Author Archives: Carol

Jesus’ 1st Miracle – Feb. 17, 2019

Daylight Savings Time was enacted on March 19, 1918. It established standard time zones and set Summer Daylight Savings Time to begin on March 31, 1918.

Summer Time, as it was called, started in the United States in March, most farmers, however, opposed it. They argued that their work was regulated by the sun and their view prevailed in August, 1919, when the Federal Daylight Saving Time Law was repealed over the veto of President Woodrow Wilson.

Nevertheless, a number of states and individual communities, particularly in industrial regions, continued to observe Daylight Saving Time. This became more widespread in World War II. and after VJ Day, In 1966, the Uniform Time Act was passed and Daylight Savings Time became a permanent fixture in the United States unless individual States voted it. 

Others also fought the implementation of Daylight Savings Time. Take for instance, William Bell and Jacob Rosenwasser, two men on death row at Sing Sing Prison. On Sunday, April 30, 1922, nine days before they were to be executed in the electric chair for murder, they woke to find that the clocks had been moved ahead one hour. Bell and Rosenwasser protested to the warden and hired an attorney to fight for their extra hour.

The Boston Evening Globe reported their story on May 1, 1922. Their argument that ‘ever moment, every hour is precious’ failed to convince the presiding judge and they were eventually executed as scheduled. 

Queen Elizabeth before she died said, “All my possessions for a moment of time!”

Yet, time is not ours to ration or buy. All we can do is use it well. In the end, everything happens in God’s time, not ours.

There is an old adage that says, “Timing is everything”. Even in God’s time, there is a time for everything. Ecclesiastes 3:1 reads, “There is a time for everything, – and a season for every activity under heaven.”

This is true in our lives and was also true in the life of Jesus. Galatians 4:2,4 reads, “He (Jesus) is subject to guardians and trustees until the time ‘set by his father’.  But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law.”

No other place do we see this issue of time and timing being so important than in the Gospel of John. John introduces us to Jesus, the Word made Flesh. ‘John the Baptist’ testifies that Jesus is the Son of God.   John does not mention the Temptation in the wilderness and moves directly to the calling of the first disciples.

One of his new followers is named Nathanael. John 21:2 reveals that he is from Cana in Galilee. While the exact location of Cana is unknown, the name Cana in Hebrew and Aramaic means ‘place of reeds’. Scholars have pinpointed 5 areas close to Nazareth were Cana may have been located.

Nathanael is known for saying, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” But he quickly changes his mind once he meets Jesus.

Cana is also the place of Jesus’ first miracle. It took place during a wedding. Invited to this wedding, was Jesus’ mother Mary, Jesus and his disciples and most likely Jesus’ brothers and sisters. Many scholars believe this may have been the wedding of a relative of Jesus, since Mary had some oversight.

First, I will start with a little background on weddings in Jesus’ day. On the evening of the wedding, usually a Wednesday, the bride-to-be would be led by a procession through town ‘from her home, to the home of her husband-to-be’.

This procession would include music, laughter, and loud shouts of joy and approval; along the way, the entire village would join in. The crowd would carry torches or oil lamps on poles along with Myrtle-branches that they waved and colorful flowers. After they arrived at the husband’s parent’s home, the bride and groom would be crowned with garlands.

A legal document was signed, there would be a ceremonial washing of hands, then a prayer would be offered to God – and finally, the wedding feast would begin. The feast would usually last 3 to 7 days, depending on the financial situation of the family. At the end of the party, the bride and groom were sent off to consummate the marriage.

In the East, hospitality was considered a sacred duty. To run out of food and/or wine was considered a legitimate crisis. If the groom’s family misjudged how much food and drink was needed, this would bring disgrace on the family and was considered a curse on the marriage. In fact, the bride’s family could even sue them over this.

John 2:3 reads, “When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” While this was simply a statement of fact, it implied that they needed help. The question is, what did she expect Jesus to do about it?

Which explains Jesus’ response, “Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Then Jesus added, “My time has not yet come.”

Mary, slightly rebuked by Jesus, doesn’t seem to mind or notice, she just turned to the servants and said, “Do whatever he tells you to do.”

Why was Mary ignoring what Jesus just said, “My time has not yet come?” Some scholars believe she may have been giving him a needed ‘spiritual nudge’. Others argue that Jesus would never do anything, if it was not in God’s planned time. So, what are we missing?

