)

Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus declaring the divine choice of the church as the people of God: “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:4).

The word holy is not a familiar word in the vocabulary of modern people.  To the Hebrews it meant to be separate, distinct. It was used in reference to that which belonged to the Deity and to denote something different from the common and profane.  By his holiness God proclaims his difference from humanity. This can be illustrated by the fact that God’s house is different from other houses, that God’s day is different from other days, that God’s ways are different from human ways.  In calling us to a life of holiness and proclaiming us to be a holy nation, God is calling us to be different from ordinary people. We are not to be secular or materialistic.

The members of the church are called to a holy life, to a life different from that of the world, because they have voluntarily chosen to make Jesus Christ the Lord of their lives and to live by the the law of love.  We are to be different in the way we speak, labor, study, and serve. Because of the presence of the living Lord in our lives, all Christians, whether salespeople, doctors, mechanics, athletes, business people, students, spouses, and others, should be different from non-Christians.

To the degree that we are truly holy people, we will find ourselves to be “blameless” before God (Ephesians 1:4) To be holy does not mean that we will be cantankerous or peculiar or self righteous.  Instead, it means just the opposite: we will be so filled with love, grace, and the wisdom of God that we could not conceal our presence even if we are tired.

You are “God’s own people.”  It is a fact and a divine commission.  For Christians to claim that they are God’s people is something infinitely more than an egotistical boast.  Falsely proclaiming to be God’s people is blasphemy. To be God’s people is to be totally his possession.

The church is God’s personal possession.  That means that he is God, Lord, and owner.  His authority is recognized and his will is respected and appreciated.  We can measure the degree to which we are indeed his people to the degree to which we dedicate ourselves to the doing of his will and to the obedience of his commandments.

The church is God’s purchased possession (1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Peter 1:18-19).  Paul declared in Ephesians that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor; without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (5:25-27).  The church has been purchase by a loving God at a great cost.

The church is God’s precious possession (John 3:16).  This tremendous verse proclaims the greatness of God’s love for a lost world reveals to us how extensive God’s love is for those who respond to his grace and mercy.  Paul rejoiced in this love and tried to describe it in his epistle to the Romans (8:31-32).

God calls us to be a royal priesthood so that we declare the wonderful deeds of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. God has called us to be a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, his own special people in order that those who are without mercy may now receive mercy, that all outsiders might become insiders.  If you are an outsider, please realize that the great God of heaven is like the switch that makes it possible for the very life and love and grace of God to come into your life.

To use another metaphor, if your life is desolate and unfruitful, then God is like the stream that flows through an irrigation ditch.  Faith opens the gate to let the life-giving water flow out onto the dry soil to produce life and growth and beauty and fruitfulness. Let us thank God for loving us.  Let us thank God for making us part of his church. Let us thank God for making us a special people. God bless you.

       

“Let us Just Praise the Lord!”

SERMON BY THE REVEREND AMOS MCCARTHY

25th SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

NOVEMBER 11, 2018

Title: “Let us Just Praise the Lord”

Text: Psalms 100:4

  1. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

 

Scripture Lesson: Psalms 100:1-5

“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. 2 Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing. 3 Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. 4 Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. 5 For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.

 

As we approach another season of Thanksgiving, it important for us to trim our focus on the most important person in our lives: God.  This is important because when we lift our hearts and souls, our total personality, in a pure offering of praise to God, we are linked with the universe and we are tune with the Infinite God. When we lift our hearts and souls in praise to God, it teaches us a valuable lesson about worship: It must never be haphazard or careless.  Our coming together for worship should never be “just church.” The worship assembly of God’s people must be a place where His children are ever searching their hearts and preparing themselves to lift up an offering of pure praise to their heavenly Father because of the work and the continuing ministry of His Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ.  I invite you to join me this morning, as we learn about why we should just praise the Lord.

Although the writer of Psalms 100 is unknown, he was doubtless a man who had a proper understanding of the person of God.  This psalm is a call to praise and thanksgiving. It was a psalm sung responsively by worshipers as they approached the temple for worship.  It is a psalm that urges us to shout joyfully to God, acknowledge that He is God, and give Him thanks. Three things I want us to glean from this psalm are: God is worthy of our highest praise and adoration; Our praise should reflect the joy of knowing God; Our praise is gratitude showing we understand who God is..

Let us just praise the Lord because God is worthy of our highest praise and adoration.  In verse 1 and 2, the psalmist says, “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye land. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.” The point the psalmist is making here is when a man’s heart has been filled with God’s grace, his countenance and lips should reflect it.  God is worthy of cheerful service. In real life, no one enjoys being serve by a mopped or depressed servant or waiter who finds his work a cheerless or irksome task. How often believers do things because they ought to. They prayed because they ought to. They attend worship because it is what they ought to do. Some of us tithe because it is what we ought to do.  In this day and age, some believers do things out of a cold sense of dutiful obligation rather than out of a heart flowing with gratitude.

God’s people must always sing joyfully to him in worship.  The great hymn writer John Watt in his hymn “We are marching to Zion,” penned these words, “Let those refused to sing who never knew our God; but favorites of the heavenly king must speak his praise abroad.”  When we sing praise to God, there is joy in our expression. Joy is the outward sign of an inner experience of grace. Gladness not grimness, smile not frown, is the distinguishing mark of anyone who is truly thankful for the goodness of the Lord.

In Luke chapter 1, we find Mary the mother of Jesus praising God because He is worthy of praise and adoration. Finding she was pregnant with the Savior of the world was not easy news to swallow.  But Mary, the young girl chosen to carry the baby Jesus, would exemplified great praise. Her heart was full of praise and out poured into the world. Mary said, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.  For he hath regard the low estate of his handmaiden: for behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed…”  Mary’s response to the news that she was chosen to bring forth the Christ signifies that God is worthy of our highest praise and adoration.

The story is told of a converted Hindu who gave the following address to a number of his fellow countrymen: “I am, by birth, of an insignificant and contemptible caste—so low, that if a Brahmin should chance to touch me, he must go and bathe in the Ganges for the purpose of purification; and yet God has been pleased to call me, not merely to the knowledge of the Gospel, but to the high office of teaching it to others. My friends, do you know the reason of God’s conduct? It is this, if God had selected one of you learned Brahmins, and made you the preacher, when you were successful in making converts, bystanders would have said, it was the amazing learning of the Brahmin and his great weight of character that were the cause; but now, when any one is converted by my instrumentality, no one thinks of ascribing any of the praise to me: and God, as is His due, has all the glory.”  This lowly Hindu gave God praise and adoration for making him the person God wanted him to be.

