“Ask a Butterfly, ‘Who Are You?’”

Luke 9:28-36

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 5:8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onward Christian Soldiers

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

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

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Time to Grow Up”

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

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

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

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

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

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

   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Feed the hungry Matthew 25

Heal the sick Matthew 25

Visit the prisoner Matthew 25

Give drink to the thirsty Matthew 25

Clothe the naked Matthew 25

Make disciples Matthew 28:19-20

Teach Matthew 28:19-20

Baptize Matthew 28:19-20

Preach 2 Timothy 4:2 & Matthew 10:7

Correct 2 Timothy 4:2

Rebuke 2 Timothy 4:2

Encourage 2 Timothy 4:2

Instruct 2 Timothy 4:2

Be Evangelists Ephesians 4:11

Be Prophets Ephesians 4:11

Be Pastors Ephesians 4:11

Be Teachers Ephesians 4:11

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

Study 2 Timothy 2:15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2020 Thomas E Williams

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Foolishness of God

New Testament: : Romans 5:1-5

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

Gospel: John 16:12-15

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

Message: “Foolishness of God” Tom Williams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So the truth is that we are guilty!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have peace with God

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

through our Lord Jesus Christ,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That the works of God should be revealed.

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

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

I am quoting now.

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

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

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

End quote

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

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

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

“I am no longer my own, but thine.

Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.

Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal. And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

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

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

Suffering produces endurance

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

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

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

Praise God! Amen.

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Ice Water Steam

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

“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