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)