Sunday, September 25, 2011

Who Are You?

“Who Are You?”

Pastor Tom Millner

Jeremiah 31:3; Genesis 1:27; John 3:3, 16-17



The famous Gloria Gaynor song that was featured in the movie “Birdcage” touts the virtue of being one’s own creation. The words to the first verse are

“I am what I am
I am my own special creation
So come take a look
Give me the hook
Or the ovation
It's my world
That I want to have a little pride in
My world
And it's not a place I have to hide in
Life's not worth a damn
Till I can say
I am what I am.”


This song has long been the mantra of so many who have otherwise felt put down or discarded by the broader society. We can understand the human need for affirmation, acknowledgement and acceptance as what we perceive ourselves to be. None of our efforts to express and live out “what” we are addresses the question of “who” we are. We spend so much time trying to express (find out what fits) what we are that we miss the opportunity to fully understand who we are. The extreme need for self expression is often the mask behind which the hurting and confused child attempts to find adulthood! Who we are, however, can never be found at the altar of self- expression, self-experimentation, or self-abuse. Who we are is to be found first in God’s Word and then lived out in Christ’s character.

Psalm 139:13-14 reminds us that we are not made by our own hands. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Even the creation story from which we read this morning in Genesis, Chapter 1, informs us that the image in whom we are made is God Himself. If we are made in the image of the creator of the universe, what other image do we need to project? Each of us possesses an almost innate need to experience something greater than ourselves. That need is the hole that is left in our heart that can only be filled by Christ! The call upon each of us is to live out who we are in Christ, because of Christ and the love that is God!

Not only are we creations of God’s own hand, but we are also redeemed by the blood of the Lamb! When I was a child, my parents would receive “Green Stamps” at the local grocery store that were placed on a booklet. The book of stamps could be “redeemed” at a designated place for various items. We once got a new toaster with green stamps. To be redeemed is to be purchased with something of value. God has redeemed (paid the price to restore us) us with the act of Jesus on the cross.  Even though God designed and made us, we all go our own individual way to be creator of our own special life. Not a single one of us is exempt from the attempt to create ourselves in some different image than what God has made. In Jesus’ time, that action was called sin. In today’s world we don’t like to call it what it is (sin) so we call it self-expression, self-creation, self-actualization or any number of other self-exhibits. No matter how hard we try, however, we can’t improve upon what God has already deemed worthy enough to give His Son’s life to redeem. What we think is the worthy part, however, is NOT what God sees as being the worth! As we’ve heard before, “I am not who you say I am, I am not who I say I am; I am who God says I am. We’re so busy living out the former two that we miss the opportunity to discover the vastness, the wonder, the magnificence of God’s creation repaired, restored, and redeemed to His original intent. 

What is the “who” that God sees in us that makes us so worthy of His love, grace, mercy, redemption, salvation or restoration? Could it be the kindness we show to strangers? Could it be the way we live out our lives that gives honor and glory to him? Could it be the gifts of tithes and offerings that we shower upon His church? Could it be the ways in which we avoid situations that tempt our lust for sex? Could it be our non-judgmental attitude toward others who don’t share the same geo-political stance as we? Could it be our gracious heart that gives generously to the homeless and needy? Could it be all the accolades given for just being the gracious “You” that you are? Could it be the heart of forgiveness that is at the ready to forgive 70 times 70? Could it be the magnetism of your compelling personality that causes you to so positively influence vast numbers for the cause of the cross? Could it be the tongues that you speak when filled with the presence of His Holy Spirit, proclaiming the glory of God? It is in none of these that God sees as who we are. These are the things WE hold up as value that prove what we believe to be our worth to God. We give them value and we declare some to be more valuable than others. We let our light shine before each other so as to show how bright we are. Isaiah 64 states that our righteousness amounts to nothing more than a used tampon. It’s good for nothing. It has to be thrown away, discarded as used up and no longer worth anything. So, does that mean that who we are is of no use to God? The answer is yes and no! Yes because God who is omnipotent uses all things for His ultimate will. Despite our belief and action otherwise, He is still in control. What is of little use to God is the person we strive to project, direct, maneuver, scheme, scream, or otherwise contrive to glorify the WHO on which we place greatest self value. That, in fact, is the greatest obstacle to God doing His work in and through us. If all we profess to value (by virtue of how we act) were sufficient for God’s divine intent for us, then grace would have no place. Instead, grace is the only place we can rest assured.

Paul writes in Ephesians 2:8-10 that “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” We’ve read that over and over, yet we continue to behave like it all depends upon us. We do this, I submit, because of the natural bent we have to take back ownership of the mother ship and fool ourselves into the belief that it is stewardship!

The question of who we are cannot be answered accurately without first answering the question of who’s we are. Are you your own special creation? If so, then there is little room for God. 1 Corinthians 6:20 reminds us “you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” And Paul writes in Romans 12:1-2 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”What it means to “offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to Him as our worship,” is to NOT conform to this world’s version of what is more valuable, more adorable, more desirable or more lovable. It is to surrender all those things at the foot of His cross and thus transform our minds to the things of Christ’s character, the reflection of the Master’s image in which we are made and to whose care we belong. The value that God sees in us is viewed through the life blood of Jesus Christ. We have been made whole again and restored to a place where we can walk and talk with the Father as His very own child. We are the recipients of an eternal life wherein we can worship Him with the same degree of love that created us. We have been made whole as His special creation and need no other expression or creation to make us whole. We are no longer on our own; we have been redeemed and now belong to Him.

The question to answer then is not who you are, but whose you are! Who we are cannot be fully realized outside of “whose” we are. Whose are you today? Have you been overtaken by the god of self will, the god of “my way”, or have you acknowledged your purchase by your creator from the jaws of false gods to a restored position in the house of THE God? If you have made your choice, you will live your life expressing whose you are!




Sunday, September 11, 2011

God's Blessing in a Weird World

“God’s Blessing in a Weird World”

Pastor Tom Millner

Isaiah 55:8-11; Matthew 5:1-12


Economic crises, political upheavals, storms and earthquakes have captured the headlines of late. Just about everyone is being touched in some way by some or all of these happenings. What was just a few short years ago a place of “sitting pretty” and looking good has turned into a precarious perch witnessing challenges never before faced. One Rabbi in NJ has declared that the cause of the recent earthquake in Virginia is because of gay marriage in New York. I guess this means that two people of the same gender making a lifetime commitment to love and honor one another can shake foundations three states away! Who knew that love could have so much power? Just imagine what would happen if that kind of love were unleashed unconditionally! I digress.

Isaiah records the words of God that assert that His ways are not our ways. For some that is comforting and for others it’s confounding. It’s comforting to know that God has it all under control and it’s confounding when we don’t know what “it” is.  Some of us develop our plans, execute our strategy and attempt to control our destiny. Others wake to the sound of the wind and follow it wherever it seems to blow that day. Some MUST express themselves or explode where others stuff explosives far out of sight from others. Some would have the expressers tone down and have the stuffers tune in. Proverbs 14:12 says “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” This reminds us that neither personality is better than the other, but different approaches that come to the same end. Whether we’ve made plans, executed plans and tactics or simply watched as the planners went by, there will come a time when each says “goodbye”. This is not intended to be morbid and a downer; rather it is a reminder that “today is the day the Lord has made – let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24). In a weird world, there are still wonders and blessings. You see, God’s plans will always supersede ours. His objectives survive through time, even when ours fizzle out. There were groups of self proclaimed heroes (whom we term terrorists) who thought they would bring down a free nation by their acts of heroism on September 11, 2001. Instead they brought death and destruction to themselves and thousands of innocent people who had nothing to do with their agenda and with it, strengthened the resolve of a nation to not be overcome with fear, but be resolute in preservation and restoration. People make plans, but eternity is in God’s hands! Jesus taught us that strength, virtue, victory, and rejoicing lie in places the world we live in would tell us is found weakness, flaws, defeat, and anguish. In God’s world it isn’t always as it seems!

