Over the past weeks, I have spent a lot of time thinking about money, beliefs and actions. Much of this was spurred by some coaching and heart work that I was doing writing in my journal, getting a clearer view of the life that I want to live and the calling that I have.Read More »
- Joshua 24: 1-3; 14-25
- Amos 5: 18-24
5:24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.
As you walk out of Church today, what will have changed? What difference will it have made to come to church this morning and worshiped God? What does choosing God, rather other gods, mean today? How does worshiping God change our lives?
Noris read for us this morning Amos, chapter 5, verses 18 to 24. I want to re-read those to you now, from the version “The Message”:
18-20 Woe to all of you who want God’s Judgment Day!
Why would you want to see God, want him to come?
When God comes, it will be bad news before it’s good news,
the worst of times, not the best of times.
Here’s what it’s like: A man runs from a lion
right into the jaws of a bear. …
At God’s coming we face hard reality, not fantasy—
a black cloud with no silver lining.
21-24 “I can’t stand your religious meetings.
I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
your pretentious slogans and goals.
I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes,
your public relations and image making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
That’s what I want.
That’s. All. I. Want.
God’s anger in Amos was because the religious festivals were not followed up by just actions. God gave the means to reverse the people’s systems of injustice, to end inequity and oppression. But the river of people who were supposed to flow out of the temple (like when we all leave this Church this morning) to fulfill God’s promises walked out of the temple and did nothing.
You were given arms that can reach out to those who suffer: who are those arms wrapped around? Yourself? You were given feet to take the first steps towards those who feel alone, afraid, oppressed: where are your feet planted? In your comfortable life? You were given ears to hear the stories of justice denied: are you listening? You were given a mouth to speak Truth: but words are used to harm and tear down, rather than to build, and certainly not to speak Truth!**
Thursday, November 9th many Panamanians waited expectantly for a reveal of names and details regarding the Obredecht corruption cases. A nation waiting and hoping for justice to prevail and corruption to set a food on the proverbial banana skin and the other foot in the grave. It wasn’t enough.
This brings to mind, for me, Proverbs 24: 24
Whoever says to the guilty “You are innocent” will be cursed by peoples and denounced by nations.
All I read on Twitter & Facebook is frustrations and cursing of the lack of action and lack of justice. What more can and should be done? Panama needs to restart and rethink fighting corruption from a grassroots level. It needs to start in the home. Social justice and righteousness are needed from each person and member of society. And for us, it starts as we walk out of Church today. Worshiping God is not just about what we do for one hour on Sunday morning. Worshiping God is in each thought, each word & each deed.
1 John 4: 20 through 5:3 remind us:
20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3 In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. …
How do we love our brother and sister? Well, let me warn you, it’s not sentimental. It’s not that “feeling” of love. It’s about your actions -and they speak much louder than any words. John warns us about this: “we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fat, this is love for God: to keep his commands.”
Let’s take a quick walk through the Bible and discover the ways we show love to our neighbours – children of God – all created, like you and me, in the image and likeness of God:
Leviticus 19: 9-18
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.
You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. …
… The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning. …
… You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people. …
You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor… ou shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD”
Proverbs 29: 7
The righteous care about justice for the poor…
Isaiah 1: 17
Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.
Isaiah 58: 6-7
… this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.
Jeremiah 22: 3
… Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.
Matthew 6: 14-15
For if you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Matthew 25: 35-36
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Romans 14: 13
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.
Carry each other’s burdens…
1 Thessalonians 5: 11
… encourage one another and build each other up…
1 Peter 3: 8
be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.
I want us to imagine, just for a moment, a world in which all Christians lived according to all these rules and fulfilled these commands. In Joshua 24 we read how the people of Israel chose to follow God and follow his commandments. What would this look like for Christians? Let’s take a moment, just to imagine this:
- no sexual harassment
- no hunger
- everyone paid a fair wage
- no slander
- no hate, no vengeance, no grudges
- justice for the poor
- oppressed people who are defended vigorously, fatherless children who are protected, widows who have someone standing up for them
- no one wrongly imprisoned
- no human trafficking or slavery
- the homeless living in proper shelters, the hungry given food
- relatives receiving hep from their families
- no wrong or violence against the immigrant
- no innocent blood shed
- forgiving others graciously when they make mistakes, even if they intentionally act wrongly
- strangers invited in
- sick cared for
- those in prison visited and encouraged
- no one passing judgement on you
This is justice rolling down like waters. This is an ever-flowing stream of righteousness! This is loving your neighbor and loving God.
