Finding Tolerance In Diversity

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Colossians 3:12-14

Mark Twain once said, “All Democrats are insane, but not one of them knows it; none but the Republicans. All the Republicans are insane, but only the Democrats know it. When I look around me, I am often troubled to see how many people are mad. This should move us to be charitable towards one another’s lunacies.

Two men were discussing the origin of the Christian Church. One of the men said, That’s easy! We Disciples got started with Alexander Campbell.” The second man disagreed, “The Disciples began long before that time. Don’t you remember when Abraham and Lot were surveying the land of Canaan? They walked together for a long time, over the hills, across the streams, through the valleys. Then Abraham said to Lot, ‘All right, you go your way and I’ll go mine.’ That’s when the Disciples got started!”

There can be no freedom or fulfillment apart from submission to Jesus Christ. “The purpose of life,” said P. T. Forsyth, “is not to find your freedom, but to find your master.”

During the summer between my senior year of high school and my freshman year of college, I worked in construction. As with most construction workers, by the end of the day you were dirty and you smelled bad. The drug store in my small home town closed at 6:00. So I had to come directly from work to the drug store to pick up a prescription. A lady standing next to me at the counter was obviously disturbed by my presence. I remember when she left the store, the workers in the drug store saying, “That is honorable dirt.”

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matt 6:16-18)

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. (Matt 23:27) We don’t know all of the story! But God does. The next time you see a guy with a ponytail, you might feel more tolerant if you can remember George Washington had one of those too.

Dr. James Dobson quoted educator, Rene Voeltzel when he said, “We must not look too soon in the child for the person he will later become.” In both the physical and spiritual realm, we must look beyond the present to see in others what God knows they can become through His Son, Jesus Christ. We live in a pluralistic society that is growing more and more pluralistic. I am an active member of a local civic group. I was asked to make arrangements for the opening prayers for each meeting. Now, this is a group that has a diverse background of people. There was a big debate about ending prayers “in the name of Jesus.”

How do we live with pluralism in our society? We live with Judaism, Muslim, Buddhism, Hinduism and many others. How do we live in the world but not of this world?

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. (Acts 17:22-23)

In Paul’s message to the Areopagus we find a lot of “tolerance.” It is not that Paul agrees with all of the status given to the various gods. But Paul goes out of his way not to condemn those who are there that day in the Areopagus. Yet, neither does he justify all of the idols. There is a “tolerance” of all the idols so that Paul may witness to the people and so that there may be peace.

Tolerance or charity is what is due all of those who see things (especially of faith) differently than we do. Enough blood has been spilt over religious intolerance. Just because we are tolerance or extend charity, in no way does it means that we condone or accept that point of view. What it does mean is that we live in a diverse world and every one of us it entitled to his/her belief.

A restaurant patron seemed particularly bothered about the temperature in the restaurant. He complained to his waiter that it was too cold and the waiter needed to turn down the air conditioner. The waiter told the patron he would do so immediately. A few minutes later the patron complained that it was now too hot. The waiter apologized and told the irate patron that he would make a slight adjustment to the air conditioner. These temperature complaints and slight adjustments happened several more times during the course of the evening. A man at another table asked the waiter how he could be so patient with the constantly changing whims of this dissatisfied patron. The waiter shrugged his shoulder and said that it was simple. “By the way,” the waiter added, “this restaurant does not even have an air conditioner!”

Charity is the ability to let your light shine even though your fuse is blown.
In my civic club, I told each person to pray in the manner that they were most comfortable. Tolerance means that I accept their prayer. Tolerance doesn’t mean that I dilute my prayer to accommodate everyone else. Our prayer is to our God. When I am doing the talking or praying, I am talking to God as I understand God. Sometimes I am the guest and I am listening in on someone else praying in their way.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

The Work of Our Hands

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James 1:19-27

The older I grow the more I find what I once considered important changing.
The writer of Ecclesiastes writes, Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun. (2:11) Therefore, should I have been surprised when I returned to Pine Bluff, after I had left my previous parish five years earlier, and was confronted with the brevity of my reputation?
It is amazing how in five short years everything can change. There were those with their hugs and kisses, ones who had fond memories. There were the new ones who had no idea of who I was or what I was like. I am reminded of a friend who went back to a former church he had served. Walking down the street in the town, the same place where he had given four years of his life, he encountered the husband of a woman who had been active in the church. Admittedly, the man only came to church periodically, but nevertheless, he had given many hours to counseling his family, supporting his two teenage daughters, and working on various church projects with his wife. They met on the street and he greeted him warmly. They talked for a few minutes and he said something about how much he missed living in that town, to which he said, “Did you move? Are you not the pastor down at the church anymore?” Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.

Most of us will spend the majority of our lives at work. On this Labor Day weekend, I ask you, “What does our work mean? Will what we do last? Is the significance of our work solely in its eternality?”

