Sunday Message at House of Prayer Church (2017)
Oh, to Powerball or not to Powerball! Though I never buy lottery tickets, I can’t help but consider it now. After all, with a record-breaking pot of $1.3 BILLION at stake, how can one not get caught up in all the hype? Lightning is sure to strike sometime soon! So why not step into the storm with a long metal pole and see if I get hit – hit big!
And what would I do with all that money? I’d like to give the majority to several ministries that help impoverished areas and spread the gospel . . . I’d help out my own local church, of course . . . help out loved ones . . . and get a debt-free home and some college funds for my children. I can even find Bible verses to back up these intentions, so surely God would not oppose!
It’s easy to look at all the “good” we could do if a sum that size fell into our laps. What we tend to forget is all the bad the money itself can do to us. Rather than being the blessing many hoped it would be, it has a history of being otherwise, so much so that it’s been dubbed “The Lottery Curse”.
But let’s not look at the frightening statistics of lottery winners going bankrupt, getting divorces, sinking into depression, and committing suicide. No, everyone dismisses those statistics and assumes they’d be an exception. Rather, let’s see if there is any Biblical direction when considering whether to buy that lotto ticket or not.
Abram (Abraham) realized this dilemma when he was offered riches from the King of Sodom. Surely, he could have played the “God’s favor” card and given in to the temptation to accept the king’s offer. But he did not. He rather responds in Genesis 14:23, “I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’”
Deuteronomy 8:18 states that “it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth.” Simply look at the richest man the world has ever known, King Solomon. He did not receive a hand-out. He chose to ask God for wisdom rather than riches, and thus it was through his wisdom that his riches increased (see 1 Kings 3). His proverbs repeatedly confirm the order of relationship between the two: the causal (gift of wisdom) and the consequential (riches).
This can be a difficult admission for both poor and rich alike, obviously, so the difficulty does not arise just because you won the lottery. It isn’t easy for a poor person to give everything, thus the reason Jesus marveled at the poor widow who gave all that she had, though it was only “two very small copper coins”. (Mark 12:41-43). Jesus marveled because he knew it wasn’t easy.
I would suggest, however, that it is easier for a poor person to give everything than it is for a rich person. The more money . . . the more strings . . . the more entitlement . . . the more money-masters holding onto you! Jesus points this out after dealing with the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-37. This particular rich man heard the audible words of Jesus instructing him to sell everything and give to the poor – even better than seeing “writing in the clouds”! Unlike the poor widow with the copper coins and unlike the poor widow giving Elijah her last bread, however, the rich man failed.
His financial status is not coincidental to his failure. Scripture is clear: ” He went away sad, because he had great wealth.” Thus Jesus’ following statement: “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
Let’s look at a few examples from Paul. Though Paul clearly states that workers in the church deserve honor and payment in 1 Timothy 5:18, “the worker deserves his wages”, he also makes it a point to deny his own rights in 2 Thessalonians 3:7, “We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate.” In other words, Paul didn’t exercise his “right” for the sake of others.
Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 9 Paul states, “. . . it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.”. . . If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.”
Again, Paul lays down his own rights when it came to what he ate and drank: “Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.” (1 Corinthians 8:13) and “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.” (Romans 14:21).
What does this have to do with the lottery? Even if it’s not your “fault” you won the lottery and that others are jealous and offended . . . even if it’s your “right”, you should consider whether it’s really worth causing them to stumble. Is it worth the broken relationships? It may not only hurt you, but hinder the gospel of Christ as well.
Just remember, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much” (Luke 16:10). The lesson here is that the little things matter!
There’s a quote that comes to mind from one of our family’s favorite movies, Prince Caspian.” In it, Aslan has just acknowledged Prince Caspian as a Narnian king. Prince Caspian rises hesitantly and states, “I do not think I am ready.” Aslan’s response? “It is for that very reason I know that you are.”
Don’t misconstrue that to mean that doubting your ability to handle a lottery winning means you actually are ready. It simply means that at least you’re not a prideful fool and you’ll prayerfully consider which action to take.