As we go out today, let us remember this promise from Psalm 106: 3
Blessed are those who act justly, who always do what is right.
Always. It’s such a big word.
So, as we leave this Church this morning, may we be a small stream of water, a trickle in the giant ocean of injustice… going against the tide and shining our light in this world of darkness.
- Romans 9: 1-15
- Matthew 14:13-21
- Psalm 145: 8-9, 14-21
These verses from Matthew & Romans 9 contain a common theme: the compassion of Jesus for the crowd and the compassion of Paul for his Jewish countrymen. Paul is anguished that his Jewish countrymen cannot see the truth of Christ being the promised Messiah:
9:3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred … to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, …and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, …
He expresses himself as having great sorrow and unceasing anguish for these, his countrymen: how many of us could say we feel like this for our countrymen in Panama?
Where is our Christianity, if we have no compassion? For so many people, life is hard: every story of the gospels shows us Jesus moved to action.
Take a moment with me, to consider the following passages:
- Luke 7: 13 – When the Lord saw her (the widow from Nain whose only son had died), he had compassion on her and said to her “Do not weep.”
- Matthew 15: 32 – he had compassion on the crowd that came to him with their sick, lame, blind, crippled, mute and healed them. But more so than this, they were hungry and so he ordered the disciples to feed them, all 4,000 of them!
- Matthew 9: 35-38 – Jesus was travelling throughout the cities and villages, teaching, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and affliction. And when he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
- Matthew 20: 29-34: As Jesus left Jericho, a great crowd was following him and 2 blind men were sitting by the roadside, calling out to him. And Jesus stopped and asked “What do you want me to do for you?”, and they said “Let our eyes be opened”. And moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes, and immediately they regained their sight.
Where have we, as Christians, gone wrong? I cannot imagine a Christ without compassion, but I see so-called Christians without compassion! Where has humanity gone wrong?
I want you to consider a 2, 3 or 4 year old child: if you drop something, they will scuttle to help you pick it up. If they see another child crying, they are anguished and want to make it better. They are anxious to help with the cleaning, the dishes and all those household chores. They are compassionate and caring, they notice the emotions and feelings of those around them.
But then, somewhere along the way, they lose that compassionate nature and they start to think only about self – “I want” and I don’t want to share. What happens to disconnect us from our compassionate nature? Why do we stop taking the time to say “what can I do to help this person”? We’re living in an epidemic of incivility, disengagement, and despair – in politics, in the work place, in our homes, and even in our church.
What Is Compassion?
Compassion: put simply is empathy PLUS action. It is more than just kindness; it is sensitivity to the suffering of others with a commitment to do something about it. It is:
- the smile we give to a stranger
- the food we give to the homeless or our oldies in our AAAM missions program
- giving someone the benefit of the doubt
- it is listening to understand, rather than listening to answer back
- it is making all conversations safe – even when we have a difficult conversation or feedback to give
We all need more compassion in our lives: a totally different perspective when it comes to how you perceive yourself and others. We start with compassion towards those we are in contact with every day in our homes, each week day in the office, or once a week in our Church.
Think of this for a moment:
Let’s say you are very worried about your daughter’s health. You took her to the doctor and he decided to take tests in order to rule out a Dengue Fever. Later that day you are in Arrocha, buying some medicines, preoccupied with your daughter and an acquaintance passes you and says hello. You say hello in return but because you are so deep in thought you don’t stop to chat.
Later on you hear the acquaintance felt insulted because you “snubbed” her. Even though it was not your intention to snub this person, and you had a very good reason for your behavior-the acquaintance assumed the worst.
That is, simply, what most of us do. We assume the worst:
They were rude! They were harsh! They were judgmental! Did you hear the tone in their voice? Did you see the way she looked at me? She ignored me! She walked right past me!
Learning to have more compassion involves making the radical shift to assume the best in others.
What would Balboa Union Church look like if every person in this Church were truly compassionate in word & deed, as Christ was?
Where Do We Start?
First – we start with ourselves!
How good are you at being compassionate to yourself? Do you forgive yourself when you make mistakes? Do you love yourself and your body? Do you take time to ask your body how it’s feeling? If you haven’t identified what you are feeling, how are you going to be able to identify what other people are feeling? How are you feeling right now? Do you have any aches or pains? Are you feeling nervous or uptight anywhere? Is there tightness in your stomach or a tension in your shoulders? Are you carrying any tension into today from the week that was – are you carrying the past with you? Are you brooding or concerned about the future: where are you holding it in your body?
