Monday, June 14, 2010

He Has Your Number

"He's Has Your Number"
Scriptures: Psalm 51:10-12; Luke 15:1-7

Pastor Tom Millner

SpiritSong Worship Center


Today's scripture is more than a cute little story about a shepherd searching after and finding a lost sheep. One translation for today might read something like this: "Now a bunch of people who were seen as sinners and unfit to worship God unless they changed who they were, who they loved, or how they dressed, were having worship in the presence of the Holy Spirit, worshipping God and praising Him with their hearts and voices. A group of staid fundamentalists who considered themselves pious evangelicals looked on with self-righteous judgment and asked God how on earth could it be that the presence of the Lord would be manifest in such as this. God answered; 'I go for the ones who have wandered away and were ignored by the majority. I rejoice in their return to me for their thankfulness is more heartfelt than the pious who think themselves already justified by virtue of their tradition.'"

Charles Schulz in his comic strip, Charlie Brown gives us a good glimpse of how some insist upon witnessing. Charlie Brown sees Lucy approaching as he's in line at the school cafeteria. She runs up just behind him as he says; "what took you so long?" "I was convincing Gerald that my religion was better than his," she said. "How did you do that?" said Charlie. "I beat him over the head with my book bag," she said.

Jesus was responding to the criticism of the Pharisees that he was associating and even eating with those who were seen as sinners and thus unfit to be associated with. In the previous chapter (14) of Luke, He had just finished talking about the cost of being a disciple – giving up everything one holds dear – to follow Him. The Pharisees held dear to their self-righteous acts as being the foundation of their justification before God. Jesus is, with a bit of irony and "tongue in cheek" teaching them that God's ways are different. He uses an illustration that was commonly known to them – as was His custom.

Sheep herding was common in those days. There were no fences to keep the sheep in tow. Sheep can be easily distracted and wander away from the flock. There's safety in numbers where there are predators lurking around to snatch a loner away and devour it. This parable is about the value of the one, the goodness of the shepherd, and community of the flock. Let's look at each characteristic individually.

God loves the entire flock and does not forsake it. Many of us identify with the sheep that was lost because most of us have felt "outside" the majority at one point in time. We've wandered into all sorts of situations, believed we were too far gone, only to discover that we have been brought back to a flock of loving others by a loving God who cares for us all deeply. Most flocks had at least two shepherds so that one could keep watch while the other rested. Jesus doesn't mention that in His parable, but that would apply to us today. You see, as one goes out to seek the lost sheep, the gentle presence of the Holy Spirit is shepherding the larger flock. So God cares about all, not just some.

The Shepherd goes out of His way to seek, find, and bring back to the fold the sheep that had strayed. The sheep may have been distracted. The sheep may have felt he or she didn't fit in. The sheep may have seen self differently than the rest. The sheep may have been attracted to a patch of different clover. Whatever the circumstance, the Shepherd is in pursuit of His sheep. The Good Shepherd goes so far as to give His life for the sake of the one and saves the entire flock in the process. The Shepherd knows that the sheep cannot save himself – it is incapable of self-saving.

No matter what the circumstances of the one sheep, the Shepherd seeks, finds, and brings back to restore to the flock. God doesn't abandon even one. He seeks, like the "hound of heaven" he is for the one that needs His loving protection and He brings that one back in arms that are loving. Some have portrayed us all as "sinners in the hands of an angry God," but the gospel portrays sinners worthy of the hands of a loving God who makes the sinner just as if I'd never sinned by the grace and mercy of the cross of Jesus Christ. Even the one was worth dying for through His grace.

A man strolling the beach in Cancun happened upon a native Mexican who was bending down and picking up objects and tossing them into the sea beyond the waves. As the man approached the other he inquired as to what he was doing. The native responded as he reached down again that he was picking up starfish that had washed ashore and throwing them back into the deeper water. He explained that during high tide, the starfish would be swept by the current into the shallow area and not be able to retreat as the tide subsided. Therefore, he was about getting them back into the water before they died from lack of oxygen from the water. The visitor laughed as he responded with the reasoning that there were thousands of miles of shoreline on which starfish were deposited every day and that this good starfish Samaritan could not possibly save them all. Therefore, the visitor reasoned, what difference will it make to the population of starfish? The native picked up yet another and gently tossed it out to sea as he said "it made all the difference to that one."