In verse 3, the psalmist says, “Know ye that he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.”  From this verse, we can say that no one helped God during creation.  No one counsel or advise Him. God alone is God. God is a supreme Spirit who alone exist of Himself and is infinite in all perfection. God said to Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth” (Job 38:4)?  Isaiah 55:8-9 also tells us, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord, ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth so are my ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”  God has made us. We have not made ourselves nor are we the current product of evolution. Because God made us, we are His.  He shepherds us as His people (Psalms 23:1).  He knows us intimately and is concern about our needs, even as a shepherd cares for his sheep.  Because God knows us intimately, we should also know God. If we know God, our lives should reflect the joy of knowing Him.  What is the joy of knowing God? What is the joy of the Lord?

The joy of the knowing God is the gladness of the heart. This gladness comes from knowing God.  This gladness is translated into praise. When Jesus Christ was born, the angels announced “Good tidings of great joy” (Luke 2:10).  All who find Jesus, with the shepherd of the nativity, finds the joy He brings.  Even before Jesus’ birth, he had brought joy as attested by Mary’s song (Luke 1:47).  Mary knew God. Knowing God reflected the gladness in her heart.

One morning R.C. Chapman, a devout Christian, was asked how he was feeling. “I’m burdened this morning!” was his reply. But his happy countenance contradicted his words.  So the questioner exclaimed in surprise, “Are you really burdened, Mr. Chapman?” “Yes, but it’s a wonderful burden–it’s an overabundance of blessings for which I cannot find enough time or words to express my gratitude!” Seeing the puzzled look on the face of his friend, Chapman added with a smile, “I am referring to Psalm 68:19, ‘Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation. Selah,’ which fully describes my condition. In that verse, the Father in Heaven reminds us that He daily loads us with benefits.” The joy of knowing God rest in the fact that we are always grateful no matter what our circumstances.  

Verse 4 tells us, “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving and into his courts with praises: Be thankful unto him and bless his name.” In all of life’s journeys, the Psalmist is telling us that we have only one person to thank, God. Our praise shows gratitude to God.  Our praise shows the One we are worshipping. Our praise show the One we strive to pleased. A story is told of a famous violinist who was to perform at a concert hall of world renown. As he stood before the packed house that night and played his violin, he mesmerized the audience with his prowess and skill. As he lifted his bow off the string on his final note, the hall erupted with thunderous applause and he was given a standing ovation. He looked at the crowd for a moment and walked off the stage only to return to render an encore performance. To the amazement of the masses gathered there that night, his encore performance was even more beautiful and flawless than the first.

He looked to the audience and left the stage for the second time, but was beckoned back by the deafening roar of the multitudes that once again stood to their feet in adulation. He gave yet another encore number, leaving the audience fumbling for words that could describe what their eyes and ears just experienced. This sequence was repeated several more times until finally this virtuoso of virtuosos finished his piece, looked to the audience, nodded his head and simply walked off the stage while the ferocious cheers could still be heard long after he exited.

Reporters pressed outside the violinist’s dressing room, waiting to catch a word from the man who had just given the performance of a lifetime. As he emerged from the small room, one reporter asked the question, “Sir, why did you give so many encore performances? You could have stopped after the first and everyone would have been amazed.” The violinist stopped and replied, “For the very first time in my career, my master, the one who taught me to play the violin, was in the audience. When I finished my performance, everyone stood except for one person. I played again, and everyone stood to applaud except for him. I continued to play. On the conclusion of the last encore I looked into the seats and I noticed that everyone, including my master, was standing and applauding. It was only then that I was satisfied that I had done a good job.”

Church, who are you living to please? Is your life focused on receiving the praises of men or are you striving to please your Master, God? If we strive to please God, let our praise shows it.  Let us enter into His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Let us give God thanks and bless His name. “Let us Just Praise the Lord.” Let us praise Him with a grateful heart! God bless you.  

 

 

“Loved Beyond Measure”

SERMON BY THE REVEREND AMOS MCCARTHY

24TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

NOVEMBER 4, 2018

Title: “Loved Beyond Measure”

 

Text: 1 Corinthians 13:13

“But now abideth faith, hope, and love, these three: and the greatest is love.

 

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13.

 

A story is told in “Chicken Soup for the Soul about a very unusual military funeral in California in December of 2013. Sgt. First Class Joseph Gantt, who fought in both World War II and the Korean War, was laid to rest. He had been captured in Korea in 1950 and died the following year. But his body was not returned for many years, and his death was never confirmed by the North Koreans.

His wife, Clara, waited for decades for her husband to come back. She regularly went to meetings with government officials seeking any information about what had happened. Clara even bought a house and had it professionally landscaped so all Joseph would have to do when he came home was go fishing. She was ninety-four years old when his remains were finally brought home for a military funeral with full honors. It wasn’t the homecoming she dreamed of, but she finally knew his fate. Clara told a reporter who interviewed her, “He told me if anything happened to him, he wanted me to remarry. And I told him ‘No, no.’ Here I am, still his wife, and I’m going to remain his wife until the day the Lord calls me to glory”

True love, godly love is not temporary or transient. Love is a commitment that is meant to last. Love is not based on everything going right or always being happy. Love is not an emotional feeling but rather a choice of the will. Casual commitments do not produce a foundation for deep and meaningful relationships. Instead we should love others as God loves us—with an unfailing love that never ends.

This is what our text is about today.  Paul is addressing the church at Corinth. In this great “Hymn of love,” Paul is treating love as a grace and not a spiritual gift.  Paul is treating love here not as love toward God, which is the highest form of love; not toward those who give us gratification, which may be merely selfish and sensual emotion, but the attitude of the heart and mind toward all mankind which we should cherish and cultivate.  If we will consider love as a virtue in Paul’s writing in chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians, then we will agree that love is a necessity and love is permanent. Love is a necessity and love is permanent because God loved us beyond measure.

In verses 1 through 3, we will see that love is a necessity.  To the church at Corinth, speaking in tongue was the most prized and most spectacular gift. There were much danger of such meaningless utterances because of the prevalent spirit of faction and pride.  In our day and age, preachers, defender of the faith and many others who are blessed with eloquence, do so without sympathy and kindness nor love. Paul reminds them that one can have the ability to make eloquent speeches, or prophesy, but without love one might be utterly deficient in Christian character. We can say this in this day and age: We may possess knowledge of divine truth and have great ability in the exposition of scripture, if we do not have love, we are nothing.  We may show the most confident faith in God, yet, if we lack love, we are nothing.

Paul is clear on love as a necessity if life in any sphere is to be of value or profit or meaning.  Prophecy and faith, charity and sacrifice are all useless unless the person’s actual motive is love.  Without love Christian profession is a pretense. Christian service is fruitless. Without love all relations of life are imperfect, all activities heartless and futile and vain. In the deepest sense, not to love is not to live. In Luke 10:25-37, we find the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Jesus Christ when He was tested by an expert of the law as to how a person can obtain eternal life, Jesus referred him to the Scripture for an answer. The answer found instructed the expert to love God and love his fellow human. Jesus Christ then told him in Luke 10:28, “Do this and you will live.”  How do you know how to love God and humankind? What shows in our character that we have love?

