Friday, September 24, 2021

September 26, 2021 “Your Brain on Prayer” - James 5.13-20 Pastor Jacqueline Hines


September 26, 2021

“Your Brain on Prayer” - James 5.13-20

Pastor Jacqueline Hines

This is the final Sunday of our September Season of Spiritual Renewal. We were reminded by Rev. Carolyn Cavaness to “Be Open” to God. Minister Ari Hauben called us to “Draw Near” to God. Rev. Dawn Taylor-Storm declared to us that “Where Revival Begins” is with each and every one of us. Today, you will hear from the book of James that prayer makes the difference. Prayer changes things and it changes us for the better.

James is the 20th book of the 27 books in the New Testament. We sometimes call James a book, but it is actually a letter. James, the brother of Jesus, is said by some, to be the author of this letter. It was circulated by hand to as many churches as possible and the churches that read it wanted the encouragement and the reminders that God cared.

The church has not changed. We still need to encourage each other. That’s why Bethel has a monthly News Letter. United Methodist District Superintendents and Bishops also write letters to pastors and churches to encourage us and remind us that God is able, especially when there are political and spiritual issues on our hearts. United Methodist Bishops from Africa to Argentina and other denominations too, I am sure, write many letters of encouragement all through the year. Every time there is some type of disturbance or call for justice and mercy, faithful leaders send letters via email and share their perspectives, their beliefs and their direction for how God’s people can respond with integrity.

James’ letter was handwritten. James’ letter was not only written by hand, the paper it was written on was handmade either from the papyrus plant or parchment of animals.  The ink also was handmade from the dye of plants and possibly animals. Humanity has evolved so much, haven’t we? Now we have so much paper, we are recycling tons of it, and in our homes we probably have dozens of ink pens and pencils to write with. Great God almighty!

With much care and consideration, James writes to the Church, even to us in the church today he writes with these sensitive words that remind us of a path that leads to peace and righteousness: In his letter James asks the question -

13 Is anyone among you in trouble? What a loaded question. Is anyone among you in trouble????

The 116, 000 persons evacuated from Afghanistan and the families of the 13 heroes whose lives were sacrificed know about trouble. Don’t they? Friends and family suffering from addictions or generational curses of poverty and promiscuity know about trouble, don’t we? Those impacted by earthquakes in Haiti and Hurricane Ida in New Orleans, the worst Hurricane in US history, 16 years to the day of Katrina, billions of dollars of damage and countless homeless and unspeakably heart wrenching situations –  know about trouble. God knows. One trouble may not be as urgent as another’s. Whether big troubles or little troubles, all of us have had trouble. It’s part of being human. The good news is - God is with us every time trouble comes. God is with us to make us stronger or to remind us who is in charge. God is with us. How wonderful is that!

There is a gospel songs that helps us in times of trouble. It says. “…trouble in my way…got to cry sometime. Jesus will fix it, after a while. “The line - You got to cry sometime” stands out. There was an article from Crystal Caviness of United Methodist Communications entitled “Jesus Wept, So Should We.”*

She mentions that the human body produces three types of tears: basal, reflex and emotional [or as I learned once, tears can come from the eyes, the chest or from the depths of the stomach.] Basal tears keep our eyes lubricated, reflex tears are a reaction to irritants, such as onion chopping or smoke, and emotional tears are associated with emotions ranging from extreme happiness to stress, anger, pain and sadness. She says emotional tears can be held back and stopped, but that’s not true of basal tears that keep our eyes moist and reflex tears that may come with allergies.

It's the emotional tears that also release endorphins, those good chemicals that help ease both physical and emotional pain. When we try to keep ourselves from crying in an effort to be strong and when we wipe away our tears in shame, there may be a part of us that is hindering our healing and grieving process. There may be a part of us that is not wanting to be held in the arms of God. When we fight back those healing tears, there may be a part of us that is pushing God away. It’s something to think about, isn’t it? Trouble in our way…you got to cry sometime.

