Ownership / Stewardship

Gathering Meditation:
30 Day In-Home-Trial.

Lord, I stood with one foot in the door. I heard you calling me and I wanted to answer, “Here am I!” My heart cried out, “I believe!” However my mind was full of doubts. Your promises seemed too good to be true: Salvation, Life eternal, Be born again as a child of God, Become a new creation – the old passwd away and everything new! I’ve heard promises before. I’ve been betrayed before. It hurts so much to trust and have that trust broken. How could I trust You, O Lord? You answered, “Bring one-tenth of your income into the storehouse so that there may be food in my house. Test me in this way,” says the Lord of Armies. “See if I won’t open the windows of heaven for you and flood you with blessings.” Really? I could test You? When you kept this promise, then I knew that I can trust You to keep your other promises. I’ve put you to the test with my tithe as you command and I’ve proven that you are trustworthy. I believe your other promises! (Based on Malachi 3:10)

Deuteronomy 34:1-12

Then Moses went up on Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab. He went to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. The LORD showed him the whole land. He could see Gilead as far as Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the territory of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev, and the Jordan Plain–the valley of Jericho (the City of Palms)–as far as Zoar. Then the LORD said to him, “This is the land I promised with an oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I said I would give it to their descendants. I have let you see it with your own eyes, but you may not go there.” As the LORD had predicted, the LORD’s servant Moses died in Moab. He was buried in a valley in Moab, near Beth Peor. Even today no one knows where his grave is. Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eyesight never became poor, and he never lost his physical strength. The Israelites mourned for Moses in the plains of Moab for 30 days. Then the time of mourning for him was over. Joshua, son of Nun, was filled with the Spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him. The Israelites obeyed him and did what the LORD had commanded through Moses. There has never been another prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD dealt with face to face. He was the one the LORD sent to do all the miraculous signs and amazing things in Egypt to Pharaoh, to all his officials, and to his whole country. Moses used his mighty hand to do all the spectacular and awe-inspiring deeds that were seen by all the Israelites.

1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
You know, brothers and sisters, that our time with you was not wasted. As you know, we suffered rough and insulting treatment in Philippi. But our God gave us the courage to tell you his Good News in spite of strong opposition. When we encouraged you, we didn’t use unethical schemes, corrupt practices, or deception. Rather, we are always spreading the Good News. God trusts us to do this because we passed his test. We don’t try to please people but God, who tests our motives. As you know, we never used flattery or schemes to make money. God is our witness! We didn’t seek praise from people, from you or from anyone else, although as apostles of Christ we had the right to do this. Instead, we were gentle when we were with you, like a mother taking care of her children. We felt so strongly about you that we were determined to share with you not only the Good News of God but also our lives. That’s how dear you were to us!

“Ownership / Stewardship”
“He is no fool who gives what he can not keep to gain what he can not loose.” I heard this quote last Sunday and it seemed to fit well with the message for today.
Next week is Consecration Sunday for our church and we’ll be hearing about financial stewardship. Financial support is one of the ways that we can support God’s work in the world and is an important part of being a good steward.
In the Biblical stories about stewards they are commonly slaves or servants that are given responsibility over a task or a piece of property. Think of the three slaves who were given talents/money by their master before he left for a foreign country. Two of the slaves put the money to work and earned additional income on it. They were called ‘good’ and given rewards. The one who only protected the money, by burying it, gave back to the master exactly what had been entrusted to him. He was condemned by his master and the little that he had been given was taken away from him.
It is important to remember that this is given as an example for us to follow. We are to take what we are given by God and put it to use for His good.
Okay, so then the question is, “What belongs to God and what belongs to us?” Do you remember what was in your hands the day you were born? That’s right, nothing! That is what you truly own in this world, nothing!
We often give a dedication prayer after the offering that says, “Of Thy own have we given Thee, O Lord.” How often do we consider the truth of that statement? How often do we realize that nothing on this earth is ours to keep? How often do we realize that we are only tenants and not owners? When do we admit to ourselves that we are only stewards of God’s world?
I’m reminded of a story about the old-time farmer who sat down to eat and said this prayer, “Thank you Lord for this bread that I baked from flour that I ground from the seed I harvested from the wheat that I grew in the field that I planted on the land I cleared of rocks with which I built the hearth to bake the bread.” With his lips he may have said, “Thank You Lord.” But in his heart he was feeling that he had done everything himself.
Perhaps the farmer should have been praying, “Thank You, Lord for this bread. Thank you for the wisdom to make flour ground from seeds you created. Thank you for the rich soil you provided, and for the sun and rain in their seasons that caused the wheat to grow. Thank you for the strength to work the soil and build the hearth. Thank you for the health to eat the bread full of the nutrients you placed there, O Lord. Thank You for this time of rest and refreshment in which to enjoy this bread. Amen.”
Our Bible readings from the old and new testaments deal with a couple of good stewards, Moses and Paul.
In our Hebrew Bible reading, we see the end of the journey for Moses. It is recorded that Moses saw God face to face and that there has never been another like him. Moses has brought his people to the Promised Land (for the second time). Remember that it did not take forty years for the Israelites to reach the Promised Land. It only took a few months to get there the first time. But they refused to go in. God gave it to them but they did not accept the gift. Because of that, God had them wander in the desert until that whole generation died. Now they are back and ready to go in.
God has given the land to the Israelites. They will still have to secure it because other tribes and other nations have claimed it as there own. It is a gift but they have to take it. This gift of God’s is much like our salvation which is a free gift but unless we accept it and use it, it makes no difference in our lives. The Israelites were to conquer the land and use it for God’s purpose. In other words, they were stewards of the land – not the owners.
In our New Testament reading, Paul points out to his readers that, although he as an apostle of Christ and he had a right to be rewarded for his service, he had not come to them with flattering words not tried to trick them out of their money. He had come as a steward declaring the love of God in Christ to them. So that they could also become stewards of God’s plan.
Jesus has a lot to say in his many parables about stewards and servants and slaves. Some are bad stewards and they lose their jobs, possessions, and sometimes their lives. Some are good stewards and they are rewarded and promoted and praised!. There is a common beginning to all the stories of stewards: at the start, all of them are trusted to carry out the commands and wishes of the master. By their actions their hearts are revealed to be either trustworthy or not.
Invariably the trouble with the bad stewards is that they forget who the true owner is. They begin to think that what they manage belongs to them. That is a dangerous mindset. “Mine, mine, mine!” cries the little child within us.
The good steward is always shown as the one who obeys the master’s wishes. But more than that, the good steward is one who begins to think like the master – to have the same heart as the master – and to anticipate what the master wants – without having to be told. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.”
That brings me to my own story.
I know that many people give financially to God’s work because they believe in God. That is certainly not unusual. However, my story about giving is a little different. I believe in God because I gave. Did you read the “Gathering Meditation” this morning? That is basically MY story.
After years of disbelief, I had been asked bluntly if I believed that Jesus died for me. I started attending church. I listened to the preacher and the Sunday school teacher talk about the promises of God. My emotions were stirred, or as Wesley said, “My heart was strangely warmed.” It was obvious that these Christians had something that I didn’t. I was drawn to it.
And yet my mind was cynical. Certainly I was too smart to fall for this foolishness no matter how attractive it was! What I needed was a thirty-day-money-back-guarantee. I needed some way to ‘try out’ this God thing.
That’s when I came across Malachi 3:10 which says, “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.”
Really? I could put God to the test? Wow! Here was my guarantee.
I took God’s challenge and started to tithe. It was not an easy step for me. I had precious little ‘spare’ money. I thought it a good week when I still had money left before the next paycheck came. But I quickly learned that God didn’t want my ‘spare’ money. God wanted the ‘first fruits’. He wanted His 10% off the top.
Okay, so this was His challenge. If I was going to really put Him to the test, I had to follow his plan. So I did. I was so surprised to find money left at the end of the first month that I put it aside and didn’t spend it. The next month I had more money left.
This did NOT MAKE SENSE! And THAT was the big lesson that I learned: this God stuff does not make sense, because God’s wisdom is foolishness to men.
You see a good steward has that child-like faith that believes what God says, – He will do. Being a good steward requires an attitude change and in the way we think about ‘our“ possessions.
I’ll admit that it has not always been easy and sometimes I have not proven to be as faithful as I want to be. However, God has continued to be faithful to me.
Now here is a question for us.
Why does God say bring our tithes that there may be food in my storehouse?Why does God want our tithes?Not for Himself, certainly, it all belongs to Him anyway! It is because it is one way that God expresses His love for us, His children. It gives us a chance to share, to be in partnership with the Almighty.
Here is that same question turned around. Why should we bring our tithes into God’s storehouse?
I was given this United Methodist Publication entitled “Why We Give” and it says that, “Christians give through their churches for many reasons, including – but not limited to – the following:
Because God first gave to us
Because we love God
Because it is what Christians do
Because it is what our church does
To make ministry and mission happen
Because, together, we can do what no one individual or
congregation can do separately
Remember, God does NOT need our money. He does, however, want us to be good stewards and share in the joy of giving. For giving is Godlike.
Here ends the lesson.