We start with baby steps: practicing compassion each day. First, I want us to take a small step towards compassion for ourselves:
I want you to think about your body scan that you just finished and what you identified: that part of your body that is tense, tight, aching, whatever it was that you felt: and I want you to bless it. Right here, right now. I want you to pray mercy on yourself. I want you to show yourself some compassion – and instead of complaining about that part of your body, “oh, that knot in my neck”, or “that pain in my knee” or “that old injury that always plays up” – put your hands on it, and say “God bless you”. Pray love to that part of your body that you always complain about! And every time you feel that ache, pain, tension: I want you to use it as your cue to pray for yourself. Remember God’s love for you, and surround that part of your body with love, acceptance and joy: and bless it. I am sure that you have cursed it enough times already – and I imagine that’s not working for you! So, why not try something different for the next 30 days? Whether it be a slipped disk in your back, a recurring pain in your shoulder, a tightening in your jaw, a sore ankle from when you fell over: let it be reminder to you to love yourself, bless yourself and show yourself and your body some compassion!
Then the second step is showing compassion for your neighbor:
It might be just that person you passed in the street: if you are out and about a lot, in your car, I want to suggest that you use red lights, stop signs or just the traffic jams, and allow them to be your “pause”. Every time you stop, take a deep breath, notice how YOU are feeling, remember you are God’s representative in this world, and then breath out a blessing on another person – maybe a pedestrian that is crossing the street, or the person sitting in the car next to yours, or the traffic cop that is directing the traffic. And each time your car stops, take a moment to pause, to breathe in God’s love, and to exhale a blessing on another person: to reach a point where the red light or stop sign becomes your cue to cultivate compassion, and it helps you establish a habit of compassion for your fellow man.
And then, I want you to bring compassion home, to your house – the place that it is most needed! Unfortunately, most of us treat the people that we live with, our families, with a certain level of disdain that we would not give to others! And it takes extra effort to treat them with compassion, because you really know them, flaws and all! Each morning, take a moment to ask yourself what act of kindness you can perform today in your home, however small. If you really want a challenge – try the 40-day love dare for your spouse or a person that you live with in the same house!
The world needs Christians that actively practice compassion and caring for their fellow man. Without compassion, our love towards God is meaningless!
Spirit of Life,
Thank you for the opportunities to love that present themselves in the turmoil of life!
When the light catches the tears in another’s eyes, in moments without words, let us be present.
Let us seek to make another’s wellbeing the object of our concern.
Give us compassion and humility in our hearts. Let us be kind, gentle, generous, loving, giving and forgiving wherever we may go. Allow us to be as compassionate as the air we breathe. Give us the strength to help our brother, to pick up those who have fallen. We declare and decree that we will follow the example Jesus has set before us, in his Mighty name we pray!
- Psalm 145: 8-14
- Romans 7: 15-25a
- Matthew 11: 25-30
SLOW TO ANGER AND ABOUNDING IN STEADFAST LOVE
I titled this sermon “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” as a reminder of the nature of Christ and the ideal version of every Christian. What would this world look like today, if that were a true description of every person in the world that called themselves a “Christian“? Imagine if every evangelical, every conservative, every progressive, every fundamentalist, every liberal, every Catholic, every 7th Day Adventist could say, in spirit and in truth: “I am slow to anger and abounding, overflowing, exuding steadfast love! I love God and I love my neighbor.” What would the world’s experience of Christians be if we truly followed in Christ’s footsteps?
Did you know that the word “Christian” is used 3 times in the Bible? Three times, in all of the Bible. Twice in Acts and once in 1 Peter. Christians in this first century after Christ’s death were called such because their behavior, activity, and speech were like Christ. The word Christian means, “follower of Christ” or “belonging to the party of Christ.” One of the better known followers of Christ was the Apostle Paul, who wrote many of the letters that we now have in our Bible. These letters were directed to different communities of faith, and often were in response to specific questions that they raised in their letters. Paul was probably a more prolific writer than the disciples, as he was originally a Pharisee, a well-educated man, with an advantage that they did not have for writing.
Nevertheless, we find that Paul still struggled with some basic spiritual issues. I want to take a moment, and read for you Romans 7, verses 15-25a from the Bible version “The Message”, because it seems to me that this version is very practical and easy to understand:
ROMANS 7:15-25 THE MESSAGE (MSG)
14-16 I can anticipate the response that is coming: “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience?” Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.
17-20 But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.
21-23 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.
24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?
