All posts by Carol

The Good Shepherd – Nov. 22, 2020

In 2015, the British stop-animation film company that brought us Wallace and Gromit, released the movie ‘Shaun the Sheep’. Shaun is a clever, confident sheep who is prone to mischief and often a little short-sighted. He lives with his flock at Mossy Bottom Farm on a traditional small Northern English Farm.

Shaun spends most of his time trying to escape the mundane, boring life of a farm animal. He likes to invent new things and play pranks on others. While he often gets in trouble, he is also just as adapt at getting himself and his friends out of it. There is no dialogue, other than his bleating. He communicates with his body language and by drawing diagrams on a blackboard.

The movie launched Shaun the sheep to super-stardom. There have been at least 2 movies, a TV series and many off-shoot projects. He is known world-wide and even has 5.5 Million Facebook fans, more than many real stars. The original movie won many awards and holds an amazing 99% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

One critic wrote, “Shaun the sheep connects so well because he is just like you and me. And as Isaiah 53:6 explains, ‘We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us turning to our own way.’  The creators of Shaun the Sheep know what makes us tick, and that will certainly bring a smile to your lips.”

I have to be honest, being compared to a sheep has never been high on my list of metaphors. It is supposed to indicate that the person being called a sheep is docile, compliant, and easily influenced, basically mindlessly following the herd without thinking. The thing is, we actually have a lot in common with sheep.

In 2007, Leeds University did a series of experiments with volunteers. They asked volunteers to randomly walk around a large hall without talking to each other. Researchers were looking for patterns.

The scientists found that most people end up blindly following one or two people that seem to know where they are going. In fact, 95% of the people follow 5% around without thinking about it. What they discovered is that people have strong pack behavior. Like sheep, we follow the crowd and react in sync with it.

That explains a lot about crowd mentality and crowd influence. In a group we feel safe – or we all panic. We move towards anger and violence or we move in unison toward feelings of peace. We move frantically at Black Friday sales and/or sing together at Sports stadiums. We are pack creatures.

An amazing part of how we act out depends on who is leading, that is why we need a good, strong faithful shepherd. The Bible is filled with warnings about bad shepherds and points us to the greatest shepherd of all.

In John 10:11-16 Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired hand, who is not a shepherd, and whose sheep is not his own, sees a wolf coming, and abandons the sheep and runs away. Then, the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them along also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”

In John’s gospel, we find a series of seven ‘I Am’ statements. Jesus said, 

  1. “I am the bread of life.” (John 6:35, 41, 48, 51)
  2.  “I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12)
  3. “I am the door of the sheep pen.” (John 10:7,9)
  4. “I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25)
  5. “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)
  6. “I am the true vine.” (John 15:1, 5)
  7. And “I am the good shepherd.” (John 10:11, 14)

These tell us a lot about his relationship to the Father, who also said to Moses, “Tell Pharaoh, “I Am – or I am who I am”. Jesus was declaring to all who would listen, that he was God incarnate.

In this passage from John, Jesus is separating himself from the Pharisees and Sadducees and other false prophets. You want a true leader, he was saying, I am the good shepherd. Others took advantage of the people or abandoned them during hard times, but not Him.

Max Lucado writes that most of the people Jesus spoke to were farmers and nomads. He writes, “80% of Jesus’ listeners made their living off the land. Many were shepherds. They lived on the mesa with the sheep. No flock ever grazed without a shepherd, and no shepherd was ever off duty. When sheep wandered, the shepherd found them. When they fell, he carried them. When they were hurt, he healed them.” (From Safe in the Shepherd’s Arms)

We know what Good Shepherds looked like in the Bible. Abel, Abraham, Lot, Moses, Rachel, the daughters of Jethro and David were all good shepherds. They cared for the sheep, even fought off predators to save their sheep.

David told King Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it.” (1 Samuel 17:34-37)

A Good Shepherd puts his life on the line for his sheep. Where hired hands run away, the true sheep’s owner defends his sheep. Even to the point that he will give his life to protect them. He does it, in part, because they are meek, easily spooked, and easily misguided.

In the 23rd Psalm we read, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures.” Phillip W. Keller writes in his book, ‘A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm’ these words, “The strange thing about sheep is, that because of their very make-up, it is almost impossible for them to be made to lie down, unless 4 requirements are met.” He says they must be free from fear, free from tension, free from aggravations and hunger. Sound like anyone you know?