Let’s look at what Jesus taught us in Matthew 5. These teachings are traditionally referred to as the beatitudes. An easy way to remember them is “let these be your attitude”! We could spend hours on each of these statements by Jesus, but we’ll only touch upon a couple that I think are most needed by us all here today.

Matthew 5:3 reads; “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Now this does not refer to being poor in God’s Spirit; His Holy Spirit, but to having a less determined self-will. The Kingdom of heaven, we said, is both now and not yet. Having accepted Christ as your Savior, you now have the presence of His Holy Spirit living in you. That kingdom to which He refers is a relationship that flourishes as He becomes greater and we become less in relation to Him. This flies in the face of modern day self-esteem asserters who proclaim that it is imperative of raising self to a greater level of importance. Those in so called co-dependent relationships strive to bring one’s self to a higher place of regard so as not to fall victim to the self abusive behaviors that have so entrapped them in past or even current relationships. We have a hard time with the notion of dying to self as a means of spiritual development and maturity. Some would ask: “why do I need to dye to self when I’m just beginning to feel good about myself as a Christian”? Let’s look at it this way. If there is only capacity to hold 100% in a container called self-image, and the container has been previously 100% contaminated with false beliefs, the container will only produce contaminated results. If at a particular point of letting in purity that consumed only 10% of the capacity, the mix has changed, but the product is still contaminated by 90%. The reduction of contamination can only occur by pouring out the old allowing room for the new. In order for the contamination to be replaced with the pure, the old has to be completely poured out. So it is with the Christian’s walk with Christ. The new replaces the old, but the purity of Christ can only exist where the contamination of self-determination, self-need to be esteemed a particular way, and the need for life to be lived on “my terms” is poured out. God’s view is 100% pure because of Christ. When we are filled with His presence in our lives we see less need for self to be exhibited in a particular way. We become hungry for more of His purity, His goodness, His grace, and His mercy. In the presence of Him in our self-container, we become less and less dependent upon viewing our-self and more and more comforted by the presence if His-self as the author and finisher of our faith. It is there in that place with Him that we experience the kingdom of heaven that Christ died to give us. If His presence gives us all we need, there is no other need for any other “self” to be seen. The need to be self-esteemed becomes a non-essential as we live in the light of being His-redeemed.

Likewise, this assertion is reinforced in Matthew 5:5 as He says: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”  This is almost a direct quote from Psalm 37:11 which reads “But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace.” We have been taught the opposite of this statement from Jesus. We’ve been taught that meek is weak, lacking strength and having deficient ego. Both notions are a lie. Jesus’ reference to meek here is to reassure those who have been put down, kicked aside, abused by the world around them, that they are poised to inherit more than they have lost by the grace of God through Christ. Meekness, in the context of this statement, refers to being humble. This then makes this statement a companion to the “poor in spirit” statement. You see, the meek or the humble have no need to be puffed up, highlighted, the center of attention, or otherwise recognized since they are already “blessed” or overjoyed by being counted in the ranks of the redeemed by Christ. Meekness and humility are not personality traits, they are character traits. The humble and meek may have personality expressions that are “bigger than life” yet exhibit the character of Christ in service, encouragement, self-sacrifice, compassion and mercy toward others. Likewise, the introverted personality is not in and of itself an expression of meekness or humility. I’ve known introverts who are so filled with the need to feed the ego that they’ve completely ignored the needs of others as they scratched their way to what they thought was the top. Personality is a gift from God, not a container for piety, pride, or self-deprecation. You’ve heard me talk about having met R.G. Le Tourneau who visited in our home church in rural NC to share his testimony of God’s blessing and grace in his life. He was a prolific inventor and owner of one of the nation’s largest manufacturer of massive earth moving equipment. He shared how he had started tithing 10% of his income and slowly upped that percentage to 90, living on 10%. He was unassuming, loving and approachable. I remember how everyone was so inspired by his unassuming presence around the Sunday table at Grandma’s house in Providence. He didn’t tout his exploits, his enormous capacity to construct and invent; he humbly shared how much in awe he was at a God who would bless him with the opportunity to give back to the advancement of the Gospel. He could have insisted that he be entertained at the fanciest restaurant in Danville, but instead he reveled in the fellowship with fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and homemade biscuits around the table of a poor widow in Providence. I learned from that experience that fame and fortune were not the foundation of character, but that the character of humility can sustain through fame and fortune. The blessing for the meek is the absence of need to be any more than redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. Therein lies the basis for hunger and thirst for righteousness; the presence of Christ in a life filled with His Spirit, His direction, and His comfort and assurance.


In summary, God has a better plan for us than we can devise and a call upon us that is far higher than we could rise.  



Sunday, September 4, 2011

Today's Labor

“Today’s Labor”

Pastor Tom Millner

Luke 10:1-12


This weekend we celebrate Labor Day here in the United States. It commemorates all those who labor hard to make this nation a better place for themselves and others. There are far too many who are not able to celebrate this year because they are out of work and can’t find a job. Jesus called many to labor for the Kingdom, not just the twelve. Let’s dig into this scripture from Luke and see what we can learn that applies to us in our Christian walk.


“After this the Lord appointed seventy-two,  others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.” The “this” to which the verse refers is Jesus’ assertion that to follow Him is costly – it requires putting Him first and everything else far behind. So that having been said, Jesus appoints seventy two in addition to the twelve, to go out to the places he was about to visit. Two important elements here that we need to elaborate on:

1.       He sent them in pairs! The notion of the lone Christian is non-scriptural. We were not created to be alone. “The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’” (Genesis 2:18) Moses went with Aaron. Paul went with Barnabas; Jesus surrounded himself with the twelve. There’s no such thing as a lone ministry. A lone ministry puts self first, not God. Even the Lone Ranger had his Tonto! Fellowship in ministry is important for mutual support, for sharing, and for caring. 

2.      The visit to the place was to prepare the way for Jesus’ arrival. We often think that it’s all up to us to bring people to the Lord. Initiatives have been designed by organizations that take us through the steps to “winning souls” to Christ. As well intended as they might be, they lead the “witness” to believe that the good work is all up to him or her. Jesus sent them out to declare that the Kingdom is near; the Kingdom will come. Jesus didn’t instruct them to deliver the Kingdom, but to alert the listener that it was on its way! When we take on the role of delivering the Kingdom, we take on the task that only God can perform. That is placing ourselves and our agenda before Him. In Matthew 16, Peter insists that Jesus not endure what was essential for Him to fulfill His mission. Jesus’ response was to tell him “get behind me, Satan.” If He hadn’t fulfilled His Mission, we wouldn’t be here today.  Those who were sent ahead were to simply prepare the way.


