Sermon "Skill in Your Hand & God in Your Heart"

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Keeping Money In Its Place

Here's a little experiment I want you to try. All you need is a Bible and a quarter. Put the Bible on a table or counter top in front of you. Now closely inspect the quarter. Make sure there are no holes in it and it has the right dead President on it. Now stand about 3 feet from the Bible holding the quarter in your right hand between your thumb and index finger. While looking at the Bible, close your left eye. Slowly lift the quarter in front of your face, holding it at arms length between you and your Bible. Now slowly bring the quarter towards your open right eye. Bring it closer and closer until it covers your right eye. Now don't poke your eye out with it. Ok, now the observations.
Notice when you had the quarter at arms length you could still see your Bible? And notice how the closer you brought that quarter to your eye, the less of your Bible you could see? And I would guess that once you covered your eye, unless it had holes in it, or you cheated, you could hardly see your Bible or anything else. Ok, now the conclusions.
Without a doubt, we need money. It is a part of this world that we live in and there is nothing wrong with us getting it, having it or using it. But I hope you will see from this simple illustration, that we need to keep it in the proper perspective in our lives. If it's all we desire, all we think about, all we hope for, then it will blind us from the things of God and many other important things as well. But if we keep it in its proper place in our hearts and minds, then we can get it, have it and use it and it won't affect our relationship with God or others.
The Lord knows that we have the tendency to get all funny when it comes to money. Which is why He gives us clear and loving warning in 1 Timothy 6:9-10 "But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows."
So keep money in it's place, and keep your eyes on God!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Blessing of an Unanswered Prayer

I'm about to make a statement, and some of you will immediately understand what I'm saying. Some of you haven't thought about it or yet realized it. Some of you may think I'm full of it. Which is ok, and which is why God is leading me to post this. So, here's the statement.
Sometimes the best answer to a prayer is when that prayer goes unanswered...(Pause to let that bell finish let me ring it again). Sometimes the best answer to a prayer is when that prayer goes unanswered.
Now let me share a story to help you understand how I see this. So, I went to college to be a Social Studies teacher. I majored in History and minored in Education. I finished my coursework, did my student teaching, graduated, and shortly after got a job. I taught two years at Southeast Halifax High School then moved to Beddingfield High School in Wilson. Before I left Southeast, I started working on my master's degree in school administration. My plans were to teach a few years, and then work my way up the administration ranks to the superintendent's office. I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my oldest brother Ralph, who had done the same. I really admired him, and still do. Well, while in graduate school, things got pretty rough. Tonya and I started a family, and in case you didn't know, teachers don't make a whole lot for the professionals they are; especially new teachers. Grad school and the travel back and forth was expensive, and the schedule was taking a toll on me. Then, I heard of a program called the Principal Fellows program. It paid for full-time grad school and you worked a part-time internship that also paid. I was like, "Thank You Lord, that is for me!". So I applied for it. I was a babe in Christ at that time, but I knew enough to pray over my application. I felt I was a shoo-in. I was young, ambitious and was making pretty good grades in grad school up to that point. Not to mention...I prayed over my application.
Well, a few weeks later I get a letter from the office of that program. It was a thin letter. You know that's usually not a good sign, because it only takes one page to say "no". But hey, I had prayed over it, so I figured the first letter was to tell me yes, and all the other paperwork would follow. Weeell, I opened it...and it was a no. But, but...I had prayed over it?! It was what I wanted....what I needed....and I had prayed over it. I was devastated. I hadn't thought out a plan B, and honestly I felt let down by God. And that unanswered prayer rested on my heart for some time. I still believed in the Lord, and I still prayed to Him. But I have to admit that for a long time after that, many of my prayers were lobbed up to Heaven followed by a question mark.
Fast forward over many mountains, and through many valleys in my life with God, and I see things differently now. I see that we all have a limited perspective of the world. We can't possibly see the grand plan God has laid out for us. At the time, I couldn't have possibly known that God's plan for me didn't include that program. I didn't know that He was going to switch my careers and lead me to a bi-vocational pastoral ministry with the job I have now. Oh I wish I had the time to share with you all the doors that have closed in my life and all the others that have opened. Let's just say that where I am right now is where God wants me to be, and I would not be where I am if I had gotten into that program. And it is because that and many other things that happened to me are the reasons I can stand flat-footed and say, sometimes the best answer to a prayer is when that prayer goes unanswered.
If you are discouraged because a prayer of yours has gone unanswered, be encouraged in knowing that God's plan is best. Faith requires not only that we believe in Him when we can't see Him, but also that we trust Him when we don't understand Him. His plan for your life is better than the one you've already mapped out, simply because He can see from your beginning all the way to your end. So keep on praying, even when some prayers go unanswered, because it's the conversation with God that brings you closer. Then you will see the blessing of an unanswered prayer.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Learn to Like the Rules

Let me ask you this. (About to get up in your business alert!) Did you ever go through a period in your life where one or both of your parents had to stand flat-footed, with finger in your face and say these words, "As long as you live in my house, you will live by my rules", or something to that effect? Oh, you there...that happened to you? More than once? Yeah, I kinda thought so. You over there...never? You sure? Well, bless your heart.
I have to admit that I have, and it's not a nice memory. We all know that kind of statement doesn't come after you've done something good. No parent has ever said those words after you've done all your chores, or brought home straight A's, or ate all your broccoli . No, those words came after you broke their rules. And usually it wasn't a minor infraction either.
If the truth be told, those were words I didn't want to hear, but I desperately needed to hear. I needed those words firmly spoken to snap me out of whatever kind of nonsense I was into. And I knew when I heard those words I had a choice to make. Either I was going to live by their rules, or I was not living in their house. I'm not sure where I was going to go, but I was certainly going to have to leave from there.
Now my initial response to a talking like that from my parents was not an immediate "I sure do appreciate that". In fact my knee-jerk response was to want to talk back, or to walk out the house slamming a door behind me. The fact that I am here to type this post lets you know I didn't do either of those. I just sat there and gritted my teeth while staring at the floor. But over time, I realized they were right and I was wrong, and I needed that reminder about their rules. I shudder to think where I would have ended up had I totally rejected their rules.
Now that I and most of you are grown and setting our own rules, we may think we don't have anyone to answer to. But we still have rules to follow, and if you're a Christian like me, they include God's rules. The Bible is full of them. In scripture they're called commandments, laws, decrees, precepts, and statutes. Though some may not feel this way, God's rules are no more meant to hurt us or steal our fun than our parents rules were. Yet so many reject God because they don't want to accept His rules. While others want to pick and choose which of His rules they want to follow. But here is the truth, and you'd do well to listen closely. God's house...God's rules! Sure we're saved by grace and not by works. I mean my parents loved me even when I was breaking their rules. But they weren't going to tolerate my rule-breaking because of that love. In fact, it was their love that prompted them to discipline me. Same way with God. It might not feel like it at the time, but His rules are meant for our good.
So even now, when God has to have that talk with me, I try to keep my heart soft enough to receive it even when my head isn't. And my prayer is that I can continue to grow into these words written in Psalm 119: 9-16
"How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Praise be to you, Lord; teach me your decrees. With my lips I recount
all the laws that come from your mouth. I rejoice in following your statutes
as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word."