The Good Shepherd provides comfort, so we can have peace and rest. Remember what Jesus said in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. So do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Back to our scripture in John 10; Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep

and my sheep know me.” A good shepherd already knows your faults but he or she loves you anyway. To Know here implies real depth. Jesus knows your secrets, your true desires and your heart. There is nothing you can hide from him. And yet, he loves you to the core of your being.

Notice Jesus also says, “I have other sheep, not of this sheep pen. I must bring them along also.” We are good at creating social structures and classes. Just imagining Jesus saying, “I love others besides the faithful United Methodists, I have Catholics, Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Nazarenes, and Non-denominational believers too.” But he wouldn’t stop there…

He also has some Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, and other people who know him, but don’t fall into any category. Revelation 4:9 reads in part, “And with your blood you purchased mankind for God, from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Let me just say, that is one good and merciful shepherd, wouldn’t you agree?

John 10 continues, “They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” We don’t get to choose who is in or out!

Sheep they say, find great comfort in their master’s voice, it is soothing and calming to them. The same way God’s word can be comforting and soothing to us. Now, don’t get me wrong, God’s word can also be challenging. God is loving but God lays down the guidelines.

In The 23rd Psalm we read, “Your rod and your staff comfort me.” A rod is used to protect the flock, but it can also be used to get your attention. A staff, on the other hand is used to gently guide the sheep to keep them on track. Both provide valuable lessons.

A Staff has a hook on the end. It is used to pull an animal close. It can be used to check for the heath care of the animal or save an animal out of reach. And it can keep an animal on the right path. One shepherd explains, a staff can be a comforting thing, because it reminds you that the shepherd is near, and he is watching over you.

And there shall be one flock and one shepherd. That should remind us of Ephesians 4:4-6, “There is one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and in all, and living through all.”

The beauty of a Good Shepherd is that he never gives up on you. No matter how far off the path we wander, the Good Shepherd will leave the 99 in pursuit of the lost one. (Luke 15:4)

Ezekiel 34:11-13 reads, “For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land.” 

On this Christ the King Sunday, we see the true nature of Jesus. In Matthew 9:13 Jesus said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

His was a rescue mission. One in which he was willing to lay down his life, so that we could be forgiven and free. And the truth is, this is why some reject him. They ask; How can an all-powerful God love and sacrifice like Jesus did? They believe that made him weak.

But that is what a Good Shepherd does. He thinks about us first. He loves us, even before we knew him. Listen to 1 John 4:18-20, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. The one who fears has not been perfected in love. 

We love because He first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.”

God loves us because he created us and still desires us. He has seen us for what we are and loves us despite it. That is because God sees our potential when we are in him. I know, when we look in the mirror, we see flaws; at least I do. But when God looks at me, he looks past that and smiles.

That is our Good Shepherd. That is your Good Shepherd. He knows you and he adores you. That to me, is better than any conquering king or righteous judge. Jesus is the lover of your soul.

Ezekiel 34:13-15 finishes like this, “I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

There will be no worries, no fear, no tensions, aggravations or hunger. In Christ, you will hunger or thirst no more because you will know joy, be fulfilled, and at peace. (Revelation 7:16) And you will be loved by a Good Shepherd who never leaves you or forsakes you. That is what Jesus promises.

I don’t know about you, but that makes me want to sing,

“O victory in Jesus, My Savior, forever. 

He sought me and bought me with His redeeming blood;

He loved me ere I knew Him, and all my love is due Him,

he plunged me to victory, beneath the cleansing flood.” 

If you don’t know the Good Shepherd, it is not too late. He loves you and desires for you to be part of his flock and part of a community of believers. All it takes to begin this journey is to acknowledge Him, confess your sins, repent (turn away from them) and then turn toward the Good Shepherd.

If you do that, you will find the peace you seek. Let’s pray…

“And all God’s People said, Amen”

Putting Out Fire with Gasoline – Nov. 15, 2020

During Advent of 1999, someone stole the baby Jesus from his manger scene, set up in Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago. After a few days, an anonymous tipster called police and directed them to a storage locker at Union Station, where the figure was recovered.

In an attempt to stop anyone from duplicating that prank, a large fence was placed around the manger scene. But that same year, Baby Jesus mysteriously disappeared again. Later, someone reported a 19-year-old student, and he was arrested for stealing the baby.

