Category Archives: Sermon Notes – 2019

Not Even a Roar! – Nov. 17, 2019

During World War II, a military commander met with ‘General George Patton’ in Sicily. Almost at once, the man gave high praise to the general for his courage and bravery. That’s when Patton replied, “Sir, I am not a brave man, the truth is, I am an utter craven coward. I have never been within the sound of gunshot or in sight of battle in my whole life that I wasn’t so scared that I had sweat in the palms of my hands.”

Years later, when Patton’s autobiography was published, it contained this significant statement by the general, “I learned very early in my life to never take counsel from my fears.”

Fear is categorized as a complex base emotion. It is defined as an emotion that is induced by an immediate threat (real or perceived) to one’s health. It manifests itself, most often, in one of three ways; fight, flight or paralysis. What makes fear a complex emotion is that we can also create our own fear and anxiety, when none exists. We can literally be afraid for no good reason.

Case in point, many people saw Stephen Spielberg’s movie ‘Jaws’ back in the summer of 1975. After watching the movie, some people were so afraid of sharks that they wouldn’t get into a swimming pool. I was one of them!

Yet fear also has a good side. It can keep us safe, aware, and protected under the right circumstances. The trick is; knowing when to listen to our inner voice of reason and avoid irrational fears.

Daniel was a man who knew about fear. As a young boy he had been taken by King Nebuchadnezzar’s army and relocated in Babylon. He was a Hebrew in a foreign land; always on guard and careful not to openly offend anyone. Because his situation could change from day to day, Daniel learned to pray to God for insight, strength and peace. It was his relationship with God that helped him overcome adversity on an ongoing basis.

Daniel watched several kings come and go, each time, I am sure he wondered what would happen to him and his friends. But continually, God was able to use him to interpret dreams, visions or riddles when no one else could. It secured his position, created a sense of safety and built him an impeccable reputation.

After King Belshazzar was killed, a general named Darius was placed in charge of Babylon. He was to be the temporary king until Cyrus the supreme leader and future king took his thrown.

The Medes and Persians liked to delegate responsibilities, so Darius appointed 120 governors to rule throughout the kingdom. Then he set 3 commissioners above them, who they regularly reported to; Daniel was one of them.

Because of Daniel’s reputation, and the fact that he was not one of the Babylonian leaders, Darius trusted his judgment. All this was done, to ensure that the kingdom ran smoothly and that the king had proof of accountability. Over the next few years, Daniel distinguished himself far above the others, so Darius decided to make him chief above all the rulers. Some of the other commissioners and governors found this appalling and so they came together to find a way to discredit Daniel.  

Daniel, you see, was a Hebrew, a foreigner, and he was pushing 90-years-old. His rise to the top position made the others jealous, envious and filled them with spite. But here is the thing, Daniel’s conduct was so stellar, they couldn’t find any skeletons in his closet.

He was trustworthy, honest to a fault and never negligent. He was so esteemed, nothing would even stick to him. Try finding that in our elected officials today. And on a personal note, how many of us could stand up to that kind of scrutiny? Daniel was a man to be admired, not attacked. But the truth is, living the good life does not guarantee a trouble-free life.

In John 16:33, Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.” Not maybe, and not, if you live a good life you can avoid it…you WILL HAVE TROUBLE. Period. Expect it. But here is the thing, the better you live your life, the less bad things will stick to you. Daniel was above reproach.  So, if they couldn’t bring him down by harming his reputation, they began looking at his personal life. Everyone has weaknesses. Here is the funny part, Daniel’s weakness, they believed, was that he prayed 3 times a day to God. So, they devised a way to use his love of God, to separate him from the king.

Now, I just want to take a moment here. Everyone knew that Daniel prayed to God regularly. He didn’t flaunt it or hide it. He wasn’t afraid to talk about his love for God. In fact, he regularly shared his feelings about God with others. He was a man who not only worshiped, prayed and talked about God, he actually practiced what you believed. He was consistent and known by his faith. I just wonder if, the same could be said about each of us?

Ok, so now, a few of the lead Commissioners and Governors went to the king. “O king Darius, live forever!” they begin, “some of the people in the kingdom still worship Babylonian gods and do not respect your authority.”

