Impossible

Scripture
John 5:1‭-‬11 (the Passion Translation)

From Galilee, Jesus returned to Jerusalem to observe one of the Jewish feasts. 

Inside the city, near the Sheep Gate, there is a pool called in Aramaic, The House of Loving Kindness, surrounded by five covered porches. Hundreds of sick people were lying under the covered porches—the paralyzed, the blind, and the crippled— all of them waiting for their healing. For an angel of God periodically descended into the pool to stir the waters, and the first one who stepped into the pool after the waters swirled would instantly be healed.

 Among the many sick people lying there was a man who had been disabled for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, he knew that the man had been crippled for a long time. Jesus said to him, “Do you truly long to be well?” 
The sick man answered, “Sir, there’s no way I can get healed, for I have no one to lower me into the water when the angel comes. As soon as I try to crawl to the edge of the pool, someone else jumps in ahead of me.” 
Jesus said to him, “Stand up! Pick up your sleeping mat and you will walk!” Immediately he stood up—he was healed! 

So he rolled up his mat and walked again! Now Jesus worked this miracle on the Sabbath. When the Jewish leaders saw the man walking along carrying his sleeping mat, 
they objected and said, “What are you doing carrying that? Don’t you know it’s the Sabbath? It’s not lawful for you to carry things on the Sabbath!” 
He answered them, “The man who healed me told me to pick it up and walk.”

Sermon: “Impossible”  by  Tom Williams
Let us pray: Lord, as by your Holy Spirit I was prompted to write this message, may that same Spirit intercede between the words I say and the words your people hear. Amen


I chose today’s scripture reading from The Passion Translation for two reasons. The first reason is because it gives the Aramaic meaning of the name for the pool most commonly called Bethesda. The second reason is because this is one of the versions that includes the verse “For an angel of God periodically descended into the pool to stir the waters, and the first one who stepped into the pool after the waters swirled would instantly be healed.” The New Revised Standard Version, for example, omits it. The reason it is left out of some versions is because many of the oldest manuscripts do not include it. Personally, I’m for its inclusion because …  well because, without this part of the narrative, we are left wondering why … why are all of these people hanging around here. It isn’t a swimming pool. They are not sunbathers working on their tans. These are people seeking a miraculous cure for what holds them.

Now, about this pool. Over 300 years before these events took place, a stream that ran through this narrow valley was dammed up. It was done for the same reasons we dam rivers today, to control the flow of water into the city. In the Bible it is called a pool but we would more likely call it a reservoir. It wasn’t small like a swimming pool either. 

I’m doing some rounding off of these measurements. It’s length was approximately one and a third football fields long about half the length of a football field wide. And the depth? Well, like reservoirs do, the depth varied according to how much water was retained or released. At its maximum it was around 50 feet deep. 

It was divided into two pools, the upper and lower. There were five porches. One on each of the four sides and one on the wall between the pools. 

The upper pool was used for ritualistic religious cleansing people of their sins or heal them of disease by immersion in water. 
Maybe that’s where the legend of its healing powers began. 

At any rate John began his narrative by saying, “Jesus returned to Jerusalem to observe one of the Jewish feasts.” The author didn’t find it important to say which feast day it was, only that it was the reason Jesus came to the city.

Feast days were celebrated in the temple and large groups of people came to Jerusalem for the observation. 

Are there any fishermen here today? Where do you go to catch fish? The desert or the lake?
Right, you go where the fish are!

Jesus knew that if you want to fish for people, you must go where people are. This feast day was a ready made place to share his message.

John mentioned that the pool is near the Sheep Gate. I find it interesting that though John felt it unimportant to mention what Jewish feast day it was, he specifically mentions the Sheep Gate’s proximity to the pool. 

One might assume that John’s Jewish readers would know the location of the Pool of Bethesda without referencing the gate. 

Which makes me wonder, why did he choose to draw their attention to the Sheep Gate? Perhaps it was to remind people that the temple’s sacrificial sheep came in through this gate. It’s likely that Jesus, the ultimate sacrifice, entered through this gate on this journey into Jerusalem. I don’t know, but it could be, amen? 