God bless

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All content (except quotations)

©2011 Thomas E Williams
originally published Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Where Can I Be A Gate?

Exodus 32:1-14 When the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. They said to him, “We don’t know what has happened to this Moses, who led us out of Egypt. Make gods who will lead us.” Aaron said to them, “Have your wives, sons, and daughters take off the gold earrings they are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their gold earrings and handed them to Aaron. After he had worked on the gold with a tool, he made it into a statue of a calf. Then they said, “Israel, here are your gods who brought you out of Egypt.” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of it and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival in the LORD’s honor.” Early the next day the people sacrificed burnt offerings and brought fellowship offerings. Afterward, they sat down to a feast, which turned into an orgy. The LORD said to Moses, “Go back down there. Your people whom you brought out of Egypt have ruined everything. They’ve already turned from the way I commanded them to live. They’ve made a statue of a calf for themselves. They’ve bowed down to it and offered sacrifices to it. They’ve said, ‘Israel, here are your gods who brought you out of Egypt.'” The LORD added, “I’ve seen these people, and they are impossible to deal with. Now leave me alone. I’m so angry with them I am going to destroy them. Then I’ll make you into a great nation.” But Moses pleaded with the LORD his God. “LORD,” he said, “why are you so angry with your people whom you brought out of Egypt using your great power and mighty hand? Don’t let the Egyptians say, ‘He was planning all along to kill them in the mountains and wipe them off the face of the earth. That’s why he brought them out of our land.’ Don’t be so angry. Reconsider your decision to bring this disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. You took an oath, swearing on yourself. You told them, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. I will give to your descendants all the land I spoke of. It will be their permanent possession.'” So the LORD reconsidered his threat to destroy his people.

Philippians 4:1-9 So, brothers and sisters, I love you and miss you. You are my joy and my crown. Therefore, dear friends, keep your relationship with the Lord firm! I encourage both Euodia and Syntyche to have the attitude the Lord wants them to have. Yes, I also ask you, Syzugus, my true partner, to help these women. They fought beside me to spread the Good News along with Clement and the rest of my coworkers, whose names are in the Book of Life. Always be joyful in the Lord! I’ll say it again: Be joyful! Let everyone know how considerate you are. The Lord is near. Never worry about anything. But in every situation let God know what you need in prayers and requests while giving thanks. Then God’s peace, which goes beyond anything we can imagine, will guard your thoughts and emotions through Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, keep your thoughts on whatever is right or deserves praise: things that are true, honorable, fair, pure, acceptable, or commendable. Practice what you’ve learned and received from me, what you heard and saw me do. Then the God who gives this peace will be with you.

Where Can I Be A Gate?

Our scripture readings both deal with intercession. In simple terms a person who intercedes stands between two opposing forces and brings peace and protection. I was reminded that at one point Christ referred to himself as the gate in a sheep hold. He stood between the sheep and the wild animals and thieves who would come to do harm to the sheep. This is intercession.

Our message from the Hebrew Bible is an interesting story that has so many possible sermons in it. We could talk about how quickly these people turned their backs on the God who saved them from slavery. We could build a sermon around Aaron who so easily gave in to the pressure of the people. We could focus on the righteous wrath of God toward this ungrateful congregation of freed slaves. However, the thing that jumped out at me years ago when I first read this account was that Moses argued with God and God relented!
Let us take a look here starting in verse 7 “God said to Moses, “Go back down there. Your people whom you brought out of Egypt have ruined everything.” Did you catch that? God told Moses “YOUR people whom YOU brought out of Egypt I want to ask the parents in the crowd to ‘fess up to something. When the kids have just done something that just got on your last nerve, have you turned to your spouse and said, “YOUR kids are driving me nuts!” Not MY kid or OUR kids but YOUR kids.
God is saying that they’ve already turned from the way He commanded them to live. They’ve made a statue of a calf for themselves. They’ve bowed down to it and offered sacrifices to it. They’ve already made idols for themselves and said,Israel, here are your gods who brought you out of Egypt.’ ”
God is saying to Moses, “You haven’t even had a chance to take them the commandments that I’ve given you and they’ve already broken three of them! “I’ve seen these people, and they are impossible to deal with.
They are impossible to deal with! I have four children of my own. I love them each dearly. I remember telling someone that I wouldn’t take a million dollars for any one of them. However there are days I would have given you the SET for free! That is not true of coarse but, in a way, I can relate to the frustration that God is feeling. Here He is just moments from fulfilling everything that He had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Here is the NATION that God had said would come from their seed. This plan had been in process for over four hundred years. In just a short time they would reach the promised land. Land that God had made rich for them (remember “a land flowing with milk and honey”?).
God had brought Moses to the mountain to give them ten laws (the shortest list of laws that any nation has ever had to live by) and during that very time, they had turned to worshiping a god created by their own hands. No wonder God was saddened and disappointed by this ungrateful and unfaithful mob of people.

God’s plan had been irreversible changed by the very nation that He had brought into existence. He was ready to go to plan B. So He said, “Now leave me alone. I’m so angry with them I am going to destroy them.”

Gasp! What? But God is a loving God who is willing to forgive over and over and over! (Remember Jesus saying to Peter that he had to be willing to forgive seventy-seven times?)

Yes He is. However, He has limits. Remember the story of Noah begins with God saying nearly the same thing. The people have become so far gone that He decides to tear it all down and start over – again! He had been pushed past that 78th time!
Then God promises Moses the same thing that He had told Abraham, then Isaac and then Jacob; “I’ll make YOU into a great nation.”
Moses could have done the same thing that his ancestors did, accept the covenant from God. But instead Moses pleaded with the Lord his God. He becomes the gate between God and the nation of Israel when he said, “why are you so angry with your people whom you brought out of Egypt using your great power and mighty hand?”

Moses reminded God that it was God and not he, Moses, who brought these people out of Egypt.

Don’t let the Egyptians say, ‘He was planning all along to kill them in the mountains and wipe them off the face of the earth. That’s why he brought them out of our land.’ Don’t be so angry. Reconsider your decision to bring this disaster on your people.
Moses said to God, “Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, andIsrael. You took an oath, swearing on yourself. You told them, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. I will give to your descendants all the land I spoke of. It will be their permanent possession.’ ”
Moses reminded God that it was God who had made the original covenant and then repeated it to successive generations of Abraham’s line. This was not a contract that men had made with God. This was a contract that God had made with men and could not be broken.
So the Lord reconsidered his threat to destroy his people.
God reconsidered. God relented because Moses interceded for the people. This vast multitude of people would have perished without the persistent prayer of this one man. God listened.
In the new testament reading Paul asks the congregation at Philipi keep their relationship with the Lord firm! And he encouraged both
Eu-o`-di-a and Syn`-ty-che to have the attitude the Lord wants them to have.
There was a division in this church that was destroying it. God’s plan for this people was in jeopardy of being destroyed by the people themselves.
Paul intercedes and becomes an advocate on behalf of the whole congregation by reminding the ‘combatants’ to be open to the love that God intends them of have. He is asking them to look past their differences and remember that they are both children of God and should love each other as family.
Then Paul gives them guidelines on how to achieve this harmony. He says, “Always be joyful in the Lord!” That is so important that he repeats it by saying, “I’ll say it again: Be joyful!’ Remember the image of the gate on the sheep hold? Paul is standing between the sheep and the wolf and saying, “Be joyful in the Lord!” What amazing insight! How can there be conflict where there is the joy of the Lord?
So step one is joy. Step two is being considerate. Being considerate means that you look at the situation from the other person’s point of view. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Now step three is never worry about anything. You know what worry is? Worry is the interest that the Devil charges on a debt you don’t owe. Worry is nonproductive waste of time and energy.
It is easy to say, “Don’t worry.” But how do we do that? Paul explains, “In every situation let God know what you need in prayers and requests while giving thanks.” Turn it over to God. Leave it in His hands and trust that He will turn it to good.
Here is the good news. If we follow these simple steps, then God’s peace, which goes beyond anything we can imagine, will guard our thoughts and emotions through Christ Jesus.
Paul’s final thoughts on this conflict resolution are, “keep your thoughts on whatever is right or deserves praise: things that are true, honorable, fair, pure, acceptable, or commendable.”
As you read the Bible it is very easy to find examples of people of God stepping into situations where they became the gate between warring people and factions and brought about a peaceful settlement; examples where righteous people have provided shelter for the weak and guidance to the hurtful.
In my own life I can think of times when someone has stepped in to do intercessory work on my behalf. I’m sure that you can think of examples in your life also
We know that we have an intercessor in Jesus Christ who sits at the right hand of God and acts as an advocate for us. This same Christ commands that we do the same for others. We are to be the bringers of peace and love to the world. We need to look for opportunities to be gates in the sheep hold. Amen

God bless

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All content (except quotations) ©2011Thomas E. Williams

Originally posted Friday, October 7, 2011

Lazarus and the rich man

You may listen to this sermon here. https://anchor.fm/tom-williams7/episodes/Sermon-on-Lazarus-and-the-rich-man-e5hm0l

SERMON. “Lessons From A Poor Man” Tom Williams

Let us pray.