So consider carefully. God bless!
Author: Linda Sue Park
Illustrator: Bagram Ibatoulline
Newbery medalist Linda Sue Park has found her way onto my list of must-have children’s Christmas books for every Christian home, bringing the Christmas Story to life from a perspective I’ve never before heard. It precedes the wise men’s entrance onto the Christmas scene and showcases those who made the magi’s third gift possible, meanwhile answering the question that so many children and adults alike may have . . . what exactly is “myrrh” anyway?
Park leads the reader into the desert alongside a boy who carefully shadows his father in order to learn his trade, the harvesting of “tears”. It is a careful process that requires much attention to detail, finding the perfect trees, cutting in just the right place with just the right depth. It’s an art of patience and skill, all to collect the droplets of sap that each tree cries and that eventually harden enough to be removed intact.
We’re not only drawn into Park’s creative depiction of this delicate harvesting process and the perfectly matched illustrations, we’re also taken on an educational journey concerning the various uses of myrrh, an especially significant detail foreshadowing the Christ-child’s fateful purpose – sacrifice. It is a beautiful tale coupled with both solemnity and celebration.
After harvesting the tear of all tears, the boy and his father are invited to present it for sale to three peculiar individuals who had obviously travelled from afar and whose destination especially interested this young tear-harvester. A gift of myrrh for . . . a baby?
We are left with these final thoughts from the curious child. “I watch the three men mount their camels. I watch them leave the marketplace. I watch as they ride into the desert. And I wonder about the baby.” May we, like this young boy, keep watch over the true significance of Christmas and may we always watch in wonder at His goodness.
For Ages 5+
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“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him ” (Revelations 19:11-14).
I will never forget it. It was New Year’s Day of 2014. I had traveled to the cities to visit friends and then spent the night in a hotel. I spent the next morning sipping on hotel coffee in my room, praying and journaling a bit before checkout time. It may sound spiritual, but in truth I was mulling over and bemoaning my lot in life and praying for a change. My justification for these feelings was that I wasn’t “doing” much for God. A holy desire, right? That’s when I heard His reply: “I’m not looking for leaders. I’m looking for followers.” There are few times that I’ve heard something so clearly.
I was wanting God to follow my plan instead of me following His, and He knocked me right off my horse. The above passage in Revelations serves to remind me of who the true leader is. God is not looking for leaders, He is looking for followers. Christ leads the battle. Christ wins the battle. It is only by Christ. The same is true in every current struggle we face or goal that we set. If we remain paralyzed by fear or complacency in our lives, we have made ourselves the leader. On the other hand, if our efforts to move forward and further God’s kingdom are not done in the spirit of humility – in surrender to Him – in the end, we have mostly furthered our own kingdom.
Number 9:15-23 is perhaps one of the most repetitive passages in Scripture. If God found it important enough to repeat over and over again, then it is worth our meditation. I dare say that if this was the only Scripture I knew, I would still be well equipped.
“On the day the tabernacle, the tent of the covenant law, was set up, the cloud covered it. From evening till morning the cloud above the tabernacle looked like fire. That is how it continued to be; the cloud covered it, and at night it looked like fire. Whenever the cloud lifted from above the tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. At the Lord’s command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the Lord’s order and did not set out. Sometimes the cloud was over the tabernacle only a few days; at the Lord’s command they would encamp, and then at his command they would set out. Sometimes the cloud stayed only from evening till morning, and when it lifted in the morning, they set out. Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out. Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out. At the Lord’s command they encamped, and at the Lord’s command they set out. They obeyed the Lord’s order . . .”