Jesus came to the pool and observed hundreds of people gathered around the pool. Each of them coming for release from the illness, injury, or deformity that bound them.

Imagine for a moment, Jesus threading his way through this crowd of ailing people who came hoping for a miraculous healing. 

Within this multitude is the one person that Jesus was seeking. The person who had given up hope. Jesus came seeking the lost. Our scripture passage tells us, “There was a man who had been disabled for thirty-eight years.” 

There are things that we do not know about this man. How many of his thirty-eight years had been spent at this pool? How did he get to the pool? Certainly, at one point, someone had helped him. Why were they no longer helping?

Is want to ask him, 
“After 38 years, why are you still here? It’s obviously not working for you. 

Are you just stuck here because you don’t know what else to do?

Has staying put … become more comfortable than going elsewhere? 

But here came Jesus, straight to this man like he had an appointment.

Can’t you just see the gentle look of concern on Jesus face when he asked THE question? “Do you truly long to be well?” 

Of course he wanted to be healed, Right? It seems, at first, to be an absurd question, doesn’t it? Almost like a cruel taunting of a crippled man. amen? I certainly wouldn’t go to a person in a wheelchair and ask, “Would you like to walk? 

But we know that Jesus was never cruel. At the same time, he had a way of cutting to the heart of the matter with his questions. 

Listen closely to the question 
“Do YOU truly long to be well?”  Out of this vast crowd Jesus asked “Do YOU?” As  if to say, “I know that THEY want to be healed – but do you?” 

“Do you TRULY long to be well?”  Do you want to be well? Or have you become so adjusted to your ailment that you have accepted it as your new reality. Do you think, “It is what it is?” 

The sick man answered, “Sir, there’s no way I can get healed”.Ah, there it is. “there’s NO WAY I can get healed.” Hopelessness! He had given up. No faith in himself or his friends. No faith in the magical mystical pool. No faith in God.

Jesus asked if he wanted to be healed and instead of truthfully answering, he gave excuses. 

Excuse number one. No help. “I have no one to lower me into the water 
Excuse number two. The uncertainty of when a healing might come. “when the angel comes.”
Excuse number three. His own weakness. “As soon as I try to crawl to the edge of the pool”
Excuse number four. Blame it on everyone else. “someone else jumps in ahead of me.”

What a pathetic individual, amen?

But wait a minute. How do you answer Jesus when he asks you, “Do you TRULY want to be released from the burden you carry? 

Are you hopeless? Have you become so accustomed to carrying your burden that you have resigned yourself to the fact that it is yours and yours alone to shoulder that burden? 

In the hymn There Is Power In The Blood

Lewis Edgar Jones, the hymn writer, questioned four things. 
Would you be free from your burden of sin?
 Would you be free from your passion and pride?
 Would you be whiter, much whiter than snow?
 Would you do service for Jesus your King?

The hymn writer didn’t leave you with questions only. He gave the answer   There is power power wonder working power in the blood of the lamb. 

But back to our story. Jesus asked, if the man truly wanted healing.

The lame man never gave a direct answer but only excuses as why he wasn’t already healed. 

Jesus, heard the pain behind the excuse and knew that the man needed healing. Jesus
gave the lame man a series of commandd, Jesus said to him, “Stand up! 
Pick up your sleeping mat 
and  walk!”

Those are impossible things for a lame man to do, Amen?

At the risk of sounding like Forrest Gump, “My mama always said things are only impossible until they aren’t.”

Who is this Jesus to commands this man to do the impossible? 
John 1:1‭, ‬3 testifies this about Jesus, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.”

In Matthew 28:18 Jesus proclaimed, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”

John the Baptist asked for clarification about Jesus and Jesus replied, “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”

Think about that. This is the power Jesus commanded while in the physical body of a man. How much more can he do, through the Holy Spirit, now that he sits at the right hand of the Father!

Okay, so far we’ve been focused on a lame man way back a long time ago. But now we’re looking inward at ourselves. 

To quote The Music Man, “You got trouble, folks. Right here in River City, trouble with a capital “T”

I don’t know what your trouble with a capital “T” may be.  We all face the impossible in 
spiritual, 
physical, 
emotional, 
financial, 
relational, 
and many other “al”s. 