People go to college for a variety of reasons, but Bob Kuechenberg, formerly of the Miami Dolphins, may have given the best reason yet in an interview with Newsweek: My father and uncle were human cannonballs in carnivals. My father told me, “Go to college or be a cannonball.” Then one day my uncle came out of the cannon, missed the net and hit the ferris wheel. I decided to go to college.

What is the point of our work, what does all our labor add up to? We and our accomplishments are not eternal. Yet, in the great purposes of God, even what we do can have value and lasting significance. The best thing is for us to work faithfully, to take joy in our labors and to leave the rest to God.

Scripture teaches that labor is a two way street. There is a Biblical relationship of the employee to the employer, and there is a Biblical relationship of the employer to the employee.

The employee is to give and do the best that he can for his employer. One of Ripley’s “Believe it or Not” items pictures a plain bar of iron worth $5. The same bar of iron if made into horse shoes, would be worth $50. If it were made into needles, it would be worth $5,000. If it were made into balance springs for fine Swiss watches, it would be worth $500,000. The raw material is not as important as how it’s developed. God says we have spiritual gifts, but their worth to Him and the world will be dependent on how we develop them.

“In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we have discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.” Our attitude is important, it is the difference between just earning a pay check and being committed to a task assigned by our employer. James writes, Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

Jim was such a good worker, he had just received another raise in pay. But when his brother called him and asked how things were going, Jim said that things were not going so well. His brother was surprised and said that he had heard about the raise. Jim agreed that he had received a sizable raise and enjoyed his job. His brother asked him what the problem was, then. Jim answered, “I’ll tell you what bothers me. I’m making so much money now that I can’t afford to take a day off.”

Good living and good work go together. Life and livelihood ought not to be separated but to flow from the same source, which is Spirit. Spirit means life, and both life and livelihood are about living in depth, living with meaning, purpose, joy, and a sense of contributing to the greater community. A spirituality of work is about bringing life and livelihood back together again.”

The employer is accountable to God for how he treats the employee. Jesus Himself says, … for the worker deserves his wages. (Luke 10:7) Firing an employee is one of the toughest jobs a supervisor ever faces. An insurance sales manager was known for his tact and diplomacy. One of his young salesmen was performing so poorly that he had to be terminated. The manager called him in and said, “Son, I don’t know how we’re ever going to get along without you, but starting Monday we’re going to try.”

My best friend from seminary days was called to his first church. The parsonage was right next to the church, the worst possible place for a parsonage. For several years he tried to get the congregation to make repairs to the parsonage. Members would say things like, “That is a mighty fine house, you should be happy.” The congregation grew and needed to expand so they bought a new parsonage across town. Their plan was to convert the parsonage to classrooms. They decided that the house wasn’t in good enough condition to use as classrooms.

Philemon was a member of the church of Colossae, who owed his conversion to the apostle Paul, for such is the interpretation generally assigned to the words “You owe to me even your own self as well” (Philem 19). To him, Paul addressed his epistle on behalf of Onesimus. His character, as given in that letter, was one of great nobility. The apostle commends his faith and love, his benevolence and hospitality, and his docile, sympathizing, and forgiving spirit.
He asked Philemon to treat Onesimus as Paul would have treated Onesimus.

I marvel at the faith of the man in Michigan who when he sold his business for millions of dollars gave part of the selling price to his employees who had helped him to make the business a success. So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Matt 7:11-12) Every seventh year the landowners, the slave owners, the rich, were to release everyone in slavery or in servitude. The issue was to treat all workers justly.

Were You There When The Tree Withered?

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Mark 11:20-25

Following the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: `My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it `a den of robbers.'” Do you get the feeling that Jesus was having a bad day?

In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered.

Doesn’t it seem unreasonable to curse a tree for being fruitless when, as the writer, of Mark told us it wasn’t the right season for figs? It is widely believed that Jesus was crucified on April 6th, A.D. 30. So, the incident of the fig tree would have occurred at the end of March or the first of April. Towards the end of March the leaves of the fig tree begin to appear. In about a week of the foliage appearing there appears a small crop of knobs on the tree. The knobs are not the figs. The knobs are a kind of forerunner for the figs. These knobs are called “Taqsh” by middle eastern people. The Taqsh is eatable and is eaten by many peasants. When the Taqsh comes to maturity it simply falls off the tree. The true fig appears six weeks later on that same tree. The Taqsh is a precursor for the fig. If the leaves of the fig tree appear without any Taqsh, that is a sign that there will not be any figs. Since Jesus found only leaves and no Taqsh, He knew that it was hopeless, and said as much to the tree.

A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard and went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard,
`For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ (Luke 13:6)

Both stories represent Jerusalem. Jerusalem was unresponsive to Jesus as he came into Jerusalem’s life. Therefore, Jerusalem is destroyed.

