Sunday, April 24, 2011

Living Response-Ably, The Witness

“Living Response-Ably;


Pastor Tom Millner

Luke 24: 1-12


The women described in our reading today were distraught over the loss of the person, Jesus. He was their friend, their sometime confidant, and a person in the male dominated world that accepted them as they were for who they were and had expressed his unfailing love for them. Yes, the Disciples had lost a friend, but they had lost a personal dream of being a part of a greater Kingdom, sharing power with their mentor. These women, on the other hand, had lost someone so very personal. The Disciples of course had lost a personal friend, but they had always been in the “in crowd” around and with Jesus, and they anticipated an even greater presence and prestige with Him in His Kingdom that now seemed lost to the cross. This did not make their grief any less keen, however. The women, moved that morning by their desire to bring honor and presence to what they thought would be the soon to decay body of Jesus, went in grief to visit His tomb. In Luke’s account, two angels appear to the women at the tomb and ask; “Why do you look for the dead among the living? He is not here; He has risen!” They had come to pay homage to their dead friend; they had found a vacated tomb and messengers of hope that life had been restored. Armed with the information of restoration and hope, they went back to the eleven remaining Disciples to share what they had witnessed. Predictably, the women were not believed. The testimony of women in that day held no validity, simply because of gender. Even though these Disciples had been around the women day in and day out, the skeptical males failed to acknowledge the first witnesses to the empty tomb. Peter, who had denied knowing Jesus during His darkest hours, had to go and see for himself.

It seems like the “in crowd” is always skeptical of the “witness” of the obviously excluded. How could these obvious outcasts from the broader society, though honored by Jesus, stand in witness to the risen Savior in their lives? Sounds like how it appears in modern Evangelical churches today, doesn’t it. The debate over women in ministry and the even stronger debate over orientation in the worship place. How can “those folks,” obvious sinners in the eyes of God, hold witness to a risen Savior? Here’s how; they simply told it as they had experienced it! They gave witness to what God had revealed in their lives. John 9 tells us that Jesus was called a sinner by the Pharisees as they were confronting the man healed from his blindness. The man responded; “Whether He was a sinner or not, I do not know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see.” (John 9:25)

We give witness every day to whatever has power in our lives. The sex addict gives witness to the power of need for attention and self gratification by his or her constant prowling behaviors for another willing participant. Similarly, the alcoholic gives witness to the power of intoxication as a coping mechanism. The drug addict gives witness to what takes priority in his or her life, most often the escape from a perception of reality that demands distraction. The fundamentalist who bangs his fist against his pulpit in anger against the damned gays and lesbians gives witness to his underlying unrest with anything different than he. The gossip gives witness to the need for attention and excitement that elevates them with sharing a morsel that may raise the eyebrow of another for a moment. The non-tithing person gives witness to desire for self to be in control and his lack of trust in God’s Word that instructs us to give out of the bounty that we have been given. On this Easter Sunday morning, God is calling us to give witness to Him who has raised us to new life with Him, and not witness to the god of self creation. We teach a class as a part of our Christian Life and Service Seminar series that focuses on sharing the Good news in your life with others. I encourage everyone to gain the knowledge and experience of that CLASS 401. Today, however, I want to encourage you to examine your witness and learn to go to a deeper place in your relationship with Him.

A witness in a court of law can only testify to what he or she has seen, heard, or experienced. Often we craft our Christian testimony as though we were being judged in the court of skepticism or by the jury of the righteous. Giving witness to Christ in our lives is not a well crafted homily in the power of persuasion that we have put together from a book or guide. Let’s look at what the scripture reading today shows us.

Witness from your own experience: “When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others.” They told others about what they had experienced. They gave testimony to an empty tomb and the obvious risen Savior. The angels didn’t give them two main points and three supporting reasons why Jesus is the Messiah. They simply pointed out that it was pointless to seek a risen Savior in a place reserved for the dead. No longer would they anoint smelly remains but they would instead share the excitement of a living Lord.  What is your experience? What power of the living Lord of your life do you wish to testify? Do you testify to what others have said or to what you have experienced?

