Sunday, November 16, 2014

Complacency - Zephaniah 1:10-14

Zephaniah 1:10-14
10        "On that day," declares the LORD, "a cry will go up from the Fish Gate, wailing from the New Quarter, and a loud crash from the hills.
11        Wail, you who live in the market district; all your merchants will be wiped out, all who trade with silver will be ruined.
12        At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs, who think, 'The LORD will do nothing, either good or bad.'
13        Their wealth will be plundered, their houses demolished. They will build houses but not live in them; they will plant vineyards but not drink the wine.
14        "The great day of the LORD is near-- near and coming quickly. Listen! The cry on the day of the LORD will be bitter, the shouting of the warrior there.

         I know you have sometimes become complacent.  We all do.  Believe me, I know complacency as well as anyone.

We might become complacent about the elections, or work, or homework. 

Sometimes we become complacent about our spirituality, and our relationship with God, and that becomes a very dangerous time for us.

Sometimes Christians entertain such thoughts such as;
Don’t get too concerned…
Let’s keep things as they are…
Let someone else take care of it…
Or – I just don’t care. 

When life is good, easy, and comfortable. God becomes a God of last resort.

When we are in need, we usually take God more seriously. But when we are comfortable, and at ease, and prosperous, it is easier to become complacent about God and his kingdom.

A "stagnant, indifferent, complacent Christian" is an abomination to Christ. Christians such as this call upon the God for a self-righteous satisfaction. The complacent Christian calls upon God for help in times of trouble. But the complacent Christian has no intention of making Jesus the lord of life, the purpose of life, the way of life.

Our Lord said in the New Testament book of Revelation that He would rather a person be cold, utterly without profession of any sort of faith, rather than medium, lukewarm, "moderate."  He looked at an entire church and said, “You are neither hot nor cold, so I spit you out of my mouth!”
Being settled in complacency leaves us weak in the work we have to do for God. 

When I went to Haiti several years ago, I was told this local folk story:

A certain man wanted to sell his house for $2,000. Another man wanted very badly to buy it, but because he was poor, he couldn’t afford the full price. After much bargaining, the owner agreed to sell the house for half the original price with just one stipulation: he would retain ownership of one small nail protruding from just over the door.

After several years, the original owner wanted the house back, but the new owner was unwilling to sell. So first the owner went out found the corpse of a dead dog, and hung it from the nail he still owned. Soon the house became unlivable and the family was forced to sell the house to the owner of the nail.

The Haitian pastor’s conclusion: "If we leave the Devil with even one small peg in our life, he will return to hang his rotting garbage on it, making our life unfit for Christ to live in."

Complacency is that Peg!
Any old thing can hang on the peg of complacency – anything that can move us to become lukewarm to God.

Complacency lowers your determination to be obedient to God.

Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, told a story about a goose who was wounded and who landed in a barnyard with some chickens.

He played with the chickens and ate with the chickens.

After a while that goose thought he was a chicken.

One day a flight of geese came over, migrating to their home. They gave a honk up there in the sky, and he heard it.

The philosopher said, "Something stirred within the breast of this goose. Something called him to the skies. He began to flap the wings he hadn’t used, and he rose a few feet into the air. Then he stopped, and he settled back again into the mud of the barnyard. He heard the cry, but he settled for less."

Complacency settles for less than what God intended us to be!

Zephaniah has a harsh word to say about the person who has become spiritually complacent.  In our Old Testament lesson, Zephaniah said that God would search the city and “punish the men who are settled in complacency, who say in their heart, ’The LORD will not do good, nor will He do evil.’”

Zephaniah opens his book with a statement about who he is.  He gives his credential.  It’s like hanging one’s diploma in the office, or business license in the store.
Zephaniah starts his book with, “The word of the LORD that came to Zephaniah son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah.”

Not that is important because it gave Zephaniah a credential.  Hezekiah had been a king.  And he was a great king, and he was king when the nation was excited and committed to God.

But in Zephaniah’s time, almost everyone was complacent about God.  God was no longer worshipped.  The nation cared very little for God or the things about God.

But Zephaniah had heard stories about his great great granddaddy.  King Hezekiah.   The Old Testament book of II Kings says this:
5  Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him.
6  He held fast to the LORD and did not cease to follow him; he kept the commands the LORD had given Moses.
7  And the LORD was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook. (II Kings 18:5-7).

Hezekiah lived a life as far from being complacent about God as possible.

He was on fire for God.