And so, all of your advisors have discussed this problem and have come up with a solution. The lie was, they had not discussed this with all the others or Daniel. But this is what they proposed, “We believe that the king should issue an edict and enforce a decree that anyone who prays to any god or man during the next 30 days, except for you, O King, shall be thrown into a lion’s den before sundown.”

King Darius was good in battle and he was used to men taking orders, but he had very limited exposure to manipulative, seasoned politicians. These men were appealing to his ego and pushing him to make a quick decision and unfortunately that is what he did. 

Darius used his signet ring to enact the law and from that moment, set Daniel’s fate. The background here is that once a law was in place, it could not be ignored or altered. That was the rule of law that the Medes and Persians practiced.

Daniel heard about the new law and what do you suppose he did? There was no Hebrew law telling him when or how to pray. He could have just stopped praying for the next 30 days or he could have gone into a closet to pray. But Daniel was almost 90 years old. He was set in his ways. He had a habit of praying three times a day, and he wasn’t going to stop for any man or king. He didn’t flaunt it, he simply did what he always did because that is who he was. Daniel put his relationship with God above everything else. He had his priorities right!

Then, as was his custom, he got down on his knees and prayed at the open window towards Jerusalem. I must say, he was still in pretty good shape in his late 80’s to be able to kneel. And just as soon as he started praying, the other advisors burst into his room and had him arrested. Then, they took him in chains to see the king.

The Commissioners and Governors reminded the king of his law and then they brought Daniel in as one who has violated it.

Hearing this, Darius was beside himself. He was upset and couldn’t believe what was happening. He loved Daniel like a son. So, the king brought in his best lawyers and judges and they looked for any possible loophole, but none can be found. In frustration and final abandonment, the king ordered Daniel to be taken to the lion’s den. It seems his enemies had won.

Poor Daniel had nothing to say. He had clearly broken the law and had no recourse. I cannot imagine the fear he must have been feeling as the death sentence was proclaimed. Frustrated, King Darius walked with Daniel to the Lion’s den. He refused to leave his friend in his hour of need. Then, just before he was to be tossed in, the king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!”

A lion’s den is actually a pit dug into the side of a hill. There is one door on the side to put the lions in and a hole on top to toss in the victim. The lions are placed in the pit and left for 6 days with no food. Each lion weighs between 300 to 500 pounds and this pit had several.

Now, this is the scene for the execution…the condemned person is taken to the top of the pit and shoved in. Just after the person falls to the floor, the guards also drop in some bloody meat. This makes the wild, hungry beasts go into a frenzy. It is similar to the behavior we might see in sharks.

Back to Daniel,…Daniel’s knees must have been knocking as he heard the lions roar inside that dark pit.  They say a lion’s roar is so terrifying and so loud, that it can be heard up to 5 miles away. A lion can roar as loud as 114 decibels or 25 times louder than a gas-powered-lawn-motor. Daniel’s heart must have been racing and sweat poured off his brow, as they pushed him into the pit. A stone was then placed over the hole and the King placed his seal on it, so that no one could open it until he returned.

Then, the king returned to his palace to wait for morning. Darius refused to eat, brushed off all entertainment and was too upset to sleep. He just paced and his mind raced. I imagine he was upset with himself; but then he began to think about how he was manipulated by the other advisors. I am sure that we all have had those sleepless, worrisome nights, where we play-out every possible angle to try and imagine what we could have done differently.

Almost before the sun rises, King Darius rushes to the pit. So just as dawn breaks, he can check on Daniel. He is sure Daniel is dead, but he is hoping against hope for a miracle. “Daniel”, he cries into the darkness, “servant of the living God, has your God, who you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?” And at first, there is only silence and his heart began to sink.

Then Daniel answered, “O King, live forever! My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done anything wrong before you, O King.”

Did you catch that? An angel shut the lions’ mouths. They couldn’t even roar! And they were so calm, that they did not attack Daniel or even scratch him. Not a mark was found on his body. Some Theologians say that the angel made the lions go off to sleep. We do know that lions sleep as much as 20 hours a day. But no one knows for sure what happened in that pit.

King Darius was overjoyed, as they raised Daniel unharmed from the lion’s den. And I can almost hear him say, “Well Daniel, it appears ‘that fear is NOT a factor for you’!”