I stand in awe of your purity, LORD. Your decisions are true. They are completely fair. They are more desirable than the finest gold. They are sweeter than honey that drips from a honeycomb.

As your servant I am warned by Your commands. There is a great reward in following them. May the words from my mouth and the thoughts from my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my defender. Amen.

The central message of the gosple reading makes me a little uncomfortable. I had already written this sermon when an acquaintance called and want us to drive to her house, get her, and take her to Wal-Mart to buy water.

She meets most of the criteria of being a Lazarus. Poor, frail health, unable to get around on her own.

I suggested that we buy the water and take it to her. She said she would make other arrangements and hung up. I missed an opportunity to be of service.

That is only part of why I’m uncomfortable with this message … which is clearly aimed at me.

However, I’m going to share it with you, And … in love I tell you, … I hope it makes you squirm a little in your seats also. So I also pray that the Lord makes this lesson sweeter than honey for us all.

Lazarus and the rich man is a parable of extremes. For this was not just a rich man this was a very rich man who lived a life of excess. Observe his clothing made of the finest cloth and colored purple, the most expensive dye to use. To make even a little purple dye, thousands upon thousand of snails were boiled in lead vats. So wearing purple as his daily clothing indicates a man of great wealth and also great vanity, such as those Scribes that Jesus condemned in Luke 20:46-47 where he said, “Beware of the scribes, which desire to walk in long robes, and love greetings in the markets, and the highest seats in the synagogues, and the chief rooms at feasts; Which devour widows’ houses, and for a shew make long prayers: the same shall receive greater damnation.

This wealthy man ate each day like it was a feast day, which demonstrates that he had food in excess and yet he never once shared it with the man who lay dying at his gate. Yes, he had a gate to his residence which suggests that his property was walled around to protect those things that he had gathered to himself and to isolate himself. We also know that, though Lazarus begged at his gate every day, he never opened the gate to him.

On the other extreme, Lazarus was not only a poor man; this was a man who lived a painful, pitiful life every day. His body was covered in open seeping sores. He was lame or at least too weak to walk as evidenced by the fact that he was laid at the gate. This also suggests that, even in such a dreadful state, he had friends who cared enough to bring him daily to the rich man’s gate. He was so weak that he couldn’t even stop the dogs from licking his wounds. On top of this, he was starving to death. He was to the point of asking to eat the same crumbs that the dogs ate from the floor beneath the table.

I can’t imagine a greater gulf between the social standing of these two men. Can you?

One was respected, honored, envyed, and possibly feared, because of his great wealth. He would have had the best seats at banquets and the synagogue. His social calendar was undoubtedly full of invitations to attend functions by those hoping to raise their own status by association with him.

He would have had servants or slaves to do his every bidding. He was a powerful man.

Lazarus, on the other hand was shunned and shut out of society. Though he starved, he was not invited to anyones feast. Under the Law of Moses he would be considered unclean and untouchable. He was not only expelled from society but also physically expelled from the village. Remember that I said he had friends that would daily bring him to the rich man’s gate? Hear these words from Numbers 19:22. “Whatever the unclean person touches shall be unclean, and anyone who touches it shall be unclean until evening.” His helpers, by helping him would also become ritually unclean for that day. Even if they never touched him but only carried him on a mat or blanket … by touching what he touched, they made themselves also untouchable until sundown.

There is much more to this parabel. However I want to stop here and ask an important question (please, do not raise your hand), “With whom do you identify in this story?”

  • Are you Lazarus? Are you ill or infirm? Are you an outcast in society? Are you at the poverty level or below? Are you unable to supply your basic needs? If this is you please contact the pastor.

  • Are you the rich man? Do you have more than your basic needs met? Do you have a reliable income? Do you have discretionary income? If you have income beyond your basic needs, do you spend it on yourself or to assist those in need? Do you own your own home or property? Are you highly thought of in your community? If this is you, and this sermon causes you to rethink how your discretionary income is spent, contact the pastor.

  • Are you the friends of the beggar? Are you the primary caregiver of someone else? Do you provide physical or financial aid to those in need? Are you willing to give up your social standing to help someone in need? Are you willing to risk your own health to assist someone in need? If this is you, first of all, thank you. Now, if you would like to expand your outreach or missionary work,

… who do you contact? The pastor.

Take a moment to consider how you would answer Lord Jesus, were he to ask this question of you.

Let us continue studying the parable.

An exchange takes place where the rich man, not so much as asks, as commands Abraham to send Lazarus to ease his pain in Hades.

His self-importance and selfishness, it seems, extends even into hell itself. Doesn’t it?

I’m sure that there it’s a name for people like that … but it wouldn’t be right to use it in church. Right?

This … formerly … rich man hasn’t lost any of his arrogance even in hell. He believes that the worthless Lazarus should be sent to hell to serve his needs.

This might be a good time to let you know that I believe in Heaven.

Do you?

I know it to be a real place, though it may not be a physical place. I believe it is a place where we are completely in the fellowship with God as the Creator originally intended when he created mankind. And I believe that Jesus has secured our passage to heaven by his sacrificial death. That deserves a “hallelujah” or a “Thank you Jesus!”

Now, I know that a lot of modern churches don’t often speak about hell. So I will tell you that I believe that Hell is a real place, though it might not be a physical place. I believe that hell is being completely separated from God, cast into the outer darkness. And this is the afterlife that some choose by their … action … or …inaction … in this life.

What I do not believe is that there will be communication between Heaven and Hell. I believe this was just a device that Jesus was using in this parable.

In this parable Abraham tells the rich man that Lazarus cannot do as he demands. There is no passage between heaven and hell. A great exspance stands between them.

And I for one thank God for that.

What a reversal of fortune has taken place. Amen?

In their earthly lives, the rich man consumed all the best things of the earth while Lazarus was afflicted with unbearable pain, suffering, and humiliation.

However now see how Lazarus is healed and comforted by Father Abraham himself, while the rich man is suffering in a place of eternal torment.

It is amazing how God’s justice and mercy … work hand in hand. Right?

The rich man then begs Abraham. Did you hear that? He begged. On earth, day after day Lazarus begged for food at his gate. Now the formerly rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus to his still living brothers. Though he shows concern for his family, even in his begging he had so little esteem for Lazarus that he would order him about as he would a slave.

Are you still following me?

Pay attention here … this is an important point that Jesus is making.

Abraham bluntly said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’

Remember that Jesus is telling this to the temple rulers, the Scribes and the Pharisees. These two different Jewish sects had different religious philosophies. The Scribes based their beliefs strictly only on the five books of Moses and disregarded the books of the prophets and others. The Pharisees philosophy was based more on the oral tradition of the elders rather than scriptures. Jesus quotes Isaiah in Matthew 15:9 where Good said, “in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’”

So Jesus having Abraham say, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; … they should listen to them.’ it was pointed directly at both the scribes and Pharisees. I’m sure that it wasn’t lost on them.

Don’t let that slide past you. WE ALSO HAVE MOSES AND THE PROPHETS. What have they to say to us? Paul wrote to Timothy,

Paul wrote to Timothy, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” (2Tim.3 Verses 16 & 17) He, of course, was speaking of the Jewish scrolls that were read in the temple and synagogues. Those were the text we refer to as the Old Testament.

There is a lot more to the bible than Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. I encourage you to read it. That mini sermon was thrown in at no extra charge.

The story continues, ‘Father Abraham; if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

A little bit of messianic prophesy thrown in here at the last, for we know that many were not convinced even when Jesus returned from the dead.