Testify to what you’ve seen: The women recounted for the eleven precisely what they had witnessed at the tomb. They didn’t testify to hearsay or speculation; they testified to what they had seen. If you’ve never had a personal experience with Jesus; if you’ve never seen His transformational power moving in others, you cannot testify to His living presence. This doesn’t mean that He didn’t die on a cross for our sake and rise again to make us next of kin. When Jesus asked His Disciples “Who do people say that I am,” He followed up with Peter saying “but who do you say that I am?” Before the women could testify to what they had seen, however, they had to go to find Him. Before Peter could testify to who Jesus was to him, he had to have had his eyes open to God’s work in Christ. When asked to give testimony to how God can work in the life of an openly gay man, I must respond with the evidence that I have experienced and witnessed that God is more interested in my heart and what is between my ears than He is with what’s between my legs. He is interested in the whole of us, living out our lives in an ever deepening relationship with Him. Because I believe He created me – all of me – in His image, and that He’s made no mistakes along the way, I accept His unconditional love for me. I accept His grace and mercy for me through the righteous blood of Jesus Christ. When I allow Him first place in my life, He enables me to move beyond the confines of a tomb of self-condemnation to be raised with Him in life fulfilled. I have witnessed the power and presence of God in my life and the lives of others. God is not limited by our gender or orientation; He made us! It’s time we stopped making Him in our own image!  Want more witness? Find it for yourself. Apply the wisdom and direction of 2 Timothy 2:15; “Do your best (study) to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”

Leave the outcome to Him: The women left the empty tomb and told what they had experienced and seen. God had chosen them, disregarded as witnesses to the evidence of the resurrection, to be His witness. They didn’t debate with God as to whether their story would be believed; they simply told it. I think we often miss the opportunity to witness or share the power of God in our lives because we discount our experiences or conclude that our story is not that convincing. We need to ask then “who are we trying to convince”?  We fail to remember that the power of our witness is not in the strength of our story, but in the presence of His Holy Spirit to accomplish His will in all. If we’re in control, God has no place to do His work. When we witness to the power of His presence as we have experienced and seen it, we’ve done what He has called us to do. When Jesus gave the Great Commission He did so by stating that God’s power had been given Him by the Father. “Therefore,” He says, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of 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.” The charge to the Disciples and to us is to witness, baptize, and disciple in the power of His presence in our lives.

On this Easter Sunday morning we are here as witness to the risen Savior, whose defeat of death and the grave is the defeat of sin over our lives. No longer are we bound by and to the slavery of sin, but we are raised to a new life, “just as if I’d” never sinned. All this for me and for you made possible by the blood of Christ at Calvary and His victory over the grave. He did all of this as a witness to His unfailing love for us. To what do we give witness? Do we give witness to the god of self-absorption or the God whose love for us embraces all in us with grace and mercy? The god of self-absorption is the god of death. The God of love and mercy is a life fulfilled through eternity. We can’t find the living among the dead! God calls us to give witness in our lives. The witness is to what we’ve seen and what we’ve experienced in the grace and mercy of the risen Savior in our lives.


Need a different witness? Meet Jesus!





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Pastor Tom Millner, Sr. Pastor  (Sister church in NJ)



Sunday, April 10, 2011

Living Response-Ably - PERSEVERENCE

“Living Response-Ably;


