IT IS A MATTER OF LIFE OR DEATH!

*

OPENING PRAYERS

Let us take a moment of silent prayer to lift these voiced joys and concerns to God as we also lift those unspoken concerns of our hearts.

O Lord our God, you are always more ready to bestow your good gifts on us than we are to seek them, and are willing to give more than we desire or deserve.

Help us so to seek that we may truly find so to ask that we may joyfully receive, so to knock that the door of your mercy may be opened to us; through Jesus Christ our Savior.

And all God’s people said “Amen”

1st READING Romans 6:2b-23
How can we who died to sin go on living in it?

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, So we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.

For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness.
For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!
Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?
But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.
When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.
So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death.
But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

2ND READING Matthew 10:40-42
Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.
Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous;
and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple — truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

3RD READING PSALM 13
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O LORD my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.
But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

CONFESSION AND FORGIVENESS

Lord, we who are imprisoned by our sins, have become so comfortable with that imprisonment that we are afraid to come into Your light and into the freedom you offer.

We are like little mice that venture slowly into the light and then scurry back into the darkness.

We are so fearful of change, but we truly want to become the people you intend us to be.

Can we truly be forgiven?

I am the God who forgives your sins, and I do this because of who I am. I will not hold your sins against you.

Isaiah 43:25 (TEV)

MESSAGE IT IS A MATTER OF LIFE OR DEATH!

IT IS A MATTER OF LIFE OR DEATH!

In his letter to the Romans, Paul, the Jew of Jews, schooled in the 613 commandments of the Hebrew law, like a good lawyer, hammers away at his point from many angles.

He repeats his arguments over and over.

Here is His main point right up front.

How can we who died to sin go on living in it?

Indeed, if we have died to sin – how can we go on living in it? Why would we want to?

We were prisoners to sin. Why would we return to that life?

Why would people released from prison return to doing the things that put them in prison?

The correct term for this is recidivism. (rE-sid-eh-vism)

I found some statistics about recidivism – that is people who have been released from prison but end up returning to prison.

Two studies come closest to providing “national” recidivism rates for the United States. One tracked 108,580 State prisoners released from prison in 11 States in 1983. The other tracked 272,111 prisoners released from prison in 15 States in 1994.

The prisoners tracked in these studies represent two-thirds of all the prisoners released in the United States for that year.

67.5% of prisoners released in 1994 were rearrested within 3 years, an increase over the 62.5% found for those released in 1983

The re-arrest rate for property offenders, drug offenders, and public-order offenders increased significantly from 1983 to 1994. During that time, the rate increased:

– to 74% for property offenders

– 67% for drug offenders

– to 62% for public-order offenders

The re-arrest rate for violent offenders remained relatively stable at about 60

Overall, reconviction rates did not change significantly from 1983 to 1994.

Among, prisoners released nearly 47% were reconvicted within 3 years

Among drug offenders, the rate of reconviction increased significantly, going from 35% in 1983 to 47% in 1994.

The 1994 recidivism study estimated that within 3 years, 52% of prisoners released during the year were back in prison either because of a new crime for which they received another prison sentence, or because of a technical violation of their parole.

Why?

One theory has to do with how people “see” themselves – their identity.

Identity develops through the application and adoption of labels.

Labeling theory argues that people develop as a result an identity forced upon them and then adopting the identity, or by self adopting an identity until that identity is accepted as their norm.

People are creatures of habit. Over time we become comfortable in whatever situation we are in.

For example, abused spouses often stay with the abusing spouse even when given an opportunity to safely leave.

Sexually abused children often grow to be sexually abusive adults.

As another example of how we become comfortable in our surroundings; several years ago a group of us went to the Appalachian mountains on a mission trip.

This is coal country. And the mines are mostly closed.

Real unemployment is around 80%. By REAL I mean not the unemployment rates reported by the government which only tracks those who are drawing unemployment benefits.

Because once the benefits have run out, they are no longer counted – even though they are still unemployed.

At any rate, we discovered that many children who grew up in the area would leave, once they became adults, and seek employment elsewhere.

That seems understandable to me.

However, the majority of these people would quickly leave their jobs and return to the area where the odds of finding another job were nearly nonexistent.

Why?

Because it was HOME. It was what they were conditioned to accept as normal.

Paul is making his argument that “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” “We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin.”

This is a sudden and radical identity change that Paul is talking about.

And Paul knows something about radical identity change,

Remember Saul the Jewish zealot who hunted down the Christian believers.

This Paul, who was knocked to his knees and blinded by the light of Jesus Christ, is arguing that once we are baptized into Christ, we are dead to sin. That is, that sin no longer lives in us.

The death Christ died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Here he is exhorting us to “live the change” that has occurred in us. He recognizes how easy it is for us, who have been freed from sin, to willfully return to it.

Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness,

Don’t put yourself in harms way. As an example: If you have a weakness for drink, stay away from places where you find drink. If you have lust in your heart, avoid the things that trigger the lust.

Whatever your weakness is, let the Spirit heal you and then don’t pick at the scab!

Then “present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness.

Take those areas of weakness and give them to God and He will turn them into tools for His kingdom.

Notice here that he is saying that Christ has done His part.

Now it is time for us to do our part.

Avoid the things we used to do.

And not just avoid the OLD but embrace the NEW, to become obedient to the will of God.

As he puts it, ”You are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?”

Here he gives thanks to God “that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”

Paul now asks us to consider our two paths – the old and the new – and what lay at the end of each of those paths.

“When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.

That means that when we were living in sin we could do anything we wanted without regard for the law – because we were already “law breakers”

So, he asks, “So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death.

Have you ever had someone say is essence that “I’ll live this life the way I want and then when I come near death, I’ll repent and be saved?”

Why?

Why would you want to continue down the path of destruction when you could be in fellowship with God?

Do people really think that the Devil throws better parties than God?

He doesn’t!

The Devil’s parties are just slow ways of destroying your body, your mind and of course your soul!

Here is the good news,now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life.”

Once my heart was heavy with a load of sin. Jesus took my burdens and gave me peace and joy within my heart and now I’m singing as the days go by. Jesus took my burdens all away.”

I don’t have to walk this road alone.

I don’t have to carry these burdens alone.

His yoke is easy because He does most of the work.

I no longer need to fear the future. Because even when hard times come, my savior is near.

Yes, the road of righteousness is hard at times.

But so is the road to destruction and there is no help on that road,

just the Devil goading you on while he laughs at you.

Paul says,For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”

Paul makes it very clear that the our choices are to go back to our old sinful ways and be dead to God, or to live the new life, purchased for us by Jesus Christ and given as a free gift of God, and be in eternal fellowship with God.

Which identity we choose is up to us.

Life or death.

Which path will you follow?

Let us join together in this version of the Lord’s Prayer.

THE LORD’S PRAYER Matthew 6:9-13

from “The Message”

Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best— as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You’re in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty!
Yes. Yes. Yes.

The affirmation of saying Yes Yes Yes. Seemed strange to me. But that is what Amen is – an affirmation. As a child I thought it meant “over and out – end of transmission” But it more closely means “Make it So” Where ever He leads me Make it So!

DISMISSAL WITH BLESSING

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.
Amen.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.
Amen.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.
Amen.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.
Amen.

And the Blessing of God, who Creates, Redeems and Sanctifies, be upon you and all you love and pray for this day, and forever more.
Amen.

FOR FURTHER CONSIDERATION

Paul’s Letter to the Romans is “Christian Theology and Ecclesiology, 101”

Romans 6:12-23 leads those of us influenced by American Reformed Evangelicalism to familiar territory, part of what’s been called in some evangelistic tracts, The Roman Road. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

This is a true and powerful text in its own right, even extracted from its proper context as most “Roman Road” presentations use it. But what Paul has offered us in these words in the context of Romans 6 is a much richer description of life in the body of Christ.

