Category Archives: Sermon Notes – 2019

The Women: Watching and Praying Notes – Apr. 7, 2019

Isabelle Baumfree was born into slavery in 1797 near Rifton, New York. Her exact birth date was never known, as was typical of children born into slavery. Belle, as she was called, was sold at the age of 9 at auction with a flock of sheep for $100. Two years later she was sold to a Bar owner for $105. Two years after that, at the age of 13, she was sold again to a farmer named John Dumont.

At the age of 18, she fell in love with another slave, named Robert, who worked at a neighboring farm. She became pregnant but sadly the child died during birth. To punish her, her owner raped her. Again, Belle became pregnant and had a son with him she named Peter. Robert, on the other hand, was brutally beaten and he died a few years later.

In 1817, New York passed an Emancipation act that would free slaves born before 1799, but it was not set to take effect until 1827. When Dumont told Belle he would not set her free, inspite of the law, she escaped during the night from his farm with her infant daughter.

Belle later learned that Dumont had illegally sold their son, Peter, to an owner in Alabama. So she took the new owner to court to get her son back. In 1828, Belle became one of the first black women to win in court against a white man and get her son back.

From 1828-1843, Belle led a very messy life with little hope. But everything changed that year, when she learned about Jesus and on June 1st, she became a Methodist. At that time she also changed her name to Sojourner Truth. (That name should ring a few bells)

In 1843, Truth became convinced that God had called her to leave the city and go into the countryside “testifying to the new hope that was in her”. She went on to preach about abolition, women’s rights, prison reform, and she testified brilliantly to the Michigan Legislature against capital punishment.

Sojourner Truth died on November 26, 1883 but her legacy of love in the face of hate lives on. In 2014, Sojourner Truth was included in the Smithsonian magazine’s list of the “100 Most Significant Americans of All Time”.

Sojourner Truth was a voice that could not be stifled. She was a slave, a woman, and an African American (all of which should have kept her quiet) and yet, as a child of God, that trumped everything else. You see, God doesn’t choose people because they are male or female, black or white or any other race, He looks at the heart.

This is also clearly the case in the life of Jesus. While it is true that Jesus choose 12 men to be his disciples, it would take a long time until they came into their own. They were arrogant; fighting over who could set on Jesus’ right side. They were argumentative; willing to challenge Jesus’ own words.

They were rash; they wanted to bring fire down from heaven on their enemies. They didn’t listen well; often missing the meaning of what Jesus said. They were undisciplined; falling asleep when they were supposed to stay awake. And they were timid; running away when Jesus was arrested.

On more than one occasion, Jesus told his disciples to watch and pray. He warned them that it was easy to be tempted because the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. One of the 12, Judas, would betray Jesus yet none of the other disciples saw it coming.

What we often miss in the scriptures; is what was going on in the background; the ones who really spent their time watching and praying, where the women. They were the ones who stood be Jesus through thick and thin. And in the first century, that was not the norm.

In Jesus’ day, women were considered, by many, unremarkable, ordinary and even considered an annoyance. Often, they were treated more like property than equal partners. Women rarely owned property; it was usually in their husbands or father’s name.

Women were considered unreliable witnesses and could not testify in court. They were considered weak-minded and were not taught the Word of God like young men were. In fact, in the Jewish Talmud it says ‘that it is better to burn the Torah than to teach it to a woman’.

In their morning prayers, Rabbi’s and Pharisees would pray, “I thank God, that I was not born a Gentile, a dog, or a woman.” (Do you notice the order? Women come after man’s best friend – SICK!) Men were required to pray daily, women were not. And women were never allowed to interrupt a man while he was speaking or teaching.

Men were not supposed to greet or talk to women in public and never to be caught alone with one! Touching a woman resulted in a beating. And get this, if a man passed a woman on the street, he was to avert his eyes or close them altogether!

And Philo, a Jewish Philosopher, taught that women should never leave the home unless it was to go to the Temple. And as we know, while they were there, they were to sit in the outer courts, separate from the men. Women were generally married off young and had no legal standing to go to court or file for divorce.

Yet Jesus did something remarkable in his teaching, leading and general practice; he made women a central part of all of it. Let’s take a deeper look…

First, when Jesus told parables or stories, he often made women the central character; this was unheard of in his day. He was constantly elevating their worth and status. For example,

In Matthew 13:33, Jesus tells this parable, “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about 60 pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

Luke 15:8-10 tells the parable of The Lost Coin. In it, a woman losses 1 of 10 silver coins and carefully searches with a lamp until she finds it. She is resourceful and thorough.

Luke 18:1-9 is almost unbelievable; it is the story of The Persistent Widow. A woman, who is not even allowed in court, keeps going before a judge seeking justice. And she doesn’t give up until the judge gives in.

Finally, In Mark 12:41-44 we have the story of the Poor Widow’s Offering (also called the Widow’s Mite). A widow put into the Temple Treasury two very small copper coins, less than a penny to us, and Jesus praises her for giving more than all others.

These are just a few examples. Scholars tell us that over a third of Jesus’ lessons included women. 

Second, Jesus was sensitive to women’s needs and feelings. In Luke 7:12, we find Jesus and his Disciples traveling near the town of Nain. There is a funeral procession going by. And a woman who has already lost her husband, has now lost her only son. Jesus sees her and he is moved to comfort her. “Don’t cry,” he said. And then he raised her son back to life.

