Category Archives: Living a Life of Purpose

These are a series of sermons based on Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Life,” preached at Central Schwenkfelder Church in January 2010

Fear Not…

“…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7 ESV)

I recently read an article written by an older teenager named Jacki as she cited her three biggest fears (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/my-3-biggest-fears-as-a-teenager). They were the following:
• Fear of the future;
• fear of failure;
• fear of intimacy and loneliness.

In citing her fear of the future, Jacki said: “As teenagers, we start to realize the idealistic plans we made as kids aren’t sure things. We don’t have control.” Overwhelming can be the feeling of being, “in-between.” “…in-between schools, jobs, plans, and security. Stress lingers. My future was a blank slate, everything was up in the air, and I felt swallowed by the unknown. Fear of the future pressed in.”

The next is a fear of failure. Jacki states: “Failing in school, work, relationships, driving—basically, failing at life. We’re afraid of disappointing those we love and messing up in some extravagant, irreparable way. The fear of failure is paralyzing because it inhibits us from taking risks and moving forward—which is, of course, what growing up is all about.”

The last of the three is a fear of intimacy and loneliness. Jacki says: “This is the season of my life where I’ve never been more aware of how sinful and broken and flawed I am. Yet it’s the season where I’ve never been more aware of trying to cover up my flaws. I’m afraid of people seeing the real me.”

If we were honest, we can identify with Jacki’s state of mind. You and I have encountered those fears or maybe we still do. The feeling of vulnerability is akin to the human experience.

But how we handle our fears is another matter. The Lord Jesus wants us to turn our anxious thoughts into prayers (Philippians 4:6), asking God to be mighty in our lives and slay our fears through faith.

Would you bring your fears before Him today and ask for strength to face them? Would you pray for the young people in your life that may be facing anxiety every day? Ask that God would work in their lives and draw them unto Himself. Remember that Jesus said: “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

What is God’s Will For My Life?

Such is a common question among humankind. So often we approach this subject as if we are “searching for a needle in a haystack.” We want the burning bush, as Moses experienced. Or we want a thundering voice from heaven telling us what we should do. But if it were that simple, where would faith God figure in? Is it not better that we trust God, obey Him, and step out, despite the unknowns?

Augustine of Hippo, the fourth century church father, said: “Love God, and do what you will.” It is my understanding that he wrote this regarding one’s desire to discover God’s will for life. Finding God’s will requires prayer and action.

Consider the following verses. Paul wrote: “So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:6-7 ESV) Here, Paul is reminding Christians in Corinth that during their time on this earth, they are physically separated from the Lord. This arrangement is by God’s intentions because it requires faith. Faith always has an unseen element to it.

In addition, consider Thomas, one of the twelve disciples, who said that he would not believe that Jesus arose from the dead unless he could see with his own eyes and touch His wounds. Afterwards, when Christ chose to appear to His disciples in the upper room, He specifically approached Thomas and encouraged him to see and touch. Then, in loving admonition, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29 ESV)

Sometimes we long to receive a sign from God. We want to know specifics instructions about who we should marry or to what job we ought to apply. God has already given us timely instructions in His word about such things. Oftentimes, God does not give us the where, why and how of our circumstances. Rather, He wants us to pray: “Lord, guide me along the way,” as we step out in faith, obeying His word and learning from the Holy Spirit in the process.

Giving Thanks, Regardless

The following message is based on 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 and addresses why we should be grateful. It was shared on November 19, 2013.

What are you thankful for? Being grateful is a state of mind. The story of Jesus healing the ten leprous men in Luke 17 has compelled me to give thanks to God often. He told them to show themselves to the priest and on the way, they were healed. Only one came back and glorified God. Verse 15 tells us: “One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him– and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well.’” So it is good for us to glorify God by recognizing what He has given us and how He has worked in our lives.