Verses 2-4 “He told them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.  Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.  Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.” I want to elaborate on two things that are important here:

1.       There are more who need to hear the word of truth than there are those to convey it! So much of what is being spread today that appears to be Christian is far from the call of Christ on the individual life. We see acts of exclusion that are passed off as the Christian message. We hear preaching of conditions that are touted as a gospel of grace and mercy which renders merciless and graceless. We hear that grace, mercy, and salvation are free to those who would opt to live a lie about who God created them to be. That’s not a grace that’s free; it’s a grace at a fee which is no grace at all. Grace is free, it’s not cheap! Every time we put our conditions or exceptions on grace, we cheapen the grace that is given at great cost to God! There’s a huge harvest just waiting for the Lord of the harvest to be presented as He truly is! Oddly, the conditional message that so many spew forth creates more hostility and resentment than acceptance, repentance and redemption! That sounds more like the attitude of Sodom than the grace of God!

2.      Jesus was asking them to be totally reliant upon the hospitable graces of those to whom He was sending them. This flies in the face of our self sufficiency model for today’s living. Now there’s nothing wrong with striving for self-sufficiency, but we allow our perceived need for it to hinder us from being open to the love and care that might be a blessing to others. Hospitality in ancient times was of prime importance to protect one another from thieves, from wild animals, and to provide food and shelter when traveling. There was no fast food drive through spot, no interstate highways, and no roadside stands or rest stops. There were only people who lived along the way. The lack of hospitality could mean the difference between life and death in those days. Hospitality today is just as life giving and life saving as it was back then. The church and its individual members are called on to be hospitable to all who need a refuge along their journey. We’re called to be a place where the journey through a sometimes difficult life is open, welcoming and emotionally safe. We’re called to be a place where spiritual food and the “bread of life” are offered without reservation or on the condition that the travelers become someone else or even profess beliefs that are identical to our own.


Jesus goes even further in His instruction. He tells them that if they are not received with hospitality that they are to wipe the very dust of that place from their feet. This was an act that symbolically removed the experience of that rejection from their memory. He went on to say that it would be better for Sodom on the day of His Kingdom than on that place that had rejected them. We’ve heard that the so called “sin of Sodom” was homosexuality. That’s pure rubbish! There’s nothing in scripture to support that assertion. The sin of Sodom was its inhospitable stance to strangers and its rejection of God’s angels of mercy. The people of Sodom wanted to harm, not host the angels whom God sent to save them. Those same angels had appeared to Abraham earlier and found Him to be welcoming and full of hospitality. During that appearance, God told Abraham that He was sending His angels to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to see for Himself if they were indeed as wicked (abusive and inhospitable) as had been reported to Him. Abraham negotiates with God to save the cities if as few as ten hospitable people could be found. Abraham knew there were at least four; Lot, his wife and two daughters. There are so many beautiful and hopeful parts to this story and yet there are those who would lead millions to believe that who they are, by God’s design, was the reason for the cities destruction! If you’ve bought that false teaching, I urge you to discard it in that trash can near the front door and leave here with a new understanding of that story.


The labor that we are to be about in our lives today is the witness and the worship of the giver of grace and mercy in our lives. We don’t have to depend upon props, steps to success, catchy phrases or prayer rituals. What we are to depend upon is the willingness of others to hear the witness of hope, healing, and rejoicing that we have experienced in the grace of Christ. God calls us to live in His kingdom that is both now and not yet. That means to live in the knowledge of the presence of His grace and mercy in our lives while recognizing that the fullness of that grace and mercy is yet to come. God’s great command to us is to love Him with all that we are and to likewise love our neighbor as our self. Likewise, His great commission to us is to go to others and share what we have learned from Him. That means living in the light and love of His grace and mercy that is His Kingdom come and to love in a way that is His will being done!





Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Stone's Throw

“A Stone’s Throw”

Pastor Tom Millner

John 8: 5-11; Luke 6:41-42; Romans 7:15-25


I remember recently that a woman in Iran was sentenced to death by stoning after being convicted of adultery. It has invoked an international outrage and a multinational quest to save her from this cruel end. We read today the scripture from the Gospel of John that shows Jesus intervening on behalf of the woman caught in adultery. I’ve often wondered where the man was and what his sentence would be since she was supposedly caught in the “act.” I’ve always thought the “act” required two people, not just one. But “how many” is not the point of the story. Jesus wrote something on the ground that prompted the stone wielding men eager to carry out “justice” to re-think their position. He then challenged them; “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” They each dropped their stones and went away. Jesus then asked the woman to point out the one who condemned her and there was no one left. He then told her that He did not condemn either and that she was free to go and not engage in the life that got her to that place. What a relief! We all identify with the relief that the woman must have felt having been set free from the pain and humiliation of having been caught in the act of breaking the law. Adultery in our society is not against the law, but we’ve all been guilty of breaking the rules (if not the law) by bending them to our advantage. Thank God for His grace and mercy that reminds us of our restoration as His very own family, through the redemptive blood of Jesus Christ. Do we live in that restoration or do we dismantle what God has put aright?

In Luke 6 we read about Jesus talking to His disciples (and any others listening in) about judging others. Here’s what He said; ““Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  He then uses a metaphor of a bind man leading another with the disastrous result of both falling in a ditch. Then, he challenges those who are listening: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” There’s an old saying in the recovery community; “you spot it, you got it.” Often the thing for which we accuse another is the very thing that will trip us up in our own walk. Why is it so hard to “judge not”? Every time we do judge another, we’re using the same measure that would condemn ourselves. Is that so bad? Some would say we’re too easy on each other with all this grace stuff. Seems in some minds we should be holding each other “accountable” for our actions! What winds up happening, more often than not, is a metaphorical bead reading that gets tempers flaring and feelings hurt and defenses up. That leads to fellowship and relationships being destroyed rather than being nourished as God calls us to do. Even Paul had a tough time with doing what he knew he ought to do.

In our scripture reading from Romans 7, Paul goes to great lengths to explain the difficulty that he experienced in doing what is right. He asserts that he would not have known what wrong behavior was without the Law being there to illustrate what was right behavior. His struggle is not unlike everyone who truly seeks to live in the character of Christ. Paul concludes that when he lives in the presence of his redeemer, he is not living out the presence of his sinful nature. Relationship then, is the inferred key; the relationship with Christ that nurtures His right Spirit within. Paul writes in Romans 8, just after his struggle with his sinful self that “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1-2

As we dig deeper into the struggle with doing the right thing, we are all surrounded with thrown stones and dust miners. The modern church (and many included here today) is guilty of having been part of the stones and planks swirling around these days. Just listen to the news as one self-righteous group after another claiming to have THE WAY that points to the damnation of all others, offers up disdain for grace that embraces the whole of the human population. Earthquakes, hurricanes or any other natural disaster have been attributed to the so called gay marriage. It’s interesting that among the most religiously fundamentalist states, the divorce rate is exponentially higher than the rest of the country. Yet, focus on so called family values does nothing more than fuel the fires of self deceit and relationship defeat for so many. And how, I challenge you, are we any different? We condemn those who don’t understand what it’s like to have our attraction orientation. We ignore those who don’t share the same theological bent as we do. We isolate from the broader community to find the safety among those who see life our way. We judge the one who is not living up to “our” standard of what we call scriptural leadership, and then wonder why we get disenchanted with church and fellowship. We’re often too busy reading beads to plant the seeds of faith through mercy and grace that Christ has charged us with. It’s time we lay down the stones (even those that have been previously thrown at us), pull the planks out of our eyes and start building bridges to a world in need of a Savior! If you’re not engaging in bridge building, you’re not exercising your Christ given character!