Jesus still lives today in the hearts and minds of each of us who call upon His name. Shepherding is still flourishing because of Him. He said to those disciples to whom He appeared after His resurrection: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20) There are still lost sheep out there. There are also those who have wandered away because they thought the Shepherd and the flock couldn't love and accept them as they were made. The Good News is that He is the Shepherd of all, the lover of all souls, the justifier before God, and the Savior of each one! Our quest when found and properly re-flocked is to be found in His Word.

The Psalmist's plea was (Psalm 51:10-12) "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me." The pure heart He creates is one that is honest before Him, not putting self interest above Him and thus basks in the joy that is in His salvation for us, offered with great sacrifice and love.

He has His eye on you – He's got your number – He calls relentlessly until you answer. Accept the call and say hello to the greatest adventure of your life!


Monday, June 7, 2010

A Firm Hand

"A Firm Hand"

Pastor Tom Millner

John 10:22-33; 1 Peter 5:6-8

June 6, 2010


As our scripture reading unfolds this morning we find Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem. The Feast of Dedication was what has become known in modern times a Hanukah, and He was there with many others to commemorate and celebrate. We're told that a crowd of Jews gathered around Him and basically said; "Come on, Man…how long are you going to keep us in suspense about who you really are (after all, the messiah is going to be a great warrior and free us from the grips of Rome or any other occupier). When are you going to show us your real colors and start amassing your army? Now if you're Him, just tell us!" "Hey dudes, I did tell you," Jesus said, "but you didn't believe me. You see, all these miracles I've been doing in God's name speak for me, but YOU didn't listen because you can't hear my voice – tat means you're not my sheep because my sheep hear my voice – I know who they are because they follow me – I keep them eternally secure and no one can snatch them from my hand – my God, my Father, has given them to me and He is greater than all and no one can snatch them out of His hand – He and I are one!" For the believer, these are consoling words! These words serve as a foundation of the faith by which we walk – "if God be for us, who can be (come) against us!" For those who had confronted Jesus, however, these words weren't comforting – they were worthy of death by stoning.

What is God saying to you with His actions in your life? Will you own Him or stone Him? God speaks to us as surely as He was speaking through the works of Jesus back then, yet not all are hearing. Let's look at some ways He's speaking today.

  • He speaks through His WORD! There's a Bible in every seat here in this worship center. Many see it as nothing more than a book. Some see it as a reference when the Pastor or teacher asks to refer to it. Some see it as confusing and confounding. Just as Jesus was speaking through His actions of love and mercy and miracles in His presence here in the flesh, so too does His WORD today speak to us of the truth that is from God. If we're looking for Him in a way that conforms to pre-conceived and conventional forms (much like the Jews of Jesus' time), we won't be able to hear Him. Pre-conceived notions like this community holds today that God can only love us if we change, or become eunuchs, otherwise we're damned! You heard me right…this community believes this tripe. If it didn't, this place would be packed. If it didn't believe the lies, this community would be having a celebration weekend that embraced the presence of the loving God who holds all His sheep firmly in the grip of His mighty hand! Instead, it holds a celebration that doesn't want even the name of the One who holds us all to be mentioned. This wouldn't happen if the lies weren't believed. If you believe that the WORD of God condemns you, why would you read it? The WORD of God does NOT condemn; the WORD of God speaks to the heart and mind of those who seek to hear His voice more clearly and convicts us of the rightness of His way for our lives. That's not about changing who we are, but rather what we believe about WHOSE we are!
  • God speaks to us through and by the actions of His Body. His Word tells us that where two or more are gathered in HIS name (living in the character of Jesus) there He is in the midst. We are told in His WORD that the church is the virtual body of Christ. Each and every one of us here is called (by His voice) to be here as a part of this body. Many of you have heard the voice of the Savior through the actions of this body. Being a part of His body does not mean everyone is the same part or should be expected to act the same. I've heard it said that the greatest emotional hurts come from the Church. I've experienced them myself. If you haven't already, stick around – you will. Yet God is holding fast to each and every one of His parts and seeks to have this body grow as a whole. The scars we bear are a witness to His enduring love that brings us closer in communion with each other in His presence.