To prevent anyone from stealing baby Jesus, many churches chain down or screw the baby to the manger in which he lays. As one priest put it, “We plan to keep Jesus right where he belongs, forever in his manger.”

That made me laugh, but it was also very revealing. Sweet Baby Jesus gives us comfort. So, let me ask, Hypothetically, …

When you think of Jesus, what image comes to your mind first? Jesus with the little children? Jesus carrying the little lost lamb on his shoulders? Jesus healing the sick? Jesus hugging someone? Jesus washing someone’s feet? Jesus at the Last Supper? Or maybe Jesus walking on the road to Emmaus?

All these images are true and comforting.

On the other hand; maybe you think of Jesus turning over tables in the Temple. Jesus calling the teachers of the Law, hypocrites and a brood of vipers. Or remember times when he good angry because people lacked faith or missed the point.

All these images of Jesus are true, just as well.

These last two Sundays of the Christian year, before Advent, we are going to look at Jesus from 2 very different perspectives. One pleasant and one maybe uncomfortable; but both are true images of Jesus. So, don’t look away.

In C.S. Lewis’s novel ‘The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe’, his magical world is filled with talking animals. And Aslan, the lion represents the Christ figure. In the novel, the youngest daughter Lucy strikes up a conversation with Mr. Beaver. Lucy asks about Aslan the lion, “Is he safe?” Mr. Beaver replies, “Safe? Who said anything about safe? Course he isn’t safe. But he is good. He’s the king, I tell you.” Keep that in mind…

It isn’t a stretch to say we live in a very divided nation. Many people would like to ignore it and just move on. But it says something about us as a people. The only way to come to grips with our differences is for us to try to understand each other’s side.

In the United Methodist Church, we have what we call 8 rules for Holy Conferencing. We are called to; remember we are all Children of God. Listen before we speak. Strive to really understand others. Strive to clearly reflect what we hear.

Disagree without being hurtful. Speak about issues – but not diminish others. Pray before making decisions. And Finally, Pray continually for ongoing guidance.

If we really seek to understand who Jesus was and is, we must come to grips with his hard teachings as well as his pleasant ones. Both, I think, are loving, if we listen carefully. Today we are going to look at Luke 12:49-53.

Jesus said, “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 

 “From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

For many people, this view of Jesus is shocking, but it wasn’t for those listening to him back then. We often think about Jesus as the one who calms the troubled waters. He is the Prince of Peace, the Lamb of God, Wonderful Counselor and Holy One.

But when they thought of the coming God, they thought of something else; Conquering King, Divine Warrior, the Deliverer, the lion of Judah, the mighty one and Savior. They expected the Messiah to be a divider and conqueror. They wanted him to bring divine judgement on their enemies.

They did not want a meek savior who started a fire with a match. They wanted a powerful Mighty King who brought an explosion and wiped out the enemy. They wanted Justice and revenge played out on an epic scale.

Now, let’s back up and put this scripture in its proper context. Jesus has been traveling and preaching in parables. Many thousands of people were following him. Luke Chapter 12 says that there were so many people that they were trampling on one another.

They had heard about his miracles and amazing teaching, but he was ‘no more than a mire side show’ to most. They wanted to be awed and to see some healing, but their hearts were still far from him. This section is titled, ‘Warnings and encouragement’.

Jesus is trying to teach his disciples and encourage his true followers – but he is also warning the unbelievers about what is to come. He says, “Be on guard, there is nothing concealed that cannot be exposed. What you whisper in the dark will be shouted from the rooftops.

 “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but do no more. But be in fear of the one who can cast you into hell. But never forget that God loves you. Not one of you is forgotten, God even knows the numbers of hairs on your head. Don’t be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows.”

Why sparrows you ask? Because sparrows were often sacrificed to take away the sin of the poor. They could not afford Sheep or Goats. Jesus is saying that even though you have sinned and offered many sacrifices, God still values you. Despite your waywardness.

Then Jesus tells them the parable of the Rich Fool, instructs them not to worry, and reminds them to keep watch. Some watching are captivated, but others are getting restless. They did not all come out to hear Jesus preach, they wanted to see miracles.

Jesus tells them, “You must be ready and watching because the end times are coming, like a thief in the night. The Son of Man, or the Messiah, will come when you do not expect him.” The crowd must have been thinking, “We have been waiting. We want the Messiah to come. We have been watching.” And Jesus could sense their unease.