Many have tried to define love.  Love may be difficult to define; it is not difficult to discern.  In our Scripture under consideration, Paul is not attempting to define, analyze or describe love.  Paul is showing concern. The state of the Corinthian church was one disturbed and divided by the way in which its spiritual gifts were being exercised and regarded and employed. The church today is no different from the church at Corinth. There are issues that divide us. From doctrine to polity, we all have our disagreements. Polarizing politics have crept into the church and sowed seeds of division and hate. Our own personal feelings towards others have been a hindrance to the flow of love.  What are our responsibilities in face of dwindling love. We should do what Paul does here. What Paul does here is picture love in action. Paul tells us what love does and feels. Love is being patient. Love is being kind. The KJV renders verse 4 as, “Charity suffereth long, and is kind.” These two phrases describes the essential operation of love. Love makes one patient in enduring evil, active in doing good. It does not give place to bitterness and wrath. Love harbors no resentment. Love does not return evil for evil.  It forgives, not only seventy times but seventy times seven. Love is not storing up memories of wrong, of indifference, of contempt, of grievances, of wounds, or making a record of the injuries we received from others. This is not the way of the love which is in Christ. These two phrases helps us understand that God loved us beyond measure so He is always patient and kind toward us.

In his book, Moments for Mothers, Robert Strand wrote about the conflicts of a family in Glasgow, Scotland. After years of rebellion, a daughter finally rejected her parents, their values, and their faith. She set out on her own to enjoy a life without restraints, but soon became enslaved to her liberated choices.

Years of misery followed as she lived on the streets, sold herself for pennies, and depended on rescue missions for survival. Because of her self-imposed detachment from family, she didn’t know her father died, or that her mother never quit looking for her. One day she saw a picture that her mom had posted in each of the city’s homeless shelters. Scrawled across the photo of her mother were the words, “I love you still… come home!”  In wonder and disbelief she set out for her home in hopes that she was indeed still loved. By the time she arrived it was the middle of the night. Her heart raced as she stood on the porch and prepared to knock, but her countenance suddenly changed when she tapped on the door and it crept open. She ran to her mother’s bedroom in fear that someone had broken in and harmed her. She desperately reached for her mom and the woman awoke quickly to embrace her wayward daughter. When the young woman explained her fears about the open door, her mother replied, “No dear. From the day you left, that door has never been locked.”  God loved us beyond measure, so He never closes the door on us.

From this story, we see that love creates charity toward all the faults and failures of one’s fellowmen.  Love is a virtue in us that caution us not to rejoice in the unrighteousness of others. In other words, we are never happy when others go wrong.  A person who does not have love is one who will find secret satisfaction in discovering the moral weakness or hidden wickedness of another. If we have love, we will not be eager to spread an evil report about another person. Love is powerful and will not allow us to be happy in the wrong of others.  This is because love believes all things that are good. Love cherishes faith even in persons who are under suspicion. Love enables us to bestow trust on our fellow humans and to take them at their highest and their best.

But what will be the case when dark days come when we are compelled to cease trusting? What will love do then?  Even in such crisis love does not despair. Even under the burden of of delay, it holds fast, hopes on, bravely perseveres, and courageously endures.  Love hopes in all things. In a illustration of love someone wrote, “If I work at a soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home, and give all that I have to charity; but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”

The story is told of the unwavering love of Gladys Kidd. On May 2, 1962, she placed a dramatic advertisement in the San Francisco Examiner, “I don’t want my husband to die in the gas chamber for a crime he did not commit. I will therefore offer my services for 10 years as a cook, maid, or housekeeper to any leading attorney who will defend him and bring about his vindication.”

Vincent Hallinan, one of San Francisco’s best lawyers saw the advertisement, felt pity, and contacted the woman. He took on the case and ended up getting the innocent man released from all charges. Afterward, the attorney refused the lady’s offer of ten years of service, noting that he was satisfied to have saved an innocent man from death.

Love does not seek a reward.  Love is a grace. It is a grace difficult to imitate, counterfeit, or conceal.  Church let us understand that more than the exercise of any gift, the operation of love would unite and edify the church of Christ.  Under the complete control of love, the humblest life becomes a radiant source of strength, of help, of harmony. With the victorious power of love, Jesus Christ will bring to us our destined age of glory. As Christians, we will know a stronger kind of love, a love that gives the ultimate sacrifice. God bless you.   

 

 

“The Golden Rule of Human Relationship”

SERMON BY THE REVEREND AMOS MCCARTHY

22ND SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

OCTOBER 21, 2018

 

Title: “The Golden Rule for Human Relationships”

Text: “So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12).

 

Scripture Reading: Matthew 7:1-12

 

I am sure that all of us have shopped at J.C.Penney at some time or the other, but I want to tell you something that you probably didn’t know about this store. It used to be known as “the Golden Rule store”. In fact, when Mr. Penney first started, his first several stores were called that.  Mr. Penney did not like to use the word “employee.” He called those that worked for him, “Associates”. He treated them just as well as he would like to be treated, too. He was able to take a general store in 1902, and build it into a multi-billion dollar business, because he actually lived the Golden Rule.

Mr. Penny tried his best to always treat people like he wanted to be treated. He treated them with love, respect, kindness, understanding and encouragement.Do you try to treat others in your life like this – or not? Our normal instinct is to think that we would be nicer to others if they would show these attributes to us, isn’t it? But, that’s the Problem. Jesus didn’t say, “Treat people with the same Respect that they treat you.” He said, “Whatever you want men to do to you, do to them.”

We should let the words of Jesus Christ dwell in us as the guiding principles for the abundant life in the here and now.  Only as we take seriously his teachings can we hope to experience the changes He sought to bring about in the lives of His followers.  The words of our text have been called the Golden Rule. It calls for action on the second of the greatest commandments, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”  It is only a summary statement of all that Jesus said about our treatment of our fellow humans, but it expressly says that it covers all that the law and the prophets taught about the matter.  In this one verse our Lord gives us a great guiding principle that would settle a hundred different points of difference that constantly arise to upset human relationships.

The critics of Jesus have collected the great savings of other religious leaders and have come to the conclusion that Jesus made no distinctive contribution to this Golden Rule.  The great Hebrew master Hillel said, “Do not do thy neighbor what is hateful to thyself.” The great Greek philosopher Socrates said, “What stirs your anger when done to you by others, that do not to others.”  Yet another great mind, Aristotle said, “We should bear ourselves towards others so we would desire they should bear themselves towards us.” The great Chinese teacher Confucius gave what someone has called the Silver Rule.  He said, “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” There is one radical difference between the Golden Rule enunciated by Jesus and the above guidelines articulated by some of the world’s greatest teachers.  The Golden Rule of Jesus is positive and active while their statements are negative and passive. While they would say, “Stand still, do not do to others what you would not want them do to you,” Jesus approaches the matter from a positive and creative standpoint.  Jesus says that we should “go and do what we would have others do to us.”

