Seeing Jesus in Others

Throughout my ministry, I have preached on many passages that have led to a wide selection of interpretations and reflections. There have been passages where I have not known where to begin. There have been scriptures where I was never quite sure which angle to take, and sermons where it was as much for me as it was the congregation that I preached the message to.

Those sermons come after much prayer and reflection, with hope for a sermon that speaks to both myself and the congregation. A professor of mine once told me that if the sermon does not speak to you, then it will never speak to the person in the pew.  Continue reading

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Extravagant Generosity Day 24: Amos 5:11-12

You trample the poor, stealing their grain through taxes and unfair rent. Therefore, though you build beautiful stone houses, you will never live in them. Though you plant lush vineyards, you will never drink wine from them.For I know the vast number of your sins and the depth of your rebellions. You oppress good people by taking bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts. (NLT)

There was a saying that my family would always say to my brother or I when we didn’t want to eat something. For me, I typically heard it whenever we would have shepherd’s pie. It was something along the lines of, “There are hungry people” somewhere else that would like to have what I was eating.

Of course, it was an idle threat meant to get me to finish my plate, but how true are those words. There are hungry people all across the world. According to Feeding America, 1 in 6 Americans struggle with hunger. The United Nations estimates that there are 842 million people globally who are starving. That is about 11 percent of the world’s 7.1 billion population.

There are people who are hungry all around us and we are ignoring them. We ignore them when we throw out expired food, buy more than we could ever consume, or limit the ability of sharing with others. As the prophet Amos writes, when we keep to ourselves food and other necessities from those who need them we are trampling on the poor and hungry.

Amos goes even further. He says if you keep more than what you need to survive that you are stealing from those who need more. Like you, I’m sure you would never consider yourself a thief. However, one has to wonder with these words from Amos if the way we treat food and other necessities if we are just that in how we prevent the poor access to them.

All of us have more than we could ever need. What if we took from our excess and gave to those who have a need, so that they may feel whole, loved, and cared for? What if we no longer trampled on the poor, but showed them hope, love, and generosity?

What a 2-Hour Bus Adventure Teaches Us About Our Community

This afternoon, a group from Trinity UMC traveled across to the Ohio River to watch the Cincinnati Reds take on the San Diego Padres. We will refrain from analyzing the game other than to say the Reds’ 3-2 victory in 13-innings was more about the missed opportunities for the Padres’ to win than it was about the Reds’ ability to finally win it in the 13th.

Many of us rode the bus from our church, located in the Latonia neighborhood of Covington, to Cincinnati. It was a 40-minute bus ride from the church to the stadium. Going to the stadium was easy. Leaving, however, was a different story. It took our little group two hours to travel the four miles from Great American Ball Park to the church. We waited for buses that never came. We felt the frustrations of buses that refused to stop, even though we thought we were at the right bus stop. Eventually, we called for two cabs to take our eight-person group home.

It was an amusing adventure and, yes, we felt a sense of relief when our cabs arrived at the corner of Church and Southern to take us back to Trinity. However, the adventure was more than an amusing afternoon spent with friends. It was an eye-opening experience of what life is like for many of the people we seek to love in our community. What was an adventure for us is simply daily life for the poorest in the neighborhoods surrounding Trinity.

Many in our community do not have the financial means to afford the things that we take for granted. The bus system, then, is the only way to get to work, shopping centers, or to doctor appointments. For us, a bus not arriving with a minor inconvenience. For so many in our neighborhoods, when the bus does not stop or arrive it makes a bigger impact in their lives. It could mean missing work, which could lead someone to lose a job that may be a family’s only source of income.

We had the means and ability to find other transportation options. The poorest of the poor often do not have this luxury that we take for granted.

I am sure that many of us will laugh and tell long tales about our little adventure. That is fine. I will probably join in those laughs. However, I hope that this adventure opens our eyes to an aspect of life of those whom are so often distant from our sight and lives. We are blessed to have what we have and today were able to experience life from a different, and needed, perspective.

Mega Millions: A Tax on the Poor and a Scam of Riches

One of my favorite songs in high school was the Barenaked Ladies’ classic “If I had a Million Dollars.” In the song, the band dreams of things that they would do if they had a million dollars and how they would give it the woman they loved.

With tonight’s anticipated Mega Millions drawing and anticipated $600 million-plus payout, it has everyone doing their own version of the song and dreaming of what they would do with that money. For the record, my wife and I jokingly had our little “$600 million dream” session last night. We decided we would pay off seminary debt, pay off the debts of our family members, put money away for our future children, give money to our favorite charities, establish scholarships at all of our alma maters, and follow through on Michael Scott’s desire to find a class of students and give them a free education.

We all have dreamed big with this payout, but tonight’s drawing raises an important question for us to consider. Should we support lotteries and should we play them? Ignoring the claims that lotteries promote education, it is my belief that lotteries are nothing more than a state-sponsored scam aimed at the poor with the hopes of a better life and fortunes.

It is often the poorest in our communities who will spend hundreds on lottery tickets banking on the hope that one of their numbers provide fortune and fame. The investment is unwise. As CNN pointed out yesterday, you have a better chance of getting killed by a vending machine than you do winning the lottery. Yet, the thrill of striking it rich brings us back to our neighborhood store with our money in one hand and lucky numbers in another.

Had that same money been invested, as some like Dave Ramsey points out, it would have turned and made a profit that has better odds than hitting the “powerball.”

Even though Scripture never comes out specifically against gambling, we can infer that gambling goes against God’s desires. If we assume that is the poor who play the lottery the most and that it takes away money that could be used elsewhere, then gambling and lotteries take advantage of the poor. In both the Old and New Testaments, we see that God calls us to care for the poor and seek their provision and care. One of the basic calls in Jesus’ ministry was to care for the poor who had, so often, been neglected by the ruling elites of his time.

Lotteries also shows us who are god truly is. It’s almost ironic that as we prepare for Palm Sunday, the day we celebrate Christ’s arrival to Jerusalem as king, that we have this massive lottery. Chasing after lottery payouts shows us that our money, and future riches, is really are god. When we lay down our money at the lottery stand, we do so as an act of greed and lust of money. Something as simple as wanting to provide a better life for our family can deter us from our obedience and desire to live for God.

Turning to lotteries for financial success will only breed financial and personal ruin and will deter you from your faith in Jesus Christ. We can and must seek better for ourselves and our neighbor.

My hope is that the day will come when lotteries are phased out. Though this is my hope, I recognize that as long as lotteries pay big money and people are dictated by their love of god (money) they will be here for a long time to come. As leaders in the church, we must be willing to address lotteries and teach people a better way to financial health and personal obedience in Christ.