Pastor Adam Hamilton tells the story of how he worked as a teenager at a drive through in a fast food restaurant. His girlfriend Kathy drove up to the window and broke up with him. She did not order anything, she just announced “I don’t want to date you anymore” and drove off. Of course, he was devastated and asked the boss if he could take a ten minute break. He went into the employee lounge and began to cry. He could not hold back the tears. Within a few minutes Tim a coworker came in and held him as he cried. Needless to say that was a very powerful moment that helped him to endure and grow emotionally and spiritually.

In verse 13, James’ answer to our troubles says, “Let those who are in trouble – do what?– “Let them pray.” That is the first thing James says. Pray. Whenever we are in trouble, first pray. But, just how do we pray? Talk to God. Listen to God. Trust in God. Look around you, see what God is doing. Watch God work. Know like the three refugees Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace knew -that God is able to deliver you. Whether or not God does deliver you, God is able to deliver you! God has a purpose and a plan.

We have seen the commercial that shows an egg frying fast on top of a car hood that has been baking in the sun. As the egg bubbles, a voice announces: “This is your brain on crack.” Well, it seems researchers have taken a look at the brain and offer us a scan of the brain that is peaceful and calm. They can announce: “This is your brain on prayer.”

A brain on prayer shows that a person is experiencing peace and calm. If we feel calm and peaceful, we have a better chance of making healthier decisions in life. Prayer makes us calm and positions us for good work. Tibetan monks are known for spending hours in prayer and meditation.  Psychologist Dr. John Luetzow gathered with me and several other pastors to assess our pastoral ministry. He shared a couple research results regarding Tibetan monks.  PET brain scans of the monks while they were in a state of deep meditation showed their brain was no longer sending sensory information to the Orientation Association Area of the brain, the part of the brain that distinguishes between the self and the not self, generating an experience of being one with everything. Researcher Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin conducted an experiment arranging several subjects to meet with a certain “narcissistic” professor who was very much disliked. One by one, a number of subjects were placed in a room with the professor.  In each instance, there was very quickly a disturbance in the room, and the subjects came out quite frustrated. When a Tibetan Buddhist monk was placed in the room, there was no disturbance and soon the monk and the professor came out arm in arm, the best of friends. The conclusion was that the monk did not react to the professor which allowed the professor to remain civil and they were able to get along. 

Prayer changes us. James, the brother of Jesus is encouraging us to pray when we are in trouble. Praying does not guarantee a certain result, but those researching the power of prayer show that prayer is a good thing.  Dr. Randolph Byrd a cardiologist at the University of California at San Francisco School of Medicine conducted a study in 1988. Data on about 400 patients showed that half were prayed for, not at their bedside, but at a distance. They did not know someone was assigned to pray for them. Those patients required less ventilator assistance, fewer antibiotics and diuretics, and had less pneumonia than the group that was not prayed.

Research also shows that prayer – particularly positive prayer – helps us manage our anger. Angry prayers can stir up anger in us. We’ve heard of prayers of hell and damnation stirring up unholy fear and guilt instead of faith. Loving prayer also makes it easier to love others and it boosts our ability to forgive one another. Once again, in many ways, we are reminded that prayer changes things.

Trouble aside, James the brother of Jesus goes on to ask, “Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.” Music soothes and comforts us in wonderful ways. Music is a powerful way to celebrate the great things we have done by the power of God and it inspires us to connect to God and do the great things God has in store for us to do.

Songs of praise to God take us to higher heights and deeper depths in our relationship to God and to one another. Psychologists have advised that relationships become strong when we share 9 affirming words for every critical word that we share with someone. It goes along with the saying that people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. A famous Maya Angelou quote resonates as well. She said “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Giving and receiving affirmations makes for a kinder, gentler world. It is a lesson ALL of us need to learn.