A little confused, Peter asked, “Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?” Without answering, Jesus launches into another parable about a wise manager. And finally, the parable takes a dark turn.

 “The servant, who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants, will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Luke 12:47-48.

Now Jesus has their attention. He is speaking of judgement, strength, and accountability. Then he launches into our text. “I have come to bring fire on the earth, not peace. I have come to bring division. At this point they are stoked. Matthew’s Gospel reads, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34)

Just a side note, Jesus is not talking about bringing violence to the enemy here. Hebrews 4:12 reads, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword.” And Revelation 19:15 reads, “Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations.” In other words, the truth of God’s word divides people.

And he is talking about dividing or separating the good from the evil ones. Like in Matthew 25:31-46. Jesus there divides the sheep and the Goats. He is first the Savior, but if you deny him, in the end he will bring judgement.

All of this excites the crowd. They are overjoyed with this kind of preaching. Let God bring fire and brimstone down on our enemies! But that is when Jesus again, turns the sermon in a new direction.

 “From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 

They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:52-53)

The crowd goes from being inspired to shocked! Wait! We want divisions between the Israelites and the Romans. We want divisions between us and our enemies, but not in our own families! Wait a minute Jesus, where is this going?

That is when Jesus said, “Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?” (Luke 12:56) I cannot imagine that brought any cheers or smiles. In fact, a few folks might have started to wonder away.

Finally, Jesus doesn’t leave them hanging. He explains, “You are no better than anyone else. But unless you repent, you too will perish.” (Luke 13:3) Then he ends with a parable about a fruitless fig Tree. Shall it be cut down if it bears no fruit? No, let it go one more year. In other words, you better make up your minds fast, because God is Gracious, but time is running out.

You see, Jesus came to bring peace, but he was rejected. Only those who repent and have a change of heart have his peace. All the rest will suffer and perish. These are harsh words, but they are truth. At this point, I imagine, many walked away.

This was not God’s idea; he did not want division. We bring the division on ourselves because so many refuse to believe in him. The Word of God brings light and fire.

Remember John 1:4-5, 10-13? Listen, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not understood it.

 “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”

And so, Jesus was bringing fire, which in this case meant separation and judgement. The same way the pillar of fire separated the Egyptians from the Israelites. One side was safe, and the other side saw destruction. Jesus said, I wish the fire was already Kindled, but it isn’t.

What then starts the fire and sets judgement in motion? Jesus said, “I have a baptism to undergo.”. He is talking about his death on the cross. That will be the dividing line. Once Jesus rose from the dead, we had all the proof we needed. Now the choice is up to us.

Repent and believe – or reject Jesus and you condemn yourself.

Jesus wanted to warn us of the consequences. He spoke words of encouragement. Those with eyes, see and those with ears, hear. This is a hard teaching – wake up! Repent and Believe the Gospel. Before it is too late. God has not given up on you, but time is running out.

Let’s Pray,

“And all God’s People said, Amen”

A Line in the Sand – Oct. 25, 2020

A faithful old farmer sat on his front porch talking to his new neighbor, a college professor. They talked about their work, politics and finally the weather. The old farmer complained, “I sure wish it would rain.” The professor asked, “Have you been praying for rain?” The old farmer answered, “Without a doubt.”

“Well, that was your first mistake”, the professor said. “Putting your faith in God is just foolish, science gives us all the answers we need. Many years ago, farmers prayed for rain and what did they get? The Dust Bowl. If you want rain, science has found a way.”

He continued, “All it takes is a plane to go up and drop some chemicals in the cloud and Walla! it rains. It’s that simply. So, who needs God when you have science?”

“Just one question,” the old farmer said, “without God, who furnishes the cloud?” 

A Pew Poll conducted in 2018-2019 surveyed the number of people in the United States who claimed to have no faith. Approximately 23% said they had no faith. 4% claimed to be Atheist, 5 % Agnostic, and 16% said faith was simply unimportant to them. 68% of those who fell into this category were young men.

Just to be clear, Atheists say they do not believe in a god or any divine being. They believe death is final and that life is what you make it.

Agnostics, on the other hand, claim there is no proof one way or another that shows god exists. They believe that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond what we can see and study. They question everything and believe in nothing but that can change from day to day.