Growing up in Southwest Missouri, I was the youngest of five kids. I went to kindergarten when my oldest sister left for college. Holiday time was special, because everybody came back. At Thanksgiving, after the prayer, we usually went around the table and stated what we were particularly grateful for. Unfortunately, it is human nature to forget how we are blessed. It is good for the soul to “…count our many blessings, name them one by one; then it will surprise us to see what God has done.” This morning, I’d like to encourage you with Paul’s words from 1 Thessalonians 5. This instruction comes amidst various exhortations at the end of the letter. The Apostle has gone into detail about the events pertaining to the second coming of Jesus, and how we can be prepared for it. In this final section, he is rounding out the letter. The things he mentions constitute the attitude of the Christian, three things that influence outlook. He says: “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. “

All three deal with an ongoing attitude, a frame of mind. Paul mentions here that we are to “rejoice at all times.” What does it mean “to rejoice?” This is not to be confused with just thinking positively. Rather, it is a joy based not on our circumstances, but on God, what He has done and what He is doing. I must say that I struggle with this just as much as anyone. It is hard to be full of joy always; but then again, I know it has to do with how I look at this world and how I look at Christ.

One key to joy is the presence of prayer. That is why Paul instructs us to “Pray without ceasing.” What does it mean to “pray without ceasing?” One commentator states that it is a mental attitude of prayerfulness, continued personal fellowship with God and consciousness of being in God’s presence throughout each day.” One of the greatest examples of this is a man commonly known as Brother Laurence. He lived in France in the 17th century. Working in the kitchen of a monastery, he is known for how he practiced the presence of God. Common, everyday tasks could be opportunities for worship and thanksgiving. He wrote: “”Nor is it needful that we should have great things to do. . . We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.” He seemed to live out Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”

And if we keep a prayerful frame of mind, we will be able to give thanks often. The English Standard Version states that we should, “give thanks in all circumstances.” Christians are to be marked by thanksgiving. Many Scriptures suggest this, such as the following. First, thanksgiving is a counter to sinful speech. Ephesians 5:4: “…and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” Secondly, gratitude pervades all of life’s blessings and circumstances. Ephesians 5:20: “…always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father… .” Thirdly, gratitude is the out flowing of the heart that has been given to Christ. Colossians 2:7: “…having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.” Colossians 4:2: “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving….”

This reminds me that sometimes we must perform a sacrifice of thanksgiving. I think it means being thankful, even when it hurts. There is plenty to be depressed over. There’s an overabundance of stuff to rob our joy. Sometimes, we just need to make a conscious decision by faith that we are going to trust God and be grateful for His blessings, even when the tide of emotions would take us elsewhere.

What I’d like to do in the rest of time is to encourage you to “…give thanks, in all circumstances….” First of all, let us be thankful, in the midst of disappointment. In other words, be thankful, even if things are not the best. Recognize the many needs around you. Think on these words: broken families, homelessness, disease, and finally: the Philippines, where over 5,000 have been killed by the Typhoon and hundreds of thousands are homeless.

Maybe it is a job that you hate. Charles Spurgeon, the English Baptist Preacher of the late 1800’s said: “Never mind where you work; care more about how you work!” Having steady work is a blessing. Work is honorable. I know a man who faced difficulty with his job several years ago. In an act of faith, he decided to venture out on his own. Now, he has more work than he can ask for. God has given us our qualities and gifts. He also provides our resources as we have need.

Or maybe there’s a relationship that is strained. Many times we are ungrateful by our idealism. We focus on how we want the situation, rather than what God could be doing is we would turn it over to Him. I have a friend that just lost a brother to cancer. At the time, he was having trouble with his loved one. One day, the brother went to emergency room with stomach and back pains. After a biopsy, the doctors discovered that he had advanced stage of a very aggressive form of cancer. The doctors gave him 6-8 months, he made it 17 days. He was 47. If you are at odds with a person, don’t dwell on the hurt and let it paralyze you. Maybe it is time to express thanksgiving for and to that person. Ask how you might offer thanks to God for them, and improve what you can; in His timing and by His grace.

Be thankful, even when you haven’t as much as your neighbor. Chances are you and I have more than
most. The following comes from a number of reliable sources and asks the question: “Am I Rich?” (See
http://irememberthepoor.org/3/).
• Got $2200? In this world, you’re rich. Assets (not cash) of $2200 per adult place a person in the top
50% of the world’s wealthiest.*
• If you made $1500 last year, you’re in the top 20% of the world’s income earners.**
• If you have sufficient food, decent clothes, live in a house or apartment, and have a reasonably reliable means of transportation, you are among the top 15% of the world’s wealthy. **
• Have $61,000 in assets? You’re among the richest 10% of the adults in the world.*
• If you earn $25,000 or more annually, you are in the top 10% of the world’s income-earners.***
• If you have any money saved, a hobby that requires some equipment or supplies, a variety of clothes in your closet, two cars (in any condition), and live in your own home, you are in the top 5% of the world’s wealthy. **
• If you earn more than $50,000 annually, you are in the top 1% of the world’s income earners.***
• If you have more than $500,000 in assets, you’re part of the richest 1% of the world.*

What does God want you to do with your resources? More than just spending it on yourself. Paul wrote the Corinthians: “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God (II Corinthians 9:11).”