Matthew 6: 19-21; James 1:2-8

Pastor Tom Millner


We’re beginning a series of lessons on living response-ably. Our objective is for us to learn how to enhance our ability to respond to circumstances, challenges, inspirations, limitations, temptations, and confusions with the grace that God has granted us through Jesus Christ. The dictionary defines responsibility as having a burden placed upon one as in an obligation. We’ve known parents, children, friends or even neighbors who have acted irresponsibly with the persons or things that have been entrusted to their care. Perhaps we have been the recipient of irresponsible behaviors from others, or even suffered the consequences of our own irresponsibility. Even those who have taken on the mantle of preaching, teaching and living God’s love through grace and mercy have acted irresponsibly and caused strife, division, rejection, and even violence toward God’s children. When God divined creation of the earth, He gave mankind the authority to care for it. As far as we know, mankind was doing an able job of looking after that for which God has made them responsible. They were in relationship with God and enjoyed enhanced abilities directly through that relationship. Then, they decided that they could go against God’s rule and become as good as the teacher and giver of all. They thought they would gain all knowledge. Instead of gaining all knowledge of the universe and all things created therein, however, they gained knowledge of their own deficiencies, shortcomings, created-ness and inabilities. We’ve inherited those traits to want to do life all on our own. We want more of what we see as good and less or none of what we deem as bad. Yet we often shun the responsibilities that come with having or being given more or much less. Responsibility is the obligation that comes with position, ownership, oversight, etc. Response ability is the wherewithal to be able to live out the commitment to what and for what we have agreed to be responsible. Responsibility is the what; response- ability is the how. 

So, where does the strength for living up to the responsibilities come from?  Psalm 19:14 declares; “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer.” That means that strength lies in relationship with God. When we acknowledge and accept that Jesus Christ has secured the ways and means of restored relationship with God, just as if we’d never broken that relationship, we acknowledge that the power behind that union is Jesus and not we ourselves. What does God require of us? He requires the surrender of our hearts, minds and souls to His tender, loving care. That’s our work, and it’s grounded in faith. He calls us to faith it till we make it!

James wrote in his epistle that we “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Even when our faith is weak, He calls us to stay the course – to persevere even in the midst of whatever is challenging our faith. Look at some prime examples from scripture.

Abraham: It’s recorded that Abraham was considered as a righteous man; his faith was counted as righteousness. At a ripe old age of around 75, as a result of his faithfulness with being hospitable to strangers who turned out to be Angels from God, was given the promise of being the father of a great nation. Abraham believed God and went about his business giving God the glory for every day. No child seemed to be coming their way so Sarah took it upon herself to help God out in His promise. She ordered her servant, Hagar, to mate with Abraham. A son resulted, but Ishmael was not the promised nor intended heir. When Sarah discovered she was pregnant at an advanced age, she was humbled. In spite of her unbelief, Isaac, the intended heir and progenitor for a great nation was born. Abraham’s faith must have faltered at times, but he never ceased to move ahead as though it were to be. Even when God tested him by asking him to give up Isaac as a sacrifice to God, Abraham moved forward in obedience, trusting that God would provide a way out. And He did!

Paul: The Apostle Paul, before his dramatic conversion, was persecuting Christians with zeal. Once God touched him with the presence of Jesus Christ, his zeal for persecution turned to passion for spreading the good news of God’s redeeming grace to everyone, regardless of where, what, or who they were. He suffered beatings, persecution, imprisonment for extended periods of time, yet he stuck with his faith that God’s grace and love for this world is greater than any circumstance that he (Paul) faced. Paul had faith beyond the circumstance. In Romans 7:19-20 he states; “19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it” In the face of his own actions that did not always honor God, Paul nevertheless persevered in his faith that he was a child of grace, not condemned by the sin that he identified as living in him. How many times do we find ourselves being discouraged because what we are doing is not what we know we could be doing that honors God? It’s easy to beat oneself up and conclude that indeed one is not worthy of God’s love and thus depart from the faith. What Paul encourages us to remember is that we were never worthy in the first place. Grace is God’s love shown to us without regard for our merit. We can never measure up! That’s not meant as defeat, but as “de” fact. What takes us off tract from living our His grace through faith is the belief that we SHOULD be able to live our lives without temptation, without flaw, without the bothers of difficulties or distractions, hardships or challenges. That’s not real life, folks; that’s fantasy! Paul lived out his life of grace through faith, even in the midst of life threatening, personal conflicts, and challenges. He persevered, not because there was some grand reward for him at the end of the rainbow, but because he believed that the One in whom he believed was greater than all his experiences, challenges, sins, and circumstances, which surrendered him to “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Living out His grace in our lives is the work to which He calls us.

