“Dance Before The Lord”

2 Samuel 6:1-19
1. David again assembled all the best soldiers in Israel, 30,000 men. 2. He and all the people with him left Baalah in Judah to bring God’s ark to Jerusalem. (The ark is called by the name of the LORD of Armies, who is enthroned over the angels. ) 3. David and his men put God’s ark on a new cart and brought it from Abinadab’s home on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, Abinadab’s sons, were guiding the new cart. 4. They brought it from Abinadab’s home, with Ahio walking ahead of the ark. 5. David and the entire nation of Israel were celebrating in the LORD’s presence with all kinds of instruments made from cypress wood and with lyres, harps, tambourines, sistrums, and cymbals.

6. But when they came to Nacon’s threshing floor, the oxen stumbled. So Uzzah reached out for the ark of God and grabbed it. 7. The LORD became angry with Uzzah, so God killed him there for his lack of respect. He died beside the ark of God. 8. David was angry because the LORD had struck Uzzah so violently. (That place is still called Perez Uzzah The Striking of Uzzah today.) 9. David was afraid of the LORD that day. “How can the ark of the LORD come to my city?” he asked. 10. So David wouldn’t bring the ark of the LORD with him to the City of David. Instead, he rerouted it to the home of Obed Edom, who was from Gath. 11. The ark of the LORD stayed at the home of Obed Edom from Gath for three months, and the LORD blessed Obed Edom and his whole family. 12. King David was told, “The LORD has blessed Obed Edom’s home and everything he owns because of the ark of God.” Then David joyfully went to get the ark of God from Obed Edom’s house and bring it to the City of David. 13. When those who carried the ark of the LORD had gone six steps, David sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. 14. Wearing a linen ephod, David danced in the LORD’s presence with all his might. 15. He and the entire nation of Israel brought the ark of the LORD with shouts of joy and the sounding of rams’ horns.

16. When the ark of the LORD came to the City of David, Saul’s daughter Michal looked out of a window and saw King David leaping and dancing in the LORD’s presence, so she despised him. 17. The men carrying the ark set it in its place inside the tent David had put up for it. David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings in the LORD’s presence. 18. When David had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and the fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD of Armies. 19. He also distributed to all the people–to the whole crowd of Israelites, both men and women–one loaf of bread, one date cake, and one raisin cake. Then all the people went home.

Message: “Dance Before The Lord”

Wiggle, Wiggle, Wiggle. It’s so much fun watching toddlers dance. Sure there isn’t any graciousness, but the sure is a lot of enthusiasm. Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle. The joy just bursts forth from them. Dance isn’t taught; we doit naturally. I’m not talking about a set of structured steps done in a certain pattern, but REAL dance. That movement that is looked to our very emotions. Even Before they cram walk our talk, babies willi move to the music. We are wired for it by our creator. Every human culture, no matter how primitive or advanced, has music and dance.
Our emotions drive our movements. If we see someone sitting all slumped over, head and shoulders down, we recognize three defeated emotions that the other person is feeling. When we see someone jumping and waving their arms or fist pumping, we know that they are literally jumping for joy. Life is a dance, join in. Now, I don’t dance, not the waltz, the Texas two step or the polka. If I did. I’d look like I have two peg legs. But I move to the music. I clap. I tap my feet. I wave my hands like I’m conducting the choir. Music and emotion move me. Big emotions burst forth with explosive movements. Your team has just won in the last few seconds of the game, you know how you’re going to react; explosive movements that captures that exuberance.

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By all accounts King David was an emotional kind of guy. His heart ruled his head. Sometimes it got him into trouble. When you think of David, what is your first thought? Do you remember his triumph over the giant Goliath? Do you remember David as the man who committed adultery with Bathsheba? Do you remember his failures as a father? Do you remember Him as a humble shepherd? Or, do you remember David as the “Sweet Singer of Israel?”

Do you know how God remembers David? The answer is given to us in Acts 13:22. There, Paul quotes God and tells us that God looks at David as “a man after God’s Own heart!” God remembers David as a man who cared about the things that God cared about; who loved what God loved; hated what God hated; and whose heart beat in time with God’s.

Today’s Hebrew scripture reading clearly shows a mixed bag of emotions that David was going through. King Saul is dead and David has been recognized as the new king. His first order of business is to bring the Ark of the Covenant home.

At this point, a little history regarding the Ark is in order. The Ark of the Covenant was built at the command of the Lord. The word Ark means “chest or box.” The Ark was a box of wood that measured 45” long and 27” wide by 27” high. This box was overlaid in pure gold. It was topped by a golden grate called the Mercy Seat. On either side of the Mercy Seat, were two golden cherubim. Inside the Ark were a golden pot of manna; Aaron’s rod that budded and the two tablets of the Law that were given to Moses at Mount Sinai. It was here that God promised to meet with His people. It was here that the blood of the atonement was place on the Day of Atonement. It was here that the shechinah glory of God rested as the children of Israel journeyed through the wilderness.

This Ark was vital to worship in Israel. It was symbolic of God’s presence among His people. It was often carried into battle in front of the soldiers. It was central to their lives; their worship and their relationship with God. But, the Ark had not been kept in the central position that it deserved; and, as a result, neither had God.

You see, way back in the days of Eli, some 75 years earlier, the Ark had been taken by the Philistines. However, God punished the Philistines the whole time the Ark was in their possession. Their solution was to place the Ark on a new cart and allow the cattle that pulled the cart to take the box back to Israel. So, after 75 years, David is about to take Israel and lead them to go after God.

David’s desire is clear and simple. He wants the Ark returned to its place as the centerpiece of worship and devotion in Israel. He wants God placed back in the center of the national consciousness. David was seeking to unify a formerly divided nation with God as their true King once again. David desired God’s presence, God’s blessing and God’s guidance.

David was motivated by no ulterior motives. He was not after glory or power; David merely wanted to see God restored to His proper place as the Sovereign God of the nation of Israel. He strongly desired that God would be glorified among the people of Israel.

David knew that neither he nor Israel would amount to anything without the presence and power of God. David knew they did not possess the power or the ability to fend for themselves. They needed God. They needed His presence and His power. Therefore, David set out to bring the Ark back to Jerusalem to restore it to a place of prominence in the eyes of the nation.

That sounds pretty good, right? Certainly, David has good intentions; however, he is letting his emotions drive him without thinking it through and doing the proper preparation. Some 30,000 chosen men of Israel accompany David to bring the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem.

He is going as if going to war. There is no need to TAKE the ark from the Philistines. Indeed, the Philistines are the ones who instigate its return to Israel. David took warriors but what he needed was priests. God had given very clear instructions about how and by whom the ark was to be moved, and it wasn’t by ox cart or warriors. The ark was designed with rings on the legs. Wooden poles covered in gold were placed through the rings. The ark of God was to then be carried on the shoulders of selected priests by the use of the poles. The ark itself was to never be touched. It was a physical representation of the presence of God and therefore completely holy. Since the holy nature of God is fatal to sin, men must NEVER touch the ark.