In Luke 13:10-14, Jesus heals a woman who is crippled and bent over on the Sabbath. Also, in Mark 5:24-34, Jesus was on his way to heal the daughter of a synagogue ruler, when someone touched the hem of his cloak. What does Jesus do? He stops to talk to the woman who has had a bleeding issue for 12 long years.

“Who touched me?” Jesus asked. When the woman falls at his feet, I think Jesus smiled at her when he said, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

In John 8:3-11, the Teachers of the Law and Pharisees dragged a woman caught in adultery before Jesus. According to the law, she should be stoned. They ask, “What do you say we should do with her?”

Jesus bent down and wrote in the dirt, then said, “If anyone of you is without sin, let him be the first to cast a stone at her.” Eventually, they all walk away and Jesus chose not to condemn her either. “Go and leave your life of sin,” he responds. I could go on but you get the point.

Third, Jesus supported and affirmed women when he taught them and allowed them to follow and become disciples. Who can forget Luke 10:38-42, when Mary was sitting listening to Jesus and Martha was rushing around. Jesus states, “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Or Jesus talking and teaching the woman at the well in John 4:1-42. Many only focus on Jesus confronting her about her past affairs – but if you miss him teaching her; you miss the truth of the story. Jesus is explaining to her about worshiping ‘in spirit and truth’.

When the woman leaves the well and goes back to her hometown, where she becomes an evangelist. She shares about Jesus and his Good News and many believe because of her testimony! Don’t miss that Jesus sat with her alone and his disciples were shocked!

Many women supported his ministry financially and with hard work. They were an active and vital part of his life and ministry.

Finally, fourth, Jesus had a way of honoring and respecting women. His own mother had a greater voice than Joseph, his adopted father, in the scriptures. Later, when Mary informed Jesus that there was no more wine at the wedding, Jesus listened and turned water to wine.

While Jesus told his male disciples to watch and pray, it was the women who remained faithful to him. Mark 15:40-41 reminds us that while the men ran off, the women watched from a distance. “Among them, Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James the younger and Joses and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed Jesus and cared for his needs.”

While there were 7 or more women followers mentioned by name, scripture says many others also followed. When many men left because Jesus’ teaching was too tough, the women remained. And in the end, they stood by him on the cross – and went to anoint his body in the tomb.

Is it any wonder he honored them by allowing them to be the first to witness and share the Good News that He was alive and that the grave could not hold him? All along, they watched and they prayed. They took action and they believed!

Throughout the Bible and history, women have taken prominent rolls; teaching, leading, proclaiming; they were apostles, prophets and evangelists. Acts 2:17 reaffirms the Prophet Joel’s words that “Your sons and daughters will prophesy.”

And in Acts 21:9 it’s recorded that Philip had 4 unmarried daughters that prophesied.

Here is my final thought; God is calling us, all of us, to watch, pray and proclaim the Gospel to the world and if we fail, he will find another way. He will do it through our kids, through those who we may believe have no voice, or even through the stones if we fail to stand up and speak out.

So be alert (Watch), take your concerns to the Lord (Pray) and the last part is to respond (Go). We all still have a lot to learn from the women of the Bible.

Your assignment is…to read, in preparation for Holy Week, the stories of the women who followed Jesus during his last days. What can we learn from them about compassion, love and service? Then, let us live like true disciples of Jesus Christ, modeling them.

Amen.

There must be some Misunderstanding – Mar. 31, 2019  

On June 12, 1987 at 2pm, Ronald Reagan stood at the Brandenburg Gate in West Germany and said, “We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

Historians tell us that the speech had very little news coverage and that Reagan’s challenge fell on deaf ears. The wall was 12 foot high and had been erected in 1961 but the ideological gap between East and West Germany was immense. Simply taking down the wall could never happen without years of preparation, and that would most certainly never happen…or so they thought.

By October of 1987, East Germany was so disrupted by major protests and civil disobedience, that the communist regime decided something must be done to ease the tensions. East Germans demanded the freedom to travel to West Germany, and not have their movement restricted. So, the Communist Party leadership decided to meet these demands, and came up with a set of regulations designed to ease the process of traveling in between the two Germany’s.

The Communist Party finally agreed on a new set of rules for travel early in November. Then on November 9th, the Berlin Communist Party leader set a press conference to discuss these new regulations. Shortly before the conference, he was given a note that detailed how the new regulations would work. What the note didn’t contain, however, was the exact time when they would go into effect.

So after he announced the changes at the press conference, the journalists asked when they would go into effect. Caught unprepared, and with no obvious future date, he responded with “As far as I know, it takes effect immediately, without delay”. Immediately, waves of people stormed the Berlin Wall border crossings, demanding to gain access into West Berlin.

Vastly outnumbered, confused and with no clear orders, the East German border guards tried to hold off the crowd but eventually they gave in. Soon after, all order broke down and no form of regulation that restricted movement was capable of being enforced. Within the next few hours and days, the process of destroying the Berlin Wall was in full swing. Because of one ‘little misunderstanding’ – one mistake, the Berlin Wall fell and there was no way to stop it.

As we all know, most misunderstandings don’t have such a happy ending. Over the simplest of things; people’s feelings get hurt, relationships fall apart and friends become enemies. Sometimes it is because of what someone said – but just as often it is about what was not said.

In 2002, Chicago University Psychology Professors Boaz Keysar and Anne Henly did a study on communication. What they found was that nearly half of all communication, 46%, was often misunderstood. One of their statements was, “When it comes to communication, people overestimate their skill.”

