“Ask a Butterfly, ‘Who Are You?’”

Luke 9:28-36

Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
Message: “Ask a Butterfly, ‘Who Are You?’”
Hear now the Parable of the Caterpillar
There was a caterpillar much like other caterpillars. It had lots of legs beneath and lots of stripes of black, white, and yellow. And like all of the other caterpillars, it crawled along eating leaves. That was its life.That is it was its life until one day it crawled upon a lovely flower. The flower was so glorious, so spectacular, so beautiful, that the caterpillar began to weep.
“I never knew such splendor existed!” it cried. “Look how the flower reaches for the sky. Look how gracefully it moves in the breeze. Oh how I long to be so beautiful and full of grace. But I am but dull and brown and fit to do nothing but crawl upon the ground. No one will ever gaze upon me and exclaim, ‘What beauty!’”In despair the caterpillar curled into a ball in the center of the colorful flower. Soon it slept. In that sleep, dream formed. A brilliant white butterfly came to him. It was whiter than sunlight on the snow. It glowed with such beauty that it was hard to look upon.In a commanding, yet gentle, musical voice the butterfly spoke, “Wake, my child. Arise, and join me, for I seek a relationship with you.”
“I c-c-can’t follow you,” replied the caterpillar, “You can fly, and I am fit for nothing other than to crawl in the dirt.”
“Then you must stop crawling in the dirt. I’ll give you instruction on how not to live in the dust.”
“I’ll try. However, I still can’t fly.”
“I’ll send my beloved son. Follow him and he’ll teach you all you need to know so that you can join me.”A short time later another caterpillar appeared. It also had stripes of black, white, and yellow. It looked just like any other caterpillar with legs below and stripes above. It was quite unremarkable until it said, “I am the son of the Great Monarch butterfly in the sky. I’ve been sent to show you how to fly.”“But, you have no wings either. How can you teach me to fly?”
“Ah, you need to understand how to live as a caterpillar before you can be a butterfly.”The new caterpillar spoke many things to the old caterpillar. They were wise words about how to live among the flowers, how to behave with other caterpillars, and how to show reverence for the Great Monarch.More and more caterpillars came to listen to the Monarch’s Son as he spoke about how it was going to be when they would live together in the sky. He spoke about how they would be changed inwardly and outwardly.Some caterpillars were upset with these teachings. The words were foolishness in their ears. “How can a worm like you speak of flying? You are just a grub like us.” They were so angry that sought to kill him. However, he was always surrounded by his followers and they feared the crowds more than they hated the new caterpillar.However, one day, a follower of the Son came to them and said, “I know a place and a time when you can come to him when he is nearly alone.” So they came, in force, with others who did not believe the tales told by the Son. They captured him and killed him. “That is the end of that nonsense,” they said, “Let no one speak of him again.”They felt quite smug about killing him until three days later when word came to them that the Son had been seen alive and meeting with his followers. He was continuing to teach them many things about the kingdom of the sky. He taught them that at the end of their life as a caterpillar they would enter a chrysalis and slowly be changed into butterflies in the image of the Great Monarch. As he was speaking, he was suddenly changed into a brilliant white butterfly and rose into the air until he could no longer be seen.
More about caterpillars.
That famous theologian Lewis G. Carol once wrote:
The Caterpillar and Alice looked at each other for some time in silence: at last the Caterpillar addressed her in a languid, sleepy voice. `Who are YOU?’ said the Caterpillar.
This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, `I–I hardly know, sir, just at present– at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.’
`What do you mean by that?’ said the Caterpillar sternly. `Explain yourself!’
`I can’t explain MYSELF, I’m afraid, sir’ said Alice, `because I’m not myself, you see.’
`I don’t see,’ said the Caterpillar.
`I’m afraid I can’t put it more clearly,’ Alice replied very politely, `for I can’t understand it myself to begin with; and being so many different sizes in a day is very confusing.’
`It isn’t,’ said the Caterpillar.
`Well, perhaps you haven’t found it so yet,’ said Alice; `but when you have to turn into a chrysalis–you will some day, you know–and then after that into a butterfly, I should think
you’ll feel it a little strange, won’t you?’
`Not a bit,’ said the Caterpillar.
`Well, perhaps your feelings may be different,’ said Alice; `all I know is, it would feel very strange to ME.’
`You!’ said the Caterpillar contemptuously. `Who are YOU?’
Now I ask you, “Who are you?”
If you have accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you are a new creature.
Who are you?
How do you explain your transfiguration to others?
Here is the definition of Transfiguration: to give a new and typically exalted or spiritual appearance.
In our scripture reading we see how Jesus was transfigured. “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white”.
For just a brief moment, those fortunate disciples saw Jesus as he truly is.
How often do we let others see our true nature?
And what would they see?
I would hope that they would see the glory of Christ shining through me.
But most likely if you were to see my true nature it would be fragmented.
There would be those glorious, dazzling white clothes,
patched together with filthy rags.
I am not yet complete.
But I strive forward toward that goal.
As Saint Paul wrote to the Philippians 3:12-14
It’s not that I’ve already reached the goal
or have already completed the course.
But I run to win
that which Jesus Christ has already won for me.
Brothers and sisters,
I can’t consider myself a winner yet.
This is what I do:
I don’t look back,
I lengthen my stride,
and I run straight toward the goal
to win the prize
that God’s heavenly call offers in Christ Jesus.”
I was a caterpillar.
I was a man lost in sin.
And the worst part of it was
that for the longest time,
I didn’t even know that I was lost.
In mine own eyes
And to the eyes of the world,
I was a good man.
As I measured myself against other men,
I could say, “I’m not a thief,
I’m not a murderer,
I obey the law
(that is the law of man-
For I didn’t truly know God’s Law)
I treated my fellow man as I wanted to be treated,
Most of the time.
I wasn’t a liar,
Most of the time.
I was good to children and small furry animals.
That made me a good man. Amen?
Yes I was a good man.
But still a man lost to sin.
I was so surrounded by
The darkness of the world
That I couldn’t see that
I wasn’t a Godly man.
I may have been morally upright,
But I wasn’t morally clean.
My garments were tattered and dirty.
And then,
And then, Jesus made everything right
I gave Him my old tattered garment
He gave me a robe of pure white.
As the hymn says,
I heard an old, old story how a Savior came from glory,
How He gave His life on Calvary to save a wretch like me;
I heard about His groaning, of His precious blood’s atoning,
Then I repented of my sins and won the victory.”
2 Corinthians 5:17 declares,
Whoever is a believer in Christ is a new creation.
The old way of living has disappeared.
A new way of living has come into existence.”
But, just as a caterpillar,
Doesn’t become a butterfly overnight,
My transfiguration was just beginning.
I was, and still am, in my chrysalis stage.
Paul, in his lengthy, lawyer way, wrote this.
In Romans 8
So those who are believers in Christ Jesus
can no longer be condemned.
The standards of the Spirit,
who gives life through Christ Jesus,
have set you free from the standards of sin and death.
It is impossible to do what God’s standards demand
because of the weakness our human nature has.
But God sent his Son to have a human nature
as sinners have and to pay for sin.”
I love the lyrics to the hymn by Isaac Watts “Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed.”
1. Alas! and did my Savior bleed,
and did my Sovereign die!
Would he devote that sacred head
for such a worm as I?
2. Was it for crimes that I have done,
he groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! Grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!
3. Well might the sun in darkness hide,
and shut its glories in,
when God, the mighty maker, died
for his own creature’s sin.
4. Thus might I hide my blushing face
while his dear cross appears;
dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
and melt mine eyes to tears.
5. But drops of tears can ne’er repay
the debt of love I owe.
Here, Lord, I give myself away;
’tis all that I can do.
Master, it is good for us to be here.
We have heard your command,
This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
We have been made into a new creature
Lord, we pray that Your beauty shines through us.
Go, you butterflies and share with the caterpillars.
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Blessed

