Monday, December 21, 2009

The Gift

"The Gift"

Scripture: Isaiah 9: 6-7a; John 1:1-5; Luke 2:4-7

Pastor Tom Millner

SpiritSong Worship Center


What an exciting time of the year! Christmas parties, beautiful music, delicious treats, spectacular trees, decorations galore, and gifts wrapped neatly under the tree. The excitement on Christmas Eve is palpable; shopping all done, travel plans complete, worship service inspired, and now it's the joy of anticipation. Will they like the gifts? What will I get? Did he/she remember what I asked for? Did I spend too much; too little? How many remember what you got for Christmas in 2002? How many of you remember what you gave to whom in 1999? Don't remember? Wow! Must have been awesome, huh? From "black Friday" till Christmas day is about 30 days – days focused toward preparation for the Christmas celebration – giving, getting, decorating, entertaining, begrudging, lamenting, over-spending, rehearsing, and planning! Think about it, since 1997, we've spent a full year in the Christmas season! My, oh my, how time flies.


In today's world we celebrate Christmas as the birth of Christ. In the early church the birth of Christ was commemorated. To commemorate means to observe; to give special recognition. The celebration of Christmas today is like a commemoration on SPEED; Glitz, glamour, and all that glitters. It's done with such speed that we call it X-mas. The word means Christ's Mass – the commemoration of the gift of Christ to the world. The commemoration reminds us of what we've been given. The celebration today centers around what we're giving and getting. The former focuses on the given, the latter on the gifting. What, then, is Christmas really about? Is it a commemoration or a celebration? The answer is YES!


We commemorate the birth of Christ to remind us of God's greatest gift to mankind – the person, Jesus. You see, without Him, why would we celebrate? What would we commemorate? At the birth of Jesus was the greatest occurrence in the history of the universe. God came to us as one of us – but in the most unlikely fashion; an infant born to an unwed mother, in a barn full of manure and animals, without social status, totally dependant upon the good graces of a step-father and an immature young mother. The genetic makeup of a perfect creator mingled with created makeup fraught with a lineage of self-centeredness inherited from the Garden of Eden. The stuff of science fiction movies – manifest in flesh thousands of years before the invention of movie projectors.


Why would there have been such an unlikely occurrence? Because we have a creator so crazy in love with His greatest creation, that He desires it to be brought back to its original intent as a divine reflection of His own perfect love. You see, the reflector had become so tarnished by turning its reflection into itself, that the Creator could no longer be seen in His creation. The reflector kept trying to repair the tarnish, but every time it did, it laid down even more tarnish as it failed to clean itself. It somehow knew that it wasn't living its full potential and created for itself all sorts of objects and intentions crafted to fulfill its original design. So, the Creator inserted Himself into the reflective mix, giving a shining example of reflection to perfection. So distraught by its own dullness, the reflector put to death the Perfect Reflector. The Perfect Reflector, at His death, took upon himself all the tarnish that was and would ever be. Then upon His overcoming death, He left the tarnish in the grave forever. Though we still tarnish, the living, Perfect Reflector, burns through that tarnish giving us the light of His eternal perfection. The "GIFT" that we've been given is the presence of the Reflector's polish, ever polishing us to the Creator's original reflection. The gift we are called to give in return is our tarnished selves to be polished to the day of perfect reflection. He can't use our self-polished effort because that only adds more tarnish. In this life we will offer no more than a poor reflection of the true Image in whose likeness we are made. The greatest gift we can give this Christmas is our tarnished, poor reflective, selves to the polishing hands of the Savior, who covering us with His perfect reflection, sooths our imperfection. So the focus today, tomorrow, and every day is NOT the Gift we get, but the gift of self back to the perfect Giver for the perfect Gift already given!


"You shall have no other gods before Me."

Monday, December 14, 2009

The First and the Last

"The First and the Last"

Jeremiah 10:11-16; Galatians 5:19-21

Pastor Tom Millner

SpiritSong Worship Center

December 13, 2009



A professor stood in front of his classroom and declared; "there is no God." Even more boldly he said; "if there is a God in heaven, let him strike me down." Nothing happened. The professor shook his head and a few moments later repeated; "if there is a God in heaven, let him strike me down." He stood there with fists and teeth clenched. A young ex-marine in the back got to his feet, went forward to the professor and knocked him squarely off his podium. Startled and smarting from the blow the professor stood and said; "I said that if there really is a God that HE knock me down." The young man replied; "He was busy so He sent me!"