Then, the king turned his attention to the men who mislead him. He ordered those men, their wives and children to be thrown into the pit. This was also a custom of the Medes and Persians, to punish not just the individual, but also the entire family. And the Bible says they were killed instantly, and all of their bones were crushed. Crushed bones ensure that they will never rise again like the bones that came back to life in the book of Ezekiel.

Then King Darius wrote a letter of praise to God and had it read to all the people in the kingdom. And lastly, the Bible says, Daniel continued to prosper under the Mede-Persian reign.

Now, before we shift away from Daniel’s story, there are just a few things I want to say. Even though God saved Daniel from the Lion’s Den and Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego from the Fiery furnace, many other believers died as Martyrs. We all have heard of the stoning of Stephen and the death of Jesus on the cross. This story is not about doing the right thing to be saved. It is about trusting in God more than fearing mankind.

1 Peter 3 reminds us not to be afraid. Do not fear what others fear. And Matthew 10:28 says, “Do not fear those who can take a life instead fear the one who can destroy a soul.”

Then later, 1 Peter 5:7-9 reads, “Cast all your anxieties on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him and stand firm in your faith.”

Some theologians have suggested that Daniel wasn’t even a real person but simply a collection of stories to help Israel stand strong during persecution. But I don’t buy that argument. Jesus mentions Daniel in Matthew 24 and if Jesus believed he was a real man, that clinches it for me.

Few people in the Bible have the integrity, character, wisdom and strength of Daniel. His life is remarkable in a book with many flawed characters. Daniel stands boldly for God through thick and thin. He is humble, thankful and generous. We should learn from him about living fearlessly for Jesus. Like him, we should not be afraid of sharing our faith, we should let people know we pray and never compromise our principles.

And here is the kicker; God used him where he was in his case, it was in bondage. But God can also use each of us, no matter where we are. In fact, God might even have placed us where we are to share the gospel in new ways and with new people.  But we have to be bold and trust him!

God can shut the mouths of the lions, so that ‘not even a roar can escape to frighten us. That is the power of our God in heaven. So, Fear Not!

Your assignment is…to be bold this week. Talk to a stranger, a co-worker or friend; look for an opportunity to be open about your faith. Then, if the opportunity presents itself, give your testimony about what Jesus has done for you. Amen.

The Grass is always Greener on the Other Side – Nov. 3, 2019

In 1991, Tonya Harding was one of the most prominent figure skaters to emerge and excel on the ice. Having won the US figure skating Championship, she set her sights on the 1992 Winter Olympics in France.

Tonya was prone to bouts of asthma and illness and even though she was a powerful skater, she often felt inferior to others. In the 1992 Winter Olympics, Tonya Harding finished in a disappointing fourth place.

Even though she was the first woman to complete a triple axel in a short program, was the first woman to complete 2 triple axels in a single competition and was the first woman to ever complete a triple axel combination with a double toe loop, she was never able to perform them at the Olympics.

Then in 1994, Nancy Kerrigan emerged as the United States best female figure skater and a favorite for the Gold. Nancy was tall, beautiful and graceful, everything that Tonya wanted and admired but was not.

On January 6, 1994, skater Nancy Kerrigan was attacked by a metal-baton-wielding assailant as she left practice in Detroit. Highly favored and expected to win big ‘at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway’; she was forced to the sidelines to recover.

In her absence, Tonya Harding captured the spotlight. She won the US title and a spot on the Olympic team. Kerrigan would recover in time to compete in the Olympics and would receive a Silver metal. Harding placed a distant 8th.

Later on, the details of the attack became public. Tonya Harding and her husband had hired a hitman to attack Nancy, so she would have a better chance at the gold medal.

Tonya ‘revealed to the man she hired’ that she wanted Nancy Kerrigan eliminated from the competition because she was envious of her looks and skill.

In 1994, Tonya Harding pled guilty to hindering the prosecution in the attack on Nancy Kerrigan. She received 3-years’ probation, 500 hours of community service and a $160 thousand dollar fine. She was then banned for life from the US Figure skating Championships and from all world-wide competitions.

Tonya Harding had great promise but her insecurities, envy and jealousy; took her down the path of ruin. While she was still a talented athlete in many ways, her name will forever be marred in scandal and disgrace.

Envy is defined as wanting what someone else has and resenting them for having it. Envy turned inward leads to jealousy, slander, bitterness and a desire to see others suffer.

To envy is highly selfish and can be self-defeating.