So here we have David and all the house of Israel dancing before the LORD with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. A great big parade. Everything is sunshine and lollipops!

But then, opps! When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, the cart hit a bump and the ark shook so Uz-zah reached out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, and God struck him there because he touched the ark; and he died there beside the ark of God.

Apparently good intentions are not enough.

David’s motives in bringing the Ark to Jerusalem were proper; but his methods were faulty. Instead of being successful; David’s methods for transporting the Ark resulted in the death of a man named Uz-zah. This angered David, and created fear within David’s heart toward the Lord.

Let’s take a moment to examine David’s disappointment a little more closely and seek to determine what caused his plan to fall apart.

The Bible says that they “set the Ark of God upon a new cart…” David’s first problem was rooted in the fact that he either forgot or ignored the clear command of God as to how the Ark was to be transported. The Ark was to be lifted by means of two golden staves which were to be passed through golden rings fashioned on the corners of the Ark. The Ark was then to be lifted up and carried upon the shoulders of a family of Levites known as the Kohathites. David made good plans and good preparations, but he neglected to do it God’s way. He paid a high price for this decision.

Another flaw that mars David’s decision is the fact that he did not seek God BEFORE he made it. Up to this moment, David has always gone to the Lord for guidance and direction. Time and time again, David asks the Lord for help. Here, he does not seek the Lord, but he just assumes that God will bless him because he is doing a good thing.

Another problem David has is his methods were the same methods that had been used by the Philistines. When the Philistines had the Ark and wanted to return it to Israel, they had placed it on a new cart.

David did the same for the first two miles of their journey, then the oxen shook the cart and threatened to dump the Ark off the cart. At this point, Uz-zah reached out his hand in an effort to steady the Ark and prevent it from falling. This seems like a logical thing to do, but apparently God did not agree. He killed Uz-zah on the spot! You see, the Ark was not only supposed to be carried only on the shoulders of the Kohathites; it was never to be touched by human hands. The penalty for touching the Ark was death, as Uz-zah and David quickly found out.

There are some absolutes that can not be broken even by those who ‘mean well’. Looking across a canyon and seeing someone needing help doesn’t mean you can step off of your cliff and walk directly to the other person. The law of gravity will kill you if you step off into thin air. The law of holiness will do the same. It isn’t vengeance. It is simply one of those absolutes.

If these verses teach us anything, they teach us that God is very interested in the details. We may think that God does not care about the little things in life; but He does! When God gives a command, He expects it to be followed to the letter. A heart that is follows God does what God says to do, and it stops doing what God says not to do.

God is intensely interested in the little things of life; even the things that we may not think matter at all.

Does God’s reaction seem harsh to you? After all, Uz-zah was merely trying to do a good thing. But, that is the price for disobedience and for violating the holiness of God. God honors obedience and He will judge disobedience!

Some other truths that we should take note of here are the following:

· God’s blessings come only through obedience and those who defy His Word and His will are going pay a terribly high price. The best thing a child of God can do is align themselves with the Word of God and walk in humble obedience.

· Failing to seek God’s will is just as dangerous as ignoring what He has already told you to do. His children should always pray before they make a move.

· Trying to carry out God’s business using the methods of the world is a recipe for disaster. We have no business trying to carry the church on the new carts of the world’s wisdom. It is to be carried on the shoulders and in the hearts of the people of God!

· Like Uz-zah, we are often guilty of reaching out with our hands instead of reaching up with our hearts. We are guilty of trying to do spiritual work in the power of the flesh. We attempt to do the work of God with our hands and never really get under the burden. That will never work and God will not bless it!

A while back I was asked to give a short sermon to a women’s group. I picked a passage of scripture and a topic that would go with the theme of the meeting. I started to write. It sounded pretty good to me. But … oh no … but … this little niggling thought kept working it’s way into my mind. It had nothing to do with the point I was trying to make in the sermon. It wasn’t just a tangent to the sermon, it was a totally different direction and not even based on the perfectly good scripture section I had chosen. After a couple of attempts to ignore it, I shut up and listened. God had a different message for that woman’s group than I did. I went with His message.

So, Uz-zah died because of David’s disregard for God’s instructions and David was angry. God’s reality had just rained on David’s parade. All that joy and enthusiasm disappeared like a popped soap bubble. David took it personal. How could God do this to him? He was trying to do the right thing … right? Amen?

Now this is where it gets personal. Have you ever been angry with God because something didn’t go your way? A friend of mine who volunteered at the VA Hospital told of how shocked he was to hear a man standing in one of the wards, scream and cursing God. The way my friend, Lester, relayed the story, this person was in a rage and directing it at God. Lester couldn’t believe his ears and was surprised that God didn’t strike this man down where he stood.

My take was a little different. I saw this man’s tirade as a prayer. He was being totally honest with God, maybe for the first time in his life. Did you think that every prayer had to be sugar coated with “blessed is your name”, “we give you praise and glory.”? Nope! Many times, we believe that we have to be perfect and kind, specificity in our communication with the Lord. What you can see here is that this man, like David, is openly reveling himself to the Lord. Read the psalms. A good share of them are, “What’s the deal here, God? I’ve been good and all its gotten me is hardship and pain!”

So, when you are upset, angry, downright pissed at how God has been treating you … tell him. Then … Then … Shut up and listen. God will answer you. He seldom answers in the expected way … that is one of the ways you can be sure it was an answer from God.

Good intentions are not enough. It’s important to remember who is in charge and who makes the rules.

David, after quite of few months of keeping the ark where it was, finally got back on track. He aligned his will with God’s instead of expecting God to realign with David’s will. The result was that the ark of God returned to it’s rightful place in the lives of the people of Israel. Once more David and the people could dance before the Lord with all of their might.

We do not have an Ark like Israel did; but we still need the presence of God just as much as they did. We need God with us and we need His power and His manifest presence in our lives and our worship.

We need hearts like that which David possessed. We need a heart that beats for God, His power and His presence. We need to learn the lesson that we can do nothing without God, John. We must have His presence and His power if we are going to serve Him; worship Him and carry out His will in our lives.

Are we honest with the Lord…am I honest with him? Am I bold enough to say that I’m angry at the Lord and then work through it to a point of dancing with ALL MY MIGHT?!

May God grant us hearts that are hungry for God; that will not be satisfied until He comes by in power and glory and transforms us into all we can be for Him. That was David’s desire; may it be ours as well.

I think God smiles when he sees us wiggle, wiggle, wiggle with the joy of the Lord. Come, Holy Spirit, Amen.