Prayer and praise make us feel good, and it can also make us DO good. We can learn when it is time to pray and meditate and study God’s word and when it is time to take action. Family therapist Paul Hokemeyer says   “One of the purposes of prayer and meditation is to regain our footing so that we can step out into the world and take positive action: we reconnect, re-center, recharge and gain the strength necessary to take steps that will create real change. In other words, prayer is the fuel that lights the fire of action.”

There is a saying – God gave us music that we might pray without words. You may have seen recent commentaries on the therapeutic value of music. One injured veteran regained the ability to speak with music therapy. There is music that moves us into God’s healing presence, not perfectly, but persistently. Years ago, I felt a strong urge to gift a woman with a cd by acclaimed harpist Jeff Majors. The next Sunday after she listened to it, her response was over the top. She had found the music to be such a great comfort and source of healing. This was true for her son as well. They had both been diagnosed with a certain debilitating mental illness. God provided music that brought the illness to its knees.  

In one recent study conducted by NYU Langone Medical Center, members of Alcoholics Anonymous were placed in an MRI scanner and then shown drinking-related images to stimulate cravings (it worked, which sounds pretty cruel). But the cravings were soon after reduced when the participants — you guessed it — prayed. The MRI data showed changes in parts of the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for the control of emotion and "the semantic reappraisal of emotion," the study cited.**

Scott McDermott, a United Methodist minister, serving Washington Crossing UMC has prayed at least two hours a day for the past 25 years. He notes "I think we're wired for the supernatural." I agree. The children of God are wired for the supernatural. Our September season of spiritual renewal is a time to see and hear God close up. There may be something supernatural ahead of us.

James, the brother of Jesus goes on to ask in verse 14 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 

16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

James, the brother of Jesus, leaves us scratching our heads. We have to ask ourselves, we have to ask the scriptures, and we have to ask God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: who are the elders? What kind of prayer should be prayed? And, what do you have to do to be righteous enough for your prayers to be powerful and effective? Most of us are more likely to be intimidated by the example that James gives where Elijah prayed and stopped the rain for three years. Was it exactly three years? Was it a figurative rain or a wet rain? Some answers may be in a book or in a sermon. Many answers are found as we walk the walk and talk the talk.

Answers can be complex. Sociologist Charles Perrow notes –“We don't understand the consequences that our prayers, if answered, might generate.” When we pray for our favorite team to win, or for someone to be healed instead of go to Heaven, we can’t know all the details of all the results. Whatever disappointment and suffering we endure after praying leads us to endurance. We grow stronger and learn critical lessons when we endure by God’s grace. Endurance builds character. And we all appreciate people with great character, especially in the church.

We might think that we have no time to invest in all that prayer requires of us, but in reality, no one has any time to pray. We have to take time from other valuable activities in life in order to pray. Prayer becomes a priority if we want more of God’s goodness in our lives. A life without prayer is a life full of unnecessary risks. We can believe that the enemy is praying, the witches and warlocks are praying their prayers of hexes and curses on Christians. We had better pray, too.

If we gain anything from our September season of spiritual renewal may it be that we become rooted and grounded in so much of God’s love that we keep the conversation going…that we always pray, that we always listen and that we always speak God’s truth in love. Let it be so today and always. Amen. 


*Crystal Cavaness works for at United Methodist Communications August 26, 2021.




