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!