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whosoever believes in Him shall have everlasting life. God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Jesus said that he came that we might have life and that we might have it to the full. That full life is not hurling stones at one another (here or out there) and it is not dust sifting through others eyes. That life is the living out of the character of Christ. We can’t fulfill that call on us if we’re not living in relationship with Him. When He said “if you haven’t done it for one of the least of these you haven’t done it for me,” He was challenging us to relationship. Relationship with Himself and relationship with each other that mirrors that relationship with Him. This church has been called into existence for a reason. We are here to “ignite the world for Christ, one life at a time” and we need to be getting back to the heart of that call. When I say we, I mean each and every one of us! Relationships in this community need to be healed and nurtured and bridges to the broader church need to be built. We need to be teaching by example how to love our neighbor as our self. We have in this room, this very day the resources that can change Wilton Manors, Fort Lauderdale, Broward County, South Florida, this State, and this nation. Within this room is the igniting fluid that can light millions of souls with the hope of a better day and the peace that passes all understanding. God has called you here for such a time as this. Are you willing to be ignited yourself? Are you ready to be a part of the solution to the problems and challenges so often laid out as complaints? It’s time to leave behind service as usual begin living in the extraordinary! Where have you been holding back when He’s calling you forward? Where are you judging that’s keeping you from budging off your safe pedestal of pious pride? Want to see a difference in your life? Make the choice that brings a difference to another’s life.




Sunday, August 7, 2011

Where He Leads

“Where He Leads”

Pastor Tom Millner

Luke 15:8-10; Acts 26:16-18


We’ve just celebrated twelve years as a congregation known as Church of the Holy SpiritSong. This church started meeting for Bible study in a living room of an apartment in Palm Beach, in 1999. In 2000, the meetings moved to Sundays and a hotel in Boca Raton. The congregation grew and more and more people were attending and joining from Fort Lauderdale. About 2003 the worship services moved south to Fort Lauderdale, near Tamarac. In 2005, we purchased a warehouse space in Tamarac to be home for years to come. At that time we were being led to initiate a community wide effort in Wilton Manors around The Purpose Driven Life. We rented space on Sunday morning from the GLCC of South Florida on Andrews Avenue and after five weeks had grown to a congregational size that rendered the warehouse space obsolete. We had undertaken a capital campaign for acquiring space as God was leading us to a more permanent location. We continued to grow and in 2006, our beloved founding Pastor announced her calling to a new location in New Jersey. Amidst the grieving at our loss, Deacon Suzanne, Deacon Leslie, and I (Elder Tom) were being prepared as best we could to assume the Pastoral positions as Associate, Associate, and Senior Pastor, respectively. In May 0f 2007, the three of us were ordained into the pastoral role for Church of the Holy SpiritSong. Shortly after ordination, the GLCC announced the sale of the property we were meeting in which made it necessary to begin the quest for a new location. We looked for places to buy. We looked for bargain places and we looked at many different possibilities. Purchase was beyond our means as the market for commercial properties seemed to be escalating. After praying over several scenarios, we felt led to negotiate an agreement for the space we are currently worshipping in that would give us a home base and room to grow for the following ten years. We will be completing three years here in this Worship Center in October. We had finances to complete the shared costs of renovations and enough to pay the lease for three years, trusting God to provide through His people the resources for the remaining seven years. We all enjoy the convenience of not having to set up chairs and sound equipment every Sunday morning. The worship leaders can arrive and rehearse without waiting for the speakers to be mounted on their stands. This space is available all week for meetings, study and prayer. People walk in on any given day to ask for prayer, to share a burden, to get some help with a specific issue, or to just sit quietly before the cross. This place is a blessing! This place is a burden! The blessing comes in positive experiences and worship that is centered on the grace of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. The burden is the financial cost associated with having the convenience of being established in the midst of the community here at this center. Jesus says in Matthew 11:29, however, that when we share the yoke with Him, our burden is lightened. We need more necks in the yoke turning the burden into a blessing! This is for the encouragement of those who are already yoked to the fullest commitment and for challenge to those who are standing on the sidelines watching the herd go by! We exist for His purpose, Church: “To ignite the world for Christ, one life at a time.” This place, this service, these services, and those yoked together here are simply instruments of His purpose to ignite! What does it mean to “ignite the world for Christ, one life at a time”?

You might have wondered how the two scriptures; depicting two separate stories could be tied together in any way. They are each different, yet they share a common thread – God’s passion for His people.

The parable of the woman who lost one of the ten silver coins she possessed is one amongst several parables Jesus used to teach about the love of God. It’s comforting to know that if we were the lost coin that God would metaphorically sweep the corners of the earth to retrieve us and then rejoice that we had been found. Jesus demonstrated that depth of love when He submitted to the human authorities to be crucified in our place, for our self-centeredness, for our redemption and salvation. He’s done His part and now He asks that we do our part in His grand plan of shining the light and sweeping the corners. This story is not only about God, but also about the woman. She had a passion for all she was given. Having lost one of the ten pieces of silver, she passionately went after the one that was lost, so that her collection could be whole again. She could have been thankful for the nine she retained and gone about her merry way, but that would have not satiated her desire to regain her whole collection. Her heart was focused on the whole of her collection and her heart’s desire would not be met until the one that was lost was returned. Before she started the quest to retrieve the lost coin, she must have recognized it was missing. What have you been missing that will make you whole? The woman didn’t go to find a replacement; she was only satisfied with the real thing. God created us to reflect His image of love, mercy, grace, peace, and patience. We miss the mark when we seek to replace that image with substitutes. Ego centered rants, cravings for attention, insisting it be “my way or the highway,” relationship roulette, gratuitous sex, the quest for acknowledgement through gossip, the insistence that church leaders be perfect in order to be for His good, or the belief that all my needs must be met or God must hate me, are all faulty replacements in our quest to restore the genuine treasure. Only one thing will do; the real thing which is the restored and whole relationship with Him. This story reminds us to stop looking passionately to that which is not real, lasting, or completing and to return to the passion for which we were created and by which we are made whole – the relationship that ignites our hearts anew with Jesus Christ.

            What about our second scripture today? The Acts of the Apostles as this scripture is referred describes Saul’s conversion (before he became the Apostle Paul). Paul was a passionate man about his religion. He was a Pharisee, having been taught by the best theologians of the time, and he was zealous about maintaining the integrity of the Law upon which the Jewish religion was founded. He had been present at the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. So here’s Saul (Paul), going after his passion for religious righteousness as he saw it to be and suddenly he’s blinded by the light of Christ. Not only is he stopped in his tracks, but also he’s re-directed. His passion is not wrong, his direction and focus is wrong. You see he thought he was to save the Jews from the ravages of those pesky Jesus followers, and God intervened in a way that got Paul’s attention and redirected him toward igniting the world outside of Judaism for Christ, with the same zeal and passion Paul had been using to persecute. God didn’t take away Paul’s passion, He redirected it for God’s glory, which brought Paul into a deeper relationship with God and led others in that direction as well. Paul had to be blinded to his current direction to receive vision for his new direction. We also get caught up in our own sights trying to do what we think is going to make the difference in our lives when suddenly blindness sets in. We can’t see where it’s all going; people seem to not be doing what we think they need to be doing, and we’re included. In his blindness, Paul received a new vision from God; a new direction. Instead of destroying the blight of Christ, he was being led to ignite for Christ. God used Paul’s passion. He just changed its focus.