And an important part of the context of these words is not just the words on the page, but the religious and cultural assumptions that come with them. In Paul’s day, any notion of a sharp separation between ritual actions in community and the life of that community was unthinkable. Ritual life was not virtual life; it was real life in its most basic forms expressed ritually.

That is why Christians and Jews objected so heartily to idolatry and the worship of other people or gods, because for them, the ritual itself declared either non-reality (there are no other gods) or reality distorted (the god portrayed is a false one). This also meant that if there were a disconnect between what was expressed in a community’s ritual and how the people who celebrated it actually lived, the ritual was not the problem. The problem was failure to live the reality the ritual declared and embodied.

The ritual in question in this section of Paul’s letter to the Christians at Rome is baptism. Baptism happens to us and changes us. We have been buried with Christ in baptism, and raised with Christ in baptism to walk in newness of life, Paul says earlier (verse 4). If indeed we have been buried with Christ in baptism, we are actually dead to and freed from sin. If indeed we have been raised with Christ in baptism, we are actually freed from the power of death.

The key word here is “freed.” Just as a captive is set free from bondage, so we have been set free from sin and death. The captive set free is not thereby authorized to do whatever he or she wants, but rather to live lawfully, as a dutiful servant to the law among the people once again. Likewise, those freed from sin and death are not thereby authorized to live any way they please, but rather to live righteously as dutiful servants to righteousness in the communion of God and the saints on earth and in heaven.

Here’s the heart of Paul’s analogy in these verses. What former captive in his or her right mind would attempt to live lawlessly after being freed from captivity, unless the condition of captivity has become “home”? Likewise, given that we have been freed in baptism from sin and death, why would we give ourselves to the ways of sin and death again, rather than submitting to the righteousness of God in which we now stand?

Given the baptismal vows that have developed from the earliest centuries we might ask some more pointed questions. If we have been given grace and power to renounce the forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, repent from sin, resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves, why do we seem so timid and powerless in the face of these things around us? Is not our timidity a sign that we have resubmitted ourselves to sin and death, rather than, as the vows continue, to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior in union with his living body, the church?

“God and You”

Guest Minister: Rev. Caesar J. David of Union Park United Methodist Church, Des Moines, Iowa

  • Scripture Lessons:
Genesis 22:1-14
After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.

When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

Matthew 10:40-42
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
Sermon“God and You”

God provided for Abraham so that he didn’t need to sacrifice his son, lsaac. God provided a ram for the sacrifice instead. Abraham called that place “Jehovah Jireh” (The Lord will provide).

There are a just a couple of things to note as we understand God as our provider in a very personal way.
God knows what you need. Our God is a personal God.We have a personal relationship with God.Sure we can worship Him as a family, as a Church family or as a community, but God has you in sight as an individual too. Last week we read in the Scripture passage we read from Matthew about how intimately God knows you (Even the hairs on your head are numbered!).
And we each have our own sets of needs and individual circumstances. God knows exactly what they are.God knows your struggles, your disappointments, your fears, your secrets. God knows what you need. It may be different from what I need, or from what your spouse needs. God is aware of your individual, personal needs – physical, emotional, spiritual, etc.2. You must have faith. Because of the personal relationship we each have with God, we must seek to strengthen it by a personal effort. That would include adding personal meditation time to corporate worship, praying to have personal conversation with God and making time to listen to Him, making changes in behavior, priorities, attitudes and so on so that my life becomes pleasing to Him, and I can honor Him with my personal talents and resources. lt also means that I must exercise my faith.
In Matthew 9:20-22,we read about the woman who suffered with the ‘issue of blood’ who made her way through the crowds to Jesus with the thought, ‘if l could only touch the hem of His garment, I will be healed’, exhibited that kind of faith and connection that is needed. She was part of a crowd following Jesus,but she stood out from the rest of the crowd by reaching out to personally touch Jesus,and in that she received a personal blessing – she was healed.
Hebrews 11:6 says,”Without faith it is impossible to please God”. Faith is sort of, a precondition for blessing in the sense of being in preparation of and alignment with the outpouring of God’s blessings.
3. God’s provision is unique for you. We sometimes get disappointed because we look at how God has cared for or provided for someone we know, but God is not doing anything for us. God has made us each unique. His provision for each of us is also unique. We cannot compare our burdens with those of others, neither blessings. It can be such a comfort to know that no matter how strange our circumstances may be, how convoluted and entangled we feel, God has a perfect solution. We need to stay faithful and stay in faith to see God’s unique, timely, sufficient and awesome provision.
While God cares for our temporal needs and answers our prayers for these, His love for us is so great that it covers us for all eternity. God has made a provision for us to be saved from eternal death and have eternal life instead. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life”.
Gen. 22:2 He said, “Take your son,your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.
2 Chr.3:1 Then Solomon began to build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to David his father, at the place that David had appointed, on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.
Scholars debate over if Moriah the same place – Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified as the sacrificial lamb after many centuries. Genesis mentions “land of Moriah” vs. “Mount Moriah.” in 2 Chronicles or the vicinity where the Jerusalem temple was built after hundreds of years. lt certainly is in the vicinity.
Leaving aside the history and geography of the debate aside,let’s note that Jehovah Jireh- The Lord provides – not only things we need in our earthly life, but Life for all eternity. It’s the same place where God provided for Abraham a ram to take the place of his son, lsaac as sacrifice so that he may not physically die,that,God provided his own Son, Jesus,to be the perfect and sinless sacrifice for our sins so that we may not die the eternal death that we deserve for our sins.
God knows what you need.
You must have faith.
God’s provision is unique for you. God has the ultimate provision for you – Eternal Life. God bless you to understand His Word and to respond to His Love for you so that, if you haven’t already, you must taste and see that the Lord is Good and His Mercy endures forever.
Also visit my other blogs

  • Tom and Ella’s Daily Journal of Our Lives

http://TomAndEllaJournal.com

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

"Light for my path

Guest Minister-Rev.Caesar J.David|Union Park UMC, Des Moines, Iowa

Scripture Lessons:

Psalm 119:105-112

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

106 I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to observe your righteous ordinances.

107 I am severely afflicted; give me life, O Lord, according to your word.

108 Accept my offerings of praise, O Lord, and teach me your ordinances.

109 I hold my life in my hand continually, but I do not forget your law.

110 The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from your precepts.

111 Your decrees are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart.

112 I incline my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the end.

Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

13 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 Let anyone with ears listen!”

18 “Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away.[a] 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

Light For My Path

Our Gospel reading is Jesus’ Parable of the Sower.The Parable of the sower is an ‘allegory’ about the Kingdom of God. The seed is used as a metaphor for the Word of God.And the parable goes on to describe the various kinds of soils that the Word of God can be received in, and depending on which,the result will be a crop being produced or not.

Our lectionary reading from Psalm 119 also tells about the Word of God.One of the conclusions we draw from Psalm 119 is that the Bible is more than “just another religious book”. It is not an academic textbook for learning about religion or even life.The Bible is a dynamic book.It is living. It speaks words that have power.

In v.105,the lamp and light is used as a metaphor for the Word of God. Other metaphors used for the Word of God are: sword, mirror, milk, hammer, fire, etc. Psalm 119:105 says,”Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path”.

Today’s message is a simple reminder about the Word of God as it lights up our path.

The first thing that the Word of God, as Light, does for us is:

1.It clearly shows us where we stand.

It clearly shows us if we’re standing in the danger spot of our own sin, bitterness, arrogance, stubbornness, unforgiveness, injustice, hard-heartedness, and idolatry.

We may be good, virtuous, righteous in our own sight, but the Word of God reveals us as sinners and as people prone to sin.We may look good in our own eyes,or even in the eyes of people around us,but the Word of God shines its light in the darkest corners of our hearts.