According to John’s Gospel, Jesus mentioned ‘his time’ at least 17 times. He also said, that when his time came, He and God would be glorified. In other words, when Jesus’ real identity was made known, everyone would know ‘he was God in flesh’. It would be his public coming out. The Greek word ‘hour’ actually refers to an opportune time.

We see a similar discussion with Jesus and his brothers in John Chapter 7. Jesus has decided not to go to Judea because the Jewish leaders are waiting there to kill him. His brothers want him to go to the Feast of Tabernacles and they say to Jesus, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. No one, who wants to become ‘a public figure’ acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his own brothers did not believe in him.”

Then Jesus said to them, “The right time for me has not yet come; for you, any time is right.” Then, in verse 10, after his brothers left to go to the Feast, Jesus also went, but in secret.

I think that is also the key to what happened at the wedding.

Jesus did a miracle by turning water to wine but it was not done it public and the miracle was only witnessed by a few. We will see that as we read on…

 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water so they filled them to the brim.”

Then he told them, “Now, draw some out and take it to the head-waiter of the banquet.”

(to draw out means to dig down deep) They did so, and the head-waiter of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. 

(Here are the key words) He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. While the waiters, Mary and the Disciples knew what happened, no one else at the wedding party did. Jesus was able to do the miracle and remain true to God’s plan.

Imagine the surprise of the groom and his family. They were worried about not having enough wine and now they were celebrated for ‘saving the best wine until last’.

I am not sure what Mary had in mind, but I am sure this passed all of her expectations. Also, let’s not forget her amazing faith in Jesus. She believed that he could help and he did. And scripture says that his disciples saw this and they believed in him.

Now, some Bible scholars interpret the shortage of wine at Cana as symbolic of the spiritual dryness of Judaism at the time of Jesus. Wine was a common symbol of God’s bounty and spiritual Joy. Others say that the water turned to wine was a foreshadow of the coming of the best gift of all, the blood of Christ that cleanses all.

Just an insight, John never uses the word miracle when Jesus does these incredible things. Instead, he calls them signs. They are revelations of who Jesus really is, and only a few are privy to them, that is, until he is ready to reveal himself, publically.

Christian recording artist Michael Card sang a song called ‘The Wedding’ listen to some of the lyrics,

Lord of light, oh, come to this wedding,
Take the doubt and darkness away
Turn the water of life-less living,
to the wine of gladness we pray.

Mother Mary’s gently requesting,
That you might do whatever you can
Though she may be impatient, she loves you
And so she asks ‘what she can’t understand’.

So amidst the laughter and feasting,
There sits Jesus full with the fun.
He has made them wine because He is longing,
For a wedding that’s yet to come.

This first miracle is a sign of what kind of kingdom Jesus had in mind. The Jews wanted a warrior, a bold public figure. Instead, we find a compassionate, benevolent, caring Savior who doesn’t need to be admired and celebrated. You see, he came as a servant. What he did was often done in private. He was not seeking praise.

He came to glorify God and to remain true to God’s plan and God’s timing. All would be revealed but only at the proper time. Romans 5:6 -8 reads, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Vary Rarely will anyone die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person someone might possibly dare to die – but God demonstrated his love for us in this: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

One thing is fairly certain; mankind will always be at odds with time. Some things take far too long, others go much to fast. Time flies and time crawls. When we are young it seems like everything takes forever and when we are older we wonder where the time went. And there never seems to be enough time to do what we really want. Time is a limited thing, we only get so much.

So we must live ‘within God’s time’ and not waste it. Love while you can and let go of old hurts. Finally, trust God because his timing is perfect. And as the Bible tells us, all will be revealed in the fullness of time.

Habakkuk 2:3 in the Living Bible reads, “But these things I plan won’t happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches – when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, do not despair, for these things will surely come to pass. Just be patient! They will not be overdue a single day!”

“There truly is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven.”

This is our time now, we need to do what Jesus did; live it well and use it to bring glory to God. We are here to advance his kingdom on earth. So…

Your assignment is…to get out your calendar and make sure you have time to do God’s work planned out. Volunteer at the Cowan school food give-a-way, tutor a child, get some training for missions, help with the youth group, make food, visit or send cards to shut-ins.

Jesus said we were to follow him; He served others. In what way will you follow his lead?     

Pray and Take action.

Amen

Jesus Rejected – Feb. 10, 2019 

People love to go to race tracks to see car accidents. It is the same way people go to hockey games to watch fistfights. Probably very similar to the way the Romans went to the Coliseum to see the death of the gladiators.