Again, God is not looking for leaders. He is looking for followers. Jesus’ invitation was not simply, “Let’s go together!” though that seems to be the new trend in preaching today. Rather, His call was to “Come, follow Me.” (Matthew 4:19 and Mark 1:17). Even the Apostle Paul was a follower before he was a leader. He emphasized the importance of this in his letter to the Corinthians by this correction: “For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task” (1 Corinthians 3:4-5). Paul’s invitation to “Follow me” was with a condition. His condition was “as I follow Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
So whether the temptation is to charge ahead in life or to remain as is, check to see whether that cloud of God’s Spirit is staying or going. It may not fit our plan. It may not feel comfortable. It may stretch us further than we can imagine stretching. Some of our pride may even get hurt . . . let it! Our victory is only found in the humble obedience of one call: “Follow me.”
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To conclude my recent postings concerning our need to truly receive and understand God’s grace for ourselves in order to extend grace toward others, I felt it appropriate to use an audio of a message I shared with House of Prayer Church under Pastor Lynndene Way. I shared this message in 2012 and still find it important to remind myself of its details years later.
The message is divided into two tracks totaling approximately 34 minutes. The first part dives into several of Jesus’ parables which give us an understanding of grace. The second part incorporates personal application as I share a little about how it has translated into my own life. Hope you will be blessed!
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Why did God use Peter, the disciple who (other than Judas) had committed the most grievous offense against Jesus in denying Him? Why did God use him to be one of the leading apostles in spreading the gospel of Christ? He had been given the intimacy of being within Jesus’ innermost circle and yet it was he that, despite being forewarned, verbally denied Christ . . . not just once, not just twice, but three times.
Of course, it was Peter who spoke by revelation from the Father and answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16) and because of such revelation he was no longer called Simon, but Peter, meaning “rock”. I believe it is more than this revelation that made Peter a leading apostle, however. Knowing that Jesus is the Christ does not necessarily indicate that Christ is known or understood. As hinted at throughout the gospels, the Messiah – or Christ – meant something different for many Jews who, weary of being under the oppression of the Romans, sought a vindicator of sorts, often perceived in the form of a political activist who would rescue them and only them.
Knowing Christ needs to be more than putting the right name in the slot. To truly preach Christ, we must first experience Christ. And our experience is through faith and, even more foundationally, by grace (Ephesians 2:8). Peter understood grace more fully upon hearing the evidence of his own inadequacy roll off his tongue three separate times. He then understood his need for grace and he was later to experience God’s extension of grace.
God’s preference is often what we would consider an unlikely match. As it states in 1 Corinthians 1:27, “God chose the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to confound the strong.” Furthermore, we find in 2 Corinthians 12:8 that God’s grace is always sufficient and it is displayed most fully through our weaknesses, for God’s “strength is made perfect in weakness.”
The above verses were penned by a man not at all foreign to God’s grace. If Peter seemed an unlikely match for carrying the gospel after his three strikes, Paul would have been the unlikeliest. A passionate persecutor of the early church, Paul had personally seen to the imprisonment and execution of many Christians. It was he that stood by in approval of Stephan’s stoning. And it was during one of his pursuits to fulfill his “murderous threats” that God demonstrated the extent of His grace (Acts 9). Paul would never be the same.
The unlikeliest man became the chosen man to deliver God’s grace to the unlikeliest people – the gentiles. To say that Paul was a leading apostle would not do it justice, considering that at least 13 of the New Testament’s 27 books are attributed to him. Yet, as Paul admits throughout his writings, he did not deserve his position: ” For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:9). This is repeated again in Ephesians 3:9: “Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ.” Paul understood grace.
Paul’s message was grace, grace, and grace again. What of our sins? “Grace,” Paul would answer. What about our works? “Grace,” he would echo. But how can I . . . ? “Grace and more grace” he would again declare. And here comes the challenge: What of our relationships with others? “Grace – make your conversations full of it (Colossians 4:6) and extend it generously, being kind and compassionate and forgiving to others just as God has been to us (Ephesians 4:32 & Colossians 3:13).
Grace both necessitates and enables graciousness toward others. The realization of our own undeservedness and the revelation of God’s love despite this fact must also carry into our perception of others. There is nothing like grace to defeat our prejudices. Our own reception of grace should inspire within us the truth that no one is beyond God’s reach. And if God wants to reach them, why shouldn’t we?