That means out of the 330 million Americans, there are 52.8 million people walking around that claim to have no faith understanding. In simple terms, every 6th person you meet has no faith. These statistics do not even include those who are Atheists or Agnostics. So, we all have a lot of work to do.

214.5 million Americans claim to be Christian, but you may not know it from their lifestyles. 23% of those say they attend worship weekly. 30% claim they never attend church at all. The other half are hit and miss. The thing is; many of us have a faith of convenience. We only think about and come to God when we are in need.

This was very much the same for the Israelites in the wilderness. Even though God had rescued them from Egypt and supplied their every need, they generally failed to think much about God. He was out of sight and out of mind.

They spent a lot of their time thinking about the issues at hand and very little about how God was involved in their lives. God was essentially, an after-thought. God was seeking a relationship with his people, but they were detached.

In spite of this, God was faithfully leading them onward to the Promised Land. Moses regularly prayed and talked to God, but no one else did. Imagine how God must have felt.

Finally, Moses and the Israelites camped in the desert of Paran. It was there, that Moses chose 12 men, one from each tribe, to journey into Canaan, the Promised Land. It was a 6-week journey, 3 weeks out and back. Upon returned, they were to report everything they saw.

When the group arrived, 10 of the 12 spies reported that it would be impossible to possess the land, since they were outnumbered, and the inhabitants of the land were giants. They said, “We felt like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we must have looked the same to them.”

When the rest of the Israelites get this news, they grumbled and wept aloud. They said to Moses and Aaron, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in the desert! Why did God bring us here, only to die in battle? It would be better for us if we just went back to Egypt.”

Then, they began discussing who should be their leader to take them back. Finally, their conversation broke down farther, and they began talking about stoning Moses and Aaron. Infuriated, God was ready to wipe them all off the face of the earth.

But Moses intervened on their behalf. He begged the Lord to allow them to live. Moses said, “Now, may the Lord’s strength be displayed, just as you have declared: and may it be said,

‘The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation. In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time, they left Egypt until now.” (Numbers 14:17-19)

We must have some respect for Moses; he had a hard role to fill and yet he constantly went to God and defended the Israelites. Even after they threatened to stone him! You may also notice; he was looking out for God. This shows his compassion and strong faith.

The Lord replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked. Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth, not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness then disobeyed me and tested me 10 times—not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it.”

 “Every one of you, except for Caleb and Joshua (the 2 spies who stood up for God), 20 years or older, will die in the desert. And your children will inherit the Promised Land, not you.”

They would all wander aimlessly in the desert for 40 years, until all the elderly died off. Then God would lead the next generation into Canaan, the Promised Land. The Lord did this because of their rebellion and unbelief. They had seen God’s glory and miracles, but they failed to build a relationship with Him. In the end, they only cared about themselves. And God had had enough, he drew a line in the sand and said…no more!

It kind of begs the question, ‘When does a person cross the line of no return?’ When do we get to the point, when we push God away so long, we remain so stubborn, that he gives up on us?  The Jewish Talmud says the answer is 10 times. They read that Israel disobeyed and tested God 10 times – and that is God’s limit. 10, they say, is the number of completion. There are 10 Commandments and God sent 10 plagues before his work was done in Egypt. Yet I find that a little hard to believe. God told us to forgive not 7 times but 70 times 7. An unlimited number of times. (Matthew 18:21-22)

And the Bible tells us that the only unforgivable sin is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, which is a constant outright, continual attack on God. (Matthew 12:31-32) So, what is the Bible trying to tell us here?

I think it is God’s nature to try to help us and to reach us. But if we continue to test him, eventually he will let us go to do what we want. Very much the way we see the prodigal son leave home. (Luke 15) But God waits in anticipation, hoping we will return. He does that because we have free will.

Proverbs 29:1 reads, “One who remains stubborn after many rebukes, will suddenly be broken beyond healing.” And don’t forget, Jesus repeated God’s word to the Israelites when he was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, “It is written: Do not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” (Matthew 4:7)  

Now God understands that we are human, and we all have doubts from time to time. Jude 1:22 reminds us to have mercy on those who doubt. But what was happening with the Israelites was not about doubt but instead lack of faith. They never gave themselves over to the Lord. They held out and refused to believe.