Keysar writes that we all have a false sense of clarity, he calls it an ‘illusion of control’. We know what we mean to say, even if we say it wrong. And the trouble is, people generally speaking, do not listen well. In fact, it is amazing we understand each other at all!

The reason this is so important is because we were created by God, in His image, as social beings. You may recall, in Genesis chapter 2 when God created the first man (adam means man in Hebrew), he was lonely. In Chapter 2:18 God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

We were created to be in intimate relationships; both with God and others. And so, we want to be known and to really know others. It is part of our make-up. The last thing we want is to be misunderstood and yet, this will always be an ongoing battle in our lives.

No one understands this more than God. In what we believe to be the earliest book of the Bible, Job, there is an awful lot of misunderstanding going on. Job’s life is a mess and so his friends come to comfort him. The best thing they did was to just sit quietly and grieve with him.

You see, they have no idea what he is going through or why it is happening to him. So, they gave him a lot of bad advice and even accused him (and/or his kids) of doing something wrong to offend God. Finally, Job cries out in frustration to God. He wants answers for all the injustice he has endured.

Then God speaks in Chapter 38:1-4, “Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said: Who is this that darkens my council with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.”

Job must finally admits in 42:3, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” The truth is, humans struggled throughout Old Testament times to understand God and often got things wrong. We see this fully when Jesus came down.

Jesus repeatedly uses the phrase “You have heard it said, but I say.” He was using a rabbinic phrase – the word “say” (amar) was used by the rabbis to mean “interpret” — in terms of giving the proper interpretation of the scriptures and how to apply them to the laws.

In other words, Jesus was saying, ‘You misunderstood. You got it wrong. Here is how you are to interpret what I (God) said.’

In Proverbs 25:11, King Solomon writes, “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” Interpreted; a well-spoken word is a thing of beauty.

While Jesus spoke in ways that amazed many, it is shocking how few actually heard and understood him at the time.  He was misunderstood, right from the beginning. John 1:5 reads, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not understand it.”

His mission was to serve and not to be served. He came to give his life, not to come and take lives. Some thought him a king, others a prophet, others a military leader or an imposter.

– His family thought he was crazy. (Mark 3:21- “He is out of his mind!”)

– His neighbors didn’t recognize him as the Messiah. (Mark 6:3 – “Isn’t this the Carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son? Don’t we know his brothers and sisters? Who does he think he is?”)

– The Pharisees and teachers of the law rejected him and plotted against him to end his life. (Mark 3:6)

– His followers misunderstand him and his mission. They reject his plan (Matthew 16:22) and abandon him when he is arrested (Mark 14:50).

– When he spoke hard words, many walked away. (John 6:60).

– Many celebrated him as he entered Jerusalem but quickly turned on him when he didn’t turn out to be the king they expected. (Mark Chapter 11 and Mark Chapter 15)

Christian Singer-Songwriter Michael Card writes, “Jesus often said things that were easily misunderstood and rarely did he explain himself. As the Gospel’s progress, Jesus will become increasingly lonely until, on the cross, he’s all alone. His luminous answers were all misunderstood.”

“Why doesn’t Jesus explain himself more?” he asks. “Because Jesus did not come to explain himself: he was here to speak the truth. He was seeking the heart, not trying to win them over with what they saw with their eyes. Jesus wasn’t here to increase his fan club. He came because he wanted disciples that would live out their faith daily.”

Sadly, Jesus is still misunderstood. We want his blessings but we fail to take up our crosses and follow. We want miracles but fail to defend him when others speak his name in vain. Even though Jesus said he came to fulfill the law, many want to ignore it and live however they choose. I guess we want the saving more than the Savior.

The thing is, Jesus didn’t come to impress the world but to win it over. One pastor wrote, “They thought Jesus would resurrect the throne of David in Jerusalem. They had the wrong resurrection in mind.” I agree. They wanted transformation outside but not so much inside.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Shallow understanding from people of good will is far more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.”

Oswald Chambers writes in his book ‘My Utmost for His Highest’ a devotional called, “Isn’t there some misunderstanding?” He writes,          

“Faith is not intellectual understanding; faith is a deliberate commitment to the person of Jesus Christ, even when I can’t see the way ahead. Are you debating whether you should take a step of faith in Jesus, or whether you should wait until you can clearly see how to do what He has asked? Simply obey Him with unrestrained joy.

“When He tells you something and you begin to debate, it is because you have a misunderstanding of what honors Him and what doesn’t. Are you faithful to Jesus, or faithful to your ideas about Him? Are you faithful to what He says, or are you trying to compromise His words with thoughts that never came from Him? “Whatever He says to you, do it.”

Someone once said, “Christians have so many reasons for why they do not live out their faith; they say ‘I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what to say, I am not good enough, who would listen to me anyway?’ We spend more time coming up with excuses when it would be easier to simply live like Christ and share his love.”

But we are afraid we will be misunderstood, someone will get upset with us or ignore us. An old Chinese proverb reads, “Be not disturbed at being misunderstood; be disturbed rather at not being understanding.”

And that is the key were we went to find our final solutions. If we are to remain cool and calm during times when words fly and tempers escalate, we must remember a few things.

1) Expect to be misunderstood from time to time. It will happen. It may be my fault or yours but placing blame is not going to solve our problem. Clarifying what we mean will.

1 Corinthians 14:33 reads, “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.”

2) The best defense is love. Don’t expect the worst. Trust that the other person cares. Recognize, we all make mistakes, misspeak and deserve a second chance. Luke 6:31 reads, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

3) Finally, Pray for those who misunderstand you. It is easy to love the people who understand you but hard to give others a break. Give it to the Lord. Luke 6:27-28 reads, “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.”