Now, I warned you that this would probably make you uncomfortable. So, here is the pointed end of the stick. It is painfully obvious that our comfort in our eternal life – our forever life – is dependent on our – short time – in this Earthly life.

Now I’m a good person (Ella don’t you say a word) and y’all are good people, as the world judges people.

The problem is God doesn’t give two Hoots or a holler for how the world judges us.

As I said earlier I think the rich man was probably respected and deferred to in his community and people probably thought he was a good man. But on the day of judgement he was found lacking.

I just can’t get past Jesus in Matthew 25:34-36 saying, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’”

I long to hear him say those words to me. And you do too. Right?

But listen to the rest of the story.

“Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’”

And those on his left will start spitting and sputtering, “But I was one of the good ones, just ask my neighbors.”

Luke, in particular, stresses the way the status of the rich and the poor is reversed in the kingdom of God.

Remember that in the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus tells the poor that God favors them and that the kingdom of God belongs to them, but he warns the rich of what is to come since they have already received their consolation in this life (6:20-25).

In his very first sermon, Jesus announced, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news … to the poor.”

Twice in Luke chapter 14 Jesus said to invite, “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” to your home, to your party.

I don’t know about you, but I’m quickly revising my party invitations.

It appears to me that the author of James got the point that Jesus made over and over, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.”

True faith has to have legs and hands and to be a servant of Lord Jesus. And let’s not forget the bank account. That is, after all what is the basis of this parable. You can accumulate stuff on Earth or earn your reward in heaven.

And let’s not forget the bank account. That is, after all what is the basis of this parable. You can accumulate stuff on Earth or earn your reward in heaven.

Frankly, this story of the rich man and Lazarus can be hard to swallow for many Americans.

Let’s be real our lifestyle stands in sharp contrast with a most of the world. For instance WorldWatch.org had this to say, The 12 percent of the world’s population that lives in North America and Western Europe accounts for 60 percent of private consumption spending,

Wait. Hear that again.

12 percent of the world’s population consumes 60 percent of the resources.

And the rest of the world?

Well 33% of the world, living in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, consume only 3.2 percent.” 1/3 of the world consume 3.2 of the resources

Folks, … we … are …the rich man!

Certainly, some percentage of that rampant consumerism could be used to lift some poor naked, imprisoned, sick, hungry, thirsty, stranger. Right?

Just so I know you haven’t clenched your checkbook to your chest and slid down in the pew, I really need an amen here,

Again, I’m saying this in love. And this is not an appeal to increase your tithe and offering. (sorry, Finance Committee)

This is an appeal for us to take a long look at all of our resources and see how we may be used to help those people who have fallen through the cracks in society. I strongly believe that when our cup of blessing overflows, we are not to drink deeper, we are to pass the blessing along.

As I said earlier, It is painfully obvious to me that our comfort in our eternal life – our forever life – is dependent on our short time in this Earthly life. “we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it.” So, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. (Matt. 6:19-20)

I know our temptation is to explain away a story like this and to remove its blatant depiction of how God will ultimately vindicate the cause of the poor. But the message has been clearly stated. Like the rich man’s five brothers, we have been given all the warning we need by Moses, the prophets, PLUS a man risen from the dead, Jesus himself.

Like the rich man’s five brothers, we have been given all the warning we need by Moses, the prophets, PLUS a man risen from the dead, Jesus himself.

I will end with this qoute from Rev. Dr. Sam Persons Parkes, pastor of Cloverdale UMC in Dothan, Alabama

“Privilege is blinding culturally, ecologically, theologically, sexually, and racially. But a lot of people, the dominants, just don’t care! Many of them have their own version of “Moses and the prophets” (worst band name ever, by the way). Many of us had parents who taught us to care for others, to be kind and compassionate. And we believe these things, yet often fail to act on them.”

I pray I’ve left you with something to think about and to pray about.

God bless

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All content (except quotations) ©2019 Thomas E Williams

Originally posted Sunday, September 29, 2019

Q & A

Matthew 21:23-32Then Jesus went into the temple courtyard and began to teach. The chief priests and the leaders of the people came to him. They asked, “What gives you the right to do these things? Who told you that you could do this?” Jesus answered them, “I, too, have a question for you. If you answer it for me, I’ll tell you why I have the right to do these things. Did John’s right to baptize come from heaven or from humans?” They discussed this among themselves. They said, “If we say, ‘from heaven,’ he will ask us, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘from humans,’ we’re afraid of what the crowd might do. All those people think of John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Jesus told them, “Then I won’t tell you why I have the right to do these things. “What do you think about this? A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go to work in the vineyard today.’ “His son replied, ‘I don’t want to!’ But later he changed his mind and went. “The father went to the other son and told him the same thing. He replied, ‘I will, sir,’ but he didn’t go. “Which of the two sons did what the father wanted?” “The first,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “I can guarantee this truth: Tax collectors and prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. John came to you and showed you the way that God wants you to live, but you didn’t believe him. The tax collectors and prostitutes believed him. But even after you had seen that, you didn’t change your minds and believe him.

Q & A

Our message begins on a typical Sabbath morning. Jesus had gone into the temple to do what he had been doing all His life (being about His Father’s business). Here he was teaching and explaining the Law and the Prophets when the chief priests and the leaders of the people came up to him.
They asked, “Dude, who do you think you are? WE are the teachers here. These people pay US to tell them how WE interpret the scriptures. WE spent years studying with a respected rabbi before we were allowed to teach. What right do you have to do these things? Who gave you this authority? Where is YOUR diploma?”
Now I know that the Bible doesn’t say that Jesus had a twinkle in his eye and a smirk on his lips when he answered, but I believe He did when He said, “I have just one question to ask you. If you answer it, I will tell you where I got the right to do these things.
Can you see the fear on these priests and leaders faces? You know they were not used to being challenged; not here in the Temple. This was their home turf. I can imagine them starting to sweat and beginning to back away. Then Jesus asked the question, “Who gave John the right to baptize? Was it God in heaven or merely some human being?”
Oh man! They knew it! He was setting them up! They thought it over and said to each other, “There is no way we can answer Him. We can’t say that God gave John this right. Because then Jesus will ask us why we didn’t believe; and there is no way we can defend ourselves there. On the other hand, these people think that John was a prophet, and we are afraid of what they might do to us. That’s why we can’t say that it was merely some human who gave John the right to baptize.”
So these religious leaders did a quick huddle and decided to play it safe. So they told Jesus, “We don’t know.”
Jesus said, “Okay, so you won’t be honest with me. Well then I won’t tell you who gave me the right to do what I do.”
Now right here at verse 28 the story appears to take a sharp right turn. It almost appears that Jesus is changing the subject. But hang on; He knows where He is going with this lesson.
Now Jesus, while he has these leaders’ attention says, “I will tell you a story about a man who had two sons. Then you can tell me what you think.”
Oh yeah! I’m sure that they are looking forward to THIS quiz. After all, they had done so well on the last one!
Jesus began the story, “The father went to the older son and said, “Go work in the vineyard today!” His son told him that he would not do it, but later he changed his mind and went.
The man then told his younger son to go work in the vineyard. The boy said he would, but then he didn’t go to work after all.”
Okay, the parameters of the story have been explained. Now Jesus asks, “So, teachers, which one of the sons obeyed his father?”
The chief priests and leaders answered, “The older one!” Wow! This test was easier than they thought it was going to be! This was not near as tricky as they had feared. The answer was so obvious! The one who obeyed was the one who obeyed, even though he had at first refused. Simple, really, when you thought about it.
Then Jesus told them: “You can be sure that tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you ever will!
What? Why? We answered your question correctly! We know we did!
“Because, when John the Baptist showed you how to do right, you would not believe and follow him. You were the son that said you would but then refused to follow. By your own tongues you have judged yourselves.
But these “evil” people, the tax collectors and prostitutes, did believe. They may have been disobedient at the beginning but then they repented and changed. And even then, when you, priests and teachers of the Law, saw what they did, you still would not change your minds and believe. What good is to say ‘yes’ with your lips and ‘no’ with your actions?”
Now it is our turn to answer Jesus. We sing on Sunday morning; “Follow, I will follow thee my Lord”, “Where he leads me I will follow”, or dozens of other hymns that speak about our obedience to the Lord.
Are we just moved by the music and mouthing the words without thought? If so, how many lies do Christians sing each week? Can we better defend ourselves to Jesus questions than did the “religious” people of His day?
If we can’t do better than they, then what makes us think that Christ will be any easier on us for our disobedience?
We are good people! We know we are. However, the chief priests and synagogue leaders were also ‘good people’. For the most part they were trying to do what they thought was expected of them. They said all the right words, just as they had been taught.
It was their actions, or their lack of actions that was getting them into trouble with Jesus. It is what can get us into trouble with Jesus.
We hear, we listen, we nod our heads in agreement and may even shout, “Amen!” But to what avail if it has caused no change within our lives?
James 1:22 says, “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” Sometimes James is misunderstood as saying that people are saved by their actions. He only says that the proof that they are saved is the changes it makes in their actions.
If we have been changed, if we are new creatures, then those around us should be able to notice. I pray that when we sing, “Where He leads me I will follow” we will be singing the truth of our hearts.