Friday, August 27, 2021

Message: “Equality” Tyler Collins - August 29, 2021


Message: “Equality” Tyler Collins - August 29, 2021


Picture little Peggy Sue and Dale are out on a field trip to get some ice cream and they both paid to get a double scoop ice cream cone but Dale winds up getting another scoop for free. Little Peggy Sue storms off upset because they paid the same price and little Dale got an extra scoop. What is this feeling that Peggy Sue is feeling? What does she want out of this situation? Equality!  Equality is defined as the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, and opportunities. Little Peggy Sue wanted to have the same amount of ice cream as her friend. She wanted to be treated equal! Equality is important in society and it is needed. Without it, look what has happened throughout history! Countless lives lost or people hurt all because people don’t view others as equal when in fact we actually all are equal. Equal in the sense that we are all living breathing creatures on this earth out here for a reason, to speed God’s love and show everyone that we are equal! We all breathe in God's beautiful world that makes us equal. We all have family and friends that go out and work, some for different wages than others but they are all still equal! God never wanted anyone to not be treated equal! There’s countless examples throughout the Bible. Here’s one in Ephesians 2 chapter 14 it says “14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,” I interpret this as God himself is the one that brings us love and tranquility and shows us how to treat others as equal and sets the standards for what equality is! If only people wouldn’t label themselves in a group and just be a single congregation together! It would solve so many problems in today’s world if we would all come together as one! Just think if everyone decided to stop labeling themselves as jocks, geeks, preppy so on and so forth, how much more together the world would be! If only we could all come together as one to show the world that everyone is equal! Another example is in 1 John chapter 2 verse 2 it says “2He (Jesus) is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” This Bible verse shows that God gave us a reason not to hate and treat everyone equally! He is willing to give up something he loves so much just for us and to show us that we are all mortal and equal people no matter what! To close things up just remember that equality is so important in life! It’s what keeps people together and maybe just maybe if we can work together to treat people equally the world can and will become a better place small steps at a time. Next time you’re in a situation eating ice cream with little Peggy Sue and little Dale just think, is that equal. Thank you!

 Pastor Hines' Reflections: 

1.Very thoughtful words from Tyler

2. He reminds us not to get attached to labels, to get past the world’s labels and see what God sees in one another

3. There a more opportunities than can be counted to connect to one another in the UMC. They are scary opportunities because none of us wants to be in a conversation or workshop or webinar and feel like we come short, we want others to label us and identify us as culturally competent, as not biased.

4. One of the opportunities we’ve had online – a little safer – is the class called “What We Think We Don’t Think.”

5. As Christians we learn many biases – consciously and unconsciously and we spend our lifetime submitting to the work of the Holy Spirit in us so that we will not be conformed to the world. Rather we surrender to the Holy Spirit so that our minds can be renewed.

6. Conversation is critical – conversation is complicated – My friend’s daughter is a 30 ish young black woman - wears stilettos, and after being fed up with so much racial strife, she went downtown to Philadelphia – she was roughed up by a black police officer…conversation is complex.

After George Floyd’s death May 2020 – I have been a part of A United Methodist Asian Caucus – over 50 Asian countries - that has gathered on zoom to talk and share what it is like to be targeted with violence in the Asian American Community. I have participated in similar zoom every month to hear the voices of the Latin Americans.

A few years ago United Methodist women national did a documentary on systematic poverty. Recently, I see they published a great work on the LGBTQ community. Conversation is critical. We learn so much and we are more able to be partners with the Holy Spirit.

7. Complicated dynamics can make our prayers complicated. It is good to pray as Mary Tyson has emphasized from the words of Jesus – Not our will be done but your will be done, God.

8. Pray without ceasing, research shows that prayer goes beyond the mere thoughts that come to our minds, prayer goes through walls, prayer is powerful…and mysterious, not a magic bullet or a cure all or a guarantee, but we do it anyway.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Sermon: “Pre-Revival: Do You Also Want to Leave Jesus” Pastor Hines August 22, 2021


Sermon: “Pre-Revival: Do You Also Want to Leave Jesus”

Pastor Hines

August 22, 2021

The August lectionary has a focus on the gospel of John and Jesus declaring that he is the bread of life.  He is the source of our spiritual nutrition that which our souls hunger for most, the reminder that we cannot live by physical bread alone, but abundant life is ours when we hear and heed the word of wisdom from scripture and as God directs us in our daily walk and conversation with God. Because Jesus is the bread of life, we will always have a feast, even during a famine and we will always have strength to love, even when we are plagued by hatred in our hearts or in the hearts of those around us.

