“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 Awesome is This Place

Genesis 28:10-18 10. Meanwhile Jacob, having departed from Beersheba, continued on to Haran. 11. And when he had arrived at a certain place, where he would rest after the setting of the sun, he took some of the stones that lay there, and placing them under his head, he slept in the same place. 12. And he saw in his sleep: a ladder standing upon the earth, with its top touching heaven, also, the Angels of God ascending and descending by it, 13. and the Lord, leaning upon the ladder, saying to him: “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac. The land, in which you sleep, I will give to you and to your offspring. 14. And your offspring will be like the dust of the earth. You will spread abroad to the West, and to the East, and to the North, and to the Meridian. And in you and in your offspring, all the tribes of the earth shall be blessed. 15. And I will be your guardian wherever you will journey, and I will bring you back into this land. Neither will I dismiss you, until I have accomplished all that I have said.” 16. And when Jacob had awakened from sleep, he said, “Truly, the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17. And being terrified, he said: “How awsome this place is! This is nothing other than the house of God and the gateway of heaven.” 18. Therefore, Jacob, arising in the morning, took the stone which he had placed under his head, and he set it up as monument, pouring oil over it.


        Our reading from the Hebrew Bible really caught my attention this week. The story of Jacob’s ladder is probably among the first Bible stories most of us learned.  And of course the important part of the whole story is the revelation of God to Jacob and the transfer of the promise from Abraham to Jacob.  The promise to bless all families of the earth through his offspring.

        This time, though, here is the part that stood out to me as I read this scripture, “”Surely the Lord is in this place–and I did not know it!” And “How awesome is this place!” It made me wonder – how many times have we been in one of God’s special places – and not known it? This place was so special to Jacob that he built an altar to God on this holy ground and named it Bethel.  That is Beth-El, two words with a hyphen.  It means House of God        

We need to understand the “why” and the “what” of and altar.         

  • Here is the WHY:  The Old Testament altar is used as a physical representation of God.  So that, what was placed on the altar, was symbolically given to God. We most often think of the blood sacrifices – offering goats, sheep, cattle, and birds to be killed and burned on the altar. However, there were also sacrifices of grain, fruits and vegetables, as well as offerings of wine and oil such as Jacob used on his altar. Our modern altars are much more symbolic (and a lot less messy)  We are to be the living sacrifice that is given at the modern altar.
        
  • Now the “WHAT”. The types of ancient Hebrew altars are divided into two main types of altars.  The Layman’s and the Priestly. 
  • The Priestly altar was what you would have found in the Tabernacle in the desert and later in the Temple in Jerusalem.  It was an ornately decorated altar used by the priests to perform their rituals.
        
  • The Layman’s altar was vastly different. Anyone could erect a layman’s altar.  They were used for a specific one-time purpose.  Such as Jacob’s revelation of the ladder between earth and heaven. The practice was common for a long time before it became codified into the Mosaic Law as found in Exodus 20:24&25.         It reads:  “You must build an altar for me made out of dirt. Sacrifice your burnt offerings and your fellowship offerings, your sheep, goats, and cattle on it. Wherever I choose to have my name remembered, I will come to you and bless you. If you build an altar for me made out of stones, never make it with cut stone blocks. If you use a chisel on it, you will make it unacceptable to me.”             

Lots of “layman’s Altars” are listed in the bible.  I am going to go through these fairly quickly, so rather than have you try and look them up as I go, I will be glad to give a list of the scripture references later, to anyone who wants them.

Genesis 8:20 (after the flood) Noah built an altar to the Lord. On it he made a burnt offering of each type of clean animal and clean bird.

Genesis 12:7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said,I’m going to give this land to your descendants.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

Genesis 22:9 When they came to the place that God had told him about, Abraham built the altar and arranged the wood on it. Then he tied up his son Isaac and laid him on top of the wood on the altar.

Genesis 26:24-25 That night the Lord appeared to Isaac, and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Don’t be afraid, because I am with you. I will bless you and increase the number of your descendants for my servant Abraham’s sake.” So Isaac built an altar there and worshiped the Lord.

Genesis 33:18-22  Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem in Canaan. He camped within sight of the city. Then he bought the piece of land on which he had put up his tents. He bought it from the sons of Hamor, father of Shechem, for 100 pieces of silver. He set up an altar there and named it El-elohe- God Is the God of Israel.

Genesis 35:1-3 Then God said to Jacob, “Go to Bethel and live there. Make an altar there. I am the God who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.” So Jacob said to his family and those who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods which you have, wash yourselves until you are ritually clean, and change your clothes. Then let’s go to Bethel. I will make an altar there to God, who answered me when I was troubled and who has been with me wherever I’ve gone.”