Jesus: Let’s talk about Jesus now. He’s the perfect example of the perfect human living out God’s creation plan in a perfect way. He practiced what He preached and lived out His life in perfect harmony with His Father. “Sure,” you say; “He was God.” He was as much human as if not God at all and as much God as if not man at all. In His humanness He experienced temptations, emotions, and desires for all the places of safety from harm that you and I experience. What made Him rise above the worry, temptations and what could have been negative emotions? It was His faith that His Father had His back. It was the surrender to doing what was God’s will that transcended all the things that might have filled His agenda at the moment. It was the faithful perseverance in the faithfulness to which He had been called that was the culmination and fulfillment of His righteousness. This He did by the power vested in Him by the Father. He executed God’s investment perfectly and made himself the perfect sacrifice that overshadows all of our sins, our shortcomings, our failures to measure up to the standard for which we were created. Because He did this perfectly and was not held captive to death and the grave like all other humans, we are given the vista of new life in and because of Him. When we choose to live out His love in grace and mercy, we “faith” our way to a deeper relationship with Him and enhance the probability of a deeper relationship with each other.

From our reading in Matthew today we hear Jesus saying; ““Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” The question we must face today is “where is our treasure.” If our treasure is truly to be found in Him, why do we spend so much time and energy striving to measure up with a treasure that has nothing to do with Him? Letting go of our self-professed intentions to always do His will and surrendering instead to “not my will, but Thine be done,” is the pathway to the ability to truly respond within His grace and mercy.  As Christians we do have a responsibility and an obligation – to nurture our part of the relationship to the One who has given His all for us. That nurtured relationship takes shape in surrender of agendas to the power of Grace and Mercy Himself and therein acquire new abilities to respond to Him and others with the same degree of love that has drawn us to Him.







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Pastor Tom Millner, Sr. Pastor  (Sister church in NJ)



Saturday, April 2, 2011

Finding Peace

“Finding Peace”

Pastor Tom Millner

John 14:27; Philippians 4:4-8

April 3, 2011


A few years ago a beauty queen from Virginia, left the ceremony where she crowned her successor, and drove 250 miles seeking revenge on her boyfriend who had rejected her and married another woman. She packed with her a hammer, a gun, a lighter and some lighter fluid. She arrived at the home of the parents of the other woman where the ex-boyfriend and his bride lived and gained access to the house by telling the father that she had car trouble and needed to use the phone. Once inside she took the hammer to the father and hit him squarely on the head. The father was only stunned, but began to fight back. The mother heard the commotion as the beauty queen was trying to pull out the gun and the mother joined the fray to help secure the girl until the police arrived. Queenie had not known that the father was a former Secret Service agent. When confronted, the beauty queen stated that she just had to get some inner “peace” over having been jilted. Is peace within something different for each of us? Could it be that for this person to receive peace she had to destroy the lives of others? Perhaps instead it’s her foggy mental filter muddied by false assumptions that lead to faulty solutions? How many here want more of that “peace that passes all understanding”?

In our reading from John 14:27 today we heard Jesus saying “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” Jesus was talking to His disciples and He had been referencing His leaving His Holy Spirit to those who love Him enough to obey His commands. Jesus was about to face the cross, so He wasn’t just flapping His lips. Paul, writing from his prison cell and facing death urged the church members in Philippi “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” What is it that allows Jesus, who was facing the cross and Paul who was facing certain death to speak of peace? About what peace are they talking? The peace that passes all understanding; that is not as the world gives, is the relationship with God that is grounded in His grace and mercy. The peace that passes all human understanding IS the peace that comes in the restored (as created) relationship with God. Created in the image of and fashioned after the heart of God, our ancestors sought to have it all themselves (just like they thought God had it) and the tragic result was a world set at odds with itself – a world no longer at peace. From an ancestral point of view, then, peace is something we seek to achieve on our own. There are multiples of ways that seem right on track for the peace we seek, but we find anything but peace at the end of the tracks! 

