Good Man or Godly Man?

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

  • Sermon “Good Man or Godly Man?”

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

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

Let us pray

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

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

Hear these words from

Philippians 3:5-11

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

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

the righteousness from God based on faith.

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

if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

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

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

As Jesus often did,

I’ll start with a story:

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

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

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

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

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

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

… all the rear pews were already filled,

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

(You still with me?

Good!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Y’all got the picture in your head?

Can you imagine this happening in this church?

I can.

Now, What do you think,

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

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

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

Now, which is most in need of salvation?

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

… and all of us are in need of salvation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pray with me now.

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

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

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

  • “Apostle’s Creed”

I believe in God the Father Almighty,

Maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord:

Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

Born of the Virgin Mary,

Suffered under Pontius Pilate,

Was crucified, dead and buried;

The third day he rose from the dead;

He ascended into heaven,

And sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty

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

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

The holy catholic church,

The communion of saints,

The forgiveness of sins,

The resurrection of the body,

And the life everlasting. Amen.

  • Prayers of the People

Tom

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

That our leaders be your followers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Lord’s prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven,

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom com,

Thy will be done

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses,

As we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil

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

  • Benediction.

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

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

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

Put us to doing, put us to suffering.

Let us be employed by you

or laid aside for you,

Exalted for you or brought low for you.

Let us be full, let us be empty.

Let us have all things, let us have nothing.

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

And now, O Glorious and blessed God,

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

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

And the covenant which we have made on earth,

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

“The Family of God”

The Family of God” | June 7, 2020

(Minister – Rev. Caesar J. David) Union Park UMC, Des Moines, Iowa

Scripture Lessons:

Psalms 8

Unto the end. For the oil and wine presses. A Psalm of David. O Lord, our Lord, how admirable is your name throughout all the earth! For your magnificence is elevated above the heavens. Out of the mouths of babes and infants, you have perfected praise, because of your enemies, so that you may destroy the enemy and the revenger. For I will behold your heavens, the works of your fingers: the moon and the stars, which you have founded. What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you visit him? You reduced him to a little less than the Angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, and you have set him over the works of your hands. You have subjected all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and in addition: the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, which pass through the paths of the sea. O Lord, our Lord, how admirable is your name throughout all the earth!

O Lord, our Lord, how admirable is your name throughout all the earth! For your magnificence is elevated above the heavens. Out of the mouths of babes and infants, you have perfected praise, because of your enemies, so that you may destroy the enemy and the revenger. For I will behold your heavens, the works of your fingers: the moon and the stars, which you have founded. What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you visit him? You reduced him to a little less than the Angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, and you have set him over the works of your hands. You have subjected all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and in addition: the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, which pass through the paths of the sea. O Lord, our Lord, how admirable is your name throughout all the earth!

Matthew 28:16-20

Now the eleven disciples went on to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And, seeing him, they worshipped him, but certain ones doubted. And Jesus, drawing near, spoke to them, saying: “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go forth and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have ever commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, even to the consummation of the age.”

Today is Trinity Sunday. It brings us face to face with a mystery of God which makes us realize really how finite our understanding is. We have stretched our minds to the fullest to understand the Trinity. We have several examples and analogies, but they all fall short of explaining exactly how the Three Persons of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one God. Three in One and One in Three – The One Triune God.

“To meditate on the three Persons of the Godhead is to walk in thought through the garden eastward in Eden and to tread on holy ground. Our sincerest effort to grasp the incomprehensible mystery of the Trinity must remain forever futile, and only by deepest reverence can it be saved from actual presumption.” –A.W. Tozer.

Indeed, we must realize that, with our finite little understanding, we cannot understand all things. That is where faith comes in. Like Augustine said, “The limits of our reason make faith a necessity”. If we presume to know or understand all the mysteries of God, it may be almost arrogant of us as human beings – too presumptuous for our own good. We have to be humble enough to realize and accept that we are too small to understand God and His vastness – the vastness and depth of His Love, His Mind, His Plans, His Ways. We have to let God be God. (Read Romans 9:13ff). We have already read Psalm 8 as one of our Scripture lessons. Verse 4 says, “What is man (human being) that you are mindful of him?”. We are nothing in front of the vastness and beauty of God’s awesome creation.

While we may not have a clear understanding of some doctrines, we must not despair because we can know, and do know, what is sufficient for us to understand His Love, to respond to His Love, to care for His creation which includes us all, and so on.

Some things however, have been clearly revealed and spelled out for us. Like the Great Commission that we’re studying this morning. As we focus on this passage, I want to look at 2 important principles or concepts that emerge from here that are important to understand as we seek to ‘do mission’.

1. Disciple -making presumes love for God and love for people. This is basic. Disciple making is helping people to trust and follow Jesus. Why would we want people to have the benefit of God’s Love if we didn’t care for them and also want them to be saved? If you didn’t love God, why would you want His Kingdom to grow? These are indicative of our love for God and for people that is at the very root of disciple-making.

The imperative command of Jesus is “Make disciples”. How we do it is by going, baptizing (joining the family of God) and teaching (not just academic or intellectual instruction, but taught to the point of responding to God in obedience).

Sometimes, an ‘empire’ or ‘colonial’ mindset that has shaped our environment and us, or continues to influence us, gives us an understanding of doing things by way of an ‘imperial conquest’.

History bears evidence of the failures of such wrong understanding of disciple making. Such efforts can result in people becoming Christians by religion, but not by relationship with Christ. And that would be proselytizing, not disciple-making.

That is why it is important to understand that disciple-making has within it the objective and method of love.

Before the Great Commission, Jesus gave his disciples (us) the Great Commandment “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27).

Love needs to be expressed through helping, caring, sharing, encouraging, protecting, forgiving, sacrificing, trusting and so on.

As we focus on the growth of God’s Kingdom, we could start with these simple acts of love and kindness that prepare the way for disciples to be made.

2. We are called to reach all people. The Great Commission clearly tells us to “Make disciples of all nations” (Italics mine).