What, in your life, is impossible? Seriously, take a moment to think about that Big Bad Thing in your life.
Go on … I’ll wait. Don’t say it out loud. This is a between-you-and-God thing.

… 

Got it in mind? 

Good. Now, how will you answer Jesus when he asks you, “Do …  you … truly … long to be free … from your burden?”  

Will you make excuses for the mess you’re in? 
Excuse number one. No help. 
Excuse number two. The uncertainty of when a release might come. 
Excuse number three. Your own inability to solve the situation?. 
Excuse number four. Blame it on everyone else. 
Excesses 5 through infinity. We are so good at excuses. Excuses are so much easier than believer that the impossible can happen for us, Right? 

Have you lost hope and accepted that it is what it is? 

Or will you Give it to God who has always done the impossible from the very beginning?

Be careful with how you answer Jesus. If you truly want to be free … he’s going to command you to do the impossible.

He commanded the lame, “Stand up! Pick up your sleeping mat and you will walk!” Impossible! 

Jesus commanded Peter to get out of the boat and walk to him on the water. Impossible! 

He commanded Lazarus to rise from the dead. Impossible!

What impossible thing will Jesus command to to do? “Do …  you … truly … long to be free?”  
Are you willing to obey the command to do the impossible? 

There are some of his commands that are universally given to everyone.
“Follow!” Be willing to give up everything and everyone to follow him wherever he leads you. 

These are Jesus’s words in Luke 14:33 “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” 
And in Matthew 29:21
“If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”. 
And Matthew 16:24
“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” 

And the Great Commission is given to every believer. In Matthew 28:16-20 Jesus command his followers, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching  them to obey everything I have commanded you.” 

Those are universal commands. For us all to make Jesus the most important person in your life. 
No person
No possession
No place
No plan
Nothing is to take the place of god in our lives. 

In addition you, me, and every believer will have their own personal impossible duty to perform for the Master.
For the lame man three commands in a row, 
“Stand up! 
Pick up your sleeping mat and 
you will walk!” 

Well, I don’t know what your impossible duty will be, but I know how to be prepared. 
John Wesley had a prayer that is now known as the Covenant Prayer. 
“I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, 
put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or 
laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or 
brought low for thee.
Let me be full, 
let me be empty.
Let me have all things, 
let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine. 
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.” 

The first time I heard that prayer I was amazed because, though far more eloquently stated, it echoed a simple prayer I had been praying on my own. “Lord, push me, pull me, place me where you want me. I give you permission to override my freewill. Not my will but your’s, Lord. Amen.

Okay, so we truthfully answer Jesus and we do what he commands and, like a Disney movie, everyone lives happily ever after, right? Right? 

Well we have the perfect example right here in this section of scripture. He, the lame man “rolled up his mat and walked again! Now Jesus worked this miracle on the Sabbath. When the Jewish leaders saw the man walking along carrying his sleeping mat, they objected and said, “What are you doing carrying that? Don’t you know it’s the Sabbath? It’s not lawful for you to carry things on the Sabbath!”  

This poor guy had only been made whole for a moment or two and was already in trouble by the religious leaders.
And I imagine that there were other difficulties he would face. He now needed a place to stay and a job to provide for himself. 

“What are you doing carrying that? Don’t you know it’s the Sabbath? It’s not lawful for you to carry things on the Sabbath!”
This formerly lame man had the perfect answer for his accusers, “The man who healed me told me to pick it up and walk.”

That has to be the answer to our detractors also. Oh yes, as we travel our journey following Jesus, there will be barriers and stumbling blocks to overcome. But our answer must always be, The man who saved me told me to.”

Know this from 1 John 4:4 “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. “


The is a song by Jamie Kimmett titled, BURDENS. I’ll not sing it but read it as poetry.