St Thomas Aquinas once said, “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”

Episcopal Pastor William Brown used to tell a story about a farmer who had a strong disdain for religious things. As he plowed his field on Sunday morning, he would shake his fist at the church people who passed by on their way to worship. October came and the farmer had his finest crop ever—the best in the entire county.

When the harvest was complete, he placed an advertisement in the local paper which belittled the Christians for their faith in God. Near the end of his diatribe he wrote, “Faith in God must not mean much if someone like me can prosper.”

The response from the Christians in the community was quiet and polite. In the next edition of the town paper, a small ad appeared. It read simply, “God doesn’t always settle His accounts in October.”  

The thing is, one day, God will settle all his accounts, the Bible is clear on this! 2 Corinthians 5:10 reads, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive that they are due for the things done in the body, whether good or bad.” 

How stubborn were the Israelites to wonder in the desert for 40 years, until they died, instead of putting their faith in God? It seems insane, yet many have rejected God in our world today. Or they think they can do what they want and repent at the last minute…like the thief on the cross.

The problem is, the longer we put off God, the harder it is to turn back to him. It is like a bad habit that is hard or almost impossible to break. Let me ask, what did it take for you to finally believe, whole heartedly in God? Or, for some, what is stopping you from giving yourself to God?

My advice is stop fighting him, stop making excuses and let Jesus into your heart and life. Don’t wait for a miracle, don’t wait until you are so far down that you have nowhere else to go. Because you just might wait too long and then you will lose your chance.

In Mark Chapter 9, Jesus has just returned from the mountaintop. His disciples had tried to heal a boy with seizures (scripture says he had an evil spirit). But they had failed. The father ran to Jesus and said, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

Finally, the man says, “He has been like this since childhood. Please, if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” Jesus replied, “If I can? Everything is possible for those who believe.” Immediately the man said, “I do believe, help me with my unbelief.”

Now, that may sound like a contradiction, but it is not. It is just not a very clear translation. The father is very clear, “I do believe.” When he says, “Help me with my unbelief” he is actually saying, help strengthen my faith.

Because he has faith, Jesus does heal the man’s son. You see, belief comes from inside us. We must first have faith. This requires an act on our part. We must see our weakness and understand we need the Lord. As we go to him, Then, he will strengthen us, and our trust will increase.

Just like the Israelites, it doesn’t matter how many miracles God sends your way, you will miss them or dismiss them, if you do not believe. It is like your eyes are wide open, yet you are blind.

We are not the center of the universe. That should be clear to all of us. And this life is not random; it is not all a mistake. There is purpose and meaning to this life. You can deny it or ignore; it but you cannot change the truth. God is real and God is in charge.

God wants you to give yourself to him. He wants to give you peace that passes all understanding. He wants you to have joy and love like you have never known. But you must have faith and trust him. What do you have to lose? Sooner or later it will become clear, you are not in control.

Don’t wait, cross that line in the sand. Give your life to Jesus and see what you have been missing. And do not be afraid, he accepts everyone, no matter your past. But there is one point I must make, don’t expect to remain the same after this. God intends on making you into a new person, one who is stronger, bolder and more compassionate.

Only through faith can we learn to love, serve, forgive and life like we have never lived before. Taste and see, the Lord is good! Don’t be like the Israelites, or you could wander your life away. Trust and believe. Don’t waste another minute. Let’s pray,…

 “And all God’s People said, Amen”

Worship Wars – Oct. 4, 2020

In a dream, a man went to church with an angel as his guide. Once inside the church the man noticed it was filled with people, but oddly, there was no sound. The organist played, but no music could be heard; the choir’s lips moved, but no song came forth. The pastor went through the motions of preaching, but the man heard nothing.

He turned to the angel and asked, “Why is there no sound?” The angel replied, “This is the service as God sees it, because when there is no heart in it, there is no sound.”

Then in the back pew, the man heard a child pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven …” Then the angel said, “What you are hearing now, is the only part God hears, it is that, which comes from the depths of the purest heart.”

Now, this may come as a surprise to you, but there has never been a time, in our history, when ‘how people worshiped’ wasn’t criticized. When the Israelites worshiped God in the desert with tambourines, other nations would have considered that barbaric.