Contrast Hezekiah’s day to Zephaniah’s day, and they are worlds apart.

So Zephaniah preaches a very harsh message to the complacent people of his day.

Zephaniah says, beginning in chapter 1, verse 12:
12 At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs, who think, 'The LORD will do nothing, either good or bad.'
13 Their wealth will be plundered, their houses demolished. They will build houses but not live in them; they will plant vineyards but not drink the wine.
14 "The great day of the LORD is near-- near and coming quickly. Listen! The cry on the day of the LORD will be bitter, the shouting of the warrior there.
15 That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness,
16 a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the corner towers.
17 I will bring distress on the people and they will walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the LORD. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their flesh like dung.

Wow!  God does not tolerate complacency.

Now, we are all subject to becoming complacent.

Our souls become tired.  Our spirits become fatigued. 

We find ourselves thinking that the poor are all around us, someone else can take care of them.

There are lonely people in the church we could call on, but we don’t.

There are people in our neighborhood we could invite to come to church, but we ignore them.

But God does not tolerate complacency.  He expects us to work and he expects of us excellent things.

Sometimes, it could even be the very church that leads us to become complacent.

I remember when I was a kid, I went to a private school and every day we had a Chapel service.  We had prayers, read scripture, had a little sermon.  And sang hymns.  And one day we sang ONWARD CHRISTIAN SOLDIERS.

    This is not a common hymn any longer.  It used to be rather popular, but a lot of people have never heard it.  We sang it at the beginning of today’s worship, but it is not in our hymnal, it was in the supplemental hymnbook we use.

Because it was written in 1865, many people think this is about the Civil War, but no – it was not even written in this country, but in England.  And it was written in haste by a minister who was trying to get children to move to their Sunday School classes.  The children, being children, would run and get distracted as they moved from the sanctuary to their class rooms, so the pastor gave them a flag and some banners and a big cross to carry and he wrote this hymn:
Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.
Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe;
Forward into battle see His banners go!

      In spite of the militaristic language, it was not really about earthly warfare, but the struggles of good and evil – and its main purpose was to get the kids to march to Sunday School.
      Now when I was a kid, and when we went to Chapel in our private school, we sang that song one day.
      And you can’t sing that song without getting into the rhythm – or at least we as children couldn’t.  So we were singing.  We sang loudly.
      And we started marching!
      We weren’t going anywhere, but we marching in place.
      And we were getting into it!
      And the feet were marching, and the bodies were swaying, and the we had that little chapel rocking.
      Onward Christian Soldiers, marching as to war!
      And it was great until the minister made us stop.
      And then he said we lacked dignity.
      So he made us stop singing.
And he picked another hymn.
And we didn’t know that hymn.
And we didn’t like hymn.
Blah, blah, blah blah God.
Blah blah blah blah the Lord.
It was awful.
Passion for the Lord is natural.
If you’ve lost it, its time to get it back.
This is not the time to be complacent, but to be excited and committed to God.

Copyright 2014

Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Servanthood - Matthew 23:1-12

Matthew 23:1-12
23:1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples,

23:2 "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat;

23:3 therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.

23:4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.

23:5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long.

23:6 They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues,

23:7 and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi.

23:8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students.

23:9 And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father--the one in heaven.

23:10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah.

23:11 The greatest among you will be your servant.

23:12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

A Texas rancher met up with a Vermont dairy farmer. 

The two men began talking about their land and the dairy farmer told the cattleman that he operated his business on 125 acres.

The Texan scoffed at such a small parcel of land. He said, "Yankee, that ain't nothin'." 

On my ranch I can get in my truck at sunrise and I won't reach the fence line of my property until sunset." 

The dairy farmer snorted, "Yeah, I used to have an undependable truck like that."

Bragging rights, Bragging rights everybody wants them. 

Whether it is the biggest house, the fanciest car, the most impressive wardrobe, the most well behaved children, everyone wants to be top dog in some aspect of their life. 

I read not long ago that in the Olympics, the first prize winner is the happiest of the three who stand on the podium and receive a medal – well of course.  How could it be otherwise?  The second happiest is not the second place silver medalist, but the third place bronze – because that person is just so happy to be on the podium at all.  The second place Silver medal winner is jealous and upset.  And why not – in the Olympics the difference in first and second may be a microscopic fraction of a second.

Athletes love to be first. 

And that is fine. 

In business, employees strive to be the employee of the month, the salesman of the year, the most productive and the most efficient.

And that is wonderful.