We have no time in THIS world for hate. The second leading cause of death among Millennials (23-38) is suicide. And that is just one part of our global family. There is no room for hate. We should prayerfully  love on everybody because we don’t always know what someone is going through. We can turn our cares into prayers.

It is wonderful in this world that though there may be miles and decades between us, we are still able to find ways to be together and stay together as a nation, as a family, as a global community. At the same time most of us have watched with sadness as relationships turn sour, marriages unravel, and emotional distance keeps us apart, forming family feuds.

There is plenty of bad news. Nevertheless, we are to be the good news. We are to bring the good news. 

Ben Courson is the Founder of Hope Generation that works to bring hope in this world, just like we do in our churches.  He suggests that news broadcasters always give us the bad news first because bad news sticks to our brains like Velcro. However, he suggests, in order to keep good news in our life, we have to hold onto it consciously. If we do not hold onto Good News for at least 15 seconds, it becomes like water going through a sieve. That makes meditating on the scriptures even more important if we are going to survive as well as thrive.

This world is so very complicated that we’d be a fool not to put our faith in God. In the myriad of emotions, we can barely understand our own hearts, much less the hearts of our family, friends, and neighbors. As we pray, as we sit still before God, the host of Heaven and an army of angels, we gain insights and direction that can save our lives and save our relationships our families, our churches, our communities.  God gives us lightbulb moments, dreams, visions and people who love us enough and are skilled enough to speak the truth in love to us and others.

We live in a world with pockets of violence, fires gone wild, floods coming out of nowhere, epidemics of road rage, malicious-suspicious-invisible diseases, dire needs, great distresses, and hoarding of vaccines with some countries having stockpiles and others have none. We enjoy gasoline prices much lower than others while oil slicks wipe out small fishing villages. This world we live in is a mess. Thank God for Jesus.

Those who live without Jesus are missing out on the best thing that could ever happen to them.  For Jesus is light in our darkness, Jesus is creation in our chaos. How wonderful it is to have the comfort of God’s word in the bible, testimonies that lift our spirits, and the power of the Holy Spirit moving in us and around us thankfully, to bring God’s kin-dom on earth as it is in Heaven – even if for a moment, or a season. The peace filled, love filled kin-dom does indeed come on earth among us.

This world is not only a mess, it can be a lonely place at times, especially when situations are getting worse instead of better. People can scatter and lose their emotional and physical balance in times of turmoil. Many today are more isolated than ever, more lonely than ever, farther away from loved ones and friends than ever, and the older we get, the more our connections may change in a moment’s notice. Jesus tells his disciples the good news that he is with them in the most life sustaining and life changing ways.

He is the bread of life, the bread from Heaven. For that reason, bread is now the ultimate symbol of sacrifice, of love, of life – particularly life everlasting, life eternal. In order to have Jesus in our lives and in order to be in Jesus’ life as a disciple, we have to be all in, thoroughly consumed with who Christ is and can be in our lives. We must incorporate the sacrifice of his whole being and the love that drove him to let go of everything – even his very life, in order to hold on to us. We must digest the word of life in the scripture, in prayer, we must feast on the word and fellowship with God’s people, thoroughly enmeshed in God’s goodness, filled to overflowing in every pore of our being with who God the father, the son, and the Holy Spirit is and is to come. We can begin with Ben Corson’s advice, prayerfully hold onto Good News for at least 15 seconds and hopefully it will stick.

Prayer is the key for digesting our daily bread. Talking to God is the remedy that opens the floodgates of healing and hope. As we humble ourselves and pray, Jesus is in us and we are in him.

There is an intimacy in eating and drinking that envelops and consumes us in incomprehensible ways. Eating and drinking are a regular part of our fellowship for good reasons. There are exciting aromas and pleasant tastes we experience as we gather that are intermingled, indescribable and yet can bring a lifetime of joy and memories that sustain us year after year. That is why so often when we gather we tell stories of the past that give us joy in the present.