“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” ( John 13:34-35).
Jesus’ words form the backdrop to a lesson His disciple Peter is soon to learn. Certainly the last three years had been the most revelatory of any Peter had experienced, though none were as pivotal as what was yet to come.
Jesus continued, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.’ Peter asked, ‘Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ Then Jesus answered, ‘Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!'” (John 13:36-37).
And so it went. Three years of loyal discipleship appear to reach a bitter end. Three times Peter disowns Jesus and for three days he is left with the grief over his master in a tomb.
It’s so easy to brood over the remorse of our last moments with loved ones. Did we say ‘I love you’? Was our last goodbye with an embrace? Did we fully express our appreciation like we should have? At times our last moments are in strife. Perhaps there was a disagreement. Perhaps we needed to ask forgiveness and didn’t get the chance. This is the torment Peter no doubt faced. His last memories were of Jesus’ eyes locked on his . . . just as the rooster crowed. Jesus knew, and there was no time for apologies.
Thankfully, we serve a God who can raise up even something that’s dead. After three days, Christ was raised, and within His third appearance to His disciples, He was about to raise up a broken Simon Peter. The three betrayals were met with three questions from Jesus.
First: “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”
Second: “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?”
Third: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Three times Peter was given the opportunity to replace each rejection with an affirmation of his love for Jesus. My NIV Bible offers the heading “Jesus Reinstates Peter” to this passage. It is a powerful illustration of second chances. It is a powerful demonstration of GRACE.
It is interesting that the disciple whose actions should have caused the greatest offense against Jesus went on to become the one whom most scholars agree was the head apostle. Peter was also the first to receive the revelation concerning the acceptance of the gentiles. Within his vision, the Lord revealed to him, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (Acts 10: 15). This would have been a major challenge to their prejudicial mindsets during that time – but Peter understood grace.
It is difficult to be gracious to others if you can’t receive grace for yourself. Pride is at the crux of this dilemma. After all, how can God’s blessings be recognized as an act of grace if we feel we deserve them? Grace can only be received in humility. Likewise, true graciousness can only be offered out of humility. True graciousness is an extension from the understanding of the grace God has given.
Jesus points out this principle as his feet were being wet with the tears of a sinful woman, washed by her hair, and anointed with her perfume. This woman had been extended grace, and Jesus references her actions as a window into the nature of love – and, I believe, grace as well. After all, grace is the extension of God’s love. Jesus stated, “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47). Similarly, Peter had been forgiven much, and he would soon be called to love much. Grace would call him to be gracious.
Remember the backdrop to Peter’s pivotal lesson? Jesus had just finished commanding His disciples to love one another to such an extent that others would recognize they were disciples of Christ. He then told Peter that where He was about to go, Peter couldn’t follow . . . “but you will follow later.” This is likely in regards to Christ’s death, resurrection and heavenly ascension. Nonetheless, there seems to be great symbolism within this statement as well, given the lesson Peter was soon to undergo. At that time, Peter was incapable of following Jesus’ command to love just as He had loved. Peter had yet to fully comprehend his own need for grace. He was still convinced of his own abilities. Until . . .
Until his betrayal and reinstatement. It is interesting that after each opportunity Peter had to replace his betrayals with affirmations, Jesus gave these commands:
First: “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
“Feed my lambs.”
Second: “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?”
“Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
“Take care of my sheep.”
Third: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
“Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
“Feed my sheep.”
These commands can be easily romanticized on our super-spiritual highs. However, there will be lows. The “sheep” and “lambs” are not always so cute and cuddly. Sometimes they seem downright baaa-d. (Sorry, I had to – I’m a children’s author after all!) Personally, in these times I’ve learned that I will not be able to extend grace if I don’t bring to remembrance the grace given to me!
” . . . to you who are listening I say:
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you . . .
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.
And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.
And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? . . .
But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.
Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High,
because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”