God bless

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All content (except quotations) ©2011Thomas E. Williams

Originally posted on Saturday, August 20, 2011

Here Is Your Outline – Live It

Romans 12:9-21
Love sincerely. Hate evil. Hold on to what is good. Be devoted to each other like a loving family. Excel in showing respect for each other. Don’t be lazy in showing your devotion. Use your energy to serve the Lord. Be happy in your confidence, be patient in trouble, and pray continually. Share what you have with God’s people who are in need. Be hospitable. Bless those who persecute you. Bless them, and don’t curse them. Be happy with those who are happy. Be sad with those who are sad. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be arrogant, but be friendly to humble people. Don’t think that you are smarter than you really are. Don’t pay people back with evil for the evil they do to you. Focus your thoughts on those things that are considered noble. As much as it is possible, live in peace with everyone. Don’t take revenge, dear friends. Instead, let God’s anger take care of it. After all, Scripture says, “I alone have the right to take revenge. I will pay back, says the Lord.” But, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him a drink. If you do this, you will make him feel guilty and ashamed.” Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil with good.

Message: Here Is Your Outline – Live It

In the early days of manned space flight, I remember sitting glued to the television screen watching as NASA preparied for launch. One of the things that fascinated me was the pre-launch sequence. They would go through a checklist called the go no-go where they would call for a check of all of the various systems necessary for lunch. Each monitoring station would report with either a go or a no-go. If there was a no-go then they launch would be delayed until that issue was fixed. Only when they had a clear go, on all systems, would they be clear for launch.

Well, sure, if we are going to be flying way above the atmosphere, we would want to make sure that everything was in top shape and fully ready before we put our faith in this piece of machinery Right?
I mean, if things go wrong, the consequences could put our lives at risk.
Aren’t our lives at risk by the choices we make everyday? Hey! Just living is risking our lives.
But there is something even more important than our lives.This life is but a moment in time.We are like the grasses of the field that flower for a short time and then are cast into the fire.
How is it with your soul?We live in a world that is broken and if we are not careful it can cause cuts and bruises to our souls – that eternal part of us.We have our eternal life to guard. Fortunately we have this “Operator Manuel” that we call the Bible.And we need to read it through over and over and become familiar with what it has to say.
Bible study is like astronaut training. We have to become familiar with the strengths and weakness.Where to look for trouble spots and how to correct them.
You have probably seen a TV show or movie where some untrained person is suddenly put in the position where they have to land the plane. That only works in fiction.
My point here is the only way to be prepared is to prepare! If the only Bible you know is what I or someone else has told you, you are about as ready to live the Christian life as I am to pilot the Mars Lander. We need to be prepared by reading the Bible for ourselves.
I know, sometimes we look at the Bible and think, “I could never read all of that.”The truth is that it is really simple. Just like eating an elephant; you take one bite at a time. There are lots of good reading plans out there (check the internet) that break the Bible into daily “bite size” bits.
I used one from the Gideons, that was designed to let you read the whole Bible through in a year.The first time through, I’ll admit was just a – read and check it off my list as done – sort of reading. It wasn’t “study” as much as it was complete the task. Maybe that wasn’t the best attitude or the best reason, however it got me into the Word.
Since then, I have used study plans that concentrate on parts of the Bible such as the Letters of Paul, the Psalms, Proverbs, or the first five books of the Old Testament.
As you read, ask yourself questions such as; who, what, when, where, why, and how. Ask what did this mean to the people who were there? What does it mean to me now?
Maybe you can join a Bible study group where you can share questions and ideas with others. Studying with others is great, however, keep it mind that it is YOUR life that you are training for, so you must take the responsibility.
Maybe you can join a Bible study group where you can share questions and ideas with others.
So, after you are trained, you are now ready to fly!
A daily devotional time will help you to “top off your tank”.
A prayer will help to set your navigation – your flight plan for the day.
Now you are ready for the “Preflight Checklist”
Our reading from Romans lays out a plan for living almost like a “preflight checklist” for life. (You were probably wondering when we were going to get into the scriptures today!)
1. Be sincere in your love for others. CHECK
2. Hate everything that is evil and hold tight to everything that is good. CHECK
3. Love each other as brothers and sisters and honor others more than you do yourself. CHECK
4. Never give up. CHECK
5. Eagerly follow the Holy Spirit and serve the Lord. CHECK
6. Let your hope make you glad. CHECK
7. Be patient in time of trouble and never stop praying. CHECK
8. Take care of God’s needy people and welcome strangers into your home. CHECK
9. Ask God to bless everyone who mistreats you. Ask him to bless them and not to curse them. CHECK
10. When others are happy, be happy with them, and when they are sad, be sad. CHECK
11. Be friendly with everyone. CHECK
12. Don’t be proud and feel that you are smarter than others. CHECK
13. Make friends with ordinary people. CHECK
14. Don’t mistreat someone who has mistreated you. CHECK
15. But try to earn the respect of others, CHECK
16. and do your best to live at peace with everyone. CHECK
17. Don’t try to get even. Let God take revenge. In the Scriptures the Lord says, “I am the one to take revenge and pay them back.” CHECK
18. “If your enemies are hungry, give them something to eat. And if they are thirsty,
give them something to drink. CHECK
This will be the same as piling burning coals
on their heads.”

19 Don’t let evil defeat you, but defeat evil with good. CHECK
Maybe we should go through this “preflight checklist” as we start each day. Imagine how different our day would be.
Also, remember that despite what a popular bumper-sticker says, Christ is the pilot – not our co-pilot. As a friend of mine has said, “If Christ is your co-pilot, you need to change seats.”

God bless

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All content (except quotations) ©2011 Thomas E. Williams

Originally posted Monday, August 15, 2011

A Carpenter Talks About Farming

Matthew 20:1-6

“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at daybreak to hire workers for his vineyard. After agreeing to pay the workers the usual day’s wages, he sent them to work in his vineyard. About 9 a.m. he saw others standing in the marketplace without work. He said to them, ‘Work in my vineyard, and I’ll give you whatever is right.’ So they went. “He went out again about noon and 3 p.m. and did the same thing. About 5 p.m. he went out and found some others standing around. He said to them, ‘Why are you standing here all day long without work?’