We have already clarified what ‘making disciples’ entails. It is chiefly loving people and leading them to respond to God whereby they become part of God’s family (leading to other things in that relationship like discipleship, obedience, and so on).

The word translated ‘nations’ in Matthew 28:19 comes from the word ‘ethnos’ which means “a race (as of the same habit), that is, a tribe; specifically a foreign (non-Jewish) one (usually by implication pagan): – Gentile, heathen, nation, people”.

Scholars say that, perhaps ‘people groups’ comes closest to describing what ‘nations’ is trying to convey. It means every people group, language group and so on.

The crux of the concept is inclusivity. Sometimes we tend to become exclusive, in -grown, cliquish, and unloving. We forget that we’re not alone, that there are other people around us who have needs too, sometimes greater than our own. And perhaps we shy away because we are afraid or just plain uncomfortable. We need to become intentional about reaching out to others.

There are always going to be differences amongst people – race, color, ethnicity, language and so on. We can keep slicing our society on the basis of differences and find that we have slices that are so thin that they cannot stand by themselves. We have to reach out across our differences – reaching out to share, to help, to love, to make disciples.

Have you heard the Disneyland song It’s a small world (listen to it on YouTube)? It was created for the 1964 New York World’s Fair. The composer of the song, Richard Sherman composed this just after the Cuban missile crisis. It focuses on tolerance, empathy and kindness.

1. It’s a world of laughter A world of tears It’s a world of hopes And a world of fears

There’s so much that we share That it’s time we’re aware It’s a small world after all It’s a small world after all It’s a small world after all It’s a small world after all It’s a small, small world

2. T here is just one moon And one golden sun And a smile means Friendship to ev’ryone Though the mountains divide And the oceans are wide It’s a small world after all.

( Source: Musixmatch, Songwriters: Richard Sherman / Robert Sherman
Musixmatch, Songwriters: Richard Sherman / Robert Sherman
It’s a Small World (It’s a Small World) lyrics © Wonderland Music Co. Inc., Wonderland Music Co. Inc., Wonderland Music Company Inc., Wonderland Music Company Inc, Wonderland Music Co., Inc., Kobalt Music Pub America I Obo Hardmonic Music)

Yes, it’s a small world after all. And I might add, it’s a short life after all!

Have we been guilty of writing some people off? Do we presume for some people to not deserve God’s love? We’re given the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. We’re called to reach out, not in our own strength and authority but that of our Triune God. As we uphold and honor the mystery of God’s Being, let’s continue to do faithfully what we’re called to do – to go, to preach, to teach, to love, to bless and be blessed.

May God help us to see the opportunities we have in front of us for the growth of His Kingdom. May God strengthen us to reach out and touch the lives of all who come our way.

Memorial Day

For most people, Memorial Day is just another flag waving holiday, like the 4th of July, Flag Day, and Labor Day.

Though this year is different with social distancing, in most years:

  • It marks the beginning of summer. Can I get a hallelujah?

  • It’s the weekend of the Indy 500.

  • School’s out. Many have mixed emotions about that, Right?

  • The pools open. Even if the weather is cold enough to turn your lips blue, we have to at least dip our toes in the pool.

  • It provides the first real chance for picnics, grilling, and of course an outing to Cutty’s. How about another hallelujah?

Memorial day hasn’t always been that way though.

Memorial Day grew out of the human need to remember where we have been. The needed to remember is why we save photos, letters, trophies, odd bits of ribbon, and a million other things.

What things are in your treasure collection?

We save the past to help us gain a better view of the where we’ve been. Only then can we figure out where we are going.

The cherished memories of a nation, a town, a church, a family, or an individual provide the values and dream that one generation passes on to the next.

Forgetting to share with the next generation means dropping the torch, as does failing tho learn from the party generations. We as a nation have often forgotten the lessons of the past and repeated the same mistakes once again. Amen?

One of the lessons we have failed to learn is the human cost of war. It is estimated that 1,255,500 US military personnel have died on active duty, including the 620,000 during the civil war..

This is Memorial Day weekend the time set aside to remember those who died during active military service.

Memorial Day unofficially begun during the Civil War when some concerned women decided to decorate the graves of those who had bravely given their lives in that destructive civil conflict between the states.

I’m sure similar thoughts were on the mind of President Abraham Lincoln on November 19, 1863 as he made his way to a Pennsylvania battlefield.

He feared that he might well be the very last President of the UNITED States of America.

He had good reason for that fear. The country teetered on the brink of self-destruction. It could easily have become un-united and only a confederation of allied but separate countries.

The ceremony that afternoon was to dedicate the site of a cemetery for the over 3,500 union soldiers killed at Gettysburg in the three-day battle the previous July. However the toll was much higher when the loss of Confederate soldiers is added in. Over forty thousand American soldiers died in or because of wounds suffered in that battle.

Though it is short, his speech that day is well remembered. He said,”

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

We are met on a great battle-field of that war.

We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.

It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground.

The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—

that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Lincoln’s remarks provided the seedbed for what would become Memorial Day. Memorial day was set up to honor, as Lincoln said, those brave men who struggled and gave their last full measure of devotion t li. Over the years, many memorials have been erected to honor a person or persons who have died.

I have visited the memorials and cemeteries in and around Washington D.C. The row upon row of white crosses standing in military precision at the Arlington National Cemetery was an overwhelming sight.

At the Vietnam Memorial, as I was standing and reading the names of those killed, I suddenly noticed my reflection in the polished black marble. I have no words to describe the flood of emotions that came over me. Though I was never in combat, I did serve in the army during that war.

What memorials have you visited? What was your reaction?

This is a worship service so let us think for a moment of the memorials to Jesus the Christ.

What memorials to Jesus Christ do we have? In a way, every cross and church building is a memorial to him. But the memorial that comes most readily to my mind is the communion meal where we are commanded to “Do this in remembrance of me.”

“Do this in remembrance of me.”

  • Remember the miracles that he did. What miracles do you remember?

  • Remember His lessons on how to live. What life lessons have you learned?