An old Greek saying goes, “As rust corrupts iron, so envy corrupts man.” Over time, envy steals your joy because it leaves you focused on what you do not have, instead of being thankful for what you do have.

Proverbs 14:30 reads, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones”.

In Mark 7:20-22, Jesus said, “What comes out of a man is what makes him unclean. For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.”

Envy and a desire to know what God knows got Adam and Eve kicked out of the Garden of Eden. Cain envied Abel’s sacrifice and God’s blessing upon him, that’s why he killed him.

Aaron and Miriam were envious of the position God gave to their brother Moses. Jacob envied Esau, his older brother, and it led him to steal his brothers blessing. Saul was envious of David which led him to pursue and attempt to kill him. Leah was envious of Rachel’s beauty and her husband’s love.

The apostle Peter was envious of John, the disciple Jesus loved. Martha was envious of Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus. Mordecai was jealous of Haman which led to his death on the gallows.

And finally, Lucifer was jealous of God which led to his downfall from heaven and that only scratches the surface of the stories in the Bible.

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the story of Joseph. Joseph was the youngest son of Israel (also known as Jacob) and his father loved him more than his other 11 sons. Clearly, we already have a dilemma. 

Jacob loved Joseph so much, that he had someone make a richly ornamented coat of many colors for his son. Joseph was already arrogant, proud and a dreamer. His fancy coat just pushed the others over the edge they envied it and the love their father showered on him.

Soon, their griping turned to scheming, which lead to anger and hate and to action. They ridiculed him, stole his coat, roughed him up and threw him into a dry cistern. Several of the brothers wanted to kill him, but Reuben forbid it. So instead, they sold him off as a slave. Then they rejoiced at his misfortune.

English crime novelist Dorothy Sayers said, “Envy begins by asking, “Why should I not enjoy what others enjoy? And it ends by demanding, “Why should others enjoy what I may not”.

Envy is a deep resentment that turns friends into enemies, teammates into bitter competitors and lovers into jealous stalkers. As a rule, we envy those most who are like us but seem to have an advantage.

Musicians envy musicians (think Amadeus), parents envy other parents (with or without kids), professors envy other professors (especially when the get published) and Pastors envy other famous pastors.

I must admit, I was a little envious and jealous of Cindy some years ago. When I was working to get ordained, Cindy came to Indiana and was grand-fathered into the system and ordained before me. She was also able to go to the Holy Land. When I was ordained, they no longer did that for new pastors.

Yet, I was very happy for her – and glad she was able to have that opportunity. Envy can lead to rejoicing but also to resentment. It can turn others into rivals and enemies of we allow it to.

What is your response when someone else gets and flaunts what you want? How do you feel when another employee gets the raise or promotion, that you believe you deserve? Or when someone gets pregnant easily after you tried but failed over several years?

On the surface envy doesn’t seem that bad. It is simply a misguided desire. It might make us work harder to get ahead. Yet for most, envy is just the tip of a deeper iceberg of trouble. It is like a skin cancer, by the time you see it on the surface, it has already run deep and wide.

And envy touches every generation. Elderly folks’ envy and resent those who retire early. Heavy folks sometimes envy those who are thin. Single women envy happily married women and married men and women envy the single. Even the child with a room full of toys envies the one toy’ that another child has that he does not.

            Envy even crosses over to the animal kingdom. Researchers at the National Primate Research Center in Atlanta noted the monkeys were perfectly happy with cucumber slices, until someone started giving out grapes to a preferred monkey, then all heck broke lose.

The Bible warns us in proverbs 23 and 24; not to envy sinners or the wicked because they seem to get away with so much. Envy leads to many others sins when we decide to take what we believe we deserve; for instance, another’s property or spouse.

Envy destroys relationships, hurts innocent people, leaves lives in ruin, judge’s other people’s motives, leads to needless anxiety, and diminishes our happiness and joy.

In essence, it is breaking the 10th commandment.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, wife, servant, ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor,” that’s from Exodus 20:17.

No one is immune from envy, but we can learn to lessen its hold ‘by focusing on thankfulness, encouragement and contentment’. We spend way too much time comparing ourselves to others, and advertisers play on our desires.

Are you content and happy in your life?

It is easier to love others when we are worried less about what they have then who they are. 1 Corinthians 13:4 reminds us ‘Love does not envy’.