In describing ancient idolatry, William Barclay made this declaration (from Barclay, The Letter to the Colossians, p.182) "The essence of idolatry is the desire to get. A man sets up an idol and worships it because he desires to get something out of God. To put it bluntly, he believes that by his sacrifices and his gifts and his worship, he can persuade, or even bribe God into giving him what he desires." This is not just ancient idolatry; it is current and modern idolatry as well. "The essence of idolatry is the desire to get." This elevates the royal ME above the holy HE in our lives. Let's look at some subtle (and not so subtle) ways in which we succumb to idolatry in our lives today.


  1. "Going for the feeling." God is not found in the way I feel Him. How many times have you heard someone say; "I'm just not feeling it?" I don't "feel" the presence of His Spirit now. Or I don't "feel" the love for you anymore. I don't feel like going to that event this evening. I don't feel like going to worship today. I don't feel the music today. I don't feel like you respect me. I don't feel like I measure up. I don't feel like I'm loved. What happens when we have a feeling gap? We think there's something wrong – something missing. We don't like this emotional dissonance because we've been taught that feelings are related to safety and security – so if there's something off, we need to make it different. I don't feel the excitement, I don't feel the joy…therefore, I must seek to fill the feeling. When we seek to fill the feeling, we seek the god of our feelings while ignoring the feelings of the God who has already given us everything we need and could ever hope for – the mercy to spare us from what we really deserve and the grace to receive what we really don't deserve. Our feelings can present us with the greatest source of deceit. Why? – Because they give us our greatest moments of satisfaction. Therein lays the rub. We tend to believe that faith, worship, and hope are contingent upon our own satisfaction. NOT the case. Do you believe that Christ was more than our great example; that Christ was the great exception to our very nature? Recall the account in scripture when Jesus was in the garden the evening before his crucifixion – do you think he was "feeling" the love as He looked toward the morning and the pain He was about to suffer? All feelings aside were placed as He asserted "Not my will but thine be done." Therein lay His satisfaction – not the feeling – that He had surrendered self-interest to the greater interest of the Father – the greater good of all human-kind!


  1. Obsession with having things our way. When I was in India, after having found my beautiful daughter as an infant, I had the occasion to visit Mother Theresa's Ashram in the depths of the slums of Ahmadabad. Stepping from the street into the compound was like stepping from the cesspool into the palace. It was the place I wanted my future daughter to be while I waited for the court process to be completed. Three of the Sisters came to visit with the family with which I was staying there. We had a wonderful time sharing jokes and stories and some tasty Indian treats. When it was time for them to leave, recalling the pristine appearance of their abode, I stated that I would pay for a rickshaw to return them safely. "No thank you," they stated; "we'll take the bus." The thought horrified me. The buses were overcrowded and people were literally hanging out the windows. "I insist," I responded; "you'll be much more comfortable in a rickshaw." "You don't understand," they replied; "we don't know who God will put in our path that needs the care He has called us to bring." I was obsessed with their comfort – they were resolved to His calling. How often do we overlook the purpose of our God by obsessing about our way of thinking? We should even listen to our prayers some times. We pray as though a few special words, a quote of scripture out of its context, and a firm demand, will somehow put the creator of the universe in a place to do our bidding. We disregard His divine purpose and plan that is far greater and more expansive than our limited minds can comprehend. We walk all over those who dare not do things our way, ignore the blessing of discovering the heart's desire of the other, then dare to ask God "WHY" when things don't' go our way. That leads us to the third way we succumb to idolatry in our lives.


  1. Demanding that God follow our will. This can be a subtle one! You see, from the earliest times in our childhood, we hear the positive message that "if you can dream it, you can be it." Mega churches are built on the notion of positive affirmations that render God obliged to return the blessings we do deeply desire. After all, doesn't scripture state "you have not because you ask not?" "All things are possible!" How many times have we heard from the electronic pulpit "God desires you to be successful in fulfilling your dreams?" The God of our dreams who gives me everything my heart desires – now that's the god for me! Give more and receive more. What a return on my investment! Jesus patently resisted these temptations when in the desert after His baptism. Matthew 4:3-11 "The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread."(In other words, "you're in control here; you're hungry; take what you need to satisfy your hunger – you have the right – God will follow your will!" ) Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.' "Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. If you are the Son of God, he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written: " 'He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.' (In other words, "show everyone how great you are, after all, God's not going to let His main man be hurt. God desires you to be successful in all you do!") Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.' "Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. All this I will give you, he said, "if you will bow down and worship me."(In other words – carpe diem – cease the day, Jesus! Why put off till tomorrow what can be in your grasp today! After all, it's all about you, Jesus!) Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.' "Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him." So the three main areas that we can fall victim to the temptation to demand God to meet our will are: 1. Our physical needs, 2. Our ego needs – prove He's on our side, and 3. Our greed – give me more and give me now! God gives the antidote, however – 1, God's word supersedes even our physical urges; 2, God is not our personal little god to put to the test; 3, Worship Him only!