The significance of the Golden Rule is that it presents a challenge.  The challenge of Matthew 7:12 is based on the great truth of God’s goodness expressed in verse 11: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”  It is based on the fact that God is good, and He showers on us the best of heaven. Even so, you are to give good things to your neighbors. We cannot expect to receive the good gifts of God if we do not serve as a channel through which His merry and grace flow out to bless the hearts and lives of others.  We are to treat our fellow human beings as we desire to be treated by our heavenly father. Pious talk and righteous looks will accomplish nothing if we do not treat our fellow humans in terms of what is right and generous. We must be absolutely sure that we do not let the conduct of others determine our treatment of them, but rather we must let God’s treatment of us determine the manner in which we relate ourselves to others.

In other to teach His disciples how to make practical the Golden Rule, Jesus Christ demonstrated what He taught.  Jesus demonstrated that His love for his disciples was unmerited. You see church, we live in a performance oriented society in which people come to a feeling of personal worth because of their performance.  This makes it difficult for us to understand unmerited love. Jesus loved His disciples not because they were lovely, but because He was loving. The source of His love was in His own heart and in His relationship with the Father God.  His love was not pulled out of Him toward them because they were exceedingly lovely. Jesus’ love was unmerited in that He took the initiative in manifesting goodwill toward others. This is the kind of love we are to demonstrate toward others.

Jesus manifested divine love in different ways to different people.  There was no stereotyped manner by which he expressed God’s love. He could talk to a public figure like the Pharisee Nicodemus under the curtain of darkness. He could approach a hated publican like Zacchaeus on a city street filled with community citizens.  He could stoop down and write in the sand, refusing to look upon the shame of a woman who had been accused of adultery. Our Lord in tenderness could bless and pray for children. His love was always expressed in an appropriate manner. As His followers, we must seek to appropriately manifest our concern for others.

Jesus thought of success and greatness not in terms of mere noble sentiments, but in terms of deeds of kindness and helpfulness to the unfortunate .  He was a worker, a servant who ministered to the needs of people. At a time when Peter wanted to stay on the mountaintop, our Lord insisted that they depart from the place of spiritual ecstasy and move down into the valley of human need because there were suffering at the foot of the mountain.  Our Lord calls us not into the sheltered cloister to spend our total time in prayer, but rather He calls us into the fields that are ready unto harvest to be His laborers.

Jesus demonstrated this love and the Golden Rule through forgiveness.  On the cross of Calvary, Jesus demonstrated in practice what he had taught by precept.  He had insisted on His disciples practicing forgiveness toward those who mistreated them even to the point of forgiving seventy times seven (Matthew 18:21-22).  Jesus believed in forgiveness that was free, full, and forever. Genuine Christian love does not harbor hate and carry a grudge. Genuine Christian love will manifest itself in forgiveness.

Jesus continued to love even when His disciples were unloveable in their responses to Him and in their treatment of others.  Paul was able to rejoice greatly joined in singing a doxology of praise to the permanence of God’s great love revealed in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:38-39).

There is a story of a young boy who had been invited to attend a friend’s birthday party and was eagerly awaiting the day he could go. On that day, however, there was a near blizzard outside, and his father thought it was too dangerous for him to walk the short three blocks to his friends house, and it was much too dangerous to drive the boy. The little boy reacted with tears and begged his father to let him go. Finally, the father recanted and gave his permission. The boy bundled himself up started walking down the street. The wind and snow blew so hard against him that what should have only taken 10 minutes took nearly an hour.  Finally, the boy got to the house. As he rang the doorbell, he looked back to see the shadowy figure of his father disappearing into the snow. His father had followed every footstep to make sure the boy was safe.

It is all about sacrifice, isn’t it? When we are able to sacrifice what we want; what we need; what we think; so that we can freely give to someone else what they want or need, we have proven ourselves successful as a Christian.

In demonstrating the Golden Rule, Jesus saw life as an opportunity to serve, to help, and to minister.  He saw it as a goblet to be emptied rather than a vessel to be filled. His sacrificial life and His substitutionary death on the cross illustrate the great truth He expressed when He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).

In a world filled with hate and torn by strife, modern followers of Jesus are urged to love each other by the same measure with which Christ loved his disciples.  The love Jesus commands is not a shallow emotional kind of love. Instead, it could be defined as a persistent, unbreakable spirit of good will that is always devoted to the highest good of others.  

Note that in this commandment Jesus moves beyond the measure of love listed in the second great commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). In this condensation of the commandments that are concerned with our relationship to others, Jesus declares that the measure of love we have for ourselves is the measure by which we are to love our neighbors.  In the new commandment, Jesus declares that His disciples are to love each other, “even as I have loved you.”

Finally, the commandment to love is Jesus’ foremost command to His disciples.  Love is the supreme gift of the Spirit. Only as we let the Holy Spirit do His work within our innermost being can we fully respond to this commandment of our Lord (Romans 5:5)  Paul declares love to be the greatest of all the gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 13:13). Because of Jesus’ command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, each of us needs to relate to each other in terms of love even as Jesus has loved us. God bless you!

 

“Look Unto the Hills”

SERMON BY THE REVEREND AMOS McCARTHY
20TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

OCTOBER 7, 2018

Title: “Look Unto the Hills”

Text: ‘I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.  My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth” (Psalms 121:1-2)

Scripture Reading: Psalms 121:1-8

God is the God is a God of the mountains.  His footprints can be traced from mountains peak to mountain peak through the Bible.  In fact, there are 467 references to mountain in Scriptures. Early Israel thought of the mountains as the dwelling place of God.

A beautiful legend tells about the creation of the mountains.  Once, long ago, the earth was flat or gently rolling plains. There were beautiful flowers ; rich, luxuriant grasses; groves of tall, leafy trees and peaceful lakes mirroring the fleecy clouds and blue sky.  God looked down, and everything was so beautiful and his heart was filled with so much love that he wanted to embrace the whole world. God must have thought, “Oh, world, I cannot hold you close enough!” With infinite tenderness, forgetting his great powers, he stroked the earth, caressing it with his mighty fingers.  The force of his touch dredged out the valleys and piled the mountains high, stretching them out for miles along the earth. He looked again, saw what he had done, and it was good.

The mountain do declare the glory of the Lord, and every rock, tree, and spring shows his handiwork.  No wonder the psalmist wrote, “I will lift up my eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.”

 

In the Bible, there are many different hills of God.  We have mount Calvary. It is the place where Jesus died for our sins,  We as Christians look in faith to the cross of Calvary and experience God’s forgiven grace and saving power.  Mount Sinai is a mountain that depicts well-disciplined life. It is the place where God calls us to keep his commandments.  The Bible says, “Blessed are they that keep my ways” (Proverbs 8:32). Will we climb the mountain of obedience? It leads to happiness.  Mount Hermon tells us about the Transfiguration. It was the place where Jesus Christ was transfigured before His disciples and they saw Him as the divine Son of God.  They heard Moses and Elijah talking with Him and knew that He had direct communication with heaven.They heard the voice of God saying, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.  Hear ye him” (Matthew 17:5). Mount Olivet is referred to as the mount of the ascending life. It is the place where Jesus ascended to heaven and His disciples looked up desiring to follow Him.  As we lift our eyes heavenward and strive to be with Jesus and to be like Him, we can live the ascending life. Let us look at the lessons we can draw from the many hills of God. Let us look what it means to look unto the hills from where our help comes.  