There is something thrilling and sad about a train wreck; we just can’t stop watching. Shows like American Idol, I have been told, are more exciting to watch, early on during the first auditions. That is when ‘the cats’ and ‘the tone deaf’ come out to sing.

Take for instance, Season 9, Jan. of 2010 in Orlando, Florida. A young man named Donald Jarrod Norrell, a graphic designer, drove from Georgia to audition. After stating, that he thought he could win the competition, he went on to sing ‘Amazing Grace’.

He was awful! One look at the disgust on the faces of the judges revealed ‘the truth’; and they quickly told him so, saying he “sounded like a lawnmower.”

But Jerrod refused to take no for an answer and went on to sing again, the same song. Eventually, they called in the security guards. He cried out, “I can’t leave!” as they escorted him out anyway  but he put up a fight and ended up handcuffed and arrested.

Now that is some serious rejection!

It is tough enough dealing with rejection privately, but quite another – when it is broadcast for the whole world to see and hear. It never goes away! I am sure all of us have felt the sting of rejection.  

It may have been when the person you asked out laughed in your face. Or the time you were excluded from a party. Maybe it was the best friend who rejected you for another. Or the job interview that did not go as planned. Maybe it was because you were too young, too old or too different. Finally, it may have been, when you were rejected by a dating partner or a spouse.

Rejection can be defined as ‘the act of pushing someone or something away’. It may consist of abuse, abandonment, neglect, or the withholding of affection. Dr. Charles R Solomon specializes in spiritual counseling, with a specialty in how to deal with rejection. He defines rejection as “The absence of meaningful love.” 

Rejection not only wounds us but can also hinder us from trusting, believing in others and/or engaging with others again. Not only can rejection leave us feeling paralyzed, we may also heap additional pain on ourselves and make it worse. Experts tell us that rejection affects us; emotionally, intellectually, psychologically, and physically. The question is, “Why is it so painful?”

The answer, scientists tell us, is that our brains are hard-wired that way. Researchers used MRI machines to question people who felt rejected and they found the same areas of our brains that are activated by physical pain also react to the experience of rejection.

Now, that being said, those who had a better handle on their emotions, did much better. In other words, those people who did not place too much value in the eyes or actions of others, seemed to react in a healthy manner. So, while rejection hurts, internalizing it and not dealing with it is far worse.

While rejection often feels personal, as in, it is our fault or an outright attack, it often has less to do with us than we imagine. There are often extenuating circumstances beyond our grasp; things that have little to do with us and more to do with the other person.

No one understood this better than Jesus. Before he was even born, Isaiah 53:2-3 described him like this, “He grew up before us like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces, he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.”

John 1:11 reads, “He came to those who were his own, but his own did not receive him.” 

Isaiah literally says that Jesus was despised; he was not merely ignored or disliked. He was hated and loathed by the religious leaders and in the end, by all the people. Jesus was not just being discarded as unwanted or useless; he was considered a real threat to the status quo. Why?

Jesus questioned their interpretation of scripture, their traditions, their way of using the Temple and the way they treated the least, the lost and the outcasts. They accused him of being a drunk, they belittled him, tried to trap him and even called him the devil, himself.

In our Luke text, Jesus returns to Galilee and preaches throughout the countryside. It says he taught in the local synagogues and everyone praised him. From there he went to his hometown, Nazareth.

Then, on the Sabbath day, Saturday, as was his custom, he went into the synagogue. While there, he stood up to read. The scroll was handed to him and it was unrolled to Isaiah 61:1-2, and he began to read, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners – and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, – and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

After sitting down, he proclaimed, “Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
    
And scripture says they were amazed and a bit shocked by his teaching. They acknowledge that he was speaking with wisdom and acting with power, but something just didn’t sit right. Isn’t this Joseph the carpenter’s son? Carpenter’s sons do not become prophets.

Here he was in the synagogue, a carpenter trying to teach them something about God and the Law. They all knew him. How could Jesus possibly be ‘who he was claiming to be’: the Messiah, God’s very own Son?

Not surprised, Jesus said, “No prophet is accepted in his hometown.” Then Jesus had the gull to go on and compare himself to Elijah and Elisha. All of the people in the synagogue immediately took offense and became furious. They saw this as scandalous, an abomination, and a threat to everything they stood for. This was no prophet, this was Mary’s son and they knew Jesus’ brothers and sisters.

