Love One Another

Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:43-48
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even the unbelievers do that?”

Jesus tells us to love our enemies and to pray for them. How many times have you or I prayed for people that we didn’t like, or for people that treated us unkindly? Think about that for a few moments. If we are completely honest with ourselves, our answer would probably be never or only a few times. Jesus is teaching us that we should pray for that neighbor or friend that won’t speak to us anymore, or that boss that is hateful and unreasonable, or that family member or church member that is upset with us and we don’t know why.

The world that we live in tells us that we should love ourselves more than we should love others. We are urged to hoard our possessions and to show little or no mercy to those in our society that need our help. The world that we live in encourages us to worship and desire the material possessions of this world instead of God.

Our Christian faith however, teaches us that we should love all kinds of other people before we love our own self. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever beliveth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Jesus then commands us to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus was saying that it’s easy to love those who love you back. Even the folks that don’t believe in God are doing that. But true love involves loving those who have wronged you or said bad things about you. True love is also about forgiveness, not carrying grudges and letting the past be the past. True love towards your enemies is a true sign that you are a follower of Jesus. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command. If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.

As Christians, we call ourselves disciples or followers of Christ. If we are to follow Christ and be obedient to Him, then we must love those that are difficult to love. We must love our family, our church family, our neighbors, our co-workers, and we also must show love to all those people that won’t love us back. We must love and pray for people that detest us and say bad things about us. We will know that we are followers of Jesus when we are able to love those people that seem unlovable. We must love them because God created them and God loves them as much as He does you and me.

One of my favorite chapters of the Bible is 1 Corinthians chapter 13. In this chapter, the apostle Paul is writing about love. Paul writes, starting in verse 4, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

So this week try to show love or compassion to someone that just doesn’t want to be loved. As followers of Jesus love one another and care for and encourage each another. If you do that – then you are truly a follower of Christ.

Remembering Family

Scripture Reading: 1 John 4:11-12
Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

Over the last couple of days, I have been thinking about two family members that have passed away, but would have celebrated birthdays this past week. These two exceptional people were my cousin Kay and my uncle Grover. They have both been on my mind this past week and I wanted to share with you the impact they had on my life.

Kay was a year older than me and she was a special cousin and friend. The one thing that I will always remember about Kay was her smile. She had the biggest smile that I have ever seen and Kay was always smiling. Like all of us, life handed Kay some difficult moments but she still managed to smile and to have a positive attitude. Kay loved people, especially her family, and she was someone that I truly enjoyed being around and growing up with.

Kay, her sister Karen and I would spend many hours playing the game of Monopoly at my grandmother’s kitchen table. Those are special times that I still think about some thirty five years later. We all loved each other and enjoyed each other’s company and I do miss those times that we had together. Kay also took it upon herself to protect me when older kids would try to intimidate us younger kids on the bus. I remember one time she stood toe to toe with this kid and told him to leave her cousin alone or he would have to deal with her. That kid backed down and never bothered me again. Kay’s example of loving your family and protecting them is something that I have remembered throughout my life.

Kay was a warm, loving person and just being around her made you feel special and loved. Growing up, Kay was such a positive person and that attitude was contagious. I can picture Kay today, walking the streets of heaven, and she is smiling. I am so thankful for the time that we had together and I know that one day I will see that beautiful smile again.

My uncle Grover also had a tremendous influence on my life. Along with my father, he taught me responsibility and hard work. He instilled in me the resolve to never give up no matter how difficult the situation. He emphasized the importance of studying and obtaining a good education so that I could be a good citizen and a productive member of society. Grover would always quiz me on political and world facts and he expected me to know the answers about what was happening in the world.

When I bought my first car, he would come over to my house and “inspect” my car to make sure that it was clean and that I was taking good care of it. He continued to do this throughout my teen years and that is something I still have fond memories of. I have told this story to my children as I try to teach them responsibility in their own lives.

When my father passed away, it was my uncle that broke the news to me. I remember the many conversations that we had after my father died. My uncle loved me and he was there for me when I needed someone to talk to or confide in. Grover taught me the importance of having a good reputation and that was something that he took a lot of pride in himself. He helped many people in the community that needed assistance and had no one to turn to. He helped others because it was the right thing to do and he didn’t do it to be noticed or to be rewarded. My uncle continues to have a great influence on my life and I know that he would be proud that I am passing on his knowledge to my children.