When you’re all alone
When there’s trouble stirring in your soul
And if your world is falling apart
Just hold on for the morning break to dawn

Come and lay your burdens down
To the place where freedom is found
At the feet, at the feet of Jesus
Come and lay your burdens down

When the deepest sorrow weighs on your heart
When you’ve prayed for answers but the answers never come
For every tear that you cry
There’s a promise He will make your burdens light

Come and lay your burdens down
To the place where freedom is found
At the feet, at the feet of Jesus
Come and lay your burdens down

Lay them down
Lay them down

When we see Him face to face
All our worries will surely fade away
In the presence of His glorious light
We’ll sing hallelujah to the one who gave us life

Come and lay your burdens down
To the place where freedom is found
At the feet, at the feet of Jesus
Come and lay your burdens down

Come and lay your burdens down
To the place where freedom is found
At the feet, at the feet of Jesus
Come and lay your burdens down
Come and lay your burdens down.


© 2018 Jamie Kimmett Pub Designee (BMI) / Be Essential Songs (BMI) (admin at EssentialMusicPublishing.com); Ben Cantelon Publishing Designee (BMI) / Capitol CMG Paragon (BMI) (admin at CapitolCMGPublishing.com)

One Day In the Temple

Luke 2:21-40 God’s Word to the Nations version

Eight days after his birth, the child was circumcised and named Jesus. This was the name the angel had given him before his mother became pregnant.  

After the days required by Moses’ Teachings to make a mother clean had passed, Joseph and Mary went to Jerusalem. They took Jesus to present him to the Lord.  They did exactly what was written in the Lord’s Teachings: “Every firstborn boy is to be set apart as holy to the Lord.”  They also offered a sacrifice as required by the Lord’s Teachings: “a pair of mourning doves or two young pigeons.” 

 A man named Simeon (SIM e un)

was in Jerusalem. He lived an honorable and devout life. He was waiting for the one who would comfort Israel. The Holy Spirit was with Simeon and had told him that he wouldn’t die until he had seen the Messiah, whom the Lord would send. Moved by the Spirit, Simeon went into the temple courtyard. 

Mary and Joseph were bringing the child Jesus into the courtyard at the same time. They brought him so that they could do for him what Moses’ Teachings required. 

Then Simeon took the child in his arms and praised God by saying, “Now, Lord, you are allowing your servant to leave in peace as you promised.  My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people to see. He is a light that will reveal salvation to the nations and bring glory to your people Israel.”

 Jesus’ father and mother were amazed at what was said about him.  Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother, “This child is the reason that many people in Israel will be condemned and many others will be saved. He will be a sign that will expose the thoughts of those who reject him. And a sword will pierce your heart.”  

Anna, a prophet, was also there. She was a descendant of Phanuel

(FAE new uhl)

from the tribe of Asher. She was now very old. Her husband had died seven years after they were married, and she had been a widow for 84 years. Anna never left the temple courtyard but worshiped day and night by fasting and praying. At that moment she came up to Mary and Joseph and began to thank God. She spoke about Jesus to all who were waiting for Jerusalem to be set free.  After doing everything the Lord’s Teachings required, Joseph and Mary returned to their hometown of Nazareth in Galilee. The child grew and became strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favor was with him.

Sermon

One Day In the Temple

Let us Pray.

I pray that, as the Lord guided Simeon by his spirit to seek out Jesus, the Messiah, he will guide us also.

Grant us also the same spirit that drove Anna to praise you and to speak about Jesus to all who are needing redemption. Amen.

 There is a lot of things going on in our gospel teaching.

Perhaps it will help to understand why Joseph and Mary brought the infant Jesus to the temple on that day.

Now one of the reasons NOT mentioned in the scriptures was the same reason WE bring OUR newborns to church. To show off this precious child, more beautiful than any other baby. Right mom? Right Grandma?

Fortunately for me, my two boys and two girls looked EXACTLY the same … in the face … as newborns, because — well because you can’t improve on perfection.

So I’m sure that this was also in the minds of the Holy Family as they came to present the child.

But they were also obeying the law of Moses. It was after the time for their purification.

This is the teaching portion of the sermon. There might be a test at the end, so pay attention.

Jesus was circumcised on the 8th day. 

I just saw a “cringe” on the faces of several men in the sanctuary.

The purpose of the ceremony of circumcision, which is an offering of blood, is to seal the covenant with the Almighty in the flesh so that it may never be violated. 