Stories of happy times that have occurred among family and friends, help patients in a coma recover faster according to Dr. Richard Becker. The joyful memories restore the brain. We have heard often that a person in a coma can hear, they just cannot respond. Sharing happy stories is a blessing in most any situation because it is a way of witnessing and showing how God has poured out blessings upon us. It is, as the scripture tells us a way to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” Sharing happy stories at any time in our lives is a way to be positive and positivity “wakes” us up and encourages us when we might be discouraged, and invites us to be with one another in loving ways, even pushing back some pain and aborting a few bad dreams or nightmares we’ve had from time to time.

As we commune with Jesus and with one another, we feast, remembering the power and love that has sustained us. We remember Jesus is the bread of life, crushed and broken that we might live life abundantly. Jesus becomes a part of us. Jesus, the Lord of Lords and King of Kings, ruler of everything is a part of us, is in us. He is in every beat of our hearts, he is in the words that come out of our mouths. Others can taste and see the essence of holiness by watching us and the way we treat each other, especially how we treat least, the last, the lost. The world watching us can see his light as we walk into a room. Jesus is in our lives. As disciples, we are in his life, too. If we know him as the bread of LIFE, as verse 56 says, we remain in him and he remains in us. 

Not everybody believes that Jesus is the bread of life, not everybody commits to that, not everybody who commits to that keeps their commitment. 60 Many of his disciples who heard this said, “This message is harsh. Who can hear it?” Can you hear it? Can you commit to having Jesus be Lord in your life? Are you ready to remember every day that you cannot live by bread alone, but you must live by every word that comes from the mouth of God? Will you remember even when there is no bread on the table that we are taught to pray for God to grant us our daily bread and wait and wait and wait some more, knowing that God is faithful. Yes, we can commit and we will remember that it is the power of the Holy Spirit in us that helps us to keep our commitment.  For as Jesus says in verse 63 “It is the Spirit that gives life. The Christian life can be costly. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was willing to give up his life for what he believed was right, wrote the book entitled The Cost of Discipleship.

Some of those listening to Jesus were not willing to follow him because they did not believe. There was nothing in them that God could work with, so Jesus says in verse 65 He said, “For this reason I said to you that none can come to me unless the Father enables them to do so.”  How might God enable someone? God may have to do a work in them, perhaps to wrestle with them, to mold and shape them so that they could understand and become enabled to choose Jesus. Or it seems God weeps and works with us and waits as we wander in the wilderness far from the peaceful shores.

When they heard Jesus was the bread of life, they realized he was not guaranteeing them any “dough” as in money. He wasn’t offering them any food either. Even in our society when there are 40 grocery stores in many communities, there are still those who need food. We can imagine what it was like in the ancient developing world.

Without the guarantee for what they wanted most, verse 66 says, “…many of Jesus disciples turned away and no longer accompanied him.

67 Jesus asked the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Peter was the spokesperson for the rest of the disciples68 Simon Peter answered, “Lord, where would we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We believe and know that you are God’s holy one.”

There are days that we too may want to leave Jesus, but the Holy Spirit rises up in us, stirs up our gifts and helps us to use our unique gifts and by the grace and mercy of God, we yield, we surrender, we submit to God’s will above our own and say, “Yes, Lord, Yes, Lord to YOUR will and your way.” Let it be so for you today and forever.

Friday, August 13, 2021

“Jars of Clay” – David Wilhauer August 15, 2021


“Jars of Clay” – David Wilhauer

August 15, 2021 

The very first word of our text for today is “Therefore.”  Therefore what?  Well, it’s “therefore” something that came before 2 Corinthians 4, verse 1.  Specifically, what “therefore” refers to starts in chapter 3, verses 7-9.

Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! 

“Therefore” refers to the ministry that we have.  The ministry through God’s Holy Spirit.  This passage first makes reference to the law.  Paul writes that the ministry that was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory.  He’s referring, of course, to the Ten Commandments.  And he notes that ministry brought death.  That means that if you broke the law, you were condemned.  And keep in mind that no one could keep the law.  That is true of both the law and its many, many requirements.  There was the Mosaic law, then the Talmud, which was comprised of the Mishnah, (rabbinical discussions of the law), and the Gemara, (a commentary on the Mishnah).  And then there was a commentary on the commentary.  It was nit-picking at its finest.  And no one, especially the common person, could ever hope to keep the Jewish law.

Jesus brought new meaning to the law (took it to a higher level) when he said that if you even think wrong or evil thoughts, it is just as sinful as if you had committed them.

Bottom line:  The law brings death.

And yet, Paul tells us that it brought glory.  It certainly was delivered in a glorious way, on Mount Sinai.  That glory could be seen on the face of Moses when he came down from the mountain.  And we have to acknowledge the fact that the law brings glory to God.  It demonstrates his authority, his power, and his sovereignty.

Paul recognizes this, but then adds, “will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious?”  He goes onto say, “If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness!”

Paul frequently used logic in his writings.  And we have to agree with his line of reasoning.  If the ministry which condemned was glorious, the ministry that brings righteousness, the ministry that saves souls for eternity, would be so much more glorious.

He brings it home in verses 10 & 11.

10 For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. 11 And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!

That is the “therefore” in our text for today.  This amazing, glorious, unsurpassed ministry that comes to us as the result of the love, life, sacrifice, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The ministry that brings righteousness.  Wow!  This is really, really special.

In fact, at the beginning of our text for today, Paul tells us that “since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.”  This new ministry that we have through grace, gives us encouragement.

Paul next goes on to assure his readers in Corinth that what he is telling them is the truth.  That he has not changed or manipulated the message in any way.  Look at verse 2.

Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 

Notice that Paul refers to “every man  This new ministry was not something that was reserved for the scholars, not something that was intended for the spiritually elite, those who had special intelligence or unusual insight.  The message certainly appeals to scholars, but it is in its essence a message for the uninstructed mind and sincere conscience of the ordinary person.  And that was revolutionary.  That certainly flew in the face of what everyone believed about the religious authorities of Judaism. 

What we find in the gospel is the truth about God and man, and therefore it corresponds to universal human needs and aspirations.

Paul next clears up a common misconception.  When someone dies who never received Christ as their Lord and Savior, there are those who say, “Well, I guess it was God’s will.”  Or some other statement that indicates that God has some say in who does and does not receive his free gift of salvation.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  It is God’s will that EVERYONE is saved.  In John 6, we read… 

39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

It is not God who prevents a person from seeing the message.  Look at our text, verses 3 & 4. 

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Notice that Paul refers to the “god of this age,”,  has a lower case “g”.  And who is the “god of this age?”  It is Satan, of course.  Satan knows that he has lost the war.  Jesus has triumphed over sin and death.  But the battle for the souls of those who are still on this earth is one that Satan is very serious about. 

He wants to cause as many as possible to be blinded to the “light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.”  And how does he do it?  It’s all about choices.  If we can’t see the light, the true light, we make the wrong choice.  And one wrong choice leads to another, and the next thing you know, we are so far from the truth that we can no longer see the glory of Christ.

That is NOT God’s will.  He sent his Holy Spirit to open our eyes to have us know and understand the gospel.  Look at verse 6.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

 So, we have this glorious ministry.  We have this incredible message that brings light…true light…into our lives.  It is a light that gives us “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”  And where do we put it?  Verse 7:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay…

The light of the knowledge of the glory of God is a treasure.  It is this infinitely precious thing that we have been given to carry with us and most importantly pass it on to others through our lives and our witness.  Why would we put it in a jar of clay?  Think about it.  What exactly does that mean?  You see, a clay jar is not exactly the best vessel in which to keep something of value; especially something this valuable.  First of all, a clay jar can easily be broken.  Next it is hardly secure.  And finally, being made out of a porous material, it leaks.