In our quest to bring the good out of life and know God, we must understand that the road to life is upward.  There is no downhill road to living. My grandmother was eighty six years when she died. My grandmother loves to visit with us.  I love to listen to her tell historic things about the town my dad was born in. I also love to listen to her quote Bible verses while she was in her eighties.  She was aged, wrinkle, and gray, and she was feeble, but she always had a sparkle of humor about her. She told me a story about a man who went about collecting ants to cut down the ants population in town. When I asked her why she was always happy, she would say with eyes twinkling, “I am on the downhill road and can’t find something to hold unto.” I knew she was speaking to me figuratively about her physical being when she said that.  It did not surprise me because I have seen the tragedy of that statement in people’s spiritual lives. Many people seems to be on that downhill road and cannot seem to find something to hold unto. They are not able to resist the downward pull of life and its temptation.

 

Colossians 3:1-2 God is saying to us, “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.  Set your affections on things above, not on things of the earth.” Paul gave us his personal testimony, saying: “I count not myself to have been apprehended: but this one thing I do…I pressed toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).  The life and character of Christ challenge us: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

 

Though we may never be able to attain perfection, humanly speaking, we are challenged to keep climbing .  The heights appeal to the daring , heroic, adventurous nature of people. Living a victorious Christian life captivates the courageous.

Captain George Mallory had always wanted to climbed to the top of Mount Everest.  When he spoke at Harvard, he said, “Someone is bound to ask me why I wish to climb to the top of Everest.  My answer is, ‘Because it is there.’ ” The questions from Captain Mallory’s story are, Doesn’t the life of Christ beckon you? Doesn’t it challenge you to keep reaching heavenwards? It is said that the higher mountain climbers climb , the higher they want to climb.  The higher you climb in Christ, the higher you want to climb.

One subject that fascinates me is History.  I learned about the Valley of Arve in Switzerland.  In that Valley it is told that the statue of Horace Savesure stands beneath.  Horace pioneered the trail up Mount Blanc. His body is thrust forward, his hand extended toward the mountain.  There is an inscription that reads, “This is the way.” Jesus Christ, the pioneer in living, stands in the valley beckoning all humankind, pointing upward, saying, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

 

Look unto the hills. On the hills we get God’s viewpoint.  Study the life of Jesus and you will see that time after time he withdrew  to the mountains to pray. Whenever Jesus went up to the mountain to pray, he returned with power to serve in the valleys.  This same rhythm of Jesus characterized the life of Elijah. A voice told Elijah “to hide thyself” (1 King 17:3). Later the voice told him “shew thyself” (18:1).  We must hide ourselves away taking time for prayers and meditation, and then come forward to show ourselves strong on behalf of the cause of Christ.

A missionary in the Balkans once took a little boy who had lived at the base of a mountain on a journey up its side.  When they gain the summit, the little climber looked this way and that and said in astonishment, “My, what a wonderful world.  I never dreamed it was so big!” On the heights our horizon are broadened, our imaginations are kindled, and our vision of God is greater.

Look unto the hills.  Finally, life on the heights is uplifting and strengthening to the soul.  It brings a lift to the spirit. It heightens the vision. It empowers the will.  Paul wrote to the Ephesians, God hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6).  I have been on some mountain peaks with Jesus. I have stood on some high places spiritually. It has been place of joy, service, and worship.

At the Buduburam Refugee Camp in Ghana, I went one morning on the mount to spend the day to seek the face of God.  I wanted to seek God’s face on what direction in life He wanted me to go in the midst of my refugee struggles. As I approached, a group of people who had been there early were singing: “As the deer pants for the waters so my soul longs after thee.  You alone are my heart, desire, and I long to worship you…” As I stood there and look at the sun rising in the east, and I looked across the broad expanse of the heavens, I felt the presence of the Lord. A sense of hope and joy filled my heart. I experience a moment of inspiration that my life did not end in a refugee camp.  I was not only on the mount physically, but emotionally and spiritually was well. Life is so refreshing on the heights that you can certainly forget all your troubles. Life on the hills with Christ is so refreshing.

A man advise a friend, “live above the snake line.”  There is a level on every mountain that marks the place above which snakes cannot live.  Live above the snake line, above the cheap pettiness of this world, above the bitter jealousies and seething resentments, and above the burning prejudices and brooding hatreds.  If you live on the heights with Christ, you can face the temptations and evils of the world about you and be victorious.

A father bought his son some parallel bars for Christmas.  Out in his backyard everyday, the little fellow would reach up and try to take hold of the bars.  One day a neighbor asked him what he was doing. He replied, “I am reaching up, trying to take hold of the bars.  My father says if I keep reaching, one day I will be able to take hold of them.”

 

Keep your eyes on the hills of God and keep reaching upwards.  Look unto the hills, it is where you will get your help. Look unto the hills for it is where Jesus went and returned with power to minister in the valley.  God bless you.

“The Faithful Steward is Faithful in Giving”

SERMON BY THE REVEREND AMOS McCARTHY
19TH DAY AFTER PENTECOST

SEPTEMBER 30, 2018

 

Title: “The Faithful Steward is Faithful in Giving”

 

Text: Mark 12:41-44

And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. 42 And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. 43 And he called unto them, verily I  say unto you, that this poor widow hast cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury; 44 For all they did cast in of their abundance, but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.

 

Last Sunday we talked about stewards.  We dealt primarily with the religious beliefs of stewards and what might be called the underlying foundation of stewardship.  Today we will talk specifically about faithful stewards and the matter of giving their money.

 

Probably everyone here has a special connection with our church and some interest in the cause for which our church stands.  Furthermore, we know that our church will be able to accomplish its task only in proportion to our financial support of its efforts. We also are aware that our support of our church is a much broader concept than the financial support alone; but this in no way minimizes the need for our financial support.  In all of this, it is important to understand that we are first and foremost stewards of God. We must be faithful in giving ourselves and our substances. In doing this, we must give voluntarily. We must give proportionately, and we must give generously.

 

To begin with let us get an understanding of the background of our text.  Our text this morning talks about a time when Jesus Christ had gone to sit quietly at the Gate Beautiful.  The Gate Beautiful was between the Court of the Gentiles and the Courts of the Women. It may well be that Jesus had gone to sit quietly there after the argument and tension of the Courts of the Gentiles.  In the Courts of the Women, there were thirteen collecting boxes called “the Trumpets,” because they were so shape. Each of them was for a special purpose. Some of the collecting boxes were to buy corn or wine for the sacrifices.  They were for contributions for the daily sacrifice and expenses of the Temple. When people came to throw in what they had, many threw in quite a considerable contributions. On this special occasion, a widow came. She put in two mites.  The coin she threw in was called a lepton, which literally means a thin one.  It was the smallest of all the coins and was worth one fortieth of one pence.  And yet Jesus said that her tiny contribution was greater than all the others, for the others had thrown in what they could spare easily enough and still have plenty left, while the widow had put in everything she had.  She was faithful in her giving.

