Mark 4:35-41. That evening, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side.” Leaving the crowd, they took Jesus along in a boat just as he was. Other boats were with him. A violent windstorm came up. The waves were breaking into the boat so that it was quickly filling up. But he was sleeping on a cushion in the back of the boat. So they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to die?” Then he got up, ordered the wind to stop, and said to the sea, “Be still, absolutely still!” The wind stopped blowing, and the sea became very calm. He asked them, “Why are you such cowards? Don’t you have any faith yet?” They were overcome with fear and asked each other, “Who is this man? Even the wind and the sea obey him!”

I saw a couple of things that I don’t recall seeing before when I’ve read this passage. One was that there were other boats. The other thing that struck me was when it said, “They took Jesus just as he was.” What does that mean. Just as he was? Jesus had been preaching all day under the bright sunshine. He was probably hungry, and also sweaty and tired. “They took Jesus just as he was.” He was still in the same garments that he had worn in the heat of the day.

Now the sun was setting and the temperature was falling. Jesus had no robe to wear against the chill breeze that was pushed ahead of the storm. By laying in the bottom of the boat, he could avoid most of the wind. Tired as he was, he slept. He was traveling with men who were experienced fishermen. He trusted their ability to cross the sea.

A violent windstorm came up. I don’t know if this storm was a natural occurrence or the work of the evil one. Both are possibilities. Whatever the cause, this storm was so violent that these experience sailors were more than worried. They were terrified.

They saw Jesus sleeping and woke him. What did they expect of him? Did they just wake him to share I their panic, or to help pail water out of the boat? Clearly, they did not expect what happened next.

What happened next frightened them possibly more than the storm. He commanded the wind and the waves to stop, to become perfectly calm. And then … and then this man who spoke and wind and waves obeyed, looked each of them up and down and pronounced them to be cowards. “Don’t you have any faith yet?” These were his chosen. The men with which He would begin a spiritual revolution. How disappointing to realize that, in spite of his teaching and the mighty signs he had show them, they still lacked the faith that he would protect them.

Now we jump ahead a short time and witness another storm pin the sea.

Mark 6:45-52. Jesus quickly made his disciples get into a boat and cross to Bethsaida ahead of him while he sent the people away.

Jesus was not done serving the people, but it was getting late so he sent the disciples out onto the sea to Bethsaida to make the way ready for him.

After saying goodbye to them, he went up a mountain to pray. When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea, and he was alone on the land.

Once everyone was gone, Jesus went up the mountain to pray. I would love to hear those prayers. When Jesus spoke to his father. I imagine it to be something like this, “Hey, papa, such men you gave me! Children, all of them! They make me laugh and they make me cry. I’ve told them in a hundred different ways what the future holds and what I expect of them. But they hear with their ears only. It’s not sinking in to true understanding. Look at them.

Jesus saw that they were in a lot of trouble as they rowed, because they were going against the wind.

Jesus continued his conversation with the father. Look at them. A short time ago they, in a different storm, were in such a panic they nearly wet themselves. But look. Though the wind and waves are again against them, this time they are battling on, pulling together on the oars. They don’t know it yet, by but the time is coming when they will need that perseverance. But I’d better go out there to them. Love you, Dad. Talk to you soon.

Between three and six o’clock in the morning, he came to them. He was walking on the sea. He wanted to pass by them. When they saw him walking on the sea, they thought, “It’s a ghost!” and they began to scream. All of them saw him and were terrified. Immediately, he said, “Calm down! It’s me. Don’t be afraid!” He got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped blowing.

Can’t you just hear Jesus under his breath saying, “See, Dad? Children.”

It appears to me that, though Jesus was watching over them, it was his intent that they continue to struggle under their own power … or use the power he, had given them. The author said that they still did not understand, that their minds were closed.

How many storms in our lives do we have to go through before our minds are opened and we understand what Jesus is teaching us? We need not fear the storm, if we trust in him. If we truly trust in the Lord there are only two possibilities. He will either see us safely through life’s storms or he will call us home. That’s a win win.

©2021 Thomas E. Williams

Practicing Our Faith

Practicing Our Faith
Matthew 6:1-4, 16-21 (CEB)
By: Bishop Laurie Haller “Be careful that you don’t practice your religion in front of people to draw their attention. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 2 Whenever you give to the poor, don’t blow your trumpet as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets so that they may get praise from people. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. 3 But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing 4 so that you may give to the poor in secret. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.”
16 “And when you fast, don’t put on a sad face like the hypocrites. They distort their faces so people will know they are fasting. I assure you that they have their reward. 17 When you fast, brush your hair and wash your face. 18 Then you won’t look like you are fasting to people, but only to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 19 Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them. 20 Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them. 21 Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Practicing Our Faith

I’ll never forget that morning. In 1993, my husband Gary and I were appointed to be co-pastors of First United Methodist Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. After twelve years of pastoring separately in different churches, Gary and I were going to be serving together. I have to admit I was a little apprehensive about being in a big steeple city church after serving much smaller churches.