Our scripture passage today plainly tells us that God loved us so much that He sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him. Since God loves us so very much, we are commanded to love each other, and then others will see that God, and His love, lives within us. It was evident to me that God lived in these two wonderful human beings.

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

Psalm 139:13-16

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. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

At one time or another, most all of us struggle with who we are as a person. Many times we focus on our own flaws and we fail to comprehend just how magnificent a creation, we are. I also fall into the trap of comparing myself to other people. Whenever I attempt to measure myself against my perception of others, I always come up short. My self worth is then measured in terms of what the world, or other people, consider important.

We once had a neighbor that always seemed to arrive at church, a few minutes before we did. We made a game out of it but no matter how hard we tried, we could never seem to get to church before she did. One day my wife made a comment to her about how she always manages to get her family to church on time. Our neighbor said, “You have no idea how hard it is to get them going, we always seem to be running behind.” We were surprised because it appeared that our neighbor really had her act together, when in fact, she was struggling just as much as we were. Perceptions are often not reality.

In times of self doubt, I go to Psalm 139, to be reminded that God made me just the way I am for a specific purpose. Psalm 139 begins by saying that God has searched me and He knows me. God knows when I sit and when I rise. God perceives my every thought from afar. God is familiar with all my ways and before I can even utter a word, God knows what I am going to say. This psalm reminds us that God created us in His own image and that we are who we are for a reason.

Recently, I was given advice about some additional responsibilities that are coming my way. It was suggested that I need to become someone different or in some ways act differently. This person was trying to help me but in fact was giving me some very bad advice. God gave each of us different talents and gifts and by working together we can use these gifts to further God’s kingdom. Some folks go about serving God in a very visible way while others serve God behind the scenes and go unnoticed by most for their efforts.

God knew what He was doing when He created us. He intentionally made us the way we are and God can use our strengths and even our weaknesses in order to further His kingdom here on this earth. Don’t ever allow anyone to tell you that you are not important or that you somehow fail to measure up to the world’s standards. You are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and you are created in the image of your Creator. The works of God are truly wonderful.

Exhalted or Humbled

Scripture Reading: Luke 14:10-11
“But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

I love football and I must admit that I am a huge college and pro football fan. Like many of you, I watched the Super Bowl last night, and as always we see the images of numerous celebrities and “important” people throughout the game. Many of these people are in the luxury suites that this year sold for $163,385 for the Super Bowl game. To watch the game from this venue, you must either be wealthy or a person of some importance and influence, or have the necessary connections.

Throughout the game the cameras gave us a glimpse of who was in the luxury suites. The people there ranged from a former United States President and other government officials, pro athletes, and several famous actors and actresses. Many of these people want to be seen at the big game and the network cameras obliged them, and us, by giving us a glimpse of their view of the game. Now I am not judging these people, because I myself would certainly like to sit in one of those luxury suites and watch a Super Bowl game and enjoy the amenities of the luxury suites, just once.

The Super Bowl did not exist in Jesus’ time but Jesus knew that people desired to sit at the head table, at the most important and visible places. That is certainly true in our society today, we want to be seen and recognized and we want to feel important. We want to be acknowledged for our achievements and for becoming successful, at least by the standards that the world measures success.

Jesus however, came to turn this world that we live in upside down. From the gospel of Luke we read that if you exalt yourself you will be humbled. But if you humble yourself first, then you will be exalted. Being humble includes looking out for those in our society that are less fortunate than we are. It also involves putting the interests of others before our own selfish interests. It most certainly is the giving of our time and money and skills to help those children of God that need our help and our voice.

One of the beatitudes in Matthew (5:5) says; “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Many people have understood the meek to be defined as those who are quiet or non-aggressive. Our society views someone that is meek as being weak or spineless. This beatitude is first heard in Psalm 37:11: “But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace.” The New International Bible study notes suggests that the meek are those who “humbly acknowledge their dependence on the goodness and grace of God and betray no arrogance toward others.”

Being humble or meek can save us from pride, from looking down on other people. It can also help to prevent us from becoming self-righteous. True meekness involves “not my will but your will be done.”

A seminary professor of mine once told us that true meekness “is a mandate and a mark of a true disciple.” He said that a Christian who is meek is “someone that is available to do the will of God, they are not weak.”

Jesus reminds us in our text today that if we put our self-importance ahead of others, there will be a day in which we will be humbled. However, if we continuously strive to put the needs of others first and serve our fellow human beings, then we will be exalted and given life eternal in God’s coming kingdom.