What is God doing in your life that is calling you to sweep every corner and to look differently in a new direction? What coin in the collection that God has given you do you need restored to make the collection whole again? What new direction is God telling you to move with a changed mind and a new vision? As the body of Christ here, each of us is a part that serves a function in the call to “ignite the world for Christ, one life at a time.” What is your call in being united as one body to ignite? Are you being a part of the ignition or are you removing the battery cable? The engine is ready; the fuel tank of God’s Spirit is waiting to be used. Each of us has a key in hand. Are you willing to insert it in the ignition and turn the lever for the relation of a lifetime with Him who made you to have a relationship with you? 














Sunday, July 24, 2011

What You're Worth

“What You’re Worth”

Pastor Tom Millner

Jeremiah 31:3; John 3:16-17; Romans 8:38-39


We see web sites and TV programs that focus on enhancing your net worth. Secrets of saving and investing are promised to be shared for a contribution to the person who is offering the keys that unlock the secret so that their financial net worth can be increased at your expense. Of course they would tell you that the money you send them is really an investment in your future. There are many of us who have relied on the calculation of assets minus liabilities is equal to our net worth. Some of us have seen those numbers go down over the last few years at a rate faster than they went up. Is our worth really measured by our net assets? What about our name or reputation?

My lovely Grandma use to tell me how blessed we were to have been born into the family we were. She would go on about how upstanding and almost righteous we were in our family history. Bless her heart, she had a short memory of history of family. Her husband died after catching pneumonia following a drunken binge leaving her with eight young girls to rear on her own on a tobacco farm in rural NC in the 1920’s. Yes the family could trace it’s lineage to pre-revolutionary America, but that was no solace to a struggling family of women ages 6 months to 15 years. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t count my Grandfather as worthless. My mother idolized him and recounted numerous stories of his playing the violin as the family sat around the hearth in winter. None of the things that Grandma or Mom counted as worth, however, amounted to a hill of beans in God’s eyes. The good news is that all of Grandpa’s failings were not held against him either, by the grace of God through Jesus Christ. Grandpa was a faithful believer!

Worth often translates to value in our way of thinking and behaving. I led a corporate change initiative for the subsidiary of a large chemical company I worked for in the 1980’s. The entire three day workshop focused on getting every person who was involved with the business, without regard to department or function, to a place of recognizing that she or he was a part of the process that ultimately brought value to the customer. We taught that the customer does not buy a product or service only, but rather the customer buys value as the customer sees value. Every person who comes in contact with the offering has the potential to add value to the customer. Every person along the value chain, as we called it, had the opportunity to bring additional value for the next person along the process. Ultimately, the consumer was the beneficiary of value to self, family, and community because of enhanced health. So it is with us here. We go where we see value to us in going. We do the things that we perceive as giving value to us in doing. We hang around with people whom we believe add value to ourselves. We wear the cloths that we believe show value to our appearance and we seek to please God in a way that will make us more valuable in His eyes. There’s nothing inherently wrong with doing these things, but the motive is totally off base. There is nothing that we can do, nothing that we can say, nothing that we can give, buy, or sell that will make us more valuable than we already are in the eyes of our Creator. If we truly understood what we’re worth in the eyes of God, we’d never do or say anything that would not honor the worth of every one of His precious creations!

Science is uncovering more and more of the “how” of creation. In that discovery we’re learning more about the awe of His universe. The one thing science cannot tell us is the “why” of creation. Why was the universe set in motion? Why is there complexity in the human that transcends the neural pathways of cells in our brain that can actually understand beyond its own boundaries? Scripture gives us a clue. According to 1 John 4:8, God is love! That God who IS love said in Genesis 1:26 “Let us make mankind in our own image, in our likeness.” Another way of stating this is God created us to reflect who He is. Problems arose shortly thereafter when mankind decided that the reflection (image) could be equal to the real thing. History was set on a downward spiral from that point. Seems like we’ve tried to outdo God ever since! You see, God created us as a perfect reflection of His love and when we tried to improve on it, we cracked the whole mirror so that the reflection was distorted and disjointed. God allowed us a history of trying to repair the damage, but we kept on making it worse. In fact we compounded the problem by making laws, rules, and regulations that led us further away from the true reflection we were created to illuminate. All of our wrangling then and even now can’t make us more worthy than the one who created us. We keep trying to see Him through our eyes instead of seeing ourselves through His eyes! So God, full of love that pours out in grace and mercy, did something that said this is what you are really worth! We’re worth the life of His very own Son. Through His eyes we are as pure as new fallen snow; as clear as fresh water from the spring; as bright as the fresh morning sun. Through His eyes we are fresh from the cleansing that has not only scrubbed us up, but also made us new within. What is it that distracts us from seeing the image of God’s love in ourselves and thus in others?

We look to our insecurities and each other instead of Him! God’s WORD is filled with the message of God’s grace to “measure” us up in His sight. We have a plethora of resources that help us understand His Word; modern translation tools, commentaries from Biblical scholars, and texts in modern terms. About the core message of God’s grace and mercy, the translators agree. Some self styled interpreters, however convolute the message of grace with conditions for grace that render grace not grace at all! We often don’t have a clear reference to grace in our lives. We view discipline as punishment and rewards as recognition for good behavior. Grace has nothing to do with discipline or with reward for good behavior. Grace has to do with the giver, not the receiver! Because grace has to do with the giver, we don’t need to worry ourselves about preconditions, stipulations or even post conditions. What we do need to do to enjoy the true depth of grace is to learn how to live in the light of that grace and let it be shown back to the giver. Notice I didn’t say we must do that or grace will be taken away or denied… Grace is not conditional. What God wants us to know is the fullness of His grace that enables us to live with a heart loving Him and each other because we see a grace filled self. God’s grace has nothing to do with circumstances around us. We buy the lyrics from The Sound of Music stating “I must have done something good” because “here you are standing here loving me!” God is standing here loving me not because of what I’ve done that’s so good, but because He is so good and full of love and grace! Exodus 20 gives us the account of God delivering His commandments. He says “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. [therefore] You shall have no other gods before me.” He didn’t say that they were to have no other gods before Him and then He would bless them, He showed His sovereignty and power and then said “now respond in kind.” God doesn’t hate, contrary to the assertions of a love impoverished church… God can’t be who He isn’t! We can’t be who we aren’t either, that’s why we need grace to cover us as we become who He died to free us to be.


It’s time to stop living as though we’re graceless. It’s time to start living outside our insecurities and outside our efforts to fill our deficiencies. It’s time to live in His love that is manifest as grace and mercy in our lives – not earned, not worthy, but loved to Him with grace filled arms. Don’t worry about that grace going away. He won’t love you any less – He’s already loved you with His very best! Be reminded daily that “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”










Monday, July 18, 2011

Why Me, Lord?

Why Me, Lord?

Pastor Tom Millner

Luke 10:25-37; 2 Corinthians 9:6-8


Ever ask the question; “Why me”? Why am I the one who has to ___? Why is life so ___ for me? Years ago I expressed the “why me” sentiment to a friend once in New York, who responded “why not? “What makes you special,” he asked. It was a challenging question, but not at all comforting. You see, I had this version of life that if you lived a certain way, believed a certain way, talked a certain way, dressed a certain way, and walked a certain way, then life would be good. I believed that God would see me in a favorable light and therefore bless me with the things I wanted for my comfort. There’s not an iota of Biblical truth to that belief, but I held it passionately. I was going through an emotionally challenging time, dealing with fear of loss of my family, my possessions, and my perceived reputation. What I learned is that God promises to satisfy our needs, not our comfort. Each of us seeks comfort in the things and people around us. Let’s give thanks for every moment of that earthly comfort and remember that the comfort of His presence is ours even when our lives seem uncomfortable. When I surrendered my notions of what life should be like to His promise of what life could be like, I asked with a grateful heart “why me?” We all have our versions of “should be” that need a hefty dose of “could be” in Him. Let’s look at how His Word helps us discover the possibilities.