On our first Sunday in July, our three children, who were going to enter sixth, fourth, and first grade, sat alone in the front pew of this large Gothic style sanctuary. After all, we didn’t know anyone yet, and that way we could keep an eye out on the kids. That was our first mistake. When the time came for the children to be introduced, they marched up the stairs to the chancel area, whereupon our middle child, Garth, started waving his hands to the congregation just like a politician. I could feel my face turning red with embarrassment. But that was nothing compared to Garth making a paper airplane from the church bulletin and flying it from the front pew during the sermon.

What does it mean to practice your religion in front of others? In our human quest to be acknowledged and recognized, how do we act? What is fame, anyway? What is success? What does it mean to be honored? Does it mean our name is splattered all over the tabloids? Does it mean that every action we take is scrutinized by an adoring public? Where should the reward for living a good life come from? From an adoring public, from our colleagues, or from the church?
And what about Lent? The six weeks preceding Easter are often seen as a time of not only giving up something for Lent, but more often adding something. Some people give up candy for Lent, or chocolate, or coffee, or desserts. Others fast on a certain day during Lent. The idea is that when we give up something that meaningful to us, we learn about spiritual disciplines.

On the other hand, some people add things to their lives during Lent. Perhaps it’s joining a short-term study group, reading through the gospels, visiting someone in a nursing home once a week, or giving extra money to a mission cause.
In Jesus’ day there were three great works of the religious life: almsgiving (or giving to the poor), prayer, and fasting. To the Jews, almsgiving was the most sacred of all religious duties. Jesus certainly does not dispute here that giving to the poor is important. What troubled Jesus was the motive of many of the Jews, who made a big show of giving their money in the synagogues so that others could see how much God had blessed them.

In the same way, it was tempting for the Jews to flaunt their prayer life, which was the second work of the religious life. Some liked to parade their righteousness publicly by praying on the street corners. This is how it was known that they were carrying out exactly what God wanted them to do.

And then there was fasting. The Jews fasted as a sign of mourning; in order to atone for sin; as an outward expression of an inward sorrow; and as a symbol of national penitence. Or they would fast in preparation for a revelation from God.
Could it be that Jesus wants us to learn from this scripture that we shouldn’t practice our religion in front of others in order to be recognized? What do you do in secret? Are you doing anything in secret? Are you pleasing God at all?

Henri Nouwen, who was one of the most perceptive spiritual writers of his time and was one of my professors at Yale Divinity School, wrote a book entitled Letters to Marc about Jesus. It was addressed to his 19-year-old nephew in Holland. Listen to what Nouwen wrote to Marc, “I don’t think you’ll ever be able to penetrate the mystery of God’s revelation in Jesus until it strikes you that the major part of Jesus’ life was hidden and that even the public years remained invisible as far as most people were concerned. Whereas the way of the world is to insist on publicity, celebrity, popularity, and getting maximum exposure, God prefers to work in secret. In God’s sight, the things that really matter seldom take place in public.”
As we enter the holy season of Lent on Ash Wednesday, how is God calling you to practice your faith? What spiritual disciplines might you embrace to help others claim the good news of Jesus Christ and seek treasures in heaven?

Let us pray. God, grant that we would discover the secret of living in your presence. Grant us wisdom and courage to yield to your intentions and purpose for our lives. Grant us insight to discern what is pleasing to you and give us strength to do it. Help us not to live glib and superficial lives but cleanse us by our confessions and make us worthy disciples, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

©2021 Bishop Laurie Haller

Living to benefit the Lord

Mark 8:34-38
When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

Heavenly Father, we worship and thank you, and we rejoice for this day that you have made.
Jesus, Son of God, we claim you and proclaim you as our Savior and our Lord.
Spirit of God descend upon us and help us to love God with our hearts, our minds and our soul.
What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?
There was a young man in the 12th Century Italy, who was scared of losing his own soul because his father was rich, a textile businessman. This young man kept telling his friend, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and lose his own soul?” This young man took some of his father’s merchandise, sold them and tried to give the money to the priest to be given to the poor as needed. The father asked the church to discipline the young man. The young man appeared before the church authorities and his father. Instead of apologizing to his father, this young man removed all his clothes and gave them to his father. Totally naked he declared that from then on he will be a poor monk and the Heavenly Father shall be his provider. From his hometown’s porciuncula, or little church, he reached the world with his preaching and became to be known as St. Francis of Assisi. His disciples, the Franciscans, reached many nations around the world. Francis even preached to a Muslim leader in Egypt.
What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?
I used to work as a manager of a Gold Mining Business in the Philippines. Working in the mountains is so complex which included dealing with illegal miners, rebels and the military operations. I knew I have seen hell when my wife and I almost died in one of the gun-battles. Our lives could have been wasted in search of gold. One director of the Mines Bureau told me, “There is no job worth dying for.”
I shared this with my father, Isaac Colorado. He himself gave up his military career for the sacrificial work of a pastor in the country. My father admired my professional job and he also said that the Mines Director may be correct, except for the evangelist’s job. He said that after dodging the bullets in the military service, God somehow showed him that there is a job really worth dying for—the salvation of the world. Its Jesus’ sacrificial job and we are invited to join this very humbling work. The apostle Paul expressed the concept for us, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)”
We are living in difficult times. Many lives are being lost. I pause and think and hope that it’s not too late to make use of our lives that benefits the Lord and our soul.
We need to care for ourselves and for each other. But let us not forget to keep the main thing as the main thing for the Church. Jesus the Christ is our Lord whose job was and is to save the whole world. I like the United Methodist Church because we can act locally and make an impact globally. Coming from the Philippines I see myself as an evidence that the global UMC system of American Methodist Mission works great. Let us not lose our great task of evangelizing the world. When we are able to save the soul of the world, we have practically saved our own.
Let us pray:
Make me a channel of your peace
Where there is hatred let me bring your love Where there is injury, your pardon Lord And where there’s doubt, true faith in you.
Make me a channel of your peace It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
In giving of ourselves that we receive.
And in dying that we are born to eternal life.
The love of God, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