Times of Trouble

Scripture Reading:
Psalm 46:1: God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

This psalm was written to be sung as a celebration of the security of Jerusalem as the city of God. This psalm, and also psalms 47 and 48, is an expression of confidence in the security of God’s people in the midst of a world that threatens their well-being.

Martin Luther also used Psalm 46 as the inspiration of his great hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” The beautiful words to this hymn, written five hundred years ago, still have incredible meaning for us today. It is a reminder that we can continue to find refuge and strength in God in the midst of all the daily troubles that we face. As Christians we are not spared from daily troubles and worries and trials, we know that we will encounter many of those things. We are promised however, that God will be there for us and that He gives us hope, as we face the many struggles of life.

Luther’s hymn also brings images of the evil one that will “threaten to undo us.” “His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal.” These stanzas remind us of our “ancient foe”, the devil who relentlessly strives to bring us down. We have all felt the attacks of the evil one as he strikes out at us when we are at our weakest point. He is there to tempt us into sin and to cause us to lose hope. As the words to this hymn remind us, he is a formidable enemy.

We don’t like to talk much about the evil one in our church life today. Many people feel uncomfortable at the very mention of the devil. However, if you read the bible, you will find that the evil one is very real, and that he is constantly looking for ways to make God’s people stumble. But the words to this hymn remind us that we can withstand his onslaught and that in the end he is doomed, God’s truth will win out.

We must realize however, that we can’t overcome these attacks on our own strength; we must turn to the mighty fortress that is our God. Only in God can we find the resolve to stand firm when faced with the many temptations and trials that come our way. Many times we learn this lesson the hard way, after we attempt to handle difficulties in our own way, without God’s help. It is only by relying upon God that we can overcome life’s trials.

This hymn and Psalm 46 are reminders that, when we are faced with whatever life and the evil one brings our way, we can turn to God, who is our refuge and our strength, an ever present help in times of trouble. The next to the last verse in this psalm is verse ten and is says: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

God is with you, stand firm and put your trust and faith in God. His strength is too powerful for the evil that is present in our world. The good news is that God will be victorious and His kingdom will reign forever. The last verse of Luther’s hymn reminds us that, “God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever.”

I know that many of you today have worries and you are faced with many difficult decisions that are bringing you down. It’s very easy to get depressed and to give up hope when you encounter the many demands of everyday life. And it’s also very easy to focus on your problems and to forget that God is there to bring you through these challenging times. So as you pray and as you read God’s word, be still and listen for God, an ever-present help in time of trouble.

Remembering my Father

Revelation 21:4
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

My father passed away on this day twenty four years ago. I was twenty one years old and in college at the University of Georgia and I remember my mother calling me to give me the news that my dad had a heart attack and was in the hospital. It was a Friday morning and I hurried to the hospital, and spent the next two days with my mom and dad in his room, not knowing what the outcome was going to be. I was scared but I felt like my father would pull through and eventually return home again.

Late on Sunday afternoon, as me and my dad were talking, he told me that I needed to go back to Athens and study for a test that I had coming up the next day. His dream was to see me finish college and graduate. I was in my last year of college when my dad suffered his heart attack. He talked often about the day that I would graduate and how proud he would be. My dad didn’t have the opportunity to attend college. His father had passed away from a massive heart attack at the age of 48 and so my father had to go to work in order to help support his family.

I traveled back to Athens from Gainesville and drove over to the library to study. A few hours later, I returned to my apartment and I could immediately sense that something was wrong. My two roommates were looking at me in a strange way and they told me that I needed to call my uncle. I knew immediately that my father had passed away and I couldn’t bring myself to pick up the phone and make the call. Almost instantly it seemed, the telephone rang and it was my uncle, calling back to talk to me. I remember my uncle saying that he was sorry to call with such bad news and then he told me that my father had another massive heart attack and was gone.

I don’t remember much of what happened the next day or so leading up to the funeral. All that kept running through my mind was that my father would not be there when I graduated college. He would not be there for any important events in my life and the thought of that was just too much for me to bear. Being an only child though, I knew that I needed to be strong for my mother because that was what my dad would have expected me to do.

As those twenty four years have passed by, I have treasured many wonderful memories of the time together that my father and I had. I remember the first time that he took me fishing. Yearly family vacations were very important to him and we had some really good times together as a family. I was also an avid baseball card collector and my father would indulge me with numerous packs of cards that he would bring home after leaving work for the day. He was also a wonderful cook and I regret not having spent more time with him in the kitchen and learning some of his secrets.