A Carpenter Talks About Farming

Has it ever occurred to you that Jesus told stories about really “odd” farmers?
Maybe it is because I have grown up in the Midwest where agriculture is so important.Or maybe it is because of all those hours working in my mother’s half-acre garden.Or maybe it is because I worked on a dairy farm and for Pioneer Hi-Bred Corn. Whatever the reason, the stories that Jesus told about farming, always have seemed a little “off” to me.
Maybe it was because he was a carpenter and not a farmer. But then again, he had a pretty good grasp of fishing and shepherding. Those parables hold up very well with the realities of those professions.
However, these stories of farming? Well, here, let’s examine them for a minute.
He told a story about a farmer who scattered seeds on the path, amongst the rocks, and into the thorns. Now in that day and age, seed was precious. To have seed to plant, you had to save part of last year’s crop, which meant that you could not eat it when times got tough. If you consumed it all today, you would starve tomorrow.
Also the seed was scattered by hand as you walked through your field. You had precise control of where the seed landed. Why in the world would a farmer waste seed by throwing it where it had little or no chance of growing. That would be a very foolish or a very nearsighted farmer indeed who would waste his precious seeds.
Jesus also told the story about the farmer who had planted his crops and “an enemy” came and threw “weed seeds” in with his crop. Then he told his help not to pull the weeds because it would damage the crop. Certainly not what modern farming practice would dictate? The weeds would be using up vital nutrients that should be going to the crop.
A good farmer does everything he can to get the weeds out and keep them out. We use various methods to keep our crops clear of weeds. We hoe, pull, mulch and spray to control those weeds. When we see a field that is full of weeds, we tend to believe the farmer is lazy or does not care enough about his crops to protect them and keep them clean of weeds.
Now the part about an enemy who sewed weed seeds. Really? I can not imagine that happeing in modern times. Did “enemy farmers” actually resort to sabotage against their neighbors? I do not know for sure, however it seems unlikely.
For one thing, how much time did this enemy farmer spend harvesting weeds to gather those seeds. Did he intentionally not plant crops one year so that he could grow weeds? Seems pretty odd to me.
Then in today’s gospel reading we meet another peculiar farmer who has a vineyard. His grapes have grown. His vineyards have done very well indeed, what we would call a bumper crop and now it is time for the harvest.
His problem was that he had more work than he had workers.
The solution was simple enough, go into town and hire ‘day laborers’. And that’s what he did. He offered those that he found a fair wage for their day of labor and they accepted the contract without negotiation.
However, the landowner soon discovered that there was still more work than workers. So, back to town and hire more workers. He offered them the same contract as he had the first workers and again they accepted and went to work. Several times he did this right up until almost too dark to harvest.
In each case the farmer promised each group a “day’s wages”. A day’s wages means that each person received enough money to feed himself and family for the day.
Finally, the job was done and it was time to dole out the pay.
This is where the “blip” in this story starts. He pays everyone the same, no matter how long they worked. I wonder what union these folks belonged to?
Those that came latest were paid first. They took their wages and felt glad to be able to feed their families for another day.
At last it came time to pay those that were hired first. Well, understandably the ones that worked the longest were upset because they earned “only” the same as the people who worked the shorter day. That means that although the earned the same for the day, they made less per hour than the ones who came later in the day. They were upset.
Do you see what I mean, that none of these stories make sense? Not if you are actually thinking that they have anything to do with agriculture!
Of course, that is the point, they are not stories about farming.They are stories about the Kingdom of God.
When scattering the seed that is the Word of God, we are to be like the nearsighted farmer and scatter seed everywhere. We are to tell everyone about Jesus.
We understand that not everyone will listen – but we are not to prejudge them. Let God do that, it is His job.
Maybe He will spend some time cultivating the rocky ground and clearing the weeds, so that the next person who sews seeds of the Gospel of Christ will find good soil where the bad soil had been.
I, for one was a hard packed path on which nothing could grow. I heard the word, had seed scattered on me, countless times before it started to grow. Thank God that enough people were willing to cast seed in such an unlike spot as my soul.
And, of course, we are not to pull the weeds from the field. Again, that is God’s job to sort out the good from the bad.
Frankly, we would be very bad spiritual weed pullers. We can only see the past and the present. (Although sometimes we can’t see the present because it is hidden by our knowledge ot the past). So we make judgments without knowing the “rest of the story”. God can see clear to the end which makes him the only one who can determine whether it is a weed or valuable plant.
And, in today’s gospel reading, we understand that, while paying farm works a full day’s pay for an hour’s work makes little financial sense, if you realize that when “paying” workers in the Kingdom of God for bringing in souls, it makes sense.
The reward, life eternal, is the same regardless of when you enter into it.Nobody gets half of an eternal life, or a quarter, or and eighth.The reward is the same for all.
So it doesn’t make any difference when you started “working” for God – as a youngster, or as an oldster – the reward will be eternity with God.
Remember, when we work for God, the pay is always fair – and the retirement plan is unbeatable!
Praise God.Amen.

God bless

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All content (except quotations) ©2011Thomas E. Williams

Originally posted Thursday, August 18, 2011

What Comes Out of Your Mouth?

What Comes Out of Your Mouth?

Matthew 15:10-20
Then he called the crowd and said to them, “Listen and try to understand! What goes into a person’s mouth doesn’t make him unclean. It’s what comes out of the mouth that makes a person unclean.” Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you realize that when the Pharisees heard your statement they were offended?” He answered, “Any plant that my heavenly Father did not plant will be uprooted. Leave them alone! They are blind leaders. When one blind person leads another, both will fall into the same pit.” Peter said to him, “Explain this illustration to us.” Jesus said, “Don’t you understand yet? Don’t you know that whatever goes into the mouth goes into the stomach and then into a toilet? But whatever goes out of the mouth comes from within, and that’s what makes a person unclean. Evil thoughts, murder, adultery, other sexual sins, stealing, lying, and cursing come from within. These are the things that make a person unclean. But eating without washing one’s hands doesn’t make a person unclean.”

I can hear my mother calling me, “Tom, time to eat. Go wash your hands.”

I’d come in from playing – climbing trees, playing soldier (which meant getting ‘shot’ and rolling down the hill) and most likely I’d been catching grasshoppers or toads or snakes.So in I come and dip my hands into water and dry off on a towel.

“No, go back and use soap!” Mom would scold. Funny, MY kids were the same way; always in too much of a hurry to ‘scrub’ away the dirt before coming to the table.
Parents are always concerned with what goes into their kids’ mouths. “Get that out of your mouth.You don’t know where that has been!”
We are concerned about cleanliness because we are concerned for their health and well being. We are also concerned about what comes out of their mouths What are we teaching them – by word and by example?
“What did you say, young man! Don’t make me wash your mouth out with soap!” Yes, I’ve had my mouth washed out with soap!And I’ve washed my son’s mouth out with soap.
Oh, I wish it were really that easy to cleanse the heart. Here Jesus called the crowd and said to them, “Listen and try to understand! What goes into a person’s mouth doesn’t make him unclean.It’s what comes out of the mouth that makes a person unclean.”
This is one of the most straight-forward statements Jesus ever made. No parable was needed to make this point. He just says, “Listen up! What you eat will not harm you as much as what you say!” No further explanation should be needed. Right?
But then the disciples said to him, “Do you realize that when the Pharisees heard your statement they were offended?” Yes, the Pharisees were offended. Jesus had, once again, dismissed one of the Mosaic laws of cleanliness. Or at least that is what they heard. They had a scroll full of things that could make a person unclean! Who was this Jesus to come along and say that eating unclean animals, like pork, would not make you unclean!
Jesus didn’t actually say that we should not wash our hands before we eat or that it was okay to eat just anything that we picked up off the ground (no 7 second rule here). He was trying to get the point across that what we say (and by extension what we think) can have far more impact on our lives than a little dirt eaten with our lunch.
I’ve often been amazed at the number of times it is recorded that there was such a conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees. Because, of the various sects of Judaism, the Pharisees were closest to teaching the same things that Jesus taught. In Matthew 23:3 Jesus even tells his listeners, “So be careful to do everything they tell you.” However, He quickly adds, “But don’t follow their example, because they don’t practice what they preach.”
I have four children with very different personalities. My oldest son would never argue with me. I’d tell him to do something and he say, “Okay.” He wouldn’t do it – but he didn’t argue. My oldest daughter would argue with me. I’d tell her what to do and she’d give me 50 reasons that it can’t or shouldn’t be done. Then she’d go do it.
Which is better? To argue and obey? Or to agree and disobey?

Here, Jesus was saying that the Pharisees did not argue with the commands of God, but they did not follow them.

Here is what Jesus said about the Pharisees in today’s reading, “Any plant that my heavenly Father did not plant will be uprooted. So, leave them alone! They are blind leaders. When one blind person leads another, both will fall into the same pit.”Finally! A parable! I imagine Peter has been sitting on his hands, bouncing in his seat just waiting for a parable so he can say, “Explain this illustration to us.”

Finally! A parable! I imagine Peter has been sitting on his hands, bouncing in his seat just waiting for a parable so he can say, “Explain this illustration to us.”

To this Jesus said, “Seriously, Peter? Don’t you understand yet? Okay, I’ll be a little more graphic for you. Don’t you know that whatever goes into the mouth goes into the stomach and then into a toilet?
Listen, whatever goes out of the mouth comes from within. It shows what kind of a person you truly are and that’s what makes a person unclean. Here are examples of the unclean things that I’m talking about, evil thoughts, murder, adultery, other sexual sins, stealing, lying, and cursing. These are the things that make a person unclean, Jesus said.
I praise God that Jesus’ blood can wash away these impurities that make us spiritually unclean. Without His grace we could never stand in the presence of the Father. Our sins would keep us forever separated from the holiness of God. But because He paid the price of our sins, God no longer sees them. So we can come to God any time any place – even if we have dirt under our fingernails.

Glory to God. Amen.

©Thomas E Williams 2011

Originally published Monday, August 15, 2011

“But Who Do You Say I Am?”

Matthew 16:13-20

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They answered, “Some say you are John the Baptizer, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” Jesus replied, “Simon, son of Jonah, you are blessed! No human revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven revealed it to you. You are Peter, and I can guarantee that on this rock I will build my church. And the gates of hell will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you imprison, God will imprison. And whatever you set free, God will set free.” Then he strictly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

“But Who Do You Say I Am?”