©2021 By Rev. Dr. Moody Colorado, Northeast Iowa Region Superintendent

Knowing our Identity

Knowing our Identity
By: Rev. Melissa Drake, Southwest Iowa. Region Superintendent

Mark 1:9-13 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan River. 10. As Jesus came out of the water, he saw heaven split open and the Spirit coming down to him as a dove. 11. A voice from heaven said, “You are my Son, whom I love. I am pleased with you.” 12. At once the Spirit brought him into the desert, 13. where he was tempted by Satan for 40 days. He was there with the wild animals, and the angels took care of him.

We are in the first week of Lent—and this Sunday begins our journey of the next 40 days, leading the church up to Easter. The Lenten season is designed to be a mirror for us: it’s a way for us to witness to Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness, as he prepares to begin his ministry.

For Christians, Lent has historically been the yearly season for us to examine ourselves in that same mirror: to spend time in deep personal reflection and preparation as we get ready to commit ourselves to living into the way of Jesus: the way of his baptism, life, death and Resurrection.

For the church it is our season together of reflecting and preparing for the ministries of sharing the Good News of the Resurrection with the world that so desperately needs to hear and see and touch and feel that they are beloved of God.

Lent, this season always known for its austerity—the season where the days are getting longer, but not necessarily getting better—always begins this same way: with Jesus’ baptism and then immediate temptation out in the wilderness. And this year we hear from Mark, chapter 1, verses 9-13:
About that time, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. While he was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw heaven splitting open and the Spirit, like a dove, coming down on him. And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”
At once the Spirit forced Jesus out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among the wild animals, and the angels took care of him.

Lent always begins this very same way, and I think sometimes, we, in the church get obsessed over the temptation and the wilderness part, and not so much over the baptism and the naming and claiming part.

And this year of all years, it is a year for us to remember the naming and claiming part: The way the clouds split open and the sun must have been dazzling; the way the wind must have blown, maybe in that wild spring way that makes us adventurous and crazy and ready to go out in the world again, or maybe it blew in that soft spring way that wraps us in the warmth of better days coming; and then the voice. That voice coming from the heavens that says, “You are mine. You are beloved. In your very being I find happiness.”

As Bishop Laurie shared in her devotion last week, Lent has historically been a season to give something up: and that can be such a powerful discipline. We need this time to examine ourselves, to pay attention to what we need to give up and let go so that we can follow Jesus more nearly and dearly. This is a season of giving things up and letting things go as we practice our faith; but it’s also a season of holding on as well. Throughout his time in the wilderness,
Jesus held on to the identity and relationship with God that was so clearly expressed at his baptism.
Friends, as we recommit ourselves to living in the way of Jesus, we need this time of holding on as well. A holding on to what cannot be changed, but what can so easily be forgotten or overshadowed or lost: that deep KNOWING of identity: that deep knowing of belovedness. That deep knowing of relationship, of who we are and who we belong to. And that deep knowing of being absolutely enough, at our very core, for God to delight in us without having to produce anything or accomplish anything.
What would happen to our church communities if we spent the next 40 days holding on to this identity, within our own spirts, during our own times of temptations that tell us that we aren’t enough. That other people have it more and better. That if only we worked a little harder, we’d be more worthy.

And I wonder, what would it be like in our church communities, if we could do this for each other, even in these longer days that don’t always seem to be getting better? If all of our words and all of our work in the next 40 days were about reminding each other, showing each other that we are beloved of God—to remind each other that there is nothing, neither height, nor depth, nor zoom church, nor sub zero temperatures, there is neither pandemic, nor politics, nor temptations or just plain old fatigue that can separate us from the love of our God. And our care for each other.

Friends, this is the promise we made to each other at our baptisms: this is our work of the church: to be connected together. To watch over one another in love. To remind each other of who and whose we are. So that, out of our union with Christ, in his baptism of death and resurrection, we can take this good news out into the world and say and show: World: you, too, are God’s beloved.
May you be blessed; may you hold on.