  • Remember His Descriptions of Heaven. Tell me what heaven is like

  • Remember His Promises. What promises have you claimed? “Where I am you will be also. I’ll be with you until the end of the age. I’ll send a helper, the Holy Spirit

  • Remember His betrayal by the religious authorities. Do you remember the illegal night time “trial” with false witnesses?

  • Remember the betrayal by his closest friends. Who betrayed him? Judas, of course, but all of them betrayed him by abandoning him. And to keep us from becoming smug, we are reminded that “all people have sinned, they have fallen short of God’s glory.” (Romans 3:23)

  • Remember the humiliation of his beatings, the path through the streets with the weight of the cross, the mocking crown of thorns, the nails that pierced His flesh.

  • Remember the agonizing effort it took for him to speak His few words from the cross. Because of the cruel nature of the crucifixion most prisoners died of asphyxiation (couldn’t breathe). And yet, Christ pushed with his nail pierced feet and pulled with his nail pierced hands to raise himself enough to breathe out some important words,

  • Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do

  • Today you will be with me in paradise

  • Behold your son: behold your mother

  • My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

  • I thirst

  • It is finished

  • Father, into your hands I commit my spirit

  • Remember His triumph over the grave.

  • Remember His final words … the last commandment to His followers after the resurrection and just before he ascended into heaven. “So wherever you go in the world, tell everyone the Good News

  • And always remember that He did all of it for YOU and me!

    Amen.

Also visit my other blogs

  • Tom and Ella’s Daily Journal of Our Lives

http://TomAndEllaJournal.com

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

© 2020 Thomas E. Williams

Sheep and Shepherds

John 10:1-16

1. “I can guarantee this truth: The person who doesn’t enter

the sheep pen through the gate

but climbs in somewhere else

is a thief or a robber. 2. But the

one who enters through the

gate is the shepherd. 3. The

gatekeeper opens the gate for

him, and the sheep respond to

his voice. He calls his sheep by

name and leads them out of

the pen. 4. After he has

brought out all his sheep, he

walks ahead of them. The

sheep follow him because they

recognize his voice. 5. They

won’t follow a stranger.

Instead, they will run away

from a stranger because they

don’t recognize his voice.”

The person who doesn’t enter

the sheep pen through the gate

but climbs in somewhere else

is a thief or a robber. 2. But the

one who enters through the

gate is the shepherd. 3. The

gatekeeper opens the gate for

him, and the sheep respond to

his voice. He calls his sheep by

name and leads them out of

the pen. 4. After he has

brought out all his sheep, he

walks ahead of them. The

sheep follow him because they

recognize his voice. 5. They

won’t follow a stranger.

Instead, they will run away

from a stranger because they

don’t recognize his voice.”
6. Jesus used this illustration as

he talked to the people, but

they didn’t understand what

he meant. 7. Jesus emphasized,
“I can guarantee this truth: I

am the gate for the sheep. 8.

All who came before I did

were thieves or robbers.

However, the sheep didn’t

respond to them. 9. I am the

gate. Those who enter the

sheep pen through me will be

saved. They will go in and out

of the sheep pen and find food.

10. A thief comes to steal, kill,

and destroy. But I came so that

my sheep will have life and so

that they will have everything

they need. 11. “I am the good

shepherd. The good shepherd

gives his life for the sheep. 12.

A hired hand isn’t a shepherd

and doesn’t own the sheep.

When he sees a wolf coming,

he abandons the sheep and

quickly runs away. So the wolf

drags the sheep away and

scatters the flock. 13. The hired

hand is concerned about what

he’s going to get paid and not

about the sheep. 14. “I am the

good shepherd. I know my

sheep as the Father knows me.

My sheep know me as I know

the Father. 15. So I give my life

for my sheep. 16. I also have

other sheep that are not from

this pen. I must lead them.

They, too, will respond to my

voice. So they will be one flock

with one shepherd.

Sheep and Shepherds

I don’t know much about sheep and I’ve never been a

shepherd. I grew up in Iowa,

where agriculture is king. I’d

venture a guess that most of

the land is in some row-crop

like corn and soybeans. But

there are plenty of farms and

corporate farms with cattle,

both beef and dairy. Oh yes,

hogs! “Smells like money.” 2nd

in the nation in hogs!

Chickens, layers and fryers are

everywhere on small scales

and large factory farms. But

Sheep? Ì can only recall seeing

sheep in the agriculture

buildings at the state fair. My

impression? Stupid, stinky

animals.

and I’ve never been a

shepherd. I grew up in Iowa,

where agriculture is king. I’d

venture a guess that most of

the land is in some row-crop

like corn and soybeans. But

there are plenty of farms and

corporate farms with cattle,

both beef and dairy. Oh yes,

hogs! “Smells like money.” 2nd

in the nation in hogs!

Chickens, layers and fryers are

everywhere on small scales

and large factory farms. But

Sheep? Ì can only recall seeing

sheep in the agriculture

buildings at the state fair. My

impression? Stupid, stinky

animals.

Since I personally know so very little about sheep, I asked

Google. On a site called

very little about sheep, I asked

Google. On a site called

Modern Farmer and one called

An Introduction to Sheep

Behavior

I found these fun facts.

  • Contrary to what I have
    thought, sheep are not
    stupid. They rank just below
    the pig and on par with
    cattle in intelligence among
    farm animals. (I know that
    is not a ringing
    endorsement of
    intelligence, but they are
    smarter than I previously
    thought.)

  • it’s estimated their field of
    vision is between 270 and
    320 degrees; compair that to
    humans average about 155

  • sheep don’t walk in a
    straight line to make use of
    that 320° degree field of
    vision, and walking a
    crooked path, they can see
    behind them.

  • Sheep see in color

  • They have poor depth
    perception

  • Sheep can’t right themselves
    if they’re on their back.

  • They can literally die of
    fright due to a copper overdose that they produce
    in their brains

  • Sheep have excellent
    hearing. their ears can
    swivel to better detect from
    where a sound is coming

  • Loud and clanging metal
    noises scare them

  • if one sheep will move then
    the entire flock will follow.