I still miss my father, especially at important milestones in my family’s life. I found myself thinking about him a couple of Sunday’s ago when I baptized my daughter. Although he was not there in person, I believe that he was present in some way and was witness to what took place. And it is my Christian belief that we will be together again one day in heaven.

He would always tell me that he couldn’t wait until I had kids so that he could see how I managed them as a parent. “I hope that your kids give you as much trouble as you give me,” he would jokingly say to me. I hope that I have made you proud as a parent dad, and I’m sure that we will laugh together again one day about all the “trouble” that my kids have given me. In memory of my father, George C. Mathis.

Do Not Worry

Scripture Reading: Matthew 6:25-27 & 34

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air, they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Do you worry? Of course, we all worry to some degree. Some of us worry about how we are going to pay the bills each month, we worry about our children and our aging parents, and we worry about what’s going on in the world around us. Some people worry that they are not going to be able to keep pace with their neighbors or family members so they continue to spend more money in order to buy things that they think will make them happy. Most of the time however, the happiness will only last for a little while and then they start their search, and their worry, all over again.

I started writing this post about a week ago and I got bogged down and just stopped. At the time I didn’t have too much to worry about and what I was writing just didn’t sound very realistic. A week later in the real world and now I have plenty to worry about. Facing two car repair bills, a mother and aunt who are struggling with health issues, challenges at work and several other difficult decisions that had to be made and I am not practicing what I preach. I am worried.

Jesus knows that we worry, that’s why he talked about it in his Sermon on the Mount. He recognized that people in the first century worried and he knew that people in our day and time were going to worry, probably even more. I believe that Jesus is telling us that we must stop worrying about the things that we can’t control. How many of our worries are about things that we have absolutely no control over? We worry about past and future things instead of living in the here and now for God. Jesus tells us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and we will be given what we need.

Many times when I began to worry, I completely leave God out of the picture. I focus on myself and my own limitations as I wonder how I am going to make things right again. And then God reminds me that it is God that will get things accomplished through me. He reminds me that I am a mere human being and that He is the creator of this universe – he can make anything happen! God has a plan for each one of our lives and how it fits into His purpose for this world that we live in.

So when I begin to worry about the many things going on in my life, I have to stop and say, “God, you are in control of my life and anything is possible with you. Lead me where you want me to go and I will follow you.”

When I find myself worrying I usually read or recite these bible verses that help to remind me of the peace and comfort that I can find in my Lord and Savior.

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in times of trouble.” Psalm 46:1
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let you hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27
“Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.” Psalm 55:22
“Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28
“Cast all of your anxieties upon him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

Giants and Grasshoppers

Based on Numbers Chapter 13

Caleb and Joshua were two men who had a deep and abiding faith in God. Their story takes place as the people of Israel, God’s chosen people, are on the threshold of entering the Promised Land. Moses sends out twelve spies to search the Promised Land and to report back to the people on what they encountered. Caleb and Joshua were two of the twelve men sent to spy out the land. These men were to report back on what the land was like. Was the soil fertile; were there trees on the land? The men were also to report on what types of people were living in the land. Were they strong or weak, few or many?

The twelve returned from their mission and gave a report to the people on their journey to the land of Canaan. Ten of the men could not stop talking about the men of great size that were living in the land. The men talked about how strong the people living in the Promised Land were and how it would be impossible to conquer them. Remember that God had told them that the land was already theirs; they just needed to trust in God and to be obedient. The men that were afraid said, “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” (Numbers 13:33b).

Ten of the spies in this story only saw giants and they saw themselves as grasshoppers. This story is very telling of our own human nature in that many times we allow fear and doubt to control our lives instead of trusting in God. We are brave one moment and fearful the next. We say that we trust in God and are willing to obey Him but then we grow fearful and we begin to doubt.

After reading their story in the book of Numbers, we soon realize that these two men were different than most of their fellow citizens. Caleb and Joshua were focused on God and they were obedient to God. They were not afraid to speak up for God even though what they were saying went against popular opinion. Caleb and Joshua were different because they didn’t see giants or grasshoppers, they saw God.

I believe that God places people like Caleb and Joshua in our lives today to remind us to trust in God and to have a strong faith. God will not leave us alone and He will place people like these in our lives to give us hope, encouragement and direction. However, we must pay attention and be obedient to our creator. If we do, we will find strength and courage and we will certainly find peace in Jesus Christ.

Remember that Christ promised to never leave you or forsake you, He is with you in all of your joys in life and through all of your struggles.