Proverbs 19:23 reads, “The fear of the Lord leads to life; When one rests content, untouched by trouble.”

And Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians chapter 4:12, “I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well-fed or in want. I can do anything through God, who gives me strength.”

Have you ever driven by a field and seen a horse with his head through the fence, eating grass on the other side? Chances are, it isn’t that much better, but he thinks it is! Don’t allow yourself to be deceived.

Enjoy what God gives you to the fullest and give him thanks. Believe me, there an awful lot of things ‘we are blessed not to have’ in our lives!

I have known many people, who thought they wanted something that they couldn’t have, and when they got it, they wished they could go back. Don’t let your blessings slip away. Stop giving the devil ammunition!

Enjoy your blessings, count them daily and be kind when others around you get blessed. This one small change, letting go of envy, can brighten your world and help you truly love others.

Your assignment is…Make a list of all the things that you think you really want. Then, give it to God and let it go. Trust in God’s will for your life. Be glad for what you do have and know that he is looking out for what is best for you.

Amen.

“Those Robed in White” – Oct. 27, 2019

In the opening of the James Bond Movie “Live and Let Die”, we see an altered view of a New Orleans Funeral. The mourners are sad – until they dispose of an enemy spy and then they are celebrating.

The New Orleans Jazz Funeral was a major attraction until Hurricane Katrina, after that, the tradition went into limbo and is just in the last few years starting to re-emerge.  Funerals would begin with solemn and sad music and over a short period of time they would blaze into life.

The upbeat music and dancing of the jazz funeral was intended to both help the deceased find their way to heaven and to celebrate the final release from the bounds of earthly life. The call-and-response style of music and chant, coupled with tambourines, drums, horns and dancing were elements of African funeral ceremonies which crossed the seas with captive slaves.

While the Jazz tradition caught on with folks from the deep south, the Catholic Church restricted their people from participating in that kind of funeral service.  Yet over time, the jazz funeral tradition grew to become New Orleans most honored of funeral ceremonies, with horse-drawn hearses and parades for fallen police officers, well-known musicians and other pillars of the community. 

In some of the most elaborate of Jazz funerals, the mourners would be wearing all black robes, only to rip them off, to reveal bright white outfits. Then the musicians would play an upbeat version of ‘When the Saints go Marching In’.

Christian Churches have set aside November 1st or the Sunday before as All Saint’s Day since 835AD. This is the day when we celebrate the lives of those faithful believers and family who have gone ahead of us to heaven.

In some Churches, the names of those who have died in the last year are read and a bell is rung. In other traditions, candles are lit in memory of those who have passed, over the previous years. In some traditions, it is a day where every person attending church and the pastor wear all white or all black.

In the United Methodist Hymnal, you will find music for funerals and Memorial services. But in the official book of worship, there is nothing called a funeral. Instead, it’s called

“A Service of Death and Resurrection”.

In our tradition, there is a tension between mourning and celebration. Death is simply the road to new life in Christ. So, like the Jazz funeral, our mourning becomes cries of Joy in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

One of the regular readings for “All Saint’s Day” comes from Revelation Chapter 7. It is a glorious view of heaven, but let me back up a little and set the stage…

The Apostle John had been preaching the Word, until he was arrested and sent to the Island of Patmos. While there, he was tortured, starved, deprived water, and forced to hard labor in the mines. During his time there, John had a vision.

God gave John a heavenly glimpse to sustain him. His journey began as John stood before an open door to heaven. Then, a voice like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place, after this.”

John saw the throne of God, and he saw angels and creatures all around the throne singing. Then John saw the scroll with the words of life and the future written on it but it had 7 seals that no one could open. Finally, he saw the lamb, Jesus. Jesus was the only one who can break the seals. With great wonder and excitement, the seals were broken, and the scroll was opened. If you want more detail about all these events, you will have to read it all later.

Then John gets a worldview; he sees angels start to roll up the earth by its 4 corners. As you may have guessed, Revelation is written in Apocalyptic type literature. It often presents images that symbolize other deeper meanings. In other words, you cannot take everything literally.

Then, John sees the earth rolled up like a scroll. The number of those sealed in the scroll of the world was 144,000. It represents 12,000 people each from the 12 tribes of Israel. Some believe that they are the only ones to be saved. Others believe, those will be all that remain when the world ends.