  1. Self interest superseding service! The Boy Scout was 35 minutes late for the troop meeting. The meeting last month was about offering service to others and at the beginning of every meeting; each individual had the opportunity to share ways in which they had been of service to someone in the community. When young Bobby arrived, his uniform was torn, his hair was disheveled, his face was scratched and bleeding and he was sporting a fresh black eye. "What happened to you, Bobby?" the Scout Master asked. "I stopped to help a little old lady across the street," Bobby responded with a proud smile. "How noble of you, Bobby – what an act of service," the Scout Master retorted. Tell me, how do you come by that torn uniform, the scratched face and the black eye?" "She didn't want to go," responded Bobby! It's funny, but it's tragically human. We want to serve God in our way whether He wants our service in that way or not. Then we wonder why we wind up wounded in frustrated because after all, I did my utmost for you God! We think that because we have a desire and a little bit of information, we can shower God with the blessing of our service that makes us feel like we've accomplished so much. "O God, if others could just see what a humble hero I really am!" Let's get it clear, honey – the heart God seeks is not the hero, it's not the self-willed one, it's not the self-obsessed one, nor the glory to the feeling one; it's the broken one! The one that says –"not my will but thine be done;" the one that is becoming self-less, obsessed less, demand-less, and feel-less.


My friend Jack says everything is cause and effect. I think of it as behavior and consequence. The consequence of our demanding things our way: Galatians 5:19-21 "sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like." The consequences of giving first place to God: Galatians 5:22-23 "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self- control. Against such things there is no law." Who wants to be first? Then take the position that is last. In that position you'll find the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control that you've always sought. There and only there will you find these things that are the free gift of the FIRST and only GOD in your life!










Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What’s Your Isaac?

"What's Your Isaac?"

Scripture: Genesis 22:2-18, John 3:16-17

Pastor Tom

December 6, 2009

SpiritSong Worship Center

When I was eight years old I asked Santa for a Mickey Mouse watch. I daydreamed about wearing that watch; how it would look on my wrist, how wonderful and special I would feel that Santa had honored my request. I remember the anticipation of going to bed on Christmas Eve with the hope that Santa would think me "good" enough to gift me that watch. Just a tinge of doubt crept into my mind as I recalled having had "bad" thoughts the past year and setting traps for my rival on the school playground. I prayed that wouldn't be counted against me. You can imagine my glee as I entered the living room that Christmas morning to seek a cylindrical box wrapped in gold colored tissue with a beautiful bow on top. I grabbed the package and held it up for my Sister to take a picture. Mom and Dad were looking on with grins as wide as the windows as I opened that package to remove my heart's desire – that Mickey Mouse watch! "Look what Santa left me," I cried to my family. "Let me see it," said my Dad. He took it in his hands, looked it over and then looked at me with loving eyes and said; "Santa must think you're a very special boy to have left you this kind of present." "Yes, he must," I thought to myself. He must see something more than I see. That was many years ago. Mom, Dad, and my Sister are all with the Lord, and I have no clue where the Mickey Mouse watch is, but something very special remains: "God must think you're a very special man to have left you that kind of present." The feeling of being loved beyond my judgment, beyond my doubts, beyond my fears- that remains with me eternally!

There's something special about receiving gifts, isn't there? They make us feel special – set apart. And, there is nothing more disappointing than to receive a shoddy substitute that misses the mark of expectation! When we don't get what we want and or think we need, we either turn it inward to say "I must not be worthy," or spew anger towards God and or others for being so cruel as to deny our request. Acts 20:35 attributes Jesus as having said "It is more blessed to give than to receive." What's the blessing in giving?

Abraham was old and feeble. Sarah was well beyond child bearing age. Abraham's whole legacy, purpose, meaning in life had been focused around a lineage that would live on beyond him. God had promised him a son by Sarah, yet no son had arrived. You can imagine the delight he experienced when Sarah announced her pregnancy. Even greater must have been the absolute wonder and glee when Abraham held his very own Isaac in his arms for the first time. God had fulfilled His promise and had given Abraham a son. Abraham must have felt special and yet humbled that God had indeed fulfilled His promise in spite of Abraham's known shortcomings. God must have seen beyond what Abraham saw. Isaac was the hope of Abraham's lineage – the source of the great nation that God had promised through him. Abraham almost worshipped the ground upon which Isaac walked – he was so thankful to God for his son! Isaac represented for Abraham the manifestation of his personhood; the significance of a life worth living; the hope of a legacy after his death. Isaac meant just about everything to Abraham.