Absence of conflict: The Middle East is fraught with conflict. One sect or another is seemingly at odds with each other over religious, cultural, or sociological differences. Political and fiscal conservatives are at odds with moderates and liberals over the “right” direction for this country. Conservative and liberal religious groups are at odds with each other over acceptance of gay, lesbian, or transgender persons into their bodies as full participants in the grace of Christ. If only these conflicts would go away – then we’d be at peace, right? Which side of the conflict needs to be dismantled? Is there a place in the middle that holds promise for peace? The middle seems reasonable, doesn’t it? Who sets the middle agenda? What if one side just obliterates the other side? That would take care of the problem, wouldn’t it? Didn’t for Miss Virginia, did it? Who sets the agenda for peace if it’s just the absence of conflict? I’d venture to say that just about everyone present today would volunteer to be the agenda setter if you knew your agenda would be carried out without conflict. Now, that would be real peace – NOT! A quarter ways into the process you’d change your mind because it wasn’t working out the way you thought, and thus create a new conflict all over again. Where’s the peace? Peace is not found in the absence of conflict, it’s found in the presence of its Creator – Jesus Christ. That presence is magnified in relationship. It is in that relationship that the individual finds peace in the midst of conflict. It is in that relationship that the individual find peace in the midst of heartaches, trials, pain, suffering or great joy. It is in that relationship that peace comes alive in the way that we were created for it. Peace is His presence; His presence is relationship. We have to be present to engage.

Security: Some folks try to find peace in places of security. We probably all have the image of a security blanket as a child. If only one has enough money, then one can feel secure and at peace, we think. Gaddafi has lots of money, power, and assumed position. Think he’s feeling the peace right now? A better home, a bigger apartment, a newer car: - “I can finally be at peace.” We tell ourselves that if maybe we have a better job, a larger salary, a greater commission, a stronger client base; that will give us greater security and a greater sense of peace, right? “Perhaps if I just had enough to cover the bills for this month or enough food to last through next week, I could be at peace.” What are you looking at to give you security that leads to peace? Scripture tells us that security and peace are not to be found in a place or thing, but rather a person; Jesus Christ. Paul writes in Romans 8:28 that “For I am convinced 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.” That’s a pretty secure place, isn’t it? That is a place of real peace! If nothing can separate us (that means anything we do or don’t do, anything people say or don’t say, any declaration of interpretation that is exclusionary, any rule, regulation or outrageous stipulation) then our relationship with LOVE Himself is eternally secure. That includes any ifs, ands or buts that anyone wants to throw in. So now that I’m at peace with my secure position in Christ, what about this sense of loneliness I have?

The right person: The media is full of the romantic notion that when the right person comes along, everything’s going to be all right. When I know that special person comes along that truly loves me for who I am, I’ll be at peace. There is a built in desire for us to have that desire for intimacy met and we have so many romanticized notions as to what that looks like. We all want to hear those three little words that we believe are at the bank of peace like a river- “I love you.” Once we’re there beside those still waters, we believe, we’ve found true peace. That place, however, is the launch pad for some of the hardest work you’ll encounter in life, a potentially rich and rewarding journey, but not everlasting peace. You see, in the beginning, hormones are raging and you’re feeling on top of the world. You are loving how you’re feeling in the presence of the other (as distinguished from loving the other person). What you’re experiencing is the love of how you make me feel, as opposed to truly loving you. Loving someone else in a relationship comes with getting to know the other and allowing oneself to be known. Then the act of love directed at the best interest of the other can be nurtured, explored, and ultimately consummated with a commitment to continue to act in the best interest of each other. There are moments of peace in relationships, but it is not constant. If your expectation is that relationship is the place for peace and refuge from all other concerns, you are in for a rough ride! This is why some folks give up on developing a relationship and settle for living with fantasies or one night stands with Mr. or Ms. “Will Do.” Peace is not to be found there either! Peace IS to be found in a relationship, however. His name is Jesus. Unlike human relationships, this one comes with an instruction booklet – the Bible.

PEACE then, as Christ was declaring it is not just the absence of conflict or an abundance of security. The peace as Christ describes it is present in the midst of conflict or not and abundantly with us in our securities and insecurities. The peace that passes all understanding is the presence in our lives of the person Jesus, who fills us with His Spirit, affirms us with His love, molds us in His mercy, and secures us in His grace.