So they rejected him and drove Jesus out of the synagogue. They took him out of town to the cliff of a tall hill. Once there, they planned on throwing him off to his death.

Mount Precipice is a cliff near the city of Nazareth in Israel. It has a 1,000 foot plunge, almost straight down. This is serious!

One pastor writes, “I don’t know about Jesus, but at that point ‘I’m going Ninja on every last one of those suckers. I was thinking’, he wrote, ‘Jesus, just take them all out!’”

But scripture says, “He walked right through the crowd and went on His way” (Luke 4:30).  The same pastor writes, “Jesus is amazing, no anger . . . no Ninja. He just remains calm and stays in control.”  (I love that!)

Over and over in scripture we see Jesus being rejected and we see his reaction. How could he remain so humble and not call down an army of angels? Only because Jesus knew that God had a greater purpose for his life. Jesus never got sidelined by other people’s problems and control issues. Here are several examples of times when he was rejected;

1) Jesus faced rejection from his own family. John 7:3-5 reveals that Jesus’ own brothers wanted him to reveal who he really was, but he said his time had not come. And so they rejected and did not believe in him. Also in Mark 3:20-21 Jesus went to a home but a crowd gathered and they were unable to eat. When his family heard they went out to restrain him, for they said, “He is out of his mind!”

2) Jesus would eventually face rejection from the other Jews in Jerusalem. They refused to call him ‘The King of the Jews’ and said ‘their only king was Caesar’.

3) Jesus faced rejection from his own followers. Judas betrayed him. All of the disciple’s abandoned him and Peter denied him 3 times.

4) Jesus was offered up with Barabbas, a thief and murderer. His own people chose Barabbas instead of him. Funny, Jesus was accepted by his enemies; a Roman soldier, Samaritans, outcasts – even Pilate could find no wrong in him, – yet the Jewish people rejected him; the ones he came to save first!

5) Finally, Jesus was rejected by God on the cross (or at least it appeared that way).

As he hung on the cross dying, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). In truth, I do not think God ever rejected Jesus, I think he simply turned his back on all our sin. But I don’t imagine that is how it felt at the time.

Maybe, in the back of his mind, Jesus was thinking about what God had said to Samuel when the people rejected him. The Israelites went to Samuel and demanded a king ‘to be the judge’ over them. Samuel was crushed but,

In 1 Samuel 8:7 the Lord said, “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; ‘it is not you they have rejected’ but the have rejected me as their king.” Again, God was being rejected by his people. They see Jesus – but they do not recognize him as their God. Imagine the pain of the Father in heaven as well as Jesus, who was before them.

In anger and frustration, Jesus could have said, “Enough! Father end this now, destroy them all! They will not learn.” But he does not. One of the most amazing things is Jesus never loses his focus for his mission. In the face of rejection, he offers grace, mercy, hope, love and forgiveness.

“Father forgive them, they know not what they are doing,” he said in Luke 23:34

Jesus wasn’t looking for our approval, he had God’s. Remember what God said at his baptism? “This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17).

A few thoughts here… We can never avoid rejection. In fact our risk has not decreased, it has only increased. It used to be limited to our ‘one on one’ social interactions. Today, thanks to electronic communication, we can be rejected on dating apps, chat rooms, news posts, texts, Facebook, and all kinds of other social media. 

The thing is, we have to put it into perspective. We have to be careful whose approval we seek. And one wise counselor explained, “Always consider the source and the substance.”

Instead of letting every situation get to us, we must do what Jesus told the disciples to do as they traveled from town to town. In Mark 6:11 he said, “If any place will not welcome you or listen to you; shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.”

Jesus’ ultimate goal was to guide us into a loving relationship with God and one another. He did not come to destroy lives; we do that well enough on our own. He came to save lives. He said in John 10:10, “I have come so that they might have life, and that they might have it abundantly.”

Which brings me to my last and most important point; Jesus will never reject you. When someone else rejects you there will be deep wounds, there’s no denying that. He knows how we feel and he offers us an answer…

Isaiah 53:3-5 reads, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces; he was despised, and we didn’t value him. Surely he took up our sicknesses, and he carried our sorrows; yet we considered him stricken by God, struck by him and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, — and by his wounds we are healed.”

No matter how much rejection we are dealt, the love and grace God gives in return, covers it all. Like him, we can turn to the Father for assurance and find the comfort we seek.