So sacred is this act that the child is not counted an Israelite until after the ceremony. It is during the ceremony that he is officially given his name, Jesus, as instructed by God.

Much like, through the sacrament of baptism, God’s Spirit initiates us into Christ’s holy church,

And the pastor invites the congregation to welcome the newly baptized by name.

You remember that last week pastor Michele said that, possibly, the reason that Mary was assigned to the stable to give birth was out of respect and caring for his other guests. If she had given birth in the house (or the inn) everyone there would have been, under the Law of Moses, ritually unclean for seven days.

Now concerning Mary.

The Law of Moses found in Leviticus 12:2-4

If a woman gives birth to a son, she will be unclean for seven days. For thirty-three days the mother will be in a state of blood purification. She must not touch anything holy or enter the sacred area until her time of purification is completed. 

I warned you that there might be a test.

  • Question one is a math problem. If Mary was unclean for 7 days and then in a state of purification for 33, how long did the holy family have to wait before coming to the Temple?
  • Answer: at least 41. It had to be after the 40th day.

It is customary for the mother to come to the synagogue on the Sabbath after her 40 days when she has regained her strength. 

So now we understand why it was said, when the fullness of time had come.

There was still one more ceremony to be observed. Jesus, the redeemer, had to be redeemed. This was the reason they were in the temple that day.

As a sign and remembrance of the Passover in Egypt when the lives of all Egyptian first born males died and the first born males of the Israelites were spared by the sprinkling of blood on the door posts. 

Y’all remember that, right? 

It won’t be on the test

Since that time, all first born males belong to God. 

You will remember, in the old testament, Hannah brought Samuel, once he was weened to the LORD’S temple to be dedicated to the LORD … for his whole life.

The parents could redeem, that is “buy back” their sons by an offering of silver coins to the temple. 

If a family, like Joseph and Mary, could not afford the silver. For the poor, an offering of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons was made.

Question how could they be poor? What about the myrrh, frankincense, and gold? How could they be poor?

Answer the magi did arrive with their gifts until Jesus was around 2 years old. 

Do you now understand how important this trip to the temple was to Joseph and Mary? 

Now, to see if you are listening.

Question:  Why were they in the temple that day?

Answer:  To redeem Jesus. I would also have given a ½ point for, to show off the baby.

They, as faithful Jews, expected and had made plans for the redemption of their first born Son.

In the last 40 days they had assumedly found a home (perhaps with relatives) in Bethlehem. Performed the circumcision on the 8th day. And Mary had gone through the purification required.

They had brought the sacrificial doves to redeem their son. 

Everything was going as expected.

And then — and then along came Simeon, who grabbed the baby from their hands and started a prophetic message.

You parents out there, do you remember how fragile your first born child seemed? Imagine some stranger taking that baby and saying, “Now, Lord, you are allowing your servant to leave in peace as you promised.”

I can imagine Joseph saying, “Now hold on, bub, you’re not leaving with my baby.”

Then Simeon might have said, “Joe, you have to understand that the Lord told me that in my lifetime the Messiah would be born, and your son is the salvation for everyone, for every nation, even a light of revelation to the Gentiles! I have waited a long time to see him with my own eyes.”

And then ,,,

And then Anna, a prophetess of advanced age, {married for 7 years and widowed for 84 years}. Now assuming that she was at least in her mid teens when married, she was well over 100 years old. And still waiting to give her prophetic message.

Anna came and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Wow, things sure took a dramatic turn into the unexpected. I can almost hear Rod Sterling’s voice, “You are traveling through another dimension, your next stop, the Twilight Zone!” Do do dodo dodo dodo!

I know some of you are way too young to remember the old tv show, “The Twilight Zone.” 

But each episode began with, “This is a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination.”

So I want you to use your imagination.

Here is the Life Application part of the message

Imagine with me for a moment, that you are in that time and that place. You are Mary or Joseph. What is going through your mind as you are confronted by these strangers? And strange they must have seemed.

Your mind races back to the angel visiting you, Mary. Or the Lord visiting you, Joseph, in a dream. 

The two of you sitting down and discussing among yourselves these strange and wonderful visitations. What does it all mean? 