I want to end with this quote by the Reverend Warren Wiersbe, he writes, “If you live to please people, misunderstandings will depress you; but if you live to please God, you can face misunderstandings with faith and courage.”

Your assignment this week is…to resolve, or repair a relationship where you have had a misunderstanding. Or, pray for The Holy Spirit to help you overcome the barriers that block you from understanding God.

Let’s not just imagine what life might be like with less confusion, let’s actually do something about it.

Amen.

 

Count Your Many Blessings – Mar. 24, 2019

Daniel Defoe first published his novel ‘The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner’ on April 25, 1719. It is a beloved and often printed book, radio program, several movies and was made into a play.

Robinson Crusoe loves the sea. Against his parent’s wishes, he plans to travel to new worlds on the ocean. His first trip ends in a shipwreck and he is rescued. His second trip ends when his ship is over-taken by pirates, but he escapes. 

On his third voyage, Crusoe joins an expedition headed to Africa to bring back slaves. After a storm runs the ship aground, he is left stranded alone on a desert island. After he composes himself, he makes several trips out to the damaged ship for supplies before it breaks apart and sinks in the rough tide.

One of the things he collects from the Ship is a Bible. After he reads it, he decides to take account of his situation. He believes God is angry with him and he feels more cursed than blessed. So, he decided to make a list of everything he has and everything he is lacking.

He writes, “I have a knife, a tobacco pipe and a little tobacco in a box.” He later adds, “I have a little food, a dog and two cats, some tools, a gun, ammunition and a Bible. On the island I have fresh water and fruit. And there are animals here for me to hunt.”

On the back of the paper he writes, “I have only a few extra clothes but I do not need them because it is warm. I have no home but I can create a shelter. I have some money but it is useless here. I am alone but I have companionship. I am in despair but I have hope. I have very little but I have enough to get by. Before long he begins to recognize, for every negative, there is also a positive, in fact, there are more positives than negatives.

Then, after taking the inventory, Crusoe realizes he really is blessed. By counting his blessings and curses, he comes to the place where he thanks God and plans to make the best out of a bad situation. Crusoe has found a way to look on the bright side and see possibility.

And even though he is stranded on the island for 28 years and 19 months, he finds companionship with a man he calls ‘Friday’ and is eventually rescued. What he learns is that God is good. And, that if we are not careful, we might miss his blessings in disguise!

So, what does it mean to be blessed? The internet describes being blessed as; having good luck, financial prosperity, good health or receiving special rewards. People often say they are blessed when, everything is going well and they are free from troubles or worry. But, is that what it means to be blessed?

You might recall, when the angel appeared before Mary, the future mother of Jesus, he said, “You are highly favored Mary, you are blessed. The Lord is with you.” In her case, that certainly did not mean a problem-free life. Her blessings often felt like curses.

And on the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and the persecuted.” What kind of blessings are those?

Most of us like to believe in the narrowest of the Old Testament blessings. We like to read and believe in the Prayer of Jabez – if we just say and do the right things we will prosper in a worldly way. That is, in fact, one definition of a blessing.

To be honest, to bless or to be blessed has many different definitions in the Bible. In the Greek, when we give God praise, honor and blessings, the word is translated ‘to bend the knees’, worship or adore him. So to bless is an act of giving honor to God or another.

In Judaism, giving the blessing is expected before and after the meal, no food should ever be eaten until it is blessed by thanking God.

In the Hebrew translation being blest means we are to be happy or content in all situations. In this version, blessings and curses are closely related. Laura Story describes this well in her song, “Blessings”, listen to the lyrics,

“We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough
All the while, You hear each desperate plea,
And long that we’d have faith to believe

‘Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights – are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life – are Your mercies in disguise”

Finally, in another but not the last definition of a blessing, also in the Greek and Hebrew, the word blessed is translated ‘eulogy’ which means to speak well of another.    It is what we do at funerals but hopefully, also during life, which is more important.

To bless someone is to recognize their value and worth. We see this most prominently in the life of Isaac and his sons, Jacob and Esau. At a certain age, boys went to their father to receive his blessing.

As you might recall, Esau was the first born and Jacob disguised himself and went to his blind father to steal his brother’s blessing. Afterwards, Esau approached his father, only to find Jacob had already received his blessing.

Frustrated, Esau cried out, “Bless me — me too, father. Jacob took my birthright and my blessing. Haven’t you reserved any blessing for me? Do you have only one blessing?” Esau wept aloud, “Bless me too, father!”

Untimely, for Jacob, the stolen blessing was more like an anchor around his waist than a blessing on his forehead. Truth be told, there is often a struggle in the blessings we receive. Yet a blessing is always meant to be a sign of hope.

James 1:17 reads, “Every good and perfect gift comes from above.”

Not surprisingly, many blessings carry a spiritual component – it is something not always seen at the moment the words are spoken. It has a far in the future or long-term road to fulfillment. 

In the Bible, God raised Esther up to become the Queen of Persia. But her blessing also allowed her to bless others, when her uncle told her, “You may have obtained royalty for such a time as this.” She was to help the Jews who were to be killed. (Esther 4:14)

Likewise, Joseph was sold by his brothers and taken into captivity to Egypt, only to later save his family during the great famine in the land. In Genesis 50:19-21 he said, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.”