When David danced partially clothed before God in the street, his wife ridiculed him. King Davis wrote in the Psalms, “Praise God with the sound of the horn; praise Him with the harp and lyre. Praise Him with tambourine and dancing; praise Him with strings and flute. Praise Him with clashing cymbals.” (Psalm 150:3-5)

Yet in the early church, instruments were mostly forbidden. Thomas Aquinas, an early Church father thought God should be praised with song but no instruments. Augustine rejected the idea of musical instruments calling them a distraction from real worship. And Clement of Alexandria said, “Leave the pipe to the shepherd, the flute to the men who are in fear of gods and intent to idol worshipping.”

When the early Anglican and Catholics introduced an organ into worship, many pastors were horrified. Martin Luther said that using an organ in worship was like waving a banner for the devil. Even John Wesley, the founder of our faith, who loved music in its proper place, initially said, “I have no objection to instruments of music in our chapels, provided they are neither heard nor seen.”

What changed his mind? He and his brother went to see the composer Charles Avison preform Handel’s Messiah, afterwards he wrote that he was shocked, and he was moved in spirit. He wrote, “It far exceeded my expectations”.

The great Charles Spurgeon said, “One can make melody without strings and pipes…we do not need them. Sing unto him. This is the sweetest and best music. There is no instrument like the human voice.”

Listen to this quote, “Instrumental music is permissible for a church under the following conditions:

1. When a church never had or has lost the Spirit of Christ.

2. If a church has a preacher who never had or has lost the Spirit of Christ, who has become a dry, prosing and lifeless preacher.

3. If a church only intends being a fashionable society, a mere place of amusements and secular entertainment and abandoning the idea of religion and worship.

4. If a church has within it a large number of dishonest and corrupt men.

And 5. If a church has given up all idea of trying to convert the world.”

Guess who said that…Benjamin Franklin!

Throughout history, first the organ, then the piano, then guitars and finally drums have been condemned by many. Then, and still today, folks still fuss about the style of music; some want only hymns, other chants, or Taizé, others prefer modern praise music. There are still a few denominations that reject all forms of music or instrumentation.

This concern goes to the heart of our scripture today in Exodus. Moses and the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai and made camp. After the visit with his Father-in-law Jethro, Moses went up on the mountain to pray to the Lord. During his time there, God gave Moses the 10 Commandments.

But the real story is what was going on down below. Moses was gone for 40 days and 40 nights. And so, the Israelites became frightened and disoriented. They felt the absence of God, because Moses was their connection to him.

So, the people went to Aaron and demand that he make them a visible representation of God, so they can worship it. Aaron was a high priest and should have known better than this, so why did he agree to do it? Maybe he was also disoriented, since Moses had been gone so long. Or maybe he was frightened that the Israelites would turn on him if he refused.  

Either way, Aaron agreed to create a statue for the people. Ultimately, he created a Golden Calf, probably modeling it on statues of the Canaanite god El, who is depicted in the form of a bull. Those animals were considered sacred in their day.

Aaron went to the people and said, “Take off the gold earrings that you, your wives, daughters and sons are wearing and bring them to me.” Then Aaron melted them all down, along with all the other gold he could find, and he molded and shaped a calf for them.

The he said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you out of slavery.” Then Aaron created an altar in front of the gold calf to burn incense, in honor of God. Finally, he announced, “Tomorrow, there will be a festival here to honor the Lord.”

You may notice, their praise ‘is directed toward God’, but they worship best when they have something to focus on. They have no idea that God is currently on the mountain forbidding this kind of worship. So, what exactly was the problem?

While they say they are worshiping God, they really aren’t.

Instead of focusing on the wonder and mystery of God, they are worshiping earthly things and enjoying carnal delights. After they bow down to a golden calf, they begin gorging on food, and drinking wine to excess. They begin dancing and striping and well, you can imagine what comes next.

None of this honors God. It is all about selfish wants and desires. They aren’t thinking about God – but about themselves. God, on the mountain with Moses, sees this and he gets angry. He tells Moses that he plans on destroying the people.

But Moses begged God not to do it. He said, “O Lord, why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand?” “Turn away”, he said, “and please don’t do this.” And the Lord agreed.

Then Moses went down the mountain with the 2 stone tablets, carved on front and back, with God’s Commands on them. As Moses approached the camp, he heard singing and laughter. And as he gets closer, he sees what is really going on. That’s when he loses it!

Moses goes off like a grenade and explodes in anger. He throws the two tablets down the mountain and shatters them into a million pieces. Then he runs down the mountain and knocks the calf into the fire, burning it. Finally, he ground down the rest pf the calf into powder and scattered it on the water and finally he made them drink it.