Now the message of the fig tree is our message. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.
Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”

The Power Of The Spiritual Gifts

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First Corinthians 12:7-11

The most famous Buddhist temple in Bangkok is called the Temple of the Golden Buddha. Inside this very small building is a solid gold statue of Buddha standing 10 ½ feet tall. It weighs over 2 1/2 tons and is worth nearly $200 million. The history of this statue is fascinating. In 1957, a highway was slated to be built over the grounds of the monastery so the monks made preparations for their clay Buddha to be relocated. A crane was employed but when the statue was being lifted it began to crack. The head monk was concerned about the damage and had the statue lowered back to the ground. That evening the monk took a flashlight to make certain the statue was staying dry under the tarp. When he shined his flashlight on the crack it began to glisten. He took a closer look and then went for a hammer and chisel. He knocked off pieces of clay only to find a statue of solid gold. Historians believe the statue was covered with clay several centuries before when the Burmese army was about to invade Thailand. The monks were trying to protect their treasure but when the Burmese army attacked, all of those who knew the secret were killed.

A similar secret exists today. Inside each of us is a largely unknown, yet valuable potential just waiting to be released. A 38-year-old scrub woman would go to the movies and sigh, “If only I had her looks.” She would listen to a singer and moan, “If only I had her voice.” Then one day someone gave her a copy of the book, The Magic of Believing. She stopped comparing herself with actresses and singers. She stopped crying about what she didn’t have and started concentrating on what she did have. She took inventory of herself and remembered back in High School she had a reputation for being the funniest girl around. She began to turn her liabilities into assets. She wasn’t good looking and she had a scratchy voice, but she could make people laugh. A few years later, Phyllis Diller made over $1 million in one year.

Paul’s letter to the Church at Corinth was written because there was a problem in the congregation. The new subject, spiritual gifts, is linked with the preceding section by the common relation to public worship. It is important to distinguish spiritual gifts from spiritual fruits and spiritual ministries. We will be talking about the fruits and the ministries in other sermons. Spiritual fruits are features of Christian character. Spiritual ministries are positions in the church for the administration of its affairs of spiritual oversight of the flock. Spiritual gifts are divine enablements related to service in the local church, both official and unofficial. Every believer possesses a spiritual gift, but not all believers possess the same gift. The church at Corinth, certainly no dead church, was in danger of abusing its privileges by an over emphasis on certain of the spectacular gifts. Paul first sets forth the unity and diversity of the gifts (12 a), next the primacy of love over the seeking of gifts (12:31 b-13:13), and finally evaluation and regulation of the exercise of the gifts of prophecy and tongues (14). Paul gives the church an opening word of admonition to aid them in determining genuine spiritual utterance.

Now to each one the manifestations of the Spirit is given for the common good.
Paul is very up-front that these gifts are not for individual needs but for the needs of the whole Church. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. These nine (9) gifts are special abilities that God gives to the Church.
1. …to one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom….. Wisdom comes from God just as wisdom was given to Solomon by God. Wisdom is the ability to understand the ways of God. It is the ability to give good advice and give instruction for living.
2. …to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit…. Knowledge is the God given ability to know certain facts that others would not know under normal circumstances. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.
3. …to another faith by the same Spirit…. Faith is the ability to believe in God and to respond to God’s leading in spite of the circumstances. Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17) And Elisha prayed, “O LORD, open his eyes so he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6:17)
4. …to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit…. Some have the gift of the healing arts in their hands. Others have a special gift of bringing healing to people understanding and reason. Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. (Acts 3:6)
5. …to another miraculous powers…. This is the ability to interfere with the course of nature; e.g., Moses and the parting of the Red Sea. Elijah and the bread and oil with the widow at Zarephath.
6. …to another prophecy…. Prophecy is more then the ability to see into the future, it is the ability to tell the truth regardless of the cost. Prophecy enlightens us! Sometimes that reveals the future but other times it deals with the present.
7. …to another distinguishing between spirits…. This gift is given so that the Church may know when evil is present. This person will know when someone is demon possessed.
8. …to another speaking in different kinds of tongues…. Tongues is the ability to convey the good news to someone of a different nationality. The gift is sometimes used for individual edification and then a heavenly language is used. Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers (1 Cor 14:22)
9. …and to still another the interpretation of tongues. The ability to understand that which has been given in language. This person is to keep the church honest and godly.

One of Ripley’s “Believe it or Not” items pictures a plain bar of iron worth $5.
The same bar of iron if made into horse shoes, would be worth $50. If it were made into needles, it would be worth $5,000. If it were made into balance springs for fine Swiss watches, it would be worth $500,000. The raw material is not as important as how it’s developed. God says “We have spiritual gifts, but their worth to Him will be dependent on how we develop them. ”

Benjamin Franklin once asked the question, “What’s a sundial in the shade?”