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Continue reading ““Dance Before The Lord””

“How Herod the Grinch Tried to Steal Christmas”

Sermon. “How Herod the Grinch Tried to Steal Christmas” or “God has a better plan” by Thomas E. Williams

Matthew 2:13-23

Now after they (the wise men) had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”

Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod.

This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.

Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

Let us pray

Lord, touch my tongue that I may speak your message truly. Open our ears that we may hear clearly. Open our minds that we may understand. And open our hearts that we may accept your guidance. Amen.

How Herod the Grinch Tried to Steal Christmas Our liturgy is chronologically out of order. Next week, January 6th, is Epiphany, the visit of the wise men. However, this week’s reading takes place after the visit. As a matter of fact, it is because of the wise men’s visit that this week’s message is even necessary.

When the wisemen came seeking the child born to be king of the Jews, they naturally stopped at the palace to ask for directions.

You know they’re wise men because they stopped to ask directions.

You see they were confused. I mean, where else would a future king be born, but a palace? But the wise men saw that the guiding star that they were following didn’t stop at Herod’s palace.

Up until then no one was particularly looking for the Messiah. And they certainly weren’t seeking him as a baby. However, the wisemen’s visit started a whole chain of events.

When Herod heard this he was disturbed. He had one of those, wait-what? moments. A future king has been born? But I’m the king. I’d have to be dead for someone else to become king!

So, he gathering together the priests, and the scribes.

He said to them, “How come these foreigners know about some threat to MY throne, and you don’t? I want to know where and I want to know NOW!”

And they said to him: “In Bethlehem of Judea. For so it has been written by the prophet.

Herod called the wise men and told them,”Oh, sure, we knew all about this. He’s in Bethlehem. When you’ve found him, come back and tell me, so that I can go and adore him.”

He thought that was a great Grinchy trick, to use the wise men to target this threat for him.

But of course the wise men weren’t fooled because … well because … they were WISE men.

When Herod the Grinch thought that there was a chance of a child being born who threatened his throne, and the wise men didn’t come back, he started looking also.

We need a little background at this point to understand just how paranoid Herod the Great was, about keeping his throne.

  • At one point he murdered his wife, who he claimed to love dearly, because felt she was plotting against him.

  • two sons who he didn’t trust,

  • his brother-in-law who he was afraid would seek revenge for his sister’s death,

  • his mother-in-law,

  • and his wife’s grandfather. At this point did he even need a reason?

  • Oh yeah, he alsomurdered his oldest son, whom he feared coveted his throne.

So you now get an idea of what kind of man he was. Commanding the murder of all the male children who lived in and around Bethlehem was not something out of charecter for this Grinch.

So after the wise man had moved on, Herod sent his soldiers to Bethlehem with orders to seek out and destroy all boys aged 2 and under.

If you remember your Old Testament where the Pharaoh of Egypt sought to destroy a whole generation of Jews by having all the male children killed, because he saw them as a threat to his rule?

Yep. That’s the one where the baby Moses was placed in a waterproof basket and set in the crocodile infested waters of the Nile, in hopes that he would escape the certain murder to come. Yes his mother made a choice between possible death and certain death. Talk about a rock and a hard place.

Powerful and cruel rulers will always fear the innocent.

But let’s get back to today’s reading.

Joseph had a visitation from the Lord warning him that Herod was seeking to find and kill Jesus. He was told to take his family and flee to Egypt.

Now it had been a long, long time since the Hebrew people escaped slavery in Egypt, but they have a long, long memory.

As a matter of fact, every year, they have a celebration of Passover for the sole purpose of making sure that each new generation is told the story of their enslavement and the miraculous salvation given to the People by God.

So when Joseph was told to flee to Egypt, he must have been thinking, “You want me to go where? Hey I’ve got a better idea. Mary has a family, Elizabeth and Zak-a RI-us, in the hill country of Judea. We could go and stay with them. Jesus could grow up with his cousin John. That would work right?”

But God said, “Think about it, Joe, Herod would never think to look in Egypt. And even if he did, he would never send troops there.

He is on good terms with the ruler of Egypt, Cleopatra, who is in turn intimate Cesar. Herod would in no way risk jeopardizing his own Roman support by sending troops into Egypt.

God always has a better plan.

So often I’ve taken my perfect plan to God and ask him to bless it. Invariably, he looked past my plan at the goal and said, “I can do better than that!”

How about an “Amen” if God has ever changed your plans.

As a matter of fact, I’ve come to recognize God’s answered prayers because they came so unexpectedly and in the strangest ways! You know what I mean. Amen?

I’ll give you an example from Ella and my first year staying full-time in an RV.

Here was the question we were asked repeatedly, “Won’t you be cold this winter?”

This was in Iowa after all, and they really know how to have a winter: snow, freezing rain, more snow, more rain, ice storms, weeks on end when it never gets any warmer than zero degrees.

As a matter of fact, during one winter storm we had snow drifted up to the window in the door. Now understand that the bottom of the door was approximately 3′ above the ground.

That first year our answer was always, “We don’t know. Ask again in the spring.”

I had talked with other people who stayed through the winter in the campground, so I had some ideas of what I needed. I would need to completely enclose the area under the trailer with foam insulatetion board. and add an auxiliary heat source under the trailer to keep the water lines from freezing.

But the number one thing I knew I would need was plenty of liquid propane and extra LP tanks.

We had two 30 pound tanks that came with the RV. I planed to purchase two more 30 pounders, so that as they ran out, I could quickly replace them.

One Fall day I was out walking in the campground and a golf cart was coming down the road, I stopped to let them pass. However, they stopped and we began a conversation. It came up that Ella and I were spending the winter here. The man on the cart asked if I had plenty of propane.

I said, “not yet.”

He said, “Would you like a couple of 100 lb tanks?”

Not knowing what he was going to want for them. I hesitantly replied, “W..e..ll..”

He said you can have both of them for $50 and I’ve got the hoses and the regulator to hook them up to your system!

“Sold! Now all I need is a place to store them next summer.” Because I me that the campground rules forbade using the larger tanks during the summer.

“I’m glad you said that” he said, “I’ve got a small trailer in storage, that I only use like a storage shed and you can have it, if you take over the monthly storage fee.”

“Done and done!”

That had to be a God thing, ‘cuz I could never, ever have come up with a plan like that. There were too mangy twists and turns and ” coincidences.” I don’t believe in luck or coincidences. Those are words the devil invented to take the glory from God.

I’m sure that most, if not all, of you could tell a similar story of the mysterious, unexpected, and outright bizarre ways God has answered prayers in your life. Right?

Well Joseph followed God’s plan. He packed up his wife and baby son along with as many of their worldly possessions, that they could reasonably carry. Then they began the long journey back to the land this ancestors fled from.