Matthew 5:1-12
5:1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.
5:2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
5:7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
5:10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
5:11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
5:12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

I’ve been a Christian for fifty some years. But even in my preteen years I began to delve into the bible, trying to understand, to gain wisdom. In my teens I began to become a doubter. In my twenties I gave my life to God and Jesus as Christ and began once again to study the bible. I attended bible college with no goal other than to deepen my understanding of God’s word.

When I first began to preach, I told people, “I’m not really a preacher. I’m a student of the bible and just want to share what I’ve learned.”

I’ve said all that to confess this, I’ve always thought that the teachings of the beatitudes was to the multitudes on the mountain, commonly called the sermon on the mount. However, both the gospels of Matthew and Luke clearly state that he was teaching his disciples. I’m sure that some of those around them also heard but it was directed toward those who were his closest companions. Matthew 5:1
5:1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. and Luke 6:20 And lifting up his eyes to his disciples, he said: “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

How have I missed this all of these years? Did someone come in while I was sleeping and insert those words into my bibles? No, of course not. But the new question is, now that I know this was a specific teaching for a specific group of men, how does that change my understanding of the story?

First, let us understand the biblical meaning of being blessed.

God’s intention and desire to bless humanity is a central focus of his covenant relationships. For this reason, the concept of blessing pervades the biblical record. Two distinct ideas are present.

  1. First, a blessing was a public declaration of a favored status with God.
  2. Second, the blessing endowed power for prosperity and success.

In all cases, the blessing served as a guide and motivation to pursue a course of life within the blessing.” (Bible Study Tools.com)

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven

Poor in spirit, what does that mean? I checked with some other translations.

(GW, God’s Word) Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are those who recognize they are spiritually helpless. The kingdom of heaven belongs to them.”

( T4T, Translation for Translators) Matthew 5:3 “God is pleased with people who recognize that they have a spiritual need; he will allow them to be the people whose lives he rules over.”

(E2R,Easy to Read Version) Matthew 5:3 “Great blessings belong to those who know they are spiritually in need. God’s kingdom belongs to them.”

  • Spiritually poor, spiritually in need, and spiritually helpless. Been there, done that. Truly the first step toward salvation is to realize our need and helplessness. To personalize Romans 3:23 I have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Only by recognizing that we are spiritually bankrupt can we be ready to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
  • Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Matthew 5:4 God is pleased with people who mourn because they have sinned; they will be encouraged {he will encourage them.} (T4T version)

Matthew 5:4 Great blessings belong to those who are sad now. God will comfort them. (E2T version)

We mourn for those people, things, and opportunities that we have lost. We also mourn during times of hardship that have become unbearable. It is then that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us.

(KJV) Romans 8:26-27 ” At the same time the Spirit also helps us in our weakness, because we don’t know how to pray for what we need. But the Spirit intercedes along with our groans that cannot be expressed in words. The one who searches our hearts knows what the Spirit has in mind. The Spirit intercedes for God’s people the way God wants him to.”

  • “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

I used to think that meek was synonymous with weak. But that isn’t true to be truly meek you must have great inner strength. Jesus was meek. He was submissive. He was a servant to all, but none would say he was weak. He was actually restating what the psalmist had written centuries before.
(ASV, American Standard Version) Psalms 37:10-11 “For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: Yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and he shall not be. But the meek shall inherit the land, And shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.” God will remove the wicked so that the meek may life in peace.

  • 5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

To be righteous is to be morally good, respectful, and honorable. To hunger and thirst for righteousness is to strive for this godly behavior as if your life depends upon it.

  • 5:7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant in Matthew 18:21-35 begins with Peter asking how many times he must forgive. And Jesus taught in the Lord’s prayer that we are forgiven as we forgive.

  • 5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Matthew 5:8

(E2R) Great blessings belong to those whose thoughts are pure. They will be with God. We know that we are not speaking of our literal heart, the muscle that pumps the blood through our body. The heart spoken of is our inward being. We also know that without the grace of God we can not achieve that purity out heart. King David wrote, (Psalms 50:11-12) “Turn your face away from my sins, and erase all my iniquities. Create a clean heart in me, O God. And renew an upright spirit within my inmost being.”

  • 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

James 3:18 “And so the fruit of justice is sown in peace by those who make peace.” We are to seek peace even to the point of loving our enemies. Matthew 5:44 “But I (Jesus) say to you: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. And pray for those who persecute and slander you.” Now that is a peace maker because you must make peace within yourself to love your enemies.

Remember, once again, that Jesus was teaching his disciples to be: poor in spirit, to mourn, to be meek, seek righteousness, be merciful, be pure in heart, and to be peacemakers. And what reward was he promising them?

  • 5:10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • 5:11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

This was their earthly reward. And indeed if you read the lives of the apostles, they were persecuted. Most suffered cruel deaths. But their true reward was not of this earth not on this earth.

  • 5:12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Now what does this teaching mean to us, to you and me? We are Christ’s disciples in this time arms I this place. We are where the rubber hits the road. We are Christ,’s hands and feet in this age. We are his voice to those around us. He has given us a checklist of how we can be blessed to bless. Amen.