And may “The God of all grace, who has called us to eternal glory in Christ, establish you and strengthen you by the power of the Holy Spirit that you may live in grace and peace. Amen.” (Baptismal Covenant II, UMH pg. 39).

©2021 Rev. Melissa Drake


Jonah Chapter One

1 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” 3 But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.

4 But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up. 5 Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried to his god. They threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten it for them. Jonah, meanwhile, had gone down into the hold of the ship and had lain down, and was fast asleep. 6 The captain came and said to him, “What are you doing sound asleep? Get up, call on your god! Perhaps the god will spare us a thought so that we do not perish.”

7 The sailors said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, so that we may know on whose account this calamity has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 Then they said to him, “Tell us why this calamity has come upon us. What is your occupation? Where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” 9 “I am a Hebrew,” he replied. “I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” 10 Then the men were even more afraid, and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them so.

11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea was growing more and more tempestuous. 12 He said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you.” 13 Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring the ship back to land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more stormy against them. 14 Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, O Lord, we pray, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life. Do not make us guilty of innocent blood; for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.” 15 So they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging. 16 Then the men feared the Lord even more, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.

17  But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.


One of my favorite bible verses is Romans 8:28 “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God–those whom he has called according to his plan.” The book of Jonah is proof of Romans 6:28. Throughout the four chapters of Jonah, his failures become God’s triumphs.

I’ve often referred to Jonah as the world’s worst prophet. However, the spirit has led me to understand that, in truth, he was one of the most successful of all the prophets … through no fault of his own.

There is a lot of debate about Jonah’s story.  Is it to be taken literally or is it an illustrative story? If you believe it is literal, there are some strange, improbable portions that defy logic. However, as Jesus said in Matthew 19:26, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Is it literal or an allegory? I don’t know and I don’t care. The lessons taught and learned from the book reveal what is possible when God intervenes in a persons life.

  1. Observe. God said to Jonah “Go at once to Nineveh”, Go at once. Go now. There is a urgency expressed here.
  2. Nineveh, that great city” was an Assyrian city. They were enemies of the Israelites.
  3. Cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.”  The Assyrians weren’t just enemies of Israil, they were enemies of God.

In point number one we can see that God has a timetable. Go at once. God had prepared the Ninevehites to be receptive to Jonah’s message. Much like Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 6:2b, “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”  This begs the question, “What happens if His timetable is missed?” 

We know that God is a God of second chances. You remember the story of the Israelies fleeing Egypt, crossing the Red Sea, and wandering the desert for forty years, right? Well, the forty years of wandering was a second chance. To start with the Jews went straight to the Promised Land in about six weeks. This was God’s original plan. The land and its people had been made ready by God for the jews to move in and unpack. Forty years later they are given a second chance. But this time they would have to fight for the land.

I look at my own life and wonder how many chances for salvation I had passed up, before turning my will over to God? How many times have you heard. God’s invitation and turned a deaf ear to it? How many times did the people of Noah’s time hear and turn away before God said, “Enough is enough!” God declared way back in Genesis “My Spirit will not put up with humans for such a long time, for they are only mortal flesh. (New Living Translation) 

We must understand – listen – listen – this is important – your very eternal life depends upon it – though God is a God of loving forgiveness, and grace, He is also a God of justice. The unrepentent will be cut off from life.

Point number two and three – Nineveh, was an Assyrian city. They were enemies of the Israelites. Why would God warn Israel’s enemies? Why would God warn His enemies? Remember just a couple minutes ago when I said, “God is a God of loving forgiveness, and grace, He is also a God of justice”? That love, grace, and justice extends to all of His children – and we are all of us His children. Remember God the Son said in Matthew 5:44 “But I tell you, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” This is more than Gods will, it is God’s very nature. 

God grants us grace upon grace — but — at some point — He will apply justice to those who refuse to accept His grace. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” – Romans 3:23

Now back to our story. God told Jonah to go and go now. Well, Joe went alright. He went down and booked passage on a ship headed in the opposite direction — away from Nineveh — and, in Joe’s mind — away from God.

Of course you know why he ran from Nineveh. It was the capital of Israel’s enemies. Joe knew that if he took his ol’ Israeli self to that city and say what God wanted him to say, they would kill him. 

Now, about that running from God thing. You and I understand how futile that is, right? God, the creator and sustainer of everything, is everywhere. The psalmest wrote, “Where can I go to get away from your Spirit? Where can I run to get away from you? If I go up to heaven, you are there. If I make my bed in hell, you are there. If I climb upward on the rays of the morning sun or land on the most distant shore of the sea where the sun sets, even there your hand would guide me and your right hand would hold on to me.” – Psalms 139:7-10 That psalm was written many years before Jonah was even born. 

Even so, in that age, the belief was that Yahweh was the God of Israel — and only Israel. Other nations had their own gods – false gods with a small g. The general belief was that the great I AM lived in the temple in Jerusalem. He only dealt with other nations if it impacted the land of Israel. Jonah was about to get a lesson in the true universal sovereignty of God. 