But as we keep reading, that first interpretation seems limited. John writes, “After this, I looked, and there was a multitude that no one could count. They were from every nation, tribe, people and language, all standing before the throne and before the Lamb.

They were all robed in white and they held palm branches in their hands. And they cried out, “Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” and there was singing and waving of the branches in heaven.

Then one of the saintly elders turned to John and asked, “Who are these robed in white, and where did they come from?”

In Biblical times, robes were worn as an honor of distinction. Robes set a person apart. We have similar traditions today. Judges were robes, graduates and teachers wear robes and clergy sometimes wear robes. It signifies accomplishment, character, office, or a level of respect.

Kings and priests wore robes in Biblical times. Kings wore purple robes as a sign of honor, royalty or affluence. Priests might wear brown, black, blue, red or white robes, depending on the occasion. And Joseph wore a coat of many colors, that set him apart. But white, white was a symbol of purity and innocence.  

Today, you see white at weddings, baptisms, or in the spring when things are new again. If a thing reflects no light, it is black. If it reflects part of the light, it has some color. But if an object reflects all the light back, it is white.

White is wholesome and pure, spotless and blameless. That is why good guys used to all wear white. And that is why the multitudes in heaven wear white, to perfectly reflect the glory majesty and purity of God.

Isaiah 1:18 reads, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”

So those standing in heaven wearing white robes have been washed and cleansed in the blood of the Lamb. They are blameless and sinless.

Now, the last time I checked, blood has never washed anything clean. In fact, it often leaves a stain that is hard to get out. Again, – this is not meant to be taken literally but symbolically.

In heaven, we will have heavenly bodies. We are not even sure what that means or if we will even need clothes. The point here is; that we are made new in Christ. His death took our burden of sin away and we are new beings in heaven; unburdened and truly free.

In ancient literature, waving palm branches was a sign of victory. Much like the way they waved the palm branches for Jesus as he entered Jerusalem or when soldiers returned victorious from battle.

Now, let’s go back to the question the Elder asked John, “Who are these people and where did they come from?”

John’s response is, “I have no idea. Only you know,”

Then the elder replied, “These are the ones who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white again in the blood of the Lamb.”

While some believe the great tribulation means the end times, many interpret this to mean all those who come from our troubled world. Tribulation means; those who come from a place of trouble or suffering – that seems to fit our world quite nicely, don’t you think?

John was inspired by his brief view of heaven. He was inspired to live life to the fullest before he went home to heaven. He wanted to fulfill his reason for being on the earth, first. Once he knew where he was going, there was no hurry to go there. Sadly, Today, some folks get that reversed; all they think about is heaven.

This view of heaven convinced John, that there was still a lot of room for others in heaven. And that there was still much work to be done on earth; to get others home.

Famed preacher D.L. Moody spent decades preaching, teaching, writing, evangelizing and traveling the world non-stop. Then on December 22, 1899, his heart began to fail. Yet, he shared the Good News to the very end.

His children were worried about him and of course, they were afraid for him to die. So, they asked him ‘if he was afraid to die’.  Here was his response,

“Someday you will read in the papers that D. L. Moody, of East Northfield, is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it! At that moment, I shall be more alive than I am now.

“I shall have gone up higher, that is all; out of this old clay tenement – into a house that is immortal—to a body that death cannot touch; that sin cannot taint; – a body fashioned like unto His glorious body. I was born of the flesh in 1837. I was born of the Spirit in 1855.

“That which is born of the flesh may die. But that which is born of the Spirit will live forever.” D. L. Moody loved to quote the first two sentences as a way of shocking his audiences with the truth that death would not be the end of his life but only the beginning.

The truth is, heaven can wait. There is far too much work to be done here and now. There are too many lost souls that need to find their way back home and they need us ‘to help point them toward Jesus.

On this ‘All Saint’s Sunday’, make it your mission, over the next year — to pray for 10 unchurched people, invite 3 to church and to lead at least one to the Lord.

You see, life in America today, doesn’t threaten Christians with death. Jesus conquered the grave! Instead, it entices us away from the church, to pursue other activities. It is time to make first things first again! Bring folks back to church and to Jesus!!!

Our goal should be to fill up heaven, so we can give more praise to Jesus. May it be so.  Amen.