How Awesome is This Place

Genesis 28:10-18 10. Meanwhile Jacob, having departed from Beersheba, continued on to Haran. 11. And when he had arrived at a certain place, where he would rest after the setting of the sun, he took some of the stones that lay there, and placing them under his head, he slept in the same place. 12. And he saw in his sleep: a ladder standing upon the earth, with its top touching heaven, also, the Angels of God ascending and descending by it, 13. and the Lord, leaning upon the ladder, saying to him: “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac. The land, in which you sleep, I will give to you and to your offspring. 14. And your offspring will be like the dust of the earth. You will spread abroad to the West, and to the East, and to the North, and to the Meridian. And in you and in your offspring, all the tribes of the earth shall be blessed. 15. And I will be your guardian wherever you will journey, and I will bring you back into this land. Neither will I dismiss you, until I have accomplished all that I have said.” 16. And when Jacob had awakened from sleep, he said, “Truly, the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17. And being terrified, he said: “How awsome this place is! This is nothing other than the house of God and the gateway of heaven.” 18. Therefore, Jacob, arising in the morning, took the stone which he had placed under his head, and he set it up as monument, pouring oil over it.


        Our reading from the Hebrew Bible really caught my attention this week. The story of Jacob’s ladder is probably among the first Bible stories most of us learned.  And of course the important part of the whole story is the revelation of God to Jacob and the transfer of the promise from Abraham to Jacob.  The promise to bless all families of the earth through his offspring.

        This time, though, here is the part that stood out to me as I read this scripture, “”Surely the Lord is in this place–and I did not know it!” And “How awesome is this place!” It made me wonder – how many times have we been in one of God’s special places – and not known it? This place was so special to Jacob that he built an altar to God on this holy ground and named it Bethel.  That is Beth-El, two words with a hyphen.  It means House of God        

We need to understand the “why” and the “what” of and altar.         

  • Here is the WHY:  The Old Testament altar is used as a physical representation of God.  So that, what was placed on the altar, was symbolically given to God. We most often think of the blood sacrifices – offering goats, sheep, cattle, and birds to be killed and burned on the altar. However, there were also sacrifices of grain, fruits and vegetables, as well as offerings of wine and oil such as Jacob used on his altar. Our modern altars are much more symbolic (and a lot less messy)  We are to be the living sacrifice that is given at the modern altar.
        
  • Now the “WHAT”. The types of ancient Hebrew altars are divided into two main types of altars.  The Layman’s and the Priestly. 
  • The Priestly altar was what you would have found in the Tabernacle in the desert and later in the Temple in Jerusalem.  It was an ornately decorated altar used by the priests to perform their rituals.
        
  • The Layman’s altar was vastly different. Anyone could erect a layman’s altar.  They were used for a specific one-time purpose.  Such as Jacob’s revelation of the ladder between earth and heaven. The practice was common for a long time before it became codified into the Mosaic Law as found in Exodus 20:24&25.         It reads:  “You must build an altar for me made out of dirt. Sacrifice your burnt offerings and your fellowship offerings, your sheep, goats, and cattle on it. Wherever I choose to have my name remembered, I will come to you and bless you. If you build an altar for me made out of stones, never make it with cut stone blocks. If you use a chisel on it, you will make it unacceptable to me.”             

Lots of “layman’s Altars” are listed in the bible.  I am going to go through these fairly quickly, so rather than have you try and look them up as I go, I will be glad to give a list of the scripture references later, to anyone who wants them.

Genesis 8:20 (after the flood) Noah built an altar to the Lord. On it he made a burnt offering of each type of clean animal and clean bird.

Genesis 12:7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said,I’m going to give this land to your descendants.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

Genesis 22:9 When they came to the place that God had told him about, Abraham built the altar and arranged the wood on it. Then he tied up his son Isaac and laid him on top of the wood on the altar.

Genesis 26:24-25 That night the Lord appeared to Isaac, and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Don’t be afraid, because I am with you. I will bless you and increase the number of your descendants for my servant Abraham’s sake.” So Isaac built an altar there and worshiped the Lord.

Genesis 33:18-22  Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem in Canaan. He camped within sight of the city. Then he bought the piece of land on which he had put up his tents. He bought it from the sons of Hamor, father of Shechem, for 100 pieces of silver. He set up an altar there and named it El-elohe- God Is the God of Israel.

Genesis 35:1-3 Then God said to Jacob, “Go to Bethel and live there. Make an altar there. I am the God who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.” So Jacob said to his family and those who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods which you have, wash yourselves until you are ritually clean, and change your clothes. Then let’s go to Bethel. I will make an altar there to God, who answered me when I was troubled and who has been with me wherever I’ve gone.”

Exodus 17:10-15 Joshua did as Moses told him and fought the Amalekites, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, Israel would win, but as soon as he put his hands down, the Amalekites would start to win. Eventually, Moses’ hands felt heavy. So Aaron and Hur took a rock, put it under him, and he sat on it. Aaron held up one hand, and Hur held up the other. His hands remained steady until sunset. So Joshua defeated the Amalekite army in battle. The Lord said to Moses, “Write this reminder on a scroll, and make sure that Joshua hears it, too: I will completely erase any memory of the Amalekites from the earth.” Moses built an altar and called it Adonai-nissi, The Lord Is My Banner.

        Notice the common thread that runs through this scriptures?  These were places marked by a significant meeting with God.  These were places of “holy ground”.

        I’m going to do something here that you are not supposed to do in preaching.  You are not supposed to use “I” or “You”.  Sermons are supposed to be about “Us” and “We”. However, I’m going to relate a personal example of an experience I had with “holy ground” and then I’m going to ask you to tell me your experience of finding a “holy ground”.

        Some forty years ago I was working in a food production facility.  Things were going well for the company and they had just added a new production line and storage freezer capacity. Neither the production line or the freezer were in operation yet.  

     The freezer was huge.  It seemed like about a half a football field. As it was not in operation, it was used for storing 100 pound bags of flour. The place was dimly lit with only the emergency lights. When the big freezer doors were closed it was completely silent in there.     
    
     The first time I went into that room, I felt I was on holy ground. An industrial setting may seem like an unlikely place for holy ground.  But that was the feeling that I had.  I often took my lunch break in there.  I could talk out loud to God and listen and meditate in the silence.        

     I knew that the owners were Christians, so one day I mention to him what I felt in that room. He said that he was not surprised.  That a lot of prayer had gone into the planning and the building of the addition.        

     Over the years I have found other places that just seemed to be special “God places”  or as Jacob called them gateways to God’s house.        

      It is your turn.  Where have you had that “holy ground” experience?

        These stories can help to build up the body of believers. I know and believe that God is ALWAYS with us.  That He never leaves us alone. However, I thank God that He has made us aware of His presence in special places and special ways; so that we can say with Jacob, “Surely the Lord is in this place–and I did not know it!” And “How awesome is this place!”
Amen.