Joe was asleep in the bottom of the ship and a frightful storm came up. A storm so great that the crew began throwing things overboard to lighten the load and let the ship ride higher and, hopefully, keep the waves from swamping the ship.

Each of them, sailor and passenger began praying to their various small g gods. All except Jonah, who was asleep in the bottom of the ship.

When every thing that could be thrown into the stormy sea, had been thrown overboard, they began looking at each other. Can’t you just imagine that moment when they realized that it was time to start tossing people into the sea? That little light bulb in their mind clicked on and understanding shown in their eyes. Slowly they backed away from each other. Now there was social distancing! Backing as far apart as they could on the small ships deck and all the while keeping eyes on each other. Who would be the forest to go? I’m sure it was the heaviest man that came up with the idea to draw straws or roll the dice.

That’s when Joe, still rubbing the sleep from his eyes, came onto the deck. The dice were cast and Joe lost the roll. 

Accepting that the gods had chosen Jonah, various ones of them asked him, “Are you the one who has caused us all this trouble?” “What work do you do?” “Where are you coming from?” “What country and what people-group do you belong to?”

These men were sure that it was Joe’s fault but they wanted to know the “who, what, when, where, and most importantly why?” They didn’t want to be quilt of condemning an innocent man.

Jonah confessed that he was trying to escape from the One True God, creator of sky, earth, and sea; because he didn’t want to do what he had been commanded to do.

After the sailors heard that, they were terrified. So they asked him, “Do you realize what trouble you have caused?”  The storm kept getting worse and the waves kept getting bigger. So one of the sailors asked Jonah, “What should we do in order to make the sea become calm?”  He replied, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea. If you do that, it will become calm. I know that this terrible storm is the result of my not doing what God told me to do.” 

Even then the sailors did not want to anger Jonah’s God. Instead, they tried hard to row the ship back to the land. But they could not do that, because the storm continued to get worse. 

Now listen closely to this part of the story. This is why I’ve changed my mind about Jonah being the worst prophet.

Then they (all of them) cried out to the Lord, “Please, O Lord, we pray, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life. Do not make us guilty of innocent blood; for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.”

Do you see? Do you understand what happened here? These people of various nationalities, prayed to God, the One God, the True God, the All Powerful God. Saying, please do not let us drown because of our causing this man to die. O Yahweh, you have done what you wanted to do. We do not know if this man has sinned or if he has not sinned. But, please, do not consider us guilty of sinning against you, when we cause him to die!”

All of these men prayed to God that he would forgive them for sacrificing Jonah.

Then they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea. When the sea became calm, the sailors became greatly awed at God’s mighty power. So they offered a sacrifice to him, and they strongly promised him that they would do things that would please him.

Does that sound like repentance and conversion to you? It sounds like repentance and conversion to me!

Jonah, having confessed his sin, testified about God Almighty. Because of this, these men witnessed and became believers who promised from that moment on to please God.

Even a weak kneed cowardly person like Jonah can be used of God to expand his kingdom.

Oh yes, at the end of chapter one, Jonah became fish food as the he’s swallowed by a large fish. Want the rest of the story? It’s right there in the book of Jonah.

Here are the take aways from today’s lesson.

  1. God may call on anyone at anytime
  2. God has a time table
  3. God prefers grace to justice
  4. There is an unknown limit to the number of times grace will be given
  5. If grace is refused. Justice will be applied.
  6. You can not run from, or hide from God.
  7. Good can use either or both our obedience and disobedience.
  8. Be careful or you may become fish-food.

This bears repeating: God grants us grace upon grace — but — at some point — He will apply justice to those who refuse to accept His grace. 

The bad news, 

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” – Romans 3:23

The good news,

“But to all who believed him (Jesus) and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.” – John 1:12

I don’t know what will be your Nineveh. I do know that God has a job for each of his children. When you are given your task, 

Turn aside, neither to the right, nor to the left; yet turn your foot away from evil. For the Lord knows the ways that are on the right, and truly, those that are on the left are perverse. But he himself will make your courses straight. Then your journey will advance in peace. – Proverbs 4:27


©2021 Thomas E Williams

“Answering God’s call to fight evil”

“Answering God’s call to fight evil” – January 31, 2021
(speaker – Gary Broadston – Union Park United Methodist Church)
Scriptures: Psalms 111

  1. Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart in the company of decent people and in the congregation. 2. The LORD’s deeds are spectacular. They should be studied by all who enjoy them. 3. His work is glorious and majestic. His righteousness continues forever. 4. He has made his miracles unforgettable. The LORD is merciful and compassionate. 5. He provides food for those who fear him. He always remembers his promise. 6. He has revealed the power of his works to his people by giving them the lands of other nations as an inheritance. 7. His works are done with truth and justice. All his guiding principles are trustworthy. 8. They last forever and ever. They are carried out with truth and decency. 9. He has sent salvation to his people. He has ordered that his promise should continue forever. His name is holy and terrifying. 10. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. Good sense is shown by everyone who follows God’s guiding principles. His praise continues forever.