Discomfort is a part growth! Physiologically, young people can experience literal pain in the process of growth. It’s not comfortable, but it’s a part of the maturation process.  When the good and faithful Jews in Jesus’ story from our reading in Luke today were confronted with a fellow Jew who was naked and wounded, they avoided the discomfort of providing help where help was needed. Not only would it have taken them off their schedule, but it would have rendered them as unclean having touched human blood. That meant they would have to go through a ritual cleansing process to become ceremonially clean again. That process was not convenient. So in Jesus’ story about inheriting eternal life, He uses the example of the “less than” Samaritan that goes out of his way to help out a Jew who historically would not like him. Not only does he bind his wounds, but he also takes him to an inn to care for him and then paid the inn keeper for more care if needed. The discomfort avoidant Jews missed the opportunity to grow in the blessings of His kingdom. The unlikely Samaritan was the blessed one because he invested in the blessing! Taking time out from his schedule was probably not comfortable for Sam the Samaritan, but empathy demonstrating God’s love for another of God’s creation outweighed the inconvenience. Remember, this whole story started when the Pharisee asked Jesus; Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he [Jesus] replied. “How do you read it?” He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Missing the importance of love for God being expressed through love for his neighbor, the legalist looked for a loophole when asking “who is my neighbor?” We’d like to profess that we’re not like the Jew, but rather like the Samaritan. But are we? How often do we go out of our way to help another in need? I’m not talking about the obvious, but the not so obvious. Enjoying a clean seat and worship space today? Someone loves God enough to give of himself to clean and prepare this place for worship. He doesn’t do it for attention, but out of love. Greeted warmly as you entered this space today? Someone cared to love God enough to make His house a welcoming home today. The work of our lay ministers in preparation and execution of our worship service is done out of love to God through working to see things run seamlessly for each of us experiencing worship today. There are lots of Sams here today who took a stroll to the other side of the road to attend to the comfort of those who may need attention and comforting. Some of us have moved from “not me” to “why bother me” to the grateful place of “why me”. That place is one of awe in the honor of service to the Lord. Sam might not have been “feeling” like giving the love, but he respected God enough to act in another’s behalf.

God calls us to invest for His return. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 9 that “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” We love a good return on our investment. We seem to ask “what’s in it for me?” WIIFM! In my sales training days we would remind sales reps that “to sell John Brown what John Brown buys, you must see John Brown through John Browns eyes.” This translated into guiding the customer into seeing the benefits of a particular product from the customer’s own perspective. We see that being done in many modern churches today. “Send your donation to… and we’ll send you the keys to the Kingdom.” The keys to the kingdom are not to be found through a commercial or a sound bite. We tweet, post, and instant message our way through the day. Vast information is available to us 24/7. We like to get results fast, quick fixes with instant gratification. Some of the Corinthians were looking for gratification from their efforts as well. Paul is telling the Corinthians focus on their giving of their time, talents, and treasures as an investment in God’s kingdom. Paul also told the believers in Rome to “not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” This, he asserted, would lead us to knowing what God’s good and perfect will is for our lives. Sowing into the kingdom gives kingdom returns. What God gives in His return on our investment is an abundance of His presence, His kingdom, His Spirit poured out in those who invest. Paul was encouraging the Corinthians to see the value of giving of self cheerfully. Those who give sparingly get a sparse return. Those who give generously get a generous return. The return is not so much on the things invested, but on the heart that invests. The heart becomes the “thing” we invest. When we invest with a “not me” or a “why me” attitude that comes from a place of having lost something, we diminish the heart return. When we give out of a heart of gratitude for God’s very presence in our lives, knowing that He provides our needs, sees us through our fears, and hears our every plea for grace, we shout with gratitude “why me.” His return on our investment in the kingdom is far greater than we can ever earn on our own. That return on investment of our hearts to Him is redemption, kinship, holiness, righteousness and an eternity in His presence. In Paul’s word to the church in Galatia (Galatians 5:22-23) “22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.”

What God desires in our gifts to him is a heart of gratitude for what we’ve already been given. Where’s your heart today?



Sunday, July 3, 2011



Pastor Tom Millner

John 10:10; Galatians 5:1


Freedom is seldom free. Freedom from the tyranny of a selfish despot that taxed without representation was gained only after the loss of countless lives in the revolutionary war. Even then, freedom was not enjoyed by all. Some of our ancestors were enslaved as duty bound to often unjust and unkind masters. A war was fought and freedom from slavery was won. We are a people who thrive in the notion of freedom to express ourselves as individuals, as communities, or as sects with like viewpoints. We enjoy the freedom of being able to worship where and as we please or feel led. We like to be able to express ourselves through words, songs, or various other media. We just love to be free! Why is it then, that we don’t exercise our freedom in Christ? Why do we constantly fall victim to our own agenda to measure up to a self-contrived standard that says that only then we are free?  Paul reminded Timothy that (2 Timothy 1:7) “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” We often live outside of that assertion to Timothy. Here are some impediments to freedom in Christ that we stumble over each day.

The “Too Good to be True” Trap. We just have a hard time understanding that grace is truly free. We hear that grace is free…but… Each time we hear a “but” following an assertion, we can pretty well accept that the assertion has a catch or it’s only partially true. A half truth is still a lie! Grace is free AND it ignites a response! If you haven’t been moved in response, you haven’t experienced grace. If you act in the belief that you SHOULD somehow measure up to a standard for the sake of grace, you’ve missed the grace that is free to all. We have a hard time accepting that anything is free. We have a culture of skepticism that tells us that nothing is free. Everything has a price…everything costs something. When it comes to grace, we forget that the cost was paid by someone else – Jesus, and that price of grace was paid in full, leaving no room for added cost! The only additional cost associated with grace is the cost of not accepting God’s free gift of forgiveness, atonement, justification, and redemption. The cost of not accepting grace is enslavement to a life of guilt, self-defense, shame, competition, external affirmations, struggles to measure up and get ahead of the “game” of life. The biggest slave trader that exists is the one that would have us believe the “but” after “grace is free.” Each time we buy the “but” we take on God’s role as one who knows better. Sounds a bit like the tussle in the garden those many years ago. Jesus came and lived His role as the new Adam who did not sin, did not doubt, did not desire to raise Himself above His Father’s will, and submitted to be the end all sacrifice for all mankind’s transgressions. Sounds like the past has been rectified so that we can live in a different reality of the present and enjoy the fullness of the future! That’s the truth of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

The “All But Me” Trap.  Many hear what’s being said and believe that it’s possible for folks to be freed from their bondage of self judgment, but not them. I’ve heard the stories of how unworthy I am…how God condemns who I am…how God can love anybody but me. We’ve had a healthy dose of condemnation from the church and from many elements of society that do not understand scripture in context, paint all God’s creation with the same damnable brush, and hold self then to be how great I art for not being like THEM! John 8:36 states “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” This is the same Gospel that asserts that God loves us so much that He gave up His only Son so that whosoever believes in Him shall have everlasting life! If these are true, it can’t also be true that God rejects anyone for being who He created them to be! God’s grace covers each and every one of us. There is no greed, no lust, no lies, no misconduct, no unforgiveness, no anger or any other thing we can think of that we’ve done that is not covered by God’s grace. There is no depth to which you can fall that the arms of God’s grace are too short to reach. When we choose to believe that He can’t be offering grace to ME, we are placing self in the final judgment seat that shuts Him out of our lives. All our being cries out for Him, yet we close our ears each time He knocks. The path to freedom is through an open door. The key to the door is on the inside! You hold the key; He holds the way!