Some years ago during a hot summer day here in South Florida, a young boy eager to cool off, ran from his house shedding shoes and shirt to dive into the cooler water of the pond behind his house. As he was swimming to the center of the pond, his mother looked out the kitchen window in fright as she saw the alligator swimming toward the shore. She ran out of the house screaming to her son to turn around and return to shore. Hearing his mother's frantic voice, the boy turned to swim back to shore. He was nearing the edge of the pond as his mother grabbed her son's arms. It was too late, however. The alligator had clasped his jaws firmly on the boy's legs. A local farmer was driving by as he heard the woman's screams as her nails dug deeply into the arms of her son. The farmer arrived none too soon with rifle in hand to shoot the gator in the head. Later, as the boy was recovering in the hospital, a local television station visited him in his hospital bed as they were recounting the miraculous experience he had with the gator. They wanted to show the scars on the boy's legs. The boy said "those are not the most important scars; look at these scars on my arms from where my mother wouldn't let go." The scars from God's grip on us are the greater evidence of our having been rescued from the grips of the attacker! You know His voice; you have heard Him speak! You wouldn't be here today if that weren't the case. And, if you have no scars from His loving grip, don't despair there'll be opportunities everywhere!


If God has us so firmly in His grip, how are we to respond? When I returned to India in December of 1987 to bring my daughter home, I was facing some daunting challenges of court hearings, passport issuance, US Immigration meetings, and the reality of bonding with my soon the be daughter who had only briefly seen me for an hour or so per day for a week some six months prior. She was eight months old and didn't know me. Every day when I would see her during my initial visit in May, I would wear the same cologne, hold her near my neck in my arms and sing softly to her. The day that all court proceeding in India had been finalized and I was free to hold my daughter in my arms forever, I was met with big eyes of fright and a crying, wiggling eight month old. I was prepared. I had a freshly laundered blanket ready, a full splash of the cologne I had worn every day six months earlier, and a song ready to gently sing to her. As she squirmed and cried, I gently bound the blanket tightly around her, drew her closely to my neck, and held her tightly as I sang her song to her. Her protest was short lived. Her whole body relaxed as she surrendered herself to the firmness of a secure grip and a soothing voice of love. From that moment on, the bond was secure. She didn't want to leave my sight. Even now, 23 years later she will call just to hear my voice.

God calls to us through His Word, through His Body, and through His firm grip on our hearts and souls. God speaks to us through the miracles He has wrought in our lives. The fact that we are here together today in this place is a miracle of God's grace. What does God want from us in the grip of His love? Our reading from 1 Peter 5 today gives us a direction; "Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert." Humility as expressed here implies surrender. Just as the screaming baby finds peace in the security of the closely bound hug and surrenders to the loving arms of the parent, so are we to surrender to the loving embrace of our Lord and Savior. The bonds may seem tight until we relax in His embrace.

What is the grip that He has on you?


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

No Expiration Date!

"No Expiration Date"
Scriptures: John 11: 17-25; Gal 5:13

Pastor Tom Millner

May 30, 2010



Cyrus and Melvin were celebrating the anniversary of the move to their new home with a gathering of close friends in their local community. They had saved diligently for several years to secure a sizable down payment on the property. Their move in the year before had been marked by a similar celebration with their friends. Just the month before the anniversary an envelope from their insurance company had been inadvertently delivered to the vacant house next door. As Cy and Melvin were getting to sleep after their friends had departed, they were awakened by the fire alarm just off the living room. A candle they thought was extinguished had reignited and had burned its way into the wooden table on which it stood, igniting then the drapes and ultimately the entire living room. Cy and Melvin were able to grab their respective robes and dash to the living room only to be deterred by the heat and flames. They exited through the patio doors as they heard the siren from the fire truck round the corner. The firemen broke through the front door and were able to extinguish the fire before it engulfed the entire house but not before it had done extensive damage to the roof and deposited soot and smoke throughout the house. "Thank God we have insurance," shouted Melvin. Cy recounted the absence of a premium notice. As you've already surmised, the premium notice was delivered next door. The expiration date for the insurance was 12:01 AM, the day before the fire. Their investment was lost! They had missed the expiration date!

It seems everything these days has an expiration date. Sell before; use before; must reach us by; discard after! Many times these assertions keep us safe; but also cover the other from litigation should the product not be usable. Not all expiration dates are useful. Some products are quite useful after the date that has arbitrarily been set as a standard date for all substances possessing that particular compound. We are so use to expiration dates that we often assume the lie that God's action in our lives has an expiration date also! We want His action on our timeframe; as we see it being important.