When we walk in ignorance, we may continue making mistakes,sometimes even being unaware of them, God’s Word lights up our path so that we can be sure that we’re walking in the right direction.

2.It is the absolute standard so that we need never doubt. We sometimes measure our steps and direction, right or wrong, according to our own ideas and framework of knowledge. At other times, we measure our steps and evaluate ourselves based on what people say, what society says.That can sometimes leave us feeling inadequate and deficient. The only sure way to know is The Word of God which is the absolute standard of Truth and makes everything clear.

3.The Word of God,as light, directs our steps and keeps us headed in the right direction. It enables us to see mot only dangers,but also the opportunities ahead of us Without the Word of God to enlighten us of the kind of obstacles that are in our way, we would trip and fall. Without the Word of God shining on our path to tell us which is the right path to take and which is the one to avoid, we may end up going the way of complete destruction. It is the Word of God that lights up our way and keeps us on the path of blessing,the path of peace, protection and prosperity.

If we have been neglecting to read the Word of God, let’s begin today. Open your Bible and start reading. The Word of God is dynamic. The Bible is alive and active. It will speak to you and your particular situation. You will discover for yourself how it will be like a lamp directing your steps and illuminating your path so that you will find yourself in alignment with God’s plan for your life. There are blessings to be discovered.

The Bible: banned, bumed, beloved. More widely read, more frequently attacked than any other book in history. Generations of intellectuals have attempted to discredit it; dictators of every age have outlawed it and executed those who read it. Yet soldiers carry it into battle believing it more powerful than their weapons. Fragments of it smuggled into solitary prison cells have transformed ruthless killers into gentle saints.” -Charles Colson

That power of the Word of God is available to you and me today.

Let the Word of God light your path, and light up your life. God bless you.

Also visit my other blogs

  • Tom and Ella’s Daily Journal of Our Lives

http://TomAndEllaJournal.com

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

Trouble! You Will Have Some

Trouble! You Will Have Some

1st Scripture Reading:

Jeremiah 20:7-13

“O LORD, you have enticed me, and I was enticed; you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me. For whenever I speak, I must cry out, I must shout, “Violence and destruction!”

For the word of the LORD has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.

For I hear many whispering: “Terror is all around! Denounce him! Let us denounce him!” All my close friends are watching for me to stumble. “Perhaps he can be enticed, and we can prevail against him, and take our revenge on him.”

But the LORD is with me like a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble, and they will not prevail. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten.

O LORD of hosts, you test the righteous, you see the heart and the mind; let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause.

Sing to the LORD; praise the LORD! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers

Responsive reading: Psalm 69:7-10, (11-15), 16-18

It is for your sake that I have borne reproach, that shame has covered my face.

I have become a stranger to my kindred, an alien to my mother’s children.

It is zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.

When I humbled my soul with fasting, they insulted me for doing so.

When I made sackcloth my clothing, I became a byword to them.

I am the subject of gossip for those who sit in the gate, and the drunkards make songs about me.

But as for me, my prayer is to you, O LORD. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me.

With your faithful help rescue me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters.

Do not let the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the Pit close its mouth over me.

Answer me, O LORD, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.

Do not hide your face from your servant, for I am in distress–make haste to answer me.

Draw near to me, redeem me, set me free because of my enemies.”

Gospel Reading:

Matthew 10:24-39

A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.

Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

Message:

Trouble! You Will Have Some!

Many non-christians think that by being a Christian you have no troubles. Unfortunately, many Christians seem to think that, by being a Christian, they should have no troubles. Their voices raise to God, “Why me, Lord? I’ve been good and faithful to you. Why am I attacked, day and night?”

Why are we made to suffer through (insert your own trouble here.) I’m going to stop talking for a moment. During this silence, look into your own life a see the things that are troubling you.

  • Death past,present, or impending death

  • Sickness and injuries

  • Financial worries

  • Social issues, both personal and global

  • Marital turmoil

  • Unconfessed or hidden sin

It is important to remember that this is no longer the perfect world that God created for us. That world became broken with the first sin.

Also remember:

1 Corinthians 10:13 No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”

Saint Paul knew something of pain and suffering. He was beaten, run out of town, cursed, lied about, and thrown into prison. And yet, he was not broken. For he knew, “those who lose their life for (Jesus’s) sake will find it.

Just as some Christian believe that their life in the faith should provide them a trouble free life, there are far to many Christian who do not like the militaristic tone of Jesus’s message here. They are quite willing to accept Jesus saying, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

However,they are disturbed when they read Jesus saying, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Jesus, the man of love and peace, wielding a sword? I can’t quite imagine it. The same teacher that taught, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:43-45)

The same teacher that taught, “Love your enemy,” now says, “one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.”

And why are our enemies in our own family? Jesus said, “I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

Please, friends, don’t tell me that you are unaware that we are in a war. Since the garden of Eden a battle has been raging. God and his angels have been working to repair that which was caused by that Old Deceiver when he tempted Eve to eat of the one tree that God had expressly forbidden.

In the letter to the Ephesians, chapter 6, verse 12, we read, 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.”

Jesus knew where the true battle was being waged, in the heart, mind, and soul of every human being, past, present, and future. As a consequence of this struggle, in and for the very souls of humanity, families will be torn apart. Jesus knew that not everyone was ready to accept the gift he was about to provide.

The law and the prophets had provided a bridge over the chasm that mankind created between themselves and God.

Jesus knew that his sacrifice was about to fill and seal that void. He also knew that not all would accept the gift, indeed they would fight believing and accepting that gift. He knew that those who carried the Good News of freedom from sin would be reviled, beaten, and abused by family and friends. This was his warning to his followers.

He knew that, just as he was to suffer and die at the hands of those who hardened their hearts against the eternal life saving miracle of freedom from sin, … just as he suffered, his followers would also.

We live in a time and place where we will likely never be beaten or killed for our belief. Do not be fooled into thinking that the battle has been won. Lack of outward resistance should never be considered as acceptance.

Ask yourselves:

  • Do I daily immerse myself in the word of God?

  • Do I praise Him daily?

  • Do I pray open, honest, heartfelt prayers?

  • Do I listen and look for God’s guidance?

  • Have I :

  1. Fed the hungry?
  2. Given. drink to the thirsty?
  3. Welcomed a stranger
  4. Clothed the naked
  5. Comforted the sick?
  6. Visited the imprisoned?

In short, have you caused trouble for the devil today?

Is the Spirit of the Lord prompting, pushing, demanding that you speak his message? Can you, along with the prophet Jeremiah, say, For the word of the LORD has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.”

If there is no burning fire within you, then you need to fan those God given embers into flame.

Look again at Psalm 69:7-10, (11-15), 16-18

It is for your sake that I have borne reproach, that shame has covered my face.

I have become a stranger to my kindred, an alien to my mother’s children.

It is zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.

When I humbled my soul with fasting, they insulted me for doing so.

When I made sackcloth my clothing, I became a byword to them.

I am the subject of gossip for those who sit in the gate, and the drunkards make songs about me.

But as for me, my prayer is to you, O LORD. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me.

Draw near to me, redeem me, set me free because of my enemies.”

David knew, Jeremiah knew, and Jesus knew, when you earnestly seek to do the will of God, troubles will follow you. I would go so far as to suggest that, if the evil one isn’t causing troubles in your life, it may be because you aren’t troubling him.

Don’t go out breathing hellfire and brimstone. Go into all the world sharing the Good News of the victory in Jesus with everyone.

Go forth, Christian, not to give them hell, but to give them heaven.

Here ends the message.