As usual, the Lord does not fill in all the details for you. You must go forward in faith and wait for your questions to be answered in God’s time.

Over the next eight or nine months, your mind revisits those moments, but they seem to grow a little dimmer as you busy yourself with the things of everyday life, earning a living, preparing the house for the coming child, and then the command of the Roman occupiers of your land that you are required to make a 90 mile trek to Bethlehem, because some emperor in a far off land demands it. 

Grumble, grumble, explicative, explicative!!!

You arrive in Bethlehem, which is already overcrowded with other unhappy and weary travelers who also are venting their frustration and anger over this census and the already heavy taxes.

You are not terribly surprised to find that the Motel 6, Travel Lodge, and Marriott are filled with people, some even sleeping on couches in the lobby. But in the stable behind the Budget Inn you find a corner with some relatively clean straw.

And the baby comes: no hospital, no doctor, and no midwife. Just two first time parents who are feeling completely lost, confused, and inexperienced. 

But they make it through the birth and cleanup as best you can. At last they can rest.

Nope! Not just yet. Enter a crowd of shepherds. 

If the atmosphere in the stable was not – um – fragrant enough, with animals, 2 hot sweaty humans and the odors associated with birth, here arrive dirty unshaven men reeking of sheep.

They are so excited and talking over each other trying to tell of being visited by an army of angels.

The angels tell that the … long awaited … savior had been born … at last!

But those days have past …

 and here you are in the temple with Simeon and Anna making amazing declarations and predictions about your child.

This is the congregational participation portion of the sermon.

Put yourself in the sandals of Simeon or Anna. Many long years ago you had prayed that you would live to see the coming of the messiah.  That you would be present when Isaiah’s prophecy that “Blind people would see again, lame people would be walking, those with skin diseases could be made clean, deaf people could hear again, dead people would be brought back to life, and poor people hear the Good News.” (Matthew 11:5)

You were young with keen eyesight and a full head of dark hair. Now you are old. Not just old but very old. Your eyesight is weak, your hearing minimal and your once glorious hair is thin and white. 

And still you hold out hope that your prayer will be answered.

Now, look into your own heart, are there unanswered prayers there? Are you continuing to hope, to pray, and to patiently wait for the answer? Be honest with yourself. Have you given up hope because the prayer wasn’t answered on your schedule?

Okay, moving on to Mary and Joseph

What are you parents feeling? Confused, excited, overwhelmed?

Remember, Mary and Joe don’t yet know about the coming visit of the wisemen or running for their lives to Egypt. They can’t see the future that leads to the cross … and beyond. 

It’s probably a good thing that God doesn’t gift us with the ability to see our future or our children’s.

Take a deep breath and think, were Joseph and Mary’s lives really that much different than your own? 

Sure, you are not tasked with raising the Christ child, but haven’t you, aren’t you, or won’t you be raising each child without knowing what terrifying, wonderful, and amazing thing is going to happen next? 

Aren’t all of our lives filled with work, worry, stress, and anxiety?

Not so surprisingly, parent or not a parent you have those same unknowns. 

As I told the children, when we pray, God will answer. The answer may be Yes, it may be No, and hardest of all is when we are asked to Wait.

3 POINTS WHILE WE WAIT

  1. Keep praying and believing
  2. Keep expecting and watching for the answer
  3. Don’t overlook the answer when it comes, it may not look like you expected.

We aren’t given the road map of our lives. We move forward one fearful, hesitant, brave, joyful, and faithful step at a time.

Hymn writer: Ira F. Stanphill expressed it this way

 🎶Many things about tomorrow

I don’t seem to understand

But I know who holds tomorrow

And I know who holds my hand🎶 – 

If you have believed in your heart and declared with your lips that Jesus is Lord of your life, then you know the destination even if you can’t see behind the curtains of time to where that next step will take you. You must wait for it to be revealed.

God has many mansions, one of them has a mailbox with your name on it. 

So rest assured that Jesus knows the way home,

and he holds your hands.

There is a sign post up ahead. Your next stop the kingdom of God.

TALES OF STORMS AT SEA

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.”


Prayer:
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.
Amen.
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