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?