Stewardship is a form of worship where we give ourselves first to God.  This is worship and it is personal. Jesus Christ taught in Matthew 5:23-24 that we cannot make a gift to God unless we are first right with God and with our neighbors.  He said, “if you are offering your gifts at the altar, there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first to be reconciled to your brother, then come and offer your gifts.  We give ourselves first to God. When we do this we reverence God. Paul wrote of the Macedonians, “First they gave themselves to the Lord” (2 Corinthians 8:5). Paul was encouraging the church at Corinth to give their money for the support of the poor in Jerusalem.   Paul urged the Corinthians to see the relationship between the giving of themselves and the giving of their money to God. Paul sought the Corinthians, not their possessions. Paul wrote, “I seek not what is yours but you” (2 Corinthians 12:14). Paul thought the Corinthians had given themselves to God, but some of them either had not or made little progress in their Christian lives.  Their dedication of themselves to God was of primary importance. Giving their money for the Christian cause was evidence of their having given themselves. Paul repeatedly urged them to grow in the grace of Christian giving. In giving ourselves, we must give voluntarily.

I will submit to you that tithing alone is an inadequate expression of Christian stewardship.  Tithing in the Old Testament involves the giving of 10 percent of one’s earning to God. Today many Christians would never think of giving less than 10 percent of their money to God through their churches.  They give not because the law requires it, but because they have given themselves to God through Jesus Christ and because they attached importance to the cause of Jesus Christ. Christians should be satisfied with giving as little as 10 percent of their money to their churches.  Some are prosperous that they should give 50 percent or more to the cause of Jesus Christ. Christian steward does, in fact, insist on giving oneself totally to God and managing all of one’s resources for the glory God.

This is why Paul commended the Macedonians, “They gave…of their own free will” (2 Corinthians 8:3).  Voluntary giving is cheerful giving. Nowhere is the voluntary element of giving summed up in a better way than in Paul’s statement, “Each one must do as he had made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).  We can grow into cheerful stewards only as we understand more thoroughly our own commitment to God and our dedication to the cause of God in loving and caring for other people. Cheerful giving is giving in proportion to one’s ability. The widow in our text gave proportionately.  She gave according to her ability. Paul indicated that Christians should give in accordance with their ability to give, “as they may prosper. This is a practical way that is fair and equitable. Paul further emphasized this principle by his commitment, “it is acceptable according to what a man has, not according to what he has not” (2 Corinthians 8:12).  Christians should never feel uncomfortable if others are able to give more than they are. Christians stewardship of money is in proportion to one’s ability to give.

Proportionate giving is characteristic of Christian giving.  Early in the history of the church, Christians gave their material means for the support of Christians in other areas who were in need.  Paul and Barnabas took such a collection of funds to Jerusalem on one occasion (Act 11:29). Let us remember that these Christians in giving proportionately, did so to their dedication and their vision of the accomplishment to be made through their giving.

Faithful stewards give generously. To begin with generous giving, let us learn also the principle of giving systematically.  Paul recommended to the Christians of Corinth that they give, on the first day of the week” (1 Corinthians 16:2) The emphasis here is on systemic giving to meet the ongoing needs of the congregation.  Many people receive their money on a monthly basis or even on an annual basis. So regular systemic giving to them would be regulated by the time in which they receive their income.

Generosity is a Christian virtue.  It is giving where in Christians respond to the needs of people and the challenges of the Christian cause.  It is always good to remember that generous giving is measure in terms of ability to give and in terms of enthusiasm for the cause.  Generosity is a Christian virtue that should never be restricted by minimums and maximums.

The Bible talk a great deal about the dangers of wealth in that it often is the occasion through which rich people become caloloused and indifferent to the needs of those about them.  There is a promise to those who give generously. Paul wrote, “You will be enriched in every way for great generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God” (2 Corinthians 9:11).  This is not a promise that generous giver will become rich immediately. Neither is it a promise that will become rich in the future. The promise has to do with the quality of life and the rewards we receive by responding to the people and causes about them.

Finally, faithful stewards are accountable in the proper use of what God has entrusted to them.  Christian stewardship always requires stewards to be responsible, or accountable, for the proper use of the money they give and that is entrusted to them.  It is surprising that some Christians will give their money to their churches but will not bother to attend business meetings or participate in budget planning to assure that their gifts accomplish the purposes for which they are given.

It is even more incredible that many Christians will send gifts to television and radio ministries about who handling of funds they know nothing.  Great caution must be used and much research done before giving to such ministries. Giving money to irresponsible people is not Christian stewardship; it is misappropriation of funds.  You and I are stewards of every aspect of our lives, including the wealth God entrusts to us. How shall we respond to the teachings of the New Testament? Let us resovle to be faithful stewards in every area so that others might helped and God be glorified.  Would you be willing to determine that you will move beyond the minimum in giving and give in proportion to a dream or a hope for the full accomplishment of the cause of Christ in our time. Remember the requirement of stewards. They must be faithful. Are you and I faithful?  When we stand before God in the end of our journey, will He speak that welcome benediction, ‘You have been faithful over a little. Enter into the joy of your Lord”? God bless you!

 

“The Faithful Steward Is Faithful In Living”

SERMON BY THE REVEREND AMOS McCARTHY

18th SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

SEPTEMBER 23, 2018

 

Title: “The Faithful Steward Is Faithful In Living

 

Text: 1 Corinthians 4: 1-2

“Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God, moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.

 

Scripture: Matthew 25:14-30.

 

Once, a man said, “If I had some extra money, I’d give it to God, but I have just enough to support myself and my family.” And the same man said, “If I had some extra time, I’d give it to God, but every minute is taken up with my job, my family, my clubs, and what have you and me every single minute.” And the same man said, “If I had a talent I’d give it to God, but I have no lovely voice; I have no special skill; I’ve never been able to lead a group; I can’t think cleverly or quickly, the way I would like to.”

And God was touched, and although it was unlike him, God gave that man money, time, and a glorious talent. And then He waited, and waited, and waited…..And then after a while, He shrugged His shoulders, and He took all those things right back from the man, the money, the time and the glorious talent. After a while, the man sighed and said, “If I only had some of that money back, I’d give it to God. If I only had some of that time, I’d give it to God. If I could only rediscover that glorious talent, I’d give it to God.”

And God said, “Oh, shut up.”

And the man told some of his friends, “You know, I’m not so sure that I believe in God anymore.”  