  • Sheep have an excellent
    sense of smell (which is
    unfortunate because they
    stink). But I suppose it it’s
    sweet perfume to them.

So, all in all, sheep couldn’t be designed any more perfectly to

be eaten by predictors unless

they had no legs at all.

designed any more perfectly to

be eaten by predictors unless

they had no legs at all.

They have no real defensive weapons in their arsenal, no

claws, fangs, nor horns. Their

only defence is avoidance.

weapons in their arsenal, no

claws, fangs, nor horns. Their

only defence is avoidance.

When attacked, their only means of survival is to run

from danger and to band

together in large numbers for

protection. They huddle into a

group and face the enemy so

they can, as a group, avoid the

predictor. But the fact is,

without a shepherd, at least

one sheep is going to get eaten.

means of survival is to run

from danger and to band

together in large numbers for

protection. They huddle into a

group and face the enemy so

they can, as a group, avoid the

predictor. But the fact is,

without a shepherd, at least

one sheep is going to get eaten.

And Jesus calls us sheep! No compliment there. Helpless

human sheep. We like to think

that we are at the top out the

food chain. But in the spiritual

food chain we are at the

bottom, totally defenceless

without the Good Shepherd.

compliment there. Helpless

human sheep. We like to think

that we are at the top out the

food chain. But in the spiritual

food chain we are at the

bottom, totally defenceless

without the Good Shepherd.

Now let’s talk about shepherds. If Jesus’s calling us sheep

sounded demeaning to you, he

wasn’t elevating his status by

claiming to be our shepherd

either.

If Jesus’s calling us sheep

sounded demeaning to you, he

wasn’t elevating his status by

claiming to be our shepherd

either.

If the image in your mind’s eye of a shepherd is of sheep

peacefully eating in a lush

green pasture while the

shepherd daydreamed in the

shade of a tree, think again.

They were rough, weather

beaten men who spent their

lives in the vast wilderness

exposed to the rain, the wind,

and the ever present sun.

of a shepherd is of sheep

peacefully eating in a lush

green pasture while the

shepherd daydreamed in the

shade of a tree, think again.

They were rough, weather

beaten men who spent their

lives in the vast wilderness

exposed to the rain, the wind,

and the ever present sun.

Maybe it would help to equate them to something more

familiar to our American

culture. Think of them as the

cowboys of the old west,

without the horses, hats, guns,

and spurs. No, not the idolized,

sanitized, clamorized

Hollywood version of Roy

Rogers and Gene Autry, but the

actual men who ate the dust

riding behind beef cattle as

they herded them up the

Chisholm Trail from San

Antonio to Abilene. Always on

guard against dangers to the

animals and themselves.

them to something more

familiar to our American

culture. Think of them as the

cowboys of the old west,

without the horses, hats, guns,

and spurs. No, not the idolized,

sanitized, clamorized

Hollywood version of Roy

Rogers and Gene Autry, but the

actual men who ate the dust

riding behind beef cattle as

they herded them up the

Chisholm Trail from San

Antonio to Abilene. Always on

guard against dangers to the

animals and themselves.

Shepherds were pretty low on the social standing ladder.

They were uncultured,

uncouth, unaccustomed to the

niceties of civilized society.

They were as far removed

from priesthood as the east

from the west. And this is

where Jesus placed himself on

that social ladder.

the social standing ladder.

They were uncultured,

uncouth, unaccustomed to the

niceties of civilized society.

They were as far removed

from priesthood as the east

from the west. And this is

where Jesus placed himself on

that social ladder.

Jesus did not come to humankind to lead the people

in elaborate rituals or to

preach beautifully crafted

sermons. He did not come to

stand apart from or above his

flock. He came to be in the

midst of his flock, warning

them, guiding them, and

educating them by simple

stories to which they could

relate.

humankind to lead the people

in elaborate rituals or to

preach beautifully crafted

sermons. He did not come to

stand apart from or above his

flock. He came to be in the

midst of his flock, warning

them, guiding them, and

educating them by simple

stories to which they could

relate.

Jesus made promises for us, his sheep:

sheep:

  • He opens the gate

  • He teaches us his voice

  • He calls us by name

  • He leads us

  • He goes before us

  • Those who enter through him will be saved.

  • He knows us

  • He died for us

And guess what friends. Jesus expects us to stop being sheep.

We are in training to be

shepherds. That is what meant

in Matthew 28:19-20

expects us to stop being sheep.

We are in training to be

shepherds. That is what meant

in Matthew 28:19-20

“Therefore go 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 I

have commanded you. And

surely I am with you always, to

the very end of the age.”

So, I’ll send you out from this worship service not as sheep

or cattle, you no longer are. I

send you, my friends, into the

world into the herd to round

them up, to protect them, to

guide them to the heavenly

coral, and most of all to make

them disciples. In the name of

the Father and of the Son and

of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

worship service not as sheep

or cattle, you no longer are. I

send you, my friends, into the

world into the herd to round

them up, to protect them, to

guide them to the heavenly

coral, and most of all to make

them disciples. In the name of

the Father and of the Son and

of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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 70×7 times 490)

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 Phili490th 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 to keep their relationship with the Lord firm! And he encouraged both Euodia and Syntyche 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

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The Long Sabbath

THE LONG SABBATHExodus 31:14-1714. “‘Make the Sabbath a special day. If someone treats the Sabbath like any other day, that person must be killed. Whoever works on the Sabbath day must be separated from their people. 15. There are six other days in the week for working. But the seventh day is a very special day of rest. That is the special day to honor the LORD. Anyone who works during the Sabbath must be killed. 16. The Israelites must remember the Sabbath and make it a special day. They must continue to do this forever. It is an agreement between them and me that will continue forever. 17. The Sabbath will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever.’” (The LORD worked six days and made the sky and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and relaxed.)I know that many people myself included, if we remember the Ten Commandments at all, we remember the “short” version.