Of course, Paul isn’t talking about a literal jar of clay.  He’s talking about us.  So why then would we be chosen to carry this treasure?

Look at the rest of verse 7. To show that the power comes from God and not us?  Well, that’s good, because we certainly know that we are imperfect.  In fact, Paul gives four examples of contrasts or paradoxes that are present in our lives when we carry this treasure.  Look at verses 8 & 9.

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

It sounds like there is going to be trouble, doesn’t it?  [P]  I don’t like trouble.  If we then, are the imperfect ones responsible for carrying this treasure, it would be easy…in fact almost expected for us to make excuses:

“We’re only made of clay.”

“We’re not very good.  We’re imperfect.”

“We’re not very strong.”

“We’re easily broken.”  In fact, sometimes we embarrassingly say, “I was broken and have been patched back together.”

“We are hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down.”

“I’m sure that you can find someone else who would be better.”

But then it’s not the vessel that others are to see.  Others are supposed to see the treasure inside.  And the vessel doesn’t have to be perfect.  It’s good enough.  Look again at verse 7. 

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

Anyone who sees such treasure, held by our feeble and imperfect bodies, and put into practice by our daily living and actions, would understand that such living could not come from our own strength or power.  And it certainly would not come from our own goodness.

He says in verse 5, 5For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord.”  The focus is not on us, but on the treasure.

It’s the treasure that sustains us.  Paul further describes that treasured knowledge in verse 14:  14because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence.”

Yes, in our world today, it would be easy to give up.  It would be easy to make excuses…and there are many that are available.  And isn’t that the way of the world today?  No one wants to take responsibility for anything.  But Paul tells us through his letter that we are “it.”  We have been chosen to carry the saving message of Jesus Christ…not to those who already have it…but to those who are in need of it.

 “16Therefore we do not lose heart,” Paul writes in this letter.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Outwardly, we are wasting away.  Most of us certainly know what that is all about.  Recently, I saw this book at the store.  [READ TITLE]  There is a certain segment of our society today who is obsessed with maintaining their youth.  Granted, we have an obligation to take care of our physical bodies.  But let’s face it, they wear out.  Paul tells us that even “though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”

This graph shows the reciprocal relationship that should exist between the physical and the spiritual.  As the physical, (the red line), declines, the spiritual, (the blue line), should increase.  It’s as if we are building up deposits “on account.”  Some have said that “old age is like a bank account.  You withdrawal what you have deposited along the way.”

I would say that eternity is like a bank account.  We should be laying up treasure in heaven, and when we carry the treasure of the “glory of God in the face of Christ,” we are doing just that.

Paul says that our “light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”  Be reminded that our works do not earn us our eternal reward. The Greek word for “achieve” is katergazomai (kat-er-gad'-zom-ahee), and is more accurately translated “to do work fully” or “to finish”.  We are called to consistently live for Christ, to have his example in the forefront of our lives daily, to carry it to the finish line, and in doing so, we bring glory, not to ourselves, but to God.

Paul issues a reminder in verse 18.  He tells us to “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

That is hard to do.  All we know is what we see.  And how do we fix our “eyes” on what is unseen anyway?  Impossible, right?  Yes it is…without faith.  Faith is what is required if we are to successfully carry this treasure in our clay jars.

When we get “down” about the limitations that confront us from every angle, we must learn to be content, as Paul also wrote in Philippians:  12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

And in Romans 12:  2Do not conform any longer 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.”

And we have the promise…the glorious promise that God will sustain us, in our text for today.

8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

And we get to do it all with jars of clay. Correction:  God gets to do it all with jars of clay.