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Onward Christian Soldiers

Hebrew Scripture Reading: Judges 7:2-8 (NIV)
The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.’ Now announce to the army, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’” So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained.
But the Lord said to Gideon, “There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will thin them out for you there. If I say, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go; but if I say, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.”
So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the Lord told him, “Separate those who lap the water with their tongues as a dog laps from those who kneel down to drink.” Three hundred of them drank from cupped hands, lapping like dogs. All the rest got down on their knees to drink.
The Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the others go home.” So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites home but kept the three hundred, who took over the provisions and trumpets of the others.
New Testament Reading: Ephesians 6:10-20 (NIV)
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Message: “Onward Christian Soldiers”
“You have too many men.” No commanding officer would ever tell their subordinate such a thing when they were sending them into battle, “You have too many men.” And yet that is what God told Gideon. And then after sending 2/3 of the army home, God said, “There are still too many men.” God then gives them a test and those 300 that passed (or perhaps those that failed) were left to go into battle against the scourge of the Middle East.
The Midianites ranged from one end of the area to the other, destroying everything in their path. And then they would turn around and go back just as people were beginning to rebuild, looting, pillaging and destroying it all over again. The Midianites were not just constantly at war, they were a living, breathing war machine. And God in his wisdom, weans Gideon’s army of 32,000 down to 300 and sends them into battle. And guess what! This mighty, terrifying swarm of living weapons runs away. God didn’t need an army. He just needed a few men who believed that God would give the victory.
Onward Christian Soldiers! Marching as to war. With the cross of Jesus going on before. Christ the royal Master, leads against the foe. Forward into battle. See His banners go!
Yes, the Prince of Peace is leading the charge into battle. And we (you and I) are to follow into the fight. This is not a battle over land or resources or ideologies as human wars are fought. This is a test of the ultimate good over the ultimate evil with our (yours and my) eternal lives at stake.
For many years I thought that being a Christian meant fighting a defensive battle. I thought we were to defend ourselves against the onslaught of Satan and his followers. Then one day as I was reading the sixteenth chapter of the gospel of Matthew, where Peter has just declared that Jesus is the Messiah. It is such a familiar story and yet I saw something that I had never seen before. It stood out almost like a flashing light and I couldn’t believe that I’d never noticed it before. Look here where Jesus says, “Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Wait! What? The gates of hell shall not prevail against His church! The gates of hell are not attacking the church (you and I). You and I are attacking the gates of hell! This is not a defensive battle. We are on the offence. We are to take the battle to the very gates of hell.
Have you ever asked yourself, “Why does hell have gates?” Well, it is certainly not to keep us out of hell! Satan is trying his damnedest to get us in there! Literally! The gates are to keep the lost from getting away.
Now here is some sad news. Satan didn’t build the gates of hell. We built the gates of hell and of our sins are they constructed. Our sin was keeping us from coming into the full presence of God. And Satan wants us securely locked behind those gates of sin.
You see the-great-liar has people convinced that once they have sinned that they are forever lost! That they are not good enough for God to love them. That they will have to work really hard to earn God’s love. That God can never forgive or forget what they have done. And Satan is always there to keep reminding us of how unworthy we are.
And, as all strong lies are, it is partially true. We are unworthy. We can never earn God’s forgiveness. We can never do enough good to make up for the bad that we have done. We can not balance the scales of justice. We are guilty!
The devil really does not want anyone hearing the good news; that by simply accepting the free gift of salvation, by accepting the Jesus is our Lord, we can break down our own personal hell’s gate. For you see, Jesus died to set us (all of human kind) free from the judgment of eternal damnation. That’s right. Simply by praying the sinner’s prayer, “Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. In Your Name. Amen.” From that point on, we are free, no matter how often the liar whispers in our ear. For Christ died once, for all. His blood was poured out for the forgiveness of all sin … of everyone’s sin.
By believing in our heart and confessing with our tongue that Jesus is Lord, we have broken down our own personal gate of hell. But we are called upon to do more. We are to attack the gates of sin that others have built for themselves. We are to share the good news that Jesus’ blood has cleansed away our sins. We are no longer separated from the fullness of God’s love.
Years ago I heard a story about fleas. No, wait, I haven’t gotten off the topic, I promise. Did you know that a flea can jump vertically up to seven inches? That is 200 times its body length. I’m six foot tall. If I was able to jump 200 times my height, that would be 1200 feet straight up! I’d have a big S on my chest and a cape on my back … but I’d skip the spandex tights! Not a sight anyone would want to see.
Okay, now I’ve gotten a little off topic. However, I needed you to understand what remarkable jumping abilities fleas have. If you were to put a flea in a quart jar, it could easily jump out! No big deal for a little flea. However, the story goes that if you put a flea in a jar and put the lid on the jar, the flea will jump and hit the lid and not be able to get out. It will try again and again and again. Each time it will hit the lid. Eventually, the flea will jump just high enough that it no longer hits the lid. After that, even if you remove the lid, the flea will not jump out. It is trapped under a lid that is no longer present.
Many people are trapped behind their own personal gate of hell even though the gate is gone. Jesus has already set everyone (you, me, the guy across the street, and the guy on the other side of the world … everyone) free! We have the obligation, the command, to let people know that they are free. We don’t have to save them … they are already saved by the grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus. We just have to let them know that the gates of hell are gone. And by simply believing in their heart and confessing the Jesus is Lord, they can step into the presence of Almighty God without fear of damnation but with the confidence of a child of God.
Here is the “warning label” that is attached to every Christian: So gear up with the armor of God: “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” If you become (or became) a Christian thinking that suddenly your life was going to be all sunshine and roses or milk and honey, you have another thought coming. By giving your life over to God, your eternal life is secure. However, you still have to live in this broken world with all of its daily troubles. Remember Jesus told his followers in Matthew 6:34, “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
I doubt that the devil spends much time tormenting those he already holds captive. Their choices will carry enough consequences so that he can turn his attention to his main activity. His target is the man or woman of God. He will use every trick he can to make you turn away from God. Remember his response in the book of Job when “the Lord said to Satan, ‘Where have you come from?’ Satan answered the Lord, ‘From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.” And 1 Peter 5:8 warns, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
· The belt of truth: The devil is a crafty liar. And quite often he tells the truth in a way meant to deceive. Matthew and Luke’s gospels describe how the devil even quoted the scriptures to Jesus in order to tempt him. Keep the belt of truth securely around you that you many neither be deceived nor deceive others.
· The breastplate of righteousness: Righteousness does not simply mean “being right” it means “being right with God”. To be righteous we must act within the will of God.
· The shield of faith: Faith is one of the most misunderstood concepts of Christianity. I have faith that if I hold this book at arms length and let go, it will fall. That is a secular type of faith. We have faith in gravity because we have seen its effects before. Religious faith is to believe in the unseen and often unverifiable word of God. To the nonbeliever, this kind of faith is foolishness. Saint Augustine said, “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.”
· The helmet of salvation: The helmet of salvation covers our head and protects our mind, the seat of our knowledge. As I mentioned earlier, the devil will work to deceive us by attacking that which we believe. Trust in your salvation. It is enough protection because Satin can not take it away from you. Romans 8:39 “Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
· The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: The sword is both an offensive and a defensive weapon. So is the word of God, the Bible. Read it. Study it. Live it. The best way to keep from being deceived is to know the truth. The only way to know the truth is by the word of God. And if we are to fulfill the commandment to go into the entire world a share the gospel, we need to have the sword of the spirit to cut trough the enemy’s defenses and free the captive.
· And with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace: the gospel of peace is the good news that we are no longer at war with God as we were in our sinful nature. The gospel of peace means that we are in a battle to save not destroy, to release not to take captive, and not to destroy the enemy but to befriend him. (I’m speaking here of the souls held in bondage). Jesus declared that we are to love our enemies. What fantastic wisdom that is. If we love them, they are no longer an enemy we have “killed them with kindness.”
And rejoice in each victory while remembering the lesson that God gave to Gideon: God intentionally sent a weakened army against one of the mightiest armies of the ancient world so that men could not boast about the victory. The victory is God’s. We are just the vessels. No man or army of men could stand against a battle with the devil. But one man plus God is more than a match for anything that the evil one can muster. By wrapping ourselves in God’s armor, we are ready to both defend and attack. So go, not in your own might, but in the name of God in the armor of God and the gates of hell will fall away. Thanks bye to God. Amen.