Be thankful for the small things. This might be a sunset, a favorite food, a friend, mobility, education, etc. I will have another birthday in a couple of weeks. After yesterday’s dodge ball tournament, I’m reminded that I don’t bounce back like I once did. I know that time marches on. I must be thankful for today and the blessings I have. I am in relatively good health. I have people who love me. I shouldn’t take these for granted.
Be thankful for spiritual blessings, not just material ones. Do you ever stop and thank God for the spiritual blessings He has given you? Ephesians 1:3 tells us: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” Things like forgiveness, adoption, a new heart, His word? I’ve shared with you before how a pastor told me: “Every day there is reason to stop and thank Jesus for what He did for you on the cross.”

Lastly, be thankful for today. Psalm 90:12: “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” This struck hard recently. Last week we received word that Linda’s 57 year old uncle suffered a massive heart attack. This was a man that worked hard all his life and provided for his family, in a new country, having to learn the language and adapt to a new way of life, after his marriage dissolved in Korea, He came to the US and had to raise two children on his own.

One day last week, he woke up and attended an early morning prayer meeting. As he was leaving, he collapsed and was taken to a Los Angeles area hospital. While in the ER, had another series of heart attacks and passed away.
Distance and time had become obstacles to our seeing this uncle over the last couple of years. At the funeral, there was an outpouring of love toward Linda’s uncle and family. When it came time for the message, the pastor, had considerable difficulty making it through his message. Later that evening, over dinner, Linda asked the pastor: “Did you know my uncle well?” He responded in broken English: “He was a faithful church member. He really tried to change his life for Jesus Christ. He was a good… friend.” You never know when your day will come. So you must be ready and be grateful for each day you have. I ran across this thought recently. Someone once said: “Gratitude turns what we have into enough.”

“Post Christmas Blues?”

The following message is based on Psalm 90 and discusses our God’s eternality and humankind’s mortality, as we see in another year.  It was given on December 30, 2012.

This week I had the pleasure of having family in from California and Missouri.  We had a great time with our favorite foods, playing games, opening presents, touring Philadelphia, etc.  They all left yesterday and I have to admit, it was a bit of a letdown.  Life must return to normal.  Everybody must go back to work; kids must go back to school.  Reality sets in.  When all of this fun, goodwill and joy come to a screeching halt, if you’re like me, you could experience Post Christmas Blues.

Although we love these things, like food, family and fun, we are also reminded that the true meaning of Christmas is something that should last long past the holiday.  Jesus gives us reason to celebrate with those things we count as blessings.  He is life’s main blessing: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him would not perish, but have everlasting life.”

One of the methods in dealing with post Christmas blues is by having a plan, goal or direction for the new year.  As a new year dawns, what do we want for 2013?  What is life all about?  What direction do we want for our lives?  What is our vision as individuals and as a church?  For part of that answer, we turn to Psalm 90, which speaks of the eternality of God and the frailty of man.  It reminds us that the years are given to us as a gift.  Each one is precious.  We must make the most of them.  How do we do that?

Let’s consider some observations from Psalm 90.  Thought to be written after the tragedy at Kadesh- Barnea, when God denied the Israelites entrance into the Promised Land because of their lack of faith, it is the oldest psalm in the book of Psalms.  Even though the Israelites had to wander in the wilderness, they needed to be reminded of some important lessons.  Man is limited in many ways.  The first of which is…

WE ARE LIMITED BY SPACE, WHILE GOD IS OMNIPRESENT.

