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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“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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“How Herod the Grinch Tried to Steal Christmas”

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

Matthew 2:13-23

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us pray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • two sons who he didn’t trust,

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

  • his mother-in-law,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Powerful and cruel rulers will always fear the innocent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God always has a better plan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I said, “not yet.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Done and done!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Born in a stable

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

  • Raised in a small rural town

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

  • Was the servant to all

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

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

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

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

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

God repeatedly is doing the unexpected.

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

Sounds good, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

Who Would You Follow Into The Flood?

Joshua 3:7-17,

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

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

1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

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

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

Matthew 23:1-12

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

Who Would You Follow Into The Flood?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

· The people have hailed him as the Messiah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where Can I Be A Gate?

  • Exodus 32:1-14

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

  • Philippians 4:1-9

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

Where Can I Be A Gate?

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

Our message from the Hebrew Bible is an interesting story that has so many possible sermons in it. We could talk about how quickly these people turned their backs on the God who saved them from slavery. We could build a sermon around Aaron who so easily gave in to the pressure of the people. We could focus on the righteous wrath of God toward this ungrateful congregation of freed slaves. However, the thing that jumped out at me years ago when I first read this account was that Moses argued with God and God relented!

Let us take a look here starting in verse 7 “God said to Moses, “Go back down there. Your people whom you brought out of Egypt have ruined everything.”

Did you catch that? God told Moses “YOUR people whom YOU brought out of Egypt”

I want to ask the parents in the crowd to ‘fess up to something. When the kids have just done something that just got on your last nerve, have you turned to your spouse and said, “YOUR kids are driving me nuts!” Not MY kid or OUR kids but YOUR kids.

God is saying that they’ve already turned from the way He commanded them to live. They’ve made a statue of a calf for themselves. They’ve bowed down to it and offered sacrifices to it. They’ve already made idols for themselves and said, ‘Israel, here are your gods who brought you out of Egypt.’ ”

God is saying to Moses, “You haven’t even had a chance to take them the commandments that I’ve given you and they’ve already broken three of them! “I’ve seen these people, and they are impossible to deal with.

They are impossible to deal with! I have four children of my own. I love them each dearly. I remember telling someone that I wouldn’t take a million dollars for any one of them. However there are days I would have given you the SET for free! That is not true of coarse but, in a way, I can relate to the frustration that God is feeling. Here He is just moments from fulfilling everything that He had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Here is the NATION that God had said would come from their seed. This plan had been in process for over four hundred years. In just a short time they would reach the promised land. Land that God had made rich for them (remember “a land flowing with milk and honey”?).

God had brought Moses to the mountain to give them ten laws (the shortest list of laws that any nation has ever had to live by) and during that very time, they had turned to worshiping a god created by their own hands. No wonder God was saddened and disappointed by this ungrateful and unfaithful mob of people.

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

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

Yes He is. However, He has limits. Remember the story of Noah begins with God saying nearly the same thing. The people have become so far gone that He decides to tear it all down and start over – again! He had been pushed past that 78th time!

Then God promises Moses the same thing that He had told Abraham, then Isaac and then Jacob; “I’ll make YOU into a great nation.”

Moses could have done the same thing that his ancestors did, accept the covenant from God. But instead Moses pleaded with the Lord his God. He becomes the gate between God and the nation of Israel when he said, “why are you so angry with your people whom you brought out of Egypt using your great power and mighty hand?”

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

Don’t let the Egyptians say, ‘He was planning all along to kill them in the mountains and wipe them off the face of the earth. That’s why he brought them out of our land.’ Don’t be so angry. Reconsider your decision to bring this disaster on your people.

Moses said to God, “Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. You took an oath, swearing on yourself. You told them, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. I will give to your descendants all the land I spoke of. It will be their permanent possession.’ ”

Moses reminded God that it was God who had made the original covenant and then repeated it to successive generations of Abraham’s line. This was not a contract that men had made with God. This was a contract that God had made with men and could not be broken.

So the Lord reconsidered his threat to destroy his people.

God reconsidered. God relented because Moses interceded for the people. This vast multitude of people would have perished without the persistent prayer of this one man. God listened.

In the new testament reading Paul asks the congregation at Philipi keep their relationship with the Lord firm! And he encouraged both

Eu-o`-di-a and Syn`-ty-che to have the attitude the Lord wants them to have.

There was a division in this church that was destroying it. God’s plan for this people was in jeopardy of being destroyed by the people themselves.

Paul intercedes and becomes an advocate on behalf of the whole congregation by reminding the ‘combatants’ to be open to the love that God intends them of have. He is asking them to look past their differences and remember that they are both children of God and should love each other as family.

Then Paul gives them guidelines on how to achieve this harmony. He says, “Always be joyful in the Lord!” That is so important that he repeats it by saying, “I’ll say it again: Be joyful!’ Remember the image of the gate on the sheep hold? Paul is standing between the sheep and the wolf and saying, “Be joyful in the Lord!” What amazing insight! How can there be conflict where there is the joy of the Lord?

So step one is joy. Step two is being considerate. Being considerate means that you look at the situation from the other person’s point of view. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Now step three is never worry about anything. You know what worry is? Worry is the interest that the Devil charges on a debt you don’t owe. Worry is nonproductive waste of time and energy.

It is easy to say, “Don’t worry.” But how do we do that? Paul explains, “In every situation let God know what you need in prayers and requests while giving thanks.” Turn it over to God. Leave it in His hands and trust that He will turn it to good.

Here is the good news. If we follow these simple steps, then God’s peace, which goes beyond anything we can imagine, will guard our thoughts and emotions through Christ Jesus.

Paul’s final thoughts on this conflict resolution are, “keep your thoughts on whatever is right or deserves praise: things that are true, honorable, fair, pure, acceptable, or commendable.”

As you read the Bible it is very easy to find examples of people of God stepping into situations where they became the gate between warring people and factions and brought about a peaceful settlement; examples where righteous people have provided shelter for the weak and guidance to the hurtful.

In my own life I can think of times when someone has stepped in to do intercessory work on my behalf. I’m sure that you can think of examples in your life also

We know that we have an intercessor in Jesus Christ who sits at the right hand of God and acts as an advocate for us. This same Christ commands that we do the same for others. We are to be the bringers of peace and love to the world. We need to look for opportunities to be gates in the sheep hold. Amen

Amen

©2019 Thomas E Williams originally published October 2011