25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.
When Paul wrote Romans, he was already 20 years into his ministry! This was no longer a young, zealous man, battling with temptations of his youth. This was a man that had lived through trials and tribulations, who had spent most of his adult life as a missionary. And yet, he writes to us “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not.”
What hope is there for you and me if Paul cannot get it together? Paul had many advantages over you and me: as a Pharisee he knew the 621 rules for righteousness and was well- versed in keeping them. But, just like each one of us, Paul had an ego. I imagine his ego also responded to pride, self-centeredness and selfishness!
Paul comes back to GRACE as the solution for his battle! Knowing the law and doing his best to keep the law was not enough. Without grace, Paul was just as lost as the next person. In verse 25 of Romans 7, Paul says “Christ can and does”: it is not I, but Christ that lives in me that allows me to live out a holy life.
Last week, I used the example of the worm inside the apple, an egg laid inside the apple blossom that hatches inside the apple when it is maturing. Sin can be like that in our lives: we are growing and maturing and suddenly find that a bad habit or attitude has been growing and maturing inside of us as well.
Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise.
Right now, I am at my heaviest weight ever! Even at eight and a half months pregnant, I weighed less than I do now! The weight was distributed differently then, and I felt much healthier than I do right now! And six months after my daughter was born, I was at my perfect weight! Then life happened! I excuse myself with the sleepless nights, the busy lifestyle, and the responsibilities that I have chosen to assume. The unfortunate reality is that I dislike, okay… it’s a little stronger than dislike… I despise getting up at 5.30 in the morning to do exercise!
I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.
It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good (get fit and eat healthy), sin (food, laziness, lack of motivation) is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands (having my ideal weight and feeling healthy), but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge (and there I am, sitting down with a cheesecake!).
Everyone has an excuse and a scapegoat! This past week, I blamed it on Betsy for showing up with a gluten-free cheesecake. But the reality is that I have a sugar-tooth, and suffer from insulin resistance. I can either choose to take medications and live a healthy lifestyle, making diet choices that take me back to optimal health; or I can cheat and double the medication and not do the exercise and diet; or I can do nothing at all as I have been doing for the past 12 to 18 months! Last week, I decided to do 21 days of getting up at 5.30 and doing a 30-minute workout and stretching!
Doing right is a titanic struggle and an uphill struggle; doing wrong is a short step or a minor slip. The Chinese says, “Doing right requires ten years, doing bad requires just one minute.” The previous Chinese generation says, “Kids take three days to learn bad, three years to learn good.” Some have modified to say kids take three minutes or even there seconds to learn bad.
In truth, practice what you preach is easier said than done. The good you intend to do ends up not just merely bad, faulty or short, but evil (vv 19, 21) – sin’s Murphy’s Law equivalent: If anything can go wrong, it will. Not only wrong, but wicked and wasted.
For me, the solution to this issue lies in keeping my eyes focused on what I what I want my life to look like. Each morning when I arrive in the office, I look at my vision board: it reminds me of the different areas of my life and what I would like my life to look like if I were living to my fullest. There’s a heading “my best body” – showing healthy food, running, resting, stretching, and fitness! And I have been ignoring that section of the board since January!
Spiritually, there’s also a vision: plugged into the power of prayer! Paul says in Romans 7: 25 that the answer lies in that Christ can and does: Paul thanks God for being patient with him. As David says in Psalm 145, verse 8:
“The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”
This grace allows us to say:
“Thank you that even though I’m a mess, you still love me and you are still striving with me and you want to make me something more today that I was yesterday.”
We are loved by God and God is willing to take us just as we are! With Christ within us, God works from the inside out to transform us. We are forgiven from the inside out! If God has forgiven us, we can forgive ourselves.
Keep this small image in mind:
How did you learn to walk? Have you ever seen a little one learning to walk. They don’t get up and just start walking the first time they try. They crawl for awhile. They pull themselves up and take one step and fall back – up again and fall forward. Soon they are taking a couple of steps before they fall. And they walk, and they fall, and they pull themselves back up again, and they totter and they fall.
Life as a Christian, with each new step of the way, is a new learning. As you overcome one challenge, there will always be something new. Paul reminds us to “work through our salvation”, because it is a constant process of growth. We are free from the penalty of sin, but we need Christ in us to be free from the power of sin.
But we remember and we meditate on Psalm 145, verse 8:
“The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”
And if Christ is in us, then each of us should be able to look in the mirror and say: “I am gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love!” Imagine a world in which that were the description of each of us!