This psalm forms the start of book four of the Psalms.  Psalm 90 is entitled: “A Prayer of Moses, the man of God.”  Interesting to note that this is the only psalm that is ascribed to Moses.  It “contrasts God’s eternity and human mortality.  Moses seems to pray for God’s blessing on his own generation, doomed to wander in the wilderness.”[1]

Notice verse one: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. 2 Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”  Ironically enough, Moses wrote this psalm during or around the time of the exodus and wilderness wandering.  At a time when the people of God did not have an established home or a place where they could literally “hang their hat,” the prophet sang of how God was their dwelling place, “throughout all generations.”  In His character, in His love and in His identity as their Creator and Father, the Israelites did not have to have an established place, at least for the time being.  This led them to depend on God for everything.  Egypt was a source of food, even though the labor was harsh.  Now, God would be their source of sustenance.

There were several reasons why God took His people through the wilderness.  Consider the following:

  • He would lead them with the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.  Exodus 13:21-22
  • He would part the Red Sea for them on their way into the wilderness journey. Exodus 14:13-14
  • They would experience the bitter waters of Marah and then the 12 springs of Elim. Exodus 15:22-27
  • He would show them his provision through the manna and quail.  Exodus 16
  • He would give them the 10 commandments at Mt. Sinai as well as other laws I call “respect and responsibility” laws. Exodus 20

Some people are nomadic by nature.  The Kurdish people in the Middle East have no country to call their own.  They have been pushed out of countries such as Turkey and Iraq, so they live in pockets wherever they can.  Others have to leave their homeland because they are forced out.  Maybe it is religious reasons, maybe it is economic reasons.  I remember meeting a man named Abraham from Egypt.  He had made his way to Greece. I asked him why he left his home country.  He said it was because he could not find work.  He was trying to support his family.

This reminds us that sometimes we can get too attached to what is around us.  We don’t stop and consider that the only source of real stability in our lives is God.  It is only through a relationship with Him that the fear about the future can be taken away.

I was reminded of the reason why I celebrate Christmas in the words of Norval Geldenhuys: “Without the coming of Christ we should have no assurance that God really exists as a personal God, perfect in love and mercy, and we should still have been overcome with fear as regards the invisible, the hereafter, the divine and eternal. But thanks be to God that His Son gave Himself to the world in condescending love and became Man, bringing a perfect revelation of God as the Holy and Merciful Lord.”

God is our dwelling place.  Therefore Jesus must be our focus.  Jesus said in John 15:5: “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing.”  WE ARE LIMITED BY SPACE, WHILE GOD IS OMNIPRESENT.  Secondly…

WE ARE LIMITED BY TIME, WHILE GOD IS ETERNAL.

This passage also reveals how mankind is incredibly finite.  Notice verse three: “You turn men back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, O sons of men.” 4 For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. 5 You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning– 6 though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered.”

Compared to God, our existence is limited by time and ability.  The book of James describes us as a vapor that is here only for a short while.  James 4:14 tells us: “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”  Psalm 90:10 says: “The length of our days is seventy years– or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.”

In contrast, God is unlimited by time and space.  Notice the way that Peter puts it in 2 Peter 3:8: “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.”  Keil and Delitzsch put it this way: “He is however exalted above all time, inasmuch as the longest period appears to Him very short, and in the shortest period the greatest work can be executed by Him. …A whole millennium appears to God, when He glances over it, just as the yesterday does to us… .”[2]

In other words, adopt Paul’s statement in Philippians 1:21: “For to me to live is Christ, to die is gain.”  Paul saw His life as a commodity for Christ.  He wanted to live on for the sake of his spiritual children, for those in Philippi.  But he knew with these imprisonments, he could, or maybe even would lose His life.  Joy is mentioned in this letter no less than 13 times.  His focus was ministry; ours should be as well.  Tim Tebow recently put things in good perspective when he said: “Your character is who you are as a man and that’s a lot more important… “It’s a football game. That’s one thing, if you’re good or bad at football, but your character and integrity, that’s who you are as a man. That’s a lot more important. … I take that way more serious than I’ll ever take a football game.”[3]  Since our lives are short, how should we make the most of it?  Consider our church’s mission: To love God, serve others and grow disciples.  So I invite you this year to…

 

  • Make the glory of God your goal.
  • Make the love of others your mission.
  • Make your spiritual growth and that of others your passion.

 

This morning, we are limited by space, but God is omnipresent.  Secondly, we are limited by time, but God is eternal.  Consider the following poem as you prepare to start off this year:

 

Another new year now awaits us,

A page that is spotless and white;

New grace, dear Lord, wilt Thou give us,

To watch each new day what we write

Thine all-seeing eye is upon us,

Thine ear hears the words which we speak,

Thy heart knows the impulse which moves us,

Thy mind knows the object we seek.