And they they stayed until Herod the great was dead. Now, without the 24 news updates and the internet, God had to send an angel to give the holy family the good news. They could go back home.

However, even with Herod gone things weren’t all peachy keen, back in Israel.

On herod’s death, his kingdom was split between his three surviving sons.

Philip and Antipas (Thing One & Thing Two?) were sharing the smaller parts of the kingdom, while Archelaus (Ark eh lay us) was ruling over Judea and Samaria.

Joseph was afraid to go back to Judea because he feared that Archelaus would carry on the same type of Grinchy rule as Harod the Great.

Again Joseph was warned in a dream, so he took his family to the district of Galilee.

Now Galileans had the reputation of being … well … redneck hillbillies. If Jeff Foxworthy had been9 alive back then he might have made jokes that started off with, “You might be a Galilean if …You don’t need a clean shirt to go to work.” Or,

“You might be a Galilean if, every job you work, you would get paid at the end of the day.”

Yes Jesus life was totally different from what everyone expected for the Messiah, the forever King.

  • Born in a stable

  • Went into exile before he was old enough to walk.

  • Raised in a small rural town

  • Became a carpenter under the training of his earthly father.

  • Was the servant to all

  • Allowed himself to be beaten, humiliated, and crucified.

  • Started a spiritual revolution that continues even to this day.

There it’s an old Yiddish proverb, Der mentsh trakht un got lakht.

The man plans and God laughs. It rings true to Proverbs 19:21

“There are many intentions in the heart of a man. But the will of the Lord shall stand firm.” Catholic public bible

God repeatedly is doing the unexpected.

He made a promise to Abraham, that his descendants would own all the land he walked on and that one of them would be a blessing to all the world.

Sounds good, right?

The problem was that he and his wife were old … like really old. So he had a son with Sarah’s handmaiden. It was their way of “helping” God to fufil his promise.

But God had a better plan. Sarah would have her own son to inherit the promise.

God used Gideon, who was hiding in a wine press, and was self-described as the least important person in the whole nation. God gave him an army, but then God had a better plan, he whittled that Army down to only 300 untrained soldiers, with only torches and bugles, to defeat the Midianites, the scourge of the Middle East.

God use Jonah, the worst prophet in the world, to deliver a message of warning to his enemies in Nineveh. Jonah hoped to witness their destruction. But God had a better plan. The Ninevites repented and we’re saved.

King Saul brought out an army to defeat the Philistines. But God had a better plan,

He used a teenager named David to defeat the Giant Goliath and deliver the Philistines into the hands of the Israelites.

Saul of Tarsus was hunting down the early Christians to destroy them. But God had a better plan. He used him to spread the gosple to the non Jewish nations and peoples.

God’s chosen people hoped for a mighty king born in the palace. But God had a better plan, He used a virgin to birth his son in a stable.

The Israelites assumed that the Messiah would be trained in all of the Arts of War. But God had a better plan, He entrusted the messiah’s earthly training to a blue collar worker named Joseph.

So remember, though this world is filled with Grinches that try to mislead us, tear us down, and yes kill our souls, trust that God has a better plan.

You can put your faith in God to direct your steps. You might never be visited by a

Messenger of God….. But then again you may, without recognize them as angels.

God will guide the feet of the righteous. So do all that you can to live a life of righteousness in tune with the will of God. He has sent His Spirit to dwell in his children who are called by his name.

Though the Grinch has a plan, God has a better plan for your life.

Amen.

Who Would You Follow Into The Flood?

Joshua 3:7-17,

The Lord said to Joshua, “This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, so that they may know that I will be with you as I was with Moses. 8 You are the one who shall command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, ‘When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’” 9 Joshua then said to the Israelites, “Draw near and hear the words of the Lord your God.” 10 Joshua said, “By this you shall know that among you is the living God who without fail will drive out from before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites: 11 the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is going to pass before you into the Jordan. 12 So now select twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. 13 When the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan flowing from above shall be cut off; they shall stand in a single heap.”

14 When the people set out from their tents to cross over the Jordan, the priests bearing the ark of the covenant were in front of the people. 15 Now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest. So when those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the edge of the water, 16 the waters flowing from above stood still, rising up in a single heap far off at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, while those flowing toward the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, were wholly cut off. Then the people crossed over opposite Jericho. 17 While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan.

1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

You remember our labor and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was toward you believers. 11 As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, 12 urging and encouraging you and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

13 We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.

Matthew 23:1-12

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; 3 therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. 6 They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, 7 and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. 9 And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

Who Would You Follow Into The Flood?

I like a church where people read the Bible. People who read the Bible for themselves are less likely to be lead astray. Be wary of people who build their lessons on a verse here and a verse there. Read before and after the verse. See if the whole section, chapter, or book supports the lesson that they are teaching.

Now, I can promise you that I am not trying to lead you astray. However, if I was the kind of person who would lead you astray, I would be the kind of person who would lie and say, “I can promise you that I am not trying to lead you astray.”

So, how do we choose the spiritual leader that we follow? And I am not talking about how the conference appoints a pastor. I’m talking about how WE chose to whom we listen.

Have you ever played “Follow the Leader”? One person leads and everyone else follows and does exactly what the leader does. Anyone who doesn’t do the same as the leader is out of the game. The game goes on until only the leader and one other person is still in the game. Of course the leader in the game tries to make it as hard to follow as possible. It is the challenge that makes it fun. In life we want a leader who wants to make it possible for us to follow even when the times are challenging.

Some leaders are charismatic. There is just something about their personality that makes people want to follow them. By all accounts, Jesus Christ was certainly a charismatic leader. People were drawn to Him by the strength of His character. However, the cult leader Jim Jones was also said to be very charismatic. So charisma is not the answer.

Maybe we choose to follow a particular leader because they lead us where we want to go. That certainly sounds like a leader we could follow. Amen? I’ll remind you of some Biblical examples. Moses lead a mob of ex slaves that complained and back peddled for forty years in the dessert – all because they did not like where he lead them.

In the New Testament, Jesus consistently took his disciples to places they did not want to go. He took them to the houses of sinners and tax collectors. He took them among the lepers and He took them into Jerusalem when the authorities were making plans to kill Jesus and punish His disciples. No, we should not choose a leader because he leads us where we want to go.

Perhaps we choose the leader we follow because he can quote scriptures to back up his leadings. Recall, if you will, that Satan also quotes scripture. Between the Old and the New Testaments there are so many passage that can be pulled out of context and made to sound like something they were never meant to say. No, even Bible knowledge is not the test of a true spiritual leader.

The Hebrew Bible lesson takes place just after the 30 days of mourning following the death of Moses. Moses had trained Joshua to take his place. Moses had told the people’s leaders that Joshua was going to lead them into the Promised Land. However, this was the moment when Joshua became a leader because “Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to honor you in front of all the people of Israel. I will do this to let them know that I am with you just as I was with Moses.”