Finally, in Genesis 12:2-3 Abram was blessed by God, when he said, “I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you”. But God didn’t stop there, he said, “And so you then shall be a blessing and all of the people of the earth will be blessed through you.”

Most people look right by the blessings in life. We see the struggles but forget the longer term ways in which things ‘just work out well for us’. We ask, “Hey God, what have you done for me lately?” As if, we deserve to be blessed and to have an easy life. But God didn’t save us to spoil us, he has a greater plan.

Psalm 67:1-2 reads, “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us—so that Your ways may be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations.”

In other words, we are blessed to be a blessing to others. Like dominoes, one life affects the next. The problem is, if we do not recognize all the blessings we have been given, it is awful hard to pass them on. Why is it that so many people feel like they have been cheated and so few feel that they have been blessed? Maybe we just weren’t paying attention.

This story is called ‘A Dad’s Blessing’, listen…

A young man was getting ready to graduate from college. For many months, he had been admiring a beautiful sports car in a dealer’s showroom, and knowing his father could ‘well afford it’, he told him that was what he wanted. As graduation day approached, the young man awaited signs that his father had purchased the car. Finally, on the morning of his graduation, his father called him into his private study. His father told him how proud he was to have such a fine son, and told him how much he loved him.

Then the father handed his son a beautifully wrapped gift box. Curious, but somewhat disappointed, the young man opened the box and found a lovely, leather bound Bible, with the young man’s name stamped in gold. Furious, he raised his voice to his father and said, “With all your money, you only gave me a Bible?”

Then, he stormed out of the house, leaving the Bible in the package it came in, on his father’s desk. Many years passed and the young man was very successful in business. He had a beautiful home and a wonderful family. His heart began to soften and knowing his father was getting older, he thought he should go visit him. He had not seen him since his graduation day.

But before he could make the trip, he received a phone call telling him his father had passed away. Then he was told he would need to come back home and help with the final arrangements, since his father left everything to him.

When he arrived at his father’s house, a sudden sadness and regret filled his heart. He began searching through his father’s important papers. That is when he saw the Bible, still in the box, just as he had left it years ago. With tears in his eyes, he carefully picked up the Bible and began turning the pages. And as he did, a key dropped from the back of the Bible. It had a tag with the dealer’s name, the same dealer who displayed the sports car he desired. On the tag was the date of his graduation and it was marked with the words, PAID IN FULL. All those years passed, and he had missed the intended blessing.

The truth is, we were put on this earth by God, as part of a bigger plan. To be loved and to love; to be honored and to honor others; and to be blessed and to pass on that blessing to others.

The hymn “Count Your Blessings” was written by Johnson Oatman, Jr. was a Methodist Episcopal Lay Preacher and a businessman who worked for an insurance company in New Jersey. Oatman realized that all too often, in America, we take for granted all of the God given blessings and comforts we enjoy.

He wrote, “We revert into an attitude of self-satisfaction, expecting that peace and bliss will always follow us. During those times we should, with sincerity of heart, stop and count our blessings!” He wrote over 5,000 hymns but “Count your Blessings” is the one he is most remembered for.

After reflection on that song, Rev. Woodrow Kroll wrote, “Concentrate on counting your blessings and you’ll have little time to count anything else.”

Deuteronomy 28:1-6 reads, “If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God: you will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country. The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed. You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.”

You Will Be blessed and You Will Be a blessing to others.

So, what are your gifts and blessings and how do you share them? The truth is, we first know our gifts and blessings when others tell us what they see in us. So, tell someone where you see Jesus working in their lives – point out their gifts and let them know where there are blest.

Then, let us all use our gifts to be a blessing to others,…that is your assignment this week.

Amen.

 

“In, but not of the World” – Mar. 17, 2019

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is a 1982 Sci-Fi fantasy film directed by Steven Spielberg. It tells the story of Elliott, a boy who befriends an extraterrestrial, who is stranded on Earth. Elliott and his siblings help E.T. return home while attempting to keep him hidden from those who would cause him harm.

E.T. is a delightful movie, in part, because E.T. is kind, gentle and loving. He represents innocents and possibility. E.T. awakens hearts and shares love. Yet while E.T. is on earth, his focus is on getting back home. He is in the world but not of the world.

You might call E.T. a fish out of water story or the story of a stranger in a strange land. It is a common theme and one we know quite well. It is how we all feel when we start at a new school, start a new job or move to a new location.

We remember where we came from and now, where we are; it is like living in two different worlds. It is a paradox; we are halfway in and halfway out. It is how people feel who have dual citizenships.

In Rabbi Harold Kushner’s book ‘Living a Life that Matters’, he describes trying to live in two different worlds; one worldly and one Godly. “In one world we are competitive and striving for success and in the other world we are learning to live where compassion and sacrifice dominate. In one world, we climb the ladder of success – and there are winners and losers. In the other, we live ‘beyond ourselves’ and we try to find meaning and significance in the things of God. In one world, the moral absolutes tend to shift – and in the other they remain constant.”

So, which world do you spend the most time in?

As Christians, we are called to walk a very fine line. We are to be in the world but not overly influenced by it. We are called to have Godly values not worldly ones. Yet most statistics on believers and non-believers indicate that we live almost identical lives. Our spending habits, lifestyle choices and moral beliefs are remarkable similar to those living around us outside the church.

As Christians we need to think about what we are doing and why we are doing it and to not just do what everyone else is doing. Interestingly, Eugene Peterson, in his popular version of the Bible called The Message, translates Romans 12:2a as: “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit in to it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.”