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Time to Grow Up”

“Act your age!  Will you just GROW UP?”

Have you ever had that said to you? Have you ever said it to someone? Why is it so hard to grow up?

Do you remember Peter Pan singing, “I won’t grow up, I don’t want to go to school.  Just to learn to be a parrot, And recite a silly rule.  If growing up means It would be beneath my dignity to climb a tree,  I’ll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up.  Not me!! I won’t grow up, I don’t want to wear a tie.  And a serious expression In the middle of July.   And if it means I must prepare To shoulder burdens with a worried air, I’ll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up Not me.”

Brennan Waits:  wrote a song by the same title that contains the lines, “And I don’t wanna grow up. I don’t wanna have to shout it out. I don’t want my hair to fall out. I don’t wanna be filled with doubt. I don’t wanna be a good boy scout. I don’t wanna have to learn to count. I don’t wanna have the biggest amount. I don’t wanna grow up.”

    There is an appropriate name for this condition, The Peter Pan Syndrome.  Although it is not considered to be a psychopathological disorder, an increasing number of adults are presenting emotionally immature behaviors in Western Society.  They are unable or unwilling to grow up and take on adult responsibilities, and even dress up and enjoy themselves as teenagers when they are over 30 years old. It usually affects dependent people who haven’t developed the necessary skills to confront life.  

    Characteristics of this disorder are the inability to take on responsibilities, commit themselves or keep promises, excessive care about the way they look and personal well-being and their lack of self-confidence, even though they don’t seem to show it and actually come across as exactly the opposite. (Edited Source: Science Daily May 3, 2007)

   

    Personally, I remember in my late twenties having the fear that people would find out that I was still just a kid pretending to be an adult.  You don’t have to raise your hands, but am I the only one who experienced that? I must not be because I keep seeing Facebook posts about adults who want to put on their jammies and build a blanket fort into which to retreat from the adult world for a while.

    Why is it so hard to grow up?  Or why don’t we want to grow up?

    Really … do we have to?  I mean Jesus did say that unless we became like little children, we couldn’t enter heaven. Matthew 18:3 & Mark 10:15  Yes! Jesus was speaking of children’s ability to believe instantly and without doubt.  That is the kind of belief that Paul speaks of when he writes, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9

    Paul also writes to the church in Corinth, “When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child.  But when I grew up, I put away childish things.” 1 Corinthians 13:11  Undoubtedly Paul realized the necessity to grow and mature in our faith.  When he wrote to them and said, “I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ.  I gave you milk to drink, not solid food for you were not yet able to receive it.” 1 Corinthians 3:2

    As babies, we start life so helpless and so self centered.  All a baby really wants is to be warm, full, dry and held. We cry over anything that makes us uncomfortable.  When we are cold or hot, wet or hungry, or lonely; that gives us a reason to cry. Soon, we learn that crying works very well.  Cry and someone comes and changes us. Cry and someone feeds us. Cry and someone comes to hold us. We cry and someone comes and makes the discomfort go away.  Ta Dah! We have learned the secret of the universe: how to be content: Cry!

    Then we grow and begin to toddle around on our own.  We discover all kinds of new things as our world expands.  Sometimes we discover great new things like how to wiggle between the couch and the wall and have our own secret place.  Or how to unroll the toilet paper all over the bathroom floor. And how to climb up onto the couch and turn the lights on and off.     Sometimes we also learn hurtful things like the edge of the table has sharp edges at just the right height to bump our heads.  We learn that walking gets us around faster. We learn that falling skins our knees. And worse yet … we begin to be told, “No.”  There are things that we are not allowed to do. We might even get our hands spanked as we reach for the stove. How dare they treat us like that!

    And we begin to learn (hopefully) that crying doesn’t always work.  Sometimes instead of being held, we are patted on the back and told that, “It will be alright.”   

    We come into our teenage years and begin to learn that, not only are there things that we are not allowed to do, there are things that we are expected to do.  We have chores that need to be done. We learn that if we want something, we have to give something in return. We might have to earn the money to purchase something that our parents cant’ or won’t buy for us.

    As we mature we become less self centered (hopefully) and more others centered. We learn to give, not because we want something in return, but because someone else needs it.  We learn that a well balanced adult should have a balance between these two: self and others.  

    Newly born again Christians are a lot like new born babies.  We want God to hold us, to feed us, and to keep us safe from the cares of the world.  And God does.

    Learning experiences also happen to us as “toddlers in Christ”.  We discover new joys in the Lord like how to be alone with God in prayer even in a crowded place.  We learn to begin flexing our spiritual muscles and sometimes we find joy and sometimes hurt. God is there to tell us, “I am with you always.”  We begin to learn that there are some worldly things that, for our own good, we need to avoid.