; Mark 1:21-28

  • Then they went to Capernaum. On the next day of worship, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22. The people were amazed at his teachings. Unlike their scribes, he taught them with authority. 23. At that time there was a man in the synagogue who was controlled by an evil spirit. He shouted, 24. “What do you want with us, Jesus from Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God!” 25. Jesus ordered the spirit, “Keep quiet, and come out of him!” 26. The evil spirit threw the man into convulsions and came out of him with a loud shriek. 27. Everyone was stunned. They said to each other, “What is this? This is a new teaching that has authority behind it! He gives orders to evil spirits, and they obey him.” 28. The news about him spread quickly throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.”
  • On Sunday January 17th we heard that God may speak to us in several different ways but we may not be able to hear God calling our name. The question before us is when God speaks do we listen to God calling out our name and then heed that voice. How many times does God speak to us but we don’t know it was the Lord? How many times have we recognized that God was speaking, but we didn’t hear his message because we were too busy with other things in our daily lives? Remember that to hear the word of the Lord to us, it is essential that we pray from the heart and if we don’t hear the voice it may be because of distractions in our lives.
  • We learned on Sunday January 24th that we might seem hard to reach and convince to follow the call from God when he says “follow me”. Last week we heard that God may be speaking thru Scripture, in our prayers, thru our friends and family, thru events in our lives like failures and accomplishments, thru our dreams or visions or by that still small inner voice. God will not give up on us and may keep trying to get us to answer his call to share our life and our belief with others so we can lead them to know God on a personal level as we do.
    Worship transforms our minds and hearts and souls. Christ may challenge us to be willing to surrender and allow the Spirit to work within us that we might be vessels of grace and invitation in the world around us. We are reminded that this isn’t easy and that it requires a readjustment of our whole lives that we might follow where Christ leads. We need to follow the example of Christ in the face of evil in our world.
    As we live our lives as followers of Christ, we may see others or perhaps even ourselves experience unclean spirits of worry, fear, destruction, or pride.
    Sometimes we call these things demons and blame them for any unexplainable bad thing that happens. When it says in our scripture passage from Mark that Jesus cast out demons, or unclean spirits to be accurate, do we simply reinterpret that to be, “He healed them of their mental illness?” Mark 1:23-26 reads: Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.
    We ascribe the title demonic to an incomprehensible evil. Sometimes it is used as a way to avoid responsibility, which is why many of us are reluctant to use a word like demon when speaking of human actions. But it also reminds us that there are “powers and principalities” or as stated in Ephesians 6:12 “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” that are beyond our understanding. It reminds us that there is evil in the world greater than the total of the evil that resides in human hearts. Our response to such a realization is either to live in fear and suspicion of everyone and everything or to stand against such evil with the power of our Savior. Do we respond to God’s call to fight evil or are we frightened by the very thought of that.
    One of the questions in the baptism ritual asks parents and sponsors, as well as the candidates for baptism when they are able to answer for themselves, “Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?” It is a part of the nature of our faith that we stand against the evil or demonic both in our society and in ourselves. We can take a stand against the demonic evil we experience and claim that we will no longer stay silent in the face of injustice and oppression perpetrated against a group of people. We do not all stand at the same place and understanding on many issues. We all have the freedom to believe differently in our country but we should not let that separate us and divide us. It may seem that in difficult financial times we need to focus our energies on finances to rescue our local economy and put off other issues that we face. It is in desperate times that we need to be even more vigilant against evil and injustice in our world. When we give in to despair, all kinds of choices seem less unthinkable. That is when the demonic can begin to seem sensible. When the nonsense becomes sensible then you have given in to evil.
    The demon’s question in our scripture from Mark might be on our lips as well. “What have you to do with us, Jesus?” Christ comes to change everything, every broken thing about us. By the grace of God any day can be an opportunity to make a stand and cast out the evil or demons in our life or the lives of others. We must pray for the ability to see the evil that exists and look for guidance as we face the evil demons in our lives and those of other people we meet and interact with. We need to be strong in faith and know that God gives us the strength and power to fight the evil forces in the world.
    God is at work in our world and in each of us as we fight evil in the world. As is stated in Psalm 111:2-4 “Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them. Full of honor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever. He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds; the LORD is gracious and merciful.” Yes, God delights in us when we are fighting the forces of evil as we answer the call. The Lord is truly gracious and merciful and delights in our efforts to rid this world of evil forces.

  • Let us Pray
    Father, we call on you to give us more of the compassion and authority of Jesus. Embolden us to heal those that are afflicted and drive out the demons that afflict our world. Jesus comes to us, offering healing and hope, speaking and acting with authority. Help us listen to Christ and be encouraged that we may go into the world to do your work fighting evil, confident in God’s love and healing power that can be available thru us.

God calls you by name

“God calls you by name” January 17, 2021

(Minister – Rev. Caesar J. David | Union Park United Methodist Church)


1 Samuel 3:1-10

The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.