It was the same for the sisters of Lazarus. Jesus got the notice in ample time that His friend was ill, yet He stayed where He was, ministering to those at hand. Martha and Mary needed Jesus to arrive in time to save their brother…He arrived four days after Lazarus had expired! Martha was the first to get to Jesus to tell him that He wasn't on time for Lazarus. Jesus assures her that Lazarus will rise again. She didn't quite get it. Then Martha goes home to tell Mary that Jesus is on the way there. Mary ran to meet Jesus when she heard that He had arrived in town and fell at His feet crying that He had not been there in time to prevent her brother's death. Jesus was moved by Mary's tears. Scholars generally agree that the verse "Jesus wept," (verse 35) refers to His sorrow not for Lazarus, but for Mary's belief that things had to happen on her time schedule, which translates to her poverty of faith. There was even gossip among the folks about Jesus' untimely arrival with underlying implications of His poor judgment. How often we do that; "If only you had intervened before I bought that house; moved in with so and so; invested in that stock; did those drugs; contracted that disease; lived so long this or that way!" I often think God is less interested in what happens to us than He is HOW we respond to consequences of even our own decisions. I love John 11:39 in the King James Version: "39Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days." Jesus was not bound by Lazarus's expiration date! He was right on time to demonstrate God's love and compassion, even in the face of death. Often our mess that stinketh is just ripe for God's intervention! God's timing in our lives is perfect, whether we acknowledge it or not. It may not be convenient in our eyes, but in the divine light it is perfect! Jesus appeared to be four days late for Lazarus who was bound in the grave, but for the soul of Lazarus and all the witnesses, He was right on time!

Lazarus was not the only person in Biblical accounts that was raised from the dead. Jesus Himself was raised from the dead after three days. The big difference between the resurrection of Jesus and those other accounts is that the others died again…Jesus Lives! The reason we are here today is because Jesus lives. The reason this church exists is because Jesus lives. Religion has attempted to uncover the historical Jesus, turn Him into some hysterical Jesus that is created in our own image. "Love the sinner – hate the sin," is one of the mantras. The message attributed to Jesus then is "change who you are and then you're acceptable in my sight." There's not a phrase in scripture that even approximates that – yet we buy it! In this community, often the name JESUS carries a weight of condemnation. Why is that, we wonder -because so many have not seen the evidence of the living, loving presence of the man Jesus. When was the last time you heard a conversation at Georgie's or The Manor about what Jesus is doing in individual lives? It's as though we come here to worship in the presence of and because of the man JESUS, then we leave these doors to enter the witness protection program so as not to be detected. "Oh, I don't talk about Jesus – they may think I'm some kind of freak!" How many closets are we going to have to exit? Some have found it so difficult to come out of that first closet – and acknowledge who God has made us. It seems that bigger still is the closet of faith from which we must emerge proclaiming the wholeness we find in the presence of our Lord, Jesus Christ! Jesus came that we might have life and have it to the full.

Jesus said to Martha "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die." Jesus asked Mary to take him to the place where Lazarus was buried. "…Jesus called in a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come out.'" Lo and behold, the dead man came out. But, there was still more to accomplish – "his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face." Lazarus was still bound by his grave clothes. Though alive and out, Lazarus was still bound by the cloth that was his death. I ask YOU today; what are the grave clothes that keep you bound? Are they the rags of acceptance; the cloth of not being counted among "those folk;" the fear of rejection; the loss of assumed status; your place among the "in" crowd? What is it for you that keeps you in the closet with your faith? God's love has no limits; it has no expiration date; there are no exclusion clauses – why would we exclude Him from our daily interactions or our daily conversations?

We get so tied up in our worldly identity. Male, female, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Gay, straight, transgender, or any other criteria we can imagine identifying and differentiating ourselves. We hold on to these labels or try desperately to get rid of them with a passion that would make the lovesick mourn. Paul reminded the members of the church in Galatia that: "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love." This means folks that none of the labels we or any others would give ourselves, none of the grave clothes with which we would wrap ourselves, none of the witness protection programs under which we would operate, none of the "pious religiosity" we can muster, has any value whatsoever! The only that counts (has value) is FAITH EXPRESSING ITSELF THROUGH LOVE. The first step in expressing that faith through the love of Jesus Christ is to walk in the knowledge of His grace and mercy – that means accepting that He made you, He gave you the gifts you have (your uniqueness) and He will see you through all of life's adventures. Because His timing is perfect and His love has no expiration date!


Satan's greatest lie: "It's over for you." Don't buy it…there's no expiration date!