Also visit my other blogs

  • Tom and Ella’s Daily Journal of Our Lives

http://TomAndEllaJournal.com

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

“Be yoked”

Guest Minister – Rev, Caesar J. David, Union Park United Methodist Church, Des Moines, Iowa

Scripture Lessons:

Psalm 45:10-17
Listen, daughter, and pay careful attention:

Forget your people and your father’s house.
Let the king be enthralled by your beauty; honor him, for he is your lord.
The city of Tyre will come with a gift,people of wealth will seek your favor.
All glorious is the princess within her chamber; her gown is interwoven with gold.
In embroidered garments she is led to the king;
her virgin companions follow her—those brought to be with her.
Led in with joy and gladness,
they enter the palace of the king. Your sons will take the place of your fathers;

you will make them princes throughout the land. I will perpetuate your memory through all generations;

therefore the nations will praise you for ever and ever.

Matthew 11:25-30

At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Be yoked”

As we celebrate Independence day (USA). It’s the day when we thank God for having the freedom as a country and also as individuals. What’s the difference? We must realize that there are countries in the world that are independent, but that does not automatically translate to freedom for its people.

If we think about our freedom and privileges against the backdrop of what’s happening in other countries around the world, maybe we will realize how precious this freedom is. We may have been taking it for granted or even feeling entitled. It is indeed our privilege; we’re just blessed to have it. We must ponder over a few things as we think about our freedom. For example, we must ask if our exercise of freedom is getting in the way of other people s experience of freedom that they’re also entitled to. Do I care? May be not. But what happens when someone else’s idea of freedom gets in my face? I hope we’re grappling with those kind of questions as we think of our freedom on this occasion of Independence day.

  • Am I abusing the freedom I have?

  • Am I misusing the freedom I have?

  • Am I under-using the freedom I have?

There may not be clear-cut answers, but we do have certain directions that we can think in. And that direction comes from the Word of God which alone is the path of blessing.

So, we cherish our freedom. God made us free. God gives freedom and our national constitution ensures it. With the kind of fierce independence that is our very soul, it might be hard to read a passage such as in Matthew 11:25-30 which talks about a Yoke. First of all, what’s a yoke? The dictionary says: a wooden crosspiece that is fastened over the necks of two animals and attached to the plow or cart that they are to pull.

Lets talk about this yoke and what it may mean for as especially as we re thinking about this great land of America, freedom and the current context.

1. Yoke signifies partnership.

First of all there is the concept of partnership. It s a move away from being alone. The concept of partnership is strongly recommended in the Bible. Right from creating man and woman as a couple, to the pairs of animals in Noah’s ark, to Jesus sending out the apostles two by two, and later the promise of the Holy Spirit to comfort, guide and accompany us, we know that God wants us to have help and not struggle in our own strength.

So, being yoked would also mean having Jesus as a partner, He’s there to help and lighten your burden. His yoke, His way, is the lighter load to bear in this world in which there are forces that work to destroy us. Praise God for Jesus is with us. He struggles with us. He shares our burden and makes it light. He takes upon Himself the biggest burden which is the burden of sin and its resultant punishment. And that is why we’re free – from the burden of sin and eternal death.

Take my yoke upon you.,. and you will find rest for your souls’. Yoke signifies control.

The idea of ‘being controlled’ can be repulsive at first blush. But let s think a little deeper about the whole idea of control. Is all control bad? Is it helpful in some way?

For example, is it helpful in the sense of having a direction, purpose and becoming a blessing. The yoke is part of the instrument and process that is used to plough the land, to make it fertile and productive. Taking that yoke means giving a degree of control to God for us to be used as a blessing in that land. President Kennedy spoke these famous words “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country”. And I’m sure that we all find that inspiring and we seek to do everything in our power to make our country great.

This Independence day, let’s think about the ways in which I am a blessing to this land.

Being yoked also removes the focus from ourselves and we know that ifs not all about me Freedom and Responsibility are just two sides of the same coin. Sometimes we take more seriously our freedom and not seriously enough our responsibility and what we owe. When we are able to look beyond ourselves well know that it s also about the land that I belong to, the people of this land; it’s about us all.

When we re yoked with Christ, our lives are in tandem with the values of Christ. These values and principles include 一

love and forgiveness,

unity, peace and justice,

serving and being the least

putting ourselves last

forbearance and kindness

equality

etc.

May God bless us to understand His Word and to accept His offer of Salvation, His offer of unburdening ourselves and becoming an instrument of blessing to people and the land that we co-habit.

-Prayer

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for blessing us to have the privileges of this land and its people. Forgive our arrogance, ignorance and negligence. Teach us to be sensitive, grateful and eager to be a blessing. Help us find rest within so that we will have peace around us.

Amen.

“ March forward”

Guest Minister -Rev. Caesar J. David, Pastor, Union Park United Methodist Church, Des Moines, Iowa

Video of service

Scripture Lessons:

Psalm 116

I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my supplications. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live. What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?

I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord, I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones. O Lord, I am your servant; I am your servant, the child of your serving girl. You have loosed my bonds. I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice and call on the name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the house of the Lord, in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the Lord!

Matthew 9:35-10:8

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.