One scholar wrote, “The problem is that the secular has absorbed the sacred in the lives of most Christians today.” The one sacred place in most Christians lives is the church. We worship for one hour on Sunday and shift back to our regular lives for the rest of the week, where we give God little to no access.

The great preacher Charles Spurgeon wrote in a sermon in 1874, “To a man who lives for God, nothing is secular, everything is sacred. He puts on his workday clothes and it is a robe to honor God. He sits down to his meal and it is a sacrament. He goes forth to his labor, and therein exercises the office of the priesthood. His breath is incense and his life a sacrifice.”

Just imagine having higher thoughts, hopes, desires and plans that are focused on God all the time. Is that even possible? If we go and live with the Monks in a castle in the mountains, maybe, yet that takes us out of this world and defeats the purpose. And to be honest, that was never Jesus’ intent.

When he prayed to God, he said, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world – but that you protect them from the evil one.” And he ends with these words, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them ‘into the world’.”  (John 17:15-18)

Like Jesus, we are to be an active participant in the world. He ate with the least and the lost; tax-collectors, women of the night, the hurting and the neglected. He was fully engaged in the world yet not overcome by it.

Remember how Satan tempted him in the wilderness? He appealed to Jesus’ basic desires of hunger and thirst, to his basic need to survive and his integrity and finally to his pride, his ego. Yet Jesus stood his ground and refused to give in. Unfortunately these ‘same temptations’ often de-rail us.

And so our answer is to often to give in and to be too much like the world or to reject it all together. In one of my favorite songs by Building 429, called ‘Where I Belong’, the lyrics go like this…

Sometimes it feels like I’m watching from the outside,
Sometimes it feels like I’m breathing – but am I alive?
I won’t keep searching – for answers ‘that aren’t here’ to find

All I know is I’m not home yet this is not where I belong
Take this world and give me Jesus this is not where I belong

I love that song yet I realize that we must be careful how we interpret the song. Actually, this world is exactly where we belong, – for such a time as this. While our citizenship is in heaven, our focus and our purpose is — to do God’s work while we are here.

In a sermon, Billy Graham stated that the Bible is clear and we are not to become entangled in the world. He explains, “The word ‘world’ keeps coming up, so we might want to ask “What does it mean when we talk about the world?”

“First, he said, there is the created world. And we are not called to despise ‘the physical world’ and to reject it. In fact, Jesus gave his life for it. Paul tells us in Colossians 1:20, “that Jesus reconciled ‘to himself’ all things on earth and in heaven.”

“Second, ‘the world’ represents the inhabitants, of whom God loves and for whom Christ died. John 3:16 reads, “For God so loved the world – that He gave His only begotten Son that ‘whoever believes’ in him – shall not perish but have eternal life.”

“Third, there is ‘the world’ translated cosmos, our world system, which is headed by Satan and based upon self, greed and pride. This is the world that God warns about, and it is this world system and philosophy that Christians are to shun and remain free from.”

In Ephesians 2:2 Paul warns us about ‘following the way of the world and of the ruler of the air (Satan), the spirit who is in those who are disobedient.” In other words, we are involved in a spiritual conflict. This is a battle between the forces of God and the forces of Satan, and we are involved intricately in it.

The world we are to stand in opposition to is best understood in Ephesians 6:12, “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.”

This world is the one we are called not to conform to. To conform means to mold to or to imitate and participate in. Yet when we stand at odds with what others believe, we feel like we don’t fit in, that we might even stand out or feel like a stranger in a strange land.

So we bow to peer pressure, go along with others so we fit in, laugh at inappropriate jokes, pass on the latest gossip, and keep our mouths shut when we should be speaking out. That is why we are losing this war; it is easier to hide than take a stand. It is time to make a change!

We are not the first to do this. Even the disciples went into hiding after the death of Jesus. It took the coming of the Holy Spirit to get them moving again. But when they finally spoke up, everything began to change.

Martin Luther said, “A Christian doesn’t reach maturity until he re-enters the world and embraces the world again, yet not in its worldliness and its ungodly patterns but as the theater and the arena of God’s redemption.”

That’s what Jesus did; he went into the world in order to save the world. This world is the world that God has committed himself to renew and redeem, and we are to participate in that with him. And when we do, that is when we begin to live a life that matters.

We’ve been rescued from the darkness and given the light not merely to flee the darkness, but to guide our steps as we go back in to rescue others. And the Bible tells us that others will know us by our love. (John 1:4-5 Reference)

Writer and Theologian Jean Vanier described our mission like this, “to love someone is not, first of all, to do things for them, but to reveal to them their beauty, worth and importance; to say to them through our attitude, ‘You are worthwhile. You are important. I trust you. You can trust yourself. To love someone is to reveal to them their capacities for life, love and to fully recognize the light that is shining within them.”

The thing is, those all around us are keenly aware of this world’s emptiness, its unfulfilled dreams and its failure to cope with life’s troubles. This world is inadequate to meet the deeper needs of the human heart. Without guidance, they will search in vain. The truth is, this emptiness they feel is the ideal soil for implanting the Gospel.

They will never find their answers out in the world, only Jesus can give them the peace they seek, because he does not give as the world gives. (John 14:27) The pleasures of this world are fleeting; people are always in search for something new, something more.

John Lennon’s song ‘Nowhere Man’ captures this essence of being lost and cynical,

“He’s a real nowhere man, sitting in his nowhere land,

Making all his nowhere plans, for nobody.