The days Thou shalt give us in mercy,

We promise to spend to Thy praise;

And may honor, and power and glory

Be Thine, O Thou Ancient of Days![4]

 

 


[1] NGSB, 854.

[2] Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Volume 5: Psalms.

[4] —Author Unknown, Encyclopedia of 15,000 Illustrations: Signs of the Times.

 

“Great Service”

The following message is based on Mark 10:35-45 and covers the topic of pride and service within the Christian life.  It was preached at the Palm Schwenkfelder Church in Palm, PA on  October 21, 2012 for Schwenkfelder Ministerium Pulpit Exchange.

How do we define “greatness?”  With any word, there is often the world’s definition, then the Bible’s definition.  According to Webster’s, greatness is defined as chief or preeminent over others —often used in titles.  We witness people striving for greatness and notoriety on such popular shows as “American Idol,” “Britain’s Got Talent,” and “The Voice.”  And then there are examples from history.  Take, for instance, Alexander the Great, who before his death at the young age of 32 conquered much of the known world, from Greece to the Himalayas during the 4th century B.C.  He was undefeated in battle and considered one of the most successful commanders ever.

Usually, we define greatness as having to do with money, power and accomplishment.  Mohammed Ali often referred to himself as “the Greatest.”  Coach Urban Meyer has referred to Tim Tebow, his quarterback at the University of Florida from 2006 to 2009 as “GOAT,” which stands for “Greatest of All Time.”  These definitions usually have to do with money, power and accomplishment.

Then there is the Biblical definition, which Jesus gives in our passage today.  His meaning will surprise you.  We first learn that…

GREATNESS IS NOT MEASURED BY POSITION OR POWER.

Earlier in chapter 10, Jesus discussed how hard it was for the rich to enter the kingdom.  It is a call to forsake all things for the gospel (verse 30).  Notice His words in verse 31: “Many who are first, will be last; and the last, first.”   Jesus tells of His impending death in 32-34.  He tells His disciples that He is headed to Jerusalem and that He will be brought trial, and that He will die at the hands of sinful men.  This is the third time that Jesus predicts His imposing death.  As His followers, we must know that Jesus’ death was something necessary and by God’s design.  It was according to the Father’s plan and foreknowledge (Acts 2:23).  The disciples failed to understand its necessity or its enormity.

James and John approach Jesus, asking to sit at places of honor and authority.  There is quite a contrast in the nature of the subject preceding and the question asked by James and John in verse 35: “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.” 36 And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” 37 And they said to Him, “Grant that we may sit in Your glory, one on Your right, and one on Your left.”  These were two men who walked closely to Jesus.  Peter, James and John were the threesome that Jesus invested the most time in.  They were the “Sons of Thunder.”  James and John were brothers, the sons of Zebedee.  It makes one think that what Jesus said did not sink in.

The disciples’ status and rank were discussed earlier in 9:34.  This is possibly a continuation of former times when they asked for special privileges when Jesus would rule, as was assumed that the Messiah would do after ousting the Romans.  When my child wants something, he or she asks me.  If he wants it more, he asks 2 or 3 times.  Or if they are really desperate, they can be downright incessant.  They envisioned an earthly kingdom that ran according to human norms.  David Garland notes: “The Zebedee brothers are not asking for the honor of being crucified with Jesus.  What they really expect is a kingdom for themselves, where they can impose their own will on others.[1]  They had it in their own minds what “greatness” was.

But Jesus turns their definition on its head by saying: “You do not know what you are asking for. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39 And they said to Him, “We are able.”  Cup and baptism are used to represent experiences that qualify for this place.  The cup is a metaphor for suffering.  “The cup,” was a cup of wrath.  That’s why Jesus prayed in the Garden in Matthew 26:39:  “”My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt.”  What’s the talk of baptism?  Here the word is used as a form of identification, that with calamity.  Jesus would be plunged into adversity.  The way of Jesus is one of suffering.  Garland writes: “The way of Jesus is self-giving service.  They are not to be on the receiving end of service but on the giving end.”[2]

Verse 40- “But to sit on My right or on My left, this is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”  These positions were not for Jesus to grant, but only the Father.  Only to those for whom it has been prepared.  Yet, many of the disciples would die a martyr’s death.  Peter would be crucified upside down.  James would be thrown off the temple roof.  Andrew would be crucified.  Paul would be beheaded.  The way of an apostle was hard and difficult.  And yet, all of them went down in the annals of history as being great men!  Greatness is not measured by position or power.  Secondly…

GREATNESS IS MEASURED BY ATTITUDE AND ACTION.