“ March forward”This passage from Matthew contains the account of Jesus calling and sending out the Twelve Apostles. When we read further in the passage (v. 16ff), Jesus lets them know that it is not an easy task that they have been given. They will have to face persecutions and hardships.
It is like soldiers being sent out to battle. And talking of battles an d soldiers, we have a very beautiful Hymn that you will be singing in this service. It’s called “Onward Christian Soldiers”. It’s a sort of controversial hymn.
The hymn began as no more than a simple processional song, something for children to sing as they crossed the village of Horbury Bridge to the parish church (Yorkshire, England). The author, Sabine Baring-Gould (1834–1924) who was a school master, later became a Pastor, in writing this hymn set the scene for the spiritual conflict between Jesus and the devil. It became controversial because of the perceived militarism in text and music (“St. Gertrude” which is the second tune used in an arrangement by George Sullivan in 1871). Now, we won’t get into the details of the Anglican / Roman Catholic ecclesial understanding of the states of Church – the Church Militant, Church Penitent and Church Triumphant, but let’s just say that history had some chapters like the Crusades, holy wars and other wars and so on. And it wasn’t easy to ignore the nationalistic and militaristic overtones of this Hymn.
It comes as little surprise, then, to learn that “Onward, Christian Soldiers” was initially to be excluded from The United Methodist Hymnal (1989). The decision was picked up by local newspapers and national broadcasters, unleashing a wave of protest from across The United Methodist Church (some eleven thousand pieces of mail were sent to the hymnal committee).
The restoration of the hymn resulted from a course of healthy debate over the use of military imagery, and recognizing its biblical and early Christian origins. People still thought that it may be dangerous in perpetuating the acceptability of religious warfare — metaphorical or otherwise.
Professor of Preaching Emeritus Thomas Long’s 2012 article in The Christian Century, “The absurd in worship,” suggests another meaning to the hymn — not in viewing the church as an entity able to militaristically destroy its enemies, but as one that “makes no advance except that of love, and has no enemy but that which undermines God’s hope for human flourishing.”
Today, if we are to consider ourselves as soldiers – Christian soldiers that are at war, it would not be incorrect, for we are indeed at war. Of what kind? Let’s see. The theme of spiritual warfare is deep in the Bible. Many Christian denominations still speak of “The Church Militant”. The Methodists define it as those “engaged in constant warfare against the world, the flesh and the devil…Ephesians 6 talks about the battle gear! It says ‘put on the whole armor of God’ and it goes on to mention (Ephesians 6:10-20):
 Belt of Truth.  Breastplate of Righteousness.
 Feet fitted with readiness to proclaim the Gospel of Peace.
 Shield of Faith.
 Helmet of Salvation.
 Sword of the Spirit — The Word of God.
Notice who we’re fighting. Eph 6:12 says: For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.Coming back to our text (I want to focus on Matthew 10:8), Jesus sent out his Apostles with very specific instructions:
Mat t 10:8a – Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.
No doubt, Jesus also healed physical ailments and expects those He sends on His behalf to do the same, but there’s a deeper spiritual dimension to this and we need to understand that in the larger, scheme of Jesus’ teaching and ministry about justice, gender-justice, peace, equality, affirmative action, call to faith and service, affirmation of the Reign of God, socio-economic sensitivity and so on – what these might further mean.1. Cure the sick.
One of the main signs of being sick is being weak. And it works both ways: weakness can lead to sickness, and sickness can lead to weakness. In any case, there is a close connection for us to know that the people who are weak are sick or close to being sick. Going beyond the physical affliction and understanding it metaphorically as well, we can see that people can be weakened in the sense of being disempowered and disenfranchised. People can be divested of their power to make choices, weakened to the point of subsistence or even substandard living, or forced by circumstances to not have the strength or opportunity to make changes to lift themselves out of those circumstances.The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a great comfort in seeking to address these struggles. The Good news is that God is interested in our affairs and struggles with us for justice and peace.As people ‘called out’ and ‘sent’ to heal and cure the sick, we need to l ook at how we may bring healing to the lives of the people afflicted in every way, not only physical, but spiritual, social and economic too. Our efforts to do that may take us into the area of charity, social justice, advocacy and focusing on people in the margins of our society. It’s not easy and we may find ourselves indeed contending with the ‘powers and principalities’ of this world.2. Raise the dead
There is the obvious message for people ‘dead’ in sin – so mired in sin that this condition has removed people far from the source of life and light. If we are in that state, we can rejoice in the hope we have in the Gospel message of Jesus Christ that gives life.When we see others in this condition, we need to reflect and shine the light of Christ in a way that they are brought to the saving and life-giving knowledge of the love of our Savior Jesus Christ.We may also be dead in the sense that we don’t feel anything – nothing moves us. We lose our sensitivity, our conscious is dead. If we find people around us in that state, may be, our efforts could be towards building awareness so that we would all be alive and alert to what ails us as a society and what our responsibility should be to contribute to the health of our society and world.
If we have become dispassionate or come across apathy, let’s make efforts to reignite the passion for the kind of life that God meant for us all to have as His created beings. The Good News of Jesus Christ includes abundant life for all.3. Cleanse the lepers
We know that lepers were considered unclean. They had to live on the outskirts of the town. They were not allowed to use the same resources as other people. Today, we may or may not have people around us that are afflicted with the disease of leprosy, but in our social treatment of some people we certainly have ‘social lepers’ – people that we keep far from us. And we’re not talking only about the redlining of neighborhoods. This can perhaps educate us about those that are ostracized, marginalized and relegated to live in shame or fear on the periphery of our mainstream society. Who could these people be? May be those that are of a different orientation, or people with a different skin color, or a certain race / nationality, may be disabled, may be those that hold a different ideology, and so on. When we observe systems and people that discriminate and exclude some people from mainstream activity, we must counter that with actively building up inclusive, democratic and participatory processes towards a more egalitarian society. That will cleanse the leprosy and there won’t be lepers. Can we understand that as as we do a social reading of the Gospel message?4. Cast out demons
A demon-possessed person was a person in the grip of an evil power; he or she was no longer in control of himself/herself and of their actions. The various manifestations of evil can be seen in the diabolical crimes and atrocities we see committed. For example, there are crimes against women and children, violence and injustice that are really demonic and represent forces of evil, death and destruction. When we make efforts to root out these evils, we’re participating in building up the Kingdom of God, because then we’re replacing these dark things with the Reign of God – replacing hatred with love, revenge with tolerance, selfishness with compassion, suspicion with trust, greed with caring and so on. We can bring faith, hope and love to counter the demons of our society.I hope that we are able to see what an important task we have in taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a broken world that really needs it. As we understand our responsibilities as followers of Jesus and as His apostles, we will have a sense of being at war. It indeed is! We have been given authority. We have been equipped. Let’s march in faith. Let’s march in His love and His strength. Onward Christian soldiers!God bless you.

“His Eye is on the Sparrow”

“His Eye is on the Sparrow”

Guest Minister

Rev. Caesar J. David of Union Park United Methodist Church, Des Moines, Iowa

Scripture Lessons:

  • Genesis 21:8-21

The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac.

<sup class=”footnote” data-fn=”#fen-NRSV-523a” data-link=”[So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.”<sup class=”footnote” data-fn=”#fen-NRSV-523a” data-link=”[ <sup class=”footnote” data-fn=”#fen-NRSV-523a” data-link=”[The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son.<sup class=”footnote” data-fn=”#fen-NRSV-523a” data-link=”[ <sup class=”footnote” data-fn=”#fen-NRSV-523a” data-link=”[But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.

When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.

God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt

  • Matthew 10:24-39

“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master;it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!

“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

  • Introduction

As we read the story of Abraham in the Bible, it’s like an intricately woven drama. I don’t know what kind of drama you might enjoy on television, but the one that unfolds here is of the kind that keeps you glued and instructed.

Just to give you a recap of what happened in Abraham’s life in the period we’re studying, here’s what happened.

Abraham’s story began with his call, when his name was Abram. God told Abram, “Now Yahweh said to Abram, “Get out of your country, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great. You will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you. All of the families of the earth will be blessed in you” (12:1-3). God’s promise to make of Abram a great nation implies that Abram will have a legitimate heir.

Abram (later Abraham) was 75 years old at the time of his departure from Haran (12:4). He was married to Sarai (later Sarah), but they had no children—and at their age they had no reason (except God’s promise that he would make of Abram a great nation) to believe that they would ever have a child.

Later, God said, “Don’t be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” But Abram said, “Lord, what will you give me, since I go childless, and he who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” (15:1-2). God responded, “This man will not be your heir, but he who will come out of your own body will be your heir. Look now toward the sky, and count the stars, if you are able to count them. So shall your seed be” (15:4-5). This promise is very specific. Abram will have a child—a legitimate heir.

But Sarai, in anguish because she had been unable to bear children for Abram, told him to go in to her slave-girl, Hagar, so that Hagar might bear a child for him (16:2). (This is where Hagar enters the picture). She had grown weary of waiting for God to keep his promise to Abram, and felt a need to take matters in her own hands. Abram did as she asked, and Hagar conceived a child.

Hagar then began to look with contempt on Sarai, who complained bitterly to Abram (16:5). Abram told Sarai to do as she would with Hagar, and Sarai acted so harshly that Hagar ran away into the wilderness (16:6). An angel found her there and told her that she would bear a son who would have so many descendants that they could not be counted. The angel told her to name her son Ishmael (Hebrew: yismael -”God hears”).

Abraham was 86 years old when Ishmael was born to him, and 100 years old when Isaac was born. This means that Ishmael was 14 years old when Isaac was born.
Sarah is angry that they were playing (as equals). Some scholars say that the teenager Ishmael was mocking or taunting or teasing toddler Isaac.
Whether provoked by innocent play or spiteful mocking, Sarah demands that Abraham do something about it. What is her idea? To cast out Hagar and Ishmael. Yes, to throw them out of the house. They’re left to face a harsh wilderness environment. At best, they will suffer deprivation. At worst, they will die.

I want to focus on 3 characters here – Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael. I see these things happening to these characters. They happen to us even today. And we can look at them to draw our strength and comfort that God loves us even though people can’t or won’t.

1. A man (Abraham) who is unable to provide for or take care of his child.
2. A woman (Hagar) who felt used and was cast aside.
3. A child (Ishmael) who felt rejected and unloved.