May God guide you, to find in rejection, creative ways, like Jesus, to go the extra mile to serve even those who despise you in this life. As Luke 6:27-28 reminds us, “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

That is your assignment…       Amen.

 

The Temptation of Jesus – Jan. 27, 2019

George C. Parker was born on March 16, 1860 in New York City to Irish parents. He had four brothers and three sisters. Being in a large family meant that he had to speak up to be noticed and he had to be good at getting attention to get his needs met.

After Parker graduated from High School, work was hard to come by, so he became a con artist to make ends meet. In fact, George Parker was one of the greatest con men in US history.

A banker named David Hannum once said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” This quote has since been associated to PT Barnum but also with George Parker. Here’s why…

George Parker made his living illegally selling New York property that was not his own. He sold large public landmarks to immigrants who were trying to make a fast buck. Among his successes, he sold; the original Madison Square Garden, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Grant’s Tomb (by pretending to be the general’s grandson) the Statue of Liberty and you probably guessed it; The Brooklyn Bridge.

Parker was very good at creating fake documents and concocting very believable stories. He often claimed to be an architect that enjoyed building things rather than owning them. One newspaper article claimed that George Parker was ‘The man who sold the Brooklyn Bridge twice a week for 30 years’.

While his exploits are surly exaggerated, it is true that he sold the Brooklyn Bridge on a number of occasions. Police reported several instances where they had to remove people who claimed to own the bridge and began trying to collect tolls to cross it.

Parker was convicted of fraud 3 times. After one arrest, he stole a sheriff’s hat and coat and walked out of the courthouse and disappeared. After his final conviction, he was sentenced to a mandatory life sentence in Sing Sing Prison. He died eight years later behind bars, but he earned a reputation of being the most popular inmate. You see, everyone loved to hear the stories he told.

Ephesians 5:15 reminds us to, “Be very careful, then, how you live not as unwise, but as wise.” There are always those who will try to take advantage of us, they look for our weaknesses and prey on our needs and/or desires.

But there is no greater con man then the devil himself. The Bible says ‘he masquerades as an angel of light’, that he is a manipulator of truth; 1 Corinthians 14:33 calls him The Author of Confusion, John 8:44 reads, “When he speaks, he speaks in his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies, – and finally, 1 Peter 5:8 says ‘he is like a roaring lion waiting for someone to devour’.

Rev. Kent Crocket once remarked, “The devil looks like a nice guy. He gives you what you most want…but at a very high price.”

1 Corinthians 7:5 reminds married couples to stay connected and to not be tempted because of a lack of self-control. But this really applies to all of us. No one understood this better than Jesus himself.

After his Baptism by John the Baptist, Luke chapter 4 begins, “Then, Jesus full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan river. He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for 40 days he was tempted by the devil.”

Matthew’s Gospel tells us that Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. All he had and needed was some water and the Spirit of God to fill him. Gandhi fasted for 21 days while in his 70s. And doctors agree that humans can fast without food (only water) for at least up to 2 months.

The desert is hot, desolate, wild and harsh. It is a tough place to be when you are fasting and praying. It quickly zaps your energy. Jesus was fully human and wrestling with internal and external questions. After 40 days, he had passed the worst of the stomach grumbling and hunger pains. But he was surely exhausted and the idea of sitting down to a good meal must have been on his mind constantly.

And that is when Satan, the Adversary, shows up in the desert. He knew what Jesus had been through and he was looking for Jesus’ weaknesses. And he found 3 possibilities…

First he sees Jesus’ physically weak state. “Haven’t eaten in a while, huh? I bet you’re starved. If you are ‘the Son of God’, tell those stones to become bread.” What little imagination he has. Let’s turn these stones into a steak, baked potato and apple pie ala-mode, right?

The Devil is appealing to his hunger, his appetite. Our drive to eat is a very basic human need. He is hoping to break Jesus down on a physical level. I can hear Satan whispering, “Give up this fast, its ok. You’re only human. Go ahead satisfy your own needs and desires.”

Really, that doesn’t sound that bad. In a short time, Jesus would be multiplying loaves and fishes, so what’s the harm? But no! Jesus is showing him and us that we can stand up to the liar. If he is to beat Satan, he must do it as a man, without heavenly powers. His strength must came from his relationship to the Father in heaven – not from himself.

Right now, Jesus was seeking the will of his Father in heaven; that came first. Later, as recorded in John 4:34, we see this more fully explained, Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”

So Jesus answered, “It is written; Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matt. 4:4) Thwarted, Satan tries again…

The second temptation deals with Jesus’ ego and pride. Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” Matthew 4:5-6.