Then one day, God told Abraham to take his beloved son to a place up the mountain, and then to sacrifice him as an offering to God. Abraham could have said; "right, God, sure thing…I'll get back to you in a few years." Or he could have debated whether he had actually heard from God! Could the God who had promised this son, this heir, and delivered such a spectacular specimen be the same God who was now requesting the "giving back" of that promise? What kind of God would do that? (We'll come back to that!) Abraham, however, packed up the wood, gathered his servants to help carry the load up the hill, and prepared Isaac for the journey. Once there, Isaac astutely noticed the presence of the wood, the frame for the altar, but the absence of the lamb for sacrifice. Abraham, whose old and worn heart must have been beating out of his chest, took his prize possession, secured him to the altar, told his son that God would provide and raised the knife to plunge into his son. Just at that moment, we know, the Lord intervened and provided a lamb as a substitute for Isaac. Abraham had proven his faith in and love for God. God must have known at the point of Abraham raising the blade how special and set apart He was in Abraham's heart!

It was not Isaac's life that God desired…it was Abraham's heart! You see, it would have been easy for Abraham to prance around with Isaac in hand, proudly displaying the blessing God had bestowed on him. After all, in Isaac lay the hopes of a nation…or did it? Our faith and our hope are in God…not His gifts or His blessings! When we value the gift above the Giver, we have displaced the Giver in our hearts! There can be no other gods before God! Jesus told us in Matthew 22:37 "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." Is there anything else?

We each have our own Isaacs. Our Isaac can be anything we hold in esteem. The things we have been blessed with become the things we bless! Abraham trusted God enough to believe that even should Isaac be sacrificed, God would raise him to life again in fulfillment of the promise! He was willing to relinquish his gift in esteem for the giver! I've had numerous Isaacs in my life. One in particular I recall from the age of eleven.

One of my favorite TV shows was Lassie. I was infatuated with that dog that was so faithful, loyal, and smart. One day my Uncle Jimmy called the house to say that he had found a stray Collie mix dog and was holding him for me. My father hurried me into the family pickup that Saturday morning and we traveled the four mile trek to my Uncle Jimmy's house. I stepped out of the truck and into my arms jumped King, as I named him. He licked my face and whined like I was his long lost friend. We had an instant bond, King and I, – boy with his dog – best pals for life. King was with me everywhere I went on the farm. He was at the back door when I came out and guarded the entrance as I went in. We played ball together, we went fishing together – he even sat at the entrance to the stable stall as I milked the cow! I LOVED that dog. One Saturday as I was dressing for my sister to take me to town for piano and violin lessons, I looked out my window in horror as I saw my Dad quickly jump into the truck and start the engine. King was sleeping soundly under the motor of the truck. The engine startled him and he quickly jumped up as the force of the backward thrust of my Dad backing away slammed King head-on. I screamed through the window as I watched in horror the unfolding of a tragic accident. I ran from the house screaming NO, NO, NO… As I knelt over my best friend, my soul-mate, my trusted companion and gift from God, my tears fell on his golden fur. In response to my tears and moaning, his tail wagged, as to console me. King slipped away and he lay limp beneath me. My Isaac had been laid down…my first one. I had accepted Christ and been baptized a couple of years before. As I went through my grief at the loss of King, I briefly blamed my Dad…then I turned to God in anger…"Why did you let this happen?" A few weeks later, I got my answer. The dream was vivid – an opening in an otherwise dull and cloudy sky opened up and streams of bright light burst through. There before me was King, wagging his tail excitedly. I didn't say a word. King turned and started galloping up the stream of bright light toward heaven. When he reached the top, the hole closed, the light went away and I awoke from my dream. I lay there in my bed thanking God for showing me that King was safe with Him for eternity. It was at that time that I began to understand that God had not orchestrated my loss, but rather had gifted me with joy and companionship for a season and that my treasure was truly with Him.

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." Is there anything else?

This sermon is not about a boy and his dog…it's about having no other god's before God Himself. It's about an unconditional love and trust in the one who unconditionally laid down His very own Son for us. It's about reminding us that God's command to love him with all our heart, soul and mind is more than a "suggestion" for living the Christian life- it's as serious as life itself! We've become a society so pampered that love and sacrifice seem like aliens to each other. In the Biblical sense, however, love and sacrifice are twins. If it costs us nothing, it amounts to nothing! The laying down of Isaac cost Abraham everything. The laying down of Jesus for our sake cost God EVERYTHING!

What's your Isaac? Is it laying down two hours out of your Sunday to come to worship? Is it sitting through the distraction of the events going on around you to focus on worshipping Him? Is it the annoyance of having some "responsibilities" at service when you'd really like to just be here to "enjoy" the worship? Is it the grudge you've been carrying towards someone here that interferes with your hearing from His word? Is it your angst at having to participate in something that you don't like just to get to do something that really gives you joy? Is it the hurt you feel over not being invited to participate as you desired? Is it the fear that if you give your tithe, you won't have enough to cover your bills? What's your Isaac?

"Thou shall have no other gods before Me."