Doesn’t have a point of view, knows not where he’s going to

Isn’t he a bit like me and you?”

Jesus helps us rise above the monotony and the hopelessness the rest of the world suffers from. And he chose us out of the world and his kingdom is not going to return to dust, it is eternal. So with Jesus, we can set our minds on higher things and live faithfully in the here and now. We can live abundantly!

We can have the security of being in the world but not trapped in its downward spiral. And we can make the most of it, while we are here. We do that by being transformed ‘in Christ’ and then sharing our joy with others.

Others will know us by our fruit and the fruits of the spirit are; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When we pass on these gifts of God to others, we leave a living legacy, we live a life that matters, and then hearts are awakened and love lives on.

Your assignment this week is…to find you passion and live it out. What is God calling you, as an individual and all of us as a church to be and to do? It begins with our passion. Then, we allow Jesus to guide our steps, so that we are more in ‘his world’ – yet still helping bring the kingdom of God to ‘this world’.

                                                            “And All God’s People said, Amen”

 

“The Writing on the Wall” – Mar. 10, 2019

An umpire named Ralph ‘Babe’ Pinelli, who was once a third baseman for the Cincinnati Reds, called Babe Ruth ‘out’ after 3 strikes at the plate. He was told to never call a strike on Babe Ruth. This was when Babe Ruth was at the top of his career.

When the crowd booed with sharp disapproval at the call, the coaches and players braced themselves. They knew Babe Ruth had a quick temper and he was likely to be ejected from the game if he went off on the umpire. That’s when Babe Ruth turned to the umpire with disdain and yelled, “There’s 40 thousand people in this park that know that was a ball, tomato-head!”

Pinelli replied calmly, “Perhaps, but mine is the only opinion that counts.” Babe Ruth had no answer for that, he just lowered his bat and walked away.

To sit in judgment is to have power. It is to have the final word on a matter. Truth be told, we often like standing in judgment over others. We like seeing others get what they deserve.

Courtroom dramas and television shows are very popular and they used to tout the phrase, “This is a real court. You make the call, you be the judge, you decide.” And many times, simply by the way people look or act, before they are arrested and tried, we have already declared them guilty of a crime.

But as quick as we are to pronounce others guilty of some improper behavior, we ourselves would rebel if the roles we reversed. I hear folks regularly quote Matthew 7:1-2, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the same measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

But judgment is coming for us all; the Bible makes that all to clear. The truth, like that clever umpire said to Babe Ruth, is knowing whose opinion counts.

Before we begin our study in Daniel chapter 5 today, we need to get a grasp on the historical context. As you may recall, Daniel was captive under King Nebuchadnezzar the 2nd, whose reign lasted 43 years. It was prophesied by God that their captivity by Babylon would last 70 years.

After King Nebuchadnezzar’s death, his oldest son, Amel-Marduk, reigned over Babylon for 2 years, before his power hungry brother-in-law, a general, assassinated him and stole the crown.

6 years later, he died and left the kingdom in the hands of his youngest son. But the kingdom was unstable and only lasted a few months, when another son-in law of Nebuchadnezzar’s named Nebonidus, led a coup that murdered him. 

King Nebonidus spent most of his 14-year reign away from Babylon, securing the borders and strengthening his kingdom. So he appointed his son, Belshazzar, ruler over Babylon in his absence. Put in a modern context, King Nebonidus is living and protecting Saudi-Arabia and Belshazzar is in Iran.

That is where Daniel chapter 5 picks up, over 20 years after King Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. And that would make Daniel around 80-years-old, living in retirement.

King Nebuchadnezzar was a very clever king and had always kept peace between his nations and other surrounding ones by marrying into the families; he regularly married the daughters of other kings. Unfortunately, the rest of his relatives tried to rule by force.

Historians tell us that King Nebonidus was attacked and killed by the Medes and Persians and now they were approaching the city of Babylon. Inside the walls, Belshazzar was celebrating his new reign with a spectacular party.

He wasn’t worried, because the City of Babylon was considered invincible. No invader had been able to launch a successful attack against it for over 1,000 years. Babylon was 60 miles around in circumference, surrounded by a wall 350-ft-high and 87 ft across.

You could race 4 full chariots side-by-side around the top of the wall. Guards were constantly on watch as if they were guarding a prison wall. The Euphrates River ran through the middle of the city and there was also a 30-ft-mote outside the wall that ran around the city.

Over a million people lived in Babylon and even though the city was soon to be under siege, no one was worried because they had 20 years of supplies; even without planting new crops. By 6th Century standards, they were smug, sophisticated and superior.

In fact, Belshazzar was so sure of himself, that he arranged a great celebration banquet for 1,000 of his nobles and wives, to show he does not fear the army surrounding his city. The Bible says that King Belshazzar and his guests were drunk and involved in all kinds of perverse orgies. A modern example would be how executives at Enron behaved. It was total debauchery and hedonism.

Archeologists tell us that this party was held on the night of October 12, 539 B.C. They have apparently unearthed the banquet hall, where the party was held.

King Belshazzar had given all present free range to have the time of their lives. But as things started to get boring, he decided to notch things up a bit. “Bring me”, he demanded, “the gold and silver goblets, my grand-father pilfered from the Temple in Jerusalem, so that my guests and I may drink from them.”

Although this was not a religious event, whenever you toasted at a banquet, it was customary to honor the gods of Babylon. Belshazzar wanted to show that he had no fear of the Hebrew God or the army descending outside.