The “I Can Do It My Way” Trap. This one is just another side of the same coin as the trap just described. There are many who believe that doing things our way is the pathway to success and happiness. We read books, see movies, or watch TV shows about the successes of those who have self determination. Being self determined and sometimes single minded can be a good thing for accomplishing a goal. There is a story told that Thomas Edison failed 1,000 times at constructing an incandescent light bulb that had commercial value. Whether true in part or in whole, the outcome was learning from his mistakes and improving upon his method until he reached success. Some people use this kind of story for justification for continuing on their chosen path to make life give them peace, happiness and/or success. Edison’s story is different, however. He tried his way, learned from his mistakes and then tried another way until he found a way to succeed with his goal. What we do more often, however, is set our determination to do it our way, continue to do it our way, even when the outcome tells us it’s the wrong way, and then blame God or others that it didn’t go our way. There’s an old adage in the recovery community that is actually a quote from Albert Einstein: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.” The insanity of our lives is in the acts of self determination that take us away from that which we really seek – intimacy with our creator! Intimacy is a condition of knowing and being known. God’s Word tells us who He is; His Holy Spirit takes us to a deeper level of intimacy within who He is. We create the barriers to the intimate relationship with Him when we decide to not be real with Him; to treat him like we do our peers or loved ones and present to Him only what we want Him to see for fear that the REAL me is much too vulnerable and might be hurt yet again. That very idea that God hurts us when we are real is an idea that enslaves us. God’s love is steeped in grace and mercy far deeper and wider than we can even imagine. Each time we limit our intimacy with Him, we step deeper into the depth of bondage to self and this world. True freedom comes in surrender of self-willed, self-defeating thoughts and behaviors to the grace filled presence of the One who loves us even through death. The only place God’s grace can’t reach is the place that’s under siege and locks Him out by the god of self-judgment and self-will. God is always there with grace. We can only experience it when we take second place. II Corinthians 9:8 reminds us “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”

Where’s your freedom? Where’s your bondage? Are you practicing each day the walk of freedom in the love of Christ or are you insisting on remaining in your bondage to self judgment, self-determination, and self-centeredness? It’s not your orientation that limits your participation! Only those who are steeped in limitations they place on God’s creation and the study of His Word would even utter that thought. Don’t let false beliefs enslave you away from Christ! John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” The thief is anyone, any thought, any belief that would keep you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. Galatians 5:1 “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” There is freedom for all who will walk on the path of faith, assured that “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)


“Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last!” (Martin Luther King, Jr)







Sunday, June 26, 2011

Grace Full Living

“Grace Full Living”

Pastor Tom Millner

John 13:34-35; Romans 15:5-7; Ephesians 2:4-10


There are scientific advances being made every day. Just this week I glanced at an article about a vaccine for cancer. Recently there was an account in Germany of a fellow being cured of HIV through stem cell therapy. Fifty years ago the thought of space travel was just a fantasy; today we worry about all the space debris crashing to earth or striking stellar space craft and dooming all on board. We’ve sequenced human DNA, we’re unraveling the human genome, and we’ve learned to tweet and post to the masses of our peeps. The one thing we haven’t been able to do is live our lives in the perfect reflection of the One who created us. Just when we think we’ve made it, we’ve failed miserably! What’s a peep to do? It just seems like we’re danged if we don’t and dinged if we do. Is that really the end of the story though?

God’s love for us is demonstrated by His grace and mercy. We could pray fifteen times a day, abstain from lustful thoughts during a proscribed period of time, give 30% of our income to the church, be slain in the Spirit six times a day, give meals to the homeless four times a week, serve faithfully in the ministry to which we’ve been called, abstain from gossip, abstain from drugs, alcohol or other substances, be nice to people’s face and behind their backs, get recognition for how great we art and never be worthy of God’s blessings! If any of us are doing any of the above so that we are worthy of His love, we’re wasting our time and energy. God doesn’t love us because we deserve to be loved; He loves us because that’s who He is. If we truly got what we deserved, not a single living human being would be given an opportunity to share in the blessings of God’s love. Not even those who would like to think they are so religiously, devotionally, spiritually, emotionally or otherly pious that their fecal matter holds no fragrance, are exempt from the not worthy club. Not even a PhD, M.D., Th.D., or D.D., can render one more worthy! God’s mercy saves us from our own foolish destruction, and that’s God’s mercy only! His grace gives us the right to be called justified and righteous before Him because of the act of Jesus on the cross.  The unselfish, loving, redeeming act of surrender to the burden of mankind’s sin upon His back, taking our hit in our stead, is the act of mercy and grace that God shows as love. Don’t get me wrong; all those pious and good things I described have their place, but it’s not in place of grace! Ephesians 2:4-5 reminds us “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” What then shall we do with grace? How do we live it to the fullest? Love him back!

Our love for Him is demonstrated by extending grace to others. When asked what was the greatest of the commands, Matthew 22:37-39 records: “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” We love God and others out of gratitude for the great love He has extended to us. Many people use their “acts of love” as tools of manipulation that they believe will somehow render God indebted to them. In the words of the great theologian, Larry the cable guy, “that dog don’t hunt.” God cannot be indebted to us. There is nothing we can do to merit His favor. We have already gotten it through the act of Jesus Christ on the cross. There is a great difference between “acts of love” borne out of gratitude and “acts of love” intended to impress or enslave. The latter are no acts of love at all! When Christ commanded us to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, He knew it wouldn’t be a snap. How do we love God? How do we learn how to keep our hearts, our souls, or minds about loving Him? We practice on each other. We practice knowing that we will never be perfect this side of eternity, but that’s perfectly fine! We’re so tied up in feelings and what seems to be happening that we miss the reality of what goes on in lives daily – namely that all fall short and are covered by the grace of God! Grace has nothing to do with money, status, possessions, feeling up, feeling down. Grace is God’s love wiping our sin slates clean so we can live in a different attitude about money, status, possessions, feelings, and outcomes around us! God’s grace does not wipe out consequences of our bad choices, prevent natural disasters, ensure wealth and prosperity or grant a dispensation of healthy relationships. God’s grace does give us a different heart and mind with which to view consequences of bad choices, natural disasters, wealth or poverty, and all forms of relationship. 

Lack of grace to others is a signal of our own condemnation. Matthew 6:12 reads “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us.” There have been volumes written about this one verse and I don’t presume to boil them down to a few lines here, but I do want to speak to the heart and mind that is unforgiving. I believe that we hold forgiveness or unforgiveness only toward those whom we judged worthy of forgiveness or unforgiveness. Matthew 7:1 reads “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” This translates to something like this; “the measure you use to judge another is the measure you use to judge yourself.” Often those who judge others the harshest are the harshest judges of themselves. Imagine the pain of someone who harbors so much anger and resentment towards another. That anger and resentment eats away at the heart, mind, and soul of the one harboring. Not all anger and resentment come from self-judgment, but you can be pretty sure there’s a hefty dose at the center. The angry and resentful person is one who has not allowed self to be fully bathed in God’s grace and mercy. All the things that coulda, woulda, shoulda been in order to measure up to the expectation that was arbitrarily set by self and manipulated for self-gain, has been made obsolete in the face of God’s grace through Jesus Christ. What freedom there is that awaits the heavy burdened self-righteous achiever who thinks he can become worthy of having it all his way! When we accept God’s grace through the acknowledgement and surrender to the act of Christ on the cross, we are freed from the bondage that set’s us up for self-condemnation and failure. He has already measured us up through the cross; no further measure is needed. Now we can live in the light of His love, recognizing that His grace is sufficient for me and for you. 