This story depicts a person who wishes he or she could be a good steward for God if entrusted with wealth or time.  Well God blesses him with wealth and time. He does not dispense the wealth and time responsibly. God takes it back and he wishes he could get it back and use it this time.  In our scripture reading we read about the parable of Jesus where our Lord compares the kingdom of God to a faithful steward. This parable of Jesus is referred to as the Parable of the Talents.  It speaks about the fact that faithfulness in stewardship comes about when we use what God has given us for the betterment of His kingdom. God has given each one of us different gifts and talents.  One man is given five talents, another man two, and to another man one. It is not the talents given to man that matters; what matters is how one uses the talents he gets from God. God will not demand from us abilities which we do not have.  God however demands us to use the abilities we have to the fullest. We are not equal in the talents we possessed; but we can be equal in the efforts put in. Jesus Christ is telling us that whatever talents we have, great or small, we must lay it at the service of God.  In our obligations as Christians, we must use the talents and resources God has given us to live faithful lives.

Our text this morning is from Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth.  In chapter 4 verses 1 and 2, Paul here tells the believers at Corinth that they are stewards of the things God wants to reveal to His people.  As stewards of God’s mystery, it is important to live faithfully. The word Paul uses for a steward is the Greek word oikonomos.  This word means a person who is a manager of a property, an overseer, a treasurer.  A steward is one who is working in the interest of another person. Proverbs 25:13 says of a steward, “As the cold of snow in the time of harvest, so is the faithful messenger to them that send him: for he refresheth the soul of his masters.”  So a steward should be a person who is faithful in working in the interest of his master. He does the work given to him according to how he was instructed or ordered. Being a steward of God is doing exactly as God had ordered. This will involve accountability on our part.  Being accountable is being trustworthy.

The New American Standard Bible (NASB) used the word trustworthy in verse 2 of 2 Corinthians 4.  Jesus uses stewardship as a metaphor of how the kingdom of God operates. God owns everything. Psalms 24:1 informs us that “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.  God is the ultimate owner of all that is. He created and sustains the world; the world answers to God. Both Old and New Testament statements constantly reminds us that God holds the title of the ownership of all the world.  We belong to God. The parable in our Scripture lesson reminds us that our lives are a sacred trust from God. Paul reminds the Corinthians that we belong to God because of Christ’s redemption. In those beautiful words, Paul says, “You are not your own; you were bought with a price.  So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 RSV). God also gave us the land. If we understand that the work God has given us on earth has a religious meaning, we will understand that people work with God for His glory. Earning a living through the work we do is endowed with a sacred meaning.  If we work as a doctor, or nurse, or athlete, we work to glorify God. Man’s purpose in life is to serve God. In serving God, we care for the earth, for the people of the earth just to glorify God. Glorifying God is living in such relationship to God within creation that we reflect His own holiness back to Him.  We do this through serving and worshipping. This is living faithfully.

Man’s purpose in life is to serve God.  Since God created everything, Life is focused on God.  Since God is my creator, my life must be lived in terms of God’s purpose for us.  This requires that I constantly look up to Him to get my bearings. I am not my own to do as I will with my life.  Freedom is never the license to do as I please, but it is rather liberation from my bondage so that I can fulfill the task for which God created me.  So then the ultimate purpose of living is to care for the earth, care for the people, and to glorify God.

When we are faithful stewards we will translate all of life into personal terms.  Faith in God and humanity endows God’s creation with a personal character.

Humankind is masters over all things.   This makes us trustees under God over nature.  We are servants of God and masters of nature. We have a measure of sovereignty over nature as he has total sovereignty over all. We express this sovereignty by serving God.  In this light, stewards of God live by faith.

It is important that the faithful steward is faithful in living.  If this is correct, then the faithful steward must live by faith and not by sight.  Paul reminded the Corinthians, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).  Looking at this reminder, we learn that life faces many uncertainties. The parable of the stewards laid stress on that uncertainty.  Two of the stewards face their uncertainty by faith; the other rejected faith. Faithful Christian stewards are able to face the uncertainty of tomorrow because of the strength of their religious convictions in today’s world.  Living involves making sacrifices for God and our humankind.. We take risk to take care of God’s creation. We take risks to show others love. This is all done to glorify God.

The story is told of how one stormy night an elderly couple entered the lobby of a small hotel and asked for a room. The clerk said they were filled, as were all the hotels in town. “But I can’t send a fine couple like you out in the rain,” he said. “Would you be willing to sleep in my room?” The couple hesitated, but the clerk insisted. The next morning when the man paid his bill, he said, “You’re the kind of man who should be managing the best hotel in the United States. Someday I’ll build you one.” The clerk smiled politely. A few years later the clerk received a letter from the elderly man, recalling that stormy night and asking him to come to New York. A round-trip ticket was enclosed. When the clerk arrived, his host took him to the corner of 5th Avenue and 34th Street, where stood a magnificent new building. “That,” explained the man, “is the hotel I have built for you to manage.” The man was William Waldorf Astor, and the hotel was the original Waldorf-Astoria. The young clerk, George C. Boldt, became its first manager.  

Faithful stewards are always commended for being faithful.  Faithful stewards live by faith. This means their life is determined by their convictions about God and humanity and the world.  This means they are willing to face uncertainty future and take risks of faith by serving others.  

Our inability to take the risk of faith renders us incapable of being stewards.  Stewardship is synonymous with management. God has entrusted us with certain abilities, talents, possessions, and time.  Life consists of the management of those for God’s glory and humankind usefulness. The steward condemned in Jesus’ parable was condemned because he refused to take the risk of faith.  He rejected the essence of life. He was condemned for unbelief. All of judgment comes to bear on this theme of stewardship. John tells us, “He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18 RSV).  

W. Wiersbe told a story of a stormy night in Birmingham, England, where Hudson Taylor was to speak at a meeting at the Severn Street schoolroom. His hostess assured him that nobody would attend on such a stormy night, but Taylor insisted on going. “I must go even if there is no one but the doorkeeper.” Less than a dozen people showed up, but the meeting was marked with unusual spiritual power. Half of those present either became missionaries or gave their children as missionaries; and the rest were faithful supporters of the China Inland Mission for years to come. If we live faithfully, God will be glorify and our rewards are assured.

A baseball player once indicated that his ambition in life was to hear his coach say at the time of the player’s retirement, “You are the best baseball player I have ever coach.” How much more should we Christians live our lives with the joyful expectation and determination that at the end of the journey God will say to us, “You have been faithful.” Bankers must be honest; soldiers must be brave; runners must be swift; weightlifters must be strong; stewards must be faithful.  God bless you.

 

 

“The Cost of Discipleship”

SERMON BY THE REVEREND AMOS MCCARTHY

17TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

SEPTEMBER 16, 2018

 

Title: “The Cost of Discipleship”

 

Text: 18 When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake.  19 Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” 20 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nest, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” 21 Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 22. But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

 

Scripture Reading: Matthew 8:18-22.