“How is it with your soul” – Oct. 20, 2019

In season 5 of the Simpsons, Homer Simpson sold his soul to the devil for a donut. Not surprisingly, this episode created ca lot of discussion about the nature of one’s soul. Because the discussion continued on social media, they created a 2nd show that dealt with the topic on a deeper level.

In Season 7, Bart got in trouble at church for playing a practical joke, he switched out a hymn for a rock anthem. His best friend Milhouse told on him and they both had to clean out the organ pipes as punishment.

Milhouse admits he told on Bart because he feared losing his soul. That is when Bart declared, “There is no such thing as a soul!”. Milhouse responded, “If you are so sure, why don’t you sell it to me.” Bart did just that for $5. He then wrote on a piece of paper that he turned his soul over to Milhouse.

The rest of the episode dealt with the aftermath of what it means to have no soul. Animals disliked Bart. Automatic doors no longer opened for him. He had no breathe, there was no laughter in his life, and he had no sense of well-being. Bad things happened to him and so Bart was willing to do anything to get his soul back.

Fearing he lost it forever, he got down on his knees and prayed to God for help. The help came from his sister, Lisa, who bought the paper (and his soul) back. Greg Daniels wrote the episode because he claimed he, at one time, had bought the soul of a bully, and frightened the kid until he bought it back.

In 1975, Grammy award winning Bluegrass Fiddler Vassar Carlton Clements wrote a song called ‘Lonesome Fiddle Blues’. Most of us know it by the name that Charlie Daniel’s gave it in 1979. He called it, “The Devil went down to Georgia”.  The lyrics continue, He was looking for a soul to steal.

That prompted ‘Business Insider Magazine’ to ask, “What is the price of a soul?” The winning prize in the Devil went down to Georgia was a gold violin. In 1979, when the song was sung, they averaged the price of a gold violin to $167,000.

In 2017, they updated the price of the gold violin, with inflation, to $660,326.82. All humor and speculation aside, it leaves us with a few questions; Do we have a soul? What is a soul? What is the value in having a soul? And how is a soul different from a spirit?

The Bible has a lot to say about the soul. In the Old Testament, the word ‘soul’ is translated over 780 times in Hebrew, as Nephesh. It most often refers to a living, breathing, conscious person. In the New Testament Greek, ‘soul’ is translated 103 times as psyche. To have a soul, they believed, means you have life.

Life in the sense of physical life and also mental and emotional life. In their case, when the soul was gone, life was over. They did not believe in the afterlife. That become a more common understanding, after the Pharisees believed it and Jesus rose from the dead.

There are passages in the Bible that have been translated, in such a way, that they make the soul and the spirit seem interchangeable, yet they are separate in the Bible. Let me explain…

In 1 Thessalonians 5:23 Paul writes, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole ‘spirit, soul, and body’ be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Also, in Hebrews 4:12 Paul writes, “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” So, if the sword of Scripture divides soul and spirit, doesn’t that make them two separate things?

Here is what I want you to remember, a human is linked in body, soul and spirit. They are separate things but never to be separated in this life. They are like; the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, separate but one. But there are differences.

The body is the flesh and bones. The soul is essentially our inner lives and the spirit is the breath of God that gives us life. We need all three to be a fully functional human being. Let’s look at some examples in the Bible.

In Mark 14:32-34, Jesus and his disciples went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”

Earlier in John’s gospel, Jesus did not seem so upset but something changed. Jesus had finally declared, “My hour has come”. Before, his enemies had threatened him but now, they would do him great harm. As a man, the stress and the weight of the situation caused Jesus to sweat drops of blood.

His inner peace and harmony was waning. He knew his closest friends would abandon him and he would have to face the cross alone. This brought his emotional life and rational life to a point of mixed confusion. He knew what God wanted but his human side knew fear.

At other times, Jesus said, “I am troubled in spirit”. (John 13:21) This meant that his connection between God and others was disrupted. On a deeper level, that joins us with God and others, Jesus felt torn apart. The Bible tells us that we can be Spiritually alive or Spiritually dead. (1 Corinthians 2:10-12) We can be connected or detached.