Living in Grace means that we are living in His love, sharing His love. After accepting His grace, freely given to us at a great cost to Him, we can practice grace full living each day by reminding ourselves of the gift that has been given us. Each day, as we spend time in His Word, we seek to understand the many depths of His grace. As we live out our lives we have the opportunity to live out our grace! Grace filled living embraces the richness of who we are because of who He is in us. Grace full living is not focused solely on we, but on He who freed us from the everlasting consequences of our short sightedness. Grace filled living means dropping the burden of our self-condemnation for what we’re not and living in the full knowledge of what we are: loved, forgiven, redeemed, justified before God, born anew, God’s child, one for whom God would die! What a difference a day in a life with Christ at the center over a day with self as the center! When we’ve truly gotten the gift that grace is in our lives, we’re in the best position to pass it on. His love is too great to be stuffed into one human alone; it has to be shared. Have you ever learned something so life changing that you just had to share with someone else? Well now you have – Jesus Christ has done for you everything you thought your whole life should accomplish to be considered worthy of the graduate certificate. You are proclaimed winner because of what He has done. Now you’re free to act like the winner you are – not because of you, but because of Him. 



Sunday, June 12, 2011

Who's on First?

“Who’s On First?”

Pastor Tom Millner

John 12:44-50; Romans 14:1-9


It seems to have become a national pastime to air people’s faults and failings. We see the occasional broadcast of a local hero but squeezed in between the hero is this or that person’s failure to do something or that they have done something that would expose him or her as guilty of wrong doing. The process is almost as old as mankind. Remember the story of Cain and Abel? Cain felt Abel was taking all the glory, so he decided to get rid of the competition. Seems we just like diminishing another’s efforts. We’re told to exercise good judgment yet we are told not to judge! Exercising good judgment always has its foundation in relationship with God. Judging others, however, takes God’s place and sets self in the precarious place of being first before God. What is it that we are looking for when we engage in gossip about others, exposing the faults of others, or touting our superior standing on a particular topic or subject? Are we looking for significance? Who are we trying to convince? More often than not, we’re trying to convince ourselves. Rarely are we successful, even when we proclaim ourselves the winner! Let’s look at the consequences of setting ourselves up as final judge, being number one.

Relationship with a partner. Relationships are not made in heaven though some may seem heavenly at times. The person to whom we feel attracted strikes some chord in our imprinted past of experiences. Early weeks and months of relationship are filled with hormonal cravings that tell us how great we feel just being near that special person. We in essence know nothing about the other, but just know that the other could never do anything wrong because everything just seems so right. Unfortunately, the time soon comes when it may appear that what has always been done just doesn’t seem right enough to make me “feel” the way I use to feel. That’s when the true joy of relationship can blossom, but it’s often the point where judging and competition come into play to destroy the relationship. Since it is all about me, I need to feel, to sense, to know, that you are all about me. We often think of the other as being the other half of that which can be counted as whole. When that’s not working, disappointment sets in and hearts, minds and eyes start roving for the next candidate of my dream. The process repeats itself, this time with even more baggage than before and we wonder if we’ll ever find what we’re looking for. The answer is “yes you can,” but not where you’re looking! The answer to your prayers is not in the cutie of your dreams. Remember, the other person was looking for you to be their answer as well. Who was the miserable failure? Who was the proclaimed winner? Those questions set the trap that is certain to snare us away from the presence of grace and mercy in the most important relationship we can ever have. The one for which we were created! Relationship is not about power or hierarchy or winning over losing. We’ll address that later on.

Relationship with other people. We experience difficulties not only with intimate one-on-one relationships, but with so called peer or casual relationships as well. We sometimes band together in groups for the purpose of creating what we can’t seem to create alone. Competition builds as one member vies with another for position, for agreement from others. Smaller splinter groups begin to form as individuals begin to compete with others for the top spot of support from others. Churches are not immune from the ravages of competition from within or from without. Denominations and or sects form. There are the reformed, the Pentecostal, the progressives, the liberals, the fundamentalists – all proclaiming the justness of the theological positions they hold. There used to be the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Samaritans, and many others who held to the rightness of their positions to the exclusion of any others. In our modern society we see divisions that separate us often more frequently than we see what unites us. Feminine versus masculine; gay versus straight; gay versus Christian; left versus right – all seeking to gain acceptance by gaining the upper hand or at least the right to be left alone! It even becomes television and social media worthy to expose the faults or achievements of individuals or groups, just to gain more followers on the road to see who’s on first! As long as we seek to find the person who’s on first (or to be the person on first in at least one other person’s life) we’ll be worshipping at the god of our place and not God in the first place! John 3:17 records Jesus saying “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world.” Believing or not believing is what brings judgment, not by God, but by one’s self. A just God brought about our justification by giving the life of the only just human – Jesus, so that we could relate to God just as if I’d never sinned. God did all the redeeming, what we’re called to is the believing that we’re perfectly measured up by the act of God through Jesus Christ on the cross. We’ll never fully find what we were created for in relationship (or competition) with others only, but we will find that in relationship with Christ!     

Relationship with God. God created us to be in relationship with Him. That relationship is broken by our desire to always be in first place or equal to that place. We’ll do just about anything to gain it. The Old Testament is full of the stories of how God reaches out and humans reach back for a while, but succumb to self-desires over God’s greater desire (commands) for us. Christ died once for all. He appeared to His disciples and others calling them to unity of purpose after His resurrection. Today is Pentecost Sunday! In the account of Pentecost in the book of Acts, Jesus left with the believers the One who calls us to unity with Himself and each other -the One who levels the playing field. Not one of us is worthy, but each of us is now justified before God because of the unselfish act of Christ on our behalf. On the day of Pentecost, the believers were in one accord (not a Honda) – according to God’s design for relationship – enabled by the presence of His Holy Spirit. Chaos did not reign, but rather a unity of presence and purpose. The purpose was not for the edification of each individual present so that he or she could tout how special they were to have experienced the outpouring of His Spirit, but rather the purpose was to glorify God and the power of His presence to bring others into the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. God calls us to relationship with Himself and He gives us Himself to nurture the relationship. He doesn’t force Himself and He doesn’t play the power game with us.  Revelation 3:20 quotes Jesus stating: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” This does not mean that Jesus is asking to join us in a power struggle or an ego wrestling match. His invitation is to open the door and invite Him in for the feast of our lives – the sharing of the bread of life and the everlasting waters that never run dry. Placing Him at the center of our attention puts all else in perspective. He died to make it happen. What are you willing to do to follow through?

Instead of asking who’s on first, let’s change the question – with whom can I relate to gain all for which I was created? We were created to commune with Him, to reflect Him in our lives, and to live eternally. Opening the door to relationship with Him means opening ourselves up to the fulfillment of our created purpose. He is the way, the truth, and the life that we have sought all our lives. There is no other way. There’s none needed!