  1. You shall have no other Gods before me
  2. You shall not make for yourselves an idol
  3. You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God
  4. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy
  5. Honor your father and your mother
  6. You shall not murder
  7. You shall not commit adultery
  8. You shall not steal
  9. You shall not give false testimony
  10. You shall not covet

The short version is easier to remembered and to forget.Now, wait a minute, let’s back up a might. But not all the way to Adam and Eve, just to Abram. You will remember God told him to leave his home and go where God would lead him.Because Abraham loved God, and because God loved Abraham, He made an eternal convenient with him. “I will give you and your descendants the land in which you are immigrants, the whole land of Canaan.” (From Genesis chapter 17)God promised a goodly size chunk of real estate to Abram and his descendents. Way cool, huh? All Abraham had to do was wander around on it for awhile ~ well, the rest of his life actually. Kind of like the earliest settlers did round about here. They just rode around pointing at stuff and saying, “That’s mine, and that’s mine, and so’s that.” Sort of like a dog or cat marking their territory.Anyway, there was this land without any clearly defined boarders, that his descendents did indeed live on. There weren’t really enough of his kin to call them a nation. There were barely enough to call them a tried. Mostly, they were just an extended family.What’s that I hear? Did someone out there just mumble, “What’s all this got to do with a long Sabbath?” Trust me, I’m getting there. And it’s a straight line too.Okay, where were we? Oh yeah, Abraham’s heirs were living together occupying a chunk of land, not yet named Israel. Maybe it was about the size of a large ranch. They raised livestock sheep, goats, camels, and possibly cattle. And they did okay until a drought hit the land.Then in one of those bad luck turned to good luck things that God loves to use, (start reading in Genesis chapter 37 for that story) they moved to Egypt. They were welcomed to Egypt and even given a fair size peace of land on which to live.Time went by, a lot of time. The family grew. This once beget that one, who begat another, and, well there was a whole lot of begeting going on.A new pharaoh came to power who recognized that, what had been a family, had grown into a separate nation within his boarders. And he didn’t take kindly to them. They were enslaved.Moses comes along and leads these descents of Abraham out into the dessert. Now God is ready to forge these former slaves into a true nation. And the first thing they need is a set of laws on how to behave toward God and toward themselves. And right about the middle of these laws is God’s gift to His followers. This is the law of the Sabbath.You were beginning to wonder if I was ever going to get back to that, weren’t you?God felt that this law was so important that He put some “teeth” in it. His people were to observe a day of rest once every seven days. On this day They were/are to honor God.How many of you seasoned citizens remember when most businesses closed on Saturday and Sunday? Families went together to church. Perhaps the Sunday midday meal was something special.Something happened. Some business decided he could squeeze out an extra dollar if he was open on Sunday. His competitors couldn’t let him get ahead of them. So They started being open also.This meant that dad or mom or dad and mom were working instead of worshipping together. Organized sporting events for the children and the professionals proliferated.We lost our Sabbath, our God given ~ God demanded ~ day of rest.I will not echo things I’ve read online that claim this pandemic is a plague caused by God. But I will suggest that God can use this time of withdrawal and isolation as a L-O-N-G Sabbath. A time to draw back from the busyness of life, to reconnect with family and with God.Amen.

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Halakha (Jewish law), especially the Talmud tractate Shabbat, identifies thirty-nine categories of activity prohibited on Shabbat (Hebrew: ל״ט אבות מלאכות, lamed tet avot melakhot), and clarifies many questions surrounding the application of the biblical prohibitions. Many of these activities are also prohibited on the Jewish holidays listed in the Torah, although there are significant exceptions permitting carrying and preparing food under specific circumstances.

There are often disagreements between Orthodox Jews and Conservative Jews or other non-Orthodox Jews as to the practical observance of Shabbat. It is of note that the (strict) observance of Shabbat is often seen as a benchmark for orthodoxy and indeed has legal bearing on the way a Jew is seen by an orthodox religious court regarding their affiliation to Judaism.

“Peace, Be Still”

Read Psalm 4 and Luke 10:38-42*

Sermon: “Peace, Be Still”

As they were traveling along, Jesus went into a village. A woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. I can almost hear you say “What a minute, Tom, we know this story. Marthaa too busy and Mary got the good stuff.”

Yes, on the surface, that is as good of a summery as any. But is that all there is to this story? Can we not learn anything more?

I have heard plenty of sermons asking me to decide if I am a Martha, a person too busy with the cares of the world; or a Mary, the quiet, contemplative, lover of Jesus. Well, my answer has always been, “Yes”.

Yes, I am each of those things at different times.

However, when I read this passage now, I understand more about what is happening here. That is one of the marvels of scripture reading, the more you read, them more you see. Like a flower opening its petals, it slowly opens to your heart and mind.

It all started when Jesus came to Bethany, to visit the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. They had become cherished personal friends of Jesus during His earthly ministry. He had a profound love for their family, and it’s clear from Luke’s account that Jesus made Himself at home in their house.

Certainly hospitality was a special hallmark of this family. Martha in particular is portrayed everywhere as a meticulous hostess. The fact that her name was usually listed first whenever she’s named with her siblings implies strongly that she was the elder sister of Mary and Lazarus. She as the eldest would have taken on the role of caretaker for her sister and brother.

First of all it appears that it is Martha’s home. Nowhere in the story does it say that Mary lived there with Martha. It would have been a common thing for unmarried sisters to live together. However it would have been equally common that they have separate homes. I have also heard sermons that say this is their brother Lazareth’s home. However, when I read John 11:1 we find, “Lazarus, who lived in Bethany, the village where Mary and her sister Martha lived, was sick.” To me, that just says that the sisters and their brother lived in the same town. So, if indeed this was Martha’s home, it changes the dynamics of the story slightly.

However, whether she owned the home or was just the one who managed the home, it was Martha who invited Jesus into her home. This was her service to him. By inviting the Master into her home she had accepted the hosting responsibilities implied in the invitation.

Jesus had come at Martha’s invitation. She was the one who welcomed Him in, signifying that she was the actual master of ceremonies in this house. On this occasion, at least, she wasn’t merely filling in as a surrogate hostess for a friend; she was plainly the one in charge of the household. She fussed over her hostess duties. She wanted everything to be just right. She was a conscientious and considerate hostess, and these were admirable traits. Much in her behavior was commendable.