The southwest corner of the Temple, according to Josephus, was a designated spot on the corner of the Temple, high above the houses and shops below, from which the priest stood when blowing the trumpet. It was probably about 450 feet high.

Satan is saying, ‘prove who you say you are. If you are divine and of God, nothing can happen to you.”

But Jesus understands that he is here to do the will of God, not to try to force God to serve or rescue  him. Ultimately, Jesus came ‘to give his life’, so this is contradictory to God’s plan.

So Jesus does not concede. He answered, “It is also written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” (Matt. 4:7)

Finally, the devil appealed to Jesus’ desire for power and dominion over the earth. The Bible says, “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’” (Mt. 4:8-9)

Satan took Jesus to a mountain, probably Mt. Hermon located at Israel’s northern border. It was the tallest mountain in Israel. Once there, he offered Jesus a shortcut to power and glory. In God’s plan Jesus would be given the place of supremacy only after suffering and being raised from the dead. In Satan’s plan, Jesus could bypass the cross and reign over the kingdoms of the world now.

In many ways this must have been a tempting offer. Jesus just had to hit the easy button! In exchange, all He had to do was bow down and worship Satan. Surely, just the thought of that broke the spell of the temptation.

Imagine, asking Jesus to ‘accept everything that God already owns’; also, everything that was created was created through Jesus and for him. In the end it may save Jesus from pain and suffering – but it would condemn the rest of us. Again, Jesus remains steadfast. He said, “Away from me Satan! For it is written: “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” (Matt. 4:10)

You will notice, Jesus used no special powers, did not give Satan an inch and held his ground. That is how you do it; that is how you avoid temptation. Jesus proved that it can be done by any man or woman.

The truth is, we don’t follow his lead as often as we should. We stumble and fall when it comes to temptations of the flesh, to our pride and for want of power and ease. Jesus taught us that we can overcome through him with the Holy Spirit, when we stay near the Father and scripture.

I Corinthians 10:12-13 reads, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to all mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

One day, John Wesley was walking along the road with a friend who was deeply distressed and troubled. Then, the man expressed his ‘doubts of God’s goodness’. “I don’t know what I should do with all my worries and troubles,” he said.

At that point, Wesley noticed a cow looking over a stone wall, and asked the question, ‘Why does a cow look over the wall?’ Annoyed the man said, “I don’t know, because it can’t see through it, I suppose.” 

“Precisely!” said Wesley, “So, if you can’t see through your troubles, try looking over them and look up to God.”

We know that Satan is going to test us, so why wait until the last minute to fight him? Is it any wonder we give in and fail? Jesus showed us ‘how to stand strong in trials and temptations’. We just have to follow his example.

If we already know we are going to be tempted, why not be ready with scripture and filled with the Spirit ahead of time?  History proves that hard times define us as people and as a nation. Mankind, with the help of God, always makes it through. That is because we were created in love to endure through Christ.

Put your hope in God, just as Jesus taught us. It is by the saving grace of Jesus that we live to fight another day. If he could endure the cross for us, we can certainly overcome life’s temptations with his guidance.

I want to end with this illustration; A jeweler explained the way to tell a real diamond from a fake one. He said: “An imitation diamond is never as brilliant or strong as a genuine stone.

“If your eye is not experienced enough to detect the difference, a simple test is to place the stone under water. The imitation diamond is practically extinguished. A genuine diamond sparkles bright under water and is distinctly visible. If you place a genuine stone beside an imitation under water, the contrast will be apparent even to the least experienced eye.”

“The real diamond,” he said, always shines out when it is under pressure or when it is tested.”     

So, be the real deal. Shine the truth of Christ and you will survive and stand out in the darkest, most troubled times. Follow his lead, you don’t have to be a superhero, you just have to know, trust and serve the Lord.         

Your assignment is…to read and memorize one short passage of scripture that can help you, if you feel overwhelmed or tempted. And remember, as Ephesians 5:15 reminds us, “Be very careful how you live, live wisely.” Do not be taken in by anyone who wants to con you; especially the devil!

Jesus alone, showed us the way through.

Amen.

The Baptism of the Lord – Jan. 13, 2019

In the movie “O’ Brother Where Art Thou”, three criminals breakaway from a chain gang and go in search of buried treasure. While on the run they approach a river where a church group is baptizing its new converts.