That is THE BIG QUESTION – isn’t it?
When Jesus arrived in the villages of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “What are people saying about who the Son of Man is?”

The disciples, who would have done some shopping at the local shopping mall, and maybe stopped in at Floyd’s barbershop, would have picked up on the local gossip – what people were saying about Jesus behind His back.
This was the information Jesus was looking for; who did the shop keepers, the mothers with small children, the subsistence farmers and fishermen.What was the buzz among these people? What did National Inquirer have to say about Him?
The religious leaders knew who He was, He was a trouble maker. He was someone cutting in on their power – their interpretation of God’s word. There was no mystery as to what they were saying about Jesus. They wanted Him gone – the quicker the better.
However, it was important for Jesus to know if the general populace was catching on to the message He was giving. Were the people preparing for the messiah? So He asked His disciples.
The disciples replied,”Some think he is John the Baptizer, some say Elijah, some Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.” Humm … interesting that they thought some long-dead prophet had returned to life.
So, most people still had not realized just who it was that walked among them. Who it was that fed them – spiritually and physically. They realized that He was a man of God. But they had not yet realized He was the God of Man.
Now Jesus put His disciples on the spot by asking, “And how about you, guys? Who am I to you?”
These were His hand picked disciples to whom He was speaking. They had not only seen the public miracles they had also seen “behind the curtain” – so to speak. They had heard the public teachings and also had Him give them private instruction.
Now he asked that big question, “Who do you say that I am?”
Peter spoke first. Now I have to admit that I am a bit like Peter – never one to hold back with an opinion or observation – here he jumped in with both feet and his mouth open.
“Dude, You’re the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus came back with a verbal hug when he said, “God bless you, Simon, son of Jonah! You didn’t get that answer out of books or from teachers. My Father in heaven, God himself, let you in on this secret of who I really am.
For all his brashness and for all his impulsiveness, Peter was in tune with God. The answer came so quickly to his lips, that Jesus knew where the answer came from.
I heard a street preacher from Baton Rouge say that a woman approached him one day a say that she KNEW he was telling the truth – ‘cause nobody could lie that quick! There is a truth in what that woman was saying. It is easier and quicker to speak the truth than to think up the lie.
Hang on to your seats because, here comes a change or direction. Jesus had been asking “Who do people say that I am?”Now he tells Peter, “I’m going to tell you who you are, really are. You are Peter, a rock.”
I like the fact that Jesus was praising Peter here. Along with a pat on the head, he gets a new name. He looked into Peter’s life and saw not the fisherman, not the quick tempered, not the denier, but He saw the man of God that Peter would become.
I have been told that Jesus was doing a play on words here. That Peter’s original name meant pebble and that by calling him Peter, he was literally calling him Rock.
Now I don’t read Aramaic so I can’t personally verify that story – but I like it. I know from reading the stories He told, that Jesus had an amazing sense of humor and anyone who can come up with a quick pun is my hero.
Anyway, So Jesus is now saying that Peter has grown from a pebble to a rock. And He has a job for this rock to do.
Here He says, “This is the rock on which I will put together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out.”
Did you catch that part when we read the scripture?
We, His church, can attack the gates of Hell. When I was younger, I thought that Christianity was purely a “defensive” religion. That is, we are protected by God by our belief. And we are. However, we are also to be an army that “attacks” evil, even the gates of Hell.
Jesus now says, “And that’s not all. You will have complete and free access to God’s kingdom, keys to open any and every door: no more barriers between heaven and earth, earth and heaven. A yes on earth is yes in heaven. A no on earth is no in heaven.”
Wow! No more barriers! Remember that Jesus was talking to a conquered people who lived under the rule of Rome. Think what these simple words meant to them. He told this powerless person, “You have the power!”
We, who have been captives of sin, we have the power! We aren’t just freed from sin, we are given the power to attack evil. Let’s be on the offensive!
Next Jesus did something that I don’t truly understand, He swore the disciples to secrecy. He made them promise they would tell no one that he was the Messiah.
For a long time I thought that was to protect Himself. Remember, He already had people in authority, trying to capture or kill him.
Now, I wonder if He meant to protect His disciples. He was not done preparing them for the adversity they would face. So, perhaps, like a father sheltering his children, He was asking them to keep this secret for just a little while longer. Until the time came when they could say boldly that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the true son of God.
Now, in this time and in this place, the question for us is, who do we say He is? And what are we going to do about it?

©Thomas E. Williams 2011

Nothing But Division

Gospel Reading: Luke 12:49-56

“I have come to throw fire on the earth. I wish that it had already started! I have a baptism to go through, and I will suffer until it is over. “Do you think I came to bring peace to earth? No! I can guarantee that I came to bring nothing but division. From now on a family of five will be divided. Three will be divided against two and two against three. A father will be against his son and a son against his father. A mother will be against her daughter and a daughter against her mother. A mother-in-law will be against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” Jesus said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud coming up in the west, you immediately say, ‘There’s going to be a rainstorm,’ and it happens. When you see a south wind blowing, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and that’s what happens. You hypocrites! You can forecast the weather by judging the appearance of earth and sky. But for some reason you don’t know how to judge the time in which you’re living.

Message: Nothing But Division

(Click here to hear sermon)

Our gospel reading brings an image we seldom see of Jesus. We see a glimpse of the one who will sit in judgement on that final day. As we read in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 “After all, no one can lay any other foundation than the one that is already laid, and that foundation is Jesus Christ. People may build on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw. The day will make what each one does clearly visible because fire will reveal it. That fire will determine what kind of work each person has done. If what a person has built survives, he will receive a reward. If his work is burned up, he will suffer the loss. However, he will be saved, though it will be like going through a fire.”

On that final day, some will be welcomed as a good and faithful servant – see Matthew 25:21 “His master replied, ‘Good job! You’re a good and faithful servant! You proved that you could be trusted with a small amount. I will put you in charge of a large amount. … Come and share your master’s happiness.’)

Some will be turned away to whom he will say, “I never knew you.” as in Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the person who does what my Father in heaven wants. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name? Didn’t we force out demons and do many miracles by the power and authority of your name?’ Then I will tell them publicly, ‘I’ve never known you. Get away from me, you evil people.’

So, understand, when Jesus spoke of families being torn apart, it wasn’t a threat. It was an observation. The culture was already fragmented and his clarification of the scriptures would further fragment it.

Let me explain.

  • For nearly 500 years the Jews had berm without a true prophet of God.

  • The original temple, the heart and soul of Jewish life had been destroyed in 587 BC

  • At the time of destruction, most of the upper class of their religion, government, and society had been enslaved and carried away to foreign lands.

Eventually, many returned to rebuild the temple in 538 BC

However, they found that in their long absences, the Jews that had been left behind, had intermarriage with non-Jews. These were the Samaritans.

When the Samaritans offered to help rebuild the temple, they were rejected. So they moved about 40 miles north of Jerusalem and built their own temple.

This division created great hatred between both sides.

Israel, who had previously been given God’s word through the prophets, began to be divided into groups with – very – political, religious, and social agendas. They also differed in their beliefs and traditions about the Messiah.

The religious tried to live the law of Moses as the understood it, but each group interpreted the scriptures from such varied perspectives that Jewish Society became more and more divided. As a result, the true understanding of who the Savior would be became confused.

Once the voices of prophets fell silent, the priests and their fellow Temple workers, the Levites, became the highest officials among the Jews and claimed for themselves the right to interpret scripture.

However, the office of High Priest became corrupted as it was bought and sold during this time.

  • Many Jews felt that the priests and Levites did not fulfill their responsibility to teach the law correctly,

  • a new group evolved who sought teach the law. Known as scribes, they model themselves on Ezra, who had helped his people feel an urgency to learn and to obey the law.

In 167 BC Cyrus the Great conquered the Babylonian Empire, including Jerusalem and outlawed the Jewish faith, forbidding circumcision and desecrating the temple by offering swine on the altar.

Many Jews resisted, led by a family known as The Maccabees . The Maccabean war eventually brought freedom to the Jews and created a Jewish Nation for the first time since the fall of Jerusalem.

At the same time the hasideans, meaning the pious, formed. They showed their Devotion to God by trying to live every miniscule aspect of the law of Moses as they understood it.

Other religious groups also emerged during this time. Each claiming the – exclusive – right to interpret the scriptures.

(Sounds a lot like many modern groups, amen?)

  • The Pharisees came into being soon after the maccabean war. They became very influential and Jewish Society by introducing a narrow focus on food laws and on ritual Purity, aspects that were rooted primarily in their – oral Traditions, – not scripture.