And just as they raised their goblets to drink, God showed up! Or at least his hand did. “Suddenly, a disembodied human-hand appeared and a finger began to write upon the plaster wall, near the lampshade in the royal palace.”

It was like something out of a ‘Twilight Zone’ episode. In truth, let’s not forget, they did have a lot to drink. But whatever it was that they saw, it sobered them up very quickly.

In fact, King Belshazzar was so frightened, he turned pale, lost all bladder control and scripture says, his knees buckled. As soon as the mysterious hand disappeared, he called for his enchanters, astrologers and diviners ‘to interpret the writing on the wall’. But all the king’s best men, could not read the words.

So King Belshazzar became even more frightened while his nobles and guests were also baffled and upset. Then, the Queen Mother, Belshazzar’s grandmother arrived.

“O King, live forever,” she began. “Don’t be alarmed! And get a grip on yourself.” She continued, “There is a man in the kingdom, with great wisdom and influence, who can interpret dreams, explain riddles and solve difficult problems.”

“Your grandfather, King Nebuchadnezzar appointed him, chief of all wise men, back before he retired. “So now, call for Daniel and he will tell you what this writing means.” So he sent for Daniel and when he arrived, King Belshazzar said,

“I have heard of you and your gift and would like you to explain what this writing means. If you can, I will cloth you in the finest purple robes, have a gold chain placed around your neck and make you the 3rd highest ruler in my kingdom.”

Daniel answered the king, “You keep your gifts for yourself, and give the rewards to someone else. Nevertheless, I Will read and interpret the writing.”

Then Daniel began, “O King, ‘The Most High God’ gave your grandfather Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty, greatness, glory and splendor. The king witnessed miracles. But when his heart turned cold, God humbled him and drove him out until he repented. In the end, King Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged the ‘Most High God’, who is over and above all.”

“But you, his grandson, have never humbled yourself. You knew all these things, and instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of Heaven. By drinking from the Sacred Goblets, you have spit in his face. Therefore, his hand has written this inscription.”

This is what is written, Mene, Mene means; that God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. And Tekel means; you have been weighed on the scales and were found wanting or lacking. And finally, Parsin means; your kingdom shall be divided and given to your enemies, the Medes and the Persians.”

Then Belshazzar gave all the gifts to Daniel, he had promised. But that night, unbeknown to them all, the Medo-Persian military commander ingeniously devised a way to divert the Euphrates River and lower the level of the moat. Once the water levels dropped, the army was able to wade in the mud into the city under the darkness of night. And they conquered the great city ‘without a fight’.

Then, on that night, King Belshazzar was slain and his dynasty fell forever; just as Daniel had predicted. King Belshazzar learned the hard way, – what the Bible says in Galatians 6:7,

“Do not be deceived, God cannot be mocked.”

We should also recall the parable that Jesus told in Luke 12:13-21. It was about a rich man who chose not to sell his good crop to help others around him, instead he built bigger barns to store his surplus. Then he sat back, took it easy and felt secure. But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded of you. Then, who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”

To this very day, the Jews love the stories in the Book of Daniel, because they are rich in divine judgment and show God active in human history.

And with all of the injustice in the world today, it isn’t hard to imagine and feel the way that they did, is it? Wouldn’t it be nice to see some of the most brazen, misguided people, get what they deserve? Yet the Bible tells us that all sin is punishable by death. No one can avoid it. And that no sin is greater than another. We have all fallen short, and will all be called to account. (Romans 3:23)

The only way to be prepared for that accounting is to know Jesus personally as Lord and Savior. We must turn our lives over to him and trust that he will deal with the rest of the injustice in the world. And we must believe, even when we do not see it, that God is working within history to right the wrongs.

In John 5:17, Jesus reminds us, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too, am working!” And we must remember that all things are going to be worked out in God’s Time, not ours.

Hebrews 4:12 reminds us that, “The Word of God is alive and active. Sharper than a two-edged sword.”

If God empowers us with his Holy Spirit, we might be forces for change in the world. But first, we have to read the writing on the wall for each of us. We must accept Jesus as Lord and Savior and secure our souls in Him before we can stand firm like Daniel. He was a guy who was constantly on his knees before the Lord in Prayer.

A National Poll conducted in 1993 asked Americans this question; “Do you believe it is true that all will be called before God on judgment day to answer for our sins?” Back then, 8 out of 10 Americans answered yes. In 2015, it dropped to 7 out of 10.

The follow up question was this one, “Knowing you will be judged by God one day, has it changed the way you live now?” Less then 1 in 5 said yes.

Just before the death of actor W.C. Fields, a friend visited Field’s hospital room and was surprised to find him thumbing through the Bible. Asked what he was doing with a Bible, Fields replied, “I’m looking for loopholes.”

We want justice for everyone else, bit loopholes for ourselves. I guess that is the American way. But it cannot be ‘the way of the Christian!’ Here is the thing, without mercy, forgiveness and grace, not only do we try to hold everyone else accountable, but in the end, we may end up trying to judge God. And we are in no place to judge God’s decisions.

Daniel spent his time in prayer, in study and remaining faithful to God in the small things. So when, when he was called to speak for God, he was secure and ready to be a faithful witness.

He was humble, tactful and trustworthy. He did not need to judge others he knew that God was in charge. And God’s judgment is always fair, honest and complete.

The writing is on the wall! Don’t ignore it. You never know when it will be too late.

Let’s Pray…………Amen