One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel.

Samuel answered, “Here I am. ”  And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down. Again the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” “My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

John 1:43-51

The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”

Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida.. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

“Come and see,” said Philip.

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”

Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”

“God calls you by name”

God speaks and calls Samuel four times, “Samuel! Samuel!”, but three of those times, Samuel thinks it is the elder priest, Eli, who is calling him. It is not until the fourth time, after Eli tells Samuel that it is God, that Samuel responds to the call with “Speak, for your servant is listening” . At first, Samuel does not know God’s voice, but he soon learns to recognize God’s voice and realizes that God is the foundation of his future prophetic work.

The question before us today is: God speaks. Do we listen?

We will be remembering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on his birthday this Monday. He was a pastor and civil rights activist. When people remember Dr. King, one of the first things they may think of is his “I Have a Dream” speech delivered before the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963 for the March on Washington, D.C. for Civil Rights. He was a gifted orator. But he was so much more than an effective communicator. He had a deep concern for the racially and socioeconomically oppressed who suffered under the unjust hands. Dr. King believed “that activism prefaced by prayer can be most effective.” That is something that we get to see very clearly in his life.

In January 1956, during the Montgomery bus boycott, he received a threatening phone call late at night. He couldn’t sleep. We all know of his experience sitting at his kitchen table and praying to God. He was at a breaking point of exhaustion and about to give up. He spoke to God and says that he experienced the Divine and “could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice, saying, ‘Stand up for justice, stand up for truth. God will be at your side forever.’” 

He needed God to speak first. Then he could act. He listened prayerfully then proclaimed prophetically.

The Gospel reading for today, John 1:43-51, is also about God’s call. Jesus calls the first disciples. 

Today’s message is about listening to God calling out your name and heeding that voice. How many times has God spoken to us, but we didn’t know it was the Lord?  How many times have we recognized that God was speaking, but we didn’t hear his message because we were too busy?  To hear the word of the Lord to us, it is essential that we pray from the heart. It’s possible that we don’t hear the voice because of distractions. There’s noise that prevents us from listening. “Noise” is also a technical word. Here is the technical definition of noise: 

  • Irregular fluctuations that accompany a transmitted electrical signal but are not part of it and tend to obscure it.
  • Random fluctuations that obscure or do not contain meaningful data or other information.

Noise can prevent us from listening. There are all kinds of things that can keep us from listening well or listening at all. Some of these things are outside of us, sometimes they are within us too.


A man suspected that his wife was getting hard of hearing / going deaf. So he decided to test her in his way to understand the scope of the problem.

 And so he devises a little test to know the extent of this problem. Once when his wife is in the kitchen, cooking, this man stands at a little distance and calls out her name and says “honey, what’s for supper?” There is no response and the man feels a little bit convinced that she is going deaf, but then he wants to know the extent of the problem. He goes just a little closer and then he calls out again asking “honey, what’s for supper?” And again, there is no response and the man is now almost convinced that his wife has really gone deaf but wants to take his trial a step further in order to assess the exact extent of the problem. He goes really close behind her and then almost shouts out her name and says, “honey. What’s for supper?”
She turns around and says “for the THIRD time we’re having chicken!”

Sometimes we don’t realize that when we can’t hear anything the problem is with us. We are either deaf to what really is going on, failing to perceive reality, have selective perception, or we think that the problem is outside when really it is within us.

But there are more than physical causes of why we don’t listen or can’t listen to God’s voice in our life. We can be deaf because of these other things that won’t let us focus on God and listen well:

  • Fear
  • Guilt
  • Resentment
  • Failure
  • Shame
  • Etc.

It’s important to realize that God calls out in love and that we must make an effort to listen and to respond.

God may be calling out to you today for any of these reasons:

  • To have fellowship with you (Rev. 3:20 says: Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me)
  • To instruct you in the way of blessings
  • Caution you against some dangers and pitfalls
  • To encourage you and assure you of His presence
  • To get you to relay a message to someone or testify and witness (even prophetic witness)

I hope that this simple reminder about God calling out to us by name will make us more aware of His love for each of us. The other reading from Psalm 139 in our lectionary set today talks about something that the Psalmist speaks about beautifully in the image of us being ‘knit together in our mother’s womb’. That is the kind of intimacy and love and concern and complete knowledge of you that God has when He calls out your name.

Become aware of God’s presence and His love for you. He’s talking to you in different ways:

  • God’s Word
  • In Prayer
  • Through people, our friends and family
  • Circumstances – failures, accomplishments, etc.
  • Nature
  • Dreams & Visions
  • Small, still inner voice

And like Samuel responded to the Lord’s call, may we be able to obediently respond by saying “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening”. I pray that God would bless us with the keenness of hearing to shut out the distractions and noise, and listen to His voice and respond in an attitude of obedience, love and surrender.

God bless you.


Heavenly Father,

Teach us to listen for your voice, to listen to your voice, and to heed your call. Help us to fight off distractions and noise so that we may discover the beauty and joy of you talking to us. Amen.