  • The Sadducees, on the other hand, rejected any appeal to oral tradition and held strictly to the five books of Moses, turning their backs on the writings of other prophets.

Oh yes, let’s not forget that the hated Romans conquered the middle east and occupied Israel in 63 BC.

Jesus came into this mess of mixed messages and misunderstandings and – amazed his listeners because, “Unlike their scribes, he taught them with authority.”

(Matthew 7:28-29)

Some there were, who embraced Jesus’s message of God’s gift of forgiveness through his Son’s sacrifice. And there were those who reject the gift. Families were divided by their beliefs concerning Jesus. There are still those that accept, those that reject, and families are still divided because of Jesus.

Jesus said, “I have come to throw fire on the earth. I wish that it had already started!

Now, let’s talk about that fire in the biblical context.

In the bible Fire is a represents so many things. It can represent the

  • presence of God — as in the pillar fire in Exodus (13:17-22) and the tongues of flame at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).

  • It can also represent the final judgment as in Revelation, Satan and his army are consumed by fire (20:7-10).

  • Fire also represents purification — Zachariah (13:9) and Malachi (3:2-3) each refer to God’s intention to purify Israel like a refiner purifies silver by fire.

Jesus is the embodiment of all of these images. Jesus, as part of the Godhead, embodies the presence of God which simultaneously judges and purifies.

The division of which Jesus speaks is a result of the purifying fire he bears. The kingdom of God he proclaims represents a new order governed not by might but by forgiveness, not by fear but by courage, and not by power but by humility.

Those lured by the temptations of wealth, status, and power; and those who rule now will resist this coming kingdom for it spells an end to what they know and love

Therefore Jesus — though coming to establish a rule of peace — brings division, even to the most intimate and honored of relationships, that among family.

But if Jesus’s call to a new way of relating to each other — through forgiveness, courage, and humility — stirred up division during his time and that of the early church, what does it bring today?

There are Christians in some parts of the world who continue to face opposition and persecution. However, we Christians in the western world are seldom openly persecution for the sake of our faith. So, how are we to understand Jesus’s pronouncement that he brings fire and division rather than peace? Just observe how fragmented the Christian denominationsare today. Aren’t families still divided by their beliefs?

Jesus asked his listeners how it is that they could predict the weather but not understand the signs of the times. Can we do our own weather forecasting by discerning the signs of the times? There are few biblical end-time prophecy left unfulfilled. And those could be accomplished quickly.

I don’t know when that trumpet will sound and time will cease! But I do know that it is two thousand years closer than it was when Jesus berated them for not knowing. And I know that it will come suddenly and unexpectedly like a thief in the night.

Hear these words from 2 Peter 3:10 “The day of the Lord will come like a thief. On that day heaven will pass away with a roaring sound. Everything that makes up the universe will burn and be destroyed. The earth and everything that people have done on it will be exposed.”

Knowing that the day of the Lord will come without warning, what are you and I to do in preparation?

I enjoy watching YouTube channels about Bushcraft, survival, self sufficiency, and prepping. I Was A Boy Scout and I believe in being prepared. We do not have a doomsday bunker filled with a stockpile of weapons to fight off the zombie hordes. However, we do have duffel bags packed with about a week’s worth of clothes plus freeze dried food and water and some basic tools. These are in case of fire, flood, or winds. These preparations will be useless on the Day of Reckoning. To be prepared we need to live the life of service as commanded by and demonstrated by Jesus listen again to Matthew 25:31-40

When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all his angels are with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. The people of every nation will be gathered in front of him. He will separate them as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right but the goats on his left. “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, my Father has blessed you! Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger, and you took me into your home. I needed clothes, and you gave me something to wear. I was sick, and you took care of me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ “Then the people who have God’s approval will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you or see you thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you as a stranger and take you into our homes or see you in need of clothes and give you something to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “The king will answer them, ‘I can guarantee this truth: Whatever you did for one of my brothers or sisters, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did for me.’

Providing shelter, food, water, clothing, health care, protection, love and support, caring for your neighbor, and loving your enemies, these are the things will pass through the fire unharmed.. Simply put, “Always do for other people everything you want them to do for you. (Matthew 7:12a) That is how to be prepared.

And then pray that God’s kingdom comes. Come, Lord Jesus!

The good will of the Lord Jesus be with all of us. Amen!

Portions of this sermon used information from “The Lost 500 Years” by S. Kent Brown & Richard Neitzel Holzapfel

“It is NOT Sink or Swim”

Matthew 14:22-33

Message: “It is NOT Sink or Swim”
Today’s Gospel reading takes place immediately following the feeding of the 5000. Jesus had sent His disciples by boat toward the other side of the sea while He stayed behind to dismiss the people.
After sending the people away, he went up a mountain to pray by himself. When evening came, he was there alone.!
It had been an amazing day of teaching and miracles. Jesus had been surrounded by and sought by thousands of people clamoring for His attention.
He had not only been teaching the masses, but also training the disciples.
Now, He sought time alone to be with His Father in prayer. I can imagine the conversation going something like this:
“Hey, Dad, I had a good day today! A few of them actually saw past the miracles and understood that it wasn’t about filling their stomachs. They really got it!
I tell you, being human isn’t easy, this body is so worn and tired that I think I could sleep through a storm at sea!
Well, I’d better go check on the disciples. They’ll be starting to worry. They’re coming along but its slow going with some of them.
By the way, You’ve got some sense of humor giving me Peter as a disciple. And James and John! What a pair!
Anyway, they are like children at times, and at others they show great insights of understanding about what our purpose here is all about.
I’ll call ya later. Bye, Dad, Love you!
So, by now the boat was hundreds of yards from shore and bouncing like a three-year-old on a sugar high; and trying to sail into the wind. If you have ever tried to stand up in a small boat that is being tossed around by the waves and the wind – or tried to walk on a water bed, you can get some idea of what it was like for Jesus to walk on this rolling carpet of water.
Okay, so sometime in the darkest part of the night – that part before sunrise and when the moon has gone down – Jesus comes hiking through the peaks and troughs of the waves like he was strolling through a meadow.
The disciples see Him and begin screaming like little girls in a snake pit. They believe Him to be a ghost. It’s not clear if they think He is just any ol’ ghost of if they recognize it is Him and believe Him to have finally been killed by His many enemies.
I am sure He was bewildered by their behavior. As far as He was concerned, He was not doing anything so incredible. However because He is ever compassionate, He yells out, “Dudes, it me, calm down!”
At this point, Peter (ever rash, impulsive Peter) says, “Okay, if its you, command me to come to you on the water!”
I doubt Peter had thought this through – he quite often did not think it through until after the fact – however, he had some concept of the fact that, alone he could not step onto the sea and walk, but that if Jesus “commanded” him to do it, that he would also give him the ability to follow through on it.
There is a lesson there for us. When we are commanded, we are also empowered. This goes beyond what Paul means when he says in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “(God) will not let you be tested beyond your strength.”
It means that we do not have to rely on our own strength when we are doing the will of God. God’s strength is sufficient to what ever the task is that is set before us.
So, Peter asks Jesus to order him out of the boat. I’m sure that Jesus smiled like a proud parent when their child takes that first unaided step, when He said, “Come on ahead!”
So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. – UNTIL – he noticed how strong the wind was, at that point his fear of the wind and the water became stronger than his faith in Jesus. The result was that he started to sink. In his fear, he shouted, “Lord, save me!”
Jesus could have used him as an object lesson to the other disciples and let Peter struggle in the water and find his own way back to the boat.
However, in His compassion, He immediately, reached out, caught hold of him, and said, “You have so little faith! Why did you doubt?”
I do not think that Jesus was speaking only to Peter here. After all, Peter had shown enough faith to get out of the boat while the others were still cowering and whimpering. Peter’s small faith had let him walk on water – if only for a little while.
When they got into the boat, the wind stopped blowing. At this point, the men in the boat bowed down in front of Jesus and said, “You are truly the Son of God.”
This was not the first time that they had said this. But here again they had just been reminded of it.
We are like that sometimes too, we “know” that Jesus is Lord. However, sometimes we fail to act on that knowledge. We, at times, forget the times when Jesus has been our strength, our rock, our guide, our savior, and let our gaze shift to the troubled world around us. We become overwhelmed with the size of the situation we face.
It is times like this when Jesus reaches for us with outstretched had and lifts us from the sea of troubles in which we would drown.
Is He hurt by our lack of faith? Yes, I think so. Is he disappointed in us for our lack of faith? Does He abandon us, give up on us? No! In love he lifts us and sets us on solid ground. Amen.©Thomas E Williams 2011

©Thomas E Williams 2011