Following God’s order, Joshua ordered the priests who carry the Ark of the Covenant, “When you step into the water of the Jordan River, stand there.”

Now remember that the Jordon River was at flood stage. We, here, have been through floods in the past few years. We know the power of the flood. We have heard the warnings to not drive on flooded streets because even a few inches of fast moving water can sweep a car down into deeper waters.

Now, put yourself in the place of the priests who have just been told to walk into the flood and stand there. How willing are you to step into that water? How much do you trust the man who just told you to stand in the flood?

Now Joshua calls to the people of Israel and tells them, “Come here, and listen to the words of the Lord your God. This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly force your enemies out of your way. Watch the ark of the Lord of the whole earth as it goes ahead of you into the Jordan River. The water flowing from upstream will stop and stand up like a dam.”

In the New Testament reading Paul give thanks that the people of Thessalonica have been good followers of his example. He commends them for being good followers of the gospel of Christ. What kind of leader was Paul? Well, he says that he took a job to earn a living so that he could minister to them with burdening them financially. He says that God is his witness that he was pure, honest, and blameless in his dealings with the believers. And that he treated each of them the way a father treats his children. He comforted them and encouraged them. Yet, he insisted that they should live in a way that proves they belong to the God who calls them into his kingdom and glory.

In our gospel reading we find Jesus warning people to follow the teachings of, but not the examples of, the religious leaders. These leaders continued to teach the laws of Moses but they had enforced burdens on the people that the leaders were exempt from.

The reading begins, “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples,”

Then – Jesus said. Then – indicates something had happened before. So, let’s see what He is about to say into the time frame of what has gone before.

· Jesus has ridden into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey colt.

· The people have hailed him as the Messiah.

· He has cleansed the temple and overturned the tables of the temple merchants.

· He has been challenged by the religious leaders and has won every debate.

· He has just finally silenced the Pharisees by asking them questions about the Messiah that they could not answer.

Then – Jesus turns to the crowds and to his disciples and says, “The scribes and the Pharisees teach with Moses’ authority. So be careful to do everything they tell you.”

Jesus recognized that, as persons in positions of authority, the scribes and Pharisees were to be respected. It is much like what I was told in the military. When you are saluting and officer, you are saluting the rank – not the man. So, these teachers were teaching with Moses’ authority and are to be followed because of what they teach – not because of who they are.

Jesus even said, “But don’t follow their example, because they don’t practice what they preach.”

These people obviously knew the truth because they had been teaching it. Jesus says that what they teach is true. However, they do not live it. Even worse, He says that they intentionally make it as hard as possible for the people to follow the rules they create. And yet do not subject themselves to the same set of rules.

Jesus states their motivation is to “do everything to attract people’s attention. They make their headbands large and the tassels on their shawls long. They love the place of honor at dinners and the front seats in synagogues. They love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have people call them Rabbi.” These, so called, leaders want all of the attention, trappings, and power of their positions but are unwilling to fulfill the true purpose of their positions.

Then Jesus gives the people a further warning, “Don’t make others call you Rabbi, because you have only one teacher, and you are all followers” When compared to the true teacher, every other person falls short. We must all be students of the true teacher.

Then Jesus tells us who the true head of our household is to be. “Don’t call anyone on earth your father, because you have only one Father, and he is in heaven.

Since we all have one Father that makes us family. That means that there is no ‘us verses them’ because we are all ‘us’. That perspective should eliminate a whole lot of conflict when we finally embrace it.

As to being a leader, He says, “Don’t make others call you a leader, because you have only one leader, the Messiah.” If you want to truly be a leader and not just be called “Leader” here is what you must do. “The person who is greatest among you will be your servant.” And remember, “Whoever honors himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be honored.”

So, when we are looking for leadership, these are the attributes for which we should be looking. We need a leader strong enough to lead us where we do not want to go. We want a leader that truly has our best interests a heart. We should look for a leader who is both gentle and firm as a father. We need a leader who is not just trying to line his own pockets or increase his own power. We need a leader who has the heart of a servant. And most of all we really need a leader who is a sincere follower of God.

And let us not forget that we need to do our part by keeping ourselves in tune with the word of God so that we can recognize and embrace the true leaders in our lives.

So let me ask you, who do you trust to lead you through the flood?

“What Christmas Means to Me”

Isaiah 9:6-7

A child will be born for us. A son will be given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. He will be named: Wonderful Councilor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and peace will have unlimited growth. He will establish David’s throne and kingdom. He will uphold it with justice and righteousness now and forever.

Luke 2:8-20

Shepherds were in the fields near Bethlehem. They were taking turns watching their flock during the night. An angel from the Lord suddenly appeared to them. The glory of the Lord filled the area with light, and they were terrified. The angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid! l have good news for you, a message that will fill everyone with joy. Today your Savior, Christ the Lord, was born in David’s city. This is how you will recognize him:

You will find an infant wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.” Suddenly, a large army of angels appeared with the angel. They were praising God by saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those who have his good will.” The angels left them and went back to heaven. The shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see what the Lord has told us about.” They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph with the baby, who was lying in a manger. When they saw the child, they repeated what they had been told about him. “Everyone who heard the shepherd’s story was amazed. Mary treasured all these things in her heart always thought about them. As the shepherds returned to their flock, they glorified and praised God for everything they had seen and heard. Everything happened the way the angel had told them.”

“What Christmas Means to Me”

Chris-mus and Christ’s-mass are two of my favorite holidays. They weren’t always. I grew up in a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses, agnostics and atheists. None of which celebrate the Christ’s Mass. The atheists’ and agnostics in the family did at least celebrate Chris-mus.

You know the difference right? For a long time I didn’t know the difference. I didn’t even know that one was a holiday and the other a holy day.

Christ’s Mass celebrates the birth of the Christ child. The promised savior of sinful man. The fulfillment of the promise given to Abraham that, through his decedent, all people will be blessed.

Chris-mus, (notice the way it is pronounced … Chris rather than Christ) on the other hand, is a secular holiday that celebrates gift giving, Santa, flying deer, evergreen trees and colored lights.

My mother, a Jehovah’s Witness, celebrated neither holiday nor did my sister. My brother celebrated Chris-mus and gave gifts and decorated their home. I was nearly the age of his children and occasionally would also receive gifts from him. (actually is was his wife who was in charge of gifts). As I grew older, I also exchanged gifts with my nieces and nephews.

When I had children of my own, we celebrated a hybrid version of the two holiday’s. We decorated and gave gifts but the focus was on the birth of Christ. My kids knew the Santa myth but were never encouraged to believe it.