Epiphany blessings

“Epiphany blessings” | January 3, 2021

(Minister – Rev. Caesar J. David | Union Park United Methodist Church)

Scriptures: Isaiah 60:1-6, Matthew 2:1-12

Today is Epiphany Sunday. Epiphany commemorates the visit of the magi (“wise men from the East” as the Bible calls them). We don’t know if they were ‘kings’ and we don’t know if there were three of them. The Bible doesn’t say. Some traditions hold that there were actually four. We assume there were 3 because 3 gifts are mentioned (and of course because of the carol we sing “We three Kings of orient are…”).

Anyway, we don’t have a lot of detail but we are given details about the gifts they brought. And we may already know that the gifts were not just random gifts. They were very symbolic in acknowledging and revealing Jesus as the Messiah and also in foretelling things about His ministry. So, from the wise men that came to visit the Christ child, their gifts and the circumstances at that time, here are 3 insights for our meditation this morning.

1. The symbolism of the gifts

We know that: 

  1. The gift of gold acknowledged the Kingship of Christ

Gold was a gift that denoted royalty, authority, and power. It is a gift befitting a ruler. 

  1. The gift of frankincense acknowledged the Priestly Ministry of Christ

Frankincense was used in the offerings in the temple. They added a fragrant aroma to the sacrifices. Frankincense also was added to the oil that anointed the priests. The incense added a dimension of beauty to the worship. 

  1. The gift of myrrh acknowledged the Sacrificial nature of Christ

Myrrh is an interesting gift. In the Old Testament we see it used as a fragrance. In the New Testament we see it used in two different ways. In Mark 15:23 we see that Jesus was offered wine mixed with myrrh while he was on the cross. Myrrh had a medicinal use as a mild anesthetic (Jesus didn’t want it).

In John 19:39 we see Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea preparing Jesus for burial using a mixture of aloes and myrrh. 

Myrrh points to the sacrificial death of Jesus. We don’t know whether these Magi understood the significance of these gifts or not. But they were designed by God to carry a symbolic meaning. 

2. The inclusiveness

Epiphany celebrates the revelation (theophany) of God incarnate as Jesus Christ. It also marks the first manifestation of Jesus to the Gentiles. It signals that God loves Gentiles as well as Jews—that God’s plan of salvation includes Gentiles too. 

It is a celebration of the breaking down of dividing walls—the end of hostilities between groups of people. Epiphany challenges us to consider all the people whom we see as ‘outside the fold’ as actually be within the circle of God’s Grace and Love. It challenges us to abandon our tribalism (racially, nationally, linguistically, denominationally, socially, orientation-wise, politically, etc.) and to expand our tents to welcome even those whom we tend to leave out. Loving those outside our tribe is difficult—but Christ makes it possible. Christ breaks down every barrier and binds us with the common experience of His Grace and Love.

3. The Blessings – in unlikely circumstances (people, places, etc.)

It’s easy to miss because sometimes God tiptoes in at the most unlikely times and surprising places, and uses the most unlikely people.

Those magi, for example, had a star to follow but they almost missed it, by about nine miles – the distance between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. They didn’t expect to find a king in small town, in a manger. They asked for directions in a more logical place – in Jerusalem, at the king’s palace.

The magi would be the least likely ones to come seeking the King who would be Messiah. From the Jewish perspective, who could be more foreign, unscriptural, than a group of stargazers who did not know the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? They did not know the stories and genealogy and promises of God. They had neither Torah nor tradition to go by. And yet – they were the ones who came looking for the Messiah even when the Jewish courts and kingdom of Herod wasn’t. In fact Herod told them to go ahead and find the child and then let him know where He was. Of course, the wise men did not, but the point is that the people outside of the Jewish tradition were expected to lead the way to the Christ. They were closer to finding and worshiping Christ the King, the Messiah.

Who expected God to work so silently and unobtrusively and behind the scenes in that time and that place through those people? 

Miracles happen in unlikely places. They happen in small towns and small churches and even outside them. The Magi, unlikely people, were blessed: clueless (clueless about the full import and significance of the Messiah) but obedient and hopeful people.

With such unlikely people and circumstances, God shatters our human framework of beliefs, and God tiptoes in and takes the future out of our hands and our control, to reveal Himself – to reveal who He is – He is God.

God is God. His Love is Love: limitless, profound, deep and true, sometimes incomprehensible, but always inviting us to surrender and to rest. We cannot begin to fathom His awesome ways. This year as we begin our journey through 2021, let’s put ourselves in God’s wonderful and able Hands. In journeying together with God we will find ourselves truly blessed. Wish you a blessed NEW YEAR and as you follow the STAR of God’s Plan – Jesus Christ – in your life, not only will you discover blessings for yourself but that you will be a blessing for people around you.


Heavenly Father,

Thank you for your wonderful plan for each of us. As your plan unfolds in our lives, give us the mind to follow you and to make ourselves available for what you would have us do. Teach us to love all people even those that are different from us. Help us find and enjoy your blessings that are meant for us as your family.