Exodus 17:10-15 Joshua did as Moses told him and fought the Amalekites, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, Israel would win, but as soon as he put his hands down, the Amalekites would start to win. Eventually, Moses’ hands felt heavy. So Aaron and Hur took a rock, put it under him, and he sat on it. Aaron held up one hand, and Hur held up the other. His hands remained steady until sunset. So Joshua defeated the Amalekite army in battle. The Lord said to Moses, “Write this reminder on a scroll, and make sure that Joshua hears it, too: I will completely erase any memory of the Amalekites from the earth.” Moses built an altar and called it Adonai-nissi, The Lord Is My Banner.

        Notice the common thread that runs through this scriptures?  These were places marked by a significant meeting with God.  These were places of “holy ground”.

        I’m going to do something here that you are not supposed to do in preaching.  You are not supposed to use “I” or “You”.  Sermons are supposed to be about “Us” and “We”. However, I’m going to relate a personal example of an experience I had with “holy ground” and then I’m going to ask you to tell me your experience of finding a “holy ground”.

        Some forty years ago I was working in a food production facility.  Things were going well for the company and they had just added a new production line and storage freezer capacity. Neither the production line or the freezer were in operation yet.  

     The freezer was huge.  It seemed like about a half a football field. As it was not in operation, it was used for storing 100 pound bags of flour. The place was dimly lit with only the emergency lights. When the big freezer doors were closed it was completely silent in there.     
    
     The first time I went into that room, I felt I was on holy ground. An industrial setting may seem like an unlikely place for holy ground.  But that was the feeling that I had.  I often took my lunch break in there.  I could talk out loud to God and listen and meditate in the silence.        

     I knew that the owners were Christians, so one day I mention to him what I felt in that room. He said that he was not surprised.  That a lot of prayer had gone into the planning and the building of the addition.        

     Over the years I have found other places that just seemed to be special “God places”  or as Jacob called them gateways to God’s house.        

      It is your turn.  Where have you had that “holy ground” experience?

        These stories can help to build up the body of believers. I know and believe that God is ALWAYS with us.  That He never leaves us alone. However, I thank God that He has made us aware of His presence in special places and special ways; so that we can say with Jacob, “Surely the Lord is in this place–and I did not know it!” And “How awesome is this place!”
Amen.

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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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Time to Grow Up”

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

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

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

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

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

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

   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Feed the hungry Matthew 25

Heal the sick Matthew 25

Visit the prisoner Matthew 25

Give drink to the thirsty Matthew 25

Clothe the naked Matthew 25

Make disciples Matthew 28:19-20

Teach Matthew 28:19-20

Baptize Matthew 28:19-20

Preach 2 Timothy 4:2 & Matthew 10:7

Correct 2 Timothy 4:2

Rebuke 2 Timothy 4:2

Encourage 2 Timothy 4:2

Instruct 2 Timothy 4:2

Be Evangelists Ephesians 4:11

Be Prophets Ephesians 4:11

Be Pastors Ephesians 4:11

Be Teachers Ephesians 4:11

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

Study 2 Timothy 2:15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2020 Thomas E Williams

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Foolishness of God

New Testament: : Romans 5:1-5

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

Gospel: John 16:12-15

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

Message: “Foolishness of God” Tom Williams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So the truth is that we are guilty!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have peace with God

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

through our Lord Jesus Christ,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That the works of God should be revealed.

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

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

I am quoting now.

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

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

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

End quote

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

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

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

“I am no longer my own, but thine.

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

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

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

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

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

Suffering produces endurance

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

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

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

Praise God! Amen.

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Ice Water Steam

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

“Dance Before The Lord”

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

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

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

Message: “Dance Before The Lord”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apparently good intentions are not enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Continue reading ““Dance Before The Lord””

“How Herod the Grinch Tried to Steal Christmas”

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

Matthew 2:13-23

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us pray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • two sons who he didn’t trust,

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

  • his mother-in-law,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Powerful and cruel rulers will always fear the innocent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God always has a better plan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I said, “not yet.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Done and done!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Born in a stable

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

  • Raised in a small rural town

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

  • Was the servant to all

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

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

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

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

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

God repeatedly is doing the unexpected.

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

Sounds good, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

Who Would You Follow Into The Flood?

Joshua 3:7-17,

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

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

1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

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

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

Matthew 23:1-12

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

Who Would You Follow Into The Flood?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

· The people have hailed him as the Messiah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judgment or Grace?

Judgment or Grace?

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

©2019 Thomas E Williams

Out Originally published Tuesday, November 29, 2011