Now that I have grown into being Santa, my grandchildren and great grandchildren believe in Santa. I enjoy it. Santa is an example of the best of what we are as humans. he is loving, jolly, giving soul who puts everyone else’s happiness above his own and goes out of his way to be a servant to others. And he gets paid in cookies and milk. How great is that?

However, as we’ve all heard, Jesus is the reason for the season. So I’ve made it my mission to put Christ back into my holy day greetings by trying to remember to say Merry Christ’s Mass

Our Hebrew scripture reading from Isaiah delivers the promise that “A child will be born for us.” Did you catch that? For us … a gift … for us. For us … not a random birth … but a birth with a purpose … for us. I had a startling, mind opening thought here. Listen … here it comes … the gift is never more important than the recipient. Right? The new socks that I received are not more important than I am. The piece of jewelry that I gave is not more important than the person to whom I gave it. Do you see it? Do you understand what that means? God valued US more than his son! Or, if you understand the reality of the Trinity … God valued US more than Himself. But don’t take my word for it, hear the words that Jesus himself spoke, “For God so loved the world (us) that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That revelation alone should take us humbly to our knees to praise God for His love of us.

Listen as the promise continues, “A son will be given to us.” Now the promise is restated “to us”. “For us” spoke to the sacrificial nature of God’s gift. “To us” speaks to the direction of this love. This love is to us … not from us … not because of anything that we have done to deserve it … it is just “to us”.

“The weight of the government will rest on his shoulders.” For centuries this was understood by most to mean that the Christ would rule an earthly kingdom. A kingdom such as the people understood but with a benevolent leader who would unite all mankind under his rule. We, from our perspective, have heard Christ’s response when Pilate asked him about his kingdom. Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight to prevent my arrest by Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

No, in his earthly life the only things place on his shoulders were the weight of the cross and the burden of our sins. And yet, just as the prophet said, His kingdom continues to grow, there is no end to it.

I doubt that the shepherds who received the angel’s greeting centuries later were thinking of Isaiah’s words. And yet, they were still waiting and expecting the Christ to come.

I try to inject myself into these scriptures and imagine what it was like to be a shepherd on those dark hills that night. No smog and no light pollution from our modern cities. The sky would have been as black as the inside of a cave. And yet the sky was ablaze with the light of billion upon billion of stars such as few of us have ever seen. Most of the team of shepherds were dozing while a few kept watch, constantly aware that there are predators and other dangers in the dark. They were probably talking about the scores of their favorite sports teams (or whatever men talked about before professional sports and automobiles … I have no idea.) A small fire is crackling nearby. It is not so large as to ruin their night vision but just enough to keep the chill of the night at bay. Fragrant smoke curling upward carrying the scent of olive branches and grapevines toward heaven. And into this peaceful setting, an angel, glowing with unearthly light, suddenly appears and says, “Do not be afraid.” Too late! I would have already wet myself. “Do not be afraid?” You are kidding, right? Then the angel continues, “Boys, I’ve got great new that will have everyone wetting themselves with joy!” Okay, that’s not a direct quote but understand that this news is unlike any other news before or after. No other news in all creation was more important than “Christ has come!”

The shepherds are not commanded to find him but it is assumed that they will so they are given this simple way to recognize this new born Lord of all, “He will be wrapped in strips of cloth and laying in a feeding trough.”

I’m sure that Bethlehem was no where near the 25,000 people that live there today, but it was a city who’s population was swollen because of the people who had come to be registered for the emperors census. How did the shepherds find Him? Well, first of all they were not looking for a baby born in a house. The baby was laying in a manger. Probably the parents were travelers so go look where travelers go … inns. Or more precisely to an inn so full that guests would have to seek shelter in the stable. And with the added assist of some divine guidance, the shepherds find him just as the angels had said.

And what was the 1 scene in that stable that the shepherds found? Well, unlike the romantic paintings, there were no angels hanging about outside or floating above the baby. If you’ve ever been in a barn where animals are kept, you don’t have to imagine too hard and long as to what it smelled like: a mixture of new hay, old wood and animal odors. The animals are awakened by all the activity and probably expecting to be fed. This would have not been unusual for shepherds. But in the middle of all this is Mary, all exhausted from travel and childbirth. She hasn’t had a midwife or family or friends to help her through the delivery or the cleanup. Childbirth is a messy business.

Joseph has done what he could to make his little family comfortable and safe. All the concerns of a new father have just been made real in his life. They are far from home because of the decree of some far off, foreign emperor to find out how many subjects he can tax. The journey to Bethlehem was hard … how hard is the journey home going to be now that there is a baby to be tended? How much income is he loosing because he is away from his place of business?

We tend to overlook the human aspects in this story because of the divine. The glorious news of the Savior’s birth is glorious to us because we don’t have to deal with the day to day realities that Mary and Joseph and yes, the new born Christ child were dealing with. Enter the shepherds, all excited and animated as they tell of the appearance of the angels and the prophesy that was told to them.

Both Mary and Joseph had their moments of divine intervention, but that was months ago. we humans have a problem; even if we have experienced a divine moment, after a while the concerns of our daily life push the divine to the back of our mind. enter the shepherds, all excited, all talking at once, waving their arms with excited gestures, overflowing with the enthusiasm of their own divine intervention. The scriptures do not record how long this party went on before one of the shepherds realize that they have walked off and left their sheep. But it does say that they went away praising God.

And that’s what Christmas means to me.

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, 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.’ ”

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

Amen

©2019 Thomas E Williams originally published October 2011

Judgment or Grace?

Judgment or Grace?