Then Moses turned his attention to Aaron, he said, “What did these people ‘do to threaten you’ that would cause you to lead them into such great sin?” On some level, Aaron must have known that this was wrong.

Aaron went on to make a bunch of excuses, but nothing can temper Moses’ anger. Moses looked around and witnessed the people running around wild and out of control and his blood boiled; remember not too long ago, he begged God not to let the Lord’s anger burn out of control!

Then Moses called out, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.” And scripture says, all the Levites rallied to him. Then Moses ordered them to grab swords and to kill the rest of the people.

Finally, Moses went back to the Lord to try and smooth things over.

Because Moses’ faith and trust in God waned at times and because he took matters into his own hands, – God eventually denied Moses the right to pass into the promised land. There was a cost to pay for his actions; but how we worship God really is a big deal.

Jesus himself deals with this issue when he talks to the woman at the well. In John Chapter 4 (vs. 21-24) Jesus said, “Believe me, Woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father ‘in the Spirit and in Truth’, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

Notice first, the place we worship is not the highest priority. While we love our church and we need sacred ground, God is not bound by a location. Jesus said it wasn’t about the mountain or the Temple in Jerusalem. We can and should worship God everywhere we are.

But what does it mean to worship in Spirit and Truth? Let’s break this down. I would suggest spirit here is two-fold. We must be in the right spirit, or frame of mind. Preparation for worship begins before we come to church.

I know this is hard on Sunday, especially with kids. Getting to church is often a chore. Betting cleaned up, dressed, feed and corralled takes a lot of effort. I hate to say this, but… maybe you should start a little earlier. Don’t wait too long or it becomes chaotic getting out the door.

Then, once you get here, take some to focus on the Lord. Open your heart and mind and be ready to really hear the word. I have noticed Peggy Keller in the prayer room early on Sunday.

Also, going to class with Paul is a good way to get focused before worship.

But to worship in Spirit also means we allow the Holy Spirit in so we can become fully engaged with God and his word. We must be in the moment. Listen to what the Spirit is saying to your heart. Throw yourself into singing and prayer. Be engaged.

And then, worship in truth. Not your truth, but God’s truth. Don’t listen for what you want to hear, hear what God is saying through the lyrics, scripture and the preaching of the word. As Rick Warren says in the Purpose Driven Life, “It’s not about you.”

If we get too focused on the music style, who is wearing what, who is doing something we do not like, – or generally lost in our own thoughts, we have missed the point. We come here, to meet with and be present with God and to praise him. He is the reason we show up on Sunday.

Get lost in the wonder and mystery of God. Think about his amazing love, grace, forgiveness and mercy. Try to imagine how much he loves you, so much so, that he would give up everything for you, even his earthly life. Not because of anything we have done – but simply because of who he is.

The Altar is open if you would like to re-dedicate yourself to Jesus, but you can also do it in your own seat. Just allow the Lord to consume you. Let the waves of hope, peace, joy and love fill you to overflowing. That is why we come and worship the Lord. Because he is good and great, reliable and faithful, Holy and awesome. This is no other like our God.

May you be moved and motivated in Christ alone. I pray it is so, Now, let’s take a few moments of quiet to praise God…

 “And all God’s People said, Amen”

October 11, 2020

Matthew Leffler was our speaker was again this Sunday. He spoke on Philippians 4:1-9 and was helping us to understand how to get through this time of our lives.

First, we are NOT to worry. A worry is often regarding things out of our control, things that might/could be. A quote from Corrie Ten Boom says, “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, it empties today of its strengths.” Concern is NOT the same as worry. Mr Leffler gave us the following four steps from Philippians to help us with our current concerns.

Philippians 4:6 tells us to take our concerns to God. We are to open our hearts to God and get out ALL of our concerns.

Philippians 4:8 tells us to focus on whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable. Mr. Leffler indicated that we should focus on what we can do to further God’s principles. Doing good helps take our minds off of our concerns.

Philippians 4:4 tells us to rejoice in the Lord always. We should find joy in the little things and rejoice. Give God the thanks always. REJOICE!

Philippians 4:7 tells us that if we do these things the peace of God will guard our hearts and our minds. Yes, if we do these things, God’s peace will find us.