In school there is nothing more satisfying than a report card with all “A’s” – something I never knew from first hand experience until I was in Seminary.  And then once I made all “A’s” in my first semester, it became a competition with myself to see how long I could keep it up.  I kept it up for three years and finished with a perfect 4.0 gpr – and I’ve got to tell you – it was exhausting!

Being best in anything is tough.

In Jesus’ day, the religious leaders were very competitive and worked hard for those bragging rights. 

They wanted to be looked at and treated as though they were a step closer to God than anyone else. 

Just like many people today, the Pharisees wanted others to see them as special and treat them as though they were closer to God than anyone else.

They wanted others to be impressed with their piety and impressed with their holiness. 

They wanted others to think they had some special bragging rights that the common man lacked.

They were chest thumpers you could almost hear them say: “Hey, look at me! Look at how important I am!”

In the words of the New Testament lesson, they wanted to say to others, “See how broad my phylacteries are and how long my fringes are?” 

Say what?

These are two words that probably don’t mean anything to most of us today.

Now, phylacteries were small leather boxes.  Inside they contained portions of Scripture – the Word of God.  The fringes – well, that means what it means today in clothing, those fringes that adorn sleeves and other material.  In the Old Testament, Moses (in Numbers 15) instructed the children of Israel to put fringes on their garments to remember, not only the law in general, but also the smaller parts of the law.

So the Pharisees made their phylacteries broad. They put more writing on them or made the letters larger and thus more visible, to appear more holy. 

And they made their fringes longer to show the world how they followed the finer points of the law. 

Jesus looks at these people and says this is not how one attains greatness in our faith or in the Kingdom of God.

You want to be great in the Kingdom of God

You want to really be something special?

Then you have to become humble.

You have to become the servant of others.

Miss Thompson taught Teddy Stallard in the fourth grade. He was always dressed in sloppy clothes.  His face and hands were always dirty.  His homework was always a mess.  None of the other students seemed to like him that much.

The year before arriving in Miss Thompson’s class, Teddy’s mother had died.  Other teaches said that what little motivation he had had previously disappeared with his mother’s death.

Teddy had an obnoxious way with him, and none of the teachers really cared for him.  Miss Thompson was the same way – there wasn’t much hope for Teddy and she had other students to attend to.

But at Christmas time Teddy brought his teacher a small present. 

It was typical of Teddy.  All the other gifts were nicely wrapped, his came in a plastic grocery bag. 

The teacher opened the gift and it was a mess.  There was a tacky, cheap, gaudy rhinestone bracelet with half the stones missing and a bottle of cheap perfume that had already been opened and was only half full.

The children began to snicker but Miss Thompson realized that here was one of those people that Jesus called “the least of these.”

You remember that verse?

In Matthew 25 Jesus says that whenever you show love “to the least of these my brothers, you show love to me.”

So she quickly splashed on some perfume and put on the bracelet, pretending Teddy had given her something special.

At the end of the day Teddy worked up enough courage to softly say, "Miss Thompson, you smell just like my mother . . . and her bracelet looks real pretty on you too. 

There was something in that acceptance of a lowly gift that seemed to have such an impact on this young student.  And his reaction had an impact on the teacher.

Miss Thompson began to pay more attention to this wayward student.  She prayed for him daily.  She gave extra time to Teddy.  And it seemed to work because by the end of the year he had caught up with most of the other students.

Then as often happens, Teddy moved up a grade, was assigned another teacher, and then life moved on.

Miss Thompson didn’t hear from Teddy for a long time. Then she received this note: "Dear Miss Thompson, I wanted you to be the first to know. I will be graduating high school.  I’m second in my class. Love, Teddy Stallard." 

Four years later she got another note: "Dear Miss Thompson, They just told me I will be graduating college, first in my class. I wanted you to be the first to know. The university has not been easy, but I liked it. Love, Teddy Stallard." 

Four years later: "Dear Miss Thompson, As of today, I am Theodore Stallard, M.D. How about that? I wanted you to be the first to know. I am getting married next month. I want you to come and sit where my mother would sit if she were alive. You are the only family I have now; Dad died last year. Love, Teddy Stallard." 

Miss Thompson went to the wedding and sat where Teddy’s mother would have sat.

She made a difference. She let God use her as an instrument of his love an instrument of encouragement.

Some of the greatest blessings in life come when you humbly realize someone else is more important than you are. 

If you want to be somebody, put others before yourself. It is as simple as that.

What influences do you have or could you have with others?

Your influence is measured by your willingness to serve others.