At this request, we read in verse 41 that the others felt indignant towards James and John.  Jesus uses it as a springboard to teach His disciples about greatness.  He says: “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. 43 “But it is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. 45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

He says that greatness is measured by servant hood; by serving others.  A few years ago, Central Church adopted a mission statement.  This is a short, concise sentence that tells what we are about and what we aspire to be about in our world and community.  It is simply to Love God, to serve others and to grow disciples.  Compare this with the secular and pagan world:  Rulers of the Gentiles lord over their authority.  Some of you may have caught the recent program on Caligula, the Roman emperor.  He was a harsh ruler, suspected of being insane.  He would go after his own family members and had them executed if he suspected them of treason.  Caligula had his family members put to death.  He wanted to be worshipped; and he decided to rule ruthlessly, with an iron fist in order to be revered as a god.  Caligula believed that in order to be great, you must become a god.  Jesus taught, in order to become great, you must become a servant.

In this background, Jesus introduces a bit of an antithesis: to be great, you must be a servant; to be first, you must be a slave.  This mindset is also listed in Philippians 2:3.  Here, Paul writes: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!”

Jesus is our ultimate example of service.  Here was the greatest, Who became the lowliest, for our sake.  Notice verse 45: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Garland states: “Jesus has told his disciples that he must die, but this is the only passage in Mark that tells us why he must die: He ‘gives His life as a ransom for many. ‘The term ‘ransom,’ was used for compensation for personal injury or a crime, for purchasing the freedom of an enslaved relative.  And for the price paid as an equivalent for the sacrifice of the firstborn.  In extrabiblical sources, it referred to the amount paid to free a slave or prisoner, redeem a pledge, or reclaim something owned.

I was brought face to face with something extraordinary recently.  My wife and I visited the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Franklin Institute last weekend.  The Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered by accident in 1947, is the single most critical literary discovery of our modern times.  Before the discovery, the oldest manuscript of the Hebrew Bible dated to around 1,000 A.D.  But the Scrolls uncovered portions of the Old Testament that predated Christ.  As I got in line to look at these darkened pieces of parchment under glass, one was a portion of Isaiah 53:11-12, dated to the year 1 A.D., around the time of Jesus’ birth.  It said: “As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong; Because He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors.”  Christ gave His life to ransom us from sin’s slavery.  He set us free to serve God.  Aren’t we glad that Jesus gave His life as a ransom for us!  Friends, that’s you and me.

What about us?  Are we making the most of the opportunities God places in front of us to serve others?

Today, we’ve been reminded that greatness is not measured by position or power, but by attitude and action.  In Christ, there was no polished rhetoric.  Only words backed up by actions.  Directly after this incident, Jesus heals Bartimaeus, Son of Timaeus.  This man, calls out to Jesus, saying, “Jesus, Son of David (anointed one, king of Israel, the heir of the house of David), asks: “What do you want me to do for you?”

It was the great Martin Luther King, Jr. that said: You don’t have to have a college degree to serve.  You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve.  You don’t have to know Plato and Aristotle.  You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics.  You only need a heart full of grace.  A soul generated by love.”[3]


[1] David E. Garland, “Mark,” The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 411.

[2] Garland, 413.

[3] Garland, 417.

“Our Modus Operandi” by David W. McKinley

The following message is taken from Exodus 20 and deals with the subjects of work, rest and purpose in life.  It was preached on September 2, 2012 at the Central Schwenkfelder Church in Worcester, PA.

What is our Modus operandi?  Maybe you’ve heard of that term.  According to Wikipedia, Modus operandi is a Latin phrase, basically translated as “method of operation”.[1] The term is used to describe someone’s habits or manner of working, their method of operating or functioning. In English, it is often shortened to M.O.  The expression is often used in police work when discussing a crime and addressing the methods employed by the perpetrators. Today, I’d like to use that phase to talk about what we do with our lives.  What is our “Modus Operandi?”  Often times, I’m in the presence of other men, like at soccer practice or community functions where I’m meeting new people.  One of the first things out of a guys mouth is “What do you do?”  This morning, I would like for us to think about our purpose in life.  What is our motivation for living?  On this Labor Day weekend, let us think about our lives in relation to work, rest and purpose.