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind–just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you–so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Message Judgment or Grace? Thomas E. Williams
The sky is falling! The sky is falling! You remember Chicken Little. An acorn fell on his head and he paniced and started declaring that the sky was falling. Before long he had Henny Penny, Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosey, and Turkey Lurkey all convinced that he was right and everyone was running for shelter.
How many Chicken Littles have come and gone? I don’t know for sure. Hundreds or thousands I’d guess. I did a quick research on the World Wide Web and found the following:
  1. In the 1530s, Anabaptists assumed control of the German town ofMunster and hailed it as a New Jerusalem awaiting the return of Christ. Jan Bockelson declared himself the “Messiah of the last days,” took multiple wives, issued coins that prophesied the coming apocalypse and in general made life hell for everyone in the city.
  2. 666 is described as the “mark of the beast” in the Bible’s Book of Revelation. So it was no surprise that Europeans worried as the year 1666 approached.
  3. William Miller began to preach about the world’s end, saying Jesus Christ would return for the long-awaited Second Coming and that Earth would be engulfed in fire sometime between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844. When that end didn’t come, Miller changed the date to Oct. 22. When Oct. 23 rolled around, his loyal followers explained it away yet again.
  4. The Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society, founder, Charles Taze Russell, had previously predicted Christ’s invisible return in 1874, followed by anticipation of his Second Coming in 1914.
  5. Pentecostal pastor William Branham claimed he met with seven angels who revealed to him the meaning of the seven seals from the Book of Revelation, leading him to predict that Jesus would return to Earth in 1977.
  6. Harold Camping’s prediction that the world will end Saturday, May 21, 2011, is not his first such prediction. In 1992, the evangelist published a book called 1994?, which proclaimed that sometime in mid-September 1994, Christ would return and the world would end. Camping based his calculations on numbers and dates found in the Bible and, at the time, said that he was “99.9% certain” that his math was correct. But the world did not end in 1994. Nor did it end on March 31, 1995 — another date Camping provided when September 1994 passed without incident. “I’m like the boy who cried wolf again and again and the wolf didn’t come,” Camping told the San Francisco Chronicle in 1995. “This doesn’t bother me in the slightest.”
  7. Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth, which was the best-selling nonfiction book of the 1970s, predicted that the world would end sometime before Dec. 31, 1988. He cited a host of world events — nuclear war, the communist threat and the restoration of Israel as reasons the end times were upon mankind. His later books, though less specific, suggested that believers not plan on being on Earth past the 1980s — then the 1990s and, of course, the 2000s.
  8. Edgar Whisenant published a book in 1988 called 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988, which sold some 4.5 million copies. Whisenant once famously said, “Only if the Bible is in error am I wrong.” When 1989 rolled around, a discredited Whisenant published another book, saying the Rapture would occur that year instead. It did not sell as well, nor did later titles that predicted the world would end in 1993 and again in 1994.
  9. Y2K. For months before the stroke of midnight on Jan. 1, 2000, analysts speculated that entire computer networks would crash, causing widespread dysfunction for a global population that had become irreversibly dependent on computers
  10. David Koresh led his Branch Davidian sect to its doom in a compound near Waco, Texas, in 1993. How did he do that? He convinced his followers that he was Christ and that they should hole up at what was called the Mount Carmel Center to prepare for the end of the world.
  11. A New Age belief cites 2012 as the year humans will undergo a physical and spiritual transformation, while some people predict that sometime that year, Earth will collide with a black hole or a planet named Nibiru. But perhaps the most popular belief is attributed (falsely, many scholars argue) to the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar from the ancient Mayan civilization. Interpretations suggest that the fourth world, in which we live now, will end on Dec. 21, 2012.
When will the world end? I don’t know. But it seems that all I have to do to build a following of Henny Pennys, Ducky Luckys, Goosey Looseys, and Turkey Lurkeys is use some unsound science or theology and shout it with enough conviction.
I’d want to set the date just far enough into the future so that word had time to spread and more people could ‘tune in’ to my message. And, hey, I could get lucky and the world would end when I predicted and no body would be around to laugh at me.
There is so much interest in end of the world prophesies that all manner of books, movies and TV shows have been written about it. And if you really want to see how wide spread the belief in the end of the world is, go to the web. There are not only prophets making predictions, there are people preparing for it. There is a whole sub culture of people who call themselves “Preppers”. They are survivalist types who want to be ready for the ‘coming chaos’. There are sites where you can buy packages that contain a years worth of freeze dried food, water, first aid kits, ammunition, and seeds so that you can plant your own post-apocalyptic gardens.
Now understand that I am not belittling them, I believe in a certain amount of preparedness. I live in a Recreational Vehicle, a fifth-wheel trailer. My wife and I have an emergency to-go bag with some clothes, our meds, bottles of water and food bars. We change the contents as the seasons change. There have been times when the weather reports were indicating that it would be unsafe in our RV. We took the bag and sought shelter in a safer building. If our home was destroyed by the storm we had a few necessities with us. But is it really necessary or possible to prepare for the end of the world?
Our scripture readings both speak of the Day of the Lord, the day that Jesus comes in the clouds. The sun and moon will be darkened. Stars will fall from the sky and heaven and earth will pass away on that day!
That sounds like the end of the world doesn’t it? Can we be prepared for it? Yes, and Jesus tells us what to do.
Therefore, keep awake–for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
And why are we to watch? Paul tells the Corinthians and by extension us: Because in every way we have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind–just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among us–so that we are not lacking in any spiritual gift as we wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen us to the end, so that we may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As Christians we should be prepared by keeping ourselves right with God. We ARE SAVED. That is done! Now we need to keep our will in line with God’s will. We need to be about doing what God intends for every believer to be doing. And that is spreading the Good News that Christ has come, Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.
As Christian we should be SEEKING the end of THIS world and the full realization of the Kingdom ofGod. There is nothing to fear in this world’s end, for it is a broken world. Only by its passing can the new earth and the new heaven be revealed.
So what if the stars fall and the sun and the moon are darkened? We will have the light of Christ as a physical presence in the world. I will paraphrase the message that the angels gave the shepherds at Jesus’ birth, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today there has returned for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
So often I’ve heard the phrase “The Coming Judgement” said with fear and trepidation. I say to you, we Christians have already been judged and found innocent by the grace given as a gift of God through Christ Jesus. What we have to look forward to at the end of the world is the handing out of our rewards. It is grace not judgement for us at the worlds end. So rejoice, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Amen
Bible readings are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Holy Bible

©2019 Thomas E Williams

Out Originally published Tuesday, November 29, 2011

“Problems in the Vineyard”

Isaiah 5:1-7

Let me sing a lovesong to my beloved about his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill. He dug it up, removed its stones, planted it with the choicest vines, built a watchtower in it, and made a winepress in it. Then he waited for it to produce good grapes, but it produced only sour, wild grapes. Now then, you inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judah, judge between me and my vineyard! What more could have been done for my vineyard than what I have already done for it? When I waited for it to produce good grapes, why did it produce only sour, wild grapes? Now then, let me tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will tear away its hedge so that it can be devoured and tear down its wall so that it can be trampled. I will make it a wasteland. It will never be pruned or hoed. Thorns and weeds will grow in it, and I will command the clouds not to rain on it. The vineyard of the LORD of Armies is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the garden of his delight. He hoped for justice but saw only slaughter, for righteousness but heard only cries of distress.

Matthew 21:33-46
Listen to another illustration. A landowner planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, made a winepress, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to vineyard workers and went on a trip. “When the grapes were getting ripe, he sent his servants to the workers to collect his share of the produce. The workers took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned a third to death. So the landowner sent more servants. But the workers treated them the same way. “Finally, he sent his son to them. He thought, ‘They will respect my son.’ “When the workers saw his son, they said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Let’s kill him and get his inheritance.’ So they grabbed him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. “Now, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those workers?” They answered, “He will destroy those evil people. Then he will lease the vineyard to other workers who will give him his share of the produce when it is ready.” Jesus asked them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. The Lord is responsible for this, and it is amazing for us to see’? That is why I can guarantee that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce what God wants. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken. If the stone falls on anyone, it will crush that person.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his illustrations, they knew that he was talking about them. They wanted to arrest him but were afraid of the crowds, who thought he was a prophet.