    As “teenage Christians” we also learn that along with the “Thou shalt nots!”  there are “Thou Shalt do’s”. God begins to give us “Go and Do” commands. We learn that though we are still trusting in Him to provide our needs, we also need to step out on faith.

 

    We reach a level of Christian maturity where we have learned to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” Then, Jesus announces that we should be far more other-centered.  We are to not only be our brother’s keeper. Galatians 6:2 & Matthew 25:35  We are to be our brother’s servant. 1 John 3:17 And if that weren’t enough, we are to even love those who hate us and do evil things to us. Romans 12:17-21   We are to love and forgive as God has loved and forgiven us. Ephesians 5:1& John 13:34

We are to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48

We, like Paul, have not achieved and possess perfection.  But we are to constantly strive for it. Philippians 3:12

    Many … maybe too many … Christians view their salvation as “fire insurance.”  It is true that we were saved FROM something … our sins … or, as I understand it … we were saved from ourselves.  But salvation is more than “fire insurance”. We were also saved TO something. We were saved to SERVICE. Here is a short list of duties that we are told to perform:

Feed the hungry Matthew 25

Heal the sick Matthew 25

Visit the prisoner Matthew 25

Give drink to the thirsty Matthew 25

Clothe the naked Matthew 25

Make disciples Matthew 28:19-20

Teach Matthew 28:19-20

Baptize Matthew 28:19-20

Preach 2 Timothy 4:2 & Matthew 10:7

Correct 2 Timothy 4:2

Rebuke 2 Timothy 4:2

Encourage 2 Timothy 4:2

Instruct 2 Timothy 4:2

Be Evangelists Ephesians 4:11

Be Prophets Ephesians 4:11

Be Pastors Ephesians 4:11

Be Teachers Ephesians 4:11

Do works John 14:12 meJannes 2:14-26

Study 2 Timothy 2:15

    I could go on listing things that we Christians are commanded to do.  However, you need to ask God to give you your personal orders. Trust me in this … He has a job for you.  And it maybe a job that no one else can do. Whatever you are called to do, He will provide the path and the power to achieve it.

    The real question before us is, “Where are we in our journey toward Christian maturity?” 

    Our world is full of distractions that can stunt our Christian growth.

Certainly the culture outside our circle of Godly friends and family can get our attention and direct us away from the goal that God has in mind for us.  Work and/or school can sap our energies and occupy our minds. Financial and health issues can wear us down. Games, sports, television, internet, and others can be a welcome relief from the duties and demands of life, but can also pull us away from spending time with God.

    I don’t know how “old” you are in your walk with God.  I do know that, if we wish to continue to grow, we have to set aside some time to study God’s word and prayerfully open ourselves to God’s guidance.  Take time to pray. Remember, God already knows what you need. So pray from your heart without trying to make a fancy prayer that men will praise you for. Matthew 6:5-15  Jesus said that whatever we ask of him He will do. John 14:13  If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 1 John 5:14  If you lack wisdom, ask God. James 1:5  Pray, pray, pray without ceasing. 1 Thessalonians 5:17

    Remember when you pray that it is a conversation with God.  So, take time to listen for His response. Here are some things that I know God has to say to us:

  • You can do all things through Him who gives you strength. Phillippians 4:13
  • As you go, preach, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 10:7
  • Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant. Mark 10:43
  • Make your speech, behavior, love, faith, and purity an example for other believers.1 Timothy4:12
  • You are Christ’s representatives, and through us God is calling you. 2 Corinthians 5:20
  • You received a gift from God. Now I’m reminding you to fan that gift into flames.. 2 Timothy 1;6
  • Wherever you go, make disciples of all nations: Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.. Matthew 28:19
  • Always be spreading the Good News. God trusts you to do this because you passed his test. Don’t try to please people but God, who tests your motives.1 Thessalonians 2:4
  • Devote yourself to praying and to serving in ways that are related to the word. Acts 6:4
  • You will be his witness and will tell everyone what you have seen and heard. Acts 22:15
  • The Lord requires of you to seek justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with your God. Micha 6:8

    These are the paths to maturity.  These are the paths that will lead you to the goal God has for you.  These will help you to grow up. Amen

©2020 Thomas E Williams

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Foolishness of God

New Testament: : Romans 5:1-5

1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Gospel: John 16:12-15

12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Message: “Foolishness of God” Tom Williams

Our message title “Foolishness of God” comes from 1 Corinthians 1:25 where Paul writes, “The foolishness of God is wiser than man.”

We are going to look at our scripture reading a little bit at a time and try to gain a deeper understanding of what Paul is saying to us.

It begins with, 5:1 Therefore, since we are justified

Justified is a legal term which means that, under the law, we have been declared innocent or guiltless. We have been legally absolved of our actions. We have been acquitted of all charges brought against us under the law.

Wait a minute! This is the same Paul who wrote, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” And now he is saying that we are justified. Maybe we need to understand just what justification is and what it is not.

Justified does NOT mean that the person was innocent it means only that they could not be PROVEN guilty.

Now, we can all think of court cases where the guilty have been set free because of a technicality of the law. Every lawyer is looking for that loophole in the law that will get his client absolved of the charges.

So the truth is that we are guilty!

We might be innocent of nine of the Ten Commandments but every one of us is guilty of at least one. However, according to Jewish scholars, there are actually 633 commandments of God … not just the 10 that Moses brought down the mountain. Those were just the big broad strokes of the law. The other 623 were detailed explanation of the basic ten and detailed in Leviticus. We have a tendency to think in terms of BIG sins and small sins. That is not the way God sees things.

Here is an example: Lev 5:2 “If you touch anything unclean – the unclean dead body of a wild or tame animal or the body of an unclean, swarming creature … and then ignore what you did, you are unclean and will be guilty.”

Have you ever touched the dead body of a swarming creature (think fly or mosquito) and then not confessed it before God and made a guilt offering to the Lord?

Is it any wonder than that Paul, who was well trained in the Law, could say, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God?”

For all practical purposes, it is impossible to keep the law and remain right before God. And since God is holy, and his very presence is fatal to sin, we as sinful people are under a death sentence for our sin.

I’m not going to ask you to name your guilt … just recognize it. Just understand that we were under a death sentence and have now been absolved by our faith. As it says in our reading, Therefore, since we are justified by faith,

Here is another term that we use but do we truly understand what it means? What is faith?

Voltaire, the French philosopher, said, “Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe.”

Saint Augustine in the fifth century said, “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.”

Martin Luther King Junior said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

Saint Paul said, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” – Hebrews 11:1 )

Now we have faith … not just any faith… not faith in ourselves … not faith in our government … not faith in our church. We have faith in that through Jesus, God has eliminated our sins.

This is where that “Foolishness of God” comes into this message.