When I read this passage, I am often reminded of my first mother in law. She was a loving, giving, Christian woman who had a real gift for giving of herself, her time and everything she owned. When describing her, I usually say, “She was the type of woman where, if you knocked on her door to sell magazines, she would invite you in. And the following scene would unfold: “Here sit down, you look hot and tired. Would you like some water? Or I have some pop. Or I could make coffee. Would you like a sandwich, I have leftover ham.”

She sounds like a delight doesn’t she? Amen? She was. However, it could be slightly frustrating when you came to visit her. She was so busy being the hostess, that you couldn’t get her to sit still and talk with you. I think of Martha in that way.

Martha wasn’t the only person that scriptures say invited Jesus into their homes. So perhaps we should take at those times and compare and contrast the other invitations with Martha’s. In Luke 14:7-11 Jesus attends a banquet in the home of a prominent Pharisee and teaches a lesson about proper guest etiquette.

“Then Jesus noticed how the guests always chose the places of honor. So he used this illustration when he spoke to them: “When someone invites you to a wedding, don’t take the place of honor. Maybe someone more important than you was invited. Then your host would say to you, ‘Give this person your place.’ Embarrassed, you would have to take the place of least honor. So when you’re invited, take the place of least honor. Then, when your host comes, he will tell you, ‘Friend, move to a more honorable place.’ Then all the other guests will see how you are honored. Those who honor themselves will be humbled, but people who humble themselves will be honored.”

Having now schooled the guests on proper behavior, he does the same for the Pharisee in verses 12-14

“Then he told the man who had invited him, “When you invite people for lunch or dinner, don’t invite only your friends, family, other relatives, or rich neighbors. Otherwise, they will return the favor. Instead, when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the handicapped, the lame, and the blind. Then you will be blessed because they don’t have any way to pay you back. You will be paid back when those who have God’s approval come back to life.”

Now that we have heard Jesus’ teaching, let’s look at what was going on in Martha’s home. Has she invited those who can return the favor?

No. She has invited Jesus. By extension, we can assume that his disciples were also present. Remember the scriptures says, “As they were traveling along”. Jesus was an itinerant preacher with no permanent home. Luke 9:58 and Matthew 8:20 say, “Jesus told him, “Foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to sleep.” While it is possible that some of the disciples had homes in the area, we must remember that when Jesus called them, they dropped what they were doing and followed. Even if the disciples weren’t actually homeless, they were without income. They were living on the charity of others. So Jesus and his followers were not in a position to repay Martha by inviting her to dine with them.

Jesus, as the guest was seated in the honored place. Not because he chose it but because it was offered.

I find it enlightening that the customs of the time held that women’s legal rights were categorized along with Gentiles, minors, deaf-mutes and “undesirables” such as gamblers, the insane, usurers, and pigeon-racers.” One of these days I want to know more about those sinful pigeon-racers. But that is a study for another time.

The point is, for Jesus to accept her offer, meant that he was once again breaking the traditions and teachings of the religious leaders of the day. Just as He did when in Mark 2:14-16 we read, “When Jesus was leaving, he saw Levi, son of Alphaeus, sitting in a tax office. Jesus said to him, “Follow me!” So Levi got up and followed him. Later Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house. Many tax collectors and sinners who were followers of Jesus were eating with him and his disciples. When the experts in Moses’ Teachings who were Pharisees saw him eating with sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

This, most likely, was Martha’s life. Everything revolved around caring for the home. It was both her treasure and her prison because “In those times, respectable women were expected to stay within the confines of the home. “The woman of the first century did not even do her own shopping, except possibly to go out, accompanied by a slave, to buy material which she would use to construct her own clothing at home! Customarily, even a woman of stature could not engage in commerce and would rarely be seen outside her home. Only a woman in dire economic straits, who was forced to become the family breadwinner, could engage in her own small trade. If a woman was ever in the streets, she was to be heavily veiled and was prohibited from conversing with men. “It is the way of a woman to stay at home and it is the way of a man to go out into the marketplace” (J)

Now we know that Martha had a sister named Mary. and we know that Mary sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to him talk. It is believed that this is the same event that is described in John 12:1-8.

Six days before Passover, Jesus arrived in Bethany. Lazarus, whom Jesus had brought back to life, lived there. Dinner was prepared for Jesus in Bethany. Martha served the dinner, and Lazarus was one of the people eating with Jesus.

Mary took a bottle of very expensive perfume made from pure nard and poured it on Jesus’ feet. Then she dried his feet with her hair. The fragrance of the perfume filled the house.

One of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was going to betray him, asked, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold for a high price and the money given to the poor?” (Judas didn’t say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He was in charge of the moneybag and carried the contributions.) Jesus said to Judas, “Leave her alone! She has done this to prepare me for the day I will be placed in a tomb. You will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me with you.”

Some scholars believe that Mary was also the woman at the Pharisee’s house in Luke 7:36-50

One of the Pharisees invited Jesus to eat with him. Jesus went to the Pharisee’s house and was eating at the table.

A woman who lived a sinful life in that city found out that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house. So she took a bottle of perfume and knelt at his feet. She was crying and washed his feet with her tears. Then she dried his feet with her hair, kissed them over and over again, and poured the perfume on them.

The Pharisee who had invited Jesus saw this and thought, “If this man really were a prophet, he would know what sort of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner.”

Jesus spoke up, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”

Simon replied, “Teacher, you’re free to speak.”

So Jesus said, “Two men owed a moneylender some money. One owed him five hundred silver coins, and the other owed him fifty. When they couldn’t pay it back, he was kind enough to cancel their debts. Now, who do you think will love him the most?”

Simon answered, “I suppose the one who had the largest debt canceled.”

Jesus said to him, “You’re right!” Then, turning to the woman, he said to Simon, “You see this woman, don’t you? I came into your house. You didn’t wash my feet. But she has washed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You didn’t give me a kiss. But ever since I came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. You didn’t put any olive oil on my head. But she has poured perfume on my feet. That’s why I’m telling you that her many sins have been forgiven. Her great love proves that. But whoever receives little forgiveness loves very little.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” The other guests thought, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?”

Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace!”

If this indeed the same woman, why was she said to be “A woman who lived a sinful life”? Remember that I said earlier that a woman’s place was in the house … literally. Respectable women did not leave the house. Yet Mary is known to have left the house. The terminology used in that day for a prostitute was “one who goes abroad”.

After their brother, Lazareth had died, Martha went to Jesus to tell him not to bother because it was too late. Jesus has this to say in John 11:25-40 Jesus said to (Martha), “I am the one who brings people back to life, and I am life itself. Those who believe in me will live even if they die.26 Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe that?”
27 Martha said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who was expected to come into the world.”

28 After Martha had said this, she went back home and whispered to her sister Mary, “The teacher is here, and he is calling for you.”

Several things catch my attention here that shed more light on the differences and similarities with the sisters. Martha is the one who goes to Jesus and tells him that Lazareth is already dead. It was her responsibility as the head of the house. After all, she was the one who had sent the message asking Jesus to come and heal her brother. As the eldest, she could have told Mary to go and give the bad news that Lazareth had died. Instead she made the journey herself. Then after Jesus hears her confession that she believes He is the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who was expected to come into the world, she goes home and tells Mary to go.

29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to Jesus. 30 (Jesus had not yet come into the village but was still where Martha had met him.) 31 The Jews who were comforting Mary in the house saw her get up quickly and leave. So they followed her. They thought that she was going to the tomb to cry.

Mary had stayed behind at the house with the mourners and then went running out. It is helpful to understand the traditional rituals and observances at the time of a Jewish death.

“Traditionally, a person is buried the same day as his or her death, followed by seven days of mourning. A special meal of condolence is provided after the burial. Mourners remain in the house of mourning with friends and family throughout the week. Prayers are offered, and readings from the Torah are shared. Memorial candles are often lit. Traditional grooming stops, as do marital relations, entertainment, and regular study. In some cases, mourners wait 30 days before cutting their hair.

The New Testament speaks of mourners’ loud wailing. For example, when Jesus came to the home of the synagogue ruler whose daughter had died, He “saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly” (Mark 5:38). This took place on the same day as the girl’s death, as her body was still inside the home.

Mourning sometimes included shaving one’s head or putting ashes or dust on the head, in addition to rending garments. These actions communicated to everyone that the person was in mourning. Jeremiah 25:34 mentions the actions of a mourner in a judgment on evil rulers: “Weep and wail, you shepherds; roll in the dust, you leaders of the flock. For your time to be slaughtered has come.”(g)

So Mary has run from the house of mourning and gone to Jesus.

32 When Mary arrived where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Notice how strongly she believes in Jesus power.

33 When Jesus saw her crying, and the Jews who were crying with her, he was deeply moved and troubled.

34 So Jesus asked, “Where did you put Lazarus?”

They answered him, “Lord, come and see.”

35 Jesus cried. 36 The Jews said, “See how much Jesus loved him.” 37 But some of the Jews asked, “Couldn’t this man who gave a blind man sight keep Lazarus from dying?”

38 Deeply moved again, Jesus went to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone covering the entrance. 39 Jesus said, “Take the stone away.”

Martha, the dead man’s sister, told Jesus, “Lord, there must already be a stench. He’s been dead for four days.”

40 Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you would see God’s glory?”

From these glimpses into the lives of these two women it is easy to see that they both loved the Lord. Each in their own way honored him. It is also easy to see the differences. Martha was a thinker and a doer. Mary was ruled more by her heart and more emotional.

It was these differences that are in play here when we read, “But Martha was upset about all the work she had to do. So she asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work all by myself? Tell her to help me.”

Notice in the next verse how gently Jesus answers Martha. It is not a condemnation for her service to him. It is a reminder that time with Him is more important than all the busy work. Listen, “The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha! You worry and fuss about a lot of things. “But of the few things worth worrying about, there is only one thing you need.” Mary has made the right choice, and that one thing will not be taken away from her.”

I have to admit that sometimes the “busy work” of preparing sermons, picking the worship music, and typing the bulletins; keeps me from actually spending time in communion with my Lord.

If you, like me, let the day to day things of life, even those things that are in service to the Lord, keep you from the peaceful refreshment of time spent at the feet of Jesus, listen to his quiet voice. He will answer when you call upon Him. He can free you of your troubles for he has pity on you.

Then along with the psalmist I say, “Think about this on your bed and remain quiet. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness by trusting the Lord. Many are saying, “Who can show us anything good?” Let the light of your presence shine on us, O Lord. You put more joy in my heart than when their grain and new wine increase. I fall asleep in peace the moment I lie down because you alone, O Lord, enable me to live securely.” Amen.

All scripture quotes are from GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)

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Who Pays?