1. Abraham – A man who is unable to provide for or take care of his child.

Let’s look at Abraham first. Abraham loves Ishmael, and does not want to dismiss him and his mother. He also has a responsibility to his son—and to Hagar, for that matter. “The thing was very grievous in Abraham’s sight on account of his son” (v. 11).

Like Abraham who had to drive out Hagar, there are some amongst us who aren’t able to take care of their families for several reasons. There’s no denying that some may not be taking their responsibilities as fathers seriously because they just don’t care, or are selfish, but there are several that are also victims of circumstances. In many cases, others have stepped in to play the role of fathers (by adoption or other ways of caring and love) in our lives and we should be grateful for God’s provision – like God Himself provided for Hagar and Ishmael

God assures Abraham that God will make a nation of the son of the handmaid Hagar also. (“I will also make a nation of the son of the handmaid, because he is your seed” – v. 13).

2. Hagar – A woman who felt used and was cast aside.

Let’s look at Hagar next.

Hagar who is an Egyptian slave girl who is unwittingly brought into the drama of the story. When Hagar is thrown out into the wilderness to fend for herself and her child, I want you to imagine how she must have felt.

• Alone
• Helpless
• Directionaless
• Wanting to die but needing to live for her boy
• Useless-
• Rejected
• Unloved

• Used

Have you felt like that? Used and cast aside?
It’s more prevalent than we’d like to admit: Fathers working hard and providing for their families can feel unappreciated and used when their family only looks to him for the provision but doesn’t care for what he has to get through to keep the bread on the table. He may wonder if the family even cares for him as long as he brings home the bacon.

Today is father’s day. With a special focus on fathers, please spare a thought for the fathers who have, and who do even now, sacrifice so much for the family with no concern for themselves, hiding their own desires or pains and being satisfied to see a smile on the family members’ faces. If you’re fortunate to have your father with you, spare a thought for your father, spare some time to let your father know how much you love him and appreciate what he does.

It’s not only the men folk. Sometimes, the woman of the house is busy taking care of the house – husband and children – caring for their needs and the needs of the home to the exclusion of her own and gets taken for granted, and she may feel used.

Don’t let your loved ones feel used! Express your love and appreciation!

Hagar was cast out by people that used her. She must be feeling worthless and insignificant. She’s sitting in the wilderness away from her son because she knows that they’re both going to die, and she cannot bear to see her son die. At that time, when no one cared for Hagar, when no one cared whether she and her son lived or died, when no help was available, God answers her helpless cry!

Genesis 21:17 And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.

God provided water for Hagar and her son. He didn’t let them perish in the wilderness. God especially loves those that are cast out and cast aside – The Bible mentions these categories of people very often – widows, orphans, strangers, foreigners. Even in the ministry of Jesus we clearly see that God has a special concern for those that are used and/or tossed aside by society.

3. Ishmael – The child who was felt unwanted and rejected.
Thirdly we take a look at Ishmael who must have felt so unloved, unwanted and rejected. What a horrible feeling! He was, from his own perspective and experience, rejected by his father and driven out of a place he called home for more than 15 years. For what fault of Ishmael, was he thrown out to die?

I think he is like millions of people today who seem to have no exceptional beauty or skill or all those things that the world loves to glorify and admire. I wonder if sometimes our children have these feelings of self-doubt when, because of parental and societal pressure to perform, they may find that they don’t seem to measure up to expectations of them, and may experience rejection or even conditional love. I’m also wondering about the many categories of people who face such violent attitudes and made to feel like they don’t belong, like they’re not wanted, like they’re not fit to live, and no one would care if they do or don’t.

People may not care for us, but God does. God saved Ishmael and his mother that day and blessed him also. (Genesis 21:18 “Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.”). Ishmael grows up under divine protection, becomes an
expert bowman, marries an Egyptian woman, has twelve children and becomes the father of a great nation himself just as God promised.

Conclusion
From all of this we must feel comforted and assured that God cares for us. God loves us. Say: “God loves me”. That’s the affirmation we need to keep making because we all go through these times when we feel that the world is a cruel place. People’s love, no matter how close we are, even within the family, has limitations. Sometimes, people may love us, want to help us, but may not be able to, for many reasons.

Our New Testament reading from Matthew 10, although relating mainly to the context of persecution, gives us this important indication of Gods’ love: that we are valuable, we are precious in His sight. That passage says that God values even the sparrows that are sold five for a penny, how much more must God value us! Like that beautiful song says:

I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free,
for his eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.

There is another beautiful expression to prove how intimately God knows us and cares for us. Matthew 10:30 says, “Even the hairs on your head” are counted!

The message is not just about nations and tribes; it’s about people, about individuals, about us. We need to know that God sees the limitations of a father, the tears of an outcast woman and an abandoned child. We need to know that God hears us when we feel forsaken, forgotten, confined, unloved, unwanted and rejected.

People may use us or disappoint us, but God will always love you.

Let me end with this beautiful verse from Isaiah 49:15 which shows how much God loves you. It says “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.”

________

Also visit my other blogs

  • Tom and Ella’s Daily Journal of Our Lives

http://TomAndEllaJournal.com

Good Man or Godly Man?

First Scripture: Joshua 1:7-8
Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful.

  • Sermon “Good Man or Godly Man?”

For those who may not know me. Or know me only as Santa, My other name is Tom Williams. I’ll be your sermonizer today.

So, thanks for letting me lead a conversation with you.

Let us pray

Lord, I invite you into this service. Take control. Open my mouth to speak your words.

Open their ears so that, no matter what I say, they will hear you speaking to them. Amen.

Hear these words from

Philippians 3:5-11

(I, Paul, was) circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ,

the righteousness from God based on faith.

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death,

if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

I have a problem y’all. If you have attended church for a while you have heard this section of scripture read and preached on before … several times.

But, if each of you promise to pay attention to the sermon, I’ll do my best, with the Spirit’s guidance, to give you something new to chew on. Okay?

As Jesus often did,

I’ll start with a story:

A man, tattered and torn, enters the church doors. He’s dirty and disheveled with a back bent under with the weight of the world.

His eyes and cheeks sunken from the years of abuse of alcohol, drugs, and fleshly desires. He hasn’t eaten in days. The money, for which he has panhandled, has been spent on his last fix.

Those drugs are now decaying in his system and he is sick beyond imagination.

This wretched man, holding himself upright by leaning along the wall, makes his way past the glares and stares of the neatly dressed people gathered in the foyer and enters the sanctuary.

Not wanting to be more of a spectacle than he already is, he looks for a spot near the back.

But since this was a normal church, on a normal Sunday…

… all the rear pews were already filled,

so he just slides down the back wall, to sit crosslegged on the floor, stooped over, and head in hands.

(You still with me?

Good!)

Another man enters the church. His head is held high. He strides purposefully into the foyer. He greets people by name, shaking their hands and clapping them on the back.

He is smartly dressed, as befitting his station in the community. He is a business man with income in the mid to upper brackets.

He was raised in the church and is on several of its committees. He is faithful with his donations. He is happy to push a mower, pound a nail, or paint a wall in and around the church.

He is a good husband and father who habitually attends worship service, most Sundays, unless away on vacation or business.

He enters the sanctuary and sees the man slumped to the floor. He looks around and sees all eyes are upon him.

(Big drum roll here … we are nearing the BIG FINISH. I hope y’all haven’t jumped ahead in the story)

He walks to the man on the floor and extends his hands to help him to his feet. Then he guides him to his pew, … the same pew where he and his family have sat for years.

Y’all got the picture in your head?

Can you imagine this happening in this church?

I can.

Now, What do you think,

which of these two men is to be pitied the most?

Some might say the man, who has been called “a waste of skin.”

Certainly it couldn’t be the church goer, for he clearly is a good man. Right?

Now, which is most in need of salvation?

Okay, Okay, that was a trick question. Both of them

… and all of us are in need of salvation.