“Problems in the Vineyard”

The reading in Isaiah and the reading in Matthew start out a lot alike. A vineyard has been established. A wall has been built around it. Rocks, shrubs and weeds have been removed. A watchtower has been built so that the fruit can be protected from the wild beasts and thieves. A winepress has been built in anticipation of the harvest to come.
Just preparing the land has most likely taken the first year in the life of this vineyard. And finally the vineyard is planted with grape vines. Each plant placed by hand into the hole and the soil carefully replaced around it, being sure not to leave air pockets. Usually a little dirt is added, a little water is added, a little dirt is added a little water is added, a little dirt etc. until the hole is filled.
Now comes the careful watering. Until the root system is established the ground must be kept moist but not wet. Too much water will drown the young plants. Gradually the dry stems that were planted will begin to show signs of green, signs of growth.
Now the next four years is spent tending the vines, pruning, supporting and training them to the trellis. Plus tending the ground, keeping it loose enough for the water to soak in. And keeping the weeds and varmints out goes on for a long time before it gets to the harvest stage.
Sometimes when we read these illustrations we fail to realize the amount of time the landowner (God) has put into this vineyard (us).
Now in the Isaiah story, the good grapes have gone wild. The expected harvest will not take place. Imagine all that work and nothing to show for it! No wonder the owner wants to withdraw from this piece of property and let it go back to its uncultivated nature.
God had planted his vineyard. He nurtured it and trained it. He had built a vineyard / a nation. He settled them in the perfect spot for them to grow. He had given ten simple laws for them to follow, though they themselves added many more from their interpretation of His laws. God had done all that he could do to insure its survival … and yet it had gone wild. God was not pleased.
In the Matthew reading Jesus is reinterpreting the Isaiah story and saying that the landowner after doing all he could to get the vineyard established had turned the day to day care to some tenants. The harvest is done and now it is time to collect his share of the produce. Being still in a far country, he sent his servants to the workers to collect his share of the produce as agreed upon.
The tenants, in their greed, decided that THEY had done all the work for this crop (which was only THEIR point of view because they were discounting all the time, money and effort the owner had put into it first). But in their greed they chose not to give the owner his share.
Remember that we are really talking about God and – well – us! How often have we denied that it ALL belongs to God? We are only stewards. And yet, we look around us and say, “Look what I have done! Or See what I have made!”
My three-year-old great granddaughter is at that stage where she is defining boundaries. She’ll look at me as I’m getting a glass of water and say, “That is not YOUR glass, gran’pa. That’s Daddy’s glass.” Or “This is not MY backpack. This is Sissy’s!” Well, this is not MY world. It is God’s, along with everything else in existence. But praise God He let’s me use it.
Remember what you had in your pocket the day you were born? That’s right – nothing!And that is all that belongs to you – nothing. By God’s grace we have what we have and He only asks for a small token to be returned to His service.
Now some of you are maybe starting to think I’m talking about tithing. Well I am, a little, but that’s not all. Yes, as far back as the Garden of Eden a sacrifice, was given to God.
That reminds me of a cartoon I saw of a family sitting in a restaurant. The son turns to his dad and says, “Why does the waitress get 20% and God only gets 10? Let us not begrudge God’s his 10% but be thankful that He lets us have the 90%.
Okay, so now that I’ve talked about tithing let’s get down to what God REALLY wants from us. He wants our love. He wants us to honor him by doing that which he has set before us. He wants us to care for His creation like good stewards.
You see, He has a job for each of us. All it takes is for us to love Him enough – to trust Him enough. And then we need to give God the thanks and the glory that are rightfully his.
Back to the illustration: The workers took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned a third to death.
Instead of seeking revenge or retribution for these deaths, the owner is still only trying to receive his portion of the harvest as is his right. So the landowner sent more servants. But the workers treated them the same way.
Stepping out of the metaphor and into reality for a moment, let’s look at who these servants were. Well these were the judges, prophets and righteous people that God sent to his people to get them back in alignment with his purpose. In this day and age we would recognize them as being Pastors, Sunday school teachers, Christian musicians, Christian authors as well as our family and friends who offer us sound advice. Time to ask ourselves how well we have received these servants of God. I doubt that any in this congregation have actually beaten and killed God’s messengers. However, have we received them with the love and with justice as God requires?
Then Jesus says, “Finally, he sent his son to them. He thought, ‘They will respect my son.’ “When the workers saw his son, they said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Let’s kill him and get his inheritance.’
Now we know that approach is pure foolishness. Killing the son in no way puts them in line to inherit anything but the father’s wrath! But greed and other sins can cloud our judgments and make us do really stupid things.
So the tenants grabbed the son, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
Jesus was of course talking about himself here! He knew what these rebellious people were planning for him. But Jesus never backed down. Instead he asks these leaders, “Now, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those workers?”
Jesus is checking: do they really not understand right and wrong; or do they know right from wrong and just choose wrong?
They answered, “He will destroy those evil people. Then he will lease the vineyard to other workers who will give him his share of the produce when it is ready.”
By their own tongues they were condemning themselves but had not yet realized it. They had not seen themselves as the “evil tenants”. They didn’t realize that the “vineyard” was about to be taken away from them and given to those people that these leaders looked down their noses at.
Okay reality check! Who do we turn our noses up at? Are we SURE that we are so much more deserving of the vineyard than they are?
Then Jesus asked them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. The Lord is responsible for this, and it is amazing for us to see’? That is why I can guarantee that the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce what God wants.
Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken. If the stone falls on anyone, it will crush that person.”

Okay, these guys might not have got the point the first time around but, when the chief priests and the Pharisees heard this illustration, they finally knew that he was talking about them. This angered them and they wanted to arrest him but were afraid of the crowds, who thought he was a prophet.

Again, we have to be VERY careful with casting judgment on these religious people. They were, for the most part, good people. However, they were people so locked into their customs and mind sets that they could not accept what Jesus was telling them even when he explained it to them.
We need to be careful that we are not looking at the splinter in their eye and not aware of the log in our own eye. For we too, can fall victim to the delusion that we are always right because we keep the letter of the law but do not always filter it through the love of Christ as he taught us and command us to do.

Part of our communion liturgy says, “Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him, who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another.” So, during this time of communion let us each examine our own lives to see if we have the righteousness of God within us or if it is our own self righteousness … which can blind us to the true purpose that God has for us.

God bless

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

©2011 Thomas E Williams

Originally posted Saturday, October 1, 2011