Matthew 17:23-2623. And when they had arrived at Capernaum, those who collected the half shekel approached Peter, and they said to him, “Doesn’t your Teacher pay the half shekel?” 24. He said, “Yes.” And when he had entered into the house, Jesus went before him, saying: “How does it seem to you, Simon? The kings of the earth, from whom do they receive tribute or the census tax: from their own sons or from foreigners?” 25. And he said, “From foreigners.” Jesus said to him: “Then the sons are free. 26. But so that we may not become an obstacle to them: go to the sea, and cast in a hook, and take the first fish that is brought up, and when you have opened its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take it and give it to them, for me and for you.”Jesus had returned to his home base, possibly Peter’s home. Those who collected the “tax” for the temple (not to be confused with those who collected taxes for Rome) approached Peter and ask if Jesus as going to pay the required half shekel. This was used for the upkeep of the temple.I wonder how it would work if our churches collected a “tax” instead of relying on donations? It sure would be easier planning the budget. No amen from the administrative council?We know that Jesus was raised in a family which followed the Jewish laws. He was circumcised on the eighth day. (Luke 2:21) He was presented to the temple at forty days for formal induction into the Israelite community. It was also when, as the first born son, he was both given to God and redeemed to live with his family. Exodus 13:1-21. The LORD spoke to Moses, 2. “Set apart every firstborn male for me. Every firstborn male offspring among the Israelites is mine, whether human or animal.” Jesus, as firstborn son, would have been in a state of sanctity (meaning holy or sacred) and thereby predestined to serve in the temple. All firstborn males are in this state of sanctity, unless they are redeemed or ransomed. A Jewish firstborn son can be redeemed, by use of a sacrifice of silver coins, or if unable to pay with silver with doves.The point here is that his parents followed the laws and customs, so we can assume that Jesus did also. We read in Luke chapter 2 that it was their custom to go to the temple during Passover. You’ll remember the twelve year old Jesus being found by his parents at the temple.Now, back to that shekels. I’ve tried to find the worth of the shekels in those times. I’ve discovered that there is no straightforward answer to that. The shekel’s value varied greatly depending on time and place. The best answer I’ve come up with is anywhere from a day’s wage to half a month’s wage. Jesus, as skilled labor (carpenter), would have paid more than an unskilled laborer (fisherman).But listen again to the question. “Doesn’t your Teacher pay the half shekel?” Without being there or having the emotions or voice in how the question was ask, it’s impossible to know why they asked.It could have been asked very straightforward and with no hidden agenda. Is he going to pay?It could have been asked as an accusation. Suggesting a who does he think he is to not pay?It could had been asked in a very respectful voice that acknowledged Jesus’s role as a spiritual leader. The questioner may not know if Jesus is supposed to pay. Was he to be exempt even as the priest were exempt?However the question was asked, the answer was a quick “Yes.”However, when Peter went in the house (presumably to get the coins), Jesus, as he so often did, used it as a teaching moment. He said something along the lines of; “Hey, Pete, let me ask you a question.”Peter, recognizing the pattern that Jesus so often used, steadied himself and hoped his teacher would be proud of the answer.”Pete, all the kings of the earth levy taxes. Who do they tax, their family or others?”Peter answered, “Others.”Jesus said, “That’s right.”Even as Peter was accepting his “Attaboy” he knew his master was just winding up to throw a curve ball.And Jesus did. “So, knowing that the money was for God’s house, the temple, then God’s true children should not have to pay.”While Peter was still reeling from that unforeseen twist, Jesus decided to cause further amazement by sending Peter to go fishing.And without hesitation, Peter grabbed his trust ol’ canepole and went fishing. The first fish he caught had enough money in its mouth to pay both of their taxes.Great story, amen?But what does it mean for you and me?Are we to pay the “temple tax” or not?No! Absolutely not!Did that get your attention? Good. Hear what Paul wrote to the early Christians.2 Corinthians 9:5-135. So I thought that I should encourage our coworkers to visit you before I do and make arrangements for this gift that you had already promised to give. Then it will be the blessing it was intended to be, and it won’t be something you’re forced to do. 6. Remember this: The farmer who plants a few seeds will have a very small harvest. But the farmer who plants because he has received God’s blessings will receive a harvest of God’s blessings in return. 7. Each of you should give whatever you have decided. You shouldn’t be sorry that you gave or feel forced to give, since God loves a cheerful giver. 8. Besides, God will give you his constantly overflowing kindness. Then, when you always have everything you need, you can do more and more good things. 9. Scripture says, “The righteous person gives freely to the poor. His righteousness continues forever.” 10. God gives seed to the farmer and food to those who need to eat. God will also give you seed and multiply it. In your lives he will increase the things you do that have his approval. 11. God will make you rich enough so that you can always be generous. Your generosity will produce thanksgiving to God because of us. 12. What you do to serve others not only provides for the needs of God’s people, but also produces more and more prayers of thanksgiving to God. 13. You will honor God through this genuine act of service because of your commitment to spread the Good News of Christ and because of your generosity in sharing with them and everyone else.”What you promise to God is between you and God. Each of you should give whatever you have decided. You shouldn’t be sorry that you gave or feel forced to give.”There is no temple tax that you are required to give to your church.However, remember Jesus said, “But so that we may not become an obstacle to them.” And he provided the money to pay the temple tax.Wait. What about tithing? Isn’t there some law about that?Well, that’s not an easy one to answer because tithing (giving 1/10th of your wealth) predates the Law of a Moses by hundred of years. Abraham tithed. (Genesis 14:18-20) 18. Then in truth, Melchizedek, the king of Salem, brought forth bread and wine, for he was a priest of the Most High God; 19. he blessed him, and he said: “Blessed be Abram by the Most High God, who created heaven and earth. 20. And blessed be the Most High God, through whose protection the enemies are in your hands.” And he gave him tithes from everything. So Abraham gave to God, through Melchizedek, 1/10th of all he had because he recognized that Mel was a true priest of the true God.Now, about that Law. Leviticus 27:30 “All the tithes of the land, whether from the grain, or from the fruits of trees, are for the Lord and are sanctified to him.”So one tenth of every increase belongs to the Lord. And it’s the first 10% not the last.In Matthew 23:23 Jesus condemns the Pharisees not not for tithing, but for their abandoning the greater parts of the law. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! For you collect tithes on mint and dill and cumin, but you have abandoned the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, while not omitting the others.”I have to tell you that theologians and church officials are divided over tithing. But one thing they all agree on, Clearly in both the Old Testament and New God’s people are expected to use their resources to be of service to others and to further God’s kingdom.John Wesley said, “

When a man becomes a Christian, he becomes industrious, trustworthy and prosperous. Now, if that man when he gets all he can and saves all he can, does not give all he can, I have more hope for Judas Iscariot than for that man!”

My recommendation to you give whatever you have decided. But give it freely, expecting nothing in return. Just as salvation is a gift unearned and freely given.I love the hymn by Carol Owens, Freely, Freely
ChorusHe said freely freelyYou have received

Freely freely give
Go in My name
And because you believe
Others will know that I live.
Go in the peace of God: Father, Son, and Holy SpiritGive of yourself as God has given to you. Amen.Also visit my other blogs

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“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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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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Also visit my other blogs

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