After hearing the pastor say that God is washing away sin and setting folks free, two of the criminals run into the river to be baptized. As they emerge from the river, they are very excited. They immediately think all of their past sins are gone and that they are innocent again, so the police cannot touch them.

Then the third convict, played by George Clooney, remarks, “The Lord may have forgiven you and washed your sin away, but the State of Mississippi isn’t so forgiving and you still have to pay your debt.” 

That’s when a look of shock comes over their faces. Sure they got wet but they failed to understand a deeper truth. There was no real repentance or change of heart by them. And there was no connection to the community of believers or to God.

Baptism in Hebrew is referred to as MIKVEH meaning an immersion. Our word Baptism actually comes from the Greek word ‘baptismo’ again meaning to be immersed. Basically it is an immersion into another substance, for the purpose of being saturated by it.

Examples are; when you dye a garment, every fiber is penetrated or saturated by the dye. Or when you pickle, the cucumbers are immersed in the brine until they take on a new flavor or nature. In the instance of baptism, that substance is water but the idea is not meant to drown the person.

While water is the symbol of baptism, there is nothing magic or transformative about it. In other words, baptism does not save us. That is why the amount of water or type of baptism performed is not important. As United Methodists we sprinkle, pour or immerse. When we say, The Lord washes away sin; we believe there is a deeper spiritual process going on. There is also an issue of identity involved.

To the early believers, water represented chaos. The seas were unpredictable and menacing. The oceans held great creatures that could sink ships and take lives. It was part of the great unknown. But God could control and overcome the chaos in life. God separated the waters and made land appear in the book of Genesis. God divided the Red Sea for Moses and the Israelites.

The Bible tells us that Jesus could calm the waters and even walk on water. Chaos can turn our lives upside down but ultimately God has final control. God brings order out of chaos.

When God saved Noah and his family through the flood, they released a dove to see if the water had receded. One evening, the dove returned with a fresh olive branch in its beak. The last time the dove was released, it did not return.

Some early believers thought that the dove that disappeared from Noah’s Ark was the same dove that appeared above the head of Jesus when he was baptized. The dove showed God’s Spirit of Power over the waters of chaos and they believed it was being passed onto Jesus.

In his book ‘Stories for the Soul’, Raymond McHenry shares this baptism story; When Texas Pastor Jim Denison was in college, he served as a summer missionary in East Malaysia. While there, he attended a small church. At one of the church’s worship services, a teenage girl came forward to announce her decision to follow Christ and be baptized.

During the service, Denison noticed some worn-out luggage leaning against the wall of the church building. He asked the pastor there about it. The pastor pointed to the girl who had just been baptized and told Denison, “Her father said that if she was baptized as a Christian she could never go home again. So she brought her luggage.”

Baptism incorporates and identifies us with a specific community of believers. In other words, it makes us part of the family of God. But it also signifies our willingness to be bound in Christ. Through baptism, we are forgiven, cleansed and joined with other believers.

It is through the death and resurrection of Jesus that we are saved not by any acts of our own.      It is a gift from God. In it, I believe, God offers us a special blessing.

I also believe, that baptism is, one step towards a greater spiritual transformation. Let me explain… At the time of Christ’s birth, baptism served 1 of 2 purposes; although John the Baptist added a third option.

1) There was the baptism of conversion.

2) There was the baptism that initiated ‘a call’ from God.

3) And Finally, John’s was a baptism of repentance.

First, People who wanted to convert to Judaism were required to be baptized into a new life and new community. Theirs was a baptism of conversion. They were called to die and be reborn as new people of the Jewish faith.

Gentiles who wanted to become Jews had to undergo a three step process: The first step was they had to offer a sacrifice. The next step, the men had to be circumcised.  And the third step was, after the circumcision wound had healed, they went through the final step of baptism.

Jesus was already a Jew, so he had no reason to be converted.

Second, John the Baptist preached a baptism of repentance. “Repent,” he said, “For the kingdom of heaven is near.” To repent is to turn away from your sin and go in the opposite direction. It means; to take an active role in living a God directed life.

John’s baptism was unique because it called all people, Jews and Gentiles, to confession and repentance. This is why they gave him the name ‘The Baptist’. Crowds came to him to confess their sins and be baptized so they could be ready when God’s Messiah came. That is why the Pharisees and the Sadducees came out to see what John was doing. They wanted to know if he was doing this ‘in the Spirit of Elijah’ in preparation for the coming king.