Some say that our work ethic in this country is wanting.  A recently article by Wayne Allyn Root stated that the work ethic in this country is hurting.  One seventh of our population is on food stamps.  20% of American children under 18 are obese.  Almost 11 million citizens are on disability.  In 1967, the ratio of able-bodied workers to disabled was 41 to 1.  As of June 2012, it is now 16 to 1.[1]  Now, a little over 8 % of Americans do not have a job.

Yet, we have the most opportunity of anywhere.  United States is often referred to as the “land of opportunity.”  James Truslow Adams coined the term “American Dream” in his 1931 book The Epic of America. His American Dream is “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.  I am convinced that we do not know how good we have it in America.

I was having a conversation with Clifford Liu, one of our missionaries.  He told me of the educational needs in China.  The average for the last five years has indicated that 9.5 million students graduate from high school each year.  Due to limited opportunities, only 5 million go to college.  That leaves close to five million students that have nowhere to study.  Many of them try to find jobs in China or study abroad.  Only 400,000 study abroad in places like Europe, Australia or the United States.  128, 000 students have come each of the last two years to the United States to study.  Last week, we met two such students: “Belle and Jimmie.”  That brings up the subject of work.  What is work?

 

WORK IS A NECESSARY ELEMENT OF OUR LIVES, BALANCED WITH REST AND WORSHIP.

In God’s moral law, what we know as the “Ten Commandments,” God instructs us in Exodus 20:8: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

We must recover a balance between work and rest.  Some people call it rhythm.  The point is to not get overextended in one or the other, as you live your life for Christ. Many of us do not see work as a privilege, do we?  Your mind and ability are gifts.  Do you count them as such?  Laziness is our position by default.  A recent article from USA Today spoke of how college students are earning extra money by doing what their classmates should be doing for themselves.  For instance, consider the following entrepreneurs who have seized the opportunity to make money off of those who are lazy.

Clean rooms: Nate Andorsky’s own messy room at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., inspired the student cleaning service he founded with Mike Waterman, in April 2011. He says DC3 can do 60-70 cleanings a month because one crew can clean many dorm rooms in a single trip. Cleanings start at $39.

Clean laundry.  Jeremy Young helped found HillFresh Laundry in 2011 as a Hamilton College sophomore in Clinton, N.Y. He says students are too busy to do laundry. However, Wendy Leone pays $349 a semester for HillFresh to wash and fold her 19-year-old son’s weekly laundry, because he doesn’t know how to do it himself, she says.

Pack and move. Students at Cornell University pay $38 an hour if they miss the dorm move-out deadline. Can’t meet the deadline? Students can pay $67 an hour for student-run Big Red Shipping and Storage to box up all the items in their rooms and load them in the car. Bubble wrap is extra.

Laundry-free linens. No matter how gross sheets get, some students never wash them. College moms since 2009, Beantown Bedding founders Joan Ripple and Kirsten Lambert released a solution July 30: Bedsox, biodegradable sheets that go into the compost instead of the wash, available online at $25 a set.”Basically, what it boils down to is, college students are lazy. They’d like to have clean sheets, but their moms aren’t there to wash them,” says Lambert.

Indentured slavery constituted over half of the Roman Empire in Paul’s day.  Paul instructed Christian slaves in Colossians 3: 22 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

But if you found yourself in prison, a job within there is the most treasured privilege.  Not that the pay is good, but it gives you something to do, to pass the time.  I was recently told that at one of our state correctional facilities, there are 3,000 inmates, but only 300 jobs.  For some, picking up trash is a privilege to pass the time.  It doesn’t matter what the task is, it is a sense of duty and faithfulness that gives satisfaction.  It is not about what you are doing, but how you do it, and the gratitude to have the opportunity to do it.  The next time you feel like hating your job, imagine complaining to someone who has been unemployed for a year with no end in sight.

 

HOW MUST WE APPROACH OUR EXISTENCE AND PURPOSE FOR LIVING?