 

The story is told in Ministry 127 about how a hog and a hen sharing the same barnyard heard about a church’s program to feed the hungry. The hog and the hen discussed how they could help. The hen said, “I’ve got it! We’ll provide bacon and eggs for the church to feed the hungry.” The hog thought about the suggestion and said, “There’s one problem with your bacon and eggs solution. For you, it only requires a contribution, but for me, it will mean total commitment!” You will contribute what you produce which is less painful.  I will have to go through pain giving myself up. This story illustrates what the the cost of true discipleship actually is. It involves complete commitment to Jesus and His mission. To understand the cost of true discipleship, one must first answer some salient questions: Who is a disciple? Who disciples are we? What is discipleship? By this time in our Christian life, we must have answers to these questions. In addition, we were blessed to partake in ten weeks of discipleship class here at church. Join me as we look at the cost of discipleship together.

Jesus Christ commanded us in Matthew 28:19-20 “to go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them “to observe all that I have commanded you.” This raises a fundamental question if we will undertake the cost of discipleship.  What does it actually means to be a disciple of Jesus? If we are going to take up discipleship, we ought to know what this is.

The standard meaning of a disciple is someone who adheres to the teachings of another.  A disciple is a follower or a learner. Jesus Christ said in Luke 9:23, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” A disciple is then someone who take up the ways of someone.  Applied to Jesus, a disciple is someone who learns from Him and live like Him. A disciple is someone who because of God’s amazing grace, conforms his or her words and deeds to the words and deeds of Jesus Christ. Or we may put it this way that the disciples of Jesus are themselves little Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:21).  To sum this up, if you are a disciple of Jesus, you are a worshipper of Jesus, a servant, and a witness of Jesus.

Being a disciple of Jesus means worshipping Him exclusively.  This is at the core of Jesus’ ministry on earth. In John 4:23-24, Jesus pointed out that God is looking for those who worship in spirit and in truth.  He told the woman at the well that the Father was seeking true worshippers. To follow Jesus and be His disciple means to worship, with joy at the heart.  Jesus demonstrated how we ought to be His disciple. In John 13:5 Jesus is kneeling before His disciples and about to wash their feet. In verse 8 Jesus says, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Mark tells us that Jesus is a servant.  He came to earth not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for sinners (Mark 10:45). To be a disciple of Jesus is to serve like Jesus. It means to serve primarily, by looking at other Christians and going low in acts of love, even if it is an inconvenience to you.  If you are not a servant, you cannot be a disciple of Jesus, because making disciples of Jesus means making servants who love one another. When Jesus washed the feet of the Twelve he said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another (John 13:24).  The truth of the matter is, it is this love that disciples have for one another that identifies them as disciples to a watching world.

John gives another picture of who a disciple should be. In a commission to His disciples, Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you (John 20:21).  This means a disciple is one who is on a mission to tell the good news of Jesus Christ. So a disciple is a witness of the good news. Jesus had a purpose on earth: to reveal God and redeem sinners (John 1:14). We too, as His disciples, filled by the Holy Spirit, is sent for a purpose.  It is to witness (Romans 10:14-17). So it is obvious that to be a disciples is to point people to Him. It means to tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love so that people may know Him and worship Him. This means that we gladly seek more worshippers, servants and missionaries. This means a disciple of Jesus makes disciples of Jesus as Jesus told us to do.  But there is a cost in being a disciple of Jesus. There is a cost to make others a disciples of Jesus.

Our text this morning tells of a time when Jesus reminded His disciples that discipleship is costly. In Matthew 8:19, a teacher of the law approached Jesus and promised to follow Him wherever Jesus went.  He is committing to being Jesus’ disciple or His follower. This is a drive worth accepting immediately. But our wise Lord tells the man about the cost of following Him. Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.”  Jesus Christ is saying here that following him is not an easy venture. It is costly to follow Him or be His disciple. A person must leave everything to follow Him.

In our time and age, we have approached the teaching of discipleship in a way as not to offend anyone. There is a difference between church membership and Christian discipleship. Some folks will think that to become a disciple of Jesus is to join the church, attend worship once in a while and perhaps give an offering. This is not the case.  It is my prayers that we will take our calling as Jesus’ disciples more seriously, commit ourselves to Christ more fully, and feel a greater share in Christ kingdom on earth.

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Book, “The Cost of Discipleship” makes the assertion that grace is free, but grace is not cheap.  Grace was paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ. Because of the price paid, His disciples is led by grace to surrender their lives to God in faithfulness and gratitude to God.  Jesus makes this clear when He says in verse 22 of Matthew 8, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” He further makes it clear in Mark 8:34, “Whoever wants to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” So what is the cost of discipleship?

One cost of discipleship is the loss of one’s identity.  Paul in his second letter to the church at Corinth tells the Corinthians, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold all things have become new” (2Cor. 5:17).  Once we were part of the world and its sinful nature. As disciples of Christ, our old nature or identity is in the past. The emphasis now is not upon us but upon Christ; what’s important is not who we are, but the one to whom we belong.

Paul went on to say that, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I that live, but Christ living in me.  That life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loves me, and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).  

The cost of discipleship is the sacrifice of personal freedom.  When we become disciples of Christ, God gave us the freedom to choose.  We called it free will. In the process, God choose us as His own. We have the choice to say no.  God shows us the way but gave us the freedom to rebel and make our own mistakes. In Paul’s classic statement in Galatians, he writes, “Stand firm therefore in the liberty by which Christ made us free, and don’t be entangled again in the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1).  What we need to remember is that freedom in Christ is not freedom to do your own thing, but freedom to choose Christ over the ways of the world.

John Wesley in a prayer he offered every night on New Year’s Eve asked God: “I am no longer my own but thine, put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt, put me to doing, put me to suffering, let be employed for thee or laid aside for thee, exalt for thee or be made low for thee….”  As disciples of Jesus Christ, we will do well to pray with Wesley and be reminded that we are not free to follow the dictates of our own sinful nature. We have the choice to surrender our wills to the will of God and to submit to the authority of Christ. The cost of discipleship is the sacrifice of personal freedom.  We are called to give up prejudice, gossips, lies, slander, envy, and all kinds of vices and commit ourselves totally to Christ and His works.

 

The cost of discipleship is countless.  We can go from letting go of personal wealth, giving up of ultimate allegiance to family, friends, and country, to even laying down our lives.  According to the World Watch List From Open Door, around 215 million Christians face significant level of persecution in the world today. It reports that 1 in 12 Christians live where their faith was illegal, forbidden, or punished.  In their 2018 report, 3,066 Christians were killed, 1252 were abducted, and 793 churches were attacked.

I agreed with Dietrich Bonhoeffer when he says, “Cheap grace is grace we bestow on ourselves… the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession.  Cheap grace is grace without discipleship.”

Discipleship is costly because it cost a man His life.  That man is Jesus. It is costly because it offers a man the only true gift, the gift of everlasting life.  To follow Jesus is the greatest thing we can ever undertake, but not without a cost. God bless you.