I will admit that this concept of faith was what held me back from becoming a Christian. This whole book is full of things that are just plain foolish to those without faith. Through faith the truth is revealed. So take the first step, even if you can’t see the second step. Seldom does God reveal the entire path. Often it is only after the first step that the second step is revealed. And after the second step the third step is revealed. And so on. The first step is to believe in God the Father, creator of Heaven and Earth. The second step is to believe in Jesus Christ His only son. The third step, believe in the Holy Spirit who, as Jesus said, will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. These steps you have started … but where your path will lead … only God knows. What I do know is that through these steps of faith we will be at peace with God.

We have peace with God

Peace with God. Once we were at war with God. In our selfishness we put our own desires and our own agendas before the will of God. By being self-centered instead of God-centered we were stopping the flow of blessings that God had for us. By following our own path we were lost and unable to save ourselves. God, who was never far from us, made a way through Jesus Christ.

through our Lord Jesus Christ,

By acknowledging the Lordship of Jesus over our lives we have received the grace of God. Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Every knee shall bow to him. And the sooner we realize His Lordship, the sooner we bow our knee to him, the sooner the Grace of God can be ours.

Grace, the unearned gift of redemption can only come when we truly say to God, “Not my will but thine.” We can only be filled with God when we are empty of self.

5:2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

5:3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,

Now, do you remember what I said a minute ago about this book being full of foolishness? Here is one of those “foolish” concepts. Boasting in our sufferings or as the English Standard version says, “we rejoice in our sufferings.”

Now that is foolish outside of a personal relationship with God.

When you read the Old Testament and you’ll find very clearly that bad things happen to bad people and good things happen to good people. The concept was that bad things were punishment from God for some sin in the person’s life. And the reverse was also believed to be true. If you were a Godly person and right with Him then everything would go your way.

It is amazing how that concept believed and promoted by the religious leaders even though a cursory glance at the lives of the prophets, judges and other Great Men of God. Let’s look at Moses the most revered of those great men.

As a baby he was cast adrift in the Nile River (think man-eating crocodiles … no wonder he had a stutter as an adult), raised by the oppressor of his people, and went from a position of power and wealth (as a member of Pharaoh’s household) to a wanted fugitive living in the wilderness raising sheep. Ordered by God to go do battle with Pharaoh and gain release of the captives. After winning their release, he had to lead this undisciplined, argumentative, disobedient multitude of people to the Promised Land, where they refused to go in. He then had to lead them in wandering the dessert for forty years before bringing them back to the Promised Land. And for his faithfulness … he died alone on a mountain overlooking the Promised Land that he wasn’t allowed to enter.

As strange as this concept of Troubles as a Sign of Sin was. It still persists today. How often I have prayed, “Why me, God? Why me? I’ve been faithful. Why?”

Here is what Jesus told his disciple and also the religious leaders of the day when they asked the same question.

9 Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. 2 And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.

That the works of God should be revealed.

I hope that, like me, you can look back on your life and see where those times of hardship and loss have moved you to a place where God could bless you. It is usually easy to see in hind-sight. I’m trying to see it in fore-sight.

I found this posted on Facebook and I think it explains this better than I can.

I am quoting now.

“For some time now, I have been trying to put together a presentation to raise awareness for ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Finally after much help I have come up with something. I could have given lots of numbers, statistics and other generalities, but it was suggested I tell my story.

First a little background about me. I was born January 20, 1958, the oldest of 3 boys in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Most of my childhood was spent in Taneytown, Maryland before moving to Iowa in 1976. Like most boys I played sports. Lots of sports. As I said to the youth group a year ago, sports was my “god”. My parents split up when I was 11, so God was not a focal point in my life. Which now seems strange as my mom was raised in the church, choir member etc., and my dad’s dad was a preacher. I accepted Jesus as my savior at 19, but took a long time to live a Christian type life .Little did I know that God in His infinite wisdom was preparing me for this difficult, yet absolutely wonderful journey.

Like many others it has not been a smooth road. It did help determine, build and grow the faith I have today, though. The last 4-5 years have been particularly difficult. A divorce, raising 5 boys alone, and the diagnosis of a terminal illness. Thus I adopted the verse from Job13:15, “Tough He slay me I will hope in Him.”, as my own. Which is ironic in itself, because I once told Pastor Kent , I had very little hope. Mostly because it was placing hope in man rather then God I learned. Now I come to consider my disease a blessing rather than a curse. Yes, a blessing! Roman 8:28 says “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Amazing!! In this I know He isn’t done with me yet. He still has great plans, purpose and use of this dreadful sinner. What lies ahead, I am not sure of it all, but I do know He strengthens me in ways I was unable to do on my own. For that I am grateful will humbly go where I am led.”

End quote

Do you see how this man came to realize that his disability was a blessing? I’m not talking about “when life gives you lemonade”. I’m saying that when life gives you lemons, praise God and thank Him for the lemons and ask Him what to do with them.

Sometimes WE have to fail … to have our world crash around us, for God to be revealed. I was taught and raised to be self-reliant. That means that I’m one of those guys who struggles and bulls my way through something without asking for help. And when one of my friends says, “Why didn’t you call me?”, I have to admit that it never occurred to me to ask for help. I do the same thing with God … sometimes. We’re working on that. Sometimes my self-reliance, my self-will, has to fail … for me to accept what God has in mind for me.

There is a famous prayer by John Wessley which I believe speaks to his own struggle with self-will. It reads,

“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 for 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.

I like this prayer because it is so much more eloquent than a prayer that I had started to pray but still says the same thing. My prayer goes, “God, lead me, push me, pull me, place me where I am to be and doing what I’m to do. I give you permission to override my will with yours. Amen.”

And what is the result of our suffering? Our scripture says,

Suffering produces endurance

5:4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,

5:5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

So, since we know that God will use ALL of our circumstances for our ultimate good – we rejoice in our suffering. That doesn’t mean that we have to rejoice FOR our suffering. We just have to apply that Foolishness of God principle and have faith that God has a blessing for us that we can only receive by passing through the time of trial. God will then be able to pour His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

Praise God! Amen.