With such news, we wonder if we’ve maybe left out the notion that there is such thing as self maintenance and responsibility.  I visited with a mom recently who had to lay her mother to rest.  She did not know how to tell her 21 year old son of his grandmother’s passing.  She told me that he keeps odd hours, so I offered to join her in order to break the news. I asked if it was his job that caused him to sleep during the day.  She said “No.  He just stays up most of the night playing video games.”  Unfortunately, he did not attend his grandmother’s funeral.

Whatever we do, we must take an attitude of salt and light.  Jesus said in Matthew 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”  Our work ethic is our opportunity to witness.  Remember: “an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.”  Andrew Carnegie once said: “The average person puts only 25% of his energy and ability into his work.”  Work is something that you did.  It was a part of life.  Today, people don’t want to work.  More toys equate to more laziness.  We need to “man-up,” as someone said.  We need to bring a work ethic to wherever we are employed.  We need to be a good steward of our time.  Maybe it means beginning our day with God.  Someone once said: “If you give God time at the start of each day, God will work out the rest of the time.”

Oprah Winfrey once said: “I don’t think of myself as a poor deprived ghetto girl who made good. I think of myself as somebody who from an early age knew I was responsible for myself, and I had to make good.”

What is our primary purpose?  The Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches that our primary purpose is, “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  From time to time, I hear from older adults that they lack purpose or direction in their lives.  Each of us is called to be a good manager of his time and resources.  Life is not defined by one’s sense of productivity.  If you cannot do “x”, you can still “y.”

It was said of Savilla Frye, a church member who recently moved to California, that she took it upon herself to be a friend to others, to help out, and to pray.

Now that a person is retired or elderly, what purpose do they serve?  Let me offer some things.  Regardless of what shape you are in, you are able to …

Pray: Philippians 4:6 states: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”  One of the most loving things you can do for this church and this ministry is to pray for it.  Pray for the sick.  Pray for the lost.  In a day when so many are distracted from spending time with God, will you?  For the benefit of others?

Also, you are able to love.  Colossians 3:12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Some of us are closer to meeting the Lord than others.  Maybe there’s a relationship that needs work.  Maybe there’s some forgiving to do.  Maybe there’s some advice to give.

Mentor: What contributes to a good work ethic?  Some say good training.  Others say good parenting, or modeling.  Could you be a role model for someone?  Especially a father.  Many of us grew up watching our dads go off to work.  Sally House recently told me that she remembers when her father, Jack Gramm, a leader here at Central, would follow the snow plough to work.

When I entered the ministry, I wanted to spend time with an older minister, someone who would mentor me.  I spent seven years in the ministry before I had that opportunity.  Then I came to Central and met a man by the name of Dave Derstine.  Dave was the solo pastor at Blooming Glen Mennonite Church, then the first Director of Development for Dock Woods Community.  I spent a significant amount of time with him, asking him questions, probing his opinions.  I greatly valued my relationship with him.  Maybe God is calling you to mentor someone?

Lastly, maybe God has called you to encourage others.  Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”  Too often, we define ourselves by what we do; not by what we think and what we say.  Maybe we need to get the focus off of ourselves.  We need to see that every day is a gift.  IT is not a matter of being fulfilled, but what you do in dedication to God and others.

You never know when you will pass.  Recently, I have been made aware of young people who pass.  I traveled to the Flight 93 Memorial near Bedford, PA.  While there, it was revealed that  on September 11, 2001 that by 9:30, the crew and passengers knew that they had been hijacked.  They had under thirty minutes to figure out what to do.  Todd Beamer is the man given the credit with saying: “Let’s Roll,” and storming the terrorist, overtaking the cockpit and bringing the plane down.

But as I stood listening to a local tell the story, he said: “Do you see that woman’s name down there?  Sandy Waugh Bradshaw was a 38- year-old stewardess.  Shortly before the takeover, she was talking with her husband and said: “I have to go.  My water’s boiling.”  She then got off the phone and threw scalding water on the terrorists, disrupting them, just before Todd Beamer said: “Let’s Roll.”  Another 17 minutes in the air, the plane would have reached its designated target of Washington D.C.  Who would have thought that boiling water would save the U.S. Capitol building from being destroyed and many of our lawmakers, who were in joint session, from perishing?  From God’s perspective, nothing is insignificant.  Whatever it is, it’s important to do it well.


[1] Wayne Allyn Root, “Why we are on the brink of the greatest Depression of All Time,” found at http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2012/08/23/why-are-on-brink-greatest-depression-all-time/print.