But here comes the twist … Jesus’s parables all had a twist … and so does this one.

Though the tattered man is so far down that he can sink no lower, he stumbled into this holy place knowing he needs God.

Whereas the good man has never felt the need for God’s salvation. He has always been a good man.

He pays his dues to the church and works joyfully for the church.

There is a problem here, he does it for the church … not for the Lord he does it for the recognition of his fellow church goers.

Having been raised in the church, he has adopted the language, customs, and world view of the church.

He thinks he has become a Christian by being a good man.

Though he calls himself a Christian, he has never felt the need to face his own sinfulness and ask for forgiveness.

Nor has he given the control his life over to God. To make Jesus both Savior and Lord of his life.

This is were Saul found himself. Let’s hear what he wrote.

As Paul’s mostly Jewish Christian listeners heard the letter read to the congregation in Philippi, I can almost see them smiling and nodding in agreement with what this good Jewish man had just said.

  • circumcised on the eighth day (circumcision was a token of the covenant made by God with Abraham and his descendants an “everlasting covenant”(Genesis 17:13 “))

  • Descendant of Israel (the patriarch also know as Jacob, who wrestled with God)

  • From the tribe of Benjamin (Benjamin was the last-born of Jacob’s twelve sons. He was the progenitor of the Israelite Tribe of Benjamin.)

  • Paul was a pure-blooded Hebrew (The Talmud holds that a marriage between a Jew and a non Jew is both prohibited and also does not constitute a marriage under Jewish law. However, Paul’s lineage was pure)

  • He was a Pharisee (The Pharisees were a strict social and religious movement in Judaism which asserted that God could and should be worshipped even away from the Temple and outside Jerusalem. To the Pharisees, worship consisted not in bloody sacrifices — the practice of the Temple priests — but in prayer and in the study of and adherence to God’s law.)

  • Enthusiasticly he followed the strictest laws (The Pharisees’ ultra strict interpretation of the law is one of the things that Jesus railed against, calling them blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. He also accused them of giving a tenth of their spices (as a tithe), but of neglecting the more important matters of justice, mercy and faithfulness)

  • Saul was perfect in keeping Jewish laws (he had done as the prophet Joshua had said to do in the scripture that we read a few moments ago, “be careful to do according to … all the law . Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”) (Joshua 1:7-15 ESV)

Paul, when he was still called Saul, was assured of the promise of the Law. Obey the Law “For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”

Notice that the only thing that the Law can promise is,

if … do not let that tiny word IF go un-noticed.

The promise of the Law was conditional IF you do ALL that the Law commands, THEN life on this world will be great for you.

So Saul was perfect, when it came to winning God’s approval by keeping Jewish laws and expected to profit and succeed as promised.

It wasn’t until he had a very personal, dramatic, life-changing encounter with the risen Jesus, that he learned that whatever rewards he might treasure on earth, paled in compairence with rewards he could expect in heaven.

Perhaps in some of his attacks on Christians, he came across the teaching of Jesus “Don’t lay up treasures for yourselves on the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume, and where thieves don’t break through and steal.

Though Paul had done all that he … humanly … could to win God’s approval, by keeping Jewish laws, he realized that it was all … I can’t say that word in church, S.H.I.T. Yes, that is the literal translation of what he wrote.

To not offend modern readers, nicer words were used to translate: loss, trash, garbage, refuse, worthless or dung.

I’m sorry, but by “cleaning” the language, we lose the power of Paul’s intent. He intended his readers to be shocked by his comparison.

Paul wrote, reminding his readers how perfect he was under the law.

And then … and then, he wrote the most unimaginable thing, his whole life and accomplishments were all … all … EXCREMENT compared to life in Jesus the Christ. He was glad to give it all away.

As a pure-blood Hebrew and as a zealous follower of the strictest interpretation of the Jewish laws, Saul had sought to win God’s approval. But it didn’t work. It couldn’t work.

Saul, now going by his Greek (gentile) name, Paul, wrote to his fellow Jews, so that they might also understand the futility of the Law.

The Law can not save. It can only condemn. It can only shine a light on our failure to be righteous before God.

But Jesus came to us, while we were still law breakers and at war with God.

God was trying to bring us into his perfect will, while we were still willfully going our own way.

That was when Jesus came and bought our eternal life through his death. His Holy blood covers our sins and purifies them in God’s sight.

Before I gave my life to Jesus, I was a good man, as the world judges men. I abided by the laws of man … most of the time. And as far as the laws of God, I hadn’t broken any of the BIG ones.

But that’s the problem, you see, there aren’t big laws and small laws. There is only THE Law. To have broken one law is to be guilty of them all.

Yes, I was a good man, but I wasn’t a godly man. I may have been upright but I was far from righteous. My own goodness kept me from seeing my need for salvation.

God’s truth reveals that all need saving, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Saul also knew that he was a good man, as the world judges men.

He was firm in his conviction that he was right in judgement.

He was so assured of his righteousness that he actively sought to punish those who believed differently.

And then … and then … he meet Jesus and discovered his righteousness was a foul and disgusting thing in God’s sight. His only hope lay in the grace offered by Jesus Christ.

And, friends, my only hope, and your only hope lies in the grace of God through Jesus Christ.

This is the life application part of the service. Thinking back to the parable, where did you see yourself?

  1. The world weary man who came to church seeking God’s forgiveness?

  2. The man so good that he never felt the need for God’s forgiveness?

  3. Or were you part of the congregation who sat in judgement over these two men and found one welcome in the church and one not?

  4. Or have you acknowledged to God that all your earthly achievements are nothing but … well, you know.

Or have you said to God, “I am no longer my own. I am yours, Lord, to do with as you please. All I have called my own are now yours. All I may ever have, will ever and always belong to you Lord.”?

Pray with me now.

God be merciful to me a sinner, and make me to know and believe in Jesus Christ; for I see, that if his righteousness had not been, or I have not faith in that righteousness, I am utterly cast away.

Lord, I have heard that you are a merciful God, and have designated that your Son Jesus Christ should be the Savior of the world;

and moreover, that you are willing to give him even to such a poor sinner as I am—and I am a sinner indeed. Lord, take therefore this opportunity, and magnify your grace in the salvation of my soul, through your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

  • “Apostle’s Creed”

I believe in God the Father Almighty,

Maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord:

Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

Born of the Virgin Mary,

Suffered under Pontius Pilate,

Was crucified, dead and buried;

The third day he rose from the dead;

He ascended into heaven,

And sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty

From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

The holy catholic church,

The communion of saints,

The forgiveness of sins,

The resurrection of the body,

And the life everlasting. Amen.

  • Prayers of the People

Tom

Father, in this time of social unrest I ask your prayers for peace; for goodwill among people and nations.

That our leaders be your followers.

I pray for your true justice and the peace which can only come from you.

I pray for the poor, the sick (of whom there are many), the hungry, the

oppressed, and those in prison (whether of stone and steal, or of their own making through sin or bad life choices).

I pray for those in any need or trouble, that they may be lead to your path.

I ask your prayers for all who seek God, for a deeper knowledge of him. I pray that they may find and be found by you.

I ask prayers for the departed, for those who have died, that their loved ones may find comfort in your loving arms.

These things we ask in the name of Jesus who taught his followers to pray in this manner …

  • Lord’s prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven,

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom com,

Thy will be done

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses,

As we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, Forever. Amen.

  • Benediction.

In the wesleyan tradition, I will dismiss us with prayer for you and for me.

Lord, we are no longer our own, but Yours.

Put us to what you will, rank us with whom you will.

Put us to doing, put us to suffering.

Let us be employed by you

or laid aside for you,

Exalted for you or brought low for you.

Let us be full, let us be empty.

Let us have all things, let us have nothing.

We freely and heartily yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.