Also visit my other blogs

  • Tom and Ella’s Daily Journal of Our Lives

http://TomAndEllaJournal.WordPress.com

  • Visit my devotions blog new devotions every day (nearly)

Ice Water Steam

1ST READING Genesis 1:1-2:4a
2ND READING Matthew 28:16-20
3RD READING 2 Corinthians 13:11-13
MESSAGE
A basic tenet of Jewish faith is the Shema as found in Deuteronomy 6:4 where it says,
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: 5And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
One God. One Lord.
Jews and Muslims share this basic belief in ONE GOD.
The Trinity that Christians believe in seems, at first glance, to say that we believe in THREE GODS.
And has and still is misunderstood that way by some today.
That is, of course, NOT true.,
Hear O Christians, Our God is one God.
We just see the various aspects of God as; Father, Son and Holy Spirit”
Different forms, different functions but one God, Commonly called the Godhead.
The Jews take the commandment,”Thou shalt not take the name of God in vain.” So serous that the name is too holy to be spoken aloud.
To make sure it was not mistakenly said while reading the Torah, it was spelled out without vowel marks – therefore unpronounceable.
In our English translations, when you see the word LORD written in all capital letters, that is a way of translating the unpronounceable name of God.
Here is another interesting thing about the name of God: as it is written in Hebrew, it is, by its nature, plural.
So while saying our God is one God.
It recognizes the many facets of God.
Also, throughout the Old Testament many ways were used when referring to the One God.
They used various names to describe various attributes of God,
Now, several weeks ago, I mentioned that a instructor of mine had said that anyone who tells you that they FULLY UNDERSTAND the Trinity is a liar.
And I said, at that time, that I had A way of understanding the 3-in-1 and 1-in-3 nature of the Godhead – that works for me
So, having said that, let me add my own “fine print”
Trying to understand the Triune God is not easy and it may not even be HUMANLY possible. .
This, however, is an analogy that gives me a “working understanding” of the Trinity.
Now understand that this is JUST AN ANALOGY and if you try to stretch it too far it may fall apart.
You may find something else that works better for you.
I find the analogy of water to work for me.
Water – H2O – 2 atoms of hydrogen and 1 atom of oxygen. 3 components combine to be 1 molecule.
Water also has 3 states of being.
Liquid Solid Gaseous 3 Forms but one substance.
Each of the 3 Forms of water have different properties without becoming a different substance.
Liquid water flows. The flow can be nearly still or in violent motion.
It is essential to life and yet can destroy.
Life, as we know it, must have water to exist.
We are literally made of water. 50 to 80 percent of our body is water.
In my mind I equate this liquid form of water to God the Father.
God the creator, God the life giver.
Solid water (ice) retains a distinct shape and easier for us to see and touch.
It is also, used for preservation.
I like to think of God the Son as ice.
God in solid form. Emanuel, God with us.
God the Son, preserver of my soul.
Gaseous water (steam) is harder to see but is the most energy filled form of water.
Steam harnessed can do amazing work.
So much power from something nearly invisible.
To me, the Holy Spirit is like steam.
The Spirit is what embowers us to do the work of the Trinity.
We can easily see the workings of the Spirit without seeing the Spirit.
No matter what form water takes (liquid, solid, or gaseous) it is still water.
So God is God whether He is in the form of Father, Son or Holy Spirit.
The Godhead is easily seen in our Genisis reading..
God the Father spoke.
In the gospel of John we see that God the Son was the agent through which creation took place.
And we see the Spirit of God moving across the waters of an unformed world.
Let’s take a look at what was the going on in our Genesis reading.
Repeatedly “GOD SAID” and miraculous things happened.
And it was GOOD.
When everything was done it was VERY GOOD.
God commissioned Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
We are part of creation and as God’s final creation, we were to be caretakers of creation; to maintain it the way God willed it to be when he spoke it into existence.
However, we, as people of Western Civilization, have set ourselves above and apart from creation.
In our error, we have, used His command to “subdue and have dominion” as excuses to exploit and destroy that which God created.
This is related to the “fall of man” and how that has affected ALL of creation.
Because of Adam and Eve’s willfulness in disobedience, all of creation was affected.
Therefore, we no longer live in the perfect world as it was created.
In the computerized day and age, you could say that the default setting for creation was perfection.
However, a virus (sin) has corrupted the system.
The Godhead has been and still is working to set the system right.
God, the Father, through the Law and the Prophets, gave us rules to live by.
The rules are not hard to understand.
By living within the rules people could align their will with God’s will.
As a matter of fact, If the Law were to be lived out by everyone universally, it would make for a nearly perfect world.
It would not, however, restore the world. The system is still corrupted. This would just be a “patch” to make it function better.
As I said, the rules / the Law is easy to understand. It is, it seems, impossible to live within the boundaries of those rules though.
Jesus, God the Son, came to set right that which had gone wrong in the relationship between man and God, man and man, and man and nature.
For about 33 years He lived among us. He experienced life as we live it.
By example and by teaching he showed us how we are to live in relation to God, to each other and to the rest of creation.
In His final moments as Emanuel (that is God with us), He gave His disciples what has been called the “great commission”;
Go therefore 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 that I have commanded you.”
If you look at the Son’s command you will see that it is not that far different than what the Father said to Adam and Eve back in Genesis.
Go into all the earth and bring it into the will of God.
We may have a tendency to think of the great commission in connection with sending missionaries or evangelists into the world.
You know, sending THEM.
It is easy to think that it is somebody else’s job.
The truth is, the command was given to ALL His disciples – that is, those who followed Him.
The command is to ALL who follow Him.
That means US. – YOU and ME.
Here is another thing about the commission that is often misunderstood.
It is often interpreted to be, “Go and get people into the church to do what Jesus taught.”
But today we are invited to hear it more deeply, and differently.
The first word of this text in Greek is not an imperative. It is a participle.
That is, the idea of going somewhere else is not commanded, but rather assumed. “As you go,”
This means that this is not some special pilgrimage or mission trip we are to take.
It means that as we go about our lives we are to make disciples; that is create and train followers of God who will restore the world to its “default setting”.
How?
As we go.
What we do, what we say, what we think, what we demonstrate to the world should all be useable to bring about changes in others.
By the way, I know that in our culture, when we say “make” disciples” we may be tempted to think of some assembly line process where we take the raw product (people) and force it into a mold that stamps out little Jesuses.
However, If we follow the example of Jesus, we can see that he didn’t force His followers to become copies of Himself.
Yes, He is our example and we are certainly to work toward the perfection that He demonstrated, However, we are not Him. We are US.
Frankly, we are unable to do what God, the Father and God the Son, have commanded us to do.
Really!
We are too weak.
We are too self centered,
too self willed
Too old,
Too young
Too ignorant
Too smart
Too fat
Too thin
Too …. Too … Too … US!
However, God, the Holy Spirit, that dwells in us, will use our talents, our strengths and even our weaknesses to further the kingdom of God.
If we let Him.
If we let Him, through Him, we can do anything.
“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me!” That is what is says in Philippians 4:13
You can do all things through Him who strengthens you.
We can do all things through Him who strengthens us.
Here ends the lesson.