It is when we are spiritually connected that we have deeper insights, wisdom, and direction from the Holy Spirit. That is the place where we are transformed, renewed and inspired. A person can become disconnected with God and others and still live, but there is something important missing. We need to be at peace with God and one another to fulfill all of our needs as human beings. Ignore the needs of your body, the needs of your soul or the needs of your spirit and You Will suffer.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was a strong believer in caring for body, mind (soul) and spirit. He wrote a book on how to stay in good physical health; he encouraged folks to be vegans or vegetarians; in part, because his love for animals.

Wesley encouraged followers to attend to the things of the spirit; by going to worship, bible study, by reading your bible, and engaging in actions that are life-giving. Finally, Wesley had a series of questions that he would ask other believers; the first was, “How is it with your soul?” or “How does your soul prosper?”

This question is a lot tougher than asking ‘how are you?’ and most of us would be at a loss at how to answer. What he was asking was; how is your soul growing? Or how is your inner spiritual life doing? Essentially, he was asking, “Do you have the fruit of the spirit?”

The fruit of the spirit is; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. You see, Jesus promised us an abundant life, even in the midst of trouble.

He said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

In an article on the internet, a man was talking about his small group. Each time they gathered someone asked, “How is it with your soul?” He said the answers were very different.

He writes,“I remember one week when one of my men started by saying, “My soul is good! God has really given me a sense of peace this week.” And then he went on to describe a terrible week. He had some serious family issues, a rough week in school, and bad medical news for a friend. But it was well with his soul. He talked about the ways that God was carrying him through.”

“On the other hand, another week someone started by saying, “Well, my week has been just fine. Work is good. Things at home are fine. But it’s not well with my soul.” He went on to talk about a general restlessness, distraction from any sort of Christian practices, and he noticed himself being short-tempered with some people.”

John Wesley taught that we are either growing in grace (toward God and others) or we were declining. If we let our inner life slip away, we lose our balance and our direction. If we ignore matters of the heart than we lose our humanity.

That is why Jesus told us to forgive, to be reconciled, to be connected to others, to celebrate with those who celebrate and to grieve with those who grieve. That is also why, we need to continue meeting together at Church and encouraging one another (Hebrews 10:25).

That is why John Wesley considered class meetings, ‘think Bible study’, so important. In England and America, class attendance was mandatory. In fact, if you did not have a certificate saying you attended a mid-week class, you were not able to attend worship! His motto was only serious Christians should attend worship. Imagine that!

And the thing was, people begged to get in. Wesley believed we need to discipline our behavior. We need to practice right thinking and genuine pursuit of the Holy Spirit. One of his questions was, “Where do you see God working?” We call that God sightings today.

I STILL believe we need to connect, grow and journey together. Christians do not deepen their faith well in isolation.

So, my question is, “How is it with your soul?” How is your inner life? Do you have the fruits of the spirit? Do you have peace in body, mind and soul? Is God actively a part of your life? And are you at peace with others?

Casting Crowns sings a wonderful song called, ‘Oh My Soul’ listen to the opening lyrics,

Oh, my soul, Oh, how you worry
Oh, how you’re weary, from fearing you lost control
This was the one thing, you didn’t see coming
And no one would blame you, though, If you cried in private
If you tried to hide it away, so no one knows
No one will see, if you stop believing.

And the chorus goes,

Oh, my soul, you are not alone
There’s a place where fear has to face the God you know
One more day, He will make a way
Let Him show you how, you can lay this down
‘Cause you’re not alone

It is easy to feel disconnected, misunderstood, battle weary and lost, but because of Jesus, we are not alone. And when we feel disconnected from him, we have one another. The same way we are to be connected body, mind and soul; we are to be connected to other believers on a regular basis. And honestly, that can be hard because we live messy lives. No one does the right thing all the time. Yet it is our goal to strive for something better; to live as Christ. That is how we know his love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. So, finally I will ask, “Is it well with your soul today?”

Jesus asked his disciples in Matthew 16:26, “What good is it for a person if they gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”

Sadly, there are many around us ‘who have given up their soul for power, attention, material wealth and earthly peace’; only to find it is not lasting – but fleeting. Your soul (or Peace of mind) is worth a lot more than that. Hold on to ‘what is eternal’.

Your assignment is…place the words, “How is it with your soul? in a place where you can see it daily. Then, find the places that are lacking and let the Holy Spirit in. Also, let others in. We are many because God’s plan is that we should build one another up.

So, live like Christ, until we meet again. Amen