Jesus didn’t need to repent because he had not sinned. That is why John initially refused to baptize Jesus and said, “I need to be baptized by you.” So to be baptized like this for Jesus, again, made no real sense.

Finally, the Jewish tradition dictated that those who were called to be priests need to be washed, cleansed and anointed first. This was a baptism of presentation for the call. There were Temple pools set aside just for that purpose. All priests were consecrated when they reached the age of 30. 

Leviticus 8:6 reads, “Then Moses brought Aaron and his sons forward and washed them in water.” Then he dressed them in the proper clothing and anointed or consecrated them with oil to take their places as the Temple priests. This act initiated Aaron’s ministry as ‘The High Priest’.

Similarly, the baptism of Jesus also initiated and consecrated Jesus for his call to step up as Teacher and Savior. This was literally his inauguration into public ministry.

While Jesus had no need to repent, he still aligned himself with us and our sin. He had no reason to convert, yet he recognized how it felt to be an outcast and chose to sympathize with us. He also did it, because God demanded it and he was always faithful.

So, he chose to focus on God and take his place in obedience, humility and accept his call from God to save us. You see, pleasing God has more to do with our attitude and actions than our going through the motions.

After Jesus was baptized, something remarkable happened. Matthew says, “Heaven was opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting him.”  Mark records, “Jesus saw heaven being ‘torn open’ and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove.” One pastor wrote, “All heaven broke loose”.

Luke states that heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the shape of a dove. And a voice came from heaven saying, “You are my son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Matt. 5:17) Finally, John writes, “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him.”

Just a note, the Spirit is not a dove but descended like a dove. In other words, the spirit hovered over Jesus and delicately came to rest upon him. But the image of a dove is also important because a dove was an offering made by the poorest in their society. This symbolized that Jesus came for all people; rich and poor; Jews and gentiles alike.

Depending on which Gospel were reading, we may not capture the full experience. In John’s gospel, the voice of God ‘spoke to him in the past’. But in the other 3 Gospels, we see the full power of how God manifests himself, – present at the same time. In this dramatic scene we already grasp the identity and function of the Trinity (a word that means tri-3 and Unity).

We hear the Father, the One who sends the Son to redeem the human race, the Son as the obedient servant who accomplishes the will of the Father, and the Holy Spirit as the sanctifier who empowers the mission of redemption. It is the most complete picture we have of the work of God in three persons.

Here is what I believe happened; when Jesus emerged from the water, I think heaven burst open just like it did for the shepherds in the fields. I think there were flashes of lightening and the boom of God’s voice was like thunder.

I don’t imagine he spoke in a soft whisper. If you are proud of your child, how many of us would remain silent or soft spoken? Psalm 18:13 says the voice of the Lord thunders from heaven. 

The words recorded in Matthew about Jesus, closely align with the prophecy in Isaiah 42:1, listen, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I put my Spirit in him and he will bring justice to the nations.

When Jesus chose to accept his calling from God, God was delighted and I think the same is true for each of us. When we repent, get baptized and align ourselves with God, I think the heavens rejoice.

Luke 15:10 says, “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Early on, I said that I believe Baptism is one step towards a greater spiritual transformation. After we accept Jesus as Lord and savior, baptism is the next step. Then, we become members.  Unfortunately that is where many folks stop – but that is not what is meant.

Our Baptism is really an awakening not something to check off a list. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, I believe we are to repent, and turn our lives around. While Baptism only takes a few minutes, it will take us the rest of our lives to become like Jesus.

Through baptism, we are converted as lost children and adopted into God’s family. Fully loved and fully meant to live and act like his family members.

And finally, I believe we are all being called by God to serve in some way, in his kingdom. Baptism is a pledge to follow Christ, wherever he leads us. It is our purpose and our mission. It is the time when real discipleship and commitment start. It is the time we grow closer to Jesus and listen for His call upon our lives.

We are all called for different purposes; Paul explains it well in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4. The body of Christ needs every one of us to take our place in serving the Kingdom. He gave us each gifts to use, don’t waste Them!

The Christian walk is not over when we come to faith, the adventure and journey is just beginning. Ours is a path of becoming all that God intends for us to be.

It takes prayer, study, solid relationships, and discernment. It is not magic it is intentional hard work. But here is the thing; heaven rejoices everytime we move in the right direction.

Let’s celebrate our baptism. It is our call to action.

Remember your baptism, be thankful and be blessed.

Amen.