And now, O Glorious and blessed God,

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

You are ours, and we are yours. So be it.

And the covenant which we have made on earth,

Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen. Go in peace.

Good Man or Godly Man?

Good Man or Godly Man?

Philippians 3:5-11

(Paul wrote) I was circumcised on the eighth day. I’m a descendant of Israel. I’m from the tribe of Benjamin. I’m a pure-blooded Hebrew. When it comes to living up to standards, I was a Pharisee. When it comes to being enthusiastic, I was a persecutor of the church. When it comes to winning God’s approval by keeping Jewish laws, I was perfect. These things that I once considered valuable, I now consider worthless for Christ. It’s far more than that! I consider everything else worthless because I’m much better off knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. It’s because of him that I think of everything as worthless. I threw it all away in order to gain Christ and to have a relationship with him. This means that I didn’t receive God’s approval by obeying his laws. The opposite is true! I have God’s approval through faith in Christ. This is the approval that comes from God and is based on faith 10. that knows Christ. Faith knows the power that his coming back to life gives and what it means to share his suffering. In this way I’m becoming like him in his death, with the confidence that I’ll come back to life from the dead.

A modern parable:

A man, tattered and torn, enters the church doors. He’s dirty and disheveled with a back bent under with the weight of the world. His eyes and cheeks sunken from the years of abuse of alcohol, drugs, and fleshly desires. He hasn’t eaten in days. The money, for which he has panhandled,, has been spent on his last fix.

Those drugs are now decaying in his system and he is sick beyond imagination. Holding himself upright by sliding along the wall, he makes his way past the glares and stares of the neatly dressed people congregated in the foyer and enters the sanctuary. All the rear pews are already filled, so he he just slides down the back wall, to sit crosslegged and stooped over, head in hands.

Another man enters the church. His head is held high. He strides purposefully into the foyer. He greets people by name, shaking their hands and clapping them on the back. He is smartly dressed, as befitting his station in the community. He is a business man with income in the mid to upper brackets. He was raised in the church and is on several of its committees. He is a good husband and father who habitually attends worship service most Sundays, unless away on vacation or business.

He enters the sanctuary and sees the man slumped to the floor. He looks around and sees all eyes are upon him. He walks to the man on the floor and extends his hands to help him to his feet. The He guides him to his pew, the same pew where he and his family has sat for years.

What do you think, which of these two men is to be pitied the most?

Some might say the man, who has been called ” a waste of human flesh.” Certainly not the church goer, for he clearly is a good man.

Though the tattered man is so far down that he can sink no lower, he stumbled into this holy place knowing he needs God.

The good man’s downfall is that has never felt the need for God’s salvation. Having been raised in the church, the has adopted the language, customs, and world view of the church. Though he calls himself a Christian, he has never accepted his own sinfulness and asked for forgiveness. He has never given the control his life over to God making him truly Lord of his life.

(Disclaimer: I am going to repeat a word here that Saint Paul used and for the same reason … the shock value.)

As Paul’s Jewish listeners heard the letter to the congregation in Philippi, I can almost see them smiling and nodding in agreement with what this good Jewish man had just said.

  • circumcised on the eighth day (circumcision was a token of the covenant made by God with Abraham and his descendants an “everlasting covenant”(Genesis 17:13 “))

  • Descendant of Israel (the patriarch also know as Jacob, who wrestled with God)

  • From the tribe of Benjamin (Benjamin was the last-born of Jacob’s twelve sons. He was the progenitor of the Israelite Tribe of Benjamin.)

  • A pure-blooded Hebrew (The Talmud holds that a marriage between a Jew and a non Jew is both prohibited and also does not constitute a marriage under Jewish law. However, Paul’s lineage was pure)

  • A Pharisee (The Pharisees were a strict social and religious movement in Judaism which asserted that God could and should be worshipped even away from the Temple and outside Jerusalem. To the Pharisees, worship consisted not in bloody sacrifices — the practice of the Temple priests — but in prayer and in the study of God’s law.)

  • Enthusiastic followed the strictest laws (Their ultra strict interpretation of the law is one of the things that Jesus railed against , calling them blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. He also accused them of giving a tenth of their spices (as a tithe), but of neglecting the more important matters of justice, mercy and faithfulness)

  • Perfect in keeping Jewish laws (Saul had done as the prophet Joshua had said to do, “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to … all the law … that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”) (Joshua 1:7-15 ESV)

Saul was assured of the promise of the Law. Obey the Law “For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” Notice that all the Law can promised is that if … do not let that tiny word IF go un-noticed. The promise of the Law was conditional IF you do ALL that the Law commands, THEN life on this world will be great for you.

So Saul was perfect, when it came to winning God’s approval by keeping Jewish laws and expected to profit and succeed as promised.

It wasn’t until he had a very personal, dramatic, life-changing encounter with the risen Jesus, that he learned that whatever rewards he might treasure on earth, paled in comparisons with rewards he could expect in heaven.

Perhaps in some of his attacks on Christians, he came across the teaching of Jesus “Don’t lay up treasures for yourselves on the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume, and where thieves don’t break through and steal. but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume, and where thieves don’t break through and steal;

Though Saul had done all that he humanly could to win God’s approval, by keeping Jewish laws, he realized that it was all shit. Yes, that is the literal translation of what he wrote, shit. To not offend modern readers, nicer words were used: loss, trash, garbage, refuse, worthless or dung.

I’m sorry, but by “cleaning” the language, we lose the power of Paul’s intent. He intended his readers to be shocked by his comparison.

Paul wrote, reminding his Jewish readers how perfect he was under the law. And then … and then, he wrote the most unimaginable thing, his whole life and accomplishments were all shit compared to life in Jesus the Christ. He was glad to give it all away.

As a pure-blood Hebrew and as a zealous follower of the strictest interpretation of the Jewish laws, Saul had sought to win God’s approval. But it didn’t work. It couldn’t work.

Saul, now going by his Greek (gentile) name, Paul wrote to his fellow Jews, so that they might also understand the futility of the Law. The Law can not save. It can only condemn. It can only shine a light on our failure to be righteous before God.

But Jesus came to us, while we were still law breakers and at war with God. God was trying to bring us into his perfect will, while we were still willfully going our own way. That was when Jesus came and bought our eternal life through his death. His Holy blood covers our sins and purifies them in God’s sight.

Before I gave my life to Jesus, I was a good man, as the world judges men. I abided by the laws of man … most of the time. And as far as the laws of God, I hadn’t broken any of the BIG ones.

But that’s the problem, you see, there aren’t big laws and small laws. There is only THE Law. To have broken one law is to be guilty of them all.

Yes, I was a good man, but I wasn’t a godly man. I may have been upright but I was far from righteous. My own goodness kept me from seeing my need for salvation.

God’s truth reveals that all need saving, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Paul knew that he was a good man, as the world judges men. And he felt no need for salvation. He was firm in his conviction that he was right in the sight of God. He was so assured of his righteousness that he actively sought to punish those who believed differently.

And then he meet Jesus and discovered his righteousness was a foul and disgusting thing in God’s sight. His only hope lay in the grace offered by Jesus Christ.

And, friends, my only hope, and your only hope lies in the grace of God through Jesus Christ.

Pray with me now.

God be merciful to me a sinner, and make me to know and believe in Jesus Christ; for I see, that if his righteousness had not been, or I have not faith in that righteousness, I am utterly cast away.

Lord, I have heard that you are a merciful God, and have designated that your Son Jesus Christ should be the Savior of the world;

and moreover, that you are willing to give him even to such a poor sinner as I am—and I am a sinner indeed. Lord, take therefore this opportunity, and magnify your grace in the salvation of my soul, through your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

Also visit my other blogs

  • Tom and Ella’s Daily Journal of Our Lives

http://TomAndEllaJournal.com

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